favourite shirts

taliah lempert shirt

perhaps one of the finer points of cycling is the knowledge that it won't be any different than it ever was. yes, you might be cycling in various differing environs, locations or landscapes, but the act of pedalling never really alters; it's still both feet on the pedals, both hands on the bars and bum on saddle. we really wouldn't have it any other way. actually if it was, it probably wouldn't be cycling, but even though continuous, daily pedalling will likely increase your stamina, strength and ability, at the end of the week, all will still be the same. if you see what i mean.

and so too, you would think, is the act of painting bicycles. unless the artist opts for one of the more obscure realms of pedalling, such as recumbents and their associated brethren, it will be double triangle, bars and wheels. this is not to suggest that there is no differentiation between the various makes of bicycle, though modern carbon does have a tendency towards ubiquity, but overall i think you get my drift.

taliah lempert, who has been featured more than once on the post (and not without good reason), is one such painter, a girl whose daily grind so to speak, consists of presenting herself, canvas and paints in front of an endless array of bicycles. and in similar fashion to the improvements experienced by ourselves experienced by regular pedalling, ms lempert's paintings have exhibited a similar, if not greater degree of improvement over the past taliah lempert cap few years. such is her notoriety in new york and beyond for this bicycle related painting prowess, that ownership of a taliah lempert bicycle painting is akin to having a robert millar signed peugeot jersey on the upstairs wall.

but it is my contention that the world's finest artists are the ones who are unafraid to experiment and to ride off at a tangent, rather than settling into a groove, or as they like to say in cyclocross circles; a rut. i can think of more than a few artists who have accepted their fame as a way to a comfortable income, and who can really blame them for that? however, taliah seems driven in the way that many cyclists are, and has an uncanny knack for lateral thinking, painting and printing, an individual propensity that has seemingly paid dividends. japanese sportswear firm have seen fit to license several of her multi-bike print images and place them on rather fine shorts and caps.

"just, this morning, i sent a giant tube with ten paintings to tokyo, hopefully will send a bunch more, and likely head over there myself in february."

taliah lempert pink shirt

i have owned, in the past, several t-shirts bearing screen printed images from cycle paintings on the front, most of which have been less than successful. paintings are best seen in a frame hanging on a wall; very rarely does the application of such to a cotton t-shirt gain much success, either commercially or visually. however, having acquired some photos of the shirt designs from tokyo (which accompany this article), these are of a different order altogether. tokyo fixed gear in london stock products from ccp, and are willing to order any of these garments on request. quite frequently, artists who begin to experiment and push boundaries - either ours or theirs - move wildly outside the mainstream and thus limit the appeal of their work, unless, of course, you have a penchant for experimental art. taliah, on the other hand has moved decidedly left of field, yet each stage seems more attractive than its predecessor: it's art pablo, but not necessarily as we know it. in this way, it has become possible to not only acquire a piece of bicycle art, but to wear it in public too.

taliah lempert caps

"when i first got interested in printmaking, i wanted to develop it as derivative from my painting, while being a unique, stand alone body of work. i think it does that, though it does take time from my painting, but both the painting and the printmaking inform and enrich each other.
lately I've been concentrating mostly on the printmaking"

if you are not one who understands any of the more rustic of artistic methods, taliah has produced a fine timelapse movie of how she achieves the multi-bike print designs that she's been working on over the past couple of years, using a hand operated blanket press.

bicycle paintings


posted sunday 25 october 2009

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dhb southsea waterproof jacket

dhb southsea jacket

we are strange creatures of habit, and as a result often creatures of unconscious stupidity. it is my firm belief that the only way to properly test anything that arrives with the word waterproof somewhere about its person, is simply to go out and ride it in the rain; the heavier, the better. with the clocks going back one hour this weekend (in the uk), british summertime officially ends, but it's not quite winter just yet. that the weather has yet to cotton on to this state of affairs is not entirely unsurprising, saturday morning dawning windy, getting (a lot) windier, accompanied by the obligatory horizontal rain, provided the ideal, if slightly insane, opportunity to test a southsea waterproof jacket from dhb, the clothing arm (pun intended) of online sales persons, wiggle.

now i might be insane, but i'm not completely mad, so while i did extricate the colnago kicking and screaming from the bikeshed, i didn't go too far, a choice made all the more startlingly real by a gale force crosswind, gusting to around 55kph; this makes it very difficult to keep riding in a straight line. it also makes it difficult to get semi-decent, rain-soaked photos. but all this accumulated difficulty has exactly the same effect on the jacket; if the rain is being blown at its outer coating with a ferocity that was perhaps not considered at the time of design and construction, it would be interesting to rate its performance.

the southsea jacket is offered in two sartorially acceptable styles, both paying lip service to that of tweed in grey or brown. the fabric is, if i understand the accompanying literature correctly, a 2.5 layer breathable fabric (quite how one defines half a layer, i know not) featuring fully taped seams, and thus 100% waterproof. it was this latter promise that had me flogging myself through the islay countryside, when feet up in front of the telly would have been by far the better option. the full-length two-way zip is enclosed behind a storm flap that poppers into place, with double studs at the neck. it is this latter component of the jacket that may just be its partial downfall. according to wiggle, the southsea is intended as a commuter jacket, hence the styling: the jacket sent to me was a medium as requested, and i confess to it seeming a tad large. i am ever so slightly on the slim side, so perhaps i'd be better off with the smaller size, though in its favour, the length was good and the sleeve length excellent. my main problem was with the upper reaches around the chest and shoulders, and concomitantly, the collar.

dhb southsea jacket

this is of a generous height, taller at the back than front (which did seem rather contrary in a drop handlebar position, but then i doubt too many commuters ride such machines). but this apparent excess of inner space - which poses far less of a problem on, than off the bike - leads to the collar being a lot less close-fitting than is sensible when faced with the more extreme end of britain's weather systems. it is fleecy lined, but its wideness allowed the only ingress of rain throughout the ride: the collar and shoulders of my jersey were a trifle damp. it's also possible that the height of the collar was just a smidgeon too high to be considered visually appealing, though this perception might change if it were a closer fit

on returning from my 22km wet and windy exploration, my dhb long-sleeve jersey was pretty darned close to bone dry (apart from the aforementioned collar), an impressive feat in the ferocity of the rain, and doubly so considering the effort expended pedalling against what will become my training partner until march next year. the plasticity of the taped lining had seemed less than appealing when first examined, but i do have to hand it to dhb; they have provided a rather high degree of breathability for very little money. the slightly dropped tail seems also to be of correct proportion, since there was no tell-tale damp and muddy patch at the hem, under the centre rear pocket of the jersey. nice one.

the hard-worked camera along for the trip, resided in one of two flap fastening rear pockets, the right of which has a cunningly concealed zipped internal pocket all of its own. provided the flaps are kept shut, though not necessarily poppered, the contents would appear to remain faithfully dry. both sleeves of commendable length, have velcro straps on the cuffs to allow for exclusion of the elements (tight shut today) or open to aid breathability on warmer days. my only real gripe, and not uncharacteristically, a trivial one, is the lack of a tab inside the collar that would allow the jacket to be hung on a coat peg. considering its delineation as a commuter jacket, and thus likely committed to a life of pubs, coffee shops and offices, the ommission of such a simple feature seems unfortunate. however, in most other ways, the southsea ticks all the right boxes, though just watch the sizing when ordering.

dhb southsea jacket

the ordering bit is likely to fill you with even more joy, since 100% breathable and waterproof, in this instance, costs only £59.49, quite an incredible price for something so practical and stylish at the same time. it's not really something you'd wear on the club run, but wiggle have been fairly clear in the market for which it is intended. if you own a brompton, you're sorted.

as to my allusion to the unconscious stupidity born of habit, at the start of this piece, i refer to the bizarre behaviour exhibited in trying manfully to avoid puddles of all sizes, when already soaked through (lower half only), and the bike wearing crud roadracers. as if all that surface water was going to make much difference.

the southsea jacket will be available from the end of november 2009



posted saturday 24 october 2009

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embrocation four - the movie

jeremy dunn works for rapha in portland. but in a previous, and still continuing life, he mixes media betwixt pixels and the printed page, all concerning a strange predilection for embrocation. of course, this is not the sort of thing you can carry out on your own, and there are at least two oregon residents in the shape of mr joe staples and molly cameron who seem more than willing to aid and abet.

the printed page has reached the grand old age of four (issues), though i do remember a perfectly formed usurper sneaking in at two and a half, just to fill a gap. and though the embrocation pixels are updated on a fairly regular basis, such are the requirements and expense of print, that four issues have occupied a lengthy, but thoroughly enjoyable, period of time. but i fear that someone, somewhere is benefiting from my scottish desire to read an american publication, since the last two issues have gone mysteriously astray, meaning that i am bereft of that of which i wish to read. and as someone embarrassingly guilty of turning impatience into a virtue, frequent bouts of distraughtness have unsurprisingly ensued.

but all is not lost, because molly cameron has read it for me, and, indeed for you too, since i tend to assume that many of you have not availed yourselves of this fine publication (shame on you). actually, read might be stretching the definition just a tad, since molly only flicked through the pages. but it's enough to whet the appetite and an excellent way to preview, should you decide to order a copy for yourself.

see for yourself...

embrocation blog | embrocation web


posted friday 23 october 2009

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that little black dress

little black dress

i did make a promise several dozen editions ago, that i would endeavour to cover as much about cycling for women as i could feasibly manage, given that, despite longer hair than is strictly fashionable for blokes these days, and a propensity for pink cycle jerseys, i am not of the female persuasion. thus, even supposing i was to be sent female cycling attire, or a ladies framed bicycle, any subsequent review would be unlikely to be worth the pixels on which it was scribed. that said, this year's cycle show at earls court did give more house room to female cycle clothing and accoutrements, than has previously been the case. women's framed bicycles, however, seem still to be in the lower percentages, either a reflection on the perceived need by the major manufacturers, or a sadly minimal number of women taking to two wheels. or perhaps a combination of both: a mexican standoff, if you will.

this does, to a certain extent, surprise me, given the number of women i saw on bicycles when getting lost around the capital city; in many cases the female cyclist has to ride a gent's frame or make do with rather poor quality ladies framed cycles available in limited quantities and styles from the cycle chain stores (i wonder if that's why they're called that?).

my trip to portland in may of this year included a visit to sweetpea bicycles, just off the burnside bridge, where natalie ramsland, in a very small, but efficient space, custom builds frames for the female form. and such is the demand in the pacific northwest for just such a desirable item, that natalie finds herself with a waiting list of some three years. from a business point of view, this is an excellent problem to have, but for those women who enjoy their cycling sufficiently to understand that they need a bike tailored to their needs by a framebuilder of the same persuasion, it's not so great. such a frame, you will be pleased to hear, is known as the sweetpea love line.

little black dress

nothing if not enterprising in this direction, natalie has done a speedvagen and now offers slightly less than custom sweetpea bicycles, which comprise, as the first model in the lust line, the little black dress, offered for those who not only have to have a sweetpea, but they have to have it now. rather than having to wait until age creeps upon them, ladies will be able to lavish lust upon their very own bicycles with a wait of a mere eight to ten weeks. the little black dress is made in three specific sizes, the smallest being for women in the 5'1"-5'3" range and fitted with 650c wheels. the medium and large sizes will fit women of 5'4" to 5'8" and have the more standard 700c wheels. said natalie, "they are all designed to accommodate fenders (mudguards), utilizing mid-reach brakes, and have a rear rack mount. they are designed with a relaxed, not agressive riding position in mind, making them versatile bikes for long distance riding or the daily commute." they also feature straight forks.

despite its rather fetching moniker, the little black dress comes in two colours other than gloss black: juniper and pumpkin.

so how does a custom frame builder manage to swallow their custom principles and effectively offer an off the peg bicycle? the frames are still designed by natalie, but constructed by another oregon framebuilder. with fewer custom (actually, none at all) features.

little black dress

"my approach to designing the little black dress bikes was unique.  i looked at a ton of fitting data from both my own customers and those fit by michael sylvester to their own bikes.  i was interested, not in the frame geometries that women were riding, but rather where their bodies were in relation to their bikes when their bikes fitted them well. saddle setback, the drop or rise from saddle to handlebar, the saddle height, the distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the stem/handlebar clamp in both vertical and horizontal dimensions... I used this data to answer one question: can i design three bikes that get 75% of my customers (with known fitting data) back to their ideal fit with just a change of handlebars, stem, seatpost, crank length, etc?  i noticed that the data clustered around certain areas and the resulting bikes reflected this. the little black dress isn't going to work for everyone, but it has been a lot of fun getting women on these bikes, tweaking their fits and getting fantastic ride reports."

so there you have it. while britain concentrates on practical fashion accessories for the female rider, sweetpea bicycles are providing an easier way to get hold of the more stylish fundamentals, the ones with two wheels. currently the lust line consist solely of the little black dress, but natalie has plans to add to this as the months head towards us. custom sweetpeas are available as frames only, with theoretically, no upper price limit. while most of the little black dresses arrive with everything a bicycle needs - "the component package is smartly curated to make the complete builds really sing" - the frame and forks cost $1500 (approx. £930), and complete bikes start at $2975 (£1800).

ladies - over to you.

sweetpea bicycles


posted friday 23 october 2009

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identity crisis

port mor wheelers

'cycling people are nice people' a quote attributed to my daughter during a day of visiting more bike shops and clothiers than are strictly necessary for a non-cycling female in her early twenties. of course, there's not really such a subset of humanity known as cycling people, just those with a more than healthy interest in bicycles and cycling. however, it does have to be said that the majority (at least the ones that i've met), are mighty fine and friendly folks, who are a pleasure to know. but even within this subset of humanity that doesn't really exist, there are some who still manage to surprise through their generosity and concern.

brian smith, he of cyclevox,, eurosport and twice british road race champion fame, is also the driving force (sorry about using a motoring term in a cycle blog) behind the braveheart fund, the annual ride and dinner for which takes place next saturday (31st october)...

and before i delve further into my diatribe, there are apparently only a few places left on the ride (the dinner sold out long ago), so if you fancy joining brian, sean kelly (and me, for that matter) et al for a ride around the ayrshire countryside, nows the time to take a break from reading and get over to the braveheart fund site, and sign up. i'll wait until you get back)

port mor wheelers

...visited islay for a few days during august this year during which the term sprintbuzzard was coined and subsequently entered the cycling lexicon. during his time on the hallowed isle, brian gave jez hastings and i a helping hand with an all-day port mor wheelers cycle camp. much fun was had by all. on his return to the deep south, i received an e-mail asking if we were to have a port mor wheelers jersey, what would it look like?

at that point, there was no such thing as a port mor wheelers jersey, either in person, or in anyone's imagination. while i have little experience in designing cycle jerseys, plagiarism, with the colours changed to protect the guilty, is a relatively simple affair with the correct software and an earlier template. thus, a wheelers' jersey very quickly came into being and e-mailed to the inquisitor. then nothing at all happened, and no more was said by either party.

cogs, wheels and machinations were not happening on islay, but they sure were elsewhere, to the extent that an anonymous parcel arrived on islay last week, containing 25 endura built, long-sleeve, port mor wheelers kids' jerseys, bearing the braveheart fund logo on the right sleeve. as a scottish cycling go-ride club, we believe that the wheelers may be one of the first, if not the first, to be affiliated with the braveheart cycling fund, a state of affairs of which we are extremely proud, and major kudos must go to mr smith for his generosity and faith in our ability to represent such a prestigious organisation.


since onward and upward is a phrase i have used on more than one occasion this week, it is rather appropriate that all the components conspired to make this a welcome truism. keith stocker, chief development coach with scottish cycling, accompanied by matt ball from east lothian clarion, travelled over to help run a day of cyclocross training at port charlotte's port mor centre, a day that gave the nineteen kids taking part the perfect opportunity to wear their new kit to great effect. it would have been expecting just a bit too much for everything to run like a well-oiled machine, and sadly i was unable to attend this festival of merrymaking on what turned out to be a brilliant day, both weather and cycling wise, because work got in the way (did i just hear a chorus of 'tell me about it'?).

in the event, local mountain biker, graham hayes stepped up to the podium to offer assistance, as did several mums in the catering depratment, as well as the shop in port charlotte. in almost the same way as the ride of the falling rain, we have strenuously avoided too much in the way of organisation; i'm all for this being fun for the kids, but i'd like it to be fun for us too. it's astonishing what you can do when you almost put your mind to it.

thanks to keith stocker and scottish cycling, matt ball, graham hayes, jez and tink hastings and family, and most especially to the braveheart fund and brian smith for their unstinting assistance and support.


posted thursday 22 october 2009

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messin' wid da boss

eddy merckx old logo

we can be justifiably proud of our cycling heritage, whatever shape or form that takes, and depending on wherever you stay in the world. and as with many an item of heritage, whether tangible or otherwise, much of it is worth preserving. this is at least in part the reason for the collection of robert millar articles hosted on another part of this website. the reasons for this can be as widely varying as nostalgia all the way through to learning from past successes or failures and attempting to preserve our cycling future as much as the past. i'm not a great one for nostalgia for its own sake, but i do enjoy the workmanship that existed in elderly steel bicycles, woollen cycling jerseys, the history of the bicycle, and the black and white photographs of the champions of yesteryear. all this, for me at least, helps place cycling in a world, or maybe just a national perspective.

there is nothing more certain than change, and over time this not only happens to us all, it happens to historical icons both living and dead. change can be very much for the good: design is an excellent example, both graphic and mechanical can be often seen to adhere to a form of dialectic, where a combination of features create, or allow the creation of a new icon informed by its predecessors. of course, the realities of commercialism often ignore this most natural form of progression, casting aside all that has gone before, for no other reason than it is possible so to do.

eddy merckx new logo

sadly, the icon of concern in this particular instance has been long identified with probably cycling's greatest hero; certainly cycling's most successful. last year, it was announced that the great eddy merckx had stepped back from the day to day running of his own bicycle manufacturing company, which was sort of a euphemisim for having sold it, lock, stock and barrel. while i believe that eddy still has some nominal interest in the bicycles produced by his erstwhile business, changes have been made that really have no grounding in logic.

ernesto colnago's bicycles have been identified for many years by the assos di fiori - the ace of clubs, a design feature that is not only graphically displayed in the headtube badge and alongside the colnago name on the various tubes, but has been known to be incorporated in the tube profile of some of ernesto's finest and best loved machines. similarly, the logo you see at the top of this article is that associated with eddy merckx; it has been seen on casquettes, on jerseys and also on the headtube of his bicycles. unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and i find it very hard to be overly kind to that which has succeeded it, because far from following the dialectic as previously described, it would seem that the new owners of eddy merckx have just thrown years of tradition in the bin.

eddy merckx new headtube

to compound this heinous crime, not only has the new logo (reminiscent of an origami exercise) been excessively dumbed down, it doesn't even appear on the head tube of the latest models. this now bears a large x that barely reaches the description of a graphic device, let alone the representation of such a fabulous racing heritage. in addition, the rounded style lettering that once presented itself on the downtube of the frames, has been replaced by certainly a more modern, angular typeface, but one that bears no discernible development from the original. since the new models were on display at earls court on the jim walker stand, bearing all the new, and impudent marques, it is likely too late to persuade the current incumbents of the atrocious mistake they have made.

of course, the thinking behind this may be marginally transparent: since the new lads on the street, those with a very short heritage, seem also to be kings of the new road, there seems to be an unseemly scrabbling for a portion of whatever is still up for grabs. possibly, in certain quarters at least, heritage is seen as an impediment to progress and modernity, and should therefore be discarded at the first sign of tradition. it is to be hoped that this is not a portent of things to come, though i won't hold my breath.


posted wednesday 21 october 2009

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the time crunched cyclist - chris carmichael and jim rutberg £14 ($19.95) velopress 216pp illus. softback.

time crunched training system

books such as this one have me wondering (seriously) as to just how many cyclists spend their on the bike time in the act of training, however they describe it. because it's obviously a deal more macho and impressive to calmly stroll into the office or coffee stop and relate how many hours or kilometres you spent training at the weekend, than to be me and simply have gone riding my bike. safely employing semantics at this point, any bike ride could be classed as training, as long as you can come up with a convincing goal for which you're meant to be aiming.

this won't be the first time i've had occasion to point out that i don't get out much, and i doubt it will be the last, but i really have no notion as to how many folks are really training for something, whether it be the next sportive, the sprint for a speed sign, or a four day stage race in shetland. mr hastings has found himself as a member of team wiggle (long story), and now has every intention of mincing that hrm, in preparation for dragging david harmon up the steepest of inclines. i, however, still just go out for a bike ride and a soya cappuccino.

gone, however, are the days of fausto coppi, when all that was required was the propensity to ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike; things are ever so much more scientific nowadays, and chris carmichael of lance's comeback fame, is likely at the forefront of making sure the wherewithal is at your fingertips.

this isn't chris's first venture into writing about his (successful) chosen career, and he's developed a fine ability to write a real book, by which i mean a collection of pages worth reading. there are more than a few well meaning individuals who have purchased bicycle shaped objects, full of good intentions to use them to improve whatever complete lack of fitness they may have developed. similarly, mr carmichael is doubtless aware that some percentage of his readers have no intention whatsoever of putting themselves through the purgatory that his chapters will doubtless advise.

i will put my hand clearly in the air at this point, and admit that i will not be buying a powermeter, nor will i likely be filling my six hours of available ride time attempting fartleks. in normal day to day life, this would be a trifle disappointing, even for the modest price of only £14, but as alluded to above, chris and jim may already have sussed this, and composed their training volume accordingly. let me put it this way; the actual training plan doesn't put in an appearance until chapter five of an eight chapter book.

now, before you feel short changed at the point of purchase, this is a good thing. chris carmichael isn't at the top of his game for nothing, and thus has a wealth of information to impart regarding nutrition, intensity of effort, how to make the most of your fitness, and current thinking on training and physiology in relation to pedalling rather fast. whether or not you intend to subject yourself to the six hours of intense pain and suffering that such a time crunched (oh how i hate that term) programme dictates, and as i have already intimated, i do not, it's very hard a) to put this book down, and b) not to pick up a useful amount of beneficial knowledge. even if it's just to take you to debbie's before the chocolate sauce has etched itself into that light and fluffy soya foam.

however, should you be avidly keen to fill those six hours with the training programme that will turn you into an executive chris hoy, this is likely the book for you. mr carmichael asks you, the prospective guinea pig, to choose the type of riding you feel the need to improve upon, basically racing or sportive, and follow the relevant charts. and this whether you're the mighty dave t, or someone fresh out of primary school. it will surprise you not at all that acronyms are in serious use as we head to the nitty gritty: em (endurance miles); ss (steadystate intervals); t (tempo); cr (climbing repeats) - i'm sure you get the general idea. but bear in mind that this is a smallish paperback, and there's a heck of a lot to cram into a week's purgatory: without these acronyms, the print would either have to be a tad smaller, or they'd have needed a lot more pages.

having read from cover to cover (and there's a seriously comprehensive index at the back), i can honestly say i have a far better understanding of how i work and how this relates to my cycling, even if my six hours are still unlikely to realise the hard work necessary to fulfil this books promise. of course there's just the off-chance that one of these days, when i struggle to fit into my lycra, that i'll dig this out and have a more serious look at chapter five.

chris carmichael's time crunched cyclist training programme is available from cordee in the uk, or from velopress in the usa


posted tuesday 20 october 2009

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a bike ride in france

tour de france 2010

last wednesday, if memory serves correctly, the route of the 2010 tour de france was announced to particularly great acclaim, if only i could figure out why. yes, i know that it's the premier cycle event in the world (according to the tour de france), and that much of the world according to lance goes into pause mode each july, but why do we have to have so much pomp and circumstance? cycling tv apparently showed the entire event on the web, cycling weekly updated us all through their twitter account, and currently has an in your face 2010 tour route announcement at the top of their web page.i will readily confess to being a bit tired of all this stuff, but doesn't the giro take place a couple of months before the tour each year? in which case, why doesn't italy get the chance to be first kid on the block (route announcement due on 24th october) when it comes to announcing next year's route? both the giro and the vuelta suffer as also-rans during the race season itself, but they're hardly provided with a head start during announcement season.

however, in much the same way as the perennial interest in exactly who has jumped ship for team sky, i really wonder why we're so desperate to find out where contador and his pals will be next july. granted, there's a lot of preparation and planning to be incurred by those intent on watching the race in the flesh, as opposed to sat in front of eurosport, so the more notice provided, the better. but does it really have to be such a song and dance?

for instance, why invite all the prospective contenders to sit in a cinema, or the like, to watch christian prudhomme unveil a map with squiggles on it? in this day of video conferencing, e-mail, web pages and twitter, isn't there a more economical and practical way to do this? bikes are green, so let's consider the carbon footprint that the preceding incurs. i'd be happy to wait until the comic arrives on a thursday and ignore it then.

now don't get me wrong, i really do rather enjoy the tour de france, even if i think it has assumed an importance all of its own, that rather threatens its relevance to everything that precedes and succeeds, but it's the great palaver that bothers me. you can advise that i should just ignore it, but even though i did try, i already know that the etape is over the tourmalet stage, and that the route will follow the weirdness of this years vuelta and start in holland. that happened even though i was trying to pay no heed whatsoever.

whatever happened to surprises? i'd far rather wait until july 3rd 2010, plonk myself down in front of the telly, and listen to david and sean tell me what's happening. i'm happy to follow that plan of attack through the month of july, with only a few sneak peeks to decide on which days i should get in the brie and baguettes for all-day viewing. to me, that pops the race back into its true perspective; the giro and vuelta get the same treatment, and thus at the end of the season i can genuinely tell anyone within earshot which of the three i enjoyed most (i know you're not really interested, but this year it was the giro)

so how's about, in 2011, all can be run on a need to know basis, and those of us hell bent on a few surprises and able to contain what passes for curiosity, can go about our daily business safe in our total ignorance. just, in fact, like the civilian population.


posted monday 18 october 2009

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rapha bomber jacket

rapha bomber jacket

apparently a change is as good as a rest: when the sunday ride is over, having divested oneself of the neoprene overshoes, gloves, helmet, and possibly a gentleman's cap or merino hat (this is entirely season dependent, so we're working on the delete as applicable routine here), it's an often weary climb up the stairs for a welcome hot shower. of course, prior to this, unless it was a really tiring ride, all the other stuff has to come off too, and will be lying in an unkempt pile on the bathroom floor. then it's back to civvies.

either by choice or by design, that change of clothing will likely not be into items produced by the same manufacturer of the stuff you just cycled in. this is certainly an area showing a lot of change, since many more folks are using the bicycle as a regular form of transport, and as such, are far less likely to follow the lead of the weekend warrior and change at every turn. tell me the motorist who arrives at work, or leaves for same, and carries a change of clothing (well, ok, perhaps jenson button, but we're on a different level at this point)? it may be pertinent to change from relatively tight fitting garments into something less clingy and wind resistant, unless you spend much time with the office window open. but assuming you like the cut of the supplier's jib, perhaps the option to slip into something just as comfortable, and with the same logo embroidered about your person is one not to be passed up.

perren street is slap bang in the urban atmosphere that is kentish town in london, and judging by the number of bicycles racked on the top floor, a substantial proportion of the workforce move to and from imperial works on bicycles, thus experiencing the very same notions, desires and needs as those of us out in the sticks. granted sitting in front of an imac in threequarter bibshorts and a red long-sleeve jersey is considerably less likely to be frowned upon by the management, but it's nice to leave something for those more competitive or training moments.

enter the rapha bomber jacket

rapha bomber jacket

cut shorter about the body than its companions in the jacket range and without so much as the hint of a rear pocket, the bomber jacket is just as at home on two wheels as a red softshell, but cut more elegantly for day to day use, should it be necessary to spend some time on foot or coffee shop couch during the working day. and entirely unlike any other rapha top, this one has two zipped front pockets, the right one a smidgeon smaller than the left due to the offsetting of the full length zip. rapha mentioned a large inner pocket that could all but swallow an ordnance survey map (or a large version of the london underground directions), but so well concealed was this, that i almost had to call in a private detective.

the access zip for this pocket of pockets is concealed alongside the left of the jacket zip, and still accessible even when the jacket is fully sealed against the elements. inside, it has a neatly embroidered slot from which an ipod headphone cable might head in the direction of your ears, aided by carefully positioned loops to stop it wandering all over the inside of the jacket. there's thoughfully placed orange windproof lining contrasting with the almost ardbeg green of the cordura jacket. the shoulders are of toughened fabric to withstand any musettes, backpacks that might carry a laptop or such. the main body takes a marker from the fixed shorts, featuring schoeller 3xdry. it's comfortable, breathable and highly weatherproof. the hem and collar have ribbed panels for fit and style, and the shoulders have been articulated for reach should your choice of bike equal that of the company colnago.

rapha bomber jacket

the sleeves are of commendable length: as i tirelessly repeat, i've got long arms, so even stretching to the ergo levers at the full stretch of a 130mm carbon stem, the ribbed cuffs still overlapped the bottom of a pair of track mitts. clever thinking pervades the heady atmosphere of imperial works: at the cuff end of the right sleeve is yet another concealed, zipped pocket, but this time enclosing a short lanyard capable of hanging tightly onto a set of keys. mrs washingmachinepost has a habit of locking the front door of washingmachinepost towers even if simply popping round to the post office, and hunting for keys is not my favourite pastime. sorted. concomitantly, if your abode or workplace is in a less secure environment than this island idyll, it's easily one of the most practical locations to secrete the key for a u-lock.

so it's a stylish garment, a description that is highly resistant to wayward criticism, but aside from wandering down to shore street for saturday's guardian, where it blended in to my less than urban habitat, does it cut the mustard (strange expression don't you think?) on the brooks saddle? well, yes it does, and it does it very well. i managed a cycle of over 20km on a cold but sunny day, replete with filled backpack and wearing a pair of rapha's recently released trousers; no discomfort, no real swot and hettyness, and most importantly of all, no feeling of restrictive practices.

in short, rapha have managed to maintain outstanding design, quality and cycling relevance as their range continues a divergance of styles demanded by the increased use of the bicycle, and not just for the tour of flanders sportive or the rapha gentlemen's race. it would likely have shown itself well at yesterday's chris king gourmet ride though.

bradley wiggins would likely approve

the rapha bomber jacket is available in green only, in sizes from xs to xxl at a cost of £210 ($290). it should last for years, and wear in nicely.


posted sunday 17 october 2009

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reynolds assault carbon clincher wheels

reynolds assault carbon wheels

after returning from earls court and the london cycle show, i was wont to mention that the carbon on offer these days was becoming a tad generic. i'm generalising of course, because there are always one or two differences and occasional innovations to be seen, but as more and more machines are designed by computer, in a similar way to the current crop of motor cars, they all start to look much the same. and i have a notion that the painters in taiwan are either fairly restrictive in their palettes, or just not particularly skilled in decorating all that burnt plastic.

but it's rare that innovation comes to a halt altogether; at some time there will likely be a sea change, someone will think of a great idea and bicycles will start to annoy the uci once again. so the clever folks turn their attention to other associated areas which will aid the becalmed rider and progress continues apace. such has been almost quietly happening in the area of wheels over the past year or so, with both technological developments, and intellectual revelations occuring on almost a daily basis. it's not so very long ago that campagnolo sprung their aluminium, deep flange rims on a gasping public: ideal for time trialling because of the rotating weight, but effectively a one trick pony. advances in weight saving shifted up a gear (pun intended), but it was the advent of the deep flange carbon wheel rim that really made all the difference, even if the early versions still required aluminium rims. carbon conducts heat very poorly, so a full carbon rim needs secific pads - the normal ones don't stop very well (believe me, i know from personal 150km experience).

sort the pads, and full carbon rims are once again a real possibility, but initially for tubular tyres only. the reason here is the side pressure exerted by a clincher tyre with which aluminium copes admirably, but carbon, until recently, generally struggled. but of course, challenges like this are just the homework that some folks love, hence the current availability of just such a range of wheels, in this case from reynolds in the specific shape of their assault carbon clinchers.

the carbon rims are 46mm deep with an abraided braking surface that still requires carbon specific pads. the wheels sent to washingmachinepost towers from uk distributors, upgrade bikes, were shimano flavour; not a problem because so are my chris kings, so i simply swapped the amercian classic campag compatible cassette, but the wheels arrived with the necessary brake pads for shimano. i do keep a set of campagnolo carbon specific pads, but upgrade were unsure of the composition of such and asked that i waited until they sent a set of reynolds badged swiss stop pads. these seemed very similar to the campag offerings, but i believe the concern was that they might be of the cork variety which should definitely not be used on these wheels. however, buy a set, and the pads come with it.

so after all the palaver with which pads should be necessary on an abraided carbon braking surface, it was comfort and joy to discover that when stopping power was required, it was there in large enough portions. stopping in the dry, by now, is probably not too hard to achieve, but the proof of the pudding (always messy on carbon) is just how easy the same can be managed in the wet stuff. thankfully, this too was accomplished with relative ease, not too much heart fluttering and a modicum of finger strength. to be honest, after one or two outings, it was difficult to perceive much difference between carbon and aluminium. a fine outcome, if initially unexpected.

reynolds assault carbon wheels

actually the wheels package is rather comprehensive. apart from brake pads, there are a pair of reynolds skewers, a set of tyre levers, a pair of valve extenders and the tool necessary to true the spokes. a park spoke key is quite useless in this case; presumably in order to minimise the amount of trouble caused to the passing airflow, the spoke nipples are concealed inside the carbon rim, thus if any truing is required, the tyre needs to be removed along with the rim tape. a bit of faff really, particularly in my case (and likely many others) since my top speed is unlikely to be giving the airflow too much hassle whether spoke nipples are in or out. however, in the current situation, this is of academic interest, since the wheels remained remarkably true throughout the troubles i gave them.

lets assume that, like me, you have a pair of deep rim carbon clincher wheels that you want to test for strength, resistance to flex, and general all-round bashing; what would scare them more than anything else this side of the arenberg forest? exactly - cattle grids. thus the first outing into the hinterlands contained a total of six of the little blighters, two of which are showing signs of distinctly less than accurate paralleogramism (a technical word relating to rural artefacts - you wouldn't understand). i would usually stand up crossing cattle grids just to lighten the load, so to speak, but this is testing, so it was hard, fast and remain seated. nothing, apart from the rider, moved. carbon is a stiff composite, and in an unmanaged condition can oft times transmit all or most of this through the chamois and the track mitts. as a professional or elite rider this may well be an occupational hazard; as an aspiring speedy recreational rider, i'd prefer if that road buzz and cattle grid chatter didn't make it quite as far as me. if this is of similar mind to yourselves, then fear not on a pair of assaults: they're plenty stiff, but seem to hang on to the majority of the roughness and dissipate it in some incomprehensible way.

granted, there were a couple of occasions when i had doubts about the inflation of the rear tyre. they're mucking up the roads round here on an almost daily basis, and running over certain portions of this unrelieved relief were just a little harsh through the saddle. but that was just to remind me i was on carbon. the front wheel has twenty spokes in a radial pattern, while the rear has 24; radial on the left, two cross on the drive side. the hubs are of reynolds design, and are nothing fancy to write home about, though entirely functional. the rear freehub did emit one or two light clunks occasionally when in the larger sprockets, but i figure this may have more to do with the cassette itself rather than anything reynolds put together, since there was no discernible lessening of its mechanical ability.

reynolds assault carbon wheels

the weight of the wheels tops out at around 1.5kg; not astoundingly light, but not so as you'd notice when climbing. i resorted to my usual unscientific system of keeping the brakes close to the rim and walloping it up a climby bit. a mere 24 spokes at the rear is sort of below my own preferred mimimum, but there were very few occasions when this made much difference under those conditions. granted, a 46mm carbon rim would not be expected to have much in the way of lateral movement, and reynolds have been very successful at harnessing this - onwards and upwards.

priced comfortably under a grand, these are undoubtedly the sort of wheels you could purchase for regular use, whether training, racing or a bit of both. however, the acid test is the added factor of wind. not that provoked by too many energy bars, but the whizzy stuff lumping it in from the atlantic. into a headwind, the assaults carry out their true vocation in life with admirable aplomb, making it easier to forge a way through the invisible mattress. crosswinds, however, are a whole different ball game: on the basis of just because i can, i took the colnago out in 60kph, gale force winds, just to see how much of a handful the reynolds would be. silly idea really. in the uk, we ride on the left: sadly i spent much of my time on the wrong side, and very thankful that islay has light traffic on a saturday afternoon. i appreciate that most of us would dig out a cycling video rather than go out riding in winds as fierce, but one has to be thorough. very much a case of don't try this at home: it just doesn't work, though not entirely unexpected.

carbon has an historical reputation for fragility, and will happily display this trait if deployed in the wrong way. the idea of a pair of carbon deep rimmed wheels holding tightly to a pair of clincher tyres is not, at first glance, the ideal recipe for a sturdy pair of all-round hoops (yes, i know what i just did), but on the evidence of my ham-footed effort to prove this assertion correct, i failed miserably. crosswinds notwithstanding, the reynolds assaults are as near perfection in their genre as current technology allows. however, having been shown at earls court the next stage of development due from reynolds for 2010, it's about to get a whole lot better.

and yes, even carbon clinchers make that wonderful whooshing noise under acceleration: worth the price of admission alone.

a pair of reynolds assault carbon clincher wheels cost around £850 on average ($1300) and are available in both shimano/sram or campagnolo flavours.

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posted saturday 17 october 2009

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