Love at First Bike

Love at First Bike

A guest blog by Tony Clay

Some people remember and like to reminisce about their first love, the smallest details recalled with pinpoint accuracy, burned and burnished in vivid, Kodachrome memory. Some people constantly hearken back to their school days, sometimes seen as the zenith of their life, the time when they were at their happiest.  For others, their powerful, memorable moments came attending the birth of their children (personally, although indelibly burned on my cerebral cortex, it was an experience I’d rather forget – I’ve never felt more useless and powerless, but that’s just me).

For others though … well, apparently, they can recall their first proper bike in glorious, intimate and scarily forensic detail.

Hmm, I remember my first proper bike. It was blue … or was it red? I know it had two wheels and a saddle and … handlebars? It did, didn’t it?

Luckily then, you don’t have to rely on my ever-fallible memory to fill a blerg post reminiscing about the dim and distant detail and provenance of my first bike, we’ve brought in an outside obsessive to do all that for us.

You may recall leaving this particular obsessive on the road to Hexham, astride a borrowed bike, but startled by the revelation of briefly riding a real racing bike.  This was an experience that lit a fire that burns to this day.

We pick up the story shortly after this transformative event.

SLJ 28.05.2020


So, I had survived my first real bike ride, our 50-mile trip to Hexham in the summer of 1974.

Aye, I was hooked. I hung onto Dick Taylor’s Raleigh Clunker™ for as long as possible, but I only managed to eke out about 3 weeks before he started getting impatient. And he was a very Big Lad!

A search for my own bike began.

The first and most obvious step was to go to our (very) Local “Bike” Shop, Tommy Braunds. Well, I say bike shop, but it just happened to sell bikes alongside toys, model kits, dolls, prams and other assorted odds and ends. We used to pass it most days on the way home from school.

There was a lovely purple and chrome 5-speed Carlton Corsa in the window, £55. But my Dad wasn’t prepared to shell out that much for something that he thought might just turn out to be a short-lived fad. [SLJ: by the magic power invested in me via Google, I can tell you that £55 then is equivalent to £576.99 today. Well, sort of, approximately.]  

Continuing my search, I found a bike that I fancied in our ‘Littlewoods Catalogue’, I can’t remember the make, but it was 10-speed, bright green and was £2 a week for 39 weeks. As my pocket money was only £2.50 a week, and most of that already earmarked for Airfix model kits and the latest singles and LP’s, it was out of my reach.

Continue searching…

Word came that a lad at our school, Dave Curry, had ‘some’ bikes that he might sell for a couple of quid. He lived not far from me, so I wandered down to his one evening and found him in his backyard, completely surrounded by frames, wheels and components. It transpired that he was probably one of the first ‘re-cyclers’ as most of his stuff had been gathered from derelict houses (we lived on the edge of a slum clearance area), skips and, in the case of my eventual frame, the local (heavily polluted) river Team.

I knew it had come out of the river because of the stinky black mud still lurking inside the bottom bracket, seat tube and fork steerer. Still, I had a frame, and it only cost me £1.50. I’m not sure of the make, possibly a Raleigh, Sun or BSA, but it was sound and had half chrome front forks. Class!

Dave dug out some additional parts from his “bike store” (a.k.a. the coal shed) and I was set. Over the next couple of weeks, I cleaned up the frame, gave it a coat of ‘rattle-can’ paint, and polished up the rusty bits. They were all chromed steel, so just needed a few hours with the wire wool and Autosol. Some parts I had to buy new including a rear mech, a Huret Svelto at a whole £2.50, the cheapest you could get, but very simple and reliable.

When complete, my bike had mismatched front and rear brakes, a saggy leather saddle and an alloy stem with steel handlebars. I found out later that this combination of steel and alloy was actually quite dangerous as the alloy stem doesn’t hold the steel bars securely and they can slip, often prompting an unscheduled trip to the dentist. Fortunately, this never happened to me.

Still, it was my bike and rode it as often I could.

Gradually, bit by bit (quite literally) I managed to improve it by finding good second -hand kit, or occasionally a new part, after I’d saved up a bit and I started swapping the old stuff out.

Fiddling about with my bike so much, often breaking it down to ball-bearing level and rebuilding it, had made me quite handy at fixing them and I could make a fair job of truing a wheel. I ended up working on most of my mate’s bikes too.

I’m not quite sure of how it came about but, one day I got a phone call from my Aunty who had gone to school with Mrs. Braund, Tommy’s wife. Tommy, the eponymous owner of my LBS, had died in his shop of a heart attack. His wife had heard I was handy with bikes and she needed a Saturday mechanic, £4 a day and 10% discount on all bike stuff, (although sadly not Airfix Models!) [SLJ: Once again, Google suggests about £41.96 in today’s money].

I had a wage! I could now start thinking about getting some real kit and started saving.

The first significant upgrade was when I bought a pair of ‘sprint wheels’, Mavic rims and Campagnolo Nuovo Tipo hubs, £35 [SLJ: that’s £367.18 today, you bloody spendthrift!]

Even though the ‘tubs’, Hutchinson Aguiras at £2.50 each, were the worst I ever, ever had, like tractor tyres and a nightmare to repair, riding on the light wheels, even with the dodgy tubs, was great.

A really key moment was when I spotted a real bargain in a local second-hand shop. I’m sure he didn’t know what he had, when I bagged a fully chromed Reynolds 531 Condor with a Campagnolo Nuovo Record groupset, Universal Brakes, Cinelli bars and stem with sprints and tubs, all for the princely sum of just £30. To put that into perspective, a brand-new Raleigh Chopper back then was about £65 [SLJ: £681.90! No wonder I could never afford one].

The seat tube on the Condor was 22 ½ inches and way too big for me, but I had a ‘pukka gen’ racing bike and did a fair amount of miles on it.

Denton’s Cycles (227/9 Westgate Road, Newcastle) [SLJ: Once, but sadly no more] was always the place to go for quality kit and we’d spend hours drooling over the unaffordable bikes and all the shiny components on display.

It was there that in February 1976 my Dad bought me a beautiful sky-blue Denton frame for my 16th Birthday, and it was the correct size too – 21 inches. Full Reynolds 531, double butted tubing with Campagnolo forged ends and fitted with a Stronglight headset for £65… SIXTY FIVE QUID just for the frame?! My Dad nearly had a bloody seizure! [SLJ: well, I’m not surprised, he could have bought a new Raleigh Chopper for that!]

1975 Denton

So, I stripped all the kit off the Condor, thoroughly cleaned, polished and lubed it all and transplanted it onto the Denton. It made a really nice bike. A very dear friend of mine, sadly no longer with us, had started racing in the early 50’s when kit was in extremely short supply after the war. He once told me, ‘Nivvor hoy owt away!’ and, over the years I’ve pretty much stuck to that maxim.

Never throwing anything away was brilliant in one way, as I’m now using some of that exact same kit from the Condor/Denton to renovate a 1976 Team Raleigh, meaning I don’t have to pay extortionate ‘Eroica’ inflated eBay prices for second-hand 70’s kit.

But on the flip side, my flat is full of box after box of components and bits and pieces that, realistically, may never get used [SLJ: Ahem … may never get used???] But there is another plus side. Last year a guy posted on a vintage bike Facebook page that he was desperate for a lock nut for a 1970’s Campagnolo Record rear hub to complete a renovation. Of course, I had one. I let him have it for the cost of postage. Where did I have to send it? Victoria, Australia!

I had no idea about structured training and just enjoyed being out on ‘me bike’. Alone or in a small group, sometimes with SLJ, I’d ride to the coast or down to the lovely city of Durham. At Durham we would sit on the banks of the River Wear, not the River Tyne, as “whistling genius” Roger Whittaker would have you believe in ‘Durham Town (The Leavin’)’.

We’d also go up into the Silver Hills that rose up from the Team Valley in Gateshead and in our young, teen imaginations we were in the Alps and Pyrenees, battling it out ‘mano a mano’ with Merckx and Gimondi up the Iseran and Tourmalet. The rides were usually a good couple of hours long and I gradually got fitter and more skilled at bike handling.

Then one weekend, near what is now ‘Beamish Open Air Museum’, we happened upon an actual bike race. It whizzed past us all bronzed limbs, rainbow coloured peloton and sparkling spokes and looked so exciting.

Now, I could really fancy having a go at that …  


STOP PRESS!

This afternoon I’ve just sorted out a guy with a 1980’s Campagnolo Super Record seat pin clamp bolt, and he’s in Pennsylvania!

The Number of the Beast

Club Run, Saturday 17th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km / 66.6 miles with 1,522 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 59 minutes

Average Speed:                                21.3 km/h

Group size:                                         10 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    3°C

Weather in a word or two:          Raw

 


 

snowprofile
Ride Profile


… or, the Beast from the East 2 – 0 Sur La Jante

It was back, the Beast from the East 2, the Return, or the mini-Beast as some reports dubbed it. This mean’t a Saturday ride in raw, primal weather, snow flurries, hailstorms, a brittle, frigid cold and strong, gusting winds edged with a raw and savage wind-chill.

Surprisingly though, it proved generally dry and ice-free, despite a precursor storm that passed through the night and seemed to drop a month’s rain on our heads in a couple of hours.

I (over)dressed for the conditions – thermal base layer, long sleeve jersey, softshell jacket with a rain jacket on top. It was enough. I was generally comfortable throughout the day and tended more towards overheating than feeling chilled, despite the stark conditions.

At the bottom of the hill, I found the Tyne Valley acting like a massive wind tunnel and turning put the wind at my back pushing me forcibly along. That was great, until I crossed the river and had to back-track down the opposite bank, taking it full on in the face as I battered along, reduced to a painful crawl.

Trying to climb out the other side of the valley I discovered my front mech had frozen solid and I had to stop and apply some less than subtle coercion to drop down onto the inner ring.

Once accomplished, I made reasonable time through intermittent hail and snow showers and was soon pulling to a stop at the meeting point, where a gaggle of half a dozen other beleaguered idiots were already huddled together, and quickly shuffled around to admit me to the shelter of the inner circle.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

My first reaction on pulling up was to berate everyone for being out on bikes on a day like this. I admitted that I’d half hoped to find the meeting place empty so I had an excuse to turn around and head straight back home.

I was particularly impressed that Taffy Steve had made it in, all the way from the coast, but predicted he’d have a real bitch-fight to get home, straight into the teeth of our Siberian-born winter gales.

He felt he couldn’t possibly miss what promised to be a “properly epic” ride … or at least he assured himself that’s how it would appear – once he was safely back home, smoking jacket on, feet up, cradling a snifter of recuperative brandy – warm, dry and able to look fondly back on the day.

Richard of Flanders was dressed for the conditions in a Mavic, quilted winter jacket in their signature bright yellow.  Someone thought it looked like a drysuit, but after careful consideration we decided it was more like a HazMat suit.

Taffy Steve felt this was just playing up to Richard’s Smoggie heritage and that such apparel was always au courant on Teesside. He suggested that if Richard of Flander had returned to his hometown in this yellow HazMat suit, it would be seen as extraordinarily unremarkable and no one would bat an eyelid.

Speaking of HazMat suits, everyone agreed that as soon as they saw the teams deployed in Salisbury to investigate the Skripol/Novichok poisoning, a common flashback hadn’t been to Outbreak, Contagion, 28 Days Later, or any other horror/disaster movie, but an almost universal recall of Monsters Inc.

Meanwhile, taking in Jimmy Macs, high, wide, handsome, no doubt expensive and darkly impenetrable Oakley shades, Taffy Steve wondered if we really did face a danger of snow blindness today. 

Fiddling with his rear wheel, mudguard, tyre, or whatever, Richard of Flanders wanted to borrow a spanner. I usually carry a small adjustable spanner to use on my mudguards, but they’d been behaving recently so I had left it at home. G-Dawg fished out the mighty spanner he uses for his fixie wheel nuts, but this was, not surprisingly, too big (although I’m still not sure exactly what it was needed for).

Richard then unfolded and disassembled a chunky, bike multi-tool, looking in vain for a simple spanner amongst its perplexing array of different and exotic options. He pulled up a slender cylinder, with a hexagonal-shaped bore.

“Does anyone know what this is for?” he demanded, looking somewhat perplexed.

“Is it no’ used to remove staines from horses hooves?” I wondered, channelling Billy Conolly describing a Swiss Army Knife.

“Maybe some kind of spoke spanner?” the Colossus opined and he probably had the right of it.

“It could also double as a radiator key, though” I added, somewhat unhelpfully.

Taffy Steve declared it was Garmin Muppet Time, cutting through the Garrulous Kid’s whine that his gloves were “too fin” – (I don’t know if they were made from sharkskin, or dolphin, but whatever material they were made from, I can attest that it’s not inflammable).

Heeding the siren-call, we broke our huddle, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Despite the weather, Biden Fecht was in mighty fine fettle and intent on cementing his position as group troubadour in the absence of Crazy Legs. Throughout the day he would keep us entertained with an eclectic selection of songs, starting with the Skids, “Into the Valley” as we dropped down into the latest snow storm.

This progressed through ABC’s “Poison Arrow” – bizarrely directed at a fellow riders ailing bottom-bracket and culminated in the Spinners “Working My way Back to You” complete with attendant dance routine.

My sole contribution was Cabaret Voltaire’s “This is Entertainment. This is Fun.” Was it? I’m not so sure.


March TWO


After Taffy Steve, the next to go was OGL, fingers so frozen he said he was struggling to grip the bars and decided discretion was the better part of valour, turning off early.

The Garrulous Kid also talked about leaving at this point, but was persuaded to come with the rest of us, I think mainly when we pointed out the café wouldn’t be open for another half an hour or so, and hanging around outside in the cold would actually be worse than riding.

He and the Slow Drinker both did a fine job miming Peruvian Pan pipe players, blowing hard across their fingers, but failing to produce a tune of any note.

We dropped down Middleton Bank in a flurry of wind-driven snow and found ourselves closing in a large, dark, shadowed mass on the road ahead.

“What the hell’s that?” the Garrulous Kid wondered.

“A tank,” I declared assuredly.

It turns out it was a tractor, cunningly loaded with hay bales with one isolated and sticking up in the middle of the pile to resemble a turret. Given the conditions, it was a deception good enough to fool long-range reconnaissance, or they myopic frailties of an ageing cyclist.

At one point we became engulfed in a snowstorm so bad that I suggested we load the Garrulous Kid up with everyone’s Garmins, send  him off into the wilds like Captain Oates and then we could all retire early to the café, leaving him to bolster our Strava numbers when he returned. The Colossus gave this serious consideration, before deciding the Garrulous Kid couldn’t be trusted to maintain an acceptable average speed, otherwise it would have been a sound idea.


March ONE


If last week my Garmin robbed me of climbing metres, this week I think it was adding them back in – or perhaps I really did manage over 1,500 on the day. That and the weather might explain why I was so utterly exhausted. On the final loop around Capheaton, I did a short stint on the front and burned up whatever scant reserves of energy I still had left. I was done.

On the last sharp incline before the road down to the Snake Bends, I was unceremoniously blown out the back and left to find my own plodding way to the cafe. Even worse, once I turned I found myself heading directly into a ferocious headwind and it became a real grind – it was so strong that at times it forced me out of the saddle, just to try and keep some momentum. It was horrid.

At the junction I turned right to head straight down the main road. Meanwhile the front group had darted down Bomb Alley, where (unsurprisingly) a pot and a pinch puncture held them up. Somehow, someway, against all the odds, I actually made it to the cafe ahead of them.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Inside we found a slowly thawing OGL, who entertained us with tales of his latest bike maintenance job, for a man who’d assembled his own bike and managed to put the handlebars on upside down and the brake levers back to front, inside out and the wrong way round.

After sorting everything out, OGL had sent the hapless punter off with a flea in his ear about getting paid professionals to assemble the next bike he bought.

“I bet he found it unrideable, once you’d put everything back the right way round,” I suggested.

“He probably got on and crashed straight into a wall,” Biden Fecht added.

I can’t help thinking either of these pay-offs would have been a much better ending to the story, but it wasn’t to be.

We then descended into word madness when the Garrulous Kid asked Biden Fecht to sum up the morning ride in just one word. Biden Fecht proffered “barmy” – or, at least that’s what I think he had in mind – he couldn’t possibly have meant balmy, could he?

The Garrulous Kid then wondered if the green in Biden Fechts winter jacket was “illuminous.” Biden Fecht demanded to know if the Garrulous Kid was a secret member of the Illuminati, but the Kid didn’t even flinch as the comment wooshed past over his head.

(Interestingly, I typed out illuminous and the MS Word spell-checker didn’t respond with the dreaded wiggly red line. Huh? Were we wrong and the Garrulous Kid correct? I naturally Googled “illuminous” and the Urban Dictionary proffered: “Luminous colours which are particularly bright and garish, resulting in mild nausea for the observer” – which I thought was quite clever. My favourite though was a smart-arse response on Quora:

Q. What’s the difference between illuminous and luminous?

A. Luminous is a word, which means filled with light, shining. Illuminous is not a word.

Apparently though illuminous was once a word, but was declared obsolete by 1913. I’ll call that one a score draw, but it beats me how a word can become obsolete? Fall out of use yes, but you can’t uninvent things, can you? Hold up, is uninvent even a word?

[Hang on … I’ll be back once this pull of madness recedes.]

Our chatter was then cut short as one of the waitresses dashed over and plucked the Garrulous Kids smouldering gloves off the stove. Smoking, red hot and stinking like a singed dog, the gloves were sharply deposited in front of their owner, just as fin as they were previously, but now scorched and brittle too.

I declared the weather was forecast to be even worse tomorrow and learned that Biden Fecht was scheduled to travel up to Aberdeen through the worst of it. I wondered if he’d leave us with a final song to remember him by and tried to test him by asking for one about the fine Scottish city that was his destination.

Rising to the challenge, he dug out the “Aberdeen Blues” – raw, plangent, primitive Delta Blues from Booker White. While applauding, I challenged the choice, suggesting it wasn’t really about the Granite City at all, “but Aberdeen, Kansas or Kentucky or some such.” (I was close, it’s Aberdeen, Mississippi).

Aberdeen is my home,

But the mens don’t want me around,

Aberdeen is my home,

But the mens don’t want me around,

They know I’ll take these women,

An take them outta town…

Booker White – Aberdeen Mississippi Blues


Out we went, into the wind, the snow, the hail and the cold and off we set. I hung in there, struggling and still tired, hoping the speed didn’t increase too much.

We surfed through a road spanning puddle of icy water.

“Water, water, everywhere,” Biden Fecht intoned.

“Nor any drop to drink.” I concluded, as we engaged in a strange call-and-response rendition of Coleridge’s most famous poem.

“Great big, dirty puddle!” G-Dawg warned.

“Huh, I don’t remember that line,” Biden Fecht exclaimed.

“It was probably one of the discarded stanzas, you’ll have to wait for the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner – Redux for that one.” I told him.

That was pretty much my last interaction with the group. As they turned left into the headwind, I swung right for a shorter route back home, through Ponteland and looping across the top of the airport, happy to drop back to my own, plodding pace.

At one point the cloud fractured to reveal a deep blue sky overhead, even as the snow came swirling down around me in big fat flakes. I was riding in my own snow globe!

Passing the airport, the overbearing stink of jet fuel made breathing almost unbearable. It seemed appropriate as I was running on fumes anyway. I tried to think of quicker, easier routes home, but drew a blank, so just pressed on.

The grind up past the golf course was helpfully impelled by a kind tailwind, but once down and across the river I was battling head-on into the Arctic gusts and taking a beating from the hail being flung directly in my face. At this point by I decided the river valley wasn’t acting as a wind tunnel, but a giant blunderbuss, loaded with hail like grapeshot – and I was right in the line of fire.

I don’t think I’ve ever crawled up the Heinous Hill quite so slowly, most of it out of the saddle to try and keep the legs turning at a reasonable pace. A ride so hard – even my hair was tired.


YTD Totals: 1,535 km / 954 miles with 17,825 metres of climbing

Diadora Polarex Plus Review

Diadora Polarex Plus Review

Should there be such a thing as an avid and attentive SLJ reader (and Lord, have mercy on their soul) they may recall that last year, when I published my Tips for Winter Riding, I mentioned that I was keen to try proper winter boots, instead of different combinations of various shoes, socks, overshoes and ad hoc barriers such as tin foil, cling film or Asda carrier bags. (Other brands are available).

That was well over a year ago. Shortly afterwards, I did indeed buy a pair of boots, which I guess you could say have been thoroughly field-tested in some horrible conditions, and through the worst of what the North East weather can throw at cyclists. There is then nothing to stop me reporting on my impressions of these boots, except my own inherent laziness, so let me finally try and correct that…

My boots of choice were Diadora Polarex Plus shoes. I bought these as an early Christmas present to myself and then negotiated extra-special dispensation from Mrs. SLJ to use them straightaway, rather than wrapping them up and hiding them under the Christmas tree while my feet froze on winter rides.


BLAFLU


I got the boots for what I thought was a reasonably discounted price of about £70, from the Sport Pursuit website. I think this was around half-price at the time, they now seem to retail for just over £100, although I have, rather inexplicably, also seen them advertised for as much as £350!

While these Diadora Polarex Plus shoes form the basis of this review, in the wider scheme of things, I wasn’t so much interested in this particular brand, rather the concept of winter boots in general and how they compare with the alternatives. In this I’m assuming that similar winter boots, from Shimano, Gaerne, Mavic, Lake and Northwave et al, do pretty much the same thing.

I’ve had, and been happy with, 2 or 3 pairs of Diadora cycling shoes in the past and they’ve all seemed decently solid and reasonably priced, so I never felt I was stepping into the unknown with these boots. My usual, size 43, weren’t in stock, so I went for a 44, that proved a fortuitous choice. Diadora shoes are not the most generous of fits, and the little bit of extra room in the 44 size gives me a bit more comfort and allows for a little wiggle room – even with thick or double-layered socks.

I went with the version of the boot, which comes with a heavily rubberised Duratech sole, based on Diadora’s high-end, mountain bike shoes. In direct violation of Velominati Rule # 34 (Mountain bike shoes and pedals have their place. On a mountain bike) I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter and commuting bike, as the recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

The value of my choice was illustrated a couple of years ago, when we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood, as a felled tree blocked the road, and then again on a ride which ended in a snowstorm, when I had to push the bike uphill on the pavement to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road slippers, with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

It should be noted that, for the ultra-orthodox Velominati out there, Diadora also produce a road version, with a beautiful carbon-weave sole. I’m sure its impressively stiff, but I couldn’t attest to its durability. Still, even without the exotic carbon sole, my boots weigh in at happily light 400 grams, or so.

Technically the Duratech Rubber sole of the mountain bike version of the boots is rated as a 6 on Diadora’s 10-point stiffness index, whatever that means. In practical terms, I’ve found the boots to be extremely comfortable to walk in and haven’t noticed any flex when pedalling, although I’d be first to admit my feeble power output would be unlikely to trouble wet cardboard.

The chunky, heavily lugged, sole provides impressive levels of grip, which I’m sure would be a real boon out on a trail, or slipping and sliding on a cyclo-cross course. And, while the sole seems stiff and doesn’t flex, the studs and crenellations on the bottom are a soft, flexible rubber that does give, and aids walking.


diadora_polarexplus_0001


The boots came with a couple of rubberised strips to place over the cleat holes. I’m still not certain what their purpose is, I’ve never used them and haven’t missed them. I would be interested to know what the hell they’re for though, so if anyone can enlighten me …

The outside of the boot is constructed with “element-proof” Suprell-Tech. It’s matt-black and has a warm, rubberised feel to it. As well as being impressively waterproof, it seems to be extremely durable and the boots look little different now, to when I first unboxed them, even after a year and a half use, riding in some ultra-tough weather conditions.

They’re  a doddle to clean too, a quick wipe down with a wet sponge will usually do the trick, or, if muddy and “crudded” over, I just wash them in the kitchen sink, using a bit of dishwash detergent.

Appearance is subtly understated, as mentioned before a dull, stealth-black upper, enlivened only by a stiff, gloss protective heel cup embellished with red, white and green tricolore “beads” and the Diadora swoosh(?) on the outside of the toe, with the brand name on the inside. These are picked out in a high-viz green, which I think has been replaced on the latest version with white brand name and mark, or maybe that’s the distinguishing feature of the road version?

The boots have a wire boa closure, the first pair of shoes I’ve owned that uses this system. I have to admit that, despite my initial scepticism, I find these really excellent. They’re simple to use and adjust, and it’s really easy to dial in a good fit. Most importantly the reels and wires seem super-durable. Two strong, practical, reflective nylon loops on the rear help pull the boots on and off.

Around the ankle cuff, the rubberised Suprell-Tech gives way to a padded, neoprene cuff with a Velcro style strap-fastener. This is, if you’ll pardon the analogy, is the Achilles heel of the shoes and the only possible way I’ve found for water to get in, either because the strap isn’t tight enough, or in an extreme and very prolonged deluge, when it simply soaks through your tights and seeps down inside the boots.

(For this reason, in extreme conditions, Crazy Legs – who might not actually be a crazy as his name suggests – often uses tights with stirrups on that he can wear outside his (Shimano?) winter boots.)

If I had one criticism of the Diadora boots, it would be that the ankle cuff could have been a little deeper, reach higher up the calf and afford just a little more protection. (I think the Diadora boots are perhaps the shortest of those available.)

Aside from this, the  boots are, to all intents and purposes, watertight – to a much, much more impressive degree than any shoe, overshoe and waterproof sock combination that I’ve ever tried. On a number of occasions when riding through flooded roads, with the water lapping around my wheel hubs, I’ve escaped with completely dry feet and I’ve now joined the ranks of other, smug boot-wearers, who laugh at our miserable fellow cyclists with their water-logged shoes, cold and wet soggy socks and incipient trench foot.

According to the blurb, the inside of the Polarex shoes are lined with Diadora’s Diatex waterproof membrane and a soft, thermal lining for insulation. This inside lining has a fuzzy, fleecy feel that’s warm and comfortable and seems to provide a good degree of insulation.

I seldom wear more than a single pair of thermal socks with the boots, even in temperatures down to, or below freezing. While my toes can occasionally get cold, especially on longer rides, it’s never that debilitating, frozen feeling when everything becomes painfully numb and you scream like a little girl in the shower afterwards, as the blood comes boiling back into your frozen extremities. (Don’t deny it, we’ve all been there.)

Now, having tried winter boots I would struggle to go back to shoes and overshoes. They really did exceed all my expectations, and I consider them money very well spent. I also don’t think the price is too off-putting, especially if you take into account the cost of a decent pair of (still inferior) overshoes, which I used to continuously find myself replacing, as they never seem to last more than a year or two.

As for the Diadora Polarex version of a winter boot, should my current pair ever need replacing, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the same again. Luckily, as I mentioned previously, my current pair still look as good as new and I can’t help but feel they’re going to keep my feet dry and toasty for a good while yet.


 

Crosswind Chaos

Crosswind Chaos

Club Run, Saturday 16th July, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   113 km/70 miles with 1,001 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 18 minutes

Average Speed:                                   26.2 km/h

Group size:                                           27 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                      22°C

Weather in a word or two:              Bright ‘n’ blowy


Ride Profile

Ride Profile

The Ride:

For some peculiar reason I was awake and up 25 minutes before my alarm sounded. Perhaps it was the anticipation brought about by the bright blue vault of sky, promising a seemingly ultra-rare break with recent tradition – a Saturday free of rain.

Despite being up early I was actually late leaving the house as I bumbled about aimlessly. My usual timing checkpoint is at 8.42 mile into the ride, which I typically pass at around 8:42. Today however it was pushing 8:48 when I passed this mark, perhaps a consequence of the strong blustery wind that was already proving troublesome, with stretches of debilitating headwind interspersed with occasional sneaky crosswind-ambushes that kept blowing me off line.

I picked the pace up a little and all the traffic lights were kind, so I made the meeting point only a couple of minutes later than usual.


Main topic of conversation at the start:

A couple of riders started bonding, cooing and billing over their perfectly matched, exquisitely expensive and identical Storck Scenaro’s, even going as far as lining them up side by side to compare length and girth. “Great, just what we need,” Taffy Steve proclaimed, “A couple of Storckers!”

The Red Max had eschewed his favourite colours to pair a green, orange and white jersey with red and black shorts in an all-out, kaleidoscopic assault on unprotected retinas. Taffy Steve suggested if he tried wearing that sort of thing in Italy he would be run off the streets.

He then turned his critical attention to a contradictory Crazy Legs who was wearing a smart Bianchi celeste jersey … but riding his pampered and cossetted Ribble. The Bianchi itself had been confined to the garage for this week – the sure sign that ancient soothsayers and weather-watchers everywhere eagerly awaited, so they could declare with the utmost conviction that there was absolutely, positively zero chance of any rain today.

Taffy Steve then had one of those: “You say Bian-shee, I say Bian-kee” moments, before decrying the idiosyncrasies of modern languages and wondering why they didn’t just name themselves Biankee to save us all confusion.

“That’s rich, coming from someone who hails from a place where Llandudno, Pontypridd or even Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch are deemed acceptable names.” The Red Max countered.

(And yes, of course I had to Google Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch)

Taffy Steve argued that, just like Polish(?) at least Welsh was completely logical and consistent in its formation and application of letters – even if it did result in unpronounceable names – unlike English with its “kneed” and “need” and “knead” or words like “set” and “run” with hundreds upon hundreds of different meanings.


Around 27 lads and lasses were clustered around at the meeting point enjoying the promise of a day in the sun and more importantly staying dry as well. At exactly 9:15 Garmin time, Crazy legs and Taffy Steve decreed it was time to go and started to very deliberately clip in.

This was the cue for OGL to confront Crazy Legs and insist he didn’t immediately jump onto the front and ramp the pace up above 15 mph. This admonishment seemed to set a fire burning in Red Max, who was so keen to get on the front he raked his pedal through my spokes as he spun around, before enthusiastically bounding off to head the peloton. Luckily there was no damage done, but it was perhaps a precursor to the rest of the ride.

After the first roundabout a rider I didn’t recognise drifted to the side of the road and stopped. Apparently there’d been a clash with another rider and he had snapped a spoke. One guy dropped back to see what the problem was, while the rest of us chased on to let everyone know what was happening behind.

We turned off the main road, slowed and started again, then slowed and stopped. And started again and then stopped and then there was a lot of shouting and angry gesticulating between the Red Max and OGL, the perfect accompaniment to our staccato, stop-start dance.


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We finally determined that the loss of a spoke had been terminal and the rider had turned for home, so we pushed on and tried to regain some sort of order.

A few miles further on and G-Dawg was swooping over to the other side of the road to stop and check his wheel after another inadvertent clash of riders. This had seen his spokes completely chop the end off the Monkey Butler Boy’s quick release skewer, an aero-spoke sheering effortlessly through the hard plastic nut at the opposite end to the lever.  Somewhat amazingly there was no damage to G-Dawgs wheel and more importantly and somewhat miraculously, neither rider had come to grief.

A brief stop to quickly check everything and everyone was actually okay and off we went again. I was drifting near the back, riding along with Crazy Legs as we admired the light whistling noise Moscas’s carbon rims made every time he applied the brakes.

Another stop to regroup gave Mad Max and OGL an unedifying chance to exhume and resume their earlier fiery exchange, which seemed to be about stopping and starting and hand signals and (somewhat ironically) clear communication.


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As we reached the split point, OGL then rode off on his own without waiting to form an amblers group, perhaps in a fit of pique, or perhaps just wanting to enjoy some splendid isolation and the good weather.

An impromptu amblers group did finally get itself formed up and rolled away, while the longer, harder, faster group started to make their way toward the Quarry Climb and the final dash for the café.

The route was lumpy, the pace was high and the wind was still providing a little extra encumbrance. I found myself slowly drifting back through the group on the climbs with strangely hollow legs and no great desire to push too hard.

I started the approach to the Quarry Climb at the back and soon found myself having to circumnavigate the not inconsiderable impediment of a flailing and failing BFG, who had seemingly reached his limit. As someone later mentioned at the café he only seems to have two modes of operation, full-on or flaccid, and he was definitely in the latter mode now.

Crazy Legs had dropped back to escort the ailing leviathan, who was emitting weird warbling distress signals, like a mournful whale song and was slumping in the saddle as if he’d been holed below the waterline.

Crazy Legs declared they had now formed the “gruppetto” and we should just press on without them, but a gap had opened up to the front group and was quickly growing.


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Someone volunteered to relieve Crazy Legs of his pilot fish role and he eagerly skipped across to the leading group, bridging the gap with ease. I didn’t have the heart or the legs to follow, so just settled into my own rhythm with Taffy Steve, Captain Black tagging along behind and suffering through his own man-flu induced hell.

The main group reached the top of the Quarry climb as I hit the bottom and they turned left to loop around and start the long run down to the café with the wind at their backs. I slowed as I reached the top, checked Taffy Steve saw where I was going and swung right instead of left.

The right hand route to the cafe seems to be harder, with more climbing and more stop-start junctions, but it’s undoubtedly shorter and quicker and the road surface is much better.

The two of us worked together to keep the pace going through a series of leg-sapping rises, junctions and sharp corners. Nevertheless, I was surprised when we were spat out onto the front groups route, to find we were not only ahead of them, but they were nowhere in sight.

Taffy Steve led us through the Snake Bends and then tried to give me a lead out for the last burst to the café, but when he pulled over I could barely find the speed to get past him. We still managed to roll into the café well before the rest arrived, a fabulous piece of queue-gazumping.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The welcome change of commentary team on the ITV4 Tour de France coverage has finally rid us of the tired, tiresome and increasingly error-prone Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen and seemed to meet with universal approval.

The only real drawback now is the frequency of the ad breaks, exacerbated by the same ads being shown over and over on a limited and very heavy rotation.

Particularly irksome were the trashy Škoda ads bookending each break, especially one that shows a guy riding past a mountain backdrop – his helmet strap is twisted and it really offends me. (Apologies in advance if you hadn’t noticed this and the ad now becomes even more annoying.)

As Taffy Steve pronounced, “Bloody hell, Škoda – I’ve already bought the car, can’t I be excused the ads?”

Crazy Legs admired G-Dawgs new, fluffy yellow mitts and suggested that as he looked back to fully catch and appreciate the subtle whistling of brake pads engaging with Moscas’s carbon wheels, he liked to imagine the mitts were two small chicks, chirping loudly and dancing happily across the top of G-Dawg’s handlebars.

Someone suggested yellow gloves were more suited to my worst foppish excesses. Son of G-Dawg meanwhile decided that the best way of ensuring ensure each rider was fully-coordinated was to swap clothes around at the start of a ride, so we could match kit to bike. Anyone left looking … well like the Red Max today, would then be sent home in disgrace, or made to ride on their own.

Talk of Tour de France crashes led to enquiries about how our own injured phenom, zeB was recovering following his attempt to trace a racing-line through a tree – apparently with the sole intent of seeing just how easy it would be to destroy a scapula.

It was suggested he’d had to wait several hours for an ambulance and Andeven (who knows about this sort of thing) suggested it was the consequence of over-stretched emergency services being abused by people using up valuable resources when they only have a headache, a spelk in their finger or are just too lazy to get off their fat asses and make their own way to an accident and emergency centre.

Taffy Steve’s simple and elegant solution was to give all the idiotic malingerers and time-wasters Chinese burns and then send them to wait for a couple of hours in the entirely fictional Chinese Burns Department. Works for me.

There was of course lots of discussion about a certain ungainly Mr. Froome and the rather unedifying happenings on Mont Ventoux.

We agreed that the only suitable accompaniment for Froome, pedalling furiously on an undersized Mavic bike would be the March of the Clowns. Meanwhile someone wondered why the neutral service bikes weren’t fitted with mountain bike dropper seatposts, so you could have some control of sizing on the fly.

This brought up the potential of a small rider clipping in and then inadvertently hitting the button to release the hydraulic seatpost, only to give himself a hefty kick up the backside and be flipped over the handlebars. Well, it all adds to the spectacle.

The Monkey Butler Boy swung past and showed us how he’d managed to get into that ridiculous descending tuck a la Chris Froome, crouched precariously over the top tube and how he’d subsequently become stuck with his ass caught under his saddle and really had a struggle to free himself.  So – an ever so slightly more aerodynamic and maybe faster, but a stupidly uncomfortable descending style, that looks utterly ridiculous and is frighteningly unsafe. Hmm, think I’ll pass.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs suggested he actually felt sorry for Ritchie Porte … Well, there had to be one, I guess.


The trip back passed without incident, but I swung off the Mad Mile for my solo ride home directly into a headwind that dogged me all the way down to the river. Here and for the last 3 or 4 miles I now had a tailwind and it pushed me along at a decent pace to the foot of Heinous Hill for one last, big climb.

I arrived home to find I’d actually caught the sun and had tan-lines that didn’t disappear under the liberal application of soap and water. Now that’s more like it, British summer-time.


YTD Totals: 4,127 km / 2,564 miles with 40,732 metres of climbing