mr hastings and i cycled north to port askaig yesterday morn at what was definitely an early hour for me, though perhaps less so for our resident birdwatcher and wilderness guide (up with the lark, and other such tales of bravado), in order to board the 08:30 ferry for jura, the neighbouring island across a narrow strip of fast moving water. it's around 12km from the jura ferry port at feolin through to the only serious village on the island at craighouse, coincidentally home to the island's only distillery who's open day i was there to capture on pixels. at least half of those kilometres head upwards, so rolling those last few metres down into the village leave any intrepid and fit rider with a pleasing sense of self-satisfaction. the welcome is as much the angels' share as it is salt sea air.
of course, once the proceedings have been satisfactorily covered, the journey has to be completed in the opposite direction, though i will confess to not having remembered just how 'uphill' it is, even on the way back. since our arrival on islay was aided by the fact that the ferry was just ploughing its watery furrow at a constant rate to accommodate the never-ending queue of whisky aficionados, there was more than enough time, inclination and hunger to head straight for debbie's in bruichladdich for an overfilled cup of coffee and some rather delectable carrot cake.
it was at this point that we two, intent on slurping, munching and generally minding our own business were heartily accosted by a shopping-type person who wished to inform us that we came across as sturdily healthy individuals, and here we were indulging in the icing on the cake. midst moutfuls of crumbs, we did point out that our accumulated kilometreage would be in excess of eighty by the time home was reached, and therefore we were pretty much entitled to eat how we pleased. and therein said person had inadvertantly pointed out one of the seriously great benefits of the avid cyclist: an enormous appetite coupled with the ability not to store excess pounds.
this simple lesson in calorific intake is by way of a precursor to announcing registration for the chris king gourmet century ride this coming monday, june 1st. chris king is almost as renowned for his love of food and entertaining as he is for making the world's finest headsets, and previous gourmet rides have hosted entrants with themes such as italian cucina, salsa, greek, country french and pacific rim. the foodie theme for this year's ride, which takes place on october 17th, is under a non-disclosure agreement until monday, but it will celebrate the gastronomic delights of one of europe's more prominent countries. entry is limited to 350 participants with an entry fee of $145 (£91), $10 of which will be donated to lance armstrong's livestrong foundation.
the 2009 ride covers 103 km (therefore it's a metric century) of non-competitive riding through yamhill county, location of oregon's wine country, and is less than an hour from downtown portland. cycling begins and ends in mcminnville with breakfast served in the local community center and numerous rest stops along the way to delight epicurean tastes. lunch promises to be the most notable stop, but there is a suprise awaiting those who opt to take the hill-climbing route; dare to do so, and chris promises a reward of equal value.
and talking of rewards, on returning to the mcminnville center, chris king himself will be the chef de jour for the day's principal repast. full table setting and service will allow cheery cyclists the chance to enjoy the century's crowning summation in a series of three seating times accommodating the inevitable differing arrival times.
the entry fee includes a commemorative t-shirt (and chris king t-shirts are nothing if not memorable), a special edition poster, water bottle, event musette bag and a token for a post-ride suprise. registration opens this monday, so you've a couple of days to clear your diaries on october 17th
posted on friday 29 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as of today, there are only a couple of open days left in this year's islay festival of malt and music, otherwise known as the islay whisky festival, and for reasons of freelance work, it is part of my remit to visit each of the distilleries on a daily basis to take photos and some flip video. the festival in its current format has been running since the millennium, so i've been doing this for a few years now. those interested or eagle-eyed enough may have noticed that, on occasion, i have had the use of something nice and shiny from colnago on which to pedal my cheery way around this island or, as in today, across the water to the distillery on the neighbouring isle of jura.
anyone who has ever visited a distillery, whether on islay or not, will be well aware that these are more often than not, industrial units (to put it bluntly) with a series of differing levels accessed by stairs of a concrete or open steel mesh: not features that lend themselves to getting about in cleated cycling shoes. therefore, it has been necessary to don backpack or substantial musette to allow carrying of not only stills and video cameras, but generally a replacement pair of shoes. in my case, a rather tatty pair of converse all stars. sartorial elegeance is not my strong point, but i do try to dress in shorts and jersey that would not place me in the giro d'italia peloton.
this year, however, things have changed: while i was living it up in portland, a pair of quoc pham leather fixed shoes arrived through the post. these shoes are plied from beautifully soft black leather, fastened with what would now be regarded as old-fashioned laces. shunning cleats of any description, the idea is (and indeed, put into practice by yours truly) that whichever bicycle you choose to use, can be shod with the age-old pedals we all used before look invented clipless. thus equipped, travelling to and from, and walking upon arrival would be seemless and fashionably acceptable in all walks of life (pun intended).
of course, the trick here is to make the sole stiff and grippy enough to allow for efficient pedalling without feet slipping in wet weather, while still maintaining foot comfort, spending several hours walking about - in this case, a seemingly endless series of malt whisky distilleries.
being too much of a wannabee racer, i found myself bereft of any normal pedals, necessitating purchase of a pair of mks sylvan pedals to make for appropriate test conditions as well as smoothly fitting to a colnago c40, a focus izalco extreme, and a colnago clx (yes, who's a lucky boy this week?) without anybody laughing. it is pure coincidence that these quoc pham shoes arrived in such timeous fashion. quoc describes himself as a novice cyclist and shoe designer who decided to make his own shoes because he lives in a city and tends to walk around in between riding.
i spent a lot of time developing and testing, getting the right hardness of the rubber of the sole so it doesn't collapse, but soft and comfortable enough to walk in. the thickness of the leather, the way it looks, the fit and most important how it feels while riding. finally i think i've got something which is good enough.
happily for him and even more for me, quoc has indeed got the formula just right - and then some. styled similarly to the cycle shoes of yore, the leather is the softest i have ever had encasing my feet. i have suggested that adding a tab to the heel might assist with putting the shoes on, if only because the leather is so soft that it deforms as the foot eases into place. once on and laced up, it's like walking on foam. i'm not sure what quoc has done to the insoles, but the comfort factor was incredible as i walked from kiln to mash room to still room in a variety of distilleries. negotiating mesh stairs of considerable gradient both upwards and down, was a piece of peat.
but this is ostensibly a cycling site, and not singlemalt.tv, so what we're really interested in is how well can you pedal in them? as i've already pointed out, non-cleated pedals are an animal i have had very little experience of over the past eight or nine years, so riding the sylvans was a new experience for rider and shoes. however, the ribbing on the soles and their incredible stiffness (bearing in mind how well they walk) kept the shoes in place without so much as a slip to or from lagavulin, bruichladdich, caol ila or laphroaig. the bit that had concerned me most - climbing - turned out to be worry free, including the 14 percent gradient at port askaig. and on both saturday and monday, it rained both ways and gave the fixed shoes very little trouble and surprisingly little water ingress.
as has been the case with dromarti's marresi leather shoes, and a brooks swift saddle, the leather improves with wear, something noticeable in these after only 230km. and a really nifty touch is a reflective strip down the heel, though since this is may and mrs washingmachinepost doesn't let me stay out late, i have been unable to test the efficacy of this.
quoc pham has one of the smartest logos i have ever seen emblazoned on the tongue, while the shoes arrive in their very own cloth bag, helping keep my peanut butter sandwich clean when it has been necessary to place them in the aforementioned musette. if your cycling involves a lot of stopping and starting as well as walkabout in between, i really cannot see why you don't already own a pair of these.
for those interested in more about the islay festival of malt and music, there are a few short videos here
posted on thursday 28 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm sure that everyone has garnered the notion that a nocturne in the context of cycling, is a race, or in this case, a series of races held of an evening. somehow the word implies an evening of serenity, perhaps indicating a rather soothing piece of music as written by chopin. in reality, a nocturne in the sense of those being promulgated firstly at edinburgh this saturday (may 30th), before the series of three moves on to its original home of smithfield market on 6th june ending up in blackpool on august 1st, is anything but soothing.
the nocturne series originated at smithfield in 2007, winning a visit london sports tourism award for its creators, rapha and condor. this became a series in 2008 when a similar event in salford was hosted at salford quays. now that we've reached 2009, it's a case of and then there were three.
starting at 18:00 with the first of two cycling weekly support races, there's an edinburgh team challenge, scu youth race, the much anticipated folding bike race (during which jez and i will be rooting for graeme raeburn on his pink brompton), a rollapaluza celebrity challenge, rounded off with the elite criterium featuring david millar and cameron meyer from team garmin, rapha condor, candi tv/marshalls pasta, halfords, plowmman craven, endura, sis, pendragon kalas and a handful of individuals. since it would not be too much of a stretch of the imagination to figure that these guys all want to win, it puts this particular style of nocturne very much at odds with the calming picture i was attempting to paint at the top of the page.
organised by face partnership, the racing takes place around the grassmarket area of edinburgh, taking in the north part of george iv bridge street, providing a lengthy circuit and plenty of view points for spectators. since the edinburgh marathon is also on this weekend (hence the impossibility of acquiring an hotel room for saturday eve) the more likely cycling audience may well receive a boost in numbers by those anxious to take their minds off the following day's 26 miles of torture. rapha, through the auspices of their only scottish retail partner, the tri-centre, will have a stand at the event, and will also host a two hour ride around scotland's capital city in the afternoon prior to the event, leaving the tri-centre (south clerk street) at 13:00. refreshments will be served.
sadly, mr hastings and i will likely be on a bus bound for glasgow, then edinburgh at that time and will miss out, but we will be there to witness the evening's events, and would be very happy if at least someone said hello. for a few more details and a course map, click over to the nocturne series, and we'll see you there.
this of course means that there will be no washingmachinepost on saturday eve, but we should be back to normal on sunday
posted on wednesday 27 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
despite my public misgivings about the tour de france, i'll be glued to eurosport along with the rest of you, watching the circus blitz its way through the french countryside, passing through small villages, stopping at obscure little towns we've never heard of (i don't get out much) and climbing mountain passes we'd rather they did and we didn't. i've only ever attended the tour on one occasion in 1998 when it started in dublin, and although there's a slight difference between the irish countryside and the back roads of france, the really impressive part of the whole adventure was the incredible organisation and the utterly ludicrous amount of cabling snaking from truck to truck to satellite dish. and the fact that they mopped all this up at the end of the prologue and moved it about a quarter mile down the road for stage one. not my idea of fun.
the amount of organising that went into getting myself and a fellow cyclist from islay to dublin was almost enough to put me off ever doing it again. and in fact, i've never actually done it again. but the thought's always there - david harmon has encouraged me on occasion to pop over for a few stages and maybe even get in the way of eurosport for five minutes. and i almost joined morecambe and mcwise last year, though in retrospect i doubt i could have kept up with the party tarts. it's a case of being superbly organised, in order that viewing time of a peloton of bicyclists is maximised and that there's somewhere comfortable to put my head of an evening. having failed miserably to obtain an hotel room this weekend in edinburgh for the nocturne (the edinburgh marathon is on as well), the thought of trying to get myself round france is a scary one.
however, someone who knows a lot more than you or i has been generous enough to do it all for us, coupled with the graciousness to write it all down in a book. graham watson is one of the more noted photographers follwing the international professional peloton from the back of a motorbike: his photographs have been seen in many a glossy publication, and on several websites, and he's the only photographer i've ever heard being pointed out by the commentary team while a race is in progress. stardom indeed. but while graham doubtless has his travel arrangements well taken care of these days, the same goes not for the newbie (or oldie) intending to watch the race from closer quarters.
copiously illustrated with mr watson's photography, this book covers all the bases: finding campsites, finding hostels, the varying levels of hotel, the fact that all french hire cars are registered in the one area of the country and are thus easily identified by thieves - basically lots of stuff that i would not have had the gumption to have thought about in the first place. each region of the country is covered in surprising detail, along with the mountain regions, to include any local customs, holidays, food, wine (mr watson's predilection we are informed). currency is well covered and wherever a web address would be of benefit, you can be assured one is supplied. there is a serious amount of acquired information included in this softback book, and while it would probably be possible to research much of the travel and accommodation on the web these days, there really is no substitute for someone who has been there, done that and bought the t-shirt since 1977.
of course, categorising this book under the cycling tab might just be ever so tenuous were this merely a travel guide. after all, graham watson doesn't actually ride a bicycle throughout his three weeks en francais, but he does have something that we don't have, and that's abiding memories of many of the greats from first hand experience:
hinault looks charming enough, sure he does. but the man is as arrogant, as contemptuous, as aloof as he was thirty years ago.
the chapters on actually getting to and watching the tour, are regularly interspersed with insightful pieces on many of the greats including the above mentioned bernard hinault, big mig, sean kelly, pedro delgado (sadly, despite mr watson's otherwise professed admiration, there is no piece on robert millar). rather subtly, the chapter on the riders are set in a sans serif font (bureau grotesque) as opposed to the main chapters' serifed warnock pro. (sorry, too much information).
it's obviously rather late in the day to hope to get yourself in the position of standing by the barriers waving a rather large green hand at the 2009 tour de france, but if the notion of heading frenchwards in 2010 seems like an attractive idea, immediately purchase a copy of this book, because the only real alternative is to book with one of the noted tour operators (also mentioned by mr watson)
and at the risk of being castigated by the cognoscenti, not just because it is not germain to any review of this book, surely i cannot be the only one who finds mr watson's photographs a bit cliched and lacking sparkle. photography, and particularly cycling photography has come a long way in the past few years; we have come to expect and demand a different perspective on the kings of pain these days, while mr watson seems content to provide the same old, same old. perhaps a vacuous criticism, since he is still a far better photographer than i'll ever be, but something that has bothered me for a good while, and this seems the ideal place to give it air time. just my ten cents worth.
photography criticism notwithstanding, this is a gem of a book and reveals a side to graham watson that most of us probably didn't know existed - he's a very impressive and accomplished writer. and even if you haven't the faintest inclination to eat baguettes and brie while the caravan throws yellow caps at you from strange shaped vehicles, it would be the ideal companion to messrs harmon and kelly or even sherwen and liggett as you watch the flat screen this july.
posted on tuesday 26 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
actually that heading is extremely misleading, because i'm not sure that you can put portland in a nutshell, or at least i'm not sure i can. the whole purpose of my visit was to find out more about the much vaunted cycling culture that quite obviously exists in portland; it is often described as the cycling capital of north america, but having never spent any time in any of the other acknowledged cycling centres in the usa, i really have no idea how accurate this is. however, the others would have to go some to beat stumptown.
perhaps to put things in a better perspective, while sitting in the green dragon, or rather, while sitting outside at the green dragon beer pub (they had a huge blackboard with an almost endless list of different beers: portland is apparently home to around 40 micro breweries. even one of the cyclocross teams is called team beer) i asked my hosts if there were other close knit communities like that of the city's cyclists. chris distefano introduced me to a girl who used to work at chris king's and had been sitting with a number of others crowding round several laptop computers. she referred to herself as being a part of the geek community an unaffiliated assemblance of folks in the open-source software collective who swap ideas and solutions amongst themselves for use in professional and after hours projects. it turns out that there is a group of folks in portland who are dedicated to providing wireless internet in strategic outdoor locations across the city. the green dragon had free wi-fi provided by a router sitting in one of the trees, having been weatherproofed to survive portland's rainy weather.
the bike shops were somewhat of a revelation: i am well used to walking into large and not so large cycle stores in the uk and being completely ignored. even if i look more closely at a particular frame or bicycle than would seem entirely fit and proper, i still get ignored. nobody usually bothers to even ask whether i happen to have a few thousand pounds in my back pocket that might swell their coffers during that particular visit. i realise this is a bit of an over-simplification, but i wandered into a few stores in portland where i am completely unknown, and within minutes was involved in very homely conversations realting to bicycles, where i was from and general bicycle chit-chat (thank you the bike gallery)
but it's the integration of the bicycle as a viable means of transport that is the most awe inspiring feature of the city. every road features a bicycle lane on each side, and rarely in at the gutter. there's a space for parked cars, then the cycle lane, then the car lanes, and on almost every occasion, passing cars generally seemed to have my best interests at heart. all the buses in the tri-met area have bicycle racks fitted to the front, allowing cyclists to pull the rack down, fit the bike, and hop on the bus. therefore, it's not all or nothing - mixing and matching modes of transport is made very easy.
i joined chris on his morning commute from his home in beaverton (around 13 miles from downtown portland) where we rode to the light railway station (the light railway is similar to a modern tram system). inside each electric door is a couple of hooks, allowing riders to hook their front wheel up top, roll the back wheel into the slot provided, and hook the bars through the handle to prevent the bike moving about. then sit down and enjoy the journey into downtown portland or even out to the airport.
portland is also known as the city of bridges possibly because there are six bridges of varying age cross the willamette river, joining west and east; all of these feature bike lanes or separate cycle/pedestrian paths. getting about the city by bicycle couldn't really be much easier: on friday afternoon three of us left chris king's around noon and paid lengthy visits to three different locations, before ending up at the aforementioned green dragon. even here, the bike parking was made oh so easy; along the back wall was a long stretch of wood (not for nothing is portland's alternative moniker stumptown) bearing a slew of large metal hooks parallel to the ground, ready to accept bicycle front wheels. since all the bikes hung in this location were at the back of the drinking/eating area (they did a very nice line in belgian frites with mayo) they need not be locked, since anyone attempting removal would have to pass the entire array of customers. simple and effective.
since i returned to the uk, i have (surprisingly enough) mentioned this ease of bike parking to several folk. amazing how pointing out the obvious is only obvious once it's pointed out. i have also contacted the principal bus company regarding the fitting of bike racks to the front of their buses, which was met with a reply suggesting the fitting of such may not comply with the construction and use regulations that apply in the uk. an appropriate reaction to that might be wtf?
i'm sure there are flaws in the system - none are ever perfect - and i will readily admit to looking at all this through rose tinted glasses: it's just so different to mainland britain that you can't help but be impressed. in fact the headlines in the newspapers over here, the day after i returned, pointed to the lovely people in perthshire who spread carpet tacks across the roads being used by the etape caledonia in protest to the fact that the organisers had had the temerity to close the road for four hours, once a year. a welcome home indeed.
cycling has succeeded in portland possibly because of its critical mass: don't get me wrong, the car is still king, you only have to stand at the side of grand avenue for five minutes to see that. and the cycle budget is less than one percent of the overall roads budget. but things have pretty much reached the point where those who still fiercely and purposefully drive their cars, will know at least one person well who commutes on a bicycle, and it is this fact that has begun to alter the way in which motorists view cyclists as a whole.
and there are a number of people, including jonathan maus at bikeportland.org and chris distefano at chris kings, who make sure they keep an eye on the legislature and how they continue to consider bicycling as a part of their constituents' rights to benefit their daily lives. if, like me, you had to look up a map to find out where portland is (it's in the northwest united states, grabbing the last part of coastline after california has finished with it, before reaching british columbia in canada. it's only a few miles south of seattle.) while the wind cannot, on the whole, be compared to that of islay, it's not short of a raindrop or two during the winter months. so if those in portland can continue to commute year round, there's no reason on this earth why those in the uk cannot do likewise. and portland isn't a huge city: the current population is around 600,000; the population of greater glasgow is over one million, while that of london is well over eight million.
and heck, it's got it's own public velodrome
posted on monday 25 may 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................