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.

The Last Hurrah?

Club Run, Saturday 19th September, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    118 km/73 miles with 1,083 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 26 minutes

Group size:                                           28 cyclists at the start. 3 FNG’s.

Weather in a word or two:               Practically perfect.


Main topic of conversation at the start: Whether wearing clothing emblazoned with the Campagnolo logo should only technically be allowed if accompanied by a complete change of groupset to match.

The shocking, eye-wateringly and prohibitively expensive cost of tickets for the Rugby World Cup, even just to see the minor nations where you’re unlikely to recognise a single player. A stark contrast to the Tour of Britain where you could see, meet and mingle with some of the World’s top cyclists for free. To be fair to the RFU, their concession policy does allow kids to get in for only £15 … once the accompanying adult has forked over £150 for a ticket.

The Great North Road Cycle Maze and Death Trap™ continues to prove fantastically divisive. A photo of our Sunday morning club run studiously avoiding its perils was one of several snapped by ever vigilant, eternally law-abiding RIMs, no doubt using completely legal, dashboard and hands-free mounts on their mobile phones. The “incriminating” photos quickly found their way onto a Faecesbook page, where they started an all too predictable flame war, which rapidly grew in vitriol. The whole argument was neatly summed up in one of the most mature, astute, devastatingly logical and proportionate responses I’ve ever had the pleasure to read: “Well, if they’re going to ride in the road, I’m going to drive on the pavement.” Sigh.

Elsewhere, a local motorcyclist group also condemned the GNRCM&DT™ to the local press and the story was picked up by the RCUK website, where the comments section found even cyclists bitching amongst themselves, though without the same degree of creative swearing, searing insight and deep reflection the more general public had brought to the debate. I’ve got the feeling this one’s going to run and run…

The 6½ minutes of sheer hell, commonly known as our club hill climb (chrono-escalade if you want to be suitably pretentious) is looming large. Is it too late to file excuses? I noticed a handful of regulars have already reported conflicts with hastily arranged events elsewhere.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: As expected, the wasps were out in force and anyone having jam with their mid-ride scones or tea-cakes was universally shunned like a leper and exiled to a remote table in the corner. They should be grateful we didn’t take it as far as Son of G-Dawg’s suggestion of smearing them with jam and setting them loose as some sort of wasp decoy.

The fallout (seepage?) from last week’s rain-sodden, “godless ride” continues: Crazy Legs and I both agreed there had to be a better way of staying dry on both the inside and out. His solution was a new 2½ layer, foul weather jacket, though none of us could quite comprehend what half a layer might look like. I had to go one better of course, and went for the triple-layer Galibier Mistral jacket. I’m guessing both are indisputably and impressively waterproof, the acid test is how breathable they are. I’ll report back when I know more.

We were also chastised because some of the more incontinent “godless” amongst us had soaked through the seats at the café last week. It seems the pads of their shorts acted like giant sponges throughout the ride, sucking up a veritable flood of rainwater and road spray, which was duly squeezed out when they slumped their tired bodies down to enjoy hard-earned coffee and cakes.

Now on rainy days black bin bags to sit on will be issued to one and all, not just those who request them. There was some wild speculation that if things didn’t then improve there would be no choice but call for Bottom Inspectors a la the fantastically juvenile, but intermittently hilarious Viz comic. Heaven help the waitress who draws the short straw and gets such a truly thankless task.

Halfway through our stay one of the potential Bottom Inspectors came outside to look for used mugs to take away and wash as they were running short. Our table couldn’t provide any, but Carlton and Richard of Flanders conspired to helpfully load her tray down with a teetering, super-Jenga construct of used plates, dirty cutlery, glasses, saucers, milk jugs, teapots and empty cans – everything in fact except a single one of the needed and requested mugs.

Great, now they probably think we’re incredibly obtuse, as well as hell bent on sabotaging all their seating.

Ride Profile
Ride Profile – [Now in glorious technicolour]

The Waffle:

The contrast with last week’s deluge couldn’t have been more marked, as Saturday morning dawned with faultless, clear and pure blue skies vaulting from horizon to horizon. This was the kind of day one of my friends would typically refer to as having a “Battle of Britain sky”, lacking only the contrails of a lone Spitfire or Hurricane to complete the suitably cinematic image.

Nevertheless, the air still had a real bite to it as I rode out early for the meeting point, and the long descent down the Heinous Hill had the cold wind dragging tears from my eyes and chilling my fingers. Thankfully things soon warmed up and before too long the arm warmers were dispensed with.

Why, oh why, oh why do we have to put up with such reckless, selfish and criminal behaviour, potentially holding up traffic, and enjoying themselves at the same time. What is this country coming to?
“Why, oh why, oh why do we have to put up with such reckless, selfish and criminal behaviour, potentially holding up traffic, and enjoying themselves at the same time. OMG what is this country coming to?”

At the meeting point a competent looking and enthusiastic Irish FNG turned up, bang on 9 o’clock. We had to explain that the 9 o’clock start time listed on the website was technically accurate, but actually represented a fantastically fluid and elastic concept of time that meant we would, of course, be leaving at around 9:15. He looked at us as if we were all ever so slightly mad, but seemed to accept our general tardiness with good grace, if a slightly furrowed brow. He’ll probably try and find a more punctual group to ride with next week.

Not surprisingly the perfect weather brought out a good sized bunch of lads and lasses to supplement the ranks of last week’s hard-core Rain Dogs, and despite missing a few students, it was a large complement of 28 that pushed off, clipped in and rode out en masse.

The first distraction of note came somewhere out in the wilds, where we swept past a big directional sign pointing to a wedding, but all we could see was a big tractor rolling round and round in circles in a somewhat overgrown and otherwise empty meadow. I guess that’s a rural wedding Northumbrian style?


The Prof spent a great deal of time and energy playing mother-hen to a couple of the FNG’s, who he recognised as exiled flatlanders of some ilk, which might explain his affinity for their struggles. They just couldn’t seem to get the hang of even the gentlest of slopes and slipped inexorably backwards whenever the road rose up. I’m guessing his efforts weren’t all in vain, as I’m fairly certain they at least made it as far as the coffee stop, although they may still yet be struggling to get home.

The usual stop and group split saw Taffy Steve sidling shamelessly away with the amblers on a direct heading straight to the café. Although he proclaimed some excuse about family commitments and having to be home early, he didn’t have the requisite signed note in triplicate. The consensus was that after winning the sprint last week he had decided to retire while still at the peak of his game, a little like Alberto Contador, but obviously far more successful and with much greater kudos.

A big bunch of us pressed on, before our middle group split away from the Racing Snakes. At the bottom of Middleton Bank I drifted to the back until the slope began to bite and the initial surge died. As a gap developed I pushed up the outside to latch onto the small leading group and let it pull me upwards and away.

Over the top we regrouped as Szell wasn’t around, so the strict Szell Game rules weren’t in play. Shoeless then hit the front and started piling on the pressure, and the pace was so fast that even the Red Max’s Forlorn Hope attack never materialised. He stayed firmly planted three back on G-Dawg’s wheel as we were all strung out while I tucked in behind him.

As we swept up the final hill G-Dawg kicked past Shoeless and Max slid back. On the limit, I held on for as long as possible before pulling over and watching Son of G-Dawg surge across the gap. He went straight over the top, sweeping past G-Dawg on one side, as Shoeless dived down the other to snatch second.

With the sprint done and dusted, there was only time for Ovis to briefly flirt with death and destruction show some sublime traffic filtering skills that scared the crap out of me, before we were rolling to a stop and some well earned cake.

Potentially on their way to a cafe near you!
Potentially on their way to a cafe near you!

As we were packing up to leave the café Crazy Legs floated the idea of an extended, longer and shockingly novel, alternative route home to Red Max, rightly reasoning that if anyone was daft enough to agree it would be Max, and his participation might “encourager les autres.

With this being perhaps the last hurrah of summer and much too fine a day to waste, around eight daring and extreme radicals swept left on leaving the café, while everyone else turned to the right. The first few miles were into a hard headwind and everyone took a turn pulling as we slowly built up to a cracking, leg-burning pace and rode with remarkable (well, for us) discipline and organisation.

It was interesting to travel the roads back to the Quarry in the opposite direction to the way we usually do, and realise just how much it actually climbs. This isn’t really noticeable charging the other way down to the café, where the favourable incline no doubt fuels our mad capering and pushes us toward dangerously terminal velocities.

Despite the extended ride we quickly ticked off the miles until reaching a point where I had the chance of taking a slightly shorter way back. As the group thundered around a sharp left turn I got slingshot out of the back, like some forlorn probe on a deep-space mission to parts unknown, and set fair for home. Yet another great ride. Thanks fellas.

YTD Totals: 4,679 km/ 2,907 miles with 53,134 metres of climbing.

Jabbering babble and babbling jabber …

Club Run, 18th July, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     85km/53 miles with 709 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             3 hours 9 minutes

Group size:                                           27 riders at the start. 2 FNG’s.

Weather in a word or two:             Blustery.

Main topic of conversation at the start: The BFG has given up on his wooden rims which can warp faster than a Constitution-class starship and no amount of araldite, solder or exotic spoke weaving-patterns seemed to help them stay true. They’ve now been consigned to the Cheryl Cole: “nice to look at but serving no functional purpose” bin.

Despite his wooden wheel setback, BGF himself however continues to press boldly onward and kept me royally entertained with his tale of taking his latest vintage frame to Boots and press-ganging a bevy of beauty clinicians into helping find just the right shade of pearlised-blue nail-varnish to touch up a small scratch in the paintwork.

JC Peraud’s jersey, shorts and skin shredding crash at the TdF got a mention, especially his X-rated exposed crotch, which thankfully the TV pictures managed to cover with a pixelated-blur. I thought comments that the blurred area was “very small” to be quite mean-spirited.

We then had to disabuse one of our newer members from suggesting our rendezvous point was a lowly bus station – everyone should realise it’s nothing less than a truly magnificent Transport Interchange Centre.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: There was some suggestions that this very blog should only be available via the Darknet. Come on… it’s not that bad!

One of our newer riders commented that he was unaware other rides existed outside of our normal routes, was quite surprised to find that the whole of Northumberland was actually open to us and that our collective Garmin’s didn’t spontaneously combust once we turned away from the OGL approved rides.

In a reprise of the “blowin’ in the wind” club run, an exceptional limbo act into the gusting wind narrowly preserved a tray precariously loaded with coffee, cake and other goodies – earning a heartfelt round of applause from all assembled.

Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

With OGL yet again in absentia, this time providing transport, DS, coaching, mechanic and soigneur services to a couple of our promising youngsters competing at the National Junior Road Race Championship, we were again given a little more freedom to pick our route and again seek out roads a little less travelled – and typically a bit hillier.

The weather was a mixed bag of sunny spells, showers, warm patches, icy cold blasts, overcast, then high broken clouds and blue skies, always changing from one corner to the next. The one constant throughout though was an ever present, strong and gusting wind that had us planning to frequently change lead riders from the off. Pre-planning? Surely a first for the club.

Pushing off and clipping in we instinctively avoided the Great North Road Cyclemaze, which has mutated yet again. It now appears to be designed to not only trap unwary cyclists, but also sacrifice befuddled pedestrians and unwitting, wide-eyed school children directly to the gods of the speeding motor vehicle. We await further developments of this sadistic urban planners wet dream, with very faint hope that it will eventually metamorphose into a sensible and safe means of negotiating the insatiable traffic.

The planned tribal cannibals have yet to be installed in the Great North Road Cyclemaze, but planners are confident they will be the final solution to ensuring that none who enters can escape.
The planned tribal cannibals have yet to be installed in the Great North Road Cyclemaze, but planners are confident they will be the final solution to ensuring that none who enters can escape.

I did my stint on the front pretty much from the start, and just for the benefit of those who have accused me of exaggerating my own efforts on these rides it’s worth noting that this was almost exclusively uphill, through a full-on, unrelenting headwind and at a pace that touched the terminal speeds of our typical late café sprint.

Meanwhile, in an alternative universe and much closer to reality, Crazy Legs drew my attention to the incessant chatter, guffaws of laughter and nonchalant whistling drifting continuously up from the bunch behind us – a sure-fire sign that despite my breathless toiling into the fierce headwind, no one else was having to work remotely hard enough behind me. Admitting defeat I swung over and let someone else have a go at a bit of ceaseless self-flagellation.

Well into the ride, we swooped down into the Tyne Valley like a pack of rampaging Huns, disrupting the genteel Saturday morning routines of the sleepy villages, only to disappear in a whirr of spinning freewheels and buzz of jabbering babble (or babbling jabber, depending on if we were approaching or passing) – escaping long before the watch beacons could be lit and church bells rung in warning.

Climbing back out of the valley brought us to the A69 dual carriageway, loaded with speeding cars and lorries, and giving us the opportunity to play real-life Frogger. (For those of us yet to reach pubescence, Frogger is a classic arcade game, a bit like Crossy Road but, way cooler, with better graphics, more engaging gameplay and not burdened by having an infantile name that a Nursery Class might discern as being a little too unsophisticated – even for them.)

Crossing the A69 – Frogger-style.

Having, eventually crossed the dual-carriageway safely we climbed, then climbed some more, on single-track roads with crumbling surfaces until finally escaping the valley. More miles rolled past, until we hit one of our usual routes and everyone got strung out on the Quarry climb.

At the top we turned right, straight into a fierce headwind, with no chance for recovery. The pace picked up as we burned for the café, then were whipped along by a tailwind at a pace so high it even precluded the Red Max’s traditional, Forlorn Hope attack.

In the final miles I pressed on somewhat distanced from the front group and unable to close the gap, pulling a string of other riders behind me. Easing and sitting up to take the twisting bends was a relief and a chance to catch my breath before rolling into the café.

A totally relaxed run from the café and shortened ride all around got me home in good time to head off on the family holiday. Mission accomplished.

YTD Totals: 3,661km/ 2,275 miles with 40,544 metres of climbing.

Puttin’ on the Ritz…

Virgin Money Cyclone Challenge – Ride B, 20th June, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     137km/85 miles with 1,590 metres of climbing

Cyclone Ride:                                      103km/64 miles with 1,217 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            5 hours 19 minutes

Cyclone Time:                                       3 hours 41 minutes

Group size:                                           7 of us enjoying ourselves amidst 1,600 happy cyclists.

Weather in a word or two:               Cool. Light rain.

Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

The Cyclone Weekend (or to give it its full name the Virgin Money Cyclone Festival of Cycling) marks about the only time of the year when we take a break from our regular weekend club runs. Most of our riders participate in one or other of the Saturday rides, and the club organise and marshal the elite riders the following day when the women’s Curlew Cup and men’s Beaumont Trophy serve the pro teams as a warm up for next week’s National Championship.

This was my 6th Cyclone in succession; although slightly different as for the first time as I decided to ride to and from the event.

It was distinctly cool at the start where we hung around shooting the breeze and hoping everyone was going to show on time. Just as a matter of principle we managed to see and then lose around half a dozen club mates, including a few who disappeared into the darkened bowels of the rugby stadium to sign on, never to emerge.

By a minor miracle eight of us managed to stick together long enough to reach the start line as a group. I was surprised to see one of our up and coming, super-fast and immeasurably strong youngsters Bez hanging around at the start as only the 100 mile route could in any way be deemed remotely a challenge for him. He explained that he wasn’t allowed to ride the longer route as he wasn’t old enough. I assume this is either some stipulation in the event’s insurance, or a more plausible explanation is that it’s something his dad, The Prof, fabricated so he didn’t have to ride with his son and get his ass royally kicked. Again.

Bez did have the consolation of hearing one wide-eyed youngster declare that he had “the coolest bike ever seen” before we rolled over the start line and he roared off into the drizzle, presumably to complete the circuit twice over, lap everyone and prove a point.

We were then left as a compact group of G-Dawg, The Red Max and his Monkey Butler son, Sneaky Pete, Taffy Steve and Tri-Boy, another super strong, super-talented youngster.
At the first, completely innocuous corner we watched one rider in front skid out and slide helplessly across the road. He sat up immediately with seemingly nothing damaged except his pride, but it was a decent reminder we were amongst some fairly sketchy riders and road weavers, with all the reflexes and co-ordination of narcoleptic sloths on diazepam.

I'm constantly amazed by what you can find on the Internet, but who would have though "sloths on bikes" would return so many hits!
I’m constantly amazed by what you can find on the Internet, but who would have thought “sloths on bikes” would return so many hits. What’s wrong with you people?

Having started relatively late there was already a constant stream of amblers and gamblers to negotiate, of all ages, shapes and sizes and on all sorts of bikes; fantastically niche super-expensive, all singing, all dancing, all carbon stealth machines painstakingly crafted by blind Italian artisans, steel vintage road bikes, mountain bikes, city bikes, hybrid bikes, a Raleigh Chopper (a Raleigh Chopper!), tandems and everything in-between. Special mention has to go to the guy on the hand-bike, a truly impressive feat and an utterly brutal exercise to haul himself over all the hills.

The first ramps leading to the climb to the feed station at Nunnykirk saw the Monkey Butler Boy, pushing hard to try and hang onto the wheels. This was his first step up to the bigger league of the B Ride having graduated from the 33 mile ride with flying colours. Having completed the Coast-to-Coast I didn’t think the distance was going to be a problem but the pace was likely to see him blow. Sense prevailed (presumably a first for The Red Max?) and they dropped back to continue in what I assume was a slightly less frenetic manner.

It was on the climb proper up to the Nunnykirk feed-station that we saw the first of the Walking Dead, stumbling and sliding as the gradient got the better of them and clambered off to push their bike uphill. This is never a good sign as the route climbs rather unremittingly upwards from this point on. For G-Dawg this hill was also something of a personal epiphany as he remembered his bike did actually come supplied with an inner ring, and luckily it hadn’t atrophied, withered and dropped-off from lack of use. Truth be told I would have been amazed hadn’t worked as its pretty much still in newly-forged, factory fresh and pristine condition, having had little to no use.

G-Dawg demonstrating his gearing choices.
G-Dawg demonstrating his usual gearing choices.

We stopped for a while to re-fill bottles and catch up with a few familiar faces at the feed station, although Sneaky Pete took a flyer with an airy wave of his hand and a promise to “regroup” further down the road.

I quite enjoy the next section climbing up to Rothley Lakes and beyond, it’s a series of long, drags and sharp descents, but the gradient is never too challenging and if you can get the right rhythm you can pretty much sit and spin away. Feeling good I stalked G-Dawg all the way up the climbs, running just on the inside of the white line on the road as we slid past a long line of strugglers and stragglers.

We were down to two at this point, but finally caught up with Sneaky Pete ambling along and whistling nonchalantly, and we put in another good few miles as a group before I dropped off with a pressing need to irrigate the landscape. Greatly relieved and at least half a kilo lighter I set of in pursuit of the other two.

We hit the rollers before the signature climb of the Ryals, and like a raft bobbing along, lost on the ocean, every time the road reared up ahead of me I caught a tantalising glimpse G-Dawg and Sneaky Pete dropping over the next crest as I tried to close on them.

I took the opportunity add some fuel to the furnace and tried cramming down an energy bar – deviously composed of two parts cardboard to one part silica gel. This immediately sucked all the moisture out of my body and left me with a bad case of cotton wool mouth. I was still struggling to chew and swallow this miraculously expanding, jagged mass of chemically enhanced, artificial protein as I approached the climb.

The Ryals appear like a vertical wall rearing straight upward. Although they feature in Simon Warrens Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, they look much harder than they actually are, and I suspect their fearsome reputation is built around elite races which hurtle up them multiple times to shred legs and cause the maximum amount of pain.

Despite this they will always hurt after the preceding miles of climbing have effectively softened you up and sapped your strength like a flurry of well-placed body blows. The road briefly hits around 20% before levelling and then climbing again, and while the first ramp is quite short, it’s undeniably steep.

I passed a guy with improbable orange-brown legs (##cough## fake tan) at the foot of the Ryals, and started the grind up. He passed inside me wheezing like a train with a broken boiler. As the road levelled I caught and passed Sneaky Pete and we exchanged a few perfunctory words about the dubious parentage of the climb. I then hit the second ramp and cranked it up. Out of the saddle with my front wheel skipping and snaking wildly like the death throes of a decapitated sidewinder, I zipped past Tan Legs and burst through a bunch of startled photographers carefully positioned to catch the agonising grind and toil and suffering of cyclists on the hill.

It will be interesting to see if any of them managed to catch my surprise at suddenly finding myself at the top, or the moment when the pain signals finally reached my brain and convinced it my shin bones had been swapped out for red-hot pokers.

[I so wanted to say I danced, or waltzed up the climb, and that was certainly the image in my mind. In reality it was probably more like the plodding, uncoordinated dance number of Young Frankenstein’s monster. “Burttin’ pondah Wrutzz!!!”]

Puttin' on the Ritz
Puttin’ on the Ritz

Pushing over the top I rolled it onto the big ring and clicked down until I could click no more. Hands on the drops, head down I set off in pursuit of G-Dawg, finally catching up a few miles beyond the climb. A few miles further Sneaky Pete sneaked up on us, sacrificing himself to ride on the front for a short while before finally dropping away.

On the final run in and as we skirted a roundabout alongside another bunch of riders we were almost ploughed into by a texting driver who received a full verbal and graphically suggestive broadside– how she managed to look indignant instead of sheepishly embarrassed I’ll never know. “Typical,” drawled G-Dawg laconically, “60 miles without incident, and we’re nearly killed a few mile from the finish” – before clicking up a gear and lighting the afterburners for home.

With a decent time tucked into my goody bag I set out for home, passing a fellow rider who was struggling with a modest incline, obviously heavily weighed down by his Cyclone swag. I remarked his legs looked tired but he just quipped he was on a pre-programmed warm down. I like it, and yes, I will be using it as an excuse in future.

By the time I past the slowly decaying hedgehog on Heinous Hill for the 4th time that week I knew I was almost home and hosed, and another ride ticked off.

I trust normal service may be resumed next week…

YTD Totals: 3,023km/ 1,878 miles with 33,599 metres of climbing.