variety is the scarf of life

rapha silk scarf

in my late teens, when still at art college, i had a regular job at the local airport when i came home for the summer, working in the storeroom, shifting stuff here there and otheer places that i probably shouldn't have. during my first year there those of us employed in the depths of the terminal building were entitled to wear a brown coat, almost exactly the same as the guy who used to deliver the bakery goods. however, in my second year, the franchise had changed, and the company which was now my employer, decided that a tad more sartorial elegance was required, though you will appreciate that their notion of this and mine were some degrees apart.

what we ended up with was a short brown jacket (easily the worst shade of brown they could have found) and matching brown trousers. having always been a bit on the slim side, at that age i had a 28 inch waist, but the suppliers of said uniform were only able to provide a minimum of 32 inch waist. this meant that if i was really quick, i could turn round to face the opposite direction while the trousers remained as was. the third component of this dressing up was, of course, the company tie which, we were informed, was a compulsory addition and must be worn at all times.

bear in mind here that i was a nineteen year old scruff (nothing much has changed apart from the age) who was attending art college and therefore rather pre-disposed not to take anything at face value, particularly if it was regarded as compulsory. so the company tie, for a week or so, proved to be the ideal method of keeping those overly large trousers in place, before migrating to an ideal way to keep my long hair out of places management would have preferred it not to be. happily, the company took the point that not only was it a bit of a lost cause to force recalcitrant scruffs to wear a tie, but it also had its dangers when shifting beer kegs and heavy boxes: it just plain got in the way. however, it obviously did their credibility no good at all to have neglected more specific instruction as to how the tie was to be compulsorily worn.

rooster cogburn

so here we are, many, many years later; the hair is a lot greyer, but evidently just as long, and the attitude hasn't changed that much in however many years. nowadays we'd call it inventiveness, but the same principals apply, even down to cycling apparel. last year, rapha introduced what might be considered a nod in the direction of the upper class cyclist, the rather handsome silk scarf, handmade in england and designed to be worn neckerchief style to insulate the neck. of course, that was rapha's notion, but since you don't have to sign anything when you buy one, you can pretty much wear it anyway you like. most of us will toe the rapha line and present ourselves as a cleated rooster cogburn, but it doesn't have to stop there.

if sartorial elegance is indeed your thing the photo at the top of the page may be worth following up - and will flag up your excellent dress-sense to all those following in your wake. but it doesn't stop there: if you have hair trailing in your wake, it could probably be tied as a scrunchy; worn a la marco pantani, tied round one arm, over your face, gunslinger style or perhaps even used as a small table cloth when stopping for a slice of power bar, a banana and a glass of recovery drink - i'm sure you get the general idea.

then again, you could just wear it round your neck. i believe that's what is known as versatility

trackosaurusrex | embrocation

this article appears courtesy of a challenge from rapha's jeremy dunn in portland: 'photos, essays, photo-essays, videos and uses for the silk scarf.' other sites are also partaking, and assuming cross channel communication doesn't let us down, i should eventually have links to them all. and if you fancy one to experiment for yourself, type in the promotional code 'juneties' for a discount at the rapha website


posted on friday 19 june 2009

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icebreaker merino baselayers

merino sheep

on my penultimate day in portland last month, chris distefano, and jay sycip from chris king's took me out on a tour of the city and several bicycle locations that cd figured would be of interest. and how right he was. our first stop was to a building not that far away from nw nela street, and housing the american headquarters of a company called icebreaker, of which i had to admit i'd never heard (though i had seen a shop in downtown portland bearing their sign outside - i had no idea what it was). their design and office space was what you and i would call fabulous, a description that seemed to sit well with messrs distefano and sycip, who discussed just how they could move their own deskspace into an anonymous corner. situated on the edge of northwest portland's industrial park, it was indeed an impressive ground floor space with a fabulous amount of light flooding through substantial glass windows to a large open plan work area. aside from the almost obligatory centrally placed sofa, icebreaker usa was notable for the largest amount of herman miller aeron chairs i have ever seen in one place.north american president, russ hopcus, dressed very casually in shirt, shorts and baselayer, happily showed us around and explained the development of their advertising and product range. thankfully he seemed unmoved by the fact that i'd never heard of icebreaker before, but before i left we'd swapped business cards and he offered to arrange for the uk office to contact me with a view to supplying product for review on thewashingmachinepost. and true to their word, that's exactly what happened.

in case, like me, icebreaker is a name you have not heard before, it may surprise you to know that the company was born in new zealand in 1994, and now offers what must be one of the largest range of merino wool products in the world; not only baselayers in various weights, but women's and gents merino underwear, casual clothing and even outerwear jackets all containing a high proportion of new zealand merino wool. they currently inhabit the active outdoor sports market - activities such as mountaineering, kayaking, running, cross country and mountain biking, though i'm sure there's a few others where icebreaker is quite prominent. as has been brought to your attention in these pixels on previous occasions, merino wool has the distinct advantage over man-made fibres in that you can wear it for days and days (the unofficial record is well over 100 days), under all conditions without starting to smell. a very important fact if you intend not being on your own while you undertake any sporting activity.

icebreaker baselayers

it's not a name you're likely to hear bandied about in roadie circles, principally because it's not a market that they currently inhabit. however, i was given to understand by mr hopcus that it was an area they were keen to take more than just a passing look at. it is with this promising future in mind that the icebreaker products were tested in washingmachinepost countryside and workspace. i received a superfine 140 weight t-shirt featuring a graphic of mount aoraki (the mountain that sir edmund hilary trained on for his conquest of everest), an icebreaker gt 150 with half-length zip, and a long-sleeve icebreaker gt200 with crewe neck. i was also sent a pair of merino leggings in 260 weight which are meant for later in the year (too warm for wear at present, so these will have to form the basis of a later review).

icebreaker are keen on the layering system, and the wide variety of weights available make that very easy to accomplish. in my case, i simply put the 140 weight on below the 200 long-sleeve and topped it off with gt150 which is the item that most resembles a cycle jersey. while the long-sleeve features a small zipped offset rear pocket, the blue zipped top has a similar pocket on the right rear, but this time without the zip.

in order to do this sort of thing properly, i have worn these baselayers everyday since i received them, both on and off the bike. despite more than a few sweaty bicycle rides, currently all three garments smell the same as they did when fished out of their plastic bags. merino really is odour free. it's also very comfortable: all seams are flatlocked and there are aerated panels under the arms of the long sleeve that remove seams from those sensitive areas altogether. similarly, a large panel on the back allows for cooling of those sometimes perspirational regions merino's other perhaps less well documented features is its delightful comfort: all of these are as soft as a baby's bum, and have this uncanny knack of regulating temperature whatever the ambient is; and believe me, islay has blown hot and cold all week.

icebreaker merino sheep

on the bike and in the drops, the thumbloops on the long-sleeve prevent them either riding up or, in colder weather, act as a very effective draught excluder. however, the lack of roadie specificity shows in the style of all three: while the tails are all long enough to preclude cooling of the lower back, the front on each is pretty much the same length, and when on the hoods or on the drops, there is a bit of bunching up. roadie specific gear tends to be shorter at the front. however, one cannot be too critical, since icebreaker have been plenty upfront about none of their products being designed for skinny wheels and bendy bars. if they produced a jersey like the icebreaker velocity zip in 200 weight merino, or slightly heavier, added three pockets at the rear and shortened the front a bit, i figure they'd have a pretty decent road jersey. the added brownie points gained from pure merino (well, there's a smattering of lycra included to aid elasticity) would doubtless appeal to the sartorially conscious roadie.

icebreaker take traceability seriously, even if they deal with it in a humorous fashion: each garment features a unique baa-code on a sewn-in label. trot along to icebreaker's website, type in the code, and you can find out which wool station in new zealand produced what it is you're wearing. it might seem like trivia, but we like trivia and it's a neat idea. while none of these baselayers are really designed for the purpose in hand, it's very hard not to like them. they fit well, comfort is almost unmatchable, and they really do not smell (at least not after a week of constant use). for those relaxing summer rides, commuting, or anything less than competitive endeavours, you could do a lot worse than to wear icebreaker.

the superfine 140 weight print t-shirt costs £42.95. the icebreaker gt150 ultralite velocity zip is £54.95 and the gt200 long sleeve (my absolute favourite) retails at £64.95.


posted on thursday 18 june 2009

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a site for sore eyes

i've got to be very careful how i word the following, always bearing in mind the mantra 'people in glass houses, shouldn't throw stones. although we're in the middle of bike week in the uk, it seems i may have missed the press release announcing june to be national upgrade your cycling website month, since not just one major site has received a new and improved look:, and have all received facelifts within the past week or so, and as is customary, not entirely to rapturous applause.

first to go upmarket was cycling weekly, or the comic as those of us who can barely wait until thursday comes are wont to call it. i have no desire, or indeed the technical bravado to go into the nuts and bolts of what makes a website work these days. i have become accustomed to the gasps of horror that the post is still compiled using hand-coded html pages, since pretty much everything else these days, including the three sites under discussion, are operated through what is known as a content managed system or cms. there is no doubt that this method benefits those who have a myriad of contributors, often across several continents, and allows for technical whizzes that the post could not hope to accomplish even if i wanted it to. however, such systems seem to benefit the backroom boys slightly more than those of us on the browser side: a euphemism for oft times a paucity of design and logic; a one size fits all approach, if you will.

now this is where it becomes necessary to watch what i say because, while i may not have the development wherewithal, nor the commercial import that these three sites obviously have, i do inhabit the same webspaceness, and it doesn't do to make enemies. however, rather than beat about the bush for too long (!), i might just let you know that i can't see why they bothered. nobody seems to remember the age-old adage if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

biggest culprit here has to be future publishing, owners of, who seemingly couldn't resist the urge to turn it into bikeradar mark two - the two websites are darned near identical, though to my mind they were/should be catering to at least two variations of the cycling market. you could just tell that future would do this sooner or later, because they cannot leave well alone: pro-cycling is an excellent case in point. if you're anything like me, you've just watched the end of a stage on eurosport's stuttering online offering, and the video stream has stopped dead a few hundred metres from the line. since the race will be over by the time you refresh the page, the best plan of action is to click across to and pick up the winner from there. or at least, that would have been the previous notion. now, however, we are to be immersed in a new audio visual experience, but we only want the results, something the original cycliingnews did beautifully.

cyclingweekly has gone much the same way, while british cycling's website has become a sky franchise as of yesterday. i will confess to not being a particularly frequent user of the latter two, so selfishly, i don't care so much about those changes, though i may live to regret that. this could possibly be the thin end of the wedge. these cycling websites used to be about providing information, clearly, informatively and easily accessible; if there was any selling going on, it was subtly done. now it's all flashing banner ads, moving pictures and a worrying link on the british cycling website that offers to tell us how to use this site. when was the last time you bought a newspaper, magazine or book that contained instructions for use?


unable to find any contact information on the cyclingnews site, i was moved to sign up to their forum in order to vent my displeasure in the relevant section, where i did notice a good few others of similar mind. of course, any protestations are pointless: future are determined to inflict their corporate style on everything and it would be tantamount to admitting they'd got it wrong, if they reverted to the original. so even though i've filled these pixels with moaning, my only option is to go to velonews.

which is precisely what i intend to do.

i do hope that, despite the foregoing, rob spedding is still talking to me. | | | |


posted on wednesday 17 june 2009

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some new stuff from sportique

sportique intim soap

i've spent the last few days trying to think of a tactful way of dealing/reviewing this first product from sportique, because it's something you would use, whether male or female, on those areas we don't really talk about. at least not in polite society and preferably not on the patio at debbie's while supping coffee, discussing how we now have wheels with about one third the spokes that used to be considered the minimum. it's all about those intimate areas usually covered by lycra and comforted by soft foamy pads.

riding long distances in the heat that really ought to be with us at this time of year, is harder on certain parts of the body than others, some of which need to observe a greater degree of hygiene than others. for just such regions, sportique have developed intim soap which certainly wouldn't be my first choice of product name, whatever it does (though i admit i haven't come up with any viable alternatives). this is a very creamy, light, liquid soap in a 150ml bottle that is formulated specifically not to unduly irritate those parts of the body of which we're all agreed, we're not going to mention. just a nod and a wink will suffice.

as someone who wishes to keep his nether regions in as fine fettle as possible, so that daily riding remains as comfortable and trouble free as it can be, i have been using intim soap for a few weeks now, and think what you like (within reason) it really seems to be the ideal product for the purpose. if you're using sportique century riding cream before each bike ride, then washing with intim soap in the shower will keep things the way they're meant to be. the product also shows a move away from the standard red and white labelling, to a subtle light blue; i have no idea what this signifies.

sadly, in common with the following two products, i have no information regarding availability or pricing. the items are not present on sportique's website, though i am attempting to find out for both our sakes.

sportique foot gel and muscle gel

there are, of course, areas of the body which require a similar degree of cosseting which we can mention even climbing steep hills, not least of which are the feet. but while the range of cycle socks available on the market today would probably stretch twice round the world if joined end to end, and the variety of cycle shoes wouldn't be that far behind, both those items, however well designed and intentioned can cause ten little toes more trouble than all the gradients in the pyrenees or the gravel roads in the rapha continental. you might be averse to wearing the same pair of shorts two days in a row, but i'd be willing to bet that you'd think nothing of pulling on the same socks for a day or two. there are umpteen powders and ointments that can be spread upon the feet, but the sportique foot gel, despite its rather unsavoury appearance, has at least two tangible benefits: it cures or prevents fungal infection, and it cools the feet almost immediately. and that's a very nice feeling after a 70km ride.

the foot gel arrives in a 150ml tub, and only requires very sparing application, meaning that it should last for quite some time; i've been using this regularly for about three weeks, and i'm still on the stuff that sticks to the inside of the lid.

lastly, and hopefully more robustly, are the muscles and joints, the very body components that we're mostly trying to improve by giving them a hard time. that's the way pretty much every form of exercise works - you give the muscles a bit more grief each time, and as they repair themselves while you sleep, they get stronger, just in case you do it again. joints are perhaps a different kettle of fish altogether, since they're more likely to wear (think bottom brackets) under similar circumstances. so in either case, applying a little tender loving care really wouldn't go amiss, especially if you fancy being able to continue cycling well into your dotage. again the muscle and joint gel looks yucky, but sportique claim tension relieving and relaxing ingredients, and i'm inclined to agree. i shouldn't figure that my attempts at olympic selection for 2012 are giving my joints and muscles quite the same troubles as sir chris, but i do like to give them some sort of reward before changing into civvies.

and this is it.

yet again, i apologise for my lack of availability and pricing information regarding the above sportique products, but they arrived in a cardboard box unnaccompanied by the usual marketing literature. but i have asked, and i'll append prices etc. when i know.



posted on tuesday 16 june 2009

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now that summer's here, we can start to think about rain

ride of the falling rain

it's a sad fact that i churn out scores of words on a daily basis, advising my reader of the various happenings within the wonderful world of cycling, and asking the sort of questions that others are too scared to ask. questions such as why did contador help valverde in the dauphine?, do we really need a different tread on front and rear tyres?, who invented the drop bar and why? and what on earth possessed me to agree to ride my bike in this saturday's islay tryathlon? yet time marches on relentlessly and sure as night follows day, july will be along just shortly, followed with some alacrity, by august. and we all know what happens in august don't we?

actually, that's part of the problem: there may well be quite a few of you who have no idea what happens in august, because i have been so pre-occupied with other, more worldly aspects of bicycling. some of you may be feeling quite blase about the following, in which case you have my express permission to nip out for a double espresso and a sticky bun. for those who clearly have no idea what's going on, it is my pleasure to enlighten. on sunday 2nd august, leaving at 10am from debbie's cafe in bruichladdich, will be the umpteenth running of the ride of the falling rain. never ones to let a bandwagon pass by, this year's edition has been colourfully and patriotically named the homecoming ride of the falling rain; this will have no tangible bearing on the day's pedalling, but it makes it look as if we know what we're doing. and while on that very subject, the certificate we received as winners of the best event in argyll 2008 paid tribute to the availability of up to date information as and when required (i know, i know) and to the event's excellent organisation.

except, information only flows outwards when i remember - and that isn't often - and it is a point of honour that as little organisation as possible is undertaken by any member of velo club d'ardbeg. ok, so we've told the folks at ardbeg distillery's old kiln cafe that we're coming, but that's only because on the first sunday of august, there are a lot of other people wanting to eat at ardbeg. and secondly we have asked francois at bon appetit in port mor, to prepare a satisfying repast of an evening, that we can all have a chat to those that we were either too fast or too slow to converse with during the day. other than that, we will adhere to the fausto coppi mantra of ride your bike, ride your bike and ride your bike from morning till finish.

homecoming scotland

sadly, if you require accommodation of a more than tent-like appearance, you are probably too late to join us for the ride this year, since the islay half-marathon takes place the previous day (in bowmore) and it is the height of islay's summer season. accommodation is at a premium and it's unlikely you'll get a booking at this late date. for those who are more organised than i, the route is essentially the same as last year's, except we're riding off in the opposite direction. in order to complete the entire hundred miles, in previous years it has been incumbent on the well-dispersed peloton to climb the fourteen percent climb at kilchiaran. for many, this was a gradient too far after eighty plus miles, and lunch and a dram at ardbeg. so this year, we're going to get it out of the way first, leaving the latter part of the homecoming ride of the falling rain as a pleasant amble round loch gorm, over by islay's atlantic coast before rolling pleasantly back to debbie's for the apres century quadruple espresso soya cappuccino and a bun.

when i finally get round to it, there will be an illustrated map of the route, downloadable from the ride web page.

and just as a taster for june 2010, we have unashamedly nicked an idea from chris king in portland, and are in the process of organising the ardbeg committee tenth anniversary gourmet ride. accommodation ought to be a trifle easier at that time of year and we have one or two suprises in store. distance will likely be a metric century of 100km (60 miles), and much the same as the falling rain, it's not a race and sauntering is most definitely allowed. more details as i make them up.

debbie's cafe | ride of the falling rain


posted on monday 15 june 2009

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it only takes a minute

waving bye-law

on the few courses that i have attended in my oh so many years of working, one of the almost immutable laws that has penetrated the recordable psyche, is that teaching requires repetition. unless the instructee happens to be of an intellectual calibre in the top ten percent, there's a strong chance that instructions or advice given only once will have vanished into the ether by home time. if you want to get your point across, say it often - you may have to vary the perspective, but repeating a point should, in most cases, get through in the end. it has taken us several weeks of continually pointing out to the kids at port mor wheelers that you lay your bicycle down, derailleur side up, thus saving mum and dad money, saving me the bother of ordering spare parts and allowing uninterrupted use of the bicycle. we're getting there, but the war isn't over yet.

similarly, i have been harping on during every summer season that it is a code of conduct to which we expect you to adhere, that you wave to any passing cyclist while wending your merry way around the island principality (this is actually a code of conduct that should be legally enforceable right across the country, but from little acorns do giant oak trees grow). we're now comfortably into the month of june, and the island's roads, such as they are, have started to fill up with touring cyclists of every ilk; from those on lightweight road machines intent on credit card touring, to those carrying more than mark beaumont did on his circumnavigation of the globe.

since those in velo club d'ardbeg are of a cheery and friendly disposition, we have adopted the islay habit of waving to any passing cyclist(s) along with a hearty cheer or some words in italian that we don't understand the meaning of. and it would do the heart and bibshorts good for a modicum of reciprocation, though probably best without the italian. yet over the past few weeks, this has quite plainly not been the case. why is it that we offer the hospitality of our beautiful island and attempt to make all welcome (heck, we even wave to motorcyclists, but that might just be a wheel too far), and yet it's effectively thrown back in our faces? is it because, having cycled seemingly endless miles to kennacraig, spent a couple of hours on the ferry, pausing long enough to have a plate of macaroni cheese, before disembarking and pedalling to the youth hostel or camp ground in port charlotte, that all are too tired to lift even one hand from the bars? it's simply not good enough.

yes, we're all on shiny bits of steel or carbon, and no, we are not laden with half a house on two racks, but we live here - why would we be? so if you have plans to spend any time on islay, or perchance any of the scottish islands further up the coast, do the decent thing and wave to any passing cyclist irrespective of bicycle genre. as i have pointed out before, every islay landlady is legally required to pass on details to the velo club database; we know where you're staying, and we'll be outside in the morning waving until we get one in return.

you have been warned.


posted on sunday 14 june 2009

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mavic altium infinity jersey and shorts, helium gilet and race socks

mavic altium

i have little idea whether there are undercurrents within the world of cycle clothing; whether it becomes necessary to come down on one side of the fence or the other. i am referring to the employment of either technical fabrics, or the woolier end of the market. which you prefer depends very much on how you view your cycling, though obviously it's possible to have a wardrobe that contains a modicum of both: there will likely be very little assos on london's tweed ride, but i've seen remarkably little sportwool in the current tour series or nocturnes.

mavic, generally better known for their wheel products were the manufacturing and possibly designing source behind adidias cycle clothing when the latter were happy to be supplier to the late lamented t-mobile pro tour team. when the team disappeared from the peloton, adidas disappeared from the cycle world, so mavic's purple period (well, magenta actually) disappeared too. well, not really, because having gained valuable experience and expertise over the adidas years, mavic were loathe to lose this, and elected to continue under their own banner.

while no longer a much vaunted, but seemingly slow-burn launch, mavic clothing has started to infiltrate the retail pipeline, so it seemed a good idea to take some out for a ride. while the clothing is available at a variety of different price points, mavic sent me a jersey, bib shorts, gilet and socks from the altium infinity range which, if i understand correctly, sits right at the very top, something that the prices for each would tend to indicate.

the jersey is almost impossibly thin, with a lined collar, full length zip, three, large rear pockets and a further two smaller pockets on the side panels, which are ideal for a mobile phone, small camera, keys or half a peanut butter sandwich. the back features a fairly large mesh panel between the shoulder blades, and there are tiny laser cut holes under each arm, extending to front and back. unfortunately, there is not a zipped pocket, though the two side pockets almost make up for this omission. the ultra neat, almost hidden feature is the silicon printed m logo along the hem at the rear, designed to prevent the jersey riding up when on the bike; it works very effectively. the closed zip displays the mavic clothing logo full length, which is a nice touch, as is the little rubberised yellow mavic logo thoughtfully positioned at strategic locations. the infinity jersey is very much a summer weight item, designed to keep the rider as cool as possible: sadly islay wasn't quite that warm, and i'd to resort to arm warmers and the accompanying gilet.

mavic altium

the gilet is almost thinner than the toilet paper we have in our bathroom. it's semi-transparent, the word lightweight is almost too heavy a description and as maybe inferred from such a description, it packs away into a matchbox (well, not that i've tried, but it looks as if it could). again, there's a full-length zip that slopes off to the right, avoiding that nape of the neck problem, and a large, full-width zipped rear pocket, though the flimsiness of the fabric would mitigate against carrying a stilson and a track pump, though it should be fine for a mini pump, an inner tube, and an energy bar. the only problem i had with the gilet, and it's something that also occurred on the jersey, was undoing the zip. yes, it zips down from top to bottom, but the joining part (sorry to be so technical) is plastic, and often refused to undo; i had to take the gilet off over my head on one occasion. i have since discovered that pulling from the inside gave more success, but it's still harder than it ought to be on such fine garments.

the jewels in the crown, however, are the bib shorts; these have rather striking pinstriped panels on each leg, and the same silicon printed m logo inside the hem to prevent them riding up and have you emulating sean yates. the bib section is of string vest similarity, which didn't seem like a favourable solution until i tried them. the straps are of such an open weave that no pressure is placed upon the shoulders whatsoever, while the insert is undoubtedly the most technical my bum has ever had the good fortune to sit upon: three different densities of foam in six different thicknesses mean that it resembles the topography of hills on an ordnance survey map



mavic socks

it almost seems a shame to leave those poor socks till last. made from a fabric that mavic call microlon, they are marked left and right, and feature open mesh sections on the top for sympathetic cooling of the feet. strangely, despite my having small ankles, and the socks being size large, they were quite difficult to get on and off, though in use they are indeed, the bees knees (or toes)

mavic's sizing is a wee bit of a mystery: everything arrived in large size, which i generally am not, but while the jersey was a bit on the big side for a slim chappie like myself, the gilet and the shorts were just dandy. yet i'm a small in shorts from almost every other manufacturer on the planet (though not the swiss). if you're buying, try the clothing for size first. the altium infinity jersey is available in xs all the way through to xxl at a cost of £140; the helium gilet can be had in the same sizes for £70, and the shorts in the same sizes for £170. visit your mavic dealer next weekend.


posted on saturday 13 june 2009

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