over several years in an office not far from here, i managed to amass an impressive collection of cycle related paraphernalia in poster and postcard format, plastering it all over the walls surrounding my workstation. the sole resemblance that my area of industry has to the forgoing description is that of a 27" imac plopped squarely in the centre of my desk. the surrounding area has often given cause for the belief that somebody may have broken in overnight and ransacked only my corner. it's an assertion that has been hard to disagree with. i prefer to think of it as a manifestation of my artistic temperament.
sadly, everyone else figures i'm just untidy.
the office in question has been home to the local newspaper since around 1990, and until last year, that was the year in which it was last decorated. after endless pressure on our paymasters, the necessary estimates were acquired and painters engaged to brighten up every square inch of wall-space, that we may continue our collective daily toil in conditions less reminiscent of glenburn colliery. every silver lining, however, has a cloud, my particular cumulus being that all those lovingly collected and artistically arranged posters had to be removed to facilitate the painting process. that was what i believe could be referred to as a double whammy; the not inconsiderable effort required for safe removal and storage, coupled with the threatening behaviour exerted by my work colleagues to never sully the walls with such velocipedinal decoration ever again.
conclusive proof if such were needed, that the philistine is alive and well and working at islay's newspaper.
i still have every last square inch of graphic excellence rather appropriately stored in a mavic wheelbag behind my chair. one or two small pieces have been sneaked onto the lower regions of the rear wall, so far eliciting no audible assault (yet), but i am waiting for for my early morning colleague to feel that she deserves two weeks' holiday sometime soon, and it'll be time to break out the blu-tac.
it has been pointed out on more than one occasion that perhaps i could transfer my cycling affections to the walls of washingmachinepost cottage, but there are two hurdles that make that a less than satisfactory solution. firstly, our sitting room is already substantially decorated with the last vestiges of my artistic years, framed, oil-painted canvases and boards that we have grown to know and love. most other expansive areas of wallspace are already covered with signed jerseys, signed illustrations and more than just one or two framed posters and photographs. a few more might be desirable, but would hardly improve the feng shui.
reason number two is mrs washingmachinepost; not the most vociferously in favour of cycling ephemera (i have notions she may have been talking to the gilrs in the office). this, i believe is reason enough to keep those posters firmly zipped inside the mavic bag.
however, it always pays to have a plan b, particularly one that involves a modicum of christmas cheer. mrs washingmachinepost is very much in favour of christmas, as witnessed by enough flashing lights on the sitting room window to attract passing aviation. i live in constant fear of returning home at the end of each day and finding the afternoon flybe aircraft sitting on our front lawn. therefore, a plan b that combines a direct or indirect reference to cycling might just add what i believe to be the ideal christmas cheer to any remaining portions of green branches midst the glare of flickering light emitting diodes. who would have thought that the stalwart chaps at look mum no hands would have the ideal solution?
at christmas 2010, the folks at 49 old street had so many customers wishing to purchase their chainring and sprocket style christmas decorations that they have elected to make a few more for this year's crowds. these, made from clear acrylic sheet are available in two distinct flavours: hearts and diamonds (apparently a girl's best friend, in case you're interested. in the spirit of bravery in the face of mrs twmp's adversity, i belligerently opted for the heart-shaped option). there are only twenty sets of each available, and i've already nabbed one set, so should you have need of cycling cheer on the seasonal tree, it might be an idea to click straight from here to lmnh with flexible friend in hand. a mere £15 per set.
christmas cheer with teeth.
posted monday 12 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's a common phrase used with the benefit of hindsight that 'youth is wasted on the young', though often saying more about the orator than the subject of the oration. many are the things we wish we'd done when we were young enough to do them, and now envy rears its ugly head when those with the opportunity fail to take advantage. it is, as we all know, but often fail to recognise, unfair to tar all with the same brush, for some youngsters have already achieved more than some of us old farts are ever likely to manage.
i make no apologies for sliding sideways into the jazz realm for this; witness art blakey and the jazz messengers. art was a highly influential and successful jazz drummer, who spent his mid to latter years bringing on some of the world's most promising young horn players, providing them with the benefit of his experience and of his name in garnering many impressive venues to portray their talents. blakey did not expect those young players to stay with the messengers for the remainder of their careers; he was grooming them for personal stardom. in the cycle world, particularly related to cyclocross, the inestimable richard sachs all but provides the same experience, and particularly this season with the recruitment of dan chabanov.
to quote mr sachs; "dan's an nyc kid who transitioned from messenger to a cat 1 elite cyclist. we tried to fit him in during 2010, but had to wait until 2011, and he's been a real gift to the lovely debs, e-richie, the team and sponsors.
"dan is a rare young man who has the drive, the humility, is charming, knows how to communicate, can make the front selection of a race, and remains just a plain old nice kid from brooklyn by way of russia. praise indeed from the master framebuilder, no slouch himself on the cross circuit.
so, in order that i might find out more about dan chabanov, and how someone manages to impress so highly, i asked him a few questions. though i have no wish to embarrass him, he prefaced his answers by saying that english is his second language, but he had tried his best to make them as readable and coherent as possible. i can only reiterate my reply by saying that i know many folks for whom english is their only langauage and who could not hope to be as clear, lucid and concise as dan chabanov.
though perhaps not as prevalent a career option as wishing to become a rock'n'roll star, train driver or astronaut, there are those who have a serious hankering from an early age to race bicycles. had the bicycle always been front and centre for dan, or did he consider himself a late developer? "In high school I was a swimmer. I swam from when I was about nine years old until I was 18. There was a bit of overlap with bikes coming in to my life but I don't think the bike became "front and center" for me until i was 20 or so. I guess that makes me a late developer. But as a swimmer I was training six days a week, between three and five hours a day. In high school it was sometimes twice a day. I competed at national level a few times. So when racing a bike became something I decided to focus on I already knew what it took so to speak."
the life of a cycle messenger is well documented by way of blogs, videos and books, and though it allows cycling on a daily basis, it's certainly not what you'd call an easy job option. it is, however, a way to earn a living. was cycle messengering for dan simply an opportunity to ride his bike all day, or simply a way to earn a living that happened to require a bike? "At first it was a way to be on the bike all day. As racing and training began to take over my life more and more, it became just how i payed my bills. When that switch happened I knew I had to find some other way of making money. It's not the easiest job on the body and the higher you go in bike racing the more rest you need. But I have no regrets. Getting on the bike for work is how I eventually ended up where I am today. A lot of couriers in the NYC scene were ex-racers or guys like me who were young, eager and wanted to give racing a shot. We used to ride out to the Kissena Velodrome, make some minor modifications to our work bikes and race the Wednesday night series in the summer."
how long did dan remain a messenger? "I got my first job when i was 19. I quit about a month ago. So five years."
relating to that substantial documentation regarding the art of messengering, it doesn't seem too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that perhaps running the gauntlet of daily traffic in new york city could have benefits when translated to the less frightening world of cyclocross racing. has dan found this to be the case? "Riding a bike almost every day for five years as a courier has definitely made me very comfortable on the bike. Riding in traffic is in some ways just like riding in a pack. There is a flow to it and once you figure it out, it's not as scary as it first looks. Holding your line and making space for yourself in a crit is not all that dissimilar to doing it in traffic. The way you would let someone know you're moving up on them in the pack is kind of like tapping a cabbie on the side to let them know you're there. In the same way that an experienced rider avoids someone they know as a 'bad wheel', I would never ride next to a cab with its 'empty' light on. Being comfortable going fast in the small space between cars gives me confidence to carry speed through tight sections on a cross course. I guess I could go on but i feel it's important to mention (even though I think its obvious) that there is nothing quite like racing a UCI cross race, just like there is nothing quite like riding down 7th Avenue past Madison Square Garden at 5:05 pm."
though messengering provides its own point-to-point, fulfilling the necessity to make deliveries and pick-ups in often strictly defined time limits. but that's almost solo competition. where did the racing bug come from? "Bike messengers are competitive by nature. So the first races I ever took part in were street races called Allycats. Basically a bunch of messengers get together, someone comes up with a list of checkpoints and the first person to make it to all the checkpoints wins. I raced these kinds of races all over, Boston, Baltimore, DC, SF, London, Philly, and obviously NYC. The same competitive nature got me to go out with a few friends to Kissena Velodrome and try racing the track. That's when I bought my first USAC licensee. For a few years I only owned track bikes. So I only tried road racing when Steve Willis at the Bike Stand generously gave me a bike that a customer left sitting around at his shop for far too many years. It was a Viner built with Columbus SLX. It had eight speed Dura-Ace on it. I won my first cat 5 road race in Prospect Park on it. I decided to give cross a try in 2008 and bought a cross bike from a courier buddy for 400 bucks or so. It was a lugged Bianchi with a quill stem and a mish mash of nine speed parts. I raced that bike right up until I got my Cat 2. From there it all sort of spiraled out of control."
there's no doubting that being in possession of a cat 1 racing licence is unlikely to do chabanov's career prospects any harm. how long did that take from a standing start? "I did my first track race at Kissena in 2007. I got my Cat 1 in cross at the end of 2009 and my Cat 1 on the road in August 2011. It felt like it took a really long time. Like those dates don't really do it justice."
it seems almost redundant to ask if road racing has featured in his short career so far, given that this year provided him with that all important road cat 1, but is it safe to assume that a degree of road-racing has featured too? "Lots of road racing. I raced a full season with Jonathan Adler Racing before my first elite cross campaign in 2010. This past season I raced a full season with the NYC based GS Mengoni squad. Next year I'll be racing and traveling full time with the CRCA/Foundation team. I like road racing but obviously cross is very dear to my heart and if I had to choose just one discipline it would have to be that. But right now I can race road at pretty high level and I think that will help me realize my full potential for cross which remains my personal priority."
as referred to in richard sachs' tribute to dan at the beginning of this feature, he'd have liked to have had him in the team in 2010. why didn't it happen until this year? "I think it was a combination of the team having a full roster by the time we started talking and the fact that 2010 was going to be my first year in the elites. Although I had some great results in 'B' races its hard to predict how those successes will carry in to the elite category. Putting me on would have been a pretty big risk. But all's well that ends well. I had a good thing with NYCROSS.com in 2010. They got me to all the big races and I was able to show myself well, gaining a lot of valuable experience doing some of the big New England races for the first time. I would always try and park somewhere near the RS team camp through the season and exchange a few quick words with Richard when he wasn't too busy. Like I said, it all worked out in the end."
and is riding for the richard sachs team as cool a gig as it appears? "Oh man, it's the bee's knees! We have such a great thing going. I've honestly been a little down because our New England season is over. I could go on and on about how we do things, but enough has already been said about the principles this team works under. Having experienced it first hand this season i can safely say that it is the correct way. The emphasis is on all the right things. Our results are just icing on the cake." and as a personal point of enquiry, are those sachs bikes as dreamy to ride as i hope they are? "The wheels are most certainly in the right place. I feel like sometimes people want to get caught up on the lugs and the classic aesthetic but these bikes are first and foremost race bikes. Everything about them is meant to perform at the highest level of the sport. They are at their best 45 minutes in, when the heart rate is through the roof . That's what they were designed for."
not wishing to repeat the accusation of youth being wasted on the young, to go from messenger to cat 1 racer in such a short space of time didn't just happen by accident; work has obviously been involved, coupled with more than a smidgeon of talent. in the interests of sharing, does he have a secret training schedule that would make us all as good as dan chabanov? "Ha. Not really. I like riding my bike so I just do that, A lot. Most of my training is long road rides. When I feel good I'll go hard and hit lots of little climbs and hammer. When I'm tired or know I need the rest I'll just avoid the climbs and enjoy the scenery. I'm not big on very precise structure. When i need the intervals I'll find ways to work it in to my ride but I'm not one of those guys that has everything planned out three months in advance. I also really love taking my cross bike out on mountain bike trails. It's a great way to work on bike handling and it's really fun. I think that might be the secret; if you keep your training fun you might actually do it."
my own attempts at cross riding have nothing whatsoever to do with racing, but that doesn't mean that i can't experience the same ground conditions, though i confess that at this time of year, mud is in the ascendancy. does dan have any preference for hardpack or mud when racing? "I think its too early for me to pick favorites or specialize. Most of my good results have been on dry courses. But it's not like i have an aversion to mud, though I do think i need some more experience with mud to really learn how to ride it well."
hanging on the wall at debbie's in bruichladdich is a framed richard sachs poster affirming the philosophy that underpins his racing team. aside from the not unimportant features of representing the sponsors to the utmost of their abilities, the over-riding philosophy is that of enjoying the team spirit and most definitley the racing itself. insisting on sponsor representation may well be a major feature pertaining to all other cyclocross teams, but rarely have i seen it writ so large. is this a part of the job that dan is happy to fulfil? "It's very much part of the program and I am very happy to do it. I feel like it's the least I can do to repay our sponsors, suppliers, and supporters. Honestly, it's fun. I like telling people about our Cole wheels or our Zanconato chainrings, and honestly I can't stop gushing about how much I love my Rudy sunglasses. We get to use some really cool products and yeah I feel like it's part of the deal to make sure those things are front and center at the races. From showing up with clean and shiny bikes to the little things like having my Rudy sunglasses planted firmly on my head or just generally being approachable, friendly, and presentable at the races. I feel like when the organization that's behind the team gives us so much, then it's my job to sweat the details."
when watching the one-day classics or the world's major stage races, it's possible to see the strategies of the genre being played out over the course of the day or ensuing weeks.cyclocross, on the other hand, often looks as if it's simply a case of 'eyeballs out' for about an hour. in reality, is it a bit more strategic than that? "Yes. At a certain point the fitness level evens out and you can't simply ride away from the people you're racing against. So then you have to figure out what you're good at, what they are bad at and vice versa. Then again some races all you can do to keep the bike moving forward is go eyeballs out."
the very fact that richard sachs took the time to contact me regarding one third of his team is likely indication enough that he owns a level of pride in this young and exciting rider. tautologically, this ideally ought to work both ways, so does dan see himself being a part of the sachs team come the 2012 season? "Absolutely". at 25 years old, it's safe to assume that he has a number of racing years ahead of him. what's dan chabanov's cunning plan? "Well, I know USAC says I'm 25 but I'm actually only 24. As for the cunning plan, I want to take this bike racing thing as far as I can go with it. I don't want to look back and think I should have done this or that. Right now what I want to do with my life is race bikes. So that's what I'm going to do to the best of my ability. I don't have any delusions of greatness. I'm not trying to go race my bike in France in July. I've been making steady progress and I just want to keep doing that; just keep getting to the next level, until I either run out of levels or decide that it's time to do something else with my life. I don't think either is going to happen in the foreseeable future."
the opening photograph by christopher harrison. all other photos by tayler dube except family photo by keith snyder. thanks to both dan chabanov and richard sachs.
posted sunday 11 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
white bread and cheese. with chutney. and a few cheeky crisps. i ask you; white bread. this is not the food of which champions are created. nor sustained, for that matter. i'm not sure if the considerably less credible european union has a particular specification as to what constitutes traditional, but i'm sure the saturday lunchtime jaunt to debbie's would qualify, if only for the cheese sandwich and a soya cappuccino. (the fact that i had a delectable slice of strawberry sponge today really has no bearing on the matter.) but for goodness sake, who would stoop so low as to scoff that sandwich created from bog standard white bread?
it is unfair, however, to blame debbie's in this case, for the lack of any ferries on thursday due to hurricane bawbag meant that the truck that brings us our daily bread (well, three times a week) found itself in entirely the wrong place to pay its scheduled visit on friday. and for reasons that are too obscure to fathom, neither it nor the saturday papers made it in time for the morning ferry. thus little, if anything arrived on the hallowed isle prior to the mid afternoon ferry, meaning in the shops for 4pm. since the eu, to my knowledge, has not re-scheduled lunchtime that far down the pecking order, this meant that the only bread on the premises at debbie's was the aforementioned and much decried white loaf. the previous delivery was on wednesday.
welcome to civilisation.
many years ago, when i was a mere slip of a lad in my early twenties, i was fortunate enough to win a competition to attend a concert featuring ella fitzgerald, humphrey littleton and oscar peterson in the grosvenor house hotel in park lane, london. being that it was glasgow fair weekend, the only available transport comprised the last seat on a coach from glasgow to victoria street bus station, though a room at the grosvenor house was the reward for such un business-like travel. somewhat out of my normal accommodation requirements, i cheerfully shuffled up to reception to announce that i had a room apparently booked in the name of palmer.
the lobby of the hotel was filled with arab sheiks and their ilk, making a long haired skinny bloke with a rucksack and bomber jacket stand out even more than usual. perhaps not unnaturally, the gent at reception took one look at me and immediately 'phoned the magazine that had offered the prize to verify my identity. this conflict of sartorial elegance was compounded later that same evening during dinner in the grosvenor ballroom prior to the concert.
the magazine editor had contracted a photographer to record the occasion of my win, along with ms fitzgerald (oscar peterson having retired to bed for the evening by that time). said photographer had been previously further up country acting as a photographer of rural affairs, simply receiving a message via his agent to meet at the grosvenor house hotel. as befits an hotel of such standing, dress for the evening was of formal attire, something i had made a passing attempt at (i don't think anyone noticed), but the photographer had arrived wearing combat jacket and trousers, bringing his funky, but hardly pristine, camera bag with him. the fact that security had stopped him at the door is largely unremarkable.
it's all about dressing for the occasion, something that undergoes a period of doubtful transition around this time of year. how cold is it really? does it look like rain? and if it is going to rain, will it be a perpetual downpour or simply a shower till the rain comes on? will i freeze?
we've been through the heat ramp stage before; chittering when removing the bicycle from what the winds have left of the bikeshed, yet emulating a sauna only a few kilometres down the road is an experience i fear has not only befallen yours truly. the old adage of being cosy in the first five kilometres indicating a state of overdress is a hard mindset with which to comply before pedalling begins, yet often a source of regret when still a long way from the coffee shop. such sartorial pragmatism is one that requires a degree of personal research, as everyone of us is different with regard to body heat requirements. the mighty dave t finds it quite satisfactory to wear track mitts and a regular cotton casquette even in the depths of winter, while the rest of us would not look out of place in the film crew for frozen planet.
and what of the possible need to stop en-route should mechanical failure intervene on a grand day out? as far as islay is concerned, shelter is very hard to come by in certain parts of its topography and that wind can cool hot stuff in a matter of minutes. perhaps that's what at least one of those three rear pockets is for. the search for the holy grail of just enough layering has probably not yet been conquered, for what works on saturday is almost bound to be too much or too little for sunday. and herein lies the foil for which many of us have been looking. no matter your apparel of preference, whether wabi woolens, endura, cervo rosso or rapha, here now is a technical frame of reference that can be trotted out every time your other half uses two exclamation marks when you point out what it is you have just ordered from one website or another. (surely nobody's spouse ever accompanies them into a bike store when regular shopping is felt to be a necessity?)
though few of us will every reach professional levels, that is no excuse not to behave as if that were the case. it's a big bad world out there; wind, rain, hail sleet and occasional sunshine can wreak havoc on that training plan you never had time to formulate, and there is little more embarrassing in this life to be sat with strawberry cake and a large soya cappuccino, acutely aware that one is dressed unsuitably for the occasion. what would the civilian population think? one has not only one's own image to consider, but that of our entire species. it's bad enough to be castigated for jumping red lights and cycling the wrong way down one-way streets, but to bear the ignominy of being impractically dressed for the occasion is surely an embarrassement that will not see early retirement?
you owe it to yourself. you know you want to.
posted saturday 10 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have been asked many times why i have a particular penchant for colnago bicycles; the answer is always the same. i have no idea. i think it fortunate that i chose to ally myself to certainly one of the finest marques in cycling history, and i'd love to be able to say that it was their impressive palmares that led me to my decision. that, however, would be a distortion of the truth; i simply liked the idea of owning a colnago and rather generously bought myself one for my fortieth birthday.
there are numerous others that i could have chosen to fill my bicycle shed with, and i don't mind admitting that there were occasions when i could have switched lanes just as easily as making that original choice. in fact, having cycled from here to dublin (using a ferry for the wet bits) to watch the start of the 1998 tour de france, getting caught up in the esteemed victory of marco pantani oft times gave me cause to seriously consider a bianchi. to watch the little italian in later editions of the tour calmly cycle past those who thought they had the mountain stage won, was an experience of sheer joy. ok, since then, we've all discovered that marco may have had a little medicinal help, but it doesn't detract from the spectacle of watching him climb.
on a bianchi.
edoardo bianchi started building bicycles in 1885 at number 7 in milan's via nirone, and it is of little surprise that this historically excellent book, now available in english text, pays great heed to the growth of this longest lived bicycle marque. there were others who came before, but who amongst us remembers gritzner, adler, columbia, singer and rudge? ok the last two may be a tad more familar, but they're no longer making bicycles. bianchi, on the other hand, are still available to this day, though like many of their compatriots, not much of their productive output comes from italy. and they don't all leave the shop painted in that famous celeste blue.
i and others have long contended that the italians seem blissfully unaware of what it is they have. in much the same way that it seems sacreligious to own a ferrari in any colour other than red, many of us would portend that every banchi ought to be in celeste decor.
partitioned into thematic sections, the history of bianchi is described through the method of direct timeline, before cutting to the chase: bicycle racing. through the teams who adopted the marque as their chariots of fire, the champions who rode edoardo's creation, before presenting us with the bicycle for everyone; the bianchis for the rest of us. i'll admit that it came as something of a blow to re-discover that bianchi became a part of the cycleurope conglomerate. this is something i think i already knew, but with no disrespect to the brand's current owners, it's a shame to see a bicycle once recognised for its individuality to rest in the hands of ubiquity.
daniele marchesini's narrative is impressive, not only for the research that has obviously been undertaken, but for the plethora of superb photography that he has unearthed to document the early days of bianchi bicycles. the rather superb price currently being offered by prendas is very hard to pass up, but there are two specifics within these pages that are more than worth the price of admission alone.
in the absence of a foreword by an italian heavyweight from the racing past, we are provided with something even better; an interview with felice gimondi. it seems that many of italy's more graceful riders sat astride bianchi bicycles and gimondi is surely one of the more notable. gimondi's interview is bereft of any posing or arrogance; quite the contrary. his enthusiasm for the celeste bicycles is apparent throughout, and it is no real surprise that he took up a position with the company on his retiral from racing. does he still cycle? "yes i still pedal. on sundays and, if possible, with a mountain bike along off-road trails. it's more relaxing and less dangerous. i don't exaggerate with the kilometres, and i control the workout..."
the second reason for a compulsory purchase order is bianchi's most famous son: fausto coppi. though the great italian rider did not ride bianchis his entire career, it is aboard the celeste blue that he is perhaps best remembered. there are a number of photographs of coppi that must rank amongst the most inspirational i have ever seen. two distinct photos showing coppi and bartali racing each other which, without question, show how much a part of the bicycle coppi appeared to be. it has often been stated that few could compare to fausto when racing his bianchi; looking at his profile compared to that of bartali truly has to be seen to be believed. oh that we could all look that good on a bicycle.
at just shy of twenty quid, it would be a foolish cycle fan that passed this by, even if you only look at the pictures.
posted friday 9 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a recent saturday morning, after three weeks off the bike due to work and holidays; i'm going out for a ride even if only to debbie's for a coffee. wind or no wind.
in the early years of living on this atlantic rock, it took a remarkably short period of time to get used to rather strong breezes emanating from the vast ocean sited between here and north america. it's an occupational hazard basically, and one that provided many a struggle-filled day, pedalling to the west coast of the island to draw and paint the waves lashing rocky and sandy shores. succinctly put, the thrill of the chase.
there are acres and acres of sky over here, left unfilled by a lack of tall buildings and, in most cases, any buildings at all. trees are few and far between, mostly found huddling in groups for safety in numbers down the centre of the isle. it's therefore quite easy to see what is about to be dropped upon me from a great height.
it also doesn't take too long to discover just how hard the wind needs to blow before precluding any kind of cycling at all. on occasions when i have adopted stupidity as a virtue, it is all too easy to realise one's predicament on noticing that i'm leaning over at the same ridiculously unsafe angle as the cyclist in front of me. headwinds are easy peasy; it's simply a case of knuckling down and accepting that a great deal of grunt work my way comes. it's the crosswinds that make for the greatest difficulty, yet in the manner that has been long taught by evolution, the velo club peleton seems to have adopted an almost sixth sense anticipating those sidefills.
i'd not really paid much attention to this acquired skill until a year or so ago, when out with a gaggle of non-resident cyclists. as we all descended the hill at foreland, the road veers to the right just as it clears the drystone walls and higher ground. at this point, a crosswind will push any unsuspecting cyclist sharply to the left, and indeed, that's exactly what happened to those of an unsuspecting nature. i watched two of the velo club members reach the same point in the road and automatically compensate, thus flowing smoothly round the right-hand bend.
i hadn't realised we did this.
weather is an intrinsic part of life in the uk; everyone else has climate, we have weather. but in our rural innocence, we've not really paid as much attention to the windspeed as, it seems, the rest of the country's obsession does. basically, if the ferry arrives in the morning, all is well with the world. it is therefore something of a mystery as to where the amber and red weather warnings have suddenly appeared from. and we're all much more aware of actual windspeed nowadays with such easy access via xcweather.
it's always a complete mystery as to how hard-won fitness, built up over weeks and months of riding regularly, can disappear seemingly in a matter of days. it was never going to be easy riding to debbie's in any way, shape or form; it's not quite having to re-learn the act of cycling, but some of those short sharp hills seem way steeper than they were before my holiday. xcweather rather graphically pointed out that the windspeed for my saturday morning jaunt would be somewhere between 60 and 63kph. the general rule of thumb dictates that anything above 60kph is bordering on the suicidal as far as cycling is concerned. again not in the fear of the headwind, but those gusting crosswinds.
heading out of bowmore, a tail wind. unfortunately, once past ionad chaluim chille ile (islay's gaelic college), as the wind veered round to the north, all those kilometres of wind moved from the back and started deflecting seriously from my left. it's at points like this that the realisation of stupidity reached the point of unsharp mask clarity. based on no scientific study whatsoever, i adopted a comfortable position in the drops and slowed down a tad in order to maintain control of the bicycle, since those crosswinds were pushing me into the path of oncoming traffic.
that's not a comfortable feeling.
riding in the wind can be a great deal of fun, sometimes akin to that i imagine is experienced by the manics that indulge in downhill mountain biking. however, it's worth bearing in mind that, even on a busy day, islay's traffic can be close to non-existent. i've been blown off the road twice , and only once been sent to the opposite side of the road, fortunately when there was no oncoming traffic. that's not bad for twenty four years of cycling in the face of almost perennial gale force winds. according to the forecast for the next five days, there are only portions of two days when the wind drops out of that classification.
of course, the easy way to get round all this breeze is simply to adjust one's expectations. it's hardly rock 'n' roll, but it is undoubtedly character building. similar, in fact, to the act of riding uphill without the altitude, though preferably with attitude. i cannot tell a lie; if i were to wait until the wind receded, not only would the tread on my tyres be in pristine condition, a bicycle chain would last a long time. it's still an occupational hazard; there are parts of the scottish west coast that experience higher wind-speeds than islay: tiree was hit by force eleven today which, i am reliably informed, is officially hurricane speed. islay stopped short at force ten, and was without a ferry service, newspapers or mail for the day. but once that wind reaches more than 62kph, from a cycling point of view, it's all academic.
there will be plenty of opportunity to practice between now and christmas; the festive 500 promises to be an interesting week of cycling.
posted thursday 8 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it is gratifying to find so many with the time midst christmas panic, to send in entries for thewashingmachinepost prendas calendar competition. i asked which two scottish icons were included in the 2012 edition of the calendar and on which months they were depicted. happily all entrants answered the questions correctly: robert millar in june, and graeme obree in december. the two winners, as randomly chosen by mrs twmp are pete burt of dunedin, new zealand, and stephen murray of strathbungo, glasgow. congratulations, and your prizes will be on their wayin the post tomorrow. (pete, you might have to wait a day or two until it reaches the other side of the world.
posted wednesday 7 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though perhaps an expression used in the pre-amazon days, bricks and mortar has taken on more disparate connotations in the age of pixels and clicks. surprisingly enough, with christmas each year having that compulsive ability to bring on occasional bouts of nostalgia, we were discussing only this morning the number of shops and businesses that used to occupy bricks and mortar around the villages of islay. as is the case in many a town and village across the country, shops have closed up, gone out of business or in more extreme cases, shifted in cahoots with larger shopping malls occupying ground well removed from the town centre. perhaps under those circumstances, the nature of the town centre needs to be re-defined.
it would be unfair to blame all of this on the internet. rising costs and reduced spending power have forced many retailers to re-assess their raison d'etre and whether gardening might be a more rewarding career. this has engendered a self-fulfilling prophecy, for as the high street has foundered, the internet has stepped in to take up the slack, and once those pixels have taken hold, it becomes that much harder for bricks and mortar to re-capture former adherents. items for purchase that, at one time, would have been thought highly impractical to purchase in any other way than from an assistant behind a real-life counter, have surprised us all by being available on the web. who'd have thought you could order a whole bicycle over the internet and have it delivered to the front door? well, apart from trek that is.
though not an option presenting itself to those of us in more rural and island locations, ordering the week's shopping from a supermarket that may only be a few miles down the road is fast becoming the norm. even the christmas tree, currently flashing its led lights at me as i write, arrived in a box from somewhere that isn't islay. the times they-are-a-changing, if they haven't already done so.
though it has been possible to purchase suitable cycling apparel over the interweb for many a year, the majority is supplied to the online retailer in similar manner to that of bricks and mortar independent bike shops. it's an accepted practice, operating in the same wholesale manner as has long been the case within the retail trade. the manufacturer sells to a distributor who sells to the retailer who sells to us, each adding an incremental profit to the basic price until reaching the recommended retail price or slightly below. however, the smart money would be on manufacturing and offering direct to the customer via those aforementioned pixels, thus cutting out the mythical middle man, either increasing the producer's margin or reducing the ultimate cost to the consumer (oh how i hate that word).
that's the way it works at rapha. it is necessary, however, to ensure that the online shopping experience is better than satisfactory in order to make up for the missing tactile experience of trying on umpteen variations of bibshorts and winter caps in salutory surroundings. i doubt i'm the only one who has received a jersey or jacket (not necessarily from rapha, i hasten to add) that was at variance with the impression seen on a website. i will give due credit to perren street in the way they have gone about this; the depth and breadth of the quality and content of their website has few challengers. it's possible to view artistically directed videos, read an ever lengthening store of blog posts and relevant articles, and enjoy a wide variety of photographs displaying the articles of clothing that hopefully brought us there in the first place.
though annual statistics informing how long web browsers tend to spend on each page visited is still less than thirty-seconds, bucking the trend, rapha's site is one that can cheerfully be enjoyed almost as long as would be the case if you'd visited one of their cycle clubs. (actually, that's not strictly true; when in the london club, i spent pretty much the whole day lounging about and getting in the way.) add to this the offer of free shipping when spending over £100 ($150) (not hard with rapha's prices) and free returns if your choice doesn't fit, or is not what you thought it was. to place in the vernacular, what's not to like?
so why is it that you can still purchase rapha from the occasional example of bricks and mortar?
team co-owners, condor cycles, have long been rapha stockists, and the short-lived rapha cycle club (with a promise of revival next year) also had clothing for sale. it's a long way from islay to either grays inn road or perren street. i know, i've made the trip often enough. take out the ferry equation, and it's still not exactly next door from any part of scotland. however, edinburgh is a whole 'nuther kettle of baselayers, and ronde's first delivery of rapha clothing this monday past makes the stockbridge cycle shop/cafe the sole bricks and mortar outlet for perren street products in scotland.
though i may not have worded it in print, on my sole visit to the shop in august past, it was something of a surprise that rapha clothing was not available; more so in the light that ronde have also become the scottish representatives of condor cycles. rapha's james fairbank explained the reasoning behind leaving those pixels behind for once. "The vast majority of Rapha's transactions are conducted through our website directly to the end consumer. We value and covet all of these relationships and it takes the emergence of a special retailer for us to ignore the model that this business is built around. Ronde is one of those shops. From the amazing premises which have been sympathetically converted, to the obvious passion of the owners and staff, it's the kind of place that we wish more retailers had the ambition to be. A different, engaging selection of brands, the James McCallum connection and exceptional coffee are all further draws. And it's in a beautiful part of Edinburgh too."
ronde's neil millsop explained; "Our initial order covers a good selection of Rapha's core stock. Some of the items are on limited size runs but we should be able to get hold of most items. Everyone in the shop is really excited and with only a few weeks left for those Christmas purchases we're hoping a lot will sell very quickly! Customers are already talking about it too."
one of the main reasons as to why ronde seems like the very place that should have rapha filling several nooks and crannies is rapha condor sharp rider and edinburgh resident, james mccallum. just at the time when i was trying hard to keep out of everyone's way, in strolls jimmy mac replete with team bike, having completed the day's requisite training ride, before sitting down for coffee and a bun. james made the place look like it was a home from home, and i was happy to join him for a coffee while grant and claire from condor discussed frames with the two neils. if ever bricks and mortar were deigned to be an outpost of perren street, these are they.
shop till you drop, and don't miss out on the almond croissants.
posted wednesday 7 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though not an indicator of anything in particular, and allowing for the vagaries of internet search engines, looking up the word passion returned 661 million results. obsession on the other hand, provided only 103 million. this plays easily into the construct of my cunning plan, portending as i do, that the word passion can legitimately lay claim to being one of the most overused words in contemporary society. sadly this is more likely due to its misuse rather than any indication that modern day folks are more emotionally involved with their word than in the past.
a tenable grasp of cycling, whether as sport or simply an involved activity, will have brought most of us close to the incorporation of suitable nutrition, allowing continued and ever greater appreciation of the art of pedalling. the simple equation is that energy out must be at least equalled by energy in. that, however, does not take account of just how delectable that energy in ought to be in order to make it more palatable to the palate. i figure we've all force fed ourselves sawdust disguised as an energy bar at some time in our careers.
however, the world's current obsession with celebrity chefs and wall to wall cookery programmes seems almost to be taking this to an extent bordering on overkill. food is no longer allowed to be food; it now must identify itsef as art, even entering the fragile world of unalloyed experimentation. the acronym (to refer to yesterday) o.t.t. would not seem particularly out of place. however, within the set of cookery programmes is a subset that involves challenging seemingly ordinary members of the public to adopt the stance of the professional, competing against each other for the honour of being chef of the week, month, year; delete as applicable. such competitiveness is often previewed by presenting the incumbents with the opportunity to state why it is they feel the opportunity they have been offered is appropriate in the circumstances.
it is at this point that the favoured word, garnered from my scientific research displayed above, passion, rears its slowly becoming ugly head. for almost to a man and woman, each proclaims that cooking is their passion; that this is truly what they feel they were placed upon this earth to do. you will perhaps forgive my cynicism, as i have grave doubts that folks with true passion for anything would subject themselves to entering what is, essentially, a knockout competition. surely anything less than winning would prove a serious knock to that passion?
the other information gleaned from these cookie-cutter interviews implies that this passion arrived overnight, something we all know to be far from the truth.
it's difficult to say whether deep involvement in the cycling world is obsession or passion, though i'm plumping for the greater search-engine return and placing myself quite firmly in the passionate camp. but i cannot say that i awoke one morning to find myself passionate about cycling. like most others, it's something that grew over the years as knowledge, enjoyment and the acquisition of a similar peer group filled the spare bedroom and most of the bikeshed. if i had to pinpoint one specific instance that lit the blue touch paper, it really has to be that red steel road bike decorating the cover of bicycling magazine in the early nineteen nineties.
on adding a similarly coloured bicycle frame to the space behind the shed door, it immediately became necessary to decorate it with appropriate trinketry, and it is here that i think i can say without fear of contradiction, that the passion began. and it began with a campagnolo groupset from the period; chorus as i remember. many are the testimonies to the fanatacism of the less than ordinary campagnolo aficionado, stretching as far as having the logo tattoed onto the back of a shaved head. that's passion.
it could very well be nostalgia talking, or perhaps even that of familiarity, but somehow today's me too carbon fibre frames and somehow generic componentry seem less likely to elicit the same degree of passion. the opportunity to mull over this possible state of affairs came while reading an article in, yet again, bicycling magazine, regarding the modern incarnation of campagnolo. oft criticised for remaining steadfast in their italian homeland, rather than outsourcing to the far east, it seems the manufacturing world's opinion has had a sea change, recognising that quality control of a manufacturing process estranged from head office may not be all it's cracked up to be. just ask boeing about their dreamliner.
italian tradesmen receive an annual wage that is several times that of their counterparts in taiwan, meaning that vicenza is very hard pressed to equal the economics enjoyed by their competitors. yet, despite the obviousness of the numbers, campagnolo has continued to remain faithful to its italian craftsmen. when it did decide to outsource, it was simply a few hundred miles further north into the european continent. romania to be precise. this situation remains the case because campagnolo have a passion for their business and their own individual place within that business. that is not to deny that the folks at shimano and sram do not enjoy a similar passion, but at the risk of appearing grossly prejudiced, it seems to sit better on the shoulders of vicenza.
however, my point is not to solely confer favour upon campagnolo, but more to wonder whether those finding themselves more recently grasped by cycling, can ever experience the same level of passion that a red bike on the front of bicycling magazine onced elicited? a satisfactory answer would be yes, an answer that could very well be true, but my rose-tinted glasses seem to recall a period in cycling history, not far removed from the present, when things were in less flux than is the current state of play.
at one point it seemed possible to purchase a road bike and allied componentry with no forethought whatsoever for the need to consider upgrades unless something broke or wore out. magazines, websites, e-mails and mailshots constantly attack our passion by offering to feed it. so many are the variations, upgrades, enhancements, that it's often hard to concentrate on the essentials of one's obsession, if you will allow me to descend to the lesser of the two virtues. i am not arguing against any of the above, for it is very much a case of each to his/her own; there is little more pleasurable than opening new stuff that will soon enhance either your honed athlete status, or that of the cutting edge velocipede. but it's just as viable to gain the same pleasure from looking at some old black and whites of gino bartali, fausto coppi or jacques anquetil.
passion is as passion does.
posted tuesday 6 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................