'displaying the memory of a goldfish' is a common utterance, based entirely on the myth that those little carp swimming under stone bridges and castles just above a veritable quarry at the bottom of the tank, can't remember a f**king thing. in point of fact, goldfish are reckoned to have a memory span of around three months and have responded to behavioural conditioning by owners with little better to do.
my teenage son, on the other hand, appears to have a memory span barely one ninetieth of that of a goldfish.
his favoured indulgence is the rather common teenage practice of playing the most appalling music at a volume that would do justice to an outdoor festival. as our sitting room with tv is directly under his bedroom, mostly all we hear is a disturbingly loud repetitive interminable thudding, necessitating an increase in the volume of the telly. the advent of the ipod with those dinky little white earphones is a phenomenon that has seemingly passed him by without touching the sides. that our neighbours have so far made no mention of perennial migraines pays great tribute to their tolerance levels.
the concerning aspect of this is our having constantly pointed out our desire that more judicious use of the volume control would be an idea most welcome. though this passion play is re-enacted each and every evening (or so it seems), by the following evening, the request appears to have been reset to zero, and the script has to be run once more. and once more. and then again, once more.
there seems no end in sight, so unless he moves out or takes an incongruous but most welcome interest in beethoven string quartets, i fear we are doomed to constant repetition for many days, months and years to come.
easter holidays are here, or at least april school holidays that will eventually lead up to easter weekend, when the schools go on holiday again. locally, i believe islay's kids are only involved in educational activities for around eight days of the month. and they wonder why nobody can read or write anymore. however, school holidays seem also the signal for cycle touring on islay, even by those who quite plainly left their schooldays far behind, along with those whose children no longer inhabit a desk on weekdays. though the winds have surfaced just to remind the intrepid just why they disembarked that calmac ferry in the first place, our relatively traffic free roads, peaceful countryside, emphatic scenery, occasional distilleries and a lack of any serious bumpy bits make this the ideal destination for a cycling break.
the corollary with the mythical memory span of goldfish hoves into view once more, a year after i thought it would no longer be necessary to preach to the converted. let me state the obvious once more; islay is a two hour ferry journey from the scottish mainland, and the mainland port is at least 36 miles from any recognisable bike shop. i have tried my best over the years, but the increasing variation in touring velocipedes and their associated accoutrements makes it a thankless task trying to second guess what might break and have one or two inhabiting the bike shed. the solution? take a modest inventory of spares with you; inner tubes, gear wires and brake cables. check the bike(s) prior to departure and replace anything that may be worn beyond the point of surviving the length of your trip.
however, the goldfish phenomenon prevails. at the beginning of this week i was visited by a gent who wished to purchase two inner tubes for a mountain bike, having arrived on the island the previous day. why in the name of fausto coppi would you head off on a family cycling holiday without carrying a number of spare inners? to make matters worse, having specified presta valve tubes, the very same gentleman then asked if i had a presta adaptor for the schrader pump he had with him?
you couldn't make it up.
then, prior to exiting the back door around lunchtime today, togged in my secret cycling identity, a phone call from the tourist office enquired whether i might have some brake shoes that would fit a touring bike. with so many variations on brakes these days, i asked the obvious questions, the answer indicating that a dawes tourer with stud fitting cantilevers was the patient. stud fittings are not at all common these days, but i did manage to find one pair in the depths of the bikeshed, and stopped downtown en route to supply the hapless tourer.
needless to say, the gentleman was entirely remiss in his brake pad specification, and i'd to pop back to the shed for the appropriate alternative. it transpires that the front brake shoes on both his and his wife's bikes had worn through some days prior, and stopping on the laden machines had been via the rear cantilevers only. brake shoes do not wear out that quickly, so they must have been pretty near the wire before leaving home. this is verging on ignorance.
so, as the warmer cycling days are now approaching with indecent haste, if you intend heading to pastures other than your immediate locale, check that everything will last, and to presage any unforeseen catastrophes, at least make the effort to know what sort of spares each component might require. the man requiring brake pads had pointed to the shimano dual pivot calipers on my cielo and asked if those were 'v' brakes.
it's a worry.
posted saturday 9 april 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as someone who has spent many a year teaching photoshop, i am all too well aware that every niche of modern day life has a language all of its own. try explaining the concept of pixels to folks whose principal concern is where windows put the photographs they just offloaded from their digital cameras. add to that, the disturbingly complex concept that each channel of an rgb file has 256 distinct levels; that photoshop doesn't really deal with colours, but with the numbers zero to 255. combine differing numbers in each channel and hey presto, just the very colour you didn't want.
it is the same the world over; even the hassle that i've had trying to put thewashingmachinepost together rests almost entirely on code, concepts and style sheets that have no tangible corollary in the real world. when was the last time you heard anyone say 'hand me over that html'?
cycling is no different.
peleton, derailleur, bottom bracket, domestique, inseguitori are all words we can readily associate with cycling, even if skewed wildly towards the european variant. for even within cycling, there are dialects particular to the sport, repetition of which, in the right social circles, can either mark you out as a pretentious wally, or a member of the cognoscenti, depending on the viewpoint of that circle, and your own popularity within it.
dave stoller is one such incumbent. having recently left school, along with three of his friends, he has little idea of what his future holds. bloomington is a university town, a university populated with students who generally appear not to fraternise with the cutters, the name given to local residents, no matter their academic aptitude. dave, mike, cyril and moocher spend the long, hot summer days swimming in a disused quarry, a quarry which used to provide the local working population with employment. hence the epithet cutters.
dave, however, doesn't just spend his days swimming, for his main obsession is cycling; to be quite precise, italian cycling. he rides a red masi, it's 1979 and the brake cables still come out the top of the lever hoods, and you change gear via down-tube levers, a feature that will have repercussions during a local road race in which he takes part. his father is being driven to distraction because the italian obsession has brought dave to adopt the persona of an italian racing cyclist, liberally sprinkling his diction with ciao and papa. dave's father ray later states to his mother that he wishes to ban any form of ini as in fetuccini, linguini, fellini from the household. "give me proper american food; i want french fries."
the italian obsession extends to listening to records of italian tenors singing solos from italian opera. you can, perhaps sympathise with ray's incomprehension not only of a teenage obsession, but of the terms used to express that obsession.
the italian impostor leads himself into deeper water, impressing and serenading a young female student (katherine) who believes him to be what he'd prefer she think him to be. the mosca in the ointment is katherine's boyfriend who takes less than kindly to the campagnolo capped usurper.
this dvd arrived at washingmachinepost cottage a week or so ago, but due to my having now locked the region code on the mac to region 1, i cannot watch anything other than american dvds on the computer. this would be the regular method of reviewing cycling dvds without interrupting the viewing habits of mrs washingmachinepost, but given my predicament, i implored mrs twmp that breaking away would be the ideal saturday night movie. that i watched alone on the upstairs telly will save me from phrasing her considered retort.
but it is she who has missed out on some seminal entertainment, a movie that she would undoubtedly have thoroughly enjoyed despite misgivings about anything that involves bicycles. for despite the intervening 32 years since the film's release, it has barely aged a week. only pedants such as ourselves would trouble to point out that brake cables hide under the bar tape these days, and that indexed gear systems have obliterated those two levers on the downtube.
ok, so the depiction of an italian team racing for cinzano may be a touch cliched (surely the azurri would have been clothed in blue, not black), and fitting a front wheel with the q/r lever pointing forwards is surely a faux pas that would deserve immediate relegation to the broom wagon? but those are but mere distractions from the story. dave's unceremonious ejection from the road race via a pump through the front spokes courtesy one of the black clad italians, is in retrospect, the first brick removed from his italian obsession.
feel good movies rarely, if ever, end on a low note. rest assured that dave's future is assured by being one fourth of a token local team allowed to participate in the little 500 single speed relay race around the university running track. though i'm sure the end result has entered the annals of cycling history, dave has assured himself of a university future, his colleagues seem more at ease with their own futures, and a chance meeting with a new french female student replaces viva italia with vive le france.
ray stoller is about to be greeted with bonjour instead of buongiorno.
if you wish to truly identify with the greater peloton, and you have not yet seen this movie, until that day dawns, membership is revoked. if you wish to progress, watch it again. we may be regularly advised that cycling has a rich and intriguing heritage, much of which is depicted in glorious black and white. add some colour to that heritage, for this is as much a part as fausto, eddy and larry.
breaking away is available on dvd (european region code 2) from bromley video at a cost of £16.99 plus postage
posted friday 8 april 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though it has been the butt of many a humourous aside, an oft used phrase by supporters of glasgow rangers football club is the particularly glaswegian epithet 'we arra people. north of the border, few would mistake 'arra' as meaning arrow, perfectly aware that the phrase, translated into the queen's english is we are the people.
but they're wrong.
and the reason that they're wrong is because it is not they who are the people, but us, referral here being to those of a cycling persuasion. this need not exclude anything that fails to use the latest in high modulus carbon fibre, for this is a people of a more general cycling disposition. but at the risk of incurring deflected wrath, it does not, for the time being, include farm gates with springs; mountain bikers.
i have, in the mists of time, dealt with this subject before, but at that specific point of discussion, i was bemoaning the fact that farm gates with springs seemed to be the coolest ride on the planet; baggy shorts, grungy jerseys, full-face helmets and the whole downhill thing. at any given moment, at any collective meeting of the offroad mind, there would be those utterly cool tent-tops reminiscent of arabian encampments, advertising all the cool anodised thingamajigs that could be fitted to farm gates. all those baseball caps, rucksacks, funky vans etc. and blokes that referred to each other as dude, likely attracted a whole hoard of cool cats to join the party.
at that point in time, i felt distinctly disenfranchised; because with skinny tyres and bendy bars lying in the bikeshed, i had effectively declared my affinity, nailed my casquette to the mast so to speak, and though the last thing i could be described as is cool, i had concerns.
what on earth possessesd me to think i could singlehandedly manage to turn the tables, or even manage to even up the tables? i agree, it was a tall mountain to climb, and i cannot think what possessed me to state that i would work tirelessly to make being a roadie as cool as i perceived mountain biking to be at that time. you'd need real clout to achieve that, or perhaps lots of little clouts.
so take a look about you now. we've reached the second decade of the 21st century and the perception has altered very much in our favour. rohan dubash recently visited the campagnolo premises in vicenza, italy (see current issue of rouleur) to interview valentino campagnolo, who admitted that the thread had been stretched thin when mountain biking arrived and campagnolo were unprepared. life has turned around; campagnolo, shimano and sram continually push the engineering limits of their road groupsets to the extent that the first two have developed electronic gruppos for the road market primarily, and rumour has it that the last-named is working on it. the only commercial reason for so doing has to be the popularity of road-riding, and a projected continuation of same.
last century, nobody would have named a road groupset red or its functionality double-tap.
allow me to quote from joe parkin's opening editorial of the premiere issue of paved; "the original idea was to thrust a giant middle finger at the american road bike status quo - a departure from all things that tasted of dentist office or even hinted at 'the new golf'. as if joe's words were not manifesto enough, the tag-line hanging just under the paved masthead unmistakeably reads ten speeders are cool, man. even if that's the most that a brand new american magazine for roadies could bring to the directeur sportif's office, i think it is probably more than enough.
ten speeders are indeed cool. man.
and as if one new publication in the last year dedicated to the needs of the skinny tyre were not sufficient to flag up the sport's and activity's inherent ascension, the world has been provided with two in close proximity. peloton magazine appends fuel for the ride to its masthead. what could be more indicative of joy and happiness (apart from ten speeders are cool)? well, edging into the same panoply is an advertisement (in paved magazine) for chrome shoes with the slogan 'the most unsuspecting cycling shoe ever. it's half on the bike and half at the pub. just like you.' admit it, you couldn't ever imagine reading such a lax attitude in the comic; there's always a fly in the ointment.
with urban wear oozing out of every nook and cranny, it's no longer a necessity to be clad head to toe in lycra and polyester; merino, sportwool and even denim have made massive inroads to the roadie's psyche and wardrobe, while proper bikes, such as those proffered by beloved and even pashley have started to meet our aspirations from the opposite direction. praise be.
but if your cycling upbringing has revolved around the spring classics; if they cut you in half and found a cobbled interior, if johan museeuw is your uncle's brother, coolness may not be uppermost in your mind as being a separate entity that one ought to aspire to. cobbles are cool too. since few of us are ready to be handed a place on anyone's paris-roubaix team in the next couple of days, the nearest we're likely to get to the finish line in roubaix velodrome is participation in the roubaix challenge, the first sportif to benefit from rapha's association with aso. the 2011 incarnation starts this saturday, 9th april, so it might be a somewhat tardy to think about an entry at this late stage. however, my very good friend, phil deeker, perhaps more renowned for leading unsuspecting cool dudes up steep mountains without telling them first, has joined with rapha's graeme raeburn, ben brown, ultan coyle and james fairbanks to provide a visual recce of the experience, masterfully filmed by another friend, ben ingham.
this may seem like a mutual admiration society, but that's how it hangs when you're cool.
posted thursday 7 april 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have a distinct literary bent, not something you'd notice from a distance, but definitely an incurable disease. though i refrain from purchasing a sunday newspaper (over the winter months, the sunday papers do not arrive on the island until around 4pm; barely enough time to unpack the sunday times or the observer, let alone read anything), i do indulge myself with the guardian saturday edition, a scale model of both of the above mentioned sunday papers. despite it being the weekend, there still seems less than enough time in either day to appreciate every article in every section, and it is therefore necessary to be selective. aside from any interesting articles in the colour supplement, and home and international news across the main section, it's the review part that holds the buk of my attention. consisting principally of book reviews and interviews i can not only remind myself of how poorly read i am for one so interested in books, but also the idiosyncracy of reading a review of a book consisting of book reviews.
only in the world of literature...
though i am not at all familiar with the styles of writing concerning other forms of activity and sports, i would find it hard to believe that the very best of the rest could compare with that surrounding the art of riding very quickly on a bicycle. what makes this all the more exciting is that such a trend, if indeed it is such, shows no signs of abating. in fact, if anything, the literature surrounding our favoured obsession seemingly improves with every new publication. the recently reviewed brian robinson by graeme fife, tomorrow we ride by jean bobet and the same author's paean to octave lapize, ten points by bill strickland, books by matt seaton and joe parkin, richard moore's in search of robert millar, barry and mcmillan's le metier joined equally by herbie sykes' the eagle of the canavese. in fact, taking a look through thewashingmachinepost bookcase, it is hard to believe that one minority sport has elicited such an incredible wealth of exceptionally well written books on a multiplicity of aspects pertaining to cycling.
it is hard to believe, as a witness to all of the above, that the quality could be raised much further, but i assure you that's exactly what has happened with herbie's book two: maglia rosa. triumph and tragedy at the giro d'italia.
eagle of the canavese had, as its principal subject, franco balmamion, an italian winner of two successive giros in the 60s who, if we're all totally honest, most of us had never heard of. it's a book that caught me somewhat off-guard; having never heard of mr sykes previously, the style of writing was a considerable surprise; fluid, descriptive, witty and at times, bordering on the eccentric. all highly commendable traits according to my opinion.
herbie has had many a following year ('eagle' was published in early 2008) to hone his style through regular articles in procycling and rouleur, the combined results of which are laid bare in this massive tome. if we collectively agree that, for us, the bicycle is an obsession, sykes has added a large measure of additional obsessiveness with all things italian. despite being from lincolnshire, he now lives near turin. it is, to a large degree, this predilection with the social history of his adopted country that has turned a good book about the giro d'italia into a veritable masterpiece. john donne is on record as pointing out that 'no man is an island'; changing context only slightly, a national three week cycle race such as the giro d'italia could not possibly exist in a vacuum.
in a recent interview on the post, when asked "can the giro be separated from italian social and political history?" herbie replied "It doesn't, and never did, exist in a vacuum. Obviously, though, it's far less significant a sport than it was, and in general people are much less politicised than ever before. Italy declared war the day after the 1940 edition, no mere accident of timing.". throughout maglia rosa, sykes confidently places the event in context. if i may be allowed to quote from the opening gambit of chapter 19: "The economic miracle of the 1960s had seen Italy, for a century the financial basket case of the major Western European nations, finally begin to realise her potential. Manufacturing output (and by extension personal wealth), driven by the great industrialists of Lombardia and Piedmont, soared to unprecedented levels as the burgeoning northern cities filled with 'migrant' workers from the surrounding countryside and the economic wastelands of the south. As the factory floors grew, so in turn did the student and Trade Union movements, giving rise to a resurgence of extreme left wing political doctrine.".
over its many years of existence, the giro has 'suffered' almost equally from intense rivalries between combatants such as coppi and bartali and moser and saronni, and years of italian drought, when riders such as merckx, anquetil, hinault and indurain have wrested the race from indigenous would-be victors, leading to italian disaffection with the event, and even severely restricted television coverage from the national broadcaster. while a lack of local success is a factor that has also afflicted the tour de france, its brash internationalism seems better able to accept persistent defeat of local teams and riders. this situation however, has often stretched the organisers of the giro to design routes that made life hard for those intent on denying an italian victory, leading, perhaps to increased interest and competition, if not an eventual tricolour atop the podium.
but the history of the maglia rosa has also been well documented by others, either in piecemeal fashion across the monthlies, or indeed in preceding published volumes. what is it that makes this book any different? well, perhaps its finest achievement is in its storytelling; i have read this book as both manuscript and finished article, the latter replete with its fascinating photographs and chapter opening quotes from gino bartali. through all, i have yet to accept that i am having other than a conversation with the author. sykes' style is chatty, often irreverent and downright idiosyncratic; the word formulaic is particularly conspicuous by its absence. unlike rock band status quo, he has stayed well away from a chapter one pattern repeated ad finitum across the subsequent 26 chapters.
the pinnacle of involving the reader so fully in the story unfolding across the book's 312 pages, is the chapter entitled the new fausto coppi. it opens thus: "i'd been acquainted with him for some time, though i couldn't claim to know him." over the subsequent 22 pages, we get to know of whom he speaks very well indeed, but his name is never confided either through text or photo caption until the last sentence. it is an intriguing ploy, but not one that unduly draws attention to itself. of course, you will want, nay need, to read till the end to discover the protagonist's identity, but sykes has not made it a conceit; it is but a means to an end beautifully executed.
he has also stayed well away from a straightforward chronological treatise of the race, varying the light and shade by dealing with specific issues and specific riders in often humourous manner. a two page photograph of early competitors, including galetti and cuniolo shows a third rider, wearing what looks like a monty python handkerchief on his head, a bizarrely checked shirt and shorts that appear to have been ripped from a passing wildebeest. the caption ends with 'not sure what pavesi's come as'.
an undertaking of this magnitude - the race is over 100 years old - is not something you dash off before breakfast. the depth of content is far too complex to be assimilated at one sitting. as i averred above, this is my third reading of the text, though the first in its final, sumptuous format, and i have struggled manfully with this review. not, you understand, because the book has manifest failings, quite the contrary; like a classic joni mitchell album, something new becomes apparent on each pass, and as a reviewer trying to pin that down in pixels is like trying to stab mercury. the giro has always occupied a more favoured place in the twmp psyche, because despite its encroaching and necessitous commercialism, it seems to have remained more of a cycle race and less of an international spectacle as seems to have befallen le tour.
it takes a special kind of obsession coupled with an extraordinary literary style to produce a book like maglia rosa, immediately accessible to fans and acolytes of the pink jersey, yet simultaneously raising or equaling the standard carried by many others with similar love of prose and the written word.
my only criticism, and i hope designer jonathan briggs will forgive me, is the peppering of the chapters with pull quotes which, in this context, seem somewhat superfluous. (in this, i do not mean the italian/english quotes of gino bartali which announce each chapter.) however, dare to remove the jacket from its hardcover and delight in a pink with silver print and an embossed map of italy, perhaps the most tangible evidence of a book full of hidden secrets.
truly a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
herbie sykes' maglia rosa, with foreward by andy hampsten is published by, and available from rouleur books at a cost of £29 plus p+p.rouleur books
posted wednesday 6 april 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at the risk of repeating myself and giving another fifteen minutes of fame to matty ball of west lothian clarion, thewashingmachinepost has carved its own small niche on the interweb by concerning itself with most aspects of road bike culture. this is not intended as any discrimination against other forms of cycling, but there are those who do different wheels in different ways, and usually a whole lot better. however, in the light of falling road repair budgets and an upsurge in traversing long forgotten byways, it may be time to redefine the world of road. this is not a presage to my adopting baggy shorts, knobbly tyres and springy bits, but a simple acknowledgment that there are those stretching the definition to the extent of it versatility.
personally, i hold daniel wakefield pasley wholly responsible for this, though the small matter of paris-roubaix's century long existence (and then some) might undermine my faith in the man's style. daniel it was who first suggested the notion of the rapha continental, an almost randomly systematic mapping and exploration of the hinterlands of north america, often matching skinny tyres with the world of gravé. this endeavour to increase the number of punctures a rider could realistically sustain in one sitting has become the new black; more and more of the continental rides have eschewed tarmac for gravel, and the competitive side of cycling has joined the party with the strade bianche, the cicle classic, l'eroica and likely far more of which i am unaware.
legend has it that tom ritchey, one of the founding fathers of off-road, spends many an hour riding single track and the like on skinny wheels and bendy bars, lending even greater credence to the knowledge that there is nothing new under the sun.
there is probably an element of derring-do in all this, for i daresay a smug grin awaits those with the nerve to scrabble ever so quickly across boulders-in-waiting on smooth as a billiard table tyres, and still arrive right side up at the other end. as i returned from froth supping at debbie's on saturday past, there was a brief moment of temptation to take the colnago over a serious piece of gravel track between foreland and uiskentuie strand. i feel no shame in admitting that those nerves of steel had deserted me around that point, leading to the normal route and simply a vague taste of what if...?. there's little doubt that the average road bicycle is a hardier beast than given credit for, though a constant diet of cattle grids has inured me to thinking otherwise.
i can sense that some may point out that offroad for roadies is pretty much already covered by the cyclocross variation, and i'd have little argument with that. but there's not the same sense of satisfaction in having a bicycle achieve exactly what it says on the tin; far more to be gained from doing stuff you're not really supposed to. surely you can remember those teenage years?
not everyone, however, has the benefit of metalled roads. many an emerging african nation wouldn't know a tarmac surface if it were to miraculously appear overnight. but if transport consists not of the burden of the infernal combustion engine, there may be considerably less importance placed upon white lines down the middle than those of us living in so-called civilisation. in which case, perhaps there is something to be learned from subjecting ourselves to cultures other than our own, but from which some comfort can be retained by traversing in the saddle.
i may, however, have mislead by my 'road bikes on dirt' introduction, for a country such as malawi (for instance) is less bedevilled with sandy gravelled roads than you might think. there are stretches of road that make the current state of britain's roads somewhat of an embarrassment, so perhaps malawi is the very place to experience the lost state of smooth cycling, though i have no doubt that both ideals could be experienced over the course of eleven days.
for such is the duration of action aid's mission malawi, 12th - 23rd may 2012.
i know of many who regularly participate in europe's and north america's sportive rides, ostensibly for fun and enjoyment, even if the definition appeals to a select few. mission malawi, which i admit, on the face of it, seems to favour the knobbly tyred velocipede is something of a different animal that benefits action aid's hiv and aids work across malawi. the 2012 edition will constitute mission number 5, giving the opportunity to not only cycle across sections of the country, but to meet and greet the very people that the fundraising is designed to assist.
the launch of this worthwhile challenge (and i don't see that cycling couldn't be achieved on a robust road bicycle) will be held in that 'if it didn't exist, we'd have to invent it' cyclists' refuge in old street, london; look mum, no hands. from 6:30 until 10pm on thursday april 21, action aid will be holding a malawi style party to celebrate the mission's launch. while i am sure that those deep in seasonal training will wish to abstain from intoxicating liquor, malawi gin and tonics are on offer, munchies to sate the carbo intake and music, the nationality and style of which remains undefined. raffle prizes have been provided by the tweed run and rapha.
so if a little bit of your cycling life and experience has a gap that might well be fulfilled by riding across malawi and helping action aid's hiv/aids projects, there's probably a malawi gin and tonic with your name on it.
posted tuesday 5 april 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................