i like to think of myself as a laid back kind of guy, someone who shrugs off the troubles and worries of the world with a happy-go-lucky smile and a bike ride. in fact, i'd go so far as to suggest that i've convinced myself and several others that this is all due to riding a bicycle in the first place. but if we take a look around at my focus group, this would seem to convince otherwise. because as cyclists we're fit and healthy, superlatively fast and with physiques that will all fit into a small size from rapha. this gives us not only the moral upper floor, but a confidence to meet the world head-on. additionally, the very act of being a cyclist in a motorists' world marks us (me?) out as an individual who worries not about possible estrangement from the rest of society.
there are, of course, certain sartorial choices of a cycling nature that would mitigate against the posited state of relaxed mind, pertaining to the workaday cyclist. i'm sure you know just what i mean; it's not that i don't want to appear to my disregarding public as just such a speedster who spends every spare moment training towards the ultimate accolade, but there's a certain insouciance to be enjoyed by clothing oneself in performance apparel that projects less of an aggressive stance and more in keeping with the strife free personality that one either inhabits or wishes so to do.
in the world of road cycling, we are here trying to align ourselves with the likes of evil ryan, cole maness, ira ryan et al of the rapha continental. here are a group of chaps who ride like they mean it, riders who could leave most of us standing, yet project a devil may care attitude to the world. while their ability may be just a chris carmichael training session too far for the likes of me, i can still identify myself more with these gentlemen than with the streamlined sameness of such as the cervelo time trial team. am i making myself perfectly clear?
i thought not.
it's winter, so the fact that it's cold is not too much of a surprise. the fact that the windchill is even colder is even less of a surprise, so the apportioning of correct sequencing in appropriate apparel is beyond fashion. and whilst i have oft heard it said that one should never let substance get in the way of style (latterly from the man clipping the ends off the race number zip-ties at braveheart) that could conceivably amount to folly here on the outer edge. thus layering, and sensible layering at that, is very much the order of a sunday ride; to wit, a rapha crew neck merino baselayer married to a merino neckwarmer, a decidedly old skool, but no less pragmatic pink mortirolo short sleeve jersey, topped with a red softshell. that's because my arms always get too warm.
adversity often attacks the ears first, so not only is it necessary to sandwich a hat between helmet and barnet, ear coverings are not optional. for the past couple of years, rapha have proffered an excellent solution to this latter problem, by way of the belgian influenced winter cap. this year they have excelled themselves with a knitted merino cap, incorporating peak and built in ear covering. thus armoured, including a pair of winter bib tights, the sunday ride into the face of the atlantic's initial offerings of the year, could be effectively treated with the contempt deserved. our belgian training road, which pretty much runs from the phone box at carnduncan all the way past ballinaby, the empty cottages and dramatic surf at saligo, before petering out as it approaches the coastguard cottages at machir bay, could satisfactorily be given a run for its money. to paraphrase alberto y lost trios paranoias, this is 'heads down, no nonsense, mindless boogie' more than half-way round loch gorm. snatching victory from the face of windchill.
it's somewhat of an occupational hazard that the occasional mishap may befall even the stout of heart and merino baselayer, however, in this case it befell two others in the ardbeg peloton: the mighty dave t had a rear wheel puncture, while lord carlos of mercian destroyed his gear mech and rear dropout. rather unavoidably, this resulted in down time; so after being gerben de knegt for several kilometres, a crew neck merino and knitted woolly hat started to equate with the word mandatory. a soya cappuccino never tasted so good.
in an excellent example of having your cake and eating it (though discussion has wandered as to why anyone with a cake would not want to eat it), after what passes for high performance both from rider and weather, sloaching about at debbie's looking very much like the laid back cyclist described at sunrise above was far finer remuneration than sitting to attention in faux racewear. and just to augment the effect, switching the peak to the back meant i could almost have passed for u2's 'the edge' (well, unless anyone asked me to play guitar).
the rapha crew neck merino baselayer (£65/$90) is the latest development of what was the fixed baselayer, sporting a more densely woven merino wool with side panels to impose a race fit. it's available in grey or brown. however, versatility is not the missing link, and it could just as easily be worn during a social encounter as protecting life and limb on the atlantic edge. the knitted hat (£45/$65) has a personality all of its own, and a white stripe on the ear flap on both grey and red versions. a merino outer and cotton spandex inner, it can be worn front to back or front to front, with a peak to ward off passing geese. and not only is it cosy but funk is its middle name.
posted tuesday 17 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's an homogenous world in which we live: lots of stuff looks like lots of other stuff, and that includes bicycles. granted, adhering to the uci's notion of what is and is not allowed in the field of frame design, means that the double triangle is hard to beat, but almost everything is carbon these days and a lot of it looks as if it came out of the same mould. this homogeneity spreads far and wide; have you ever taken a look at the motor cars that drive past every day? were it not for the variety in grille badges, you may be hard pushed to identify one from another. it starts to bring a touch of unfortunate reality to the answer 'it was a blue one officer'. and while i can appreciate that there is not a lot to play with in flat panel television design, at least the bit we look at, were it not for the chromed logo in the middle and a sticker with more acronyms than you could shake a stick at, we could all be buying the same hd blackness for the corner of the living room.
there's a justifiable reason for thinking it's been all done before, and therefore at each step it becomes harder to reinvent the wheel, but every now and again, someone comes along with a flash of inspiration, the ability to think outside the box (what a dreadful turn of phrase), and presents us with something that we have seen before, but not quite. that this can be applied to a pair of cycle shorts is quite an achievement.
cycle shorts, other than the 'normal' ones with a waist band (does anyone actually wear those?) usually sport a pair of bibs to keep them up, the most endearing property of which is the ability to make some of us look svelte and without extraneous pounds. well, sometimes. but paul mason at solo responded to my years old question as to when solo would add a pair of shorts to their already exemplary and stylish range, by displaying a fine, if rare, sense of propriety.
'what i don't want to do is make something ordinary i.e. a standard pair of bibshorts with a solo logo slapped on them'
admirable sentiments entirely, but that was almost exactly two years ago. well, darn me if the man from down under hasn't managed that and then some. inspired by the lugged steel frame of paul's colnago, solo lugged shorts combine a fabulous degree of retro with bang up to the minute technology and build quality. styled slightly shorter in the leg than has become the norm of late (not quite into sean yates territory, however), the matt black lycra is joined to the white mesh bib with pronounced lugs.
there is, of course, no real advantage to the lugs, at least not in the sense in which they are employed in bicycle frame construction. however, an interesting design aspect is an increase in the area of breathability relative to a regular pair of bibshorts, while apparently displaying no negative qualities in the integrity of the pair as a whole. the red and grey italian aero sotto chamois is seamless and oh so very comfortable, while the legs are encouraged to stay put in the heat of battle by solo monogrammed gloopy stuff on the inside of the hem.
the antipodean summer is currently at its height, so releasing a pair of shorts in november may not seem so surprising in auckland, but i don't mind admitting that i have had to choose my days carefully in the northern hemisphere to pedal off into the wide grey yonder. in fact, all journeys clad in these fine, red badged shorts have had to be considerably less than solo; a pair of knee warmers on at least two occasions and under a pair of winter tights on one for sure. however, either scenario is something that would apertain to any pair of shorts up here in near mid-winter, and in no way lessens their ability. in fact, it may hint at a finely judged degree of versatility.
over several extended rides, in weather that blended a wind chill factor both sides of that magic zero, the solo lugged shorts were so comfortable, only concerted presence of mind and the task in hand reminded me they were there: very brooks saddle friendly. and if the number of pockets secreted about a modern cycle jersey are not quite enough, there's a simple cargo pocket for just one more small energy bar or loose change. do you realise how embarrassing it is to be unable to afford that soya cappuccino after you've drunk it?
it's a slightly sad realisation that the only outward indication that the choice of cycle shorts is exemplary in that all too important retro fashion, is the red tab on the left leg (could it not be fashioned in a lug pattern too?) and the rubberised solo logo on the right. wearing a classique or equipe jersey (you surely wouldn't want to wear with anyone else's tops?) the lugged region is all but obscured. but in the finest tradition of that little tanned patch on the back of each hand, at least you'll know. and the tab logo on the bib is one of the finest i've ever seen. that should be on a t-shirt.
and there's a delightful smugness inherent in that.
solo lugged bibshorts are available in sizes small through to xxl, in matt black only at a retail of £120 ($205). they can be purchased from mosquito bikes in london, or by mail order from always riding
posted monday 16 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
cycling is blessed with a wide variety of individuals who, deliberately or otherwise, suffuse our enjoyment of the sport, the hobby, the life, with reflections of differing aspects and viewpoints that are necessarily different to our own. and in so doing, they enhance the entire experience and open it to a wider audience. it is a valuable observation that many of these people are not first and foremost involved with cycling to the exclusion of all else; in fact, a good number are only passively involved in cycling, but passionately involved in their own life's work.
one such is richard mitchelson, an animator/illustrator who first came to the notice of a section of the cycling public via the pages of rouleur magazine (issue fourteen, to be precise) and then i met him at earls court in october: the result is written.
posted sunday 15 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
winter has quite a lot going for it, though you may find that hard to believe as the shorts and short sleeve jerseys are put away to hibernate until summer arrives next year. i always rather enjoy the fact that, despite wearing at least one layer more than i was in august, i can pedal just as hard, if not harder, without melting in the same way as the wicked witch in the wizard of oz. such are the mammoth steps taken by technical clothing these days, that breathability has been considerably downgraded in the problem stakes.
but personal attire aside, the landscape has changed considerably; here on the southernmost tip of the inner hebrides, the appellation, green, grassy islay has a ring of truth about it in the summer months, contributing to the island's reputation as a stalwart of agriculture. now most of the greenery has turned to brown and ochre, while the sheep are fluffy with wool rather than looking as if they'd been run over by a strimmer. and every birdwatcher's delight (seemingly), thousands of overwintering geese from greenland, fill most of the available gaps around the top of loch indaal, sounding much like lots of little dogs yapping in the distance. the downside is, of course, the likelihood, rare though it may be, of being spotted as they fly overhead for more grass munching.
that's the scenery; the weather of course is the principal factor influencing the apparel to be drawn from the cycling wardrobe. while southern england, at the time of writing, is being battered by high winds, presumably keeping even the most frenzied of cyclists indoors watching re-runs of the fausto coppi story on dvd, islay bears only its regular wind, a wind that we have to regard as an occupational hazard, otherwise there would be no need of winter clothing becasue we simply wouldn't go out. the favoured mainstay, apart from a decent pair of overshoes, is a good long sleeve-jersey.
having been introduced to the le col winter range through their bib tights and winter jacket, it was a continued pleasure to substitute a black sportwool jersey with soft fleecy stuff on the inside for that warm, comforting feeling before and during stepping out into wet and windy. in similar vein to that of the windproof winter jacket, the theme is black and gold, with the same style zip, to which my previous comments still apply, but also with that small touch of sophistication, embroidered wording on the left breast. behind this is a replica inner waterproof pocket as featured on the jacket, while the standard three rears are augmented by a mandatory zipped pocket outboard of the centre. the long sleeves are judged to perfection, meeting the cuffs of even a pair of track mitts, and leaving no gaps. not that today was a short fingered glove day.
the trademark triple stitching is in evidence on all seams, as are a number of gold coloured scotchlite reflective tabs and strips. for a winter jersey, i'd have preferred a slightly higher collar, but in view of the increasing amount of merino and cotton neckwarmers available these days, this is hardly of major concern. the fit is, as le col state on their website ultra-aero, meaning you might just have to spray it on. while the winter jacket supplied was a medium, the winter jersey is a large, and even then it's a very snug fit on my less than considerable frame. you may want to try before you buy.
this should not be taken to infer that the fit is in any way restrictive, indeed far from it, but if you take your cycling and/or training seriously, aerodynamics is bound to enter the fray at some point, and the lack of any flappy bits would mean that any lack of progress cannot be laid at the door of the le col jersey.
strictly speaking, le col are not positioning this jersey as an antidote to winter on its own: it's too light and not seriously windproof (though surprisingly more so than i expected), but it is warm and cosy, and can easily be worn in conjunction with a gilet (which le col also offer) or under an outer shell. its close fitting properties come into their own at this point, because wearing under an outer is happily bereft of the bulking that sometimes occurs with looser fitting garments. but assuming you don't have too many bulky bits of your own, one of the finest side effects of wearing a le col long sleeve jersey is that it makes you look about 5km per hour faster than you probably are. worth the price of admission alone.
real cyclists of course, will not have missed the point that probably the finest benefit of winter training and/or cycling, is that the cup of coffee supped at mid or end point, is eminently more satisfying (and warming) than on a comparable saturday earlier in the season.
the le col long sleeved jersey is fabricated in a mid-weight sportwool in sizes small through to xl, and retails at £130. it can be ordered direct from lecol.net and as mentioned above, it would likely be an idea to order a size bigger than usual
posted saturday 14 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's about a year since i started using twitter, initially on my ipod before moving to the big(ger) screen of a macbook. it seemed like a bit of a pointless waste of time then, and my opinion hasn't altered too much, though i will confess to having had one or two insights i might have otherwise missed. if the finger of blame needs to be pointed at someone in particular, then we might as well point it at carlton reid who, around the same time ran an article in bike biz explaining why those of us involved in the trade in one way or another, ought to be tweeting. at that time, there were quite a few folks twittering, but in the following months, twitter was suddenly all over the press, and it became a pointless growth industry overnight.
of course, as others of my acquaintance discovered twitter, some of them became cloying enthusiasts, intent on pointing out all the advantages and why i should be there. unfortunately for those of this excitable disposition, i already was. so now everybody who is anybody is twittering, unless you've got more sense than the rest of us, in which case you probably aren't.
there is, however, an observational parallel in real life here, parallell to realising that so many are now filling those vacant minutes on laptops, blackberries and iphones telling the world the minutiae of their often mundane existences, mixed with those intent on telling the world what's fresh on their blog or website. ok, guilty as charged. but it's now so much a part of modern existence that tweeting seems rather unremarkable. is it, therefore, poignant to ask if the same applies to our modern day appreciation of cycle racing and its attendant paraphernalia?
cycle racing has always been trumpeted as being the most accessible of sports; unless we are talking about lance armstrong, it's relatively easy to get inches close to your pedalling heroes for an autograph or just a chat. i'm none too sure which particular music hero we could reliably compare sean kelly to, but at the braveheart ride a couple of weekends ago, sean was happy to sit down between peter allen and myself and shoot the breeze, so to speak, while we both tried to remain cool, calm and collected in the great man's presence. in essence, sean is just the same as the rest of us, except he's a lot faster and has a drawerful of green jerseys.
but our tangible appreciation of the racing, venues, routes and personalities that have always occupied a sizeable proportion of our waking moments has, over the last few years, been measurably enhanced by a resurgence in the art of the photographers depicting the above. while my photographic colleague with a great deal more skill behind the lens than i, warren sanders, feels that there is a directly traceable line back to robert frank and henri cartier bresson, there can be little doubt that the modern crop of photographers associated with cycling have taken the baton and run a considerable distance with it tightly grasped.
nowhere has this been more adequately demonstrated than in the pages of rouleur magazine. perhaps informed by ben ingham's early work for british clothing upstarts rapha, rouleur has - and you don't need me to tell you this - almost singlehandedly raised the depiction of cycle racing to an art form. (this is simply my opinion: please don't write in). and of course, in the process of garnering photographic delights to grace the pages of each quarterly issue, many a fine image is left on the cutting room floor. what would you do?
well, it doesn't matter what you, or i, would do with this gorgeous excess of photographic imagery, because rouleur have, for the past two years, gathered them all up and published as a smorgasbord on which to overdose: the rouleur photography annual. thankfully the latter epithet describes a feature that returns once a year, so it is with open arms that we welcome the 320 pages of this year's rouleur photography annual.
printed on high quality paper and hardback bound, the annual features visionary observation by many of the usual suspects: gerard brown, taz darling, ben ingham, timm kolln, camille mcmillan, daniel sharp, marthein smith, olaf unverzart, geoff waugh and rein van de wouw. this article is illustrated with a few snippets from the book, just to whet the appetite until it becomes available around the beginning of december.
waiting was never one of my strong points.
but, in the words of the comedian, jimminy cricket, 'there's more'. we're almost midway through the penultimate month of the year, and there in my inbox is one of those entirely welcome e-mails from guy andrews, announcing that another issue of the monthly photography and literary annual that is rouleur, is about to head in the direction of my letterbox. and likely yours too. of course, with reference to my end piece to the photography annual above, there is just enough information in the e-mail to turn impatience into a virtue: the rouleur interview with jeremy hunt, reynolds, gios by herbie sykes, cyclocross by geoff waugh and lanterne rouge by timm kolln and nando boers. a veritable feast.
it's almost as if christmas is arriving early, or even three times this year.
the rouleur photography annual 2009 will be available from december 3rd at a cost of £35 and is available for pre-order via rouleur's website. there is also a special offer available on last year's photography annual should its importance have passed you by. rouleur issue 15 will be available by the end of november at the usual price of £9, or as part of a four issue subscription.
posted friday 13 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
much as i feel i may have a cosmopolitan outlook on life, it's not an epithet that could in any reasonable way be applied to yours truly. thus when, as a member of islay pipe band, i visited new york in april of 2002, country boy in the big city would have been a gross understatement. we were there to play in the tartan day parade down 6th avenue and into central park, but that didn't take for ever, so there was (nowhere near enough) time to wander about.
everything in new york is on a much (much) larger scale than anything on islay, or indeed, islay itself. my home island covers an expanse that is delineated by 239 square miles, though it often seems a great deal larger and, at times, smaller; the current population is vaguely around the 3,500 mark, depending on who you listen to. compare this to new york: the area covered by the city is just a little under double that of islay at 470 square miles, but the population is around 8.5 million. i can understand why the buildings have to be so tall.
but despite having never visited new york city ever before, it was surprisingly easy to get about, if only because the street naming protocol makes it very hard not to know where you are at any given time. couple that with the imposed grid system, it's unlikely you'd need to use that gps compass on the iphone anywhere near as often as you would on islay, or even london. the bit that i'm not proud of is my complete lack of observation regarding the local cycling community; apart from one or two slivers of shiny carbon in central park on sunday, the only other set of wheels that caught my eye were those attached to a colnago on the southern reaches of broadway.
one of my greatest ambitions in new york, for reasons entirely related to a joni mitchell song, was to travel on the staten island ferry, an ambition that was not only realised, but made even greater on discovering that travel on the yellow boats was absolutely free. however, avoid the donuts. we were staying in an hotel on the upper west side, around west 96th street which is quite some distance from the staten island ferry terminal at the foot of long island. however, since buses are not quite my forte, and the underground would have me miss all there is to see, my daughter and i walked the whole distance there and back. fascinating it certainly was, and since the ferry was the primary target, if we missed some of the more interesting parts of nyc, then in the interests of elapsed time, it's probably just as well.
new york, however, encloses a huge variety of eccentricities and and eccentrics, architectural marvels, unique shopping opportunities in unique shops, and just lots of stuff that could add to the worldy education of a washingmachinepost scribe let out for a few days. and if we take the moral and transportational high-ground, probably the best way to explore all this would be on a bicycle. thus attired, so to speak, shifting deftly about that excellent grid of conjoined roads, would allow the seriously uninitiated to find all those nooks and crannies that you would normally read about in the in-flight magazine on the trip home.
to take the sting out of dodging pedestrians and yellow taxi-cabs, dutch painter, photographer and sometime resident in the big apple, roos stallinga has composed an incredibly compact, bijou and unbelievably informative guide to cycling in new york city. but what makes this an even more attractive proposition to the prospective purchaser and, subsequently, reader is the fact that it's a book. an obvious statement perhaps, but applied here because i read all of this while sitting nowhere near long island; in fact across the other side of the atlantic.
there are maps aplenty, all scribed with little artistic touches to humanise them just a touch, and breaking down the 470 square metres into manageable and rideable chunks, including trips across the bridge to coney island and brooklyn, as well as that staten island ferry trip to, well, staten island. along the way, stallinga introduces us to several of the cycling characters she has met while compiling the book, or just riding about the big city. there are points of interest, bakeries and coffee shops to visit along with that necessity to the metropolitan cyclist, a comprehensive list of bike shops.
this, in my usual long-winded way, brings me to the reason behind why i have this book in washingmachinepost cottage in the first place. amongst the profligate number of photos between the front and rear covers, is one taken inside the bicycle shop on west 14th street (i think) featuring a sturdy fellow dressed in an ardbeg winter jacket. this gentleman is william andrew, and he is the man who kindly sent me ride with me nyc.
i could find only one problem with the book, and in true personal tradition, it is one of a trivial nature, yet an oversight that really shouldn't feature on any book about bicycles: the photograph of ms stallinga's bike on the cover has been reversed. not immediately apparent from the bit of the front cover that you'd see on a shop counter, but open out flat, and you'll realise, as did i, that the chainset is on the wrong side. oh, what a disappointment.
brilliant book though.
ride with me nyc is available from the website of the same name for €17.50 (£15.70). sadly, i have been unable to find out the cost in new york city.
posted thursday 12 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
2009 has likely been one of the finest years for uk cycle racing since the days (or nights) of channel four city centre cycle racing. not only have we been regaled by the ten race tour series, which promises to continue in enhanced form for 2010, but there has also been the shorter, but no less exciting nocturne series. at least the latter made it to scotland. but the best part about it all has been the availability of television coverage. tell me, when was the last time we got to watch ten races on a weekly basis on british tv?
readers of the robert millar pages on the post will likely be aware of the granada tv documentary (the high life) featuring robert recorded in 1985, the year after he swept all before him and took the polka dot jersey all the way to paris. sadly, robert was unable to repeat his 1984 form in the tour at the time the cameras were following him, but it was/is a thoroughly watchable piece of television and cycling history that endures until this very day through its availability on dvd. i cannot remember the last time there was a cycling documentary made about british cycling, let alone about one of its favoured sons.
however, british track success both during the uci world cup, and the incredible haul of medals at the beijing olympics has made our sport much more of a marketable commodity. one that not only attracts public attention, but also that of those with the marketing budget purse strings; and sky television.
the late jim morrison, he of doors fame (or at least an actor playing the part) told wayne in wayne's world ii, build it and they will come, which in the case of the 2009 uk cycling season, that's kind of what happened. however, if it was built, somebody had to be in position to build it. it would be unfair to pretend that there was a sole responsee for all this, but unfair or not, the end result of this particular article concerns one builder.
anthony mccrossan, who many will know through his tv and live commentary, left his position as cycling.tv commercial director a couple of years ago, and setup cyclevox, roughly translated as the voice of cycling, an epithet which has been successfully carried through to the end of the current season in very much expanded form. having been joined by brian smiffy smith and matt ward, amongst others, he has positioned cyclevox as one of the more important cards in the house. those years of dealing with television, whether on the box or on the computer have not gone to waste, since one of the services offered by cyclevox is the production of broadcast ready video.
and if you'd just witnessed one of the best seasons in many a long year, and been instrumental in having it broadcast on national digital television, what would you do next?
the answer to this rhetorical question can be seen on british eurosport 2 on saturday 21st november at 11:15am, to be repeated at 3:15pm on british eurosport 1. it's an almost half hour documentary that follows the fortunes of the candi tv, marshalls pasta team and features prominently both russell downing and malcolm elliot, along with team manager, phil griffiths. the team is seen at the rather palatial team headquarters (they don't build council houses like that anymore), during the tour series in which they finished second overall, and most successfully, downing's victory in the tour of ireland.
anatomy of a team, to me at least, always seems of greater interest than that of a race, or even a series of races. however, the notion of combining the two along with an appearance by lance makes for highly watchable television. with the benefit of an honours degree in hindsight, it's pretty fine to see downing's successful season which led to his signing with the much lauded team sky for 2010, something that couldn't likely have been foreseen when the cameras arrived at season's start. some days you get the mountain...
i must thank cyclevox for kindly supplying an exclusive trailer for this programme which you can watch below. and thankfully british eurosport will be repeating the documentary from november 21st onwards, because you really don't want to miss this. aside from which, at the edinburgh nocturne, fresh off the glasgow bus, just out of the press office, the offer of a hot pot of marshalls macaroni pasta was a most welcome fringe benefit.
posted wednesday 11 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................