Between the Saggy and the Soggy

Between the Saggy and the Soggy

In what I took to be another indicator of fast approaching winter, the Canada Geese that spend their summer splashing noisily around Shibdon Pond were organising for departure, their dyslexic leader forming them up in a very raggedy W-shape, before they winged away westward. I was tempted to shout that they were going the wrong way, but apparently it’s not unusual for them to winter in Ireland, so I would just have just made myself look (even more) stupid.

Still, it got me my first ear-worm of the day, complete with the salutary observation – by the way genius, you’re not walking south …

Every weather app I checked had insisted that today was going to be utterly rain-sodden and miserable, and I had prepared accordingly, pressing the single-speed Trek and its semi-decent mudguards into service – the first time I’d ridden it in maybe six months or more. The weather as I set out though was still and calm, dry and bright, and with a route that included a climb up the Trench, I was beginning to think I’d made a serious misjudgement.

We had a new girl join us at the meeting place and she at least looked the part and hopefully she wasn’t too put off when Brassneck described himself as “one of the quiet ones.” I wondered if this wasn’t a little dangerous, as after just 5 minutes in his presence I could imagine her thinking, “Shit, if he’s one of the quiet ones, I’d hate to meet one of the talkers.”

For some reason, Crazy Legs wanted to know if I recalled the theme tune to The Flashing Blade, a poorly dubbed, but classic TV series that seemed ever present during all my school summer holidays.

“You’ve got to fight for what you want, for all that you believe,” we sang the first part, but disagreed on the second and neither of us knew the next line, so that wasn’t going to keep us entertained on today’s ride.

Courtesy of Google:

You’ve got to fight for what you want,

For all that you believe,

It’s right to fight for what we want,

To live the way we please,

As long as we have done our best,

Then no one can do more,

And life and love and happiness,

Are well worth fighting for.

Eeh, they don’t make ’em like they used to…

Tubeless tyres seemed to be the topic du jour, with Mini Miss committing to her winter bike for the foreseeable, as the tubeless set-up on her summer bike needs urgent attention and she didn’t want to get that done only for the bike to sit idle for three or four months.

Crazy Legs suggested it might be amusing to fill your tyres with sealant and let the bike stand for a while until it hardened and you ended up with two flat spots on your tyres and a rather interesting bumpy ride.

There was some confusion about how to maintain tyre sealant and how often it should be topped-up, or completely replaced, with opinions ranging from every two months to every 6 months. Brassneck was following the approach of topping up his sealant every couple of months and I wondered if, sooner or later, his tyres would become solid and absolutely puncture proof.

“How do you even maintain tubeless tyres?” Crazy Legs wondered, as baffled by their mysteries as I was.

“Oh, that’s easy, ” Mini Miss told him assuredly, “The first step is to put your bike in the car, then you just drive it to a mechanic …”

With a surprisingly robust showing of 28 riders, despite the rather grim weather forecast, we once again ended up with our standard bell-curve distribution: a small, faster/front group, a crowded, much-too-large middle group and then a small collection of odd stragglers. Being something of an odd straggler myself and limited to a terminal velocity of about 22mph on the single-speed, the fit seemed a natural choice and I joined the third group.

Or at least that was the intention, but when it was our turn to go, I kicked my pedal backwards to clip in and the chain slid off the rear sprocket. Huh? I moved it back into place, but the chain sagged down like a middle-aged beer belly, as the rear derailleur the venerable Toshi San had repurposed as a chain tensioner seemed to have lost all its vim and vigour and turned decidedly flaccid.

Crazy Legs graciously offered to loan me a bike, but I decided just to see if I could still ride and how far I might get, warning the group not to be alarmed if I suddenly disappeared. Things seemed fine, as long as I didn’t pedal vigorously backwards, so I fell in with the rest and away we went. After a while I forgot about the saggy chain being a mechanical impediment and just confined my worry to how bad it looked.

I may have failed with the Flashing Blade, but I soon had Crazy Legs running through his repertoire of Sham 69 “hits” after a casual mention of corduroy led (obviously!) to that particular gem of songcraft, ‘Ersham Boys.

Brassneck complained forcefully that no one in front had pointed out the dead squirrel in the road, not because it was an impediment, but simply because it had somehow retained its perfect form and proportions, despite being spread-eagled and completely and absolutely flattened. Apparently, he’d just wanted to be forewarned so he had more time to contemplate its fate and unusual state.

I did a spell on the front from the top of Berwick Hill to Belsay, stopping halfway to allow everyone to pull on jackets as the much-heralded rain finally put in an appearance. The temperature seemed to have suddenly plunged into single figures too and it was pretty miserable and damp for the rest of the ride. Still, I was content because my choice of bike and gear had finally been vindicated.

We started to lose people, “like shelling peas” according to Crazy Legs, who imagined that ultimately, he’d be riding along pointing out potholes and interesting roadkill entirely to himself. Post-operative, still recovering Brassneck went off for a loop on his own around Belsay, OGL had slipped off the back a long, long time before that, and at some point the 33rd Paul took a detour too.

Around Bolam Lake and passing through Angerton, we ran into the back of our second group who’d been delayed when Spoons took a spill and brought down Andeven. There didn’t seem to be any real damage done, but they were still sorting themselves out, so we threaded our way past, although not before losing yet another member of our small and select group in the process, who defected to swell the second group’s ranks further still.

Now all that was left of our group was me, Crazy Legs, Captain Black and Liam the Chinese Rockstar, as we approached the dip and swoop through Hartburn, but in the reverse direction from our usual route. While this meant no adverse camber to contend with on the descent, the final ramp up was markedly steeper, and I felt I was going to struggle. I told Crazy Legs I might not make it up and pushed off the front to give myself a good run at it.

I managed to build up a good head of steam through the dip, but had to watch all the accrued speed slowly bleed away as the road started to rise again. When my computer display dropped under 22mph I started to churn the cranks around and made it past halfway before inadvertently pulling my foot out of the pedal. I unsuccessfully tried clipping in again as forward momentum died a horrible death and I ground to a halt. There was no re-starting on that slope, so I was left to walk the rest of the way. Bah!

A little further on and as we became enmeshed with the converging second group, Crazy Legs called a halt and explained the next bit was a rather pointless loop which went downhill solely to climb back up through the Trench. This he explained he’d added in because A. the Trench was his favourite climb and, perhaps more importantly, B. because it made his route on Strava resemble a giant penis. This detour was then completely optional, and several riders took up his suggestion to miss it out and head straight to the cafe at Kirkley.

The rest of us though dropped down Curlicue Bank and started to make our way to the foot of the Trench. Behind me Crazy Legs and Buster were embroiled in a discussion about learning a foreign language, with Buster currently trying to improve his Spanish. Crazy Legs had been through the same process while learning French and recommended watching foreign language films and TV with subtitles. He was then able to recommend a whole host of films and TV series that were not only royally entertaining but had helped him with the language.

“Err, yeah,” Buster agreed a little uncertainly, “Not that I’m ungrateful, but they’re probably not much good if you want to learn Spanish.” Sheesh. Some people are picky.

Up the Trench we went, with Spoons guiding us (and a following motorist) around the hazard of a decidedly unflat deer carcase flung by a car to one side of the road. We stopped to regroup at the top and then started to a push to the cafe. I got ahead on the descent from Dyke Neuk, so had plenty of slippage room for the climb up to Meldon, before pushing up again on the descent to Whalton and joining Captain Black on the front for the rest of the ride to the cafe.

That was hard work, and I was tired and well-deserving of coffee and cake.

In the cafe, Goose set about a recounting of his midweek ride with Captain Black, which had included a forced detour through the latter’s hometown of Prudhoe because the riverside route around Ovingham had been closed. Or even “Prude-hoe” as Goose insisted on calling it, much to Captain Black’s disgruntlement, “I keep telling you, it’s pronounced Prudduh!”

This detour had then taken them past the Dr Syntax pubs, the unusual names of which had piqued Goose’s interest.

“Where does the name come from?” Goose enquired.

Local lad Captain Black had no idea. And no interest.

“Well, I’m going to find out,” Goose declared, “Shall we find out?”

He brandished his phone.

“I am curious,” he declared.

“Yes, I have heard that said about you.”

Undeterred, Goose went a-Googling.

Dr Syntax, he learned was the fictional creation of William Combe in an early 1800’s poem, a rural schoolmaster who attempted to make his fortune by travelling, and then writing about his experiences of quaint and unusual places.

Okay, so maybe Captain Black had the right of it and that really wasn’t worth knowing.

Meanwhile, Captain Black’s bike troubles were explored as his winter bike had a bottom bracket that, it was alleged, pinged in a musical way, while, according to its rider, the disk brakes on his summer bike would often chime melodiously for no apparent reason. The Singing Ringing bike?

This, it seemed was an issue that needed further exploration and it was suggested he should probably take a xylophone when he took his bikes for a service so he could strike the exact right note when trying to recreate the errant sounds and help to diagnose the problem. We even wondered if bike shops might have their own Shimano, or even (hideously expensive) Campagnolo xylophones to help with diagnostic issues.

I’d remembered a spare, and blissfully dry pair of gloves for the ride home – no small comfort on days like this. Coffee and cake hadn’t quite restored me though, and it was hard work getting up Berwick Hill and even harder coming down the other side when we spent long periods either on or above the bike’s terminal velocity.

I took over on the front alongside Goose as we passed through Dinnington, when at least I could control the pace a little. Then I was peeling off for home and able to have full control on just how slowly I could dawdle back. (Hint: very, very slowly indeed).

Still, I made it around, saggy chain and all and rediscovered some of the joy and simplicity of riding without gears. I have some Look Keo pedals I’ve been meaning to put on the bike for a couple of years now. I picked them up cheap in a sale because they’re white – and seriously, who wants white pedals? If I slap them on in place of the current very worn and somewhat sloppy PlanetX pair, hopefully that’ll stop me accidently unclipping at critical moments.

Then, if I can either sort or find a replacement for the derailleur, I think I’m all set for the winter.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 29th October 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 11 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/70 miles with 1,072m of climbing
Average Speed:21.2km/h
Group Size:27 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:It took a while … but eventually it was suitably grim
Year to date:4,796km/2,980 miles with 53,097m of climbing
Photo by Brian Forsyth on Pexels.com

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The King of Wishful Thinking

The King of Wishful Thinking

Hello again.

It’s been a while hasn’t it, because, well … life.

And it’s certainly been a long while if you measure time in the lifespan of Tory chancellors, as the UK government keeps us on pushing to establish itself as the world’s most dysfunctional, ineffective, morally bankrupt, self-serving and increasingly desperate democracy in the world. C’mon lads, keep it up, we’re nearly there!

Oh, and now a new-PM – the man, as Marina Hyde pointed out that, as chancellor, couldn’t even convince his own wife to pay him tax. Well, it’s entertaining in a grotesque, car-crash sort of way.

Things are all change in the SLJ household too, with Thing#1 now plying her trade as a fully qualified graphic designer in a lonely garret somewhere down in Shoreditch, while Thing#2 is away embracing the more, err … social aspects of student life with a worrying degree of zeal.

Their absence is noticeable at home, it’s a lot quieter for one, towels have taken to roosting in orderly pairs on the towel rack instead of huddling together, abandoned in mouldering, puddled heaps on the floor, the fridge is free of the clutter of oddly shaped packages of indeterminate foodstuffs with cringe inducing names, such as soysages, facon and fauxmage, and our weekly consumption of toilet roll has dropped by at least two-thirds.

In cycling terms we’re heading toward winter and I’m intent on trying to eke out a few more uses of the good bike before reverting to the sturdy Pug or single-speed Trek. To this end I’ve recently invested in an Ass-Saver, or Ass-Cover as I like to call them, seeing as how they are purely selfish and only cover your own ass. Definitely not a long-term solution, but I’ve found the worst part of any rain sodden ride is the long drop off the Heinous Hill where feet and indeed, ass, bear the brunt of all the dirty, cold water kicked up by the speed of the descent.

Of course, I wasn’t expecting the thin plastic Ass Saver, something I suspect could fit easily inside an A4 envelope, to get the full on Amazon packaging-overkill treatment, and be delivered in an otherwise empty cardboard box the size of a shopping basket. It was far too big and far too indiscrete to smuggle into the house. Luckily, I could prove it wasn’t some ultra-expensive, new-fangled, completely superfluous bike gewgaw formed entirely of carbon fibres and fresh air, but only a moderately over-priced sheet of pre-formed plastic, and not the kind of thing likely to get me banished to the fiscal naughty step for a spell.

Despite precautions to protect my precious derriere, the past few weeks have been ok-ish in terms of weather, dotted with a few intermediate showers, but with no real prolonged rain and no need yet for full-on mudguards.

This Saturday was no different, a light, early shower gifted me a rainbow over the Tyne, but it was otherwise pleasantly mild, and the rain jacket was stowed as soon as the showers passed. Still, autumn is well underway, the leaves are turning and falling from the trees, as I was brutally reminded when one spiralled gracefully into my path and then slapped me across the face like a wet kipper.

The unusual sight of two rowers somewhat confusingly carrying their boat over the bridge (don’t they float?) marked my passage across the river and was otherwise the most notable event on my trip across to the meeting point.

When there, we waited as numbers slowly built to a fairly impressive 28, including Aether for his first ride out since fracturing his hip and Zardoz, who’s not been seen in these here parts since July.

Andy Mapp had devilishly devised this particular route which gave me a rather strange ride profile of three wobbly loops, stacked atop each other, as he led us down several previously uncharted roads. This included the (surprisingly) controversial Bothal Bank and some confusion about which direction we were tackling this apparently ferocious climb, or even if we would be tackling it at all, as Mini Miss was adamant she was going nowhere near it.

“The descent’s a death trap,” she argued.

“But we’ll be going up it. And at less than 5 mph,” G-Dawg countered, to no avail.

“It’s a nasty climb,” OGL confirmed, not really helping matters.

“We’re going up the other side?” G-Dawg ventured.

“Oh, well that’s even worse,” OGL replied blithely, safe in the knowledge he was going nowhere near it either.

Despite an assurance that we would be taking it slowly on the climb, almost guaranteed by that fact that G-Dawg was on his fixie and expecting to get off and walk at least part way, we couldn’t persuade Mini Miss to even consider tackling Bothal Bank and left her plotting possible detours.

In fact, the route had us venturing places so unknown, that G-Dawg was at pains to ensure that each group had a least one rider who had it programmed into a Garmin or similar, and had even armed himself with a paper map, although I wasn’t sure how effective it would be as the area around Pegswood was rather hazily sketched in and simply bore the legend: “here be dragons.”

Crazy Legs got on-the-spot Garmin route-finding lessons from the Cow Ranger and Jimmy Mac and became the de facto navigator for the third group, while we managed to place a couple of other “pathfinders” in the first/fast group and the over-sized second group.

That sorted, we had time for OGL to promote his offer of bike maintenance lessons for anyone with a desire to do their own spannering and servicing. This would feature working under-supervision on your own bike, or as G-Dawg joked, “Weeks 1 and 2 we disassemble your bike, weeks 3 and 4 we put it back together again” – with sadly no inkling of what you could ride in the meantime.

Jimmy Mac happened to glance down at his Garmin just as the time ticked over from 9:14 to 9:15 and at the exact second that Carlton arrived – a double indicator that our time was up.

There was then only time for a brief whinge from OGL about mudguards and his support for a policy of “no mudguards, no club ride” adopted by another local club.

“Yeah, but …” G-Dawg argued, not unreasonably, “They’re twats.”

Time to go.

I joined the seriously under-manned third group, pushing onto the front for the first part of the ride where at least I had some vague idea of the route, and we followed the other groups out.

We hadn’t gone far with Crazy Legs assiduously counting down the distance to all the turns, when he interrupted his pitch-perfect Sat-Nav direction to “go west” to ask,”so, who was it sang King of Wishful Thinking?”

G-Dawg, obviously a fan of late 80’s pop, was equal to the task and provided the right answer (Go West, obviously) before adding that he was more impressed by Living In A Box, the hit single from the band Living In A Box, which was taken from their album, Living In A Box. They were, he argued either supremely creative when it came to naming things, or supremely lazy, he just wasn’t quite sure which.

We stopped just outside Tranwell to discuss route options, with Sneaky Pete and Brassneck looking for a shorter ride. They sneaked away some time later to leave just half a dozen of us, then somewhere along the way we caught and forced our way past our second group, who’d been slowed when Aether’s newly repaired hip started troubling him.

This augured well for the cafe queues, so we pressed on, Crazy Legs still assiduously following the on-screen instructions and calling out the turns. I thought we’d strayed wildly off route when we reached a sign telling us we were about to enter Hebron, but luckily this turned out to be an idyllic Northumberland village and not the city in the West Bank.

We were disappointed then, when a large group of cyclists appeared at a junction and turned onto the road ahead of us. Had the second group found a sneaky short-cut?

We worked to close the gap on a climb and were relieved to find it was another club ahead of us and not the sneaky second group. We caught them and hustled past.

Soon we were descending down to the River Wansbeck and then starting the climb of the highly controversial, doom-heralded, Bothall Bank … except it wasn’t really all that long and wasn’t really all that hard. G-Dawg made it around the first hairpin before having to dismount his fixie, while I dropped into a suitably small gear and spun up without too much effort.

We regrouped at the top, with G-Dawg looking wistfully back down the climb and deciding that if he’d known just how close he was to the top, he probably could have “beasted it” and made it up without dismounting. For one moment I thought he was going to ride down and give it another go, before common-sense overcame regret. Next time maybe?

A bit of surfing down the cycle path alongside the main A1 and we reached our cafe stop for the day, the Moorhouse Farm Shop at Stannington Station – only the second time we’ve used this venue, so they aren’t sick to death of us yet.

Another club that I didn’t recognise had got there before us and Crazy Legs had a brief chat with them an learned they had come all the way from Houghton, some 11 miles due south of the River Tyne.

I have to admit I queried this, as I couldn’t understand how a small place like Houghton could support two cycling clubs and knew the Houghton CC were well-established in the area, having been around since the 1930’s.

“Just think of all the splinter clubs that have been formed off the back of our club because of various disagreements,” Crazy Legs suggested. Yeah, fair point. I get it now.

Our second group duly arrived and the small yard outside the cafe became the scene of a giant game of bike jenga, as bikes were laid atop of bikes and it all became a bit cluttered, much to the consternation of Carlton who’d just bought a brand new Norwegian, Fara bike for the winter, which was only getting its first ride out today because the weather wasn’t too bad!

Crazy Legs congratulated Andy Mapp on the novel route, although he complained he didn’t see all that much as he’d been fixated on his bike computer and had spent the entire ride intently at his stem, à la Chris Froome, although luckily he hadn’t also adopted the outragously jutting out elbows too.

There was then only time to find the one member of our group who would openly admit to wanting Bo Jo the Clown to return as Prime Minister(!) and it was time to go and leave the good burghers of Stannington Station in peace.

The wind had picked up for the ride back, but it was otherwise a pleasant undertaking. I’m not sure we’re going to get many more days like this before the weather takes a turn for the worse, so best enjoy them while we can.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 22nd October 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 40 minutes
Riding Distance:112km/70 miles with 926m of climbing
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:12℃
Weather in a word or two:Sound
Year to date:4,665km/2,899 miles with 51,789m of climbing

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Immaculate Construction

Immaculate Construction

Following last week’s travails, I was aiming to complete the entirety of the next club ride, or at least make it as far as the all-important café stop, so the plan was to press the Peugout into service yet again. This was only reinforced by G-Dawg’s route which included both the Mur de Mitford (a mere 350 metres of sharp ascending, but topping out at 18% in parts and a bad, often slimy surface) and the long drag up the Trench.

A selection of gears for this assault on my body seemed appropriate, so I’d dutifully fixed the rear wheel puncture I’d limped home on of last week in anticipation of press-ganging the Pug into use once again.

I’d checked the bike out midweek and then on Friday evening made sure the tyre pressures were good in prep for use the next day. I shouldn’t have bothered. When I pulled the bike out the next morning the rear tyre had conspired to expire overnight and was flat and empty.

With no time to swap out the tube, I swapped bikes instead (and shoes, bad planning and different pedal systems!) and there we were, back on the single-speed despite the best of intentions. Was I ready for this? Nah, definitely not.

Saturday proved to be yet another windy day too, for about the fifth weekend in a row, but at least the widely forecast rain never materialised. This meant that there was a good chance the Mur de Mitford was perhaps semi-dry, or at least not awash with surface water and I might have a fighting chance of hauling my sorry carcass up it.

I had a blissfully uneventful ride across to the meeting point, arriving far too early and taking a tour around some local roads to fill in the time. It was here that I discovered the road past Fawdon Metro was closed for repair work, so turned around and backtracked.

Passing G-Dawg heading the other way, I tried telling him the road ahead was closed, but he just took my shouts and wild gesticulations as an overly enthusiastic greeting and sailed imperially onwards. Not that it mattered anyway, he just bluffed or blagged his way straight through the roadworks.

Even with the back-tracking and obligatory pee-stop I made it to the meeting point in good time, where a group of 16 or so gradually coalesced. This included Not Anthony who reported that last week he’d had to bail at high speed as an alternative to being blown into a roundabout. This apparently was the result of Brassneck cajoling their group into taking advantage of a ferocious tail-wind to try and capture a Strava segment PB for Mini Miss and then finding the helpful tail-wind suddenly became a deadly cross-wind.

Not Anthony reported that closely following young speedster Dingbat had gone over his handlebars in the ensuing kerfuffle, but both apparently survived with only minor cosmetic injuries to bikes and bodies.

“More importantly though,” I had to ask, “Did you get the PR?”

Luckily, I was told their sacrifices had indeed paid off.

Wonder of wonders, OGL reported that he’s been in contact with several local venues as he looks to arrange somewhere suitable for the club EGM demanded by British Cycling. I’ll just leave that one out there …

Even more wonderous and unlikely, Ovis put in a very rare appearance. So rare in fact that Crazy Legs wished him a happy new year and shook his hand and then repeated the gesture for the year before too.

Ovis had turned out in his habitual and seemingly indestructible Rochdale Tri kit – “Just so people still recognise me!” and brought along his usual abundance of malt loaf and self-effacement. “Oh, I’ve not been out much on the bike and I’m not very fit at all. I’ve just been doing little bits and pieces on the turbo. Hope I can keep up.”

Ovis would join the third group with me and of course, he was never off the front for more than a few minutes, relentlessly spearheading our efforts and driving the group on through strong headwinds, uphill and down dale.

Not fit, my arse! to borrow a turn of phrase from Jim Royle.

With his pace-setting, it wasn’t long before we were closing in on the Mur de Mitford and my main challenge for the day. While everyone else fussed over gear selection, I just rolled around the sharp left-hand turn, eased out of the saddle and got at it. It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t fast, but I just about managed, not putting too much force down through the pedals to keep the tyres gripping all the way up.

In the group ahead, G-Dawg wasn’t quite so lucky. He found he couldn’t push the much, much bigger gear on his fixie without standing up, but whenever he eased out of the saddle his rear wheel just skipped and spun uselessly across the greasy road surface. He ended up having to dismount and run up the hill cyclo-cross style. At least I was spared that indignity.

As we approached the long climb up the Trench, Ovis was (obviously) on the front, driving us on alongside Crazy Legs who suddenly started guffawing loudly. He then turned to me and nodded at Ovis.

“He says he’s not very fit and wants us to wait for him at the top!” he explained disbelievingly.

Naturally, Ovis led us up the Trench where we stopped to regroup before pushing on again, down the dip, dive and rise through Hartburn and on toward Angerton. This was the most exposed section of our route and, collectively, we could only recall one solitary occasion in over 10-years when anyone cycling this road has had the benefit of a tailwind.

Surprises apparently don’t come in three’s and with Ovis showing up for a club run and OGL (perhaps) preparing for a club EGM we’d evidently exhausted our quota of unlikely events for the day. It was the expected headwind. It was indeed as brutal as we thought it would be and by the time we’d climbed up to Bolam Lake I was starting to feel heavy-legged and tired.

Still, I thought, at least I can sacrifice myself to provide a good springboard for the café sprint, so I took to the front and started to wind up the pace. I pulled the group along until, halfway up the rollers I was done, swung over, sat up and watched the others zip away for the final climb and to contest sprint honours.

I thought I’d done a decent job of getting the group moving, until Crazy Legs informed me in the café that I’d been going much too slowly, he’d wanted to jump past much earlier but recognised I still wasn’t 100% fit so had indulged me a little.

Ooph! Talk about kicking a bloke when he’s down.

While enjoying some well-earned cake and coffee, Crazy Legs was keen to promote the world-renowned, architectural marvel and stunning tourist attraction that is the perspex tunnel linking the car park and Sainsbury’s supermarket in Bude, Cornwall. So great is its appeal that it has its own Trip Advisor page to extol its virtues as a “stunningly crafted marvel,” “truly life-changing” and an “awe inspiring and enthralling experience.”

As Dave M. from Prestwick gushed, “I have walked through the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – the towering domes, the gold-inlaid marble, the carpet that took 1000 weavers 100 years to complete, the thousand-tonne chandeliers – but nowhere does bus-shelter Perspex quite like Bude.”

With 946 excellent ratings out on 1,076 reviews, this sounds like a must-see, but of course, there are always people who don’t appreciate art and incredible human achievements, with Linden-S from High Wycombe “baffled at how an empty plastic tunnel running beside a supermarket can possibly be considered an attraction,” while John M of Woking simply declared it a “waste of time.” Philistines!

Crazy Legs then pressed us all to enter an “Ogle road lottery” and predict what conditions we would face when we took the lane through to the hamlet. Captain Black went for “very bad” I went for “bad” Crazy Legs “mingin'” G-Dawg, “fine” – while Sy6, undoubtedly a glass half full kind of guy, suggested the road would be “perfect” – miraculously restored to a pristine condition.

G-Dawg won that one, and we enjoyed a surprisingly mud-free and relatively dry passage. I was fading rapidly as we topped Berwick Hill, but managed to hold on through Dinnington and past the airport, before dropping off the back. Then it was just a long, slow slog home.

Better.


Day & Date:Club ride, 12th February 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 53 minutes
Riding Distance:105km/65 miles with 1,211m of climbing
Average Speed:21.4km/h
Group Size:16
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Windy
Year to date:347km/216 miles with 3,777m of climbing


Absolutely Conkers

Absolutely Conkers

Another Saturday, another club ride, but I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling it. The legs felt tired and heavy right from the outset. Dropping down the hill and pushing out along the valley, I think I spent as much time looking at my legs as the road ahead, as if I could somehow visually discern what the problem was and, even more ridiculously, somehow fix it.

As I rode over the bridge even the river below seemed perplexed and worried by my struggles, wearing a wrinkled frown of consternation instead of its usual glassy smooth surface. Oh well, no turning back now.

I arrived at the meeting point in time to see a nowadays rare gathering of the Judean People’s Front. Interestingly, TripleD-Be and TripleD-El both arrived together, but he was soon waving her off cheerily as she hooked up with the JPF, while TripleD-Be joined our regulars, who were already chuckling at this display.

“I like her,” TripleD-Be started to explain, then paused.

“But …” Crazy Legs and G-Dawg continued for him, around their delighted laughter.

“We don’t have to do everything together.”

TripleD-Be explained that if they both rode in the same group, they’d then have the exact same ride and so it wouldn’t be worth talking about. This way they were guaranteed to have two completely different experiences.

This led to a rather serious (for us anyway) discussion of how difficult it must be to be in a long-term relationship with a work colleague, sharing so much time together, and then how awkward it would be if that relationship failed. This reminded me of seeing a Kurt Vonnegut lecture tour at the Tyneside Cinema (February 1983. Yikes, that’s in the previous century!) when he claimed that he’d been married twice as long as normal people as, being a writer who worked exclusively from home, he spent all day, most days with his wife.

Crazy Legs reported that the inaugural Flat White Club ride had been a great success although he had been slightly perturbed by one café sign that read …

  • Children Welcome
  • Hikers Welcome
  • Dogs Welcome
  • Cyclists Welcome

… and wondered how we ended up so low down in the hierarchy.

Today was to be its second iteration and he’d even developed a hand signal so FWC members could secretly communicate their intent and allegiance, a kind of Ted Roger’s 3-2-1, or Phones-4-U type affair. It could catch on, just probably not with the kids.

Our route came courtesy of Buster, but he’d fooled us by lurking at the back in an unregulated non-official jersey, rather than the official, non-official jersey. For one brief moment, Crazy Legs thought he was going to have to step up and be a Proxy Buster, but the rightful ride architect finally surfaced to brief in the route.

Plans to return to the café at Capheaton were dashed due to its closure, but OGL assured us Belsay had reinstated their free refill policy, so that was our destination.

With Ion putting in a rare appearance and spearheading the front group, it was fairly certain only the hardened racing snakes would be tempted to join up, but we still managed to shuffle our numbers into 3 fairly decently sized clumps. I bumped down the kerb to join Group 2 and away we went.

I found myself riding alongside Brassneck, convinced it was still shorts weather. I remained sceptical and then warned him he’d better make the most of it as the Daily Heil had briefly paused terrifying its readership with the spectre of an invasion of illegal immigrants, to scare them with tales of an encroaching Arctic blast instead, replete with heavy blizzards, nose-diving temperatures and Christmas chaos and misery.

“What,” Brassneck retorted phlegmatically, “Again?”

“Yes,” I assured him, “And it must be true, as the bookies have apparently slashed the odds on us having a white Christmas.”

“What,” he countered, “Again?”

Yep. I can’t help feeling the Daily Heil has a calendar reminder that pings every three months or so and tells them it’s time they pulled together yet another scare-story about life-threatening, extreme weather that was heading our way imminently … definitely … well … maybe … perhaps.

Approaching Mitford we took the left turn up toward Molesden for a change and I found myself on the front with Mini Miss as we charged past the farm where the dog that hated Crazy Legs used to lie in wait to ambush him. Don’t get me wrong, it actually hated all cyclists, but for some unknown reason, especially Crazy Legs, so we always felt safer with him in our number to deflect its aggression.

It was so bad Mini Miss said she would often deliberately avoid this road and its crazed canine guardian and, though it used to be a regular occurrence, it had been a long time since it featured on any of our routes. Now the farmyard was eerily quiet, apart from a fat cat asleep atop the wall next to the empty dog kennel, proof I guess that our once-nemesis must now be off chasing cyclists in doggy-heaven. Perhaps it’s safe to build this road back into our plans again?

By the time we hit Middleton Bank my legs were starting to protest and made heavy work of the ascent, but I took up the pace on the front for the final push to the café. I even managed a brief acceleration over the rollers and led everyone up the last drag, before they all bustled past in search of sprint glory.

We caught up with the Flat White Club in the café queue, were served and were heading toward the obviously vacant seats beside a glowering OGL, only to be diverted by Crazy Legs who suggested it was pleasant enough for us to have one final sit of the year outside in the garden.

Here we dissected OGL’s recent reminiscence about riding down the Twisties at 40mph while playing conkers, concluding that it was maybe, perhaps ever so slightly embellished and exaggerated and didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Who knows, maybe OGL was a Daily Heil journalist in a former life?

Speaking of exaggeration and embellishment, Taffy Steve was quick to point out that the story of conkers being banned from schoolyards on Health and Safety grounds was another bit of scare-mongering fabrication.

By then it was time to test if the café would live up to the promise of free coffee refills and the once-spurned, never forgiven G-Dawg was obviously keener than most to test this out. He retrieved a tray and loaded it up with all our mugs, then went out of his way to find more. Anyone at another table, cyclist or not? Yes, why not. Tea-drinkers who’d drained their pots and even those that hadn’t? Yes, why not. Visitors who long since abandoned their mugs on the table and departed? Yes, why not them too. He soon had a full, clinking, clanking tray and disappeared inside, ready to do battle for his just and righteous cause …

Yes, he returned with our free refills.

(And yes, I can exaggerate with the best of them.)

As we left the cafe I found Spoons minutely inspecting his wheels to try and decide if there was any part of the wear indicator still visible. He convinced himself there was the faintest discernible trace of a line around his brake track and reassured, away we went (although I suspect a new set of wheels will be on his wishlist).

On the way back I found the descent of Berwick Hill had suddenly become one of the hardest parts of the ride, with speeds pushing over 25mph and no ability to shift into a bigger gear, I ended up kicking furiously for a few revs, then freewheeling, then kicking again to try and maintain the high pace.

A couple of young racing snakes hit the front as we came off the climb and the speed shot right up – I know this because I somehow managed to pick up a Strava PB as we rushed through Dinnington. I hung on grimly through the long drag around the airport, but as we crested the hill and the road dipped down toward the mad mile, it became too fast and I eased and drifted back to let my burning legs recover before starting the solo ride home a little earlier than usual.

Next week I’ll be transporting Thing#1 to London, where she’s decided to live for a while, so no ride and plenty of time to recover. It’s also given me the opportunity to drop the Trek into Patrick at the Brassworks for some much-needed, long overdue maintenance, so perhaps I’ll feel like a new man on a new bike when I return?

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath either …


Day & Date:Saturday 13th November 2021
Riding Time:115km/71 miles with 1,069m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 44 minutes
Average Speed:24.3km/h
Group Size:22 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Mild-mannered Clark Kent
Year to Date:4,427km/2,751 miles with 47,141m of climbing


Photo by Izabella Bedu0151 on Pexels.com

Proxy Dick

Proxy Dick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Danish Poirot

Danish Poirot

Well, we’ve successfully completed our grand tour of many fine northern cities and their splendid universities and while I’m not sure Thing#2 has reached any sort of decision, we’ve perhaps-maybe managed to eliminate one or two potential destinations from overall contention.

At least visits to numerous points south gave me an opportunity to catch up with the venerable Toshi-san in the Peoples Republic of South Yorkshire. He’s spending a lot of his retirement happily shuttling back and forth from Sheffield to the bleak wilderness of Spurn Point which, according to the local Wildlife Trust is Yorkshire’s very own Lands End! Here he serves as a volunteer crewman on the Humber lifeboat and has also taken it upon himself the Herculean (and rather thankless) task of restoring the RNLI’s fleet of much-neglected velocipedes back to prime working order.

Back home summer has gone and my shiny plastic bikes have been carefully placed into hibernation, but still, the club runs continue. This week Crazy Legs planned the route and decided to change things up by plotting a circuitous route to a café, where we’d stop before diving down into the Tyne Valley and climbing out again. This goes completely against the grain of standard practice – where we would usually drop down to the river and clamber out before finding a café to refuel and try to recover in.

Crazy Legs’ crazy plan opened up the opportunity for me to miss the climb back out of the valley and instead cross the river at Wylam and follow it downstream all the way home. This would essentially shorten my ride and, more importantly, halve the amount of climbing I’d need to do. This in turn opened up the possibility that I could attempt my first club ride on my tatty, Trek Frankenbike.

This is the bike Toshi-san converted to single-speed by cleverly employing an old rear derailleur as a chain tensioner. It’s so beat up, battered, odd and worthless-looking that I like to commute on it and I’m happy to leave it chained up outside the office, knowing that no one in their right mind would bother to nick it. Still, while it looks fugly, I have to admit it’s actually a smooth, pleasurable thing to ride, especially compared to my alternative winter-bike, the clattering-clunking Peugeot.

My reasoning was that if I could survive an entire club run over a shorter, less hilly route without gears and still make it up the Heinous Hill and home without recklessly endangering my knees and sanity, then I could probably handle a standard club run on the Trek. Or, worst-case scenario, I’d at least discover my limits.

So the die was cast and single-speed was prepped for action. Saturday brought a little drizzly rain that threatened to turn heavier later, so it was rain jackets and overshoes all round. There was the usual smattering of winter and summer bikes at the meeting point and, as a consequence a mix of those protected by mudguards and those without. This is perfect for engendering a few fun squabbles as people fight to ride behind a protected rider, rather than subject themselves to the constant dousing of cold water thrown off an unprotected rear wheel.

Crazy Legs had at least a full-length rear mudguard intact, but admitted to wrenching the front one, or, more accurately, “the-mother-trucking-blasted-buzzard-sheet-stinking-piece-of-useless-poor-plastic front one,” off his bike just before setting out, after no end of tinkering could relieve it of the annoying tsk-tsk-tsk where it caught on his tyre.

Ahlambra and Captain Black both decided it was still warm enough to wear shorts. Madness. But at least they’d swapped to winter-bikes, with Captain Black astride his old bi-polar Trek, although uncertain of which incarnation he’d brought out with him. Was it “Old Faithful” or “Twatty-Mac-Twat-Face?” Only time (and the state of his legs) would tell.

Briefing in the route and with particular reference to the weather, Crazy Legs determined the planned café stop with its limited indoor seating was no longer an option, so we’d change plans and head for Belsay instead. Hmm, no shorter ride and reduced climbing for me then.

We had a sizeable turnout of around 14 riders, slightly too large for a single group, but not quite big enough to split and with none of the riders who like to push out at a faster pace present, we decided to travel en bloc. So that’s what we did, pushing off, clipping in, and riding out.

I found myself toward the back of the line alongside an FNG recently relocated from the depths of Mackem-land and together we marveled at the stupidity of anti-vaxers convinced that all doses of COVID vaccine contain a microchip that would let the government (a.k.a. The Deep State) track their every movement. We found it particularly ironic that these are the same people who tend to plaster every detail of their private lives across every available form of multi-media and are always seem umbilically attached to their mobile phones.

At some point the rain turned briefly heavy and I found myself riding off-set from the wheel in front, in a largely unsuccessful attempt to avoid the arc of cold water spraying off the back tyre. I should definitely have fought harder to find someone with mudguards to follow. I was momentarily distracted from this discomfort by some half-heard, but intriguing comments drifting up from behind me, where I’m sure someone was being referred to as the Danish Poirot. Huh?

Then we were heading up the Quarry and I watched G-Dawg pilot his fixie out the pack and take a good long run at the final, steepest ramp. I was similarly restricted to just a single-gear choice, but spinning something much, much lighter, so I didn’t need to take a run at the slope, but I did need to get the revs up and keep them there. I just about managed, with only a little bit of grinding over the final few metres and found myself up near the front as the pace picked up for the final run to the café.

The small gear I needed for the hills was going to be useless in any final sprint, so I bustled my way onto the front on the last downhill section and pushed hard on the lumpy road up to the junction at West Belsay, dodging around the horseboxes of the local hunt and the hulking 4×4 of one of their followers who would periodically overtake us, then stop, slap-bang in the middle of the road, or the apex of a junction to idly chat with other horsey-types milling around for no apparent reason.

As the road unwound down toward the Snake Bends I reached a terminal velocity of about 37 kph, the speed at which my legs were a blur and incapable of spinning around any faster. Still, I made it to within a couple of hundred metres of the imaginary finish line before Captain Black and then Alhambra caught me and whisked past, pushing big gears sur la plaque.

At the café, Crazy Legs curiously queried how many feet there were in a yard, insisting he couldn’t remember as he’s more used to metres these days. We then had the usual quiz about the number of inches in a foot, feet in a yard and yards in a mile, all of which reaffirmed what we already know: that Imperial weights and measures are neither logical or intuitive, or to put it more plainly, suck. Luckily our Dutch friend, TripleD-Be wasn’t there to berate us for still using such retard units.

There was then some discussion about differences between British and American miles (hint: there isn’t any) and British and American pints (British pints are larger), with Crazy Legs insisting that, (even more confusingly) there are actually two different length yards used in the U.S. which results in all sorts of construction issues. I was unable to confirm or deny this, but at least I got a chance to wheel out one of my favourite Dave Barry quotes: “The metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimetre.”

While we were engaged in such deep and philosophical issues, G-Dawg had sidled up to the counter and was standing there silently, empty coffee mug proferred up as, like Oliver Twist, he begged for more. Sadly, just like our fictional orphan, he got the same response and returned to his seat empty-handed. Apparently, while free refills had been reinstated post-pandemic re-opening, they’d now been withdrawn again.

G-Dawg sat and stewed for a while, then decided he really, really did need another cup of coffee, even if he had to pay for the privilege. He picked up his mug again and marched on the counter, before spinning on his heel, as he passed our table to set down his empty mug with a thud.

“If I’m paying for a refill,” he declared, “I’m getting a fresh cup!”

Small victories!

We too felt the need for additional refreshment, and Captain Black generously stood us a round. This gave Crazy Legs the chance to claim that he got a free refill, something he could taunt G-Dawg with all the way home, although I didn’t think was a good idea as he was already angry enough.

And then it was time to go, accompanied by the horror of trying to force fingers into soaked gloves and clap sodden, cold helmets onto bare heads. The first few miles were the usual chilly purgatory until we managed to get the blood flowing again. All was well until we ducked down the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill. I was up near the front so not sure exactly what happened, but I suspect that in reacting to a kamikaze motorist drive-past, the FNG ran out of road and came down (in popular parlance) like a sack of spuds, taking Captain Black down with him.

No great damage seemed to have been done, but the FNG banged his shoulder and didn’t want to put any more weight on it, so called for home pick-up. Crazy Legs and Captain Black formed a rearguard to hang back with him, while the rest of us pushed on for home, thankfully with no further incidents.

It wasn’t at all pretty, but I somehow made it up the Heinous Hill, so guess the question has now moved on from can I complete a club run on my single-speed, to do I really want to?


Day & Date:Saturday 30th October, 2021
Riding Time:111km/69 miles with 971m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 57 minutes
Average Speed:22.3km/h
Group Size:14 riders 1 FNG
Temperature:10℃
Weather in a word or two:Damp around the edges
Year to Date:4,122km/2,561 miles with 43,732m of climbing


Plague Diaries Week#70 – Bringing the Heat

Plague Diaries Week#70 – Bringing the Heat

I ended COVID self-isolation with a “celebratory” 10km run on Thursday morning. Probably not the wisest move, but after 10 days of home confinement and little exercise save for a stint on the turbo last Saturday, I felt I needed it.

Just for the record, I still hate running, even though Strava tells me I’ve done it 63 times this year already and racked up close to 350 begrudging kilometres. I’m still waiting for that light-switch moment, that grand epiphany everyone talks about of a “runners high” when the effort transcends being a quick and convenient form of exercise and actually becomes a joy. I’m not convinced it’ll every happen.

It also seems I’m not alone. In a 2020 Why We Run survey, Strava surveyed 25,000 athletes from all over the globe to find out what exactly motivates them and only 8% said they ran because they loved running. Conversely, 50% said they hate it, or merely tolerate it. I’m firmly entrenched in this camp, enduring what Strava dubbed the ‘runner’s paradox’ and even more closely aligned with the 63% of those who said the favourite part of a run was the finish line.

So, onto much, much more enjoyable forms of exercise and self-flagellation, with Saturday shaping up to be an absolute cracker, promising wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures upward of 25℃. About bloody time too!

I was up and out early, enjoying a warm start to the day and pure, unbroken blue skies, arriving at the meeting point ahead of schedule and wandering around the mean streets of Coxlodge for a while to fill in some time. I arrived to wave off the lepers of the Judean People’s Front, heading out to Bellingham. Again. I was surprised to see there were only 3 of them, as I thought the weather would be enticing hordes of cyclists out onto the roads today, but apparently not.

[Apologies to The Leprosy Mission who recently highlighted that leper is a pejorative term whose use has sadly proliferated in the media in connection with COVID-19!]

As the time approached 9:15 there were still only 22 of us gathered and I think we were all a little surprised by how few had ventured out. G-Dawg briefed in the route, which was essentially a tried and tested club run, but in reverse, with just one or two amends due to roadworks and road closures around Ponteland. He then suggested the first group get out and underway, but there was only half a dozen or so pushing off into the road. I hung back a bit, but the numbers weren’t working and we were in danger of having a couple of lop-sided groups, or splintering into three. So, after a moment’s hesitation, I pushed off too and then Aether and a late arriving Plumose Pappus joined to help balance out the numbers.

The pace was fast as I slotted in alongside Spry and we pushed through Dinnington and up Berwick Hill. From there we took over on the front and kept the speed up even as we ground into a surprisingly strong and persistent headwind. Leading, we took the group past Kirkley, through Ogle and out to Belsay, maybe 10-15km at the end of which my legs were heavy and beginning to feel empty and I was looking forward to dropping to the back for shelter and a little bit of recovery.

Except it wasn’t going to happen. As the road started to rise toward Wallridge crossroads, Spry rode off the front, going solo (I’m surprised he’d stayed with us mere mortals so long) and it was like a testosterone bomb had been denoted in the middle of our group. The pace went up exponentially as the front engaged in a forlorn chase and I slipped backwards, left exposed and battering upwards into the the wind, trying to keep the gap manageable. So much for taking a moment to try and recover. Even worse off was Aether who was left so far behind I couldn’t even see him when I turned to look back whenever the road straightened.

I finally ground my way to the top and swung left traversing the rolling terrain as I plugged on alone up to the crossroads, where the group were waiting to reform. I pulled over and unclipped, finally able to get a drink and try and rest up a little while we waited for the estranged Aether.

Foolishly, I thought things would calm down after that, but within 400 metres of restarting Aether was of out the back again and I was hanging on. We turned down the Quarry, the pace relentless and being driven up even on the downhill stretches. We seemed to have become overtaken by some kind of grand dick-swinging contest and looked to be winding up for the café-sprint already, less than half-way around the route.

By the time we hit the T-junction at the bottom of the Quarry road I was detached again, once more grinding alone and uphill into the wind. At the village of Ryal, I took the left hand turn, glad to be out of the wind and finally finding the front of the group pulled over and waiting in the shade of a few sparse trees. Channelling my inner-OGL (well, over a decade listening to him bellyache and complain has to have some benefits eventually) I suggested to them it was utterly pointless waiting for people if they were immediately going to piss off again. My pronouncement raised a few chuckles, but sadly little in the way of introspection. I guess that was probably too much to hope for. I didn’t bother stopping and rode straight through the group and continued down the road.

They caught me and Goose pulled up alongside to suggest the pace was a lot more comfortable now, but finding me uncommunicative, he drifted away again. Dave from Cumbria eventually pushed forward alongside me on the front as we passed through Matfen. Then, a mile or so further down the road I wondered what the hell I was doing working on the front again with everyone sheltering, camped out on on my rear wheel. I deliberately dropped back and slotted in behind Dave from Cumbria, expecting someone else would push forward and take my place on the front, but apparently we weren’t doing that anymore.

So for the next mile or so we rode in this strange formation with the front two riders single file and everyone else stacked up behind. That lasted until we were approaching Fenwick when some poor bloke, out for a bit of quiet, solo training on his TT-bike, had the temerity to try and pass us and immediately found a bunch of ill-mannered Yahoo’s swarming all over his back wheel and trying to prove they were faster than he was.

I doubt I could have held onto the group much longer anyway, but I was completely embarrassed by our antics now, so just sat up and let the gap go out. By the time I’d negotiated on-coming traffic while trying to pass a removal van and then got held up for an interminable amount of time by roadworks just outside Stamfordham, I knew there was no chance of catching the group again, even if I’d wanted to.

Not convinced I knew the planned route I started to plot my own course to the cafe, down Limestone Lane and through Ponteland, hoping to find a way through the road closures G-Dawg had outlined.

I found the joy of being out in such fine and novel weather starting to return and somewhere along the way I passed and saluted Taffy Steve riding carefree and solo in the opposite direction. Just past Dalton, hundreds of crows silently lifted out of the field on my left, looped overhead and settled straight down into the field on my right, while I rode under an arch of their beating black wings, starkly silhouetted against the bright blue sky. Gifted the perfect ear-worm for the rest of my ride courtesy of one Roberta Joan Anderson, I pressed on.

The way around the road closures in Ponteland proved simplicity itself and I was soon turning into the café at Kirkley, surprised yet again at how few cyclists seemed to be out in this damn fine weather. The place was relatively quiet and the queues waiting to be served almost non-existent.

I was delighted to find Zardoz holding court at a table having semi-returned from his broken-collar bone and smashed up ribs. I greeted the old rascal by, well by calling him out as an old rascal. It seemed appropriate.

In conversation with G-Dawg later, Zardoz confirmed his collar bone hadn’t quite healed, but his family found him a pain to live with whenever he missed a ride, so the compromise was to let him out, but only under the careful supervision and strict chaperoning of one of his daughters. A thankless task for her and a great sacrifice, but I’m sure the ends justified the means and it helped restore some form of familial harmony.

Comparing recent wounds and treatments, like hoary old fishermen about to tangle with a Great White, G-Dawg and Zardoz reached the conclusion that they are both past the age when the NHS are going to do anything beyond the bare minimum to help with their recovery – so no plate for Zardoz’s collar bone, or pins for G-Dawg’s broken leg. The message is harsh and clear: we’re no longer worth the effort, fuss and expense.

It was a 2 cans of Coke type of day for Brassneck, a measure of just how hot it was. He downed the first in short order and sitting back contentedly, surveyed the vast array of bike porn on offer around him, a shiny selection of the best and newest bits from the catalogues of Trek, Specialized, Bianchi, Canyon, Cervélo and the like.

I hated to think just how much all these shiny machines were collectively worth, while G-Dawg found great irony in people dropping £4-£5,000 on a bike just so they could ride to a café and complain about the price of coffee and cake.

Our musings were interrupted by a very brief cameo from OGL, apparently missing from the start this morning due to a serious hangover, but now recovered enough to subject us to a quick drive-by bitching.

A few moments after he’d left a contemporary rolled in, took the table next to us and mentioned he’d just past OGL, but had managed to ignore him, before he was ignored. I think he was implying he’d got his retaliation in first.

“I knew it was him,” he added, “I could see the scowl from 400 yards away.”

“And that,” I suggested, “Was when approaching him from behind, too.”

Last to arrive from our starting group was Homeboy who’d been doing some shepherding, looking after an FNG who’d rocked up in trainers, full-length leggings, football shorts and a long-sleeved, micro-fleece. He’d made it to Belsay before seriously over-heating and only recovered after downing several bottles of water. We left them seeking further hydration opportunities and squabbling over who would pay and I joined a small group of Brassneck, Princess Fiona and Spoons, heading home via Berwick Hill. Others were planning a slightly longer route via Saltwick, but I’d already covered more than 50 miles and, fun as it was, my legs were now pretty much shot.

I managed a good chat with Brassneck about American indie-alt band Throwing Muses along the way, before I was left to pick my way home alone. It was 1:30 and possibly the hottest part of the day as I started up the final drag of the Heinous Hill with over 70 miles under my wheels and for the first time it was starting to get uncomfortable. Still, I’ll take that over the cold and rain any day and I’m not going to complain because we all know it isn’t going to last. In fact, I’m off for a family holiday next week, so an end to the good weather is almost guaranteed.


Riding Distance:116km/72 miles with 946m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed:25.7km/h
Group Size:22 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:27 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Scorchio!
Year to date:2,512km/1,561 miles with 26,465m of climbing
Image by peter kellfur from Pixabay 

Plague Diaries #Week 31

Plague Diaries #Week 31

Against the Odds

A year that’s already been grim and dark and difficult took an even blacker turn last weekend when my Dad died. Dad, Grandad, husband, brother, son, uncle, rugby player, ballroom dancer, draughtsman, engineering designer … all that and much more.

His death leaves an unfillable void, his life an indelible mark.

These sad circumstances kept me off the bike just when I could have done with the therapeutic, head-clearing relief of a long ride, so I was particularly determined to get out this weekend.

The weather was an issue with a rainy midweek only starting to clear as the weekend approached, but Saturday, the forecasts assured everyone, with a sly wink and a smile would be ok. Only an 11% chance of short, swiftly passing showers the BBC weather app proclaimed. Reasonable odds. I’ll take those.

Except Friday night was unexpectedly wet and there was plenty of surface water still around when I woke on Saturday morning. I decided I needed mudguards, but with Peugeot temporarily hors de combat, laid up with a seized rear-derailleur, I was left with a (Hobson’s) choice of my commuting single-speed, or a wet backside.

I’m not sure I’d enjoy a normal club ride on the mongrel single-speed, which is suitably tatty, odd-looking and mismatched enough that it can be left safely, chained up on campus in the full knowledge it will attract absolutely no interest whatsoever from even the most desperate of blind bicycle thieves.

Mechanically it’s sound and its simplicity makes it a joy to ride, but its designed to give me a fighting chance of making it up the big hills at either end of my commute. This means it’s got a 34 x 14 gear ratio, so my legs spin out at about 23 mph – which would be pretty hopeless for any mad dash to the café. As I’d be riding solo, however and maintaining strict social-distancing at all times, I decided I could get away with it, as long as I found a route with no particularly steep, sharp climbs.

As an afterthought, just before I set off I crammed a light jacket in my back pocket, just in case, against all odds, I did actually encounter some rain on my travels.

It was a stop-start sort of beginning, rolling down the Heinous Hill I found I couldn’t clip in and had to stop to dislodge a sliver of dried mud from under my cleat. I still can’t work out how it got there.

Then, once over the river, I glanced down at my Garmin and found I’d already covered over 70 kilometres! Oops, looked like some idiot forgot to reset their bike computer. I stopped to correct my lapse, then pushed on, climbing out of the valley to route through Denton Burn, Kingston Park and out into the countryside.

At that point a third stop was called for as a dank, cold, rain started sifting down until the air was sodden and everything, which most definitely included me, was quickly soaked through. And that’s how it stayed for the rest of the morning, wet and chilly, with my afterthought jacket providing some relief, until it too became water-logged.

Still, the climb up Berwick Hill was about the perfect steepness for me, taken at a brisk pace that soon had me warmed up. I routed through Kirkley, past the café and out toward the Gubeon. Just past the café I passed two cyclists going the other way and it wasn’t until I was level that I realised it was Taffy Steve and Sneaky Pete. Sneaky Pete would later apologise for not acknowledging me, being cold, wet and huddled within his own private bubble of misery. I told him he should just use my favourite excuse, that he’d been travelling at such speed he’d never had a chance to recognise who he passed.

A few miles further up the road, a group of about half a dozen riders, dragged themselves past, clustered together and obviously feeling no need for social distancing. I don’t agree, but it’s their call. An even bigger breach of etiquette in my books was the complete lack of mudguards on what seemed to be their very best, shiny plastic bikes and they kicked up rooster tails of dirty spray behind them as they ground by.

As the road started to develop a few testing bumps and lumps, I made an effort to catch and overtake them, just nudging ahead before having to take evasive action to avoid another cyclist who’d lurched into the road having seemingly emerged out of the hedgerow.

“Oh, hello,” said the erratic cyclist, as I scurried past. I immediately recognising the Prof under all his layers of protective wear.

“Bonjour Monsieur,” I greeted him.

“You’re not who I was expecting to see,” the Prof exclaimed, then, “Ah, there they are!” Apparently I’d just been overtaken, and then overtaken in turn, a gaggle of Backstreet Boys (and at least one Backstreet Gal.) They all reformed behind me, but luckily were going right at the next junction, while I was heading left.

I pressed on through Whalton, passing the Colossus who, somewhat disappointingly (but understandably) was not on on his Time-Trial bike today. Routing through Belsay, I took the lane to Ogle, passing a couple of tractors hacking back the hedges on either side of the road and yet again escaping without finding an errant thorn embedded in my tyre. This luck can’t last.

I pulled into the café at Kirkley chilled and soaked through, but generally in good spirits, wandering into the barn just as the Backstreet Boys exited, to find G-Dawg and the Colossus huddled around one of the tables they’d set up inside.

It wasn’t going to be the cosiest of café stops, but it was dry, out of the wind and, if G-Dawg was to be believed noticeably warmer than standing outside in the rain. I’m not wholly convinced, but it was shelter of a kind.

I complained bitterly that the forecast had predicted only the smallest chance of brief, passing showers and demanded to know where this prolonged, incessant downpour had sprung from. No one could help me.

One benefit of bad weather was the lack of a queue and I was quickly served and on my way back to the barn when a flatus-powered (by his own admission) Crazy Legs arrived to join us.

G-Dawg bemoaned the on-going Covid restrictions and the 3-tier system recently introduced by a Government seemingly flailing to find something that might just about work and more concerned with finding a catchy (i.e. banal) slogan in lieu of a way of reducing infections. As evidence I give you the nonsensical “Stay Alert” a wannabe-nursery rhyme “Hands, Face, Space” and the Arthur Conan Doyle “Rule of Six.”

The latest is a 3-tier, truncated DefCon scale, which saw Front Wheel Neil beating all the tabloid press to the punch, when he announced that he’d told us it would all end in tiers, almost as soon as the initiative was launched.

We quickly summarised the three tiers as:

Tier#1 – you’re up shit creek

Tier#2 – you’re still up shit creek, but now you’ve lost your paddle

Tier#3 – you’re up shit creek without a paddle, your boat is taking in water and there’s a tsunami brewing on the horizon.

G-Dawg was particularly perplexed that the guidelines for moving between tiers were unknown and totally depressed by the thought that there was no safe tier – Tier#0 for example, where life was normal. Surely, we surmised, there must be a small village in the Cotswolds, or a remote island off the coast of Scotland, that was safe enough to be free of any restrictions?

As we discussed such weighty matters, Buster emerged from the gloom outside, cold, wet and complaining about the weather forecast and how he’d been duped into believing the chance for rain was miniscule.

He’d been so taken in that he’d ventured out on his brand new “good bike” – a Cervelo he’d earmarked for only riding in perfect conditions. Maybe this also explains the Backstreet Boys lack of mudguards and perhaps they’re deserving the benefit of doubt?

Maybe.

When Busters food order hadn’t arrived tout de suite, Crazy Legs persuaded him to go check on it, suggesting the café had an unfortunate habit of misplacing orders, especially, rather bizarrely, when it wasn’t too busy.

“Don’t worry though,” he assured Buster as he got up, “If they have forgotten, they tend to slip a fried egg on top as compensation.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure I’d like a fried egg plonked on top of my Victoria sponge,” I offered.

We decided this probably would be an unwelcome gift on Victoria sponge, but perhaps a worthy addition to a fruit scone, as long as, Crazy Legs determined, it was an especially runny egg. Who knows, one day we might even try it.

The rest of the conversation was taken up with discussing the current state of professional cycling. The Giro, was seen as high entertainment, but with a bizarre list of contenders. “You know things aren’t normal when Pozzovivo is up there challenging for the lead, ” Crazy Legs asserted, although pleased as punch for one of his favourite riders.

The bizarreness of the Giro was in direct contrast to an absolutely enthralling Classics seasons, with Alaphillipe, van der Poel, van Aert and assorted others providing spills and thrills in equal measure and the faintest glimmer of normality.

By the time we were ready to leave the rain had passed, it was warming up and dangerously close to pleasant. I was almost dry by the time I made it to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, the bike had served me well and I won’t hesitate to use it again for longer rides, but I must admit there are times when an additional gear or two wouldn’t go amiss and this was one of them.

Plague Diaries – Week#20

Plague Diaries – Week#20

Ponderosa Glee Boys

Internet oddity of the week was a report in multiple newspapers that Safari park baboons had been armed with knives, screwdrivers and a chainsaw, with keepers suspecting pranksters had tooled up the simians so they could damage visitors’ cars ‘for a laugh’

The best quote from Knowsley Safari Park claimed their park was “just as safe as a McDonalds drive-thru.” Hmm, not tremendously reassuring.

Well, the Met Office confirmed Friday was third hottest day on record in the UK as temperatures reached almost 38℃ “doon sooth” and they weren’t too shabby “oop north” either. Not the best when you’re too pre-occupied with work to step out, but a few of my luckier clubmates managed to enjoy long rides in the sun. Still, even as temperatures began to drop from their record highs, it seemed like things would be just fine for Saturday and so it proved.

In fact it was a very bright early start to the day that slowly started to cloud over, but still a perfectly warm and pleasant for a bit of free-range bikling -and we were even graced by the occasional burst of bright sunshine.

Jimmy Mac had prepared one of those cunning routes that took a tried and tested club run and reversed it, providing something novel that was a bewildering and disorientating surprise and yet at the same time oddly familiar – a sort of collective bike ride powered by déjà vu.

It was also a route that proved fast, flat and fun, lacking any signature big hills, to such an extent that I only just topped a 1,000 metres of climbing for the entire day.

I’d arrived at the meeting point early to find the a newly chunky, Monkey Butler Boy had emerged from a long period of aestevation, complete with a brand new pair of aero-socks, which he claimed would save him an additional 4 watts of energy, before adding the small print, sotto voce: if he could somehow manage to ride at 40kph for 45 minutes. Somehow, I didn’t think it would be enough of an advantage for him to survive the ride after neglecting the bike for so long.

As one young ‘un returned, another prepared to depart, this being the last ride of the Garrulous Kid before his return to university. Still, there was one final opportunity for G-Dawg to carry out an impromptu chain inspection. It was no great surprise to anyone when the Garrulous Kid failed the test and G-Dawg spent the rest of the ride with a pore-deep, grungy black smear indelibly tattooed into his thumb pad. It’ll probably still be there when the Kid returns at Christmas.

Captain Black arrived on a different bike, a new Trek to replace his old Trek, the somewhat bipolar, “Old Faithful” or “Twatty MacTwat Face” the name being very much dependent upon how its riders legs were feeling at any given moment. The new bike has in-built vibration dampening and fat 32mm tyres, promising a plush ride, even on the worst of Northumberland’s disintegrating roads.

Once again there were 25 or so riders at the start and we left in groups of six. This time I formed part of the rear-guard, the last group out alongside Captain Black, Big Dunc, Benedict, OGL and Carlton. Suffering from hay-fever, OGL stayed with us until Bolam Lake before bailing to head to the cafe at Belsay, while the rest of us started the route reversal portion of the planned ride.

Around 40km into the ride and approaching a downhill run of Middleton Bank, we caught a glimpse of the next group on the road and began closing. Benedict took a timeout to attend to a call of nature and the rest of us eased onto the climb up to Scots Gap, letting the group ahead pull out a bigger lead until they were safely out of sight again.

We regathered and pushed on, the wrong way through the swoop and dip past Hartburn and then flicking left and right at speed through the bends passing Dyke Neuk, the building on our right instead of the usual left, all the while gathering pace as we went.

By the time we were running through Mitford we’d caught and latched onto the group ahead. This was a problem as we were now travelling in a pack of more than six, but much more importantly, it put would put us at the back of the queue when we reached the cafe at Kirkley.

The overwhelming majority (well, all but one of us, truth be told) seem to have adopted Kirkley as our ordained coffee stop, primarily because it has such a massive outside seating area, with plenty of space for social distancing. On the downside, service is glacially slow and it gets very busy.

Captain Black had a quick consult with the rest of our group and gave me the nod, Carlton and Big Dunc seemed happy to hang back, but the rest of us had permission to push on.

I waited until we hit the climb out of Mitford, before running down the outside of the group and accelerating away, with Captain Black and Benedict in close attendance. By the top of the climb we had a workable lead and it was just a case of maintaining the gap as we closed on the cafe for a bit of sneaky, unadulterated queue jumping.

Safely at Kirkley, Jimmy Mac got lots of deserved kudos for the route, which although all on well traveled roads, had never been put together in that combination or direction before. G-Dawg in particular was well pleased with the speed the front group had managed, clocking a 30 km/hour average throughout, even allowing for his slow amble down to the meeting point that morning.

Crazy Legs revealed that he’d taken to wearing a mask like … well, like a duck to water, the one drawback being that it inevitably provoked him into making comedy wahk-wahk-wahk duck noises.

I suggested it was fun to wear a mask, but I felt it would be even better with a six-shooter holstered on my hip. Yippy-kay-ay. Crazy Legs agreed and said he’d felt like a particularly bad-ass hombre when pairing his mask with a leather stetson, while we touched on the irony of having to wear a mask before you went into a bank these days.

There was also a shout out for Egan Bernal’s comedy effort …

Crazy Legs then said he’d seen that someone had developed an athlete specific mask for wearing during exercise – the major drawback being it closely resembled a horses nosebag. I wondered if it would be useful for holding a handful of oats for mid-ride nutrition, while he suggested a watertight one students could fill with alcohol, needing only to tip their heads back to sup … and we were almost back where we left off last week with his suggestion that students wear a cone of shame …

Finally served and at a table (it was apparently a good scone week, this week, but I’d gone with a flapjack instead) we showed a near preternatural level of forward planning by discussing our options for cafe stops during winter club runs, when the small indoor area here would swiftly be overrun.

This turned into a discussion about how many would actually bother riding throughout the winter when there were “fun” alternatives (their words, not mine) available like Zwift.

Apparently we haven’t quite got the comms set up on the system we’re currently using for collective turbo rides and the only form of communication available is a simple thumbs-up. This seemed mighty limited vocabulary to me and, even if confined to basic hand gestures, I could think of one or two others that might come in useful.

I demonstrated for good effect, making a fist and boldly raising my middle-finger. “Yes,” Crazy Legs confirmed, “That would be useful.”

I then curled my fingers into a loose fist and shook it vigorously up and down in imitation of Gareth Hunt demeaning his craft in order to hock instant coffee, or, if that particular image offends (and I can see why it might) miming the universal sign for an onanistic self-abuser.

“Hah!” Crazy Legs interjected as my actions reminded him of something, “we passed a bloke today blowing up his tyre and he was holding his pump between his legs and furiously making that exact same motion. From a distance I didn’t know whether to offer to help or call the police.”

Crazy Legs then declared he’d just been to see a physio and had happily now regained full movement of his arm. To demonstrate, he lifted his left arm, bent it over the top of his head and touched his right ear. “I couldn’t do that a week ago, it hurt too much.”

“Why on earth would you ever need to do that though?” the Ticker wondered aloud.

“Well, you know, to wash your hair,” Crazy Legs challenged.

The Ticker doffed his casquette, lowered his head and presented Crazy Legs with his perfectly bald pate.

“Ah, right…”

Groups started to form up and drift away, while I stopped to have a quick chat with the late arriving Biden Fecht. I could have tagged onto the last group again, but felt I’d done enough for the day, so as everyone swung left, I tracked right, through Ponteland, heading directly for home.

At Blaydon, traffic was backed up on the roundabout waiting to turn left, either into the shopping centre or the McDonalds. I hope it was the former, but suspect the latter. I caught a rider in the colours of the Blaydon club trying to work his way through the cars on the inside and not getting very far, so I flicked across to the outside and was quickly clear.

As I turned and started up the Heinous Hill the Blaydon rider caught me and swished past, then swung left and then right, past Pedalling Squares. He didn’t, as I expected drop into the cafe, but looked to be taking the exact same route up the hill as me – and there was still around three-quarters of the climb to go.

OK then … game on!

Draft Dodger

Draft Dodger

Club Run, Saturday 4th May, 2019

My ride (According to Strava)


Total Distance:109 km/68 miles with 1,214 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 6 minutes
Average Speed:26.6km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature: 12℃
Weather in a word or two:A chiller

Ride Profile

This is getting a little stale…

Another Saturday, another cloudy, overcast and chilly day. At least it’s not raining, I keep telling myself and anyone who’ll listen, but after one weekend of record setting high temperatures, we’ve now had several extremely cold ones, culminating in record setting lows. So, once again I’m bundled up against the chill and diving down the hill en route to the meeting point.

At least it’s not raining … although I am periodically blasted by billowing cherry blossom, stripped off the trees by the wind and hurled at me like a storm of confetti unleashed by the worlds most over-enthusiastic wedding guest.

Timing is bad again and once more I get stopped at the level crossing, but this time the train is heading up the valley and quickly rumbles past and away.

Over the river and back-tracking, I’m periodically passed by vintage motorbikes and scooters burbling away in the opposite direction. I assume they’re holding some sort of rally, but can’t find anything online to suggest who, what, where or when. A secret vintage biker meet?

Then I’m at the meeting point in good order and in good time. Here we go again …


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

G-Dawg is visibly shaken by the condition of the Garrulous Kid’s chain, black and glistening with evil intent, a thick, grungy coating of sticky black oil and accumulated gunk.

“It’s a black chain,” the Garrulous Kid insists, unconvincingly. No one’s buying.

It’s probably not going to cleaned until his bike needs a major service (considering it’s just had one, that’s probably some time in the future) or, he accidentally wipes it off on his calf for an epic chainring tattoo.

A couple of FNG’s or, to be more precise, an FNG couple, roll up to join us.
Double Dutch! They are adventurers from the Hollow Lands, perhaps drawn here by our sunny weather, gentle rolling hills and the general feeling of compassion and empathy for cyclists exhibited by the average British motorist. Welkom goede Nederlandse mensen.

The club is looking at ways to ease the passage of young riders from our thriving Go-Ride section into the senior ranks – as Big Dunc stated, if we can just bring half a dozen teens into the fold, we’ll be able to reduce the average age on club runs from 49 to, oh at least 48½.

To be able to do this though, British Cycling insist we have fully trained Ride Leaders (there’s a BC course for that) and said ride leaders have to have First Aid certification (and there’s no BC course for that).

“Don’t you have First Aid training already?” OGL enquires of Big Dunc,

“Technically, only in the event of oil rig evacuation, or an oil fire.”

“Well, that could prove useful,” G-Dawg muttered, once again looking askance at the Garrulous Kid’s oil clogged chain.

I complained to Big Dunc about the weather.

Ever phlegmatic, he shrugged, “At least we’re not in Yorkshire.”

He was, of course referring to the horrendous weather at the Tour de of Yorkshire, where extreme cold, high winds, hail and freezing rain have been battering the riders to such an extent that some of the women’s teams admitted to attacking just to stay warm.

We’re all watching, hoping for a glimpse of “old” boy and ex-clubmate beZ, riding for Ribble Pro Cycling and being paid to rub shoulders with the likes of Chris Froome and Greg van Anorak Avermaet. We can’t in any way claim to have been instrumental in guiding beZ from junior, to club-rider, to hardened pro-racer, but at least we didn’t irreparably break him along the way. Perhaps there’s hope for our Go-Ride youngsters after all?

Aether outlined the route for the day, including his signature Twizzel Twist, an odd phallic-shaped diversion, 5km down to the village and then 5km straight back out again on a parallel road. Captain Black speculated that Aether had been attempting some clever Strava art with his route planning, but had almost immediately lost interest when it proved too difficult.

A rendezvous point was agreed at Dyke Neuk and away we went.


I joined the first group, chatting with Andeven and Captain Black, before dropping in alongside a relative FNG who seemed keen to get more involved with the club. I learned I was in the company of another Dutch refugee, which if the pair from this morning stick around would mean that, along with Rainman, we would have four in the club. I’m not completely certain, but I’m sure that violates several UCI protocols.

We took the Twizzel Twist, dropping down at high speed with several of the group pushing away off the front. The FNG gave chase and nearly over-cooked it on a tight bend, braking furiously, unclipping and dabbing a foot down. G-Dawg swore he saw a trail of sparks where cleat kissed tarmac, then the FNG swung wide, off the road and through the grass verge, before correcting and powering on. Hey! Our very own Dutch Corner … and it almost gave me a Dutch Coronary.



Up toward the Gubeon, we called a halt for a pee, but the conditions were neither amenable, or luxurious enough for the Garrulous Kid, who crossed the road, squeezed through a fence and tried to pick his way into the woods for some privacy and a chance to commune with nature in splendid isolation.

We tracked his progress through the swaying of foliage, snapping of branches, a series of random grunts and the occasional startled exclamation.

“I’ve stepped on a fawn!” he announced at one point, but I very much doubt there were any deer within a thousand yards of his decidedly unstealthy bushcraft.

Captain Black wondered if the Garrulous Kid was recording his off-road adventures via his smartwatch.

“He’ll have a small Strava segment,” he declared, “And it will be small in this weather.” Ba-boom!

Finally, all fell silent amongst the trees.

“Ok, let’s go,” G-Dawg announced immediately.

“I’m here!” the Garrulous Kid announced, popping up suddenly beside the fence. Damn, that was quick. Missed opportunity.

Dropping down from Meldon, I swung wide and just let the bike run, new wheels picking up momentum quickly as I shot past everyone and onto the front. We swung left and started the climb up to Dyke Neuk and, as quickly as I’d hit the front, I drifted back, as everyone raced to be first to the top. We were stopping to regroup there anyway, so I was in no great hurry and followed at a more relaxed pace.

The Garrulous Kid had lots of queries about saddles with grooves and odd shaped protrusions. G-Dawg encouraged him to get a saddle with strategically placed cut-outs, suggesting he could then dangle his testicles through them and, whenever he was going too fast on the front, someone could grab one and give a little squeeze. Alternatively, if he was going too slow someone could “reach across and give him a little tickle” of encouragement.

Ahem. Yes, well … Hmm … maybe we’re not quite ready to include Go-Ride youngsters in our club runs just yet.

Luckily the second group arrived before the conversation had a chance to take an even more disturbing direction. Unsurprisingly, no one wanted an extended ride up the hated drag to Rothley crossroads and we all stuck to the original plan, but split into two groups.

I dropped back into the second group alongside G-Dawg and Captain Black and we set out for a run at the cafe via Middleton Bank. As we took the turn for the climb, we found ourselves being followed by a massive tractor hauling a large slurry tank. We were in full cry now though, speeding downhill toward the foot of the climb, so there was no way the tractor could get past here, or on the narrow ascent, so it would have to crawl up the hill behind us.

Zip Five took a flyer off the front, but I waited until the steepest part of the climb before slipping out from behind G-Dawg and giving chase, pulling Captain Black along with me as we passed everyone. We pushed over the top with a decent gap and then slowed to regroup.

As the road straightened to run past Bolam Lake, the tractor finally rumbled past, but to be honest it wasn’t travelling that much faster than we were, so we never lost sight of it.

On the front with Captain Black, we started to wind up the pace and were soon humming as we swept through Milestone Woods to the foot of the rollers, where … as foolish tradition dictates … I attacked. There wasn’t the usual out of the saddle flailing, I just stomped on the pedals a bit harder and managed to open a decent gap.

By the time we hit the second ramp, I’m usually a spent force weak legged, gasping and flapping like a fish out of water, but today the legs seemed pretty good, so I kept going.

I caught the tractor, just before the final bump and dropped in behind it as we started the descent to the final drag up to the cafe. It proved perfect for a sustained bout of illegal drafting and I tucked in tight behind the bouncing slurry tank, hoping the driver wouldn’t brake suddenly, or the tank start leaking its noxious contents over the road.

With the tractor travelling at a good clip, I was confident my mechanical assistance was going to make me hard to catch – and so it proved. I eased over the last section of road and let the tractor pull away, before swooping through the final junction, just behind the back-markers from the first group.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Space was at a premium in the cafe, where a shrieking coterie of middle-aged women had commandeered the big round table in the centre of the floor and were pressed in great number all around it. It looked like perhaps the most civilised (second? third?) hen party, ever. But maybe not.

A few of us squeezed onto a table alongside an octogenarian couple trying to enjoy a peaceful lunch. Sorry, citizens, we had no choice.

I caught up with Taffy Steve, who’d been riding with the Distaff Double Dutch and been teaching her new words to ease her assimilation into the clubs culture.

Having already covered off “knacker” and “minging” he was wondering what else she might need. I suggested “worky ticket” but (rather oddly) Taffy Steve didn’t think she’d have much need for such a pejorative term amongst our serried, serene and cultured ranks. “Paggered” the always erudite Biden Fecht suggested, a word I think he’s taken a bit of a shine to. So paggered it was.

Halfway through our stay, the octogenarian gent pointed over his wife’s shoulder and declared, “there’s a girly party going on over there.”

Andeven looked at me and mouthed “girly party?” and I only just managed not to burst out laughing. Luckily, he distracted me with descriptions of Spry’s new, all white Trek Madone. This, he suggested made his Colnago look astonishingly dated in a side by side comparison, but, he reasoned that, much like pet dogs, bikes have a tendency to grow to suit their owners. Or, perhaps owners grow to resemble their bikes …

Still. the ultimate, thousand dollar question remained – would the shiny, new Trek encourage a return of the white shorts?


We left the cafe and I found the Red Max, resplendent in a smart new winter top. He said he’d only just got it for his birthday and hadn’t thought he’d get a chance to wear it until at least October. It really was that cold. Later, Taffy Steve would echo the same sentiments when he asked if I ever thought I’d be wearing overshoes in May.

As we were about to leave, we found out Distaff Double Dutch had a flat. Most of the group pressed on for home, while half a dozen or so of us hung back to help.

Well, I say help, we actually huddled round the side of the cafe, out of the wind and called out criticism and helpful suggestions in equal measure from this surprisingly sheltered space.

Back out onto the roads, I had a chat with Distaff Double Dutch and learned she’s on a research contract at the University, so here for at least 3 years. Meanwhile, Dude Double Dutch was on the front, riding alongside the Red Max and the speed kept incrementally notching upwards.

Odd that?

“Is there a Dutch term for half-wheeling?” I wondered, hoping to contribute something to Taffy Steve’s cultural-exchange programme.

Sadly, there isn’t, but, when I described the phenomena, she instantly recognised exactly what I was talking about. She agreed that Dude Double Dutch was a fine proponent of the art, and yes, that’s exactly what he was doing at the moment, aided and abetted by that arch half-wheeler himself, the Red Max.

I sprinted forward and got them knock it off, well for a while at least.

We had a decently fast run back from there and I even had enough zip left in the legs to burst past everyone as we drove to the end of the Mad Mile. A quick slingshot round the roundabout and I was off and heading home, quite absurdly pleased with myself.


YTD Totals: 2,913 km / 1,810 miles with 38,425 metres of climbing