Buggering Bollocks

Buggering Bollocks

I missed the previous week’s ride as the club had arranged and paid for an emergency first-aid course – a mandatory, British Cycling requirement for those who are, or would like to be ride leaders. I have no ambition in that direction, but when family affairs kept Richard of Flanders from attending, I volunteered to be parachuted in as a less than adequate substitute.

The course was run by First Aid North East, and our host for the day was the very knowledgeable, amiable and engaging Steve Wright. No, not that one. And, sadly not that one either, or I could have been entertained with witty aphorisms such as “eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines,” or, “half the people you know are below average,” all delivered with characteristic, deadpan lethargy. (C.mon, what blerg couldn’t be improved with a couple of Steven Wright quotes?)

Anyway, everyone agreed it was an extremely valuable experience, with a ton of practical advice that might just save someone’s life someday, somewhere down the road – although we all hoped we were never called to put it into practice. This seems the kind of thing that everyone should have some knowledge of, so it seems sensible that plans are underway to include First Aid in the national curriculum. Now I just have the challenge of trying to retain all I learned from leaking out of my notoriously porous brain pan.

I’m still having issues with the chain slipping on my single-speed monstrosity, my latest theory being that it may be due to the fact that after 5 years or so, the teeth on the rear sprocket are now sharp enough to be considered a lethal weapon. So, the bad news is that I need a replacement, but the good news is the local ninjutsu club are interested in buying the old one to use as some kind of home-made shuriken.

Even better, when I ordered the replacement I received a new entrant in the most ludicrous packaging contest. Somehow, European online retailer Bikester have managed to beat Amazon’s effort of sending me an ass-saver in A3 sized box, by posting out a solitary 11-tooth sprocket in a over-sized, otherwise empty carton. Great job guys.

Saturday promised to be chill and damp with occasional showers, so most “good bikes” are definitely packed away for the winter now, and, with the single-speed still hors de combat, it was time to press the Pug into service once more.

I found my first task was negotiating all the traffic around the rowing club that was having a competition to see who could park the most haphazardly on either side of the road. It looked like they were gearing up for another major rowing event, which simple internet sleuthing identified as the Rutherford Head races. It doesn’t seem like a year since the last one, but maybe I’m just exposing my general ignorance of rowing. Whatever the race, they’d be facing some testing conditions, as demonstrated by the first chill bursts of rain that swept over as I crossed the bridge.

It wasn’t the day for hanging around or off-track perambulations, so I made straight for the meeting point arriving first and performing an awkward little dance on the pavement to try and stay warm while I waited for the others to arrive.

I knew it was cold because G-Dawg arrived with his legs completely covered – an event so remarkable that even if I hadn’t noticed, at least three different people went out of their way to remark on it.

Accompanying the first batch to arrive was Crazy Legs, in civvies, with Reggie the dog in tow, or, more accurately, Reggie the dog with Crazy Legs in tow.

Crazy Legs explained he was on dog-sitting duties for the first part of the morning, but the Flat White Collective would ride, just starting later, and he came along to suggest a couple of rendezvous points for anyone who wanted to meet up with them en route.

Meanwhile, Reggie had finally noticed the rubbish bin on the pavement and became suddenly spooked by it silent, unmoving presence and he started straining at the leash and furiously barking at it for no known reason.

“That’s almost as weird as the way cats react to cucumbers,” I observed.

“Eh? What’s this about cats and cucumbers?” Mini Miss looked at me as if I’d finally gone completely and irrecoverably mad.

Hmm, hard to explain.

“Just Google it,” I suggested.

This weeks route had been devised by Richard of Flanders and took us down the Ryals before climbing up through Hallington. Because I’d cut short my last club run, it would be more or less re-tracing the exact same route I’d taken last time out. Oh well, them’s the breaks.

Once more we proved ourselves incapable of setting up three equal-sized groups, so a small vanguard led out a bloated middle-group, while I dropped into the undermanned last group alongside Buster and four or five others, and away we went.

We indulged in our usual round of completely irrelevant blather covering daughters at universities, kids football matches, mudguards, bad music venues and the ubiquitous naffness of Christmas songs. I pondered whether anyone, at any time had ever produced a Christmas album that was even remotely listenable. Brassneck suggested Low’s Christmas album (cunningly titled Christmas), but even as a fan it wasn’t something I’d willing choose to listen to.

Bah humbug! The Grinch rides again.

We hit the front just after Limestone Lane and began calculating the climbs ahead and whether we should descend the Ryal’s and climb back through Hallington, or detour up the Quarry for an easier time of things. We certainly weren’t pushing the pace, but we kept getting tanatlising glimpses of the second group ahead of us and we were definitely closing.

“Pots!” Brassneck called out, as we hit a particularly bad stretch of lane.

“Mud!” I added.

“Grav-ill!” came back the response

“Water!”

“Shit!”

I let him have the last word. This time.

Then, a little later.

“Pot!”

“Kettle!”

“Huh?”

“Oh, sorry, I thought we were playing word association.”

“Word association?”

“Word association football. Foot-ball-pen-knife-fork-spoon-bill?” I explained hopefully.

“Eh?”

For the second time that day someone looked at me as if I’d completely lost the plot.

“It doesn’t matter.”

We caught and passed the second group, pulled at the junction for the Quarry and pondering who among them would take which route. We were committed to the Ryals now though and for us there was no turning back.

As we led the group toward the crest I overheard from the conversation behind that, should there be another ice age, the UK would be one of the first in line for the deep freeze and an extinction event. I mentioned this to Brassneck, who suggested it was a bit too deep and philosophical for a Saturday morning bike ride and recommended we just continued talking our usual “buggery bollocks.” I naturally didn’t disagree -one does have standards, after all.

Then, down we went in a chilling blast of cold air, but it didn’t matter as we’ were soon turning hard right. The climbing began and suddenly everyone was over heating. Somewhere on the road up through Hallington, Brassneck developed a serious case of climber’s Tourette’s, when all rational thought left his brain and all he could do was unleash a stream of obscenities at hills, slopes, gradients and Sir Isaac Newton for ever “inventing gravity”.

On the steepest ramp this finally petered out into a singular. grunted, “U-huh!” which bore a passing resemblance to something Elvis might once have invoked in a moment of extreme distress, or perhaps passionate sexual release. (Well, the Bensham Elvis, maybe.)

Cold, wet, filthy-dirty and tired, all the ramps we’d dismissed as inconsequential between us and the cafe suddenly transformed themselves into major hills and fearsome obstacles between us and our righteous reward of cake and coffee at Capheaton. Nevertheless, when Not Anthony passed us in a final, uphill sprint to the cafe, Brassneck somehow levered himself out of the saddle to give chase, catch and pass him in a contest that seemed to play out in super-slow motion, while I just looked on, chuckling at the glorious insanity of it all.

The cafe’s exotic sounding Spanish orange and almond cake proved a temptation too far for some, but I stuck to the almond and cherry cake which I was told was undoubtedly English and not made to any special kind of recipe at all. Still, it was good, while the Spanish cake met mixed reviews.

Brassneck, who had been toying with his conscience after an indulgent purchase of some rather outrageously priced Peter Blake prints to cheer himself up, defended his impulsiveness by suggesting they were likely to gain in value with time, even though he would never sell them. He then decided he didn’t need to guiltily smuggle them into the house like some over-priced carbon bike parts, he could just wrap them up and leave them under the Christmas tree, as if he could possibly get away with claiming they were from some super-indulgent Secret Santa. I wished him luck with that one.

Meanwhile, Carlton complained that despite the Peugeot’s full-length, permanently fixed mudguards, he’d been subjected to a constant spray of dirty water from my rear wheel. I’d noticed something similar when riding behind Liam the Chinese rockstar and his gaurds, so didn’t doubt him. Looks like I’ll be visiting rawmudflap.uk in the near future to see about improving the coverage and efficacy of my rear mudguard. (Yes, I know extensions hand-carved from old Domestos bottles look much cooler, but I like easy and convenient solutions.) I wonder what ridiculous packaging Raw might employ to ship me a single rear mudflap?

We ran into the local hunt on leaving the cafe, or more accurately, one of the followers of the local hunt nearly ran into me, attempting to drive a 4×4 ATV with his eyes firmly fixed over the hedge and into the adjacent fields. I could hear the hounds baying off to the left, but I couldn’t see anything either. I hate to think of the carnage that might ensue if hunt pack and club run ever find themselves occupying the same stretch of road. As it is, the hunt followers are dangerous enough, driving erratically, stopping unpredictably and clogging up all the lanes where they park to try and get a glimpse of what’s going on.

I don’t quite get the appeal of following a hunt in this way. I guess, it’s a bit like watching a cycle race, you wait around by the side of the road for an hour or so and then everything rushes past in a couple of seconds. The difference is at a bike race at least you know the route in advance and you’re guaranteed the riders will pass you at some stage.

I was on course for another 70-mile ride, which is probably a little too far on a winter bike, so I took the route home through Ponteland to save some time and a few miles, arriving home tired, wet and dirty, but having enjoyed myself immensely.

As I write this though, the temperatures outside are somewhere in the region of feckin’ freezing, with plenty of ice around, so I’m not sure I’ll get out on the roads tomorrow. The upside is that at least I won’t face the dilemma of trying to decide how many layers to wear to try and combat the cold. Let’s hope milder weather isn’t too far away.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 12th November 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 54 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/70 miles with 1,026m of climbing
Average Speed:22.4km/h
Group Size:23 riders, 0 FNG’s, 1 guest
Temperature:4℃
Weather in a word or two:You know, not too bad.
Year to date:5,120km/3,180 miles with 56,353m of climbing

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The King of Wishful Thinking

The King of Wishful Thinking

Hello again.

It’s been a while hasn’t it, because, well … life.

And it’s certainly been a long while if you measure time in the lifespan of Tory chancellors, as the UK government keeps us on pushing to establish itself as the world’s most dysfunctional, ineffective, morally bankrupt, self-serving and increasingly desperate democracy in the world. C’mon lads, keep it up, we’re nearly there!

Oh, and now a new-PM – the man, as Marina Hyde pointed out that, as chancellor, couldn’t even convince his own wife to pay him tax. Well, it’s entertaining in a grotesque, car-crash sort of way.

Things are all change in the SLJ household too, with Thing#1 now plying her trade as a fully qualified graphic designer in a lonely garret somewhere down in Shoreditch, while Thing#2 is away embracing the more, err … social aspects of student life with a worrying degree of zeal.

Their absence is noticeable at home, it’s a lot quieter for one, towels have taken to roosting in orderly pairs on the towel rack instead of huddling together, abandoned in mouldering, puddled heaps on the floor, the fridge is free of the clutter of oddly shaped packages of indeterminate foodstuffs with cringe inducing names, such as soysages, facon and fauxmage, and our weekly consumption of toilet roll has dropped by at least two-thirds.

In cycling terms we’re heading toward winter and I’m intent on trying to eke out a few more uses of the good bike before reverting to the sturdy Pug or single-speed Trek. To this end I’ve recently invested in an Ass-Saver, or Ass-Cover as I like to call them, seeing as how they are purely selfish and only cover your own ass. Definitely not a long-term solution, but I’ve found the worst part of any rain sodden ride is the long drop off the Heinous Hill where feet and indeed, ass, bear the brunt of all the dirty, cold water kicked up by the speed of the descent.

Of course, I wasn’t expecting the thin plastic Ass Saver, something I suspect could fit easily inside an A4 envelope, to get the full on Amazon packaging-overkill treatment, and be delivered in an otherwise empty cardboard box the size of a shopping basket. It was far too big and far too indiscrete to smuggle into the house. Luckily, I could prove it wasn’t some ultra-expensive, new-fangled, completely superfluous bike gewgaw formed entirely of carbon fibres and fresh air, but only a moderately over-priced sheet of pre-formed plastic, and not the kind of thing likely to get me banished to the fiscal naughty step for a spell.

Despite precautions to protect my precious derriere, the past few weeks have been ok-ish in terms of weather, dotted with a few intermediate showers, but with no real prolonged rain and no need yet for full-on mudguards.

This Saturday was no different, a light, early shower gifted me a rainbow over the Tyne, but it was otherwise pleasantly mild, and the rain jacket was stowed as soon as the showers passed. Still, autumn is well underway, the leaves are turning and falling from the trees, as I was brutally reminded when one spiralled gracefully into my path and then slapped me across the face like a wet kipper.

The unusual sight of two rowers somewhat confusingly carrying their boat over the bridge (don’t they float?) marked my passage across the river and was otherwise the most notable event on my trip across to the meeting point.

When there, we waited as numbers slowly built to a fairly impressive 28, including Aether for his first ride out since fracturing his hip and Zardoz, who’s not been seen in these here parts since July.

Andy Mapp had devilishly devised this particular route which gave me a rather strange ride profile of three wobbly loops, stacked atop each other, as he led us down several previously uncharted roads. This included the (surprisingly) controversial Bothal Bank and some confusion about which direction we were tackling this apparently ferocious climb, or even if we would be tackling it at all, as Mini Miss was adamant she was going nowhere near it.

“The descent’s a death trap,” she argued.

“But we’ll be going up it. And at less than 5 mph,” G-Dawg countered, to no avail.

“It’s a nasty climb,” OGL confirmed, not really helping matters.

“We’re going up the other side?” G-Dawg ventured.

“Oh, well that’s even worse,” OGL replied blithely, safe in the knowledge he was going nowhere near it either.

Despite an assurance that we would be taking it slowly on the climb, almost guaranteed by that fact that G-Dawg was on his fixie and expecting to get off and walk at least part way, we couldn’t persuade Mini Miss to even consider tackling Bothal Bank and left her plotting possible detours.

In fact, the route had us venturing places so unknown, that G-Dawg was at pains to ensure that each group had a least one rider who had it programmed into a Garmin or similar, and had even armed himself with a paper map, although I wasn’t sure how effective it would be as the area around Pegswood was rather hazily sketched in and simply bore the legend: “here be dragons.”

Crazy Legs got on-the-spot Garmin route-finding lessons from the Cow Ranger and Jimmy Mac and became the de facto navigator for the third group, while we managed to place a couple of other “pathfinders” in the first/fast group and the over-sized second group.

That sorted, we had time for OGL to promote his offer of bike maintenance lessons for anyone with a desire to do their own spannering and servicing. This would feature working under-supervision on your own bike, or as G-Dawg joked, “Weeks 1 and 2 we disassemble your bike, weeks 3 and 4 we put it back together again” – with sadly no inkling of what you could ride in the meantime.

Jimmy Mac happened to glance down at his Garmin just as the time ticked over from 9:14 to 9:15 and at the exact second that Carlton arrived – a double indicator that our time was up.

There was then only time for a brief whinge from OGL about mudguards and his support for a policy of “no mudguards, no club ride” adopted by another local club.

“Yeah, but …” G-Dawg argued, not unreasonably, “They’re twats.”

Time to go.

I joined the seriously under-manned third group, pushing onto the front for the first part of the ride where at least I had some vague idea of the route, and we followed the other groups out.

We hadn’t gone far with Crazy Legs assiduously counting down the distance to all the turns, when he interrupted his pitch-perfect Sat-Nav direction to “go west” to ask,”so, who was it sang King of Wishful Thinking?”

G-Dawg, obviously a fan of late 80’s pop, was equal to the task and provided the right answer (Go West, obviously) before adding that he was more impressed by Living In A Box, the hit single from the band Living In A Box, which was taken from their album, Living In A Box. They were, he argued either supremely creative when it came to naming things, or supremely lazy, he just wasn’t quite sure which.

We stopped just outside Tranwell to discuss route options, with Sneaky Pete and Brassneck looking for a shorter ride. They sneaked away some time later to leave just half a dozen of us, then somewhere along the way we caught and forced our way past our second group, who’d been slowed when Aether’s newly repaired hip started troubling him.

This augured well for the cafe queues, so we pressed on, Crazy Legs still assiduously following the on-screen instructions and calling out the turns. I thought we’d strayed wildly off route when we reached a sign telling us we were about to enter Hebron, but luckily this turned out to be an idyllic Northumberland village and not the city in the West Bank.

We were disappointed then, when a large group of cyclists appeared at a junction and turned onto the road ahead of us. Had the second group found a sneaky short-cut?

We worked to close the gap on a climb and were relieved to find it was another club ahead of us and not the sneaky second group. We caught them and hustled past.

Soon we were descending down to the River Wansbeck and then starting the climb of the highly controversial, doom-heralded, Bothall Bank … except it wasn’t really all that long and wasn’t really all that hard. G-Dawg made it around the first hairpin before having to dismount his fixie, while I dropped into a suitably small gear and spun up without too much effort.

We regrouped at the top, with G-Dawg looking wistfully back down the climb and deciding that if he’d known just how close he was to the top, he probably could have “beasted it” and made it up without dismounting. For one moment I thought he was going to ride down and give it another go, before common-sense overcame regret. Next time maybe?

A bit of surfing down the cycle path alongside the main A1 and we reached our cafe stop for the day, the Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station – only the second time we’ve used this venue, so they aren’t sick to death of us yet.

Another club that I didn’t recognise had got there before us and Crazy Legs had a brief chat with them an learned they had come all the way from Houghton, some 11 miles due south of the River Tyne.

I have to admit I queried this, as I couldn’t understand how a small place like Houghton could support two cycling clubs and knew the Houghton CC were well-established in the area, having been around since the 1930’s.

“Just think of all the splinter clubs that have been formed off the back of our club because of various disagreements,” Crazy Legs suggested. Yeah, fair point. I get it now.

Our second group duly arrived and the small yard outside the cafe became the scene of a giant game of bike jenga, as bikes were laid atop of bikes and it all became a bit cluttered, much to the consternation of Carlton who’d just bought a brand new Norwegian, Fara bike for the winter, which was only getting its first ride out today because the weather wasn’t too bad!

Crazy Legs congratulated Andy Mapp on the novel route, although he complained he didn’t see all that much as he’d been fixated on his bike computer and had spent the entire ride intently at his stem, à la Chris Froome, although luckily he hadn’t also adopted the outragously jutting out elbows too.

There was then only time to find the one member of our group who would openly admit to wanting Bo Jo the Clown to return as Prime Minister(!) and it was time to go and leave the good burghers of Stannington Station in peace.

The wind had picked up for the ride back, but it was otherwise a pleasant undertaking. I’m not sure we’re going to get many more days like this before the weather takes a turn for the worse, so best enjoy them while we can.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 22nd October 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 40 minutes
Riding Distance:112km/70 miles with 926m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:12℃
Weather in a word or two:Sound
Year to date:4,665km/2,899 miles with 51,789m of climbing

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Kinky Chain

Kinky Chain

Well, I guess we had to pay for the fine, fine weather last week. And we did. The altitudinous uplands of Whickham received more than a smattering of snow on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as winter bit back with a vengeance. Luckily the snow had all cleared by Saturday morning, though the temperature was still hovering around zero as I set out and the north side of the river was completely hidden behind an opaque veil of freezing fog.

Crazy Legs had devised a route taking in ascents of the Mur de Mitford and the Trench and with the ground likely to be wet and slick, especially for the former, it was time to dust down the Pug and lean on having a selection of gears to aid my crawl upwards with my weight plonked firmly over the back wheel.

The almost universal adoption of shorts last week had been temporarily abandoned and everyone was more or less wrapped up from head to toe, with the exception of G-Dawg who, striving to retain his Geordie-ness, had compromised with three-quarter length tights. It was cold, but the consensus was it wasn’t cold enough for lobster mitts – which I suspect for those in the know, may be a better and more accurate indication of the temperature without the need to resort to purely scientific measures.

Before the group assembled we had a brief chat with an FNG on a smart, white Orbea bike he’d recently bought, having given up waiting on Ribble who’d quoted no new bike availability until late September at the earliest!

Speaking of Ribble, one of the first to arrive was the Cow Ranger astride his Ribble, which once would have been recognised as a twin to Crazy Legs’ much cosseted and pampered velocipede, but had been press-ganged into service as a winter bike and was starting to show signs of neglect. Unfortunately, the RSPCR (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ribble’s) has yet to be formed, so Crazy Legs had no outlet for his evident distress other than to keen loudly while covering up his eyes.

Sliding to a halt, the Cow Ranger lept off his bike and started fiddling with the rear mech, furiously spinning the cable stop barrel this way and that.

“Uh-oh! Adjusting your gears moments before a club ride never turns out well,” Crazy Legs remarked with incredible prescience.

“I just need a couple of gears to get me through the ride,” the Cow Ranger muttered.

“Well, you already have that, you can choose the big ring or the inner ring,” I suggested. Apparently unhelpfully.

The Cow Ranger jumped back onto his bike and took a test spin through the car park trailing a long litany of clanks and clunks, clangs and naughty swear words behind him. Skidding to a halt in front of us, he attacked the rear mech again.

“Can you remember what you did last time?” Crazy Legs asked out of curiosity.

“I think it was about 7 full turns clockwise then 6 anti-clockwise,” I volunteered. Again apparently unhelpfully – even though I swear it was a fairly accurate assessment.

Another test spin. Another test failure. The Cow Ranger stopped again, running a critical eye over his drive-train and muttering something about a “kinky chain” before admitting he was using an oddball and mongrel mix of Shimano and Campagnolo components that quite obviously really, really didn’t like each other.

Ever the Campagnolo champion (Campagnolo Campione, or maybe even Campagnolo Campionissimo?) Crazy Legs channelled his inner Joe Dolce and gave voice to the Italian components.

“Hey goombah! You gotta no respect? Whatta you think you do? You ‘spect me to work wit dees?” (Or something along these lines…)

Still, help was on the horizon as OGL appeared and predictably couldn’t resist his natural urge to become embroiled in any and all mechanical issues. Even his accumulated years of mechanical bike tinkering however didn’t seem to do the trick. The Cow Ranger took one last tour of the car park before riding off into the sunsetrise and home.

Well, that was entertaining.

Crazy Legs briefed in our route for the day, we split into two groups and the first bunch disappeared up the road.

“Let’s get rrrrready toooooo … err … trundle!” Taffy Steve announced in his best Wrestlemania voice and then we were away too.

I found myself riding along with Brassneck, who reported an ominous conversation with his daughter and Mrs. Brassneck, who’d both separately informed him that, life insurance being what it is, he was worth considerably more to them dead than alive. This had understandably seen a little bit of paranoia creeping into the unguarded recesses of his mind. He was beginning to wonder if all the encouragement he was getting to ride his bike wasn’t because it gave him pleasure, but simply because it was the most dangerous activity he indulged in (unless vinyl poisoning is a thing?)

It occurred to us that a club cyclist was probably the easiest of targets for an assassination attempt – our route and timings were published well beforehand and, let’s face it, no one would think twice about yet another road traffic accident where a cyclist is killed by a careless motorist who, even if caught red-handed, is unlikely to face much more than a cursory slap on the wrist.

His paranoia started to infect me too and I wondered if I shouldn’t find someone else to ride alongside in case I became collateral damage.

Other than this, things were going smoothly and we pushed onto the front as we turned up toward the Cheese Farm. We made it to Tranwell Woods before the bolt holding Brassneck’s front mudguard in place mysteriously worked loose and dropped out and he found himself riding with the constant tsk-tsk of tyre rubbing on guard.

We discussed if this was intentional sabotage, how far he was willing to ride with the constant irritating accompaniment of tyre rub and whether it was better to ride to destruction or stop and embroil everyone in more mechanical shenanigans. We eventually decided to stop and secure the mudguard in place with a cable tie. OGL would later realise we could have used a bolt from a bottle cage as a replacement – a good idea and handy tip should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, but with just our temporary fix to go on Brassneck turned for home.

“This all might be part of the plot against me,” he confided as he turned to go.

“Yes,” I agreed, “You’re vulnerable, alone and separated from the herd now. Good luck.”

He nodded once, stoically and was gone …

Crazy Legs determined we were well behind schedule having actively trundled our way up to this point and then spent so much time trying to get Brassneck up and running again, so decided we’d skip the Mur de Mitford and Trench to claw back some time. Maybe I hadn’t needed to ride the Peugeot after all – although we still had a reasonably sharp climb out of Mitford and then up Middleton Bank to contend with. Anyway, at least I’d given TripleD-El the opportunity to suggest I should turn my tricolour bar end plugs through 90° to celebrate my Dutch colleagues rather than the Pug’s French heritage. It seemed a reasonable request, but not one I was willing to attempt while riding along.

Down through Hartburn, it was the turn of Sneaky Pete’s mudguard to work loose, but luckily his had clip-in mounts and he was able to pop them back in and we got going again.

TripleD-El dropped her chain on the approach to Middleton Bank and our group got seriously split on the climb. I followed Zardoz over the crest and we joined up with Crazy Legs, Liam and the FNG as we decided not to wait but push on to the cafe. I followed in the wheels until the final hill and then tried to keep the pace high as I hit the front, but it didn’t seem all that effective and everyone zipped past to contest the sprint. If I’m not mistaken, Zardoz then snatched a hard-fought victory to commemorate his text-book lessons in canny riding, following the wheels and assiduously avoiding being in the wind on the front.

We were back to interminable queuing and glacial service at the cafe, but despite the congestion we caused, I was told we’d apparently been missed! (Or, for the cynical amongst you, our reckless spending on cakes and coffee had been missed.)

At the table, Crazy Legs was enthusing about the discovery of Shackleton’s ship, eerily preserved in almost perfect condition 3,000 metres down in the depths of the Weddell Sea after being caught and crushed in the pack ice. He also recommended the book about the expedition, South which describes the extreme cold and relentless hardships endured by the survivors – suffice to say that if any had been riding today, they’d almost certainly have turned up wearing shorts.

He could not, on the other hand, recommend the Geraint Thomas book, The World of Cycling According to G, which is apparently unbefitting of its subject, extremely bland and boring, with its most startling revelation being that (apparently) it tends to rain a lot in Wales. I’m not sure how you can make such a seemingly engaging person so grey and dull, so that’s certainly an achievement, if in no way commendable.

Speaking of grey, we learned that Goose is still toying with the idea of a new paint job for his beloved Boardman and thinks primer grey would be the ideal colour choice. Given his earlier plans to re-brand it as a Volvo that somehow seems fitting, if a little underwhelming.

The return ride proved uneventful and, despite a gathering of dark clouds, completed without getting rained on. That’ll do nicely and hopefully next week things will be a little bit warmer.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 2nd April 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 16 minutes
Riding Distance:99km/66 miles with 964m of climbing
Average Speed:23.3km/h
Group Size:22 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:1℃
Weather in a word or two:Cor blimey missus
Year to date:1.035km/643 miles with 10,808m of climbing

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

Immaculate Construction

Immaculate Construction

Following last week’s travails, I was aiming to complete the entirety of the next club ride, or at least make it as far as the all-important café stop, so the plan was to press the Peugout into service yet again. This was only reinforced by G-Dawg’s route which included both the Mur de Mitford (a mere 350 metres of sharp ascending, but topping out at 18% in parts and a bad, often slimy surface) and the long drag up the Trench.

A selection of gears for this assault on my body seemed appropriate, so I’d dutifully fixed the rear wheel puncture I’d limped home on of last week in anticipation of press-ganging the Pug into use once again.

I’d checked the bike out midweek and then on Friday evening made sure the tyre pressures were good in prep for use the next day. I shouldn’t have bothered. When I pulled the bike out the next morning the rear tyre had conspired to expire overnight and was flat and empty.

With no time to swap out the tube, I swapped bikes instead (and shoes, bad planning and different pedal systems!) and there we were, back on the single-speed despite the best of intentions. Was I ready for this? Nah, definitely not.

Saturday proved to be yet another windy day too, for about the fifth weekend in a row, but at least the widely forecast rain never materialised. This meant that there was a good chance the Mur de Mitford was perhaps semi-dry, or at least not awash with surface water and I might have a fighting chance of hauling my sorry carcass up it.

I had a blissfully uneventful ride across to the meeting point, arriving far too early and taking a tour around some local roads to fill in the time. It was here that I discovered the road past Fawdon Metro was closed for repair work, so turned around and backtracked.

Passing G-Dawg heading the other way, I tried telling him the road ahead was closed, but he just took my shouts and wild gesticulations as an overly enthusiastic greeting and sailed imperially onwards. Not that it mattered anyway, he just bluffed or blagged his way straight through the roadworks.

Even with the back-tracking and obligatory pee-stop I made it to the meeting point in good time, where a group of 16 or so gradually coalesced. This included Not Anthony who reported that last week he’d had to bail at high speed as an alternative to being blown into a roundabout. This apparently was the result of Brassneck cajoling their group into taking advantage of a ferocious tail-wind to try and capture a Strava segment PB for Mini Miss and then finding the helpful tail-wind suddenly became a deadly cross-wind.

Not Anthony reported that closely following young speedster Dingbat had gone over his handlebars in the ensuing kerfuffle, but both apparently survived with only minor cosmetic injuries to bikes and bodies.

“More importantly though,” I had to ask, “Did you get the PR?”

Luckily, I was told their sacrifices had indeed paid off.

Wonder of wonders, OGL reported that he’s been in contact with several local venues as he looks to arrange somewhere suitable for the club EGM demanded by British Cycling. I’ll just leave that one out there …

Even more wonderous and unlikely, Ovis put in a very rare appearance. So rare in fact that Crazy Legs wished him a happy new year and shook his hand and then repeated the gesture for the year before too.

Ovis had turned out in his habitual and seemingly indestructible Rochdale Tri kit – “Just so people still recognise me!” and brought along his usual abundance of malt loaf and self-effacement. “Oh, I’ve not been out much on the bike and I’m not very fit at all. I’ve just been doing little bits and pieces on the turbo. Hope I can keep up.”

Ovis would join the third group with me and of course, he was never off the front for more than a few minutes, relentlessly spearheading our efforts and driving the group on through strong headwinds, uphill and down dale.

Not fit, my arse! to borrow a turn of phrase from Jim Royle.

With his pace-setting, it wasn’t long before we were closing in on the Mur de Mitford and my main challenge for the day. While everyone else fussed over gear selection, I just rolled around the sharp left-hand turn, eased out of the saddle and got at it. It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t fast, but I just about managed, not putting too much force down through the pedals to keep the tyres gripping all the way up.

In the group ahead, G-Dawg wasn’t quite so lucky. He found he couldn’t push the much, much bigger gear on his fixie without standing up, but whenever he eased out of the saddle his rear wheel just skipped and spun uselessly across the greasy road surface. He ended up having to dismount and run up the hill cyclo-cross style. At least I was spared that indignity.

As we approached the long climb up the Trench, Ovis was (obviously) on the front, driving us on alongside Crazy Legs who suddenly started guffawing loudly. He then turned to me and nodded at Ovis.

“He says he’s not very fit and wants us to wait for him at the top!” he explained disbelievingly.

Naturally, Ovis led us up the Trench where we stopped to regroup before pushing on again, down the dip, dive and rise through Hartburn and on toward Angerton. This was the most exposed section of our route and, collectively, we could only recall one solitary occasion in over 10-years when anyone cycling this road has had the benefit of a tailwind.

Surprises apparently don’t come in three’s and with Ovis showing up for a club run and OGL (perhaps) preparing for a club EGM we’d evidently exhausted our quota of unlikely events for the day. It was the expected headwind. It was indeed as brutal as we thought it would be and by the time we’d climbed up to Bolam Lake I was starting to feel heavy-legged and tired.

Still, I thought, at least I can sacrifice myself to provide a good springboard for the café sprint, so I took to the front and started to wind up the pace. I pulled the group along until, halfway up the rollers I was done, swung over, sat up and watched the others zip away for the final climb and to contest sprint honours.

I thought I’d done a decent job of getting the group moving, until Crazy Legs informed me in the café that I’d been going much too slowly, he’d wanted to jump past much earlier but recognised I still wasn’t 100% fit so had indulged me a little.

Ooph! Talk about kicking a bloke when he’s down.

While enjoying some well-earned cake and coffee, Crazy Legs was keen to promote the world-renowned, architectural marvel and stunning tourist attraction that is the perspex tunnel linking the car park and Sainsbury’s supermarket in Bude, Cornwall. So great is its appeal that it has its own Trip Advisor page to extol its virtues as a “stunningly crafted marvel,” “truly life-changing” and an “awe inspiring and enthralling experience.”

As Dave M. from Prestwick gushed, “I have walked through the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – the towering domes, the gold-inlaid marble, the carpet that took 1000 weavers 100 years to complete, the thousand-tonne chandeliers – but nowhere does bus-shelter Perspex quite like Bude.”

With 946 excellent ratings out on 1,076 reviews, this sounds like a must-see, but of course, there are always people who don’t appreciate art and incredible human achievements, with Linden-S from High Wycombe “baffled at how an empty plastic tunnel running beside a supermarket can possibly be considered an attraction,” while John M of Woking simply declared it a “waste of time.” Philistines!

Crazy Legs then pressed us all to enter an “Ogle road lottery” and predict what conditions we would face when we took the lane through to the hamlet. Captain Black went for “very bad” I went for “bad” Crazy Legs “mingin'” G-Dawg, “fine” – while Sy6, undoubtedly a glass half full kind of guy, suggested the road would be “perfect” – miraculously restored to a pristine condition.

G-Dawg won that one, and we enjoyed a surprisingly mud-free and relatively dry passage. I was fading rapidly as we topped Berwick Hill, but managed to hold on through Dinnington and past the airport, before dropping off the back. Then it was just a long, slow slog home.

Better.


Day & Date:Club ride, 12th February 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 53 minutes
Riding Distance:105km/65 miles with 1,211m of climbing
Average Speed:21.4km/h
Group Size:16
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Windy
Year to date:347km/216 miles with 3,777m of climbing


Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep

Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep

Where will we go
When di quarantine ting done and everybody touch road?

I always like to start with a little Koffee. Just a bit disappointed no one ambushed me with cake.

So that’s my quarantine ting done and hopefully my last bout of COVID for a while. Call me old-fashioned, but I decided to go with the traditional self-isolation at home, rather than the new government-approved methodology of attending boozy parties with all and sundry.

Thankfully it wasn’t a particularly bad illness, but combined with a lack of exercise (2 weeks off the bike!) I appear to have been left with the lung capacity of an asthmatic canary. On the first day of official release, I went for a run (well, actually more of a graceless lumber) and it was so s-l-o-w and I felt like I was trying to breathe through airways filled with treacle.

Two days later, I tried again and it was only marginally easier and faster. So I approached the club run with a degree of trepidation and armed with the Peugeot and its smattering of gears for when things inevitably turned ugly.

And it was actually a club run. British Cycling have temporarily lifted our club’s suspension, although not without serious consequences. The first of these was that our junior, Go-Ride section broke away to form a separate, autonomous club with immediate effect. This was the only way they could run their sessions and retain their affiliation under the British Cycling Go-Ride banner and all the attendant benefits and safeguards it provides.

Although a serious income generating entity in its own right (and what self-respecting club wouldn’t want to have a popular and thriving junior section?) I doubt the club hierarchy are all that bothered by this loss. There always seemed to be a disconnect between the Go-Ride section and the rest of us and, as far as I can tell, their sole purpose was to serve as a symbolic stick that could be used to beat the senior riders with whenever we questioned … well, anything.

I do have to admit though, I’m going to miss the delicious sense of schadenfreude that occurred whenever OGL proudly anointed one of these youngsters as “the future of the club,” only to find a couple of weeks later that they’d jumped ship to find a more rational, active and forward-thinking group to train and ride with.

As for where this leaves the rest of us, well there’s still been no official communication from the club, but from what I can piece together, talking to people and reading between the lines, the long-term reinstatement of our British Cycling affiliation appears dependent on us adopting a series of simple and reasonable directives in a timely fashion, namely:

  1. Hold an EGM and elect at least two other members to official/governing positions in the club.
  2. Forward an up-to-date set of club accounts to British Cycling.
  3. Adopt a club constitution to ensure good governance going forward.

I’ve no idea why any of this should prove difficult or contentious … oh, hold on … of course I have.

Anyway, back to the ride. Where will we go?

Buster had planned and would lead this week’s group, although he was wavering a little in the morning after reading forecasts for very high winds.

I didn’t think the wind was going to be that much of an issue and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was almost full light as I set off, crossing a flat and placid river where the rowers were out in force enjoying the smooth water. As I approached the climb out the other side of the valley I looked back to check the way was clear and moved out into the middle lane to take the 2nd exit off the roundabout. As I stopped at the lights a heavy wagon rolled up inside me stopped with an explosive hiss of air brakes and the engine rumbled then clanked to a stop. In the near silence, I heard the window whisk down as the driver leaned out to address me. I was wondering what I’d done to incur his ire, but he just wanted to have a chat about changes to the Highway Code!

Surprisingly, he seemed generally supportive of the changes, but concerned about the priority given cyclists riding up the inside and going straight ahead when he was trying to turn left at a junction. That’s actually not much of an issue for me as, except in extreme circumstances, I’d rather sit in the middle of the lane within a line of traffic than risk riding up the inside and having someone drive across my front. I get that this isn’t everyone’s modus operandi, but each to their own.

Up over the first hill and halfway across the next roundabout I was watching the two lanes of approaching traffic, trying to make eye contact with the drivers and reassure myself they’d seen me. The car in the outside lane eased to a stop, but the one on the outside? I slowed instinctively, the car reached the junction and braked sharply, just over the white line. I’ve no way of knowing if he’d not seen me until the last minute or always drove so frantically. I expect he wasn’t at all happy that I was now moving at a snail’s pace though and he had to wait an age until I’d passed.

At the third roundabout, things seemed much more under control. I’d eyeballed the two lanes of traffic I was just about to cross and both cars had slowed and were stopping when the car on the inside suddenly shot forward. I swerved violently into the inside lane, which was thankfully empty and somehow managed to avoid being mown down by an accelerating chunky, grey metallic Nissan Cashcow. I swung my arms about and swore loudly, but despite my blinking lights fore and aft and eye-bleedingly bright hi-viz gilet, I’m not convinced the driver ever noticed me, or realised how close I’d been to being smeared under their wheels.

That’s more than enough excitement for one day and proof, I suspect that no amount of new rules in the Highway Code are going to be proof against driver inattention. Gawd, I hate roundabouts.

To make matters worse, I think the mudguards on my bike had tensed up in anticipation of a collision and now I was riding accompanied by an ever-varying, never-ending cacophony of chirps, cheeps, chirrups and chuffs.

Luckily I made it to the meeting point without further incident and rolled up to join G-Dawg a new guy and a new gal. She was busy unwinding the metres and metres of electrician’s tape that she’d used to cocoon her pump with and hold it on her frame, explaining her boyfriend had stolen the actual mount to use on a separate ride he’d disappeared on. I took pity on her and fished mine out of my back pocket

G-Dawg explained she was one of those swimmer/runners who’d signed up for an Iron Man on the spur of the moment and needed to practice the bikling part. He also told me she’d survived last weeks club run in extreme conditions – despite being blown off her feet and into a ditch while she’d been standing at the side of the road.

I then got the full update on just how wild things had been last week and how lucky I’d been to miss out. The highlights (lowlights?) had been the wind on the road past the Sage building, where G-Dawg reckoned he’d almost been doing a track stand, out of the saddle, straining every sinew and gurning ridiculously as he tried to make even the slightest progress against a ferocious headwind.

Things had been so bad that Brassneck, Spoons and a few others had apparently only made it as far as Brunton Lane before abandoning after just 1km, cruelly snatching the record for the shortest club run in history out of the Garrulous Kid’s hands (at least he’d made it as far as Dinnington).

Not great conditions for a club run, but perhaps ideal for the Tegenwindfietsen, a Dutch cycle race that I remember Rainman telling me about and which sounds as insane as wanting to do an Iron Man. The Tegenwindfietsen is a time-trial ran on city bikes along the tops of the Dutch sea dykes and is only allowed to take place when a gale-force headwind can be guaranteed (7 or higher on the Beaufort Scale!)

Coincidently, it was apparently windy enough for the 7th edition of the Tegenwindfietsen to take place this weekend and it even earned a write-up in The Comic.

It proved mot quite windy enough to deter Buster in the final analysis. Just as G-Dawg was beginning to suspect he’d be a no-show, he rolled up, having taken the time to consult a far more reliable source than the BBC Weather app before venturing out, namely a 30ft conifer in his back garden, which he declared wasn’t moving enough to cause any real worries.

He briefed in the route, we split into two surprisingly equal-sized groups (entirely accidentally I suspect, by the law of averages it had to happen sooner or later) and away we went.

I dropped onto the front of the second group alongside G-Dawg and we’d barely turned off the main road before we got the call to stop. Behind us, whatever remedial work the new girl had attempted with my pump clearly hadn’t worked and half the group were clustered around her upended bike, needing to change the tyre. I wondered if she might use this mechanical as a handy excuse to snatch the brand new shortest club run record and abandon at this point, but apparently, neither punctures nor being blown into a ditch are enough to deter our newest rider.

The repairs did take forever though, and I was beginning to think those in attendance had allowed her to unravel the metres and metres of tape needed to get at her pump.

Finally, we got going again. The wind may not have been strong enough to trouble Buster’s conifer, or quite as bad as last week, but it was still a serious impediment to forward momentum. I hung on through Dinnington and Callerton, until the climb just before the turn to Darras where I ceded the front to Carlton and dropped back to try and find a bit more shelter.

By the time we reached Stamfordham I was conscious of approaching my limits. G-Dawg suggested a shorter route for those who wanted it, which sparked a confusing debate about whether the shorter route was longer, or the longer route was shorter. I determined that, regardless of their comparative lengths, either one was probably too much for me and so, while the rest split and pushed on, I turned to head back and battle the elements solo.

Bizarrely, 5 miles from home my mudguards finally decided they’d annoyed me enough for one day and all the chirps, cheeps, chirrups and chuffs suddenly and magically disappeared. I started the long slow crawl up the Heinous Hill then to just the accompaniment of my own torturous breathing, battling the slope, leaden legs, incipient cramping, a swirling, gusting wind that pushed me dangerously close to the kerb too many times to remember and a rapidly softening back tyre that I was determined to ride all the way home, no matter what.

Brutal. But, I survived. Hopefully next week the conditions (my own and the weather) might make things a little bit easier.

Please.


Day & Date:Club ride, 4th February 2022
Riding Time:70km/43 miles with 792m of climbing
Riding Distance:3 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed:23.6km/h
Group Size:16 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:Blustery
Year to date:241km/150 miles with 2,566m of climbing

Proxy Dick

Proxy Dick

The club run this week was planned by Richard of Flanders and included some serious hills. By the end I’d managed to clock up over 100 kilometres, with more than 1,200 metres of climbing thrown in for good measure – an acid test of just how suitable a single-speed bike is as the weapon of choice for an auld git on a club run.

The day was dismally overcast, grey and dark throughout, with strong enough gusts for the wind to be a noticeable impediment and a brief interlude of rain thrown in for good measure. This arrived an hour or two earlier than forecast, much to the disappointment of those who hoped they would be home and hosed beforehand. Personally, I was resigned to getting wet, sometime, somewhere out on the roads and was a bit more sanguine about accepting the inevitable.

At the meeting point, I found Crazy Legs extolling the virtues of BBC’s new Brian Cox series, ‘Forces of Nature.’ That’s Brian Edward Cox CBE, the astrophysicist and one-time keyboard player with D:Ream (or N:Ightmare as my mate always referred to them), not Brian Denis Cox CBE, the Scottish actor, best remembered (in my household anyway) for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecktor (sic) in the film Manhunter. Anyway, the series had left Crazy Legs feeling rather wistful and apparently he was not looking forward to the sun dying and the collapse of the universe in just a few trillion years time. Somewhat more bizarrely, someone suggested that Mr. Cox should probably have stuck to his burgeoning pop career. Astounded, I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both gave a synchronised shake of the head, before declaring, in flat unison, an emphatic and final, “Eh … no!”

This week, Brassneck and Captain Black were shorts wearers, but Alhambra had gone for full-length tights. We then had a long discussion about the difference in temperature between last week and this week (none) and why shorts were suitable then, but not now. Alhambra put up a sturdy defence of his choices before talk turned to the FNG and his unfortunate rendezvous with the ground.

“Was I out last week?” a bewildered Alhambra then enquired, despite having spent 5 minutes discussing his riding attire moments before.

“Bloody hell,” I complained, “It’s like talking to my mother.”

Jimmy Mac then received a round of applause from Crazy Legs for arriving astride a shiny purple-red Specialized Allez complete with carefully colour-coordinated gloves. This is his Ultegra-equipped winter bike, recently given a new, lustrous special, custom paint-job, which in itself he confessed had set him back a special, custom price of over £450. Looking this good obviously comes with a hefty price tag, in this instance the paint job alone cost more than twice as much as the value of my entire bike.

Speaking of which, you haven’t officially met, so let me introduce you to my single-speed Frankenbike, with its mismatched wheels, cranks, odd-combination of cassette conversion kit and rear derailleur as a chain tensioner and 34 x14 gearing (the Hill!) The is based around an old, aluminium Trek Alpha 100 series frame, secured off eBay in (maybe?) 2009-2010 for a princely sum of £30, which in today’s money is … well, about £30.

Originally liveried in white and blue colours, perhaps to suggest an association with the pro team of a certain Texan gentleman of rather stained reputation, I quite liked the look, but unfortunately, the paintwork was in poor condition and had somehow been completely scraped off one of the chainstays. The first task then was to strip the frame and have it bead-blasted and powder coated in an off-street, (very) industrial manufactory in the badlands out toward the coast. Given a panoply of colours to choose from, I decided on plain, bright white – shockingly inappropriate for a winter bike, but hey, foresight was never my strong point.

The frame was then transported to the venerable Toshi San who built it into a fully working velocipede, using a mix of the few original components that had survived, stock from his extensive stores of parts both old and new, and a few bits and bobs I had to buy in: wheels, STI levers and the like.

This was the bike that eased my transition from sofa-surfer back to road cyclist (via a brief flirtation with mountain-biking) and I completed my first Cyclone Challenge astride – a rather daunting 100km’s for a rather shockingly chubby-faced returnee to the sport.

When n+1 fever inevitably took hold and I bought a new Focus Cayo, the Trek was relegated to winter steed and then eventually usurped from this role with the arrival of the more sturdy Peugeot.

From there it sat and mouldered for a few years until the mountain bike I was using and abusing to commute on finally crapped out. Not wanting to spend good money on a mountain bike that gave me no great pleasure, I opted to have the Trek converted to a single-speed as a cheap commuter option, working on the assumption (correct until now – touchwood) that nobody in their right mind would be interested in stealing such a battered and fugly looking thing when it was chained up outside the office.

So the Trek went back to Toshi San for the refit and the ingenious repurposing of a rear derailleur as chain tensioner, after the more usual off-the-shelf kind proved too weedy to keep the chain on the sprocket. That was four or five years ago and I’ve been using it regularly ever since, although not until very recently on a club run.

Anyway, enough ancient history. We received news that Richard of Flanders was required at home to nurse a sick child, so Crazy Legs stepped up to the mark to brief in the route and act as substitute ride leader: “a proxy Richard,” as he declared, which sounds a bit like some kind of Shakespearean insult: “Though art nought but a throstle-minded proxy-richard!”

Crazy Legs managed to get a faster first group organised and led out by Caracol, but it was imbalanced, with only half a dozen or so riders. Brassneck claimed/feined a wounded knee, Goose had switched to his pig-iron touring-panzerkampfwagen, the Iron Horse for the winter and I wasn’t even remotely tempted to try keeping up on a single-speed. To cap it all, Captain Black had gone out with this group the week before and was still scarred and bitter from the experience, so he too gave it a hard pass.

That left about 20 of us to form 2 groups. Simple maths, you would have thought, but we can always find ways to make things more complex. A much too-large second group started to form with over a dozen riders. I was going to hang back with the third group to try and balance things out a little, but then Crazy Legs declared the inaugural Winter ’21 ride of The Most Fraternal Brotherhood of the Order of the Flat White Club (fraternitas plana album imbibit), with at least two stops planned to offer up libation to the immortal pantheon of the Caffea Rubiaceae. As an uncommitted, part-time-only believer, I was excommunicated forthwith and cast out into the second group. I joined the back of this slightly too-large 14-strong cadre and off we went.

We made it to Stamfordham, passing a lone-riding OGL along the way, toiling as he ploughed a lonely furrow, declaring club runs were now too fast and went much too far these days. (Personally, I’m not aware of any such changes – in 2015 I was regularly riding 110 to 120 kilometres each Saturday that’s what we did this week.)

At Stamfordham we stopped briefly and I noticed Zardoz was prominent in the group, having forgotten his helmet and supplemented his usual Augustus Windsock, walrus moustache with a full, fluffy white beard. He looked like our very own, lean and mean version of Santa Claus.

“Please, can I have an Action Man for Christmas?” I asked politely. Well, it was worth a try. I honestly didn’t realise that Santa knew how to swear quite so fluently.

I took to the front with Brassneck as we exited the village and we both reflected that our timing was especially poor today as we were still there, toiling into the wind on the upward grind all the way to the crest of the Ryals. It was a largely freewheeling descent for me, but I was still up toward the front as we approached the turn we’d take up to Hallington. This is the spot where we usually regroup before starting the climb, but with no gears to help, I wanted a clean run at the slopes, so I just kept going and left the others to catch up. We made it through to the other side and then took in the last bit of serious climbing, Strava’s aptly titled Humiliation Hill, before I finally felt we could afford to stop and reform.

Our run across the top of the fell to Capheaton was interrupted by the 4×4 (surprise!) of a hunt follower, stopped in the middle of the narrow lane (obviously) so they could idly chat with the other hunt followers who had parked a long line of similarly outsized vehicles along the verge. The driver didn’t in any way acknowledge our presence and made no attempt to move, so we were forced to slow, single out and thread ourselves carefully through the ridiculously narrow crevice between the cars. Perhaps if we’d managed to fall and scratch the paintwork of their beloved automobile during our passage we would have received something other than the look of icy disdain that greeted our approach. Maybe we should try that next time?

This obstacle safely negotiated, we were soon at the cafe at Capheaton, with its warm welcome, most splendid cakes and free refills! (Apparently, the utterly terrifying sight of G-Dawg’s ‘pet lip’ last week has forced the cafe at Belsay to reconsider and reinstate free coffee refills!) Good work that man, who’d have thought petulant pouting could be quite so effective.

The Capheaton cake selection was so good that Brassneck was tempted by a second slice to go with his refill and James III even offered to go halfsies with him, if he felt a full serving was too excessive. Somehow he managed to resist, even as I followed him to the counter chanting a “cake, cake, cake” mantra.

We caught up with the Prof in the cafe, discussing our ex-clubmate beZ’s run out with the Ribble Weldtite team during the Nationals. The Prof then started asking unanswerable questions about maximum watts and FTP’s and that was it for me. I’d no idea and no great desire to learn either.

Leaving the cafe, Brassneck umh-ed and aah-ed about putting his jacket on as the cloud lowered and hinted at the rain to come. He eventually decided not to bother, which was as big a mistake as his timing when we took us onto the front. Naturally, a few miles down the road we were all stopping to pull on rain jackets as the downpour arrived and everything became damp and squishy.

By the time I was off on my own, the rain had stopped and the sky had finally brightened a little, so the last part of the ride was moderately pleasant. Although the legs felt heavy as early as the drag up past Westerhop Golf Club, I had a decent enough run back and a passable clamber up the hill and home.


Day & Date:Saturday 6th November 2021
Riding Time:114km/71 miles with 1,257m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 43 minutes
Average Speed:24.1km/h
Group Size:24 riders
Temperature:12℃
Weather in a word or two:You know, it could have been a lot worse
Year to Date:4,276km/2,656 miles with 45,526m of climbing


Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Given (to my mind) the onerous task of devising a route for this week’s ride, at the coffee stop last week Crazy Legs had felt impelled to resurrect our Classic Club Café sprint for next Saturday, over the rollers and up the long drag to Belsay. He even suggested stopping at the café there for old time’s sake. I happened to mention, for some misguided reason, that I was feeling nostalgic for Middleton Bank, a climb I hadn’t suffered on for at least a year and, hey presto, he had the bones of a route. A quick double-check to ensure the café at Belsay would actually be open for business and Crazy Legs went away to fill in the rest of the ride and post it up for people to accept or ignore, depending on their inclination.

With the Holdsworth still undergoing remedial surgery and not wanting to waste another good day riding the heavy winter bike, I had a week to find and secure a replacement mount. Surprisingly, this proved considerably easier than I imagined, when Gumtree directed me to a nearly new, barely ridden velocipede in the care of a 77-year old cyclist whose knees had given out and prevented him from riding.

So, for a few hundred quid, I’m now the owner of what is (solely in my estimation, of course) Halford’s most aesthetically pleasing creation, an Intuition 13 Alpha, from a very brief time when the UK’s biggest and possibly most maligned motorist discount store was dabbling in (semi-)performance bikes. I do seem to have an penchant for picking up a manufacturers fin de cycle products (if you’ll excuse the pun.) The Intuition range is no longer manufactured, while the Holdsworth Stelvio was one of the last frames produced by that venerable company before they caved and were acquired by Planet-X. Even my winter bike, the Peugeot CR23 was part of a 2 bike range they pulled together for the briefest of ill-founded forays back into the UK market, via an exclusive deal with Evans that only seemed to have lasted 12 months.

Where the Holdsworth is the epitome of gaudy overstatement, a violent clash of glossy black, red and yellow, with the brand name unforgivably and inexplicably plastered a dozen times across its frame, the chalk-white 13 is at the opposite extreme, a model of simplistic minimalism, the most striking feature being an odd, inversed 13 “dossard” stuck on the back of the seat post. It adds nothing and I’m not sure I like it, but has survived. For now.

The bike was in mint condition, having been ridden only twice in anger and pretty much ready to roll. I switched out the stock 23mm Vittoria Zafiro’s for my favoured 25mm Rubino’s and will eventually get round to replacing the SPD’s for my usual Look Keo pedals and, maybe the wheels (although the current set seem light, roll well and are carefully colour coordinated). Still, minor details aside, there was nothing to prevent its debut and participation in the club run on Saturday.

The same can’t be said for G-Dawg, who, just a few days after this blerg noted how many middle-aged blokes seem to suffer serious injuries playing five-a-side, went out to play five-a-side and broke his leg. Apparently, according to his social media posts, that means he’ll now have to play in goal for his team next week and, possibly worse, he’ll be off the bike for an extended period of time. Yikes!

On Saturday morning, last minute tinkering with this, that and t’other, had me leaving the house half an hour behind schedule, so I had no choice but to engage in a bit of dual-carriageway surfing, cross the river at the nearest bridge and push hard all the way to the meeting point, arriving completely winded, already tired, but almost on time, with Jimmy Mac already leading out the first group of fast-men and racing snakes (the two are not mutually exclusive.)

I paused only long enough to catch OGL offering up a free, used torque wrench to anyone who had a need.

“Is this the same torque wrench you were trying to sell me for a tenner last week?” Goose enquired ruefully. Apparently it was, but that’s as much of the conversation as I caught as I formed up with Aether, who was leading out the second group and away we went. When I finally had time to look back and determine who I was riding with, alongside Aether, I found myself in the company of Spoons and 3 FNG’s.

Up past the Cheese Farm and out through Tranwell, I noticed the rape seed is starting to flower and it’s pervasive and slightly sickly aroma already hung heavy over the lanes.

We dropped down toward the River Wansbeck, by-passing the entrance to the Mur de Mitford to take the gentler climb westward out of the valley. Then it was through Dyke Neuk to the dip and rise through Hartburn.

We knew somewhere along this route we were supposed to take a secret turn onto a road that had been on our routes a few times, but no one I’ve been with has ever found. Aether had prepared for this test in advance, tracing our proposed route on Google maps, before switching to the satellite view to try and spot an obvious landmark that could guide us.

“I managed to spot a big, round thing,” he told me.

“Sounds promising.”

“I thought so too, so I zoomed in for a closer look.”

“Ah-ha.”

“It was a tree…”

“Oh. Right-o. So we’re looking for a tree then? Well, that certainly narrows things down.”

Still, somehow Aether managed to pick the right tree out of the hundreds of thousands that lined our route and we traversed the secret road before pushing on to Scot’s Gap. A left turn onto the still incredibly crappy road surface and we were heading straight for Middleton Bank. Off the back, heavy-legged and struggling upwards, I seriously started to question my own sanity and what it was about the climb that had inexplicably created a sense of longing to relive the experience.

Still, once over the climb, I managed to coax a little more speed out of the legs and we coalesced as a single group again and hauled ass for the café. Here at least there were patches and strips of new road surface, making a welcome change and encouraging a little more speed. I attacked over the rollers – you know, just because – and found Aether jumping at the same time. Hmm, maybe I’m becoming predictable. Then we re-grouped on the descent and started the long drag up to the café, more or less in formation and at a relatively sedate pace. On the front alongside one of the FNG’s I nudged my wheel slightly ahead of his and so, by default, won a sprint he didn’t even know we were contesting. Well, they all count in my book.

We found the Colossus already seated at the café.

“How’s your dad taking his injury?” I enquired, “Already stir crazy and unbearable?”

Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes.

“Even more to the point,” Aether wanted to know, “How’s your mum coping?”

The Colossus just shook his head in quiet resignation. Hmm, not good.

Talking about dangerous sports, one of the FNG’s told us the most violent sport he’d ever witnessed had been a game of football for the blind, played on an enclosed pitch with the players often running full tilt into each other and any inanimate objects, as they chased pell-mell after a ball with a bell inside.

“You should see the mayhem if a pet cat gets loose on the pitch, too!” Another FNG added.

Before leaving I had a chat with Crazy Legs. He’d had a superb great morning riding with OGL and ribbing him mightily every time his expensive Di2 system shipped his chain, which was apparently far too often. We arranged to meet early next week before the ride so I could finally deliver him his new jersey. This might stop his constant carping, but I seriously doubt it.

Then it was time to go and as our group left the table it seemed to signal a mass exodus and we all gathered in the car park as a small, white car pulled up. The passenger side door swung fully open and out came a shiny, metal crutch. Then another. And then a foot in a plaster cast and finally, G-Dawg slowly and awkwardly emerged. He can’t ride, but Mrs G-Dawg had agreed to drive him to the café in an attempt to stop his constant sulking.

Saluting G-Dawg had us all bunched together leading the café, so I injected a bit of pace on Berwick Hill to break us up. The fast group took the opportunity to zip past near the top and gave me a target to chase and I was able to go full pelt with absolutely no danger of ever closing the gap to them.

Yet another FNG (where are the all coming from) spelled me on the from Dinnington to just past the airport, then I was into the Mad Mile and swinging away for the solo trek home.

The new bike served perfectly, I’m sure the ride wouldn’t have been as enjoyable on the Peugeot, but the chalk-white finish may be a little difficult to maintain, so assuming the Holdsworth is restored to full functionality, the 13 might get the cossetted, Ribble-esque treatment and get to avoid the rain like a hydrophobic cat.


Ride Distance:98km/61 miles with 936m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 0 minutes
Average Speed:24.5km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature:14 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool
Year to date:1,179km/733 miles with 12,507m of climbing

Dry Rain

Dry Rain

Club Run, Saturday 18th May

My ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:113 km/70 miles with 520 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed:25.9km/h
Group Size:20 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 12℃
Weather in a word or two:Soggy bottom?

Ride Profile

Scattered light showers. That’s what the forecast predicted, clearing from 11.00 clock onward, before returning later in the evening. This was an improvement on the previous day’s forecast, which basically suggested wall-to-wall rain from dawn ’til dusk. As I looked out, first thing Saturday morning, the rain indeed, seemed to have cleared, the roads were wet, but there wasn’t much surface water lying around. I’d fully-prepped the Peugeot the night before, but now it didn’t look like its full mudguards would be needed. A bit of a gamble, but if you gamble enough, sooner or later you have to win … don’t you?

On the valley floor, I tracked and then caught up with a fellow cyclist as he stopped at the traffic lights just before Blaydon. If I’d accidentally misplaced caution, he must have given it a right good kicking, before recklessly abandoning it, shocked and bleeding, by the side of the road. Yes, I was on the good bike with no mudguards, but I had on knee warmers, overshoes, a winter jacket under a waterproof, a cap and gloves. My fellow rider was wearing a white, short-sleeved BMC jersey with world championship bands, track mitts, shorts and little else.

I told him I admired his optimism, while wondering if he knew something about the weather that I’d missed.

He didn’t.

All was going well and I was beginning to think I was a mite overdressed when, within a mile of the meeting place, the rain started. It would then stay with us pretty much as a constant for the rest of the day, with only the briefest of interludes (ironically, when we were all sitting warm and dry in the cafe).


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

I pulled into the meeting place, which had shuffled off the pavement and over into the bottom of the dim, dank, dreary, dismal (but dry) multi-storey car park to wait and see who else thought this was the perfect weather for a club run.

Taffy Steve, having ridden in from the coast, confirmed we were facing wall-to-wall rain, with no possibility of a break in the weather. He’d had the foresight to not only prep his winter bike, but actually use it too, although I think in part this was due to having a new toy to play with. Gone, banished without hope of redemption, is the thrice-cursed winter bike and in its place is a bright and shiny and neat, Blessèd Beneficent Boardman.

OGL was heading off to watch Round 4 of The Tour Series, in Durham later in the day and offered a lift to anyone who wanted to tag along. We all agreed that a fast, city centre circuit on the tight, cobbled and steep inclines of Durham would be lethal enough, without multiplying the danger with a sprinkling rain to turn the surfaces greasy.

G-Dawg knew of one particular corner, where he felt certain everyone would congregate in anticipation of a crash-fest and thought you’d have to be there ridiculously early to grab such a good perch.

OGL wondered if our ex-clubmate, young tyro beZ would be riding for the Ribble Pro Cycling Team and, given the potential dangers of the course, actually hoped he wasn’t. I was momentarily left speechless by this uncharacteristic show of concern and empathy for another human being.

As our numbers slowly built up, The Silence appeared out of the gloom to lour over us, with no acknowledgement, or word of greeting.

Oh, hi there…

OGL suggested banishing anyone without mudguards to the back, before realising that would mean an extra long, hard day on the front for just him and Taffy Steve.

“Don’t worry, it’s dry rain,” G-Dawg assured us.

He lied.

Horribly.

There was only time for the Garrulous Kid’s highly considered and informed opinion that “Caleb Ewan is not a sprinter” and then we could delay no longer and pushed out and into the rain.


For the first part I found myself riding alongside Taffy Steve and discussing (I know not why) “the parmo” a culinary delicacy on Teesside. It was described, by no less an authority than the Guardian, as the “‘delinquent nephew of veal Parmigiana.” I can only assume they meant off-the-rails raging delinquent, wild and feral and unpleasant.

My extensive research reveals that the typical parmo, consists of flattened chicken breast, covered in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried until crisp. It’s finished off with thick layers of béchamel sauce and melted Cheddar, before the option of topping with pepperoni, bacon, more cheese, and ladles of creamy garlic sauce. Traditionally served with a bucket of chips, the typical parmo is said to contain over 2,000 calories and has been branded as “monstrous” by an anti-obesity campaigner.

While wondering about the etymology of the word “parmo” I told Taffy Steve about my youngest daughter, Thing#2 being out with friends in a restaurant and one of them reading a menu in puzzlement, before asking:

“What’s ‘man get out?'”

“Eh, what’s that? Let me see … oh, yeah, man get out. No idea.”

Luckily one of her more erudite friends turned up before they made fools of themselves asking the staff. “It’s mangetout, you blithering idiots!”

This led Taffy Steve to recall the launch of a Susan Boyle album promoted under the hashtag #Susanalbumparty. We couldn’t decide if this was the work of pure, unalloyed, evil genius or just lucky happenstance, but we both agreed neither of us were remotely interested in Su’s anal bum party.

I spent most of the day trying to ride slightly offset from the wheel in front to avoid as much spray as possible – it didn’t seem to make much difference whether the wheel ahead was covered by a mudguard or not. Water, water flying everywhere, there was no avoiding it. I was soon soaked through.

I had a chat with one of our new(ish) Irish guys, Wilf – the Irish seem to be forming as strong a cabal in the club as the Dutch at the moment. I wondered if the conditions were making him homesick.

“At least it’s warm rain,” he suggested, a nice positive spin on things. Notice how he didn’t try to convince me it was dry rain, like the dastardly G-Dawg.

I took a turn on the front alongside Biden Fecht, through Stamfordham, where we split into different groups for different routes, before pushing across the Military Road, past the reservoir and calling a brief halt for further splits. There were quite a few fishermen out today, but they looked thoroughly miserable.

On we went again, climbing up through the plantations and making our way to Matfen and from there to the Quarry. At the top of the Quarry I pushed onto the front alongside Wilf and we made a run at the cafe.



I helped drag the group up and through the crossroads, ceding the lead through the hairpins, before hitting the front again for the final drag to the road that leads down toward the Snake Bends. Once through the junction, I straightened up and tried to keep the pace high as a launchpad for anyone wanting to sprint.

Taffy Steve burned through, testing out his Blessèd Beneficent Boardman, but a rocket-fuelled Biden Fecht followed in his slipstream and was able to slingshot around the outside and romp clear.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

It was bin bags all around at the cafe, to protect the chairs from some very wet cyclists’ posteriors. Well, all round apart from the Monkey Butler Boy who confessed he hadn’t bothered asking for one.

“That’s because you’re uncouth,” I told him, “whereas I’m the opposite and totally couth.” He looked quizzically at me, but said nothing.

Speaking of uncouth, Szell sat down, grasped his scone and flexed his fingers around it, as if preparing to rip it in two.

“Ooph, you’re an animal, ” I told him, “Are you really going to tear that poor, defenceless scone apart with just your bare hands?”

He paused reflectively, remembering he was a cyclist with all the upper body strength of a wet moth. “Nah, better not, I’ll probably end up with De Quervain tendinitis.”

Outside the rain had temporarily stopped and I even noticed a group of brave cyclists taking a rare opportunity to sit out in the garden. It wouldn’t last.

The Monkey Butler Boy complained that he’d been on a college trip to Middlesborough and been charged £5 for a croissant. We would have sympathised, but what did he expect, croissants and other delicate pastries are probably seen as rather effete and exotic on Teesside, beside, who’d want a feeble, foreign bread roll with a stupid name, when you could get a mighty parmo for far less?

Taffy Steve commended the Monkey Butler Boy for his perfectly framed and composed family mugshot on Facebook, taken from their recent holiday in Italy. He said the whole group looked happy, tranquil and relaxed, but he wished he’d been there for the five minutes before the picture was taken so he could enjoy all the bickering, slapstick mayhem and disgruntlement that he was certain preceded it.

The Monkey Butler Boy admitted it had been a somewhat fraught and fractious affair, before launching off into a tirade about the angle of the sun in the shots being all wrong. Evidently, it still rankled even now.

We then got an unfettered glimpse into life in the Red Max household, learning the Monkey Butler Boy had accepted the challenge of washing the family car for £5 and then been charged £1 for the shampoo, £1.50 for the water and £2.50 for the loan of a bucket.

After that , he’d been enlisted to help out as the Red Max drilled through a thick slab of hardwood during some insane DIY project. Loosening the drill bit and letting it slide out and drop to the ground, the Red Max had picked it up by the non-business end and lobbed it nonchalantly toward the Monkey Butler Boy …

“Hold that for a minute.”

Deftly catching the drill bit, the Monkey Butler Boy had instantly felt the burn of hot metal on skin, swore loudly and instinctively hurled the offending object away from him, only to get a rebuke for disrespecting his dad’s tools.

In contrast, the Garrulous Kids confession of, “I once hit my fum with a hammer” seemed rather tame and uninteresting.


By the time we left the cafe, the rain had returned and looked like it had settled in for the long term, while the temperature seemed to keep bumping its way incrementally downwards. I decided to cut my losses and bailed from the group early, to loop around the other side of the airport and shave a few miles off my journey.

Even with this short-cut I still racked up 70 miles, most of them in a wet and pretty miserable conditions. Perversely though, it was a good ride.

I got home in time to watch Caleb Ewan handily winning Stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia, in what looked to be a sprint finish where he easily beat lots of top sprinters.

Yeah, not a sprinter.

Right.


YTD Totals: 3,244 km / 2,018 miles with 42,066 metres of climbing

Kerplunk!

Kerplunk!

… or a shocking glimpse into the impenetrable darkness that lurks in the black, black heart of Plumose Pappus


Club Run, Saturday 16th February, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 109 km / 68 miles with 1,248m climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed: 24.7 km/h
Group Size:35 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 13°C
Weather (in a word or two):Crisp

Ride Profile

The first (relatively) decent weather in ages would bring out lots of previously somnolent, recumbent riders, lots of shiny plastic bikes and even a fair smattering of exposed, pasty, pallid legs.

Shorts?

In February!

Are they mad?

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself, you see what a touch of decent weather can do to the sun-starved, SAD afflicted and cold-inured riders of northern Britain? But, let’s be real, it’s still February, the roads are filthy and the weather could change in an instant. Anyway, I’m a wimp, so my lower extremities remain well wrapped in lycra and clamped firmly around the winter bike for now.

The rowers were obviously approving of a warmish day and a bit of pale, watery sunshine too. They’re stripped down to vests already and I spotted a foursome in the distinctive colours of Newcastle University Rowing Club, manoeuvring their boat into the centre of the river, as I shoot the bridge. There’s another all-day rowing competition on and I’ll need to pick my way through all the spectators and their parked cars on my return.

Fitness isn’t quite where I want it to be at the moment, so I decide to attack the climb out of the valley, surprising myself with a couple of Strava PR’s, while recognising I’ll pay for such early efforts later on in the ride.

At one point I dart across a roundabout and can only look on in horror as an approaching car actually has to stop and give way to me. The driver is wholly unappreciative of having to slow and change gear to allow me to pass, but at least it gave him the opportunity to test his horn, just in case it wasn’t working properly and he encounters other random cyclists who stupidly expect him to obey the Highway Code.

For some, quite bizarre reason the pejorative word that immediately springs to mind is hornswoggler. I’ve no idea where that was dredged up from and, although not semantically accurate, thematically at least it worked for me.

Where last weeks final run in was smooth, fast and wind-assisted, this week I’m caught at every light and slowed by a bus and several slow-turning cars. Still I’ve made good time and arrive in good order.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I find Captain Black and Kipper discussing the possibility that the much-promised, much-delayed, semi-mythical club A.G.M., might actually manifest in corporeal form “sometime in March. Maybe.” (Don’t hold your breath.)

“I remember when we used to have an AGM, first week in January, every year,” Kipper reminisced distantly.

“Bloody hell, I didn’t know you were that old!” was about the only response I could splutter through my surprise.

“Ah, back in the day – was that when we had a proper structure, a club chairman, secretary, treasurer, welfare officer, club committee …”

“To be fair,” I interrupted, as Captain Black’s list slowly built, “We still have all those, it’s just that they’re one person.”

We had an FNG waiting for us and he politely went around introducing himself. He’d have his work cut out today, as more and more riders appeared, blinking at the odd, wan, sunlight until we were over thirty strong and crowded across the pavement.

The Garrulous Kid arrived and announced each new arrival, like a dodgy wrestling compere with a seriously limited vocabulary and imagination. Thus, when Double-Dec arrived we got … “Aaaand heeere’s Big Stu!” … when Biden Fecht rolled in, “Aaaand heeere’s Big Andy!” and then, most bizarrely when 63 kg , climbing flea, Plumose Pappus arrived, it was to the chorus … “Aaaand heeere’s Big James!”

Having proved unsatisfactory as a wind-break last week, Crazy Legs repositioned Double-Dec on the pavement to block out the sun and keep it out of his eyes.

“You’re like a total eclipse,” Crazy Legs declared from the cool sanctuary of Double-Dec’s shadow.

“Huh, I’ve been called worse,” Double-Dec affirmed.

No one doubted it.

Still, I’m not sure a moments brief respite from the sun’s glare was worth it for the earworm that Crazy Legs had self-inflicted. This would have him bashing out that awful Bonnie Tyler dirge all the way around today’s ride.

I counted just four winter bikes amongst our throng. Carbon-fever had definitely taken hold and there were at least four pairs of bare legs too, emitting a sickly, ghostly radiance as the sun bounced off too pallid skin.

G-Dawg outlined the route for the day, which would have us climbing through Mitford, “but not the Mur de Mitford,” then through Pigdon and up the climb that runs parallel to the Trench, “but is not-the-Trench.”

“Does that have a name?” he asked OGL.

“Curlicue Bank.” I’m convinced this day that’s what OGL had answered – a delicate, whimsical and curving climb and a good counterpoint to the raw and brutal Trench?

It almost seemed to fit.

We split into two, still sizeable groups with G-Dawg suggesting a rendezvous and regrouping “under the bridge.” With that determined, off we went.


I was chatting with Captain Black on the first part of the ride and then, after a bit of a shuffle Carlton. He was intent on berating the German’s for not letting him even attempt to speak in his badly-mangled pidgin-German, before they invariably interrupted him in their near flawless Euro-English. How rude.

We ended up on the front together as we pushed through Dinnington and naturally, it wasn’t long before OGL was shouting that the pace was too high and we needed to ease up.

Ease up!

Ease up …

Past the Cheese Farm and approaching Bell’s Hill, Carlton, still recuperating from a heavy cold and having completed a fair stint on the front, suggested we swing over and let the next pair through, OGL and Captain Black.

“Just in time for the hill,” I encouraged them as they eased past.

“Good, I can set a more sensible pace, then” OGL chided.

I dropped to the back and tagged on again, following the group around a wide bend and onto the first slopes. Almost immediately I was overtaking a trail of discarded riders, as the gradient bit.

I worked my way forward to where OGL was driving a fast-splintering group upwards.

“Bloody hell, ease up – you’ve split the group to pieces,” I managed to bellow, before I was overcome with a fit of giggles. I’m pretty sure that earned me extra-credits in my pursuit of being a premier smart-arse.

We stopped to regroup and recuperate over the top, before pushing on.



We then shed a boatload of Grogs and, after a couple of stop-start, where’s-the-rendezvous-again? discussions, OGL led a few others away for a shorter loop to the cafe.

The rest of us dropped down into the Wansbeck Valley, where we found our front group camped out and waiting by the river. Most of us turned right to climb up through Mitford village, while Crazy Legs led a few to the left to tackle the eponymous Mur de Mitford.

As we made our way through the town, I was climbing along, quite happily at the back, idly watching a hitch-hiking ladybird’s slow progress up Richard of Flanders’ jersey.

“Out!”

The call came a split-second too late, as a kerb suddenly appeared in the middle of the road demarcating a brand new, utterly pointless, segregated cycle lane. Or, at least I assume it was rather pointless, although I admit I didn’t have the time to appreciate its engineers full intent.

I hit the kerb and performed a super-slow motion, wall-of-death swoop down its face, caught my tyre between kerb and gutter and came down with a clatter.

Ouch. I picked myself up and assessed the damage. The Pug seemed largely unscathed, other than a bashed in brake lever and a slight abrasion to one of my French tricolour bar-end plugs. I decided this just made it look like a slightly battle-scarred, regimental standard, adding the patina of past campaigns and old glory to its no longer shiny surface. I could live with that.

I hooked up my shipped chain and banged the brake lever back into position. That hurt … a lot, I’d badly jarred my wrist in the fall. Having checked the bike out, I turned my attention to the damage I’d done to my body.

I had a big hole in the left leg of my bibtights and a corresponding, smarting and oozing hole in my knee, a grazed palm, hip, finger and elbow and the aforementioned jarred wrist, which I now discovered was accompanied by a sore shoulder. Nothing major and nothing too bad though – it could have been a lot worse.

I rejoined the group and we got underway again. I found myself riding alongside Plumose Papuss, following the Ticker, out on his good bike, complete with the loudly whirring, whining freehub on his Hunt wheels.

“That’s the exact noise my dog makes when I TASER him,” Plumose Papuss confided as the Ticker freewheeled loudly downhill.

“Do you do that often?” I wondered.

“Oh, just the once,” he replied nonchalantly.

I’m (fairly) confident he was joking dog lovers.

He then questioned me long and hard about my experience in strip clubs and wondered if I would admit to having ever heard of, been seen in the vicinity of, or even bravely ventured inside, Newcastle’s only (commonly acknowledged) lap dance club. (Well, that I know of, anyway.)

I was a sore disappointment to him with my lack of worldly-experience, having only ever seen one stripper, a hirsute, middle aged-bloke in a gay club, during my misspent student days. Given those parameters, I felt I could safely say without artifice it was neither a memorable, compelling, nor edifying experience.

Plumose Pappus then professed to innocently stumbling across an alleged swinger’s club during one of his rides out while at university in the East Midlands. With this discovery piquing his curiosity, he had tried Googling the club for more information and inadvertently ended up on some sort of e-mail black-list. Perhaps there’s a salutary tale in there somewhere …

Approaching the not-Trench, I had a word with G-Dawg about its name.

“What did he call it again?” G-Dawg wondered, thinking back to the conversation with OGL that morning.

“It sounded like Curlicue Bank to me,” I admitted.

“He probably didn’t want to admit he didn’t know, so said the first thing that came into his head.”

That was plausible, but I wondered why OGL would have florid, curling, and decorative calligraphy flourishes on his mind just before starting out on a club run.

[I’m pretty certain that the climb is Coldlaw Bank and that could have been what OGL said, but why let accuracy get in the way of my continual striving for a cheap laugh.]

Anyway, up Curlicue/Coldlaw Bank we duly went, with Captain Black declaring that he actually preferred the Trench. I’m pretty certain we’ve compared the merits of the two climbs before, but have failed to reach a consensus, and so it was today.

A small group had pulled away off the front and I hung with them as we pushed on toward Middleton Bank, chatting with Buster about everything and nothing, while drifting slowly to the very back of the group.

The climb was attacked at pace and my legs were already tired, so I let a gap grow. Buster leapt out the saddle and accelerated away to try and latch onto the front group before it got too late, but got halfway up the climb, swore loudly and plonked himself down again.

He’d been out on Friday for some solo miles and didn’t have the zip in his legs to follow either. So, we pushed over the top of the climb together and tagged-teamed our way to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The cafe was so busy, that at first I thought we’d be sitting out in the garden for the first time in 2019. The weather was so mild, it probably wouldn’t have been all that bad, but by the time we were served the room had cleared a little and we were able to grab a table.

“I’m absolutely paggered,” the Ticker announced, much to the delight of Crazy Legs who hadn’t heard the expression for an age. “Paggered” is a splendid, too often over-looked, Northern word that’s due a serious comeback – along with, I humbly suggest, hornswaggler and curlicue.

I sat with the FNG who really is such a flippin’ new guy that, when he first got the bike, he’d had to have a lesson on how gears work. Despite this he’d kept up with us admirably throughout the day and put his obvious fitness down to squash and football. He must play them lots.

He said he’d acquired his velocipede from Recyke Y’Bike, one of those donate your old, unwanted bike and we’ll tart it up and sell it on to fund charitable redevelopments in Africa.

Richard of Flanders put in a good word for WATbikes, a community transport initiative one of our club members is involved with. They provide a similar recycling service in Ashington, as well as hiring bikes out to tourists.

Both Carlton and I questioned Richard’s strange, surely never-heard-before juxtaposition of the terms “tourist” and “Ashington” in the same sentence. That’s got to be an oxymoron, we argued.

Then I thought perhaps this blerg, so titled as a small homage to Eshington and replete with ale the references to its native dialect, was maybe having an effect on the town’s tourist economy and drawing in discerning bicycling gentlemen from all around the globe.

OK, maybe not. (Once again though, I heartily recommend the very-chucklesome Ashington Dictionary).

With the prevalence of summer bikes supplemented with a smattering of shorts in evidence, Carlton wondered what the proper etiquette was for exposing and imposing ones bare legs on the rest of the community. I recommended 16°C, but even then knee-warmers were advisory, while I knew OGL followed the dictum of no summer bikes until April. (We’ll see how well that holds up next week, if the weather continues to be benevolent.)


We left the cafe and I found myself again riding alongside Plumose Pappus who still seemed intent on gazing into the abyss.

“Chain whip,” he started in almost immediately, “My girlfriend loves a chain whip…”

I then learned about the crime of the century (well, so far anyway – it’s still early days) when Plumose Papuss had assembled the world’s greatest ever, sublimely perfect, ham and cheese toastie and was just about to sear it to perfection, when he had to pop out.

In his absence the toastie had mysteriously disappeared and his dog and younger brother were the only potential suspects. Plumose Pappus said he loved his dog … and his kid brother? … well, not so much, yet he suspected the dog was the true culprit and was in a bit of a dilemma. It was, after all a capital crime.

“TASER them both,” I suggested, “Until one ‘fesses up.”

I then enquired how his Master’s degree was progressing and was informed that he was well on the way to becoming the worlds most highly-qualified unemployed person.

Obviously thinking about his potential legacy and leaving a lasting footprint if things turned out badly, Plumose Pappus spoke about finding a grand humanitarian and philanthropic gesture that would benefit the whole of mankind.

“I could kill the Garrulous Kid …” he mused.

“Better yet, I could organise a cabal of club members and we could all murder him, like Julius Caesar!”

Et tu, Plumose Pappus?

“We could each stab a spoke through him,” he continued warming to the theme, “No one would ever suspect cyclists then …”

He’d finally gone too far and I had to talk him back from the brink. No one, not even the Garrulous Kid, deserves to die looking like an unfinished game of Kerplunk!

Once again I stayed with the front group as we split on Berwick Hill and though I was still there when we entered the Mad Mile, I was hanging on and tired. As the Colossus attacked and G-Dawg followed, I didn’t even try to respond and then I was on my own.

The now wholly expected, strong headwind on the grind up and past the golf course is in danger of becoming a nasty, recurring feature of these rides. Once over the top though, it was a relatively easy and straightforward ride to the bottom of the Heinous Hill and one last battle with gravity.


YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 626 miles with 14,022 metres of climbing.

Vittoria’s Secret and the Cold Hand Gang


Club Run, Saturday 30th January, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   100 km/62 miles with 1,156 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 28 minutes

Average Speed:                                   22.3 km/h

Group size:                                           14 riders, no FNG’s

Temperature:                                     5°C

Weather in a word or two:             Bright, blowy, brisk

Main topic of conversation at the start:

When G-Dawg rolled up wearing what looked like over-sized oven gloves and a muffler made of thick, carpet underfelt, we knew we were in for a cold, cold ride.

Crazy Legs was next in, lamenting that supplies of strawberry jam in his household were wholly depleted so breakfast had been a minor disappointment. As a consequence, and without its sugary boost, he declared his ride was probably doomed before it had even started. How fragile we are.

He’d already conducted his patented ice-test however, wandering out, into the road and finding a puddle to dip his finger into before declaring it safe to ride. I suggested he should just have jumped into the puddle, if it splashed everywhere then all was good, if he slipped and fell on his arse then a degree of caution needed to be exercised.

He said this was impractical as he wasn’t fully dressed at this point and during this exchange we discovered we both had an inimical hatred of slippers. Perhaps both of us thought that footwear that’s soft, fluffy, brightly patterned and utterly shapeless is the clearest indicator yet that you’d taken the first step (or shuffle) toward terminal decline and dotage, a road that all too easily leads to baggy, zip-up nylon cardigans, a complete wardrobe makeover to ensure all your clothes are the same dingy shade of beige or pale blue and a world where wing-backed La-z-boy chairs seem like a good idea.

We differed only in our solutions to this issue, he opts for a kind of hybrid sports slipper or plimsoll, while my choice are kung-fu shoes. Yes, we are officially weird.

What I presume was a mother and daughter approached us to ask if we knew where Bulman House, or some such place was. As we dithered, Taffy Steve popped up out of nowhere to display an encyclopaedic grasp of the local area that would shame “The Knowledge” of a competent cab driver. Even more startling, he’s “not from around these parts” and doesn’t actually live anywhere close to our meeting point.

He proceeded to confidently and assuredly issue precise, step-by-step instructions and the couple disappeared in the indicated direction.

As the woman returned sans daughter, Crazy Legs cheerily asked if she’d found the building, then as she passed archly suggested that the daughter was stealthily working her way around behind us and didn’t want to be caught and have to admit we’d suckered her into going in completely the wrong direction.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Carlton declared this was officially a Cold Hand Day – his unique measuring system for defining exact ride temperature, so now we knew we were operating somewhere between a Frozen Toes Day and a Frost-bitten Face Day.

Goose recalled having a steel-framed Peugeot which would be classed as a vintage bike nowadays and we briefly discussed the provenance of my winter bike, a (fairly) modern, aluminium framed Peugeot. These had only been available for one year before seemingly disappearing without trace as Peugeot re-entered the bike market, then just as quickly abandoned it again.

The cold had obviously addled our brains because Goose then asked if Peugeot still made cars and I have to admit I had to think really long and hard about it, before unconvincingly confirming they did.

One of OGL’s long-term acquaintances was at the café when we arrived and he kept us hugely entertained with a series of anecdotes of spurious origin, all wickedly laced with the type of language that might make Chubby Brown blush. In that instant my Teacake Haiku inspired dream of a cadre of sensitive, poetry writing cyclists, staring thoughtfully out of the café window before illuminating their experiences in contemplative verse, died a quick and horrible death.

At some point in our ride, Crazy Legs had wandered off for adventures on his own and entered the café late to tell us how he’d ran into the back of a car that had stopped suddenly as the driver dithered and changed their mind when approaching a junction. When Crazy Legs clambered off and approached the driver to apologise for the tyre sized groove he’d left imprinted in the rear bumper, she’d taken fright and bolted.

Discussion about the inability to stop a fixie quite so unexpectedly inevitably led to the issue of disk brakes. Crazy Legs informed us he was very impressed with the brakes on his new mountain bike but felt the “cockpit” (as the trade magazines like to call the handlebar area) was incredibly cluttered and restrictive. He demonstrated this by wiggling outstretched fingers and flapping his elbows in and out, doing a fair approximation of the funky chicken.

G-Dawg dryly queried if this wasn’t more akin to a demonstration of one-man-band skills rather than bike-handling and wondered whether Crazy Legs preferred cymbals or a horn under his arms.


Ride 20 January
Ride Profile


 The Waffle:

Isn’t the Internet a strange and wonderful thing?  Not only because my witless meanderings find an audience, who amazingly seemed to appreciate and, even more astonishingly, occasionally  ask for more. There also seems to be quite a refreshingly friendly community amongst bloggers, who all provide slightly different perspectives, read each other’s work, contribute with insightful or amusing comments and promote competitor blogs to their own readers.

This week I was able to offer a tiny modicum of help to a club mate who’s undertaking the rather daunting and Herculean task of building a searchable database of all the grand tour stage winners, complete with their nationalities, ages, teams, bikes et al. For an esoteric take on cycling stats and an eclectic mix of pro cycling insights, try SiCycle.

Sur La Jante also got a name check in a blog entry from the The Lonely Cyclist  who provides a completely different perspective on British cycling and cycling clubs, not surprising really as the Lonely Cyclist is neither male, middle-aged, cynical, sardonic nor quite as jaded as this old blogger. Hmm, now I think of it, old blogger sounds somewhat pejorative, if not quite as bad as arse hat.

Then, either inspired by my teacake haiku, or alternatively wholly embarrassed by my putrid efforts, Ragtime Cyclist responded with a haiku of his own:

What is riding for?
If not the mid-ride teacake.
Helps to shut up legs.

For one, brief moment I had a clear, lofty vision of cycling clubs up and down the land immortalising their weekly rides in verse form, and presiding over a renaissance of British poetry … but the dream didn’t survive the hard reality of first contact with my fellow cyclists.

It’s well worth stopping by to see what the Ragtime Cyclist has to say, such as his take on Haribo abuse – it made me laugh and I can’t think of a better endorsement than that.

This week I was also proud to learn I’m a Vittorian. Somewhere along the line my appreciation of Vittoria tyres has seen my details captured in a random database and now I receive periodic copies of their newsletter; The Vittorian. This is obviously a thoroughly gripping (no pun intended) read, dedicated to all things tyre-related and doubtless ripe for parody on Have I Got News for You.

Through this less than august journal, I found out their secret for the new season – tyres reinforced with graphene, the wonder-substance that’s a 100 times stronger than steel. I wonder how long it will be before we’ll all be lusting after exquisitely light, super-strong and shockingly expensive graphene frames and our love affair with all things carbon will be dead and buried.

We’ll still be going no faster, but the bike manufacturers will be rubbing their hands with glee. This also makes we worry about what we’ll do with all the useless discarded carbon frames that are all but indestructible and non-biodegradable.

Anyway, I digress wildly. Feeling much, much better than last week I was looking forward to another club run, despite the temperature which would struggle to reach a heady 5°C and gusting westerly winds predicted to hit 45 mph.

Just in case of any lingering ice, I eased down the hill slowly and immediately turned to greet this wind head-on for a slow grind to cross the river. Here I could enjoy a brief respite with added tailwind benefits before I had to clamber out of the valley again.

I had just about found the right gear and cadence to battle my way into the wind when, seemingly out of nowhere, a black clad, ninja cyclist cruised past, greeted me with the universal and UCI approved, “How do?” and invited me onto his wheel. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I latched on behind and had a couple of miles of relative shelter until I decided his pace was slightly too high, too early in the ride.


 

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My mystery benefactor, providing shelter from the wind


 

As I dropped off and turned to cross the river he disappeared up the road, pounding away into the headwind that seemed to be having no appreciable effect on his speed and effortless riding.

14 lads and lasses eventually gathered at our rendezvous point, where surprisingly there was no mention of ride etiquette, mechanical or wardrobe faux pas or overdue club fees. We pushed off, clipped in and rode out, looking for routes that might give a modicum of shelter and some small relief from a gusting wind.

We were warned however to be on our best behaviour at the café, as OGL was meeting some journalist from Cycling Weekly – presumably for a forthcoming feature on the Cyclone Festival of Cycling™.

As we rode out I immediately dropped to the back of the group, my usual position, but more imperative on a day like this when I didn’t really fancy sticking my nose into the wind.

Here I found Mad Colin, riding with us mere mortals, whilst bemoaning age and responsibility and we were soon discussing daughters, body building, structured training, proper rest, drugs and Lance Armstrong. He revealed how he felt that, even before Jon Tiernan-Locke registered his breakthrough wins on the Continent, racing against him was a somewhat, err shall we say, other-worldly experience.


 

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Some of the local road surfaces are in a shocking state – we probably spend more time pointing out pots than holding the bars


First OGL, then Crazy Legs, Red Max, G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and Carlton all took turns at the front as, pummelled by the incessant wind, we started to track 3 riders in the far distance. I felt sooner or later their lack of numbers would tell and we’d catch them, but we weren’t rotating off the front often enough to keep our pace really high.

With the other group dangling annoyingly in front of us for what seemed miles, Mad Colin finally took a hand, rode to the front and with Crazy Legs pushed the pace up a notch higher. We closed in, finding much to everyone’s disbelief one of them riding in shorts and his raw, angry legs looked the colour and texture of corned beef. Luckily we were soon past and leaving this uncomfortable sight behind.


 

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Despite the cold it was a very bright, very breezy day


 

As we made the turn for the café, I dropped back to check on Taffy Steve who was starting to feel the effects of prolonged efforts riding on the front. Then, as we battered up the Quarry Climb, he became slightly detached with OGL and cresting the climb they found themselves stuck behind a huge, slow-moving tractor and trailer at the precise moment that the Red Max launched a Forlorn Hope attack.

Max quickly gained about 100 to 150 metres lead with Goose stuck firmly to his wheel and Carlton queried whether we shouldn’t be chasing them down. I told him to wait and explained that it was still far too early.

We duly held formation until the road began to rise and Max’s efforts began to get a bit ragged, then a quick injection of pace had the group reforming before the road kicked down again. Meanwhile, further behind, Taffy Steve having failed to convince OGL to join the chase, finally overtook the tractor and began a madcap pursuit on his own, closing fast, but ultimately running out of road.

On the next descent and aided by some daredevil cornering, Max attacked again and again managed to open up a sizeable lead only for Mad Colin, G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg to quickly overhaul him as once more the road kicked up.

With the strong riders pulling away up front, I dragged myself through the last junction slightly distanced from a group that included Goose, Red Max and Shouty. I pressed harder on the pedals to pick up speed and with glacial slowness the gap started to close. I made contact and decided to keep going, swinging over onto the other side of the road and sliding past down the outside of the group.


 

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Did I mention it was bright?


 

I’d just eased past Max when we hit the approach to the Snake Bends and braking sharply we zipped and switched our way through and into the final run to the café.

We left OGL at the café staring morosely into a second and now empty cup of coffee and still waiting for his contact from Cycling Weekly to show, as we piled out and saddled up for an uneventful ride home. The group split and we entered the Mad Mile, where the pace was kicked up I slipped slowly backwards through the group.

As everyone else zipped left, I swung to the right, then right again until I was pointed directly into a headwind that I suspect had been waiting for this precise moment to amp up its intensity. As I started the long drag uphill I quickly ran through the gears, trying to find something that I could spin relatively easy but still feel like I was making some headway.

I settled into the grind, watching the fog of my breathing starting to coalesce in the cold air as the temperature noticeably dropped. A stinging shower of ice-hail-snow was swept horizontally down the road to needle my face numb for the last few miles, until I could once again cross the river and ride the tailwind home.


 

YTD Totals: 392 km /244 miles with 3,855 metres of climbing