Love at First Bike

Love at First Bike

A guest blog by Tony Clay

Some people remember and like to reminisce about their first love, the smallest details recalled with pinpoint accuracy, burned and burnished in vivid, Kodachrome memory. Some people constantly hearken back to their school days, sometimes seen as the zenith of their life, the time when they were at their happiest.  For others, their powerful, memorable moments came attending the birth of their children (personally, although indelibly burned on my cerebral cortex, it was an experience I’d rather forget – I’ve never felt more useless and powerless, but that’s just me).

For others though … well, apparently, they can recall their first proper bike in glorious, intimate and scarily forensic detail.

Hmm, I remember my first proper bike. It was blue … or was it red? I know it had two wheels and a saddle and … handlebars? It did, didn’t it?

Luckily then, you don’t have to rely on my ever-fallible memory to fill a blerg post reminiscing about the dim and distant detail and provenance of my first bike, we’ve brought in an outside obsessive to do all that for us.

You may recall leaving this particular obsessive on the road to Hexham, astride a borrowed bike, but startled by the revelation of briefly riding a real racing bike.  This was an experience that lit a fire that burns to this day.

We pick up the story shortly after this transformative event.

SLJ 28.05.2020


So, I had survived my first real bike ride, our 50-mile trip to Hexham in the summer of 1974.

Aye, I was hooked. I hung onto Dick Taylor’s Raleigh Clunker™ for as long as possible, but I only managed to eke out about 3 weeks before he started getting impatient. And he was a very Big Lad!

A search for my own bike began.

The first and most obvious step was to go to our (very) Local “Bike” Shop, Tommy Braunds. Well, I say bike shop, but it just happened to sell bikes alongside toys, model kits, dolls, prams and other assorted odds and ends. We used to pass it most days on the way home from school.

There was a lovely purple and chrome 5-speed Carlton Corsa in the window, £55. But my Dad wasn’t prepared to shell out that much for something that he thought might just turn out to be a short-lived fad. [SLJ: by the magic power invested in me via Google, I can tell you that £55 then is equivalent to £576.99 today. Well, sort of, approximately.]  

Continuing my search, I found a bike that I fancied in our ‘Littlewoods Catalogue’, I can’t remember the make, but it was 10-speed, bright green and was £2 a week for 39 weeks. As my pocket money was only £2.50 a week, and most of that already earmarked for Airfix model kits and the latest singles and LP’s, it was out of my reach.

Continue searching…

Word came that a lad at our school, Dave Curry, had ‘some’ bikes that he might sell for a couple of quid. He lived not far from me, so I wandered down to his one evening and found him in his backyard, completely surrounded by frames, wheels and components. It transpired that he was probably one of the first ‘re-cyclers’ as most of his stuff had been gathered from derelict houses (we lived on the edge of a slum clearance area), skips and, in the case of my eventual frame, the local (heavily polluted) river Team.

I knew it had come out of the river because of the stinky black mud still lurking inside the bottom bracket, seat tube and fork steerer. Still, I had a frame, and it only cost me £1.50. I’m not sure of the make, possibly a Raleigh, Sun or BSA, but it was sound and had half chrome front forks. Class!

Dave dug out some additional parts from his “bike store” (a.k.a. the coal shed) and I was set. Over the next couple of weeks, I cleaned up the frame, gave it a coat of ‘rattle-can’ paint, and polished up the rusty bits. They were all chromed steel, so just needed a few hours with the wire wool and Autosol. Some parts I had to buy new including a rear mech, a Huret Svelto at a whole £2.50, the cheapest you could get, but very simple and reliable.

When complete, my bike had mismatched front and rear brakes, a saggy leather saddle and an alloy stem with steel handlebars. I found out later that this combination of steel and alloy was actually quite dangerous as the alloy stem doesn’t hold the steel bars securely and they can slip, often prompting an unscheduled trip to the dentist. Fortunately, this never happened to me.

Still, it was my bike and rode it as often I could.

Gradually, bit by bit (quite literally) I managed to improve it by finding good second -hand kit, or occasionally a new part, after I’d saved up a bit and I started swapping the old stuff out.

Fiddling about with my bike so much, often breaking it down to ball-bearing level and rebuilding it, had made me quite handy at fixing them and I could make a fair job of truing a wheel. I ended up working on most of my mate’s bikes too.

I’m not quite sure of how it came about but, one day I got a phone call from my Aunty who had gone to school with Mrs. Braund, Tommy’s wife. Tommy, the eponymous owner of my LBS, had died in his shop of a heart attack. His wife had heard I was handy with bikes and she needed a Saturday mechanic, £4 a day and 10% discount on all bike stuff, (although sadly not Airfix Models!) [SLJ: Once again, Google suggests about £41.96 in today’s money].

I had a wage! I could now start thinking about getting some real kit and started saving.

The first significant upgrade was when I bought a pair of ‘sprint wheels’, Mavic rims and Campagnolo Nuovo Tipo hubs, £35 [SLJ: that’s £367.18 today, you bloody spendthrift!]

Even though the ‘tubs’, Hutchinson Aguiras at £2.50 each, were the worst I ever, ever had, like tractor tyres and a nightmare to repair, riding on the light wheels, even with the dodgy tubs, was great.

A really key moment was when I spotted a real bargain in a local second-hand shop. I’m sure he didn’t know what he had, when I bagged a fully chromed Reynolds 531 Condor with a Campagnolo Nuovo Record groupset, Universal Brakes, Cinelli bars and stem with sprints and tubs, all for the princely sum of just £30. To put that into perspective, a brand-new Raleigh Chopper back then was about £65 [SLJ: £681.90! No wonder I could never afford one].

The seat tube on the Condor was 22 ½ inches and way too big for me, but I had a ‘pukka gen’ racing bike and did a fair amount of miles on it.

Denton’s Cycles (227/9 Westgate Road, Newcastle) [SLJ: Once, but sadly no more] was always the place to go for quality kit and we’d spend hours drooling over the unaffordable bikes and all the shiny components on display.

It was there that in February 1976 my Dad bought me a beautiful sky-blue Denton frame for my 16th Birthday, and it was the correct size too – 21 inches. Full Reynolds 531, double butted tubing with Campagnolo forged ends and fitted with a Stronglight headset for £65… SIXTY FIVE QUID just for the frame?! My Dad nearly had a bloody seizure! [SLJ: well, I’m not surprised, he could have bought a new Raleigh Chopper for that!]

1975 Denton

So, I stripped all the kit off the Condor, thoroughly cleaned, polished and lubed it all and transplanted it onto the Denton. It made a really nice bike. A very dear friend of mine, sadly no longer with us, had started racing in the early 50’s when kit was in extremely short supply after the war. He once told me, ‘Nivvor hoy owt away!’ and, over the years I’ve pretty much stuck to that maxim.

Never throwing anything away was brilliant in one way, as I’m now using some of that exact same kit from the Condor/Denton to renovate a 1976 Team Raleigh, meaning I don’t have to pay extortionate ‘Eroica’ inflated eBay prices for second-hand 70’s kit.

But on the flip side, my flat is full of box after box of components and bits and pieces that, realistically, may never get used [SLJ: Ahem … may never get used???] But there is another plus side. Last year a guy posted on a vintage bike Facebook page that he was desperate for a lock nut for a 1970’s Campagnolo Record rear hub to complete a renovation. Of course, I had one. I let him have it for the cost of postage. Where did I have to send it? Victoria, Australia!

I had no idea about structured training and just enjoyed being out on ‘me bike’. Alone or in a small group, sometimes with SLJ, I’d ride to the coast or down to the lovely city of Durham. At Durham we would sit on the banks of the River Wear, not the River Tyne, as “whistling genius” Roger Whittaker would have you believe in ‘Durham Town (The Leavin’)’.

We’d also go up into the Silver Hills that rose up from the Team Valley in Gateshead and in our young, teen imaginations we were in the Alps and Pyrenees, battling it out ‘mano a mano’ with Merckx and Gimondi up the Iseran and Tourmalet. The rides were usually a good couple of hours long and I gradually got fitter and more skilled at bike handling.

Then one weekend, near what is now ‘Beamish Open Air Museum’, we happened upon an actual bike race. It whizzed past us all bronzed limbs, rainbow coloured peloton and sparkling spokes and looked so exciting.

Now, I could really fancy having a go at that …  


STOP PRESS!

This afternoon I’ve just sorted out a guy with a 1980’s Campagnolo Super Record seat pin clamp bolt, and he’s in Pennsylvania!

The Plague Diaries Week#3 (Monday Supplement)

A Guest Post by Tony Clay

Another guest blogger has kindly stepped up to the mark in our time of need! This contribution is from my old (old, old, old!) mate, Tony Clay, who describes himself as a long-distance member of our cycling club, before explaining that by this he means he lives a long way from Newcastle and not that he rides long distances anymore!

Currently residing in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, Tony still has dual nationality and a Geordie passport and recalls his formative years “happily riding around Northumberland and Durham with some great people.”

This is a faithful telling of how he (and then, by association, yours truly) came to be cyclists, rather than … I don’t know … golfers? … lard-arsed sofa surfers? … sane and mellow normal people without a Lycra fetish? Maybe all, or none of these.


A Revelation on the Road to Damascus Hexham by Tony Clay

For the record, my other clubs – Tyne Road Club (at the same time as Joe Waugh(1)), Whitley Bay Road Club (at the same time as Mick Bradshaw(2)) Tyne Velo, Sheffield Phoenix, Sharrow CC, Meersbrook CC, Rutland CC (at the same time as Malcolm Elliott(3)), Thurcroft CC and my current local Club – Rotherham Wheelers (100 years old this Summer).

I’ve a couple of years on SLJ and have known him since I was 14. One of my fond memories is when he and I went on a YHA cycling tour around Devon and Cornwall in 1978. We had some laughs. I think it was £2 per night in the Youth Hostels back then and I booked and paid in advance by Postal Order, do they even exist today? (Mr. Google suggests that indeed, they still do, but I’ve never heard any one use, or even talk about them for decades!)

But anyway, let’s go back to my childhood… I had to visit a Psychotherapist some years ago and, though it sounds cliched, that was actually about the first thing he said to me, ‘Tell me about your childhood.’

Well, there was a small gang of us 14/15 year olds at school, a mixture of lads and lasses who ‘knocked about’ together, all very innocent. We all went to the after-school clubs, the youth club, the ‘movies’, walking, camping and canoeing together. Simpler times.

The summer holidays in 1974 saw some lovely weather.  We all got the train to South Shields now and again for a day at the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream.

I can’t remember who suggested it but someone said, ‘let’s go for a bike ride’.

YEAH! Brilliant!

But I didn’t have a bike…

But, asking around I managed to borrow Dick Taylor’s bike. The bike was a Sturmey Archer, 3-speed ‘all steel’ Raleigh. I’m not sure what happened to the bike, but Dick Taylor went on to a place in the GB Olympic Kayak Team and, even at 16, he was quite an impressive physical specimen, tall, blonde and ‘fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog’. Perhaps he got that way riding his beast of a bike?

So, beastly bike sorted, where would we go? 

The obvious choice was South Shields, only a 20-mile round trip and we could go on the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream.  Perfect!

But no.

We decided to go to Hexham.

Initially not a bad idea as we knew Hexham quite well as we had been there many times at ‘Dukeshouse Wood’ School Camp, very happy times.

What we didn’t factor in was the distance… we didn’t even think about what is essentially a 50-mile round trip.

50 miles! I’d never ridden further than the local shops on my tricycle as a bairn!

So the ‘Liste de Engagements’ was:-

‘Rowesy’ riding his brother’s Holdsworth.

‘Fat Rowesy’, – no relation and earned the epithet “fat” principally to differentiate the two Rowesy’s. Fat Rowesy was on his brother’s Carlton Kermesse (a lovely bike which I later bought off him.)

‘Fat John’ on a BSA Tour of Britain.

‘Erra’ on a flat handlebar Raleigh Roadster.

‘Gutha’ on his brother’s Carlton, horribly hand painted with Hammerite.

‘Doddsy’ on his very own (he was posh) Carlton Ten. A really sound touring bike, in mint condition. They sell for around £250 to the ‘Eroica’ enthusiasts today.

‘Maundy’ on his PUCH (PUKE!) International, really cheap and horrible, horrible, horrible; (I could never determine if it was meant to be pronounced puke, or if this was some subtle kind of Austrian humour and should perhaps be pronounced poosh. You know, like a poosh bike? Ah, forget it.)

And…

‘Bryan’ so utterly nondescript he didn’t even earn a nickname… and I can’t remember his bike either!

(It’s brilliant to realise that teenage kids are every bit as accomplished at coming up with pithy, creative nicknames as some of our, err, “mature” professional sportsmen. I’m looking at you Wrighty, Gazza, Giggsy, Waughy, Cookie, Floody et al. Simple rules – if the surname is too long, truncate it a bit, then all you have to do is stick an “ee” or “ah” on the end. Why didn’t I think of that, could have save myself a huge amount of time and soul-searching!)

Having no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, nobody had any food or drink and a couple of us didn’t even take any money, so we all had to chip in to get them their ‘burgers, coke and ice cream’ when we got there.

The journey and return is perhaps a story for another day, but the key moment in that ride was when I swopped bikes with Fat Rowesy for a few miles as we passed through Corbridge.

Going from a 3-speed steel ‘clunker’ to a real racing bike was amazing. A real revelation. His Carlton Kermesse had 10 gears, tubular tyres and lots of alloy kit. It zinged. It seemed to smoothly glide along and was utterly effortless to ride.

That is the precise moment, 46 years ago, when I got hooked on cycling.

To be continued?


(1) Joseph Alexander Waugh.
Twice National Hill Climb Champion
King of the Mountains,1975 Milk Race
2nd, at 5 Seconds, 1976 Milk Race, riding in support of the winner Bill Nickson
2nd to Robert Millar (Pippa York) National Road Race Championships 1979
Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games, with Malcolm Elliott

(SLJ: Also occasionally known as Joey Wah-oogah to eagle-eyed readers of this blerg.)


(2) Mick Bradshaw.

Gold, Silver and Bronze Medallist in National Time Trial Championships at 25, 50 and 100 miles.

And, after a heart transplant he came back to win medals in the World Transplant Games, coincidentally held in Newcastle, one tough cookie.

(3) Malcolm Elliott.
What needs to be said?
National Hill Climb Champion, National Road Race, National Criterium Champion, Milk Race Winner (and holds the record for the number of stage wins), Tour de France rider (read ‘Wide Eyed And Legless’), Vuelta a Espana Points Classification Winner, Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games AND the Road Race… and was still racing, very successfully, as a pro aged 49! And a lovely friendly guy!

Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

Club Run, Saturday 15th July, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  119 km / 74 miles with 516* metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 27 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.8 km/h

Group size:                                         18 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    19°C

Weather in a word or two:          Miserably damp


 

15th july
Ride Profile


* It was raining throughout the day and my Garmin really, really doesn’t like the rain. I don’t for one moment believe we only had 516 metres of climbing, but that’s what I’m going with.

The Ride:

Let’s talk about the weather, eh? Its mid-July, supposedly British Summer Time and in the Tour de France, the riders are struggling through a heatwave. Now my expectations have naturally been tempered by years of disappointment, but nonetheless, Saturday was like the nadir for summer rides – as bleak, dreary and wet as a dank, November day. Except … it was warm. As in shorts warm. As in too warm to wear a rain jacket … and too wet not to.

I’m becoming as confused as my kit choices.

The start of the day wasn’t too bad, with a very light, quite refreshing rain, drifting down on a pleasantly cooling breeze and the roads not yet wet enough to slow me into the corners. I chased cars down the Heinous Hill, just to prove I could go faster than them – and they really shouldn’t be pulling out in front of cyclists like that.

I turned along the valley floor and directly into a headwind, but I was feeling decent, it wasn’t much of an issue and I was pressing on at a fair clip. After a few miles I climbed up to the traffic lights and then swung down toward the river, spotting a familiar cyclist churning up the ramp toward me. It was the Prof, riding with beZ and Jimmy Cornfeed on their way to a time-trial somewhere in the dangerous, wildlands south of the river.

I only had time for a quick salute as I swept past in the opposite direction, although I did catch the Prof muttering something about the Heinous Hill as I darted by. (Just to be clear, for the record the slope he was tackling is but a speed bump, a mere pimple, a trifling minor irritation of little consequence, compared to the true heinousness of the Heinous Hill.)

By the time I reached the meeting point, the rain was becoming constant and heavy and I was glad to duck into the shelter of the multi-storey car park while our numbers slowly assembled.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

After a long, long absence, the Dabman reappeared for his first ride out with us since snapping his collar bone like a dry stick.

“Have you actually got written permission from your lass?” a surprised Red Max demanded to know.

“Oh, she’s away for a few days…” Dabman ruefully admitted.

It was obvious that he was out on a stealth-ride and would need to get back (preferably in one, whole piece) and restore everything to pre-ride condition, prior to Mrs. Dabman’s return. He was warned to stay away from my camera, so there’d be no photographic evidence of his ride and if anyone asks, his very appearance in this blerg is just another of my wild imaginings, with no actual foundation in the truth – or, if you like, the same as pretty much everything else I write.

Speaking of expunging rides from the data banks, Crazy Legs returned having survived the club time-trial last weekend, but couldn’t really say how it had gone as he’d blanked much of the experience. He did recall however that his, somewhat cobbled together, time-trial bike had caused a few problems – he hadn’t bothered to fit a front derailleur, reasoning he’d only need the big ring and it would just add to the weight and cost.

Things were working fine until he hit a bump in the road and the chain skipped down onto the inner ring. Faced with the choice of pressing on, or wasting time by stopping to manually lift the chain back up again, he chose the former option.

Waiting at the finish, G-Dawg reported he never knew legs could actually spin that fast and that they had been “a smerking blur” as Crazy Legs crossed the finish line with one last, all-out effort.

OGL reported that he’d been invited to take part in an episode of Come Dine with Me, but had sadly declined. I must admit my imagination completely fails when I try to imagine what that would have been like, perhaps somewhere between toe-curling embarrassment and the fascinating horror of a slow-motion car crash. He offered the opportunity around, but apparently we all still retain at least some iota of self-esteem and there were no takers.

The Monkey Butler Boy was out with us, having been abandoned by his wrecking crew of young guns (as they are all, apparently scared of getting wet). He was fascinated by the Colossus’s Time iClic pedals, but dissuaded from further investigation when the Colossus pointed out the blunt, dagger like protrusion that encased the spindle and the corresponding, identically matched bruises and indentations they’d made in his shins.

The Garrulous Kid announced he was thinking of taking Geography as one of his A-level options next year, as apparently he likes his teacher, Mrs. Naff.

Crazy Legs was about to embark on an extended dialogue about how you can tell the difference between good teachers and naff teachers, when I interrupted.

“Hold, on. Mrs. Naff. How do you spell that?”

“You know, Naff,” the Garrulous Kid replied, “N-A-T-H.”

In spite of the rain, Szell put in a rare appearance. The Garrulous Kid wondered when he would be disappearing into hibernation and Szell explained it was usually after the summer Bank Holiday. He said that, like Freda the Blue Peter tortoise, he had a big cardboard box filled with straw, that his wife had prepared by punching holes in the lid. He said he’d be putting it in a darkened cupboard and retiring to it in good order, long before the leaves started to turn.

I explained to the Garrulous Kid that this was all nonsense, you couldn’t believe a word Szell was saying and he was obviously lying. No one was going to believe he actually had a wife.


We could delay no longer and looking out at the rain falling with increasing intensity, I pulled on my rain jacket and reluctantly pushed off, clipped in and followed everyone out onto the roads.

For the first part of the ride I was entertained by the Garrulous Kid providing a running commentary on exactly where and how quickly, the rain was creeping through his clothing. He became particularly animated as he started getting a wet bum, especially as he declared the rain seemed to have soaked straight through his underpants.

“What? Wait! You’re wearing underpants?”

“Of course I’m wearing underpants.”

“Under your cycling shorts?”

“Yes. But not just any underpants, they’re from the Marks and Spencer’s Autograph range.”

The Garrulous Kid refused to accept that he was the only one among us wearing underpants under their cycling shorts – although, when questioned, the Monkey Butler Boy did later admit he had. Once. When he was about 11.

But, apparently we’re all wrong, or depraved, or masochists and wearing underpants beneath cycling shorts should be de rigueur because it’s much more comfortable, much more hygenic and … and … much warmer!

Forget about the chafing, forget about the horrendous bunching and rubbing and the irritation. Forget about Betty Swollocks and the broiling, swarming petri dish of a breeding ground underpants will create for all kinds of bacterium and fungal spores. Remember, you’re improperly dressed unless you’re wearing your tighty-whities. At all times. Preferably from M&S. (Other makes are available.)

The rain continued to fall and, as usual, the poor weather seemed to have an adverse effect on driver comprehension, as if giving them something else to consider somehow befuddles and overloads their brains.

Our first indication of this was a skip lorry that tried overtaking our bunch, going uphill and around a blind corner. It lumbered all the way across to the other side of the road and huffed noisily upwards, before having to come to an abrupt halt in front of a car parked at the kerb and leaving too little room to squeeze past.

A few miles further on and it was the turn of an Astra driver, who almost made it to the head of our “peloton,” before meeting a Mercedes travelling in the opposite direction. Both cars stopped dead, bumper to bumper, while we rolled past amazed at just how dumb and reckless some drivers actually are.

Just before we dropped down towards the Tyne, OGL, a delegation of Grogs and a few others took a shorter more direct route to the café, effectively halving our numbers.

We swept down into the river valley and picked our way through a few sleepy villages, before climbing out again via Newton. I suspect G-Dawg found the going much more amenable than the last time, when he’d been forced to tackle this route on his fixie, following one of the Prof’s characteristics “route lapses.”

The heat generated by some prolonged climbing, combined with the briefest cessation of the rain, lulled us into shedding our rain jackets, well for a couple of miles anyway.

G-Dawg now led us on a wholly new, untried route through to Matfen, travelling on roads he’d identified courtesy of the complete novelty of looking at an actual map. This he’d carefully and craftily folded into his back pocket and we would catch him occasionally consulting its arcane mysteries, while muttering strange incantations at it. You know, those map things are actually quite useful and I have a strange feeling they could perhaps catch on one day.

Stopping at the next junction, just about everyone who’d previously doffed their jackets now pulled them back on, as the rain returned with even greater intensity. We held station as another group of cyclists appeared, clambering uphill through the gloomy veil of this renewed downpour. They slowly coalesced into another local club, the Tyneside Vagabonds, or Vags, who looked almost as wet and bedraggled as we did.

“Oh, is it raining down there?” Szell asked brightly as they filed past, smiling and greeting us enthusiastically, probably just happy in the knowledge they weren’t the only raving lunatics riding a bike in such utterly miserable conditions.


NOVATEK CAMERA


Our group splintered on the climb to the Quarry and we swung right for the shorter run to the café, not even bothering to pause and let everyone back on. With the pace picking up on the run in to the Snake Bends, the Red Max suddenly appeared on my shoulder, having completed an epic chase to catch up. This he’d accomplished in part thanks to some kamikaze cornering around wet bends that I’m glad I didn’t see.

We exchanged a few words, before he declared our pace was “far too civilised” and attacked off the front. Having also chased on, Taffy Steve followed him through and I latched onto his wheel, until I sensed the Colossus winding up to follow the attacks. I eased and let the gap grow so he could slot in behind Taffy Steve and the trio burst away to contest the sprint.

I picked up the pace again and followed in their wake, sparring with the Garrulous Kid for the minor placings, before sitting up and coasting through the bends.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café, Caracol started eyeing up one of the tray bakes like a predator assessing the herd for the choicest prey and he quickly determined that one of the segments was considerably larger than the others – or in his eyes, old, infirm and separated from the herd.

He turned on the full charm, which was a bit like a dusty, old 40-watt light-bulb attached to a dodgy and backfiring generator. Still, it flickered briefly into life and he quickly made a plea for the over-sized portion. Inexplicably, it somehow worked and the serving girl carefully shuffled the pieces of cake around to fish out his marked prize.

The Monkey Butler Boy was even more delighted when she did the same for him – and he didn’t even have to ask. I was going to suggest it’s because he’s younger and better looking, but didn’t want to start a bitch fight.

The Grogs were already done, leaving as we were sitting down and we caught Mini Miss, hovering, peering out the door and waiting for everyone to assemble before making a dash out into the rain for her own bike. Or maybe she’s just in training for a triathlon transition.

The Monkey Butler Boy continues to outgrow his bikes and is looking for something new to ride. At present he’s struggling with the choice between an aero road bike, or a light-weight climbing machine. I suspect he’s leaning toward the aero-bike, but on canvassing the table wasn’t getting much support. The Colossus however came to his rescue suggesting it didn’t matter which bike was the lightest, had the best spec’ or was the most practical, what really mattered was which one looked the best.

Crazy Legs was happily reminiscing about a video of old-school Raleigh Grifters and recalled owning an iconic Raleigh Chopper. I only ever remember seeing them in orange, but Crazy Legs insisted he had “a purple Chopper” before admitting that’s “not something you tend to talk about in polite company.”

What wasn’t there to love about the Raleigh Chopper? A tiny, small wheel at the front, a big tractor tyre at the back, tall ape-hanger bars, an elongated saddle with a sissy rail, hub gears and a centrally mounted gear lever that always seemed poised to emasculate the unwary. Choppers were expensive, a pig to ride, incredibly heavy, impractical, dangerously unbalanced and unstable, but super-cool. And every kid coveted one.

Hmm, maybe the Colossus was right, insisting it only mattered which bike actually looks the best.

I could even recall one particular abortion of a Chopper variant, the Sprint, which incongruously had drop handlebars.

“Who on earth would want to ride such a thing?” I pondered.

“Well, the Prof, obviously.” Crazy Legs suggested and I had to laugh as I found myself heartily agreeing.

As if talk of childhood bikes had instigated a return to purely juvenile ways, we spent the next 10 minutes or so discussing who would win in a fight between Nacer “Boxer” Bouhanni and Marcel “Pretty Boy” Kittel. The judges finally gave the win to Bouhanni, by a majority of 6 votes to 1.


Our return home was briefly delayed behind a horse drawn cart, trundling slowly along the lanes and laden with middle-aged, horsey types. I hate to imagine where their mounts had disappeared and suspect they could have walked faster than the lumbering cart.

Safely negotiated, the rest of the ride was without incident and I was soon turning off for home. Passing the rugby ground I saw the flash of a hi-vis, green, rain jacket disappearing round the corner and I gave chase, only to be caught on the wrong side of the level crossing as a Metro clattered through and the lone cyclist got away to built a good lead.

With the way clear again, I chased up the hill past the golf course, through the junction and then up another hill past Twin Farms . He was probably younger and most certainly fitter and faster than me and it was hard work closing him down, even though he wasn’t even aware he was in a race.

Through the lights past the Fire Station, I stomped hard on the pedals and tucked in for the downhill, swept over the dual-carriageway and caught him just as the lights ahead turned red.

I issued a nonchalant, “how do?” and pressed on downhill when the lights released us again, thinking my mission was complete.

Unluckily, I’d either picked a cyclist going my way, or one with no fixed destination in mind and happy to just follow the wheels. Hoist by my own petard of vanity and refusing to ease up, I led him down the hill to the river, along the valley floor, across the bridge, up the sharp ramp where I’d saluted the Prof that morning, then down and all the way along to Blaydon.

As we exited the town, he swished past, thanked me politely for the tow and disappeared and I could finally draw breath and complete the rest of my ride at a far more sensible pace.

It turned out to be another long one, though if I’m to believe Strava (I don’t) one that was much less hilly than usual.


YTD Totals: 4,469 km / 2,777 miles with 51,679 metres of climbing

Losing Control

Losing Control

Club Run, Saturday 18th March, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  100 km / 62 miles with 602 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 00 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.1 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 1 (vaping) FNG

Temperature:                                    12°C

Weather in a word or two:          Chill and wet


 

RIDE 18 MAR
Ride Profile


The Ride:

Well, I have to admit, I got that very badly wrong. Expecting and dressed for a relatively brisk, but mainly dry day, what we actually got was prolonged showers that seemed drive the temperatures down whenever they swept over us, so it felt noticeably chillier than the recorded and forecast 12°C. Part way into the ride I pulled on my rain jacket in the face of one hard shower and kept it on until I was about 5 miles from home on the way back.

Had I been less trusting of the weather forecast, I may have reverted to the Peugeot and enjoyed full mudguard protection, but I didn’t, so I got a soggy bottom and a black bin bag to sit on in the café. I finished the ride as mud be-splattered as if I’d just finished Paris-Roubaix in foul weather and the bike got a liberal coating of mud and crud. Not to worry, the mount scrubbed up quite nicely afterwards, even if I can’t say the same for the rider.

I should have noticed this wasn’t going to be the still, calm and mostly dry day promised, when the first thing I noticed was the smoke from a factory chimney in the valley floor being blown out almost at right-angles, a dirty-white, ragged banner, flapping against a sky of unrelenting grey.

The first rain shower hit as I was crossing the river, audibly ticking off my helmet and there was enough surface water to keep my overshoes gleaming wetly black, before they became, like everything else, daubed and dulled by mud and general road filth.

I passed a few other cyclists as I rode in, universally looking under-prepared and under-dressed and even including one brave soul in shorts. In March? In Northern England? Madness.

The rowing club seemed to have grasped the niceties of the weather much better than us cyclists, there was no mass of rowers out on the water, or even preparing to go out, only a hard core, two or three small sculls, way upstream and far enough away to look like insects, skittering over the rippled surface like startled water-boatmen.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Grover was out for the second week in a row, but this time had swapped his posh Pinarello for a sturdy, steel-framed Raleigh, complete with ancient, 3-speed, Sturmey Archer hub gears. He challenged OGL to feel the weight of his bike, which he suggested belonged alone in a super-heavyweight division.

OGL wrapped two hands around the top tube, flexed sinewy muscles, gave a grunt of exertion and pulled. The bike didn’t budge. He refocussed and tried again and slowly, waveringly, the bike rose up and was held long enough for its weight to be fully assessed, before being dropped heavily back down to the ground with an explosive, “Ooph!” If he spends time off at a chiropractor in the next few days, we’ll know why.

If Grover found last week on his posh, featherweight, plastic bike hard going, he wasn’t doing himself any favours this time out.

My slowly decaying MTB with its ever more restricted gears came in for discussion, with the Red Max asserting: “You only ever need 1 gear.”

“That,” I agreed, “Is perfectly true, you do only need one gear, but it has to be the right one.”

The Prof had apparently been discussing one of his bike reclamation projects with Caracol, suggesting he could resurrect something rideable from a trashed blue frame with a 58cm top tube. (I didn’t dare ask the provenance of the frame.)

The Prof pressed Caracol to decide if he was interested, while Caracol pressed the Prof back for more details about what exactly it was he was agreeing to. After a lengthy back and forth, it became apparent that the frame was the same, not-quite-right size as Caracol’s current winter hack, so it probably wasn’t worth pursuing.

“Anyway,” The Prof concluded, “I don’t think this blue frame is particularly aesthetically pleasing.”

I have to admit at this point Red Max and I looked at each other, looked at the Prof’s eccentric, small-wheeled velocipede and both shook our heads, wondering what exactly constituted aesthetically pleasing bike design in his book … and just how much this digressed from the more established view.

“I wish I had a pair of magic specs like yours.” Max summed up, looking pointedly and quizzically at the Prof’s bike.

The Red Max himself is having bike sourcing problems of his own, having become embroiled in what is turning into a bike-buying odyssey of Homeric proportions. Mrs. Max surprised him by suggesting a budget over twice what he expected, which has opened up a massive range of possibilities – in fact, far too many possibilities, along with the added pressure of making sure that if he’s spending that much he gets the decision spot-on.

He now appears paralysed by indecision, which has left him wondering if this wasn’t Mrs. Max’s intent all along and if her motives were an act of deep, deep cunning, rather than great and sweeping benevolence. The longer he prevaricates and second-guesses himself, the more he seems to be leaning toward the former.

There was then only time then for the Prof to draw my attention to our FNG, vaping away contentedly pre-ride, emitting vast clouds of smoke like an enthusiastic, am-dram production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Rather unusual preparation for a bike ride, I thought, but each to their own.


I rode out with Red Max and learned the Monkey Butler Boy was off riding with his new club mates, following a carefully structured training programme from his two personal coaches and happily and unsurprisingly shunning the opportunity to ride with a bunch of wrinkly, old blokes. The Red Max suggested he was yet have an awkward, but unavoidable conversation with OGL about the change in club allegiances and the fact another of our youngsters was leaving in order to find proper support.

This is one of a number of fundamental issues that currently plague us, but for me is not quite as pressing, or as contentious as the unnecessary friction of trying to ride in one mass group and at a pace largely dictated by our slowest rider.

As well as proving a sizeable obstacle for any traffic trying to get around us, this practice is particularly chafing for anyone who has maintained any degree of activity throughout the winter and now find their rides curbed and constrained by those newly arisen from hibernation and still trying to find their legs.


 

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We’ve suggested numerous times that we split into several, different-paced groups before we set out, but OGL seems fearful of losing control, or influence, or prestige … or who knows what. He then spends a good amount of the ride bellowing instructions to try and knock the pace back, as we inevitably become strung out and splintered. This I assume he finds as tiresome as everyone else, but who knows?

Today, it seems there was to be a tipping point and if we weren’t allowed to organise a sensible, pre-ride split, we could manufacture one on the road. Things started to kick-off when we pulled over for a Prof Pee and Pit Stop and an unknown, lone rider, completely unaffiliated with our club rode past and off down the road.

As we set off again, De Uitheems Bloem hit the front and, assuming the lone cyclist up ahead was the Red Max, upped the pace to try and reel him back in. I would later explain to our Dutch friend that he should have known it wasn’t Max as, although dressed in signature red, this rider wasn’t giggling hysterically. Meanwhile the real Red Max was lurking at a few wheels back, out of sight, uncharacteristically quiet and watching with interest.

The pace went up as we closed in on the lone rider and as we hit a few inclines the shouts behind began in earnest. Most of these were riddled with the kind of expletives that would make a sailor blush, but at least these bits were intelligible, the rest just sounded like a disturbed troupe of howler monkeys sounding off.

We caught and passed the lone rider, De Uitheems Bloem realising his mistake too late and more shouting and incoherent screaming followed us up a sharp rise. There was no collective decision, no predetermined plan, no verbal acknowledgment, but cold and wet and sick of being shouted at I think everyone simply decided they’d had enough.

“Ease up!” one last shout sounded out.

“What was that?” someone asked.

“Speed up?” someone suggested, so we did.

A group of maybe a dozen of us now broke clear. It had been a difficult gestation and birth, with much shouting and swearing, but a decisive split had been forced. Those behind now had the opportunity to regroup and continue at a pace they found comfortable, while those looking for something a little more strenuous could push on without further shrill, ear-piercing censure.

I had a brief chat with Taffy Steve about how our club needs reforming and mentioned the website and forum as a singular case in point. This is supposedly the one, sacrosanct, universal source of communication for all members to use. I asked Taffy Steve if he’d been on it recently – obviously not – so he hadn’t seen the state of the forum. Every page here has seemingly been hacked by someone spamming messages about running shoes, which the site admin have done nothing to remove. This suggests to me that the club website is unequivocally dead.


hacked off
Hacked Off


I nonetheless suggested it was worth checking out, as half way down the list of spam emails offering Nike Air Max shoes at unbelievable prices, Grover had started a new topic simply and succinctly titled “Crap” containing just the one heartfelt message:

“Came on the forum tonight to see if there was any info about the upcoming Sloane Trophy road race – can’t believe what utter balls is on every thread or subject, am I old and grumpy? I’ll have to speak to someone about the Sloane as I’m not coming on the forum again. See you all soon.”

This got Taffy Steve pondering if our in-house tech-fiend, Crazy Legs was behind the hack, sort of the Fancy Bear equivalent for amateur cycling clubs. I felt it unlikely, but couldn’t completely rule out the possibility.

We climbed up to Dyke Neuk, swooped down and then up through Mitford and, after a bit of prevarication and dithering, set sail for Middleton Bank.

I joined De Uitheems Bloem on the front, where we talked about population displacement caused by climate change and extreme weather, how this led to over-crowding, civil unrest and ultimately conflict and how everything was minutely and mutually interconnected. See, it’s not always just errant nonsense that dominates our conversation, although I admit that it does form the overwhelming bulk of what we talk about.

Biden Fecht, De Uitheems Bloem and Captain Black attacked up Middleton Bank and opened a sizeable lead. I pulled into the gap, before easing and dropping back to where Taffy Steve and Goose followed as we approached the top.

Once again, there was to be no regrouping after the climb and the chase to the café began. Taffy Steve was in unstoppable form and powered up the pursuit, while I hung onto his back wheel as long as I could, until the speed, combined with the uncomfortable bouncing and bumping across the rough road surface shook me loose.

Goose overtook me too and I let him go, suspecting I could close the gap, if not overhaul him completely on the last climb to the café.

Taffy Steve gloriously failed (just) to close down the front group, Goose and I swept past a detached and solitary OGL on the final climb and then we all bundled into the café, breathless, exhilarated and well deserving of cake and coffee.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Taffy Steve declared he has new work boots that make him feel like Miranda Hart whenever he pulls them on and almost compel him to re-enact Miranda-esque pratfalls. I never quite did discover what it was about the boots that impelled this strange behaviour.

This reminded Goose of the sheer horror of having to accompany his daughters to see Miranda live, as a fill-in after his wife had pulled a sickie. Here he found himself a lone, largely unamused and completely nonplussed male, in a room full of uproariously cackling women.

Nevertheless, I felt my horror story of having to endure a Jonas Brothers concert at the concrete toilet bowl that is the Metro Arena was much worse, especially as I was surrounded by thousands of pre-pubescent girls and also had to endure the dreadful, lip-synching support act of Little Mix.

“It doesn’t sound that bad.” Mini Miss ventured, obviously with far greater affinity for this kind of popular-music type thing than I could muster.

“What, two solid hours of solid screaming?” I asked.

“And that was just you.” Taffy Steve concluded, before suggesting I must have spent the night looking like the incarnation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

My tale reminded Goose of an unfortunate TV interview when the members of Little Mix had been asked what it was they most regretted about the past year. Not realising they were fully miked up, one had turned to another and muttered, far too clearly, “anal” for all the world and their adoring public to hear. Oops.

This led to a discussion about Dragon voice-to-text transcription software, which Taffy Steve suggested was too sensitive, as a colleague found out when his dictated board report included extracts from the two women behind his desk, who’d been actively discussing a severe case of chlamydia while he, well, beavered away shall we say?

To counter this, Goose was impressed by some worthy, pioneering research work at one university, which had taught a computer to lip-read. This I contrasted sharply with some profound research at my university that has … err … determined which dance moves men find the most sexually appealing …

Mini Miss was having problems with her Garmin, which kept losing its charge, although she said she kept it plugged in by the side of her bed at all times.  I have to admit I was a bit confused about why she needed it in the bedroom, but had determined it was probably best not to look at her Strava profile.

She bravely surrendered the device to a couple of our tech-monkeys so they could vaguely prod and poke the screen to see if they could make it behave. I don’t think they made it any better, but they probably didn’t make it any worse either – and it did keep them quiet and occupied until it was time to leave.


I rode back chatting with Goose, while half-listening to a slightly uncomfortable conversation behind, where Red Max was explaining to OGL why the Monkey Butler Boy felt the need to join a club with kids his own age, structured and comprehensive training advice, involved coaching and (not to be underestimated) decent looking, modern kit.

I caught up with a thoroughly disgruntled OGL a little further on, complaining, “I think everyone must be on bloody EPO today!” I tried diplomatically to suggest he had to let it go, both actually and figuratively and that the club would not only survive, but could actually flourish if he was prepared to loosen control just a bit.

Then everyone was turning off and I entered the Mad Mile, with one of the young kids reprising the BFG role of escort for a short way, before I turned south for my solo ride home.

Footnote:

Apparently, the general disgruntlement carried over to Sunday’s ride and then resulted in the formation of a shadowy and covert cabal, the “Faster Rides Group”. There then followed a lot of behind the scenes manoeuvring, collusion, horse trading, secret negotiation, intense talking, pointed persuasion and maybe, who knows, hacking, extortion, sexting, bribery, wire-tapping, arm-twisting, fake news, air-guitars and Chinese burns. I’m ruling nothing out.

The result though, and it is a result, is that we now have faster ride groups officially sanctioned and organised for the next 4 Saturdays, with appointed group leaders and a plan to see how this works out for all involved.

Small steps.


YTD Totals: 1,228 km / 763 miles with 13,060 metres of climbing