We have formed a virtual club on Strava. The name is Muswell Hill Peloton and we meet at 8 a.m every Sunday morning for a ride out into Hertfordshire, weather and road conditions permitting. Generally the group numbers about 8, but from time to time 14 or 15 riders will turn up.
Over the past two years, this group has bonded, not as a clique might bond, but more in the fashion of an extended family. We soon discover that we are brothers, sisters, cousins, all entranced by the magical pursuit that is cycling.
This morning we were joined by 16 year old JM who already has posted some very good times on various Strava segments.
A question from someone, “Where did you find out about us?”
Before the youngster had time to think, PD, master of the one-liner had replied for him, “from his grandad!”, a reference to the age of some of our group.
Today, our route took us inevitably towards Barnet Hill about 8kms distant. There is a now familiar pattern to the ride. We drop down The Avenue taking care to avoid potholes and speed bumps, cross Alexandra Park Road with shouts of “clear”, and then proceed up the slight incline of Grosvenor Road. In these few minutes, weekly ties are renewed as the group chats quietly among each other before a right turn onto the busier and faster Colney Hatch Lane forces a chitchat moratorium.
The increased concentration is palpable on the climb up to Friern Barnet Town Hall, followed by 1.7 km of sweet Sunday morning tarmac to Whetstone. This stretch always entices someone into quietly upping the pace and putting the first hurt into the day’s ride. An unspoken truce materialises on the main road run to the bottom of Barnet Hill which is swiftly shattered by another increase in tempo for the duration of the slope. By this stage, the foreplay has ceased, to be replaced by the passion of exertion and a show of strength.
The sensation of syncing the physical and mental aspect of cycling is always apparent at this stage. The brain demands a controlled effort…there’s a long way to go yet on this ride. The legs and heart respond to the action taking place all around. If it’s a good day, then, “shut up brain, I’m going with them.”; if it’s a so-so day, then, “my legs have not come out to play and my HR is way too high.”
In all events, we re-convene at the top, descend to the foot of Ferny Hill and re-enact the whole process again. Perhaps in the intervening few miles the body has woken up to the demands placed on it, and can respond to the call to feel and manage the pain, perhaps not. A rolling section delivers us at Cattlegate lane for more of the same swiftly followed by the steep twins Plough Hill and Carbone Hill.
By this time we know who in the group is going well and who is not. And young recruit JM is making us all look mortal. Despite any differences in form, the group are riding for each other. Waiting for and encouraging a straggler, simultaneously chipping and praising a performer. The humour is of the kind variety , not belittling or intimidating. We are in this together.
JM has to peel off, but the remainder head on towards the Brickendon/Robins Nest loop, our most distant point today. There are plenty of ups and downs, but the die has been cast. Alex is strongest today, the rest of us are just trying to hold his wheel on the climbs. A brief respite occurs with a puncture on Robin’s Nest Hill, but we are soon climbing up to Little Berkhampstead passing Bucks Alley and Cucumber lane on the way. A token dig here and there to show some semblance of power, to deny middle age, to feel pain in the legs, to be.
And then we are returning via Brookmans Park, Potters Bar and Barnet once again, taking in a sprint for the sign on Kitts Lane. At this stage of the ride, a calm rhythm rules the bunch, not withstanding the sprint. We will return together. We know every crack and every manhole cover in the road. We will drink coffee together and will analyse the good and bad points of the outing while planning the next sortie.