From Norway to Norwich

From Norway to Norwich

Club Run, Saturday 14th September 2019

Total Distance: 86 km/53 miles with 651 m of climbing
Riding Time: 2 hours 54 minutes
Average Speed: 29.4 km/h
Group Size:31 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 19℃
Weather in a word or two: Very pleasant.

Ride Profile

What a great week for cycling fans in the North East, as the travelling circus that makes up the Tour of Britain hit the town. As previously stated, I’m not convinced that Britain has the requisite terrain, or the Tour organisers the required nous, to make compelling stage race in Britain that doesn’t just devolve into a series of hotly contested sprints. This year though, at least they brought the Tour (quite literally) to my doorstep.

On the Monday I had casually wandered out of the office at about half past three and moseyed over to a packed Grey Street in time to catch Dylan Groenewegen zip past, both arms up in the air, as he won a brutish uphill sprint at the end of Stage 3.

I’d found a good viewing spot, against the barriers in the run-off area just past the finish line, which put me in touching distance of all the riders as they were herded into a short decompression zone following their super-fast finish. Here, I found myself literally rubbing shoulders with Mikel Landa, while, in amongst the confused mass of milling riders, I was also able to spot Matteo Trentin, Eddie Dunbar and a blue-jawed, unhappy looking Cav. There really is no other sport in the world where you can get quite so close to its superstars.

I also spotted an AG2R rider who I think was their Lithuanian, points jersey wearer, Gediminas Bagdonas, providing conclusive proof, (should there be any doubt), that brown shorts are a really, really bad sell in terms of achieving harmonious colour coordination.

Even better was to come, as the next day the “Queen Stage” left from the Gateshead Quayside, to loop around the Angel of the North, before climbing up through the Silver Hills, scene of much of my formative cycling years. It then zipped right past my front door, en route to one of my favourite climbs, up Burnmill Bank and through the delightfully-titled village of Snods Edge. [The name is supposedly derived from the term snow’s edge, with the village having sufficient elevation and proximity to the North Pennines to lie right on the snowline. ]

Too good to miss, I took the day off work and endured the hardship of camping out on my sofa, eating biscuits and drinking coffee, while I watched the live feed, and waited for the race to whoosh past.

45 minutes before the stage had even started, spectators started appearing on the streets, bolstered by groups of cheering, chatting school-children. It all seemed a bit premature to me, but I’m pretty certain the schoolkids didn’t mind.

Even Cat#2 got in on the act, finding a good perch on the roof from which to eyeball all the action.


Cat#2 Giving the Katusha team car the evil eye.

By the time the race came past, Axel Domont and Dylan Van Baarle were off the front and there was a small gap of maybe twenty or thirty seconds, before the rest of the peloton swept by.

4 or 5 minutes later, the rest of the race caravan was past and I could safely cross the road and return to the sofa for the first half of the stage, spent traversing some very familiar roads. Great stuff.



My usual Saturday started a bit different, as I found myself driving across to the meeting point in order to transport a car load of jerseys and shorts for my fellow riders try on for size. Uninspired by the current, unloved club jersey, I’m looking at an alternative and Satini had sent lots of samples to see what would best fit.

This not only lopped a good twenty or so miles off my run, but also gave me an extra hour in bed, so when I rolled up at the meeting point – actually 10 minutes later than usual, despite driving there (go figure) – I was feeling fairly sprightly.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

It was discovered that, according to the directional arrows on his tyre, Jimmy Mac had his on the wrong way. Despite possibly negligible consequences, he took this as a ready made excuse for poor cornering and a general loss of power and actually spent the time to unhitch his wheel and flip it around.

I then spent a good few minutes with Caracol and OGL trying to decipher an ad in on the bus shelter that stated Red, Red, Wine (or Red, Red, Whine, in my estimation) and You Be Forty. It wasn’t until the crowd parted slightly that we realised it was an ad for Spotify, celebrating the 40th Anniversary of UB40 turning Neil Diamond’s song into a reggae dirge.

Buster outlined the planned route for the day and with another big group topping over 30, we aimed for even split, but as I joined the front group it looked like we’d already picked up about two thirds of all the available riders as we set out.


With G-Dawg and TripleD-Bee (a.k.a.Double Dutch Dude) on the front we set a fairly sedate and relaxed pace out toward the village of Stamfordham, where we were going to briefly coalesce before splitting into different routes.

15 mile in and my right knee, still heavily strapped, started to feel hot, but it was pain free, so I assumed this was a consequence of its wrapping, more than a reaction from the injury, so on we went.

The pace was perhaps too relaxed, as we soon had the second group bearing down on us, but we picked things up enough to maintain a workable gap through to the rendezvous.

From Stamfordham, it was a tried and tested route over the Military Road, skirting Whittledene reservoir, before some extended climbing up through the plantations.

Here I found myself sitting on Zardoz’s wheel for a masterclass in how to surf through a bunch, as he slid from wheel to wheel, looking for the path of least resistance and the best way to conserve energy.

We worked our way to Matfen, took a sharp left turn up the hill and then things really started to kick off. Andeven ghosted onto the front alongside TripleD-B and the pace immediately ratcheted up. A gap opened between the front pair and Benedict and I eased into the space to fill it. Then, it seemed like full bore to the quarry, as Andeven accelerated and dragged us out into a single, long line.

It was about all I could do to cling onto TripleD-B’s rear wheel as we continued at an unrelenting pace, touching 50 kph as we swept through the lanes. Just before the turn for the Quarry, TripleD-B slipped off Andeven’s wheel and I dragged myself around him to fill the gap.

We took the sharp, right hand without pause and hammered on, steadily climbing now. I dropped back a little, once more swapping places with TripleD-B. This was really hurting now, it was head down, mouth agape and barely hanging on, and I had no opportunity or inclination to look back, so no idea if anyone was behind and following.

Hitting the final, steep ramp of the Quarry I couldn’t hold the wheel and a massive gap immediately yawned open. I clawed my way up the rest of the climb as best I could, swung left and tried to recover. A very quick glance back seemed to show no one close behind and no chance of any help as I set off in pursuit of TripleD-B, who himself now seemed to have been distanced by Andeven.

I started to pass riders who’d taken a shorter route, OGL, Goose and the Monkey Priest and suspected I’d picked up a couple of followers on my back wheel, but no one came through to take a turn as I slowly, slowly closed the gap to TripleD-B.

Finally I caught him and pushed past, as the road tipped down toward the Snake Bends, I kept the pace high, but had no answer as Goose darted off my wheel and away, followed seconds later by TripleD-B.

As always, hard work, but great fun.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the cafe garden, I dropped into the seat opposite TripeD-B.

“How did you find Norway?”

He looked at me blankly, “Norway?”

“Didn’t you recently get a new job, in Norway?” I was convinced that’s what TripleD-L (Double Dutch Distaff) had told me a couple of weeks ago.

“Ah, not Nor-way, she meant Nor-which,” he laughed.

“It’s the English language, the pronunciation, the place names, are just so arbitrary and inconsistent.”

I had visions of him eviscerating our mother tongue, much as he had the Imperial System of weights and measures, before declaring it as a hopelessly retarded language and kicking it, battered and bleeding into a ditch.

Some local place names an their perceived punctuation were discussed, Prudhoe (Prudah, or Prude-ho?), Ponteland (Pon-tee-land or Ponty-land?) and Houghton (Ho-ton, How-ton, or as an Irish work colleague of mine would insist, Hoofton?)

My all-time favourite though, had to be the anecdote of a cricket commentator, who’d been stopped by a tourist with a strong strine accent and asked if he knew the way to Luger-Broogah.

Caracol highlighted some other idiosyncrasies of English, with the had-had example: “James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher.” Which he insisted could be read to make perfect sense.

[If you’re wondering, trying to read it as: “James, while John had had “had“, had had “had had“; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.”]

After the ride, TripleD-B sent me this statement, just to highlight how absurd and inconsistent some of the rules of English could be: “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”

As incomprehensible as English might have been, we decided nothing was quite as illogical as Movistar team tactics that were once again proudly on display in the Vuelta.

This is, lest we forget, a team that attacks when a rival race leader crashes, earning universal condemnation, only to suddenly stop driving before achieving anything of value – all that pain, for no gain?

It’s a team that will consistently chases down breaks featuring one, or more of their own presumptive leaders, then the next day ask another rider to drop off the front, on a potential stage winning move, to “pace” said presumptive leaders for all of 200 metres up a mountain.

It’s a team that’s just been shorn of three potential GC contenders, yet has brought in no one of quality to replace them. Next year they’ll have to rely an ageing, visibly diminished, 40-year old Valverde and the improving, but still less than imposing, Marc Soler.

Now that’s incomprehensible.


Heading home and, as usual it all kicked off on Berwick Hill, with a sudden acceleration and mass splintering, that this week refused to settle. We were still jumping and chasing each other all the way down the other side, through Dinnington and out around the airport.

I knew that it had been hectic, when even Caracol declared he was done and dropped off the pace. Then I was swinging off with everyone else, just before the Mad Mile as some semblance of order was finally restored. From there we picked our way through the busy traffic to the car park where I’d abandoned the car.

To a passer-by, what followed must have looked like an impromptu drug-deal for performance enhancing substances, or perhaps a refined form of dogging, as a dozen or so cyclists clustered around the car, pulling on, taking off and swapping different jerseys. Still, it seemed to serve its purpose and gave people an idea of what to expect from the Santini kit.

All done, I loaded the bike back into the car and drove home. Checking back, despite the rather benign start, but greatly helped by the shorter distance, lack of solo riding and the removal of the Heinous Hill from my itinerary, I’d managed an astonishing (for me anyway) average speed of over 29km/h across the 85km of my ride.

I think I earned a lie down.


YTD Totals: 5,709 km / 3,547 miles with 74,983 metres of climbing

The Coalition of Chaos – A S’Winter Ride

The Coalition of Chaos – A S’Winter Ride

Club Run, Saturday 3rd June, 2017           

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  95 km / 59 miles with 378 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 56 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.2 km/h

Group size:                                         9 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          S’Winter

 


10 june
Ride Profile

 

Capture
Glorious British Summer Time


The Ride:

Once again the fickle British weather continues to toy with us and swing from one extreme to another, substituting last weekend’s glorious warmth and wall to wall sunshine, with a lumpen mass of oppressive grey cloud. This was due to stay hunched over Northern England for most of Saturday, emitting a constant stream of rain that hardly ever stopped, although it did occasionally vary in intensity – from light shower to a hard, stinging deluge and all points in-between.

Assuming the forecasts were going to be at least part-right, the Peugeot had been prepped the night before and made ready for a day when even cursed and rubbing mudguards would be, not only tolerated, but considered a necessity and a small price to pay for added protection. Luckily they even behaved.

Along with a change back to winter bikes, waterproof socks and my most impermeable jacket were selected for a real field test of effectiveness. (The Santini jacket passed admirably, the Sealskinz socks were an abject failure.)

It was also one of those days when the rain was heavy enough to screw with my Garmin, so the ride profile probably isn’t very accurate. If it is, then not only did I ride off a vertical cliff after 60km, but my home finished the day over 50 metres lower than where it was when I set out in the morning, even though the climb back up the hill was no easier.

Setting out and onto the Heinous Hill, I floated downstream with the current, noticing as I bottomed out on the valley floor just how noisy wet roads make the rest of the traffic, car tyres ripping and hissing past on the water-slicked tarmac.

Across the bridge and the River Tyne was a flat, sullen and grey below, devoid of boats or any other movement. Perhaps it was too wet even for the rowers?

Working back along the other side of the river, the Cobblestone Runway was now flanked by two new sets of traffic lights and temporary road works. At the first of these I queued behind a stream of cars for a good five minutes before the drivers decided the lights weren’t working and started to drive through on red.

Not wanting to come face-to-face with any approaching traffic that had the same idea, I picked out a large, heavy goods vehicle that looked suitably intimidating, tucked in behind it for protection and used it as a lead blocker for my own end-around through the roadworks.

Climbing up, out of the valley on the other side, more temporary lights pulled me to a stop half way up the slope, but this time I had only moments to wait before I was released by the green light.

The rest of the way was plain sailing and I swept through the meeting place and ducked into the shelter on the multi-storey car park just as Crazy Legs rolled in from the other side.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Hammer would be leading the ride today and had proposed a route that included wheat fields aplenty to run through, for those needing to get in touch with their rebellious side. The weather though was going to be the deciding factor and a shorter, more direct route to the café looked considerably more appealing – even if it meant foregoing such total, May-esque frivolity and utterly wicked abandon.

Crazy Legs admitted to being tired after following the extraordinary events of Thursday’s election as they had unfolded across his TV screen like a slow-motion car crash. I suspect he watched with the same glee and satisfaction most of us felt, as the overweening hubris of our elected government was shattered in a completely unnecessary, wasteful election they had brought solely on themselves. Smugness, conceit and presumption put to the sword – empty slogans, a robotic, delusional, uninspiring, empty and arrogant “leader” horribly exposed and a rabidly vicious and horribly twisted, biased press largely ignored.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the great British public can surprise me in a good way.

With world attention seemingly focussed, however briefly on this small island, we did wonder what outsiders might have made of some of our more colourful candidates, such as Lord Buckethead who, on the same platform as our incumbent PM, somehow seemed warmer and more genuine and appealing.

Others included a very large, very red Elmo, Howling “Laud” Hope of the Monster Raving Loony Party and one hopeful dressed (and I don’t think even he knows why) as a giant fishfinger.

Crazy Legs in particular liked Lord Buckethead’s manifesto, built on a platform of “strong, but not very stable leadership” it included the pledge of no third runway at Heathrow: (“where we’re going we don’t need runways”) the nationalisation of Adele and a firm public commitment to build the £100bn renewal of the Trident weapons system, followed by an equally private commitment not to build it, the flawless logic being: “they’re secret submarines, no one will ever know. It’s a win win.”

Particularly appealing, Lord Buckethead promised free bikes for everyone, to help combat obesity, traffic congestion and, err … bike theft.

The ever pragmatic Taffy Steve, suggested we didn’t need to an election to negotiate Brexit, we simply had to point at the Norwegian model, say that’s what we want and how much will it cost. The only slight flaw in this argument is the presumption of some that we can somehow leave the EU and they’ll then give us for free everything we used to pay for. I don’t even think Lord Buckethead is that delusional.

European adventures were also under discussion in relation to our upcoming Alpine invasion, with the plan Crazy Legs proposed of riding the Marmotte Granfondo route possibly under threat due to the closure of one of the tunnels. He’d checked out the recommended traffic diversion, but backed out quickly when he found it involved an additional 2½ hours just to drive it!

Latest reports from Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril who are across there this weekend suggest the route is now open and we may yet be spared a circumnavigation of the entire mountain range.


It was a small group of only 9 diehards who pushed off clipped in and rode out into the rain. After some discussion we’d agreed to amend the route and head, more or less directly to the café, the only real contention being which café, with Big Dunc’s suggestion of the Costa, 800 metres away on the High Street getting serious consideration.

I took to the front with Big Dunc as we set out. We hadn’t gone far when the BFG trailing us closely drew our attention to what he thought might be two cycling ghosts up ahead. I suggested they might be the restless spirits of Coppi and Bartali, but received only an uneducated, “Huh?” in response.

As we drew closer we saw it wasn’t the ghosts of long dead, Italian cycling campionissimo’s we were tracking, but a father and son on mountain-bikes and wearing long, white rain ponchos. Hmm, bit early for trick or treat?

As an act of sheer, devil-may-care, rebellion, almost as reckless as running through a field of wheat, we decided to head straight up Brunton Lane, rather than taking the usual route past the Sage HQ.

Unfortunately, rebellion isn’t without consequence and we hadn’t gone far when our path was blocked by hundreds upon hundreds of soaking wet, T-shirt clad kids doing a “fun run” in the most atrocious conditions imaginable. It looked to me like nothing so much as the Pied Piper leading an army of wet and bedraggled rats out of Hamelin. Still, to be fair, despite the horrible weather the kids did actually look to be enjoying themselves.

We turned around and back-tracked toward the Sage HQ, to find the road here was closed as well, but the run had already passed and once the cones had been cleared, we were free to proceed.

Having lost my station at the front I drifted back to find Sneaky Pete, who was starting to wonder what kind of lunacy had tempted him out on a day like this. I tried to convince him it wasn’t so bad and once he was home in his slippers and silk smoking jacket, toasting his feet by the fire while enjoying a cigar and sturdy snifter of brandy, he’d look back fondly on the day and realise how much fun it had been. Honest.

With my socks slowly getting waterlogged and cold water squelching up between my toes on every pedal stroke, we pressed on and out into the rather grey and sodden countryside, occasionally skirting the wide puddles that crept out from the verges and into the road.


NOVATEK CAMERA


We called a pee stop and discussed route options, with the Hammer’s suggestion for a referendum and then a vote, roundly shouted down, before finding a degree of consensus. With it still being too early for a direct run to the café, G-Dawg led us on a route across the top of the Quarry climb.

Loop successfully completed, we started to close in on the café and the pace unconsciously quickened a little, while the BFG specs misted horribly. With the rain now lashing down hard and caught in the spray kicked up from the wheel in front, he started wailing that he was blind and couldn’t see.

Crazy Legs suggested he wasn’t going to be contesting any sprints today as the weather was rank, our run-in was down the horribly potted and rutted surface that led to the Snake Bends and he was conscious of a big week ahead.

This conviction lasted almost as long as the BFG’s sudden attack, as he jumped hard and out of the saddle, briefly opening up a small gap which Crazy Legs almost instantly moved to close down.

I assumed the BFG was just trying to force a Damascene conversion and hoping a bit of clear air and open road might help the scales fall from his eyes. His effort was quite short-lived and he was soon back in the fold. We then reformed and I took to the front alongside G-Dawg, bouncing and rattling down the road and the speed starting to build again.

The Hammer was the next to attack, appropriately hammering down the outside and everyone swept around me to give chase, while I just kept pounding away, not looking to add any speed and just trying to maintain what I already had.

We flashed past a junction where another large group of cyclist were waiting to turn onto the road. Luckily they’d seen us and held back, otherwise it could have become sketchy – our lot were at full bore and unlikely to be happy with anyone riding into their path.

I was too far back and it was too murky to see the outcome of the sprint, but I do know that despite all his protestations Crazy Legs was in the mix right up to the end. No surprise there then.

We regrouped at the junction and then pressed on down the narrow, horribly potholed lane that paralleled the main drag. Here the other group of cyclists caught up and pointlessly forced their way past, while we singled out and everyone had to slalom and weave precariously around the fissures, holes and divots that littered our route.

At the end of the lane they turned right along with us, just before our last hurrah, a short ramp that we traditionally take at full gas as a full-stop to our actual café sprint. Traditions have to be upheld, even though the other group seemed particularly disgruntled and nonplussed as we bustled them out of the way and burst up the outside of their line, before easing and rolling into the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

In the café, with black bin bags to park our water-logged derriere’s on, we pushed a few tables into one long line and convened around it.

The Hammer finished his poached eggs on toast and then started in on a bacon sarnie, suggesting he’d been so hungry in the week he’d eaten an entire box of muesli in one sitting. Crazy Legs mimed upending a large box of cereal and pouring it directly into his mouth, before asking how the Hammer could still manage to talk without constantly coughing out a cloud of muesli dust.

Crazy Legs next suggested drinking down a pint of milk to see if it would cause the Hammer’s stomach to suddenly bulge like an instant pregnancy, or John Hurts chest just before the Alien rips its way out of his innards.

For some reason talk turned to glam-rock legends, The Sweet, as Crazy Legs tried to recall one of their songs that was always on heavy rotation at the ice hockey. I felt anything was good as long as it wasn’t “Love is Like Oxygen” – a song the Hammer would later declare “has an elegiac quality, reminiscent of running alone through a field of wheat.”

He then suggested that The Sweet were the kind of band Led Zeppelin could have been if only … (I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t inadvertently discovered the secret identity of Lord Buckethead and now know who the person is under that … err… bucket.)

The Hammer and Big Dunc became all misty-eyed and nostalgic about prog rock and discussions about the best Pink Floyd album, while both Crazy Legs and I excused ourselves from the discussion and affirmed our Punk, Post-Punk-New Wave, Ska and Mod credentials by  declaring we’d never even consider listening to Pink Floyd and would instantly destroy any of their material that might infiltrate our households and taint our music sensibilities.

Meanwhile, as the rain continued to lash down outside and despite our dripping, soaked through gear, we all agreed we were strangely content to live in a moderate if changeable climate and pleased we didn’t have to suffer the extremes of long, baking hot summers, or deep frozen, snowbound winters.

Crazy Legs started toying with his track mitts and I told him it was too late to try and dry them out now. He gave us a fine display of jazz hands and suggested if he could ride home like that, his gloves would probably be dry before he made it back. The Hammer felt he might as well go the whole hog, black up and ride home doing a bad impersonation of Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer.

And then it was time to leave and with a quick rendition of “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo’ Bye)” make our way out into the rain again, while the rest of the cafe patrons heaved a huge sigh of relief.

As we were making for the exit someone in the café seemed to suggest we were, as my water-logged ears interpreted it, as “mad as otters” – perhaps I misheard, but I have to say that given the wet weather that seemed an altogether appropriate epithet.


I had a chat with Taffy Steve as we rode back and we both agreed the ride had the feel of one of our winter epics – a small band of die-hard compadre’s, gamely battling the elements together, while spouting all sorts of complete and utter nonsense. The only difference was, this time the rain was warm!

This reminded me of the  Phineas and Ferb episode where they used a snow-cone machine to create “a unique and logic defying amalgam of winter and summer” or S’Winter. Leaving the others and heading for home,  the S’Winter song became deeply lodged in my brain and I found myself pedalling along quite happily, singing:

It’s a S’Winter S’Wonderland,

Unusual and grand,

You can freeze while you get tan,

Because it’s S’Winter.

(Apparently, some people call it W’ummer too!)


YTD Totals: 3,593 km / 2,233 miles with 38,618 metres of climbing

Booty Contest

Booty Contest

Club Run, Saturday 5th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  93 km/58 miles with 804 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          All the y’s – chilly, wintry, gusty and showery


 

ride-profile-5-nov
Ride Profile


The Ride:

Business as usual on Saturday, as OGL and G-Dawg returned from their sojourn north of the border and the weather reverted to the kind of wild, windy and wet weather we’ve come to expect so late in the year. In fact, the BBC weather forecasts leading up to Saturday looked positively apocalyptic with heavy wintry showers across the day, all accompanied by a blustery, gale force winds direct from the Arctic.

Saturday morning proved things weren’t quite as bad as forecast, with the constant rainfall that was predicted materialising more as a series of short, sharp showers. The day then didn’t look quite as unremittingly bleak as expected, but it was easily the coldest we’ve had so far this autumn.

Clothing choice now became the central concern and I loaded up for the worst, a light, long-sleeved base layer under my Galibier Mistral jacket, topped with a new Santini “Rain” waterproof. This latter is in a fetching shade of light grey, that Crazy Legs suggested matched my complexion and gave rise to him calling me John Major for the rest of the ride.

Full-length winter tights, Thermolite socks, shoes and winter overshoes covered the bottom half, while thick and reasonably shower-proof gloves, a headband and buff protected the gaps and extremities. I even remembered to tuck a spare pair of gloves away in a pocket, in case the first pair did eventually succumb to the rain.

The road down from Heinous Hill has now gained another strip of fallen leaves, mainly down the central meridian, but occasionally spilling across both lanes. I wasn’t keen to test whether the surface just looked slippery or actually was, so I scrubbed off speed and picked my way carefully around the corners, no doubt annoying the driver following close behind. I think he may have actually read last week’s blog and wanted to get into the fun of seeing if he could graze the rain flap on my mudguards without bringing me down.

Surviving the descent, I was rewarded with my first blast of icy rain as I crossed the river and began to haul myself up the other side. Here I would stop a couple of times to shed the buff and the headband and loosen a few zips here and there to get some air flow to counteract the over-heating. Despite this I made good time and was the first to arrive at our meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The BFG was the first of our group to appear, once again on his ultra-posh, much-too-nice-for-this-kind-of-thing, winter “hack” – kind of like wearing a white tuxedo to a Cradle of Filth mosh-pit. He reported his knee operation had been an all-round success, but he continues to recuperate and would turn for home early, “before his stitches started weeping.”

Meanwhile he educated me on the tricks of bike smuggling to avoid the censure of eagle-eyed partners. His infallible system is based on the principles of Trigger’s broom or, if you prefer something more highbrow, the Ship of Theseus paradox: Trigger receives an award for having the same broom for 20 years, then reveals that during this time it’s only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

The BFG’s cunning ploy is not to buy an all too obvious complete bike, but individual components piecemeal, slowly replacing parts one at a time and upgrading an existing bike. Of course, he admitted, the only drawback was that he always had to stick to the same colour, otherwise the swap became too obvious. This could explain why all his bikes are black, which in itself was a revelation as I thought he simply hadn’t outgrown the mad-Goth affectations of his youth.

Taffy Steve arrived amidst another shower of cold rain, reaching delicately into his back pocket with a finger and thumb to extract a tiny bundle of cloth about the size of a matchbox. He then shook this out to reveal a gossamer thin, shiny Funkier gilet, in an orange so bright and whizzy it actually seemed to oscillate to a different frequency and brought tears to my eyes to look at.

This flimsy, ephemeral garment was all the windproof and water-resistant clothing he felt he could wear without seriously overheating and was the latest addition to his foul-weather armoury, along with a pair of shiny-silver, winter cycling boots that looked as if they were styled on something Dave Hill might have worn back in the heyday of Slade and glam-rock.

As the rain increased in intensity, we finally saw sense and relocated to the shelter of the car park. Here I found G-Dawg had finally succumbed to the inevitable, put away his best bike and was now out on his winter-fixie. He was also immeasurably proud of his rear mudguard, an ultra-slender sliver of black plastic suspended horizontally, halfway between his rear tyre and saddle, where it would be able to deflect … oh, I don’t know … maybe one-tenth of all the road spray we were going to kick up.

Having just about survived another Braveheart Dinner, he suggested the event was in serious danger of losing some of its lustre, especially as this year special guests had been thin on the ground with only Callum Skinner to add a note of class. So, no Bradley Wiggins or David Millar, no Marianne Vos, or Mark Cavendish and, as G-Dawg concluded somewhat ruefully, “even Sean Kelly gave it a miss” Things must be bad.

Of course his reaction may in part have been coloured by not only being forced to journey there and back in a car with OGL, but also having to share the same hotel room. He subsequently reported no new yarns, but plenty of old ones.


I was somewhat surprised that the usual, slightly-crazed winter-stalwarts and “usual suspects” were well supplemented by a sizeable contingent of others, although all the girls were conspicuous by their absence. This being the first Saturday of the month however, our dauntless Go-Ride youngsters were out in force and at least their numbers included several girls.

The Garrulous Kid was out with us again and having himself recently graduated from the kid’s section had to endure a few catcalls and good-humoured cries of “traitor” from his previous riding partners.

At precisely 9:15 Garmin Time, we left the relative sanctuary of the car park and 19 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out into the teeming rain.


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To the Cheese Farm!


I dropped into the middle of the pack beside Caracol and we were soon out into the countryside and heading up toward the Cheese Farm. As we approached the entrance to the farm a silver 4 x 4 poked its nose into the lane, saw us and then pulled over to stop and let us through. I would usually give such a considerate driver a cheery wave and big thumbs-up, but behind the windscreen I could see him sitting there, evidently furious, gesticulating angrily and mouthing off at us.

I then rounded his car to notice a big, new sign for the Cheese Farm, proudly declaring “All Cyclists Welcome!” Maybe not all the staff are quite “on message” yet.

With a rotation off the front, I caught up with Crazy Legs, who’d dubbed Taffy Steve’s gilet “the Beacon.” I wondered if he’d noticed the new winter boots as well. He informed me that he’d not only noticed them, but compared them with his own in terms of style, build and quality. This he casually referred to as “a booty contest” – until he realised what he’d said and began guffawing loudly. Honestly, sometimes this stuff just writes itself.

He then declared he hated turning left at the next junction and was determined to turn right, even if it meant riding off on his own, but we all went right anyway. I guess it’s a strange but universal truth of cycling that different riders tend to grow to hate different bits of road and it’s never as obvious or simple a reason as it just being a hard-climb – although Szell’s love-hate relationship with Middleton Bank might be an exception.

The bits I hate tend to be “false-flats” where there’s a very slight, almost imperceptible rise and you struggle along them wondering what’s wrong with you and why it’s suddenly become so hard, not realising you’re heading ever so slightly, but very definitely uphill all the time.

We regrouped briefly after the climb to Dyke Neuk and found ourselves testing the uneasy peace between cyclists and horse riders as we converged on the gathering point for one of the local hunts. At one point one of the horses panicked and began crabbing across the road toward us, while I pressed ever further into the verge on the opposite side of the road as I tried to edge past. Large, dumb equine beast with flailing, iron boots narrowly avoided, I managed to finally exhale and press on.

The horse-people were unfailingly chipper and cheerful, despite the foul weather and appearance of a dozen or so unruly bike-oiks in their midst. Perhaps hunting and killing small frightened mammals grants you an inner, zen-like calm, but I have to admit it passed me by last week when I had to batter one of Mouse (the cat’s) errant mouse (the mouse) playthings to death with my cycling shoe in the “Blood on the Cleats” incident. Perhaps the horse people were just glad they weren’t having to cycle anywhere in such appalling weather.


 

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Negotiating an uneasy alliance


As we dived down and then up through Mitford I caught up with Grover, perhaps the only one of us who hadn’t yet transitioned to a winter bike as he sat proudly astride his shiny Pinarello. I queried whether he had a licence for such profligacy and he explained his only alternative – a vintage bike he’d restored with 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears, was too heavy. I suggested he might need a different bike, he suggested he needed to get fitter … and I suggested he needed a different bike.

The Garrulous Kid was suffering in the cold and miserable conditions and wanted to know how much further it was to the café. One last hill, I promised as we swept through a road spanning puddle of dirty frozen water and his day became yet more miserable.

The Prof was having a jour sans and complained of being humiliated as we dropped him on the climb up towards Bolam Lake. We waited at the top, where G-Dawg suggested the Prof would ride straight through us without stopping and attack off the front, but he must have been feeling really off his game, as he reigned in his inner mad-dog enough for him to just take the front and try and control the group.

We were however closing in on the café and the speed was being wound up all the time. We were strung out in a long line as we swooped down through Milestone Woods and up the rollers, where the Prof was washed away off the front and I made up good ground sliding from the back to the front of the group, swerving around the Garrulous Kid as he pulled his shoe out of his pedal bindings.

I held there until the final corner and the last series of upward drags when G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Captain Black jumped away. I hung onto their wheels until they pulled me clear of everyone else and then watched them pound away to fight for the honours, rolling up behind them.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:

Taffy Steve’s majestic, elephant’s scrotum purse made a reappearance, leading to a discussion about cycling wallets and purses in general. OGL flashed his waterproof wallet complete with British Cycling Licence, which he suggested he always carried because he was surprised how many of us went out without basic id on them and he’d been called on to try and identify a number of cyclists involved in accidents.

I remembered a cyclist just last year who was killed in Yorkshire and for about a week nobody knew who he was, only that he was a middle aged man found with a Carrera. I know there’s a bit of a bike snob in all of us, but surely his family and friends weren’t that embarrassed to own up to knowing him just because he bought his bike at Halfords?

OGL suggested he’d once even considered having his name and blood group tattooed on his bicep just for identification purposes. He didn’t quite get it when Taffy Steve and I agreed it probably wouldn’t have gone down to well with Nazi hunters and we told him he’d have to avoid holidays in Israel, while we commented on his typically Aryan, blue-eyed, blonde-haired looks. When he still didn’t catch on, I told him that the type of tattoo he described was a trademark of the SS, but he completely misunderstood and started rambling on about an ex-SAS, ex-member of the club, to much eye-rolling around the table.

The Red Max had enjoyed his holiday in Spain, riding with a few local clubs and enjoying perfect weather and hospitality. He generously offered to lend anyone his solid bike boxes too – “as long as it doesn’t clash” which Taffy Steve immediately took to mean you could put anything in them, as long as it was red.

OGL commented that one of our esteemed members, Facebook posting, carbon stress-testing, Guiness slurping, pie chomping, platter spinning, real ale swilling, curry sampling, all-azione, Thom-Thom, was off in Glasgow for the weekend, enjoying the track cycling at the Chris Hoy velodrome and indulging in the local hospitality.

I saw that he’d posted on Facebook how he was enjoying an evening curry at one particular Indian, someone had then recommended another and he’d replied along the lines of: “Good. That’s breakfast sorted then.” I like his style, but I couldn’t cope with his lifestyle.

OGL also said that he’d returned from the Braveheart ride to find G-Dawg diligently washing his bike in the hotel bath. I have to say I was completely unsurprised.


On the way home I had a chat with young-tyro, Jimmy Cornfeed, obviously about bikes, but also touching on this blog, how he didn’t seem to mind his own blog persona and how he thought the Garrulous Kid was the perfect moniker for, well the Garrulous Kid, obviously … or he did after looking up garrulous in the dictionary. There you go then, proof if ever it’s needed that my blog is not only mildly irritating entertaining, but slightly educational too.

We determined that the Garrulous Kid was particularly garrulous about sharks, which he seemed to feed randomly into any conversation whenever it was possible and appropriate (and occasionally when impossible and inappropriate.) We then decided he either had a deep fear of sharks (galeophobia, according to Mr. Google) or an unhealthy fascination with them, which I guess would make him a galeophile?

As we hit Berwick Hill, Jimmy Cornfeed took the opportunity to stretch his legs, floating effortlessly up the inside past all the stragglers and off on his own. I let him pull me across the gap and up to the front group where I dropped in behind the leading pair to find OGL growling about keeping it steady and not attacking the hill. I tried to counter by making a case for youthful enthusiasm, which I don’t have, but can at least still appreciate, but would imagine it made little impact.

Slotting in beside the Red Max for the final stretch we noticed a lone rider approaching, but still at a considerable distance and we both instantly recognised one of our own. Sure enough a wildly grinning Laurelan soon passed us, heading out as we headed back and leaving both the Red Max and me worrying about how easy it was to recognise someone just by their riding style and form on the bike.

Then we were through the Mad Mile and I was swinging off for my solo trek home. As I passed one large municipal roundabout en route, I noticed it was desultorily scattered with a few huge, tired and rather sad looking fabric poppies and I couldn’t help wonder what purpose they actually served and if the money wasted on the display wouldn’t be better donated straight to the relevant charities.

This annoyed me almost as much as the furore over FIFA stopping the national football team from playing in a one-off shirt emblazoned with a poppy. After all, can you think of any group of individuals less suited to represent the incredible heroism, bravery, stoicism and sacrifice of our military veterans than a group of millionaire dilettante sportsmen kicking an imitation pig’s bladder around a paddock? How much difference would this completely hollow, token gesture actually make to veterans and isn’t there some other, more dignified way we can commemorate their sacrifice?

How much time and money has been wasted discussing, designing, making, marketing and arguing about our football team’s right to wear these stupid shirts and how might all that time and money and effort been better spent doing something meaningful?

I’m no apologist for the ultra-corrupt, ultra-stupid FIFA, that somehow manages to make the UCI look competent, but their rules on this issue are quite clear in this instance and I for one am quite happy for them not to start blurring anymore lines.

Even more astonishingly the Football Association had already proposed such an empty gesture a few years ago and had been very firmly rebuffed, so why so recklessly disregard the past and plan the exact same thing again? Are they so bereft of creativity and wisdom that they cannot come up with anything more novel and appropriate, or are they just out to make mischief?

And finally, why does the scarily nationalistic, increasingly xenophobic, frothing-at-the-mouth British press treat this as some great indignity and national insult and feel the need to write about it with such mock outrage. Personally, I just think everyone need to get out on a bike and restore some balance, calm and consideration to their lives. Works for me.


YTD Totals: 6,093 km / 3,786 miles with 60,722 metres of climbing

Proxy Proselytisers Batman! – The Superhero Edition


Club Run, Saturday 20th February, 2016

Taffy Steve’s Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                             99 km/64 miles with 1,033 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                      4 hours 38 minutes

Average Speed:                             23 km/h

Group size:                                     An unknown number of riders. No SLJ!

Weather in a word or two:      Well, it was nice indoors…


The return of some dread viral chest infection had me feeling fuzzy round the edges, aching in every limb and confined indoors, missing the club run and wondering if I could get away with another gaping hole in my blog publishing schedule.

I was considering writing about the conundrum of different crank lengths, although that’s far too technical for me, so perhaps something about be the relative aesthetic merits of Castelli vs. Santini gear was more in order, or something else equally as useless, earth-shattering and revelatory …

…and then, crawling bravely through the shattered wire, mud, shell holes, blood and trenches, an after-action report brought words from the front: Saturday’s Club Run seen through the eyes of Taffy Steve and complete with a metaphorical white feather for those caught malingering indoors.

With the odd (and I do mean odd) addition from Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve gamely took up my heavy and less than subtle cudgel of irreverent and sardonic commentary to beat everyone about the head and shoulders with, outlining what sounds like an absolute classic club run.

So without further ado, and only a touch of paraphrasing and one or two embellishments, take it away Taffy Steve… (corny, I know – but I’ve always wanted to say that)


“So Sur la Jante had an unauthorised absence this week, and typically it was a vintage week for nonsense.

At the arrival at the meeting place a small leather strap was found on the floor and we quickly decided that the it must have come from the steed of the BFG which is bedecked solely in cow products. (As you may have noticed from our past encounters with him, the BFG is truly devoted to vintage bicycles featuring the use of all natural materials, even though the more modern equivalents are cheaper, lighter, better engineered and far more effective. Hence he likes to ride on wooden rims that warp after a few miles, while using cork brake shoes that don’t work very well and are scientifically proven to actually speed up wheel rotation when applied to rims in the wet.)

We drifted slowly westward – pushed onward by Crazy Legs until he ran out of steam. During this journey OGL declared that he had been riding a bike “seriously” since 1959 – so not as old as Sputnik but predating the Apollo program. (I often think one of the problems is too much serious bike riding, but then I have been accused of being flippant on more than a few occasions)

He told me that a certain house had actually been there since he had been riding – apparently my reply of “Excellent” made Crazy Legs forget that we were flat out at 22 kph. (Although we all recognise he’s old, I was unaware up to this point that OGL regards himself as a modern day Methuselah – a man who has outlived entire buildings, if not civilsations).

After a couple of splits, four of us were joined by an interloper – dressed all in blue with white stars – Captain America had arrived in Stamfordham!


 

Tour of California - Stage 5
Captain America


We caught up with Crazy Legs and Ovis struggling with a punctured Conti 4 seasons which didn’t want to be re-homed and was hanging desperately to the rim like a Calais Jungle refugee clinging to the Eurostar.

Red Max tried to take control, but succeeded only in managing to fire an errant tyre lever off into some brambles and boldly went in after it. (Rumours that he’s still in there and waiting for some kind hearted Daniel to remove a thorn from his paw are I believe exaggerated.)

Unfortunately, Captain America showed no interest in helping with any repairs and any hopes that he was Bicycle Repair Man in disguise were cruelly dashed. He wasn’t a real superhero after all!


 

BRM
“Is it a stockbroker? Is it a quantity surveyor? Is it a church warden? No! It’s Bicycle Repair Man!


Reading between the lines, it would appear that somehow the collective might and manpower of the club (sadly absent any superhero assistance) finally managed to fix the flat, only for Ovis to cunningly, “it was an accident, honest” insert his flip-flop hub the wrong way round so he could do a bit of freewheelin’ with the 40 mph tailwind pushing at his back.

Setting off again Captain America revealed to Crazy Legs that he not only had an amazing outfit, but a cornering style reminiscent of Warren Barguil at his worst. Crazy Legs and Ovis managed to avoid this rather more intimate than expected encounter better than Geraint Thomas, somewhat discomfited, but none the worse for wear.

Captain America then made the fatal mistake of responding to one of the Red Max’s Forlorn Hope attacks and fatally dragged both Max and Taffy Steve to the line, learning as Taffy Steve succinctly puts it “that you shouldn’t tow the fatties,” as he was then mercilessly mugged in the sprint.

In the café recently anointed Grandpa, the Red Max proclaimed to a thoroughly stunned and silenced table that he’d gone through all the computations and worked out that terry nappies were cheaper than Pampers and the pay-back time on the initial investment was only 8 weeks.

This was taking into account the relative material, distribution, transportation and disposal costs, environmental and societal impacts, local taxation rates, power, water and detergent usage, plus the additional benefits of providing the safety pin industry with a new source of users beyond just cyclists pinning numbers to their backs.

I understand that the whole 48-page Excel workbook containing the finer details of his calculations has been submitted for consideration to the Nobel Committee.

We shouldn’t be surprised by such deep and provocative thinking, after all the Red Max is the eccentric genius who developed Horner’s Theorem which irrefutably proves a direct relationship between the number of shiny, posh and clean carbon bikes out on a spring or autumn morning and the number of crap-covered farm tracks, pothole and gravel strewn roads, gates and cattle grids OGL will “accidently” include in our route for the day.

Despite his impressive cognitive abilities however, it was revealed when it comes to devices for expressing milk, then even the Red Max has met his match – or his kryptonite, if you will.

Anyway, Taffy Steve happily concludes that Max’s Grandad switch has now been irreversibly thrown, he just needs to adopt a constantly confused demeanor and selective deafness. He’s actually half-way there with the latter, having successfully been ignoring OGL’s diktats for several years now.

Congratulations Pops, I’ll hopefully see you next week.