Day of the Condor – Continuing a tenuous avian theme established by last weeks cameo from a stool pigeon. Ha cha cha cha.
For those of you who hate cliff hangers and are too lazy to look things up on Strava (yes, I’m looking at you, Monsieur Crazy Legs) then yes, I managed to snatch back my Strava KOM and everything is good with the world.
I actually quite enjoyed my little extra-curricular challenge last week and since I have no need to be at a particular meeting point at a given time for the foreseeable future, I might try further Strava segment smash and grabs.
It’s a bit like the cycling equivalent of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange – once you’ve smashed it open and snaffled one segment, you always want more.
There’s one in particular KOM that ends almost practically outside my front door, so I feel obliged to give that one a go next. The trouble is, its a very short, steep ramp with a brutal speed bump half-way, ideally placed to disrupt your rhythm just as things turn nasty. It’s also so short a segment that the record is just 16 seconds, so I suspect you have to be travelling at maximum speed before you hit the start and then slam on the brakes before you hit the end – a junction onto a busy main road. There’s absolutely no margin for error.
Three guys and one girl have done it in 16 seconds, while my best is a whole second slower, good enough for a top 5 place along with a whole slew of others. By my reckoning, if I can hit and hold 50 kph for that short, handful of seconds it takes to get to the top, I should be in with a shout.
Today’s first effort was woeful. The gear I chose was too big and I ran out of momentum before the top, finishing in a totally unconvincing 20 seconds. Still, maybe next week.
Today was a chilly but bright day, so I venured out wearing both a long sleeved baselayer and armwarmers, legwarmers, thermal socks, a cap and long-fingered gloves. For once I got it about right and never felt over-dressed.
Following my lung and leg shredding failed KOM effort, I dropped down into the valley, crossed the river and started climbing out the other side again.
I pretty much followed the route I’d taken last week up Hospital Lane, before taking a quick detour, following the signs for Chapel House on a whim. I expected a picturesque village built up around a small kirk, but found nothing but a long loop through a modern and rather uninspiring housing estate. Don’t judge a book by its cover, or a place by its name for that matter.
Through Callerton and approaching Penny Hill, I was stalking another cyclist who seemed to be travelling at least as fast as I was on the flat, but slightly slower on the hills. As we started up the climb I closed on him – a tall, slender man, on a tall slender, steel-framed bike. Just before I caught up, a blocky-burly-beardy-bloke bustled past. I dropped onto his wheel and he pulled me past Slender Man, then I overtook Blocky Burly Beardy Bloke as the climb stiffened and his bustle degenerated to a slow grind.
The road levelled and I kept going toward Stamfordham. About 10km later, Slender Man slid past me, with a nod and a garbled message.
“I didn’t realise it was going to be quite so windy,” he’d apparently said, words instantly snatched away by that very wind, obviously looking to prove a point. It wasn’t until he repeated what he said that I got their gist and could agree with him.
I tagged along behind him for a while, not quite in his wheel, but within a socially restrained 3 or 4 metres that still gave me a little drafting benefit. Then, on the rise just before Stamfordham I eased past and onto the front again.
Passing Whittle Dene Reservoir and I slowed for a cyclist stopped by side of road, checking he was ok and Slender Man caught me and we rolled along on either side of the road, chatting for a while.
He asked if I too was heading toward Corbridge, his intended destination and I confessed I was just wandering aimlessly, then we discussed old bike brands, the sorry demise of Holdsworth and his trust of steel-frames not to catastrophically fail like carbon, while I admired his pristine Condor.
We climbed to the top of the road to Newton and then parted, as he swung left to dip into the Tyne Valley and I pushed on toward Stagshaw and then Matfen. Through Matfen, I was half-minded to drop down the Ryals, but the wind put me off, so I routed up past the Quarry again and then down to Belsay.
From there I headed toward Whalton, instantly regretting my choice as I found they were cutting back the hedges along this stretch of road. I say cutting back, but it’s more like they thrash them into submission, scattering a wide swathe of detritus across the road surface. This almost invariably contains a large serving of the infamous Northumbrian steel-tipped thorns – which add a super high likelihood of you picking up punctures.
I picked my way through the debris as best I could, breathed a huge sigh of relief when I exited the zone of destruction with both tyres intact, then instantly cursed myself for inviting disaster with such reckless self-congratulatory thinking. I was inviting disaster.
I found that, like a lot of the roads in this area, the stretch from Belsay to Whalton has also been given that heavy, rough and grippy, open-textured and horrible, fresh surface that seems to have become the new norm. I think I preferred the old one, even with all its potholes and fissures.
At the Gubeon, I turned for home, calling in for a quick stop at Kirkley to re-fuel and on the off chance of bumping into a familiar face or two. I found G-Dawg on one of the benches, pressed up against the wall to try and find some shelter from the biting wind. Other than one other auld feller riding on his own, the place was otherwise deserted, so plenty of space for social distancing and no issues getting served quickly. Even chill weather has to have some benefits.
By the time I got from the serving hatch to the bench, my coffee had gone cold and OGL had arrived, probably just stopping by to see who was mad enough to be out.
He rolled off after singing the virtues of his new Vittoria tyres (he was preaching to the choir) while I gulped down cold coffee and a large if uninspiring serving of carrot cake. After 20 minutes the chill was starting to bite and I was packing up to leave. G-Dawg was determined to brave the elements for a few more minutes to see if anyone else was out and also because if he fears if he gets home too early, he thinks he’ll be expected to get back at that exact same time every week.
I had the wind firmly behind me most of the way home and was feeling good, the pedals seeming to float around on their own. It was a decently fast run back and I found I was home an hour before my usual arrival. Luckily no one else was in the house.
I’ve been without a computer for most of the week, so this will necessarily be shorter, if no less verbose than my usual efforts. Here we go …
Saturday’s weather was characterised by the extreme cold, which had seen temperatures barely creep above freezing all Friday and then plummet during a clear and cloudless night. The temperature was still around -2 to -3℃ as light started leaking into the sky, first thing Saturday morning.
I dressed accordingly, my warmest merino baselayer over a thermal jersey, under a winter jacket, skull cap, buff and trusty Planet-X lobster mitts. Just for good measure, I pulled on a high-viz gilet too, more for an extra layer of windproofing than any enhanced visibility it might afford.
I thought I might possibly have overdone it as I set out, but the wind had a raw edge and I was chilled the instant I started dropping down the hill. This felt about as cold as it could get before ice becomes a certain, rather than potential hazard.
I forgot to start my Garmin and missed the first mile of my journey, so I have no record of just how tentatively I came down the hill, anxious eyes scanning for the evil glitter of ice and only partially re-assured by the crackling of rock salt under my tyres.
It was generally dry however and the roads passable with a little care. There were one or two bands of slush to contend with along the valley floor, where long standing puddles had frozen and then been churned up by the passing traffic, but no widespread ice.
It was -1℃, still below freezing, as I passed the digital readout on the factory unit and headed toward the river. I didn’t feel remotely warm until I was climbing out the other side of the valley and even then it didn’t last.
Because I’d been slow starting my Garmin, my usual on-schedule checkpoint of 8.42 miles covered by 8:42 a.m. wasn’t going to work, but I sensed I was making decent time and so it proved, as I rolled to a stop in front of G-Dawg and Aether, just as the clock ticked past 9.00.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Aether too had determined it was cold enough for his Planet X lobster mitts, but he was no Crazy Legs, so I couldn’t coerce a live-long-and-prosper, Vulcan greeting out of him, let alone any simulated finger-tribbing.
G-Dawg wondered how long it would be before OGL mentioned he’d received an urgent communique from our remote listening post/weather station in the Outer Hebrides, telling us just how dangerous and treacherous the conditions were.
Meanwhile, the Cow Ranger turned up sporting one acid green, high-viz overshoe and one in a neat, plain black. G-Dawg wanted to know if this was some new fashion statement and suggested that the Cow Ranger liked the look so much, he probably had another, almost identical pair at home.
The Cow Ranger explained that by the time he’d realised he was wearing mismatched overshoes he had neither the time, energy, nor inclination to tramp back upstairs to change them. He then admitted things were worse than they appeared, as, not only was he wearing different overshoes, but the actual shoes underneath them were different too. I’m not sure it’s a trend likely to catch on.
When questioned, Cowboys revealed he’d taken last weeks non-waterproof, waterproof gloves back and demanded a refund.
“Do you now have a nice new pair of non-thermal, thermal gloves?” I wondered. From the way he gave it frenetic, “jazz hands” for the duration of the ride, I suspect my comment wasn’t too far off the mark.
As departure time arrived I did a quick headcount and, sticking with the movie theme, found we had an Ocean’s Eleven, rather more than I expected. (G-Dawg would later claim there were 13 of us out, so I expect the truth is somewhere in-between, or generally around those two numbers. So perhaps Thir13een Ghosts, 13 Assassins, or even Ocean’s Thirteen if we go on his recount instead.)
Aether outlined the route, that would be wholly confined to bus routes to maximise the chances that they’d been gritted and minimise the possibilities of ice. So, a bit of the No.11, the 10X, the 16A and the X20, although we wouldn’t, of course, be stopping or picking up passengers along the route.
I thought we’d got away with it, but as we were pushing off and clipping in, OGL piped up, “Well, I haven’t heard from Morris this morning, the weather must be all right.” Morris is, I assume, the secret codeword for our remote listening post and weather station in the outer Hebrides. G-Dawg rolled his eyes knowingly, then rolled forward on his wheels, intent on gettin’ out of Dodge while the gettin’ was good.
Things were fine to start with, although I was quickly reminded how sheltered the transport interchange centre bus station was. Once out of its balmy micro-climate, gently warmed by the copious exhaust fumes of gently throbbing diesels, the cold was striking.
As we pushed into the country and onto less-travelled roads, we found patches of ice and slush, especially in some of the more sheltered and shadowed hollows between high hedgerows and we progressed with due caution (and a occasionally quite a bit of grumbling, too.)
Stamfordham Hill represented the first serious bit of climbing and we became strung out as the road tilted upwards. As TripleD-El began slipping back I pushed past to stay in touch with the leaders.
It was a horrible, terrible, fatal mistake, almost immediately, as I overtook her, my brain seized on the instruction to “Pass the Dutchie, ‘Pon the Left Hand Side” and I was done for. I’d inflicted a most insidious ear-worm on myself and didn’t even have Crazy Legs around to share the misery with. Even worse, try as I might I couldn’t dislodge it, or even parlay it into the original, slightly more acceptable “Pass the Koutchie.”
Aaargh! Pain enough to make me forget the cold.
We pushed through Stamfordham and the patches of slush and ice became even more frequent, slowing the pace as we singled out to pick our way carefully through these potential hazards.
At this point I had a hammering headache and was starting to feel a bit nauseous, I was chilled through and not really enjoying myself. Still I hung in as we climbed up past the Quarry (thankfully last week’s inland sea had drained away), dragged our way up to Wallridge crossroads and pushed on to the cafe.
The heightened pace helped get the blood flowing a bit as we traced a channel through narrowed roads, now lined on either side with carelessly abandoned horse boxes and 4×4’s. It looked like the hunt was out again.
If there was a sprint, it passed me unremarked and we were soon rolling into the cafe for some well deserved coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Standing in the queue, Goose was delighted to find the Stollen Scones were out – I think it’s one of his true signs that Christmas is actually on its way. Intent on spreading the good cheer, he wanted to know if stollen was a seasonal delicacy our Dutch pair were familiar with.
“Do you have stollen ,in the Netherlands?” he asked TripleD-Be.
TripleD-Be struggled with the unfamiliar word, or perhaps it was the mangled pronunciation of a familiar word.
“What’s in stollen?”he wondered.
Good question. Despite his advocacy of its deliciousness, Goose seemed to have a limited understanding of what actually made a stollen, an understanding that seemed to begin and end with …
“Err … marzipan?”me mused aloud.
TripleD-Be still looked confused, but TripleD-El came to his rescue.
“Ja, we have stollen,” she confirmed, although I have to admit, the word she pronounced didn’t sound remotely like what Goose was touting.
At the table, OGL was explaining how tubular track tyres had to be painstakingly shellacked onto wheel rims, before inflating to a (frankly terrifying) 240 psi. As with stollen, the precise make up of shellac seemed rather obscure, although OGL suggested it was some form of animal byproduct. I’d only really heard of it as a type of varnish, not an adhesive and couldn’t shed any light on its origins.
(Further investigation reveals that shellac is made from a resin secreted by the lac beetle in India and Thailand. I’m still uncertain what’s in stollen though and, in particular, if it must include “err… marzipan.”)
OGL also made passing mention of Dourdoigne tubs, a name I vaguely remember from my youth, mainly because the old lags and wags suggested they were horribly misshapen. The joke went that when you rode them you’d be bounced up and down and the tubs would emit a sound like a twanged spring: duh-doing, duh-doing, duh-doing.
Much happier with the cold, than the rain, TripleD-Be reminisced about how this type of weather was great for revealing all the neighbourhood cannabis growers in the Netherlands, as they were the ones whose roofs were always ice free. Meanwhile, we had a chuckle about the poor cannabis farmer in Spain, who only had his secret crop revealed by an unfortunate, once-in-a-lifetime fly-past by the camera helicopters following the Vuelta.
Following fairly short run to the cafe and with time to spare, Aether proposed a longer run for home, which would also avoid the potential of icy back roads on the way to Ogle.
Pretty much everyone agreed, so we left the (eerily quiet cafe) and turned left instead of right, striking out further north and east, before working our way back toward home.
G-Dawg led most of the way, selecting his own route options, as every time he called back to Aether for instruction, he was ignored. It turned out that Aether had snapped his mudguard on leaving the cafe (I swear those clip-on race blades get really brittle in the cold) and had stopped to pick up the pieces. As a consequence he was riding at the back of our group and oblivious to the calls for direction.
As we passed our usual turn off for Berwick Hill, seemingly still heading in the wrong direction, a worried Goose wondered aloud if we were ever going to get home.
Despite a lack of instruction, constant debate on the best route and a nagging worry amongst some that we were heading in completely the wrong direction, we stayed together as a group until the Prestwick turn, when most went left, while I continued straight across.
I found myself travelling with Aether and Famous Sean’s and was happy to sit in their wheels until it was my turn to swing off and strike out for home alone.
Climbing past the golf course, I stopped to remove the gilet, the temperature must have ticked up a couple of degrees and I was getting uncomfortably warm. There was nothing I could do about the lobster mitts though, they’d kept my hands appreciatively warm throughout the day, but were now proving a little too insulated.
Still, better too hot than numbly cold and the long drop back into the river valley helped me shed some of the excess heat I’d accumulated. From there it was a straightforward dash to the Heinous Hill and home.
I don’t know whether to leave the last words to Dourdoigne tubs, or Musical Youth.
As we approached the weekend, it was Aether’s turn to post up our route for Saturday’s club run, with the weather forecast looked like holding mild and dry for the second weekend in a row.
“I smell carbon,” Jimmy Mac’s message flashed back almost immediately.
And so he could.
And, ye verily, so it was to be…
I suspected there would be few winter bikes out and I was more than happy to join in with the masses, lifting the Holdsworth out of its cotton-wool wrappings, polishing up it’s bright, garish and shiny surfaces and topping up the tyres
Time to join the fun.
Saturday wasn’t quite as warm as I expected. Having sweltered on my commute from work on Friday in a long sleeved journey, bibtights and a base layer, I’d gone for a short-sleeved jersey, arm warmers and legwarmers and found its disappointingly chilly first thing.
It was cold enough for me to pull on a windproof jacket for the jaunt across to the meeting point and I really noticed the difference in swapping winter boots for ruby red slippers – I could have done with some Belgian Booties as, for the first time all winter my toes were cold.
Still, the ride across was a pleasure and I enjoyed the different kind of feel even a modest, carbon-framed bike gives. I won’t describe it in detail, I did that last year and, rather embarrassingly, found I’d written pretty much the exact same thing the year before that. But, if you don’t regularly ride a winter bike, you may never appreciate this change – it’s a life-affirming moment and a bit like getting a new bike every year.
Anyway, suffice to say that both bike and rider appeared at the meeting point in good time and in good order and one of them was wearing a stupid, seemingly permanent grin.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
Having been absent a couple of weeks with an ingrown toenail, the Monkey Butler Boy was back with us. I sidled up to him, put my cleat over the toe of his shoe and pressed down.
“What ya deeing, man?” he wondered and then, when he realised exactly what I was doing, “Ha-ha, wrong foot.”
I might have been forgiven, but my apparently dirty cleat left a barely discernible impression on his newly restored, gleaming white shoe.
This sent the Monkey Butler Boy scurrying to his tool tub, from which he extracted a dubbin-impregnated cloth and proceeded to polish his shoes to clean of my offending marks.
While the Monkey Butler Boy was distracted, one of his mini-me’s turned up and started jabbering away at him enthusiastically. I listened intently to the discourse, but all I heard was a strange chittering interspersed with a series of high-pitched squeaks and chirrups, like a dolphin on helium.
“I didn’t understand a word of that,” I admitted resignedly to Crazy Legs.
“No, neither did I, but it does seem to have attracted the attention of all the dogs in a 50 metre radius,” he replied.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to have no issue understanding and conversing with the youngster, while I looked on, still befuddled. I felt like I was watching a younger version of Father Ted’s Monkey Priest.
Aether briefed in the route, we split into two and G-Dawg led the first group out.
I counted them off as they bumped down the kerb one by one. For once we seemed to have the split just about right.
“In the second group, on your good bike?” Crazy Legs enquired, somewhat surprised.
He was right, this was a wasted opportunity, a few moments more prevarication and then it was my turn to bump down the kerb, accelerate smartly toward our front group … and haul on the anchors as the traffic lights changed to red and they slipped away.
The rest of the second group caught me up, while I stood waiting for the lights to change.
“Well, that must be the first time someone’s actually been dropped in the bus station,” Taffy Steve announced drolly.
The light finally changed to green and Benedict shot away, seemingly intent on catching the first group too. I dived onto his wheel and we began our mad pursuit, even though I had a horrible vision of being caught in limbo, between group 1 and 2.
As we hit the Broadway, I nudged onto the front. Andeven’s blinking rear light finally materialised in front of us, at least we now had sight of our quarry and could see we were visibly closing. Encouraged, we pressed harder and as the front group started to slow for more traffic lights, Benedict surged across the gap and towed me onto the back.
Well, that’s an interesting way to start a group ride, but at least it warmed me up a little. I hung at the back trying to recover from the effort as we pushed on and out into the countryside.
I took the opportunity of the first real climb to move forward in the group and found myself riding along beside Goose, whose ever fulminating brain was working out how he could fit a gyroscope inside his wheel hub. The idea was this would somehow be charged up while riding and come into play whenever you stopped, keeping the bike upright without all the faffing of trying to do a track-stand, or the ultimate embarrassment of failing to do a track stand and toppling slowly over.
We passed a pair of cyclists as Rab Dee and the Colossus finally swung off the front after a sterling first stint and I thought nothing more of it as our front pair drifted past me and latched onto the back.
A few more changes at the front and a few more miles under or wheels, then Goose was calling a halt for a mechanical, after a strange metallic rattling started to emanate from the rear of his bike. We stopped and he found that, unlike normal bikes, his touring, steel behemoth had two spare spokes in a little holder on his chainstay. One of these spokes had worked loose and it was this that was causing the rattle.
Rather than trying to fit the spoke back into its holder, or throw it away in a hedge, Goose decided to stick the errant spoke in his back pocket, seemingly unfazed by our concern that, should he come off, he could end up skewered on his own spoke – possibly the cycling equivalent to being hoist by your own petard.
We pressed on through Fenwick and Matfen and I found myself riding beside the Colossus, who pointed out to two cyclists up ahead. Apparently when he dropped off the front with Rab Dee, they’d inadvertently rejoined behind this pair, trapping them within or group and forcing them to travel wherever we wanted to go and at whatever speed we chose to set. They’d only managed to break free when we stopped for Goose’s mechanical, but now we were closing them down on a climb and there was a real danger they’d be swept up and carried away again.
Luckily we turned off toward the village of Ryal and they escaped to fight another day. We climbed up to the village and called a halt to regroup and let everyone berate the Garrulous Kid for having such a filthy bike. It was such a comprehensive beasting that we were still there 10 minutes later when the second group arrived for an unscheduled club reformation.
With no one tempted to head down and then back up the Ryals, we all set a course for the Quarry. At the top the plan was to swing left and then follow an additional loop toward Capheaton, where there was the opportunity to return to the main road, or follow a gated track toward the cafe.
The first deviation came at the top of the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid announced he was going right, instead of left. He suggested his decision was forced by a badly creaking bottom-bracket, but to be honest, despite exemplary Teutonic engineering of the very highest order, his bike’s been making those kind of distressed, whimpering noises since early October.
What then would explain his strange and sudden defection, before he’d even had a chance to renew his sprinting battle with the Colossus?
It was at this point I noticed Goose still had his errant, naked spoke poking baldly up out of his jersey pocket and recalled Plumose Pappus’s suggestion last week, that we all gang up and dispatch the Garrulous Kid by impaling him on spokes. Had the Garrulous Kid seen Goose’s spoke and thought the plot was in motion? Had he taken both fright and flight so as not to end up being Kerplunked and abandoned at the side of the road?
“Et tu, Goose?” might he have asked, bleeding from more spoke holes than you’d find in a heavy duty touring rim.
We may never know.
At the top of our little extended loop everyone decided that the combination of good summer bikes and a gated farm track probably wasn’t a great idea, so we stuck to the road that would lead us back to the Snake Bends and the cafe.
I pushed on at the front and had started up Brandywell Bank, when I heard the distinctive swash, swash, swash behind me, as someone on carbon wheels came powering up the short, but horribly steep climb in a massive gear.
“Swash, swash, swash,” I said in response.
“Guess who?” G-Dawg asked.
Oh, hold on, let me think …
Still on the front I tried to provide a fast lead out for the sprint, hammering away over the drop toward the Snake Bends and managing to hold a reasonable, if modest pace until someone finally attacked and I could ease back.
I dropped back through the second group, before managing to recover slightly to lead home the also-rans.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
After threatening last week, the promise was fulfilled this time and we escaped a crowded cafe to find seats outside in the garden. In February? It was cool, but not unpleasant.
Aether reported that he’d tried to join the motley ranks of angry (but warm handed) rockhoppers and invested in some Planet X lobster mitts. In fact, he told us, he now had two pairs as he didn’t know which size to get, the Large or Extra Large. The trouble was both were too small.
“Yeah, they are in fact identical,” the Colossus assured him, “the only difference is what size label they stick on them.”
Caracol had his own fair share of glove buying issues, having measured his hands following the instructions on one web site and found that lengthwise he was recommended to buy Extra Large, but the recommended width fitting was Small.
Talk turned to my crash last week and how it takes a particular kind of idiot to ride into a kerb, even when the kerb suddenly erupts with no reason out of a road surface. No excuses, guilty as charged, M’lud.
We once again had a discussion about the apparent lack of logic behind many cycling routes and how they seem to be designed by people who’ve never actually ridden a bike. Luckily Caracol was on hand to provide the necessary technical insight.
“You do know how to tell the difference between a cycle path and a cycle lane, don’t you?” he asked.
“A cycle lane’s where you park your car, a cycle path’s where you walk the dog.”
Seems about right.
At some point in our sojourn dans l’herbe, Buster rolled up, being a complete slacker and having enjoyed a very relaxed morning in bed, before finally stirring to ride directly to the cafe. Given the minimal effort in getting there I’m not sure he deserved the giant sized portion of cake he was devouring.
He mentioned that just as I was falling off, not far from Pigdon last week (That? Again?) a 63 year old cyclist was found after being subjected to a nasty hit and run in the same area, with the police now appealing for witnesses.
Buster informed us the victim was an ex-racer, good friend and protege of OGL who’d apparently once ridden under the moniker of the Flying Pitman. Being a smart arse, I had to ask if this was before, or after his numerous appearances on Top of the Pops as part of an a capella group of dodgy looking miscreants. I think I actually managed to inflict an ear worm on G-Dawg, which was a bit of a surprise as I didn’t think he sang.
[I understand the cyclist is now out of critical condition and recovering, but suffered a major head injury and cannot remember anything about the incident.]
The Garrulous Kid wandered up and tried to persuade us he was fully house-trained, completely domesticated and would be perfectly capable of looking after himself once he cut mummy’s apron-strings. Seeking some substance to this claim, someone asked him how he would go about doing the ironing,
“Well, first I’d boil the kettle …”
“Eh? What for?”
“To fill the iron.”
“Would you turn on the toaster before doing some laundry?” the Colossus wondered.
I’m not sure he’s quite as prepared as he thinks he is.
A few were starting to pack up to leave and the Garrulous Kid made to go with them.
“When you get onto the lane to Ogle, call back and let us know how muddy it is,” G-Dawg asked him, thinking about protecting his bike from further abuse.
“Yep, let us know how deep is your mud?” I added.
“Eh?” the Garrulous Kid replied smartly.
“How deep is your mud?”
“What? I don’t understand.”
He was a lost cause, I only wish Crazy Legs had been present, I would have had him singing Bee-Gees songs all the way home.
It was still too early for G-Dawg and the Colossus to head back but I had no objections to getting home a little earlier, so saddled up and left with what turned out to be our second group on the road.
I fell in alongside the Red Max, trailing the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d been one of a handful who’d opted for shorts on the day. The Red Max revealed this had been no simple decision, as the Monkey Butler Boy had to first apply fake tan to his legs so they didn’t look too pale. Or, to be more precise, at least to the bits of leg between the top of his socks and where his shorts ended. Fake tan lines! Who’d have guessed there’d ever be such a thing …
He then drew my attention to the Monkey Butler Boy’s chainrings, where he’d filled the gap between the arms with strips of electricians tape as, apparently, this is more “aero”.
Slightly flummoxed by this, I could only suggest that at least he’d made a fairly neat job of it.
“I’m not sure about that,” the Rex Max retorted.
“Well, I only mean’t in comparison to the last time he changed his bar tape,” I qualified, remembering how the Monkey Butler Boy had once turned up with handlebars resembling a snake caught midway through shedding its own skin.
The pace accelerated up Berwick Hill, then, after the climb to Dinnington, I pushed onto the front alongside the Cow Ranger. Rounding a corner, a small knot of cyclists came into view.
“Target acquired!” the Red Max intoned, “Engage.”
As one we quickened our pace and began to chase. Having been sat on the front most of the way back, the Cow Ranger excused himself from the front and drifted back. Almost immediately he was replaced by Biden Fecht and we kicked the speed up another notch.
Up past the airport and the distance to the front group was shrinking noticeably now. The Monkey Butler Boy hammered into the gap and we all followed, catching and blowing straight past what turned out to be a bunch of our early-leavers from the cafe.
That set me up for a blast through the Mad Mile and a decent pace all the way home, for the first time in weeks unhampered by any headwinds and free to enjoy both bike and weather.
YTD Totals: 1,187 km / 738 miles with 16,353 metres of climbing.
Heavy rain overnight had cleared, but left the road soaked and my tyres made a sibilant hiss and seemed to be shushing me all the way down the hill … shhh!
It was chillier than I’d expected, the digital sign on the factory unit flashing just 6°C, a grey, drab, dreary, dark start. Still, we were only one day removed from shortest day of the year and the rain wasn’t forecast to return. It would do.
And then, once across the river and turning back on myself, I was rewarded by a glorious sunrise. Well, not so much the sun rising, it was more as if the earth had cracked and was leaking molten light from its core, painting the underbelly of the clouds in a roseate glow and setting the horizon to flame. It was worth the price of admission alone.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
We had a good turnout for the ride and a varied assortment of Christmas jumpers, T-shirts, lights, tinsel and dangling baubles, but G-Dawg and the Colossus stole the show. G-Dawg in bright red ladies leggings (he assured me they were bought specially and not stolen from his wife’s wardrobe) topped with a very busy top, all Santa hats, Christmas trees and ribbon-wrapped gifts.
And then the Colossus… well, the Colossus wore a formal Christmas suit – blazer and trousers, heavily patterned in striped candy canes, stars and Christmas stockings, a garish, riotous, technicolour nightmare, that I found vaguely threatening. In fact, his outfit lacked only a jaunty bowler hat to resemble a psychedelic tolchoking malchick from a fever dream Clockwork Orange.
The Monkey Butler Boy had his entire bike frame swathed and swaddled in ropes of thick golden tinsel. Given his usual obsessions, the obvious question then was, is that actually aero? Would the individual strands of tinsel smooth turbulent airflow and make it more laminar? Were boffins from Team Sky watching, measuring and gauging, with an eye to next years Tour de France and more marginal gains?
G-Dawg was worried the tinsel could get caught in the Monkey Butler Boys cassette and suddenly lock his freewheel, while I thought it might unravel and trail behind him, like a meteor’s tail on an earth bound Haleys comet.
Just before 9.15 Garmin Muppet Time, G-Dawg stepped up to address the gathered throng, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know, this is Richard,” Richard of Flanders uncertainly raised an arm, “and this is the route for the day …”
We split into two, with a general coalescing agreed at Hallington, once we were out of the ‘burbs. I dropped onto the back of the first group and away we went, the Cow Ranger on the front and driving us at a brisk pace from the off.
I slotted in beside the Red Max, currently languishing in the dog house as he’d miscalculated his holidays at work and now has to be in on Christmas Eve. Even worse, being responsible for all the work planning, he’d previously decided there would be no early finish for those unfortunates pulling the last shift, not reckoning on actually being one of them himself.
Riding behind the Monkey Butler Boy, I had to continuously swipe loose bits tinsel out of my face, as he shed a golden trail in his wake. It prompted me to enquire after the health of Red Max’s Christmas tree and I learned that not only had the Monkey Butler Boy denuded it of all the tinsel, but one of their cats had perfected the fine art of hooking baubles off with a single claw and disdainfully flinging them across the room.
With the Cow Ranger driving us onward and with the occasional manoeuvre to avoid the blizzards of stray tinsel being shed ahead of me, we were soon at the rendezvous point and pulled over to wait for the second group.
The Monkey Butler Boy dropped his bike into a ditch and started taking pictures on his phone.
“I’m gonna ‘gram them,” he declared.
“Huh?” I asked brightly.
“Gram them,” he repeated.
I still had no idea what he was saying.
“Put them on Instagram,” he explained, rolling his eyes at the old dotard.
“Oh. Ah. Right. Instagram”
Richard of Flanders complimented the Peugeot on it’s subtle French branding, tricolour bar end plugs that match the even more subtle tricolour etched into the top tube. I’d bought these from the same place as the Lion of Flanders plugs for the Holdsworth, VeloHeaven a not too expensive bit of bike bling, that I thought added a nice touch. Of course I didn’t admit to Googling the French flag to confirm that I’d put them in the wrong way round at first.
The Monkey Butler Boy looked down at his once gleaming, white shoes in disdain. “No matter how many baby wipes you use, you just can’t keep them pristine and white,” he moaned. The shoes were indeed looking somewhat yellowed and poisonous now. I realised he wasn’t wearing overshoes and then that he was wearing mitts not gloves.
“Aren’t your hands cold?” I wondered.
“Freezing. But they were fine when I set off from Wallsend this morning.” Ah right, that’ll be the famous Wallsend microclimate then, warmed by the benign currents of the Jet Stream and North Atlantic Drift, a balmy, semi-tropical enclave in the heart of frigid Tyneside.
We seemed to wait an age for the other group to join us (they’d had a puncture) and talk turned to Christmas preparations. The Garrulous Kid was complaining about the expense of presents for his girlfriend and then, admitted he didn’t like Christmas Day at all, chiefly because his uncle always brought his bulldog around (let’s just call the dog Onan for now) and it always had vigorous sexual congress with the Garrulous Kid’s pillow.
“Let me guess,” the Red Max piped up, ” And you don’t realise until you wake up with the pillowcase stuck to your face?”
“Hmm, that explains your strange doggy odour,” I volunteered, “I thought it was just your Pedigree Chum body spray.”
The Red Max then wondered if blaming the dog for random, seminal emissions in a teenagers bedroom wasn’t a bit unfair on our canine friends and he imagined an on-going conversation between the Garrulous Kid and his mother …
“Ugh! What’s this?”
“Oh Mum! Onan’s been at it again.”
“But your uncle hasn’t been round with the dog for three months now…”
With the Monkey Butler Boy continuing to shed tinsel, I remarked that at least German Fighter Command wouldn’t know our numbers, or the destination of our raid.
“Huh?” the Monkey Butler Boy asked brightly.
“Window.” I told him.
He still had no idea what I was saying.
“Window,” I repeated,”Düppel, radar countermeasures” rolling my eyes at the ignorance of youth.
“He’ll always be chaff in the wind to me,” the Red Max added as a postscript.
Luckily, we were saved from further discourse when the second group finally rolled past, we tagged on the back and were off again.
At one point above us a small kestrel appeared, fluttering wings and split-second pauses keeping it fixed in place, hanging directly over the road. “Drone!” the Big Yin announced wryly. Well, I chuckled, but then I hadn’t been delayed at Gatwick for 16 hours.
We picked our way through to Mitford, descending into the Wansbeck Valley to the accompaniment of a droning, honking wail from a set of vigorously asphyxiated bag-pipes. We then passed the lone piper, obviously banished out into the chill, dank garden to practice his dark arts, well out of the earshot of the rest of his family.
The discordant wailing brought a small tear to Aether’s eye and he emitted a little, subdued “Och aye the noo!” Everyone else seemed to quicken their pace to put a bit of distance between us and the unnatural noise as quickly as possible.
We did a loop around Mitford and then, as a novel, new twist, found ourselves cautiously descending the Mur de Mitford for the first time. All went well and then we were back to climbing. I managed to reserve a stint on the front until after the hated drag up to Dyke Neuk this time.
The various assaults on our senses continued as we passed the Dyke Neuk inn, this time it was to be smell not hearing that suffered, the air heavy with the rather unpleasant odour of over-cooked Brussell sprouts.
On the front alongside me, Richard of Flanders slowed the pace down and we kept the group together down through the dip and rise around Hartburn and the turn for Angerton, where we called a pee stop.
The group became attenuated on the climb up to Bolam Lake, as Spry rode off the front. A few hundred metres later and Ovis and Andeven followed. I waited to see if anyone was going to take up the chase and when they didn’t, I swung wide and accelerated away.
I thought a few others might follow my lead and we could work together to bridge across to the front. I had no takers though and I ended up hanging off the front on a bit of a chasse patates. Still, whatever gap I’d opened up most have been fairly sizeable as I hung out there through the Milestone Woods, up and over the rollers and round the corner of the last bend on the final climb, before I was caught and dropped.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I took perhaps a last chance for another seasonal stollen scone, working on the assumption they’ll not be around much longer and I should enjoy them while I can. I ordered, while pondering why the Garrulous Kid’s helmet appeared to have Special Liz written on one side.
At our table, Buster had decided wool jumpers, no matter how jaunty they looked, were no substitute for technical sportswear, complaining he’d been overheating during the ride, but chilled at the same time as his Santa jumper wasn’t even remotely windproof. Usually this would have been the cue for OGL to tell us all about the good old day, riding in thick, wool jerseys and shorts with a real chamois insert, but he was absent and missed a golden opportunity for more lore building.
Buster said he’s considering joining Crazy Legs’ annual expedition to the mountains of France next year, finances permitting. He took the opportunity to question Captain Black and me about the trip. He was particularly keen to understand the niceties of our typical itinerary, which was usually a Thursday depart, travelling on BA to France via a Heathrow transfer, 3 days riding and a return trip on the Monday by the same route.
He then did that quick phone-tapping thing that youngsters do. “Hmm, Queasy Jet fly direct to Geneva, but only twice a week, Sunday’s and Friday’s.” He paused to consider.
“That means we could fly out on a Sunday, have 4 days riding and fly back on a Friday. That would still be cheaper and easier than the BA flights, especially if we hired bikes across there and didn’t have to pay baggage fees. Then of course, hiring the cars would be a lot cheaper and simpler too.”
“Woah, woah, woah, hold on youngster, ” I complained, “You can’t just come in and tip the current order upside down based on logic, common sense and a bucketful of sound economic and logistical benefits!”
We all admired the Red Max’s new gloves, bright red of course and newly purchased from Planet X. They even had a fold away cover so you could convert them to mitts for a bit of added protection.
He admitted he’d actually bought them as a Christmas present for the Monkey Butler Boy, but took a liking to them when they arrived, so had decided to keep them. Once again Taffy Steve was left in awe and deeply humbled by the Red Max’s innate parenting skills – a sort of a modern day Spartan agoge based on the principles that if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.
It was time then for us to all line up for the semi-traditional, group photo outside, with Carlton stepping up to the plate as our resident Ansel Adams.
“Will you post it up somewhere?” Princess Fiona enquired.
There then followed one of those awkward and tentative, new-tech conversations us older folk have when discussing something that’s (rudely) second nature to the youngsters, with lots of uncertain talk about airdrops, cloud postings, instant messaging and the like.
I was tempted to step in and suggest that Carlton simply ‘gram the pictures, but didn’t rate my chances of explaining how to do it if someone called my bluff.
Photo opportunities fulfilled for another year, we were then off, splitting into two groups, the Red Max leading a handful off on a slightly longer, alternative route home. I stuck to the traditional return run, facing strict instruction to be back on time to greet scheduled holiday visitors.
I spent the ride back chatting with Buster about the parlous state of the guitar industry and the value for money vs. quality conundrum of Planet X. Once again I found myself recommending their mighty lobster mitts for the most extreme conditions.
Before long I was following the Colossus and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile, chuckling at all the people pointing out the strange man in the strange suit. Then I was off on my own, riding unusually quiet roads, even those around the local shopping centre. It might have been a quiet Christmas for the nation’s High Street businesses, but I’m not complaining
YTD Totals: 7,261 km / 4,512 miles with 88,830 metres of climbing.
Total Distance: 90 km / 56 miles with 967 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 48 minute
Average Speed: 23.6 km/h
Group size: 8-9-8-7-6-5
Weather in a word or two: Brutal then balmy
Honestly, I just think the weather’s playing mind-games with me now. The morning last week dawned bright gorgeous, warm and dry, as if to make up for the Saturday before when it rained incessantly for most of the day. This week, it was back to freezing cold, wet and utterly miserable.
In fact as I sat down to breakfast and looked out of the window the icy rain changed suddenly to fat flakes of pelting snow that even started to lie, despite the garden being thoroughly sodden.
To cap it all, I was late leaving, in part because I was hoping for a break in the weather, or at least an easing of the conditions. The other reason was a last minute panic, as I decided to swap all the carefully considered, wet-weather gear, for cold and wet-weather gear.
As a consequence, I didn’t get going until after 8.20, a time when I’m more normally approaching the bridge, 3 or so miles upriver. This I recognised as time I would really struggle to make-up, so I needed a Plan-B.
The alternative crossing, a closer, but busier bridge, could be reached fairly quickly and directly, but via a fairly unpalatable and somewhat risky ride down a dual-carriageway, typically full of speeding cars and dotted with massive multi-lane roundabouts. That didn’t seem a sensible option on a day when visibility was likely to be restricted by both the dark and dismal weather and the massive waves of spray the cars were going to be kicking up.
I was however fairly confident I could use local bike tracks and woodland trails to work my way around to the bridge on safer, less travelled routes, as long as I didn’t mind a little off-road adventure. This then became Plan-B.
Lights on and blinking away furiously, front and back, I dropped down the Heinous Hill. Shorts and leg warmers already soaked with icy rain and spray by the time I hit the bottom. This was not going to be pleasant. A sharp right, past the old cricket ground and I found a bike trail, heading, more or less, in the right direction.
My front light was designed more so people could see me, than for lighting my path, so I had to trust to blind luck that the trail was mostly clear, as I picked my way through the shadowed and gloomy woods.
A carpet of yellowed, fallen leaves helped provide a bit of contrast and highlighted the way ahead, but they were also wet and slippery and occasionally hid the menace of a low ridge thrown up across the track by a wandering tree root. I didn’t dare go too fast, but at least I felt I was making progress.
I crossed the River Derwent on a narrow, single-track bridge, apparently waking a huge, statuesque heron, standing stilt-egged in the middle of the stream. It raised its head to glare at me through one beady yellow eye, but otherwise remained completely unperturbed by my passage.
Out of the woods, the trail ran alongside the river, as it meandered its way toward the Tyne. Things seemed to be going to plan, until the trail stopped at a closed metal gate. I dismounted and peered over. The trail continued on the other side, but only after crossing the railway lines. I slipped through the gate, picked the bike up, peered into the gloom for approaching trains (it was far too wet and cold to press my ear to the rail, Tonto style) and scuttled across.
I was on gravel and tarmac now, the road winding past a boating club, where a bloke stood out in the freezing rain in just shorts and a T-shirt, drawing desperately on an E-cigarette and emitting impressively huge clouds of vapour. Perhaps vaping provide some inner warmth along with a lungful of noxious chemicals? Maybe I should try it.
Finally, the trail deposited me at the foot of the bridge and I used the pavement to cross. Now all I had to do was navigate 6 lanes of traffic and a busy roundabout. I spotted a subway entrance and dived down. My lights were feeble in the enfolding darkness and I had no idea what I was riding through, but I made it out the other side amidst much rustling, crackling and several disturbing, sharp snaps of something giving way beneath my tyres.
One more subway, a skid up and over a grassy bank and I was onto familiar roads and climbing out the other side of the valley, back on time, unscathed and remarkably puncture free.
The rain started to ease a little as I approached the meeting point, but I was probably already as wet as I was going to get and devilishly cold.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Huddled in the gloom of the multi-storey car-park I found a very select few; OGL, G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid and Rollocks. Crazy Legs and Buster were the next to arrive and then finally Taffy Steve appeared in a burst of retina blasting, epilepsy-inducing commuter lights. This was to be it then, with the solitary addition of the Colossus, who was running late and would intercept us somewhere along the route.
G-Dawg had a new addition to his fixie – a brass bell clamped securely to his handlebars, perhaps in case he’s ever possessed by the ghost of Charlie Allinston and finds himself engaged in some wanton and furious driving. He explain that he’d been given an Edinburgh Cycles gift certificate and the bell was the only thing he could find that he wanted … in the entire shop!
“It’s cold.” The Garrulous Kid complained.
“But, it’s warming up,” G-Dawg countered
“Yeah, the temperatures up from 2° to 3°,” I agreed.
“See,” G-Dawg argued, “We’ve had a 50% rise already.”
I tsked at the Garrulous Kid, still on his best bike and missing even rudimentary mudguards.
“Don’t need them,” he argued, pointing to the solid infill of his seat stays above the brake bridge, “I’ve got this.”
“Well, it might just about keep the top of your seat tube dry,” unsurprisingly, G-Dawg didn’t seem at all convinced.
OGL was busy investigating the bike lockers that have recently appeared in the car park, testing the doors and trying to peer inside to see if they were in use. This prompted G-Dawg to wonder if he shouldn’t use a locker, reasoning they were big enough to keep at least two bikes in. Then he could just stroll up on a Saturday morning, assess the weather and decide which bike best suited the conditions.
With departure time fast approaching, Crazy Legs made the first call for a “flat white” ride – an additional coffee stop at Kirkley Cycles. We decided to play it by ear, see what the day brought us and adapt accordingly. With that we pushed off into the lashing, freezing rain and rode out.
First up a rendezvous with the Colossus at the end of Brunton Lane.
G-Dawg and Taffy Steve hit the front and off we went, out of the sanctuary of the car park, where it was just as brutally cold, wet and unpleasant as I’d imagined. Blood rapidly fled from all extremities and there were numerous bad attempts at “jazz hands” and other uncoordinated flapping in a futile attempt to restore circulation.
“Today,” OGL declared, “Will be a day when a post-ride, hot shower will cause grown men to whimper.”
Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait at the end of the lane for the Colossus to join us and, for a brief moment we were 9 strong. Then, just outside the Dinnington Badlands, chilled to the core and soaked to the skin, the mudguardless Garrulous Kid abandoned.
Instead of slowing and waving people past, he simply swerved aside, banged up over the kerb and came to juddering halt on the pavement. From there he watched us ride away before turning around and high-tailing it home.
“And then there were 8,” the Colossus intoned.
Onward we plugged, reaching the junction with Berwick Hill, where we all swept left, except Buster who swung right, steering a course directly for his warm house. Ostensibly his ride was curtailed by a bad knee and had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocious weather and savage cold. Honest.
“And then there were 7,” the Colossus corrected his running count.
Up Berwick Hill we went, battered by pelting sleet and buffeted by an icy wind, before turning right at the top and snaking down the lane toward Kirkley Hall. At this point the majority decided we needed to get out of the rain and warm up a little and we quickly determined that Crazy Legs’ suggestion of stopping at the café at Kirkley Cycles had suddenly become utterly irresistible.
At the next junction, for whatever reason, OGL was determined to go his own way, heading by the most direct route to our usual café stop.
“And then there were 6,” the Colossus stated.
“Eh? What?” G-Dawg wanted to know, looking around. Head down, battering away on the front of the group, he’d been completely unaware of our steadily dwindling numbers.
We had to explain where and how we’d lost various riders.
“Ok,” he concluded, “but keep talking back there, just so I know I’m not alone.”
Rollocks was only planning on riding for an hour or so more, so he too pressed on, while the rest of us turned for the café.
And then there were 5.
As we rolled up the Colossus admitted he’d never been inside before and Taffy Steve assured him it was a good place, a true cycling café, with good coffee, excellent prices and some great memorabilia, including his favourite, a poster of Idi Amin in full La Vie Claire cycling kit!
Or at least that’s what my frozen ears thought he was saying.
Main topics of conversation at coffee stop#1
As a measure of just how cold it was and how chilled we’d become, for the first time that I can ever recall, even the Colossus wanted a coffee rather than a cold drink. I stripped off my rain jacket, sat down and clutched my mug in a death grip, trying to stop shivering long enough to actually take a sip without dribbling the contents down my front.
Across from us, two of the denizens of the fitness studio next to the café, were enjoying a post-workout coffee and chatting to a couple of hikers. Crazy Legs was intrigued by the odd contrast of two svelte, toned and barely dressed gym-goers, chatting comfortably with a big bloke in a fully zipped up parka, wearing thick gloves, boots and a woolly hat under the hood of his coat which was pulled up and fastened tight.
The resident dog wandered past and stopped to lick at the moisture on G-Dawgs specs, which he placed on the floor inside his helmet. It wandered off, before coming back to run a rasping tongue up and down Taffy Steve’s shin, before deciding to lick the inside of his helmet bowl.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a dog lick my helmet before,” he disclosed in a too loud voice, just as there was a general lull in the conversation, prompting us to fall about giggling like a bunch of naughty schoolboys.
Looking all around at all the cycling clothes, spare components and memorabilia, I demanded to know where the poster of Idi Amin in cycling kit was and I was horribly disappointed to find I had misheard and that it wasn’t a poster of Idi Amin, but one Bernard Hinault. Pah!
“Mind, those gloves look nice.” Crazy Legs nodded at a display of sturdy, weatherproof gloves.
“And dry,” he added.
“You could buy them and put them on,” G-Dawg suggested, like a kid getting a new pair of shoes that you want to wear straight out of the shop.”
Crazy Legs didn’t need to though, as following Red Max Winter Protocol#1, he had a spare, dry pair in his back pocket and not just any pair of gloves, but some mighty Planet X lobster mitts. He stood, plonked his helmet on, zipped up his jacket and pulled on his dry gloves, before turning to our café companions.
“I have to say that’s a brilliant contrast between people who look freezing and those that look hot,” he told them.
“Well, thanks, we do look hot, don’t we?” one of the gym-goers demanded.
For the briefest of moments Crazy Legs stood there, trying to think up a witty come-back that wouldn’t sound either totally lecherous, or horribly ungallant. His brain failed and he quickly turned, scuttling for the door and beating a hasty retreat.
We followed him out, but at a more leisurely place.
The rain had cleared while we were inside, but typically started up again, as soon as we turned back onto the main road. Luckily though it was a fairly brief downpour and soon eased and disappeared. There was even some semblance of sun and the rolling nature of the road had us working hard and thankfully, at last starting to warm up.
Even winter boots had failed to protect us from the lashing rain and spray and feet were soaked through. Always happy to find a positive though, Crazy Legs declared it was worth running the risk of trench foot to be able to pare back his well-basted toenails without resorting to an angle grinder.
We reached the Gubeon and turned toward our second café stop of the day in close formation, two up front, two at the back with our fifth man sat comfortably in the middle – our 5-blank domino formation as Crazy Legs dubbed it.
We stretched our legs a little in getting to the café, with a general increase in pace, although no one was interested in it turning into a full-blooded sprint. We arrived just as OGL was pulling out and heading for home.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop#2
Inside the café we found Big Dunc and couple of other brave riding companions. They’d started out a bit later than us, hoping, but failing to miss the worst of the weather. He described with horror the difficulties of stopping for a pee, spending long moments hunting for his shrinking, “vestigial” appendage in the bitter cold, then even longer trying to force water-logged gloves back onto to freezing wet hands.
For my part, I told him our ride out was like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, just without the Cossacks, who’d decided it was too cold to be out. It had been a deeply unpleasant, brutally attritional journey, with a trail of comrades lost along the way.
G-Dawg slapped his gloves on the café stove to try and dry them out. They sizzled like fish fillets in a frying pan.
Relating a football anecdote, Crazy Legs couldn’t remember a player’s name and had to describe him as the big, black forward who played for England and used to regularly fall over for no apparent reason.
From this scant description everyone immediately and unerringly identified the luckless Emile Hesky.
From there we learned of a Match of the Day where presenter Gary Lineker was joined by panellists Alan Shearer and Ian Wright and introduced the show as featuring “two of England’s most accomplished strikers … and Ian Wright.”
The Colossus and Taffy Steve recommended finding Ian Wright’s appearance on Top Gear, when he admitted to stupidly trashing his own Ferrari and having to stop himself instinctively running away, when he realised he was the cars legitimate owner.
By the time we were ready to head out again, the weather was dry, bright and significantly warmer. We decided to resurrect G-Dawgs original plan for a longer ride back, even if the first part would have us battling directly into a headwind. G-Dawg and the Colossus were more than up for the task anyway and spearheaded our return with an impressively long and uncomplaining stint toiling away on the front.
The headwind nevertheless took its toll and Taffy Steve started struggling on the hills, where his thrice cursed winter-bike became his five-fold cursed winter bike. Every time he dropped off, one or other of us would announce, “There’s a gap” and we’d ease a little until he caught back on.
After a while, Crazy Legs decided it would be better to substitute the “gap” call with a quick round of “Oops upside your head” – although his suggestion for us all to get down on the ground and pretend to row a boat were sensibly dismissed.
We then found that G-Dawgs bell would automatically ping like a sonar whenever he ran his wheel through a pot, providing us with some useful early warning signals and a chance to avoid the worst depredations of the road surface.
This also served to distract Crazy Legs, who naturally progressed from The Gap Band to Anita Ward and “You can ring my bell.”
We dropped down past the Cheese Farm and picked up our usual route home, through Dinnington. From there it was into into the Mad Mile and soon I was swinging away for my trip home and immediately pulling to a stop.
I stripped off my too hot rain jacket and winter gloves, substituting them for some thinner, drier ones. The cap that had kept the worst of the spray off my specs I kept on though, as now it was useful to block the glare from a very bright, very low sun. Then, a bit more comfortable, I pressed on for home in what was to prove to be the best riding conditions of the entire day.
YTD Totals: 6,254 km / 3,805 miles with 76,583 metres of climbing
Encouraged by our super-successful, slightly-secretive, semi-selective, sterling-sojourn into the Alps last year (see: Riders of the Alps Bucket-List) – this time Crazy Legs had us targeting the Pyrenees for another raid, deep into traditional French cycling territory.
With his formidable planning skills to the fore, he picked a date, found flights and accommodation and then simply offered the opportunity up to anyone willing, able-bodied and crazy enough, to want to ride a bike up multiple mountain passes in searing heat.
All we had to do at this point was indicate our intent with a quick, “Oui” or, “Non.” Perfect.
Wholly unsurprisingly, all of last year’s sextet re-upped for a second Tour of Duty (or Tour of Doodie, if you happen to be American) – so that was Crazy Legs, Goose, Captain Black, the Hammer, Steadfast and me.
To these serried and honourable ranks we added some real climbing prowess, with Kermit, a sub-55kg, climbing spider-monkey and the larger, but somehow-even-faster-going-uphill, Caracol.
Buster hemmed and havered, but eventually gave a reluctant, “Non” – and so we were set – an octet of inappropriately optimistic, opportunists, intent on wrecking who knows what – legs? lungs? livers? … and probably, somewhere along the line, any hopes of post-Brexit, Anglo-French entente cordiale, too.
British Airways flights were booked to leave early Thursday morning, June 21st from Newcastle to Heathrow, where we would connect with Steadfast, before travelling on to Toulouse. The return was planned for the following Monday, allowing us 3-full days of riding.
As usual, the Hammer would travel independently (which our fevered speculation determined would be through a combination of private jet, chartered helicopter and chauffeur-driven limousine).
Due to arrive early as our advance party, he promised to gather the most basic essentials to fuel our trip, which, in order of importance, appeared to be beer, wine, beer, cheese, beer and pain au chocolat.
… and beer.
Crazy Legs had secured us four cabins at the Campsite du Lavadan, just outside Argelès Gazost and some 15kms due south of Lourdes. This would be our base of operations for our 3-days of cycling and would put us within the orbit of such famous Pyrenean climbs as the Tourmalet, Hautacam and Aspin.
Goose sought and negotiated transport from the airport to the campsite – one big, 6-seater-van and a large car, deemed sufficient for 7 skinny blokes and their oversized bike boxes. He and Kermit bravely volunteered to do the driving and we were not at all worried when Kermit kept asking which side of the road he would be driving on.
The flights cost £185, the car hire about £65 each and 4 nights’ accommodation was around £100, so the basic bones of the trip came together for a, fairly reasonable, £350.
Crazy Legs then devised and circulated a rough plan for the rides:
Day#1 – Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin – a 126km loop
Day#2 – Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque – a 120km loop
Day#3 – Hautacam – 40km – straight there and back again
Everything was agreed and booked by the time BA announced the cancellation of our return flights. Luckily, the available alternatives actually helped, rather than hindered, with a more relaxed timing for the return.
Then, like last year, I more or less forgot about the whole thing until a few weeks before we were set to go.
There was a little last minute uncertainty when flash floods hit the western Pyrenees and destroyed some of the roads around the region. Indications were that the route from the Col d’Aubisque through the village of Gourette was particularly badly affected and likely to be closed, but we determined to play it by ear and adapt our route on the day.
More seriously, any effect on the upcoming stages of the Tour de France, set to travel across the same roads for stages 19, remains to be seen.
Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
Like an anorexic, bulimic teenager, weight became a bit of an obsession on two fronts as, learning from the previous trip, I planned how to travel lighter, both personally and baggage-wise.
The latter was much the easiest to accomplish. I swapped last year’s borrowed, rigid bike box for a cheap Planet-X bike bag, which I would load up with the bare minimum. This I determined was: one T-shirt per day, the clothes I would travel in, three full sets of cycling kit, a few energy gels, a set of allen keys for building up and breaking down the bike, a couple of spare tubes and a few sticking plasters (in case of emergency).
I found the bike bag much easier to pack than a box. It had integral wheel compartments and a ton of internal pockets that proved incredibly useful for stuffing things in and keeping them tied-down and in place. I also found the bike would fit in easily, with only one pedal removed – and the less assembling and disassembling I do, the happier I am, so a win all round.
Wheels out, one pedal removed, seat post out, handlebars released from the stem and taped to the top tube, I removed the gear hanger and taped the rear mech up inside the stays. I mummified the whole rear triangle in bubble-wrap, added a few pieces of foam pipe insulation to protect the frame and held everything in place with copious amounts of masking tape. That’s it, I was done.
If anything, the bike bag proved too big and capacious. Even fully loaded with wheels, frame helmet and clothes, it was still only ¾ full. I could actually have done with it being not quite as tall and, while eminently luggable, a set of wheels on the base would have been a real boon.
I’d been paying a little more attention to my own weight than usual and, as mileage ticked up, this started heading in the right direction too. I was hovering around 65kg’s on the weeks leading up to departure and starting to feel stronger and better for it.
That was until, the weekend before, when I developed a sore throat and tried the patented Crazy Legs cure of riding through it. (Hint: he’s called Crazy Legs for a reason).
Exactly one week before the trip, I climbed off the bike after a difficult commute home, admitted defeat and crawled into bed for three days, laid low by some vicious, random bug that left me thoroughly drained, caused me to miss a slew of meetings at work and, more importantly, the Saturday club run.
The following Wednesday, D-Day Minus-1, I finally swung a leg over the bike for a lone, last commute and my final ride before travelling to the mountains. Not exactly the ideal preparation, but I was good to go.
Priscilla, Queen of the Pyrenees
Early Thursday morning and having submitted my (hopefully well-packed) and protected bike to the tender ministrations of the ground crew at Newcastle International Airport, I tracked down the rest of the mob, already happily ensconced in a coffee shop in Departures and slurping down a selection of premium, hot beverages.
I think Kermit had surmised his baggage allowance also took into account personal weight, which gave him a massive advantage over every other passenger. To exploit this to its fullest extent, he was trailing quite the biggest and reddest piece of “hand baggage” I think I’ve ever seen.
We naturally queried if it would fit within regulation, hand-baggage dimensions, knowing full-well that if he did, by some miracle, manage to jam it into one of those baggage-guidance stands, it would never come out again.
Taking our concern to heart, Kermit triumphantly zipped up the expandable gusset, reducing the bags width by, oh, I don’t know a whole 5cms, maybe, and effectively reducing its overall footprint by almost 2%. It still looked massive and Kermit started to fret a little about getting it on the plane without having to pay an excess baggage charge.
Meanwhile talk turned to marginal gains, with Kermit admitting to taking a hacksaw to his seatpost to shave off a few centimetres and a few excess grams. There was some involved discussion about whether leg shaving constituted a marginal gain, while Goose and Crazy Legs bemoaned their androgenetic alopecia … of the legs.
Kermit worried we must have sounded like a troupe of old queen’s sitting round talking about leg shaving, but I assured him we were much too ugly for anyone to make that kind of mistake.
Someone mentioned Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and it was a short-leap from there to Priscilla, Queen of the Pyrenees. Meanwhile, I briefly pondered if there’s a collective noun for a transvestites – a camp of transvestites the best I could find.
Our flight was called and we made our way to the gate, half of us taking the escalator to jeers about “marginal gains” – which no doubt thoroughly bewildered other passengers. I felt I was doing ok, as, although I used the stairs, I was drafting Caracol the whole way.
On the plane, Crazy Legs found himself sitting next to a bloke who looked like a rugby prop forward, he was as wide as he was tall and solid. He initially took the aisle seat, hoping the plane wasn’t full and he wouldn’t have to squeeze into the middle of the row. No such luck, a late arriving passenger appeared to claim the aisle seat and the prop forward was soon pressed in tightly against Crazy Legs, blocking most of the light filtering in from the window and causing the seat in front of me to creak alarmingly.
Close proximity, coupled with abundant, natural Crazy Legs bonhomie, soon had the muscled-mass talking and it emerged he actually was a prop forward, from Leeds Carnegie Academy and travelling to France for a little continental seasoning at one of their pro clubs.
The Return of Hans
At Heathrow, with time to kill, we gravitated toward the Costa Coffee where we’d been sitting, talking our usual brand of unadulterated bullshit on the return last year, only to forget about the time. We’d had to dash to the gate, making it just as the last flight home was closing.
In commemoration of that anniversary, Captain Black informed the staff his name was Hans, which they duly inscribed on his coffee-cup, as they had the year before when he’d told them his actual name. I’m still at a loss to understand how they could have misinterpreted Captain Black quite so badly that they arrived at Hans.
We found five seats and Kermit perched on his big, red case to sup his drink. (Ah, so that’s why he brought it). British Airways announced our connecting flight was full and were offering to check hand baggage into the hold for free. Hoping to avoid any unwelcome arguments, Kermit gave up his impromptu perch and had it checked in. One less thing to worry about.
As Kermit returned from the baggage drop, we were discussing the photos of Donald Trump alongside Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, which seemed to prove that the President of the United States was lying (yes, I know – it’s hard to believe isn’t it) about his height. The photographic evidence suggested that he isn’t the 6’3” he claims and, given his weight, can officially be classified as obese.
Still, I’m not sure if this matters, after all a wholly impartial, completely objective and scrupulously honest physician has already unequivocally informed us, that Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
Kermit only caught the tail-end of this conversation and then spent five minutes wondering what Jump Judo was and whether it was worth catching on Eurosport.
Dead or Alive?
A discussion about the Orange Dotard’s tiny hands morphed into a discussion about Jeremy Beadle and the Kenny Everett character, the spectacularly stupid, Brother Lee Love, who had giant hands. From these humble beginnings the trip tradition and a new game, Dead or Alive? was born. The rules were quite simple, whenever someone moderately famous, or mildly notorious was mentioned, someone (usually me) would invariably pipe up to query: “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
Backed up by Google, the most astonishing thing we found was how many people we thought were dead, were still hanging on, hale and hearty, and how many we thought were still with us that had, in fact long since departed.
We eventually relinquished the seats in Costa’s and made our way to a quiet gate, where we could sit and people-watch. Here we enjoyed the drama of a futilely sprinting, late-arriving passenger pleading to be allowed onto a flight that had already closed.
(I thought he lost his case through over-acting, especially when he clasped his hands together in prayer and begged. At this point went from being a somewhat sympathetic character to overly-dramatic and slightly unhinged.)
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs tried to decipher the complex code behind all the rank markings on the epaulettes of the aircrews. The conclusion seemed to be they were mainly for show and generally meaningless.
At some point, we were joined by Steadfast, who lives just a short drive away from Heathrow and then we were all filing on board and bound for France. Goose snagged a Financial Times to read on the plane, but would later complain there were too few pictures to hold his interest for long.
On the flight I swapped seats so a pair of separated, second, or third time-around (I assume) honeymooning Americans could sit together and I managed to sleep through most of the flight.
At the other end, we queued dutifully for our bike bags with a motley collection of other Anglo-cyclists, then suffered through the seemingly interminable process of collecting our rental cars. Why such a simple process always takes such a long, long time remains one of life’s great mysteries. Finally, we were sorted and started to move.
We hit the van first, Goose and Captain Black finally remembering how we’d managed to fold the rear seats flat after a fair amount of pondering, head scratching and trial and error. We managed to load 6 of the bikes into the back of the van, squeezed in four passengers, with Goose as a driver and off they went.
The second vehicle turned out to be a new, very square, very big and very ugly, ultra-white Jeep. I would have been embarrassed to be seen in such a (# cough # wanker tanker # cough #) monstrosity at home and I think my bike bag felt the same as it curled up and hid, alone and a little lost in the Jeeps rear compartment.
I finally got to grips with a recalcitrant SatNav, tapped in details of the campsite and then Kermit got us moving for a couple of hours driving, with arrival scheduled at the campsite just as the sun was setting.
We made it to our destination without incident, bikes and bags were quickly unloaded into the cabins (all decent looking and a step up from last year’s – not that we’d ever do much but sleep and shower in them anyway.)
We picked up our advance party, the Hammer and all piled into the campsite bar. There, hard bargaining with a somewhat angry and prickly site manager, managed to make Brexit negotiations look simple, straightforward and positively jocular, but our unwavering stance finally netted us four buckets of moules et frittes and four platters of ham, eggs and chips. This seemed just about acceptable to everyone.
I stocked up on calories, washed everything down with a couple of beers and retired to the cabin, looking forward to a good night’s sleep, an early breakfast and the chance to calmly build up the bikes before we began our first ride tomorrow.
Total Distance: 103 km / 64 miles with 932 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 09 minutes
Average Speed:24.7 km/h
Group size:25 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Cold and clear
I doubled-down on the same gear I wore last week, hoping my judgement (ok then, pure guesswork) was better this time around and I wouldn’t end up over-dressed and ultimately over-heating. It was noticeably colder and, as I swept past a factory unit with one of those helpful external LED displays, I learned it was not only 8.07am on Saturday, 4th November, but the temperature was barely touching 9°C.
A light shower worked to chill the air even further and I was beginning to regret not packing a waterproof, when it blew past as quickly as it had arrived.
Over the river and climbing out of the valley again, I found that, as hoped, the bottom part of the hill had been transformed by the addition of a new smooth and shiny surface, but now the top half had now been stripped back and ploughed into a rough stippled and studded obstacle course.
The new wheels definitely helped smooth out some of the lumps, but still the bike rattled and clunked across the corrugated surface, tapping and banging out its own distress message in frenetic Morse code. Not pleasant, but a small price to pay if next week the magic gnomes have returned to smooth it out into a plush stretch of newly-laid tarmac.
I’d gone cheapskate on the wheels, a pair of Jalco (no, I’ve never heard of them either) DRX 24’s all the way from Taiwan via Planet-X, for a massive £55. Hopefully they’ll see me through the winter, or at least do until my LBS manages to source new cartridge bearings for the 4ZA’s.
I guess the new wheels are on the heavy side and more robust than racey, but slapped on the winter bike I couldn’t say I felt any difference and probably wouldn’t if they’d been made out of pig iron. The only slight gripe I have is that they’ve got a depressingly silent freehub.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Fresh back from Spain, the Monkey Butler Boy arrived at pace, skidding and sliding to a stop just in front of me.
“Just testing my brakes,” he grinned.
“They failed,” I informed him.
He immediately reached for a multi-tool and started tinkering with bits and pieces on his bike. “That’s the problem, when you grow an inch every 2 weeks,” Jimmy Mac informed him dryly. Like most of us, he has the luxury of having his position on the bike dialled-in and set, unchanging for any number of years now.
He then wondered exactly what the Monkey Butler Boy was doing, as he started fiddling with his Garmin mount and prodded it up into a decidedly un-aero raised position.
“It’s at the wrong angle for reflections on the screen,” the Monkey Butler Boy explained.
I provided the necessary translation, “He has to be able to admire his image in it at all times.”
Speaking of bike fiddling and angles, attention was drawn to the Garrulous Kids errant saddle, which he still seemed to be having trouble with. It now had its nose prominently raised, like a bloodhound scenting the wind. It looked decidedly uncomfortable and we wondered whether he was deliberately trying to emasculate himself.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy’s newly re-wound bar tape once again failed basic inspection. I suggested he quickly hid his bike behind the new waste bin that had mysteriously sprouted from the middle of the pavement (maybe that’s what it’s actually for?) before G-Dawg saw it and it caused him to howl in misery and consternation. Taffy Steve though had the truth of it, when he declared G-Dawg would sense something wasn’t right, even if he couldn’t see what it was, like a deep disturbance in the force…
OGL appeared in the distance, impelling the early leavers for the training ride to scuttle hurriedly away like guilty schoolboys, while naturally we watched and jeered.
G-Dawg pointed at the long line of riders trailing in OGL’s wake and surmised he must have been hammering on doors and rousting out everyone on his journey in. “You WILL ride today and you WILL come now!”
This, apparently had been so successful that he’d even netted a rather befuddled looking Szell, awoken abruptly from pre-hibernation slumber and still looking surprised that he’d somehow ended up on his first ever official winter ride. He stood blinking in the low light and gasping at the chill air, like a fish out of water.
Taking pity on him, Crazy Legs tried to reassure Szell that the world hadn’t quite been turned upside down, by holding out the security blanket of a route that included his all too familiar foe and bête noire, Middleton Bank. I’m not sure it helped.
The Garrulous Kid had acquired a new pair of Castelli bibtights, but rather bizarrely insisted on wearing them with the ankle zips undone. G-Dawg wondered why he needed “leg vents” while the Monkey Butler Boy looked on in despair and declared it appeared as if he was wearing flares.
(The Garrulous Kid would later stand outside the café, teeth chattering in the cold and tell me it was because he would overheat if he closed the zips up.)
The Monkey Butler Boy and Jimmy Mac started bonding over riding the exact same frame and the fact that, along with the forks, this was the only original part left of their twinned Specialized bikes, having swapped out all the components at one time or another. The Monkey Butler Boy surmised his frame would soon be a bit of a collector’s item too, as it still bore an M.Steel’s sticker from our recently bankrupt, local bike shop.
An impressive turnout for a November ride, perhaps OGL really had employed a full-court press to “actively encourage” participation? A sizeable complement of 25 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode away together.
I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete who was distracted fiddling with his Garmin that didn’t want to play ball and emitted a series of electronic chirps and cheeps like R2-D2 at his most indignant.
“Is everything all right?” I enquired, “That’s more beeps than a Gordon Ramsey documentary.”
Sneaky Pete finally re-established connection with the mother-ship and was able to turn his full attention to the task I set him, trying to determine his 10 must-have tracks for Desert Island Discs. I think we managed 3 or 4 between us, before deciding it was too difficult and he went away to think about it.
The Rainman, Ovis and Jimmy Mac took to the front and the pace slowly began to creep upwards, until we were all strung out and the group splintered apart whenever the road tilted upwards. We stopped at the top of Bell’s Hill to regroup and then once again just before Mitford, when ride leader Crazy Legs finally admitted we needed to split into two groups, but faced walking a diplomatic razors-edge as he tried desperately to avoid labelling one group “slow” and the other “fast.”
So, we finally split, with the front group: “going further and arriving earlier” leading off, while the second group: “going not quite as far and getting there a little later” followed.
I joined up with Captain Black and we tagged onto the “going further and arriving earlier group.” Somewhat off the leash now, Rainman, Ovis and Jimmy Mac cranked the pace up even higher and it was bloody fast and bloody hard.
As we approached Dyke Neuk, Rainman ceded the front to G-Dawg and, as he drifted back, I asked him if he was done ripping my legs off, or if there was more to come.
“I’m done,” he replied, before rather ominously adding, “For now.”
I then pushed onto the front alongside Jimmy Mac and throttled back the pace even more. The sanity I imposed managed to last until we started down the dip-and-climb through Hartburn, where I eased, while a few blasted away off the front. The Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy took a left turn at the top, while the rest of us pushed on to swing out a little bit wider before approaching Middleton Bank.
(I would later find the Monkey Butler Boy sitting in the café with a dazed and bewildered look on his face, that 1,000-yard stare of shock and horror, which is usually associated with prolonged exposure to the Garrulous Kid.)
G-Dawg was now having problems with his saddle, which seemed to have worked loose. He declared it was like sitting on an office chair and would alarmingly swivel to face whichever direction he was looking. Out on his fixie though, he couldn’t stop pedalling to try and fix it without calling a halt and climbing off, so just kept going.
We hit Middleton Bank at pace and Aether was jettisoned out the back and waved us away, while I was just about hanging on as the speed continued to build. The Rainman hit the front again and we were all lined out, over the rollers, down one final dip and then we started the long drag up to the café.
I stayed in the wheels until the final corner, when the Colossus split the group with a searing attack and then, I slowly drifted back. I thought at the last I was going to come back on terms with Ovis and Captain Black, but it wasn’t to be, as we drove all the way to the café.
Living up to its name, the “going further and arriving earlier” group found the café satisfyingly quiet ,with no queue to impede our immediate access to much needed and deserved coffee and cake.
The FNG declared this had been a two cake ride and no one argued with her.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
As we stood waiting to be served and trying to recover, Captain Black declared he was thinking of naming his winter-bike, “Treacle.”
“That’s a nice form of endearment,” I acknowledged, “Do you like it that much?”
“No,” he stated flatly, “It just makes me feel as if I’m riding through treacle.”
The Garrulous Kid excused his absence from last week’s ride as he’d been attending open days at Newcastle and Northumbria University.
“Did you miss me?” he wondered.
“No.” That was easy.
We then learned from this that he was planning to stay at home for the duration of his university studies, so his mum could do all his cooking and laundry and he’d still be able to ride with us.
Jimmy Mac pointed out that most universities have cycling clubs that he could join, citing Plumose Papuss, currently enjoying himself at Nottingham University where he regularly rides with the University cycling team. Apparently, however that would be no good to the Garrulous Kid … as he wouldn’t “know the roads.”
Even Jimmy Macs tales of building a snowman inside his student flat and other high jinks failed to impress on the Garrulous Kid that he would get more out of his university experiences if he cut the apron strings and moved away from home.
I suggested his mum wouldn’t like it when he wanted to get andato in gatta, or bring a girl back to his room, but realised I was straying toward the patently absurd and backtracked quickly.
I had a chat with the Rainman, our new favourite Dutchman, who actually regretted missing out on our hill climb which I think he views as a quaint, enjoyable British foible. He told me it was definitely preferable to the Dutch national tradition for running time trials directly into the vicious headwinds atop the polders, declaring he didn’t like fighting against a force you couldn’t see and at least with a hill climb you know what you’re up against.
For some reason The Garrulous Kid was intent on trying to impress me with his music play-list, which I found highly predictable, anodyne and utterly unremarkable. I tried to explain to him that as a teenager it was his sacred duty to find something his parents hated and not listen to the ultra-safe, corporate dad-rock of Coldplay or the stuff his mum sings along to in the car, the utterly charmless Rag and Bone Man, soapy-soppy Sam Smith, or that mopey, whey-faced dough-boy, Ed Sheeran.
He demanded to know what music I like and I tried a few names, Shearwater, AFI, Tom McRae, Josh Rouse, only to be met with dumb incomprehension. I tried again with a few what I felt were more mainstream names he might actually have heard of: Alvvays? Chvrches? The War on Drugs? Paramore?
“Who? What? Never heard of them. They must be ancient. They’re rubbish.”
I told him I was going to see Wolf Alice in a couple of weeks and thought they were decent.
“Who’s he? Never heard of him.”
“Them. It’s a group.”
“Whatever. They’re rubbish. Never heard of them.”
He leaned across to the next table and interrupted Taffy Steve, who was completely oblivious to our conversation at this point, engaged in polite discourse with Sneaky Pete and Crazy Legs.
“Hey, Steve … have you ever heard of wolf phallus?”
I never knew coffee could travel that far when snorted violently out of a mug.
The ride felt a bit shorter than usual and we’d done it a lot quicker, so it was still early as we left the café and set off again. It meant leaving G-Dawg and the Colossus behind as it was still far too early for them to appear at home and they had to use up their allotted time away in its entirety, or it might be confiscated.
The Garrulous Kid moaned that the pace was much too slow and I encouraged him to chase after the Prof, who’d predictably roared past the entire group and was bashing along on his own off the front. Sadly, I couldn’t persuade him to give chase and by the time he decided to go on his own he complained it was too late.
He saved his excess energy for an attack up Berwick Hill, presaged by a kamikaze dart up the outside and around a blind bend, as he gave chase to a group that had ridden off the front.
I waited until the road straightened, then bridged across to the Monkey Butler Boy on the hill and then we made it up to the front group on the descent. Behind me, Taffy Steve and Captain Black worked their way across on the downhill stretch too and we soon formed a compact group, battering along at high speed once again.
I was beginning to really feel the pace as we approached the turn off and while everyone else swung away, I pushed on down the Mad Mile on my own and eased.
From there I was soon clambering up the Heinous Hill, a good half an hour before I’m usually home, a testament to how hard we’d been driving the pace.
YTD Totals: 6,523 km / 4,053 miles with 74,690 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 102 km/63 miles with 700 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 4 minutes
Average Speed: 25.0 km/h
Group size: 20 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: A game of two halves
By heck, isn’t the Vuelta entertaining this year, in a way the Tour singularly failed to be. Not that I’m one of those people who would say the Tour was boring. Predictable? Yeah… maybe, in that the final result was widely known half way in, but boring? Then again I’m a person who sees a certain savage grandeur in the way Team Sky ratchet up the pressure on climbs until the rest of the field get gradually worked loose and slowly whittled down. Or “strangled” as the critics would unkindly insist.
Anyway, at least old Stone Face has actually decided to fight for the Vuelta, he’s climbing fantastically well and the Ungainly One is just about hanging on by his fingernails. We could yet see someone giving the Sky behemoth a right kicking*.
One minor gripe though – is it just me, or has Sean Kelly decided that Simon Yates rides for Ulrika Bike Exchange?
[*After Sunday’s stage it looks like only a catastrophe will derail Stone Face as the Sky behemoth and the Ungainly One were well and truly outfought and outthought in a classic Contador ambush that Quintana profited from. El Pistolero might not have the legs anymore, but there’s no one to match him tactically – he’s what my old boss would call a “wiry old fox”]
Meanwhile, somewhere in the North of England, Saturday’s weather was promising heavy rain showers on just about every forecast I checked – the only real question was just when they were going to hit, although mid-ride at 11.00 seemed to be the general consensus.
The promise of perhaps-maybe half a ride in dry conditions was enough to tip the balance in favour of Reg, despite the newly serviced and primed Peugeot, complete with mudguards, sitting there looking hopeful. Not yet, mon ami, but your time will come.
Of course I may have made the wrong decision as the slight grating noise of a couple of weeks ago seems to have returned. As I levelled out along the valley floor and the noise of traffic fell away I heard a strange, chirping from the drive-train which was grumbling away and seemed to be calling out to me: freak, freak, freak – wallaby … pause … freak, freak, freak – wallaby.
The noise disappeared when I freewheeled, or quietened to a whisper when I jumped out of the saddle, but always came back annoyingly, freak, freak, freak – wallaby. I pressed on, knowing the problem wasn’t going to get any better, but hoping it wasn’t going to get worse and plotting how I could get the bike to Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Company to let him try and figure out what the problem is.
As I made my way across to the meeting point I passed a group of half a dozen riders, all decked out for extreme weather in rain jackets, tights and overshoes. In just a jersey and shorts, they made me feel rather under-dressed and perhaps wildly unprepared for what was to come. Did they know something I didn’t?
At the meeting point though, I was re-assured to find very few of us had our winter bikes out and even fewer were wearing much beyond shorts and jerseys – if we were going to get soaked – we’d be doing it all together.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Rab D arrived astride his old winter hack, with the BMC Time Machine left safely at home, not because he worried about riding it in the rain, but because he felt if things turned really mucky he’d have to disassemble half the bike just to clean it properly.
If he was waiting for ideal atmospheric conditions to ride his new toy, we determined there was probably only 3 days a year when he could safely use it – and we’d had 2 of those already.
Crazy Legs turned up with tales of the Bank Holiday club run last Monday, which he described as the worst ride. Ever. I had been tempted to ride too, but had missed out and in the process perhaps dodged a bullet.
The day had started auspiciously enough with a plan to ride to the coast, but the group had somehow ended up travelling along the Spine Road, one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the County, on a Bank Holiday, in decent weather and with the Tall Ships departure from Blyth enticing an inordinate amount of cars onto the road.
Unable to find a misplaced, mis-remembered crossing point and desperate to escape the deadly rush of traffic, Crazy Legs had utilised Google Earth to identify an old track they could use to by-pass the road and led them down it.
The track however narrowed, turned boggy and then marooned them in the middle of wildly, overgrown and nettle-riddled field as it completely disappeared. At this point there was some discussion about whether they should turn back and face death by road traffic accident, or press on and face drowning in quicksand. Crazy Legs though was convinced nothing could be worse than riding down a dual carriageway in that traffic.
At one point, he said he was riding through the wilderness so carefully and so precariously that horseflies were feasting on his legs, but he didn’t dare let go of the handlebars to swat at them.
Finally shouldering their bikes, the group fought and clambered their way out onto a farm track, muddied, bloodied, bitten, stung, lost, tired and utterly miserable – emerging like a defeated army from the jungle and right under the nose of a local famer, who must have seen nothing quite like it in all his days, but didn’t bat an eyelid and completely ignored them!
They’d then found themselves traversing back along the Spine Road battling the terrifying, Tall Ships and Bank Holiday swollen traffic. Crazy Legs rode the entire way home behind Plumose Pappus to try and shelter him a little, convinced the youngster was going to be sucked under the wheels as he fluttered like a moth caught on a windscreen every time a lorry thundered past.
Red Max showed up without the Monkey Butler Boy, the allure of riding his new bike apparently having worn off, allowing him to once again reconnect with his teenage genes and demand to be left in bed.
Max had warned him there would be dire consequences and sure enough, as he left the Monkey Butler Boy was being presented with a list of domestic chores to complete since he wasn’t out riding. Now that’s the kind of motivation that can make an Olympic champion.
Mini Miss was out on her brand new Focus, having had her old bike completely replaced by the company after it had developed a crack along the top tube. She said she’d received a particularly terse and uncommunicative text from her daughter the previous night that simply read, “I’m not coming home.” We were assuming this was just a one off arrangement and not a long term declaration of intent.
Even Mini Miss however had to admit that Red Max trumped her, when he described a similar text from his daughter, “Dad, I’m moving out and I’m pregnant.” Kids, eh?
I dropped into place, 3rd in line alongside Son of G-Dawg as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, chuckling as the Red Max proved he’d chase down just about anything, swerving across the road in vain pursuit of a crow while shouting Ca-Caw, Ca-Caw and receiving a remarkably similar squawk of complaint in return.
We did wonder what might have happened if the bird had been so panicked it had flown off into his front wheel and it reminded us of the time we were ambushed by a pheasant that had clattered into flight from the roadside, right under the nose of our lead rider as we lined it out downhill for the café sprint. That had been a close enough call for us to treat our avian friends with a degree of caution.
Red Max and Crazy Legs rotated off the front as we crested the hill past the Cheese Farm and Taffy Steve and Ovis took up the pace as we rattled and bumped along a series of badly cracked and cratered rode surfaces that are becoming pretty much the norm in these parts.
Further on and I rolled through onto the front with Son of G-Dawg, starting to pick our own route as we came to junctions with no instruction from further back and guessing we were making the right choices when there were no barking complaints from behind. It was a bit like playing Russian Roulette with a route map, or reading one of those adventure game-books. I hoped we didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in a den full of rabid trolls and kobolds.
At one junction we went left simply because they’d been trimming hedges on the right and we had visions of mass punctures. Yes, it’s autumn already so they’re starting to strew the clippings from thorn bushes across the road to deter cyclists.
Caught in a slightly too large gear with an immediate climb after the turn, I rose out of the saddle and stamped hard on the pedals and we flew upwards dragging everyone out in a long line behind.
Bursting round a sharp right hand turn at the top of the climb, our sudden appearance surprised a BMW approaching at too high a speed and already starting to swing wide across the road. Luckily the driver had time to brake and correct their line and the group behind managed to squeeze past.
A bit further on and travelling down a narrow country lane, Son of G-Dawg called out, “Car up!” and accelerated sharply so I could tuck in behind him. Even singled out and hugging the gutter, the bright red Toyota Yaris passed frighteningly close and frighteningly fast – and behind us the almost inevitable happened.
I’m still not quite sure if the car actually clipped Mini Miss, or came so close she took desperate and evasive action, but she ended up tangling wheels with Buster and coming down, while he bailed out for the safety of a roadside ditch.
I was astounded that the driver even stopped, but apparently this was just so she could tell us that we shouldn’t be riding on the road, while we, being the nicest, most polite cycling club known to man tried to reason with her in a rational manner. Perhaps this was the time when some incoherent swearing and outright anger might actually have served us better and made more of an impression. Then again, maybe not.
As it was, satisfied she hadn’t quite managed to seriously injure anyone, completely unrepentant, utterly convinced she’d done nothing wrong and wasn’t in any way responsible, the driver climbed back into her car, slammed the door and roared away to endanger other weird people who mistakenly feel they have the right to use the roads, leaving us to assess the damage.
Mini Miss has somehow snapped the end completely off her brake lever and Buster was particularly chagrined to find his rear mudguard had been smashed to pieces, just after he’d finally managed to get it to stop rubbing. Luckily all the damage seemed to be to bikes rather than people, although on the ride back Buster complained his hip was causing some discomfort.
We regrouped slowly before pressing on and since we were close to a usual split point decided we wouldn’t stop again, but drop into different groups on the fly. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message and as the amblers split off for the café, Happy Cat missed the turn and uncharacteristically found herself tagging along with the faster, longer, harder group.
She’d also taken the weather forecasts to heart and was wearing a baggy and billowing waterproof jacket that not only acted like a drogue parachute, but slowly began to boil her as the pace increased and she fought to hang on.
We finally called a halt to split the group again, carefully steering Happy Cat away from the longer, harder, faster self-flagellation ride, but Taffy Steve failed to convince another struggler who was lured away by the siren song of the racing snakes, perhaps never to be seen again.
Happy Cat managed to ditch the jacket, stuffing it roughly into two of the pockets of her jersey and then it was just a case of hanging on as we wound our way back to the café.
I suggested that now she’d ridden and survived with the longer, harder, faster group she’d struggle to ever go back to the amblers. She was still smiling, but I don’t think I convinced her.
Down through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I ran up the outside of the group and was sitting perched on the shoulder of the lead man as we dropped down and then began the long drag up to the café. A quick glance behind showed me Son of G-Dawg and G-Dawg stacked on my wheel, so I buried myself in an impromptu lead out until they swept around me and I could sit up.
A few others passed me as well, but faded as the slope ground on and I managed to claw back and overhaul them. Then just as I approached the white finish line, Taffy Steve charged up on my outside, screaming incoherently and threw his bike over the line in a fair imitation of Chris Hoy, stealing the sprint by a tyre’s tread.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A deeply traumatised Crazy Legs couldn’t let it go and circulated photos of their epic trek into the Northumberland Badlands during the Bank Holiday Club Run from Hell, including one shot of OGL leading his bike while he tip-toed gingerly along a very narrow, very muddy trail perched precariously above a marshy and incredibly boggy rivulet.
Another photo showed cyclists adrift in an overgrown field that had deliberately been left fallow … for a decade or three perhaps, while the most damning was left until last – a picture of the much cosseted Ribble, befouled, begrimed and mud-spattered to such a degree that the brakes would no longer function because of the build-up of mud, grit and crap caught up in them.
The conversation turned to the Planet X outlet where Crazy Legs suggested he’d been lucky to escape without treating himself to a new TT bike on a recent visit. I happened to mention the Vittoria Anniversary, limited edition shoes they were currently selling, RRP £220, but reduced to £34 and made from very glossy, very shiny “gold medal microfibre.”
Sadly, they didn’t have my size, nevertheless I think I managed to horrify everyone by suggesting that I would even consider wearing bright gold shoes and they all agreed it was a step too far and I would need to dominate every sprint to be able to carry something like that off.
The conversation then turned to Reg, my Holdsworth frame which had also come to me via Planet-X. Being a somewhat, err, distinctive design in an eye-bleeding combination of vile red, poisonous black and acid yellow, with the group wondering if I’d been instantly attracted to it.
I had to confess to loathing the frame on first sight, but it had been an absolute bargain and I thought it would serve as a stopgap until I got something better. Then I’d slowly grown to appreciate it’s somewhat esoteric and divisive looks – to such an extent that it now influences what I wear.
Taffy Steve suggested it was somewhat akin to going to the puppy pound for a pedigree dog and being chosen by the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea- ridden pug in the entire place, that wouldn’t let you leave without it.
Crazy Legs had been out with G-Dawg the night before, sampling the wares at a local brewery, where the pair of them wrestled myopically with a long, poorly printed beer menu in bad light. Crazy Legs had resorted to his Nooz reading glasses, slipping them out of his wallet and slapping them on long enough to determine that Beer#1 was a lager and #2 was a bitter.
Of course G-Dawg was utterly delighted by the slightly unusual style of the Nooz specs and had ripped the piss mercilessly out of Crazy Legs for the rest of the night, until leaning conspiratorially across and quietly asking – “What do you call them specs and where can I get some?”
Taffy Steve was questioned about the NTR Club Runs which take place every Tuesday and Thursday evening, involving upwards of 80 riders at a time and all impeccably organised into different groups and abilities via Facebook. In the realms of club run organisation they are multi-spectral and satellite earth-imaging compared to our water dousing with bent willow twigs.
I was interested to learn if they continued the rides throughout the year, even when the nights became dark and cold and Taffy Steve reminded us he’d first started riding with them just before Christmas last year. We decided he was perhaps unique in British Cycling as the only person to ever join a club in the middle of December.
I left Crazy Legs and the G-Dawg collective camped out in the café declaring it was too early to leave and if they went home now they’d be expected back at the same time every week, but everyone else was pressing to see if they could beat the rain home, so I joined the general exodus.
It wasn’t to be, however and the much-forecast rain finally arrived as we grouped up before setting off, delaying slightly while everyone dug out their rain jackets. Once started the rain didn’t ease and everything and everyone were soon soaked through, but at least it wasn’t cold and the rain had had the good grace to hold off until after we exited the café.
The Prof introduced me to one of the FNG’s who also lives south of the river, so as I exited the Mad Mile I had company for a change as we worked our way down to the bridge.
Crossing the river, he then turned right, while I swung left and I was soon alone again with just my thoughts, the rain drumming on my helmet and back and that insistent, persistent murmur of protest from the bike under me; freak, freak, freak – wallaby…
YTD Totals: 4,938 km / 3,068 miles with 48,766 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 108 km / 67 miles with 730(?) metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Average Speed: 25.5 km/h
Group size: 31 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Bright, sunny then … Boosh!
Main topic of conversation at the start:
The club had suggested a moratorium on Brexit discussions on Faecesbook last week, even going so far as to suggest that perennial old chestnut, the Campagnolo vs. Shimano debate would be preferable.
The agreement didn’t last more than a minute, but there was no arguing as we couldn’t find anyone who was actually for the Brexit, so it was just a bunch of disappointed folk standing round wondering morosely about what sort of sad-sack, small-minded, parochial little country we actually live in.
There was naturally lots of recycling of Cyclone stories – the horror of Bilsmoor, the microclimate enjoyed by the club post-event picnic on the grass, Sneaky Pete finding Guiness was a thoroughly acceptable substitute for coffee and Crazy Legs wondering how Sneaky Pete became Sneaky Pete. I couldn’t honestly remember. G-Dawg also admitted that all his efforts fitting and trialling bottle and cage almost came to nought as he forgot he was carrying a drink until he’d completed three quarters of the ride.
I queried why the Prof was wearing thick, full-fingered orangey-pink gloves and he suggested they were to match his Friesian cow patterned jersey. Everyone looked suitably perplexed until he placed the backs of his hands on his stomach, wiggling his fingers in the air and declaring in a too loud voice, “They’re the udders!” Deeply unsettling.
With 9:15 fast-approaching and the continuing absence of OGL, Taffy Steve was starting to look forward to a “Lexit” but at the last moment our leader arrived and slipped into the mass of cyclists waiting for the off.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
The Red Max relayed how he’d been happily cycling along in the sunshine and then, “Boosh!” the rain came smashing down almost instantly soaking everyone. I asked if it had been a “Mighty Boosh” and he confirmed it had indeed.
One unexpected consequence of the rain was that it had soaked through Szell’s faux-leather track mitts, the dye had leaked out and his hands were a stained a deep, indelible shade of blue. Richard of Flanders quipped that he looked like he’d taken part in a Post Office raid that had gone horribly wrong, while I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping that it was Szell’s long sleeve jersey and not his gloves causing the staining, so he’d look like Papa Smurf when he took it off.
Crazy Legs recounted his experiences with a Poundland puncture repair kit, which he’d opened to find all the assorted patches, chalk and adhesive you would expect, despite the bargain price and quite unexpectedly, the crowning glory – two professional looking, fit for purpose steel tyre levers.
Come the time to use the kit he’d zipped off the tyre with great ease, made his repairs, checked everything was airtight, reinserted the tube and used the levers to deftly flip the last part of the tyre back onto the rim, being hugely careful not to pinch the inner tube in the process.
He then set to with is molto piccolo, Blackburn Airstick to re-inflate the tyre, but found even his most strenuous efforts were having no effect.
Somewhat bemused he removed the tyre to find the ends of the levers had splintered like a mini-fragmentation grenades and the resulting shards of shrapnel rattling around in the rim had shredded his tube. He then described the Zen-like calm that descended as his experiences simply confirmed his expectations that nothing good could ever come of buying a puncture repair kit from Poundland.
OGL stopped by the table to canvas opinion on the best date to hold the club time-trial, eliciting much discussion about the fine art of time-trialling with Taffy Steve convinced anything that involved spending a small fortune on outlandish, very specialised and odd-looking kit, all for the pleasure of hurting yourself for an extended period of time was anathema to him. Though not all agreed with his assessment, we did all concur that, even by the standards of odd common to all club cyclists in general, time triallists were a special breed apart.
The Oddly and Unashamedly Political Waffle:
From the bedroom window, looking out the day looked beautifully bright, with welcoming blue skies studded with the odd white cloud racing high overhead. Nice enough in fact to have me scrambling around for the sun cream to add to my last minute preparations.
By the time I got out of the house the cloud layer had built up, the wind was surprisingly chill and I was ruing the decision not to wear arm-warmers. There were still prolonged patches of sunlight however and it was pleasant riding through these. A bit less cloud and it would have been a perfect day.
I swooped down the hill, along the valley and across the river, before looping back and starting to climb up the other side. As I made my way up the first major climb of the day I watched a couple on mountain bikes descending toward me on the footpath.
They reached a pedestrian crossing and despite the road being very, very long, very, very straight and completely devoid of any traffic in any direction, they pressed the button to change the lights. I dutifully stopped mid-climb and unclipped at the red light and leant on the bars to watch them cross in front of me, ride up onto the pavement on the other side and then continue their descent on the opposite footpath.
All this was completed with no apology for unnecessarily forcing me to stop and start again on a hill, or even the slightest acknowledgement of my presence. I managed the awkward hill start with as much grace as possible, checking again that the road was clear of other users. It was – the only other moving things out there were on the bleeding pavement.
There, I thought goes the perfect metaphor for the Brexit voting majority; completely lacking foresight, ignorant of everything going on around them, selfishly self-centered, intent only on looking after their own and deeply and irrationally afraid of their environment. I somehow resisted the urge to shout after them to, “Get the feck ON the road!” Childish perhaps, but it might have made me feel better.
The biggest irony of this whole Brexit thing though is now we’re being told we have the chance to make Britain great again, with seemingly no understanding that the “great” in Great Britain actually refers to these islands in their entirety, you know England, Scotland and Wales, together, combined, in partnership. It’s great as in greater Britain, not great as in brilliant Britain and rather than making Britain great again, I think we’re in real danger of diminishing it.
I often think it would be a whole lot better if Britain was simply called Britain and there was no mention of the Great. Get rid of it, expunge it from history and all records, perhaps then there’d be less people with this over-inflated, pompous and superior belief that we’re somehow better than everyone else, that everyone’s clamouring to come and live here, that trading with us is a privilege, or that we’re a hugely powerful and influential player on the world stage. Get over yourself, Britain.
Despite unnecessary hold ups, I made the meeting point in good time and watched as our numbers grew and the ranks of skinny people on plastic bikes spread slowly across the pavement. Bolstered by returning students and tempted out by the seemingly good weather, 31 lads and lasses finally pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
I started off the day alongside Szell, naturally bemoaning the Brexit and wondering if Leave voters actually exist – I still haven’t met one. He told me it was because I was too safe and cosseted in some middle-class cocoon and I couldn’t honestly disagree. He then had a good rant about work-related and pointless customer satisfaction surveys. I told him I was a market researcher and my professional body wouldn’t allow me to participate in surveys. Not strictly true, but it did get a rise out of him.
As we dropped down Berwick Hill most talk was arrested by the appearance of a dark funnel cloud, a tight spiral of wind-whipped cloud, needing only to touch the ground to become an inchoate tornado.
“Toto,” Szell quipped dryly, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I then couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer and was forced to ask Szell why he had a Garmin attached to his stem and what looked like two watches strapped to the handlebars on either side. Apparently one watch was for telling the time, the other for his heart rate monitor and the Garmin is just to record the ride. Hmm, so all the functions the Garmin can handily do all on its own. Can you say “belt and braces?”
I then had a chat with Aveline who told me she’d seen the perfect bike for me on the Planet X website in the requisite red, black and yellow livery favoured by odd co-ordination completionists and even adorned with quite subtle (well, for Planet X anyway) Lion of Flanders badges too.
We discovered a mutual appreciation of Planet X, although we both bemoaned the name that I’d previously denounced as a creaky, sci-fi B-movie title (see Planet X vs. Rapha – The Throwdown) while she suggested it reminded her of a really dodgy nightclub!
Somewhere, in the wilds of Northumberland we passed a formidably hirsute, shambling and possibly homeless figure, miles away from civilisation and really in the middle of nowhere. He looked burdened down with half his possessions in a wheel-barrow and the other half spilling out of what appeared to be a makeshift rucksack made from the internal steel liner of a municipal bin with bungee cord straps.
This improvised backpack was adorned with a large picture of a smiling Margaret Thatcher with the accusatory legend, “Thatchers Legacy” scrawled across the top. In his own blood. Okay, I made that last bit up, it but it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had used blood instead of ink.
I had no idea where this odd feller had come from, or where he was possibly going to with nothing for miles around and it was an incongruous sight finding him in the middle of nowhere, being passed by a stream of grinning idiots on expensive plastic bikes. We wondered if he was on a crusade, or maybe a march to London to confront the dragon in her own den?
We also wondered if he knew that the wicked witch was actually dead and if we’d told him would he have danced a jig of joy, or perhaps been devastated by the sudden loss of his entire raison d’etre.
Looking back, I can’t help thinking of him as being like one of those Japanese snipers who emerges, wild-eyed and bewildered from some jungle hell to finally surrender, only to find the war has been over for quarter of a century. And we lost.
A pee stop was called which surprisingly found the Prof uncertain of his need to wee and having to force himself to go just to maintain his reputation as having the smallest, weakest bladder in the club. His status is under direct threat from young-gun, the Plank who, if the past few weeks are any indication, has greater urinary needs than a coach load of Saga tourists.
The Plank has also developed a strange ritual of riding off the front to find a quiet peeing place, where he’s invariably still “producing” as the rest of us sail past, treating us all to unrestricted viewing of his micturition management. I’ve never understood why he does this instead of dropping quietly off the back and then simply chasing back on – he’s fit and fast enough for this not to be an issue.
With proper peeing provisions promptly performed there was no need to stop for the group split and this was achieved on the fly. The faster, harder, longer group split again on the climb up to Dyke Neuk and then once again a little later as the even faster, harder, longer group pressed on while others of us took a sharp left.
I was now in a small group with Taffy Steve, Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and relative newcomer Mellstock, rolling along quite merrily until the rain started and then slowly increased in intensity until it was a heavy and persistent downpour. We were soon soaked through, not only with what was falling directly from the sky, but the sheets of water that were washing across the road and being sprayed up in huge arcs by our hissing wheels.
We climbed Middleton Bank against the tide and pretty much en bloc and set sail for the café.
At one point Crazy Legs and G-Dawg not so subtly manoeuvred me to the front and I heard them giggling and a whispering like errant schoolboys at the back of a classroom:
“Every 20 seconds?”
I was then rewarded on returning home to find my camera had captured them both grinning like idiots and giving me the finger, or flipping the bird if you prefer. No single picture has elicited more “likes” on the clubs Faecesbook page, I’m just surprised it took them so long. What next, a bit of impromptu mooning? Although I guess that’s a bit much to ask while wearing bibshorts and riding a bike toward the camera, so I think we’re safe.
I tried to increase the pace as the rain increases in intensity, lining us out as we charged toward the twin lures of coffee and cake, with Crazy Legs camped on my rear wheel, near blinded by the spray and fixated solely on the only thing he could make out, the yellow tyre flashing round in front of him, trusting me to guide him along without hitting a pothole or grate.
Taffy Steve made a break and I let the gap grow until we hit the rollers then swept up and around him, rattling down the final descent and starting the last uphill drag to the café. Here G-Dawg jumped away with Crazy Legs in pursuit to contest the sprint, while I just tried to maintain my speed.
A brief respite in the café and we were soon out in the rain again and heading back. Here a few of us dropped off the main group to ride with the FNG who was starting to struggle a little, but she kept plugging away and said she’d enjoyed the ride, despite the weather. They were soon turning off and I entered the Mad Mile on my own and began to pick my way homeward.
It was during this ride that I realised the great, hidden and unpublicised consequence of the Brexit – cars no longer have to give way to cyclists at roundabouts, even if the cyclist is already on the roundabout and the car is only just approaching.
I came down a hill toward one roundabout and stopped to allow three or four cars to pass. I saw the way was clear and rode out to take the right hand exit, passing in front of an approaching car that had seen me and stopped. It was at this point that another car came bolting up on its inside, undertaking at high speed to try and race across without having to slow. I think they saw me at the last second and had to brake hard, while I flinched away reflexively.
I expect drivers to do the occasional stupid or thoughtless thing and can just about live with that. I don’t however expect a prolonged fusillade on the horn and extended mouthing off when I’m not the one in the wrong and I’ve clearly done nothing to elicit it.
I’m guessing it’s just coincidence, but this is the second similar incident I had last week – it’s as if motorists have suddenly forgotten both the rules of the road and common courtesy and decency. I wouldn’t care, but I wasn’t even wearing a Belgian or German kit, or anything that looked even vaguely European.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the way to the shower and couldn’t help but admire the razor sharp tan-lines between my socks and shorts. I didn’t realise I’d caught enough of the sun for it to have such effect.
Of course I hadn’t and the liberal use of soap and hot water soon washed away the fine patina of grime and road grit to restore my legs to their usual pallid appearance. Hopefully next week I’ll get a proper chance to top up the tan, but I’m not counting on it.
YTD Totals: 3,645 km / 2,265 miles with 35,834 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 114 km / 71 miles with 1,056 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 9 minutes
Average Speed: 26.4 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Bright and passably warm
Main topic of conversation at the start:
I’d donated a pair of arm warmers to Taffy Steve because they were far too big for my puny, spindly arms and just a tiny bit too tight to even wear on my legs. He modelled them for his ride in and wondered what kind of idiot needed a big L and R on each cuff so they would know which arm to put them on.
I held out both my arms so he could see the corresponding L and R on the cuffs of my sleeves and explained this was even worse because these weren’t individual arm warmers, but a long sleeved base layer, with a logo on the front breast, a label inside the back and a scooped neck at the front so you know exactly which way to put it on. Or maybe not.
This left us wondering if cyclists could be unintentionally set up as the sporting equivalent of the dumb blonde. It reminded Taffy Steve of awful Irish “comedian” Jimmy Cricket who featured in The Krankies Klub with The Krankies and Bobby Davro. Now there’s a Iine-up that could still make me break me out in a cold sweat.
As well as lame catchphrases, Jimmy Cricket was of course famous for wearing wellies with a big L and R incised on the front, but wait, there’s more, as he hilariously wore these on the wrong feet. I know, side-splittingly funny.
This in turn reminded me of a very old and fetid joke about C&A knickers, but let’s not go there and then lead to completely unfounded speculation that posited OGL as the Bernard Manning of the local cycling club scene.
With the weather being a bit of a lottery as to how much rain we might get and exactly when, Crazy Legs revealed he’d packed his non-waterproof waterproof. Taffy Steve was imminently disdainful of any waterproof jacket and explained he must be putting them on inside out as the outside would remain dry, while the inside quickly became sodden.
An interesting article about changing cycling club culture that the Hammer had posted on our Faecesbook page caused a little, but in my mind not enough debate. I may yet have to return to this topic, much like a dog to its own vomit.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Crazy Legs revealed someone had invented a pump integrated into a seat tube, but of course you had to dismantle half of your bike to access it. It apparently weighs in at a measly 718g and is yours for a mere $50 plus P&P.
We decided the design could be improved if it worked in situ, the piston action perhaps providing a degree of suspension to smooth out a few bumps in the road. Even better if it was always connected and the bumps inflated your tyres as you rolled along. The problem then of course would be that on the horribly rutted and potted roads around here you would very quickly inflate your tyres beyond rock hard and unrideable, right up to spectacular blow out levels.
Thoughts turned to the Giro and I suggested (wrongly as it turns out) that no one with a team in our club fantasy Giro league had selected Valverde. Crazy Legs suggested this was because no one liked the wheel-sucking, drug-cheating, play-it-safe, selfish and unrepentant-doper, not even his own Movistar team mates.
He cited an early stage in the Giro when Visconti wouldn’t leave a breakaway in order to help his supposed leader, feigning radio problems before blatantly arguing with his DS and adamantly refusing to drop back to help.
There was further speculation that Valverde was so unpopular he didn’t have any friends on Faecesbook, no connections on Linked-In and no followers on Strava.
Crazy Legs complained his team of fantasy picks had been systematically decimated, his bad luck particularly epitomised by J.C. Peraud, simultaneously riding both his first and very last Giro, given joint team-leadership responsibilities and not even surviving long enough to ride a single metre on Italian roads.
This in turn brought up discussions about the proposed Giro 2018 start in Japan and how long a rest would be needed to recover from a 14-hour transfer. As a solution we came up with the idea of twinning – one rider completing the first few overseas stages before handing over to another rider to finish things off.
We then decided it would be more fun if the riders were “twinned” by lottery and it would be interesting to see who they were paired with and their reactions when the draw was made, for example when an overall contender had to rely on say Marcel Kittel to climb the 3,778 metres up Mount Fuji.
I suggested the riders could actually pick their twins, like choosing sides for a playground kick around and how informative it would be to see who was last man selected. Crazy Legs though scolded me for being silly, as it was obvious who would be the last man picked: the ever unpopular Alejandro Valverde obviously.
He then caught Son of G-Dawg fiddling with his phone and accused him of being caught quickly and surreptitiously unfriending Valverde on Faecesbook. We waited for the phone to ring and a Spanish accented voice start to plead with Son of G-Dawg not to follow through with the unfriending – but sadly it never happened. Perhaps Balaverde (the Green Bullet) had other things on his mind at the time?
Despite having everything set out and sorted the night before, I found myself strangely short of time and dashing around early Saturday morning trying to get ready and out the door to ensure a timely arrival at the meeting point. It wasn’t to be and leaving over 10 minutes behind my usual schedule, I considered shortening my route, but thought if I just pushed a little faster than normal I could still make it before we set off for our regular and prompt 9.00 o’clock start (i.e. at 9.20 on the nose).
I dropped quickly down the hill and turned straight into a headwind that had me even more concerned and gave a little extra impetus and no small measure of unwelcome resistance to my charge. My usual early morning ramble now had a measure of urgency that saw me crouched low over the bike and trying to keep a high cadence.
With one eye on the time display of my Garmin, I passed the 8.42-mile mark (which I knew I’d hit at exactly 8:42 a couple of weeks back when I was on schedule) and checked to find it was only 8:35. I’d somehow made up the missing 10 plus minutes, gained another 5 and was now in danger of being much too early. I dialled the intensity back to a more, steady pace I could actually hold, but not before I’d set 4 Strava PR’s with my efforts.
For the day I’d chosen the most extreme version of kit matching imaginable to go with my black, red and yellow bike with the Lion of Flanders bar end plugs, yellow and black Vitorria Corsa tyres and carefully selected black red and yellow, BMC/PowerBar water bottle. This consisted of a Planet X Flanders jersey and shorts in yellow, black and red emblazoned with the Lion of Flanders, my new, very, very shiny, very, very red and very, very plasticky Chinese shoes and yellow socks also emblazoned with a black Lion of Flanders.
The whole was topped off with a new Carnac aero helmet in black, yellow and red which, just to change things up a little, was emblazoned with the Lion of Flanders across the crown. According to one of my esteemed work colleagues this makes me look like an angry wasp, although I prefer to think the look is more akin to a benevolent, bumbling bee.
Lots of people … I was going to say complimented me, but I think just commented on my kit choice is the more accurate description. They did however all suggest I was at the very least “well co-ordinated.” There you go, I’m not the best rider in the club, nor the fastest, nor even the most stylish, but just for this one day I was the most co-ordinatedand at my age you’ve got to take your victories where you can find them.
Crazy Legs suggested the whole look was ruined because my sunglasses didn’t match and I had to sheepishly admit I had some in a fetching shade of black, red and yellow on order, they just hadn’t arrived yet. Hmm, there’s a book called obsessive compulsive cycling disorder, isn’t there? I wonder if it’s catching…
The anointed time arrived and 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out under intermittingly bright and sunny skies and occasionally dark, overcast patchwork cloud. All the weather forecasts had predicted that we were likely to see rain at some point during the day, the only question was exactly when and with what intensity and duration.
I completed the first part of the ride alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, fresh from conquering the Wooler Wheel and growing fast. Too fast. I’ve tried to persuade the Red Max to stop feeding him, but apparently he has well-honed foraging instincts and is surprisingly feral.
At one point we were split with cars in between the gaps and stopped at a junction to regroup. It was here that we learned we’d lost Szell, who had turned for home after only a few miles with no indication of why he’d abandoned. Perhaps he was just disappointed our intended route didn’t involve an ascent of Middleton Bank.
Pretty much from the re-start I found myself on the front with Caracol where the wind became particularly noticeable and occasionally head-on and energy sapping. Nonetheless we pushed things along at a steady pace until we reached one of our traditional places to stop and split the group.
The Red Max tried to persuade the Monkey Butler Boy that the long route was actually the shortest way to the café. Armed with a keen sense of mistrust, perhaps common in many father-son relationships, but I suspect especially well-honed between this pair, the Monkey Butler Boy wasn’t buying it. Perhaps remembering the “shorter, easier route” that took in the Ryals a few week past, he needed a great deal of persuading to accompany the longer, harder, faster group and a bit of bribery as well, managing to offload his rain cape from his own back pocket onto his dad.
At one point we passed by what I can best describe as a dead duck in the middle of the road, (it was a duck and it was indeed dead) though it looked surprisingly intact. Disappointingly there was no one within our ranks to claim the carcase.
The pace increased as we approached the Quarry Climb and when Andeven spun away up the outside with Caracol in pursuit, I accelerated to follow, cresting the climb to find Crazy Legs in close attendance on my rear wheel, apparently just in case I tried a long, long break for home!
I had time for a brief chat with Aveline, who’d had her rear wheel fixed and was pleased to find it no longer sounded like a bag of loose spanners, or made her feel seasick with the constant wobbling and then the pace started to build for the run to the café.
A sudden burst off the front saw a gap opening and with a massive effort, out of the saddle with the bike skipping and bouncing, I managed to bridge as last man across as we fractured into two groups. I hung on as riders rotated off the front, an improvised paceline that whipped the speed up even higher.
Crazy Legs rolled back from his stint at the spearhead and slotted in front of me, while Son of G-Dawg charged off the front. Moscas tried surging up the inside, but couldn’t close the gap and we slowly crept up and then parallel with him.
Crazy Legs now manoeuvred so he was riding practically down the white line to try and find the least damaged piece of road surface. It helped, but not by much, as wheels continued to bounce and everything shook viciously.
I moved to overtake him, but was straying into the opposite lane and a car, still quarter of a mile away took exception and started flashing his lights furiously. Being sensible for once and realising my overtaking speed was likely to be akin to glacial creep, I eased, slipped back and tucked in again.
The car swept past and I tried once more, hitting the front of the pack just behind the front runners in time to sit up and ease back for the Snake Bends. As usual, great fun mixed with a little danger and some pure exhilaration.
From the café Taffy Steve again found himself leading the charge home and opted to pull over and let someone else batter ahead into the wind. I was still feeling good so joined Sneaky Pete on the front, trying to contain his over-exuberance and try and limit the number of “Steady!” cries we were generating from behind.
At one point he suggested, “Steady’s all you’ll ever get from me” I would have laughed, but I was too out of breath trying to keep pace with his incessant half-wheeling. Retired folk these days eh? You just can’t control them.
I actually thought we did a damn fine job pulling everyone home to the point when half turned off and the rest were able to slingshot around us and charge down the Mad Mile.
A good ride and the rain never did manage to catch us, but it’ll have to keep me going for a week or two as I head off on holiday. How inconvenient. No doubt I’ll miss more vintage runs full of of fun and frivolity and, who knows maybe even a welcome return for Captain America. Enjoy the peace.
I’ll be back…
YTD Totals: 2,932 km / 1,821 miles with 28,170 metres of climbing