reality is often substantially different from theory; from imagination. to watch the professionals each year roll over the cobbles of arenberg, belies the skill and effort it takes to do so. yet from the comfort of a leather armchair, cheering leads to an interest, desire and conviction that equates with "how hard can it be?". the offer of a professional contract will bypass the majority of us all; cobbles should surely not be attacked alone, without the comfort/threat of a claustrophobic peloton, and of necessity, if only to fulfil the dream, in seasonable order. the simulacrum must be complete. for just such perfectly justifiable reasons, the owners of paris-roubaix offer 162km from saint quentin to the icon that is the velodrome at roubaix. eighteen sections of cobbles.
this would be the province of the amaury sports organisation, owners of the tour de france, a sizeable portion of the vuelta espana, paris-nice and la doyenne, liege-bastogne-liege. and now the paris roubaix challenge 2011, the site for which has received a bit of british help. perren street help to be precise. earlier this month, cycle clothiers rapha became a strategic partner to the amaury sports organisation, providing marketing and communications advice as well as producing exclusive products related to these events. having entered the top fifty in the sunday times 100 best private companies list, rapha have amply demonstrated their ability to punch at a level well above their physical size when it comes to marketing both national and international; six years on from a small and quiet start, there can be few who have not heard.
having ultan coyle produce the challenge logo is merely the tip of the cobblestone.
"i have been riding the etape du tour since 2002, before rapha was launched. like many rapha customers, the etape remains the pinnacle of our riding season and of the sportive year. to be working with aso on these events is an amazing privilege." simon mottram, rapha ceo.
do not underestimate the influence of aso; it was their refusal to join with the uci's initial pro tour ideals that brought the compromise to professional cycling still in flux at present. it matters little whether you admire or castigate them for this stance, their importance is all but overwhelming. it seems there may be more than one governing body. rapha too, have a benign influence in the sphere of road racing that may be hard to comprehend, yet has subtly altered the face of cycling in britain. and america. and if it comes to that, mainland europe. perhaps it is less surprising than it at first seems, that france chose british expertise.
the first fruits of this partnership are already on an illustrator screen on a desk in perren street, available in a few months time for purchase by those intent on getting cobbled on april 9th. and the rest of us.
the unified field theory manifests itself in a myriad of surprising ways.
posted monday 20th december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it may not be the finest admission of my life, but i care a lot about pixels. i spend a lot of time in their company, usually wrangling them into shapes, colours and positions that they didn't quite manage of their own accord. i have no illusions regarding this as being the ultimate way forward in relation to contemporary photography, for the more i work with pixels, the more admiration i have for those still working with silver halide; traditional film. however, in much the same way as it's impossible to uninvent the infernal combustion engine, the advent of digital photography has brought the world of image making to a far wider public than had ever been the case with film. this has good points and bad points.
a notional good point is the ease with which folks can take hundreds of pictures, safe in the knowledge that, once purchased, unless you have a predilection for printing everything in sight, further expenditure is negligible. with the shifting of this technology onto mobile phones, facebook, google view etc, there can be very few corners of the world or people living in it that have not been captured in an amalgam of those pixels i was talking about earlier. whether you view this as good or not depends on whether you're behind the lens or in front of it. and whether you approve of a new career on facebook.
conversely, a definite bad point (it gets worse?) is the seeming total lack of discretion on behalf of those taking the photos. that is sort of where i come in, for though little can be expected from those who found a digicam in their lucky bag, one would, or perhaps could, expect more from the professional practitioner. in my experience, the definition of the word professional needs not only a degree of clarification, but perhaps some sort of strata that would condition those who make a living from their art into distinct levels, that there might be some way for others to gauge the expected standard in advance.
you see, many of the photos i receive requiring shall we say, attention, could have been easily removed from accident and emergency had some forethought been given at the point of shutter clicking. of course, there are the unsaveable; under-exposure can be massaged, because those pixels cunningly store all the information needed to reveal the truth. over-exposure and flash are considerably less forgiving. in the days of yore and black and white photography (because colour hadn't yet been invented), the quality was better and more consistent, with the cost of a camera more or less excluding the amateur. digital and low cost have put paid to that.
and at the risk of shooting myself in the foot, similar accusations can be levelled at the skill or art of contemporary writing and the ease with which it can be foisted upon an unsuspecting public. some seem born with the art, while most of us have to slog, study and research our way through the mire. the prevalence of online blogging and the ease with which it's possible to publish your own book, no matter the quality of the contents, has likely given rise to opportunities for the downtrodden as well as for those with little in the way of structure, grammar or spelling.
it is, therefore, of great comfort to have an annual beacon of publishing that creatively combines both the visual and the literary, as it has done at pretty much this time every year for the past three years. issue four of the rouleur photo annual is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the series; there is a definable increase in the quantity of quality photography pertaining to the act of cycling a bicycle very quickly, and ever more inventiveness in the art of such imagery. attach to each series of pictures, words by some of the sport's finest wordsmiths, and you have the appropriate recipe for a month of sundays with feet up on the workstand, a glass of natural berry bikefood in the water bottle, and enough quiet time to, as billy connolly once said, appreciate, appreciate.
about four years ago, when the first issue was being purveyed at a rapha exhibition in london, i did rather wonder how avoidance would be made of each subsequent year becoming the same old same old, and even after reviewing each copy, i am at a loss as to how this is being achieved. it's there in colour and black and white, but the machinations of the printed page practice a sleight of hand; i can but view and admire. it is, i feel, not overstating the case to suggest that such volumes may provide much in the way of learning material for aspiring photographers, no matter their attempted field of expertise.
occasionally unexpected photography from the expected: olaf unverzart, ben ingham (the latter with a stunning paean to coppi), taz darling, guy andrews, dan sharp, gerard brown, marthein smit, timm kolln, yazuka wada and geoff waugh, providing a wealth of cycling imagery that is, in many cases, quite breathtaking. what sets the rouleur photo annual apart from its lack of competition is the quality of the writing, some of which would make those of us who are merely playing at it weep with admiration and envy. i jest not. johnny green, graeme fife, william fotheringham, jeremy dunn, michael barry, matt seaton, nadav kander, christian vande velde tom southam and the excellent herbie sykes. to quote from wayne's world "we are not worthy, we are not worthy". this is worth every penny of those thirty seven pounds.
'fausto told me he's been to sanremo. he says he's been to milan and he's been in the clouds.' herbie sykes.
the rouleur photo annual volume four can be ordered directly from rouleur.cc, though there's darned little chance it will get to you for christmas now, considering the blanket of snow experienced by most. however, an annual is not just for christmas; those at 1 luke street will be just as happy to send out a copy when it's january.
posted monday 20th december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the period between christmas and new year used to be so different; commerciality is most definitely on the increase, something you will not have missed if you're a parent, and the seeming desperation to return to normal and business as usual after santa has been, is a mite more prevalent than i would consider seemly. but then i am not a retailer of any kind, and perhaps the bottom line exerts more pressure these days. anyway, many years ago, while in the employ of of the caterer for prestwick airport terminal building, i was given a hire car for the entire period of the festive holidays (and you thought i couldn't drive) to transport the staff to and from their work because the local bus service effectively shut down for the period under consideration. while i would be unlikely to undertake the same nowadays, at the time it was rather nice to have a brand new motor car for well over a week, that was mine to do with as i wished when off-duty.
come new year at the end of the eighties (pre-history), ayrshire fielded a particularly heavy and prolonged attack of snow, meaning that my few years of driving rather suddenly had to be augmented with skittering about in the snow. on new year's day, at around 6am, i drove several miles along a snow occupied irvine by-pass on which the lanes were indistinguishable from the verges, and it was only sheer luck that, on at least a couple of occasions, the considerable momentum owned by a motor car (something seemingly transparent to the majority of drivers) was stopped short of re-designing the armco. the early shift staff that i was to collect were duly gathered at the appointed bus stop in saltcoats, and a similar trip repeated in the opposite direction across just as much snow, on a road bereft of any other vehicles.
on returning to the airport, with at least a couple of nightshift staff to transport home, i popped into the airport police office to enquire as to the road conditions i might expect over the next few hours. it transpired that the police had pulled all their patrol cars off the road i had just traversed, and closed it to traffic, except nobody had bothered to point this out.
large dollops of snow have featured almost daily on the uk news broadcasts over the last couple of weeks, though as i mentioned yesterday, islay largely avoided the first lot, but paid for it come the past few days. the main artery between glasgow and edinburgh was all but cut off last time round, my daughter's boyfriend having been stuck in -9 degrees of traffic for more hours than he really wanted to be, arriving home in the wee small hours, though he most definitely was not the only one to experience that predicament. and now that the snow has come to islay and remained in place because the temperature and windchill has had very little effect on the mercury rising. so mornings are greeted with the sound of car engines running and screens being scraped as the neighbourhood attempts to become mobile. where they're going so early on a sunday morning doesn't bear thinking about.
you can imagine that it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to point out to anyone within earshot, particularly those with de-icer and scraper in hand, that the ibis hakkalugi started first time, straight out the bikeshed. add to that the fact that, even in road conditions that could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as transport friendly, the ibis got me from a to b and back again without so much as a tail slide. it will come as pretty much no surprise to anyone reading (unless you're still looking for info regarding washing machines), that i am decidely pro-bike, eager to point out the considerable advantages even to those who have no real intention and a 4x4 of listening. i'm not blind to the fact that transporting the whole family on a fleet of ibis cyclocross bikes when the weather turns white is some way from a practical solution, but i can't help noticing when approaching the major conurbations from the luxury of my coach seat, that many of those travelling are flying solo. if even a portion of those trips, particularly the shorter ones, were to be achieved by an appropriately shod bicycle, the gridlock experienced on the newscasts could perhaps be lessened to an appropriate degree.
as a completely inept example of how this transportation of delights can save the day, albeit on a very small scale (little acorns, and that sort of thing), today was the velo club d'ardbeg mince pie ride, a pelotonic decision taken quite some number of weeks past without so much as an eyelash on the weather forecast. the stalwarts manning the yellow roads department trucks with a payload of sand in the back and a snow plough on the front have done a grand job of keeping the main island routes as clear of snow as can perhaps be expected. however, they have been a tad selective in where the payloads of grit have been deposited, meaning that the peloton was rather restricted in where it may ply its trade, prior to the scoffing of mince pies in the company of a fine soya cappuccino. numbers were further diminished by the predicament of the mighty dave t, whose domicile had most certainly not been on the receiving end of any grit at all.
he dined alone with mrs dave t.
however, three adults (debatable) and an apprentice adult took to mountain bikes and a 'cross bike then thumping it up and down the snow covered dunes of uiskentuie strand. yes, some of us fell off more than once, and the mince pies did end up in a rather fragmentary state come tin opening time at debbie's once the excitement was over. the journey home (a fine cd by edinburgh trumpeter colin steele) took in more than a few snow trammeled pathways, including the one through the substantial woods leading to islay house, not because it was entirely necessary (read: it wasn't necessary at all) but just because it was there and i was having too much fun. it is fortunate that i am possessed of such a finely honed physique; a normal person would have been all but wrecked after such a workout (did i hear laughing?). i, on the other hand, managed to smile inanely at mrs washingmachinepost when she opened the back door, a smile that had been stuck there since leaving the house earlier that same day.
graeme obree told me that he wanted to keep the secrets of cycling safe because he rather enjoyed its current minority status in the uk; he didn't want every tom, dick or alberto riding and clogging up the roads. realistically, if some of my friends are representative of the great unwashed, that seems unlikely to happen, but over a weekend when many sporting fixtures have gone the way of the dodo, the bicycle has triumphed once again. and if more were aware of the life-giving properties of two wheels and a derailleur (perhaps a slight over-egging of the pudding there) maybe the great british standstill would be all but unnoticeable to governments and media alike.
humour me; it is christmas after all.
posted sunday 19th december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
yesterday it snowed on islay with a vengeance, dissolving all that carefully nurtured smugness we'd gained over the last cold spell when the island was almost the only green bit on a satellite photo of the uk. a friend of mine was even commissioned by a scottish sunday newspaper to picture the barman from the port charlotte hotel in short sleeves, sitting on a deckchair in port charlotte main street, sipping a cocktail, just to stick two fingers up at the opressed of scotland, still digging themselves out of snowdrifts and moaning that the motorway between glasgow and edinburgh was at a standstill. now the frostbite is on the other foot. as i sit and type, there are a dozen kids with makeshift sleds vaunting down the hill at my neighbour's gable end, crashing into his wall. fortunately, he is in dubai for christmas.
so i have spent a marvellous morning and forenoon hammering through several inches of picturesque snow on an ibis hakkalugi 'cross bike, annoying motorists with just how easy, safe and simple two wheeled transport can be while they face an adversity not often seen in the principality. the smugness has been at least partially regained. however, much of the cyclocross season, as far as racing is concerned, is now over on both sides of the atlantic. sadly cycling tv, once the future of cycling as we know it, has failed miserably to cover this year's european season, and i feel the worse for it. in view of its growth as a sport in the past year or two, it is sad that the coverage falls a long way short of the hours devoted to the tour de france and its two compatriots in the pinnacle of stage racing, or even that of the spring classics. but in the midst of all this snow and sub-zero temperatures, it's way too soon to be thinking of three weeks in italy, france or spain.
or at least you'd think it was.
if any of you intend to take a trip to french france in july, or even italian italy in may, perhaps neither are too far from the mind, considering any travel and accommodation arrangements that require to be made. even those intent on the etape or, just prior to the start of the tour, the hot chillee london-paris ride, will be making plans for the training regime, how it might just be possible to squeeze a new bicycle out of either venture, and figuring out how much money that piggy bank is going to have to accommodate. however, in the world of bigger and better, one stage of the tour, or three days of getting to paris begin to look like a ride to debbie's on a saturday, for far bigger, harder and, indeed, more expensive fish are clamouring to be fried.
michael robertson of velodramatic, a chap i am particularly proud to regard as a friend, this past year turned his back on a career as a designer, reduced the frequency of new pages onvelodramatic and turned himself into a professional photographer. lest you figure this to be one of those mid-life crises, i should point out that michael has a skill with a camera lens that is easily the equal of those you see in rouleur each month. this career change has not only seen work arrive from the specialized bicycle company, but also from road and bicycling magazines in the usa. world domination will surely follow sooner rather than later. however, this past july, michael teamed up with the kika squad from holland to illustrate their very own tour de france. riding one day ahead of the real tour de france, this team of disturbingly fit amateurs rode pretty much every kilometre of the whole distance, raising a substantial amount of money for charity in the process. mr robertson documented every kilometre that they covered, producing two fabulous books presented to each rider after the event.
where's the point of riding all that way if you've no holiday snaps to bore friends and neighbours?
such was the success of the undertaking, that it's going to happen again this year, only the name has changed to protect the innocent; and you could be one of those innocents. launched yesterday, the opportunity for the ride of your lifetime will commence on 1st july 2011, a day before the professionals do the same. named after the french for dream, team reve, resplendent in matching jerseys will set off in a peloton (of at least fifteen) of their own, cossetted in the same manner as those following behind; accommodation booked, luggage transported, mechanical assistance every step of the way and michael hanging out the support car window taking more photographs than camille mcmillan after a double espresso. however, the only amateur aspect of this endeavour will be those on the bikes. based on the considerable experience of michael's partner in the venture, wilfred de kruijf, no turn has been left unstoned; stranded on a desert island, wilfred is the guy you would want to have with you.
all this fabulousness, however, does not come cheaply - a shade under £7,000 (€8,000/$10,500) to be approximate - but it does seem like a once in a lifetime sort of thing; having a complete photographic record of such a magnitudinal undertaking will likely make it last as long as forever. so, should the possibility be within your grasp, should you be ready for something more than chugging across the alps, pyrenees or cobbles for a day or two, this could be where it all starts.
of course, why stop at the tour de france? well, there is no intention of doing so; 2012 may well bring the same opportunity to ride the route of the giro and eventually the vuelta espana. it could be perspicacious to ask for phrase books for christmas in subsequent years, and clear a space on the bookshelf for those hefty tomes depicting your uncharacteristic speed, stamina and climbing prowess. rouleur and grimpeur all rolled into one.
i'll look out for you waving in michael's photos.
posted saturday 18th december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if you've been around long enough, and have the wherewithal to put bits of bikes together, as well as taking them apart, you will perhaps have a reasonable perspective on what isn't what it used to be. have no fear, i am not about to launch into an endless diatribe about why stuff doesn't need to be changed because there was nothing wrong with it in the first place (though if anyone asks...) this is more about adaptability. as i was fortunate enought to be asked recently for the pages of rouleur, the transmission duties at the rear of the bicycle were originally taken care of by the freewheel, increasing its versatility from an original three differently sized sprockets up to a maximum of eight, before the weight of shimano's cassette took over. keen to be the biggest kids on the block, campagnolo have topped this out at eleven, and are keen to underline that, for the time being, that's where it stops.
if we consider the space between the hubshell and the frame dropout to be of finite measurement (based on the current standard of 130mm on road bikes and 135 on mountain bikes), making space for those extras has to obey the laws of causality somewhere along the line; aside from sprockets becoming thinner, the chain has to do the same. all well and good in a sense; we have now moved on from one size fits all, to requiring specific chains for each vitesse increase at eight, nine, ten and eleven. were it not that i wish to maintain a degree of style and decorum in these paragraphs, i'd let you know what one of my correspondents said on discovering the cost of a campagnolo eleven-speed chain tool.
freewheels obeyed the laws of brute force and ignorance, depending, of course, on which particular flavour of sprockets affixed to the hub thread. not that they exist anymore, but what the heck were suntour thinking of with the two and subsequently four notch remover? breakage, skinned knuckles and foul language perhaps sounded better in japanese. but there were still those contra-rotational forces with which to contend; there was simply no other way for those little spring-loaded pawls to behave, if it pedalling was to be life's sole focus for at least an hour or two.
let me state the obvious: forward motion can only be gained if those pawls engage in the inner serations comprising the standard freewheel or freehub mechanism. freewheeling flattens the pawls into their little sockets, thus allowing the sprockets to revolve anti-clockwise unhindered. with the mechanism built into a freewheel, removal needed no outside assistance other than a musculature similar to schwarnold arzenegger; or a big vice.
freehubs and cassettes present an altogether different problem, with the freewheeling mechanism built into the hub. pop the appropriate remover into the lockring to unscrew and the more astute amongst you will have seen the problem coming from miles away. thus an appropriate immoveable force is required to keep the sprockets from freewheeling, and up till now, that force has been cheerfully provided by the excitingly named chain whip. but there is, in my case at least, a fly in the ointment. cast your minds back to my opening statements about ever increasing sprockets and thinning of same; thinner chains. being a moaning old git, reluctant to splash out on quality tools everytime someone decides that what was good enough before is no longer good enough for now, the chainwhip occupying the appropriate hook on thewashingmachinepost tool board, features a chain more comfortable with five sprockets than the eleven featured on the recently reviewed colnago m10. you'd think that the forward march of technology would have replaced such a rudimentary and rustic tool with something more contemporary.
however, before i introduce the saviour of those knuckles and japanese swear words, i feel i must point out an anomaly in thewashingmachinepost chain whip referred to only a few moments ago. this sturdy piece of equipment, featuring a decent length of chain and a rubber clad tubular handle, also has a suitably shaped cutout that would easily slip over the hexagonal end to a cassette removal tool. but if we assume that the chain is already in place, wrapped round a set of sprockets, how on earth was one supposed to employ the cutout? no, me neither.
anyway, back to my man pedro. in a feast of lateral thinking sometimes seen in the bicycle tool industry, the chain whip has been replaced with a vice grip, but a vice grip with jaws that are designed to grasp sprocket teeth. no more footering with an incorrectly sized chain (for remember, if suitably sized for ten speed, the chain whip would have little purchase on an eight speed); the procedure now consists of placing the splined cassette remover into the lockring and grasping with an adjustable spanner, then grasping the sprockets with pedro's vise whip, and bob is indeed, your uncle. while not an operation i have cause to repeat frequently, a recent multiple swap of wheels between review bikes meant a game of musical cassettes, greatly eased with assistance from pedro.
we are, of course, talking workshop quality here, so the price is a reflection of the quality provided, and it is a tad more expensive than a similar quality chain whip, but considering the ease with which the sprockets were removed in each case, i'd consider it money very well spent, particularly since my knuckles are all perfectly intact.
pedros vice whip retails for just under £40 and can be acquired from decent bike stores and online retailers
posted friday 17th december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
ok, so it doesn't happen quite so frequently at this time of year; dark evenings and the windchill factor are doubtless contributory factors, though you'd think the endless exertions would have provided them with a fortitude that shrugged off even the hint of low temperatures. standing in the middle of a playing field in track top and bottoms (matching in colour, usually dark and with a white stripe down each arm and each leg) with both whistle and stopwatch on separate lanyards around the neck, is as great a picture of invincibility as i can conjure up at present.
compare that with my lumpen, unathletic demeanour, sat in front of an illuminated tft screen on a faux leather chair that has learned nothing from herman miller other than faint pastiche. i am the perpetual inhabitant of the less than great indoors, slave to the deadline, of delicately off-white matt walls, and legs that continually cross and uncross all day long, as if missing the exercise of the past weekend, and fidgeting towards the next.
lunchtimes come and go with no real let up in the lethargy, for surely tis unseemly to run or jog down main street to nab a copy of the guardian and a slice of granola from the co-op. i am an unwilling representative of a conservative employ at these times and i have no real desire to fulfil the epithets of eccentric or bohemian, ponytail not withstanding. not so those of athletic pretensions, for despite a demonstrable inability to inflate a soft car tyre without resorting to an electric pump, the tracksuit confers an agility and persona into which it is seemingly possible to morph. it's a morphing of which i am envious, but i cannot begin to understand why.
come the weekends, and occasional days on which computer keyboards are as distant as i can force them to be, i can demonstrate, to me at least, that there's still a degree of athleticism left in the old carcass yet, besides which, both tyres have been inflated with a track pump. no electricity needed. all this accomplished without the aid of whistle or stopwatch. but there is little in the way of admiration to be gained by casually waving to all and sundry while attired in sportwool and lycra, if the duck-walk in cleated shoes hasn't already dissolved most into creased laughter. why should the litheness conferred by a track top be confined to those talking the talk yet unable to walk the walk?
i have no need of logos, branding or necessary signs of cycling affiliation, that i might invite the approval of those less fortunate than myself; for many are those who have no weekends of speeding along byways and lanes to look forward to, and i have no real wish for ostentation. i freely admit that this has as much to do with narcissistic impression as it has with comfort and style. for no matter how laughable those numbers on an srm, winter tights and a red softshell confer a motion blur of speed to those of stationary comport, and hopefully to those intent on overtaking while awheel.
nylon or polyester is the habit of the great pretenders; the itinerants visiting to teach the young and easily led how to kick balls into netted constructs, those also visiting the schools to sell the undoubted joy of sport, and though not often seen around this particular principality, just as often seen clothing those travelling to and from the gym. who's kidding who? such man-made fabrics would merely confirm membership of the same pretence; words without meaning. in order to maintain that air of superiority that we all try hard to keep under wraps unless forced into a corner, merino can be but the sole solution.
one colour top to hem, full length zip with easily grasped tag, a single buttoned pocket on the right rear, paying just enough deference to its wool heritage, but confident enough to bear a fluorescent pink name tag across its containment, advertising my existence in low light. track suits of common ancestry have little practical shape or, indeed, practicality, having devolved from something once useful but now reduced to that of a badge, recognised by others as having something to do with indefinable sporting pretension. the merino variation, wholly concerned with the art and act of cycling, wears its purpose on its sleeves, long enough to cover the wrists when grasping bar tops, drops or rubberised hoods.
this practicality extends to concerted movement, even when concealed under that previously mentioned red softshell. merino has been the technological revolution of the cycling 2000s, providing that air of sporting insouciance when deep in polite conversation about, of all things golf. i need barely mention that coffee was involved. say what you like about the golfers, and on many occasions i have done exactly that, dress code at the first tee specifically excludes tracksuits. those opening nine holes would have no problem with the merino track top, though it would be tantamount to high treason to swap spokes and pedals for putter and spats.
so i now have my revenge, made all the more sweet by the knowledge that the more regular incumbents of such attire realise it not. they are blissfully unaware of the low esteem in which they are held, not necessarily for their sporting ability (or lack of it), but for unquestioningly burdening themselves with the commonly expected apparel and flaunting this in public; practising to deceive. i, however, have a garment that simply exudes style, offers no pretence, encompasses pragmatism, yet would look not out of place decorated with whistle and stopwatch.
mind you, they rattle like billy-o on the top tube.
rapha's merino track top is available in sizes from extra small all the way to xxl and sells for £150. it is a delight to wear.
posted thursday 16 december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
riding the hot chillee london-paris event was, at first attempt, notable for many things, not least my first trip on the eurostar. aside from the palaver that exists passing through customs and immigration at gard du nord (they don't like you having co2 canisters i have discovered) the journey through the french countryside at speed was most pleasant, despite being hermetically sealed in a railway carriage. then, of course, came the darkness, an entire channel's worth, but a distance that seemed a lot shorter than i'd expected.
there has to be someone or something that attracted you to cycling in the first place. it could be a member of your family, it could be a friend of the family, or it could be a professional or amateur cyclist seen in a race, met in the bike shop or seen on tv. for me it was robert millar; i already owned a bike, i just didn't realise what it was capable of until i saw millar on channel four, going uphill very quickly and leaving others of nationalities that were definitely not scottish, trailing in his wake. inspirational.
of course, it's going to be different for every generation; were it that cycling history were taught as part of the modern curriculum, many of us would have had a veritable panoply of stars from which to choose, based on an appreciation of their talents and successes. but it's a hard fact that learning about those who shaped the world we were about to inhabit with a vengeance tends to arrive after the fact, by which time, formative hero worship may already be writ in stone. for the mighty dave t, apparently well into his pensionable years, brits like barry hoban and brian robinson featured on the posters on the bedroom wall. and if he hadn't needed to re-decorate recently, they'd probably still be there. true hero worship of true cycling heroes.
it's tempting to dismiss the current crop of starlets as having it easy in comparison to the fifties and sixties, though they still have to pedal over the same mountains and cobbles as those mentioned above. but what has changed in the interim, and i figure it's something that cannot be underestimated, is the modern internationality of professional cycling. robert millar recounts how on reaching paris, on his way to join the acbb as his first step towards to becoming a european professional, nobody came to meet him off the train. perhaps a small point, but one that's less likely to feature nowadays. with improved rail and air travel, it is perhaps a deal easier to leave home and country in the selfless challenge to become one of the modern peloton. look back to the first tentative steps across the channel by the british pioneers, and that strip of water must have seemed a lot wider than it does now. at least wider than it seemed from the comfort of a eurostar carriage.
brian robinson is renowned, not only in british cycling history, but that of the tour de france as having been the first from these shores to have won a stage of the tour, a feat accomplished in 1958. it's worth placing this achievement in perspective, for tour teams in the 1950s were not quite as is the case nowadays; there were no trade teams. as part of the 1955 english hercules cycle team (the first from the uk to compete) he finished 29th, having cemented his french, if not european, intentions during those three weeks. as jean bobet, brother of tour winner louison said "i knew that hercules manufactured five times as many bicycles as mercier, and that production of bicyces in england, overall, was ten times what it was in france. i was also happy to offer my services as interpreter to this new colony, but my initiative proved unnecessary. a month after their arrival, their leader, a certain brian robinson, remarked drily "hier on a pris la fringale. aujord 'hui, on est rebecquete". they understood everything, these english, they spoke the slang."
it was this determination or ability, similar to that of his eventual successor, robert millar, to become effectively a frenchman in france, rather than perceived as an englishman abroad, that separated him from many of his compatriots; there was no outward desire to run for the comforts of home. it brought him great respect from his peers and undoubtedly eased his time in the european peloton, for much of his tour racing years were spent as a constituent part of a national team consisting of more than one nationality. the tour's insistence that contest was between national teams obviously made it hard for those nationalities, even such as luxemburger charlie gaul, without the wherewithal to construct a team large enough to partake in each year's race. thus the minorities often found themselves combined in one team, separated by loyalties and often language. such was robinson's metier for most of his european career; that of hired gun. that he achieved the successes he did gives great credence to not only his cycling ability, but his fortitude in the face of adversity, not all of it financial.
what has changed considerably since the fifties is the gearing employed in the peloton. with many today using compact chainsets in training at least, it makes the kneecaps crinkle to hear brian robinson describe front and back ratios on the days from the start of a tour up until reaching the pyrenees. the flatter stages were ridden on a front chainset of 52/47 driving 14,15,17,19 and 21 sprockets at the rear. if that hasn't brought tears to your thighs, on reaching the mountains, the rear ratios were swapped for 14,16,19,21 and 23. the front was still 52/47. and the frames weren't of sub 1kg carbon either.
in the extracts from conversations between author graeme fife and robinson, the latter comes across as somewhat shy and retiring, not someone given to blowing his own trumpet so to speak, and it is testament to the writing and research skills of graeme fife that robinson's story has seen the light of day in such comprehensive and highly readable form. the empathy between the two is never in doubt, but left to the will of fate, it seems highly unlikely that robinson would have ever brought himself to write his autobiography. in which case the world would have been deprived of celebrating the career of an extraordinary pioneer.
there are modern day heroes of whom we are all aware, the careers of several that have been well documented both in print and in video, and there will be likely more arriving in the future who will receive the adulation and whatever equivalent of posters on the wall modern technology has substituted. however, at the risk of nailing my flag to a controversial mast, i have doubts as to whether their careers will receive the consummate literary treatment and tribute ascribed by graeme fife in this biography of brian robinson. coincidentally, i have always held the two finest volumes of cycling biography to be herbie sykes' the eagle of the canavese, and jean bobet's tomorrow we ride, both published by adrian bell's mousehold press. now he has a trio.
posted wednesday 15 december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
every year i design and print my own washingmachinepost christmas cards, sort of a work in progress that has spanned several years. for every year, it dawns on me that a feature of these cards could be carried out with slightly more aplomb; usually after that particular year's edition has left the safety of the digital printer and there really is no turning back. it will surprise you not one whit that it took a good few years to realise the importance and practicality of printing an appropriate festive message on the inside, if only to defray writer's cramp when it came time to send. the designs on the front of these cards have featured, in recent years, warehouse number one at ardbeg distillery with a washingmachine and santa hat next to the rows of casks, and one of debbie's extra special coffees. and yes, there was a modicum of photoshopping going on; you don't honestly think ardbeg keep a washingmachine in their warehouses do you? with a santa hat on top?
i'd love to show you this year's version, but that would rather spoil the surprise for those still to receive theirs. maybe another day. the hard part has been the phrasing of the message that is either emblazoned boldly on the front, or perchance, fills the inner page. do i write happy christmas on the front, followed by and a happy new year inside? that's two happys which may not be a crime against grammar or lexicon, but it does seem slightly inept. therefore, would it be better to say merry christmas, followed by the usual new year bit as previously referred to above? isn't that just a bit predictable and flaky? perhaps it would seem more corporate (not something i'm renowned for, i'll admit) to simply leave the front wordless, and fill the internals with best wishes for the festive season. or do i take a page from the book as writ large across the pond, by wishing all happy holidays?
because, as we become a more secular society (and i have no wish to offend anyone's religious sensibilities at this time of year), more and more of us consider the period surrounding christmas and new year simply as holidays. yes, holidays with presents and, in certain circles, the consumption of substantial quantities of alcohol around the turn of the year, but time-off from the daily travail to do whatever we want, whenever we want.
except it rarely turns out that way. does it?
perhaps if there were a secret plan, something much larger than the humdrum, perhaps something that wasn't quite a solo effort, and less likely to make it look as if doing what we want is merely an extension of the narcissism for which we are normally accused. when there is vacuuming to be done, dishes to be washed, shopping to be purchased and carried up that steep hill that constitutes main street. you are perhaps familar with the scenario played out in homes all across the country, if not most of the civilised world. the crowning glory would be if this secret plan wasn't our idea in the first place.
suddenly, in one swell foop. our prayers are answered. prompted by the manful lunacy of rapha designer, graeme raeburn who undertook to ride 1000km between christmas and new year last happy holidays, perren street has created a challenge that few will be able to resist, aptly named the festive 500. between december 23rd and 30th, the challenge is to ride 500km and in some way or other, document the undertaking. are we doing all those kilometres (around 70 per day) purely for the joy of freedom from the office and freedom of the road? probably, but as a carrot on a stick to entice us away from yet another showing of holiday inn or shrek, 'the most visually engaging or inspirational submission will win a rapha deep winter training bundle consisting of a pair of deep winter tights, a winter jersey and a winter hat. additionally, the first 100 to somehow prove that 500 kilometres have indeed been travailed over the festive period will receive a limited edition 500km woven badge.
so, if you figured this was going to be some sort of holiday, boy were you right, if perhaps a smidgeon more energetic than has been historically the case. you can always have a rest when you get back to work in the new year.
photos by ben ingham
posted tuesday 14 december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................