Pugs and Uggs

 

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

Temperature:                                      16°C

Weather in a word or two:               Chilly and very, very wet


12 aug
Ride Profile

The Ride:

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.


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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

Go Long, Bullseye

Go Long, Bullseye

Club Run, Saturday 3rd June, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km / 72 miles with 1,183 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 24 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.3 km/h

Group size:                                         40+ riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    23°C

Weather in a word or two:          Warm and bright


 

3 june
Ride Profile

The Ride:

A quick look out of the window, early Saturday morning showed bright blue skies and the trees utterly motionless in the still air. It looked like being a good one.

Outside it was still surprisingly chilly, but I was convinced it was going to warm up and my “just in case” arm warmers stayed firmly in my jersey pocket as I made my way to the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Shoeless was one of the first to arrive for a very rare outing with the club. He explained it needed a precise alignment of weather, shift patterns, family commitments, lack of other “triathlony” type sporting events along with his own personal inclination and motivation for him to make a ride these days.

It was so hot that … oh, sorry, I’ve done that one haven’t I. Nevertheless, it was warm enough once again to encourage Szell in another general disrobing and the removal of unwarranted base layers. I think perhaps he’s developing an exhibitionist’s streak – he certainly seems incapable of finding a reliable weather forecast.

OGL turned up with a new seat clamp for Szell’s “fat lad’s bike” and fitted it while we waited. Now that’s service for you. Meanwhile Crazy Legs urged Szell to make a careful examination of OGL’s new, custom-painted Orbea as this is what he’s likely be inheriting in the near future.

The Orbea is supposed to be highlighted in club colours, but both shades of tangerine and green look a touch off to my untrained eye. To compound the issues, OGL was wearing a sample pair of customised shorts a new potential supplier had sent him to review. These too were meant to be in club colours, but they had been matched from nothing more than a photo on a web page and were also quite subtly, wrong. the colours yet again different from both the club jersey and the bike.

The overall effect was like a kids drawing  where they’d been forced to change pens halfway through and got bored with too precise colouring in.

Sneaky Peter sneaked up, back on his beloved, impeccably fixed and restored De Rosa. Where OGL showed us the perils of mismatching colours, the repair work on the De Rosa was so accomplished that not even G-Dawg’s hyper-critical eye (able to spot the difference between a 3mm and 2.5mm spoke at 30 paces) could find fault or discern where the cracked chainstay had been repaired.

Taffy Steve likened this to his own patch job on his favourite sunglasses, having snapped an arm off these while polishing the lenses the previous week, these too had been restored to fully functioning order by the liberal application of superglue.

He suggested there was little difference between the job done on his glasses and the De Rosa, while I suspected he’d used probably twenty times the amount of superglue for his small repair, which seemed functional and robust, but was perhaps lacking a little in artisanship.

Talk turned to football, with the Garrulous Kid announcing Germany would win the next World Cup and he was so confident he’d put money on it. If anyone wants to take him up on the offer, let me know and I’ll forward his details.

Ridiculed for suggesting Phillip Lham would be a driving force (he’s apparently retired) – Crazy Legs was unfazed and unbothered by the criticism and declared he’d be happy and content as long as Joachim Löw was still in charge of Germany, so he could once again entertain with his nose-picking, testicle-cupping, anus-fingering and hand-sniffing exploits.

This week’s route had been conceived, pre-published and would be led by Aether and with over 40 cyclists crowding the pavement, it’s never been so obvious we needed to split into at least two groups on the road. Aether outlined his plans for the ride and led the first group off.

Perhaps simply to sow a bit of confusion and discord, OGL wondered aloud who would lead the second group, but whatever point he was trying to make was lost when the Red Max instantly stepped up to the mark and volunteered.

As the first riders pulled away, Crazy Legs suggested a few of us hang back, so there were no complaints about the two groups being unbalanced or all the stronger riders disappearing up the road. He certainly needn’t have worried on the latter count as super-strong riders, Benedict and Den Haag were still behind and they set off at the head of the second group.


Three of us were delayed at the first set of lights and we were joined by a few latecomers as we started to slowly converge on the back of the second group. By the time we were negotiating Brunton Lane several groups of riders had all merged and our small group became a peloton in its own right.

One moment Szell had been riding with half a dozen others and the next he’d been surrounded by over 20 riders swooping around to form up behind him. “Bloody hell,”  he declared, “It’s just like Taras Bulba!” Cossacks Hourra! Hourra!

As we cleared the city traffic, Benedict and OGL became involved in a very intense conversation about the structure of the club runs and how best to organise them so no one felt left out, disadvantaged or held back.

This left Den Haag ploughing a lone furrow on the front of the group, so I moved up to slot in alongside him for a chat about the Giro, Dumoulin’s Dump (or defecategate as one Internet wag dubbed it) the Hammer series, time-trialling, cyclo-cross and other such things, all the while trying to keep half an ear on the increasingly animated conversation behind.

Through Dinnington and up past the Cheese Farm, OGL and Benedict kept at it, until the clamber up Bell’s Hill splintered the group apart and offered some respite for both parties. I’m still not sure anything was resolved.

I called a halt at the top of Bell’s Hill so we could regroup and also because we’d started to close in on the first group and needed to give them a bit more space.

“Is that the fast group, up ahead?” Facebook-postin’ carbon-stress-loadin’ Guiness-slurpin’ pie-chompin’ platter-spinnin’ real-ale-swilling curry-gobblin’ all-azione Thom-Thom suggested, tongue lodged firmly in his cheek and blatantly fishing with an apparently irresistable lump of bait.

“There is no fast group.” OGL snapped.

“Are you sure?” Thom-Thom asked, deliberately misunderstanding, “That looks like the fast group…”

Oh, dear. Moving swiftly on, we set off again and I had a chuckle with Taffy Steve as we first determined that if Bugs Bunny rode with the club he’d doubtless refer to the Kia Sportage as a Spore-tadjee and then compared OGL to Foghorn Leghorn.

The strangest sight of the day had to be a dog owner taking their small, very young puppy for “a walk” by dragging it on a lead behind his mountain bike. I couldn’t help thinking if he went too slow the excitable pup was going to wrap the lead around his forks, get caught under the knobbly tyres and bring him down, but if he went too fast he probably end up dragging the luckless pup behind him and wear its legs down to stubs. I’m not utterly convinced the kennel club or Canine Defence League would have approved of his training methods.


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A long looping descent dropped us off at the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and up we went, with Taffy Steve messing up his gear change and storming up it in the big ring, while I messed up in the opposite direction and ended up in the granny ring and twiddling my way to the top.

Again we regrouped and pressed on with Benedict and Den Haag re-united on the front and keeping the pace decidedly brisk as we closed in on Netherwhitton. We stopped here for some respite and to split the group, with half taking the left turn to track their way up the Trench, while the rest of us pressed on to Ritton Bank, still at speed.

Ritton Bank is one of the first real tests on the Cyclone route, but today we would take a sharp left just before its rather gnarly summit. Nonetheless it was a decent leg stretcher and strung us out into a long line.

Regrouping at the top we followed a twisting rolling road just below the top of the fells, flanked by dry stone walls that were lined with thoroughly disinterested and somnolent shaggy black cows. Crazy Legs gave them a rather desultory “Moo” while, riding up behind him, I unleashed my own imitation of a bovine greeting, which was apparently so realistic he visibly flinched and looked back in panic like a sweating fat lad tripping over his own feet on the Pamplona Bull Run.

Crazy Legs was so taken with my “cow call” he had me repeat it several times and then again to a visibly unimpressed Taffy Steve, who I think only responds to sheep. Luckily there were no locals around to wonder about the strange, randomly mooing cyclist riding down their road.

A long, screaming descent down into the Font Valley saw Benedict and Den Haag open up a gap at the front and then we were onto the Category 4 Rothley Lakes climb, 3kms at an average of 3% with the sharpest ramps of almost 13% at the bottom.

Working out of the saddle, I overhauled Taffy Steve and then Crazy Legs and as the slope eased, I plonked myself down, found a good rhythm and started to work my way upwards, managing to hold the distance on the front two and opening up a gap to those behind.

Topping out the Rothley Lakes climb led to 5km of mixed climbing and descending on rolling roads and the front pair started to pull ahead. Nonetheless I pressed on in solo pursuit, indulging in a rather grand bout of chasse patate and thoroughly enjoying myself. Twists and turns on the route conspired to keep my quarry out of sight through Scots Gap, but as they took the sharp turn for Middleton Bank I saw a flash of red that was Benedict’s jersey.

As I approached the climb I could see a long stream of riders disappearing over the crest, which included the notable, shocking-pink jersey beZ was wearing that morning. I reasoned Benedict and Den Haag must have caught and joined up with our first group and found I had something else to chase now.

Up Middleton Bank, I passed a labouring Richard of Flanders, detached from the front group and pushing on alone. I tried to give him some encouragement and thought he might be able to hold onto my wheel, but I’m not even certain he tried and I was off solo once again.

With the front group winding up for the final sprint, there was no way I was going to catch them now and reasoned the gap was going to grow. Sure enough, I caught only one or two further glimpses of the pack and it wasn’t long until they were well out of sight and my ride to the café was completed in splendid isolation.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

As I parked up the bike and made my away indoors, the BFG called me across. “Where did we drop you and how far off the back must you have been?” he asked, glancing at his watch.

Ha ha, everyone’s a comedian.

I tagged onto the back of the queue inside and was soon joined by Taffy Steve, Crazy Legs and the others as they arrived in in ones and twos.

The Garrulous Kid appeared to buy a can of Coke and to tell us of another epic failure of his cornering skills. This had seen him engaging, not for the first time, in a little cyclo-cross riding, off the road and up an embankment. He said that it had looked so dangerous someone had apparently called him a stunt rider.

I naturally suggested he may have misheard the actual comment, while Taffy Steve wanted to know if they might perhaps have included the word cunning in their appreciation of his off-piste skills.

Collecting his coffee and cake, Taffy Steve carefully made his way to the table outside on jelly legs, or what he perceptively described as baby giraffe legs, the special feeling you get after a hard, intensive effort on what had proven to be a fairly demanding route.

Later, Szell would make his way to the table, wobbly and stumbling like the town drunk.

“You see,” Taffy Steve declared, “Baby giraffe legs.” Couldn’t argue there.

Enjoying our relaxation and recovery in the sun and against all accepted protocol, we sneaked two refills of coffee, which caused the Garrulous Kid to declare, “I’m not allowed coffee.” while he bounced around the table like a chipmunk on speed.

“I’m not surprised, I can’t begin to imagine you loaded on caffeine,” I offered, looking pointedly at his Coke.

“Yeah,” he giggled madly, “I’m not supposed to have Coke either.”

Amped up like a toddler overdosing on E-numbers and a blood-boiling sugar rush, the Garrulous Kid returned to a recurring complaint, the fact he doesn’t like the particular moniker I’ve bestowed on him.

As before I listened patiently and then told him he had been given numerous name suggestions he could choose from, Crap Gob, Fresh Trim, Jar-Jar Binks, Zoolander or the Garrulous Kid. In fact, I’m not sure anyone in the club can claim more potential names, which I think is quite an achievement in so short a space of time.

Receiving very little sympathy and with his attention span stretched way beyond capacity, he bounded away to another table to repeat his complaint and in the process apparently admitted to hating his middle name too.

“What’s that then?” was the obvious question.

From all accounts – and I’ve gathered these from numerous independent witnesses and reliable sources – the answer that came back most closely sounded like “Helen.”

So, one more choice to add to his options, Crap Gob, Fresh Trim, Jar-Jar Binks, Zoolander, the Garrulous Kid or … Helen.

All good things must come to an end, so three coffees’ later and with our brief sojourn in the sunny garden coming to a close, we gathered together, formed up and rode out.


Riding along beside Zardoz, he nodded his head at the Red Max’s back pack and whispered conspiratorially, “Do you think there’s actually anything in there?”

I assured him it was like Felix the Cat’s magical bag of tricks and the Red Max would reach into it whenever he was in a fix. I could only begin to speculate to its precise contents, but had seen him pull tools such as pliers, spanners and screwdrivers from the bag, complete sets of clothing, rain jackets, spare bike components, chains, assorted nuts, bolts, screws and brake blocks, food, drink, snacks, gels, sun creams, spare specs, hats, socks, gloves, bike spares and repairs, inner tubes, tyre shoes, patches, gaffer tape, zip ties, chain links – the list was almost endless.

In fact, I suggested the only time Red Max’s bag of tricks had let him down was when someone snapped their gear hanger. Red Max didn’t have one and to his everlasting shame was mortified when OGL produced one out of his back-pocket. I’m fairly confident his bag also includes a spare gear hanger now.

Descending Berwick Hill and perhaps in appreciation of last weeks splenetic, Mr. Angry the cyclist, we had Mr. Angry, the splenetic RIM, over-taking at high speed and bellowing “Ride in single file!” out of the window. We all gave him our biggest, friendliest, cheeriest waves and I’m not certain, but I think G-Dawg may have even have blown him a kiss.

Moments later and another RIM in a massive 4×4  was cutting across into our lane to overtake a slower car and came powering straight at us. Thankfully he swooped back at the last instant, just before we started hurling ourselves off the road to escape the brain-dead moron.

Still even these incidents couldn’t sour what had been a good, long and testing ride over some less travelled routes and challenging climbs. I’d gone over 72 miles by the time I made it home, grinning from ear to ear and looking forward to doing it all again next week.


YTD Totals: 3,442 km / 2,139 miles with 37,377 metres of climbing

The War in the Trenches

The War in the Trenches

Club Run, Saturday 29th April, 2017        

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  111 km / 69 miles with 1,200 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 22 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                        22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                   16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool


 

 

29 April
Ride Profile

Last week the nice people at WordPress, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say their politely programmed bots, sent me best wishes on Sur La Jante’s 3rd birthday.

So three years in and still churning out this lowly ‘column’ (as one reader rather grandiosely labelled it) or my ‘diary’ as another refers to it. (I thought diaries were meant to be honestly truthful, whereas I’m very liberal with the truth and have been known to outrageously embellish – in fact anything for a cheap laugh).

Anyway, it remains to me, nothing more than a humble blog or, as we decided a couple of weeks ago after adopting the Ashington idiom, blerg.

I think blerg seems an especially appropriate name as it sounds onomatopoeically redolent of vomiting; the disgorging of the wordy effluvia that passes as wit and wisdom around here, but I digress.

Saturday morning found me working up to another blerg entry as I pulled up at the meeting point after a wholly remarkable ride to get there, where nothing much happened at all. After the travails of the last few weeks, I’ll take that kind of boredom any day.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I found Taffy Steve in mid-spiel talking about Uh-murca, Uh-murcan politicians and how to make Uh-murca great again, all the while pondering why the ruling elite always referred to their country as Uh-murca and never America.

This provided the perfect cue for my entry into the dad-joke of the week competition – which, by the way I feel I won hands down: “I hear the Trump Administration are trying to ban shredded cheese. They’re trying to make Uh-murca grate again.”

I swear you could actually hear the wind soughing softly through the tumbleweeds as I dropped the punchline.

Taffy Steve then tried to put the Garrulous Kid’s Uh-murcan upbringing to the test, by having him re-enact the pledge of allegiance that all school kids are supposed to start the day with. It was a decidedly disappointing, lame, half-hearted performance though, carried out with about as much conviction as (I like to hope) any real American kid with half a brain would adopt.

The Prof rolled up on the Frankenbike that he’s adorned with some deep section, carbon rimmed Zipp wheels – something akin to slapping lipstick on a pig. He still struggles getting on and off a “proper” bike without a mounting block, even after a couple of years of trying. I blame far too long riding his glorified-Meccano built, folding-shopping trolley of a small-wheeled velocipede, with its girlie step-over styling.

Yet again I instructed him to try tilting the frame away from the vertical before swinging a leg over it. Yet again, I’m not sure he quite grasped the concept.

Crazy Legs was chatting with OGL about new cars and comparing notes on the Citroen Picasso. Crazy Legs himself has somewhat reluctantly just swapped his own Picasso for a Cactus and the memories of his old car brought a sad tear of reminiscence to his eye. He professed that he really, really missed the ability of opening up the Picasso’s hatchback so he could sit sheltered under the tailgate whenever it rained. It was left to a clearly perplexed Taffy Steve to ask the painfully obvious and perfectly logical question, “Err, couldn’t you just sit inside the car when it rains?”

Princess Fiona reported that she had successfully led her “fish out of water” expedition of cyclists on a walk into the Cheviots last weekend, but the pleasant stroll had unintentionally turned into a 6-hour forced death march. Caracol was conspicuous by his absence today and while Princess Fiona was quick to re-assure me he was actually at a music festival in Leeds, I have my suspicions that she may somehow have broken him.

Crazy Legs outlined the planned and pre-publicised route for the day, which was heavy on climbing with perennial favourites, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench and Middleton Bank all thrown into the mix.

Zardoz shuffled up, already enacting another charade to highlight his (entirely feigned) dreadful enfeeblement and pitiful inability to propel a bike with any great vim or vigour.  In a perfectly judged, slightly quavering voice he pleaded, “You won’t abandon me in the Trench, will you?” a line I’m fairly certain he lifted in its entirety out of some patriotic, creaky old movie about the Great War.

With only 22 lads and lasses out, we decided not to split the group until the Mur de Mitford, when those looking for less hilly alternatives could follow OGL for an alternative, slightly gentler ride.


Off we set and I was soon shuttling between OGL and the Garrulous Kid, trying to follow two random conversations at once. We passed the eye-brow raising sight of what appeared to be a runner in cyling shorts and jersey. “Hmm, I think he’s forgot his bike,” someone quipped, even as the runner seemed to wave and acknowledge us as being in the same “tribe” as him.

I was discussing the Badlands of Dinnington, with the Garrulous Kid and talking about what a strange place it and its (possibly) unjustifiably denigrated citizens were. Then, as we swept down from the village,  frantic hand signals upfront sent us swerving around a major obstacle in our path. This turned out to be a black bin bag, stuffed to overflowing with the countless, bloody corpses of dead pigeons and dumped on the side of the road. Too weird for words.

Unfortunately, this prompted a bizarre and rather random conversation with the Garrulous Kid, which started when he ask if I’d ever been to the Royal Fee-ayter in Newcastle (I have) for the pantomime (yes, to that too) which he insists always, always, always, traditionally includes a sketch about dead pigeons. (Err, no.)

Naturally, once I’d doubted the veracity of his claim, he then had to work back through the entire group, trying to find someone who’d been to the Royal Fee-ayter and seen the pantomime that involved dead pigeons. I think he’s still looking for some sort of positive corroboration.

A quick pee stop found two of the oldest members of our group immediately reaching for their mobile phones, like social-media obsessed, needy teenagers, or perhaps sex pest’s let loose on Tinder.

Then a sharp scramble upwards, followed by a sharp dip down, found us approaching the Mur de Mitford around a tight, momentum sapping left-hand turn, horrible for anyone who didn’t realise what was coming  and found themselves caught in the wrong gear. Up we went in a rush, before regrouping over the top and assessing the damage and who was left.

Surprisingly only a couple had taken the opportunity of a less demanding route to the café and followed OGL and I was somewhat surprised to find Szell still with us, but reasoned the lure of tackling his bete noir of Middleton Bank had been too tempting to refuse, no matter how hard he had to work to get there.

With Biden Fecht and Ovis driving on the front, we were soon scaling the Trench and strung out in a long line. I eased approaching the top, recognising there were still plenty more hills to come and heard the unmistakable “swash-swash-swash” of G-Dawg turning a massive gear and climbing out of the saddle as he bridged across to me.

Another general regrouping and then we were climbing the long, hard drag up to Rothley Crossroads. At the top, an obviously fatigued Garrulous Kid was asking how much further we had to go. I told him it wasn’t too far, but heard a distinct groan when I mentioned we still had Middleton Bank to scale.


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A rolling road led us onto the approach to this hill and hoping to take maximum advantage of any help he could get from gravity, Szell pulled out wide and began hurtling down the outside, pulling just about everyone else along with him, while Crazy Legs cried out in disgust at being swamped by hurtling bodies and chaos on either side.

We then hit the bottom of the bank and the natural order was quickly restored, with G-Dawg and Biden Fecht pulling away at the front, while those less enamoured of gravity began slipping backwards.

I found myself amongst the wheels as we reached the steepest ramp and, as the incline bit, the Garrulous Kid did a bit of ill-conceived fishing for another gear. With the change down, his legs started whirring round ineffectually and as he lost momentum, I pushed around him, rose out of the saddle and began to lead the chase to the front pair.

I ran out of hill before making it across, but the pace slowed briefly so we could reform and then we slowly started to wind it back up again. As we swept around Bolam Lake I manoeuvred to the back of the pack, waiting to see if anyone attacked up the rollers, but holding station as nothing happened up front. Where was the Red Max when we needed him?

Down the dip and onto the final climb and, as we rounded the last corner, Ovis attacked from the back and I slid onto his wheel. He dragged me up toward the front of the group and he sparked a reaction from G-Dawg before slowly fading and drifting to the side. Crazy Legs followed G-Dawg’s acceleration and I switched across onto his wheel, as we slowly wound in and passed Keel, hitting the front just as we crested the last rise and all finishing line-astern.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

As we stood at the counter being served, Crazy Legs unconsciously prepped my coffee with milk, while I handed him a knife for his scone. “We’re like an old, married couple,” he remarked.

“Well, except we don’t hate each other,” I replied.

“Speak for yourself,” he countered.

Charming.

For some reason, completely unknown to me, Crazy Legs then became fixated on describing pictures he’d seen of the Chuckle Brothers sharing a bath with a young female model, an image he encouraged everyone to Google – before concluding it would scar you for life. If that’s incentive enough for you, then feel free, I have to admit I’m not brave enough.

Under poor and imprecise instructions, we had G-Dawg chasing a speck of errant butter all around his face and I wondered if there’d be any aerodynamic benefits gained from greasing your head. This, quite naturally led to discussions about Spanish footballers, whose de rigueur, hairstyle of choice appears to be anything long, slicked back and very, very greasy.

Talk then progressed to Ronaldo’s unfortunate bronze bust, with its uncanny resemblance to ex-Sunderland plodder striker, Niall Quinn. We thought perhaps that only the Garrulous Kid and the artist would be able to see a resemblance between these two remarkably different footballers.

As if on cue, the Garrulous Kid then showed up, hovering over the table to ask everyone if they’d ever been to a pantomime at the Royal Fee-ayter, while I sat with my head in my hands.

Deciding to put him to more practical use, I asked him to go get some coffee and learned he wasn’t allowed coffee. I have to admit that far more than anything else he’d ever said to me, this made the most sense – he’s hyper enough that I just can’t imagine what he’d be like wired on caffeine.

I explained that what I actually wanted him to do was get refills for our coffees and off he went and dutifully delivered.

As he returned and finally pulled a chair up to the table, talk uncharacteristically turned political and serious, with Crazy Legs revealing he’d actually been paid a visit by his incumbent Labour MP. In person!

He’d discovered she was quite human, honest and had a decent sense of humour and he’d actually quite liked her. I’m not sure my MP ever leaves his party office, other than to shuffle down to Westminster periodically and draw his cheque and the only time we ever hear anything is when he wants our vote.

The Garrulous Kid then derided Jeremy Corbyn as a communist and I couldn’t help wondering why he thought this was necessarily such a bad thing.  Apart from the preposterous notion that he was a traitor working for the (now defunct) Soviet Union, the big reason the Garrulous Kid gave for disliking Corbyn was he would … dan – dan – dan … raise taxes!

I find the common, prevailing meta-narrative that always portrays taxes as wholly evil and some how wrong to be incredibly facile and tiresome. Just to be bad, I found myself asking why he felt those with higher incomes and incredibly comfortable lives shouldn’t be asked to pay a little more to help support a crumbling health care system, or our shockingly under-provisioned schools.

The ensuing conversation had Zardoz wondering what school the Garrulous Kid went to and what they were actually teaching them, but Crazy Legs felt the answer for his views could probably be attributed closer to home than school.

Lending an ear to the fast evolving conversation the Garrulous Kid was now having with G-Dawg about PSHE and Citizenship lessons, Zardoz nudged me and muttered, “It’s alright, we’re back on safe ground now, he’s off talking about chlamydia again.”

Turning the tables on the Garrulous Kid, who always seems to find at least one obscure and unlikely resemblances between a club member and some obscure celebrity, Crazy Legs suggested the Kid reminded him of no one quite as much as Jar Jar Binks. I think this was quite a blow to his ego, as he sees himself more as a bad-ass, Kylo Ren.

It was far too early for G-Dawg to leave for home as he’s conscious getting back before 1.00pm would set a very bad and unhealthy precedent. So, while Taffy Steve joined up with the rest for the return back and then his epic solo journey on to the coast, we settled in to waste a little more time with idle and inane chatter.

Finally judging it was safe to leave, we left Zardoz in the café to meet up with his venerable wrecking crew of veteran cyclists, while G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Garrulous Kid and me set off for home.


Crazy Legs and G-Dawg took up station on the front for the first part of the ride, while I rode alongside the Garrulous Kid and asked him the burning, million-dollar question – had he ever tried riding and talking to OGL?

In my own mind I was already imagining with horror the tsunami of verbal diarrhoea that might be unleashed if the two spent any time together. Disappointingly though, the Garrulous Kid reported riding with OGL is boring, as “all he ever talks about is bikes.”

At the top of Berwick Hill we pushed through and took over pace-making duties from the front two. By his standards, the Garrulous Kid seemed quiet and a little subdued over the last few miles. Perhaps he ran out of words, or was feeling tired after our rather lumpy ride?

Perhaps he was just savouring his last club run for a while as he’s been condemned to more Saturday schooling to try and improve his maffs. Either way it was a quite peaceable end to the ride.

With the sun finally breaking through I declared it was probably the best part of the day. Crazy Legs then rather astonishingly claimed credit and declared that from now on we should refer to his bike, the much-cossetted Ribble, as “Cloudchaser.” Hmm.

The Garrulous Kid and Crazy Legs then turned off and I entered the Mad Mile with G-Dawg at a quite sedate pace. With Son of G-Dawg absent, I guess there was no competition for first use of the shower so we had a more relaxed run in.

I waved G-Dawg off and then set course for home, which, like the trip out that morning, was unremarkable and incident free. I unclipped at the front gate having ridden bang on 69 miles with exactly 1,200 metres of climbing. Hard but fun.


YTD Totals: 2,480 km / 1,541 miles with 26,625 metres of climbing

New Year’s Revolutions

New Year’s Revolutions

Club Run, Saturday 7th January, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km/66 miles with 996 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.2 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Mild mannered


 

ride-profil-7-jan
Ride Profile

The Ride:

So, a year ends and mileage totals get set back to zero – it’s time to start all over again. I already feel like a begrudging Sisyphus trudging disconsolately back down the hill to pick up the boulder that’s once again slipped from my despairing grasp and rolled away.

A couple of sneaky rides on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, both days when my inner blogger was lying quietly supine and dormant, managed to pad my annual totals and I finished the year on 7,328km or 4,553 miles.

I’m quite surprised how high the total mileage was and I’d love to say that I achieved some pre-set target or goal, but to be honest I just take whatever opportunities to ride that come my way. I have a vague notion of trying to get better and stronger, faster and fitter, but just a consequence of enjoying my riding. If I miss a weekend I’m going to be grumpy because I missed a run, not because I’m now behind on some self-imposed schedule.

There’s no ultimate end game other than to stay healthy as long as I can – I don’t feel any kind of compulsion to ride just to accumulate miles, or reach some pre-determined benchmark. That just seems an empty and utterly joyless task for the more numbers obsessed amongst us (yes, you know who you are) – each to their own I guess, vive le difference and all that.

Still, I have to admit 4,500 miles does sound vaguely impressive to the uninitiated, who always seem more interested in how far I ride, rather than why. They might not be so impressed if they knew it involved 332 hours actually propelling a bike (and that’s not even taking into account all those hours sitting round talking bikes, or just cleaning and fixing the damn things … or even writing about them!)

332 hours equates to about 41 eight-hour long work days. Perhaps there’s something more productive I could be doing with my time on the planet … I just can’t think what.

From here 4,500 miles also seems like a long, long way off, starting the new year from ground zero, but at least I’d started making inroads with a couple of commutes on my return to work. Handy, if only to start chipping away at the excess couple of pounds brought on by wine, wallowing and wanton wassailing.

My “off the record” ride on Christmas Eve had been somewhat ruined by another series of front wheel punctures that finally convinced me to discard my somewhat aged, but still decent looking Fulcrum wheel for good. It’s now in disgrace, lying, shunned and quietly mouldering in the darkest corner of the shed, stripped of tyre and inner tube. Even after careful, forensic inspection, I still have no idea why it was causing so many punctures. Hopefully they’ll now return to being an occasional, unwelcome interruption rather than an overwhelming expectation.

The New Year’s Eve ride was lashed by the tail end of Storm Barbara and ended up longer than planned, when we found our usual café closed and a handful of us back-tracked to find an alternative. After leaving the group, my solo ride home had proven to be a trial of strength against an increasingly enfeebling headwind. I lost. Badly, finally dragging myself to the top of the Heinous Hill some 20 minutes past my usual arrival time and utterly exhausted. Who’d have thought air could be so hard to push through?

Still, while I felt unlucky, it could have been a lot worse, a number of our group had come to grief with a multiple pile-up on black ice during a midweek holiday ride, leaving behind numerous contusions and several broken bikes and bodies. Worst affected seemed to be Andeven, who looks like being out for a couple of months with a fractured pelvis.

So, what has 2017 got in store and more importantly how was the first club run of the year going to measure up? Well, the start was certainly promising, the temperature nudging toward double figures and the wind no more than a cooling breeze.

I made decent time across to the meeting place and rolled up before everyone else, parked the bike up and settled in to see how many would be tempted out by the unusually mild weather.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The Garrulous Kid was the first to show and I learned he’d gone down in the mass tumble and needed a new rear wheel, cassette and derailleur. He was also working through his own crash demons and suffering from a crisis of confidence, convinced that his rear wheel was constantly threatening to slip out from under him.

I had a look at the Bontrager tyres his LBS had fitted, but I’m not at all familiar with them, so didn’t know if they were particularly good or bad in terms of grip. He didn’t know how much pressure there was in them, but the rear one felt a bit hard and unforgiving to my extremely unscientific thumb-prodding, so I suggested he let a little air out to see if that would improve their handling.

He asked Crazy Legs what he thought and he made to prod the tyre and then – whoosh, let his hand quickly slide off.

“Did you see that!” he exclaimed, “They’re slippery.” Oh dear, this wasn’t helping.

The Garrulous Kid was wondering who else he could ask and someone suggested the BFG.

“Who’s the BFG?” he asked, bewildered.

“The Big Friendly Giant.” someone explained helpfully.

“Although he’s not really all that big.” Taffy Steve added.

“And not at all friendly.” I had to concede.

Speaking of big, Plumose Pappus rolled up for one last club ride before returning to university and complaining he’d over-indulged over Christmas, eaten far too many mince pies and his weight had ballooned – starting to inch, albeit with glacial slowness towards a mighty … 50 kilos!  (Or, in Plumose Pappus world, positively obese.)

The Garrulous Kid turned to Taffy Steve and, with either carefully calculated display of arch-deviousness, or (much more likely) completely blissful naivety, innocently asked:

“Steve, did you eat too many mince pies as well?”

#Cough# Splutter#

Moving swiftly on…

The Red Max confessed to having been lured in by the post-Christmas sales and had bought both himself and the Monkey Butler Boy matching wheelsets. Ah, nice…

Meanwhile, just before we set out OGL fielded a call, which I suggested was from the British Antarctic Survey, warning of dire weather heading our way, but at least for today we could set out safe in the knowledge there was absolutely zero chance of encountering any ice, even in the deepest, darkest depths of rural Northumberland.


The mild weather had indeed attracted a bumper crop out and almost 30 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out. As we got underway, Sneaky Pete sneaked out and directly onto the back of our group. I could only congratulate him on his masterful timing.

Sadly, for the rest of us timing was not so good and we got caught by the first set of traffic lights, having to chase on for the first mile or so. Not the best start to a ride when all you wanted to do was tuck onto someone else’s wheel and shelter at the back for a while.


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Today was to prove to be a day of losses. First Taffy Steve lost a light which uncoupled from his frame and went bouncing away, forcing him to drop back to retrieve it. I then caught Son of G-Dawg, riding against the flow and back-tracking, looking for what I’m fairly sure he said was a missing brake block.

Next up the Red Max lost his rag with a taxi-driving RIM, who objected to the fact that we didn’t immediately pull over to the side of a narrow lane and doff our caps, while he thundered past at dangerously high speed.

In the sudden scrum of braking cyclists caused by the taxi, the Garrulous Kid lost his balance and toppled over.

Then Mini Miss lost the plot and stopped in the middle of the road halfway up a steep climb. Nobody seems to know why, including her, but it briefly caused utter chaos and much swerving and jinking around her stationery bike.

The biggest loss of the day though was reserved for the Garrulous Kid, who completely lost his mojo on the swooping descent just before the steep clamber up to Hartburn, plagued by the demons of last week’s group crash and convinced his tyres had been polished smooth and then liberally coated in grease.

Just before the sharp plunge down, he energetically bailed out, riding off the road and up a steeply banked verge, narrowly missing Crazy Legs and somehow managing to keep himself upright on the adverse camber of the muddy, gravel and leaf strewn strip.

He waited for the road to clear of cyclists before gingerly picking his way down at an exaggerated crawl, almost coming to a standstill at the bottom and losing all momentum before having to drag himself up the other side.

Rab Dee dropped back with him for a bit of mid-ride coaching and policing, while the rest of us pushed on.

“Angerton, or Middleton Bank?” G-Dawg enquired.

“Middleton Bank.” Carlton replied assuredly, “It’s easier.”

This show of forthright confidence, whether misplaced or not, impressed Crazy Legs, who decided Carlton deserved a new moniker to reflect his bravura assertiveness. He first tried out “The Dormanator” before discarding this and finally settling on “The Dormanatrix.” He then totally ruined the intended effect by declaring the name immediately conjured up images of Alan Partridge prancing about in leather S&M shorts.


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Nevertheless, Middleton Bank it was – and as we approached, Bydand Fecht pushed up the pace and a small group went clear at the front. I coasted to the bottom of the hill, dropping back through the group until the slope began to bite and then pushing up the outside. As I approached the top, I had Goose for company, riding audibly up the inside gutter and puffing away like Ivor the Engine under heavy load.

At the crest I eased and dropped back, waiting for the rest to regroup and we slowly got ourselves organised to begin chasing the bunch up front who’d decided not to wait. Sneaky Pete pushed the pace up, before swinging over and declaring himself done. Our efforts became a little ragged as Carlton the Dormanatrix and Taffy Steve then vied for the lead before we hit Milestone Woods, with Crazy Legs pulling us up and over the rollers.

As we tipped down before the final climb, Taffy Steve whirred past inviting me onto his wheel with a, “Hang on and I’ll drop like a stone.”

We were closing on the front group as we hit the slopes of the last climb and I returned the favour, pushing past Taffy Steve and suggesting he grab onto my wheel, “and I’ll climb like a washing-machine!”

As we hit the final uphill push, Crazy Legs whirred off the front in a brave, but ultimately futile attempt to bridge to the front group, while Sneaky Pete sneaked off my back wheel to pip me on the line.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

 I caught up with Crazy Legs in the café queue and overheard him closing a conversation with the immortal phrase, “It’s immaterial”

“Ah,” I interjected, “A Gigantic Raft in the Philippines?”

He looked at me blankly

“Huh?”

“A Gigantic Raft in the Philippines – It’s Immaterial. You know – Driving Away from Home.”

“Ah, thirty miles or more”

“That’s the one.”

“A whole thirty miles, eh? Woah!”

He was then served by a waitress whose hair had been green the previous week, blue the week before and had transitioned through various shades of orange to a more natural auburn colour. I left him proposing a weekly sweepstake where we’d try to guess her hair colour and trying to negotiate a deal, whereby she’d feed him the information he needed to win every week.

The Driving Away from Home pop-reference led to discussions about Milli Vanilli, surprisingly dead in a car crash with their wives according to Crazy Legs, more surprised that they had wives, than the fact they died in an automobile accident. This led to the sad acknowledgement of the much greater loss to music, that of Colin Vearncombe, a.k.a. Black, who died after a car crash in Ireland late last year.

[For those of you actually managing to keep up at the back, my Google skills suggest that despite Crazy Legs’s assertions, only one member of Milli Vanilli, Rob Pilatus is no longer with us and his death was the result of overdosing on pills and alcohol. I can only assume he wasn’t driving a car at the time – either with or without a wife.]

Penelope Pitstop described the extreme opprobrium heaped on her head by her own offspring, after she’d shown them around her office and dared describe it as “the bomb.” I empathised, mentioning how my own eldest, had threatened to disown me for suggesting she was “a crease”. Apparently appropriation of urban slang by the over 50’s is neither dope, nor bangin’. Word.

A discussion about ridiculous names harkened back to an earlier conversation, where we all endorsed the Natty Gnat’s call for an official list of acceptable names to prevent stupid parents saddling their off-spring with criminally ridiculous monikers. Particular ire today was reserved for numerous Celtic names, with incomprehensible spellings, Niamh, Siobhan, Aoife, Oisin et al.

In a discussion about winter tyres, Crazy Legs’s recommendation was to find out what I was riding and simply avoid buying anything similar. He then described how he himself had a spate of blow-outs before discovering his track pump was calibrated so that 40 PSI showed as zero on the dial.  Apparently riding tyres at 160 PSI is not conducive to inner tube longevity.

Finally, he declared that the Quote of the Year award had already been won, even at such an early date, with Taffy Steve’s observation that “It took Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator less than an hour to develop self-awareness, but the Prof ‘s still working on it after 55 years.”


The ride home was largely without note, although we were passed by a grim faced rider whose face was so black and begrimed that he looked like he’d just completed Paris-Roubaix in the most adverse weather imaginable, or, as Bydand Fecht suggested, spent a Saturday club run riding behind G-Dawg, who thinks mudguards are only for sissy’s.

I made it home in decent time, feeling comfortably tired, rather than utterly exhausted and with both tyres and tubes fully intact.

Not a bad start after all.


YTD Totals: 147 km / 91 miles with 1,727 metres of climbing

Booty Contest

Booty Contest

Club Run, Saturday 5th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  93 km/58 miles with 804 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          All the y’s – chilly, wintry, gusty and showery


 

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Ride Profile

The Ride:

Business as usual on Saturday, as OGL and G-Dawg returned from their sojourn north of the border and the weather reverted to the kind of wild, windy and wet weather we’ve come to expect so late in the year. In fact, the BBC weather forecasts leading up to Saturday looked positively apocalyptic with heavy wintry showers across the day, all accompanied by a blustery, gale force winds direct from the Arctic.

Saturday morning proved things weren’t quite as bad as forecast, with the constant rainfall that was predicted materialising more as a series of short, sharp showers. The day then didn’t look quite as unremittingly bleak as expected, but it was easily the coldest we’ve had so far this autumn.

Clothing choice now became the central concern and I loaded up for the worst, a light, long-sleeved base layer under my Galibier Mistral jacket, topped with a new Santini “Rain” waterproof. This latter is in a fetching shade of light grey, that Crazy Legs suggested matched my complexion and gave rise to him calling me John Major for the rest of the ride.

Full-length winter tights, Thermolite socks, shoes and winter overshoes covered the bottom half, while thick and reasonably shower-proof gloves, a headband and buff protected the gaps and extremities. I even remembered to tuck a spare pair of gloves away in a pocket, in case the first pair did eventually succumb to the rain.

The road down from Heinous Hill has now gained another strip of fallen leaves, mainly down the central meridian, but occasionally spilling across both lanes. I wasn’t keen to test whether the surface just looked slippery or actually was, so I scrubbed off speed and picked my way carefully around the corners, no doubt annoying the driver following close behind. I think he may have actually read last week’s blog and wanted to get into the fun of seeing if he could graze the rain flap on my mudguards without bringing me down.

Surviving the descent, I was rewarded with my first blast of icy rain as I crossed the river and began to haul myself up the other side. Here I would stop a couple of times to shed the buff and the headband and loosen a few zips here and there to get some air flow to counteract the over-heating. Despite this I made good time and was the first to arrive at our meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The BFG was the first of our group to appear, once again on his ultra-posh, much-too-nice-for-this-kind-of-thing, winter “hack” – kind of like wearing a white tuxedo to a Cradle of Filth mosh-pit. He reported his knee operation had been an all-round success, but he continues to recuperate and would turn for home early, “before his stitches started weeping.”

Meanwhile he educated me on the tricks of bike smuggling to avoid the censure of eagle-eyed partners. His infallible system is based on the principles of Trigger’s broom or, if you prefer something more highbrow, the Ship of Theseus paradox: Trigger receives an award for having the same broom for 20 years, then reveals that during this time it’s only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

The BFG’s cunning ploy is not to buy an all too obvious complete bike, but individual components piecemeal, slowly replacing parts one at a time and upgrading an existing bike. Of course, he admitted, the only drawback was that he always had to stick to the same colour, otherwise the swap became too obvious. This could explain why all his bikes are black, which in itself was a revelation as I thought he simply hadn’t outgrown the mad-Goth affectations of his youth.

Taffy Steve arrived amidst another shower of cold rain, reaching delicately into his back pocket with a finger and thumb to extract a tiny bundle of cloth about the size of a matchbox. He then shook this out to reveal a gossamer thin, shiny Funkier gilet, in an orange so bright and whizzy it actually seemed to oscillate to a different frequency and brought tears to my eyes to look at.

This flimsy, ephemeral garment was all the windproof and water-resistant clothing he felt he could wear without seriously overheating and was the latest addition to his foul-weather armoury, along with a pair of shiny-silver, winter cycling boots that looked as if they were styled on something Dave Hill might have worn back in the heyday of Slade and glam-rock.

As the rain increased in intensity, we finally saw sense and relocated to the shelter of the car park. Here I found G-Dawg had finally succumbed to the inevitable, put away his best bike and was now out on his winter-fixie. He was also immeasurably proud of his rear mudguard, an ultra-slender sliver of black plastic suspended horizontally, halfway between his rear tyre and saddle, where it would be able to deflect … oh, I don’t know … maybe one-tenth of all the road spray we were going to kick up.

Having just about survived another Braveheart Dinner, he suggested the event was in serious danger of losing some of its lustre, especially as this year special guests had been thin on the ground with only Callum Skinner to add a note of class. So, no Bradley Wiggins or David Millar, no Marianne Vos, or Mark Cavendish and, as G-Dawg concluded somewhat ruefully, “even Sean Kelly gave it a miss” Things must be bad.

Of course his reaction may in part have been coloured by not only being forced to journey there and back in a car with OGL, but also having to share the same hotel room. He subsequently reported no new yarns, but plenty of old ones.


I was somewhat surprised that the usual, slightly-crazed winter-stalwarts and “usual suspects” were well supplemented by a sizeable contingent of others, although all the girls were conspicuous by their absence. This being the first Saturday of the month however, our dauntless Go-Ride youngsters were out in force and at least their numbers included several girls.

The Garrulous Kid was out with us again and having himself recently graduated from the kid’s section had to endure a few catcalls and good-humoured cries of “traitor” from his previous riding partners.

At precisely 9:15 Garmin Time, we left the relative sanctuary of the car park and 19 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out into the teeming rain.


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To the Cheese Farm!

I dropped into the middle of the pack beside Caracol and we were soon out into the countryside and heading up toward the Cheese Farm. As we approached the entrance to the farm a silver 4 x 4 poked its nose into the lane, saw us and then pulled over to stop and let us through. I would usually give such a considerate driver a cheery wave and big thumbs-up, but behind the windscreen I could see him sitting there, evidently furious, gesticulating angrily and mouthing off at us.

I then rounded his car to notice a big, new sign for the Cheese Farm, proudly declaring “All Cyclists Welcome!” Maybe not all the staff are quite “on message” yet.

With a rotation off the front, I caught up with Crazy Legs, who’d dubbed Taffy Steve’s gilet “the Beacon.” I wondered if he’d noticed the new winter boots as well. He informed me that he’d not only noticed them, but compared them with his own in terms of style, build and quality. This he casually referred to as “a booty contest” – until he realised what he’d said and began guffawing loudly. Honestly, sometimes this stuff just writes itself.

He then declared he hated turning left at the next junction and was determined to turn right, even if it meant riding off on his own, but we all went right anyway. I guess it’s a strange but universal truth of cycling that different riders tend to grow to hate different bits of road and it’s never as obvious or simple a reason as it just being a hard-climb – although Szell’s love-hate relationship with Middleton Bank might be an exception.

The bits I hate tend to be “false-flats” where there’s a very slight, almost imperceptible rise and you struggle along them wondering what’s wrong with you and why it’s suddenly become so hard, not realising you’re heading ever so slightly, but very definitely uphill all the time.

We regrouped briefly after the climb to Dyke Neuk and found ourselves testing the uneasy peace between cyclists and horse riders as we converged on the gathering point for one of the local hunts. At one point one of the horses panicked and began crabbing across the road toward us, while I pressed ever further into the verge on the opposite side of the road as I tried to edge past. Large, dumb equine beast with flailing, iron boots narrowly avoided, I managed to finally exhale and press on.

The horse-people were unfailingly chipper and cheerful, despite the foul weather and appearance of a dozen or so unruly bike-oiks in their midst. Perhaps hunting and killing small frightened mammals grants you an inner, zen-like calm, but I have to admit it passed me by last week when I had to batter one of Mouse (the cat’s) errant mouse (the mouse) playthings to death with my cycling shoe in the “Blood on the Cleats” incident. Perhaps the horse people were just glad they weren’t having to cycle anywhere in such appalling weather.


 

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Negotiating an uneasy alliance

As we dived down and then up through Mitford I caught up with Grover, perhaps the only one of us who hadn’t yet transitioned to a winter bike as he sat proudly astride his shiny Pinarello. I queried whether he had a licence for such profligacy and he explained his only alternative – a vintage bike he’d restored with 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears, was too heavy. I suggested he might need a different bike, he suggested he needed to get fitter … and I suggested he needed a different bike.

The Garrulous Kid was suffering in the cold and miserable conditions and wanted to know how much further it was to the café. One last hill, I promised as we swept through a road spanning puddle of dirty frozen water and his day became yet more miserable.

The Prof was having a jour sans and complained of being humiliated as we dropped him on the climb up towards Bolam Lake. We waited at the top, where G-Dawg suggested the Prof would ride straight through us without stopping and attack off the front, but he must have been feeling really off his game, as he reigned in his inner mad-dog enough for him to just take the front and try and control the group.

We were however closing in on the café and the speed was being wound up all the time. We were strung out in a long line as we swooped down through Milestone Woods and up the rollers, where the Prof was washed away off the front and I made up good ground sliding from the back to the front of the group, swerving around the Garrulous Kid as he pulled his shoe out of his pedal bindings.

I held there until the final corner and the last series of upward drags when G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Captain Black jumped away. I hung onto their wheels until they pulled me clear of everyone else and then watched them pound away to fight for the honours, rolling up behind them.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:

Taffy Steve’s majestic, elephant’s scrotum purse made a reappearance, leading to a discussion about cycling wallets and purses in general. OGL flashed his waterproof wallet complete with British Cycling Licence, which he suggested he always carried because he was surprised how many of us went out without basic id on them and he’d been called on to try and identify a number of cyclists involved in accidents.

I remembered a cyclist just last year who was killed in Yorkshire and for about a week nobody knew who he was, only that he was a middle aged man found with a Carrera. I know there’s a bit of a bike snob in all of us, but surely his family and friends weren’t that embarrassed to own up to knowing him just because he bought his bike at Halfords?

OGL suggested he’d once even considered having his name and blood group tattooed on his bicep just for identification purposes. He didn’t quite get it when Taffy Steve and I agreed it probably wouldn’t have gone down to well with Nazi hunters and we told him he’d have to avoid holidays in Israel, while we commented on his typically Aryan, blue-eyed, blonde-haired looks. When he still didn’t catch on, I told him that the type of tattoo he described was a trademark of the SS, but he completely misunderstood and started rambling on about an ex-SAS, ex-member of the club, to much eye-rolling around the table.

The Red Max had enjoyed his holiday in Spain, riding with a few local clubs and enjoying perfect weather and hospitality. He generously offered to lend anyone his solid bike boxes too – “as long as it doesn’t clash” which Taffy Steve immediately took to mean you could put anything in them, as long as it was red.

OGL commented that one of our esteemed members, Facebook posting, carbon stress-testing, Guiness slurping, pie chomping, platter spinning, real ale swilling, curry sampling, all-azione, Thom-Thom, was off in Glasgow for the weekend, enjoying the track cycling at the Chris Hoy velodrome and indulging in the local hospitality.

I saw that he’d posted on Facebook how he was enjoying an evening curry at one particular Indian, someone had then recommended another and he’d replied along the lines of: “Good. That’s breakfast sorted then.” I like his style, but I couldn’t cope with his lifestyle.

OGL also said that he’d returned from the Braveheart ride to find G-Dawg diligently washing his bike in the hotel bath. I have to say I was completely unsurprised.


On the way home I had a chat with young-tyro, Jimmy Cornfeed, obviously about bikes, but also touching on this blog, how he didn’t seem to mind his own blog persona and how he thought the Garrulous Kid was the perfect moniker for, well the Garrulous Kid, obviously … or he did after looking up garrulous in the dictionary. There you go then, proof if ever it’s needed that my blog is not only mildly irritating entertaining, but slightly educational too.

We determined that the Garrulous Kid was particularly garrulous about sharks, which he seemed to feed randomly into any conversation whenever it was possible and appropriate (and occasionally when impossible and inappropriate.) We then decided he either had a deep fear of sharks (galeophobia, according to Mr. Google) or an unhealthy fascination with them, which I guess would make him a galeophile?

As we hit Berwick Hill, Jimmy Cornfeed took the opportunity to stretch his legs, floating effortlessly up the inside past all the stragglers and off on his own. I let him pull me across the gap and up to the front group where I dropped in behind the leading pair to find OGL growling about keeping it steady and not attacking the hill. I tried to counter by making a case for youthful enthusiasm, which I don’t have, but can at least still appreciate, but would imagine it made little impact.

Slotting in beside the Red Max for the final stretch we noticed a lone rider approaching, but still at a considerable distance and we both instantly recognised one of our own. Sure enough a wildly grinning Laurelan soon passed us, heading out as we headed back and leaving both the Red Max and me worrying about how easy it was to recognise someone just by their riding style and form on the bike.

Then we were through the Mad Mile and I was swinging off for my solo trek home. As I passed one large municipal roundabout en route, I noticed it was desultorily scattered with a few huge, tired and rather sad looking fabric poppies and I couldn’t help wonder what purpose they actually served and if the money wasted on the display wouldn’t be better donated straight to the relevant charities.

This annoyed me almost as much as the furore over FIFA stopping the national football team from playing in a one-off shirt emblazoned with a poppy. After all, can you think of any group of individuals less suited to represent the incredible heroism, bravery, stoicism and sacrifice of our military veterans than a group of millionaire dilettante sportsmen kicking an imitation pig’s bladder around a paddock? How much difference would this completely hollow, token gesture actually make to veterans and isn’t there some other, more dignified way we can commemorate their sacrifice?

How much time and money has been wasted discussing, designing, making, marketing and arguing about our football team’s right to wear these stupid shirts and how might all that time and money and effort been better spent doing something meaningful?

I’m no apologist for the ultra-corrupt, ultra-stupid FIFA, that somehow manages to make the UCI look competent, but their rules on this issue are quite clear in this instance and I for one am quite happy for them not to start blurring anymore lines.

Even more astonishingly the Football Association had already proposed such an empty gesture a few years ago and had been very firmly rebuffed, so why so recklessly disregard the past and plan the exact same thing again? Are they so bereft of creativity and wisdom that they cannot come up with anything more novel and appropriate, or are they just out to make mischief?

And finally, why does the scarily nationalistic, increasingly xenophobic, frothing-at-the-mouth British press treat this as some great indignity and national insult and feel the need to write about it with such mock outrage. Personally, I just think everyone need to get out on a bike and restore some balance, calm and consideration to their lives. Works for me.


YTD Totals: 6,093 km / 3,786 miles with 60,722 metres of climbing

Dog Day Afternoon

Dog Day Afternoon

Club Run, Saturday 1st October, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km/72 miles with 1,014 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.1 km/h

Group size:                                         36 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and chilly


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Ride Profile

The Ride:

So, back in the saddle following last week’s University Open Day visit. I admit I quite enjoyed a brief respite from riding and even more from writing about it, I wasn’t so keen on the 350+ mile round trip though. Anyway, it was worthwhile as Loughborough University has also been added to Daughter#1’s growing list of universities she doesn’t want to go to and I think I only have around 110 others to visit in our national university elimination drive.

Speaking of visits to far off places, the venerable Toshi San was recently holidaying in Devon and paid a visit to Paignton Velopark, which he described as “a grand facility with friendly staff.”

When leaving, he found a fellow cyclist in a spot of trouble and tried to help out and, in his own words this is how the story unfolded …

“I spotted a Pieman in the car park next to his car with his bike upside down, having just unloaded it and clearly having mechanical issues.

Ta Da! Up steps Toshi ‘Bicycle Repair San’!

‘How do. Having problems?’

‘Yes, I can’t get the gears to change.’

‘Let’s have a look, then’

I got close up to a very shiny, very expensive looking carbon Cervelo with Ultegra Di2. Hmmm, not my area of expertise but I had read a few ‘techie’ articles about the gearset.

So, I turned the bike the ‘correct’ way up, found the reset/autotune/fiddle button under the stem and pressed it. The expected system light didn’t come on.

Aha! That must mean a loose/broken connection, an easy fix.

I worked my way, methodically along all the cabling till I got to the seat tube. 2 loose and lonely looking male connectors, but I couldn’t find the corresponding female connectors?

‘Where do these usually go, mate?’

He came in for a closer look…

‘Ah, they connect to the………………… Oh fuck! I’ve left the battery at home.’

I quite like it when other people prove they’re as forgetful and as fallible as me.

Saturday brought a chilly start to the day, but judging by the number of cyclists I passed on the way out to our meeting place, perfect cycling weather. Well armoured in arm warmers, knee warmers and long fingered gloves, I nevertheless stuck a rain jacket on for an added bit of protection from the wind and to give the raw, early morning chill a chance to dissipate a little.

I made the meeting point to find Rab Dee and Crazy Legs already in situ and we stood around chatting while a vast herd of brightly coloured cyclist slowly built up around us, like exotic wildlife drawn to the only waterhole in a drought-ravaged savannah.

It was a big, group – probably the largest we’d had all year, with a wide array of specimens; the wiry, stilt-legged, skin-and-bones of wide-eyed, young gazelles, a few heavy-weight and powerful pachyderms, grizzled, elderly gnu’s, troops of jabbering primates and a sprinkling of watchful, cold-eyed predators…

… or in other words a big group of lads and lasses of all shapes, sizes, variants and ages, a.k.a. the typical British cycling club, perhaps all drawn out by what promised to be best day of the rest of the year.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Rab Dee was complaining long and hard about the cold, despite being a hardy Scot, used to frolicking through fields of frozen heather in nothing but a string vest and baggy Y-fronts. When confronted, he merely suggested we’d hopelessly corrupted him with our soft, southern ways.

We then watched as a proper Geordie showed us how it should be done, trundling past with a wheeled suitcase wearing nothing but shorts, a Newcastle United top and flip-flops – seemingly oblivious to the freezing cold.

We speculated he’d just returned from holiday and wondered if he’d been somewhere so chilly he was actually over-heating now he was back in his native, “balmy” North East. I also wondered why grown men feel the need to wear the “costume” of their local football team when travelling to a foreign country. What’s that all about?

The Prof arrived and said how he’d looked forward to a chilly day so he could pull on his new, bargain-buy Assos legwarmers, only to discover they were actually arm warmers!

Mind you, if they were anything like the rather capacious “medium” Pearl Izumi arm warmers I bought last year, he probably could have comfortably worn them on his legs. Annoyed by constantly having to pull them up, I’d admitted defeat and ended up donating them to a rider who doesn’t have quite the same pipe-cleaner/sparrow-leg style arms as me.

As we gathered in ever-increasing numbers, Crazy Legs was distracted by a nearby pooch that was doing a brilliant impersonation of a meerkat, balanced perfectly upright on its hind-legs and constantly scanning the horizon, while his owner looked on nonplussed and possibly somewhat embarrassed.

Down it went briefly, but the forepaws had barely touched the ground when it was back up again, bolt upright, with its tail wagging furiously. Much taken by these antics, Crazy Legs went to have a word with the dog’s owner, but I guess whatever small ransom he offered wasn’t enough and he returned empty-handed.

The Prof prevaricated about peeing before proceeding on our peregrinations and pondered whether he had time, as Official Garmin Time clicked over to 9:12. Along with Crazy Legs I urged him to get on with it, otherwise he’d be calling a stop before we’d done 5 miles.

We assured him we’d wait and we duly did … well at least until he’d disappeared around the corner to attend to his needs and then we were clipping in smartly and leading everyone off…


36 or so assorted riders then, pushed off, clipped in and rode out, and I slotted into line, riding along in my own private world, until a recognisable voice intruded on my thoughts and I looked up to see the Bearded Collie beside me. Or rather I didn’t see the Bearded Collie, because he’d subjected himself to a close shave and completed the transformation into the Naked Collie, out for the second-time this year! I think he might be developing a bit of a cycling obsession.

We had a good, long catch-up, talking about family and work, the evils of social media, boot camps, open-water swimming and the sudden appearance of sink holes wherever the landscape is riddled by old mining activities (which is almost everywhere, given that the geology of the North East must resemble Swiss cheese.)

The Naked Collie then confessed he’d been looking after a family friends guide-dog while they were overseas, but thinks he might have broken it. He had somehow managed to turn the dog from a placid, thoroughly obedient and highly-trained aid to a blind person, into a loopy, loony, canine delinquent and tearaway that now ignores direct commands and disappears for hours at a time. Oops.


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A puncture-enforced stop saw the group split and shuffle and OGL drifted back down the line to cast a critical eye over the puncture repair and vent about another verbal spat with the Red Max.  One of the Old Guard leaned philosophically across his bars and intimated that the only constant in life is change, or at least that’s what I took from his thoroughly phlegmatic, seen-it-all before attitude.

Having paused long enough to fulfil even the Prof’s prodigious micturition needs, OGL announced it wasn’t worth stopping again in order to split the group and we would once again do this on the fly.

Approaching Whittle Dene, half the group was held up by a stream of cars thundering down the Military Road at high speed. Sneakily, Sneaky Pete sneaked across directly in front of hurtling metal boxes, earning himself a series of highly predictable loud horn blasts.

Even though there was absolutely no danger and I’m pretty certain the approaching driver didn’t even momentarily ease the pressure from their right foot, they were looking for the quick dart and we had duly obliged, confirming their prejudices that all cyclists are reckless, kamikaze idiots. Sometimes we don’t do ourselves any favours.

The group had no sooner reformed again than we were splitting. With no G-Dawg to faithfully and unerringly follow, I was caught in two minds, especially as Crazy Legs went with the amblers and Taffy Steve made off with the longer, harder, faster group.

Finally, remembering the path of life is paved with indecisive roadkill, I swept left a little late, causing minor chaos as I weaved through everyone turning right. I somehow managed to plant my rear wheel in a muddy divot and had to spin the pedals twice before the tyre bit and I was catapulted out, the back-end yawing outrageously as I fought to remain upright.

Control barely retained, I tagged onto the back of the group as the pace was ramped up over the Stelling and Newton Hall Climbs. The problem was that the usual longer, harder, faster group was all mixed up with the even longer, even harder, even faster self-flagellation ride, which was being whipped to a frenzy by a bunch of young racing snakes who were having a whale of a time battering each other.

As we turned toward Matfen we started shedding riders in a long tail, like a comet skipping too close to the sun, the pace burning them away and casting them aside. Mini Miss churned past, with a claim of, “Bloody hell, this is fast!” and she was right, (I took a Strava PR over this section of the road) but I could only nod in agreement, unable to spare either the effort or the oxygen of replying to her as i dived onto her wheel.

The survivors smashed their way through Matfen, then became strung out on the climb out of the village. I finally caught Taffy Steve and pulled up alongside him where, by unspoken agreement we tried to restore a bit of order, knocking the pace down a notch as we led a small group which slowly grew as we picked up one or two stragglers that were being spat out of the self-flagellation ride ahead.

We dragged the group through to the Quarry Climb, maintaining a pace that was still too fast for me – I knew this because all the blood was draining from my face to my legs and I could feel pins and needles in my chin as it slowly turned numb. I enquired whether the strong riding Taffy Steve had managed three Shredded Wheat that morning, but that was about the limit of my conversational capacity and it was still enough to leave me breathless. On the final, steepest ramp of the climb my legs were empty and I slipped back and off the front.

We turned to the right – the faster group had gone left – and began racing them to the Snake Bends. Another pair took up the front running, but a bit of erratic riding encouraged Taffy Steve to take control of the group again and recovering slightly I pushed up alongside him once more.

As we approached the junction onto the road down from Kirkheaton we saw the long line of riders from the faster group go streaming past, and we swung onto the road behind them, but ahead of our amblers group whose route had also joined the same road higher up.

Taffy Steve burst off the front for the final sprint, but I was already well out of it at that point. There was just time for Mini Miss to glide past and then for Sneaky Pete to sneak around me, before I could sit up and roll through the Snake Bends and push onto the cafe for a much deserved recuperative coffee and cake combo.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We were joined at the table by a relative FNG, who leant across the table to pluck a tiny money-spider off my collar. I didn’t realise I’d been carrying a passenger; all that extra weight and drag – no wonder I’d had trouble keeping up with everyone else!

Crazy Legs admired the FNG’s club kit which was an ultra-fluorescent baby-blue with garish yellow and orange bands, a throwback he told us to his time living and riding in Cincinnati. Emblazoned with the club name: Gear 4 Beer, he deftly explained it as a drinking club with a cycling problem!

I could at least confirm it was better than the jersey of another ex-expat, who’d returned from the States with a jersey sporting the name of a local bike shop, the Montclair “Bikery”. This had confused me no end because I thought a bikery was where Australians bought their bread.

The FNG revealed that our American cousins had inflicted even further vulgar, depredations on the English language and his LBS in Ohio was known not as a bikery, but as a cyclery. Huh?

Sneaky Pete sneaked onto the table with a massive slab of cake smothered in sweet, sticky frosting, which he had no choice but to attack with a cake fork – an implement Taffy Steve and I derided as being far too effete for simple, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type-cyclists.

We pondered what would be a suitable, manly implement for cake shovelling and decided a miniature, but exquisitely proportioned facsimile of a stainless steel Spear & Jackson garden spade would be perfect, both aesthetically and functionally for the task.

We think there’s a massive market for this kind of expensive tat novelty tableware, so expect to see the patented “cake spade” in shops near you in time for Christmas.

I think there’s even a market for a cycling specific, foldaway and pocketable version, perhaps modelled on a U.S. Army entrenching tool. Are you listening Rapha?

Praising the melting, still warm, just-out-of-the-oven goodness of the scones, we then had a bizarre conversation when Crazy Legs suggested cake didn’t agree with him.

“Yes, I do!” squeaked the cake on Sneaky Pete’s plate.

“No. You don’t.” Crazy legs re-affirmed.

An errant single-entendre then had us wondering if Szell was likely to ride again this year, or if he’d already begun his hibernation. Perhaps he’s already started to cultivate the poor form and an extra layer of fat he needs in order to rail and bitch about climbing Middleton Bank when he finally emerges in all his glory, sometime around April next year.

We imagined him cocooned in a dark cave, surrounded by chocolate, cake, beer, and a mountainous pile of Viz back-issues, while he watches constant re-runs of the Benny Hill and Dick Emery shows and stocks up on ever more risqué bon mots.


The sky started to darken as we made our way home and the temperature seemed to dip downwards again, but luckily the rain held off until I was on the last climb for home.

Before that we’d survived an encounter with an idiotic RIM who thought it was hilarious to lean on his horn and accelerate toward us down a narrow lane.

If he felt any of our declamatory declarations or violent gesticulations about his parents, his onanistic tendencies, or exactly what he could swivel on were false or unjust, he didn’t seem at all inclined to stop to debate them with us. Arse hat.

And then, as we were climbing Berwick Hill, the unthinkable, the unimaginable and the extraordinary happened all at once, as OGL attacked!

Out of the saddle, churning a big gear and honking upwards old-school-style, he launched himself off the front prompting an instantaneous reaction from Taffy Steve and ripping the group behind to shreds.

Astounded by what we were witnessing, I followed Crazy Legs and skipped quickly forward to enjoy the clash of the titans as they raced to the summit. From where I was sitting it looked like Taffy Steve just won the sprint with a last-gasp lunge, but sadly I was too far back to hear if he offered up his trademark, “Dip for the line, bitch!”

Dropping down the other side, I found a still cackling OGL declaring that, “There’s life in the old dog yet.” Remarkable. Weird, but remarkable.


YTD Totals: 5,396 km / 3,353 miles with 53,366 metres of climbing

The Wrong Trousers, or A Close Shave

The Wrong Trousers, or A Close Shave

Club Run, Saturday 17th September, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  109 km/68 miles with 1,039 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 19 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.2 km/h

Group size:                                         30 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    20°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold then warm, but always breezy


 

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Ride Profile

The Ride:

Rain and wind overnight had scrubbed the sky clean, leaving behind a bright blue and sunny Saturday morning. A “Battle of Britain Sky,” an old mate used to call this type of day and I couldn’t help looking around to see if I could spot the odd contrail from a lone Spitfire or two.

Despite benign looking weather, stepping outside to prep the bike revealed that it was actually surprisingly chilly and the wind was stiff and cold. Remembering last week, when the morning had been considerably warmer, but my fingers were still numb as I dropped down the hill, I stepped back inside and picked up a pair of light gloves and some arm-warmers.

That did the trick, now the only thing feeling chilled were my toes where the wind was whistling through vents and mesh on my shoes. Perhaps I need to dig out those seriously odd-looking toe-covers I bought and haven’t used and add those to my arsenal of early morning, flexible wardrobe accoutrements.

Otherwise, the journey across to the meeting point was remarkably unremarkable and the bike was running smoothly, silently and properly. Cause in itself for celebration after the past two weeks or so.

I arrived at the Meeting Point with plenty of time to clamber up onto the wall and sit and wait for the gathering, enjoying the crack and the sun and the warmth that finally persuaded me I could safely swap my gloves for mitts, although the arm-warmers, for the time being at least remained in place.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Crazy Legs told us he’d unwittingly emulated Isaac Newton and been bonked on the head by a falling apple as he rode in this morning. Sadly, it didn’t seem to engender any great eureka moment for him, but it did have me singing, “Newton got beamed by the apple good… yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” for the rest of the day.

As good as his word, the FNG with a snapped gear cable from last week had returned, and was there extra early to introduce himself to everyone. Dressed from head to toe in heavy, black and heat absorbing garb, I took in the full length leggings, long-sleeved jersey and long-fingered gloves, tied his clothing choices to a somewhat exotic and alien accent and, with Sherlockian intuition deduced he must be from somewhere with a much hotter climate and must still struggling to adjust to the North East “summer.”

“I’m guessing you’re not from around these parts then?” I confidently ventured.

“No,” he replied, “I’m from Amsterdam-via-Oxford.”

Hmm, not the sub-tropical paradise I had assumed then, but I guess Oxford is closer to the equator than Newcastle and maybe it’s warmed by the Gulf Stream. Or something. I did wonder how our visitor was going to cope with the real North East winter when it starts to rear its ugly head, probably in the next 2-3 days or so.

Perhaps making up for lost time, the Monkey Butler Boy had recovered from his serious, debilitating boy-flu and ventured out early with the Red Max, having already clocked up a dozen miles or so. Like me, they’d marked the chilly start to the day and layered up accordingly, although with perhaps less flexibility in mind.

Noticing his tights, I queried whether Max’s legs had been put away until next summer, which he agreed was pretty much the case, although the family did have a week or so in Spain to look forward to, so the poor people of Andalucia may need to brace themselves and learn to look away.

Unfortunately, the logistics of getting both his bike and the Monkey Butler Boys out there with them was proving a little problematic. He’d bought two hard-shell bike boxes, only to find he was struggling to fit them both into even his impressively spacious Škoda Octavia estate.

This then meant a re-think of hire car options at the other end and a necessary upgrade to a van with more carrying capacity, which hadn’t proved particularly popular with Mrs. Max.

Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy had been studying the local maps and declared he’d identified several massive climbs that had featured on La Vuelta. Now Max has the additional problem of careful route planning so he can skilfully avoid all of these hilltop challenges.


At the anointed hour, OGT (Official Garmin Time) Crazy Legs invited me to take to the front with him and we pushed off, clipped in and led a handily-sized group of 30 or so lads and lasses out from the suntrap and oddly sheltered micro-climate of the Transport Interchange Centre: a haven which is no doubt warmed by the gentle throbbing of badly tuned diesel engines and the subtle insulating properties of noisome fumes.

We were horribly splintered at the start and took a good while to regroup, but finally we got all formed up and pushed on.


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As we rode through Dinnington a young kid at the side of the road lifted a pretend machine-gun and sprayed the entire peloton “rat-ta-ta-tat!” At least, I think it was a pretend gun, but it was Dinnington after all, so anything’s possible.

I melodramatically clutched at the imaginary, gaping bullet wounds stitched across my chest, while beside me Crazy Legs emitted the strangled cry of a gunshot victim and slumped down as we rode past our grinning assassin. Little did I know he would only be the first of several out to do me harm today.

Somehow making a miraculous recovery from “being plugged” or, more accurately “having his ass capped” (which I believe is the more common argot of today’s youth) – Crazy Legs wondered if the Monkey Butler Boy had squealed like a girl when he saw someone pointing a gun at us. Perhaps though he’s remarkably fearless in the face of firearms and its only buzzing insects and itsy-bitsy spiders that reduce him to a terrified, quivering wreck?

We climbed out past the Cheese Farm, but the Prof was with us, so naturally we had to stop at his favourite bush for a pee before we could really get going. Crazy Legs took the opportunity to relinquish his place on the front to Son of G-Dawg and we pressed on.

We were having one of those days when route communication was utterly random and seemed to be on a delayed feed, with OGL playing the part of a cranky and oddly recalcitrant sat-nav. Crazy Legs had pre-empted any problems by relaying a call back for directions as we were approaching each junction, but once he’d rotated off the front and I was joined by Son of G-Dawg, information seemed to suddenly dry up.

Once again we started a game of “guess the route” – but like playing Russian Roulette, you know that sooner or later you will lose. We finally reached that point, sailing straight on at a junction instead of taking a sharp left and just like that, we had slipped from the front to the back of the group before we had a chance to recover.

A few miles further on and we found the road blocked by what we at first thought was a herd of skeletally-skinny, pale, stilt-legged sheep, but transpired to be one of the local hunts with a full pack of foxhounds. Is it that time of the year already? We slowed and trailed them awhile, until the huntsmen found a space by the side of the road to corral the dogs, allowing us to single out and slip past.

Somewhat taken aback by the size of our group, I heard one of the huntsmen-toffs turn to his companion to query bemusedly, “Ay say, is it the Tawdee Fronce?”

Things had warmed up substantially by now and it was turning into a really pleasant day. Along with many others I took the slight drop in our pace to strip off my arm warmers and tuck them away.

We split, with the self-flagellation ride disappearing off to Rothley Crossroads, while the amblers and the longer, harder, faster group again found themselves travelling the same roads for the second week in succession.

A badly judged and executed gear change on the run up through Hartburn left my legs spinning uselessly, whirring around with no traction or momentum and I once again dropped back through the group, but slowly recovered the lost ground as we plummeted toward Middleton Bank.

I hung back until the steepest ramp began to bite, then spun the revs up and, still seated, pushed up the outside and past everyone to pull clear. As the slope eased I changed up and tried to keep a consistent tempo while, through all my strenuous wheezing my lungs did a remarkably apt impersonation of a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner in desperate need of a bag change, singularly failing to deliver enough oxygen, no matter how rapid my panting became.

I’d only intended to put a bit of hurt in the legs of everyone for the final sprint to the café, but the twinkle-eyed, avuncular and cold-calculating assassin that is Zardoz was the first to catch up with me. “Through and off?” he suggested rather innocently and instead of waiting for everyone to regroup, a small selection was soon pressing on and building momentum.

A couple of the younger and stronger FNG’s jumped off the front and opened a sizable gap. “Too early?” I asked Crazy Legs and, “Too early” I affirmed to my own question when he didn’t answer. But it wasn’t and they continued to work well together to build their lead.

There were 5 of us pushing hard in pursuit, myself, Zardoz, Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg, but we all seemed flat-out and our efforts didn’t mesh and were becoming ragged.

Further along, we lifted our pace again, but Zardoz was taking longer and longer to fight his way past me and then he blew. I tried filling in the gap he’d left and managed to pull just about parallel to Crazy Legs but no further. I hung there awkwardly for a while, like a human cannonball whose trajectory carries him briefly up alongside a jet plane, until gravity re-exerts its cruel grip and plummets him back down to earth once more. That time quickly arrived for me and I waved goodbye to the pilot, peeled off and dropped away.

Finding a second-wind, Zardoz charged past me to cling to the back of our group while they slowly but inexorably pulled away from me. I hammered down through Milestone Woods, sweeping round the corners while planted right in the middle of the road, only to encounter a motorcyclist similarly occupying the middle of the road, which I wouldn’t usually mind, but he was on my side while travelling in the opposite direction.

He had come thundering around the corner too fast, too wide and barely in control, sweeping right across the white line into my lane and nearly into my face. I instinctively twitched away as he swept by, much, much too close for comfort. If I’d been a car, further across the road, or even a few centimetres wider, it might have ended in disaster.

Perhaps fuelled by a sudden kick of adrenaline I hammered over the rollers, catching and immediately dropping Zardoz and trying to recover as the road tipped down to the last drag up to the café.

Even as I began the last climb, the terrible-triplets of G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Crazy Legs were already rounding the bend up ahead, where a supreme effort by G-Dawg pulled him past the first, but not up to the second FNG escapee.

We rolled into the café, to congratulate the FNG’s, equal parts exhilarated by the chase and utterly spent.  At least Son of G-Dawg couldn’t complain that we’d followed the exact same formula this time and it had produced the same result. All we then had to ponder was how we could replicate the mad chase next time.

Comparing notes, it seemed Zardoz also had a too-close encounter with the suicidal motorcyclist, but Crazy Legs and the others hadn’t even noticed him through their hypoxia-induced tunnel vision.

I obviously hadn’t been thinking clearly either, as Crazy Legs convinced me that I should look on the advantages a crash could have brought, as at least I would have had an excuse to stop pedalling!

On that point we retreated to the garden, for a continuation of our on-going battle with our deadly enemy, wasp-kind.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

It was pondered (not all seriously, I hasten to add) if setting rollers up at an angle would simulate climbing a hill and if so, would it be possible to emulate the whole of the Tour de France route without ever leaving your garage. Taffy Steve even suggested that with a bit of creative thinking and enough time and money you could probably get a disgruntled Frenchman to scream abuse in your ear and douse you in urine – for that added touch of authenticity.

He then took me to task for attacking up Middleton Bank and depriving him of his weekly pleasure of mugging me on the line in the sprint, all the while screaming something incoherent, which he actually claimed to have been, “Dip for the line, bitch!”

We mourned the loss of one of the regular waitresses, who had left for a job in Sunderland and I pondered if she’d gone to the cycling café there which bears the very witty title: “Fausto Coffee.” We all agreed it was a great name, but wondered how well it translated in the mackem dialect.

Talk of the new £5 plastic notes seemed to focus on the fact that they would survive being washed with your clothes. Son of G-Dawg claimed than American dollars were already capable of surviving repeated washes without recourse to plasticizing the shit out of them. To illustrate he said he’d found a $5 bill buried in the pockets of his walk-in trousers, having survived several years and numerous washes in pristine condition.

Or at least I thought he said walk-in trousers, imagining something rather roomy and capacious that you never had to struggle into, even after a big meal out and several pints.

By the time I’d been corrected and we knew he was talking about walking trousers, G-Dawg and Crazy Legs were already off and running with the thought of Son of G-Dawg wearing Wallace and Gromit style techno-trousers.

“They’re the wrong trousers, Gromit and they’ve gone wrong!”

Caracol looked down at his plate to find a wasp trapped and struggling under his great slab of Snickers tray bake, looking for all the world like it had been trying to lift the cake and make off with it. We urged him to crush it flat under the cake and then, like a true man, eat the cake, smeared wasp and all, but being a gentle soul (or maybe just a wimp) he set the critter free.

The conversation then pinged randomly around starting with double-decker bikes: how unsuitable they are for riding over river bridges with low-railings and how even with a novelty bike you need to keep your chain clean. Are you listening hipsters?

This led on to decorators in stilts so they can paint ceilings (how do they pick up a dropped paintbrush?) and the dark arts of plastering, with all of us DIY-ophobes convinced magic was involved in getting a smooth finish.

Taffy Steve’s eminently sensible solution for patching plaster-work: mix up copious amounts of filler, smear it into and all around the offending hole, let it set hard and then smooth to a nice finish with an orbital sander. Works for me.

We then ended up talking about rugby players and how even the weedy looking ones, like Rob Andrew were actually all built like reinforced brick outhouses. This seems to be the reverse impressions cyclists generate, you see a Marcel Kittel or Andre “The Gorilla” Griepel and you immediately think of a big hulking bloke, but in a crowd they’d look remarkably normal if not malnourished. You could then take a weedy rugby player like Rob “Squeaky” Andrew, put him in a crowd and he’d look like a hulking man-beast, or Master of the Universe. Very different sports, very different worlds.

I guess the conclusion I drew was that we’re all reflected and framed by the company we keep. Looking around the table at my fellow club cyclists, that’s not an entirely comfortable or reassuring thought. (But don’t tell them I said that.)


I caught up with the news from an assortment of riders as we made our way home, revelling in the glorious weather and particularly enjoying Mini Miss questioning what on earth had possessed Red Max to wrap up as if he was on a Polar expedition … and then compound his error by pressuring the Monkey Butler Boy to similarly over-dress. She claimed this came perilously close to systematic child abuse.

A bit further on, I found our exotic flower from Amsterdam, who professed to have thoroughly enjoyed his ride, even going as far as declaring Northumberland even more beautiful than the Yorkshire Dales. Even he though, was forced to admit he was just a trifle over-dressed for the occasion.

As we entered the Mad Mile I had a bit of a gap to make up to the front of the group, where the G-Dawg boys had already started battling for the rights to first shower and to avoid the booby prize of having to clean the bikes. I flew past Cowin’ Bovril, suggesting he jump onto my wheel and hang on, but he sensibly demurred, as I shot across the gap, netting myself a Strava PR for my efforts.

Latching onto the tail of our racing front-runners, I used my momentum to slingshot me across the roundabout as they pulled a hard left. Here another cyclist, perhaps mesmerised by the rest of our group piling off down the left-hand exit at full bore, rode directly out and into my path without even looking.

I slammed the brakes on and swerved around him letting out the cyclist’s universal WTF roar of “Whoa-ah!” I’m not convinced he ever saw or heard me, but I hope he did and learns to pay a little more attention.

I climbed uphill to drop down into the valley again, slaloming narrowly around a car door that an inattentive driver flung open in my path and arrived at the bridge over the river. Still enjoying my ride, despite a seemingly unending litany of people wanting to do me harm, I decided on a slight extension, so I turned and just kept going up the valley.

The road was heavy, a constant uphill drag and straight into a headwind, so it quickly wore me down, but I made it as far as Heddon-on-the-Wall, before I swung around for a rapid downhill descent all the way back down to the bridge and home.

Had I kept going I would eventually have hit Wylam and I could have crossed the river on a different bridge and looped home that way as well. Perhaps a choice for the next glorious day, whenever that will be.

I do know it’s not going to be next Saturday though, I’m off for a University Open Day visit with Daughter#1, so if I don’t get out next weekend at least I had a perfect blast to carry me over until the next ride.


YTD Totals: 5,242 km / 3,257 miles with 51,883 metres of climbing

Clunking Hell

Clunking Hell

Club Run, Saturday 10th September, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km/66 miles with 942 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 12 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    18°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool, calm, clear


The Ride:

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Ride Profile

Well, here’s a novelty – a Saturday that every forecast was insisting was going to be dry and with only a relatively mild wind to deal with after a series of forceful gusts blew themselves out overnight. Sounded great and ideal to trial a brand, spanking new bottom bracket to see if it could fend off an attack by freaky wallabies.

Despite the promise of a lack of rain, it was still sharply cold as I set off early, gathering speed as I swept down the Heinous Hill until the wind chill numbed my fingers and I began to wish I’d worn gloves. Things would warm up later, but it was a very slow and gradual process and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to shed the arm warmers until well past midday, when I was alone and already heading homeward.

Still, the main thing was the ride was smooth and most assuredly squeak free, lacking last week’s cacophony of annoying little ticks, squeals, creaks and groans. The only sounds now were the slight hiss of tyres lightly kissing the tarmac and the faint thrum of a new chain running smoothly over the gears. Ah, that’s more like it.

I made good time and was soon crossing the river, swinging back on myself and starting to climb up the other side of the valley. Here the chain announced some newfound dissatisfaction with a loud clunk as it skipped and slipped on the cassette. Suddenly pedalling became hard and then too easy and then hard again. I eased back and tried to spin up the climb without applying too much pressure, but every few revolutions brought a clunk and a scuff and a whirr and I topped out the climb with a strange staccato, stop-start rhythm.

My mechanical hiccups kept me so distracted I didn’t notice the miles slipping away and I was soon rolling up to the meeting point to find the early arrivees clustered around an FNG’s bike while I wondered how I got there so quickly. The FNG’s mechanical woes were considerably worse than mine – he’d snapped his gear cable, so had no choice but to limped off home, vowing to return and try again.


Main topic of conversation at the start:

OGL announced that due to a spate of cancellations at various events we wouldn’t be able to piggy-back on another clubs time-trial this year, so he suggested people submit their best 10-mile timetrial time to work out who the club champion would be. This had OGL and G-Dawg pondering where the world’s fastest downhill 10-course was, and whether they could get away with a bit of motor-pacing and verifying of each other’s times.

OGL then gave us the date for the clubs dreaded hill-climb, the day when grown men compete to inflict the most physical harm on their own bodies and see who can come closest to resembling a freshly interred corpse.

There was then a discussion about downhill trials, still practiced in certain parts of the country where riders will deliberately ship their chain to  see who can freewheel the furthest after rolling down a hill.

Taffy Steve was mightily attracted to not only the simplicity of this challenge, but also the two words downhill and freewheel. He also quite liked the sound of its associated intensive nutritional and dietary plan, which he translated as eating as many pies as possible in order to build body mass, then hoping that gravity would do the rest.  I think he saw the concept as the ultimate revenge on all the racing snakes with their starved-whippet physiques and disturbing ability to float uphills. Yes Plumose Pappus, I’m looking at you.

The Cow Ranger arrived on a vintage steel, Paul Hewitt bike that he’d built for his son while at university in London, only to find out it had mouldered away, largely unused. The Cow Ranger had now reclaimed it as a hack/potential winter bike and wanted to see how it would ride. There were tsk-tsk’s of disapproval from OGL at the slightly rust-spotted chain and then complete outrage when he spotted the non-standard seat pin bolt.

The Red Max was again without the Monkey Butler Boy, apparently laid low by the worst head cold ever known to man, so bad in fact that it has received special categorisation as “Boy Flu” by the World Health Organisation and declared as fifty times more debilitating than “Man Flu.” Or at least that’s what it sounded like according to how the Monkey Butler Boy (a.k.a. the Slacker and the Malingerer) was reportedly behaving.


26 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out and I slotted in, two or three back from the front of our group alongside OGL, chatting about what Machiavellian plans that Sky, Saxo Bank and Ulrika Bike Exchange (©Sean Kelly) might unleash to try and unsettle old Stone Face, as the ever entertaining Vuelta reached its climax. I must admit I didn’t fancy their chances.

I tried to soft-pedal along and keep all the embarrassing clunks and clangs to a bare minimum, chatting more than usual in a vain attempt to cover up the mechanical dissonance, or at least take my mind-off the racket. No one seemed to notice, or if they did they were nowhere near as perturbed as I was.

The route we took this week was once again and old and familiar, but with large sections completed in reverse, so the roads looked disconcertingly familiar, but not quite and all the hard uphill bits and easy downhill bits got confusingly mixed around. This prompted some discussion as to whether these were in fact different routes, or the same-old, same-old with just a fairly obvious twist.

As we completed a familiar loop around Angerton, but in a novel northwards direction I definitely found one major disadvantage as we battled away into a bit of a stiff headwind – if we been travelling in our usual direction we would actually have enjoyed a tailwind on this section – for the first time ever! That would have been a rare and unexpected luxury worth forgoing the novelty of the same-old, same-old in a slightly different way.

After a long stint Crazy Legs and the Red Max rotated off the front, allowing a capable and willing FNG and the Cow Ranger to assume point and pull us along. I found a gear that seemed a little more stable and less jittery than some of the others, but it meant I was attacking the hills a bit harder than everyone else as I tried to keep my momentum going. On one elongated ramp I passed the Cow Ranger who ceded the front to me and I dropped back to work alongside the seemingly indefatigable FNG.

Just as the youngsters started to get frisky and began jumping ahead on the climbs, there was a puncture at the back and everyone rolled to a stop. Here I found a perplexed and frustrated Red Max jabbing at random buttons on his brand new, all-singing, all-dancing Garmin as he looked at his slowly dwindling average speed in dismay, unable to work out how to toggle the computer to adjust its calculations to ignore stationary time.

“Maps!” he declared at one point, “I’ve found maps,” but still the device played the role of R2-D2 refusing to give up its secret Death Star plans and beeping and squealing indignantly beneath Max-as-C3PO’s prodding fingers.

Finally, before I suggested he tried slapping it hard and calling it an overweight glob of grease, he admitted defeat and vowed to turn to the dark side and actually read the manual. This, he obviously feels is a slight on his technical prowess and manhood that he may never recover from.

Puncture repaired and underway, OGL again suggested we split on the fly instead of stopping again. Luckily this week Happy Cat wasn’t around to follow the wrong wheels and we all seemed to find the right group. While the self-flagellation ride zipped off, everyone else actually took the same route, but the longer-harder-faster group were quickly up to speed and pulling away from the amblers.

There may have been some strange, strangled shouting from behind, but by this time it was quite faint and indistinct … so maybe not. Soon around a dozen of us had formed a compact, fast-moving swarm and the pace got kicked up another notch.

We hit Middleton Bank without appreciably slowing and a steady pace was maintained when my attempted attack was derailed by an extended bout of clunks and clangs as my chain started slipping frenziedly. I had no choice but to ease back into line, change down and just spin up the hill behind everyone as best I could.

The road levelled out and with a keen sense of self-preservation Crazy Legs urged the Red Max swap places. Once complete, Max was now on the outside with space to launch his inevitable forlorn hope attack without needing to barge through non-existent gaps. He duly delivered, but his lead never stretched beyond a couple of metres and he was closed down as we thundered through the Milestone Woods.

At the base of the first of the rollers I attacked hard and managed to keep going over the first and second ramp, before running out of steam on the third and last. I think I managed to open up a few gaps and splinter the group, but to be honest I wasn’t looking back.

I did manage to draw Crazy Legs out in pursuit and he closed me down and passed me as the road tipped downwards, somewhat scuppering his plans to save himself for the final drag and sprint up to the café.

Done for the day, I tagged onto the back of the line and then just tried to hang on and keep the gaps to a minimum as we crested the last rise and sailed across a junction to roll up to the café.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Apropos of nothing, Taffy Steve declared it was ridiculous that Rab Dee’s black-carbon, stealth BMC was known as a Time-Machine, when surely his own titanium love-child was more obviously suited to the name.

Everyone looked suitably blank, until he prompted, “You know, like a DeLorean.”

I was confused because I was thinking of blue boxes and flashing lights, like the Tardis, while Crazy Legs was imagining some baroque, H.G. Wells-type sleigh with levers, dials and spinning discs and he’d begun checking anxiously over his shoulder to ensure no subhuman troglodytes were creeping up to steal his cake.

We then had a minute or two racking our brains to try and remember what  said troglodytes were called.

“Morlocks!” Son of G-Dawg finally volunteered and we were all amazed that the youngest person at the table had been the one to remember a fleeting piece of ephemera from a creaky black and white movie released in 1960.

That was until he explained he simply remembered it from an episode of The Big Bang Theory.


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Watch out for Morlocks!

Crazy Legs joined The Doc, Michael Hutchinson in (figuratively) lamenting the demise of the Singing Cycling Club – at one point they were almost as infamous as the Singing Ringing Tree apparently.

This reminded me of a mass club run when I was out with the Barnesbury CC when I was a kid. One guy had a small transistor radio (ask your parents, children) strapped to the handlebars and tuned into a station playing songs from old musicals. I can recall 30 odd of us riding along, swinging our arms from side to side, while spontaneously bursting into song – lustily bellowing:

“There is nothing like a dame

Nothing in the world

There is nothing you can name

That is anything like a dame”

As we rode through  one of the genteel villages in Northumberland. Priceless.

We dissected our café sprint, recognising the same old patterns occurred week after week: a hopeless long range attack from Red Max and/or Taffy Steve, an idiotic attack over the rollers, the BFG, if he’s with us, running out of steam at the exact same point every time, then the G-Dawg collective battling through to the bitter end where Son of G-Dawg will just nip away to steal the honours. Well, it’s like deja vu all over again. 

Son of G-Dawg laughed at how we employed the same tactics and did  exactly the the same thing week in and week out, but somehow always expected a different outcome. By  Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, we are all certifiable lunatics.

Talk of the BFG predictably running out of steam reminded Crazy Legs of the time they had been hammering it up Middleton Bank and he’d heard a hoarse wheezing, gurgling, gasping from behind. He’d ridden away from the strange noise, only to later learn it was the BFG who’d clawed his way up to Crazy Leg’s back wheel, desperate to borrow his asthma inhaler but, sounding like a latter day Elephant Man,  he had  utterly failed to articulate his needs in any coherent way.


The main group left while we were still enjoying a second round of coffee so we waved them off. We guessed Taffy Steve was soon itching to go though when he started buckling on his helmet while still sitting at the table.

When this failed to impel us into action, he started trotting between the table and his bike, alternatively whimpering and panting and trying to look appealing with his head cocked to one side. If he had a leash he probably would have carried it over in his mouth and dropped it on the table as a hint.

Taffy Steve then followed Crazy Legs’s suggestion that the best way to get everyone to move was to just slap your foot on a pedal and clip-in as loudly as possible. This worked, provoking an almost Pavlovian response and a scramble for bikes and helmets.

A relatively straightforward and uneventful ride back had me on the inside of Taffy Steve as we approached a major split point. An elegantly performed do-si-do then saw us swapping places and as he swung off left I accelerated onto G-Dawg’s rear wheel to cling on through the last crazy burst of the Mad Mile.

Then I was all alone with my madly clunking chain, finally working out that the worst problem was somewhere in the middle of the cassette and trying to work around it. I then planned and executed an impromptu stop at Pedalling Squares café, located at the bottom of the Heinous Hill and home of Patrick the Mechanic and the Brassworks Bicycle Company. Here I reasoned I could get a caffeine fix for me and a mechanical one for Reg.

I grabbed an excellent flat white and clambered up into the bike workshop, where I found Patrick the Mechanic deep in conversation with … err… Patrick the Cyclist.

Huh?

I did a very, very obvious double-take, looking confusedly from one identical Patrick to the other. “Yes,” Patrick the Cyclist and sometime doppelgänger reassured me, “We get that a lot.”

Honing in on the real Patrick, or the one I assumed was the real Patrick simply by dint of the mechanics apron, I explained the problem. A quick test, a bit of tinkering with the gear hanger and a minute twiddle of the barrel adjuster and he was done. I wish I had the confidence to do that, but any twiddling I do tends to just compound my issues, so I’ve learned to leave it to the experts.

Bike restored to fully-functioning condition and fortified by yet more coffee, I was soon off, caffeine fuelled and floating up the hill and home like some erstwhile Plumose Pappus.


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YTD Totals: 5,085 km / 3,159 miles with 50,264 metres of climbing

The Hills Are Alive

The Hills Are Alive

Club Run, Saturday 8th August, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   110 km/68 miles with 1,043 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 14 minutes

Average Speed:                                   25.8 km/h

Group size:                                           32 riders, No FNG’s

Temperature:                                      23°C

Weather in a word or two:              Bright and breezy


The Ride:

Ride Profile 6 August
Ride Profile

 

Well, I’m off on holiday tomorrow, so this could be quick and dirty – let’s see where it goes…

Saturday was again bright and breezy and looked like another great day for a ride, so I was up in good time and raring to go, but delayed when Cat#2 decided to violently reject his breakfast all over the office floor. Leaving 10 minutes late as a consequence of cat-yark cleaning-up duties, I had the choice of shortening my route in, or just pedalling a little bit harder.

I chose the latter, perhaps unwisely, as I wasn’t feeling super-fit: a lingering but very mild cold (even by man-flu standards) had plagued me all week with a sore throat and seemed to have brought on a visitation from the snot fairy overnight.


Snot Fairy
An Unwelcome Visitation from the Snot Fairy

The happy circumstances of kids’ holidays, fine weather and Mrs. SLJ working from home had also allowed me to commute into work by bike on four consecutive days. I’ve taken to riding the last third of the Heinous Hill climb sur la plaque (although I realise that’s a rather relative term on a mountain bike) and three or four cogs down the cassette to try and build some leg power. Four iterations in a week had left me suitably leaden-legged.

Even worse when I hit the valley floor, the “benign and gentle summer breezes” promised for the day in a series of overly optimistic forecasts, turned out to be a rather stiff headwind. I pressed on with the plan to use my normal route nonetheless, figuring I’d be able to make up some of the lost time once I crossed the river and picked up a tailwind, or failing that on the climb out of the valley.

For such a promising day the roads were surprisingly cyclist free, but there was an increased volume of cars to contend with, perhaps a consequence of the on-going repairs to stop the A1 Tyne crossing slowly crumbling and I found myself queuing behind a long line of traffic to cross the Newburn Bridge, just managing to skip through the lights as they were changing.

Once across the river I picked up the pace and managed a couple Strava PR’s and four 2nd fastest times clambering up the other side of the valley. When I hit my usual checkpoint: 8.42 miles into the ride, the time was only 8.40, I was 2 minutes ahead of schedule and I could relax and enjoy the rest of the ride to the meeting point.


Main topic of conversation at the start:

Rab Dee’s new bike saga has finally reached a satisfactory conclusion and he was out astride his new, super-smart BMC Time Machine, having actually delayed his holidays in order to be able to ride his first club run on it. His only minor gripe was that OGL had charged him more than he expected for help assembly help. We suggested this was just the storage costs for keeping the bike securely in the shop for such an over-extended period of time. It also seems like a small price to pay for the horrible ball-ache involved in routing the internal cabling through the frame and making sure everything worked “just so” – you know, a hap’p’orth of tar and all that.

Crazy Legs politely asked permission and then did the standard, UCI approved weight-test, hefting the bike off the ground on extended fingers. He put it down, slightly perplexed and pursed his lips and shook his head a little. Ah! He fished both full water-bottles out of their cages and set them carefully on the pavement, then picked up the bike again, this time nodding approvingly.

New bikes seemed to be the order of the day and the Monkey Butler Boy was there on his new steed, wearing what the BFG described as a “carbon-fibre cushion smile” courtesy of the saddle he’d donated to the project. I expressed surprise at finding the Monkey Butler Boy and Red Max at the meeting so early and put this down to the simple enthusiasm of the new bike.

Apparently it was even worse than I suspected though, as Max related how the Monkey Butler Boy had been awake dressed and down to the Post Office at 6.30 that morning to pick up a parcel containing his new carbon fibre pedals and then pestered his dad to fix them on immediately – all this from someone that Max says he usually has to pry out of bed with a crowbar.

The Red Max then confirmed the Monkey Butler Boy had blown his entire life-savings on his new bike and now only had only one single penny left to his name. Crazy Legs surmised that weight-saving on bikes must cost about a £1 for every gram lost, perhaps £2 a gram once you get below a certain threshold.

The consensus among the club seems to be that Lizzie Armitstead should not be riding in the Olympics and should accept the sanction imposed for missing three drugs-tests, even though many gave her the benefit of the doubt and suspected she probably wasn’t cheating, but just a bit dopey. Crazy Legs made the valid point of asking what sort of reaction we’d had to Christine Ohuruogu following her series of missed tests. Fair point.

Spry, who has an unrequited love affair with Miss Armitstead (unrequited only because they haven’t yet met, of course) remained silent, but I suspect he wasn’t actually paying attention as he’s lately been much too busy devising ever more labyrinthine plots whereby Philip Deignan would meet a gruesome end in an unfortunate accident with an out-of-control agricultural threshing machine.


The good weather had enticed a large bunch out for the run, so at 9.15 Crazy Legs led a procession of over 30 lads and lasses as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out. I joined him on the front as we spent the first couple of mile at a very gentle pace ensuring everyone negotiated the lights, traffic and roundabouts in good order and we were “all on” as we picked our way out into the countryside and began to pick up speed.


 

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As we started up Berwick Hill, Crazy Legs song of choice for the day was “Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy” and I wondered aloud about where Kid Creole is now, and if he was living under a witness protection programme after turning state’s evidence. Naturally and as intended, the requisite ear-worm was planted and Crazy Legs started singing “Stool Pigeon” while I added some appropriate “Ha-cha-cha-cha’s!”

Crazy Legs determined that our recent duets – “Rawhide”, “Jimmy, Jimmy” and now “Stool Pigeon” actually helped on the climbs and made them go a little quicker and easier. We decided we needed a song for every hill and he wondered what songs the professional might adopt.

I felt it was obvious Andy Shleck would choose some cheesy Euro-hit and suggested “Barbie Girl” or anything else by Aqua. Crazy Legs disagreed, saying that you couldn’t possibly be expected to complete a long climb Alpe d’Huez or the Hautacam singing “Barbie Girl” over and over, well not without suffering serious psychological repercussions. Hmm, well if the cap fits…


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We found the hills were not only alive with the sound of … well I daren’t suggest music, but singing at least … but we were intermittingly riding through clouds of black flies that had been enticed out by the weather and were proving difficult  to both avoid and ingest. Crazy Legs gagged on one particularly meaty example, coughed and spat it out where it ricocheted of the road and pinged solidly off someone’s frame.

We then had a discussion about the collective noun for flies. I suggested swarm would be acceptable, Crazy Legs though thought that given the bullet-like, armour-plated nature of the kamikaze insect that had just dive-bombed his larynx, then perhaps “bolus” would be more appropriate.

Tired of breaking through each new bolus of flies, we ceded the front to Caracol and Moose Bumps and dropped in behind their wheels. Speeding up to the turn-off to Mitford we always take, all was quiet behind as Crazy Legs began a deliberate countdown, “Three … Two… One…Now!”

“Left, left, turn left!” OGL bellowed, but too late – we were well past the junction and there was no turning back. Oh well, that’s one way of finding some slightly less-travelled routes.


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Tracing our way back onto the right roads, it wasn’t long before we were climbing up to Dyke Neuk and waving goodbye to G-Dawg who had to zip off home early to look after the family dogs. A few miles further on we stopped to split the group and at this point both the BFG and me were found floundering and wondering what to do in the absence of G-Dawg who we always follow. The BFG admitted to feeling quite bereft now we’d lost our spiritual, if not de facto leader.


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While the faster-harder-longer, self-flagellation group set off for a faster-harder-longer, self-flagellation ride, Crazy Legs took charge of the rest and suggested a Hartburn to Middleton Bank route, even getting Szell’s approval for his nemesis climb, as he growled, “Bring it on!” with a just the smallest hint of trembling behind his misplaced bravado.

As we dropped down to the bridge at Hartburn and kicked up the other side I saw the BFG get his gearing all wrong to send his legs spinning in a wild, ineffective blur and I was laughing so hard I could barely climb up the hill after him and dropped to the back of the group trying to recover. I was still there as we began the climb up Middleton Bank, but was happy to take it at my own pace even as a small group broke clear ahead and rode away, reasoning that we always regroup over the top for the race to the café.


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Today however was one of those rare days where there would be no re-grouping and I found myself cresting the hill to see the front group disappearing into the distance. I set off in pursuit, eventually catching Carlton and the BFG, but our chase was disorganised and I couldn’t see us catching the leaders, so I eased back, determined to at least win the sprint for the minor placings. I dropped onto the BFG’s wheel as we started the last climb to the café and just waited until his tank inevitably clicked over onto empty and the strength fled his legs. Simple.

“Is that it?” I asked, easing past him.

“Exact same bloody place as last week.” He moaned as I rode away from him.

Well, there’s certainly a virtue in consistency.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Yet more new bikes were noticed at the café, this time belonging to a couple of riders who’d both had Litespeed titanium “bikes for life” that had suffered cracks and frame failures and both concluded their “Lifetime Warranty” was actually worthless.

They now both have shiny new plastic/carbon bikes to look after. This caused Szell no little discomfort, having just recently invested in a top of the line Van Nicholas titanium or “fat lad’s bike” as he described it. OGL assured him that Van Nicholas don’t have the same seemingly desperate reputation that Litespeed seems to be garnering … but then again he is a Van Nicholas dealer.

For some reason the conversation turned to dead pop stars with Crazy Legs lamenting the loss of Prince, who Szell declared he’d hated. When asked why, Szell seemed to suggest it was just pure jealousy as Prince was richer, better-looking, more successful, a better singer, more talented, “Hell,” he concluded, “Prince could probably climb Middleton Bank better.”

This naturally led to us considering what kind of cyclist Prince would be – obviously a grimpeur and Crazy Legs wondering what his climbing song would be and nominating “Starfish and Coffee” a song he’d spent quite some time trying to make sense of, before realising it was quite nonsensical.

So the cycling world missed out on a potential King of the Mountains contender, but as Crazy Legs surmised, you really wouldn’t want to watch a climber who would punctuate every pedal stroke with a “Whoo!” or “Ee-ee!”


As we were gathering everything up to leave the café, Taffy Steve appeared, having snapped his chain on the ride in from the coast that morning and being delayed by a diversion to a bike shop for repairs. He was just sitting down to a well-deserved coffee and cake combo as we were leaving and waved us off.

As we started down Berwick Hill someone was just saying how unusually civilized and orderly the run back had been, when a yellow blur flashed past, Taffy Steve going full-bore having chased us from the café in an epic pursuit and intent on finishing his solo ride in style. All hell then broke loose as a chase began, amidst much futile OGL shouting.

Things seemed to calm briefly for the steep ramp into Dinnington, before disintegrating again and we were soon scattered all over the road in small groups and single riders. I worked my way forwards jumping from wheel to wheel until I hit the roundabout to turn for home and eased, determined to enjoy the sunshine and the ride back alone at a more relaxed pace.

There was still time for the unusual sight of the day, a wedding procession that almost rivalled the 3 massive tractors of a few weeks ago, as I passed an entire wedding party aboard two ribbon-adorned, big red double-decker buses, before I was dropping down toward the river.

Again traffic was queued up and it was busier than I’d ever seen it on the approach to the bridge. This was nothing, however compared to the south side where the line of waiting cars must have been half a mile long, as I guess some sort of diversion was in effect. As I rode past all the frustrated impatient drivers, sweltering in their hot cars, I couldn’t help but feel glad that I was out in the open, moving freely and actually able to enjoy the weather.


YTD Totals: 4,603 km / 2,860 miles with 45,572 metres of climbing

Audi-ophobia and an Ab-Fab Ride

Audi-ophobia and an Ab-Fab Ride

Club Run, Saturday 23rd July, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   114 km/71 miles with 1,075 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 23 minutes

Average Speed:                                   26.0 km/h

Group size:                                           22 riders, No FNG’s

Temperature:                                      23°C

Weather in a word or two:              Overcast, humid


Ride Profile 23 july
Ride Profile

The Ride:

Overnight rain had washed some of the mugginess out of the air and it was appreciably cooler compared to the stifling and oppressive stuffiness we’d endured in the past few days.

It didn’t look like it would be long before things warmed up though, with the sky capped by an insulating layer of thick, grey cloud and the wind light enough to leave the grass unstirred.

One consequence of the morning freshness following a week of warm humidity was that all the gardens, hedgerows and fields were growing with lush, unchecked abandon and the air was thick with a noticeable scent of blossom and pollen – which I found appealing, but is probably hell for anyone with allergies.

A few minor incidents with motorists kept me distracted on the run in and got me thinking about certain makes of car and my expectations of their drivers.

The first happened shortly after I’d left home and was dropping over the brow of the Heinous Hill, letting gravity pull me down and picking up speed rapidly. Around half way down I became aware of a car surging up on my right and moving to overtake – despite the fact I was already travelling at 38 mph, there was a traffic island slap bang in the middle of the road and we were fast approaching a sharp, blind bend.

I glanced behind to see a low-slung, black car hovering menacingly on my shoulder, so swung further out into the lane to dispel any notion that this was a suitable or safe place to try and overtake a solitary cyclist. Luckily sense prevailed, the car pulled back and I managed to open up a fairly sizeable gap as I skimmed down to the foot of the hill.

Turning left at the bottom I set out along the valley floor and it wasn’t long before the black car went blatting past at a quite ridiculous speed. I wasn’t even remotely surprised to register that it was an Audi TT, although they did catch me out by not remonstrating more forcefully about the 20 second delay I’d caused them.

Crossing the river and then doubling-back on myself, I then swooped around one bend to find a double-decker bus pulling out in front of me, so slowed to allow him space. Once again I sensed a car travelling too fast and too close, surge up close behind me before braking sharply and falling back.

This time it was blue Audi saloon, with a hugely pressing need to be somewhere else in a hurry and the righteous entitlement to all of the road. Oh, plus that unique capabilities that only a big German car can bestow, the capacity to see around corners and completely through large opaque objects, coupled with a magic shield of invulnerability.

Then, clambering up the other side of the valley, I was swinging left at a junction when a car followed me around, sweeping by much too close. This turned out to be a red Audi estate, driven (badly) by a man steering only with his left hand, because his right was much too hot and sticky, so he felt the need to dangle it out of his open window.

Now, I’m not suggesting that every Audi driver is a brainless RIM, or psychotic, self-entitled and dangerous arse-hat, but it does strike me that in my experience, these types of car have a higher chance of being piloted by just this type of driver. Vorsprung durch entrüsten, if you will.

It’s interesting, because a few years ago I would have classed BMW drivers as the ones to be wary around – perhaps our economic woes have caused them all to downshift? I also get the feeling that every cyclist has different experiences and their own personal bête noire when it comes to motor vehicles. Perhaps we need a national survey to identify the worst offenders – but for the time being, in lieu of more definitive evidence I’ll stick to my Audi-ophobia.


Main topic of conversation at the start:

I arrived to find Rab Dee discussing the latest progress (or perhaps lack of progress would be more accurate) on his new bike-build project, which seems to be struggling through a long, drawn-out and slightly troublesome gestation.

In fact, such are some of the complexities of his new BMC Time Machine that he has had to hand it over to OGL for help with some of the ultra-technical bits.

When I queried what the delay was, he reported that OGL is, “Waiting for a bit.”

My brain rattled and shook and clunked while I tried to process this, and when it failed I had to ask for clarification: “When you say he’s waiting for a bit, do you mean he’s waiting for a while … or that he’s waiting for a part?”

For some reason I had this rather churlish and totally unjustified suspicion that OGL might be punishing Rab for giving him such a thankless task, so had decided to agonisingly prolong the wait before he could ride his new toy. But no, apparently he is actually awaiting the arrival of a necessary component.

Crazy Legs arrived suffering a self-inflicted ear-worm as a consequence of spending Friday night at an amateur production of West Side Story, so we were treated to a fine rendition of “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks?

This was, somewhat startlingly a lot more highbrow than his usual endless repository of slightly off-kilter, occasionally tacky, pre-Millennial pop songs.

G-Dawg revealed his deepest, darkest shame – his close encounter with the Monkey Butler Boy last week had resulted in a slightly damaged spoke that he’d felt honour-bound to replace. The only problem was he couldn’t find any 3mm spokes and had to substitute in a 2mm one, which deeply offended his sense of order and tidiness.

He pointed out the exact spoke with an accusatory finger, it’s precise location seared into his memory by sheer mortification. We looked and looked. And then we looked some more, but none of us could actually see which one was the offending spoke, or notice even the slightest variation among any of the spokes in the immediate area.


At the meeting point I was somewhat surprised that only around 22 lads and lasses had gathered before we set out, given the weather I was expecting a much bigger turn out.

Son of G-Dawg joined the party late after, well partying late, enshrouded in a fugue of alcoholic fumes. It was good to see our plan of keeping him hopelessly hungover on Saturday mornings is working so well. Even better when you realise it’s all self-inflicted and we haven’t yet had to have a whip-round to secure him vast quantities of debilitating alcohol.


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The first indication that OGL had something different in mind was when we swung left at the first roundabout. Although quite unusual, this was not unheard of … but this was just the precursor, the appetiser, the hor d’oeuvres for a distinctly different club run.

I slotted in beside the Cow Ranger who informed me he was out for a gentle recovery ride ahead of a block of intense training for some upcoming triathlons. As we passed in front of the airport an all too familiar tinkling noise informed me that I’d jettisoned something else off the bike and I pulled over to let everyone else pass and see what I’d lost now.

Backtracking, I eventually found the bolt that held my camera to its mount had somehow worked loose and fallen away, but luckily the camera had remained in place. I tightened everything up again and gave chase.


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Now what’s dropped off?

There was no sign of our fast-travelling pack at the first junction, where I was faced with a 50/50 choice – left and up the hill or straight on and through the village. I guessed straight on and swept over the roundabout, trying to peer around the cars ahead and catch even the slightest glimpse of a brightly coloured peloton to let me know I was on the right road, but they were nowhere in sight.

Further delayed by traffic lights, I crossed the bridge in Ponteland and took our usual route heading straight over the next roundabout. Just as I exited, the Cow Ranger popped up with a very welcome “they went that-a-way” – pointing in the completely opposite direction, a direction in fact that I don’t recall us ever taking before and one I would never have guessed at without his timely intervention.

I did a quick U-turn, caught up with the Cow Ranger and we combined to give chase. Not only had I made him hang back and provide directions, I was now about to utterly ruin his gentle recovery ride as we started a madcap pursuit that lasted perhaps 3 or 4 miles.

Other than the moment when a car pulled abruptly out of a drive in front of us, our speed never dropped below 20 mph as we hammered along rolling roads, hoping to make the catch before the inevitable junction or split that left us with an insoluble choice, or before my legs burned down to ash and crumbled away.


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We finally tagged onto the back two or three cars that were trailing our mob like a convoy of team service vehicles. Sadly, there were no sticky bottles to be had and drafting through the cars didn’t seem like the wisest thing to do, so we waited until they overtook our group and then we were finally able to latch onto the wheels.

I thanked the Cow Ranger for his directions and inestimable help chasing back-on, in-between gasping for breath and trying to recover. “Yes, it’s surprising how fast we actually travel when we seem to be just pootling along in a group,” he replied laconically.

We had caught on just in time as OGL’s intended route unfolded and proved to be quite novel, encompassing many roads untraveled and some semi-familiar ones we took in the opposite direction to our normal rides. These felt eerily recognisable, but subtly different and I soon had to admit I was completely lost.

We called a pee-stop, but in the absence of the Prof and the Plank and the continuing saga of their duelling bladders, there were no takers.

The group split and the faster, longer, harder mob did a big loop around Middleton Bank, substituting one big climb for several smaller ones that proved possibly even more leg-sapping.


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We regrouped after crossing one major road, where we waited for Son of G-Dawg to determine if he was going down the marginal gains route of reducing weight by losing his stomach contents. Hangover induced nausea (barely) contained we pressed on, slowly closing on the café and ratcheting the speed up accordingly.

As we clattered down toward the Snake Bends I found myself comfortably tucked into the wheels as Son of G-Dawg defied his hangover to sprint off the front and away. I swung out and started to move past a few riders. I wasn’t attacking as such, but the momentum I’d gained surfing the wheels had me travelling faster than everyone else I was slipstreaming. Unsurprisingly this brought a reaction, everyone kicked and I slotted neatly back in to place and rode the wheels to the café without really needing to exert myself.


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Captain Black suffered a senior moment when ordering an additional glass of iced-water to go with his coffee and scone. He looked at the numbers on the till display in some confusion and saw them blinking £5.80 at him –considerably more than the £4.20 he expected to spend.

“How much is the water?”  He asked in a strangled voice.

“It’s free.”

“But, but, how much are you charging for the coffee and scone now?” He asked, pointing accusingly at the LCD numbers still blinking furiously on the till and starting to get a little exasperated.

“£2.40 for the coffee, £1.80 for the scone.”

“Huh?” He responded, now gesturing vaguely at the till display in confusion.

“You gave me a £10 note…” the waitress patiently prompted, waiting for the penny to drop.

You could hear the cogs whirring and catch the faint smell of burning as Captain Black ran through a series of not too exacting mental calculations: £2.40 for coffee plus £1.80 for the scone plus £0.00 for the water, that makes, oh let me see … £4.20! And I gave her £10.00, so £10.00 minus £4.20 …

“Oh!”

Outside in the garden we tried to calculate just how much money the café made from our patronage, with OGL airily suggesting a figure in excess of £50,000 a year. My own version of whirring cogs and faint burning suggested less than £20,000 is probably a more accurate, but still not inconsiderable sum – perhaps adequate compensation for our unceasing chatter, occasional smothering of the fireplace in kit that smells as bad as a wet dog and the odd random waterlogged seat cushion.

And of course we’re not the only group of cyclists that regularly visit the café.

(Assumes an average of 25 cyclists per visit on every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year – it may be higher in summer, but will definitely be less in winter –spending £7.50 per head. Or 25 cyclist’s x 2 days’ x 52 weeks’ x £7.50 spend = £19,500).

Someone suggested a loyalty card, but Crazy Legs dismissed the idea as he could foresee it involving the collection of at least 50 stamps. So then – one single free cup a year or perhaps even less frequently? Nah.

Thoughts then turned to how we could ever trust a figure like the proven liar and epitome of boorish, public-schoolboy buffoonery, Boris Johnson with the post of Foreign Secretary and expect him to forge relations with the rest of the world given his unerring propensity to casually insult other people and insert his size 11 shoes into his always uselessly-flapping maw.

Discussion turned to our American cousins’ desperate Hobson’s Choice – Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton and how the world appeared to be sleep-walking toward disaster. Crazy Legs however was quick to remind us that we all thought the world was going to end when Ronald Reagan was elected and somehow we managed to survive, so perhaps there’s hope yet.


The ride home found Crazy Legs pondering if the recently announced Undertones 4oth Anniversary Tour would feature Feargal Sharkey (sadly not) – which in turn led to an impromptu “Jimmy, Jimmy” duet as we climbed Berwick Hill.

Perhaps spurred on by the ragged rhythms of our punkish nostalgia, or more possibly in an attempt to deprive us of the oxygen required to keep singing, the pace picked up until OGL was complaining that he’d “raced up here at a slower speed” than we were churning out. Not that he ever, ever, in a billion-gazillion years, ever exaggerates.


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Crazy Legs declared it another great ride and who am I to disagree, as we split for home and I cruised through the Mad Mile and away. I passed one of those stick-thin, hard-as-teak, old cyclists cruising along on a vintage steel bike and exchanged the obligatory, UCI approved universal greeting: “How do?”

Spotting my Viner jersey, he started to quiz me about its provenance, obviously mistaking me for one of those Johnny-come-lately, young whipper-snappers who doesn’t appreciate the heritage of great cycling brands and needs forcibly re-educating, like the youngster who saw my Holdsworth Stelvio and asked what kind of name that was for a bike. I think I managed to convince him I wasn’t just an effete poseur and thankfully he let me go without further admonishment.

For the second time in the past fortnight I was passed climbing the Heinous Hill by someone on an e-bike (see: Electraglide in Beige – although this time it was more a case of  Electraglide in Hi-Viz.)

I told the old feller atop it that now I knew I was doing something wrong and he suggested I might be looking at my own future. Not yet though and not today. Today I couldn’t see any of the four horsemen astride the e-bike and I wasn’t on my ratbag mountain bike either, or carrying a heavy backpack.

So, despite having 70 miles in the legs already, I dug in and increased the tempo. Then, trying to keep a perfectly expressionless face and breathe easily, I caught up to, passed and dropped the damn e-bike. Ouch, it hurt, but I got there.


YTD Totals: 4,293 km / 2,668 miles with 42,402 metres of climbing