Back to self-propelled methods for getting across to the meeting place, ironically I found myself 10 minutes early, compared with last week when I’d driven there and been 10 minutes late.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I found G-Dawg and Crazy Legs sitting on the wall, enjoying the warm sunshine and chatting with an FNG.
“Interesting documentary on Fleetwood Mac on BBC4,” the FNG opined, “They were all at it with each other, well all bar the drummer.”
“Drummers, eh? They are a breed apart,” I suggested.
“I’m a drummer,” the FNG replied.
“Yeah, drummers, there a bit like goalies,” Crazy Legs volunteered, “Oddly different.”
“I’m a goalie, too.” the FNG asserted, “although I sometimes play left-back, because I kick a ball left-footed.”
At this point I thought it was probably polite not to express any kind of view of left-footers and maintained a diplomatic silence.
The FNG then told us he’d been doing a lot of riding in London, in a group who seemed to do nothing but ceaselessly circle Regent’s Park at break-neck speed, all on hugely expensive bikes and all kitted out with the latest Rapha gear – sort of all dressed-up with no where to go. It should make anyone who lives within a stones throw of our outstanding countryside eternally grateful – even if the roads can sometimes resemble the Somme after a particularly intense, heavy artillery stonk.
Our interlocutor then said he’d been tempted to try some Rapha kit himself and had wandered into one of their shops, boutiques, sorry, err … clubhouses to browse their wares.
The decided racing-snake fit had prompted him to ask the staff if he was in the wrong department and if they had any adult clothing, before he decided that it just wasn’t mean’t to be…
Aether had planned the route for the day, with a trip down the Ryals before the climb back through Hallington. I like this route, the weather was good, my knee had been set free of all protective bracing and all was well with the world. It promised to be a good one.
Off in the first group, I dropped in alongside Ovis as we followed Caracol and the Cow Ranger out at a decidedly brisk pace. Then, approaching the airport, the Cow Ranger managed to ship his chain (something that’s becoming a common occurrence) and as he dropped back I pushed up to replace him on the front.
“So, that planned chain drop worked well again,” Caracol noted as I replaced the Cow Ranger. I agreed it was a good trick and one I’m keen to master.
Heading toward Darras Hall, home to posh people, lumbering 4×4’s and (what passes as royalty in these parts) Premiership footballers, young and old – Ovis replaced Caracol on the front and on we went.
Someone called for a break, then, a bit further on we stopped again, potentially to reform once the second group joined us, but then we dithered and then we pressed on without them. So a fairly standard day for decisive decision making then.
By the time we’d dropped down the Quarry and reached the top of the Ryal’s, G-Dawg had worked his way to the back of the group, conscious of the speed-wobbles he’s experienced on the Ryal’s descent and giving himself room to manoeuvre, should the worst happen.
As we approached drop an older looking feller topped the crest on a sit-up-and-beg bike laden with panniers, completely unruffled by the long climb and breathing easily.
“Got to be an e-bike,” Crazy Legs observed and so it was, making a mockery of the Ryal’s fearsome reputation.
It was our turn for some fun then, tipping over the edge to let gravity have its wicked way with us … wheeee … over 60kph without even trying.
At the bottom, I joined up with Crazy Legs as we took the turn to Hallington. Other riders pressed on for a longer sweep around the reservoir, while ahead of us we saw Ovis, caught between waiting for us to catch him and chasing down Rainman.
We soft-pedalled, waiting for G-Dawg, still alive and chatting animatedly with Otto Rocket and Buster as he caught us up. He confirmed he’d had no issues, but his experiences have instilled a high degree of caution in his approach to the descent.
Our small group then set off to climb up through Hallington and onto the road above Kirkheaton, occasionally fracturing and reforming over the hills. The top road is usually a fast paced, roller-coaster ride, but today there was a stiff headwind and it was tough going.
We scrambled up Brandywell Bank and started to pile on the pace. I dropped in behind Crazy Legs as we took the drop down toward the Snake Bends as he rode down the white lines in the middle of the road to try and find the smoothest passage.
An approaching car forced us back to the left and, after it passed and Crazy Legs swung back into the middle, I accelerated down the inside and kept going as hard as I could until G-Dawg surged past me, quickly opening an unassailable lead.
Everyone else swept passed and I sat up, rolling to the junction where we regrouped, seeming to wait an interminable amount of time before finding space to dart through the heavy traffic and wend or way through to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Everyone seems to be looking forward to next weeks World Championships in Yorkshire, especially Rainman, whose national proclivities are to the fore, as he touted the chances of a Dutch successor to Valverde, while simultaneously disparaging any Belgian contenders.
In short order he had built up the chances of Mathieu van der Poel and Dylan van Baarle, while demolishing those of Remco Evenepoel, Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen.
“Ere, ere,” Caracol pulled him up sharply, his west country burr to the fore, “You can’t possibly go around pronouncing every riders names correctly and expect us to know who you’re talking about!”
There then followed and extended, bizarre discussion about whether the West Country accent was more representative of pirates or farmers, which concluded with the Caracol’s startling conclusion: “farmers, pirates, they’re one and the same really.”
This left us confused and wondering if pirates were the cut-throat homesteaders of the high seas, or farmers were the freebooters of terra firma.
I don’t know, maybe it’s both?
An elder gent from the Vagabonds cycling club was at the cafe with his missus, who was accompanying him on an e-bike. An intrigued Otto Rocket was curious about the e-bike and was offered a chance to try it for herself.
“We don’t actually know her, she just turned up in a taxi,” Crazy Legs quipped as Otto Rocket swung her leg over the frame and disappeared out the car park. The e-biker owner laughed, only ever-so-slightly uneasily.
Otto Rocket duly returned and pronounced the e-bike brilliant. Of course, Crazy Legs had to have a go too, whirring back to the cafe to second the opinion that e-bikes were brilliant. We all agreed they were highly likely to feature in our (not too distant) riding futures.
The ride home once again featured a quickening of the pace as we powered our way up Berwick Hill, but nothing quite so savage and unrelenting as last weeks madness. Still it wasn’t long before I was following G-Dawg through the mad mile, before casting off and striking out for home.
Great weather and a great ride, I wouldn’t object to a few more days like that before the winter takes hold.
YTD Totals: 5,898 km / 3,665 miles with 77,491 metres of climbing
A decent day, still chilly, but dry and largely windless. I’ll take it.
I arrive at the meeting point to find good numbers already waiting, the starting nucleus of what would grow be one of the best attended rides this year.
Ride leader for the day, Richard of Flanders was amongst those waiting, uniquely attired in our much unloved club jersey, which everyone else seems to have shunned. Our numbers also included a royal guest of honour, Mrs. Max, there perhaps to tackle the impossible and try keeping the Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy in line. (Good luck with that!)
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I queried with the Monkey Butler Boy how Mrs. Max had even managed to find a fully functional and completely intact bike, knowing that her husband and son were always circling it like voracious, starving vultures, ready to pick off the best bits, or use it as the prime source for any replacement parts they needed.
The Monkey Butler Boy admitted “they” (collectively, there was no attribution of actual guilt) had trashed her wheels, which might have been alright, but the Red Max had then singularly failed to fix them and in desperation had to take them to his local bike shop.
Stung by this apparent failure, the Red Max piped up, “Well, at least I was right in my diagnosis of the problem.”
“What was that then?” Kipper enquired dryly, “The fact that they were fucked?”
I confessed to Richard of Flanders that I’d seen his club jersey and almost ridden past, thinking I was in the wrong place. He was to have the last laugh though, as several more riders showed up sporting the tangerine and green colours, including several riders for whom a club ride is an annual rite of passage, rather than a weekly obsession.
Among these was Eon in a reworked club jersey which, as well as being a slightly improved design, was actually form fitting and had the benefit of not being constructed from acres of shapeless Crimplene.
This led to a discussion about the relative merits of the Bardiani CSF kit – the same basic tangerine and green as our club colours, but applied a little more, well, let’s say sympathetically.
“Not my favourite Italian pro-conti team, anyway” the Monkey Butler Boy sniffed, “I prefer Nipple-Vini Fantini, just for the name.”
Or, at least that’s what I think he said, while referring to the Nippo-Vini Fantine-Faizane team.
You can’t beat a plain black jersey, attested the Hammer, resplendent in his usual, long-serving, Tørm Merino wool number, a practical, pragmatic colour that, he suggested, could also flatter the fuller figure.
Eon was out for a rare club run in as a warm up for Sunday’s club 25 mile time-trial. The Monkey Butler Boy was also riding and concerned about the start, where the Red Max was official holder-up and pusher-offerer. (Is there not a proper, technical, UCI approved term for a time-trial pusher-offerer? Pusher-offerer just doesn’t sound right.)
The Monkey Butler Boy’s worry was that, as the starter and time-keeper (see, they have an official title) counted down to zero, the Red Max wouldn’t immediately release his bike and he’d end up spinning his wheels and losing valuable seconds before he was allowed to break away.
Surely though, the Red Max wouldn’t do that to his favourite (OK, only) son, would he?
Richard of Flanders outlined the route, complete with some last minute changes as several roads around the cafe had been completely closed for resurfacing. We then split into two (still large) groups and away we went.
I spent the first few miles alongside the Rainman, talking about the apparent influx of Dutch to the North East of England and pondering what might have triggered it. Although himself firmly rooted amongst us, he admitted that facing the same decision today he would probably not have moved here. It looks like our febrile Brexit discord and the rise of populist, right wing, political movements makes the UK look mean, intolerant, insular and unwelcoming. I don’t know, maybe some people think this is actually a good thing?
The Hammer had told everyone he could only manage a short spin today and would be leaving us after the first few miles. True to his word, on the slope down from Dinnington, the man in black waved his farewells and accelerated smoothly down the outside of the group and away … only to be chased by the Garrulous Kid who hared off in a disruptive, mad and utterly pointless pursuit.
At the junction, the Hammer turned right, while we waited for another group of cyclists to pass before we went left. We harboured brief hopes that the Garrulous Kid had managed to get himself enmeshed in this other group and carried away, but as we turned for the Cheese Farm, we found him waiting.
“Wanker!” G-Dawg admonished the Garrulous Kid, as he drew up alongside him and order was finally restored, “It’s supposed to be a group ride. What was the point in that?”
Sadly, I doubt the censure had any effect.
We pressed on and worked our way up to Dyke Neuk where we paused briefly. On the other side of the road the Backstreet Boys were loitering, practising Incomplete and Inconsolable. A few of our lot wandered across for a chat, while G-Dawg pondered the numerous, deeply worrying similarities emerging between the characters of OGL and the Garrulous Kid. This included a complete lack of self-awareness and not the remotest hint of modesty or humility. G-Dawg vowed that somehow, someway, he’d manage to get out here in 20 years time, even if it had to be on his mobility scooter, so he could hunt down the Garrulous Kid and see what a remarkable replica of OGL he’d morphed into.
Efforts were made to persuade the Garrulous Kid to go with the Backstreet Boys and then, failing that, with a group of ramblers who were starting to congregate in the pub car park.
“I’m not going wiff them,” the Garrulous Kid complained, “Walking wiff them would be like walking wiff … wiff dinosaurs!”
Oh well, we tried.
On we pushed once again, but the further we went, the more it became apparent that the FNG who’d joined us that morning had completely ran out of energy and was really struggling off the back. Just before Hartburn we called a halt and waited for him and his escort of Rab Dee and Eon to shepherd him up to us. We then decided to split into fast and slow groups, with Goose, G-Dawg, Aether, another relatively new Irishman, Homeboyz and me dropping back to try and nurse the FNG around.
The fast group soon disappeared up the road and, as I dropped back to chat with the FNG, it looked like the soft-pedalling slow group were in imminent danger of following suit. We really were travelling astonishingly slowly, especially when the road ticked up by even a few degrees. I was really struggling to contain my pace and match it to that of our FNG.
The rest of the slow group were waiting for us around the corner and when I caught up with G-Dawg, I told him I felt like I was in one of those competitions where cyclists perform track stands try to see who can take the most time to complete a circuit.
As we approached Scots Gap, Aether pondered if we shouldn’t take a short-cut, up Middleton Bank, rather than follow the proposed route through Wallington. This sounded good in theory, but would lead us up to where the roads might be closed and, if we couldn’t get through, we’d have to backtrack. Rather than risk it, we pressed on.
I stopped for a pee, urging the FNG to keep going and I would catch up. Re-mounting I spotted a large group of cyclists approaching, which I assumed was our second group. I rejoined our limping convoy as we pushed on to Kirkhalle and we started to climb, waiting for the group behind to catch us.
They did, about half way up the climb, riding past in a flurry of hi’s, hello’s and how you doing’s, which revealed they weren’t our second group at all, but a contingent from the Tyneside Vagabonds.
G-Dawg immediately accelerated, pulling Homeboyz with him, as he surged past the group, away up the climb, around the corner and smartly out of sight. As he would later explain, he couldn’t possibly let a group of Vags beat him up a hill.
Meanwhile, still only half way up the climb, Aether checked his Garmin and reported that the official route, as posted by Richard of Flanders, indicated we should be turning left. Along with Goose and the FNG, we tentatively swung off the road and onto a narrow farm track.
We hesitated. Was this right? Would it get us to where we were going, or would we end up miles off our intended course, or, perhaps, worst of all, be forced to retrace our steps?
With the FNG so obviously flagging, we decided it was worth the risk, Aether’s Garmin suggested there was a path through, it was heading in the right direction and it could save us a good few miles too. We reasoned that if G-Dawg and Homeboyz waited for us after their tussle with the Vags, they would soon realise we’d taken a detour and either follow, or make their own way to the cafe.
With a course of action determined, off we set, although we still occasionally queried if we were doing the right thing, especially when the track narrowed, sprouted a Mohawk haircut of springy green grass down it’s centre and the surface crumbled to loose gravel. I was just waiting for it to end in a farmyard, surrounded by fields with no way through.
Then we came to a gate (not THE gate, you understand, but still a definitive barrier across our track). This wasn’t looking promising, but we passed through and pressed on anyway. Another gate slowed our progress some more, but then we were rattling down toward a junction with a proper road and wondering just exactly where we were.
We found we’d been spat out onto the road to Capheaton. The short-cut had worked, we were within 5 or 6 miles of the cafe and well ahead of where we would otherwise have been. This was confirmed a few minutes later, when we were passed once more by the same whirring gaggle of Vagabonds. They’d obviously followed the route we had originally intended to take and our short-cut had put us ahead of them on the road. We hoped to see G-Dawg and Homeboyz trailing our rivals, but they were nowhere in sight.
We kept going and, with an excess of energy to burn, I sprinted up the short sharp incline of Brandy Well Bank and we then contested a pseudo-sprint into the Snake Bends, before picking up our FNG escort duties again, to shepherd him safely through to the cafe.
Maintopics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Perhaps as a consequence of our late arrival, or perhaps it was just one of those days, the cafe was mobbed and the queue doubled back though the conservatory and right down to the door. Luckily most of our crew had already been served and were already lining up coffee refills, but ahead of us were the Backstreet Boys (showing off their new kit) and a load of civilians. Luckily the Vagabonds had gone elsewhere, or they too would have beaten us in and would have been ahead of us in the queue.
One of the civilians started mock complaining about all the cyclists in the queue ahead of her, although I sensed the jocularity was a little forced and underneath she was actually quite irritated. She then introduced us to her friend by describing her most notable and defining characteristic, a deep anger at any cyclist who dared to wear black.
Apparently, any cyclist who chooses to wear black has a death wish and is solely to blame for any misfortune that befalls them. While the implication was that if she hit a cyclist dressed in black, then it was entirely their fault, the inference seemed to be that she felt she had a moral duty to actually run black clad cyclists off the road. I didn’t feel this was quite the right forum to discuss the slimming effects that black could have on the fuller figure…
We were finally served (cafe prices have gone up again) and made our way to the packed garden for a seat. I was midway through my expensive slice of cake, when the missing G-Dawg and Homeboyz belatedly appeared, having waited for us in vain. (Sorry guys, but I still think we did the right thing, or we would still be out there.)
By the time our late arriving pair had been served, everyone else was packing up to go. I had a quick chat with Alhambra, a guy who joined the club at the exact same day as I did, but who only gets out occasionally due to work and family commitments.
He’s obviously been sneaking off to the gym too as he now appears almost as broad as he is tall.
“As my daughters might say, you’re looking particularly hench,” I told him, trying out a word I had no business being around, like an aged billionaire with a trophy girlfriend.
“Hench. Sorry, yoof speak,” I explained.
We found common bafflement at some of the terms currently being bandied about by our offspring and determined we needed an interpreter.
“Pied-off,” I said, by way of another example.
“Yeah, pied-off, that’s a weird one,” he agreed. “What’s that all about?”
We caught up with Richard of Flanders and queried whether our trek down the gated road had actually been planned on the route he’d set up on Strava. Apparently it hadn’t been, but then again we decided to take everything he said with a healthy pinch of salt when he admitted his group hadn’t actually followed the planned ride … because he got lost.
On his own route?
While everyone else decamped and departed, I wandered back into the cafe for a refill, then joined G-Dawg and Homeboyz. The Garrulous Kid decided to hang back too, to lend moral support, or perhaps encouragement and entertainment on our way home.
There was no time for re-fills for either G-Dawg and Homeboyz, we were already well behind schedule when our quartet left the cafe. G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid led us out and we hit a fairly brisk pace as we made the run for home.
After a few miles riding in the company of the Garrulous Kid yet again, I could tell G-Dawg had reached his limit by how terse his replies had become:
The Garrulous Kid: “Chunter, chunter chunter…”
The Garrulous Kid: “Chunter, chunter chunter…”
The Garrulous Kid: “Chunter, chunter, chunter, chunter, chunter!”
As we took the turn past Kirkley Hall, he looked back at me. “What have I done to deserve this?” he asked plaintively.
I saluted his martyrdom, but realised even martyrs have their limits, so I pushed onto the front alongside the Garrulous Kid to afford G-Dawg’s ears some respite.
Running late and still feeling relatively fresh following our stately progression around the second part of the route, we took a fast run up … and then down Berwick Hill. G-Dawg and Homeboyz took over to drag us through Dinnington and into the Mad Mile and then I was released for a solo ride home, managing to claw back some time and arriving not too far behind my usual schedule.
Well, that was different.
YTD Totals: 3,414 km / 2,121 miles with 43,785 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 119 km / 74 miles with 516* metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 27 minutes
Average Speed: 26.8 km/h
Group size: 18 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Miserably damp
* It was raining throughout the day and my Garmin really, really doesn’t like the rain. I don’t for one moment believe we only had 516 metres of climbing, but that’s what I’m going with.
Let’s talk about the weather, eh? Its mid-July, supposedly British Summer Time and in the Tour de France, the riders are struggling through a heatwave. Now my expectations have naturally been tempered by years of disappointment, but nonetheless, Saturday was like the nadir for summer rides – as bleak, dreary and wet as a dank, November day. Except … it was warm. As in shorts warm. As in too warm to wear a rain jacket … and too wet not to.
I’m becoming as confused as my kit choices.
The start of the day wasn’t too bad, with a very light, quite refreshing rain, drifting down on a pleasantly cooling breeze and the roads not yet wet enough to slow me into the corners. I chased cars down the Heinous Hill, just to prove I could go faster than them – and they really shouldn’t be pulling out in front of cyclists like that.
I turned along the valley floor and directly into a headwind, but I was feeling decent, it wasn’t much of an issue and I was pressing on at a fair clip. After a few miles I climbed up to the traffic lights and then swung down toward the river, spotting a familiar cyclist churning up the ramp toward me. It was the Prof, riding with beZ and Jimmy Cornfeed on their way to a time-trial somewhere in the dangerous, wildlands south of the river.
I only had time for a quick salute as I swept past in the opposite direction, although I did catch the Prof muttering something about the Heinous Hill as I darted by. (Just to be clear, for the record the slope he was tackling is but a speed bump, a mere pimple, a trifling minor irritation of little consequence, compared to the true heinousness of the Heinous Hill.)
By the time I reached the meeting point, the rain was becoming constant and heavy and I was glad to duck into the shelter of the multi-storey car park while our numbers slowly assembled.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
After a long, long absence, the Dabman reappeared for his first ride out with us since snapping his collar bone like a dry stick.
“Have you actually got written permission from your lass?” a surprised Red Max demanded to know.
“Oh, she’s away for a few days…” Dabman ruefully admitted.
It was obvious that he was out on a stealth-ride and would need to get back (preferably in one, whole piece) and restore everything to pre-ride condition, prior to Mrs. Dabman’s return. He was warned to stay away from my camera, so there’d be no photographic evidence of his ride and if anyone asks, his very appearance in this blerg is just another of my wild imaginings, with no actual foundation in the truth – or, if you like, the same as pretty much everything else I write.
Speaking of expunging rides from the data banks, Crazy Legs returned having survived the club time-trial last weekend, but couldn’t really say how it had gone as he’d blanked much of the experience. He did recall however that his, somewhat cobbled together, time-trial bike had caused a few problems – he hadn’t bothered to fit a front derailleur, reasoning he’d only need the big ring and it would just add to the weight and cost.
Things were working fine until he hit a bump in the road and the chain skipped down onto the inner ring. Faced with the choice of pressing on, or wasting time by stopping to manually lift the chain back up again, he chose the former option.
Waiting at the finish, G-Dawg reported he never knew legs could actually spin that fast and that they had been “a smerking blur” as Crazy Legs crossed the finish line with one last, all-out effort.
OGL reported that he’d been invited to take part in an episode of Come Dine with Me, but had sadly declined. I must admit my imagination completely fails when I try to imagine what that would have been like, perhaps somewhere between toe-curling embarrassment and the fascinating horror of a slow-motion car crash. He offered the opportunity around, but apparently we all still retain at least some iota of self-esteem and there were no takers.
The Monkey Butler Boy was out with us, having been abandoned by his wrecking crew of young guns (as they are all, apparently scared of getting wet). He was fascinated by the Colossus’s Time iClic pedals, but dissuaded from further investigation when the Colossus pointed out the blunt, dagger like protrusion that encased the spindle and the corresponding, identically matched bruises and indentations they’d made in his shins.
The Garrulous Kid announced he was thinking of taking Geography as one of his A-level options next year, as apparently he likes his teacher, Mrs. Naff.
Crazy Legs was about to embark on an extended dialogue about how you can tell the difference between good teachers and naff teachers, when I interrupted.
“Hold, on. Mrs. Naff. How do you spell that?”
“You know, Naff,” the Garrulous Kid replied, “N-A-T-H.”
In spite of the rain, Szell put in a rare appearance. The Garrulous Kid wondered when he would be disappearing into hibernation and Szell explained it was usually after the summer Bank Holiday. He said that, like Freda the Blue Peter tortoise, he had a big cardboard box filled with straw, that his wife had prepared by punching holes in the lid. He said he’d be putting it in a darkened cupboard and retiring to it in good order, long before the leaves started to turn.
I explained to the Garrulous Kid that this was all nonsense, you couldn’t believe a word Szell was saying and he was obviously lying. No one was going to believe he actually had a wife.
We could delay no longer and looking out at the rain falling with increasing intensity, I pulled on my rain jacket and reluctantly pushed off, clipped in and followed everyone out onto the roads.
For the first part of the ride I was entertained by the Garrulous Kid providing a running commentary on exactly where and how quickly, the rain was creeping through his clothing. He became particularly animated as he started getting a wet bum, especially as he declared the rain seemed to have soaked straight through his underpants.
“What? Wait! You’re wearing underpants?”
“Of course I’m wearing underpants.”
“Under your cycling shorts?”
“Yes. But not just any underpants, they’re from the Marks and Spencer’s Autograph range.”
The Garrulous Kid refused to accept that he was the only one among us wearing underpants under their cycling shorts – although, when questioned, the Monkey Butler Boy did later admit he had. Once. When he was about 11.
But, apparently we’re all wrong, or depraved, or masochists and wearing underpants beneath cycling shorts should be de rigueur because it’s much more comfortable, much more hygenic and … and … much warmer!
Forget about the chafing, forget about the horrendous bunching and rubbing and the irritation. Forget about Betty Swollocks and the broiling, swarming petri dish of a breeding ground underpants will create for all kinds of bacterium and fungal spores. Remember, you’re improperly dressed unless you’re wearing your tighty-whities. At all times. Preferably from M&S. (Other makes are available.)
The rain continued to fall and, as usual, the poor weather seemed to have an adverse effect on driver comprehension, as if giving them something else to consider somehow befuddles and overloads their brains.
Our first indication of this was a skip lorry that tried overtaking our bunch, going uphill and around a blind corner. It lumbered all the way across to the other side of the road and huffed noisily upwards, before having to come to an abrupt halt in front of a car parked at the kerb and leaving too little room to squeeze past.
A few miles further on and it was the turn of an Astra driver, who almost made it to the head of our “peloton,” before meeting a Mercedes travelling in the opposite direction. Both cars stopped dead, bumper to bumper, while we rolled past amazed at just how dumb and reckless some drivers actually are.
Just before we dropped down towards the Tyne, OGL, a delegation of Grogs and a few others took a shorter more direct route to the café, effectively halving our numbers.
We swept down into the river valley and picked our way through a few sleepy villages, before climbing out again via Newton. I suspect G-Dawg found the going much more amenable than the last time, when he’d been forced to tackle this route on his fixie, following one of the Prof’s characteristics “route lapses.”
The heat generated by some prolonged climbing, combined with the briefest cessation of the rain, lulled us into shedding our rain jackets, well for a couple of miles anyway.
G-Dawg now led us on a wholly new, untried route through to Matfen, travelling on roads he’d identified courtesy of the complete novelty of looking at an actual map. This he’d carefully and craftily folded into his back pocket and we would catch him occasionally consulting its arcane mysteries, while muttering strange incantations at it. You know, those map things are actually quite useful and I have a strange feeling they could perhaps catch on one day.
Stopping at the next junction, just about everyone who’d previously doffed their jackets now pulled them back on, as the rain returned with even greater intensity. We held station as another group of cyclists appeared, clambering uphill through the gloomy veil of this renewed downpour. They slowly coalesced into another local club, the Tyneside Vagabonds, or Vags, who looked almost as wet and bedraggled as we did.
“Oh, is it raining down there?” Szell asked brightly as they filed past, smiling and greeting us enthusiastically, probably just happy in the knowledge they weren’t the only raving lunatics riding a bike in such utterly miserable conditions.
Our group splintered on the climb to the Quarry and we swung right for the shorter run to the café, not even bothering to pause and let everyone back on. With the pace picking up on the run in to the Snake Bends, the Red Max suddenly appeared on my shoulder, having completed an epic chase to catch up. This he’d accomplished in part thanks to some kamikaze cornering around wet bends that I’m glad I didn’t see.
We exchanged a few words, before he declared our pace was “far too civilised” and attacked off the front. Having also chased on, Taffy Steve followed him through and I latched onto his wheel, until I sensed the Colossus winding up to follow the attacks. I eased and let the gap grow so he could slot in behind Taffy Steve and the trio burst away to contest the sprint.
I picked up the pace again and followed in their wake, sparring with the Garrulous Kid for the minor placings, before sitting up and coasting through the bends.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the café, Caracol started eyeing up one of the tray bakes like a predator assessing the herd for the choicest prey and he quickly determined that one of the segments was considerably larger than the others – or in his eyes, old, infirm and separated from the herd.
He turned on the full charm, which was a bit like a dusty, old 40-watt light-bulb attached to a dodgy and backfiring generator. Still, it flickered briefly into life and he quickly made a plea for the over-sized portion. Inexplicably, it somehow worked and the serving girl carefully shuffled the pieces of cake around to fish out his marked prize.
The Monkey Butler Boy was even more delighted when she did the same for him – and he didn’t even have to ask. I was going to suggest it’s because he’s younger and better looking, but didn’t want to start a bitch fight.
The Grogs were already done, leaving as we were sitting down and we caught Mini Miss, hovering, peering out the door and waiting for everyone to assemble before making a dash out into the rain for her own bike. Or maybe she’s just in training for a triathlon transition.
The Monkey Butler Boy continues to outgrow his bikes and is looking for something new to ride. At present he’s struggling with the choice between an aero road bike, or a light-weight climbing machine. I suspect he’s leaning toward the aero-bike, but on canvassing the table wasn’t getting much support. The Colossus however came to his rescue suggesting it didn’t matter which bike was the lightest, had the best spec’ or was the most practical, what really mattered was which one looked the best.
Crazy Legs was happily reminiscing about a video of old-school Raleigh Grifters and recalled owning an iconic Raleigh Chopper. I only ever remember seeing them in orange, but Crazy Legs insisted he had “a purple Chopper” before admitting that’s “not something you tend to talk about in polite company.”
What wasn’t there to love about the Raleigh Chopper? A tiny, small wheel at the front, a big tractor tyre at the back, tall ape-hanger bars, an elongated saddle with a sissy rail, hub gears and a centrally mounted gear lever that always seemed poised to emasculate the unwary. Choppers were expensive, a pig to ride, incredibly heavy, impractical, dangerously unbalanced and unstable, but super-cool. And every kid coveted one.
Hmm, maybe the Colossus was right, insisting it only mattered which bike actually looks the best.
I could even recall one particular abortion of a Chopper variant, the Sprint, which incongruously had drop handlebars.
“Who on earth would want to ride such a thing?” I pondered.
“Well, the Prof, obviously.” Crazy Legs suggested and I had to laugh as I found myself heartily agreeing.
As if talk of childhood bikes had instigated a return to purely juvenile ways, we spent the next 10 minutes or so discussing who would win in a fight between Nacer “Boxer” Bouhanni and Marcel “Pretty Boy” Kittel. The judges finally gave the win to Bouhanni, by a majority of 6 votes to 1.
Our return home was briefly delayed behind a horse drawn cart, trundling slowly along the lanes and laden with middle-aged, horsey types. I hate to imagine where their mounts had disappeared and suspect they could have walked faster than the lumbering cart.
Safely negotiated, the rest of the ride was without incident and I was soon turning off for home. Passing the rugby ground I saw the flash of a hi-vis, green, rain jacket disappearing round the corner and I gave chase, only to be caught on the wrong side of the level crossing as a Metro clattered through and the lone cyclist got away to built a good lead.
With the way clear again, I chased up the hill past the golf course, through the junction and then up another hill past Twin Farms . He was probably younger and most certainly fitter and faster than me and it was hard work closing him down, even though he wasn’t even aware he was in a race.
Through the lights past the Fire Station, I stomped hard on the pedals and tucked in for the downhill, swept over the dual-carriageway and caught him just as the lights ahead turned red.
I issued a nonchalant, “how do?” and pressed on downhill when the lights released us again, thinking my mission was complete.
Unluckily, I’d either picked a cyclist going my way, or one with no fixed destination in mind and happy to just follow the wheels. Hoist by my own petard of vanity and refusing to ease up, I led him down the hill to the river, along the valley floor, across the bridge, up the sharp ramp where I’d saluted the Prof that morning, then down and all the way along to Blaydon.
As we exited the town, he swished past, thanked me politely for the tow and disappeared and I could finally draw breath and complete the rest of my ride at a far more sensible pace.
It turned out to be another long one, though if I’m to believe Strava (I don’t) one that was much less hilly than usual.
YTD Totals: 4,469 km / 2,777 miles with 51,679 metres of climbing