Tuesday Ride VII: of black cats, back lanes and cycling through the dark

It was 19:20 and I was supposed to be meeting John at that most evil of road junction types, the crossroads. However my youngest son was playing up and not going to sleep, so I sent a text to John telling him to ride round to the back of my house and I would put the kettle on while the kids settled down. John pulled into the garden with Bradley and his friend Simon. Simon looked like another super-fit chap, apparently Brad said he’d be slow because he was on a mountainbike, naturally this turned out not to be true. With the children finally in bed and the group fuelled up on fine teas, we set off up the hill, John muttered that when I had left them on the last Tuesday Ride, Brad had amused himself by sprinting after cars in Trowbridge “The thing was” said John “he was catching up with them”, I could well believe it.

Then it became apparent that I was truly messing things up as I had forgotten my bidons. I told everyone to go on ahead while I went back for the bottles, promising to catch up with them on the Wingfield Straight. With the two water bottles filled up I set off after the others, turns out Bradley and Simon’s definition of ‘slow’ is not the same as mine and John’s. I could see them in the distance but it took a sustained sprint of 24-26mph over about a mile or so before I finally caught up with them. Thereafter I was content to sit at the back all the way to Bradford-on-Avon in order to recover. John attempted to get a bit of a chain gang going, but every time Bradley moved to the front he pulled away, leaving John battling the headwind again. Through the centre of Bradford, up past the Moulton place and out towards Holt. These are fast roads with little room for cars to pass and I was glad when we turned left towards Chalisford. By then I was starting to get lost, last time I had cycled past Chalisford Manor I nearly ran over a swan, no swans in sight on Tuesday, but plenty of old folk taking an evening constitutional, all looking startled to see four cyclists hurtle into view, but ready with a nod nonetheless. On the trafficless backroads it was pleasant to hear the whirr of four chainsets working together, the different pitches of the chains on the various sprockets created a droning chord as we raced through the narrow lanes. Suffice to say that despite Simon’s 26″ wheels he was having no problems matching Bradley’s impressive speed, they kept shooting on ahead leaving John and myself to carry on at our own pace. At least John’s Brooks saddle was starting to break in. The route John had chosen was undulating to say the least and we were going very fast, pretty soon I had completely lost my bearings and given up all hope of even knowing which direction I was pointing. Various discussions ensued as to how far we were going to ride and it transpired that earlier in the week Bradley had cycled to Chippenham, Calne and then on to Avebury, impressive work. We decided to carry on to Chippenham and ride back via Melksham, John seemed confident we could get back by 22:00 and we all had lights, except Simon who only had a rear LED.

We crossed main roads, back-roads, lanes, we cycled up cats-eyed roads, singletrack hills with gravel strewn across the tarmac. We climbed short, steep rises, hidden dips and long dull gradients, we swooped down wide lanes with wildflower strewn verges, and I sat at the back on nailbitingly narrow descents taken at 27mph with no hope of avoiding oncoming vehicles (had there been any). Finally we dropped down onto a larger lane that actually seemed to be going somewhere. I was at the back so I got a good view as Brad and Simon’s descent terrified a black cat which shot off just missing John’s front tyre in its haste to be away from the wheeled steeds hurtling down the normally quiet lane. The light was fading, it was time for the flashing LEDs on the seatposts to come into play, I was glad I had changed the batteries in my front lamp at the same time as replacing my blown inner-tube that morning. With the Hi-Viz vest on, the reflective wrist bands and my customised helmet it was highly probable that I could be seen from space. Through a short tunnel by some traffic lights, a very weird and confusing junction where we just “went”, well everyone stopped for us so we assumed it was our right of way, no one beeped anyway. We were then on some main roads, bg roundabouts, orange streetlight glow and concrete bridges spanned by massive pylons whispering their electric songs into the gathering dusk. Here the crickets had stopped, the wildflowers given way to harsh cut back grass on the verge, the hot reek of diesel working through thundering engines; serious roads. Not for us though, we spun away from Chippenham having grazed its flank and made for Lacock. Ahead on the main road I could see the flashing red LED of Bradley’s bike, we struck out for it, reaching him just as we turned off onto more lanes. By now the dark had gathered all around us, loud laughter in the clear air as revellers stepped out of a pub, momentarily framed in the golden light spilling from the doorway, gone in an instant. Some gentle but insistant gradients saw us on our way into Melksham, all four of us spread out across the road standing on the pedals and racing over the speed bumps. The centre of town was quiet, but then I suppose it was a Tuesday, past the betting shop where only two weeks ago a fight had spilled out onto the road stopping the traffic, then out to the new road. Brown tourist signs promise there is refreshment on this route during the day, it’s a greasy spoon called “The Waney Edge Cafe”, closed at this time of night a small, unassuming building with net curtains and a seventies block-font for the sign, decaying tarmac carpark, pummelled by decades of HGVs and builders’ vans, it looks excellent.

Now we were on the home straight, split into two groups, Bradley and Simon just in view ahead of John and myself. John and I chatting as he wound down, we were near to the street he and Bradley live in and they would be home soon. For myself and Simon there was a little further to go. A needless beep from a car-full of twats saw John wishing out loud that for once the wankers would stop to make their point and he could debate their imbecilic behaviour in a way they would clearly understand. It was a good thing they didn’t because the next car was a police car. Everyone gave us a wide berth when I was at the back, no doubt because I was glowing as though I was a special effects reject from TRON.

We pulled into the carpark of a local pub to discuss the evening and make plans with each other for the next rides. I took the obligatory group portrait:

the end of the ride, I glow like TRON

Then as Bradley and John peeled off for their homes, I rode directly in front of Simon so his lack of front light wouldn’t be a problem. We shot through town at 25mph arriving at his street in time for him not to get into trouble. It was then left to me to make the ride back to the village, the legs felt good and even Rode Hill was no bother. John had designed the ride so that we all got 35 miles in. It was excellent, again I hope Bradley and Simon weren’t too bored having to wait for me and John all the time, it’s good for us to ride woth them as our pace is picking up dramatically.

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