for the love of bicycles

j'aime cyclisme

it's not a state of affairs exclusive to cycling, but many of us who adore our cycles and cycling in general, however that translates, harbour a secret desire to work in the industry in some way, even if it came down to popping bike boxes onto the open rear end of a truck (no disrespect intended to those who actually do this for a living; it's probably one of the more essential tasks for those of us eagerly awaiting a new velocipede). but, just as in other strains of life, there are a wide variety of facets visible and do-able in the cycle industry. but sometimes turning a serious hobby or pastime into a business comes unstuck; what was once a labour of love suddenly becomes a just labour because what was once an option, is now a necessity: other people are depending on you.

so what separates those who have an undying love of the world of bicycles and successfully turn this endearment into a successful business? how do these people find others who will love what they do just as much, and enough to buy into the philosophy? how does the branding and marketing succeed? and assuming this can be bottled, have they words of wisdom that can apply to others who too wish to get into the business, and is it translatable to other areas of commerce?

these questions are both theoretical and practical, but wouldn't it be nice if we, as an interested audience, could listen to the meaning of life, the universe and everything as it relates to the subject in hand? substance, progenitors of new communicators are in total agreement here, and in order to at least partially solve the problem, have organised a summit of minds in portland on october 29th. as fans of the oregon manifest and organisers of projects such as and they wanted to create an event that captures an amalgam of ideas into a comprehensive panel that would cover a wide area of ground. stephen landau of substance explained; "specifically, we wanted to create an event that brought different people who are involved in different aspects of cycling together to talk about how they communicate."

the illustrious panel who will hold court in the gerding theatre on nw eleventh avenue, portland consists of jonathan maus, founder and editor in chief of, the inestimable mr slate olson, rapha's general manager in the north america, natalie ramsland, owner and builder at sweetpea bicycles, and heidi swift, newspaper columnist, photographer and bike racer. the motley crew will be moderated by david lowe-rogstad, co-founder of substance, a former bike racer and participator in this year's cross crusade.

stephen landau again; " we hope the event will help cycling-related businesses understand some of the different ways of marketing, branding and communicating with their audience, as well as giving people in general, different ideas on how they too can have similar conversations with clients/customers etc."

i find this a rather interesting concept, one that i'm surprised hasn't come to the fore previously, though much like the very best ideas, it seems startlingly obvious when someone else gets there first. maybe we should have more of this, but not confine it to portland, since i can think of a number of candidates for a similar seminar on this side of the atlantic. when in london a couple of years ago with my daughter, after she'd been dragged at least partially uwilling round a number of cycling related ports of call, at end of day remarked,"cycling people are really nice."

in this, she was right on the money: since big bucks are rarely a result of endeavour in the cycle industry, the majority of those involved are there for the love of bicycles and cycling. if we believe this to be true, it would seem almost criminal not to capitalise on this wealth of experience and enthusiasm, which won't necessarily reach the ears and eyes of civilians through regular commercial channels. but surely those in the cycle industry aren't so very different from those in other walks of life?

"i don't think that those involved in cycling communicate in a different way; it was more that each of those on the panel loves what they do and have figured out how to either build a business or be involved in cycling for work. I definitely think there are opportunities for non-cyclists to learn and extrapolate the ways these people communicate." stephen landau. "we debated if we should only have cycling-related people or just have one cycling person and pull other industries into the conversation, but in the end this was what we were really excited about so went with it.
"in the panel discussion, we're going to steer part of the conversation away from cycling-specific stuff and more into how people are using different technology and events to engage with people so non-cycling people get a better idea of how they can take these examples as inspiration."

west coast design icons, emigre, were propagators of the phrase - design is a good idea. seems that substance have deftly grafted the word bicycling in place of design.. here's hoping it doesn't stop at eleventh avenue.

the new communicators | substance | j'aime cyclisme t-shirt available from prendas ciclismo


posted friday 16 october 2009

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polar bears in both shoes - prendas socks

thermolite socks

maybe it's only happening here, or maybe it's global warming, but there seems to be no consistency to either the weather or temperature over the past month or so. there's a definite difference in the ambient climate between this rock on the atlantic edge, and the streets around earls court, measured on the baselayer and cycle jersey scale. can i just put it in perspective: you need more than a baselayer by the time you reach glasgow. or, then again, not.

this weekend past, the temperature was in cycle jersey range, comfortably topped with a softshell. we were verging on the need for roubaix lined tights, but in the interests of being brian smith, such were eschewed in favour of bib threequarters. lets face it, there's not much in the way of cold affected material around the lower shins.

but there's no real shame in just a modicum of insurance by having the socks rise up to meet the lower elastic gloop of the threequarters, and even less in making those of the thermal variety. in this case the comfy foot covers are one of the latest offerings from prendas, cast lovingly from thermolite, but with reinforcements. with no word of a lie, the thermolite fibres are based on polar bear fur; they're hollow. by providing us with all this nothingness, the fibres are lighter while still keeping those tootsies warm, all the way up and beyond the ankle. though not quite in the lance armstrong class of long, these are longer than the whippet versions we'd wear in the summer, thus minimising that area of bare shin and steel-like calf muscle.

the light grey panel on the top strengthens the area where the tongue of the shoe would generally abrade, and both toes and heel are visually stronger than the rest of the sock. although it sounds like a bit of a joke, the socks are marked right and left, possibly very handy after a podium lubricated with some of those belgian beers, but adhered to nonetheless. strangely i have never felt brave enough to road test a pair of marked socks on the wrong feet. maybe one of these days.

thermolite has an imposing degree of cushioning, doubtless provided by those hollow fibres, a welcome affectation on a lengthy(ish) bike ride in the cold. despite the rain and excess of surface water, i left the overshoes at home; those would have skewed the degree of warmth provided by the socks alone. if socks are offered as a barrier against chilly feet, it seems only prudent that this be checked in isolation. the prendas thermolites made a more than noticeable difference to my bike ride; it's not uncommon for top and tail to be comfortably temperate, while the feet are left out of the equation. not anymore.

thermocool socks

of course, as alluded to in the opening of this chapter of washingmachinepost life, just as quickly as the lower temperatures arrived, they moved on to somewhere else, to be replaced by more mercury in the thermometer. it's a real dilemma, planning a uniform for the morrow based on the cast-off suit of today, a knack i have yet to nail properly. if you're warm within the first 6km, then you are likely overdressed, a situation i have found myself in all too often of late. however, having noticed that today was of a milder disposition, entirely unsuited to left and right thermolite socks, it was a simple wardrobe choice to opt for prendas thermo cool/coolmax socks; less polar bear, more koala i suppose. with the ventilation applied to modern day cycle shoes, it's a great help to have a second line of defence that isn't trying to microwave ten toes. these are not quite as long as the thermolites, but still as black with the prendas logo on both sides of the ankle ribbing. and even though prendas advise that these are ideal for those who race in the winter, it is perhaps better to adhere to sartorial guidelines: black socks only when training - i'll be watching.

if we not unnaturally assume that the springing back and forward of temperatures is likely to continue as the arctic ice recedes, and the north east passage becomes a navigable waterway, no longer will the choice of one pair of winter socks be the only option. at a cost of only £7.95 a pair, several pairs of each ought to be well within the reach of even a pro continental rider.

prendas ciclismo


posted thursday 15 october 2009

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the old ones are the best


while many of us, perhaps justifiably, moan about the state of the roads, others, who probably join in the moaning, spend part of their cycling life actively searching out unmade routes on which to hasten the destruction of bike and body. the junction of the high road and the glen road on islay bears an uncanny resemblance to one or two cyclocross tracks seen in brian vernor's pure sweet hell, and i have written to the council to complain, yet i would climb over a camembert sandwich to ride the cobbles of paris-roubaix. surely just an eccentricity that can be put down to over enthusiasm?

the wilds of northern europe are fraught with mud and puddles, doubtless the elements that not only shape the roadways, but also the people that ride them. southern europeans are of softer ilk, it's not the cobbles and even less the mud, but the so-called strade bianche, the white roads that feature, or featured, heavily across the tuscan plains. so much so that the professionals wanted a piece of it, and now have their own race across the white dusty tracks in early season. but l'eroica, for it is such that we are now discussing, commenced its useful life as a sportive, but with just one tiny difference, that those taking part, aside from wearing crossed over tubulars about their person, and impersonating biggles with aviator goggles, require to ride bicycles that first saw the light of day prior to 1987: this means that only those with theswitch lever on the oblique tube loom, toe clips and belts, external brake wires need there are likely hundreds of velocipedes fitiing the description, all across the western world, either mouldering in sheds or having been faithfully restored to their former glory. such may indeed be the case, but of little help to anyone needing not only a pre-1987 bike, but one that's going to last the full 135km distance. where would you find such a machine? or machines, if we believe in the plural attempt?

hackney's tour de ville is just such a place. specialising (definitely no pun intended) in steel frames of yesteryear, all in immaculate condition, as well as the necessary finery to wear with the wheels du jour, tdv supplied the chaps at rapha with bikes fitting the necessary technical specifications. after surveying the present and the future at earls court last week, it perhaps ought to be compulsory to visit tour de ville on the following day, just to place everything in some sort of perspective.

at least two road test articles of which i know in the monthlies, pitted a modern day flavour of carbon against the very sort of machine that can be acquired from tdv, with unsurprising results, given that they were talking racing. but as i continually love to remind you, not all of us race; and while conscious of the fact that my colnago c40 is a joy to ride, it really is a much faster machine than i will ever have cause to find out. and this is increasingly less likely as the years roll by. and we should also pay attention to the fact that the four bikes ridden by the rapha chaps, covered the distance without any serious mechanical deficiency. testament, if testament were needed, that they built 'em tough in them days. or at least the ones living in tour de ville.


the perren street delegates rode a bianchi specialissima with a seven speed campagnolo athena group set; a koga miyata proracer with six speed shimano dura ace; a gazelle champion mondial bearing full campagnolo nuovo record; and finally a rossin record with a six speed, late seventies nuovo record set. having survived their italian holiday, the bikes are now being auctioned by rapha via e-mail bidding. you can have a look at the bikes in tour de ville, or if like me, you're just a bit further away, there's a good selection of pics here. bidding ends at midnight on 22nd october (my birthday as it happens), so don't dilly-dally on the way.

tour de ville


posted wednesday 14 october 2009

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pure, sweet hell - a cyclocross film by brian vernor & willie bullion. dvd $19.95

pure sweet hell

unlike the majority of road racing, both stage races and the classics, cyclocross is somewhat of a visceral sport. watch the neat and tidy peloton in a rainstorm and they are still relatively cossetted by the following team cars and entire wardrobes of waterproofs. granted, they are often encapsulated by such over the course of several hours, and for the slower ones, getting on for a working day. but by and large, they are reasonably compensated for their troubles.

cyclocross, on the other hand, tends to top out at one hour plus a lap, if that long, and therefore results in a mad dash for the line that just happens to take around sixty minutes. for many of the participants, money relates mostly to how much of it they spend on this manic cardiovascular workout which, due to its autumn/winter timescale, often results in mud, and glorious mud.

many of you may well have put yourself through this purgatory every other weekend; davy the snake from mull positively revels in the above scenario, as do more than one or two of my portland friends and the enigmatic mr sachs, now resident in massachusetts. but just as many, if not more, will be of a similar disposition to myself: never once having competed in a cyclocross race of any description. so what's it like? personally, i have no end of people to whom i can turn for emphatic and enthusiastic descriptions of how that hour and a lap may likely unfold (and one who offered advice to the contrary), but short of suiting up in rapha's cross gear, finding a colnago with knobblies and cantilevers, and spending my lengthening minutes striving desperately to remain in an upright position, as a confirmed conscientious objector, i tend to think the latter scenario is unlikely to come to pass. though i'd happily be the guy behind the tape fiercely shaking my blue cowbell in all manner of odd time-signatures.

pure sweet hell

but that doesn't mean i can't be a fan of cross, and it doesn't mean that i wouldn't still like to find out what racing cross is really like. part of me is willing to accept that perhaps it should remain sacrosanct as the price of admission: if i haven't the courage and bravado to find out for myself, it is perhaps justice that i remain on the periphery. well, stuff that for a game of soldiers; film-makers brian vernor (some of whose stills photography you may have come across on the rapha continental) and willie bullion spent most of their winters in the early part of this century getting dusty, muddy, wet and ecstatic, filming many a north american cross race for the edification of those not in the know.

cyclocross currently has all but replaced the popularity of mountain bike racing, which it considerably pre-dates, in the psyche of north american cyclists, and encouragingly, across much of the uk. cross has been around since early 20th century when it was employed as a way of keeping fit through the winter by a good number of road professionals. the sport is huge on mainland europe which, seems to have had as much of an influence on the north american scene as any other reason. pure sweet hell is a film ahead of its time; originally released in 2005, the four intervening years have seen a huge upsurge in the sport's popularity across the pond. how did they know?

fabulously enough, this popularity had even infiltrated earls court last week: 2pure, now importers of american west coast legend, ibis cycles, had eschewed the ibis road bike on the stand in favour of the cross version, specifically because of this perceived interest. but this brings us civilians no closer to finding out what it's like to race cross, and that's exactly where pure sweet hell takes up the slack.

pure sweet hell

not a tripod was in evidence throughout the hours of filming that led to this film. brian vernor felt that would not hold true to the cross experience. indeed, many of the shots are from the centre of the gaggle of cyclists; running up hills, bikes shouldered, straining for every scrap of grip underfoot as it might be possible to gain. as you can imagine, this hardly leads to rock steady imagery. which, of course, is exactly the point. shot entirely on 8mm film, even though digital was quite comfortably developed in the early 2000s, pure sweet hell grabs a portion of the considerable ground occupied by rouleur magazine. instead of shiny, clean, clinical imagery, there is that beautiful patina of saturated and unsaturated colour (reminiscent of polaroids), and lengthy stretches of monochromatic focus.

in this fashion, the film can be appreciated on at least two separate levels; first and foremost, the racing itself. you can relive at every viewing, the torpor and fatigue experienced by the battle scarred, often within touching distance of that dugast tubular. voiceovers are from many of those involved, though often unidentified as if to underline the egalitarianism of american cross. on a nevertheless complementary level, there's the aesthetic of analogue in a digital world. digital bears no film grain, little or no variation in light density and none of those threads and scratches that are such a feature of old movies. the comparison with the photography of tim kolln and ben ingham is well worth pointing out.

pure sweet hell is an hour of excitement and joy in a manner that phil and paul will never knowingly equal. i now have it on my ipod for those moments when a fix is required. the dvd is, as far as i know, unavailable in the uk, but can be ordered from cyclocrossworld in beverly, massachusetts.

pure sweet hell

film-maker brian vernor is currently in the final throes of his next cyclocross project the cyclocross meeting, a few stills from which can be seen here. as brian says:
"the cyclocross meeting is about both american and japanese cyclocross. the rapid development of cross in both these countries is taking similar paths; in both places the fans are also the participants. pros and amateurs race on the same course, on the same day. pros are the focus of the cyclocross meeting, because these guys represent a depth of experience and passion for cyclocross while also having the pressure of trying to live from their racing. both the americans, barry wicks and adam mcgrath, are included because they are some of our best riders, but also have interests outside of cycling and were interested in the culture of the japanese, and of japanese cyclocross.
  the film is very much about place. my experience with cycling is also about place as much as it is about competition. with this in mind the film is not meant to simply report on a season of racing with a couple of professional cyclists, but also to portray the beauty and ritual of racing cyclocross. that may mean looking at the course as much as the rider, or showing all the wrenching and cleaning that goes into a successful race."

if we're really lucky, the cyclocross meeting will see initial release later this year, and looking even further ahead, there's just a teensy possibility that brian's epic where are you go might be out and about in 2010.


posted tuesday 13 october 2009

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rapha long sleeve jersey and winter collar

long-sleeve & merino collar

it can surely be no real secret by now that one of my many cycling weaknesses, apart from not being able to descend very well, and the forlorn hope that i could ever leap aboard a bike with the skill of sven nys, is a decent long-sleeve jersey. bizarrely enough this has less to do with any inclement weather, and more to do with a misinformed sense of security. of course, it is more than acceptable during colder summer days and early autumn to complement those short sleeves with a pair of suitable armwarmers, a combination that is socially and sartorially acceptable at least within cycling circles, but you really can't beat a good long-sleeve jersey to maintain that credibility and integrity. the fact that it's also warm and cosy is purely an advantageous fringe benefit.

there can be very few cycle clothing manufacturers who do not offer at least one long-sleeve in their autumn/winter collections, preferably with at least a thin coating of some form of fleecy lining from shoulder to cuff, but i find it hard to beat a jersey fashioned from sportwool, and even harder to beat one that has a pleasing degree of subtlety in the colouring; in this case, autumnal would be a more than adequate description. the jersey under review is in a wintry grey with a contrasting white hoop on the left sleeve, but you can also choose from a rustic shade of red, and a woody brown.

as mentioned when reviewing previous incarnations of this garment, i have had call to commend the length of the sleeves in relation to the statutory cycling position; many's a jersey has sleeves that don't quite reach the wrists, leaving a chilly gap twixt cuff and mitt. and the wicking properties of sportwool, oft under-rated, are felt to their best in this jersey. i've worn it under a rainjacket in mild(ish) conditions and under a softshell in cold, wet and windy weather, and i have never approached the extent where a sauna would have been the drier does, however, have its saving graces as far as ventialion is concerned: the rapha monogrammed zip is full length, always an improvement on the usual quarter version, and the hem is threaded with an elasticated cord that can have the jersey hanging loose, or as a waist tourniquet. luggage is well catered for through the regulation three rear pockets, the outer two scalloped to allow for easier access when on the bike, and as is almost always the case with rapha jerseys, there's a zipped fourth pocket flying outboard of the right rear.

while the collar is of a decent height to ward off cold drafts, replete with the customary foldover to prevent the zip from removing skin if pulled up tight, rapha have provided a cosy accessory in the form of their merino winter collar, to make doubly sure that any internal heat remains, and external nippiness is kept at bay. last year's version was in henry ford black, but this year the colour range has doubled, with the addition of red. this is a colour that has pervaded most of rapha's 2010 autumn/winter range, panels of the colour appearing on the cross jersey and bib threequarters, the new winter tights, and as another alternative to black in the classic softshell.

the merino collar is shaped to fit well under an outer garment or under such as the long-sleeve jersey, matching well with rapha's merino baselayer. it's an incredibly versatile item, lending itself to being pulled well up under the chin and ears to maintain or enhance warmth, but thin enough to squish to a minimum in the heat of a cappuccino. the merino wool is alloyed with a small quantity of spandex to make it highly amenable to stretching where needed. perhaps the addition of some sort of rear fastening would improve this versatility, allowing removal while helmeted and eyes shaded, but i fear this would seriously interfere with its softness and lack of bulk, so i'm happy to live with the design that has seen out the last year, and now promises to do likewise into 2010.

rapha's long-sleeve jersey is available in sizes ranging from x-small up to xx-large, in red, grey or brown for 130 of your pound notes ($210). the merino winter collar is of the one size fits all ilk, in black or red and retails at £25 ($40). winter is not too far removed, and it would serve well to gather reinforcements for the cooler rides ahead, while still maintaining that accustomed measure of style.


posted monday 12 october 2009

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cent cols challenge - the story so far

cent cols challenge

"epic is a word often overused to describe events. in the case of the cent cols challenge, it is thoroughly appropriate. here's an event that on paper looked too mad even to contemplate."

those are not my words, but those of one of the participants, someone who cheerfully spent ten days cycling across 100 mountains and mountain passes in france during last month. and paid for the privilege. having mentioned this event almost from its initial gestation in 2008 (it was at last year's cycle show, that phil deeker and i arranged the cent cols advert that has appeared on the post since), i'm probably as astounded as anyone that not only were there enough people with the cojonas to ride the event, but almost twice as many as originally envisaged, meaning that more events planned for 2010 are already booking up rather quickly. as i said in my e-mail to the mastermind behind it all 'i always doubted you right from the start, but it was just one of those apparently hair-brained schemes that caught the imagination of cyclists with a heightened sense of adventure.

as the metaphysical poet john donne wrote, no man is an island, and while the idea was phil's, there were a number of others responsible for ensuring the success of the event, and the wellbeing of those putting themselves through ten days of purgatory, not least phil's mrs (claire) and classic tours, who took care of the day to day niceties. but a little bit of impetus doesn't go amiss, at least part of which was provided by rapha; perren street not only made available suitably monikered jerseys for the riders to acquire, but took one of the team spots. this consisted of designer graeme raeburn who rode a continental style rapha bike from enigma, portland hard man ira ryan, roadcyclinguk's dave arthur who may well have been delegated by richard hallett, and a rapha customer who had the misfortune to win a competition earlier in the year.

"it came as a real shock when simon mottram (rapha ceo), mid-meeting in early spring, said in an almost matter-of-fact way that they'd like me to represent rapha at the event... there was no hesitation to sign up, but it  took a while to sink in." graeme raeburn.

a couple of years ago, the braveheart ride left from loudon academy in kilmarnock and traversed a rather harder route than had been, and has become, the norm. it was only 70km, but the immediacy of many of the short, sharp climbs and the twisty nature of the route took its toll on many who had expected an easier ride. in retrospect, it was rather fun, but last year the route reverted to a slightly flatter experience (though gale force winds and horizontal rain left many longing for 2007). the cent cols challenge route made braveheart seem like a cycle in hyde park. and taking heed of phil deeker's regular e-mails regarding the task ahead, there was little excuse for rest and relaxation.

cent cols challenge

graeme again:"it's funny looking back now; i'd find myself setting the alarm clock for an ungodly hour in order to get a longer ride in and switch the light out ...before thinking about the challenge (and riding with the legendary ira ryan!), and end up resetting the alarm an hour earlier to 04.30am.. his preparation obviously paid off, since graeme arrived at the culmination of epic, even by rapha continental standards, in third place overall, while the rapha team took second place. twenty two riders completed the course of 2,071km and 40,600 metres of climbing. while we are getting used to referring to the current climate as global warming, the climb from valloire over the galibier had to be avoided due to heavy snow at the summit.

but how was it for mr deeker, who had the worry of not only making sure that everyone had a good time, survived the route and that this whole thing wasn't just biting off more than he could reasonably chew?

i knew i was jumping in at the deep end with this, my first attempt at an organised cycle event, but the months of preparation beforehand gave me a certain degree of confidence that, with a solid team behind me, i could pull it off. the support team exceeded all my hopes and were the main reason for the success of the event.
at one point i almost had a mutiny when the majority felt that there should be a shorter option on the next day's stage. there was little option but to concede to their demands if that was what they wanted, but i made it quite clear that every kilometre was in there for a reason. in the morning everyone wanted to do the full version, and all thanked me for it at the end of that stage.

cent cols challenge

having completed two london-paris rides, i have a vague notion of what must of necessity, become a daily routine, though only for a total of three days at a time. the cent cols riders had this routine to observe throughout ten days in september. as ira ryan explains: "a different hotel room every night with the team was bizarrely cool. same routine every day starting with chamois and embro on before i brushed my teeth at 6:30am started to feel quite normal. the legs came around and pedaling just felt normal after a couple days."

and while london-paris placed dictates on the nutritional requirements of each day, the climbs on the way to paris were of a considerably lower magnitude than those experienced in the alps. this meant ensuring that each day commenced with a serious degree of face stuffing, as graeme was wont to point out: "breakfast was always good and plentiful (although the coffee sometimes left a lot to be desired), but the problem was trying to take on enough calories for the morning's work, without overdoing it. one stage headed straight into a 22k climb, 30 seconds from the hotel. depending on where the first food stop was, i'd often pop a croissant or two in my gilet pocket to keep things ticking over later in the morning."

of course, while the riding and preparations may have become a necessary routine, the scenery and ascents, the principal reason for all of this in the first place, were of quite a different order, and not everything went entirely according to plan. ira again: "having never been to france before, i would have liked to actually take in more of the culture, but the riding was rad. something about riding in the countryside anywhere in the world is universally beautiful. i was unfortunate to have had a little run in with some crazy french drivers and the photo car, causing me to ride into the ditch at 35 mph, breaking my fork, and bending my frame. i'd to take a couple days off to heal my hand, but continued on phil deeker's parlee and finished the ride.
the experience of climbing to the top of the world at least ten times a day at speed, was a glimpse into the life of a pro cyclist.

cent cols challenge enigma

if you've been a follower of the rapha continental, you'll know that many of the regular suspects had bicycles built especially for them by some of the current crop of north american framebuilders. with the cent cols perhaps re-assessing the degree of epicness on a grander scale and certainly over a more compressed span of time, michael robertson at velodramatic figured that it was only fitting that graeme raeburn should accept the challenge in similar fashion, and contacted jim and mark of enigma cycles in east sussex with a view to providing suitable steel.
"the bike was the perfect tool for the job, both in materials (columbus stainless xcr steel tubeset), the fit (an eye-opener to compare against the factory frames I've been squeezing my somewhat abnormal shape into), with its stunning looks and finish (always a talking point) I can't thank jim and mark at enigma enough, and also michael at velodramatic without whom it wouldn't have been realised."

i confess that this puts me, and others, in two minds. graeme, phil, ira, and the many others who took part have made the entire trip seem like the ideal way to spend ten days in september, but conversely, a rather daunting experience too. there's no way i'm in the same league as the three gentlemen mentioned above, but a big bit of me would like to be, and the cent cols challenge seems like perhaps the safest and most enjoyably challenging way to find out. if this coincides with your own thoughts, you may have to be quick, because eighteen out of the thirty places available for next year's alpine challenge have already gone, though there are a couple of shorter fifties in the alps and the pyrenees, as well as 100 in the latter too. worth a thought isn't it?

cent cols challenge

out of 40 riders (only thirty will start in 2010), five were non-starters (illness / injury), one abandoned in week two (severe achilles tendonitis), one could only take part for five days anyway. 22 completed the full route, bagging 100 cols. over ten stages, there was a riding time difference of 17 hours between fastest and slowest of those who completed the full route. eleven bagged between 48 and 90 cols each; five of these had to rest a day or more due to injury (muscular), six could not complete the stages in time and so were provided with a 'softer' route with less climbing and fewer kms. in this way, all riders were still riding at the end of the event. two riders crashed while descending, without serious injury. The longest individual riding time on a stage was 11 hours 15 mins.

"there are memories of people and places that will stay with me for the rest of my life. and that's what i will take away with the most fondness, those little moments of epiphany, from the sublime view of ventoux as we emerged out of the forest to the simple sight of a huge plate of delicious food at lunchtime. the fatigue somehow heightened the awareness; i seemed to spend the entire trip living in the moment. it was a great place to be!"

cent cols challenge


posted sunday 11 october 2009

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the meaning of life, the universe, and everything

42 bromptons

as has become customary at the london cycle shows over the past few years, bearing in mind it is a cycle show, is the free bike parking on offer. i can identify with your thoughts on this; surely parking your bike is always free, especially if you simply lean it against a wall? that's all wall in theory, but we're not discussing islay here, and in london, as in many a major conurbation the world over, bikes leaning against walls are considered fair game. and they disappear. indeed, you could lock it up, but sadly that doesn't always appear to be as secure as it perhaps should.

it would do london and the cycle show no good whatsoever if folks arrived by bicycle to find them not there upon their return. in order to prevent this scenario from becoming a reality, earls court has free bike parking: the steed du jour will be lovingly looked after by parking attendants operating a secure ticketing service. this ensures that somebody who arrived on one of halford's finest, does not pedal homewards on your italian carbon fibre. this facility is sponsored this year by brompton, manufacturers of what has become probably the coolest folding bike on the planet. certainly the most colourful.

now it's one thing for the organisers to promote this facility, but as i have often been heard to say, having sponsored a formula one car, you have to tell people you've sponsored a formula one car. so brompton, in a fit of advertising genius, have nabbed a page in the cycle show programme and floor plan, as you can see from the illustration above. it's a very well judged poke at the motor car and the space required to accommodate it, as opposed to the more sensible solution shown. mr hastings and i, on our way across a bridge over the thames to meet mr harmon for breakfast, were wont to remark to each other about the number of motor vehicles bearing only one person. hardly the way to a greener london, let alone a greener planet.

just as you would expect, i counted the number of folded bromptons sitting in a single car space; seven rows of six: forty two to be precise. it's at this point you have to decide, have brompton just been really clever, or have they been really, really clever? if you have ever read douglas adams' hitch hikers guide to the galaxy, you will be aware that the planet earth was not just a world on which humans and animals could live, but in fact a major experiment, ruined at the last stage by the need for an intergalactic by-pass. the major experiment was designed by the computer deep thought which, after seven and a half million years deigned the answer to the meaning of the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, to be 42. the experiment started because nobody understood the original answer.

so is it just mere convenience that you can fit 42 bromptons into a single car parking space, or do brompton know more about the role of the bicycle in this world than the rest of us? and have i stumbled onto something important here, or simply seeing shapes in the clouds?

brompton bicycles


posted saturday 10 october 2009

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