i'm going to shoot myself in the foot with this one, because i have been unable to resolve the inherent contradiction. but no matter; if i'm intent on pillorying one section of the cycling community, i can but accept the blame if i turn out to be a part of at least one division. admittedly, i'd be inclined to exercise a smidgeon of discretion, but it's very hard to know where to draw the line.
in my first few days in graphics class at art college, we were presented with a bizarre exercise attended by the absolute minimum of discussion or instruction. take a sheet of white paper, divide it into squares, then paint a circle in the top left square, three vertical lines in the next, then another circle, continuing with this alternation until the sheet was full of circles and vertical lines. in the best tradition of art colleges across the world, particularly with reference to first year students, procrastination was perhaps the only art we had mastered; it took all of that lesson to complete the above.
trundle forward to the following week, patiently accompanied by the previous week's handiwork, we were told to rip the sheet of paper into smallish pieces and place them in an envelope. aside from thinking that this must be one of those practical jokes played by otherwise earnest lecturers on unsuspecting newbies, it was most disappointing for those who had meticulously endeavoured to make sure the circles were as perfectly round as possible without resorting to outside aids, and that the lines would have done a greek architect proud. despite sniggers and quizzical looks, we did as we were bid.
asked to take yet another sheet of paper, the object of the exercise became slightly less obscure when instruction decreed that we remove one torn piece of paper at a time from the envelope and assemble them by way of a random pattern on the second piece of paper. there was to be no rifling through the envelope to find just the right scrap to complete the next sequence in the design; we were to accept that which came next and the randomness thereof.
it was fun, even if the specific point only became clear in subsequent years of design tuition, but there was no reason to be proud of, or otherwise, the resultant collage, since we, the perpetrators, were at the mercy of chance and not of forethought.
faction cycling of chicago have given themselves a similar task, though they have assumed the persona of both lecturer and student in the one task. i have explained the term upcycling in a previous post relating to the range of cycle caps produced by faction, but just in case you missed it, a brief reprise may be in order. unlike recycling, which nominally takes high level products and recreates them as more subordinate entities, upcycling implies that the article being re-used, will be reborn on a higher intellectual or practical plane. thus, when the chaps in chicago ransack the thrift stores and charity shops around their locale for suitable materials with which to create such wonderful caps, there is a certain amount of randomness involved in the end result.
some items will bequeath several individual caps, while others will manage only a unique solo edition. it is likely that those collecting, and those making, do not necessarily have the same objective. and here's where we come to the pillorying that i mentioned at the top. some of these upcycled caps have verged on the extravagant, while others fulfil the cycling equivalent of a pinstripe suit.
the last round of carefully styled upcycled caps showed that the more sedate designs sold out rather quickly, while the quirky offerings took considerably longer to find a new home. all credit to faction in persevering with this quirkiness in each subsequent range, but why is it that followers of a fun, growing and positively exuberant sport/hobby/lifestyle prefer to choose the safer option? all round good egg, graeme obree currently rides a cerise bicycle, and wears a bright yellow jersey reminiscent of the once jersey of yesteryear, and many of us are astride rather brightly painted carbon. granted, we are participants in an activity that already has a high profile, so perhaps donning a beacon of a cap is the equivalent of underlining capital letters, but i'm argumentative enough to think not.
where i find myself tripping myself up in this respect is with regard to my taste in cycle jerseys. yes i have a pink one, and yes i have two lime green ones, but mostly because they look better in photographs than the less scary colourings. left to my own devices, however, i'd be far more inclined to wear a jersey that wouldn't set off those pilfer alarms inside shop doorways, nor something that would scare cattle at the side of the road. so perhaps i'm just as much a part of the problem. therefore, we will have to persuade our collective psyche to be more adventurous than it is at present, and if starting with cycle caps is the way forward, then bring it on.
where did i put those yellow mavic shoes?
posted thursday 8 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if you've more than just a passing interest in star trek, the concept of matter and anti-matter will not necessarily be a new one. not having taken my education as far as particle physics, i might be well wide of the mark here, but having based my entire career on that premise, once more won't go amiss. my understanding of the situation is this; place some matter in close proximity to some anti-matter, and if you can control the resultant explosion, you have a method of propulsion. unfortunately, i have no earthly as to what part dilithium crystals play in this process, but for the current discussion, we'll leave that undiscovered. it's also worth storing up for future conversation why there seems to have been neither dilithium or matter/anti-matter in star wars.
curious don't you think?
anyway, having broached the subject in such a brash and science fiction manner, it's worth extrapolating just a tad further for the benefit of those who had music lessons instead of physics at school. since the concept is one relating to physics and the observeable universe, the principle of such opposites is unlikely to be confined to the engine room of a starship; surely like dura-ace to ultegra, the reality has to trickle down to the mundane. it may surprise you to know that the two opposites are alive and well, and living in the bike shed.
for in order to keep our velocipedes in tip top fettle, it is necessary that several, if not all, of the moving parts be regularly lubricated, either with a light machine oil, so-called dry lubes or perchance, a dod of grease. for the purposes of my forthcoming diatribe, we shall consider these to be anti-matter. what matters here, if you'll pardon the inference, is matter, and that brings us onto yet another so-called space-age development, one that is no less real, but a touch less theoretical.
teflon, or more scientifically, polytetrafluorethylene.
the invention of the latter has oft-times been credited to the american space race, but was in fact accidentally invented in 1938, and first applied to a pan in 1954. it's a substance that can be applied as a coating to prevent stuff sticking to stuff (apologies for the technical delivery there). as pointed out earlier, combine matter and anti-matter and the result could be satisfactorily described as annihilation; however, extending my naivety and complete lack of scientific understanding, if you could slip a teflon covered deflector shield between the two types of matter, neither would stick, and annihilation would be prevented.
relating all this to the art of bicycle fettling, we will return to the subject of lubrication. leaving aside the dry-lube, because here the premise is that the deposit left after application is dry, and thus exempt from attracting grit; to wit, a teflon effect. however, regular lube, oil, grease, etc., have an irritating habit of attracting any passing grit, usually acquired from road surfaces; mixing any wet-lube with dirt and grit is seemingly only that of a physical reaction, but those of us with an interest in bicycle fettling know only too well that this assumes the manner of a chemical reaction, solving in one fell swoop, any holes that might have appeared in paul dirac's paper on anti-matter, and answering one of the great unsolved problems in physics. because grease and dirt combine to form anti-matter.
thus, if i set my cards on the table, any clothing you might wear when stepping into the bikeshed is classed as matter; i can see no flaws in that part of my hypothesis. step anywhere near a bicycle in the aforesaid bikeshed, and the anti-matter quietly passing the time of day on the chain, front gear mech and rear jockey wheels, immediately perks up its ears and heads towards that pair of rapha trousers or transit elite sweater. don't tell me that presenting those to her indoors for stain removal isn't the closest you've ever come to annihilation. what is needed is some sort of teflon that will allow the home mechanic to carry out any necessary procedures without any star trek propulsion taking place in the background.
rapha's workshop apron.
it has to be black, not just because it's harder to see any oily stains on black heavyweight cotton, but it can't have escaped your attention that the lighter the fabric, the quicker the anti-matter makes a bee-line for any matter. just try wearing a white shirt into the bikeshed. in my early days of selling and repairing bicycles, i had a very fine, and several sizes too large pair of overalls, with a yellow muddy fox logo on the left pocket. i cannot deny that these prevented oily marks in places where i would prefer not to have oily marks, but a pair of heavy overalls are not only the antithesis of sartorial elegance, they can be really warm at times.
between times i have owned a few workshop aprons, usually emblazoned with substantial sized logos of products i didn't use or sell, and they rarely seem to have been particularly well thought out. one huge pocket on the front is not a lot better than leaving a myriad of tools lying on the workbench. a skilled mechanic intent on his/her work, needs pockets plural; wide ones, narrow ones, velcroed ones, tabs on which to hang things like cable cutters or pliers, and a really long waist tape that ties at the front. have you ever tried to remove an apron by untying at the back with mucky paws?
rapha didn't put this item together with their eyes shut. one of the advantages of having a top notch racing team at your disposal, is that they usually have a top notch mechanic; in this case, andy verrall. now there's a man who knows his nuts and bolts, and which pocket to put them in. the apron features two largish front pockets, one of which has an outboard hanging tape, and bound at the inner top with the rapha team's pink, white and black ribbon, just a smidgeon showing at the edge to let the neighbours know that you know, you know. keeping ostentation to the absolute minimum, the rapha logo is embroidered in dark grey on the top left pocket.
theoretical physics has both the advantage and disadvantage of being theoretical; most of us live in a world where the practical is uppermost in daily considerations. fettling of velocipedes is one of the most practical of occupations, whether at the amateur or professional level, and i'd warrant that mr herety has little time for the theoretical when the bicycles come out the back of the rapha condor sharp van, prior to the commencement of battle. so in keeping with an overweening need to prove the veracity of my postulations, i wore said workshop apron during open-lever surgery on a malfunctioning touring raleigh. granted, the inner workings of an sti lever are more akin to the daily labours of those employed in the swiss watch industry than a cleaner at an oil refinery, but the necessary tools were still ensconced in the villain of the piece, the bikeshed. and inside this villain are two road bicycles with chains, and tyres, and gear mechs and other oily bits.
with the devil may care attitude of one who should know better, i fearlessly grabbed a handful of necessary tools, stuffed them into random pockets, dipping in and out the shed for highly technical parts and proprietary implements beyond the comprehension of most of us, so i shan't bother to elaborate. suffice it to say, it wasn't long before the recalcitrant lever was once again functioning as designed, and all matter had been successfully defended from wayward anti-matter with both substance and style.
i could get used to this.
the rapha workshop apron is available in black, one size fits all at a cost of £45.
posted wednesday 7 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
lord george robertson of port ellen commenced his political career as labour member of parliament for hamilton (which subsequently became hamilton south in 1997) from 1978, when i was still at art college, until 1999. he was shadow secretary of state for scotland from '93 to '97 before becoming labour's secretary of defence under tony blair's government from '97 until '99. his profile increased considerably in 1999 when he became secretary general of nato until 2003. he was also granted a life peerage as baron robertson of port ellen.
george was brought up in the village of port ellen, islay, where his father was the local policeman, and he lived in the now defunct police station; apparently the cells are currently unfit for purpose, whatever that means, and there has even been talk of demolishing the building. george owns a house on the road behind bowmore's round church, and is often over on the island for holidays. ten years ago, ardbeg distillery had him fill a cask of whisky which dutifully sat in one of their warehouses waiting for the appropriate year when it could be poured into bottles. that year is now; the cask realised 202 bottles of ten year old ardbeg single malt. these will now be sold in presentation cases, appropriately labelled, at a cost of £220 each. before you figure that this is one of those cashing in moments, then you're absolutely correct, except that all the cash realised is being donated to erskine, a scottish charity caring for ex-servicemen and women. damn decent if you ask me.
why am i telling you this?
not that one wishes to name-drop, but george is a friend; we don't pop down the village of a thursday evening and share a pizza supper, but we have shared a table on the ferry, and had numerous conversations regarding digital photography. additionally, when still secretary general of nato, he once phoned me on a tuesday morning for a chat about nothing in particular, then signed off on the basis that whatever vehicle he was in was 'just approaching the yugoslavian border'. thus, when the editor of our local newspaper was unable to attend the presentation of the first bottle to george robertson, i was despatched to cover the event. and in the manner of mrs washingmachinepost about to go out for the evening, what on earth should i wear?
ardbeg distillery is about 23km from bowmore, so there's plenty of distance to get swot and hetty en route, particularly as the weather is currently warm, but threatening to deluge every now and again. smart but casual seemed to be a reasonable choice, or more realistically, compromise. just what derny clothing was invented for (i presume).
thus having almost sailed along the road to ardbeg, with a tailwind that would obviously be a toad of a headwind on the way home, i found myself standing in a darkened warehouse wearing a brown, short sleeved derny shirt, derny city shorts and socks, and my ardbeg cycle cap to show the sponsor that i really cared. with the exception of mark, the photographer, all were in suit, shirt and tie: glad i wasn't in lycra. it's not only a practical mode of dress for pedalling in heated circumstances, but scrubs up well for anything short of a royal investiture.
the shirt is neatly tailored rather than simply hung from the shoulder, the left of which is seemless, meaning an irritation free ride with a filled musette to carry a pair of converse all-stars and normal glasses. there's a zipped pocket on the front left, and another at the rear, bottom right, ideal for carrying money, cards, or an ipod or digital camera. the bottom three buttons are clearly displayed, while those further up are cunningly concealed, and though i dislike the the principle, it's an easy task to unfasten the concealed buttons. however, it's over-riding boon is that of being stretchy; not because of having to conceal an oversized cyclist within, but we tend to move in mysterious ways when on a bicycle, and the derny shirt restricteth not. while my travels were conducted entirely in daylight, there is a thoughtful loop at the back on which a flashing ight can be clipped.
the presentation went well; george was in affable frame of mind, and as befits a man with many years in public office, had a stream of anecdotes with which to regale all those present. the representatives from the erskine charity were suitably impressed and grateful for the amount of money they are likely to receive in a very short space of time, and even handed jackie (visitor centre manager) and i an erskine purple wristband each, which contrasts nicely with my yellow livestrong version.
one thing i did learn, which presents even more support for ralph steadman's conjecture that islay ought to pull up the drawbridge and declare itself an independent state: the number of casks currently sitting in just this distillery's bonded warehouses will realise £97 million for the uk treasury. multiply that by about eight, and it gives you an idea of how much this little island is contributing to narrowing that national debt. you'd figure we could get a decent road surface out of that lot.
i was darned right about that headwind on the return trip, though luck was very definitely with me. having missed a heavy shower while standing in ardbeg's warehouse, and narrowly missing a similarly sized downpour on the way home. aside from the occasional damp patch on the shirt, engendered by a not as breathable as i thought, jacket, i think i scrubbed up rather well. if derny clothing can present designer scruff such as i, at such formal informal occasions, i believe the phrase job done may be deemed appropriate.
the derny city shirt is available in petrol, brown, or grey in sizes small to xl and at a cost of 94 euros ($128)
photos by islay studios
posted monday 5 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
no town or city planner who hoped to hang onto their salary for a seemly length of time would ever get away with designing a town/city centre like edinburgh. not nowadays anyhow. with its squirrely backstreets, lengthy sets of stone steps, overlooking galleries and cobbled climbs, it bears no relation to the grid system often preferred by the modern diktat. and we are all the worse off for that. edinburgh old town has more in common with harry potter than urban regeneration as we know it. nobody knows why they built such a foreboding, but proud castle so close to the railway station, but what appears as anarchy to the contemporary eye provided an idiosyncratic but exciting stage on which to base the edinburgh nocturne.
for even while discussing the finer points of why i might not be as fast as i say i'm not with owen philipson, a man with a painted white face and floor length black cape was intent on enthralling a group of foreign visitors with the city's more arcane and perhaps gruesome past. this was taking place mere inches from kristian house's devastating display of bike racing, an activity this group seemed blissfully unaware of (though i'm sure i saw one of the party spending more than a few moments watching carbon on wheels flash by).
now in its second year, the formula seems comfortably set in edinburgh's grassmarket, once the backdrop for public executions, describing a fabulous circuit that takes in the fearsome cobbled climb of victoria street. the central section dividing the cobbled part of the grassmarket from its contemporary tarmaced opposite. atop victoria street, the route joins george iv bridge before diving back down towards the grassmarket and completing the circuit. even the hapless folding bike race has to do that three times, and there were more than a few who discovered the art of changing gear on a brompton just a few metres too late.
i am very grateful to michael conway of the rapha condor sharp club for granting me a pink 'gets me everywhere' wristband. last year my press pass did not allow me access to the riders, podium or start area (haven't figured that one out yet); a pink wristband evidently does, though i did not partake of the liquid hospitality that came as part of the bargain. commentator for the evening was one half of morecambe and mcwise, anthony mccrossan (whose surname was mis-spelled in the programme), a man who completely outdid my travelling by having flown back from rotterdam for the gig, before flying off to brussels on sunday morn. he also commentated on everything for four hours. respect.
the far end of the grassmarket held the attention of those not sat outside a pub, or with eyes glued to the racing even when it wasn't on: endura had a sample of their wares on display while the team look bicycles leaned against the back of the marquee. dahon, prizegivers for the folding bike race had a comprehensive display of their range, garnering many approving glances. red bull were intent on turning all and sundry into trackstand champions and rollapaluza did a fine business in pitting man against man, woman against woman, child against child and a variety of combinations in between. and for those who not only needed an external infusion of caffeine, but a dose of carbo-loading too, marshall's pasta people were handing out free, steaming hot tubs of, well, marshall's pasta.
all this and cycle racing too.
for folks like me, fresh from seven hours travelling, rapha had the h-van that's been converted into a mobile coffee unit; i supped a welcome and mean soya cappuccino to manage the next three hours.
the racing was fabulous. i've never succumbed to the temptation to pin on a number, and after watching those who did, i'm kind of glad i haven't. i was about to say even the cat four riders were shifting at scary speeds, but there's no even about it. these are guys that do this for fun, who spend heaven knows how many hours training to be this fast, and are willing to grab the opportunity to scream along city roads in front of their adoring public. same goes for the cat 2/3 racers. okay, they're not even close to the speeds that were seen later during the elite race, but those guys don't hold down a day job other than what they were doing on saturday night; it would be somewhat of a disappointment if they weren't faster.
aside from at least one entrant in the folding bike race, the only event missing from the series is a women's event (hope you're reading, james).
if we're all gut bustingly honest, the only event that really mattered on saturday was the marshall's pasta folding bike race. at a pre-race team meet between me and my self-appointed proof reader, gary hitchen (to whom i am eternally grateful), i asked if he was feeling confident? "i was until i saw there was an entry of 35. there was only twenty last year." yet despite such modesty, and after three times up victoria street's cobbles, gary managed seventh out of all those folders. taught him everything i know.
last year, two garmin riders, david millar and cameron meyer were split at the finish by the indominatible kristian house from the men in black and pink. this year he turned the race into a masterclass, shadowing initial leader evan oliphant of the endura team for a few laps before switching to turbo boost and heading off into the night. poor oliphant was eventually passed by sole garmin rider meyer, but even he finished 36 seconds behind house. i believe i remarked to one of my accomplices for the evening that despite having ridden that cobbled climb more times than was good for anyone's health, house looked as if he was nipping out for the morning papers.
the whole evening was great fun. thank you to all those who took the time to stop and say hello; it was great to be so far away from islay, yet feel completely at home. if you didn't make it this year, you should make every effort to attend in 2011. you'd like it.
on the downside, i heard reports of sky rider, russell downing being boo'd during the elite race; there is no justification for that at all. even the slowest of the elite riders go a darned sight faster than anyone watching. i doubt the jeering was from any true cycle fans, but let's not lower ourselves to the standard applied to football. and secondly, where the heck was malcolm elliot? his name was in the programme, but he wasn't in the race.
posted monday 5 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
come the revolution, there will be bicycles seen far into the distance. cars will be the preserve of the extremely wealthy because petrol will have increased in price beyond the space for such on current petrol pumps, and we'll all be travelling to and from the supermarket, post office, corner shop on our proper bicycles with panniers, baskets or trailers. this is either absolute hell or total nirvana depending on how you view your cycling. would we all be so desperate and willing to head out into the hinterlands of a sunday morn, if the daily travail started and ended with a bike ride, while saturday mornings meant perhaps two trips in the company of her indoors to get the weekly shop?
i have serious doubts as to whether that's realistically in our future. the great majority are so wedded to their motorised vehicles, that some sop passing as an environmentally sound solution will happen along to keep them in their metal boxes. however, that does not mean that the revolution won't just happen a tad more quietly; i don't know about you, but folks nearer at hand who have always poo-pooed my exhortations to plonk bum on saddle, have started either cycling just a bit, or have been asking for recommendations as to where to buy.
the demon in me wants to taunt them over their previous recalcitrance, but judging that to be slightly counter-productive, i have kept my smile to one of acceptable formality.
but with all those extra bicycles rolling across roads fit for bulldozers, there's every likelihood that mechanical insurgencies, or even breakdowns may well occur. it has something to do with statistics and sod's law. keeping the demon in check here, it would be somewhat arrogant or possibly wicked to figure i'm alright jack, since the innards of the average, and not so average, velocipede, are not unknown to me. racked on the wall of thewashingmachinepost bikeshed is a wide range of tools, gathered with the specific purpose of keeping cycles in fine fettle. granted, a number of them fit now defunct components, but you just never know when one of those is going to turn up.
and perhaps, like clothing styles, they'll come back into fashion someday.
islay's just a wee place, so the existence of only two bicycle fettlers on the island is probably just about right; sections of the mainland seem generally well-served, though i've no doubt there are far flung pockets without a bicycle mechanic in the vicinity, hard though that is to believe. but even if there is a trusty bicycle repair man/woman to hand, they are likely to be more forthcoming with that free cup of coffee if you can describe the ailment more specifically than it's making a noise.
as previously discussed, there is a veritable mountain of repair books on the market, some more accessible than others, but all destined to make you feel more confident about dealing with those pre-ride checks, or mid-ride emergencies. and while i have a great deal of affection for the printed page, i'd have a hard time arguing the case for carrying an entire volume of barnett's repair manual in a back pocket. however, technology being what it is, a more compact and bijou solution is readily at hand.
the iphone/ipod touch.
unless you've been on a very extended bicycle ride over the past few years, it cannot have escaped your attention that app-mania is upon us. in fact, at the start of the giro d'italia i acquired an app for my ipod touch that presented me with the teams and their riders, plus all the stages. sadly, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but then it didn't cost anything anyway. but the possibilities were there, and more to the point, they were there. by that, i mean, i had the ipod with me at most times of the day, though occasionally without w-fi for updates.
the clue, however, is in the name mobile phone, and i notice that a number of apparel providers currently designate the smaller pocket as one capable of carrying just such a device. therefore, the ability to carry around a concise manual aiding the less mechanically inclined to track down those unrecognised noises or, perchance, to wield an allen key in the direction of its repair has to be seen as a good idea. it will surprise you not at all, therefore, that just such an app exists, under the name of bike doctor.
this app can be downloaded from apple's app store direct to either iphone or ipod, and presents a series of repairs or checks that can be made by any cyclist before, during or after a bike ride. the opening menu presents a list of the type of repairs contained within, and for the benefit of those who are not familar with the terminology, the screen can be switched to a profile of a bicycle with a series of hot spots over relevant points on the bike. each repair or check is presaged with a list of the necessary tools and an overview of what follows. the fix is broken down into manageable chunks and well illustrated with photos to aid your wrenching.
in its current version, there is a slight bias towards owners of knobbly footed machines; cantilevers and v-brakes are covered, but calipers are conspicuous by their absence. and nowhere is there sign of bendy bars and the attendant wrappings. however, the basics are here: repairs that are common to all bicycles, irrespective of type; puncture repair, broken spokes, wheel trueing, gear adjustment and chain cleaning to mention but a few. on that latter note, i see from the photos that the app recommends the use of one of those chain wash doohickies, something i am personally not in favour of, but certainly quicker than polishing each link with brasso (oh yes i did).
those possessed of unparalleled mechanical ability probably do not need to apply, but i am constantly amazed at the utter lack of such bestowed upon those with several thousand pounds of carbon fibre in the bikeshed. and bearing in mind the sizeable investment some folks have in their bicycles and indeed, their iphones, £2.99 seems a (very) small price to pay for such a carefully considered application that could allow even the most ham-fisted to maintain their pride and joy.
if you're a bike shop employee reading this and thinking oh, just great, in a sarcastic tone of voice, be aware that when the repairs start to head towards the more complex end of i don't know what i'm doing, the app recommends seeking professional assistance from those more qualified. a sound suggestion i would tender, and a nice touch that makes this an excellent addition to that apple device.
i have contacted the progenitors of the bike doctor app regarding the lack of one or two nods to the roadies amongst us, and i'm encouraged to learn that version two might address our conceit.
posted friday 2 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................