Dear Lord, I’m getting tardy with these things and I’m running about a week behind. Busy times, folks …
Anyway, here we go again, surfing the fringes of Storm Aidan, I was prepared for another wet and windy Saturday, still on the single-speed in anticipation of the widely forecast rain dumping itself on my head. Plus ça change.
On the river, the rowing clubs were out with a full complement of boats, including several 8-man crews, something I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Not sure how the Rule of Six applies in a rowing hull, but there you go. I wish I could say this was a harbinger of a return to some form of normality, but we all know that’s not how this is going to work out.
Despite the obvious drawback of being without gears, I decided I couldn’t restrict my route too much, otherwise I’d be forced to trudge around the same circuit, over and over again, like some sort of two-bit, enfeebled cycling Sisyphus. This is Northumberland after all, so you don’t have to go too much out of your way to find hill or two. With this in mind I aimed vaguely toward Whittle Dene Reservoir, happy just to see how hard the going was and adjust as needed.
Just outside Dalton, I passed Aether heading in the opposite direction, I think that was my first sight of another cyclist since setting out. I cut through Stamfordham and out to the Reservoir. Here the water was an inky, impenetrable black, but there were more fishermen out than I’d seen in a long time, all clustered under the southern embankment to escape the wind and hopefully provide a bit of shelter when the rain arrived. Would it, I wondered – I’d already enjoyed a much drier ride than anticipated.
Clambering up through the plantations towards Stagshaw, I made it onto the road for Matfen when that moment arrived and the rain suddenly cut in. I stopped to pull on a jacket before continuing, passing Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril just outside the village, heading the other way and already looking wet and suitably miserable.
The rain was enough to dissuade me from further wandering, so I started to plot a route toward Kirkley – cake, coffee, comrades, craic and a little bit of shelter in the big, chill barn.
En route I passed a solo OGL, seemingly heading home and then, a few moments later a solo Dabman, seemingly just heading out, off into the downpour and putting a brave face on things.
At the café and in a break with tradition, I ordered a piece of corned beef pie, before grabbing a coffee and wandering off into the big chill barn to find Crazy Legs, G-Dawg, Richard of Flanders, Taffy Steve, Sneaky Pete and Aether already comfortably ensconced.
The corned-beef pie arrived on a plate covered with a tea towel. We wondered if this was for the big reveal when the tea towel was whisked away to display the fabulous dish beneath.
“Nah, it’s just to keep the rain off,” the waitress told us bluntly. Oh well, so much for theatre.
The pie was actually worth a bit of a fanfare and a reveal though. They’d obviously decided they weren’t going to get too many customers today, so served up a piece that would have covered a third of a large dinner plate.
It was good, too, although I’m not sure I could eat that amount every week.
We then engaged in a game of one-upmanship that was like an enactment of the scar-bragging scene from Jaws, just with all the noteworthy cicatrices replaced with troublesome small, furry rodents.
G-Dawg started it off, complaining that “the cat” – he won’t admit to actually owning it, climbs up onto the bedroom windowsill outside and howls to be let in at night. Nervous of the awful racket disturbing the neighbours, G-Dawg eventually relents and opens the window so the small feline harridan can clamber in. Bad enough that his sleep is so disturbed, but last week when he opened the window, the cat, like a swashbuckling pirate carrying a dagger, had a live mouse clenched between its teeth . The cat hopped in and immediately released its prey into the bedroom. Cue instant mayhem.
I described being woken in the middle of the night to find one of our cats prowling around a basket in the hallway. I’d unthinkingly moved the basket to investigate and a large rat had scurried out, ran down the hallway and disappeared into the darkened bedroom, where a blissfully unaware Mrs SLJ was about to get a rude awakening.
Turning the lights on revealed no intruder, so I figured it must be hiding under the bed. I ventured downstairs to retrieve a red, plastic handled mop and after, several minutes of waggling it under the bed managed to cause the rat to flee.
I followed in mad pursuit, the cat at my heels, stark-bollock naked, swearing loudly, while wildly swinging the mop at the rat, only for my weapon of choice to start to disintegrate into red shiny splinters with every errant blow.
Down the hallway, down the stairs, by the time we got the rat cornered in the lobby I was holding a rather short, rather useless stump of the mop handle. Still, while the rat was distracted, actually attacking the cat, I managed to apply the coup de grace with a cycling shoe to the head. Now I know why they’re made with super stiff soles – and all this time I’ve been thinking it was for an efficient transfer of power from foot to pedal!
“Well, that’s nothing,” Crazy Legs began, telling of a fated holiday in Greece when, one night, they discovered a mouse scurrying around the apartment. Once again the stark naked man in the story picked up a broom and gave chase, round and round the apartment while an equally naked Mrs. Crazy Legs leapt up onto the middle of the bed shrieking like a Tom and Jerry character.
“Out the door, get it out the door,” Mrs. Crazy Legs had screamed, so Crazy Legs flung the door wide open, only to be confronted by his neighbours returning from a late night out.
Uncomprehendingly, they took in the naked screaming woman on the bed and the panting, naked man brandishing a broom.
“Oh, hello there,” Crazy Legs finally ventured as a way of breaking the rather uneasy silence.
“Err, hi,” the neighbours finally responded, trying to shuffle quietly away, as Crazy Legs nodded solemnly, just the once … and slowly closed the door on the unfortunate scene.
Even Richard of Flanders’ tale of a holiday complete with a snake in the toilet couldn’t top that one.
Slowly and reluctantly we set out to leave in ones and two’s. Still chomping my way through the mammoth pie I was the last one standing, when Mini Miss arrived with a runner turned newly-minted cyclist in tow, the change in sport prompted by brutalised knee-joints.
I had a brief chat with them, before joining the exodus and heading for home.
This proved a bit of a struggle through intermittent showers, a buffeting headwind, slick and slippery roads, waterlogged clothing and desperately tired legs. I didn’t so much climb the Heinous Hill as grovel my way upwards, still I’d ridden where I wanted, my ride total topped the usual 1,000 metres of climbing and the single-speed had proven itself a reliable alternative.
Another weekend and this time the weather forecast wasn’t toying with us, but had gone for the nuclear option – a 73% chance of heavy rain showers from 9.00 onwards and a strong, blustery wind.
I took the warnings seriously, which meant a proper waterproof jacket stashed in my back pocket, a spare pair of gloves to change into if the original pair became waterlogged and an acknowledgement that I’d be back on the single speed bike with its reassurance of full mudguard cover.
So, prepared for the worst, I set off, dropping down the hill and pushing along to the river. From the bridge I noticed the rowing clubs seemed to have found consensus on groups and there were a fair number of fours out on the river, alongside pair and singles.
Although I’m still not there yet, people within our cycling club also seem to be gravitating back to group riding. I know this not only because of their social media posts, but also because I caught a glimpse of some familiar forms picking their way up Brunton Lane as I passed the junction. Then I spotted another group just disappearing over the hill ahead of me, assumed they were also from the club, so gave glorious chase.
Picking up the pace as we passed through Dinnington I closed, but started losing ground on the descent as my legs spun out.
Still, by the time the group ahead had turned onto Berwick Hill, I’d reduced the gap enough to recognise the upright figure of OGL on the back and so knew that, as suspected, I was pursuing a group of clubmates.
I thought I’d be able to overhaul them on the climb, but ran out of road. Still, I was close enough to dive down the inside as we all took the right hand turn, doffing my cap and greeting the reprobates with a hearty, “Good morning, gentlemen.”
Ahead of the group now, I just had to make sure I stayed away and not suffer the embarrassment of being caught, so the work wasn’t done yet. I pushed on, not slacking until I’d passed the café at Kirkley, when I thought I’d bought myself enough breathing space to ease back a little. I had, somewhat perversely, thoroughly enjoyed my little escapade and managed to clock 8 Strava PR’s across 14-15 km’s of tiring, madcap pursuit.
I now followed a similar route to last week, but this time decided to swing north at Whalton, catching a tailwind that pushed me up the hill with a vanguard of dry scuttling leaves leading the way, skittering along like rats’ feet over broken glass (if I may steal a phrase.)
As I ran past Bolam Lake, I passed and saluted an equally solo G-Dawg heading in the opposite direction. We managed a quick shouted conversation, the gist of which was “see you at the café” and then he whipped past and away.
I took the bombed out back lane toward the Snake Bends with half a mind to travel down the Quarry climb, before heading homeward. Despite the forecasts, the weather so far had been glorious, dry and bright if a little chill and although the wind was indeed blustery, there was no sign of the forecast rain. I was enjoying my ride and looking to extend it.
At the next junction though, I paused and looked north. The sky overhead had turned black and ominous, while in the middle distance a veil of grey rain was obscuring the fields and rushing unstoppably toward me.
I pulled on my jacket and turned back around. The Quarry could wait for another day, it was now full steam to the café racing the rain I had no hope of beating.
And so it proved, suddenly lashing down, chill, heavy and stinging, driven into my face by the wind and at one point being briefly peppered and pummelled with icy hail.
My gloves and leggings were soon soaked through and while the jacket held, it only took one road-spanning puddle to wash through my overshoes and soak my feet.
It was grim and the bike had picked up all sorts of debris and was beginning to grind and complain almost as much as my shivering body. It was a relief to reach the café and scuttle into the shelter of the only slightly porous barn.
Here I found G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Sneaky Pete, Taffy Steve, recently arrived from where they too had been driven by the rainstorm, strangely it seemed we’d all been within a few kilometres of each other, as had Aether who arrived a short time afterwards.
We joined a table with the King of the Grogs and Jimper, both of whom had the sense to seek shelter as soon as the sky darkened and had the luxury of being mainly dry.
The highlight of our conversation revolved around the King of the Grogs revealing OGL was busily promoting a guaranteed certainty that the entire region would be in Tier 3 lockdown by next Friday. This he claimed to have on the authority of an impeccable source, otherwise known as “a bloke from the gym.”
(Props to Sneaky Pete for rather quaintly referring to the local David Lloyd as a gymnasium).
Not willing to take anything at face value, the King of the Grogs had Googled the “impeccable source” to discover … not a world-leading epidemiologist … nor a high-ranking National Health Service administrator … or even a local government official … but, err … a joiner?
Childish though it was, this became the dominant theme in the rest of our conversation. Need a door hanging? I know an epidemiologist who can do that for you. Problems with your computer operating system? I know a joiner who can fix that.
Such nonsense kept us amused until the weight of the rain blew past and we reluctantly, in ones and two’s, wrestled damp gear back on to various complaining bodies parts and reluctantly left our temporary sanctuary.
The rain had eased mightily by this time and it didn’t take long before I warmed to the task in hand and actually started to enjoy the ride home (in a decidedly moist sort of way.)
Chapeau to anyone who does long club rides on a fixie, or single-speed, I was utterly exhausted by the time I’d hauled my sorry carcase up the Hill and home, to tick off another entertaining excursion.
A year that’s already been grim and dark and difficult took an even blacker turn last weekend when my Dad died. Dad, Grandad, husband, brother, son, uncle, rugby player, ballroom dancer, draughtsman, engineering designer … all that and much more.
His death leaves an unfillable void, his life an indelible mark.
These sad circumstances kept me off the bike just when I could have done with the therapeutic, head-clearing relief of a long ride, so I was particularly determined to get out this weekend.
The weather was an issue with a rainy midweek only starting to clear as the weekend approached, but Saturday, the forecasts assured everyone, with a sly wink and a smile would be ok. Only an 11% chance of short, swiftly passing showers the BBC weather app proclaimed. Reasonable odds. I’ll take those.
Except Friday night was unexpectedly wet and there was plenty of surface water still around when I woke on Saturday morning. I decided I needed mudguards, but with Peugeot temporarily hors de combat, laid up with a seized rear-derailleur, I was left with a (Hobson’s) choice of my commuting single-speed, or a wet backside.
I’m not sure I’d enjoy a normal club ride on the mongrel single-speed, which is suitably tatty, odd-looking and mismatched enough that it can be left safely, chained up on campus in the full knowledge it will attract absolutely no interest whatsoever from even the most desperate of blind bicycle thieves.
Mechanically it’s sound and its simplicity makes it a joy to ride, but its designed to give me a fighting chance of making it up the big hills at either end of my commute. This means it’s got a 34 x 14 gear ratio, so my legs spin out at about 23 mph – which would be pretty hopeless for any mad dash to the café. As I’d be riding solo, however and maintaining strict social-distancing at all times, I decided I could get away with it, as long as I found a route with no particularly steep, sharp climbs.
As an afterthought, just before I set off I crammed a light jacket in my back pocket, just in case, against all odds, I did actually encounter some rain on my travels.
It was a stop-start sort of beginning, rolling down the Heinous Hill I found I couldn’t clip in and had to stop to dislodge a sliver of dried mud from under my cleat. I still can’t work out how it got there.
Then, once over the river, I glanced down at my Garmin and found I’d already covered over 70 kilometres! Oops, looked like some idiot forgot to reset their bike computer. I stopped to correct my lapse, then pushed on, climbing out of the valley to route through Denton Burn, Kingston Park and out into the countryside.
At that point a third stop was called for as a dank, cold, rain started sifting down until the air was sodden and everything, which most definitely included me, was quickly soaked through. And that’s how it stayed for the rest of the morning, wet and chilly, with my afterthought jacket providing some relief, until it too became water-logged.
Still, the climb up Berwick Hill was about the perfect steepness for me, taken at a brisk pace that soon had me warmed up. I routed through Kirkley, past the café and out toward the Gubeon. Just past the café I passed two cyclists going the other way and it wasn’t until I was level that I realised it was Taffy Steve and Sneaky Pete. Sneaky Pete would later apologise for not acknowledging me, being cold, wet and huddled within his own private bubble of misery. I told him he should just use my favourite excuse, that he’d been travelling at such speed he’d never had a chance to recognise who he passed.
A few miles further up the road, a group of about half a dozen riders, dragged themselves past, clustered together and obviously feeling no need for social distancing. I don’t agree, but it’s their call. An even bigger breach of etiquette in my books was the complete lack of mudguards on what seemed to be their very best, shiny plastic bikes and they kicked up rooster tails of dirty spray behind them as they ground by.
As the road started to develop a few testing bumps and lumps, I made an effort to catch and overtake them, just nudging ahead before having to take evasive action to avoid another cyclist who’d lurched into the road having seemingly emerged out of the hedgerow.
“Oh, hello,” said the erratic cyclist, as I scurried past. I immediately recognising the Prof under all his layers of protective wear.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” I greeted him.
“You’re not who I was expecting to see,” the Prof exclaimed, then, “Ah, there they are!” Apparently I’d just been overtaken, and then overtaken in turn, a gaggle of Backstreet Boys (and at least one Backstreet Gal.) They all reformed behind me, but luckily were going right at the next junction, while I was heading left.
I pressed on through Whalton, passing the Colossus who, somewhat disappointingly (but understandably) was not on on his Time-Trial bike today. Routing through Belsay, I took the lane to Ogle, passing a couple of tractors hacking back the hedges on either side of the road and yet again escaping without finding an errant thorn embedded in my tyre. This luck can’t last.
I pulled into the café at Kirkley chilled and soaked through, but generally in good spirits, wandering into the barn just as the Backstreet Boys exited, to find G-Dawg and the Colossus huddled around one of the tables they’d set up inside.
It wasn’t going to be the cosiest of café stops, but it was dry, out of the wind and, if G-Dawg was to be believed noticeably warmer than standing outside in the rain. I’m not wholly convinced, but it was shelter of a kind.
I complained bitterly that the forecast had predicted only the smallest chance of brief, passing showers and demanded to know where this prolonged, incessant downpour had sprung from. No one could help me.
One benefit of bad weather was the lack of a queue and I was quickly served and on my way back to the barn when a flatus-powered (by his own admission) Crazy Legs arrived to join us.
G-Dawg bemoaned the on-going Covid restrictions and the 3-tier system recently introduced by a Government seemingly flailing to find something that might just about work and more concerned with finding a catchy (i.e. banal) slogan in lieu of a way of reducing infections. As evidence I give you the nonsensical “Stay Alert” a wannabe-nursery rhyme “Hands, Face, Space” and the Arthur Conan Doyle “Rule of Six.”
The latest is a 3-tier, truncated DefCon scale, which saw Front Wheel Neil beating all the tabloid press to the punch, when he announced that he’d told us it would all end in tiers, almost as soon as the initiative was launched.
We quickly summarised the three tiers as:
Tier#1 – you’re up shit creek
Tier#2 – you’re still up shit creek, but now you’ve lost your paddle
Tier#3 – you’re up shit creek without a paddle, your boat is taking in water and there’s a tsunami brewing on the horizon.
G-Dawg was particularly perplexed that the guidelines for moving between tiers were unknown and totally depressed by the thought that there was no safe tier – Tier#0 for example, where life was normal. Surely, we surmised, there must be a small village in the Cotswolds, or a remote island off the coast of Scotland, that was safe enough to be free of any restrictions?
As we discussed such weighty matters, Buster emerged from the gloom outside, cold, wet and complaining about the weather forecast and how he’d been duped into believing the chance for rain was miniscule.
He’d been so taken in that he’d ventured out on his brand new “good bike” – a Cervelo he’d earmarked for only riding in perfect conditions. Maybe this also explains the Backstreet Boys lack of mudguards and perhaps they’re deserving the benefit of doubt?
When Busters food order hadn’t arrived tout de suite, Crazy Legs persuaded him to go check on it, suggesting the café had an unfortunate habit of misplacing orders, especially, rather bizarrely, when it wasn’t too busy.
“Don’t worry though,” he assured Buster as he got up, “If they have forgotten, they tend to slip a fried egg on top as compensation.”
“Hmm, I’m not sure I’d like a fried egg plonked on top of my Victoria sponge,” I offered.
We decided this probably would be an unwelcome gift on Victoria sponge, but perhaps a worthy addition to a fruit scone, as long as, Crazy Legs determined, it was an especially runny egg. Who knows, one day we might even try it.
The rest of the conversation was taken up with discussing the current state of professional cycling. The Giro, was seen as high entertainment, but with a bizarre list of contenders. “You know things aren’t normal when Pozzovivo is up there challenging for the lead, ” Crazy Legs asserted, although pleased as punch for one of his favourite riders.
The bizarreness of the Giro was in direct contrast to an absolutely enthralling Classics seasons, with Alaphillipe, van der Poel, van Aert and assorted others providing spills and thrills in equal measure and the faintest glimmer of normality.
By the time we were ready to leave the rain had passed, it was warming up and dangerously close to pleasant. I was almost dry by the time I made it to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, the bike had served me well and I won’t hesitate to use it again for longer rides, but I must admit there are times when an additional gear or two wouldn’t go amiss and this was one of them.
Time. I just can’t seem to scrape together enough of this elusive, precious resource these days.
— or maybe, I’m just lazy.
Either way, it took me an excruciating 3-weeks to write-up and post about my misadventures in the Alps and all the while weekends kept ticking past. I now realise I’m in danger of losing this blerg’s raison d’etre, the celebration of the venerable club run, with all it’s attendant lurid colour, madness, madcap characters, incessant chatter and mayhem.
I was hoping to report that normal service would now be resumed, but events have conspired against me. More of that later, but first a brief recap of what I’ve missed and what you’ve been spared …
Club Run, Saturday 22nd June : Got a Short, Little, Span of AttentionDistance : 109km Elevation Gain: 1,133 m Riding Time: 4 hours 2 minutes
My first ride back from the Alps, not quite recovered and riding with very heavy legs. The Monkey Butler Boy wore a new pair of shorts complete with a sheer, translucent back panel, which is undoubtedly marketed as being more aero. The Red Max branded them as vaguely obscene and off-putting and insisted the Monkey Butler Boy ride behind him at all times. I wondered if, given this animal-like, ritual display, a change of name to Baboon Butler Boy wasn’t in order.
The Red Max complained the Monkey Butler Boy had stolen his trademark use of selected red highlights, although, to be fair the Red Max has never taken it to the extreme of exposing a big, pimply, scarlet baboon-ass in his quest for colour co-ordination.
At the cafe, talk turned to the upcoming Team Time Trial which Captain Black has somehow found himself press-ganged into riding. Throughout the discussion he kept looking at me with pleading eyes and silently mouthing “Help” and “Save Me” across the table. Sadly, I felt powerless to intervene.
As well as the physical pain and torment of actually riding the event, he may also have to suffer the indignity and mental anguish of donning our most unloved of club jersey’s. Astonishingly, the Cow Ranger declared wearing the club jersey should make you feel ten feet tall and unbeatable.
So, apparently not like a giant box of orange and lime Tic Tacs, then?
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Topsy TurvyDistance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
A genius route, planned by Taffy Steve that turned our entire world upside down and shattered all kinds of preconceived notions. He had us riding up to Rothley Crossroads the wrong way, using the route we usually take to get away from the hated junction. It’s hated because we usually get there via a long, leaden drag, on lumpen, heavy roads, not quite steep enough to be called proper climbing, but not flat enough to power up sitting in the saddle.
Guess what? The alternative route is even worse…
Amidst much wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth, I heard several riders vow they would never, ever, ever complain about our more typical route up to Rothley Crossroads again.
The ride was noteworthy as, perhaps the first time, we’d had a full complement of all four of our current refugees from the Netherlands out at the same time. As Taffy Steve quipped, we had numbers enough to form our own Dutch corner.
At the cafe, budding biological scientist the Garrulous Kid insulted our European compatriots by insisting the metric system was “crap.” He declared what we really needed was a decimal system that was easy to use, adaptable, internationally recognised, universally accepted and simple to pick up and apply. (Yes, I know he just described the metric system, but remember this is in Garrulous Kid World, which is dangerously unhitched from reality.)
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Great British Bicycle Rides with Philomena Crank Distance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
My second annual Anti-Cyclone Ride, which has grown from a base of just two participants, Taffy Steve and The Red Max three years ago, to the 2019 edition which reached almost standard club run numbers. Twenty-two of us set out for a route that would occasionally intersect with the Cyclone Sportive, most importantly at a number of feed-stations where copious amounts of cake and coffee could be purchased.
For me, the most notable moment of the day was when my left hand crank slowly unwound from it’s spindle and came off, still attached to my shoe by its cleat. The Goose helped me fit it back on using the pinch bolts, but the crank cap appeared damaged. Still, I managed to make it the rest of the way around our route and right to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before I felt my foot tracing that weird lemniscate pattern as the crank unwound again.
Bad luck, but reasonable timing, as it happened right outside Pedalling Squares cycling cafe. I was able to call in to their bike workshop, the Brassworks, where Patrick patched me up enough to get the rest of the way up the hill and home.
Later in the week the bike would travel back down to the Brassworks for a proper fix and, as a special treat, top to bottom service. I’ve no idea what was to blame for the unfortunate mechanical, perhaps the bike was damaged in transit after all?
And that’s me pretty much caught up and back on schedule. With Reg still convalescing, I was looking forward to a rare summer club run aboard the Peugeot, my winter bike.
I prepped the bike the night before and things were going well as I crossed the river and started backtracking down the valley. That was when my bottom bracket started to creak and complain.
By the time I started climbing out the other side, the creaking had turned into a full on chorus of complaints, as if a nest full of ever-hungry fledglings had taken up residence in my bottom bracket and were demanding to be fed.
A bit of tinkering gave temporary relief, but it wasn’t long before the hungry birds returned with a vengeance. I reluctantly pulled the pin and aborted the ride, turning back. Even if the bottom bracket had held up mechanically, I couldn’t ride with that cacophony as an accompaniment.
Home by 9.30, too late to join the club, but too early to call it a day, I pulled out my bike of last resort, the single-speed I use for commuting. I bravely and foolishly decided to head due-south, for a few loops around the Silver Hills, where I used to ride as a kid. You’d think I’d know better by now.
My ride profile shows the change, my clearly defined ride of two halves, as I went from relatively benign to brutally bumpy. This included a couple of 4th Category climbs with 25% gradients and lots of ragged, wet and gravel-strewn surfaces. Single-speed vs. Silver Hills is definitely an unequal contest, but I got a decent work-out and, to be honest, I quite enjoyed myself in an odd, masochistic and not-to-be-soon-repeated sort of way.
YTD Totals: 4,651 km / 2,890 miles with 62,397 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 99 km/61 miles with 1,064 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 55 minutes
Average Speed: 25.2 km/h
Group size: 21 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Chilly with showers
The on-board camera failed today, reporting Error Code: 2754/86#3, which checking in the on-line manual appears to translate as “extreme user idiocy”. So, no pretty pictures, just the usual flood of err… coruscating and witty effulgence?
Late August already and this is beginning to feel more like monsoon season rather than the Indian Summer that’s been widely predicted. All the forecasts for Saturday were predicting a relatively dry start, giving way to heavy and prolonged, lashing rain showers at about 11.00 – or at just about the time when we hit the furthest point from home on our outward trajectory. It looked impossible to avoid a drenching, the only question was just how bad it was going to be.
I might have considered breaking the Peugeot out of storage, but it’s enjoying an extended holiday in the LBS for a full service in preparation for winter. The only other choice with mudguards was the single-speed hack the venerable Toshi San built for me, which sees intermittent use as a commuter when I get tired of the ratbag MTB.
I say intermittent because we’ve only just managed to get it up and running again after some initial teething problems. First the chain kept slipping as the standard tensioner failed to do its job properly.
Toshi San did some deep thunking and bike-tinkering par excellence and replaced the chain tensioner with a converted rear mech. This cleverly utilises a length of brake cable to provide the tension to keep the mech properly aligned and the chain taut, but don’t ask me for the technical details – it’s all techno mumbo-jumbo and dark arts as far as I’m concerned.
With the chain sorted, further downtime became necessary when I snapped a crank off while trying to climb the Heinous Hill. I suspect this had more to do with stresses through the crank arm caused by slightly too loose fitting, rather than a manufacturing flaw in Campagnolo cranks – not even in the darkest recesses of my own fevered imaginings did I suspect it was due to the immense strength and power I was putting down on the climb.
I’m not sure the single-speed was the right answer for a high-speed club run and I’d already used it three times on commutes throughout the week, so it looked like a day for Reg and sitting on black bin bags in the café.
It was a strange ride across to the meeting point as I felt largely disassociated, lost in thought while, paradoxically not really thinking about anything at all. I also started to feel strange aches as if my saddle had suddenly become ultra-uncomfortable, which is odd because I’ve probably spent more time on it than any other and it’s always been reliably comfortable. Maybe it was just a reaction of a week away, or swapping from one bike to another?
First at the meeting point, I was soon joined by Crazy Legs, unexpectedly out on the much cossetted Ribble. Perhaps this was a divine sign that the weather wasn’t going to be too bad after all.
Main topic of conversation at the start:
Jason Kenny’s travails with false starts in the Keirin were the main topic du jour – with everyone convinced he was going to be disqualified, but impressed with him endlessly circling the track, arms folded, looking cool and blithely unconcerned while debate and uncertainty raged all around him.
To have survived this, a second and even more blatant false start and further delays, before toying with the rest of the field and then destroying them with contemptuous ease had to be one of the highlights of the Olympic track cycling.
OGL said that he’d done some work with the British Track Team and suggested they were inflating tyres to 240 psi, with mechanics approaching very cautiously with the air hoses and treating the tyres like unexploded bombs.
He also mentioned they were using Dordoigne tubs, which I remember from my youth, along with some very poor jokes about how they gave a very bumpy ride, going “du-doing, du-doing, du-doing” as you rode along. Simpler times.
Crazy Legs jabbed a thumb into Caracol’s front tyre and winced at its all-round flabbiness and flaccidity. “It’s for improved grip in the wet!” Caracol argued.
A quick conversation with the Prof helped us to determine that the wind was either blowing from the North West or perhaps the South East, illustrated with exaggerated arm movements that looked like he was trying to land a fully-laden bomber on a pitching aircraft carrier-deck. We thanked him for his erudite wisdom, very, very useful.
At precisely 9:15 Garmin time, there was a general movement toward bikes and someone intoned, “Gentlemen, start your motors.” With numbers somewhat reduced by the poor forecast, 21 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and set out and I dropped toward the back and slotted into line.
By the time we reached the first major junction the rain had started in earnest and everyone took the opportunity to pull on rain jackets. A fairly uneventful, if wet first hour passed by until our progress was punctuated by a puncture.
While we waited, the Monkey Butler Boy started insisting his saddle was too low and he wanted it raised. The Red Max was having none of it, but it took OGL’s intervention to settle the debate. With the Monkey Butler Boy perched on his bike, OGL quickly determined that, if anything his saddle was already a smidge high (smidge: a technical expression, generally used to cover the range between 1.5mm to 2.5mm.)
The Monkey Butler Boy seemed to accept this decision with good grace, prompting us to wonder why children treat their parents as foolhardy lack-wits. The Red Max said he was used to this, having two daughters who would never listen to him once they turned 5. I suggested he’d had a good run, as my two daughters have never listened to me.
OGL confided one son in his late thirties had finally, belatedly, conceded, “You know Dad, you were right all along.” The Red Max was confident he would never have to admit this to his Dad, simply because he had to all intents and purposes simply turned into his Dad.
Somewhere around this time the rain eased and stopped and I had the opportunity to take off the rain jacket, but reasoned the rain would be returning fairly shortly so didn’t bother. Ok, everyone makes mistakes.
Repairs were quickly effected, but no sooner had we pushed off to resume our ride than Caracol was pulling over with his own puncture, discovered before he’d even managed to clip in properly. Surprisingly, this turned out to be his rear tyre, not his super-soft front one.
This time I lent a hand as we swapped out the tube while discussing tyre choice and Mad Colin’s assertion that a torque wrench was the best and most useful bit of kit he’d ever bought. Repairs made, Taffy Steve lent his mighty frame pump to the task of forcing air into the tyre, and I estimated Caracol’s most strenuous efforts probably managed to get the pressure up to a massive 50 psi.
Re-starting again we had maybe a half hour of trouble free riding before Aether pulled up with another puncture and a small group of us circled back to help him. It was here that the Prof began to illustrate his uncanny levels of prescience, declaring that the car we heard approaching would be a 5 cylinder, Volvo S40 in sapphire blue, while it was still hidden around the bend. Impressive…
… and ruined only by the fact that the car was a small, non-descript and very beige Renault hatchback.
As another cycling club whistled past in the opposite direction with a series of hearty “How do’s!” he then pondered why they all felt the need to sport matching, hipster beards. I could only shake my head in wonder as I hadn’t seen a single beard amongst them.
Repairs made we pressed on again. Quickly rounding a corner, we passed a large open lay-by which would have been the ideal spot for the club to wait for us while we repaired the puncture. It was empty however, so I assumed they’d had enough of punctures for the day and decided not to stop.
Immediately after I rode past a large, stone-built house to find the rest of the club pulled up and pressed tightly together, waiting on the narrowest, muddiest and steepest verge you could possibly imagine. Cyclists, eh?
It was determined we’d wasted enough time with punctures and everyone seemed keen to head straight to the café without splitting the group, so we set course for the Quarry Climb.
A quick scamper up the climb, a dive down to the next junction and a large front group started to assemble and accelerate for a mass hurtle toward the café. The Red Max appeared on my inside and we did a quick swap so he could launch his trademark kamikaze attack down the middle of the road.
Everything got strung out and a small gap opened to the wheel in front, I didn’t feel any pressure to jump to close it immediately so only slowly started to accelerate. I then felt Mad Colin’s giant mitt on my back and he gently eased me across, closing the gap in an eye-blink with his turbo-assisted aid and a minimum of effort.
A few more tried to jump off the front, without creating any real gaps as we swarmed down the road in a compact, buzzing and rattling thrum.
Somehow I found Captain Black’s wheel and since he’d begun tearing it up on the café sprints recently, decided it was as good a place as any. I still felt comfortably within my limits and think I had a couple of gears left as we started passing other riders on the final run down to the Snake Bends, where I rolled up within the first half dozen or so riders.
And the most valuable lesson from this madcap escapade – sprinting in a rain jacket totally defeats its primary purpose of keeping you dry.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop
Crazy legs noted wryly that now we were all sitting indoors, the weather was miserable and cold and there was zero chance of us being assailed by wasps … not a single person had bought anything accompanied by that ultimate wasp lure – jam.
This was in direct contrast to the past couple of weeks where we seemed to be having jam with everything, even the ham and egg pie, before sitting outside and deliberately taunting the pesky critters, who had revelled in and grown over-excited by our largesse.
Crazy Legs revealed that last week the little boogers had been so bad that the Monkey Butler Boy had been ostracised from all the tables for having a too sticky, too sweet cake. Pressed into service as a makeshift, sacrificial wasp decoy, he apparently played the role with remarkable aplomb, until they actually started to notice him. At this point he squealed like a prepubescent schoolgirl, hurled his plate into an agitated mass of the wee beasties and ran away. Allegedly.
Son of G-Dawg commented on the sprint where he felt everyone had played a part taking a few turns on the front, he’d apparently missed me lurking among the wheels and fearful of ever sticking my nose in the wind.
This brought back fond recollections of the one time we had somehow managed to force the clubs worst inveterate wheelsucker (yes, even worse than me) onto the front to lead the sprint out. Known simply as the wheelsucker, he wasn’t allowed to drop back, even as the speed slowed to a snail’s pace and we ended up almost doing track stands to keep him in place, while I’m sure he must have wondered why everyone behind was giggling so much.
An oblivious Prof was fascinated to learn we had a codename for a particular rider and wondered if we had others. “Well, Crash-Kill,” I addressed him directly, “Just one or two.”
Caracol then made the cardinal mistake of asking which brand of tyres he should look for if he wanted to replace his current worn set. Amongst cyclists this is almost as dangerous as playing pass-the-parcel with a live hand-grenade or, even worse initiating the hoary old Campagnolo-Shimano-SRAM debate.
Of course he asked three different people and got three completely different answers. Crazy Legs suggested Continental Grand Prix’s, Son of G-Dawg said Schwalbe Ultremo’s, while as a loyal Vittorian I naturally stuck up for the Corsa Evo’s.
Captain Black was questioned about a recent holiday in Spain when he’d managed to get some sneaky miles and much climbing in. Crazy Leg’s was surprised to learn the Captain wasn’t on Strava, so of course declared it never happened. As the Captain made to protest Crazy Leg’s looked straight through him. “Who said that?” He asked me, “Did you hear something?”
We had been slightly distracted in the café by the appearance of an older, rather rotund gentleman cyclist wearing the tightest, skimpiest, briefest pair of cycling shorts known to man, something so tasteless in fact it would put a mid-80’s footballer to shame.
Crazy Leg’s was so perturbed by the sight he’d given the feller an extra 2 metres of space in the queue, while I wondered if he’d worn his garish and jarring fuschia, navy blue and moss green Lampre-Merida jersey to try and distract from the disconcerting display, err… “downstairs.”
I now came out of the café to find G-Dawg, Red Max and a few others cavorting around with their shorts legs rolled right up to their crotches, exposing huge expanses of lily-white thigh above their tan-lines in bizarre tribute to the strange feller. Thankfully good taste prevailed and shorts lengths were restored before we rode out, or anyone thought to whip out a phone and preserve the disturbing images for posterity.
Never mind sock length – what the hell’s the UCI doing about shorts length?
The good order on the way home was disturbed when a TT’er went huffing past, in an aero-tuck and with a serious game-face on. This predictably flipped the switch to send the Red Max into loopy Labrador mode and he immediately gave chase and everyone got pulled along.
As I shot out of the Mad Mile and turned for home, my drive-train started to grind a little, hopefully just a consequence of the rain and accumulated grit and crud. And then to make matters worse, someone granted the puncture fairy visitation rights. I felt the front tyre go sloppy as the rim started to rumble on the tarmac and had to stop for a quick tube change.
So, a bit of a stop-start, frustrating day and a somewhat foreshortened ride, but at least it wasn’t as wet as predicted.
YTD Totals: 4,603 km / 2,860 miles with 45,572 metres of climbing