So, a fortnight ago I set off for the usual club ride, dropped down the hill and was pushing along the valley when the Frankenbike developed a very annoying tic in the form of a very annoying tick.
… tick followed tock followed tick followed tock followed tick on every pedal stroke. It looked like I’d chewed through another bottom bracket and the sound was incessant and annoying enough to destroy any hopes I had for a pleasant ride. I made it to the river before stopping to wiggle and kick and prod and probe, all seemingly to no avail and faced with the aural equivalent of Chinese water torture I turned for home.
The following week it wasn’t so much this that kept me off the bike …
the local streets on Friday evening, but this …
Another little dance with the Covid devil and 5 days self-isolating.
So last Saturday saw me heading out for a club run after two weeks enforced absence. With the Trek still waiting for the arrival of a new bottom bracket I chose to risk the summer bike, hoping there’d be little rain, the roads would be largely dry, and I’d be forgiven for riding without mudguards. Bad choice number#1?
It was a wet start, but the showers had passed by the time I made the meeting point and was able to ship and stow the rain jacket. In fact, the weather was, well, according to Brassneck anyway, good enough for shorts and a bit of early season leg exposure. My aged, brittle and fragile knee joints begged to differ, and I felt my views on the weather were somewhat vindicated when the Enigma cruised past wearing (much to our surprise) some kind of lightweight jacket instead of the usual cotton T-shirt.
Brassneck also revealed that as well as serving ideally for small frame repairs and protection, he’d found a veterinary use for the miracle that is gaffer tape, which he reckoned was ideal for strapping up canine tails when they were wagged so hard, they broke against pieces of common household furniture!
Our idle banter was interrupted by the high-volume automated voice issuing from a portacabin that had appeared in the multi-storey car park as a precursor to some work being done there. The portacabin had for some reason determined that the poor workman simply trying to open its door was, for whatever reason, persona non grata, intent on assaulting its integrity and was issuing all sorts of dire warnings about CCTV and emergency calls to the local constabulary.
Smart bombs, smart phones, smart watches, smart cars, smart TV’s, I can kind of understand, but smart portacabin’s? That’s surely a step too far?
Crazy Legs briefed in the route, we split the 18 or so gathered into two groups, delayed until 16 minutes past just in case Carlton was uncharacteristically late (he was, but by more than the minutes grace we allowed him), and away we went. I bumped down the kerb and fell into line alongside Ovis as we headed out.
We passed out through Ponteland and up past the cafe at Kirkley, somehow all managing to resist turning in for an impromptu coffee break, even when Biden Fecht cheekily called for a left turn. Somewhere along the drag up to the Gubeon we rotated onto the front of the group and I led with Ovis until we passed through Whalton and started to climb out of the village when I dropped back.
Just before Bolam a pee stop was called for and Goose demanded to know if we were all ready for a Malt Loaf appearance. Huh? We wondered if this was some half-arsed tribute to Meat Loaf that Goose had been working on and whether he was preparing us for the aural assault of the chorus of Bat out of Hell. I never did get to the bottom of what he was referring to, and if he was carrying some cakey, malt loaf treats in his back pocket they remained well hidden.
Someone mentioned the seriously asthmatic Meat Loaf had belonged to the fervid anti-vaxer and anti-masker brigade and had contracted and died of Covid. Being the deplorable human being I am, I couldn’t help but bark with laughter at someone who’d rather die than, in his own words “be controlled” by … err … politics? His choice I guess, but its my choice if I think that’s incredibly dumb.
I had a chat with Biden Fecht about that afternoon’s Milano-San Remo, my deeply insightful and invariably misinformed contributions being that I thought Wout van Aert was stronger than he looked at Tirreno-Adriatico and had a good chance, Mathieu van der Poel was way off form and had no hope in hell and that I didn’t understand why Pogačar was such a firm favourite. I reasoned there weren’t any climbs long enough or hard enough for him to make a difference and, while his sprint is great amongst other climbers, I wasn’t convinced he could beat the specialists and rouleurs in a flat finish.
I also couldn’t see any way that everyone’s favourite Irishman, Filipp O’Ganna would be in the mix at the pointy end of the race, just to prove how well I understand pro cycling …
The climb up to the cafe at Capheaton was taken with enough pace to make me think I’d earned my cake – a glistening, slab of moist, good looking, gluten-free Orange and Almond. Bad choice number#2?
Goose followed my lead and was able to confirm my initial impressions that it wasn’t a “good bake” and tasted rather unpleasantly rtificial – perhaps a little too heavy-handed on the orange essence?
It would however provide us with certain savage amusement later, as we watched the disgusted expressions that periodically wandered across the face of Zardoz every time he took a bite, as he too found the Orange and Almond cake didn’t taste anywhere near as good as it looked.
With no obvious connection to the conversation that preceded it, someone declared that Steven Spielberg regretted making Jaws because it had given sharks a bad reputation. And here was me thinking it was because of some deep, primordial instinct stirred up by their flat dead eyes, rows of sharp teeth and reputation for killing people.
As we were packing up to leave I noticed Captain Black’s voice had become very prominent above the general chatter in the room. Goose suggested this was quite a new phenomena and something he’d noticed recently too.
“I think he’s going a bid deaf,” he offered by way of explanation.
“I think he’s just spent far too much time in your company,” I suggested as an alternative theory.
“Eh? What?” Captain Black might have added. But didn’t.
Back on the bike and on the run down to West Belsay, James III took a flyer off the front and Biden Fecht followed, quickly opening up a big gap. Behind, Ovis finally set off in pursuit and I dropped as unobtrusively as I could onto his wheel and held station, letting him drag me up to Biden Fecht while I got a free ride. I enjoyed the moment he looked back and saw me lurking there, but I’m not sure Ovis appreciated it.
We reformed as a quartet through the junction and pushed on to Belsay, where Biden Fecht suggested amending our usual run home by routing back through Whalton and the Gubeon. I didn’t need the extra miles, so swung off and headed toward Ogle for a solo run.
I managed to stay out in front alone all the way until the descent of Berwick Hill, when Goose bridged up from a group behind and we rode the rest of the way together, before I went off to plough my lonely furrow back home.
So, just your average common or garden club run, but it was good to be back.
Total Distance: 112 km/70 miles with 1,000 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 17 minutes
Average Speed: 26.0 km/h
Group size: 33 riders, 5 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Splendid
Main topic of conversation at the start:
I arrived at the meeting point to find a glowering BFG being warily circled by a couple of FNG’s who were keeping their distance and not daring to approach until I arrived to show them he was actually quite harmless.
Just to be contrary the BFG has resorted to type and was once again out on something venerable and vintage and made of steel. He’d even thought about adding a fake nut to the top of his stem just to see if he could inspire OGL to once again tell us the tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on one during a track meet. It’s a tale that never grows old in the telling…
Crazy Legs’s 39 days must have been up as he appeared sporting his new, faithfully and painstakingly reproduced Oakley Jawbreakers. Very smart. Attracted by the spectacle(s) the Prof then emerged through a milling crowd of cyclists to give him a hug – seemingly one of many that would take place throughout the day.
The Prof then stopped by to acknowledge how much he looks forward to his mentions in this humble blog. He is of course one of the more frequently featured characters, though trailing a somewhat distant second to his tiny, leaky bladder.
OGL arrived and dipped his head to fully reveal his new helmet, emblazoned with the club name across the top. What next, custom mudguards in club colours? Where will it end?
He then proceeded to have a bizarre conversation with one of the FNG’s when she stepped forward to introduce herself:
“You phoned me last Wednesday?”
“Err, no I e-mailed you last week”
“But you texted me yesterday?”
“Err, no I emailed last week”
“So was it you who messaged me on Facebook?”
“Err, no …”
Oh well, she passed the first test – showing patience and empathy for the infirm and senile.
One of the other FNG’s was having trouble with his bike, which was laid supine as he did something indescribable to the seat post. For one dread moment I thought we were going to be accompanied all the way around by someone else insisting that you don’t need a saddle, but thankfully he finally had it sorted.
His girlfriend cheerfully informed us they’d ridden across the Alps together, but that was two years ago and they hadn’t done a lot since. I assured her we wouldn’t be tackling any Alps today, but had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to end well.
The boyfriend had a decent enough bike and seemed to know his way around an Allen key, but rather oddly was wearing white football shorts over his bibshorts and had his helmet on at a rather odd, rakish angle. Maybe it’s incipient OCD or something, but I have to admit the latter is something I just can’t abide – I often have to adjust Crazy Legs’s helmet at the café so it sits just right before I’ll let him be seen out in public with us.
We were doing that usual cyclist trick of spilling aimlessly across the entire pavement, engrossed in waves of endless, nonsensical banter and completely oblivious to the fact that bikes and bodies had formed a rather formidable and impenetrable maze.
One old biddy was having trouble threading her way amongst us with her wheeled shopping bag until Richard of Flanders emitted an ear-drum shattering bellow that shocked us into silence and had us parting like the Red Sea.
Unfortunately, his aural assault caused the old biddy to almost leap out of her skin with fright and when she clutched at her chest and wavered I thought she was going to have a heart attack and topple head first into the shopping trolley. Luckily she recovered and casting fearful looks at us all scuttled away as quickly as she could manage.
Crazy Legs was left to ponder if the shock had been fatal whether we would have sprayed her shopping trolley white and chained it to a nearby lamppost like one of those Ghost Bikes left as a memorial to killed and injured cyclists.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Taffy Steve was out on his titanium love-child and declared the thrice-cursed winter bike had been put into deep storage for the rest of the year, having first removed the pedals in case they seized up. He then suggested he hadn’t loosened the seat clamp because he didn’t really care if the seat tube seized in the frame, reasoning that he’d stopped growing, so couldn’t foresee a need to alter his riding position.
G-Dawg wondered if a seized seat tube meant you could totally remove the clamp and save few crucial micrograms, then remembered a recent run where a malfunctioning clamp saw a saddle slowly sink lower and lower until the rider was pedalling with his knees around his ears. Not a good idea then.
Thoughts turned to the round-ball game as notable local events were somewhat dominated by the conviction of Adam Johnson and the appointment of Rafael Benitez. No one quite knew which one had drawn the worst sentence.
Someone even suggested that Mr. Johnson was likely to be the happier of the two as he would now be referred to as Adam Johnson the paedophile rather than Adam Johnson the Sunderland player. Ouch.
Everyone was baffled by Rafa citing being close to his family as a reason for venturing back to “Northern England” and surprisingly it wasn’t the fact that we actually consider Liverpool be in the South that caused the confusion. What was troubling was that Rafael Benitez, well-travelled, urbane and international football manager at the likes of Madrid, Tenerife, Valencia, Naples and Milan, chose to leave his family in Liverpool. We wondered if he’d consider Wallsend or possibly Byker as a suitable place for future re-location.
Thoughts turned to much more engaging and worthwhile sporting endeavours with the Classics just around the corner and both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico in full swing. Thinking of the latter, Shoeless demanded to know what the “big, fuck-off pointy pitchfork thing” was all about.
Spry, something of an expert on esoteric cycling trophies as highlighted by a page of his blog (The Weird and Wonderful World of Cycling Trophies funnily enough) patiently explained that it was representative of Neptune’s trident as the Tirreno-Adriatico was a race run between the two seas. We then speculated on how the race could be improved if the leading rider was made to carry the trident along with them.
It was a short step from there to imagining a handicap system where riders were obliged to carry the trophies of their previous conquests, something that would be particularly debilitating for Fabian Cancellara and we imagined him bent almost double and shuffling awkwardly to the Paris-Roubaix sign-on, burdened down with the three huge cobble-stones stuffed in his back pockets.
Next up on our agenda for searing insight and erudite comment was Paris-Nice and the chances of Geraint Thomas taking an historic first win, always recognising of course his penchant for falling off his bike at the most inopportune time. Someone mentioned he’d crashed once already, apparently while trying to dislodge a stone caught between his saddle and frame. Fanciful I know, but it was a short step from there to imagining a smug and smiling Fabian Cancellara riding behind him and winking at the camera, happy to have used his astonishing sleight of hand to palm one of his cobblestones off on an unwitting dupe.
The Prof stopped by our table on his way to the toilet, pausing long enough for a quick hug with Crazy Legs. Taffy Steve suggested their homo-erotic displays were becoming a bit much and suggested they might want to think about getting a room. He then ventured to suggest a bit of prostate milking might actually help with the Prof’s constant urge to wee.
At this point OGL approached, snapping on a pair of latex surgical gloves and we all recoiled in horror at what we thought was about to unfold. Much to our relief he neatly side-stepped our table and began to work fixing a puncture on Laurelan’s bike.
Needless to say the Prof claimed the discarded inner tube to add to his growing treasure trove of cast-off bits and pieces and road-kill. OGL recounted visiting the Prof’s secret laboratory/workshop/lair and finding rows and rows of used inner tubes all bizarrely hanging out to dry on the washing line.
So, who the fuck is Zakaria Amirouch?
Actually that’s a bit of a rhetorical question, I know that Zakaria Amairouch is a cyclist in Tetouan, Morocco. I guess what I really want to know is why does he feel the need to post his rides on our club Strava group? As far as I know Zakaria Amarouch has no connection with the club, has never been to the North East, doesn’t ride the same routes as the rest of us and doesn’t choose to interact with us in any way shape or form, either through Strava or any other channel.
So what exactly does he get out of it? Are we meant to be impressed by his mileage totals, huge rides, stupid photos, KoM’s or his single-minded, some would say borderline psychotic dedication to hunt down and join every single Strava group that exists? Do me a favour Zakaria and fuck off.
Sorry, rant over.
So the much anticipated day arrived, Spring is upon us and the promise of fine dry weather has riders across the region rubbing their hands with unfettered glee as they stow away winter bikes and carefully awaken carbon beasts from deep slumber.
As I gently lift Reg out from his nest between my single-speed and rat-bag mountain bike I can only marvel at how light it is. Don’t get me wrong this is no super-lightweight, fully carbon-outfitted, uber-machine with all the most exotic components. Nor is it anywhere close to troubling the UCI and their preposterous 6.8kg weight limit, but at bang on 9 kilos fully loaded it’s considerably and very noticeably lighter than the Peugeot.
I’d checked the bike over the night before, inflated the tyres with a new, super-slick BBB track pump, and fitted a mount for my knock-off GoPro onto the saddle rails. I was good to go and eager to start.
I’d forgotten how much fun it is to ride on a twitchy, responsive carbon blade and as I dropped down to the valley floor I found I was clipping along two miles an hour faster than usual, stretched out by the different geometry and grinning like an idiot. I don’t think the bike is actually worth an extra 2 miles an hour, I was simply riding on a wave of pure exuberance and joie d’ vivre.
Even the lights on the bridge were in my favour and I skipped over the river without stopping and began spinning up the other side of the valley, looking forward to a good ride out. I wasn’t alone at the meeting place, finding just about everyone had abandoned mudguards and heavy winter bikes in favour of their “Saturday best”.
G-Dawg even turned up wearing shorts, resolutely declaring it was Spring and there was no turning back now.
The relatively mild and dry conditions had undoubtedly been a big draw and around 33 riders and a smattering of FNG’s pushed off, clipped in and rode out. At this point the BFG rolled past me and declared he thought he’d seen everything, but this was the first time we’d had a bike with a kickstand out on the club run.
I fell in with the Prof who informed me the Frankenbike, my old crashed and trashed Focus that he had repaired and restored to life in his secret laboratory/lair/workshop, was being honourably retired from service now that he’d found a frame that was a better fit for Mrs. Prof.
He then revealed his dirtiest, darkest secret, admitting he would consider buying a bike with normal sized wheels if he could only find one that increased in value rather than depreciated. Despite my uncertainty he seemed convinced such bikes exist, although even if they do I’m not sure that appreciating value would be one of my major (or even very, very minor) considerations when buying a new bike.
Somewhere around this point I hit a pot and with a loud clatter my pretend GoPro launched from under my saddle and bounced alarmingly across the road. The FNG in football shorts retrieved it for me and handed it across. A quick check seemed to suggest that it was as shockproof as claimed, but the retaining bolt that kept it fixed to the bracket had worked loose and disappeared. There was no quick way of fixing the camera back in position, so I tucked it away into a back pocket and pressed on. It’s a shame, because I was quite impressed with some of the backward facing shots I had managed to gather in the short time it was working.
I then began what would become the first of many chases to catch back onto our group. Having accomplished this, I found myself slotting in right at the back, where Pierre Rolland look-alike, Spry (not facially, but I can see a definite similarity in style and form on the bike), was cruising along with his dad, Andeven.
As we hit the bottom of Berwick Hill, the FNG accompanying the one in football shorts began to slide swiftly backwards and I watched as a gap between the front and back of our group yawned quickly open.
Andeven skipped around her and gave chase, while I waited a little longer. When it became obvious that even if she made it back up to our group she’d never complete the ride, I pulled out and started my own chase back.
As I closed over the top of the hill I passed a faltering Arnold who said he was doing ok and then found Laurelan who was somewhat detached from our group and drifting backwards. She said she was ok too, but was worried about Arnold who, despite his assertions wasn’t ok and wasn’t feeling all that good.
I noticed OGL dropping back off the front group to see what was happening, so relayed across to him to let him know the FNG’s were well adrift and Arnold was suffering. He went back to investigate further and lend assistance while I gave chase again.
Catching up with the group, I found myself riding alongside Zardoz who was fighting to stave off the incipient onset of serious man flu and reported that someone had broken into his shed and nicked his winter bike. Both perhaps valid reasons for Crazy Legs to declare that Zardoz was the angriest man riding that day, especially after an altercation with a RIM who refused to slow down as he drove toward us down a narrow country lane
This encounter had Zardoz’s moustaches brisling like a face-off between angry tomcats and had him swearing through them with an admirable degree of fluidity and imagination. Gone was the mask of twinkle-eyed, avuncular, bon homie he usually adopts – here was the real cold-hearted cycling assassin revealed in all his dark majesty.
At some point OGL hauled ass past me, breathing hard, but able to gasp out that there’d been no sight of the FNG’s when he went back to look for them and that they must have abandoned the ride. At the rather inevitable pee stop I found that both Laurelan and Arnold had managed to re-join however and did indeed seem ok.
After this short break I found myself riding with Crazy Legs, who like Zardoz was also suffering from incipient man-flu and blaming his infection on sitting next to a 6’4” Irish Elvis impersonator during a business meeting. From my understanding the Elvis impersonator was an all-round good bloke who had been skilled enough at his craft to get a paying gig in Las Vegas. I never did work out what an IT firm needed an Elvis impersonator for though.
As we started up a steep hill behind the BFG, there was an audible hiss of escaping air and Crazy Legs called out, “Puncture!” The BFG dutifully relayed the call up the line, then turned to ask who’d punctured. I could see Crazy Legs giving himself a mental face-palm as he pointed to the BFG’s rear tyre and replied with a sparse, “You have…”
We all gathered together at the top of the hill to wait for repairs to be made. OGL decided that we should split the group and that depending on which group the BFG wanted to ride with the others could press on while the rest waited.
Crazy Legs trailed down the hill to ask the question and then dragged himself back up to inform us the BFG had said he would decide when he re-joined!
Finally underway again, we began travelling down a road where all the potholes had been marked with big yellow brackets spay-painted around them. I assume this means that they’re eventually going to repair the road, but even if they don’t the paint did a great job of showing us which bits to avoid.
The Red Max went off on what, even by his own crazed standards, was an impressively long and very ambitious lone break. At one point Spry said he was thinking of bridging across so the pair could work together, then realised we were bearing down on Middleton Bank and Red Max would soon be engulfed in an unequal duel with gravity and unlikely to be in position to offer much assistance.
Despite the daunting obstacle of the climb to come, Carlton and Cowin’ Bovril seemed determined to bring Max to heel sooner rather than later and whipped up the pace of the pursuit.
We turned right at a junction that dumped us directly onto the bottom of the climb, which was good as there was no time to even think about finding the right gear and less chance of making a mess of things like I did the week before.
Andeven attacked from the very bottom of the climb and quickly pulled away, while I slotted in behind Shoeless as the slope began to bite. As we hit the steepest section I levered myself out of the saddle and swung across the white line, accelerating upwards. Bit by bit I overhauled Shoeless and started to creep past G-Dawg. There was a shout of “car!” from someone at the back and I looked behind to find I’d opened up a big enough gap to slot into, so I swung back across the road and out of danger.
It was now just a case of keeping going, as I slumped back in the saddle, hugging the left hand gutter so there was plenty of room for anyone to pass me. I had no idea what was going on behind, or where the others were and couldn’t hear a thing beyond my rasping, panting breath. I was gasping like an asthmatic chain-smoker with emphysema being forced to run wind sprints up a mountain and it would took another 2 or 3 miles before my breathing returned to normal.
I was however slowly closing on Andeven and might have caught his back wheel if the slope had continued another 200 metres or so. It’s also just as likely I would have collapsed in a jelly-legged heap if the slope had continued another 200 metres or so, as it was the road levelled and Andeven pulled away again.
At this point I just kept going, recognising I was breaking club protocol by not waiting to regroup at the top of the climb, but reasoning that I was so winded and slow that everyone would overhaul me eventually. Then Shoeless cruised past, I jumped onto his wheel and all thoughts of regrouping were conveniently forgotten as he accelerated away – when confronted by my misdeeds age, enfeeblement and senility have been my excuse in the past and I was sure they would serve me again now.
We picked up Andeven and from what I recall G-Dawg, Plank and Captain Black made it across as we drove for home in front of what I gather was a rather frenzied chase behind. Everyone in the front group swept past me on the final climb, but after blowing last week’s assault on Middleton Bank I was just pleased not to have messed up again and as an added bonus managed to net a new Strava PR for my efforts.
It was pleasant enough for us to encamp in the café garden, with everyone (well, maybe all apart from Zardoz) in high spirits, on top form and full of the usual unfettered, unrelenting torrent of irreverent banter to keep us royally entertained.
A pleasant return leg, mainly spent chatting with Zardoz (he didn’t really seem all that angry) and a good solo run for home capped the best ride of the year.
YTD Totals: 1,326 km /824 miles with 13,346 metres of climbing