offiziermesser is a somewhat convoluted and complex way of describing what the rest of us know as the swiss army knife, a valuable compendium of useful doo-flabs cunningly disguised as a red pen-knife. no doubt at its simplest, a pen-knife is just exactly what the whole kit and caboodle started out to be in 1897 as a tool supplied to the swiss army (surprisingly enough) despite jokes, mostly perpetrated by my father, that there was likely a tool or blade concealed within, that had the ability to remove boy scouts from horses' hooves, there does seem to be an almost endless variation on the original theme, culminating in wenger's big knife.
this understated apellation refers to a 3.25kg swiss army knife containing, amongst other items, a shoe spike wrench, a spot light, a toothpick, a wood saw, a patented cigar cutter, a club face cleaner (?), and a fish scaler. the amalgamated tool, still identified by its red outer, with enough weight to need a bicycle all of its own, costs a not insubstantial £600 + . this particular item would surely sell only to a very demanding someone with a great love of the outdoors, and spare space in their rucksack.
thankfully, an inherited cyclists' gene promoting weightweeniness would never allow the purchase, let a lone use of such a sizeable tool, unless of course wenger are willing to utilise carbon nano technology and perhaps a soupcon of titanium. in which case, £600 might be considerably less than the asking price.
few are the cyclists nowadays who venture forth, even within their locale, without some description of a multi-tool either in one of those rear pockets, or perhaps in an under-the-saddle toolpack. the more versatile amongst the wide variety of cycling-specific multi-tools available today concomitantly take on either not inconsiderable weight, perhaps bulk or even a combination of the two. if you find it quite sacreligious to spoil those finely judged carbon lines by concealing, and i use the word in its loosest sense, a rudimentary toolkit under the saddle-space, then it may suit your aesthetic purposes better to pop multi-tool, spare tube and tyre lever in a jersey rear pocket.
in such a case, the smaller the better; additionally, your sympathies are likely to edge towards the more shiny and attractive of the genre, even if you haven't the faintest idea of the difference between an allen or torx wrench and which way to turn a spoke to stop the rim hitting the brake pad every revolution. in short, quite likely a bbb primefold multi-tool with its shiny, chromed twelve functions in a compact and bijou form-factor.
if this were a powerpoint presentation (perish the thought), the bullet points would accompany the seven allen keys ranging from 2mm up to 8mm, the latter cleverly accommodated by an 8mm bit fitting securely atop the 6mm blade. there's a t25 torx bit, three spoke wrenches arranged around the top of an 8mm box spanner and one each philips and flat screwdrivers just in case that finnicky rear derailleur steps out of line. the casing sandwiching all the above is substantially slotted to save even more weight.
shiny is as shiny does, but in this case, the hope is rather that this package of shiny will do rather more than glint in the sunlight. this is not a substitute for any kind of workshop tool, since its small form hardly brings with it unbridled leverage. if that 8mm allen bolt on the crank is well and truly stuck, this may not be the item to help release it. but then you keep that bicycle in tip-top, pristine condition in any case, so that will never be a problem. will it?
there is, however, easily sufficient grasp and leverage to undo and re-tighten a seat-clamp bolt. both screwdrivers comfortably managed any gear adjustments found necessary on a variety of gear mechs, though i confess i'd only use the spoke wrenches in case of emergency. of course, that's just what they're there for. i did hunt high and low for an 8mm nut anywhere on any of my bicycles without success. i can only surmise it is included for use on brake cable pinch bolts on lower-priced componentry, or perhaps there are 8mm bolts/nuts festooned about bicycles of the offroad variety. i am slightly more persuaded that a 10mm box spanner might gain more use; it may have been possible to increase the included tool to accept the extra 2mm, but perhaps not without compromise.
however, harking back to the wenger swiss army knives, no matter how many or how few tools are included, it seems likely, according to the law of averages, that at least one will prove to be of little or no use. on the primefold m's sibling, the primefold l, the box spanner is replaced with a tyre lever, and the spoke keys by a knife. the tyre lever's inclusion is a no-brainer (though the leverage available might give some cause for concern, coupled with the use of a steel lever on valuable, lightweight aluminium rims), but i can count on the number of tour yellow jerseys in my top drawer, the times when i would have swapped my kingdom for a knife. you pays your money and you makes your choice.
all the carping in the world about what should or should not have been included in bbb's primefold range is surely ameliorated, however, by the bargain price for which one of these tools can be purchased? £14.95 is less than a box of bikefood bars, and lighter too, offering no conceivable argument against purchase. if you're one of the few in the world who travel without such a tool, i'd have no hesitation in recommending that you do the decent thing and purchase now. even if you already own a similar item, it may be worth considering adoption of what seems the ideal size for an emergency tool kit. it's well made, commendably well chromed and does exactly what it says on the hang tag.
posted monday 18 july 2011
when i was at college, ceramics was a sub-division of sculpture, a little room with a kiln in it where cups and saucers were conspicuous by their absence. no self-respecting art student would feel comfortable producing anything that might hold practical application. it's stunning how many bizarre shapes that can be realised in clay before a dousing in glaze. this three-dimensional stuff pretty much left me for dead; two dimensions on a canvas or paper were hard enough, so by first year end, sculpture and ceramics had unceremoniously dropped me from contention. their loss was the graphics department's burden. come the start of second year, ceramics was a distant memory.
that pretty much remained the case until cycling and its attendant paraphernalia hove into view around twenty years ago. i can well remember the advertisement on the inside back page of the comic, courtesy deesside cycles, for ceramic bearings. notwithstanding the thought of little globes of pottery circulating within a hubshell, the advertisement created a greater degree of confusion by asserting that these very same ceramic bearings could be confidently run with no lubricant whatsoever. surely a jest to confound the unwary?
on those rare occasions nowadays when quarter-inch bearings require to be replaced in old-style cup and cone bottom brackets, those emptying from my plastic canister are, to the naked eye, remarkably round. yet ceramic bearings are reputedly rounder. they do however, according to technical lore, deform far less under load, thus featuring less contact with the cartridge retainer of which they usually form a part. the short answer: less friction, easier rolling.
such precision and chemical composition comes at a price, and not one that is lower than their steel counterparts. therefore it becomes a case of weighing up how much less friction is truly necessary on the road to the cafe, and whether cutting the caffeine intake to once or twice a week will help pay for those improvements. i am somewhat cynical by nature, and hopefully less willing to accept technological developments at face value. it is of no surprise that the cutting edge of bicycle technology finds its way into the upper regions of cycle racing; development is pretty much endemic in the culture, as the quest for victory seemingly knows no bounds.
however, at the more mundane level, where bank balances are followed by far fewer zeros, a) do we really need it, and b) will we notice the difference? my cynicism has often got the better of practicality, and i had all but written off my first encounter with ceramics, arriving in the shape of a pair of jockey wheels for a campagnolo rear mech. it took a mere hundred metres to confound my pessimism, and any announcement concerning incorporation of ceramic bearings in componentry of a rotating nature is now treated with greater respect.
however, the announcement this past week that the king of the in-house bearing, portland's chris king precision components were augmenting their already freely rotating bottom brackets with ceramic bearings, came as something of a surprise. as has been well documented, i have spent the last eighteen months riding a king-equipped and built cielo sportive, the experience of which has been the closest to gliding i figure it possible on two wheels. that this experience could possibly be further enhanced somehat beggars belief.
however, a ceramic bearing chris king bottom bracket is now available to those wishing to take advantage of easier pushing on pedals. that last statement should, of course, be qualified by the epithet attributed to greg lemond "it doesn't get any easier, you just get faster." those words do, i think, apply only to competitive cycling. due to a lower friction co-efficient of the two-dozen bearings in each cup, coupled with proprietary bearing seals, allows chris king to use very little, low-viscosity lube. less drag, more gliding.
if you couple this advance with the availability of a chris king injector tool, maintenance of such a precision component is also a darned sight easier than in any comparable bottom bracket. sadly, there are more bottom bracket standards in cycling today than there are excuses why andy schleck didn't attack on plateau de beille; chris king offer four models to fit shimano road and offroad plus sram road and offroad. campagnolo adherents need not apply, as vicenza attaches the bearings to the cranks rather than fitting them in the frame cups. if you already own a chris king bottom bracket, it is possible to upgrade it by replacing the existing, with the new ceramics.
as the age dawns when i'll need two magnets on the front wheel to display even a mediocre speed on the computer, any loss of friction where it matters most is very welcome. and since they've had the light bulb of an idea to equip their bottom brackets with ceramics, perhaps a pair of similarly equipped r45 hubs are but a short, friction-free distance away? we can but hope.
i don't have uk prices yet, but for comparison, the shimano version retails at $199, sram at $209
posted sunday 17 july 2011
the usual method of visiting islay and jura is in the order i have just stated. arrive on the calmac ferry from kennacraig, then nip across the sound of islay on the small eilean dhiura car ferry to set foot on jura. there is, however, an alternative method of arrival that places jura before islay, and it will safely bring your bikes too. i ran this story last year, when two friends, currently cycling around the choice bits of the world, arrived on islay via jura and the jura fast ferry, a rigid inflatable passenger ferry service from scotland.
i have no intention to become as one of the bbc digital channels and repeat everything at one time or another, but since annual funding for this ferry service depends very much on increased use (a use it or lose it policy), i thought i'd mention it again in case it has escaped your attention. maybe you could even arrive for the ride of the falling rain by this back door method.
posted saturday 16 july 2011
summer quite rightly brings out veritable pelotons of cyclo-tourists, many of whom finish or commence their island-hopping on islay, having been up north or about to head in that direction. none of this should be confused with the veritable plethora of estate cars (oddly, mostly audi or bmw) bearing at least four cars on the roof rack. no doubt as a fashion accessory these give rise to the mistaken notion that the occupants are of at least modest athletic prowess, but i rarely see the bicycles anywhere other than atop the cars. rare are the occasions when they can be met along the road.
however, the serious cyclo-tourists can be identified by their no-nonsense approach to both cycles, clothing and luggage; the cycle tourists association can hold its head high with pride. the newbies, and i mean no disrespect to those upon whom i have afflicted this apellation (at least they're getting some exercise), are far more contemporary in their choice of velocipede, and seemingly with a predilection for brightly coloured panniers, matched, if that is the correct word, with a high-visibility, fluorescent vest.
while i figure the latter to be somewhat uneccessary around these parts, unless perhaps given to riding late in the evenings, i perfectly understand a need to be seen. it just seems a shame that this need is often satisfied by means of an unsubtle, and substantially un-sartorial solution. there are a number of jerseys and jackets available that advertise themselves by means of colour more than others, but they have not always proved themselves to be proficient in their promise, and more often than not remain just the right side of hideous.
it cannot have escaped your attention that some of the more recognisable brands receive their fair share of criticism for sticking to blacks, browns and more autumnal colours, rather than protecting the wearer from the iniquities of the motorised commuter. that is sort of where hultra come in. keen to inhabit the degree of elegance many of us have come to expect these days, hultra have adopted the bright and shiny, giving rise to an elegant jersey with a less than subtle splash of colour. the range currently consists of a choice of three brightly countenanced hues: blue, orange and green. and all this for the princely sum of £39.95 including uk postage.
for the money, you receive a finely crafted polyester jersey, featuring a full-length ykk zip, a wide hoop of your chosen colour on the front , complemented by a similarly wide, full-length stripe on the back. the colour choice is also repeated in the collar. as stated on the hultra website, this jersey is not designed to look good when down the pub, it's designed to look good when on a bike. as if the finely tuned athlete would be seen within kilometres of a drinking establishment.
the usual complement of three pockets adorns the rear, happily augmented by a zipped fourth, something that, at the risk of being endlessly repetitive, ought to be mandatory on any modern cycle jersey. the high visibility aspect of the jersey is enhanced by full-length strips of scotchlite at the join of each side panel, and along the top of the pockets.
so that's what it is, but how well does it do what it's supposed to?
the latter is sort of hard to quantify; there is no doubt that its visibility is in the upper reaches of the spectrum, and those bits of scotchlite cannot but attract the beams of car headlights in the early mornings or late nights. in similar manner to an insurance policy or cycle helmet, you hope its efficacy can be entrusted wihtout actually having to find out.
however, the thickness of the unlined material renders it usable mostly on warm, sunny days, though i did manage to retain a degree of heat on a warm(ish) cloudy day. i cannot, however, pretend that a smidgeon of chill did not encroach during an 18km ride in the rain. you should also pay particular attention as to the quality and visible state of the bibshorts and baselayer worn underneath, for the white part of the material does not conceal its semi-transparency particularly well (particularly when wet).
though the hem is liberally coated with silicon gloop to prevent it riding up in use (which works rather well, since you ask), it might have been a nice idea to drop the tail just a tad for increased protection of the lower back. and while we're in the area, i confess to finding the pockets just a wee bit too high. i'm all too well aware of my lack of flexibility, but trying to extricate a munchie bar when in the saddle must have looked, to the innocent bystander, as if i were undertaking a course in calisthenics. the pockets are deep enough to swallow a pickfords removal truck worth of ancillaries, but it's a bit hard trying to get them out again.
these are, however, but relatively minor details, ones that may well work themselves out as the company eases itself into fame and fortune. the jersey fit is impeccable, with the medium size reviewed giving rise to no undue flapping in the wind, and commendable closeness around the chest area, a malady that affects many a more expensive garment.
hopefully, as autumn and winter head in our direction, the guys at hultra will have a look at providing gilets, a long-sleeve version and perhaps wind or rainjackets. the current offering is of too fine a fabric to offer much protection in the later seasons, and covering it with protective clothing will surely render its high visibility redundant. meantime, it's a startlingly obvious solution to modern cycling attire that promises to work exceptionally well at a price that it's hard not to like.
hultra jerseys are available in three distinct colours: blue, orange or green on a white body, and in sizes ranging from small to xxl (orange is available in xxxl for some reason) at a uk price of £39.95 including postage. overseas orders will attract postage costs dependent on destination. ordering is via the hultra website.
posted saturday 16 july 2011
i well realise the obviousness of my pointing it out, but the island of islay sits tidily on the european edge of the north atlantic ocean. tautologically, this means our localised atmosphere is more salt-laden than your average fish-supper, a fact that manifests itself in a variety of less than welcome ways. particularly in the winter months when the wind reaches speeds above that of a draught, i have embarrassingly returned review bicycles with rusted stem bolts and brake cable clamp bolts. all in the space of a couple of weeks. there is little i can do but apologise to those with the equanimity to send review models in the first place, but you can perhaps imagine the effect the climate has on the bicycles and components that live here all year round.
but, i hear you say, surely aluminium alloys are far less susceptible to this corrosive vapour, for aluminium doesn't rust. perfectly true, but aluminium does oxidise, and it would seem, from personal experience, that islay has a pervasive habit of promoting such oxidisation beyond the pale. i have already lost the use of two sets of high quality anodised hubs due to serious corrosion-based cracking at the spoke holes.
anodising is an electrolytic process that thickens the natural oxide coating on aluminium, increasing the surface hardness and increasing corrosion resistance. it also allows a series of pretty colours. the problems i've had with corrosion attacking my hubs are the result of microscopic fissures; despite anodising producing a regular and uniform coating, it doesn't carry one of those 100% guarantees.
keronite, however, is rocket science.
unlike anodising, keronite is not a deposited coating. it is grown from the parent metal, in this case, aluminium. technically, it is a peo; plasma electrolytic oxidation. the process was developed for the 1960s space programme to perpetrate lightweight, strong and corrosion resistant components for space travel and satellites. the keronite process can make the surface of soft metals much harder and more wear resistant than steel or glass; a defect-free layer of dense, ceramic material that sticks hard to the base metal, four times harder than hard anodising and up to seven times more wear resistant.
did i mention that keronite is british, both the name of the company responsible as well as the nomenclature for the coating?
generally speaking, keronite sounds like the very stuff we'd all like to have coating our expensive trinketry, particularly if you're a member of velo club d'ardbeg. i only wish someone had applied it to the rear dropouts of my colnago c40 before they disintegrated into a fine grey powder. had the notion for applying keronite to bicycle bits been mine and mine alone, i could likely hang up my word processor right now and live off the proceeds of my scientific genius for evermore.
but mavic beat me to it.
you can search the mavic website from top to bottom without finding any mention of the word keronite, and there's a perfectly good reason for that. they call it exalith, and they're now applying it to rims and hubs at the top end of the mavic range. fascinating as all the technology can be (and for once, the word technology has real meaning) there's always the possibility that this is a use of same to add a further degree of credibility to an already excellent product. surely the only way to figure out whether or not this is the case, is to stick a pair of exalith coated wheels on the company colnago and ride. and in true, predictable fashion, that's exactly what i've done.
the wheels in question are mavic's r-sys slr, a remarkably impressive looking pair of hoops that arrive with mavic's yksion power-link tyres, weighing a mere 1365grams without those black tyres and a still impressive 1960 grams with. the exalith coating, aside from everything else that's promised, looks as if it owns the ability to casually ride past jodrell bank without so much as a blip on the oscilloscope. stealth is an understatement. the rims benefit from mavic's ism machining, removing unnecessary material from between the chunky carbon spokes, 16 radial up front, and 20 at the back. due to the power differential experienced at the rear, the carbon spokes are built radially on the non-drive side, but are replaced with ksyrium style flat spokes built two-cross on the drive-side.
i have no idea whether there are those amongst us who purchase a set of wheels for cosmetic value alone, but it does have to be said that these look undeniably incredible on the bike. black spokes, matt black exalith and all black tyres, the colnago looks screamingly impressive just leaning against debbie's wall.
i've ridden r-sys wheels before; mavic kindly sent a pair of their very first version some years back, a pair that had the front wheel replaced when mavic decided there might conceivably be a problem with those front carbon spokes under particularly bizarre circumstances. mavic employs the word tracomp to describe the fact that the spokes work both in traction and compression; regular steel spokes do not work in compression (have you ever tried compressing a steel spoke along its length?), but mavic's carbon spokes do, preventing rim deflection under heavy load. not that i'm sure i can apply the sort of loads we're talking about.
the exalith coating, aside from the abilities already discussed, provides a very hard coating that for an improved level of braking. of course, since it is substantially different from regular anodising, it needs specific brake pads, four of which arrive with the wheels and mavic branded wheel bags. the brakes on the colnago master are sram red, and it is indeed a happy coincidence (?) that pads for sram brakes are seemingly identical to those of shimano. campagnolo is the one out of step, so to speak, but then if you'd bought a pair of r-sys with a campag pattern freehub, the pads supplied would be an ideal match.
so far so good, but all show and no go would rather mitigate against the level of product expected from mavic; riding the colnago seemed like an excellent second step.
just like their original predecessors, there is a level of comfort to be had from a pair of r-sys that can really only be attributed to those carbon spokes. but these are performance wheels; comfort is surely of secondary consideration? what we want is unadulterated speed, something the relative weightlessness of circular stealth promotes the heck out of. do not for a minute misunderstand me; speed is a relative term and there is little doubt that mine is the poor relative, but the low rotating weight of the r-sys adds a certain frisson to each and every ride. stand up for a matter of seconds on an uphill bit of road, and gravity seems to have lost its grip just a tad. brilliant fun.
the braking surface has a wavy tactile surface pattern, which may be engineered to dissipate heat. unlike a regular anodised surface, the exalith coating takes a longer period of breaking-in during which it doesn't half remove material from the green-faced brake pads. hopefully when completely at ease with life, brake pad wear will ameliorate somewhat, but it's the first time i've found it necessary to keep a daily eye on those wear slots. that said, despite the rather cool sounding whine that accompanies every application of the calipers (just like the lotus 52b gas turbine formula one car of yore), braking is remarkably good, and set to get a lot better. exalith may be the very saviour against the instigation of disc brakes in road-racing.
the yksion power-link tyres will be the subject of a slightly lengthier review than these immediate words, but i already have cause to be thankful for a grip-factor greater than i'd expected. while whizzing downhill before taking a ninety degree bend, i kept well to the inside due to an anticipated pile of gravel inhabiting the centre of an already loose surface. unfortunately, at a speed probably on the limit of my ability to control, it appears the gravel had been dancing in the night and now inhabited the very line i was less than confidently taking around the bend.
though i'd already started to look for a soft place to fall, the bike sailed through the bend without so much as a wheel stepping out of line. believe me, this had nothing to do with my rudimentary bike handling skills. rear wheel grip on crappy uphills has been no better or worse than comparable quality tyres.
today's ride afforded some wet weather testing. that's not what was intended; i simply fancied a coffee, but on the way home, the summer weather downpoured with a vengeance on previously dry and dusty roads. the change in climate put the yksions neither up nor down, and certainly imparted no loss of confidence in their road-holding abilities.
i think it unfair to underwrite a pair of wheels and tyres in such a short space of time, so there will be a part two, but unless the uci issue an edict barring radar invisible rims anytime soon, i think the colnago and i will both be sporting large grins by the time the next bit is written.
so, if i'm using rocket science, does that make me an astronaut? i always wanted to be an astronaut.
mavic's r-sys slr exalith wheels retail at approximately £1300 and come with the necessary hub and spoke adjustment tools, four exalith compatible brake pads and mavic branded wheelbags.
posted friday 15 july 2011
it's difficult these days to be truly objective, for there's always the danger that an opinion will creep into the mix. whatever is presented to us by the media, and i have to include myself in this, is conditional on someone else's way of looking at stuff. when i, or anyone else conducts an interview, the questions asked are based on the interviewer's end game. it is quite likely in most cases, that this is purely a case of asking a bunch of questions, the answers to which are hitherto unknown. a sense of conditionality only creeps in if the answers are already known (or half known) in which case it is perfectly possible for the astute interrogator to point the subject in the direction of his/her choosing. thankfully, i do not count myself amongst such company.
similarly, my little corner of the pixelated world is exactly that, a situation that is oh so true for the majority of non-commercial sites all across the world. yet this forms a part of the entertainment that occupies our considerations on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. like an enormous jigsaw for which we have no box lid to see the whole picture, it becomes a matrix of information, joy, imagery, philosophy and interpretation that hopefully bolsters our appreciation of the many facets of the world of cycling.
but how does all this stuff get there in the first place? with no gatekeeper as such, there is nothing beyond a free blog account or a few pounds for webhosting preventing the great and good from pounding a keyboard and venting their summary knowledge for the benefit or boredom of all and sundry. the interweb works in mysterious ways; with the help of google, everyone can discover such individual writings for themselves.
the black and yellow pixels are simple to explain. either i have an opinion on some aspect of cycling that i feel it necessary to impose upon the unwary, or i have something to review. the sole reason for doing so is the fact that i enjoy myself, and fervently hope that you do too, but when you come across a site such as manual for speed, you can let it wash over you in one of two ways: tilt the screen back slightly, sit comfortably in your armchair and enjoy the words and imagery. or, you can delve further, eager to discover what it is that manual for speed is there to teach. or perhaps it's simply or purely another form of entertainment.
the work of partners, portlandian daniel wakefield pasley and new yorker emiliano granado (collectively known as hey buckshot, manual for speed's manifesto is clearly stated at the top of the home page: 'manual for speed is a collection of photo essays, videos, narratives, interviews and anecdotes, all of which illustrate the pursuit of speed'. surely little could be clearer than that? a slight note of prejudicial editorial may just be detected from the red and white scorpion logo top left; manual for speed is funded by and for castelli cycle clothing, but it is of great credit to the north american branch of the company, that this ownership is all but transparent. surely this corporate branding is remarkably low-key?
daniel wakefield pasley; "They feel, as we feel, that Manual For Speed has universal appeal. We wanted this to feel like something separate that Castelli was underwriting or sponsoring. That said, this is without a doubt a Castelli project." so whose idea was it to name the webspace manual for speed? "Emiliano and I both did, like in a conversation in a car somewhere in California. It was originally manual "of" speed for a while. But "for" felt better, so we decided to run with that. We knew we wanted this to be about speed. The pursuit of it.
And we didn't want it to feel like an art project. Not at all. We wanted to deliver on real and substantial insights into the pursuit of speed and the act of going fast. But we didn't want it to be a coaching or training project, nor to do something too literal or obvious. Basically we wanted to suggest that everything these guys do, on or off the bike, is basically part of their pursuit of speed, to offer a guide to the world of professional cycling; a manual.
so who exactly are 'these guys' to which daniel refers? it's not too much of a stretch to understand that the two cycling teams currently under the hey buckshot microscope, have castelli as their clothing sponsor. but the compare and contrast aspect is made considerably more interesting with the knowledge that one (garmin cervelo), is very much at the top of the international pecking order, while the other (team exergy) "are sleeping on an air mattress under dining room tables and changing their own flats on the side of the road four minutes before the start of a Crit in some small backwoods no-account town deep in the south of the south of America.". same raison d'etre, but with a huge chasm of financial backing in between.
how then, does manual for speed work? is it a 'fly on the wall' process, or is there some concept or strategy at work? "Mostly we're flies. Friendly outgoing-type flies. We shoot what's interesting, ask questions when it makes sense, then come home and digest it all. As the project develops we're looking to involve coaches, analysts, writers, scientists, mechanics, etc., to help us make sense of what we're looking at. And to help us deliver on the insight thing."
while you can understand a high degree of acceptance from the boys at team exergy - at such a lowly level of the cycling ladder, all publicity is good publicity - surely the chaps in garmin cervelo must get fed-up with pasley and granado sticking camera lenses in their faces at all the wrong times? "We never really had the chance to be in their faces. We were, as far as they were concerned, from within the organization, from within Castelli, Italy. Basically anyone who knows about professional cycling, the spring classics and the pressure on a team like Garmin Cervelo during the week between Flanders and Roubaix. We were there at the worst possible time, if access to the team was our main objective. Which it was, and in some ways wasn't. At least not exactly.
The unfortunate thing for us was that we never really had the chance to demonstrate our non-invasive and totally stealthy approach to documentation. It's patented. I can't tell you very much about it for obvious reasons. But it works and we're good at it. And in that that world, a world of media chaos and pandemonium, our approach would, we think, be welcomed and appreciated. Conventional cycling journalism at those races is IN YOUR FACE! The number of cameras pointed at any one of those dudes before and after a race is insane. It verges on the pornographic. And nobody wants to listen. At least it seems that way. They all want to know something very specific, very literal and mostly very boring. No observation, it's all collection to a mainstream end."
when i was fresh out of art college, i had notions of being a cartoonist; not one who drew individual visual jokes, but, inspired by charles schultz, a strip cartoonist. however, what ultimately prevented me from following that line of questioning was the thought that i would be unable to hit any level of continuity. in short, i was worried that the ideas would dry up a lot quicker than was professionally acceptable. starting would have been tantamount to a promise, and maybe a promise i couldn't keep. now that daniel and emiliano have embarked upon the long and winding road, how much of a challenge will it be to keep the plates spinning?
"Our problem, at least currently, is exactly the opposite. At every turn, the things these dudes do, not just the riders but the whole team and organization, to stay focused and on track are both numerous, as in infinite, and thoroughly interesting. We'd love a two to three year run. We don't know if we'll get that, or that it will ultimately make sense, but that's kind of how we think about it."
i can appreciate that many of you will have not yet visited manual for speed, but i confess that, were daniel not a long-time friend of mine, i probably wouldn't have heard of this superb site. is this because castelli are more interested in courting the north american rider? "NO! We want Manual For Speed to be globally relevant! Team Exergy are a US team and this is their first year of racing. The juxtaposition between their experience and resources and that of Garmin Cervelo's, is fascinating. Because we have so much more access to Exergy, the project has sort of defaulted a little bit into an expose on the state (plight?) of American Professional Cycling. It's different, let me tell you! Meanwhile, the scene in Europe is 'baller', as in Basketballer. As in money.
my visits up till now, including a sneak peek before the site went live, have been more than rewarding. manual for speed threatens to do for castelli what the rapha continental did for perren street; it quickly becomes addictive, and can best be viewed as an oblique look at our obsession with cycle sport. but me aside, how do they know it's working? "Analytics tell us if we're getting traffic. Twitter and Facebook help us get a sense about whether or not people are talking about it. And we're starting to hear and see a lot of influential-types talking about it. But really, who knows?
We want this to be relevant. We want this project to be a source of entertainment and inspiration. And we hope that it makes people want to support Castelli. If people buy Castelli, then we get to continue the project. And the fact of the matter is that Castelli really do make go-fast kit. That's why we feel they were the right company with which to do this project. They sponsor teams predominantly as part of their Research and Development efforts. They are, in a very serious way, an interesting part of the pursuit of speed. All that trial and error; all that testing; and all that refinement. It's not only substantial and productive, but it can be interesting too."
those are the whys and the wherefores, the reasons as to why manual for speed exists and what the guys expect it to achieve. and also what they expect to achieve. but what about the pragmatic aspects? all the genuflecting and good intentions in the world do not a successful website make. there are narratives to compose, and photographs to snap. however, assuming that more photos are taken than we see on the site, what's the editing criteria? "I try to use every photo I shoot. Emiliano gets into the back-end of the site when I'm not looking - he's on east coast time - and deletes about 70% of what I put up. Which is ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do. He has more discipline than I have and understands that less is often more. We don't really have a predetermined criteria. We talk about what to do with the photos that don't fit into a specific storyline. We have so many and they're all interesting in their own way, but we're not always sure how to use them. Right now we look for those images that best illustrate the pursuit of speed. That said, we are lateral not literal thinkers. For better or worse. Maybe?"
both emiliano and daniel are particularly accomplished photographers. the former captures much of the imagery for new york's outlier, and the latter's claim to fame are the first two seasons of the rapha continental and chris king's cielo website amongst others. but rare is the case where two men well-versed in the art of shutter speeds match talents in the narrative stakes. is this a 50/50 share too? "I do most of the physical typing, but all the stories are the result of discussions between the two of us. We write them and outline them together in conversation, then I word process. I think I'm like about 25-30 words a minute."
right this minute, there are seven distinct stories featured on the site, but as more material accumulates, will there be an archive? "Yes. And maybe a printed piece? Hmmmmmm. At the end of the year, or at the end of the project. We've also talked about offering subscribers limited edition prints."
many large and lengthy projects such as manual for speed seem utterly foolproof at the point of gestation. what could possibly go wrong? the pitch to castelli has gone well, and the company has placed its faith in hey buckshot. travel across america being flies on the wall with team exergy is well underway, and attendance at the european spring classics with garmin cervelo has been cobbled, muured and documented. but often the reality is a phase shift away from what thought did. so are hey buckshot winning?
We're always winning! There's no question about that. The question is: What are we winning? Sometimes you win this thing or this race right, but it's not always what you intended to win, like it's maybe not the race you thought you entered. Like, you win this race and shortly afterwards you're standing up on the podium in your sliver podium shoes and kissing the girls (mmwwa, mwaaaa). You look around and it's familiar, it looks a lot like the race you entered, but not quite. It's not necessarily the wrong race, it's often just not the same as the right race.
enigmatic to the end. and if i'm perfectly honest, that's why the whole thing succeeds on so many different levels. in a parallel to the "read the book, now watch the movie', i'd suggest you now click over to manual for speed for the tangible proof of all that's been said above.
as if i could stop you.
"Fan Boys. In Ghent, the largest city and capital of East Flanders Province in the Flemish Region of Belgium, they care we know you know this, we know this goes without saying, we know you've heard this before and but it's really, really true so we're saying it anyway about cycling. On a deep and psychic and spiritual-type level. It's really true. They respect football played with a soccer ball, bad-but-danceable house music and stunning
architecture, mostly old as in ancient with stained glass and spires and turrets and the like, and some new, like in the tidy suburbs where the right angle is expertly and ingeniously interpreted in a modern but warm way, and cycling. On bikes. In kit.
Here, teenagers ride bikes for fun and for sport, not just to get cigarettes at 7-11. They know where Garmin are staying and they're geeked. Professional cycling (the entire institution), professional cyclists (the world's top most best athletes!) and the pursuit of speed, is legend.
posted thursday 14 july 2011
a few weeks back, while reviewing rapha's brevet jersey, i cycled a tiring 185km. as numbers and i are not the finest of bedfellows, i left the computer display to show my current speed and the paltry number of kilometres i had covered by lunchtime. surely those hours spent in the saddle had taken me further than that? however, on the following day, while cleaning the cielo's nether regions, ensuring that islay's roads had not loosened more than necessary to keep frame and components together, i started pressing buttons to zero the computer settings before my next venture into the hinterlands.
the average speed display was sitting at 25.9km/h, which by my boring old fart standards, wasn't that bad. at least, i didn't think so.
then, of course, along comes the opportunity to watch the professionals cover a similar distance in half the time, over bigger bumps than i managed to traverse, recording an average of over 40km/h. if i had any delusions of grandeur prior to this observation, they have now been thoroughly dispelled. even if i had four weetabix and two bikefood bars for breakfast and some orange juice laced with san pellegrino, there's not a chance in good fortune i'd ever record that sort of pace. thank goodness i'd decided to become a classics rider; think how slow i'd have been in miles per hour.
having been slapped on the face by this rather dissapointing news, it has become a lot easier to accept why procycling, cycle sport or even the comic, have not featured my physique on their covers, preferring instead to display riders with co-ordinated sponsors. i wonder no more. however, you can have more in common with the professional rider than you might at first realise. in fact, you can even inhabit the same space as the greats: coppi, lemond, the badger, robert millar et al.
though rouleur magazine has now reached issue 24, it seems incredible that as far back as issue 14, illustrator richard mitchelson entreated readers to cycling's graphic novel, a picture by picture translation of the greatest show on earth; the 1974 giro d'italia. in a magazine renowned for the quality of its photography and writing, it was an eccentric and delightful treat, a treat that was obviously enjoyed by more than just yours truly, because rouleur treated us to more of a similar nature in later issues.
but in the world of photography, writing and illustration, it is rarely a propitious move to shackle one's talent to one bicycle wheel, or remain stuck in the one rut (if it's ok to refer to rouleur as such). so while mr mitchelson has produced individual illustrations of characters culled from the series, decorating t-shirts, posters and latterly, coffee mugs, he does have a life of his own.
this has stretched to cycle jerseys and so-called avatars for those addicted to twitter and other forms of social media. however, up till now, these have all been by way of commercial commissions; products designed to sell, or, as it all started, caricatures of the fast and famous. but now, it's your turn.
richard mitchelson will now produce portraits by commission for your wall. as the man himself says "You will get to work with me one to one and end up with something completely unique." having an excellent working relationship with printers in brighton, the resultant portraits will be laid onto 100% cotton, 210g watercolour paper as giclee prints. if it's something you figure you might fancy, you can contact richard through the website address below. the illustation of cato at the top of the article was created for cato felan, giving you an idea of how cool an idea this truly is.
go on, you know you want to.
posted wednesday 13 july 2011
though i have put movie-making on the backburner for the time being (takes a lot of time to be mediocre), it's a fact of life that any sort of consumer video camera does not have the sound capabilities to produce an end result that wouldn't make you wince. all the post videos were made with a (now discontinued) flip camera, containing a microphone that picks up every breath of wind, but completely ignores the purring chain as i slope past on a bicycle. there's also less than impressive continuity with background noise; left to its own devices, after editing, things might be nice to watch, but dolby surround-sound would only magnify the problem.
in my case, a large library of royalty free music has baled me out of a situation; i'm no composer, and even less of a musician, so unless someone else had recorded it before me, there was a distinct likelihood of my re-discovering the silent movie.
over the past year or so, rapha have not only entertained and inspired with a series of expertly shot high definition videos, but improved on the visual entertainment with the addition of pristine audio and well-judged soundtracks. it is but a short hop, skip and jump to their providing us with a soundtrack to the three stages of our cycling lives; the major tours. the luxury of being rapha is not only knowing what it is you intend to do, but knowing just who to contact to help set the scene. music for the giro, the vuelta and ultimately le tour, has all been released both in compact disc format and as a series of downloads; a particularly worthwhile experiment.
the chaps at perren street quite likely have a wide-ranging taste in music, along with probably an endless series of arguments as to whose choice is better than whose. an independent voice was doubtless required, a voice which arrived in the shape of pitch n'sync (now shortened to p&s). it's a process that has as many mysteries as a shimano's di2, so i could see little wrong with asking 'man at p&s' simon rose, how it all works.
what brought P&S to fruition?
Frustration mostly... We saw and continue to see so many brands try and work in music but get it totally wrong we are all passionate about music but understand brands have a role to play in the industry now from breaking new music, distributing existing and facilitating creativity.
how many P&Sers are there?
There are eight of us.
what exactly do you do?We help brands work credibly in and with music. From music supervising a small piece of digital through to creating multi channel marketing campaigns with music and talent at their creative core
are p&s concerned with the uk market, or is it an international operation?We work internationally but mostly in the UK though Amsterdam is a big European hub for us.
purely audio, or do you get involved in the visuals?We get involved in as much as we can so as to get the best creative outcome.
do you work directly with musicians or is it purely recorded material?We work with both, we pride ourselves in being close to talent and we always advise brands to creatively involve artists in any campaign planning sand execution rather than trying to buy their services and creatively control them.
is it part of your remit to commission music if you can't find what the client is looking for?
Yep we would sometimes advise it, to deliver authenticity and something valuable to consumers, why not create something new and exciting? Instead of licensing a track for loads of money for a short period why not get a unique or new piece of music made by an artist. If the execution is credible and fits naturally with the artist then you get a much better result that creatively aligned with the activity.
do you get a lot of repeat business?
That the plans and do we have clients we work with more than once ! We try and encourage brands to undertake longer term activity within music to gain the brand sustained kudos and character rather than say the one off expensive badging of events.
suppose i came to you wanting a compilation to accompany thewashingmachinepost. where would we start? what questions would you ask me?
We would start with what music your'e into and are passionate about, you have to have a point of view, people read TWMP because of the writing and opinion. Similarly they should listen to a TWMP album because they want to hear your opinion.
do you have to clear the minefield that is 21st century copyright before a track can be included in any project?
Yes sometimes it's a total nightmare! Every deal or campaign we construct is unique bar the straight up music for TV or digital content.
We are continually harassing all the major labels and publishers to be more flexible with their rights and slowly they are getting better...some are even coming to us now and saying how can we help!
not naming names, but do you get awkward customers?
Of course! Lets just say the advertising and marketing world talks a good game with regard to innovation and change but more often that not does not practice what it preaches!
where did the rapha connection come from?
My love of cycling and my admiration for the brand and what they were and continue to do with.
are you a confirmed cyclist, or was that not part of the job description?
Oh yes very much so!
do you have an extensive knowledge of reams and reams of music, or does it all come down to painstaking research?
It's a bit of both we all have specialist knowledge and experience but you do have to research you can't remember everything ! I guess knowing where to look is a skill in itself.
do you see an increasing need for music in areas where it was previously not considered?
Totally, music is so important it can make or break a brand, product, event, film ,individual even political party! Its amazing how little attention is paid to it sometimes.
do you often watch advertisements, listen to the music and ask 'what were they thinking?'
Yeah all the time. I recently did a review of all the Pro Teams music usage. Some very funny stuff. I suggest you check BMC's really badly done montage piece some very bad soft rock on there! Maybe its Cadels favourite!
is the plan to stay as you are, or is there a cunning plan for world domination? anything you're working on at present you can tell us about?
We continue to grow and are opening soon in Amsterdam. Maybe world domination is a bit strong but we will keep on our mission to bring authentic and credible music to brands and products across the world.
We are continuing to work in Cycling and are in the planning stages of something really exciting for 2012. Also we have just been working on a global music campaign and release for a well known courier company!
I'm not sure why I'm being secretive by the way!
posted tuesday 12 july 2011