can you remember how and when you learned to ride a bike? strangely enough, though i can't remember what i had for tea on sunday, i can see my cycling attempts as clear as day. my parents' house is on the curve of a crescent, providing it with a small front garden but quite a large back garden. i did have a proper bike, but since i couldn't ride it, i'd borrowed a much smaller red bike from a pal of mine along the road. this was a lot closer to the ground in case gravity took its toll, which it did with remarkable frequency. the secret turned out to be a large degree of pig-headedness and the ability to shrug off grass stains, but eventually i was flying solo, a skill which has followed me to this very day.
the circle remains unbroken when your own kids grow up and you're able to set them on the path to enlightenment, something i did with both son and daughter. sadly both of them repaid this act of kindness by growing up and leaving their bicycles in the shed to rust, but i'm not letting it rest there. if i can't impose velocipedinal joy upon my own (grown-up) screaming brats, then perhaps it can be foisted upon others?
to an extent, this is why jez hastings and i set up port mor wheelers, initially to encourage the local kids to have fun on their bicycles. there was this forlorn hope that those kids might put pressure on mum and dad to take them out cycling, and there remains the notion that we might run the occasional session for groan-ups, just to facilitate the dream.
but a few weeks back, two brothers came along to see what all the fuss was about, keen to join in, but unable to ride their bikes. so both last week and this, i have spent my tuesday evening almost bent double holding onto the saddles of a six year old and a nine year old while they tried hard not to fall off. satisfyingly, both were fairly well advanced when they turned up, with reasonable balance, but a wheel wobbling preponderance to keep looking down at their feet instead of where they were supposed to be heading. so we've persevered, and within a couple of weeks at best, both will be cycling completely on their own. at present they can cycle short distances, but a bit more confidence will see them fly the nest. while all this was going on, mr hastings was running slalom races for the under-eights, followed by the over-eights, gratifying because the kid who won both his races first turned up at wheelers around a year ago with stabilisers on his bike and completely unable to ride unaided.
but mr hastings and i are not the only ones keen to put something back. when we started running wheelers on a tuesday evening, we asked the kids to bring in water bottles to keep themselves hydrated while they're running us demented for an hour. overhearing at least a couple of them saying that they didn't have such an item, i e-mailed david jefree, director at bikefood to ask if he'd be interested in sponsoring us by sending a couple of dozen of their particularly hi-viz yellow water bottles that we could give to the kids.
considering bikefood don't actually recommend their products for junior pelotons, david was more than happy to comply, and we were able to dish out individual bottles to the kids last week and this. you'd have thought christmas had arrived for a second time. so i'd like to offer a public vote of thanks to david and bikefood for their largesse; altruism is alive and well and living in watford. both mr hastings and i plus our tuesday evening throng are extremely grateful.
as my daughter stated just a few years back 'bicycle people are really nice.'
posted tuesday 25 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's all about the fit. doubtless we can all remember our cycling to school days, weighed down with schoolbag, blazer or anorak, depending on the season, shoes that were wholly inappropriate for the pedals they occupied and trousers, the right leg of which was tucked into a sock. since the necessity of arriving at school in a timeous manner was unlikely to be uppermost in any of our minds, this distinct lack of aerodynamics hardly seems worth mentioning.
but as channel four and subsequently eurosport, were able to provide a window on the world of professional cycling, perspectives changed, and a bit a more attention was paid to the apparel. since the bikes looked just the same as the ten speed in the shed, obviously the secret to moving a bit faster was contained in the bright clothing.
or maybe not.
however, to be slightly less trivial and supercilious, it most certainly still is all about the fit. you'd have to have been living in a cave not to notice that in the area of cycle clothing, we are almost embarrassingly well equipped, from the bottom of the rung to the very top. and while experience has taught that you pretty much get what you pay for, it's not always quite that straightforward.
fabrics make up the bulk of the cost, and it's no surprise that the chaps who occupy the upper circle incorporate some of the finest into their offerings. you'd expect no less. but the other part of the equation rest with our old friend design.
if you've ever pencilled out an approximate design for a team jersey, you'll either have used the blank sheet supplied by the clothing supplier, or you'll have more ostentatiously demonstrated your own designer background by e-mailing an illustrator or eps vector file. if you don't know what either of those are, i've just proved my point.
however, as to how well the design hangs together when the chap or chapess at head office receives your doodlings, is not something that you have any real control over. how long should the sleeves be?; how high will the rear pockets sit?; how loose/tight to make the collar. from this you can see that it matters not one whit how sophisticated the fabric if the stuff makes you look like a hip-hop artist. and it may be even more of a surprise to learn that not everyone hits the spot, and certainly not at the first attempt.
yanto barker i have introduced to you before; currently racing with the le col/colnago/pendragon team, he spent last year winning stuff on his own in order to publicise his line of le col clothing, and i have previously featured items from the black and gold range on the post. but it's now summer, and we are in need of lighter weight apparel, but aspiring to at least the same quality and fit.
displaying the same trademark triple stitching along every seam and hem in sight, the lightweight sportwool jersey bears some finely crafted features that would appear to be the result of yanto's considerable race experience. the collar sits closely round the neck, stopping the zip short of the nape of the neck with a rollover stop, while that zip is full length; a considerable boon if the temperature matches sunday's.
having worn rather a lot of cycle jerseys over the years, a qualifying criteria is just how easily stuff can be stuffed into rear pockets when on the move, and extricated too. some are better than others; those that aren't would do well to observe how this is treated at le col. not only could you fit most of the team sky bus in there, but you could get it all out again while matching cavendish pedal stroke for pedal stroke.
point of fit number two is just how closely the jersey fits around the chest. some are inclined to declare themselves of race fit, meaning you'll seem a bit contorted standing in the queue for a coffee, but barely cause a blip on radar when assuming the position on the bike. le col clothing has no pretence in any other direction; this is real race fit clobber which assumes the mantle of a second skin around every inch, whether on the hoods or in the drops. and the uncanny part, a bit like the feeling of riding a colnago eps, is the unparalleled degree of comfort at any speed (though i can't comment on unbelievably fast paces, because i'm not unbelievably fast.)
and you really have to warm to anything that makes the old and decrepit look as if they're moving fast supping a soya cappuccino.
the three rear pockets are joined by one of those compulsory zipped (waterproof) pockets concealed in the rightmost rear, and accessed by a zip down the side. reflective tabs ensure that the jersey's navy blue colour is no barrier to visibility, and the ensemble is finished off by embroidered le col wording on the left chest.
at a pinch, you could probably cycle at reasonable speed wearing a crappy t-shirt, providing a complete lack of style is part of your make-up. however, the nether regions should not be treated with such disdain; one of the three points of contact, if you'd prefer not to walk like john wayne for a week, a decent pair of shorts is in order. i still find it a mystery as to why there is such variation in the quality of the (faux) chamois pads inhabiting the inner recesses of modern cycle shorts. some resort to simple padding, while others make use of a thin layer of gel (as in the le col shorts under review). i've no real preference for one over the other, but i prefer not feel as if i'm sitting on a pudding in either case. in similar manner to track mitts, the padding can be overdone, and it's a fine balancing act to tread the fine line between too much and too little.
these are that fine line.
while the reality would be embarrassing and likely to lead to arrest, the very best shorts emulate the feeling of not wearing any at all. from the gloop round the hem to the bibs themselves, these are pure luxury. it's often a feature of italian produced clothing that the sizes come up a tad smaller than those from other regions of the world. i generally wear small in shorts from others, but le col sent mediums for test and the fit was exemplary. in practice, by which i mean cycling, on a hot sunny day, there was a complete lack of discomfort; no bunching, no riding up at the legs, and no red marks on the shoulders when undressing. the triple stitched seams and hems are present, and a satisfactory job has been done to match the navy blue of the sportwool jersey.
it's a real shame that le col clothing doesn't have a higher profile with the cycling cognoscenti. perhaps things will change during the forthcoming tour series which the le col/colnago/pendragon team will be contending. the cut and intent of the mariana range should, as i think i mentioned before, give those in switzerland cause for concern, but at the very least should be included in any forthcoming cycle clothing purchase decisions. yanto barker has truly hit the ground running with le col; no corner has been left unturned in an effort to pass on the benefit of years of racing experience, providing clothing which just plain works for the modern cyclist. it's all made in italy and it therefore seems a bit unnecessary to comment on style.
if it made me look fast, just think what it would do for someone who actually is.
the le col mariana short sleeve sportwool jersey retails at £99.99, and the shorts for £124.99. you really do get what you pay for, and then some.
posted monday 24 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
for the first time in a substantial number of sundays, this morning dawned warm with blue skies and 93 million miles of sun. despite a battering of drums having taken place last night, i'm up with the lark (larks on islay don't arise until 8:30 of a sunday), to scoff a plateful of porage and a glass of orange juice. the porage, since you ask, consisted of the smaller milled oats, though there is a packet of the thick milled ones in the cupboard. still in shiny sunshine, the cielo is extracted willingly from the bikeshed, yellow bottle in the cage, and i'm off into the wide blue yonder to meet up with today's representation of the velo club d'ardbeg peloton for the obligatory sunday ride.
because the sunday ride is the sunday ride.
yesterday was the start of the 2010 islay whisky festival, so the population has been somewhat swelled by those chasing the amber nectar. in fact, if you'd been trying to park any vehicle other than a bicycle in bruichladdich today, you'd have had a substantial walk to the distillery after finding a place along the shoreline. some of those whiskyheads, as we have affectionately dubbed them, are here in foreign numbr plated cars, some are content to use shanks's pony (scottish term for walking) and one or two are on bicycles. the latter mode of transport is not popular with the multitudes because there are the inevitable special bottlings to acquire, and swinging carrier bags and spokes do not mix as well as whisky and water.
however, making joyous and speedy progress towards bridgend before i turn left to head for debbie's in bruichladdich, i can see in the graspable distance, five guys on bikes. i would hesitate to call them cyclists; there is not a skinny wheel or bendy bar to be seen; nor are any helmets in evidence, but there are shorts, jeans, rucksacks and open toed sandals. they are obviously enjoying the wooded scenery around the bridgend area, and not setting the road alight in their forward progress.
don't get me wrong; i make no comment on either their bicycle shaped objects or the lax speed employed. in weather like this, how you go about enjoying it, is an entirely subjective decision, and provided no harm is being caused to any other party, as the saying goes gaun yersel'. however, their lackadaisical approach provides me with a quandary.
in professional racing, when the yellow or pink jersey nips into a local oddbins for a pinot grigiot, the peloton assumes piano, piano. if the same jersey happens to inadvertantly incur an offroad excursion, the piano is played again. inside the last 20km, no drink or food may be taken from the team car, and after having a wheel replaced, using the following cars to move back to the peloton is rather frowned upon by the commissaires.
in other words, protocols.
so as one approaches a group of visibly demonstrative non-cyclists at a warp speed considerably in excess of their own, what is one to do? what is the protocol for such an occasion? allow me to enhance the discrepancy just a tad by pointing out that, due to the rather clement weather, i was road-testing some delectable new race kit that managed to confer upon yours truly, the impression of a member of a professional peloton either out training, or having taken a wrong turning. either way, the scene about to play out is akin to jenson button overtaking the proverbial little old lady on her way to church.
now, do i assume the mantle of the strong silent type and simply motor past without so much as an askance glance; do i cheerfully wave and bid them good day as i underline the slowness of their pace, or do i sit dutifully behind until they notice there are now six, and hope that they wave me on through with a jovial greeting and an appreciation of my superiority of vector? quite a dilemma.
you see, if i adopt the latter strategy, it may take some time before they notice i'm there, and find my sitting in to be somewhat of an intrusion. if, on the other hand, i pass swiftly while uttering platitudes, they'll likely think of me as a bit of a flash git, and the reputation of self and others will diminish by a few unseen brownie points. in the event, that's exactly what i did; coming round the curve of the road in towards bridgend woods, i checked for a lack of motorised traffic before pulling onto the wrong side of the road and blasting past. i did give the usual cheery wave and offer several good mornings. there was some laughter and just a whiff of the notion that my smooth pedalling had caught them unawares, but since i don't expect to meet up with them again, i consoled myself with that thought.
but let's face it; many of us pay our annual licence fee to british cycling (you do don't you? what; not even for the third party insurance?), and they are affiliated to the uci, an organisation seemingly obsessed with the art of rule-making. so instead of worrying whether fab's shiv breaks the four thirds rule, why hasn't someone issued a booklet explaining in great detail how to successfully overtake the laughing group without setting oneself up as an object of antagonism or worse, that of the arrogant and self-satisfied rouleur?
it's going to happen quite a lot this coming summer, and i need this problem solving very soon. of course, every now and then, up ahead is someone on skinny wheels and bendy bars who, despite superhuman effort on my part, isn't getting any closer. in those cases, i know exactly what to do...
...hang my head in shame.
posted sunday 23 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the ride of the falling rain, in the sense of being an orienteering challenge, amounts to not very much at all. even those visiting islay for the first time ever, would have a hard time getting lost during the day's riding. this is partly because there's probably always one of us with the knowledge within hailing distance to make sure the important parts of the route are carefully pointed out. secondly, islay's not that big, has more than one or two signposts and an average sense of nous will get you from debbie's to ardbeg and back without too much hassle.
the braveheart ride in october offers marginally more of a challenge, but not as much as could be the case. i lived around the area in the which the braveheart takes place for quite a number of years, so i have a vague idea of where i am in general terms, though i confess that some of the smaller backroads have me verging on disorientation. london-paris is a whole different ball-game. were it not for a lead car and some accompanying motorcyclists, i wouldn't have a dicky bird of an idea where i was. on both years that i rode the event, it was always a surprise to find myself at the end of the day, having had no idea whatsoever where i had been during the day's enjoyment.
as to getting from camberwell road to highgate, i have already visited that story.
much of my oh my goodness, where on earth am i? is of a trivial nature, since there is/was little danger of my not ending up where i was supposed to be in a timeous manner. in 2002 i spent five days in new york, a city with such a logical way of naming its grid patterned streets that it was pretty much impossible to get lost. in kansas city, i could make it from the hotel to the shopping centre and back without consternation, and in portland, i had the benefit of the city's finest guides, gradually getting a feel for the layout, even if michael robertson and i headed in the general direction of seattle while trying to find river city bicycles, which was very definitely in the opposite direction.
but despite those three isolated visits across the pond, i have never attempted to cycle from one side to the other. i know i'd get lost doing that.
four people who can't afford to emulate my complete lack of of direction are the sharp4prostate team soon to embark upon their race across america attempt next month. there are over 50 time stations, all of which the team has an obligation to report into as it passes through, and the technology involved in keeping the riders in contact with the organisation as well as keeping themselves in touch with themselves has to be a touch more sophisticated than two tin cans connected by string. even a very long piece of string.
of the four riders, the one charged with managing this technology is adam denton. so how is it going to work? 'at&t are providing our network communications needs, ranging from simple telephony between the support cars and race hq, to our links to the internet (and all of the communication opportunities this brings) . the team aims to update facebook, twitter, the team blog etc as we cross the usa using at&t's mobile broadband network (this is an hspa (high speed packet access) network so we hope it will give about 1mbps). we also plan to post pictures and possibly video (if we can find the energy!).
the idea of the ride is to successfully get the four guys from america's west coast to the east in as fast a time as possible. but the principal inspiration behind the ride is to raise as much money as possible for the prostate charity, and thus there are promotional activities endemic in the attempt. while twitter and facebook will allow outward communication from the riders and their back-up team, it also allows those of us interested in their progress to keep in touch from the outside. the latter is, admittedly, of secondary necessity; america is a big country, and it's not like popping down to the corner shop and back in terms of navigation. gps is the obvious answer.
adam denton;'we use garmin 705s, a top bit of kit for anyone ever considering riding lots of long routes in areas of the world they simply don't know. bikeroutetoaster is one of the best route planning tools and it's free (funded by donations though and I probably owe them something)'
we'll be tracking our progress using a website called endomondo. this is a free subscription sports social network that does some fairly cool mobile/gps products. one of these is live tracking allowing you to see on a map where people running the endomondo application are. the difference for us is that they are planning to post a live feed thus no need to subscribe to track us. there will be a link to this from the sharp4prostate website. (there is currently a link to the individual riders' pre-raam routes on the site.)
from our end, the tracking will be done from a mobile phone in the follow vehicle. we will also use endomondo to capture and post all of the rider stats: speed, heart rates, altitude climbed etc. This is taken from the garmin devices we (the riders) will use for navigation and because we will all (allegedly) ride to our HR zones.
if i decide there's something i fancy for my lunch, i can almost guarantee that our local supermarket will be out of stock. in similar manner, the minute you decide to rely on technology to cure all ills, it stops working; so what happens to the sharp4prostate guys if at&t's mobile broadband decides to take a holiday?
'this is actually one of the benefits of the gsm family of technologies. whenever and wherever there is a loss of connectivity to the broadband (hspa+) network, the connection will automatically fall back to the next strongest available network, so we are confident of coverage.
even on the 'fallback' gsm networks accessing twitter and facebook shouldn't be too much of a problem, since this type of data requires very low bandwidth.
for data content that runs at a higher bit rate, such as pictures, we will probably need higher bandwidth. we expect ubiquitous mobile broadband connectivity from at&ts network; however if we by chance experience a gap in coverage, we should be able to connect via an at&t hotspot.
as a last resort, we'll be able to gain connectivity via satellite from the team's rv!'
so learning how to pedal quite fast for lengthy periods of time begins to look like the easy part. it is a necessary part of fundraising nowadays that the profile is raised to the highest point that circumstances will allow, and the use of these various technologies allow sponsors and interested parties to follow their progress as the width of the united states dininishes ahead of their front wheels. no longer is it possible to nip off for a few days and expect people to believe that you did what you said you were going to. the use of endomondo (which is very easy to join and use) means that us landlubbers in the armchair can watch from afar.
with access to the foregoing, i hope to be able to bring you at least one update during the attempt in words an pictures. remember, the guys are doing this to raise much needed funds for prostate cancer research, so don't just sit in that armchair uncommitted. click through to the sharp4prostate website, and make sure you donate a pound/dollar or two.
posted saturday 22 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
1989, the giro d'italia, watching on eurosport, marco pantani, at the bottom of a climb, unships his chain. eschewing any proffered assistance from the shimano neutral service car, he gets off the bike, puts the chain back on again, and proceeds to steam roller over everybody on the climb. i believe laurent jalabert was quoted as sayng something along the lines of 'if i hadn't got out his way, marco would simply have ridden right over me'. unlikely, but an indication of the single-mindedness pantani employed to way-lay the inevitable frustration experienced due to his mechanical further down the slope. strangely, memory allows for the mental picture of the foregoing, but didn't retain whether marco won the stage or not, but it seems unlikely that anyone else would have been allowed to stand in his way.
just under a year earlier, a friend and i had taken the now defunct campbeltown - ballycastle ferry to ireland and cycled to dublin over the course of two days to watch the prologue and opening stage of the 1998 tour de france. that was the year in which chris boardman, riding stage two in the yellow jersey (he won the prologue through the streets of dublin) managed to fall off and knock himself unconscious on a wall. in the prologue, marco had arrived at the finish line more or less in last place. there was pretty much no way he was going to win the tour, even after standing on the top of the podium in milan earlier that year.
yet after a somewhat soul-destroying escape from jan ullrich on a cold, crappy stage of that very same 1998 tour, the rather diminutive italian with the shiny head, stood in a similar position in paris. that was the year of the festina crisis, when so many riders were either sent home, taken to jail, or went home of their own accord, leading to accusations not of drug-taking, but of the competition being not what it could have been.
lance was off with a sick note that year.
the following year was the beginning of the end; i remember coming home from a day photographing stuff at the islay whisky festival (about to start again tomorrow) to be told by mrs washingmachinepost that marco had been thrown off the giro: too high a haematocrit. he was leading by around five minutes at the time, and one seriously had to wonder why on earth a rider like pantani, with a comfortable lead and only a few stages to go, would consider it necessary to succumb to the likes of epo. if you've read matt rendell's book the death of marco pantani you'll already be aware of the intricacies of his descent to doom, but in the nineties i knew little of this aspect of road cycling, and considered matt's book as more character assassination than biography.
marco died on st valentine's day in 2004, probably as sad a day in cycling and in italy as coppi's death in 1960. in similar vein to the tribute paid to coppi via the cima coppi climb in each year's giro, a cima pantani was introduced in the 2004 edition; the mortirolo pass. today's stage of the giro d'italia finished in cesenatico, marco's home town. sitting at work and plying my trade via photoshop and other adobe software, i had a minimised browser in the top left corner of the imac screen tuned to la gazetta tv. when there was no-one else in the office, the volume was subtly increased, and i could listen to the all but incomprehensible italian commentary from andrea berton and marco saligari. their italian was peppered with references to marco pantani, including telephone and video interviews with i don't know who.
with recent accusations of doping from uncle phloyd, it's clear that the problem just won't go away, and in line with many others, i am intrigued as to why certain riders convicted of the misdemeanour are welcomed with open arms, while others are eternally castigated. there can be few who are unaware of the extent of pantani's involvement with drugs, not all of them performance enhancing, but it is clear that he is still held in high regard not only in italy.
i have this misapprehension of an ability to cycle uphill rather well, to which marco unwittingly added by proving it was ok to do so while in the drops. and during these moments of delusion i'd do anything to be told that i appear to be dancing on the pedals. i'm realistic and mature enough to know that this is hardly ever the case, but the mental picture of the small, shaven headed bloke on a bianchi doing so with ease is very unlikely ever to diminish, even if matt rendell was several degrees more accurate than i'd like to think. today's stage into cesenatico was won by italian manuel belletti of the colnago csf team, and the post finish line video showed a man overcome with emotion; winning a stage of a grand tour will likely do that to a man, but i'd like to think at least a portion of that emotion was engendered by the location and significance of the host town.
cyclists are people too, with the ability to inspire and disappoint in almost equal measure. fallibility is not an exclusive trait, contained within the world of mere mortals, but just for a few moments, or maybe even for the remainder of the giro, can we remember marco dancing on the pedals and defying gravity with apparent ease?
i certainly will.
posted friday 21 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
I have spent the last fortnight putting some commute miles wearing the unique creation that is the Ana Nichoola 'Curve' Jacket.
The made to measure boutique riding jacket provides a sleek contemporary look to the commuter cyclist. Whilst the hefty £159 price tag may put many riders off, rest assured the jacket is hand crafted in the company's North London base, and looks pretty natch both on and off the bike. Such is their 'boutique' feel, the jacket can be found in stock at Harrods of all places, a true bastion of British style.
It's worth noting that, as well as running some excellent events to promote cycling amongst us ladies (events such as track sessions and night rides), Ana Nichoola also recently designed the rather fetching kit worn by 'Team Mule Bar' girls.
The Curve jacket features a natty multi-panel construction, with two wide curved panels that wrap around the front of the rider. Snap buttons hold these respective panels in place, while underneath, a traditional full length zip can be found.
The fit swamped me a little, but this is likely down to two factors... I was sent a medium to test and i'm actually a UK size 8, so would probably require their smaller sized jacket, and secondly, it's not as racy or aero as the other jackets I am more used to. I'm sure this is entirely deliberate however, as the jacket isn't something I'd envisage would be suitable for full-on weekend club runs, but more for relaxed pootling across the city, or those more relaxed pace commutes. The sleeves were cut to an acceptable length, but could perhaps have been a little more generous. However they were finished with a very nice thick cuff, ensuring no cold air is going to creep in unannounced.
The style is superbly functional, utilising a waterproof polyester fabric in the construction, allowing it to endure quite a soaking (I managed to get caught in a light shower on a homeward commute, yet arrived back at Bianchista HQ, happily warm and dry). The seams are taped to ensure protection from the elements, while the fabric feels almost satin like and very soft to the touch, suprising given how robust it can be in the rain.
A useful stash pocket is placed on the front, ideal for keys or cash, while a slightly larger zippered pocket makes an appearance at the rear.
The Curve felt quite heavyweight when riding, and despite featuring a curved air vent the jacket felt well insulated. I think it would be the ideal garment for those chilly evenings, or the cooler of the four seasons and while not the ideal choice for summer, it would really come into its own during the cold winter months. With its nice tailored styling and pretty good looks, it lends itself to chilly commutes home via a visit to the pub with friends. The look of the jacket was enhanced not only by its rich red colour, but also the abundance of reflective piping along each sleeve. I felt highly visible and safe on those evening cycles, confident i'd be catching many a driver's eye (with the jacket that is-twmp).
It's not something I'd wear regularly (I prefer something cut a little racier and lighter), but I would heartily recommend it to those female commuters looking for a stylish, tailored jacket for 'urban' riding. Its appeal is in its versatility; the variety of situations in which it can be worn are numerous. I'd have no issues heading down to the local, or heading out and about, shopping on my single speed bike.
The Ana Nichoola Curve Jacket is available in Small to XL in red, royal blue, sky blue or black for £159 at ana nichoola
posted thursday 20 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
footwear is a strange animal, depending on the context in which it is worn. sort of the same as where does my lap go to when i stand up? head off for a wander down the street, and a pair of leather shoes attuned to their surroundings can be oh so appropriate, or, if a greater degree of funk is required, there's always those converse basketball shoes. the latter are actually rubbish, because they don't keep your toes cosy and they are particularly averse to rain, but the coolness factor cannot be overstated. consider if we all sat down to watch eurosport live with commentary on walking down a street. one can hardly imagine sean and david pointing out the chap with the brown leather brogues.
footwear applied to the art of road bike riding almost inhabits a different context entirely; cleated shoes are hard enough to walk in at the best of times, and can certainly not be used to creep up on someone unexpectedly. the sole has to be frighteningly stiff to enable efficient transfer of power (do i have any of that?) which rather precludes its use for running on sports day or, come to that, ambling round the local supermarket with any degree of comfort. waterproofing is almost an unknown requirement; ventilation is the name of the game (some of that unknown power will convert to heat). and fixtures and fittings need to be industrial strength lest someone should have the audacity to go for the line first, and an explosive sprintng effort needs to be brought forth.
seen in this context, it's a wonder the european union has not outlawed use of the word shoe when referring to those destined for the cyclist. a functional disorder, if you will.
there are craftsmen still living and working in obscure corners of italy, producing quality, handmade leather cycle shoes, artefacts that bring forth one or two aye, aye, aye, aye, ayes and perhaps a brace of oh la, la, la, las (exclamations used with the permission of the real peloton podcast). these are, in similar manner to a curly hetchins, not entirely the province of the gonzo racing cyclist. but at the other end of the footwear spectrum are highly technical road shoes that hide from no-one just exactly what their intentions are; soles with the elasticity of a forth railway bridge girder, and a closure system that would have defeated houdini.
the suplest street racing carbon shoes inhabit the latter space.
now i may have coloured the landscape rather more black and white than is truly the case, for i do not wish to imply that the suplest carbon shoes have the comfort factor of a bed of nails; in fact, conversely, they are quite a distance from that particular space. the shoes can be had with either three velcro straps for safety of closure, or in the case of those tested, two velcro straps and a main ratcheted version. thus the ratchet makes the initial tension on the foot, and fine tuning is accomplished via the two forward velcros. what makes these shoes a bit different from the norm is the material occupying that other than the sole. suplest describe it as a high-end micro-fibre upper, but it rather closely resembles carbon fibre matting without the impregnated resin.
i am nowhere near competent enough in the area of materials science to know how closely the two are cousins, but it's a one piece fabric that looks very much like carbon fibre matting, and gives the impression of being much stronger than i am. the sole is quite definitely carbon fibre, with a large weave clearly visible through the clearcoat. it doesn't bend. there are the three drillings to allow fixing of the majority of modern pedal cleat systems (i tested with mavic pedals)
foot space at the front is expansive; these are, relatively speaking, a wide fitting. if you have difficulty finding cycling footwear to enclose your wide feet, these could conceivably be those. it's a rigid square toe, but the rest of the matting is soft, flexible and comfortable. the interior constitutes an anatomic footbed that helped hold my feet steady when huge power was unleashed (a guy can dream can't he?) adding to the decor, and possibly contributing nothing to the structural qualities of the shoe are some black shiny bits, contrasted by thick white lining, a suplest logo, with the brand and location around both sides of the heel area. this constitues the bulk of my problem with these shoes, in that, instead of looking like a svelte pair of carbon shoes, they look like a cross between a football boot and a monochrome advertising hoarding.
one does have to ask why?
the weight is a mere 330g; that's eleven ounces in old money, a heft that is going to add very little to anyone's hardship. with such a stiff sole, power transfer was exemplary. tension the ratchet, pull the velcro tight and give it some welly; all that will happen is that the bicycle will move forward very quickly. there is no untoward movement that would bring the word flex to mind. similarly, clipping in and out can be achieved with comfortable ease. the contoured footbeds encourage this feeling of comfort, while the spacious width up front and upper material ventilation obviates any degree of overheating, at least as far as the current weather on islay would describe.
new shoes always hurt; no matter how well they fit, and how comfortable they feel when tried on in the shop, it's a foregone conclusion that at some point in the opening gambit, they will hurt your feet somewhere. these are no exception, but the hurty bit has rather mitigated against participating in what they were apparently designed to do best. where the upper meets the perforated tongue, just before the ratchet strap, the upper material is of a substantial thickness relative to the rest of the upper. due to the curve at this point, i found it digging just below my inner ankle bone on both feet. the discomfort prevented my standing up to wallop up the occasional incline.
i am not naive enough not to accept that this would likely lessen through extended use, but during the time that i had these on test, comfort didn't improve. just so's you know.
if the peloton judges its brethren by its footwear, then these have a head start. aggressive may not be an adjective normally applied to something as docile as footwear, but if i were heading towards a finish line in the company of cavendish, pettachi, greipel and mr boonen, there would be a unanimous cry of no, no, - after you. the suplest streets would put the fear of death into anyone with sprinter written in their job description; whether you find this to be an attractive portent is entirely up to you.
allowing for the (temporal) discomfort, functionally the suplest street racing carbons are up there with the world's finest. however, i would respectfully suggest that the people in berne, switzerland, from where suplest originate, lose the stripey stuff and simplify the look of their shoes. of course, those are purely cosmetic factors, so i checked just how often i looked down at my feet while pedalling; not very often. maybe i'm making mountains out of molehills. however, the rest of the velo club peloton were similarly unimpressed with the visual aspect of the shoes, so it's not just me.
if you're paying £240 for a pair of shoes, you want them to be amongst the best in the world. that box is comfortably ticked by the suplest street carbons, but it would also be nice if they looked like the best in the world.
posted wednesday 19 may 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................