having successfully avoided the tour de france completely in these pixels during the time the race was in progress, it is perhaps a bit of a volte face to bring next year's to your attention before 2011 has had a chance to make it as far as fireworks, first-footing and handshakes and hugs all round. but i wish to state plainly that none of this is my fault, given that it wasn't my idea to let you know where they're off to next july. i should also bring it to your attention that, all being well in the land of good food and malt whisky, the tour's prologue should coincide with the 2011 ardbeg gourmet bike ride. however, that can wait for a day or two.
it seems that no sooner has one tour finished, than all eyes are on the following, from both riders and their prospective audience, though each with a different perspective on those 21 days in july. i know i have railed against this sort of fervour before, each year's hype enlarging the gap between the tour and the giro, with la vuelta trailing so far behind that the rumours of its curtailment to less than three weeks seem stronger each year. and that is the very part of all this nonsense that gives me the greatest cause for concern.
having just reviewed velopress' the spring classics, the egalitarian nature of fans of those particular races seems far more in keeping with cycling's modus operandi. my own preference is for paris-roubaix; an obvious choice no doubt, but i can also see the attractions of milan-sanremo and the tour of flanders, so that as each appears on the eurosport schedule each successive spring saturday or sunday, i have as much enthusiasm for each. and though i live a long way away from any of them, rivalry between them seems more than just a smidgeon less than the build up to each tour de france.
i know that life's not like that, but wouldn't it be so much nicer if each race, whether one-day classic or three week stage race was treated with the same care and concern, both by fandom and media attention. i cite statements already printed as my witnesses regarding the 2011 tour. though the tour consists of three weeks travelling across, through, up and down what can only be described as a beautiful and varied topography, it has been distilled to the following: "the route of next year's tour looks like the perfect opportunity for mark cavendish to move himself up the list of all time stage winners". while i have nothing personal against mark cavendish, and i doubt very much that he is the chap responsible for the above quote, it seems to me somewhat sad that only a few hours after the route has been officially announced (though the route had been leaked on the interweb prior to this), parochiality has invaded the uk cycling press with a vengeance.
it is perhaps right and proper that the biggest names in the sport should be the centre of attention when it comes to discussions about impending victories, not least, as bradley wiggins has found out, because it can generate even more column inches if they fail to live up to tendered expectations. but there are so many others that make up the numbers of the tour peloton, that it would be nice to give them some consideration. ok, a stretch too far with that; the only subject headings that matter are cavendish, bertie, andy and possibly thor, and i have been writing about this for long enough to observe my naivety, but the hype is starting not only to overshadow the events, but quite possibly to affect the outcome.
while the announcement of the tour de france route for 2011 was the official one, the previously mentioned leak notwithstanding, it seems that the giro organisers are keen to muscle in on the tour's aura, by coincidentally leaking some details of the giro 2011. i have no real notion whether the route announcements are some form of drama of their own, that perhaps the teams have already been provided with at least sketchy details before turning up, besuited, to sit in a cinema and provide off the cuff quotes about how the route suits or does not suit their aspirations. and is it only me who finds it a sad reflection on the modern peloton, that riders accept their given designations and make little attempt to step outside the box?
when next year's tour rolls along, and we're either standing by the wayside between passage du gois and mont des alouettes, or watching and listening to david and sean, i will be as engrossed as the next man, and a couple of months earlier, i will have been just as obsessed with who reaches milan in pink. and though less than fashionable to state, i have just as much affection for the trundle round spain. it may be that many of you are unaffected by the hype heaped upon the three big stage races, occupying their own international podium, and that, along with me, you assess each on its own merit. for a boring tour route is a boring tour route; the fact that it is displayed on a yellow coloured map and employs bernard hinault, does not guarantee excitement.
perhaps it's not exciting any year, and i have just stumbled upon cycling's equivalent of the emperor's new clothes?
posted thursday 21 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"i'm trying to find the sensations of riding my bike quickly and riding my bike fast and riding my bike almost perfectly. to me that is the objective; to find that special spot where i'm riding a perfect race."
music is frequently touted as an international language, one that is understood across virtually all cultural and physical barriers irrespective of man-made boundaries. and while on the face of it, this may portend to be true, in practice there are some ghosts in the machine that may undermine the theory, such as it is.
for instance, there are far eastern cultures whose musical system involves micro-tones; we in the west have the black and white keys on our pianos, and it's darned difficult to play any note that may fall in between black and white. however, if music truly is international and cross border, should we not all be singing from the same hymn sheet? or at least from the same sheet music. withdrawing into my own cloistered world of drums and percussion, there are indian drummers who could run rings round any western proponent, yet have a whole lot more notes that inhabit their thrummy noises. thus, far from being universal, much of the world's music is palatable and comprehensible only to its indigenous population.
anyone for bhangra slipknot?
of course, having demolished the notion of a world music (no matter what peter gabriel says), apparently food is also an international language, followed by dancing, art and doubtless a number of other subjects that allegedly prosper due to their worldwide transparency. i think if i searched long and hard enough, there will be someone on record having stated that cycling too is an international language. the really disappointing factor in relation to this aversion, is that i can find no holes in the space/time continuum that would undermine this suggestion.
in fact, far from being undermined, the theory has been given legs by mr brian vernor, a film-maker of great repute, and a reputation that can only be enhanced by this release of the cyclocross meeting. the legs in question are those belonging to american cyclocross riders, adam mcgrath (van dessel), and the imposing barry wicks (kona). introductions made, visitations to a couple of usgp races feature mud, pedals, wheels and more mud. brian has cleverly avoided the trap of providing too much information to accompany his moving pictures; in fact, if truth be told, information is almost conspicuous by its absence. by concentrating entirely on the racing, the spectators, the helpers and that totally wrecked look after the finish (mcgrath effects to be more exhausted than wicks, but he is a few inches shorter) the viewer is drawn deeper and deeper into an encouraged reverie of cycling.
that special spot.
lest you infer that this is a modern variant on the silent movie, the soundtrack couldn't be more apt, featuring music by talkdemonic, roots of orchis, the kg and blktop project, music which could almost have been written for the movie. and while we're passing in this direction, tae won yu of the kg also designed the rather fetching dvd cover. not having previously encountered tae won yu, or his works, i enquired further of mr vernor;"
i can't say enough about him. amazing person, thoughtful, and he totally investigated the project and my motives for making it, before taking on the design job."
at this point, admiration for the man behind the camera grows exponentially. cyclocross is hard enough to race, given its one hour and a lap fomula, producing a 60 minute mad-dash for the line. but it crosses my mind that the filmist must not only inhabit the psyche of those racing, but have another part of the brain firmly concentrated on that of the movie's prospective audience. knowing the best places to site that camera, having to quite likely run from one corner to the next, safe in the knowledge that the editing suite will have seamless copy to fill its monitors has to be an acquired skill. one that not many have in quantities such as this.
but the twist in the tale brings us back to that international language inhabited by the bicycle; in this case, specifically cyclocross bicycles. for messrs mgrath and wicks depart their north american circuit and head far,far away to the land of the rising sun, there to participate not only in a very different culture, but in the occasional cyclocross race. their counterparts in mud and sand are keiichi tsujiura and yu takenouchi.
tsujiura is a most self-effacing rider, describing how, as japanese cross champion, he travelled to europe intent on participation and ultimately, decent results in the super-prestige series. he admits to his egotism in this respect, and how his downfall was completed by the race leader lapping him after only forty minutes. how the mighty are fallen. happily, all four riders appear not only to find much in common with each other, but are on a similar level when it comes to scrabbling about a japanese cyclocross race. it is unintentionally comical to see less than slim japanese officials wearing dark blue uci emblazoned overcoats.
officialdom is another international language.
brian vernor treats us to a visit with shigeru nakagawa, an elderly japanese framebuilder of some repute, one who deems himself inspired by ernesto colnago and ugo derosa, apparently as much for their specific colours as for their prowess with the brazing torch. nakagawa's bicycles are pink, one of which is raced by yu takenouchi. it's an intriguing visit not least because of the cliche that japanese framebuilders ony make keirin frames.
japan is not particularly similar to north america, and the cyclocross racing could be nowhere else but japan. however, the racing is undertaken at the same frenetic pace, with the same commitment and the same ultimate joy on the podium. an international language requiring fluency in neither north-american english nor japanese.
the immediate contrast of barry wicks silhouetted against a japanese sunset, which then cuts to the windscreen and dashboard of a car entering a grey and wet portland, oregon, across one and in sight of those other famous bridges across the willamette, is a contrast well made. portland, morally the cycling capital of north america and certainly a hotbed of cyclocross activity, is an apt choice to bring the viewer back to earth with a bang. umbrellas, puddles and rainjackets abound. and cowbells.
where brian vernor's pure sweet hell was cyclocross from the very inside; raw, rough and exciting, the cyclocross meeting is an art movie with every last ounce of pretension removed. your devotion to cyclocross is encouraged but not demanded, and the film works so well on so many levels; it is documentary, it is entertainment, it is colour and movement.
it's a singular triumph of film-making that transcends any boundaries you may wish to impose. after this, you will understand.
the cyclocross meeting was premiered in the uk on saturday 16th october at the bicycle film festival held in london's barbican centre. it can be purchased in north america from cyclocrossworld.com. if you'd like to order a copy in the uk, e-mail email@example.com and he'll be happy to help.
posted wednesday 20 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have no great experience as a recording artist, at least not in respect of producing little plastic jewel cases that will fill even a corner of the racks in hmv or virgin stores. nor, come to that, has any of my drumming graced the columns and lists of the itunes store. in fact, my last cd was recorded live a few years back, at a concert forming part of the islay jazz festival. that's my closest brush with the spring classics of drumming, if you're happy to let me put it that way.
the more tedious and less rewarding experience of multi-track recording in a studio the size of a new york elevator, has at least one feature to recommend it; there's always the possibility of a second chance at that second chance. no matter whether one track is at risk or a collection of tracks grouped into an album, if the drumstick falls, the cymbal is missed (a speciality of mine), or the tempo tends to vary by more beats than it ought to, it can simply be done again. and with the advent of digital recording via software such as pro tools, it may not even be necessary to make that second take; assuming the part was played correctly at some earlier or later part, the wonders of copy and paste can save a fair bit of time. and if time is the problem, lets all say together: quantisation.
that my sole entry into the world of jazz recording was such a clean and tidy affair, could be regarded as a bit of a fluke, since mistakes were made; but hey, it's jazz, and the definition of a jazz drummer is one who never plays the same thing once. had the live recording returned totally ineffective, it would have been a case of c'est la vie, but being some way from that of an international recording artist, no big deal. at the risk of stretching an already thin and pasty analogy, this is a similar experience to the modern, (and vintage) cycle racer.
while all came to nought, if second step on the podium can be dismissed as such, andy schleck had at least the opportunity, time and tenacity to have a good run at bertie after chain-gate. at the point of chain unshipping, andy's race was not over, though by paris it turned out to have been the deciding factor. had we been witnessing the same error (or misfortune) at flanders, roubaix or the approach to sanremo, it would have been game over. the podium would not have been seen by mr schleck.
it is this finality that provides the necessary frisson and attraction for the one-day classics, a factor rarely present in any of the major, or minor, stage races.
if i may be permitted to quote from paul sherwen's introduction to velopress' latest and greatest, the spring classics...
"when you race a classic, there is no next day's stage. you can get every last bit of energy out of yourself because you don't have to worry about being eliminated from the race tomorrow. you can give it your all without looking back."
and how right he is. that is at least one of the reasons thousands flock to the roadsides of belgium, france, italy, germany, and holland to see those modern day warriors do battle over the very tarmac or cobbles trammeled the rest of the year in pursuit of the daily paper, groceries or the daily commute. races such as the tour of flanders, paris roubaix, liege-bastogne-liege bring the stars to the people, and make them one of the greatest free shows on earth, close enough, in most cases, to reach out and touch.
compare these with the giro d'italia, tour de france, or la vuelta, assuming rider errors to be minimal in execution and number, there are always days in the mountains, time-trials, sprinters' stages to re-coup those lost seconds or minutes, or ingratiate oneself in the eyes of the directeur sportif. this is not to say that the nervous energy and excitement is not present in tour stages, but it's of a different flavour.
what the classics have in abundance is history and heritage; the knowledge that the riders are riding in the ruts and tyre tracks of the greats and not so greats, in some cases since the latter part of the 19th century. if push comes to shove, i am happy to lay my casquette firmly in the classics camp, and could (and have, come to that) spent many a happy hour reading and re-reading exploits that have entered cycling legend: bernard hinault's freezing ride in the 1980 edition of liege-baston-liege; eddy merckx' five wins in the same race between 69 and 75; albert bouvet's defeat of bobet and scheppens in the '56 paris-tours, and even cancellara's demolition derby in this year's ronde van vlaanderen.
this velopress homage to all the classics, not just those that take place in the springtime months, is a substantial piece of publishing in every sense of the phrase. this is not a book to read in the bath unless you have biceps like schwarnold arzenneger, and it might conceivably give your coffee table a hard time. many authors and photographers are responsible for the length and breadth of the text and compelling photos contained within its two hundred plus pages of quality paper, and the information presented could likely form the basis of an academic study of the genre. but that is, perhaps, to misdirect the message of the spring classics; this book is about endeavour, excitement, battle, character and those old chestnuts, pain and suffering. i would defy any reader not to browse a selection of those old black and whites without getting antsy about dragging the bike from the shed right there and then.
for the statistically accurate amongst you, the final pages list the top three finishers in every race from its inception to the point at which the publisher called in the manuscript for printing. thus while it will obviously not pay witness to gilbert's fine win at lombardy this past saturday, it does record cancellara's back to back victories at this year's flanders and roubaix. the price of this book is irrelevant; order a copy now to present to your significant other for christmas day, and another for yourself to peruse meantime. that way, on december 25th, you can affect an insouciant disinterest in proceedings.
because let's face it, there's no way you're going to get anything like a peek at its pages before the christmas pud and brandy sauce.
posted tuesday 19 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
far from being a cliche applied to many a bike ride, or a euphemistic description applied to specific examples of weekend cycling, epic is not only a state of mind but perhaps also something on the horizon of best effort to be attained. for let's face it, how many of you would straggle into work on a monday morning, still wearing the casquette that inhabited the space between head and helmet on the sunday ride, to calmly announce to fellow workmates that that selfsame ride was 'epic'. actually, if examined too closely, how many of those workmates would a) have the faintest notion of which you speak and b) have any real interest in anything other than the results of 'the x factor' anyway? that's what happens at this end.
in the above example, epic is being used as an adjective, and a self-proclaimed adjective at that; far better if one of those workmates was also a member of the pelotonese and applied that adjective altruistically in awe of your cycling prowess (another one of those situations that is noticeable by its complete absence). but if we move around our grammatical definitions, and place epic very definitely in the class of nouns, it can become an object of desire.
i will excuse myself from this course of attainment, for i, as in the case of ronnie corbett in the frost report, know my place. there may well have been hours spent recently exercising those butt muscles, leaping aboard a moving saddle, and it is with some bashfullness i admit to dropping two of the peloton on the way to debbie's yesterday, but training is not my scene, nor indeed, my forte. for truth be told, i have little, if anything to train for; best left well alone. but than that's me; i already own my ultimate physique, such as it is, while you may have levels yet to be realised.
epic.of course, no-one, least of all me, expects you to reach epic completely unaided. even sir chris and indeed mr boardman, had considerable assistance to reach their respective peaks, (though i rather hope sir chris has another one left for 2012) by way of £10,000 chainrings and performance software on peter keen's laptop. granted, a modicum of talent was in place to begin with but... happily, neil is standing in the wings with open arms, waiting for you to prove to him that epic is where you will be in as short a time as possible, if only a helping hand and a set of step ladders can be provided. but there still remains the proof of the pudding.
neilpryde started life as a company making windsurfer sails and carbon fibre rigs for same, before taking a serious interest in making carbon bikes that look as if they're carved from a single block of the resin infused fibre. having become rather good very quickly, neil pryde bikes are on the lookout for epic guys to become epic riders. i'll let stefan tueger of neilpryde bikes explain some more;
'we've been working hard from the start to find passionate riders from all over the world to join our new epic rider project, and now we're on a mission to find even more. the project is about neilpryde sponsoring riders who eat, sleep, and breathe road bikes. not the pros, and not racers, but cyclists. guys (and presumably gals) who are passionate about cycling, ride in great locations, and are bang up to date with all the latest developments in road bikes. it's also important that they're outgoing, entertaining, and have something interesting to say about their passion. we'll listen to their story, and if they fit the bill, sponsor them with a new neilpryde bike of their choice to ride for a year.'
a remarkably generous offer you must admit; makes me almost wish i hadn't excused myself quite so forcibly several paragraphs above. however, an admission is an admission, and it would be wrong of me to rain on your parade. i'm sure that had mr pryde seen the way i crossed the imaginary line joining the two 40mph signs at bruichladdich with my race face on, a top of the range neilpryde bicycle would already be in an envelope on its way to washingmachinepost towers. but i am nothing if not perspicacious and generous in my magnanimity by selflessly informing you of this once in a lifetime opportunity, rather than keeping it all to myself.
should the foregoing definition of the archetypal epic rider sound like it was cribbed from your facebook page, take a quick click across to the neilpryde website before november 15 to point out how well recruitment befits you. and while i expect nothing by way of commission for lifting you towards the lofty ideals that only epic can encapsulate, if you do make it into neilpryde's epicly infused peloton, drop me a line to let me know.
that way you can help make a happy man very old (not sure that came out quite right).
posted monday 18 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the usgp cyclocross race in mercer, new jersey was heavy going. while it wasn't raining during the race, much of the dirt sections had turned to mud; not an uncommon state of affairs for a cross race. as can be imagined, this made the going a lot harder than would have been the case on hardpack. kona's barry wicks fared rather well on both days of the race, his lanky frame perhaps providing more leverage on the cranks to drive him through the muddier sections of the course. in brian vernor's the cyclocross meeting shown last night at the bicycle film festival in london's barbican, and soon to be reviewed in these pixels, we can see wicks return to the rear step of the team van, sit to wipe the mud from his face before removing his race shoes and swapping for a pair of flip flops.
and there it is, sitting half obscured at the edge of the frame.
a framebuilder's workshop is a myriad of tools: files, a vice, saws, emery paper, solder, and loose cast lugs awaiting their opportunity to form part of the next frame. it may not seem like neat and tidyness to the casual observer, but everything is placed in proximity to the frame jigs to make sense of the builder's daily travail. imperfection is perfection. we are in richard sachs' inner emporium where a bundle of straight raw steel looks forward to becoming fork blades on this year's team cross bikes. there will be much to do in converting these into the red curved blades that will assume the role of keeping a cole front wheel in check through muddy ruts on america's east coast cross racing. a labour of love both before and after building.
and there it is again, sitting half-obscured at the edge of that triangular shaped wooden table, light from the window filtering through its green transparency.
a saturday morning and early afternoon spent vainly trying to give a lime-green cross bike more trouble than i hope it can handle, has to be interspersed with a bite of lunch and a soya cappuccino. something to keep the spirits and the carbs up to at least the bottom of the dipstick. the lengthy strip of bumpy grass that has played host to my slow-motion leaping aboard on the way down, is now about to do the same on the return. the improvement was negligible, if visible at all. but cross bikes are not supposed to have bottle cages affixed, and in order to attempt a series of shoulder lifts, i had left the cage in the bikeshed, meaning continual repetition and harder pedalling than i had accounted for, brought on a healthy thirst.
put the ibis back in the bikeshed, and there it is, sitting amongst its brethren at the end of the worktop. as an additional treat to myself, i had shelled out a couple of pounds on orange and lemon flavours for later. in the fridge.
in 1250ad, in val brembana, the ecclesia sancti pellegrini was built, named after the martyr san pellegrino, bishop of auxerre and evangeliser of france. in 1509, leonardo da vinci, who spent a great deal of time, and indeed wrote a lengthy treatise to water, visited san pellegrino to try its 'miraculous' water. san pellegrino mineral water flows from a thermal spring at the foot of a mountain wall that towers above the river brembo in the italian alps. the town that gives the water its name, san pellegrino terme, is close to bergamo, about 25km northeast of milan. i'd love to be able to tell you why it is a drink beloved of cyclists, but i can't. i first came across the grapefruit flavoured drink in an italian restaurant, miles from the nearest sporting velocipede.
i indulged in a forbidden can of the very same (flavour) after being well and truly left behind by messrs joe staples, jeremy dunn, slate olson and carey s-h on a ride that included around five miles of hot and slow (for me) ascent of logie's trail, west of the town of portland, oregon. that and a double espresso. mr olson snapped a pic and e-mailed it to richard sachs. his answer is reprinted below.
it's possible that this flavouring of the thermal waters (which have the fizz added artificially at source) elicits the same fevered reaction that the addition of water or lemonade to an islay malt can incur amongts the cognoscenti. this has not stopped me from my saturday purchase of lemon and orange versions in cans; a drink that is most refreshing when chilled, and rather enticingly features a foil wrap over the ring pull top. this modernity is anathema to mr sachs, and perhaps to others also. bothered? me?
if you will indulge me just a shade longer, allow me to quote from my interview with e-ritchie...
san pellegrino - plain or flavoured?
with bubbles, and plain. three liters daily, and at least 30 altoids. flavored? give me an effing break!
i will grant you that the plain, unchilled fizz is most welcome as i trudge in the back door, debating whether to remove gloves, glasses or helmet first. but a peanut butter sandwich when i have changed to my secret identity goes well with the lemon flavour, no matter the opinion of mr sachs (sorry rs).
it seems almost sacreligious to mention perrier water in the same article or breath, but strangely the latter was the sponsor of the predecessor to the uci world cup series, now morphed beyond all recognition into the pro-tour, or whatever the current moniker is. yet i have heard little or nothing of the french equivalent since those days, and certainly not in the context of chainsets and derailleurs, let alone cantilever brakes.
consumption should not be considered purely the preserve of the cyclocross rider; i would put myself forward as the ultimate example of that (having still not mastered the leaping aboard technique, though the slowmotion version is gaining a degree of credibility). a san pellegrino goes well with any ride on the cielo, and, with the source perilously close to milan, and thus cambiago, there is probably little that should supplant a glass of san pellegrino terme after any ride on a colnago. or any other bicycle for that matter.
purchasers of the more common alcohol-laden six pack could console themselves with the acquisition of a six pack of san pellegrino in smaller bottles, though the more economy conscious amongst us (that would be me), can nab a polythene shrink wrapped six pack of one litre bottles, making more financial sense than one at a time. in a concession to modernity, many of these bottles are of green plastic, but for an authentic and reviving fizzy drink, there can be little better than pouring from a glass bottle.
and if that's not persuasion enough, it has a really cool label.
posted sunday 17 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i debated long over telling you all this, at least as long as it took to sup a soya cappuccino at deb's, but i'm sort of hoping you'll perhaps have noticed a different thread or strain running through the occasional article this past week or so. the evidence for such is a definite leaning towards the off-road genre, not quite as far as those farm gates with springs, but decidedly incorporating treads, cantilevers and a chainset with non-standard rings. yes, it is cyclo-cross season, and while my attempts to emulate even the tail-end charlies would bring forth mirth from a ten speed cassette, i cannot deny an inherent love for a sport i have never attempted. and just to advise those involved in at least the scottish chapter of the activity, your entry forms are safe; there is no chance of me doing anyhting other than shaking a cowbell in odd time signatures.
yet, riding a cyclocross bicycle lends a certain frisson to the saturday journey, a trip that has, through simple self-justification, to take the most convoluted route possible to debbie's. islay is not unique in its recent historical past; the population here peaked at around 15,000 at one time, but is now only a smidgeon over a fifth of that. thus there are little roads that are no longer roads; they mostly go somewhere but are either no longer used, or used only by members of the local agricultural community. these have the beginnings of a field growing along the centre, while the surface on either side is littered with potholes and loose gravel. this is ideal territory for not only the inquisitor, but the inquisitor on a cyclocross bike.
i kid myself not; while i would be loathe to take the colnago master along routes such as those described, the cielo would master with retsrained glee. however, the ibis cross bike seems to positively revel in such conditions, imparting little of the teeth chattering going on at wheel level, and with handfuls of stopping power when i inevitably meet an obstacle that i didn't think should be there. and it's great fun; i made sure this has been undertaken more than just twice, on the off-chance that i was kidding myself.
as to the muddy stuff, well there are still portions of that i feel are better left to the knobbly tyre brigade, particularly the very narrow singletrack i attempted this morning. thankfully the bicycle seemed to have a better idea of where and how it was going than did its pilot, and no injures were sustained. but it was touch and go once or twice. indeed, several attempts at same would likely result in hitherto unknown handling skills, but folks always have said that whisky is an acquired taste; i have no intention of continually experiencing the perils of acquisition, thank you very much; i'll stick to what i enjoy.
however, my skirting about in the occasional mud and large clumps of autumnal leaves did elicit emotions that cannot be readily experienced on smooth tarmac (who am i kidding? smooth?), though i will not pretend that all of them did not involve fear.
much money was recently spent on resurfacing the majority of bowmore's shore street, racked with patches enforced by an upgrade to our sewage system. now you can no longer see the joins. and only a modest amount more was spent on doing a similar job on the ten mile length of the high road, except that resurfacing finished after five miles. (why?) however, riding a top notch road bike with smooth tyres on pristine tarmac is a similar feeling to that of switching off an expelair; the relief from extensive road buzz is tangible. but smoothness of this quality does not make me a better person, and to re-connect with that inherent cyclist lurking just below that outer skin of pave appreciation, it would seem it is necessary to throw oneself into the graft and fibre that comes with eschewing anything that is smooth, and embracing those speed bumps with glee.
we'll soon enough be back to the road-going sveltitude that demands definitive tan lines and a five-o'clock shadow, and i can revel in my acquired smoothness of character. but while there is the aroma of embrocation hanging heavily in the air and the omnipresent din of cowbells, i am intent on 700x30c with tread and threading my right arm through the front triangle at every opportunity.
just as long as it doesn't rain.
posted saturday 16 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at the risk of stating the obvious, the world would be a far duller place without colour. no disrespect to those who are colour blind; while i realise the latter does not mean everything is in black and white, certain colours are indistinguishable, and thus the viewable spectrum is slightly diminished. we can find fabulous colours in so many unexpected places, and their unexpectedness is often enough to justify placement, whether deliberate or accidental. so it is, therefore, worth asking the question as to why so much of the mundane employs little variation on the same colour choices, or colourways if we wish to be modern and contentious.
computer screens display in red, green and blue, while printed matter employs cyan, yellow, magenta and black, the raw examples of which are eagerly brought to your attention through the shelves of w.h.smith possibly on a daily basis. logic would dictate that utilising colours eschewed by one's publishing competitors would lead to a higher visual profile and maybe, just maybe, increased sales.
return on investment.
but take a quick gander at hello, chat, and cycling weekly and you'd wonder if colour perception had degraded to those four colours, all else being presumed missing in action. this minimising of available colours is not confined to the print industry, evidence of which is contained in my opening paragraph, where my contention that coming across little sparkles of colour is what brightens our world. but it does sometimes make me wonder what happened to all those other colours on a daily basis?
being what is sometimes referred to as a 'print professional', i am consciously aware that not all colours suit all situations, and that not all colours can be satisfactorily reproduced across all media. a fluorescent orange cycle jersey might not be the ideal corner of the peloton to inhabit, but comfort yourself with the knowledge that offering such is technically not the ideal thing to do, particularly in sportwool. but why then, is the bulk of cycle clothing composed of very similar colours? i am referring to red, yellow, blue, black and white, much of it of very similar hue.
rapha have bucked the trend just a bit over the course of their six years in the business; it's not that they don't employ those particular colours, but the shades are just a little bit off the scale every now and again. it's a trend that has continued into their autumn/winter cyclocross kit, inspired by their north american sponsorship association with focus bicycles. last year's kit was particularly autumnal featuring a subdued green sportwool jersey with contrasting red arm hoop, a colour continued to the shin panels on the front of a pair of shiny black lycra bib threequarters.
the new season kit couldn't be more different in terms of colour, and may hopefully presage a change in direction over the next few years, for this inspired sense of colour is normally excluded from the world of cycling, let alone cyclocross. so what colour, given this lengthy introduction, is the 2010 rapha cross jersey? well, actually it's black, and if thus it remained, i would understand your querying the veracity of my joy, but here i resurrect that old chestnut chiaroscuro. this is the method by which the great masters of the art world introduced, for want of a better word, contrast; light brings out darkness and so the converse. rapha have achieved the brilliance of black by applying a candy stripe of white, pale blue and pink across the left shoulder, where a pad for the top tube is quilted using threads of those colours. the theme is continued on that all-important left sleeve hoop and rapha logo; not sewn into place but screenprinted, obviating the haberdashers' constant worry of colours merging in the wash.
cyclocross does not place the same demands on pockets as does the regular cycle jersey, but rapha naturally enough, realise that we might just wish to wear the kit when training, or simply standing on the corner of a ruined farm cottage holding a lime-green bike and looking at a solitary cow. thus there is one large, waterproof zipped pocket, fronted by a single deep and capacious sportwool receptacle. pump, energy bar, rainjacket and loose change friendly.
subtlety can, however, be taken a smidgeon too far; if you have multi-coloured candy stripes then perhaps they should be flaunted just a tad more. wish granted. running diagonally across the back of the shoulders is a longer version of the same stripes, making sure that the following exhausted and exasperated cross riders will have time to appreciate the colour sense of perren street and mississippi, portland.
head south to those bib-threequarters and the neoprene lined lycra is greatly enhanced by the same candy stripes on the shin panels. this is inspired thinking, for i doubt very much that any focus group (pun intended) would have put up their hands in favour of the blue, white and pink had it been forcefully suggested at point of survey. it's a leap of faith that is fully justified.
but colour is only skin deep, and is not going to gloss over any inadequacies in the firmament for long if the show has no go.
i have had the great good fortune to have reviewed each incarnation of the annual revamp of rapha's cross kit, each version of which has arrived in its own drawstring bag, enabling it to be thrown in, plastered in bits of field, and not contaminate everything else in the kit bag. this year, however, the luxury has moved up a notch. i was moved sufficiently to notice the improved comfort of the jersey, and figured i should check with rapha that changes had been made and i wasn't about to make even more of an idiot of myself in pixels than usual:
'the sportwool has a new treatment applied for 2010, which gives softer handling and a better stretch and return. the actual fabric has remained the same, but this treatment will make it more comfortable and better suited for cyclocross.'
so it wasn't just my imaginings. several rides aboard an actual cyclocross bicycle have done nothing if not reinforce my initial happy notions, and while i have realised just how unfit i really am, i have been comfortable in my exhaustion. the idea of lining the bib threequarters with neoprene verges on genius, for not only does this make the kit more able to resist the harshness of a winter sport, but it makes them a lot easier to put on in the first place. the latter may well be an inadvertant by-product, but it is welcome nonetheless. the colouring is carried through to the lining of the bib mesh, and though no-one but you will ever see this bit, it's a nice touch.
should you wish to round off the whole candy colour experience, rapha have produced a suitably coloured and sponsored cap to enhance the professional look, whether you ride a focus mares or not.
disappointingly, although wearing this kit moves me several steps nearer to sven nys-ness, it has impressed no benefit on my athletic prowess when hurtling across bumpy bits of grass and slat-wood bridges. i am all style and a complete lack of substance.
rapha's cyclocross jersey is available in x-small to xx-large for £130 ($210), the bib threequarters retail at £150 ($215) in similar sizes. the cap is one size fits all and costs £15 ($20). there's also a team umbrella to complete the ensemble.
posted friday 15 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................