an interview with 'one man and his bike' author mike carter

mike carter

though i manage to write a ton of words most everyday, either for thewashingmachinepost or other publications, i'm pretty darned sure that there is not a book hiding in there somewhere. penning or word-processing a few thousand words does not begin to compare with the planning, editing and content required to produce a narrative worthy of several hours of anyone's time. i thus have considerable admiration for those who can not only produce the goods, so to speak, but undertake the amount of research required to garner a publishing deal in the first place.

i do rather enjoy, however, reading the fruits of someone else's labours, and find myself in the enviable position of having an almost uninterrupted sequence of books to review or even manuscripts to proof. only every now and again does the opportunity present itself to not only read a thoroughly enjoyable and compelling tome, but have the opportunity to quiz the author about his/her modus operandi after the fact. mike carter, writer and traveller of one man and his bike, reviewed on yesterday's post, is one such man.

read the interview

posted monday 1 august 2011


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one man and his bike. mike carter. ebury press 343pp paperback £11.99

one man and his bike

'you can't rely on the attainment of goals and journeys, no matter how big or small, for your happiness, because the attainment of that goal will only bring a temporary gratification. if you want to be happy, then you must enjoy it all, at whatever point you are at, from the beginning to the end. because ultimately happiness is the acceptance of the journey as it is now, not the promise of the other shore.'

shortly after i arrived on islay, in my previous period of carless-ness, if ever the opportunity arrived to visit the mainland, i'd go by bicycle. the cycle i had arrived with on islay was a muddy fox courier, one of the first popular mountain bikes to find a niche in the uk market. it won't surprise you in the least to learn that i had no real handle on mountain biking, and it was not long before the standard wheels had been replaced with a pair of handbuilts (lovely campag croce d'aune hubs; wouldn't we all be so much happier if vicenza revived that groupset?), and the quill stem cast aside for a high-rise, short reach stainless steel version grasping a pair of randonneur bars.

a touring bike.

any books one may have come across on the topic of cycle-touring were often concerned with those intent on circumnavigation of the globe, kitted out with front and rear panniers and the ubiquitous bar bag. since this was obviously how things were done, the muddy fox acquired a blackburn rear rack and one of those really cool low rider front efforts. members of the ctc and those better versed in the art of going to faraway places by bicycle will be currently giving tangible witness to the acronym rotfl; i was only cycling from bowmore to prestwick via arran. the same distance could have been easily accessorised with the original rapha backpack, had it been on offer at the time.

of course, prestwick was only intended to be the beginning of an illustrious cycle-touring career, one that would see me confidently passing the melbourne city limits a few years from that point. the very fact that i have been writing thewashingmachinepost for the last fifteen years from the same armchair in twmp cottage rather gives the game away, that things did not quite work out as tentatively planned.

many a cyclist harbours thoughts of traversing hitherto untrammeled pathways, taking advantage of the individual freedom that the bicycle confers. members of the velo club have loosely discussed the possibility of circumnavigating the isle of arran, a possibility that has held court for at least four years. despite the fact that the manager at arran distillery is a good friend, perhaps well-disposed to allowing us to leave any heavy items at lochranza while we cut loose and free, the trip is no nearer to taking place than it was at first point of mobile discussion.

maybe next year.

mike carter is far less predisposed towards such procrastination. not for him the mere dipping of toes in the water with a paltry amble around a scottish island. in his case, the island in question was that of britain itself. as the back cover is keen to tell us, mike need a change, one that even had him contemplating a move to buenos aires, amidst half-hearted attempts to learn spanish from a tape course. the move and the spanish lessons came to nought; instead mr carter decided not to commute to the office, but to ride past and around the coast of britain on an overloaded ridgeback bicycle, proceeding in an anticlockwise direction.

'a woman crossed the road, giving me the look reserved in london for people talking to themselves on bicycles in bad spanish: fear, contempt.'

the theory was, as it presented itself, that if he kept the sea on his right-hand field of vision, what could possibly go wrong? cycling must be something that afflicts writers and editors working at the observer and the guardian, for erstwhile london resident, matt seaton, currently on loan to new york, did not miss an opportunity to regale us with tales from the racetrack and country lane. mike carter freelanced at the same organ of the press, and was/is eminently qualified to disseminate the resulting five month ride around britain's rugged coast in the 343 pages of one man and his bike.

the bookshelves of waterstones, and the pixels of amazon are well stocked with books on the subject of cycle touring, many concerning locations and routes of a more exotic nature. however, the relating of any cycle trip depends greatly on the perspicacity and descriptive abilities of the documentor, and at this mike carter excels. mostly camping and occasionally bed and breakfasting along the way, the current state of the nation (for little has changed economically in the years since the trip was undertaken) gave credence to man's so-called inhumanity to man; that british society was less than welcoming to the solo traveller.

not only is it of great credit to mike carter that he undertook the trip with the possibility that this may be true, but it is of even greater delight that he proved this supposition to be untrue. encouraging and open-armed welcomes were received almost unequivocally throughout the thousands of miles travelled, with regular invites to share the bricks and mortar type of accommodation when it was most needed. at varying points along the way, the inexperienced traveller in him realised that he was carrying far too much unnecessary weight in those panniers, necessitating frequent clearouts to ease the burden of cycling uphill.

long-distance cycling on whichever continent or island, encourages improved fitness, a fitness that is oft-times at odds with the health of the bicycle on which travel is being undertaken. i recall several years ago having to re-build a cyclo-tourist's rear wheel on which the hub had totally collapsed. on enquiring whether he was carrying a substantial amount in the panniers, he replied "yes, but it may be the accordion that has pushed it over the edge". in mike carter's case, his self-acknowledged less than sylph-like figure, and a shade too much content in the rear panniers, caused him on more than one occasion to search out a bike shop for repair to a recalcitrant back wheel.

but the aspect of one man and his bike that separates it from its bookshelf brethren and raises it to the shelf above is carter's frequent self-deprecating humour, keenly observed and leading to more than a few unrestrained outbursts of laughter from yours truly. mrs twmp was not amused during several evenings' episodes of coronation street. after meeting armesto, a lithuanian crop picker at holbeach marsh, he bids him farewell. "'ardievas", i said, for that was goodbye in lithuanian. "sudi" he said, for that was really goodbye in lithuanian.'

on reaching st andrews on the east coast of scotland, he bumped into frank footheringham jnr. who 'had flown halfway around the world to play a round of golf. more specifically, he was going to play the famous old course links at the royal and ancient... frank jnr said the words 'royal' and 'ancient', in his midwestern drawl, as if they were invocations to the gods. he had dressed up as rupert the bear for the occasion.'

carter pays testament to the gradual indifference toward weather conditions that subsumes the cyclist. i arose this morning, after spending many a long kilometre yesterday riding in glorious sunshine, to be met with all but gale-force winds and heavy drizzle, but rather than pull the covers over my head, i took the cielo out the bike shed and went out for the traditional sunday morning ride. however, any stopping points along the way tend to have strong associations with coffee and/or carrot cake; camping in the summer months is not something to which i am attuned.

for those resident south of the border, idyllic thoughts of camping out under clear skies in the scottish countryside should be tempered with the gaelic equivalent of buyer beware. as mr carter describes it: 'the next time i looked up, i was encircled by a black cloud. within seconds they were upon me, completely enveloping all my exposed flesh, going up my nose, down my throat and in my ears; my arms and legs were just a seething black mess of 'culicoides impunctatus', latin for blood-sucking little biting bastards, which in english we pronounce midges.'

it would, however, be pushing the bounds of incredulity to expect 343 pages of nothing but humour and unbridled enjoyment. while a daily cycling regime doubtless brings its own rewards, it features its own share of disappointment and hardship, not least the continuous rolling steepness of the welsh hills and further south in cornwall. some of this 'hardship' can be ameliorated, however, when the intrepid explorer has the ability to make up the rules and route as he goes along. strictly speaking, the scottish isles do not form a part of the mainland coast, but loose interpretation of the rules can willingly accommodate both inner and outer hebrides.

disappointingly, though having ridden the outer hebrides, cycled across skye and onto mull, it is a shame that on reaching tarbert at the head of the kintyre peninsula, mike carter ommitted the isles of islay and jura. rules should surely not be quite so arbitrary?

one man and his bike is superbly paced, excellently written and easily the sort of book that has to be read incessantly until our hero reaches home. it works so well on so many different levels; geography has never been one of my stronger suits, but carter's (almost) logical circumnavigation, aided comprehension of not only the country in which i was born, but of the two south of its border. ensconced on such an insular isle, exposed only to the media's interpretation of uk social and political matters, i too shared the impression that the people of britain are of a predominantly antagonistic nature, given to ignoring their co-habitees at the drop of an eyelid.

mike carter's extended journey is both self-affirming and an important sociological statement; perhaps the nation is, on the whole, better adjusted than we are given to believe. it may also underline the common apprehension that arriving by bicycle is one of the more inoffensive modes of travel, that innocent bystanders are more willing to welcome with open arms those travelling by just such a method. this is one of those cycling books that transcends its categorisation; even the most reluctant of cyclists would enjoy this highly entertaining ride.

and whoever came up with the idea of moving a little graphic of a bicycle along the top, down the side and along the bottom of the page as the narrative progresses, ought to be given a pay rise. however, should it perhaps not have done so in an anti-clockwise direction?

in a word, 'joy'

one man and his bike is also available in kindle edition and on the itunes book store.

posted sunday 31 july 2011


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all things bright and beautiful


though it's probably very un-tourist board to describe it thus, islay seems currently infested with visitors, and a saturday does nothing if not exaggerate that infestation. the bulk of accommodation on the island is of a self-catering nature, and in keeping with the uk standard, changeover day is on saturday, between 2pm and 3pm. therefore, as i head ever so slightly downhill from ballygrant, keeping in mind that all ferries must currently use port askaig, i am passed by a stuttering of cars, most of which seem to be either bmw or audis, with those upturned boats on their roofs or festooned with bicycles, most of which will never leave the safety of the motor car to which they are attached.

the worst are those with foreign number plates, since they are generally of left-hand drive configuration, allowing the drivers to more finely judge the distance they leave between themselves and fragile little me on my colnago. in many cases, another coat of paint on either and my cycling career might be temporarily halted. in one or two, it might end it altogether. add to this the perception that most have yet to adapt to the difference between the roads traversed prior to boarding the calmac ferry, and those met after climbing the 14% gradient out of port.


i haven't specifically measured the width of corresponding mainland routes, but based on several overtaking manouevres in the face of oncoming vehicles, perhaps the waves experienced on a two hour boat trip have left many a driver bereft of judgement they maybe didn't own in the first place. however, in the spirit of welcoming all to the finest of the inner hebrides, i have confined myself to simply shaking my head rather than a fist, hoping that once they have reached their abode-a-wee for the week, they will settle into the chilled demeanour that inhabits most of the residents.

islay is a wonderful place to live, particularly when the sun shines, the headwind is warm and the rain is only visible on the horizon. many a coastal view, particularly on the west has the ability to imbue a sense of awe, carved as it has been by the power of the atlantic over the winter months, and over many thousands of years. but being an historically agricultural isle, the fields keeping cattle and sheep at bay (some hope), are edged by dry stone walls, sometimes backed by more modern fences, and often punctuated by gaps where the stones have taken on a life of their own and decided to leave the safety of the gestalt.


traverse the less than billiard flat singletrack roads in something akin to a troop carrier, and it is not too hard to see the coastal beauty from the comfort of your seatbelt, even though the driver must live in ignorance, with eyes on the lookout for the similarly disorientated. if, however, visiting is being carried out in a low-slung, white audi with reams of illuminated light emitting diodes all across the frontispiece, the best that can be hoped for is a cow on the road up front, and a studied delight in the lichen veiled stones making up those ubiquitous walls. yet as i plied my trade along those very dilapidated roads down by coultoon, kelsay and carn, many a trendy vehicle was encountered with occupants mostly oblivious to the surroundings they had presumably paid a lot of money to visit.


i, on the other hand, had endless opportunities to stop, however briefly, to enjoy the fabulous and myriad aspects of my home. with a compact camera in a back pocket, opportunities to document such enjoyment was less than difficult. i assume that the frequently abandoned vehicles peppered along certain stretches of singletrack, was the only way a similar recording of events could be achieved by those in thrall to vorsprung durch technik. i have yet to satisfactorily comprehend what many of the visitors to islay gain from the experience. get there, get out, get back would seem to the be the standard operating system, with scant regard for the more scenic aspects of the route there and back.

it's a nice theory that we adopt a similar attitude to the isle of sark, and ban all cars from entering. that way, visitors would need to rely on shanks's pony or bicycle hire. in which case, a lot more people would see a lot more of islay, and the white audis would simply clutter the car park at kennacraig.

still, it's back to car dodging tomorrow morning.

posted saturday 30 july 2011


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happy twenty-fifth

rouleur issue one

i don't buy the comic anymore, nor have i done so for several years. there are a bulk of reasons why this is the case, but one of the more prominent is the design - or rather, lack of - on the front cover. longer-term readers of the post will remember lengthy, and likely monotonous diatribes attacking the apparent need to look like one of those celebrity magazines that populate far too many square centimetres of w. h. smith. additionally, you could almost guarantee that no matter which of the world's professionals won a major one-day classic, there would be a photo of one or more anonymous riders wearing brightly coloured altura jackets. this subterfuge gave credence to the average browser of magazine shelves, that cycling weekly was all things to all people, despite its inner pages containing endless race coverage.

confused? i was. confounded? yes. interested? probably not.

in may 2006, the face of british, and subsequently world cycle publishing changed quite dramatically with the advent of rouleur magazine. originally published on a quarterly basis, it wasn't, by comparison, particularly cheap, but it oozed quality both in imagery and the written word. contributors included graeme fife, gerard brown, ben ingham, matt seaton anad rouleur editor, guy andrews. to put it mildly, it was a breath of fresh air, sporting a monochrome cover with only the word rouleur to signify what was contained in the envelope.

guy andrews

for rouleur was offered as a product of the slowly growing rapha empire, guy andrews occupying a desk opposite that of simon mottram on half an imperial works floor in perren street. it was available only by mail order, and thus had no need to compete with such as creative review or graphis in a branch of w. h. smith. each subsequent cover, in a trend continued through to issue twenty four, sported superb photography or illustration, unsullied by any need for a list of contents pre-saged by the word exclusive. the only exception to this was a specially issued tour de france version in 2010 that did indeed occupy shelf space in the nation's ubiquitous newsagent. this alternative cover carried a list of contents.

the last few issues have taken on the proportions of a local telephone directory, but commendably without diluting the content. it's been a year now since the magazine moved to bi-monthly publication, and outgrown perren street, moving to luke street, london to provide more space for an increased editorial staff. along the way, rouleur has moved from being merely a cycle magazine to that of bona fide quality publisher, adding to its highly praised photography annual, works by tim kolln, michael barry, herbie sykes and others.

also adding to their portfolio and branching into dirt, the premier issue of privateer was issued last year and is already fulfilling the same space in the world of offroad as rouleur has in the mind of the roadie.

on the eve of the landmark twenty fifth issue of rouleur, it seemed like a nice idea to ask editor guy andrews one or two questions regarding the magazine's metier.

read the interview

photo of guy andrews: london cyclesport

posted friday 29 july 2011


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the art of being unsociable

social cycology

the advent of social media on the interweb has, to all intents and purposes, taken over the world. if only cycling were as attractive to the great unwashed, by now world domination would be ours; the motor car would be history. in fact, if you could undertake the act of cycling on a computer or ipad, the same decimation of the motorist would have occurred. that, however, is painfully not the case.

the end of the world is already in progress; a movie concerning the history of facebook has made it to the big screen (i wonder if the film has its own facebook page?), and entered the lexicon of the linguistically challenged as a verb (i'll facebook you later). thousands of years of evolution, and this is what we're left with. doubtless the mobile phone has had a lot to do with this, re-inventing communication for the masses, and all but obviating the need to talk to anyone in person. simply send a text message, place a comment on your facebook page, then upload a video to youtube.

i'm sure i recently came across a statistic pointing out that those in possession of a mobile phone used less than their allocated number of talk minutes per month, but were often in danger of exceeding their text allowance. nobody talks anymore.

i can appreciate that you find me at least partially hypocritical, given that a small link to your left indicates that i have a twitter account. this is undeniably true, and i cannot deny that i have found this to be, on occasion, sociably advantageous. however, those of you who have had the dubious notion to follow me on twitter will surely by now have realised that my tweets bear an uncanny resemblance to the smart-ass one-liner, though most tend to fall far short of being classed as humour. and as i have laboriously pointed out on several previous occasions, i don't own a mobile phone, let alone one of the rather unfortunately named smart phones

therefore, i can relate with great pride, that i am probably an unsociable old sod. and proud of it.

this unsociability is joined by what i'd like to think is a finely honed sense of the aesthetic. twitter is a pleasantly ordered list of tweets, one following the other in vertical fashion, that should one happen upon a twitter page by accident, there is little to offend the senses. not so your average facebook page, which has all the grace of a car crash. how anyone has the faintest idea of what is going on is quite beyond me. infomatics it most certainly isn't. while a substantial degree of research has been carried out as to the optimum way to organise information on the web while adhering to certain principles of useability, the chaps at facebook seem to have been reading the gaelic version upside down. i am completely mystified as to why corporates, large and small, are in possession of both an expensively designed and deployed website and a facebook page.

however, if i for one minute or so, put aside my own prejudices against the efficacy of social media, it is perhaps stating the obvious that the majority of facilities are intended to be all things to all people. rapha have made slight and timourous inroads with their iphone rendezvous app, geared (if you'll pardon the pun) towards cyclists keeping in touch with cyclists and posting ride details for all to see and enjoy. it is not, however, intended to reap the rewards of online conversation; for that, a member of the peletonese would have to resort to a civilian mentality and use the more common offerings.

or at least, up until now that is.

andy nash has our best interests at heart by offering, not only a rather clever play on words, but a social networking site specifically aimed at cyclists. currently in what is termed open beta at present - basically, it is perfectly useable, but the occassionally glitch might raise its head - socialcycology is completely free to use. "This is predominantly an altruistic venture (yes really!), though we also hope it will bring some kudos to buy.cycology and perhaps a little extra traffic." though we'll come to buy.cycology later, suffice to say that it will do pretty much what it says on the pixels.

i have already detailed at length the existing modes of social networking, so why on earth would cyclists feel themselves deserving of a separate network all of their own? i know we're a bit different, but are we so off the wall that pixels need to be wrangled specifically in our favour? andy has his own feelings about this. "Traditional social networks do not provide cycling-specific features. If cyclists get together online, its usually around isolated (even if successful) 'islands' such as blogs and clubs.
"Typically, a cyclist's Facebook friends include few with an interest in cycling, and perhaps even fewer active cyclists. Why post geeky cycling news to people who are not interested? It's also quite common for people not to have 'friended' many of their club/riding mates on Facebook. For example they may feel uncomfortable claiming friendship with someone whose hair colour they are not even sure of, due to meeting them only on the club ride wearing a helmet or cap. They'd still like to be in touch to arrange rides and lift shares though.."

perhaps the clever thinking behind socialcycology is its integration with the existing networks; there is no need to jump ship just becasue you have cleats on the bottom of your shoes. in fact, arrive at the website's front page, and you are presented with the option to log-in using the same details used for either facebook, twitter or linkedin (the professional's facebook). as the site states, logging in using an account you alredy have is quicker and simpler. but doesn't that mean that the chaps at cycology have access to your password?

"Taking Twitter as an example, you authorise Twitter to trust us. We at cycology already trust Twitter, who confirm to us that your Twitter account is really yours and that you are logged in. You then authorise us to trust anyone logged in as @twmp with your social.cycology account. As we already know @twmp is you, then if Twitter confirms to us that the person requesting to login to our site is logged in to Twitter as @twmp, we can therefore log you straight into social.cycology, no username/password required.
"At no time do we ever see your Twitter (or Facebook, or Linkedin) password"

so far so sociable. i think i'm beyond saving when it comes to this form of social networking (some would say in every other form too), but i do rather admire andy's temerity at offering a free service for a niche market which does not currently own a business model that will fill the coffers. the word altruism is surely pushed to the limits of its definition when taking into account the features that andy intends to ally with the basics currently in place. as a few for instances, future functionality will include: a simple training app for those who don't need the complexity of Training Peaks etc; better support for Events, including managing payment; better support for Clubs including managing membership subscriptions; a simple blogging app and a smartphone version, the latter coming in the next few weeks.

will there be any time left for cycling?

altruism, however, has boundaries. if you check out the site in its present incarnation, you will perhaps notice a buycycology link along the top. currently this has no functionality, but in september of this year, buycycology will morph into an online store focusing specifically on performance cycling, but with some other unique aspects. if all goes according to plan, income generated from this section will start to pay back the time and effort that has been (and will be) invested in the site. this will perhaps be bolstered by a modest degree of unobtrusive advertising (if that isn't too much of a contradiction)

unless i have a complete volte-face, something that i consider akin to my becoming the next president of the united states, i don't see me hanging out midst these pixels anytime soon. andy is nothing if not hopeful: "Perhaps if I can persuade someone like you to actively use it, before you succumb to buying a mobile phone, I can consider it mission accomplished and retire happy!

just remember: it's good to talk.


posted thursday 28 july 2011


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rapha: how did it go so horribly wrong?

rapha cycle club san francisco

the community newspaper at which i ply my trade, was originally a business set up in 1973 by the local council of voluntary service. this gave the council a valid mouthpiece for its own news and information as well as a method of keeping the folks of islay up to date with happenings that could conceivably affect their lives. as the years rolled by, the role of the council changed slightly, as did that of the newspaper, and earlier this century the decision was made to separate the newspaper from its parent body and become a wholly independent publication, ultimately responsible for its own destiny and income.

the separation was, as these things usually are, occasionally acrimonious, but other than the odd hiccup, all went rather well, if a trifle slowly. one of the causes of acrimony was brought about by the council apparently requesting that the incumbent board of the new company provide evidence of a three-year plan, in order to prove that the business was being handed over to those of a responsible nature. while i did tend to be on the side of those wishing the separation, the notion of a three-year plan seemed like a pretty darned good idea, perhaps giving the staff a reasonable idea of where the paper was headed. of course, in keeping with the aura surrounding many a good idea, the projected three-year plan was summarily ignored.

rapha cycle club san francisco

three-year and five-year plans are not uncommon in the corporate world; it's a salient method of aiding a board of directors or management to figure out which areas of their business are ripe for development and investment. i, on the other hand, do not have any kind of plan at all, lurching from one day to the next, often without a scooby as to what i'm going to write about each evening. it's a bit like sitting in with jazz musicians, without an earthly as to what tune is coming up next. it adds a certain frisson to thewashingmachinepost, if not for you, then certainly for me. it sort of works, but any onward and upward progress is entirely accidental and probably not particularly evident.

even to me.

rapha entered the fray in january 2004, bringing their first product to market in july of the same year. you can be sure that simon mottram did not simply wake up one january morning and think 'you know what...?. there were months, if not years of planning behind the company's entry into the corporate world and pretty much everything that has happened in the meantime has been the result of meticulous planning, deciding which areas of the business they wished to develop, what would be the expected returns on investment, and just how to apportion the rapha finances to best support their obsession with cycle sport, whether that took the form of new items of clothing, sponsoring a cycle team, having a bunch of americans ride obscure roads in the usa, or moving into countries that are not britain.

and opening the odd cycle club here and there.

rapha cycle club san francisco

the rapha cycle clubs took initial form in 2010, with the london venue opening as the giro d'italia set off, and closing a mere week after the tour ended, slightly overlapping with cycle club number two in new york city. few amongst the onlookers and visitors to either establishment could figure out why rapha would go to all this trouble for a few month's worth of clothing, coffee and racing on the big screen. when pressed, ceo simon mottram pointed out that the period covering the three big tours ought not to be too difficult to accommodate, but the autumn/winter seasons were something of an unknown factor.

however, what became apparent from the two prototype clubs, was a level of control over stock, display and promotion that was previously unprecedented, factors that encouraged the instigation of a second round of cycle clubs for 2011, the first of three examples being a very temporary setting in majorca, followed by san francisco and japan. bridging the gap around the european cycle scene has been the mobile cycle club, ably manned by keiran and ben. so far, all was going according to plan.

then the plan came unstuck.

rapha cycle club san francisco

normally, such a failing in corporate strategy would result in heads rolling and emergency board meetings, but in this case the failure is not only to the benefit of cycle fans across the world, but has brought a smile of satisfaction to the rapha board. earlier this week, a press release arrived intimating that the temporary san francisco cycle club will remain open indefinitely; as in forever.

according to simon mottram "the san francisco club has rapidly become the favoured coffee stop for local cyclists, mostly because there are no comparable cafes in the neighbourhood. it's situated in an excellent area, (2198 filbert ) and there are no problems remaining where we are." it also transpires that sales and income have made a permanent situation eminently justifiable, - even though trade is expected to drop a bit over the winter months - allowing rapha the opportunity to do it their way. for those of us not in the san francisco area, fear not; rapha has intentions to open one or two other more permanent cycle clubs around the globe, and i am currently on the lookout for suitable premises on islay. (the phone box at carnduncan is an early option; i'm trying to find out if they'll let me paint it grey.)

maybe things should go wrong more often?

oggi ci daremo una botta

rocket espresso milano

and while we're loosely engaged in conversation concerning caffeine intake, if you have ever been fortunate enough to visit rapha headquarters at perren street, you may have been even more fortunate to be offered a cup of coffee (arrive early; it always throws them on the back foot, and a coffee will be offered to fill the ensuing conversational gap). it might just arrive in a rapha monogrammed espresso cup, but if you peer round the corner of the kitchen door, the shiny chrome bling of a rocket espresso machine adds envious provenance to the liquid in your cup.

perren street is nothing if not generous, and rather than retain the very best all to themselves, they're now offering a special edition giotto rapha cycle club espresso machine from rocket espresso milano. encased in shiny stainless steel, the machine features an engraving of the rapha h-van graphic and the cycle club logo. the size can be easily accommodated in a regular kitchen rocket espresso milano (the empire state building's elevators are larger than perren street's kitchen), and makes excellent espresso, cappuccino, macchiato or any other designer coffees that may take your fancy. it bears the obligatory milk wand with steam nozzle for foaming the milk and the hot water outlet offers all degrees of coffee strength and consistency.

for years i had a small gaggia machine that sat innocuously in the corner of the twmp kitchen, the latter two of those years being patently unloved because the seal would no longer allow for the pressures needed to provide a decent espresso. this in part, explains my present attempts to colonise or squat on the sofa at debbie's in the quest for an uninterruptible supply of soya cappuccinos. nothing i have looked at in the interim has promised coffees of that standard, nor arriving with the promise of a 30km round trip to get one.


the rapha/rocket espresso machine retails for €1700 (approx. £1200) and can be ordered via the rapha website

rapha cycle club | rapha espresso coffee machine

posted wednesday 27 july 2011


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oh give it a rest

bb386 evo

i honestly thought i'd finished with all this bottom bracket nonsense. notwithstanding the industry's misunderstanding and misappropriation of the word standard, i really thought the dust had settled, and everyone had made their choices, needing only a bit of observation on the part of the unwary buyer. it surely must result in more business for everyone's local independent bicycle dealer; for who nowadays can afford to keep every required bottom bracket tool for routine maintenance? as they say, every cloud has a silver lining.

but only a week after chris king announced they were venturing into the world of the ceramic bearing, it was a great disappointment to discover that bh, wilier bikes and fsa components seemingly had enough of the bb30 standard and found it necessary to come up with yet another standard. according to the md of fsa, claudio marra, this latest offering, known as bb386 evo "simply modifies cannondale's bb30 with an increase in width and incorporates a press fit bearing cup rather than the bb30's direct fit.". sadly, that doesn't even begin to explain why on earth we needed yet another version of the bottom bracket.

bb386 evo

i mentioned only the other day the pista collective's t-shirt range, one of which proclaimed eddy rode steel. perhaps they could have scrawled on the back "he also rode a square taper". apparently from the perspective of those in the business of making bicycle frames - bh and wilier, now that you come to mention it - the 386 evo (what the heck does 'evo' mean?) allows a smidgeon more flexibility in the arena of frame design, specifically in its nether regions. at which point, someone like me with no knowledge whatsoever of carbon frame design and construction, starts to look a bit deeper than the clearcoat.

is there an inherent problem with monocoque frame design?

i have just returned a very fine example of velocipedinal artistry from rapha; the independent fabrication xs. that particular machine is constructed from tubes and lugs, similarly to the much favoured colnago c59 which has just done sterling service in this year's tour de france. sticking to the latter marque, if you compare the bottom bracket area of the c59 with that of their taiwanese built m10, there is a substantial difference. one can but assume that the principal reason for this difference is a large discrepancy in the rigidity provided by joining two sections of carbon as opposed to sliding a tube into a lug.

bb386 evo

therefore, are we now paying the price for the preferred method of manufacturing carbon bicycles? i am willing to accept that the likes of pettachi, cavendish, farrar et al can shift a heck of a lot more watts through the cranks than we could if we all climbed onto the same bike. but those that pay for such stuffness are you and i, and it seems we might be paying in more than one way. by enlarging the bottom bracket area, similarly to the increase in diameter that has afflicted the headtube, manufacturers can increase the diameter of all the 'tubes' that come together at this juncture. as we learned from the days of aluminium, larger diameter equals greater torsional rigidity (stiffness).

unfortunately, you and i are at the end of the chain, so to speak. though the bicycles we own at present might be of contemporary or even so-called outdated technology, there's every likelihood that the next one will be chunkier and stiffer, whether needed or not. according to mr marra the increased width of the bottom bracket shell has manifold benefits; "the wider bb shell allows chain stays to be optimised, with either a greater thickness, or a wider spacing to allow greater stiffness". it also seemingly allows fsa to straighten out the crank arms, dispensing with the kink that is a feature of pretty much all current offerings.

technology of all sorts continues apace; there are uncanny parallels with the fashion industry; providing endless variations that have little relevance to the needs of its customer base. i'm not well versed enough in any forms of technology to disagree with the purported benefits conferred by these so-called improvements. i'm just not convinced that most of us have any need of them, and in the process of reviewing the bicycles such advances throw in my direction, little has shown me that benefits provided for the likes of mark cavendish are particularly comfortable for the average bike shop customer.

wilier zero 7

the bicycle industry has never been truly recognised for adhering to any particular standards. you can bet your last spoke nipple that if someone thought that a 750c wheel would provide an advantage in the sprint, the fact that it would fit none of today's frames or tyres would likely be of little consequence. this has, to a certain extent, already happened in the offroad world, where the standard 26" wheel has been challenged quite successfully by the twenty-niner. and lest you think offroad has little bearing on the road world, where do you think the aheadset came from? or the larger diameter head tube?

talking of which, now might be a good time to lay bets on how long it will take giant's new overdrive 2, increasing the top bearing to 1.25" while leaving the lower at 1.5", will take to migrate to their road bikes. current road technology offers 1.25" bottom, tapering to 1.125" at the top.

i need a coffee.

posted tuesday 26 july 2011


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