The Pendulum Swings

The Pendulum Swings

As if a switch has been flipped, we’ve moved seamlessly from constant, bright blue skies to overcast and a slow fade to grey. As I dropped down the Heinous Hill it prompted me to run through my repertoire of Visage’s greatest hits – which, to be fair, didn’t take all that long. I was done by the bottom and luckily escaped without inflicting an annoying earworm on myself.

Despite the impenetrable cloud cover, it was a decent enough day, cool rather than cold and with only a gently tugging breeze to impede movement. There was rain forecast, but not until just after midday. Or so they said.

I crossed the river and followed my new, preferred route up Hospital Lane, annoyed to find my shoe sliding around sloppily and feeling dangerously close to pulling itself out of the pedal’s grasp. I didn’t remember my cleats being so loose last time out but made a mental note to increase the tension in the pedals and, that done, spent the rest of the climb concentrating on keeping my foot planted squarely and still engaged.

This small distraction aside, I made good time and was closing in on the meeting place when I stopped for a pee. Stepping away from the bike I was accompanied not by the usual clip-clop from my colourful clown shoes, but an odd clip-clop-clop. l reached down and found the cleat had worked itself loose and was sliding around, largely untethered. Like the world’s most ungainly stork I removed the shoe and balanced precariously on one leg as I tightened up the bolts. A simple fix, even in the field, but I’ve never had cleats work loose before and can’t work out why they had this time?

At the meeting place Ahlambra was intrigued by the stock wheels that came off my 13 bike and had been press ganged into service on Reg, in particular the single red spoke on each. I told him this was apparently to mark where the valve hole is, because, well, you know, they’re really, really hard to find with the naked eye. Or something.

This led to a discussion about wheel building, spoke choice and another paean from G-Dawg, lamenting how silver spokes and rims were no longer commonplace, but had at one time fuelled his descent into unspeakable Duraglit addiction.

As we talked the showers scheduled for that afternoon decided to put in a very early, surprise appearance, offering up the chance to demonstrate cyclists know enough to come in out of the rain. This was an opportunity that we did eventually take, shuffling under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and managing the task before we were completely soaked through.

Several of the group were planning a ride out midweek to see the Tour of Britain but, even though our former clubmate beZ is riding with his Ribble-Weldtite team, I’m boycotting the race this year after their unconscionable decision not to route it past my front door, or even through my immediate neighbourhood. It’s just not good enough.

Plans are afoot to travel out to watch Stage 3, which would include a trek out into Cumbria toward Alston and potentially up Hartside Pass. A mere mention of this climb was enough to have OGL wax lyrical about epic winter rides in adverse conditions – the good old days of 130 mile plus club runs.

“130 miles, eh?” G-Dawg laughed, “And this from the bloke who is adamant club runs are getting longer!”

He is.

They’re not.

Our numbers seem to be holding steady at about 20 riders, give or take, so we split into two (naturally unbalanced) groups and away we went.

I dropped into the second group with G-Dawg and maybe half a dozen others and things were progressing relatively normally, if at a rather glacial pace as we found a new, very pleasant, quiet road with a perfect surface. The only drawback was it didn’t really lead anywhere we couldn’t get to more directly. Still, if nothing else it served to pad out our mileage.

A brief halt to gather up stragglers somehow turned into an impromptu pee break, so we’d no sooner re-grouped than been split in two again and had to stop a second time to try and corral everyone. OGL was last to arrive, delayed, according to Cowin’ Bovril, because he’d begun “filming a porno” – forgetting he had a rear-facing camera on his bike that was capturing his micturition attempts in glorious technicolour.

Cowin’ Bovril suggested the wide-angle lens might at least provide a flattering image, only to be told by OGL that he wasn’t previously known as, ahem, “the ginger pendulum” for nothing.

Eeuw.

That was uncalled for.

The declaration was met with a universal rolling of eyes and a unanimous, clearly audible groan. I mean, after the last person caught in self-aggrandising braggadocio had ended up holding the nuclear football for a 4-year term, I’m not sure we should be indulging such “locker-room banter” and, err, “alpha-male boasting” anymore.

We tried to move swiftly on, only to encounter a sign bearing the dire warning that there were slow birds on the road. Eh?

Then, round a gloomy bend under some trees we slowed as we came across one of the worst sights you can see on a club run, bikes abandoned on ether side of the road, typically in response to some form of accident. In this case, it had been in our front group, where Aether’s wheels had slid out on the greasy surface and he’d brought the Soup Dragon down on top of him. They were both up on their feet again, but Aether was hobbling, while the Soup Dragon was bleeding from nose and mouth.

I had no idea if they’s ignored all the warnings and somehow slow birds were involved.

(Aether would later spend 11 hours in A&E to be told: “Yes, you have a pelvic fracture.” This, he calculated, was approximately two hours wait for each word of his assessment, proof, if we were in any doubt, that the NHS is in dire need of better financial and governmental support.

Our second group stopped briefly to see if any assistance was needed, but there were plenty of willing helpers, so we were encouraged to clear the road and keep going. And so we did, working our way out past Dyke Neuk and toward Longwhitton before the start of the long, grinding drag up to Rothley crossroads.

“Last chance to cut the route short,” G-Dawg identified, and Taffy Steve paused to weigh the options. His head, he revealed, said go, but his legs said no. In such instances I recommended that you should always listen to your legs as mine, at least are twice as smart as my head. He took the advice and he and Big Dunc hung a left toward Hartburn, leaving me, G-Dawg and Sam-Aye-Am to complete the full route, up to the crossroads, before scaling Middleton Bank and picking up the pace for a fast run to the cafe.

We’d left the cafe choice open, but the rain had turned drizzly and then stopped, the weather was warm and brightening and Bolam Lake was G-Dawgs preferred choice, I’m sure not at all influenced by his opinion that they were the purveyors of the very best in bacon sarnies. (I trust his assessment, he is clearly a connoisseur of such things.) Anyway, he was on the front as we reached the junction and seemed to decide instinctively, while I just followed the wheels.

We arrived to find Taffy Steve and Big Dunc already ensconced, the former somewhat perturbed having complimented the cafe staff on finally installing electronic payment and hearing how the card-reader wasn’t the only small, buzzing electronic device the waitress liked. All delivered with a rather knowing wink.

Eeuw 2.

(Speaking of which, and as a total aside, I heard this week that Ewan McGregor’s fighter-pilot brother goes by the call-sign of Obi Two. That’s way cooler than Maverick, or Iceman.)

Survivors from the the front group joined us and conversation turned to cyclists riding with quite ridiculous injuries, typified by Tyler Hamilton who finished 4th in the 2003 Tour despite riding most of the way with a broken collarbone. This was a follow-up to a 2nd place in 2002 Giro achieved with a broken shoulder and, on that occasion he’d apparently ground his teeth so hard through the pain that he had to have 11 of them capped or replaced after the race.

We touched on the Commonwealth Games track cycling, which featured some para-athletes on tandems and Chris Boardman commentating that crashes were not only very common but, he suggested, inevitable.

Once again the violent depredations of wheelchair, rugby, tennis and basketball were touched on, before someone mentioned blind football again and I was able to steal someone else’s line about it all being well and good chasing around pell-mell, trying to hoof a ball with a bell in it, until the neighbours cat wandered out into the arena.

We coalesced into one large group for the ride home, which was proceeding rather unremarkably, until Sam-Aye-Am insisted he could smell watermelon as we passed through Ogle. I had to admit there was a distinctive and fresh odour being carried on the breeze, but I’m fairly certain that, despite global-warming, the climate in the North East still isn’t conducive to the cultivation of watermelon. Then again, there was that odd moment earlier in the year when Newburn had the odd scent of grapefruit

G-Dawg stretched us out up Berwick Hill and I pushed onto the front alongside him as we began the descent, straight into an easterly headwind that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere and made the usually easy downhill bit an absolute grind. It certainly didn’t make me envious of Taffy Steve’s route home, all the way out to the coast directly into that.

There was then only time for some juvenile farmer in a tractor to vigorously insist that G-Dawg was a serial self-abuser (for no discernible reason we could see) and then I was splitting off and heading for home and an appointment with the sofa in front of what’s turning out to be a rather entertaining Vuelta.

Stay on board, now.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 3rd September 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 8 minutes
Riding Distance:117km/73 miles with 1,127m of climbing
Average Speed:22.7km/h
Group Size:20 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:16℃
Weather in a word or two:A fade to grey
Year to date:3,780km/2,349 miles with 43,073m of climbing

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

Proxy Dick

Proxy Dick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com