Another less than stellar summer day, but rain was only a possibility not an eventuality so it would more than do. The roads were quiet on my way across to the meeting point and the river was even quieter too – flat, grey and completely empty, both upstream and down. It looked like the rowers were having a day off or, more likely, were all away at a competition.
At the meeting point numbers slowly built until we were about 30 strong – probably the biggest turn out since all this pandemic malarkey started. It looks like it’s all drawing to a close now (touch wood) so it might even be time to ditch the Plague Diaries prefix?
Early questions were raised over whether we’d ever see our Ecuadorian FNG after a traumatic end to her ride last week. She’d apparently suffered an “irreparable puncture” on leaving the café, somehow managing to completely shred her tyre. G-Dawg and a few others had been on hand to assist and one guy was even carrying a spare tyre, but try as they might even the collected efforts of all those assembled couldn’t seat it on the rim, even after several attempts.
Someone else then provided a patch, which they’d finally fitted, changed the tube, inflated the tyre, reinstalled the wheel, packed up all their kit … then watched in dismay as with a defiant hiss the tyre slowly deflated again. The girl returned to the cafe to see if she could persuade anyone to pick her up, while TripleD-El headed for home to get her car in case no one else was able to help. Luckily rescue was arranged long before TripleD-El made it home. Quite surprisingly and despite these travails, our import all the way from the equator was back for more this week.
Brassneck declared how pleased he was at the return of his good wheelset. One of them had apparently failed him on a previous ride and had been returned to the manufacturer, Hunt Wheels who, from what I could gather had charged him several hundred pounds to have it fixed – or in other words about what I’d pay for a set of brand new wheels.
“So,” I suggested, “They only had to replace the hub, the bearings, the axle, the spokes and the rim then? I’m guessing the rim tape was salvageable.”
Ahlambra suggested the wheel was a bit like Trigger’s broom – famed for its longevity after surviving intact for 20 years during which time it only needed 17 new heads and 14 new handles.
G-Dawg briefed in the route for the day in the absence of the Hammer, who’d planned it out and was going to lead until he’d been “unexpectedly called away.” We were going to be heading mainly west and battering straight into quite a forceful headwind for a lot of the ride. This seemed to confirm an emerging theme. First Buster plans a ride that goes up the hated Ryals and then has to “self-isolate” due to COVID so he can’t accompany us, then Crazy Legs plans a longer than usual ride he suddenly can’t join because his pet pooch is poorly, then the Hammer plans a route directly into a headwind and suddenly he has business elsewhere? If we were a slightly more paranoid bunch we’d probably conclude that they just don’t like us.
We split into three rather unequal groups, but it would have to do. I joined the last group, the remnants of what was left. There were probably about 8 of us at the start, but OGL, the Cow Ranger and Carlton were all planning on splitting off sooner or later, so we’d probably be undermanned at the last.
I started out alongside Carlton and we took our turn on the front as we traced up through Darras Hall and out to Stamfordham, luckily turning away from a route that was being used for a long procession of pot-bellied bikers and their rumbling, grumbling, noise-polluting, filth-spewing “hogs”. From there we routed out to Matfen. After a slight bit of backtracking after missing the turn off for Great Whittington, we were soon turning north and heading toward the village of Ryal, but luckily avoiding its eponymously named climb.
“Where are we now?” our latest FNG wondered.
“Just approaching Ryal,” someone told him.
“Where?” he squeaked.
“Ah, ok. For a minute there I thought you’d said Carlisle!”
Truth be told we had been tracking west, but Carlisle was still a good 50 miles distant.
At around this point we passed our second group who called for a pee stop and I found myself on the very front as we swooped down and then clambered up to the village. At some point on the narrow lanes we found ourselves behind a man jogging while ostensibly supervising the two young kids on wobbly bikes and a hyperactive small dog that trailed him. I say wobbly bikes, but it was probably just the way they were being ridden that gave them the characteristics of a drunken sidewinder with motion sickness.
Every so often the jogger would look back to check on the road and his charges and seeing us approach he tried to corral the pinball-pooch and restrict the kids oscillations to just three-quarters of the width of the tarmac.
We singled out and swung as far to the right of the road as possible, easing our way past a potentially volatile set of obstacles. As we slipped past, the jogger glanced across.
“That,” I acknowledged, “Must be about as much fun as herding cats.”
He didn’t disagree.
I’m not sure he could.
At the top of the climb up to Ryal village I called a halt so we could all regroup and I let G-Dawg’s group take up the vanguard again, much to the dismay of TripleD-El who was concerned about being at the back of the queue when we made the café. This was concerning her so much that she argued for skipping the next bit of the route and heading directly to the café.
She stripped off her arm warmers either in disgust, or because things were warming up and got going again, following in the wake of G-Dawg’s group and still, despite her lobbying, following the proposed route.
From the Quarry it was more or less a standard run back, via Belsay and Ogle to the café at Kirkley, where I lost a fiercely contested café sprint to Not Anthony, but still managed to stow my bike quicker and nip into the queue ahead of him. These things matter.
Luckily fortified by (much deserved) cake and coffee I began fielding questions about new club kit and various demands for matching socks. This one’s a potential Pandora’s box I’m not keen on opening – as colour and design were always going to be contentious enough without introducing the issue of sock length into the equation.
Sock length in cycling is apparently such a complex, hotly contested and personal issue it’s almost up there with the Shimano vs. Campagnolo, disc or rim brake, black or tan tyre walls and which-end-of-the-egg-to-break debates that consume disproportionate amounts of attention. Entire pages of social media are devoted to treatises on “correct sock length” with the governing body, the UCI enforcing a Byzantine rule that “socks used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head” and employing entire legions of inspectors and arcane instruments to ensure compliance. These things matter too. Apparently.
It seems that, within our club anyway, one of the issues with sock length wasn’t performance related, but had to do with tan lines. Mini Miss is already convinced the aero sleeve of the new jersey’s are too long and complained that blending in fake tan to match natural colour was becoming increasingly arduous and time consuming. As an extreme solution she even pondered jerseys with sleeves you could zip off and she was a strong advocate for minimal sock lengths.
TripleD-El confirmed that TripleD-Be ensured his cycling shorts, socks and tops were all the exact same length as his civilian clothes to maintain razor-sharp tan-lines all year around. You have to admire such dedication.
TripleD-El had somehow secured a piece of cake the approximate size, shape and density of a house brick. I couldn’t believe she was going to ingest it all, but I should have known better. She was also trying to decide if she could complete the ride with arm warmers on or off, having changed her mind about them half a dozen or more times already.
I suggested she could compromise. “Maybe ride with your left arm in and your right arm out?” I told her.
“Nah, already tried that!”
Meanwhile, the Big Yin admitted to Zwift-doping by seriously underestimating his actual weight, but apparently it’s no big deal as “everyone does it.” (I’m just putting that out there for those fellow-Zwifters he regularly rides with.)
We returned home via Saltwick Hill, which I think might be ideally placed close to the cafe should you ever feel the need to be quickly reunited with any coffee you’ve recently imbibed.
That slight obstacle survived and crossed off, it was a straightforward run for home.
Next week sees us holding a memorial ride for our friend Benedict who sadly died on a club run last year. I’m not sure I’ll make it, but hope the weather is kind, there’s a good turnout and everyone manages to find some enjoyment from such a sombre anniversary.
I wasn’t out last week, because, well … World Cup, baby! My work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave, eruditely swayed my internal dilemma by arguing it had been 12 long years since the England rugby team last made a final, so I wasn’t likely to have this opportunity again until 2031, when I’d be … ulp … fast bearing down on my 70th birthday.
Apparently, in joining 12.8 million other disappointed TV-viewers, I’d missed a decent day for a bicycle ride, with an assortment of around 20 Celts, Continentals and hardened rugby-deniers out and about. It had obviously been a complete contrast to today, where, with temperatures hovering around freezing and the potential for ice on the roads, social media was already active with “should I ride?” queries.
Ride leader for the day, Benedict, had already peered outside and determined the conditions were marginal, at best. Meanwhile Aether was lobbying (apparently unsuccessfully) for a later start to give the sun a fighting chance, just time enough to eke out a little bit of warmth and reduce the likelihood of ice.
I’d stepped outside to pull the bike from the shed and immediately hustled back in, to change my thick base layer for the thickest I had. I pulled an old Castelli, long-sleeved, thermal jersey over this, topped it off with a winter jacket and stuffed a light rain jacket in my back pocket for god measure. I wasn’t expecting rain, but felt an extra windproof layer might be useful.
Shorts under winter tights, disco headband, buff, glove liners, thick gloves, trusty Thermolite socks, shoes and shoe covers and I felt I was just about good to go.
So I did.
I rolled slowly down the hill, looking for any signs of ice creeping out from the gutters, while carefully avoiding the wet and slippery mass of yellow leaves that lined the road.
Halfway down and the world suddenly turned white, as I passed into a thick, still and smothering shroud of freezing fog, that appeared to have been poured into the valley bottom. I checked my lights were on and blinking away furiously, as I slipped silently into this dim and clinging mist.
The windscreens of all the cars parked up on the side of the road were opaque with thick feathers of ice, while the grass was frozen stiff, white and curled up protectively. The cold struck at my fingers and toes and any area of exposed flesh on my face and I began to wonder if perhaps I needed further layers on top of my layers. It was chilly.
I don’t know if the stillness of the air played a part, but the Blaydon roundabout stank of spilled diesel. I couldn’t help channelling my inner Colonel Kilgore, but luckily no one was around to overhear my mad mutterings:
“Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell? It smells like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…”
2℃ the readout on the factory unit told me, as I crossed the train lines, before taking to the empty pavement to defy the traffic lights and cross the river without waiting. The bridge seemed to be floating in mid-air and if any rowers had been out I wouldn’t have spotted them through the opaque, milky whiteness that obscured the river surface.
Climbing out the other side of the valley, the transition was just as sudden, misty-fog giving way to clear, bright air between one pedal stroke and the next.
A cold but brilliant sun now bounced off the wet road, turning intermittent spots of diesel into shining, metallic-rainbow coloured blooms. I was obviously following a badly wounded bus and, with a little better knowledge of routes, I could probably have identified it from the tell-tale trail it had left in its wake and tracked it all the way back to its lair.
Distractions aside, I arrived at the meeting place at the usual time to find a solitary G-Dawg standing and waiting astride his fixie. We agreed we were likely to have a very small group defying the bitter cold to ride today.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
While we waited to see who else was stupid brave enough to be out, we compared notes on the rugby. Neither of us had been remotely surprised by the result and we agreed the most deserving team had won on the day.
And, moving swiftly on …
We were eventually joined by Alhambra, OGL and two relatively new guys, lets call them Cowboys and Bison for now … just, because.
Alhambra won the prize for having the filthiest, mud-spattered bike and was immediately taken to task by OGL.
He did a quick, comedy double-take and tried on an astonished expression. “I swear it was clean when I left the house.”
No one was buying and he finally admitted he’d been so busy decorating at home, he’d never gotten around to the part of his to-do list that included cleaning his bike.
OGL was leant on for an extended discourse on the different through-axle options for disc wheels, as Bison is in the process of buying a new bike. At least he didn’t physically have to do anything, although it remains quite a popular option for someone to turn up with this, that, or the other wrong with their bike and needing some expert tinkering with.
G-Dawg expected that sooner or later someone would take this to the ultimate extreme and walk to the meeting place carrying an unrideable bike, before demanding OGL laid healing hands on it, to make everything work again.
Zardoz was the last to join us, making up a slightly less than magnificent seven. That looked like being it for the day.
A couple of minutes past our usual departure time, with no more joiners likely, we discussed ride options and decided to stick to main roads and bus routes that we hoped would be gritted and ice free, then off we went.
I pushed out onto the front with G-Dawg. It was a largely still day, so I held position for most of the ride. One benefit of this, I found when I got home, was a pristine, completely clean jacket, lacking the usual spots and dots of road grime picked up from the filthy, wet roads when riding amongst wheels with variable mudguard coverage.
Speaking of which, OGL wondered if anyone else had seen the “10 best winter bikes” feature on one of the inter-webby sites that cyclists are supposed to follow. Much to his amusement every other “winter” bike recommended had a carbon fibre frame and, more astonishingly, not a single one was shown with mudguards. Evidently these were designed for the South of France, not the harsh realities of a North East winter.
It was still decidedly chilly once we’d left the exotic micro-climate of the transport interchange centre bus station behind us, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find any ice and, all in all, if you got the protection right, it was a pleasant day for a ride.
G-Dawg was happy just to be able to wear his quilted and heavily insulated bike jacket again, something so warm, he reckons conditions only warrant its use just once or twice a year.
There were no Flat White adherents out with us and it wasn’t cold enough to impose UCI/Flat White extreme weather protocols, so we passed by the cafe at Kirkley Cycles with nothing more than a wistful glance and kept going.
At Whalton about 30km into the ride we called a halt to ponder our route options. This gave Bison a chance to spot the defibrillator inside an old-fashioned red phonebox and idly wonder if it could transmit a shock powerful enough to restore feeling to his toes.
OGL set course straight to the cafe, while the rest of us took on a loop to Bolam Lake, with Cowboys darting off the front as we took the hill out of the village.
“That’s a very early break for the cafe,” G-Dawg mused.
I assured him it was more likely just a desperate attempt to warm up, before I pushed up alongside Cowboys on the front.
At the lake, Zardoz decided it was still too early for us to head to the cafe, so we tacked on another few miles, before heading off for some much deserved coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the Coffee stop:
Zardoz had been watching video of King Ted winning the Giro in 1974 and marvelled at the sheer grind and superhuman effort of climbing mountains with massive gears back in the day.
“Ah,” G-Dawg interjected, putting himself in the shoes of one of those prototypical hard-men racers, “Only 5 miles to the top of this mountain, so only another hour of this and then I can sit down again!”
OGL remembered the first time the cycling community were introduced to the compact, 34-tooth chainring that would allow almost anyone to spin up hills, rather than grunt, gurn and grind their way painfully upwards. The general consensus in the North East was that it would never catch on and it was really only for the most effete of poseurs.
“It didn’t help that they couldn’t work out whether it was supposed to go on the front, or the back of the bike.” G-Dawg quipped.
Talk of transgender cyclists, by way of Caster Semenya, led to G-Dawg realising he’d heard Pippa York on racing commentary, but had never actually seen her.
“You can still tell wee Bobby’s in there,” OGL said.
“Woah, that’s a bit personal,” Bison decided, “Anyway, you do know that size doesn’t matter, don’t you.”
Apparently it does though, as this led OGL and G-Dawg to recollect attending one of the Braveheart, Scottish Cycling dinners, alongside German track sprinter, the rather disproportionately shaped Robert Forstermann.
The 5’7″ tall Fostermann is renowned for having astonishing 34 inch thighs.
The chafing must be something awful and I argued he was the only person who could start a fire just by running down the street.
G-Dawg recalled the bizarre sight of stumbling into the Gents toilets only to find Robert Forsterman and a bunch of other pro-cyclists, lined up with their kecks around their ankles, comparing thigh girth.
OGL said that Forstermann had then appeared in a kilt, perhaps to more easily flash his famous thighs, possibly as a tribute to his hosts, or maybe because a visit to Scotland proved a eureka moment for a man for whom finding trousers that fit must be a real headache.
Talk of men in skirts and dresses reminded Zardoz of a Grayson Perry talk he’d recently heard. As well as being a ceramic artist of some repute, TV personality and cross-dresser, Perry is a keen mountain-biker who lauded the development of dropper seat posts, so he could choose to ride his bike in either cycling shoes, or wedges.
Zardoz reported that Perry has developed a whole routine about different cycling tribes, in which he suggests the term MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a bit of a misnomer and he thinks PUFFIN is far more accurate, or in Perry’s words, Piss Ugly Fat Feckers in Nylon.
82-year old Russ Mantle got a name check for becoming the first person in the UK to cycle one million miles – the equivalent of completing this year’s Tour de France route over 470 times. On average, the redoubtable Mr, Mantle reports riding around 15,000 miles every year and is looking forward to his next million miles.
With that as inspiration, we set out to pad our own, much more modest mileage totals and make our way home, deciding to stick to our usual route, although we suspected the lane through to Ogle would be flooded.
The good news was the lane was dry, the bad news was that Cowboys picked up a puncture. While OGL conducted an FNG Masterclass in puncture repair, we stood around and did what we do best, providing a running commentary, talked a load of bolleaux and mercilessly taking the piss.
On the repair front, things were going well, until OGL went to retrieve his pump from his bike and couldn’t detach it from the bottle cage.
“It’s not going to budge, do you think the hose is long enough to stretch from there?” I queried.
“If not, he’s going to have to bench-press the entire bike over his head 50 or 60 times to work the pump and get some air into the tyre,” G-Dawg suggested.
Luckily, the pump was finally released and could be applied in the more traditional manner. Bison watched on intently, admitting he wouldn’t have a clue how to change a tube, but then again, it didn’t matter anyway, because he never carried any spares!
I look forward to the certainty of his future induction into our Hall of Shame, reserved for those cyclists who find themselves stranded by the side of the road without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple mechanical problem.
Back up and running, on we went and it wasn’t long before G-Dawg was towing me through the Mad Mile and I could strike out for home. The fog had burned off by the time I was dropping back into the valley. Unfortunately, so had any reserves of energy I had left, I was running on fumes and starting to seriously bonk. I know this, because my mind became obsessively fixated on Mars bars, confectionery I would never even consider buying under normal circumstances.
Fighting the urge to succumb to sugary-sweetness almost as much as I fought dwindling energy resources and the gradient, I crawled with glacial slowness up the Heinous Hill and finally home, somehow without any detours to the local shops for sustenance. A victory of sorts.
YTD Totals: 6825 km / 4,240 miles with 89,241 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
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.
“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
The weather continues to confound, swinging from a frigid -4°C on Wednesday’s early morning commute, to disturbingly mild, double-figures for the weekend.
With no ice to worry about and the morning’s starting to get lighter too, the big concern first thing Saturday was perfecting the balancing act and getting the layering just right – we were looking for the Goldilocks ideal – not too hot and not too cold.
So, a single base layer, Galibier jacket (in case the threatened rain or sleet materialised early than forecast), thin gloves with liners, no buff, no hat or headband. It was a reasonably, solid effort, a self-scoring 7, or an 8 out of 10 and I only feeling chilly the few times we were forced to stopped.
The roads were strangely quiet of fellow cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting place, but it seemed to be a day for solitary runners, who were out in force, in all sizes, shapes and styles.
There were so many, I wondered if there was an upcoming event they were all training for, or perhaps we now had a National Running Day to go along with National Hugging Day, National Pie Eating Day, National Rubik’s Cube Day, or whatever new nonsense they’ve come up with. (Apparently National Running Day does actually exist, but it’s in June.)
On the final approach to the meeting point I was caught behind a vaping driver, billowing plumes of sickly, sweet-smelling smoke out of his car window. It took me a while, but I finally recognised that he seemed to be indulging in a blackcurrant vape, possibly Ribena, or perhaps Vimto? A new one to add to Taffy Steve’s list of improbable and nauseating vape flavours.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
G-Dawg pointed to the cheap, emergency, strap-on LED light on my handlebars and recounted how he’d attached one to his dog, after its purpose built LED collar failed. He said it worked as a great substitute, until the dog went plunging headlong into the river, at which point he mentally wrote it off.
He was then hugely surprised when the dog had emerged, with the light still blinking away furiously. At this point he decided that for a cheap light, he’d found something that was surprisingly sturdy, waterproof and wholly reliable … until he tried to turn it off to save the batteries for another day and found he couldn’t.
I imagined the disgruntled dog sitting at home, still blinking away like a stray satellite and unable to sleep for the disturbing bursts of light searing through its eyelids every time it tried.
Crazy Legs revealed he’d finished last weeks ride, taken off his gilet and hung it over the handlebars of his bike in the garage. It had still been there waiting for him this morning, but he’d only managed to half pull it on before its rank stink had dissuaded him and he’d been forced to consign it directly to the washing basket.
OGL commented on someone suggesting that he could wear a base layer ten times in a row between washes – or was it ten years in a row? Anyway, this is entirely possible because it was made with miraculous non-stink, Merino wool. I think it’s probably fine – but only if you can pedal fast enough to outpace your own odour …
Still, G-Dawg thought you could get at least 4 “good” wears out of a pair of Y-fronts, worn normally, back to front and then repeating the process but inside out. He was joking. (Right?) The disturbing level of detail he added, such as saving the right side out and the right way around “for best” did make me wonder …
OGL then mentioned some all-day British Cycling, regional meeting in February and wondered if anyone wanted to accompany him to represent the club, a sort of sharing of the pain. He didn’t seem to find any irony in the fact that nobody else has any kind of official status in the club (other than being a paid-up, or even non-paying member.)
In other news, he suggested that the city’s £11 million development plan for two sporting hubs could see a cycling track and possibly clubhouse, built at the Bullocksteads site near the rugby stadium. This, he offered, could be a better meeting point for club rides. This vision was enthusiastically embraced by G-Dawg who lives right on the doorstep of the proposed development. I’ve no doubt he could see his future-self rolling out of bed at 8:55 and still being the first one to arrive at the meeting point.
Taffy Steve nodded over to where Princess Fiona and Mini Miss had gathered and were chatting away.
“The red car and the blue car had a race…” he intoned, drawing attention to the fact that they were dressed almost identically, except one was wearing a red jacket and the other a blue one.
“Do you remember that Milky Way advert?” he asked, “I hated it.”
I wondered what it was provoked such hatred, could it have been the art style and direction? The patent absurdity of it’s storyboard? The jaunty, jangling soundtrack? The ear-worm effectiveness of its jingle? Perhaps it was the product itself, the rather effete, light-weight Milky Way that made him curl his lip in disdain?
“It’s the lyric’s he explained, starting to sing away, “The red car and the blue car had a race, but all Red wants to do is stuff his face, he eats everything he see’s, from trucks to prickly trees, but smart old Blue he took the Milky Way.” He paused, but not for long …
“So, what’s wrong with that? Prickly trees? Prickly trees! Pah! They obviously meant cactuses, but were too lazy to find anything that would rhyme with cactuses, cacti or whatever. Even as a kid I knew it was just a lazy cop-out. Grrr!”
It’s amazing what superficial ephemera we carry from our yoof and how much it can still trouble and annoy us …
Our route architect for the day, Crazy Legs asked if anyone was interested in the full details of his grand plan. Apparently not, so without further ado, he invited G-Dawg to lead out those who wanted a faster ride, adding that there’d be no waiting to regroup.
The first group started to coalesce around G-Dawg, with the majority of riders joining. I hung back to try and even out the numbers, but it was still a two-thirds to one-third split – apparently no one wants any kind of association with a “slow” group.
Crazy Legs did have a little rueful chuckle to himself, as the (always game) Goose bumped his steel behemoth down off the kerb and went to join the fast group.
We agreed he’d be fine, he likes a challenge and the route wasn’t too hilly.
The second group followed, but we hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred yards before the Red Max’s front tyre gave out with a sound like a sputtering Catherine Wheel – fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit.
We all pulled to a stop and clustered around and I moved up in unison with Crazy Legs to see how we could help.
“Don’t worry,” he declared, “We’ll soon have it fixed, the Dream Team’s here!” as he referred to the time we’d fruitlessly spent half an hour struggling with Big Dunc’s unholy alliance of Continental Grand Prix tyres and Shimano rims (Trial of Tyre’s.)
We’d failed in that instance, only to later learn that Big Dunc had saved himself through the simple expedience of flipping the wheel around and inserting the inner tube into the other side. Why that made a difference, I really don’t know, but it obviously did and it might be worth trying if you’re ever stuck with seriously recalcitrant tyres.
Despite the close attention and best ministrations of the Dream Team, the tyre change went pretty smoothly and we were soon back on the road again.
I was on the front with the Ticker, (Ticker-less, now he’s on his winter bike) and we spent much of the time calling back, trying to determine what the route was – I really should have paid attention, or at least encouraged Crazy Legs to give us an actual and foolproof briefing.
Occasional incoherent shouting punctured our ride, apparently caused by a RIM in a Volvo taking exception to our right of way, but I was well insulated from any altercations as we plugged away on the front, up through High Callerton and toward Medburn.
Here, we were drawn to a halt when the Red Max’s tyre gave out again. While he cursed his shoddy and useless Continental summer tyres, that seemed shot after “a mere 5,000 miles” of extraordinary wear and tear, I double-checked the rim and carcass for offending objects – glass, thorns, shards of metal, flints, rough edges, caltrops, thumb tacks, whatever. There was nothing.
Meanwhile, the Red Max realised he’d used a Vittoria inner tube, so he had a little rant about “Italian crap” while he was on. Even as a proud Vittorian I wasn’t going to stand in front of that particular runaway express.
“Badd-bing-badda-fzzzzit,” Taffy Steve added helpfully.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs took the flaccid, holed tube off the Red Max, ostensibly to locate where the puncture was, but really just to hold it up to his nose and inhale deeply.
“Ah, I love the smell of rubber,” he declared, evidently quite content with the world. Apparently it smelled considerably better than his gilet.
There then followed a very deep, lengthy and philosophical discussion about how inner tubes can smell so good, when the air inside them is so rank.
“Like stale kippers,” I suggested and nobody disagreed.
We got going again and pressed on to the crossroads at Heugh, where a bronchitis-suffering OGL made a bee-line for the cafe. The Red Max decided to cut his ride short too, hoping to lessen the chances for further punctures and departed to provide escort duties.
Somewhere along the way I found myself directly behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as they rode along, for some reason arguing about similarities between OGL and, somewhat randomly, football manager Neil Warnock.
Things turned a shade darker when Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein were somehow added to the equation Still, the only conclusion they could agree on was that, if Idi Amin was a club member, they were pretty sure he hadn’t paid his subs in a good long while. Bizarre.
Having been delayed by recurrent punctures, we took a slight short cut toward the Quarry and, as the road started to climb, I nudged onto the front alongside Crazy Legs.
As we pulled the group along I complained about how I seemed to have become a dirt magnet for the day, liberally spotted and besplattered with mud from head to toe. My boots had turned a deeply unpleasant shade of brown and I was peering out at the world through seriously spotted glasses.
It was bad enough to start me singing “Teenage Dirtbag” – a selection that was at least tolerated by Crazy Legs as a “not-too-bad” earworm.
“Left, or right?” Crazy Legs pondered as we dragged the group toward the top of the Quarry.
“Left,” I declared, “We haven’t been that way for a long time.” So long in fact that I’d forgotten bits of the road had actually been patched and was (in places) almost decent.
So, left we went, slowing to allow everyone to regroup after the climb. As we rolled on, Crazy Legs bent right over to point, his finger hovering scant inches from the road surface as he bellowed out a lung-shredding “POT!” – a warning that was probably heard in the Scottish Borders.
“Sometimes, I really think I need to become a little more mature,” Crazy Legs considered.
“No, don’t go changin’ – we love you just the way you are.” I assured him.
He rode on in silence for a good dozen or so pedal strokes while he digested this …
“You bastard! You utter, utter bastard!” he complained, “First you give me Wheatus and then snatch it away for … for bloody Billy Joel!”
“Oh, is that a Billy Joel song?” I enquired innocently.
He then swore me to silence as he had a huge confession to make, needed advice, but demanded the ultimate in discretion. (This blerg doesn’t count, as no one reads it.) He looked around cautiously to make sure no one could eavesdrop. The group was still reforming behind us after the climb and we had a brief exclusion zone.
“I’ve been thinking about my set-up for the mountains and … Well… I don’t think I can get what I want with Campag.”
I was deeply shocked, almost speechless, as he hurriedly and in hushed tones, talked about Shimano, or even SRAM groupset options. Oh and the sky is falling down and meanwhile, in deepest, darkest hell, the thermostat’s been nudged up just a little …
Further discrete discussions around this bombshell were abandoned as we started a slow burn for the cafe, gradually picking up the pace.
“Do you want to go for this sprint?” Crazy legs wondered.
“Nah, I’m happy to just roll through.”
We built up the speed until all the talking behind stopped and we were lined out, clipping along, bouncing and juddering across the rough road surface.
I nodded up ahead where the road rose, before starting to drop down toward the Snake Bends.
“Take it to the top and then unleash the hounds?” I suggested.
So we did, peeling off neatly to either side and ushering the rest through for the final charge.
Cowin’ Bovril was the first to try his hand, surging off the front as we drifted toward the back.
He briefly had a good gap, but was slowly reeled in. Then, just before the road started to level, Taffy Steve attacked from the back, an astute masterclass in timing.
The gap quickly yawned upon, Cowin’ Bovril was washed away and only Carlton seemed able to give chase. I nudged onto his wheel and followed, but the move proved decisive. Carlton closed, but couldn’t come to terms with a flying Taffy Steve.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
In the cafe, Carlton apologised for our slightly ramshackle and disorganised riding at the start of our grand adventure, but explained that, when you’re on the front with your nose in the wind, it’s really difficult to hear what’s being shouted up from behind.
We agreed we needed a better system and Crazy Legs’ idea of passing messages forward always seemed to stall half way up the line.
“Perhaps we need a dog whistle?” Crazy Legs pondered.
Visions of One Man and His Dog sprang to mind. Cum ba Shep, cum ba. No, don’t think that’s going to work.
Changing tack, Carlton wondered what was going on with the weather. “It’s at least three degrees warmer today,” he remarked.
“Did you say three degrees?” I queried.
I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both shook our heads. Luckily, neither of us could remember any Three Degrees songs. A narrow escape.
We reminisced about our old representative from the Hollow Lands, De Uitheems Bloem, who we have traded in for a younger, newer model in Rainman. (It’s my understanding that Dutch riders are held in in such high regard, that UCI rules limit them to one per club. As such I can’t recall if our two ever actually rode together, but I do know we weren’t allowed to keep both.)
Crazy Legs remembered planning a winter break to Amsterdam and asking De Uitheems Bloem for some recommendations. He later received a 5-page email, detailing a full itinerary of all the things to see and do on his trip. This was appended with a long range weather forecast for the weekend; sunrise and sunset times, temperature, wind speed and direction, chance of precipitation, air pressure, cloud cover and pollen count. It concluded that it looked like being a particularly mild weekend, “so don’t bother taking your skates.”
On returning, Crazy Legs had sought out De Uitheems Bloem, “Thanks for all the recommendations, that was brilliant. By the way, English people don’t own skates.”
We shared tales of riding in the Alps with Carlton, who seemed surprised that the Col de la Croix de Fer was Crazy Legs’ favourite climb. He couldn’t recall seeing the (admittedly modest) iron cross, perhaps because his overriding memory of the climb was being paced up it by a wild horse. This beast, rather worryingly, refused to leave the road and didn’t seem all that bothered by the gaggle of cyclists lined out behind it.
“It was obviously a draught horse,” I offered. I thought it was funny, Crazy Legs was simply dismayed. Secretly, I just think he was upset because the only wildlife we saw on the climb was a sun-blasted, completely flattened, giant toad-in-the-road. (The Circle of Death).
Talk of climbing mountains led Carlton to talk about Jimmy Mac’s 900 gram, special climbing wheelset. First, Crazy Legs thanked Carlton profusely for introducing the subject of wheels into the conversation, something he felt we hadn’t discussed for … oh, at least 3 or 4 weeks. Then things got serious as we fired off a range of questions to try and frame the fearful symmetry of Jimmy Mac’s climbing wheelset …
“What type of spokes, how many and how are they laced?” Crazy Legs demanded.
“When you say 900 grams, is that with, or without rim tape?” I pondered.
“Quick release skewers?” Crazy Legs added.
A rather overwhelmed Carlton could provide none of the answers and was now probably regretting mentioning wheels in the first place.
Now Crazy Legs wanted Jimmy Mac to ride out on his fabled wheels and then strip them down completely, so he could fully weigh them and see if their claimed mass could be independently verified.
Luckily, Carlton spotted Jimmy Mac entering the cafe at just that moment and was able to deflect Crazy Legs onto the actual wheel owner. Crazy Legs immediately got up to pursue the issue, before coming back and reporting it was a dead-end, as Jimmy Mac had trashed the wheels during his International Grand Fondo horror smash.
I thought this would deflate Crazy Legs somewhat, but it actually cheered him up. He now felt fully vindicated in his view that such wheels aren’t robust enough to stand up to the wear and tear of actually riding on them.
All good things come to an end and were soon lining up to head for home. Here I noticed the Monkey Butler Boy visibly shivering.
“Feeling the cold?” I asked him, proving yet again just how startlingly perceptive I am.
“Yes,” he replied tightly, “And it’s all his fault” he pointed at the Red Max.
“But that’s unfair, surely your dad didn’t tell you what to wear this morning?”
“No, but I inherited a stupid gene from him.”
As we set off I found myself chatting to the Red Max as we trailed the Monkey Butler Boy. He despaired at his progeny’s lack of common sense and choice of attire, short sleeve jersey and arm warmers, shorts and knee warmers, already despoiled white socks and once pristine (now poisonous ivory) shoes. Looking at Max bundled up in a winter jacket, gloves, boots, and hat, I determined that genetics isn’t always the answer.
I also noticed that of the four teens out today, at least three of them were riding bikes without mudguards, whereas just about all the older set had at least some semblance of protection for themselves, their bikes and most importantly, their fellow riders.
I wondered if that says something about generational differences – perhaps the youngsters are more concerned with style, or maybe they’re more willing to put up with discomfort? More daring? More stoical? Harder? Less cossetted?
Then again, perhaps I’m over-thinking it and they are what they seem to be when I’m at my grumpiest – at best thoughtless, or just plain inconsiderate.
The Red Max told me he’d taken the Monkey Butler Boy along to see a professional coach, who told all the youngsters that they were training too hard and in the wrong way. He’d described the ideal training programme as a pyramid, a base of solid, core, low intensity miles, capped with fewer, high intensity efforts only once this base had been established.
The concept resonated with the Red Max:
“That was interesting wasn’t it?” he’d asked.
“Yes, it was good.”
Something to think about?”
“Nah, it obviously doesn’t apply to me.”
A “3-2-1-Go” countdown signalled an impromptu sprint up the final few metres to the crest of Berwick Hill, fiercely contested by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid.
What can I say, the Garrulous Kid, in the full prime of youth and with all the advantages of modern technology, astride his ultra-light, uber-Teutonic, precision engineered, carbon Focus, was up against the grizzled veteran, three times his age and hauling an all steel fixie. It seemed a very unequal contest …
And so it proved. The Garrulous Kid was chewed up, worked over and unceremoniously spat out the back. Score one for the wrinklies.
I slotted in alongside Jimmy Mac as we started down the other side of Berwick Hill, where we were passed by a lone Derwent C.C. cyclist, all elbows and a busy style.
“He’s a bit far from home. I wonder what he’s doing on the boring roads over here, when he has the choice of all those good hilly routes south of the river?” Jimmy Mac mused.
This prompted a discussion about possible rides and the challenging terrain “over there” in the south of the Tyne badlands, (or Mordor, as my clubmates will refer to it.)
We hit the climb up to Dinnington and, in just a few metres, the gap between us and the Derwent C.C. rider almost entirely evaporated.
“Ah,” I suggested, “He doesn’t like hills.”
“Which is why he’s riding over here!” we both decided in unison.
As we entered the Mad Mile, I was completely and wholly unsurprised when a sudden headwind seemed to rise up out of nowhere. I’m getting used to this now.
I sheltered behind Caracol and G-Dawg for as long as I could, then I was on my own and plugging my way home. I got back suitably tired – I might not have been running with the “fast group” but I felt I’d had a good workout nonetheless.
YTD Totals: 648 km / 403 miles with 8,825 metres of climbing.
Total Distance: 105 km / 65 miles with 436* metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 17 minutes
Average Speed: 24.4 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Dreich
* Stop me if you’ve heard this before – it rained throughout the ride and my Garmin naturally had a hissy-fit in protest. The official route Crazy Legs posted up had over 700 metres of climbing and that’s not counting my clambering up Heinous Hill or the other side of the Tyne valley. Nonetheless, I officially managed only 436 metres.
7:10 Saturday morning and I’m lying in bed listening to the rain hammering on the roof and window and the noisy gargle of the overflow racing down the drain pipe. Another rain swept Saturday in summer, it must be a club run day.
45 minutes later and leaving the house, the rain has eased from torrential, to just plain annoying and I’m pulling on a light, easily stowable waterproof jacket in anticipation of it actually stopping at some point. It’s always good to travel in hope.
Still, I’m more accepting of the weather than I was last week, I’d prepped the Peugeot the night before, so rolled out with the protection of full length mudguards. I’d also combined the thinnest socks I could find with my waterproof winter boots, assured of keeping my feet dry, but a bit concerned about them getting too warm.
The ride across to the meeting point was totally unremarkable, no exotic wildlife, no homicidal drivers, no near misses and the noteworthy, but not altogether unexpected absence of other cyclists on the road. It was horribly wet.
I ducked into the multi-storey car park to join the only other early arrival, the Garrulous Kid and to wait for the intrepid and insane to assemble.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
OGL was noticeable by his absence, having been called to attend some interminably dull, extraordinary general meeting for British Cycling. Someone wondered why G-Dawg hadn’t accompanied him and he visibly shuddered at the thought – explaining that not only would you have to sit through a long, boring meeting, but relive it in minute, forensic detail, blow-by-blow, in the car all the way back.
The Garrulous Kid proved he was in the running for a name change to the Hyperbolic Kid, declaring the Star Wars movies were the greatest film series ever made. Taffy Steve and I pondered if Chewbacca was still being played by the same “actor” Peter Mayhew and, rather bizarrely, the Garrulous Kid suggested Maria Sharapova, would make a great replacement Wookie.
“Only if she wears high heels.” G-Dawg drawled, while I tried to decide if in the Star Wars universe, dressing a Wookie in high heels was equated to a similar Terran expression about putting lipstick on a pig.
Jimmy Mac returned from a long absence and declared he’d qualified to represent Great Britain at the UCI Gran Fondo World Championship in Albi, in August. I had to express surprise, not so much because he’d qualified, more at the thought there was an actual Gran Fondo World Championship.
Still, if we wanted someone to represent us in a Gran Fondo World Championship, who better than the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy Jimmy Mac.
Meanwhile Richard of Flanders reported that ex-club member, Arnold had completed the L’Etape du Tour and found it not only expensive, but massive, chaotic and very, very badly organised.
Richard of Flanders wondered about heading home to swap his good bike for his winter bike, but decided not to. He wasn’t alone and there was a distinct lack of mudguards on offer throughout the bunch. There were lots of ass-savers though – or perhaps they should be re-named i’m-all-right-jacks, or ass-covers – only useful for covering your own ass. I feel if you’re going to subject your fellow riders to the constant deluge of spray off your back wheel, the least you can do is accept your own share of the misery and discomfort and not hide behind these flimsy bits of plastic. Go on – take it like a man.
In spite of the weather, it was a surprisingly large group of two dozen riders who pushed off, clipped in and sallied forth into the deluge.
We hadn’t made it through Dinnington, when we had a puncture and all piled into a car park while repairs were made. Here Jimmy Mac found he could drag his wet buttocks across his damp saddle and create a fearsome squeal, akin to someone dragging their fingernails down a blackboard. Real squeaky bum time.
He took time off from setting my teeth on edge to compliment the Garrulous Kid who was now sporting the biggest, blackest chain ring tattoo I’ve ever seen.
“How did that happen?” the Garrulous Kid asked, I assume in all seriousness, as he looked down at his calf in befuddlement.
A bit further on and he’d added a second grungy, oily brand above the first, just to prove it was no fluke. I wondered if he always cleaned his chain on random bits of exposed flesh, but apparently not. Actually, I think it was probably foolish of me to assume he ever cleaned his chain.
Tracking through Tranwell, someone behind hit a pothole and went down in a clatter and we stopped again to allow everyone to pick themselves up and check for damage.
“Oh, they’re alright.” The Garrulous Kid declared from his vantage point 30 metres or so away from the accident and Jimmy Mac was forced to admire the assuredness of the declaration and acknowledge that the Garrulous Kid had exceptional X-ray vision to go with his 20/20 hindsight.
At the bottom of the Mur de Mitford we lost a large contingent of Grogs, as they by-passed the hill for a shorter route to the café, while the rest of us grappled with the slope, wheels slipping and sliding on the wet road as grip became somewhat negotiable. Topping out the climb we traced a new (to me anyway) route to the Trench passing around Stanton.
At one point I dropped off the back with Taffy Steve who was struggling on his thrice-cursed winter bike and we found Rab Dee patrolling the rear about 20 metres back. He confirmed this was the ideal distance to avoid both crashes and the showers of shit being spat off everyone’s wheels.
Down through Hartburn and rising up the other side, Jimmy Mac had a front wheel puncture and pulled over to the side of the road to effect repairs. Crazy Legs popped up to where we all waited to borrow Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump and we were soon underway again. We even managed to make it round the very next corner, before a loud hiss of escaping air announced Jimmy Macs original repair hadn’t fared too well, the tyre had popped off the rim and the tube had gone again.
Yet another unscheduled stop had Crazy Legs urging everyone on to the café, while he said he’d hang back with Jimmy Mac. Only then did he realise he’d left his saddle bag on his other bike and wasn’t carrying a spare tube. He too, then decided to go with the larger group in case he needed assistance.
Biden Fecht donated a spare tube and I hung back with Rab Dee, Richard of Flanders and the Big Yin to provide assistance, moral support and a ragged, surely highly-prized and always welcome, running commentary of piss-taking. Rab Dee lifted the front of Jimmy Mac’s bike up for him and he set to work wrestling the wheel out of the forks.
Watching on, the Big Yin admitted he’d rather take a dump in public than have to change a tyre in front of an attentive and critical audience of fellow cyclists … then went back to critically and attentively watching his fellow cyclist change a tyre.
I do have a lot of sympathy with his view and tend to try slipping quietly off the back, rather than wrestle with tyres and tubes while a censorious “puncture congregation” bears unholy witness.
Extended wheel-wrangling left Jimmy Mac with filthy black lines and marks up and down his legs, that were even more embarrassing than the Garrulous Kids chain-ring tatt and it was suggested he looked like an SAS sniper covered in camo paint for a night mission. Fighting through the grit and crud and crap and mud on his wheel, somehow he finally managed to get the tube in and seat the tyre back in place.
Taffy Steve had left with the larger group, taking his mighty frame pump with him, so Jimmy Mac fished out his own molto piccolo, Leznye Pressure Drive out of a pocket, screwed the hose into one end of it and attached the other to his tyre valve.
As he set manfully to work, inflating his tyre, Rab Dee kept a careful eye on Jimmy Mac’s Garmin, reading off his heart rate and we were all super-impressed that after about 5 minutes of pumping it never rose above 128 bpm. That’s the kind of cardio-vascular fitness we’d all like to have.
Unfortunately, the tyre remained as flat as Jimmy Mac’s heart rate and after several more minutes he surmised his pump must be broken. Richard of Flanders took over and pulled out his own, identical Leznye Pressure Drive. He screwed the rubber hose slowly into his pump, sizing-up the errant tyre with a dead-eyed looked as he walked toward it, much like an assassin fitting a suppressor to his pistol muzzle before administering the coup de grace.
Jimmy Mac, our UCI Gran Fondo World Championship representative, the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy, then watched as Richard screwed the other end of the hose onto his tyre valve and began to inflate the tube…
“Hold on, do you have to screw that end onto the valve too?” he pondered loudly. “I just thought you had to press it on …”
Richard of Flanders made light work of inflating the tyre and we were finally back underway again.
Perhaps as recompense for delaying us, or perhaps to leave the scene of his shame firmly behind him, Jimmy Mac surged to the front and drove the pace up. As we climbed past Angerton, I glanced back, finding totally empty road and told him we were alone, had split the group and needed to ease up a little.
We managed to regroup around Bolam Lake, but Rab Dee and Jimmy Mac seemed intent on making up for lost time and lined us out again. I dropped into their slipstream and hung there as the speed ratcheted up, hanging onto the coattails as we swept through Milestone Wood, drove over the rollers, down the hill and onto the final climb to the café.
At some point along the final stretch we zipped past Taffy Steve and Szell, who had taken a longer route to allow Szell tackle his bete noire, Middleton Bank and face down his own personal demons.
As we passed the pair, I eased and let go of Jimmy Macs wheel, coasting through the finish flags planted at the end of the lane for some event or other sponsored by the GS Metro club – I don’t know what it was for and there was no one around to ask, but it was nice of them to mark the finish of our club sprint for us.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Szell announced that his brand new dental x-ray produced no more radiation than you would get from eating 8 bananas and you didn’t even need to leave the room when using it. I contrasted this to my last dental x-ray, where the dentist first put on a lead-lined apron and heavy duty goggles, before unspooling the remote-control trigger wire behind him as he left the room. I then heard the surgery front door open and close and saw him duck past the window, still unreeling the wire. A pause of about a minute, was followed by a deep hum, blinding flash and the smell of burning rubber. A few minutes later the dentist wandered back whistling nonchalantly, winding up the wire and declaring we’re all done.
We discovered that Banana Equivalent Dose was an accepted (well, almost) scientific measure of radiation exposure and eating one banana equivalent to roughly 0.1 Sieverts of radiation, while a flight from New York to LA was equivalent to 40 Sieverts.
From this Jimmy Mac concluded it was unwise to eat bananas on an aeroplane – and, never mind Snakes on a Plane, the next Hollywood low-budget schlockbuster could well involve aviation travel with everyone’s favourite Musaceae.
(Don’t worry by the way, a lethal dose of radiation is about 35 million Sieverts, you’re not going to get that from fruit – even if you’re in first class and constantly eating bananas washed down with daiquiris on a long-haul flight to Australia, or Hawaii)
The Big Yin was interested in organising a ride out to see the Tour of Britain, travelling on familiar roads somewhere on its route from Kielder to Blyth on Monday 4th September. It sounded like a reasonable excuse for a day off work and a ride out, although Szell raised the worrying spectre of us meeting other OGL’s from the all the different areas of Britain congregating on the same spot.
I dismissed his worries out of hand – there couldn’t possibly be other OGL’s out there. Could there?
On the way out, a quick word with the Red Max confirmed he could lay his hands on Tyvek overalls, a respirator and rubberised boots, should I ever find work in a banana plantation.
Given our puncture-crash-puncture-puncture ride interruptions, we were late leaving the café and it looked like we’d be late getting back. As we rolled down Berwick Hill I found myself on the front with the Red Max and encouraging his almost constant half-wheeling, even as Crazy Legs reported we’d split the group.
We kept going, nonetheless, up through Dinnington and around the the airport. Fast. I didn’t look back once and have no idea what was going on behind. I was still surprised, however to exit the Mad Mile without being caught and overtaken by a duelling G-Dawg and Colossus, sprinting for home and first use of the shower.
Just before crossing the river I tentatively removed my rain jacket. Oh well, better late than never and was soon heading uphill and home.
And that’s it for the next couple of weeks, as I’m off to Nice on a family holiday.
I think it’s just as well I’m leaving work before someone punches me in the face for being annoying. The trouble is, whenever I’m asked where I’m going, I can never resist:
“Where you off to then?”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Niece.”
It reminds me of the time a work colleague spent some time in Scotland.
“Where’ve you been?”
“I SAID, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”
Don’t worry, I’ve finished now and you won’t be subjected to any more crap jokes for a couple of weeks. Hopefully the weather will have improved by the time I get back too (Ha ha. Sorry, I promised no more crap jokes, didn’t I)
In the meantime, enjoy the peace.
YTD Totals: 4,609 km / 2,863 miles with 52,634 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 76 km / 47 miles with 1,243 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed: 23.1 km/h
Weather in a word or two: Cool
And now for something a bit different …
All the chatter about the south of the river being like Mordor and covered in dark, impenetrable clouds that my club mates fear to penetrate, had only served to remind me just how much I enjoy the challenge of riding there and so I decided to scratch the itch.
May Day, Bank Holiday Monday seemed to provide the perfect opportunity. There was of course a club run available, but since these tend to consume pretty much a full day and the family were struggling to remember what I looked like, an early start and early return from a solo ride under Sauron’s baleful eye seemed like a good compromise.
It also meant I didn’t feel the need to provide any blerg commentary and reportage but would give me something else to write about should I unexpectedly and inexplicably feel the urge. I guess I did.
I was up early and on the road by 8:15, dropping down the Heinous Hill and then swinging around to put the River Derwent on my left as I began to head south-west, directly up its valley.
I was off into the Land of the Prince Bishops (which sounds slightly more appealing than Mordor) and beginning what Strava notes as my longest ever climb – around 25km in length with an altitude gain of 440 metres.
Although it rises fairly relentlessly all the way, the first part of the route is very much about gentle, almost unnoticeable climbing with only a few relatively gentle humps and bumps to warm up the legs and get the blood flowing.
A sharp right at Shotley Bridge soon changes all that and here the serious stuff begins. A short, swoop over the hump-backed bridge provides a little momentum for the start of the long climb of Burnmill Bank.
It’s not enough.
Momentum quickly evaporates around the first corner and the road starts to rise and just goes on and on, up through the delightfully named hamlet of Snod’s Edge.
This is about the halfway point of the climb, which totals around 4.5km in length at a 5% average gradient. Strava has it flagged as a 3rd category climb.
I had no idea how Strava categorise their climbs – so I looked it up. Apparently it’s based on the official UCI system, but whereas the UCI may take into account the severity of the preceding route when classifying climbs for races, the Strava categorisation is wholly objective and is based on multiplying the length of the climb (in metres) with the grade of the climb in percent. If the resulting number is greater than 8,000 and the grade is 3% or higher, then the climb is categorised. The categories are then:
Cat 1 >64,000
Cat 2 >32,000
Cat 3 >16,000
Cat 4 > 8,000
This would imply a Cat 3 climb is twice as hard as a Cat 4, but of course it doesn’t always work like this.
The road surface on Burnmill Bank is reasonable and most of the way it cuts through woods which provides shelter as well as a bit of colour and variety. It wasn’t long before I was encouraged to stop and strip off gloves and arm warmers.
Traffic was fairly light this early in the morning (to be fair, it usually is up here) and the verges were the playground for lots of very young and excitable rabbits, many of whom seemingly hadn’t seen a cyclist before and tended to sit up and watch me ride by, rather than bolting for cover.
Cresting the top, the trees fall away to either side and you’re presented with the first look at Weardale and the North Pennines in all their beautifully bleak and exposed glory.
Scuttling across the busy main road, leads you onto an exhilarating and fast descent down toward the source of the Derwent river and its namesake reservoir – often speckled with the bright sails of dinghy’s but looking flat, grey and empty today.
The road drags and climbs a little past the reservoir, before you reach Edmunbyers, then if you follow the road around to the left a swooping descent leads you across a jarring, juddering cattle grid. This is the gateway to moors where you can look up and up … and up some more, along the route you’re about to take.
I pass and greet a group of mountain-bikers as I rattle and thrum across the cattle-grid. They’re all well wrapped up against the weather, rain jackets and tights and boots and I feel slightly under-dressed.
I start climbing, round a few hairpins and then the wide road stretches out, relatively straight and upwards, lined by snow poles running up either side, like an extreme minimalist’s idea of a grand boulevard.
The air seems still and quiet out here, the silence only occasionally disturbed by a few bleating lambs and the haunting whoop-whoop-whorree of some long-beaked, moorland birds. Curlews perhaps? I’m no ornithologist, so it’s just a guess.
The incline is constant, but fairly steady and I settle down to spinning my way upwards. Distinctive features slowly emerge ahead and reaching and then passing them at least gives me some measure of progress.
In this way a road sign, the entrance to a dirt track, a passing place, an up-rooted cats-eye and a strangely shaped heathery hummock all gain significance as they’re encountered and put behind me.
One undistinguishable lump by the side of the road coalesces into the bloated body of a dead sheep, flat on its back, legs sticking stiffly up in the air like a massive dead fly, then this too is passed by.
Ahead the road appears to disappear over a low crest, but reaching this point reveals it continues still, upwards and onwards, but now clinging to the wide bowl of the fell as it sweeps gently around the landscape. Off to the left somewhere, the Waskerley Reservoir apparently lies in a hidden dip. I’ve not seen it yet.
As the road straightens, it also flattens slightly and I start to pass other cyclists heading in the opposite direction. A sign announces I’m 5½ mile from Stanhope and within striking distance of the stiff climb of Crawleyside. This is featured in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, 6,190m long with average 4% and max of 20% in sections and he rates it 7/10.
I’ve ridden it a couple of times, but don’t find it especially challenging or particularly engaging, so it’s not on the menu today. Instead, I’m taking a right hand junction Google Maps has revealed to loop around and then descend down Meadow’s Edge, to Bale Hill and on to Blanchland.
As I take the right hand turn, the previously unnoticeable wind suddenly makes itself felt, it’s fairly strong and gusty and carries a distinctively chill edge. I stop briefly to reclaim arm warmers and gloves from my back pocket and then press on.
The road reaches its peak, topping out at about 545 metres above sea level, and then starts to slowly descend as I press on through a somewhat destabilising cross-headwind. Sweeping round, I’m heading more or less due north now, the descent steepens and I pick up speed.
Ahead, the road surface looks newly laid, unblemished and feels as smooth as glass. I can clearly see there are no cars and I find myself whooping and swooping round the curves, tucked in tight and able to safely use the full width of the road.
I notice signs proclaiming 15% and 20% ramps as I whip past downhill, passing another lone cyclist going in the opposite direction and attempting what looks like a shorter but harder way up to the top. Then I’m through another, much gentler cattle grid and descending on suddenly much rougher roads through Baybridge and on to Blanchland.
I stop in Blanchland for a much deserved cereal bar and guzzle from my bottle, saluting several small groups of cyclists as they swing past, while I begin plotting a route home. Either way I need to climb out of the village, going left and up a 20% plus climb out toward Slaley and along the top of the fells, or right, to a clamber out and trace the edge of the reservoir, followed by a longer, but less sharp climb out of the valley again.
The right hand route is more scenic and less exposed, so that’s the way I head, passing through Edmunbyers again, before climbing back up to Burnmill Bank.
I’m soon racing through Snod’s Edge again and trying to build up enough speed to carry me down a sudden dip and up the stinging climb on the other side. Naturally I don’t make it and there’s a bout of undignified out of the saddle grunting and gurning as I try to keep the big ring turning over.
Back into the Derwent Valley, I retrace my route, but this time in the opposite direction and it’s all encouragingly, slightly downhill. I tuck in, ramp things up and I’m soon clipping along at a fairly respectable 20 mph plus.
At Hamsterly I sweep left and then right and I’m onto the final climb of the day, the 4th category hill up to Burnopfield. From the top, it’s a short skip down Fellside Road and I’m home – only around 47 miles covered, but packed with over 1,200 metres of climbing. I can’t help feeling there’s plenty more good roads to ride and climbs to find out here in the Mordor badlands.
Seeing my ride posted on Strava, the BFG wondered how much my legs were burning and I truthfully told him I was fine. Well, that was until Mrs SLJ pressed me into fulfilling my familial commitments with a walk down to my parents house and back again. I can honestly say this proved a much more taxing exercise than my morning ride.
YTD Totals: 2,557 km / 1,589 miles with 27,868 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 101 km / 63 miles with 1,015 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Average Speed: 23.2 km/h
Group size: 18 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Wet and dry
The weather forecast on Friday night was predicting heavy rain throughout Saturday, which was due to last at least until late in the afternoon. Someone must have given the weather systems the bums rush though, as I awoke to find all the rain had seemingly swept right over us during the night.
Consequently, things were looking much, much better than expected, first thing Saturday morning. The problem was though that the rain due to fall in the eight or so hours of daylight had been compressed into a tiny window of a just a few pre-dawn hours. While the sky remained flat, grey and dull and we would escape all but the briefest of showers, the concentrated rainfall seemed to have swollen every watercourse, universally overwhelmed drainage and left the ground thoroughly sodden and saturated.
Our day then was to be punctuated by several notable, unpredictably placed encounters with huge lakes and lagoons of standing water that barred our course from verge to verge and left us no choice but to ford our way carefully through them, slowly, in single-file while hoping their murky, watery depths hid no potholes.
My ride across to the meeting place had proven unremarkable, except for a cluster of un-manned roadworks and temporary traffic lights that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere. There were enough of these to delay me by a good five minutes, while every red light gave me yet another opportunity to wonder just where the accompanying workmen were.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Queries about my debilitating malady last week led to discussions about the best way to slack off work, with the main conundrum being how you could periodically simulate some kind of activity and tap a computer key to stop a screen-saver kicking in and the network connection timing out. Someone suggested perhaps one of those dippy, drinking bird novelties, poised carefully over your keyboard might work …
A group from the club have signed up for the Tour of Ayrshire Gran Fondo in April, a qualifying event for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships. Sadly, their hopes of competing as a team have been dashed by the realisation that while they have managed one entrant in each of the age categories, they actually only have one entrant in each of the age categories – so, about as useful as a Venn diagram where none of the quadrants overlap then.
Jimmy Mac suggested the Prof was old enough to be his dad and wondered just how tired he got filling in insurance forms online. In fact, he wondered if, by the time the Prof had managed to scroll all the way down to his birth year, whether he would be suffering from some form of devastating repetitive strain injury to his aged, mouse-working fingers and would perhaps have even forgotten what he was scrolling down to find in the first place.
Spiralling out from this conversation, we learned that G-Dawg had just managed to squeeze his creation date into the 1950’s – something I was amazed to discover as I was unaware cybernetic engineering had been quite so advanced, even late into that decade. “You’re the same age as Sputnik.” Taffy Steve gleefully informed him.
beZ arrived on a newly acquired old Trek that he’d adopted as his winter bike and took some grief from OGL who suggested the stack height above the stem was a potential hazard to his testicles. “Story number#6, please.” I muttered sotto voce to G-Dawg, expecting OGL to dial up the hoary old tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on a stem bolt when he crashed at a track meet. Surprisingly though, memory synapses failed to fire correctly and we were spared the full horror of hearing this particularly gruesome tale. Again.
Meanwhile, Taffy Steve tried to decide if beZ’s Trek was the same model as Szell had been riding, before he upgraded to his “fat lad’s bike.” He tried turning his back on beZ and occasionally glancing briefly over his shoulder, reasoning that this was how he most often saw Szell’s bike, something he said he hadn’t really had a chance to study before, because you got such a pain in the neck from constantly looking back at it!
“Is it time yet?” Crazy Legs enquired enthusiastically
“It’s only 9:14, official Garmin Time.” I assured him.
“But, you could at least start making a move toward your bike.” Taffy Steve encouraged.
“Gentlemen, start your motors.” G-Dawg intoned and as we prepped for the off, we tried to work out the purpose of that mad scramble to the cars at the start of Le Mans, as it obviously had no bearing on the outcome of the race.
We decided its sole purpose was to create the maximum amount of danger, mayhem and confusion possible and perhaps it’s something that Formula 1 should adopt to spice things up a bit. Along with Son of G-Dawg, I wanted to take this further and have all the pit lane berths unassigned, so cars had to turn into the first space available and the crews had to leg it down the pit lane carrying all their kit and spares. Perhaps we could actually make Formula 1 interesting and exciting again.
With the late addition of a rapidly vectoring in Ovis, 18 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out for our advanced lessons in water dowsing.
All was progressing smoothly, until we turned off for the Cheese Farm, rounded a corner and were confronted by a mighty puddle, a road spanning lake, an inland lagoon. This mere of muddy brown waters, of indeterminate length and depth – stretched up around the next corner and out of sight.
We picked our way slowly and carefully through this unforeseen obstacle, slowly and in single file, watching as the water began to lap up over bottom brackets and wheel hubs, hoping it would rise no further and we’d avoid any unforeseen potholes or hidden debris luring in the murky depths.
Behind there was loud chorus of disgusted groans as cold water quickly washed through overshoes, shoes and socks, while those of us up ahead, smug and still dry in our winter boots enjoyed just a little bit of schadenfreude. Taffy Steve decided that while he might be riding a thrice-cursed winter bike he could at least enjoy his thrice-praised GoreTex boots and their stout protection from cold wet feet.
At the same time, we also decided that in tribute to many of our rides traversing the outer reaches of Northumberland, we should re-name this blog a blerg, in favour of a local idiom, particularly hoard around Eshington (aka Ashington):
Alert of ferk there know a beut a bared derg that jumped up at a deft kerb, making him furl into a hurl where he boast his fierce. (Rough translation: “A great number of people are aware of a story regarding a misbehaving pet canine that jumped up at a silly young boy scout, causing him to stumble into a cavity and injure his countenance.”)
Clear of the flooding, we were painfully, slowly and very, very cautiously overtaken by large silver 4 x 4, even as we singled-out and waved it through with the road ahead completely clear and empty. As it passed, someone mentioned how unusual it was to find cars on this stretch of road and wondered where they might be heading.
We caught up with the car perched in the middle of the road and halfway across the next junction, where its occupants, two woolly haired, perplexed looking grannies, took time off from myopically turning their map book this way and that to favour us with a sheepish grin. We didn’t know where they were going and I guess they didn’t either.
If anything, the roads appeared to be even more scarred, pot-holed and woe-begotten than we were used to, eliciting a strange, Tourette’s style conversation between OGL and his riding companion: “I use Ultegra wheels … Pots! … during winter, they’ve got … Pots! … cup and cone bearings in … Pots! … the hubs, so you can … Pots! … service them easily.”
A clamber up a hill and then sudden slowing suggested the front of our group had encountered yet another obstacle on the road ahead. This time it wasn’t a flood, but an enormous swan, that slowly unfurled itself, shook out its majestic wings to their full extent and clambered slowly upwards into the air. For several seconds it hung impressively above us, white and bright and magnificent against the grey sky, before tipping over to wheel away from the road.
We pressed on, sometimes slaloming around puddles and occasionally, when there was no way to avoid them, slowing to pick our way carefully through the middle. Several of the unbooted riders started unclipping, lifting their feet off the pedals and out of the water while they freewheeled across, saving their feet from another dousing. Luckily, everyone made it through safely and carrying enough momentum to reach dry road at the other side.
As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, the Big Yin punctured and with nowhere for us to stop safely nearby, he dropped off the back while we pushed on over the crest of the hill before pulling to the side of the road to wait. From this vantage point, we had a grandstand view of the next road-spanning puddle and could watch the way various drivers tackled it. A hot hatch blatted past at ridiculously high speed and we jeered as brake lights flared and he slowed to a mincing crawl to pick his way carefully through the water.
Then a large Transit van serving as a taxi ripped through at high speed, flinging a massive bow wave over the hedgerows and for a brief instant leaving a thin isthmus of dry road through the middle of the puddle, before the water came surging back in again.
Crazy Legs felt that if you got the timing right, you could have followed the taxi through the puddle, “like Mose’s parting the Red Sea” and kept yourself perfectly dry. Luckily, he didn’t try to attempt this, but was intrigued enough to ride down to have a closer look at this latest flood while we waited.
OGL decided he was getting too cold hanging around and set off for the café with a few amblers. The Big Yin finally re-joined and Crazy Legs skipped ahead to line up some action shots of the remaining stalwarts fording the latest flood.
We then took a route through Hartburn and toward Angerton, reasoning this would be the most likely flood- free run in we could find. As we pushed past Bolam, Taffy Steve made up for the Red Max’s absence with an attack of the front. Jimmy Mac responded and all hell broke loose. I hung on as long as I could, wheezing like a pair of punctured bellows, before dropping down to a more sustainable pace and grinding up the last climb to the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Taffy Steve resumed his campaign to get Marmite on the café menu, something he feels is indispensable to his enjoyment of toasted teacake. I think he’s ploughing a lone furrow, but you have to give him kudos for persistence.
Removing his helmet and cap the Prof revealed a precisely drawn line circumscribing his forehead, the gleaming pale skin above the line contrasting sharply with the grey and begrimed features below it. I suggested it looked like he’d had a lobotomy, but he was able to assure me this wasn’t the case, otherwise he’d be a much nicer person!
He recalled an ex-military acquaintance with terrible depression and anger issues, who’d pressed the muzzle of his service revolver to his head and blown a hole right through his skull. Waking up afterwards (with what I rather cavalierly suggested must have been “the mother of all hangovers”) the guy had not only survived, but had undergone a complete personality makeover and became kind, generous, patient and considerate overnight. If only we could guarantee the results, I’d willingly buy the bullets and load the gun.
This in turn led to a brief discussion about trepanning, replete with gory tales of people drilling holes in their own heads, both intentionally and accidentally. I can’t help but think the whine of a Black and Decker biting into my skull, replete with the smell of burning bone would probably be enough to dissuade me from such practices. Still, you can’t say we don’t have wide ranging and, well … different conversations when we’re out on these rides.
I don’t know what set if off, but Crazy Legs then embarked on a rant against all things Charlie Brown and Peanuts and he conducted a quick straw poll around the table to find that no one actually liked this turgid, sentimental tosh (IMHO). Crazy Legs then revealed a disturbing, overwhelming desire to rip Linus’s security blanket out of his pathetic, puny hands and set fire to it. Taffy Steve reasoned that if Charlie Brown was a Geordie (Chaz Broon, if you like) he’d probably smash Lucy’s teeth down her throat the first time she pulled that stupid trick with the football and he most certainly wouldn’t fall for it twice.
This led to recollections of another horror inflicted on British kids by our American cousins: Sherry Lewis and Lambchop. Utterly, totally, dreadful and unforgivable – especially at a time when you only had the choice of two TV channels.
Taffy Steve then revealed the deep emotional scarring he suffered when the family switched from a black and white TV to a colour one and he discovered for the first time that Bagpuss was actually pink!
In a discussion about American vs. British humour Crazy Legs revealed how much he’s enjoying “Parks and Recreation,” while I had to admit I was perhaps the only person who failed to see the comic genius of Ricky Gervais and “The Office.”
This reminds me of my reaction to “The Rider” the book by Tim Krabbe, which as a cyclist I think I’m supposed to like, but found hugely disappointing, disjointed, superficial and all a bit, well … meh. Maybe it’s because the book couldn’t possibly live up to the expectation generated by all the glowing and fulsome praise heaped on it. Then again, maybe the Emperor isn’t actually wearing any clothes…
At the café we were reunited with Princess Fiona, Mini-Miss, Brink, Kipper and a few others who had set out late to doubly-ensure they missed any lingering rain. They had apparently tried the road up to the Cheese Farm too, but being eminently more sensible had turned back at the first flooded section and found an alternative, drier route. They would now bolster our numbers for the return journey.
This return leg passed without incident and we found the roads largely dry and free from flooding, even in the one or two trouble spots where we were expecting the worst. It looked like the excess water was finally starting to drain away and Sunday looked like being a perfect riding day.
As I turned off for the solo part of my ride home, I even noticed the sky had brightened enough to throw a shadow down alongside me for some unexpected company.
The river, which had been high, full and racing as I crossed in the morning had now withdrawn to the middle of its course and acquired two wide shorelines of gleaming black mud, like giant basking seals. The traffic on the other side was relatively light and I was soon hauling ass up the Heinous Hill, suitably leg weary, but altogether content. That was fun, floods and all, but perhaps my enthusiasm is directly proportional to just how waterproof my winter boots are proving to be.
YTD Totals: 1,086 km / 674 miles with 11,447 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 99 km/61 miles with 1,064 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 55 minutes
Average Speed: 25.2 km/h
Group size: 21 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Chilly with showers
The on-board camera failed today, reporting Error Code: 2754/86#3, which checking in the on-line manual appears to translate as “extreme user idiocy”. So, no pretty pictures, just the usual flood of err… coruscating and witty effulgence?
Late August already and this is beginning to feel more like monsoon season rather than the Indian Summer that’s been widely predicted. All the forecasts for Saturday were predicting a relatively dry start, giving way to heavy and prolonged, lashing rain showers at about 11.00 – or at just about the time when we hit the furthest point from home on our outward trajectory. It looked impossible to avoid a drenching, the only question was just how bad it was going to be.
I might have considered breaking the Peugeot out of storage, but it’s enjoying an extended holiday in the LBS for a full service in preparation for winter. The only other choice with mudguards was the single-speed hack the venerable Toshi San built for me, which sees intermittent use as a commuter when I get tired of the ratbag MTB.
I say intermittent because we’ve only just managed to get it up and running again after some initial teething problems. First the chain kept slipping as the standard tensioner failed to do its job properly.
Toshi San did some deep thunking and bike-tinkering par excellence and replaced the chain tensioner with a converted rear mech. This cleverly utilises a length of brake cable to provide the tension to keep the mech properly aligned and the chain taut, but don’t ask me for the technical details – it’s all techno mumbo-jumbo and dark arts as far as I’m concerned.
With the chain sorted, further downtime became necessary when I snapped a crank off while trying to climb the Heinous Hill. I suspect this had more to do with stresses through the crank arm caused by slightly too loose fitting, rather than a manufacturing flaw in Campagnolo cranks – not even in the darkest recesses of my own fevered imaginings did I suspect it was due to the immense strength and power I was putting down on the climb.
I’m not sure the single-speed was the right answer for a high-speed club run and I’d already used it three times on commutes throughout the week, so it looked like a day for Reg and sitting on black bin bags in the café.
It was a strange ride across to the meeting point as I felt largely disassociated, lost in thought while, paradoxically not really thinking about anything at all. I also started to feel strange aches as if my saddle had suddenly become ultra-uncomfortable, which is odd because I’ve probably spent more time on it than any other and it’s always been reliably comfortable. Maybe it was just a reaction of a week away, or swapping from one bike to another?
First at the meeting point, I was soon joined by Crazy Legs, unexpectedly out on the much cossetted Ribble. Perhaps this was a divine sign that the weather wasn’t going to be too bad after all.
Main topic of conversation at the start:
Jason Kenny’s travails with false starts in the Keirin were the main topic du jour – with everyone convinced he was going to be disqualified, but impressed with him endlessly circling the track, arms folded, looking cool and blithely unconcerned while debate and uncertainty raged all around him.
To have survived this, a second and even more blatant false start and further delays, before toying with the rest of the field and then destroying them with contemptuous ease had to be one of the highlights of the Olympic track cycling.
OGL said that he’d done some work with the British Track Team and suggested they were inflating tyres to 240 psi, with mechanics approaching very cautiously with the air hoses and treating the tyres like unexploded bombs.
He also mentioned they were using Dordoigne tubs, which I remember from my youth, along with some very poor jokes about how they gave a very bumpy ride, going “du-doing, du-doing, du-doing” as you rode along. Simpler times.
Crazy Legs jabbed a thumb into Caracol’s front tyre and winced at its all-round flabbiness and flaccidity. “It’s for improved grip in the wet!” Caracol argued.
A quick conversation with the Prof helped us to determine that the wind was either blowing from the North West or perhaps the South East, illustrated with exaggerated arm movements that looked like he was trying to land a fully-laden bomber on a pitching aircraft carrier-deck. We thanked him for his erudite wisdom, very, very useful.
At precisely 9:15 Garmin time, there was a general movement toward bikes and someone intoned, “Gentlemen, start your motors.” With numbers somewhat reduced by the poor forecast, 21 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and set out and I dropped toward the back and slotted into line.
By the time we reached the first major junction the rain had started in earnest and everyone took the opportunity to pull on rain jackets. A fairly uneventful, if wet first hour passed by until our progress was punctuated by a puncture.
While we waited, the Monkey Butler Boy started insisting his saddle was too low and he wanted it raised. The Red Max was having none of it, but it took OGL’s intervention to settle the debate. With the Monkey Butler Boy perched on his bike, OGL quickly determined that, if anything his saddle was already a smidge high (smidge: a technical expression, generally used to cover the range between 1.5mm to 2.5mm.)
The Monkey Butler Boy seemed to accept this decision with good grace, prompting us to wonder why children treat their parents as foolhardy lack-wits. The Red Max said he was used to this, having two daughters who would never listen to him once they turned 5. I suggested he’d had a good run, as my two daughters have never listened to me.
OGL confided one son in his late thirties had finally, belatedly, conceded, “You know Dad, you were right all along.” The Red Max was confident he would never have to admit this to his Dad, simply because he had to all intents and purposes simply turned into his Dad.
Somewhere around this time the rain eased and stopped and I had the opportunity to take off the rain jacket, but reasoned the rain would be returning fairly shortly so didn’t bother. Ok, everyone makes mistakes.
Repairs were quickly effected, but no sooner had we pushed off to resume our ride than Caracol was pulling over with his own puncture, discovered before he’d even managed to clip in properly. Surprisingly, this turned out to be his rear tyre, not his super-soft front one.
This time I lent a hand as we swapped out the tube while discussing tyre choice and Mad Colin’s assertion that a torque wrench was the best and most useful bit of kit he’d ever bought. Repairs made, Taffy Steve lent his mighty frame pump to the task of forcing air into the tyre, and I estimated Caracol’s most strenuous efforts probably managed to get the pressure up to a massive 50 psi.
Re-starting again we had maybe a half hour of trouble free riding before Aether pulled up with another puncture and a small group of us circled back to help him. It was here that the Prof began to illustrate his uncanny levels of prescience, declaring that the car we heard approaching would be a 5 cylinder, Volvo S40 in sapphire blue, while it was still hidden around the bend. Impressive…
… and ruined only by the fact that the car was a small, non-descript and very beige Renault hatchback.
As another cycling club whistled past in the opposite direction with a series of hearty “How do’s!” he then pondered why they all felt the need to sport matching, hipster beards. I could only shake my head in wonder as I hadn’t seen a single beard amongst them.
Repairs made we pressed on again. Quickly rounding a corner, we passed a large open lay-by which would have been the ideal spot for the club to wait for us while we repaired the puncture. It was empty however, so I assumed they’d had enough of punctures for the day and decided not to stop.
Immediately after I rode past a large, stone-built house to find the rest of the club pulled up and pressed tightly together, waiting on the narrowest, muddiest and steepest verge you could possibly imagine. Cyclists, eh?
It was determined we’d wasted enough time with punctures and everyone seemed keen to head straight to the café without splitting the group, so we set course for the Quarry Climb.
A quick scamper up the climb, a dive down to the next junction and a large front group started to assemble and accelerate for a mass hurtle toward the café. The Red Max appeared on my inside and we did a quick swap so he could launch his trademark kamikaze attack down the middle of the road.
Everything got strung out and a small gap opened to the wheel in front, I didn’t feel any pressure to jump to close it immediately so only slowly started to accelerate. I then felt Mad Colin’s giant mitt on my back and he gently eased me across, closing the gap in an eye-blink with his turbo-assisted aid and a minimum of effort.
A few more tried to jump off the front, without creating any real gaps as we swarmed down the road in a compact, buzzing and rattling thrum.
Somehow I found Captain Black’s wheel and since he’d begun tearing it up on the café sprints recently, decided it was as good a place as any. I still felt comfortably within my limits and think I had a couple of gears left as we started passing other riders on the final run down to the Snake Bends, where I rolled up within the first half dozen or so riders.
And the most valuable lesson from this madcap escapade – sprinting in a rain jacket totally defeats its primary purpose of keeping you dry.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop
Crazy legs noted wryly that now we were all sitting indoors, the weather was miserable and cold and there was zero chance of us being assailed by wasps … not a single person had bought anything accompanied by that ultimate wasp lure – jam.
This was in direct contrast to the past couple of weeks where we seemed to be having jam with everything, even the ham and egg pie, before sitting outside and deliberately taunting the pesky critters, who had revelled in and grown over-excited by our largesse.
Crazy Legs revealed that last week the little boogers had been so bad that the Monkey Butler Boy had been ostracised from all the tables for having a too sticky, too sweet cake. Pressed into service as a makeshift, sacrificial wasp decoy, he apparently played the role with remarkable aplomb, until they actually started to notice him. At this point he squealed like a prepubescent schoolgirl, hurled his plate into an agitated mass of the wee beasties and ran away. Allegedly.
Son of G-Dawg commented on the sprint where he felt everyone had played a part taking a few turns on the front, he’d apparently missed me lurking among the wheels and fearful of ever sticking my nose in the wind.
This brought back fond recollections of the one time we had somehow managed to force the clubs worst inveterate wheelsucker (yes, even worse than me) onto the front to lead the sprint out. Known simply as the wheelsucker, he wasn’t allowed to drop back, even as the speed slowed to a snail’s pace and we ended up almost doing track stands to keep him in place, while I’m sure he must have wondered why everyone behind was giggling so much.
An oblivious Prof was fascinated to learn we had a codename for a particular rider and wondered if we had others. “Well, Crash-Kill,” I addressed him directly, “Just one or two.”
Caracol then made the cardinal mistake of asking which brand of tyres he should look for if he wanted to replace his current worn set. Amongst cyclists this is almost as dangerous as playing pass-the-parcel with a live hand-grenade or, even worse initiating the hoary old Campagnolo-Shimano-SRAM debate.
Of course he asked three different people and got three completely different answers. Crazy Legs suggested Continental Grand Prix’s, Son of G-Dawg said Schwalbe Ultremo’s, while as a loyal Vittorian I naturally stuck up for the Corsa Evo’s.
Captain Black was questioned about a recent holiday in Spain when he’d managed to get some sneaky miles and much climbing in. Crazy Leg’s was surprised to learn the Captain wasn’t on Strava, so of course declared it never happened. As the Captain made to protest Crazy Leg’s looked straight through him. “Who said that?” He asked me, “Did you hear something?”
We had been slightly distracted in the café by the appearance of an older, rather rotund gentleman cyclist wearing the tightest, skimpiest, briefest pair of cycling shorts known to man, something so tasteless in fact it would put a mid-80’s footballer to shame.
Crazy Leg’s was so perturbed by the sight he’d given the feller an extra 2 metres of space in the queue, while I wondered if he’d worn his garish and jarring fuschia, navy blue and moss green Lampre-Merida jersey to try and distract from the disconcerting display, err… “downstairs.”
I now came out of the café to find G-Dawg, Red Max and a few others cavorting around with their shorts legs rolled right up to their crotches, exposing huge expanses of lily-white thigh above their tan-lines in bizarre tribute to the strange feller. Thankfully good taste prevailed and shorts lengths were restored before we rode out, or anyone thought to whip out a phone and preserve the disturbing images for posterity.
Never mind sock length – what the hell’s the UCI doing about shorts length?
The good order on the way home was disturbed when a TT’er went huffing past, in an aero-tuck and with a serious game-face on. This predictably flipped the switch to send the Red Max into loopy Labrador mode and he immediately gave chase and everyone got pulled along.
As I shot out of the Mad Mile and turned for home, my drive-train started to grind a little, hopefully just a consequence of the rain and accumulated grit and crud. And then to make matters worse, someone granted the puncture fairy visitation rights. I felt the front tyre go sloppy as the rim started to rumble on the tarmac and had to stop for a quick tube change.
So, a bit of a stop-start, frustrating day and a somewhat foreshortened ride, but at least it wasn’t as wet as predicted.
YTD Totals: 4,603 km / 2,860 miles with 45,572 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 102 km/64 miles with 945 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 9 minutes
Average Speed: 24.7 km/h
Group size: 38 riders, 4 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Chilly, grey and overcast
Main topic of conversation at the start:
The G-Dawg collective claimed their grandiose-sounding “bike-tree” storage solution has now been fully rotated and locked down into its summer position. Winter bikes will no longer be accessible until the autumn equinox and a blood sacrifice under a new moon.
We wondered if the whole ensemble not only rotated, but dropped securely into a secret vault (to the accompaniment of a soundtrack consisting of Thunderbirds-style pounding drums) where micro-bots and an army of minions would set to work making sure all parts were clean, well-lubricated and gleamed like new.
At one point though I caught G-Dawg’s wistful look as his eyes turned glassy, his lower lip trembled slightly and he asked of no one in particular in a small, plaintive voice, “Does anyone remember Duraglit?”
Micro-bots and minions be damned, this is the only man I know who polishes his chain to a mirror brightness and bemoans the passing of chrome on bikes because it gives him less to furiously burnish.
We envisaged him and Son of G-Dawg working with in tandem in the shade beneath their towering bike tree, with the companionable silence only being interrupted by Son of G-Dawg asking for the green toothbrush, “No, no, I need medium-hard for the chainstays.”
Taffy Steve likened it to Private Benjamin cleaning the latrines with her toothbrush and suggested Son of G-Dawg had emerged from beneath his Pa’s shadow and earned himself a new soubriquet of Private Benjamin. Will it stick?
On cursory inspection Crazy Legs’s helmet failed to pass muster, not because he’d got the angle wrong this time, simply because it was filthy with mud spatters that he claimed were off last week and a particularly muddy patch on the lane to Ogle. I don’t recall there being a muddy stretch there, but the sharp intake of breath from G-Dawg as it was mentioned suggested he did and the recollection didn’t make him at all happy.
Crazy Legs determined that all he needed to do was take off his helmet and lay it on the ground at G-Dawgs feet, the dirt would call seductively to G-Dawg, who wouldn’t be able to resist picking the helmet up and giving it a good clean.
Before he could test this theory however, we were interrupted as an FNG rolled up and asked for mechanical assistance as he couldn’t find bottom gear. G-Dawg broke off long enough to fiddle with the barrel adjuster on his rear derailleur for a few seconds, quickly fettling the problem.
It was then rather cruelly suggested that the FNG didn’t actually want to come on our club run, but had just been riding past, spotted a random gaggle of cyclists and stopped on the off chance he could get his bike sorted quickly. Now though he had no choice but to tag along with us to save face.
Crazy Legs, still on his heavy winter bike then related how the frame had been delivered through the simple expedient of dropping it over a fence into his back yard. On unwrapping he found that the headtube had been dinged and was misshapen. He contacted the supplier only to be told to just hammer an old headset into the frame and that this should sort his problem.
Taffy Steve reflected that only in Britain would you be expected to engage in a spot of aggressive, percussive engineering to fix defective goods that the supplier couldn’t be arsed to deliver properly in the first place, or replace when things went wrong.
We could only imagine what the phone call to the suppliers help-desk sounded like from their end…
“Yes sir, no don’t worry sir, we’ll soon have that fixed. Now do you have the old headset we talked about? Yes, good.”
“And a hammer? Ok, great”
“Now then, can you sit the headset on the frame? Yes, yes, very good.”
“Ok, now hit it with the hammer. Ok, again.”
” Again. Again. And again. And again”
“Ok, I see. Can I just ask, what kind of hammer are you using sir?”
“Ah, no, actually we need a lump hammer for this type of work…”
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
We found a lone Sealskinz glove on the café floor and after a long and fruitless Cinderella-style search couldn’t find a princess worthy of it. Odd, I would have thought that anyone leaving the café with but a single-glove would actually realise their loss before they’d gone too far.
Unclaimed, I suspect the Prof probably snaffled it and transported it home to his secret workshop/laboratory/lair to add to his horde of random cast-offs, discarded flotsam and jetsam and sundry road-kill. Goodness knows what he’ll finally make with it, or what it will look like when it remerges into the light of day.
An old couple pushed open the café door, saw the place was mobbed with unruly cyclists and that every table was taken. They did an abrupt about-face, leaving the door to swing open behind them in a fit of pique. Taffy Steve felt it was about time the café installed an electronic door closer for moments like this, but I argued a trained monkey would be a better choice and much more entertaining.
There was then some debate about whether a dog was easier to train than a monkey, with a forceful case for our canine cousins being made because you can point and a dog will look immediately at what you’re pointing at, while a monkey will just look all around in disinterest. (I know from bitter experience that if you point for a cat it’ll just stare fixedly at your finger until you get bored, it gets bored, or it decides to attack your hand.)
Caracol then settled the argument by suggesting what we actually needed was a trained monkey that could point at the open door and then direct a dog to go and close it. Somewhere along the line someone suggested dolphins should be considered in the mix because of their high intelligence, but this was patently preposterous as everyone knows they have big problems with door handles.
Sneaky Pete sneaked up and sneaked straight into a space we’d cleared for a recently arrived Crazy Legs, who’d finally returned from his ride of splendid isolation. G-Dawg was happy to remind Pete of the time he treated us all to a wide band of exposed flesh between his too short shorts and too short leg warmers. I think this encounter has possibly scarred G-Dawg for life and he shuddered just recalling it.
Richard of Flanders commended me on my pan-European, all-embracing approach to cycling attire, adjudging my new Tørm jersey to be Spanish and following on from my German Bundisliga(?) and Belgian Lion of Flanders theming.
The Tørm jersey is a lot more sedate than my usual attire, plain black with just simple red and yellow bands across chest and sleeve, but it does nicely match my bike frame…and, err, wheels and tyres… and, err water bottle and overshoes … oh and shorts.
Never mind pan-European, Taffy Steve concluded that I just looked like a giant Liquorice Allsort and only needed a bobbly, blue Tam O’Shanter or perhaps one of those weird, bumpy Catlike Whisper helmets in UN Peacekeeping Force colours to create an uncanny resemblance to Bertie Bassett.
I think I might have lit the blue touch paper by outing Zakaria Amirouch who has now garnered disparaging mentions on our Faecesbook page and prompted one or two calls to try and find a solution to his unwelcome omniscience.
Our megalomaniac interloper has joined 1,242 separate Strava Groups according to beZ – I won’t question his undoubted dedication, attention to detail and mathematic skills in computing this, but I am somewhat nonplussed that he had the time or will to sit and do it. I somehow suspect we may be returning to this topic…
Saturday and another dry if chilly day meant there was no question that it was another outing for Reg and my freewheel sang with joy as we dropped off the hill and into the valley. On arriving at the lights on the bridge I once again encountered the Ee-Em-Cee rider from a couple of weeks ago, this time off to meet his clubmates before a pre-planned long run, a 100 mile trip up to Alnmouth and back.
I had a much more modest distance in mind, finding the legs somewhat heavy after 3 commutes in the week, including one on Friday that was interspersed with a 20 minute, 9.6 kilometre stint on a Watt bike as part of our office Sports Relief effort. I swung east after crossing the river while the Ee-Em-Cee rider turned west and rode off to begin his grand adventure.
Sur La Jante modelling the new “Liquorice Allsorts” range from Tørm
Yet again there was a massive turnout at the meeting place, with riders sprawled across the pavement and ready for the off. Before we could do this though even more servicing was required on the FNG’s ailing bike, with OGL stepping up to the plate this time with some assured mechanical nous.
When we finally roused ourselves to get going it was a large group of 38 riders pushing off, clipping in and heading out, including Red Max riding shotgun on the Monkey Butler Boy again and one of the more capable FNG’s returning from the previous week.
Taffy Steve later reported that this FNG had enjoyed her ride out the previous Saturday and he’d congratulated her as she never seemed to be in any trouble and had handled everything with aplomb. He later realised he’d probably and unwittingly sounded incredibly patronising and it would serve him right if he found out he’d been talking to the Scottish junior national time-trial champion or someone equally as accomplished.
I hit the front with Crazy Legs and led everyone out through the Great North Cyclemaze in a long, snaking line. Crazy Legs mentioned how chilly it was and was explaining how he’d dithered between full length and three quarters bib tights before finally resorting to asking his wife for advice.
When he said he was concerned three quarter tights were too risky I misheard and thought he’d said they were too risqué. This left me briefly wondering if Mrs. Crazy Legs was partial to a pair of well-turned ankles, or perhaps demanded even piano legs be covered to prevent immodesty.
We then had a discussion about whether a world champion cape would be a better alternative to a rainbow jersey and I felt consummate showman Peter Sagan would definitely be up for it. Crazy Legs suggested domestiques would have to carry the ends of the cape, like a wedding train, until the rider got up sufficient speed for it to stream out behind him. It all seemed doable – why isn’t the UCI acting?
This harmless nonsense kept us amused until we’d driven everyone up the climb past the Cheese Farm, where we pulled over and waved the next group through and onto the front. I tried dropping back through the pack, but there was some reluctance for anyone to drift too close to the front, so I slotted into second wheel, briefly chatting with OGL, the Monkey Butler Boy and Taffy Steve as everyone shuffled position.
Crazy Legs, who said he hated riding in big groups, eased backwards with far more success and I didn’t see him again until he turned up late at the café, apparently having ridden off on his own after deciding that either he, or his heavy winter bike weren’t up for the mass hurtle to the café.
At one point the façade cracked and we caught a glimpse of the real Zardoz behind his mask of avuncular bonhomie with a brief reprise of last week’s “angriest man in the peloton.” This time he mock-growled at the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d apparently had the audacity to overtake him on a hill. Listening-in intently, the Red Max was convulsed by a paroxysm of evil giggles.
After we split and waved off the amblers I fell in with the BFG, back onto his ultra-modern, all carbon-on-carbon, uber-machine. He does like to change things up. He told me that earlier in the week he’d only narrowly avoided setting fire to his wheels and crashing his brand new bike after somehow mistakenly fitting non-carbon specific brake blokes. These had melted under extreme heat and apparently produced an aroma he suggested was akin to roast pork.
We swept down into the valley and up the rise to Hartburn, somehow passing the amblers group who were pulled over to the side of the road while they worked to fix yet another mechanical on the FNG’s bike. I was beginning to think maybe he’d only come out to get a free bike service.
As we turned off on a route that by-passed Middleton Bank I confessed to Taffy Steve that I was heavy-legged and happy we’d chosen the slightly shorter run in, but he just snorted in derision and said my inner demons would have kicked in and compelled me to attack Middleton Bank as soon as we hit the lower slopes, no matter how much it hurt. Hmm, maybe.
At some point we passed a decapitated and eviscerated deer corpse, flung violently to the side of the road by a car, a particularly vivid and gruesome reminder of the danger of RIM encounters. Thankfully it was too large and messy to fit in the Prof’s back pockets and he didn’t have time to stop and sling it across the front of his bike.
A few short, sharp climbs later we regrouped (well, more or less) and began the push for the café. Rab Dee led off, trying to keep a reasonable speed until Taffy Steve attacked, his acceleration snapping the knots out of our line like a string pulled suddenly taut and we were quickly lined out and racing along.
We stormed through Milestone Woods and over the rollers, down the last dip and began the climb up to the café. Rounding the last bend G-Dawg and Strummer sprinted away to contest the sprint, while I rode up the outside, passing everyone in front of me who seemed to be flagging, falling off the pace and drifting over to grind up the far side of the road.
At the last rise I sensed more than saw riders on my backwheel, eased out of the saddle and with the last few dregs of energy tried to accelerate up the final slope, hearing or perhaps just fancifully imagining, a groan of dismay from behind.
As it was the kick seemed to have dragged me well clear of everyone else and I closed and latched onto the now freewheeling G-Dawg, quietly buoyed by being able to put space between myself and the rest of the chasers.
Leaving the café Crazy Legs led a splinter group for a slightly longer ride home, taking G-Dawg with him, ostensibly so he could avoid the muddy patch that had so infuriated him last week. There was a huge amount of dithering around by those left behind and getting sick of the delay Taffy Steve gave up and kicked off for home.
I followed him and we enjoyed a companionable and unremarkable ride back, expecting to be overhauled by the rest of the group, but seeing neither hide nor hair of them. Perhaps they’d been delayed when the FNG’s bike needed one last fix?
As I turned off for my solo effort I actually felt stronger than I had when setting out and powered my way home in good time and without incident, all in time to catch the end of a very entertaining Milan-San Remo.
Another grand day out, capped by a startling conversation with Daughter#1 after we’d spent a little time laughing at Sean Kelly’s accent :
Daughter#1: “Do you think we’d make a good comedy double-act?”
SLJ: “Yes, as long as you play the straight man”
Daughter#1: “Does one of them always have to be gay?”
YTD Totals: 1,489 km /925 miles with 15,193 metres of climbing