Total Distance: 118 km / 73 miles with 1,242 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed: 26.2 km/h
Group size: 7 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Hot
I couldn’t summon up even a single jot of enthusiasm for doing the Cyclone this year, so while the majority discussed their 106-mile, 90-mile and 64-mile ride options, I cast about for other, like-minded club members to see if we could have a normal-ish Saturday club run.
The Red Max and Taffy Steve seemed up for doing something “not-different” – so we put it out there as an alternative to see who else we might entice along.
Saturday morning was grey and overcast, seeming to promise a brief interlude to all the hot, sunny weather we’d been experiencing all week. It was still indecently warm and a dry day seemed guaranteed, so I gave the weather no more thought as I clipped in and pitched down the Heinous Hill.
After two week absence, I was pleased to find the bridge at Newburn still closed to cars, although less pleased that the ramp over the washed out section of road had collapsed somewhat. I grounded my chain coming off it and decided it was probably best if I no longer used it as an impromptu time-trial start gate.
Main topics of conversation at the start
I arrived at the meeting point just in time to spot the backside of Richard of Flanders disappearing out of sight as he attacked the ramps leading up to the top of the multi-storey car park. I wondered if he had a secret Strava KOM up there. He suggested he’d just never been up before, so wanted to see what it was like. Hmm.
Slowly a small knot started to coalesce and by the time we’d rolled out, we were 7 strong – the Anticyclone Seven, as Taffy Steve would dub us.
The Red Max has been organising regular Wednesday evening runs, a leg-shredding, set 30-mile loop run at full-bore, on-the-rivet, balls-to-the-wall, maximum speed. This Darwinian, survival of the fittest has already reduced grown men to tears, including the likes of Carlton (who vowed never to do it again, before promptly turning up for another go a few weeks later).
I’ve started referring to the rides as the Circus Maximus and suspect it’s only a matter of time before the Red Max turns up with scythes attached to his wheels.
Richard of Flanders has thrown himself wholeheartedly into this madness, apparently shouting “Have it!” as he continually attacks off the front, is caught and immediately attacks again.
I suggested what he was probably shouting was actually “Havoc!” as a prelude to letting slip the dogs of war…
Now Max suggested that Taffy Steve might enjoy the Circus Maximus experience too.
“What ride 10 mile in from the coast after work, red-line my heart, shred my legs, burn out my lungs for an hour and then ride 10 mile back to the coast?” Taffy Steve enquired.
“Yes!” a gleeful Red Max insisted, his evident enthusiasm over-riding any perceived negatives in this plan.
“Err .. No, thanks.”
Richard of Flanders described downloading an Irish narrator/navigator to his Sat-Nav, hoping for some soft, lyrical, lilting and calm directions. I was only at the start of a very long road trip that he belatedly discovered what he’d actually selected was a rampant, rabid, Ian Paisley/Nationalist Ulsterman.
“I think yeell find ye don’t want to go dine thar!” it shouted, before declaiming loudly, “Ye should just go dine sighff!”
Luckily, we had no need of a Sat-Nav today as the Red Max had something in mind, which thoughtfully included several stops for coffees.
As we started the countdown toward Garmin Muppet Time, the sun broke through the clouds and I was able to shed and stow the arm warmers. This was the start of what would be a long and sustained bout of unexpected sun, which would see me getting home with bright red, burned kneecaps. Where’s the cloud when you need it?
The ride was progressing well as we traversed the Mitford Steads. I was on the front with Richard of Flanders when we rounded a corner and startled a young roe deer casually ambling across the road. The deer’s flight instincts kicked in so hard that it lost all traction on the tarmac and I could hear its claws skittering and skeetering across the top of the slick road as it did a quick Bambi on ice impersonation, before finding its feet and crashing away into the woods.
We paused at Dyke Neuk, which was a mistake as we were now on the route of the Cyclone and had to wait for a break in the stream of passing cyclists before we could get going again. When we did, the Red Max switched to full-on, loopy-Labrador mode and started chasing down anything that moved, gradually working his way up the stream of riders by jumping from wheel to wheel.
Luckily, the Cyclone was routed up the next right hand turn and we were able to regroup before howling down the Hartburn dip and up the other side. We started plugging our way toward Scot’s Gap, catching and passing a lone cyclist. Rab Dee glanced round, saw the Cyclone number on the rider’s bars and told him he had missed a turn and was off course. The Cyclonist turned around to retrace his steps and hopefully, find the right route.
In the distance, Rab spotted another lone cyclist and took off to see if they too were riding the Cyclone and had gone astray. Accelerating to catch her, we found that she too had missed the turn and was heading in the wrong direction. She had apparently started out in a group of friends, but had been dropped and left to her own devices. The Red Max provided instructions for her to re-join the course without having to backtrack and we pressed on.
Through Scot’s Gap and on to Cambo, the Red Max sniffed the air and decisively declared, “Coffee!” We swung left off the road and into one of the Cyclone feed stations, where the welcoming local residents had opened up the Church Hall to sell cakes and coffees.
We grabbed coffee and cake and wondered outside to sit on the grass and enjoy the sun. Here we discussed unequal wear of pedals and cleats, which was largely dependent on which foot you tended to release when you clipped out. Most of us were left-footers, but Rab Dee was a right footer. With his right pedal worn out from over-use, but the left almost as good as new, he wondered if there was the potential for a pedal-exchange programme with a suitably discomfited left-footer.
As we preparing to leave, one our earlier strays turned up, having failed to follow the Red Max’s explicit instructions. She’d done about 26 miles of the 64-mile route and had less than 20 still to do. Still, on the positive side, she was well ahead of the people she’d been riding with and had a chance to either beat them home, or wait around to join them, fresh for the last leg.
We were back on the Cyclone route for the bad descent down through Wallington (high speed, vicious rumble strips and a narrow bridge make this a bit tricky for the unwary) but we were ahead of most cyclists at this point.
We then left the route as it headed for the Ryals and had a fast run toward Capheaton. At the junction, Richard of Flanders and Slow Drinker set off for home and Rab Dee went off for a longer ride out. I pushed on with the Red Max, Taffy Steve and Zardoz toward more coffee at the Capheaton Tea Rooms.
“The problem with multiple coffee stops,” the Red Max explained, “Is multiple coffee stop sprints.”
We got coffee and cake and found a table on the tearoom balcony. Here we heard all about the Monkey Butler Boy, lavishing all the money from his new Call Centre job on bike bits – much to the disgust of an old timer sitting next to us, who couldn’t work why anyone needed a power-meter. (I had a lot of sympathy for his view).
The Red Max outlined a plan to take Coffee Interlude#3 at Stamfordham and then pick up the tail-end of the Cyclone route, once all the riders had an ascent of the Ryals in their legs, at which point he conjectured they’d be easy pickings!
We left our shady sanctuary and took to the sunny roads again, stopping to try to work out what the odd machine perched in the bed of a truck was. After careful examination, Zardoz and the Red Max concluded it was a vintage, steam powered, electrical generator. I bowed to their superior engineering expertise, quite frankly I didn’t have a clue.
For a refreshing change, we went down the Quarry climb, joined the Cyclone route just after the Ryals and pushed on for Stamfordham.
The Red Max and Zardoz stopped for coffee and ice cream, but I decided it was getting late and it was time to head for home. Taffy Steve agreed and we set off at a decent clip, working our way around a steady stream of tired Cyclonists as we pushed on.
Just before Callerton, I split from Taffy Steve and the Cyclone route and started my drop down toward the river and home.
I was back just a couple of minutes later than usual, having had a thoroughly relaxed and enjoyable alternative Cyclone.
YTD Totals: 3,914 km / 2,4,32 miles with 49,186 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 115 km / 71 miles with 1,100 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 16 minutes
Average Speed: 26.9 km/h
Group size: 23 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Good. Or, maybe just better
Blue skies, blooming daffodils and temperatures slowly creeping toward comfortable? This was enough to ensure the first daring exposure of bare legs this year, or at least the two or three pallid inches in the place between where knee warmers end and socks begin.
It even seemed pleasant enough for me to finally break out and strap on my Christmas present too, a new pair of Gaerne cycling slippers in a fetching and subtly understated shade of red. (Well, to my mind, anyway.)
Then, with jacket swapped for a lighter jersey and a pair of arm warmers, I was set and good to go.
As I dropped down the Heinous Hill I passed a gaggle (bunch? peloton? chain?) of cyclists clustered around the turn-off for the Pedalling Squares café. Either they’d arranged some sort of mass ride with a very early start, or these were bargain hunters who’d queued overnight to grab the best deals in some kind of up and coming café-bake sale. Cyclists being cyclists, and notoriously likely to queue for up to 8 hours for just a hint of discounted flapjacks and coffee, I simply couldn’t discount the latter.
There was a goodly smattering of rain jackets on display amongst the group. Fools! I cackled maniacally to myself – didn’t they know it was officially summer and there’d be no turning back now.
Caught by the lights at the end of the bridge, I couldn’t help but notice how quiet and still it was, as if the world was ever so slightly holding its breath. Birdsong was rising and falling along the hedgerows, a weasel scuttled across the road, I could occasionally hear the whine of a distant still saw and the wires overhead were buzzing gently. Such a weird pastoral-urban amalgam.
Just before the lights changed, I was joined by another rider and in a quick exchange learned she was riding up to take part in a local time-trial. It looked like being the perfect weather for the event, I wished her luck, hoped she enjoyed it and then we were crossing the river and going our separate ways.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I arrived at the meeting point to find the Garrulous Kid, the sleeves of his winter jacket rolled up past his elbows while his illuminous gloves flapped around at the ends of his spindly arms – “All the better to point out the potholes,” he claimed.
“Which isn’t really much use when you spend all your time lurking at the back,” G-Dawg countered.
To much cheering, we had our first sighting of a lesser-spotted Grover, who now rolled up for his inaugural 2018 club ride. Like hearing the first cuckoo of spring, this was a watershed moment, reassuring us all that the worst of winter has passed and better weather is finally on its way.
This led to speculation about when Szell was likely to emerge from his winter hibernation. We felt we still have a few weeks more before he drags himself from his torpor and returns with his unique machine-gun rattle of single-entendres, personal crusade against all wasp-kind and continuous bitching and kvetching about how unfit he is compared to everyone else.
“He’s a decent rider,” the Garrulous Kid argued.
“Yeah, by the time we get to September,” someone countered.
The Colossus suggested he didn’t actually like it when Szell reappeared, as it’s an early portent that our summer days are already numbered and winter’s on its way!
The Garrulous Kid declared that the Monkey Butler Boy had a new pair of cycling shoes that were not only whiter than white, but somehow whiter than the Colossus’s very white shoes.
How does that work then?
I wondered if they might not be a whiter shade of pale, but not before having a quick glance around to make sure that neither Biden Fecht, nor Crazy Legs were within earshot, just in case we set them off on a truly unfortunate prog-rock song cycle.
The Garrulous Kid asserted that, not only were the Monkey Butler Boys new shoes the whitest-white possible, but he would also reveal his secret weapon in a Canute-style, futile battle to keep them in perfect, gleaming and pristine condition.
We looked up to find the Monkey Butler Boy himself, “coming in hot” and attempting a flashy bunny hop onto the pavement, only to misjudge things horribly and crack his rear wheel off the edge of the kerb with a noise like a pistol shot.
Checking there was no visible damage, he shrugged nonchalantly and announced he was getting a new bike anyway next week, so wasn’t all that bothered. I’m not so sure the Red Max would agree as he’s set to inherit the Monkey Butler Boy’s current ride and would obviously prefer it not to have been tested to destruction.
We learned the Monkey Butler Boy’s new bike would be arriving at the depot on Tuesday and he intended to be there for the birth. The Colossus prepared him for a long and frustrating wait, similar to his own experiences staying in to wait for DHL parcels. He contends he can see the DHL warehouse from his bedroom window, but whenever he tracks an imminent delivery, he spends hours watching a blip on the computer screen circumnavigate the entirety of the North East, before it finally arrives at his front door, the very last stop on a hugely attenuated route.
It turned out that the Monkey Butler Boy was indeed sporting a new pair of “fresh sneaks” (thank you Thing#1 for the sudden injection of street-cred to this otherwise pedestrian and sadly dated blerg) in the form of very white, brand spanking new fiz’i:k shoes. As promised, the Monkey Butler Boy also revealed his secret weapon in the war to keep them that way – a packet of baby wipes shoved deep into his back pocket.
With time approaching for our grand depart, G-Dawg spent some time anxiously looking round for Richard of Flanders, our route planner and leader for the day who appeared conspicuous by his absence. Then, the throng hushed and parted like the Red Sea and Richard of Flanders bestrode the pavement in all his glory.
He leaped nimbly up onto his pulpit-come-wall and formally introduced himself to his congregation, before outlining the route for the day. Then, after some consultation with his inner voices (and G-Dawg) he declared we would verily split into two distinct bands of acolytes for our weekly pilgrimage out into the wilderness.
I joined up with the first group and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Things were going well until we hit the road through Dinnington, which local conspiracy theorists laughably assert was the location chosen by NASA to fake the Moon landings. This is obviously arrant nonsense, as no lunar landscape has ever looked so bleak, so desolate and quite so disturbingly … well … alien, as the road through Dinnington.
While weaving and dodging through this week’s collection of new craters, crevasse’s, fissures, potholes, cracks and divots, my whole bike started to shake with such force that my bottle decided it was safer to bail out and I ended up swinging out of line so I could back-track and retrieve it.
I waved the group through and turned around, finding Rab Dee standing protectively over my errant bottle, trying to direct the traffic away from splattering its contents across the road. I recouped and made to regroup, as we started to chase back on, rounding the corner to find everyone pulled up in front of the shops. We don’t usually stop when people jettison bits and pieces from their bikes – I almost felt honoured …
Rab Dee waved at them to start riding again and we’d drop onto the back, but no one moved. We swept by, ready to take up position on the front, but no one moved. We slowed and looked back. No one moved. We slowed some more, still nothing. We came almost to a halt, balancing in a near track-stand and looking back. No one moved. Finally, we pulled over to the side of the rode and unclipped. We looked back again. Nope, we weren’t wrong – no one moved.
Our second group passed us, along with numerous other cyclists in bunches both large and small. It seemed everyone was out enjoying the improving weather.
After chatting for a couple of minutes, we rode back to our group, where we found Caracol had hit a pot and punctured and they were busy making repairs.
“He was trying to avoid a dropped bottle,” someone told me.
“Good, as long as he didn’t hit it.”
As we waited, Taffy Steve reflected on how he often confused Castelli and Caerphilly Llanelli and we wondered if a high-end, premium cycle wear was ever destined to be manufactured in the Valleys.
We finally got underway again, just in time to have our eardrums furiously assaulted by a boy racer, whose car thrashed past with a high-pitched shriek, like ten thousand cats having their tails force-fed into a blender.
I’m at a loss to see any merit in such a tortured, piercing, discordant and unattractive racket. I can see how some people are attracted to say the highly reminiscent drone of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, or the powerful throb of a Harley-Davidson, but the “car engine on the very edge of disintegrating” sound is miles away from these, its sole purpose seems to be decidedly anti-social and simply to disturb and annoy.
I found myself riding with the Monkey Butler Boy, who loudly cursed every patch of mud and puddle strewn across our route. He soon ran out of baby wipes and resorted to spit and much rubbing of fingers to try and keep his shoes utterly spotless. So vigorous and frequent were his cleaning ministrations that I had to warn him he was in danger of dehydration.
At one point, faced with a road spanning puddle, he simply uncleated and raised his feet above the handlebars and out of danger. This seemed to save the shoes, but startled a girl riding past in the other direction who was unprepared for such extreme manoeuvres and must have wondered what the hell was going on.
As we approached the Ryals, the Monkey Butler Boy and Garrulous Kid struck up a Faustian pact to ride down to the bottom and then, immediately turn around and ride back up again. Zardoz declared he only had party legs today, and took the turn off to the Quarry with a few others. The rest of us went piling down the Ryals, to pass through Steel Rigg and around Hallington Reservoir, before pinning our ears back for the burn to the café.
We kept the pace relatively sedate until turning onto the road down to the Snake Bends, where early attacks from Taffy Steve and the Big Yin were quickly snuffed out. Then G-Dawg accelerated down the outside with the Colossus firmly planted on his wheel and I followed, just for fun. As the road levelled and straightened, the Colossus accelerated away. Biden Fecht clawed his way across the gap and I latched onto him.
Biden Fecht fought to come to turns with the Colossus, but every time he started to draw level, the Colossus simply pushed a tiny bit harder. Realising this just wasn’t going to be his day, Biden Fecht hesitated almost imperceptibly. It was enough and I darted through on the inside, while Taffy Steve swept over the top.
Through the Snake Bends and onto the road and yet again we cast tradition aside, as the Big Yin rode off the front. We resisted as long as we possibly could, before finally succumbing and giving chase, just managing to hunt him down amidst a little too much traffic for comfort. We really do need to let it go … but, we seemingly can’t.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the queue we sympathised with Biden Fecht, who concluded that the Colossus had been toying with him, sprinting just slow enough to keep you interested, while in reality he had plenty in reserve and you had no chance of actually catching him.
We determined the weather was just about good enough to sit outside in the garden and on the way out, passed the Monkey Butler Boy in stockinged feet, reverentially carrying his slightly mud-speckled shoes toward the toilets to clean them in the sink.
We’d been sitting, enjoying the peace and quiet of the garden for a while, when the Garrulous Kid suddenly appeared, having lost his previous seat in the café. This had apparently, been usurped by his companions for a late arriving OGL. I wondered if the Garrulous Kids appreciated how low his reputation had sunk, with people preferring to listen to OGL’s hoary and oft-repeated fables, rather than the Kid’s butterfly-mind, verbal pinball meanderings and stream of obtuse, unrelated pronouncements.
Now the Garrulous Kid seemed obsessed with the marks and streaks appearing on his illuminous gloves and we concluded he’d spent too long in the company of the Monkey Butler Boy. Someone suggested he could probably wipe his gloves clean on a certain new pair of very white fiz’i:k shoes.
We then wondered what would happen if gloves and shoes were accidently placed in a washing machine together, before concluding that the funniest thing would be if the shoes were inadvertently washed along with one of the Red Max’s rogue, red socks and came out a nice shade of pink.
In a startling revelation and for a reason I can no longer recall, Taffy Steve declared that if he had to be a woman, he would be Beyoncé.No one argued.
While we struggled mightily to picture Taffy Steve as Beyoncé, the next task proved to be beyond even our most creative, fanciful and fantastically fevered imaginings, when someone pondered what a gang formed by the Garrulous Kid might be like.
A pleasant ride back was punctuated by further evasive manoeuvring from the Monkey Butler Boy as he tried to keep his shoes clean, including more unclipping to lift his feet high as he sailed through puddles. The trick here was finding the Goldilocks speed – too fast and the spray kicked up by the wheels would catch his shoes anyway, too slow and he ran the risk of losing all momentum and falling off.
I had a chat with the Red Max and learned he was somehow intent on blaming me for the Monkey Butler Boy’s inappropriate sartorial choices. I’m not sure what role he thinks I played, but I strenuously denied any responsibility.
Then I was swinging away for home, intent of squeezing as much enjoyment out of the ride as possible. I’ll miss next week’s ride for a tour of university accommodations, which typically coincides with a forecast, mini-heatwave and the best riding conditions of the year to date. Typical.
YTD Totals: 2,148 km / 1,335 miles with 24,533 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 106 km / 66 miles with 1,155 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed: 24.3 km/h
Group size: 21 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Bright and brittle
Here we go again, but this time the weather looks better – not quite the fine and dry spell that had instigated much mid-week chatter about breaking out summer bikes at the weekend, but a long way from the cold, wet and miserable last couple of Saturdays.
I even left home as prepared for changing conditions as possible, with a stowable gilet and spare pair of lightweight gloves in case things warmed up. Of course deciding what to wear, what to take and what to leave, provided its own paralysis-through-analysis dilemma. I was late setting out and found myself pushing the pace a little more than I would have liked to make up time.
Down and across the river, there was another event taking shape at one of the rowing clubs, but it apparently scheduled for a later start. The traffic cones and marshals were out to direct the parking, but the competitors had only just started to arrive. As I pushed on, every other vehicle that passed seemed to be a van towing a trailer laden with long white hulls.
Despite all the traffic lights being with me, I missed my usual space-time confluence by quite some distance. This is the part of the ride when my mileage matches the time and my comfort zone is around 8:42 by which time I should have completed 8.42 miles.
Today, by my admittedly eccentric measure, time and space weren’t in alignment until 8:46 – I was still running behind. I kicked it onto the big ring and pushed down all the usual freewheeling descents, diving through the corners instead of sweeping around them and kicking on as much as possible.
8:59 and I was swinging around the final corner. Made it, and nicely warmed up too.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
The Rainman nodded at G-Dawg, still on his fixie and declared that all the talk of summer bikes had been just that. Talk. Or, as he put it, “Pure bravado.”
Unfortunately, unexpected heavy rain overnight had given everything a good soaking and dampened any enthusiasm for good bikes. It was just as well, the roads were still awash and thick with mud and muck and clarts. The Pug at the end of the ride looked like it had been pebble-dashed under a muck-spreader and a multi-bucket, bike-cleaning was definitely due.
Still, the weather was promising enough to persuade Crazy Legs to (at least temporarily) lock up his fixie and venture out on the spring-autumn Bianchi, while the Monkey Butler Boy even dared to expose an inch or two of glaringly white, bare calf to the elements.
Crazy Legs asked if anyone knew how the Prof’s rehearsals were progressing for his Back Street Boys tribute act. A minute later and the Garrulous Kid posed the exact same question. Crazy Legs determined from this that the Garrulous Kid was essentially a simplex device – a communications system that can only operate in a single direction and, in the Garrulous Kids case, this was evidently set to output only. Thus, Simplex became yet another name among many that the Garrulous Kid has now collected.
We tried to remember just one, single Back Street Boys song. Crazy Legs vaguely thought they may once have been associated with an eBay campaign, but other than that … nothing. A band whose name is more famous than their output? It doesn’t bode well for the Prof and his troupe of performing cyclists.
Our gathering coalesced into a decent turn out of twenty riders and, at 9:15 precisely, we pushed off, clipped in and rode out to follow a route planned by the Hammer.
I spent some time catching up and chatting with the Rainman and then G-Dawg as we rolled away, sitting near the front of the group as we worked our way out into the countryside.
From this kind of position, I had a chance to muse on the established patterns and ebb and flows of the group ride, which are often entirely predictable. The same few people rolling through off the front, the same workshy laggards hanging around in the middle, the same trailers who like to hang at the back and keep an eye out for everyone else.
(This, depending on the rider in question, can either be to ensure everyone is ok, or because they warily view their fellow riders as an unpredictable liability and want to ensure the best chance of staying upright when the inevitable incident happens.)
This predictability of the rides is especially true when pressure on the front, often combined with a slightly more testing climb, strings out and fractures the group and triggers a seemingly inescapable barrage of shouts and curses.
On some climbs, such as when we’re heading out up Berwick Hill, this is only a very rare occurrence. On others, it’s almost guaranteed. If the route takes us past the Cheese Farm, I know the shouting will start no later than half way up Bell’s Hill. We always, always and without exception, wait and regroup over the top. Nevertheless, the shouting always, always and without exception, follows the front of the group up. Annoying and unnecessary, but maybe someone finds it cathartic?
Today’s route took us through Ponteland, avoiding any major climbs and keeping the group tight and compact. We turned onto Limestone Lane, an interesting contrast with patches of time-ravaged, potholed, pitted and rutted road surface, finally giving way to a welcome, but too short, stretch of pristine, smooth tarmac.
Somewhere along here we were passed by a flying Den Haag in club colours, who promptly turned around and joined us for the rest of the ride.
Stamfordham and Matfen came and passed under our wheels and we were soon at the Quarry turn, where we split the group. The majority opted for a direct route to the café, while the rest pushed on for a fun hurtle down the Ryals, before picking our way back up with the climb through Hallington.
A short dragging climb brought us to the crest of the Ryals, where the whole of the countryside seemed to open up before us, just before the road tipped over. I tucked in and surrendered to the pull of gravity, freewheeling all the way and gradually building up speed.
The Cow Ranger kicked past, pedalling furiously and I dropped into his wake and trailed him down, pushing the speed over 50km/h, before sitting up and coasting through to the bottom.
A sharp right and almost immediately we began climbing to recover the altitude we’d so vicariously squandered. There was about half a dozen of us in the front group, with Aether bringing up the rear and we stopped to collect him, before swinging onto the main road and heading back east.
Topping the aptly named Humiliation Hill, we then had 10kms of fast, rolling road that tended slightly downhill, all the way to the café. While Crazy Legs and Captain Black dropped back to ride with Aether, Den Haag and the Rainman ramped up the pace. I dropped in behind G-Dawg and the Collossus and hung on, giving my best Mowgli fighting Sher Kahn impersonation, desperately clinging to the tigers tail in a heads down, lung-bursting, super-fast thrash toward the café.
I was distanced on the short, but violent climb up Brandy Well Bank, but fought my way back on, just as we hit the last downhill stretch toward the Snake Bends. I could only watch from a distance as Den Haag then attacked and briefly pulled away, sneakily trying to slipstream a car that pulled out of a side road ahead. The Rainman closed him down with the Colossus planted on his wheel, then attacked over the top and the pair went clear, before the Colossus unleashed an irrepressible burst down the outside.
I eased past G-Dawg as his legs reached terminal velocity on his fixie and followed them through the bends and out onto the main road.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
G-Dawg and the Colossus checked and re-checked the time as we rolled up to the café – hoping they’d got it spot on and were neither too early or too late for their traditional ham and egg pie.
They did in fact get the timing spot on, but were a little disconcerted when their food arrived with the wholly unnecessary embellishment and unwanted distraction of a side salad. In cyclist eating parlance, this must be the ultimate expression of gilding a lily. G-Dawg put a brave face on it and suggested a bit of foliage would put some colour in his cheeks. I assume he didn’t mean the slightly off green-tinge afforded by the light reflecting off the assorted leaves artfully clumped on his plate.
The Colossus explained he thought eating salad was a waste of time and effort, and he followed the very simple life rule of not eating anything that doesn’t have a face. I wondered if this was why he liked it when the face of Hitler appeared in a naan bread, or, much less remarkable given their general similarities, someone found a potato in the shape of Donald Trumps head.
The Rainman topped the litany of random look-alike images with the revelation that Jesus had once appeared in a dogs arse He wanted to show us, but couldn’t decide what term to type into Google.
“Jesus in a dogs arse?” I suggested and to no great surprise that seemed to do the trick.
Talk turned to ultra-long club rides after the Rainman posted a route he’d taken from Berwick to Newcastle. He explained this wasn’t as extreme as it sounded, as he’d taken the train up there.
“I was suffering and it was a real grind between Alnwick and Morpeth,” he concluded.
“Yeah, and that was just on the train going up,” I added helpfully.
We all agreed that a north-south ride coastal ride might seem like a good idea, but for the one big problem with any route – sooner or later, they all had to pass through Blyth…
The Garrulous Kid swung past to tell us he’d ridden down the Ryals, then turned around to ride straight back up them again. Why? I think this is something that’s becoming an odd obsession. Is he Sisyphus on a bike? He then said he reached the top … and promptly fell over for no apparent reason. Perhaps he simply forgot how to pedal or balance, which isn’t perhaps as unlikely as it first sounds.
Almost as an aside, before disappearing to join the queue at the counter, he then said that Taffy Steve had passed him going down the Ryals as he was climbing back up. I was a bit surprised as I could distinctly remember Taffy Steve turning off for the Quarry with the shorter-ride.
We checked the café. No Taffy Steve. We asked around. No Taffy Steve. Finally, I eyed up the tall, skinny, gangling figure of the Garrulous Kid speculatively, and concluded he definitely hadn’t murdered and eaten Taffy Steve in any kind of macabre, cannibalistic ritual. Hmm, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Gore-Tex jacket.
Before we sent out the search parties, the eagle-eyed Sneaky Pete spotted Taffy Steve pulling up outside the café. I later learned he had indeed turned off for the Quarry Climb, but took a look at some of the company he was being asked to sit with in the café and decided the climb to Hallington would be the less painful option. He’d then simply swung around and had been chasing us solo ever since.
As we left the café we spotted Zardoz, just turning in for some well-deserved cake and coffee.
“I’ll catch you!” he quipped, blithely “Don’t wait…” Comedy gold.
The ride back was largely without incident until we started down Berwick Hill. The wind had picked up and set the red flags on the ranges snapping. It carried the pop of automatic gunfire to us, even as it pushed at our backs, urging the pace upwards.
Then, the sound of gunfire was eclipsed by the resounding, flat retort of an exploding tyre from somewhere behind. That was one hell of a puncture.
The road here was fast and busy and there was nowhere for a large group to stop safely. We had to ride on for a couple of hundred metres before we found an entryway way where we could pull over and try to determine what had just happened.
Apparently, OGL’s tyre had been rubbing on his mudguard and the friction had heated up the inner tube, which had exploded, ripping a long gash through the tyre carcase. This Crazy Legs declared was clear evidence of poor bike maintenance and divine karma, retribution for all the times OGL had mercilessly slagged off and berated other riders for failing to keep their winter bikes in pristine, working order.
We despatched the Monkey Butler Boy back up the hill to determine if OGL needed any help and whether we should wait, or press on. The Monkey Butler Boy returned to inform us that the gash in the tyre was as long as his hand, but Aether and a couple of others were stopped with OGL, they had everything they needed, repairs were underway and we should just press on.
Off we trundled and soon after, I was swinging off for home, once more battling the hills and headwinds alone. Still the sun was out, it was relatively warm, I was pleasantly tired instead of ground down and I was thoroughly enjoying the ride. I don’t want to tempt fate, but things are looking up.
YTD Totals: 1,007 km / 533 miles with 11,280 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 74 km / 46 miles with 550 metres of climbing
Group size:16+ riders and 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
The Ride …
… as it (maybe) happened and with invaluable input from Taffy Steve:
While the Gang of 4 were away, wallowing in pie at the hugely enjoyable Wooler Wheel, the typical Saturday morning club run naturally continued in our absence. And so it should – it is of course (and rightly so) – much, much bigger than one individual, or group of individuals.
The recently established, best-practice of actually pre-publishing a route beforehand, so everyone knew where we were heading, what to expect, how far and hard it would be and when and where they could join up if they were delayed, seemed to be working smoothly and the overwhelming majority appear bought into the concept.
The pre-ride planning has also ensured we are being more creative in our route plotting, trying out different things and establishing options to avoid a very stale, same-old, same-old routine that has noticeably plagued our rides in the past.
Being an equitable, egalitarian, sort of guy, I especially like rotating the ride leader, so we could share the burden around, publish routes beforehand and allow anyone to step up and have a go if they wanted to.
This Saturday’s volunteer was Taffy Steve and even though I was away, I knew the route planned and it looked like being a good one, with a descent down the Ryals and one of my favourite clambers, back up through Hallington.
Taffy Steve had even given consideration to where the group could split to allow a slightly shorter, slightly easier path to the café for those less inclined toward self-flagellation and it even seemed to have received the royal seal of approval from OGL.
What could possibly go wrong …
Shouldering the additional burden of not only being ride leader, but providing the highly essential, ultra-important, some would say indispensable role of blerg scribe (oh, ok, it’s none of those things then) Taffy Steve sent through notes from the front-lines, allowing me to piece together my own, highly romanticised and wholly fictional account of what actually took place … or, in other words, pretty much the same thing I do every week.
Still, too badly paraphrase Winston Churchill, the writer writes the history … so, this is what actually happened, taken directly from Taffy Steve’s notes …
Early signs were promising, with a route published and agreed and a shortcut for OGL. Astonishingly he even endorsed it with a favourable comment and the job seemed like a “good un.” How was Taffy Steve to know it was going to unravel faster than an obese bungee jumpers cord, as he stood outlining the intended plan for the day.
He’d just reached a point of explaining that, at the roundabout the group were heading right, up Broadway, when OGL, obviously not a George Benson fan, unexpectedly piped up with a “No. We’re not going that way.”
With the same remarkable obduracy shown by his forebears facing impossible odds at Rourke’s Drift, our plucky Welshman stood his ground, “It’s my ride this morning, we’re following the agreed route.”
OGL spat the dummy and stormed off with much fugging and rugging and rumba-rarring, suddenly finding himself riding away, alone and in (not so splendid) isolation.
The rest of the group hastily apologised to Arriva for the large dummy mark left in the side of the 508 bus to Blyth and the ride pressed on, OGL-less.
An outbound ride into the wind then followed without further incident, apart from those on the front noting that the Goose’s booming voice was so dominating you always knew exactly where he was in the group. G-Dawg suggested if Goose ever managed to even casually mention the word “stop” somewhere in his general discourse, everyone would likely interpret it as a shouted, emergency command and instinctively slam on the anchors.
At least one FNG was out with the group, a girl riding with flat pedals and she did remarkably well, holding her own all the way to the turn for the quarry. Here Sneaky Pete led a small group off toward the café, while the rest set sail for the Ryals – for the third week in a row.
This time though we were swooping down and not struggling upwards, topping out at 40 mph, even into a steady headwind. Great fun for all, but especially G-Dawg on his fixie. Who knew legs could spin that fast without spontaneously combusting?
The Garrulous Kid clamoured to turn around at the bottom and ride straight back up and started badgering and pestering all and sundry to go with him, but lips curled disdainfully and heads shook in negation – not again!
Seemingly undaunted, the Kid set out alone, up the Ryals for the third week in a row, which must be some kind of record even among the most masochistic of hair-shirted, flagellants.
There is a feeling the Garrulous Kid is turning into an OGL mini-me, complete with the incurable logorrhoea, highly embellished tales on infinite loop and an inclination to stomp off alone when the collective will diverges from his own.
Still, Taffy Steve reports his prep for the hill climb has reached a truly remarkable zenith – not that there’s any pressure on him to actually deliver …
For the rest, Hallington awaited and, after all the climbing, a pause to regroup. A remarkably ordered (for us, anyway) bit of through and off followed, everyone forming neat lines and rotating like pros on a team time trial, as the speed slowly built. Things were going smoothly until Jimmy Mac’s twitching nostrils picked up just the faintest whiff of coffee and, spurred on by the irresistible promise of cake, he shot down the outside of the line and powered away.
Rab Dee, riding in the livery of Mario Cipollini then put in a burst that Super Mario himself would have been proud of and latched onto the speeding Jimmy Mac, the pair using the tailwind to their advantage, quickly accelerating to warp speed and opening a telling gap.
Taffy Steve Captain Black, G-Dawg, Caracol and someone Taffy Steve enigmatically describes as “the Cockerney,” quickly organised the chase, but even combined, their efforts were too ragged and not enough to catch the speeding pair up front, who were able to hold the gap all the way to the café.
A brief respite from the effort of the chase was apparently spotting the Monkey Butler Boy, thrashing away in the opposite direction, all the while being royally castigated, impugned and bellowed at by a mad Italian coach driving close behind in a trail-car. Looks like he’s found the perfect father-surrogate as a coach.
Meanwhile, there was no sign of the Red Max himself who had apparently been laid low with a mystery illness. Taffy Steve reasoned this had to be the hardest man-flu ever, as we’ve all seen Max defying doctors (and Mrs. Max orders) to rise from his sick-bed and grind out the club run, reduced to a snail’s pace and all the while obviously suffering from the effects of some dire malady.
At the café, OGL apparently displayed selective amnesia and general bonhomie was the order of the day, with no apparent left-over rancour, or mention of his earlier hissy-fit. I doubt we’ve heard the last of it though.
Conversation briefly turned to the malingerers enjoying themselves up in Wooler and then to the more pressing demands of next week’s hill climb. Taffy Steve was relieved to learn that, the Red Max is already planning a fly-by that will allow anyone with a modicum of sense to avoid the actual timed ascent of Prospect Hill. Perfect he suggests “for those of us that don’t want to sound like a broken vacuum cleaner for 36 hours afterwards.”
Homeward bound, the accompanying south west wind made rolling back a real joy and another grand club run was ticked off in good order.
Total Distance: 109 km / 68 miles with 1,133 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed:25.4 km/h
Group size:21 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Bright and breezy
Following on from the original Watergate scandal we’ve all had to endure a ton of utterly dumb, lazy, banal and wholly unoriginal journalistic misappropriations of the -gate suffix, you know, Contragate, Deflategate, Pizzagate, Squidgygate, et al, etc. etc. ad nauseam. So, ladies and gentleman, proving I can be just as dumb, lazy, banal and as frighteningly unoriginal as a paid, professional journalist – (was there ever any doubt?) – I hereby give you the scandal that is … Gategate.
Who’d have thought we’d be heading for such controversy on an innocuous Saturday morning that was warmer than last week and by all accounts would be a lot drier too. As I dropped downhill, the sky over the valley was striated like a layer cake, dark landscape, a band of clear air and a high altitude cap of cloudy grey, seemingly providing a layer of insulation to keep the temperature high.
It was warm enough to make me think the combination of long-sleeved base layer and windproof jacket was overkill – and it wasn’t long before the gloves came off, literally and metaphorically.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
For the past couple of weeks, we’ve organised and promoted a faster, longer “training ride” which leaves the meeting point early to avoid confusion with the regular club run. This week’s run had been planned and was being led by Benedict and I was at the meeting point early enough to see the group gradually coalesce before they set off.
“Remember”, Benedict told me, tapping the side of his nose with a long digit “You didn’t see us and we weren’t here.”
“I am Spartacus,” the Prof offered, “You can be Spartacus too,” he told the Red Max, inviting him to join the training ride revolution.
“Err, no thanks,” Red Max explained, “It doesn’t end well for Spartacus. I’ve read the book …”
“Seen the film …” I added
“And got the T-shirt,” the Prof concluded.
Then, with the pistol shot report of cleats clicking into pedals, the whirr of high-speed wheels and a mighty, “Hi-ho, Silver!” (ok, I may have made that last bit up) they were gone. Almost as if they’d never been there…
As one group leader departed, another emerged: Crazy Legs sporting one of the sleekest, most luxurious and magnificent Van Dyke beards anyone could hope to grow in just seven days, ably fulfilling last week’s directive that the ride leader needed to be be-whiskered to signal his status to the rest of the group.
After studying Crazy Legs carefully for a minute or two, the ever-astute Garrulous Kid made a shock revelation. “That’s not a real beard,” he declared, somewhat hesitantly and we all stepped back in amazement, wondering how we’d been so easily duped.
Crazy Legs coughed up and spat out a fake hairball, before outlining our route for the day, which as a novelty and in preparation for the club hill climb, would see us reverse a familiar route in order to ride up the Ryals.
He got the tacit agreement that OGL would lead a shorter ride, avoiding the Ryals altogether, something OGL seemed more than keen to do as he appeared to be suffering from an immense hangover.
The Garrulous Kid himself keeps threatening to devise, post-up and lead a ride, if only he can overcome the twin barriers of growing facial hair and over-coming his disdain for Facebook, which “is rubbish” that “nobody ever uses.”
Knowing his aversion to cornering, G-Dawg wondered what sort of route the Garrulous Kid would devise, suggesting perhaps, “25 miles, straight up the A1 and then back again.”
I felt that he favoured right turns more than left, so perhaps just a big loop heading out east, then turning north, then swinging to the west before turning south and heading back to the start. We await actual further development with interest.
At the appointed time, Crazy Legs carefully peeled-off and pocketed his beard before he ingested anymore, or it became basted in sweat and spit, blew off his face and slapped some unfortunate rider behind like a wet kipper.
By removing his beard he at least earned the approval of ex old-school pro Walter Planckaert, the boss of professional cycling team Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, who has taken the unusual step of banning beards – and not just in the men’s team.
He defended his decision in the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad by insisting the ban was in order to maintain “the elegance of cycling”. I have to admit, I’m kind of sympathetic to his views – must be an age thing.
Anyhoo, the Planckaert-approved, now clean-shaven Crazy Legs then clipped in, pushed off and led us all out. A quick wave to Richard of Flanders heading in the opposite direction to coach the Go-Ride youngsters and we were soon out and onto the open roads.
Things seemed to be going smoothly until we passed through Ponteland and took a left onto country lanes. It wasn’t long before a fusillade of censorious shouting erupted from the back of the pack, the upshot apparently being that we needed to ease up on the pace.
More over-the-top shouting, screaming and swearing followed, as apparently we were still going too fast. Hmm, someone wasn’t happy back there. One minute Ovis was commenting on what an unusually good road surface we were riding over, the next, instead of enjoying it, we were soft-pedalling, and freewheeling along while being aurally lambasted for who knows what.
Yet more totally incoherent and unnecessary shouting had Taffy Steve demanding to know “what the fuck all the shouting was about?” and could he please have a simple, understandable and legible instruction about what we were doing.
Calls from behind seemed to suggest there was a dire need to stop and not knowing what was happening, if we’d had a puncture, a mechanical or some other issue, I called for the halt. At a convenient entrance to a field, the front of the group pulled to the side of the road and tried to find out what was happening behind.
It transpired the frantic, over-the-top ear-bashing was because OGL wanted a pee stop, but now apparently we’d stopped at “the wrong fuggen’ gate” that wasn’t our “usual fuggen’ pee stop”. He rode past us and off down the lane in a fit of pique.
Those who needed to pee had a pee – at the wrong fuggen’ gate – and we then re-assembled the group and pressed on. A bit further on we passed the right fuggen’ gate that was our “usual” fuggen pee stop. Here all the die-hard traditionalists and ultra-conservatives amongst us had the opportunity to uphold the moral order and do things properly and with great dignity … despite the fact that a large white Range Rover was parked up in this field and they had an audience of perhaps less than delighted onlookers.
No matter what, Crazy Legs was determined to keep the whole group together, so he had us slow and soft-pedal until everyone was finally back on.
We pushed on and I found myself in conversation with Cowin’ Bovril, missing for the past month or so because he’d been off working in France. We were chatting unconcernedly away, slowing as we approached a junction, when with a loud bang I put my front wheel through a large pothole in the road that I didn’t notice until I’d ridden through it.
We pulled around the corner and Cowin’ Bovril cast a critical eye over my tyre and suggested a pinch puncture. We stopped and I prodded the offending rubber with a thumb, just to confirm it was definitely going squishy.
The tube was repaired in short order, with OGL lending his super-strong hands and pincer like grip to rolling the tyre back onto the rim. A quick workout with my pump soon had the tyre inflated enough to get me around (as usual a rather paltry 50 psi when I checked with the track pump at home) and then we were off again.
I drifted slowly toward the back of the group just to keep an eye on any strugglers or stragglers and had a grandstand view as a car sped toward us, the driver rather deliberately ignoring Zardoz’s frantic signals for it to slow down. As the car zipped past, much too fast and much too close, Zardoz reached out and deftly twanged his wing mirror in rebuke. A mixture of shock, disbelief and outrage warred for dominance on the drivers face, as he finally slowed to try and work out what had just happened and if his precious car had been damaged. Arse hat.
The group split with OGL leading a splinter cell of on a wander, I guess just about anywhere as long as it avoided the Ryals, while the rest of us took to roads which were familiar, but we were now doing in reverse order.
We picked our way up through Hallington on the narrow, tree-shaded lane, carefully slaloming around pots and gravel and tussocks of grass, ruts and leaves and twigs, rattling down the final incline to the junction. From here we swung left, straight onto the heavy, grippy and draggy rises that presage the Ryals proper, draining any speed you want to carry onto the climb and draining your legs of any zip.
I think part of the reason the Ryals are seen as such a difficult climb is how they look as you approach, seeming to rise up like a wall and lour over you from a distance. Still, they’re relatively short, about 1.5km with an average gradient of about 5%. Get over the first and hardest ramp, where the gradient maxes out at about 19% and then there’s a short, flattish respite before you tackle the longer, but easier second ramp.
I did my best to roll up to the base of the climb, starting to pass a few flaggers, before the slope bit and I eased out of the saddle and worked my way upwards. Not surprisingly the climb is a lot easier without the 70 odd miles or so that precede them on the Cyclone route. I managed a personal best that might be difficult to better the next time I tackle the climb, which will invariably be during the next Cyclone.
We partially regrouped over the top and rolled down toward the Quarry Climb, giving the back markers a chance to re-join. I stomped up the Quarry and swung right, everyone following except the Garrulous Kid who went left, probably so he could try and beat himself in the sprint.
I slowed to wait, but a group of Jimmy Mac, Ovis and the Red Max darted away and began the race to the café, G-Dawg accelerated to reel them in and I dropped onto his wheel. The Colussus shot past us onto the front group, while G-Dawg closed the gap in a more measured fashion.
Crazy Legs caught the group as we swept through junctions and around sweeping bends, slowly building the speed. On the approach to the Snake Bends, G-Dawg, The Colossus and Jimmy Mac burned off the front, while I sparred with Ovis for the minor placings.
We regrouped for the final run to the café and arrived with perfect timing that rewarded us with no queues.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In a discussion of dogs and beaches, Taffy Steve said his vet felt they were a hazard to any good pet’s health, apparently as they’re a breeding ground for all sorts of canine nasties. The Red Max certainly knew about beach hazards and recounted how his daughter’s hybrid-pedigree was washed out to sea and appeared to be struggling. He’d flatly refused to even contemplate going in to try and rescue the pooch, but reassured her there was at least a 50-50 chance it would survive.
Luckily for him a large wave picked it up and flung it onto the sand and the dog lived to fight another day. I think he said it was a sprocker spaniel, but I don’t really do pedigree dogs, so may be mistaken. Taffy Steve though did suggest the double-dose of loopy you get from inter-breeding between two pedigrees, probably produced the perfect dog for Red Max’s household – a highly-strung, schizoid, hyperactive and excitable animal that will chase anything that moves.
Meanwhile, G-Dawg confided the problem with taking his dogs onto the beach was they seemed to delight in crapping in the sea, making recovery and bagging operations somewhat problematic.
OGL has suggested that despite club membership growing, ride numbers are falling. This isn’t the impression I have, so I offered to count back on the numbers I’ve recorded in this blerg for the past 3 years or so and see if this was actually the case.
Taffy Steve was disgusted when Crazy Legs and I enthusiastically conjured up as much management speak as possible in an ensuing discussion about the spreadsheets and interactive charts we could adopt to present back empirical evidence, that would give a holistic and overarching picture of performance thresholds and the intrinsic peripatetic synergies of ride numbers and allow us to drill-down to a much more granular level of detail. Or something …
Discussion of Crazy Legs’ universally appreciated route for the day led to a discussion about the route through Hallington, which is used by the pros during the Beaumont Trophy. We wondered how they coped with pots and gravel and tussocks of grass, ruts and leaves and twigs, while going at full bore – especially when G-Dawg confirmed he’d marshalled at that point before and the riders were often massed and charging, six deep across the road rather than picking their way carefully and in single-file. Scary stuff.
The Garrulous Kid showed he’s beginning to morph into a twisted OGL mini-me and has started to parrot some of Our Glorious Leaders more lurid tales. This is dispiriting not only because they’re second hand, but because we’ve all heard them countless times already and from the original source. Still, perhaps this is how tribal myths and legends develop and in 10,000 years our ancestors will be regaling themselves with tales of this bright OGL demi-god, his epic odyssey around the wildlands of Albion and his fearless feats of prowess. Perhaps not, though.
The Monkey Butler Boy turned up to ride back with us having been with his club for a photoshoot. What?
He engaged in rather desultory conversation with us while he waited, occasionally stroking and caressing his saddle. Luckily we left before things could develop any further.
The ride back was swift and largely uneventful, the most interesting thing that happened was being assaulted by a boom-box, disco-car – blacked out windows, fancy alloy wheels, bulbous body-kit and fat exhaust – the full works. Too loud man, it’s shrill … piercing!
I’m on record as stating that whenever you notice one of these monstrously loud, music-pounding cars you can never recognise what song they’re actually playing. Today however was the exception, blasting loud, proud and unafraid from this car was Rod Stewart’s Baby Jane. Now that’s what I call street cred.
YTD Totals: 5,633 km / 3,432 miles with 64,066 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 122 km / 76 miles with 1,142 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:25.5 km/h
Group size:24 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Tom Verlaine (Warm and Cool)
A dry looking Saturday, but grey and dull with light rain showers forecast, but not until around midday. I’d managed to survive a semi-debauched work leaving do involving “jalee-peeno” chilli peppers and “crotch mints” on Friday night (I couldn’t tell you, even if I knew…) and was looking forward to blowing the fuzz away with a bracing gentleman’s excursion by velocipede.
The dodgy knee was well-strapped up in an attempt to try and keep everything in place and I’d dug out some knee warmers to disguise the shocking pink bandage. I even remembered my long-fingered gloves, so was well wrapped up and warm dropping down the hill to start my ride.
The leaden, uniform cloud cover was fractured by only a single band of pale, glittering blue-sky, far away across the other side of the valley. It was exactly where I was heading and seemed like a good omen.
We were set for one of G-Dawg’s carefully prepared, somewhat alternative rides and he’d obviously been scouring ordnance survey maps, ancient parish records, local archives and the latest military-grade, topographical satellite imagery to find us a route somewhat less-travelled. The ride had been posted up on Facebook and looked like being not only novel, but slightly longer than usual. It was going to be a good one.
It seemed to be a day for fellow cyclists to be out on the roads in force – perhaps the forecast for rain later in the day had encouraged them to leave home early, or maybe they too needed to work off the previous night’s excesses.
I passed one group clustered just outside Pedalling Squares cycle café and hoped they didn’t need an espresso to kick-start their ride – the place was still an hour away from opening. I waved past another couple heading east and a third group tracked me along the valley floor for a while, but either turned off, or got caught behind some lights, so never caught up for a chat.
After last week’s flotilla of single sculls, there was only a solitary eight out on the river, leading me to idly speculate that rowing isn’t really as popular as it seems. Perhaps this eight was manned by the exact same rowers as last week’s sculls and they just changed boats occasionally to spice things up. If next week they’re back to 8-singles, or possibly 4-doubles, I think I might be onto something.
The knee got its first test as I climbed out the other side of the valley, but the strapping seemed to be doing its work, it wasn’t exactly 100% but I could live with a few small twinges. Interestingly it seemed less sore when climbing standing up and out of the saddle.
The first test passed, I was soon homing in on the meeting point, arriving in good time and in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
G-Dawg had bedecked himself in the brightest, most luminous, acid-orange socks I’d ever seen, perhaps so he was especially prominent as ride leader and to ensure no one got lost – the cycling equivalent of Rudolph’s red-nose? Taffy Steve later remarked he thought G-Dawg had installed a special two-tone gold chain with orange highlights, until he realised he was just seeing the glow of the glaringly orange socks reflected in the chains highly burnished plates.
The Garrulous Kid declared OGL had promised to show him the “secret way.” Yes, well … ahem … hmmm … moving swiftly on.
Crazy Legs was wearing a jersey I donated to him as it was too long in the body for me and I felt it was the perfect complement to his much cossetted Ribble. The colours were not only the exact shade of red, black and white to match the Ribble’s frame, but featured in almost identical proportions too. So, naturally he’d decided to wear it while riding his celeste Bianchi …
(He did actually explain that he fully intended to ride the much cossetted Ribble today, but it had refused, point-blank to leave the warm, dry sanctuary of its hyperbaric chamber, asserting there was just the faintest trace of moisture in the air and a more than 2.5% chance of rain.)
Jimmy Mac returned from participating in the UCI Gran Fondo event, where he’d lined up in Albi with 2,939 other riders from 56 different nations, including at least one Dutchman, our own de Uitheems Bloem. The latter has now left this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, in order to return to his homeland of polders and dykes. Veel success, Thomas, we’ll miss you.
Jimmy Mac had survived the Gran Fondo which, in his estimation had not only been blisteringly fast, but blisteringly hot too. Once again and much like the Etape du Tour, the event organisation seemed to have thoroughly let the riders down though and he reported the en route feed stations had run out of water long before he got to them.
G-Dawg outlined the route, OGL emphasised there was only one cut-off point for anyone wanting a shorter ride and we split more or less (we’re learning) into two equal groups with Crazy Legs leading the first and G-Dawg the second.
We pushed off, clipped in and rode out…
On the road with the first group, I started chatting with Taffy Steve and was taken to task for not acknowledging his most invaluable contributions in the engine room of last week’s gimp express, as we tried unsuccessfully to rein in the rampaging Zardoz and the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc.
Suitably chastened, talk turned to the “classic” bloke-films that Taffy Steve is ensuring his son has an encyclopaedic and deep, empathic understanding of, before the boy is cast, adrift and defenceless, into a world full of rom-cons, chick-flicks, historical dramas, much-too earnest bio-pics, classical literature screen-adaptations and other such horrors.
Point Break, the original 1960’s Batman and the Matrix films had already been covered off, while we discussed the relative merits of Die Hard, Predator and the Lethal Weapon series, with a special nod to Clint Eastwood, a few spaghetti-westerns and of course Where Eagles Dare.
Never mind the implausibility, the occasionally ropey special effects, the scripts full of anachronisms and “more holes than a horse trader’s mule” – just sit back and enjoy the visceral excitement. How good must it be to discover these films for the first time?
Once Crazy Legs had rotated off the front we had a remarkably rare sighting of a couple of Grogs leading us and their efforts dragged us to the top of the valley before the plunge down into Wylam.
It was here that OGL would lead off a splinter group for those seeking a slightly shorter ride, seemingly taking most of the Grogs with him along with the Garrulous Kid, who continues to take the easy option and might need to be renamed the Wimpy Kid.
It was also at this point that OGL’s “secret route” was revealed … apparently a different, safer way we could take down into the Tyne Valley. The only trouble was it was only accessible if we travelled a mile or two in the wrong direction down the Military Road.
I must admit I don’t quite understand his concern – the descent into Wylam is fast, but the road’s wide, the bends are all gently sweeping and the traffic relatively light. We usually get strung out going down, but soon regroup at the bottom for the ride along the river side.
Anyway, as Crazy Legs reasoned, it would still be far better to deal with the descent, even if it was gnarly, rather than spend any more time than absolutely necessary dicing with the reckless, impatient, and frequently speeding drivers on the Military Road “race-track.”
So, down we went and I tucked up and dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs, letting gravity do the work as we hit over 40 mph. As always, great fun.
Along the valley floor and a black cat darted across the road in front of us, the bell on its collar jingling lightly, but clearly loud enough for Crazy Legs to suggest it was nearly as good as cow bells on an Alpine climb. Once safely on the pavement the cat stopped to eye us up suspiciously, making sure we kept right on going.
At the Bywell Bridge, now fully open to anyone brave enough to venture into the dark and brooding lands south of the river, we stopped to merge with the following group led by G-Dawg. All together we then swung away to the right and starting the long climb back out of the valley.
I topped the hill before the A69 dual carriageway just off the front group and with perfect timing, as a gap miraculously appeared in the rushing traffic. I picked my way across to the other side without stopping and pulled up to ensure everyone was across before continuing to climb upwards.
We were now traversing the side of the hill, travelling slightly eastwards, rather than heading straight up and as the road continued to climb I started working my way through the back markers. Szell, Sneaky Pete, Aether and Brink in particular didn’t seem to be enjoying the uphill segments and I slipped past them as the road continued upwards.
We stopped to regroup and pressed on through more climbing – and then hit the rinse and repeat button, more climbing and more regrouping. Somewhere along the way I lost track of Szell and was convinced he was tailed-off and riding behind the group.
I communicated my concern to Rab Dee, our backmarker, sweeper-up and self-appointed guardian of waifs and strays and we spent an age soft-pedalling and peering backwards, hoping to see a struggling Szell finally haul himself into view. There was nothing.
We stopped and waited, finally surmising Szell may have taken a different route, before reluctantly pushing on again. At the junction Aether and Radman had waited for us, but the rest of the group had kept going.
We then had a mile or so chasing into the wind, before catching up to the rest of the group who were waiting at the next junction and insisted Szell was in a group up ahead! They still had trouble convincing me he wasn’t lost, alone and palely loitering, though.
At this point it became apparent we’d now lost Rab Dee too and Aether back-tracked to find he was having problems with his front shifter. Rab finally re-joined, but only long enough to let us know he was stuck in the inner ring and cutting short his ride to head homeward.
We now took one of G-Dawg’s “paths less-travelled” – turning off the main roads onto a rutted and pitted farm track that narrowed to the point where I was becoming concerned it was going to peter out altogether and abandon us in the middle of a field.
There were a few pots to avoid, lumps to slalom round and gravel to surf through, but we kept going and G-Dawg’s plan didn’t fail us.
With a noise like a Winchester ricochet in a cheesy Western, a wheel ahead spat up a small boulder which flew with unerring accuracy to rap Taffy Steve across the knuckles.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed, before quickly realising he had to translate his hurt into the local Geordie vernacular, or nobody would have a clue about what had happened…
“Ai-ya, that knaacks!” he quickly corrected himself.
Finally, we emerged from the wilderness onto more civilised roads, with everyone seeming to instantly recognise where they were. Well, everyone except me.
“This is part of the route the Cyclone takes,” Taffy Steve informed me.
“Maybe, but at this stage, after the Ryals, I’m usually reduced to an exhausted wreck with tunnel-vision and can only ride with my head bowed down. I don’t recognise anything.”
“How long have you lived in Newcastle?” Taffy Steve asked in disbelief.
“I don’t live in Newcastle,” I protested.
“Hmm, must just be because you work there that you’ve developed that thin veneer of civility.”
“Kee-argh!” Zardoz announced, at the sound of a motor-vehicle approaching from behind.
His exaggerated Scouse bleat still sounded like my cat retching up a fur-ball.
I tried to copy this most extraordinary noise, but succeeded only in sounding like a mildly startled crow. Embarrassingly, it was as pitiful as Ed Miliband’s death metal scream as he tried to imitate Napalm Death frontman, Barney Greenway.
“You need lessons,” Zardoz declared phlegmatically.
He wasn’t wrong.
Radman and Crazy Legs took to the front for the last push through Stamfordham and I finally recognised where we were. They swung us left and up the hill, as we started a last push on to the café.
Above us massive wind-turbines whirred freely and we quickly came to understand just why they’d been placed where they were, as out of nowhere, the stretch of road suddenly became a perfect, natural wind-tunnel, funnelling a vicious headwind straight into our faces.
Radman and Crazy Legs drove us through this gale and onto the junction leading down to the Snake Bends where, as suddenly as the wind had sprang up, it died away again.
There was no full-blooded sprint, just a general quickening of the pace and I was able to stay comfortably in line despite discovering I’d been riding on the inner ring.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I was somewhat relieved to discover Szell comfortably ensconced in the café when we arrived, supping his tea and devouring a warm scone. I guess he was in the group up the road after all, but I’m still confused as to when and where (and how?) he passed me on the climb.
We sat outside into the garden after being served, where the owner-proprietor of Azione bikes passed by and stopped for a brief chat. Azione must be the only people producing custom-made, bespoke carbon bikes in Newcastle (Azione.cc).
A couple of our crew are “Azionista’s” – one is very, very enthusiastic about the project, the other a little more circumspect. Very nice designs, but a bit too rich for my blood – which I guess is just another way of admitting I’m a cheapskate – or, as tight as a wallaby’s sphincter, as some of my more erudite friends might suggest.
I think Jimmy Mac got the full sales pitch, but refreshingly, unlike a similar encounter with the MD of the Storck UK, at least the Azione guy wasn’t trying to spin us a tale about his frames being anything other than high-end and unashamedly expensive, premium bikes.
The Garrulous Kid unwisely started guessing peoples ages, straddling the line between fawning sycophantism and uncomfortable, derogatory and disparaging disrespect. Luckily Taffy Steve cut him short before he really insulted someone.
Radman stated how much he’d enjoyed the ride and how it made a change from the shorter route he usually takes with the Grogs and we all agreed it had been a great one today. He wasn’t a fan of the coffee at the café though and we couldn’t persuade him to have a second cup, even after Crazy Legs had press-ganged the Garrulous Kid into collecting our refills – more for a moments respite than any laziness on our part.
Radman revealed the Grogs always met up early for a pre-ride espresso, which sounds very civilised and means they can time their arrival for after any OGL proselytizing – so not only civilised, but sensible too.
In the car park as we were leaving, I was approached by a couple enquiring which club we were from. Despite wondering if they were going to report us to the Police for unknown misdemeanours, I answered truthfully – the garish club jerseys were well represented anyway and they’re all emblazoned with the club name, so there wasn’t much wriggle-room.
Apparently though, the couple were cyclists from Lincoln (Lincoln Wheelers, I think) who were just returning from a walking event in Peebles and were admiring all the bikes. They seemed rather jealous that we had such a glorious day for a ride, while they still had a couple of hours drive ahead of them.
As we set off for home I dropped in behind Sneaky Pete and heard all about his potential 15 minutes of fame, as he’d been filmed for the new BBC One series, How to Stay Young, due to air on Wednesday, 13th September at 21.00.
Answering the call for retired gentlemen of a certain vintage, Sneaky Pete had to endure a battery of tests at the hands of no less than the fearsome Angela Ripon, before our mountain climbing and cycling superhero was declared an uber-healthy pensioner, with less than 6% body-fat and the physique of a 35-year-old Adonis.
We’ve yet to see if Sneaky Pete’s segment survives the cut, or is expunged for making the rest of us feel old, unworthy and inadequate.
Sneaky Pete, however is apparently not everyone’s flavour of the month. While I was away on holiday he’d found his picture appearing unsolicited on a social-media site, where he was accused, in terms that would make a sailor blush, of being a reckless cyclist who casually and disdainfully flouts the rules of the road.
Apparently Sneaky Pete and colleagues had been out on the usual Saturday club run and had somehow – and he has genuinely no idea how, or why – incurred the wrath of the driver of a black Mercedes. This woman had photographed him on her mobile and posted up the picture along with the derogatory remarks and had, apparently without the slightest hint of self-awareness or irony, accused him of breaking the law.
Just to be absolutely clear: The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No 4) Regulations 2003, prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is using a held-hand mobile telephone or a hand-held device. Regulation 110 (6)(c) provides a non-exhaustive list of “interactive communication functions” which are subject to this restriction, including: sending or receiving oral or written messages, sending or receiving facsimile documents, sending or receiving still or moving images, and providing access to the internet.
Contrary to what many drivers seem to think, the law still applies even if you’re stopped, or queuing in traffic – as the RAC conclude, “if your engine is running, your phone should be nowhere near your hands or eye line.”
Still, it’s good to know so many drivers have such a vested interest in ensuring people strictly adhere to the rules of the road …
It wasn’t long before I was swinging off and heading for home, enduring the lightest and briefest of rain showers that did nothing to dampen the mood or ruin the day. The knee held up quite well and only really hurt a couple of miles from home, when I needed to sprint through a small gap in the traffic at a busy roundabout.
Hopefully all on the road to recovery then.
YTD Totals: 5,409 km / 3,360 miles with 61,650 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 112 km / 70 miles with 991 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed: 25.6 km/h
Group size: 20 riders
Weather in a word or two: Cold and breezy
A grey cool and cloudy morning, the roads were bone dry and empty of traffic as I ripped down the hill, able to use the full width of the lane and just let the bike run with gravity.
I’m pretty content with my setup at the moment and the new tyres in particular have massively exceeded expectations. I don’t make a habit of recommending things, as I’m aware everyone has their own preferences and needs, and how they use something will probably be different from how I would, but I will say that when it comes to replacing my tyres I can’t see me looking much beyond these Vittoria Pro G+ Rubino’s. Then again, I am a committed Vittorian, so there’s probably a huge amount of confirmation bias in my assessment.
I’ve been running the Rubino’s since early April, so probably around 1,000 km and despite the horrible state of the roads around here, there’s not a mark on them – usually after a few runs I would expect at least a few nicks and cuts in the tread, but there’s nothing, nada, zip, zilch.
I’ve no idea if the graphene component actually makes any difference whatsoever and I suspect it’s all just marketing hyperbole, but the tyres undoubtedly roll well and grip seems very good. I was also expecting some loss of performance switching down from the more expensive, lighter and more supple, Corsa Evo’s, but if it’s happened it’s not remotely discernible to a plodder like me.
They also seem more comfortable and able to iron out at least some of the imperfections in the road, but I’m largely putting this down to switching from 23mm to 25mm width and the extra bit of cushioning that provides. Anyway, it all helps and I need all the help I can get – I’ve dropped around 4-5 pounds since Christmas and find it increasingly difficult to keep a high pace on broken and rough road surfaces.
There was no exotic birdlife to distract me on this week’s journey to our start point, although the Canada Geese had over spilled from Shibdon Pond and were lining the side of the road honking at the traffic like some avian picket line. The flying pickets? Hmm, maybe not.
For the first section, I had a brisk wind at my back, but that would change as soon as I crossed the river. Cloud cover overhead was fairly dark and uniform and the flags at a car dealership snapped away in the wind, lanyards clanging furiously on their poles – it was warm, but some distance from being a calm and settled day and rain looked a distinct possibility.
As I passed the power station on the run up to the bridge, the overhead lines hummed and buzzed relentlessly, suggesting the air was already full of moisture and lending credence to some of the forecasts that determined there was even a chance of a few isolated thunderstorms.
Over the river and yet more temporary lights delayed progress where it looked like they were busy extending the cobblestone runway. Oh well, more bits of road to avoid. This new obstacle finally negotiated, I slogged my way out of the valley, up and on to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
G-Dawg was already waiting, eager to show off his new blue Michelin tyres, carefully colour coordinated to match his frame and very, very blue. Did I mention they were blue? When questioned he made the valid point that he didn’t know how good the tyres were performance-wise– but that wasn’t the point was it? They were blue!
He did however suggest blue tyres probably weren’t that big a seller and the dealer reportedly had hundreds in stock, so he too looks well set for tyre choice from now on.
Crazy Legs complained that the gold chain was beginning to look just a little out of place. Whether or not G-Dawg can source a more aesthetically pleasing, matching blue one remains to be seen.
Szell rolled up, leapt off his “fat lad’s bike” and immediately started fiddling with his seatpost clamp. We immediately asked if he’d seen OGL’s new bike, wondered how it would fit Szell for size and if he actually liked the custom colour scheme he’d soon be inheriting.
He admitted he’d thought of taking his bike to OGL to have the seatclamp fettled, but was worried the whole thing would be condemned outright and he’d be told nothing was salvageable, except maybe the bottle cages. Then it would be revealed, that it just so happened there was one of OGL’s old bikes he could have that would be a perfect fit…
Zardoz sidled up and began playing possum, feigning weakness, decrepitude and general infirmity before we’d even started out … but managing to fool no one.
“Hey, you were limping on the other leg just before.” Taffy Steve, noted dryly.
Zardoz finally admitted that even among the infamous Wednesday Wrecking Crew of Venerable Gentlemen Cyclists™ (WWCVGC) it had been his turn to dish out the pain this week and try to rip everyone’s legs off. It’s duly noted, he’s flying.
Considering we have a bevy of people in Majorca, some off doing the Wooler Wheel and even one or two apparently tracing one of the Prof’s eccentric routes up and down the north east coast to Seahouses for, err… fun, the turnout wasn’t too bad for the ride that had been pre-planned and publicised by Crazy Legs. It was worth noting however that shorn of “chick-magnet” Benedict, none of the girls were present.
With a reasonable group size of just twenty riders and no need to split at the start, a turn-off for a shorter route up past the Quarry was planned, while the rest would head down the Ryals before looping back round to the café.
Off we set and I dropped in alongside Richard of Flanders for the first section. The Plank, newly returned from a posting overseas and a bad racing crash, proved that the competition for the clubs smallest, leakiest bladder was still very much alive, highlighted by his constant forays off the front to ensure maximum exposure for his micturition ministrations.
The Prof is due to set a route and lead us out next week, so we’ll probably have more pee stops than a Saga coach trip around British micro-breweries – and an opportunity to assess pee performance head-to-head. This should go some way to identifying which of the two is in the running as a role model for TENA.
I found myself riding alongside Keel for the next section and discovered we both share a mutual fascination with the odious, venal, perfidious, paranoid, incompetent, infantile, thin-skinned and (what I find most surprising and disturbing) dumb as a stump Trump. There’s reportedly an old Chinese saying – “may you live in interesting times” and America’s presidential selection (as Crazy Legs rightly predicted) has delivered in droves.
We then called timeout for an official pee-stop, much to the Plank’s relief and I observed several of my fellow cyclists huddled among bushes – not I hasten to add actually “in the bushes” – just so that’s clear.
We passed through the village of Ryal and pinned back our ears to hurtle down its attendant slopes, hitting almost 70 kph, before by-passing our usual route and the sharp climbs through Hallington, for a wider sweep to the west before back-tracking toward the café.
This new, longer, but less severe route met with Taffy Steve’s approval, but I couldn’t help missing the stiffer climbing test through Hallington, if only as a means of injecting a little pain, and tiredness into the legs of the rouleurs among us before the final run in.
Now we only had the ascent of what Strava identifies as “Humiliation Hill” to soften up the big boys and it wasn’t going to be enough. I found myself climbing next to Szell, who was going full bore and interspersed deep and heavy panting with an unseemly series of grunts, groans and moans, like the soundtrack to a bad 80’s porn film.
At the climax, so to speak and as we crested the top, Zardoz breezed past, puffed out his cheeks and issued an explosive per-te-cusht. Bloody hell, I didn’t know I was riding with Ivor the Engine!
A scooter gang in a long, spluttering and farting line then buzzed past in the opposite direction. They seemed disappointingly dowdy and unkempt bunch, with to none of the vintage, well-maintained Vespa’s, bright shining chrome and mirrors, or the sharp clothes I would associate with a proper scooter club.
In their wake, they trailed the smell of 2-stroke exhaust fumes, something I always find strangely redolent of ice-cream vans parked by a beach in summer – an odd juxtaposition with a grey, gloomy and chill day in the wilds of Northumberland.
Now on a long, straight, rolling stretch of road and still miles short of the café, Crazy Legs decided to shake things up and attacked off the front and soon a small knot of four or five had opened up a sizeable gap. I started to work my way forward to try and jump across, flitting from wheel to wheel as riders were spat out the back.
I jumped from Taffy Steve’s wheel to the Big Yin’s and from there into the no-mans-land between the two groups, slowly starting to close before progress stalled and I hung chasse patate for a while. Luckily, I’d either dragged G-Dawg with me, or he’d bridged onto my back wheel, as he then came pounding past and I dropped in behind and we started to home in on the front group again.
With the gap down to about 20 metres, it was G-Dawg’s turn to stall and hang in space, but I was finally able to pull us across and we latched onto the back of the train, just as it barrelled down and around a series of long sweeping curves.
We then hit the last, short, sharp rise to the junction of the road leading down to the Snake Bends. Boxed in between Crazy Legs and G-Dawg I attacked the slope too hard and in danger of running into the wheels in front and with nowhere to go either side, I eased, touched the brakes and bang – a gap instantly opened up.
I gave chase, but the group was in full cry and there was no getting back this time, as I bounced and battered away down the heavily pitted and cratered surface. Trying to find a slightly smoother ride away from the road buzz, I swung out across the lane, surfing along the white lines, which helped, but just a little.
Crazy Legs was the next to lose contact, eased out of the back of the hurtling front group and I slowly started to claw my way across to him. A rattling, banging and clunking behind announced another rider had tracked me down and, as the road dipped and straightened, the Big Yin whirred past. I knew he was coming and tried to follow but had nothing left and couldn’t hold his wheel. Meanwhile up ahead he passed Crazy Legs, who was able to latch on and they pulled away from me.
Through the Snake Bends, across the main road and onto the parallel lane, I resumed the chase and finally caught up with everyone at the last junction, just in time to see a black and yellow blur flash past as Taffy Steve barrelled down the main drag and past us all. “Never mind first in the sprint, it’s first in the café queue that really counts,” he later proclaimed.
As ever that was fast, fun and furious, although I’m beginning to develop a bit of an aversion for that particular run in and its horrible road surface. Still, even if glass smooth I don’t think I’ll be up contesting the final sprint anytime soon.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
G-Dawg sat down with his usual ham and egg pie, then had a bacon buttie delivered to the table and when a waitress turned up with a toastie, we all thought that was his as well. Taffy Steve concluded that it didn’t matter if G-Dawg was alone, or with Son of G-Dawg, he always bought and consumed exactly the same amount of food.
With another successful, pre-determined, pre-publicised, non-OGL dictated ride under our belts, we were all looking forward to next week, when the Prof has volunteered to boldly lead us onward.
This could prove interesting, or challenging – or maybe both. The Prof does not enjoy a reputation for having an infallible, unerring sense of direction and has been known to lead us merrily down one hill, only to realise his mistake, turn us sharply around at the bottom and make us climb straight back up again. He also has a curious affinity for long, long rides along unknown roads with unknown destinations.
Eon seem somewhat wistful that he would be away next week and would miss our adventures on the Prof’s route, declaring that he was off visiting family and would be riding around Blackpool.
“Don’t worry,” I told him, “We’ll probably see you there.”
With rain starting to batter the café windows, Richard of Flanders wondered if it was “cape weather” on the way back and I wondered if he thought he was Batman.
This led to us re-visiting the concept of actual cycling capes and whether the World Champion wasn’t deserving of a rainbow, striped cape. Everyone imagined that Peter Sagan, the ultimate showman, would be well up for this, although Taffy Steve thought he’d probably demand his cape have an ermine collar and be lined in leopard skin.
Well-educated through multiple screenings of The Incredibles, Richard of Flanders was concerned that any cape was likely to be a liability that could catch in the back wheel. We explained that as a World Champion, the wearer was expected to be able to pedal fast enough to keep the cape always streaming out behind them, except in the neutralised zones of course, where their domestiques would be required to form a procession either side of the champion and hold up his train.
In a sudden flash of insight, Taffy Steve declared that Peter Sagan was the Chris Eubank of the cycling world. Things took a turn for the truly bizarre when he next mentioned his idea of a great reality programme involved getting Peter Sagan, Chris Eubank and Jean-Claude Van Damme all off on a bike ride together. Shudder.
Talk of Rab Dee’s super-dense brownies, so dense in fact that that they’ve been credited with having their own gravitational pull, led to the suggestion that he was deserving of an award for being the most gentlemanly of our riders.
Trying to think of someone who could challenge Rab in this category, Richard of Flanders suggested Grover and was somewhat shocked to learn of his (probably) undeserved reputation as OGL’s enforcer in absentia. That’s the secret police for you – insidious and innocuous, until they’re kicking in doors and taking down the names of anyone who hasn’t paid their subs, or dares to ride without mudguards.
Taffy Steve and I then had a brief chuckle when he cast OGL in the role of Raffles, the Gentleman Thug from Viz.
With no Garrulous Kid to provide a suitable injection of fresh ridiculousness, we were heartened by recalling the time he asked G-Dawg if he knew Son of G-Dawg. This it was suggested was the most asinine question since Donna Air asked The Corrs how they first met, although personally I didn’t think it was as funny as when Shouty finally realised the pair were father and son and all the food G-Dawg bought Son of G-Dawg at the café wasn’t some sinister form of grooming.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs recalled his days spent working government contracts and pondering such deep, philosophical questions as the difference between a midget and a dwarf and the apparently popular conundrum (amongst the IT Crowd) – if you had the chance to sleep with all of the Corrs, but only if you did actually sleep with all of the Corrs, in what order would you do it? I wonder if Jim Corr would be happy that he’s the cause of so much inefficiency within the public sector?
We set out for the trip back in a fairly depressing, quite heavy and chill shower and I immediately kicked off onto the front with Richard of Flanders to try an warm up. As we passed Kirkley Hall and turned along the narrow lane up to Berwick Hill I pondered how many lunatics we’d likely meet, driving too fast in the opposite direction. Richard suggested three and asked for the over-under – I was feeling strangely optimistic, so went with under.
As we hit the bottom of the climb, Richard of Flanders slipped back and was replaced on the front by Crazy Legs and as we started to climb side by side, I pressed on the pedals just a little bit harder to try and keep us at an even pace.
We passed under an electric pylon with the cables audibly buzzing and spitting in the damp air – as sure a sign as any, according to Crazy Legs that there was a lot of rain about and that Cloudchaser had failed in his primary task.
As we approached the crest of the hill, I remarked that, “It’s very quiet back there.” Turning around we found we’d managed to drop everyone but G-Dawg and were climbing in splendid isolation. Oops. We slowed to regroup and we pushed along through Dinnington, before ceding the front to G-Dawg and Eon.
I dropped in alongside Taffy Steve, who looked at the dark band of clouds boiling up over Mordor and suggested it was going to be a long, wet ride back into the wind. Still feeling optimistic, I told him I was sure the rain was going to stop and I’d at least get the chance to dry off before I got home. He laughed at me and suggested I might as well wish that Theresa May wouldn’t win the General Election in a landslide.
I told him if you were going to dream, you might as well dream big, something I’d seen on a poster a long time ago, so knew it must be profoundly true. Then the rest of the group were turning off and I followed Eon and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile before spinning away, directly into the headwind to pick my way home.
The wind made absolutely sure that there’d be no chance of any Strava PR’s on the trip back, but just as I started the climb of Heinous Hill, I swear the sun poked a hole in the clouds and briefly threw my shadow up alongside me for company. It wasn’t quite enough to dry me out, but at least provided a more pleasant finale to another good ride.
YTD Totals: 2,887 km / 1,794 miles with 31,684 metres of climbing