While idly meandering through various social media (mediums?) this week, this picture was perhaps the most arresting that I came across …
And I quite liked the analogy that related it to the pandemic, inferring that you need to account for the idiots who could unwittingly cause harm to both themselves and others.
Still, as much as the photo fits the compelling narrative of the caption, it sadly isn’t at all accurate. It didn’t take much digging to identify that the picture is actually from the Algerian War of Independence and shows French Legionnaires rescuing a malnourished donkey and carrying it to their base, where it would be nursed back to health and adopted as the the unit mascot.
Still, does that knowledge invalidate the message and make it any less apt?
I’m still not quite there with group rides yet, so planned another solo adventure for Saturday. Actually, suggesting I had a plan is giving myself far too much credit, what I actually had was inkling of an idea and an odd yen to climb the Trench, reasoning it’s been months since I travelled those roads and it might be quite … well, refreshing?
(I guess anyone who’s actually climbed the Trench will recognise just how odd a yen this was.)
My route there, or at least the only route I could trust myself to follow, included a clamber up the short-but-steep Mur du Mitford and from there my way home would be traced via that perennial club favourite, Middleton Bank. In effect, with the Mur, Trench and Middleton Bank, I’d set my sights on a triumvirate of torture.
Throw in the climb of Hospital Lane to get out of the Tyne Valley and my usual drag up the Heinous Hill to cap things off and it was actually more like a pentagram of pain. Perfect.
The weather promised to be decidedly “meh” though – almost unbroken cloud cover and occasional showers. The start was dank and dismal too, a light, weeping and ever-present drizzle, that slowly soaked everything, whilst the roads were still awash from an overnight downpour.
I’d learned my lesson last week having indelibly besmirched another pair of pristine, white socks and turned them a poisonous shade of dingy grey that no amount of Persil will ever rectify. This week I went for navy socks and hid my shame under a pair of light overshoes. Jersey, shorts, arm warmers and a rain jacket completed my super-stylish ensemble and I was good to go, hoping I’d be able to ship the jacket somewhere along the way.
There was movement out on the river this week, rowing is back underway and the water was dotted with single sculls. No sign of the crewed fours, or eights yet, but an indication things are slowly returning to normal.
There was another sign of returning to normal at Westerhope, where, at 8:50 and presumably still ten minutes before opening time, a queue of raggedy-haired, mop-topped blokes was already forming a disorderly queue on the pavement outside the barbers, desperate for a post-lockdown shearing.
I dropped down the hill toward Kingston Park, slowing to remove my specs and thread them into my helmet vents as they were becoming increasingly opaque as as the mist-come-rain speckled the lenses. My bike frame was beaded with glistening droplets of moisture too and starting to resemble something you might find in an exotic soft-porn shoot.
Or so I’ve been led to believe…
From Kingston Park , I picked up standard club run routing through Dinnington, then running up Bell’s Hill, confident I knew where I was going. Only the road was closed just past the climb and I was forced into a slight detour. Still, even then the surroundings were reassuringly familiar and I was soon through Tranwell Woods and closing in on Mitford.
It was here that I encountered my first group of riders, around a dozen or so cheery female cyclists, travelling well-spread out in three or four distinct clumps. I would later wonder how I missed the memo about it being National Women’s Cycling Day, as at least every other rider I passed thereafter seemed to be female. It was good to see so many out enjoying the riding, if not the less than perfect weather.
At Mitford, I stopped for a cereal bar breakfast and to peer through the drizzle at the ruins of the castle. We always scamper past this en bloc and at relatively high pace, so I’ve never really stopped to consider it. Internet sleuthing tells me it built as a motte and bailey castle by the Normans in the late 11th Century, only to be destroyed, burned and abandoned two hundred or so years later.
Sight-seeing and needless, pedantic sight-seeing commentary over with, I pushed on to the Mur de Mitford, where I found the left-hand lane demarcated by a long, frayed streamer, a coppery-blue-hued, glistening rainbow of spilled diesel, stretching all the way up the climb, from top to bottom.
Luckily the road was otherwise empty, so I switched to the far right-hand lane to clamber up, warily avoiding the evil gleam of the oil spill that promised an immediate loss of traction and potential pratfall.
From there it was a straightforward run to the bottom of the Trench and a fairly civilised, I might almost say enjoyable, climb through it, although the legs were tiring as I pushed over the top and on to Dyke Neuk. Here I decided on the spur of the moment that I might as well go for the full set of club climbs and take in the horrid grind up to Rothley Crossroads too.
Instead of back-tracking, I took the road toward Hartburn, turning right just before the dip and rise to the village and heading north once again. This is a road we often traverse in the other direction and now I know why, it’s actually a testing little climb going the other way.
Having completed a big loop around Dyke Neuk, I was soon back on the road leading from the top of the Trench and passing through Longwitton, and climbing to the crossroads.
I don’t know what it is about this climb, it’s not particularly steep and shouldn’t be half as hard as it actually is, but it’s a constant grind, difficult to find the right cadence on … and it hurts like hell.
I was halfway up when the silence was split by the hollow, lone bellow of a cow, evidently in extreme discomfort. “You and me both,” I muttered to myself.
The commotion seemed to be coming from the field off to my right, but its source was screened by a dense line of trees . Once again the cow brayed its distress and I couldn’t help thinking that if my legs were to be given voice at that precise moment, that would be the exact sound they’d make too.
A brief pause at the crossroads, then I dropped through to Scots Gap and up Middleton Bank, where a toiling cyclist ahead of me provided an additional bit of motivation. Cresting the top I finally decided it was safe to remove my jacket and shoved it messily in a back pocket.
Then it was homeward bound, Bolam, Belsay, Kirkley in short order, through Dinnington, out to Westerhope (the queue outside the barbers was long gone) and across the river at Newburn.
The volume of cars on the road is back to near normal levels, so I abandoned the main road up the Heinous Hill about three-quarters of the way up, taking to the side streets to avoid the queuing traffic stretching from the traffic lights back down the bank. Well, that was nice while it lasted.
Then, one last short, steep ramp, and I was home again.
As 2019 dragged it’s scabrous, rancorous and rotting cadaver to a close, slouching toward another shiny new decade we could all gleefully defile, severe self-doubt seemed about the best emotion I could muster.
Pressure at work ratcheted up, my parents started to shrink, fade-out and intermittently disappear, to be replaced by incomprehensible and faltering strangers (don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been bat-shit crazy, but this personality-void is incredibly disheartening) and the entire world seemed in the grip of pernicious, venal, self-serving, morally bankrupt shysters and psychopathic killers, supported by a host of blinkered parasitic enablers and deranged acolytes. What a shit-show.
Foolishly, I began to wonder what was the point in churning out more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles and, like any sensible, rational human-being, I reached the conclusion that there was no point.
I decided to take an indefinite break from blerging.
A new year rolled in dragging with it waves of extreme weather, intense storms, hurricanes, fires and floods, war, famine, more genocide, violent displacements, wild destruction, plagues of locusts, plagues of … well plague and a growing sense that not enough people in the right places care that we seem to be accelerating toward some, as yet undetermined, catastrophe. Things are bad and not likely to get better anytime soon.
I’m not so much worried about the fragility of nature, but its utterly implacable, indiscriminate fury and at the moment it seems to be raging. I’ll continue doing what I can to be a good citizen, but I’m conscious it’s never going to be enough and I’m not sure what else I can do.
So, having considered all the options, I’ve found I’ve only got one answer, more self-indulgent, bloviating frivolity about piloting a bike round and round in circles…
Saturday morning then, crisp, chilly and a bit blowy, but nothing like the gale force winds that have scourged club rides seemingly every weekend for a month and a half.
Not that I would know, I missed all of that. I’ve been slowly recuperating from an unknown, malign and pernicious virus (probably not that one) that’s kept me off the bike for 5 weeks. This is my first club run back, although I (just about) managed to commute to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This was enough to convince me of the truth of that old adage that it takes 6 weeks of activity to reach a tolerable level of performance, but only 2 weeks to lose any semblance of fitness.
Hills in particular were an issue, my lungs felt as though they were stuffed with wet cotton wool and it took real effort to gulp enough air down, through whatever was constricting them. If I wanted to be dramatic (hey, why not?) it was more akin to slow drowning than asphyxiation.
When Aether posted up the route for the Saturday ride, including an assault of the Mur de Mitford, a clamber up the not-Trench and then a scamper up Middleton Bank, I knew I wasn’t up to it and considered a few options.
I was thinking about driving across to the meeting point to cut down on the total distance and even wondered if I’d be better on my single-speed, with its in-built pace inhibitor (the rotational speed of my legs) in the unlikely event I got carried away. In the end though, Sneaky Pete, suggested he was up for escorting the frail and infirm and would use all his sneaky prowess to find us a particularly sneaky route that would sneakily avoid all the big climbs. Top man.
So, Saturday morning, first thing and, after a long, long absence, I’m out and piloting the Pug down the Heinous Hill en route to the meeting point. I can tell it’s been a while, because it’s already fully light and the last time I travelled this route, I had a grandstand view of the sun slowly rising.
There was little of note on my traversal of the valley, some new traffic lights, a busy flotilla of boats on the river and one or two new potholes to memorise and try to avoid.
At the meeting point:
I rolled into the meeting point to find the Cow Ranger studiously transferring grime from his bike frame onto his gloves, evidently in anticipation of a snap inspection by OGL.
He’d surprised himself by being the first to arrive, despite returning to the house twice for extra layers, as he realised just how chill it was out.
He needn’t have worried about his bike passing muster either, as G-Dawg was the next to arrive, along with news that OGL wouldn’t be out as he was suffering with some kind of bug, although apparently not “that one.”
Nevertheless, G-Dawg had tried to persuade him to self-isolate for 6 or 7 weeks, just as a precaution.
Well, it was worth a try.
We checked in with our front-line warriors in the fight against Corona virus, Alhambra and the Cow Herder. Both suggested things were hectic and a little haphazard, but we were coping. For now.
The Cow Herder confirmed he’d received his Government issue plague mask and was preparing his own selection of prophylactic herbs to guarantee his immunity. His only regret seemed to be he couldn’t wear the mask on the bike.
I’m sure I heard Alhambra say something about breeding more leeches too, but I may have been mistaken.
With just 18 of us out (Richard of Flanders would later join at Horton Grange) we decided to travel in one group. Aether briefed in the route and away we went.
I had a chat with Spoons as we got underway, before drifting back to find Sneaky Pete as we hit our first test of the day, Bell’s Hill. I survived that, but was as breathless at the top as I had been when I first joined the club 9 long years ago. Had I regressed that far?
We pressed on, wending our way through Mitford and across the bridge before climbing to the junction. Here the group turned right to descend and test themselves on the Mur, while I followed Sneaky Pete as we turned left and sneakily sneaked away.
The day was busy with multiple groups of cyclists buzzing past and everyone in good cheer. The pair of us rolled along companionably and it wasn’t until we reached Dyke Neuk that we realised that neither us had any particular proclivity to dictate our route to the cafe.
I tentatively suggested the right hand turn, so that’s what we took and luckily Sneaky Pete has an aversion to Middleton Bank, so at the next decision point there was no prevarication and we went left toward Angerton.
By the time we started to scramble up the hill to Bolam Lake I was heavy-legged and hurting, trailing along behind and looking forward to much needed cake and coffee.
I hauled my protesting body up the final climb and rolled into the cafe. Both done and done in.
At the cafe:
Parked ostentatiously, right outside the front of the cafe was a slick-looking, low slung, Dolan time-trial bike, with a solid disk rear wheel and tri-spoke front.
We paused briefly to admire it’s aggressively low-profile, but decidedly uncomfortable looking form.
“What sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today?” we both mused.
We stepped into the cafe to find exactly what sort of idiot would bring a bike like that out on a day like today. The Colossus was sitting at the first table, avidly devouring a bacon sandwich and it was his mean machine.
I was somewhat surprised the Colossus was out at all, he’d fallen out of love with cycling back in the summer and the only time I’d seen him since was for the Christmas Jumper ride. (I suspect he couldn’t resist one last opportunity to squeeze himself into his stripy elf hot pants.)
I wondered if this was a prelude to him taking up time trialling, but apparently not, he’d just always wanted to have a go on a proper time-trial bike and with his first ride on it today, he’d taken the opportunity to scratch the itch.
“What now?” I queried.
“Well, I’ve done it now, so I can probably just hang the bike on a wall and forget about it.”
I think he was joking.
We learned that he’d bought the bike, barely used, from e-Bay, the previous owner being an avid mountain-biker, who’d decided to give time trialling a blast, dropping a few grand on all the right kit … before quickly backing out and deciding he hated it. People is odd.
The only real drawback for the Colossus was the bike was located in Wales, so he’d had to drive down to collect it, through the teeth of Storm Ciara. The Met Office had declared nothing but essential travel was allowed, so at least the Colossus could justify the journey and contend it was officially sanctioned. Sadly though, he didn’t have the opportunity to test-ride the bike during the raging storm, that could have been interesting.
We were onto our second cup of coffee as our main group pile up and into what was a surprisingly quiet cafe. Or, maybe not so surprisingly quiet.
Aether and G-Dawg, joined us at the table, G-Dawg bringing lurid tales of people blatantly stealing toilet rolls from restaurant toilets, seemingly just to confirm my earlier contention that people is odd.
I also learned that menthol cigarettes are due to be banned as a “gateway” to … err … proper smoking? I wondered if menthol cigarettes might be useful for clearing the airways and why Chris Froome hadn’t given them a shot before major time trials. I couldn’t help thinking it would be a much cooler look than pedalling away on rollers with a cotton wool bung soaked in Olbas Oil jammed up each nostril.
Sneaky Pete decided to sneak off early, so I joined him for the ride back at what I hoped would be a fairly refined pace. I actually thought we’d successfully make it home and dry, until we rounded the corner just before the Kirkley Mill stables and ran through an elongated stretch of flooded road. Instant soaked feet.
Luckily the rest of the ride was without incident and before long I was thanking Sneaky Pete for a most agreeable ride, before swinging away to plug my way home.
I was seriously tired and it was slow going. I was now in survival mode and on one of those rides where every enforced stop at a red traffic light seems like a beneficent gift. Although still chilly, it looked like Spring wasn’t too far away, with the bright purple and white heads of tulips spiking the grass as a promise of better weather to come.
I had a quick chat with a few other groups of cyclists as they swept effortlessly past my labouring form, then I was turning to climb up the Heinous Hill and wondering just how slowly I could crawl up it without actually toppling over. (The answer is, pretty damn slowly.)
That was hard. Surely it’s got to be easier next time?
PaltryYTD Totals: 793 km / 444 miles with 9,269 metres of climbing
Mild weather in December? No frost and no ice? Dry, with not the slightest hint of rain? Slightly breezy, but no debilitating gales? What could our feckless, mild curmudgeon of a club rider possibly find to complain about on this fine day?
Don’t worry folks, I’ve got it covered. It was the state of the roads. I don’t mean their divot-riven, crevasse-crazed, crumbling and cratered surfaces – that’s just a given these days and hardly worth a mention. The issue this time out was just how much wet mud and crud and dirt and filth and, and … drek was strewn across our paths.
Cleaning the bike afterwards was most assuredly a two bucket job.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Ahlambra arrived at the meeting place on a passably clean bike. I was going to suggest that, for once, he would be able to avoid any censure from OGL, when I realised he was riding without mudguards, so rebuke was sadly inevitable. It then became apparent that the bike was only clean, because it was his summer bike, uncharitably yanked out of hibernation in an hour of need.
Ahlambra explained that he’d been out for a ride when he’d somehow sheered through the crank bolts on his winter bike. Luckily, he hadn’t been too far from home and had carefully made it back, while somehow keeping a sliding chainring in place on the bottom bracket spindle, as he described it, “like a magician spinning plates.”
Still, he wasn’t the only one riding without guards, so plenty of good material was available for our traditional pre-ride inspection and ritual castigation. In fact, the weather was so mild that I was convinced someone would be brave and/or foolish enough to turn up wearing shorts, opening up entirely new avenues of derision.
I almost felt my prediction was going to be fulfilled immediately, when Rab Dee arrived at speed and with a daring flash of bare calf. But sadly, no, he was only wearing three-quarter length bibs. Just as I was about to give up, however, a bare-legged, be-shorted Goose bumped his steel behemoth (dubbed the Iron Horse by the Hammer) up onto the kerb to join us. Good man, I knew he wouldn’t let me down.
The stars had aligned and we had all the tropes available and primed for a classic and highly entertaining bit of OGL banter, larded with heapings of scorn and opprobrium, when G-Dawg revealed OGL was actually laid up poorly in bed and wouldn’t be riding today.
Princess Fiona had just returned from a (heartily recommended) mountain-biking trip in the Himalaya’s, where the internal flights sounded more technical, gnarly and terrifying than some of the actual rides down raw and precipitous mountain trails.
The small, single-engine planes used to transport riders, bikes and equipment between runs had been so delicate and finely balanced, that their internal loads and passengers had to be carefully matched and distributed, just to ensure they’d fly straight.
This proved too much for G-Dawg, the Dennis Bergkamp of our club, who refuses to step onto a plane these days and visibly blanched at the descriptions of seat-of-the-pants flying through high mountain passes. It’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be travelling to the Himalayas for his mountain-bike fix anytime soon.
It reminded me of a tale about one of Mrs. SLJ’s cousins, who had a similar fear of flying. In mid-flight across the Mediterranean, the captain had come on the intercom to suggest that if everyone looked out the left hand window, they’d get a good view of Corsica. Naturally, almost one entire side of the plane had dutifully stood up and shuffled across the aisle to peer out the windows, all except the cousin, who gripped his chair arms white knuckled and screamed, “Sit down! Sit down! You’ll have the bugger over!”
Route briefed in, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and we planned a rendezvous and merging at Dyke Neuk. With all that decided, I dropped down the kerb and joined the first group as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I fell in alongside TripleD-Bee, working hard to immerse himself in UK and even Geordieland culture, to the extent that he was willing to subject himself to 90-minutes of unalloyed pain and misery on a trip to St. James’ Park. There he would join a congregation of the deluded, watching dilettante multi-millionaires disconsolately kicking a surrogate pigs bladder around a paddock. Or something.
He admitted though that, despite his willing immersion, he hadn’t quite got to grips with the Geordie dialect yet. He was however working on the Jimmy Carr principle of finding that one phrase that perfectly and easily encapsulates the dialect and building from this. “Roller coaster” apparently is the phrase of choice for would-be Geordie speakers, so if you stumble across an odd cyclist constantly muttering “roller-coaster” to himself in a sing-song voice, you’ll know why. Anyway, be assured you haven’t discovered a confused Charles Manson acolyte, who’s simply got his fairground rides mixed up.
At the top of Bell’s Hill, G-Dawg and Aether swung aside and invited TripleD-Bee and me onto the front. We lasted little more than a mile, as, when we called out for directions, Jimmy Mac set us ploughing straight ahead when we should have turned left. We corrected too late and went from first place to last in one glorious, errant manoeuvre.
The Mur de Mitford was wet and slippery, causing G-Dawg no end of problems on his fixie and prompting Den Hague to lend a helping hand with a well-timed push. Gurning and grunting mightily, he made it up, but I’m not sure he enjoyed it.
From the Mur, we scaled the Curlicue Climb (Coldlaw) as an alternative to the Trench, where once again G-Dawg pondered the imponderable, trying to decide which of the two ways up he liked the best (or maybe t which hated the least). He sensibly decided the one he preferred was the one he wasn’t set to ride – which makes perfect sense to me.
Once again the front group went straight on when they should have turned left. I suspect that, once more this was at the prompting of Jimmy Mac, who’s building a formidable reputation as an errant and unreliable navigator, an official position within the club we haven’t been able to fill ever since the Prof defected to the Back Street Boys.
The remaining few followed the agreed plan and we made our way to Dyke Neuk and settled down for what would prove to be an extended wait. It was so long in fact, that we’d decided to push on and were just clipping in, when the second group finally appeared on the horizon. We merged the two groups on the fly and pushed on.
I fell in alongside Carlton, who made a ridiculously simple suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t look to merge the groups on winter rides, when hanging around, slowly chilling (in all senses of the word) probably wasn’t such a smart idea. The man’s a genius.
We took Middleton Bank en masse and I pulled onthe front from the crest of the hill, around the lake and over the rollers to the final climb. At this point I felt I’d done enough and sat back to let everyone else contest the sprint to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
If the cafe had been eerily quiet the week before, they were more than making up for it now and the place was rammed, including a sizeable contingent from the Blaydon club, who don’t typically use this a stop on their rides.
Our Jimmy Mac (mis)led splinter-group, having missed the long wait at Dyke Neuk, had arrived much earlier and were almost ready to go by the time we joined the long queue. In a poor piece of planning, or perhaps a poor show of form, they vacated their table in the crowded cafe before we’d been served. If they’d hung back just a little we could have smoothly transitioned from one group of cyclists to the next and especially annoyed all he waiting civilians. But it wasn’t to be.
TripleD-Be was in this group and I questioned whether he’d be allowed to leave without TripleD-El. He didn’t see it as a problem. “At least you can have lunch ready and on the table for her when she gets in,” I suggested.
He didn’t look too sure.
“At least I’ll get first use of the shower,” he countered. Fair play, to the victor go the spoils etc.
In the extended queue I had a discussion about the curse of helmet hair with Princess Fiona, still taking grief from her elderly mother for having a highly practical, but apparently too short, “too masculine” hair-do.
We decided that a wig was perhaps the only sensible answer, a conversation that ended with Mini Miss pointedly eyeing up a civilian with a too-neat, too perfect-looking bob and wondering if the hair was perhaps a mite unnatural. As the woman jostled past, she must have wondered why we were all staring fixedly at her head and unsuccessfully fighting to suppress a fit of giggles. I hope we didn’t give her too much of a complex.
I told TripleD-El her partner had skipped home, intent on taking up semi-permanent residence in the shower, until he’d drained the hot water tank. She wasn’t biting, but instead envisaged that not only would her lunch be waiting on the table when she arrived, but having already showered and cooked lunch and cleaned his own bike, TripleD-Be would be waiting eagerly to clean her bike for her.
I wonder how that worked out?
Ahlambra was one of the last to take a seat and I couldn’t help but marvel at that state of his footwear. He’d forgotten to pull on overshoes that morning and his once prisitine, shoes were now uniformly covered in a thick, shiny, slimy layer of beige-coloured slurry. “They’re nice shoes,” I told him, “Did you know they do them in white as well?”
After our usual quota of talking nonsense, we determined it was time to go and started gathering variously discarded articles of clothing.
Pulling on his buff. Kermit remarked that in certain company he always gets a strange reaction when he declares he’s been riding in his buff, often followed by various questions about the legality of such activity and just how uncomfortable it is.
[Despite any potential confusion, I still can’t bring myself to refer to a buff as a “neck gaiter” as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, this is far to close to the term neck goitre and conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images.]
TripleD-El provided further proof that cultural context was everything, relating how her workmates had seemingly over-reacted to her simple declaration that she’d “lost her licence.”
“Oh, no! What on earth did you do wrong?” she was asked.
“I think I must have left it in my other coat,” she’d replied, to some very confused looks.
The trip home was unremarkable and largely without impediment, other than having to negotiate the crowds on the bridge and mile long line of cars parked up haphazardly, either side of the river. The Rutherford Head rowing regatta was in full flow and enjoying much better weather than I seem to recall from last year’s sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain squalls.
And now we’re spiralling to toward the end of the year. I’ll miss next weeks ride as I retrieve Thing#1 from university, which gives me a week free from this nonsense and just a couple more opportunities to pad out mileage totals.
It looks like my next ride out will be our Christmas jumper … err… extravaganza, so I guess another mild, uncomfortably warm ride looks certain. We’ll see.
YTD Totals: 7,483 km / 4,650 miles with 96,385 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 111 km / 69 miles with 1,115 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 14 minute
Average Speed: 26.3 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 1 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Changing
As I swept around the Blaydon roundabout, a red, a white and a then a blue car all stopped to give way, spreading across the three lanes of the feeder road in an impromptu display of colour co-ordination and forming an unexpected French tricolour. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. I like it when three disparate things come together and create something greater than the sum of their parts.
The digital display on the factory unit en route to the river read a fairly autumnal 11°C, and, as if in confirmation of the changing seasons, wind and rain had started to pluck leaves from the trees overnight and these were strewn across the road.
Oh and, yep, the bridge was still closed to cars.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I found myself pilloried by Jimmy Mac and the Monkey Butler Boy when I suggested Jimmy Mac’s stem, an unsubtle, chunky, slab-sided, oversized and over-engineered lump of (no doubt reassuringly expensive) carbon fibre, not only lacked elegance, but was in fact downright ugly.
I should have realised the Monkey Butler Boy would defend anything that looked expensively engineered, even if it didn’t conform to his own primary concern of being “aero”. He was after all showing off an aero-faring on his bike (of dubious legality) his aero wheels and was wearing aero socks, aero-helmet and an aero skinsuit – apparently the new essentials of a normal club run.
“He’ll buy almost anything if it’s described as aero,” the Red Max confirmed.
“Hmm, what’s his favourite chocolate bar? “ I asked, setting the Red Max up to deadpan “Snickers” or something similar, but he missed the open goal, or perhaps decided this was too puerile, even by our less than exacting dad-joke standards.
The Garrulous Kid revealed he’d returned from holiday exactly the same weight he’d been when he left. “Hmm, “the Colossus pondered, “I think you’re doing it all wrong.”
“And, have you decided on a university yet?” Jimmy Mac wondered.
“Yeah …” the Garrulous Kid replied, before obviously being distracted by a passing red-head, a falling leaf, or perhaps intermittent flatulence …
“Well?” Jimmy Mac prodded the uncharacteristically taciturn Garrulous Kid.
“Oh, Edinburgh or Newcastle. I decided Aberdeen was too far away.”
“Not for us,” I assured him.
Meanwhile, we discussed the strange phenomena of how Aberdeen always seemed to be four hours journey away, whether you went by car, plane or train. Or even, we suspect, bike.
We’ve evolved leadership of the Saturday club run so that the route planner and designated leader on the day rides with the second group. Those in the front group are expected to more or less fend for themselves, though they do have the safety net of being able to drop back to the second group if things go awry. As such the first group doesn’t need a leader per se, but it makes sense that it sticks to the same roads and so needs someone who knows the agreed route.
Aether had volunteered to act as this week’s route-master and had written down the key turns on a cylinder of paper that, like a pro, he’d taped around his handlebars. The only issue I could see was his cylinder would could rotate in the wind, and I was worried he’d lose his place and start calling out turns in all the wrong order, getting us hopelessly lost.
The Monkey Butler Boy seems to have lost his OCD-like, gleaming white shoe fetish, or at least he’s run out of baby wipes to clean them with. I castigated him for a coffee stain across the toe of one of his shoes.
“That’s not coffee,” he assured me, before adding somewhat unnecessarily, “I know my stains.” With him being an adolescent male, I could only bow to his superior wisdom and concede he was probably right, without enquiring further about that particular stains provenance…
Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day, once again routing us up Broadway West. The Lone Dissenting Voice grumbled a bit (well, ok, a lot) and tried to convince us that the lunar landscape that is the bombed out, shell-torn, no-mans-land of a road through Dinnington, had been resurfaced.
“What, since yesterday?” a very, very doubtful, G-Dawg queried.
“Well, we can consider it next week,” Jimmy Mac interjected smoothly, killing the discussion at least for the day. We would later find that repairs have indeed started on the road through Dinnington, but it very much remains a work in progress.
We split into two, with Aether leading the first group out and away, while I hung back to see where the balance of numbers would lie.
The front group continued to swell until it easily comprised two-thirds of our number, with someone suggesting many abandoned the second group so they didn’t have to listen to the incessant grumbling of the Lone Dissenting Voice. Still, I hung back with group two in an attempt to at least try and balance the numbers, before Jimmy Mac led us out and I joined him on the front.
Things went smoothly on the first part of the ride, in fact, so smoothly we were constantly in danger of running into the back of the first group, so once out into the countryside we called for an extended pee stop to allow the gap to be padded out.
Before that, there was an opportunity for the Monkey Butler Boy to complain that my socks weren’t straight. Sensing my extreme disquiet at this revelation, Jimmy Mac wondered if I wanted him to call a stop, so I could immediately correct my glaring and very major wardrobe malfunction. Like the brave soldier I am, I determined I could live with the eternal shame and told him to press on.
(I later got revenge by insisting the Monkey Butler Boy’s bar end plugs were misaligned. Hah! That’ll teach him…)
By the time we swept through Matfen our lone FNG was struggling on the hills and OGL was starting to work up toward a full-blown rant-storm. I dropped back to where a gruppetto was starting to form, but the Red Max insisted he had it all under control and shooed me away.
A quick burst took me up to the front group and we pressed on to the top of the Quarry, a rendezvous with the first group and an eventually reforming of the entire ride. Splits were agreed for shorter and longer routes to the café and away we went again.
The longer ride group clambered up through Capheaton, encountering the tweedy-clad, reedy-voiced ladies of the local hunt for the first time this year, happy to be looking down on the strange cycling proles from atop their stupidly-big horses.
“Aye sey, there’s an awful lot of yooze,” one complained, after having to respond to about the fourteenth hearty “Good morning!” in a row.
The Big Yin wondered if they thought us fair game and if it would not be a lot more fun to hunt random cyclists, instead of poor, defenceless foxes. I immediately shushed him, I didn’t want to give them any ideas…
I’d foolishly drifted toward the back as we swooped downhill and hit the climb to Wallington. The group immediately began to stretch out and break apart, making for a hard climb as I worked my way through the back markers and up to where a knot out front were making a concentrated effort to pull clear.
We then rattled through Cambo and up Middleton Bank at a fairly testing pace. Over the top, I pushed onto the front and started to wind the speed up. Ovis took over for a spell on the front, then G-Dawg.
Through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I actually managed to hold back and stayed in the wheels until we were around the last bend and G-Dawg and the Colossus burned away to contest the sprint. Zardoz took a well-timed third, while I rolled home alongside Ovis.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A new offer in the café, Full-English Breakfast Pie made G-Dawg’s eyes go big with wonder.
“The usual ham and egg pie, but with added sausage!” the Colossus added, “What’s not to like!”
“I wonder what else is in there?” Ovis pondered.
“Fried bread?” I suggested.
Sadly, the massive plate dish with the Full English Breakfast Pie wasn’t one, individual serving, like a Desperate Dan Cow Pie, but the Colossus and G-Dawg took a large slice each and, with the café full to heaving with civilians and numerous groups of cyclists, ventured into the garden to find a seat.
I followed them out to be confronted by a whole host of Monkey Butler Boy mini-me’s, his Wrecking Crew were out in full force, all dressed identically in their club shirts and shorts and helmets.
I rubbed my eyes, feigning incomprehension. “Which one’s the Monkey Butler Boy?”
“I’m the Monkey Butler Boy!” the smallest declared.
“No, I’m the Monkey Butler Boy!” another argued…
Meanwhile, I wondered what the collective noun was for a group of Monkey Butler Boys. A troop? A whoop? A chatter? A clatter? A flange?
They berated the actual Monkey Butler Boy as a traitor for riding with us, instead of them, but were soon distracted by shiny, shiny bicycles and moved off en masse, clustering around one bike to jabber and point and prod excitedly, before moving onto the next … and then the next.
G-Dawg was just about to celebrate a ride free of harassment from motorcyclists, when the Colossus reminded him that the front group had been on the receiving end of some obscene gesticulations from one fine, leather-clad gentleman. I’m beginning to think this is a single, solitary biker with a grudge to bear and an unfortunate schedule that coincides almost exactly with ours.
The Garrulous Kid went on a wasp killing spree, bravely armed with nothing more than a teaspoon. For the most part he was outwitted by our vespidae friends, but he did manage to cut one notch in his teaspoon, after some insanely wild flailing.
It was chilly in the garden, so we were more than ready to depart when a group began to coalesce. Here we found we would be sharing the road back not only with the Monkey Butler Boy’s Wrecking Crew, but the Prof’s Backstreet Boys tribute act too – a mass of perhaps 30, all male, cyclists, somewhere between the ages of 15 and 70 plus. (Yes, yes, some of us should know how to behave better.)
“This could be kee-otic!” the Red Max predicted, channelling his inner Nostradamus, as we stacked up to join the main road outside the café. He was, perhaps remembering the last time we got into a pissing contest with another club, that had seen some frenzied and risky racing, with no one willing to give an inch as we piled around a parked up, double-decker bus, pushing blindly onto the wrong side of the road and into the face of on-coming traffic. I still don’t know how we got away with that one.
An uneasy truce held, as we made our way through Ogle and past Kirkley Hall, even in the face of extreme provocation from White Van Man who thought it would be funny to squirt water at us as he roared past. What a wag.
The pace started to build as we made our way up Berwick Hill. Then, no doubt stung by criticism that the Backstreet Boys were nothing but a teen-orientated boy band, more flash than substance and that their entire musical ouvre was distinctly lacking in artistic merit … the Prof attacked … on the wrong side of the road around a blind bend.
“A nice bit of Dutch over-taking,” someone muttered as the Prof, as Donnie, was quickly joined by others – presumably his Nick, Brian, Kevin and A.J. counterparts They had opened up a sizeable gap by the time the rest of us made the turn through the junction and started down the other side of Berwick Hill.
From there, I watched and waited for the inevitable, even as I rolled my chain down the cassette in preparation. Sure enough, the Red Max was the first to move, making his early prognostication of chaos a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. He slid out of line and accelerated away in pursuit of the Back Street Boys, even as the Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation.
Like a string being pulled through a knot, all order slowly unravelled and we were drawn into one long line, everyone diving onto any available wheel as the speed built and built, surfing a tsunami of testosterone. Those without the legs, caught unaware, or in the wrong gear, were swamped and unmercifully spat out the back, as we went howling down the hill.
It was brutal.
It was madness.
It was magnificent.
And oddly compelling.
The catch was made well before the hill levelled out, but there was no sense that order had been restored, we slowed just barely enough to sweep through the sharp right-hand turn to Dinnington and then the power was immediately piled back on again.
I tried to stay alert to everything, recognising a certain fever and a gung-ho madness had gripped the ride, no quarter would be asked, or given and risk assessment was likely to be badly compromised.
I was also aware that we were hurtling along, packed together, millimetres from the wheel in front and with no margins for error, in a group containing a smattering of those my fellow riders had consigned to an unofficial black-list for erratic or thoughtless riding, bad bike handling and an increased likelihood of doing something stupid and causing a crash.
Luckily, today there were no unexpected pots, parked up buses, or impatient drivers trying to overtake and, more importantly, thankfully no cycling brain farts.
As the road began to slowly rise, Andeven, a giant in a field of midgets, came effortlessly floating past. I latched onto his wheel like a hungry remora on a prowling shark and followed. As the Prof’s speed faltered on the hill up to Dinnington, Andeven breezed past and took me through to the front of the group.
Here we found the truth of the rumours about repairs to the road through Dinnington. The top layers of tarmac had been peeled back and the underlying surface had been scarified, raked and ploughed into deep, corrugated ridges and furrows. We hit it at full tilt and my bike and body started to shake wildly, oscillating almost painfully with a deep, thrumming vibration.
Then we were banging back up onto the old, unreconstructed surface and hurtling up the long grind past the airport, with no let-up in the speed, even as the gradient stiffened and I slipped back a couple of places. I knew it was a still a full-on effort, because just ahead of me Jimmy Mac had started that upper-body pecking motion he develops whenever he’s laying the power down.
The Colossus swung up alongside me and dared a quick glance across.
“What the hell just happened?” he wondered. I had no answer, I was as bewildered as he was.
Finally the road began to dip and anticipating a possible pinch-point, where some of us would swing left and the rest dive into the narrow, twisting lanes of the Mad Mile, I eased and dropped back, allowing myself plenty of space and time.
From here, I tracked the remnants of the group through the Mad Mile, before swinging away to start my ride home, which I completed in warm sunshine, a pleasant change to last week’s sudden appearance of rain.
So, today I learned that there’s something else that can happen when you bring three disparate things together and create something greater than the sum of their parts: Collective madness.
I think I might prefer liberté, égalité and fraternité, they’re a little less chaotic.
Right, I won’t be out next week as I’m taking Thing#1 off to start university and I’m relying on my club mates to report any sightings of our motorcycling serial abuser, I’m keen, obviously, to see if we can keep the streak going.
YTD Totals: 5,406 km / 3,359 miles with 66,597 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 121 km / 75 miles with 1,195 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
Average Speed: 26.2 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Glorious
A week – a long time in politics, is seemingly an aeon in terms of British weather, which might explain how things suddenly changed from last weeks biting chill, too H-o-t (with a capital H). Hot enough indeed for G-Dawg to send out a diktat via Facebook declaring “shorts only” for the weekend. Well, obviously not just shorts, that would be unseemly, but you get the idea.
I was assured it was going to be a fantastic day, but nonetheless, it was cold early in the morning and I was happy I’d thought to pull on a pair of arm warmers. Still, the sky was a cloudless, sparkling blue and the sun was throwing sharp shadows ahead of my front wheel – it was just a matter of time before the temperature picked up. In fact the digital readout on a factory unit said 23 C. Yeah, right, a bit premature I think, but still …
It was a thoroughly pleasant amble across the river, the hedgerows and verges studded with bright blossoming tulips and daffodils and the trees laden down with pale blossom that the breeze would tug off the branches so I could occasionally progress like I was riding through a soft, warm blizzard.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
If last week everyone complained of the cold, this week everyone mentioned the heat, as we enjoyed the best spell of weather so far this year and were headed toward the warmest May Bank Holiday weekend for years.
A supremely hot Jimmy Mac arrived, fat beats of sweat already rolling down his face. First blaming his all black Castelli jersey for absorbing too much heat, he then suggested that perhaps his sunscreen was providing an unwelcome layer of insulation. “Huh,” I had to ask, “What are you using for sun cream, goose fat?”
It was so hot, that Szell took G-Dawg’s “shorts only” diktat to heart and stripped off his jersey. Ooph! Luckily, he was just intent on removing his base layer and pulled his jersey back on before too many grannies swooned, or the police arrived to cart him away for indecent exposure.
Indeed, it was so hot that Crazy Legs had coerced the much-cosseted Ribble out its cotton wool nest for the first action of the year – as good a guarantee that we were going to see no rain as money can buy.
Someone had abandoned a Mobike nearby and we circled it warily, trying to decide exactly what kind of strange, exotic beast it was and determine if it was at all dangerous. G-Dawg, quite the bravest amongst us, approached tentatively, gave it a quick prod and, when it didn’t react, picked it up and weighed it appraisingly. “It might be all right downhill,” he mused, but obviously not this particular one, which had been abandoned with only one crank and had a raw, empty spindle where the other should have been. You can break them, then.
The outbreak of shorts threw an unkindly spotlight on personal sock choice, with the obvious Goldilocks dilemma of not too long, not too short, just the right length. The Monkey Butler Boy proved to be the de facto leader of the fashion police and a sock fascist par excellence. He declared the socks sported by the Colossus were too short, but not as bad as those that the Garrulous Kid was wearing – a sort of girly, trainer-sock monstrosity that barely covered his malleolus.
Still, as G-Dawg reminded us, this was a massive upgrade on the Garrulous Kid’s previous choice, a pair of hairy, woolly, baggy, shapeless, sloppy things of an indeterminate grey-green colour that used to pool around his ankles like two detached elephant scrotums.
Ovis arrived for a last training bout before he embarks on the Fred Whitton Challenge. He was suitably provisioned a long day in the saddle, with an entire family-size malt loaf stuffed like a building brick in his jersey pocket. Enough for 16 individual servings, he would fuel his entire ride by systematically gnawing his way through this sticky mess and took a moment before we rolled out to start the process off.
The long absent BFG tried to casually sneak up and merge in, but, like the elephant in the room, his looming presence was obvious to all. I wondered where he’d been for the past few months and he suggested he’d just been hiding in the house all this time.
Then, G-Dawg outlined the route and we split into two groups that wouldn’t see each other again until the café. I dropped into the second group, was led out by the Red Max and away we went.
As we pushed on toward the Dinnington lunar landscape, a lone cyclist, appropriately attired in a Soloist jersey, whirred past. I watched and waited, counting down. It wasn’t long and sure enough, before I’d finished ticking off the fingers of one hand, the Red Max’s targeting radar locked-on and there was a not-so-subtle increase in the pace at the front.
“It’s a club run, not a bloody race!” OGL complained, but all to no avail as Max’s seek and destroy mode was now fully engaged and the pace was ramping up. A few minutes later and if the Soloist had turned around he would have found a madly cackling Red Max encamped on his rear wheel, with the rest of us closing steadily in.
The Soloist got a call on his mobile and slowed to take it mid-ride, suddenly finding himself engulfed by riders spilling past on either side, and then he was spat out the back and we were out onto clear roads again.
I had a brief chat with the BFG, who, rather glassy-eyed and with a pronounced catch in his voice, admitted he’d actually missed us during his long absence. I didn’t know whether to be touched, or annoyed at how surprised he was by his own shock revelation. He also revealed he was wary of riding in a group in case he caused a crash. We determined that with the Prof also absent, rehearsing with his Back Street Boys tribute band, the potential for chaos within the bunch was already markedly reduced, but it wasn’t sufficient and the BFG soon turned away for a much less stressful solo ride.
Up past the Cheese Farm and the Slow Drinker went to stretch his legs up Bell’s Hill, so I followed, to more vocal discontent from the rear ranks. We paused at the top, but no one had been dropped and no one was struggling, so we shrugged and pressed on.
Nodding at Ovis, resplendent in his customary, bright blue and yellow Rochdale Tri top, Taffy Steve decided it would be good if everyone turned up at the meeting point in the distinctive kit, which would probably cause OGL’s head to explode.
Simply by dint of its omniscience, I’ve concluded that the Rochdale Tri stuff is either virtually indestructible, or Ovis owns an awful lot of it – potentially enough to kit out the entire club …
A long, low convertible Cadillac cruised past in a flare of shiny chrome, cuing up a quick burst of Brand New Cadillac. Any ride when I get to tunelessly belt out a Clash song has to be considered a good ride in my book. Balls to ya, Big Daddy…
A bit further on and I got to substitute the warning of “pots” for “pheasant” as one of the dopey birds darted across the road. Up through Tranwell and the King of the Grogs shipped his chain so we pulled over to wait, giving Ovis the chance to renew his slavering assault on his malt loaf while we waited. Then we were off again, before a rather unremarkable ascent of the Mur de Mitford.
We stretched things out down the road to Netherwitton, before a sharp left dropped us at the bottom of the Trench. The Red Max called for a general regrouping at the top, then waved us through to tackle the climb at our own pace. Benedict and the Slow Drinker seemed to have their climbing legs on, so I followed in their wheels as we pushed upwards and onwards.
Stopping at the top, I had a quick chat with Captain Black and we agreed that as hard as the climb up the Trench was, it least it was preferable to last week’s drag up to Rothley Crossroads, or Rothley Bloody Crossroads as it momentarily seemed to have been renamed.
We were called back to the main group, where we found Ovis busy chomping down on his malt loaf brick, while Taffy Steve revealed that, because it was such a nice day, they’d decided to split, with a group detouring from the planned route for a longer ride to take in Middleton Bank … via Rothley Bloody Crossroads.
Naturally, having declared our loathing for this particular route just minutes earlier, I found myself tagging along with Captain Black, just for that slight masochistic frisson of grinding up to the Bloody Crossroads yet again.
Fuelled on pure malt loaf, Ovis set a fast pace and tugged everyone along, before regrouping at the top, where Benedict and Andeven went off in search of even more miles, while the rest of us pushed on to Scots Gap and then Middleton Bank.
At the foot of the bank, Ovis darted away. Working around a flailing Szell and standing out of the saddle, I gave chase and closed him down on the steepest ramps, before plonking down and pushing onto the front as the gradient lessened.
A partial regrouping over the top, and a small group of us pressed on for the café. With abundant malt loaf resources left to burn, Ovis kept pushing the speed up and up, with real intent, so I finally gave up matching his pace and slipped onto his rear wheel and followed. We were soon all lined-out and rattling along, behind what Carlton would later dub the Rochdale Express.
Ovis kept looking back, perhaps hoping he’d shed the leeches that hung off his back wheel like particularly stubborn and bloody-minded remora hitching a ride on a great shark, but no matter how hard he pushed he couldn’t dislodge us.
Swooping through the Milestone Woods, I attacked off the front as we hit the base of the rollers. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake, I couldn’t force a gap big enough before the road levelled and dipped down again and it put the hurt into my legs. Still I kept going, around the next corner and onto the final climb where the first pursuers, Ovis and Goose finally wrestled their way past.
I dropped into their slipstream until the very last ramp saw their momentum ebb slightly, then I ground my way around them and onto the front one final time.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A quick survey of the goods on display and both Goose and I zeroed in the lone, very last piece of Bakewell tart as being the premium source of extreme goodness and cycling-specific, calorific content. We could have fought for it, we could have engaged in a quick round or rock-paper-scissors, or, by dint of sneaking into the queue first, I could have trumped his “finders-keepers” declaration with a pre-emptive order, but being a gentleman I conceded and went for the ginger flapjack instead.
Conferring later, I gave the flapjack a 7.5 out of 10, whereas Goose declared the Bakewell tart was a solid 10. I’ll never know if he was deliberately exaggerating its appeal, but I’ll know better next time.
We found a table outside and were quickly joined by the Monkey Butler Boy, who left another group, not drawn to our scintillating company so much as fleeing the wasps that hovered around it. He seems to have an irrational fear of the little blighters, even though we discovered he’d never been stung.
Goose suggested he needed to grasp the nettle (so to speak) and get stung in order to realise it wasn’t that big an issue – or at least find out if he was prone to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. The Monkey Butler Boy … err … politely demurred.
With such glorious weather, talk turned to the potential for weekend barbecue’s, a Great British obsession, whenever there’s even the barest hint of decent weather. Apparently, my utter dislike for the process of either conjuring up, or devouring, burnt and crusty carbonised meat with a cold and raw interior, marks me out as being an effete loser and much less than a proper man.
Speaking of effete practices, the Garrulous Kid revealed he had to be home on time for his mum to take him to his exclusive, elite, city centre hair salon for an appointment with his personal stylist. He (well, she to be fair) must pay an awful lot of money for his haircut, that looks no different from what everyone else gets from their local barber. Mind you, I’m no expert and have always believed my dad’s edict that there’s only 2 weeks between a bad haircut and a good one.
The Garrulous Kid then volunteered the reason he didn’t just go to the barbers like a normal bloke, was that he didn’t like having his hair cut by machine, which is interesting as I’ve never seen an android barber and would like to give one a try. Perhaps the conversation would be a little more illuminating than the standard fare of “busy at work?” or, “off anywhere nice on holiday?” Then again, perhaps I’m just choosing the wrong barber and need to find one like the Red Max’s who’ll gladly entertain customers, young and old, with his ambitions to be a porn star.
I learned that both Captain Black and Goose are toying with the idea of new frames, having seemingly reached the conclusion after multiple years of riding that their current bikes are the wrong size. Now they just have to find a means of smuggling newly acquired bike parts past the intense scrutiny of domestic security.
As we pulled out the car park, Taffy Steve indicated to turn left, as a group of us were taking an alternate way home via Whalton, rather than routing via Ogle. As usual, I was easily led astray and found myself tagging along as we set a fairly fast pace for home. The route didn’t seem particularly longer, shorter, easier or harder, but it made a pleasant change. It was so novel in fact, that I found myself travelling down roads I’d only ever traversed in the opposite direction.
As we hit the Mad Mile, the Colossus charged away and I gave chase, tagging on as we rode up to a busy roundabout and slowed almost to a halt to let it clear. The Colossus swung left and I made to push straight over, but found myself straining to turn over a massive gear, just as a car emerged from its off-road hiding place to my right.
I gave a sustained, comedic “Eek!” and got a sudden burst of adrenaline that let me kick the pedals round with a little more power as I recovered from my near stall. Luckily, the car slowed and I was able to grind my way to safety.
The rest of my ride home passed without incident on roads that were surprisingly quiet and traffic free. Perhaps everyone had decided to stay home and enjoy the weather rather than crowding out the shops, or perhaps they were all distracted, firing up the barbies in their back gardens.
So, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench, Rothley Bloody Crossroads, Middleton Bank and the Heinous Hill all in one ride. What was that about mad dogs, Englishmen and the midday sun?
YTD Totals: 2,529 km / 1,571 miles with 29,149 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 103 km / 55 miles with 1,082 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed: 23.5 km/h
Group size: 20 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Mild
A relatively mild, dry and wind free day was promised, as I headed along the valley on my way across to the meeting point for the club run. The open sky was thickly layered and muffled in grey cloud which became suffused in muted, pale colours as the sun slowly leeched away the darkness.
The cloud filtered and muddied the colours, like looking at the world through Old English Spangles rather than just Spangles, although, I’m sure by now most of you are scratching your heads and wondering what the hell I’m talking about …
As I pushed along, two consequences of my pre-Christmas commuting tumble on the ice became evident. The first was that the replacement saddle and new seatpost weren’t quite dialled in right. The saddle in particular looked level, but must have been infinitesimally tilted up at the nose, and I felt like I was constantly slipping off the back and having to adjust my position.
The other was, that somewhere on the ride across, the hairline fissure in the rear mudguard opened to become a yawning chasm as the back half slipped down. Now, whenever the road surface became rough, the two halves would bang together, like the manic chattering of a demonically possessed skull.
It was a sound that unfortunately was going to accompany for the entire ride, an audible indicator of the poor state of Northumberland’s roads, or, another blast-from-the-past, like riding behind someone with an annoying Clackers obsession. No, that’s not a euphemism.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
At the meeting point I raised and adjusted the saddle. It helped a little and would get me round, but it still wasn’t quite right. There was nothing I could do about the infernal chattering of the mudguard though. I’d just have to live with that, along with every other unfortunate rider I shared the road with.
I learned that last week’s ride had been enlivened when, in attempting to unclip from his pedal, G-Dawg had instead managed to detach the entire pedal from his bike, and it came away still firmly latched to the sole of his shoe. His ride home had then been a largely one-legged, imbalanced, lop-sided affair, trying not to put too much force through a hastily jury-rigged repair. This in turn had led to strange muscular aches and pains over the next few days as his body tried to recover from its unusual ordeal.
I suggested that in the aftermath he must have looked like a drunken sailor, rolling down the gangplank for 4-days shore leave and he confirmed he’d spent several days inadvertently walking round in circles and had to tack to get anywhere.
The rise in temperature from the sub-Arctic to heady, shockingly temperate and mild, encouraged lots of crazy talk of best bikes and shorts. Seriously? I know it was probably 6 or 7° warmer than it had been last week, but the temperature was still firmly sunk into single figures. Surely we haven’t become all that toughened and inured to the cold?
I know for a fact that I haven’t, besides I’m not convinced the winter is quite done with us yet.
OGL turned up, sorely vexed that promising young gun, Jimmy Cornfeed has officially left our club to follow in the footsteps of the likes of zeB and the Monkey Butler Boy. Somehow OGL refuses to see that our “one-speed to suit all” club runs simply aren’t going to be challenging enough for anyone with a modicum of youth and fitness, or the slightest competitive impulses and ambitions.
I told him I thought the move was entirely predictable and I was just surprised it hadn’t happened sooner, after all what youngster wants to ride with a bunch of auld gits who can remember a world without Doritos, Twister, Tippex or the Toyota Corolla… you know what I mean, don’t you, the kind of person who references Clackers … or even Old English Spangles …
Displaying the patience of a soon-to-be martyred saint, Benedict tried a reasoned approach with OGL, suggesting we have the abilities and capabilities to change things up and could do much more to support youngsters or novice riders. His suggestions were washed away in a tsunami of derision, invective, rose-tinted nostalgia, recriminations and obdurate, self-righteous certainty. Plus ca change …
And so we trundle on and nothing fundamentally changes, besides a rising tide of general disgruntlement on all sides. It would appear we’ve wholeheartedly embraced Einstein’s view of insanity and are doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.
Still, showing us it is possible to change and old dawgs can learn new tricks, along with replacement pedals, G-Dawg’s fixie was improbably sporting a brand new set of mudguards! Crazy Legs said he thought hell would freeze over before he witnessed such a thing, while I was simply too shocked to comment, quite literally gobsmacked to use the local parlance.
G-Dawg’s plan for the day was also to have a novel twist at the end, proposing a much travelled route, right up until the bottom of Middleton Bank, where we would take a sharp right and then climb up by a slightly different route.
The mild weather had drawn a reasonable crowd out, with 20 riders formed up and ready to go. We pushed off, clipped in and rolled out.
Things were progressing smoothly as we spun up Berwick Hill in a compact whirring mass, but a right turn at the top and a shallow, but long and winding descent naturally had the group more strung out. This apparently though translated to everyone being “all over the road” and elicited generally incomprehensible bellows of complaint.
“Oh, we’ll,” the Colossus countered sarcastically, “We’ll just turn gravity off, shall we?
Caracol and Crazy Legs ceded the front to G-Dawg and Zardoz, who in turn, eventually ceded to the Colossus and me and we called a brief pit stop beside Tranwell airfield before pressing on. As another long descent strung us out we zipped past a dog-walker who pulled two massive Rottweilers to the side of the road and swung his legs over them as we zipped past. I’m pretty sure he was simply trying to corral his dogs, but it looked like he was preparing to ride them back up the hill.
I wondered aloud if G-Dawg’s Labradors would make good sled dogs. The Colossus decided they would, but being Labradors, if you harnessed them to a bike, they’d probably take off in two completely different directions at once.
We now found ourselves on the long, hated drag up to Dyke Neuk, where we stopped to split the group, losing a handful to a harder, faster, longer slog up to Rothley crossroads, while the rest of us pushed on toward Hartburn. A further splinter group then took a left to head through Angerton, while the rest pushed on to Middleton Bank.
Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs decided to forgo the pleasure of G-Dawg’s route-wrinkle, pressing straight on for Middleton Bank. I found myself joining them on impulse. The Garrulous Kid tagged along and the four of us started the climb as the others turned off at the foot of the hill.
As we swept past Bolam Lake, Crazy Legs asked the Garrulous Kid to do a turn on the front and, very reluctantly, he pulled out, rode up to the front … and then charged off into the distance. Hmm, not quite what Crazy Legs had in mind.
Sneaky Pete took over on the front of our small group and we began to track our errant escapee. As we swept through Milestone Wood, I took over, attacking up the rollers to catch the Garrulous Kid, who immediately sat up and drifted back to latch on to a rear wheel.
I pulled us over the last slope, down the dip and up toward the final climb. All the while, my rear mudguard chittered and chattered away, providing a manic commentary to the ride, like chimp on speed. I wasn’t going to be sneaking up behind anyone today.
As I rounded the last corner, the Garrulous Kid, with supreme predictability, jumped away again and I let him go, sliding back onto Sneaky Pete’s wheel as we bounced and jolted our way upwards over the broken and distressed road surface.
As the last few ramps unfolded, I increased the tempo and started to reel in the Kid, but I’d left it too late and ran out of road, so had to sit up just before I caught his rear wheel.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the café, Crazy Legs tried to explain to the Garrulous Kid some of the niceties of group riding and in particular doing a bit of work to everyone else’s benefit. What others might see as blatant wheel-sucking though, the Garrulous Kid considers as his evil genius and supreme tactical nous.
I can only refer him to Velominati Rule #67 and hope he learns to leave his crass, callow and embarrassing behaviour behind:
Rule #67 // Do your time in the wind.
Nobody likes a wheel sucker. You might think you’re playing a smart tactical game by letting everyone else do the work while you sit on, but races (even Town Sign Sprints) are won through cooperation and spending time on the rivet, flogging yourself and taking risks. Riding wheels and jumping past at the end is one thing and one thing only: poor sportsmanship.
At the table, every time the Garrulous Kid tried to interrupt Crazy Legs evoked the spirit of Marcel Marceau and simply mimed being trapped in a glass cube, where annoying external sounds simply couldn’t penetrate to disturb his serenity.
This gave me a chance to trot out the old joke about whether you had to use a silencer if you wanted to assassinate a mime and Crazy Legs countered with the best Dad joke I’ve heard in a long while – how do you kill a circus? Go straight for the juggler. Ba-boom! (See, youngsters like Jimmy Cornfeed just can’t cope with these levels of mature, highly sophisticated mirth. No wonder they have to leave our club.)
Sneaky Pete mentioned he’d found a café called Teacake Max out on the coast and wondered if anyone had visited. We applauded the name, but for me it still doesn’t quite beat Sunderland’s Fausto Coffee cycling café. Meanwhile I warned my fellow riders away from the Pedalling Squares café, as Thing#1 was working there on a trial basis.
Crazy Legs has been told he bears a passing resemblance to the actor Dennis Lawson, a much better shout than some of the wholly improbable, “don’t you think he looks like …” statements that the Garrulous Kid comes up with. The Garrulous Kid tried Googling images of Dennis Lawson, but his phone seemed to take forever to conduct even a simple online search. This, he stated was because he only had “Free G” – I guess that’s what you have to accept when you don’t pay for your phone service…
The acting chops of Samuel L. Jackson came up in conversation and Crazy Legs suggested his greatest movie role (yet) had to be Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.
“But, but,” The Garrulous Kid protested, “Wasn’t he in Night at the Museum?”
Finally, as we were leaving, the Garrulous Kid finally managed to pique Crazy Legs’ interest with a fact about the discovery of fossilised bacteria on Mars. I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t fake news to rank alongside his contention that Donald Trump is reinstating national service, and because he was born in Norf Carolina and holds dual passports, the Garrulous Kid is in danger of being forcefully conscripted into Uncle Sam’s armed forces. (Remember, he’s already told me he would excel in the military as he’s, like a very stable, tactical genius.)
Despite it’s uncertain veracity, Crazy Legs determined that the statement about life on Mars was possibly the most interesting thing the Garrulous Kid had ever said – and charged him to come up with another interesting factoid for next week.
There was only time then for the Kid to unwisely insult the Colossus by referring to him as Ginger Ben and then we were out and gathering to head home. A pensioner volunteered to start us off with a wave of her walking stick and away we rolled.
Everything split on the reverse climb back up Berwick Hill and I managed to tag onto the back of the front group as we crested the top, hanging there until we entered the Mad Mile when G-Dawg, Caracol, the Colossus and Cow Ranger lined it out in a last mad dash and I was cut adrift to pick my own way home.
I rattled, clattered, clanged and chattered my way to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before taking a slight detour to call into Pedalling Squares to see how Thing#1 was getting on. They asked her back to work on the Sunday as well, so I guess she did ok.
Then, fuelled by one of Pedalling Square’s excellent espresso’s, I pushed up the hill and home to end my first club run of 2018.
YTD Totals: 215 km / 134 miles with 2,808 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 94 km / 58 miles with 980 metres of climbing
Ride Time:3 hours 51 minutes
Average Speed:24.5 km/h
Group size:22 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Bright but raw
A band of heavy rain passed over in the night, but by morning the skies were clear, it was bright, but cold and the wind had a raw edge to it. I’d misplaced my Galibier “disco-headband” and suspected my ears were going to suffer unless I found them some cover.
Rather handily, there were a couple of girly hairbands that either Thing#1, or Thing#2 had carelessly abandoned on the sideboard. The red, sparkly one was a bit garish, but the black one would just about do. I slid it up into my hairline, pulled it down low at the sides to cover my ears and plonked my helmet on top. Perfect – almost as if they’d been made for this very purpose…
I was a little late leaving, so went with the quicker route option and the closer bridge over the river, looping west to approach from the east and minimising the amount of dual-carriageway surfing I needed to do. Swinging left onto the span I was somewhat surprised to find an Ee-Em-Cee rider approaching directly from the south, a route I’ve never attempted, suspecting the traffic’s a bit too busy and wild. He’s a braver man than me, or maybe just more confident.
Anyway, I was glad of the company as he dropped in behind me on the bridge, figuring two riders were a little easier for motorists to spot than just the one. Unfortunately, we never got to chat as once across, he followed the river west, while I took a sharp right and started my climb out of the valley, arriving at the meeting point in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
G-Dawg was once again out on his best bike, this time using the excuse of a new pair of shoes that he needed to road test, before packing them away for the summer. His new Sidi kicks, a very welcome birthday present, were super-classy, super-stiff, super-light and super-bling – I did however question their inherent thermal properties and suspected G-Dawg might have to suffer a little for his sartorial splendour – but he obviously couldn’t have desecrated the Sidi’s by hiding them under overshoes or Belgian booties. Just for the record, I was wearing winter boots and my trusty Prendas Thermolite socks and my toes were only just ok throughout the ride.
It turned out G-Dawg was not the only one with shiny new toys, the Colossus having acquired a new turbo trainer. Crazy Legs suggested it wasn’t the one voted “Best Buy” in Cycling Weekly, but the Colossus was unmoved as his turbo had red and blue light’s!
Crazy Legs persisted, this time with the suggestion you could tell how hardcore and pro a rider was by the fans they deployed with the turbo. He said there should be a minimum of two, slightly off-set at a 18° angle to maximise bodily surface exposure to the airflow and at least 60% of their construction had to be in carbon-fibre.
The Colossus countered that the only specialist equipment he felt needed was one of those triangular sweat nets. Someone suggested that a sweat net would be relatively easy to make from an old pair of tights, while I felt the answer was fisherman’s waders, with regular waddles to the bathroom to empty them out during the turbo-session.
An FNG rolled up and greeted us with what I took to be a pronounced Antipodean twang. “I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts?” I suggested.
“Aw, I’ve bean heer twinny yeehz,” he assured us. He turned out to be an Ironman triathlete, who’d seen us ride past his home on many a Saturday morning and he’d finally decided to come over to the dark side.
Crazy Legs tried to explain to the FNG an unseemly, on-going social-media spat between the absent Prof and OGL, by drawing parallels between Kin Jong Un and Donald Trump’s slightly less fraught and contentious relationship.
G-Dawg also explained Our Glorious Leader wouldn’t be riding today as he was off to a British Cycling meeting which, according to some rather self-serving Facebook posts, OGL claimed he was looking forward to, as a chance to relax without having to wear a stab-proof vest to protect his back. Huh?
Taffy Steve simply welcomed the opportunity for a good ride, as we were absent at least three potential sources of friction that he could think of. Ultimately, he had the right of it.
Aether was set to lead the ride and had picked a route that Crazy Legs had posted in the summer, emphasising we didn’t need a new and novel plan every week and there was no harm in repeating things. He hoped this would encourage others to set and lead future rides and briefed the opportunity in, along with outlining the planned route for the day.
Another decent turnout of 22 riders, all seemingly in a relaxed and rather amenable mood, pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
As we turned off toward towards Great Park and the filthy, muddy, potholed and often thorn-strewn Brunton Lane, G-Dawg took his regular detour, aimed at keeping his good bike and fancy new shoes in pristine condition at the expense of a slightly longer and busier route out of the city.
As we emerged from the end of the lane and scurried uphill, an injection of pace had us all spread out. Mini Miss eased alongside me and asked, “Is it just me, or is the speed really high this morning?”
I peered up to the front where the Colossus and Caracol were driving us on, with Rainman waiting in the wheels to take over if either faltered and let the speed drop.
“Nope,” I replied, “It’s fast,” before kicking to close a gap that was threatening to yaw open.
The pace was evidently too fast for G-Dawg, whose detour usually spits him out well ahead of the group, just before we hit Dinnington. This time he wasn’t there waiting for us and when I looked down the road he would emerge from, it was completely empty.
Having missed us and then waited at the junction thinking we may have been held up by a mechanical, G-Dawg spent the rest of the morning trying to find the right time and place to intersect with our ride.
We continued for some distance at a pace I felt was just the tiniest increment above comfortable and it would be some time before I was able to infiltrate the front alongside Crazy Legs and drop the speed by a good 2mph or more. No one seemed to be struggling particularly, but I needed a bit of a breather, even if everyone else was ok.
We then found that Aether’s cunning plan of using one of Crazy Legs’s summer routes was not without its flaws, the small lane we took before Meldon being wet, slippery and thick with mud kicked up by farm traffic. At this point the FNG punctured and, while we were stopped for repairs, the Colossus discovered G-Dawg was still missing and set off to find him.
As we waited, Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs kept me entertained with tales of the labyrinthine, convoluted and quite frankly bizarre local government rules and regulations relating to business expenses. I think my soul is still scarred from this nonsense.
We then pushed through to Dyke Neuk, where we unleashed the now twitchy racing snakes and shooed them away for a faster, longer, harder ride before they became too irritable. The rest of us pushed on, down the dip through Hartburn and toward Middleton Bank at a more considered pace. As we approached the hill, we met G-Dawg flying down the other way and he was able to swing round and rejoin us, reunited at last.
Reaching the steepest part of Middleton Bank and, just for the hell of it, I bounced off the front and opened up a gap before sitting back down and easing over the top. We slowed to regroup and Crazy Legs, who had no intention on mixing it in the café sprint on his fixie, offered to provide a lead out. I dropped onto his back wheel as he slowly began to wind up the pace and lined us out. Perfect it was like having my own personal derny moped.
Crazy Legs pulled us past Bolam Lake and then, with a professional flick of the elbow, peeled away and I took over at the front and tried to hold the pace he’d set, as we rattled through Milestone Woods. I attacked up the first of the Rollers and as my pace slackened G-Dawg rode off my wheel and away, the others only slowly coming around me in pursuit, as we tipped down the other side. As we began the last drag no one was committing to bringing back G-Dawg’s lead, so I dug in and accelerated to the front again.
I pulled everyone to within maybe 5 metres of G-Dawg’s back wheel, just before he nipped around the last corner, but that was it, I was done and cooked and sat up. The others zipped past, but I suspected it was too late and G-Dawg was long gone.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
The main topic of conversation at the café was the dark, dangerous and twisted plotting within the Byzantine world of cycling club politics, but this is a family friendly blerg … so let’s move swiftly on…
Somehow the conversation eventually morphed into a discourse on political leaders, with Taffy Steve’s assertion that all you needed to succeed was a good haircut, sharp suit and a pithy slogan, “You know,” he outlined, “Make Uh-murica Great, or Strong and Stable Leadership, Things Can Only Get Better, that kind of thing”
“Ah, like Strength Through Joy?” I suggested helpfully.
We then had a chuckle that Bradley Wiggins felt he had in somehow been exonerated from the “living hell” of his “malicious witch hunt” by the conclusions of the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation into the contents of the now infamous Jiffy bag. Under the circumstances, UKAD appear to have done as good a job as possible and their conclusion of “no definitive evidence” was logical. As far as I can tell, this is a very neutral statement that exonerates no one.
It’s laughable that Wiggins and Team Sky claim there was no wrongdoing on their part and both think the verdict backs this up. The assertion by Shane Sutton that they would “game the system” and use TUE’s for marginal gains sounds much closer to the truth and more adequately explains the injections (injections, Bradley?) of triamcinolone Wiggins received before several races. As for what was actually in the Jiffy bag – the truth is, we’ll never know.
A group of cyclists from the University made their way, wide eyed and blinking into the café and Sneaky Pete and I rolled our eyes at the folly of youth and the fact they chose to ride out in weather like today only wearing shorts and short-sleeved jerseys. The fact there flesh looked raw and marbled like corned beef seemed to suggest we well-wrapped, old curmudgeons had the greater sense.
Outside and I had a quick look at the FNG’s Trek Madone Aero bike with fairings over the front brakes that opened and closed like aircraft ailerons whenever he turned the bars – it seemed like an awful lot of engineering for a very minimal gain.
The FNG himself said he’d enjoyed his first ride out with the club and it made a companiable change from all the solitary Ironman training on his TT bike.
A blast up Berwick Hill tracking Biden Fecht got the blood flowing and it wasn’t long after that I was swinging away for my ride back home, reflecting on what had been a perfectly amiable, amenable, run, with no objectionable shouting or swearing and no encounters with dangerously crazed motorists.
Things weren’t quite so peaceful at home though, where Thing#1 and Thing#2 were engaged in a spat over Thing#2’s missing black hairband. I ‘fessed up to being the guilty party, pulling the offending article out from under my helmet and proffering it back to Thing#2 on the end of my index finger, where it hung, limp, damp and shapelessly unappealing.
“Ugh! It’s all sweaty.”
YTD Totals: 6,819 km / 4,237 miles with 78,229 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 106 km / 65 miles with 977 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed:24.2 km/h
Group size:27 riders, no FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Crisply cold
I was idly browsing some top tips on creative writing last week (well, you didn’t think any part of this blerg was actually true, did ya?) and the one golden rule everyone seems to agree on is: never, ever talk about the weather.
I can only assume this was devised by a group of people aren’t cyclists and who don’t live in the far-flung, North East corner of England, where the weather’s more changeable than Donald Trump’s version of the truth. So, despite all the advice to the contrary, the weather will continue to feature because it has such a direct, raw and elemental influence on cycling – perhaps more so than for any other land based sport I can think of.
Another major influence on cycling and cyclists, is those we share the road with; horses and their riders, other cyclists, small, scurrying animals, runners, walkers, household pets and, most especially, motorists. I try not to dwell too much on motorists, they are ever present and an occasional source of danger, but in 99.99% or more of cases we co-exist, sort of tolerably well, although occasionally reduced to trading a few barbed insults or exasperated gestures, each convinced of our own righteousness and integrity.
And then, thankfully only very, very rarely, we encounter one whose actions go well beyond preposterous and veer sharply toward criminal, vindictive and potentially lethal.
Sadly, this was a ride where we’d have an unfortunately too close encounter with a radge gadgie. (radge:Scottish, informal noun: wild, crazy, or violent – gadgie:North East, informal noun: a man, bloke, feller). Luckily no one was hurt, but it was only luck.
Look, cyclists are not saints and not all motorists are sinners, but the fact is motorists outnumber cyclists (35.6 million registered road vehicles vs. 2 million who cycle weekly in the UK). Even assuming aberrant and psychotic behaviour is evenly distributed across both populations – and I strongly suspect it isn’t – then you’re 18 times more likely to encounter a lunatic driver, than a lunatic cyclist.
Even worse, in any physical confrontation between a bike and a ton or more of motor vehicle, travelling in speeds up to and in excess of 50 mph, there is only ever going to be one winner. For the motorist a cyclist is a momentary inconvenience, for the cyclist a motorist is physically life-threatening.
Post-encounter, several people suggested I’d have plenty of material for this blerg, but the truth is I’d much rather be writing about something else. Anything else. No matter how badly I do it.
So anyway, back to the weather … by dragging my heels a little, I’m just about emerging into daylight as I set out for the meeting point, but the days are getting shorter an I”m not sure how long this will last.
The morning was cold, but still a couple of degrees above freezing and I was struck by just how still it was. Crossing the river, its surface was a burnished, reflective stripe of smooth, black glass, unmarred by wave or wake.
Not so smooth was my route out of the valley. The entire climb has now been re-surfaced, but an even longer stretch over the crest has been ripped up in preparation for replacement. Once again I juddered, rattled and banged my way across the uneven, broken up stretch and once again I endured, looking forward to the finished results.
That aside, the rest of the ride across was good and I found myself approaching the meeting point early, a whole 10 minutes before 9 o’clock. The Garrulous Kid was already there and waiting, but 25 minutes before the scheduled departure was too long and would be too cold, so I gave him a smart salute and cruised past without stopping, for a ride around the block to fill in a little more time.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
A bunch of us had been out on Friday night celebrating a G-Dawg birthday of some significance, so I expected a small turnout and a few riders to be nursing hangovers of monstrous proportions. One of these evidently wasn’t G-Dawg himself, who was at the meeting point by the time I made it back and seemingly in fine fettle. This was perhaps helped by the simple, but undoubted pleasure he and the Colossus had, breaking their best bikes out of winter storage for a special birthday treat.
G-Dawg told me they’d arrived just as the Garrulous Kid was wondering why I’d disappeared and thinking no one else was going to show, he’d been about to bale and set off for a solo ride. Just all round bad timing, I suppose.
G-Dawg reported he’d had a grand night and that the party had gone smoothly, but he still had bucket loads of pork pies left over from the “boofee.” I was disappointed he hadn’t thought to bring them along for a mid-ride snack and the Colossus thought a large wicker basket for the front of G-Dawgs carbon steed could easily have been fashioned to allow for easy transportation and distribution. It would also serve as a makeshift windbreak and level the playing field a little more, for those of us sticking to our winter bikes.
A new cycle hire scheme: Mobikes, has just been launched in Newcastle and I could report they’d become fairly ubiquitous around the city centre. We decided it was only a matter of time before someone turned up for a club ride on one and wondered what the penalty was for taking one out of the designated “ride zone.”
Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Ovis if he’d made any progress with his cycling shoes after he’d reported last week that they’d been banished to the basement because they stunk of cat pee.
My first and the most obvious question, “do you have a cat?” had been answered in the negative and thinking back, I seem to recall someone else, maybe Dave Le Taxi having the exact same problem. I wonder if this is a common phenomenon and if it’s restricted to cycling shoes?
OGL recounted getting bike service job in where the expected bill was nudging its way toward £400, but the punter had been more than happy to stump up the cash as she used the bike everyday and besides, this would be the first proper service she’d paid for in 12 years. £33 a year doesn’t seem all that expensive, I wonder if that would work for me?
I also learned that OGL is a veritable Archimedes among bike mechanics and feels that with a lever long enough, he can move the world – or even the most recalcitrant bottom-bracket.
Despite, or perhaps because of widespread hangovers, we actually had a bigger group than usual with 27 lads and lasses (and one random, pop-up bin) cluttering up the pavement. Perhaps we should have split into distinct groups at that point, but once the Red Max briefed in the route for the day, we pushed off, clipped in and swept out onto the roads en masse.
Heading first left up Broadway, we naturally coalesced into three or four separate groups, cycling thromboses if you will, evidently clogging up one of the cities major arterial routes. Or at least that was obviously the conclusion of the days first Arse Hat driver, who saluted us with a very prolonged, almost tuneful fanfare on his car horn, which began half a mile before he caught us and was then sustained as he jinked and jerked, swerved and veered, accelerated and swooped around us. At one point he even drove down the wrong side of a traffic island to save himself a few more precious seconds, before cutting dangerously in front of one of the groups.
I hope he made it to the hospital before his small child bled out, got to the bomb and managed to cut the right wire before it detonated, or otherwise coped with whatever devastating, life-threatening emergency he was responding to that made our safety and well-being forfeit.
Out into the countryside and we eventually reformed into one group, about a dozen bikes long and pushed on. We were just swinging around the airport when another motorist started to blast on his horn as he made to overtake the group. I gave him my biggest, cheesiest, cheeriest wave as he roared past me, but apparently horn-flagellation wasn’t enough and he slowed in his over-taking manoeuvre to wind down a window and trade barbed insults with the Colossus, who was riding just in front of me.
I think pausing to insult a hung-over Colossus, while attempting to overtake a group of cyclists and control a car that kept veering dangerously into the cyclists lane, is akin to poking a rabid, hungry, post-hibernation bear with a very sharp stick. The Colossus responded in kind, questioning both the drivers mental and physical attributes and encouraging him to forcefully go away.
And then, the driver snapped …
He accelerated away, swerved dangerously back into the left hand lane, slammed his brakes on and came to a juddering stop. All down the line cyclists grabbed for brakes and skidded to a standstill to avoid piling into the back of the suddenly stationary car, marooned in the middle of the road.
Somehow, some way, disaster was averted and no one came down. The motorist was now surrounded by perplexed and angry cyclists wondering what was going on and why they’d been subject to a deliberate attempt to cause them serious harm.
The driver was going nowhere without some frank discussions first and if he’d felt aggrieved because he’d been momentarily inconvenienced and delayed behind us, it was nothing compared with how long he’d now spend hopelessly trying to justify and defend his indefensible actions.
The Red Max and the King of the Grog’s invited the driver out from the safe cocoon of his motor vehicle and he slowly and reluctantly emerged, behind a shield of as much bluster as he could generate. He demanded to know who we were, who was “in charge” and he told us he was going to go and report us all to the Police.
We were more than happy to tell him who we were and, just to be as helpful as possible, offered to phone the Police on his behalf, right there and then – an offer he strangely declined, although he didn’t explain why.
The King of the Grog’s actually recognised the pathetic miscreant and somehow managed to exude an air of constrained charm, as he sympathised with the drivers sheer stupidity and the illegality of his actions, pondering what the consequences might be. He also tired to coax out some sort of reasoning for the reckless and dangerous driving, while Cowin’ Bovril video’d the encounter.
From this we learned that our driver believed he was the adjudicator, arbitrator and regulator of best practice on the roads and knew best how we should ride in order to stay safe and (naturally) not inconvenience motorists. We needed to split into several groups, leaving car-sized space between each, so drivers could nip out into the narrowest of gaps between oncoming vehicles, accelerate wildly past and then dive back inside and brake sharply, just before running into the back of the next group of cyclists.
We also learned that many of the drivers friends and family were cyclists. Oh dear, I can honestly say that I thought this was a horrible, hoary-old, hackneyed and thoroughly discredited cliche, that people would be much too embarrassed to ever use in their defence. What next, were we going to be castigated for not paying Road Tax?
We were getting nowhere arguing with this imbecile and, having gathered sufficient evidence to identify him and his vehicle to the the Police, riders started to drift away in ones and twos, releasing the road to the cars that had started to queue up behind us. I found it suitably ironic that the biggest hold up and inconvenience they’d be subjected to on the day was directly caused by the actions of an impatient driver.
At this point, OGL pushed off, clipped in, wobbled for some unknown reason and then came crashing down. Only his pride was injured and truth be told it was a bit of a comedy fall and looked innocuous, but the impact sheared the mudguard eyelet off his rear dropout. Not a major issue and one that’s simply repaired or worked around, but inconvenient and a bit of an eye-opener, I thought titanium frames, so called “fat blokes bikes” according to Szell, were tougher than that. OGL went home to change his bike, while I pressed on up the road in the company of Captain Black.
Our group was now splintered into small pockets and scattered all along the route. There was a small bunch ahead and we expected them to stop in a convenient lay-by just past the airport, but they kept going. I agreed with Captain Black that we, at least would wait and see who else came up behind.
Half a dozen or so finally rounded the corner and we waved them through, intending to latch onto the back, but finding a huge trail of cars following. We stood for a good two minutes waiting for a gap in the traffic so we could pull out, watching a long line of cars streaming past. “Bloody hell,” Captain Black remarked, “Do you think Newcastle’s being evacuated?”
Hmm, Zombie Apocalypse? Plague outbreak? Dirty Bomb? Maybe that’s why the first Arse Hat was in such a hurry? Had we delayed him so much a tragedy had overtaken the city?
We finally found a gap in the traffic and gave chase, latching onto the back of our group as we slipped through Ponteland, re-assured to find the Red Max on the front so we didn’t have to try and remember the agreed route.
Somewhere along the lanes, we caught and passed a solitary Grover. I invited him onto the back of the group, but he demurred, citing a massive hangover and quite enjoying the splendid isolation and ability to ride at his own pace. That’s what I call a real recovery ride.
I took to the front with Captain Black and we pushed on up to Mitford where we were finally re-united with the rest of the club, waiting at what, for the second week running would be the point where we’d split into a “an arriving earlier group” and a “getting there a little later group.”
Along with the Captain, we slotted into the “getting there a little later group” and set off again. As last week, the pace seemed somewhat brisk and I was grateful when we stopped to regroup at Dyke Neuk and then again at Hartburn and I could catch my breath.
We pushed our way along to Middleton Bank, following the same route as last week and on the approach, Sneaky Pete sneaked off the front to try and build momentum to help get him over the climb.
Up we went, with all sense of formation lost as we battled individually with the slope, stung out in a long line and riding single file. It was just as well we were, as a car started overtaking us as we approached the top. The trouble was though that both the drivers radar and Forward Looking Infrared systems weren’t working, his clairvoyance failed him and he found himself on the wrong side of the rode driving toward a pair of cars that had just appeared over the brow of the hill.
The cars coming downhill braked to a stop. The car going up the hill braked to a stop and they sat there bumper to bumper, no more than a couple of metres between them, until a long line of weary cyclists clambered slowly past on their left and the car going uphill was finally able to swing back over onto the right side of the road and continue.
We regrouped over the top of the climb and kept it together, until Taffy Steve ignited the blue touch paper with an attack down the outside and an instant injection of pace. As he tired and dropped away it was the Red Max’s turn and we were all lined out as we thundered through Milestone Woods. On the slopes of the Rollers, G-Dawg and the Colossus pulled out a lead, as somewhat surprisingly Captain Black and then, a little more predictably, the Red Max faded.
I pushed hard to try and come to terms with the hard charging front pair, but was struggling to close the gap. I can usually hold their wheels at least until the last corner, but there was no chance today, as fleet, skinny carbon proved faster than the solid and stolid alloy Pug. That’s my excuse at least and I’m sticking to it.
I was a very distant third as we started up the last dragging climb, expecting to be caught at any moment, but managed to hold on.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Someone asked Taffy Steve why he’d made such a suicidal attack so far from home. It was, he suggested, a realisation that he wasn’t going to beat carbon-wielding G-Dawg and Colossus and didn’t just want to follow in their wheels while they cackled away like evil geniuses.
G-Dawg wondered if Sneaky Pete’s tactic of getting a good, fast run up to the foot Middleton Bank worked. Sneaky Pete said it had seemed to help, a claim I could corroborate, reasoning it must have been easier as he had still had enough breath left to swear fluently at the climb as I passed him.
Captain Black described the confrontation between the King of the Grogs and the Arse Hat driver as reminiscent of a little old granny having a go at Big Daddy or Giant Haystacks during one of those dodgy British wrestling matches that they used to show on the World of Sport. Unfortunately, I misunderstood and thought there was actually a wrestler called the Little Old Granny, rather than a rather obvious stooge planted in the audience. I was quite disappointed to learn the truth, but hey WWF, if for some bizarre reason you’re reading this …
Cowin’ Bovril came round with his video of our altercation with the motorist, the end of which captured OGL’s comedy tumble. “Was there a sniper?” I wanted to know, while G-Dawg looked for a grassy knoll and demanded the video was played again so he could look for the tell-tale, red dot of a laser sight.
It was so funny even a second and third play through wasn’t enough.
Out into the cold again, I dropped in alongside the Red Max, we both watched rather concerned as the Garrulous Kid uncleated approaching the first corner and stuck out his left leg, reconsidered and then pulled it in again. He then rolled awkwardly around the corner and pulled to a stop.
“Is something wrong?” I enquired, expecting a puncture, thrown chain, or some other minor mechanical.
“Me pockets unzipped!” the Garrulous Kid cried.
“Did he just say he stopped because his pocket’s uzipped?” I asked Max.
The Red Max looked at me, I looked at the Red Max and raised an eyebrow. It was enough to set him off in a paroxysm of giggles that lasted a good 5 minutes.
We splintered on Berwick Hill and then again up through Dinnington and I found myself tucked in behind Caracol and Jimmy Mac as they drove the pace up faster and faster. Half a mile later and just about hanging on as we swung past the airport, I looked back and the road behind was empty. Where’d everybody go?
Thankfully they soon turned off and I could slow the pace as I set off for home, alone.
Here’s hoping for a eminently boring and uneventful ride next week.
YTD Totals: 6,688 km / 4,156 miles with 76,614 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 108 km/67 miles with 1,105 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed: 24.0 km/h
Group size: 31 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Pleasant
You can’t say I hadn’t been warned and I should have known what to expect, after all I’d already managed two bike commutes into work during the week. On both occasions the cold had made me grateful for the light, long fingered gloves (my favourite and highly recommended, Galibier Roubaix Vision 4’s) that I’d used both mornings, before switching to mitts for the considerably warmer return journey.
But, Saturday morning looked bright and breezy and I was setting off an hour later than I do when travelling into work – surely it wouldn’t be so cold that I’d need to supplement arm-warmers with gloves? It was though, and dropping down the Hill at high speed didn’t help. The cold attacked my hands, especially through the chilled metal of the brake levers I had covered throughout the descent.
Along the valley floor I tried to find some relief and to break the wind chill – hands positioned on the very tops of the bars, just before the warm tape gave way to icy metal, fingers curled up tight and bundled together like cold kittens, with only the runts of the litter, my two thumbs, still exposed to the air flow and slowly turning numb.
Despite the frigid, early morning conditions, it looked like being a great day once the air warmed up a little, the pale blue above only lightly smudged with milky ripples and whorls of cloud, like a giant had left his fingerprints across the sky. It was simply a case of surviving until the suns warming influence could be felt, perhaps one of the last, fine days before the dark, cold, winds and rain of late autumn descend and so, not to be missed.
The promise of decent weather was a real incentive to get out for the Saturday Club Run, overcoming the twin challenges of illness and a sore knee. I’d missed time at work on the Tuesday, feeling sick – high temperature, nausea, stomach cramps and a headache. I still wasn’t fully 100% but had determined to try and ride through it.
Then on Thursday I’d noticed my right knee was sore, especially when climbing. I’d shared the first half of my evening commute with Mr. T (aka The Man with the Van and the Plan) on Friday. He’s trying to reach his annual mileage target, so wanted a longer route home. During the ride he wondered if I’d done anything to actually injure the knee, but nothing came to mind.
It wasn’t until later, when climbing the Heinous Hill with little stabs of pain sparking in the offending joint, that I remembered slipping on the office stairs on Wednesday morning. Perhaps that was the source of the injury? I hope so, as it beats the alternative, that my aged and decrepit knee joints are just worn out, crumbling and terminally failing.
Still, as I crossed the river, admiring a small flotilla of single-sculls arrowing downstream, I felt fine, any knee pain was at least temporarily quiescent and the bike was whirring along smoothly and quietly. All seemed well with the world.
I reached the meeting point in good time and in good order and drew up to wait for everyone else alongside the early arrivals, Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Garrulous Kid reported great success with his GCSE exams, especially Chemistry, Physics and Maffs. Apparently he’d passed his English too and with flying colours, causing me to enquire if there was an oral element to his testing and how well he’d fared at that part. (There wasn’t).
Crazy Legs thanked Zardoz for his moral and very vocal support during last week’s 4-Up Team Time Trial. Apparently Zardoz’s bellowing of, “you’ve almost caught your minute-men!” halfway around the course had been invigorating and motivating, even as Crazy Legs immediately realised it was a complete and utter lie.
Aether rolled up and we awarded him a full ceremonial fanfare as this week ride leader. We all genuflected in his august presence and I’m sure, out of the corner of my eye I even saw the Garrulous Kid attempt an awkward curtsy.
With another good turnout spilling across the pavement, Aether recognised the need to split us into two, but we still haven’t quite got the hang of this and we ended up with a pair of very lopsided groups, one of about twenty-strong, the other of no more than a dozen. Sadly this was just an excuse for those who don’t agree with splitting into groups to complain that it doesn’t work. And they did. A lot.
A small few of us hung back to form the core of the second group, even rolling up to the lights on green and refusing to go through them in order to allow the bunch out front plenty of time to get clear.
The lights finally cycled round to green again and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve took to the front for the first part, while I slotted in behind them, alongside the Garrulous Kid, with Big Dunc and Zardoz following in turn and in our wheels. On past Dinnington, the front two peeled off, I pushed through with the Garrulous Kid and Zardoz, realising he was getting perilously close to the front immediately called for a pee stop, so he could slip quietly back down the order. We naturally ignored him and pressed on.
We drove the pace on, up past the Cheese Farm, trying to see how many “ease up!” cries we could generate on the climb, but they were disappointingly scarce. Passing under the A1 just outside of Morpeth, we ceded the front to Zardoz and Big Dunc. A large contingent of Grogs slipped away off the back to head straight to the café and when Moscas turned early for home shortly afterwards, there was just the front group and OGL left – a Malignant Seven – average age about 50, or if you exclude the Garrulous Kid, about 56.
We swung round a sharp corner onto the bottom of the Mur de Mitford, I changed down and attacked the slope. Ouch, big mistake, as someone introduced my knee to a little needle of niggling, sharp pain. Ah! So that injuries still there, then …
I tried to spin up, putting as little force as possible through my right leg, which felt a bit odd. It wasn’t hugely painful, but uncomfortable and the joint felt weak and somewhat femmer – definitely not something I wanted to put too much strain through.
We regrouped and pressed on. The weather had started to warm up, the sun was high and bright and I was able to abandon the arm warmers. It was, finally, a glorious day. All around us the countryside was blooming richly and riotously. Glossy blackberries dotted all the hedgerows and while a few fields had already been shaved back to a dry stubble, in the Font valley the maize was already reaching over head-height.
We swung left, onto the Coldlaw Wood Climb running parallel to the Trench and took the opportunity for a pee stop, while OGL shipped and stowed his gilet. The Garrulous Kid complained there was nowhere to pee. Crazy Legs raised a quizzical eyebrow and looked around the shady, secluded country lane, lined with a wall and hedge to one side and tall trees to the other?
“What more do you want,” he asked, somewhat exasperated, “A Dyson air-blower to dry your hands?”
“We’ve got one of them.” I added nodding back down the lane, where OGL was shoving a gilet into his back pocket.
“Nah,” Crazy Legs concluded, “Dyson’s need to be able to produce at least 100 watts.” Oh, dear … average age of 50 and we’re still such shockingly childish, immature and caustic bitches.
As the climb levelled off we swung left, while OGL, looking for a shorter, easier route went right. Rolling round a bend we passed our first group, all clustered at the side of the road while the Red Max worked feverishly to fix a rear wheel puncture.
We had no intention of stopping and rolled past, now forming the clubs advance party, or tête de la course, if you prefer, travelling down toward Dyke Neuk on a road we more typically travel up. Slow-witted as usual, it took me an absolute age to realise I actually knew where we were!
Just before dropping down the dip toward Hartburn, OGL was spat out of a side road ahead of us – now our virtual leader on the road. Once again though he didn’t press his advantage, taking a different, shorter route at the top of the climb, while we followed the less well-travelled ride plan, up to Scots Gap, before starting to close on Middleton Bank.
I drifted off the back of the group as we rolled toward the climb, happy to ride at my own pace and nurse my sore knee along, only to find I’d acquired a pilot fish, as Crazy Legs dropped back to check on me.
The group splintered apart, Zardoz and Big Dunc riding off the front, with the Garrulous Kid in hot pursuit, while I spun up the climb alongside Crazy Legs, slowly closing the gap to Taffy Steve.
Over the top, Zardoz and Big Dunc were pressing on for home without regrouping. Crazy Legs took over on the front, checked I was happy with the pace and set off for home. “All aboard the gimp express!”
We caught Taffy Steve in short order. “All aboard!” I called, easing back to open a space behind Crazy Legs’ back wheel. Taffy Steve slotted in, Crazy Legs blew an imaginary train whistle … and then we started to eat into the gap up to the Garrulous Kid.
The Garrulous Kid appeared to be lost in a daydream and seemed a bit startled as we thundered past, but managed to respond to the call, “All aboard!” tagging onto the back of our line.
We never did catch the rampaging Zardoz, or the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc, but then again, despite all expectation, our erstwhile front group of runners and chasers never caught us either.
We managed to keep our small group all together until the rollers just after the Milestone Woods, when Taffy Steve drifted off the back. I hung on down the descent and around the corner to the final climb, before Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid romped away to contest the minor placings in the sprint.
Ahead of me, OGL emerged yet again from another side road and I swooped around him and then eased to roll up to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
The café has new coffee mugs, which are, apparently easier to carry, so I think the staff quite like them. Or at least they did – until they had to contend with a bunch of awkward, obstreperous cyclists insisting – beyond all reason and even after practical demonstration – that they were smaller than the previous version and we were all being short-changed.
We took advantage of the good weather to sit outside in the garden, reasoning there can’t be many more opportunities to do that this year.
Perhaps though, we should be more thankful we live in such a temperate climate, it is after all just a matter of perspective. OGL related how one of our club members was currently living in Las Vegas and didn’t seem too happy about it – perhaps because he can’t walk the dogs in the afternoon as the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) is so hot their paws blister.
Not that he can even get out himself either, as his steel gates expand so much in the heat they jam closed. Apparently the strict grid-like layout of American urban areas and the surrounding blank, flatness of Nevada ensure that all his Strava routes could be easily replicated by a child on an Etch-A-Sketch.
Crazy Legs recalled riding with the guy on one club run, in mid-autumn when it was typically wet, blustery and cold and everyone was complaining about the weather, apart from our ex-pat, who positively revelled in it and couldn’t have been happier. You see, perspectives.
Gazing into a nearby field, the Garrulous Kid seemed excited to see a black lamb amongst all its snow-white brothers. (He doesn’t get out much.) OGL revealed this was the field he was planning to use if he’d won the charity auction for Sean Kelly’s donkey at one of the Braveheart dinners. Luckily he was outbid at the last.
(I’ve yet to discover what possessed him to even think about bidding to win Sean Kelly’s donkey, or perhaps more accurately how much alcohol you have to consume before bidding for Sean Kelly’s donkey seems (even remotely) like a good idea.)
I felt duty bound to ask if OGL hadn’t felt a bit of an ass, while Crazy Legs wanted to know if the donkey had later wandered up to his room and “brayed on the door.” Well, it kept us vaguely amused anyway.
Coming out of the café and setting off home, the Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy got into a bitch-boy slap-fight, which the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to win, simply by virtue of his well-honed, rapier-sharp wit, as evidenced by his final retort – “Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler.”
“Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler?” I enquired.
“Your scintillating wit, bon-mots and clever word-play really would put Oscar Wilde to shame.”
“Never heard of the feller.”
I cocked an imaginary pistol, Contador-style, pointed it at the Monkey Butler Boy’s head and (figuratively) shot him dead.
“You’ve never even heard of Oscar Wilde?”
“Well, you’ve got to remember, I’m only young … I wasn’t around in the ‘80’s.”
The Monkey Butler Boy rode away to continue his fractious discussions with the Garrulous Kid, leaving me in splendid isolation, where I found I was continuously yawning. I mention this because it seemed so utterly incongruous – I can’t remember ever needing to yawn while cycling before – and now I couldn’t seem to stop.
I also began to feel nauseous and strangely displaced. This wasn’t good. At the next junction, I baled, swinging right to track through Ponteland for a shorter route home, while the bunch sped left. I started to feel chilled, even though I was sweating, but it was the clammy cold sweat of not being well, rather than the good, honest sweat of a hard workout and my speed began to drop away.
I stopped to throw up and pull on my arm-warmers – completely separate actions I’m afraid, I’m not that good at multi-tasking – before pushing grimly on.
At one point I suffered a too-close pass by a learner driver and started to wonder what exactly they were teaching them these days – but more or less forgave the driving-instructor when the car then bounced off the verge in a puff of dust and I saw him wrestling with both the wheel and the driver, trying to centre the car back into the middle of the road.
I finally made it to that Hill and crawled up it using gears I haven’t troubled since L’Alpe d’Huez, managing to make it home before an unfortunate attack of the Dumoulin’s. Well, that scuppered any chance of riding out Monday to catch the Tour of Britain – not that it was heading anywhere particularly scenic mind …
Actually, now that I think about it, the familiar scenery is about the only thing the OVO Tour of Britain has going for it – what an incredibly dull … I was going to say race, but “series of unconnected sprints” would be a better description – they’ve managed to make it almost as uninspiring as the women’s version.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for both races as an opportunity to see professional cycling on British roads. I want them to succeed and spread the appeal of the sport and I’d rather watch even this level of racing ahead of just about any other sport you care to mention … but … what remarkable lack of ingenuity was employed in designing this race and does anyone want to see a GC largely decided among sprinters on bonus seconds?
How come the Tour de of Yorkshire (despite its sad, naming pretensions) can come up with an interesting parcours and compelling competition based on a couple of days of racing in just a single county, yet our National Tour, which should be the showcase event for cycling, has the whole, infinitely variable landscape of the British Isles to choose from (and a super-strong start-list), yet is so completely lifeless? Got to hope for better next year.
Right, time to rest up the knee and hopefully get better before next weekend.
YTD Totals: 5,253 km / 3,264 miles with 60,111 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 103 km / 74 miles with 781 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed: 25.8 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Chilly and very, very wet
They say a week is a long time in politics, but I have to say it’s even longer in relation to the rapidly plummeting fitness levels of ageing and mediocre club cyclists. I returned from holiday four pounds heavier and over a twelve hundred pounds lighter in the wallet, with nothing to show for it but blurred tan lines and a sharp decline in whatever small measure of cycling ability I possess.
This manifested as a real struggle to commute in and out of work, where I felt slow, weak and generally out of sorts. I tried to ride through it and managed to fit in three days commuting before Saturday and the chance to make up for the two club runs I’d missed.
On the commutes I’d noticed the mornings have a distinct chill to them already and had started to think about digging out some long-fingered gloves. In August? Maybe I’m just getting soft.
Saturday morning wasn’t quite so bad, but this was probably the result of the banks of thick, leaden cloud that had been scrawled heavily across the sky in various shades of grey, by my estimation using 2B to 9B pencils. This cloud cover may have provided some degree of insulation overnight, but totally precluded any chance we’d see the sun today.
Still, the roads were dry and the weather forecasts suggested no rain until mid-afternoon, when we’d hopefully be home and hosed.
I slipped smoothly down the Heinous Hill on a new patch of pristine tarmac and pushed on along the valley floor, immediately butting up against a strong westerly. I was rolling along, minding my own business along a wide, straight and totally empty road, when a small, silver hatchback snarled past, too fast and much too close, in what I can only assume was a deliberate attempt at provocation or intimidation.
I gave the driver my best WTF gesture, which he responded to in kind, which only seemed to suggest the close pass had been deliberate and he was watching to see what sort of reaction he’d get. Dick.
The rest of the ride was thankfully uneventful, but I was delayed by even more roadworks and traffic lights along the route. Nevertheless, when I hit my mark of 8.42 miles covered at 8:41 I knew I was on schedule and eased back.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Colossus of Roads was there showing off his newly pimped up bike, complete with a new red and shiny chainring to accessorize with all the other red and shiny bling bits: hubs, jockey wheels, quick release skewers, cable ends, bar plugs, seat clamp, gear hanger, headset spacers and the like. To cap it all he’d gone for a gleaming gold chain, which prompted a frankly disapproving OGL to remark that if he took the bike into his shop the first thing he’d do would be to clean the chain because he thought it looked rusty. Let’s just say he seems to have a different aesthetic appreciation than me.
OGL himself was sporting his own “new look” – a sort of scruffy Abe Lincoln-meets-the-Amish with a hint of hill-billy, face fringe with a bare upper lip that reminded me of Mad Willie McDougal, the caretaker at Springfield Elementary School. Crazy Legs wondered aloud if OGL had deliberately cultivated his face fungus in club colours, the mix of ginger and white bristles lacking only a touch of lime to be a perfect match for the white, tangerine and green of the club jersey.
OGL suggested he was considering keeping the face fringe for a function he was attending at a local brewery, when a plan for excess libation could perhaps induce a gangrenous, green tinge to his features to complete the transformation to club colours in their full … err … glory.
The Monkey Butler Boy was at the meeting point, as a precursor to joining up with his new clubmates somewhere en route and took the opportunity to terrify me by flashing his startlingly white, utterly blank and featureless chest, the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on strangely asexual, abstract shop mannequins.
The pristine snowscape of the Monkey Butler Boy’s unblemished upper torso contrasted starkly with the dark brown of his lower limbs, creating some razor-sharp, cyclists tan lines, a badge of honour that he seemed inordinately proud of. So proud, in fact then when joining a new college and being pressed to help come up with a suitable nickname, he’d flashed a half brown-half white bicep and suggested “Tan Lines.” In this way and much to his regret, he’s now been saddled with the unwanted moniker of “Fake Tan.”
(Still, it could have been worse, the last time I saw the Monkey Butler Boy in civvies (or at least his Mother’s jeans!) he was a combination of deep tan, red and raw sunburn and a rather startling ghostly and underexposed white, that looked like nothing so much as a giant Neopolitan ice cream.)
We wondered why Crazy Legs was uncharacteristically quiet, but apparently he was simply mesmerised and in the thrall of the larger than life “Atomic Blonde” movie poster splashed across the entire side of a double-decker bus. Apparently he was having trouble speaking through the puddle of drool that was overflowing from his mouth and dripping noisily onto the pavement. The Garrulous Kid confirmed I was looking at a picture of the rather anodyne and strangely characterless (IMHO) beauty that is actress “Charlies Felon.”
Crazy Legs finally managed to stir himself long enough to outline our plans for the day and left to lead the front group, pulling with him a strong group bolstered by a couple of University racing snakes.
I dropped into the smaller, second group, ostensibly and titularly led by OGL, but in reality following the Red Max. We were joined by a handful of Grogs, a few irregulars, Sneaky Pete, Captain Black, Szell and the Garrulous Kid. The Big Yin looked at the composition of our group, shook his head and quickly set off in pursuit of the first group.
Who can blame him?
Leaving a decent interval, Red Max led the way and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out on yet another fun-filled adventure.
I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete for a catch-up, but it wasn’t long before our conversation was being rudely interrupted by a persistent clacking, which we finally traced to the back end of his bike. We called a halt so OGL could try and determine what the issue was and after some investigative work he expertly diagnosed the issue as cracked balls – either a euphemism for a particularly nasty testicular fungal infection, or a serious issue with the bearings in his rear hub.
Both potential diagnoses were equally distressing, and leery of suffering a terminal malfunction in the middle of nowhere, Sneaky Pete reluctantly cut short his ride and headed for home.
I next caught up with Captain Black, fresh from a holiday in Majorca where he’d somehow managed to smuggle his bike along. He listened to my complaint of too little cycling while on holiday and raised me a case of too much cycling on holiday, suggesting he was so worn out he wouldn’t even contemplate engaging in the coffee shop sprint. (Hah!)
Our discussion of our much derided club jersey was interrupted by OGL who objected when I complained about its 1970’s styling, by informing me it was actually designed in the 80’s – “but as a tribute to the 70’s,” Captain Black added sotto voce.
I then learned that not only was it designed in the 80’s, but it was the collaborative work of “a committee” – which rather appropriately suggested the old saw about how a camel is just a horse designed by committee. We were then informed that the jersey’s garish colours and hideous, dated design are a positive virtue as nobody wears anything quite like it and it allows you an instant appreciation of where all your teammates are during a race.
OGL’s final argument in defence of his beloved jersey was that many pro teams use a similar design, although considering some of the efforts the likes of Skil-Shimano, Teka, Mapei, Castorama, Phonak, Polti or Tonton Tapis have turned out over the years, I’m not sure that’s exactly an endorsement.
At the top of Brunswick Hill, the Red Max rolled off the front, while, with impeccable timing and a great deal of affected insouciance, the Grog next in line slowly reached for his bottle and took a very long and involved drink, while drifting back down the line. With no one willing to come through and take up the lead, a mentally shrugging Red Max moved back onto the front and stuck his nose into the wind yet again.
On the downhill run I worked my way through the group until I could relieve Max on the front, dropping in beside a relative newcomer who said he’d been out with the club quite a few times, but I didn’t recognise. We set what I felt was a remarkably sensible and sedate pace, only to be castigated for racing. In truth, the ride was so slow and unthreatening, that a weasel was able to stroll across the road in front of us, stop, eye us up speculatively, then hop unconcernedly through a hedge and disappear.
As we pushed through Whalton we were met with a lashing rain shower and a halt was called so we could pull on jackets, before pushing on again. The shower slowly eased and passed, so that by the next stop, at Dyke Neuk, jackets were doffed and stowed once again. Here I caught Szell singing the praises of his Castelli Gabba waterproof and had to inform him it wasn’t as good as The Ramones version, the Gabba Gabba Hey.
I now found myself on the front with Captain Black and we plotted altering the planned route in light of the deteriorating weather, chopping off the leg up to Rothley Crossroads. Re-worked route agreed, we dropped down through Hartburn and began to grind our way across to Middleton Bank.
With the rain slashing down again and bouncing off the tarmac, I pushed on ahead of everyone and stopped at the next junction to fish out my jacket again. As the rest whipped past and away, I found Szell stopping behind me and also reaching for his jacket. I warned him it was a case of bad timing as his bete noire, Middleton Bank was looming and we’d already been left some distance behind.
I started to give chase and Szell, realising his predicament followed, not even delaying long enough to zip his jacket closed. On the run down toward the base of the climb we slowly clawed our way onto the back of the group, but by this point Captain Black and the Red Max were already tackling the steeper ramps up ahead. Still, there were plenty of hares to chase and act as relay points as I set off in pursuit.
Working my way up the outside, I found the Garrulous Kids wheel as we hit the steep section and, as he accelerated, I dropped in behind and followed until the road straightened. As I rode around and past him he started complaining his gears weren’t working, which seems rather unusual given the … ahem … ultra-precise and exacting standards of his German engineered bike.
I’d reeled in the Red Max by the crest of the climb and then set off in pursuit of Captain Black, not even thinking about stopping and regrouping and just wanting to get out of the rain. Between the two of us we then drove the pace along. I never looked back and had no idea who was following, or who was floundering.
Down through Milestone Woods and onto the rollers I tried attacking the slope, but the road was awash and my rear wheel started slipping and spinning without traction. I dropped back down onto the saddle and ground my way over the top and down toward the last climb up to the café.
As I took the last corner Captain Black whirred past (Hah! I say again) and away, shortly followed by Kipper and I was left competing for the minor places with Mini Miss and the Red Max.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café, soaking wet and dripping it was black bin bags all around to keep wet posteriors away from the furniture.
We’d been served and were sitting comfortably by the time the Garrulous Kid rolled in, easy prey to Red Max’s wind-up that he’d not only been beaten in the sprint, but thoroughly thrashed. He bit. Hard. He started leaning on a sorry pile of excuses, stuck gears, malfunctioning brakes, poor visibility, too little pressure in one tyre, too much pressure in the other, before simply vowing revenge next week, when, he warned he would “utterly destroy everyone.”
The Red Max related being asked by the Monkey Butler Boy to take a day off work, theoretically so father and son could do a bit of bonding on a long ride into North Northumberland. Giving up a precious day’s holiday, Red Max had suggested Wooler as a good destination, only to be told, no, they were actually going to Ford. En route, he then learned that they were heading to Ford because that’s where the Monkey Butler Boy’s current squeeze was holidaying en famille.
It then turned out that the Monkey Butler Boy had not only not informed the Red Max about the real purpose of his trip, but he hadn’t bothered to tell his girlfriend either. So, after valiantly battling away for fifty odd miles, up hill, down dale and through the elements, the Monkey Butler Boy’s surprised reception was a somewhat less than welcoming, “What are you doing here?”
As if on cue, the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew rolled up through the sheeting rain, eventually followed in by their harassed-looking, out of breath, grey-faced and thoroughly exhausted looking coach. The Red Max sympathised with the coach, suggesting riding with the wrecking crew was a quick route to self-annihilation and prompting questions about whether the Monkey Butler Boy is deserving of a more dynamic and sympathetic name change – maybe to The A-nyallator, or similar…
Nah, of course not.
Talk of the Monkey Butler Boy’s girlfriend led the Red Max to an intense interrogation around the Garrulous Kid’s holiday romance with the girl from Hull, with the Garrulous Kid protesting they were “just friends” – even though he had a photo of her on his phone … and even though he had a photo of her dog on his phone too – a Pug called Doug (the dog, not the girl.)
A rather bemused Mini Miss wondered why they were discussing Ugg boots and I had to explain they were actually talking about Pugs and not Uggs – and, one particular Pug called Doug. We agreed they were both equally as ugly (the dog and the sloppy and shapeless footwear, not the girl)
This did lead to some idle speculation that Uggs were actually made out of dead Pugs, which would explain some of their shared characteristics…
The Garrulous Kid protested that he liked Pugs, especially the cute, wheezing, snuffling, distressed little grunting noises they make trying to breathe through their in-bred, facial deformities. I suggested this was the exact same distressed noise he was emitting when I rode past him on Middleton Bank earlier – and I didn’t think it was at all cute. (I never did establish his position on Uggs.)
One of our number started squeezing a long stream of dirty water from his track mitts and directly into his coffee cup. “You don’t have to do that, mate” the Red Max told him, “They’ll give you a free refill if you ask.”
Just then the Monkey Butler Boy wandered up, soaking wet and leaving a long trail of water in his wake. He’d decided to wear his club skinsuit for the ride and so had no way of carrying a rain jacket and was thoroughly drenched. Typical teen, he did of course have his phone clutched firmly in his hand and I wondered where he stored this when riding. Apparently, clenched between his buttocks, according to the Red Max, who also suggested this was why he always used it hands-free as he didn’t want it anywhere near his nose.
Pulling on wet gear again, gloves, arm warmers, helmets, jackets and the like, is always an unpleasant end to the otherwise enjoyable café stop, but it had to be done and once more we ventured out into the teeming rain.
I rode back with the Red Max, finding out that he isn’t away on holiday until a trip to Spain in October. I queried if the weather would be all right then.
“Well, it’ll be better than this,” was the terse reply and I couldn’t argue.
This time around he’s persuaded Mrs. Max to take her bike too and I suggested that with the Monkey Butler Boys new-found prowess, this was at least one way in which Max could ensure he wouldn’t be last in all the sprints.
“Hmm, I’m not so sure about that.” He concluded glumly.
He then suggested tonight would be great conditions for venturing outdoors to watch for Perseid meteor showers and seemed serious in his assertion.
I looked at him quizzically, soaking wet and thoroughly sodden and bedraggled, rain dripping off his nose and running in rivulets down his bike, shoes squelching with every pedal stroke. He seemed sincere, there was no hint of a smile, or the slightest trace of any irony.
I then looked through the gloom at the rain hammering down all around us, the long puddles stretching out from the verges to reach across a road awash with water, and then I looked up at the louring dark, mass of low, unbroken cloud…
Well, you’ve got to admire his optimism.
The Monkey Butler Boy and Garrulous Kid took to racing each other up Berwick Hill, but I was heavy legged and tired out and couldn’t react, so just plugged up behind them. We caught up with OGL who’d left the café ahead of us and, rather bizarrely, he too joined the youngsters for some sparring up the hill to Dinnington.
Before too long everyone else was swing away and I was cast free to plod my way home, being battered by two more heavy, stinging showers, a particular low point amidst the otherwise continual and steadily unrelenting downpour.
I was beginning to feel a bit chilled by the time I reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill, so for once its demands at least had some side benefits and I it wasn’t long before I was home and heading for a very welcome hot shower.
YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,777 miles with 55,162 metres of climbing