around the mid-nineties, something which may have co-incided with full page advertisements in the sunday magazines, and one or two in the daily papers, several folks around here bought bicycles. or, to qualify that, they bought bicycle shaped objects. the reason, as some of you may have already guessed, was that old chestnut: fitness. let's face it, how could it fail? islay is relatively flat, bowmore main street notwithstanding; all the bumpy bits are round the outside. couple that with the fact that these things had suspension and a whole clump more gears than the car, so likely these bso would all but pedal themselves. any extraneous energy expenditure would be the very thing to remove a few unwanted pounds. heck, they could perhaps have an extra packet of crisps on saturdays, just to maintain that calorific status quo.
around that very time, i had more than one or two of these machines brought to me, still boxed, to assemble. what the sellers may not have pointed out, unless in the very small print, was the similarity between these lumps of metal and a neutron star; a weight difficult to relate to the physical size of the object. i do remember straining my back somewhat, simply attempting to extricate the unassembled bicycle from its restraining cardboard. if any of these machines ever made it as far as a road, they were doubtless returned to the shed very soon after, where, it seems very likely, they still reside. it seems the idea could only be followed through to the extent of acquiring a bicycle; any further steps on the path to health and happiness fell quickly by the wayside.
these all but forgotten velocipedes may invoke the odd feeling of guilt when trying to pull the lawnmower away from that black and decker cable at the back of the shed, but if that's the case, the emotion is short-lived. and i would imagine it is at least a proportion of these forgotten bicycles that form the majority of the some 850,000 unused bicycles possessed by scotland's population. interestingly, cycle scotland, for 'tis they who allude to the aforementioned resting bicycles, figure that a goodly amount of those are in reasonable nick, perhaps only requiring minor adjustments and repairs to make them roadworthy yet again, or even for the first time in their lives.
statistics were hardly born to be the most enervating of percentages, but delve further into scottish cycling's pronouncements, more than one-third of scots bike owners cycle every week, and 60 percent of those own more than one bike. of course, i, and subsequently you, have absolutely no idea what sort of numbers we are here talking about. scotland's population is around the five million mark, but cycling scotland have either been remiss or diplomatic in relating their survey's findings; one third of of scots bike owners gives no indication of just how many that involves. so 60 percent of a number we don't know means, quite honestly, bugger all.
if this hasn't undermined a futile exercise to a pointless degree, the emperor's new clothes are further compounded by the news that over half of the scots surveyed believed cycling to be an ideal way to improve health and lifestyle. on a recent damp walk down buchanan street in glasgow, i was recruited to partake in a survey regarding private health insurance, something i find it difficult to argue against, but something i am unlikely to make use of due to insufficient funds. agreeing that cycling is a healthy activity hardly commits the surveyee to take any steps or pedal strokes towards including it in their weekly rota.
however, it gives me great pleasure to ignore my own misgivings and point out that those in the highlands and islands (that's me) topped the regular usage poll, with a comforting but ultimately meaningless 54 percent. i say meaningless because if the number is correct, then the scottish government should be falling over itself to provide appropriate facilities for this burgeoning number. but they're not.
i have also used the word meaningless because i have no idea who it is they asked. i've been involved in the cycling industry in one way or another for over twenty years, and never once have i even been asked by a policeman to move my bicycle to somewhere less intrusive. not once have i been officially queried about my cycle use, whether i have more than one bicycle, whether i cycle to work, how many miles a week i ride, and a quick check with close acquaintances revealed that neither had any of them. however, i was asked recently by telephone, whether i was aware of the scottish government's national scheme to promote healthy activity amongst the country's population. which i wasn't, and to be quite honest, that's still the case. but nobody has ever asked me bicycle questions.
i'm sure that my cynicism is, to some degree, misplaced, and poking fun at the statistics in this way could be seen as a cheap shot at filling a few pixels on a thursday evening. but when cycling scotland's chief executive, ian aitken rounds off the numbers by stating; with so many unused bikes in scottish households, there is a real opportunity to mobilise people and get scotland moving. bike week (starts saturday 19th) is an ideal time to put these under-used bikes to good use... i do not disagree with mr aitken's sentiments, but i'd be very happy to hear just how he plans to carry out this mobilisation. it is my experience that unused bikes in sheds and garages are more than likely to stay there; the existence of a puny national bike week is very unlikely to change that.
relating his comments to a necessary change in the collective mindset, the very same mr aitken said "many people get in their cars and pop to the shops or drive to work without giving it a second thought, yet hopping on a bike could get you there faster, cheaper and give you a healthy boost along the way.". i have some news for mr aitken, since the obvious seems to have bypassed him; nobody gives a stuff. his comments are perfectly true, but he's going to have to do a bit better than making them on the cycling scotland website, for what percentage (since he's into statistics in a big way) of the scottish motoring public sit down of an evening, having driven a few miles home from work after collecting the shopping, and immediately point their web browsers at cyclingscotland.org?
did i say that out loud?
posted thursday 17 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
having a book written about your life must be a flattering affair, always supposing the contents are generally favourable. because if an author has taken the trouble, and the publishers happy to print, we can only assume that the life led has been seen as worthy of tribute for posterity. not that it's happened to me, and nor is it ever likely to, but it must be a humbling experience, though i refer the reader to my original remark that one would hope nice things are being said.
though 'tis only a slight variation on the word, an autobiography changes everything, because not only does the author feel that his/her exploits are worth recording in print, but has presumably spent considerable time convincing a publisher that such is the case. i should explain that i am concerning myself with the cycling fraternity here; while i have little doubt that similar strictures would apply to other walks of life, judging by the shelves in waterstones, and the ages of some of the authors, dollar/pound signs are being viewed rather than that of any assumed literary contribution.
in short, i am ascribing a substantial degree of ego on behalf of the autobiographer, for even if one's exploits are warranted in print, there must surely be a sufficient level of self-confidence to carry through with many a sequential page.
laurent fignon will forever be more famous for losing the 1989 tour de france by eight seconds than for having won the tour at his first attempt, and followed it with a second in 1984. a quote decorates the back cover of this translation by william fotheringham: 'ah, i remember you: you're the guy who lost the tour de france by eight seconds!' 'no monsieur, i'm the guy who won it twice.'
laurent fignon has, on the basis of this reading, quite a substantial ego, but spends much of the book attempting to convince the reader that it is anything but. chapter one, rather dramatically, starts with those eight seconds (the exact title of the chapter); many of the remaining 36 chapters seek to overshadow that memory, a hard thing to do when the spectre of that tour loss seems to haunt fignon at every pedal stroke. significantly, that is not the only loss that fills the fignon psyche.
having enjoyed the 1982 giro d'italia, fignon returned in 1984 as reigning tour champion, and keen to add the pink jersey to his collection, but a cunning plot by the organisers, and a helicopter during the time trial conspired to make sure that francesco moser would wear pink in milan. according to fignon, he was poised to wrest the jersey from moser during the stelvio stage of that year's giro. citing poor weather and the likelihood of snow, the organisers re-routed the stage, cutting out the climb which was to have been fignon's coup de grace. the race came down to the final day's time trial, during which moser took well over two minutes out of fignon's time. according to the frenchman, during the contre la montre, the tv helicopter put paid to a race winning time;
...the pilot of the helicopter with the television cameras was particularly keen to do his job to the best of his ability by coming as close as he could to get pictures of me, even though he was almost mowing the number off my back with his rotor-blades.
'obviously, the turbulence he caused pushed enough wind at me to slow me down a fair bit.'
drawing on anecdotes from the biographies of others, a degree of insouciance on the part of race organisers to favour the home boy is not entirely unknown, so maybe, just maybe, i judge fignon too harshly. however, returning to those eight seconds; 'he was using a very special bike equipped with handlebar extensions with elbow rests... totally revolutionary but also strictly against the rules.' in the aftermath of this exceptionally narrow defeat, it seems that fignon's ego would not allow him to believe he could have been beaten. it couldn't just have been any superiority on the part of greg lemond; there must have been other demons at play.
it is hard for any professional cyclist, particularly within the last three decades, to write convincingly without at least paying lip service to the 'd' word, and here, on page 174 is an admission that almost passes under the radar. generally, aside from the acceptance of amphetamine use within the pro ranks, fignon claims either indifference or ignorance, but with reference to having been caught for illegal drug use at liege-bastogne-liege, a charge denied, fignon states the following; 'i would never have dreamed of taking a drug that might be detected on the day of a race'
to perform at this level must take a great deal of self belief, a state of mind that is likely just as fragile as it is strong, therefore much of what i take to be unadorned french ego at work, could just as easily be supreme self confidence. if you are able to live with phrases such as 'i felt strong and the pedals spun easily. i wasn't surprised to win the stage' coupled with 'hearing me come out with statements like this, a lot of people felt that i had become big headed. that was ridiculous.', there is a lot to be enjoyed in this book.
i, for one, was of the impression that fignon was referred to as the professor because of an advanced degree of further education. this assumption turns out to be false. however, one of his more astute business decisions, made with his ds, cyrille guimard, was to own the team and operate it on behalf of the sponsor. this is a format that still successfully exists to this day, but when fignon started his professional career, the sponsor was also the owner. for this alone, i should imagine a great number of cyclists and directeurs sportif are eternally grateful.
despite being written in 2009, and published in france as nous etions jeunes et insouciants the book concerns itself only with fignon's career and his subsequent business career which included the purchase of the paris-nice race. there is no mention of his current serious ilness. even in the latter chapters, having to subsequently to sell paris-nice to aso was, according to him, entirely due to shady dealings on behalf of amaury sports, who were reputedly put out that fignon had acquired the race in the first place. according to laurent, the squeeze was put on sponsors and stage villages alike to make life difficult both organisationally and financially.
if i had to condense this to one of those digested reads, it would likely appear as they were all out to get me.. that however, would be to devalue not only fignon's more than competent writing skills, but also the seamless translation of william fotheringham, for which we should be eternally grateful.
laurent fignon is undoubtedly one of the greats of the sport, and his contribution should never be undervalued. since none of us are him, it's all too easy to castigate the man as an egotist, in constant need of its massaging, with a bit of a paranoid streak. but if that is really fignon the man, then this is a valued testament. as a committed fan of the sport, you owe it to your bookcase to fill one of those blank slots with this volume.
posted wednesday 16 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
lets just assume that at sometime in the recent past i gave you all a questionnaire, and in that mythical piece of paper, i had asked you to describe your ideal racing bike. bearing in mind that this is entirely hypothetical, i'm obviously making up the answers, so if you disagree with any of the following, just consider that before you pipe up with a sudden burst of argumentation.
the prospective answers, now that we're all in this make-believe together, would likely consist of most of the following: drop bars, light carbon frame, possibly light carbon wheels, but certainly something akin to those ksyriums, tubular tyres (remember, this is not real, so there's a not real mavic car following in case we puncture) and either eleven speed campagnolo or the shimano stuff with the battery. allowing for any close variation on such themes, i think i've probably covered the bulk of those multiple choice answers.
what would probably not feature in this pretend piece of paper is any variation on a folding bike, a sturmey archer three-speed hub, enclosed chain, sprung brooks saddle, panniers, wicker basket on the front, and those handlebars that sweep back towards your knees. yet the truth does not bear out the hypothesis, for i saw bicycles with virtually all of the preceding features sprinting into the lead on more than one occasion not just a few metres from look mum no hands last wednesday.
currently the racing season is midway through the tour de suisse, dramatically featuring mark cavendish inspecting the tarmac at the end of today's stage. the difference between the professional end of the sport and the commuting end is that the former know they are racing each other; that's what they're paid for, and it likely states as much in their contracts. however, get yourself out of bed in the morning, grab a quick but edifyingly healthy and nutritional breakfast over the morning paper, before extricating the commuting cycle from beneath a pile of sweaters that definitely weren't there in the hall last night and head off towards the daily graft.
there are bound to be days when this sequence suffers the odd hiccup, and progress is not quite as smooth as the written script. in these cases, it may be necessary to wend a quicker way through the peloton without recourse to respecting any egos at work in those cast by the wayside. however, allowing for the law of averages to work its statistical mechanics, this should only affect a miniscule percentage of commuters on any given day. so what is it that presses supposedly normal and sedate persons, for whom the bicycle is ostensibly a means to an end, to whizz past their compatriots with such zest and glee? why does the average civilian still have an overabundance of the competitive gene, molecules that, very much against the activity of any other part of their bodies, seems to work hardest during the morning commute?
initially, i wasn't too sure just what it was that i was observing; we are not all of one speed, nor are we all astride machines that gilde through traffic with the greatest of ease, so a disparity in forward motion professes nothing untoward. however, continued observation led to the conclusion that there was a surfeit of those with unrestrained competition beneath those conservative exteriors. on a minor note, while i'm here, it seems interesting that while so many cycle clothing companies spend r & d pennies on dressing the commuter in sartorial elegance, there is still a substantial minority intent on imitating refugees from the peloton.
so where does this competitiveness come from, and where is its saving grace? for as implicitly implied above, professional racing cyclists are aware of whom they require to outsprint, and just exactly why that is necessary. quite where the bragging rights reside in overtaking a middle aged bank manager on a brompton, when he is blissfully unaware that there is any hint of competition, i cannot begin to comprehend. david attenborough could likely manage an entire episode investigating the rituals at play along theobalds road, something more than likely enacted throughout the length and breadth of commutersville.
next time i bump into john herety or dave brailsford, i'm going to suggest that they spend their early mornings sat at the window of look mum no hands with a sheaf of ready contracts stuffed in a musette. perhaps we can look forward to a brit on that parisian podium in the next decade after all.
maybe in a nice pinstripe suit.
posted tuesday 15 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
most of us, in our day to day lives as professional, honed athletes, would likely never consider purchasing a folding bicycle. we have an army of soigneurs, mechanics and directeurs sportif to attend to our every whim, and should anything untoward happen to that featherlight carbon, a man with the spanner is ready, able and willing to leap from the back seat of a following car to ensure the minimum of interruption. but the cosseted life of the professional doesn't last for ever, and one of these days, we may have to return to the humdrum of the rat race occupied by those who currently hang upon our every result.
and when that happens, doubtless an office will beckon. and that office will be within the congestion charge, or several hundred metres away from the nearest tube station. there's every likelihood we will have to get there unaided, and with a minimum of fuss.
it's what the folding bicycle was invented for, and when our life on the planet revolves not around training, racing and having that massage before dinner, commuting will be imposed from a great height. and we will want/need a folding bicycle. could it be that, considering our previous life at the bleeding edge, a dahon speed pro tt could be the very method of transport appropriate to our needs?
that is more than likely the case, but perhaps more to the point, considering for some of us, the congestion charge means buying a packet of rennies, how well does a machine such as the mango hued speed pro cope with island life. are cows, sheep, tractors and cattle grids its very bedfellows?
posted monday 14 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm not a fan of formula one motor racing; i never watch it, and i'm not sure that i know who's driving a what these days. but i have picked out various criticisms through my perusing of the sports section in my daily newspaper, that would infer that not a lot of racing goes on these days. apparently if you make it to the front at the first corner, the safety requirements of most of today's circuits rather mitigate against a lot of overtaking, thus a high speed procession is often the best that can be hoped for.
in similar fashion, that's the way several years of tour de france played out. as soon as larry nabbed yellow, everyone else started to protect the position they held, by cycling as defensively as possible. following wheels was often the order of the week. thus, the armchair critic could have a field day. but remember my diatribe at the start of the classics? cobbles, mud, rain, freezing cold; that's what defines it all, and don't we just love it? then on monday morning the commute to work brings endless moaning about the cold, the wind, the rain and the state of the roads.
so similarly goes our criticism of the top places on gc cycling to maintain their placing till the end. it's a well worn phrase that nobody remembers other than the podium at any of the grand tours, so why would the guy in third risk losing that place by trying a suicide bid near the mountain top? thus we all look forward to the mountain top finishes, but when the day arrives, pretty much nothing changes; it's the expectation rather than the actuality. despite being on tenterhooks during this year's giro, and not really knowing who would top in milan, those grand ascents of the stelvio, the mortirolo and the monte zoncolan didn't provide the pain, suffering and bids for glory that formed part of the pundits' prognostications.
yet a curious thing happened on the ascent of alpe d'huez, the penultimate scrabbling for positions in the dauphine libere. the riders at the front all raced each other all the way up the 21 hairpins.
with radioshack's brajkovic leading bertie by around 1.41, the latter was more than keen to dispense with the man in yellow on the lower slopes, with an eye on reducing that deficit. except when you're wearing a yellow jersey, you really don't want to lose it in such a short distance. add in szmyd of liquigas, and jerome coppel of saur-sojasun, the former around six minutes down but fancying a stage win, and the latter, riding for a pro continental team and keen to put one over on the big boys, and it was chase-capture-breakaway all the way to the top.
given that contador has a bigger race starting on july 3rd, this was the ideal training for dropping combatants on roads that go upwards, yet he also chased down every move that szmyd made, (or anyone else for that matter) despite his being no threat to bertie's podium place. the entire affair was fabulous, both anthony mccrossan and magnus backstedt commentating on eurosport were in agreement that they had not seen racing like it at this level for many a long year. could it be that this will bring forth a new age in cycle racing, one that we can all enjoy for three weeks in july? or will defensiveness return in france?
one minor disappointment regarding eurosport's coverage of the stage was their decision to put live coverage only on eurosport hd or on-line. not all of us have an hd box, nor necessarily want one, and cheapskate that i am, i baulk at the notion of paying £3.99 to watch one stage, when i'm already paying a substantial amount for satellite in the first place. eurosport in the uk have two regular channels, and after covering the race throughout the week, it seemed a poor and strange choice to interrupt the cycling when i'm sure whatever replaced it could just as easily have been popped onto hd and inconvenienced someone else.
so there you go; joy and moaning in one post. some people are never satisfied.
posted sunday 13 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
throughout society worldwide, humanity consists of minorities and majorities, both silent and vocal in disproportionate amounts. displacement theory points to a minority in one area being substantial enough to be a majority in another, though in the grand scheme of things, this fact amounts to not a very large collection of ball bearings. even with the relatively small population of islay, four of us with a penchant for cycling relates to an even smaller collection of bearings, but by virtue of being somewhat of a visible and occasionally vocal minority, there is an underpinning of influence that allows us to punch above our collective weight. sometimes.
with the seeming never ending increase in the spread of motorised traffic in britain's cities, however illogical, for an increasing percentage of those who have to commute to work, the bicycle has become the mode du jour. the early adopters of this alternative form of transport are the ones who are now reaping the benefits of their perspicacity; snowballing numbers on a wide variety of cycles can now be observed along the principal arteries of commutingness in london, making use of admittedly not perfect, but better than nothing cycle lanes, along with those boxes ahead of the lights to safeguard from the 0-60 crowd.
increasing numbers in any walk of life (did you see what i did there?) require to be catered for; as far as the cycling is concerned, there are more than just a few more options in the commute clothing scene, along with an ever increasing variety of bicycles designed for the purpose, including those which fold. the benefits of cycling vis-a-vis one's green credentials, along with the incorporated weight-loss programme, have been widely publicised on television and in press other than just the minority cycling publications. expend more energy than you ingest, and simple physics dictates that weight will not only not increase, but positively decline, while improving one's general fitness and wellbeing. however, there are obviously practical limits to the foregoing, and in order to maintain this fitness and wellbeing, any fuel stop along the commuting flightpath should allow for an appropriate repast, whether of the snack or substantial meal variety, and that's sort of where the minority comes a bit unstuck.
or at least, it did at one time.
i know not of such commuting matters, for i live in a commute-free environment; even at what would pass for peak-time, traffic of any description on islay would be minimal by pretty much anyone's standards. however, it was successfully pointed out to me during my brief sojourn to the capital city, that the majority of inning and outing by bicycle takes place along the old street-clerkenwell road-theobalds road string of tarmac. accepting this as an immutable fact (these roads, all conjoined, lead to oxford street, and ultimately oxford circus), would make the decision as to a likely location for an appropriate fuel stop, somewhat of a less onerous task. and that's exactly what happened; twice.
situated at 49 old street, look mum no hands has now been open for around eight weeks, and its early opening hours made it my initial target for breakfast after alighting from a glasgow central scotrail sleeper that arrived at euston almost 45 minutes early. a brisk walk prior to breakfast comes highly recommended, though in this case it was sort of compulsory, since old street is a lot further than the two inches indicated on my ipod map. it may just be a problem that affects me, but when you're the hick from the sticks in the big city, there's a certain retrenchment that makes me very insular. out of my comfort zone, so to speak. therefore feeling slightly out of sorts, and more than a bit tired, the welcome i received straight off the street at lmnh, was more than enough to dispel any feelings of estrangement. even the guy washing the windows said hi.
lmnh is accessed straight off the old street pavement through a small open courtyard with a bike rack at the back, and a couple of outdoor tables. apparently it's original purpose was as a post office, though the previous residents were also in the cafe business. having arrived at opening time, as is the case in almost any catering establishment, preparations for the day ahead were just gaining impetus, and there was little filling the cake and bun display case. but before i could ask what would be likely to occupy its shelves, a fabulous muesli was offered with the option of banana and strawberries on top doused with a liberal amount of soya milk, accompanying my already ordered soya cappuccino. despite my being on foot, rather than two wheels, this was the very breakfast to fill a sportwool stomach.
the decor is wholly appropriate for the cafe's intended purpose; the high windows allow for a wide sill that is home to several bikes of the sit up and beg variety. in front of this is a cafe length coffee sill at which the great and the good can sit on tall stools, supping their espressos and munching sticky buns, or a bowl of that state of the art muesli. the remainder of the floorspace is occupied by reasonably substantial wooden tables and chairs, though there is a comfy cushion range against the far wall.
look mum no hands has idiosyncratically combined the food fare with that of a cycle workshop which sits adjacent to, but separate from the food counter. (the cycling influence is immediately apparent to the connoisseur, in the shape of a faema coffee machine atop the counter.) while i conversed with sam and matthew over coffee, there were calls to collect repaired bikes, and the dropping off of those in need. 'the cafe has taken off really well' said mechanic sam humpheson'but we always figured that the workshop would take a bit longer to gain recognition. it's slowly getting there though'
the floor is wooden parquet on which both matt harper and sam said they spent more time and money than they'd originally intended, sanding and varnishing into shape. 'then we let a whole load of cyclists walk all over it in cleated shoes.' it's a remarkably relaxed place in which to spend more than a few passing minutes. the afternoon was to feature the time-trial stage of the dauphine displayed on a large screen via a projector bolted to the ceiling, and it's also possible to book the establishment for an evening of cycling togetherness on behalf of whichever cycle group/club you belong to.
it might seem an indiosyncratic step too far to open a cafe specifically geared towards cyclists, particularly in view of the club drum-ups that are part of scottish cycling history, as well as the propensity for weekend club runs to descend upon any unsuspecting tearoom or cafe in the wilds to steadfastly request beans on toast and a mug of tea. however, as i alluded at the start, there are minorities and majorities, both of which can exist within a single entity, and the majority of london's cycle commuters seem to have been longing for just such provision as offered at look mum no hands. sadly, it's just a few kilometres too far for an islay resident, but then we have debbie's to fill that gap in our minority needs.
there's a note pinned to the wall in the toilet that says; dear look mum no hands, wanted to welcome you warmly to the neighbourhood. we were lacking a nice-looking place like this in the area. people watching from the window will be much more fun now. thanks.
so, you may be wondering, if debbie's is a mere 15km from home, why would i take a boat, bus and train several hundred kilometres south just to get a coffee? the answer, perhaps rather prejudicially, is a mere number of footsteps in the direction of oxford circus. a few days after look mum no hands opened its doors to the wealth of london's cyclists, rapha did a similar thing.
well, sort of.
known within rapha parlance as a pop up, rapha's cycle club is situated at 146-148 clerkenwell road and really the only things it has in common with lmnh is that it too sells a wonderful cup of coffee and is targeted at cyclists. the pop-up tag is perhaps easily explainable; the cycle club will cease to exist in london town on 31st july, though another one will pop-up in new york city on july 3rd. thus, eager to experience what will likely become a recurring rapha theme throughout the world in coming years before it gets even further away (calmac do not sail to new york), i figured i'd nip down for a day, kill two stones with one bird, and visit these valuable assets to all walks of cyclist (did you see what i did again?).
the decor in rapha's place is a tad more considered than that along the road, but then rapha have a corporate look to consider and replicate; it maintains an identity. the well-known logo decorates a large proportion of the two street looking windows: greeting visitors to the club is a large plaque decorated with a graeme fife quote. the pain and suffering has begun before setting foot indoors. a huge, long, black table surrounded by small black stools dominates the ample floor space, and shop copies of many of rapha's salubrious publications lie upon the table's surface, accompanied by bound copies of la gazzetta and l'equipe. there's a rack on the far side containing cycle magazines from the four corners, looked upon by a rapha condor sharp team bike, resplendent with paul smith stripes on the inner fork leg.
facing the table from the left side is a plain black wall with two very large flat panel sharp televisions, one showing a looped slide show of team photos. follow your feet towards the rapha h-van near the back, and you become aware of a small, but representative selection of rapha clothing, some of it exclusive to the cycle club. there's a shop counter from which to purchase any of the aforesaid items, while in the corner to the left of the voiture balai is the coffee and food. the decor is plain and understated, in blacks, whites and grey. framed dan sharp photos from last year's giro adorn one wall.
i have often had cause to point out to rapha's ceo, simon mottram, that he has some of the finest staff in his employ; easy to talk to, willing to help, and generally good fun. despite the temporary nature of the cycle club, the circle remains unbroken. the welcome received on entering would have convinced the innocent bystander that i had gone to school with these guys.
if breakfast at look mum no hands is unsurpassed, lunch at the pop-up was hard on its heels. the very nature of this space is geared less towards actual catering than it is that of a meeting place for cyclists. martin casson, photographer and writer, featured in the current issue of the ride journal, was holding a lengthy meeting with a colleague at one end of the table, while another was in progress at the other end. this trend continued throughout the time i was there. can you spend an entire afternoon in such a place? well, i met with three friends of mine while i was there, and we watched the time-trial stage of the dauphine on one of the big screens while indulging in coffees and fizzy drinks. in fact, prior to the live broadcast, stuart willingly replayed the previous day's stage recorded on a sky+ box. in view of this, and the club's ambience, yes, it is entirely possible to spend an afternoon in situ. it's a weird notion not to be moved on at froth's end; in fact staying put is positively encouraged.
even more encouraging for the visiting or passing cyclist, in the corner of the window are two boxes featuring slots on the front in which the wheel of a bicycle may be placed, obviating the need for the external security that has become second nature to cyclists in the city. simon mottram told me the welcome extended to visitors was paramount, and that started by giving them somewhere to park their bikes. it was intimated by a third party recently that the proximity of the club to rapha stockists, condor cycles (just round the corner in grays inn road) would surely cannibalise the latter's sales of rapha clothing. the staff told me that anyone asking for an item not carried in the club, would be directed to condor, and apparently sales have not been harmed one iota.
but i was here for a coffee; rapha have contracted nude to supply their proprietary brand, available in every variation of designer styles. those envied and admired white logo'd espresso cups were in evidence, but what may have been missed from the description, is that the white saucer accompanying your order has a black sprocket design on which the cup sits; that inherent rapha attention to detail.
downstairs were the vestiges of the recent fausto coppi exhibition minus the bikes (simon mottram offered to show them to me, but too much talking on my part ruined the moment). the exhibition space runs the full length of the club's basement, well lit and providing a marvellous space in which to describe the history of the sport. in this manner, the rapha club differs from lmnh; while it has no intention of excluding the average commuter, it serves as much to celebrate the history of the sport of cycling. judging from some of those inhabiting the space during my visit, there may well have been a few converts while contador slumped to eighth in the dauphine time trial. its final month of existence will see an exhibition concerning the history of the tour de france, with a substantial range of exciting bikes and paraphernalia.
back upstairs, one of rapha's three citroen h-vans has been dragged into use as a changing room; one of the others is on its way to new york in time for their pop-up, and the third has been converted to a mobile coffee facility. the question had to be asked; in light of the club's popularity and success in such a short space of time, had rapha considered making it a permanent feature of clerkenwell road? simon mottram: 'afraid not. more cities next year though...'
look mum no hands, however, is there to stay, and despite no exhibition, they are likely to broadcast every stage of the tour de france during july. then there's the vuelta. and you can get your bike fettled while you watch.
posted saturday 12 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have never considered spain to be a cycling country. as a bald statement, that probably seems either a bit strange, or a target that will suffer big time from arrows of discontent aimed at it. taking into account the five years of demolition derby performed at the front of the tour de france by miguel indurain, the contribution to the sport made by pedro delgado, the now slightly doubtful pleasure of watching alessandro valverde and the awkward looking climbing position of fernando escartin, i think it likely that the opposite argument could be levelled without much hesitation or concern.
and surely the fact that one of only three grand tours in the whole world is held across the iberian peninsula has to count for something?
i suppose you'll now expect me to defend my position and in any number of wily ways, disambiguate my initial argument. well, no, not really. when it suits me, i can invoke the ambiguity of the term 'cycling'; in this case, it suits me just fine. that is not to say that my polemic is not wide of the mark; while i am responsible now for my own education, i cannot deny that there are gaping holes in its firmament. this could well be one of those holes. however, i will qualify my opening statement by pointing out that spain does not strike me as a country in which the bicycle is at, or near, the centre of its culture. i find it hard to mentally picture scores of spanish youth astride their fixies, cheerfully wending their way through the allegedly notorious vehicular traffic of either madrid or barcelona of a sunny summer's evening, with the express intent of enjoying friendly banter and endless cappuccinos around a kerbside table.
the latter colourful scenario is more likely associated with that of italy. indeed not so very long ago, i was sent a few photographs of single gear steel colnagos with flat bars and platform pedals leaning casually against a handily placed lamp post adjacent to one such trattoria. i have no difficulty in associating this form of cycling with that of italia. but, before any indignant spaniards feel need to vent their e-mail wrath in my direction, let me just say that i may just have had cause to have my opinion diverted in the direction of the contrary.
designed in barcelona, but subsequently constructed in neighbouring portugal, muxu clothing has a basque inspired name pronounced moo-shoe, a piece of information that will keep you one step ahead of those who ask for moox-oo. the affinities with cafe society and sitting en masse around small wooden tables may well have alerted you that muxu does not inhabit the bibshorts and lycra part of the retail therapy scenario. and you would be correct. sent in the welcome direction of washingmachinepost cottage were a pair of threequarter cotton shorts, a rather natty cotton short sleeved shirt, a pique polo shirt, a pair of short socks and a cap bearing a perforated centre stripe.
i have had cause to point out my total lack of sartorial excellence on more than one occasion in previous articles, but i fear you may have to be relatives of wurzel gummage for muxu clothing not to achieve more than the desired effect. both the shirts give their cycling heritage away by virtue of a compact and bijou side-zipped rear pocket, a receptacle that belies its size by storing more than expected. there's even an internal gap through which to thread that ipod headphone cable.
cafe society indeed.
worn in context but infiltrating areas generally out of context, the cyclist is subtly catered for in the most practical ways; the shirts have dropped tails and shorter fronts, while the shorts comply in reverse by sitting lower front and higher back. both style and practicality in three packages. unlike what may be termed competing products, the muxu shirts are baggy rather than race-fit; not so baggy that one has cause to question their aerodynamic influence, but a degree of casual that is often forgotten in the shadow of a steel frame. both shirts have been worn regularly on and off the bicycle and whatever street cred i may have acquired over the years may even have been enhanced. and it's worth mentioning at this stage that the colouring of all the clothing is impeccable, an area that often plays a distant second fiddle when casual comes to town.
if the shirts have impressive written all over them, that of the threequarter shorts would have a capital i if i used such typographic niceties. these almost felt like those moleskin style breeches that one has only heard of, but never placed a leg inside. when it comes to threequarter shorts, the bottom of the leg seems to provide a challenge for the majority of designers; some are more successfully implemented than others. the muxu shorts are amongst the best yet. fussy is obviously not a word derived from spanish, since these are commendably plain with four and a half pockets (there's a small pump type pocket inhabiting the outboard area on one of the larger front pockets), freedom at the knees, good length and a relaxed fit that complements that of the shirts. and the all-important comfort zone where comfort zones are most needed. if i'm hypercritical, i'd point the finger at the sizing: i generally reckon to inhabit a 30" waist, the size sent for review, but a size that proved to be a smidgeon on the large side. recent exertions may have slightly trimmed this honed, athletic profile, but i'm more inclined to lean on a slight oversizing. i'm not dissing muxu in this, simply mentioning that it may be worth trying before buying, if that's at all possible.
the cap continues this overall relaxed muxu demeanour by the employment of a softer than usual cotton, the absence of a plastic half-moon inside the peak, and a ventilated polyester strip from front to back to keep the cool, cool. the other end of the athlete keeps miles away from big tex territory; the socks are short. in fact shorter than short, a position that is regularly alien to me, and one that did take a bit of getting used to, though purely in aesthetic terms. merino plays its 60 percent part in these, while a panel at the rear has had a woven reflective strip incorporated that you would only know was there if you were in a following car at night. it's a style i'd need to get used to, but there are worse crosses to bear near the pedals.
i have no knowledge of muxu's prior history or period of gestation, but it's very comforting to note that every consideration taken has allowed for a very impressive debut, in a market that is rapidly becoming very well populated, if not just a touch crowded. differentiation midst the competition can be a hard act to follow; muxu do it very well. and yet another fine logo added to the cycling panoply.
muxu ride threequarter shorts sell for £70 in either camel or chocolate and from 30" to 36"; the muxu ride shirt sells in blue and stone, from small to xl also for £70; the muxu pique polo shirt reaches from small to xl in a colour described as chocolate by muxu but which i'd figure is closer to mulberry. it costs £60. the cap is black and costs £15 while those merino socks that are growing on me by the minute inhabit the same retail value at £15. this means the sartorially decisive amongst us could be kitted out in muxu top to toe, for as little as £160 with all the practicality of cycling cut and material. it simply remains to find that spanish phrase book.
many thanks to peter harrington at always riding for supplying the above selection of muxu clothing.
posted friday 11 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
to put it bluntly, i usually know what i'm letting myself in for. when stuff arrives at washingmachinepost cottage for testing or review, i have generally more than the faintest inkling as to the intended nature of the review and, indeed, just how the object in question works. it doesn't take a genius to figure out how to wear a casquette, a short sleeve jersey, or how to put on a pair of bibshorts.
similarly, clipless pedals are rarely beyond the ken of even the biggest technophobe, and even i can figure out how to put a new stem and bars on any of the cycles in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed. of course, there's always the assumption that if one has placed oneself squarely in the market to carry out such wide-ranging reviews, any technical wherewithal will be second nature.
there are, now and again, exceptions to this rule; i spent an inordinate amount of time trying to unfold a brompton in completely the wrong way before realising my error. and often the boxes in which bicycles arrive state quite boldly on the top, that to ensure safety of the rider, it should only be assembled by qualified personnel. that, apparently, means me.
however, with the speed at which both technology and developments in fitness and nutrition seem to march, there's bound to be a point on the timeline when my knowledge and reality fail to match. such is the current case in hand.
much has been written and discussed regarding the wearing of compression clothing after serious exercise, as a method of resuscitating tired and aggrieved muscles, while ostensibly loafing about the house. some take this a stage further and encourage the wearing of compression clothing during the serious training we have already mentioned, but to me that seems just a step too far.
while there are many proprietary brands of compression clothing on the market, it's nice to see guys like mick and andy at prendas providing their own, alongside all those fabulous jerseys. made in italy by those who supply prendas' normal socks, the compression variety are long even by larry's standards, reaching from toe to knee. the compression is empowered by a mix of power lycra and skinlife meryl fibres, offering a graduated compression (differing pressures across the height of the lower leg and foot) and thus promoting increased circulation.
having had no experience of this procedure whatsoever, i wasn't really very sure what to expect. i've known mick and andy for a number of years, and i'm pretty sure that if this was all smoke and mirrors, they'd have sussed that at source and simply ignored from there on. their endorsement speaks volumes. however, that still didn't explain the expectation.
just in case the socks would know if i'd been cheating, i diligently went all out for a few hours on the cielo, making sure that those legs worked as hard as they could. at home time, bike carefully stored in the shed, and before divesting one's outer garments, prendas compression socks were pulled on. after lunch, i simply sat around. for a while. waiting.
the effect is subtle; so subtle, i was thinking of the emperor's new clothes, until realising a subtle nuance when marching upstairs.
if i kick ass on the bike (by my way of thinking), there's always a good hurt when climbing stairs, a hurt that lasts until bedtime. this time it was gone by teatime. sure that i may not have been kicking enough ass, i did the same again after an extended visit to jura, a trip that involves a lot of climbing and, in this case, a lot of cold, crappy weather. yet again, larry's socks did the trick.
so, on the basis of my loafing around after riding, i'm pretty sure that compression, as a means to recovery, has a degree of efficacy, and for a cost of only £14.50. in order for the socks to work, you need to check how big your calves are; makes sense: too big and no compression will be realised. check the prendas website for more details.
posted tuesday 8 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................