Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Given (to my mind) the onerous task of devising a route for this week’s ride, at the coffee stop last week Crazy Legs had felt impelled to resurrect our Classic Club Café sprint for next Saturday, over the rollers and up the long drag to Belsay. He even suggested stopping at the café there for old time’s sake. I happened to mention, for some misguided reason, that I was feeling nostalgic for Middleton Bank, a climb I hadn’t suffered on for at least a year and, hey presto, he had the bones of a route. A quick double-check to ensure the café at Belsay would actually be open for business and Crazy Legs went away to fill in the rest of the ride and post it up for people to accept or ignore, depending on their inclination.

With the Holdsworth still undergoing remedial surgery and not wanting to waste another good day riding the heavy winter bike, I had a week to find and secure a replacement mount. Surprisingly, this proved considerably easier than I imagined, when Gumtree directed me to a nearly new, barely ridden velocipede in the care of a 77-year old cyclist whose knees had given out and prevented him from riding.

So, for a few hundred quid, I’m now the owner of what is (solely in my estimation, of course) Halford’s most aesthetically pleasing creation, an Intuition 13 Alpha, from a very brief time when the UK’s biggest and possibly most maligned motorist discount store was dabbling in (semi-)performance bikes. I do seem to have an penchant for picking up a manufacturers fin de cycle products (if you’ll excuse the pun.) The Intuition range is no longer manufactured, while the Holdsworth Stelvio was one of the last frames produced by that venerable company before they caved and were acquired by Planet-X. Even my winter bike, the Peugeot CR23 was part of a 2 bike range they pulled together for the briefest of ill-founded forays back into the UK market, via an exclusive deal with Evans that only seemed to have lasted 12 months.

Where the Holdsworth is the epitome of gaudy overstatement, a violent clash of glossy black, red and yellow, with the brand name unforgivably and inexplicably plastered a dozen times across its frame, the chalk-white 13 is at the opposite extreme, a model of simplistic minimalism, the most striking feature being an odd, inversed 13 “dossard” stuck on the back of the seat post. It adds nothing and I’m not sure I like it, but has survived. For now.

The bike was in mint condition, having been ridden only twice in anger and pretty much ready to roll. I switched out the stock 23mm Vittoria Zafiro’s for my favoured 25mm Rubino’s and will eventually get round to replacing the SPD’s for my usual Look Keo pedals and, maybe the wheels (although the current set seem light, roll well and are carefully colour coordinated). Still, minor details aside, there was nothing to prevent its debut and participation in the club run on Saturday.

The same can’t be said for G-Dawg, who, just a few days after this blerg noted how many middle-aged blokes seem to suffer serious injuries playing five-a-side, went out to play five-a-side and broke his leg. Apparently, according to his social media posts, that means he’ll now have to play in goal for his team next week and, possibly worse, he’ll be off the bike for an extended period of time. Yikes!

On Saturday morning, last minute tinkering with this, that and t’other, had me leaving the house half an hour behind schedule, so I had no choice but to engage in a bit of dual-carriageway surfing, cross the river at the nearest bridge and push hard all the way to the meeting point, arriving completely winded, already tired, but almost on time, with Jimmy Mac already leading out the first group of fast-men and racing snakes (the two are not mutually exclusive.)

I paused only long enough to catch OGL offering up a free, used torque wrench to anyone who had a need.

“Is this the same torque wrench you were trying to sell me for a tenner last week?” Goose enquired ruefully. Apparently it was, but that’s as much of the conversation as I caught as I formed up with Aether, who was leading out the second group and away we went. When I finally had time to look back and determine who I was riding with, alongside Aether, I found myself in the company of Spoons and 3 FNG’s.

Up past the Cheese Farm and out through Tranwell, I noticed the rape seed is starting to flower and it’s pervasive and slightly sickly aroma already hung heavy over the lanes.

We dropped down toward the River Wansbeck, by-passing the entrance to the Mur de Mitford to take the gentler climb westward out of the valley. Then it was through Dyke Neuk to the dip and rise through Hartburn.

We knew somewhere along this route we were supposed to take a secret turn onto a road that had been on our routes a few times, but no one I’ve been with has ever found. Aether had prepared for this test in advance, tracing our proposed route on Google maps, before switching to the satellite view to try and spot an obvious landmark that could guide us.

“I managed to spot a big, round thing,” he told me.

“Sounds promising.”

“I thought so too, so I zoomed in for a closer look.”

“Ah-ha.”

“It was a tree…”

“Oh. Right-o. So we’re looking for a tree then? Well, that certainly narrows things down.”

Still, somehow Aether managed to pick the right tree out of the hundreds of thousands that lined our route and we traversed the secret road before pushing on to Scot’s Gap. A left turn onto the still incredibly crappy road surface and we were heading straight for Middleton Bank. Off the back, heavy-legged and struggling upwards, I seriously started to question my own sanity and what it was about the climb that had inexplicably created a sense of longing to relive the experience.

Still, once over the climb, I managed to coax a little more speed out of the legs and we coalesced as a single group again and hauled ass for the café. Here at least there were patches and strips of new road surface, making a welcome change and encouraging a little more speed. I attacked over the rollers – you know, just because – and found Aether jumping at the same time. Hmm, maybe I’m becoming predictable. Then we re-grouped on the descent and started the long drag up to the café, more or less in formation and at a relatively sedate pace. On the front alongside one of the FNG’s I nudged my wheel slightly ahead of his and so, by default, won a sprint he didn’t even know we were contesting. Well, they all count in my book.

We found the Colossus already seated at the café.

“How’s your dad taking his injury?” I enquired, “Already stir crazy and unbearable?”

Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes.

“Even more to the point,” Aether wanted to know, “How’s your mum coping?”

The Colossus just shook his head in quiet resignation. Hmm, not good.

Talking about dangerous sports, one of the FNG’s told us the most violent sport he’d ever witnessed had been a game of football for the blind, played on an enclosed pitch with the players often running full tilt into each other and any inanimate objects, as they chased pell-mell after a ball with a bell inside.

“You should see the mayhem if a pet cat gets loose on the pitch, too!” Another FNG added.

Before leaving I had a chat with Crazy Legs. He’d had a superb great morning riding with OGL and ribbing him mightily every time his expensive Di2 system shipped his chain, which was apparently far too often. We arranged to meet early next week before the ride so I could finally deliver him his new jersey. This might stop his constant carping, but I seriously doubt it.

Then it was time to go and as our group left the table it seemed to signal a mass exodus and we all gathered in the car park as a small, white car pulled up. The passenger side door swung fully open and out came a shiny, metal crutch. Then another. And then a foot in a plaster cast and finally, G-Dawg slowly and awkwardly emerged. He can’t ride, but Mrs G-Dawg had agreed to drive him to the café in an attempt to stop his constant sulking.

Saluting G-Dawg had us all bunched together leading the café, so I injected a bit of pace on Berwick Hill to break us up. The fast group took the opportunity to zip past near the top and gave me a target to chase and I was able to go full pelt with absolutely no danger of ever closing the gap to them.

Yet another FNG (where are the all coming from) spelled me on the from Dinnington to just past the airport, then I was into the Mad Mile and swinging away for the solo trek home.

The new bike served perfectly, I’m sure the ride wouldn’t have been as enjoyable on the Peugeot, but the chalk-white finish may be a little difficult to maintain, so assuming the Holdsworth is restored to full functionality, the 13 might get the cossetted, Ribble-esque treatment and get to avoid the rain like a hydrophobic cat.


Ride Distance:98km/61 miles with 936m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 0 minutes
Average Speed:24.5km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature:14 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool
Year to date:1,179km/733 miles with 12,507m of climbing
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Riding the Fine Line between Foibles and Rissoles

Riding the Fine Line between Foibles and Rissoles

Club Run Saturday 5th October 2019

Total Distance: 110 km/68 miles with 1,273 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 31 minutes
Average Speed: 24.2km/h
Group Size: 20 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 14℃
Weather in a word or two: Cool and dry.

Saturday was a grey and cool, but generally still day. Pleasant, but not quite shorts weather (although Jimmy Mac disagreed) and while I needed the extra layer of a windproof jacket for the trip across to the meeting point, it was quickly abandoned and tucked away in a back pocket before we got underway.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Hammer complemented someone on a carefully colour coordinated bike and kit, before declaring, “Never trust a cyclist who doesn’t colour coordinate.

Crazy Legs was about to endorse the view when, interrupted by an involuntary thought, he reached up to pat all around his helmet. This failed to satisfy his concerns, so he unbuckled his helmet, picked it off his head and brought it down to eye-level to squint at it and confirm he’d chosen the right one, it matched his jersey and he was suitably colour-coordinated

I had missed Taffy Steve’s triumphal return last week when I was hiding from the early morning rain, but he was back, propped up by Voltarol (other pain relief gels are available), which he’s buying by the case load. He’s determined it’s the only thing making his damaged rotator cuff sufficiently bearable to ride with. Other than that there’s no real treatment beyond physiotherapy which apparently doesn’t include painting and decorating. He knows this, because he tried.

Being unable to lift his arm above waist height, I couldn’t help imagining a series of rooms with beautifully decorated, pristine walls up to an impromptu, free-hand dado-rail height, above which the paint was a clashing, contrasting colour, aged, dirty and scabrous.

Sneaky Pete was also making a return, but his was from a pleasant sojourn on the Côte d’Azur and he asserted he could very easily see himself living there. He’d even managed to fit a sneaky ride into his holiday, having hired a bike for the day.

“The guy in the bike hire shop asked if I was a racer and declared I had racers legs,” he admitted somewhat reluctantly.

“I feel a change in blerg nickname is called for,” Taffy Steve mused, “How does Racer Legs sound?”

It dawned on Sneaky Pete that he’d said something injudicious within my earshot and that, of course, I have absolutely no discretion …

So, Sneaky Pete, or Steel Rigg, or White Stripes, or Racer Legs. Hmm, he’s collecting almost as many monikers as the Garrulous Kid, a.k.a. Zoolander, a.k.a. Helen, a.k.a. Fresh Trim, a.k.a. Jar-Jar Binks etc. etc. ad nasueum.

We were interrupted by a loud noise that sounded exactly like a bus suddenly releasing it’s air brakes, which itself sounds uncannily like a bicycle tyre enduring an unexpected, catastrophic failure. We looked around to see OGL rolling to a stop, as behind him a bus pulled away from he stand.

Long seconds ticked slowly past, tension building, while we wondered which way this audible coin was going to fall, before we heard, “Oh bugger, puncture.”

OGL set about stripping out his punctured front tube and replacing it, while we turned our attention to Mini Miss’ new bike, a sleek, smart looking Liv, aerobike in a dark, purplish-blue. The only awkward thing about it would appear to be the model name, the EnviLiv?

It might be brand new, it might look fantastic, but the EnviLiv did not come with the gears properly set up, so OGL had no sooner repaired his puncture than Mini Miss was leaning on him to fettle her new bike too. There’s no rest for the wicked.

While this was going on in the background, the Hammer outlined our route for the day, which included a climb up the Ryals, for potentially the last time this year. I can honestly say it won’t be missed.

About 20 strong, we decided not to split the group, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. At the traffic lights we checked to see if we were all together and found OGL missing, still stranded where we’d been gathered. He called across that he’d actually blown out the sidewall of his tyre, was heading home for a replacement and would make his own way to the cafe.

One down already, but I’m pretty sure we were all bravely determined not to let it spoil our ride…


I pushed onto the front alongside Jimmy Mac and we led the group out, occasionally calling back to Crazy Legs for directions as, naturally, neither of us had really been paying that much attention to the route outline.

As we took the road to Prestwick, Jimmy Mac started bunny hopping the (ridiculously over-large) speed bumps, encouraged by a chortling Crazy Legs shouting “Olé!” each time he went airborne, while I winced inwardly each time he came thumping down, half expecting his wheels to suddenly disintegrate and collapse under him.



Through the village of Ponteland, Crazy Legs called up, “Listen to all the happy chatter behind.”

“This is serious,” I growled back, “they’re not supposed to be enjoying it.”

“Silence!” Crazy Legs immediately bellowed, “the Ride Leader is disappointed to think you might be having fun.”

For the next minute or so there was an awkward, guilty silence, before the noise burbled up again. Are we that inured to being so thoroughly browbeaten?

Reaching the end of Limestone Lane and after a decent stint of perhaps 15km on the front, I peeled off, swung wide and drifted to the back.

There I found the Hammer, policing the group from the rear and we had a brief chat about possible destinations for another continental invasion next year, with the northern Dolomites being an early front-runner, depending on flights and accessibility.

We also touched on group size and dynamics as well, including how (more by luck than good management) we all somehow managed to bump along, despite being a generally disparate and diverse bunch, each, as the Hammer diplomatically put it, with our own peculiar foibles.

“Yep,” I agreed, ” We all definitely have foibles.”

“And there’s a very fine line between foibles and assholes,” the Hammer remarked sagely, “But somehow it seems to work.”

When we stopped for a comfort break, Crazy Legs declared an impromptu meeting of the Flat White Club, for all those who didn’t want to tackle the Ryals.

“Two coffee stops!” Otto Rocket exclaimed, somewhat scandalised.

“No,” Crazy Legs corrected her, “One coffee stop, one Flat White club meet.”

They’re different.

Apparently.

A little further along and the Flat White Club swung off, leaving the rest of us on the road to the delightfully named, but blink and you’ll miss it, Little Bavington and firmly en route to the Ryals.

Just before the descent to the village, a harsh rumble from my rear wheel heralded an untimely puncture and I pulled to a stop. I urged everyone to keep going, but obviously wasn’t persuasive enough, so they pulled over a little further up the road and Spoons dropped back to help.

As I wrestled manfully, but spectacularly unsuccessfully to prise my tyre off the rim to replace the tube, Spoons unzipped my tool tub to pull out one of my two spares and pump.

After much swearing and skinned knuckles, I finally managed to prise and peel the reluctant tyre from the rim, where it seemed almost to have adhered in place. I think I’ve been rolling on the same tyres for almost two years now and had their replacements ready and hanging in the shed for over a year without ever feeling the need to change them.

Surprisingly the tyre slipped back onto the rim without too much effort, I semi-inflated the tube and slotted the wheel back into the frame. As I did this, Spoons helpfully rolled up the punctured tube and slotted it into my tool tub.

Re-attaching my pump I started trying to inflate the tyre, but was getting nowhere. I unscrewed and reattached the hose. Nothing. I unscrewed the hose, tested the valve, tightened and loosened it and reattached the pump. Still nothing. I swapped my pump for Spoons’ pump. Still nothing. This was frustrating and in danger of turning into the longest tyre change in club history.

I told Spoons to rejoin the group and get everyone moving again, while I tried to channel some inner calm. Alone and feeling less pressured, I stood the bike against a nearby wall, securely attached the pump hose to the valve yet again and gave it a few blows. Success, the tyre started to inflate and slowly harden beneath my prodding thumb.

One slow, painful, puny upper-body cardio-vascular work out later, I felt drained and light-headed, but able to set off in pursuit of the rest of the group. I thought that even if I didn’t manage to rejoin, I might be able to at least see them ahead of me as they scaled the Ryals.

I took the climb through Hallington and rattled down the other side, swerving around potholes, gravel moraines, muddy puddles, a scattered windfall of broken branches and tussocks of wiry grass. Thankfully, I’ve been led to believe this particular track has now been removed from the Beaumont Trophy – and not before time. I couldn’t imagine actually travelling at break-neck speed down this road in a tightly packed, bunch of grizzled pros.

I was spat out at the bottom onto the road that drags its way up toward the Ryals, which rose like a wall in front of me. It was here that I expected to see at least the tail-end of the group battling with the slope, but the road ahead was completely empty. They must really have put the hammer down once they left me.

I dragged myself up the climb (as unpleasant and uninspiring as always) and tried to pick up the pace over the top.

Swinging left onto the road up to the Quarry, I spotted a lone cyclist in front of me. It wasn’t one of our group, but gave me a hare to chase and encouraged me to push the pace up a little more.

I caught him at the top of the slope, exchanging a quick greeting as I swung past and off to the right. Another cyclist coming down the road burned past us both. Perfect timing, now I had another target to chase down and I started to wind up the speed again.

I caught and passed him on the slow drag up to the crossroads, darted across the road with him on my wheel and then worked to open up a gap. I think he’d decided we were in a race too, so he kept the pressure on through the descent and all the way up to the final junction, which was where I think I finally managed to shake him loose.

All the way I was thinking I would at least see remnants of our group, but they were strangely absent and only OGL and a few later-starters were at the cafe when I arrived.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I was served, found a table to deposit my tray on and went to wash my hands, filthy from wrestling with tyres. I thought our group might have gone left, rather than right at the top of the quarry and then perhaps been held up by a puncture or mechanical. I settled down to read my emails and was halfway through my coffee before the others started to drift in.

Chatting with Jimmy Mac, we finally worked out that they hadn’t taken the climb through Hallington, but looped around the reservoir. Despite my best chasing, I hadn’t seen anyone on the road, because they’d been behind me all along.

The main group were followed in some minutes later by the Flat White ride, looking suitably fortified and quite relaxed. I couldn’t help thinking they’d chosen the right option.

We learned Plumose Pappus had enjoyed his holiday in Thailand, despite the fact (or maybe because) he’d been frequently mistaken for David Beckham. He’d also only narrowly avoided being arrested for loitering, having spent far too long eyeing up the frozen peas in the chilly sanctuary of a 7-Eleven freezer aisle, the only reliable haven he’d been able to find from the persistent heat and humidity.

A phone embargo was placed on the table, as Jimmy Mac had recorded that mornings England’s vs. Argentina rugby game and was desperate to avoid the score. For my part, I’m not convinced the tournament has quite got going yet, despite one or two shock results and I had no expectation of anything but a handsome England win.

Still, with a rugby international to look forward to and late arrival at the cafe, in no small part due to my tyre-fumblings, we were keen to get back on the road and formed up as the first group to head home.


At this point I discovered my rear tyre was flat again and waved the group away while I once more set about replacing the tube. I unhooked the wheel and managed to strip out the tube without any of the early difficulties. Checking the inside of the tyre I found one of natures caltrops, a vicious thorn sticking through the tread. I assume I’d just picked this up and it wasn’t a holdover from my first puncture, but I guess I’ll never know.

I pushed and pinched the thorn out, and unzipped my tool case to get at my pump and spare inner tube … to be confronted by two indistinguishable tubes, the original, punctured one from earlier this morning that Spoons had carefully and helpfully packed away for me and a new, undamaged one.

They both looked identical, pristine and untouched, but which was which. I picked one at random opened the valve and forced some air into it. It seemed to be holding, so I fitted it and wrestled the tyre back onto the rim.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find I’d picked the wrong tube and no matter how hard I worked the pump it never got beyond slightly squishy. Cursing my own stupidity, I set about replacing the tube again … and that’s where the second group to leave the cafe found me, struggling to force the last section of tyre back onto the rim, only to discover all my upper-body strength seemed to have deserted me.

Crazy Legs lent a hand and we finally manged to seat the tyre. I added enough air to get me home (later revealed to be a rather paltry 20 psi) and I was glad to get back on the bike and give my arms a rest.

I had a quick chat with the FNG on the run back, but with time pressing on, left the group early to loop around the opposite side of the airport and shave a few miles off my route home.

I made it back without further incident, but had to leave almost immediately to wander down to the Brassworks at Pedalling Squares, where Patrick had been beavering away on the Peugeot to prepare it for the coming winter.

This gave me a second opportunity to ride up the Heinous Hill in short order, just to round my day off perfectly.

It’s the club hill climb next week. I’m not likely to compete, but I will go along to shout on the kids. Before that though, I’ll be wrestling with tyres once again, it’s way past time to slap those pristine, new Vittoria Rubino’s on Reg.


YTD Totals: 6,144 km / 3,817 miles with 81,078 metres of climbing

Idiot Wind

Idiot Wind

Club Run, Saturday 29th September, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  113 km / 70 miles with 1,060 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 33 minute

Average Speed:                                24.9 km/h

Group size:                                         26 riders, 1 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Happy winds-day


 

idiot wind
Ride Profile


Well I had a Goldilocks-style week of commuting in to work to help me determine what to wear on Saturday and I’m not sure it helped. Wednesday, an unexpectedly, uncharacteristically and uncomfortably warm and mild, anomaly of a day (where did that come from?), I’d gone for a long base layer, windproof jacket, gilet and leg warmers … and cooked. Too hot.

Thursday I went for a summer weight jersey, short-sleeved base layer and arm warmers and shivered, when the cold snapped back. Fingers, toes and ears in particular were downright uncomfortable. Too cold.

Friday saw me trying a summer weight jersey, short-sleeved base layer, arm warmers, with a gilet and gloves for the ride in, before stowing them away for the ride home. Just perfect? Well, no, but better and bearable.

Saturday promised to be just as tricky and over a much more extended period of time and the usual efforts involved in riding at a sustained tempo, rather than just pootling along to work. The early, post-dawn start was likely to be cruelly chill – especially the first couple of miles dropping off the hill – and then hopefully the sun would come out, but it wouldn’t be so hot that I’d need to take off more layers than I had pockets for.

To combat the cold start, I pulled on a lightweight rain jacket for the trip across town. It flapped and fluttered like a supermarket bag caught on a barbed wire fence during a gale, as I sped down the hill, but cut out some of the wind.

Pushing on, the helpful digital sign on the factory unit told me it was a chilly 9°C, as I made my way toward the (finally) fully re-opened bridge and its newly re-instigated traffic lights, which made me wait before I was released onto the new, super smooth surface across the river …

… ruined by the fact that they’d seemingly forgotten to embed one particular cable or pipe and simply dragged it across the road and piled a mouldering heap of loose tarmac over the top. I thudded jarringly over this impromptu, already crumbling, speed bump, which I’m hoping is only a temporary measure.

A few delays for traffic lights and at some new road works, convinced me I was running late, so I injected a bit of pace to my climb out the other side of the valley and made it only a few minutes late and suitably warmed through.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Princess Fiona was out putting the finishing touches to her form with a last ride before jetting off for her Barcelona Ironman Ironwoman Ironprincess event.

“Are you tapering?” someone enquired

“And exactly how long have you been tapering for?” I asked cheekily.

“I think I’ve been tapering my entire life,” the Red Max mumbled, somewhat ruefully.

He was consoled though, by thoughts of the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d ridden out today with the Back Street Boys, for a planned foray, south across the river and deep into Mordor.

“I hope he doesn’t get dropped,” the Red Max relayed, “He doesn’t know the roads across there and I’m not sure the phones work.”

“Phones?” I queried, “Of what do you speak?”

Even more delightful, the Red Max relayed how the Monkey Butler Boy is busy building him a new winter hack (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and had sprayed the frame silver after the Red Max reneged on his promise to ride a bright pink bike throughout the winter.

With enough silver spray left for a few little side projects, the Monkey Butler Boy decided to bling up an old pair of specs, too. Popping the lenses out and coating the frames in smooth layers of shiny silver.

Declaring himself well pleased with the results, the Monkey Butler Boy did the Wednesday night chain-gang kitted out in his spiffy new specs. “Of course, he didn’t lacquer them,” the Red Max explained, “So when he took his specs off, he still looked like he had them on!” Or, at least a semi-indelible silver impression around his eyes where the frames had been.

I told Max that I’d read his route when he’d posted it up on Facebook, but didn’t understand any of it. He patiently explained it in precise detail, while I nodded along in encouragement.

“Nah,” I finally concluded, “Haven’t got a clue.”


Away the route was set and would slowly unfold before my eyes. Garmin Muppet Time arrived and I tagged onto the front group for what was, for us, surprisingly a fairly even split of numbers. Almost as soon as we got underway a strong and gusting wind made its presence felt and it would dog us for the rest of the day.

It was hard work, two or three wheels back from the front and even harder for those brave souls who spearheaded the ride, with G-Dawg, the Colossus, Caracol, Richard of Flanders and the Rainman doing especially long and impressive stints at the head of affairs. Sterling efforts all around and much appreciated.

I didn’t spend as much time and effort assiduously avoiding the front like some of our number, but my stint up there was quite limited. It was just as well, for whatever reason my legs were sore and heavy, I was having a major jour sans and our average speed would have suffered horribly if I’d kept at it long.

I was in conversation with the Rainman as we approached one junction. “It’s left and then first right here,” he assured me smoothly.

“Left or right?” the call came from the front.

“Left, left,” I answered with confidence, only to be shouted down seconds later with cries of “Right! Right! Right!” from behind.

“Well, you had 50% chance of being right,” someone said as the confusion died down.

I naturally blamed the Rainman, who shrugged and declared he knew the right way all along, but the truth was simply lost in translation.

Caracol called for a comfort break, so we cast around a bit until we found a suitable gate, figuring that even if it wasn’t an officially approved pee-stop, at least we had the basic principles down pat.


iddiott


Then, we pushed on briefly, until Goose picked up a puncture and we rolled to a stop. Odd how the cruel and capricious gods of cycling always seem to insist we pay for any voluntary stops with an equal length, or even longer, enforced one.

Goose wanted us to all push on without him, but naturally we all wanted to stay, just for the opportunity to watch and criticise his technique as he fumbled to change his tube.

We half expected the second group to catch us, but they were having fun and games of their own, so on we pressed, battered and buffeted by the wind, which, if we weren’t grinding headlong and directly into it, would rip and swirl through any gaps in the fields and trees and slap us sideways across the road.

Other than that it would have been a perfect day, bright, clear, dry and a reasonable temperature now the sun was fully up.

We started to splinter as we approached a turn-off point for longer and shorter rides, but quickly regrouped. A handful then set off to work their way through Hallington and scale the Ryals, seemingly convinced they would have a vicious tailwind to help drive them to new KOM’s on the climb.

My legs certainly didn’t have a clamber up the Ryals in them, wind-assisted or not, so I opted for the shorter route and we set off towards Capheaton.

As we approached the short, but savage Brandywell Bank climb, Two Trousers dropped back with a puncture, but urged the rest of us on. With the smell of cake and coffee already in our nostrils, we took very little urging to leave him behind, without so much as a backward glance.

I used the last of my energy reserves on the climb and then we were swinging onto the road that would take us all the way down to the Snake Bends.

I was just about hanging on, until Richard of Flanders attempted a speculative, forlorn hope, long-range attack. (He’s been riding with the Red Max far too much lately). I didn’t have legs to immediately follow and a bunch sped away while I plodded on at my own speed.

Richard of Flanders faltered and I slid past him, but the rest were long gone and I didn’t see anyone else until I caught up with the Colossus freewheeling through the Bends and recovering from his sprinting efforts.

We cheated, taking the high road, straight down the A696, while the rest took to more scenic, less busy lanes of the low road, allowing us to sneak into the café at the head of the queue.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I took a seat opposite OGL and Taffy Steve, directly in the full glare of a very bright and low sun. When OGL left to head home early, I immediately jumped into his seat, blinking to try and restore vision to my sun blasted retinas.

“I don’t know what was more painful to watch,” Taffy Steve sniggered, “You trying to look attentive and interested when OGL was talking, or the way you were suffering in the light.”

I had to admit it was actually the light that had been the most oppressive.

Caracol said he had a relaxing afternoon planned, watching the World Championship road race and then the Ryder Cup.

Taffy Steve suggested there was half a decent idea in there, but there weren’t any other golf fans amongst us. Sneaky Pete said he endorsed John Peel’s comments, “I do regard the playing of golf as like entering the antechamber to death. When my mates tell me they’ve started playing golf, I mentally cross them off the Christmas card list.”

The Red Max moaned that he had a far less relaxing afternoon planned, as he’d been press-ganged into replacing a malfunctioning bedroom light-fitting. We found common ground cursing electricians who install fittings with the wires stretched taut and with not a millimetre of give in them.

Taffy Steve said that his multimeter was one of the best D-I-Y purchases he’d ever made and really useful for determining if there’s any current running through a wire.

“Oh, I’ve got one of them,” the Red Max declared, licking his thumb and forefinger and miming quickly pinching them together. “My dad taught me this trick.”

“He’s quite sane and sensible, you know.  Well, apart from his collection of ancient, broken and useless vacuum cleaners,” he continued

I suggested that the Red Max’s ziggurat of old and worn out bottom brackets could very easily be likened to a collection of old and worn out vacuum cleaners, but he wasn’t having it, insisting sooner or later someone will invent the tools and components he needs to repurpose all the old bottom brackets and put them back to use.

Zardoz wandered in, first to return from the longer group that had ventured up the Ryals. “He looks happy,” Taffy Steve observed, “He must have mugged someone off!”

We determined that Zardoz’s skittishness was probably caused by the outside conditions and we compared notes on our pets’ behaviour to the wind, something that always seems to send them ever so slightly loopy. One of our cats in particular goes into hyper-drive, seeing everything that moves as something to attack and belting around the garden in a state of increasing agitation and excitement.

We later learned that the Rainman had punctured at the bottom of the Ryals and Zardoz had ridden on with one of those patented, classic Sneaky Pete declarations, “I’ll just press on, I’m sure you’ll soon catch me.”

The Red Max reported that the second group had had a couple of punctures too, including one for OGL, who had somehow and uncharacteristically fumbled his repair.

The punctures had also delayed everyone, so we were running late and some were already packing to go home. We decided that a third cup of coffee was in order though and determined Sneaky Pete looked the most innocent amongst us and had the best chance of flying under the radar to successfully secure 2nd refills all round.

Talk of punctures inevitably led to a discussion about tyre choice and I naturally defended my Vittoria Rubino’s (with added graphene!) that have now ably served me through two summers of cycling, probably over 4,000 miles and trips through both the Alps and Pyrenees. I should have known better.

Then Ovis turned up, seemingly with his entire family in tow, and he declared it was late and we should already have left the café by now. The place was full to bursting and seating was scarce, so we got the bum’s rush from Ovis. “Hi, how you doing? Good to see you, isn’t it time you were going? Here’s your helmet. Bye!”

He skilfully manoeuvred his family into our warm seats, even as he smoothly ushered us out the door, where we briefly stood blinking and bewildered and once more being battered by the wind. Nicely done!


There were only five or six of us laggards left. I took to the front with Taffy Steve and away we went, battling our way once more into the wind, until Taffy Steve noticed my squishy back tyre and I stopped to repair the inevitable puncture, even as the cruel and capricious gods of cycling chuckled smugly to themselves.

With time running late, I urged everyone to just press on, insisting I’d be ok on my own. They were having none of it though and wanted to hang around, just so they could constantly remind me of my boasting about my faith in Vittoria Rubino’s (with added graphene!)

Bastards.

Job done, we set off again. As we dragged ourselves up the climb to Dinnington, the Red Max confessed his legs were “well tired” as he was slowly distanced.

Just before the Mad Mile, I dropped back to check he was okay, before setting off for my solo ride home. The first part of this was determinedly uphill and straight into the teeth of the wind. I’d felt tired and heavy-legged before, this was just adding insult to injury.

I finally crested the lip of the valley and started to drop down to the river, finding I still had to pedal to maintain momentum. Across the river and along the valley floor and I was finally at the foot of the Heinous Hill, with just one more battle with the wind and gradient before I could finish what had been an unexpectedly hard ride.


YTD Totals: 5,633 km / 3,500 miles with 69,467 metres of upness