I was convinced we were going to be subject to a rinse and repeat of last week, with an unfortunate, heavy emphasis on the rinse, but while we saw only the sparsest glimmer of sunshine, it was pleasantly cool rather than chill and the much forecast rain showers never materialised. I would go as far as saying the conditions were about as perfect as they could be without tipping directly into the “good” weather bracket and I even managed a couple of extended periods with my arm warmers tucked away in a back pocket.
Just over 20 of us gathered for the off where a mountain-bike-riding, casually dressed Crazy Legs briefed in the ride he’d carefully planned, but would not be participating in, citing canine care committals. After what must be the now obligatory weekly-whinge from OGL, we split into two groups, G-Dawg leading out the first, while Not Anthony volunteered to lead the second “from the rear.”
I hung back to join up with the second group, which quickly became the first as, within 500 meters of setting out, we passed Caracol and the Cow Ranger furiously working to repair a puncture, while a bit further on the rest of G-Dawg’s group waited for them to rejoin.
I was chatting with La Pinta as we rode out, comparing notes on a running-cycling balance as she’s a runner whose found the joy of cycling, while I’m a cyclist who has discovered a true-hatred of running. After a quick shuffle in the order I then caught up with Spoons, who is counting down the remaining few days until he retires, the lucky beggar.
Another shuffle and I found myself alongside Szell, who’d originally set off in the first group, but had seemingly now infiltrated ours. I wondered what had happened.
“I looked around and realised there were no fat lads,” he explained, “then I looked back and there was only a racing-snake (Spry) lurking behind me, so realised I was completely out of my depth and on a hiding to nothing.” Discretion being the better part of valour, he’d wisely taken the opportunity of the impromptu puncture to swap groups. I couldn’t blame him, it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
I learned he too was contemplating retirement, but at least his release from work wasn’t quite as imminent as Spoons’ as Szell’s business is still recovering from COVID-19 and he needs to establish new premises with an extended lease in order to sell it as a going concern.
We shuffled yet again and I found myself alongside the new gal and I was relieved to find she is nowhere near being able to retire yet. A student from Ecuador, she was back in the UK to pick things up again after having been forced to abandon her studies and return home during the pandemic.
Ecuador adds another notch in our clubs cycling League of Nations, having already hosted in my time, Dutch, Poles, Spaniards, Basques, Nigerians, Chinese, Irish, Americans, Canadians, Aussies and Italians, as well as a wide assortment of Brits including Welsh, Scottish, Somters, Devonians, Geordies, Mackems, Smoggies, Yorkies, Cockneys, Cumbrians, Lancastrians, Brummies and Scousers. Sadly, no Eshingtonian’s yet, though I live in hope.
Along with TripleD-El and Taffy Steve, we tried encouraging the new gal to close up on the wheel in front, but she was distracted by all the shouts; car-up! gravel! pots! hor-sezzs! et al. The problem was she couldn’t understand any of them and so kept easing back, horrified in case she was being castigated for doing something wrong.
She particularly couldn’t understand the “warra-ragga-warra-shugga” Tasmanian Devil-like bellowing that was emitted from the back of our group, until it mercifully it went silent as the tail split off to take a differnt route. TripleD-El reflected that even after many, many months she still couldn’t translate what was being shouted from the rear, while I assured her it was probably best to ignore it anyway.
Yet another shuffle and I found myself on the front with TripleD-El comparing the fortunes of the respective British and Dutch Olympic teams to find we were both satisfied with the performances of our compatriots. TripleD-El was however much less sanguine about the muddy stretch of road we then found ourselves on, complaining that she’d only just cleaned her bike last week and didn’t want to have to do it again for at least another month!
Somewhere along the way we picked up Zardoz, out for a solo ride, but more than happy to tag along for some unexpected company. We went up the Quarry and stopped to regroup and then I was joined on the front by Princess Fiona for the last push up to the café at Capheaton.
I was going to suggest to Zardoz that I’d never seen the café quite as busy, until I realised we were the ones who were making it look busy.
Zardoz then queried if he was right in thinking the Vuelta starts next week and I confirmed that he was. This, prompted Taffy Steve to query if we’d ben watching “The Least Expected Day” – the behind-the-scenes documentary about Movistar that was on Netflix. This, he is convinced, shows that he has all the right qualities to be an excellent pro-cycling Directeur Sportif, or at least as good as the example served up by Eusebio Unzué. In other words, never have a plan, pointedly ignore any rider who asks about a plan, swear a lot when things go badly and, if by some chance things do go well and your rider somehow lucks himself into the lead, simply drive up alongside and holler Venga! Venga! Venga! at them non-stop until they’re caught.
In non-cycling related discussion, Brassneck found we all shared his complete lack of sympathy for the “poor” individuals who’d decided to travel over 5,000 miles for a holiday in Mexico and were now having to spend £8 grand for the privilege of flying immediately back home to avoid quarantine. I mean, what were they thinking? Oh, sorry. Obviously they weren’t …
Damn fine cake and coffee, along with the novelty of free refills kept us at Capheaton perhaps longer than planned, but soon we began to move out and form up into various groups for the ride home.
I found myself riding with Taffy Steve who was wondering if G-Dawg is in danger becoming more of a meme than a person, while he chuckled at the fact we’d stuck two small women, Princess Fiona and Mini Miss on the front, while a whole bunch of burly blokes took shelter on their back wheels. What can I say, we’re an equal opportunities club.
Finally Carlton and Not Anthony took over the lead as we routed toward Saltwick Hill. Once there, I took off to burn a little excess energy on the climb and then pushed the gap out a little more along some of the twisting lanes until, at one junction, I spotted a lone cyclist thrashing around by the side of the road. Assuming he had some sort of mechanical, I dropped down the hill to see if he needed assistance, only to find he’d lost one of his wireless earpieces from his headphones somewhere in the deep vegetation. His phone was telling him it was there or there abouts, but I didn’t rate his chances of actually finding the damn thing. It wasn’t until some miles later that I realised his best chance of recovering his earpiece would have been to crank up the volume of some scuzzy death metal to see if he could locate it by sound. Oh well, too late now, maybe he thought of that anyway?
While I’d been rendering no assistance whatsoever to my fellow cyclist, our group had turned at the junction and shouted down that I was heading the wrong way. After a cursory search for the missing earpiece I left him to his quest, turned around and gave chase to the group. Somewhere along the way I must have taken a wrong turn, or missed the right one and I ended up on the cycle path running alongside the A1. From there I had to extemporise a route back onto more familiar roads, an interesting detour, but slightly too urban for my tatstes. I was still thoroughly enjoying myself though, perfectly happy just to be out, rolling along without getting rained on.
I manged to find my way through Hazelrigg, which eventually spat me out onto our regular route just before the Mad Mile and from there it was plain sailing back home, to complete what was perhaps the longest ride of the year so far.
I’ve been without a computer for most of the week, so this will necessarily be shorter, if no less verbose than my usual efforts. Here we go …
Saturday’s weather was characterised by the extreme cold, which had seen temperatures barely creep above freezing all Friday and then plummet during a clear and cloudless night. The temperature was still around -2 to -3℃ as light started leaking into the sky, first thing Saturday morning.
I dressed accordingly, my warmest merino baselayer over a thermal jersey, under a winter jacket, skull cap, buff and trusty Planet-X lobster mitts. Just for good measure, I pulled on a high-viz gilet too, more for an extra layer of windproofing than any enhanced visibility it might afford.
I thought I might possibly have overdone it as I set out, but the wind had a raw edge and I was chilled the instant I started dropping down the hill. This felt about as cold as it could get before ice becomes a certain, rather than potential hazard.
I forgot to start my Garmin and missed the first mile of my journey, so I have no record of just how tentatively I came down the hill, anxious eyes scanning for the evil glitter of ice and only partially re-assured by the crackling of rock salt under my tyres.
It was generally dry however and the roads passable with a little care. There were one or two bands of slush to contend with along the valley floor, where long standing puddles had frozen and then been churned up by the passing traffic, but no widespread ice.
It was -1℃, still below freezing, as I passed the digital readout on the factory unit and headed toward the river. I didn’t feel remotely warm until I was climbing out the other side of the valley and even then it didn’t last.
Because I’d been slow starting my Garmin, my usual on-schedule checkpoint of 8.42 miles covered by 8:42 a.m. wasn’t going to work, but I sensed I was making decent time and so it proved, as I rolled to a stop in front of G-Dawg and Aether, just as the clock ticked past 9.00.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Aether too had determined it was cold enough for his Planet X lobster mitts, but he was no Crazy Legs, so I couldn’t coerce a live-long-and-prosper, Vulcan greeting out of him, let alone any simulated finger-tribbing.
G-Dawg wondered how long it would be before OGL mentioned he’d received an urgent communique from our remote listening post/weather station in the Outer Hebrides, telling us just how dangerous and treacherous the conditions were.
Meanwhile, the Cow Ranger turned up sporting one acid green, high-viz overshoe and one in a neat, plain black. G-Dawg wanted to know if this was some new fashion statement and suggested that the Cow Ranger liked the look so much, he probably had another, almost identical pair at home.
The Cow Ranger explained that by the time he’d realised he was wearing mismatched overshoes he had neither the time, energy, nor inclination to tramp back upstairs to change them. He then admitted things were worse than they appeared, as, not only was he wearing different overshoes, but the actual shoes underneath them were different too. I’m not sure it’s a trend likely to catch on.
When questioned, Cowboys revealed he’d taken last weeks non-waterproof, waterproof gloves back and demanded a refund.
“Do you now have a nice new pair of non-thermal, thermal gloves?” I wondered. From the way he gave it frenetic, “jazz hands” for the duration of the ride, I suspect my comment wasn’t too far off the mark.
As departure time arrived I did a quick headcount and, sticking with the movie theme, found we had an Ocean’s Eleven, rather more than I expected. (G-Dawg would later claim there were 13 of us out, so I expect the truth is somewhere in-between, or generally around those two numbers. So perhaps Thir13een Ghosts, 13 Assassins, or even Ocean’s Thirteen if we go on his recount instead.)
Aether outlined the route, that would be wholly confined to bus routes to maximise the chances that they’d been gritted and minimise the possibilities of ice. So, a bit of the No.11, the 10X, the 16A and the X20, although we wouldn’t, of course, be stopping or picking up passengers along the route.
I thought we’d got away with it, but as we were pushing off and clipping in, OGL piped up, “Well, I haven’t heard from Morris this morning, the weather must be all right.” Morris is, I assume, the secret codeword for our remote listening post and weather station in the outer Hebrides. G-Dawg rolled his eyes knowingly, then rolled forward on his wheels, intent on gettin’ out of Dodge while the gettin’ was good.
Things were fine to start with, although I was quickly reminded how sheltered the transport interchange centre bus station was. Once out of its balmy micro-climate, gently warmed by the copious exhaust fumes of gently throbbing diesels, the cold was striking.
As we pushed into the country and onto less-travelled roads, we found patches of ice and slush, especially in some of the more sheltered and shadowed hollows between high hedgerows and we progressed with due caution (and a occasionally quite a bit of grumbling, too.)
Stamfordham Hill represented the first serious bit of climbing and we became strung out as the road tilted upwards. As TripleD-El began slipping back I pushed past to stay in touch with the leaders.
It was a horrible, terrible, fatal mistake, almost immediately, as I overtook her, my brain seized on the instruction to “Pass the Dutchie, ‘Pon the Left Hand Side” and I was done for. I’d inflicted a most insidious ear-worm on myself and didn’t even have Crazy Legs around to share the misery with. Even worse, try as I might I couldn’t dislodge it, or even parlay it into the original, slightly more acceptable “Pass the Koutchie.”
Aaargh! Pain enough to make me forget the cold.
We pushed through Stamfordham and the patches of slush and ice became even more frequent, slowing the pace as we singled out to pick our way carefully through these potential hazards.
At this point I had a hammering headache and was starting to feel a bit nauseous, I was chilled through and not really enjoying myself. Still I hung in as we climbed up past the Quarry (thankfully last week’s inland sea had drained away), dragged our way up to Wallridge crossroads and pushed on to the cafe.
The heightened pace helped get the blood flowing a bit as we traced a channel through narrowed roads, now lined on either side with carelessly abandoned horse boxes and 4×4’s. It looked like the hunt was out again.
If there was a sprint, it passed me unremarked and we were soon rolling into the cafe for some well deserved coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Standing in the queue, Goose was delighted to find the Stollen Scones were out – I think it’s one of his true signs that Christmas is actually on its way. Intent on spreading the good cheer, he wanted to know if stollen was a seasonal delicacy our Dutch pair were familiar with.
“Do you have stollen ,in the Netherlands?” he asked TripleD-Be.
TripleD-Be struggled with the unfamiliar word, or perhaps it was the mangled pronunciation of a familiar word.
“What’s in stollen?”he wondered.
Good question. Despite his advocacy of its deliciousness, Goose seemed to have a limited understanding of what actually made a stollen, an understanding that seemed to begin and end with …
“Err … marzipan?”me mused aloud.
TripleD-Be still looked confused, but TripleD-El came to his rescue.
“Ja, we have stollen,” she confirmed, although I have to admit, the word she pronounced didn’t sound remotely like what Goose was touting.
At the table, OGL was explaining how tubular track tyres had to be painstakingly shellacked onto wheel rims, before inflating to a (frankly terrifying) 240 psi. As with stollen, the precise make up of shellac seemed rather obscure, although OGL suggested it was some form of animal byproduct. I’d only really heard of it as a type of varnish, not an adhesive and couldn’t shed any light on its origins.
(Further investigation reveals that shellac is made from a resin secreted by the lac beetle in India and Thailand. I’m still uncertain what’s in stollen though and, in particular, if it must include “err… marzipan.”)
OGL also made passing mention of Dourdoigne tubs, a name I vaguely remember from my youth, mainly because the old lags and wags suggested they were horribly misshapen. The joke went that when you rode them you’d be bounced up and down and the tubs would emit a sound like a twanged spring: duh-doing, duh-doing, duh-doing.
Much happier with the cold, than the rain, TripleD-Be reminisced about how this type of weather was great for revealing all the neighbourhood cannabis growers in the Netherlands, as they were the ones whose roofs were always ice free. Meanwhile, we had a chuckle about the poor cannabis farmer in Spain, who only had his secret crop revealed by an unfortunate, once-in-a-lifetime fly-past by the camera helicopters following the Vuelta.
Following fairly short run to the cafe and with time to spare, Aether proposed a longer run for home, which would also avoid the potential of icy back roads on the way to Ogle.
Pretty much everyone agreed, so we left the (eerily quiet cafe) and turned left instead of right, striking out further north and east, before working our way back toward home.
G-Dawg led most of the way, selecting his own route options, as every time he called back to Aether for instruction, he was ignored. It turned out that Aether had snapped his mudguard on leaving the cafe (I swear those clip-on race blades get really brittle in the cold) and had stopped to pick up the pieces. As a consequence he was riding at the back of our group and oblivious to the calls for direction.
As we passed our usual turn off for Berwick Hill, seemingly still heading in the wrong direction, a worried Goose wondered aloud if we were ever going to get home.
Despite a lack of instruction, constant debate on the best route and a nagging worry amongst some that we were heading in completely the wrong direction, we stayed together as a group until the Prestwick turn, when most went left, while I continued straight across.
I found myself travelling with Aether and Famous Sean’s and was happy to sit in their wheels until it was my turn to swing off and strike out for home alone.
Climbing past the golf course, I stopped to remove the gilet, the temperature must have ticked up a couple of degrees and I was getting uncomfortably warm. There was nothing I could do about the lobster mitts though, they’d kept my hands appreciatively warm throughout the day, but were now proving a little too insulated.
Still, better too hot than numbly cold and the long drop back into the river valley helped me shed some of the excess heat I’d accumulated. From there it was a straightforward dash to the Heinous Hill and home.
I don’t know whether to leave the last words to Dourdoigne tubs, or Musical Youth.
So, it appears my little, pre-holiday tumble did more damage than I first thought. Three weeks on and my ribs are still sore, but more concerning is my right knee, which started hurting more and more across the four days I rode into work.
I don’t know if I damaged it in the fall, in a separate incident, or if I’d hurt it by unconsciously changing my position in some way to compensate for the rib injury. By Friday I was riding with the knee heavily strapped and that was the order of the day for Saturday’s club run too.
A chilly start meant long-fingered gloves and a windproof jacket for the ride across, which passed without incident with the knee niggling, but bearable.
Main topics of conversation at the start:
Jimmy Mac asked if I wouldn’t like to amend my recent tale of woe and tell everyone I’d had a crash, rather than a fall. He suggested crashes are much more macho-sounding, while falls are strictly for toddlers and the elderly. Ah well, if the cap fits … I told him it wasn’t dramatic enough to be called a crash and I was quite content being classed as one of those elderly people prone to “a fall.”
Someone queried if the Monkey Butler Boy would be joining us and we learned from the Red Max that he would be, but only after recovering from a hissy-fit, brought on because he couldn’t find his knee warmers anywhere.
The Red Max explained his progeny was particularly upset because his knee warmers weren’t exactly where he was looking for them, which, apparently was quite remote from where he’d actually put them.
OGL asked if G-Dawg had been watching the Vuelta and especially the brutal, double-digit climb of Los Machucos.
“I wonder what gears they were riding, maybe a 34-32,” he pondered.
“Bunch of pussies!” declared G-Dawg, a man who sees the inner ring as an unnecessary frippery, solely for effete, losers.
“Merckx would be spinning in his grave,” he growled, ” … err, well … if he was dead, that is.”
I wasn’t quick-witted enough to suggest that you’d never find Eddy Merckx spinning in his grave, or anywhere else for that matter. Gurning, honking and grinding a huge gear? Yes, undoubtedly, but surely never spinning.
The Monkey Butler Boy belatedly joined us, sans knee-warmers, but wearing a buff around his neck.
“Oh, could you only find the one knee-warmer then?” Jimmy Mac quipped. I guffawed, but the comment sailed over it’s intended marks head.
In other news, Sneaky Pete reported that Taffy Steve has been missing for the past few weeks because of a nasty torn rotator cuff, once and for all ending his aspirations to be an NFL-calibre starting quarterback. Hopefully he’s on the road to recovery and will be back amongst us soon.
Then we were off a massive turnout of three dozen, when even splitting into two groups didn’t seem enough.
I slotted into the front group behind Crazy Legs and Richard of Flanders and away we went.
I was chatting with the Red Max about how it was still chilly and I wished I’d kept my gloves on, but was becoming more and more distracted by a building pain in my right knee.
As we approached Dinnington, I decided I was doing my knee more harm than good and told Crazy Legs I was aborting and heading for home. The group took a left to follow the planned route, while I kept going, to swing in a wide loop around the airport and pick my way back. It was a shame because I was actually feeling in pretty decent nick.
I found my knee continued to hurt sitting down, but not when I climbed out of the saddle, while my ribs were okay sitting down, but hurt when climbing. It seemed a decent trade-off, so I took my frustrations out on a few climbs on the way back, burning away some excess energy as I attacked the slopes.
Back early, time to rest up and hopefully heal some before trying it all again.
YTD Totals: 5,567 km / 3,459 miles with 73,332 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 110 km / 69 miles with 1,139 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 11 minute
Average Speed: 26.4 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Passable
I passed a small cluster of cyclists who were meeting up at the traffic lights leading down to the river, less than three miles or so into my journey. It did make me ponder why I was riding a further 7-8 miles to meet up with the usual gang of reprobates, when there were obviously perfectly pleasant, companionable cyclists and clubs much closer to home.
Still at least there are possibilities if we ever attempt a palace coup that fails…
Once again I found myself arriving at the meeting point early, despite leaving at more or less the same time and following the same route. I seem to be getting faster, but it’s probably not worth making adjustments, the switch to the winter bike will soon fettle that.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
Forget about the melting polar ice caps, receding glaciers and spiralling average temperatures. Forget about the increasing incidence of extreme and violent weather, rising sea levels and the carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. If you want incontrovertible proof that global warming is an actual, real phenomenon, then that evidence was proudly on display this Saturday morning – we’re well into September and yet the first cyclist to join me at our meeting place was Szell, someone who we’d expect to be deep into his hibernation cycle at this time of the year.
And yet, here he was, blinking in the milky autumn light and questioning whether he had made the right clothing choices to cope with the variable temperatures.
I told him that this conundrum was all too common and no one had the right answer – even the most hardened, experienced, all-weather, all-year round, veteran cyclists wasted long minutes every day pondering what clothing layers and accessories to wear and deciding what could be easily pulled on and taken off at a moment’s notice. And, I assured him, they still, invariably got it wrong.
The Garrulous Kid was back and announced he’d had a great holiday in Florida.
“Florida is horrider, than Whitley Bay,” Szell intoned.
“There’s no McEwan’s Best Scotch in the USA,” I followed up with the next line in a creaky TV ad campaign from the distant, hazy annals of our youth.
Florida? Nice Place, Shame about the Beer.
We had a laugh at the conceit behind labelling McEwan’s Best Scotch, a mass-produced, fizzy, bland and utterly un-noteworthy, generic beer as the “one you had to come back for.”
Szell seemed to remember a whole series of these ads, but the only other one that I could recall was the Russian one:
“Red Square’s dead square, we know that for a fact,
No McEwans’s Best Scotch in the Warsaw Pact
They’ve just got propaganda, not proper Geordie brew,
They asked about Marx? Well …one out of ten for you.”
I had to admit, I much preferred the much simpler, smarter Newcastle Brown Ale posters in (probably) indecipherable Geordie, the only one of which I still recall said simply:
G-Dawg outlined the route for the day, including a raid down into the Tyne Valley and, with another good turnout of 28 riders, we split into two groups that, somewhat surprisingly, turned out to be more or less equal.
Well … ish.
I rolled onto the front of the first group alongside Caracol and we pushed out, safely traversed the deadly and treacherous Broadway West and then we were away.
I spent the first few miles chatting about the Vuelta and, in particular, Simon Yates distinct lack of media training and polish. This, I felt was a refreshing change from the corporate blandness of Sky, even if it did leave to some rather terse and uncomfortable interviews.
Caracol was fully sympathetic and wondered how any normal person would cope with being asked the same inane questions, over and over, in French, English and Spanish and maybe half a dozen other languages beside.
Interviewer: “What went wrong at the Giro.”
Simon Yates: “I don’t know what went wrong at the Giro.”
Interviewer: “Will what happened at the Giro happen here to?”
Simon Yates: “I don’t know if what happened at the Giro will happen here to.”
G-Dawg’s route included a new wrinkle that took us up Birney Hill, a narrow country lane, seemingly frequented by only the most considerate and polite of drivers. As the third of these in quick succession pulled over to the side and stopped to let us through, the Red Max somewhat ruined my impression of the denizens of the area by nodding at all the parked-up cars and muttering cynically, “It’s a bit early for dogging, isn’t it?”
Back onto more familiar roads, we had a third incident with a biker in as many weeks. Does this mark a new departure in the conflict between motorist and cyclist? Have all bikers now been seduced by the dark side and the four-wheeled forces of oppression? Or, is it perhaps the same biker who has a very particular grudge against this club and has been stalking us for the past 3 weeks, just so he can vent?
This particular biker slowed, mid-overtake, to ride alongside Crazy Legs and loudly declare, “Mare allah bunda munts!”
“Pardon me?” Crazy Legs, enquired politely.
“Mare allah bunda munts!” the biker repeated, but just as unintelligibly as the first time.
“What?” Crazy Legs shook his head, acting perplexed.
“Mare. Allah. Bunda. Munts!” the biker shouted, trying to enunciate each word carefully through the constricting confines of his helmet.
“Eh?” Crazy Legs responded, smiling at the biker in a manner he hoped would encourage further elucidation.
By now it was obvious that the biker wasn’t trying to convey a friendly greeting, but this comedic interchange had robbed his intended invective of any sting.
Even better, having paused mid-overtake to berate us for holding up the traffic, he was now getting serious grief from the cars behind that couldn’t get past him. Perhaps it finally dawned on him just how foolish he looked, and our new biker friend gave up and roared off. Maybe he’s planning to give it another go next week?
I found myself riding alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d finally determined the osymetric chain-ring he’d invested all his hard earned currency in was, to quote the Red Max’s expert opinion, “utter crap.”
He’d since bitten the bullet and reverted back to more traditional style chain ring, but was bemoaning the fact that he’d having also switched from a 36 to a 39, the ratios were all wrong and he was struggling to get used to the change. It was also a ready-made excuse if he started to struggle on the hills. (Just saying).
Down into the Tyne valley we went, skirting the river for a while and rolling straight through our usual re-grouping point at Bywell Bridge, determining in conversation with the Red Max that our pace probably meant the second group were well adrift and it would be an overly prolonged wait.
So, we kept going and almost immediately started the scrabble to climb back out the valley. We were soon splintered and strung up and own down the road, but stopped to regroup after threading our way across the 4-thundering lanes of A69 traffic. This was safely achieved with a lot of patience, a couple of sharp kamikaze dashes and the use of a handily placed median strip, where we could temporarily kneel in prayer and claim sanctuary.
Once across the dual carriageway, there was yet more climbing to be done before the road would level and lead us on toward Matfen. On the climb the Garrulous Kid became detached, allegedly distracted while trying to inhale a Snickers bar whole. Then the Monkey Butler Boy lost contact, still trying to come to grips with his new and completely alien gear-ratios.
The other stragglers may have had their excuses too, but if they did they were more stoical and refused to acknowledge them.
We regrouped once again and then pushed on toward Matfen and from there to the Quarry. The pace started to pick up and a handful went off the front as we made the turn for the climb.
I rounded the corner and dropped back to make sure we collected any stragglers before pushing on. As I rolled back up to speed I encountered a happy, freewheeling Crazy Legs engaged in a bit of Rick Rolling, booling along and merrily engaged in an energetic rendition of Never Gonna Give You Up…
The front runners had long disappeared when our group made it to the top of the Quarry, to the accompaniment of Mr. Astley’s finest only moment. Here we swung right and started our final run to the café.
As the road straightened, the Monkey Butler Boy was the first to attack surging off the front and opening a short-lived lead, before the inevitable response reeled him in.
Richard of Flanders and the Red Max tried next, each attacking in turn, but on the long drag up toward the crossroads their speed and advantage quickly bled away. Caracol caught and drove past them, I dropped onto his wheel and as we darted through the crossroads, he looked back and saw we’d opened up a sizeable gap.
“Looks like it’s just me and you,” he declared … and so it was, as we hammered down through the curves, swept through the junction and ground our way up the last few ramps.
As we swung onto the road down toward the Snake Bends, Caracol was questioning the wisdom of the Monkey Butler Boy’s premature attack that had lit the blue touch-paper and set everything off.
He was, I suggested, simply a hostage to genetic imperative and couldn’t help uphold the family traditions of attacking early and quite forlornly.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the café, the Red Max played us all expertly, suggesting it was still warm enough to sit outside and then, after we had all dutifully trooped out to the garden, taking his pick of chairs inside.
Despite the deception he wasn’t wrong, it was perfectly pleasant outside and the bothersome wasps were fewer in number and not quite as aggressive as they had been last week.
We settled down for a “3-mugger” and a classic spot of blather and bullshit …
It started when the Garrulous Kid wandered past, digging in his back pockets and dislodging an empty Snickers wrapper that spiralled slowly down to the ground.
“I do like a Snickers,” Zardoz commented, “It’s been shown to have the perfect, irresistible ratio between sugar and fat content”
“Ah, a sort of golden ratio. I thought that was the ring donut?” I countered, obviously having heard somewhere that the perfect ratio between sugar and fat was to be found in ring donuts.
“Those as well.” Zardoz affirmed, “But for your 70p, a Snickers bar will give you the highest calorific content and the perfect ratio. It’s the peanuts.”
“What? Wait, 70p! I remember when they used to be only 20p. And a lot bigger too.”
“Yeah, yeah and they used to be called a Marathon.” Zardoz was only slightly sympathetic.
“Exactly, it was named after the most recent tussle between them Persians and Greeks.”
“It’s all ancient history now, old boy.” Zardoz observed dryly.
We were joined by G-Dawg, the Colossus and Taffy Steve, having just led the second group in, and talk turned to various cycling commentators. We wondered how Sean Kelly and his indecipherable accent had ever been seen as a prime candidate to be the expert voice of Eurosport.
Although thankfully he’s grown into this role, Richard of Flanders still recalled a memorable, early radio interview with Kelly when he had to be constantly reminded that listeners couldn’t actually see him nodding away or shaking his head, no matter how vigorously he did this.
From there it was just a hop, step and jump (luckily bypassing the even more puzzling choice of Jonathan Edwards as a cycling presenter) en route to talk about how the rather odious sounding Brian Clough had publicly humiliated Peter Shilton on national TV for a standard, run-of-the-mill, goal-keeping blunder.
Speaking of inappropriate job choices, Richard of Flanders recalled Peter Shilton had then moved into management with Plymouth Argyle, or some other remote (well, to us, anyway) team, where he didn’t seem to have a clue and constantly demanded his players do push-ups as punishment for minor infractions.
This, I suggested was exactly the kind of thing our club was missing and I moved that push-ups for any kind of infraction be immediately added to the club rule book.
Ah, the club rule book. Did such a mythical creation even exist?
We imagined it as a massive tome, bound in ancient, flayed skin of indeterminate origin, covered in arcane motifs and sigils and sealed with a massive, black iron hasp and padlock.
If allowed access to its hallowed content, the yellowed parchment pages would crackle dryly as you opened it up, each section headed with massive illuminated letters and consisting solely of a series of dire instructions: “Though shalt” and “Though shalt not’s.”
G-Dawg felt the tome would be hidden within a secret chamber, the fuhrer bunker, buried deep beneath OGL’s house.
“Guarded by traps, trip-wires and a giant boulder,” Taffy Steve imagined.
“Poison darts and snakes,” I added.
“And even if you find it, you’ll still have to fight the ghost of Pat Roach for it, somewhere along the line,” Taffy Steve concluded, while Richard of Flanders looked on in bewildered incomprehension.
Talk of old football legends, brought up talk of old football stadiums, with Richard of Flanders, on safer ground now, wondering if anyone could recall going to the toilets at old Ayresome Park.
As I remember the stadium itself was like one big toilet, so my imagination failed when it came to picturing what the actual toilets within it could be like.
“Just a long, blank wall with a gutter at the bottom,” according to Richard of Flanders.
“And no drains,” G-Dawg stated.
“Apparently, you’ve never experienced Liverpool until you’ve felt the Kop warm leg welcome.” Sneaky Pete relayed and then there were numerous stories about football spectating in the good old days, terraces awash with urine, pitches showing more mud than grass and leather case balls that would dislocate your neck if you tried to head them when they got sodden and heavy.
Oh, and the ever present threat of violence.
Back talking about a slightly more civilized sport, everyone wanted to know why Szell was still riding, even though it was already September. We wondered if he’d even keep going right up until the Club Hill Climb and if he might perhaps participate?
Szell revealed he’d ridden it once before in the dim and distant past and had no desire to revisit that particular form of intense self-flagellation, a view much supported by Taffy Steve.
“You could always come along and push people off,” a well-meaning, Richard of Flanders suggested, but off course we took his suggestion the wrong way.
“Like, hide in the bushes half way up and leap out at unsuspecting riders?” the Colossus wondered, imagining a Takeshi’s Castle style contest, with a ninja-style, anti-cyclist who would suddenly appear and push each rider over as they strained upwards.
As if a hill climb isn’t already hard enough.
The Colossus suggested he was facing a near impossible task with the hill climb and couldn’t better his first ever time, just back from uni, when he was younger, fitter and most importantly, much lighter. Now, getting older and heavier, his chances of a new personal best time were receding, despite the vagaries and inconsistencies in OGL’s official time-keeping.
Someone countered that weight followed a typical bell-curve through age and there would be a point where you could expect to start getting lighter again.
“Great,” I suggested, “Another 17 years and I might be at my optimum for the hill climb.”
Of course at that age, all dry sinew and skeleton, there’s a good chance that you would simply snap attempting a hill climb.
We speculated about our assailant, potty-mouthed motorbiker and G-Dawg concluded he must surely know us as he had correctly identified that we were a bunda munts. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a disgruntled, ex-club member – although that would be casting the net ridiculously wide and would in no way help us narrow down the biker’s identity.
I then learned that Canyon were a German bike brand (I didn’t know, but can’t say I’d given it much thought) and could also be considered when the Garrulous Kid looks to replace his Focus and insists that only precision and world-renowned Teutonic engineering will suffice. So, from our count he can choose, Canyon, Focus, Rose, Cube or Stork. Not a bad line up.
Speaking of German bikes, we learned that the Garrulous Kid was on his winter bike because he “broke his tyres.” (The tyres were obviously not engineered in Germany.)
He seemed rather nonplussed when Taffy Steve suggested he could have just swapped over the wheels.
“They’re too heavy.”
“But they’d still be better on your Focus than on your winter bike.”
“I hate my winter bike,” the Garrulous Kid declared.
“Yes,” Taffy Steve affirmed, “That’s the point.”
Off we went and I found myself riding alongside the BFG. He’s taking his newly achieved granddad status very, very seriously and has been regularly riding out with the new grand kid perched on a seat fixed to the front of his bike.
Unfortunately, all he can see when he’s riding is the back of the kid’s head, so it’s always a shock when he gets home and sees the snot-encrusted mask that the wind and speed has dragged out and dried like cement across the kids face.
Even worse, he got home one time to find the kid had somehow eviscerated his helmet, the hollow shell sitting on the back of his head, while the disengaged padding was wrapped tightly around his face.
I suggested this was probably a defence mechanism and the kid was so terrified he had pulled the helmet lining down to cover his eyes, like a condemned man before a firing squad.
The BFG was having none of this though, insisting he knew the kid had been smiling all the way around because of the flies stuck to his teeth.
A turn on the front, through Dinnington to the turn-off, was my last major effort of the day, then the main body swung left and I dropped behind Caracol and G-Dawg to surf through the Mad Mile and away.
The rain blew in as I plugged my way across the river toward home and I stopped to pull on a jacket. The poor weather seemed to have the effect of boosting the appeal of the shopping centre and the traffic was starting to back up. I had to queue patiently on the approach to the roundabout at the bottom of the Heinous Hill, slowly getting soaked ad cold.
Finally across and through the traffic lights, I spun my way up and home to end another ride, at least on a high point, if not an actual high.
YTD Totals: 5,239 km / 3,255 miles with 64,597 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 111 km / 69 miles with 1,159 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 10 minute
Average Speed: 26.6 km/h
Group size: 31 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Perfect
Saturday morning proved a good bit warmer than Thursday and Friday, when my commutes had been distinctly chilly affairs. Perhaps this was due to the insulating effect of fairly solid cloud cover that gave the early morning light a dimly suffused and milky quality and turned the river a notable flat and evil-looking slate grey. Still it was dry and, apart from a niggling, occasional bit of wind, looked like being a perfect for a ride.
I was pleased to find the bridge across the river still closed to cars, but it’s surely only a matter of time before they finally finish the longstanding repairs and I no longer get sole and unhindered use of its nice, shiny new surface. I’ve no idea what’s causing the delay, it’s been closed since May, but for once I’m happy to celebrate the inefficiency of the great British workforce.
I was first to arrive at the meeting point, just a little ahead of G-Dawg and the Colossus who I spotted approaching on my own run in.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Seeing one of our number wearing the new Holdsworth racing team jersey, OGL was unsurprised to learn it had been on special offer, revealing that he understood the team was going to fold before it had even got really started. If true, then they would join the likes of Aqua Blue and One Pro Cycling as emblems of the parlous state of British professional bike racing.
The complete and utter malfunction in marketing of Aqua Blue was also discussed as a quick, straw-poll of all those gathered revealed that only one of us realised Aqua Blue was actually a website selling cycling gear, similar to Wiggle or Chain Reaction . We variously thought it was a brand of designer water, a type of deodorant … or a make of prophylactic.
The lone person amongst us who recognised that Aqua Blue was, ahem, “the No.1 marketplace for all things pedal powered” was the Colossus and he only knew this because Aqua Blue ads constantly kept appearing on all his social media sites. In fact he said they were so intrusive, so frequent and so annoying, that he vowed never to visit the website out of principle.
Wasps were to become a recurring theme throughout the day and the little beggars provided Crazy Legs with an opportunity to expound on his interesting factoid of the week – apparently figs have to be pollinated by a wasp crawling through a hole, so small and tight that its wings are ripped off in the process. (Think of something akin to a normal sized human trying to squeeze into a medium sized Castelli jersey). The wasp becomes trapped and is then digested by enzymes in its fruit cell – one explanation for the crunchy bits in figs.
Crazy Legs said when someone first told him this, he immediately called bullshit, but a bit of research proved it was true and he challenged us to do our own research if we didn’t believe him. He also reassured us the crunchy bits in figs were just the seeds and not partially digested wasp parts.
I was surprised by the return of cycling heavyweight, Plumose Pappus and wondered when he’d be heading back to university, only to be even more surprised when he told me he’d finished his course, graduated with flying honours and was now looking to do a masters at Newcastle University. Has it really been 3 years? Have I been writing this drivel for that long? The horror…
Our leader for the week Aether outlined the route, including a late amendment which would have us using Broadway West as a route out of the city, ostensibly a measure to avoid the heavily potholed route through the Dinnington Badlands. Any other reasons for these last minute route change went unremarked and were, we felt, covered by plausible deniability.
With our numbers again bolstered by a large contingent of Grogs, we split into two groups and, seeing the balance of numbers lay with the second group, I tagged on to the back of the first one, as we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
Yet again, we made it through Broadway West without incident. Benedict drifted to the back to ride alongside me and we passed the time chatting about commuting, cycling holidays, club runs and the like.
Today seemed to be National Cyclist Abuse Day, we had a number of drivers celebrating our very presence on their roads by serenading us sweetly with their horns – including one passing in the opposite direction at high speed, who barely had time to register his disapproval, let alone be in any way discomfited by our group.
Even the bikers wanted in on the act today though, with a particularly friendly specimen using sign language to query if we perhaps belonged to the lost tribe of Onan?
After the Monkey Butler Boy swept away to meet up with his hormonally charged Wrecking Crew, we shuffled around a bit and, once again, I dropped to the back where I was soon joined by the King of the Grogs, who’d bridged across from the second group and reported that they weren’t all that far behind.
Amongst other things, we had a brief chat about the clubs (complete lack of) succession planning for when OGL hangs up his wheels and retires, or, simply cannot summon the will to ride above the Augustus Windsock speeds that frustrate everyone else.
As we hit Whalton, he dropped back to wait for the second group, while I pushed on with the original members of the first group until we reached Dyke Neuk.
Here we paused to regroup, before choosing various shorter/longer, faster/slower options. Having been told the second group had been snapping at our heels only a few miles back, we didn’t expect a long wait, but minutes dragged past with no sign of them.
Finally the bulk of group 2 emerged, clambering up the hill to join us and we learned the King of the Grogs had hit a pothole and punctured at the bottom of the climb. We settled in for a longer than expected wait while repairs were made.
The delay gave the Red Max an opportunity to carefully inspect his rear tyre, revealing it was on its last legs and had previously been condemned to the turbo. It had been pressed back into service at short notice when the Monkey Butler Boy had decided to “borrow” Max’s Continental Grand Prix tyres to save his own, high-end, super-supple, Vittoria Corsa race tyres from unnecessary wear and tear.
Max then pointed to his front wheel, where the Monkey Butler Boy had also inexplicably swapped out the inner tube for one with a 60mm valve, 95% of which poked out, rudely and ridiculously from the skinny rims.
I couldn’t help thinking this was a case of biter-bit, recalling all the times throughout the winter when the Red Max had manically cackled about replacing one failing component after another with bits “borrowed “ from Mr’s Max’s bike.
“The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree,” I suggested.
Combined, the Red Max and Monkey Butler Boy could probably strip a bike down to the frame, while removing all useful components, faster than Blofeld’s piranha pit could reduce a super-secret agent, or bumbling henchman to a loose collection of bare bones.
Apparently they could be just as lethal as well, with the Red Max stating he’d actually started one ride before he realised the Monkey Butler Boy had decided to ride alloy instead of carbon wheels that day and “borrowed” Max’s brake blocks when he made the switch.
With the puncture finally repaired, there was a brief coalescing before everyone split and I tagged onto the group heading up the hated climb to Rothley Crossroads and points beyond. We became strung out and splintered on the grinding climb and not a little disorganised. At the crossroads, I followed Caracol and Ovis straight across the junction. while behind some decided to wait, some went left and some, who had initially followed us, turned back again.
Caracol hesitated and looked at us quizzically. Ovis gestured we should just press on and I nodded in assent, so the three of us did just that, happy to ride as a small group. We would later learn that others had followed, but we didn’t see them and they never caught up.
Caracol led from the front, forging his way up Middleton Bank and then accelerating hard toward the café. Ovis and I contributed a couple of short turns, but I suspect we were only slowing things down and, after thrashing ourselves breathless we’d just drift back to hang off Caracol’s back wheel again, trying to recover.
Then we hit the rollers and I accelerated up and over the ramps, dragged our group up to the last corner and last climb, before I sat up. Caracol zipped past, Ovis followed a little bit later and a little more laboriously and I trailed the pair into the café.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
It was just about pleasant enough to sit outside in the garden, where we found ourselves constantly assailed by wasps, especially when Ovis broke the edict and had jam with his toasted teacake.
This was in direct contravention of Standing Order#414 and much to the chagrin of Carlton, who was sitting alongside him, suffering from the same over-attentive wasp activity, while looking ruefully between his own dry teacake and the one laden with gooey, sticky and sweet jam that Ovis was blithely chomping his way through.
Buster downed his cappuccino and declared it was good, much better in fact than the muddy, often tasteless big mugs of coffee we usually indulge in. This, we decided, was a classic case of quantity over quality. Not only was the cappuccino too small, effete and more costly, but crucially it didn’t come with the “free” refill. I could only quote that quantity has a quality all of its own, an aphorism I always associate with Napoleon, but has been variously attributed to Stalin, von Clauswitz and others.
After the wasp-fig bombshell from earlier this morning, Buster took up the cudgels on behalf of our vespidae friends (fiends?) He suggested that they were an essential part of the ecosystem, contributing massively toward insect pest control and that without them there’d be a massive increase in the use of pesticides.
He explained he knew so much about them because he participated in a study where members of the public were tasked with building wasp traps, collecting the contents, freezing all the little wasp corpses and them posting them off to the Royal Entomological Society for counting and identification.
This sounded like a Blue Peter appeal from some nightmarish alternate reality, with kids encouraged to make traps (out of beer bottles and baited with beer no less) and then collect dead animals. Still, probably easier and more worthwhile than collecting milk bottle tops.
We wondered why the wasps had to be frozen before posting, reasoning that they would thaw out in transit – unless, Caracol suggested, they were transported in one of those organ donor ice boxes. I could also see issues with people mistaking their collected wasp corpses for frozen mince and cooking a chilli with far more kick than intended.
Meanwhile, on an adjacent table, I could hear Crazy Legs, no doubt having already wowed his audience with facts about wasps and figs, describing how one of his neighbours had tackled a wasp nest with a Dyson…
We finally decided to retreat and leave the wasps in temporary charge of the garden, swiftly packing up to head home.
Conducting a quick headcount, G-Dawg wondered where everyone had gone. Someone pointed out the Grogs were predictably missing, having slipped away to do their own thing, while I could account for a few more who’d left early, setting out in one and two’s as they needed to get back home by a certain time.
“Oh,” I added, And Plumose Pappus was abducted by wasps. They picked him up and just flew away.” Somewhat surprisingly, everyone seemed to accept my explanation as at least plausible, if not 100% accurate.
I’m not so sure they believed my next assertion, that the wasps were going to make him their God-Emperor and the Chief Overseer of the wasp factory, responsible for making all the new wasps to replace the ones we’d killed today.
On the return I dropped in alongside Crazy Legs and we decided the Vuelta had become the Tour of Redemption for both the French, through Bouhanni and Gallopin and for previously hapless and winless, under-performing teams like EF Education First–Drapac, AG2R La Mondiale and Dimension Data.
While reminiscing about now dissolved retailer Toys R Us, Crazy Legs recalled a girlfriend who was convinced there name was actually pronounced Toysaurus. I guess either version is still better than Aqua Blue.
We’d made it almost to the top of Berwick Hill, when I declared, “Hey, no cars this week! Naturally, scant seconds later a car barrelled around the corner and we dived to the side of the lane so it could squeeze past. Me and my big mouth.
There was only time for G-Dawg to hope that if anyone did happen to have an accident on Broadway West, they would have the decency to drag their broken body and bike into a side street before calling for help, then I was swinging away and starting to pick my way back home.
A very brief shower peppered me as I crested the top of the Heinous Hill and disappeared as quickly as it came. Then I was back, done and dusted, home and hosed, or however else you want to describe it.
YTD Totals: 5,182 km / 3,219 miles with 63,722 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 107 km/66 miles with 942 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed: 25.4 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Cool, calm, clear
Well, here’s a novelty – a Saturday that every forecast was insisting was going to be dry and with only a relatively mild wind to deal with after a series of forceful gusts blew themselves out overnight. Sounded great and ideal to trial a brand, spanking new bottom bracket to see if it could fend off an attack by freaky wallabies.
Despite the promise of a lack of rain, it was still sharply cold as I set off early, gathering speed as I swept down the Heinous Hill until the wind chill numbed my fingers and I began to wish I’d worn gloves. Things would warm up later, but it was a very slow and gradual process and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to shed the arm warmers until well past midday, when I was alone and already heading homeward.
Still, the main thing was the ride was smooth and most assuredly squeak free, lacking last week’s cacophony of annoying little ticks, squeals, creaks and groans. The only sounds now were the slight hiss of tyres lightly kissing the tarmac and the faint thrum of a new chain running smoothly over the gears. Ah, that’s more like it.
I made good time and was soon crossing the river, swinging back on myself and starting to climb up the other side of the valley. Here the chain announced some newfound dissatisfaction with a loud clunk as it skipped and slipped on the cassette. Suddenly pedalling became hard and then too easy and then hard again. I eased back and tried to spin up the climb without applying too much pressure, but every few revolutions brought a clunk and a scuff and a whirr and I topped out the climb with a strange staccato, stop-start rhythm.
My mechanical hiccups kept me so distracted I didn’t notice the miles slipping away and I was soon rolling up to the meeting point to find the early arrivees clustered around an FNG’s bike while I wondered how I got there so quickly. The FNG’s mechanical woes were considerably worse than mine – he’d snapped his gear cable, so had no choice but to limped off home, vowing to return and try again.
Main topic of conversation at the start:
OGL announced that due to a spate of cancellations at various events we wouldn’t be able to piggy-back on another clubs time-trial this year, so he suggested people submit their best 10-mile timetrial time to work out who the club champion would be. This had OGL and G-Dawg pondering where the world’s fastest downhill 10-course was, and whether they could get away with a bit of motor-pacing and verifying of each other’s times.
OGL then gave us the date for the clubs dreaded hill-climb, the day when grown men compete to inflict the most physical harm on their own bodies and see who can come closest to resembling a freshly interred corpse.
There was then a discussion about downhill trials, still practiced in certain parts of the country where riders will deliberately ship their chain to see who can freewheel the furthest after rolling down a hill.
Taffy Steve was mightily attracted to not only the simplicity of this challenge, but also the two words downhill and freewheel. He also quite liked the sound of its associated intensive nutritional and dietary plan, which he translated as eating as many pies as possible in order to build body mass, then hoping that gravity would do the rest. I think he saw the concept as the ultimate revenge on all the racing snakes with their starved-whippet physiques and disturbing ability to float uphills. Yes Plumose Pappus, I’m looking at you.
The Cow Ranger arrived on a vintage steel, Paul Hewitt bike that he’d built for his son while at university in London, only to find out it had mouldered away, largely unused. The Cow Ranger had now reclaimed it as a hack/potential winter bike and wanted to see how it would ride. There were tsk-tsk’s of disapproval from OGL at the slightly rust-spotted chain and then complete outrage when he spotted the non-standard seat pin bolt.
The Red Max was again without the Monkey Butler Boy, apparently laid low by the worst head cold ever known to man, so bad in fact that it has received special categorisation as “Boy Flu” by the World Health Organisation and declared as fifty times more debilitating than “Man Flu.” Or at least that’s what it sounded like according to how the Monkey Butler Boy (a.k.a. the Slacker and the Malingerer) was reportedly behaving.
I tried to soft-pedal along and keep all the embarrassing clunks and clangs to a bare minimum, chatting more than usual in a vain attempt to cover up the mechanical dissonance, or at least take my mind-off the racket. No one seemed to notice, or if they did they were nowhere near as perturbed as I was.
The route we took this week was once again and old and familiar, but with large sections completed in reverse, so the roads looked disconcertingly familiar, but not quite and all the hard uphill bits and easy downhill bits got confusingly mixed around. This prompted some discussion as to whether these were in fact different routes, or the same-old, same-old with just a fairly obvious twist.
As we completed a familiar loop around Angerton, but in a novel northwards direction I definitely found one major disadvantage as we battled away into a bit of a stiff headwind – if we been travelling in our usual direction we would actually have enjoyed a tailwind on this section – for the first time ever! That would have been a rare and unexpected luxury worth forgoing the novelty of the same-old, same-old in a slightly different way.
After a long stint Crazy Legs and the Red Max rotated off the front, allowing a capable and willing FNG and the Cow Ranger to assume point and pull us along. I found a gear that seemed a little more stable and less jittery than some of the others, but it meant I was attacking the hills a bit harder than everyone else as I tried to keep my momentum going. On one elongated ramp I passed the Cow Ranger who ceded the front to me and I dropped back to work alongside the seemingly indefatigable FNG.
Just as the youngsters started to get frisky and began jumping ahead on the climbs, there was a puncture at the back and everyone rolled to a stop. Here I found a perplexed and frustrated Red Max jabbing at random buttons on his brand new, all-singing, all-dancing Garmin as he looked at his slowly dwindling average speed in dismay, unable to work out how to toggle the computer to adjust its calculations to ignore stationary time.
“Maps!” he declared at one point, “I’ve found maps,” but still the device played the role of R2-D2 refusing to give up its secret Death Star plans and beeping and squealing indignantly beneath Max-as-C3PO’s prodding fingers.
Finally, before I suggested he tried slapping it hard and calling it an overweight glob of grease, he admitted defeat and vowed to turn to the dark side and actually read the manual. This, he obviously feels is a slight on his technical prowess and manhood that he may never recover from.
Puncture repaired and underway, OGL again suggested we split on the fly instead of stopping again. Luckily this week Happy Cat wasn’t around to follow the wrong wheels and we all seemed to find the right group. While the self-flagellation ride zipped off, everyone else actually took the same route, but the longer-harder-faster group were quickly up to speed and pulling away from the amblers.
There may have been some strange, strangled shouting from behind, but by this time it was quite faint and indistinct … so maybe not. Soon around a dozen of us had formed a compact, fast-moving swarm and the pace got kicked up another notch.
We hit Middleton Bank without appreciably slowing and a steady pace was maintained when my attempted attack was derailed by an extended bout of clunks and clangs as my chain started slipping frenziedly. I had no choice but to ease back into line, change down and just spin up the hill behind everyone as best I could.
The road levelled out and with a keen sense of self-preservation Crazy Legs urged the Red Max swap places. Once complete, Max was now on the outside with space to launch his inevitable forlorn hope attack without needing to barge through non-existent gaps. He duly delivered, but his lead never stretched beyond a couple of metres and he was closed down as we thundered through the Milestone Woods.
At the base of the first of the rollers I attacked hard and managed to keep going over the first and second ramp, before running out of steam on the third and last. I think I managed to open up a few gaps and splinter the group, but to be honest I wasn’t looking back.
I did manage to draw Crazy Legs out in pursuit and he closed me down and passed me as the road tipped downwards, somewhat scuppering his plans to save himself for the final drag and sprint up to the café.
Done for the day, I tagged onto the back of the line and then just tried to hang on and keep the gaps to a minimum as we crested the last rise and sailed across a junction to roll up to the café.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Apropos of nothing, Taffy Steve declared it was ridiculous that Rab Dee’s black-carbon, stealth BMC was known as a Time-Machine, when surely his own titanium love-child was more obviously suited to the name.
Everyone looked suitably blank, until he prompted, “You know, like a DeLorean.”
I was confused because I was thinking of blue boxes and flashing lights, like the Tardis, while Crazy Legs was imagining some baroque, H.G. Wells-type sleigh with levers, dials and spinning discs and he’d begun checking anxiously over his shoulder to ensure no subhuman troglodytes were creeping up to steal his cake.
We then had a minute or two racking our brains to try and remember what said troglodytes were called.
“Morlocks!” Son of G-Dawg finally volunteered and we were all amazed that the youngest person at the table had been the one to remember a fleeting piece of ephemera from a creaky black and white movie released in 1960.
That was until he explained he simply remembered it from an episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Crazy Legs joined The Doc, Michael Hutchinson in (figuratively) lamenting the demise of the Singing Cycling Club – at one point they were almost as infamous as the Singing Ringing Tree apparently.
This reminded me of a mass club run when I was out with the Barnesbury CC when I was a kid. One guy had a small transistor radio (ask your parents, children) strapped to the handlebars and tuned into a station playing songs from old musicals. I can recall 30 odd of us riding along, swinging our arms from side to side, while spontaneously bursting into song – lustily bellowing:
“There is nothing like a dame
Nothing in the world
There is nothing you can name
That is anything like a dame”
As we rode through one of the genteel villages in Northumberland. Priceless.
We dissected our café sprint, recognising the same old patterns occurred week after week: a hopeless long range attack from Red Max and/or Taffy Steve, an idiotic attack over the rollers, the BFG, if he’s with us, running out of steam at the exact same point every time, then the G-Dawg collective battling through to the bitter end where Son of G-Dawg will just nip away to steal the honours. Well, it’s like deja vu all over again.
Son of G-Dawg laughed at how we employed the same tactics and did exactly the the same thing week in and week out, but somehow always expected a different outcome. By Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, we are all certifiable lunatics.
Talk of the BFG predictably running out of steam reminded Crazy Legs of the time they had been hammering it up Middleton Bank and he’d heard a hoarse wheezing, gurgling, gasping from behind. He’d ridden away from the strange noise, only to later learn it was the BFG who’d clawed his way up to Crazy Leg’s back wheel, desperate to borrow his asthma inhaler but, sounding like a latter day Elephant Man, he had utterly failed to articulate his needs in any coherent way.
The main group left while we were still enjoying a second round of coffee so we waved them off. We guessed Taffy Steve was soon itching to go though when he started buckling on his helmet while still sitting at the table.
When this failed to impel us into action, he started trotting between the table and his bike, alternatively whimpering and panting and trying to look appealing with his head cocked to one side. If he had a leash he probably would have carried it over in his mouth and dropped it on the table as a hint.
Taffy Steve then followed Crazy Legs’s suggestion that the best way to get everyone to move was to just slap your foot on a pedal and clip-in as loudly as possible. This worked, provoking an almost Pavlovian response and a scramble for bikes and helmets.
A relatively straightforward and uneventful ride back had me on the inside of Taffy Steve as we approached a major split point. An elegantly performed do-si-do then saw us swapping places and as he swung off left I accelerated onto G-Dawg’s rear wheel to cling on through the last crazy burst of the Mad Mile.
Then I was all alone with my madly clunking chain, finally working out that the worst problem was somewhere in the middle of the cassette and trying to work around it. I then planned and executed an impromptu stop at Pedalling Squares café, located at the bottom of the Heinous Hill and home of Patrick the Mechanic and the Brassworks Bicycle Company. Here I reasoned I could get a caffeine fix for me and a mechanical one for Reg.
I grabbed an excellent flat white and clambered up into the bike workshop, where I found Patrick the Mechanic deep in conversation with … err… Patrick the Cyclist.
I did a very, very obvious double-take, looking confusedly from one identical Patrick to the other. “Yes,” Patrick the Cyclist and sometime doppelgänger reassured me, “We get that a lot.”
Honing in on the real Patrick, or the one I assumed was the real Patrick simply by dint of the mechanics apron, I explained the problem. A quick test, a bit of tinkering with the gear hanger and a minute twiddle of the barrel adjuster and he was done. I wish I had the confidence to do that, but any twiddling I do tends to just compound my issues, so I’ve learned to leave it to the experts.
Bike restored to fully-functioning condition and fortified by yet more coffee, I was soon off, caffeine fuelled and floating up the hill and home like some erstwhile Plumose Pappus.
YTD Totals: 5,085 km / 3,159 miles with 50,264 metres of climbing
More coveted than the “coveted Pointless Trophy”, more glorious than receiving kudos on Strava, occasionally a bigger slap in the face than the Carbuncle awards and more opprobrious than a Razzie, it’s time for another (drum roll, trumpet fanfare) Chapeau Award.
Highlighting the brave, the absurd, the whole-hearted, the mad, the bad, the glorious in the cycling world – from the famous to the futile, international hero to the unheralded local, the omnipresent giants of the sport and those gad flies that occasionally flicker across our consciousness before disappearing forever.
This week we salute pro-rider Kris Boekmans.
Boeckmans was put into a medically-induced coma following a horrific crash on stage 8 of the Vuelta a España that left him with a concussion, a torn lung, and severe facial fractures. His team spokesperson, Arne Houtekier reported, “Everything is broken in his face, his nose, his jawbone, teeth… Everything.”
The good news is Boekmans is now out of danger and recovering from reconstructive surgery, but he faces a long, hard and very uncertain road back to the pro peloton. We wish him luck.
Karl Boekmans – Gastone Nencini salutes you – Chapeau!