the latest issue of wired magazine (uk edition) carried an article concernng itself with the number of cctv cameras deployed in the uk, and whether these were as efficacious as had been promised. apparently there is a likelihood that many are installed because it's a case of being seen to do something in terms of crime prevention, rather than proof that they actually have any bearing on crime statistics. and that latter word reared its ugly head again when it came down to figuring out just how many cameras there are sited in the uk, top to bottom. it seems that no-one in authority is responsible for maintaining any records, so how many there are is effectively down to informed guesswork.
the informed guesswork came down to this: a gentleman with an interest in figuring this stuff out, counted how many cameras he saw over a given distance of urban main street, and extrapolated to provide an estimate of how many that would indicate were in force on the streets of britain. it's a very approximate way of doing things, but in the absence of any written numbers, it's likely the best we've got.
we have no public cctv cameras on the streets of islay, so i have little real concern with how many are in the uk, though it was intrinsically humorous to discover that shetland has more than downtown boston.
the cameras in this case, are just a bit of a red herring, because it's statistics that i'm really interested in. yet another publication, the guardian newspaper, is giving away free factfiles this week, and today's concerned itself with transport and the environment. bicycles are transport, and statistics concerning their former and current usage are on prominent display. for example, in the 1950s, britons travelled 19.9 billion vehicle kilometres (notwithstanding the fact that the highway code doesn't class the bicycle as a vehicle apparently), a number which had dropped drastically to only 4.7 billion vehicle kilometres by 2008. doesn't look good, does it? you will likely be unsurprised that motor vehicle billion kilometres rose from 53.1 in the 50s, to a somewhat alarming 508.9 billion in 2008.
and they wonder why we have global warming.
but where did those statistics come from? in the 1950s the gathering of the appropriate numbers was probably a bit of an uphill struggle, since communications would hardly have fitted the description the information super highway, and may have consisted of raincoated and trilby hatted civil servants with pens and clipboards. in modern times, such as 2008, from whence the most recent statistics have been provided, there are more than just a few ways to gather such information; online surveys, data mining, web server logs and so on, but what i want to know is just who they asked.
to repeat the numbers printed above, british cyclists managed 4.7 billion kilometres in 2008. who says so? well, in this case, the government's road traffic statistics department. i would consider myself a reasonably prodigious cyclist by way of kilometres covered, though nowhere near as prodigious as some. and perhaps more to the point, bearing in mind the point(s) under consideration, i am a fairly high profile example of the breed by virtue of writing this stuff everyday. but nobody has ever asked me how many kilometres i cycled in 2008. in 2008, we had around 30 folks take part in the ride of the falling rain, the total distance of which is 162km. if we conveniently ignore the fact that not everyone completed the whole ride, that's 30 x 162 = 4860km. do you think that was written in the book (i assume there is a book)?
does it make any difference? again, probably not; even though it's likely easier to quantify the number of motor vehicle kilometres covered, if the cycle distance is open to question, we should probably take the former with a pinch of salt too. but i'm really intrigued as to the 1950s figure; there were undoubtedly a lot more folks on bicycles around this time than is the case in the present, not entirely due to economic reasons. the bicycle was at one time, hard to believe though it might be, one of the principal modes of personal transport. it would be lovely to think that cycling statistics could approach those numbers once more, and there is evidence that those kilometres are increasing. maybe we just have to try a bit harder, and tell people about it more vociferously
however, i'm just totally mystified as to who they asked, just to reinstate my faith in statistics. if you have been stopped by a man in a raincoat and trilby carrying a clipboard and pen, and asked how far you've ridden that day, please let me know so that i can sleep more easily at night.
posted wednesday 28 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i told you last week, if you were listening, about my intriguing visit to cyclefit in macklin street, london where fitting expert phil, with the aid of some rather colourful computer charts and moving pictures, had a look at how i pedalled his adjustabike. and in order to help me do so, fitted some lovely red footbeds to my dromarti leathers to correct a bass drum pedal promoted right foot, and a corresponding opposite slant on the left with the aid of angled cleat shims. but while this was all based on practical observation and careful measurement, it was closer to theory than practice because i was riding cyclefit's endlessly variable adjustabike, and that's not what i ride at home.
before leaving the fitting emporium, i was handed a folder containing a note of the detailed observations, but most importantly, a list of the measurements required to bring me nearer to my professional contract. i am generally not good with numbers, being someone who relies far more on whether it feels right, than the addition being up to scratch. i'm sure there are more of me about. however, there seems very little point to spend three hours ironing out the little niggles and peculiarities that one acquires after many a year in the drops, then taking the ferry back to islay and ignoring all phil and jules' hard work. the measuring tape beckoned.
this requires a bit of a leap of faith; pedalling the adjustabike feels just fine after being properly setup, but there's nothing to relate it to the cielo that sits patiently in the bikeshed. at least not until that measuring tape is put to work.
my saddle height has been the same since i don't remember when: i figured out something notionally comfortable on an orbit 531 from the early nineties and simply duplicated it across the years all the way up to the c40; when any review models arrived, they were compared and adjusted accordingly. the last to suffer was the cielo on arrival from portland. to subsequently discover that this saddle height is about 2.5cm higher than it should be was, to put not too fine a point on it, a bit of a slap in the face.
however, like i said before, there's no point in asking the experts if their knowledge is then ignored, so the brooks moved nearer to the top tube and i prepared for my self esteem to take a similar drop. who knew? dropping the saddle by an amount i expected to bring my knees to my chin not only oozed comfort, but dispensed with the sore back i would normally have suffered after toiling into an islay headwind for over 45km.
the tightness i had experienced in my left leg and lower back was still there to begin with, but since that is, as far as i know, not engendered by the act of cycling, that was not entirely unexpected. what was unexpected was its almost complete disappearance after two days and 160km of pedalling. i'm not breaking out the bunting just yet, because there are many days of bad posture in the office to go, before i'm back out on the bike again, so i'm sure there will be a resurgence in this area, but the custom footbed has stopped me curling the toes of my left foot, and that's helped cure quite a bit.
in essence, lowering or raising the saddle to the required height has been the easy bit; other measurements included the distance from the tip of the saddle to the centre of the bars, the drop height from the saddle to the height of the bars, and the distance the nose of the saddle is in front of the bottom bracket centre. those have proved slightly more problematical principally due to the size of the frame and the components fitted. i've always ridden with a 130mm stem, for reasons lost in obscure history, and if i want to be totally accurate, that stem is going to have to shorten to about 120mm, and i'll likely have to move a headset spacer above the stem to achieve the correct drop height, but i'd rather do this in stages to allow isolation of any niggles.
saddle nose to bb centre wasn't too difficult to achieve.
so this is all a work in progress, but on initial exploration, it's progress in the right direction. next time i'm in london, i'll pop back into macklin street for a debrief (which makes this sound as important as it really is) and with a bit more consultation and fortitude on my part, victory in the bruichladdich sprint on sundays is surely mine.
posted tuesday 27 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
sitting in an obscure corner of washingmachinepost cottage is a number of black and white stickers that promote the message of one less car a movement, if it can be called such, with which i have a great deal of sympathy, though obviously not quite enough to remember in which particular corner the stickers were placed. in contemporary times, when the huge majority own, or lease at least one motor vehicle, it's very easy to be self-righteous when you don't own or drive any at all. this self-righteousness is tempered a shade by the fact that i do have a driver's licence, i simply choose not to use it, gaining even more brownie points when considering the parlous state of public transport on this scottish hebridean isle. let's just say that if you moved from the town or city, you'd probably notice the difference.
a great deal of those car owning and/or driving citizens are cyclists, just like me (well, maybe not just like me, but let's not split hairs), and therefore pay car tax, a fact woefully misinterpreted by civilians when wishing to berate cyclists of any hue, should they dare to slow motoring progress. this is a state of affairs that has been cleverly highlighted by carlton reid's i pay road tax campaign and cycle jersey. of course, it's not a road tax and hasn't been for a many a long year; the roads are paid for through general taxation, pertaining to all whether they drive, cycle or walk.
i'm not altogether naive in such matters; i can understand that it can be a very necessary part of daily life that many own cars out of necessity, either business or personal. my choice not to should likely be classified along with my disdain for eating meat; perfectly fine for me, but not something i should seek to impose on others. however, when i enter my happy little world of cycling, particularly in the form of reading matter, i'd prefer it if the motor car stayed well out of it. although i suffer the infernal combustion engine to a far lesser degree than many an acquaintance simply by virtue of my geographical location, there are times when its complete absence brings joy to my sportwool.
i no longer purchase my weekly copy of the comic, shutting off a history that has pervaded for almost quarter of a century. i am aware that i was likely the last of my circle of peloton members to do so, but conflict of philosophies and random, unannounced price increases finally brought muted wrath to bear, and i instructed my newsagent to desist. by way of brief digression, that anodyne and endless variety of photos that adorn (i use the term in its loosest sense) the cover each week, is explained away by the tale that cycle racing no longer sells the magazine. yet open the cover, and the first batch of pages are all cycle racing; and if the posit is true, why provide the readership with ten pages concerning team sky while boosting the price to £3.99? enough is enough.
however, debbie still leaves each week's issue on the lower shelf of the coffee table for perusal by interested parties, and while i would hesitate to identify myself in such company, sometimes a few words to read and pictures to look at while awaiting coffee and cake, do not go amiss. and finding myself in this very situation only a few days ago, it was hard to miss an advertisement for a fiat something or other, advertised on the basis that it was the vehicle of choice for british cycling.
you and i are cynics to a man or woman and thus perfectly aware that the kernel of this story is unlikely to be true. somewhere along the way, money has changed hands; personal preference is unlikely to have got in the way. but these were to have been a few moments alone with my chosen sport, even if they were being experienced through a publication that, technically, no longer holds my faith or interest. i did not wish those moments to be interrupted by the motor car; in real life, that happens all too often. assuming myself not to be alone of this opinion, why did the comic deem it necessary to accept just such an advertisement?
yet again, my naivety does not extend to being ignorant of commercial considerations. advertising in the comic is not even half what it used to be prior to the advent of the interweb, and despite mounting sales figures, i presume the continuation of any publication relies a great deal on advertising. if magazine trends mirror those of the newspaper industry, then advertisers in droves are leaving print in favour of pixels, thus any full page advertisement with even a tenuous link to that of cycling, would seem to be considered fair game in certain quarters. but should there not be boundaries? do readers of autocar, motorsport and top gear magazines find themselves flicking past advertisements for colnagos, wiliers and verentis?
i doubt it.
granted, there may well be mileage in fiat advertising in this way (pun intended); after all, did i not just admit that a great number of cyclists own a car, and may just be interested in purchasing a new one? having watched liege bastogne liege yesterday, it was hard to avoid noticing that there were almost as many cars involved in the event as bicycles, and that's not about to change anytime soon. so perhaps the argument that i have no wish for my cycling reverie to be disturbed by four wheels, falls a little thin in the light of this sporting reality.
likely so, but at least now i have further justification for having cancelled my weekly instalment. just as long as none of the others adopt a similar policy. in the interests of fairness, i did contact a few magazine editors of my acquaintance and asked if they would consider running a car advert if approached so to do. one said categorically no, but for the others it was a bit of a grey area. 'it depends' would be a fair way of reporting the general answer.
marcel wust tests a volkswagen passat anyone?
posted monday 26 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i was informed during this past week, admittedly by someone living a considerable distance south east of my abode, that sunday (that's today) was due to be the finest day we would experience so far this year. admittedly, against the backdrop of early season cool conditions, that's not saying that much, but after a week of sitting in front of a flat panel computer screen, the prospect of springing the cielo from the bikeshed and gaining limitless freedom in glorious sunshine, certainly lightened the travail for the last couple of days of the week.
contrary to the picture i have worked hard to portray of this rock in the atlantic, the howlingly oppressive headwinds that i know and love so well, have been conspicuous by their absence for the bulk of the past few months, but just to add a soupcon of frisson and catch the unprepared unawares, just such a wind sprang up overnight on friday, announced itself not sheepishly on saturday morning, then proceeded to increase in fervour throughout the day. the latter kilometres from deb's after a well earned cappuccino mid saturday afternoon, brought forgotten memories and sore legs rushing back. then, while out displaying my meagre talent as a percussionist of no note whatsoever in the evening, precipitation appeared in the early hours of sunday morn. somewhere, somebody got it wrong.
overshoes and rainjacket completed the sunday morning uniform, though the latter only saw minimal service and mostly on the way home. but in the process of enjoying the sunday morning ride, a die has been cast for the next few months, likely until autumn/fall starts to brown the leaves that have yet to appear on the meagre number of trees that survive hereabouts. and i'm not talking about the weather.
a favoured route when the weather promises little and threatens much, is round loch gorm, only a few hundred metres from the atlantic coast. the waves at saligo, often crashingly impressive were much subdued, and yesterday's wind had relaxed a smidgeon, but couldn't be counted below the level of a breeze. the circular road around loch gorm is largely featureless, though it does provide excellent views of the loch itself, and saligo is a cool place to be when it's wavey, thus, it qualifies as one of the favoured tourist routes. in keeping with many a pleasant destination, the majority of these tourists (or 'visitors' as we prefer to call them in our quaint hebridean way) are in metal boxes with wing mirrors that a few years back were sony bravia televisions, unaccustomed to, and blatantly ignorant of passing places. thus an enjoyable number of kilometres on the bicycle starts to vie with the tweed run as to the number of occasions on which we have to stop, in order not to impede the progress of the motorist.
ride this route prior to easter, and you'll be very unlucky to meet a single motor vehicle in either direction.
cars on roads are an ever present feature, factor and fear for today's cyclists, and their increasing numbers have, more recently, started to have a negative influence on the minority practice of holding organised road races. it costs race organisers huge sums of money to engage police presence (protection) on events occupying a minimum of road miles, and in a few cases, races have gone altogether because the police refused to co-operate at all. it must be galling to have sat and watched today's liege-bastogne-liege race in belgium with closed roads, enormous quantities of spectators and a phalanx of motorcycle marshals, to bear in mind that it's a scene never existent in the uk. so what is the next generation of prospective british competitive riders to do; apart from move to the continent, that is?
thewashingmachinepost is likely not the time nor place to hold open discussions as to the way forward, mostly because i am not even remotely qualified to comment in any meaningful way, but i do have the wherewithal to publicise one small solution to at least part of the problem. hog hill circuit.
there will be those who poo-poo this method of bringing cycle racing to the masses both on and off the track, but i am firmly of the opinion that something is better than nothing. at least in this instance; and those already charged with re-invigorating british cycle racing have continued to put their money where their mouths are, announcing the rapha condor summer race series taking place at hog hill circuit on saturdays through the months of may, june and july. two races will be held each month consisting of a 3rd and 4th cat (regional B); elite, 1, 2, 3, 4 (women B); elite, 1, 2, 3 men (national b); lvrc ab; lvrc cd, and lvrc efgh, which pretty much covers most eventualities. entry fees are payable on the day, but slightly reduced for rapha condor club members, who also benefit from use of the vip tent for preparing themselves for the big surge. youth races will be held each race day morning from 10am.
for those of us living too many miles away to make it an economic saturday afternoon race or spectate, it's a mite unfortunate, but you can't expect everything to be presented on a plate. however, if proximity is not a problem, maybe you'd like to give those legs a competitive outing midst company, or stand and shout encouragement?
meanwhile i'll have a word with our sergeant about closing the road round loch gorm of a sunday morning... reality is simply a theoretical concept.
posted sunday 25 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have a rapha condor sharp team kit, and all joking aside about my having been signed to grab the lanterne rouge with unfailing accuracy, wearing it is likely the closest i'll ever get to that of a professional cyclist. for starters, i didn't get into cycling until i was too old to even think about the competitive aspect, and secondly, i'm not very competitive anyway; last is just fine by me as long as i've enjoyed the bike ride. yet many a wannabee really wants to be, and were it not for the fact that they never win races, a professional contract would be in the post this weekend. replica kit and replica bikes apparently sell rather well, and one can only guess that many a lesser mortal would leap at the chance to be followed by a liveried team car.
however, the reality of life as a professional has the veneer of glamour only from a distance. riding every weekend with possibly the addition of a couple of hours midweek, is all very well; it's an option for most of us. having to go out on your bike every day, in all weathers, with the sole obligation to get the miles in, improving base fitness and reaching peak fitness at certain times of the year might lose its lustre after a winter or two. that's not the case for everyone though; if it were, we'd have no racing to watch ever, or if we did, it would take place at a much slower rate than is currently the case.
in essence, it's a job, just like you and i have.
one of those who not only enjoys his job as a cyclist, but appears to thrive on it, is michael barry, not only a top class racing cyclist, but no stranger to the written word. his previous venture into print was inside the postal bus about his time as a domestique in larry armstrong's us postal team. le metier is a more stark look at the reality of being a racing cyclist at world level. as christian vande velde says at the end of his foreword, 'you'll understand why everyone isn't a professional cyclist but why, for us, it is the best job we could have.'
while we all refer to this as the 2010 racing season, cycle racing, like every other aspect of life, is governed by winter, spring, summer, and autumn, some of which involve racing, while others are given over, at least partly, to the art of training. michael starts with winter:
'In just over nine hours, I will be lining up for a race that will take nearly seven hours to complete, that will cover 265 kilometers, and that will climb 4,500 meters.'
barry is referring to the annual world championship race, an event that often finishes the season for many, while for others there is still paris-tours and lombardy. introducing us to the reality of a small, yet important part of his competitive year, barry continues by briefly recapping what took him from a youngster in toronto, to one of the most respected super-domestiques riding today (2009 was spent with columbia htc; 2010 has brought him to the much vaunted sky team.). winter is filled with training, when the rest of us are cosied up in front of a warm heater in the office. but then we knew that already; it's nice to have options.
not unnaturally and not unexpectedly, the second chapter concerns spring, but the gap between the seasons is bridged by the first instalment from barry's co-author of le metier, former rouleur photographer camille mcmillan. camille is one of the finest working in any area of photography today; it's our stroke of good luck that he chooses to express himself through cycling.
spring takes us to the early season classics, summer brings the grand tours, and autumn the tail end of the season. this last chapter, animated by a man who writes easily as well as he pedals, is the pinnacle of barry's achievement, where his description of winning a stage in the tour of missouri is no less exciting for the passage of time between winning and publishing. it is a strikingly endearing feature of le metier that no sooner have we completed reading, than camille mcmillan bolsters the imagery by matching exactly the expression of barry's writing. i believe the adjective is serendipitous.
there are no frills and no attempt to glamourise, on behalf of either writer or photographer, a mechanism that just works, and all the more attractive for its honesty. as alluded to at the top of the page, very few of us will ever experience this level of competitive cycling from the inside; le metier is important documentation, a veritable snapshot of a season, devoid of ego, and a rich complement to our enjoyment of this great sport. there are many books in print about life in the pro ranks, but few have reached this degree of literacy, emotion and matter of fact in one volume.
non-acquisition is not an option.
le metier is released on 29th april in hardback at a cost of £35. a very limited edition, signed by both michael barry and camille mcmillan, with a screen printed cover will also be available at a cost of £100. release of this will be announced separately.
posted saturday 24 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i believe i would be correct in equating the desire to return to a simpler, pre-mechanised age as suitable criteria for the appellation luddite. sometimes, and in particular when any piece of technology fails to live up to its promise, adding one's name to the roll call doesn't seem such a bad idea. it becomes a toss-up between persevering with the cable adjuster or deciding that those other ten sprockets are just so much baggage. on the basis that i figure there would be two shiny sprockets rather than one, i may be well on my way to having my name carved in stone in the clubhouse.
should ludditidy (another word i made up) be warmly embraced by the unfaithful, or the seriously technologically frustrated, there are other hurdles placed in the way, some of which are solvable, some less so. you see years and years of gearing have conditioned the bicycle industry to widen the rear dropouts from a sensible 126mm all the way up to 130mm in order to find as much space as possible for those eleven sprockets. when simplicity dawns, and ten of those have to go, it's likely that you are looking at something like a track hub, interestingly, the only modern hub made by campagnolo that still betrays vicenza's hitherto sense of style. except take a gander at campagnolo's website and that all-important overlocknut dimension (the distance between the two outside edges of the axle locknuts), the numbers are disappointing: 120mm.
what's a luddite to do?
assuming her indoors is not keen on a quick telephone call to your nearest and dearest framebuilder, followed by just as swift a communication with a favoured wheelbuilder, a solution is very desperately needed to allow continued use of existing technology. at its simplest, you could grab a philips screwdriver and stop out the adjusting screws on the rear derailleur so that it sits comfortably on one sprocket; mechanically that would do the trick, but it's hardly a stylish solution. what is needed is a method of continuing with the existing campagnolo freehub but doing away with all the gearing gubbins, a solution similar to that provided by a chris king single speed hub. a2z have done exactly that.
consisting of two 7.2mm and one 20mm spacers, along with 16 and 18 tooth sprockets, this kit allows you to continue using that campagnolo wheel while filling a cardboard box in the bikeshed with some cable, a multi-speed cassette and a rear derailleur. consigning a not inconsiderable financial investment to a box might give cause for second thoughts, but since this kit arrives at less than £15, you can always renounce ludditism (how long before that word is seen in your funk and wagnel?), re-embrace technology, and almost no-one will notice.
two different widths of spacer makes it relatively easy to adjust the chainline; in my case, having the two smaller ones between sprocket and hubshell, made it easier to line up with the inner ring on the chainset, though as summer progresses and my power becomes ever more animal like, swapping them to use the outer ring will be a pretty easy procedure. correspondingly, i've started with the 18 sprocket; as soon as my chris hoy thighs return from the cleaners, this will be replaced by the 16 and an aggressive sprinting face. according to the blurb, the kit fits any campagnolo freehub and is held in place with the regular lockring, but i'm afraid i'd to put a thin spacer into the mix to keep everything tightly together. without this, all three spacers could be freely rotated and the sprocket wavered rather too easily for my liking.
the fly in the ointment is the type of dropout on the frame. my two colnagos feature modern vertical dropouts, meaning that there is no fore and aft adjustment available; thus if the chain is not under quite enough tension, there is no way to change that. the colnago c40 has a 42 inner ring on a chorus aluminium chainset, and chain tension was pretty much ok, but there's certainly not enough leeway to remove another link. if the frame, as in the case of the cielo, has road (horizontal) dropouts, luck is more on your side, but since my cielo rides on sram, i have no intention of messing with the clicky bits to check how well that might work.
at less than £15, there are unlikely to be floods of tears if the planets fail to line up with each other, but it's worth bearing in mind that all might not be ginger peachy depending on the flavour of dropout on the frame. you'll also need either to cut down your existing chain, or more practically, buy a new one and cut that to length. at least the system operates on the standard 3/32" chain and not the 1/8" more common on fixed or track bikes. if you fancy switching to single speed while retaining that favoured bicycle and attendant wheels, this is an easy option, especially considering the price, and it's a wonder that nobody has come up with such a simple solution before; or maybe they have but kept it a secret. just watch out for that dropout shape.
posted friday 23 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the volcanic ash emanating from that unpronounceable volcano in iceland, has caused distress and separation, but it has also created opportunities that would hitherto have gone unseen or unheralded.
last weekend saw the tour of the battenkill take place in upstate new york, a race that is compared to paris-roubaix, or at least the nearest north america can provide, given their distinct lack of unruly cobbles. the race took place through farming country and thus placed the riders fairly and squarely in an environment that is at least partially devoid of metalled roads. given that rapha have a burgeoning market in the americas, it well behoved them to send the rapha condor sharp team to compete across the pond. as far as i know, the men in black enjoyed their outing, with dean downing coming in 15th, and you can read and see more of their exploits on the rapha blog.
but then someone in british air traffic control discovered that volcanic ash from iceland might just sandpaper the inside of jet engines, and closed british airspace, leaving more than just simon mottram and the entire racing team stuck across the pond. most of us would kick back, grab some new york bagels, espresso and laze about as englishmen (or scotsmen) in new york. the rapha team are made of sterner stuff, embodied with a british work ethic and a need to keep racing legs ready for action, so they've decided to enter something called the quabbin road race in ware, massachusetts while british airspace and its attendant airlines get themselves back to normal.
that's what rapha is mostly known and renowned for; they have made much of road racing's fabulous heritage, not only through the sponsorship of arguably britain's top road team, but by incorporating it into pretty much everything they do, from jersy design through to those gorgeous little booklets issued from time to time. but it's not all they do.
as we near the end of the spring classics part of the 2010 season, thoughts of racing, or at least pedalling as fast as legs and carbon will allow, are reinforced by the weekend's coverage and the ability to be a weekend warrior on a mission, even if that mission exists only in the black and white photography of ben ingham. but a weekend consists of only two days; there are five other days when the bike has to serve more utilitarian purposes, often at considerably lower speeds, and interspersed with the odd (and likely frequent) coffee stops. you're surely not going to wear sportwool and lycra to the office?
thankfully, there is no real necessity to switch allegiance for more mundane cycling activities, with the release of long-sleeve cotton shirts, the v-neck baselayers, and within the next day or two, boxer shorts with a padded insert resembling that in your favourite shorts. this latter item isn't a rapha invention, but they've imbued a must-have item with a hitherto unseen flair in the design and build. and cast in merino.
i don't have a commute; i've had to invent one. the office where i ply my trade is only a few stones throws from washingmachinepost cottage, and it would likely take longer to get the cielo out the bikeshed than it takes to walk round the corner. it's a situation that gives me cause for grief, because i really would like to commute by bicycle to my place of photoshop. still, if you promise not to say anything to anyone, this difficulty can be circumvented by some pointless pedalling (though i would tend to argue that there can, in fact, be no such thing). thus i have been munching a quick and healthy breakfast (it's true; scott's porage oats are noticeably better than the bog standard supermarket fare), donning appropriate apparel and lunging off up the hill past the tv mast.
twelve kilometres later, i arrive back at the bikeshed, grin on the visage and not a rattle from the full wood fenders, ready to grab the laptop bag and head for the imac, keyboard and mouse. to enhance the effect and provide the basis for this test and review, i have been clad in the v-neck baselayer, long-sleeve shirt (black gingham check), fixed shorts and the merino boxer shorts. cosiness was provided by rapha's bomber jacket. i did, on one occasion, head southwest to debbie's for a cappuccino, where i was greeted with a you're very smartly dressed for a coffee' from miss macdougall herself.
told you so.
attempting to emulate what i figured would be my commuting speed if i really was commuting, my velocity was designed to prevent overheating and swot and hettyness. if changing and/or shower facilities are in short supply (ours are non-existent) it will not enhance any cycle commuter's popularity to sit and steam behind the screen. day two was taken at a far quicker pace which, surprisingly, didn't increase internal combustion by any serious amount. you can call me unhospitable, but i continued to wear the boxers, shirt and baselayer to the office on both days, and the girls in the office still spoke to me, and seemed in no great hurry to vacate the office in favour of outdoors.
the shirt is a lightweight combination of cotton, nylon and elastane, giving it a particular flexibility both on and off the bike. while resembling an everyday shirt from the outside, the cut is distinctly cycle jersey. aside from a single rear pocket on the right, which would hold a memory stick, a set of keys, small wallet or three digestive biscuits, there are side panels which vastly improve fit on the bicycle. the sleeves are a touch longer than something you'd buy from marks and spencers, and the shoulder seams are offset, meaning that a shoulder bag atop the shirt alone, or the bomber jacket, will not multiply pressure through multiple seams. it works.
rapha's almost painstaking attention to detail shows at every turn, with a button down collar, double buttons at each cuff and the top set of buttons concealed from view. each button is embossed with the word rapha. maybe that means nothing, but if they're paying attention this far down the chain... the shirt fabric is a very efficient wicking agent; dampness on the sleeves, which is usually the first area to bear witness, was almost non-existent, but when it did rear its ugly heat, it disappeared almost as fast as it had arrived.
i rode the tweed run wearing my rapha fixed shorts, but felt it necessitous to wear a pair of regular padded bibshorts to protect the nether regions from that aggressive brooks team pro. however, while that may be ok when no office chair beckons, it's hardly the ideal solution, and i have desperately awaited the arrival of rapha's merino boxers since receiving pre-release info a couple of months ago. the wait has not been in vain, for these boxers are unashamed luxury, with an elastic waistband, mesh side panels, reasonable leg length to avoid chafing on a long commute, and a pad that provides a far greater degree of comfort than it looks as if it could manage. in common with rapha's racing bibshorts, the red pad is made by cytech, but is a mite slimmer than we've all been used to. my longest commute - a trip to outback art gallery at sanaigmore - lasted an hour there and an hour back, on that very same brooks saddle, yet not once did it bring tears to my thighs.
the merino really makes the product; sublime comfort in an area that needs as much sublime comfort as it can get. the shorts have a high wicking index, superb breathability and comfort that relies on the fabric as much as it does the flatlock seams. if you are a confirmed cycle commuter wishing to maintain the same level of sartorial elegance as in weekend warrior guise, rapha have now provided the wherewithal to make all your dreams come true. when the huntsman tweed jacket makes an appearance in the foreseeable future, commuting style will have reached a new standard, and all without changing the website from which those purchases can be had.
it's a skill.
rapha's long-sleeve shirts are available in a blue or black gingham check in sizes from small to xxl at a cost of £90. the boxers are not yet available, but are coming soon. i have always taken a small size in rapha when it comes to bib shorts, fixed shorts, trousers, tights etc. but the boxers tested were medium and an exceptionally good fit. cost will be £40.
top photo courtesy slate olson. bottom photo: rush hour on the hebridean commute.
posted thursday 22 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................