we're not proper cyclists. not really. after all, when checking the small print associated with any quality sportive event these days, particularly the events that take place over several days, what you want to see are details of the luxury accommodation and that there is a truck set aside for the express purpose of transporting your luggage from hotel one to hotel two. for we are surely professional cyclists simply devoid of that all important team contract? speed, distance, ascending and sprinting are qualities possessed in abundance, eager to display at every opportunity. just don't fetter us with luggage, for that would not go well with lycra and there's every chance that speed would be noticeably diminished.
luggage is like that.
i promised myself that i'd refrain from any mention of cavendish's excellent win in yesterday's world championship road race in copenhagen, but i find myself compelled to indulge in an oblique strategy (brian eno would be proud). the race distance - and i am for the purposes of being obtuse, ignoring the fact that it consisted of several laps of the same roads - edged perilously close to 260 something kilometres, a distance that many an experienced touring cyclist would blanche at, if asked to undertake all in one day. the international peloton are blatantly not touring cyclists, even if they spend most of their year's work riding from city to city, town to town and even country to country. somewhere abouts is a bus or van with all their neatly packed cases, ready to be collected as the podium girls kiss another deserving winner.
can we separate reality from hypothesis for just a moment, and imagine that mr cavendish and pals, dressed in easily the worst looking jerseys since those of footon servetto, had to transport their accoutrements along with them? aside from anything else, the television coverage would have lasted a deal longer than it did, and david harmon probably wouldn't have a sore throat this morning. and even a slightdeviation in line at the sprint would undoubtedly result in pannier carnage.
not to put too fine a point on it, proper cyclists would carry their houses with them. over hill and dale, desert and ocean (the last bit would likely be on a boat of some sort) men and women aboard substantially built bicycles, festooned with panniers hung from every available click and hook, travel the world, experiencing much that most of us will only glean from copies of national geographic. during these often arduous journeys across continents, a level of self-sufficiency stretching further than greg lemond's complete book of cycling is an absolute necessity, for yellow mavic cars are conspicuous by their absence. many of us faux cyclists, attached to our beloved carbon fibre, will find this type of cycling admirable but pretty much anathema to the modus operandi du jour (sorry for the mix of languages).
thankfully, as a work colleague of mine continually reminds me, it's just as well we're all different. there are those who look sympathetically upon our weight weeniness and need for speed. experiencing the world from the saddle is an idyll that a surprisingly large number of folks aspire to, and almost as many achieve. sitting at the top of the ladder are those 'travelling the world with a tyre lever' expeditions, but touring with panniers can be easily as accessible to those taking a few days out from the rat race and visiting one or two cathedral cities. it's a free country, and this is a cycling activity less than keen to discriminate against a paltriness of budget or bicycle.
that's the fun of self-powered mobility.
the world of mark cavendish is particularly well-served by the media, from weekly magazines to hard to navigate websites, all intent on fostering and informing the dream, while advertising the wherewithal to get nowhere near it. those endeavouring to circumnavigate the globe on a pair of continental four seasons, are too busy experiencing life to be tied down with writing about it (warren and esther, you are excluded from that last description), at least while en-route to nowhere in particular. that, however, is a situation that has already changed with the arrival of the free, thirty-four page bicycle traveler magazine. if i said it was a luxuriously illustrated publication, printed on fine art paper exuding the lusted after aroma of printers' ink, then i'd be lying. at least, the bit about the ink and paper, for bicycle traveler is available as a download in pdf format.
the first issue is now available, a volume which testifies to the luxuriously illustrated description averred to above. the articles, a tad more brief than i would have liked or expected, are written by those actively involved in actually going places, even if they don't really know why. the brevity of writing is somewhat alleviated by the appendage of a web address at the end of each, alluding to the possibility of more words and pictures. should you become suitably engrossed in the bicycle travelers' tales. i am slightly less impressed by the nondescript typeface used in each and every article; the layout is excellent, and it seems a pity to undermine it with a bland, arial type font. it doesn't need anything fancy, just more characterful.
you will, however, want to download this issue for the photography alone. much of it is simply breathtaking, from dennis koomen's image of the road to kyrgyzstan, to the desolate beauty of nathalie pellegrinelli's photo story from tibet. i jest not when i say i sat looking at some of the images for a lot longer than practical when there was work to be done. editor grace johnson says in her introduction "bicycle traveler magazine is my attempt at bringing some of the best bicycle touring photography and stories together in a magazine format. finally, from a nepalese hotel room we have been able to upload the first edition of bicycle traveler magazine. it's come a long way since we started putting it together in thailand a half year ago."
issue one is a delight; even those of us who have no great desire to tour further than the couch in debbie's cafe, cannot fail to be enthralled by the tales of true bicycle travelers and accompanying photography. aside from the travelling, there is a brief presentation of items would-be bicycle travelers may wish to consider for their panniers, and a thorough test of a single-wheeled trailer. proof, if proof were needed, that the very, very small bicycle is a much bigger part of the world than its size would suggest.
and there are no adverts. none at all.
posted monday 26 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
everything in life has a purpose - well, apart from those little rubber gaiters that shimano fit to their 'v' brakes - and many of those purposes are defined by focus groups and marketing departments that rarely work for the companies that employ them. in a more subliminal manner than often proposed by various government departments, it's the nanny state expanded to the world of commerce; in our case, the world of cycling commerce.
it can barely have escaped your attention that true cyclocross bicycles have little or no need for bottle cage mounts, yet those offered to the rest of us indubitably have. thus, though the caption says cyclocross, most of them would be just as happy being leaned against the wall of look mum no hands!, mud a distant and oftimes non-existent pipedream. similarly those pro-race badged tyres. excellent though they undoubtedly are, most of the pairs i have seen or ridden were as far away from racing as i was from copenhagen this afternoon. so, though it may come as something of a bombshell, it's just possible that one man's team car is another man's shopping trolley.
candy stripes, however, go a long way to ease the facade.
i'm less than keen on mentioning any sartorial indiscretions on the interweb, because the next thing you know, someone will have splattered it all over facetwitter, but i feel honour bound to admit that i first rode those candy stripes on a road bike. a chris king cielo if testimony demands. and though those pink, blue and burgundy stripes professed 'cross at every twist and turn, they're not half bad on the road either. this, therefore, beggars philosophical questions that query the very nature of marketing diktat. nay, of the universe itself; faster than light neutrinos included.
what is ideally demanded from a pair of cycling shorts is that they are all but invisible when subjected to the purpose for which they were designed. invisibility in this case is purely figurative; one has standards of acceptability to which adherence is recommended. the pad, delicately placed for ideal comfort in the saddle, should hardly feel like or resemble a product emanating from the pampers factory; decorum on the podium should not revolve around 'does my butt look big in this?'. freedom of movement and a respectable lack of irritation on those thighs of steel are expectations we all take for granted. but in cases that arise from time to time, these are features that blight the occasional pair. not so in the present case.
but what of the dressing for other than cyclocross? islay is mercifully free from the sartorial police; there is many too many an agricultural distraction hereabouts to worry whether honed athletes such as myself are correctly or incorrectly dressed for the task at hand. in mitigation, this was not an isolated incident, as my devil may care attitude had me succumb to at least one more occasion of road-riding in candy stripes, but i had at least the grace and non-competitive nous to get splattered with mud on more than a single occasion.
the entry to the tracks around bridgend woods open up with a brief, squirrely downhill, followed by a nervous ride across a wooden bridge that shows every sign of becoming rickety sooner than its years would portend. mental attitude counts for all, but that same attitude is laid bare to being undermined when civilian life unexpectedly intervenes. through the muddy excess at the foot of the incline, bursting forth from tree-cover at fractionally less than warp-speed, the existence of two mums, a pram, toddlers and a dog, shattered the bubble with impressive ease. i'm not that good at knee-jerk reactions when unexpected stress rears its ugly existence, so a right turn along the banks of the sorn wasn't the finest choice i've ever made.
while slate olson was content to admit his love for mud, my roadieness eschews its treacle-like consistency. not entirely unsurprisingly, the banks of a river are composed of quagmires of the stuff, cunningly disguised by a surface of green. who knew? it was a matter of mere metres before forward motion became less impressive than that mental attitude had promised, and it was surely only luck that had moved mothers, kids and dog on across the bridge and out of sniggering range.
if any of you have watched the video of cross vegas, where the riders run to the corner before leaping aboard and continue their charge for the podium, i can promise considerably less. the front runners in that particular event re-mounted with ease, but as waves of competitors passed the corner, the quality of leaping diminished in direct proportion to their overall position in the melee. i would have struggled to match even the back markers. it is, however, unquestionably true that the act of leaping and dismounting in even the course of a verisimilitude of 'cross is just as dependent on the flexibility, resilience and integrity of one's shorts as it is on acrobatic skill. in fact, it may well be that the high degree of incompetence with which this lack of skill was approached, tested their mettle more than would be the case for either slate olson or jeremy powers.
the enthusiasm, however, seems likely the same.
i have long maintained that, similar to a pair of gloves, a quality pair of shorts ought to be a bit of a struggle to get on in the first place. thus it is imperative that not only should the garment's construction be pretty darned spot on to begin with, but that the wearer has been circumspect in choosing the correct size. the combination is well repaid. i cannot deny, nor indeed have rapha, that these are essentially the same as the pro-team shorts reviewed only mere months ago. the game is given away by the name patch sewn into the rear of the bibs on which it clearly states forcats de la route. but in the case of the pro-team cross bibshorts, the more recognisable rapha logo is resplendent in cream on each leg.
however, though i have ignored the very directive that accompanied these bibshorts in their traditional rapha envelope, it may be that i am the one with egg on my face. the originals, bereft of candy stripes, made for the road pro-team bibshorts to which i earlier referred, have one important difference. while the road going version features a none existent hem clamped firmly to the thighs of steel by some of that silicon gloop. the 'cross version, tellingly, has a proper hem of a coarser construct, affixed to the remarkably fine cold black lycra. though the underside again features the gloop, this is quite plainly the difference between us soft-as-a-lambswool-rug roadies and the hard-as-nails cyclocross rider. who would have thought subtlety could be so obvious?
and is it just me, or does everyone else fall off more than is seemly in polite company? i'd swear even the dog sniggered.
(rapha's cyclocross pro-team bibshorts, which are not graphically the same as those worn by members of the rapha focus 'cross team, are available in cold-black with the oft-mentioned candy stripes in x-small (small size tested) to xxl at a retail cost of £155 ($220) per pair)
posted sunday 25 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i've just had a pizza for my tea. a bog standard co-op pizza; two for £3, though to enhance the rather bland cheese decorated in circles, mrs twmp bought some rather luxurious variations to add to the flavour. and while i scoffed all four quarters, with mozzarella dripping in places that i'd rather it didn't, i was watching a rather poor western movie, with a leading man who looked vaguely familar, but i'd be hard pushed to put a name to the face. perhaps thankfully, i started watching about halfway through, so i have no inkling as to the nature of the plot, but it has cowboys and indians which is probably enough information to be going on with.
there's every possibility that the indians are basically the goodies in this, for the chief stood unarmed in front of a log cabin, demanding that the leading chap hand over the colonel, whom he promises they won't harm. needless to say, whether he's being truthful or not, they're not falling for it. however, having refused what seems like a perfectly respectable request, the indians are now determined to nick the horses, stranding everyone in that selfsame log cabin (which has already survived an arson attack of flaming arrows). what seems particularly surprising to me is the relative calm displayed by all the horses, despite guns firing, arrows zipping back and forth, and a knife wielding indian brave leaping aboard a horse that quite plainly wasn't his to leap aboard.
my surprise was marked by comparison to my morning jaunt through bridgend woods, still desperately trying to be mistaken for sven nys working up a thirst for a soya cappuccino. today turned out to be a lot brighter than expected, given that it's september weekend and thus wide open to climatic excess. public holidays are like that. with cloud free skies, the morning sun had free reign to cast slatted shadows across the principal pathway through the woods. it's not the ideal way to spend a bike ride on the hakkalugi, dodging puddles (why? i asked myself the same question several times) concealed under an increasingly heavy carpet of brown and gold leaves. dark tinted rudy projects were not the best choice of eyewear under the circumstances, but one has to prepare fro the wide open spaces that would inevitably follow the squirm around the woods.
it's easy to say "about half-way along the path"; i've no idea what fraction had been covered at the time, but at some point i met a young lady riding a horse in the opposite direction, preceded by a black and white collie. as befitting my status as all dressed up and nowhere to go, i was riding a lime green bicycle and wearing black 'cross clothing with some pretty candy stripes on the jersey and shorts. scary enough for the indigenous population, and doubtless doubly so for a horse, particularly on a somnabulant potter through idyllic woods.
not keen on a prospective hoof/carbon fibre interface, i slowed right down, as did the horse and rider, with the latter commanding the collie to sit and stay. which it did with commendable integrity. i passed very slowly, with only a splutter from the horse, accompanied by slightly nervous movement, then sped up to neutrino speed, spattering myself in mud in the process.
for about forty-five minutes or so, i practised to deceive, looking for all the world like an imitation sven nys with no clue what cyclocross is all about, before the temptation for a soya cappuccino became too much to bear. thus time to retrace my wheeltracks, at which point i again met the selfsame horserider and dog doing the same as i but in an opposite trajectory. pointing out that we really couldn't go on meeting like this, i again slowed almost to a halt, while horse and dog stopped entirely. i passed safely on my way.
horses and bicyles don't match too well; as the ones with complete control over our steeds, it greatly behoves us to make the first move. it is one thing to approach riders from the front, where the horse(s) can also see the approaching danger. if it means stopping altogether, then so be it. far rather to live and ride another day, rather than have crashing hooves desecrate that giro helmet. if approaching a rider or riders from behind, for crying out loud, don't hammer past at speed, shouting as you pass "how's it hangin' dudes?" spooked horses do not take kindly to this behaviour and really don't care too much if that bike has the most advanced nano technology this side of easter island. hang back until the riders are aware of your presence and let them dictate when it's good to go.
i appreciate that situations such as the above will affect only the select few, but i cannot pretend that meeting a horse and rider in bridgend woods was an expected situation this morning. i've been scarpering about there for many a year, and it's the first time that's ever happened. there are a couple of riding stables on islay, one most notably adjacent to kilchoman distillery, and a fair number of individuals who own horses and often display much the same tendencies as those of us with bicycles; popping out for a morning ride now and again.
a minority of commuting and courier cyclists have impressed upon the greater public a disappointing reputation for nipping along pavements/sidewalks and paying scant heed to red lights. lets not those of us of a more rural persuasion gather the same lack of prestige by ignoring obvious and sage advice pertaining to country pursuits.
roy rogers would be proud of us.
posted saturday 24 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
only a few years ago, the local newspaper at which i have cause to ply my trade, won the highlands and islands community newspaper of the year award. this news gave birth to a blogpost from someone not long on this island, but who felt the need to make comment. he, as a friend of the newspaper's editor, made the point that the publication had been raised from a mere community newsletter to a standard that had led to the award. now i don't contest that the editor had made considerable improvements both in illustration and written content, but those of us who have worked at the paper under several other previous editors felt that the gentleman's comments were somewhat errant.
technology has marched on at a fierce pace since the newspaper emerged in the early 1970s, and it is a matter of fact that the previous editorial incumbents had made use of that which was available at the time. i therefore e-mailed the blogposter on behalf of the longer term members of staff pointing out that we all thought him rather terse and unfair in his comments, and would he consider our pleas to issue a retraction, or alteration to his initial published remarks. arrogance always finds its own level, and indeed did so in his considered reply. "it's my f**kin' blog, and i'll write what i f**kin like" was the basis of the reply i received.
the man was, of course, correct, though could perhaps have found a more diplomatic way of stating it. in the case of the following book review, i am happy to adopt a similar stance, though i will refrain from issuing the same expletives.
salsa for people who probably shouldn't has nothing whatsoever to do with cycling, though its author does contrive to mention bicycles on page one. old habits die hard. matt rendell is renowned as a highly literate and perspicacious author, through volumes such as 'the death of marco pantani', 'olympic gangster', 'blazing saddles', and several others. he is also one half of the real peloton podcast with ned boulting and formed a part of itv 4's broadcast team for both the tour de france and the vuelta. it's an impressive palmares.
but being recognised as something of an expert on cycling does not preclude the writing of books on subjects other than our current obsession. 'salsa for people who probably shouldn't' aside from being by far the best book title since tim hilton's 'one more kilometre and we're in the showers' has a subject close to the author's heart. if you can recall one of matt's earlier tomes concerning colombia's cycling heroes, aside from european cycling's brief encounter with the likes of lucho herrera and other colombians, mrs rendell also hails from that very country. knowledge from the inside rather than observations from afar.
if i put my mind to it, i can sustain the necessary bass drum and hi-hat ostinato pattern for a samba, while scattering a semblance of snare drum strokes over the top. the resulting sound bears distant comparison to that of the brazilian dance, not so much that residents of sao paolo would drop everything in rhythmic appreciation (i did play this with a brazilian bass player this past weekend), but within my immediate locale it is passably acceptable. as a drummer, i am expected to have an advanced sense of rhythm, but that does not extend as far as dancing. it's an activity i prefer to avoid (as do any onlookers) if i can; any possibility of dancing salsa is a distant pipedream. in fact, if i'm totally honest, i have little or no idea as to quite what defines salsa in the first place.
there are similarities between salsa and samba, despite their differing geographical origins, in that both were originally the preserve of the poor. take them out of that original context, however, and it's possibly too much to expect that all will remain in pristine condition. though i am not poor, there is no denying i have a better standard of living than those in the slums of brazil, and there is also no doubt that my faux samba at ardbeg last sunday was a far cry from the brightly coloured surdo and repenique players.
it's just the way of the world.
mr rendell has crafted this book quite beautifully. the obvious strategy would have been to approach the subject from the outside, incorporating relevant information, interviews and opinions to present an history and overview of the salsa phenomenon from its lowly colombian beginnings to the present day. the narrative presented contains far more intrigue than this, as matt introduces us not only to the meeting of his present wife, but meetings with her immediate family, and how salsa has become an integral part of his own life, along with that of others worldwide.
salsa is, for those living in colombia, and many of the diaspora that has resulted from the drug wars long waged in that country, more a way of life than an object to be described in literature and proscribed dance steps. rendell describes how carlos valencia, a dancer from the 1950s, adapted movements from football, basketball and boxing into dance steps. there are few traditions that continue to exist in isolation; the same phenomenon has affected the world's major religions, all of which have received local adaptations as they ventured into the big bad world. salsa is no different, though rendell notes that when popularity reared its ugly head, it became less about the gestalt and more about individual moves designed to impress.
there are also some surprisng revelations as matt traces the different strands of dance infected with and influenced by colombian salsa. my early years as a session drummer brought a wide range of musics to be encountered, mastered, and played with some conviction, one of which was the foxtrot. along with apparently generic names for many tradtional forms of dancing, this one gave little pause for thought, but some 35 years later, i am entertained to learn its true origin. apparently a vaudeville comedian called harry fox, slowed down ragtime and smoothed out its stride, creating a series of dance steps hitherto known as mr fox's trot.
i did not know that.
salsa for people who probably shouldn't is a book that intertwines two approaches, but so seamlessly that interest is sustained and enhanced throughout. for had this been simply a book about salsa, its audience would surely have been relatively limited, particularly in the light of the dance having reached its ascendancy some years back, and that its current adherents seem more preoccupied with the show aspect rather than its heritage. but by writing in such a sensitive manner, matt rendell has related almost a selective autobiography, one that has a beginning, middle and end, one that demands your full attention. it also quite superbly describes the history of salsa in detail, but in a manner rarely seen in modern times.
and aside from the title, it does have a particularly notable cover. do yourself a favour and take a deserved break from cycling for a day or two.
posted friday 23 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it may or may not be true, but in answer to chris boardman's request for advice regarding climbing technique, robert millar is reputed to have said "find some hills, and ride up them quickly". perhaps not everything boardman had hoped for, but sage advice nonetheless. i am firmly of the opinion that hill-climbing, or in millar's case, mountain climbing, has a great deal to do with psychological approach. in my defence i provide as an example, my riding in company with cyclists younger and demonstrably fitter than i, who went straight out the back as soon as anything vaguely resembling a gradient appeared before their front wheels.
as one with millaristic pretensions, i laugh in the face of ascending gradients.
the ritual of the end of season hill climb, as far as i can ascertain, is something peculiarly british; not quite in the same obsessional way as time-trialling, but running it a close second. despite the number of fans lining the summit of pretty much every mountain stage in le tour and giro, hurting those legs (and pretty much every other square inch of body) by trying manfully and womanfully to reach the brow of a british hill as fast as possible can only be considered a somewhat eccentric past-time. that practitioners of the art would be unlikely to consider it in this way, simply adds to this eccentricity. i find myself in total agreement.
after a long season of riding sportives, making trips to the continent, participating in the occasional time-trial, and perhaps plucking up the courage to race once in a while, rounding off the season with a hill-climb or two seems a perfectly amenable aspiration to me (and several hundred others). after summitting has been achieved, it's all downhill from there on in, both literally and figuratively.
rollapaluza more recently, have taken an apparently rural activity and transferred it to the city. witness the climb up london's swain's lane. and i can think of a steep road or two leading off glasgow's sauchiehall street heading up to renfrew street; steep but measurably too short for an organised event. and though merely a verisimilitude in comparison, the annual climb towards conisby on the afternoon before the ride of the falling rain has provided much jollity and embarrassment in a decidely rural setting.
however, my friend matty ball, one time marshall at the edinburgh nocturne and founding member of west lothian clarion, only today sent me a photograph of kingscavil hill, in the bathgate alps (see top), scene of the club's forthcoming hill climb on sunday 16th october. having secured funding from visit west lothian, west lothian council and linlithgow round table, enabling the closing of the road for the duration of the event. such is the import of riding quickly up hills, the event takes place one week before the scottish national hill climb championships (who knew?). it's also the final event in the skinny tyres youth series, because yes, in total denial of ageism, kids and adults can race the same course.
there is, of course, always a downside to an event such as this. as it is profoundly scottish, both by affiliation with west lothian clarion and its north of the border location, there is the inevitable bagpiper in attendance. though this may have worked in the favour of all competitors, as the faster the hill is ridden the further away from those drones, the organisers have increased the pain factor by placing the hapless man in the kilt at the top. the ideal excuse, in my book, to explain a rather tardy ascent.
as matty said; "we want our race to have the same atmosphere as the hill climbs down south. they're great spectator events and a chance for riders to visit on their club runs and cheer on their club mates."
so, if despite the skirl of the pipes you figure you could top 0.9km of hill with the best, make sure you have your entries in by sunday 9th october. there are no entries on the day. those with nary a desire to take part in anything so demonstrably energetic, but keen to watch others pummel themselves to a standstill, are encouraged to bring bells, whistles and horns to make as much noise as possible. arthur doyle, who won last year's event said "It was great to go to this as a family. It's the first time we've all been able to compete in the same event. Including kids and youths in these totally safe closed road events is too rare. The kids (7 and 10) want to go back and do it again. There were some really focused faces on the kids facing the start, but they were lifted all the way by the cheering crowds, cow bells and then the music of the bagpipes to cross the line."
obviously i find that last comment to be open to considerable debate.
photo with piper: gordon scott
posted thursday 22 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i was just today almost having an e-mail conversation with a friend, regarding his rather fine photographs taken during the recent tour of britain. while i am no photographer myself, i have often communicated with those who most definitely are, regarding their methodology, inspiration and vision, and believe me, i paid attention. it is also a part of my job to fix errors and shortcomings in the photographs of professionals and amateurs alike. so while photography is not a large part of my life, it is, in fact, a large part of my life.
there is an obvious distinction between those of us who turn up at a race with digital compact in pocket, and the guys you often see wandering in places where only those and such as those are allowed. usually you'd need a yellow vest (preferably unfastened) and at least two cameras, one with a lens that would rival the gun barrel on a chieftain tank. such unfettered access has its distinct advantages, but none of which will be of any use if skill behind the lens is conspicuous by its absence. and it perhaps goes without saying that those sashaying about on the other side of the barriers were once in the same position as you and i. effort, skill and being in the right place at the right time are excellent promoters.
one such is john coulson, who spent forty years on both sides of the barriers, capturing cycling imagery rarely seen today, even from the cameras of the modern crop of lensmen. to a greater or lesser degree, many photographs can be said to be contrived, even if such contrivance is only visible in the mind of the photographer, rarely showing itself in the resultant images. coulson describes a learned technique of panning the camera along the trajectory of a speeding rider in order to produce an image of speed, yet one that exhibits no motion blur. that this became a practised art identifies it as a contrivance, but one necessary to produce images that people, and more importantly, paying clients would wish to see.
coulson, by his own admission, exhibited no great promise as a racing cyclist, but in common with many a rider, this was not always a deterrent to competitive participation. however, running in tandem (pun not intended) with this riding obsession was a growing intrigue with the methodology behind photographing the sport. initial forays into this all but necessary accompaniment to cycling activity were reasonably successful, resulting in one or two sales to the subjects of his shutter.
the luck of being in the right place at the right time came into play when a near neighbour and picture customer, as well as a bcf cycling coach, was asked to prepare a series of articles on weight training for cycling magazine. and he needed someone to take the accompanying photographs. though it may be a well-worn cliche, the rest is history.
but john coulson has an extra string to his bow in that he his a superb writer. though the author's introduction to this book extends to a mere 15 landscape pages, the writing is of a standard even more rarely seen than the level of photography that follows. this undoubtedly assisted mr coulson in the pursuit of his career, where he was able to not only capture an event on film, but to coherently and expertly write the words that would accompany them in a variety of cycling publications. in fact, perusing coulson's admirable photography throughout the rest of the book, it is as much of a pleasure to read the substantial captions under or adjacent to each image as it is to view the images themselves.
the photographs are well reproduced in black and white throughout. given that they cover cycling in all its many forms, including road racing, time-trialling, cyclocross and touring over the past forty years, there is much more to each image than superficiality of surface would suggest. for these are almost an historic and social catalogue of how the european side of cycling has developed and changed over the years. from the bicycles themselves (when was the last time michael hutchinson rode to the start with his race wheels on sprint carriers bolted to the wheelnuts of a pair of less fragile touring wheels?), to the wool jerseys, and to the cotton duck saddlebags behind the saddles of a group of touring cyclists.
and then there's the trikes.
for whatever reason you purchase a copy of this book (and you will); whether to marvel at the imagery of a true master, whether to simply enjoy a ride through british and european cycling history, or whether to smile out loud at photographs of an incredibly young malcolm elliot winning the 1980 edition of the grand prix de st parreaux-tertres, you really do need to purchase this book. i doubt there is a sliver of carbon fibre to be seen, though there are one or two low-pro time-trial bikes sporting smaller front wheels than rear. them were t'days. these are the days of real steel and brake cables that exited the top of the brake levers, and gear levers firmly fitted to the down tube.
yet they are some of the most contemporary photographs you'll see this year; the world changed when colour arrived.
posted wednesday 21 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if nothing else, this past weekend's islay jazz festival proved that i still have the full compliment of rhythm and timing that has made me a legend in my own lunchtime. performing a short set with emerson, lake and brian palmer, you'd have been hard pressed to distinguish me from a real drummer. but having spent a great proportion of my life impersonating a rhythmatist, it brings with it baggage that hasn't always approached me in a favourable manner.
drumming needs a developed or inherent sense of timing, if only because the other guys in the band tend to rely on the chap/chapess behind the kit to stop the groove descending into somnambulance, or heading to infinity or beyond. therefore if by course of action, desire, or ego, one has defined oneself as a drummer, any sign of weakness in the timing department, even when unrelated to a musical situation, brings a shower of guffaws and those keen to point out said deficiency. i know this because i have used the same undeniable deficit in the timing department with regard to pipers (who, by definition, have no timing whatsoever. it's a pre-requisite for the job).
thus, were i to arrive late for any appointment, a suitably caustic remark would undoubtedly head in my direction. what is unfortunately true in my own situation, is the supposed joke concerning how to prevent a drummer from playing too fast: place sheet music in front of them; weak humour i know, but unfortunately somewhat accurate in my case.
so think then, how life, love and cyclocross must treat a man who has a particularly high profile in the world of north american cycling. someone who plies his trade not as an athlete, but as the general manager of a particularly successful apparel company, with its usa base on the upper floor of a rather eccentric building (there are hens roaming around the access stairs) in north mississippi, portland, oregon.
portland has a renowned interest in cyclocross; an event held at alpenrose velodrome last year attracted a substantial entry of around 1,500, so it comes as little surprise to discover that slate takes great pleasure in mixing it with his fellow portlandiers amongst the mud and course tape. do these offroad excursions take precedence over the preceding road season? what's the attraction of cyclocross?
"I fully love road riding and racing, but for me personally, there is nothing more fun and worthwhile to race than cyclocross. For starters, in comparison to road racing, I'm not half-bad at cyclocross. I think my running background is a lot to thank for my being competitive in my division.
"I ran cross-country (XC) a bit when I was a runner, in fact when I first started racing cyclocross (CX) at the CrossCrusade there was a cross-country series that would run before the beginners' race. I would put on my spikes and run that 8-10k and then hop on my old Klein hard-tail mountain bike and turn around and race the cross race. I sucked, but it was awesome. I love that cross is in an all-out hour affair. I really enjoy the community of racers that I've come to know because of racing. I like the fact that you have to train hard to do well, but not so hard that you lose sight of everything else that you have to do.
"And, I like the mud."
my first ride out along the roads of portland city with mr olson, were briefly interrupted by a stop to link up with joe staples who was wearing the, at that time, latest hup united cross kit, with top tube goes here printed on the right shoulder. slate and joe were team-mates in the renowned hup united (taking their name from the cheering often heard at belgian 'cross events: hup! hup! hup!). does slate still spend his cross season racing in those vermarc printed colours?"
"I don't ride for Hup United right now. It sort of breaks my heart to say it, because Hup in Portland really was the best of times. We had a group of guys who were all racing well, improving and jumping up categories and having a lot of fun as we did. Not to mention, we were the best looking program that existed. People moved, babies were born, and when the Rapha-FOCUS team took shape I figured I couldn't hurt things by flying the team colors. If nothing else I think I deflect some of the heckling from the fans so Zach, Chris and Jeremy don't have to. My favorite heckle last season was this woman who would shout every lap (at every race) "Just because you look pretty doesn't mean you get to ride like shit, Rapha-boy!"
rivalry in any sport is surely endemic, some of it good-natured, though some considerably less so. however, the niggling that exists between slate olson and chris king's marketing supremo, chris distefano, has all but redefined the genre. at almost every opportunity, neither misses the chance to take a (good-natured) poke at the opposition. is there, therefore, any truth in the rumour that simply finishing ahead of distefano would constitute a victory?
"Distefano sucks at riding bikes. Beating CD has lost his luster. So, you could say he wins. CD is the king of taking the fun out of things. But I still remember the first time I saw him at a Halloween race at the Flying-M Ranch. He was George Hincapie. Everyone was sure it was really Big-George racing cross.
"CD is my hero."
so if it's no longer a case of keeping ahead of cd, does slate have any specific plans for the forthcoming season, or will he define those in retrospect when the season is complete? "This season I intend to beat a few people. We started this CrossClash idea because for most of us just beating 'so-and-so' determines victory. Nowadays I feel pretty good if I'm ahead of Greg Talbert and I'm really good if I'm ahead of Mitchem. I'd like to see some top tens or better in my class of Master 35+ As (that means fast old guys, and these guys are fast)."
and how many races does he plan to enter (and win)? "I will probably race 12-14 races this winter."
the fact that portland, and increasingly the greater part of north america, has taken cyclocross to its heart means that there is perhaps less temptation to travel further afield to get that all-important fix of mud and cantilevers. but possibly in the manner of those who have need of increasingly more dramatic mountains and twisting passages in the dolomites to satisfy their road cycling desires, the lure of central europe may pull hard on those american heart-strings. after all, belgium is seen as the ancestral home of cyclocross. how far would slate olson travel for a cyclocross race?
"Someday I hope to do the Three-Peaks race (UK), so I'd travel that far. If I get the chance to race in Belgium I will. This year Master Worlds are in Louisville, Kentucky, and I'm seriously considering that. "
lance is the man who made the grave mistake of entitling his first book 'it's not about the bike', and though i have less than 0.5% of mr armstrong's palmares, i would respectfully point out the grave error in so doing. for we all know that it is very much about the bike, especially if shiny carbon fibre is at the kernel of that obsession. if lance's assertion were true, eurobike and interbike would suffer from considerable echo around the emptiness of their exhibition halls and i'd be reading thewashingmachinepost on my own (please tell me i'm not). cycling life's not like that, and cyclocross is no different in that respect. what does slate favour for racing these days?
"I have raced on all sorts of bikes. I started on a mountain bike, then rode a Felt, then was lucky enough to ride a Seven Tsunami. My friends at 333 Fabrication made me the most spirited single-speed cross bike that I used for a year to hide when I was kicked up to the A-category and then used as a pit bike in As the following year.
"Now I am thrilled to say I have a matching pair of FOCUS Mares cross bikes. First time I've ridden a carbon cross bike and I must say I am smitten. The fork; the fork alone is worth a white paper. It is a massive looking thing, that makes you feel as if you could ride through a brick wall and come out intact. Never a chatter, these bikes are so solid and fast for cross. I'm hoping to be even 25% as good on them as Jeremy, Chris or Zach. "
it's something of an understatement that the general manager of rapha usa, currently rapha's single biggest market, has a lot of spinning plates to keep in the air. the rapha continental, the rapha-focus cyclocross team, the first permanent cycle club in san francisco, coupled with goings on at september's interbike, and a year interspersed with a myriad of typically rapha style events such as the renowned gentlemen's races, there can't be many hours in each day left to pursue some sort of a training schedule that might bring those desired victories.
"Work, travel and family have all conspired to keep any hopes of being a semi-professional-wannabe-cross-racer a dream. My training program isn't a program at all, it is primarily 2-3 days of 1-2.5 hour rides when I can slot them in. I'm not running as much as I'd like to be either. I suppose I am counting on memory muscle to help me fake it through the year. Or some may call it 'racing into fitness'. I'll figure it out, but can't really complain one bit- Beckett (slate's elder son) is fantastic at 4.5 and then my Felix is now eleven weeks old.
"If my wife is reading this, hello Lisa, thanks for telling me to ride my bike as much as you do for both our sanity."
the saying 'like father, like son' is one bandied about with abandon and not much invested thought. though only heading towards five years old, is beckett olson showing any signs of following in his father's cleat-steps? "In the sense that Beckett is a bit of a smart-ass and instigator, yes he is definitely following in my footsteps. He's 4.5 and starting to take to the bike pretty well. Warms my heart to see him get to a big curb, dismount (elbow in) and say 'cyclocross' as he does so. I bought a pair of the CrossPropz training barriers when I was in Boulder last month and he's been practicing going over those. I think he will be racing more kiddie-cross races this year so long as he can pass dope control."
though stage racers rely on a soigneur or two, standing at the roadside holding a musette at arm's length to get them through to a successful finish, the nature of cyclocross racing dictates a relatively short course, dedicated to flaying the combatants far quicker, and one that will inevitably bring the riders past the same point several times during the course of the hour and a bit. and 'cross inhabits the winter months, when dry and dusty pathways often degenerate to gloopy mud, clogging many a moveable part and restricting concerted forward motion.
it is no coincidence that slate mentioned possession of two matching focus mares 'cross bikes in the basement. while one machine is being given a decent thrashing in pursuit of victory by the 'rapha boy', the other resides within the confines of the pits, clean, ready and waiting to be handed over at strategically muddy periods. does mrs olson emulate the lovely debs in richard sach's organisation, keeping a shine on her husband's armoury?
"The lovely Dr. Olson is not a frequent sight at cross races. It's a treat when she does come out, but between her work and her lack of desire to stand around in the rain and mud, she's rarely present most Sundays. I'd love to see her out there more, but knowing that she's supportive of my little fall/winter addiction that keeps me away from the house, is support enough."
there's no promise that the rapha blog will pay constant heed to slate's 'cross results this coming season, particularly in the light of the opening result from jeremy powers aboard the professional side of rapha-focus. sponsorship demands publicity. however, dedication can often reap its own rewards, and i'd like to wish slate vast clumps of success with his forthcoming season of riding portland's gloop.
check out the regular updates at pdxcross and keep an eye open for that rapha liveried focus rider.
rapha focus images by dan sharp
posted tuesday 20 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................