Merde! Mitford

Merde! Mitford

Club Run, Saturday 5th May, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                               121 km / 75 miles with 1,195 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                       4 hours 37 minutes

Average Speed:                               26.2 km/h

Group size:                                      28 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                  22°C

Weather in a word or two:         Glorious


Ride Profile

A week – a long time in politics, is seemingly an aeon in terms of British weather, which might explain how things suddenly changed from last weeks biting chill, too H-o-t (with a capital H). Hot enough indeed for G-Dawg to send out a diktat via Facebook declaring “shorts only” for the weekend. Well, obviously not just shorts, that would be unseemly, but you get the idea.

I was assured it was going to be a fantastic day, but nonetheless, it was cold early in the morning and I was happy I’d thought to pull on a pair of arm warmers. Still, the sky was a cloudless, sparkling blue and the sun was throwing sharp shadows ahead of my front wheel – it was just a matter of time before the temperature picked up. In fact the digital readout on a factory unit said 23 C. Yeah, right, a bit premature I think, but still …

It was a thoroughly pleasant amble across the river, the hedgerows and verges studded with bright blossoming tulips and daffodils and the trees laden down with pale blossom that the breeze would tug off the branches so I could occasionally progress like I was riding through a soft, warm blizzard.

Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

If last week everyone complained of the cold, this week everyone mentioned the heat, as we enjoyed the best spell of weather so far this year and were headed toward the warmest May Bank Holiday weekend for years.

A supremely hot Jimmy Mac arrived, fat beats of sweat already rolling down his face. First blaming his all black Castelli jersey for absorbing too much heat, he then suggested that perhaps his sunscreen was providing an unwelcome layer of insulation. “Huh,” I had to ask, “What are you using for sun cream, goose fat?”

It was so hot, that Szell took G-Dawg’s “shorts only” diktat to heart and stripped off his jersey. Ooph! Luckily, he was just intent on removing his base layer and pulled his jersey back on before too many grannies swooned, or the police arrived to cart him away for indecent exposure.

Indeed, it was so hot that Crazy Legs had coerced the much-cosseted Ribble out its cotton wool nest for the first action of the year – as good a guarantee that we were going to see no rain as money can buy.

Someone had abandoned a Mobike nearby and we circled it warily, trying to decide exactly what kind of strange, exotic beast it was and determine if it was at all dangerous. G-Dawg, quite the bravest amongst us, approached tentatively, gave it a quick prod and, when it didn’t react, picked it up and weighed it appraisingly. “It might be all right downhill,” he mused, but obviously not this particular one, which had been abandoned with only one crank and had a raw, empty spindle where the other should have been. You can break them, then.

The outbreak of shorts threw an unkindly spotlight on personal sock choice, with the obvious Goldilocks dilemma of not too long, not too short, just the right length. The Monkey Butler Boy proved to be the de facto leader of the fashion police and a sock fascist par excellence. He declared the socks sported by the Colossus were too short, but not as bad as those that the Garrulous Kid was wearing – a sort of girly, trainer-sock monstrosity that barely covered his malleolus.

Still, as G-Dawg reminded us, this was a massive upgrade on the Garrulous Kid’s previous choice, a pair of hairy, woolly, baggy, shapeless, sloppy things of an indeterminate grey-green colour that used to pool around his ankles like two detached elephant scrotums.

Ovis arrived for a last training bout before he embarks on the Fred Whitton Challenge. He was suitably provisioned a long day in the saddle, with an entire family-size malt loaf stuffed like a building brick in his jersey pocket. Enough for 16 individual servings, he would fuel his entire ride by systematically gnawing his way through this sticky mess and took a moment before we rolled out  to start the process off.

The long absent BFG tried to casually sneak up and merge in, but, like the elephant in the room, his looming presence was obvious to all. I wondered where he’d been for the past few months and he suggested he’d just been hiding in the house all this time.

Then, G-Dawg outlined the route and we split into two groups that wouldn’t see each other again until the café. I dropped into the second group, was led out by the Red Max and away we went.

As we pushed on toward the Dinnington lunar landscape, a lone cyclist, appropriately attired in a Soloist jersey, whirred past. I watched and waited, counting down. It wasn’t long and sure enough, before I’d finished ticking off the fingers of one hand, the Red Max’s targeting radar locked-on and there was a not-so-subtle increase in the pace at the front.

“It’s a club run, not a bloody race!” OGL complained, but all to no avail as Max’s seek and destroy mode was now fully engaged and the pace was ramping up. A few minutes later and if the Soloist had turned around he would have found a madly cackling Red Max encamped on his rear wheel, with the rest of us closing steadily in.

The Soloist got a call on his mobile and slowed to take it mid-ride, suddenly finding himself engulfed by riders spilling past on either side, and then he was spat out the back and we were out onto clear roads again.

I had a brief chat with the BFG, who, rather glassy-eyed and with a pronounced catch in his voice, admitted he’d actually missed us during his long absence. I didn’t know whether to be touched, or annoyed at how surprised he was by his own shock revelation. He also revealed he was wary of riding in a group in case he caused a crash. We determined that with the Prof also absent, rehearsing with his Back Street Boys tribute band, the potential for chaos within the bunch was already markedly reduced, but it wasn’t sufficient and the BFG soon turned away for a much less stressful solo ride.


Up past the Cheese Farm and the Slow Drinker went to stretch his legs up Bell’s Hill, so I followed, to more vocal discontent from the rear ranks. We paused at the top, but no one had been dropped and no one was struggling, so we shrugged and pressed on.

Nodding at Ovis, resplendent in his customary, bright blue and yellow Rochdale Tri top, Taffy Steve decided it would be good if everyone turned up at the meeting point in the distinctive kit, which would probably cause OGL’s head to explode.

Simply by dint of its omniscience, I’ve concluded that the Rochdale Tri stuff is either virtually indestructible, or Ovis owns an awful lot of it – potentially enough to kit out the entire club …

A long, low convertible Cadillac cruised past in a flare of shiny chrome, cuing up a quick burst of Brand New Cadillac. Any ride when I get to tunelessly belt out a Clash song has to be considered a good ride in my book. Balls to ya, Big Daddy…

A bit further on and I got to substitute the warning of “pots” for “pheasant” as one of the dopey birds darted across the road. Up through Tranwell and the King of the Grogs shipped his chain so we pulled over to wait, giving Ovis the chance to renew his slavering assault on his malt loaf while we waited. Then we were off again, before a rather unremarkable ascent of the Mur de Mitford.

We stretched things out down the road to Netherwitton, before a sharp left dropped us at the bottom of the Trench. The Red Max called for a general regrouping at the top, then waved us through to tackle the climb at our own pace. Benedict and the Slow Drinker seemed to have their climbing legs on, so I followed in their wheels as we pushed upwards and onwards.

Stopping at the top, I had a quick chat with Captain Black and we agreed that as hard as the climb up the Trench was, it least it was preferable to last week’s drag up to Rothley Crossroads, or Rothley Bloody Crossroads as it momentarily seemed to have been renamed.

We were called back to the main group, where we found Ovis busy chomping down on his malt loaf brick, while Taffy Steve revealed that, because it was such a nice day, they’d decided to split, with a group detouring from the planned route for a longer ride to take in Middleton Bank … via Rothley Bloody Crossroads.

Naturally, having declared our loathing for this particular route just minutes earlier, I found myself tagging along with Captain Black, just for that slight masochistic frisson of grinding up to the Bloody Crossroads yet again.

Fuelled on pure malt loaf, Ovis set a fast pace and tugged everyone along, before regrouping at the top, where Benedict and Andeven went off in search of even more miles, while the rest of us pushed on to Scots Gap and then Middleton Bank.

At the foot of the bank, Ovis darted away. Working around a flailing Szell and standing out of the saddle, I gave chase and closed him down on the steepest ramps, before plonking down and pushing onto the front as the gradient lessened.

A partial regrouping over the top, and a small group of us pressed on for the café. With abundant malt loaf resources left to burn, Ovis kept pushing the speed up and up, with real intent, so I finally gave up matching his pace and slipped onto his rear wheel and followed. We were soon all lined-out and rattling along, behind what Carlton would later dub the Rochdale Express.

Ovis kept looking back, perhaps hoping he’d shed the leeches that hung off his back wheel like particularly stubborn and bloody-minded remora hitching a ride on a great shark, but no matter how hard he pushed he couldn’t dislodge us.

Swooping through the Milestone Woods, I attacked off the front as we hit the base of the rollers. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake, I couldn’t force a gap big enough before the road levelled and dipped down again and it put the hurt into my legs. Still I kept going, around the next corner and onto the final climb where the first pursuers, Ovis and Goose finally wrestled their way past.

I dropped into their slipstream until the very last ramp saw their momentum ebb slightly, then I ground my way around them and onto the front one final time.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A quick survey of the goods on display and both Goose and I zeroed in the lone, very last piece of Bakewell tart as being the premium source of extreme goodness and cycling-specific, calorific content. We could have fought for it, we could have engaged in a quick round or rock-paper-scissors, or, by dint of sneaking into the queue first, I could have trumped his “finders-keepers” declaration with a pre-emptive order, but being a gentleman I conceded and went for the ginger flapjack instead.

Conferring later, I gave the flapjack a 7.5 out of 10, whereas Goose declared the Bakewell tart was a solid 10. I’ll never know if he was deliberately exaggerating its appeal, but I’ll know better next time.

We found a table outside and were quickly joined by the Monkey Butler Boy, who left another group, not drawn to our scintillating company so much as fleeing the wasps that hovered around it. He seems to have an irrational fear of the little blighters, even though we discovered he’d never been stung.

Goose suggested he needed to grasp the nettle (so to speak) and get stung in order to realise it wasn’t that big an issue – or at least find out if he was prone to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. The Monkey Butler Boy … err … politely demurred.

With such glorious weather, talk turned to the potential for weekend barbecue’s, a Great British obsession, whenever there’s even the barest hint of decent weather. Apparently, my utter dislike for the process of either conjuring up, or devouring, burnt and crusty carbonised meat with a cold and raw interior, marks me out as being an effete loser and much less than a proper man.

Speaking of effete practices, the Garrulous Kid revealed he had to be home on time for his mum to take him to his exclusive, elite, city centre hair salon for an appointment with his personal stylist. He (well, she to be fair) must pay an awful lot of money for his haircut, that looks no different from what everyone else gets from their local barber. Mind you, I’m no expert and have always believed my dad’s edict that there’s only 2 weeks between a bad haircut and a good one.

The Garrulous Kid then volunteered the reason he didn’t just go to the barbers like a normal bloke, was that he didn’t like having his hair cut by machine, which is interesting as I’ve never seen an android barber and would like to give one a try. Perhaps the conversation would be a little more illuminating than the standard fare of “busy at work?” or, “off anywhere nice on holiday?” Then again, perhaps I’m just choosing the wrong barber and need to find one like the Red Max’s who’ll gladly entertain customers, young and old, with his ambitions to be a porn star.

I learned that both Captain Black and Goose are toying with the idea of new frames, having seemingly reached the conclusion after multiple years of riding that their current bikes are the wrong size. Now they just have to find a means of smuggling newly acquired bike parts past the intense scrutiny of domestic security.

As we pulled out the car park, Taffy Steve indicated to turn left, as a group of us were taking an alternate way home via Whalton, rather than routing via Ogle. As usual, I was easily led astray and found myself tagging along as we set a fairly fast pace for home. The route didn’t seem particularly longer, shorter, easier or harder, but it made a pleasant change. It was so novel in fact, that I found myself travelling down roads I’d only ever traversed in the opposite direction.

As we hit the Mad Mile, the Colossus charged away and I gave chase, tagging on as we rode up to a busy roundabout and slowed almost to a halt to let it clear. The Colossus swung left and I made to push straight over, but found myself straining to turn over a massive gear, just as a car emerged from its off-road hiding place to my right.

I gave a sustained, comedic “Eek!” and got a sudden burst of adrenaline that let me kick the pedals round with a little more power as I recovered from my near stall. Luckily, the car slowed and I was able to grind my way to safety.

The rest of my ride home passed without incident on roads that were surprisingly quiet and traffic free. Perhaps everyone had decided to stay home and enjoy the weather rather than crowding out the shops, or perhaps they were all distracted, firing up the barbies in their back gardens.

So, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench, Rothley Bloody Crossroads, Middleton Bank and the Heinous Hill all in one ride. What was that about mad dogs, Englishmen and the midday sun?

YTD Totals: 2,529 km / 1,571 miles with 29,149 metres of climbing


50 Shades of Orange

50 Shades of Orange

Club Run, Saturday 10th December, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  115 km/71 miles with 1,029 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 39 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.7 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Better than the best!

The Ride:

Ride Profile

Relive the Ride


Saturday again and if we were spoiled by “the best weather we could possibly hope for” last week, what were we to make of today? This was seemingly better than the best – and a strong case can now be made to suggest we are being over-indulged, coddled and pampered in the extreme. We might even lose our hard-earned patina of rough, gruff, riding-in-all-conditions, professional hard-core Northerners if this softy-Southerner winter keeps on. (BTW Mother Nature, that’s not a direct challenge, I revel in mildness in all its forms).

Saturday morning was calmer, drier, warmer and lighter all around – which for me meant no gilet, no buff, no hat and a thinner gauge of glove, while some of my club mates even took the opportunity to break their best bikes out of hibernation for a rare winter outing.

I feel obliged however to state, for the record, that it was not warm enough to justify the attire of a fellow cyclist who passed in the other direction as I was heading out along the valley. Obviously intent on channelling his inner Jan Ullrich, this fleeting apparition hurtled past in the opposite direction in a blur of pink, resplendent in an old Telekom jersey and shorts. I can only hope this Kaiser wannabe was as … err … insulated as his hero. I mean, shorts? In December? In the North East of England? And a certain Donald John Trump still denies global warming?

Out on the river the boat crews were out in force, a four and a couple of single sculls drifting with the current, with a motor launch or two puttering along with them. I never seem to catch these crews in the act of actually rowing anywhere, but I do admire their dedication – it was still dark enough for me to be riding with lights on and dawn must have been barely a glimmer in the sky when they first fought their way over the mud-banks to reach the chill waters of the river.

Two consecutive festive works do’s had not only curtailed my usual commuting by bike, but left me feeling tired, seriously toxic and badly out of kilter from late nights, coupled with too much alcohol and bad food. Even curtailing the drinking on Friday night and bailing out as soon as my work-colleagues set sail for a Tranny Karaoke bar (again!) hadn’t given me the chance to recover and I was still feeling under the weather and rough around the edges first thing Saturday morning. I really needed this ride and was one of the first to find my way to the meeting place.


Main topic of conversation at the start:

Some of Crazy Legs’s regular riding buddies had suggested they try the Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive in April next year. Looking at the daunting a 297km trek involving 4,500 metres of climbing, Crazy Legs made the excuse that it was “too early in his season” for such a mammoth endeavour. He seemed quite pleased with his excuse, until I pointed out that it left him vulnerable to being invited to ride the Tour of Lombardy sportive in October instead. Last year this beauty packed 4,400 metres of climbing into just 241km of riding. Of course, he’s probably already planning to play the “too late in the season” card for that one.

Son of G-Dawg reported that his Garmin was officially full, so he’d just completed the twice-annual ritual of uploading all of this year’s data into Strava. (For anyone who has just discovered they’ve lost their prize-KoM segment in March and have only just been informed, much too late in the year to do anything about it, I know who the culprit is and can even furnish address details for a small, compensatory fee.)

Son of G-Dawg also revealed that, as expected his Dinnington Hill KOM has already been under renewed assault, as people see what difference the billiard-smooth surface can now make to their times. Considering it was a real club effort to provide Son of G-Dawg a high-speed lead out to the foot of the climb, we all feel as invested as him in holding onto this particular record – if only so we don’t have to turn ourselves inside out numerous times to try and regain it.

The Prof arrived, also apparently suffering from the excesses of the night before and moved down the line offering gentlemanly handshakes to all. I indulged in a bit of “bro-fist” dapping with him, which I think always looks particularly appropriate between two distinctly white, middle-aged, middle-class blokes with absolutely zero street credibility.

Not to be outdone, Crazy Legs then unfolded himself from his perch atop the wall long enough to offer up one of his patented homoerotic man-hugs, complete with obligatory back patting.

“Well, how are you going to top that?” Crazy Legs enquired of the Monkey Butler Boy, who was next in line for one of the Prof’s eccentric salutations.

“Without using tongues.” I added, as the Prof advanced menacingly and the Monkey Butler Boy looked on with a mixture of deep worry and aghast horror etched onto his face.

Luckily, he was saved by the sudden realisation that it was 9:18 Garmin Time and we were already late. 20-odd lads and lasses then pushed off, clipped in and rode out.

Waiting at the first set of lights, Crazy Legs enquired about our intended route from a wincing and grimacing OGL, who was getting his excuses in early, complaining of a bad back and suggesting he was unlikely to complete the ride.

“Go up the Cheese Farm. No, don’t go up the Cheese Farm.” Was OGL’s first salvo, closely followed by, “West! Go west!”

“Go west, young man.” Sneaky Pete suggested sotto voce.

“So you’re saying you’re not going to be with us?” Crazy Legs enquired and when the answer came back affirmative, he declared we’d then be going anyway except west … and we were off.

I spent some time catching up with Princess Fiona and then Ovis and Aether, as we wound our way out into the countryside. The riding conditions were as good as expected, the roads relatively quiet and we made decent time. I was just beginning to think we’d travelled a long way without a break and was wondering how the Prof and his infinitesimally small bladder was managing to cope. As if on cue, he slid past alongside the Cow Ranger and immediately enquired if I knew when we would be stopping.

Having just passed the Whittle Dene Reservoir I was able to assure him we were approaching one of our usual split points and had no doubt he’d soon be afforded an opportunity for some relief.

As Crazy Legs drew everyone to a halt he started looking around, somewhat puzzled and wondered aloud where the Prof was. I was quite surprised by this because:

  1. As soon as we’d stopped the Prof had predictably leapt away from his small-wheeled velocipede and was exactly where we would have expected him to be – out in the hedgerows and irrigating the landscape.
  2. He was wearing enough bright orange to suggest he was marching for King Billy and Ireland, so wasn’t exactly hidden in the rather drab landscape of rural Northumberland in winter.

A much relieved Prof re-joined the group and was complimented on his all-orange accessorising: base layer, gloves, bottle, club jersey, even the detailing and clasps on his helmet straps – all were recognisably orange and all were also a subtle, ever-so-slightly-different, shade that didn’t quite match.

“I never knew so many different shades of orange existed.” G-Dawg exclaimed as wondered just how many there actually were and how few the Prof needed to complete the entire set.

“It is a bad clash.” Crazy Legs volunteered and then pondered a little before adding, “Is there such a thing as bad Clash?”

“Bankrobber?” I suggested.

“What about Guns of Brixton?” he countered.

“Well, that would certainly be a contender.”

We split the group and the faster, longer, harder bunch set off, for once without the ailing Son of G-Dawg who’d risen from his sick bed just to ride, but was fading fast.


We took a rather lumpy route toward the café, where the same pattern started to repeat itself: a small group would drive the pace off the front, a few of us would hang grimly on the wheels and then Mad Colin would burst past, physically propelling either Princess Fiona or Penelope Pitstop uphill at a remarkably impressive pace.

We hit the Quarry climb and I came unstuck in too big a gear as I got caught behind a struggling Prof and De Uitheems Bloem, quickly losing all momentum and having to wrestle and grind my way to the top with the last of my energy.

A small knot then accelerated away for the café and I held on for as long as I could, before watching the gap slowly widen as they pulled inexorably away. As the road surface worsened on the run down to the Snake Bends I eased and sat up to spare my fillings.

Then, with a whirr and a whoosh, Princess Fiona hurtled past, clinging white-knuckled to her bars as she was pushed along at breakneck speed by Mad Colin. The Prof and a few others were hanging onto the coattails of the Mad Colin Express and he called out gleefully for me to jump on board, but by the time I’d blinked away my surprise they were long gone.

I slid through the Snake Bends and across the main road to chase down the alternate, bombed out lane to the café, slaloming around the series of deep potholes that fractured and cratered the road surface like the Clangers Moon, half expecting a somnolent, gurgling Soup Dragon to emerge from one of them. I just about managed to tag onto the back of the group as we swept into the car park, tired and heavy legged.

Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

As I crept into the café, Sneaky Pete was making to sneak out, but realising he’d been caught in the act, he sauntered over and made a big show of declaring he was openly leaving and could not be accused of sneaking off.

“Who was that?” Crazy Legs enquired.

And then, “Oh, has anyone seen Sneaky Pete?”

Both Princess Fiona and Penelope Pitstop agreed that Mad Colin’s, mad pushing was a godsend when keeping up on the hills, but a whole heap of scary in a sprint over broken road surfaces, where everyone is rocketing along at in a super-tight formation and at breakneck speed.

I caught the Cow Ranger peering myopically at the display counter, trying to determine what toothsome treats were on offer and complaining about his failing eyesight. He asked for a coffee first as a distraction and to try and buy a little time, before finally settling on his choice of cake.

As the girl serving him pulled a plate out, he piped up, “Oh and a mug of coffee.” The waitress raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at the cup of coffee already sitting, steaming on the tray under his nose, while I dissolved into a fit of giggles. Perhaps his eyes are actually as bad as he claims.

Rab Dee pondered the slow adoption of disk brakes amongst our group which led to a discussion about whether they were a valuable evolution of technology, or just a cynical marketing gimmick. While opinion was somewhat divided, everyone agreed that the recent fad for gravel bikes was seriously misplaced, I mean, where exactly are you meant to ride a gravel bike in the UK?

Rab Dee suggested things had become so crazy that he’d seen aero-gravel bikes advertised as the latest iteration of this pointless trend. The Cow Ranger was particularly scathing of the fad for fat tyred mountain-bikes, no doubt invaluable for riding in snow or on heavily broken trails, wholly inappropriate where they’re most often seen – on the daily commute through the city centre.

With the round of works parties if not in full swing then immediately imminent, we were just trying to determine if the way Christmas fell this year meant we would have to endure two Black Eye Friday’s, when we started to gather for the ride home.

I was later somewhat disturbed to find our local rag (I always wanted it be called the Tyne Daily) was actually giving good column inches to a story under the headline: “When is Black Eye Friday in Newcastle and are there two this year?”


They even had a helpful poll, because, you know, it’s really good to promote and celebrate drinking to excess and all forms of domestic violence …

As we were preparing to leave, De Uitheems Bloem approached the table, sent as an emissary from the Prof who’s still chasing his year-end distance target and wanted to loop back by a slightly longer route to pad out his mileage.

I was tired and heavy-legged, but Crazy Legs suggested the pace wouldn’t be too high, so off we went.

From a position near the front I now had a grandstand seat for an apparently on-going duel between Crazy Legs and De Uitheems Bloem – the Dutchman firing regular salvoes of lurid green snot-rockets backwards, that Crazy Legs had to jink to avoid, like a ground attack aircraft dodging glowing tracer rounds. I was just pleased he was out on his Bianchi as I didn’t like to think what would have happened if the much-cosseted Ribble had actually caught any of that flak.

I was just about hanging on, but tiring rapidly as we crested the last rise on Stamfordham Road and tipped downwards. The rest of the group swung sharp left, while I continued down, cutting off a big corner of my usual ride home and happy to be able to ride at a more comfortable pace.

I was momentarily distracted from the pain in my legs by a van proudly proclaiming: “Rubbish Removals” and for one glorious moment thought this might be a group of inept, but refreshingly honest furniture removal men, rather than people who simply came to help you dispose of your household waste.

I risked a new route which turned out to be a short-cut around the golf course, trading in a couple of miles for a little more climbing than usual and then dropped down to the river, approaching the bridge just as the traffic lights turned red. A car pulled up behind me and as its eco-drive kicked-in, the engine idled and stopped.

A strangely muted interlude followed, in which the only sounds were a few birds chirruping in the hedgerow and the wind soughing softly through the bare branches of the trees. The quiet was pleasantly, but profoundly unusual and noteworthy and it made me realise just how much extraneous noise we tend to put up with, or simply filter out…

But it was of course only the briefest, transitory and transcendent moment of peace, as a small dog soon started yapping in a nearby garden, seagulls and magpies converged squawking and squabbling over some choice piece of roadkill, a snarling muscle-car pulled up at the lights opposite and a plane clawed its way into the sky with a loud, low rumble.

Peace on Earth?

Not very likely, in any sense of the word.

YTD Totals: 6,972 km / 4,332 miles with 72,567 metres of climbing

Italian Mobster Shoots a Lobster

Club Run, Saturday 12th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    99 km/62 miles with 602 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 18 minutes

Group size:                                           22 riders, 1 maybe-FNG

Weather in a word or two:               Benign to blizzard

Main topic of conversation at the start: For some utterly bizarre, unaccountable reason OGL rolled up to the meeting point bang on 9.00. When questioned, even he couldn’t give a rational explanation for actually arriving on time.

Crazy Legs told us about the rider who’d turned up in shorts for our very chilly Club Run a couple of weeks ago (A Winter’s Blast, Saturday 21st November). Having taken pity on this criminally under-dressed rider (a bit of a shameful, recurring theme this week as well) Crazy Legs cut short his intended run to ride escort duty directly to the warm sanctuary of the café and avoid the potential onset of hypothermia.

Once there however the rapid change in temperature caused the riders exposed legs to erupt in swathes of itchy and vicious bright red chilblains, becoming so uncomfortable he was forced to take his coffee out into the garden in an attempt to cool down his super-heated skin and find some relief from the crazed itching.

As Crazy Legs described it, his skin had “erupted with loads of mini-Vesuvius’s”   I queried whether the correct term shouldn’t be “Vesuvii” and while debating this fine, etymological point, Taffy Steve helpfully pointed out that, on the good authority of a Marine Biologist, the correct plural of octopus is in fact octopuses, not octopi, as the word is of Greek, not Latin origin.

For some bizarre reason we then ended up wondering what a Mafia-style octopus would look and sound like, given the national stereotype for Italian’s to talk with much exaggerated arm waving: “Bada-bing, badda boom!”

We also found common ground in our complete and utter disdain for Paloma Faith. Who? What? Why? When? How? Really?

3 of the girls turned up in formation wearing what looked like identical red jackets, and, as if on cue, parted to reveal the Red Max … wearing blue! Huh?

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: The criminally under-dressed students huddled together as close to the fire as they could get, staring fixedly at nothing and trying to control their shivering, while we tucked into cake, supped wonderfully hot, bitter coffee and wondered aloud about the merits of being a young racing snake, devoid of that extra lardy layer of insulation you need to stay warm.

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t be both lean and mean and comfortably warm, but this requires careful wardrobe choices and a degree of common sense, which seems to be in short supply. Kids today, eh?

Carlton pondered aloud why we didn’t all move somewhere with a better, warmer and more benevolent climate, at which point the maybe-New Guy, originally from Galway in the far west of Ireland, piped up earnestly, “Well, that’s what I did.” Everyone paused long enough to perform a swift double take, checking out the horrendous weather through the window, before we were engulfed in gales of uncontrollable laughter.

Captain Black admitted joining the Hall of Shame, having lent his one and only spare inner tube to a fellow rider in need and being caught out when he later suffered a puncture himself. He thus earned himself a notorious black mark for becoming stranded at the side of the road with a simple mechanical that’s easily avoided.

Red Max didn’t really help, continually dipping into his magical, ever expanding backpack until he had half a dozen spare inner tubes lined up on the table.


ride 12 dec
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

For the first time this year I set out for the meeting point in near darkness and had to use the lights while I waited for the sun to creep up and add at least a semblance of warm colour and daylight to the blanketing cloud cover.

Despite this it was, seemingly for the first time in weeks, benignly mild with, temperatures well above freezing and a barely noticeable wind. Given the BBC forecast was predicting frost and sub-zero temperatures at dawn I was pleasantly surprised. Even taking into account the light and possibly sleety intermittent showers due in the evening, it looked like being a great day for a ride.

I had dressed accordingly for the forecast, but strangely absent cold and predicted overnight frost: light and heavy long-sleeved base layers, winter jacket, buff, gilet, tights, thermolite socks and heavy overshoes. On my hands I went for a new pair of Planet X lobster mitts, which were incredibly warm, but felt a little odd and took some getting used to. I even remembered to pack a spare pair of gloves in the unlikely event these mitts somehow got soaked through.


bada bing
“Bada bing, bada boom!” – you don’t mess with Don Calamari


By the time I made it to the meeting point I was slightly overheated and beginning to regret dressing for near Arctic conditions as I stowed away the gilet and buff. If the fact that the BBC Weather got the predicted temperature so wrong was perhaps warning of more forecast unreliability to come, it went sadly unheeded.

Encouraged by the first spell of decent weather in a while, there was a good turnout of around 22 lads and lasses, our numbers bolstered by some of our students who had returned from University, most notably Chilly Willy and Plumose Papuss. As an indication of just how decent the weather looked, there was also a lone FNG sighting, or at least a maybe-FNG, someone I didn’t recognise from previous rides.

At exactly 9:20 we were ready to ride off in the absence of the Prof, who had earlier declared via Faecesbook that he would be out, but was apparently running late. Having been jilted and left behind by one of the Sunday runs starting bang on time, OGL was particularly – some might uncharitably suggest unusually – eager to cut the blather and set out smartly.

We hadn’t gone far when beZ caught and overhauled us to let us know his old man, the Prof was trailing behind and I heard OGL cackling hysterically with glee. We did slow enough for the Prof to catch on and ride up to the front to check-in with OGL and take his medicine like a man. Cue more maniacal laughter as vengeance was duly served.

The Prof’s sojourn with us didn’t last long however as he was soon stopped by a mechanical. We rode on a short way to find somewhere safe to pull over, and were waiting there when another club passed and relayed the message that the Prof’s mechanical was terminal and he was heading home. Apparently his wheel bearings had objected to the abuse of constant immersion in the floodwaters last week and were rattling like a hand full of marbles in a spin drier.

While the front of our bunch pulled away to resume the ride, those at the rear had to wait for yet another club to swish past before tagging onto the back. A little further on roadworks and traffic lights stopped everyone, and so it was the three clubs got compacted into one mass peloton of around 60 or 70 riders.

We now effectively, if unintentionally formed a massive rolling road-block, maybe 100 yards long, with me as tail-end Charlie, sitting right at the back with some of our youngsters.

From here I was in the perfect position to watch numerous, impatient and death-defying RIMs trying to force their way past us in the most insane places, including blind bends and hill brows. This was the cue for crazy, wild-driving accompanied by madly revving engines, wild evasive manoeuvres, flashing lights, braking, swerving, cursing and incessant horn leaning.


I’m not sure massive groups of cyclist ensure safety in numbers, or just encourage REALLY stupid driving


Miraculously no one came to grief, despite several heart-in-mouth moments as this pseudo-Demolition Derby come Wacky Races played out, but this was solely due to luck and not good driving abilities or instincts. Where are all these people dashing to that they have to risk life and limb (not always their own admittedly) to ensure they’re not a scintilla late?

It was while trying to keep at least half an eye on irrational, unpredictable motorists that I noted with incredulity that half the group we were stuck behind were riding in shorts! At least I was incredulous until Plumose Papuss cheerfully informed me they were from a triathlon club. Ah, that explained everything….

As we hit the long drag up Berwick Hill I could sense the triathletes dropping off the pace and I think the race honed instincts of beZ and Josher immediately took over. I was already accelerating in anticipation, as they surged around the slowing group, and was able to sit on their wheels for a tow up, as they easily bridged across to the front.

At the top of the hill and with the triathletes behind us, the other club swung off to the right and we reformed and pressed on, only until icy rain began to fall and we called a halt to don rain jackets.

Far from being one of the intermittent and passing “light rain showers” forecast for later in the day, it was soon raining in earnest, lashing down until everyone was soaked through and everything became a little grim as we pressed stolidly on.

We swung up the Quarry Climb, pretty much in formation, but at the top all bets were off and, despite OGL shrilly screaming for calm, the race to the café was on as the Red Max shot away with Plumose Papuss in close attendance.

I stuck with the front group as Max faded, hopping from wheel to wheel wherever I could and riding well within my limits. Swinging round the junction for the final run down to the Snake Bends Taffy Steve took off after Plumose Papuss to contest for honours, while I was contend to push along at a steady pace, somewhat surprisingly either holding off or passing G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Captain Black and Crazy Legs along the way.

It was black bin bags all around in a remarkably quiet café, where our two students Plumose and Chilly sat in mute sympathy, huddled as close to the fire as they could squeeze with glassy, thousand yard stares, shivering intermittently as they tried to warm up and dry out. I’m not sure if they ever made it out of the café with the rest of us – for all I know they could still be there.

As we sat there at our leisure, talking trash (as opposed to trash talking, which is a completely different thing) the Prof rolled up, having been home to change one unfeasibly small-wheeled cycling contraption for another unfeasibly small-wheeled cycling contraption. Meanwhile the weather outside gradually worsened and the temperature started to dip alarmingly.

Nothing was either particularly dry, or particularly warm as we kitted up for the return journey, although I briefly felt some smugness pulling on my spare gloves. It was at this point we were subjected to one of the strangest sights ever, as the Prof decided to don his monstrous lobster mitts before his jacket, reasoning that this would provide the best seal between glove and sleeve. The only trouble with this plan was that the jacket sleeves were too tight and, as well as being too bulky to pass through them easily, the mitts were a clear impediment to his manual dexterity.

In desperation he somehow corralled, coaxed or bribed one of the waitresses to help and we were met with the unedifying scene of this young girl first having to drag and pull and heave each mitt through the sleeves, before zipping the Profs jacket up to his chin for him, while he stood around like a sullen infant being dressed by an over-protective mother for a sledging trip.

Finally all ready, we sidled out of the café, mounted up and tried to get arms, legs and brains all working again, and warm ourselves up despite the debilitating, leaching effect of the cold. We hadn’t made more than two or three miles before my smugness evaporated and the substitute gloves became completely soaked through with sleet and freezing road spray and my fingers turned numb.

As I split from the group and turned for home the sleet became very serious, very wet snow that started to lie on roads previously washed clean of all salt by the incessant and heavy rain.

I stopped to swap soaking wet gloves for equally as wet lobster mitts. After a bit of a struggle, I somehow managed to cram my cold, wet fingers uncomfortably into some semblance of the right holes. Despite the stream of cold water that was forced out every time I pulled on the brakes or gripped the handlebars too tightly I found they were considerably better and my fingers began to warm up again.


Live long and prosper – with the impressive Planet X Crab Hand Winter Glove


Thankfully I was feeling a lot fresher than in previous weeks and cruised up the hill past the golf course still in the big ring. As I climbed higher and higher the snow got heavier and soon everything was coated in a soaking wet layer of white.

I had to discard the specs as the lenses became “all bogeyed up” (a technical expression learned from Daughter#2, who always seemed to have terrible trouble with swimming goggles) and the snow started to cling to my front and collect in the creases of my clothes, swiftly turning black to white.

Fittingly having last week descried megalomaniac despots and their ill-thought out invasions of Russia, this ordeal was swiftly beginning to remind me of Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Moscow, as I tried to find the balance between covering any exposed flesh with my buff and retaining some ability to see through the thickening snowfall. I was though spared marauding Cossack hordes, presumably they were all Christmas shopping in the MetroCentre with everyone else.


Last weeks talk of invading Russia, was followed by the inevitable retreat with the onset of winter


Luckily my skinny tyres were doing an effective job cutting through the fresh snow and down to the underlying road surface, so grip seemed better than some of the fish-tailing, wheel-spinning cars were experiencing. Nevertheless I took the long descent down to the river extremely gingerly, filthy brakes grating horribly on the wheel rims and a streamer of icy melt water squeezing out of my mitts.

Approaching the climb back out of the valley I found a combination of numb thumb, restrictive gloves and stiff STI lever was just too much and I had to stop at the side of the road to change down to the inner ring.

I finally reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill to find the traffic going up completely grid-locked and a large white BMW slipping down slowly, slipping down sideways toward me.


It’s always a good idea to dress … err … appropriately for the weather


I quickly realised that even if I could find any traction through the snow to climb upwards, I had no way of avoiding the out of control cars sliding down in the opposite direction toward me. I climbed off and took to the pavements, grateful that I swap road for mountain bike shoes during the winter, so I at least had some traction in a “two steps forward, one slip back” sort of way.

About halfway up the hill my Garmin crapped out on me, overcome with the cold and wet, or perhaps going into auto-shutdown because I didn’t appear to be moving anymore.

I also noticed that my bike had collected a thick crust of snow in the areas most exposed to the wind. From the thickest deposits I was able to surmise that I would get the most benefit from a new aero-seatpost and that I had perhaps discovered an affordable DIY way for the average cyclist to indulge in a bit of wind-tunnel testing. Weather permitting. Assuming they don’t mind getting cold. Oh, and wet.

As a measure of how bad it was by the time I’d dragged my soaked and sorry ass home, not only was I allowed to bring the bike into the kitchen to dry off, but Mrs. SLJ actually suggested this drastic course of action and even gave my trusty Peugeot a quick rubdown while I was huddled in the shower trying to restore feeling to my extremities.
The Ice-Giant certainly left its mark on our back garden – as captured by Daughter#2


As the bike sat their dripping quietly onto the tile floor, perfectly moulded sections of the compacted snow and ice caught under the mudguards worked loose and slipped out. I swear they resembled nothing more than the smooth, discarded toe-nail clippings of some mythological ice-giant, perhaps the very one that thought it would be fun to lure unwitting cyclists out with the promise of a relatively pleasant day, only to conjure up a snow storm to really test them.

I hope it gets bored and slinks back to its lair for next weekend.

YTD Totals: 6,134 km/ 3,811 miles with 68,154 metres of climbing.