it was always somewhat of a well-worn joke that it's a man's life in a pipe band; you get to wear a skirt and a purse. (it's ok for me to denigrate the importance of the sporran because i'm scottish, but i wouldn't advise attending the pipe band world championships and saying that). more usually sporrans are, in modern times, for heraldic decoration rather than pragmatism related to carrying stuff. however, the sporran can be a more than practical item of decoration; you'd agree if you'd ever seen the size of the drum keys needed to tune those pipe band snares. pipers, on the other hand, tend to carry thermal thirst assuagers.
there is, of course, no real corollary in the cycling world. for starters, lycra does not a suitable kilt make, aside from which, it would likely catch in the spokes. but when it comes to a purse for the all-too-necessary debbie card and a modest amount of spends to keep the sunday ride refueled, there's really only the mandatory zipped pocket at the rear. or, for less than temperate climes, most winter jackets have a pocket somewhere.
of course, let's not forget that not only are we men (and women), but we are cyclists, and as such it's not a large drum key that requires to be carried, nor a monogrammed hip-flask. we need tyre levers, inner tubes, tools for removing boy scouts from horses' hooves; you know the sort of thing i mean. i see someone at the back pointing out that such already exists; those little, or not so little, seat packs that fit under the saddle; somewhere to store the mud off the back wheel.
having spent more than a few black and yellow pixels determining the height of velocipedinal sartorial elegance, you just know that a simple zipped pocket, or seat pack, will not cut the mustard (what does that mean, exactly?). we need our own purse: and perren street has, in similar manner to those geniuses that make adobe photoshop, provided us with something we didn't even know we wanted until seen. enter the essentials case, a compact and bijou, robust leather case which will comfortably swallow all the items alluded to above, zipped from two sides and featuring bound seams to prevent soggy tenners.
but these are modern times, and as such the carrying of real money is rapidly becoming frowned upon in certain circles (we're still bartering chickens over here), it being more seemly to carry your flexible friend cosily inside an inner pocket, alongside the debbie card. it may even be the ideal flight-case for that ipod touch or iphone (though i'd keep it separate from that multi-tool if you value the touch screen). whichever variety of contents you wish to entrust to its leather inners, the resultant pack fits tidily inside one of the aforementioned rear pockets.
the rapha leather essentials case can be acquired in black only, bearing a bon courage motto on the inside, just as a means of extra motivation when paying for the coffees. it costs a not inequitable £40 ($55).
christmas present anyone?
posted friday 4 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in my day job, i have the great good fortune (most of the time) to be allowed to design stuff; mostly posters, leaflets, programmes, brochures, books and the like, though i have been known to exert myself in a modest degree of pixel wrangling when expediency dictates. mostly this is by way of serving the island's burgeoning tourist industry and its myriad committees, organisations and voluntary groups. the latter are always wishing to advertise one event or another by way of a poster stuck in shop windows and post office notice boards. very little of this ever relates to bicycles, at least it didn't up until the week before i went on holiday.
it is a sad reflection on my attention span that, while i take every care to produce an eye-catching bill of sale, ensuring that spelling, punctuation and typefaces all sit in equanimity on the paper, the content often passes me by. i'm sure that many a graphic designer experiences the same sensations (don't you?). however, in this case, a representative from one of the local churches appeared with a tiny cutting from a magazine promoting the salvation that is the bicycle in the country of malawi. this stated that members of the local hospital mission could use a sit up and beg bicycle to visit members of the local community for medical purposes, should a suitable amount of funding be made available. hence the need for the poster. malawi's economy and transport infrastructure struggles big time to support any sort of motorised transport on any scale; thus the bicycle is gold. something most of us already know.
the resultant poster (to which i now return) bore a large photo of a pashley style bicycle underlined with legend proclaiming that one of these could be supplied to the mission in malawi for a mere £63 ($105). most of us would be ashamed to have a derailleur that cost that little, yet here is a sizeable proportion of a nation's population who can apparently gain a high degree of reliable mobility for what amounts to a pittance. and it's sort of a reflection on the realisation that a great many of us (self included), don't quite think our bicycles as mere transportation.
this coming saturday will be my first opportunity to clip feet into pedals for almost three weeks, and i don't mind telling you that saturday can't come quickly enough; the heck with whatever the weather brings. and since i have, solidly encased in a bright red bike box, a colnago clx 2.0 for review, its principal purpose will be to transport me, via a suitably circuitous route, to debbie's for a soya cappuccino that makes those proffered by starbucks taste like diluted nescafe. and if i look upon this at face value, it defines this particular colnago as transport; highly delectable transport it has to be admitted, but transport nonetheless. however, even with the most optimistic outlook, i could never seriously compare my need of bicycle transport with that of the far flung reaches of africa.
of course, it isn't just africa that defines the bicycle as a simple, yet efficient, means of transport. those of you resident in the larger conurbations will either partake of, or be passed by, bicycles used to get from a to b (or any other letter in the alphabet for that matter). many of these can only be compared to the exotica over which we all fawn and drool, by the fact that they have two wheels, handlebars and pedals. in reflection, it seems that we, in the comfort of our western world, perhaps do not appreciate the bicycle as much as we should or could. in the heat of competition, the bicycle is a means of self-aggrandisement; who can forget david millar throwing a chainless felt bicycle over a barrier, all because it failed to take him across the line ahead of his peers?
it is not a terminological inexactitude to mention that in both cases, the bicycle is being employed as a means to an end rather than simply appreciated as an end in and of itself. but those of us who extricate carbon from the bike shed most weekends, with no thought of competitive effort, or indeed, as a frame on which to hang expensive trinketry (trinketry that generally costs considerably more than a bike for malawi) experience the bicycle as a luxury.
and interestingly, as was also the case in the bicycle thieves, those in the mission in malawi enjoy (if that's the correct word) the same experience; for them the bicycle is also a luxury and necessity, if not quite measured on the same scale.
if you've wondered where i'm going with all this, then i may just have achieved my point.
posted thursday 3 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
however many years ago, i cannot recall, but i did, at one time, subscribe to bicycling magazine. in the days when they couldn't quite make up their minds whether they wanted to include mountain biking or whether it should have its own, separate magazine. there wasn't anything much on the road bike magazine market in the uk, and besides, one issue had a red bicycle on the cover. i quite enjoyed reading (and probably still would, if it were possible to find a copy this far off the beaten track) although in the tradition of most of the world's cycle publications, there was a definite pattern to the monthly articles. americans were seemingly obsessed with the century ride, and so i too became obsessed with the century ride; mostly because in the couple of months when the magazine would not be directly addressing century-ees, it would give extensive details on how best to ride your first century. no thought, then, for those who had followed this through in the previous twelve months.
however, while it wasn't the reason that i stopped receiving the magazine (actually, i can't remember why), i do remember being aghast and somewhat dismayed to view advertisements from the ford motor company, promoting enormous four-wheel-drive pick-up trucks sporting gantry-like bicycle racks bolted to the pick-up floor. granted, much of this agrarian aggression was aimed at the knobbly brigade, but my sensibilities were aggrieved by finding gratuitous motor vehicle display on the pages of a bicycle magazine. how the naive are fallen.
in point of fact, this was a rather adept piece of cross-border marketing on behalf of ford, and one or two others: since america is just a tad larger in breadth than the united kingdom, and there are few off-road trails or safety conscious road routes in anyone's back yard, there has to be appropriate means of accessing the foregoing, preferably avec velocipede. scrabble through any motor magazine, and you will see endless advertisements for motor cars; similarly, chuckle your way through a golfing magazine, and every other page sells clubs, bags, trolleys; all the fare for golfing finesse. this is not mere supposition: i went and checked. and i'm pretty sure that the same will ring true for the majority of publications: the advertisements and those marketing materials that fall out in the bath will likely all be relevant to the subject matter dealt with in the editorial pages.
'and so it should be', i hear you say; thus the world equilibrium is maintained. and indeed, it is a central tenet of the advertising world that one directs all towards the target market, because surely the premise of advertising bicycles to golfers is a waste of time. or is it? this may be a less than valid comparison, but if cars can be sold to cyclists, why can't bicycles be sold to golfers? or even golf clubs to those of a more velocipedinal bent?
these are, i'm willing to agree, somewhat supercilious examples, but could the bicycling magazine example not be turned on its head? could the likes of trek, specialized or colnago not gain some latent converts by advertising in top gear magazine? a couple of years ago, a colnago ferrari made a full-page appearance in just this very magazine; perhaps jeremy clarkson has just such a machine secreted about clarkson manor. as cyclists, we talk purposefully about spreading the gospel as far as the nearest dashboard, something that wanders far past self-preservation and encroaches on that of the planet, but short of nipping ahead of the occasional porsche at the lights, it's all just so much hot air added to global warming.
such advertising need not concern the finest slivers of carbon: if this new target market spends hour upon hour behind power steering, the same posterior plonked on a razor blade of a saddle might be found bereft of attraction. so thus the more commuter styled may have greater chance of success, though i wouldn't doubt skinny wheels and bendy bars might have some attraction to the more sports oriented.
however, rather than build grand castles on thin air, perhaps a closer look at home wouldn't go amiss. bicycling is fuzzily divided down the middle: skinny or knobbly; the fuzzy bit in the middle is occupied by those who swing both ways (if you see what i mean?) however, such fuzzy affliction rarely affects the cycling press; it's either on or offroad, just as it should be. but would it not pay to perchance expand the fuzziness by implicating one with the other? advertising mountain bikes to the erstwhile road-crew and vice versa? granted, i personally have no great desire to fall off a farm gate with springs and get muddy, but i know plenty of riders who do, and there are likely those with boingy bits who may not be averse to the open road.
or have i just transgressed the unwritten law? again.
posted wednesday 2 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
nobody knows everything about everything. when it comes to writing about stuff, there is somewhat of a precedent in the world of journalism (oh those lofty heights), where editors are wont to hand out assignments based on requirement rather than specialism. granted, in the narrow world of cycling, it's not that hard to have at least a working knowledge of a substantial portion of all that's going on; but as its appeal widens, so does the amount of information and technical doo-flabbery. and to write about it from a confident stance takes either a more active lifestyle than that currently occupied by yours truly, or more time spent on research.
while i am happily/sadly bereft of any such senior editorial influence other than my own, i have only me to answer to, something that can be viewed as either a good thing or less so, depending on what i am writing about, and whether you, the reader, are in any way interested. granted, i figure that i have enough integrity that i hope not to fail your (unknown) expectations, but the long and short of it is that i often find myself stringing words together describing something about which i know very little.
happily, this is not the case here. just under a year ago i found myself in the situation of having to learn how to ride a bike in order to review it. from a spectator's point of view, this experience would have been reasonably humorous; from the rider's point, the eventual sense of achievement did not go unheralded. i am, of course, talking about riding a bike with one gear that doesn't freewheel when the rider does. it's all very well for messrs., the wiggle brothers, to go off and cycle from london to the french capital on just such velocipedes: it's not that they are in any way cool, simply more traditionally practised than i.
however, it cannot be denied that the sole means of completing the tour de france up until 1936 has more recently become a badge of honour in certain circles. it is a method of gearing that has never gone away as far as track racing is concerned, doubtless for the same good reasons that the great and good have tried to convince why there are no brakes on the very same machines (like that makes any sense). however, my relative inability to ride just such a fixed gear machine is not a feature that i feel particularly proud of. i always feel it far more masterful to poo-poo anything if it's something that i can do, but just choose not to.
mr edwards and mr leonard would seem to harbour no such doubts, or, indeed, any such pedalling deficiency, for not only have they put together a rather illuminating (and illuminated) tome in praise of a single, fixed sprocket, they have, in my opinion, managed to do so without descending to the position of slavering fandom. while any drummer or comedian will promote the desirability of good timing, that this book has sloped in under the radar just as christmas approaches likely has little or nothing to do with the festive season; that does not, however, preclude it from fulfilling the welcome position of christmas present. because however much people like me may wish to disparage the efficacy of one gear that doesn't freewheel, we all want to be there. and even the most sanctimonious amongst the it goes up to eleven tribe will find it hard to deny the somewhat superior aesthetic proselytised by going fixed.
there's always a danger that any book commencing with chapter and associated photographs declaring the origins or history of whatever is the subject under discussion, has declared its path well in advance. not so fixed which indeed does start with the origins of the machine, but then sparkles into an eclectic collection of randomness: graeme obree features well in the opening gambit (a commendation in itself), as does his nemesis, mr boardman, along with keirin, couriers, track racing and some very notable one geared projects, including the look ma, no brakes brace of colnago master frames.
the copious use of illustration throughout means that if you only look at the pictures the price of admission is just as applicable to you as to those of us who are connoisseurs of the printed word. fixed won't necessarily wean you off multiple sprockets and the ability to relax downhill, but it will widen your interest and experience of a genre that is unlikely to be disappearing anytime soon. and even if, like me, fixed is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there, you won't be stuck on the periphery, staring blankly at shop windows when the conversation turns to phil wood hubs and lockrings.
in the world of if it ain't broke, don't fix it. this is a veritable triumph, sized just nicely to fit on that lap after christmas dinner is over.
posted tuesday 1 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the small print is definitely getting smaller. i am more than willing to accept that my eyesight has deteriorated over the years to the extent that i have to squint in order to read much of it, but years ago, the small print was definitely bigger. that extends to those agreements we all accept when installing computer software. since clicking do not accept means that the software won't install anyway, i'd figure it's a fair guess that most of you, and me too, click accept. and did you read what you were accepting? and if you did, was it comprehensible? i would think no is the answerable option here.
but because of the legal implications of this small print, we are probably being naive; the proffering of something free or at vastly reduced prices is always the part writ large, the part that draws us into the net in the first place. it's only when you realise that those tiny words at the bottom explained in greater detail that the offer wasn't quite what you thought, that it turns out to be too late. not so much art lies in the detail as buyer beware of the detail.
so, if we accept that the detail is important, how much is it worth? the reason i ask is due to the existence of a very special pair of rapha leather gloves, the price of which would make your bank manager blush. and yet, they're not so very different from the same company's more regular leather mitts. you can see from the accompanying photographs that the gloves have those nice cutouts for knuckles and a suitable gap on the back for that all-important tan line. the palm bears the minimal sniper's padding for comfortably gripping the bars, there's a velcro fastening at the cuff and all in all, they look like any other pair of rapha leather gloves.
however, look at the small print.
where there would normally be a white edging just to finish off that luxurious leather in style, there are lots of little coloured stripes. these stripes say, in much the manner of the small print, that paul smith has been involved somewhere along the design process here, and thus indicating that there might be a tad more expense involved than could be garnered from an initial glance. and you'd be darned right.
the grand tour gloves, to which these bear a reasonable similarity, retail at £100 which, as i can attest, is not really as much of a problem as it may seem at first. i still have a pair of criterium gloves from around three years ago, and they are still surviving well; i count that as value for money. however, the addition of the small print has substantially increased the price of these limited edition gloves to £175 visually at least, for the association with one of the world's top clothing designers.
are they worth it? check the small print for yourself and decide.
posted friday 20 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the debate is endless: should we wear helmets or not? and though i fancy not promulgating the endless argument, it also comes down to should one be pictured without a helmet, even though one is actually worn while riding, but just not for photographs? nobody worries about the safety of the martial arts chaps and chapesses in crouching tiger, hidden dragon, because it's a movie, and not real life. such is often the case with marketing or review photos. it's a fallacy is it not? complicated.
you see the trouble is that helmet. it obscures any nice patterns, logos or printing on the cap, and since any review is designed to show the cap to its best advantage both in words and pictures, something has to give. it's hardly a question of responsibility, because i rarely step out to the bikeshed without the catlike whisper atop the noggin, and i sure as heck wouldn't ride the colnago or any other bike without a helmet. but i like to give the best value for money, and i'm not sure that'd be the case if all my hat reviews were accompanied by photos of yours truly with a helmet anad a peak peeking out from underneath.
of course, the more observant and astute amongst you will long have realised that were it possible to make rhetorical statements, this would be one such. for, as a solo artist, the bulk of photography on the post is accomplished by means of the ten second timer on my lumix compact. there really is no way i can be in the saddle and up to speed in ten seconds. therefore most, if not all photographs of caps, hats and beanies are accomplished by stationary means.
it's also an interesting observation that most european made casquettes have a moon of plastic inside the peak to give shape and rigidity. this is why it is not a good idea to either throw the cap(s) into a washingmachine, or roll them up tightly to stuff in the middle back pocket of your jersey. there really is little more embarrassing than wearing a cap with a droop in the peak, and i have yet to happen upon a suitable remedy for broken plastic encased in cotton. those i have captured from the boutique cycle cap providers from across the pond, are often of wool construction, including the peak, which seems to be far more self-sufficient in retaining a suitable public face without any internal reinforcement. while there may be little sartorial gain, washingmachines and back pockets can be shrugged off with impunity. the peaks are often smaller, but no less effective.
here is an extremely fine and patriotic offering from chuey brand of san francisco. the tartan front panel and peak are of wool construction; lovely and soft and more than ideal for the scottish cyclist at home and abroad. the dark green panels are of a fairly heavyweight cotton which i initially thought had been marked at some point in their life. closer examination and a case of seeing shapes in the clouds revealed lighter sprocket patterns, something you definitely won't see under a helmet. chuey are apparently renowned for short run designs which, when they're gone, they're gone. limited edition at its best. in some cases there is only one.
some people collect stamps or coins or other items of interest; i've ended up with a rather enormous collection of cycle caps, something that, for reasons unknown, gives me great satisfaction. none have ever worn out, at least not completely, so it seems a mite trite to rate the chuey on performance: suffice to say this is one excellent casquette and one that drew admiring glances at coffee time in debbie's.
and i wasn't wearing a helmet at the time.
a wide variety of chuey cycle caps are available from urban hunter for around £24 depending on fabric and design. go on, demonstrate your war with ubiquity and stand out from the peloton.
posted thursday 19 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
some stuff is just boring and mundane. this is no criticism of the stuff; it's likely designed that way because it fulfils a function, probably only one function, and there's no real need for this stuff to portray itself as anything grandiose. i'm thinking here of brake shoes/pads, chains, cables and even nuts and bolts. now that is not to say that some of these items haven't been tampered with in recent years to allow them to present a more glowing aura, but in most cases form follows function and allows the posh, shiny stuff to stand out without a business card. thrown in with all the stuff, and mostly lying in a corner next to the bottom bracket remover and those needle-nose pliers (and an upside down helmet) are likely a pair of overshoes, long fingered gloves and endless pairs of track mitts.
we can probably discount gloves from the initial thread of this conversation, becasue they have always been at least mildly tarted up through the years, either with team logos, world championship bands or cunningly crafted and patterned palm padding. think robo-cop. overshoes, however, are garments (i would tend to place them under just such a heading) that simply need to fulfil a function, and since they have to drop below the bottom bracket once every revolution, in the weather they are designed for, they're going to get covered in yuk. by overshoes, you will hopefully have realised, i refer to the wind and water resistant versions that we'd wear at this time of year, and not the stylish but less than entirely necessary shoe covers as brought to a new level of fame by the late frank vandenbroucke.
neoprene is a much-favoured fabric out of which to carve a pair of overshoes, and in all deference to the designers and fabricators of such, black is likely as good a colour choice as any other. in fact, perhaps having them any other colour is more trouble than it could be seen to be worth, or maybe it's just really difficult to make coloured neoprene. i know not. however, as we become more style conscious, even as grey takes over the horizon until next easter or thereabouts, colour has invaded the lower levels of cycling.
just arrived at prendas ciclismo, and indeed subsequently at washingmachinepost cottage, are matching sets of overshoes, long fingered gloves and track mitts; a nice touch. but a nice touch is simply how it would remain, were it not for the functionality of the product. you will perhaps forgive that i did not test the track mitts, other than to check the size, since the great outdoors is not naked finger friendly right at the moment.
the overshoes are much lighter than neoprene, while still publishing an impressive degree of stretch. this latter feature is possibly one of the more important factors here, since the fastening systems used by the world's cycle shoe manufacturers vary enormously and oft times hinder getting the darned overshoes on in the first place. unfortunately, the one feature i would have loved to have seen on these is some sort of flap inside the top of the zip, preventing the latter from scraping the back of my calves. granted, at this time, i'm generally wearing winter tights, and thus the problem is negated, but earlier in the season, bib threequarters were the order of the day, and socks that pull up that far, are few and far between.
still, the cutouts on the sole for cleat and heel allow the overshoes to encase the shoe snugly, making zip fastening less of a trial and tribulation, closed over with the ubiquitous velcro strap. riding in cold wind is a wonderful experience even without overshoes (it is, it really is), but with windtex protecting the little tootsies it becomes sublime. due to the thin-ness of the material, cosiness is not achieved at the expense of bulk and therefore even during ecstatic pedalling, there seems little danger of overheating.
the windtex gloves perform a similar function, but here the lack of bulk is a positively enthusiastic delight. the long cuffs fasten with good old velcro again, and the padding on the palm is rather minimal, but in use, somebody has done their homework; the gloves were comfort and joy whether on the drops or on the hoods, probably one of the most windproof pair i have had the pleasure to wear, and more than warm enough for the hard working cyclist. and just to put the shine (metaphorically speaking) on a fine pair of finger covers, the towelling snot wipe is correctly placed on the thumb of each glove.
so where does the de-boringness come in? why are these overshoes any less mundane than any others? bluntly put, they've got designer flair. the matching set i was sent are essentially black with contrasting yellow stripes bearing the prendas ciclismo wording: and you know how much i love black and yellow. this happens along the outer side of the overshoes and across the back of the hand on both the windtex long finger and track gloves. both also have a yellow prendas logo. but it doesn't stop there, because the prendas inventiveness has run riot and provided another four colourways (two of which don't have track mitt options). with christmas coming up, something to suit all the family. of course, if they don't want them, you may just have to wear them yourself.
prendas windtex overshoes cost a very comforting £19.95, and a similar amount for a pair of long finger windtex gloves. the track mitts, where available, cost £14.95.
posted wednesday 18 november 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................