Plague Diaries – Week#26

Plague Diaries – Week#26

The Joy of Six

Woah! Week#26 of this stuff already – half an entire year and still no end in sight.

Oh, if you’re at all concerned at the loss of week#24 and #25, they were taken up by a deserved holiday in North Yorkshire. I’ve never seen so much rain. This was then followed by an entire weekend decorating Sur La Jante Towers while trying to dry out.

In the time I’ve been away from club riding, the pandemic has tightened its grip on the UK, cases are rising again and tighter restrictions on social gatherings are about to be implemented – the so called Rule of Six, which sounds to me like Bo-Jo the Clown channeling the ghost of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Anyway, since it doesn’t look good to have up to 30 cyclists hanging round, talking bolleaux, guffawing loudly and generally cluttering up the pavement,we decided on collective, pre-emptive action.

Orchestrated through various social media channels, everyone was encouraged to wear masks at the meeting point, wait under the eaves of the multi-story car park instead of out on the pavement and, as soon as we we could form each group of 6, we determined they should head straight out and not wait for the usual 9:15 collective start time. It seemed like an obvious, eminently practical and sensible variation on how we usually do things and would allay any negative perceptions that we were flouting social-distancing procedures.

For reasons that I might get around to explaining one day, this was the first time I’d ever done a club ride with a knapsack on my back. Val-deri, val-dera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha and all that. This was fine when I started out fresh and it was empty, but as the day wore and I filled it with more and more of my clubmate’s jersey’s, it seemed to get heavier and heavier, bulged more and became more of an aerodynamic drag, a literal and metaphorical anchor on my back. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. (It was only loaded with 1.9 kgs of stuff, but it felt like so much more!)

I’ve also just swapped out my venerable, chunky Garmin Edge for a sleek, Decathlon Van Rysel bike computer and this was its first outing (it does pretty much the same things as the Garmin, but for half the price).

Unfortunately, I was too lazy/impatient to set it up properly and format the displays, which was something I didn’t discover until 10-minutes into my ride, when I realised I could see my maximum achieved speed, but none of the various screens I flicked through showed me what time it was.

I guess I could have stopped and checked the time on my phone, but … well, where’s the fun in that? So, I pressed on, picking up the pace just to make sure I wouldn’t be late. I needn’t have worried, I made it in plenty of time and joined earliest arriving rider, Richard Rex in the car park. We masked up, before shooting the breeze about the Tour: young tyro-cyclists like Marc Hirschi and Tadej Pogačar, sly, old cyclists Like Alessandro Valverde and, for a change of pace, the unpredictable weather in the Lake District

Crazy Legs and G-Dawg arrived in tandem, but sadly not on a tandem. They quickly gathered four others and away they went. Smooth as you like, our first group were out on the road and we were up and running. Another group quickly formed up and followed, before our newly organised Newbie group got underway too.

Then OGL arrived, found half of us had left already and embarked on an epic, apoplectic rant about us leaving in small groups, not waiting until the allotted time and apparently running roughshod over all sorts of long-held club mores, traditions and values.

And the reason for all the vituperative ire? In the biggest self-own imaginable, apparently he wanted to get us all clustered closely together so he could address the gathered masses and tell us we needed to reconsider our social-distancing arrangements.

Aether took the brunt of the attack and simply tried to explain that it was down to individual choice and that we had all, collectively arrived at a practical, pragmatic and much needed decision, that had been widely discussed and agreed across a range of social media. This did not, he admitted when challenged, include the “official” channels of the club Facebook page or website, because a large number of legitimate and fully-paid up club members have been arbitrarily excluded from actually accessing them.

I’ve never been good arguing with incoherence and lack of logic, so stood politely, if rather awkwardly aside until the storm blew itself out to dark mutterings. I never did quite grasp what his suggestions actually were for improving our response to social-distancing guidelines, other than some scare-mongering about our chosen coffee stop and some random, non-cycling people being fined in, err … Salford was it?

The furore interrupted our efforts to set everyone off in groups, rather than have us mingling and potentially raising the ire of Priti Vacant Patel, but we finally hustled the last few groups out onto the road. I joined up with route architect Aether, root architect Ovis, Famous Sean’s and Sneaky Pete to form a quality quintet and, somewhat belatedly, we got underway too.

Aether confided he was confounded beyond belief that OGL hadn’t taken the opportunity to congratulate us on our pre-emptive initiative and well-thought out social distancing rules enacted for the benefit of all club members. Ha ha.

I had a catch up with Famous Sean’s who I hadn’t seen for a good while. In the middle of our chat I almost fell into the trap of talking about how borderline chilly it was, but then I looked over and noticed that, as usual, Famous Sean’s was almost completely mummified in layers of clothing – a long-sleeved jacket, buff, tights and overshoes. I reasoned he probably didn’t have the faintest inkling of what the weather was like outside his protective carapace, so I let it slide. “I was going to put my winter gloves on,” he later confided, “But thought people might laugh at me.”

Still, at least he wasn’t wearing his entire wardrobe all at once, like the time he made it onto one of our winter rides with a silhouette resembling a bomb-disposal expert in full blast armour.

Halfway up Berwick Hill we passed one of our earlier groups, wrestling with Captain Black’s tyre after an unfortunate puncture. We zipped past and pressed on, swapping turns on the front until we reached the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and Sneaky Pete sneaked away rather than face the steep drag up.

The second group having made the necessary repairs were right on our heels as we tackled the climb and Jake the Snake, the Dormanator, attacked from that group and whooshed past as we dug into the climb.

“Ah, the exuberance of youth,” Ovis remarked wistfully, although he was gliding up the steep slope without apparent effort.

I asked how he was doing. “Ouh, a’m not gowin’ too bad att’a moment,” he replied modestly, before confiding he’d recently ridden the entire Marmotte route on Zwift. Just because he could.

With only the four of us to swap places on the front and battling a surprisingly stiff breeze, we somehow stayed ahead of the group behind, but as we took the climb parallel to the Trench, the Dormanator was once again flitting past to attack the slope with gusto.

Aether was flagging a little as we made it over the top. “I still haven’t found my climbing legs,” he confided, pausing in contemplation before adding, “and it’s been fifteen years now.”

Up past Dyke Neuk, we dropped down the other side and were just making our way toward Meldon and more climbing, when Aether pulled over with a puncture. We got things sorted pretty niftily and were almost done when the group behind churned past, putting us firmly into last place on the road again. I hoped this might play to our advantage and let the cafe queue die down a little before we got there.

My wishes were semi-granted, the queue wasn’t too long and we were served without the usual interminable wait. Armed with coffee and yet another crumbling scone on a paper plate, I meandered across the grass looking for a bench to perch my posterior on.

Spotting me approaching the table where he was sitting with G-Dawg and the Colossus, Crazy Leg hooked his leg around the spare chair beside him and drew it in under the table and out of reach. The. Bastard.

I moved toward the next table to join a couple of furious wasps who were dive-bombing it’s surface in apparent agitation, but at least appeared more welcoming. Crazy Legs relented though and invited me to sit with the cool kids after all, although he did check that I wasn’t carrying jam or anything else that might attract flying pests’ having been caught out before when sitting next to Szell and his wasp-magnet confiture.

This remembrance did gift us a quick sing-a-long round of “K-K-K-Kenny and the wasps” but luckily it wasn’t enough to gift either of us an Elton John ear-worm.

I wondered how the Colossus had been faring in the sneakily gusting wind, riding his TT bike with the solid disc wheel and he admitted it certainly made life a little interesting.

As a counterpoint to this discussion, a capricious gust of wind then picked up my plate and hurled it away, jettisoning my scone, which grazed Crazy Legs’ temple as it spun past. He looked up in pained surprise, but luckily it didn’t have the concrete hardened crust of a stale pork pie, because if that had caught him in the eye, Crazy Legs would have bit the dust.

I retrieved my scone from several metres away where it had finally come to rest. They may be flat and they may be crumbly, but they are impressively aerodynamic for baked goods.

I then commended everyone for making an early start this morning and missing out on an epic OGL rant, as he complained about the further Covid-19 precautions we’d taken, because he wanted to discuss taking further Covid-19 precautions. Still, I needn’t have worried as he turned up out of nowhere for the singular purpose of delivering a full-throated reprise of his earlier rant, just so no one felt left out.

Never. A. Dull. Moment.

With everyone gathering their gear to leave I told Captain Black not to wait as I was thinking of heading straight home through Ponteland. Ovis though was hanging back to wait for me and I was coerced into joining up with him, Aether, Captain Black, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg on a more circuitous return up Saltwick Hill.

At one point everyone else dropped back to wait for Aether, but I was flagging, so I kept plugging along, tiring rapidly and with the rucksack starting to give me a sore back. It’s ok for 20km round commuting trips, but not so comfortable on extended club runs.

The group caught me once again just past the airport and I tagged onto the back for a while, but it wasn’t long before I was on my own again and this time for the rest of the ride. Crawling up past the golf course into a direct headwind wasn’t much fun, but it was largely downhill to the river from there and once across I had a tailwind to usher me to the foot of the Heinous Hill. A last clamber up and I was done for another week.

STOP PRESS: The entire North East is now subject to tighter lockdown restrictions. We (or, “the amorphous we” as OGL has disparagingly named us) have decided to suspend group rides for now, so it’s back to solo undertakings for the time being and until further notice.

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Plague Diaries – Week#20

Plague Diaries – Week#20

Ponderosa Glee Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, right…”

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

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

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

OK then … game on!

Plague Diaries – Week#11

Plague Diaries – Week#11

I Am The One and Only

So, in their infinite wisdom, the British Government is intent on relaxing lock-down rules, perhaps not based on any grand plan, but simply trying to create the illusion that things are moving forward.

Personally, I’m not convinced it’s the right thing to do, or that we’re embarking on a safe and measured approach. Quite simply, I don’t trust them.

Leaving aside (if you can, and I’ll understand perfectly if you cannot) their appalling double-standards and hypocrisy, succinctly embodied in one particularly arrogant, rule-violating SpAd – after all, double-standards and hypocrisy seem to be the lingua franca of all governments, regardless of political persuasion. Instead, let’s look at the simple, irrefutable and objective facts. The statistics clearly show that under this governments watch, the UK has suffered the second-highest rate of deaths from the coronavirus in the world.

In. The. World.

UK suffers second-highest death rate from coronavirus | Financial Times

So while BoJo witters on about British exceptionalism and promulgates the illusion we’re a world-beating country, lets just recall that the thing we actually seem best at is killing our own citizens. With such a fumbled response so far, too many excuses and a host of broken promises, how confident are you that they’ve got it right this time?

Anyway, from Monday, the relaxed rules mean that, amongst other things, people in England will be allowed to meet in groups of up to six, outside, while maintaining a two-metre distance.

Entirely the best thing to come out of this announcement was the outpouring of social media sympathy for S-Club 7, although one commentator cruelly declared that they were probably better off dropping the dopey looking bloke at the back anyway.

Amongst our club socialmediaites, it meant quickly fomenting plans to meet up and run out in groups of six, perhaps starting as early as Wednesday evening.

Personally, I’ll be following British Cycling advice which has all club and group activity suspended until the 4th July, subject to fortnightly review and two weeks’ notice of any change. So, in other words, no group riding yet.

While references to a disappointed S-Club 7 made me chuckle, the biggest laugh of the week had to be the news that someone had developed a mod to sync your home-trainer, Zwift-style, with the Grand Theft Auto video game. Now you can ride around a gorgeously rendered L.A. game-world, while porting a high-powered, personal arsenal in your jersey pockets so you can, should you wish, indulge in the odd pedal-by ass-capping (P-Bac.)

Who hasn’t dreamed of using Molotov’s to thin out the traffic?

With the promise of glorious sunshine throughout the weekend, for my strictly solo, non-virtual ride, I decided to indulge in a little grand theft larceny myself, pinching bits of bike-touring company, Saddle Skedaddle’s “Giro di Castelnuovo.” route. They billed this as “a challenging guided road ride taking in some of the finest climbs in County Durham, including the infamous Passo di Crawleyside” – and promised around 130 kms (80miles) including 1,500 to 2,000 metres of climbing.

I would be modifying the route somewhat, mainly as I didn’t fancy riding into Newcastle to their start point, the Cycle Hub on the north side of the Tyne, just to ride straight back out again. I also planned a different route out of the Tyne valley to get onto the Whittonstall road, while adding an extra descent, so I could climb Burnmill Bank from the bottom, instead of joining it halfway up.

The bit of the route I wasn’t familiar with led from Blanchland to Stanhope, so, on my phone, I noted the 6 hamlets I’d need to pass through en route to Crawleyside and trusted the road signs would be good enough to see me through.

As promised, Saturday was a clear, cloudless day and already starting to warm up as I set off. I tucked a pair of arm warmers into a back pocket, just in case. I shouldn’t have bothered.

Down the hill, I pushed west through Blaydon, Ryton and Bywell to Crawcrook, where I swung north to cross the river at Wylam. Here I was caught once again behind the level crossing as the (tortuously) slow train to Newcastle rumbled past. I must have been on the road later than last time, or the train was actually running early, as I joined at the back of a small queue of cars and didn’t have to wait too long for the barriers to jerkily raise themselves and clear the way.

I pushed along the north bank of the river, pausing at Ovingham to admire the sudden appearance of a half-dozen or so scarecrows just outside the care home. Apparently, what I saw was only a small portion of the 58 fantastic scarecrows built for the village scarecrow competition. By far my favourite was a Trump figure, complete with MAGA cap and intent on wassailing, with a bottle of bleach to liberally imbibe from.

Back over the river at Stocksfield, I took the Broomley climb up through Shilford Woods. From there it was on to Whittonstall, perhaps the most hateful climb of the day – 2.5km up a slope that appears to get consistently steeper the closer you get to the top. It doesn’t help that, like the Ryals, it’s a straight road and you can see what’s coming from miles away as you approach.

By the time I dragged myself over the top I had all the evidence I needed that I’d left my climbing legs at home today and I began to wonder just how sensible my plan was.

I dropped down the other side into the Derwent valley, pausing just above Shotley Bridge for belated breakfast and quick rest to see if I could recover any.

Then it was back to the climbing, up through Snod’s Edge, noticing that traffic was much busier than I’d seen for a long time and being abused by a car passenger for … well for just being on a bike, I think. “Get off the road” was (I believe) the generally incoherent, but obviously wholly reasonable admonition.

Well, there’s something I haven’t really missed in the past few weeks of quieter, seemingly calmer and saner road usage, let’s welcome back all the arse-hat drivers and their super-witty passengers. Sadly, I didn’t have a pocket-full of Molotov’s to share with them.

I descended to skirt the reservoir, now seemingly open for business, with all the road blocks removed and stay away signs taken down. The Muggleswick silver Toyota pick-up is still there though and remains unsold (if you’re interested.)

The bikers were out in force, nosily running the lanes between Edmundbyers and Blanchland, as well as numerous picnicking older couples, oddly pulled just off the side of the road and reclining on camp chairs and rugs, I guess to watch the traffic pass by – maybe they’ve been missing the smell of exhaust fumes?

There were one or two cyclists out as well, but not as many as I would expect on such a glorious day.

Passing through Blanchland, I picked up signs for my first target, Baybridge and then in quick succession, Hunstanworth and Townfield. At this point I should have followed the signs to Rookhope, but a post knowingly pointed it’s stiff finger toward Stanhope, I knew that was my ultimate destination, so I followed it.

All seemed well for a short-time, before the road doubled-back on itself and I realised I was heading toward Blanchland again and guessed I’d then be climbing Meadow’s Edge in the opposite direction to the way I usually do. From there it made the most sense to head directly back through Edmunbuyers, by-passing Stanhope and the testing Passo de Crawleyside. Oh well, I’ve ridden it a few times before anyway. Maybe next time.

My wrong turn came with two notable features. The first was a long sloping field that, somewhat strikingly, seemed to have been overrun by purple wildflowers that the camera on my phone couldn’t do justice.

The second was being escorted out of the area by a large, white-bodied, black-winged bird that flew 20 metres in front of me for about a kilometre, screeching and jabbering back in disgust. Later investigation suggested I’d been dissed by an angry lapwing, who was apparently telling me in avian terms to “get off the road.”

My intuition proved correct and I was soon climbing up Meadow’s Edge, the first part of which seems much harder than the climb up the other side from Edmunbuyers. It’s also noticeably more barren and empty looking when you’re struggling upwards, rather then zipping down the road. Being relatively high up and endlessly exposed, I now had a stiff wind to contend with too and it was, naturally blowing head-on.

At the last junction and the highest point of the ride, I passed another cyclist I’m sure I seen around 2 hours ago approaching Whittonstall, apparently pondering which way to go next. Then I began my long, long descent toward Edmundbuyers, rattled over the cattle-grid and started to pick my way home.

I hadn’t covered the 80-miles promised by Saddle Skedaddle, but by the time I’d clambered up through Burnopfield, I’d topped 1.500 meters mark and found a few viable options for extending one of my favourite rides south of the river.

Plague Diaries – Week#7

Plague Diaries – Week#7

Alone again. Naturally.

The club Zwifters seem to be getting their act together and enjoying themselves immensely. Along with all that technical talk about gear ratio’s and tyre pressures, they can now also obsess about direct drive, ANT+, Max Resistance, Gradient Simulation et al. Really oddly, no one seems to care what colour their home trainers are?

After the last ride they even posted pics up on social media (screen-grabs, or actual selfies I know not) an oddly lurid, background of starlight over a mountain range and with a bunch of garishly dressed cyclist clones in the foreground).

Ah … hmm .. well… just … eesh … err … oh … umh …

So, yet more filler in the form of further musings from our road club ramshackle collective…

Question#3. How do you feel, emotionally about being involved in your cycling community?

  • I get really grumpy when I’m not involved!
  • It means a lot. I look forward to club rides and I’m grateful for the club, and the friends I’ve made. It’s been an important part of my life and I know it’s been really important for my mental health.
  • Love it. Cycling had helped my physical health, mental health and social life.
  • Welcome.
  • Privileged to have discovered something others drive past.
  • It warms the cockles of my heart.
  • I feel a bond with all cyclists and care towards them, given the negative and often hostile attitude towards the group.
  • I identify strongly with being a cyclist and it has affected me in other areas of life, It has given me the confidence to push myself professionally. It gives me an outlet for frustrations and helps to keep my mental health where it should be. I feel calmer, stronger and happier when I ride.
  • Proud.
  • Genuinely happy.
  • We are brothers and sisters, something to be proud of and to share
  • It gives me an outlet away from work. It makes me feel relaxed.
  • It helps me relieve stress and pressure.

Another decent Saturday, time for an old favourite, a blast out along the Derwent Valley, then up through Snod’s Edge, dropping down to the Derwent Reservoir and then climbing up into Weardale, before retracing the route home.

In part this followed the route of Stage 4 of last year’s Tour of Britain. You remember, when cycle racing was an actual thing? I would later note that I’d climbed Burnmill Bank almost 4 minutes slower than Davide Cimolai, the Israel Start-up Nation sprinter. Bet he didn’t have to pull over half way up to let a tractor past, though.

At the top, it was time for a reprise of the Daffodil Lament, but this time for the actual flowers, whose brief, bright glory had waxed and quickly waned in the few weeks we’ve been huddled indoors trying to avoid a rampant epidemic. Now, their browned, crumpled and discoloured, desicated heads nodded rather sadly as I passed.

Down a long descent and past the turn-off for the Harry-Potteresque hamlet of Muggleswick, there’s a silver pick-up parked in the lane here with a “for sale” notice propped against the windscreen. I recall seeing it the last time I was out this way 3-weeks ago. With passing traffic being so light, I can’t help thinking its going to be there the next time I swing past too, no matter how much of a bargain it might be.

Shortly afterwards, I was entering the Land of the Prince Bishops and stopped for another of those interminable, but now obligatory bike-propped-up-against-landmark moments.

Into Edmundbuyers, I had to take evasive action to avoid three black-faced sheep trotting down the middle of the street. They seemed to have been lured down off the moors to investigate the eerily quiet and empty village. If they were looking for a wild time, I think they would have been disappointed, the pub in Edmunbuyers, aptly named The Baa, was closed.

I rumbled over the cattle grid and started climbing toward Stanhope, 8km at a 4% average, up, up and then up some more.

I don’t know if it was the relative absence of traffic on the route (it’s never exactly been a super-highway) or the weather, or time of year, but the sheep seemed to crowding the road much more than usual and there was the added complication of their skittish lambs getting spooked and darting about erratically.

Remembering Ovis’s hard won nickname and his disastrous close-encounter with ninja sheep, I tacked from side to side of the road in long arcs, trying to give my new ovine friends as much leeway and road space as possible.

As I started up, the moorland was alive with birdsong, continuous piping trills, occasionally interrupted by the long pee-whit call of lapwings. Try as I might, I never did spot their source

Halfway, and there was another obligatory stop for a bike and sign shot, this time proclaiming I was now entering Weardale. A little bit higher still, my ears popped and the wind picked up, just to add a chill edge to proceedings.

The bird song had died away, but an occasional flash of red helped me spot what I would later learn were male red grouse, scurrying through the gorse. The bright red wattle above their eyes was a dead give away in the drab and dun moorland. (I always want to refer to them as grice, following The Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell’s depictions of Prince Phillip.)

At the top, I swung off the road toward Blanchland, climbing to the highest point of the ride, before the long descent down toward the village. I missed my usual turn off on the drop down Bales Hill and found myself actually riding into Blanchland, where I was faced with two choices for climbing out again, the bitching 25% road heading north, or the slightly less bitching 16% hill heading west.

Yes, your right, that’s really no choice at all. I winched myself up the lesser slope and was soon on my way back toward Edmundbuyers.

Before getting there, I sneaked past the quarantine closed signs, into Pow Hill Country Park, finding a bench overlooking the reservoir for a quick rest and a fine repast of a cereal bar and some lukewarm water. Reading the information board, I discovered that Blanchland was built in the 18th century from the ruins of the medieval Premonstratensian monastic church.

I’ve never heard of Premonstratensian monks, apparently also known as the Norbertines, or the White Canons (from the colour of their habit). Wikipedia tells me they were (are?) a religious order of the Catholic Church founded in Prémontré near Laon in 1120 by Norbert of Xanten. Yes, that Norbert of Xanten.

No?

Me neither.

As Einstein sagely noted, “The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”

A fast descent down Burnmill Bank deposited me back on the valley floor and heading for home. Passing through Ebchester, I spotted a pair of cyclists from the Blaydon Club hammering away in the distance and picked up the pace to try and close them down.

I got near enough to see they were a couple, the man on the front driving the pace and the woman draughting close behind. The man was, as an old mate would say, “giving it beans” (I never did understand the origin of the phrase, but I think the intended meaning is clear) and the pair were travelling.

I caught them as we passed through Hamsterly, and tried to look cool as I breezed past, just before Lintzford. They caught and burned past me again heading into Rowlands Gill, then immediately swung left. They were home, I still had a few miles left. Hah! That’ll teach me to go all Red Max on complete strangers.

The chase had just about emptied the tank and I crawled up from Rowlands Gill to Burnopfield via Busty Bank, surprising myself by netting a completely unexpected PR on the way. I must have been really out of sorts the last time I venture up there. Then it was just a short hop, skip and jump along the Fell and I was done for another week.

Plague Diaries – Week#5

Plague Diaries – Week#5

I am a rock. I am an island.

It took 5 weeks, but finally the club tried a group ride on Zwift. I excused myself as soon as I learned they’d chosen to wear orange jersey’s and green socks for easy identification. Read that carefully. They. Chose. Green socks!

Shudder!

Seriously though, I’m with Mikel Landa, last seen on Twitter approaching his turbo trainer with an axe in hand and malicious, black intent in his heart. The indoor trainer is the very last resort for me, it’s there strictly for extreme weather, or if the lockdown ever becomes so stringent that you’re not allowed out for exercise.

Sadly then, I can’t report on the joys, or otherwise of group riding with Zwift, although someone else might step up to the mark if we’re lucky? Anyone? C’mon, don’t be shy …

Judging by the amount of social chatter it generated, it wasn’t the smoothest experience, but everyone seems committed to giving it another go, so there must be some benefit and it’s another way of filling the void.

As a reminder of what we’re missing, here’s another little dip into Thing#1’s survey of a typical North East road club ramshackle collective from her project on community groups, this time, responses to the question:

What makes the cycling community, or your road club special to you?

  • Camaraderie on rides.
  • Riding in a group is a shared effort – you put in effort that helps others, others put in effort that helps you. When you ride regularly with a group sometimes, you’re strong and can pull hard for the group, other times you appreciate the shelter of others. Either way sharing hard efforts and unforgiving weather brings people together.
  • I have made some great friends.
  • Common interest in cycling, good craic, fun.
  • Self-deprecation, humour, hiding, people always willing to push themselves.
  • Knowing that there will be a group to cycle with if I turn up at a certain time and place.
  • The members of my club, the humour we share and the general disregard of an extremely serious approach to riding (e.g. no endless discussion of gear ratios – boring! Or snobbishness towards those on sub £3k bikes).
  • The willingness to be critical of those who make decisions and think about what can be offered to those not members of the club.
  • The endless exploration of Northumbrian roads (often when not on official club rides).
  • The encouragement I got when I first joined opened up the wider range of disciplines of the sport.
  • It’s like extended family.
  • Camaraderie.
  • Enjoying the company of others.
  • I feel protected and loved.

Gosh, that almost brought a tear to my eye …

Saturday morning found me inadvertently going commando as I set out for a ride – I’d somehow forgotten to charge my Garmin and it was declaring a low battery as soon as I turned it on. Not wanting it to crap out halfway around my route, I left it on the kitchen bench and relied on the Strava app on my phone, tucked safely away in my back pocket.

I was riding then with no sense of pace, or distance and just a vague idea of the time of day. It was unusual and a little bit uncomfortable. Sadly, I have to confess I prefer having that sort of information to hand and I’ll make sure the Garmin is fully charged next week.

There was no consensus on the weather, Rainman and Richard of Flanders returned from (separate, I hasten to add!) rides and reported they were happy with their choice of full winter gear, while G-Dawg declared he went out in full summer kit and it was glorious, but we all know he’s not completely human. I tried a Tørm thick(ish) merino jersey, gloves, shorts, arm warmers and knee warmers. It was decidedly chilly on some of the descents and I certainly never felt over-dressed, so guess I got it just about right.

I had vague intentions of heading generally west, with no ultimate destination in mind. I crossed the river and made my way to Heddon-on-the-Wall, which, believe it or not, lies athwart the route of the Hadrian’s Wall, from which it takes its name. I know, hard to believe ….

There are even some remaining blocks of stone, like a knuckled, yellowed spine poking through the earth as a testament to the build quality of Roman fortifications, construction having been completed over 1,894 years ago.

I didn’t quite realise at the time, but the ancient Roman Empire was to provide a coherent theme running through my ride.

Just outside Heddon, I picked up a sign that said Chollerford was 15 miles distant and, in want of an actual plan I decided to make this my destination. I pointed my front wheel in that direction and rolled with it.

I was going to be travelling along the Military Road, something cyclists usually avoid as its typically fraught with HGV’s and speeding reckless motorists. If you’re going to ride it though, this is the perfect time as seemed totally bereft of traffic. Between passing Albermarle Barracks and the junction with the A68, some 20 kilometres later, I was passed by just two cars and a tractor.

All this way, the only company I had was the sun, sitting off my left-hand shoulder and my shadow on the ground to the right. My shadow was intent on remorselessly half-wheeling me, but I’m used to riding with the Red Max, so I’ve learned not to respond to such provocation.

The road was straight and true and heading almost directly westward, as good an example of a Roman road as I could imagine, and I definitely felt I was following in their footsteps. To be fair the signs were a bit of a giveaway too.

I was later surprised to learn the Military Road is not one of those things that the Romans had done for us, having been built in 1746 by Hanoverian soldiers heading up North to squabble with the Jacobites.

I also realised I was missing Taffy Steve, who I’m sure could have kept me entertained with a precisely recalled, pitch perfect rendition of the “what have the Roman’s ever done for us” scene from Monty Python’s, Life of Brian.

The only bit of this route I really recognised was dropping down toward Whittle Dene reservoir. I watched another cyclist anxiously scurry across at the junction ahead of me – the same as we have done on countless club runs, leery of speeding traffic suddenly appearing over the brow of the hills on either side.  I could feel his eyes tracking me as I reached the crossroads and didn’t turn to join him, but kept going straight up the Military Road. He probably thought I had some sort of death-wish.

(Oh, and I remember the Vallum café too, which for the past three years has been our traditional stop after the club hill climb.)

Finally, a long fast descent deposited me in Chollerford. To be honest, the journey was more rewarding than the destination. Even if it hadn’t been in lockdown, I’m not sure there’s a huge amount to see or do in Chollerford. I stopped on the bridge for a few pics of the North Tyne, turned round and headed back, looking for a sign that promised the road would take me to Hexham, where I could cross back to the south side of the river and home.

The North Tyne from Chollerford

Through the imaginatively titled village of Wall (guess what you can see there?)  and through the mean looking streets of Acomb, I picked up a cycle path that ran alongside the A69 before vaulting up and over on a light bridge seemingly enmeshed in chicken wire. I paused halfway across, brought to a stop by the sight of the A69 completely and utterly devoid of traffic in both directions.

An eerily quite A69 just outside Hexham

It was so quiet, I could probably have ridden it all the way home in complete safety, but I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t have endeared me to the few motorists who were actually out and about. It’s their road, don’t you know.

I crossed the river at Hexham and then had a pretty straight route, back down the valley and home, my only regret being the run was into a headwind all the way.

Home again and another enjoyable ride out. I saw less cyclists than I did last week, perhaps because the weather wasn’t as pleasant, and those I did see were riding solo, or from obvious family groups. Who knows, maybe the message is beginning to sink in.

I can’t help feeling better weather is just around the corner. Bring it on.


Dov’è il gabinetto?

Dov’è il gabinetto?

Club Run, 14th April 2019

My ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:110 km/69 miles with 996 m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Average Speed:25.2km/h
Group Size:29 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 10℃
Weather in a word or two:Expectedly cold?

Ride Profile

The forecast promised it would be cold, but the forecast also promised it would be bright and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky. Sadly, the forecast only got one of those things right … and from my perspective it was the wrong one.

Having commuting into work all week though, I knew what to expect. It would be a bitterly chill start, but would warm up later, so I planned accordingly, with bits and pieces I could discard as the temperature slowly increased toward the highs of, well … tolerable.

So gloves and glove liners, buff, headband, windproof jacket and Belgian booties on top of a thermal base layer and winter jacket. What I didn’t account for was my new helmet, which I’d been forced to buy to replace my vintage Uvex lid, after the rear cradle snapped. (To be honest, after 5 years of wear, I don’t think it owed me anything).

The new, helmet has a big vent in the crown which directs a super-chilled blast of cold air across the top of your head – great for the summer, but effective enough to have me considering a rethink of winter headwear.

My ride across was somewhat spoiled by new roadworks and traffic lights seemingly springing up all over. The worst were located halfway up my climb out of the valley, causing a somewhat awkward hill-start. Nonetheless, my timing was good and I manged to fit in a much needed pee-stop (the cold seemed intent on tap dancing over my old man’s bladder) and still arrive at the meeting point in good time.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Naturally, despite the extreme cold, the Garrulous Kid was wearing shorts and equally as naturally OGL declared he was quite mad. To be fair, his legs were an unhealthy shade of blue. Meanwhile, all around riders were huddled with their arms crossed protectively over their chests trying not to shiver and, in one or two instances, actually succeeding.

“It’s brassic,” the Ticker declared, a Geordie turn of phrase to describe extreme cold, rather than an expression of Cockney penury.

This drew him to the attention of the Garrulous Kid who turned round, looked at him and blurted out, “What’s that old thing?”

Quickly realising a potential faux pass, he quickly added, “the bike, I mean the bike!”

Indeed the Ticker was on a vintage steel Colnago, his good bike lying in pieces as he wrestles with replacing the bottom bracket and gives it a general spruce up.

With the Garrulous Kid heading seemingly heading north of the border to university and showing no great aptitude for cooking, we wondered just how much fast-food he would consume and whether he might return looking like Jabba the Hut.

We suspect he may fall under the thrall of that great Scottish culinary tradition Deep Fried … oh just about anything. OGL suggested the infamous Deep-Fried Mars bars had started out as a joke that then became reality, while the Colossus recalled one place when he was at university that offered to deep fry anything for £2, just as long as it fit in the fryer. 12″ pizza’s, creme eggs, doner kebab’s with all the trimmings, literally anything. I could audibly hear my arteries calcifying just at the thought.

Aether stepped up to deliver the route briefing, we split into two, agreed a rendezvous and away we went.


I dropped off the kerb and joined the front group as we formed up before the traffic lights released. Out on the roads, G-Dawg led alongside someone who bore a striking resemblance to Zardoz, but obviously couldn’t be Zardoz, as he’s fatally allergic to riding on the front. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Could it actually be Zardoz?

I checked the figure over for a nose-bleed caused by the rarefied air of being too far forward in the bunch. There didn’t seem to be any.

What about signs that Zardoz had been abducted by aliens and replaced with an exact replica? Hmm, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, but there were no obvious signs.

I couldn’t take the suspense any longer.”Who the hell’s that on the front?” I asked the Garrulous Kid in a voice loud enough to carry.

In reply, I got a deft, two-fingered salute from the mysterious figure. Well, well, well, it most definitely was Zardoz after all.

At the end of the lane the two of us nipped out in a small gap between the traffic, while everyone else was held up. I then found myself leading alongside Zardoz, as we soft-pedalled up the hill, allowing everyone to regroup behind.

On we pressed, discussing the incredible run of form displayed by Max Schachmann in the Tour of the Basque Country, his teammate and one of my favourite riders, perennial underdog Emu Buchmann, running up mountains, the potential for extreme chafing inherent in triathlons, whether youthful exercise bestows big capillaries in later life and the key, very important differences between an autopsy and a biopsy. The latter was of particular interest to Zardoz, who ruefully concluded, an autopsy is of no use to you whatsoever.

Swinging left onto Limestone Lane, we passed a caravan that had been parked up on the corner and I found myself barking with laughter as the Garrulous Kid wondered aloud if Biden Fecht (in his new guise as the Gypsy King) was about to emerge from its darkened interior and join us.



We made it to the end of Limestone Lane before Zardoz was persuaded to cede the front “and give everyone a rest.” We dropped to the back of the pack where we entertained ourselves giggling and complaining loudly at the sudden drop in pace and poor leadership of our substitutes on the front.

At one point, I found myself alongside the Garrulous Kid and learned that, as well as believing he’s now the clubs preeminent sprinter, he also thinks he’ll be a fantastic time-triallist. Well, he will be, once he “sorts out “some handlebar thingies.” Hopefully he won’t take advice from Crazy Legs, go to his LBS and demand strap-ons.

The Garrulous Kid then served notice that he’s serious and intent on entering the club 10 mile ITT this year, where he declared he would “easily” complete the course at an average speed of 28 mph.

Should he be as good as he thinks he is, that will be enough for him to post a time of 21 minutes, 25 seconds, which would comfortably eclipse last years winning time … by an entire two minutes and six seconds.

As well as suggesting I thought he was totally and completely delusional, I told the Garrulous Kid I’d actually be surprised if he managed to beat his contemporary and arch-rival (or perhaps the subject of his unrequited love?) the Monkey Butler Boy. Well, I guess we’ll see.

We cut across the Military Road, skirting Whittle Dene Reservoir where, once again, the banks were devoid of their usual contingent of anglers. That may be just as well, as the surface of the water was dotted with a bevy of swans, including a fair number in their ugly-duckling phase, with grey fluffy feathers still prominent amongst otherwise pristine and sleek white plumage.

We hauled ass up the hill to a small cluster of stone-built houses and a building site where a few more were under construction and we stopped to wait for the second group, before the split into longer and shorter rides.

Still blaming the cold, I wheeled slowly down the lane looking for a place to pee.

Again.

Leaning the bike against the hedge, I wandered through a gate, only to be met by a burly builder coming the other way. I was just about to retrace my steps when he called out,

“There’s a porta-potty up there, if you need a netty.”

I did, so I followed his instruction. How civilised, facilities good enough to even suit the Garrulous Kid, who never seems to be able to find anyplace in nature quite refined enough for his micturational tributes.

As I returned, mightily relived, I passed by Andeven. “Did that bloke just ask if you wanted a … a netty?” he asked.

I confirmed he had indeed.

“What’s that all about?”

I explained a netty is just the name for a toilet in the Geordie vernacular, although I must admit I haven’t heard it used in maybe 30 or more years. I do recall a school trip to southern Italy when the only phrase that seemed to stick amongst a dozen or so a teacher tired to force-feed us was, “dov’è il gabinetto?” – where is the toilet?

Or, as I perhaps mis-remember it, “dov’è il gabinetti?” – which perhaps hinted (wrongly, it would seem) at the etymology of the Geordie netty.

We didn’t have much longer to wait for our second group and we briefly coalesced, before splitting for different rides, longer and shorter, or faster and slower.

Once again, the longer route took us climbing up through the plantations, before we started the push toward Matfen. G-Dawg and Captain Black were on the front by the time we turned off for the Quarry and were immediately slapped in the face by a strong and bitterly cold headwind, that had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere.

It was a good time to hide in the wheels as the front pair battled manfully with both the incline and this sudden wind, dragging us to the top of the climb. Off we set for the cafe and, as usual the pace started to ramp up.

We’d been pulled into a single line as we hit the horrid drag up to the crossroads and started burning through riders at a high rate as they pushed through and then, just as quickly faltered and slipped back. I took a pull on the front and led up and over the crossroads, dropped behind Buster on the twisting descent, then took over again as we took a sharp left and drove up to the final junction.

Those contesting the sprint whistled past, but there was no clean break this week, so I tagged onto the back as seven or eight of us, in a tight, compact knot, hustled down toward the bends. Even if I’d wanted to attack (and I didn’t and probably couldn’t) I was boxed in and there was nowhere to go, so I eased and let the gap grow before sweeping through the Snake Bends and on to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Kermit mentioned entering a race on Zwift and being surprised by the sudden, massive injection of balls-to-the-wall pace as soon as the virtual gun went off, or the virtual flag dropped, or however else they virtually start these virtual things. From my (admittedly limited) experience of actual racing, I have to say this sounds remarkably realistic.

I mentioned the dark rumours that Zwift were alleged to be sniffing around pro races and wanted to hold a “virtual prologue” for one of them. I was horrified by the suggestion, but Rab-Dee thought it could be interesting, although he admitted they might need to add some rider jeopardy and randomness to make it more televisual.

He was also worried that the upcoming Paris-Roubaix wasn’t difficult enough and was willing to apply the same techniques to this. Top of the list were spring-loaded cobbles, optional paths that riders have to choose, only one of which didn’t end in a punji pit and giant balls that would periodically bounce across the track, taking out the odd unlucky rider.

Kermit mentioned he was away next week to tackle the MOD Rocker, a sportive over the Army ranges around Otterburn. He thought he’d probably ride solo this year to avoid people barrelling precipitously through the feed-stations for a faster time, or deliberately hanging back at the start to be last through the timing gate, just so when you finish in a bunch they can claim to have ridden faster than you. Bad sportive etiquette and proof some people take things far too seriously.


On the way back I caught up with Taffy Steve, who is in the throes of replacing his thrice cursed winter bike with a Blessèd Beneficent Boardman (All praise Saint Chris!) He explained his sudden impetus for the change came when, freewheeling downhill alongside the Garrulous Kid, he could only watch in utter horror as the Garrulous Kid slipped slowly away from him.

As he declared, no other rider works quite so hard, so diligently and make so many sacrifices in order to maintain optimum descending weight in an attempt to maximise gravitational pull. He’s hoping a change in bike, to something that will offer less rolling resistance and run a little freer, will help him regain descending preeminence.

We had a chat about new hats too, having himself invested in a new helmet with MIPS. I complained about the vent in the top of my helmet that was freezing my scalp and the magnetic catch on the straps that I still hadn’t quite mastered. This in itself was enough to put Taffy Steve off the helmet as he declared all magnetism was witchcraft, totally unfathomable and inexplicable.

Starting from near the back as we hit Berwick Hill and the front group accelerated away, I found myself riding alongside G-Dawg as we tried to close them down.

“This could get hard,” muttered a prescient G-Dawg , just as we rounded a corner and found ourselves battering into a brutal headwind.

We dug in and ground our way over the top and then I set out downhill to try and I close the gap on the front group. Once again, I couldn’t quite bridge the last few metres and this time, there was no Monkey Butler Boy on a TT-bike to tow me across, but a flying Taffy Steve served just as well. He blew past, I latched onto his wheel and that was that. Job done.

Predictably last weeks “good” legs didn’t deign to hang around too long and I was starting to tire as we swung around the airport. As we entered the Mad Mile, I let the front group slip away and started to pick my way home solo, especially looking forward to the last leg with its predicted full on headwind.

Before that though, there was one more call of nature to attend to. I’m still blaming the cold and don’t quite feel ready to challenge either the Prof or the Plank in the smallest, leakiest bladder competition. Well, not quite yet anyway.


YTD Totals: 2,368 km / 1,471 miles with 31,797 metres of climbing

Nipple Knockers and Mods vs. Rockers

Nipple Knockers and Mods vs. Rockers

Club Run, Saturday 25th August, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km / 67 miles with 1,038 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 3 minute

Average Speed:                                26.5 km/h

Group size:                                         33 riders, 2 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    18°C

Weather in a word or two:          Chilly


 

nipknock
Ride Profile


A chilly start to the day and as I dropped downhill, gradually picking up speed I was glad of the arm warmers and long fingered gloves I’d dug out of deep storage.

First to arrive at the meeting point, I clambered up to sit on the wall, enjoying the deceptive warmth in the shelter of the Transport Interchange’s (i.e. Bus Station) micro-climate.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Szell was the first of my riding companions to arrive climbing stiffly off his bike and complaining of a stiff back which he felt was an occupational hazard common to all dentists.

Odd, as he’s not a dentist …

Oh, ok, I lied, he is really.

We had a discussion about holidays and I admitted the only thing remotely akin to cycling I’d managed in the past week was piloting a pedalo (badly) through a flotilla of yachts, speedboats and ferries.

In complete agreement with Mrs. Sur la Jante, Szell firmly declared that family vacations were not for cycling and he was always bemused when talk about a forthcoming holiday was interrupted by the inevitable “are you taking your bike?” query.

I told him I was largely detached in holiday destination selection and trip planning anyway, so I typically had a poor grasp of any cycling opportunities that could be on offer – my only tasks are to book the time off work and act as porter for numerous suitcases full of clothes, which invariably returned home in the same clean, unworn and uncreased state they left in.

Szell proved quite envious of my approach, seemingly in contrast to his own, where he does all the choosing, booking, preparations and arrangements, solely to provide his missus with a surfeit of ammunition to complain, berate, castigate and criticise all of his choices for the entire duration of their holiday.

The Red Max rolled up and added his own unique spin on the conversation – he has a whole three-weeks lined up in Spain (with bikes!) but he doesn’t go until the temperature is manageable and still has a seven long, long weeks to wait.

Everyone had responded to the chilly start to the day with a varied selection of gloves, arm warmers, legwarmers, jackets and gilet’s. Crazy Legs had taken things one step further, with winter boots, tights and gloves, a long-sleeved jacket, a gilet and a buff pulled up to his sunglasses to cover the lower half of his face. He looked like the Invisible Man, or at least a set of clothes the Invisible Man would be proud to be seen in. All apparently an attempt to, once and for all, rid himself of his lingering chest infection.

Spoons had bravely volunteered to plan and lead the ride and began outlining the route, reading from a carefully prepared crib sheet on his phone “Up Broadway West and …”

He was immediately and rudely interrupted by the return of the Lone Dissenting Voice. “Nah, nah,  not Broadway,” it snarled, “It’s bloody lethal. Lethal! I’m not going up Broadway!”

Odd. I’ve been on countless rides where the Lone Dissenting Voice has led us merrily up Broadway West. Still, it’s a free country and everyone’s entitled to change their mind, I guess.

Spoons managed to complete the route outline without further interruption and a bumper mass of 33 riders (minus 1 exception) agreed to split, intending to rendezvous and regroup at the top of the Quarry.


I joined a disappointingly small, eight man front group and off we went, navigating up Broadway West, with great caution, huge amounts of trepidation and much muttering, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti …”

Having negotiated the road, surprisingly without incident or grievous harm, I fell into conversation with the Monkey Butler Boy. He said he was only going to accompany us for a short while, en route to meeting up with his callow Wrecking Crew, then they were off to tackle the Gibbet, a famous local climb just outside Elsdon.

Although marked by an actual, reconstructed gibbet, the gallows marking the spot – where local ne’er-do-well and murderer William Winter was hanged in 1792 – there’s nothing particularly murderous about the climb and I was surprised by the Monkey Butler Boy’s claim he’d never ridden it before.

(The Red Max would later suggest that, “once again” the Monkey Butler Boy was talking complete and utter nonsense and had in fact tackled the climb on numerous occasions.)

The Monkey Butler Boy swept away and I dropped in alongside Richard of Flanders, as Caracol and Rab Dee set a furious pace on the front. Spoons and Benedict took over from them and then, as we approached Fenwick and turned both uphill and into the wind, it was suddenly our turn on the front.

Perfect timing. Thanks guys.

As I pushed on alongside Richard of Flanders, I was describing my latest work, improving ailing University courses and supporting the development of new ones. This, I explained had given me some hard-earned knowledge (but little understanding) of an eclectic range of subjects, such as Mechatronic Engineering, Cryptocurrencies,  Merkle Trees and Animal Energetics.

Richard suggested things had changed rapidly since his days working in the Potteries, when every other client was a Nipple Knocker. Now he felt this much-storied profession was dying out, overtaken by sadly prosaic job titles such as Search Engine Optimisation Engineer.

He started to expound on the historical, philosophical, economic, social and nationalistic characteristics that might explain why the French seemed particularly interested in Robotics courses, before stopping mid-sentence to laugh at himself, “Listen to me, talking shite.”

He then declared that there was no greater pleasure than “talking shite on a bike” which we’ve found has particular synergies with talking shite in the pub, or talking shite over coffee and cake.

“This,” I explained, “Is the quintessential essence of club cycling. Talking shite on a bike is what keeps us coming back week, after week, after week.”

We then both commented on how odd it was to be approaching the Quarry climb relatively fresh and early, rather than toward the end of the ride, after much leg-shredding and as a prelude to a mass café gallop.


nknock


Then we were grunting and groaning up the ramps as we took the group up to the top. Here we settled in to wait for the rest, but after long minutes, with no one in sight, we started to imagine the worst and concluded that the second group had probably been decimated while trying to negotiate the acute, but well-hidden perils of Broadway West.

Rab Dee reckoned they’d all been picked off, one by one, in a macabre game of devil-take-the-hindmost, while Caracol imagined a series a floral, roadside shrines spaced at intervals along the route, each marking the final resting place of a fallen comrade, before culminating in a grandiose tomb for the Lone Dissenting Voice, bearing a simple, but pithy epitaph: “See, I told you it was lethal.”

We filled in some time discussing new bikes. Rab Dee has one he was using for the first time today, while Caracol had a new winter bike and had sentenced his old one to life on the turbo. This had him pondering the value of Zwift as a potential training aid.

I told him to ask Crazy Legs, who had used something similar and reported riding the Oslo World Championship course, in splendid isolation from the comfort of his own garage, but also, simultaneously in collective-cyberspace with a bunch of virtual strangers.

He’d ended up laughing at himself for futilely flicking out an elbow to try and get one of them to come through and do a turn on the front, before realising he was still in his garage, there was no one behind him to come through and no matter how professional his elbow waggling looked, no one could actually see it.

An amused Caracol wondered if he had also taken the time to point out any old oil spills or stray nails that might have been lurking on the garage floor.

After a long, long wait, we determined our second group had in fact encountered problems along the way, or had simply decided to take to different roads, so we pressed on without them.

We then took a circuitous route through Capheaton and up to Wallington. Richard of Flanders, Keel and Zardoz headed straight through to Middleton Bank from there, while the rest of us climbed up to Scots Gap before looping back to the hill.

When we got there, a frisky Caracol blasted away, with Rab Dee in hot pursuit, while the rest of us were left to follow as best we could.

Alongside Benedict, I caught up with a waiting Rab Dee as we crossed the top of the hill and, as the road levelled, we found ourselves with Caracol a distant speck in front and Spoons a similar distance behind. Our choices were simple, to wait, to chase, or to stay where we were, hanging somewhere between the two.

After a fairly lengthy consideration, we decided to chase (sorry, Spoons) and set off in pursuit of Caracol. With Rab Dee pushing on the front, we slowly reeled in our front runner, while I sat at the back, just about hanging on.

We were all together for the sweep around Bolam Lake and the swoop through Milestone Woods. Then we hit the rollers and I attacked up the first slope … because … well, because I always do. This gave Caracol and Rab Dee a springboard to slingshot around me as my legs inevitably failed on the last slope and while I chased hard, I had no chance of narrowing the gap on the final climb to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Red Max reported that the Lone Dissenting Voice had indeed rejected the planned route and led a splinter group away from the perils of Broadway West – the splinter group consisting of exactly one, single, solitary rider.

I can neither deny, nor confirm rumours that the Lone Dissenting Voice still found something to argue about, even as he rode off in his own company.

Crazy Legs then said a new guy had shown up just as the second group were pulling out and asked to join on. He had apparently “seen people riding in a group before” which Crazy Legs took as a tacit admission that he hadn’t actually done it himself.

The new guy, let’s call him Joe (simply because I understand that’s his actual name) seemed to be doing fine, until he showed a remarkable affinity for spelunking and drawn in by the lure of a deep, unfathomable pothole, planted his wheel in it, smashing down and fracturing his collarbone.

Emergency services and concerned-partner calls were made and Crazy Legs, Carlton and a delegation hung back to look after our fallen rider until the ambulance arrived, while the rest of the group pressed on. At some point the LDV had sailed past and away, I’m not sure what words were emitted at this point, but I do know his contributions were not well received.

Further mishap then befell the group, when Crazy Legs suffered a stupidly close punishment pass from a motorcyclist, tangled handlebars with Carlton and came down. Luckily his much cossetted Ribble managed to escape without harm, while Crazy Legs collected a few bruises and scratches, a hole in his leggings (which he thought added street cred) and a stinger from landing heavily on his side.

(For the sake of clarity, it’s worth pointing out that neither of these incidents occurred anywhere near Broadway West, although our mindless transgression of its sacred boundaries may have accrued the bad karma that contributed to them.)

I told the Red Max that Crazy Legs has form when it came to tangling with motorcyclists, remembering his game of chicken with the Harley Hogs when descending the Galibier at speed. We wondered (purely theoretically, of course) what the consequences of a more physical confrontation might have been had the motor cyclist bothered to stop to survey the damage he’d caused.

Crazy Legs was quite sanguine about his chances, suggesting cyclists were lighter and more nimble, so he could easily sway out of the way of jumbo haymakers and quickly jab back. He also felt if he could somehow bring the biker down, it would be game over – like a tortoise on its back, or an unhorsed knight in armour, there be no getting back up.

The Red Max appeared to support these fantastical delusions, insisting many cyclists and bikers shared a mid-life crisis engendered by the onset of inherent lardiness, but we channelled ours into physical activity that would directly address the issue, while they channelled theirs into a more sedentary activity that would simply exacerbate it.

Giving the cyclist vs. biker (or mods vs. rockers, if you will) fight-scenario far greater consideration than was justified, Crazy Legs concluded that his slippery cleats would put him at a disadvantage and determined it would be better to fight in his stockinged feet. This, he assured us, would be OK, as he would appeal to the sporting nature of his adversary and politely request that he too remove any footwear, in the interests of fairness.

Quite how he was going to land his punches through the letter box sized visor of a full face helmet I never did get a satisfactory answer to, luckily someone decided it was time to leave.


I joined a small group for the ride back, progressing at a sensible, sustained pace which was ideal for my tired legs that appeared to be suffering a holiday hangover.  A larger group had coalesced in front of us, but no one had any inclination to chase them down and the gap simply expanded until we could no longer see them on the road.

As we set our own, comfortable pace back, I dropped in beside Sneaky Pete for a quick chat and learned that the heatwave is officially over, as he revealed he’d taken to wearing long trousers instead of shorts for the first time in 3 months.

Oh well, it’s been a good run…


YTD Totals: 5,014 km / 2,814 miles with 61,645 metres of climbing

Filth

Filth

Club Run, Saturday 21st January, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  95 km/59 miles with 624 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 11 minutes

Average Speed:                                22.6 km/h

Group size:                                         18 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    5°C

Weather in a word or two:          Grim


 

ride-28-jan
Ride profile


The Ride:

At the last minute I swapped the windproof winter jacket for the waterproof, windproof and slightly thicker version and as I dropped down the hill, lashed with freezing cold rain I began to suspect it had been a wise choice. The day was grey, dank and miserable with the cloud closed in tight, shrouding the hill tops and dulling all the light.

I had an uneventful jaunt across to the meeting place, arriving early enough that the only person already there and waiting was the Garrulous Kid, standing outside and being rained on. I indicated I was heading to the shelter of the car park and invited him to join me there. We’d all be soaked through soon enough, I couldn’t see the point in hastening the discomfort.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

The Prof arrived, peering uncertainly through ultra-dark Raybans to try and make out the faces sheltering in the gloom of the multi-storey. OGL suggesting his choice of eye-wear wasn’t best suited to the conditions, while G-Dawg expressed concern that he might have a dangerously myopic Prof trying to ride on his wheel.

The Prof tried to justify his clothing choice with an erudite quote and asked, “What was that thing John Hurt said?”

“Probably nothing, or maybe just urgh?” I suggested, reflecting on the actors very recent demise.

OGL volunteered Spike Milligans self-penned epitaph, “See, I told you I was ill,” but neither selection was met with any great appreciation by the Prof, who instead started wittering something about being gay and wearing pink shirts. Who knows?

OGL started to tell me about servicing some sturdy mountain bike and taking the big, 1½” headset apart to find there were only 3 ball-bearings left inside. I kind of lost the thread of the conversation after that, as I was left wondering how the bearings had disappeared from inside a sealed unit. I’ll never understand bikes.

The Red Max rolled up sans the Monkey Butler Boy, who he said had been laid low with a bad illness after skipping the club run last week in favour of a trip to the theatre. I suggested he was probably suffering from culture shock and concluded no good would ever come of cyclists dabbling with the liberal arts.


Having hung around long enough for all the brave and the good and true to join our merry throng, we decided it was time to set off and I followed the Prof as we led another 15 lads and lasses out into the grim weather.

Safely negotiating the first set of traffic lights, I almost came to grief, garrotted by a dog leash as an owner blindly hustled his pooch across the road against the lights.

A little further on and Richard of Flanders joined us, slipping across the road from the opposite carriageway and slotting in beside me on the front for the first part of the ride.

As we turned out of Brunton Lane a mass of blinking lights in the distance signalled the approach of another club and I suspect for the next few miles we may have merged to form one extraordinarily long, super-peloton – no doubt much to the delight of any following motorists. Or at least that’s what I’m guessing happened, as I was quite removed from things at the head of affairs. Anyway, none of the other riders passed us, so I’m guessing they were comfortable with the pace we were setting on the front, at least until they could find a place to turn off and pursue their own ride.


filty


Up towards the airport, the verge at the side of the road had been well mangled by the less than careful passage of some poorly driven, large and heavy vehicle, patterning the grass with deep tyre-treads and spreading a thick carpet of muddy divots across the kerb and into our path.

Carefully negotiated, we then hit Dinnington to find the road was even worse, though thankfully this was largely confined to the opposite, southbound lane. Here traffic, to and through a building site, had left the road buried under a thick carpet of slippery, slimy, claggy mud and assorted effluvium. This was the road we’d been forewarned about last week and had deliberately avoided. Now, if anything it was perhaps worse and we made quick plans to alter our route back and avoid being sprayed by whatever dubious coating had turned the road such a deeply unpleasant colour, or worse, slipping and crashing down into a slick of frozen slurry.

With Richard of Flanders railing about the duty of care construction sites are actually obliged to afford the local environment, we pressed on in search of more welcoming and less problematic road surfaces.

As we made our way toward Shilvington, we agreed we’d done our fair share on the front and on cue we split to either side to wave the next pair through. I drifted slowly back down the outside of our line, looking for an opportunity to tuck back into the wheels, but only after carefully assessing each bikes mudguards, or lack thereof.

A space opened up invitingly behind G-Dawg, but one look at his short, seat-post mounted sliver of hard plastic positioned a good hands span above his rear tyre and I kept drifting, finally slotting in behind Jimmy Mac and his much more expansive protection.

After the briefest of stops, we pushed on again, with OGL determined to make a bee-line straight for the café in the face of the cold, dank and miserable weather. As we all turned that way I began to suspect, for the first time I could remember, we were all going to head straight in for coffee and cake.

G-Dawg had other ideas however and took a group of us off for a more extended loop around Bolam Lake, adding at a few more miles and a bit of climbing to our totals for the day. Nevertheless, this was to prove one of our shorter club runs.

As this longer, harder faster group approached the final climb, I could sense Biden Fecht trapped on the inside and eager to get out as the pace increased. With a shouted, “Come on, then!” I eased slightly and allowed gap to open so he could nip through. It was a manoeuvre I thought we accomplished with some aplomb, but unfortunately my slackening coincided with Son of G-Dawgs attack.

I was blissfully unaware of this, as he twitched violently aside at the last moment from what in aviation terms would be a very, very near miss and used the adrenaline fuelled horror of nearly running into my back wheel to catapult off the front.

G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg and Biden Fecht whirred away to contest the sprint, a detached Geordie Shaw gave chase, while I led home the rest of our splintered group.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Son of G-Dawg said he was already getting twitchy and looking ahead to setting aside the winter hack and being able to unleash his good bike, but I suspect winter isn’t done with us yet.

In the meantime, he admitted to being tempted by new direct-drive turbo that incorporates an integral freewheel, so you don’t need specialist tyres and its quick and easy to set up. As he described it, I couldn’t help but be impressed with his eidetic recall of the marketing hyperbole being used to promote the thing.

I suggested he was a marketeers dream and wondered which phrases in particular had resonated with him.

“Elite?” I suggested.

“Yes.”

“Fluid technology?”

“Yes.”

“Transmission belt?”

“Check.”

“Torque meter?”

“Yes, that too, but the thing that really swayed it … was the internal lasers!”

Lasers. Now I understood and so did every bloke at the table, as we all discovered we had a pressing need for a new turbo.

Jimmy Mac extolled the virtues of Zwift, which he said now lets you ride everywhere, including inside a volcano, or under the sea. He said you could even get it to simulate Classic routes like Paris-Robubaix.

“Or,” I suggested, “you can really turn it up a notch and select a club run through Northumberland.”

“When it will immediately simulate smashing your front wheel into a pothole and rip your chain off.” Son of G-Dawg added.

We then wondered if you could employ people to periodically douse you with buckets of freezing, muddy water for the full effect.

G-Dawg sought advice to try and sort out a malfunctioning rear shifter, discovered out on a ride where he found he could only change up and never down. He’d ended up having to stop and move the chain manually – once his legs began whirring round like a demented washing machine but still failed to generate any traction.

Funnily enough, after careful testing he found his front shifter works fine. I was quite surprised by this, given that he only uses it about twice a year, I thought it may have atrophied and dropped off.


We left the café in dribs and drabs of different groups, all with their own plans for avoiding the mud slick in Dinnington.

Our group was the last to leave and like last week, opted for an alternative loop around Stamfordham – slightly longer and hillier, but hopefully a little less dirty.

As we rode out, I found myself riding behind Geordie Shaw and wondering why his bike was making a loud rumbling noise and why he was so intent on riding out of the saddle. I finally twigged that he’d had a rear puncture and was just trying to escape off the main road before stopping to make repairs.

There then followed one of those priceless moments that remind me why I love club runs so much, as half a dozen blokes stood around in the freezing cold and icy rain, talking a complete and utter, but fantastically entertaining load of auld bolleaux™

It started when Geordie Shaw found the cause of his puncture, one of our special, super-tough, steel-tipped thorns, which laugh in the face of Kevlar puncture-protection strips. Having trouble removing this, I recalled how the Red Max had helped me out of a similar predicament by supplying a pair of needle-nosed pliers from the depths of his portable workshop buried in his bottomless bag of tricks.

When this failed to work, he’d resorted to removing the thorn with his teeth, while the large contingent of dentists our club seems to attract, looked on either with concern, or in gleeful anticipation of some expensive, restorative dental work.

[Since we had a diversion last week to discuss the collective noun for monkeys, I feel a similar need to identify one for dentists. The best suggestions so far are either a “brace” – or my own particular favourite, an “amalgam” of dentists.]

We decided that from now on the only truly manly way to deal with embedded thorns was with your teeth: clench, suck and spit – sort of like how crusty old cowboys tackle a rattlesnake bite, cutting a big X in the skin to suck the poison out.

Still struggling to remove the thorn, G-Dawg played Daniel to Geordie Shaw’s lion, suggesting using something to help push the offending splinter out. And lo! We discovered the only possible use for the 2mm Allen Wrench on a bike multi-tool.

This, I suggested was a great breakthrough for all cycling kind, its only drawback being the 2mm wide, perfectly symmetrical and hexagonal hole it left drilled through the surface of your tyre.

In a brief discussion about tyres, Son of G-Dawg revealed that his choice of winter tyre, Vredestein All-Weather, All Seasons, recommended inflation to a minimum 170 psi. I don’t think my track pump could even handle that kind of pressure and I’d be worried about it blowing out my rims!

We decided what Son of G-Dawg was probably riding were hand-made, silk, track tyres and only remotely “all weather” and “all seasons” if you only rode with them in a climate-controlled indoor velodrome. Jimmy Mac suggested even then, they’d probably recommend you replaced them every 500 metres.

As Geordie Shaw set to with his mini pump, the conversation turned to C02 canisters and how much pressure they would put into a tyre, which Son of G-Dawg reckoned was about 80 psi, but warned they were a bit hit and miss and only seemed to work effectively half the time.

“Plus, you can freeze your hand to the rim.” He added.

“And have to piss on it to release it.” I concluded helpfully.

Working frenetically to push air into his tyre, Geordie Shaw declared he felt the weather was changing and starting to warm up. I simply gestured at his strenuous upper-body work out, while G-Dawg stated it was probably the hardest he’d worked all day.

“You’re going to look at your maximum heart-rate spike on Strava and realise it wasn’t in the sprint, or climbing the steepest hill, but when you were trying to inflate your tyre,” he suggested.

Finally back under way, I had time to check with Carlton how his cheap gloves had held up last week. The verdict was pretty good and as he said, “Who needs Castelli when you have a Jet Service Station.”

Feeling much better than the previous week and without De Uitheems Bloem driving the pace up and beyond unbearable, I swung off for home having thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the atrocious weather.


YTD Totals: 518 km / 322 miles with 5,426 metres of climbing