Frozen Freewheelin’ Fun

Frozen Freewheelin’ Fun

Club Run, Saturday 9th December, 2017                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  99 km / 62 miles with 1,021 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 18 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         17 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    2°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold


9 december
Ride Profile

Just before we start – a public service announcement: A few weeks ago, I bought a USB rechargeable rear light from VeloChampion – works great by the way – and along with my order they sent me a complimentary set of tyre levers. They looked the business and they’re always useful to have, I tucked them into my backpack and promptly forgot about them.

Then last week, in the dark and freezing cold of my commute home I punctured. I took the wheel off the bike, worked the tyre loose, all the way around the rim, popped one of the VeloChampion levers into the gap, leant a little weight onto it and … quite deftly and without whole heap of effort, snapped the tip off the lever.

I tried the second lever. Same result. I didn’t even bother with the third, reaching instead for an old pair of cheap, tyre levers from Halfords, or Poundland or some other less celebrated retailer. They worked as reliably as ever and I was soon underway again.


I offer this precautionary tale simply as a warning – if these had been the only tyre levers I’d been carrying I could have been stuck. If I’d been alone, out in the wilds of who knows where, it could have been even worse. I don’t know if I simply received a duff batch, but, if you’ve been gifted a set of VeloChampion tyre levers, or even worse, been tempted by their website proudly declaring: “Don’t be fooled by cheaper plastic levers! These are heavy duty Nylon levers” and paid good money for some, it might be best you check they don’t disintegrate before you head out onto the roads.

Laid low with a chest infection, I’d missed last Saturday’s ride, which was remarkable as G-Dawg reconnoitred the entire route by car the day before, just to ensure everywhere was as ice free and as safe as could be expected. That’s going well beyond the call of duty and smacks of a degree of professionalism that is a long way from our usual ramshackle organisation.

I was anxious not to miss another Saturday and spent most of the week keeping a wary eye on Storm Caroline as it developed out in the Atlantic and tracked steadily toward the British Isles. Come Friday, it looked like the North East was going to miss the worst of any snow, but temperatures were going to be as depressed as a Morrisey song cycle, threatening to drop below -4°C overnight. This would normally guarantee icy roads enough to give any right-minded cyclist pause, but although cold, the weather had been unusually dry and it looked like we would get away with it.

I doubled up on baselayers, gloves, socks, shorts and tights, pulled a gilet over my winter jacket, wrapped my face in a buff and hoped for the best.

At the bottom of the Heinous Hill I scattered a squabbling, squawking, squadron of seagulls, that had been swarming over some discarded takeaway and they swirled into the air like a raucous, feathered tornado. Did that mean the weather was especially bad out on the coast, or were they just opportunistic scavengers?

Down toward the river, my digital checkpoint read 8:19 and 0°C – hey, things were picking up already! Over the bridge, I turned east again, riding toward the sun that was just starting to lumber up over the horizon. A bright, burnished copper penny, it suffused the sky with a pleasant, warm apricot glow that was, quite simply a blatant lie. It was freezing and my toes and thumbs turned slowly numb before, even more slowly, feeling started to return.

At the meeting point I had difficulty recognising each new arrival, everyone was bundled into bulky clothing, with faces obscured by scarves and buffs and hats and we looked like the ragtag remnants of the 6th Army fleeing Stalingrad.

Main topics of conversation at the Meeting Point:

The Garrulous Kid finally completed his self-appointed mission of asking every single club member at least three times if they watched I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Every time he asked, he got the same response: – I don’t watch it and its rubbish – but still he persisted. I felt his head was going to explode with frustration, until he lucked onto a new gambit and started asking everyone if they were looking forward to the World Cup. At least with this new obsession he managed to find a handful willing to talk football with him and he’s got until at least until June next year to make sure he’s canvassed everyone’s opinion. At least half a dozen times.

Richard of Flanders arrived on his winter/commuter bike, complete with pannier rack that he explained wasn’t worth the effort of removing for the club run. I felt that ideally he should have slung a bag of sand over the back to help with rear wheel traction on the ice and snow. Maybe next time?

It was perhaps not the dumbest suggestion as he admitted dissatisfaction with the grip he was getting from his Continental Gatorskins – pretty much the same reason I gave up on them and switched to Schwalbe Durano’s a couple of years ago.

Seeking tyre advice from a dozen or so cyclists naturally led to more than a dozen different opinions – with Richard appearing to be leaning toward Schwalbe Marathon’s – super tough, with great protection, but if you do ever puncture, good luck seating that tyre back on the rim.

The Cow Ranger suggested the Schwalbe Marathon was the only tyre whose value appreciated the more miles you did on it. He felt you could even command a premium price for second-hand one after 4 or 5,000 miles of solid use, if there was just the tiniest, incremental bit of give in the wire bead.

Richard of Flanders had volunteered to lead the ride, but given the freezing conditions and unknown road surfaces, simply stuck with last week’s winning formula and the route that G-Dawg had devised and thoroughly reconnoitred. Everyone bought in and we were good to go.

There was still time though for a horrified G-Dawg to recoil from the sight of the Garrulous Kid’s filthy chain, that looked like it had recently been dredged up from deep within the Brea Tar Pits. The Garrulous Kid was adamant he cleaned his bike “regularly” and I guess once every 18 months does actually classify as regularly. His paltry and wholly unacceptable excuse this week … he’d run out of oil and now Steel’s, his LBS had closed, he didn’t have anywhere to buy more.

Meanwhile the Colossus expounded on the frighteningly corrosive qualities of citrus degreaser, which he likened to Alien blood, equally capable of quickly dissolving the nickel plating of your bike chain as eating its way through the deck of the space-freighter Nostromo.

With everyone keen not to hang around too long and start to chill in the freezing conditions, Richard of Flanders called us to order bang on 9.15 GMT (Garmin Muppet Time) and, a much bigger group than I expected, 14 hardy souls pushed off, clipped in and set out.

With impeccable timing, a flying Benedict tagged onto the back just as we swept onto the main road and a bit further on we picked up Two Trousers and Ironman, the Antipodean erstwhile FNG. Our numbers now swelled to a very respectable Heaven 17.

Dropping to the back alongside OGL, we had a chat about the dark enigma that is cycling club membership, the even darker, omerta-protected, murky-mystery of cycling club finances and the stunningly obtuse, impenetrable conundrum of cycling club governance. There was to be no Damescene revelation for me though and I’m still none the wiser.

Although bitterly cold, there seemed little ice to worry about and the only potential threat occurred when one young acolyte braked a little too sharply, overcome with religious fervour as we approached the Holiest of Holy shrines, the Gate … no sorry The Gate – the Blessed and Most Anointed Gate.

Successfully anointed in golden tribute, we shuffled the pack and trundled on once more.


I found myself riding beside Taffy Steve who complained the freewheel on his thrice-cursed winter bike seemed to be slipping and felt he’d have to take his wheels in for yet another visit to his LBS. His wheels have apparently spent more time in the workshop than actually on his bike.

As a group we hammered up the Quarry, swung right at the top and pressed on for the café. On the final stretch of road, we were all barrelling along together, waiting for moment when Taffy Steve rode up the outside, insulted someone’s manliness, and launched a hopeless attack off the front. It never happened though, everything was quiet and strangely civilized as we rolled down and through the Snake Bends without any overt outbreak of hostilities.

A bit of gravel surfing through the café car park even got me to the front of the queue and I’d been served and seated before word filtered through that Taffy Steve’s freehub had quit on him out on the road and no matter how furiously he pedalled he was going nowhere.

Aether and OGL had stopped to help out Taffy Steve, but with nothing to be done, finally it was left to Aether to push a freewheelin’ Taffy Steve to the café where he could phone home for pickup. I think that was the warmest and the most work Aether had done all day.

Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

I was telling the table the exact same thing had happened to me a few winters ago, when my freehub stopped engaging and it was probably in much the same spot. While staring futilely at the wheel, unreasonably willing it to start working again, a couple of old timers had ridden past and asked what the issue was. They helpfully suggested a sharp blow to the freehub could sometimes fix the problem, or failing that they suggested peeing on it!

“Did it work?” G-Dawg enquired.

“No, but it probably made him feel better,” The Colossus answered for me.

Benedict then conjured up an image of me thrashing my bike with a leafy branch, Basil Fawlty style and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I felt like doing at the time and yes, it probably would have made me feel a whole lot better.

I checked up on the insulating properties of facial hair with the Colossus, who reported the main benefit of a beard wasn’t its protective qualities, but like nature’s Velcro, it was brilliant for holding his buff in place.

Meanwhile, Taffy Steve found the Missus was out, Christmas shopping in that Monument to Mammon, the Metro Centre, actually closer to my home than Taffy Steve’s idyllic coastal retreat. To make matters worse, she was in the small car and there was definitely no room for him and his ailing, thrice-cursed winter bike, even if she broke off from her shopping trip.

It was looking like an expensive taxi ride home, when Sneaky Pete volunteered to ride back to town, pick up his car and then return for Taffy Steve. What a what a hero, what a star, what a gent … Sneaky Pete Saves the Day!

Complimenting the Ironman on his smart, Trek winter bike, he revealed he’d bought it for a bargain price off fleaBay and from someone down south (i.e. somewhere in the wildlands beyond Washington). He told us how he’d negotiated the handover to take place in a supermarket car park, midway between his home and the sellers and he’d then gone to great lengths to describe the exact colour and type of car he’d be driving, what he looked like and what he’d be wearing on the day.

“And?…” he’d politely enquired of the seller, expecting her to reciprocate and provide him with a description he could use to easily spot her in a crowd.

“Oh,” she replied, “I’ll be the one holding a bike.”

“Dammit!” G-Dawg exclaimed, inadvertently catching the Garrulous Kid’s eye, “Don’t look, don’t look … No, too late, he’s coming over…”

Up sauntered the Garrulous Kid and we learned about the tragedy that has befallen his iPhone which he’d dropped and broken, forcing him to take his less portable, generally unwearable iPad with him to the gym. We naturally couldn’t resist wondering how that worked, whether he carried it in a safety harness around his chest like a parent with a baby carrier, or maybe in a backpack, or was it merely wrapped to the side of his head with long lengths of gaffer tape.

His rambles then degenerated into random stories about his schoolmates buying chickens, how cyclists (still) can’t possibly do chin-ups, osmosis, how various club members look like people they in no way, shape or form resemble and how finding oil for a bike chain was such a very, very difficult thing to do.

Halfway through this unbridled, verbal outpouring, Caracol, whose table the Garrulous Kid had originally come from, wandered past in search of a coffee refill.

“Did you encourage him to move seats?” G-Dawg demanded to know.

A smug, smiling, Caracol defended his actions, baldly stating that his table had done their twenty minutes and it was only fair someone else had a turn.

Gathering in the car park before setting off, Caracol then declared that all stones started out exactly the same size and shape, and it was only the process of erosion over millions and millions of years that led to the immense, almost infinite variety of forms we see today. Now, this sounded like sound scientific fact to me, but oddly we couldn’t persuade the Garrulous Kid it was true.

It was still early-ish, so a group of us decided on a longer route home and we followed as the Cow Ranger and Colossus set a high tempo over the hilly first part. I then pushed onto the front with G-Dawg, who was adamant the day was warming up and talked about stopping to unpeel a few layers, even as the sun appeared to have reached a particularly unimpressive zenith and was starting to slowly sink again.

Still, I made it home before dark and in decent shape. Let’s see what next week brings

YTD Totals: 7,118 km / 4,423 miles with 81,875 metres of climbing



SLJ’s Tips for Winter Riding

I’m not alone within our club in wanting to continue to ride throughout the year, and some of our best and most enjoyable club runs take place against the typical backdrop of winter in the sometimes inhospitable far North East of England – in other words freezing cold, soaking wet and impossibly windy.

There’s something about being out with a smaller, select group of foolhardy mates and battling everything Mother Nature has to throw at you. In one sense, the worse the weather is, the more challenging the ride becomes and the greater the sense of personal achievement. On top of this the difference in form and fitness between those who ride and those who hibernate until the Spring is always quite marked.

Oh and as an added benefit, the queues in the café are generally much, much shorter in winter too.

Winter rides actually give us some of the best the weather has to offer, crisp, clear winter days under sparkling blue skies. There is of course also a fair share of rain, drizzle, sleet, hail and snow, gales and gusts of wind, frost and deadly ice and filthy-dirty, hacky-mucky, muddy-clarty road surfaces, liberally dotted with craters, crevasses, splits and fissures, pools, puddles, swamps and lagoons of freezing cold rainwater.

There’s lots of websites offering tips on winter riding, although I don’t think any of them have ever changed what I do, so I guess a lot of what they purport to teach you is just common sense and a bit of a waste of time.

Anyway, no one ever accused me of originality, so for what it’s worth here’s my one one-hundred-and-twentieth of a pound and hopefully, 1 or 2 tips that actually make it beyond the: “Yeah, so what, tell me something new” filter.

Dress the Part

Make sure your extremities are well covered – feet, fingers and ears are the bits of me that suffer the worst, so they’re the bits I pay most attention to.

Invest in a good pair of socks. Apparently the trick here is not to pile on so many layers that you have to squeeze your feet into your shoes, restricting blood flow and actually making things worse.

My own personal favourites are Prendas Thermolite socks, which I’d heartily recommend, even if I always think Thermolite sounds like some kind of extremely dangerous and volatile explosive.

Thermolite fibres, I’m continually being told, mimic “polar bear fur” and you’ve never seen a polar bear shiver have you? That’s because they wear Thermolite socks their fur is hollow and provides excellent insulation – and so apparently are Thermolite fibres.

“Aha! Excellent – Thermolite socks, my feet are bloody freezing.”

Of course socks actually made of polar bear fur would ultimately be the best, but good luck trying to shear one of those suckers. (Now there’s a challenge for Rapha, and something that might actually justify their elitist pricing policies).

I’ve tried other Thermolite socks (Agu do a relatively cheap pair via Planet X) but haven’t found any that are near as good, but your mileage may vary. The best thing about the Prendas ones are that they retain their warmth even when wet through – something that seemed to be a worrying trend last year as we saw extensive flooding and forged through some impressively deep puddles.

In extremis, a thin pair of over-socks, or Belgian booties worn over your shoes, but under neoprene, waterproof shoe covers can provide an additional bit of insulation. It’s even a simple enough task to make your own Belgian booties from an old pair of socks, just remember to cut a hole in the bottom to accommodate your cleats!

It has the benefit of giving you something else to do with old socks, once you’ve had your fill of sock puppets and if you’re wearing them under overshoes, Auntie Vera will never know her hideous, unwelcome Christmas gifts have been cruelly desecrated to fuel your cycling obsession.

Up top, I find wearing a hat under my helmet a little too warm, so wear a headband that covers my ears, but leaves the rest of my head uncovered for ventilation. Of course I’ll admit the drawback is it makes me look like sad disco diva from the 80’s (I’ll admit I can be a bit of a diva, but disco? Never!) Still, I feel it’s a small price to pay for toasty ears.

In heavy rain, a cycling cap worn under the helmet also works well, the peak will divert a lot of the road spray out of your eyes and it can also be useful to combat a low winter sun.

I have various different weights of glove depending on the temperature outside. Mightiest of all are some “Mr. Krabs” lobster mitts that look utterly ridiculous, but are the warmest I’ve found yet and, again keep their insulating properties even when completely waterlogged.

For less extreme days I choose the gloves to suit, often paired with a thin pair of silk glove liners that can be worn for added warmth, or quickly pulled off and tucked away in a back pocket. The glove liners were only a couple of quid on eBay and well worth the price. They were however dispatched from China seemingly by an over-worked, under-nourished, asthmatic carrier pigeon, so are probably best ordered before July if you want to wear them through the winter months.

A few club-mates have taken to carrying a spare pair of gloves so they can swap them out if the originals get soaked through. This certainly beats the singed-wool and wet-dog smell of gloves steaming on the fireplace at the café, or the utter horror and impossibility of trying to pull cold, wet gloves back on after they’ve been abandoned in a sodden, muddy heap on the floor.

A buff or tube scarf is another useful, inexpensive article – (I’ve seen it referred to as a neck gaiter in some quarters – please don’t use this term I always read it as goitre and it makes me feel very queasy.) Anyway, this is supremely practical to plug the gap between collar and neck, or it can be worn as a head covering, or pulled up to cover your chin, mouth, nose or lower face (if you’re feeling particularly bad ass and gangsta).

Neck gaiter, good … neck goitre bad

It’s also supremely useful just to wipe sweat, dirt and accumulated crud from your face, hands, specs, or even your bike.

In direct contravention of Velominati Rule # 34, I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter bike. The recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

For example, just last year we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood when a felled tree blocked the road and a ride which ended in a snowstorm saw me pushing the bike uphill on the pavement as the only way to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road shoes with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

Of course there’s a bit more expense involved if you need to buy both MTB shoes and road shoes, but decent MTB shoes are relatively cheap, last forever and save you destroying your best, carbon-soled racing slippers by riding them throughout the winter.

A few riders in our club use dedicated, waterproof winter boots rather than overshoes. This also might seem like an expensive option, until you consider the fact that overshoes tend not to last much beyond a year and are in almost constant need of replacing. I would imagine the investment in a dedicated pair of winter boots would not only keep your feet warmer and drier, but pay for themselves in the long run. Hopefully I’ll soon find out, I’ve added a pair to my Christmas list.

Of course, if any water does get in to these boots, it tends to stay there, which is what happened to Crazy Legs on one of the more extreme, rain-swept Wooler Wheel sportive rides. He eventually had to stop to take his boots off and pour out all the accumulated water, which I guess was a better option than a developing a severe case of trench foot.

I also use a range of good base layers of varying thickness and insulating properties and have even been known to wear two at a time. For the extreme cold a thick merino version has yet to be bettered.

My go to winter jacket is my Galibier Mistral, which is at least water-resistant if not downright waterproof. If it’s looking like a lot of rain, I usually put a waterproof over the top of this jacket. I’ve just bought a heavier Santini “Rain” jacket for just this purpose, and I’m reasonably confident I’ll get a chance to field test it very soon.

On the legs, tights or legwarmers made of that Roubaix fabric with the brushed back always seem a reliable choice. I quite like tights without a pad so they can be worn over shorts. This provides a bit more protection to the thighs through the double layer of shorts and tights. It’s also useful because I have half a dozen or more pairs of shorts, but only 3 or 4 pairs of tights. I can wear the same leggings for all my weekly rides by simply changing the shorts underneath for a clean pair everyday.

Some people suggest tights with a bib can serve better to keep your lower torso a little more protected and warm, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever noticed that much of a difference, although they do as a rule seem more comfortable for longer rides.

I use a pair of “waterproof” tights for commuting, but haven’t found them particularly effective and faced with a downpour I’m more likely to take a spare pair of shorts in my backpack so I have something dry for the ride home, even if the tights have become soaked through and don’t dry off in time.

The Ride

Winter means winter bikes for those that can afford them, or more precisely those who’ve been riding long enough to have bought a better bike and consigned their original steed to winter hack duties.

In some ways a true winter bike is more interesting, unique, more colourful and will have more character and more anecdotes attached to it than your more refined, “best bike.” Many will have long and varied back-story and an uncertain pedigree and provenance.

The incomparable, always entertaining Doc Hutch, writing in Cycling Weekly suggests, “a true winter bike is the one that just coalesces in a corner of the garage. Long forgotten and usually deeply-flawed components quietly gather themselves together until one day you find there are enough to build a bike. It’ll be a bike like no one else’s.”

He goes on to suggest, “It will be uncomfortable and it will rattle, but it will be yours in a way your summer carbon wonder-bike never will be. You will hate it, of course you will. But you’ll love it too.”

And here I think is the nub of the issue. The more you hate your winter bike, the less likely you are to ride it and given our long winters and poor weather is likely to last at least a quarter of the year, that’s a whole lot of riding to miss out on.

Even Taffy Steve can just about tolerate his thrice-cursed winter bike, although maybe he just tolerates it in order to keep his titanium love-child safe from harm and to build the anticipation of returning to it once the weather improves.

At worst then, I feel you need to lavish enough care, attention and unfortunately money on your winter bike to at least make it a neutral if not total pleasurable riding experience, even if it’s too unlovely to fully embrace.

The bare essentials I would insist on are a decent, tried and tested, comfortable saddle, full mudguards and winter specific tyres.

A few personal pointers:

Valve caps. You know those useless, little bits of plastic that the Velominati rules declare as useless and never to be used? How unseemly an impact do they have on how your bike looks? How much additional weight and drag do they add? How much quicker can you repair a flat without having to remove them? The answer to all these questions should of course contain the word “negligible” and you’ll find they’re actually a very valuable and useful asset in winter.

Without them the valves can become encrusted in salt and mud and crud, and almost impossible to open without resorting to mole grips or pliers, or in desperation teeth. Not a good place to be if you need to add (or remove) a little air from your tyres.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to drop your wheels out of the bike regularly when cleaning, just to check your quick release or wheel bolts haven’t seized solid. Bad enough to give your own personal spanner-monkey fits at home, but an absolute nightmare if you puncture in the middle of nowhere and can’t get the wheel out to change the tyre.

Our Glorious Leader even suggests that you occasionally remove, lube and replace your brake callipers, as he’s finding more and more bikes coming into his workshop with the brake fittings seized into the frame.

It’s worth buying spare brake pads so you have a set “in stock” ready at any time. The winter seems particularly harsh, chewing through them with great relish, often accompanied by that awful, gritty, grinding noise, that seems to signify your rims being ground to fine aluminium space dust before your eyes.

Your braking is likely to be compromised anyway by the fact that you’re on a heavier bike, with less effective equipment and often in wet and slippery conditions. That’s bad enough to contend with before you throw badly worn brake blocks into the mix.

Mudguards are often seen to be more trouble than they’re worth, ruining the aesthetic look of your bike and constantly and irritatingly rubbing and squeaking. But they’re worth putting up with for the benefits they can bring, most especially to anyone else you’re riding with.

Again, Doc Hutch through the auspices of Cycling Weekly suggests, “anyone whose winter bike doesn’t feature mudguards is both a fool and a blackguard.”

He adds that, “the carefree joy of guard-free riding is further enhanced while riding in a group, where the pressure hose of crap coming off the back wheel of the rider in front means you can pass the subsequent winter evening in front of the fire gently exfoliating your eyeballs every time you blink.”

As with all things winter bike related, I think the trick is to actually embrace them, rather than fit them grudgingly. Then again, once you’ve experienced the difference mudguards can make to your posterior, feet, bike, laundry and the disposition of your fellow riders after a wet, chilly ride, you’ll never go back. An asssaver might look hardcore, but it’s ridiculously ineffective in comparison to full length mudguards.

Really there’s no excuse for not using guards, given the wide variety of choice and fitting systems available – there must surely be a solution for every bike out there. My own advice would be:

Make them as wide as your frame will allow so you have the option for wider winter tyres and there’s less chance of them rubbing and driving you slowly crazy.

If they do start to rub, don’t try and adjust them on the fly. I tried to do this riding up a hill and caught my hand in the front wheel, getting a vicious, stinging slap for my stupidity, and very bruised, lacerated, bent and sore fingers too. It was a minor miracle I didn’t fall off to fully compound my idiocy.

Make your mudguards as long as possible. I recently laughed at Son of G-Dawg for wearing a full-facial mud pack which I was convinced wouldn’t help his complexion in the slightest. I was surprised when he told me it was the result of riding behind me, despite my standard issue long mudguards. I’ve since added additional mud flaps and have people squabbling to get on my back wheel now, knowing they’re going to be well shielded from spray and crud.

You can of course make your own mud flaps and I particularly like those homemade ones where you can still see the provenance of the plastic used – bright blue with a big label reading Domestos or the like.

Either one will work, but I particularly like the mudflap made from a bottle of honey as featured on Sheldon Brown’s website

For the lazy and cack-handed (like me) however there are store bought solutions readily available. I bought a front and back set from RAW that were a doddle to fit and I’m hugely pleased with. As well as adding additional protection for riders behind, I’m surprised how much drier the front one keeps my feet.

RAW also do mudflaps in a whole host of different colours and designs. These not so humble flaps can even be customised with your club colours and logo, although I’m already on record as declaring such frivolities as exceedingly gauche.

A few of my clubmates switch to fixies or single-gear when the weather gets really brutal, with the obvious benefits that there’s so much less to clean and maintain and fewer things that can go wrong. There’s also an appealing simplicity to riding a bike without gears.

I haven’t tried a club run on my single-speed yet, but perhaps with some heavier tyres I might give it a go, although I suggest it’ll probably be the end of me.

It’s worth investing in a decent set of winter tyres, even if it means more weight and rolling resistance. Fixing a filthy tyre in the freezing rain has no known positives, so the more you can do to avoid this scenario the better.

As far as tyres go, fatter seem to be better, offering more grip and a more comfortable ride at lower pressures. I’ve ridden Continental Gatorskins in the past but switched to Schwalbe Durano Plus to try and find a bit more grip without sacrificing too much puncture resistance. Others swear by Continental Four Seasons or Schwalbe Marathon’s.

I’m semi-tempted to try Schwalbe Marathon tyres once my current ones are past their shelf-life, although I’m somewhat leery of them too, as they are notoriously difficult to mount and I have the upper body strength of an anorexic, prepubescent girl, coupled to a grip akin to what your Grandad’s aged and massive Y-fronts exert through their perished elastic.

I’m also a little put-off by the fact that their advocates constantly refer to them through the much over-used term “bombproof” – a phrase evidently employed by people much given to hyperbole and possessing a very poor understanding of the destructive powers of explosive ordnance.

Some winter hazards to watch out for:

Cross winds and unexpected gaps in hedges – the two simply don’t mix. Beware the sudden gust that can scatter a group of well-organised cyclists like a bowling ball smacking the king pin full force.

Ice, ice baby. Ice is about the only thing that will keep large numbers of our group indoors, turning grip and traction into a lottery. Crazy Legs has a patented pre-ride ice test involving running out into the street in his slippers and taking a running jump into the nearest puddle. If he lands with a momentous splash and drenches himself in frigid water, all well and good. If he skids across the surface of the puddle and falls on his arse, it’s probably too cold to ride.

If you do think the roads are likely to be icy, its best to try and stick to main, bus routes which have a greater chance of being gritted. You should also be particularly wary of ice lingering in the shadows at the side of the road, even on the brightest of winter days. It goes without saying that any hazards when wet – white lines, fallen leaves, gratings and manhole covers, are likely to be even more hazardous when icy.

Experience has also taught us that, if you stop to help push a car out of a ditch after it’s skidded across the road on black ice, it’s probably best to assume that the road will be equally as unforgiving to cyclists (and most especially to Dabman’s brittle bones) and it’s probably best to turn around and find a different route.

Thorns. Farmers seem to take great delight in hacking back their hedges at this time of the year and liberally scattering the roads with their cuttings and numerous unavoidable, steel-tipped, mega-thorns. These are probably the cause of more punctures in our group than all the glass, flints and pinch flats combined. I haven’t yet found a tyre they can’t defeat and can’t see how they can be avoided. The best you can do is be aware and be prepared for the worst.

Finally, beware assorted toffs, often found milling aimlessly around in the middle of the road in winter – often in tweed and silly hats, occasionally carrying firearms and invariably accompanied by packs of barely-trained quadrupeds. They’re generally very jolly, but it’s best not to startle them too much, or get in their way.

So, there you have it all the encouragement and advice needed to keep you riding though the winter and the worst of the weather, it beats another torture session on the turbo every time.

Mea Culpa

Club Run, Good Friday 25th March, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   104 km/65 miles with 863 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 7 minutes

Average Speed:                                   25.3 km/h

Group size:                                           26 riders

Temperature:                                      15°C

Weather in a word or two:              Bright ‘n’ breezy

Main topic of conversation at the start:

Mea Culpa#1 the BFG corrected last week’s story regarding his wheels on fire, they weren’t the carbon on carbon model from his new uber-bike that he tried to spontaneously combust, but in fact the fabled, some might even say mythical wooden rims.

Speaking of carbon wheels, someone complimented G-Dawg on his new hoops and wondered if he’d sold his inner ring to pay for them. The proposed advert would have made interesting and somewhat paradoxical reading – for sale, one inner chain ring in pristine, immaculate condition, has done 8,000 miles, but has never been used.

There was no music in the cafes at night, but there was revolution in the air as we waited for OGL to roll up past the allotted start-time. Someone suggested just moving our meeting point to the other side of the bus stop, convinced this small act of rebellion alone would be enough for OGL’s head to explode and for him to start muttering darkly about schisms and breakaway groups in the club.

He finally deigned to roll-up at around 9.33, but if we’d dared to leave on time we’d still be hearing about it now.

I had a brief chuckle with Crazy Legs about Nacer Bouhani, winning the first two stages of the Volta a Catalunya, leading the entire race and points classification, but suddenly feeling so ill that he had to abandon as soon as the tips of the mountains pricked the horizon. He then miraculously recovered enough in time to ride Gent-Wevelgem, over 200 km of super-hard racing. So much for honouring the leader’s jersey.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Mea Culpa#2 the Prof informed me he did not cart away the fantastic booty of a lost and forlorn Sealskinz glove, as his persistence paid off and he eventually managed to track down its owner – none other than Zardoz, the unlikeliest Cinderella you could possibly imagine.

Reunited with his errant gauntlet at least saved him from riding home with one cold hand while looking like a wannabe Michael Jackson and perhaps it saved everyone else from being subjected to his angry dark-side. I’m not wholly convinced that the Prof didn’t return for the decapitated and eviscerated deer carcass as a sop to his disappointment though.

The elusive Bearded Collie spent time bemoaning the fact that Schwalbe no longer make orange tyres as his original set now appear to be disintegrating from lack of use. He’s busy looking desperately for replacements that will match his frame and save him from reverting to plain and dowdy “just black.”

He also remarked that the time since his last ride with us hadn’t mellowed OGL’s personable, accommodating, benevolent and very sunny outlook. Someone likened OGL to Pol Pot and speculated that club meetings would be over in a snap as he filled all the posts on the committee: President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary et al. Others disagreed though reasoning that OGL could start an argument in a Trappist monastery and probably has to spend huge amounts of time disagreeing with himself.

The Red Max and partner in crime the Monkey Butler Boy were under an ultimatum to clear the conservatory of bikes and bike parts as the rest of the family couldn’t get at the furniture. Aveline slyly suggested the problem wasn’t too many bikes, but too much furniture. For the sake of Max’s continued good health I hope that’s not a line of argument he chooses to pursue.

Meanwhile he’s busily entertaining himself constructing an enormous ziggurat of used and useless bottom brackets (I say useless, but he’s convinced they all still have “some life” left in them). He’s also collected enough lengths of used bike chain to bind Prometheus to the mountain, certain he’ll find a use for it all. Eventually.


ride good friday
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Good Friday was indeed good and looked like being the best day of the Easter weekend. Despite the chill the sky was a high blue vault, randomly studded with the odd, benevolent looking cotton wool cloud and the sun was bright if not warm.

I dropped into valley and chased down a fellow cyclist, drawing in to recognise the Castelli clad back of the benevolent stranger who had appeared to provide me with shelter from a vicious headwind in a ride under very different conditions (Vittoria’s Secret and the Cold Hand Gang, Feb 1.)

Before we split for different routes we had a brief chat and discovered that, like the Ee-Em-Cee rider I randomly encounter, he too was yet another former member and now fugitive of our club. He admired Reg and asked if I was a Barry Sheene fan (I wasn’t) as apparently he used a black, red and yellow livery on his bikes. Well, you learn something every day.


The Sheene Machine vs. Reg


Later, hurtling downhill to race the changing lights through a junction I swept past Shouty heading in the opposite direction and apparently already recovered from her broken femur. She was looking resplendent in her new club’s kit and no doubt off to grind out some hard solo miles.

Despite the chill edge to the wind, there were plenty out wearing shorts, but I have to admit it’s still far too cold to even consider exposing these ancient joints to the elements. As usual time hanging around at the meeting place gave everything the chance to seize up slightly and then it took even longer when riding to warm up and turn with any degree of fluidity.

As a decently large group of 29 riders pushed off, clipped in and rode out, I noticed Aveline was out with us for the 3rd or 4th time and in danger of losing her FNG status. I also saw that the elusive Bearded Collie was back with us after a massively long absence of probably a year or so – the Red Max spotted him too and wryly noted that now he knew it was officially Easter.


Rolling out under blue skies


As I drifted through the group I had a brief chat with Laurelan, who was having a bit of trouble with her bike which she’d ridden all through the winter and decided was now in rather desperate need of some TLC at the LBS. She was even attempting to barter gardening skills for cycle maintenance help among the more mechanically capable.

As we pushed out into the countryside we were treated to the years first sighting of Szell, sneaking past, head down and going in the opposite direction, obviously recently awoken from the slumber of deep hibernation and getting in secret training miles so he can put us all to the sword when he decides to next ride with the club.

At some point Laurelan’s front derailleur threw a hissy fit, decided it had done enough for the day and refused to budge. OGL called a halt and thanks to over 50 years of cycle maintenance and professional mechanical knowledge was quickly able to identify the problem and present a precise expert diagnosis; “It’s fucked.”

Now fully enlightened, Laurelan had to make the difficult choice of staying in the inner ring, which would get her up the Quarry climb, but was likely to get her dropped as the speed ramped up toward the café, or choose the big ring and grind and grovel up the climb.

She made her choice and we got going again as I found myself on the front with Captain Black. We were soon swinging right and started the run up to the Quarry, keeping the pace high all the way to the top, where an expected attack from the racing snakes strangely failed to materialise.


The Hammer in hot pursuit


Regrouping after the climb, the suggestion seemed to be OGL was planning an extended solo route and was turning off to leave us to our own devices. I’m pretty certain I heard someone say, “Let’s go!”

So I did.

Without really thinking about it I’d accelerated away, as if channelling my inner Red Max with a stupidly long, Forlorn Hope attack, opening up a sizeable gap while those behind just looked on and wondered what the hell I was doing. I must admit to thinking pretty much the same thing myself.

Mea Culpa#3 and apologies all. Apparently my sudden rush of blood to the head (or the legs?) caused a complete disintegration of group order and much shouting from an apoplectic OGL. I say apparently, because I was too far down the road to have actually heard anything, so I’m relying on a bunch of decidedly unreliable witnesses.

I counted the frames my camera took during this madcap venture – there were 30 shots between my escaping the group and the Hammer finally catching my back wheel just as I braked for the Snake Bends. Given the camera is set to take an image every 20 seconds, then I had 10 minutes of solo riding, not daring to look back and wondering where everyone else had gone to, if I’d taken a wrong turn, or if they’d all collectively decided to just head elsewhere and leave me hanging out on my own like an idiot.


The Nutter Chase


My solo break seemed a hell of a lot longer than 10 minutes to me, even as I was trying not to go full bore so I had a little something in reserve for when I was inevitably caught. As it was I was first to the Bends, first to the T-Junction and second on the scamper up the last hill toward the café. I’ll take that any day.

At the café we tried sitting in the garden for a while, but it was just a bit too chilly and when even the Scottish folk declared it was too cold to sit out we admitted defeat and sloped back inside.

On the way home we came across a stricken Prof and Mrs. Prof, marooned at the side of the road with a severe mechanical. Someone asked if they needed help, but the Prof suggested what they needed was more in the way of a taxi and waved us on.

Approaching Berwick Hill I was riding along 2nd wheel, chatting amiably with the Hammer when something went flying from the bike to tumble away. I slowed and swung over to the side of the road, letting everyone past as I went to retrieve what turned out to be the cap off my bottle. Although somewhat annoyed at having to stop, I realise it could have been a lot worse, I’d never have lived it down if I’d tried to use the bottle and poured the entire contents down my front.

Having found and secured the errant cap I turned around to find Big Dunc had stopped as well, suspecting I’d had a mechanical and everyone had just abandoned me. That was good as it meant I didn’t have to try and chase back on, and together we set a decent pace sweeping up a few stragglers along the way.

Splitting from the group the return was straightforward and without incident. Let’s see what effects my efforts have tomorrow, when it’s the usual Saturday Club Run with limited recovery time.

YTD Totals: 1,606 km /990 miles with 16,238 metres of climbing



Mid the steep sky’s commotion

Club Run, Saturday 5th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    95 km/59 miles with 930 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 12 minutes

Group size:                                           7 riders, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Storm chasing…

Main topic of conversation at the start: Crazy Legs rolled up lacking his usual ebullience and by-passing all form of normal greeting, to darkly intone one dread word: “Hangover.”

He did however manage to rouse himself briefly for a spirited round of “wheel wars” – loosely based on the successful “thumb wars” model, but this week pitting his Continental Gatorskin shod Campagnolo wheels against my Fulcrum’s with Schwalbe Durano tyres. “One, two, three, four, I declare a wheel war!” was accompanied by him bashing repeatedly at my front wheel until our bikes became locked together in rampant combat like two rutting stags. Sadly, this was to be his only meaningful action on the day.

OGL pulled up in his automobile with much head-shaking, to check which idiots were intent on heading out into the storm, before he himself sought safety in the gym. In his best, “We’re all doomed” voice, he went on to outline a litany of cancelled events, postponed sporting fixtures and general catastrophes, as Storm Desmond, 80 mph winds and torrential rain continued to batter the North.

A quick conference concluded that we’d be pretty much heading straight to the café and home again, it certainly wasn’t the day for longer rides or routes unknown.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: It was black bin bags all round as we made it to the café completely soaked through and dripping relentlessly. Sitting on the bags kept the chairs nice and dry, but couldn’t stop the flow of water, which pooled and seeped and ran until we were all seated in the midst of a big puddle of water that expanded slowly but remorselessly across the tile floor. I have to admit the surprising amount of water I was able to wring out of my waterproof logged gloves didn’t help matters.

Still, as necessity (or, perhaps adversity in this case) is the mother of invention, at least it led to us designing a cyclist mangle – you feed wet riders in one end, turn the (Kranken) handle and pull slightly creased and flattened, but much drier cyclists out the other end. We’re convinced there’s a market for this one…

Never mind the aerodynamic benefits of a hard, clip on helmet shell, beZ declared a far better, much under-appreciated quality was that it kept your hair dry and neatly in place. The various manufacturers are obviously missing a huge marketing opportunity by not pushing this particular feature.

Another club was also in the café, en route to their Christmas get together and they helpfully added their own offerings to the expanding pool on the floor. In a vain attempt to dry out various bits of kit they also took up much of the space around the wood-burning stove with steaming piles of gloves, hats, helmets, scarfs and other bits and pieces.

The Prof resorted to trying to dry his gloves directly on the black iron top of the stove, where they started to steam and then smoke alarmingly, and were rescued by beZ before they completely melted and we were all overcome with noxious fumes.

True to form, the ever absent-minded Shoeless bemoaned forgetting his protective specs, as he blinked furiously, each time exfoliating his stinging eyeballs of one more layer of cells. The collected grit and road crap that had been washed into his eyes formed a rich abrasive paste which beauty companies would pay a small fortune for, if they could only bottle and sell it as an exotic facial scrub.

Midway through a normal series of SMS exchanges, the Prof received one that was displayed entirely in Chinese characters. In an attempt to decode it, beZ took control of his old man’s phone with the intent on running the text through Google translate or something similar, but he had to give up when the signal was too weak to get a connection.

Unfortunately while playing with the phone he unwittingly opened up the Emoji menu. “Hey” the Prof declared in surprised delight, “What are all these hieroglyphics?”

Realising his mistake and at our urging beZ quickly wrestled the phone away again and turned the keyboard back to display just normal characters – we have trouble interpreting the Prof’s text messages, social media interactions and forum postings as it is, without letting him loose with a whole new wave of characters and icons.


ride 5th Dec
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Our Faecesbook page was surprisingly active first thing on Saturday morning, as Shoeless checked out the storm damage and weather forecast and posted up an interrogative, “Who’s riding today?” There were lots of negative responses, but seemingly enough affirmatives from the crazies to reassure him it was worth heading out.

I made my way to the meeting point through the collected debris of the night’s storm, fences, road signs, trees, bins and traffic cones all dragged down and scattered by the wind, while the roads were an obstacle course of broken branches and massive pools of standing water.


The forecast was not good

True to his word, Shoeless was there, waiting at the meeting point early, having decided even battling the elements in potentially dangerous conditions was better than the painful grind of another turbo-session.

A small nucleus of seven of us eventually pushed off, clipped in and headed out, the foreshortened roll of honour comprising: Shoeless, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, The Prof, Crazy Legs, beZ and me.

The much hungover Crazy Legs – usually one of the first to ride on the front, drifted right to the back early on and made it to the first set of lights, maybe a mile up the road, before calling it a day and turning back for home, conquered either by the weather or last night’s alcoholic excesses. Everyone seemed surprised and not a little disappointed that he hadn’t at least drilled it a couple of mile on the front for us before abandoning.

We pressed on regardless, swapping the front riders frequently as we battered our way out into the wilds of Northumberland. Conditions weren’t too bad, the day was at least fairly mild and it would have been pleasant if it hadn’t been for the gales.

Pointing out obstacles to following riders became a bit of a gamble and an exercise in how quickly you could reach out, stab a finger down at the ground and then regain your death grip of the bars.

Turning left or right now came with the luxury of power-steering, sticking an arm out to signal gave the wind something to push against and almost automatically dragged the wheel in that direction.

We managed to eke out a little shelter from hedges, embankments and buildings as we trundled along, but we seemed to spend a lot of time riding inclined and leaning over at about a 10° angle.

Every gap in the hedges brought a sudden gust of capricious wind that would push or pull us sideways and every time this generated a chorus of maniacal and very nervous cackling. Just for a change of pace it also decided to rain and we were soon thoroughly doused and soaked through.

At some point we passed and exchanged a few words with a shooting party, who looked particularly miserable, perhaps because as soon as their beaters flushed a bird it rose up and was immediately snatched away at supersonic speed by the wind, making targeting it almost impossible.

Either side of the road leading to the Quarry climb was a desolate, water-logged landscape,  and in one dip we hit a huge lake of surface water that stretched right across the road and the Prof swore he could see wind-whipped whitecaps ruffling its surface.

As beZ seemed to be the tallest , I suggested sending him through first to see if he could make the other side, which was just about visible through the driving rain. Throwing caution to the wind though, we barely slowed, ploughing on regardless and through water that easily topped our wheel hubs, and as a consequence, everyone’s overshoes.


The Prof keeps asking when I’ll run out of pictures of riders negotiating puddles …

We pushed on to the top of the Quarry climb, now with soaking feet, shoes and socks to add to our other woes. After some deliberation and a bit of confusion we turned left at the top, the highest and most exposed point of our ride, and straight into a punishing headwind that had everyone bent over their bikes and grinding slowly just to keep some sort of momentum.

Dropping down to the final junction, and keeping a wary eye out for the Prof torpedoing everyone as he “came in hot” with barely functioning brakes, we hit the final run to the café and the Tally Ho! cry went up.

The youngsters, Shoeless, beZ and Son of G-Dawg started the long burn for home, leaving us “elder statesmen” struggling behind. Sitting camped on G-Dawgs wheel, I was too late in realising he’d reached terminal velocity and his blurring legs just couldn’t whirr around any faster to drive his fixie across the gap.

I jumped around him, but couldn’t make it across either, as the front three slowly pulled away. Not wanting to languish in no-mans-land I cut my losses and sat up to try and recover a little. G-Dawg and the Prof passed me, and I upped the pace a little just to stay in touch.

As we hit the long, shallow descent down to the Snake Bends I pushed hard again, swept past the Prof, ducked down the inside of G-Dawg and piled it on, ripping through another flooded section of the road, before hauling on the anchors for the bends.


The Prof knew he should have brought the bike with the rocket-pack attachment

Safely negotiating these, G-Dawg re-joined and we pushed on together for a very welcome stop, replete with copious amounts of reviving hot coffee and, of course, a much anticipated date with some cake.

Warming up a little and drying out just the tiniest bit, we watched out the window as the other club gathered themselves and all their slightly less chill, but still soaking gear to venture back out into the wild weather. We all knew stepping out across the threshold was going to be a real challenge after the comfortable and cosy sanctuary of the café and the brief respite it offered from the howling wind and driving rain.

Bizarrely the other group were heading off for a Christmas lunch and get-together somewhere in Whalton, which is only a further 4 miles up the road. This meant that not only did they get semi-dry and warm in the café before plunging outside again, but would have to repeat the process when they left their lunch venue. We couldn’t work out why they hadn’t pushed on and gone straight to Whalton, but perhaps it proves we weren’t the only crazy ones out on the day.

Even worse, one of their riders had a puncture and they seemed to spend an age milling about outside the café, getting cold and wet all over again while this was fixed.

Finally steeling ourselves to leave, we plodged through the puddle of our own making to hand the black, slightly damp bin bags back in at the counter. We then stacked up at the door like a well-drilled SWAT team about to breach and clear a hostile room, gathering together before we struck out to ensure we wouldn’t be hanging around waiting for anyone.

We dashed out to our bikes, only for beZ to discover that both of his tyres were suspiciously soft and squidgy. He was reluctant to stop for repairs though and decided to risk running with them, hoping to get home before all the air ran out.

If we were hoping for a helpful tailwind back we were sadly disappointed and found the same mix of gusting headwinds and vicious cross-winds along most of our route. On one corner in particular we were hit with a sudden buffeting and howling blast that had everyone crabbing sideways across the road and blew Son of G-Dawg out of his pedals and dangerously close to running into a field before he somehow recovered.


Son of G-Dawg came bloody close to a Geraint Thomas “moment”

We stopped once for beZ to force some emergency air back into his tyres before pressing on. I split from the group at the earliest opportunity, cutting off a large corner by battling the vicious winds around the airport, before turning west directly into a gale and the long, exposed drag past the golf course. This section of my route home is fast becoming a bête noire to rival the Heinous Hill.


Hmm, can’t help feeling I’m missing a trick…

A weak, wintry sun briefly broke through, and combined with the constant tugging wind acting like a massive hair drier, I began to feel a little less wet and a bit more comfortable. The storm also seemed to have kept people in doors and suppressed the volume of traffic on the road, so I had a decent run for home and an immediate appointment with a hot shower.

YTD Totals: 5,996 km/ 3,726 miles with 67,064 metres of climbing.


Club Run, Saturday 14th November, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    119 km/72 miles with 1,270 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             5 hours 06 minutes

Group size:                                           22 riders, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:               Chilly. Gusty.

Main topic of conversation at the start: We discussed the paradox of how – despite spending hours together and the almost endless stream of incessant chatter – we actually know so little about our fellow riders. Sometimes this knowledge consists of nothing more than a name, approximate age and a thoroughly murky and probably incorrect brief bio, which will include only the most rudimentary understanding of job and family circumstances.

To be honest even this is a best-case scenario and there are people I been riding with almost every weekend for years whose name I’m still uncertain of. Having said that, I can probably tell you in infinite detail about what sort of bike they ride and recognise them in a crowd with their back to me while wearing a helmet and dark glasses, even, or perhaps especially if they’re dressed from head to toe in lycra.

This naturally led to musings about what it is we do actually talk about, along with the realisation (no doubt highlighted by the meanderings of this blog) that while we always find it massively entertaining, it never rises much above pure escapism: the ephemera of life and bikes and popular culture. So it was that the incomprehensible, barbaric and despicable atrocities in Paris overnight barely got a mention, other than to note that we didn’t really talk about them much.

Ever reliable, the Prof roused us from any dark, philosophical musings by turning up and asking around to see if anyone could lend him, “Ein 8mm kranken handle.” Or at least we thought that’s what he was asking for. I’ve no idea if such a thing as a kranken handle actually exists, or what it could possibly be used for, but I’m fairly certain that if I ever write a novel about an evil Nazi he’ll bear the moniker of Dr. Kranken Handel…

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: Crazy Legs took one look at my glazed eyes, corpse-like pallor and general state of complete and utter exhaustion and told me I looked like his granddad … who’d been dead several years.

We then discussed and tried to formalise plans to thwart one of our more annoying, inveterate wheel-suckers from ever winning the café sprint.

G-Dawg is doing some volunteering work for the National Trust that seems to involve chopping down and then up (into smaller pieces) very large trees. This brought us to the universal truth that no matter what saw you choose, at some point in the process it’s going to get stuck, the blade is going to bend spectacularly and your wavy cuts are going to look like something a skater would be proud to carve into the ice while performing the perfect double-salchow.

ride profile 15 November
Ride Profile

The Waffle

The weather has taken on a decidedly chilly note, so thicker gloves, a skull cap and winter base layer were all added to the arsenal for the day. Things were however generally dry, a decidedly pleasant change from last week, with only an adversarial gusting wind to contend with.

Evil Dr. Kranken Handel
Evil Dr. Kranken Handel

While battling through the wind to the meeting point my ears were assaulted by the “thump-thumpa-thumpa-thump-thump” of a boy-racer, disco-car. Odd, I like to think I have a fairly wide taste in music, but have you noticed that whenever one of these cars passes you – and it’s by no means an uncommon event – you can never, ever identify the actual music they’re intent on mangling?

For this ride we were without OGL who was away representing the club at some British Cycling function, so it was left to some of the heads of state, G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Red Max and Taffy Steve put their heads together and come up with a ride that wasn’t just one of our usual 4 iterations of the same old route.

Looking forward to a few new roads, another good turnout of around 22 lads and lasses gathered, before pushing off and clipping in. We followed the dark cabal of around a dozen or so of our Grogs onto the road, as they swept past intent on their own privately organised and exclusive ride.

I fell in with Sneaky Pete as we set out, sheltering at the back, catching up and learning all about his past misdemeanours and misadventures scaling mountain peaks, just for the hell of it.

This week it was Taffy Steve’s turn to test the sturdiness of one of his lights, gently releasing it from its handlebar clamp to see just how far it would bounce along the road before coming to a stop, at the same time checking it for impact resistance and durability.

We dropped the pace to await the successful conclusion of his retrieval mission, reformed and pressed on, carving a new, wide orbit around the Murder Path in order to avoid the Mur de Mitford climb.

As we dropped into and then climbed up out of the Trench, the bunch started to fracture and once we regrouped we decided to split, with maybe eight or nine of us convening for a longer ride, while the rest headed for a slightly shorter, but equally hilly alternate route to the café.

The Prof and G-Dawg briefly discussed possible routes, the Prof seemingly determined to circumnavigate the café to try and find a point where we’d have a full on tail-wind to push us home. Unfortunately this involved describing a massively wide, hilly circle all the way around the café to try and locate the precise vector where we would have the wind directly at our backs for the final run in.

Like some clichéd horror film, every time I turned around another rider seemed to have been picked off, disappearing one by one as they gave up on our ever widening gyre and turned inward to seek a more direct route to the café.

Finally I looked back to find the road behind was empty – it was just me and the Prof. I led up the hills, the Prof drilled it on the flat and we made decent time, but I failed to notice the needle of my internal fuel tank was ticking inexorably down toward empty.

Copped one in the old glycogen tank …

With maybe 15 miles and umpteen hills still to go I was struck by la fringale; the bonk, the hunger knock – in runner parlance I, “hit the wall” – a sad state of hypoglycaemia – where my legs were trying to draw down funds my body couldn’t cover. Call it what you will, the results are always the same – leaden, empty legs, total lack of power and a struggle just to turn the cranks.

The worst thing is I’ve no idea why this happened; it’s just one of those utterly unpredictable, inexplicable things we all love about cycling. I’d done nothing difficult during the week, my morning routine hadn’t varied and I’d had my usual breakfast. Once the groups had split I’d spent a little time on the front in the wind, but far less than many others, yet I was running on fumes.

Suffering mightily I gulped down the emergency gel I always carry and spent the last ten mile or so trying to stay glued to the improbably small rear wheel of the Prof’s eccentric cycling contraption.

A homemade mudflap of the less organic variety.
A homemade mudflap of the less organic variety.

At least in this position I got to admire his hand-crafted, super-long mudflap which I believe he grew in his secret laboratory from a single, solitary cell. I only mention this because he was upset that it hadn’t merited at least a paragraph (his words, not mine) in last week’s blog.

Eventually drifting off the Prof’s wheel I reached the café last, utterly spent and only able to muster the most desultory salute to the shorter ride group who were already replete, rested and lining up to head home.

Utterly, completely and totally banjaxed!
Utterly, completely and totally banjaxed!

I went for a double hit of cake (feeling crap has to have some benefits) and even went so far as to load my coffee with a couple of sugar lumps, hoping this would be enough fuel to get me back. After a brief rest I set out for home with the Double G-Dawgs, Crazy Legs and the Prof, sitting firmly at the back of this small group and trying to get as much shelter as possible.

Already running late for a trip away for the evening I modified my return route and split from the group early, jousting with some heavy traffic and testing the new tyres with a series of demanding detours along tow paths, pavements, cycle ways, car parks and woodland trails.

The new Schwalbes seemed to cope rather admirably with this rather unorthodox, often off-road journey and I dragged myself up the final climb to home, arriving only 5 minutes behind schedule and just about managing to escape the collective ire of the family.

Tiredness and familial expedience saw the Peugeot “ridden hard and put away wet” without its usual post-ride grooming. I hate to think what I might find when I finally pluck up the courage to open the shed door for our next adventure…

YTD Totals: 5,593 km/ 3,362 miles with 62,799 metres of climbing.

Hell and High Water

Club Run, Saturday 7th November, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    87 km/54 miles with 558 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             3 hours 35 minutes

Group size:                                           20 riders including 6 kids, no FNG’s

Weather in a word or two:             A deluge.

Main topic of conversation at the start: I stood in the sheltered but dank and gloomy bowels of the multi-storey car park trying to identify the other riders as they surfed their way into the meeting point through the gloom and heavy rain. “Ah, and here come the Dawson twins,” I announced to no one in particular, as G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg rolled up. “They aren’t twins are they?” one of the befuddled youngsters tentatively suggested, “One looks so much older than the other.” Oh dear.

OGL castigated us for fielding and replying to queries about club run start times on Faecesbook, as apparently his revised timings from last week were perfectly clear and understandable and caused no confusion whatsoever (although I understand several people did miss the start last Sunday). Apparently our use of social media shouldn’t be so … well … social.

He even suggested that the Faecesbook stuff wasn’t necessary as all our start times are clearly listed on the club website. (The club website sees even less traffic than this benighted blog and I personally don’t visit it much – the wide empty spaces bring on my monophobia and besides, I’m allergic to tumbleweed.)

We were then treated to the Prof’s execrable Geordie accent as he tried to chivvy us along, in the process doing for the Geordie nation what Dick van Dyke managed to do for Cockneys the world over. Encore!

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

I had a chat with Tri-Boy’s Dad and commiserated with his struggles to keep the youngster in check. Apparently the boy likes to dangle in front of his Pa, wait for the catch to almost be made, then accelerate away again. Ah, good to see the much beloved and traditional Szell game is still alive and appreciated by the younger generation. Across the table I could see the Monkey Butler Boy listening avidly, taking it all in and eyeing up his Pa, already looking forward to trying this.

Looking out at the rain still hammering down outside, we talked about whether on days like this we would be better off not stopping at all, even if it meant (Shock! Horror!) abstinence from cake and coffee. (Ok, I realise this is a radical step too far.)

We also couldn’t help but reminisce about the Damn Yankee who used to come out with us, and who just about collapsed from mild to moderate hyperthermia on arriving at the café during one of our harsher winter rides.

I think everyone was surprised he succumbed to the cold as he was a big, big unit, built like a gridiron fullback and, as Taffy Steve appropriately suggested, with massive calves the size of American footballs.

We’ve no idea where this once club run regular disappeared to – originally from San Franscisco, he apparently went to college in the Deep South, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas or some such. He was quite happy to confirm all our worst prejudices about such places being awash with Antebellum grand dames, in-bred, jug-eared and twanging banjo-duellists, sheet wearing Grand Wizards with burning crosses and constant demands to squeal like a pig.

I often think we sometimes miss that rational, reasoned international perspective

profile 7 nov
A sign that perhaps my Garmin didn’t like the weather too much – perhaps the weirdest ride profile ever.

The Waffle:

If last week was all about generating a Gallic vibe to encourage the Peugeot, this week was all about the rain, so perhaps I should have been watching Eddie Vedders “Water on the Road” and listening to Talk Talk, “After the Flood” and Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”.

A list of the Strava titles my companions used to label their rides may gave you some indication of what we faced; “Biblical Rainfall,” “Ou Est Mon Bateau?” “The Life Aquatic” and “Yo, Noah, Where Art Thou?” being just a few selections.

Yes it rained, and rained heavily, and no it didn’t let up, although it did ease slightly once I was on the last climb for home. Still, we couldn’t say we hadn’t been warned, for once all the forecasts got it right and were spot on with their predictions of unremitting bleakness.

Between a slight cold and family commitments I’d only managed a single, solitary ride into work on the bike all week, so I was going out on Saturday, come hell or high water – and someone certainly didn’t stint on the latter.

Lesson#1 - Repeat after me ...
Lesson#1 – Repeat after me …

Actually I awoke Saturday morning to find very little rain in the air, despite a prolonged deluge that had lasted all night. I now realise we were just passing through the eye of the storm and that the rain was holding back only until I actually got outside.

Oh well, at least I got to field-test the new jacket in the most extreme conditions – and learn a lot about its limitations in the process.

With rain starting to bounce violently off the tarmac, I swung a leg over the Peugeot and struck out, noting the distinctive tang of wet leaves and damp ash mixed with the burned smell of spent fireworks. Remember, remember the 6th of November?

Tipping down the bank the combination of heavy rain and road spray almost instantly soaked through my shorts, leg warmers and gloves, and I could feel cold tendrils of water creeping through my overshoes into my socks by the time I hit the bottom. Still my upper half initially remained warm and dry as I hit the valley floor and started to work my way westward while becoming increasingly frustrated with the traffic.

What is it about the rain that so completely befuddles drivers – I’ve noticed when driving in and out of work that even a slight, innocuous shower will add at least 10 minutes to the journey. It’s as if they their brains get tied-up trying to process more than one hazard at a time and it retards their thinking so they no longer act and drive instinctively. I wonder if there’s a little inner monologue that goes something like, “Oh, rain, uh-uh…better be careful” and then, “Oh, rain, AND A BIKE! Aargh! Panic! What do I do?”

I was subject to more iffy, too close passes that morning than I’ve had in three months of commuting by bike and (my own personal bugbear) several drivers who overtook, before immediately braking and cutting sharp left just in front of me.

Extra special appreciation this morning though was reserved for a van driver who gave me a long fusillade on his horn because I did something he obviously thought was wrong. Well, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here and assuming he genuinely thought I’d done something wrong and he wasn’t just being a RIM.

This worries me more than the thoughtless close passes, because it not only suggests a self-righteous ignorance of the law and a distinct lack of empathy and consideration, but also the inability to anticipate and safely react to the behaviour of other road users.

I was riding uphill, heading towards a set of traffic lights and needing to turn right, across the lane of oncoming traffic. As I approached the lights I looked behind and noticed the van, safely some distance behind. 2 or 3 more pedal strokes and I looked behind again and saw that the van wasn’t gaining on me, and had in fact dropped further back as it slowed for a number of speed bumps (this is a 20mph, School Zone.) I stuck my hand out, looked back once more and then rode into the centre of the lane as I reached the lights.

I slowed at this point to pass behind an oncoming black Range Rover, before making the turn, accompanied by the loud wail from van man leaning aggressively on his horn as he swept past. I naturally took a leaf out of Mr. Cavendish’s book and kindly reminded him of Agincourt, 1415 and all that, but this one really did rankle and I’m still trying to fathom what I did wrong or what else he expected me to do.

1415 and All That

Half an hour later and continuing through the unrelenting rain, I could begin to feel the cold, damp creep of water slowly leeching through the arms of my jacket and into my base-layer. The material had, I assume, became so saturated that the rain was no longer beading and rolling off the surface, but started to slowly worm its way inward. By the time I’d reached the meeting point everything was pretty much soaked through, cold, damp and heavy.

Surprisingly there was a sizeable turn out, including a handful of the kids who, as it was the first Saturday of the month, were going to ride out with us before heading off on a different route. 20 brave lads, lasses and kids then, pushed off, clipped in and went to collectively see just how much cold water we could sponge up, a latter day band of brothers, united by our battle with the elements.

I started drifting through the group trying to find a wheel to follow that had at least some semblance of a mudguard, but even these were throwing off an arc of spray, so I slotted into the gap between the two riders in front.

We’d just made it out of the ‘burbs when one of OGL’s lights shook loose and went bouncing down the road. As he turned to retrieve it I pulled over to field a phone call from home. My eCrumb had stopped in the rain and they were wondering what was going on.

I couldn’t work the phone through my gloves, so stripped them off and then found they were so wet I couldn’t pull them back on again. I had a dry pair in my pocket (a trick learned from the Red Max) but decided to keep them until after the café, so I wrung as much water as I could out of the original pair and stowed them away.

A spare pair of gloves - a real boon when the first get soaked through.
A spare pair of gloves – a real boon when the first get soaked through.

Not only was my eCrumb struggling with the conditions, but Red Max declared his Garmin was waterlogged and fritzed, and at the end of the ride my Strava threw up the weirdest of ride profiles. I’ve no idea what it was recording in the middle of my ride.

Phone and gloves safely tucked away, I got moving again and found Crazy Legs waiting a bit further up the road as OGL hadn’t made it back to the group yet. We hung back until he cruised up and then set the pace to escort him back to where everyone else was waiting.

At the next roundabout all the kids split off, apart from Tri-Boy and the Monkey Butler Boy. A little further on and all well soaked, the majority of us decided to cut the ride short and head directly for the café. We still had time to engender some truly apoplectic rage from OGL for pushing the pace too high, before we were storming toward the Snake Bends and the café sprint.

OGL might as well have tried to stop the rain falling as to halt our momentum at this point, but while his efforts were fruitless a little bit of air managed to do for me. Not any old air in general of course, just the minuscule portion of it I had borrowed and cruelly entrapped in my inner tube. The tunnel was completed, the gates swinging wide, the sirens wailing and an all or nothing break-out was most definitely on the cards for this poor repressed portion of the atmosphere. Another week, another puncture.

Again? Really?
Again? Really?

With heavy steering, a slowly sinking feeling and the road vibrating increasingly through a rattling and no longer cushioned rim, I slipped silently backward and out of the group to fix things without the attendant critical audience.

I still haven’t found the source for this rash of punctures, but the Gatorskins have been consigned to the bin, they’ve either ran out of durability, or ran out of luck and neither is acceptable. Time to see if the Schwalbe Durano’s perform any better.

Sadly I missed the final “dive” to the café, which ripped through a massive, edge-to-verge, road-spanning lake of dirty collected rain water at full tilt, our speeding bunch producing a bow wave reminiscent of a newly launched super-tanker crashing down the slipway.

This in turn gave birth to a minor inland tsunami so high that it washed over the top of The Red Max’s waterproof winter boots and once inside and with no way for the water to drain out, he was left sloshing his wiggling toes around and hoping to avoid developing a bad case of trenchfoot.

Somewhat behind everyone else I limped into the café, sur la jante, to find Max comfortably perched on a black bin bag, feet up and boots off. Every so often the Monkey Butler Boy would be tasked with stepping out into the rain and emptying the water from the boots, but no matter how many times he did this the insides were obviously super-saturated and more water inevitably collected and pooled in the dark confines of the boot.

We managed to prise ourselves out of the café and into heavy, wet clothes, gloves, helmets et al and I took to the front with Taffy Steve, intent on setting a brisk pace to try and warm up a little. Approaching the penultimate climb we were so engaged in a deep philosophical discussion of the Lego Movie that I failed to notice we were riding into a flooded section of the road. While everyone did their best to edge around the perimeter of this lake where the water was the shallowest, I plunged straight through the middle and quickly found myself up to the wheel hubs in water.

I was considering freewheeling through the rest, but the water only deepened further and sucked away my momentum. In real danger of toppling spectacularly I recovered and thrashed my way through, with the water lapping up to my knees.

Surfs Up!
Surfs Up!

Somehow, despite guffawing uproariously at my antics the BFG still had enough puff left to attack the hill, and as Laurelan jumped to give chase I swung onto to her wheel and followed. Over the top the BFG, Cow Ranger, and Tri-Boy kept pushing the pace, while I switched from wheel to wheel, occasionally drifting back to clear my eyes from the constant pressure hose wash of road spray being flung off the tyres.

We made good time and I was soon turning off for home, leaving the BFG chuckling to himself, this time as much amused by the Cow Ranger’s mad thrashing to try and drop everyone as my aborted attempt at water skiing.

I arrived home in good time, stopping on my way to a hot shower only long enough to deposit a sodden heap of slowly leaking clothing in a big puddle on the kitchen floor. Bizarrely, masochistically a good run out.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

I did discover one bad consequence of riding in a group in weather like this as, for a couple of days afterwards, my eyeballs felt like they’d been taken out, lightly sand-papered, rolled in salt and then squeezed back in.

I also realised my Galibier jacket, while perfectly adequate for showers and occasional rain, isn’t going to keep me dry through exposure to a heavy and sustained downpour like we endured today.

And one final thought – to be fully compliant, I really do need to paint a Plimsoll line on the winter bike…

YTD Totals: 5,429 km/ 3,260 miles with 60,918 metres of climbing.