Author Topic: How sweet it is


How sweet it is
« on: September 15, 2019 »
There isn’t anybody alive old enough to have bought a bottle of original Coca-Cola to quench their thirst or dissolve nails or whatever it is people do with the stuff. We’re talking classic Coke, with that extra kick, “an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine per glass. (For comparison, a typical dose or "line" of cocaine is 50–75 mg.) In 1903, it was removed.” I grew up drinking The Real Thing after it had gone back to lame slogans – seriously, have a click and a smile at most everything fore and aft. Of course, it helps when there’s been a genius ad campaign sprung from the mind of the master persuasionist himself.

Though I rarely do it these days, London to Brighton is, for me, the classic ride, probably because it was my first milestone after being born again in the late 90s. It’s long enough to feel like you’ve actually done something worth a celebratory drink, with the powerful kick of Ditchling Beacon, an honest-to-god hill no matter what the naysayers say when they’re ranking these things. This despite that Brighton itself holds so little allure that I stopped going all the way there, preferring to turn around at the top of the world and head for home in far East Sussex, satisfied, and grateful not to have to subject my bike and myself to Southern Railway.

The original FNRttC calendar was London to Brighton. Over and over again. With a few trips to Southend and other fake* destinations thrown in.

The dopamine high of the Beacon induces an addiction in the susceptible which renders other rides less than the real thing.

*Of course they’re not fake.

When I saw it coming up, led by a man I’m going to call Classic Ade,

With a great beard comes great responsibility

I was a happy bunny. (Seriously, don’t do that. Youtubefoolery strikes again.) That the weather forecast wasn’t a torturous tease seemed a good sign, even if the moon was only at 86% full capacity.

My pre-ride ride through the tipsy city included a visit to the original starting point, Hyde Park Corner, the corner where they didn’t used to hang people.

The crowd at the National Theatre

Sorry, wrong slide. That's the nearby skater theatre

Laurence Olivier immortalised in The Puncture Faerie, above, and My Left Hand, below

The FNRttC gets better reviews

wasn’t quite as large as I was expecting. The final tally was in the 70s, which is entirely respectable, and anyway, bigger isn’t ipso facto better, even in a world of popularity contests.

There were an edifying number of first timers. I got a warm welcome from Tim Decker, Eastbourne ride leader; caught sight of pink legwarmers which could only belong to Kim Carter; and said hello to Stuart Affleck, who comes to pretty much every show. These rides are about the people: those you know, those you may come to know.

Tim stayed behind, the ultimate Tail End Charlie awaiting late-comers, and off we went.

The first stop, in Clapham Common, offered a classic view:

A private tree in the city is better than a golden toilet

We got the usual “Where are you going?” from onlookers as we snaked through south London, at one point passing a woman holding up a phone and squealing “The bikes! The bikes! The bikes!”

The staging area for the hill at Portnalls Road turned into a surgery as handyman Adam Bell adjusted the brake levers on a fresh recruit's rental bike which “really hadn't been fitted to her at all beyond it having the right saddle height.”

You might want to stand back, this could explode if I use the wrong Allen key

I could rebuild yours from scratch if you like

Is this the queue for the hill?

Why hello there

I spent much of the time near the front, taking care to hang just far enough back to avoid being picked for waymarking duty until being nabbed shortly before the descent tipping us over the North Downs.

Deserters will either be shot or introduced to an estate agent in Reigate, whichever is worse

Let me be clear: the system of waymarking is a beautiful thing to see in action, and is one of the charms of the FNRttC. I’ve done it loads of times, and enjoy the warm feeling of helpfulness as well as the funny sense of peace that comes with being a human signpost. But there are nights when you selfishly want to just ride, rather than stand around in the cold, secure in the knowledge that the event doesn’t attract many deplorables shirking the draft.

The hill down into Reigate was traffic strewn and plain awful. “Portnalls Road was the usual grind, and Reigate Hill the usual thrill,” according to one account, perfectly inverting my impressions of topography. I am honestly starting to wonder if I can keep doing these, so extreme has become my aversion to deep dives in the dark (though this one was well lit) unless it’s a route that's so familiar I could do it in my sleep.

Begging the pardon of any residents of the charming market town

The bottom has simply dropped out of my confidence in this regard. (I still love playing in London traffic, so bike handling confidence in general hasn’t eroded as middle age bites.) Maybe I should trust the Force to guide me like Luke Skywalker; will await the opinion of cognitive behavioural therapists.

The food stop is an opportunity to get the first good look at company.

Low tech way to avoid identity theft.
Is that Lyle Lovett?

The trio on my right were the very picture of London sophisticates, the Guardian neatly folded into their recycling bins back home. Those to my left couldn’t have presented a greater contrast to each other: one was clearly a veteran parishioner of the congregation of the spoked wheel, while the other, half his age, was comfortably dressed for a rummage in the shed. It's all great.

There’s no cold like 4am cold after an hour in a heated building.

Outside the scout hut

"Check for punctures before we leave!" commanded our leader. I obeyed.

Last July Netflix released season three of Stranger Things. Personally I think the Duffer brothers should’ve stopped about two seasons ago, but we can never get enough of a good thing, can we, even if that means a few too many shots of Eleven getting all superpowery with her magic hands and bloody nose. Coca-Cola got prominent product placement in a gag about New Coke, a marketing disaster so comfortably in the past the company can now joke about it even as they take it all a bit too seriously:

“Stranger Things fans love the nostalgic vibe of the show, so to be able to bring New Coke back to life in a physical way takes the experience to another level. We hope people who remember New Coke can relive those memories, and those like me who weren’t alive in 1985 can appreciate the fact that a show that honors cultural icons of the time is honoring this one.”

Netflix isn't paying me for this advert for Netflix

There are some very nice photos out there of the misty morning. I didn’t take any. Please accept in lieu of those this shot of a group of us having recently cycled through the mist

a satellite photo of a large V for Victory we passed near the Beacon

and somewhat off topic, the notorious Lindfield butcher cutting a shank of tofu down to size, the meaty window dressing being a cleaver [genuine typo] clever bait-and-switch lure for carnivores.

I purposefully drank too little to rouse my bladder very often. Unfortunately this entailed not drinking enough to stay properly hydrated and fit for purpose. At least that’s my excuse for only going up Ditchling Beacon Bostall twice.

Rob Hatley calibrating his watch by the passing of hill climbers, which regrettably has a margin of error too great for Strava and these fast-paced times in which we live

What can I say: when you love hills, you have no choice but to do as your giddy heart bids. It may be I’m overcompensating for my fear of going down them. There’s a 2006 movie about magicians called The Prestige, in which the secret of the ‘Transported Man’ trick relies on [spoiler alert] short-lived clones. As long as my knees keep working, it shouldn't come to that.

My awe is reserved for people who, for example, decide a recumbent is a tool for this particular job:

I also have chapeaus to hand out to those who made a round or otherwise greater trip of it, including Stuart, who turned up at the National Theatre with 85 miles already on the clock. Any gathering of enough cyclists will find a few with apparent superpowers:

Note the taunt REST

As witnessed a number of years ago, our leader's special power is the ability to possess birds, like Bran in Game of Thrones, so he can be Tail End Charlie as well

Well done all, especially first timers who had nothing to fear but fear itself. Speaking of which, prepare to be freaked out:

Do you see an elongated head in the narrow opening of the hood, facing the wrong way?!?

It takes a real effort for me to see his actual head, or a bit of it, in the place it should be. Belongs on the Spooky ride.

The top of this part of the world is a natural photo op.

Little wheels, big hill

A sign from above?

Down up down down into not-Hove, then over to the marina, which appears to be in the middle of perdition.

It's difficult to ascertain if this is half an insult

Had a pleasant chat through the concrete architectural desert with fellow North American import Tacy (no 'r' even though it's right there next to the 'T' on the keyboard), my conversational starter being an admiration for her nifty saddlebag sporting petite panniers like wings folded over the rear tyre. The cardinal rule of bags: the bigger they are, the more you’ll carry – it’s almost uncanny.

After navigating the maze up to Wetherspoons I shared a breakfast table with Adam, who in addition to adjusting that brake lever, fixed someone’s pedals (R = Right, L = Left), retrained a chain to stay put, and fully serviced a random stranger’s bike – or cheerfully would’ve, if asked. Although I’ve sort of known him since the olde days, we’ve never had a conversation. I learned that he’s starting a bike shop in Bognor Regis, and his wife has a second career researching and sewing 18th century dresses. Do what you love, eh? Even if it’s silly hills.

"There's a posh-sounding bloke on the phone wondering if we do alterations."

With his generosity of spirit and skills, Adam is one of those people who practically embodies the FNRttC. It couldn’t keep running without what he represents, and I was saddened to hear that after Shoreham he’ll likely be too busy to carry on.

I’ve joked about how I was Simon Legg’s inspiration (he in turn has been my erstwhile muse), though never sifted out the whole truth. Adam reckons that something I wrote in a Dunwich Dynamo ride report planted the idea, which sounds plausible, so the lesson is, write ride reports! You never know who you’ll inspire to do great things.

Later we joined forces with Nigel, who due to his train doing a vanishing act was only able to join us towards the end; Matt and Tim Decker; Tom, who figured my fondness for singlespeed might predispose me to a spin cycle on a fixed round and round a velodrome; and Tim Hall, who you'll reliably see with a camera slung around his neck at these affairs (and wearer of antique hats, which forever puts him in my good graces). Together we considered the fate of a drunken buzzy captive,

pondered the advisability of Tim D. sawing someone in half after a few pints (he isn't a butcher; he belongs to The Magic Circle

Also an anagram, which is a nice trick

scroll down here for a few pics of another member), and might well have closed the place down if it wasn’t still morning when we called it a day.

Did I say these rides are about the people? It’s about their stories. The cycling is a bonus.

Adam led the way to the train station, where I discovered mine was cancelled due to something a bit worse than leaves on the line. Dreading an afternoon of uncertain services, I made the unwelcome decision to escape using a means of transportation I had control of, and headed back up that damned hill.

. . .

Coca-Cola has responded to the sugar tax by selling smaller containers, rather than ditching their recipe, which is undeniably a winner.