Dry but very chilly weather at least gave us a break from all the horrible and wet Saturdays we seem to be enduring lately and the conditions were good enough to tempt a few more riders to opt for their summer bikes. Luckily, I’m still enjoying riding the Scott, which is just as well as the Holdsworth remains attached to the smart trainer, while the 13 has been pressed into service as an ad hoc TT machine, so it’s very much a Hobson’s Choice.
There was very little traffic on the route across to the meeting point, which may be why seemingly random encounters with a trio of Fiat 500’s seemed to stand out. These, one each in red, white, and green, had me speculating that perhaps I was in the middle of a shoot for a Latin remake of the Italian Job, which would obviously be titled Il Lavoro Inglese.
Dovresti solo far saltare quelle dannate porte! … if you believe Google Translate.
Feeling uncharacteristically enthusiastic, I took the route up Hospital Lane for a change and to test the legs. Everything seemed to be working as it should, which I always find helpful.
The most notable moment at the meeting point was when the Enigma stuck entirely to the main road for his cruise past, by-passing our silent, admiring homage to his grace and style. I worried that this might signal a permanent change in routine, but Jimmy Mac suggested it was simply that he’d hit the traffic lights just right, so hadn’t taken his usual sneaky shortcut through the bus station transport interchange to avoid stopping. Jimmy Mac explained that particular stretch of road is apparently a hotly contested Strave segment, awarded to the person who can best time their run to sync perfectly with the right sequence of green lights.
The BFG put in a rare appearance on his latest steel-framed, vintage velocipede, complete with tubular tyres and the same spare that had so confused the Garrulous Kid. The Kid couldn’t understand the concept of a tube within a tube and was worried that the BFG’s spare had a tread pattern on it while his was perfectly smooth.
Andy Mapp had designed another labyrinthian route for us, including cycle paths, dual carriageway hopping and borrowed bits of other routes cobbled together in odd, unforeseen, and novel combinations and directions. He was late showing up though, so once Carlton appeared and we knew time was nearly up, so G-Dawg stepped up and did his best with the Herculean task of briefing in the route. (I think I was lost by the second major turn). Then we got organised and set out.
I rode out in the middle group of three this week, alongside Mini Miss, who was almost as confused as I was by the intended route. We were already hoping our stint on the front would coincide with a long straight bit of road without any pesky decisions about which way we should be turning.
A rotation brought Brassneck onto the front alongside Captain Black and I was forced to issue a few easy tiger’s as the novelty of a first club ride on his summer bike had him upping the pace a little too enthusiastically. Mini Miss mentioned that he’d confided that his first impression on being reunited with his good bike was that he’d shrunk a little over the winter as it felt unfamiliar and “not quite right.”
I slid up alongside him. “Is that bike the right size?” I innocently enquired, “It looks a little large to me.”
Ooph. I never suspected he knew such salty words. Still, my intervention wasn’t enough to keep the big grin off his face for long.
Once through Belsay, we started to pass competitors warming up for the GS Metro time-trial, a rather hilly affair over 26 miles. Even with their game faces on, most of the competitors waved as we passed them, including one who simply acknowledged us with a cool, minimalist two-fingered salute (no, no, not that kind!)
“Is that what you do?” Crazy Legs enquired, part of his ongoing campaign to insinuate I’m some kind of TT fanatic. This is despite the fact he’s done far, far more events than I have and only one of us has ever bought an actual time-trial bike. (Hint: it’s not me.)
“Nah,” I told him, “I’m not cool enough.”
I then demonstrated my patented new salute, banging my fist over my heart twice in quick succession, then off the front of my helmet, before pointing to the far horizon. Now that was cool and might just catch on…
Alongside Mini Miss, we got our turn on the front on the approach to Whalton, facing into our first headwind of the day, but that was ok because at least we were on a long, straight stretch of road and didn’t have to think about the route and any turns.
We then dropped down toward Mitford, ceding the front to someone who at least had an inkling of the route as we followed the River Wansbeck past the foot of the Mur de Mitford, before turning right to climb up High House Lane.
Halfway up, Cowboy’s slid alongside me to tell me I had a very shiny bike (I’m not sure if it was a compliment or not) and then asked how much further the climb was. I was surprised he didn’t recognise it from the dozens of times we’d ridden it in the opposite direction to get to the Mur, although to be fair it’s a completely different beast and much, much harder and longer going up than you’d expect from the descent. (I’ll concede that’s probably a very obvious, universal truth of cycling).
A brief flirtation with the main A1 and we reached our coffee stop for the day, within the Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station. Here, already hyper-excited to be out riding his summer bike, Brassneck grew positively giddy with his first introduction to this cafe and its seemingly vast array of sandwiches, cakes, and sweet treats, bouncing from foot to foot, with his eyes wide and constantly flicking between the long, long menu on the wall and the counter wantonly spilling over with the temptation of selected wares. For one moment I thought he was going to be paralysed by too much choice, but finally pulled himself together enough to order without embarrassing us too much.
At the table, I couldn’t find any enthusiasm for the impending coronation of Chuck 3, just mild disquiet that the whole thing was going to limit the availability of coffee stops on the club run next Saturday. Needless to say, there was going to be no swearing of allegiance but maybe quite a bit of swearing at the lack of coffee and cake options. Luckily. I’ll be away next week so hopefully can give the entire thing a miss.
We routed home via Bell’s Hill and Horton Grange, where I pushed onto the front. By the time we were passing the airport, Cowboy’s told me we’d split the group and he sat up to wait. I was feeling cheekily strong though and that doesn’t happen all that often, so I just stomped on the pedals a little harder and started my solo ride home early.
Au revoir Pug, the time has come to retire the Peugeot from active, front-line duty. The frame is starting to look tired, is blistering in places and its been ridden to death and back on my commute, so needs extensive refurbishing and servicing and I can’t be bothered with all that. To take its place I’ve just spent £160 for an old, Scott Speedster 30 on Gumtree.
This is the 2010 version in retro/throwback bright metallic blue, a frame that features some very round and pleasingly fat (phat?) aluminium tubes and a seemingly random and eclectic mix of 105, Tiagra and Scott’s own kit. I’ll probably swap out the brakes, saddle and wheels at some point and definitely change the skinny 23mm Continental tyres for my favoured 25mm Vittoria Rubinos, but in the meantime all I had to do was slap on some Look pedals and it was good to go – I didn’t even need to adjust the saddle height.
Thing#1 has christened the new bike Bubbles, apparently after Bubbles Utonium, “the blue one” in the Powerpuff Girls cartoons? (No, me neither.) I don’t think it’s a name that’s likely to stick. Hopefully.
The Saturday Club Run provided the ideal first opportunity to test the new bike out on the road and see if I’ve made a good or bad choice. The weather kept us in suspense with plenty of rain showers overnight, but although all the roads were wet throughout, at least nothing fell from the sky during the ride and, eventually we even enjoyed some occasional sunny patches.
The Scott seemed a pleasingly refined companion on the ride across and got me to the meeting point in good time.
Regular as clockwork, the enigma cruised by, this time adding to his air of general, wasted insouciance by coolly draining a bottle of beer as he pedalled past, then, without pause he rode into the Metro station only to reappear some moments later, maintaining the same stately progression but having obviously divested himself of his empty beer bottle in the nearest bin. I like to think he nonchalantly lobbed it in from distance, like the perfect basketball 3-pointer.
I told Aether we had 28 riders as he began to brief in the route. By the time he started to divvy us up into various groups we were up to 34 and they were still appearing.
Once again, I formed up with the 3rd group, pushed onto the front alongside Aether and away we went. If the 3rd group was a bad choice last week, it was an even worse one this time around as the planned cafe stop was at Kirkley, notorious for glacially slow service and long, long queues at the best of times. This was likely to be compounded by our sheer weight of numbers and by the fact that it was also serving as the HQ for a 2-Up Time Trial today. Oh well.
Out into the wilds of Northumberland and wasn’t long before we were closing on our first test, a little jaunt up the Mur de Mitford. The last time I’d tried this had been on the single-speed and it was a long, slow grind, trying to keep the legs churning while fighting both the slope and lack of traction from the slimy, cracked tarmac.
Almost at a standstill for the sharp left turn onto the climb, I swung wide and started upwards. Almost immediately a car coming downhill pushed me to the left where I found myself riding alongside Jenga. This is perhaps the first time I’ve ridden with her and I hadn’t realised she climbed with such ease. As the slope stiffened toward the top I stood out of the saddle and put some weight through the pedals and was pleasantly surprised as the bike seemed to leap eagerly forward, responding instantly to the change as I scampered over the crest. Well hello, the bike was making me feel dangerously sprightly. Should I be worried?
From the Mur we took in the long, rolling roads across the top of the Font Valley out toward Longhorsley, where we kept catching glimpses of the second group on some of the straighter stretches of road and seemed to be closing in on them every time we took on another climb.
It was here that a combination of serendipity and all those live sacrifices to the Puncture Gods began to pay off as we passed the first group, huddled by the side of the road to repair a puncture. Then, not much further on, we found group two similarly stopped, while we just kept rolling.
“From three to one!” G-Dawg called out as we zipped past him and the rest of group two. I saluted, more than anything just to hide the big grin on my face.
We finally started the descent down toward Netherwitton and the bottom of the Trench, where we were passed by James III and a couple of youngsters who’d detached from one of the “puncture groups” and were all tucked in tight and pushing hard. We had no need to chase as we were still safely ahead of the majority and didn’t want to fracture the group with a big climb still to come.
I surprised myself riding the Trench in the big ring and plonked firmly in the saddle all the way up, then we waited at the top to regather our group. Here we were passed by Caracol, Not Anthony and a couple of the youngsters, who didn’t seem inclined to wait for anyone. It looked like the race to the cafe was already on.
As we set off again, Deuce suggested that if we tried, we could probably catch Caracol’s group and then we could sit on and get a free tow back. It was either genius, or madness, but we took on the challenge, increased the tempo and slowly began to reel them in. Our madcap chase was finally successful, and we managed to tag them on the approach to Dyke Neuk.
I learned from Not Antony that it was Jimmy Mac who’d punctured in the first group and then unfortunately blown out the replacement tube using a CO2 canister, ripping through his tyre wall in the process. That didn’t sound too good, but apparently Jimmy Mac had managed to get mobile again and was nursing his tyre homewards.
We swept through Dyke Neuk and dived downhill at speed. As the rode started to ramp up on the vicious little climb to Meldon, Jenga shot past, declaring she was off “to show the youngsters how it’s done” and quickly opening up a sizeable lead. The youngsters apparently had no response, and I pushed onto the front alongside Caracol as we trailed her up the hill.
“Bet it’s a long, long time since you were called a youngster,” Caracol suggested. Hah!. He wasn’t wrong.
We caught up with Jenga as the road flattened out.
“Well, you definitely showed them,” I congratulated her.
“Yeah, but I’m finished now!”
“But they don’t know that.”
She swung in behind us to recover and we pushed the group along, Caracol adding more detail to Jimmy Mac’s tyre travails, including the surprisingly sensible suggestion from Goose that a £5 note could be used as an emergency tyre boot to plug the tear in the tyre. We naturally agreed that being Jimmy Mac, he probably didn’t carry any “small change”, and would end up sacrificing a £50 note instead.
We managed to complete the rest of the ride without being caught by anyone else, so only had to queue with half the contestants of the 2-Up Time Trial to get served. It was of course painfully slow service but much worse for those coming in behind us. All praise the puncture gods.
While we waited I admitted to Zardoz I’d been shamefully neglecting my running this year, but needed to get back to it as I felt I need the impact to maintain mineral bone density and hopefully avoid osteopenia.
“We could always beat you with hammers,” Richard Rex suggested, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically for my liking.
Surprisingly, I didn’t totally dismiss his offer as I’m still weighing up if being beaten with hammers is any worse than going for a run…
We were finally served and found a seat outside where Zardoz was able to confirm the scones at this cafe are still well below standard and will remain on my embargoed list. The carrot and walnut cake was fine, though if a little crumbly.
Somewhat surprisingly Jimmy Mac had made it to the cafe, obviously intent on getting the full value out of his £50 and eventually everyone else turned up too, although some were still queuing while we were prepping to leave.
My ride back was as enjoyable as it was uneventful. I’ve got a feeling the Scott and me are going to get along just fine.
Total Distance: 116 km / 72 miles with 1,044 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
Average Speed: 25.0 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Bright, bit chilly
Main topic of conversation at the start:
The BFG was sporting new and very, very shiny shoes and could be seen occasionally pausing to admire his own smile reflected in their supreme shininess. He ventured some tale about finagling a free tooth-whitening session as part of the process for having dental veneers fitted and I suggested he’d missed a trick and could have taken colour co-ordination to a new level, if only he’d matched his teeth to his wooden rims.
Although forgoing rim-coloured teeth, he had invested a small fortune on just the right colour of new socks, reasoning that nothing in his old wardrobe could quite do the extreme shininess of his new shoes justice.
Taffy Steve unzipped his saddle bag to reveal everything within was individually wrapped in little plastic bags, carefully labelled and incredibly neatly organized. I felt he’d possibly missed his vocation organising handbags for socialites, or maybe stashes for drug lords. He explained that everything needed individual wrapping because his saddle bag wasn’t weatherproof. The BFG suggested copious amounts of silicone sealant on the zip would perhaps make it watertight, if less than functional.
The Prof disappeared around the corner and we speculated he’d spotted more castoff treasure he was now swooping in to claim. “Just watch,” the BFG instructed, “He’ll come back shaking the piss off some old abandoned glove or something.” He returned empty handed however and I don’t know who was the more disappointed, him or us.
G-Dawg surmised that OGL was very unlikely to show as he’d last been seen early on Friday evening be-kilted, supine and already ever so slightly inebriated, during one of the many events in the month long wedding celebrations to honour the King of the Grogs.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
The BFG revealed that, in the days long before he determined hair was debilitatingly un-aerodynamic and decided to stop using it, he’d been a 6’6” Goth with hugely spiky hair, commonly referred to as “The Krogan.”
The hairstyle had been achieved using hazardous chemicals on an industrial scale, including a dangerously combustible mix of several tins of hairspray, super-strength hair wax, red hot crimping irons and prolonged backcombing with a garden rake.
He suggested that using these techniques he’d been able to achieve a Sideshow Bob barnet of unsurpassed magnificence, but one that any stray spark might have turned into a towering inferno. “Like Michael Jackson” he prompted, but all I could visualise was a wellhead fire.
Brewster joined us at the table with a dire tale of how his friend had snapped the steerer tube on his Scott Speedster bike while trying to climb up Heinous Hill. The story was illustrated with photos of the well trashed bike, the rider narrowly avoiding being run over by the following car and managing to escape with only superficial injuries. Luckily the accident hadn’t happened going downhill at great speed – a sobering thought and one that suggests it’s best not to ignore bike recall warnings.
[NB: Scott voluntarily recalled about 8,000 2014 Speedster road bikes worldwide “due to a finding that the steerer tube in the front fork could break, creating a possible fall hazard,” according to a statement issued by the company. Judging from Brewster’s story it would seem the danger is very real.]
We determined that bikes made of graphene and carbon nanotubes were the future, but would requiring chaining up at all times when unattended, in case they blew away.
The Prof sidled up to the table to invite the BFG to join some of them on a longer ride home. The BFG instantly agreed, but then lined up with the rest of us for the normal route back. He was perhaps mindful of a hugely enjoyable ride he’d taken earlier in the week, returning home smiling and full of joie de vivre, only to be confronted by a scowling Mrs. BFG standing arms-crossed, coat buttoned up and foot tapping furiously. Being late for a family appointment = serious buzzkill.
I was almost ready to leave early Saturday morning when a quick and frantic search finally revealed my phone still in my jacket pocket from Friday’s commute and with a battery as flat as a flounder. Wanting to carry it in case of any emergencies, I decided to modify my route and delay the departure long enough to trickle a little life back into it. It had managed to suck up a charge of around 20% by the time I decided it was time to leave – it would have to do.
My revised route cut around 3 or 4 miles off my journey at the expense of a short distance travelling along a dual carriageway. This is usually quiet enough early in the morning, but I guess it only takes one idiot. This time that was exemplified by a racing hatchback that screamed past me, much too close and much too fast, before undertaking and cutting dangerously in front of another car. A nice little adrenaline spike to start the day. Perfect.
Perhaps the jolt helped me scramble up the other side quicker than usual, as the next time I looked at my Garmin it was 8:52 and I’d done 8:52 miles and was closing in on the meeting point. I was one of the earliest to arrive and along with Aveline and the BFG I was able to sit sheltered from the wind and soak up some welcome, warming sun.
With no OGL we left the route up to G-Dawg who quickly gathered consensus for a too rare trip down into the Tyne Valley – quiet roads, a picturesque route, great descents, but of course some serious climbing to get out again.
The only other obstacle was the riverside road that had been undercut and washed out by some recent flooding, but we were assured there was still a narrow path traversable by bike and as an added bonus it was now completely closed to cars.
24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and managed to instantly annoy a bus driver before we’d even cleared the meeting point. He wasn’t prepared to wait for us all to pass, so in an act either born of pure ignorance or simple malice, he pulled out into the middle of our throng, muscling his lumbering double-decker in between us. This left the front of the group squashed up waiting by the traffic lights while the rest were caught behind, being intensely fumigated by the diesel belching out the back of the bus. It seems we have a rare talent for annoying drivers just by occupying a bit of public highway.
Finally, out onto the open roads, fresh air and into a cold wind, we found it was still quite chilly, especially when the sun was occasionally shrouded by high racing clouds which felt like someone leaving the door open in an Arctic weather station. Shut the bloody door!
At some point I rode with Taffy Steve and we spent some time reminiscing about all things 2000AD: Rogue Trooper, Ace Garp and Strontium Dog et al. Judge Dredd and the League of Fatties seemed to be a particular high point for him.
He then regaled me with the observations about the increasingly shrill exclamations of Geordie women and contrasted this with the surprisingly low, rumbling, bone vibrating timbre of their Scouse counterparts.
We were soon dropping into the Tyne Valley, the road a long sinuous curve of smooth tarmac that encouraged you to build and maintain speed all the way down. A few were bending low and tucking in, but dropping into their slipstream I had no trouble keeping up with minimal effort and without any extreme body contortions.
A long line of us carved our way down the hill and through the first of the sleepy villages dotted along the river bank. Just before we hit the washed out section of road a pee stop was called and a couple of the girls pushed on down the hill to try and find a “ladies room.”
A few minutes later a rather ashen-faced mountain biker hauled himself past us. “Are those two girls with you lot?” he enquired. I answered in the affirmative, and he shook his head and declared rather unsteadily, “Err, they’re done with whatever they were doing!”
Then he pedalled stolidly past trying to retain some modicum of dignity. “There,” beZ wryly noted, “Is a man who doesn’t live with women.”
The washed out section of the river road was indeed passable, although a little muddy in places and just as advertised, completely free of cars.
Once clear we rolled through a massive Gymkhana, marvelling at the vast array of expensive 4×4’s parked up in a field, each one with its own horsebox. They’re not shy of a bob or two around here. Some kids were having their own event in a separate field and I was astonished at just how round some of the ponies were, like barrels with little legs.
“Aren’t they all incredibly fat?” one of the girls asked, I agreed, suggesting it must be how they were bred. “I didn’t mean the horses!” she countered. Meow.
We clambered up a few hills to reach the junction of the road we could take down into Corbridge and waited for a few backmarkers. A quick headcount determined that Another Engine was still adrift and as we waited dark murmurings about the approaching climb began to circulate, along with worrying and frankly blasphemous rumours that G-Dawg might need to use the inner ring.
Sneaky Pete sneaked back down the road to see if he could locate Another Engine, leaving G-Dawg to wonder who he should send out next if Sneaky Pete didn’t return. Just as he was about to select a new sacrificial lamb though, both riders hauled themselves into view.
We seemed to snake back and through and around Corbridge, caught in its labyrinthine one-way system for an age, before it spat us out onto Aydon Road, apparently a 4th Category Strava Climb: 1.6km at an average gradient of 6%. It wasn’t as bad as forecast, G-Dawg’s inner ring remained blissfully untroubled and we were soon regrouping and heading back onto familiar roads.
I used the climb out of Matfen to skip from the back to the front of the group. As we turned off for the Quarry Climb we were all strung out and it was decided we’d press on, but regroup at the top of the climb.
Having crested the Quarry, I pulled over with G-Dawg and Son, but no one else seemed bothered and the BFG set off on a push for the café. I belatedly gave chase, leaving the G-Dawg Collective to handicap themselves even further, before they instigated a two-up team time trial in pursuit of everyone else.
With a sizeable gap to make up I dived downhill after the front-runners, braking late and hard for a junction and sweeping round on the wrong side of the road when the “Clear” call went up. I managed to tag onto the back of the group and then work my way slowly forward.
The smell of coffee must have been in the air as the BFG pushed hard and a gap opened. Taffy Steve pulled me across leaving everyone else behind as we thundered along.
I was now hanging onto the coat tails of two big, powerful units, capable of laying down huge watts and both much faster than me in straight line speed. They also made great wind blocks though and I started surfing the wheels, kicking the pedals hard around 3 or 4 times then freewheeling for a bit in an attempt to conserve energy.
With the BFG skittering all over the road like Ilnur Zakarin contesting a sprint, Taffy Steve started to get nervous and tried nudging ahead. The BFG though seemed to take this as a personal affront and responded. My acceleration to close coincided with the road starting to rise up slightly. I jumped past the two, kicking out of the saddle to attack up the slope and drive up and over the top.
I opened up a small advantage before the BFG closed me down and passed me with the admonishment, “You cheeky beggar, you can’t do that!” But I had – and I’d managed to shake Taffy Steve loose as well. Now there were just the two of us, at high speed, wheels skipping and skittering on the rough surface, rattling and thrumming, my whole body braced and shaking as the pace increased again.
The road dipped a little and the BFG smashed it, stomping hard on the pedals to try and pull away. I was now out of gears and out of breath, with no hope of any freewheeling, fixated on the wheel in front. Slowly the elastic began to stretch and the gap between our wheels grew even as I slid onto the drops and tucked my head down. The gap became a couple of feet as the road slowly levelled and then the faintest of rises took the edge of the BFG’s speed and I clawed back up to him.
The road dipped again and the BFG buried himself in one last massive effort and then sat up slightly to look over his right shoulder to see nothing but empty road. He seemed to hesitate slightly and then slowly looked over his left shoulder to find me sitting there grinning up at him like some malevolent gnome.
“Oh!” he sounded somewhat surprised, “You’re still there.” And then the fight seemed to leave him, he laughed, swore loudly and eased. His speed dropped and I shamelessly and cruelly mugged him, sliding past to open up clear air long before we hit the Snake Bends. A marvellous piece of devilish wheel-sucking skulduggery that only a low-down snake like Simon Gerrans could possibly approve of.
I crossed the junction to ride up the carpet-bombed country lane in splendid isolation, while everyone seemed to take the shorter faster main route. I still made the café just behind the front group spearheaded by the charging G-Dawg tag team.
On the way back there was just time for Taffy Steve and I to ponder if Crazy Legs and The Red Max would make a suitable “Odd Couple” – I had Max pegged as Oscar Madison and Crazy Legs as the neat freak Felix Unger, but then I thought about all of Taffy Steve’s little ordered baggies in his saddle bag…
For some reason we then decided that Castelli should adopt a more accurate sizing guide based on Lord of the Rings characters, so no longer would you need to order XXXL if you wanted a medium jersey, you would just order an Aragorn. Racing Snakes would need a Legolas, while for those with a fuller figure a Gimli would be required. We both agreed we knew one or two Treebeard’s as well as some “tricksy little hobbitses.”
Our hugely intellectual cogitations were rudely interrupted by a small, ancient hatchback that came beetling along the narrow lane. The RIM obviously thought he was driving a massive, road-hogging Hummer and braked to a stop in the middle of the road, obviously befuddled that we hadn’t immediately pulled over to doff our caps and allow him passage.
As I rode past grinning hugely, the Alpha male driver made one of those furious WTF gestures and I couldn’t resist giving him a very cheery wave back. Somewhat incensed he punched his hand down hard onto the horn and the car emitted a very belated, weak, completely innocuous and comical little, “Parp, parp!” OMG – I nearly rode into Noddy!
I was still chuckling over that many miles later as I dragged myself back up the hill and safely home.
YTD Totals: 2,406 km / 1,495 miles with 22,603 metres of climbing