The Colossus of Roads

The Colossus of Roads

Club Run, Saturday 24th June, 2017         

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 111 km / 69 miles with 1,037 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 16 minutes

Average Speed:                                26. km/h

Group size:                                        28 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    21°C

Weather in a word or two:           Blustery and bright


24 jun
Ride Profie

Back in Blighty, after expeditions to foreign shores, I find myself behind in my club run reports. I’m sure nobody else cares, but I seem to have developed an OCD for completeness, so, in an attempt to catch up, here goes.

I’ll try to keep it short and sharp, but I do recognise that’s not really my style, so if you’ll forgive the writing logorrhoea and usual tumult of words (never use one where three will do) and are still awake out there, hang on while we try and get back on terms.

I did a couple of commutes into work on the week of my return and expected my trip to have granted me some benefit and at least a few marginal gains, but oddly I felt leaden-legged and slow. It wasn’t helped that the rear wheel of single-speed isn’t running freely, but even the second day, when I used the trusty Peugeot instead, didn’t offer any encouragement.

It was with some feeling of trepidation then that I turned up at the meeting point for the Saturday club run in very uncertain form.

The Red Max had posted up the route a couple of days before, so at least I knew what I was facing and there were no nasty, hidden surprises to ambush me along the way. I’d just have to wait and see how things went.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I had a chat with G-Dawg about the Cyclone, which had been a good ride and they had glorious weather, although he complained it had been, if anything a little too hot. After riding on the Saturday, he’d then spent a long, long day Sunday organising the marshalling for the Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup. He’d then followed this up with a day midweek, driving around taking down all the signs for all the events – a task which he dryly reported took longer than actually riding the Cyclone.

I wondered where Son of G-Dawg was and G-Dawg confessed he didn’t know, but suspected that he was perhaps malingering at home in order to watch the Lions vs. All Blacks First Test.

The Garrulous Kid bounded across to declare, “Next week’s my birffday. I’ll be sixteen!”

I congratulated him on making it so far and suggested he could now get married, or form a civil partnership, drink alcohol with meals, get a National Insurance number, join a trade union, buy a lottery ticket … or even join the Army.

“I would never join the Army,” The Garrulous Kid avowed, “Even though I’d be brilliant at it.”

(Look, I’m sorry – I took the bait, but you can’t blame me – I was really intrigued.)

“Why’s that, then?”

The Garrulous Kid knowingly tapped his temple with a long, bony finger, “Because I’m a tactical genius.”

A few others rolled up and enquired where Son of G-Dawg was and once again G-Dawg could only speculate about the lure of the rugby test match.

OGL owned up to a flat battery on his Di2, which meant he was stuck in one gear. He thought it was better to ‘fess up early and suffer the ridicule, rather than get found out half way round when we hit a hill and he disappeared out the back.

There weren’t enough of us to warrant splitting into groups, so off we went, following Red Max’s planned route. I immediately drifted to the back, still uncertain if my legs were going to behave and staying as sheltered as I could as the front was battered by a strong, gusting wind.

We dipped through Ponteland and out the other side and, as we made to swing down Limestone Lane, there was Son of G-Dawg, standing upright on the grass at the apex of the turn, arms folded across his chest, surveying the horizon and waiting patiently for us to arrive. Apparently, although very hungover, he hadn’t bunked off to watch the rugby, but had slept right through his alarm, missed the start and time-trialled out to this impromptu rendezvous point to first throw up and then settle down to wait for us.

The fact he could meet up with us without the almost impossible task of guessing which roads we would take, reinforced the idea that publishing the route beforehand had real benefits. He late suggested that he’d actually waited so long, that if he hadn’t known we were sure to pass through that point, he would have assumed we’d gone elsewhere and moved on to try and find us somewhere else.


After Whittledene Reservoir we called a quick stop and Crazy Legs, still in Alpine-recovery mode, opted for the shortest route to the café. Surprisingly the Garrulous Kid decided to go with him and, at the last moment, Son of G-Dawg, tagged on, still suffering from his hangover and willing to lend moral support and a bit of aural relief to Crazy Legs. (I said aural, damn it, stop sniggering at the back)

On the rest of us went, up a serious of short, sharp climbs. The group then split apart as the road dipped on the fast run down to Matfen and I found myself between groups and trying to chase down G-Dawg and the BFG, who were themselves chasing the leaders.


As we turned off for the Quarry those in and around the second group on the road stopped to regroup and when we restarted I poked my nose into the wind on the front for the first time.  We swung around the first corner on the approach to the climb, finding brief respite as the wind shifted behind us, but the relief was short-lived as we were soon swinging round again and riding into a headwind as we tackled the climb.

I spun to the top of the Quarry as the BFG pounded away up the outside, pipping me to the top. Once more re-grouping, we started to push on toward the cafe and the Red Max whipped us into a very ragged, impromptu paceline. Although it wasn’t the smoothest and people were pushing through a little too fast, it quickly ratcheted up the speed.

We pushed on, faster and faster, but the group was starting to thin out as riders faded and dropped away one by one. My Alpine companions, Goose and surprisingly, the always strong Captain Black disappeared out the back and I guessed this was their first ride since returning and I was a bit further ahead in terms of recovery.

By the time we hit the straight down to the Snake Bends there was only three of us left, G-Dawg, the BFG and me. The BFG hammered off the front and started to press powerfully on the pedals as he drove us onwards, while I clung onto G-Dawg’s wheel at the back, banging and jostling along as my tyres skipped and skittered on the most hated stretch of rough road surface that I know.

The BFG increased the pressure and managed to prise open a gap, as he slowly, slowly, started to pull away from G-Dawg. I hesitated, waiting to see if G-Dawg would react, then decided it wasn’t going to happen, pulled outside him and dug deep to accelerate past.

The BFG swung left, spent and easing back and as he looked behind to assess the damage he’d done, I kicked past, kept going long enough to open up clear air, then sat up and rolled through the bends.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the cafe, we tucked ourselves around the side of the building to try and find some shelter from a troublesome, gusting wind.

Red Max regaled me with tales of the Cyclone, which he rode with Taffy Steve in support of the Monkey Butler Boy and his crew, who had thrashed themselves to pieces trying to set a fast time.

While they did this, the older pair combined Red Max’s innate cunning with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the local back roads, to eschew the official course and always stay one step ahead of the youngsters. In this way, they were able to strategically position themselves prominently at the side of the road, conspicuously enjoying cakes, coffees, ice creams and iced cokes and giving the kids a big thumbs up each time they sweated and toiled their way past.

The Garrulous Kid wanted to know why I never used any pictures of him in the blog. I told him I didn’t want to scare people off, but I always posted all the decent photos up on our club Facebook page if he wanted to see any. This however was deemed unhelpful as, “Facebook is shit.” Oh well.

We were visited by a cheeky robin that kept hopping and flitting around us, begging for crumbs, despite being told by Crazy Legs he was out of season and should bugger off and come back at Christmas.

Captain Black dropped his cherry scone off at one of the tables and leaned over the fence to chat with us. While he was momentarily distracted, the robin sensed a golden opportunity, fluttered down onto his plate and started eyeing up the cherry scone and trying to work out just how he could cart away something ten times his own body weight. His hesitation was his undoing however, as the Captain was alerted to the “robin bastard” scone thief and quickly returned to thwart the most incredible and improbable of avian heists.

Despite it avowedly “being shit,” we discussed the benefits of posting up the route on Facebook and how it had allowed Son of G-Dawg to miss the start, but still meet up with our group. Crazy Legs said it had been a bit of a surprise seeing him standing their “like a colossus” – outlined by the sun, legs akimbo and arms folded across his chest, while declaring in a deep and godly voice, “I’m waiting for my people. Where are my people?”

“A colossus of the roads?” I suggested. And that dear reader is how Son of G-Dawg came out from under his father’s shadow and earned himself a new blerg moniker.

I remember nothing remarkable happening on the ride home, by which time I seem to have fully recovered from my post-trip hangover. Maybe next week I’ll actually feel some benefit, But I’m not counting on it.

YTD Totals: 3,993 km / 2,481 miles with 47,098 metres of climbing

Testicular Armageddon

Testicular Armageddon


Club Run, Saturday 21st January, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  103 km/64 miles with 1,014 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 23 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    4°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bitter


Ride Profile

The Ride:                                                 [Relive the ride]

The weather had promised a chilly night, down to -2⁰C with morning temperatures flat-lining and barely managing to claw their way into positive figures throughout the day. I was expecting it to be cold … but this!

As I dropped down the Heinous Hill, the wind clawed tears from my eyes and where they tracked down my face they burned. I became instantly aware of every little gap in my clothing and even knew where two layers gave out to one, as every weakness in my defences was quickly found out. I adjusted my gloves to close a miniscule gap between cuff and sleeve and pulled my buff up over half my face as the exposed skin quickly chilled. The tops of my thighs stung in the wind and then slowly went numb. It. Was. Freezing…

And yet the air was dry and there was no ice.

As I sank lower and lower down to the valley floor, the temperature seemed to fall with me. The flood plains either side of the river appeared to be smoking into the still and chilled air and the grass was limned in glittering frost and curled up protectively against the cold.

Every time I stopped my breath coalesced in glittering plumes, like I was vaping oxygen, my lungs ached dully and my nose streamed constantly. C-c-c-c-cold.

I was cheered though by the sight of a three-legged dog, trotting along happily beside his owner, somehow managing to both carry a large ball and smile through his muzzle. I was even more cheered by the sight of the rowing club on the south bank of the river, wearing shorts and running calisthenics in their car park in a futile attempt to warm up before taking to the water. And I thought I was mad.

Even further along, I swear there was a troop of brass monkeys, futilely searching the frozen ground for some spherical objects they’d misplaced, but maybe that was just the cold addling my brain. (As an aside, I couldn’t decide if the collective noun for monkeys was a troop or a troupe, so googled it to find troop was the correct form, but I could also have used tribe, or barrel, or cartload or even, apparently … carload! I can admit to being assailed by a metaphorical car load of monkeys, but it seems a strange expression in relation to the actual animal.)

Anyway, I was either warming to my task, or slowly acclimatising to the cold as I back-tracked along the opposite bank of the river, now heading toward where a dull red sun crept slowly upwards, then clambering out of the valley to pick my way through to the meeting place.

It seemed that for once I’d somehow managed to judge the layers just right, well at least for now: headband, helmet, buff, slightly thicker, slightly itchy merino base-layer, winter jacket, gilet, glove liners, gloves, tights, trusty Thermolite socks and winter boots. All set and good to go.

Main topics of conversation at the start:

The BFG was a little surprised to see me and wondered if I’d had to slide down the Heinous Hill sideways, like a deranged speedway rider, Ivan Mauger incarnate. All I could tell him was that it was bloody freezing, but there was no ice and my passage across had been uneventful.

Since I was there, he wanted to know if he’d discovered a new Jewish-Scottish hybrid, having recently met a ginger Hasidic Jew. Having grown up around a large Jewish community in Bensham, I was able to place his “amazing discovery” in the context that it was in fact quite commonplace.

The Garrulous Kid had traded in his Bontrager tyres for a set of Continental 4-Season’s and declared they’d given him both his confidence and mojo back. He was still struggling with his new pedals though, which had solved his old problem of inadvertently unclipping by holding his foot in a vice-like, unbreakable grip. He enlisted the help of the BFG and a multi-tool to slacken the tension enough to allow for a quick release, so he was hopefully a bit less of a liability to himself, or those around him.

As a sign of just how damned cold it was, G-Dawg had resurrected his massive oven gloves. Later, Crazy Legs would demand to know if he was on call at Greggs and might need to disappear at any moment to help lift a tray of pasties out of the oven, while the BFG suggested all the various straps and buckles needed bells attached to the ends for sartorial completeness.

Carlton revealed he’d gone for the £3.99 option of ski gloves bought from his local petrol station. There were suggestions that he should either have saved his money, or bought two or three pairs to wear together, but at least today would be a good test of whether non-cycling specific (i.e. considerably cheaper) kit works just as well.

De Uitheems Bloem rolled up, shielding his eyes from the glare that even a weak winter sun could produce its light bounced off G-Dawg’s impeccably polished frame, wheels and chain. G-Dawg revealed the bike had to be spotless, otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed to keep it in the bedroom. I think he was joking.

A decent crowd had gathered, before I spotted, but didn’t fully register an unfamiliar spry looking, youngster with his buff pulled up over his lower face. I looked away, looked back and the buff had been pulled down to reveal the bristling white ‘tache of Zardoz. Not quite so young then, but still plenty spry.

I mentioned this first Zardoz sighting of the year to the Red Max, who said he’d had an inkling of his return as, riding in with the Monkey Butler Boy he’d passed a masked, lone cyclist who’d growled, “Don’t you be over-taking me!”

“Was that Zardoz’s voice?” A giggling Monkey Butler Boy had asked. Yep, he’s back.

OGL was celebrating his 70th birthday and had received a bottle of fine, single-malt from G-Dawg. He was keen to reassure us he still had the bottle, but was far less convincing when it came to verifying its actual contents were intact.

A band of 18 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode into the freezing air. Or at least we tried to. For some reason we decided it was a good idea to stop and re-group in front of the traffic lights that were showing green on the Transport Interchange/Bus Station exit. Here we carefully paused just long enough to ensure the lights changed to red as soon as no more than half of us had passed through and rode away, leaving the rest stuck behind.

We finally all got going and the group coalesced to take an alternative route out, as reports had filtered through that the road through Dinnington was a mess of treacherous mud following building works in the village. I rode along with the Red Max for a while, chatting aimlessly while we digested just how cold it was and both wondered where the ice was hiding.

After an hour or so, the Monkey Butler Boy approached to whimper that the extreme cold have overwhelmed his gloves and his hands were frozen.  The Red Max offered to sacrifice his spare pair of gloves so he could double-up and they dropped back to make the change.

As we clambered up one hill, a strangled shout rose from behind:

“Ease up!”

“What was that?” someone asked.

“Speed up, I think,” someone else replied.

So we did.

Later on and more incoherent shouting was translated variously as dog, pots, horse, puncture, accident, stray bird or mechanical and we ground to disordered halt, to find nothing much was happening at all behind. The Prof, who had been pleading for some time about needing a pee stop took the opportunity to wander off in search of a suitable hedge, while G-Dawg revealed that not only were his feet freezing and painfully cold, but he was even more shockingly discomfited by the extreme distress the conditions had imposed on his testicles.

Ooph! It’s cold

It was at this point that I really missed Crazy Legs, as I felt for sure I could have implanted an irresistible ear-worm that would have him singing a la Bonnie Tyler, all the way to the café: “It’s a ball’s ache, nothing but a ball’s ache…”

A quick query revealed G-Dawg had encased his feet in three pairs of socks and overshoes, but they weren’t helping. I suggested he needed a pair of trusty Prendas Thermolite socks.

“I took your recommendation and bought a pair of those Prenda socks.” Sneaky Pete chipped in. “My feet are still bloody freezing!” Hey, you can please some of the people, some of the time …

Meanwhile, OGL regaled us with a tale of local legend Ron Longstaff, caught gloveless on one winter run and resorting to riding the whole way one-handed, while alternately cupping his warm testicles with first one frozen paw and then the other.

G-Dawg suggested that wasn’t going to help in his situation, but if anyone had any spare gloves he’d be tempted to stick them down his pants for a bit of relief.

I wondered if he could, like a mythical Sumo wrestler retract his testicles back up into his body cavity for a bit of protection, then advised against it in case he had trouble enticing them back out again.

Luckily we were soon underway again and leaving such nonsense firmly behind.  Pressing on, we passed a couple out on horseback and I could see G-Dawg eyeing up the long, equine gaiters one of the horses was sporting. Perhaps we’ll see him adopt something similar for our next cold ride – along with a fur-lined cricket box.

We took the back road up to Ryal village where, by utilising the most untraveled, secluded and desolate routes available to us, we did finally manage to find some ice in the deepest, darkest dip. It had taken a hell of an effort, but we finally had something to be wary off. Passage was however safely negotiated and we were away again.

I then chased G-Dawg up the Quarry Climb, the highest point of our route, before we took the left-hand route, the most bombed-out, pot-holed, rough and distressed road to the café.  I ceded the front and dropped onto G-Dawgs wheel, while the BFG tried a forlorn hope, long range attack, only to find Caracol firmly glued to his wheel. The BFG twitched left, swung hard right and then swooped left again, but Caracol mirrored each move closely and there was no getting away.

The BFG gave up and dropped in alongside me as the pace began to build, with Caracol and G-Dawg leading the charge.

We hit the final stretch en masse and at high speed, with riders attacking and fading and jostling for position, while I held firm on the wheel in front. The BFG dropped away and I noticed Zardoz and De Uitheems Bloem moving up in the general melee, before a determined OGL surged to the front.

For one brief, glorious moment I thought he was going to roll back the years and win the bunch sprint, before Caracol edged past with one last lunge and then we were braking and diving through the Snake Bends.

We hit the narrow, bombed out lane to the crossroads and I jumped away for one final attack on the last ramp, but G-Dawg was watching and waiting in close attendance and burned me away across the top across the top to lead us into the café.

Main conversation at the coffee stop:

We spotted Crazy Legs’s unmistakable fixie, leaning insouciantly up against a fencepost and found him warmly ensconced inside, having waited an additional, precautionary hour before setting out this morning to give any ice extra time to melt.

He roundly praised the lobster mitts I’d recommended he bought during one of Planet X’s recent sales, admitting if anything they were actually too warm, but a bargain even at their full retail price. See, you can please some of the people, at least some of the time…

While acknowledging the cold outside and in particular G-Dawgs testicular discomfort, Crazy Legs declared it could be a lot worse, having recently returned from Stuttgart where it was a bone-chilling, ball-aching -15⁰.

The BFG enquired if G-Dawg also had a single-speed car to match his bike, leading to reminiscing about the DAF Variomatic and its odd continuously variable transmission. I took this as an indication that the Dutch might have the world’s most impressive gutters, but when it came to motor-vehicle manufacturing they still had some way to go.

Crazy Legs related asking a slightly “large-boned” colleague about progress with a new fitness regime he was monitoring through a Fitbit.

“Over 10,000 steps today and I’ve hardly moved from my chair,” was the enthusiastic verdict, accompanied by that unmistakable Gareth Hunt/Nescafé coffee bean fist pumping, or Battle Tops “it’s all in the wrist action” gesture, if you will.

In turn, I recalled sitting in a cinema listening to a lad behind dismissing an ad for Seiko kinetic watches, declaring, “I had one of those, but it was useless – every time I had a wank it gained 5 minutes …”

For some reason, talk turned to breakfasts and the “Full English Stottie” – an experience I’ve luckily managed to avoid. Crazy Legs tried baiting OGL by suggesting Ready Brek was porridge, while I had to ask if he used a spurtle – a word it’s impossible to say without sounding suitably Scottish.

A “should we/shouldn’t we” moment ensued on leaving the café leading to a little disorganised chaos, as half our number swung to the left, while the rest took the more usual route to the right. I went left too, as we decided the road through to Ogle had a good chance of being a bit icy and a little iffy.

I had another chat with the BFG about Scottish-Jews, revealing that Mrs. SLJ as a schoolgirl had once had a much too detailed encounter with a Jewish student at a yeshiva in Bensham, when he exposed himself as she was walking past.

“How did you know he was Jewish?” someone had asked her.

Quick as a flash, she replied, “Well … he was wearing a skullcap.”

G-Dawg and Caracol ramped up the pace to such an extent that the BFG was soon spluttering, floundering and complaining. When they swung over, I didn’t have the legs to take the front, so Crazy Legs and De Uitheems Bloem took over and the speed increased another notch.

I hung on grimly for a while, swerving to avoid the salvoes of Dutch snot rockets that were occasionally fired back toward me and then I eased and slipped off the back as the group hammered down to swing left well I went straight on for home.

Cooked, both literally and metaphorically, I pulled over and started to strip off a few layers to try and cool down before I continued, remembering the short-cut past the Golf Club that shaved off two or three miles.

The cold on my newly exposed scalp and ears was still surprisingly raw and I soon cooled down. It did however serve to remind me I’d managed to get the layers just about right and I was particularly pleased with the winter boots that had kept my feet reasonably warm along with only a single pair of (trusty Thermolite) socks.

Back at home, I had a brief chuckle at an email from – a free service that takes your Strava or Garmin Connect feed and converts it into a video recap of your ride. They’d been in contact to ask if “I wanted to relive testicular Armageddon.” Be honest, that’s not an offer you get every day now, is it?

YTD Totals: 264 km / 164 miles with 2,842 metres of climbing

Sketchy, Skatey, Skitey, Slippery Slick

Sketchy, Skatey, Skitey, Slippery Slick

Club Run, Saturday 7th January, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  98 km/59 miles with 868 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 33 minutes

Average Speed:                                21.4 km/h

Group size:                                         7 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dull and damp


Ride Profile

The Ride:

In terms of the weather, things started deteriorating on Friday last week, unfortunately the only day I could manage for a bike commute. I woke to a blanket of quite deep and very wet snow that clung to everything and furred up the roads in a slick, thoroughly sodden layer. Despite days of advance warning, I suspect none of the roads had been treated and early morning traffic had churned the lying snow to frozen, dirty slush.

The ratbag mountain bike probably offers substantially better grip than a road bike, but mudguards and rider protection are far less effective and the chunky tyres tend to hurl spray to the winds. The worst seemed to come from the front wheel, which directed a freezing jet of ice water onto my feet and ankles, rapidly soaking through my leggings and eventually trickling insidious, cold fingers down into my boots. Not pleasant.

The descent to the valley was undertaken at a snail’s pace, helped by temporary traffic lights half way down the bank that at least gave me a reason to inch gingerly down, carefully perpendicular, hogging the entire lane on the corners and obstructing any following cars from trying to squeeze past.

Once down, a quick blast through a housing estate brought me out onto the riverside cycle-path, a gleaming and pristine white, unsullied by the passage of any cars, or bikes, or even early morning dog walkers.

A dip, a sharp, 90⁰ right-turn and steep ramp up to a bridge over the River Team though proved my undoing, the wheels slid out from under me and I thumped down wetly into the snow. Ooph! Still, at least there were no witnesses to my ignominy and I picked myself up, dusted myself down and was soon underway again, my only regret being that I didn’t think to look back to see what kind of graceless, uncoordinated snow angel my floundering imprint had left in the snow.



A little more cautious now, I dismounted and walked down the very slippery ramp to the Millennium Bridge, which I crawled across at low speed – I don’t trust the slick metal surface of its cycleway even when its dry.

By the time I returned home, the snow had largely disappeared everywhere, except for the top of the Heinous Hill, where the extra couple of metres of altitude were enough to still make things troublesome.

The problem now though was plunging and depressed temperatures, with the forecasts suggesting a hard frost overnight and a high the following day that would struggle to reach 3⁰C in the city. This suggested something only a little above freezing out in the sticks and the real danger of any club run encountering ice-slick roads.

A quick discussion on Facebook soon hatched plans for a G-Dawg led, off-road, mountain bike expedition for those who wanted to brave the conditions on Saturday. While a few cried off for the entire weekend, I suggested Sunday was the more promising day as, although heavy rain was forecast from early in the morning to late in the afternoon, the lowest temperature was set for a relatively balmy 5⁰C.

OGL interjected with a social-media version of his “we’re all doomed” routine, suggesting even off-road, a ride on Saturday might be sketchy and that the temperatures could get as low as -5⁰C, leaving G-Dawg to politely suggest he must have been looking at the forecast for Reykjavik instead of Newcastle.

So the stage was set: a brave few would venture off-road on fat-tyred bikes on Saturday and a few more would trade a reduced risk of ice for what promised to be a very, very wet Sunday ride.

[Special mention and a “Chapeau!” has to go to the Prof though, who managed to ride both days, Saturday and Sunday]

So, a pleasant and indolent Saturday morning in bed, soon gave way to a dull, grey Sunday morning with the rain hammering on the roof and windows. Luckily the weather eased as I set off and although the ride was never completely dry, the heavy rain forecast seemed to have skipped over us and riding conditions were a lot more pleasant than predicted.

The Sunday morning roads were also very quiet and the Peugeot decided to be at its most refined best too, with no creaking, clunking, whisking or rattles. At one point the only sound I could hear was the gentle ticking of the rain bouncing off my helmet and jacket.

I arrived at the meeting point and ducked into the shelter of the multi-storey car park to settle down and see who else was going to brave the weather.

Main topics of conversation at the start:

Mini Miss was one of the first to arrive, bringing with her tales from our Club Annual Dinner and Awards from the previous night, which prior family engagements had given me an excuse to avoid. Despite OGL promising to spring a number of surprises during the evening, the most unexpected and noteworthy thing seemed to have been the lasagne, which engendered a raging debate about whether it could technically be called a lasagne.

I suggested to Carlton that he was wearing his helmet in a rather louche manner, the straps loose and dangling like Bassett Hound ears. He admitted that the intricacies of helmet engineering and the practical adjustment of straps had left him completely baffled and befuddled – somehow he just couldn’t seem to get to grips with them.

Apparently manual dexterity isn’t really his forte and as illustration, he said he’d managed to make it through medical school without ever mastering the art of sutures. Now, if he needed to stitch anything at home he was more likely to resort to Wundaweb. I couldn’t help suggest that iron-on hemming wasn’t really an option when it came to dealing with injured patients …

The Prof enlightened us with tales of the derring-do of our handful of brave, mountain bikers on the Saturday ride. The whole experience seems to have been great fun, although the time when their trail petered out to nothing and they had to build a human chain to ferry the bikes across a swollen brook seemed a little extreme.

Some of the roads they’d traversed had indeed proven to be a little sketchy, including the stretch from the café to Ogle, where standard icy operating procedures applied:

No sudden movements. Stay in the saddle. Don’t lean. Don’t steer. Don’t touch your brakes. And for goodness sake, no matter what happens, do not stop!

A hardy band then, a Magnificent 7 pushed off, clipped in and set out – myself, Mini Miss, the Prof, Carlton, Carlton’s young son: Jake, Kipper, Brink and a potential FNG, or Sunday only rider I’d only seen once before – a large, bearded feller, who became the Big Yin.

The Big Yin was strong as an ox, but appeared to lack any experience or affinity for group riding and was missing a degree of finesse or supplesse. I spent the first few miles riding alongside him on the front, trying to rein him in and maintain a pace that was comfortable and sustainable for everyone.


As with many big fellers, his particular kryptonite was the hills, where he tended to slide backwards, allowing Carlton’s son to prove he was much more deserving of the Dormanator tag Crazy Legs had bestowed on his Dad last week.

I was going to suggest the New Dormanator was like a mini-Esteban Chaves, but I’m not sure you can have a mini-Chaves? Maybe it would be more accurate to say he rode each hill like a full-sized, full-bore, shockingly enthusiastic Chaves replica – and one engaged in a vicious and incredibly close fight for the polka-dot jersey and convinced there were King of the Mountain points on offer at every crest.

I periodically managed to restore a bit of order at the front with the Prof as we pressed on, chatting away about home-made mudguards, letting your kids make their own mistakes, sailing, staying warm, modern musicals, the club’s succession policy, and a hundred and one other things, until we hit Stamfordham where Kipper and Brink took a more direct route to the café, while we pressed on for a loop around the Quarry.

The New Dormantor attacked early for his KoM prime at the top of the Quarry Climb, while I gave chase from the back of the group, closing on his wheel as the final steep ramp bit and he noticeably slowed.

“Making it look as effortless as ever.” Mini Miss suggested as I whirred past.

“I only wish it was.” I just about managed to gasp back through the pain and blood-boiling hypoxia.

Over the top the Big Yin barrelled his way to the front and set off for the café. I matched him for a while, but as he seemed intent on continuously ramping up the pace, I soon dropped onto his rear wheel and let him get on with it, as we slowly distanced everyone else.

I noticed he had a small commuting mirror on the right of his bars and he would occasionally check if anyone was following, so drifted to his left and stalked him silently. Then, as we approached a road spanning pool of water and he paused to freewheel through it, I kept pedalling, swung out and drove past, opening a sizeable gap that I held to the Bends. I couldn’t help but be smugly satisfied at another fine piece of immoral and ignoble, wheel-sucking skulduggery.

I don’t know whether my mugging upset the Big Yin, or if he still had energy to burn and wanted a longer ride, but he disappeared soon after and didn’t make it to the café. Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised at how waterproof my boots proved, despite a solid dunking along the flooded section of road.

The rest weren’t far behind as I unclipped at the café and watched the Prof skid the last few feet and stop his bike by slamming it into a fencepost. I couldn’t believe he travelled all that way on the open roads without incident, before almost coming to grief in a car park.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In an eerily quiet café, I managed to question Mini Miss about why she’d stopped so suddenly on a climb last week. She had absolutely no recollection of the incident, but after a huge amount of prompting, finally remembered her chain had seized. Good to know she hadn’t lost the plot, though now I suspect she may have lost her short-term memory.

She decided that when it came to cycling kit, you get what you pay for, with cheap tights equating to a cheap and uncomfortable pad. I suggested buying tights without a pad and wearing shorts under them, while Kipper had a more radical solution – padded shorts under padded tights, for a double-dose of cushioning.

“Is that not like wearing a nappy?” Mini Miss enquired.

“I don’t know, I can’t remember wearing nappies.” He replied laconically.

Digging in her pocket, she then unearthed a sorry looking, flatly compressed cake-bar that could probably have been successfully used as a door wedge. This bore an indeterminate sell by date that rather vaguely and unhelpfully just said September – no year was indicated. Since she couldn’t remember when she bought it, she decided it was probably out of date and decided to play it safe and ditch it. Of course given her fallible memory, she may only have bought it last week and it could still safely have an 8-month shelf-life, but no one was desperate enough to risk it.

Speaking of undateable things, I received a cryptic text message from Daughter#1 that she’s blaming wholly on auto-correct:

“What are ass burgers?”

Apparently the text had been prompted by the Undateables TV show she’s been watching, where someone couldn’t develop a relationship because he suffers from Asperger’s – which I guess might actually be less debilitating than ass burgers. Who knows?

Although we’d lost the Big Yin, we gained Laurelan, who’d ridden up on her own, on the off chance of meeting some company for the trip back. She was proudly displaying filthy-dirty hands, a badge of honour gained by successfully repairing her own puncture.

The Prof thought she could perhaps learn from Penelope Pitstop, who has us all so well-trained, she only has to mention a mechanical problem and a cadre of well-trained mechanics will leap into action and sort it, while she stands back and looks on in beatific contentment.

As we were gathering our stuff to leave, the Prof suggested he’d been so convinced we were going to get soaked on the ride that he’d followed Red Max protocol and brought along a spare pair of gloves. He turned round to display his jersey pockets, were a pair of brown, rubberised workmen’s gloves had been unceremoniously stuffed, cuff-first, so the fat fingers spilled over the top and looked like he was carrying a pocketful of Knackwurst. Only slightly less disturbing than the time he declared they were his udders.

We set off for home, the Prof dropping briefly back so he could bang his handlebars and brake levers back into position. He’d smacked the fence post harder than I realised. This left me on the front with Carlton, who’d decided to shed one of his layers in the café because he was too warm. Now though he was starting to feel chilled and needed to push the pace up to try and generate some heat.

I rode with the group until just passed Kirkley Hall, when they swung North, while I started South to cut the corner off my route home. Feeling quite strong, I was zipping along nicely, until I reached Ponteland, where I was forced to stop by a chain of pensioners crossing the road, obviously off to the bookies and pub, or perhaps to TWOC a hot hatchback and raise merry hell.

They crossed the road slowly and in single file – (perhaps like Sandpeople on a raid: to hide their numbers) – determinedly pushing Zimmer frames and walkers like a long crocodile of schoolkids with absolutely no road sense and the utter conviction that the traffic would mysteriously part for them. It made me smile.

At one point, closing in on home, the whirr of wheels alerted me to passing cyclists and a gang of four whipped past as I waited at a junction to turn onto their route. I naturally gave chase, but the gap never closed and I was soon left floundering in their wake. I was saved from embarrassing myself further when I got caught behind the flashing lights and descending barriers at a level crossing, while they thankfully rode off into the distance.

I made it home with the bike and body, grimy, dirty and mud-flecked, but surprisingly dry, despite the portents for a day of unremitting heavy rain. Not a bad substitute for a Saturday run, I’m pleased I made the effort to get out on Sunday. Now my only concern is finding time to try and chip some of the mud off the bike before next weekend.

YTD Totals: 264 km / 164 miles with 2,842 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


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.


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

I Luv the Valley OH!

I Luv the Valley OH!

Club Run, Saturday 30th April, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  116 km / 72 miles with 1,044 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 37 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.0 km/h

Group size:                                        24 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright, bit chilly


Main topic of conversation at the start:

The BFG was sporting new and very, very shiny shoes and could be seen occasionally pausing to admire his own smile reflected in their supreme shininess. He ventured some tale about finagling a free tooth-whitening session as part of the process for having dental veneers fitted and I suggested he’d missed a trick and could have taken colour co-ordination to a new level, if only he’d matched his teeth to his wooden rims.

Although forgoing rim-coloured teeth, he had invested a small fortune on just the right colour of new socks, reasoning that nothing in his old wardrobe could quite do the extreme shininess of his new shoes justice.

Taffy Steve unzipped his saddle bag to reveal everything within was individually wrapped in little plastic bags, carefully labelled and incredibly neatly organized. I felt he’d possibly missed his vocation organising handbags for socialites, or maybe stashes for drug lords. He explained that everything needed individual wrapping because his saddle bag wasn’t weatherproof. The BFG suggested copious amounts of silicone sealant on the zip would perhaps make it watertight, if less than functional.

The Prof disappeared around the corner and we speculated he’d spotted more castoff treasure he was now swooping in to claim. “Just watch,” the BFG instructed, “He’ll come back shaking the piss off some old abandoned glove or something.” He returned empty handed however and I don’t know who was the more disappointed, him or us.

G-Dawg surmised that OGL was very unlikely to show as he’d last been seen early on Friday evening be-kilted, supine and already ever so slightly inebriated, during one of the many events in the month long wedding celebrations to honour the King of the Grogs.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

The BFG revealed that, in the days long before he determined hair was debilitatingly un-aerodynamic and decided to stop using it, he’d been a 6’6” Goth with hugely spiky hair, commonly referred to as “The Krogan.”

The hairstyle had been achieved using hazardous chemicals on an industrial scale, including a dangerously combustible mix of several tins of hairspray, super-strength hair wax, red hot crimping irons and prolonged backcombing with a garden rake.

He suggested that using these techniques he’d been able to achieve a Sideshow Bob barnet of unsurpassed magnificence, but one that any stray spark might have turned into a towering inferno. “Like Michael Jackson” he prompted, but all I could visualise was a wellhead fire.

wellhead fire

Brewster joined us at the table with a dire tale of how his friend had snapped the steerer tube on his Scott Speedster bike while trying to climb up Heinous Hill. The story was illustrated with photos of the well trashed bike, the rider narrowly avoiding being run over by the following car and managing to escape with only superficial injuries. Luckily the accident hadn’t happened going downhill at great speed – a sobering thought and one that suggests it’s best not to ignore bike recall warnings.

[NB: Scott voluntarily recalled about 8,000 2014 Speedster road bikes worldwide “due to a finding that the steerer tube in the front fork could break, creating a possible fall hazard,” according to a statement issued by the company. Judging from Brewster’s story it would seem the danger is very real.]

We determined that bikes made of graphene and carbon nanotubes were the future, but would requiring chaining up at all times when unattended, in case they blew away.

The Prof sidled up to the table to invite the BFG to join some of them on a longer ride home. The BFG instantly agreed, but then lined up with the rest of us for the normal route back. He was perhaps mindful of a hugely enjoyable ride he’d taken earlier in the week, returning home smiling and full of joie de vivre, only to be confronted by a scowling Mrs. BFG standing arms-crossed, coat buttoned up and foot tapping furiously. Being late for a family appointment = serious buzzkill.

ride 30 april
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

I was almost ready to leave early Saturday morning when a quick and frantic search finally revealed my phone still in my jacket pocket from Friday’s commute and with a battery as flat as a flounder. Wanting to carry it in case of any emergencies, I decided to modify my route and delay the departure long enough to trickle a little life back into it. It had managed to suck up a charge of around 20% by the time I decided it was time to leave – it would have to do.

My revised route cut around 3 or 4 miles off my journey at the expense of a short distance travelling along a dual carriageway. This is usually quiet enough early in the morning, but I guess it only takes one idiot. This time that was exemplified by a racing hatchback that screamed past me, much too close and much too fast, before undertaking and cutting dangerously in front of another car. A nice little adrenaline spike to start the day. Perfect.

Perhaps the jolt helped me scramble up the other side quicker than usual, as the next time I looked at my Garmin it was 8:52 and I’d done 8:52 miles and was closing in on the meeting point. I was one of the earliest to arrive and along with Aveline and the BFG I was able to sit sheltered from the wind and soak up some welcome, warming sun.

With no OGL we left the route up to G-Dawg who quickly gathered consensus for a too rare trip down into the Tyne Valley – quiet roads, a picturesque route, great descents, but of course some serious climbing to get out again.

The only other obstacle was the riverside road that had been undercut and washed out by some recent flooding, but we were assured there was still a narrow path traversable by bike and as an added bonus it was now completely closed to cars.

24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and managed to instantly annoy a bus driver before we’d even cleared the meeting point. He wasn’t prepared to wait for us all to pass, so in an act either born of pure ignorance or simple malice, he pulled out into the middle of our throng, muscling his lumbering double-decker in between us. This left the front of the group squashed up waiting by the traffic lights while the rest were caught behind, being intensely fumigated by the diesel belching out the back of the bus. It seems we have a rare talent for annoying drivers just by occupying a bit of public highway.

Finally, out onto the open roads, fresh air and into a cold wind, we found it was still quite chilly, especially when the sun was occasionally shrouded by high racing clouds which felt like someone leaving the door open in an Arctic weather station. Shut the bloody door!


At some point I rode with Taffy Steve and we spent some time reminiscing about all things 2000AD: Rogue Trooper, Ace Garp and Strontium Dog et al. Judge Dredd and the League of Fatties seemed to be a particular high point for him.

He then regaled me with the observations about the increasingly shrill exclamations of Geordie women and contrasted this with the surprisingly low, rumbling, bone vibrating timbre of their Scouse counterparts.

We were soon dropping into the Tyne Valley, the road a long sinuous curve of smooth tarmac that encouraged you to build and maintain speed all the way down. A few were bending low and tucking in, but dropping into their slipstream I had no trouble keeping up with minimal effort and without any extreme body contortions.


A long line of us carved our way down the hill and through the first of the sleepy villages dotted along the river bank. Just before we hit the washed out section of road a pee stop was called and a couple of the girls pushed on down the hill to try and find a “ladies room.”

A few minutes later a rather ashen-faced mountain biker hauled himself past us. “Are those two girls with you lot?” he enquired. I answered in the affirmative, and he shook his head and declared rather unsteadily, “Err, they’re done with whatever they were doing!”

Then he pedalled stolidly past trying to retain some modicum of dignity. “There,” beZ wryly noted, “Is a man who doesn’t live with women.”

The washed out section of the river road was indeed passable, although a little muddy in places and just as advertised, completely free of cars.

Once clear we rolled through a massive Gymkhana, marvelling at the vast array of expensive 4×4’s parked up in a field, each one with its own horsebox. They’re not shy of a bob or two around here. Some kids were having their own event in a separate field and I was astonished at just how round some of the ponies were, like barrels with little legs.

“Aren’t they all incredibly fat?” one of the girls asked, I agreed, suggesting it must be how they were bred. “I didn’t mean the horses!” she countered. Meow.

We clambered up a few hills to reach the junction of the road we could take down into Corbridge and waited for a few backmarkers. A quick headcount determined that Another Engine was still adrift and as we waited dark murmurings about the approaching climb began to circulate, along with worrying and frankly blasphemous rumours that G-Dawg might need to use the inner ring.

Sneaky Pete sneaked back down the road to see if he could locate Another Engine, leaving G-Dawg to wonder who he should send out next if Sneaky Pete didn’t return. Just as he was about to select a new sacrificial lamb though, both riders hauled themselves into view.


We seemed to snake back and through and around Corbridge, caught in its labyrinthine one-way system for an age, before it spat us out onto Aydon Road, apparently a 4th Category Strava Climb: 1.6km at an average gradient of 6%. It wasn’t as bad as forecast, G-Dawg’s inner ring remained blissfully untroubled and we were soon regrouping and heading back onto familiar roads.

I used the climb out of Matfen to skip from the back to the front of the group. As we turned off for the Quarry Climb we were all strung out and it was decided we’d press on, but regroup at the top of the climb.


Having crested the Quarry, I pulled over with G-Dawg and Son, but no one else seemed bothered and the BFG set off on a push for the café. I belatedly gave chase, leaving the G-Dawg Collective to handicap themselves even further, before they instigated a two-up team time trial in pursuit of everyone else.

With a sizeable gap to make up I dived downhill after the front-runners, braking late and hard for a junction and sweeping round on the wrong side of the road when the “Clear” call went up. I managed to tag onto the back of the group and then work my way slowly forward.

The smell of coffee must have been in the air as the BFG pushed hard and a gap opened. Taffy Steve pulled me across leaving everyone else behind as we thundered along.

I was now hanging onto the coat tails of two big, powerful units, capable of laying down huge watts and both much faster than me in straight line speed. They also made great wind blocks though and I started surfing the wheels, kicking the pedals hard around 3 or 4 times then freewheeling for a bit in an attempt to conserve energy.

With the BFG skittering all over the road like Ilnur Zakarin contesting a sprint, Taffy Steve started to get nervous and tried nudging ahead. The BFG though seemed to take this as a personal affront and responded. My acceleration to close coincided with the road starting to rise up slightly. I jumped past the two, kicking out of the saddle to attack up the slope and drive up and over the top.

I opened up a small advantage before the BFG closed me down and passed me with the admonishment, “You cheeky beggar, you can’t do that!” But I had – and I’d managed to shake Taffy Steve loose as well. Now there were just the two of us, at high speed, wheels skipping and skittering on the rough surface, rattling and thrumming, my whole body braced and shaking as the pace increased again.

The road dipped a little and the BFG smashed it, stomping hard on the pedals to try and pull away. I was now out of gears and out of breath, with no hope of any freewheeling, fixated on the wheel in front. Slowly the elastic began to stretch and the gap between our wheels grew even as I slid onto the drops and tucked my head down. The gap became a couple of feet as the road slowly levelled and then the faintest of rises took the edge of the BFG’s speed and I clawed back up to him.

The road dipped again and the BFG buried himself in one last massive effort and then sat up slightly to look over his right shoulder to see nothing but empty road. He seemed to hesitate slightly and then slowly looked over his left shoulder to find me sitting there grinning up at him like some malevolent gnome.

“Oh!” he sounded somewhat surprised, “You’re still there.” And then the fight seemed to leave him, he laughed, swore loudly and eased. His speed dropped and I shamelessly and cruelly mugged him, sliding past to open up clear air long before we hit the Snake Bends. A marvellous piece of devilish wheel-sucking skulduggery that only a low-down snake like Simon Gerrans could possibly approve of.

I crossed the junction to ride up the carpet-bombed country lane in splendid isolation, while everyone seemed to take the shorter faster main route. I still made the café just behind the front group spearheaded by the charging G-Dawg tag team.

On the way back there was just time for Taffy Steve and I to ponder if Crazy Legs and The Red Max would make a suitable “Odd Couple” – I had Max pegged as Oscar Madison and Crazy Legs as the neat freak Felix Unger, but then I thought about all of Taffy Steve’s little ordered baggies in his saddle bag…


For some reason we then decided that Castelli should adopt a more accurate sizing guide based on Lord of the Rings characters, so no longer would you need to order XXXL if you wanted a medium jersey, you would just order an Aragorn. Racing Snakes would need a Legolas, while for those with a fuller figure a Gimli would be required. We both agreed we knew one or two Treebeard’s as well as some “tricksy little hobbitses.”

Our hugely intellectual cogitations were rudely interrupted by a small, ancient hatchback that came beetling along the narrow lane. The RIM obviously thought he was driving a massive, road-hogging Hummer and braked to a stop in the middle of the road, obviously befuddled that we hadn’t immediately pulled over to doff our caps and allow him passage.

As I rode past grinning hugely, the Alpha male driver made one of those furious WTF gestures and I couldn’t resist giving him a very cheery wave back. Somewhat incensed he punched his hand down hard onto the horn and the car emitted a very belated, weak, completely innocuous and comical little, “Parp, parp!” OMG – I nearly rode into Noddy!

I was still chuckling over that many miles later as I dragged myself back up the hill and safely home.

YTD Totals: 2,406 km / 1,495 miles with 22,603 metres of climbing

Braking Bad

Club Run, Saturday 2nd January, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     110 km/68 miles with 528 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 41 minutes

Average Speed:                                   23.4 km/h

Group size:                                           14 riders, no FNG’s

Temperature:                                      8°C

Weather in a word or two:              Cold and wet

Main topic of conversation at the start:

OGL emerged from the gloom of the car park having heroically struggled through to us to cry off with what he was claiming was a severe bout of man flu (# cough # hangover).

He stayed long enough to remind us that club fees are now due and warn us of both an impending hurricane and the sudden appearance of mutant ice. This ice has allegedly adapted and is now capable of spontaneously forming at temperatures up to and including 5°C.

Taffy Steve appeared with twin, syncopated disco strobes illuminating the dark underbelly of the clouds, an attempt perhaps to induce fits and seizures in random passing motorists?

We had to persuade him to turn at least one of the lights off before we could even bear to look at him. Despite being all lit up like the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree and using lights with the intensity of a Blitz searchlight, he still reported a few too many SMIDSY* encounters with the traffic.

I’m pretty certain this isn’t going to be the last edict issued to remind us that club fees are now due –the massive £10 a year seems a paltry amount for 52 weeks of fun and frivolity, but apparently there are a large proportion of club members who begrudge paying even this token amount.

*SMIDSY – Sorry mate, I didn’t see you


Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

With our regular haunt closed for the day, we had to make the annual pilgrimage to our alternative café. This was prominently adorned with notices warning of local encounters with the Bolam Lake beast, a monster depicted on the posters as a rather large, mature Silverback gorilla.

Everyone looked at the picture, then at the Taffy Steve, and then back to the picture, and he was forced to admit that he had indeed been seen around the Bolam Lake area, funnily enough almost a year ago to the day.

We were unable to ascertain if this coincided with the last sighting of “The Beast” or whether it has ever been spotted sitting smartly astride a velocipede.

The Red Max pointed to one of the white children’s high chairs and giggled that at least Plumose Pappus would have somewhere to sit if he decided to join us.

Half way through my coffee the BFG and Crazy Legs finally joined us after the purgatory of puncture repair duty. G-Dawg remarked how the BFG’s face was so dirty he looked like he’d just completed a 10 hour shift down a coal mine. BFG complained his “tyres were really filthy…”

“So you rubbed them clean on your face?” G-Dawg asked, not unreasonably.

The BFG again drew attention to his fallible eye-sight which he’d amply demonstrated on several previous occasions (see “The Texas Chainring Massacre and the Road to Cheescake”, Club Run, 31st October 2015)  by failing to identify brown sugar cubes and asking Crazy Legs if he always put dry roasted peanuts in his coffee.

Crazy Legs bemoaned not having the services of Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump and having to use the molto piccolo, Blackburn Airstick. At this point Carlton dipped into his backpack, pulled out something and started flipping down hinges, tightening ratchets, pulling out telescopic extensions and uncoiling a long rubber hose as he revealed a semi-compact track pump.

“That’s not a real pump” he drawled, “This is a real pump”

We couldn’t help but happily reminisce about the time Szell suffered an explosive puncture and, by all accounts bent the barrel of his frame pump into a perfect right angle trying to force air into the newly repaired tyre through a stuck valve.

As we were leaving the café the Prof declared that it was, “impossible for lobsters to pick up worms.” An insight that left me with a very strange mental image and knowledge I’m sure I’ll be eternally grateful for…


Ride jan 3 2016
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Following last week’s stunning sunrise and bright skies, this week I rolled out to low, leaden cloud, a curtain of rain and what seemed like perpetual twilight. These crepuscular conditions never brightened much throughout the entire day and encouraged everyone to keep their lights burning for the duration of the ride.

It was still mild though and despite OGL’s direst warnings there wasn’t the merest trace of ice to worry about.

In an attempt to combat the incessant rain and at least try and stay dry, I topped my winter jersey with a light waterproof jacket, hoping the outer layer would keep me dry, while the inner one would help control my temperature and wick moisture away from my base layer.

This seemed to work well and I finished the ride comfortably dry apart from a noticeable damp patch on my forearms. The rest of me wasn’t so lucky, and everything else, tights, socks, overshoes, shoes, gloves and helmet were thoroughly soaked through and waterlogged.

As an added benefit the outer jacket took the brunt of the huge volumes of mud, dirt, debris, disintegrating plant life, general crud and who knows what else that sprayed up from the roads and was relatively easy to sponge clean afterwards.


There was plenty of true grit in evidence … punishment comes one way or another


Around 14 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, but our numbers really were a moveable feast as late-comers tagged on while others dropped away or took alternative routes. We even had a rare appearance from Dave Le Taxi, getting his annual club ride over and done with early this year, although you’d have to say he could have chosen a better day.

The wet and filthy roads conspired to coat everything in a layer of grit that got everywhere. And I mean everywhere – halfway through the ride I could bite down and feel it grinding between my teeth, and when I tried to delicately re-arrange my helmet hair in the café, my scalp got an unexpected exfoliation which would probably have cost a small fortune in some upscale beauty spa.

The grit also served to turn brake blocks into whetstones. You could hear – and almost visualise rims being viciously ground away whenever we had to slow and braking was so seriously impaired that stopping quickly became a bit of a lottery.


b o b
The Beast of Bolam Lake?


Having put off replacing my brake blocks for one week too long, I became intimately acquainted with the inner workings of my brake levers which gaped open to an alarming degree every time I needed to stop, hauling down so hard the ends of the levers were in danger of smacking off the bars.

If I had it bad, others had it worse. The Prof started to hang about 100 yards off the back of the group so he had plenty of time to stop. Only a portion of this can be attributed to his ancient reflexes and less than nimble reactions, so the impaired braking we were all suffering must have played a part.

Dave Le Taxi bemoaned the cantilever brakes on his winter bike, which he said were a continual source of frustration and bad stopping power, while Carlton was castigating himself that he hadn’t chosen to ride his disk-brake equipped bike.

At one point dropping into Stamfordham village he swept serenely inside me and through a junction in a long, graceful glide, only to admit he was scared witless, had tried to stop and couldn’t.

When we called a quick halt, beZ discovered part of his problem was that he’d lost half of one of his brake pads somewhere along the way. We naturally sent him to retrace his steps and try and find it.


not a knife
That’s not a knife pump, this is a knife pump

None of us had managed to sink quite as low as, the perhaps thankfully absent, Moose Bumps however, who not only regularly rides without bar tape, bar end plugs or adequate cold weather clothing, but was discovered a few weeks ago to have worn his pads down to the metal.

As well as the potential danger, I would have thought this produces a deeply disconcerting audible assault and probably sparks when he hauls the anchors on and must be tearing through his wheel rims at an alarming rate. I can’t help feel he’s taking the poor student shtick a bit too far and perhaps the need for club brakes we mooted last week is more urgent than we thought.

With no OGL to bark at everyone, Crazy Legs invented a surrogate OGL, the “Proxy Peter”. This proved far too cultured, with proxy messages being passed from the rear up to the front of the group to politely request a change of pace. I must admit I missed the creative over-use of the f-word in the UCI approved ratio of 2:1 – two eff’s, effing’s or effer’s to accompany every other word (including any additional swearing required).

Knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist, I asked Crazy Legs if we should: “Pass the proxy ‘pon de left-hand side?” instantly inflicting a vicious ear-worm on him and eliciting a startling tribute to Musical Youth through the medium of song. For the second time in as many weeks this earned me a (surely unwarranted), “Bastard!” epithet.

Somewhere along the way we lost Shouty and Plumose Pappus, but picked up the Cow Ranger. He wasn’t aware our usual café was closed, so we were able to save him from whining and scratching futilely at its door and scaring the owners with his deranged howling.

BFG kindly highlighted all the potholes, mainly by planting his front wheel squarely into them. It took longer than I expected, but he eventually managed to puncture, just as we were gathering pace for the run to the café. Crazy Legs stopped to help him and they soon had the matter in hand and waved the rest of us on.

The Red Max celebrated the New Year with his first Forlorn Hope attack of 2016, but this died as we turned away from the usual café route and climbed the rollers in reverse. Shoeless and Son of G-Dawg led the charge upwards, and along with G-Dawg I just about managed to hang onto the wheels.


It really wasn’t the day for the BFG’s white jacket


There was a bit of a scramble to wring out and dump wet gear on the radiators in the café, which might have turned a bit competitive until we discovered the radiators weren’t actually on.

With no way to meaningfully dry or warm up all the sodden outer layers, we just had to grin and bear it, pulling on wet gear for the ride home. Well, all except for Max who smugly pulled a spare jacket and dry gloves from his ever expanding backpack.

On the way back the Red Max and Taffy Steve took an alternative route to avoid the climb of Berwick Hill, then Dave Le Taxi dropped off the pace. I was going to ride back with him as he too lives south of the river, but he was soon completely out of sight and it was too cold and miserable to hang around.

I suspect he was more than happy to make his way homeward at his own pace anyway. Alternatively he might have learned a hard lesson and dropped completely out of sight before calling for motorised assistance.

As we approached Berwick Hill, Carlton too dropped off the pace, still concerned by his lack of braking and more comfortable on his own. Shoeless and the Cow Ranger stepped up the pace on the front and tucking in I reached my turn off in seemingly no time at all and began to work my way down to the river and home.

So, brand new year, same shit weather – 2016 here we go…

YTD Totals: 110 km /68 miles with 528 metres of climbing

Ride of the Long Shadows

Club Run, Sunday 27th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     111 km/69 miles with 987 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 28 minutes

Group size:                                            16 riders, no FNG’s, 1 guest

Weather in a word or two:               Bright and chilly

Main topic of conversation at the start: Thoughts turned to the fixie gaucho and whether we should invest in a set of club brakes that we could loan out to those in need, much like the fabled, semi-mythical club rollers.

Talk of the fabled, semi-mythical club rollers brought us round to where they were now and whether Dave le Taxi still has them, which in turn led to Crazy Legs explaining to Suds how Davey Pat became Dave le Taxi – a shameful, sordid tale of reaching the café with “tired legs” and, without even bothering to concoct a faked mechanical or family emergency, blatantly calling the missus for a lift home. A deep and indelible, black mark that can never be scoured away.

We had a guest with us for the ride, a girl from a club in Cambridge who was up for the holidays visiting parents and actually looking forward to riding some hills! She went around all of us in turn asking if we were OGL and, like Spartacus in reverse, we all denied it.

We patiently explained that since it was only 9.25 and we weren’t scheduled to leave until 9.30, then OGL was unlikely to put in an appearance anytime before 9.38. She seemed somewhat bemused by our strange time-keeping ways, which would suggest that this actually isn’t normal amongst cycling clubs. Who’d have thought it?

She also wanted to know what signals we used while riding in a group, and like one of those supremely disinterested attendants you sometimes get on Ryan Air flight, I gave her the shortened version, pointing desultorily at the ground: “pothole” jerking a thumb over my shoulder: “car back” and pointing ahead: “car up”.

I also explained that in some parts of the country I understood that “car up” actually means there’s a car behind and she told me this was the case with their fast group … but not their slow group, and this did cause occasional confusion when fast riders dropped down to the slower group. Ha! And I thought we were weird?

She then did that bent arm thing behind her back and asked if we “do that bent arm thing behind the back” to warn the rider behind we were approaching an obstruction and needed to pull out. I assured her that we did indeed do that bent arm thing behind the back, concluding lamely that I’m sure she’d be fine and it wasn’t exactly rocket science, although as Suds noted dryly we do, somehow manage to over-complicate everything and indeed turn it into rocket science.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Crazy Legs pondered if putting rollers on a slope would mimic riding uphill, but didn’t get a decent answer as OGL went off on one about the GB track team and their ramp tests.

Halfway through the ramble Crazy Legs was distracted as rows of tiny lights seemed to periodically sweep over us and he started looking around to try and find out who’d installed a disco mirrorball in the café and where it was.

We finally concluded the lights were just the low sun reflecting off watches, plates or cutlery, although we couldn’t determine the exact source. Having a disco mirrorball in the cafe is, for now, just a pleasant but wholly unfulfilled fantasy.

The guest from Cambridge got a tiny thimble-full of espresso which she pretty much downed in one and started to pull her gear on to leave. It appears her club view café stops as nothing more than a quick transition between riding out and turning round to ride back, and you get extra kudos the quicker you are.

Ours is, thankfully a much more relaxed affair as we exorcise our inner demons through the incessant, gloriously incoherent, babble of chatter and offer up coffee and cakes to appease the gods of cycling.

Crazy Legs wanted to know when the Cambridge riders ever had time to talk, to which the answer was that they “talk while they ride”. He sat back looking astounded and shaking his head in wonder – “Why haven’t we thought of that?” he asked, somehow, unbelievably managing to convey not even slightest trace of sarcasm.


Ride 27 December
Ride Profile


The Waffle:

The Sunday start, half an hour later meant that at least darkness had pretty much retreated as I dropped into the valley and set off toward the rendezvous point. I rode toward a huge full moon hanging low over the trees and houses and slowly turning from brass, to pale gold, to bone white as the sun clawed its way up behind me.

The sky had been washed clean of clouds by last night’s rain and scoured and polished a brilliant blue by the high winds. It was chilly, but bright and clear up to the heavens, as perfect a cycling day as you’re going to get in northern England in the midst of winter.

I arrived fairly early at the meeting point, so got into a prolonged “what to expect” discussion with our guest for the day, a girl from Cambridge Cycling Club, which even got as far as her telling me where I could find her ICE contact details in the event of a catastrophic accident!

Luckily Princess Fiona and Mini Miss eventually turned up so she wasn’t cast loose into a pack of hairy-arsed male riders incapable of discussing anything more culturally relevant than Sharknado 3, Fallout 4, Star Wars 7, a re-hashed Shimano vs. Campagnolo debate, or whether Yeats’s “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” can be read as the poet arguing that our existence is inexorably tied to the intrinsic difficulty of life itself.

Some 15 minutes after our scheduled start-time, around 16 lads and lasses were able to push off, clip in and roll out for a ride to blow away all the Christmas cobwebs and start slowly paring away some of the festive excess.

Although continuously bright the sun never did rise much above eye-level, casting long shadows that were a constant accompaniment, rotating slowly around us as we wove our way out into a rather bleak and water-logged countryside.


The Ride of the Long Shadows


Despite numerous flooded fields I didn’t realise just how much water the landscape had absorbed until we stopped to split the group and I stepped onto the grass verge and cold water instantly enveloped my foot and raced through the holes in my shoes to soak my socks.

As we split into two groups, our guest still hadn’t seen enough testing hills, so was encouraged to go with the longer, harder, faster group. Within a few miles though we hit the climb up Cobbler’s Lane and she was gasping like a fish out of water and dropping off the back.

We regrouped, climbed and then regrouped again, until hitting a long, straight and gradual descent where, for some inexplicable reason, our guest rider seemed to have a rush of blood to the head, or perhaps more accurately the legs and attacked.

The Red Max was having none of this and accelerated in pursuit, as whatever order we had instantly exploded. I found myself riding off the front, tucked in behind Crazy Legs and Ovis as they churned away at high speed.

The three of us were beginning to feel a little heavy legged at this point, so Crazy Legs suggested a slightly longer, more rolling route to the café, but crucially one that missed out the stiff climb up to the Quarry, which would have been an extra effort for Ovis and him on their fixies.

Course plotted and agreed, we scorched straight-ahead at the next junction, where a quick look over the shoulder confirmed we were all alone with everyone else turning for the Quarry.

The two upfront continued to drive on, keeping their momentum going over each small rise, while I had the luxury of dropping down a gear or two, dropping back and spinning up at a more leisurely pace, which was about all the legs could cope with.


Almost inevitably, there was yet more of this …


At one point we ripped through a flooded section of the road, once again the water level topping overshoe height and leaving us with water-logged socks. Then we were up to the junction and turning to head down to the Snake Bends.

Crazy Legs led the charge and, when he reached terminal velocity on his fixie, his upper body began to rock like Charlie Carolli on a wonky-wheeled mini-bike.

I clicked down a gear, nudged out of his slipstream and eased past, nonchalantly whistling “The March of the Clowns.”

This earned me his deepest respect and the highest of accolades, which if I recall correctly he forcefully expressed in just a few, short words: “You utter bastard!”


Yat-dat-daddle, didlle-yat-dat-da-da


We regrouped just before the Bends and pressed on to the café, arriving comfortably before those who’d taken in the Quarry climb.

The ride home was pleasant enough for Crazy Legs to declare this as the best, most successful, post-Christmas holiday ride we’d had, as even ripping through the flooded road sections was better than grappling with ice and the pace had been hard enough, for long enough, to hurt.

Even his rendition of “Disco Duck” failed to spoil the ride, and it was with more weary resignation than actual ire that I remonstrated with a B52 style BUFF in a pick-up truck who cut me up as I tried to cross the river.

Potentially the last ride of the year (unless I can sneak something else in) has left me 57 miles short of 4,000 for the year and 2 metres shy of topping 70,000 metres of climbing. Not a bad effort and a decent target to try and surpass next year.

YTD Totals: 6,345 km / 3,943 miles with 69,998 metres of climbing


Christmas Cracker turns Crash-Tacular

Club Run, Saturday 19th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km/62 miles with 851 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 13 minutes

Group size:                                           24 riders, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Balmy (and quite barmy)

Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs discovered one drawback of wearing a Christmas jumper over his club jersey: the rear pockets were now inaccessible behind a thick barrier of wool. This led to a collective realisation that there is a serious gap in the market for Christmas-themed cycling apparel.

We thought Rapha were most likely to rise to this challenge with a range of super-tasteful, pure-wool, merino Christmas jumpers -in black perhaps, replete with a dropped-tail, reflective trim, the traditional three back pockets and subtly featuring tiny, tiny turkeys.

We then discussed what would happen if it rained on all the non-lycra wool jumpers, how big they’d be likely to grow and just how heavy they’d be when wet.

Thoughts turned to some crazy gaucho who’d been stalking our forum and Faecesbook page and threatening to come and ride with us on his fixie. OGL had told him firmly not to bother unless he fitted a brake to his bike, as no matter how in control he was, or how accomplished a bike handler there’s the issue of the other 20 or so riders around him.

When the gaucho failed to turn up we assumed he didn’t want to dilute the “purity” of riding a fixie by fitting brakes and had taken umbrage at the restriction. Who knows though, I may be doing him a great disservice and he may be sitting home alone, still struggling to cope with such horribly unfamiliar technology as callipers and cables.

The Prof didn’t have a Christmas jumper, but wore his traditional festive bobble-hat, designed to look like a very sorry, misshapen Christmas pudding with (naturally?) a big pom-pom on the top to match the one on Crazy Legs’ jumper.

In a scene with all the searing, suppressed homo-eroticism of  Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling nude  in the “Women in Love” film, the Prof and Crazy Legs stood nose-to-nose, gazing lovingly at each other, while taking turns to fondle each others pom-poms. It was only a shame no one had a clown’s horn to punctuate each convulsive squeeze.

It was perhaps as well that we left quickly after that, or we’d have needed to throw a bucket of cold water over the pair to separate them.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Along with Goose I eyed up what sounded like the perfect fusion of Bakewell Tart combined with Festive Mince Pie – a Bakewell Mince Slice. Genius!

Well almost, theoretically this revolutionary new confection should have been a synergistic blend of the best bits of a beloved staple of the cyclists café stop, combined with a uniquely novel and seasonal twist. Sadly we were both left disappointed, a clear case of one plus one equalling … err … one.

OGL’s Christmas jumper featured a homely Yule time scene of a roaring fire, decorated mantelpiece, Christmas tree and a sack for all the presents. Someone wondered aloud if the single sack was symbolic of OGL’s intimate encounter with a Cinelli stem (see: Stems, Scrotums and the Melancholy, Winking Dog Ride, Club Run, 27th June). I couldn’t help worrying that for the third week in a row we were forging links, no matter how tenuous, to despotic leaders with a penchant for eastward facing territorial aggrandisement.

Our travails of the day reminded us of Dabman’s first hard encounter with the tarmac to start the year with a bang, or more accurately a dull thump and crack. We again wondered how we still weren’t expecting any ice on the road after we’d stopped to push a stranded car out of a ditch only minutes beforehand.

Crazy Legs said he’d forbidden Dabman to ride again until at least May and related that in the NHS had agreed to let the broken collar bone heal “naturally”, so Dabman would probably spent the rest of his life looking somewhat unbalanced – unless of course he can contrive to fall and break something on the other side.

It was also agreed that he probably shouldn’t risk a trip to Paris or hang around Île de la Cité, in case he stirs up an unfriendly pitchfork wielding, torch carrying mob.

I was somewhat conscious of an elderly couple at the adjacent table, who were now surrounded by a mob of voluble, over-excited, gibbering and hooting club cyclists and hoped they weren’t going to be too offended. As they got up to leave however they told us they were England tandem champions in the 50’s and had thoroughly enjoyed listening to our endless, mindless banter. Well, that was unexpected.


ride 19 december
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

For the second time this year I set out in near dark, just as dawn was slowly leaking a pale light and some wan colour into the sky. The difference this time though was the temperature was already an exceptionally mild, totally unseasonable 12°C and rising.

Despite all the forecasts aligning like some modern-day Delphic Oracle, I didn’t quite trust their prophecies after last week’s “winter howling” and had my pockets loaded down with spare bits of kit that I never got to use including a gilet, spare gloves, a skullcap, toe covers and a buff. What is going on with the weather?

As it was I felt somewhat over-dressed in a long-sleeved base layer, windproof jacket, shorts and legwarmers.

Despite a club wide directive, I was not however wearing a Christmas jumper because:

  1. I’m a miserable curmudgeon. Bah, humbug!
  2. I ride an hour on my own either way to our meeting point, and thought I’d look even sadder plodding home alone in festive attire.
  3. I don’t actually own a Christmas jumper.
  4. I think there’s a time and place for Christmas jumpers, but this definitely wasn’t the time and I’ve yet to discover the place.
  5. Did I mention I was a curmudgeon?

Hey, maybe next year.

As I dropped down into the valley and made my way along to the river crossing, entire sets of street lights would blink out suddenly as I approached them and it felt like I was riding a wave of impenetrable darkness. Just a case of bad timing I guess, but it did feel rather strange.

Despite this I was able to revel a little in the warm temperature and utterly quiet, early morning roads as, after a week bereft of any cycling commutes I stretched my legs for the first time in what felt like an age.

I positively flew along to the meeting place and was the first there to see the arrival of all the festive funsters. G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg put on a splendid show, riding up in formation and resplendent in matching red and blue Christmas jumpers.

Son of… then admitted he’d borrowed his from his Dad. Just for the record I think it’s worth pausing and considering the fact that the granite hard, indomitable iron-man, G-Dawg has two Christmas jumpers.

Crazy Legs was the next to roll up, in a bright red jumper emblazoned with a large Rudolph head, replete with a massive pom-pom for a nose. Crazy Legs’ approach was very circumspect and tentative and you got the feeling he was ready to turn round and high-tail it home if he appeared to be the only one festively attired.


Enflamed by thoughts of the Prof’s pom-pom, Crazy Legs has to resort to a cold shower to cool his ardour.


OGL’s jumper featured a fireplace complete with a sack for presents, the Prof wore a Christmas pudding hat and beZ disappointed by not wearing the threatened snowman onesie, but somewhat made up for this wearing a penguin jumper, complete with a hood featuring eyes and a beak.

The Red Max was one of the riders who took the opportunity of the ridiculously warm weather to wear shorts and a summer jersey, but had at least made the effort to decorate his top tube in tinsel (red of course). I reckoned this wasn’t particularly aerodynamic, but probably made him invisible to German radar.

Shoeless was dressed as an Elf, Laurelan wore a Christmas jumper and had attached some jingling bells and baubles to her stem, while Arnold I think had on some designer fashion-knitwear in luxury cashmere.

The Prof got a little too excited as well.


All in all a very good effort, although I couldn’t help thinking Josher misunderstood the concept of a “Christmas jumper” and decided to just wear something his Granddad might once have received as an unwanted Christmas present.

I didn’t get a good look at this, but got the impression of a Bri-Nylon cardigan of an indeterminate, nondescript colour, complete with leatherette elbow patches, a chunky zipper with big ring-pull and baggy pockets to store your pipe and baccy in. Très chic (well, in the late 50’s anyway).

So it was that a suitable Advent group of 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, none of us quite believing just how mild the weather was.


Early Gallic version of the Christmas Jumper Ride


It was turning into a very pleasant, uneventful and relaxed ride, although everyone seemed to be having trouble with just how warm it was and soon gloves were being discarded, jackets unzipped or unshipped and belted around waists and the sleeves of all the Christmas jumpers were being rolled up.

We turned up a narrow country lane and found ourselves having to slow and single out to pass large groups of riders, finding yet more coming up behind us, and the roadsides nose-to-tail with 4×4’s and horse boxes.

We were riding through the middle of what seemed to be a massive organised hunt, although as I didn’t see any hounds around and everyone was in tweed rather than “pinks” or colours, I assume this was a Hunter Trial or some other obscure equestrian gathering.

We got lots of very cheery “Good morning’s” as we carefully threaded our way through the massed ranks of the Northumbrian landed gentry, all astride their monster horses (ok, they all look big to me) and our Christmas jumpers raised a smile or two and were declared “fraytfully amusing.”


xmas tree
Next year I’ll take a leaf out of this guys book and ride with a complete Christmas tree


Arnold gagged on a cloud of, no doubt excruciatingly expensive perfume, as he passed one of the female riders and suggested any hounds might have some trouble picking up a scent with her around. I thought that perhaps she was the intended quarry and had overdone the perfume only to be able to leave an easily detectable trail.

I then rode past OGL who declared, “That’s a big hunt,” which I thought was quite uncharitable. I’m still not quite sure which individual he was referring to…

We finally cleared the traffic and ran up the Quarry Climb to turn for the café. As we were just shaking ourselves out for the final run in a large farm truck passed on the other side of the road. I’m not sure what happened next, but think there was a touch of wheels somewhere behind me, Laurelan came down hard and Red Max came down harder still and unfortunately right on top of her.

Behind them Cowin’ Bovril jammed on his disk brakes which stopped him so fiercely and unexpectedly he too toppled over before he could pull his cleats clear of the pedals.

As I turned around to ride back all I could see was Laurelan lying prone and totally unmoving on the wet tarmac, with much murmuring about broken hips and collar bones. Now everyone had an excuse to discard the jackets and jumpers they were overheating in and our downed rider was soon engulfed in all the excess clothing.


Just prior to Dabmans tumble … pushing this car out of a ditch should have been all the warning we needed that the roads were icy


As we tried to get a signal and call for an ambulance, Laurelan started moving and climbed slowly and gingerly to her feet, carefully testing out her limbs and feeling her various injuries. I suggested if she was going to ride on to the café she might as well keep all the spare clothing on and would likely just bounce if she came down again.

As it was she seemed to have recovered with remarkable resilience and was soon ready to ride again, battered, bruised and scraped but apparently not suffering any major injury, although the back of her helmet was badly cracked.

I guess we’ll never know if the helmet saved her from a more serious injury, but at the risk of offending the anti-helmet brigade, I’m inclined to believe anything that lessens the impact of a clout to the back of the head can only be a good thing.

The Prof and Shouty pressed on as everyone regrouped, then G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg set off too. I wheeled around the group and took off in pursuit, trusting everyone behind would finally sort themselves out and follow on.

I caught up and slotted in behind the G-Dawg pack as we slalomed our way between numerous potholes and deep fissures cratering the road surface, slowly building up speed.

At the point when G-Dawg’s whirring fixie reached maximum velocity, Son of G-Dawg accelerated in pursuit of the Prof and Shouty and I pressed on, before slowing before the Snake Bends when I was caught by Red Max, Captain Black, Goose and G-Dawg for the final push to the café.

In the café, Laurelan was able to inspect the damage more closely and was given some wet wipes to try and scour the dirt and grit from her abraded elbows. Now that’s got to sting every time.

As we were leaving the café, Plumose Papuss stripped to the waist as he tried to lose a base-layer. The Red Max informed us we were lucky to be wearing dark glasses, preventing serious eye injury as even the weak sun was shatteringly bright as it bounced directly off pale, pale skin.

G-Dawg offered Plumose £20 if he’d ride home topless, like some deranged Elf in lycra Lederhosen, but luckily sense prevailed over monetary gain and we were spared further excesses of the flesh.

On the return trip up Berwick Hill I fell foul of one of the steel-tipped thorns we tend to grow in the hedgerows around here and dropped off the back with a rear wheel puncture. I was quite happy to wave everyone on, while I stopped to make repairs and start my lone trek for home a little early.

Even a sudden, sharp shower couldn’t dampen my spirits, although I did have a minor brain fart and spent 5 minutes trying to work out how to get the repaired wheel back into the bike – something I’ve done a hundred times and should be routine, but which left me momentarily flummoxed.

Finally resolving my unexpected dilemma, I happily struck out for home, ticking off the miles and wondering how long it would be until the next ride in such agreeable conditions.

Merry Christmas all.

YTD Totals: 6,234 km/ 3,873 miles with 69,011 metres of climbing.


Italian Mobster Shoots a Lobster

Club Run, Saturday 12th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    99 km/62 miles with 602 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 18 minutes

Group size:                                           22 riders, 1 maybe-FNG

Weather in a word or two:               Benign to blizzard

Main topic of conversation at the start: For some utterly bizarre, unaccountable reason OGL rolled up to the meeting point bang on 9.00. When questioned, even he couldn’t give a rational explanation for actually arriving on time.

Crazy Legs told us about the rider who’d turned up in shorts for our very chilly Club Run a couple of weeks ago (A Winter’s Blast, Saturday 21st November). Having taken pity on this criminally under-dressed rider (a bit of a shameful, recurring theme this week as well) Crazy Legs cut short his intended run to ride escort duty directly to the warm sanctuary of the café and avoid the potential onset of hypothermia.

Once there however the rapid change in temperature caused the riders exposed legs to erupt in swathes of itchy and vicious bright red chilblains, becoming so uncomfortable he was forced to take his coffee out into the garden in an attempt to cool down his super-heated skin and find some relief from the crazed itching.

As Crazy Legs described it, his skin had “erupted with loads of mini-Vesuvius’s”   I queried whether the correct term shouldn’t be “Vesuvii” and while debating this fine, etymological point, Taffy Steve helpfully pointed out that, on the good authority of a Marine Biologist, the correct plural of octopus is in fact octopuses, not octopi, as the word is of Greek, not Latin origin.

For some bizarre reason we then ended up wondering what a Mafia-style octopus would look and sound like, given the national stereotype for Italian’s to talk with much exaggerated arm waving: “Bada-bing, badda boom!”

We also found common ground in our complete and utter disdain for Paloma Faith. Who? What? Why? When? How? Really?

3 of the girls turned up in formation wearing what looked like identical red jackets, and, as if on cue, parted to reveal the Red Max … wearing blue! Huh?

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: The criminally under-dressed students huddled together as close to the fire as they could get, staring fixedly at nothing and trying to control their shivering, while we tucked into cake, supped wonderfully hot, bitter coffee and wondered aloud about the merits of being a young racing snake, devoid of that extra lardy layer of insulation you need to stay warm.

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t be both lean and mean and comfortably warm, but this requires careful wardrobe choices and a degree of common sense, which seems to be in short supply. Kids today, eh?

Carlton pondered aloud why we didn’t all move somewhere with a better, warmer and more benevolent climate, at which point the maybe-New Guy, originally from Galway in the far west of Ireland, piped up earnestly, “Well, that’s what I did.” Everyone paused long enough to perform a swift double take, checking out the horrendous weather through the window, before we were engulfed in gales of uncontrollable laughter.

Captain Black admitted joining the Hall of Shame, having lent his one and only spare inner tube to a fellow rider in need and being caught out when he later suffered a puncture himself. He thus earned himself a notorious black mark for becoming stranded at the side of the road with a simple mechanical that’s easily avoided.

Red Max didn’t really help, continually dipping into his magical, ever expanding backpack until he had half a dozen spare inner tubes lined up on the table.


ride 12 dec
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

For the first time this year I set out for the meeting point in near darkness and had to use the lights while I waited for the sun to creep up and add at least a semblance of warm colour and daylight to the blanketing cloud cover.

Despite this it was, seemingly for the first time in weeks, benignly mild with, temperatures well above freezing and a barely noticeable wind. Given the BBC forecast was predicting frost and sub-zero temperatures at dawn I was pleasantly surprised. Even taking into account the light and possibly sleety intermittent showers due in the evening, it looked like being a great day for a ride.

I had dressed accordingly for the forecast, but strangely absent cold and predicted overnight frost: light and heavy long-sleeved base layers, winter jacket, buff, gilet, tights, thermolite socks and heavy overshoes. On my hands I went for a new pair of Planet X lobster mitts, which were incredibly warm, but felt a little odd and took some getting used to. I even remembered to pack a spare pair of gloves in the unlikely event these mitts somehow got soaked through.


bada bing
“Bada bing, bada boom!” – you don’t mess with Don Calamari


By the time I made it to the meeting point I was slightly overheated and beginning to regret dressing for near Arctic conditions as I stowed away the gilet and buff. If the fact that the BBC Weather got the predicted temperature so wrong was perhaps warning of more forecast unreliability to come, it went sadly unheeded.

Encouraged by the first spell of decent weather in a while, there was a good turnout of around 22 lads and lasses, our numbers bolstered by some of our students who had returned from University, most notably Chilly Willy and Plumose Papuss. As an indication of just how decent the weather looked, there was also a lone FNG sighting, or at least a maybe-FNG, someone I didn’t recognise from previous rides.

At exactly 9:20 we were ready to ride off in the absence of the Prof, who had earlier declared via Faecesbook that he would be out, but was apparently running late. Having been jilted and left behind by one of the Sunday runs starting bang on time, OGL was particularly – some might uncharitably suggest unusually – eager to cut the blather and set out smartly.

We hadn’t gone far when beZ caught and overhauled us to let us know his old man, the Prof was trailing behind and I heard OGL cackling hysterically with glee. We did slow enough for the Prof to catch on and ride up to the front to check-in with OGL and take his medicine like a man. Cue more maniacal laughter as vengeance was duly served.

The Prof’s sojourn with us didn’t last long however as he was soon stopped by a mechanical. We rode on a short way to find somewhere safe to pull over, and were waiting there when another club passed and relayed the message that the Prof’s mechanical was terminal and he was heading home. Apparently his wheel bearings had objected to the abuse of constant immersion in the floodwaters last week and were rattling like a hand full of marbles in a spin drier.

While the front of our bunch pulled away to resume the ride, those at the rear had to wait for yet another club to swish past before tagging onto the back. A little further on roadworks and traffic lights stopped everyone, and so it was the three clubs got compacted into one mass peloton of around 60 or 70 riders.

We now effectively, if unintentionally formed a massive rolling road-block, maybe 100 yards long, with me as tail-end Charlie, sitting right at the back with some of our youngsters.

From here I was in the perfect position to watch numerous, impatient and death-defying RIMs trying to force their way past us in the most insane places, including blind bends and hill brows. This was the cue for crazy, wild-driving accompanied by madly revving engines, wild evasive manoeuvres, flashing lights, braking, swerving, cursing and incessant horn leaning.


I’m not sure massive groups of cyclist ensure safety in numbers, or just encourage REALLY stupid driving


Miraculously no one came to grief, despite several heart-in-mouth moments as this pseudo-Demolition Derby come Wacky Races played out, but this was solely due to luck and not good driving abilities or instincts. Where are all these people dashing to that they have to risk life and limb (not always their own admittedly) to ensure they’re not a scintilla late?

It was while trying to keep at least half an eye on irrational, unpredictable motorists that I noted with incredulity that half the group we were stuck behind were riding in shorts! At least I was incredulous until Plumose Papuss cheerfully informed me they were from a triathlon club. Ah, that explained everything….

As we hit the long drag up Berwick Hill I could sense the triathletes dropping off the pace and I think the race honed instincts of beZ and Josher immediately took over. I was already accelerating in anticipation, as they surged around the slowing group, and was able to sit on their wheels for a tow up, as they easily bridged across to the front.

At the top of the hill and with the triathletes behind us, the other club swung off to the right and we reformed and pressed on, only until icy rain began to fall and we called a halt to don rain jackets.

Far from being one of the intermittent and passing “light rain showers” forecast for later in the day, it was soon raining in earnest, lashing down until everyone was soaked through and everything became a little grim as we pressed stolidly on.

We swung up the Quarry Climb, pretty much in formation, but at the top all bets were off and, despite OGL shrilly screaming for calm, the race to the café was on as the Red Max shot away with Plumose Papuss in close attendance.

I stuck with the front group as Max faded, hopping from wheel to wheel wherever I could and riding well within my limits. Swinging round the junction for the final run down to the Snake Bends Taffy Steve took off after Plumose Papuss to contest for honours, while I was contend to push along at a steady pace, somewhat surprisingly either holding off or passing G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Captain Black and Crazy Legs along the way.

It was black bin bags all around in a remarkably quiet café, where our two students Plumose and Chilly sat in mute sympathy, huddled as close to the fire as they could squeeze with glassy, thousand yard stares, shivering intermittently as they tried to warm up and dry out. I’m not sure if they ever made it out of the café with the rest of us – for all I know they could still be there.

As we sat there at our leisure, talking trash (as opposed to trash talking, which is a completely different thing) the Prof rolled up, having been home to change one unfeasibly small-wheeled cycling contraption for another unfeasibly small-wheeled cycling contraption. Meanwhile the weather outside gradually worsened and the temperature started to dip alarmingly.

Nothing was either particularly dry, or particularly warm as we kitted up for the return journey, although I briefly felt some smugness pulling on my spare gloves. It was at this point we were subjected to one of the strangest sights ever, as the Prof decided to don his monstrous lobster mitts before his jacket, reasoning that this would provide the best seal between glove and sleeve. The only trouble with this plan was that the jacket sleeves were too tight and, as well as being too bulky to pass through them easily, the mitts were a clear impediment to his manual dexterity.

In desperation he somehow corralled, coaxed or bribed one of the waitresses to help and we were met with the unedifying scene of this young girl first having to drag and pull and heave each mitt through the sleeves, before zipping the Profs jacket up to his chin for him, while he stood around like a sullen infant being dressed by an over-protective mother for a sledging trip.

Finally all ready, we sidled out of the café, mounted up and tried to get arms, legs and brains all working again, and warm ourselves up despite the debilitating, leaching effect of the cold. We hadn’t made more than two or three miles before my smugness evaporated and the substitute gloves became completely soaked through with sleet and freezing road spray and my fingers turned numb.

As I split from the group and turned for home the sleet became very serious, very wet snow that started to lie on roads previously washed clean of all salt by the incessant and heavy rain.

I stopped to swap soaking wet gloves for equally as wet lobster mitts. After a bit of a struggle, I somehow managed to cram my cold, wet fingers uncomfortably into some semblance of the right holes. Despite the stream of cold water that was forced out every time I pulled on the brakes or gripped the handlebars too tightly I found they were considerably better and my fingers began to warm up again.


Live long and prosper – with the impressive Planet X Crab Hand Winter Glove


Thankfully I was feeling a lot fresher than in previous weeks and cruised up the hill past the golf course still in the big ring. As I climbed higher and higher the snow got heavier and soon everything was coated in a soaking wet layer of white.

I had to discard the specs as the lenses became “all bogeyed up” (a technical expression learned from Daughter#2, who always seemed to have terrible trouble with swimming goggles) and the snow started to cling to my front and collect in the creases of my clothes, swiftly turning black to white.

Fittingly having last week descried megalomaniac despots and their ill-thought out invasions of Russia, this ordeal was swiftly beginning to remind me of Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Moscow, as I tried to find the balance between covering any exposed flesh with my buff and retaining some ability to see through the thickening snowfall. I was though spared marauding Cossack hordes, presumably they were all Christmas shopping in the MetroCentre with everyone else.


Last weeks talk of invading Russia, was followed by the inevitable retreat with the onset of winter


Luckily my skinny tyres were doing an effective job cutting through the fresh snow and down to the underlying road surface, so grip seemed better than some of the fish-tailing, wheel-spinning cars were experiencing. Nevertheless I took the long descent down to the river extremely gingerly, filthy brakes grating horribly on the wheel rims and a streamer of icy melt water squeezing out of my mitts.

Approaching the climb back out of the valley I found a combination of numb thumb, restrictive gloves and stiff STI lever was just too much and I had to stop at the side of the road to change down to the inner ring.

I finally reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill to find the traffic going up completely grid-locked and a large white BMW slipping down slowly, slipping down sideways toward me.


It’s always a good idea to dress … err … appropriately for the weather


I quickly realised that even if I could find any traction through the snow to climb upwards, I had no way of avoiding the out of control cars sliding down in the opposite direction toward me. I climbed off and took to the pavements, grateful that I swap road for mountain bike shoes during the winter, so I at least had some traction in a “two steps forward, one slip back” sort of way.

About halfway up the hill my Garmin crapped out on me, overcome with the cold and wet, or perhaps going into auto-shutdown because I didn’t appear to be moving anymore.

I also noticed that my bike had collected a thick crust of snow in the areas most exposed to the wind. From the thickest deposits I was able to surmise that I would get the most benefit from a new aero-seatpost and that I had perhaps discovered an affordable DIY way for the average cyclist to indulge in a bit of wind-tunnel testing. Weather permitting. Assuming they don’t mind getting cold. Oh, and wet.

As a measure of how bad it was by the time I’d dragged my soaked and sorry ass home, not only was I allowed to bring the bike into the kitchen to dry off, but Mrs. SLJ actually suggested this drastic course of action and even gave my trusty Peugeot a quick rubdown while I was huddled in the shower trying to restore feeling to my extremities.
The Ice-Giant certainly left its mark on our back garden – as captured by Daughter#2


As the bike sat their dripping quietly onto the tile floor, perfectly moulded sections of the compacted snow and ice caught under the mudguards worked loose and slipped out. I swear they resembled nothing more than the smooth, discarded toe-nail clippings of some mythological ice-giant, perhaps the very one that thought it would be fun to lure unwitting cyclists out with the promise of a relatively pleasant day, only to conjure up a snow storm to really test them.

I hope it gets bored and slinks back to its lair for next weekend.

YTD Totals: 6,134 km/ 3,811 miles with 68,154 metres of climbing.

God Speed You! Black Emperor

Club Run, Saturday 28th November, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    98 km/61 miles with 952 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 7 minutes

Group size:                                           16 riders, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Challenging and changeable

Main topic of conversation at the start: OGL rolled up in his car to tell us he wouldn’t be riding today as he was travelling to Glasgow as a guest of honour at the Revolution Series track meet. Crazy Legs, lost in some internal song sequence, had largely tuned the conversation out, so only the words “revolution” and “guest of honour” actually registered. He took these quite literally and was left pondering if OGL’s Napoleon complex was rising to the fore, and if we’d soon be made to line up either side of the road and greet him with cries of “Vive l’Empereur!”

He then pondered aloud the folly of invading Russia, but I was able to convince him that although OGL might have a Russian wife, she hadn’t been claimed as the spoils of war and he was confusing our leader with some other megalomaniac despot, or despots.

OGL then went on to complain that he’d turned up at 9.31 last Sunday and everyone had already left. He’d even gone so far as to record his disgruntlement on the club forum, where his comments no doubt languish, largely unread amongst the dust, cobwebs and tumbleweed.

Far be it for me to claim any great skills of prescience, but I recall a slight degree of concern about the confusion likely to arise when he first announced that Sunday runs would now meet at 9.30 for a 9.30 start.

It’s ironic that OGL was “hoist by his own petard” – but I’m fairly certain he hasn’t been the first and is unlikely to be the last to miss out in this way. Oh hell, I might as well go for a full-house of clichés and offer some less than sage advice – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Elsewhere, Richard of Flanders rode up, immediately dismounted, lifted his bike, spun the rear wheel and pressed his ear to the frame. He started muttering under his breath, leaving us suitably impressed that we were in the presence of a “Bike Whisperer”, but thoroughly bemused by what words of encouragement he might have been impressing on his machine.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Having ridden fast and arrived earlier than usual, we had to dawdle through our café visit so that the G-Dawg collective wouldn’t arrive home too early and be confronted by one of those “Well, if you can get back at this time today, you can get back at this time every week” arguments. As it was they had a contingency plan that involved loitering around outside the house for twenty-minutes or so and hoping the neighbours weren’t in a curtain-twitching mode.

So, more time than usual this week for the unending, ceaseless cascade of drivel, banter and waffle that is hugely entertaining, but only to us…

Taffy Steve dropped his home-made purse/pouch onto the table, a formless lump of thick, much worn, creased and crumpled, pachyderm hide of uncertain age and origin. When Son of G-Dawg asked what the hell it was I guessed elephant foreskin, G-Dawg demurred though and suggested, given its age and general condition that mammoth foreskin was more likely.

Although no one seemed to have been tempted by Black Friday excesses there were several tales of acquiring TV sets bigger than rooms. Son of G-Dawg recollected buying one before he moved out that filled his bedroom and took up one entire wall. He could only take in the whole picture by sitting pressed up hard against the opposite wall and found it badly affected his Call of Duty game-play as he kept getting fragged by people creeping up on him outside his peripheral vision.

This was accompanied by reminiscing about the “good old days” when TV’s were deeper than they were wide and even the portable ones weighed about as much as an industrial washing machine.

Talk of Christmas meals prompted the Red Max to reveal that he’s the only source of culinary competence in the house as Mrs. Max manages to regularly burn even beans. If there’s any doubt about the provenance of a meal the kids won’t eat it before conducting a thorough parental interrogation to re-assure themselves that Max has actually prepared it.

Completely independent of Laura Trott’s Twitter posting of sweet potato cremation by microwave, the Red Max recounted how Mrs. Max had so completely incinerated a potato in the microwave that it looked like slag from a blast furnace and took 6 hours to cool down enough to be safely handled. She had then indignantly declared that she didn’t know what could possibly have gone wrong as she’d “pricked it beforehand!”

An imaginary chapeau was doffed to local legend, the septuagenarian veteran Ray Wetherall, still riding every week in all weathers, despite being regularly blasted with chemotherapy.


ride profile 28 Nov
Ride Profile


The Waffle: Following last week’s sub-zero excursion, today felt positively balmy with the temperatures around 5-6° and no danger of ice. The wind was high and gusting however and everything was predicted to deteriorate as the day wore on with gales, lashing rain and sleet all forecast for later. It was more a case of when exactly the bad weather was due to arrive rather than if, and whether we would make it home before then.


Laura Trott – following in the august footsteps of Mrs. Max

There was a decent turnout of 16 lads and lasses pushing off, clipping in and rolling out, bolstered by a couple of late arrivals who just caught the back of us disappearing up the road and managed tag on before we took a couple of less traveled routes out into the countryside.

I drifted around the back of the group as we set a fairly hard pace into the wind, catching up with the Red Max who had risen from his sick bed to ride, but seemed to be feeling pretty damn chipper. In between gasping for breath as we pounded up several hills at near maximum warp, we spent some time discussing super-skinny pros and how small and weedy they looked in real life.

Seen “in the flesh” even those we think of as big, hulking brutes like “The Gorilla” Andre Greipel probably wouldn’t give you pause if you encountered him alone in a dark alley (apart from the fact Herr Griepel seems like a perfect gentleman and all-round nice guy anyway).

I mentioned the photos of a Garmin-Slipstream Wiggins looking dangerously unhealthy and frighteningly malnourished during his 2009 Tour de France break-out ride, as if he’d just been rescued from the Burma Railroad. We decided such radical weight loss simply wasn’t healthy and how extremely unnatural it is to be a cyclist and deny yourself pizza and cake. We also pondered why none of the women pros looked quite so unattractively gaunt.


Just say no

The conversation reminded me just how weak and puny we cyclists actually are, with no discernible upper body strength to speak of. Hell, I even have to get Mrs. SLJ or one of the kids to help open bags of crisps for me these days.

I remember watching one of those ageing, menopausal motorcycle gangs congregating opposite our meeting point last year, all brand new, shiny Harley’s in the hands of middle-aged, balding, white-collar professionals, strapped into identical black leather to support their low slung paunches. I wondered aloud if it might lead to a bit of a cyclist vs. biker turf war, or what the American’s rather strangely refer to as gang-banging (or at least they do in a world informed only by The Wire and NYPD Blue.)

Crazy Legs snorted in derision at my idle musings, suggesting it wouldn’t be much of a competition, a dozen or so “160 pound skinny guys in lycra-underwear” against eight or nine burly bikers dressed like extras from Mad Max. Sometimes the truth is harsh.

On recounting this discussion and its rather sobering conclusions to someone, the “ageing motorcycle gang” was misheard and morphed into an “Asian motorcycle gang” which somehow sounded much more exotic and threatening. Maybe I should stick to that version for future re-telling? I’m not sure who the bikers opposite us were, but they were most definitely not the Black Emperors.


Sometimes my mind makes connections I don’t quite understand. I wonder if I should be worried…

Meanwhile, back on the ride we eventually hit the Quarry climb at top speed and we split on the fly, most turning left at the top, but G-Dawg swinging right and declaring “an experiment” to see which route to the café was the quickest. The left-hand route is longer but has a long-straight downhill run to the Snake Bends, while momentum on the right-hand route is interrupted by several leg-sapping inclines, dodgy corners and blind road junctions.


We enjoyed an extended cafe break – no doubt to the great delight of the other patrons.

I took the right-hand option with Son of G-Dawg and we were joined by the Red Max with, I think, a couple of others trailing in his wake. I tried to tell him what was going on, but all Max heard was “experiment” and “race” – this was enough for the red mist (appropriately) to descend and the competitive juices to kick in.

Max immediately engaged the turbo and hit the front, dragging us all along on his madcap venture to beat the other group. There then followed about 7km of balls to the wall, on the rivet, crazy-assed, pedal-pounding as everyone else tried to just hang on.

Throwing caution to the wind, Max barely slowed for junctions and was swinging wide, right across and onto the opposite side of the road to find the best line through the corners. As Taffy Steve remarked we would still have heard him giggling madly as he slammed into a car coming the opposite way, but luckily the roads were clear and he pulled out a sizeable gap on those with a more, shall we say “sober” approach.


Somehow, some way, Max survived some vertiginous cornering

I passed G-Dawg on the last downhill section as his legs reached terminal velocity on his fixie, slowed for the junction then tried to pull as hard as I could up the last drag. Son of G-Dawg jumped away to ultimately hunt down and overhaul Max, while I heard the metronomic, swish-swish-swish as G-Dawg ground past me, turning his massive gear in slow motion and with apparent ease. I ducked onto his rear wheel and just managed to cling there, on the limit with burning legs and lungs that felt short-changed of oxygen.

Behind us the other group, playing fox to our hare, could now see us and were in full-on pursuit with two of our young prodigies, Josher and beZ spearheading the chase. We were able to quickly re-gather the momentum lost at the last junction though and held on to prove the right hand route is quicker (but there’s not that much in it.)

The return from the café was a rather civilised, somewhat sedate affair, but the sky was growing increasingly dark as we pressed on. After a not-so-mad Mad Mile, I turned for home and straight into the teeth of a punishing headwind. The long drag up past the golf course saw me drop down to the inner ring and run quickly through the gears, searching in vain for something I could turn with ease.

I pressed on, with no company except the irregular, desultory rasping of my front mudguard, as an icy, wind started peppering me with stinging, frozen rain and the sky darkened further until it looked like late evening and all the cars were driving with full headlights.

As I made my long and somewhat torturous way up Heinous Hill I think I could have been overtaken by grannies pushing wheeled shopping bags, or mothers with pushchairs. Luckily though the wintry rain had driven everyone indoors and there were no witnesses to my embarrassingly slow, dragging crawl homeward.


Climbing slow enough to hinder pedestrians is never a good sign…

Another fun ride, but for the third week in a row I felt utterly drained, heavy-legged and exhausted by the end. I can’t decide if this is a result of the cold weather, the wind, the pace we’re riding at, lack of recovery time, the winter bike, some lingering, indiscernible ailment or just creeping age and decrepitude. Maybe it’s all of these combined?

Oh well, I’m obviously going to have to keep trying until things improve.

YTD Totals: 5,873 km/ 3,649 miles with 65,767 metres of climbing.