those of us for whom the word training has no discernible meaning can arrive home from a mere 18km ride (intermediated with a veritable soup bowl of soya cappuccino) under cloud spattered clear blue sky, slightly chillier than hoped for but none the worse for wear, lock the colnago in the bike shed, having neglectfully left the garmin affixed to its stem mount, then trip in the back door ready to change into civilianisation. suitably attired, it brings not a single pang of guilt that fifteen minutes around the hour of 5pm, eggs and bread are conjoined into what my rudimentary culinary skills would have us believe is french toast. flipping masses of the stuff. it gives me no cause for concern to advise that i used all six extra large free-range eggs and an entire loaf in the process of providing tea for myself and eldest offspring.
i'm just that kind of a guy.
were it not enough that i have likely supplied my carbohydrate and protein needs for at least half the week, this gallic feast was rounded off with a tub of strawberry rice and a glass of san pellegrino. i'm sure the gentlemen at bikefood would heartily disapprove (at least in an official capacity), and i'd be the first to admit that i wouldn't fancy riding up the angliru instead of washing the dishes.
with regard to eatables, it dawns on me that a professional cyclist's lot is not a happy one; in this regard, particularly during one's season it seems likely that being off-duty is something that regularly fails to occur. i ply my daily trade in front of a very large apple macintosh computer, selecting nodes, applying filters and constantly renaming layers from dawn till dusk (well, not exactly, but it has an insouciant air to it if i describe it thus). however, come the appointed hour, i can put away my trackpad, lay aside my graphire tablet and turn my concerns to anything from double-pedal triplets on the bass drum, to what on earth it is that makes that whiny sound on the colnago's rear wheel? in other words, with specific regard to my work, i can switch off.
it would be stretching the ideals of credibility somewhat to think that the common or garden cycling professional ends each bike ride with a carefully adjudged cleaning programme followed by a strict nutritional regime, rounded off with a reading of will fotheringham's the passion of fausto coppi. in the interviews i have scanned in the monthlies, x-boxes and playstations seem to feature more highly on the attention list than earnest practicalities relating to the fettling of one's steed. the grain of truth in my assertion is likely that strict nutritional regime; points may mean prizes, but pounds rarely do. so aside from being asked to maintain a steady routine of endless hours on the bike in all weathers, there is rarely the satisfaction of being able to stuff one's face when the purgatory ends for the day.
comparisons are everything, and it's why even a modest degree of chubbiness inside a retro carerra top really ought to be on the uci banned list. for cycle clothing of a professional nature is carefully tailored to fit a peloton of stick insects, a look that has gained much acceptance through the televisual experience, thus throwing the spectre of more regularly proportioned individuals into stark contrast by comparison. i am lucky that a combination of vegetarianism, exercise, a distinct lack of a sweet tooth and a metabolism with propensity for devouring excess calories allows me to consume the vast quantities of french toast as described in my scene setting above withou undue concern for acquiring wobbly bits where wobbly bits ought not to be. others are not so lucky, while some seem hell-bent on adding insult to injury by way of sustained gastric over-indulgence.
that's why the climbs seem so long.
but all this aside, we should perhaps spare a thought for the professional at the lower end of the career graph. many a youngster with an obsession for the bicycle would give his/her last energy bar for the opportunity to race for a living. there are probably many in the mumble age group who would do likewise. it was onetime a career that offered an escape from the drudgery and imposition of industrial exertions or agricultural labour in the fields. though i'm sure there are many professionals confined to living out of a suitcase who would beg to differ, there's a certain glamour attached to the life of a salaried cyclist. in modern times, that may have more of a ring of truth about it, but there's no getting away from the fact that it's a hard life at whichever end of the scale you inhabit, but less remuneratively assuaging when near the bottom.
this will often mean acquiring a degree of self-sufficiency in the face-stuffing department, based on the need for an appropriate level of assimilation; but perhaps less than enough of the folding stuff to achieve parity. there can be little doubt that it is akin to tightrope walking at the lower levels where winning is surely dependent on training and nutrition, and often only winning will provide the wherewithal for the latter. ingenuity in this department can lead not only to survival, but to necessitous humour. the following recipe comes courtesy of team exergy's samuel ricardo johnson as featured on the addictive manual for speed website. i have no experience of hammer energy products, but i'm sure that a bit of creative consciousness of your own would result in an appropriate verisimilitude.
Peanut Butter and Hammer Gel Triple-Decker Sandwich
3 slices bread (or hot dog buns if that's all you have)
2 tablespoons peanut butter (optional)
2 tablespoons (or 2 individual packets) of Montana Huckleberry Hammer Gel
Apply thin layer of peanut butter to two separate slices of bread, and set aside, butter side up. Take third slice of bread and apply thin coat of Huckleberry Hammer Gel to one side. Marry gel coated bread with one slice of butter coated bread, as though you were making a normal (lame) PB&J sandwich. Then - now follow me closely here - apply Hammer Gel to the outside of the completed sandwich, making sure to apply the gel to the piece of bread which was gel coated in the first place. Finish the sandwich by placing the second butter coated bread on top of the gel coated sandwich. When you're finished you should have a sandwich where the inner piece of bread is coated on both sides with Hammer Gel, and the outer two pieces of bread remain protected from getting soggy by their layers of hydrophobic peanut oil. Let this sucker sit for an hour (or a few days) before eating - the inner piece of bread will become fully saturated with gel, thus minimizing on the mess (Hammer Gel is runny stuff), and making the whole thing take on jelly doughnut-like qualities. Yum.
better still, hear it from the man himself.
hammer nutritional products are available in the uk from hammer nutrition uk but not all the products available in the usa can be had this side of the pond.
all photos copyright manual for speed. reproduced with permission of daniel wakefield pasley and emiliano gradano.
posted monday 7 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have mentioned on one or two occasions the iniquities of attempting to transport a bicycle to and from the island, always assuming there is some sort of event or ride at the other end. it's obviously not particularly hard if you've a car with a roofrack, but folks with high falutin' green credentials such as myself am bereft of motor car (and all the better for it, in my opinion), therefore confined in my transportational choices. granted, i could avail myself of a bike bag/box, and have the local carrier transport it to its ultimate destination, but that rather presupposes that i, or a third party, will be there to meet it when it arrives. to be perfectly possessive about the situation, i'd rather the machine went as my accompaniment.
getting a boxed/bagged bicycle from washingmachinepost cottage to the port or airport of departure is a relatively simple matter, but at this stage, one or two impracticalities start to rear their ugly head. flybe, who service islay with two daily flights, are willing to accept suitably packaged bicycles, but cannot guarantee their travel on the same aircraft as i, due to variations in passenger numbers or quantities of baggage and cargo to be transported on any given day. at the point of booking, this is an unknown quantity, and i'm not that keen on surprises.
taking it on the calmac ferry is no problem whatsoever. since both islay ferries are carrying up to 86 vehicles at a time, a bicycle is mere bagatelle. however, on arrival at kennacraig on the mainland, the next stage of transport is a citylink coach to glasgow, and here we hit the same conundrum as faced at islay airport. the new coaches operating the route are slightly larger than of old, and thus possessed of greater luggage space. citylink state quite categorically that they will also accept suitably packaged bicycles, but entirely at the driver's discretion. again, there is no way of booking a bicycle onto the bus at point of purchase (preferably around fourteen days in advance and online to ensure a suitably priced tariff). thus the spectre remains that it is perfectly possible to sail self and bicycle to scotland to be told "not on my coach, mate" or words of similar customer service speak.
always one to take into account any possible hindrances to forward motion, i'd rather the foregoing didn't happen to me. consequently, i am somewhat loathe to attend events that require me to bring my bicycle. i will happily accede to accusations of wimpishness, because that may well be all it amounts to, but i don't like hiccups in forward planning. generally speaking, if it can go wrong, it probably will.
the solution to my perceived problem, and indeed that of anyone else who encounters similar hurdles, would be the existence of a hire company close to any destination i or you may wish to consider (within reason). it works for motor cars; in these enlightened times, why should such not be the case for bicycles? yes, bicycle hire is often available in the most unexpected of locations, but the likelihood of finding something that is not a steel mountain bike that first saw action when tom ritchey and joe breeze were playing down mount tamalpais, seems mighty limited. those of us with tendencies towards asphalt would prefer something with a tad fewer gears, less weight and a degree of qualitative svelteness about it.
pie in the sky?
well, as far as most of mainland britain is concerned that may truly be the case, but for the odd exception, however, for joe bartoe, inhabiting more agreeable climes in southern california, the times they are a changing. joe is the proprietor of synaptic cycles a high-end road bike rental company completing its first year in business. having pointed out that hire bicycles in the uk are hardly team issue, is this more reguarly the case in california and beyond?
"The bikes for rent here in California really run the gamut. The most common bike rentals here, by far, are beach cruisers, city bikes, and lower end road and mountain bikes. These types of rentals are especially ubiquitous in the coastal and/or touristy areas. Given California's climate and it's great roads and trails, however, there is a growing demand for nicer bicycles when people travel to the area. You can find much higher end road and mountain bike rentals in certain areas of California. There are pockets where such rental business can be supported-coastal Southern California, parts of Northern California, Napa Valley, Sonoma, for example."
i wondered therefore whether the existence of synaptic and possibly others, is in response to a demand for such bicycles for hire or whether joe and his peers are effectively encouraging or creating a market of their own. "I like to think of my business as "enabling" the market. A lot of road riders want to continue to ride while on vacation and due to the cost or hassle of traveling with the bike, or the idea that a decent rental cannot be found, they simply decide to go without. My business enables them to ride a great bike while on vacation at a cost that is often less than flying their own, without any of the hassle.
"I came up with my concept when traveling to California from Rhode Island. Traveling with my wife, my kids, and everything else that one needs to bring when traveling with kids made bringing a bike impractical. Instead, I found a rental at a local shop, but the service was crappy and I had to drive to the shop to pick up the bike and to drop it off. There are a lot of bike shops that rent decent bikes, but they don't always service their rental fleet regularly or give their customers much time. I'm committed to providing great service and I deliver and pick up, while keeping my rates as competitive as possible. If I'm doing my job appropriately, I show my customers that they can rent an outstanding bike, get it delivered, get a great fit, and find outstanding roads to ride on. The market's definitely there. I just try to make it a no-brainer to use my services rather than someone else's."
it's not a given that because anything works in america that it would do likewise in the uk. at the risk of stating the obvious, america is a much bigger country than britain, therefore any potential customer base can be multiplied several times over. is joe aware of there being a substantial market in the usa for bicycle rentals? "As I mentioned before, I think certain areas in the US are ripe for bicycle rental businesses, but you have to have a substantial customer base that comes with people traveling to the area and needing bikes. The better shops know who they will be renting to and what those people will be looking for in a bike. For example, you'll see businesses in downtown areas renting city bikes, cafe bikes, fixed gear bikes, etc., while beach community shops might offer beach cruisers. Areas with great single track will have more mountain bike rental shops. And places where there is great road riding to be found will have more road bike rental shop. My business serves Orange County and San Diego County in Southern California and these areas are business and vacation destinations with incredibly large numbers of hotels, resorts and vacation rentals. Our great weather here allows for year round riding and we have great roads to ride on. Altogether, this makes this area an even better road bicycle rental market than most. "
we've had all the stories of the day ostensibly pointing out that cycling is the new golf. rather than head out for eighteen holes that are merely a backdrop for corporate discussion and conversation, business executives are dressing in lycra and clipless pedals for a more energetic method of doing the same. woe betide the personal assistant who fails to lead out their ceo for the sprint. if such is indeed the case, has bartoe found healthy business or corporate demand for his services?
"It's funny you ask that. The third person to rent from me when I started the business was someone of high standing on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. When I delivered the bike, he mentioned that he and his colleagues rarely played golf anymore, and that most of them now ride. So, I guess that is true over here as well. I would say about 20% of my business comes from people who are here for business reasons. I have also been hired by companies to provide bike rental services at a conference, and to lead team-building rides for executives and sales people. Additionally, I had a guy hire three bikes for himself and two of his colleagues for their stay in the area while they were here on business. It's a small sample size given that I've only been in business for a year, but I would have to say that yes, there is a corporate and business demand. Time will tell how substantial it is, but the area where I live is home to a number of sports-related businesses, like Oakley and Muscle Milk, so I can envision a demand for businesses like mine when they are entertaining clients or putting together corporate retreats."
as one who spent several years attending to the mechanical needs of a relatively small and decidedly low-end cycle hire just round the corner, i'm aware of all the pernickity trials and trivialities involved in keeping a fleet of bicycles ship-shape and bristol fashion. it is rarely a one-man operation and there are a diverse number of little things that can get between efficiency and smooth running. how many attend to the customer's every need at synaptic?
Me, myself, and I, but I've been considering firing myself. He's a real pain in the ass! Okay, more seriously. Primarily, I am solo. I have two people who are sort of "contract" employees. One is a long-time bike mechanic who I rely on to do the hard stuff and to provide mechanical support when I'm doing events that require me to have someone like that on hand. Fortunately, he has a home-based business and doesn't rely on me to keep him fed. The other fellow is a retiree who knows the area and the roads around here really well. He serves as tour director/guide when I need someone for those corporate events. He's not a speed demon and he's a perfect fit for leading a ride for people of varied abilities. The rest, I pretty much do on my own. I'm the receptionist, order taker, bike cleaner, bike tuner, fitter, shipper/receiver, delivery guy, and accountant. I'm sure I left a few things off my list, but you get the idea."
the difficult part of any hire operation, whether it be bicycles, cars, power tools or whatever, is balancing peak demand with off-peak, and finding a happy balance between the number of offerings you'd like to have and the number the bank will happily lend you money to purloin. southern california holds an awful lot of people, so how many bicycles does joe have at any given time?
"I started this business with five bicycles last November. As spring came along and I was getting busier, I bought two more. These were all carbon road bikes with full Ultegra components. I've since added a couple of city bikes to the queue. I will keep re-investing to get more bikes as business allows. So to answer the question, I have as many as seven road bikes and two city bikes available at a given time. Starting in late spring through October, the bikes are out pretty regularly and last minute renters don't find it easy to get a bike. I recommend reserving a bike in advance. That way you know it'll be available (and I can get fit info from you in advance to set up your rental prior to delivery)."
observation on this side of the clyde revolves around noting that many of those who hire bicycles are not regular cyclists. in fact, for many it seems renting constitutes either their first time on a bicycle, or the first time since they were kids. holiday cyclists. has synaptic found that persons such us this make up a notable proportion of the customer base?
"I haven't noticed this much. Most of my clients are fairly avid cyclists. I think that billing the company as a "high-end road bike rental company" dissuades the holiday cyclist. That, and the prices. There are definitely cheaper ways to go if you don't care what level of road bike you'd like to rent. I've also gotten good at recognizing the casual cyclist during our phone conversations. I have a good relationship with a few shops that serve that segment much better than I do so I refer those people to them and I get referrals in return. "
for a few years after leaving college, i spent time working for hertz car rental at the workface; cleaning, oiling re-fueling, fixing and transporting. it's no secret that rental cars, particularly those for business customers, tend not to be treated very kindly. hertz used to keep their vehicles on the fleet for eighteen months before they were replaced, and many of those were, to put not too fine a point on it, pretty well trashed by the time they were driven down to manchester airport to be prepared for sale. has joe had any similar problems affecting his high-end road bikes?
"I have been lucky on this front. There has been some damage-a scratched shifter, a broken spoke or two. I just picked up a bike from a guy who managed to shift over the big chainring, and he put some scratches into the face of the crankset. We're not sure how this happened. I wasn't able to replicate it and neither has my mechanic. In general, the things that have happened are all things that happen to all of us occasionally, and so far, everything that has happened is more cosmetic damage than anything else.
"We do require a deposit in the form of an authorization on our clients credit cards. This is to cover potential damage and loss. Our rental agreement also states that customers are responsible should anything happen. I think it helps to protect the company that we do this. It keeps them aware of treating the bike as it was their own."
on reading through the services offered by synaptic cycles, it is impressive to note that joe offers roadside assistance in the case of repairable or irreparable breakdown. is this something that is invoked regularly? "Not regularly, but it's a perk of using my company. It doesn't do me any good to have my customers or my bikes sitting on the side of the road. How would that reflect upon me when they told their friends about what happened? "The other time, the customer was 40 minutes by car from me. I directed him to a coffee shop near where he broke down, and I took a set of wheels down. When I arrived, he was outside the cafe talking to another cyclist. While he finished his coffee, I quickly switched out the wheels and adjusted the rear derailleur and brakes. When I looked up, the guy my customer was talking to was just staring at me in disbelief. Then he says: 'Now, that's service!' That's what I'm trying to do with each and every customer-provide the best possible service."
"I've had two instances where customers have called. Both for broken spokes (same wheel both times-don't worry, I had that wheel replaced!). The first time, it happened close to my shop so I picked him up and brought him to the shop and switched out the wheels and then sent him on his way to complete the ride.
"The other time, the customer was 40 minutes by car from me. I directed him to a coffee shop near where he broke down, and I took a set of wheels down. When I arrived, he was outside the cafe talking to another cyclist. While he finished his coffee, I quickly switched out the wheels and adjusted the rear derailleur and brakes. When I looked up, the guy my customer was talking to was just staring at me in disbelief. Then he says: 'Now, that's service!' That's what I'm trying to do with each and every customer-provide the best possible service."
synaptic cycles offer calfee carbon framed bicycles equipped with shimano ultegra groupsets, and do offer to sell these to any customer who finds their ride to be so impressive they just have to have one of their own. does this happen often? "I haven't had anyone purchase one of the bikes yet, but I have had several inquire. People are looking for a great deal and most of my bikes are still less a year old and have relatively low mileage on them so the bikes are discounted a great deal, but they're not rock bottom.
"Most of my bikes come with their frame warranties intact. I'm a Calfee dealer and they are the main brand that I rent. Because I'm a dealer, I can offer these bikes with their full frame warranties. You get an incredible bike at a discount and you still get the full frame warranty (25 years for the Tetra Pro). The discount, unfortunately, just isn't always what people had hoped for."
aside from my adopting the mantra 'the customer is always wrong' as a means of remaining steadfast in the face of adversity, many a consumer is wont to resort to awkward or downright impossible requests when it comes to the point of sale, so to speak. have synaptic been inundated with bizarre or demanding requests?
"Nothing majorly weird. I wish I had some stories. It would make this a lot more interesting. I did have one customer who was fairly regular for a while, and he wanted Michelin Pro Race tires on his rentals. Fortunately, I had a wheelset with those on it so when he called, I'd prep his bike and throw those wheels on. I also had a triathlete client who needed a forward position on the bike. I ended up buying a seatpost that allowed me to get him in the right position. Now, I have that at my disposal if another client needs a similar position.
"I've also had a few customers who were doing point to point rides and wanted the bikes delivered one place and picked up in another. Since I deliver and pick up as part of my service, this hasn't been a problem. I've also been asked to carry luggage from point to point. I'll usually do this for free if it involves picking up and delivering at the same place and time as the bike delivery and pick-up, but if there's multi-day baggage transport involved, I'll charge extra for that service."
aside from relating the possibility of cycle hire to my own modest demands, in that i'd be most grateful if i could count on a service such as synaptic at journey's end, there is more than one reason to rent a bike. it only takes the odd cursory glance across the postings on twitter to find impassioned pleas for the loan of a suitable steed on which to partake of some weekend racing. there's no way that's going to take place on a ten year-old mountain bike. is synaptic willing to rent to those who wish to race?
"Yes. I've had a few roadies come into town who wanted to do a local race. I make sure they understand that the bike is their responsibility and that the waiver and rental agreement that they signed binds them to that. I've also had several triathletes race on my bikes. The first time someone really messes up a bike in a race, I might need to re-think that, but so far, it hasn't been an issue. "
as joe mentioned in his opening paragraphs, california is home to an impressive number of off-road trails, and that there is a demand for high-end mountain bikes as well as those suited for the road. has he any plans to branch out into this parallel yet different market? "I don't yet. I'm not a big mountain biker, and I don't feel like I have as good a feel for what my clients would need and want if I went that route. I have been a roadie for about 25 years now and I feel like I know that market so much better. If I went to mountain bikes as well, I wouldn't be able to serve my road clients at the same level. We'll see. As the business grows, maybe I'll branch out in that area, but only if I feel I can do it well."
also related above, synaptic currently stables calfee bicycle exclusively, though there is mention on the website of cervelo also being available. dig a little deeper, however, and the synaptic blog teasingly mentions the possibility of another brand joining the operation in the future. is joe willing to let the cat out of the bikeshed as to which brand that might be?
"Oh, that is a tough question. I have been having some difficulty in that arena. I don't know about the UK, but here, bike companies are always trying to protect their dealers. One way they do that is by not selling to shops that don't have a retail space. Since I operate out of storage and a home office, I don't qualify. I got lucky with Calfee Design. They gave me a great deal on the bikes and allow me to be a dealer. In exchange, they get free press on my site, my blog, my Twitter page, my FB page, and my jerseys. Additionally, well over 100 people this past year have enjoyed riding their bikes. My customers have tweeted and facebooked and blogged about their time on the Calfees, as well. This is the kind of advertising that money can't buy! When your friends and riding partners are raving about their bikes, that gets your attention.
"Some brands will sell me bikes at a discounted (but not great) price, but they won't let me be a dealer. This means, I can't sell the bikes new and most require me to wait several months before I can sell one. Additionally, none have indicated a willingness to transfer the warranty if I do sell one. That makes the bike essentially a used bike before I even get it.
"I feel that Synaptic Cycles offers a great opportunity for a bike company to get their bikes out on the road and get people talking about them. If you or any of your readers know of a connection I can explore, I'm all ears.
"For now, it's just Calfee. Calfee, Calfee, Calfee, Calfee, Calfee! Have I mentioned Calfee yet?
having taken care of business now for his first year, it's hard to run any sort of business without some sort of a plan for the future (unless you're me and just fall from one day into the next). what's next for synaptic? "The company's just a year old as of October 31st. I've been profitable this year. Not by much, but profitable. I am starting to advertise a bit more and I am trying to get my web presence more established. Within a few days, I should have a re-vamped website up and running as well. My customers have been universally happy with my service and I feel that the more people find out about the business, the better things will get. A bigger web presence should help with that.
"For the next year, I want to continue to grow the business and add some new bikes to the queue. My goal is to get up to about 15 bikes by the end of the next year, with at least a few bikes that are more appropriate for my female clients. I will probably be adding race wheel rentals to my menu in the near future, as well as continue to add to my online store.
"As the year commences, I will also be making stronger efforts at setting up some corporate events. We've already done some short single day tours, but I can definitely see us planning and doing some all day or multi-day team building rides, providing mechanical and sag support along the way."
posted sunday 6 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
mankind's desire to continually push the boundaries of what is attainable is no great secret. in fact the necessity so to do has entered the annals of history in oh so many ways, not only as testament to the tenacity of the human race but also to bear witness to those who have had either a vision of the future, or to those who have had the guts and bravery to go right up to these theoretical boundaries and give them a resounding prod. it's what has got us to where we are today. whether that is a good thing or not, history and subjectivity will have to argue amongst themselves.
such prodding can be seen on the mundane level in contemporary music. reading the biography of saxophonist charlie 'bird' parker, leads to an awareness that the sounds he produced from his instrument were all but regarded as avant garde in the forties and fifties. yet listening to any of his recordings at the current time, though appreciative of a formidable technique, the music hardly sounds cutting edge today. at the more reckless end of the spectrum, and of more tangible benefit to mankind, the americans who walked on the moon in the late 1960s, were delivered to their glory by spacecraft containing far less in the way of computing power than i currently have in front of me in my macbook air. mac aficionado that i am, i'd be extremely fearful even now to fly in anything powered by an intel chip and 4gb of ram.
to even have reached the heights of considering men on the moon, or even bog standard spaceflight in the first place, took a great deal of bravado by those willing to risk life and limb, piloting fragile projectiles into the upper atmosphere to verify scientific and engineering equations. yet nowadays the bus driver on the kennacraig to glasgow route tells the passengers that they are required by law to wear seatbelts while travelling, while health and hygiene regulations will not allow the two judges of tv's masterchef to freely distribute the results of their culinary skills to an eager audience.
the spirit of exploration and adventure may not be dead in the water, but only if risk assessed first.
many a software company supports a team of prerelease or beta testers to put the next version of something or other through its paces several months before the great unwashed can download shipping product. this is done because many a trackpad clicker has found ways to use and to break software that the engineers never thought of in the first place. few folks read instruction manuals cover to cover; their lookout if the intended result fails to materialise, but egg on the face of the manufacturer if it breaks in the process. feedback from real people doing real world stuff is invaluable, and if you're one of those real world people, the kudos to be gained from being part of a test team is probably worth bragging rights in itself. sadly, most software developers have their test teamers clamped under a non-disclosure agreement (nda). that way it's a secret until the box appears on the shelf.
however, it needn't all work that way. swiss based cycle clothing company cervo rosso are very keen to have input from real cyclists, though to be quite frank, their use of the moniker test team has less to do with seeing if their jerseys and shorts will survive the nanosphere than it is about bringing together communities of like minded pedalists. it's a community that is not confined to a few roads and hills around the topography of switzerland, but one expanded to encompass internationalism; you, me and a whole host of folks we've never met before.
as carlyle ware, the brains behind cervo rosso states; "With the number of Cervo Rosso Gran Fondo riders rapidly increasing and numerous requests to expand the number of CR Group Rides, the Cervo Rosso International Test Team is all about building local communities and providing more opportunities for organised events that bring all riders together."
which means what, exactly?
well, for active and adventurous roadies who'd like to belong to a team, but without the intrinsic pressures that usually come as part of the deal, cervo rosso test team chaps and chapesses will be invited to various events befitting such members of the cognoscenti: the ronde van vlaanderen sportive, switzerland's alpinebrevet and maybe just the occasional etape du tour, amongst others. if greater enticement is required, perhaps the news that belgium's bosteel brewery will partner cervo rosso's 2012 events might just bring you out of your shell.
there's always a catch to putting yourself forward for such organised niceties, so what's the tripwire with cervo rosso? well, empirically speaking, there really isn't one. obviously enough, to inhabit the appellation 'cervo rosso test team member' it makes undeniable sense that you are expected to wear cervo rosso cycling apparel (sorry to state the obvious). comfortable in the knowledge that there's no such thing as a free lunch, this is something you're going to have to buy; a far more sensible decision than that now out of date htc jersey you bought last april. to save lots of faffing about, there are two bundles on offer, varying principally on whether you favour a long-sleeve jersey (yes please) or a short sleeve, but containing bibshorts, socks, cap, and musette for either £280 ($430) or £250 ($390) respectively.
in much the same way as purchasing a velo club d'ardbeg jersey from ardbeg distillery, you will then become a bona fide test team member, eligible to contest the lanterne rouge at any test team event across the world. so far, it looks as if the ball is firmly in the cervo rosso court, but that's before you've read the small print. members then receive a not insubstantial 25% discount off online store purchases for the subsequent twelve months and (here's the luke skywalker bit), selected members will be invited to assist with the cervo rosso development program.
just the sort of thing to casually drop into the conversation at the coffee stop of a sunday morning.
though carlyle's vision has only just begun to kick in, with some rather stylish technical wear appearing in the company's online store for winter, this is as good a time as any to join the club so to speak. given that your cycling wardrobe will benefit from some particularly fine garmentry in return for your hard-earned, what, indeed, have you got to lose?
posted saturday 5 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's always a certain illicit frisson to be harboured from watching cycle racing on the internet. british eurosport very kindly make available their cycle racing via a subscription only, eurosport player which allows access to all their tv programming on british eurosport 1 and british eurosport 2, the ideal way, i have previously found, to watch le tour while allegedly working towards ever shifting deadlines in the office. but, correct me if i'm wrong, don't i already pay rupert murdoch's grocery bill each month for the pleasure of having eurosport as part of my sky tv package? is it wrong to wonder why i should pay even more to watch it on my macbook air?
i am led to believe that the costs of accessing the host broadcast for pretty much any sporting event would need a very large piggy bank indeed, and i can see why channels such as eurosport would be keen to recoup these monies in any way they can. but that doesn't really make it any fairer for me to have to pay twice for the same coverage. so i, like many another cycle fan, turn to the internet, where there is many a broadcaster seemingly happy to piggy back on eurosport's broadcast and swipe it for their own use (stand up sporza, you have been uncovered). to aid and abet the eager web searcher, sites such as cyclingfans and steephill most often have comprehensive listings as to where the entire gamut of televised cycle racing can be found; some of these are indeed subscription based, but just as many seem not to be.
so far, i have been able to justify this covert spectating by pointing out to myself that many of the races i am endeavouring to watch, are not being broadcast on uk terrestrial tv in the first place, so where else is an addict to turn? but even if, like the world road race championships, they are being shown on eurosport, there is much peace and love to be engendered between mrs twmp and myself, if i happily sit in my armchair, macbook on knee and a pair of ipod headphones taking care of the commentary. sometimes even the latter is unnecessary; if it's belgian tv, i don't understand the blighters anyway.
the current televisual object of desire is the super prestige cyclocross series contested by the finest names in the business, and through which i am eternally rooting for sven nys. though perhaps not quite as adept at leaving all in his wake as was once the case, the guy rides a colnago, so you would surely expect no less from my prejudices. though i have admitted above that belgian coverage of the racing adds little by way of informative commentary, purely through my total lack of conversational flemish, on occasion i have been known to insert one ipod earbud purely to bask in the atmosphere of calm frenzy. mentally blotting out those incomprehensible mutterings can sometimes elicit a portion of the fourth accessory associated with european cyclocross racing...
as witnessed in the recent all too brief rapha supercross series, necessities consist of frites and mayo, beer, and cowbells. all these should be presented against a backdrop of euro disco pop, devoid of any musical value, preferably bass heavy and cunningly constructed to stick inside your head for days on end. even a tune that you hate. while i have severe misgivings about riding a bicycle while listening to an ipod, it seems rather draconian to extend this to riding a cyclocross bike through bridgend woods (or wherever you find it necessary to get cross). perhaps, just like liberal helpings of bikefood gel, hearing that dreadful racket will aid the 'cross mentality and grind ms beaumont's tabata into the mud. unsuprisingly, i have just the thing to hand; a two disc set of superprestige hits seizoen 2011-2012.
containing such cyclocross standards as gerry and the pacemakers' you'll never walk alone, monty python's always look on the bright side of life and erasure's sometimes, the other 41 tracks are composed (and i use the word in its loosest sense) of stuff i have never heard of, and tracks i'm not sure i ever want to hear again. no doubt after a few jars of strong belgian beer, some of these take on the mantle of classical music, but to a teetotal musical snob such as myself, most of them are truly appalling. the worrying part is that they're mostly so bad, they're good. you'd almost feel like joining in the refrain of met de wijven niks as last by katastroof were it not for the sneaking suspicion that it might get you into trouble, while meisjes met ijses (radio edit) is little better than chinese water torture.
dennie christiaan's besame mucho could probably win the eurovision song contest without any great effort on dennie's part, and que si, que no would even persuade zdenek stybar to join a conga line mid race. if there is any redemption to be had from this compilation, vonken and vuur by clouseau may be the best bet, though aha's take on me does have certain redeeming qualities even if of a retro nature.
if, like me, you usually have to cyclocross alone, it shouldn't be too hard to persaude an innocent bystander to throw a can of duvels in your direction, as you dismount to hurdle nature's obstacles, listening to the 44 tracks on shuffle. at worst, it ought to improve your speed as you try desperately to get it over with before the whole thing repeats itself.
really, really dreadful, but you'll love it.
super prestige cyclocross photos courtesy of balint hamvas. cyclephotos.co.uk
posted friday 4 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as one who attended art college, colour is important to me whether i want it to be or not. i'm also fortunate enough to have a modicum of colour invade my day to day, whether through assimilating pixels in photoshop or figuring out which ones to use in web coding. it's a subject that is, or has become eminently more complex than it at first seems, particularly if involved in any pre-press activities. digital devices view everything in red, green and blue, while that destined for print confusingly inhabits a different colour space altogether. you'll perhaps have come across this when printing out photos from your all singing, all dancing inkjet printer, wondering why on earth the colour seems less vibrant than it did when seen on the computer monitor.
this isn't a pre-press column, so i'll spare you the pantone process colours, and making a body-swerve from the world of digital capture and display, day to day in the world of reality depends frequently upon colour differentiation to make it from morning till night. and to be quite honest, that selfsame world of colour has an even greater job to do when darkness falls. at its most basic, having a red light at the rear of a bicycle not only alerts following cyclists or motorists to your existence, but through socialisation and education, informs that this is a bicycle not travelling towards but in the same direction.
what doesn't really come under the heading of colour or even visibility perception are the all but standard colours used and abused by a disturbing number of cycling apparel manufacturers. i can accept the arguments against producing jackets in unvarying shades of black, for it would seem logical that black outerwear in the darkness of night flies in the face of logic. however, strategic use of reflective panels and piping can often mitigate this apparent cognition problem, perhaps even more so than the all but ubiquitous fluoro yellow. it bears querying why car manufacturers are not as soundly beaten up over painting cars in black.
what cannot be denied is the necessity for some degree of visibility not only during dark evenings, but even in the light of day, when all around is fast moving confusion. as the number of vehicles on the road becomes greater by the day, and trucks and buses fail to diminish in size, there is more that requires concentration, thus anything that raises the profile of a lone cyclist is to be roundly applauded. that is perhaps the construct behind the commonality of red, yellow and blue; however, the ubiquity of the latter three could lead to uniformity in the eyes of the motorist, neutralising that which it was designed to counter. the chaps at hultra have taken the racy approach, combining visibility with go-faster stripes while maintaining a sense of speed.
earlier this year i reviewed the less than snappily monikered d211 short sleeve jersey, the first offering from a new company on the block. though the colours decorating the jersey are just short of fluorescent, they are bright enough to need a volume control. the new softshell ventoux currently inherits only the orange from the jersey range but continues hultra's raison d'etre with admirable fortitude. there's no way you can be ignored while dressed in this.
i cannot deny that a high degree of visibility is not at the forefront of cycling life on islay. even with an influx of summer visitors, traffic never quite reaches epidemic proportions; if i'm completely honest, cycling a bicycle on the island is enough to draw attention in the first place. however, none of that detracts from the need for quality cycle clothing, perhaps even more so than in the great metrolops, because in the rural idyll there is often nowhere to hide when the heavens open or the north wind blows. personal protection has a different meaning.
softshell, of course, really only refers to a polyester material, one that separates itself from, well, a hardshell. it's a term that endears itself more often in the manner of a jacket, one that would be worn over the top of a jersey. hultra's offering is not of that ilk. in fact, it takes the shape of a close-fitting, long-sleeve jersey, one with less stretch than a more regular jersey to be sure, but remarkably sleek nonetheless. hultra have perhaps encapsulated its manner more succinctly, describing it thus: 'a top that fits like a jersey and performs like a jacket'. they also state at the foot of the size chart: 'please note that the ventoux is a close fitting top. if in doubt, order a size up'
i was arrogant enough to ask hultra to send a medium, the same size of jersey i have worn since fausto coppi were a nipper; the fit is indeed, absolutely ginger peachy, but if you have wobbly bits where wobbly bits should not be, you would probably be better to heed their advice and nip up to the next size, for there is minimal stretch in the fabric. the full length zip would surely benefit from a so-called zip garage not only to prevent nipping the skin, but to prevent any accusations of chafing while riding on the drops. i wore a merino collar underneath. the neck however, is commendably high, keeping draughts at bay, and even in medium size, the arm length is excellent: orange cuffs are good in my opinion.
though the orange striping is neither reflective nor fluorescent, night time visibility is taken care of by reflective piping on the ventoux's back and front. though minimal and neatly incorporated into the fabric of the jersey, it is remarkably effective in use, even managing to effuse a blinding glare in direct sunlight. job done.
in my review of the hultra jersey, i moaned about the height of the rear pockets, something i found made it awkward to place and retrieve the assortment of paraphernalia one finds it necessary to place and retrieve during a bicycle ride. sadly, the pockets on the ventoux are no different. don't get me wrong, the depth of the main three would carry more than a small van, but the softshell material has little in the way of give which, combined with the height across the back makes life just a bit harder than it needs to be. either that or i need to stick in at my yoga exercises. it is gratifying to note, however, that the centre pocket has a zipped fourth sitting outboard; a mandatory fitting atmo.
the hard part is deciding just what the ventoux softshell is, and what it isn't. on a cold morning i'd habitually pop an outer jacket over a long-sleeve jersey, but a fleece-lined, windproof top surely doesn't need such safeguarding? in the interests of satisfying myself and reader, the softshell was paired with a long-sleeve merino baselayer and the great outdoors embraced with gusto, only to find myself perilously close to overheating. it's as well that the front zip is so simple to raise and lower from the saddle. as a winter jacket that promotes an incredible lightness of being on at least two levels, it proved itself hard to beat.
hultra promote the jersey as being of a water-resistant persuasion, and though you may find it hard to believe, i've had little opportunity to verify this claim. there have been a couple of days of torrential rain when it would have been grossly unfair to wear anything less than a deep sea diving suit, but the intervening days were bereft of anything other than a few splashy puddles. those few puddles did, however. highlight a shortcoming of using large areas of white in a cycle jersey/jacket; white, mudguards or not, has a magnetic attraction for muddy water. that is, however, a trivial complaint when the jacket's modus operandi is to make you stand out in a crowd, something it does with sporting aplomb. with a price tag of only £69.95, assuming you too are of race fit and have no regularly pressing need to fill and empty those rear pockets, adding one or two to your cycling wardrobe shouldn't involve too much endless discussion with yourself.
posted thursday 3 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it is something of a tautological statement to point out that there can only ever be one first. in the words of the former head and shoulders shampoo tv advert, 'you never get a second chance to make a first impression'. though competitive cycling has existed for little more than a century, winning ways have largely been the preserve of riders from mainland europe. with cycle racing now becoming a tad more popular in the uk, it is worth remembering that its place in the international hall of fame has only relatively recently been assured. riders such as brian robinson, tom simpson, robert millar and latterly bradley wiggins and mark cavendish have engraved their names on winning jerseys, and simultaneously on the list of british firsts.
this alacrity in the face of international competition has not, of course, been confined to the shores of mainland britain. excluding the fact that mark cavendish hails from a small island in the irish sea, those on the other side of that stretch of water haven't done too badly either. sean kelly has worn the tour's yellow jersey and won several green, while his countryman, stephen roche topped the lot by winning giro, tour and worlds all in the same year. their success on behalf of southern ireland, however, was preceded by that of shay elliot, a rider whose tenacity and abilities kept him racing in the same team as five time tour winner jacques anquetil for ten years, not only being the first irishman to wear the yellow jersey, but also the first to win a tour stage.
kelly and roche may have improved upon his early successes, but they could never lay claim to be first.
with modern web enabled video sites such as youtube and vimeo, it's currently a simple situation to have edited highlights of any given race available mere minutes after the event. not only that, but such viewing is then more or less on-demand twnety-four hours a day for the foreseeable future. it has meant that we can all become armchair analysts, (often to a high degree of argumentativeness if the comments below many a youtube video can be used as an example) without having to rely on any informed commentary from the national or cycling press hours or days after we've all moved onto the next thing. it has, of course, not always been this way.
piecing together a biographical film of a rider whose heyday was in the 1950s, a period not renowned for high quality imagery of competitive events, least of all a fast moving and geographically challenging sport such as cycling. not for them the phalanx of motorbike cameramen, squadrons of helicopters and satellite transmission. and in the quest of footage depicting ireland's favoured son, it should be remembered that the cameras were more than likely concentrating on one of the french or belgian heroes rather than the irish. in this respect, martin dwan has pulled off little short of a miracle in cycle of betrayal, portraying elliot's successful, but ultimately doomed career by way of an almost immaculately constructed narrative.
in doing this, he has recruited many noteworthy riders and irish colleagues of the man to flesh out the portions between ageing movie clips. narrated by declan conlon we are treated to testimonials and comments from elliot's best friend, john cleary, dublin wheelers' billy long, the guardian's will fotheringham, jean bobet, winner of the 1955 paris-nice, andre darrigade, 1959 world road race champion, brian robinson, rudi altig, sean kelly and several others. i have previously reviewed the mousehold press published biography of elliot by graham healy and richard allchin, a book with the odd flaw, but highly worthwhile nonetheless; this film can be considered the perfect accompaniment. as one who was all but oblivious to shay's career until reading the book, the film has made much of the man's career a lot clearer.
there's no doubt that modern cycling history is being recorded in minute detail in print, photography and film. the latter is often available on several dvds, leaving virtually no stone unturned. these, however, more often than not, present racing in uncritical fashion; perhaps that's what today's market requires of its racing footage. the halcyon days of yore seem rarely to have been captured in what might be termed sequential fashion; in order to make retrospective sense of an individual career, we must depend on the skill and tenacity of film-makers like martin dwan. for it cannot be right that we have almost unrestricted knowledge of bradley wiggins' record collection, yet be ignorant of those who paved the way for the british and irish invasion of european cycle racing.
cycle of betrayal, if nothing else, proves the theory that the past informs the future. the opening 1970 television interview shows there is little that's new under the sun, concerned as it is with elliot's confessions to a national newspaper about the iniquities of professional cycle racing, midst accusations of drugtaking. in this interview, filmed only a year before his untimely and mysterious death, elliot looks relaxed and very confident in his assertions against his former competitive life. there's no doubt that anquetil and stablinski co-operated in undermining their team- mate in several key races. had this not been the case. elliot's palmares would have contained several more victories, but it's doubtful that this could ever have him commended more highly to his friends and fans on the continent and in ireland. shay elliot was a cyclist of the highest calibre and ever worthy of admiration.
if there is such a thing as a school of cycling, even if requiring self-education, watching this film would not be optional. if you consider yourself a cycling scholar, or member of the cognoscenti, you need to own or borrow a copy. an entertaining and educational masterpiece.
cycle of betrayal is available from bromley video at a cost of £15.99
posted wednesday 2 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
what did octave lapize think about in those final moments, lying in his hospital bed in north west france, in july 1917? perhaps he replayed that final dogfight, throwing his small nieuport aircraft right and left as the chasing albatross fighter began to close. their head-on pass confirmed it was the enemy; le croix de fer. but only that first turn would reveal his rival's calibre as a pilot. the albatros turned in an instant, banking high into the sun; when it reappeared, it was too late. yet as his body began to shut down, lapize was already far away, recalling that earlier duel, seven years previously, when he had joined battle with the best the pyrenees could offer. as they dropped from the clouds to meet him, he conquered each in turn; peyresourde; tourmalet; soulor; and aubisque. "dieu peut avoir les cieux mais les montagnes sont minnenes."
it's a darned travesty. you spend year upon year, trying emphatically to emulate the professional pelotonese, avidly reading every training article in the comic, and even stretching so far as to seek out published volumes concerning a perceived need to inflict pain and suffering on one's own person. advancing years often place a high degree of inexactitude on this verisimilitude, that it is re-defined as mere enactment; the wearing of trade tops that fail miserably to match the bicycle oft ridden.
there are of course, those amongst us, remaining un-named to protect the guilty, who would have no truck with the foregoing. they regard themselves not as cyclists, but as 'blokes/girls with bikes', having no pretence or need for speed and only carelessly wishing to associate with those of a more defined nature. both tend to exist in harmony, deigning only to suffer the existence of each other with a concealed snigger and the confirmed confidence, that the other is ever so slightly misguided.
then the travesty arriveth, and the bubble is well and truly burst. how's a honed athlete to hold his/her head high in public again, when those well-meaning chaps and chapesses of perren street bridge the unbridgeable with the introduction of just one garment? have they not read the unwritten laws? is there no shame to be suffered at the hands of merino wool?
the answers to both would appear to be a resounding 'no'.
we are all doubtless aware of the iniquities of the act of cycling, now that winter is close to sweeping up the fallen leaves, ready to replace them with rain, ice, snow and hoar frost. insulation has waited all season to make its way to the top of the priority list, and here it is replete with style, yet humility; speed, yet a less immediate ruffle of relaxation. you know how it is (don't you?). look closely and the kristian house connection is made manifest, surely enough to satisfy even the most reluctant member of the pelotonese.
in a word 'racy, but only if the cap fits.
black from the top of the roll neck (oft referred to as a polo neck or turtle neck; steve jobs would have worn one on his bicycle) to the last stitch of its well-proportioned hem, it could almost pass for unremarkable. but if you are amongst those clamouring for differentiation, the thin white hoops decorating the (long) cuffs are easily worth the price of admission alone. hoops that will clutter your peripheral vision; those are lengthy sleeves. carriage is also considered in minimal fashion by way of the single rear buttoned pocket, identified by the all but ubiquitous fluorescent pink rapha ident tab, itself buttoned to the pocket's exterior.
joining in the white cat in a snowstorm humour of a blank piece of paper, the british championship hoops are knitted in black, midst that all-enveloping black of a black roll-neck sweater. or jumper as we hebridean flandrians prefer to refer; our hardness is surely undermined by the impossible softness of the finest italian merino wool. thus one's racing affiliations can be heard but not seen. how could rapha have become so callous as to facilitate the end of differentiation without so much as a by-your-leave?
in order to test my theory, it was necessary to visit the coffee shop incognito, so to speak, dressed to cycle but simultaneously streamlined to deceive. i am rarely smug (apart from when told of yet another windows 7 misadventure), but all the time of sharing my table with two acquaintances, it was hard to subjugate a smugness that would have brought blushes to my cheeks were it not for the opportunity to hide behind a large soya cappuccino. no cake was necessary. i had removed my rainjacket making the championship affiliation clearly visible, even tempting fate by leaving the narrow white hoop on the cuff in view when supping.
rapha, in their wisdom, describe this as a mid-layer, perfect for the cold of winter; it may still be autumn, but that gale-force southerly was not the stuff of which central heating is composed. merino baselayer, roll-neck enclosed in a paul smith rainjacket (all but identical to the new city rainjacket in material and behaviour) means even brian smith would be hard-pushed to distinguish between athlete and commuter. that is the basis of the travesty. because unlike many a mid-layer so described, the roll-neck maintains a sense of decorum when uncovered, providing an insulation that allows supping with ease. in this case, i remain vindicated, as does perren street.
despite a gale-force headwind on the latter kilometres of my journey, engendering a character-building effort, i sat in the corner at debbie's, the very model of composure. were the seasons to be inverted, i can see little or no reason why this would not serve duty as a training top of some substance. if you care to wait six months or so, i may well be able to provide the answer.
meantime, i look forward to a winter of smug cosiness.
the opening paragraph constitutes the story label affixed within the rapha roll-neck jumper. it is available direct from perren street at a cost of £90, in black only and in sizes from xs to xxl (medium reviewed).
posted tuesday november 1 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................