The Trouble With Garibaldi’s

The Trouble With Garibaldi’s

Well, the previous Saturday didn’t go at all to plan. I managed to prise myself out of bed, despite the rain and cold and set off on the single-speed with a degree of hopeful optimism, only for my rear wheel to slowly seize, to the point where it felt I was riding with the brakes on. I’d only travelled around 10km when things became so bad I had to stand out of the saddle just to get up and over a speed bump, and at this point I quit, did a complete 360° around a convenient mini-roundabout and set off back home.

I tried working a circuitous route up the Heinous Hill, that would at least give me a fighting chance as I ground and gurned my way agonisingly upwards, but the final steep ramp proved to be my downfall and with the chain starting to slip and skip I admitted defeat and climbed off. Pah!

“Almost made it!” a cheery passer-by noted.

Pah! Again. I was definitely not amused. Still, my ride may have been cruelly curtailed, but maybe I’d just endured the hardest 20km of my life.

Sunday brought me a Covid booster. Tuesday brought me the onset of a 4-day-long headache and a general feeling of washed-out grottiness. Perhaps the two were related, but I don’t know.

Luckily, at least the weather looked like being dry on Saturday, so I could eke out another ride on the ‘good’ bike. It was just as well, as Andy Mapp had devised the route, initially with an assault up the Ryals included, although he’d later decided to reverse the final loop to go down the Ryals instead, just in case G-Dawg was thinking of using his fixie. He wasn’t, the weather was dry enough for his good bike too, but the route change remained.

It was in fact, not only dry, but agreeably and unseasonably warm for November, and half the group were wearing shorts with, for one week only, no one thinking to question their sanity. Well, no one except me. I remained well wrapped up and was happy to be so.

I was slightly late courtesy of several sets of new roadworks on the valley road and arrived to find G-Dawg explaining that he’s perhaps the only person in the club who’d prefer to climb up the Ryals rather than go down, the legacy of a speed wobble he once suffered on the descent. This mental aberration seems to still be living completely rent free in his head.

Alhambra was intrigued about how you would tackle such a fearsome descent if you were on a fixie, and whether you’d be best just lifting your feet clear of the pedals to freewheel. Crazy Legs pointed out the obvious flaw to this plan – if you couldn’t hold your legs up for the duration of the descent, the furiously rotating cranks would smash your ankles to flinders. So nobody’s going to be trying that anytime soon.

The pleasant weather had brought out a sizable contingent and we were 29 strong, sprawled across the pavement. Big numbers, but we still couldn’t scrape together a good half a dozen straight men and true for the first/faster group. With just 5 volunteers, I finally bit the bullet and sacrificed full-enjoyment for a little speed. Fully committed with no turning back, I immediately pushed out onto the front alongside Caracol, reasoning that I would do a good, long stint in the lead, get that responsibility out of the way and then just try to hang on for as long as I could.

Off we went. through Dinnington, up Berwick Hill and out to Kirkley, entertained by Caracol whose been watching I’m a Celebrity … just to see how much (richly deserved) humiliation is heaped upon the head of sackless, hapless and repugnant Hatt Mancock. On the road to Ogle we finally ceded the front and I put the second part of my plan into operation, just hanging on as best I could. Even that was going to be no easy task though, the pace rarely dropped below 30kph, and I picked up 9 new Strava PR’s in the next 10km stretch.

We hit some of the climby-grindy-hilly bits I recognised from our club time-trial course. This gave me nasty flashbacks which were only compounded when the Cow Ranger reminisced about previous versions of the event, when the circuit had to be completed twice over. Err … No thanks.

At bottom of the Quarry the Cow Ranger then left us to head for home, all part of his carefully formulated preparation for the 2022 World Triathlon Age-Group Championships in Abu Dhabi in just 2 weeks’ time.

Naturally, as soon as I heard where the championships were being held, I couldn’t rid myself of the childish thought that the people of Dubai don’t really like the Flintstones, but the people in Abu Dhabi do.

Dad humour. As awful as it is inescapable.

Heading towards the Ryals now, I was flagging and told Caracol I was going to drop off to cut up through Hallington rather than follow the planned long loop around the reservoir. Apart from quite liking this short-cut, despite its shockingly poor road surface, the detour would also shave a couple of miles off what was heading toward an uncharacteristically long winter ride, even for the uncharacteristically un-winter like conditions.

As I dropped off the front, I found Goose at the back wrestling with the near indestructible cellophane around his snack of choice, tearing at it furiously with his teeth to little effect as he drifted off the wheels.

“You picked a bad time for refueling,”

“I’m having trouble with me Garibaldi’s,” he complained plaintively.

“Ooph, I sympathised, “Nothing worse than trouble with your Garibaldi’s. You can probably get an ointment for it, though.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered anyone using Garibaldi’s for mid-ride refuelling. Perhaps the reason is Goose’s later observation that they’re really quite dry and he’d actually had to persuade the rest of the group to stop to give him a chance to wolf them down without choking.

Interestingly, I’m sure everyone knows the Garibaldi biscuit was named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, a leader in the struggle for Italian unification, but I wonder how many know he made a popular visit to South Shields in 1854. This I find even more random and remarkable than Muhammad Ali’s visit to that particular North East berg in 1977. I mean, WTF?

I let the others ride off and rolled down the Ryals at a relatively sedate pace, before taking the sharp right opposite the war memorial and starting to climb upwards. I was now travelling at a much more sustainable pace, idly wondering if the others would complete their loop and catch me before I made the cafe.

They didn’t, but they weren’t all that far behind and I’d only just sat down with cake and coffee when they bustled in after me. A discussion about how many hummingbirds it took to make hummingbird cake became a little surreal even by our standards, but luckily we were distracted when OGL appeared from the back room to tell us he was off as he had to get back early.

We waved him off and he almost reached the door, before shuffling back to remind us it was G-Dawg’s birthday today, before turning around . He actually had his hand on the door knob before he came back again, this time to tell us how many motorist’s he’s caught on camera making close passes and shopped to the local constabulary. He’s particularly proud of the fact that his latest capture was a Bentley driver. He then reminded us he had to be back early, before drifting away again.

I swear he had the door actually open this time, before he deliberatley closed it and turned back to tell us he’d found a lost, limited edition, Cartier watch in the gym and if no one claimed it in a few weeks it would be his, before telling us he had to be back early and wandering off, out the door and closing it firmly behind him.

I kept watch for a few seconds, expecting anther curtain call, but apparently we were done for the day.

“Bloody hell,” Caracol noted, “I feel like I’m caught in an episode of Columbo.”

The rest of our group arrived shortly afterwards, the much too large second group causing a degree of congestion as they crowded around the counter.

“This,” Goose remarked, “Is the benefit of riding in the front group.”

Well, yeah. If you’ve got the legs.

There was then only time for me to enquire about his brand new helmet and try to understand why, out of all the colours to choose from, he’d picked one that was a rather dull (IMHO) battleship grey. Apparently, he quite likes grey and anyway he was determined not to get another red helmet because he claimed it made him look like Super Mario – the Nintendo game character obviously and not a certain Italian wife-beating sprinter. Now that’s an image I may have some difficulty losing.

We left shortly afterwards for an uneventful run home. Luckily Super Mario was feeling super strong and I just hung off his back wheel as he pulled us all along until the point where I could slide off the front and strike out for home.

I’ve got a university open day next Saturday, but I’ll be back the following week for the last right in November. I wonder if we’ll still get away with the good bikes?


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 12th November 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 20 minutes
Riding Distance:118km/73 miles with 1,095m of climbing
Average Speed:22.0km/h
Group Size:29 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:11℃
Weather in a word or two:Unreasonably and unseasonably mild
Year to date:4,965km/3,085 miles with 54,821m of climbing

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Breakaways

Breakaways

This is becoming something of a theme, the weather on Saturday was warm (again), occasionally bright (again) and a bit blustery (again). We’re in danger of having remarkably consistent weather, week in and week out, which would obviously be a bit of a disaster as we’re British and would lose such a mainstay of our everyday conversations.

Still, it makes for pleasant riding conditions, so here we go again.

It was an uneventful run across to the meeting place where our club mingled with a few members of the JPF who , I must say, seem to be getting a bit tardy setting off these days. Crazy Legs wondered if we’d ever get a breakaway from a breakaway, which naturally led him to sing the song from the Breakaway biscuit advert … except … except he got it confused with the (frankly much catchier) theme song from the kid’s TV programme, Playaway – so instead of “Don’t take away my Breakaway” we got:

It really doesn’t matter if it’s raining or it’s fine
Just as long as you’ve got time
To B-R-E-A-K breakaway-break, breakaway,
Break-a-break, breakaway. Breakaway.

Well, It almost worked …

“Can you still get Breakaways?” he pondered.

I confirmed that I had been offered one while visiting elder relatives recently, while the Hammer surmised you could probably still buy them at Nisa (other typical corner shops are available), being sold individually in one of those wrappers that clearly states “Part of a multi-pack: Not to be sold individually.”

“What colour were the wrappers, anyway,” Crazy Legs continued.

“Orangey-yellow?” I suggested.

“Hmm, I was going to say yellowy-orange. This just confirms it, we’re polar opposites.” That’s some irrefutable logic and not worth arguing with.

We then tried to find a shade of yellowy-orange, or even orangey-yellow in the collected jerseys of the two cycling groups, but no one had quite nailed it. There’s entertainment in small things.

“What time is it?” Crazy Legs asked suddenly. Apparently, his new Fitbit has decided that if he’s fully engaged in any cycling activity, then he doesn’t need to know what time it is. He dropped down off the wall to consult Captain Black’s bike computer and find the answer to his question.

It was 9:14. He looked up, just as Carlton appeared, drawing a sharp intake of breath. Why was he so early? As Carlton rolled to a stop, Crazy Legs looked down again to verify the time and was just about to castigate Carlton for being premature when the display clicked over to 9:15.

Time we were away.

Den Haag had planned the route this week which included a rare (but not rare enough) pilgrimage up the Ryals. There were 24 of us, but we were back to struggling to get enough numbers in the first group, so I did that thing where you look to see if you’ll be the slowest rider and a drag on the rest. Being second worst is okay, but you definitely don’t want to be the worst. There wasn’t a whole lot in it, but I gambled that, all things being equal, I probably didn’t quite represent the nadir of the group assembling, so somewhat reluctantly joined them. A bit of cajoling and encouragement from G-Dawg and we made it up to 7, but that would have to do, so away we went.

We hit Ponteland and then turned almost due west through Dalton, Stamfordham, Fenwick, Matfen and Great Whittingdon, before turning north for Bingfield. Taco Cat expressed her trepidation that we were now approaching the Ryalls, although apparently she’s ridden them many times before, so it wasn’t fear of the unknown.

“That and the Quarry are the only climbs we have on the route though,” Den Haag assured her, just as we started the climb to Bingfield. Apparently this hadn’t registered as a climb to Den Haag, but my legs vociferously disagreed.

A quick descent and then we were on the horrible, draggy run up to the Ryalls, looming like a wall ahead of us. I dropped into the smallest gear, along with a pace I felt I could sustain. The front runners raced on ahead, so, as I crested the first of the climbs dual humps, they’d already pushed through the “easier” section and were halfway up the the final steep ramp.

Movement in the field to my right distracted me from the pain in my legs and I watched a dark brown shape cutting a V-shaped wake through the crops. It materialised into a sheep-sized, potentially roe(?) deer that hesitated for the briefest of moments, looking me directly in the eye, before realising I was moving much too slow to be any kind of threat. In an effortless, graceful bound it cleared the wall, dashed across my path, hooves skitterring on the road surface and leapt again. Traction on tarmac obviously wasn’t all that good for this take off and it audibly rattled the barbed wire strands across the top of the wall as it sailed over, disappearing as quickly as it appeared.

That, I decided, was obviously the Johnny Hoogerland of the Britsh deer community, capable of lacerating themselves on barbed wire and then shrugging it off and continuing on their way as if nothing had happened.

It was also the kind of chance encounter that almost made up for the stupid brutality of the Ryalls – a climb our group then decided should feature more regularly on club runs. What? No!

We regrouped once clear of the climb, quickly scaled the Quarry and then clambered our way up to Capheaton for well-earned coffee and cake.

There was some discussion about whether Capheaton was “the best cycling cafe.” Personally, now that we’ve broken the edict that we can only ever stop at Belsay, I like the choice and the route flexibility the various stops deliver and to be honest, each place has its merits and, shall we say, wrinkles.

Caracol was wrestling with his inner demons trying to decide whether he should be looking at a new bike or not. I thought this was a very unfair and unequal contest as he had no significant other to argue against and suggested he might like to borrow Mrs. Sur La Jante for this purpose.

Jimmy Mac insisted that Mrs. Mac was even more ideally suited for the role as she had experience and came pre-programmed with a whole host of stock responses and challenges, such as:

“This is a garage, not a bike showroom.”

“What do you need another bike for?”

“How many bikes can you actually ride at any given time?”

She had, he confessed, even sussed out the trick of him covertly buying all the individual components and assembling them into a new bike and was no longer buying the “it’s just an old frame I’ve had resprayed” gambit either.

For some reason, Caracol declined both our kind offers, suggesting he’d best just wrestle with his conscience alone, thank you very much. His loss, I’m sure …

We left the cafe with pretty much the same group and were soon chasing after Flat Eric, who apparently had an urgent need to get home early and was intent on ramping up the pace. I bailed at Kirkley, starting to feel sorry for my legs and enjoyed a more sedate pace as I picked my way home. Hopefully that’s the Ryalls done for another year.


Day & Date:Club run Saturday 28th May 2002
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Riding Distance:109km/68 miles with 1,077m of climbing
Average Speed:27.1km/h
Group Size:23 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature:9℃ – 14℃
Weather in a word or two:Err … lacking variety? (It’s not a complaint!)
Year to date:2,135km/1,327 miles with 22,868m of climbing

Photo by Nicky Pe on Pexels.com

Ice Capades and Afghan Whigs with David Attenbrrrr

I hadn’t even left the house first thing Saturday and our WhatsApp group was buzzing with people crying off as freezing fog was blanketing the North East and upping the potential for icy roads. Others decided to delay an hour or two before venturing out, hoping to see things improve.

Me? I was up. I was ready. I didn’t feel like waiting. I took a peek out and decided it just didn’t look that bad and decided to give it a go and see how far I got, reasoning I could always turn back for home again. Anyway, it was our Christmas jumper ride and others were now invested in my ride. Thing#2 had a hand designing my wardrobe. She’d first selected one of her navy sweatshirts with a natty(?) tartan collar and an ugly kitten escaping from a gift-wrapped, be-ribboned Christmas present on the front. Now don’t get me wrong, this was truly naff, but it was also a little too sober and understated.

So, she dug deep into the dark, dark recesses of her wardrobe and returned with a horror of a Christmas jumper (she assures me she likes it) which was suitably gaudy and the epitome of bad taste – a festive green with white reindeer and snowflakes, red poinsettia and a massive rendering of David Attenborough’s face emblazoned on the front (alongside a green(?) and red robin.)

Luckily it said ATTENBRRRR under this picture, otherwise, you would have absolutely no idea who the jumper was trying to depict. It reminded me of those epic-fail likeness’s too often seen tattooed across some poor blokes back, where an utterly talentless artist has taken a photograph of his beloved family members, sometimes wives, but most often young kids, and rendered them in tattoo form as some deformed and mutated alien monster from my darkest nightmares.

For her part, Thing#1 had bedecked my bike in twinkling, much too subtle fairy lights and wrapped the top tube and seattube in luxuriously thick golden tinsel.

Ok. Let’s give it a go.

My first impression, as I dropped down the hill, was that it was indeed bitterly cold and Christmas jumpers are not even remotely windproof and I stayed uncomfortably cold until I was made to climb out the other side of the valley.

Before that, I crossed a still, silent river unaware if any rowers had braved the freezing temperatures, as everything under the bridge was invisible and swathed under a thick blanket of fog. I couldn’t even tell how high, or low the water was.

I reached the other bank and turned east, passing a small knot of Muckle riders churning in the opposite direction, obviously intent on a serious ride with no indulging the frivolity and stupidity of any of that Christmas jumper nonsense. I can’t help thinking they’ve got the right idea.

By the time I made the meeting point, I could see a band of ice crystals had started to form around the cuffs of my jumper and the final downhill stretch had chilled me once again. It was cold. Not as cold however as the -6℃ that OGL claimed it to be when he drove to the meeting point just to warn us that it was cold. Unless of course, he’d just driven in from Outer Siberia rather than Outer Fenham.

Despite being out on four wheels instead of two, he was fully dressed in full cycling kit, en route to the café at Belsay where a gathering of veterans was meeting to celebrate the achievements of local racing legend Ray Wetherell. G-Dawg would be our lone envoy at the event and our route was largely determined to get him there in time for the presentation.

G-Dawg and Aether were already at the meeting point, the former clearly surprised that even two others had turned up as he was expecting to ride on his own. As it was, we were then joined by the Cow Ranger, Teri TK and a Tri-Guy I wasn’t at all familiar with – to form a handy sextet.

We’d all made at least a token effort on the Christmas jumper front and Aether had seemingly swathed every square centimeter of his bike frame in thick, long-stranded, golden tinsel, even down to the long rear mudguard.

“Well, if nothing else,” I told him, “At least you’ll be invisible to radar.”

In the absence of a Christmas Jumper, Teri TK had gone with a navy blue Hawaiin shirt emblazoned with bright red Santa’s, only G-Dawg thought it might have been a pyjama top and asked jealousy if he’d managed to perfect the art of rolling straight out of bed and onto his bike.

Crazy Legs wandered up in civvies with his dog in tow, or perhaps it was the other way round, as Crazy Legs had tried tip-toeing carefully across icy pavements, only to be hauled enthusiastically forward by fearless Reggie, on much surer, four-footed traction. Anyway, the pair had arrived safely to spread seasonal greetings and good cheer, as Crazy Legs was one of those who’d delayed their ride to see if conditions improved, so he wasn’t sure of seeing us out on the road.

We had a bit chuckle about some recent transactions on our WhatsApp group, where someone had sold an office chair within seconds of posting it up, while MiniMiss had offered up two free tickets to see Gary Barlow live at the Arena … and had no takers. After a couple of hours of complete radio silence on the tickets, I’d concluded that a second-hand office chair had more pulling power than a former member of Take That and sparked an inevitable pile-on. This not only provided great entertainment but had left the original poster and office chair somewhat bemused and bewildered by the sudden, unexpected popularity of his second-hand furniture.

As we chatted, whenever Crazy Legs hands got cold he would pick up poor Reggie and bury his frozen digits in the dog’s fur, to leech away some warmth. It really was that cold, too cold to hang around for long and as soon as the clock hit 9:15 we determined there were no more lunatics likely to join us and we had to move before we froze in place.

G-Dawg and Aether led us out and alongside Teri TK, I slotted in behind them. There was something surreal about my view of Aether’s tinsel-enveloped bike from the back – it looked like he was riding an Afghan hound, with the slight sway of the rear mudguard resembling a tail, swishing from side to side.

Despite the bitter cold, the roads appeared ice-free fog and once the fog burned off, it was a beautiful crystal clear day, although the silvery-bright sun held no warmth whatsoever. The hedgerows out in the countryside were all ice-shrouded, still, white and glistening. Although bitterly cold, Aether reported his Garmin was reading -2.4℃ at one point, it was an extremely pleasant and convivial ride.

Through Stamfordham and the Cow Ranger and Tri Guy took to the front and they led through to Matfen, where they kept going, but the remaining four of us decided to adopt a Flat White ride protocol and stop for coffee.

The Matfen café was very welcoming, the coffee was good and G-Dawg was indulged with an early Christmas treat, the largest slice of corned beef pie I’ve ever seen.

Strange connections led from queries about if Frankenstein’s monster ever had a name, to Harry Potter’s owl, to Aether’s fascinating revelation that Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr had invented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system for the Allies during the war.

We had a chat with a local on leaving the café, then we were underway again, deciding to risk the Quarry en route to Belsay. Climbing out of Matfen we rode through the slightly unsettling phenomena of the rime encrusted trees occasionally shedding a tinkling cascade of ice pellets in our path, presumably a sign that the temperature had ticked up a degree or so.

The Quarry was the highest point of our ride and the crystal clear, still air provided spectacular views down into the Tyne Valley, where a thick bank of white fog still clung to the river. Even with the additional elevation and exposure, the top of the Quarry was still ice-free and we were soon cresting the slope and dropping down toward Belsay. G-Dawg offered Aether the chance to win the café sprint again, but he declined, wanting to win by stealth and subtlety rather than default. We rolled through Belsay, G-Dawg peeled off for the café and the three of us remaining set course for Kirkley, with potential rendezvous with any of the later starters, or G-Dawg, depending on how long he spent at Belsay.

As we approached Ogle I was eyeing the road suspiciously, unable to tell if its evil gleam was just because it was wet and the sun was bouncing directly off it, or there was a layer of ice lurking for the unwary. I voiced my concerns, asking Aether if he thought it was icy. He wasn’t sure either, but we weren’t kept in suspense for long.

We pushed through the cluster of houses, swung right and had just started to scale the rise out of the hamlet, when my wheels slid away from under me and I came down with a clatter. Behind me, either finding his own patch of deadly black ice, or startled because of my sudden nose-dive, Terri TK suddenly banged down too. I lay there for a moment, unable to unclip as my leg was cramping up, then slowly disengaged and untangled myself from the bike.

The fall had tried to even out all sticky-out bits down my right-hand side, so the point of my shoulder, elbow, top of my thigh and knee had all been subjected to a little gentle grating across the road surface. My brake lever was similarly scratched up and there was a hole in my favourite bibtights, but luckily all the damage was superficial.

Terri TK too reported no major injury, so we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down then walked our way very gingerly to the top of the slope. Before remounting, Aether phoned G-Dawg to warn him to be careful on this stretch, while I posted a similar warning on our WhatsApp ride group.

We later learned that the Big Yin and the Cow Ranger had both come down in the same spot, but luckily they too experienced no major damage. The Cow Ranger also said that on leaving us he and Tri-Guy had been tempted to go down the Ryalls until they met a bloke pushing his bike back up after hitting ice on the descent and sliding 30 metres down on his arse.

At Kirkley, Terri TK pushed on for home, while Aether and I called into the café for one last cup of coffee for the road and one last cup of coffee before I’d go to the valley below… No one else had shown by the time we left and we split shortly after leaving, Aether to try the potentially problematic lane up to Berwick Hill, while I followed shorter, more certain roads home through Ponteland.

The river valley and most of the hills south of the river were still shrouded in freezing fog and I was a little concerned the Heinous Hill might be a bit slippery, especially as I would have to climb most of it out of the saddle. Luckily my fears were unfounded and I made it back without the indignity of falling over again.

After a couple of nights sticking to the sheets and only being able to lie on one side, I’m mostly recovered now and looking forward to our last club ride of the year, the Monday after Christmas Day, weather permitting.


Day & Date:Saturday 18th December 2021
Riding Time:96km/60 miles with 912m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 35 minutes
Average Speed:21.1km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:-2℃ to 3℃
Weather in a word or two:The brass monkeys sang soprano
Year to Date:4,813km/2,990 miles with 51,376m of climbing


Proxy Dick

Proxy Dick

The club run this week was planned by Richard of Flanders and included some serious hills. By the end I’d managed to clock up over 100 kilometres, with more than 1,200 metres of climbing thrown in for good measure – an acid test of just how suitable a single-speed bike is as the weapon of choice for an auld git on a club run.

The day was dismally overcast, grey and dark throughout, with strong enough gusts for the wind to be a noticeable impediment and a brief interlude of rain thrown in for good measure. This arrived an hour or two earlier than forecast, much to the disappointment of those who hoped they would be home and hosed beforehand. Personally, I was resigned to getting wet, sometime, somewhere out on the roads and was a bit more sanguine about accepting the inevitable.

At the meeting point, I found Crazy Legs extolling the virtues of BBC’s new Brian Cox series, ‘Forces of Nature.’ That’s Brian Edward Cox CBE, the astrophysicist and one-time keyboard player with D:Ream (or N:Ightmare as my mate always referred to them), not Brian Denis Cox CBE, the Scottish actor, best remembered (in my household anyway) for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecktor (sic) in the film Manhunter. Anyway, the series had left Crazy Legs feeling rather wistful and apparently he was not looking forward to the sun dying and the collapse of the universe in just a few trillion years time. Somewhat more bizarrely, someone suggested that Mr. Cox should probably have stuck to his burgeoning pop career. Astounded, I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both gave a synchronised shake of the head, before declaring, in flat unison, an emphatic and final, “Eh … no!”

This week, Brassneck and Captain Black were shorts wearers, but Alhambra had gone for full-length tights. We then had a long discussion about the difference in temperature between last week and this week (none) and why shorts were suitable then, but not now. Alhambra put up a sturdy defence of his choices before talk turned to the FNG and his unfortunate rendezvous with the ground.

“Was I out last week?” a bewildered Alhambra then enquired, despite having spent 5 minutes discussing his riding attire moments before.

“Bloody hell,” I complained, “It’s like talking to my mother.”

Jimmy Mac then received a round of applause from Crazy Legs for arriving astride a shiny purple-red Specialized Allez complete with carefully colour-coordinated gloves. This is his Ultegra-equipped winter bike, recently given a new, lustrous special, custom paint-job, which in itself he confessed had set him back a special, custom price of over £450. Looking this good obviously comes with a hefty price tag, in this instance the paint job alone cost more than twice as much as the value of my entire bike.

Speaking of which, you haven’t officially met, so let me introduce you to my single-speed Frankenbike, with its mismatched wheels, cranks, odd-combination of cassette conversion kit and rear derailleur as a chain tensioner and 34 x14 gearing (the Hill!) The is based around an old, aluminium Trek Alpha 100 series frame, secured off eBay in (maybe?) 2009-2010 for a princely sum of £30, which in today’s money is … well, about £30.

Originally liveried in white and blue colours, perhaps to suggest an association with the pro team of a certain Texan gentleman of rather stained reputation, I quite liked the look, but unfortunately, the paintwork was in poor condition and had somehow been completely scraped off one of the chainstays. The first task then was to strip the frame and have it bead-blasted and powder coated in an off-street, (very) industrial manufactory in the badlands out toward the coast. Given a panoply of colours to choose from, I decided on plain, bright white – shockingly inappropriate for a winter bike, but hey, foresight was never my strong point.

The frame was then transported to the venerable Toshi San who built it into a fully working velocipede, using a mix of the few original components that had survived, stock from his extensive stores of parts both old and new, and a few bits and bobs I had to buy in: wheels, STI levers and the like.

This was the bike that eased my transition from sofa-surfer back to road cyclist (via a brief flirtation with mountain-biking) and I completed my first Cyclone Challenge astride – a rather daunting 100km’s for a rather shockingly chubby-faced returnee to the sport.

When n+1 fever inevitably took hold and I bought a new Focus Cayo, the Trek was relegated to winter steed and then eventually usurped from this role with the arrival of the more sturdy Peugeot.

From there it sat and mouldered for a few years until the mountain bike I was using and abusing to commute on finally crapped out. Not wanting to spend good money on a mountain bike that gave me no great pleasure, I opted to have the Trek converted to a single-speed as a cheap commuter option, working on the assumption (correct until now – touchwood) that nobody in their right mind would be interested in stealing such a battered and fugly looking thing when it was chained up outside the office.

So the Trek went back to Toshi San for the refit and the ingenious repurposing of a rear derailleur as chain tensioner, after the more usual off-the-shelf kind proved too weedy to keep the chain on the sprocket. That was four or five years ago and I’ve been using it regularly ever since, although not until very recently on a club run.

Anyway, enough ancient history. We received news that Richard of Flanders was required at home to nurse a sick child, so Crazy Legs stepped up to the mark to brief in the route and act as substitute ride leader: “a proxy Richard,” as he declared, which sounds a bit like some kind of Shakespearean insult: “Though art nought but a throstle-minded proxy-richard!”

Crazy Legs managed to get a faster first group organised and led out by Caracol, but it was imbalanced, with only half a dozen or so riders. Brassneck claimed/feined a wounded knee, Goose had switched to his pig-iron touring-panzerkampfwagen, the Iron Horse for the winter and I wasn’t even remotely tempted to try keeping up on a single-speed. To cap it all, Captain Black had gone out with this group the week before and was still scarred and bitter from the experience, so he too gave it a hard pass.

That left about 20 of us to form 2 groups. Simple maths, you would have thought, but we can always find ways to make things more complex. A much too-large second group started to form with over a dozen riders. I was going to hang back with the third group to try and balance things out a little, but then Crazy Legs declared the inaugural Winter ’21 ride of The Most Fraternal Brotherhood of the Order of the Flat White Club (fraternitas plana album imbibit), with at least two stops planned to offer up libation to the immortal pantheon of the Caffea Rubiaceae. As an uncommitted, part-time-only believer, I was excommunicated forthwith and cast out into the second group. I joined the back of this slightly too-large 14-strong cadre and off we went.

We made it to Stamfordham, passing a lone-riding OGL along the way, toiling as he ploughed a lonely furrow, declaring club runs were now too fast and went much too far these days. (Personally, I’m not aware of any such changes – in 2015 I was regularly riding 110 to 120 kilometres each Saturday that’s what we did this week.)

At Stamfordham we stopped briefly and I noticed Zardoz was prominent in the group, having forgotten his helmet and supplemented his usual Augustus Windsock, walrus moustache with a full, fluffy white beard. He looked like our very own, lean and mean version of Santa Claus.

“Please, can I have an Action Man for Christmas?” I asked politely. Well, it was worth a try. I honestly didn’t realise that Santa knew how to swear quite so fluently.

I took to the front with Brassneck as we exited the village and we both reflected that our timing was especially poor today as we were still there, toiling into the wind on the upward grind all the way to the crest of the Ryals. It was a largely freewheeling descent for me, but I was still up toward the front as we approached the turn we’d take up to Hallington. This is the spot where we usually regroup before starting the climb, but with no gears to help, I wanted a clean run at the slopes, so I just kept going and left the others to catch up. We made it through to the other side and then took in the last bit of serious climbing, Strava’s aptly titled Humiliation Hill, before I finally felt we could afford to stop and reform.

Our run across the top of the fell to Capheaton was interrupted by the 4×4 (surprise!) of a hunt follower, stopped in the middle of the narrow lane (obviously) so they could idly chat with the other hunt followers who had parked a long line of similarly outsized vehicles along the verge. The driver didn’t in any way acknowledge our presence and made no attempt to move, so we were forced to slow, single out and thread ourselves carefully through the ridiculously narrow crevice between the cars. Perhaps if we’d managed to fall and scratch the paintwork of their beloved automobile during our passage we would have received something other than the look of icy disdain that greeted our approach. Maybe we should try that next time?

This obstacle safely negotiated, we were soon at the cafe at Capheaton, with its warm welcome, most splendid cakes and free refills! (Apparently, the utterly terrifying sight of G-Dawg’s ‘pet lip’ last week has forced the cafe at Belsay to reconsider and reinstate free coffee refills!) Good work that man, who’d have thought petulant pouting could be quite so effective.

The Capheaton cake selection was so good that Brassneck was tempted by a second slice to go with his refill and James III even offered to go halfsies with him, if he felt a full serving was too excessive. Somehow he managed to resist, even as I followed him to the counter chanting a “cake, cake, cake” mantra.

We caught up with the Prof in the cafe, discussing our ex-clubmate beZ’s run out with the Ribble Weldtite team during the Nationals. The Prof then started asking unanswerable questions about maximum watts and FTP’s and that was it for me. I’d no idea and no great desire to learn either.

Leaving the cafe, Brassneck umh-ed and aah-ed about putting his jacket on as the cloud lowered and hinted at the rain to come. He eventually decided not to bother, which was as big a mistake as his timing when we took us onto the front. Naturally, a few miles down the road we were all stopping to pull on rain jackets as the downpour arrived and everything became damp and squishy.

By the time I was off on my own, the rain had stopped and the sky had finally brightened a little, so the last part of the ride was moderately pleasant. Although the legs felt heavy as early as the drag up past Westerhop Golf Club, I had a decent enough run back and a passable clamber up the hill and home.


Day & Date:Saturday 6th November 2021
Riding Time:114km/71 miles with 1,257m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 43 minutes
Average Speed:24.1km/h
Group Size:24 riders
Temperature:12℃
Weather in a word or two:You know, it could have been a lot worse
Year to Date:4,276km/2,656 miles with 45,526m of climbing


Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#74 – Hokey Cokey

Plague Diaries Week#74 – Hokey Cokey

Another less than stellar summer day, but rain was only a possibility not an eventuality so it would more than do. The roads were quiet on my way across to the meeting point and the river was even quieter too – flat, grey and completely empty, both upstream and down. It looked like the rowers were having a day off or, more likely, were all away at a competition.

At the meeting point numbers slowly built until we were about 30 strong – probably the biggest turn out since all this pandemic malarkey started. It looks like it’s all drawing to a close now (touch wood) so it might even be time to ditch the Plague Diaries prefix?

Early questions were raised over whether we’d ever see our Ecuadorian FNG after a traumatic end to her ride last week. She’d apparently suffered an “irreparable puncture” on leaving the café, somehow managing to completely shred her tyre. G-Dawg and a few others had been on hand to assist and one guy was even carrying a spare tyre, but try as they might even the collected efforts of all those assembled couldn’t seat it on the rim, even after several attempts.

Someone else then provided a patch, which they’d finally fitted, changed the tube, inflated the tyre, reinstalled the wheel, packed up all their kit … then watched in dismay as with a defiant hiss the tyre slowly deflated again. The girl returned to the cafe to see if she could persuade anyone to pick her up, while TripleD-El headed for home to get her car in case no one else was able to help. Luckily rescue was arranged long before TripleD-El made it home. Quite surprisingly and despite these travails, our import all the way from the equator was back for more this week.

Brassneck declared how pleased he was at the return of his good wheelset. One of them had apparently failed him on a previous ride and had been returned to the manufacturer, Hunt Wheels who, from what I could gather had charged him several hundred pounds to have it fixed – or in other words about what I’d pay for a set of brand new wheels.

“So,” I suggested, “They only had to replace the hub, the bearings, the axle, the spokes and the rim then? I’m guessing the rim tape was salvageable.”

Ahlambra suggested the wheel was a bit like Trigger’s broom – famed for its longevity after surviving intact for 20 years during which time it only needed 17 new heads and 14 new handles.

G-Dawg briefed in the route for the day in the absence of the Hammer, who’d planned it out and was going to lead until he’d been “unexpectedly called away.” We were going to be heading mainly west and battering straight into quite a forceful headwind for a lot of the ride. This seemed to confirm an emerging theme. First Buster plans a ride that goes up the hated Ryals and then has to “self-isolate” due to COVID so he can’t accompany us, then Crazy Legs plans a longer than usual ride he suddenly can’t join because his pet pooch is poorly, then the Hammer plans a route directly into a headwind and suddenly he has business elsewhere? If we were a slightly more paranoid bunch we’d probably conclude that they just don’t like us.

We split into three rather unequal groups, but it would have to do. I joined the last group, the remnants of what was left. There were probably about 8 of us at the start, but OGL, the Cow Ranger and Carlton were all planning on splitting off sooner or later, so we’d probably be undermanned at the last.

I started out alongside Carlton and we took our turn on the front as we traced up through Darras Hall and out to Stamfordham, luckily turning away from a route that was being used for a long procession of pot-bellied bikers and their rumbling, grumbling, noise-polluting, filth-spewing “hogs”. From there we routed out to Matfen. After a slight bit of backtracking after missing the turn off for Great Whittington, we were soon turning north and heading toward the village of Ryal, but luckily avoiding its eponymously named climb.

“Where are we now?” our latest FNG wondered.

“Just approaching Ryal,” someone told him.

“Where?” he squeaked.

“Ryall.”

“Ah, ok. For a minute there I thought you’d said Carlisle!”

Truth be told we had been tracking west, but Carlisle was still a good 50 miles distant.

At around this point we passed our second group who called for a pee stop and I found myself on the very front as we swooped down and then clambered up to the village. At some point on the narrow lanes we found ourselves behind a man jogging while ostensibly supervising the two young kids on wobbly bikes and a hyperactive small dog that trailed him. I say wobbly bikes, but it was probably just the way they were being ridden that gave them the characteristics of a drunken sidewinder with motion sickness.

Every so often the jogger would look back to check on the road and his charges and seeing us approach he tried to corral the pinball-pooch and restrict the kids oscillations to just three-quarters of the width of the tarmac.

We singled out and swung as far to the right of the road as possible, easing our way past a potentially volatile set of obstacles. As we slipped past, the jogger glanced across.

“That,” I acknowledged, “Must be about as much fun as herding cats.”

He didn’t disagree.

I’m not sure he could.

At the top of the climb up to Ryal village I called a halt so we could all regroup and I let G-Dawg’s group take up the vanguard again, much to the dismay of TripleD-El who was concerned about being at the back of the queue when we made the café. This was concerning her so much that she argued for skipping the next bit of the route and heading directly to the café.

She stripped off her arm warmers either in disgust, or because things were warming up and got going again, following in the wake of G-Dawg’s group and still, despite her lobbying, following the proposed route.

From the Quarry it was more or less a standard run back, via Belsay and Ogle to the café at Kirkley, where I lost a fiercely contested café sprint to Not Anthony, but still managed to stow my bike quicker and nip into the queue ahead of him. These things matter.

Luckily fortified by (much deserved) cake and coffee I began fielding questions about new club kit and various demands for matching socks. This one’s a potential Pandora’s box I’m not keen on opening – as colour and design were always going to be contentious enough without introducing the issue of sock length into the equation.

Sock length in cycling is apparently such a complex, hotly contested and personal issue it’s almost up there with the Shimano vs. Campagnolo, disc or rim brake, black or tan tyre walls and which-end-of-the-egg-to-break debates that consume disproportionate amounts of attention. Entire pages of social media are devoted to treatises on “correct sock length” with the governing body, the UCI enforcing a Byzantine rule that “socks used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head” and employing entire legions of inspectors and arcane instruments to ensure compliance. These things matter too. Apparently.

It seems that, within our club anyway, one of the issues with sock length wasn’t performance related, but had to do with tan lines. Mini Miss is already convinced the aero sleeve of the new jersey’s are too long and complained that blending in fake tan to match natural colour was becoming increasingly arduous and time consuming. As an extreme solution she even pondered jerseys with sleeves you could zip off and she was a strong advocate for minimal sock lengths.

TripleD-El confirmed that TripleD-Be ensured his cycling shorts, socks and tops were all the exact same length as his civilian clothes to maintain razor-sharp tan-lines all year around. You have to admire such dedication.

TripleD-El had somehow secured a piece of cake the approximate size, shape and density of a house brick. I couldn’t believe she was going to ingest it all, but I should have known better. She was also trying to decide if she could complete the ride with arm warmers on or off, having changed her mind about them half a dozen or more times already.

I suggested she could compromise. “Maybe ride with your left arm in and your right arm out?” I told her.

“Nah, already tried that!”

Meanwhile, the Big Yin admitted to Zwift-doping by seriously underestimating his actual weight, but apparently it’s no big deal as “everyone does it.” (I’m just putting that out there for those fellow-Zwifters he regularly rides with.)

We returned home via Saltwick Hill, which I think might be ideally placed close to the cafe should you ever feel the need to be quickly reunited with any coffee you’ve recently imbibed.

That slight obstacle survived and crossed off, it was a straightforward run for home.

Next week sees us holding a memorial ride for our friend Benedict who sadly died on a club run last year. I’m not sure I’ll make it, but hope the weather is kind, there’s a good turnout and everyone manages to find some enjoyment from such a sombre anniversary.


Riding Distance:112km/70 miles with 1,024m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed:23.4km/h
Group Size:29, with 2 FNG’s
Temperature:20℃
Weather in a word or two:Good enough
Year to date:2,882km/1,791 miles with 29,832m of climbing
Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Plague Diaries Week#72 – Droond Rats

Plague Diaries Week#72 – Droond Rats

So, back from holiday, back to a Saturday club run and, yes, back to crap weather and unrelenting rain.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The forecast suggested light, intermittent showers and to be fair, it was fair, well at least to start with. This though lasted only as long as it took me to wrangle my way down into the valley, cross the river and climb up to the meeting point. There, as we sat shooting the breeze and waiting to coagulate into the slow moving clot, the cycling club thrombosis so beloved of motorists, the rain started in earnest and then it didn’t relent for more than a few minutes at a time until I was crossing back over the river and heading home 5 hours later.

While the forecasts got the persistence and volume of rain spectacularly wrong, they were at least right to suggest we were at the mercy of raw weather fronts bearing down on use from out of the Arctic circle and correctly predicted a corresponding drop in temperatures. As a consequence I’d risked going with a thicker, long-sleeved jersey, which I was having second-doubts about on my way over, but which proved a good choice once the chill rain set in and the temperature dipped toward single figures. Others didn’t prove quite so lucky with their clothing gambles.

At the meeting point I caught up with Kermit before he departed for Judean People’s Front Ride. He knew I’d been on holiday up the Northumbrian coast at Guyzance and took great delight in telling me I’d found a place so remarkably unnoteworthy that its only claim to fame was being close to where 10 soldiers drowned while taking part in a military exercise on the River Coquet in 1945. According to Wikipedia, the river was in full flood and their boat was swept over Smeaton’s weir, after which it capsized and the men had all been so weighed down by their gear, they couldn’t escape. An extreme example of poor gear choices leading to unfavourable outcomes?

G-Dawg briefed in the route which would include an ascent of the Ryals and a coffee stop at Capheaton. He then put out a polite appeal for volunteers to undertake the British Cycling accredited marshal scheme, quickly followed up by OGL inviting us all to partake in our very own existential crisis and contemplate how useless we are. This is all beacuse he’s desperately short of marshals and drivers for an event next week that the majority had no idea was actually taking place. We were then roundly berated for not having stepped forward to help as apparently ignorance is no excuse, even when the radio silence from the club hierarchy is deafening.

At some point, mid-diatribe, Richard of Flanders rolled up, saw what was happening, turned tail and furtively scuttled away. Who can blame him?

One last rant about the excessive length of Saturday rides (largely unchanged in my almost decade with the club) and then we were off. I pulled out a rain jacket, zipped it up and left the shelter of the car park to join battle with the elements.

I slotted in alongside Captain Black and we hadn’t gone more than half a mile when he started cursing his Castelli rain jacket, which he said was meant to be at least showerproof, but apparently had all the water repellency properties of kitchen roll, and not even the quilted posh stuff either.

At the first corner we created a squall of wet disk brakes and I warbled along with their discordant song. My own rim brakes were mercifully silent, but lacked the same stopping power.

“Did you see that report on the local news about the increase in trespassing on British Rail train tracks,” I asked Captain Black. He hadn’t. “One of the drivers of an InterCity 125 said that if he pulls the emergency brakes on at top speed, the train’ll come to a halt in about a mile. I think that about matches my stopping distance today.”

Captain Black asked about our holiday, which I told him had been good, despite running into Goose on a remote Northumbria beach. I also mentioned Thing#1 and Thing#2 had especially enjoyed swimming in the frigid North Sea as they’re too young to know any better.

He shuddered inwardly. “It’s not Nice,” he affirmed.

“No. It’s not even nice,” I agreed.

This ride was proving to be both not Nice and not nice as well, but on we pressed under unrelenting rain, until we hit Matfen, where the roads were eerily dry for the briefest of respites. Then, as soon as we left the protective bubble over the village, undoubtedly built by some rural super villain, we were back to our earlier drenching.

Climbing up through Great Whittington we were assailed by a small yapping dog that hovered annoyingly around Cowboys spinnning pedals. I checked, but the general consensus was it would be considered bad form to knowingly run the dog over. Maybe that was just as well because I didn’t notice its potential protector, a massive bull watching us warily from the field opposite. Then again, maybe the bull wasn’t its protector and it might have approved if I removed the yapping irritant from its life.

We soon reached a junction with the A68, or Dere Street as my Strava route map euphemistically names it, a horrid stretch of winding, undulating road with a bad reputation for speeding, inattentive motorists and multiple accidents.

We were only going to be traversing it for 500 metres or so, but were understandably a bit cautious, especially given the wet surface and low visibility conditions and the fact we’d be travelling some distance in the middle of the road in order to take a right-hand turn. We decided to drop down its steep slope in pairs, giving each other plenty of space, like fugitives in a prison break, except we were desperate to be visible, not remain hidden.

This obstacle was negotiated safely and we pressed on to the next one, the climb of the Ryals, always difficult, never remotely pleasant and I swear the surface is getting worse each passing month. It’s especially challenging when slick with rain and on the steeper lower slope my back wheel slipped horribly and I lurched forward rapping my thigh against the end of my handlebars hard enough to tear a hole through my best shorts and leave me with an almost perfectly round bruise. I wobbled, but luckily remained upright and managed to drag my way to the top spinning the lowest gear I could find.

From there we negotiated a route around a rather sodden, but cheerful bunch from the Tyneside Vagabonds, turned up to the Quarry climb, were passed in turn by the Vags, then had to pick our way around them again as they pulled up when one of their number punctured.

The steep bit of the Quarry proved no challenge at all after the warm-up of the Ryals and then, a few more miles and a few more hills later, we found the welcome refuge of the Capheaton café and hustled inside to enjoy temporary sanctuary from the rain and some well earned coffee and cake.

We looked like a sorry bunch of drowned rats, trailing puddles of water behind us. I peeled off my Agu rain jacket, after a couple of hours I’d felt the water start to seep through a little on the sleeves, but I was damp rather than wet. No such luck for Captain Black who determined his Castelli rain jacket had failed so badly it would henceforth be know simply as his Castelli jacket.

Brassneck suggested his jacket had been impermeable to the rain, but he was still uncomfortably moist as the water seemed to have travelled up from his shorts by osmosis. I wondered if the purpose of pads in cycling shorts was just to act like a big sponge and soak up water.

“But at least no one was foaming at the arse this week,” Brassneck concluded.

Perhaps worst affected of all of us was G-Dawg, who’d ventured out clad only in shorts and a short sleeved jersey and felt the chill as soon as we’d stopped riding. He now found the radiators in the hall were on and glued himself to one of them, while TripleD-El commandeered the other one in a futile attempt to dry out some of her gear.

“It’s like a Belgian Spring Classic, but in August.” he noted dryly. (Or, perhaps wetly, depending on your point of view.)

He then declared it would be one of the rides when you step off the bike and straight into the shower.

“Or, just ride straight into the shower,” someone suggested.

“I only ever did that once!” G-Dawg protested, “Eeeh lad, it’s funny how that kind of reputation will stick to you!”

Meanwhile, TripleD-El found a current satellite image of the weather that seemed to show thin ribbons of rain running almost exactly along our route, the implication being that 50 metres either side and we might find dry weather.

We finally manage to peel G-Dawg off the radiator and reluctantly saddled up. Perhaps not surprisingly no one was interested in the slightly longer return home originally planned into the route. Still, things almost bearable once we got going and managed to warm up again and by the time we hit Kirkley the rain had all but passed.

I left the group and struck out on my own toward Ponteland, thinking I’d at least dry out around the edges before I got home, but dreading the state of the bike and the major clean-up job I had ahead of me.


Riding Distance:115km/71 miles with 1,013m of climbing
Riding Time:5 hours
Average Speed:23.0km/h
Group Size:12
Temperature:14℃
Weather in a word or two:Appalling
Year to date:2,647km/1,645 miles with 27,789m of climbing
Image by Konevi from Pixabay

Plague Diaries Week#59 – Bumping Uglies

Plague Diaries Week#59 – Bumping Uglies

Saturday found me up and out early for, barring catastrophic bike failure, an early rendezvous with Crazy Legs to hand over his new long-sleeved jersey. This item was rolled into a tight cylinder and stuck into a jersey pocket, taking up so much room that I couldn’t fit a light rain jacket in there too, so decided just to wear it for the ride across to the meeting point. As soon as started to pick up momentum, running down the Heinous Hill, I was glad I had the jacket on, it was much, much colder than it had first appeared and I shivered my way to the bottom.

I made it to the rendezvous with time to spare and perched my backside on the wall, soaking in some early morning sun that, in the microclimate of the Regent Centre Bus Station (sorry) Transport Interchange, at least managed to take the edge off the chill.

Being there early for ulterior motives, both Crazy Legs and I had the pleasure of once again meeting up with our lost brethren of the new splinter cell, the Judean People’s Front, as I think they want to be known. Only half a dozen strong this week and conspicuously sans the Prof.

Crazy Legs referenced a previous splinter cell, the Early Morning Crew, or Ee-Em-Cee and suggested the new rebels could do a lot worse than calling themselves EMC2. I laughed, but they weren’t buying. Oh well, at least it gave me an agreeable Big Audio Dynamite earworm for the rest of the ride.

We then had a bit of an issue explaining to an old new guy, or maybe he was a new old guy? Perhaps a bit of both, exactly what was going on. He apparently used to ride with the club many, many years ago, but had since moved to Scotland. Now back to visit relatives, he’d thought to once again share our ride for old times sake. I’m sure none of these shenanigans came as a particular surprise to him as I’m pretty certain our club politics haven’t evolved at all in the years he’s been absent.

It wasn’t long before we had a group of 20 plus stacked up, including Szell, uncharacteristically breaking his winter hibernation and no doubt supremely disappointed to learn that his his bête noire, Middleton Bank, wasn’t on our route as we’d ridden it last week.

With bikes and bodies stacking up, Crazy Legs chivvied together the semblance of a medium-paced group and we got out of Dodge while the gotting was good.

I joined Crazy Legs, along with Aether, persistent new guy, James III, Taffy Steve, the old new guy and another new guy. There were 7 of us, but who’s counting. A bit further along and while paused at traffic lights, yet another rider tagged onto our group and rounded our number up to eight. Well, if we were going to break the rule of six, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

The interloper would prove good company and we spent a while talking about and admiring his smart, steel-framed (and eye-wateringly expensive) Jaegher Interceptor, apparently Tom Boonen’s bike of choice these days.

Things were going smoothly until one of either Aether or Crazy Legs had a brain fart. One of them went right at a roundabout, the other ploughed straight on and they came together like the bouncing balls of a Newton’s Cradle, or Clackers, if you can remember that far back, bumping together and rebounding violently away again. Luckily both managed to remained upright until they regained control and we pressed on somewhat chastened.

Slight amendments to the route due to road works had us travelling through Ponteland and then up Limestone Lane. Another of our groups caught and passed us just before the junction, where they swung right, while we kept to the planned route and turned left.

We passed them again, just past Stamfordham, heading in completely the wrong direction, and then once again travelling back from the Ryals as we followed the correct route toward them.

“Are they lost, do you think?” Crazy Legs pondered.

“Probably looking at the route map upside down,” Aether chuckled.

We zipped down the Ryals then clambered back through Hallington, where the wet roads suggested we missed a heavy rain shower and provided all the vindication Crazy Legs needed to affirm his decision not to ride the much cossetted Ribble was justified.

We then took the run along the fell side toward Capheaton, with one last, sharp climb to set us us up for the long, fast and slightly downhill run to the café at Belsay. As we swung onto this road we passed Homeboy, out for a ride with a colleague and briefly paused at the side of the road. Crazy Legs directed what was intended as a comradely pat on the back toward Homeboy, but increasing momentum and inaccuracy turned it into a full force rabbit punch to the kidney’s. Ouch, that had to smart.

Rattling along beside Crazy Legs in Taffy Steve’s wake, with the speed slowly building, he nodded his head forward at the muscular exertions going on in front of him.

“He’s going to go for it,” he predicted.

“Definitely,” I agreed, “Now all the pesky hills are out of the way.”

Sure enough it wasn’t long before Taffy Steve jumped away, Crazy Legs responding immediately, the pair quickly opening up a sizable gap.

I tried towing the rest across, but it was hard going and into a headwind and momentum died before the catch was made. Luckily the Interloper swished past, I dropped onto his wheel and we finally bridged over. Past the West Belsay junction and Taffy Steve jumped again, I hauled myself around Crazy Legs and jumped out of the saddle, slowly winding him in, until he faded and I scooted past, only for the old new guy sprang out from where he’d been sheltering on my wheel and nab the glory.

Queuing in a socially distanced sort of way outside the café, we got talking to the 4-Mile FNG and learned he was a both a Texan and in the UK teaching psychology (not that the two are in anyway mutually exclusive.)

Taffy Steve recalled having an office next to the Psychology department on one university campus and how this was when he realised Estate Manager’s could have a sense of humour, when they stuck a big sign up saying, “This Building is Alarmed.”

We talked race positioning and saving energy when the FNG returned, citing Zardoz for our master-class group, Zardoz, while the 4-Mile FNG lauded various Dutch women for perfect positioning in sprint finishes. He didn’t know there names but he was sure there were several van-something-or-other’s in their number.

“Of course,” OGL interjected, “the best sprinters of all time were Dutch…” Barely pausing before adding, “Hertz van Rental and Avis van Hire.”

Badum tish!

Once again G-Dawg had pressed Mrs. G-Dawg into providing taxi service to the café so he didn’t feel too left out of proceedings. He reported that he has new wheels, but I don’t think his NHS cast iron wheelchair is quite up for a club run. Nevertheless, it has allowed him some opportunity to take his two Labradors for their required walks. I had visions of them pulling him along at speed, like Ben Hur in his chariot, but he said the reality was that if he wanted to head north, then one would always run off due east, while the other headed directly west. Sounds like they’re as difficult to control as a bunch of cyclists.

It was cold in the café garden and even colder back out on the road again and halfway to Ogle we were caught in a sudden, sharp shower, just prolonged enough to soak everything and leave us even more chilled. With Crazy Legs complaining about his frozen face, we moved onto the the front on the climb of Berwick Hill and pushed the pace to try and warm up.

We were still there and it was almost working by the time we’d clawed our way past the airport and had thankfully stopped raining by the time I’d pushed on through the Mad Mile and gone solo.

Conditions improved and it was a relatively pleasant ride back, climbing up the Heinous Hill with just a little more energy than usual and finding I’d clocked up over 110km.

While emptying out my pockets I noticed I had a missed call from Patrick at Brassworks Bicycle Co. They’d managed to extricate enough of the carbon fibre seatpost on the Holdsworth to get a new one safely installed and now just needed a saddle so they could check and cut the replacement seatpost to size. Bugger. Oh well, no time like the present, so I grabbed the saddle, stuffed it in my back pocket and headed out again. I remounted the bike and dropped back down the Heinous Hill to the workshop at Pedalling Squares, not really looking forward to the prospect of climbing it twice in one day.

By pure chance, the replacement seatpost proved to be exactly the right height, so no cutting was needed and so I now have two serviceable good weather bikes and a shed that is getting uncomfortably crowded. Something will have to go.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com


Ride Distance:116km/72 miles with 1,231m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 44 minutes
Average Speed:24.5km/h
Group Size:7
Temperature:10℃
Weather in a word or two:Frigid
Year to date:1,295km/805 miles with 13,738m of climbing

Plague Diaries – Week#29

Plague Diaries – Week#29

Among My Swan – still continuing an extremely tenuous avian theme.

When even the so-called “world’s most powerful man” (not for much longer if we’re lucky) isn’t safe from the Covid-19 pandemic, then who is?

Then again, most of us have changed our behaviour to try and mitigate the risk, both to ourselves, but even more importantly, to those we may come into contact with who are potentially more vulnerable. I would never rush to wish ill-health on anyone, but there’s a certain Karmic retribution at play whenever a Covid-denier and especially the world’s most powerful Covid-enabler, the Obfuscator-in-General himself, gets hoist by their own petard.

I have to admit, it also provided a few moments of real levity. Trump’s tweet about testing positive was met with an immediate response that this was probably the only positive thing he’d ever tweeted (twet? twatted?) – while it was noted that his test was probably the only one where he hadn’t felt compelled to cheat.

Someone else revealed they’d tested positively as wholly unsympathetic, while another reminded us an underlying symptom of Covid-19 was a complete lack of taste … and wondered what excuse Trump had for all the other blighted lifestyle choices he’d made before falling ill.

Anyway, back to more important stuff. Saturday, 3rd October, summer is officially over and the day is a complete washout.

It started raining late Friday night and hadn’t stopped and didn’t look like stopping anytime on Saturday. If there been a club run I would have been out sharing the misery, but there wasn’t. So I didn’t.

Sunday then, and there may have been water, water everywhere (nor any drop to drink) but there were patches of blue in the sky and a much better day beckoned for a little bikling.

Heading out for a jaunt up the Tyne Valley, I dropped toward Wylam to cross the river. It might have been a Sunday, not a Saturday, and I might have been arriving at an unusual time, but my timing was still impeccable synchronised to coincide with a long freight train of gravel-filled hopper cars, that trundled slowly by while I was caught at the level-crossing.

I crossed the river, high, roiling brown with soil and debris and buckled into angry white-capped waves, pressing on on out of the village, only to have to turn back as the road along the river to Ovingham was completely closed for repair.

Ooph. Plans already scuppered, I climbed out of Wylam up the same hill we usually come screaming down and ended up on the Military Road, heading for Whittledene Reservoir for the third week in a row. I’m getting predictable.

The reservoir looked high and bloated with rainfall, which seemed to have attracted a ballet, a bevy, a drift, a herd, a regatta, or a whiteness of swans, depending on your collective noun preference. Well, possibly not a whiteness, as a couple of these were youngsters and still a soft, fuzzy brown rather than pristine white.

From the reservoir, I took my usual route toward Stagshaw and through to Matfen. Climbing out the village and looking to change things up a little, I then took the first turn I came to and ended up on the Reivers Cycleway for a spell. This dropped me off at Ryal village and it seemed churlish at that point not to take advantage and drop down the Ryals.

Whoosh …

Fun over, I turned to climb up through Hallington.

Just past the village the road was flooded and I picked my way carefully through, knowing just how rutted this road was and fearing submerged potholes or worse.

I then took the road toward Capheaton and eenie-meenie-miney-mo’d whether to call in to the café there, or press on to Kirkley. Kirkley won (just) and I routed through Belsay and straight down the main road until I’d by-passed Ogle, before turning onto quieter lanes.

I found our Dutch tag-team, TripleD-El and TripleD-Be, comfortably ensconced in the café, having smartly eschewed riding yesterday in the deluge.

Shortly after they left I was joined by Ahlambra and, in wide ranging and hugely entertaining discussion covering Covid-19, local lockdowns, the CIA, light-bulb inventors, US Presidents, the Clinton Foundation, false flag operations, Benghazi and a race of intergalactic, shape-shifting, immortal reptilian overlords (ok, I may have made that last one up) I realised I was in the presence of the clubs premier conspiracy theorist – and not everything is as it seems.

Sadly though, even hardened conspiracy theorists aren’t immune to the cold and while Ahlambra was warming to his topic, he was also beginning to feel the chill. Enough was enough, so we packed up and went our different ways – mine leading to a comfy seat in front of a double screened computer to simultaneously watch Stage 2 of the Giro and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Not a bad day at all.

The Plague Diaries – Week#15

The Plague Diaries – Week#15

On Me Tod

So, more relaxation of the lockdown rules and, according to the Daily Heil Mail at least, it’s all going swimmingly. Well, as long as you don’t mention Liverpool football fans, Bournemouth beach-goers and an army of illegal ravers, or dozens of other totally alarming issues.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the utter stupidity of people by now, but they do keep finding ways to exceed my already dismally low expectations. Let’s just see where we are in a week or two, when the consequences of these types of events have had a chance to play out. And hope.

Right now though, I’ll go along with journalist John Crace, who suggested that with Boris at least as keen to open up the economy as he is to save lives, we shouldn’t rush to change arrangements. He concludes that if there hasn’t been a second spike in infections after a month, maybe he’ll feel safe to come out and finishes, “but I’m not holding my breath. Or rather, I am.”

So, for the time being at least, I’ll stick to riding on my own, even though I know we have small groups organised to head out from the usual place, at the usual time and they’re probably fine.

Just to illustrate the nonsensical, arbitrariness and inconsistencies of Government thinking though, somewhat bizarrely, cricket, you know the sport where 13 players and two officials socially isolate on at least 8,000 square metres of field, is not one of the sports given permission to restart.

Football however, 22 players and three officials running, jostling, shouting, swearing, sweating, tackling, spitting and colliding around a field of 7,140 square metres. Well, that’s OK. Why? Because our Prime Minister deems that a cricket ball, not a football, nor an open pub, not a beach, or restaurant, nor a 1 metre space between people, but a cricket ball, is “a natural vector for disease.”

Anyway, back to a sport I actually care about, a flash sale this week saw me acquire a new pair of bibshorts from a company I’ve previously had little experience of, Blueball Sports. Apparently Blueball are based somewhere in the Basque country, which, I guess gives them a degree of credibility, it’s an area frequently referred to as a hot bed of cycling and their fans are seen as passionate, knowledgeable and politeley restrained.

I know the shorts are Blueball’s, because they’re cleverly branded with … err … a big, white circle on the front of one leg? Because they’re Basque we can, I think, forgive them a little for not quite considering the association of their brand name with the medical condition epididymal hypertension, let alone its less savoury use as a euphemism for intense testicular discomfort.

What I’m less forgiving of is the amount of spurious garbage written across the seat pad, all of which seems rather overdone and totally superfluous.

“High protection?” Fair enough. “Impact Zone” and “Anti-Shock Gel” and “3D”? Hmm, all right. But, “Air Cool?” Really? I don’t think so. And then, what am I to make of “Moisture Evacuation” and perhaps most perplexing of all, the simple injunction, “be present.”

I’m bemused.

Still, back to matters in hand, the hot flush of high temperatures was already starting to fade by the weekend, even before it was rudely hustled out the door by a series of crashing thunderstorms as the weather turned decidedly unsettled. The forecast for Saturday was for cool temperatures with a high chance of heavy, intermittent showers and occasional but brief sunny spells.

Mrs. SLJ was at pains to tell me where the sunscreen was as I made to depart on Saturday morning. I managed not to laugh at her, but really wasn’t convinced I’d be needing it and, just for once, I was right. (I have to celebrate these small victories – they’re very few and far between.)

The club had made plans to meet up again at the cafe at Kirkley, but the timing was vague and I decided the weather wasn’t really good enough to encourage sitting around outside talking constant blather. (To clarify, I mean the sitting around outside bit, we never need any encouragement to blather.)

I decided then to give that particular cyclist cafe a miss, but the Rainman had promised that the one at Capheaton was open, so I had this as a possible destination in the back of my mind.

To start I decided on a bit of route reversal, so instead of riding along the Tyne Valley and then hopping across to the Derwent Valley, I did it the other way round, heading south, south-west initially towards Burnopfeld, before dropping down to Hamsterly and through to Ebchester, then climbing the Dere Road up to Whittonstall.

It had the potential to be a pleasant route, but as soon as I crested the first climb past Whickham Golf Club the rain started lashing down. I stopped to pull on a light rain jacket but it was totally inadequate for the job in hand and was quickly soaked through as the heavy rain battered it effortlessly aside.

The drop down toward Hamsterly was taken at a cautious pace, partly because the road was awash with run-off and partly to try and lessen the amount of cold, dirty spray being kicked up by my wheels.

Nevertheless, my shoes quickly became water-logged and my socks an unappealing shade of grey. There’d be no tan-lines today, but some impressive grime-lines instead. Deciding the jacket wasn’t really doing much for me, I bundled it into a tight ball and stuffed it into a jersey pocket, where it would weep cold, miserable tears for a while, lamenting its cavalier abandonment.

The climb up from Ebchester to Whitton Stall was a new one to me, relatively straight and regular, my only complaint was it seemed to have an infinite horizon, you always sensed you were nearing a crest, then it would leap on ahead another couple of hundred metres infront of you

I was pleased the traffic was relatively quiet so I could ride straight up the centre line of the road, avoiding the small stream had formed at the verge to make its way downhill and the middle of the lane that was rutted and uneven.

The rain eased as I dropped down the fast descent from Whitton Stall, involuntarily tailgating a car as my speed crept past 40 mph. I then made my way through the pretty village of Hindley, only marred by a shockingly bad patch of road right in the centre, before dropping down to Stocksfield and crossing the Tyne.

This week’s entry into my Amateur Floral Almanac belongs to the many wild hawthorn blossoms threaded through the hedges, a delicate white with a barely discernible pink blush.

I cambered up to the A69 and crossed to take in the climb up to Newton, then through the Plantations and onto the Matfen Road. From Matfen, I took a dip down the Ryals and it was here, at the bottom of the climb and after 26.5 miles covered, that I encountered my first fellow cyclist of the day.

From the Ryals I scribed a wide circle around Hallington Reservoir, then made my way through Little Bavington and out to Capheaton.

Somewhere along this road the fields had been shaved back to a bright ochre stubble that was swarmong with the black specks of dozens of opportunistic crows. I turned back to grab a picture, but naturally only managed to startle most of them into flight.

Rainman had promised the cafe at Capheaton was open and so it proved. The coffee was good, the carrot cake even better, but here too it was quiet, my short break only disturbed by just a cycling couple, who arrived as I gathered my stuff up to leave.

I took the road down toward West Belsay junction. As anticipated it has acquired a new surface, but as I discovered last week, it’s rough, open-textured, gravelly and crumbling, slow and heavy and only a slight improvement on the rutted and fissured original. I shudder to think the damage you could do coming down on this at speed, it would be like sliding the wrong way down a cheese grater.

From Belsay, a bit more reverse engineering of a typical club ride took me out through Whalton to the Gubeon, before heading toward Kirkley and home. Along this road I passed Sneaky Pete, getting in a few sneaky training miles. He was past me almost before I recognised him.

Crossing back over the river at Newburn, I picked up a fellow cyclist and we both moaned as the traffic built up and slowed our progress coming into Blaydon.

“McDonalds is busy again, I see,” he noted, correctly identifying the cause of the queuing traffic. No surprise I guess, if people are odd enough to queue for hours to get into a Primark, or Ikea, hell, why not half an hour to get a McDonalds too?

“Are you tempted?”

“Nope” he snorted.

Me neither. It probably couldn’t offer anything half as good as the carrot cake at Capheaton.

My temporary companion took the first part of the Heinous Hill ahead of me before swinging away to the left, leaving me to crawl the rest of the way up on my own, even as the clouds opened and the rain came lashing down again.

Soaked at the start and drenched at the end is not ideal, but at least the middle bit of my ride was good.

Plague Diaries – Week#10

Plague Diaries – Week#10

The Tranquillity of Solitude

*** NOTE: OFFICIALLY, THIS NEVER HAPPENED ***

Ok, now I know that last weeks stiff breeze was just a prelude, a dress rehearsal and a precursor for the main event, today’s sustained high winds. Apparently, according to the Met Office, 50 or 60 mph gusts are “very unusual” for this time of year. That’s good to know. Doesn’t make riding in it any easier though.

I could see the results of two days of tree-shaking blasts as soon as I stepped onto the pavement outside the house. It had given the neighbourhood trees a good thrashing and ripped off leaves to form a tattered, green confetti that had then been driven to shoal against the kerb at the side of the road.

The wind was unrelenting still and as I placed the bike on the road and swung a leg over the frame, I was being peppered with assorted debris, stripped from the trees and hurled down at me. This was going to be a little wild.

I decided I would set out and ride as much as possible into the wind to start with, try and get the worst bits over with and hopefully have a tailwind for the way back. It seemed like a decent plan, I’m just not sure I executed it all that successfully.

I picked my way carefully down the hill, the front wheel twitching a little nervously whenever the buildings and hedges opened up to let the wind scour through. Taking the turn ridiculously wide at the bottom, I turned upriver and into constant driving gusts. This’ll be a nice work out, then.

Crossing the river at Newburn, I started to climb up toward Throckley, stopping briefly to watch the bunting left over from the VE Day celebrations audibly snapping and cracking in the wind.

Past Albermarle Barracks and into the wide open expanse approaching Harlow Hill, I was getting the full force of the wind head-on, my pace slowed to a crawl and it was a real grind

Every hedgerow offer a little sanctuary, but every gap where a gate cut through was a potential trap, funnelling the wind through to unexpectedly snatch at your wheels and send you careering across the road. Even the cows seemed to have had enough and they were all huddled miserably in the corners of the fields, like boats driven from their moorings and piled against the shore.

The Military Road was much busier than the last time I’d travelled it and, struggling to maintain a straight line and facing increased speeding traffic, I bailed at Whittle Dene, taking to quieter and less exposed country lanes.

The wind didn’t seem to deter the anglers here, the lane was lined with cars and the lakeside with their owners, all hunkered down against the chill blasts and to all intents and purposes (but, who knows?) enjoying themselves.

From the reservoir I picked up a typical club run route, up to Mowden and Wall Houses and then through to Matfen.

It seemed like the wind had scoured all other cyclists from the roads, even on these well-travelled and popular routes. Where was everyone? I only saw two or three solo riders out and about – there was definitely no flouting of social-distancing guidelines today.

Just through Matfen and as the road passed through a small copse of trees I would say (without even needing to invoke my provisional poetic licence) that I could actually hear the wind roaring as it shook the branches overhead.

Pushing past the turn for the Quarry, I had a vague notion of dropping down the Ryals and looping through Colwell and around Hallington Reservoir, before heading home. It wasn’t the best thought-out plan, something I realised the moment I started the long, slow grind toward the village of Ryal. The wind, now full-bore and head-on, was driving a sputtering, stinging rain straight into my face as well as applying maximum drag. Hmm, this was unpleasant.

After what seemed a ridiculously long and hard slog, I finally crested the hill and started the long drop down the other side, relived just to be able to freewheel a little bit – I had no intention of pushing hard, that seemed suicidal.

As it was, I can honestly say I’ve never had a less enjoyable traversal of the Ryals, even when travelling the other way, up its damned slopes!

The wind was an immense, bellowing, battering force, blasting cold rain straight at me, while intermittently trying to wrench the front wheel sideways. I fought the bike all the way down until the hedgerows closed in on either side of the road and offered some relative calm and still air. If I’d thought about it, perhaps this was the day I should have been riding up the Ryals and aiming for a wind-assisted PR.

I re-assessed things at the bottom of the climb, noting the weather had turned ominously grey and suspecting it was closing in, I changed plans, cut my intended route short and started to climb out through Hallington.

I then picked up the road through Little Bavington, followed by a fast run down the side of the Blyth valley toward Capheaton. I stopped here to munch a cereal bar and worry some sheep, before pressing on and running down toward the Snake Bends and Belsay, right down the white line in the middle of the road as the surface is so crappy to either side.

Then again, I did spot 3 or 4 huge mounds of stone chippings piled up at the junction with the road from Wallridge. Does this mean they’re going to resurface this stretch? That would be nice, it would also make the run-in to one of our regular cafe sprints much less of a tooth-jangling, jolting, jarring horror show. We live in hope.

I swept through Belsay, noticing the cafe was now open, for takeaway’s at least, then it was Ogle, Ponteland and home.

Back in the shelter of the house, my day ended on a low note when I dropped my Garmin directly into a fresh mug of tea, where it did a passable imitation of a mini depth-charge. I know they’re supposed to be water-resistant, but this was a real test of concept.

Rescued and exiled to a bag of rice to dry out for a couple of hours, I turned it on with some trepidation. All seems to be working fine, but my ride file had somehow been corrupted, or in Strava terminology, “malformed”.

Which obviously means …

Luckily for me I’m still using the Road ID app so the family can track and trace me when I’m out on my lonesome, enjoying the tranquillity of solitude.

So, while officially this ride didn’t ever happen and will never pad out my Strava statistics, at least I know where I’ve been.

BTW – the Road ID app is totally free, and is an invaluable safety net for lone cyclists – and I don’t just mean when Strava fails them. I even seem to recall reviewing it 5 years ago! https://surlajante.com/2015/10/14/the-road-id-app-review/

Ooph! that makes me feel old …