Well UK lock-down conditions have been eased, somewhat chaotically and confusingly, but eased nonetheless. In real terms it makes no difference to the viability of group riding, so I’m still in solo mode, as I head out on a bright, somewhat chilly, Saturday morning.
(Every time I see or hear Bo-Jo’s “Stay Alert” imperative I’m not only reminded how nonsensical it sounds, but also that old chestnut – “Be Alert. Britain Needs Lerts.”)
As I dropped down the Heinous Hill, I felt the wind warping through my wheels and tugging at the rims. It was the first, rather testy appearance of what would be an almost constant companion throughout the day, a nagging, stiff breeze and one that I’d be turning directly into as soon as I hit the valley floor.
I headed up river, looking to cross over at Wylam, but as I approached the bridge, the blinking lights at the level crossing brought me to a halt. A good few seconds later, the barriers jerked into motion and slowly lowered. I guess if I’d been quick I could have nipped across, a la Paris-Roubaix 2015, but there were no prizes at the end and no peloton to escape from, so I stayed put.
I would have been perfectly safe crossing as it seemed a ridiculoulsy long wait, maybe around 5 minutes before the train finally trundled past. It took so long in fact, that at one point I was eyeing up the pedestrian footbridge and considering hoisting the bike on my shoulder and tackling its steep stairs cyclo-cross style, up and over the tracks.
While we waited, the traffic built up behind me until there were perhaps 4 or 5 cars queued there. Otherwise un-noteworthy in more normal times, this has to be considered major congestion these days. If it had been a weekday, this massive “traffic jam” might even have made the local radio station’s travel bulletin.
As cars built up on my side of the tracks, cyclists built up on the other. The pair opposite me arrived at different times, but were obviously acquainted and had the chance to catch up, while a family of four loitered behind them.
Finally, the train rumbled through the junction, the barriers stuttered into motion and at last we were all able to get under way again.
I made my way along the Tyne Valley, through Ovingham and toward Stocksfield, following the path that runs close to the river. Rolling along happily despite the headwind, noticing the bright green verges were sprinkled and spangled with all kinds of wild flowers. I recognised bright, sunny fringed dandelion heads, delicately-hued bluebells, tall foxgloves and the emerging, still green-tinged-white of young cow parsley, but had very little idea what the hundreds of bright magenta flowers were, or their smaller, pale blue cousins.
Just past Stocksfield I picked up a shadow, who rode in my wake for a mile or two, riding the fine line between drafting and maintaining correct social distancing. I either lost him on one of the hills, or he turned early to take a different route, as he was gone by the time the road spat me out just above Corbridge.
I guess I could easily have crossed the A69 at any one of three or four points along my route, given the lack of traffic, but I was aiming for Aydon, where the bridge took me up and over the road. As I suspected traffic on the dual-carriageway below was relatively light, although not as empty as the last time I’d crossed over it.
I climbed out of the valley and was soon on familiar club-run roads heading toward Matfen, Just after the Quarry turn, I stopped for a quick break, before tackling the climb, then swinging left and following the road down and through to the Snake Bends, deliberately not sprinting toward them and quite enjoying the fact.
To add on a few more miles, I then took one of our standard cafe run-ins and reversed it, up and over the Rollers, sweeping around Bolam Lake and then heading to Hartburn via Angerton. I could write that on part of this route I actually had a bit of a cross-tailwind, instead of a full-bore headwind … but nobody would believe me.
Instead of turning right and climbing up to Hartburn, I stayed on the road that finally brought me out just before the village of Middleton. I don’t think we’ve ever been this way before, I certainly don’t recall ever seeing the Marlish Water site where “spring water takes over 150 years to slowly filter through the rock strata”.
I wonder if it’s worth the wait?
My next landmark was Middleton Bank, taken at a fairly relaxed pace, I was tiring now and looking to head for home. Over the top, I passed Spry flying in the opposite direction, looking cool and resplendent in a replica Maglia Rosa.
A few more moments passed and then, trailing just behind him, came his dad, Andeven, looking slightly less assured and chasing hard (although if you asked him, he’d probably just claim that he was just following correct social distancing protocol.)
I was on the way home now, passing many other cyclists heading in both directions. I stopped just outside Ponteland to pull on a pair of arm warmers. It turned out it was too warm to wear them, but too chill not too. Oh well.
I persevered while feeling a little too warm and was soon climbing back up the hill and home, another 100km’s solo banked under my wheels and in my legs.
Total Distance: 100 km / 62 miles with 602 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 00 minutes
Average Speed: 25.1 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 1 (vaping) FNG
Weather in a word or two: Chill and wet
Well, I have to admit, I got that very badly wrong. Expecting and dressed for a relatively brisk, but mainly dry day, what we actually got was prolonged showers that seemed drive the temperatures down whenever they swept over us, so it felt noticeably chillier than the recorded and forecast 12°C. Part way into the ride I pulled on my rain jacket in the face of one hard shower and kept it on until I was about 5 miles from home on the way back.
Had I been less trusting of the weather forecast, I may have reverted to the Peugeot and enjoyed full mudguard protection, but I didn’t, so I got a soggy bottom and a black bin bag to sit on in the café. I finished the ride as mud be-splattered as if I’d just finished Paris-Roubaix in foul weather and the bike got a liberal coating of mud and crud. Not to worry, the mount scrubbed up quite nicely afterwards, even if I can’t say the same for the rider.
I should have noticed this wasn’t going to be the still, calm and mostly dry day promised, when the first thing I noticed was the smoke from a factory chimney in the valley floor being blown out almost at right-angles, a dirty-white, ragged banner, flapping against a sky of unrelenting grey.
The first rain shower hit as I was crossing the river, audibly ticking off my helmet and there was enough surface water to keep my overshoes gleaming wetly black, before they became, like everything else, daubed and dulled by mud and general road filth.
I passed a few other cyclists as I rode in, universally looking under-prepared and under-dressed and even including one brave soul in shorts. In March? In Northern England? Madness.
The rowing club seemed to have grasped the niceties of the weather much better than us cyclists, there was no mass of rowers out on the water, or even preparing to go out, only a hard core, two or three small sculls, way upstream and far enough away to look like insects, skittering over the rippled surface like startled water-boatmen.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Grover was out for the second week in a row, but this time had swapped his posh Pinarello for a sturdy, steel-framed Raleigh, complete with ancient, 3-speed, Sturmey Archer hub gears. He challenged OGL to feel the weight of his bike, which he suggested belonged alone in a super-heavyweight division.
OGL wrapped two hands around the top tube, flexed sinewy muscles, gave a grunt of exertion and pulled. The bike didn’t budge. He refocussed and tried again and slowly, waveringly, the bike rose up and was held long enough for its weight to be fully assessed, before being dropped heavily back down to the ground with an explosive, “Ooph!” If he spends time off at a chiropractor in the next few days, we’ll know why.
If Grover found last week on his posh, featherweight, plastic bike hard going, he wasn’t doing himself any favours this time out.
My slowly decaying MTB with its ever more restricted gears came in for discussion, with the Red Max asserting: “You only ever need 1 gear.”
“That,” I agreed, “Is perfectly true, you do only need one gear, but it has to be the right one.”
The Prof had apparently been discussing one of his bike reclamation projects with Caracol, suggesting he could resurrect something rideable from a trashed blue frame with a 58cm top tube. (I didn’t dare ask the provenance of the frame.)
The Prof pressed Caracol to decide if he was interested, while Caracol pressed the Prof back for more details about what exactly it was he was agreeing to. After a lengthy back and forth, it became apparent that the frame was the same, not-quite-right size as Caracol’s current winter hack, so it probably wasn’t worth pursuing.
“Anyway,” The Prof concluded, “I don’t think this blue frame is particularly aesthetically pleasing.”
I have to admit at this point Red Max and I looked at each other, looked at the Prof’s eccentric, small-wheeled velocipede and both shook our heads, wondering what exactly constituted aesthetically pleasing bike design in his book … and just how much this digressed from the more established view.
“I wish I had a pair of magic specs like yours.” Max summed up, looking pointedly and quizzically at the Prof’s bike.
The Red Max himself is having bike sourcing problems of his own, having become embroiled in what is turning into a bike-buying odyssey of Homeric proportions. Mrs. Max surprised him by suggesting a budget over twice what he expected, which has opened up a massive range of possibilities – in fact, far too many possibilities, along with the added pressure of making sure that if he’s spending that much he gets the decision spot-on.
He now appears paralysed by indecision, which has left him wondering if this wasn’t Mrs. Max’s intent all along and if her motives were an act of deep, deep cunning, rather than great and sweeping benevolence. The longer he prevaricates and second-guesses himself, the more he seems to be leaning toward the former.
There was then only time then for the Prof to draw my attention to our FNG, vaping away contentedly pre-ride, emitting vast clouds of smoke like an enthusiastic, am-dram production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Rather unusual preparation for a bike ride, I thought, but each to their own.
I rode out with Red Max and learned the Monkey Butler Boy was off riding with his new club mates, following a carefully structured training programme from his two personal coaches and happily and unsurprisingly shunning the opportunity to ride with a bunch of wrinkly, old blokes. The Red Max suggested he was yet have an awkward, but unavoidable conversation with OGL about the change in club allegiances and the fact another of our youngsters was leaving in order to find proper support.
This is one of a number of fundamental issues that currently plague us, but for me is not quite as pressing, or as contentious as the unnecessary friction of trying to ride in one mass group and at a pace largely dictated by our slowest rider.
As well as proving a sizeable obstacle for any traffic trying to get around us, this practice is particularly chafing for anyone who has maintained any degree of activity throughout the winter and now find their rides curbed and constrained by those newly arisen from hibernation and still trying to find their legs.
We’ve suggested numerous times that we split into several, different-paced groups before we set out, but OGL seems fearful of losing control, or influence, or prestige … or who knows what. He then spends a good amount of the ride bellowing instructions to try and knock the pace back, as we inevitably become strung out and splintered. This I assume he finds as tiresome as everyone else, but who knows?
Today, it seems there was to be a tipping point and if we weren’t allowed to organise a sensible, pre-ride split, we could manufacture one on the road. Things started to kick-off when we pulled over for a Prof Pee and Pit Stop and an unknown, lone rider, completely unaffiliated with our club rode past and off down the road.
As we set off again, De Uitheems Bloem hit the front and, assuming the lone cyclist up ahead was the Red Max, upped the pace to try and reel him back in. I would later explain to our Dutch friend that he should have known it wasn’t Max as, although dressed in signature red, this rider wasn’t giggling hysterically. Meanwhile the real Red Max was lurking at a few wheels back, out of sight, uncharacteristically quiet and watching with interest.
The pace went up as we closed in on the lone rider and as we hit a few inclines the shouts behind began in earnest. Most of these were riddled with the kind of expletives that would make a sailor blush, but at least these bits were intelligible, the rest just sounded like a disturbed troupe of howler monkeys sounding off.
We caught and passed the lone rider, De Uitheems Bloem realising his mistake too late and more shouting and incoherent screaming followed us up a sharp rise. There was no collective decision, no predetermined plan, no verbal acknowledgment, but cold and wet and sick of being shouted at I think everyone simply decided they’d had enough.
“Ease up!” one last shout sounded out.
“What was that?” someone asked.
“Speed up?” someone suggested, so we did.
A group of maybe a dozen of us now broke clear. It had been a difficult gestation and birth, with much shouting and swearing, but a decisive split had been forced. Those behind now had the opportunity to regroup and continue at a pace they found comfortable, while those looking for something a little more strenuous could push on without further shrill, ear-piercing censure.
I had a brief chat with Taffy Steve about how our club needs reforming and mentioned the website and forum as a singular case in point. This is supposedly the one, sacrosanct, universal source of communication for all members to use. I asked Taffy Steve if he’d been on it recently – obviously not – so he hadn’t seen the state of the forum. Every page here has seemingly been hacked by someone spamming messages about running shoes, which the site admin have done nothing to remove. This suggests to me that the club website is unequivocally dead.
I nonetheless suggested it was worth checking out, as half way down the list of spam emails offering Nike Air Max shoes at unbelievable prices, Grover had started a new topic simply and succinctly titled “Crap” containing just the one heartfelt message:
“Came on the forum tonight to see if there was any info about the upcoming Sloane Trophy road race – can’t believe what utter balls is on every thread or subject, am I old and grumpy? I’ll have to speak to someone about the Sloane as I’m not coming on the forum again. See you all soon.”
This got Taffy Steve pondering if our in-house tech-fiend, Crazy Legs was behind the hack, sort of the Fancy Bear equivalent for amateur cycling clubs. I felt it unlikely, but couldn’t completely rule out the possibility.
We climbed up to Dyke Neuk, swooped down and then up through Mitford and, after a bit of prevarication and dithering, set sail for Middleton Bank.
I joined De Uitheems Bloem on the front, where we talked about population displacement caused by climate change and extreme weather, how this led to over-crowding, civil unrest and ultimately conflict and how everything was minutely and mutually interconnected. See, it’s not always just errant nonsense that dominates our conversation, although I admit that it does form the overwhelming bulk of what we talk about.
Biden Fecht, De Uitheems Bloem and Captain Black attacked up Middleton Bank and opened a sizeable lead. I pulled into the gap, before easing and dropping back to where Taffy Steve and Goose followed as we approached the top.
Once again, there was to be no regrouping after the climb and the chase to the café began. Taffy Steve was in unstoppable form and powered up the pursuit, while I hung onto his back wheel as long as I could, until the speed, combined with the uncomfortable bouncing and bumping across the rough road surface shook me loose.
Goose overtook me too and I let him go, suspecting I could close the gap, if not overhaul him completely on the last climb to the café.
Taffy Steve gloriously failed (just) to close down the front group, Goose and I swept past a detached and solitary OGL on the final climb and then we all bundled into the café, breathless, exhilarated and well deserving of cake and coffee.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Taffy Steve declared he has new work boots that make him feel like Miranda Hart whenever he pulls them on and almost compel him to re-enact Miranda-esque pratfalls. I never quite did discover what it was about the boots that impelled this strange behaviour.
This reminded Goose of the sheer horror of having to accompany his daughters to see Miranda live, as a fill-in after his wife had pulled a sickie. Here he found himself a lone, largely unamused and completely nonplussed male, in a room full of uproariously cackling women.
Nevertheless, I felt my horror story of having to endure a Jonas Brothers concert at the concrete toilet bowl that is the Metro Arena was much worse, especially as I was surrounded by thousands of pre-pubescent girls and also had to endure the dreadful, lip-synching support act of Little Mix.
“It doesn’t sound that bad.” Mini Miss ventured, obviously with far greater affinity for this kind of popular-music type thing than I could muster.
“What, two solid hours of solid screaming?” I asked.
“And that was just you.” Taffy Steve concluded, before suggesting I must have spent the night looking like the incarnation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
My tale reminded Goose of an unfortunate TV interview when the members of Little Mix had been asked what it was they most regretted about the past year. Not realising they were fully miked up, one had turned to another and muttered, far too clearly, “anal” for all the world and their adoring public to hear. Oops.
This led to a discussion about Dragon voice-to-text transcription software, which Taffy Steve suggested was too sensitive, as a colleague found out when his dictated board report included extracts from the two women behind his desk, who’d been actively discussing a severe case of chlamydia while he, well, beavered away shall we say?
To counter this, Goose was impressed by some worthy, pioneering research work at one university, which had taught a computer to lip-read. This I contrasted sharply with some profound research at my university that has … err … determined which dance moves men find the most sexually appealing …
Mini Miss was having problems with her Garmin, which kept losing its charge, although she said she kept it plugged in by the side of her bed at all times. I have to admit I was a bit confused about why she needed it in the bedroom, but had determined it was probably best not to look at her Strava profile.
She bravely surrendered the device to a couple of our tech-monkeys so they could vaguely prod and poke the screen to see if they could make it behave. I don’t think they made it any better, but they probably didn’t make it any worse either – and it did keep them quiet and occupied until it was time to leave.
I rode back chatting with Goose, while half-listening to a slightly uncomfortable conversation behind, where Red Max was explaining to OGL why the Monkey Butler Boy felt the need to join a club with kids his own age, structured and comprehensive training advice, involved coaching and (not to be underestimated) decent looking, modern kit.
I caught up with a thoroughly disgruntled OGL a little further on, complaining, “I think everyone must be on bloody EPO today!” I tried diplomatically to suggest he had to let it go, both actually and figuratively and that the club would not only survive, but could actually flourish if he was prepared to loosen control just a bit.
Then everyone was turning off and I entered the Mad Mile, with one of the young kids reprising the BFG role of escort for a short way, before I turned south for my solo ride home.
Apparently, the general disgruntlement carried over to Sunday’s ride and then resulted in the formation of a shadowy and covert cabal, the “Faster Rides Group”. There then followed a lot of behind the scenes manoeuvring, collusion, horse trading, secret negotiation, intense talking, pointed persuasion and maybe, who knows, hacking, extortion, sexting, bribery, wire-tapping, arm-twisting, fake news, air-guitars and Chinese burns. I’m ruling nothing out.
The result though, and it is a result, is that we now have faster ride groups officially sanctioned and organised for the next 4 Saturdays, with appointed group leaders and a plan to see how this works out for all involved.
YTD Totals: 1,228 km / 763 miles with 13,060 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 107 km/66 miles with 996 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed: 24.2 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Mild mannered
So, a year ends and mileage totals get set back to zero – it’s time to start all over again. I already feel like a begrudging Sisyphus trudging disconsolately back down the hill to pick up the boulder that’s once again slipped from my despairing grasp and rolled away.
A couple of sneaky rides on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, both days when my inner blogger was lying quietly supine and dormant, managed to pad my annual totals and I finished the year on 7,328km or 4,553 miles.
I’m quite surprised how high the total mileage was and I’d love to say that I achieved some pre-set target or goal, but to be honest I just take whatever opportunities to ride that come my way. I have a vague notion of trying to get better and stronger, faster and fitter, but just a consequence of enjoying my riding. If I miss a weekend I’m going to be grumpy because I missed a run, not because I’m now behind on some self-imposed schedule.
There’s no ultimate end game other than to stay healthy as long as I can – I don’t feel any kind of compulsion to ride just to accumulate miles, or reach some pre-determined benchmark. That just seems an empty and utterly joyless task for the more numbers obsessed amongst us (yes, you know who you are) – each to their own I guess, vive le difference and all that.
Still, I have to admit 4,500 miles does sound vaguely impressive to the uninitiated, who always seem more interested in how far I ride, rather than why. They might not be so impressed if they knew it involved 332 hours actually propelling a bike (and that’s not even taking into account all those hours sitting round talking bikes, or just cleaning and fixing the damn things … or even writing about them!)
332 hours equates to about 41 eight-hour long work days. Perhaps there’s something more productive I could be doing with my time on the planet … I just can’t think what.
From here 4,500 miles also seems like a long, long way off, starting the new year from ground zero, but at least I’d started making inroads with a couple of commutes on my return to work. Handy, if only to start chipping away at the excess couple of pounds brought on by wine, wallowing and wanton wassailing.
My “off the record” ride on Christmas Eve had been somewhat ruined by another series of front wheel punctures that finally convinced me to discard my somewhat aged, but still decent looking Fulcrum wheel for good. It’s now in disgrace, lying, shunned and quietly mouldering in the darkest corner of the shed, stripped of tyre and inner tube. Even after careful, forensic inspection, I still have no idea why it was causing so many punctures. Hopefully they’ll now return to being an occasional, unwelcome interruption rather than an overwhelming expectation.
The New Year’s Eve ride was lashed by the tail end of Storm Barbara and ended up longer than planned, when we found our usual café closed and a handful of us back-tracked to find an alternative. After leaving the group, my solo ride home had proven to be a trial of strength against an increasingly enfeebling headwind. I lost. Badly, finally dragging myself to the top of the Heinous Hill some 20 minutes past my usual arrival time and utterly exhausted. Who’d have thought air could be so hard to push through?
Still, while I felt unlucky, it could have been a lot worse, a number of our group had come to grief with a multiple pile-up on black ice during a midweek holiday ride, leaving behind numerous contusions and several broken bikes and bodies. Worst affected seemed to be Andeven, who looks like being out for a couple of months with a fractured pelvis.
So, what has 2017 got in store and more importantly how was the first club run of the year going to measure up? Well, the start was certainly promising, the temperature nudging toward double figures and the wind no more than a cooling breeze.
I made decent time across to the meeting place and rolled up before everyone else, parked the bike up and settled in to see how many would be tempted out by the unusually mild weather.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
The Garrulous Kid was the first to show and I learned he’d gone down in the mass tumble and needed a new rear wheel, cassette and derailleur. He was also working through his own crash demons and suffering from a crisis of confidence, convinced that his rear wheel was constantly threatening to slip out from under him.
I had a look at the Bontrager tyres his LBS had fitted, but I’m not at all familiar with them, so didn’t know if they were particularly good or bad in terms of grip. He didn’t know how much pressure there was in them, but the rear one felt a bit hard and unforgiving to my extremely unscientific thumb-prodding, so I suggested he let a little air out to see if that would improve their handling.
He asked Crazy Legs what he thought and he made to prod the tyre and then – whoosh, let his hand quickly slide off.
“Did you see that!” he exclaimed, “They’re slippery.” Oh dear, this wasn’t helping.
The Garrulous Kid was wondering who else he could ask and someone suggested the BFG.
“Who’s the BFG?” he asked, bewildered.
“The Big Friendly Giant.” someone explained helpfully.
“Although he’s not really all that big.” Taffy Steve added.
“And not at all friendly.” I had to concede.
Speaking of big, Plumose Pappus rolled up for one last club ride before returning to university and complaining he’d over-indulged over Christmas, eaten far too many mince pies and his weight had ballooned – starting to inch, albeit with glacial slowness towards a mighty … 50 kilos! (Or, in Plumose Pappus world, positively obese.)
The Garrulous Kid turned to Taffy Steve and, with either carefully calculated display of arch-deviousness, or (much more likely) completely blissful naivety, innocently asked:
“Steve, did you eat too many mince pies as well?”
Moving swiftly on…
The Red Max confessed to having been lured in by the post-Christmas sales and had bought both himself and the Monkey Butler Boy matching wheelsets. Ah, nice…
Meanwhile, just before we set out OGL fielded a call, which I suggested was from the British Antarctic Survey, warning of dire weather heading our way, but at least for today we could set out safe in the knowledge there was absolutely zero chance of encountering any ice, even in the deepest, darkest depths of rural Northumberland.
The mild weather had indeed attracted a bumper crop out and almost 30 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out. As we got underway, Sneaky Pete sneaked out and directly onto the back of our group. I could only congratulate him on his masterful timing.
Sadly, for the rest of us timing was not so good and we got caught by the first set of traffic lights, having to chase on for the first mile or so. Not the best start to a ride when all you wanted to do was tuck onto someone else’s wheel and shelter at the back for a while.
Today was to prove to be a day of losses. First Taffy Steve lost a light which uncoupled from his frame and went bouncing away, forcing him to drop back to retrieve it. I then caught Son of G-Dawg, riding against the flow and back-tracking, looking for what I’m fairly sure he said was a missing brake block.
Next up the Red Max lost his rag with a taxi-driving RIM, who objected to the fact that we didn’t immediately pull over to the side of a narrow lane and doff our caps, while he thundered past at dangerously high speed.
In the sudden scrum of braking cyclists caused by the taxi, the Garrulous Kid lost his balance and toppled over.
Then Mini Miss lost the plot and stopped in the middle of the road halfway up a steep climb. Nobody seems to know why, including her, but it briefly caused utter chaos and much swerving and jinking around her stationery bike.
The biggest loss of the day though was reserved for the Garrulous Kid, who completely lost his mojo on the swooping descent just before the steep clamber up to Hartburn, plagued by the demons of last week’s group crash and convinced his tyres had been polished smooth and then liberally coated in grease.
Just before the sharp plunge down, he energetically bailed out, riding off the road and up a steeply banked verge, narrowly missing Crazy Legs and somehow managing to keep himself upright on the adverse camber of the muddy, gravel and leaf strewn strip.
He waited for the road to clear of cyclists before gingerly picking his way down at an exaggerated crawl, almost coming to a standstill at the bottom and losing all momentum before having to drag himself up the other side.
Rab Dee dropped back with him for a bit of mid-ride coaching and policing, while the rest of us pushed on.
This show of forthright confidence, whether misplaced or not, impressed Crazy Legs, who decided Carlton deserved a new moniker to reflect his bravura assertiveness. He first tried out “The Dormanator” before discarding this and finally settling on “The Dormanatrix.” He then totally ruined the intended effect by declaring the name immediately conjured up images of Alan Partridge prancing about in leather S&M shorts.
Nevertheless, Middleton Bank it was – and as we approached, Bydand Fecht pushed up the pace and a small group went clear at the front. I coasted to the bottom of the hill, dropping back through the group until the slope began to bite and then pushing up the outside. As I approached the top, I had Goose for company, riding audibly up the inside gutter and puffing away like Ivor the Engine under heavy load.
At the crest I eased and dropped back, waiting for the rest to regroup and we slowly got ourselves organised to begin chasing the bunch up front who’d decided not to wait. Sneaky Pete pushed the pace up, before swinging over and declaring himself done. Our efforts became a little ragged as Carlton the Dormanatrix and Taffy Steve then vied for the lead before we hit Milestone Woods, with Crazy Legs pulling us up and over the rollers.
As we tipped down before the final climb, Taffy Steve whirred past inviting me onto his wheel with a, “Hang on and I’ll drop like a stone.”
We were closing on the front group as we hit the slopes of the last climb and I returned the favour, pushing past Taffy Steve and suggesting he grab onto my wheel, “and I’ll climb like a washing-machine!”
As we hit the final uphill push, Crazy Legs whirred off the front in a brave, but ultimately futile attempt to bridge to the front group, while Sneaky Pete sneaked off my back wheel to pip me on the line.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I caught up with Crazy Legs in the café queue and overheard him closing a conversation with the immortal phrase, “It’s immaterial”
“Ah,” I interjected, “A Gigantic Raft in the Philippines?”
He looked at me blankly
“A Gigantic Raft in the Philippines – It’s Immaterial. You know – Driving Away from Home.”
“Ah, thirty miles or more”
“That’s the one.”
“A whole thirty miles, eh? Woah!”
He was then served by a waitress whose hair had been green the previous week, blue the week before and had transitioned through various shades of orange to a more natural auburn colour. I left him proposing a weekly sweepstake where we’d try to guess her hair colour and trying to negotiate a deal, whereby she’d feed him the information he needed to win every week.
The Driving Away from Home pop-reference led to discussions about Milli Vanilli, surprisingly dead in a car crash with their wives according to Crazy Legs, more surprised that they had wives, than the fact they died in an automobile accident. This led to the sad acknowledgement of the much greater loss to music, that of Colin Vearncombe, a.k.a. Black, who died after a car crash in Ireland late last year.
[For those of you actually managing to keep up at the back, my Google skills suggest that despite Crazy Legs’s assertions, only one member of Milli Vanilli, Rob Pilatus is no longer with us and his death was the result of overdosing on pills and alcohol. I can only assume he wasn’t driving a car at the time – either with or without a wife.]
Penelope Pitstop described the extreme opprobrium heaped on her head by her own offspring, after she’d shown them around her office and dared describe it as “the bomb.” I empathised, mentioning how my own eldest, had threatened to disown me for suggesting she was “a crease”. Apparently appropriation of urban slang by the over 50’s is neither dope, nor bangin’. Word.
A discussion about ridiculous names harkened back to an earlier conversation, where we all endorsed the Natty Gnat’s call for an official list of acceptable names to prevent stupid parents saddling their off-spring with criminally ridiculous monikers. Particular ire today was reserved for numerous Celtic names, with incomprehensible spellings, Niamh, Siobhan, Aoife, Oisin et al.
In a discussion about winter tyres, Crazy Legs’s recommendation was to find out what I was riding and simply avoid buying anything similar. He then described how he himself had a spate of blow-outs before discovering his track pump was calibrated so that 40 PSI showed as zero on the dial. Apparently riding tyres at 160 PSI is not conducive to inner tube longevity.
Finally, he declared that the Quote of the Year award had already been won, even at such an early date, with Taffy Steve’s observation that “It took Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator less than an hour to develop self-awareness, but the Prof ‘s still working on it after 55 years.”
The ride home was largely without note, although we were passed by a grim faced rider whose face was so black and begrimed that he looked like he’d just completed Paris-Roubaix in the most adverse weather imaginable, or, as Bydand Fecht suggested, spent a Saturday club run riding behind G-Dawg, who thinks mudguards are only for sissy’s.
I made it home in decent time, feeling comfortably tired, rather than utterly exhausted and with both tyres and tubes fully intact.
Not a bad start after all.
YTD Totals: 147 km / 91 miles with 1,727 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 112 km/70 miles with 1,000 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 17 minutes
Average Speed: 26.0 km/h
Group size: 33 riders, 5 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Splendid
Main topic of conversation at the start:
I arrived at the meeting point to find a glowering BFG being warily circled by a couple of FNG’s who were keeping their distance and not daring to approach until I arrived to show them he was actually quite harmless.
Just to be contrary the BFG has resorted to type and was once again out on something venerable and vintage and made of steel. He’d even thought about adding a fake nut to the top of his stem just to see if he could inspire OGL to once again tell us the tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on one during a track meet. It’s a tale that never grows old in the telling…
Crazy Legs’s 39 days must have been up as he appeared sporting his new, faithfully and painstakingly reproduced Oakley Jawbreakers. Very smart. Attracted by the spectacle(s) the Prof then emerged through a milling crowd of cyclists to give him a hug – seemingly one of many that would take place throughout the day.
The Prof then stopped by to acknowledge how much he looks forward to his mentions in this humble blog. He is of course one of the more frequently featured characters, though trailing a somewhat distant second to his tiny, leaky bladder.
OGL arrived and dipped his head to fully reveal his new helmet, emblazoned with the club name across the top. What next, custom mudguards in club colours? Where will it end?
He then proceeded to have a bizarre conversation with one of the FNG’s when she stepped forward to introduce herself:
“You phoned me last Wednesday?”
“Err, no I e-mailed you last week”
“But you texted me yesterday?”
“Err, no I emailed last week”
“So was it you who messaged me on Facebook?”
“Err, no …”
Oh well, she passed the first test – showing patience and empathy for the infirm and senile.
One of the other FNG’s was having trouble with his bike, which was laid supine as he did something indescribable to the seat post. For one dread moment I thought we were going to be accompanied all the way around by someone else insisting that you don’t need a saddle, but thankfully he finally had it sorted.
His girlfriend cheerfully informed us they’d ridden across the Alps together, but that was two years ago and they hadn’t done a lot since. I assured her we wouldn’t be tackling any Alps today, but had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to end well.
The boyfriend had a decent enough bike and seemed to know his way around an Allen key, but rather oddly was wearing white football shorts over his bibshorts and had his helmet on at a rather odd, rakish angle. Maybe it’s incipient OCD or something, but I have to admit the latter is something I just can’t abide – I often have to adjust Crazy Legs’s helmet at the café so it sits just right before I’ll let him be seen out in public with us.
We were doing that usual cyclist trick of spilling aimlessly across the entire pavement, engrossed in waves of endless, nonsensical banter and completely oblivious to the fact that bikes and bodies had formed a rather formidable and impenetrable maze.
One old biddy was having trouble threading her way amongst us with her wheeled shopping bag until Richard of Flanders emitted an ear-drum shattering bellow that shocked us into silence and had us parting like the Red Sea.
Unfortunately, his aural assault caused the old biddy to almost leap out of her skin with fright and when she clutched at her chest and wavered I thought she was going to have a heart attack and topple head first into the shopping trolley. Luckily she recovered and casting fearful looks at us all scuttled away as quickly as she could manage.
Crazy Legs was left to ponder if the shock had been fatal whether we would have sprayed her shopping trolley white and chained it to a nearby lamppost like one of those Ghost Bikes left as a memorial to killed and injured cyclists.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Taffy Steve was out on his titanium love-child and declared the thrice-cursed winter bike had been put into deep storage for the rest of the year, having first removed the pedals in case they seized up. He then suggested he hadn’t loosened the seat clamp because he didn’t really care if the seat tube seized in the frame, reasoning that he’d stopped growing, so couldn’t foresee a need to alter his riding position.
G-Dawg wondered if a seized seat tube meant you could totally remove the clamp and save few crucial micrograms, then remembered a recent run where a malfunctioning clamp saw a saddle slowly sink lower and lower until the rider was pedalling with his knees around his ears. Not a good idea then.
Thoughts turned to the round-ball game as notable local events were somewhat dominated by the conviction of Adam Johnson and the appointment of Rafael Benitez. No one quite knew which one had drawn the worst sentence.
Someone even suggested that Mr. Johnson was likely to be the happier of the two as he would now be referred to as Adam Johnson the paedophile rather than Adam Johnson the Sunderland player. Ouch.
Everyone was baffled by Rafa citing being close to his family as a reason for venturing back to “Northern England” and surprisingly it wasn’t the fact that we actually consider Liverpool be in the South that caused the confusion. What was troubling was that Rafael Benitez, well-travelled, urbane and international football manager at the likes of Madrid, Tenerife, Valencia, Naples and Milan, chose to leave his family in Liverpool. We wondered if he’d consider Wallsend or possibly Byker as a suitable place for future re-location.
Thoughts turned to much more engaging and worthwhile sporting endeavours with the Classics just around the corner and both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in full swing. Thinking of the latter, Shoeless demanded to know what the “big, fuck-off pointy pitchfork thing” was all about.
Spry, something of an expert on esoteric cycling trophies as highlighted by a page of his blog (The Weird and Wonderful World of Cycling Trophies funnily enough) patiently explained that it was representative of Neptune’s trident as the Tirreno-Adriatico was a race run between the two seas. We then speculated on how the race could be improved if the leading rider was made to carry the trident along with them.
It was a short step from there to imagining a handicap system where riders were obliged to carry the trophies of their previous conquests, something that would be particularly debilitating for Fabian Cancellara and we imagined him bent almost double and shuffling awkwardly to the Paris-Roubaix sign-on, burdened down with the three huge cobble-stones stuffed in his back pockets.
Next up on our agenda for searing insight and erudite comment was Paris-Nice and the chances of Geraint Thomas taking an historic first win, always recognising of course his penchant for falling off his bike at the most inopportune time. Someone mentioned he’d crashed once already, apparently while trying to dislodge a stone caught between his saddle and frame. Fanciful I know, but it was a short step from there to imagining a smug and smiling Fabian Cancellara riding behind him and winking at the camera, happy to have used his astonishing sleight of hand to palm one of his cobblestones off on an unwitting dupe.
The Prof stopped by our table on his way to the toilet, pausing long enough for a quick hug with Crazy Legs. Taffy Steve suggested their homo-erotic displays were becoming a bit much and suggested they might want to think about getting a room. He then ventured to suggest a bit of prostate milking might actually help with the Prof’s constant urge to wee.
At this point OGL approached, snapping on a pair of latex surgical gloves and we all recoiled in horror at what we thought was about to unfold. Much to our relief he neatly side-stepped our table and began to work fixing a puncture on Laurelan’s bike.
Needless to say the Prof claimed the discarded inner tube to add to his growing treasure trove of cast-off bits and pieces and road-kill. OGL recounted visiting the Prof’s secret laboratory/workshop/lair and finding rows and rows of used inner tubes all bizarrely hanging out to dry on the washing line.
So, who the fuck is Zakaria Amirouch?
Actually that’s a bit of a rhetorical question, I know that Zakaria Amairouch is a cyclist in Tetouan, Morocco. I guess what I really want to know is why does he feel the need to post his rides on our club Strava group? As far as I know Zakaria Amarouch has no connection with the club, has never been to the North East, doesn’t ride the same routes as the rest of us and doesn’t choose to interact with us in any way shape or form, either through Strava or any other channel.
So what exactly does he get out of it? Are we meant to be impressed by his mileage totals, huge rides, stupid photos, KoM’s or his single-minded, some would say borderline psychotic dedication to hunt down and join every single Strava group that exists? Do me a favour Zakaria and fuck off.
Sorry, rant over.
So the much anticipated day arrived, Spring is upon us and the promise of fine dry weather has riders across the region rubbing their hands with unfettered glee as they stow away winter bikes and carefully awaken carbon beasts from deep slumber.
As I gently lift Reg out from his nest between my single-speed and rat-bag mountain bike I can only marvel at how light it is. Don’t get me wrong this is no super-lightweight, fully carbon-outfitted, uber-machine with all the most exotic components. Nor is it anywhere close to troubling the UCI and their preposterous 6.8kg weight limit, but at bang on 9 kilos fully loaded it’s considerably and very noticeably lighter than the Peugeot.
I’d checked the bike over the night before, inflated the tyres with a new, super-slick BBB track pump, and fitted a mount for my knock-off GoPro onto the saddle rails. I was good to go and eager to start.
I’d forgotten how much fun it is to ride on a twitchy, responsive carbon blade and as I dropped down to the valley floor I found I was clipping along two miles an hour faster than usual, stretched out by the different geometry and grinning like an idiot. I don’t think the bike is actually worth an extra 2 miles an hour, I was simply riding on a wave of pure exuberance and joie d’ vivre.
Even the lights on the bridge were in my favour and I skipped over the river without stopping and began spinning up the other side of the valley, looking forward to a good ride out. I wasn’t alone at the meeting place, finding just about everyone had abandoned mudguards and heavy winter bikes in favour of their “Saturday best”.
G-Dawg even turned up wearing shorts, resolutely declaring it was Spring and there was no turning back now.
The relatively mild and dry conditions had undoubtedly been a big draw and around 33 riders and a smattering of FNG’s pushed off, clipped in and rode out. At this point the BFG rolled past me and declared he thought he’d seen everything, but this was the first time we’d had a bike with a kickstand out on the club run.
I fell in with the Prof who informed me the Frankenbike, my old crashed and trashed Focus that he had repaired and restored to life in his secret laboratory/lair/workshop, was being honourably retired from service now that he’d found a frame that was a better fit for Mrs. Prof.
He then revealed his dirtiest, darkest secret, admitting he would consider buying a bike with normal sized wheels if he could only find one that increased in value rather than depreciated. Despite my uncertainty he seemed convinced such bikes exist, although even if they do I’m not sure that appreciating value would be one of my major (or even very, very minor) considerations when buying a new bike.
Somewhere around this point I hit a pot and with a loud clatter my pretend GoPro launched from under my saddle and bounced alarmingly across the road. The FNG in football shorts retrieved it for me and handed it across. A quick check seemed to suggest that it was as shockproof as claimed, but the retaining bolt that kept it fixed to the bracket had worked loose and disappeared. There was no quick way of fixing the camera back in position, so I tucked it away into a back pocket and pressed on. It’s a shame, because I was quite impressed with some of the backward facing shots I had managed to gather in the short time it was working.
I then began what would become the first of many chases to catch back onto our group. Having accomplished this, I found myself slotting in right at the back, where Pierre Rolland look-alike, Spry (not facially, but I can see a definite similarity in style and form on the bike), was cruising along with his dad, Andeven.
As we hit the bottom of Berwick Hill, the FNG accompanying the one in football shorts began to slide swiftly backwards and I watched as a gap between the front and back of our group yawned quickly open.
Andeven skipped around her and gave chase, while I waited a little longer. When it became obvious that even if she made it back up to our group she’d never complete the ride, I pulled out and started my own chase back.
As I closed over the top of the hill I passed a faltering Arnold who said he was doing ok and then found Laurelan who was somewhat detached from our group and drifting backwards. She said she was ok too, but was worried about Arnold who, despite his assertions wasn’t ok and wasn’t feeling all that good.
I noticed OGL dropping back off the front group to see what was happening, so relayed across to him to let him know the FNG’s were well adrift and Arnold was suffering. He went back to investigate further and lend assistance while I gave chase again.
Catching up with the group, I found myself riding alongside Zardoz who was fighting to stave off the incipient onset of serious man flu and reported that someone had broken into his shed and nicked his winter bike. Both perhaps valid reasons for Crazy Legs to declare that Zardoz was the angriest man riding that day, especially after an altercation with a RIM who refused to slow down as he drove toward us down a narrow country lane
This encounter had Zardoz’s moustaches brisling like a face-off between angry tomcats and had him swearing through them with an admirable degree of fluidity and imagination. Gone was the mask of twinkle-eyed, avuncular, bon homie he usually adopts – here was the real cold-hearted cycling assassin revealed in all his dark majesty.
At some point OGL hauled ass past me, breathing hard, but able to gasp out that there’d been no sight of the FNG’s when he went back to look for them and that they must have abandoned the ride. At the rather inevitable pee stop I found that both Laurelan and Arnold had managed to re-join however and did indeed seem ok.
After this short break I found myself riding with Crazy Legs, who like Zardoz was also suffering from incipient man-flu and blaming his infection on sitting next to a 6’4” Irish Elvis impersonator during a business meeting. From my understanding the Elvis impersonator was an all-round good bloke who had been skilled enough at his craft to get a paying gig in Las Vegas. I never did work out what an IT firm needed an Elvis impersonator for though.
As we started up a steep hill behind the BFG, there was an audible hiss of escaping air and Crazy Legs called out, “Puncture!” The BFG dutifully relayed the call up the line, then turned to ask who’d punctured. I could see Crazy Legs giving himself a mental face-palm as he pointed to the BFG’s rear tyre and replied with a sparse, “You have…”
We all gathered together at the top of the hill to wait for repairs to be made. OGL decided that we should split the group and that depending on which group the BFG wanted to ride with the others could press on while the rest waited.
Crazy Legs trailed down the hill to ask the question and then dragged himself back up to inform us the BFG had said he would decide when he re-joined!
Finally underway again, we began travelling down a road where all the potholes had been marked with big yellow brackets spay-painted around them. I assume this means that they’re eventually going to repair the road, but even if they don’t the paint did a great job of showing us which bits to avoid.
The Red Max went off on what, even by his own crazed standards, was an impressively long and very ambitious lone break. At one point Spry said he was thinking of bridging across so the pair could work together, then realised we were bearing down on Middleton Bank and Red Max would soon be engulfed in an unequal duel with gravity and unlikely to be in position to offer much assistance.
Despite the daunting obstacle of the climb to come, Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril seemed determined to bring Max to heel sooner rather than later and whipped up the pace of the pursuit.
We turned right at a junction that dumped us directly onto the bottom of the climb, which was good as there was no time to even think about finding the right gear and less chance of making a mess of things like I did the week before.
Andeven attacked from the very bottom of the climb and quickly pulled away, while I slotted in behind Shoeless as the slope began to bite. As we hit the steepest section I levered myself out of the saddle and swung across the white line, accelerating upwards. Bit by bit I overhauled Shoeless and started to creep past G-Dawg. There was a shout of “car!” from someone at the back and I looked behind to find I’d opened up a big enough gap to slot into, so I swung back across the road and out of danger.
It was now just a case of keeping going, as I slumped back in the saddle, hugging the left hand gutter so there was plenty of room for anyone to pass me. I had no idea what was going on behind, or where the others were and couldn’t hear a thing beyond my rasping, panting breath. I was gasping like an asthmatic chain-smoker with emphysema being forced to run wind sprints up a mountain and it would took another 2 or 3 miles before my breathing returned to normal.
I was however slowly closing on Andeven and might have caught his back wheel if the slope had continued another 200 metres or so. It’s also just as likely I would have collapsed in a jelly-legged heap if the slope had continued another 200 metres or so, as it was the road levelled and Andeven pulled away again.
At this point I just kept going, recognising I was breaking club protocol by not waiting to regroup at the top of the climb, but reasoning that I was so winded and slow that everyone would overhaul me eventually. Then Shoeless cruised past, I jumped onto his wheel and all thoughts of regrouping were conveniently forgotten as he accelerated away – when confronted by my misdeeds age, enfeeblement and senility have been my excuse in the past and I was sure they would serve me again now.
We picked up Andeven and from what I recall G-Dawg, Plank and Captain Black made it across as we drove for home in front of what I gather was a rather frenzied chase behind. Everyone in the front group swept past me on the final climb, but after blowing last week’s assault on Middleton Bank I was just pleased not to have messed up again and as an added bonus managed to net a new Strava PR for my efforts.
It was pleasant enough for us to encamp in the café garden, with everyone (well, maybe all apart from Zardoz) in high spirits, on top form and full of the usual unfettered, unrelenting torrent of irreverent banter to keep us royally entertained.
A pleasant return leg, mainly spent chatting with Zardoz (he didn’t really seem all that angry) and a good solo run for home capped the best ride of the year.
YTD Totals: 1,326 km /824 miles with 13,346 metres of climbing