Group Therapy

All three groups together

All three groups together

Our club organised their first Reliability Ride for August from Dumfries across to Bridge of Dee, Loch Ken then Corsock. It was a bit later than the traditional time in Spring but enjoyable nonetheless and different from our usual club runs.

We divided into 3 groups – 15, 17 and 19mph average over 55 miles. It’s definitely different riding in a group to a set time. Unlike club runs you suddenly become aware of a collective goal driving the pedals around which everyone in your group is responsible for – MAKING YOUR TIME!

Group One looking rather pleased with themselves!

Group One looking rather pleased with themselves!

I rode in the 19 group and I never felt we were on top of our average speed…it seemed to constantly elude us. It certainly made for an interesting ride and I found us talking more tactics than we ever would on a normal Saturday. We tried through and off, someone at the front riding tempo and, for the final section, two guys at the front drilling it. We certainly sounded like the crossest cycling group in Scotland at times with some choice expletives especially along the Loch Ken section.

anxiety eased - we made our time

anxiety eased – we made our time

Unbeknownst to us at the time, our anxiety was nothing compared to the 17 group who suffered 4 or 5 flats. This would be enough to have you heaving your bike over a dyke but it didn’t puncture their resolve or their motivation and they arrived with 17.7 on their garmins…chapeau. They had the biggest group which can bring its own problems.

f*** another puncture!

f*** another flat!

Cool as cucumbers were the 15 group who we passed on the Loch Ken. They seemed to be gliding along unworried and well organised.

We finished the official part of the ride at Pringles Pub in Corsock – great grub and I discovered people more fond of cake than myself. I enjoyed the day and the way that your own efforts are part of a bigger purpose.



What place for the Local Bike Shop in the carnivorous internet market place? The Clubman spent time away from his laptop/credit card to talk to the owners of two Dumfries bikeshops and found the human contact refreshing.IMG_1426

Like most cyclists I spend a fair amount of time internet browsing for components, clothing and (with the laptop discretely angled away from Mrs McG) my next bike. I have my favourite sites for purchasing. My number one at the moment is Merlin Cycles. They don’t have the range or massive stock of Wiggle but their customer care is excellent with impressive speed of delivery. I’m also a fan of SJS Cycles for the little bits and pieces you sometimes think you’ll never find.

Some of my fellow club riders are expert Online bargain hunters – they should be on breakfast TV with their skills. I can’t remember how many conversations I’ve heard on a club run which involve eBay bargains for cassettes, headsets or ‘genuine’ Oakley glasses. Most employers seem concerned about their workers using social media sites. If they found out how much time we roadies spend searching for the best wheel-set or a decent saddle, they’d be praising tweeters for their restraint!IMG_1425


The old jigs are the best

Kirkpatrick Cycles has been Dumfries’s LBS for as long as I can remember. Those of us old enough will know that it was run for many years by Bob Forteath. I bought one of my first road bikes from him. The shop was an aladdin’s cave of new, old and ancient cycling bric-a-brac. In fact I’m sure I once spotted the genie pricing some down-shifters before re-vapourising into his lamp. Bob was everything you’d expect from an LBS even offering you his tools to borrow for a tricky job.IMG_1421Bob sold the business on to young bike enthusiast Ross Anderson a couple of years ago. For a young man, Ross shows plenty of astuteness. He’s re-organised Bob’s cave but cleverly retained it’s essential character. When you step into Kirkpatrick Cycles you know you’re in a proper bike shop. Old iconic frames nestle amongst modern components.IMG_1418What you notice immediately is how the shop is dominated by Ross’s work area. And that’s one of the essentials of the LBS, a good mechanic. I was telling Ross he’s already got a reputation amongst local cyclists for his mechanical skills and wheel building. The LBS is all about reputation.

Ross treats the compliment modestly but he is clearly hard-working. When I ask him about the LBS versus the Internet Bike Shop he emphasises the importance of personal contact. He can’t match the mark up on bike costings but he’ll be at his work station till 10pm and in the next day at 8am working on that bike you bought online. (biggest problems? cyclists using Muck Off on their headsets).IMG_1474

Across the river Andrew Grant runs another drop by LBS – DG2 Wheels. He’s assiduously built up his business since 2009, expanding every year. At any one time he has over 100 bikes in stock (I loved about 99% of them). He tells me road bikes and hybrids are now easily out-selling mountain bikes and that female customers are in the ascendancy.

DG2 is quite a contrast to Kirkpatrick Cycles. The large airy unit has none of the old bike shop claustrophobia. Although it is decked out with brand new bikes (Focus, Raleigh plus rising star, Moda) and glistening components, Andrew’s approach to his shop is as traditional as Ross over at Kirkpatrick Cycles.


The emphasis is on the personal approach to bike buying and servicing. Andrew argues he doesn’t sell bikes but rather ‘helps people to buy a bike…’ Purchasing a bike is about answering many questions; purpose, fit, material and crucially, after-sales.

Both Ross and Andrew concede the power of the internet bike shop but stress that sometimes buying a bike online is risky. The bike needs to be set up and then looked after through proper servicing and that means a mechanic you can rely on…that means the LBS. And what if you need something quickly – some cabling inners? Spokes? wheel truing? Imagine there wasn’t a LBS for all of those necessities which keep you on the road?


We are well served with Local Bike Shops in the South-west. I’m an internet bike browser but I also like to go somewhere for a browse or a hunt for the right spacer or the right tool for Campagnolo chain-sets or just for a chat about biking. Long live the LBS.

One Day in a Hundred

Every now and again you have a day on the bike which turns out to be the opposite of what you expected.

Criffel brooding in the distance

Alert! This morning started with a change in the weather forecast. Not admittedly on a par with Michael Fish and the great storms in 1987. But wrong enough for you to think twice about cycling. It was supposed to be dry and cold but this was undermined by the torrential hale storms battering the roofs as I toasted my bagel. The weatherman was saying things like ‘this thick cloud is snow’ and ‘long icy stretches in the south-west’ as though he was surprised. One day I am going to take those guys to court for the amount of times they’ve made my heart sink an hour before a ride.

A quick rethink of cycling clothes and I made my way down the road for early miles with some of the boys. The Bankend road was different from what I was expecting. Huge floods from the fields left the road submerged. I was wishing my bike had a persicope! As well as the standing water which made our route resemble a drowned world, there was fast running water everywhere and riding parallel with the swollen Nith, it was hard to tell where land ended and river began.

The watery flatlands of the Solway

I had a feeling in my creeking knees that somehow today was going to be different. We then had two punctures in quick succession. As always, puncture repair always brings out the best repartee from cyclists and this morning we were blessed. We had one cyclist who worked on the nearby Caerlaverock wildlife Reserve and the other a Farmer. Plenty of conflicting comments on wild life. I tried to chip in by telling them I could do a great Hooper Swan call.

Hooper or Whooper?

The problem was…no such bird exists but the Whooper swan does! These elegant birds were then described by the farmer as ‘huge footed vermin…’ So it went on.

With the double puncture blow, we missed the main club run by over 15 minutes. Was the next 3 hours going to be spent exchanging wildlife insults? I suggested we rode the route sensibly as cycling can be a funny old sport and you never know what’s up the road. Perhaps the main group were having similar problems (with punctures and flooding as opposed to Autumn Watch trade-offs).

Having coped with the deluge around Bankend we then headed over to Beeswing ( a quiet road punctuated by a serene loch on our right). No deluge but unbelievably we encountered snow. We could see the main group’s tyre tracks woven ahead of us as we rode in single file. This bitter enemy of the cyclist helps improve your butt clenching muscles. Luckily it was turning to slush when we arrived.

What? flooding, snow, sun and then a massive flock of oncoming sheep…are you making this up?

Then the sun came out triumphantly. I said to the boys we’ve seen it all today and one replied ‘Except fire.’ Let’s not tempt it. Trying to stuff a flapjack in mouth at the time I noticed red markings round the foil. My mouth had started bleeding. I know I’m a glutton but I didn’t realise I needed my jaws re-configured.

We met up with some of the Club near Corsock including my old cycling mucker, Harky who told me he’d ordered his new Cervelo. I was pleased for him but readers please also see one of my previous posts on Bike Envy.

We rode down Corsock Moor. I don’t dislike anything in cycling apart from the descent off that moor. Why? Well the bike busting cattle grid, the stones, leaves, blind corners and creeping verges are reason enough but the biggest source of dislike must be that in the many years I have cycled over that descent, the road has NEVER been dry.

after the sheep attack…Brian and Ian

Just as we reached the bottom we were met by a bizarre sight; a huge flock of sheep funneling up the narrow road towards us. We jumped up onto the high verges. Our journey was nearly over. I said it was not so much Three Men in Boat as Four Men on a Bike except that one of us was missing. Colin had got ahead of the sheep attack. We battered along Irongray to catch him but he had literally disappeared! Missing poster needed.

Cycling into town, the dark clouds were gathering again for another ration of rain. I got home before the afternoon showers arrived. Over a bowl of homemade soup I could only laugh. Every one in a hundred days do you get a ride like this – all the seasons rolled into one, punctures, a bloodied mouth and wildlife up close – an entertaining way to cycle those winter miles. We’ll be on time for the next Club Run!

Grinning on the way home through the lens flare – John, Alex, Brian and Ian

Jelly Bean

My fourth centurion ride of the year was without doubt the hardest but the panoramic scenery and camaraderie helped me out of the lactic kill-zone.

Our club route master, Andrew, posted the second of our long winter rides around Gatehouse of Fleet and Kirkcudbright. Although in the completely opposite direction to our first winter outing to Samye Ling (our destinations today were westerly)  it bore the crucial similarities of challenging hills and immense scenery.

As usual a few of us decided to ride some early miles before the main run in our (mad) pursuit of 100 miles. I was off my Tommasini cruiser and on my tank of a winter bike for only the second time. I don’t know about other roadies but I feel it takes a while to adjust the legs and energy to heavy steel. In addition, after much debate I’d opted to ride specialized armadillos this winter which were not my first choice tyre but that’s a long story. The feeling of these wired clinchers is akin to rolls of liquorice churning about in treacle.

Half way round our early spin we hit a nagging headwind which we felt would impact on the longer run. This combined with the tyres and a week in Spain gorging on Churos, meant ill omens for me.

We arrived at the rendezvous and once again I was impressed by the huge turnout (30 riders approx). Although dry it was the first very cold day of the winter but there was nonetheless a great buzz about the run.

By Crocketford which wasn’t far into the main route, I knew I was not going to have a great day. The zombie army of lactic was creeping into my legs when little extra efforts were required. I hoped the feeling would pass.

The star of the winter run in the South west is the scenery and the little gem on this run for me is that moment when you climb up from Laurieston and Glengap Forest onto the moor towards Gatehouse and on the last rise the Irish Sea appears in the haze resting amongst the endless rolling hills.

some of the group on the moor road into Gatehouse – hills and sea behind them

We had the first of several punctures on that road. If you’re going to have a puncture, I can’t think of a better place to have one, out in that unspoiled world.

Our usual cafe stop in Gatehouse was different this year with waitress service – very posh and also a bit pricier. However the soup and sandwiches went down without touching the sides and as usual all the roadies were hitting the caffeine like desperate addicts.

a little break before Mutehill and the tormenting headwind. Alex (right) and myself helped each other on the last 15 miles…

After Gatehouse we started with…another puncture. Some runs are just like that. Another day and another 100 miler there would be no stops. We made our way over to Kirkcudbright and what was the hardest part of the course: the climbs over to Dalbeattie. Lunch had only delayed my doom but before it arrived other riders and myself were struck by the great scenery around Mutehill. The tide was in and the bay looked calm and translucent. Then the climbing started. I survived most of it and was even able to offer encouragement to others who were toiling.

We had a few of these – one of those days. We always feel good when Les (left) is out for a run – that man can change a tyre with lightning speed!

But cycling has its ways of shifting fortunes and as I encouraged others in the sapping headwind towards Palnackie, I knew the zombie army of Lactic acid had breached my defences. The knock was knocking and cyclists know that means oblivion. I threw jelly beans at my mouth as though shying for coconuts but the contest was being lost and by the Haugh of Urr I told the group to leave me to fall on my sword. Some of them laughed and said they wanted to hang around and watch the eyes bulge out of my head – I think those guys liked cycling pornography. But in the end they did the decent thing and left me and my ragged dignity.

But then something happened which says a lot about this brutal sport. I hooked up with  fellow sufferer and between us we tackled the Military Rd back to Dumfries with its three little ball-crunching climbs evenly spaced to allow you to reflect on what they can do to you! We shouted out encouragement to one another and gradually we started to feel better. Had I really managed to vanquish the zombie hordes of lactic? Probably not but in cycling as with many sports, sometimes mind really can overcome matter.

Near the end another cyclist, Brian, from the run joined me for the last five miles and the big 100. The miles slid away as we chatted about wildlife, the amazing Red Kite we spotted just before Laurieston and the extraordinary legions of migrating birds who fly thousands of miles to the South-west and who are a big part of winter in this region. I bet they don’t get the knock!

It’s Entyrely Personal

I’ve found that once you get into cycling you make all your own choices about your bike set-up but the two most personal decisions are usually about tyres and saddles.
When I started cycling I never gave tyres a second thought – just pump them up and jump on. The cheaper the better. I had no idea that tyres take some thought in summer and for winter, not just the type but also the right pressures to use.

Nowadays the first thing I notice is the tyres other cyclists use and it’s sad to say, I also like talking about tyres. In fact just the other day I was thinking ‘whatever happened to latex inner tubes…do people still use them?…if you do then let me know.’

It didn’t take long for me to realise the importance of getting the right tyres for your bike and for you. I remember I got some very cheap tyres from Halfords to put on my first winter bike bought from Edinburgh Bicycle which came complete with a sprung seatpost (I hadn’t realised this until one of the guys pointed it out to me).

I think the first run with them I must’ve had 6 punctures. One puncture is bad enough in winter rain but it will test the patience of any club run if a guy gets six. This was the day I realised the importance of the old toothpaste tube in your saddle bag – you’ll probably forget it’s there but that little bit of tube can be invaluable when you get a split in your tyre or a bad sidewall puncture.

These tyres were made of paper I think or maybe ancient parchment might be more accurate. I made the mistake of taking them back to Halfords without my receipt. I was told it would be ‘an act of good faith to take them back without a receipt.’ Ha! What kind of act was it to sell them?

After the six puncture trauma I made a simple decision: if you’re going to buy tyres, get advice, shop around and be prepared to spend some money on these vital parts of the bike.

I didn’t get it right immediately. It’s trial and error and depends on the cycling you want to do and what works with your bike. I noticed that alot of guys used Michelin Pros. These are great tyres but like every other tyre on the market, no two cyclists say the same things about them. They’re light and highly responsive and they also look cool with a good range of colours. Of course they don’t come cheap but I got a pair for the summer.

With the first splash of rain I felt the back end of the bike was not so stable and on one ride I came down on a cow pat on the bend of a farmer’s road.

Lots of guys still ride michelin pros without any problem but they were not for me. After further trial and error I eventually found tyres that were good for me: specialized mondo pros and vittoria rubinos. These tyres have been ideal with a minimum of punctures and most importantly, a feeling of reliability in different weathers and cornering etc.

I remember watching an interview with Thor Hushvod about descending and he said it was about trusting your equipment. Even though I’m not the best descender, I can definitely relate to his comments. Over the years I have learned to choose bike equipment which I have confidence in and that is most true of the tyres you choose whether they be michelins, bontragers, vredesteins, continentals or schwalbes.

Just as personal as tyres and perhaps the most personal of all decisions is that friend of your backside – The Saddle!

used by the pros surely?

Like tyres I never spent much time thinking about saddles initially, it doesn’t matter what width or what angle it sits at – big mistake. When I got my first Felt bike I rode it with the saddle it came with which I later discovered is pretty unusual. At the same time I had entered an Audax K160. The Felt saddle was fine for about 15-20 miles. Thereafter it became more like an anal probe minus the aneathestic. That saddle should’ve been part of the furniture in the Tower of London.

With a week to go till the Audax, I had to make a decision quickly – either take the plunge on a new saddle or go to the Audax with the existing one plus 100 paracetomol and 800g of sudocrem. Having seen one or two club members using them, I took the plunge on a specialized saddle mainly because it had a central recess. It worked out and I rode 100 untroubled miles.

Ever since I have purchased specialized saddles for all of my bikes. I’ve spent some money making mistakes about equipment but it’s been a worthwhile investment in getting it right overall.

Bum saver!!!

Tall(a) Tales

 Scottish Borders Recreational Cycling Group recently named the Megget and Talla route as the best in the region. What cyclist would disagree? Even in old testament rain, Talla is a spectacular holy grail for cyclists in the south-west.

Dumfries CC organised a long summer run from Dumfries to Talla Megget and back for June 30th. 106 miles. This was a cycle run I didn’t want to miss but I also had a family commitment that day.

Negotiations ensued. Asking a road cyclist when he’ll be back is like trying to guess the size of the universe…we can only be approximate to within a few light-years. There’s weather, pace, punctures and cafe stops to consider. I finally received clearance to go but got the impression (mainly through the expert use of tone by my wife) that a certain private part of my anatomy was at risk of amputation and destruction if I was too late.

My fellow roadies were amused – they’d all been under the same ‘clearance threat’ from partners at some point. Perhaps, I suggested, lateness should be a Club responsibility. If I’m late then everyone’s certain private anotomical part should be removed? Of course I didn’t get any support for this idea.

The forecast for the day was a bad mix- some sunshine with heavy showers. You’ve got two choices – rain jacket on all day no matter what or jacket on and off. Luckily we started in dry weather, our back pockets stuffed like ammo packs – extra tubes, cafe stop money, extra food and some C02. For the first twenty to thirty miles we were definitely aided by a strong tail wind. The thing with tail wind is that at some point it turns into a head wind and cycling becomes a different matter. I think we all knew this would happen at some point probably when the legs were beginning to fill with lactic.

Our first serious bit of cycling came with the Beef Tub, a long, steady climb up towards Tweedsmuir and the Moffat hill range. We quickly organised ourselves into a big groupetto. Some rain drops splashed onto the handlebars and looking to the right across the valley, a monstrous dark cloud was slowly positioning itself above Talla Megget. Maybe it would move on by the time of our arrival….maybe.

Besides there were other things to distract us. Despite the security of the groupetto one of our long established members jumped off the front. We swept him up then off he went again and then again. Was this man trying for an imaginary polkadot jersey or was he on a cycling kamikaze mission? It’s a long way to the top of the Beef Tub on your own.

Talking of kamikazes we descended down into the Tweedsmuir side amongst some crazy drivers – the worst kind – high speed and impatient, throwing up waves of spray. So it was a relief to take the junction for the reservoirs. Some of the guys had never climbed up Talla Megget and they had been quietly extracting info about what to expect as the sun burst momentarily through the rumbling clouds. I thought to myself…jacket off…then the rain resumed. I wasn’t stopping  to put it on again.

There is a flat single track road which runs for a mile or two alongside the left side of the reservoir. Across the dark blue water, the far bank of Talla is a sheer, infinite hill almost like an ancient wall built by giants. And at the end of this mossy fortress and the flat road, was the climb itself. Cyclists get a prolonged view of its challenge. It glimmered dully like a pre-historic reptile, disappearing up into the mist and hills.

young Jack, conquered the climb at Talla with style

The pace at the front definitely slackened no doubt because of the downpour and the headwind but also because no one was going to drill it up to this climb. As we drew nearer we came across a curious sight. A female cyclist was sheltering under a row of spruce trees, smiling brightly at us as we passed. I was convinced she was an apparition whispering ‘Talllllaaaaa.’

Talla ramps up immediately. No searching for gears here, everyone is ready and pretty soon the guys are weaving about the road trying to keep that gear turning doing the silent cyclist dance. There aren’t any hairpins; look up the hill and all you see is more hill. The rain blew in sideways bouncing up to our knees. What keeps you going? Well at some point this climb is going to get slightly less straight-up brutal and more hill like! You daren’t look back down to see how the other guys are doing. You could lose precious momentum.


Over the top and the descent for me is as daunting. The visibility is very poor and the run down to Megget narrows and twists with cattle grids and you need to be alert for oncoming cars or wandering sheep. At one point I was convinced my bike had no brake pads. The rain was so torrential I’m sure I was aqua-gliding. Near the high point of Megget my concentration was broken by the stunning sight of massed black headed gulls swarming above the water.

We re-grouped at St Mary’s Loch and as you can see from the photos, we paddled about in the cafe like beached seals. Caffeine in its many forms was the main order. Why bother with coffee or coke why not not just yell CAFFEINE NOW!

The next stage of the ride was by far the hardest. Our bodies were cold and wet and the 10- 15 miles to Wamphray were tough in a full-on head wind. I barely noticed the amazing Grey Mare’s Tail with the constant battering of the wind.

Sometimes the only thing to do on a big run is just ride your bike. And we did, riding quietly as a group onwards towards Lockerbie and Dalton. Just as I was thinking, a particualr part of my anatomy was safe, someone shouted ‘PUNCTURE!’ This is why we need to share the blame.

Joking aside I made it home with a great sense of achievement and my body parts were not removed. A centurion run is always memorable. It was a big turnout from the club and I don’t think we’ll forget that unrelenting downpour on Talla not because it was horrible but because battling hills in immense scenery in the darkest of weather elements is life affirming.

‘It Takes A Couple of Years…’

A fellow cyclist once told me something very true ‘It takes a couple of years to get into cycling.’ That time seemed a long way off when I think back to my first club run…

When I joined Dumfries Cycling Club they used to meet outside someone’s house. It must have been strange for the neighbours to look out and see twenty, sometimes thirty men clogging up the street with their shades and colourful bandanas making them look like semi-retired ninja turtles.

I arrived on my Giant. It was my first ‘serious’ road bike and I thought it was a flying machine. In reality it was a bog standard aluminium frame with some bottom end shimano and dodgy factory wheels. I finished the flying machine off with Aldi shades and woolly, red arm warmers. I looked like I was dressed by my mammy and sent out to play. The only thing missing was my Tupperware of ham sandwiches and a clementine.

I remember seeing young Daniel there, a friendly face. He was a former pupil of mine and had always been encouraging me to go along to the club. During study periods he’d tell me about the club runs and he’d rhyme off the places they went – ‘Moniave, Scaur, Drumlanrig…Ae’. Then he’d mention the mileage 40, 50, 60 miles!

To a non-cyclist it seems incredible. Even now if I happen to mention to someone ‘Oh I just went for a wee spin and did about 30 miles’ people look amazed – unless they’re cyclists themselves of course (‘wee spin’ is part of the cyclist’s vocabulary).

Someone shouted out a route and I remember hearing place names; Irongray, Rouken Bridge…the Statues. Road cyclists never mention the in between stuff which, I was about to find out, still had to be cycled! These were some of the places Daniel had mentioned but now instead of them sounding like magical names, I was actually going to cycle to them.

Of course I thought I was fit. After all hadn’t I cycled 20-30 miles on my own and felt good on my flying machine? Cycling in a big group for the first time however can be pretty bewildering and soon I was at the back. Why were all these cyclists passing me so effortlessly whilst I was panting and red-faced? My Aldi shades had steamed up and my woolly warmers were making my arms feel like they were stuck in a kiln.

Not far along Irongray Road, the sky heavy with late September rain, I punctured. Puncturing with twenty riders waiting for you made me even redder. Luckily one of them came and gave me a hand. His name was Murray, someone I got to know pretty well over the years. He was a genuine Clubman who could be pernickety but knowing nothing about road biking, pernickety was just what I needed on my first day!

‘move your chain onto the big ring and the hardest gear…check round the casing…you’ll need better tyres…blow up the new inner a little…use my pump…’

All this excellent advice (now second nature to me) made Murray sound like a Puncture Repair Audio Book but over the years I’ve seen every member of the club puncture and follow the same procedure each with a different style;

  1. The storytelling puncturer (repairs interspersed with anecdotes)
  2. The no-levers required puncturer (thumbs like concrete)
  3. Teenager’s bedroom puncturer (caps, tubes, levers everywhere)
  4. The miserly puncturer (only one spare and it’s covered in patches)
  5. The OCD puncturer (everything wrapped neatly and colour-coded)

Puncture fixed we started to roll again or in my case, roll back the way. We turned left onto the first hill known locally as the Statues. This was a short brutish climb over a wonderful remote hillside dotted with sculptures by Henry Moore. I didn’t have time to admire them as I was about to get my second lesson of the day – the CATTLE GRID!


The other club riders paid little heed to these monstrosities except to shout ‘Grid’ then ride on. I on the other hand was confused. Won’t this damage my lovely Giant? Should I walk my bike over? Wasn’t there a road round them for non-cows?

At the foot of the climb I dismounted for the grid then started pedalling furiously till I caught up with two riders chatting away. How could they talk when my heart rate was off the dial? Further up the climb and I hear distantly but unmistakably another shout of ‘Grid!’ I remember thinking ‘Oh Mary, mother of God!’ Standing in front of a firing squad or the annihilation of planet earth would be more pleasurable than another GRIDDDDD!

Club riders have memories like the proverbial elephant and they soon get to know where the dangers of a road are including the different cattle grids out there.

  1. The smooth grid – well crafted by someone who knows how to weld and sees cows as essentially peaceful beasts.
  2. The rusty grid – buckled old railway girders with grass and baby trees growing through their cavernous gaps. They perceive cows as invading enemy tanks.

Well it was the rusty variety which loomed up ahead, rainwater oozing from its sides like a salivating monster. I decided to man up and pedal on gingerly. I went down. My Aldi glasses were smashed and my front wheel buckled. It was the end of my first club run.

The two riders who’d been chatting stopped and helped me up and opened the quick release to allow my wheel to move freely. One of them was Ian ‘Harky’ Harkness. He and I were to become great cycling buddies, riding thousands of miles together over the years. In typical Harkness style he never let me forget that first day I tangled with the Grid or my wooly arm warmers!


They put me back on my bike and I headed home, a pathetic sight with my Aldi specials minus a lens, muddied arm warmers and a misshapen front wheel making me look like a plump circus clown on a wobbly unicycle.

Half way back I heard a bike behind. It was young Daniel. My grid incident had been passed along the line and he’d come back to keep me company into Town.

On Day One of being a Club Rider, I’d learned three eternal cycle codes;

  • How to change a puncture
  • How not to tackle cattle grids
  • Even when they’ve got good form, cyclists will give up their treasured Saturday Run to make sure you’re okay.

At the age of 16 my pupil taught his old teacher the essence of being a Clubman – camaraderie.