Rumble Strips

Rumble Strips

Club Run, Saturday 22nd April, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km / 67 miles with 1,024 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 03 minutes

Average Speed:                                26.5 km/h

Group size:                                         34 riders, 4 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Moderate


 

ride 22 april
Ride Profile

Saturday looked like being a reasonable enough day as I carried the bike down the front steps, out onto the road, clipped in and pushed off.

Ahead of me, the traffic lights turned red and a car pulled up before them. I wasn’t really concentrating, sort of pootling along, aiming to glide to a halt behind the stopped car and I was within maybe twenty yards from its bumper when I sensed, more than saw another car overtaking.

I instinctively recognised there wasn’t enough space for both of us on the same stretch of road, flinched and bailed, diving for the inside and reaching for the brakes. The driver of the overtaking car, a pale blue Renault Scenic seemed to suddenly realise they were in the wrong lane and approaching a set of red lights too fast, so simply braked and swerved sharply into the space I’d just vacated. That was too close.

I banged on the passenger side window to ask what the hell the driver thought she was doing, only to learn it had all been entirely my own fault as I’d been “all over the road” so the driver had a right, if not in fact a moral obligation to punish me and put my life in danger. I’m pleased we got that sorted.

I assume by “all over the road” she mean’t I wasn’t hugging the gutter and doffing my cap to all the righteous car-drivers as they sped past. There was no mention of the fact she was obviously speeding (it’s only a 20mph zone) overtaking while approaching a traffic junction and stopped cars, had dangerously cut me up and seemed to be driving with undue care and attention.

Even if I was “all over the road” as she claimed I would have thought that would have been a good reason to hang back, rather than attempt a stupid and reckless overtaking manoeuvre. But then again, it’s hard to fathom the way some people think and refuse to own up to the consequences of their own actions.

I told her she was going to kill someone driving like that, but doubt it had any effect, although she did drop down the hill keeping scrupulously within the speed limit, so just maybe she sensed her actions weren’t quite as 100% justified as she claimed and had been shamed into more careful driving.

No, you’re right of course. Probably not.

I pressed on, glad to get to the bottom of the hill and see the Renault drive off into the distance, while I began to stalk, catch and pass another pair of cyclists as I wound my way down to the bridge.

Crossing the river, I back-tracked down the valley before beginning to climb out the other side. Before this I found that all the road works that had been holding me up for the past few weeks had cleared, and the road now bore a new scar, a long stripe where they’d buried pipes, or cables or some such. This strip of new road look glossily black and sleek, smooth and inviting compared with the original surface.

I naturally assumed this would be a much better to ride on and switched onto it. Whoah! It looked smooth, it looked shiny, it looked rideable and I’ve no idea how they’ve achieved this, but if felt as though I was riding over an invisible rumble-strip. The bike shook and vibrated with a weird resonance that almost made me nauseous and I had to hang on grimly as everything seemed to bump and rattle and buzz.

I switched back and checked the bike over, looking for a puncture or something to explain the horrible ride. Nothing. I tried the new surface again. Same result. It looks like I’ve found my own cobblestone runway, but at least I know to avoid it now. Let’s hope that’s not the new standard for all new roads and repairs around here now.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I found an old acquaintance at the meeting point, finally deciding today was the day he’d join the ranks of the FNG’s and ride out with the club, only after a mere 4 years of promising and procrastinating. Apparently he’d been texting me all week to let me know he’d be out, but we concluded he must have the wrong number, so some random person would have received a slew of odd queries about chamois cream, clippety-clop shoes, leg shaving and tight fitting spandex clothing.

We spent the next 15 minutes or catching up with news on daughters, bikes and bike fits, man-made fibre allergies, tri-athlon training and retirement plans, until it was suddenly time to go.

There was still however an opportunity for the Garrulous Kid to show off his new socks. “They’re Pringle’s” he proudly told me, although that bit was quite evident from the way Pringle was emblazoned down either side.

At least they weren’t as long, hairy, flappy and floppy as last week’s efforts. They were neither too long, nor too short and were reasonably straight and inoffensive. They were passable. They still weren’t white though.

The Garrulous Kid then worriedly exclaimed, “It’s getting dark!” and I had to reassure him it was just a cloud passing over the sun. Goodness knows how he’d react if we had an actual eclipse.

With around 34 lads and lasses crowded onto the pavement, it was probably just as well that we split the group. The Hammer outlined the options and his plan for leading out the first bunch, aiming for a ride with an average speed of 17-19 mph. OGL and G-Dawg were set to lead off the second group, who would trace the route of tomorrows Sloan Trophy as a pre-race course safety-inspection.


I found myself in the front group along with some seriously strong and much younger riders, such as Mad Colin, Eon, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht. With a target of 17-19mph average speed, I thought this could get embarrassing quickly, although I was somewhat reassured by the presence of some more regular and “equally-abled” riders.

After last week’s ride behind Pierre Rolland look-alike Spry, this week I had the chance to follow Eon, who could pass as Steven Kruijswijk’s body double, his shoulders so wide it looked like he’d forgotten to remove the hanger from his jersey before pulling it on.

It took a while to find the rhythm, but pretty soon everything had warmed up enough, we were clipping along at the requisite speed and any fears of blowing up, grinding to a halt, or simply fading off the back began to diminish.

Eon set the pace on the front, first alongside Aether and then, when he’d worn him out, with Jimmy Mac, until he decided he’d best relinquish the lead before he got complaints he was going too fast. Eon pulled across and I then took over with Jimmy Mac for the next section of the ride.

Slipping across the Military Road, we skirted the Reservoirs and at the request of Zardoz I called a pee stop, laughing when he disclosed he didn’t need to pee, he was just worried he was getting too close to the front of the group and wanted to take the opportunity to slip back and find more shelter amongst the wheels.

We then realised the ride had been so fast and smooth that we were well ahead of schedule and in danger of reaching the café too early. We agreed to tack on a slightly longer, hillier loop and set off again.


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As we freewheeled downhill as a prelude to a series of short, sharp climbs, I caught up with the Hammer and we had a quick chat about how well things seemed to be going. Despite living most of the time in exile away from the North East and rarely being able to ride with us, he’d even paid up his club subs to avoid any flak about leading a ride when he wasn’t a club member.

If that hadn’t been penance enough, he’d even found a club jersey mouldering away at the back of his wardrobe and, against his better judgement and all good aesthetic taste, had decided to wear it to look as official as possible. I agreed it was a nice touch.

He slipped back to count numbers and make sure we hadn’t lost anyone and I found myself on the front again, this time joined by the Garrulous Kid as the route became decidedly lumpy. We pushed on and no one moaned about the pace, so I guess we did ok.

As we rode along the Garrulous Kid complained that he thought he’d been unfairly treated in my blog witterings last week and explained his comment about never having met Captain Scott had simply been because he thought we were referring to a pseudonym I’d assigned a club member.

“Everyone knows Captain Scott was the first man to conquer Mount Everest.” he concluded. I am, of course more than happy to set the record straight and apologise for doubting his savvy, acumen and unerring knowledge of key historical figures.

As the climbing evened-out and we set course for Matfen, Mad Colin whipped us into an impromptu, pace-line, riding through-and-off. It was all a bit ragged at first, but it did get me off the front. We stuck with it though and had just about managed to iron out the kinks and start to cruise when – amidst much cheering and jeering from both sides – we passed our second group, heading in the opposite direction toward Stamfordham.

The pace-line drove us at a rapid rate of knots to the bottom of the Quarry climb and we scrambled up to the crest, taking the slightly shorter, but lumpier right hand turn. A few jumped away in a long-range strike on the café, but I hung back, knowing the road would soon start to drag up approaching the crossroads, they’d slow and I could probably bridge across at this point.

For once things actually worked out as planned, and as we dropped down the hill on the other side I caught up and then kept going, darting inside Caracol and onto the front around a tight corner. A long descent led to a sharp left and I braked late before sweeping round, kicking hard and dragging everyone over more lumps and up to the junction with the road leading down to the Snake Bends.

A few nudged in front at this point and I settled comfortably in amongst the wheels as the speed built some more. I eased up alongside Caracol and began singing him the chorus to Matt Keating’s “Boxed-In” – which I’m not sure he fully appreciated.

Now in a compact, buzzing group, Zardoz slid up on my right, I gave him a big, cheesy grin and he winked back before briefly inching his front wheel ahead of everyone else’s.

With the Bends fast approaching, I wound in the speed and sat up and the group elongated and spread out as we swept through the corners. That was good and fast and fun and I still didn’t feel like I’d been on the limit. Maybe my series of rides over the Easter weekend has had a positive effect.

We cut across the main road and ducked down the side lane, well, all except the Garrulous Kid, who took the direct route, belting straight down the main road to later claim he had won the race to the café.

I tried to explain to him that the official-unofficial finish is before the Snake Bends, so you don’t go racing through those and find yourself sweeping wide on a corner and into the path of a car – something I felt he should have realised when he’d done just that last week.

I declared instead that Zardoz had won the sprint, suggesting that brief nano-second when he inched in front of everyone else was right on the imaginary finish line. Zardoz agreed wholeheartedly with me, so that was that decided.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I found Princess Fiona, trying to arrange an alternative club activity for Sunday – a hike through the Cheviot Hills as a welcome variation on just another bike ride. Caracol and Goose seemed interested, although the former would wonder at her insistence that he must see a particular refuge hut.

Caracol felt the attractions of the refuge hut were being over-played slightly and the plan had gone from “you should see” to a mandatory – “you will visit” this place.

I couldn’t help thinking about the Great Escape and suspected Caracol was being sentenced to the punishment block: “For you, Tommy, zis var is over. You vill go to… ze cooler!” – or something else racially stereotypical and probably offensive to all Germanic people the world over. I hope he took his baseball.

Talk turned to how Princess Fiona felt the sporting prowess of her family – father still actively cycling at 85, brothers who are all triathlon champions – suggested she was genetically predisposed to being a better athlete than she felt she actually was.

In her shoes, I suggested my contrary take would be:  look I obviously have the base genetic material to be good, so I feel I have nothing to prove and, you know what, I just can’t be arsed. Get over it. This attitude could of course go a long way to explaining my rather startling mediocrity.

We discussed my fear of not at being able to keep up with everyone in the first group that morning and how choosing a group to ride with is fraught with all the pressures, issues and uncertainties of picking a team for school games, only in reverse. For a ride, instead of choosing the best players to make your team as good as possible, you actually start looking for people of roughly the same ability or even slower, so you know you aren’t going to be the first one blown out the back at the drop of a hat.

Usually, if you ride together regularly, you’ll have a fair idea where you sit in the pecking order of abilities and any changes to the hierarchy are likely to be gradual and noteworthy. (None of my clubmates have ever shown the sort of overnight improvement that would lead me to suspect widespread abuse of EPO within our ranks. If they are using it, they should probably ask for a refund.)

The big problem comes when you’re with an unfamiliar group and trying to assess abilities – then you become particularly judgemental based on some very unscientific and totally unreliable barometers, which are all coloured by your own prejudices.

This is likely to involve such things as age, body shape, demeanour, tan lines, bike spec and cost, the tightness, brand and style of clothing, whether a helmet has a peak or not, or (in my case) even sock colour and length. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that none of these are any indication of how well, or poorly, someone can propel a bike up and down the road.


On the way out I caught up with Taffy Steve, who complained at his unjust punishment for missing last week’s ride, not only having to sit all day on the front of the second group, but also being forced to share a table with the Garrulous Kid at the café. I concluded it was karmic justice and that he was obviously being punished for some truly venal and unspeakably evil act he must have committed in a former life.

The Garrulous Kid himself then approached to claim he now, definitely knew how to fix a puncture and launched into a confusing and convoluted tale of a puncture simulation involving a needle to let the air escape and the complete removal of the tyre in order to fit a new inner tube.

We then questioned him about why he didn’t take the much simpler and sensible expedient of letting the air out through the valve.  After some lame argument about how that wouldn’t be a real puncture simulation, the tale then morphed to where the needle was something or other attached to his track pump and of course he didn’t poke a hole in the tube, or take the tyre off completely.

Nope, I’ve no idea either.

He then nodded his head and exclaimed, “Look at that funny little bloke” I was left momentarily speechless, but luckily several others pointed out he was looking at Ray Wetherell, one of the greatest cyclist the North East has ever produced, a local legend, who’d achieved more in cycling terms than the Garrulous Kid could even dream of and deserved nothing but respect.

Trying to explain this unforgivable faux pas in a way the Garrulous Kid might actually understand, Taffy Steve suggested what he’d just said was akin to dissing Yoda. Maybe the message got through.

I set off for home alongside Taffy Steve, discussing truly crap British cars of the past, which to my mind were epitomised by the Talbot Samba. I then learned that Son of G-Dawg wasn’t out today as he was at some work away-day, conference and team-bonding session. This allowed me to regale Taffy Steve with my favourite Alexi Sayle quote, or to be more accurate truism: “Anyone who refers to a workshop outside the context of light engineering is a right twat.”

Dropping down Berwick Hill I had a chat with Grover, who seems to be finding his riding groove again following a winter of hibernation. I swapped places so I could latch onto G-Dawg’s wheel for the Mad Mile only to find I wasn’t alone and all the young racing snakes were jumping over the top and snapping at G-Dawgs heels like young pups trying to bring down the Alpha-male.

By the time I swung off and away at the roundabout G-Dawg was sitting watchfully encamped on their back wheels, just daring them to attack again so he could swat them down once more.

My solo ride back was without incident and I got back to hear about the tragic loss of Michele Scarponi, killed in a collision with a motor vehicle near his home. I can’t say I was ever a Scarponi fan, but this seemed a cruel and senseless death and for it to happen on familiar, local roads just seemed to underscore the poignancy of the loss for his young family.

Having had my own travails with arse hat drivers just outside my front door this morning, also reinforced how lucky I’d been and the ever present risk you take every time you swing a leg over your bike. Still, I guess the rewards must outweigh the risks.

Love him, or loathe him, I think perhaps Chris Froome’s comments on Scarponi summed things up best for me: “The whole cycling world has been shocked by his passing and it’s something that rings very close to home for a lot of people. Not just us as professional bike riders, but people who go and ride their bikes every day. He wasn’t breaking any traffic rules, he was just riding as he probably does every day, 2-3km from his home.”

Team Sky website

A rather sad  and sombre end to a great ride.


YTD Totals: 2,323 km / 1,443 miles with 24,825 metres of climbing

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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

Freak Wallaby

Freak Wallaby

Club Run, Saturday 27th August, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  102 km/63 miles with 700 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                        4 hours 4 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.0 km/h

Group size:                                       20 riders, 3 FNG’s

Temperature:                                   16°C

Weather in a word or two:           A game of two halves


The Ride:

3 september
Ride Profile

By heck, isn’t the Vuelta entertaining this year, in a way the Tour singularly failed to be. Not that I’m one of those people who would say the Tour was boring. Predictable? Yeah… maybe, in that the final result was widely known half way in, but boring? Then again I’m a person who sees a certain savage grandeur in the way Team Sky ratchet up the pressure on climbs until the rest of the field get gradually worked loose and slowly whittled down. Or “strangled” as the critics would unkindly insist.

Anyway, at least old Stone Face has actually decided to fight for the Vuelta, he’s climbing fantastically well and the Ungainly One is just about hanging on by his fingernails. We could yet see someone giving the Sky behemoth a right kicking*.

One minor gripe though – is it just me, or has Sean Kelly decided that Simon Yates rides for Ulrika Bike Exchange?

[*After Sunday’s stage it looks like only a catastrophe will derail Stone Face as the Sky behemoth and the Ungainly One were well and truly outfought and outthought in a classic Contador ambush that Quintana profited from. El Pistolero might not have the legs anymore, but there’s no one to match him tactically – he’s what my old boss would call a “wiry old fox”]

Meanwhile, somewhere in the North of England, Saturday’s weather was promising heavy rain showers on just about every forecast I checked – the only real question was just when they were going to hit, although mid-ride at 11.00 seemed to be the general consensus.

The promise of perhaps-maybe half a ride in dry conditions was enough to tip the balance in favour of Reg, despite the newly serviced and primed Peugeot, complete with mudguards, sitting there looking hopeful. Not yet, mon ami, but your time will come.

Of course I may have made the wrong decision as the slight grating noise of a couple of weeks ago seems to have returned. As I levelled out along the valley floor and the noise of traffic fell away I heard a strange, chirping from the drive-train which was grumbling away and seemed to be calling out to me: freak, freak, freak – wallaby … pause … freak, freak, freak – wallaby.

The noise disappeared when I freewheeled, or quietened to a whisper when I jumped out of the saddle, but always came back annoyingly, freak, freak, freak – wallaby. I pressed on, knowing the problem wasn’t going to get any better, but hoping it wasn’t going to get worse and plotting how I could get the bike to Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Company to let him try and figure out what the problem is.

As I made my way across to the meeting point I passed a group of half a dozen riders, all decked out for extreme weather in rain jackets, tights and overshoes. In just a jersey and shorts, they made me feel rather under-dressed and perhaps wildly unprepared for what was to come. Did they know something I didn’t?

At the meeting point though, I was re-assured to find very few of us had our winter bikes out and even fewer were wearing much beyond shorts and jerseys – if we were going to get soaked – we’d be doing it all together.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Rab D arrived astride his old winter hack, with the BMC Time Machine left safely at home, not because he worried about riding it in the rain, but because he felt if things turned really mucky he’d have to disassemble half the bike just to clean it properly.

If he was waiting for ideal atmospheric conditions to ride his new toy, we determined there was probably only 3 days a year when he could safely use it – and we’d had 2 of those already.

Crazy Legs turned up with tales of the Bank Holiday club run last Monday, which he described as the worst ride. Ever. I had been tempted to ride too, but had missed out and in the process perhaps dodged a bullet.

The day had started auspiciously enough with a plan to ride to the coast, but the group had somehow ended up travelling along the Spine Road, one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the County, on a Bank Holiday, in decent weather and with the Tall Ships departure from Blyth enticing an inordinate amount of cars onto the road.

Unable to find a misplaced, mis-remembered crossing point and desperate to escape the deadly rush of traffic, Crazy Legs had utilised Google Earth to identify an old track they could use to by-pass the road and led them down it.

The track however narrowed, turned boggy and then marooned them in the middle of wildly, overgrown and nettle-riddled field as it completely disappeared. At this point there was some discussion about whether they should turn back and face death by road traffic accident, or press on and face drowning in quicksand. Crazy Legs though was convinced nothing could be worse than riding down a dual carriageway in that traffic.

At one point, he said he was riding through the wilderness so carefully and so precariously that horseflies were feasting on his legs, but he didn’t dare let go of the handlebars to swat at them.

Finally shouldering their bikes, the group fought and clambered their way out onto a farm track, muddied, bloodied, bitten, stung, lost, tired and utterly miserable – emerging like a defeated army from the jungle and right under the nose of a local famer, who must have seen nothing quite like it in all his days, but didn’t bat an eyelid and completely ignored them!

They’d then found themselves traversing back along the Spine Road battling the terrifying, Tall Ships and Bank Holiday swollen traffic. Crazy Legs rode the entire way home behind Plumose Pappus to try and shelter him a little, convinced the youngster was going to be sucked under the wheels as he fluttered like a moth caught on a windscreen every time a lorry thundered past.

Red Max showed up without the Monkey Butler Boy, the allure of riding his new bike apparently having worn off, allowing him to once again reconnect with his teenage genes and demand to be left in bed.

Max had warned him there would be dire consequences and sure enough, as he left the Monkey Butler Boy was being presented with a list of domestic chores to complete since he wasn’t out riding. Now that’s the kind of motivation that can make an Olympic champion.

Mini Miss was out on her brand new Focus, having had her old bike completely replaced by the company after it had developed a crack along the top tube. She said she’d received a particularly terse and uncommunicative text from her daughter the previous night that simply read, “I’m not coming home.” We were assuming this was just a one off arrangement and not a long term declaration of intent.

Even Mini Miss however had to admit that Red Max trumped her, when he described a similar text from his daughter, “Dad, I’m moving out and I’m pregnant.”  Kids, eh?


I dropped into place, 3rd in line alongside Son of G-Dawg as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, chuckling as the Red Max proved he’d chase down just about anything, swerving across the road in vain pursuit of a crow while shouting Ca-Caw, Ca-Caw and receiving a remarkably similar squawk of complaint in return.

We did wonder what might have happened if the bird had been so panicked it had flown off into his front wheel and it reminded us of the time we were ambushed by a pheasant that had clattered into flight from the roadside, right under the nose of our lead rider as we lined it out downhill for the café sprint. That had been a close enough call for us to treat our avian friends with a degree of caution.


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Red Max and Crazy Legs rotated off the front as we crested the hill past the Cheese Farm and Taffy Steve and Ovis took up the pace as we rattled and bumped along a series of badly cracked and cratered rode surfaces that are becoming pretty much the norm in these parts.

Further on and I rolled through onto the front with Son of G-Dawg, starting to pick our own route as we came to junctions with no instruction from further back and guessing we were making the right choices when there were no barking complaints from behind. It was a bit like playing Russian Roulette with a route map, or reading one of those adventure game-books. I hoped we didn’t take a wrong turn and end up in a den full of rabid trolls and kobolds.

At one junction we went left simply because they’d been trimming hedges on the right and we had visions of mass punctures. Yes, it’s autumn already so they’re starting to strew the clippings from thorn bushes across the road to deter cyclists.

Caught in a slightly too large gear with an immediate climb after the turn, I rose out of the saddle and stamped hard on the pedals and we flew upwards dragging everyone out in a long line behind.

Bursting round a sharp right hand turn at the top of the climb, our sudden appearance surprised a BMW approaching at too high a speed and already starting to swing wide across the road. Luckily the driver had time to brake and correct their line and the group behind managed to squeeze past.

A bit further on and travelling down a narrow country lane, Son of G-Dawg called out, “Car up!” and accelerated sharply so I could tuck in behind him. Even singled out and hugging the gutter, the bright red Toyota Yaris passed frighteningly close and frighteningly fast – and behind us the almost inevitable happened.

I’m still not quite sure if the car actually clipped Mini Miss, or came so close she took desperate and evasive action, but she ended up tangling wheels with Buster and coming down, while he bailed out for the safety of a roadside ditch.

I was astounded that the driver even stopped, but apparently this was just so she could tell us that we shouldn’t be riding on the road, while we, being the nicest, most polite cycling club known to man tried to reason with her in a rational manner. Perhaps this was the time when some incoherent swearing and outright anger might actually have served us better and made more of an impression.  Then again, maybe not.

As it was, satisfied she hadn’t quite managed to seriously injure anyone, completely unrepentant, utterly convinced she’d done nothing wrong and wasn’t in any way responsible, the driver climbed back into her car, slammed the door and roared away to endanger other weird people who mistakenly feel they have the right to use the roads, leaving us to assess the damage.

Mini Miss has somehow snapped the end completely off her brake lever and Buster was particularly chagrined to find his rear mudguard had been smashed to pieces, just after he’d finally managed to get it to stop rubbing. Luckily all the damage seemed to be to bikes rather than people, although on the ride back Buster complained his hip was causing some discomfort.

We regrouped slowly before pressing on and since we were close to a usual split point decided we wouldn’t stop again, but drop into different groups on the fly. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message and as the amblers split off for the café, Happy Cat missed the turn and uncharacteristically found herself tagging along with the faster, longer, harder group.


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She’d also taken the weather forecasts to heart and was wearing a baggy and billowing waterproof jacket that not only acted like a drogue parachute, but slowly began to boil her as the pace increased and she fought to hang on.

We finally called a halt to split the group again, carefully steering Happy Cat away from the longer, harder, faster self-flagellation ride, but Taffy Steve failed to convince another struggler who was lured away by the siren song of the racing snakes, perhaps never to be seen again.

Happy Cat managed to ditch the jacket, stuffing it roughly into two of the pockets of her jersey and then it was just a case of hanging on as we wound our way back to the café.

I suggested that now she’d ridden and survived with the longer, harder, faster group she’d struggle to ever go back to the amblers. She was still smiling, but I don’t think I convinced her.

Down through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, I ran up the outside of the group and was sitting perched on the shoulder of the lead man as we dropped down and then began the long drag up to the café. A quick glance behind showed me Son of G-Dawg and G-Dawg stacked on my wheel, so I buried myself in an impromptu lead out until they swept around me and I could sit up.

A few others passed me as well, but faded as the slope ground on and I managed to claw back and overhaul them. Then just as I approached the white finish line, Taffy Steve charged up on my outside, screaming incoherently and threw his bike over the line in a fair imitation of Chris Hoy, stealing the sprint by a tyre’s tread.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A deeply traumatised Crazy Legs couldn’t let it go and circulated photos of their epic trek into the Northumberland Badlands during the Bank Holiday Club Run from Hell, including one shot of OGL leading his bike while he tip-toed gingerly along a very narrow, very muddy trail perched precariously above a marshy and incredibly boggy rivulet.

Another photo showed cyclists adrift in an overgrown field that had deliberately been left fallow … for a decade or three perhaps, while the most damning was left until last – a picture of the much cosseted Ribble, befouled, begrimed and mud-spattered to such a degree that the brakes would no longer function because of the build-up of mud, grit and crap caught up in them.

The conversation turned to the Planet X outlet where Crazy Legs suggested he’d been lucky to escape without treating himself to a new TT bike on a recent visit. I happened to mention the Vittoria Anniversary, limited edition shoes they were currently selling, RRP £220, but reduced to £34 and made from very glossy, very shiny “gold medal microfibre.”

Sadly, they didn’t have my size, nevertheless I think I managed to horrify everyone by suggesting that I would even consider wearing bright gold shoes and they all agreed it was a step too far and I would need to dominate every sprint to be able to carry something like that off.


SHVIUNQ30_P2
Check out these bad boys

The conversation then turned to Reg, my Holdsworth frame which had also come to me via Planet-X. Being a somewhat, err, distinctive design in an eye-bleeding combination of vile red, poisonous black and acid yellow, with the group wondering if I’d been instantly attracted to it.

I had to confess to loathing the frame on first sight, but it had been an absolute bargain and I thought it would serve as a stopgap until I got something better. Then I’d slowly grown to appreciate it’s somewhat esoteric and divisive looks – to such an extent that it now influences what I wear.

Taffy Steve suggested it was somewhat akin to going to the puppy pound for a pedigree dog and being chosen by the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea- ridden pug in the entire place, that wouldn’t let you leave without it.


Tour des Flandres 2010
We might be the ugliest, rattiest, scrattiest, flea-ridden combo going, but in my minds-eye at least we (almost) look this cool!

Crazy Legs had been out with G-Dawg the night before, sampling the wares at a local brewery, where the pair of them wrestled myopically with a long, poorly printed beer menu in bad light. Crazy Legs had resorted to his Nooz reading glasses, slipping them out of his wallet and slapping them on long enough to determine that Beer#1 was a lager and #2 was a bitter.

Of course G-Dawg was utterly delighted by the slightly unusual style of the Nooz specs and had ripped the piss mercilessly out of Crazy Legs for the rest of the night, until leaning conspiratorially across and quietly asking – “What do you call them specs and where can I get some?”

Taffy Steve was questioned about the NTR Club Runs which take place every Tuesday and Thursday evening, involving upwards of 80 riders at a time and all impeccably organised into different groups and abilities via Facebook. In the realms of club run organisation they are multi-spectral and satellite earth-imaging compared to our water dousing with bent willow twigs.

I was interested to learn if they continued the rides throughout the year, even when the nights became dark and cold and Taffy Steve reminded us he’d first started riding with them just before Christmas last year. We decided he was perhaps unique in British Cycling as the only person to ever join a club in the middle of December.


I left Crazy Legs and the G-Dawg collective camped out in the café declaring it was too early to leave and if they went home now they’d be expected back at the same time every week, but everyone else was pressing to see if they could beat the rain home, so I joined the general exodus.

It wasn’t to be, however and the much-forecast rain finally arrived as we grouped up before setting off, delaying slightly while everyone dug out their rain jackets. Once started the rain didn’t ease and everything and everyone were soon soaked through, but at least it wasn’t cold and the rain had had the good grace to hold off until after we exited the café.

The Prof introduced me to one of the FNG’s who also lives south of the river, so as I exited the Mad Mile I had company for a change as we worked our way down to the bridge.

Crossing the river, he then turned right, while I swung left and I was soon alone again with just my thoughts, the rain drumming on my helmet and back and that insistent, persistent murmur of protest from the bike under me; freak, freak, freak – wallaby…


YTD Totals: 4,938 km / 3,068 miles with 48,766 metres of climbing

Cresta Run (It’s frothy, man)

Cresta Run (It’s frothy, man)

Club Run, Saturday 2nd July, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  115 km / 71 miles with 1,058 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 32 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.3 km/h

Group size:                                         29 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Rain, wind, sun

Main topic of conversation at the start:

At the meeting point I found Son of G-Dawg, sitting on the wall, alone and palely loitering, badly hungover and recently returned from a shamelessly inactive week’s holiday. He also complained of a suspected broken finger as a consequence of wrestling with North Atlantic waves. And losing.

Given this backdrop he wasn’t particularly looking forward to the ride, but concluded cheerfully that since “it only hurts when braking, changing gear or trying to grip the handlebars” he’d probably be all right.

To make matters worse, it was now G-Dawgs turn to be away on holiday, so Son of G-Dawg would have to pay his own way in the café. He’d brought along some money, but confessed he wasn’t quite sure how you made it to work and what you did with it.

I was quite surprised that G-Dawg actually took holidays, but suspect it’s more likely he’s just being stripped down to the bare components for a thorough cleaning before being assembled again.

Taffy Steve appeared, glinting and sparkling in the sharp sunlight and I queried if he’d had a recent close encounter with greeting cards, thinking he’d perhaps tried to sneak “yet another” birthday in under the radar. Apparently though he was simply suffering from a prank attack, when a “family friend” tipped a large tub of glitter over his head.

Several days later and he still trailed a glittering tail of dandruff in his wake, like Haley’s Comet skimming across the Earth’s atmosphere, or perhaps a hulking, grumpy, shockingly profane and disturbingly hirsute Tinkerbell.

Anyone with young children who have a passion for crafts and card making will know the insidious and truly evil nature of glitter, it’s almost impossible to eradicate once it’s got a foothold in your home, where it suddenly acquires the adhesive qualities of mutant barnacles in a sea of superglue. Taffy Steve is already plotting revenge, which perhaps involves the pranksters dog. I recommend selective shaving.

As it was the first day of the month our youngsters were allowed out on parole for a spin on the open roads. Taffy Steve looked across to where they were all gathering and wondered if they knew something we didn’t. They’d all gone way beyond simple rain jackets and were wearing clothing he thought Noah himself would have approved of. He then started chuckling to himself as he recalled how his young son had flummoxed theologians everywhere by demanding to know how the Ark had managed to carry all the freshwater fish.

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:

Goose was found bemoaning the fact that despite being a fine figure of a man and logging hundreds of bike miles, his ceiling of 200 watts of energy output is barely enough to power a light bulb. This sobering thought lead to a general discussion about just how physically unremarkable the human species actually is and how we ever came to rule the roost.

Theories about our superiority seemed to come down to the blind luck of being born with opposable thumbs and big heads, but there were of course alternative claims for the top seat at the table. Naturally dolphins headed the list – as smart as humans and thoroughly hedonistic and carefree – clever enough to spend all their time playing around and enjoying themselves rather than angst-ridden worrying about the meaning of life.

Taffy Steve put in a surprisingly strong claim for octopuses (not octopi as already discussed: Italian Mobster Shoots a Lobster)  – the most intelligent of all the cephalopods, with unparalleled tactile dexterity, but apparently held back by a lack of depth perception (and no great desire to build machines to kill fellow cephalopods.)

We then had a good chuckle about Oleg Tinkov suggesting his team have the “Number One and Number Two cyclists in the world today” and that they were going to “kick Team Sky’s ass at the Tour de France”. Oh Oleg, you’re such a clown and I’m not going to remotely miss you.  I think Mark Twain might actually have been referring to Mr. Tinkov when he wrote, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt”

(I’m pretty certain I’m not alone in thinking Alberto Contador is a spent force in the Tour de France – even before his self-destruction through crashes on Stage 1 and 2. If our clubs fantasy TdF league serves as a quick straw poll amongst cyclists, we have 14 entrants, 9 riders per team and not one single person has bothered selecting Contador. Mind you, none of us picked Cav either and look how that’s turning out.)

I’ll give Tinkov this much respect though, he does actually seem to have made his money legitimately. I have deeply unsettling concerns about billionaire’s who screw over their country and their countrymen and then fritter away millions on vanity sports projects while poverty reigns supreme at home. It’s one of the reason’s I’m hoping such a seemingly class act as Nibali is not going to be tempted by Bahrain blood money.

Goose seems to have taken a liking to green tea which I found surprising, as I was there when he’d first tried it and declared it all “a bit peely-wally”. He deflected our scorn by stating that it had become de rigueur in his household, where his wife drinks it, his daughters drink it, his dog drinks it and even his teenage son drinks it.

We had to tell him to stop and listen to himself. A moments self-reflection and he realised where he was going wrong, both as a father and a human being in general. He vowed to go home, slap some sense into his son, make him drink a double-espresso in double-quick time and tell him to MTFU!

Sneaky Pete sneaked in just to wave goodbye, before slipping quietly away and sneaking off on his own. His departure seemingly summoned a swathe of dark pewter clouds that roiled across the sky, releasing a sudden and stinging burst of rain. As if in sympathy all the lights in the café flickered and died.

The toilets, devoid of any windows and natural light now became like the Black Hole of Calcutta and we ended up having to cart mobiles in there with us to light our way – albeit with a very strict ban on selfies.

I was just about to volunteer Goose to step up to the dynamo and give up all of his 200 watts of usable power when the lights came back to life. The rain eased for a moment and in that brief, already closing window of semi-dryness, we scrambled out and away to see how far we could get before the heavens opened again.

 


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Ride Profile

The Waffle:

Rain was to provide the bookend weather conditions for this ride, the morning version being a light, all-pervasive drizzle that seemed to sift endlessly from a grey and overcast sky. It didn’t feel particularly cold though, so shorts, jersey, arm warmers and a rain jacket looked like being everything that was required.

I had a remarkably uneventful and unmemorable ride to the meeting place, where we began to congregate, joined by 2 or 3 FNG’s but no Crazy Legs or G-Dawg and a very conspicuously absent OGL. I was frankly amazed, not simply because of OGL’s no-show, but rather by the fact he hadn’t broadcast it in advance to all and sundry (and anyone else in between).

Without or usual leaders and planners, the Prof took control and barked out the intended route. Around 30 lads and lasses then pushed off, clipped in and rode out.

The Red Max was riding without the Monkey Butler Boy who had suddenly realised his mocks were almost upon him and had stayed home to revise, although rumour has it that the start of the Tour de France may have stalled academic progress. (Allegedly).

Off the leash, Max immediately stuck his nose on the front and started pushing the pace, burning off a succession of riding partners as he battered away into a relatively strong wind. We were achieving an average speed of around 30 kph before the first whimpering gasps of dissent were heard and Max finally eased, swung out and dropped back down the line, job done.


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The group split just past the reservoir and I sat at the back over the series of sharp climbs that followed. As we approached the Quarry Climb, Mad Colin whipped the front half of us into a loose paceline and the speed began to build.

Up the Quarry Climb we went, splintering the group to pieces. The front group swung left, while a few of the back-markers took the slightly shorter route and turned right at the top of the climb.


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Our shaky, improvised paceline had fallen apart on the hill where it quickly became every man (or woman) for themselves. With no sign of being able to get it working again, Mad Colin simply rode to the front and began to slowly wind up the pace. I dived across onto his rear wheel and tried to cling on for the ride, watching, strangely mesmerised as his chain began to rise like a breaking wave and then roll down his cassette in a series of agonisingly slow gear changes, each one bringing a corresponding increase in raw power and speed. Bloody hell! Just how many gears did his bike have?

And what the hell was I thinking, anyway? This was Mad Colin, who almost set a record time in the RAAM – Race Across America, the man who pushes FNG’s up hills faster than I can climb them, who used to be a sparring partner of Russ and Dean Downing and whose idea of a good breakfast is porridge mixed with energy gels! I was only ceding something like a 20 year and 20-pound advantage to him.


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On the horribly rough surface down to the Snake Bends he had all the advantages of Roger de Vlaeminck’s prototypical Paris-Roubaix rider, being “built like a small horse” and managing to power over the uneven surface. Meanwhile, I was already at maximum revs and being jostled and bounced around like a golf ball in a tumble drier, holding the bars in a death grip and reluctant to risk moving my hands even fractionally in order to change gear.

I don’t know how long I held onto the tiger’s tail, it was probably no longer than a mile, but felt like five, as my leg bones slowly turned to heating elements that scorched into my muscles and ragged breathing gave way to agonised gasping.

One more click of the gear lever, one more clunk of a chain shifting down, one more turn of the screw and the gap between our wheels slowly and silently opened out like a flower blooming to greet the sun.

And then I was gone, jettisoned like the ballast from a balloon which saw Mad Colin soaring away.


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Rab Dee jumped around me to try and get on terms, while I simply tried to hold the speed I’d stolen and keep going. The Prof, one of our young tyro’s and an FNG were the next to pass me in a futile chase of the front-runners, but while they initially opened up a gap it soon settled at around 10 metres and then refused to go either up or down.

Ahead the side road spat out Taffy Steve and Goose from their short-cut. I swooped around the latter and gave mad chase to the former, finally getting just about on terms with him and the FNG just before we swept around the Snake Bends and hit the main drag up to the café.

We’d not left the café long when the rain returned, washing over us in a reprise of last week’s awful conditions. Riding alongside Red Max he pointed out the Prof’s backside was beginning to foam like a rabid dog, as his shorts soaked through and the wet pad squelched horribly up and down on the saddle. Hey! It’s frothy, man!


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Max complained he was getting too much, err… salty spume in his face and pulled out for a quick overtake. I hung back chuckling to myself that perhaps the Prof was the only one of us who could foam incoherently at both the mouth and posterior.

In no time at all the group split and we hit the Mad Mile, I chased down the front-runners and enjoyed a slingshot around the roundabout as I set off for home alone.

The return ride was interrupted by intermittent heavy rain showers and several stops to haul on or off my rain jacket. I also tried tracing a new route on the cycle paths along the river, but it was all a bit too Strada Bianca for my liking, so I’ll stick to the roads in future.

I returned home to once again find my socks had turned a decidedly unpleasant shade of grey and the super-sharp road grime tan-lines were once again prominent. My socks from the previous week still haven’t recovered and I’m not sure they ever will. This pair could well be going the same way.

I’m slowly beginning to understand why some cyclists wear black socks, but it’s just not an option for an old, dyed in the wool, traditionalist curmudgeon. I’ve tried and they just make me feel louche and dirty. I even tried yellow, black and red socks to match the rest of my kit a few weeks back, but even then I knew that subconsciously it was all wrong.

Perhaps I just need some of that super-foaming detergent the Prof uses so I can restore my socks to their whiter-then-white condition?


YTD Totals: 3,797 km / 2,359 miles with 37,309 metres of climbing