Fantastic Day

Fantastic Day

Club Run, Saturday 20th October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  111 km / 69 miles with 1,116 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 22 minute

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         27 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Fantastic


 

fantastic
Ride Profile

What a gorgeous and glorious day.

As I rolled down the valley, the sun crept into clear space beneath a band of dark, low cloud and threw a ridiculously long, sharp shadow ahead of me, cartoonish, spindly legs whirring under a peanut body topped with a spiky pinhead.

The concentrated, liquid light tangled itself in all the fading, autumnal leaves on the trees, setting them aflame in a lambent, amber glow that looked like a photo someone had applied far too much contrast to.

It sho was purdy, though.

One of the more noticeable attributes of the Pug is its near silent running, the freewheel is mute, the chain makes a hushed, barely audible whisper and when the brakes and rims combine they are completely and oddly soundless. This combined with an eerie lack of traffic, let me pick out the buzzing of the power lines, a rustle of a small bird, or mammals in the hedgerow, the slap of water against the bridge piles as I crossed the river and the rhythmic, shouted commands of the stroke, as a 4-man boat shot the arches and slid smoothly out into open water.

My ride in was equally as smooth, calm and tranquil and I arrived a few minutes before my usual time, to find Crazy Legs uncharacteristically there before me and, even more unexpectedly, chatting with Szell. Szell is normally well into hibernation mode by now, but this year is seriously challenging to still be riding with us in November.


Main topics of conversation at the start

“I’ve been here fifteen minutes already,” Crazy Legs explained cheerfully, before revealing his enthusiasm was in no way related the arrival of house guests, which may, or may not, have given him the urge to vacate the house for a while.

G-Dawg rolled in with the Colossus and there was some discussion about the intended route, which Aether had posted-up, but Crazy Legs insisted had suddenly changed mid-week, while he was looking at it online. Aether arrived and was equally as adamant that the route was the same one he’d originally devised and he hadn’t tinkered with it at all.

“Woah,” I contributed, “I think we’ve been hacked by the Russians.” Imagining some sophisticated, Fancy Bears, cyber-espionage group from the GRU interfering with our group rides for their own nefarious purposes. I’m sure, if pressed OGL would blame the Chinese.

G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Aether talked through the proposed route and all its various permutations, finally agreeing on one definitive version. Everyone seemed to be in accord, which was good, but I’m still no closer to knowing if, unlikely as it may sound, our group rides are an on-going, potential target for cyber-terrorists.

“Anyway,” Aether wondered, “Is orange the new club colour?” nodding at G-Dawg, Szell, the Colossus and Crazy Legs, who were all bedecked in various shades of orange.

There was then a quite unseemly spat, when Szell declared the particular shade of orange that Crazy Legs was wearing was  “girly.” This escalated into a surprisingly sophisticated, mature and philosophical discourse, punctuated by the trading of clever epithets and witty, barbs. Such as:  “you stink!” … “no, your mum stinks!” …etc.

Ignoring the squabbling children, G-Dawg informed us OGL probably wouldn’t be joining us for the ride as he’d been receiving treatment for a dodgy hip. Otherwise the good weather had enticed a sizeable mob of 27 guys and gals out for the day and we decided to split into two groups with a merge point agreed further along the route.

So, we split the group into two … or, to be more accurate, tried to split into two, but the front group was dwarfed by those holding back to ride in the second group. I pushed across to even up the numbers and one or two others were coerced into joining us.

At the lights G-Dawg did a quick headcount, we had 11, leaving 16 behind, it would have to do. “Just watch,” G-Dawg mused, “OGL will turn up late and everyone in the second group will suddenly stampede to join the first.”


Luckily it wasn’t to be and I pushed out alongside the Colossus and away we went, averaging a reasonable 17-18mph for the first 10 miles or so, before ceding the front to Captain Black and Richard of Flanders.

A little further on, we found ourselves being trailed by a massive, six-wheeled piece of heavy-duty farm equipment. Stopped by some temporary lights, we shuffled off to the side of the road to let this behemoth through ahead of us. It was too big to argue with.

The traffic lights reminded the Colossus of a game he used to play while travelling with his dad – “Would I Have Died?” – a vehicular take on Russian-roulette, where you imagine ignoring a red stop light and see if you would make it through to the other side without being obliterated by on-coming traffic.

The lights changed, the behemoth squeezed past and we followed. There was no traffic approaching from the other direction – this time we wouldn’t have died. So, that’s “Would I Have Died?” – I think you’ll agree it’s a fun game for all the family, but obviously not to be undertaken in real life (unless you’re Dutch or have Dutch leanings) – after all, you’ll only lose once.

We made it to the designated lay-by and pulled in to wait for the second group to catch up, chatting about tomorrows highly popular Muckle Open Hill Climb, where they had a field of over 100 riders and a range of creative prizes, including awards for the fastest time on a fixie, or MTB, biggest improvement from last year, a lantern rouge and spot prizes for 36th, 69th and 90th.

We felt deliberately being last would be a difficult challenge, but targeting a spot prize almost impossible – although that didn’t stop us pondering Byzantine plots to try and achieve it.

The second group rolled in and we briefly coalesced, before those wanting a shorter ride to the café were swinging away again.


titled 1


The rest pressed on, heading towards the reservoir and points beyond. I joined G-Dawg, Aether and Crazy Leg, darting across the Military Road ahead of everyone else and while we waited for the others to catch up, talk turned back to the planned route.

G-Dawg was disappointed Aether hadn’t “gone pro” and taped the route outline to his handlebars this time.

Reaching into his back pocket in a “Ta-Da!” moment though, Aether pulled out and brandished a sheet of paper, shaking it vigorously in the wind, like Chamberlain declaring peace in our time.

“I have a print-out of the route here.”

“Careful!” Crazy Legs advised, “If you lose that we could be lost for days!”

On we went, up through the back roads toward the village of Ryal, G-Dawg noted that the previously prolific loose chippings seemed to have been swept from the new road surface, perhaps by the rain, perhaps through the collective passage of Taffy Steve, catching them between his tyres and fork crown. We hoped that now he would finally be able to make it through without getting more stones jammed in his frame. As an added bonus, I hear he’s now also the proud owner of a fabulous new gravel path in his garden.

We were closing in on the Quarry Climb when Sneaky Pete ran his wheel through a pot and punctured, rolling to a stop. Crazy Legs waved the rest of the group on, while I dropped back with him to help out.

Sneaky Pete soon had the tube replaced and together we started wrestling the tyre back onto the rim. As we struggled with the last section, Crazy Legs leaned in to help, his thumb barely grazing the sidewall as the tyre popped suddenly into place.

“Your welcome,” he said distractedly, while gazing in awe at his newly revealed, super-powerful, “golden thumb”.

We tag-teamed the pump-work and soon had the tyre inflated to an acceptable pressure – well, for cyclists with severely challenged upper-body strength – potentially a massive, herculean and awe-inspiring 30 psi or so. It would (have to) do. Off we went again, now somewhat inexplicably singing “My Sharona” and then following up with “My Angel is a Centrefold.”

As we turned up toward the Quarry, Crazy Legs began relating a conversation with a younger work colleague, who had said two lines that Crazy Legs immediately recognised as a direct quote from the Talking Heads song, “Road to Nowhere.”

“Ah! A Talking Heads fan?” Crazy Legs had enquired.

“Eh? What?” the work colleague was just confused.

“Talking Heads? Road to Nowhere? You know David Byrne?”

“Nah, mate, haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about…”

Apparently this hadn’t been a clever quote, referencing a subversive, 80’s alternative rock group, but actual, real-life management speak, much to Crazy Legs’ disdain. Now though, he was struggling to remember what the offending lines were.

“I’m just guessing, but I bet it wasn’t ‘and you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,’” I suggested.

“No, it wasn’t that,” Crazy Legs confirmed and immediately started singing, “And you may find yourself, living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may find yourself, behind the wheel of a large automobile …”

He paused a second …

“Hey! That’s not the Road to Nowhere.”

“Yeah, like I said, I bet it wasn’t ‘and you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.’

And, to be fair, I was right.”

Much like our all-hands-to-the-pump, tyre-inflation approach, we tag-teamed the run-in too, taking turns to drive us onwards and were at the café in short-order, where, true gent that he is, Sneaky Pete insisted on paying for our coffee and cakes as a (wholly unnecessary, but thoughtful) thank you for our assistance in helping with his puncture.

Crazy Legs is already planning to carry a pocketful of tacks to drop in front of Sneaky Pete on the run into the café next week.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

Orders secured, we ventured out into the garden to finds the rest of the mob enjoying what could potentially be our last outside café stop of 2018.

Here we found Szell and I learned that he’s actually a restorative dentist and not, as I thought, an ex-Nazi intent of finding out “if it’s safe.” He then started on a mini-tirade, seemingly intent on insulting everyone at the table by association and the rest of the world by direct implication. Merchant bankers, teachers, Talking Heads, Lloyd Cole, the NHS, cosmetic surgery, dental veneers, C-list celebrities, reality television shows … it went on.

The rant seemed to be heading towards an all encompassing, scintillating climax, but I was heading toward coffee refills …

“Between inhuman looking lip implants and ridiculously artificial dental veneers, we’re on the cusp of …” Szell pontificated, but sadly (or, maybe gladly?) I didn’t manage to catch what exactly it was that we were on the cusp of. At that point in time, additional caffeine intake seemed much more important than learning the horrendous fate of civilised society.

Crazy Legs had removed his helmet to reveal a bad case of fungal cap – his Bianchi casquette, spotted and dotted with patches of mould. This, he determined was either a result of storing the cap in his garage, or perhaps, he suggested the proof that as we get older, we start to exude fungus …

This was the cap Crazy Legs had bought after I’d harangued him to replace his previous, wonky-brimmed effort, by suggesting it made him look like the village idiot. Naturally then, the demise of his current, fungal cap was all my fault.

“Anyway, I don’t know who made you the arbiter of taste,” he concluded. To be fair, neither did I.

Loud and persistent barking drew our attention to the distant hills and eventually a pack of hounds were to be seen tearing across an open field and presaging the arrival of the local hunt. There was obviously no fox, but the Colossus did suggest the leading hound was an odd russet colour and seemingly had a distinctly bushy tail…

The hounds were soon followed by the local horse-faced toffs on their very, very big, very, very expensive, horse-faced horses. We were just happy they didn’t seem to be heading our way

Meanwhile, Aether set his own, metaphorical, fox running amongst the hounds, when he politely enquired of a late arriving OGL, if now was perhaps a timely opportunity for the club to break with long-established tradition and fully-embrace the 18th century and the glorious emancipation of mankind … by holding an AGM for club members. Radical, audacious, revolutionary, I know and, much like the hunt, just as likely to see the fur flying.


We set out for home, somehow split into different groups and I joined one that had become intermingled with the Back Street Boys. When the inevitable attack went on Berwick Hill, I let it go and found myself trailing Captain Black, content to ride at my own pace.

He glanced back, “Ah, you’re obviously suffering from winter-bikitis,” he remarked. I explained that I hadn’t even thought about it and just picked out the Pug from habit, missing a glorious opportunity for one last Holdsworth, carbon-hurrah and being perhaps the only one out on a winter bike.

“Tsk, tsk,” he chided, “Schoolboy error.” True enough. He then decided to show me what I was missing, accelerating smoothly away, while I clung (more or less) to his rear wheel, unable to take a turn on the front even if I’d wanted to. (I didn’t).

With the help of Captain Black’s motor-pacing, we began to close on a small knot of our riders who’d become detached from the Back Street Boys’ train. He dragged me across the gap and, when the majority swung away left, I was able to latch onto Spoons as we entered the Mad Mile.

With the Peugeot in full stealth-mode and giving its best impersonation of silent running, I’m not even sure he knew I was there and engaged in blatant wheel-sucking, until I popped out, waved him off and swung the opposite way around the roundabout for my solo ride home.

The rest of the ride back was as smooth and serene as the outbound trip. I was tired and in no hurry, so I got to enjoy the perfect weather – might as well make the most of it, it isn’t going to last.


YTD Totals: 6,124 km / 3,805 miles with 74,898 metres of climbing

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Riders on the Storm

Riders on the Storm

Club Run & Hill Climb, Saturday 13th October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  105 km / 65 miles with 536 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 28 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                        8 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Delugional New word alert! 


 

Hill Climn
Ride Profile -(with obligatory Garmin in the rain brain fart)

Friday through to Saturday and Storm Callum was having its wicked way with the British Isles, causing mass disruption, extensive flooding and even loss of life. For the North East of England it meant rain and lots of it, incessant, unrelenting, unremitting and seemingly immovable.

Oddly though, the temperatures remained relatively mild, which gave life to this rather alarming forecast from the BBC, suggesting not only persistent, heavy rain across the entire day, but also the real risk of thunderstorms…


hill climb weather


The forecast appeared just minutes before I set out to begin my journey across to the meeting point for the club run … and not just any old club run, either, but our annual festival of self-flagellation, the Hill Climb.

This is traditionally a last hurrah for carbon summer bikes, before bad weather, rain, wind, ice, mud, frost and salted roads force a swap to something heavier, more sturdy, more easily replaceable and (unless you’re a complete madman and misanthrope) preferably with mudguards.

The horrendous weather then was at direct odds with the aim of selecting the lightest bike possible to hurl uphill in a very unequal battle with gravity. As I opened the backdoor and looked at the rain teeming down, up popped a Messenger feed from Jimmy Mac: “I have never been as confused over which bike to take out….”

I had no such worries, having decided a few weeks ago I wouldn’t do the hill climb this year, feeling a distinct lack of anything approaching “form” that had me toiling on even the most innocuous rides. I’d spent last Sunday engaged in a changing of the guard, putting away Reg and the single-speed and breaking the winter bike out of storage and prepping it for just this kind of day. 13.5 kilos of slab-sided, cold aluminium and steel, the Pug (Peugeot) shrugs at the rain and positively hates good weather.

It was gloomy enough for me to switch on some lights before hissing down the hill and starting to pick my way across to the meeting point. Having swapped bikes around, I’d only remembered at the last moment my pump was still in the tool tub in the Holdsworth’s bottle-cage and I’d grabbed a spare as I ran out the door.

Now approaching the river and 3 or 4 mile into my ride, I realised I’d also forgotten any tyre levers. I weighed up the option of turning around, but I wouldn’t have time to do that and still get to the meeting point on time. I decided to risk it, working through everything I was carrying and determining that, in extremis, I could probably use my house keys as impromptu tyre levers in the event of a puncture.

Luckily this theory was never actually put to the test.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

What a sad, sorry and small, wet and bedraggled group I found, huddling out of the downpour in the bowels of the multi-storey car park and chatting with OGL, who was about to drive up to the start of the hill climb to get things set up.

A (less than) magnificent 7 included our official start team of Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, those of us too cowardly, or too sensible to ride the hill and just three actual competitors, the Garrulous Kid, the Colossus and Jimmy Mac.

We determined that with so few contestants, we could just call the results now and didn’t need to actually venture out into the rain. We even had a contestant in each category, so not only would everyone “podium” for the overall, but they’d also be a guaranteed category winner. Final placings could be determined with a quick game of rock-paper-scissors, and then we could all ride to a warm, dry café and be done with the whole, horrible exercise until next year. Perfect.

Then Buster rolled up, intent on competing too … and he ruined it for everyone.

News had filtered back that triathlon-virgin, Princess Fiona, had successfully completed the Barcelona Ironman Ironwoman Ironprincess event, a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride and then a full 26 mile marathon. A fantastic achievement, although not wholly unexpected and all done in a highly respectable time of just over 12 hours. It’s good that she’ll have a target time to beat next time!

We hung around as long as possible, before submitting to the inevitable and making a move to head out into the all-enveloping deluge.

“Don’t worry, it’s eased to just a downpour now,” OGL reassured us cheerily, before climbing into the warm, dry cab of his car and driving off.

Ugh. Oh well, here we go then …


It was bad out on the roads, even protected by a rain jacket, on top of a windproof jacket, over a long-sleeved baselayer and arm warmers, complete with leg warmers and winter boots, gloves and full length mudguards front and rear.

Our would-be competitors, to a man shivered in shorts and were soaked by rain and road spray in equal measure, the only consolation they had was that at least it wasn’t all that cold, otherwise it would have been a truly miserable ride out.

Wracked by indecision, Jimmy Mac had finally resorted to a round of eenie-meenie-miney-mo, before choosing not to ride his all-singing, all-dancing, all-carbon, uber-stealth machine, but an older, slightly less-posh Specialized, complete with clip-on mudguards.

Riding behind him, it didn’t take me long to realise that while the mudguards were doing an admirable job of keeping his posterior dry, they were somehow focussing a concentrated and fierce jet of dirty water directly into my face.

While this was going on, confusingly and inexplicably, the Garrulous Kid’s mudguard-less bike was somehow producing no cast-off spray whatsoever. Odd.

Meanwhile, Buster seemed in two minds about actually riding the event, especially after I told him I would be sitting this one out, so he didn’t have the safety net of at least one person he could comfortably beat. (He did finally do it and managed a cracking time to boot.)

I swapped bike preparation tales with Taffy Steve, vehement hill-climb denier and unapologetically sat astride his ponderous, thrice-cursed winter bike, as good as an excuse as any for not even looking at Prospect Hill, let alone trying to race up it.

Despite carefully cleaning and stowing the winter bike last spring, he reported one of the brake calipers had refused to release and needed emergency remedial work. For my own part, the rear mech on the Peugeot had seized and had needed some coaxing back to life.

We finally arrived at the hill climb course to find our numbers bolstered by a whole host of kids from our Go-Ride section, bright, cheerful and chatty and seemingly looking forward to their ordeal.

In all 23 brave, brave souls would hurl themselves up the hill, including the four condemned we’d escorted to their fate, Ion, who’d ridden up on his own and Kermit, who’d sensibly travelled there by car.

The competitors signed on and I helped Buster pin his number onto his back. There was no escape now. He then realised he couldn’t get his chain onto the big sprocket and enlisted OGL’s help, at the expense of having his wheel bearings roundly and roughly condemned. It’s the price you have to pay.

Ion was wearing strange, waterproof, baggy, knee-length shorts that he insisted were the next big thing. Hmm, I’m not so sure. He wondered aloud if there were any “gamers” present who might steal his title.

I thought he was asking for tips, and gave him my sage advice – “don’t bother”- before suggesting the only gamer was him, having signed up to another club to support his racing ambitions. He now has dual-club membership, much to the (very obvious) and (completely irrational) disgust of OGL.

With final preparations underway and the first rider already off and tackling the climb, I started to ride up the hill to seek out a good vantage point. I found myself following the second rider off, one of the young, Go-Ride girls, and I saw first-hand that this hill was a real and imposing test for some of the youngsters, as she struggled mightily just to keep the pedals turning over on the first and steepest ramps.

About a third of the way up, I stopped at a junction and joined an Irish Dad waiting to support his son’s ride, thinking I could do a bit of traffic control as well as cheer on the riders winching themselves up the slope.

It was great watching some of the young kids tackling the climb, all different shapes, ages, sizes and abilities, some on mountain bikes, some with a parental outrider as escort, some struggling mightily, but refusing to give in and others zipping up, apparently without a care in the world.

One or two were so unaffected by their efforts they had the breath to thank me for cheering them on!


IMG_0392
The future is bright…

Ion went storming up, followed by his only serious contender, junior European triathlon championship winner, Dan-Di who I felt looked more ragged and not as fast. So it was to prove, with Ion pipping Dan-Di to the win, but by only a handful of seconds, proving that appearances can be deceptive.

Irish Dad cheered his son through and set off walking to the top of the hill to meet him at the finish, while I took up the role of impromptu event photographer, achieving several impressive and impromptu close-ups of my own thumb.

As I watched one of the tiny girls struggle slowly upwards, weaving from side to side and with her dad as an outrider, a car approached from behind me, aiming to head down the hill, straight into the riders hauling their way up.

I waved the car to a stop and was relieved when they seemed patient, good-natured and happy to wait, hanging well back from the junction. The girl and dad passed, but Jimmy Mac was in sight and chasing hard after her. I held the car a few more moments to let him past, then waved it on with a big thumbs up. A patient, considerate and amicable driver? What’s the world coming to?

We were into a straight run of seniors now, the Colossus guffawing as I gave him my best Zardoz impersonation, complete with inspirational lying: “You’re catching them!” and “Come on, only one more corner!”

Next up was Buster, complaining loudly that his legs were already shot and his entire ride was a disaster. (They weren’t. It wasn’t).

Kermit whipped through, game-face on and concentrating hard and then it was our last man, the Garrulous Kid, who went past grinning beatifically, as if he was actually enjoying the moment and had entered a transcendent state of grace!

As the last rider disappeared around the bend, I picked my way to the bottom of the hill to find our starting team, G-Dawg and Crazy Legs, chilled through and visibly shivering. Taffy Steve took Crazy Legs off to find a café and pour hot drinks into him, while I waited for the others to coalesce, so we could hand back various bits of “deadweight” they’d jettisoned into our care.

Buster arrived looking like he’d aged 10 years in 10 minutes, perhaps a lesser version of what Crazy Legs sees in my face after the hill climb, when he’s wont to compare me to a wasted, grey-faced, shambling zombie, or John Major – whichever of them you find the most disturbing. (It’s close, but for me John Major just about shades it.)

We then followed G-Dawg to the chosen café – this year thankfully without the extended guided (de)tour around the entire outer suburbs of Corbridge.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A new café means a new choice of cakes and my eye was immediately drawn to a massive slab of Lemon Meringue pie – which turned out to be so big that Crazy Legs felt the need to take a photo of it, giving me flashbacks to almost every family meal out, where my daughters seem compelled to photograph each and every dish that’s put in front of them and woe betide anyone who takes a mouthful before the perfect picture has been composed. I’m simply too old to understand any of this malarkey and, you know what … I don’t care.

The lemon meringue pie was good, but I realised, when I was about halfway through, it was much, much too big for a single person to manage. I finished it anyway and I somehow tucked the last morsel away without initiating a Mr. Creosote moment – sheesh, and those fellers thought the hill climb was hard!

(I chuckled, but was largely unsurprised to later find that the Strava segment leading up to the café was titled Lemon Meringue Pie, Please, in tribute to this monstrosity.)

Talk turned to the clubs Annual Christmas Dinner and awards ceremony, with Crazy Legs happy to point out that since Ion won both our time-trial and hill climb events, OGL would have to acknowledge the “turncoats” achievements through ferociously clenched teeth. I proposed we added to OGL’s chagrin by going for the full sweep of awards and nominating Ion for the most improved rider award too.

Crazy Legs then related a train journey he’d recently made where he’d been royally entertained by a random encounter with a really, really weird fellow traveller. (Trust me, if a regular member of a cycling club describes someone else as really weird, then that person’s weirdness must be truly off the charts.)

Apparently, this particular fellow traveller didn’t get off to a good start when she declared she was a whale aficionado, but challenged to name her favourite, could only come up with an Orca. This, clever fellow that he is, Crazy Legs knew wasn’t actually a whale at all, just a very big, very angry dolphin on steroids.

She then revealed her pièce de résistance though, an odd affection and perverse interest in container ships, which she’d travel far and wide to look at. And just container ships mind you, not all ships, nor merchant ships in general. Not tankers, nor freighters, or ferries, not reefers, or ro-ro’s … just container ships. Apparently, it had something to do with how the containers all align when fully loaded.

Isn’t the world a many splendoured thing?


We left the café to find the rain was actually starting to ease and off we went. “Just around the next corner,” Jimmy Mac started the mantra a few miles in, soaked through and looking forward to finally finishing the ride and getting in a hot shower.

“Just around the next corner,” Jimmy Mac repeated yet again and he was partially rewarded when G-Dawg finally acknowledged, “Just one more hill to go.” Well, for some anyway. Everyone slowed to take a sharp left, but my path led straight on and as the road dropped away downhill before starting to climb again, I waved everyone else off and kicked on.

The rain had stopped and the hedgerows seemed alive with chattering birds celebrating, or maybe just idly commentating on the astonishing amounts of rain that had fallen in the past 6 hours.

The rain had stopped, but a troubling wind had sprung up in its place and I watched as a crow hung in the air, beating its wings slowly and ponderously, going precisely nowhere, before giving up, dipping a wing and sliding away to one side.

Oh well, it wasn’t like I was in a rush to avoid any bad weather …


YTD Totals: 5,956 km / 3,701 miles with 71,525 metres of climbing

Carbon Fever

Carbon Fever

Club Run, Saturday 24th March, 2018     

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  112 km / 70 miles with 1,126 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Perfect

Club Run, Saturday 24th March, 2018     


 

24 march carbon

Ride Profile 


Cabin fever is an idiomatic term for the extreme irritability and restlessness that takes place when a person is stuck in confined quarters for an extended period.

Carbon fever, on the other hand, is an idiomatic term for the extreme irritability and restlessness that takes place when a person is confined to riding their winter bike for an extended period.

The only known cure for the latter is to break out your best bike and try to burn off the fever by doing something slightly spontaneous, unplanned and out of character…

The giant swinging pendulum that seems to invent the British weather on a whim, promised us a weekend composed of a few, fine and completely still Spring days, as if trying to make up for the horror of last week’s snow, hail and gales.

That was enough for me to hint at the possibility of a “carbon weekend” as soon as Richard of Flanders posted up the route for the run on Saturday. ‘Bout bloody time, too.Still, I drew the line at G-Dawgs suggestion of shorts. Unlike him, I actually have nerve endings in my legs.

So, Friday night saw me lifting Reg from his cotton-wool cocoon to prep for the next day, still, after all this time, startled at the difference in weight between modest-carbon Holdsworth and workhorse-aluminium Peugeot.

A smattering of rain showers early Saturday failed to dissuade me from my choice and I carried the bike down the front steps, swung a leg over the frame, pushed off, clipped in … and immediately found myself riding with a big, stupid grin plastered across my face.

Everything about the bike seems crisper, cleaner, smoother and more comfortable. My foot appeared to be drawn magnetically to the pedal and the cleat engaged with a sharp, positive click. I barely touch the brakes and they immediately bite and slow me and the chain rolls smoothly and noiselessly up and down the cassette as I change gear.

I was instantly in a good mood that nothing was going to shake, not the close pass at high speed while arrowing down the Heinous Hill, not being caught at every single traffic light along my route and not even the raucous gaggle of Canada Geese that lined the road around Shibdon Pond and honked derisively as I rode past.

It was as smooth and enjoyable ride across to the meeting point as I can recall.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

True to his word, G-Dawg was in shorts and his new, super-bling, Sidi slippers that he’d received for a significant birthday, but only managed to wear once in since last November.

The shoes were in a startling shade of what the Garrulous Kid might describe as illuminous yellow.  Even better, G-Dawg had somehow managed to find a pair of socks that were the exact same shade, showing that the time between receiving the shoes and actually wearing them hadn’t been totally wasted.

Talk of Nibali’s imperious Milan-San Remo win, led to discussion about the Yates-twins, with OGL reporting that 58kg-when-soaking-wet (including the towel) Simon Yates-twin felt he needed to lose a few kilos for the Giro!

Prompted perhaps by something in Cycling Weekly, we wondered if in fact there was only one Yates–twin and, depending on how he was feeling, he preferred being called Simon Yates-twin, or Adam Yates-twin. We decided it would be even better if the Yates-twins were in reality identical quads, so you could change rider as easily as changing your bottle. The advantages are so obvious I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Sky have a cloning programme in development.

Analysis of the Monkey Butler Boy’s bike reached a consensus that his slammed handlebars left a dangerously prominent and potentially emasculating stack above his stem.

Little Benny Franklin once opined that three things are inevitable in life: the weather, death, and taxes. I would like to add to this the certainty that, whenever handlebars and stems are mentioned in polite conversation, OGL will resurrect the hoary old tale of ripping his scrotum open when crashing at a track meet.

He did nothing to disprove my thesis now, “Did I ever tell you about the time I ripped my scrotum open, crashing at a track meet?” he asked, to everyone’s great surprise.

Yes,” Crazy Legs replied flatly, but very, very distinctly.

OGL paused, blinked once slowly and then nevertheless launched into recounting the gory details of how he once ripped his scrotum open when crashing at a track meet.

To wake us from the resulting stupor, our New Glorious Leader, Richard of Flanders, leapt athletically onto the wall to demand our attention while he outlined the route for the day in precise detail.

His “lend me your ears” speech provided a nice counterpoint to the “et tu, Brute?” moment he almost faced a few weeks ago, when we decided he was a despot in-the-making and considered pre-emptive coup d’etat, cutting the head off the snake, before it grew fully into its power.

Sadly, whatever gravitas he hoped to bring to proceedings was somewhat lost by the cheeky, tantalising flashes of pink flesh that would be occasionally peep through the ripped up knees of his tights.

Fatally, he then concluded a thorough, comprehensive briefing of route details with a call for “any questions?”

Slowly, hesitatingly, G-Dawg raised a mitt … “Err … did you have to pay extra for the ripped knees, or did you borrow those tights from a fashion-conscious teenage girl?”

9.15 and we formed up and started to roll out.

At this point OGL began muttering darkly about how the club was “disintegrating” around him, based largely I think, on the absence of any of the Grogs from our ranks today and a modest turn out of only two dozen! Apparently, OGL suggests the Grogs no longer want to ride with us because we go too fast at the start and they’re having difficulty free-loading at the back.*

[*My interpretation, not his – in 5 years riding with the club I’ve only ever seen a Grog on the front and leading a club run on one, single occasion and I’m pretty certain that was a mistake.]

I find it odd that OGL tolerates this inner-group, let alone measures the health of our club based on their participation. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that they have their own jersey, Facebook page, meeting points, hierarchy, rides, events, overseas trips, social gatherings et al.

Before knowing better, I wrote about them as “a dark and secretive cabal within the club … that has its own, special club jersey, which can only be won through a dark ritual involving the sacrifice of small, furry animals and communing with the drunken ghost of Henri Desgrange.”

I continued, “They often silently and mysteriously slip away from the club run to do their own thing, only to reappear sitting relaxed and unruffled in the café, long before anyone else gets there. They communicate through a series of arcane hand signals and a high-pitched chirruping that can drive dogs insane, but is generally inaudible to human ears.”

Now, I realise my first impressions were largely correct, although I haven’t yet solved the biggest mystery, why they want to remain part of the club at all?

Still, even OGL’s ranting and railing and a-bitching and kvetching and complaining, wasn’t going to derail me from my good mood today.

Onward!

We ride.


Things were going well and I’d just dropped in alongside Buster for a quick catch-up, when he declared, “Shit! puncture.”

We rolled to a stop in someone’s driveway while repairs were effected, spirits high and happily chattering amongst ourselves. I’ve no idea if the house owner ever noticed they had a gaggle of twenty plus, lycra clad lunatics clustered in their drive. Perhaps they hid hoping we’d get bored and move on soon enough?

Which, to be fair we did, pushing along without further incident to Stamfordham, where the Garrulous Kid rode off on his own, to continue his utterly bizarre fixation and thoroughly unhealthy obsession with the Ryals.

From there, the rest of us pushed onwards across the Military Road, past the reservoir, before stopping to split the group. To the delight of Crazy Legs, Richard of Flanders took up a position of easy authority, at the focal point of our group, with all of his seeming-acolytes arrayed before him.

From here, he explained the options for different routes and groups and we split, with a few taking the slightly shorter, slightly less bumpy, slightly more direct route to the café.

The rest of us pressed on, up through the Stelling climb, up Newton Hall and Kip Hill, before turning left and then first right, onto a narrow farm track that would take us around the plantations.

A slight mix up when the leaders zigged instead of zagged and I found myself leading, with everyone happy to hang back to see if I could find a safe route through the numerous puddles without disappearing into an enormous pothole.


REC004 (3)


The track spat us out, back onto the main road just outside Matfen and I was joined on the front by G-Dawg as we rolled toward the Quarry at a steady 17-18 mph.

The bright day had brought out dozens of small groups of cyclists who whizzed past with a wave and a shout.

“It’s busy out here,” I remarked at one point, “Yet, we didn’t see anyone else last week.”

“Yeah,” G-Dawg seem to consider the conundrum seriously, “I can’t imagine why?”

We led everyone up the Quarry climb, before the group swung right and I dropped back through the ranks, while the pace started to tick upwards.

As the road levelled and straightened, the Big Yin attacked from the back and opened up a sizeable lead. The Red Max and Taffy Steve followed, powering across the gap, but it was too early and I assured Biden Fecht we’d catch them easily as the road started to climb toward the crossroads. Sure enough, the move was soon reeled back in and the pace wound up even more.

[The Red Max would later complain that the problem with his attack wasn’t that it was too early and from too far out, but in fact much, much too late and too close to home!]

Now, as we hurtled toward the crossroads, Rab Dee cruised up the outside of our group and I latched onto his wheel and followed. As I slid past G-Dawg, I declared things had turned “feisty” … and then the carbon fever bit. I catapulted myself off Rab Dee’s wheel and attacked off the front as we started to grind up the slope, quickly finding myself in clear air.

Approaching the crossroads at speed, I slowed as little as I dared, head on a swivel, frantically scanning for traffic, left and right. I hoped I’d read things right and the road really was clear in both directions, as I darted across and tried to pick up the pace again.

A good handful of seconds later, I heard the shouts of “clear!” behind me and guessed I had a reasonably decent gap. I knew I wasn’t going to be contesting the sprint, but I thought I could probably discomfort, or perhaps even eliminate some of the heavy-weight “puncheurs.”

I drove on, suppressing an urge to cackle like the Red Max in full flight, while the road dipped down again. I slowed to take the corners at a sensible pace, not wanting to wipe out in front of everyone.

As the road straightened and dropped toward the next junction a shadow suddenly appeared under my bottom bracket and I knew I’d been caught. I slid to the left, Crazy Legs powered past and I dropped onto his wheel, guessing everyone else was strung out in close attendance behind.

We slowed for the next junction and then tried to pick up the pace again, swinging left, with just two more climbs to go before the junction for the run down to the Snake Bends.

These are not real climbs, not a Cipressa, or a Kemmelberg, nor a Mur de Huy, just a gentle stiffening of the gradient, probably nothing over a 5% for a couple of hundred metres, but the effect when you’re already red-lining and in oxygen debt can be just as devastating.

Halfway up the first slope Crazy Legs seemed to lose momentum, so I rounded him and attacked again, managing to make it half way up the final rise before I was overtaken. I dropped into place at the back of the first group through the junction, latching onto the Monkey Butler Boy’s wheel and thoroughly satisfied with my efforts.

As we accelerated again, I found the Monkey Butler Boy didn’t have the legs, the gears, or the inclination to give chase and, as the front group pulled away, I hesitated a bit too long before accelerating past.  As we hammered down toward the Snake Bends, Zardoz eased up alongside – puffed out his cheeks exaggeratedly and then slipped away again.

Through the bends, across the junction and I cruised down the road to the café more or less alone, but quite happy. What a blast.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The weather was good enough for us to decamp to the café garden to enjoy some surprisingly warm sunshine. The Monkey Butler Boy fiddled with his phone and declared, “It’s 5°!”

“The only thing that’s 5° is this table top,” Caracol corrected him, while deftly pocketing some small change that threatened to roll off the angled surface. Caracol had the right of it – the temperature was well into double figures and it was very pleasant.

Crazy Legs took me to task for not calling out that the crossroad were clear as I attacked through them, forcing the chasers to slow and look, rather than chase me down at full bore. Unrepentant, I argued no one was there to shout for me, I was clear at the time and I needed any advantage I could possibly eke out.

G-Dawg seemed to accept my argument and even suggested I should have called out an imaginary “car left!” to slow the pursuit further. Clever. Sneaky, but clever.

It was around this time that we realised we seemed to have lost Richard of Flanders somewhere out on the road and Buster set off to back-track  to see if he’d run into trouble somewhere.

We tried to remember when we’d last seen our NGL. The Red Max recalled a kamikaze-style overtaking of Richard on one of the sharp corners on our run in, and our logical reaction was to wonder if the Red Max had put him in a ditch, or eased him through a hedge, but there was no evidence to support this.

The Garrulous Kid then bounced past, heading off early because he had an appointment in the “hair studio” for a fresh trim and besides, he had to get home to prepare for a “crihical finkin’” test.

Holding the National Timetrial Championship on local roads raised the possibility of actually seeing Chris Froome riding in the UK, for perhaps only the fifth or sixth time in his entire career. Crazy Legs is ready with his salbutamol inhaler, just in case.

“It’s odd,” Zardoz observed, “I read all 200 plus pages of his book, The Climb. There’s a lot of detail in there, but he never once mentions asthma.”

“Is it not Sir Chris Froome, now anyway?” the Monkey Butler Boy interjected.

No, we assured him, he’s not been knighted.

“So, how come it’s Sir Bradley Wiggins and yet he’s only ever won the one poxy Tour de France?” an affronted Monkey Butler Boy demanded to know.

While the Red Max smacked his head in disbelief, someone gently reminded the Monkey Butler Boy of the numerous Olympic and World medals that clutter up the sideboard in the Wiggins family household. I could have pointed out that knighting anyone for sporting achievements and before they’ve officially retired, seems a rather fatuous thing to do, but that’s an argument for another day.

Talk moved on to gold chains and led us to wonder if an actual chain made of gold was feasible. (We suspect not). I briefly tuned out and returned to the conversation to hear talk of someone’s fully-blinged up bike, “complete with shifters on the downtube.”

“Shifters on the Downtube?” I pondered, “That’s a great name for a band.”

It was quickly co-opted as a line into a re-worked “Shaking All Over” but sadly (or perhaps, thankfully) a suitable second line completely eluded us.

Then I remembered something, “Hey, did we ever find out what happened to Richard?”

Crazy Legs excused our lack of concern, claiming we were cyclists so understandably, very easily distracted by coffee and cake. Buster reported that he had seen no sign of Richard when he back-tracked, then someone else recalled he had house-pests staying, so may have gone home without calling in the café. Once again though we became distracted by the call for coffee refills and we never did determine what had happened to our erstwhile leader.


Back out onto the road, we were accompanied by a spirited rendition of Perfect Day from the newly formed, Crazy Legs and Biden Fecht: Cycling Barbershop Duet©. They would have been a trio, but the Garrulous Kid declined their invitation to join, claiming barbershop’s are  much too common for his more-refined and somewhat effete tastes.

Musical accompaniment aside, things were progressing well until we hit the small, sleepy hamlet of Ogle, when Buster punctured again. Out of spares, he invited us to continue, while he found the hole in his tube and patched it up. Taffy Steve and a few others that needed to get back pressed on, but the rest of us were happy to wait by the side of the road in the sunshine, chatting away idly, while helpfully critiquing the ongoing repair operation.

The Monkey Butler Boy dug into his back pocket and offered up a spare tube.

“Is that a Giant tube?” Buster asked accusingly.

I thought we were going to have some sort of political standoff, with Buster refusing the tube, revealing himself as a die-hard opponent of the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer on ethical, or perhaps even aesthetic grounds.

“Err …yeah,” The Monkey Butler Boy responded uncertainly.

“Ah, great, I’ve got some of them at home. I’ll bring you a replacement next week.”

Confrontation avoided, they got on with swapping out the tubes. Meanwhile the rest of us started to speculatively eye-up the cottage we had stopped outside. It looked empty and up for sale and we pondered how good it would be to live there during the winter, smugly dropping off the club run on the way back from the café and waving the rest of the group into the cold and freezing rain to slog the rest of the way back.

Still feeling relatively sprightly, I felt I was able to provide G-Dawg and the Colossus a better than usual lead-out into the Mad Mile, before they launched their attacks to see who could win the race for home and first use of the shower.

I was then swinging off and away to complete my own ride back. Already happy, the icing on the cake was finding my descent down to the river had been completely re-surfaced and was smooth and slick and fast.

Now if they could only sort out the other 69 miles of my route …

Over the bridge, I was caught by an Ee-Em-Cee rider and we had a quick chat before he charged away. We both agreed that it had indeed been a perfect day.


YTD Totals: 1,707 km / 1,061 miles with 19,908 metres of climbing

The Gloves Come Off

The Gloves Come Off

Club Run, Saturday 24th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km / 62 miles with 1,013 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 13 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         28 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:           Bright with brass monkeys


2018 1
Ride Profile

As the country braces itself for the imminent arrival of a disruptive winter weather front from Siberia, colourfully labelled the “Beast from the East” – we were served up another cracker for our club run. Almost identical to last week. It was a blend of bitterly cold, beautifully bright and (most importantly) crisp and bone-dry.

Double base layers, lobster mitts with liners and a buff pulled up to cover as much of my face as possible were deployed early on, as the wind had a distinctively chilly, razor-edge to it and any exposed skin rapidly became numb. Nevertheless, it already looked like being a great day as a coppery new sun lent the sky a putty-coloured, green tinge before brightening to form a burnished vault of clear, limitless blue.

I trailed a nervous learner driver down the Heinous Hill, at a speed so slow that it made even my cautious, controlled, half-an-eye-out-for-ice approach, seem positively reckless in comparison. Luckily, they turned right before the bottom, while I swung away left, finally able to release my rictus hold on the brakes and get my legs working to generate a bit of much needed warmth.

The river itself seemed to act as a heat sink, sucking a couple more degrees from already chilled air. Stopped at the lights, my breath plumed out visibly in the air, like a deranged and louche Soup Dragon on the Clangers moon, toking madly on an e-cigarette.  It would definitely be chilly for the rowing crews who were starting to gather on the water for yet another busy day of competition.

Pushing on, for once I was glad to start climbing out of the valley and frigid air that seemed to have pooled in its bottom.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Making decent time, I arrived early enough to watch the Monkey Butler Boy engage in some cosmetic bike tinkering par excellence. First, he reached into a back pocket, extracted a multi-tool kit and carefully assembled a small torque wrench. He then applied this to his seat pin and then, painstakingly eased the seat post up 0.75mm, tightened everything up, disassembled the tool and packed it away.

He eye-balled his work briefly, then took the tool out again, re-assembled it, applied it to his bike and this time, carefully lowered the saddle by 0.5mm, while I looked on with Crazy Legs, both of us totally perplexed.  Apparently, those micro-adjustments hit the sweet spot though and give the optimum riding position – although I’m not sure how you could tell without testing.

“Is that thing on?” the Garrulous Kid asked, bending down to grin and gurn madly into the lens of my sports-cam, “How can you tell if it’s on?” he demanded, prodding at the case with an extended digit. I was reminded of nothing so much as the monkey-selfie, with the Garrulous Kid taking the part of a Celebes crested macaque. They have the same hairstyle and the likeness was striking. Somehow, I doubt that if his grinning, gurning selfie ever sees the light of day, that he’ll have a crowd of people who really should know better, causing a ridiculous stink and defending his claim to receive royalties.

Well, the first hints of spring were definitely in the air, the hedgerows were alive with chattering birds, scattered tulips were poking tentative buds out of the frozen soil and, even at the outset of my ride, the sun was up and well established on its low trajectory across the sky.

Even more telling for any budding amateur climatologist, or observant weather watcher, was the first, elusive sightings of carbon, as conditions were finally deemed good enough to lure out a smattering of good, “summer bikes” – even if it was just for one week. G-Dawg, the Colossus and Jimmy Mac among others, had seized on the opportunity, while, a contrarian to the last, Crazy Legs had swapped last week’s spring/autumn Bianchi back to his winter fixie.

Taffy Steve stayed with the thrice-cursed winter bike, I kept faith with the Pug and the Goose persisted on his experiment with the steel behemoth. Everyone seemed happy enough with their individual choices, all except the Garrulous Kid, who pined for carbon, whinged about his winter bike and, after spending all day avoiding the front of the group, blamed his loss in the café sprint on his “heavy” aluminium Trek.

Leading the ride for the day, Crazy Legs did a swift head count and determined we should split into two. The route was revised slightly to take into account better than predicted conditions, a rendezvous point was agreed for a final coalescing before we split and got ready to roll.

There was just time for a quick double-take at the appearance of a Carlton doppelgänger (it was just a cunningly disguised Two Trousers, but for a moment he had both Crazy Legs and me utterly confused and convinced we were suffering double vision.)


Spirits were high, chatter was on full-bore and the only rude interruption to our contentment came from Taffy Steve’s brakes, which squealed like a badly stuck pig. He confessed he’d tried some WD-40 Motorcyle Dry Lube on his chain, anticipating it to be suitably protective and heavy duty, but discovering in truth that it was horribly thick, gunky, all together messy and capable of getting everywhere it shouldn’t.

He’d spent an age cleaning the gunk off his drive chain, frame and wheel rims, but had missed the brake blocks which whenever applied emitted a protesting, high-pitched warbling banshee scream that directly assaulted the eardrums. The Garrulous Kid in particular seemed directly affected by the “horrible” sound – perhaps the rest of us were insulated from its extreme harshness by our innate presbycusis?

We spent a good while trying to come up with a suitable analogy for the noise – an irate R2-D2 when plugging himself into a power outlet instead of the Death Star security-systems? A rabid, indignant and starving dolphin, demanding fish? The antique, unsettling warble of a computer program loading into a ZX Spectrum from audio-tape?

We finally settled on a juvenile seagull being caught up in the spokes of his front wheel. This segued into Taffy Steve describing his son’s invention of a Geordie seagull, lost on the Isle of Man, starving, unable to find the sanctuary of a Greggs and all the while wondering what all the skinny seagulls were doing, out on the water trying to catch fish. Comic genius and a perfect Viz character just waiting for visualisation.

As we were chatting, Slow Drinker cruised down the outside of the group, resplendent in his black and pink Rapha kit, which Taffy Steve suggested made him look like a Liquorice Allsort. We soon had a marketing campaign licked into shape, complete with epic voice-over, all ready to promote “Bertie Bassets Paris-Roubaix Collection™. (Also available in blue).”

Through Dinnington, we carefully wove our way through the most heavily pock-marked, pot-holed, bombed-out surface that the RAF haven’t tested JP233 runway denial munitions on. Or, maybe they have?

We were briefly heartened by assembled construction equipment, temporary traffic lights and road re-surfacing signs, but should have known better. Hopes for a smooth, new riding surface were immediately dashed when we encountered the solitary, lone workman, patching the road armed with just a single bucket of sticky, rapidly cooling tar.

We also seemed to have stumbled onto National Hedge Trimming Day and found ourselves continually picking our way past massive, yellow tractors, laying waste to the local hedgerows. There’s nothing subtle about the process, they don’t so much trim the hedge as thrash it into submission, liberally scattering a trail of pulverised leaves and twigs and thorns across the road. By some minor miracle, no one punctured.


REC024 (3)


As such, our ride progressed without incident until we reached the Gubeon and hauled ourselves into a lay-by to wait for the second group to put in an appearance. The over/under on the second groups arrival was 5 minutes, but they were well inside this, even though Crazy Legs insisted they’d stopped at a café en route for the now traditional and civilising, mid-ride, flat white.

Those seeking a shorter ride then took a left, while the rest of us swung to the right on a route that would pass through Dyke Neuk, then Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank. At Dyke Neuk we paused again to set a longer-harder-faster group on their way, at which point Sneaky Pete and Sneaky Taffy Steve, sneaked off for a bit of a head start on the final run in.

I was beginning to feel the pace and the legs were already heavy as we approached Middleton Bank and I had dropped right to the back of the group as we began to climb. I managed to catch and pass the Goose, manfully wrestling with the steel behemoth, then Cowin’ Bovril struggling with a lack of road miles, before hauling in and passing Mini Miss and Princess Fiona.

I was closing on Rick the Gigolo as we passed over the top of the climb, with the main group still a further 200 or 300 metres up the road. I set about closing the gap, only to discover that a vicious headwind seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere and I was working hard just to maintain the distance to the front group.

I plugged away resolutely, finally catching Rick the Gigolo, but up ahead the others had started to ride through and off, increased their pace and soon disappeared from sight.

I was now battering away, pulling a small group through a punishing headwind, thankfully with some help from Mini Miss. She led us through Milestone Woods and up the first of the rollers. Here Rick the Gigolo pulled out of line and into the wind, rolled up alongside me, grimaced, swore fluently, grasped his chest and slipped away again. Bloody hell, did he just have a heart attack?

Down the dip and onto the final climb, I passed Mini Miss. She later said she’d tried to respond, but her legs refused in several different languages. Non, No, Nyet, Nein, Nay, Nope.

I then thought I was clear and away on the last drag, until Rick the Gigolo came whirring smoothly past – for the first time I’ve been fooled by someone faking a mild cardiac infarction.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Garrulous Kid kicked the madness off, leaning across the table and confronting Jimmy Mac.

“You’re German aren’t you?”

“Err … no,” a nonplussed Jimmy Mac replied.

“But you were born in Germany, right?” the Garrulous Kid persisted.

“No. No, I wasn’t.”

“Well, someone was born in Germany.” The Garrulous Kid boldly asserted.

“Quite a few people, I’d imagine,” I reasoned, “There’s that Adolph Hitl …oh, hold on, he was born in Austria.”

G-Dawg came to my rescue with the name of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was definitely born in Germany. This recognisable name seemed to satisfy the Garrulous Kid and we spent a few moments marvelling at Herr Schweinsteiger’s impressively Teutonic moniker.

G-Dawg and the Colossus managed to secure themselves a helping of ham and egg pie, this week without the unnecessary distraction of salad. I congratulated them on ticking off two of the cyclists 5 essential food groups in one meal – pastry and meat. (The others, of course are caffeine, cake and confectionery.)

We reflected on the less than surprising news from the Winter Olympics and the rather inevitable discovery that the Russians, though competing as non-Russian’s, were still doing deeply Russian things and heavily engaged in pharmaceutical skulduggery. It was mentioned that the cross-country skiing biathletes were regularly tested for alcohol, which we felt was a shame – what sport wouldn’t be improved as a spectacle by arming drunkards with guns?

Talk of alcohol, beta-blockers and the like led to discussions about “Big Bill” Webeniuk, the Canadian snooker player who averaged 30 pints of lager a day while competing. Whether it’s true or not, the man became a legend for claims he had a doctor’s prescription to serve as a sort of TUE for his excessive alcohol intake, which was supposedly necessary to control a hereditary nerve condition. Yeah, right. Still better, there were rumours that he even tried to claim tax relief on his “medicinal” lager consumption.

Sneaky Pete expressed huge displeasure with the current state of the scrum in rugby union, which he sees as largely de-fanged, sissified and dull, a travesty of its former glory and in danger of becoming as ridiculous a spectacle as that used by the rugby league lot.

“Why bother,” I agreed, “They should just hold hands.”

“Sing ring-o-rose’s and dance around in a circle,” G-Dawg suggested.

“Cover their eyes and count to 10?” Jimmy Mac, opined, “… No peeking!”

But, the Colossus had the best idea, suggesting they should put their foreheads onto an imaginary pole, quickly spin around it a dozen times until everyone was really, really dizzy, then hoof the ball into the air and see who could catch it and run in the right direction.

From this, the Colossus (quite rightly) concluded, that there wasn’t a sport we couldn’t improve upon and make an even bigger, better spectacle, if we were just given 5 minutes to sort it out.

The manner of Mark Cavendish’s, premature crashing out of the Tour of Abu Dhabi-Doo, within 5 kilometres of starting, astonished G-Dawg. His purely rhetorical question seemed to sum up our thoughts that some kind of organisational idiocy had taken place: “Hmm, I need a car for the commissioner to drive around in extreme close proximity to bunch of tightly packed, speeding cyclists. Ah, here’s one with an automatic braking system, that’ll do. After all, what could possibly go wrong?”


Aside from the nagging headwind, the right home was straightforward and pleasant. The sky remained an unblemished, distant blue, the sun shone brightly, if lacking any warmth and the roads were dry and clear. I even found myself stopping at one point to pull off and pack away the lobster mitts that were simply too effective.

It was perhaps a little too chill to be riding completely without gloves, but I was home before second thoughts and numb fingers changed my mind.


YTD Totals: 1,145 km / 711 miles with 13,007 metres of climbing

 

Karma Comedian

Karma Comedian

Club Run, Saturday 17th February, 2018                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  106 km / 66 miles with 1,155 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 26 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.3 km/h

Group size:                                         21 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    9°C

Weather in a word or two:          Bright and brittle


17 feb Kc
Ride Profile

Here we go again, but this time the weather looks better – not quite the fine and dry spell that had instigated much mid-week chatter about breaking out summer bikes at the weekend, but a long way from the cold, wet and miserable last couple of Saturdays.

I even left home as prepared for changing conditions as possible, with a stowable gilet and spare pair of lightweight gloves in case things warmed up. Of course deciding what to wear, what to take and what to leave, provided its own paralysis-through-analysis dilemma. I was late setting out and found myself pushing the pace a little more than I would have liked to make up time.

Down and across the river, there was another event taking shape at one of the rowing clubs, but it apparently scheduled for a later start. The traffic cones and marshals were out to direct the parking, but the competitors had only just started to arrive. As I pushed on, every other vehicle that passed seemed to be a van towing a trailer laden with long white hulls.

Despite all the traffic lights being with me, I missed my usual space-time confluence by quite some distance. This is the part of the ride when my mileage matches the time and my comfort zone is around 8:42 by which time I should have completed 8.42 miles.

Today, by my admittedly eccentric measure, time and space weren’t in alignment until 8:46 – I was still running behind. I kicked it onto the big ring and pushed down all the usual freewheeling descents, diving through the corners instead of sweeping around them and kicking on as much as possible.

8:59 and I was swinging around the final corner. Made it, and nicely warmed up too.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The Rainman nodded at G-Dawg, still on his fixie and declared that all the talk of summer bikes had been just that. Talk. Or, as he put it, “Pure bravado.”

Unfortunately, unexpected heavy rain overnight had given everything a good soaking and dampened any enthusiasm for good bikes. It was just as well, the roads were still awash and thick with mud and muck and clarts. The Pug at the end of the ride looked like it had been pebble-dashed under a muck-spreader and a multi-bucket, bike-cleaning was definitely due.

Still, the weather was promising enough to persuade Crazy Legs to (at least temporarily) lock up his fixie and venture out on the spring-autumn Bianchi, while the Monkey Butler Boy even dared to expose an inch or two of glaringly white, bare calf to the elements.

Crazy Legs asked if anyone knew how the Prof’s rehearsals were progressing for his Back Street Boys tribute act. A minute later and the Garrulous Kid posed the exact same question. Crazy Legs determined from this that the Garrulous Kid was essentially a simplex device – a communications system that can only operate in a single direction and, in the Garrulous Kids case, this was evidently set to output only. Thus, Simplex became yet another name among many that the Garrulous Kid has now collected.

We tried to remember just one, single Back Street Boys song. Crazy Legs vaguely thought they may once have been associated with an eBay campaign, but other than that … nothing. A band whose name is more famous than their output? It doesn’t bode well for the Prof and his troupe of performing cyclists.

Our gathering coalesced into a decent turn out of twenty riders and, at 9:15 precisely, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out to follow a route planned by the Hammer.


I spent some time catching up and chatting with the Rainman and then G-Dawg as we rolled away, sitting near the front of the group as we worked our way out into the countryside.

From this kind of position, I had a chance to muse on the established patterns and ebb and flows of the group ride, which are often entirely predictable. The same few people rolling through off the front, the same workshy laggards hanging around in the middle, the same trailers who like to hang at the back and keep an eye out for everyone else.

(This, depending on the rider in question, can either be to ensure everyone is ok, or because they warily view their fellow riders as an unpredictable liability and want to ensure the best chance of staying upright when the inevitable incident happens.)

This predictability of the rides is especially true when pressure on the front, often combined with a slightly more testing climb, strings out and fractures the group and triggers a seemingly inescapable barrage of shouts and curses.

On some climbs, such as when we’re heading out up Berwick Hill, this is only a very rare occurrence. On others, it’s almost guaranteed. If the route takes us past the Cheese Farm, I know the shouting will start no later than half way up Bell’s Hill. We always, always and without exception, wait and regroup over the top. Nevertheless, the shouting always, always and without exception, follows the front of the group up. Annoying and unnecessary, but maybe someone finds it cathartic?

Today’s route took us through Ponteland, avoiding any major climbs and keeping the group tight and compact. We turned onto Limestone Lane, an interesting contrast with patches of time-ravaged, potholed, pitted and rutted road surface, finally giving way to a welcome, but too short, stretch of pristine, smooth tarmac.

Somewhere along here we were passed by a flying Den Haag in club colours, who promptly turned around and joined us for the rest of the ride.

Stamfordham and Matfen came and passed under our wheels and we were soon at the Quarry turn, where we split the group. The majority opted for a direct route to the café, while the rest pushed on for a fun hurtle down the Ryals, before picking our way back up with the climb through Hallington.

A short dragging climb brought us to the crest of the Ryals, where the whole of the countryside seemed to open up before us, just before the road tipped over. I tucked in and surrendered to the pull of gravity, freewheeling all the way and gradually building up speed.


REC024 (6)


The Cow Ranger kicked past, pedalling furiously and I dropped into his wake and trailed him down, pushing the speed over 50km/h, before sitting up and coasting through to the bottom.

A sharp right and almost immediately we began climbing to recover the altitude we’d so vicariously squandered. There was about half a dozen of us in the front group, with Aether bringing up the rear and we stopped to collect him, before swinging onto the main road and heading back east.

Topping the aptly named Humiliation Hill, we then had 10kms of fast, rolling road that tended slightly downhill, all the way to the café. While Crazy Legs and Captain Black dropped back to ride with Aether, Den Haag and the Rainman ramped up the pace. I dropped in behind G-Dawg and the Collossus and hung on, giving my best Mowgli fighting Sher Kahn impersonation, desperately clinging to the tigers tail in a heads down, lung-bursting, super-fast thrash toward the café.

I was distanced on the short, but violent climb up Brandy Well Bank, but fought my way back on, just as we hit the last downhill stretch toward the Snake Bends. I could only watch from a distance as Den Haag then attacked and briefly pulled away, sneakily trying to slipstream a car that pulled out of a side road ahead. The Rainman closed him down with the Colossus planted on his wheel, then attacked over the top and the pair went clear, before the Colossus unleashed an irrepressible burst down the outside.

I eased past G-Dawg as his legs reached terminal velocity on his fixie and followed them through the bends and out onto the main road.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

G-Dawg and the Colossus checked and re-checked the time as we rolled up to the café – hoping they’d got it spot on and were neither too early or too late for their traditional ham and egg pie.

They did in fact get the timing spot on, but were a little disconcerted when their food arrived with the wholly unnecessary embellishment and unwanted distraction of a side salad. In cyclist eating parlance, this must be the ultimate expression of gilding a lily. G-Dawg put a brave face on it and suggested a bit of foliage would put some colour in his cheeks. I assume he didn’t mean the slightly off green-tinge afforded by the light reflecting off the assorted leaves artfully clumped on his plate.

The Colossus explained he thought eating salad was a waste of time and effort, and he followed the very simple life rule of not eating anything that doesn’t have a face. I wondered if this was why he liked it when the face of Hitler appeared in a naan bread, or, much less remarkable given their general similarities, someone found a potato in the shape of Donald Trumps head.

The Rainman topped the litany of random look-alike images with the revelation that Jesus had once appeared in a dogs arse He wanted to show us, but couldn’t decide what term to type into Google.

“Jesus in a dogs arse?” I suggested and to no great surprise that seemed to do the trick.

Talk turned to ultra-long club rides after the Rainman posted a route he’d taken from Berwick to Newcastle. He explained this wasn’t as extreme as it sounded, as he’d taken the train up there.

“I was suffering and it was a real grind between Alnwick and Morpeth,” he concluded.

“Yeah, and that was just on the train going up,” I added helpfully.

We all agreed that a north-south ride coastal ride might seem like a good idea, but for the one big problem with any route – sooner or later, they all had to pass through Blyth…

The Garrulous Kid swung past to tell us he’d ridden down the Ryals, then turned around to ride straight back up them again. Why? I think this is something that’s becoming an odd obsession. Is he Sisyphus on a bike? He then said he reached the top … and promptly fell over for no apparent reason. Perhaps he simply forgot how to pedal or balance, which isn’t perhaps as unlikely as it first sounds.

Almost as an aside, before disappearing to join the queue at the counter, he then said that Taffy Steve had passed him going down the Ryals as he was climbing back up. I was a bit surprised as I could distinctly remember Taffy Steve turning off for the Quarry with the shorter-ride.

We checked the café. No Taffy Steve. We asked around. No Taffy Steve. Finally, I eyed up the tall, skinny, gangling figure of the Garrulous Kid speculatively, and concluded he definitely hadn’t murdered and eaten Taffy Steve in any kind of macabre, cannibalistic ritual. Hmm, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Gore-Tex jacket.

Before we sent out the search parties, the eagle-eyed Sneaky Pete spotted Taffy Steve pulling up outside the café. I later learned he had indeed turned off for the Quarry Climb, but took a look at some of the company he was being asked to sit with in the café and decided the climb to Hallington would be the less painful option. He’d then simply swung around and had been chasing us solo ever since.


As we left the café we spotted Zardoz, just turning in for some well-deserved cake and coffee.

“I’ll catch you!” he quipped, blithely “Don’t wait…” Comedy gold.

The ride back was largely without incident until we started down Berwick Hill. The wind had picked up and set the red flags on the ranges snapping. It carried the pop of automatic gunfire to us, even as it pushed at our backs, urging the pace upwards.

Then, the sound of gunfire was eclipsed by the resounding, flat retort of an exploding tyre from somewhere behind. That was one hell of a puncture.

The road here was fast and busy and there was nowhere for a large group to stop safely. We had to ride on for a couple of hundred metres before we found an entryway way where we could pull over and try to determine what had just happened.

Apparently, OGL’s tyre had been rubbing on his mudguard and the friction had heated up the inner tube, which had exploded, ripping a long gash through the tyre carcase. This Crazy Legs declared was clear evidence of poor bike maintenance and divine karma, retribution for all the times OGL had mercilessly slagged off and berated other riders for failing to keep their winter bikes in pristine, working order.

We despatched the Monkey Butler Boy back up the hill to determine if OGL needed any help and whether we should wait, or press on. The Monkey Butler Boy returned to inform us that the gash in the tyre was as long as his hand, but Aether and a couple of others were stopped with OGL, they had everything they needed, repairs were underway and we should just press on.

Off we trundled and soon after, I was swinging off for home, once more battling the hills and headwinds alone. Still the sun was out, it was relatively warm, I was pleasantly tired instead of ground down and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride. I don’t want to tempt fate, but things are looking up.


YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 533 miles with 11,280 metres of climbing

Arctic Turn

Arctic Turn

Club Run, Saturday 20th January, 2018              

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance                                   89 km / 62 miles with 862 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 51 minutes

Average Speed:                                 23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         5-6-5 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    3°C

Weather in a word or two:          Turning Arctic


Jan 21
Ride Profile

A week of commuting into work through snow, hail, slush and ice, had prepared me for the worst on Saturday, when temperatures remained manically depressed and I found myself questioning the wisdom of my own actions, even as I layered up and prepared to head out to ride across to the meeting point in the still gloomy dawn.

But, as I told everyone at work throughout the week, the roads seemed a whole lot safer than the pavements, although I wondered if I’d miss the reassuringly fat and heavily-ridged mountain-bike tyres of the Rockhopper, as I pulled the Pug out of the shed in preparation for the ride.

Down the hill, cutting wide of the icy ribbons down the gutters, it was chill, but we’d already ridden in much worse conditions once this winter. My digital checkpoint informed me it was a flat 1°C. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the rowers out on the river though, where half a dozen or more fragile-looking white hulls stood out stark against the cold, black waters.

As I’d found on my commutes, the roads were generally ok, as long as you didn’t stray off the beaten track and I had absolutely no issues as I passed through Swalwell, Blaydon, Newburn, Denton and Blakelaw on my north-east bound trajectory.

Then I got to what Wikipedia describes as the “affluent and well-established” area of Gosforth and things became increasingly sketchy. Side streets and pavements resembled ice-rinks, every speed bump was like a snow-boarders wet-dream of the perfect berm, and the cycle lane down the Great North Road appeared to have been commandeered to store all the excess snow that the ploughs had scraped off the road.

Rolling up to the meeting point, a dodgy road/pavement interface layered in ice, had me unclipping and trundling to a less than elegant stop.

Made it.


Main topics of conversation at the start.

Awaiting me were just two stalwarts of the club, G-Dawg and Taffy Steve. Referencing the high incidence of dodgy roads through Gosforth and lack of snow and ice clearance, I had to ask G-Dawg if its fine and upstanding citizens had stopped paying their council taxes, or perhaps it was just assumed that everyone here could afford a 4 x 4.

Taffy Steve had likewise been commuting by bike into work, where he’d had a grandstand view of his fellow workers trying and failing to negotiate their un-gritted car park. From his observations, he concluded that most modern 4 x 4’s were only good for appearing in rap video’s and not actually all that suited to tricky road conditions.

Even as we were talking a middle-aged woman swaddled in scarves and muffled in a massive parka emerged and went shuffling down the opposite pavement, shaking out a thin, meagre trail of road salt from a small Tupperware container.

“There you go,” remarked G-Dawg dryly, “The council’s emergency response team in action, that’s where all the money goes…”

As we stood around, hopping from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep blood circulating, up rolled Aether and our plucky trio, expanded to a string quartet, the four riders of the all chapped lips. Aether had been suffering all week with a heavy dose of man-flu and, like me a few weeks ago, had pondered Crazy Legs’ recommendation to try riding through it.

Aether had even gone as far as consulting Dr. “Snake-Oil” Crazy Legs via social media:

A: “I’m feeling rough with the cold. Do you think a run out on Saturday will do me good?”

CL: “Yes…”

And a minute later,

CL:  “No…”

And then,

CL: “… Not sure.”

To which Benedict had helpfully added, “CL is correct on this one.”

Oh well, I guessed we were going to find out.

G-Dawg informed us that OGL was suffering with his own version of man flu and wouldn’t be out today. Apparently, he was even too sick to drive past to tell us we were all insane, the roads would be lethal and we were all doomed. We discussed the possibility that his contact in the “Outer Hebrides” was just a massive wind-up merchant, who liked scaremongering with exaggerated tales of dire weather engulfing the region. The weight of evidence certainly seems to be leaning that way.

News had filtered through that Richard of Flanders would be out of action for a few weeks with his wrist wrapped in plaster following an accident. We had to clarify for Taffy Steve that this accident wasn’t of the bike-on-ice variety, but a seemingly far more common sporting injury, the kind all too familiar to middle-aged men who tried to defy time by haring around 5-a-side football pitches like a bunch of hoodlum teenagers. Now that’s what I call lethal.

Biden Fecht arrived as we waited, negotiating the icy road/pavement interface with far more aplomb than I had. He’d apparently been slightly delayed by layering on top of his layering, allegedly up to 5 different strata of insulating material on his feet alone, including a reflective, tin foil barrier.

We’ve all been there, all tried and all pretty much concluded it doesn’t work – although G-Dawg’s the only one to claim his sheets of tin foil were utterly destroyed and emerged from his shoes shredded into a million tiny flakes. (I’ve no idea what he does with his feet while pedalling and really don’t want to know.)

 At Garmin Muppet Time + 3, we decided we’d waited as long as possible and that this was it in terms of numbers. With a verbal agreement on a basic route, including plenty of room for on the fly adjustments, the five of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I dropped to the back and slotted in between the last pair on the road, in what I thought was the ideal, sheltered position. Later though, Taffy Steve rotated off the front and dropped back to chat. This left Aether sitting alone, right in the middle of the pack between the front and rear pair, and if anything this looked even more sheltered.  I’m sure that, physically and temperature-wise, there was no discernible difference, but psychologically it just looked a whole lot cosier.

As we passed through Ponteland and onto lesser trafficked and less clear roads, we picked up the Big Yin who’d missed us at the start, but more by chance than good management, picked a route that neatly intersected with our ride. He swung round to give chase, dropped in amongst us and we reshuffled the pack and pressed on.

For the most part the roads G-Dawg chose were good, but you didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble and there was plenty of snow and ice to go around if you looked hard enough.


snow2
You didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble

Taffy Steve suggested we take a leaf out of his recent mountain bike excursion with Crazy Legs and call into the café at Kirkley Cycles for an early, warming and fortifying beverage. This sounded like an eminently sensible and civilised suggestion and was duly adopted.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … Part One

Biden Fecht revealed that his multiple layering didn’t seem to be working all that well, his feet in particular were already frozen and he couldn’t add any more layers as his shoes couldn’t accommodate the bulk. The Big Yin was toting chemical hand-warmers and I wondered if they’d help if I shoved them down the front of my bib-tights. G-Dawg went one further and suggested you could buy a couple of dozen of them to gaffer-tape all over your body.

Taffy Steve thought we’d done well to sit away from the cycling merchandise displayed on the walls, avoiding the temptation to buy up their entire stock of clothing to wear on the go.

For some reason the conversation turned to Rolls-Royce cars, with Taffy Steve recounting that Crazy Legs had done some work at one of the Rolls-Royce plants. Apparently, they’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his devotion to his Renault Cactus, while Crazy Legs in turn had been thoroughly unimpressed by their offer of an obsidian coated “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, that just looked discoloured, black and gunky. Taffy Steve suggested this would only appeal to someone with an unhealthy Minecraft obsession, or far more money than sense.

The only thing I knew about a Rolls-Royce was the much over-quoted, Ogilvy ad-copy from marketing lectures in the dim and distant past, to paraphrase, “at 60 miles an hour, all you’ll hear is the clock ticking.” Biden Fecht recalled getting a lift in a Roller once, something he considered the very pinnacle of his hitch-hiking activities. He reported it had been the ultimate in comfort, but rather disquietingly smooth and silent.  

Having enjoyed our brief, impromptu sojourn and a chance to thaw out a little, G-Dawg identified two more cafés en route to our usual stop and we considered whether we should call in to those as well.

As we were bundling ourselves up to leave a fellow cyclist burst through the door and loudly declared, “the roads are bloody shoite.” Nobody argued.


Out once again, onto the bloody shoite roads, I pushed on at the front alongside G-Dawg, refusing to look back or acknowledge Biden Fecht’s forlorn cry of disappointment as we rode straight past the next potential café without even a glance.

Much more frequently than usual, we now started encountering feral packs of cyclists with hungry looking eyes. Much like us, they travelled in small, buzzing, compact groups of half a dozen or so riders, roaming the roads as if searching for easy prey – the old, weak and infirm, the abandoned and those who had become dangerously separated from the herd.

We finally hit a T-Junction and had a choice to make, turn right and in 3 or 4-miles we would hit Morpeth. Turn left and we were just a few miles away from Whalton and on direct route to our usual coffee stop, where we’d be arriving just a tad too early. The only issue with the Morpeth route was we couldn’t think of a good return leg that wasn’t likely to be ice-bound and potentially dangerous.


snow1


After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to head straight to the café and from there work out a longer route home for the added miles.

As we turned onto the road for Whalton, our senses were assailed by the gagging, eye-watering stink of muck spreading in the surrounding fields and we pressed on quickly to escape.

A little further on, and G-Dawg’s phone started ringing insistently and incessantly and, assuming it was important, he rode off the front to buy himself the time to answer. Taffy Steve surmised it must be serious if someone would knowingly interrupt G-Dawg’s sacred, Saturday morning, club-run ritual.

As G-Dawg pulled out a gap ahead, a tractor and trailer sneaked out of field in-between us and we found ourselves not only on shoite roads, but closely following a farmers shoite-wagon – fresh from muck-spreading in the fields and trailing its own entirely fearsome smell behind it. Caustic! That certainly clears the nostrils. Perhaps it’s something Team Sky could investigate for beneficial marginal gains, although to be fair they’re doing a fair job of creating their own malodorous stink at the moment.

G-Dawg re-joined and we guessed his intrusive phone call hadn’t been a matter of life and death after all. From his grumpy face, I could only assume that during his essential phone call, he’d just learned he’d been miss-sold PPI, or realised he’d been involved in an imaginary traffic accident that wasn’t his fault.

He took his evident frustrations out on his pedals and he and Biden Fecht rode off the front to contest the café sprint. No one else seemed all that bothered and we all trailed in behind and at our own pace.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … The Sequel

In the café, a Morpeth-based cyclist in civvies stood at the counter waiting to be served and declared he couldn’t decide if we were brave, or foolish to be out riding today. I didn’t actively disagree with the foolish moniker, but then again we weren’t the ones who’d driven out to a café, sans bike, to meet up with our cycling buds when we could have been lying-in at home, in a nice warm bed.

Amongst our many, many fond memories of Superstars; Kevin Keegan’s bike-handling abilities, Brian Jacks devouring oranges (seemingly whole), Mo Farah’s canoe-piloting …err… skills? and Brian Hooper’s all-round excellence, G-Dawgs recollection of 1980 Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk’s performance in the gym tests stood out.

Asked to see how many push-ups he could master in one minute, G-Dawg reported Zoetemelk bravely and elegantly managed to lower his upper torso to the floor … and that was it. Apparently, he then needed assistance to get back up again.

Someone had spotted an Internet video of a group of cyclists in South Africa being impressively paced and then schooled for speed by an ostrich. Although judged irascible, dim-witted, unpredictable, fractious, powerful and dangerous, Taffy Steve vowed he’d rather take his chances riding alongside the ostrich than with the Garrulous Kid.

Further discussion about layering for the cold and the use of tin foil led to the thought that Biden Fecht might consider an insulating layer of goose fat, once the best-in-class, fat of choice for discerning Channel swimmers, well, after baby dolphin fat became somewhat frowned upon.

“Goose fat stinks, though,” Aether declared, knowledgeably. He seems to know a lot about such things, though I’ve never had him pegged as a Channel swimmer.

His assertion immediately set off alarm bells for me … we pass so many hunts that the lingering aroma of roasted game bird could easily trigger the prey-drive instinct in the dogs. Being chased by a pack of hounds could possibly be as dangerous as being stalked by a rabid ostrich … although it obviously pales into insignificance in comparison to the risks of riding with the Garrulous Kid.

We then overheard, or perhaps mis-overheard, the staff talking about an old boiler in the gent’s toilet. While Aether boldly went to investigate, the rest of us quickly started gathering up our things in anticipation of having to make a swift exit …


Our usual, longer, alternative route home through Stamfordham was mooted and then quickly agreed. Off we went. Once again, we were struck by how frequently we encountered other small groups of roaming cyclists. It wasn’t until G-Dawg explained the obvious that I finally caught on, the snow and ice had forced us all onto the few roads that were guaranteed to be more or less clear, safe and passable. Restricting road choice meant we were much more likely to pass other cyclists. Ah, now I get it.

As for the fact all of the groups were small, only 6, 7 or 8 strong? I seemed to recall it’s a little known British Cycling bye-law that each club has to nominate up to “half a dozen stout, cycling yeomen volunteers” who will be named “the Usual Suspects“ and deemed “foolish enough to turn up for the club run regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.” British Cycling, Club Rules: Section 12, Subsection 2.4, Sub clause 17b.

Channelling his inner-roving troubadour and making up for the absence of Crazy Legs to provide us with musical accompaniment, Biden Fecht took note of the branding on my bib-tights and invited me to join him in a rousing chorus of UB40’s, “I am the one in Tenn.” I politely declined.

Then, the road was dipping down, everyone was slowing for a sharp left, while I kept straight on, starting my solo ride back home.

At the lights before the bridge, I pulled up behind a large estate car, much to the excitement of two Jack Russel terriers travelling in the cargo well. Being too small to see directly out of the rear window, they kept springing up, one after the other like demented Whack-a-Moles, trying to catch a glimpse of the mad cyclist stupid enough to be out in the cold and ice.

Luckily, there was no need to call into Pedalling Squares this week to see how Thing#1 was getting along, she’d shipped herself off to Leeds to check out her University accommodation for next September.

Besides, although Pedalling Squares seemed to like her and had offered her more work, she’d declined and I think I understand why … too many bloody cyclists.

Anyway I’m not sure yet another coffee was such a good idea – I was likely to be buzzing until Wednesday as it was.


Year Totals: 360 km / 212 miles with 4,402 metres of climbing

True Grit

True Grit

Total Distance:                                     89 km / 55 miles with 934 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            4 hours 5 minutes

Average Speed:                                   21.7 km/h

Group size:                                           13 riders, 2 MTB’s

Temperature:                                      3°C

Weather in a word or two:               C-c-c-c-cold


 

true grit
Ride Profile

Another week, and the North East still seems to be in the icy grip of a nano-femto-yocto Ice Age. Still, I’d kept riding through through the freezing conditions, managing three commutes by bike without any issues. That was until the Friday morning, when I rolled onto the bridge into the University, hit an extended patch of slick ice and came crashing down, right behind an ambling building contractor. He got a shock, jumped, but somehow stayed upright, while I got a brand new hole in my shin and the Pug seemed to take most of the impact on the saddle, which ended up badly deformed with a rail bent inwards.

As Campus Services are usually good at keeping the pathways ice free, I can only assume the bridge had been gritted, but this had been washed away in the rain overnight and then re-frozen. I picked myself up and carefully walked the rest of the way, using the Peugeot as an impromptu Zimmer frame and weaving around lots of unsteady pedestrians, slipping and sliding down the slope toward me and having real trouble with a lack of traction.

Another commuter on a mountain bike came whipping past and I waved for him to slow and warned him he was heading toward dangerous ice. I didn’t hear a bang and crash behind me, so assume he was better at staying upright than me, or dismounted to join the rest of the teetering walkers.

It wasn’t until I was cleaning the bike after the club run that I discovered I also snapped my rear mudguard clean in two, although hopefully my gaffer tape, bodge-job will hold, at least for a while.

Saturday morning promised more of the same, and found me picking my way slowly down the Heinous Hill, steering wide of the icy runnel down the side of the road and hoping the evil glistening of the tarmac was just because the road surface was wet.

The red-glowing LED letters of my digital checkpoint told me it was 8:19 and 0°C as I passed, and I did wonder if it was actually colder than that, but the display couldn’t handle negative temperatures. At one point in our ride Aether reported it was -2°C, so maybe that is the case.

I was right in the bottom of the valley now, down where all the cold air had sunk and ice crept out across the road from either verge. Luckily there was little traffic about and I was able to pick my way carefully down the relatively clear, narrow meridian in the centre of the road.

I arrived at the southern end of the Newburn Bridge just as the traffic lights turned red and, having had one bad experience on an icy bridge already this week and not wanting to hang around getting colder, I dismounted and took to the white and glittering footpath to walk across.

As I passed over the river a coxless-four slid out on the black water under the span, with a rhythmic clack-clack-creak, clack-clack-creak of oars. I never appreciated just how loud those boats are, they always look to be gliding silently and effortlessly along.

On the north side of the river I then got delayed before a long set of roadworks where more resurfacing was going on and got the impression the workmen thought I was slightly mad, but I was on more travelled routes now and the dangers of hidden ice seemed significantly reduced.

Traffic was unusually heavy, perhaps swollen with a mad rush of Christmas shoppers and I had trouble switching into the right hand lane before a busy roundabout. As a result, I had to circumscribe a wide orbit around the outside, but luckily found myself shielded from behind by Mr. Patient, who seemed to instinctively understand where I was trying to go and positioned his car between me and the rest of the traffic.

Onto the side streets, and the final, icy looking roundabout was taken slowly and as upright as possible as I emerged just ahead of G-Dawg and coasted carefully through to the meeting point.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point

G-Dawg’s meticulous route-planning input continued, this time advising Aether on the roads that would be officially gritted according to secret, local government insiders and intensive, cyber warfare-style, web-trawling. He really does have too much time on his hands these days.

None of his assurances were quite good enough for OGL though, whose sleeper contacts in the Outer Hebrides had reported danger and unpassable roads everywhere. He had allegedly spent the entire morning fielding dire warnings from “cyclists all over Newcastle” that the roads were lethal and nigh on impassable. And yet … despite declaring we were all doomed, (doomed! I tell ye!) here he was, at the meeting point on time and ready to ride.

With Taffy Steve’s thrice cursed winter-bike still quarantined and locked in either the workshop, or the doghouse (the story varies depending on his mood), he’d arranged a less frenetic ride with Crazy Legs on mountain bikes. This would give him another week to replace his broken freehub, afford Crazy Legs a more civilised re-introduction back into club runs as part of his rehabilitation from a truly nasty chest infection, and it meant they had a little better grip and were slightly more comfortable with the conditions.

This sounded good to G-Dawg, who suggested if any of the lanes looked dodgy we could send the mountain bikes down ahead of everyone else to scout for danger, and avoid the route if they failed to return.

There was some talk of the still missing Prof, who seems to have taken up with a bunch calling themselves the Backstreet Boys, or something similar. I’m not quite sure how working as a tribute act for a dodgy 90’s boy band fits in with his cycling, but apparently (with enough make-up and props, and in the right light) the Prof is a dead ringer for Howie D. and has all the dance moves down pat and everything.

There was only time then for OGL to declare that the “slithering reptile” comment a certain Mrs. Wiggins issued in connection to a four time Tour de France winner had been made in a private, closed group and was not intended for public consumption. To me it’s just another sign of the insidious and dangerous nature of social media, which has so rapidly become a horrendous cess-pit of hate and bile and ignorance. My simple, much too often ignored, golden rules – think before you write, re-read before you post and never, ever post anything you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face.

(There’s also a newly-minted, club rule that recently surfaced on Facebook and I think is worth adopting: you really should stop posting before reaching the bottom of your first bottle of Merlot.)


Off we trundled then a brave, a foolish, or a bravely-foolish 13, including our two mountain-bikers tucked into the back. They’d later report rolling along with us was pretty straightforward, until we hit an incline and then it became bloody hard work.

I spent the first part of the ride tucked in alongside the Big Yin, who was perhaps the only one relishing the freezing conditions as he had new “extreme conditions” socks and overshoes and wanted a good and proper test for them . We decided that  if he counted his toes when he got home and they were all intact, the test had been successful.

The roads weren’t brilliant, but they were comfortably passable with just a little diligence and care, you never actually felt you were teetering on the edge of disaster and there were no incidents.


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We rolled past Tranwell Airfield and pulled to a stop before the junction. At this point we discovered our errant mountain bikers had disappeared and someone wondered where along the way we’d lost them. Half-jokingly, I suggested they’d probably turned off at Kirkley Cycles, lured by cake and fresh coffee in the café.

I should have put money on it…

Most of the group showed true grit, and took a right at the junction for a longer loop around, while I tucked in behind OGL and Sneaky Pete as they headed directly for the café, reasoning I’d tempted fate enough for one week.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

Our own extreme weather conditions led to Sneaky Pete discussing English explorer-eccentric Ranulph Fiennes, or to give him his full, glorious title, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE. Apparently made irritable by frostbite he decided to cut off the dead ends of his fingers because they kept getting in the way.

“I tried tentatively to cut through the smallest finger with a new pair of secateurs, but it hurt. So I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker vice and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line. The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved the saw further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times to cut it from different sides, like sawing a log. This worked well and the little finger’s end knuckle finally dropped off after some two hours of work. Over that week I removed the other three longer fingers, one each day, and finally the thumb, which took two days.” Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes.

Oh my, and we thought Johnny Hoogerland was the epitome of tough!

We were soon joined at the café by our indomitable, errant mountain bikers who, as predicted, had indeed been unable to resist the siren-call allure of the café at Kirkley Cycles.  Taffy Steve had thoroughly enjoyed his mountain bike sojourn, and declared he hadn’t had so much fun since the Cyclone he’d completed with the Red Max. This had ostensibly been in support of the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew, who had thrashed themselves to pieces trying to set a fast time.

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

With the rest of our group all safely back following their extended loop, talk turned once again to slithey toves and slithering reptiles. The consensus seemed to be that Mr. Froome was bang to rights and looking at a lengthy ban. Interestingly, and apparently in the face of scientific evidence, there wasn’t a single cyclist there who didn’t think a puff of Salbutomol wouldn’t help them breathe deeper and ride faster.

Brandishing his own Ventolin inhaler and offering a pay-as-you-puff scheme, Crazy Legs tried to describe the horrible, scary and debilitating effects of an asthma attack (I haven’t suffered from asthma for about 10 years now, but still recall it’s like trying to breathe through lungs stuffed full of wet cotton wool.)

Talk turned to the odd practice of “scarfing” –  Michael Hutchence, Steven Milligan et al, with Crazy Legs seemingly disappointed he’d never experienced any of the supposed stimulating effects of autoerotic asphyxiation – even when suffering a severe asthma attack dressed in nothing but stockings and suspenders, with an orange stuffed in his mouth.


A bunch of us took a slightly longer ride home through Whalton, where I had a chance to catch up with G-Dawg as we pushed along on the front. We agreed Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve may have hit upon a viable alternative to the club ride when conditions were a bit sketchy – a relaxed peregrination around the region’s best loved cycling cafés by mountain bike, although I couldn’t help adding they’d probably earned more java kudos than Strava kudos.

Crazy Legs declared he was going  through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill, hoping to finish the ride at his own pace, but we decided this was probably the safer route all around, so we made him ride with us a little further. Over the River Pont, I then swung away west and started my solo ride home.

Down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley again, I found the mornings roadworks had been completed and slalomed through the traffic cones to ride on the freshly laid, still steaming new tarmac. Luckily my tyres didn’t melt like a road tyre on a turbo, but sadly I also felt no warming benefits from the fresh, just cooling blacktop.

Still, I was now close to home and a very welcome hot shower. It wasn’t the longest of rides, but it got me out, was still enjoyable and, most importantly, everyone got home safely.


YTD Totals: 7,264 km / 4,514 miles with 83,674 metres of climbing