it's hard being hard. we're a long way from suburbia, the elements surround us, and most of the time, they are not happy. it's winter; both a horrible place to be and a wonderful place to be, inhabited by sub zero winds, sleet, horizontal rain, brief flashes of sunlight, and this year, even snow. justiying the desire to remain indoors would not be particularly difficult, but with the only real alternative to getting those kilometres in, being the torture of the turbo trainer, in retrospect, a little harshness never killed anyone. at least, not yet.
and i don't own a turbo.
there is, as a hardened scotsman, a reputation to live up to, though it wasn't my idea to have this reputation in the first place; it was just sort of foisted upon me. i blame brian smith. character and building are the two words tattoed on the inside of my eyelids (metaphorically speaking, you understand), joining those of pain and suffering to build into a description that suggests sleeping rough and not brushing one's hair of a morning. as i have said on more than one occasion, ileachs are the flandrians of the hebrides, and honour bound to maintain this reputation, even if only in words.
of course, we are nothing, if not prepared for the onslaught, with wardrobes of oilskins, cleated wellies and full face motorcycle helmets topped off with insulated oven gloves. underneath this muscular outer shell, i have become used to the soft face of merino. in fact, so ingrained has this become in the apparel armament, that the local sheep recognise me as one of their own, and no longer make for the grass verge as i pass at close to mach two. yes, a cielo is that fast.
in the days when i knew less than not very much, i was wont to purchase three base layers for only £15, garments with an outer skin that bore an uncanny resemblance to that of my lunchtime waffles. i do not remember whether these functioned quite as expected, but i do remember that on reaching the coffee stop, personal hygiene had already taken a step backwards. you really do want the coffee lady to love you. but thanks to those farmers in new zealand, the ultimate in recycling arrived in the shape of soft, comfortable and most importantly, niff free baselayers that could be worn for a year at a time, and the coffee lady would still take your empty cup away, wipe the table top and cast a pleasing smile. no longer did the sunday ride confer unsociability.
it's now even harder being hard. how can such a reputation be maintained in the face of such unashamed luxury so close to the skin, no matter the elements that re-shape the exterior public face? just when you thought that comfort and joy could make no further inroads into pain and suffering, along comes yanto barker with a long-sleeve baselayer that is so impossibly soft, that it makes a pair of pyjamas feel like scouring pads. similarly to a wabi-woolens jersey, you really don't want to remove it after the ride is over.
made from an 80/20 mix of angora wool and viscose, the top is very close fitting: you might want to appraise those bumpy bits that exist where bumpy bits should not be. in contrast to many other baselayers, even the neck is tight enough to require the removal of my glasses in order to pull over the head. le col clothing is cleverly and carefully put together in italy, where at least the cycling population is seemingly a lot less substantial in girth than ageing scotsmen, thus where i would regularly order a medium in any top, the le col needs to be a large, and a very snug fitting large at that. i mean this not as criticism; the fit was quite superb, but just bear in mind when ordering. in keeping with the rest of the range, all seams are triple gold stitched, and the le col name embroidered at the neck. important for those unzipped collar moments.
raving over softness and build quality means not a groat if the performance lags several laps behind, so the proof must be, as always, in facing the elements in their own backyard. quite obviously, a baselayer from any stable can be worn with outer shell(s) from a whole 'nuther courtyard, but as yanto has created a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, it seemed only fair to ally the baselayer with a le col winter jacket, and head into the winter sun.
the outer edge needs no introduction, and today, while the mood was generous, the windchill hovered around zero, a bit of a leap of faith to restrict myself to a baselayer and winter jacket. in fact, halfway to bridgend, the break-even point for the good old heat test, the finger was pointing, laughing and saying you have it seriously wrong today. at that particular vector, i was not entirely against disagreeing; ageing scotsmen are slow to get started. however, past the point of no-return, i confidently snubbed the pointing finger. this continued to be the case even down the exposed, sheep infested road that is uiskentuie strand.
i don't mind admitting that, suffering from the ailment of the season, after my soya cappuccino and lucozade bar, man flu had encouraged me to apply another thin outer layer for the return journey, the temperature having dropped just a tad since the off. however, simulating the closest i'll ever achieve to time trialling, i had to stop en-route to remove this extra, if thin, insulation due to over-heating. part of the litmus test is whether mrs washingmachinepost will allow my presence in the sitting room at the point of return. we know that merino doesn't pong, but i have little experience (none whatsoever) of angora (which comes from rabbits, now that you ask. the wool is plucked or sheared, and the wittle wabbits are unharmed). the le col top was worn for both saturday and sunday rides, with no washing in between (testing can be a lonely affair), and i'm more than happy to say there was no trace of niff. and it still feels embarrassingly soft.
when the mercury heads just a few degrees further north, i may consider wearing this as a leisure garment if the notion takes me, for it is certainly not lacking in individual style. just watch me. the le col angora wool baselayer can be obtained in sizes small to extra large, in a not unattractive charcoal grey, at a cost of £79.99. it's a bit more expensive that most of the merino out there, but, as they say in the l'oreal adverts 'we're worth it.'
posted sunday 7 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
we need to be advertised to. not just to let us know that there are new things in store, or on the horizon, but to convince us that these are the very items for which we have been waiting. it's a consumerist society, and while endless consumption flies in the face of today's green values, to which, as i have previously alluded, we cyclists are unavoidably allied, there can be no denying that stuff needs replaced from time to time. or items hitherto missing from the panoply, require to be acquired. as we move up the income strata, or become more proficient at our cycling, it is not an unnatural choice to purchase new accoutrements that will either smooth the way forward, or at the very least, assist in making us feel better about our all too apparent lack of speed.
much of this advertising is, to put it bluntly, gratifyingly obvious: here it is, you can have it in this colour, and this is what it will cost you. it cannot be described as anything other than the direct approach; there is no mystique to be coveted: it simply is what it is. many would wish it no other way when time comes to purchase a new bicycle, a new waterproof or even just a pair of mudguards. surely there can be little room for discussion that advertising should be direct and to the point, otherwise it can be seen to have failed in its mission? i have some sympathy with this view, but such a no frills modus operandi leaves little to aid discretion.
imagine a succession of pages in any of the monthlies, showing similar pictures of only subtly different carbon bicycles. where would be the perceived advantage in selecting one over the other? granted, one caption or slogan may persuade you more than another, but surely that is hardly the criteria by which one would wish to choose to spend several thousand pounds of your income strata? something just a bit different would aid the advertised product to stand out from the crowd, even if it is only a crowd of magazine pages.
we all have our own views, opinions and visions of what cycling should or could be: racing, commuting, touring, fitness or perhaps a combination of them all and one or two more. so a successful advert would be one that shows a certain sympathy towards our level of cycling; one that talks to us on our own level, one that doesn't treat us as imbeciles, promising expectations that are dubious at best, or inhabiting a level that is several above our comprehension.
rapha have achieved their current status within the world of cycling by means of virually no press advertising whatsoever, which is somewhat of a shame, given their proclivity for producing adverts that can only be admired, respected and perhaps puzzled over. for though you are unlikely to see much in the way of rapha pagination in the mainstream cycle press, for some considerable time they have presented their vision by way of the opening spreads in rouleur. this commenced with the much lauded peanut butter advert created by antidote, and culminating, to date, with that shown above.
you will notice that the two page spread is bereft of any item of rapha clothing, as has indeed been the case in all the previous rouleur ads. in fact, the only indication as to the purpose of the advert is the recognisable logo at bottom right. in similar manner to the cyclefit advert in rouler 15 (repeated in the current issue), it is perhaps a case of you either get it, or you don't, but if you don't, the advertisement will give you many hours of either pleasure or frustration trying to figure it out. i won't spoil it by presenting the solution, but if the above isn't large enough, you can examine it more closely here.
and it will not have escaped a number of you that the advert has not only done its job once, but by being what it is, it has gained a second showing here. i would hope that whoever in the rapha/rouleur office is responsible for such an impressive showing, has been given either a bonus, or an addition to their holiday entitlement.
posted saturday 6 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if you're new to the world of road cycling, and i doubt that many of you are, but i aim to be all-inclusive, you may or may not know that new bikes arrive bereft of pedals. this has, on occasion, elicited exclamations of 'i pay how much, and i don't even get pedals?' it does rather call into question the advertising from one or two that their bikes arrive ready to ride': not with out pedals they aren't. of course, within the framework of such advertising statements, you may also have to factor in that the handlebars are hanging from the cables inside the box, yet another fact that mitigates against riding it the moment the bike is withdrawn from its cardboard box. however, not for the first time on the post, i digress.
bicycles come without pedals because it is generally assumed that the purchaser and thus rider, will already own at least one pair of shoes bearing cleats for a specific marque of pedal. as an illustrative example, i have four pairs of cycling shoes with mavic cleats stuck to the soles, though disappointingly at present, i have only one pair of mavic pedals. so if, in a sudden fit of rash spending, i order myself a new colnago and it arrives with a pair of time pedals, we have at best, an impasse, and at worst, a pair of pedals that are going on ebay.
of course there is a slight conceit in this: the profit margin on components is a tad larger than that of bicycle frames, and any shop will like its bike supplier all the more for leaving pedals (and pumps) out of the equation, thus assisting the bottom line. but in overall terms, it makes pretty good sense, and i think the majority of us accept that it's the way things have to be.
however, sponsored riders almost always receive their new bikes complete with one brand of pedals or other. this may be because the team owner has generously purchased a job lot, or more likely, the manufacturer has provided boxes and boxes, secure in the knowledge that any victories ensuing during the season will have been achieved on their pedals, no matter the shoe preference of the rider(s). there is a further logic to this which takes into account the trammels of the racing genre; many's the time a team leader, with a real chance at the podium, has had to take the bicycle of a team-mate due to the team car being stuck in the last village pub car park. fun would be not be fun if the domestique were to be using a brand thought unbecoming by the favoured few. it would also mean the mechanics having somewhat of a logistical nightmare when deciding what goes on which and on the top of car one or two.
so pedals, for all their size, and the fact that they are almost never seen, other than on the roof mounted bicycles, play a not insignificant part in proceedings. tell me you've not found, perhaps once a year, that there's at least one cleat bolt that simply won't budge when the time comes to replace worn cleats? that's because, of all bicycle components, pedals and their corresponding cleats tend to be likely the most taken for granted items in the peloton, professional and incompetent alike.
it came, therefore, as somewhat of a surprise that column inches of pixels were spent (unnecessarily in my opinion) on the fact that the old man of the peloton had succumbed to a change of pedal brand for his 2010 campaign against bertie, andy and cadel. and likely brad would wish to be mentioned in this breath too. one is tempted to mouth the words 'so what' (incidentally, an iconic miles davis track from the seminal album 'kind of blue'; but you already knew that). it's easy to poke fun, since doubtless some of the rhetoric spouted about this momentous technical decision was engendered by the company providing the pedals (look). but with the start of the season getting slowly underway, there must surely be more interesting things to catch the eye of the beholder.
big tex used to be smothered in shimano, and there are osaka anoraks who can relate chapter and verse of the model numbers that lance has ridden during his career (starting with the snappily named pd-7401 in 1992). of course, since returning to the fray in 2009 with astana, lance's trek bicycles bore sram red, thus marking out 2010 as the complete break with the big s. but it seems possible that pedals are swapped willy-nilly in the peloton; do we know if bertie has ridden the same make since he started? did marco stick to the same brand? someone will know, because there's always one, but it is of great worry to me that when one rider, lance or otherwise, changes pedals for whatever reason, the cycling media feels honour bound to tell us in great detail. according to ben coates, trek's technical liaison with radio shack, lance has been riding the new look keo carbon pedals 'with no issues up to this point'. i should ruddy well hope not. fit the cleats, click-in the pedals, and ride the bike. how many issues can there be? you couldn't make it up.does anyone know what make of bar tape he's using?
posted friday 5 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm a bit of an unsociable sort of a chap. i know that comes across all wrong, because i'm not one to ignore people or go out of my way to be uncivil to anyone, but social gatherings are generally not my thing. i can't quite pin down why that is, but i think much of it has to do with dislike of fuss, and in any walk of life, a distrust of what joni mitchell referred to as the star maker machinery. not that i figure the latter is likely to impinge upon my own walk of life, but there seems something fundamentally wrong with making a celebrity out of someone who initially had a dream to be a professional cyclist rather than an object of adulation.
my own moment of stupidity and ineptitude came during the tour of britain criterium in george square, glasgow. in a fruitless search for a better position at which to take photographs, i came upon kristian house, then riding for recycling.co.uk, sitting on a step down one of the streets leading off the square. i could, of course, have continued on my merry way; kristian didn't (and doesn't) have the faintest idea who i am, yet i felt compelled to utter some gratuitous platitude regarding his most recent victory. it made me feel like an idiot that i couldn't come up with something far more journalistic, humorous or indeed, salient.
however, there was no-one within earshot, and thus the incident passed without audience. and i doubt very much that kristian deemed it worthy of mention. fast forward to last july, and i accepted an invitation to rapha's fifth birthday party, and guess who i met? yes, now riding for rapha condor, and current british road champion, kristian house. this time i was properly introduced by simon mottram, but i'd be very surprised if mr house has since found himself in the company of his peers and said 'yes, what was the name of that impressionable washingmachinepost guy i met at rapha?
however, you need only attend a sociable cycle event, where there are several important riders in attendance, and i could alost guarantee that there will be a queue of the proletariat intent on repeating my kristian house episode. why do we put ourselves through that? it is all very well if those cycling gods deem to acknowledge our presence with more than just a grimace or nod. without wishing to appear to be a name dropper, sean kelly sat down next to me at the apres braveheart snackathon, was thoroughly decent and conversational, and at no point did i make the mistake of coming over as a groupie. let's face it, they don't come much more impressive than sean kelly, but the chap didn't set out to be a star, and will have suffered the adulation of fools more times than i've changed gear. of course, during the course of sean and i appearing to be best buddies (from a distance), several braveheart participants came over and repeated those vacuous statements that will doubtless have allowed them to go on the next day's club ride with a 'as i was saying to sean yesterday'
of course, from a personal point of view, i am under no illusion that sean kelly could now pick me out in an identity parade, but i did enjoy the conversation and the company. however, much of this celebrity culture is now endemic in the world of professional cycling: witness the team sky launch earlier last month, and the subsequent jolly to portugal for the cervelo team launch. then we get the team wiggle tandem launch, that of rapha condor sharp, and endura. i am not naive to the extent that i do understand why all this transpires; there is a lot of money involved in professional cycling these days, perhaps not as much as there is in some comparable sports, but money nonetheless, and it is perfectly understandable that the sponsors would like their time in the corporate spotlight.
professional cycle racing involves the latest bicycle technology, and there is often great interest in this aspect of team racing, particularly when applied to the rapha team where the bicycle guys are one of the co-sponsors. but it's very hard to make stars out of bicycles, so the interest has to devolve on the riders, in particular, the so-called star riders. in the case of rapha, the fact that they have the former british criterium champion in dean downing, and the current british road champion in the aforementioned mr house. the pointing of the spotlight you can work out for yourselves. so the holding of highly organised and press friendly team launches are not a mystery, they're part and parcel of the game. but in most cases, the only ones who get to be part of the scene are those of us in the media (yes, apparently that includes me), and those who might just know someone who knows someone. and for the day, or evening, it is incumbent on the team riders to mingle, dressed ostentatiously in team kit, and make small talk after having been individually introduced to adoration ranging from lots to not very much.
you can call me cynical if you like; it's probably quite true, much of which springs from my unsociability, and i do really appreciate the invitations. if i lived a tad closer to that other hub of the universe, i'd likely give the occasion(s) far more consideration (thank you laura).
there is, however, a rather clever way to increase the amount of finance in the coffers, and effectively give the team to its fans. it might not get you invited to the team launches (there's only so much space after all), but it sure as heck makes you feel a part of the in-crowd: team membership, where the fees go towards the cost of running the team; members essentially part own the team.
this is not a new idea. several years ago there was an australian cycle team which attempted to entirely fund their season by means of fan subscriptions. it's a method that has enabled some less than commercial rock bands (marillion are a good example) to continue touring and releasing albums, and while the amounts of money are somewhat lower, the principle remains sound. in 2009, when rapha and condor were pretty much the only two sponsors of the team of the same name, members' subscription money contributed directly to the racing budget. this year, rapha condor have been joined by sharp electronics on the front and back of the jersey, and skoda have stepped into the breach and provided team vehicles, so dependency on membership fees has somewhat decreased, but michael conway, rapha's team secretary said that fees amounted to almost 15% of the available budget. a worthwhile endorsement it seems.
does it cost a lot? well, last year you'd have been looking at shelling out the better part of one thousand pounds for the privilege of supporting the team and getting a jersey with a pink hoop on the sleeve. that still left the opportunity to be one of the team well outside the means of many a cycle fan, but things have changed a wee bit for 2010, and not just the colour of the hoop on the sleeve. pink membership confers unrivalled access to the rapha condor sharp team, though it has increased the amount you'll have to lessen the weight of the piggy bank. for £1500 you have contact with the riders, trips in the team car, access to vip areas where possible and the ability to purchase team kit not available to the less well-heeled (plus 15% discount on rapha goods).
that knocks most of us out of the picture right from the start, but all hope is not lost, for there is the considerably more affordable white membership at only £40. rather than list the comparative benefits of both (why reinvent the wheel?) take a click over to rapha's website and check for yourself.
it may not be the pinnacle of professional cycling, but bear in mind that currently, the opportunities to watch this level of racing in the uk are greater than they have been for quite some considerable time, with the various nocturne events and the hugely successful tour series. rapha were one of the top two teams at last year's events, and the other (candi tv) have sublimated into marshall's pasta for 2010, and may or may not be what they were. wouldn't it be good to be on the inside for once and be able to refer to your team? celebrity would be undermined at source, and mixing with the hoi polloi might just become second nature. admittedly, only the pink stripe members were invited to the team launch last thursday (one of whom you may recognise from spandau ballet above), but the gap between the rich and the poor will always be there in every walk of life. get in on the ground floor. 300 already have.
it's but one step away from phoning kristian of a saturday afternoon, asking if he fancies going for a quick ride to the shops. bet he gets there first though.
posted thursday 4 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
daniel wakefield pasley is perhaps the person originally responsible for applying the word epic to the relaxing pastime of hammering across unpaved, lonely roads the length and breadth of america, and sadly the word has become a bit of a cycling cliche as a result. but if a bike ride truly is epic, there is little else but to describe it as such. bear in mind, however, that my epic ride may well not be yours, since not only is it a subjective description, but the term is entirely relative. if you've never cycled before, then a ride to the shops and back in cold weather may be just the activitiy to fulfil the promise. if you read the text that accompanies those rapha continental rides, you may have little option but to agree with daniel's initial point of view.
but then along comes something that is so epic in its epicness, that several layers of adjectives below start to struggle for a more lenient definition.
former england rugby player, lawrence dallaglio, having retired from the competitive part of the sport in 1999, set up the dallaglio foundation to support various charities, the first of which was help for heroes for which he helped raise £1.3m after a 2008 rugby game at twickenham. not content with kicking an oddly shaped ball about a bit, lawrence has now set his sights on a saddle and two wheels. but whereas you and i might just consider riding from glasgow to edinburgh in the name of charity, dallaglio is implicitly including his former sport, and undertaking the dallaglio slam
he could, just as easily, have described it as the dallaglio epic given that the total distance under consideration is 2,800km. the slam has as its raison d'etre, the 2010 six nations rugby championship, and the route leaving rome on february 12th will visit each of the participating countries and their respective stadia en route. as to our hypothetical charity ride from glasgow to edinburgh, the dallaglio slam will, eventually, finish at murrayfield in edinburgh on 13th march, having taken the more circuitous route. not unnaturally, the hope is to attract a bit of money along the way, £1m to be precise, which will subsequently be divided between cancer research uk, help for heroes, rpa benevolent fund, leukaemia research and debra.
lest you figure that poor lawrence is going to enjoy the loneliness of the long distance cyclist for 24 days, fear not, for one or two notables will join him for at least a part of his pain and suffering. i confess myself to have led too sheltered a life to know who some of these people are, but celebrities ain't what they used to be; names which have some vague recognition in thewashingmachinepost psyche are ben shephard, gavin hastings, and dermot murnaghan. i'm sorry to say, the rest are uknown to me, but click over to the dallaglio slam website and see if you are better versed than i.
should you find yourself in the neighbourhood of pizza express in olympia, london on thursday 4th, with a spare £60, pop along to the send-off party and wish them well on their way. proceeds, naturally enough, to charity.
it's an interesting item of note that sportspersons of varies hues seem eventually to come to cycling for one reason or another (geoff thomas most recently springs to mind), and all the more power to our chainsets. you can show yourself to be a cyclist of conscience and altruism by pledging some dosh to make lawrence's time in the saddle of greater import for those charities who stand to gain from his efforts. online donations are not a problem.
just think how insignificant that ride to work seems by comparison.
posted wednesday 3 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
expanding slightly on my diatribe of a few days ago, the art of even competent bicycle mechanics is a hard won skill; diagnosing what the problem might be is no easy task. in my mountain biking years (i don't talk about those dark days if i can help it), i removed almost every component from the muddy fox in search of an irritating click, before discovering that dried out, non-lubricated pedal threads were to blame. a small dab of grease, then peace and tranquility was restored. you may often find that you learn more about the knee bone connected to the ankle bone in the extended process of unhitching, or unbolting various bits from the bicycle frame. that's also the dawn of realisation that an adjustable spanner bought at the ironmongers down the road doesn't cover all the bases. quality cycle tools are a must, unless a recommended bike shop is at hand.
however, the myriad of books on sale via the interweb or a bookshop near you will explain in glorious detail, the many methodologies required to ensure fine running of those once glistening components. but in similar fashion to birdwatching, there's a world of a difference between looking at pretty pictures, and identifying the problem in the wild. islay is well known for its birdlife; venture here in the summer months, and you can barely cycle past a passing place without being confronted by a group of barbour clad folks with binoculars trained on an indistinct speck at the loch's edge. when i moved here centuries ago, i mistakenly tried to adapt to this sort of misdemeanour (along with learning gaelic: that went nowhere too), by purchasing the observer's book of birds. easy page by page, but to be honest, they all look the same to me in the feathers. (lets' get one thing straight. there are only two types of bird: 'geese' and 'not geese').
thus a diagram of the rear derailleur with accompanying explanation on how to adjust indexing on the gears, is likely to be more incomprehensible than concrete actuality. this is not to denigrate the illustrators of such volumes, simply an acknowledgment of our human failings when separating two-dimensional cognition from that of three.
but there is a secret that will affect your own ability to achieve the upper reaches of bicycle mechanic-ness, one that is closely guarded by the pro team guys and even those responsible for training tomorrow's cycle technicians on those courses mentioned in the latter pages of bike-biz. over my two participations in the london-paris ride, i was fortunate to watch, at close quarters and first hand, the finest mechanic i know, mr graeme freestone king. and though i have been sworn to secrecy, i cannot stand-by and watch so many others blight their fortunes, bereft of this simple technique that all can accomplish with only a few minutes practice.
yes, you may laugh if you must, but during personal observations of self and others of far greater skill, it appears that the only way that cable is going to thread through the barrel adjuster and line up with the pinch bolt, is if you have your tongue visible out the corner of the mouth. check closely any photos you may have of professional team mechanics at work, and you can see that the tongue has been photoshopped out of existence: they don't want you to know. i assembled every bit of the chris king cielo on its workstand with a practiced minimal tongue presence through all those tricky manouevres, such as joining the chain, taping the handlebars, and indexing the rear gear. imagine how long it would have taken with mouth firmly closed; it just doesn't bear thinking about.
i'm always hopeful that the daily snippets of cycling life, brought to you via these black and yellow pixels will improve your enjoyment of the beautiful obsession. and one of those days it might just happen.
posted tuesday 2 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
were we confident of sufficient funds, had the design expertise in the first place and the savvy to provide marketing backup, any one of us could have pretty much any type of garment made to our specifications, be it for leisure, sport or any other reason. it's not that hard to do, because i checked. if manufacturing ethics are of concern, it may narrow your choices a bit, but all is still doable, and the latter is very likely to be a priority if making even a small change to the way the world works is deemed necessary.
as cyclists, we are, rightly or wrongly, associated with saving the planet, mostly due to our conscious/conscientious choice of transport. this green-ness and soft shoe shuffling does rather take a knock if viewed in the light of the amount of traffic both terrestrial and airborne that it takes to run and televise any form of professional cycle racing, but the bicycle itself is a vehicle of little impact, both physically and environmentally. it is, therefore, very much in keeping with this philosophy that many associated products try to be as ethical in their sourcing and natural in their fabrics as possible. i can't be the only one to have noticed the decided upswing in the number of merino wool jerseys, socks, caps and the like within the past few years. while its production may be somewhat limited to certain parts of the world (mostly new zealand), there can be little denying it's renewability, as long as there's plenty of grass.
modern thinking, as well as modern technology, has allowed the alloying of merino with other fabrics, both natural and man-made. only last week i reviewed a baselayer consisting of a 50/50 mix of merino and polyester. in order to supply the demand for most of these products (and let's be clear, our own mythical garment with which we hypothetically started would likely be no different), much of the manufacture is automated, thus ensuring a consistency that is unmatched in the world of hand-made. there are benefits to the supplier here, in that they can virtually guarantee that my jersey will not only be the same size as yours (assuming that's the size you ordered), but identical in colour and quality.
in a mechanised world such as ours, this places a greater emphasis and pride of ownership on hand-made goods, as well as supporting the artists and artisans who keep such skills alive, if not solely as an end in itself, but also to those for which it is a means of economic survival. see, you probably didn't realise just how far reaching your bicycle ownership really was.
the word activism is probably more associated with volunteers chaining themselves to the gates of a nuclear reactor, or powering a rigid inflatable between japanese whaling boats and a school of hapless whales. but there is a considerably softer side, of meaning and approach signified by the word, allowing for a form of activism that does not hit the news headlines, but likely creates more of a long-term effect in far more subtle ways.
apolis activism are a two year old company residing at the rather appropriately named traction avenue in los angeles; three brothers, raan, shea and stenn parton, built their business on a vision of creating a bridge between commerce and sustainable development: the word apolis translates as global citizen, effectively a world free of flags and borders. it sounds almost like the valedictory speech from a prospective miss world candidate, but the difference here is that apolis is making it work, predominantly through partnering with others who can make each part of the dream a reality. visit their website and one of the first things you'll come across on their activism page is an invitation to any who wish to partner with them in this global trade network. they take their world seriously.
much of the current and historical output from the minds of apolis could be categorised under the heading of fashion; there's not very much there that i could see myself wearing, though their partnership with cc filson company for the philanthropist briefcase had me rather intrigued, using as it does, cotton from jinja in uganda, an initiative developed by the non-profit invisible children. however, vision rarely stands still for long, particularly when it's a three-way street.
the cycling connection arrived by way of the parton brothers' delight in cycling, an activity of which they knew little in terms of the supply and demand of its associated apparel industry, but employed that well worn cliche 'they knew a man who did: slate olson. 'apolis initially reached out to us last summer. i knew of them most recently from something they had created with filson (the philanthropist briefcase), a seattle company who i've loved since i was a kid.' the choice of rapha as a partner for a new cycle clothing project was likely an astute one. rapha have grown from naught to almost pre-eminence in a mere five years in the uk, while their north american presence has completed an impressive ascendency in only three. raan, their designer, had been working on a few designs and was keen to see if there was some opportunity for us to do something unique that crossed fashion with cycling; something that felt very right as a way for us to continue bringing cycling style to the broader conversation of men's clothing.
the upshot of these discussions and conversations between apolis and rapha, resulted in both parties agreeing on a sweater with the shape and look inspired by a more athletic half-zip track top, but done more luxuriously. slate says that the thought behind it wasn't too dissimilar to some of the early iterations of the merino jersey but 'much more refined in shape finish and material'. the decision was taken to create what is now known as the transit elite sweater; 70% merino wool, 30% cashmere. 'the idea of pulling on a hand-made cashmere blend sweater instead of a fleece or track top post-shower, post-ride is exactly right.'
in bhaktapur, nepal, there is a citta women's co-operative that has created a haven for displaced women to gain skills they can use to provide for their families while keeping their cultural traditions alive. it's a laudable concern born out of necessity rather than for pure commercial gain, and it's a co-operative previously known to those at apolis. however, in keeping with their status as activists, apolis felt that there was more to be done aside from merely having the trans elite made in the foothills of the himalayas, before shipping back to the usa.
tourism in nepal is not at the level to which it could be sustainably developed, a fact realised by shea parton and a fact that he could see working in favour of both parties. cycling in particular is an attractive and pragmatic way to travel around the country, so the decision was taken to assemble a suitable group for a cycling visit and documentation of same. the intention was, not unnaturally, to gain promotional narrative and illustration for the new garment as well as some subtle promotion of nepal's tourism attributes. shea parton, cole manness (of rapha continental fame), film-maker dave christenson (the guy behind many of the continental videos) and photographer jeff clark took themselves and bicycles (road bikes rather than mountain bikes) off to nepal.
with its mountainous himalayan area to the north and the land that time forgot resting in the valleys below, your mind begins to wander, imagining what the area looked like prior to human arrival. once we'd landed, we were surrounded by locals trying to help us with our bags and offer car rides to our next destination. nepal thrives off it's tourism industry, so we were treated extremely well during every encounter with the local people. the words are those of cole manness.
'terraced fields etched in the sides of the mountains, farmers working in unison with their fields, women walking to their respective huts toting large packs filled with hay and other grains to feed their goats, colorful marigold fields as far as the eye could see...truly amazing. the roads are mostly asphalt with the ever enjoyable spattering of dirt and gravel mixed in, (i'd like to think that's to keep the exploratory cyclists happy and never too comfortable). we were greeted with smiles and looks of bewilderment due to the fact that road bikes are much more of an anomaly than an everyday sighting. the skinny tires and drop bars were a constant attraction with the villagers who are more used to seeing motorbikes, trucks, and the occasional mountain bike. to be able to ride and tour at the pace that a bike allows, made this trip all the more special and memorable. when you see nepal at such a slow pace, you're able to enjoy and absorb with every sense, making for an unforgettable visit.'
one of the aims of the trip was to pay a visit to the citta co-operative where the sweater would be hand-kintted and sewn. dave christenson described those employed at the citta women's co-operative as 'very traditional nepalese women, very family oriented. their basic day starts at 5am when they wake up, prepare tea for the whole family and get their kids ready and off to school. their day at citta starts at 10am and finishes at 5pm. they work on a variety of different garments. they're all very skilled at what they do and to watch them work is something in itself. watching them together, you also really get a sense that its a bit of a small family there at citta as well.
'I was very surprised to see how much work goes in to making the sweater, from watching them finalise fit with cole, to looming the yarn all the way down the line to the final tags being sewn in...it's a huge amount of work and attention to detail in every sweater. it was a great experience to see it all come together.'
the trip was documented in diary/journal form on the apolis website, illustrated with jeff clark's photos, giving a tantalising insight into the land and country behind each and every limited edition transit elite sweater (the sweater is likely only available in 400 individual pieces, bearing a combined apolis and rapha tag). sooner, rather than later, there should be a dave christenson video of the trip. of course, many thousands of miles from home, in a country not noted for its western home comforts, it's likely that not everything would go exactly to plan.
cole: 'during the trip we were exposed to a movement and possible revolution of epic proportions. the maoist conflict is an everyday struggle, paralleled with ever-changing circumstances not hidden behind closed doors, but seen in the streets, on the buses, discussed in restaurants, and in the papers. we saw the most evident presence of these communist supporters while pedaling away for our first long road ride in nepal. a bandh, ('closed' in nepali), is a communist strike that literally shuts down the entire country. road blocks guarded by nepali youth armed with sticks and home made hammer and sickle flags, exist to alarm and stop any possible traffic from entering or moving about the country. local businesses close their doors, street markets disappear, and traffic ceases to exist as cars and motorbikes are threatened with smashed windshields, slashed tires or flipped over and burnt rigs. we braved the undescribable power of the bandh and began our ride, met almost instantly with rising crowds where the tension could be felt in the air. unsurprisingly, we were the only bicycles on the roads and our photographer rode the only motorcycle, so all eyes were on us as we passed through the numerous roadblocks, all the while keeping our eyes open for possible hostility. in the end, we were allowed to pass with a surprisingly friendly 'namaste', echoing from the mass of protestors. this, again, provides you with an idea as to how much tourism is relied upon to provide the country with a burgeoning monetary sustenance. because we were obviously not nepali and stood out as a group that had nothing to do with their struggle, we were treated kindly and allowed to pass all of the roadblocks without harm.'
roadblocks and maoists weren't the only travesties to be thrown in the path of the intrepid rapha/apolis venture party. dave christenson explained that 'there was a petrol shortage during our time in nepal, and people would wait in massive lines for 12-18 hours for the allotted three liters of petrol per customer. despite being on bicycles, this affected us because our photographer jeff clark was on a motorbike and we were constantly worried he'd run out of fuel while we were 60k out from our base in kathmandu. he did a lot of coasting with the engine off to save gas.'
the apolis/rapha transit elite sweater is now hard (well, soft really) fact; pre-ordering is now being accepted via the apolis website, and it should also be available via rapha.cc in the fullness of time., or at least by the official release date of february 15th. i asked shea parton if this was the start of a number of apolis cyclewear items, but he said that they had no plans to continue this specific trend, though he wouldn't rule out another project in the future related to cycling. 'we have great admiration for rapha, and what they have achieved in such a short time. it has been a privilege and a joy to partner with slate and rapha america, and i certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility of repeating the process in the future.' it's worth noting that this is the first instance of devolved autonomy within the rapha empire: when approaching this from the outset, i contacted perren street and was diplomatically pointed in the direction of portland. ' it's the way it has to happen occasionally', said rapha ceo, simon mottram.
the final words belong to cole: 'to me, this sweater is more than just another article of clothing; it reminds me of what good can arise when we look to others that need assistance for assistance. the trans elite will help the citta organization continue on their sustainable track, and bring a small piece of cashmere softness to the apres-cycling community. i'm extremely honored to have played a small role in the process of making this sweater come to fruition while raising awareness about the great work that citta does; not only in nepal, but in many other countries around this wonderful globe.
american pricing for the transit elite sweater is $396 (uk price is likely to be around £300), it can be obtained in sizes xs through to xxl, arrives complete with a rapha story label, and is only available in the colourway shown. not only will any prospective purchaser receive one of the finest garments available in the world today, but know that they're doing their bit to make this a better world for those with less than many in the west.
and it already has history.
posted monday 1 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
yes, i am just a touch late with announcing the winners of thewashingmachinepost crud roadracers competition but, despite rumours to the contrary, i do have at least a partial life outside cycling, and sometimes features from that parallel universe intrude into this one. however, all is now sorted, and chosen completely at random from the rather large entry (you've no idea how appropriate the word random is in this case), the two winners are gary hitchen of east lothian, scotland, and alex nydahl of portland, oregon. your prizes will be on their way by tomorrow morning. the correct answer was, as you all know, halfords
thanks to all who entered, and thanks to pete tomkins at crud for the prizes.
posted sunday 31 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a friend of mine from a previous life owns a motor garage, and one morning was interrupted by an elderly lady whose car had stalled at the road junction opposite and wouldn't restart. a mechanic was duly despatched, keys in hand, to find the root of the problem, returning a few minutes later to inform the lady that her battery was flat. 'and what shape should it be? was the response.
at the very same garage, a gentleman who had stopped to fill up with petrol, subsequently asked the pump attendant if he could purchase a can of castrol to top up the oil. around five minutes later, he returned to ask for a second can. intrigued as to how on earth a motor car should require that volume of oil , the attendant followed him out with the second can. the chap had been attempting to fill the oil through the dipstick hole on the side of the engine, and the garage forecourt was now at least partially covered with a thin film of brand new motor oil.
there will be much grinning of a smug nature amongst those who have at the very least, a basic grasp of the necessities of running a motor car, but i'm willing to bet that there are one or two of you who wouldn't know where to begin pouring a can of oil, or perhaps, able to identify the battery under the bonnet. bicycles are, allegedly, far simpler machines, yet in my days of regular cycle repair, two owners of motor service facilities of local repute were wont to bring their offsprings' bicycles for repair due to a lack of comprehension regarding modern velocipedinal niceties. i would be very surprised if either of these motor mechanics were beyond learning such simplicities, and i took it more as a case of can't be bothered than any other reason. however, should you need either to carry out your own basic repairs, or be in the position of taking the cycle to the local bikeshop, how much knowledge do you actually have, and do you think that's enough?
if i might refer you to our conversation of a few days ago, regarding the possible terror implied by the local bike shop, i have no doubt that after several months or years of having customers enter complaining of a noise coming from some unidentified area on the bicycle, any bike shop employee must roll their eyes skywards, mentally if not actually in view of the customer. i have no intention of reeling off the various cycle components and their specific maintenance schedules, you'll be glad to hear: there are 101 books available that will far more adequately cover any intricacies than i could possibly manage in a week of washingmachineposts.
the question is, should you have bought and read one that will better enable you to help yourself, or at least be a bit more specific when entering a cycle store? thankfully, most modern components are well enough designed to withstand the rigours of weather, manhandling and the occasional mechanical imcompetence, and no-one, least of all me, is suggesting that you dismantle, service and rebuild your campagnolo ergopower units once every twelve months. however, if you do, and you lose that tiny little screw on the shed floor, don't come crying to me.
perhaps the most common complaint on any multi-geared bicycle is the lack of clean indexing; when you click the lever, the gear either fails to change at all, or doesn't quite make it the way it should. modern gear systems are about as complex as swiss watches used to be, however, adjusting them really isn't that hard, and it would serve you well to learn how it's done. having a decent ride ruined because the gears weren't right, isn't the most satisfying of experiences, but considering how simple the adjustment is, i doubt whether too many shop staff will be singing your praises if you drop by for that reason alone. it is rocket science, but it's the easy part.
likely the simplest way to gain an overview of the general layout of the modern road bike (because we're all roadies here, are we not?) is to perform some regular maintenance either after each ride, if time prevails, or at least at the end of each week. that chain isn't supposed to be a bright orange colour, and there really shouldn't be grass shoots emanating from the derailleur jockey wheels. if there are, you'd likely be better off with a massey ferguson. give the bike a regular clean, check that the brake and gear cables aren't sticking, and grab some muc-off chain cleaner, then ply the links with the lube of your choice. maybe that way, you'll never need to see the inside of a bike shop service bay, but if you do, your opening gambit may well stretch beyond there's a strange grating noise coming from the thingy at the back
your bicycle and the local shop staff will love you for it; you might even get a calendar at new year.
posted sunday 31 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................