Saturday found me up and out early for, barring catastrophic bike failure, an early rendezvous with Crazy Legs to hand over his new long-sleeved jersey. This item was rolled into a tight cylinder and stuck into a jersey pocket, taking up so much room that I couldn’t fit a light rain jacket in there too, so decided just to wear it for the ride across to the meeting point. As soon as started to pick up momentum, running down the Heinous Hill, I was glad I had the jacket on, it was much, much colder than it had first appeared and I shivered my way to the bottom.
I made it to the rendezvous with time to spare and perched my backside on the wall, soaking in some early morning sun that, in the microclimate of the Regent Centre Bus Station (sorry) Transport Interchange, at least managed to take the edge off the chill.
Being there early for ulterior motives, both Crazy Legs and I had the pleasure of once again meeting up with our lost brethren of the new splinter cell, the Judean People’s Front, as I think they want to be known. Only half a dozen strong this week and conspicuously sans the Prof.
Crazy Legs referenced a previous splinter cell, the Early Morning Crew, or Ee-Em-Cee and suggested the new rebels could do a lot worse than calling themselves EMC2. I laughed, but they weren’t buying. Oh well, at least it gave me an agreeable Big Audio Dynamite earworm for the rest of the ride.
We then had a bit of an issue explaining to an old new guy, or maybe he was a new old guy? Perhaps a bit of both, exactly what was going on. He apparently used to ride with the club many, many years ago, but had since moved to Scotland. Now back to visit relatives, he’d thought to once again share our ride for old times sake. I’m sure none of these shenanigans came as a particular surprise to him as I’m pretty certain our club politics haven’t evolved at all in the years he’s been absent.
It wasn’t long before we had a group of 20 plus stacked up, including Szell, uncharacteristically breaking his winter hibernation and no doubt supremely disappointed to learn that his his bête noire, Middleton Bank, wasn’t on our route as we’d ridden it last week.
With bikes and bodies stacking up, Crazy Legs chivvied together the semblance of a medium-paced group and we got out of Dodge while the gotting was good.
I joined Crazy Legs, along with Aether, persistent new guy, James III, Taffy Steve, the old new guy and another new guy. There were 7 of us, but who’s counting. A bit further along and while paused at traffic lights, yet another rider tagged onto our group and rounded our number up to eight. Well, if we were going to break the rule of six, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.
The interloper would prove good company and we spent a while talking about and admiring his smart, steel-framed (and eye-wateringly expensive) Jaegher Interceptor, apparently Tom Boonen’s bike of choice these days.
Things were going smoothly until one of either Aether or Crazy Legs had a brain fart. One of them went right at a roundabout, the other ploughed straight on and they came together like the bouncing balls of a Newton’s Cradle, or Clackers, if you can remember that far back, bumping together and rebounding violently away again. Luckily both managed to remained upright until they regained control and we pressed on somewhat chastened.
Slight amendments to the route due to road works had us travelling through Ponteland and then up Limestone Lane. Another of our groups caught and passed us just before the junction, where they swung right, while we kept to the planned route and turned left.
We passed them again, just past Stamfordham, heading in completely the wrong direction, and then once again travelling back from the Ryals as we followed the correct route toward them.
“Are they lost, do you think?” Crazy Legs pondered.
“Probably looking at the route map upside down,” Aether chuckled.
We zipped down the Ryals then clambered back through Hallington, where the wet roads suggested we missed a heavy rain shower and provided all the vindication Crazy Legs needed to affirm his decision not to ride the much cossetted Ribble was justified.
We then took the run along the fell side toward Capheaton, with one last, sharp climb to set us us up for the long, fast and slightly downhill run to the café at Belsay. As we swung onto this road we passed Homeboy, out for a ride with a colleague and briefly paused at the side of the road. Crazy Legs directed what was intended as a comradely pat on the back toward Homeboy, but increasing momentum and inaccuracy turned it into a full force rabbit punch to the kidney’s. Ouch, that had to smart.
Rattling along beside Crazy Legs in Taffy Steve’s wake, with the speed slowly building, he nodded his head forward at the muscular exertions going on in front of him.
“He’s going to go for it,” he predicted.
“Definitely,” I agreed, “Now all the pesky hills are out of the way.”
Sure enough it wasn’t long before Taffy Steve jumped away, Crazy Legs responding immediately, the pair quickly opening up a sizable gap.
I tried towing the rest across, but it was hard going and into a headwind and momentum died before the catch was made. Luckily the Interloper swished past, I dropped onto his wheel and we finally bridged over. Past the West Belsay junction and Taffy Steve jumped again, I hauled myself around Crazy Legs and jumped out of the saddle, slowly winding him in, until he faded and I scooted past, only for the old new guy sprang out from where he’d been sheltering on my wheel and nab the glory.
Queuing in a socially distanced sort of way outside the café, we got talking to the 4-Mile FNG and learned he was a both a Texan and in the UK teaching psychology (not that the two are in anyway mutually exclusive.)
Taffy Steve recalled having an office next to the Psychology department on one university campus and how this was when he realised Estate Manager’s could have a sense of humour, when they stuck a big sign up saying, “This Building is Alarmed.”
We talked race positioning and saving energy when the FNG returned, citing Zardoz for our master-class group, Zardoz, while the 4-Mile FNG lauded various Dutch women for perfect positioning in sprint finishes. He didn’t know there names but he was sure there were several van-something-or-other’s in their number.
“Of course,” OGL interjected, “the best sprinters of all time were Dutch…” Barely pausing before adding, “Hertz van Rental and Avis van Hire.”
Once again G-Dawg had pressed Mrs. G-Dawg into providing taxi service to the café so he didn’t feel too left out of proceedings. He reported that he has new wheels, but I don’t think his NHS cast iron wheelchair is quite up for a club run. Nevertheless, it has allowed him some opportunity to take his two Labradors for their required walks. I had visions of them pulling him along at speed, like Ben Hur in his chariot, but he said the reality was that if he wanted to head north, then one would always run off due east, while the other headed directly west. Sounds like they’re as difficult to control as a bunch of cyclists.
It was cold in the café garden and even colder back out on the road again and halfway to Ogle we were caught in a sudden, sharp shower, just prolonged enough to soak everything and leave us even more chilled. With Crazy Legs complaining about his frozen face, we moved onto the the front on the climb of Berwick Hill and pushed the pace to try and warm up.
We were still there and it was almost working by the time we’d clawed our way past the airport and had thankfully stopped raining by the time I’d pushed on through the Mad Mile and gone solo.
Conditions improved and it was a relatively pleasant ride back, climbing up the Heinous Hill with just a little more energy than usual and finding I’d clocked up over 110km.
While emptying out my pockets I noticed I had a missed call from Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Co. They’d managed to extricate enough of the carbon fibre seatpost on the Holdsworth to get a new one safely installed and now just needed a saddle so they could check and cut the replacement seatpost to size. Bugger. Oh well, no time like the present, so I grabbed the saddle, stuffed it in my back pocket and headed out again. I remounted the bike and dropped back down the Heinous Hill to the workshop at Pedalling Squares, not really looking forward to the prospect of climbing it twice in one day.
By pure chance, the replacement seatpost proved to be exactly the right height, so no cutting was needed and so I now have two serviceable good weather bikes and a shed that is getting uncomfortably crowded. Something will have to go.
Internet oddity of the week was a report in multiple newspapers that Safari park baboons had been armed with knives, screwdrivers and a chainsaw, with keepers suspecting pranksters had tooled up the simians so they could damage visitors’ cars ‘for a laugh’
The best quote from Knowsley Safari Park claimed their park was “just as safe as a McDonalds drive-thru.” Hmm, not tremendously reassuring.
Well, the Met Office confirmed Friday was third hottest day on record in the UK as temperatures reached almost 38℃ “doon sooth” and they weren’t too shabby “oop north” either. Not the best when you’re too pre-occupied with work to step out, but a few of my luckier clubmates managed to enjoy long rides in the sun. Still, even as temperatures began to drop from their record highs, it seemed like things would be just fine for Saturday and so it proved.
In fact it was a very bright early start to the day that slowly started to cloud over, but still a perfectly warm and pleasant for a bit of free-range bikling -and we were even graced by the occasional burst of bright sunshine.
Jimmy Mac had prepared one of those cunning routes that took a tried and tested club run and reversed it, providing something novel that was a bewildering and disorientating surprise and yet at the same time oddly familiar – a sort of collective bike ride powered by déjà vu.
It was also a route that proved fast, flat and fun, lacking any signature big hills, to such an extent that I only just topped a 1,000 metres of climbing for the entire day.
I’d arrived at the meeting point early to find the a newly chunky, Monkey Butler Boy had emerged from a long period of aestevation, complete with a brand new pair of aero-socks, which he claimed would save him an additional 4 watts of energy, before adding the small print, sotto voce: if he could somehow manage to ride at 40kph for 45 minutes. Somehow, I didn’t think it would be enough of an advantage for him to survive the ride after neglecting the bike for so long.
As one young ‘un returned, another prepared to depart, this being the last ride of the Garrulous Kid before his return to university. Still, there was one final opportunity for G-Dawg to carry out an impromptu chain inspection. It was no great surprise to anyone when the Garrulous Kid failed the test and G-Dawg spent the rest of the ride with a pore-deep, grungy black smear indelibly tattooed into his thumb pad. It’ll probably still be there when the Kid returns at Christmas.
Captain Black arrived on a different bike, a new Trek to replace his old Trek, the somewhat bipolar, “Old Faithful” or “Twatty MacTwat Face” the name being very much dependent upon how its riders legs were feeling at any given moment. The new bike has in-built vibration dampening and fat 32mm tyres, promising a plush ride, even on the worst of Northumberland’s disintegrating roads.
Once again there were 25 or so riders at the start and we left in groups of six. This time I formed part of the rear-guard, the last group out alongside Captain Black, Big Dunc, Benedict, OGL and Carlton. Suffering from hay-fever, OGL stayed with us until Bolam Lake before bailing to head to the cafe at Belsay, while the rest of us started the route reversal portion of the planned ride.
Around 40km into the ride and approaching a downhill run of Middleton Bank, we caught a glimpse of the next group on the road and began closing. Benedict took a timeout to attend to a call of nature and the rest of us eased onto the climb up to Scots Gap, letting the group ahead pull out a bigger lead until they were safely out of sight again.
We regathered and pushed on, the wrong way through the swoop and dip past Hartburn and then flicking left and right at speed through the bends passing Dyke Neuk, the building on our right instead of the usual left, all the while gathering pace as we went.
By the time we were running through Mitford we’d caught and latched onto the group ahead. This was a problem as we were now travelling in a pack of more than six, but much more importantly, it put would put us at the back of the queue when we reached the cafe at Kirkley.
The overwhelming majority (well, all but one of us, truth be told) seem to have adopted Kirkley as our ordained coffee stop, primarily because it has such a massive outside seating area, with plenty of space for social distancing. On the downside, service is glacially slow and it gets very busy.
Captain Black had a quick consult with the rest of our group and gave me the nod, Carlton and Big Dunc seemed happy to hang back, but the rest of us had permission to push on.
I waited until we hit the climb out of Mitford, before running down the outside of the group and accelerating away, with Captain Black and Benedict in close attendance. By the top of the climb we had a workable lead and it was just a case of maintaining the gap as we closed on the cafe for a bit of sneaky, unadulterated queue jumping.
Safely at Kirkley, Jimmy Mac got lots of deserved kudos for the route, which although all on well traveled roads, had never been put together in that combination or direction before. G-Dawg in particular was well pleased with the speed the front group had managed, clocking a 30 km/hour average throughout, even allowing for his slow amble down to the meeting point that morning.
Crazy Legs revealed that he’d taken to wearing a mask like … well, like a duck to water, the one drawback being that it inevitably provoked him into making comedy wahk-wahk-wahk duck noises.
I suggested it was fun to wear a mask, but I felt it would be even better with a six-shooter holstered on my hip. Yippy-kay-ay. Crazy Legs agreed and said he’d felt like a particularly bad-ass hombre when pairing his mask with a leather stetson, while we touched on the irony of having to wear a mask before you went into a bank these days.
There was also a shout out for Egan Bernal’s comedy effort …
Crazy Legs then said he’d seen that someone had developed an athlete specific mask for wearing during exercise – the major drawback being it closely resembled a horses nosebag. I wondered if it would be useful for holding a handful of oats for mid-ride nutrition, while he suggested a watertight one students could fill with alcohol, needing only to tip their heads back to sup … and we were almost back where we left off last week with his suggestion that students wear a cone of shame …
Finally served and at a table (it was apparently a good scone week, this week, but I’d gone with a flapjack instead) we showed a near preternatural level of forward planning by discussing our options for cafe stops during winter club runs, when the small indoor area here would swiftly be overrun.
This turned into a discussion about how many would actually bother riding throughout the winter when there were “fun” alternatives (their words, not mine) available like Zwift.
Apparently we haven’t quite got the comms set up on the system we’re currently using for collective turbo rides and the only form of communication available is a simple thumbs-up. This seemed mighty limited vocabulary to me and, even if confined to basic hand gestures, I could think of one or two others that might come in useful.
I demonstrated for good effect, making a fist and boldly raising my middle-finger. “Yes,” Crazy Legs confirmed, “That would be useful.”
I then curled my fingers into a loose fist and shook it vigorously up and down in imitation of Gareth Hunt demeaning his craft in order to hock instant coffee, or, if that particular image offends (and I can see why it might) miming the universal sign for an onanistic self-abuser.
“Hah!” Crazy Legs interjected as my actions reminded him of something, “we passed a bloke today blowing up his tyre and he was holding his pump between his legs and furiously making that exact same motion. From a distance I didn’t know whether to offer to help or call the police.”
Crazy Legs then declared he’d just been to see a physio and had happily now regained full movement of his arm. To demonstrate, he lifted his left arm, bent it over the top of his head and touched his right ear. “I couldn’t do that a week ago, it hurt too much.”
“Why on earth would you ever need to do that though?” the Ticker wondered aloud.
“Well, you know, to wash your hair,” Crazy Legs challenged.
The Ticker doffed his casquette, lowered his head and presented Crazy Legs with his perfectly bald pate.
Groups started to form up and drift away, while I stopped to have a quick chat with the late arriving Biden Fecht. I could have tagged onto the last group again, but felt I’d done enough for the day, so as everyone swung left, I tracked right, through Ponteland, heading directly for home.
At Blaydon, traffic was backed up on the roundabout waiting to turn left, either into the shopping centre or the McDonalds. I hope it was the former, but suspect the latter. I caught a rider in the colours of the Blaydon club trying to work his way through the cars on the inside and not getting very far, so I flicked across to the outside and was quickly clear.
As I turned and started up the Heinous Hill the Blaydon rider caught me and swished past, then swung left and then right, past Pedalling Squares. He didn’t, as I expected drop into the cafe, but looked to be taking the exact same route up the hill as me – and there was still around three-quarters of the climb to go.
Saturday was a grey and cool, but generally still day. Pleasant, but not quite shorts weather (although Jimmy Mac disagreed) and while I needed the extra layer of a windproof jacket for the trip across to the meeting point, it was quickly abandoned and tucked away in a back pocket before we got underway.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Hammer complemented someone on a carefully colour coordinated bike and kit, before declaring, “Never trust a cyclist who doesn’t colour coordinate.
Crazy Legs was about to endorse the view when, interrupted by an involuntary thought, he reached up to pat all around his helmet. This failed to satisfy his concerns, so he unbuckled his helmet, picked it off his head and brought it down to eye-level to squint at it and confirm he’d chosen the right one, it matched his jersey and he was suitably colour-coordinated
I had missed Taffy Steve’s triumphal return last week when I was hiding from the early morning rain, but he was back, propped up by Voltarol (other pain relief gels are available), which he’s buying by the case load. He’s determined it’s the only thing making his damaged rotator cuff sufficiently bearable to ride with. Other than that there’s no real treatment beyond physiotherapy which apparently doesn’t include painting and decorating. He knows this, because he tried.
Being unable to lift his arm above waist height, I couldn’t help imagining a series of rooms with beautifully decorated, pristine walls up to an impromptu, free-hand dado-rail height, above which the paint was a clashing, contrasting colour, aged, dirty and scabrous.
Sneaky Pete was also making a return, but his was from a pleasant sojourn on the Côte d’Azur and he asserted he could very easily see himself living there. He’d even managed to fit a sneaky ride into his holiday, having hired a bike for the day.
“The guy in the bike hire shop asked if I was a racer and declared I had racers legs,” he admitted somewhat reluctantly.
“I feel a change in blerg nickname is called for,” Taffy Steve mused, “How does Racer Legs sound?”
It dawned on Sneaky Pete that he’d said something injudicious within my earshot and that, of course, I have absolutely no discretion …
So, Sneaky Pete, or Steel Rigg, or White Stripes, or Racer Legs. Hmm, he’s collecting almost as many monikers as the Garrulous Kid, a.k.a. Zoolander, a.k.a. Helen, a.k.a. Fresh Trim, a.k.a. Jar-Jar Binks etc. etc. ad nasueum.
We were interrupted by a loud noise that sounded exactly like a bus suddenly releasing it’s air brakes, which itself sounds uncannily like a bicycle tyre enduring an unexpected, catastrophic failure. We looked around to see OGL rolling to a stop, as behind him a bus pulled away from he stand.
Long seconds ticked slowly past, tension building, while we wondered which way this audible coin was going to fall, before we heard, “Oh bugger, puncture.”
OGL set about stripping out his punctured front tube and replacing it, while we turned our attention to Mini Miss’ new bike, a sleek, smart looking Liv, aerobike in a dark, purplish-blue. The only awkward thing about it would appear to be the model name, the EnviLiv?
It might be brand new, it might look fantastic, but the EnviLiv did not come with the gears properly set up, so OGL had no sooner repaired his puncture than Mini Miss was leaning on him to fettle her new bike too. There’s no rest for the wicked.
While this was going on in the background, the Hammer outlined our route for the day, which included a climb up the Ryals, for potentially the last time this year. I can honestly say it won’t be missed.
About 20 strong, we decided not to split the group, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. At the traffic lights we checked to see if we were all together and found OGL missing, still stranded where we’d been gathered. He called across that he’d actually blown out the sidewall of his tyre, was heading home for a replacement and would make his own way to the cafe.
One down already, but I’m pretty sure we were all bravely determined not to let it spoil our ride…
I pushed onto the front alongside Jimmy Mac and we led the group out, occasionally calling back to Crazy Legs for directions as, naturally, neither of us had really been paying that much attention to the route outline.
As we took the road to Prestwick, Jimmy Mac started bunny hopping the (ridiculously over-large) speed bumps, encouraged by a chortling Crazy Legs shouting “Olé!” each time he went airborne, while I winced inwardly each time he came thumping down, half expecting his wheels to suddenly disintegrate and collapse under him.
Through the village of Ponteland, Crazy Legs called up, “Listen to all the happy chatter behind.”
“This is serious,” I growled back, “they’re not supposed to be enjoying it.”
“Silence!” Crazy Legs immediately bellowed, “the Ride Leader is disappointed to think you might be having fun.”
For the next minute or so there was an awkward, guilty silence, before the noise burbled up again. Are we that inured to being so thoroughly browbeaten?
Reaching the end of Limestone Lane and after a decent stint of perhaps 15km on the front, I peeled off, swung wide and drifted to the back.
There I found the Hammer, policing the group from the rear and we had a brief chat about possible destinations for another continental invasion next year, with the northern Dolomites being an early front-runner, depending on flights and accessibility.
We also touched on group size and dynamics as well, including how (more by luck than good management) we all somehow managed to bump along, despite being a generally disparate and diverse bunch, each, as the Hammer diplomatically put it, with our own peculiar foibles.
“Yep,” I agreed, ” We all definitely have foibles.”
“And there’s a very fine line between foibles and assholes,” the Hammer remarked sagely, “But somehow it seems to work.”
When we stopped for a comfort break, Crazy Legs declared an impromptu meeting of the Flat White Club, for all those who didn’t want to tackle the Ryals.
“Two coffee stops!” Otto Rocket exclaimed, somewhat scandalised.
“No,” Crazy Legs corrected her, “One coffee stop, one Flat White club meet.”
A little further along and the Flat White Club swung off, leaving the rest of us on the road to the delightfully named, but blink and you’ll miss it, Little Bavington and firmly en route to the Ryals.
Just before the descent to the village, a harsh rumble from my rear wheel heralded an untimely puncture and I pulled to a stop. I urged everyone to keep going, but obviously wasn’t persuasive enough, so they pulled over a little further up the road and Spoons dropped back to help.
As I wrestled manfully, but spectacularly unsuccessfully to prise my tyre off the rim to replace the tube, Spoons unzipped my tool tub to pull out one of my two spares and pump.
After much swearing and skinned knuckles, I finally managed to prise and peel the reluctant tyre from the rim, where it seemed almost to have adhered in place. I think I’ve been rolling on the same tyres for almost two years now and had their replacements ready and hanging in the shed for over a year without ever feeling the need to change them.
Surprisingly the tyre slipped back onto the rim without too much effort, I semi-inflated the tube and slotted the wheel back into the frame. As I did this, Spoons helpfully rolled up the punctured tube and slotted it into my tool tub.
Re-attaching my pump I started trying to inflate the tyre, but was getting nowhere. I unscrewed and reattached the hose. Nothing. I unscrewed the hose, tested the valve, tightened and loosened it and reattached the pump. Still nothing. I swapped my pump for Spoons’ pump. Still nothing. This was frustrating and in danger of turning into the longest tyre change in club history.
I told Spoons to rejoin the group and get everyone moving again, while I tried to channel some inner calm. Alone and feeling less pressured, I stood the bike against a nearby wall, securely attached the pump hose to the valve yet again and gave it a few blows. Success, the tyre started to inflate and slowly harden beneath my prodding thumb.
One slow, painful, puny upper-body cardio-vascular work out later, I felt drained and light-headed, but able to set off in pursuit of the rest of the group. I thought that even if I didn’t manage to rejoin, I might be able to at least see them ahead of me as they scaled the Ryals.
I took the climb through Hallington and rattled down the other side, swerving around potholes, gravel moraines, muddy puddles, a scattered windfall of broken branches and tussocks of wiry grass. Thankfully, I’ve been led to believe this particular track has now been removed from the Beaumont Trophy – and not before time. I couldn’t imagine actually travelling at break-neck speed down this road in a tightly packed, bunch of grizzled pros.
I was spat out at the bottom onto the road that drags its way up toward the Ryals, which rose like a wall in front of me. It was here that I expected to see at least the tail-end of the group battling with the slope, but the road ahead was completely empty. They must really have put the hammer down once they left me.
I dragged myself up the climb (as unpleasant and uninspiring as always) and tried to pick up the pace over the top.
Swinging left onto the road up to the Quarry, I spotted a lone cyclist in front of me. It wasn’t one of our group, but gave me a hare to chase and encouraged me to push the pace up a little more.
I caught him at the top of the slope, exchanging a quick greeting as I swung past and off to the right. Another cyclist coming down the road burned past us both. Perfect timing, now I had another target to chase down and I started to wind up the speed again.
I caught and passed him on the slow drag up to the crossroads, darted across the road with him on my wheel and then worked to open up a gap. I think he’d decided we were in a race too, so he kept the pressure on through the descent and all the way up to the final junction, which was where I think I finally managed to shake him loose.
All the way I was thinking I would at least see remnants of our group, but they were strangely absent and only OGL and a few later-starters were at the cafe when I arrived.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I was served, found a table to deposit my tray on and went to wash my hands, filthy from wrestling with tyres. I thought our group might have gone left, rather than right at the top of the quarry and then perhaps been held up by a puncture or mechanical. I settled down to read my emails and was halfway through my coffee before the others started to drift in.
Chatting with Jimmy Mac, we finally worked out that they hadn’t taken the climb through Hallington, but looped around the reservoir. Despite my best chasing, I hadn’t seen anyone on the road, because they’d been behind me all along.
The main group were followed in some minutes later by the Flat White ride, looking suitably fortified and quite relaxed.I couldn’t help thinking they’d chosen the right option.
We learned Plumose Pappus had enjoyed his holiday in Thailand, despite the fact (or maybe because) he’d been frequently mistaken for David Beckham. He’d also only narrowly avoided being arrested for loitering, having spent far too long eyeing up the frozen peas in the chilly sanctuary of a 7-Eleven freezer aisle, the only reliable haven he’d been able to find from the persistent heat and humidity.
A phone embargo was placed on the table, as Jimmy Mac had recorded that mornings England’s vs. Argentina rugby game and was desperate to avoid the score. For my part, I’m not convinced the tournament has quite got going yet, despite one or two shock results and I had no expectation of anything but a handsome England win.
Still, with a rugby international to look forward to and late arrival at the cafe, in no small part due to my tyre-fumblings, we were keen to get back on the road and formed up as the first group to head home.
At this point I discovered my rear tyre was flat again and waved the group away while I once more set about replacing the tube. I unhooked the wheel and managed to strip out the tube without any of the early difficulties. Checking the inside of the tyre I found one of natures caltrops, a vicious thorn sticking through the tread. I assume I’d just picked this up and it wasn’t a holdover from my first puncture, but I guess I’ll never know.
I pushed and pinched the thorn out, and unzipped my tool case to get at my pump and spare inner tube … to be confronted by two indistinguishable tubes, the original, punctured one from earlier this morning that Spoons had carefully and helpfully packed away for me and a new, undamaged one.
They both looked identical, pristine and untouched, but which was which. I picked one at random opened the valve and forced some air into it. It seemed to be holding, so I fitted it and wrestled the tyre back onto the rim.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find I’d picked the wrong tube and no matter how hard I worked the pump it never got beyond slightly squishy. Cursing my own stupidity, I set about replacing the tube again … and that’s where the second group to leave the cafe found me, struggling to force the last section of tyre back onto the rim, only to discover all my upper-body strength seemed to have deserted me.
Crazy Legs lent a hand and we finally manged to seat the tyre. I added enough air to get me home (later revealed to be a rather paltry 20 psi) and I was glad to get back on the bike and give my arms a rest.
I had a quick chat with the FNG on the run back, but with time pressing on, left the group early to loop around the opposite side of the airport and shave a few miles off my route home.
I made it back without further incident, but had to leave almost immediately to wander down to the Brassworks at Pedalling Squares, where Patrick had been beavering away on the Peugeot to prepare it for the coming winter.
This gave me a second opportunity to ride up the Heinous Hill in short order, just to round my day off perfectly.
It’s the club hill climb next week. I’m not likely to compete, but I will go along to shout on the kids. Before that though, I’ll be wrestling with tyres once again, it’s way past time to slap those pristine, new Vittoria Rubino’s on Reg.
YTD Totals: 6,144 km / 3,817 miles with 81,078 metres of climbing
Be thankful for what you’ve got, Willie DeVaughn once sang. Maybe he had the right of it, too…
I complained about the weather being dry, but grey, dull and chilly for the past few weeks and, in response good old Mother Nature took note and upped her game … giving us a full night and day of perpetual rainfall.
Conditions were so bad that, unlike last week, I only so one other brave/foolish (delete as applicable) rider on my trip across to the meeting point. In direct contrast though, there were maybe a dozen runners out and pounding the pavements. Maybe they’re like slugs and snails and only come out when it’s wet?
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I spotted G-Dawg and Taffy Steve in the multi-storey car park where they were sheltering from the rain and bumped up the kerb to join them. As I drew to a halt, I was immediately informed UCI Extreme Weather Protocols were in place and, as the highest ranking official of the Flat White Club present, Taffy Steve had already declared it to be a Flat White Ride.
Crazy Legs rolled in behind me. “Lovely weather. You know what I’m going to suggest?”
“Already decided, mate,” Taffy Steve told him. “Flat White Ride.” Although nothing more than a formality, it was good to have the decision ratified by the Flat White Club President himself.
We were joined by the Garrulous Kid, OGL and Sage One, the relative newcomer who has joined us to help her train for a London to Paris charity ride.
“How’s the training going?” I wondered.
“Hmm, well, it isn’t really, I’ve been on holiday for 3-weeks.” In fact the last time she’d been out with us was the last time we’d had such dreadful weather.Things were so bad then, she’d made her boyfriend meet her half way home and bring her some dry socks!
Despite the rain, the Garrulous Kid was wearing little else but a £5.99 Decathlon jersey.
He tried to convince us it was waterproof. “Yeah right, ” G-Dawg, declared, “It’s waterproof. Until it gets wet.”
Still, Crazy Legs commended the Garrulous Kit on his shiny, clean shoes (they were wet), while I wondered if his chain might not emerge from the ride actually cleaner than it had been going in.
Despite the rain, G-Dawg was wearing his usual dark glasses.
“Can you actually see anything through them in these conditions?” Crazy Legs wondered, before declaring, “You look like a blind man. In fact, you look like that feller from Peter’s and Lee.”
Ooph! Dangerous ground, but luckily, neither of us could remember any Peter’s and Lee songs, so we felt we dodged a bullet and avoided a very, very, unfortunate earworm.
But then, deep in the bowels of a depressing, dank, dark, multi-storey car park, G-Dawg started to mouth half-remembered words like some strange incantation and, hesitantly at first, those words joined up with a formless tune and a song began to unfold. Then with gathering force, as synapses clicked and sparked and the words came back to him in a rush, he started to royally serenade us:
I’m so alone, my love without you, You’re part of everything I do, When you come back, and you’re beside me, These are the words I’ll say to you,
Then, a big intake of breath, before belting out …
Welcome home, welcome, Come on in, and close the door …
Aagh! Now I remember that song, the kind of thing grannies and parents buy in their droves to keep it hanging around in the charts. My young life was blighted and my soul was scarred by this kind of thing. Peters and Bleedin’ Lee, Demis bleedin’ Roussos, Nana bleedin’ Mouskouri, Jennifer bleedin’ Rush and Tony bleedin’ Orlando and his bleedin’ Yellow Ribbon. Dark, dark days.
Luckily the earworm didn’t immediately take and we quickly scuttled off into the rain to put as much distance as possible between it and us.
As a (fairly) interesting aside before we go, Lennie Peters, aka Gary Hall, or Leonard George Sargent (but surprisingly never known as Lucky Lennie) was blinded in one eye in a car accident when he was five years old. He was blinded in his other eye when someone threw a brick at him when he was sixteen. Just be thankful for what you’ve got.
After a while the Garrulous Kid bolted away and disappeared up the road. I assume he’d finally realised that it was raining, quite heavily and he was heading home for a jacket. Or, perhaps he was intent on breaking his own record for the shortest club run ever. I then wondered if his mother would let him out again, or ground him in case he caught some nasty sniffles.
We briefly discussed taking a different route so he wouldn’t be able to find us when he tried to catch up. But only briefly.
Well, for just ten or fifteen minutes, anyway.
At one point I heard Taffy Steve asking Sage One how her training was going for the big ride…
And then we were at Relief Station#1, the cafe at Kirkley Cycles, where the Garrulous Kid, more sensibly attired in a rain jacket now, rejoined our small, select group.
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop#1:
I ordered an unfeasibly large scone with a mug of coffee and (as I would later learn) double-fisted my way to the table with my haul. The scone looked like it had been zapped with an incredible growth ray-gun, as it overhung the plate, piled up like a pale mole-hill. It was so big that, when I cut into it, the middle was still warm, although it had probably been out the oven for a good couple of hours. Fabulous. All that and I got change from a fiver too. I’ll come here again.
The in-house dog appeared to hoover up a few stray crumbs and stopped to give Sage One’s helmet a desultory lick in passing.
“The dog’s licking your helmet,” I informed her, but our infantile, schoolboy humour wasn’t quite as funny as when it was just the boys involved. Still, I had to try.
Speaking of the fairer sex, Crazy Legs confessed he was still traumatised after being on the Metro on Thursday night, when it was mobbed by an army of shrieking, cackling, guffawing, middle-aged wimmin’, recently disgorged from the Spice Girls concert at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. Heavily bladdered on an excess of Prosecco and spirits, raucous and bellowing out tuneless, badly remembered Spice Girls hits, interspersed with banter that would make even Roy Chubby Brown’s ears burn, the hordes of haridans were, by all accounts, a fearsome and intimidating sight.
Crazy Legs had stuck his ear buds in and tried to look as innocuous as possible as he slunk down into his seat, before abandoning the Metro at the earliest opportunity.
Sage One had been amongst the concert-goers, reliving her own past glories, but she too had been shocked by the behaviour on display and admitted the sight of far too many, far too-tight, Union Jack mini-dresses, over-spilling with bulging, pallid and wobbling flesh was, in her professional opinion, “just minging.”
Taffy Steve thought a contingent of these drunken Geordie wimmin’ should be immediately parachuted into Portugal, where he thought they’d sort out the England football hooligans in short order.
For my own torrid tale of public transport, I recalled a late night journey from a music festival in Loch Lomond to Glasgow, on a bus with a bunch of drunken Scotsmen who were so enraptured by a football game in which Italy had trounced England, they’d spent the entire journey gleefully singing:
“Y’ Italee, Y’Italee, Yooze hae ne’er been fooked, til yae’ve been fooked by Y’Italee …”
Like Crazy Legs, I’d spent uncomfortable moments slunk down in the seat, hoping to pass unnoticed.
The Garrulous Kid followed up with his own anecdote about a school bus trip. It wasn’t particularly amusing, but after hearing this, Crazy Legs sat back in astounded amazement, then reached across the table to shake the Garrulous Kid’s hand, before thanking him profusely.
“Thank you! Thank you!”
The Garrulous Kid took the profferred hand, but looked somewhat bemused.
“Thank you,” Crazy Legs repeated, “That’s the first time you’ve ever told a story that’s been in any way related to what we’d actually been discussing. It makes a pleasant change to know you can follow the thread, rather than hurling something completely random into the conversation, such as the toilets on the Space Station are so good because they’re made by German engineers.”
Crazy Legs then noted my skinned knuckles and wondered if I’d been in a pub brawl. I had to admit to a rookie mistake, when changing the brake blocks on my single-speed, I’d run the rear wheel up to check the brakes weren’t catching, only to find the only thing catching was the back of my hand on the spinning tyre. It had only taken off the top layer of skin and I hadn’t even noticed until I washed up afterwards, but the wounds had scabbed over quite dramatically and the injuries looked much worse than they were.
Taffy Steve suggested bladed spokes were particularly lethal if you caught your fingers in them. I agreed, having once tried to adjust a rubbing mudguard while cycling up a steep hill and receiving a fearsome crack across my knuckles for my stupidity. I’m still amazed I managed not to fall off during that particular escapade.
With time moving on and a need to fit in another cafe stop, we decided to push on again, zipped up and braced ourselves for the worst, before leaving the warm, welcoming confines of the cafe for the rain outside.
OGL left our group to head directly to our second cafe rendezvous, while the remaining six set off for a loop around the Gubeon, to get a few more miles in.
Crazy Legs tried out a few Spice Girls songs, but it really wasn’t working for him. Half way round and I started to think I was hallucinating, as I was certain I heard the Garrulous Kid qualify one of his statements with the postscript, “well, in my opinion, anyway.”
Apparently not though, as G-Dawg picked up on it too. “You should try using that ‘in my opinion’ phrase more often,” he suggested, “It makes you sound less like an opinionated dick.”
“Perhaps, even try an ‘in my humble opinion’,” I added, even as I realised you had to walk before you can run, or, just be thankful for what you’ve got.
As we closed on coffee stop#2, Sage one was struggling and Crazy Legs encouraged us to push on while he dropped off the front to escort her.
A mile down the road and seemingly oblivious to this interaction, the Garrulous Kid finally noticed our sextet had become foursome and pondered if we should wait. Taffy Steve applauded his concern for others, but did point out that they’d been adrift for 15 minutes or so and he’d only just noticed.
We pressed on, there was a slight quickening of the pace and then we were rolling into the cafe for some temporary relief from the rain.
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop#2
Crazy Legs arrived and declared he was slightly moist, but glowing.
“Moist is a state of mind,” Taffy Steve growled and left it at that. No, I don’t know what he mean’t, either.
Cultural barriers and regional misunderstandings dominated our discussion. As a teacher in Canada, OGL said he got peculiar looks by encouraging his pupils to always carry rubbers, of course meaning erasers and not prophylactics. Meanwhile, Crazy Legs reported being subject to gales of laughter in New Zealand whenever he talked about a super-computer-router, three words that all rhymed in his mind, but not in theirs.
Our Antipodean friends would (incorrectly, of course) refer to a router as a rowter. To them, a rooter is something completely different, as evidenced by Taffy Steve’s relish in declaring, “let’s go root in the ute,” in a pronounced Strine twang.
According to Crazy Legs, being loaded up with two cocktails, one in each hand, or I guess a giant scone and mug of coffee, is known as double-fisting in parts of the States. Needless to say, but double-fisting is not a skill you should admit to in a British bar.
Or then again … maybe it is?
Taffy Steve was amused by the thought that in America, there was an overwhelming number of wankers, who did’t know what a wanker was. This he thought was ironic, which just added fuel to the fire as “they don’t do irony, either.”
Crazy Legs remembered that the Garrulous Kid claims dual citizenship of the American colonies, having been born in either Norf, or Sowf Carolina (I forget which.) He asked the Garrulous Kid how he thought he would fit in, if transplanted across the Atlantic.
Seamlessly and effortlessly, according to the Garrulous Kid, although I’m not sure the Americans would truly appreciate just how honoured they would be to have such a humble and self-effacing paragon in their midst.
When we thought we’d dallied long enough so G-Dawg wouldn’t get into trouble for arriving home to early, we set out into the deluge once again.
I’m fairly certain on the ride back I heard Crazy Legs asking Sage One how the training was going …
Meanwhile, we all agreed these miserable, wet days, perversely produced some of the most enjoyable rides. Then, in short order, I was following G-Dawg through the Mad Mile and swinging away for my trip home.
On the drag up past the golf course, with the rain still tapping impatient fingers on my helmet and water dripping off the end of my nose, I was a little startled by a loud burst of chimes that I finally recognised as a distorted, amped-up version of “Greensleeves.” I seemed to be in the presence of either the regions most optimistic, or most desperate ice-cream seller.
After crossing the bridge, I stopped for pee and was just re-mounting when a one arm cyclist whirred past, the left hand sleeve of his Way of the Roses jersey, completely empty and flapping in the wind. He asked if everything was ok, I assured him it was, so he kept going.
He was evidently heading the same way and I started tracking him, but kept getting delayed, first at a level crossing and then at some traffic lights. I finally caught up with him when it was his turn to be stopped, at the lights in Blaydon.
“Lovely day for a ride,” I offered by way of a greeting.
He was remarkably chipper and cheerful and just happy to be out on his bike, whatever the weather. We swapped ride info – he’d just ridden out to Corbridge and back, a solid 40-miles plus.
I waved him away and slid past, but I was held up at the next roundabout. He timed his arrival to coincide perfectly with a gap in the traffic and sailed past me, as I pushed off from a standing start and tried to clip in again. I then trailed him up the first part of the Heinous Hill, until he took a sharp left and, with a cheery goodbye, dropped down to Pedalling Squares, the cycling cafe, for some much deserved cake and coffee. (I assume).
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to ride with just one arm: balance issues, braking and changing gear, unable to climb out of the saddle, unable to signal to traffic and the burning question I might have had the courage to ask if we’d ridden further together – how the hell do you cope with a puncture?
Just be thankful for what you’ve got, eh?
I pushed on to the top of the hill to end a short, but enjoyable ride. Despite the weather … or, just maybe, because of it.
Right, I’m away next week for a short holiday, hopefully the weather can raise its game for when I get back … but I’m not holding my breath.
YTD Totals: 3,785 km / 2,352 miles with 47,875 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 117 km / 72 miles with 1,216 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 20 minute
Average Speed: 26.9 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Not bad.
It looked like being a disappointing day, with plenty of cloud cover, little wind and the temperature struggling to top out around 17°C first thing. What am I saying … at any other time I would suggest this was perfect cycling weather … if we not been utterly spoiled by weeks and weeks of clear blue skies and ever-present sun.
Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty good, so decided to thrash my way westwards, cross the river and then thrash my way east again. It probably looked really ugly, but the pace was decent and it was fun, until I had to climb out of the valley and found out just how tired my legs now were. Still, I managed to just about recover and made the meeting point in good time.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Monkey Butler Boy was joining us for the start of the run, before meeting up with his delinquent Wrecking Crew for some rough, adolescent bonding and mutually appreciative denigration. His latest wage packet had been spent on some (surely too-tall to be stylish) glaringly white and super-expensive aerosocks.
He complained they were ridiculously tight and uncomfortable and I wondered if their main benefit was in cutting off blood supply to the feet, so toes turn gangrenous and drop off – a marginal, if somewhat extreme, weight saving.
But no, apparently the socks were engineered to manage air flow and, ahem, “reduce the low pressure behind the leg that sucks you backwards.” (Manufacturers hyperbole, but my emphasis.)
“Each sock can save me up to 3 watts!” the Kool-Aid imbibing Monkey Butler Boy declared.
“I’ve tried to persuade him that if he wears 5 pairs he can save 30 watts,” the Red Max concluded dryly.
At this point, the Monkey Butler Boy discovered he’d been sitting in a freshly-laid patch of finest seagull guano, that he’d then smeared all over his hands and shorts.
“Just wipe it off on your socks,” someone suggested.
“Or your shoes,” I added. (They’re still obscenely white.)
The Monkey Butler Boy decided it was best to wipe the guano off with grass, so, as the Red Max looked on it dismay, he proceeded to pull out tiny little tufts of grass and rub them ineffectively over his fingers.
Kids today, eh? They don’t even know how to wipe off shit.
I blame the parents.
As our numbers grew, I looked up and spotted what at first I thought must be a miradjee. But no, when I rubbed my eyes and looked again, the mysterious figure was still there. It was, in all reality, the unfailingly cheerful Dabman, returned to us after an absence of at least a year. In fact, the last time I recalled seeing him, he was sat on a wet road, being unfailingly cheerful while carefully holding onto his snapped collarbone.
I could tell he hadn’t been out on the bike for a long, long time as he was wearing long bibtights and obviously hadn’t received the memo stating that, temporarily at least, global warming had become an established fact in the North East of England.
Or, maybe he needed the bibtights to hold in place all the armour he’s taken to wearing, just in case he suffers another unfortunate “chute.”
Crazy Legs put in a promotional broadcast for self-flagellating masochists to take part in the club 10-mile TT that he’s kindly arranged for us next week, then G-Dawg outlined the days route in microscopic detail. We split into two packs with a re-formation planned at Dyke Neuk to decide options and away we went.
I joined the, this time smaller, front group. It was still a bit chillier than I would have liked, but the temperature was starting to creep slowly upwards and I’d reluctantly persuaded myself to part with my arm warmers.
As we took the road toward the Cheese Farm, those at the back announced the second group was closing rapidly and was in danger of catching us. I could only surmise the Red Max was on the front of the second group, his seeker-head was pinging with active targets to chase down and he was in full-pursuit mode. I didn’t dare think about the number of complaints his pace was likely to be generating from those hanging on his wheel behind.
We decided we would be safe if we could reach the sanctuary of Bell’s Hill, reasoning we could then open up a bigger gap on the climb, and so it proved.
A sharp left-hand turn at Dobbie’s Debacle, reminded Crazy Legs that he’s intent on naming and mapping all the places where we’ve donated skin, blood, expensive lycra and sprinklings of aluminium and carbon-fibre to enhance the road surface.
Dobbie’s Debacle is the place where I’d slid out at low speed, taking down Taffy Steve on his brand, spanking-new Titanium love-child and putting a terminal hairline fracture into the top-tube of my Focus Cayo. Well, terminal for me anyway – the Prof had taken away the frame, self-repaired it and so birthed the Frankenbike.
There’s a whole host of other landmarks that deserve commemoration too, such as Horner’s Corner, which sadly isn’t a corner (why let the facts get in the way of a good name) but the straight stretch of road where the Plank and Red Max touched wheels during a café sprint, with disastrous, but quite predictable consequences.
Crazy Legs remembered our Icecapades, beautifully choreographed, all-fall-off-in-sequence efforts to rival any Dancing on Ice number. We have both common and a posh varieties of these (based on average house prices in the locale of the accident).
Then, of course, how could we forget the time OGL inexplicably and for no apparent reason, simply fell over while riding in a straight line …
My own notable occasions might include the roundabout, where a Polish girl (who for some reason no longer rides with us) hurled herself to the ground, in what seemed to be a desperate attempt to escape from Cowin’ Bovril.
Or, maybe the numerous places where the Dabman has perfected the fine art of, in his own words, “hitting the ground like a sack of spuds”.
But, without doubt the most memorable was on one freezing, poorly attended winter ride, when half a dozen of us turned down a lane we didn’t know was a single, smooth sheet of ice … or, at least we didn’t know until G-Dawg went sailing past everyone … on his arse … followed two seconds later by his supine bike. Somehow, Aether managed to stay upright, steer into the grass verge and stop, while the rest of us all came clattering down, one by one, like dominoes in a row. Good times!
As planned, we reached Dyke Neuk and paused there to allow the second group to join us. I then followed a smaller, break-away section for a route that would see us descending down the Trench and then dragging our way out again via, Ritton Bank, the Rothley Lakes climb and Middleton Bank.
As we worked our way along the valley floor as prelude to this series of climbs, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht started dancing with much exaggerated, synchronised finger waggling and then Biden Fecht took to bobbing up and down in the saddle.
“Is that your Dan Martin, on the attack, or a pecking chicken impersonation?” I asked, before realising I’d just described two almost identical things. My ignorance was met with great disdain from Biden Fecht, as apparently I’d witnessed, but failed to recognize his sexy, Beyonce-style dance routine.
We stayed in compact group until the top of Ritton Bank, when everyone swung left before the summit, apart from Crazy Legs who pushed on for some added miles. At the next junction, we swept downhill, before starting the long slog up to Rothley Crossroads. Caracol, Andeven and Rab Dee had pinged off the front and we became split-up and strung out as we started about 4 kilometres of climbing, with one or two spicy sections of over 16%.
Ahead of me, Caracaol and Andeven pressed on at pace, while Rab Dee dropped back to check on the backmarkers. A creaking Rainman (he claimed it was his cleats, but I suspect it was his protesting knees) caught and passed me on the drag up and we started a strange little ritual, where I would claw my way slowly up to him and then he’d dig a little deeper and pull away again. Nonetheless, I was able to keep him just about within striking distance, until the road finally relented and started to tip down again.
Rainman pulled over just past the Rothley Crossroads, seemingly intent on regrouping with the rest, but I was on a charge and swept straight by. He finally abandoned all pretence of gallantry and gave chase, latching on to my wheel and recovering from his efforts, before we started to work together.
I say work together, but this was implicit, rather than a well-formulated and agreed plan. I think we were both simply going as hard as we could, for as long as we could, just to see where we would end up, or if we could actually kill each other.
I thought we were all alone on the road, well apart from the vole that darted under our wheels at one point. Just behind though, Biden Fecht was chasing furiously and behind him, Rab Dee was also trying to close us down, having first checked the backmarkers were being shepherded safely home by G-Dawg and the Colossus.
A leg-burning ascent of Middleton Bank put us on the path for the café and we started to share turns a bit more fluently, even if my stints on the front were necessarily shorter. They were enough anyway to keep the pursuers at bay. I buried myself over the rollers and took us down to the final, cruel drag up to the café, rounded the corner and I was done, cooked and flailing as Rainman pulled away at the last.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We learned Princess Fiona had booked the wrong return flight for an upcoming trip to Geneva. Apparently, the return was booked for not just the wrong time, the wrong day and the wrong date, but the wrong month.
We tried to rationalise how easy the mistake could be. Was it the right day, but the wrong month and she’d just clicked too far on the calendar?
Was it one of those scrolling menus, where you might inadvertently cause the date to roll over if you accidentally brushed the screen in the wrong way?
Had the flights been changed at short notice by the operator, causing confusion and a bit of last-minute panic?
“Well,” I had to conclude, “Looks like you just fucked up.”
Others confessed to their own flight fuck-ups, probably just to make her feel better. Biden Fecht won this particular contest by bizarrely suggesting he turned up at Heathrow Airport, very, very early one morning, to catch a flight from Aberdeen to London.
Post-Toady France, pre-Premiership, Richard of Flanders bemoaned the lack of sporting distraction available once he got home this afternoon. I tried to sell everyone on the Clásica San Sebastián, which looked to have a strong field, including some potential winners I highlighted, such as Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa and Pierre Latour.
I don’t know what sort of strange-voodoo hex I put on these unfortunates with my casual name-dropping, but all three of them crashed out the race with serious injuries that’ll keep them off the bike for weeks.
I’m just pleased I didn’t mention deserved winner, Julian Alaphillipe, who took the honours with a searing uphill acceleration to bridge across to Bauke Mollema, who was then easily dispatched in a final sprint. I’m struggling to understand how the classy Alaphillipe can climb with such grace, power and speed, but never seems to trouble the GC, even in week long stage races (with the exception of his 2016 Tour of California win).
The sun began to break through the cloud cover as we gathered to head home, leaving one table including G-Dawg, the Colossus and the late arriving Crazy Legs, behind to enjoy some extended blathering.
As we started up Berwick Hill, the Red Max surged to the front, blinked in surprise and looked around somewhat bewildered.
“Agh! What am I doing up here?” he plaintively asked.
“You’ll get a nose-bleed, if you’re not careful,” I advised.
“I’ll just get me coat,” he replied and slipped back again.
According to Princess Fiona, Caracol then called out an admonition of “Steady!” before he surged away off the front while everyone else hesitated. I worked to slowly close the gap, pulling the rest along behind me, although not without causing a few fissures in the group.
We pushed over the top and regrouped as we sped down the other side and up through Dinnington. Caracol then threw me another curveball, swinging left with the rest of the group, leaving me on the front as we entered the Mad Mile, although at a more sedate pace than usual in the absence of G-Dawg and the Colossus.
I split away from the rest and made my way steadily upwards and then down again to the river. Crossing the bridge and climbing up to the traffic lights, a group of riders flashed through the junction ahead, so naturally I felt compelled to give chase.
The group split at the next roundabout, but I tracked a couple through Blaydon and caught and passed them just before Shibdon pond, only to be stopped short by some temporary traffic lights. As we waited, another, larger group of cyclists joined us and I found myself uncomfortably at the head of a large peloton. No pressure then.
The light changed and I led everyone off, through the roadworks, across the last roundabout and up to the traffic lights at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. I waited for a break in the traffic and then started the climb.
One of the riders surged past, but I didn’t respond, which was just as well as he turned off for the Pedalling Squares café, while I still had the rest of the hill to scale. I assumed the rest also followed him, drawn away by the promise of good cake and coffee, so once again I found myself alone, tacking steadily upwards and home.
YTD Totals: 4,665 km / 2,899 miles with 57,923 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 115 km / 71 miles with 1,100 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 16 minutes
Average Speed: 26.9 km/h
Group size: 23 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Good. Or, maybe just better
Blue skies, blooming daffodils and temperatures slowly creeping toward comfortable? This was enough to ensure the first daring exposure of bare legs this year, or at least the two or three pallid inches in the place between where knee warmers end and socks begin.
It even seemed pleasant enough for me to finally break out and strap on my Christmas present too, a new pair of Gaerne cycling slippers in a fetching and subtly understated shade of red. (Well, to my mind, anyway.)
Then, with jacket swapped for a lighter jersey and a pair of arm warmers, I was set and good to go.
As I dropped down the Heinous Hill I passed a gaggle (bunch? peloton? chain?) of cyclists clustered around the turn-off for the Pedalling Squares café. Either they’d arranged some sort of mass ride with a very early start, or these were bargain hunters who’d queued overnight to grab the best deals in some kind of up and coming café-bake sale. Cyclists being cyclists, and notoriously likely to queue for up to 8 hours for just a hint of discounted flapjacks and coffee, I simply couldn’t discount the latter.
There was a goodly smattering of rain jackets on display amongst the group. Fools! I cackled maniacally to myself – didn’t they know it was officially summer and there’d be no turning back now.
Caught by the lights at the end of the bridge, I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and still it was, as if the world was ever so slightly holding its breath. Birdsong was rising and falling along the hedgerows, a weasel scuttled across the road, I could occasionally hear the whine of a distant still saw and the wires overhead were buzzing gently. Such a weird pastoral-urban amalgam.
Just before the lights changed, I was joined by another rider and in a quick exchange learned she was riding up to take part in a local time-trial. It looked like being the perfect weather for the event, I wished her luck, hoped she enjoyed it and then we were crossing the river and going our separate ways.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I arrived at the meeting point to find the Garrulous Kid, the sleeves of his winter jacket rolled up past his elbows while his illuminous gloves flapped around at the ends of his spindly arms – “All the better to point out the potholes,” he claimed.
“Which isn’t really much use when you spend all your time lurking at the back,” G-Dawg countered.
To much cheering, we had our first sighting of a lesser-spotted Grover, who now rolled up for his inaugural 2018 club ride. Like hearing the first cuckoo of spring, this was a watershed moment, reassuring us all that the worst of winter has passed and better weather is finally on its way.
This led to speculation about when Szell was likely to emerge from his winter hibernation. We felt we still have a few weeks more before he drags himself from his torpor and returns with his unique machine-gun rattle of single-entendres, personal crusade against all wasp-kind and continuous bitching and kvetching about how unfit he is compared to everyone else.
“He’s a decent rider,” the Garrulous Kid argued.
“Yeah, by the time we get to September,” someone countered.
The Colossus suggested he didn’t actually like it when Szell reappeared, as it’s an early portent that our summer days are already numbered and winter’s on its way!
The Garrulous Kid declared that the Monkey Butler Boy had a new pair of cycling shoes that were not only whiter than white, but somehow whiter than the Colossus’s very white shoes.
How does that work then?
I wondered if they might not be a whiter shade of pale, but not before having a quick glance around to make sure that neither Biden Fecht, nor Crazy Legs were within earshot, just in case we set them off on a truly unfortunate prog-rock song cycle.
The Garrulous Kid asserted that, not only were the Monkey Butler Boys new shoes the whitest-white possible, but he would also reveal his secret weapon in a Canute-style, futile battle to keep them in perfect, gleaming and pristine condition.
We looked up to find the Monkey Butler Boy himself, “coming in hot” and attempting a flashy bunny hop onto the pavement, only to misjudge things horribly and crack his rear wheel off the edge of the kerb with a noise like a pistol shot.
Checking there was no visible damage, he shrugged nonchalantly and announced he was getting a new bike anyway next week, so wasn’t all that bothered. I’m not so sure the Red Max would agree as he’s set to inherit the Monkey Butler Boy’s current ride and would obviously prefer it not to have been tested to destruction.
We learned the Monkey Butler Boy’s new bike would be arriving at the depot on Tuesday and he intended to be there for the birth. The Colossus prepared him for a long and frustrating wait, similar to his own experiences staying in to wait for DHL parcels. He contends he can see the DHL warehouse from his bedroom window, but whenever he tracks an imminent delivery, he spends hours watching a blip on the computer screen circumnavigate the entirety of the North East, before it finally arrives at his front door, the very last stop on a hugely attenuated route.
It turned out that the Monkey Butler Boy was indeed sporting a new pair of “fresh sneaks” (thank you Thing#1 for the sudden injection of street-cred to this otherwise pedestrian and sadly dated blerg) in the form of very white, brand spanking new fiz’i:k shoes. As promised, the Monkey Butler Boy also revealed his secret weapon in the war to keep them that way – a packet of baby wipes shoved deep into his back pocket.
With time approaching for our grand depart, G-Dawg spent some time anxiously looking round for Richard of Flanders, our route planner and leader for the day who appeared conspicuous by his absence. Then, the throng hushed and parted like the Red Sea and Richard of Flanders bestrode the pavement in all his glory.
He leaped nimbly up onto his pulpit-come-wall and formally introduced himself to his congregation, before outlining the route for the day. Then, after some consultation with his inner voices (and G-Dawg) he declared we would verily split into two distinct bands of acolytes for our weekly pilgrimage out into the wilderness.
I joined up with the first group and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Things were going well until we hit the road through Dinnington, which local conspiracy theorists laughably assert was the location chosen by NASA to fake the Moon landings. This is obviously arrant nonsense, as no lunar landscape has ever looked so bleak, so desolate and quite so disturbingly … well … alien, as the road through Dinnington.
While weaving and dodging through this week’s collection of new craters, crevasse’s, fissures, potholes, cracks and divots, my whole bike started to shake with such force that my bottle decided it was safer to bail out and I ended up swinging out of line so I could back-track and retrieve it.
I waved the group through and turned around, finding Rab Dee standing protectively over my errant bottle, trying to direct the traffic away from splattering its contents across the road. I recouped and made to regroup, as we started to chase back on, rounding the corner to find everyone pulled up in front of the shops. We don’t usually stop when people jettison bits and pieces from their bikes – I almost felt honoured …
Rab Dee waved at them to start riding again and we’d drop onto the back, but no one moved. We swept by, ready to take up position on the front, but no one moved. We slowed and looked back. No one moved. We slowed some more, still nothing. We came almost to a halt, balancing in a near track-stand and looking back. No one moved. Finally, we pulled over to the side of the rode and unclipped. We looked back again. Nope, we weren’t wrong – no one moved.
Our second group passed us, along with numerous other cyclists in bunches both large and small. It seemed everyone was out enjoying the improving weather.
After chatting for a couple of minutes, we rode back to our group, where we found Caracol had hit a pot and punctured and they were busy making repairs.
“He was trying to avoid a dropped bottle,” someone told me.
“Good, as long as he didn’t hit it.”
As we waited, Taffy Steve reflected on how he often confused Castelli and Caerphilly Llanelli and we wondered if a high-end, premium cycle wear was ever destined to be manufactured in the Valleys.
We finally got underway again, just in time to have our eardrums furiously assaulted by a boy racer, whose car thrashed past with a high-pitched shriek, like ten thousand cats having their tails force-fed into a blender.
I’m at a loss to see any merit in such a tortured, piercing, discordant and unattractive racket. I can see how some people are attracted to say the highly reminiscent drone of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, or the powerful throb of a Harley-Davidson, but the “car engine on the very edge of disintegrating” sound is miles away from these, its sole purpose seems to be decidedly anti-social and simply to disturb and annoy.
I found myself riding with the Monkey Butler Boy, who loudly cursed every patch of mud and puddle strewn across our route. He soon ran out of baby wipes and resorted to spit and much rubbing of fingers to try and keep his shoes utterly spotless. So vigorous and frequent were his cleaning ministrations that I had to warn him he was in danger of dehydration.
At one point, faced with a road spanning puddle, he simply uncleated and raised his feet above the handlebars and out of danger. This seemed to save the shoes, but startled a girl riding past in the other direction who was unprepared for such extreme manoeuvres and must have wondered what the hell was going on.
As we approached the Ryals, the Monkey Butler Boy and Garrulous Kid struck up a Faustian pact to ride down to the bottom and then, immediately turn around and ride back up again. Zardoz declared he only had party legs today, and took the turn off to the Quarry with a few others. The rest of us went piling down the Ryals, to pass through Steel Rigg and around Hallington Reservoir, before pinning our ears back for the burn to the café.
We kept the pace relatively sedate until turning onto the road down to the Snake Bends, where early attacks from Taffy Steve and the Big Yin were quickly snuffed out. Then G-Dawg accelerated down the outside with the Colossus firmly planted on his wheel and I followed, just for fun. As the road levelled and straightened, the Colossus accelerated away. Biden Fecht clawed his way across the gap and I latched onto him.
Biden Fecht fought to come to turns with the Colossus, but every time he started to draw level, the Colossus simply pushed a tiny bit harder. Realising this just wasn’t going to be his day, Biden Fecht hesitated almost imperceptibly. It was enough and I darted through on the inside, while Taffy Steve swept over the top.
Through the Snake Bends and onto the road and yet again we cast tradition aside, as the Big Yin rode off the front. We resisted as long as we possibly could, before finally succumbing and giving chase, just managing to hunt him down amidst a little too much traffic for comfort. We really do need to let it go … but, we seemingly can’t.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the queue we sympathised with Biden Fecht, who concluded that the Colossus had been toying with him, sprinting just slow enough to keep you interested, while in reality he had plenty in reserve and you had no chance of actually catching him.
We determined the weather was just about good enough to sit outside in the garden and on the way out, passed the Monkey Butler Boy in stockinged feet, reverentially carrying his slightly mud-speckled shoes toward the toilets to clean them in the sink.
We’d been sitting, enjoying the peace and quiet of the garden for a while, when the Garrulous Kid suddenly appeared, having lost his previous seat in the café. This had apparently, been usurped by his companions for a late arriving OGL. I wondered if the Garrulous Kids appreciated how low his reputation had sunk, with people preferring to listen to OGL’s hoary and oft-repeated fables, rather than the Kid’s butterfly-mind, verbal pinball meanderings and stream of obtuse, unrelated pronouncements.
Now the Garrulous Kid seemed obsessed with the marks and streaks appearing on his illuminous gloves and we concluded he’d spent too long in the company of the Monkey Butler Boy. Someone suggested he could probably wipe his gloves clean on a certain new pair of very white fiz’i:k shoes.
We then wondered what would happen if gloves and shoes were accidently placed in a washing machine together, before concluding that the funniest thing would be if the shoes were inadvertently washed along with one of the Red Max’s rogue, red socks and came out a nice shade of pink.
In a startling revelation and for a reason I can no longer recall, Taffy Steve declared that if he had to be a woman, he would be Beyoncé.No one argued.
While we struggled mightily to picture Taffy Steve as Beyoncé, the next task proved to be beyond even our most creative, fanciful and fantastically fevered imaginings, when someone pondered what a gang formed by the Garrulous Kid might be like.
A pleasant ride back was punctuated by further evasive manoeuvring from the Monkey Butler Boy as he tried to keep his shoes clean, including more unclipping to lift his feet high as he sailed through puddles. The trick here was finding the Goldilocks speed – too fast and the spray kicked up by the wheels would catch his shoes anyway, too slow and he ran the risk of losing all momentum and falling off.
I had a chat with the Red Max and learned he was somehow intent on blaming me for the Monkey Butler Boy’s inappropriate sartorial choices. I’m not sure what role he thinks I played, but I strenuously denied any responsibility.
Then I was swinging away for home, intent of squeezing as much enjoyment out of the ride as possible. I’ll miss next week’s ride for a tour of university accommodations, which typically coincides with a forecast, mini-heatwave and the best riding conditions of the year to date. Typical.
YTD Totals: 2,148 km / 1,335 miles with 24,533 metres of climbing
Total Distance 89 km / 62 miles with 862 metres of climbing
Ride Time:3 hours 51 minutes
Average Speed:23.1 km/h
Group size:5-6-5 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Turning Arctic
A week of commuting into work through snow, hail, slush and ice, had prepared me for the worst on Saturday, when temperatures remained manically depressed and I found myself questioning the wisdom of my own actions, even as I layered up and prepared to head out to ride across to the meeting point in the still gloomy dawn.
But, as I told everyone at work throughout the week, the roads seemed a whole lot safer than the pavements, although I wondered if I’d miss the reassuringly fat and heavily-ridged mountain-bike tyres of the Rockhopper, as I pulled the Pug out of the shed in preparation for the ride.
Down the hill, cutting wide of the icy ribbons down the gutters, it was chill, but we’d already ridden in much worse conditions once this winter. My digital checkpoint informed me it was a flat 1°C. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the rowers out on the river though, where half a dozen or more fragile-looking white hulls stood out stark against the cold, black waters.
As I’d found on my commutes, the roads were generally ok, as long as you didn’t stray off the beaten track and I had absolutely no issues as I passed through Swalwell, Blaydon, Newburn, Denton and Blakelaw on my north-east bound trajectory.
Then I got to what Wikipedia describes as the “affluent and well-established” area of Gosforth and things became increasingly sketchy. Side streets and pavements resembled ice-rinks, every speed bump was like a snow-boarders wet-dream of the perfect berm, and the cycle lane down the Great North Road appeared to have been commandeered to store all the excess snow that the ploughs had scraped off the road.
Rolling up to the meeting point, a dodgy road/pavement interface layered in ice, had me unclipping and trundling to a less than elegant stop.
Main topics of conversation at the start.
Awaiting me were just two stalwarts of the club, G-Dawg and Taffy Steve. Referencing the high incidence of dodgy roads through Gosforth and lack of snow and ice clearance, I had to ask G-Dawg if its fine and upstanding citizens had stopped paying their council taxes, or perhaps it was just assumed that everyone here could afford a 4 x 4.
Taffy Steve had likewise been commuting by bike into work, where he’d had a grandstand view of his fellow workers trying and failing to negotiate their un-gritted car park. From his observations, he concluded that most modern 4 x 4’s were only good for appearing in rap video’s and not actually all that suited to tricky road conditions.
Even as we were talking a middle-aged woman swaddled in scarves and muffled in a massive parka emerged and went shuffling down the opposite pavement, shaking out a thin, meagre trail of road salt from a small Tupperware container.
“There you go,” remarked G-Dawg dryly, “The council’s emergency response team in action, that’s where all the money goes…”
As we stood around, hopping from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep blood circulating, up rolled Aether and our plucky trio, expanded to a string quartet, the four riders of the all chapped lips. Aether had been suffering all week with a heavy dose of man-flu and, like me a few weeks ago, had pondered Crazy Legs’ recommendation to try riding through it.
Aether had even gone as far as consulting Dr. “Snake-Oil” Crazy Legs via social media:
A: “I’m feeling rough with the cold. Do you think a run out on Saturday will do me good?”
And a minute later,
CL: “… Not sure.”
To which Benedict had helpfully added, “CL is correct on this one.”
Oh well, I guessed we were going to find out.
G-Dawg informed us that OGL was suffering with his own version of man flu and wouldn’t be out today. Apparently, he was even too sick to drive past to tell us we were all insane, the roads would be lethal and we were all doomed. We discussed the possibility that his contact in the “Outer Hebrides” was just a massive wind-up merchant, who liked scaremongering with exaggerated tales of dire weather engulfing the region. The weight of evidence certainly seems to be leaning that way.
News had filtered through that Richard of Flanders would be out of action for a few weeks with his wrist wrapped in plaster following an accident. We had to clarify for Taffy Steve that this accident wasn’t of the bike-on-ice variety, but a seemingly far more common sporting injury, the kind all too familiar to middle-aged men who tried to defy time by haring around 5-a-side football pitches like a bunch of hoodlum teenagers. Now that’s what I call lethal.
Biden Fecht arrived as we waited, negotiating the icy road/pavement interface with far more aplomb than I had. He’d apparently been slightly delayed by layering on top of his layering, allegedly up to 5 different strata of insulating material on his feet alone, including a reflective, tin foil barrier.
We’ve all been there, all tried and all pretty much concluded it doesn’t work – although G-Dawg’s the only one to claim his sheets of tin foil were utterly destroyed and emerged from his shoes shredded into a million tiny flakes. (I’ve no idea what he does with his feet while pedalling and really don’t want to know.)
At Garmin Muppet Time + 3, we decided we’d waited as long as possible and that this was it in terms of numbers. With a verbal agreement on a basic route, including plenty of room for on the fly adjustments, the five of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I dropped to the back and slotted in between the last pair on the road, in what I thought was the ideal, sheltered position. Later though, Taffy Steve rotated off the front and dropped back to chat. This left Aether sitting alone, right in the middle of the pack between the front and rear pair, and if anything this looked even more sheltered. I’m sure that, physically and temperature-wise, there was no discernible difference, but psychologically it just looked a whole lot cosier.
As we passed through Ponteland and onto lesser trafficked and less clear roads, we picked up the Big Yin who’d missed us at the start, but more by chance than good management, picked a route that neatly intersected with our ride. He swung round to give chase, dropped in amongst us and we reshuffled the pack and pressed on.
For the most part the roads G-Dawg chose were good, but you didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble and there was plenty of snow and ice to go around if you looked hard enough.
Taffy Steve suggested we take a leaf out of his recent mountain bike excursion with Crazy Legs and call into the café at Kirkley Cycles for an early, warming and fortifying beverage. This sounded like an eminently sensible and civilised suggestion and was duly adopted.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … Part One
Biden Fecht revealed that his multiple layering didn’t seem to be working all that well, his feet in particular were already frozen and he couldn’t add any more layers as his shoes couldn’t accommodate the bulk. The Big Yin was toting chemical hand-warmers and I wondered if they’d help if I shoved them down the front of my bib-tights. G-Dawg went one further and suggested you could buy a couple of dozen of them to gaffer-tape all over your body.
Taffy Steve thought we’d done well to sit away from the cycling merchandise displayed on the walls, avoiding the temptation to buy up their entire stock of clothing to wear on the go.
For some reason the conversation turned to Rolls-Royce cars, with Taffy Steve recounting that Crazy Legs had done some work at one of the Rolls-Royce plants. Apparently, they’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his devotion to his Renault Cactus, while Crazy Legs in turn had been thoroughly unimpressed by their offer of an obsidian coated “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, that just looked discoloured, black and gunky. Taffy Steve suggested this would only appeal to someone with an unhealthy Minecraft obsession, or far more money than sense.
The only thing I knew about a Rolls-Royce was the much over-quoted, Ogilvy ad-copy from marketing lectures in the dim and distant past, to paraphrase, “at 60 miles an hour, all you’ll hear is the clock ticking.” Biden Fecht recalled getting a lift in a Roller once, something he considered the very pinnacle of his hitch-hiking activities. He reported it had been the ultimate in comfort, but rather disquietingly smooth and silent.
Having enjoyed our brief, impromptu sojourn and a chance to thaw out a little, G-Dawg identified two more cafés en route to our usual stop and we considered whether we should call in to those as well.
As we were bundling ourselves up to leave a fellow cyclist burst through the door and loudly declared, “the roads are bloody shoite.” Nobody argued.
Out once again, onto the bloody shoite roads, I pushed on at the front alongside G-Dawg, refusing to look back or acknowledge Biden Fecht’s forlorn cry of disappointment as we rode straight past the next potential café without even a glance.
Much more frequently than usual, we now started encountering feral packs of cyclists with hungry looking eyes. Much like us, they travelled in small, buzzing, compact groups of half a dozen or so riders, roaming the roads as if searching for easy prey – the old, weak and infirm, the abandoned and those who had become dangerously separated from the herd.
We finally hit a T-Junction and had a choice to make, turn right and in 3 or 4-miles we would hit Morpeth. Turn left and we were just a few miles away from Whalton and on direct route to our usual coffee stop, where we’d be arriving just a tad too early. The only issue with the Morpeth route was we couldn’t think of a good return leg that wasn’t likely to be ice-bound and potentially dangerous.
After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to head straight to the café and from there work out a longer route home for the added miles.
As we turned onto the road for Whalton, our senses were assailed by the gagging, eye-watering stink of muck spreading in the surrounding fields and we pressed on quickly to escape.
A little further on, and G-Dawg’s phone started ringing insistently and incessantly and, assuming it was important, he rode off the front to buy himself the time to answer. Taffy Steve surmised it must be serious if someone would knowingly interrupt G-Dawg’s sacred, Saturday morning, club-run ritual.
As G-Dawg pulled out a gap ahead, a tractor and trailer sneaked out of field in-between us and we found ourselves not only on shoite roads, but closely following a farmers shoite-wagon – fresh from muck-spreading in the fields and trailing its own entirely fearsome smell behind it. Caustic! That certainly clears the nostrils. Perhaps it’s something Team Sky could investigate for beneficial marginal gains, although to be fair they’re doing a fair job of creating their own malodorous stink at the moment.
G-Dawg re-joined and we guessed his intrusive phone call hadn’t been a matter of life and death after all. From his grumpy face, I could only assume that during his essential phone call, he’d just learned he’d been miss-sold PPI, or realised he’d been involved in an imaginary traffic accident that wasn’t his fault.
He took his evident frustrations out on his pedals and he and Biden Fecht rode off the front to contest the café sprint. No one else seemed all that bothered and we all trailed in behind and at our own pace.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … The Sequel
In the café, a Morpeth-based cyclist in civvies stood at the counter waiting to be served and declared he couldn’t decide if we were brave, or foolish to be out riding today. I didn’t actively disagree with the foolish moniker, but then again we weren’t the ones who’d driven out to a café, sans bike, to meet up with our cycling buds when we could have been lying-in at home, in a nice warm bed.
Amongst our many, many fond memories of Superstars; Kevin Keegan’s bike-handling abilities, Brian Jacks devouring oranges (seemingly whole), Mo Farah’s canoe-piloting …err… skills? and Brian Hooper’s all-round excellence, G-Dawgs recollection of 1980 Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk’s performance in the gym tests stood out.
Asked to see how many push-ups he could master in one minute, G-Dawg reported Zoetemelk bravely and elegantly managed to lower his upper torso to the floor … and that was it. Apparently, he then needed assistance to get back up again.
Someone had spotted an Internet video of a group of cyclists in South Africa being impressively paced and then schooled for speed by an ostrich. Although judged irascible, dim-witted, unpredictable, fractious, powerful and dangerous, Taffy Steve vowed he’d rather take his chances riding alongside the ostrich than with the Garrulous Kid.
Further discussion about layering for the cold and the use of tin foil led to the thought that Biden Fecht might consider an insulating layer of goose fat, once the best-in-class, fat of choice for discerning Channel swimmers, well, after baby dolphin fat became somewhat frowned upon.
“Goose fat stinks, though,” Aether declared, knowledgeably. He seems to know a lot about such things, though I’ve never had him pegged as a Channel swimmer.
His assertion immediately set off alarm bells for me … we pass so many hunts that the lingering aroma of roasted game bird could easily trigger the prey-drive instinct in the dogs. Being chased by a pack of hounds could possibly be as dangerous as being stalked by a rabid ostrich … although it obviously pales into insignificance in comparison to the risks of riding with the Garrulous Kid.
We then overheard, or perhaps mis-overheard, the staff talking about an old boiler in the gent’s toilet. While Aether boldly went to investigate, the rest of us quickly started gathering up our things in anticipation of having to make a swift exit …
Our usual, longer, alternative route home through Stamfordham was mooted and then quickly agreed. Off we went. Once again, we were struck by how frequently we encountered other small groups of roaming cyclists. It wasn’t until G-Dawg explained the obvious that I finally caught on, the snow and ice had forced us all onto the few roads that were guaranteed to be more or less clear, safe and passable. Restricting road choice meant we were much more likely to pass other cyclists. Ah, now I get it.
As for the fact all of the groups were small, only 6, 7 or 8 strong? I seemed to recall it’s a little known British Cycling bye-law that each club has to nominate up to “half a dozen stout, cycling yeomen volunteers” who will be named “the Usual Suspects“ and deemed “foolish enough to turn up for the club run regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.” British Cycling, Club Rules: Section 12, Subsection 2.4, Sub clause 17b.
Channelling his inner-roving troubadour and making up for the absence of Crazy Legs to provide us with musical accompaniment, Biden Fecht took note of the branding on my bib-tights and invited me to join him in a rousing chorus of UB40’s, “I am the one in Tenn.” I politely declined.
Then, the road was dipping down, everyone was slowing for a sharp left, while I kept straight on, starting my solo ride back home.
At the lights before the bridge, I pulled up behind a large estate car, much to the excitement of two Jack Russel terriers travelling in the cargo well. Being too small to see directly out of the rear window, they kept springing up, one after the other like demented Whack-a-Moles, trying to catch a glimpse of the mad cyclist stupid enough to be out in the cold and ice.
Luckily, there was no need to call into Pedalling Squares this week to see how Thing#1 was getting along, she’d shipped herself off to Leeds to check out her University accommodation for next September.
Besides, although Pedalling Squares seemed to like her and had offered her more work, she’d declined and I think I understand why … too many bloody cyclists.
Anyway I’m not sure yet another coffee was such a good idea – I was likely to be buzzing until Wednesday as it was.
Year Totals: 360 km / 212 miles with 4,402 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 103 km / 55 miles with 1,082 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed: 23.5 km/h
Group size: 20 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Mild
A relatively mild, dry and wind free day was promised, as I headed along the valley on my way across to the meeting point for the club run. The open sky was thickly layered and muffled in grey cloud which became suffused in muted, pale colours as the sun slowly leeched away the darkness.
The cloud filtered and muddied the colours, like looking at the world through Old English Spangles rather than just Spangles, although, I’m sure by now most of you are scratching your heads and wondering what the hell I’m talking about …
As I pushed along, two consequences of my pre-Christmas commuting tumble on the ice became evident. The first was that the replacement saddle and new seatpost weren’t quite dialled in right. The saddle in particular looked level, but must have been infinitesimally tilted up at the nose, and I felt like I was constantly slipping off the back and having to adjust my position.
The other was, that somewhere on the ride across, the hairline fissure in the rear mudguard opened to become a yawning chasm as the back half slipped down. Now, whenever the road surface became rough, the two halves would bang together, like the manic chattering of a demonically possessed skull.
It was a sound that unfortunately was going to accompany for the entire ride, an audible indicator of the poor state of Northumberland’s roads, or, another blast-from-the-past, like riding behind someone with an annoying Clackers obsession. No, that’s not a euphemism.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
At the meeting point I raised and adjusted the saddle. It helped a little and would get me round, but it still wasn’t quite right. There was nothing I could do about the infernal chattering of the mudguard though. I’d just have to live with that, along with every other unfortunate rider I shared the road with.
I learned that last week’s ride had been enlivened when, in attempting to unclip from his pedal, G-Dawg had instead managed to detach the entire pedal from his bike, and it came away still firmly latched to the sole of his shoe. His ride home had then been a largely one-legged, imbalanced, lop-sided affair, trying not to put too much force through a hastily jury-rigged repair. This in turn had led to strange muscular aches and pains over the next few days as his body tried to recover from its unusual ordeal.
I suggested that in the aftermath he must have looked like a drunken sailor, rolling down the gangplank for 4-days shore leave and he confirmed he’d spent several days inadvertently walking round in circles and had to tack to get anywhere.
The rise in temperature from the sub-Arctic to heady, shockingly temperate and mild, encouraged lots of crazy talk of best bikes and shorts. Seriously? I know it was probably 6 or 7° warmer than it had been last week, but the temperature was still firmly sunk into single figures. Surely we haven’t become all that toughened and inured to the cold?
I know for a fact that I haven’t, besides I’m not convinced the winter is quite done with us yet.
OGL turned up, sorely vexed that promising young gun, Jimmy Cornfeed has officially left our club to follow in the footsteps of the likes of zeB and the Monkey Butler Boy. Somehow OGL refuses to see that our “one-speed to suit all” club runs simply aren’t going to be challenging enough for anyone with a modicum of youth and fitness, or the slightest competitive impulses and ambitions.
I told him I thought the move was entirely predictable and I was just surprised it hadn’t happened sooner, after all what youngster wants to ride with a bunch of auld gits who can remember a world without Doritos, Twister, Tippex or the Toyota Corolla… you know what I mean, don’t you, the kind of person who references Clackers … or even Old English Spangles …
Displaying the patience of a soon-to-be martyred saint, Benedict tried a reasoned approach with OGL, suggesting we have the abilities and capabilities to change things up and could do much more to support youngsters or novice riders. His suggestions were washed away in a tsunami of derision, invective, rose-tinted nostalgia, recriminations and obdurate, self-righteous certainty. Plus ca change …
And so we trundle on and nothing fundamentally changes, besides a rising tide of general disgruntlement on all sides. It would appear we’ve wholeheartedly embraced Einstein’s view of insanity and are doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.
Still, showing us it is possible to change and old dawgs can learn new tricks, along with replacement pedals, G-Dawg’s fixie was improbably sporting a brand new set of mudguards! Crazy Legs said he thought hell would freeze over before he witnessed such a thing, while I was simply too shocked to comment, quite literally gobsmacked to use the local parlance.
G-Dawg’s plan for the day was also to have a novel twist at the end, proposing a much travelled route, right up until the bottom of Middleton Bank, where we would take a sharp right and then climb up by a slightly different route.
The mild weather had drawn a reasonable crowd out, with 20 riders formed up and ready to go. We pushed off, clipped in and rolled out.
Things were progressing smoothly as we spun up Berwick Hill in a compact whirring mass, but a right turn at the top and a shallow, but long and winding descent naturally had the group more strung out. This apparently though translated to everyone being “all over the road” and elicited generally incomprehensible bellows of complaint.
“Oh, we’ll,” the Colossus countered sarcastically, “We’ll just turn gravity off, shall we?
Caracol and Crazy Legs ceded the front to G-Dawg and Zardoz, who in turn, eventually ceded to the Colossus and me and we called a brief pit stop beside Tranwell airfield before pressing on. As another long descent strung us out we zipped past a dog-walker who pulled two massive Rottweilers to the side of the road and swung his legs over them as we zipped past. I’m pretty sure he was simply trying to corral his dogs, but it looked like he was preparing to ride them back up the hill.
I wondered aloud if G-Dawg’s Labradors would make good sled dogs. The Colossus decided they would, but being Labradors, if you harnessed them to a bike, they’d probably take off in two completely different directions at once.
We now found ourselves on the long, hated drag up to Dyke Neuk, where we stopped to split the group, losing a handful to a harder, faster, longer slog up to Rothley crossroads, while the rest of us pushed on toward Hartburn. A further splinter group then took a left to head through Angerton, while the rest pushed on to Middleton Bank.
Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs decided to forgo the pleasure of G-Dawg’s route-wrinkle, pressing straight on for Middleton Bank. I found myself joining them on impulse. The Garrulous Kid tagged along and the four of us started the climb as the others turned off at the foot of the hill.
As we swept past Bolam Lake, Crazy Legs asked the Garrulous Kid to do a turn on the front and, very reluctantly, he pulled out, rode up to the front … and then charged off into the distance. Hmm, not quite what Crazy Legs had in mind.
Sneaky Pete took over on the front of our small group and we began to track our errant escapee. As we swept through Milestone Wood, I took over, attacking up the rollers to catch the Garrulous Kid, who immediately sat up and drifted back to latch on to a rear wheel.
I pulled us over the last slope, down the dip and up toward the final climb. All the while, my rear mudguard chittered and chattered away, providing a manic commentary to the ride, like chimp on speed. I wasn’t going to be sneaking up behind anyone today.
As I rounded the last corner, the Garrulous Kid, with supreme predictability, jumped away again and I let him go, sliding back onto Sneaky Pete’s wheel as we bounced and jolted our way upwards over the broken and distressed road surface.
As the last few ramps unfolded, I increased the tempo and started to reel in the Kid, but I’d left it too late and ran out of road, so had to sit up just before I caught his rear wheel.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the café, Crazy Legs tried to explain to the Garrulous Kid some of the niceties of group riding and in particular doing a bit of work to everyone else’s benefit. What others might see as blatant wheel-sucking though, the Garrulous Kid considers as his evil genius and supreme tactical nous.
I can only refer him to Velominati Rule #67 and hope he learns to leave his crass, callow and embarrassing behaviour behind:
Rule #67 // Do your time in the wind.
Nobody likes a wheel sucker. You might think you’re playing a smart tactical game by letting everyone else do the work while you sit on, but races (even Town Sign Sprints) are won through cooperation and spending time on the rivet, flogging yourself and taking risks. Riding wheels and jumping past at the end is one thing and one thing only: poor sportsmanship.
At the table, every time the Garrulous Kid tried to interrupt Crazy Legs evoked the spirit of Marcel Marceau and simply mimed being trapped in a glass cube, where annoying external sounds simply couldn’t penetrate to disturb his serenity.
This gave me a chance to trot out the old joke about whether you had to use a silencer if you wanted to assassinate a mime and Crazy Legs countered with the best Dad joke I’ve heard in a long while – how do you kill a circus? Go straight for the juggler. Ba-boom! (See, youngsters like Jimmy Cornfeed just can’t cope with these levels of mature, highly sophisticated mirth. No wonder they have to leave our club.)
Sneaky Pete mentioned he’d found a café called Teacake Max out on the coast and wondered if anyone had visited. We applauded the name, but for me it still doesn’t quite beat Sunderland’s Fausto Coffee cycling café. Meanwhile I warned my fellow riders away from the Pedalling Squares café, as Thing#1 was working there on a trial basis.
Crazy Legs has been told he bears a passing resemblance to the actor Dennis Lawson, a much better shout than some of the wholly improbable, “don’t you think he looks like …” statements that the Garrulous Kid comes up with. The Garrulous Kid tried Googling images of Dennis Lawson, but his phone seemed to take forever to conduct even a simple online search. This, he stated was because he only had “Free G” – I guess that’s what you have to accept when you don’t pay for your phone service…
The acting chops of Samuel L. Jackson came up in conversation and Crazy Legs suggested his greatest movie role (yet) had to be Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.
“But, but,” The Garrulous Kid protested, “Wasn’t he in Night at the Museum?”
Finally, as we were leaving, the Garrulous Kid finally managed to pique Crazy Legs’ interest with a fact about the discovery of fossilised bacteria on Mars. I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t fake news to rank alongside his contention that Donald Trump is reinstating national service, and because he was born in Norf Carolina and holds dual passports, the Garrulous Kid is in danger of being forcefully conscripted into Uncle Sam’s armed forces. (Remember, he’s already told me he would excel in the military as he’s, like a very stable, tactical genius.)
Despite it’s uncertain veracity, Crazy Legs determined that the statement about life on Mars was possibly the most interesting thing the Garrulous Kid had ever said – and charged him to come up with another interesting factoid for next week.
There was only time then for the Kid to unwisely insult the Colossus by referring to him as Ginger Ben and then we were out and gathering to head home. A pensioner volunteered to start us off with a wave of her walking stick and away we rolled.
Everything split on the reverse climb back up Berwick Hill and I managed to tag onto the back of the front group as we crested the top, hanging there until we entered the Mad Mile when G-Dawg, Caracol, the Colossus and Cow Ranger lined it out in a last mad dash and I was cut adrift to pick my own way home.
I rattled, clattered, clanged and chattered my way to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before taking a slight detour to call into Pedalling Squares to see how Thing#1 was getting on. They asked her back to work on the Sunday as well, so I guess she did ok.
Then, fuelled by one of Pedalling Square’s excellent espresso’s, I pushed up the hill and home to end my first club run of 2018.
YTD Totals: 215 km / 134 miles with 2,808 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 122 km / 76 miles with 1,142 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:25.5 km/h
Group size:24 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Tom Verlaine (Warm and Cool)
A dry looking Saturday, but grey and dull with light rain showers forecast, but not until around midday. I’d managed to survive a semi-debauched work leaving do involving “jalee-peeno” chilli peppers and “crotch mints” on Friday night (I couldn’t tell you, even if I knew…) and was looking forward to blowing the fuzz away with a bracing gentleman’s excursion by velocipede.
The dodgy knee was well-strapped up in an attempt to try and keep everything in place and I’d dug out some knee warmers to disguise the shocking pink bandage. I even remembered my long-fingered gloves, so was well wrapped up and warm dropping down the hill to start my ride.
The leaden, uniform cloud cover was fractured by only a single band of pale, glittering blue-sky, far away across the other side of the valley. It was exactly where I was heading and seemed like a good omen.
We were set for one of G-Dawg’s carefully prepared, somewhat alternative rides and he’d obviously been scouring ordnance survey maps, ancient parish records, local archives and the latest military-grade, topographical satellite imagery to find us a route somewhat less-travelled. The ride had been posted up on Facebook and looked like being not only novel, but slightly longer than usual. It was going to be a good one.
It seemed to be a day for fellow cyclists to be out on the roads in force – perhaps the forecast for rain later in the day had encouraged them to leave home early, or maybe they too needed to work off the previous night’s excesses.
I passed one group clustered just outside Pedalling Squares cycle café and hoped they didn’t need an espresso to kick-start their ride – the place was still an hour away from opening. I waved past another couple heading east and a third group tracked me along the valley floor for a while, but either turned off, or got caught behind some lights, so never caught up for a chat.
After last week’s flotilla of single sculls, there was only a solitary eight out on the river, leading me to idly speculate that rowing isn’t really as popular as it seems. Perhaps this eight was manned by the exact same rowers as last week’s sculls and they just changed boats occasionally to spice things up. If next week they’re back to 8-singles, or possibly 4-doubles, I think I might be onto something.
The knee got its first test as I climbed out the other side of the valley, but the strapping seemed to be doing its work, it wasn’t exactly 100% but I could live with a few small twinges. Interestingly it seemed less sore when climbing standing up and out of the saddle.
The first test passed, I was soon homing in on the meeting point, arriving in good time and in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
G-Dawg had bedecked himself in the brightest, most luminous, acid-orange socks I’d ever seen, perhaps so he was especially prominent as ride leader and to ensure no one got lost – the cycling equivalent of Rudolph’s red-nose? Taffy Steve later remarked he thought G-Dawg had installed a special two-tone gold chain with orange highlights, until he realised he was just seeing the glow of the glaringly orange socks reflected in the chains highly burnished plates.
The Garrulous Kid declared OGL had promised to show him the “secret way.” Yes, well … ahem … hmmm … moving swiftly on.
Crazy Legs was wearing a jersey I donated to him as it was too long in the body for me and I felt it was the perfect complement to his much cossetted Ribble. The colours were not only the exact shade of red, black and white to match the Ribble’s frame, but featured in almost identical proportions too. So, naturally he’d decided to wear it while riding his celeste Bianchi …
(He did actually explain that he fully intended to ride the much cossetted Ribble today, but it had refused, point-blank to leave the warm, dry sanctuary of its hyperbaric chamber, asserting there was just the faintest trace of moisture in the air and a more than 2.5% chance of rain.)
Jimmy Mac returned from participating in the UCI Gran Fondo event, where he’d lined up in Albi with 2,939 other riders from 56 different nations, including at least one Dutchman, our own de Uitheems Bloem. The latter has now left this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, in order to return to his homeland of polders and dykes. Veel success, Thomas, we’ll miss you.
Jimmy Mac had survived the Gran Fondo which, in his estimation had not only been blisteringly fast, but blisteringly hot too. Once again and much like the Etape du Tour, the event organisation seemed to have thoroughly let the riders down though and he reported the en route feed stations had run out of water long before he got to them.
G-Dawg outlined the route, OGL emphasised there was only one cut-off point for anyone wanting a shorter ride and we split more or less (we’re learning) into two equal groups with Crazy Legs leading the first and G-Dawg the second.
We pushed off, clipped in and rode out…
On the road with the first group, I started chatting with Taffy Steve and was taken to task for not acknowledging his most invaluable contributions in the engine room of last week’s gimp express, as we tried unsuccessfully to rein in the rampaging Zardoz and the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc.
Suitably chastened, talk turned to the “classic” bloke-films that Taffy Steve is ensuring his son has an encyclopaedic and deep, empathic understanding of, before the boy is cast, adrift and defenceless, into a world full of rom-cons, chick-flicks, historical dramas, much-too earnest bio-pics, classical literature screen-adaptations and other such horrors.
Point Break, the original 1960’s Batman and the Matrix films had already been covered off, while we discussed the relative merits of Die Hard, Predator and the Lethal Weapon series, with a special nod to Clint Eastwood, a few spaghetti-westerns and of course Where Eagles Dare.
Never mind the implausibility, the occasionally ropey special effects, the scripts full of anachronisms and “more holes than a horse trader’s mule” – just sit back and enjoy the visceral excitement. How good must it be to discover these films for the first time?
Once Crazy Legs had rotated off the front we had a remarkably rare sighting of a couple of Grogs leading us and their efforts dragged us to the top of the valley before the plunge down into Wylam.
It was here that OGL would lead off a splinter group for those seeking a slightly shorter ride, seemingly taking most of the Grogs with him along with the Garrulous Kid, who continues to take the easy option and might need to be renamed the Wimpy Kid.
It was also at this point that OGL’s “secret route” was revealed … apparently a different, safer way we could take down into the Tyne Valley. The only trouble was it was only accessible if we travelled a mile or two in the wrong direction down the Military Road.
I must admit I don’t quite understand his concern – the descent into Wylam is fast, but the road’s wide, the bends are all gently sweeping and the traffic relatively light. We usually get strung out going down, but soon regroup at the bottom for the ride along the river side.
Anyway, as Crazy Legs reasoned, it would still be far better to deal with the descent, even if it was gnarly, rather than spend any more time than absolutely necessary dicing with the reckless, impatient, and frequently speeding drivers on the Military Road “race-track.”
So, down we went and I tucked up and dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs, letting gravity do the work as we hit over 40 mph. As always, great fun.
Along the valley floor and a black cat darted across the road in front of us, the bell on its collar jingling lightly, but clearly loud enough for Crazy Legs to suggest it was nearly as good as cow bells on an Alpine climb. Once safely on the pavement the cat stopped to eye us up suspiciously, making sure we kept right on going.
At the Bywell Bridge, now fully open to anyone brave enough to venture into the dark and brooding lands south of the river, we stopped to merge with the following group led by G-Dawg. All together we then swung away to the right and starting the long climb back out of the valley.
I topped the hill before the A69 dual carriageway just off the front group and with perfect timing, as a gap miraculously appeared in the rushing traffic. I picked my way across to the other side without stopping and pulled up to ensure everyone was across before continuing to climb upwards.
We were now traversing the side of the hill, travelling slightly eastwards, rather than heading straight up and as the road continued to climb I started working my way through the back markers. Szell, Sneaky Pete, Aether and Brink in particular didn’t seem to be enjoying the uphill segments and I slipped past them as the road continued upwards.
We stopped to regroup and pressed on through more climbing – and then hit the rinse and repeat button, more climbing and more regrouping. Somewhere along the way I lost track of Szell and was convinced he was tailed-off and riding behind the group.
I communicated my concern to Rab Dee, our backmarker, sweeper-up and self-appointed guardian of waifs and strays and we spent an age soft-pedalling and peering backwards, hoping to see a struggling Szell finally haul himself into view. There was nothing.
We stopped and waited, finally surmising Szell may have taken a different route, before reluctantly pushing on again. At the junction Aether and Radman had waited for us, but the rest of the group had kept going.
We then had a mile or so chasing into the wind, before catching up to the rest of the group who were waiting at the next junction and insisted Szell was in a group up ahead! They still had trouble convincing me he wasn’t lost, alone and palely loitering, though.
At this point it became apparent we’d now lost Rab Dee too and Aether back-tracked to find he was having problems with his front shifter. Rab finally re-joined, but only long enough to let us know he was stuck in the inner ring and cutting short his ride to head homeward.
We now took one of G-Dawg’s “paths less-travelled” – turning off the main roads onto a rutted and pitted farm track that narrowed to the point where I was becoming concerned it was going to peter out altogether and abandon us in the middle of a field.
There were a few pots to avoid, lumps to slalom round and gravel to surf through, but we kept going and G-Dawg’s plan didn’t fail us.
With a noise like a Winchester ricochet in a cheesy Western, a wheel ahead spat up a small boulder which flew with unerring accuracy to rap Taffy Steve across the knuckles.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed, before quickly realising he had to translate his hurt into the local Geordie vernacular, or nobody would have a clue about what had happened…
“Ai-ya, that knaacks!” he quickly corrected himself.
Finally, we emerged from the wilderness onto more civilised roads, with everyone seeming to instantly recognise where they were. Well, everyone except me.
“This is part of the route the Cyclone takes,” Taffy Steve informed me.
“Maybe, but at this stage, after the Ryals, I’m usually reduced to an exhausted wreck with tunnel-vision and can only ride with my head bowed down. I don’t recognise anything.”
“How long have you lived in Newcastle?” Taffy Steve asked in disbelief.
“I don’t live in Newcastle,” I protested.
“Hmm, must just be because you work there that you’ve developed that thin veneer of civility.”
“Kee-argh!” Zardoz announced, at the sound of a motor-vehicle approaching from behind.
His exaggerated Scouse bleat still sounded like my cat retching up a fur-ball.
I tried to copy this most extraordinary noise, but succeeded only in sounding like a mildly startled crow. Embarrassingly, it was as pitiful as Ed Miliband’s death metal scream as he tried to imitate Napalm Death frontman, Barney Greenway.
“You need lessons,” Zardoz declared phlegmatically.
He wasn’t wrong.
Radman and Crazy Legs took to the front for the last push through Stamfordham and I finally recognised where we were. They swung us left and up the hill, as we started a last push on to the café.
Above us massive wind-turbines whirred freely and we quickly came to understand just why they’d been placed where they were, as out of nowhere, the stretch of road suddenly became a perfect, natural wind-tunnel, funnelling a vicious headwind straight into our faces.
Radman and Crazy Legs drove us through this gale and onto the junction leading down to the Snake Bends where, as suddenly as the wind had sprang up, it died away again.
There was no full-blooded sprint, just a general quickening of the pace and I was able to stay comfortably in line despite discovering I’d been riding on the inner ring.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I was somewhat relieved to discover Szell comfortably ensconced in the café when we arrived, supping his tea and devouring a warm scone. I guess he was in the group up the road after all, but I’m still confused as to when and where (and how?) he passed me on the climb.
We sat outside into the garden after being served, where the owner-proprietor of Azione bikes passed by and stopped for a brief chat. Azione must be the only people producing custom-made, bespoke carbon bikes in Newcastle (Azione.cc).
A couple of our crew are “Azionista’s” – one is very, very enthusiastic about the project, the other a little more circumspect. Very nice designs, but a bit too rich for my blood – which I guess is just another way of admitting I’m a cheapskate – or, as tight as a wallaby’s sphincter, as some of my more erudite friends might suggest.
I think Jimmy Mac got the full sales pitch, but refreshingly, unlike a similar encounter with the MD of the Storck UK, at least the Azione guy wasn’t trying to spin us a tale about his frames being anything other than high-end and unashamedly expensive, premium bikes.
The Garrulous Kid unwisely started guessing peoples ages, straddling the line between fawning sycophantism and uncomfortable, derogatory and disparaging disrespect. Luckily Taffy Steve cut him short before he really insulted someone.
Radman stated how much he’d enjoyed the ride and how it made a change from the shorter route he usually takes with the Grogs and we all agreed it had been a great one today. He wasn’t a fan of the coffee at the café though and we couldn’t persuade him to have a second cup, even after Crazy Legs had press-ganged the Garrulous Kid into collecting our refills – more for a moments respite than any laziness on our part.
Radman revealed the Grogs always met up early for a pre-ride espresso, which sounds very civilised and means they can time their arrival for after any OGL proselytizing – so not only civilised, but sensible too.
In the car park as we were leaving, I was approached by a couple enquiring which club we were from. Despite wondering if they were going to report us to the Police for unknown misdemeanours, I answered truthfully – the garish club jerseys were well represented anyway and they’re all emblazoned with the club name, so there wasn’t much wriggle-room.
Apparently though, the couple were cyclists from Lincoln (Lincoln Wheelers, I think) who were just returning from a walking event in Peebles and were admiring all the bikes. They seemed rather jealous that we had such a glorious day for a ride, while they still had a couple of hours drive ahead of them.
As we set off for home I dropped in behind Sneaky Pete and heard all about his potential 15 minutes of fame, as he’d been filmed for the new BBC One series, How to Stay Young, due to air on Wednesday, 13th September at 21.00.
Answering the call for retired gentlemen of a certain vintage, Sneaky Pete had to endure a battery of tests at the hands of no less than the fearsome Angela Ripon, before our mountain climbing and cycling superhero was declared an uber-healthy pensioner, with less than 6% body-fat and the physique of a 35-year-old Adonis.
We’ve yet to see if Sneaky Pete’s segment survives the cut, or is expunged for making the rest of us feel old, unworthy and inadequate.
Sneaky Pete, however is apparently not everyone’s flavour of the month. While I was away on holiday he’d found his picture appearing unsolicited on a social-media site, where he was accused, in terms that would make a sailor blush, of being a reckless cyclist who casually and disdainfully flouts the rules of the road.
Apparently Sneaky Pete and colleagues had been out on the usual Saturday club run and had somehow – and he has genuinely no idea how, or why – incurred the wrath of the driver of a black Mercedes. This woman had photographed him on her mobile and posted up the picture along with the derogatory remarks and had, apparently without the slightest hint of self-awareness or irony, accused him of breaking the law.
Just to be absolutely clear: The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No 4) Regulations 2003, prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is using a held-hand mobile telephone or a hand-held device. Regulation 110 (6)(c) provides a non-exhaustive list of “interactive communication functions” which are subject to this restriction, including: sending or receiving oral or written messages, sending or receiving facsimile documents, sending or receiving still or moving images, and providing access to the internet.
Contrary to what many drivers seem to think, the law still applies even if you’re stopped, or queuing in traffic – as the RAC conclude, “if your engine is running, your phone should be nowhere near your hands or eye line.”
Still, it’s good to know so many drivers have such a vested interest in ensuring people strictly adhere to the rules of the road …
It wasn’t long before I was swinging off and heading for home, enduring the lightest and briefest of rain showers that did nothing to dampen the mood or ruin the day. The knee held up quite well and only really hurt a couple of miles from home, when I needed to sprint through a small gap in the traffic at a busy roundabout.
Hopefully all on the road to recovery then.
YTD Totals: 5,409 km / 3,360 miles with 61,650 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 107 km/66 miles with 942 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed: 25.4 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Cool, calm, clear
Well, here’s a novelty – a Saturday that every forecast was insisting was going to be dry and with only a relatively mild wind to deal with after a series of forceful gusts blew themselves out overnight. Sounded great and ideal to trial a brand, spanking new bottom bracket to see if it could fend off an attack by freaky wallabies.
Despite the promise of a lack of rain, it was still sharply cold as I set off early, gathering speed as I swept down the Heinous Hill until the wind chill numbed my fingers and I began to wish I’d worn gloves. Things would warm up later, but it was a very slow and gradual process and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to shed the arm warmers until well past midday, when I was alone and already heading homeward.
Still, the main thing was the ride was smooth and most assuredly squeak free, lacking last week’s cacophony of annoying little ticks, squeals, creaks and groans. The only sounds now were the slight hiss of tyres lightly kissing the tarmac and the faint thrum of a new chain running smoothly over the gears. Ah, that’s more like it.
I made good time and was soon crossing the river, swinging back on myself and starting to climb up the other side of the valley. Here the chain announced some newfound dissatisfaction with a loud clunk as it skipped and slipped on the cassette. Suddenly pedalling became hard and then too easy and then hard again. I eased back and tried to spin up the climb without applying too much pressure, but every few revolutions brought a clunk and a scuff and a whirr and I topped out the climb with a strange staccato, stop-start rhythm.
My mechanical hiccups kept me so distracted I didn’t notice the miles slipping away and I was soon rolling up to the meeting point to find the early arrivees clustered around an FNG’s bike while I wondered how I got there so quickly. The FNG’s mechanical woes were considerably worse than mine – he’d snapped his gear cable, so had no choice but to limped off home, vowing to return and try again.
Main topic of conversation at the start:
OGL announced that due to a spate of cancellations at various events we wouldn’t be able to piggy-back on another clubs time-trial this year, so he suggested people submit their best 10-mile timetrial time to work out who the club champion would be. This had OGL and G-Dawg pondering where the world’s fastest downhill 10-course was, and whether they could get away with a bit of motor-pacing and verifying of each other’s times.
OGL then gave us the date for the clubs dreaded hill-climb, the day when grown men compete to inflict the most physical harm on their own bodies and see who can come closest to resembling a freshly interred corpse.
There was then a discussion about downhill trials, still practiced in certain parts of the country where riders will deliberately ship their chain to see who can freewheel the furthest after rolling down a hill.
Taffy Steve was mightily attracted to not only the simplicity of this challenge, but also the two words downhill and freewheel. He also quite liked the sound of its associated intensive nutritional and dietary plan, which he translated as eating as many pies as possible in order to build body mass, then hoping that gravity would do the rest. I think he saw the concept as the ultimate revenge on all the racing snakes with their starved-whippet physiques and disturbing ability to float uphills. Yes Plumose Pappus, I’m looking at you.
The Cow Ranger arrived on a vintage steel, Paul Hewitt bike that he’d built for his son while at university in London, only to find out it had mouldered away, largely unused. The Cow Ranger had now reclaimed it as a hack/potential winter bike and wanted to see how it would ride. There were tsk-tsk’s of disapproval from OGL at the slightly rust-spotted chain and then complete outrage when he spotted the non-standard seat pin bolt.
The Red Max was again without the Monkey Butler Boy, apparently laid low by the worst head cold ever known to man, so bad in fact that it has received special categorisation as “Boy Flu” by the World Health Organisation and declared as fifty times more debilitating than “Man Flu.” Or at least that’s what it sounded like according to how the Monkey Butler Boy (a.k.a. the Slacker and the Malingerer) was reportedly behaving.
I tried to soft-pedal along and keep all the embarrassing clunks and clangs to a bare minimum, chatting more than usual in a vain attempt to cover up the mechanical dissonance, or at least take my mind-off the racket. No one seemed to notice, or if they did they were nowhere near as perturbed as I was.
The route we took this week was once again and old and familiar, but with large sections completed in reverse, so the roads looked disconcertingly familiar, but not quite and all the hard uphill bits and easy downhill bits got confusingly mixed around. This prompted some discussion as to whether these were in fact different routes, or the same-old, same-old with just a fairly obvious twist.
As we completed a familiar loop around Angerton, but in a novel northwards direction I definitely found one major disadvantage as we battled away into a bit of a stiff headwind – if we been travelling in our usual direction we would actually have enjoyed a tailwind on this section – for the first time ever! That would have been a rare and unexpected luxury worth forgoing the novelty of the same-old, same-old in a slightly different way.
After a long stint Crazy Legs and the Red Max rotated off the front, allowing a capable and willing FNG and the Cow Ranger to assume point and pull us along. I found a gear that seemed a little more stable and less jittery than some of the others, but it meant I was attacking the hills a bit harder than everyone else as I tried to keep my momentum going. On one elongated ramp I passed the Cow Ranger who ceded the front to me and I dropped back to work alongside the seemingly indefatigable FNG.
Just as the youngsters started to get frisky and began jumping ahead on the climbs, there was a puncture at the back and everyone rolled to a stop. Here I found a perplexed and frustrated Red Max jabbing at random buttons on his brand new, all-singing, all-dancing Garmin as he looked at his slowly dwindling average speed in dismay, unable to work out how to toggle the computer to adjust its calculations to ignore stationary time.
“Maps!” he declared at one point, “I’ve found maps,” but still the device played the role of R2-D2 refusing to give up its secret Death Star plans and beeping and squealing indignantly beneath Max-as-C3PO’s prodding fingers.
Finally, before I suggested he tried slapping it hard and calling it an overweight glob of grease, he admitted defeat and vowed to turn to the dark side and actually read the manual. This, he obviously feels is a slight on his technical prowess and manhood that he may never recover from.
Puncture repaired and underway, OGL again suggested we split on the fly instead of stopping again. Luckily this week Happy Cat wasn’t around to follow the wrong wheels and we all seemed to find the right group. While the self-flagellation ride zipped off, everyone else actually took the same route, but the longer-harder-faster group were quickly up to speed and pulling away from the amblers.
There may have been some strange, strangled shouting from behind, but by this time it was quite faint and indistinct … so maybe not. Soon around a dozen of us had formed a compact, fast-moving swarm and the pace got kicked up another notch.
We hit Middleton Bank without appreciably slowing and a steady pace was maintained when my attempted attack was derailed by an extended bout of clunks and clangs as my chain started slipping frenziedly. I had no choice but to ease back into line, change down and just spin up the hill behind everyone as best I could.
The road levelled out and with a keen sense of self-preservation Crazy Legs urged the Red Max swap places. Once complete, Max was now on the outside with space to launch his inevitable forlorn hope attack without needing to barge through non-existent gaps. He duly delivered, but his lead never stretched beyond a couple of metres and he was closed down as we thundered through the Milestone Woods.
At the base of the first of the rollers I attacked hard and managed to keep going over the first and second ramp, before running out of steam on the third and last. I think I managed to open up a few gaps and splinter the group, but to be honest I wasn’t looking back.
I did manage to draw Crazy Legs out in pursuit and he closed me down and passed me as the road tipped downwards, somewhat scuppering his plans to save himself for the final drag and sprint up to the café.
Done for the day, I tagged onto the back of the line and then just tried to hang on and keep the gaps to a minimum as we crested the last rise and sailed across a junction to roll up to the café.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Apropos of nothing, Taffy Steve declared it was ridiculous that Rab Dee’s black-carbon, stealth BMC was known as a Time-Machine, when surely his own titanium love-child was more obviously suited to the name.
Everyone looked suitably blank, until he prompted, “You know, like a DeLorean.”
I was confused because I was thinking of blue boxes and flashing lights, like the Tardis, while Crazy Legs was imagining some baroque, H.G. Wells-type sleigh with levers, dials and spinning discs and he’d begun checking anxiously over his shoulder to ensure no subhuman troglodytes were creeping up to steal his cake.
We then had a minute or two racking our brains to try and remember what said troglodytes were called.
“Morlocks!” Son of G-Dawg finally volunteered and we were all amazed that the youngest person at the table had been the one to remember a fleeting piece of ephemera from a creaky black and white movie released in 1960.
That was until he explained he simply remembered it from an episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Crazy Legs joined The Doc, Michael Hutchinson in (figuratively) lamenting the demise of the Singing Cycling Club – at one point they were almost as infamous as the Singing Ringing Tree apparently.
This reminded me of a mass club run when I was out with the Barnesbury CC when I was a kid. One guy had a small transistor radio (ask your parents, children) strapped to the handlebars and tuned into a station playing songs from old musicals. I can recall 30 odd of us riding along, swinging our arms from side to side, while spontaneously bursting into song – lustily bellowing:
“There is nothing like a dame
Nothing in the world
There is nothing you can name
That is anything like a dame”
As we rode through one of the genteel villages in Northumberland. Priceless.
We dissected our café sprint, recognising the same old patterns occurred week after week: a hopeless long range attack from Red Max and/or Taffy Steve, an idiotic attack over the rollers, the BFG, if he’s with us, running out of steam at the exact same point every time, then the G-Dawg collective battling through to the bitter end where Son of G-Dawg will just nip away to steal the honours. Well, it’s like deja vu all over again.
Son of G-Dawg laughed at how we employed the same tactics and did exactly the the same thing week in and week out, but somehow always expected a different outcome. By Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, we are all certifiable lunatics.
Talk of the BFG predictably running out of steam reminded Crazy Legs of the time they had been hammering it up Middleton Bank and he’d heard a hoarse wheezing, gurgling, gasping from behind. He’d ridden away from the strange noise, only to later learn it was the BFG who’d clawed his way up to Crazy Leg’s back wheel, desperate to borrow his asthma inhaler but, sounding like a latter day Elephant Man, he had utterly failed to articulate his needs in any coherent way.
The main group left while we were still enjoying a second round of coffee so we waved them off. We guessed Taffy Steve was soon itching to go though when he started buckling on his helmet while still sitting at the table.
When this failed to impel us into action, he started trotting between the table and his bike, alternatively whimpering and panting and trying to look appealing with his head cocked to one side. If he had a leash he probably would have carried it over in his mouth and dropped it on the table as a hint.
Taffy Steve then followed Crazy Legs’s suggestion that the best way to get everyone to move was to just slap your foot on a pedal and clip-in as loudly as possible. This worked, provoking an almost Pavlovian response and a scramble for bikes and helmets.
A relatively straightforward and uneventful ride back had me on the inside of Taffy Steve as we approached a major split point. An elegantly performed do-si-do then saw us swapping places and as he swung off left I accelerated onto G-Dawg’s rear wheel to cling on through the last crazy burst of the Mad Mile.
Then I was all alone with my madly clunking chain, finally working out that the worst problem was somewhere in the middle of the cassette and trying to work around it. I then planned and executed an impromptu stop at Pedalling Squares café, located at the bottom of the Heinous Hill and home of Patrick the Mechanic and the Brassworks Bicycle Company. Here I reasoned I could get a caffeine fix for me and a mechanical one for Reg.
I grabbed an excellent flat white and clambered up into the bike workshop, where I found Patrick the Mechanic deep in conversation with … err… Patrick the Cyclist.
I did a very, very obvious double-take, looking confusedly from one identical Patrick to the other. “Yes,” Patrick the Cyclist and sometime doppelgänger reassured me, “We get that a lot.”
Honing in on the real Patrick, or the one I assumed was the real Patrick simply by dint of the mechanics apron, I explained the problem. A quick test, a bit of tinkering with the gear hanger and a minute twiddle of the barrel adjuster and he was done. I wish I had the confidence to do that, but any twiddling I do tends to just compound my issues, so I’ve learned to leave it to the experts.
Bike restored to fully-functioning condition and fortified by yet more coffee, I was soon off, caffeine fuelled and floating up the hill and home like some erstwhile Plumose Pappus.
YTD Totals: 5,085 km / 3,159 miles with 50,264 metres of climbing