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 …

Plague Diaries – Week#6

Plague Diaries – Week#6

The loneliness of the long distance cyclist

Into week#6 of the lockdown (but who’s counting) and G-Dawg took to social media to celebrate 30 days of quarantine with a link to the Chuck Berry’s classic, “30 Days.”

I immediately added this to my Coronavirus Top 10 playlist, which is coming along quite nicely now:

  1. My Sharona Corona – by The Knack. Crazy Legs’ original, all conquering ear-worm.
  2. Don’t Stand So Close To Me – by The Police, a plaintive paean to maintaining social-distancing.
  3. Isolation – by Joy Division, a breezy little ditty, recorded during one of their more sunny and carefree periods.
  4. Train in Vain – by The Clash, in celebration of all the exercise I’m doing, with no way to show off any (no doubt marginal) gains. I could as easily have picked Clampdown, or Armagideon Time, from the same peerless album/period.
  5. Smells Like Teen Spirit – by Nirvana, for prophetically appropriate lyrics, “I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.” (See also: Thea Gilmore singing on Mainstream about “another kind of war that is raging in our bloodstream.”
  6. Are Friends Electric? – by Tubeway Army, for all the Zwifters amongst us. (I could, of course, have chosen any Taylor Zwift song … (well, if I actually knew any).
  7. You’re A Germ – by Wolf Alice, perhaps a more contemporary song than my original choice, Germ Free Adolescent, by X-Ray Spex.
  8. World Shut Your Mouth – by Julian Cope masterful advice from a former member of the self-proclaimed, Crucial Three. His contemporaries might have contributed “The Disease” – Echo and the Bunnymen, or “Seven Minutes to Midnight” – Wah! Heat (although to be fair, these days it’s probably a lot closer than 7 minutes on the old Doomsday Clock).
  9. Spread The Virus – by Cabaret Voltaire – perhaps what Covid-19 might sound like, if given voice!
  10. 30 Days by Chuck Berry. I’ve got the feeling G-Dawg might soon be cuing up 40 Days, by Slowdive and, I hope I’m wrong, but maybe even looking up some songs by 90 Day Men before this is over.

Any other suggestions?

In the news this week, Mrs. SLJ finished laying waste to our hedges and turned her dauntless topiary skills to the top of my head. If I had to guess, I think the look she was she was aiming for was Action Man circa his flock hair period.

It’s not the best haircut I’ve ever had, but by no means the worst either. Anyway, I think you’ll agree, she did a much better job than Melania…

As a consequence my helmet fits again and feels unimaginably cooler. Just in time, as we head into the weekend with the promise of fine, warm weather.

Even better, I get to wear our new, custom Santini kit for the first time, only a long 10-months after we started the procurement process in June last year!

Again with nothing pre-planned, I found myself crossing the river and climbing out of the valley via Hospital Lane. Having failed to find any sign of a hospital along its length, I concluded it was so called because you’re likely to need emergency care after scrambling up it.

From there I ticked off all the standard tropes of a fairly standard club run, through Ponteland to Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen and then down the Ryals, all done at a brisk enough pace to have my legs stinging and the breath wheezing in and out of my lungs like a pair of leaky bellows.

The long descent of the Ryal’s left me feeling chilled, so I pulled to a stop beside the war memorial at the bottom and parked myself on the bench there to let the sun warm my bones.

It really was a delightfully peaceful and bucolic scene, the roads empty of traffic and the only sounds were the buzz of fat bees droning through the grass and an almost constant chorus of chirpy, cheerful, chatty birdsong, punctured by the occasional plaintive bleat of newborn lambs.

I managed to stir myself before I got too comfortable, choosing, on the flip of a (mental) coin, to head up through Hallington. I was appalled by the deteriorating road surface here, which was even worse than I recall, but made it through without incident.

It was then our standard route home, through Belsay, Ogle and Kirkley. As I was heading back, everyone else seemed to be heading out into the now positively warm weather and I was passed by a constant stream of other cyclists in singles and in pairs.

I was particularly surprised by how many women cyclists I passed, which is brilliant, but did make me wonder where they usually ride and why we never seem to pass them?

By the time I crested Berwick Hill, I was paying the price for my early exuberance, the legs were heavy and shaky and I was running on empty. The trip home then was, by necessity, a much more sedate affair. By the time I’d dragged myself up the Heinous Hill I’d covered 60-miles, yet perversely thoroughly enjoyed my ride out. It’s fair to say I’m looking forward to a very lazy Sunday, a long lie-in, nothing too strenuous beyond a family walk. And hopefully a chance for a bit of recovery, before it all starts again.

Hang in there, we’re going to get through this.

Riding the Fine Line between Foibles and Rissoles

Riding the Fine Line between Foibles and Rissoles

Club Run Saturday 5th October 2019

Total Distance: 110 km/68 miles with 1,273 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 31 minutes
Average Speed: 24.2km/h
Group Size: 20 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 14℃
Weather in a word or two: Cool and dry.

Saturday was a grey and cool, but generally still day. Pleasant, but not quite shorts weather (although Jimmy Mac disagreed) and while I needed the extra layer of a windproof jacket for the trip across to the meeting point, it was quickly abandoned and tucked away in a back pocket before we got underway.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Hammer complemented someone on a carefully colour coordinated bike and kit, before declaring, “Never trust a cyclist who doesn’t colour coordinate.

Crazy Legs was about to endorse the view when, interrupted by an involuntary thought, he reached up to pat all around his helmet. This failed to satisfy his concerns, so he unbuckled his helmet, picked it off his head and brought it down to eye-level to squint at it and confirm he’d chosen the right one, it matched his jersey and he was suitably colour-coordinated

I had missed Taffy Steve’s triumphal return last week when I was hiding from the early morning rain, but he was back, propped up by Voltarol (other pain relief gels are available), which he’s buying by the case load. He’s determined it’s the only thing making his damaged rotator cuff sufficiently bearable to ride with. Other than that there’s no real treatment beyond physiotherapy which apparently doesn’t include painting and decorating. He knows this, because he tried.

Being unable to lift his arm above waist height, I couldn’t help imagining a series of rooms with beautifully decorated, pristine walls up to an impromptu, free-hand dado-rail height, above which the paint was a clashing, contrasting colour, aged, dirty and scabrous.

Sneaky Pete was also making a return, but his was from a pleasant sojourn on the Côte d’Azur and he asserted he could very easily see himself living there. He’d even managed to fit a sneaky ride into his holiday, having hired a bike for the day.

“The guy in the bike hire shop asked if I was a racer and declared I had racers legs,” he admitted somewhat reluctantly.

“I feel a change in blerg nickname is called for,” Taffy Steve mused, “How does Racer Legs sound?”

It dawned on Sneaky Pete that he’d said something injudicious within my earshot and that, of course, I have absolutely no discretion …

So, Sneaky Pete, or Steel Rigg, or White Stripes, or Racer Legs. Hmm, he’s collecting almost as many monikers as the Garrulous Kid, a.k.a. Zoolander, a.k.a. Helen, a.k.a. Fresh Trim, a.k.a. Jar-Jar Binks etc. etc. ad nasueum.

We were interrupted by a loud noise that sounded exactly like a bus suddenly releasing it’s air brakes, which itself sounds uncannily like a bicycle tyre enduring an unexpected, catastrophic failure. We looked around to see OGL rolling to a stop, as behind him a bus pulled away from he stand.

Long seconds ticked slowly past, tension building, while we wondered which way this audible coin was going to fall, before we heard, “Oh bugger, puncture.”

OGL set about stripping out his punctured front tube and replacing it, while we turned our attention to Mini Miss’ new bike, a sleek, smart looking Liv, aerobike in a dark, purplish-blue. The only awkward thing about it would appear to be the model name, the EnviLiv?

It might be brand new, it might look fantastic, but the EnviLiv did not come with the gears properly set up, so OGL had no sooner repaired his puncture than Mini Miss was leaning on him to fettle her new bike too. There’s no rest for the wicked.

While this was going on in the background, the Hammer outlined our route for the day, which included a climb up the Ryals, for potentially the last time this year. I can honestly say it won’t be missed.

About 20 strong, we decided not to split the group, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. At the traffic lights we checked to see if we were all together and found OGL missing, still stranded where we’d been gathered. He called across that he’d actually blown out the sidewall of his tyre, was heading home for a replacement and would make his own way to the cafe.

One down already, but I’m pretty sure we were all bravely determined not to let it spoil our ride…


I pushed onto the front alongside Jimmy Mac and we led the group out, occasionally calling back to Crazy Legs for directions as, naturally, neither of us had really been paying that much attention to the route outline.

As we took the road to Prestwick, Jimmy Mac started bunny hopping the (ridiculously over-large) speed bumps, encouraged by a chortling Crazy Legs shouting “Olé!” each time he went airborne, while I winced inwardly each time he came thumping down, half expecting his wheels to suddenly disintegrate and collapse under him.



Through the village of Ponteland, Crazy Legs called up, “Listen to all the happy chatter behind.”

“This is serious,” I growled back, “they’re not supposed to be enjoying it.”

“Silence!” Crazy Legs immediately bellowed, “the Ride Leader is disappointed to think you might be having fun.”

For the next minute or so there was an awkward, guilty silence, before the noise burbled up again. Are we that inured to being so thoroughly browbeaten?

Reaching the end of Limestone Lane and after a decent stint of perhaps 15km on the front, I peeled off, swung wide and drifted to the back.

There I found the Hammer, policing the group from the rear and we had a brief chat about possible destinations for another continental invasion next year, with the northern Dolomites being an early front-runner, depending on flights and accessibility.

We also touched on group size and dynamics as well, including how (more by luck than good management) we all somehow managed to bump along, despite being a generally disparate and diverse bunch, each, as the Hammer diplomatically put it, with our own peculiar foibles.

“Yep,” I agreed, ” We all definitely have foibles.”

“And there’s a very fine line between foibles and assholes,” the Hammer remarked sagely, “But somehow it seems to work.”

When we stopped for a comfort break, Crazy Legs declared an impromptu meeting of the Flat White Club, for all those who didn’t want to tackle the Ryals.

“Two coffee stops!” Otto Rocket exclaimed, somewhat scandalised.

“No,” Crazy Legs corrected her, “One coffee stop, one Flat White club meet.”

They’re different.

Apparently.

A little further along and the Flat White Club swung off, leaving the rest of us on the road to the delightfully named, but blink and you’ll miss it, Little Bavington and firmly en route to the Ryals.

Just before the descent to the village, a harsh rumble from my rear wheel heralded an untimely puncture and I pulled to a stop. I urged everyone to keep going, but obviously wasn’t persuasive enough, so they pulled over a little further up the road and Spoons dropped back to help.

As I wrestled manfully, but spectacularly unsuccessfully to prise my tyre off the rim to replace the tube, Spoons unzipped my tool tub to pull out one of my two spares and pump.

After much swearing and skinned knuckles, I finally managed to prise and peel the reluctant tyre from the rim, where it seemed almost to have adhered in place. I think I’ve been rolling on the same tyres for almost two years now and had their replacements ready and hanging in the shed for over a year without ever feeling the need to change them.

Surprisingly the tyre slipped back onto the rim without too much effort, I semi-inflated the tube and slotted the wheel back into the frame. As I did this, Spoons helpfully rolled up the punctured tube and slotted it into my tool tub.

Re-attaching my pump I started trying to inflate the tyre, but was getting nowhere. I unscrewed and reattached the hose. Nothing. I unscrewed the hose, tested the valve, tightened and loosened it and reattached the pump. Still nothing. I swapped my pump for Spoons’ pump. Still nothing. This was frustrating and in danger of turning into the longest tyre change in club history.

I told Spoons to rejoin the group and get everyone moving again, while I tried to channel some inner calm. Alone and feeling less pressured, I stood the bike against a nearby wall, securely attached the pump hose to the valve yet again and gave it a few blows. Success, the tyre started to inflate and slowly harden beneath my prodding thumb.

One slow, painful, puny upper-body cardio-vascular work out later, I felt drained and light-headed, but able to set off in pursuit of the rest of the group. I thought that even if I didn’t manage to rejoin, I might be able to at least see them ahead of me as they scaled the Ryals.

I took the climb through Hallington and rattled down the other side, swerving around potholes, gravel moraines, muddy puddles, a scattered windfall of broken branches and tussocks of wiry grass. Thankfully, I’ve been led to believe this particular track has now been removed from the Beaumont Trophy – and not before time. I couldn’t imagine actually travelling at break-neck speed down this road in a tightly packed, bunch of grizzled pros.

I was spat out at the bottom onto the road that drags its way up toward the Ryals, which rose like a wall in front of me. It was here that I expected to see at least the tail-end of the group battling with the slope, but the road ahead was completely empty. They must really have put the hammer down once they left me.

I dragged myself up the climb (as unpleasant and uninspiring as always) and tried to pick up the pace over the top.

Swinging left onto the road up to the Quarry, I spotted a lone cyclist in front of me. It wasn’t one of our group, but gave me a hare to chase and encouraged me to push the pace up a little more.

I caught him at the top of the slope, exchanging a quick greeting as I swung past and off to the right. Another cyclist coming down the road burned past us both. Perfect timing, now I had another target to chase down and I started to wind up the speed again.

I caught and passed him on the slow drag up to the crossroads, darted across the road with him on my wheel and then worked to open up a gap. I think he’d decided we were in a race too, so he kept the pressure on through the descent and all the way up to the final junction, which was where I think I finally managed to shake him loose.

All the way I was thinking I would at least see remnants of our group, but they were strangely absent and only OGL and a few later-starters were at the cafe when I arrived.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I was served, found a table to deposit my tray on and went to wash my hands, filthy from wrestling with tyres. I thought our group might have gone left, rather than right at the top of the quarry and then perhaps been held up by a puncture or mechanical. I settled down to read my emails and was halfway through my coffee before the others started to drift in.

Chatting with Jimmy Mac, we finally worked out that they hadn’t taken the climb through Hallington, but looped around the reservoir. Despite my best chasing, I hadn’t seen anyone on the road, because they’d been behind me all along.

The main group were followed in some minutes later by the Flat White ride, looking suitably fortified and quite relaxed. I couldn’t help thinking they’d chosen the right option.

We learned Plumose Pappus had enjoyed his holiday in Thailand, despite the fact (or maybe because) he’d been frequently mistaken for David Beckham. He’d also only narrowly avoided being arrested for loitering, having spent far too long eyeing up the frozen peas in the chilly sanctuary of a 7-Eleven freezer aisle, the only reliable haven he’d been able to find from the persistent heat and humidity.

A phone embargo was placed on the table, as Jimmy Mac had recorded that mornings England’s vs. Argentina rugby game and was desperate to avoid the score. For my part, I’m not convinced the tournament has quite got going yet, despite one or two shock results and I had no expectation of anything but a handsome England win.

Still, with a rugby international to look forward to and late arrival at the cafe, in no small part due to my tyre-fumblings, we were keen to get back on the road and formed up as the first group to head home.


At this point I discovered my rear tyre was flat again and waved the group away while I once more set about replacing the tube. I unhooked the wheel and managed to strip out the tube without any of the early difficulties. Checking the inside of the tyre I found one of natures caltrops, a vicious thorn sticking through the tread. I assume I’d just picked this up and it wasn’t a holdover from my first puncture, but I guess I’ll never know.

I pushed and pinched the thorn out, and unzipped my tool case to get at my pump and spare inner tube … to be confronted by two indistinguishable tubes, the original, punctured one from earlier this morning that Spoons had carefully and helpfully packed away for me and a new, undamaged one.

They both looked identical, pristine and untouched, but which was which. I picked one at random opened the valve and forced some air into it. It seemed to be holding, so I fitted it and wrestled the tyre back onto the rim.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find I’d picked the wrong tube and no matter how hard I worked the pump it never got beyond slightly squishy. Cursing my own stupidity, I set about replacing the tube again … and that’s where the second group to leave the cafe found me, struggling to force the last section of tyre back onto the rim, only to discover all my upper-body strength seemed to have deserted me.

Crazy Legs lent a hand and we finally manged to seat the tyre. I added enough air to get me home (later revealed to be a rather paltry 20 psi) and I was glad to get back on the bike and give my arms a rest.

I had a quick chat with the FNG on the run back, but with time pressing on, left the group early to loop around the opposite side of the airport and shave a few miles off my route home.

I made it back without further incident, but had to leave almost immediately to wander down to the Brassworks at Pedalling Squares, where Patrick had been beavering away on the Peugeot to prepare it for the coming winter.

This gave me a second opportunity to ride up the Heinous Hill in short order, just to round my day off perfectly.

It’s the club hill climb next week. I’m not likely to compete, but I will go along to shout on the kids. Before that though, I’ll be wrestling with tyres once again, it’s way past time to slap those pristine, new Vittoria Rubino’s on Reg.


YTD Totals: 6,144 km / 3,817 miles with 81,078 metres of climbing

Nevermore

Nevermore

Club Run, Saturday 1st June, 2019

My ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:114 km/71 miles with 1,223 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 20 minutes
Average Speed:26.4km/h
Group Size:35 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 17℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool and cloudy

Ride Profile

The weather was about the same as last week, grey overcast, relatively chilly, but dry. An arm warmer kind of day. I hoped somewhere along the line I would be tempted to get rid of them, but it never happened.

I tracked and caught a fellow rider on my way to cross the river, resplendent in a bright red jersey with a big Isle of Man triskelion blazoned across the back.

“Are you lost?” I enquired when I caught up and passed him.

He looked at me blankly.

“You’re a long way from home,” I explained.

“Aah, the jersey. Hah, no,” his answer was delivered in pure Geordie, convincing me I was talking to a native and not some poor lost Manxman who needed directions.

The river was high, wide, flat, grey and fairly featureless, with not a boat in sight. Looked like the rowing clubs were off competing for the day and the crossing was quiet.

I clambered out the valley on the other side of the river and pushed through to the meeting point to join the slowly assembling crowd of chancer’s, wastrel’s and ne’er-do-well’s. (Or in other words, all the usual suspects.)


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I pulled up, clambered off and found a perch on the wall alongside the Monkey Butler Boy. He was smugly pleased with his brand new Kask helmet, bought to replace the one he’d used as an emergency brake during a recent crash. I was then in prime place when his acolyte, the Money Priest, rolled in and approached.

There was no excited jabbering this week, just a silent, rather uncomfortable and over-long pause as the Monkey Priest stood face to face with the Monkey Butler Boy, faces scant inches apart, as they stared deeply and lovingly into each other’s eyes.

I didn’t want to break this beautiful moment, this rare meeting of minds and young hearts, but this was quite uncomfortable and I found myself coughing apologetically…

I was just about to suggest they “get a room,” when the Monkey Priest broke the spell.

“New sunglasses then?”

“Oh, aye.”

“Let’s have a look …”

There was then a discussion about their new club jersey. Apparently, the Monkey Priest was wearing one and the Monkey Butler Boy wasn’t. I’m pleased they told me this, otherwise I would never have known.

They both agreed the new jersey was much, much better than the old one. I did a double-take.

And then another.

And again, slower and more considered.

Nope, they both looked absolutely identical to me. I had to ask.

“What’s different?”

“What’s different?” the Monkey Butler Boy shook his head in despair at my distinct lack of acuity.

He pointed to one out of half a dozen sponsor names encapsulated in half inch squares that ran in a line across his chest.

“Le Col have replaced this sponsor,” he said, and then, as if this alone wasn’t a momentous, earth-shattering change in its own right, he pointed to another tiny sponsor name on his sleeve. “And they’ve changed too…”

Ah, so the kind of blatantly obvious difference you would expect in a fiendishly difficult “spot the difference” picture quiz. Now I get it.

While the Monkey Priest’s near identical jersey was “clearly superior,” his shorts were an entirely different matter. He too seems to have conspired to crash recently and had ripped a hole in the front of his shorts. (The front?)

He had a cunning plan though, they would be meeting up with their coach a little later and he’d be bringing a new pair of shorts for the Monkey Priest to change into.

“On the fly?” the Hammer asked.

“Well, I bet Alberto Contador could do that,” I reasoned, having once watched him change shoes mid-race, without stopping, or even slowing.

We then wondered if the coach would just hold the shorts up for the Monkey Priest to snatch as he rode past, “like a musette in the feed-zone” the Hammer suggested.

Sadly, the actual plan was much more prosaic, but probably a lot safer. The Monkey Priest had earmarked some bushes he could retire to in order to protect his modesty while performing his costume change.

Crazy Legs rolled up on his much cossetted Ribble, which we all took to be a sign from the gods that we would have no rain on the ride. He said he’d read two forecasts, one promising a dry day with sunny intervals, the other overcast with intermittent showers. He’d only dared to share the first of these with his recalcitrant Ribble.

Just like last week, we were graced with a load of old hands and intermittent irregulars, including what I think might have been a first outing of the year for Grover and Famous Sean’s. Our numbers slowly built up to top 30 again.

There was an enlightened discussion about cable rub, but no one could answer how brake cables managed to move, seemingly of their own volition, to so deftly avoid the protective patch you’ve carefully applied to the frame, even though it’s exactly where the paint was first abraded.

I was messing about with my camera, so missed the front group leaving, but was more than happy to tag onto the always slightly less frenetic second group, as we clipped in, pushed off and rode out.


I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete, just behind Crazy Legs and Ovis, as they led us out of the ‘burbs and into the countryside. I took over on the front with Sneaky Pete for the push through Ponteland and down to Limestone Lane, before swinging over for Taffy Steve and Carlton to pull through. All seemed to be going smoothly and everyone seemed content.

The front pair then ceded to OGL and whoever’s ear he was intent on bending at the time and we started to push up a slight incline. Almost immediately Grover was struggling and became detached. Crazy Legs drifted back to check on him and reported that Grover was more than happy to ride in his own company and at his own pace and didn’t want to hold anyone up.

Crazy Legs admired the, quiet dignity, stoicism and the self-awareness necessary to realise when your own lack of ability or fitness was an impediment to the rest of the group. Rather uncharitably, I suggested Grover was like an old bull-elephant, quietly slipping away from the rest of the herd to seek out the elephant’s graveyard.

We pressed on, until another change in the front saw Radman and Mini Miss taking over. Almost immediately OGL was blustering and growling about the pace. “I’m breathing out me arse, here!” was, I believe, the precise aphorism deployed – a term I’ve never quite understood, I mean, I get the general sentiment, but … eh? … what?

(Taffy Steve would later, rather naughtily, contend that OGL spends so much time talking out his arse, that breathing out of it should be second nature by now. Ouch.)

The grumbling continued.

“But you’re the only one whose been dropping people,” Crazy Legs innocently informed OGL, while I rode behind them, snorting with suppressed laughter.

We reached the top of the Quarry (yes, I know, the top!) and paused to regroup. OGL claimed infirmity from a bad chest infection and made straight for the cafe, while the rest of us dropped down (yes, I know, down!) the Quarry Climb.

We passed another club grinding up the Quarry and looking miserable, as we harnessed gravity to its full effect and zipped down past them. I know which direction is the easiest.

At the junction at the bottom of the Quarry we paused again, while Crazy Legs outlined route options.

“Left is the shorter ride, which is shorter and right is … err, a longer ride that’s … err … longer,” Crazy Legs concluded lamely, before adding, “Oh and right goes down the Ryals.”

“Which way are you going? I don’t want to be left on my own,” Mini Miss asked me.

“Rye-urhls!” I groaned in my best guttural, Neanderthal-zombie-meets-Frankenstein-monster voice.

“Rye-urhls!”

“Rye-urhls! ”

Double-Dutch Distaff eyed me warily, no doubt wondering what had set the lunatic off and what kind of gibberish he was bellowing. It didn’t put her off though. The Red Max lead a contingent left for a shorter loop to the cafe, while the rest of us swung right for a gleeful swoop down the Ryals.

Reaching the crest, I kicked onto the front, tucked in and plunged, four minutes of unbridled fun as I recorded my fastest time yet for the descent, hitting over 74 kph, or 20 meters per second, on the double-dip down. (That’s 46 mph if you want it in retard units.) Crazy Legs, Double Dutch and Taffy Steve followed in close attendance and we seemed to open up a gap on the rest of the group.

As we slowed to reassemble at the bottom, Crazy Legs suggested we were in danger of being early at the cafe, so we could amend the route and put more miles in by looping around the reservoir, rather than taking the scramble up through Hallington. This got the immediate support of Taffy Steve, who likes this loop almost as much as he detests climbing through Hallington, so our course was set.



I pushed out onto the front alongside Ovis as we swung in a wide arc around the (always hidden from view) reservoir and up to where we would have emerged if we’d taken the planned route. Around the corner, I drove us up a segment known on Strava as Humiliation Hill (I know not why). This had everyone stretched out into a long line and we paused at the next junction to re-assemble.

As our last riders pulled through I looked back down the road and saw the flashing of florescent green cycling socks.

“Is that one of us?” I asked Taffy Steve.

“Nope, we’re all here.”

I hung back a little just to make sure, confirmed I didn’t know the lone rider and then hustled to catch up with the rest.

The unknown, rider in the florescent green socks passed us as we dawdled along, then Big Dunc put in a Big Dig. Everyone responded and we all bustled past Green Socks, until Big Duncs attack was foiled by temporary traffic lights and we all slowed and stopped.

Green Socks took the opportunity to nip in front of us as the lights changed. Crazy Legs caught him and sat on his wheel for a while, before dropping back, while I accelerated to take his place and started winding up the pace.

I passed Green Socks as the road began to climb and pushed on with Ovis, increasing the pace as we raced toward the end of the road, reaching the junction and then stopping to let everyone regroup. Green Socks passed us while we waited and disappeared down the road, probably glad to see the back of us.

We regrouped again and started the final push to the cafe, with Crazy Legs and Double Dutch on the front. As we approached the short, steep, Brandy Well Bank, Crazy Legs started to explain that, in about 3-4 kilometres, it would all kick-off toward a final sprint before the cafe. In normal circumstances he would have been dead right, but I didn’t fancy my chances in a straight-up sprint, so decided not to hang around and attacked.

I accelerated toward the climb and tried to keep my legs spinning as the gradient bit. It wasn’t like last week though, when I’d done hardly any work before hitting the same climb, I had tired legs and momentum dropped quickly, until I had to haul myself out of the saddle to keep going.

I paused at the top, part hesitation, wondering if the attack was premature, part from the needing to drag some air into tortured lungs and let the pain in my legs subside. Then I pushed on …

I was just starting to flag, when Ovis nudged past and I dropped onto his wheel. Now, slowly, but surely we started to reel in the lone rider in the florescent green socks and Ovis pulled us around him. Yet again. He must have been sick of the sight of us.

As the road started to drag upwards, I bustled back onto the front, trying to find a good line across the battered and lumpy road surface. Down toward the Snake Bends, we passed a lone Grover, seemingly still happy in his own company and I briefly stopped the frenetic pedalling to greet him in passing.

The road levelled out and I pushed on, until Ovis roared past me with an astonishing burst of speed. I had no response. Seconds later a hard-charging Crazy Legs and Mini Miss zipped past, but they were too late and Ovis was long gone, while Taffy Steve caught me just before the Bends.

As ever, great fun.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Carlton wondered if anyone had been watching the Chernobyl TV-series, which one of my work colleagues, Big Dave, described as unremittingly bleak. He reported that in the first 5 minutes alone, some bloke fed his cat, then hung himself and it the just got darker from that point on. (I guess it could have been worse and he could have left the cat to starve.)

I prefer my end-of-the-world, Armagideon Time to have a dash more humour, so was more interested in the recently released, TV adaptation of the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett book, Good Omens.

“Are you a Terry Pratchett fan, then?” Crazy Legs enquired.

“No, not really, but I like Neil Gaiman. Then again,” I added, “I do have to acknowledge the particular genius of inventing a character called Quoth the Raven. That’s very clever.”

Crazy Legs looked at me blankly, “Eh? What?”

“Quoth. The Raven.”

“Nah, don’t get it?”

Everyone else around the table looked suitably blank too.

“You know, from the Edgar Allan Poe poem, The Raven.”

Nope, nothing…

“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.'”

Across from me, Famous Sean’s suddenly giggled.

“See, he gets it …

But no, he didn’t, it was more a nervous laugh, the kind you might emit if you were embarrassed on someone else’s behalf.

“Oh, I give up, you’re all a bunch of bleedin’ Philistines.”

“You’re on a table full of scientists, mathematicians and engineers,” Crazy Legs consoled me, “What do you expect?”

Pah!

I left to get some coffee refills and to see if I could find some more erudite cycling companions. The first bit was relatively easy, the second though … well, the jury’s still out.

Still, at least it gave me an opportunity to briefly ear-wig on an delightful conversation between two old biddies in the queue, carried out almost entirely in question form.

“Do you know Annie?” the first pondered.

“Ooh, Canny Annie?”

“Hmm?”

“Paula’s friend?”

“Taller Paula?”

“No, no, smaller Paula.”

I would like to have hung around to hear more, but was conscious of Philistine cyclists requiring further injections of caffeine.

When I returned Double Dutch Dude who’d been in the first group, was dragging Double Dutch Distaff away, to get some more miles in. Meanwhile, conversation had returned to less culturally divisive subjects … or maybe not … as Taffy Steve expressed his love for Gogglebox, a TV programme about people watching TV programmes. We wondered where it would end – was there, for example, an opportunity for a TV programme about people who watched TV programmes in which people watched TV programmes?

G-Dawg briefly joined us, having sneaked out from the cafe for a bit of peace and to try and quell a strange, incessant clamouring in his ears. Sadly though, the strange incessant clamouring followed him out.

I noticed he seemed to be a riot of colours today; green shoes, yellow socks, blue shorts and a red jersey. Still, I’m sure last week’s civilian, who complained about cyclists dressed all in black, would have found some other reason to disparage him.

Famous Sean, being one of those weird triathlete-types, started undertaking a series of stretches in preparation for us leaving. He’d left the fat velcro straps of his triathlon shoes unfastened and they flopped over to lie flat on the grass, making him look like Big Bird, all skinny legs and big feet.

Crazy Legs had to ask if the velcro actually worked on grass and if that was why Famous Sean’s could touch his toes without toppling over.


We lined up and rode out, for what would prove to be a remarkably unremarkable trip back, the only thing of note I recall was being subjected to a short, sharp shower half way up the Heinous Hill,

Our first June club run complete then and still we wait for some good better weather. Come on, make it happen…


YTD Totals: 3,604 km / 2,240 miles with 46,106 metres of climbing

A Stopped Clock

A Stopped Clock

Club Run Saturday 21st April 2019

My ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:117 km/73 miles with 1,077 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 28 minutes
Average Speed:26.3km/h
Group Size:31 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 23℃
Weather in a word or two:Glorious

Ride Profile

The weather was set to be perfect, bright, warm and dry, the sky without cloud and the land without wind. Still, it wasn’t quite there yet when I first set out, with the air still chilly, so I hid under arm warmers and full finger gloves, all pulled over a necessary layer of sun-cream.

I had a very pleasant and totally relaxed ride across to the meeting point and arrived in good time to join G-Dawg admiring the obscene graffiti on the wall, before it was obscured by a flash mob of milling cyclists.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

In the space of just seven days we found a startling contrast between last weeks wickedly cold start and this weeks balmy, sunny conditions. Everyone seemed to have dressed accordingly, well, other than Zip Five in tights, arm warmers over a long sleeved base-layer and overshoes and the Garrulous Kid, who was basically wearing the exact same kit he’s worn for the past 6-weeks… only this time it was appropriate to the conditions.

“You’re like a stopped clock,” Jimmy Mac informed him, “Just very occasionally you are, by default going to get it right.”

The Garrulous Kid is proving to be to football punditry what Theresa May is to international diplomacy and delicate negotiation. After his disastrous guarantee that Germany was going to sweep all before them and dominate the World Cup, his prediction that Man City were “nailed on” for a remarkable quadruple is starting too look ever so slightly suspect.

OGL rolled up, took a chemist’s prescription bag out of his back pocket and started emptying out the various contents, bottles, tubes and boxes of pills, to secrete about his person.

“What’s with the Jiffy bag?” some wag asked, while I started singing, “EPO, EPO, EPO” to the tune of “Here we go, Here we go, Here we go” – a variation
of the fiendish complex, difficult to master, classic football-chant, devised by the veritable Toshi San to serenade David Millar on his return to racing on British Roads.

OGL had the Team Sky deflection tactics down pat though, immediately switching the conversation to boxer Jarrell Miller’s failed drug-test, where he’d secured the grand slam of being popped for EPO, HGH and GW1516 (whatever that is) all at the same time. Still, Miller has wholeheartedly apologised, held his hand up and admitted he’s made a mistake … so, no harm done eh?

OGL then advised that roadworks meant traffic was backing up through Ponteland, so recommended we changed our route into the village. With that agreed, we picked a rendezvous point, split into two groups and away we went.


Things started out well, the pace was high, the sun was shining and the company amenable. I was just rolling up the outside of the group, picking up too much speed on a downhill section and too lazy to brake, when ahead of me, Spry’s bike jettisoned his tool tub. Stuffed with spare inner tubes and various Allen keys, it bounced once end-over-end and then rolled under my front wheel. I hit it and there was a resounding crack. My front wheel twitched violently and then straightened and I rolled on checking for damage.

My bike seemed fully intact and there was no puncture to deal with, but the impact had shattered the lid of Spry’s tool tub. I apologised for the damage I’d done as I passed him, back-tracking to pick up his discarded essentials.



We pressed on through Stamfordham and then up the hill to the lay-by, used for the start and finish of numerous cycling events. We pulled over here to wait for our rendezvous with the second group.

They duly arrived and we hung around for too long just chatting aimlessly and enjoying the sunshine, until OGL got tetchy and, pausing only to rebuke Plumose Pappus for having a grungy, rusting rear cassette, nagged us all into action again. Various splits and routes were agreed and we finally started up again.

Heading up toward Capheaton, Mini Miss picked up a puncture and it was back to standing around, shooting the breeze and waiting. I had a chat with Captain Black about the missing BFG (presumed to be still alive, but probably living under a(nother) false name, somewhere in the UK). We reminisced about the time he’d taken his bike into Boots to find the exact colour of nail varnish to match his chipped frame and ended up with a bevvy of beauticians and shop assistants helping him out. (Rimmel’s Pinking Out Loud and Max Factor’s Broody Blood Bouquet were the recommended choices. Although grateful for all the help, I’m led to believe the BFG felt the need to push back when it was suggested his cuticles needed urgent attention and a full manicure wouldn’t go amiss.)

Repairs made and on we went, following the route of last years National Road Race and cutting across the hills, through Hallington, to the bottom of the Ryals. Once again we marvelled that people actually race at full tilt down this narrow, twisting, pot holed, gravel-strewn and over-grown farm track.

I caught up with Richard of Flanders and we both agreed it was too nice a day to ruin it with an assault on the Ryals, but that’s exactly where we were heading.

I was drifting toward the back of the group when we made the turn and hadn’t gone far, when Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, pulled up with a puncture.

Our calls went either unheard, or unheeded by those in front and they pressed on leaving six of us to help sort out the puncture and then make the run for the cafe. I joined Aether in helping Jake the Snake replace his tube, while an overheating Zip Five tried to shed some layers and Rab Dee, in a move that was pure Jacques Anquetil, drained his water bottles, declaring he didn’t want to carry any extra weight up the climb. The Ticker then admitted he was a Ryals virgin and this would be his very first introduction to their nasty, brutish ways.

Underway again and rolling toward the climb, I passed the Ticker, whistling a little too nonchalantly and I commended him on his show of bravado.

Then we hit the first ramp and started to go up. I followed Rab Dee and Benedict closely up the first ramp, but didn’t feel I was in a comfortable gear and I was spinning a bit too wildly. As the road dipped down before climbing again, they changed up and kicked on, opening up a gap while I freewheeled, trying to recover and find a comfortable gear for the second ramp.

Then the slope bit again and I gave chase, slowly closing the gap, but running out of hill before I made it all the way across. We rolled down to the turn for the Quarry, where we stopped to regroup. After several minutes, with no sign of the Ticker, I started to backtrack, hoping to pick him up.

I’d almost made it back to Ryal village when he finally appeared, having suffered what he hilariously described as a “chain wedgie” – shipping his chain and getting it jammed between chainring and bottom bracket, or cassette and free hub … or maybe both at the same time.

“That’s what you get when you’re desperately looking for the secret 12th sprocket on an 11-speed cassette,” I told him.

After the Ryals, we made short work of the Quarry and started to pick up speed for the cafe. Once again I found myself on the front for the drag up and through the crossroads. It’s becoming a very bad habit.

I stayed on the front up to the final junction, when Rab Dee took over and kicked away. Closing fast on the Snake Bends, I pushed in front of him again, he took the briefest of micro-pauses, just enough to collect his breath, before he surged away.

I couldn’t follow, but we seemed to have left everyone else trailing in our wake, so I sat up and coasted through the bends.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The day was nice enough to retire to the garden and there I joined the already firmly ensconced Goose, Captain Black and Mini Miss, the latter enjoying he wanton displays of bike porn, most especially someone’s pure white Storck. This was close to being her dream bike, although she admitted it would be a difficult decision between a Storck and a more traditional, celeste Bianchi.

We recalled Goose, perhaps the least brand aware amongst us, being accosted by the one-time distributor of Storck bikes in the UK, who gave him the full-court press in trying to persuade him to drop £3 grand or more on a new bike, without really being able to justify the price tag, or read his audience with any degree of accuracy or empathy.

In discussions with Captain Black, I did the Ryals a disservice by suggesting they didn’t get much above 7-8%. The VeloViewer site characterises the “official” climb as being 1.5 km long, with an average gradient of 4% and a maximum of 16.8%.

Whatever the actual statistics, I think my point is still valid, it’s not an epic, enjoyable, or particularly memorable climb and I never feel any great sense of achievement topping it. I can imagine it does become brutal if you race up it, full gas 3 or 4 times in a race (such as next weeks Beaumont, or the Nationals Road Race) though.

We then played a kind of cycling Top Trumps, with Captain Black selecting the Tourmalet as the hardest climb he’s done, while, along with Goose, I went for the Galibier.

At the next table, the Monkey Butler was getting grief for his white, aero socks, but I refused to join in and condemn him, when the Garrulous Kid had two hairy, shapeless, baggy and grungy socks of no discernible colour, pooled around his ankles like two used and discarded elephant condoms.

Then, in a concession to the heat and inadequate pre-planning of layers, the Monkey Butler Boy re-appeared wearing just a gilet on his top half, arms bare to the shoulder. Socks be dammed, I immediately told him he looked like a wannabe triathlete and he couldn’t ride with us. Standards must be maintained.

As a parting shot, as we were packing up to go, I turned to Mini Miss, “What’s it going to be then, a Bianchi, or a Storck?”

“Well,” she mused, “I think Bianchi …”

She paused a heartbeat, before adding, “But I wouldn’t mind meeting a man with a Storck.”

Oh dear, that didn’t sound right. Time to leave.


Having been delayed by a couple of punctures, we were running late, so I peeled off to pick my way over the airport and shave a little distance and time off my journey home.

A couple of others came with me, at least as far as Ponteland, so I at least got another opportunity to apologise to Spry for destroying his tool tub.

Through Ponteland, I passed the long tail of traffic OGL had warned about that morning, as it backed up through the roadworks. Uncharitable as it seems, I have to admit passing the long, long line of drivers, cooped up and sweltering in their cars, made me smile and it buoyed me all the way home.


YTD Totals: 2,582 km / 1,604 miles with 34,470 metres of climbing