it has been contended that the advancement of technology has made humans dumber; a bit of a sweeping generalisation, but one that often rings true every now and again. our local newspaper frequently reproduces school photographs from the early to mid part of last century, a popular way of involving readers in the recognition of faces from the past which, though the ravages of time have often left their mark, are marvellous, monochrome representations of their era. despite the incredible advances made in camera and film technology in the intervening years, leading latterly to the invention of digital photography, we have often observed that the quality of the mid-century has not often been bettered since. placing this in some sort of perspective, one has to realise that cameras in the forties and fifties were not toys, were not owned by just anyone; there was an art and skill to photography and the subsequent developing of film. cameras were owned and operated by photographers.
the rapid pace of digital everything has simplified many erstwhile complex processes, not least of these being the internal workings and subsequent realisation of the framed image. auto focus, auto exposure; in fact auto everything. most of us purchase small, compact digital cameras, objects which comfortably fit in the rear pocket of a cycle jersey, and thus record, should we so wish, many aspects of the sunday ride, or world tour. but owning a camera, or phone with a camera, doesn't make us photographers, something that is all too plainly seen in the modern day images that sit alongside the elderly school photos of yesteryear.
and before many of us have had the opportunity to attend classes, or sit down with digital photography for dummies to remedy the situation, always assuming we're aware of our deficiencies in the first place, technology has moved onto something else.
two words: high-definition; or more correctly, carefully hyphenated words that have seemingly applied themselves to two related subjects; television and filming, one the medium for the other. moving pictures were also once the preserve of the trained cinematographer; if we're honest, it likely still is, but yet again digital technology has not only made movie-making a more approachable exercise, it has brought it within the reach of the not embarrassingly rich. computer software has condensed an entire film editing suite into applications that will run on something as small as an iphone, but more practically, a laptop computer. non linear editing can now be had free of charge at the simplest level, and for only a smidgeon more than £100 ($155) editing sophistication beyond your wildest dreams is now a reality.
the other half of the equation has not been standing still either. digital single lens reflex cameras (dslr) have acquired the ability to record high definition video alongside still images, using the wide array of lenses that the bottomless pocket has or can acquire.
now we can become experts.
unfortunately, the latter statement is often very far from the truth, exposing deficiencies in two related areas. firstly, owning one of these not drastically expensive cameras, does not equate to any degree of expertise in the art of film-making. even if you read the manual from start to finish, you may merely become more knowledgeable about which button does what. technical proficiency, should it be achieved, disappointingly, is of very little use unless you have a story to tell, and even the faintest idea as to how to tell that story in high-definition film. the fact that it is now no longer necessary to have a dedicated movie camera to make movies, and that new digital devices such as the ipad are forcing photographers and commissioning editors to re-appraise their role(s) in life, is starting to seriously blur the line between photographer and film-maker. it should be noted that these disciplines are not necessarily interchangeable.
the excitement lies in what one makes of the erstwhile preserve of the other, though immersion is more likely to come from the stills photographer, than in the opposite direction. the excitement also lies in seeing how the photographer approaches this new art, not having served the lengthy apprenticeship borne by the dedicated film-maker. youtube is awash with movies made either as demonstration of the cameras' prowess, or as a lightening of the film-maker's load, but so far, few are the films made in this innovative fashion. in the world of cycling, tentative steps have also been taken, and it seems wholly appropriate that these have been made by one of the most iconic and latterly influential photographers in the business.
what would ben ingham do?
the camera, despite all the foregoing, is irrelevant; while many of us, anoraks to the core, would watch colleagues descend in the wet, with thought uppermost in mind that we would never use those tyres for the job, nor feel at home with that frame, the film is the film, how the images were arrived at, which lens was used in that middle sequence and which nle software organised the finished sequence, should have no part in our appreciation of the end product.
dario pegoretti inhabits a similar space, though his product differs greatly. his workshop is crammed with large, bulky and threatening looking machines, gas bottles, files, hammers, jigs; all the paraphernalia that is accumulated over many years of frame-building. but these are merely tools; a means to an end. it is, as richard sachs affirms, the frame that is the frame, a mantra adopted, knowingly or otherwise, by the geniuses of steel. it is therefore fitting that two artists with a similar disdain of the conventional and a strong sense of the artistic, should meet together in the fifteen minute documentary d'acciaio.
it breaks any mold you care to mention. the title is translated as of steel, and it takes, as its central theme, the material for which dario is best known. but in similar fashion to the drumming of jack dejohnette, the line is described by filling in the spaces on either side, rather than drawing the line itself in all its obvious starkness. the film is involving, irreverent, and all too short. but because it's too short, it is exactly the right length. unlike the direction most of us would have taken with the subject, ben ingham pays little heed to the brazing, milling, filing and welding that we know must fill pegoretti's days, other than to lead us into his world of steel tubing and cast lugs. and because we know this, and the reputation that he has won throughout the world, a film capturing these skillful steps would surely be redundant? ingham has, however, drawn and alluded to all the foregoing by concentrating on the relationship between dario and pietro; their obvious admiration for each other that shows even through their arguing.
translation in the form of subtitles is provided by eagle of the canavese author, herbie sykes, now happily domiciled in the italian peninsula; it is comical to see those subtitles morph to italian when the dialogue switches to english. the film has atmosphere and beauty. it has character and understanding. in short, it's a beautiful film.
it is my contention that artistic expression will find an out, no matter the obstacles placed in its way. how much more it shines when the artist has the presence of mind and skill to explore all corners of those obstacles. i have long appreciated and applauded the still-photography of ben ingham seen through the pages of rouleur and rapha catalogue shots. there is now cause to adore his moving pictures too. commissioned by rapha, but entirely the vision of ben ingham, the beautifully packaged d'acciaio book and dvd is available from rapha's cycle clubs at a cost of £30. eventually available on-line.
technology will continue apace; gps units, gears, cameras, music players and phones. and in some stuff we haven't thought of yet. d'acciaio uses it as a means to an inspiring end.
posted wednesday 28 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
perhaps thankfully, style is not only a relative term, it's also a subjective one. thus, what looks good to me, might resemble scrambled egg to you. and even that might be fine if you like scrambled egg. style is a factor that has long played a part in the world of cycle racing, if not necessarily cycling as a whole, but invariably this seems to have been inherent in the figure to which the appelation was applied. coppi, anquetil, koblet could all be said to inhabit the land of style, the latter two perhaps being a trifle more contrived on the bike than off. coppi is widely recognised, for all his personal faults, as being the epitome of style on a bike, no mean feat when you consider not only the state of the roads at the peak of his career, and the fact that the standard uniform of the day consisted of a baggy woollen jersey wrapped inside a pair of tubs.
coppi's style could not, however, be bottled. coppi's successes are what made his career; had he been stylish and slow, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation. in order for style, as applicable to present day conditions, and to make an earthworks of difference, it has to be containable, marketable and effectively reproducable. once the intended have acquiesced and accepted that a third party has their best interests and savoir faire at heart, the long road to sartorial elegeance has commenced and requires to be reinforced at regular intervals.
this is why, aside from intermittent surprises, the world's cycling apparel providers launch spring/summer ranges, followed a seeming short period afterwards, by more great stuff for autumn/winter. please note that the loose term more great stuff is, in similar manner to the term style completely subjective, and entirely relative. the extended proviso when accorded to cycle clothing is that of performance. unless you are slower than the stylish coppi about whom we wouldn't be having a conversation, it won't have escaped your notice that it's very easy to overheat in summer months, and to become a trifle chilly and perhaps wet in the autumn and winter. so-called ordinary fabrics are not of which such garments are hewn.
sir paul smith, as has oft been recounted to the faithful, was a member of beeston road club and had the sole objective in life of becoming a professional racing cyclist (we've all been there, haven't we?). having left school at fifteen, his father sent him off to work in a clothing warehouse, but yet again, cycling triumphed, in that he was really only interested in the ride to and from work, but a rather serious cycling accident put paid to the professional pedalling position, clothes, they say, maketh the man, and in this case, the man maketh the clothes. however, the cycling bug, just as with the rest of us, refused to go away.
aside from a collaboration with mercian cycles, where stripey, and not inexpensive fixed wheel bicycles arose, smith is most notably associated with rapha, initially with the tour en londres jersey that currently fetches rather fine sums on e-bay. like lennon and mccartney, wallace and grommit, morecambe and wise and smith and mccrossan, some partnerships just work well from the outset, and the association between rapha and paul smith has helped extend the style quotient available to the enquiring cyclist, albeit at a price. again, the style purveyed by this collaboration may or may not fit with any ideas you may have of your own, but one of the great ideals of cycling is that there is no minimum requirement. by this, i mean that you can have as much fun on a rusting raleigh wearing jeans and a t-shirt (well, not really, but indulge me) as fully clothed in rapha/assos/le col, astride a carbon colnago.
it shouldn't be too much of a stretch of the intellect to realise that more stuff has appeared on the perren street horizon, resulting form a continuation of the partnership, only it's not really targeted at the peletonese. for all that sir paul fancied his chances as a professional cyclist, this compact and bijou range should clothe the urbanist in grand style. in much the same way that the iphone 4 was intended to dismiss the efforts of its competitors who had spent the previous months playing catch-up with the version 3, this latest range could be seen to raise the bar for all those who have started to occupy the same cycling stage. this range and partnership will, it is said, build over the next two years.
as of yet, there is no word as to how much of a pay-rise you're going to need to afford items from the range, and i cannot disagree with those who don't like the colour purple, that there might not be anything matching their personal style. visibility, however, is always a topic of conversation when it comes to cycle clothing suitable for those cold, dark mornings or evenings getting to or from work. the colour purple is aiming in that direction. functionally there is an interesting distinction in the rainjacket from those currently a part of the rapha range, in that this version is completely waterproof, with fully taped seams, and a hide-away drop tail.
other items include a merino jersey with reflective dots (rather large ones it would seem), a winter woolly hat, a silk scarf, full-fingered leather gloves, a polka dot casquette and an essentials case, all available from october 1st onwards, both from rapha and paul smith websites as well as retailers of the latter. the range is currently on show at the rapha cycle clubs in london and new york, though the former closes in a mere smattering of days.
so be quick.
posted tuesday 27 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
mrs washingmachinepost likes her soaps on the telly. it starts with neighbours when we're having our tea, and metamorphoses into emmerdale, coronation street and east enders. not being that much of a telly addict at all, i hammer away at the keys while all this goes on in the background, desperately trying to convince both you and me, that i have something worth saying each day. and one of those days it might just come true.
but tv soap operas are invidious; i'm sure the writers and producers could teach a seminar or two on subliminal advertising, for though i'm convinced that i'm deep in thought, grammar and sentence structure, over time, bits of it seep in. it's a bit like hearing a britney spears song in the supermarket and being unable to stop humming the darned thing for the remainder of the day. definitely invidious.
so while i could not tell you the names of many of the principal characters in any of the above, have no idea where one storyline stops and the next starts (nor could care less, come to that), and not even sure which evenings each is broadcast, some generalisations have become instant observations (over time). given that, with the exception of the much vaunted guy falling off the roof edition of eastenders which was broadcast live, all these episodes are filmed well in advance of their broadcast date. thus, any comment, aspersions or reference to real-life goings on, are cunningly absent. it cannot have escaped your attention that during the month of june and slightly beyond, every public house with an area greater than a mavic shoebox, displayed a substantial banner outside advertising just how much live world cup could be watched prior to over indulging in what pubs are there for in the first place.
and couldn't someone devise a method of affixing that would stop at least one corner of said banner either flailing in the wind, or hanging disconsolately over the sky logo?
yet even casual attention to either of the british soaps mentioned above, would have registred not so much as an evening class for vuvuzelo tuition. we should be suspicious, and perhaps more discriminating in our assessment of television's rendering of real life, but too much is learned and not enough observed. have you heard a pub discussion in the queen vic regarding how highly the residents of albert square regard the conservative/lib dem coalition? did any of them actually vote? and where was the outrage at mark renshaw being thrown off the tour for alleged head-butting?
ah yes, le tour; i wondered when i'd get around to that. in fact, i won't really be getting round to that, because it has been my considered position throughout the preceding three weeks, that thewashingmachinepost would be a tour free zone, something of a crowning achievement, even if i do say so myself. the post has become it's very own verisimilitude of a soap opera, oblivious to the happenings in real-time, and inhabiting that space beloved of the scriptwriter which, in this case, would be me. much as i'd delight in creating the impression that each day's scribbling has been planned, if not written months in advance, that's about as likely as mark cavendish winning the final stage into paris. for those three weeks in july, it has been business as (un)usual at washingmachinepost cottage.
gone are the days when eurosport, in pre-british days, could be switched on and cyle racing such as the tour, the giro or the vuelta simply watched with the benefit of your tour guide, david duffield. not so nowadays; while the all-you-can-eat wall to wall mountain stages were advertised as being on television from 10am, that turned out not to be strictly true, for the man who usually introduces italian serie-a football, has to talk to a couple of worthy cyclists about what might just happen in the ensuing seven and a half hours.
well, i'm sorry to be so blunt, but i don't actually care. i want to sit with my espresso, baguette and brie and watch what happens, as it happens. and i don't want the last half an hour filled with the same three chaps dicussing why nothing they said would happen actually did. i just want to watch the cycling. likewise the in-depth analysis that features on pretty much every website, blog and twitter, except much of it isn't in-depth, because many of those on the other end of the keyboard know about as much as i do; and that isn't much. there are exceptions. there are those who are being paid to do so, and have access to directeurs, riders and officials who wouldn't offer the rest of us a packet of haribo, and if it's that level of dissection you require, that's where to go. where you pointedly wouldn't go, is thewashingmachinepost; i just watch the cycling because i like it, in the same way that i don't bother with weather forecasts for the weekend, because i'm going to get what i'm going to get.
so i decided prior to the off in rotterdam, that the post would remain oblivious to the shenanigans in holland and france for those three weeks, at least in pixel format. i did watch pretty much every stage (except for the one on the saturday when i'd to go out and play my drums). and i can guarantee you that had i ignored my own entreaties and burst forth with insightful and telling articles about said shenanigans, bertie would still have won in paris, and andy's chain would still have fallen off. not for me the ridiculous statistic that out of the top fifty riders, the only two who made it into the top ten in the final time trial were bradley wiggins and geraint thomas.
which means what, exactly?
there. i think i have successfully guaranteed that you will never see me in the eurosport studio prior to any number of riders heading for the tourmalet. and you will all be better off for my absence.
posted monday 26 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
money not only talks, it pedals pretty well too. while we're all watching professional cycle racing in all its various forms, there are excel spreadsheet guys who are watching mobile advertising hoardings, some smaller than others, depending on the size of the spreadsheet. if technology, wages, and tour buses are to improve every year, the paymasters have to be regularly consulted with cap in hand. and since market strategies themselves are not great and altruistic fans of cycle racing, the sales graphs to which they are intrinsically linked, are just as likely to point in an opposite sporting direction.
in other words, they are fickle.
this is not really a great place to be if you have carefully nurtured the ideal collection of riders, bicycles, mechanics, directeurs and soigneurs that you'd really rather hang on to, and with which to do battle in the following year. it's an old story and one that is played out year on year across the great divide between the formula one guys at the top and the smaller teams ekeing out a living at the bottom. i am, of course speaking relatively here, for almost all those at the so-called bottom of the pecking order are no less committed to their sport than those with the big buses and a designated team leader.
the latter are well outside the scope of such as thewashingmachinepost, for they deal more readily with the abc audited circulation, rather than a bloke with a mac and a thesaurus, but teams that equate more to the realistic aspirations of both my writing abilities and social skills are no less involved in the merry go-round.
the tour is finished, the nights are fair drawing in, and cross season is merely around the next corner. my very good friend, mr richard sachs is already preparing himself and team to inhabit the mud and gloop of the eastern united states. richard has a waiting list for his frames that would scare the living daylights out of even the most industrious amongst us, and at present, the book is closed. a lovely problem to have and obviously one which needs no outside assistance from addiitonal advertising or marketing. and here's where, at this particular level, money is not the be all and and all of professional racing, for richard simply has to race cross. it's as much a part of his winter life as breathing and brazing, but it still costs to enter the playground.
at the end of the 2005 season, one of richard's sponsors, hudson valley velodrome project, ended their financial input. richard was quick to thank them for their contribution, but, realising that this would leave a bit of a gap in the team's budget, took the rather enterprising step of offering the sponsorship opportunity on e-bay. rex chiu, one of those waiting for a richard sachs frame, bid on that opportunity and became a part of the rs team support for the 2006 season.
it may surprise you to know, that mr chiu is not the ceo of a large conglomorate, nor the marketing director of an interested industrial behemoth. as i understand it, he is part of the medical faculty at stanford university and contributed to the richard sachs cross team to honour his father.
"i chose my father's name to pay tribute to his support for me and others around him. my father came from a very poor family in a small farming village in taiwan. he was eldest in a family of six children, and he worked hard to become a physician whle putting himself through school and supported all of his siblings through their years of school. he realized his dream and received excellent medical training in the united states. however, he never forgot his roots and returned to taiwan to be with his parents and sibling, and he settled to serve people in a small city in central taiwan about ten miles from where richard sachs lug sets are cast."
so how do i know all this? well, i have a richard sachs team rainjacket which, not unnaturally, bears the marques of many of his sponsors, such as house industries, rgm watches, and svelte cycles. but placed on both back and front of the jacket, are three chinese characters. not un-naturally, i asked what they meant. reading left to right, they represent hill, family, and victory, rex chiu's father's name: chiu, chia-sheng.
in an age of rank commerciality, i find it rather refreshing that a man who doesn't need any more sales for the foreseeable future, and who has sponsored his own team since 1982, is joined in that venture by another who has nothing to advertise in the first place. the returns required by some are on a different plane altogether.
mr chiu again; "i had the chance to meet richard and felt a great connection with his approach to bicycles and cycling. when the opportunity to sponsor the team arose, I was glad to be a part of it. the three characters in my father's name fittingly describe the uphill battle he has endured through his life, the devotion he has toward his family and home, and the success he has achieved as a person and as a father."
richard has asked me to point out that several other sponsors have made contributions to the team anonymously over the years, aiding a substantial degree of success that simply would not have been possible without them. of course, it is not unseemly that a degree of this success has been achieved simply because the man at the top has a particularly idealistic approach to the race. i printed his general patton speech to team members last year, and in conjunction with sponsor house industries a condensed version was hand-printed in hi's latest typeface eames for this year's nahbs. the latter is now available at a cost of only $54 and will be sent with two other richard sachs posters (the tao of atmo, and the frame is the frame). this is your opportunity to emulate rex chiu in your own small way, and help the richard sachs cyclocross team remain in the black. if you'd like a set of these uniquely richard sachs posters, send a paypal payment for $54 to firstname.lastname@example.org, then choose which wall you're going to put them on. and incidentally, if you'd like to own some team replica kit, now would be a good time to let richard know before the order goes in.
posted saturday 24 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my first time riding the london-paris (of which there are so many nowadays), was not only a giant step for me, but also for those who didn't exactly choose to be the composition of my particular peloton. with the velo club having, at best, four members, cycling in close proximity, several coteries deep was not amongst the higlights of my cv. i had done the training, if only to ensure that i made it to the finish each day, and was fortunate enough to have been lent a carbon eddy merckx for the duration in return for writing about it afterwards. additionally, apart from helmet and gloves, i had made best effort to look the part; it's very hard to tell how fast/slow one is travelling from photographs, unless the lensman lets slip what his shutter speed was.
i'm happy to relate that i didn't disgrace myself or the velo club in the process of getting from london to versailles, even though i had chosen to travel in the slowest of the three pelotons on offer. no sense in ruining someone else's holiday by taking them out on the first day. sitting at the back, on red carbon fibre, wearing fresh out of the packet racewear seemed the best way of remaining anonymous, and the run across southern england and southern to middle france was a joy to behold.
you find all-sorts of abilities within these rides, given that nobody actually checks to see if you can ride at an average 25kph for over 180km; if you assert that you can, it's all smiles and can i have your entry fee please. but i do remember one chap riding, if memory serves, a relatively lowly trek something-or-other, wearing ordinary clothes, rather than the fast stuff the rest of us prima donnas were clad in, unshaved legs and a pair of trainers with toe clips. so while each stage and apres feed stop resounded with the clicking in of cleats, his made no appreciable sound at all. i remember thinking at the start, that despite the fact that he was a really decent fellow, i doubted i'd see much of him until we reached the end.
in this assumption, i was well wide of the mark, for after every climb, and some of them were steeper than you'd like, when all settled into the joyous gruppo compatto, there he'd be, a few riders from the back and still enjoying himself easily as much as i was. as you'd expect, when you clump any number of disparate cyclists together, the machinery on offer ran the entire gamut of what was currently available. i remember being somewhat astounded at the number of riders even in such a lowly group as ours, not racing for anything, and really just emulating a mobile conversation, who had lightweight carbons on their bikes. for at that time, aside from the astronomical prices they still command, they were tubular only. to me that seemed to be tempting fate, following mavic car or not.
so while shiny pride at a relative snail's pace was on constant display, this chap with his steel trek and toe-clips was having the time of his life.
and that's just exactly the way it should be. there's nothing wrong with owning several thousands of pounds worth of carbon, provided it doesn't get in the way of riding the darned thing. some of us have salaries (and i'm not one of them) that can easily accommodate such luxuries and if that happens to be you then by all means, indulge yourself, as long as you realise that it's not the value that makes it fun, and that you don't feel the need to look down on those of more meagre means. despite the fact that my steed for the ride was provided rather than purchased, i have a notion that that is exactly how i'd behaved before the start. the guy made it to versailles the same as the rest of us and had a blast, how much better does it get?
this, having a blast is something that the egalitarian rollapaluza have been encouraging for a good couple of years now. their bikes have no gears, are of steel and clamped into thingamajigs wired up to great big clocks at the back. since all you have to do is pedal for all you're worth, it makes little difference if you have hairy legs, a pair of levis and a cagoule. since bike handling skills are minimised to the minimum, it is merely (sorry, i take that back) a case of covering a hypothetical 500 metres quicker than the boy/girl on the bike next door. fun for all the family.
however, stepping outside that well tested formula, and literally taking a leaf out of simon warren's book 100 great cycling climbs, rollapaluza hosted a real hill climb in central london only a couple of days ago. given the often forced connection between cyclists and hills, even a one and a half minute blast up swain's lane in highgate could be forecast to garner bragging rights, though for how long depends on who you returned home to tell. when i wrote about this event several episodes ago, i could mentally see the fixed wheel featherweights, the rather ostentatious display of carbon, and a large smattering of club jerseys. here, despite its homely origins, was surely an event that would exclude mr and mrs ordinary and their pet dog.
not often right, i was wrong again. thankfully, those nice chaps at rollapaluza are very conscientious in following up any event pre-publicity with as much, if not more, post-publicity. normally i have a gander at this but leave well alone, for i'm strongly of the opinion that results rarely make for interesting reading, unless of course, you happen to have been a participant. in which case, you likely already know. however, the follow up for the hill-climb, a huge success by all accounts, was accompanied by a selection of photos from the eve, and what swung it for inclusion on the post was the photo you see left. caspar and paul at rollapaluza can vouchsafe "he was a genuine competitor too. the picture doesn't show it but he does have a race number pinned to his back."
that's the sort of thing we need to see happening all across the cycling spectrum. you can take your cycling as serious as you like, you can spend silly money on trinkets and the black stuff, but never fall into the trap of taking yourself too seriously.
cycling is way too important for that.
photos by andy waterman
posted saturday 24 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the biggest problem i encountered in portland last year was their determination to drive, and cycle, on the wrong side of the road. every time i turned a corner, there was this overwhelming desire to move to the left, and had i not been in sterner company than my own, it could all have ended in tears. and apparently it's not just in portland; i am led to believe this wrong-headedness pervades the entire country, a stunning fact that leaves one wondering. is this due to washington, after the war of independence, being indifferent to just where his troops placed themselves upon the roads, or was it a final act of defiance against the mother country to do things as differently as possible?
for consider our history on this side of the pond. having been invaded by the romans in 43ad, we, or rather, they, bearing in mind there were few excursions into pictland, north of hadrian's wall, were left with a network of die-straight roads, the romans seemingly unaware of the virtues of cornering (a feature that, rumour has it, still pervades italian driving to this day). surely, when marching hither and thither, various detachments of centurions would have been likely to meet each other at some point on the road, necessitating some sort of passing manoeuvre? since britain has forever driven on the left side of the road, it cannot be too much of a stretch of historical imagination to believe that the progenitors of the roads did likewise even on foot?
therefore, when the first pilgrims reached what is now referred to as north america, would it not seem within the bounds of supposition that they take this trait with them? i think it so. yet the descendents of those romans, now citizens of italy, failed to heed that which they bequested, particularly with the advent of the bicycle. it is not too strange that independent thought prevailed when it came to specifying the bits, bobs and attachments that made the bicycle what it is today. however, many years on from those straight road builders, engineering seems to have been uppermost in the british psyche when it came time to specify the same bits, bobs and attachments. for while british, or perhaps more correctly, english mechanical process had at least heard of, if not discovered precession, the term and substance had escaped that of our former italian overlords.
precession is the name given to both torque-free and torque-induced change in the rotational axis of a rotating body, something that is accounted for by the right-hand cup of an english threaded bottom bracket, but completely ignored by the very same italian threading. due to fretting between the bearings and the surface on which they act, the forward rotation induced by pedalling has the bearings act upon the bottom bracket cups in the opposite direction. thus the clockwise force when pedalling a bicycle tends to force the cup to rotate anti-clockwise.
in an english threaded bottom bracket, the left, non-drive cup threads are right-handed, principally due to insufficient force being applied by crank rotation, to counteract the torque applied when threading the component in place. however, a greater degree of force is applied on the drive side (this is why drive side, radial spoking on a rear wheel is not advised), so the cup bears a left hand thread, thus negating this precession. the italians, however, aside from a bottom bracket shell that has the cheek to be 2mm wider, cut both threads right-handed. there can be few owners of italian bottom brackets who have not experienced at least once, the drive-side cup unscrewing itself while out for an otherwise pleasant day's cycling.
since the oppositional force created by the bearings is an order of magnitude less than the first stage rocket of an apollo mission, a good bit of welly applied to the drive side cup, ought to keep it in place against the fundamental laws of fluid dynamics, or whichever discipline of particle physics is applicable to this italian misunderstanding. yet they didn't miss the same trick when it came to fitting a left-hand thread to the left crank.
strange but true.
if you are what we laughingly term, mechanically inept, there's every likelihood that you haven't a dicky bird of an idea which particular strain of bottom bracket the cranks are attached to, and are happy to keep it that way. at some time, however, that bracket, or those outboard cups, will need replacing, and either you or your bike shop are going to have to find out. in the case of campagnolo, perhaps i have been overly critical of the italian dynasty, since in the case of ultra torque and the new 2011 power torque, the bearings are fitted to the crank arms and not in the cups. theoretically, the latter will not need replacing.
the italian effect is, however, lessened by the more common use of cartridge bearings, where those little shiny balls are encased in, well, a cartridge. thus the counter-rotational forces tend to be contained within the container, and have little outward effect on the container that contains them.
as the name would imply, italian bottom brackets were devloped for use on italian bicycles, english on british, and the more obscure french threading on french made bicycles. and so it remained for many a long year, until the availability of all nationalities of bicycles became common across the continents, meaning that a whole agglomeration of local bike shops were required to stock variations not of their indigenous nationality. it was inevitable that one standard would eventually triumph, if that is not too contentious a term, over the others, and much like vhs over betamax and blu-ray over whatever the other one was called, the english threading has now occupied the moral and mechanical high-ground.
it appears much of this demarcation has transpired due to the emergence of the far east as the hub of bicycle manufacture, particularly with the early years being dominated by american marques, almost all of whom had adopted the english standard. thus the factories in taiwan are mostly tooled for english threading, something that has made an indelible impression on italian frames. colnago, with the exception of the master x-light, have moved wholesale to the english thread, even on carbon frames made in italy. the reason for this, according to colnago, is by request from their dealers who were finding it harder to obtain italian threaded bottom brackets, and presumably to enforce a degree of standardisation. this, of course leads to somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy; if the switch to english threading is due to a paucity of italian availability, the bb manufacturers are going to find a lessening demand, thus produce fewer, making it harder to acquire.
incidentally, it was this wholesale shift to english threading of all colnago's carbon frames that lead to heated debate on the forums last year, due to the conviction by some that anything other than italian threads down below indicated incontrovertibly, that the colnago eps was being made in taiwan rather than at cambiago. a classic case of jumping to the wrong conclusion. colnago have obviously taken tis to heart with their new 2011 flagship model which is being sold as the c59 italia.
i checked with clive at glory cycles in columbia, south carolina who are not only pinarello dealers, but also of eddy merckx frames. according to clive, all current pinarellos still feature italian threaded brackets, as does the eddy merckx range, though it should be pointed out that the latter are made in the same factory as the former. rob bragginton at windwave in the uk, importers of fsa components said that around 95% of all chainset and bottom bracket sales are for english threading. they are rarely asked for italian threading; as also the uk colnago importers, that's unlikely to change anytime soon. chris distefano of chris king precision components said that chris king make only the english threaded version for commercial reasons; there are simply not enough bicycles being made with italian threading to justify the expensive alternate tooling (italian bottom brackets are also slightly larger in diameter than their english counterpart), and framebuilder extraordinaire, richard sachs, says he only ever uses english threading on his bikes, despite being linked with campagnolo for many years.
the only ones bucking the trend seem to be phil wood. according to darla sasaki, "when it comes to new frames we're certainly seeing a decline in the italian threaded bottom bracket shell. however, the installed user base of existing italian bbs seems quite robust. after english threading, italian is our second best selling, and we offer only english and italian cups in stainless steel and alloy options, which we only do because of the volume we sell.
at phil wood, threaded cups are sold separately from the bottom bracket cartridge in order to allow the purchaser to match both the correct spindle length/taper with the threading they require. the head of production at pw, estimates that they produce 500 sets of italian cups per quarter, though this is only stainless steel; alloy numbers are smaller, but remain consistent over quarters. additionally, phil wood outboard bottom bracket cups in italian threading have been quite popular.
so is the italian bottom bracket on the wane? it seems very likely, which, much like the demise of the citroen 2cv and the original volkswagen beetle, is a great shame. it might seem to be mechanically incompetent, and its lessing may mean a greater degree of standardisation and compatibility within the fascinating world of the bicycle, but could it be a loss we ought ultimately to mourn? (would that either campagnolo or shimano would adopt the same freehub splines.) adobe photoshop has, under the blur filter menu, an option entitled average which is exacty what it does; it takes every colour in an image and mixes them together to produce a singe colour. the result is rarely pretty. if each little annoying and frustrating idiosyncracy that is part and parcel of cycling is weeded out and cast asunder, we will all be the poorer for it. maybe that sky replica team kit, including the dogma, would be our contribution to world peace?
still, it's damned annoying to have to wait several weeks for an fsa sl-k light compact chainset with an italian bottom bracket. but the world of cycling is richer for my pain and suffering.
major thanks to rob at windwave, diego at colnago, darla at phil wood co., cd at ck, clive at glory cycles, and the inimitable richard sachs for their assistance with this article. very much appreciated.
posted friday 23 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................