The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio

Club Run, Saturday 8th September, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 110 km / 69 miles with 1,139 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 11 minute

Average Speed:                                  26.4 km/h

Group size:                                          28 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                      16°C

Weather in a word or two:              Passable


 

ratio
Ride Profile

I passed a small cluster of cyclists who were meeting up at the traffic lights leading down to the river, less than three miles or so into my journey. It did make me ponder why I was riding a further 7-8 miles to meet up with the usual gang of reprobates, when there were obviously perfectly pleasant, companionable cyclists and clubs much closer to home.

Still at least there are possibilities if we ever attempt a palace coup that fails…

Once again I found myself arriving at the meeting point early, despite leaving at more or less the same time and following the same route. I seem to be getting faster, but it’s probably not worth making adjustments, the switch to the winter bike will soon fettle that.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

Forget about the melting polar ice caps, receding glaciers and spiralling average temperatures. Forget about the increasing incidence of extreme and violent weather, rising sea levels and the carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. If you want incontrovertible proof that global warming is an actual, real phenomenon, then that evidence was proudly on display this Saturday morning – we’re well into September and yet the first cyclist to join me at our meeting place was Szell, someone who we’d expect to be deep into his hibernation cycle at this time of the year.

And yet, here he was, blinking in the milky autumn light and questioning whether he had made the right clothing choices to cope with the variable temperatures.

I told him that this conundrum was all too common and no one had the right answer – even the most hardened, experienced, all-weather, all-year round, veteran cyclists wasted long minutes every day pondering what clothing layers and accessories to wear and deciding what could be easily pulled on and taken off at a moment’s notice. And, I assured him, they still, invariably got it wrong.

The Garrulous Kid was back and announced he’d had a great holiday in Florida.

“Florida is horrider, than Whitley Bay,” Szell intoned.

“There’s no McEwan’s Best Scotch in the USA,” I followed up with the next line in a creaky TV ad campaign from the distant, hazy annals of our youth.

Florida? Nice Place, Shame about the Beer.

We had a laugh at the conceit behind labelling McEwan’s Best Scotch, a mass-produced, fizzy, bland and utterly un-noteworthy, generic beer as the “one you had to come back for.”

Szell seemed to remember a whole series of these ads, but the only other one that I could recall was the Russian one:

“Red Square’s dead square, we know that for a fact,

No McEwans’s Best Scotch in the Warsaw Pact

They’ve just got propaganda, not proper Geordie brew,

They asked about Marx? Well …one out of ten for you.”

I had to admit, I much preferred the much simpler, smarter Newcastle Brown Ale posters in (probably) indecipherable Geordie, the only one of which I still recall said simply:

AHCUDDOONABROON.

G-Dawg outlined the route for the day, including a raid down into the Tyne Valley and, with another good turnout of 28 riders, we split into two groups that, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to be more or less equal.

Well … ish.


I rolled onto the front of the first group alongside Caracol and we pushed out, safely traversed the deadly and treacherous Broadway West and then we were away.

I spent the first few miles chatting about the Vuelta and, in particular, Simon Yates distinct lack of media training and polish. This, I felt was a refreshing change from the corporate blandness of Sky, even if it did leave to some rather terse and uncomfortable interviews.

Caracol was fully sympathetic and wondered how any normal person would cope with being asked the same inane questions, over and over, in French, English and Spanish and maybe half a dozen other languages beside.

Interviewer: “What went wrong at the Giro.”

Simon Yates: “I don’t know what went wrong at the Giro.”

Interviewer: “Will what happened at the Giro happen here to?”

Simon Yates: “I don’t know if what happened at the Giro will happen here to.”

Etc.

G-Dawg’s route included a new wrinkle that took us up Birney Hill, a narrow country lane, seemingly frequented by only the most considerate and polite of drivers. As the third of these in quick succession pulled over to the side and stopped to let us through, the Red Max somewhat ruined my impression of the denizens of the area by nodding at all the parked-up cars and muttering cynically, “It’s a bit early for dogging, isn’t it?”

Back onto more familiar roads, we had a third incident with a biker in as many weeks. Does this mark a new departure in the conflict between motorist and cyclist? Have all bikers now been seduced by the dark side and the four-wheeled forces of oppression? Or, is it perhaps the same biker who has a very particular grudge against this club and has been stalking us for the past 3 weeks, just so he can vent?

This particular biker slowed, mid-overtake, to ride alongside Crazy Legs and loudly declare, “Mare allah bunda munts!”

“Pardon me?” Crazy Legs, enquired politely.

“Mare allah bunda munts!” the biker repeated, but just as unintelligibly as the first time.

“What?” Crazy Legs shook his head, acting perplexed.

“Mare. Allah. Bunda. Munts!” the biker shouted, trying to enunciate each word carefully through the constricting confines of his helmet.

“Eh?” Crazy Legs responded, smiling at the biker in a manner he hoped would encourage further elucidation.

By now it was obvious that the biker wasn’t trying to convey a friendly greeting, but this comedic interchange had robbed his intended invective of any sting.

Even better, having paused mid-overtake to berate us for holding up the traffic, he was now getting serious grief from the cars behind that couldn’t get past him. Perhaps it finally dawned on him just how foolish he looked, and our new biker friend gave up and roared off. Maybe he’s planning to give it another go next week?

I found myself riding alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d finally determined the osymetric chain-ring he’d invested all his hard earned currency in was, to quote the Red Max’s expert opinion, “utter crap.”

He’d since bitten the bullet and reverted back to more traditional style chain ring, but was bemoaning the fact that he’d having also switched from a 36 to a 39, the ratios were all wrong and he was struggling to get used to the change. It was also a ready-made excuse if he started to struggle on the hills. (Just saying).


ratiotr


Down into the Tyne valley we went, skirting the river for a while and rolling straight through our usual re-grouping point at Bywell Bridge, determining in conversation with the Red Max that our pace probably meant the second group were well adrift and it would be an overly prolonged wait.

So, we kept going and almost immediately started the scrabble to climb back out the valley. We were soon splintered and strung up and own down the road, but stopped to regroup after threading our way across the 4-thundering lanes of A69 traffic. This was safely achieved with a lot of patience, a couple of sharp kamikaze dashes and the use of a handily placed median strip, where we could temporarily kneel in prayer and claim sanctuary.

Once across the dual carriageway, there was yet more climbing to be done before the road would level and lead us on toward Matfen. On the climb the Garrulous Kid became detached, allegedly distracted while trying to inhale a Snickers bar whole. Then the Monkey Butler Boy lost contact, still trying to come to grips with his new and completely alien gear-ratios.

The other stragglers may have had their excuses too, but if they did they were more stoical and refused to acknowledge them.

We regrouped once again and then pushed on toward Matfen and from there to the Quarry. The pace started to pick up and a handful went off the front as we made the turn for the climb.

I rounded the corner and dropped back to make sure we collected any stragglers before pushing on. As I rolled back up to speed I encountered a happy, freewheeling Crazy Legs engaged in a bit of Rick Rolling, booling along and merrily engaged in an energetic rendition of Never Gonna Give You Up…

The front runners had long disappeared when our group made it to the top of the Quarry, to the accompaniment of Mr. Astley’s finest only moment. Here we swung right and started our final run to the café.

As the road straightened, the Monkey Butler Boy was the first to attack surging off the front and opening a short-lived lead, before the inevitable response reeled him in.

Richard of Flanders and the Red Max tried next, each attacking in turn, but on the long drag up toward the crossroads their speed and advantage quickly bled away. Caracol caught and drove past them, I dropped onto his wheel and as we darted through the crossroads, he looked back and saw we’d opened up a sizeable gap.

“Looks like it’s just me and you,” he declared … and so it was, as we hammered down through the curves, swept through the junction and ground our way up the last few ramps.

As we swung onto the road down toward the Snake Bends, Caracol was questioning the wisdom of the Monkey Butler Boy’s premature attack that had lit the blue touch-paper and set everything off.

He was, I suggested, simply a hostage to genetic imperative and couldn’t help uphold the family traditions of attacking early and quite forlornly.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

At the café, the Red Max played us all expertly, suggesting it was still warm enough to sit outside and then, after we had all dutifully trooped out to the garden, taking his pick of chairs inside.

Despite the deception he wasn’t wrong, it was perfectly pleasant outside and the bothersome wasps were fewer in number and not quite as aggressive as they had been last week.

We settled down for a “3-mugger” and a classic spot of blather and bullshit …

It started when the Garrulous Kid wandered past, digging in his back pockets and dislodging an empty Snickers wrapper that spiralled slowly down to the ground.

“I do like a Snickers,” Zardoz commented, “It’s been shown to have the perfect, irresistible ratio between sugar and fat content”

“Ah, a sort of golden ratio. I thought that was the ring donut?” I countered, obviously having heard somewhere that the perfect ratio between sugar and fat was to be found in ring donuts.

“Those as well.” Zardoz affirmed, “But for your 70p, a Snickers bar will give you the highest calorific content and the perfect ratio. It’s the peanuts.”

“What? Wait, 70p! I remember when they used to be only 20p. And a lot bigger too.”

“Yeah, yeah and they used to be called a Marathon.” Zardoz was only slightly sympathetic.

“Exactly, it was named after the most recent tussle between them Persians and Greeks.”

“It’s all ancient history now, old boy.” Zardoz observed dryly.

We were joined by G-Dawg, the Colossus and Taffy Steve, having just led the second group in, and talk turned to various cycling commentators. We wondered how Sean Kelly and his indecipherable accent had ever been seen as a prime candidate to be the expert voice of Eurosport.

Although thankfully he’s grown into this role, Richard of Flanders still recalled a memorable, early radio interview with Kelly when he had to be constantly reminded that listeners couldn’t actually see him nodding away or shaking his head, no matter how vigorously he did this.

From there it was just a hop, step and jump (luckily bypassing the even more puzzling choice of Jonathan Edwards as a cycling presenter) en route to talk about how the rather odious sounding Brian Clough had publicly humiliated Peter Shilton on national TV for a standard, run-of-the-mill, goal-keeping blunder.

Speaking of inappropriate job choices, Richard of Flanders recalled Peter Shilton had then moved into management with Plymouth Argyle, or some other remote (well, to us, anyway) team, where he didn’t seem to have a clue and constantly demanded his players do push-ups as punishment for minor infractions.

This, I suggested was exactly the kind of thing our club was missing and I moved that push-ups for any kind of infraction be immediately added to the club rule book.

Ah, the club rule book. Did such a mythical creation even exist?

We imagined it as a massive tome, bound in ancient, flayed skin of indeterminate origin, covered in arcane motifs and sigils and sealed with a massive, black iron hasp and padlock.

If allowed access to its hallowed content, the yellowed parchment pages would crackle dryly as you opened it up, each section headed with massive illuminated letters and consisting solely of a series of dire instructions: “Though shalt” and “Though shalt not’s.”

G-Dawg felt the tome would be hidden within a secret chamber, the fuhrer bunker, buried deep beneath OGL’s house.

“Guarded by traps, trip-wires and a giant boulder,” Taffy Steve imagined.

“Poison darts and snakes,” I added.

“And even if you find it, you’ll still have to fight the ghost of Pat Roach for it, somewhere along the line,” Taffy Steve concluded, while Richard of Flanders looked on in bewildered incomprehension.

Talk of old football legends, brought up talk of old football stadiums, with Richard of Flanders, on safer ground now, wondering if anyone could recall going to the toilets at old Ayresome Park.

As I remember the stadium itself was like one big toilet, so my imagination failed when it came to picturing what the actual toilets within it could be like.

“Just a long, blank wall with a gutter at the bottom,” according to Richard of Flanders.

“And no drains,” G-Dawg stated.

“Apparently, you’ve never experienced Liverpool until you’ve felt the Kop warm leg welcome.” Sneaky Pete relayed and then there were numerous stories about football spectating in the good old days, terraces awash with urine, pitches showing more mud than grass and leather case balls that would dislocate your neck if you tried to head them when they got sodden and heavy.

Oh, and the ever present threat of violence.

Back talking about a slightly more civilized sport, everyone wanted to know why Szell was still riding, even though it was already September. We wondered if he’d even keep going right up until the Club Hill Climb and if he might perhaps participate?

Szell revealed he’d ridden it once before in the dim and distant past and had no desire to revisit that particular form of intense self-flagellation, a view much supported by Taffy Steve.

“You could always come along and push people off,” a well-meaning, Richard of Flanders suggested, but off course we took his suggestion the wrong way.

“Like, hide in the bushes half way up and leap out at unsuspecting riders?” the Colossus wondered, imagining a Takeshi’s Castle style contest, with a ninja-style, anti-cyclist who would suddenly appear and push each rider over as they strained upwards.

As if a hill climb isn’t already hard enough.

The Colossus suggested he was facing a near impossible task with the hill climb and couldn’t better his first ever time, just back from uni, when he was younger, fitter and most importantly, much lighter. Now, getting older and heavier, his chances of a new personal best time were receding, despite the vagaries and inconsistencies in OGL’s official time-keeping.

Someone countered that weight followed a typical bell-curve through age and there would be a point where you could expect to start getting lighter again.

“Great,” I suggested, “Another 17 years and I might be at my optimum for the hill climb.”

Of course at that age, all dry sinew and skeleton, there’s a good chance that you would simply snap attempting a hill climb.

We speculated about our assailant, potty-mouthed motorbiker and G-Dawg concluded he must surely know us as he had correctly identified that we were a bunda munts. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a disgruntled, ex-club member – although that would be casting the net ridiculously wide and would in no way help us narrow down the biker’s identity.

I then learned that Canyon were a German bike brand (I didn’t know, but can’t say I’d given it much thought) and could also be considered when the Garrulous Kid looks to replace his Focus and insists that only precision and world-renowned Teutonic engineering will suffice. So, from our count he can choose, Canyon, Focus, Rose, Cube or Stork. Not a bad line up.

Speaking of German bikes, we learned that the Garrulous Kid was on his winter bike because he “broke his tyres.” (The tyres were obviously not engineered in Germany.)

He seemed rather nonplussed when Taffy Steve suggested he could have  just swapped over the wheels.

“They’re too heavy.”

“But they’d still be better on your Focus than on your winter bike.”

“I hate my winter bike,” the Garrulous Kid declared.

“Yes,” Taffy Steve affirmed, “That’s the point.”


Off we went and I found myself riding alongside the BFG. He’s taking his newly achieved granddad status very, very seriously and has been regularly riding out with the new grand kid perched on a seat fixed to the front of his bike.

Unfortunately, all he can see when he’s riding is the back of the kid’s head, so it’s always a shock when he gets home and sees the snot-encrusted mask that the wind and speed has dragged out and dried like cement across the kids face.

Even worse, he got home one time to find the kid had somehow eviscerated his helmet, the hollow shell sitting on the back of his head, while the disengaged padding was wrapped tightly around his face.

I suggested this was probably a defence mechanism and the kid was so terrified he had pulled the helmet lining down to cover his eyes, like a condemned man before a firing squad.

The BFG was having none of this though, insisting he knew the kid had been smiling all the way around because of the flies stuck to his teeth.

A turn on the front, through Dinnington to the turn-off, was my last major effort of the day, then the main body swung left and I dropped behind Caracol and G-Dawg to surf through the Mad Mile and away.

The rain blew in as I plugged my way across the river toward home and I stopped to pull on a jacket. The poor weather seemed to have the effect of boosting the appeal of the shopping centre and the traffic was starting to back up. I had to queue patiently on the approach to the roundabout at the bottom of the Heinous Hill, slowly getting soaked ad cold.

Finally across and through the traffic lights, I spun my way up and home to end another ride, at least on a high point, if not an actual high.


YTD Totals: 5,239 km / 3,255 miles with 64,597 metres of climbing

Chevauchée Pyrenees #2 – Survival Mode

Chevauchée Pyrenees #2 – Survival Mode

Ride 1, Friday 2nd June 2018

Col du Soulour from Argeles Gazot/Col d’Aubisque east side from Soulour

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                         63 km / 39 miles with 1,577 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                 3 hours 15 minutes

Average Speed:                         19.5 km/h

Temperature:                            25°C

Weather in a word or two:    Hot and humid


day 1
Route & Ride Profile

Purge

It’s maybe two o’clock in the morning and I’ve been sleeping fitfully for the past couple of hours. It’s stiflingly hot and uncomfortable in the chalet and now I’m awake with a brutal, killer headache, as if someone’s wrapped a band of steel around my skull and is slowly ratcheting it tighter and tighter.

The pain intensifies horribly and flashing lights explode behind my eyes if I try to lie down, so I’m sitting up in bed, back against the wall, trying to forcibly scrub, or pull, or push the waves of pain away and out of my head. It’s not working.

I turn the light on, fumble through my rucksack, find some Paracetamol and choke a couple down, bone dry, chalky and hard to swallow.

At some point, I fall asleep, only to wake suddenly, drenched in sweat and stagger to the bathroom to throw up. I rinse and repeat the process a few times and every time my stomach heaves out its contents, the pain explodes behind my eyes. I choke down more pills and somewhere, somehow, as the sky starts to grey with dawn, I manage to grab a couple of hours of disturbed sleep.

Clanking and clunking from the living room wakes me. Surprisingly it’s not the ghost of Jacob Marley, but Kermit, in an up-and-at-‘em mood and starting to drag his bike outside to start building it back up.

I get up slowly, check the time and make to follow. We’d agreed a 10.00 o’clock depart for the first ride, so I had a couple of hours to try and pull both myself and the bike back together. One thing was certain, I wasn’t going to be making the breakfast we’d hastily arranged with the campsite the night before.

The bike had survived its transit without mark, or mar and slotted together without too many issues, although at one point I did have to abandon my post and hurdle over Kermit and bits of his scattered bike in a crazed dash to the toilet. After this, I was thinking I couldn’t possibly have anything left to throw up. But, I was wrong.

I finished the bike and checked it over. All seemed good, so I got changed into my cycling kit and slapped on some sunscreen. The day looked grey and dull, with plenty of cloud cover, but it was relentlessly hot and humid. Nevertheless, as I sat on the chalet porch and just tried to recover, I was chilled and shivering and pulled on some arm warmers and my fleece while I waited for things to settle down.

A few chalets along, the Breakfast Club had returned from their sumptuous feast and were preparing to ride. (I got good reports of the breakfast extravaganza, but wouldn’t get to sample it even once in the next few days.)

Extreme Weather Protocol

Crazy Legs swung by to inform us that in light of my bad case of malingering and, as a more gentle acclimatisation for everyone else, Extreme Weather Protocol had been invoked and agreement reached to swap around Day#1 and Day#2.

The revised agenda for the day was now the Col du Soulour, followed straight up by the Col d’Aubisque. The washed out roads of the latter meaning we’d need to trace our way to it directly from the Soulour, rather than looping around to climb up from the other side as originally planned. In this way, we just about halved the distance and the amount of climbing.

At 10.00, or thereabouts, we slowly gathered, clipped in and rode out, following the road through Argelès Gazost before swinging away left, up the valley of le Gave d’ Azun, to start the approach to the Col du Soulour.

As we passed through the villages, gaps appeared in the clouds overhead and the sun poured down. This gave a bright, oily sheen to the new and smooth tarmac that glistened under our tyres, an indication that the Tour will be following these very same roads in just a few weeks’ time and preparations are in full-swing. I often wonder if, a bit like the Queen visiting the provinces, the Tour peloton get a ridiculously rose-tinted view of the state of the nation’s byways and highways.

At one point we passed a group of workmen busy branding stark, white, markings into the new road surface. The intense chemical smell of the epoxy they were using almost made me throw up and I was glad to quickly leave them behind.

I’d adopted a survival mode, bunkered down amongst the wheels, taking occasional small sips of plain water and hoping to keep it down.

We had to negotiate our way around a shirtless, deeply-tanned, golden-maned native, riding one massive, barrel chested, bay horse while leading two others behind and looking like the lone survivor from a failed raid of warrior Gaul’s. He was certainly far too cool to acknowledge Crazy Legs’ cheerful greeting. (I suspect he secretly covets the role of Xenophobix in the local Asterix the Gaul Re-enactment Society and is actually really friendly and welcoming, but he’s a method actor and has to stay aloof to remain in character.)

I also think I’d just discovered my own Asterix alter-ego for the day, too – Monosyllabix.

And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Snot

Our group slowly attenuated and then broke apart, everyone finding a pace they were comfortable with. I dropped off the back, riding for a while with Crazy Legs, who was still suffering from a ridiculously long-standing chest infection that he can’t seem to shift. He was really struggling with this, his asthma and the oppressively hot and humid conditions.

I followed in the wake of his coughing, hawking and spluttering expectorations, quietly giggling at the cloud of flies he’d acquired, like a dark halo circling his head, while realising I probably had a corresponding, buzzing accompaniment orbiting my own helmet.

At Arrans-Marsous, the road jinked to the right and the real climbing began through a series of tight, steep hairpins. I was travelling too slowly even for an ailing, lung-shot Crazy Legs now, so he checked I was ok and pressed on ahead. I found myself singing that old Gilbert O’Sullivan chestnut, “Alone Again, Naturally” as I ground my way upwards, although, in my defence I don’t actually recall anything but the title-line, which I found myself repeating, ad nauseam.

I wasn’t quite alone, however. A quick lizard snaked up the road in front of me, like a miniature Alberto Contador on the attack and a little further on, it was the turn of an intensely bright, iridescent beetle. It taunted me with both its flashiness and climbing speed, and when, with a bit of effort, I just about managed to catch it, it disappeared into the undergrowth.

I felt more empathy with a large fat bee I found, dressed much like me in black and yellow, seemingly shell-shocked, hunkered, head down, arse up and unmoving in the middle of the road. I was tempted to join him, but kept going.

A farmyard cat then watched me pass, wary and wide-eyed, it’s pupils reduced to vertical black hairlines by the bright sunlight.

Off to the left a sign seemed to point toward Bun. Or, maybe that was just a wilful hallucination…

Toil and Trouble

As I climbed and away from the settlements, the meadows became dotted with cows and the constant jangle of their bells accompanied my harsh breathing. Meanwhile, high overhead massive buzzards effortlessly circled in the thermals, marking my crawling progress and perhaps wondering if I’d provide them with easy pickings before the day was done.

I was starting to get a feel for the characteristics of Pyrenean climbs, wide sweeping bends that lacked the tight hairpins of the Alps and a gradient that seemed to annoyingly change around every corner and jarred you out of any rhythm you’d managed to establish.

The roads were also much quieter, both of cars and other cyclists and there was little evidence of the usual, faded fan graffiti on the climbs that we’d seen last year in the Alps. Perhaps the weather here is so much harsher that the road surface only lasts a season or two?

I suspect the roadside signs were designed to help struggling cyclists, counting down the distance to the summit every kilometre, with each one helpfully spelling out the average gradient across the next stretch of road too.

Occasionally this proved a little dispiriting, especially when you knew you faced an 8% average gradient for the next thousand metres and then the road eased, or heaven forbid, dipped downwards. This was an indication that a bit further along you’d be paying for the moments brief respite.


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Depending on the gradient, my speed was like a Geiger counter in Chernobyl, wavering wildly between 6.5mph and 3.7mph. I was going nowhere fast, but I was still going. I have to admit I don’t remember all that much about the latter stages of the climb, I was in a sort of fugue state, not feeling particularly bad, just washed out, weak and powerless.

I finally made the top, saw a café by the side of the road and rolled through its car park. None of the parked-up bikes looked remotely familiar, so I re-joined the road and plugged away a bit more until I found the patiently waiting, motley crew outside a second café.

The Best Omelette in the Pyrenees … Allegedly

We trouped inside for lunch and were greeted by a jocular and friendly proprietor, who assumed we were Dutch. Crazy Legs surmised this because we looked far too happy and cheerful to be English and maybe he was right.

We were promised the best omelettes in the Pyrenees, which just about everyone plumped for, and a much needed round of drinks. I wish I could attest to the omelettes excellence, but I only managed to pick my way carefully through a few mouthfuls and I was done. Still, it stayed where I put it, so progress of sorts. Crazy Legs also struggled with the sheer volume of food, but made a better go of it, while the rest seemed to demolish their meals in short order.

Syncing Strava and the Bovine Menace

Outside, we set our sights on the Col d’ Aubisque, leaving Kermit behind as he fiddled with his Garmin which had annoyingly decided to play peek-a-boo with the satellites. The first part of the road was a descent down from the very summit of the Col du Soulour, with an unbarriered steep drop off to the right.

This was made slightly treacherous by the gravel strewn across the road surface and several large cows that seemed intent on meandering aimlessly across our path. Safely negotiating this moving, bovine chicane, we were soon rolling toward the gaping black maw of a tunnel cut straight through the side of the mountain.

Crazy Legs had forewarned us about the tunnel and suggested we take a leaf out of Sean Kelly’s book and close one eye as we approached, so it, at least, was adjusted to the dark by the time we got inside. I went one better and decided to close both eyes …

Ha-ha – only joking. The tunnel was as short and slimy as advertised and had a horrible ridged road surface that we all rattled uncomfortably across. I wasn’t looking forward to repeating that when we returned.

I managed to keep up with everyone on the descent, but soon the road began to climb again and I slipped off the back. Goose and Captain Black forged past and reported that Kermit was still missing.

I kept looking back to see if I could spot his red jersey, working its way up the ribbon of road that seemed to cling precariously to the steep mountain side, but nothing was moving behind me.

We were so high up that at one point I found myself riding along almost at eye level with a majestic, soaring buzzard. It seemed close enough for me to reach across to brush its wingtips, well, if I felt like leaning over the precipitous drop to my right. Then it tipped over on one wing and slipped silently away. Incredible.

As we climbed higher the clouds rolled in above and below, restricting what must have been spectacular views and I was soon climbing through a cool, muffling grey mist and wondering if it was worth turning my lights on.

Before I reached a decision, the air cleared again and then, somewhere along the way and much later than I expected, Kermit caught and passed me. He would later find his Garmin had failed to record his ascent of the Col Du Soulour and he even considered climbing it again, especially after we all convinced him that if it wasn’t on Strava ….

As the road entered a series of switchbacks, I was able to track my route by the progress of Kermit’s bobbing red jersey up ahead and judge just how far I had left and what was awaiting me around the next corner.

The climb wasn’t that hard and I don’t remember it being all that long either. At some point, I rattled across a Barrière Canadienne and wondered what it was the French had against Canuck’s that made them want to bar their access to the mountains.

Then we were at the top, hanging the bikes up in the rusting, creaking racks outside another café. A brief stop and then we gathered outside, pulling on jackets and gilets for the descent and stepping up for the obligatory group photo at the summit marker.


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The Dutchman and the Brits

As we collected our bikes, Crazy Legs found himself bonding with a couple of fellow Ribble Rousers from the UK. They suggested we took time out to cheer on their colleague, a big Dutchman who was powering up the climb behind them in T-shirt and sandals, grinning from ear to ear while cheerfully piloting a massive steel, sit-up-and-beg town-bike up the col.

A few scattered, desultory signs appeared to suggest the road ahead was, as we suspected still closed and no one had any interest in finding out if it the route was still passable by bike, so we turned around and headed back the way we’d come.

I had no trouble keeping up with the others as we made our way downhill, catching and whipping past a tentative motorist just before rattling and shaking our way back through the slimy tunnel.

We regrouped at the top of the Soulour, before tipping down again, then were full bore all the way from the bottom of the descent back to the campsite.

Living to Fight Another Day

I retired to the shower block, intent on draining the campsites hot water supply. I didn’t quite manage, but feel I gave it my best shot, emerging slightly more wrinkled than usual, but starting to feel a whole lot better.

We congregated in the bar again for dinner and I managed to slide down about three-quarters of a pizza. I left the crew watching a World Cup match and trying to decide what ice creams they wanted for dessert. Making my excuses, I made my way to the chalet for an early night, crawled into bed and was gone. I don’t know if I slept, or just fell into a coma, but I wasn’t to stir for the next 12 hours.

Tomorrow would be a whole other day.


 

Farcical – The Movie

Farcical – The Movie

Club Run, Saturday 5th May, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 113 km / 70 miles with 1,077 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.0 km/h

Group size:                                        21 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   18°C

Weather in a word or two:          Chilly


farcicl
Ride Profile

Farcical … or Far Cycle – A Very British Farce*

(A script in development and purely speculative fiction)

*Farcenoun – a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterisation and ludicrously improbable situations.


Cast:

The Subject: Sur La Jante

The Lone Dissenting Voice: Captain Kamikaze

The Fly: A fly

Jolly Man: A random passing civilian

Captain Kamikaze: The Lone Dissenting Voice

The Gang: Various riders from the largest cycling club in the region. (Allegedly.)


A black screen.

The silence is broken by the slow beeping of an electronic alarm and an image slowly coalesces of a flailing arm that bashes wildly at a bedside table, 2-3-4 times, until it finally manages to hit the off-button and silence the horribly intrusive noise.

The camera pulls back and, accompanied by much moaning, groaning and muttering, The Subject slowly peels back the covers and stumbles out of bed. Blinking in the still dim light, The Subject runs a hand through ridiculously unkempt, dishevelled hair that’s standing straight up at attention. He rubs at gritty eyes and yawns loudly.

Cut.


In a narrow kitchen, The Subject prepares an uninspiring but hopefully fortifying breakfast of porridge and a muddy espresso, while trying to ignore the two hungry felines giving him the evil eye and demanding he drop everything to placate them with a sacrificial offering of food.

Finally, their evil cat gazes start to shrivel his soul and The Subject succumbs to the pressure, opening a pouch of some foul smelling cat food at arm’s length and trying not to gag as he disgorges the contents into two bowls that he quickly lays at the feet of his masters.

Cut.


The Subject is now wrestling with a fantastical costume that could (perhaps justifiably) be characterised as being a couple of sizes too small for comfort. A t-shirt, with more holes than substance, goes under a pair of long, form fitting shorts with bizarre straps that go over the shoulders. It looks like the kind of lederhosen a cheesy, 60’s TV-superhero might have worn. Alpenhorn Man, anyone?

The subject pulls on a pair of socks that he hopes are neither too long, nor too short. They are unashamedly bright and white.

Strange black, sausage-skin type tubes are then stretched up and over spindly, pipe-cleaner arms, like opera gloves without any fingers, before another, possibly even tighter, t-shirt is pulled over The Subjects head and inched and tugged and twisted down and around his torso.

This latest t-shirt has 3 odd pockets sewn into the back and The Subject starts loading these up. In the left hand pocket goes a wallet, a phone and some kind of cereal bar. In the middle pocket goes a small camera and a bundled-up, incredibly creased, bright orange jacket is stuffed on top of this. In the right hand pocket goes a small bike pump, two plastic tyre levers and a compact multi-tool.

Once completed, The Subject decides he needs to visit the toilet. Out of the left hand pocket, he retrieves a wallet, a phone and some kind of cereal bar and sets them aside. Out of the right hand pocket, he pulls a small bike pump, two plastic tyre levers and a compact multi-tool and sets them aside. He decides the camera in the middle pocket is probably safe, plugged in place by the orange jacket.

He inches, tugs and twists the top t-shirt up and pulls it over his head and is already slipping the strange lederhosen straps down, off his shoulders as he opens the toilet door.

Flashback: an earlier time and an earlier natural urge, The Subject is dressed in a similar manner as he enters the toilet, but the rear pockets are still bulging with “stuff”. He grasps the collar of his top at the back and tugs and twists and pulls it over his head. As it starts to slide down his arms, his mobile phone flies out of his left hand pocket and describes a slow, lazy arc through the air, a trajectory so perfect that Tom Daly would have spontaneously cheered … Plop! Straight down the toilet bowl without touching the sides.

Cut.


The Subject emerges from the toilet and goes through the ritual of wrestling on his top t-shirt and loading up the individual pockets once again. In the left hand pocket goes a wallet, a phone and some kind of cereal bar. In the right hand pocket goes a small bike pump, two plastic tyre levers and a compact multi-tool…

He sighs.

He goes outside, still in his stockinged feet and pulls a bike from the shed. It’s an alarming, eye-watering riot of vile red, poisonous black and bilious yellow. The bike is loaded up with a tool tub, water bottle and computer and our subject returns inside.

“It’s a bit chilly out there,” he tells one of the cats. The cat stares back with mute indifference.

“I know you care really,” he suggests unconvincingly.

The cat yawns and wanders off.

The Subject pulls a pair of ruby red slippers from a cupboard, drags them on and twists a clicking dial on each, until the cheese-wires that serve as laces tighten enough to cut off blood supply to his toes. He backs them off a little. He fishes the orange jacket from his back pocket and slips this on for good measure, adding an extra layer of insulation. Good to go.

Cut.


The Scene: A little while later at a grandly named Transport Interchange Centre, that actually resembles a very ordinary, run-of-the-mill bus station. A low wall at the back of a wide pavement separates the bus concourse from a multi-storey car park. Seated on this wall waiting, is the tall, gangly figure of the Garrulous Kid dressed all in black.

G-Dawg and the Colossus roll up on their bikes. The latter is wearing a Le Col jersey in a bright shade of orange, while the former sports a Molteni retro jersey that, through time, evolved from an unloved navy blue and brown to orange and black. G-Dawg’s is the more modern, much more tasteful orange and black version.

Trailing behind, our Subject arrives and pulls up alongside the pair.

“Huh, you’re all in orange?” (There’s really no fooling the Garrulous Kid, or his keen observational skills.)

“It’s Orange Day, didn’t you get the message?” G-Dawg asks.

“Yes, orange is the new black,” The Subject attests.

Even the Garrulous Kid doesn’t fall for this one though, especially as other riders start turning up and there’s no further incidence of orange.

The Subject determines things have probably warmed up just about enough, so ships and stows the orange jacket.

Slowly, more cyclists arrive and form up around the group, until the pavement is all but blocked by skinny blokes with plastic bikes.

“I thought there would have been more out today,” G-Dawg surmises, even as the headcount tops 20.

The Subject reminds him there’s a few up doing the Wooler Wheel and one or two facing the brutal Fred Whitton Challenge tomorrow too.

The Subject then falls into conversation with the newly arrived Big Friendly Giant.

The Subject: “So you survived last week and now you’re back for more?”

BFG: “Yeah, and I might make it all the way around, this time. But I’ll not be stopping at the café …”

The Subject steps back, aghast.

The Subject: [tremulously] “What … no cake?”

BFG: “I have to be back to do some gardening. Feed and tend the lawns and all that.”

The Subject: “Ah, is this the new obsession?”

BFG: [unashamedly] “Yes!”

The Subject: “So, it’s replaced your earlier obsession for building bikes from rare, exotic and wholly unsuitable materials?”

BFG: “Yes. The trouble is though, Nature is always changing and evolving and nothing ever stays perfect for very long.”

The Subject: “Very true, that’s life – things are always changing.”

BFG: “Yeah, but it can actually become a bit of an issue for someone with acute OCD and a need for perfection …”

Cut.


The Scene: Out on the road. The weather is bright, but cold and a group of 20+ riders are travelling 2 abreast down rough country roads in a very rural landscape.

Untitled 2

Above all the general chatter and good humour, a disassociated voice can be heard complaining long and bitterly about the speed the group is travelling. Everyone else seems happy and comfortable, talking away, enjoying the ride and not breathing too heavily – even Szell, just recently awoken from winter hibernation seems at ease.

“It’s not a bloody race,” the Lone Dissenting Voice proclaims.

“If you want to race, put a number on your back,” the Lone Dissenting Voice continues.

“Is this the bloody toady France or something?” the Lone Dissenting Voice queries, to everyone and no one. Well, to be fair, actually no one – they’ve all stopped listening.

Slow fade …


The Scene: The group has stopped at a junction with a choice of turning right for a shorter route to the café , or left for a longer harder route. G-Dawg is busy outlining the different options that everyone can take.

Lone Dissenting Voice: “Well, I’m going this way, the speed today has been just bloody farcical. Farcical!”

The Lone Dissenting Voice takes the right hand turn in protest – a protest somewhat spoiled by the fact that it’s the route the Lone Dissenting Voice always takes…no matter what.

Lone Dissenting Voice: [a final parting shot] “If you want to race, put a bloody number on your back.”

“That’s it, we’re all wearing numbers next week,” someone announces.

Cut.


The Scene: Out on the road, the groups numbers are somewhat diminished, all the climbing is done and they’re riding at a high speed, pulling everyone out into a single long line.

Someone attacks off the front. The Subject follows a wheel through as another rider moves to respond.

The attacker is brought back.

The Subject attacks.

The Subject is caught.

The road rises a little.

The Subject attacks again.

The Subject is caught.

Cut to an aerial shot, showing a long straight road. Head-on and still a little distant a group of riders can be seen, approaching fast and in single file. Having been caught again, The Subject is now sitting second wheel.

The camera pulls back slightly revealing this view is actually one being contemplated by a large, black fly of an indeterminate species. The fly performs a lazy barrel roll, drops down and heads buzzing toward the approaching riders.

The road rises, ever so slightly.

The Subject pulls out from the wheels.

The Subject attacks again.

Briefly, the view shifts to the fly’s perspective and CGI special effects are applied. The view becomes heavily stylised, a multi-faceted picture of bikes and riders through the eyes of the fly.

It focuses on the group approaching.

And zooms in… to focus on the attacking lead rider.

And zooms in…to focus on the face of the attacking lead rider

And zooms in… to focus on that riders gaping mouth, through which he’s trying to draw enough oxygen to fuel his thrashing legs, pounding heart and gasping lungs.

The black maw of the fully open mouth looms and draws the fly in …

Blackness engulfs the fly.

The camera pulls back to focus on The Subject again. He’s coughing, spluttering and trying not to gag on a sudden obstruction that’s rattling and vibrating in his throat.

The Subject’s done, he’s caught and blinking away the tears in his eyes, he drops back. Back past Jimmy Mac, past the Big Yin, past Keel, past G-Dawg, before finding a space and slotting in on the wheel of the Colossus.

He follows. Hanging on. Still at high speed.

There are two very distinct, very loud cracks as G-Dawg smashes through a pothole no one had the wit to point out.

G-Dawg: “Ooph!”

Centimetres from his rear wheel, the Colossus twitches to one side and bangs across the shallower edges of the hole, avoiding the worst. The Subject quickly yaws away to one side and manages to miss the hole completely.

It all happens in an instant. The group presses on, seemingly having sustained no damage, until G-Dawg realises he’s blown out both tyres and they’re rapidly deflating. He comes to a rumbling stop.

The Colossus continues, charges across the gap, past a slow riding, Lone Dissenting Voice (who has just emerged from a side-road) and to the front of the group. The Colossus contests the sprint, then calmly turns around and goes back to help G-Dawg with his double puncture.

Meanwhile, The Subject rolls through on the back of the group and makes his way to the café.

Cut.


Scene: In the café. The Subject is standing in the queue loading his tray up with coffee and cake. The Lone Dissenting Voice stands behind him, waiting to be served. A rather jolly, corpulent civilian approaches and addresses the Lone Dissenting Voice.

Jolly Man: “Well, well, well it’s Captain Kamikaze.”

The Subject tries to suppress his grin, the Lone Dissenting Voice studiously tries to ignore the Jolly Man.

Jolly Man: [unperturbed by the silent treatment and in no way deterred, continues] “Hello Captain Kamikaze, thrown yourself under any 40-ton artics recently?”

The Subject scurries off, before he bursts into laughter…

Cut.


Scene: In the garden at the café. Two of the benches have been pulled together in a line and are overrun with cyclists. The Subject is sitting at one end, talking with Jimmy Mac and Rab Dee about the Giro d’Italia. At the other end sits the Big Yin and the Garrulous Kid.

Rab Dee: “I’m looking forward to a lazy afternoon watching the Giro and listening to Sean Kelly’s commentary about turds and trees.”

Jimmy Mac: “Reminds me of the story of how Billy Twelvetrees was always called 36 by his Irish team mates.”

The Subject was just about to add that Yates’ commentary has never been the same since Ulrika Greenedge became Mitchelton Scott, when the Lone Dissenting Voice a.k.a. Captain Kamikaze, plonks himself down opposite the Big Yin.

Lone Dissenting Voice: “The speed today was shocking.”

The Big Yin: [feigning innocence] “Yeah, It was a bit slow wasn’t it?”

Lone Dissenting Voice: [utterly devoid of humour] “It’s ridiculous, the Saturday runs were set up 50 years ago as a social ride.”

The Big Yin: [reasonably] “Well, yeah, that was then. It’s different now and things change naturally over time, they evolve and …”

Lone Dissenting Voice: “No! No they bloody don’t! Not over time!”

The Subject: “Err … eh?”

Lone Dissenting Voice: “The pace of the Saturday rides is stupid. It’s why we’ve had a 50% drop in club membership. It’s why some of the old stalwarts don’t ride with us anymore. It’s why numbers on Saturday rides are falling.”

The Subject: [sotto voce, shaking his head] “No. No. No and no.”

Luckily, the group are distracted, when the Garrulous Kid spots Rab Dee’s espresso cup.

Garrulous Kid: “Hey, that’s a tiny cup!”

Garrulous Kid: [bending down to look under the table] “Is there a midget here?”

Slow fade.


The Scene: Still the café garden. The cyclists are packing up to leave, minus the Lone Dissenting Voice who left early in order to “ride home at a sensible speed.”

Szell weighs up an order card left lying on one of the tables so the servers can identify who has ordered what.

Szell: “Isn’t this the kind of number we could put on our backs?”

He proposes sticking it to the back of the Lone Dissenting Voice’s jersey and starts looking for some glue, or tape.

Szell: “I know, jam. That’ll work.”

Luckily, the group makes to leave before Szell can put his plan into practice.

Cut.


The Scene: Returning home in high spirits, the group are powering along with the Garrulous Kid and The Subject on the front, chattering away and laughing. As they approach the final climb, up to Dinnington, Taffy Steve accelerates up behind the Garrulous Kid.

Taffy Steve: [chanting] “Old fat bloke coming for you, Old fat bloke gonna catch you…”

With a girly-shriek, the Garrulous Kid accelerates away.

Over the top, he sees the Lone Dissenting Voice, labouring along on his own.

He sweeps past.

Seconds later, everyone else sweeps past too.

Lone Dissenting Voice: [grumpily, as he disappears out the back] “I could hear you lot coming a bloody mile away.”

G-Dawg: “We’ll all have our names entered into the little black book now.”

The Subject: “Yep, it’s a club run, it’s not an excuse for us to be out enjoying ourselves.”

Fade to credits.

The End.

All options available[Still!]


YTD Totals: 2,780 km / 1,571 miles with 32,346 metres of climbing

Ozzie Rules

Ozzie Rules

Club Run, Saturday 2nd September, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   108 km/67 miles with 1,105 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 30 minutes

Average Speed:                                   24.0 km/h

Group size:                                           31 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                      19°C

Weather in a word or two:              Pleasant


 

2 sep
Ride Profile

The Ride:

You can’t say I hadn’t been warned and I should have known what to expect, after all I’d already managed two bike commutes into work during the week. On both occasions the cold had made me grateful for the light, long fingered gloves (my favourite and highly recommended, Galibier Roubaix Vision 4’s) that I’d used both mornings, before switching to mitts for the considerably warmer return journey.

But, Saturday morning looked bright and breezy and I was setting off an hour later than I do when travelling into work – surely it wouldn’t be so cold that I’d need to supplement arm-warmers with gloves? It was though, and dropping down the Hill at high speed didn’t help. The cold attacked my hands, especially through the chilled metal of the brake levers I had covered throughout the descent.

Along the valley floor I tried to find some relief and to break the wind chill – hands positioned on the very tops of the bars, just before the warm tape gave way to icy metal, fingers curled up tight and bundled together like cold kittens, with only the runts of the litter, my two thumbs, still exposed to the air flow and slowly turning numb.

Despite the frigid, early morning conditions, it looked like being a great day once the air warmed up a little, the pale blue above only lightly smudged with milky ripples and whorls of cloud, like a giant had left his fingerprints across the sky. It was simply a case of surviving until the suns warming influence could be felt, perhaps one of the last, fine days before the dark, cold, winds and rain of late autumn descend and so, not to be missed.

The promise of decent weather was a real incentive to get out for the Saturday Club Run, overcoming the twin challenges of illness and a sore knee. I’d missed time at work on the Tuesday, feeling sick – high temperature, nausea, stomach cramps and a headache. I still wasn’t fully 100% but had determined to try and ride through it.

Then on Thursday I’d noticed my right knee was sore, especially when climbing. I’d shared the first half of my evening commute with Mr. T (aka The Man with the Van and the Plan) on Friday. He’s trying to reach his annual mileage target, so wanted a longer route home. During the ride he wondered if I’d done anything to actually injure the knee, but nothing came to mind.

It wasn’t until later, when climbing the Heinous Hill with little stabs of pain sparking in the offending joint, that I remembered slipping on the office stairs on Wednesday morning. Perhaps that was the source of the injury? I hope so, as it beats the alternative, that my aged and decrepit knee joints are just worn out, crumbling and terminally failing.

Still, as I crossed the river, admiring a small flotilla of single-sculls arrowing downstream, I felt fine, any knee pain was at least temporarily quiescent and the bike was whirring along smoothly and quietly. All seemed well with the world.

I reached the meeting point in good time and in good order and drew up to wait for everyone else alongside the early arrivals, Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Garrulous Kid reported great success with his GCSE exams, especially Chemistry, Physics and Maffs. Apparently he’d passed his English too and with flying colours, causing me to enquire if there was an oral element to his testing and how well he’d fared at that part. (There wasn’t).

Crazy Legs thanked Zardoz for his moral and very vocal support during last week’s 4-Up Team Time Trial. Apparently Zardoz’s bellowing of, “you’ve almost caught your minute-men!” halfway around the course had been invigorating and motivating, even as Crazy Legs immediately realised it was a complete and utter lie.

Aether rolled up and we awarded him a full ceremonial fanfare as this week ride leader. We all genuflected in his august presence and I’m sure, out of the corner of my eye I even saw the Garrulous Kid attempt an awkward curtsy.

With another good turnout spilling across the pavement, Aether recognised the need to split us into two, but we still haven’t quite got the hang of this and we ended up with a pair of very lopsided groups, one of about twenty-strong, the other of no more than a dozen. Sadly this was just an excuse for those who don’t agree with splitting into groups to complain that it doesn’t work. And they did. A lot.

A small few of us hung back to form the core of the second group, even rolling up to the lights on green and refusing to go through them in order to allow the bunch out front plenty of time to get clear.

The lights finally cycled round to green again and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve took to the front for the first part, while I slotted in behind them, alongside the Garrulous Kid, with Big Dunc and Zardoz following in turn and in our wheels. On past Dinnington, the front two peeled off, I pushed through with the Garrulous Kid and Zardoz, realising he was getting perilously close to the front immediately called for a pee stop, so he could slip quietly back down the order. We naturally ignored him and pressed on.

We drove the pace on, up past the Cheese Farm, trying to see how many “ease up!” cries we could generate on the climb, but they were disappointingly scarce. Passing under the A1 just outside of Morpeth, we ceded the front to Zardoz and Big Dunc. A large contingent of Grogs slipped away off the back to head straight to the café and when Moscas turned early for home shortly afterwards, there was just the front group and OGL left – a Malignant Seven – average age about 50, or if you exclude the Garrulous Kid, about 56.

We swung round a sharp corner onto the bottom of the Mur de Mitford, I changed down and attacked the slope. Ouch, big mistake, as someone introduced my knee to a little needle of niggling, sharp pain. Ah! So that injuries still there, then …

I tried to spin up, putting as little force as possible through my right leg, which felt a bit odd. It wasn’t hugely painful, but uncomfortable and the joint felt weak and somewhat femmer – definitely not something I wanted to put too much strain through.

We regrouped and pressed on. The weather had started to warm up, the sun was high and bright and I was able to abandon the arm warmers. It was, finally, a glorious day. All around us the countryside was blooming richly and riotously. Glossy blackberries dotted all the hedgerows and while a few fields had already been shaved back to a dry stubble, in the Font valley the maize was already reaching over head-height.

We swung left, onto the Coldlaw Wood Climb running parallel to the Trench and took the opportunity for a pee stop, while OGL shipped and stowed his gilet. The Garrulous Kid complained there was nowhere to pee. Crazy Legs raised a quizzical eyebrow and looked around the shady, secluded country lane, lined with a wall and hedge to one side and tall trees to the other?

“What more do you want,” he asked, somewhat exasperated, “A Dyson air-blower to dry your hands?”

“We’ve got one of them.” I added nodding back down the lane, where OGL was shoving a gilet into his back pocket.

“Nah,” Crazy Legs concluded, “Dyson’s need to be able to produce at least 100 watts.” Oh, dear … average age of 50 and we’re still such shockingly childish, immature and caustic bitches.

As the climb levelled off we swung left, while OGL, looking for a shorter, easier route went right. Rolling round a bend we passed our first group, all clustered at the side of the road while the Red Max worked feverishly to fix a rear wheel puncture.

We had no intention of stopping and rolled past, now forming the clubs advance party, or tête de la course, if you prefer, travelling down toward Dyke Neuk on a road we more typically travel up. Slow-witted as usual, it took me an absolute age to realise I actually knew where we were!

Just before dropping down the dip toward Hartburn, OGL was spat out of a side road ahead of us – now our virtual leader on the road. Once again though he didn’t press his advantage, taking a different, shorter route at the top of the climb, while we followed the less well-travelled ride plan, up to Scots Gap, before starting to close on Middleton Bank.

I drifted off the back of the group as we rolled toward the climb, happy to ride  at my own pace and nurse my sore knee along, only to find I’d acquired a pilot fish, as Crazy Legs dropped back to check on me.


NOVATEK CAMERA


The group splintered apart, Zardoz and Big Dunc riding off the front, with the Garrulous Kid in hot pursuit, while I spun up the climb alongside Crazy Legs, slowly closing the gap to Taffy Steve.

Over the top, Zardoz and Big Dunc were pressing on for home without regrouping. Crazy Legs took over on the front, checked I was happy with the pace and set off for home. “All aboard the gimp express!”

We caught Taffy Steve in short order. “All aboard!” I called, easing back to open a space behind Crazy Legs’ back wheel. Taffy Steve slotted in, Crazy Legs blew an imaginary train whistle … and then we started to eat into the gap up to the Garrulous Kid.

The Garrulous Kid appeared to be lost in a daydream and seemed a bit startled as we thundered past, but managed to respond to the call, “All aboard!” tagging onto the back of our line.

We never did catch the rampaging Zardoz, or the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc, but then again, despite all expectation, our erstwhile front group of runners and chasers never caught us either.

We managed to keep our small group all together until the rollers just after the Milestone Woods, when Taffy Steve drifted off the back. I hung on down the descent and around the corner to the final climb, before Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid romped away to contest the minor placings in the sprint.

Ahead of me, OGL emerged yet again from another side road and I swooped around him and then eased to roll up to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The café has new coffee mugs, which are, apparently easier to carry, so I think the staff quite like them.  Or at least they did –  until they had to contend with a bunch of awkward, obstreperous cyclists insisting – beyond all reason and even after practical demonstration – that they were smaller than the previous version and we were all being short-changed.

We took advantage of the good weather to sit outside in the garden, reasoning there can’t be many more opportunities to do that this year.

Perhaps though, we should be more thankful we live in such a temperate climate, it is after all just a matter of perspective. OGL related how one of our club members was currently living in Las Vegas and didn’t seem too happy about it – perhaps because he can’t walk the dogs in the afternoon as the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) is so hot their paws blister.

Not that he can even get out himself either, as his steel gates expand so much in the heat they jam closed. Apparently the strict grid-like layout of American urban areas and the surrounding blank, flatness of Nevada ensure that all his Strava routes could be easily replicated by a child on an Etch-A-Sketch.

Crazy Legs recalled riding with the guy on one club run, in mid-autumn when it was typically wet, blustery and cold and everyone was complaining about the weather, apart from our ex-pat, who positively revelled in it and couldn’t have been happier. You see, perspectives.

Gazing into a nearby field, the Garrulous Kid seemed excited to see a black lamb amongst all its snow-white brothers. (He doesn’t get out much.) OGL revealed this was the field he was planning to use if he’d won the charity auction for Sean Kelly’s donkey at one of the Braveheart dinners. Luckily he was outbid at the last.

(I’ve yet to discover what possessed him to even think about bidding to win Sean Kelly’s donkey, or perhaps more accurately how much alcohol you have to consume before bidding for Sean Kelly’s donkey seems (even remotely) like a good idea.)

I felt duty bound to ask if OGL hadn’t felt a bit of an ass, while Crazy Legs wanted to know if the donkey had later wandered up to his room and “brayed on the door.” Well, it kept us vaguely amused anyway.


Coming out of the café and setting off home, the Garrulous Kid and Monkey Butler Boy got into a bitch-boy slap-fight, which the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to win, simply by virtue of his well-honed, rapier-sharp wit, as evidenced by his final retort – “Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler.”

“Blah-blah, bler-bler-bler?” I enquired.

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Your scintillating wit, bon-mots and clever word-play really would put Oscar Wilde to shame.”

“Who?”

“Oscar Wilde?”

“Never heard of the feller.”

I cocked an imaginary pistol, Contador-style, pointed it at the Monkey Butler Boy’s head and (figuratively) shot him dead.

“You’ve never even heard of Oscar Wilde?”

“Well, you’ve got to remember, I’m only young … I wasn’t around in the ‘80’s.”

Sigh.

The Monkey Butler Boy rode away to continue his fractious discussions with the Garrulous Kid, leaving me in splendid isolation, where I found I was continuously yawning. I mention this because it seemed so utterly incongruous – I can’t remember ever needing to yawn while cycling before – and now I couldn’t seem to stop.

I also began to feel nauseous and strangely displaced. This wasn’t good. At the next junction, I baled, swinging right to track through Ponteland for a shorter route home, while the bunch sped left. I started to feel chilled, even though I was sweating, but it was the clammy cold sweat of not being well, rather than the good, honest sweat of a hard workout and my speed began to drop away.

I stopped to throw up and pull on my arm-warmers – completely separate actions I’m afraid, I’m not that good at multi-tasking – before pushing grimly on.

At one point I suffered a too-close pass by a learner driver and started to wonder what exactly they were teaching them these days – but more or less forgave the driving-instructor when the car then bounced off the verge in a puff of dust and I saw him wrestling with both the wheel and the driver, trying to centre the car back into the middle of the road.

I finally made it to that Hill and crawled up it using gears I haven’t troubled since L’Alpe d’Huez, managing to make it home before an unfortunate attack of the Dumoulin’s. Well, that scuppered any chance of riding out Monday to catch the Tour of Britain – not that it was heading anywhere particularly scenic mind …


 

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In a picture stolen from the OVO Tour of Britain website, the peloton rides past Bamburgh Castle, en route through one of my favourite places, the remarkably beautiful, Northumberland coast.

Actually, now that I think about it, the familiar scenery is about the only thing the OVO Tour of Britain has going for it – what an incredibly dull … I was going to say race, but “series of  unconnected sprints” would be a better description – they’ve managed to make it almost as uninspiring as the women’s version.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for both races as an opportunity to see professional cycling on British roads. I want them to succeed and spread the appeal of the sport and I’d rather watch even this level of racing ahead of just about any other sport you care to mention … but … what remarkable lack of ingenuity was employed in designing this race and does anyone want to see a GC largely decided among sprinters on bonus seconds?

How come the Tour de of Yorkshire (despite its sad, naming pretensions) can come up with an interesting parcours and compelling competition based on a couple of days of racing in just a single county, yet our National Tour, which should be the showcase event for cycling, has the whole, infinitely variable landscape of the British Isles to choose from (and a super-strong start-list), yet is so completely lifeless? Got to hope for better next year.

Right, time to rest up the knee and hopefully get better before next weekend.


YTD Totals: 5,253 km / 3,264 miles with 60,111 metres of climbing

The Big Let Down

The Big Let Down

Club Run, Saturday 3rd December, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  96 km/60 miles with1,030 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 6 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.3 km/h

Group size:                                         20 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

Weather in a word or two:          Officially, as good as it gets


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Ride Profile

Saturday morning proved rather damp and gloomy, a low, wet mist shrouding an already wan light and setting everything to dripping noisily in the still air. With visibility seriously curtailed, I made sure that I had front and rear lights switched on and blinking away and pulled a high-viz gilet over my winter jacket – more for some added conspicuousness than to combat the cold.

I was rolling down the Heinous Hill when the front wheel started to rumble noisily on the rough surface and the steering became loose and rubbery – a front wheel puncture and the poorest of starts to the day. I quickly, but carefully pulled off into the sanctuary of the (rather overgrown) escape lane to effect repairs, well-removed from the cars picking their way downhill in the gloom.

You seldom seen new roads with escape lanes these days, I guess they’re a bit of a holdover from a by-gone era, when car brakes were notoriously unreliable and always likely to fail if over-worked, which I guess added a frisson of excitement and danger to navigating any steep hills.

Mrs. SLJ will often tell the story of her and her sisters sitting petrified in the back of the car while her Dad wrestled with the wheel, having lost the brakes on one steep hill, slaloming crazily down to the bottom before somehow managing to bring the vehicle to a juddering halt. They’d then had to drive back up the hill to pick up her mother, who they found sitting nonchalantly on the kerb, having abandoned the car, husband and kids by hurling herself bodily from the vehicle at the very first sign of trouble. One minute she’d been sitting upfront in the car, the next and her seat was empty and the door was flapping in the wind.

Anyway, I was quite pleased with the slickness of my tyre repair and was soon rolling again, somewhat surprised to find the mist no worse on the valley floor than it had been up top. I now realised I’d managed to knock my Garmin display onto a screen showing altitude gain and no amount of half-arsed prodding with the menu buttons through my thick and unfeeling gloves seemed able to find the “normal” screen settings again.

With my watch well buried under base layer, tight sleeves and glove cuff, I realised that short of stopping again, I had no real idea what time it actually was. Given the conditions, I couldn’t even do that old Native American trick of counting finger widths between the horizon and the sun in order to gauge the passing of time. Not that I would have a clue how to do that anyway.

Determined not to stop, but recognising I was probably running late, I took the shorter, faster route to a different bridge. This is a route I tend to avoid whenever possible because it involves filtering onto a short stretch of dual carriageway, where drivers seem go too fast and are prone to late lane-switching as the road narrows and splits. Still, I reasoned that given the poor visibility in the mist today, the traffic would no doubt be slowing right down.

It’s times like these when I’m still surprised by my own naivety…

Oh well, I survived, without too much puckering and bracing for an impact from behind that never came and I was soon across the river, climbing out of the valley and heading for the meeting point, where I arrived pretty much bang on time and just behind the Garrulous Kid.


Main conversations at the meeting point:

G-Dawg firmly declared that this was officially the best weather we could hope for given the time of year – mild enough for there to be no danger of ice, with not a breath of wind and zero chance of rain. Nonetheless, OGL had been in touch with is contact in the Outer Hebrides and warned that severe weather was just around the corner, so we had to be ever vigilant.

Taffy Steve was somewhat perturbed by the number of cars he’d passed, travelling through the gloom without their lights on and Sneaky Pete wondered why it was invariably the silver, grey or otherwise mist-coloured and perfectly camouflaged vehicles that seemed to feel lights were an unnecessary adornment.

Son of G-Dawg told us a passing one darkened car on a black, black night and thinking that the driver must be completely oblivious to the fact that his headlights weren’t on, only to realise that the cabin of the car was a well of stygian black and there was no way the driver could possibly be unaware his lights weren’t working, or actually see any of his instruments on his utterly dark and powerless dashboard.

As first reported in Winter is coming,  the dispute about our “unsanctioned” club-confined hill climb rumbles on with the CTT. Taffy Steve has even got involved to review their rules and letter of complaint, applying a degree of cogent logic, impartiality, rational thinking and good, all-round common sense. Unfortunately, when it comes to the sport of cycling, I’m not sure that cogent logic, impartiality, rational thinking and good, all-round common sense are qualities that are valued by its governing bodies and I suspect this matter is set to run for a while yet.

With the Prof a no-show, I speculated (incorrectly, it transpires) he might have been at the University Snow Ball last night and feeling a little worse for wear from a night full of fun, frivolity and all-round excess. We then spent a good five minutes trying to determine what the Prof’s favourite tipple could possibly be, finally deciding on some rare, exotic, addictive and hallucinogenic, Dutch moonshine distilled from pickled herring brains, that can only be crafted on the banks of the Zuider Zee during a neap tide. Well, either that or lemonade with the merest splash of Malibu, served in a highball glass with a tasselled swizzle-stick.

Despite his absence, the Prof’s family was at least represented with the unforeseen appearance of beZ, who has actually left us for a rival club, ostensibly because they will give him more race support (although I suspect it might just be that they have a classier jersey).

A slightly chagrined OGL then enquired why beZ wasn’t out training with his new team mates. “Because they’re all too lazy,” we were informed. Hah.

Speaking of lazy, I had a discussion with Taffy Steve about whether the Garrulous Kid shouldn’t be the Loquacious Kid, while the Garrulous Kid looked on, seemingly oblivious to our conversation. I conceded Taffy Steve might well have a point, but explained once a name has been writ, it was to all intents and purposes inviolate, which is a short-hand way of admitting I’m much too lazy to track down and change all the references.

Captain Black arrived astride a very smart, new (new?) winter bike, a Specialized Allez in a glorious shade of orange. From this I naturally concluded that orange was indeed the new black.

Meanwhile, the Red Max was back in the saddle after his accident, having just about recovered enough to ride. I enquired about his injuries and he confided he was still somewhat sore and declared that today he would be taking it easy. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Good one!


At the appointed hour then, 20 or so lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out for parts unknown.

I dropped in beside Sneaky Pete for an erudite discussion about Christmas holidays, over-crowded cities and good and bad TV quiz shows. I revealed one of our club members, Famous Sean’s had made it all the way to the final of the Pointless quiz show, where he lost after (by a very odd and unfathomable coincidence) choosing the topic of Famous Sean’s for his last set of questions.

No doubt Famous Sean’s had picked the category hoping for questions about Sean Yates, Sean Kelly or even Sean Edie, but was ambushed by a set of questions about Sean Penn, Sean Astin and Sean Bean (Seen Been? Shaun Born?) What self-respecting cyclist would confess to knowing anything about second-rate character actors?

Rumours had been circulating all week on Facebook that the route down from the Village of the Damned, a.k.a. Dinnington, one of the most dreadful, broken, rutted, pitted, scarred, scabby and pot-holed sections of road we get to regularly traverse, had been completely re-surfaced.

Sneaky Pete added fuel to the rumours, suggesting that when he’d been out midweek, getting in some sneaky miles, the road had indeed been closed for repairs.

Dare we hope, could it be true?

We swept down from the village onto the super-smooth and silent, gleaming, polished blacktop of freshly laid tarmac, the tyres seeming to sigh as they lightly kissed the surface in delight. The whole group burst into a spontaneous cheer that dissolved into much laughter and loud chatter. We’re simple folk at heart, I guess and easily pleased.

This, one of the most hated stretches of road always contrasted harshly with the next, smooth and fast section, that is known by its Strava segment simply as: “Terrific Tarmac” Now the Terrific Tarmac didn’t feel quite so terrific anymore and will no doubt have to be downgraded and renamed.

I also expect the Strava KoM up to Dinnington is now going to come under renewed assault, as it’s much less likely you’ll rattle your fillings loose as you bounce and skitter up the climb, just fighting to keep your tyres in contact with the road and maintain momentum. I suspect that though times might fall, it will be much less of a challenge and become a sanitised little blip rather than a fierce and testing clamber.


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Things were progressing smoothly as we made our way up to Dyke Neuk, where Sneaky Pete sneaked off with OGL and a few others to form the amblers group. Andeven bravely went off with beZ and Jimmy Cornfeed for an even longer, harder and faster, self-flagellation ride, while the rest of us set course for Angerton, via the swoop down and climb up to Hartburn.

I was lingering near the back as we took the descent and as the road began to rise up the other side yet again felt the unwelcome rumble of rough tarmac through a swiftly deflating front tyre. Puncture#2.

I rolled carefully to the side of the road as Taffy Steve and Bydand Fecht were just about to disappear around the corner and adopting my best, stoical Captain Oates, “I’m just going outside and may be some time” demeanour, decided not to call them back.

I replaced the tube (again) and finally, somewhat belatedly started a lone pursuit, with the hope of hitting the café at least before everyone else finished up and set off for home. I was obviously well-removed from any sprinting for the café, but sadly so too was Taffy Steve, who’d noticed my absence, wondered what was going on and hung back as long as he felt reasonable to see if I was going to re-appear. Oops. Next time I’d better announce my intentions to drift slowly off the back in search of my own personal elephant’s graveyard.

I reached the café in time to see Sneaky Pete sneaking off home and apparently before a search party was formed and despatched to look for me.


Conversation at coffee stop:

I found an over-heated Taffy Steve still queuing and waiting to be served and despite the fact the staff knew exactly what he wanted before he placed his order, it didn’t seem to speed up the process. I guess they’re still struggling with the new till, although it’s lost its “Please bear with us, this till is crap” sign.

If he was struggling to remain cool on a winters day like this, I wondered how he was going to cope with global warming. More to the point, I remembered he lived on the coast and suggested the melting of the Polar ice-packs would leave his home several feet under the North Sea, not good, even if the mean water temperature was transformed from utterly freezing and unbearable to almost, but not quite tolerable.

He said he was on high enough ground not to worry too much and always wanted a sea front property, but suggested there were others who would suffer more. We determined that not even the storied and mighty Dutch gutters might be enough to save them in the event of a catastrophic rise in ocean levels.

In a brief discussion of puncture etiquette, we tried to determine what would be worst-case scenario:

#1. Calling up the front that you had a mechanical, only for the rest of the group to studiously pretend they hadn’t heard and keep on riding …

or

#2. Calling out that you had a problem, having everyone turn and acknowledge the fact … and then keep on riding regardless.

Captain Black proudly showed off his designer knitwear hat that bore a label from that well-known Italian brand, “Bastard.” I’m not sure the name is going to catch on in this country. Alternatively, his wife could have made the hat especially for him and decided to personalise it with a tag bearing his pet name.

Although everyone else approved, the Red Max declared there was “too much yellow” in the Captain’s new bike. I suggested he needed to change the lens in his specs from yellow to blue, so the bike would appear an acceptable shade of red to him, but had to point out the drawback was his own bike would then look purple.


I set off for home along Garrulous Kid, in the market for a new bike and not even rejecting Peugeot’s in his quest for a new machine, now that he knows they actually make bikes. I can’t help but feel I’ve done my bit for promulgating the mythology of classic and vintage velocipedes and can now retire happily.

I skipped up to the front to spell Taffy Steve and lead with Caracol up one side of Berwick Hill and then down the other. The reverse route up to Dinnington proved as good as the descent and brought a little spring to Caracol’s legs, who couldn’t resist accelerating away as he gloried in the smooth placidity of its shiny new surface. I let him pull me through the Mad Mile and then I swooped away, off the roundabout and heading for home.

I almost made it to the river when Puncture#3 struck and then managed no more than half a mile before I was stopped by Puncture#4. This one came so fast, I think I could safely blame a rushed and botched change, or a faulty tube, but now I was on my fourth and final spare and wondering whether I’d end up walking the rest of the way home.

Thankfully, I made it back without further incident and now have to decide if the tyre is too worn to be serviceable, or if I was just struck by unaccountable bad luck. I’ve ordered a couple of replacement tyres, just in case and will strip down the front wheel and see if there’s anything lurking in the carcase that I missed during my roadside probing for probable cause.

On the final clamber up the Heinous Hill I’d noticed that my Garmin was still resolutely showing altitude gain rather than distance and speed of travel. I guess this just shows how much attention I actually pay to my bike computer and numbers while I’m riding – no one is ever going to mistake me for a data-fixated Chris Froome type character, so I’ve probably just blown any chance of ever being signed by Team Sky.

I really just carry the Garmin to record where I’ve been and how far, once the ride is complete. Apparently though, I’m not even very good at this according to Strava, who recently emailed to tell me my current distance total for the year is 6,857 kilometres, not the 6,536 kilometres I would have attributed in this blog. I’ve really absolutely no idea where that additional 321 kilometres (almost 200 miles!) came from, or how I managed to misplace it. Maybe it just shows the fallibility of man vs. machine.

So anyway, back to Saturday and all in all, despite reasonable conditions, quite a frustrating ride and one that’s seriously depleted my stocks of spare inner tubes. Still, I bet I’m not feeling quite as deflated as the Prof, who missed out on a veritable bonanza of spent tubes he could have dragged back to his secret lair for resurrection.

Surely next week can’t be as bad? Can it?


(Adjusted) YTD Totals: 6,536 km / 4,061 miles with 71,538 metres of climbing

Booty Contest

Booty Contest

Club Run, Saturday 5th November, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.3 km/h

Group size:                                         19 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    7°C

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


 

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Ride Profile

The Ride:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the start:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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To the Cheese Farm!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Negotiating an uneasy alliance

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

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Bertie Bassett’s Northern Exposure


Club Run, Saturday 19th March, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                   102 km/64 miles with 945 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                           4 hours 9 minutes

Average Speed:                                   24.7 km/h

Group size:                                           38 riders, 4 FNG’s

Temperature:                                     9°C

Weather in a word or two:             Chilly, grey and overcast

Main topic of conversation at the start:

The G-Dawg collective claimed their grandiose-sounding “bike-tree” storage solution has now been fully rotated and locked down into its summer position. Winter bikes will no longer be accessible until the autumn equinox and a blood sacrifice under a new moon.

We wondered if the whole ensemble not only rotated, but dropped securely into a secret vault (to the accompaniment of a soundtrack consisting of Thunderbirds-style pounding drums) where micro-bots and an army of minions would set to work making sure all parts were clean, well-lubricated and gleamed like new.

At one point though I caught G-Dawg’s wistful look as his eyes turned glassy, his lower lip trembled slightly and he asked of no one in particular in a small, plaintive voice, “Does anyone remember Duraglit?”

Micro-bots and minions be damned, this is the only man I know who polishes his chain to a mirror brightness and bemoans the passing of chrome on bikes because it gives him less to furiously burnish.

We envisaged him and Son of G-Dawg working with in tandem in the shade beneath their towering bike tree, with the companionable silence only being interrupted by Son of G-Dawg asking for the green toothbrush, “No, no, I need medium-hard for the chainstays.”

Taffy Steve likened it to Private Benjamin cleaning the latrines with her toothbrush and suggested Son of G-Dawg had emerged from beneath his Pa’s shadow and earned himself a new soubriquet of Private Benjamin. Will it stick?

On cursory inspection Crazy Legs’s helmet failed to pass muster, not because he’d got the angle wrong this time, simply because it was filthy with mud spatters that he claimed were off last week and a particularly muddy patch on the lane to Ogle. I don’t recall there being a muddy stretch there, but the sharp intake of breath from G-Dawg as it was mentioned suggested he did and the recollection didn’t make him at all happy.

Crazy Legs determined that all he needed to do was take off his helmet and lay it on the ground at G-Dawgs feet, the dirt would call seductively to G-Dawg, who  wouldn’t be able to resist picking the helmet up and giving it a good clean.

Before he could test this theory however, we were interrupted as an FNG rolled up and asked for mechanical assistance as he couldn’t find bottom gear. G-Dawg broke off long enough to fiddle with the barrel adjuster on his rear derailleur for a few seconds, quickly fettling the problem.

It was then rather cruelly suggested that the FNG didn’t actually want to come on our club run, but had just been riding past, spotted a random gaggle of cyclists and stopped on the off chance he could get his bike sorted quickly. Now though he had no choice but to tag along with us to save face.

Crazy Legs, still on his heavy winter bike then related how the frame had been delivered through the simple expedient of dropping it over a fence into his back yard. On unwrapping he found that the headtube had been dinged and was misshapen. He contacted the supplier only to be told to just hammer an old headset into the frame and that this should sort his problem.

Taffy Steve reflected that only in Britain would you be expected to engage in a spot of aggressive, percussive engineering to fix defective goods that the supplier couldn’t be arsed to deliver properly in the first place, or replace when things went wrong.

We could only imagine what the phone call to the suppliers help-desk sounded like from their end…

“Yes sir, no don’t worry sir, we’ll soon have that fixed. Now do you have the old headset we talked about? Yes, good.”

“And a hammer? Ok, great”

“Now then, can you sit the headset on the frame? Yes, yes, very good.”

“Ok, now hit it with the hammer. Ok, again.”

” Again. Again. And again. And again”

“Ok, I see. Can I just ask, what kind of hammer are you using sir?”

“Ah, no, actually we need a lump hammer for this type of work…”

 

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

We found a lone Sealskinz glove on the café floor and after a long and fruitless Cinderella-style search couldn’t find a princess worthy of it. Odd, I would have thought that anyone leaving the café with but a single-glove would actually realise their loss before they’d gone too far.

Unclaimed, I suspect the Prof probably snaffled it and transported it home to his secret workshop/laboratory/lair to add to his horde of random cast-offs, discarded flotsam and jetsam and sundry road-kill. Goodness knows what he’ll finally make with it, or what it will look like when it remerges into the light of day.

An old couple pushed open the café door, saw the place was mobbed with unruly cyclists and that every table was taken. They did an abrupt about-face, leaving the door to swing open behind them in a fit of pique. Taffy Steve felt it was about time the café installed an electronic door closer for moments like this, but I argued a trained monkey would be a better choice and much more entertaining.

There was then some debate about whether a dog was easier to train than a monkey, with a forceful case for our canine cousins being made because you can point and a dog will look immediately at what you’re pointing at, while a monkey will just look all around in disinterest. (I know from bitter experience that if you point for a cat it’ll just stare fixedly at your finger until you get bored, it gets bored, or it decides to attack your hand.)

Caracol then settled the argument by suggesting what we actually needed was a trained monkey that could point at the open door and then direct a dog to go and close it. Somewhere along the line someone suggested dolphins should be considered in the mix because of their high intelligence, but this was patently preposterous as everyone knows they have big problems with door handles.

Sneaky Pete sneaked up and sneaked straight into a space we’d cleared for a recently arrived Crazy Legs, who’d finally returned from his ride of splendid isolation. G-Dawg was happy to remind Pete of the time he treated us all to a wide band of exposed flesh between his too short shorts and too short leg warmers. I think this encounter has possibly scarred G-Dawg for life and he shuddered just recalling it.

Richard of Flanders commended me on my pan-European, all-embracing approach to cycling attire, adjudging my new Tørm jersey to be Spanish and following on from my German Bundisliga(?) and Belgian Lion of Flanders theming.

The Tørm jersey is a lot more sedate than my usual attire, plain black with just simple red and yellow bands across chest and sleeve, but it does nicely match my bike frame…and, err, wheels and tyres… and, err water bottle and overshoes … oh and shorts.

Never mind pan-European, Taffy Steve concluded that I just looked like a giant Liquorice Allsort and only needed a bobbly, blue Tam O’Shanter or perhaps one of those weird, bumpy Catlike Whisper helmets in UN Peacekeeping Force colours to create an uncanny resemblance to Bertie Bassett.


 

ride 19 march
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

I think I might have lit the blue touch paper by outing Zakaria Amirouch who has now garnered disparaging mentions on our Faecesbook page and prompted one or two calls to try and find a solution to his unwelcome omniscience.

Our megalomaniac interloper has joined 1,242 separate Strava Groups according to beZ – I won’t question his undoubted dedication, attention to detail and mathematic skills in computing this, but I am somewhat nonplussed that he had the time or will to sit and do it. I somehow suspect we may be returning to this topic…

Saturday and another dry if chilly day meant there was no question that it was another outing for Reg and my freewheel sang with joy as we dropped off the hill and into the valley. On arriving at the lights on the bridge I once again encountered the Ee-Em-Cee rider from a couple of weeks ago, this time off to meet his clubmates before a pre-planned long run, a 100 mile trip up to Alnmouth and back.

I had a much more modest distance in mind, finding the legs somewhat heavy after 3 commutes in the week, including one on Friday that was interspersed with a 20 minute, 9.6 kilometre stint on a Watt bike as part of our office Sports Relief effort. I swung east after crossing the river while the Ee-Em-Cee rider turned west and rode off to begin his grand adventure.


 

BB

Sur La Jante modelling the new “Liquorice Allsorts” range from Tørm


 

Yet again there was a massive turnout at the meeting place, with riders sprawled across the pavement and ready for the off. Before we could do this though even more servicing was required on the FNG’s ailing bike, with OGL stepping up to the plate this time with some assured mechanical nous.

When we finally roused ourselves to get going it was a large group of 38 riders pushing off, clipping in and heading out, including Red Max riding shotgun on the Monkey Butler Boy again and one of the more capable FNG’s returning from the previous week.

Taffy Steve later reported that this FNG had enjoyed her ride out the previous Saturday and he’d congratulated her as she never seemed to be in any trouble and had handled everything with aplomb. He later realised he’d probably and unwittingly sounded incredibly patronising and it would serve him right if he found out he’d been talking to the Scottish junior national time-trial champion or someone equally as accomplished.

I hit the front with Crazy Legs and led everyone out through the Great North Cyclemaze in a long, snaking line. Crazy Legs mentioned how chilly it was and was explaining how he’d dithered between full length and three quarters bib tights before finally resorting to asking his wife for advice.

When he said he was concerned three quarter tights were too risky I misheard and thought he’d said they were too risqué. This left me briefly wondering if Mrs. Crazy Legs was partial to a pair of well-turned ankles, or perhaps demanded even piano legs be covered to prevent immodesty.

We then had a discussion about whether a world champion cape would be a better alternative to a rainbow jersey and I felt consummate showman Peter Sagan would definitely be up for it. Crazy Legs suggested domestiques would have to carry the ends of the cape, like a wedding train, until the rider got up sufficient speed for it to stream out behind him. It all seemed doable – why isn’t the UCI acting?

This harmless nonsense kept us amused until we’d driven everyone up the climb past the Cheese Farm, where we pulled over and waved the next group through and onto the front. I tried dropping back through the pack, but there was some reluctance for anyone to drift too close to the front, so I slotted into second wheel, briefly chatting with OGL, the Monkey Butler Boy and Taffy Steve as everyone shuffled position.

Crazy Legs, who said he hated riding in big groups, eased backwards with far more success and I didn’t see him again until he turned up late at the café, apparently having ridden off on his own after deciding that either he, or his heavy winter bike weren’t up for the mass hurtle to the café.

At one point the façade cracked and we caught a glimpse of the real Zardoz behind his mask of avuncular bonhomie with a brief reprise of last week’s “angriest man in the peloton.”  This time he mock-growled at the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d apparently had the audacity to overtake him on a hill. Listening-in intently, the Red Max was convulsed by a paroxysm of evil giggles.

After we split and waved off the amblers I fell in with the BFG, back onto his ultra-modern, all carbon-on-carbon, uber-machine. He does like to change things up. He told me that earlier in the week he’d only narrowly avoided setting fire to his wheels and crashing his brand new bike after somehow mistakenly fitting non-carbon specific brake blokes. These had melted under extreme heat and apparently produced an aroma he suggested was akin to roast pork.

We swept down into the valley and up the rise to Hartburn, somehow passing the amblers group who were pulled over to the side of the road while they worked to fix yet another mechanical on the FNG’s bike. I was beginning to think maybe he’d only come out to get a free bike service.

As we turned off on a route that by-passed Middleton Bank I confessed to Taffy Steve that I was heavy-legged and happy we’d chosen the slightly shorter run in, but he just snorted in derision and said my inner demons would have kicked in and compelled me to attack Middleton Bank as soon as we hit the lower slopes, no matter how much it hurt. Hmm, maybe.

At some point we passed a decapitated and eviscerated deer corpse, flung violently to the side of the road by a car, a particularly vivid and gruesome reminder of the danger of RIM encounters. Thankfully it was too large and messy to fit in the Prof’s back pockets and he didn’t have time to stop and sling it across the front of his bike.


 

roadkill
If he’d been able to add a deer carcass AND stray glove the Prof might have been convinced all his birthdays had come at once

A few short, sharp climbs later we regrouped (well, more or less) and began the push for the café. Rab Dee led off, trying to keep a reasonable speed until Taffy Steve attacked, his acceleration snapping the knots out of our line like a string pulled suddenly taut and we were quickly lined out and racing along.

We stormed through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, down the last dip and began the climb up to the café. Rounding the last bend G-Dawg and Strummer sprinted away to contest the sprint, while I rode up the outside, passing everyone in front of me who seemed to be flagging, falling off the pace and drifting over to grind up the far side of the road.

At the last rise I sensed more than saw riders on my backwheel, eased out of the saddle and with the last few dregs of energy tried to accelerate up the final slope, hearing or perhaps just fancifully imagining, a groan of dismay from behind.

As it was the kick seemed to have dragged me well clear of everyone else and I closed and latched onto the now freewheeling G-Dawg, quietly buoyed by being able to put space between myself and the rest of the chasers.

Leaving the café Crazy Legs led a splinter group for a slightly longer ride home, taking G-Dawg with him, ostensibly so he could avoid the muddy patch that had so infuriated him last week. There was a huge amount of dithering around by those left behind and getting sick of the delay Taffy Steve gave up and kicked off for home.

I followed him and we enjoyed a companionable and unremarkable ride back, expecting to be overhauled by the rest of the group, but seeing neither hide nor hair of them. Perhaps they’d been delayed when the FNG’s bike needed one last fix?

As I turned off for my solo effort I actually felt stronger than I had when setting out and powered my way home in good time and without incident, all in time to catch the end of a very entertaining Milan-San Remo.

Another grand day out, capped by a startling conversation with Daughter#1 after we’d spent a little time laughing at Sean Kelly’s accent :

Daughter#1: “Do you think we’d make a good comedy double-act?”

SLJ: “Yes, as long as you play the straight man”

Daughter#1: “Does one of them always have to be gay?”

Sigh.


YTD Totals: 1,489 km /925 miles with 15,193 metres of climbing