'Organized cycle racing had been introduced to Italy some twenty five years earlier, when eight masochists had been fool enough to race their Penny farthings over the white roads and cart tracks between the two great cities of the north, Milan and Turin. The winner, one Magretti, left Milan at four in the morning and would break the tape in the late afternoon, his average speed a breakneck14kph. For his troubles he took home a lustrous and gold medal and a vast amount of money, 100 lire.'
maglia rosa, herbie sykes.
come july, most of us have eurosport on our tv screens to the exclusion of all else; in the uk it's the david and sean show for three weeks. many will reinforce the obsrvation that during those three weeks, civilians seem only too willing to enjoin conversations that feature the tour de france. on each sunday morning, as we congratulate the winner of the sprint at bruichladdich, and make room for ourselves in the corner of debbie's, ready for a session of froth supping, folks either leave, or become more engaged in their own conversational force-fields.
move forward around six months, and that will have all changed; everyone knows lance, everyone knows of the yellow jersey, though perhaps no-one understands why cav can win so many stages yet not stand atop the podium in paris. it's a great race below the surface, but i can't help thinking that the surface has encroached a smidgeon more than necessary. as an abiding alternative however, there's always italy's preceding turn in may: real racing as it should be.
i have not known any civilian to engage me in conversation over the giro d'italia, not even to ask why the leader's jersey is pink. mick and andy at prendas had the great foresight to produce a phalanx of pink jersey keyrings for the 2010 edition, one of which still hangs above the kitchen door in debbie's. nobody ever notices, or if they do, comment remains unsaid. yet the race's heritage rivals that of its more garish french counterpart. many of those participating in the 2010 edition claimed the route to be harder than that of the tour de france.
'Cycle sport - free to watch, colourful and dazzlingly quick started winning the hearts and minds of northern Italians and, slowly but surely, of their cousins further south. In Milan in particular new events sprung up seemingly every weekend as they raced south to Florence, west to Alessandria and Asti, as far east as Verona. In Turin they created the Tour of Piedmont, another fifteen hour epic for the new adventurers of the road to get stuck into, whilst in deepest, darkest Tuscany an insane 500km single day marathon captured the public imagination.'
writer herbie sykes, author of the much acclaimed eagle of the canavese, the story of twice giro winner franco balmamion, was outspoken in the 2009 edition of the rouleur photo annual that the organisers had pandered to lance armstrong's first attempt at the race, a viewpoint just as heavily contested as agreed with. herbie's protestations were borne not from membership of the anti-lance brigade, but as a major supporter and enthusiast of the giro d'italia. as a now resident of the country and by his own admission, a bit of 'an anorak', i doubt there is a writer better qualified to provide a comprehensive history of the race. in english.
there's a potted history of the giro available on wikipedia; it is but a mere footnote by comparison to this substantial undertaking. herbie has applied his regular anorakness to the founding of sponsoring newspaper la gazzetta dello sport in april 1896 up to the contemporary running of the giro, placing it in social and historical context, while conducting in-depth interviews with many of those integral to the annual tactical machinations. if that were not enough, the book inhabits the upper reaches of literary excellence. if you have read the eagle of the canavese, jean bobet's tomorrow we ride and graeme fife's brian robinson-pioneer you will hopefully comprehend of which i speak.
simon lamb and i await with anticipation.
maglia rosa - triumph and tragedy at the giro d'italia by herbie sykes will be published in hardback by rouleur books on march 17 of this year at a cost of £29. pre-orders will be accepted from march 3 onwards. with no disrespect to other books in the offing, this is likely to be the release of the year. all being well, there should be a review on the post nearer the time.
'A sinewy, unknown 20 year old Tuscan had emerged as the best climber in the race, winning the mountains prize and the showpiece Apennine stage in Abruzzo. Little did Italians know that he would become their most admired sporting figure, arguably of all time.'
excerpts from 'maglia rosa' printed with permission of the author and publisher
posted monday 24th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i realise it is stretching credibility a little too far, but might i ask that you spare a thought for microsoft, apple et al for the difficulties they face on a daily basis? ignore for a short period of your sunday, the billions sitting in their bank accounts, garnered almost entirely from giving us exactly what they told us we wanted. life isn't all plain sailing.
every new version of their respective operating systems and upgrades to office or aperture have to maintain a high degree of compatibility with the previous versions, otherwise those billions might start to flow less freely. having had us invest in both dependent hardware and software, it is not in anyone's interest that the next big thing breaks the genealogical line; folks may just figure that the grass is greener on the other more compatible side, up-sticks and move. keep the customer satisfied.
how then does a prominent cycle clothing purveyor deal with a similar state of affairs, albeit with a more than tenuous link to the past? endura clothing of livingstone, scotland, has been in existence since 1992, meaning it will celebrate its twentieth birthday in the year of the london olympics. in the early nineties, it took a brave man to consider investing time and money to supply nowt but lycra and polyester to keep roadies happy, for at that time, in the uk at least, mountain biking was still in the ascendency. that's where the money was, and where the r & d budget was best spent.
so what would you do when the knobbly notion begins to plateau, skinny tyres become resurgent, and young upstarts have stolen a march on your thunder? arrive at the endura website and the opening motion graphics still emphasise their mountain biking heritage, yet for the past three years, the company has sponsored a top flight british and now continental road team that have punched well above their weight and threaten to exceed this promise come the 2011 season. with the team launch being held in the national capital (london) in early february, you would expect perhaps greater emphasis on the road-going faculty. in mitigation, the endura squad have signed beckingsale and pritchard to continue the long association with mud and downhill, but have they let the upstarts get too far ahead?
were we to timeshift back a couple of years, i would, as a scotsman, have to reluctantly admit that endura may have missed the boat in this respect. the new competition seemed to have taken up more than the slack, paying more attention to fit, detail and materials than seemed to be the case in livingston. however, the sponsorship of a road team has brought a new perspective and a new sub-brand to the world; endura equipe.
i've reviewed a few items from this range previously, pointing out the tangible benefits of their superstretch overshoes only a few days ago. different seasons bring different demands, and this particular winter may have brought more than most. to counter at least some of them, i have been splashing through the undergrowth and traversing the metalled roads cossetted in an endura equipe lime green exo softshell and matching windshield gloves. i'd like to mention at the outset that i am non too impressed with the equipe logo. in fact, to be more specific, it's that initial letter 'e'; a mere triviality i am willing to agree, but it still grates everytime i see it.
the gloves offer a marvellous lack of bulk, so much so, that the wonder is that they provide so much comfort and protection from the elements. they are categorically not waterproof, but there is no pretence that this is the case. however, they are windproof, and continued to offer thermal properties even when quite highly saturated. padding is minimal, but at last endura have realised that in certain circumstances, less is indeed more; there is no sensation akin to holding two sets of handlebars, and grip on the bars is considerably more than adequate.
however, as is made large on the equipe website, and visually in lime green, each finger benefits from a series of lime green silicon dots, presumably to improve finger friction when and where such is required. unfortunately the epithet slippery when wet applied under just those circumstances. i'm sure endura would be well within their rights, in this case, to point the finger (see what i did there?) at sram for missing out on application of a friction surface to those little flip levers on their force groupset. but with the knowledge that such is the case with most of today's shift levers, perhaps the frictional properties of those fingers should have compensated. in the pouring rain, i experienced several consecutive mis-shifts, though i should point out that this was while riding a cyclocross bicycle across less than level terrain. in the dry, there was no problem. annoyingly, endura persist in placing the snot-wipe on the forefinger rather than on the thumb. i have researched locally, and most would prefer thumb positioning. not perfect, but pretty darned good.
if anything could be said to encapsulate the new endura in one garment, the exo softshell could well be it. a great deal of constructive thought has gone into this, and believe me, it has all paid off. the jacket is proffered as totally waterproof, with externally taped seams (hence the exo tag), a claim that i was more than happy to put to the test over a three hour offroad ride in persistently pouring rain on the ibis hakkalugi. keeping it in the family, i wore a baabaa merino l/s baselayer under an equipe s/s jersey, and at the point of stopping for a refreshing and much-needed coffee, these undergarments were close to bone-dry. i say close, because the thin fleece lining places slight restrictions on the jacket's breathability; however, you can't have everything.
this breathability is assisted by two zipped slots on the side/front of the softshell, rather more pragmatically sited than under the arms. as one still bereft of the ability to ride no-hands, i find it nigh on impossible to open under-arm vents while riding. the more frontally placed zips on the equipe were a dawdle to zip and unzip in motion. the sleeves are of excellent length, particularly for the long of arm such as yours truly, with scotchlite refelctive strips on the outer face and ending with commendably long neoprene inner cuffs. matched with the windshield gloves, this is likely as weatherproof as it's possible to be. the other zips on the front of the jacket belong to a very practical ipod enabled pocket, and a full-length taped closure that angles from bottom right to top left, obviating bulky layering of zips between inner and outer clothing. the collar is pleasingly high and close around the neck, though some of that fleece would have been nice around the inner face. still, it's more than comfortable.
the rear pocket arrangement is perhaps more offroad than on. while many a softshell replicates the three pocket story applicable to many a cycle jersey, the equipe version bears two horizontally zipped pockets, one taped, and the upper, larger enclosure featuring a flap over the top. this has a labyrinthine divided inner, sometimes a bit confusing when trying to extricate pump or other artifact from its cavernous depths while hands still gloved. the smaller is easier to access unseen, and big enough to contain a compact camera, money, keys, peanut butter sandwich and an inner tube and multi-tool. even when well-loaded, the pockets remain well balanced, and maintaining a slim profile.
if lime green isn't your thing, the jacket can be had in either black or red, though neither offer the high visibility of the lime green, and the review sample sort of matched the similarly hued ibis. this is a garment that need not apologise for itself under any circumstances; if this is the sort of benefit that results from sponsorship of a successful road team, then it has been money very well spent.
the equipe thermo gloves are available in black with lime green trim or black and red from small to xxl at a cost of £44.99. the exo softshell jacket is available in black, lime green or red with black trim, in sizes small to xxl at a cost of £199.99.
posted sunday 23rd january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i admit to a degree of mechanical incompetence only so that my story has a beginning other than once upon a time. on tuesday i replaced the strada wheels (which will now move over to the master x-light) on the cielo with the original chris king r45s. and i cleaned both it and the ibis hakkalugi. as the tasks were coming to an end, so was daylight; both bicycles were put back in their respective positions in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed.
thursday morning was clear but frosty; in fact very frosty, icy and cold. new winter gloves from perren street.
a good few weeks prior to christmas, i had ridden to port wemyss to assist the mighty dave t remove a dud, but recalcitrant bottom bracket in his aluminium coppi bicycle. good old shimano had fitted the adjustable cup with a notched lockring which was easily removed with an ageing but highly effective var tool. unfortunately, the fixed cup is internally splined, but with a large diameter splined spindle that prevented my usual remover from fitting. so i purchased a more appropriate version, and thursday was the first opportunity to ride 30km to the principality of port wemyss for attempt number two.
icy roads are not the skinny tyred rider's friend, and i can never remember whether dave t said that if you can see the frost, it's likely to be dangerously slippy, or whether it's regarded as safe enough to tread lightly across. not wishing to traverse too quickly, i applied both brakes, at which point, the levers all but bumped off the bars, and both gear flip levers stuck against the outer circumference. the stradas are 23mm rims; the chris king dtswiss aren't.
despite the cold, it was necessary to remove the rapha softshell gloves, cosy though they were, fish out the multi-tool and tighten both calipers. here's where my incompetence provided unfortunate payback; cold morning, no gloves, cold aluminium resulting in chilly fingers, even when the gloves with their fleecy lining were replaced. i think i wear long-fingered gloves longer than many others do; it makes my winters last longer. inactivity of the hands and little need for prestidigitation did nothing to restore the required quantity of heat; the same problem has pervaded even with thickly padded thermal gloves. a sleeping bag on each arm would have been necessary to remedy the chill of sub-zero temperatures, but the raphas kept much of the excessive cooling effect at bay.
it is fortunate that debbie's is on the way to dave t's, meaning no excuses necessary for a soya cappuccino to warm the soul, and at least one finger on my right hand that had yet to reach room temperature. barry was eating cakes and drinking coffee. new gloves ought to be a neat fit, but one of the corollaries to such is a tangible difficulty of removal from over warm fingers. subsequent replacement of the rapha winter gloves was a slightly icky performance due to damp tricot lining; however, pride bears no pain, and it's of momentary concern. warmth and flexibility are soon regained.
the remaining kilometres south were most pleasant given the brightness and clarity of day, and while keeping my warmed hands in the condition to which they had now become accustomed, the singletrackedness of the failing tarmac between port charlotte and port wemyss gave ample cause for braking, changing and generally making oneself comfortable within the cielo's cockpit. the leather edged fore and middle finger give more than acceptable traction on shiny sram flip levers. never a missed shift even in extremis. the leather palm and padding couldn't be more appropriate for grip and comfort.
the mighty dave t holds a grand view over port wemyss' rugged coastline and the lighthouse that occupies orsay, just across the water. sunny days like this exaggerate the whiteness of his cottage and its neighbours, while describing the summer house in silhouette. it is within this building that the afflicted coppi bicycle lay upside down, it's bottom bracket eager for open bracket surgery. 'twas not to be; the splines of the removal tool could not gain sufficient purchase on the bracket's splines and the excessive force required to effect removal merely succeeded in dislodging the tool from its employ. i will now require to find an appropriate bolt to hold the tool securely in place while it is jumped on from a great height.
c'est la vie.
the mighty dave t has a relaxing mode of existence; he and mrs dave t had been sitting on the bench outside their cottage, overseeing the summer house, garden and the standing stones of port wemyss. after the failed attempt to remove a bottom bracket, stovetop coffee and sticky buns were on offer to provide fortitude against the long haul north (actually it's a very pleasant haul, but that hardly sounds character building). an hour or so at room temperature was easily enough to return the winter gloves to their ease of fitting. the long neoprene cuffs matched very nicely thank you very much, with the sleeves of a rapha + paul smith rainjacket. all too soon it was time to be escorted off the premises, preceded by a tour of the mighty dave t's estate. i stopped for another cappuccino on the way home.
it's just a pity the winter gloves hadn't arrived sooner; they would have been a more than welcome accompaniment on the snow covered festive 500.
rapha's winter gloves retail from their website at £70, black only and in sizes ranging from x-small to x-large.
posted saturday 22nd january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there really is no good reason for linking the following two entirely different subjects in one set of black and yellow pixels, but that's the way they arrived, and try as i might, i feel unable to separate them without things looking lopsided. your mileage may vary.
the last of the mechanical typewriters entered service around the 1970s, being subsequently replaced by the electric and electronic versions. by 1984, apple had brought out the classic and ignited the desktop publishing revolution. typing has thus changed out of all recognition. the typefaces used on mechanical typewriters were what typographers refer to as monospaced, meaning that the letters l and i were allocated the same amount of space as m and w. not ideal from a reading point of view, but under the technological circumstances of the time, the best that could be provided. the best modern example of this is the courier font.
with each letter similarly spaced, the only pragmatic way of signifying the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next was to type two blank spaces. this necessity was diminished somewhat with the arrival of the electronic typewriter, as proportionally spaced typefaces began to be introduced, but when desktop publishing arrived on the computer screen, the necessity to type those two spaces had effectively gone forever. however, what i would refer to as classically trained typists persisted with the habit for perhaps justifiable reason, but now that we are into the second decade of the 21st century, some 27 years after the mac classic, typing instruction could reasonably be expected to to have moved on somewhat and dispensed with those two spaces, which in dtp terms, create those abhorrent rivers of white.
yet persist it does, even amongst those who should know better. our local secondary school still admits to teaching the doube space rule even when confronted with the evidence as to why it is particularly undesirable. my current version of adobe's flagship desktop publishing package indesign cs5 has a script built in to the find and replace feature to remove those double spaces from any selected text, and i have cause to use it far more often than i think i should. if you're in the habit of double spacing still, stop it right this minute. and if you come across any examples of this while reading any outflow of the cycling press, feel free to e-mail the editor to inform of this transgression.
just think of yourself as pat mcquaid.
and it is archaic practices that concern my flimsily associated second topic, a practice with a slightly lengthier history than that of tiepin eros.
in 1937, the taxation ring-fencing surrounding the so-called road fund licence was finally abolished, meaning that no longer was the tax paid by motorists for ownership of a motor car exclusively spent on repair, maintenance and improvement of britain's road system. the money now went into the general tax system and could be raided by the government of the day for any purpose they deemed appropriate. granted, some of this tax was indeed still spent on the roads, but the vast majority of it wasn't.
it is unusual that this road tax, despite entering the anals of history well before the outbreak of the second world war, has persisted in the contemporary motorist's psyche to the extent that many still regard other road users (such as cyclists), as leeches on the system, benefitting from their tax payments, and effectively using the uk road system completely free of charge. in the case of the slower moving cyclists, this is perceived as an abhorrence and the case has often been aggressively put to individuals with two wheels and a chainset, that they shouldn't be there in the first place.
but every taxpayer in the uk contributes to the upkeep of the roads, including those who neither drive nor cycle; what motorists pay nowadays is a car tax, because that's what they drive. in fact, under recently drafted emission laws, cars that emit less than an agreed amount of noxious carbon have become exempt from even this car tax. a strange decision mind you, since a toyota prius causes as much wear and tear as a volkswagen scirocco.
i describe the foregoing not as a method of extending the argument, but simply as a tab of information for those of us likely to face up to irate motorists intent on removing our rights to the tarmac beneath our skinny tyres. i'm not saying it will lower the volume of any such discrimination, but at least there is recourse to some sane and specific information. playing to the gallery perhaps, but be safe out there.
posted friday 21st january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it strains against my better judgement to introduce any of my scribblings via reference to a motor car. any motor car. however, i'm hoping that either nobody notices, or will cut me some slack becasue the car in question is so out of our collective financial reach, that it really escapes the mundane definition i have applied.
a rolls royce phantom.
as far as i can ascertain, one of these machines will lighten an appropriately reinforced bank account to the tune of around a quarter of a million pounds. doubtless this figure could be enhanced with a few well-chosen extras, but for the time being, £250,000 will do just nicely thanks. at this sort of rarefied price atmosphere, the prospective owner not unrealistically expects a veneer of luxury, one that, for some inexplicable, but perfectly acceptable reason, harks back to a period of nostalgia. as the 'official rolls-royce website' subtly states 'wide-expanses of soft leather, and high-gloss wood make phantom an oasis of comfort and calm.'
i do not inhabit the sort of social strata that would bring me into contact with any sort of rolls-royce, but i really have no reason to doubt that an alarmingly expensive motor car such as the phantom is indeed an oasis of comfort and calm. as the advertising for a much earlier model stated, produced when rolls-royce was still a british owned company, the loudest thing in a rolls is the clock, to which the managing director of the day reputedly replied what the hell is wrong with the clock? however, it is an era that rolls are keen to retain a connection with, and there can be little doubt that the average man on a bicycle (such as me) appreciates just what wood and leather represent. it's that special something that many of us desire, but if we're perfectly honest, few of us need.
conscious display is not to which i refer here; ownership of something that proffers a degree of luxury above and beyond the call of duty, an unashamed display of form over function, but an example of which makes the act of cycling just that wee bit more special. unlike a carbon derailleur, a pair of handmade tyres or a hub that rolls for twenty four hours left to its own devices, an item of personal luxury that can accompany each and every ride, and remind of exclusivity experienced by few in the commuting or sportive peloton. i'm struggling for the right words here, but hoping that even through my literary grasping, i've managed to convey a tangible meaning.
you know what i mean?
corio is a municipality in the province of turin in the italian region of piedmont, about 30 km northwest of turin. it's also the name of the latest long-finger leather gloves from dromarti, garments (if gloves are allowed to inhabit that description) that have been more than a day or two in the making. in fact, if you promise not to tell, i had my first peek at the prototypes on the second day of the cycle show at earls court last october. rolls royces probably take a couple of weeks to assemble too. these are unashamed luxury of the kind i have been ineffectively referring to since i started this outing.
the leather is impossibly soft and pliable; if this were wrapped around a rolls royce phantom steering wheel, oohs and aaahs would be elicited everytime the driving position was assumed. that they are the province of those aboard two wheels and a chainset, means that such exaltations are ours to express. the padding is slim; thin but ultimately effective in operation; not too much, not too little. the dark brown leather is contrasted by a red, dromarti embossed section on the back of each glove as well as a red-lined zip on the outboard edge, easing placement and removal. these correlate well with either the brown or black and red dromarti shoes, now that you ask. i am firmly of the opinion that any cycle glove, whether leather or not, ought to feel very slightly undersized when worn for the first time. leather, as can be adjudged by the perennial brooks or zimbale saddles, breathes and adjusts to personal fit. a looser fit will go all sloppy way too soon.
the corio gloves accompanied me on my visit to the quality islay guesthouse visited on tuesday; the ultimate frosting on the cake to enhance my escape from designer scruff, detracting from too many glances at my unbrushed hair. there is an indefinable satisfaction to be gained from sitting a pair of corio leather gloves alongside the soya cappuccino and caramel biscuit. do not besmirch their reputation by ordering a cheese and pickle sandwich at the same time; a slice of carrot cake is, however, more than acceptable. there is no need to draw attention to their proximity; it is simply enough to know that these belong to the world of cycling. as cyril lord was wont to announce in the same age of nostalgia; 'this is luxury you can afford'.
pragmatism dictates that this affordable luxury ought to sing for its supper too, and this they are consummate in achieving, providing comfort, grip, protection, not forgetting more than a smidgeon of luxury. there is no snot wipe across the thumb or forefinger; but then that's what the butler is for. made from nappa leather, and with a subtle fleece lining words quickly become inadequate. i believe i may already have proved that fact. bringing advertising quotes bang up to date with a quote from something totally unrelated, but amenable to the situation, it would not be unseemly to leave these black and yellow pixels for the darker hue of the dromarti website, credit card in hand, trackpad primed to click.
'because you're worth it.'
dromarti corio leather gloves retail at £120 in small, medium (tested), large and extra large.
posted thursday 20th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in 1984, in only his second tour de france, robert millar finished in fourth place, and won the king of the mountains polka dot jersey. it was therefore logical that we had every right to expect more of the same in 1985. in 2009, bradley wiggins was able to equal robert's fourth place, and was climbing with relative ease, so not only the media and fans, but also team sky thought it logical to expect and to aim for better in 2010. paris-roubaix, 2004, magnus backstedt took the finish in roubaix velodrome to convincingly win the race for the first time. as with almost every winner of this particular race, the expectation and logic was that he would stand atop the podium once more in subsequent years. similarly, george hincapie, having come so close to that roubaix finish so often in his career, it was logical that his year would come.
based on the above, what is seemingly regarded as logical seems not to be as logical as logic might dictate logical to mean, therefore it behoves us well to take, with a few milligrams of salt, the statement that rapha's easing itself into the role of cycle purveyor is a logical move. to the best of my knowledge, few, if any, other cycle clothing manufacturers have announced a compact and bijou range of cycles, albeit constructed by third party suppliers. that's not to undermine their strategy, because i think it an appropriate addition to their ever-expanding range. but i'd never have said it was logical.
"we really began talking about this around the time of our collaboration with independent fabrication a few years back with the cyclocross kit and bicycle. the notion of creating an emporium has always allowed us to think not only about cycling apparel; by continuing to think about what we as cyclists would want as consumers, it takes us to areas like bicycles, music, skincare and so forth. the launch of the rapha bicycle collection is an exciting opportunity for us to collaborate with builders that we respect on bicycles that we are drawn to. it's our first undertaking to bring bicycles into the emporium and we are excited to be underway. and it's logical to think bicycles will be a part of the offering in future. rapha's north american manager, slate olson.
there's that word logical again, but surely used in a retrospective fashion. everyone is now agreeing that it was a logical next step, but that's a simple statement to make with an honours degree in hindsight. how many members of the public and media predicted this logical development before it was made manifest?
so perhaps, if you'll forgive my unstinting aim against the notion of logic, you will allow me to substitute the word welcome; given what rapha have brought to the table, and what slate refers to as the emporium, who can possibly doubt that they will not present us with bicycles we barely knew we wanted before the pink stripe appeared down the centre of the mudguard/fender?
the choice of bicycles is, i would tender, anything but logical, for who, with foresight, would have expected to see the beloved every day; come to that, who'd have thought a bicycle would inhabit such comfortingly eccentric name. but by way of justification of its inclusion, beloved owner, james selman was happy to remind of this highly complimentary affectation from rapha/embrocation journal's jeremy dunn. "this bike did a strange thing for me though. evoked a different feeling. one that went sort of like this... i'll try to explain it the best i can... it made me think to myself 'well, i don't have one of these' in a way that made me want to cruise around the neighborhood. you see, i do not get the opportunity to cruise much. even when riding to and from work i feel like it is always a race... i do not do well with cruising, or sitting around. i am trying to change that though. you know, go for a cruise around the block every once in a while. read a book or something. stroll through the park every once in a while... that is kind of what this bicycle does, or is aiming to do. take something sporty like a road bike and sort of find the balance between the race and the cruise." mr selman and i are agreed that we probably couldn't have put it better ourselves.
beloved bicycles are now being built at the chris king plant in portland, in conjunction with the chaps who build my beloved cielo (see what i did there?), and knowing that rapha's north american headquarters are based in that city, it is not too much of a stretch to include (logically?) a second bicycle from the area and second out of three built in north america. this second portland bicycle has perhaps the greatest connection to the rapha ouevre, being the result of a collaboration between two rapha continental riders: tony pereira and ira ryan. in fact this is the continental bicycle, resulting from literally thousands of miles ridden across the obscure backroads of north america. its provenance is amply demonstrated by both builders' names on the downtube, and the inclusion of a frame-fit pump under the top tube as standard. as mr olson testified:"both are dear friends and long-time partners of the rapha continental as riders and the original builders. we think of these two as 'two great things that go great together', and we're excited about them working together for this limited offer."
that frame-fit pump? ira ryan: "yes, both of us felt the original rapha bike should have had fenders and a pump. it should be the go anywhere, anytime, any road bike." as to the collaboration between the two builders, i asked ira if they'd be building each bicycle individually, or half each. "tony and i come to the world of bikes and framebuilding from similar roads and have found each other to be good friends as well as working together on a few smaller random projects. this just seemed like a natural progression for our respective brands. we both have our own ideas of how to build a frame but also push each other to learn different techniques. he is a master with fillets and i prefer the use of lugs, so having a bike that combines both styles is a good way for us to work together and provide years of riding experience to a medium production framebuilding project". i asked tony pereira who would get to do the good bits; "it's all good bits! honestly though, i'll probably do more of the fillet brazing and he more of the lug brazing, but that's the easy part.
i remember the first time ira told me about the rapha continental: 'we're going to travel around the country in a van doing all the best rides.' he said. i replied "how do i get in on that?" it wasn't long before we were actually doing it and its been an incredible experience. the rides are every bit as tough and beautiful as they sound and look. we both feel very lucky to be a part of it."
the collaboration with independent fabrication (or indyfab as i find easier to type) was, from my point of view, perhaps the least predictable, if only because the two have worked together previously. rapha's first custom built cyclocross kit, consisting long-sleeve lightweight jersey with padded right shoulder and bib threequarters, were available in two flavours; one simply brown with orange detailing, one highlighted with the indyfab logo strategically placed about its person. other indyfabs have been seen sporting a rapha logo on the headtube, so i really didn't see this one coming; rapha are not prone to repeating themselves. again. that an indyfab creation is one quarter of the panoply of fabulous machines, is a welcome state of affairs, but it breaks with tradition slightly, by being the only model to eschew steel and nod towards the exotic with carbon fibre and titanium. was this a deliberate ploy to instil differentiation?
"not deliberate beyond the xs being the obvious choice for the sportif/grand fondo position within the collection, especially with the direct experience of a few rapha staffers such as simon richardson, who is no slouch on the bike. i suppose the bike is also a bit like rapha clothing, utilising modern technology to enhance performance, but managing to retain a sense of craftsmanship and understated style, with lots of small details that don't scream at you." gary smith of independent fabrication.
rapha's seven year heritage has been substantially based on the black and white, european heritage amply demonstrated through their website and the pages of rouleur. what ben ingham did next. so logic yet again enters the fray, introducing that fourth model and the only one not just from europe, but more specifically, from italy. cinelli is a strong, popular and traditional choice, but as slate olson mentioned, "there was no official application or standard measure for the partners in this collection. we have a love and appreciation for so many bicycle manufactures around the globe, that choosing only four was very, very difficult. you are likely surprised that there is no colnago, given simon mottram's (rapha ceo) passion for his c-50 and eps bicycles."
i asked cinelli's lodovico pignatti if he could tell me why he felt that they had been chosen to be represented. good question! i'd like to hear rapha's answer to that as well! i think it began a couple of years when antonio colombo (cinelli president) and myself met up with simon mottram and told him how much we liked the continental project they'd done in the states, how as a brand they'd managed to capture the look of competitive (and non-competitive) use of steel frames in a way that was new and exciting, something that both as columbus and cinelli, we'd never lost sight of (this is as much a collaboration with cinelli as it is with columbus. we share the same owner and factory space). we told simon that if they ever launched a similar project in europe, we'd like to be involved, that we'd like to do those kinds of rides in italy! i guess through keeping in touch, working together on smaller projects, we came to this more formal collaboration. we're honoured to represent europe, and more specifically italy, to give a touch of that exaggerated flare which our culture allows, and perhaps others don't."
nobody would be naive enough to relate beloved's 'every day' model with the rapha ideal of pain and suffering, rightly or wrongly an ideal more readily associated with european racing, perhaps specifically with belgium or italy. in this respect, cinelli seem almost to be the sole representative of those grainy, black and white photographs. does lodovico think this perhaps swung the pendulum in their favour? "i think more than fulfilling the 'pain and suffering' ideal, we understand and share rapha's classical appreciation of the sport, with its focus on narrative arc, heroes and villains. the old literary cycling world before television, where the race was retold in newspapers the next day using the dramatic conventions of the day. when coppi really was a giant to the entire country. in italy we call it 'il grande ciclismo'. more than just sharing this sensibility, we're part of its foundation. one of the company's claims is 'cinelli ? the history of cycling'. historical cycling product, artworks and ephemera litter our offices, products which will be listed when people look back in 100 years and ask 'what was a racing bicycle in the 20th century?' (whether it be the 1a stem, the giro d'italia handlebars, the laser etc.). above our head of sales' desk there is an enormous enlargement of an extract of dino buzzati's reportage from the giro of 1949. and on a nearby wall, a drawing by legendary italian artist mario schifano; written boldly and enigmatically across the surface 'anquetil's my chief, not you' a snippet of overheard dialogue from a race start line. this understanding and appreciation is something which is always concretely articulated in our product, and never more so than in the new cinelli rapha collaboration (have a look at the photo below of what cinelli used to sell in the usa as a criterium specific bike!)".
so there we have the four bikes, the four sections applicable to the rapha bicycle collection: urban, epic, sportive and race, all aspects of the rapha we have come to know and love. but unlike the wide range of clothing, none are designed or built in-house. these are, as several of the above have been keen to point out, collaborations, so apart from the trademark pink, were rapha stringent in their diktat to the builders? slate olson: "we were pretty intimately involved with each bicycle; it was more than a wave or command. we talked with each partner about the full vision for the collection and worked with them to select their bicycle for the range of riding needs we envisioned. rapha developed a core color palette that helped to unite the bikes, but asked each builder and painter to best interpret that palette for their particular bicycle. we came to them ultimately because of our respect for what they make, so while we had opinion, we really looked to them to help us answer the goals for each type of rider."
james selman, beloved cycles:"we were pretty much left to our own devices around the bike, only the design parameters around making the most of the every day platform, which we'd all agreed upon. the only brief from rapha per se being the color palette of course, was to make it more a city 'racer (quickly coined as the 'speedster') and to use their head badge. it was nice to be able to collaborate on this aspect too; as designers, we have a passion for figuring things out in a collective format."
tony pereira:"rapha didn't give us too many design parameters. we all agreed that 'the continental bicycle' would take a certain form, but they didn't dictate much more than the colors".
considering the breadth of this project, and its almost organic conditioning, it seems likely that the bicycle collection has the potential to become greater than the sum of its parts. i mean by this, the collaboration between builders that may not remain the preserve solely of this project. but one also, as devil's advocate, has to quiz the exclusivity of each model. because it would likely be just as easy to stick on a rapha head tube badge and a couple of splashes of pink somewhere. can the bubble be burst, and what of a future related to these four bikes? lodovico pignatti at cinelli again; "we have offered a 'stock' cinelli xcr frame since the general introduction of the material in 2008. the rapha frame uses the same tubeset but the toptube is non-sloping for the collaborative model. the other principal difference is the geometry, which has changed from italian stage-race to a much more aggressive 'crit' feel."
beloved's jame selman was a tad more specific about their portland built 'speedster'; "the main variables between our 'stock' every day and the every day speedster is that very idea of rapha, a bit more available head-down speed to the "commute through the city" idea, really sharpening the details per the gentleman, or gentle-woman, as it were. first attention was given to the bar, something more 'cafe racer' with the nitto priest bar (which we liked so much it's now also the stock every day bar). then, making it a five-speed, just enough range for around town but keep the bars looking fast, clean and able with a tried and true down tube shifter. we looked to upgrade with paul components for their buttery classic but modern silver crank, brakes and levers. next was framing the badge with a white head tube and painting the fenders with a pink pinstripe, leaving a chrome rear tail flap for those signature rapha touches. but the main accoutrements are partnering with a few makers to create special personal bits for this every day; san marco for a regal saddle inscribed with rapha and speedster panels, paul for a 46T large circles chainring inscribed with 'for beloved and rapha,' and local walnut sudio for leather pieces on the bar (two piece black/grey), carrying handle (with pink thread) and toe clips."
the continental bike is delivered as is; there are no customisation options available. but do messrs pereira and ryan see themselves using this experience to collaborate on future projects of their own? ira ryan; "we'll see. this is a chance to learn more about production and batching out runs of frames. i always say a rising tide lifts all boats, and i think the project will be good for tony, me and rapha." i'm sure it's plain to see what rapha gain from all four associations, and the kudos garnered from offering this range of superb bicycles. but accepting that all four are well established in their own right, managing just fine before perren street came knocking, what do they get from working with rapha? gary smith of indyfab; "we get to build nice bikes, work with fun people, and expand our brand voice through the sophistication of rapha's marketing capability. they do a great job of presentation, whether it's catalog, online, or one of their pop-up stores. also, their customer is a very discerning one, so that helps us elevate our game.
"we're thrilled to continue our association. aside from the pure business potential, simon and slate are a real joy to work with, and that matters most to me. they care about product first and foremost, and they live cycling."
of course though the offerings are currently four, there is almost a fifth collaborator, one briefly mentioned at the start, but just as essential as the tony pereira 'pear' signature badge. i refer to chris king precision components. aside from the beloved every day speedster being constructed in their nw nela street premises, it also features a ck headset and front hub, while the 'continental' bicycle features a pair of chris king wheels and the ubiquitous headset (perhaps a ck bottom bracket?). the indyfab can be specified with a variety of contemporary componentry which could just as easily include those ck components. and while we've been refering to all four as rapha bicycles, in point of fact, only the beloved and continental models arrive in that form. the indyfab and cinelli offerings are frame and fork only.
so, is this the beginning and the end? in the manner of all things rapha (witness the london and nyc cycle clubs), nothing is deigned to last forever; offerings end and change. whither the future of the bicycle range? slate olson; "we have an initial agreement for these four bicycles and makers, but would be keen on either expanding the offering to work with other brands we admire down the line. that is our plan."
that seems quite logical.
i would like to offer personal thanks to those who assisted greatly with the writing of this article; lodovico pignatti, james selman, gary smith, chris distefano, slate olson, tony pereira, ira ryan and simon mottram.
posted wednesday 19th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
kilmeny guest house sits midst kilmeny farm just outside ballygrant village. it has five exceptionally well-appointed guestrooms, reflected in the price of a night's stay, but if you'd ever taken a wander through the sitting and dining rooms, let alone the bedrooms themselves, all would become stunningly clear as to why the charges are as they are. from the road it is hard to miss; they've recently installed a colossal wind turbine several hundred metres from the white painted and recently re-roofed guesthouse. i occasionally have business with the proprietors of a graphic and pixelated nature, and today was one of those days.
in order that i might fit in with the decor and the standard implied, i left my proletariat personna at home and dressed accordingly: rapha + paul smith, merino polo shirt, softshell trousers and though it seems contradictory to say 'and to top it all off' a pair of dromarti leather shoes. the sportivo version to be precise, allowing the use of crank brothers candy pedals on the cielo. thus, divesting myself of helmet, cap and outerwear on arrival, attire was very much in keeping with my temporary environment, and there was no need to perform the usual travesty of having to remove a pair of race shoes with bright red cleats. a brief period of poignant sartorial elegance in the middle of my more usual designer scruff.
and my shoes were shiny.
even in the face of adversity, a sense of decorum has to be maintained at all costs. if we are to impress the great unwashed with our dedication to cycling anywhere that it's possible to go without falling off, then i feel we ought to be stylishly if not smartly dressed for the occasion. there is more than narcissism or self-importance at stake, for it is conditional that the non-cyclists met along the way, take more notice than simply how quickly they can get out of the way.
a constant mindfulness of such was exercised in the rain on saturday past. apparel was selectively different than my visit to kilmeny, as conditions demanded, and even though sartorially comfortable, i was greatly undermined by the novelty act heading in the opposite direction. scurrying about in the undergrowth is not a minor consideration when faced with my propensity for both wimping out and falling off, though not necessarily both at the same time, and i am keen that my feet are clothed in footwear up to the task, and that will let me bale in and out as quickly as possible. up till now, that task has been unequally catered for by a pair of vans-like shoes that were never designed to have done what i was doing to them.
however, feet ensconced in the very same pair of dromarti sportivo shoes mentioned earlier, i was thundering (a well chosen adjective) along a muddy and bepuddled path through the woods when the novelty act appeared in the distance. a fad at the time several years back, kids of a very young age were offered mini-quad bikes, complete with petrol engine to rumble about on the dunes. here, driving in the pouring rain, on a blue, yellow and white mini-quad bike was an elderly gentleman clad in raincoat and cap, knees sticking well out on each side.
not wishing to alert him to the fact that i thought this was strange behaviour (bear in mind i was cycling through the woods wearing a lime green jacket, in the same deluge), i simply waved my acknowledgment and proceeded to thunder some more. the lady walking her dog several yards behind simply smiled and shrugged her shoulders. the dog said nothing.
had this debacle not occurred, there's two people who would have been as impressed with my footwear as i was.
dromarti have single-handedly revived the joy of wearing hand-crafted leather shoes specifically for the purpose of cycling. i have previously reviewed both the brown and black race versions of these with soles designed to accommodate the three-point fixing employed by the majority of road cleats, and have also given air-time to the storica version in which one can comfortably walk down streets paved with gold before leaping aboard a quill pedal equipped velocipede. those are saved for particularly sartorial moments, such as garden parties or royal investitures.
making up the trio of offerings however (in both black or brown leather), is the sportivo version, with soles slotted to take the spd type cleats. two parallel slots containing threaded steel inserts allow a substantial degree of adjustment when fixing the cleats in place, including a modest degree of angle either way. these are surrounded in this latest version by a black tread that allows almost slipless walking in mud, grass and variations inbetween, while preventing the cleats from wearing away on hard surfaces.
mud, gloop and incessant rain, are perhaps not the best showcase for leather style such as this, and if style were all that were being paid for, moments for wearing would need to be more aptly chosen. however, the soles are impressively rigid enough to allow an encouraging amount of power transfer, yet flexible enough to walk unhindered, whatever the terrain. clipping in and out of a pair of crank brothers candy pedals was so easy, i had initial doubts that i'd clipped in correctly in the first place.
waterproof, in the all encompassing sense, they certainly aren't, factored mostly by the myriad of decorative yet functional holes in the leather uppers. however, despite the soaking they received during first test, the shape remained intact, and an evening stuffed with the sports section of friday's guardian newspaper, had them fit and well enough to do duty again on sunday morn and subsequently shined for my kilmeny visit this morning. and unlike a few pairs of shoes i've walked and ridden in recently, they didn't hurt any part of my feet's anatomy.
in days when cycle shoes either look like hiking boots or women's ice skate uppers, the dromarti leathers are all the more individual in approach and appearance, at a price that undercuts a substantial portion of the synthetic market. however, i'm not sure i'd wear them on a quad bike.
dromarti leather sportivo shoes retail at £153.17 per pair in brown leather, sizes 37 to 47, or £163.39 in black and red leather in sizes ranging from 39 to 47. they are available to purchase from the dromarti website.
posted tuesday 18th january 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................