the word jacket has its origins from the french jacquet originally referring to a small, lightweight tunic. though its pronunciation was probably at variance with the more common english/american phonetic variation, of late its definition has become very much at variance with that originally propounded in the middle ages. it is not so very long since the bbc regaled us with frozen planet, a series depicting life at both north and southern poles, brought to life not only by camera crews willing to go the extra (frozen) mile, but by the voiceover abilities and presence of david attenborough.
those direct to camera pieces were, to keep entirely in character and ambience, filmed in situ midst glaciers and lots of snow. having been regularly informed as to the disturbingly low temperatures experienced at such extreme locations, it was little surprise to see the esteemed mr attenborough all but smothered in a substantial red thermal jacket. from its fur-lined hood to its drawstringed hem in close proximity to his knees. it did not espouse the qualities or ergonomics that would have made it suitable for cycling.
but then opportunities for cycling are somewhat minimal that far north of hudson's bay.
and it's at this point, despite the word's origins as a minimal french tunic, the dawning realisation that one man's jacket is another man's overcoat begins to arise. thus, when the world's cycle apparel providers describe one of their garments as a jacket, there are several kilometres of variation to be taken into account. witness the review provided just prior to new year, of a breathable, waterproof jacket by lord carlos of mercian; that's likely what most of us would identify as concomitant with the noun. however, as we remove ourselves closer to the more competitive end of the market, it is noticeable that many of those worthy of the appellation bear closer resemblance to that of a more substantial jersey, often with properties previously unassociated with such a garment.
rapha's pro team jacket inhabits just such a world.
in fact, if we take rapha at their word, their website describes this very item as 'a protective softshell outer layer with the comfort of a jersey', thus pre-empting my considered introduction. however, bearing in mind the season in which we are closeted, the operative part of the phrase here is outer layer. surely nobody in the northern hemisphere at present is occupying those training kilometres clad solely in a stylish, yet less than effective long-sleeve jersey? the weather is rarely that considerate.
the pro team jacket hides its versatility and subtle attributes perhaps all too well. a well-developed sense of memory will recall rapha releasing the original offerings of their forcats de la route range, eschewing all but the essentials in order to satisfy the minimal requirements of the dedicated racer. in an article in the current issue of procycling, team sky's physiotherapist is quoted as saying "comfort isn't really a factor. we pay them too much for comfort to be as important as speed", an ideal perhaps at the core of the forcats de la route mentality.
this is hardly to suggest that the rapha range is bereft of the simple comforts of life in the fast lane, quite the contrary in fact, but as that fast lane demands speed sometimes at the expense of bicycle comfort, it is the job of the pro team clothing to mediate between the two. up till now, the options have been a short sleeve jersey and a matching pair of shorts with an in your face white logo on the leg. i find it hard to consider that even those of a grand character building constitution are still riding in shorts, but it is likely that their demands have reached as far as the upper torso. just where that pro team jacket steps into the fray.
the website continues: (it) offers insulation, breathability and windproofing in a lightweight and streamilned design. in a change from the norm, where waterproofs arrive for review but the rain doesn't, or short sleeves are delivered midst gale force rain, serendipity smiled upon this current situation: serious drizzle, sub-zero windchill and a breeze that could best be described as 'challenging'. though rapha make it perfectly plain that the pro team jacket is without specific waterproofing qualities, it's possible they have erred on the side of caution. at any rate, each ride into the maelstrom was accompanied by a safety net rainjacket in the centre rear pocket.
though i perhaps digress to tease, while we're at this point, those pockets are worthy of your consideration. the jacket's outer fabric is constituted of polartec softshell material up front (which is where some of its waterproofing qualities are purveyed), while the rear is good old super roubaix, a fabric without which cycling would be a far less practical activity. it's a material that embodies an uncanny degree of stretch, making it a less than gymnastic experience to fit enormous quantities of rainjacket, digital camera and several slices of mrs washingmachinepost's christmas cake to accompany the inevitable froth at debbie's.
i have heard little by way of disparagement against rapha's excellent fit. if i had to nail one aspect of the perren street range of clothing, it would be their all but impeccable fit; certainly across the numerous garments i have had the luxury of reviewing. in this particular case, however, it is necessary to adjust one's perspective; we are in the world of race-fit not an aspect regularly associated with rapha. thus pulling on a medium sized pro team jacket brings a few collywobbles that one may not, after all, have the athletic physique one had always promised oneself. however, 'tis but a momentary lapse on realising that the jacket is designed to reside in the world of on-the-bike streamlining, thus explaining that glimpse of hem from the jersey below. clambering into sprint mode dispels any misgivings.
those weatherproof front panels are joined off-centre by a full-length zip and a commendably high collar. though tactility will find it hard to disguise the outer coating, it is still softshell soft, fleece-lined with superbly judged length in the arms, the left bearing the trademark white or black hoop, depending on your choice of colour. and here again, there is room for discussion and disagreement.
up till now sales of the pro team jacket have resided predominantly in the chartreuse camp, the alternative to more regular rapha black. perhaps this is not surprising to some, and i will readily admit that this was the colour i had originally requested, but more because brighter colours tend to show better in the photographs. it is once again necessary to quote from the relevant pro team page on rapha's website: 'studies have found that the rods in the retina the part of the eye that work best in low light are particularly receptive to the yellow/green colour. as a result, chartreuse is increasingly used around the world for emergency vehicles.'
it may be hard to argue with correctly interpreted studies, particularly when they concern our safety as cyclists in the midst of this motorised world. however, with no disrespect to those responsible for the quoted study, nor to rapha for employing the results, who amongst us has ambition to resemble an emergency vehicle? couple that with the knowledge that chartreuse is not a million miles away from the colour of tennis balls, and that black version starts to look so much more attractive. as of this particular time of writing, the black is in plentiful supply; tell them i sent you.
i have become remarkably adept at impersonating one who wears pro team clothing as if from the professional ranks. askance glares amongst islay's livestock are all but missing in action, leading me to believe i may just have got away with it. through the less than clement weather inhabiting the isle at this particular time, this jacket was little less than a godsend. it kept the windchill at bay with panache, refrained sturdily from causing overheating, despite being prodded heartily in that direction and refused point blank to get soggy. on returning from several hours in the gray, i was hit by heavy drizzle; in the manner of one well aware of one's responsibility to an appreciative yet discriminating readership, i made no attempt to reach for that rear pocketed rainjacket, simply grinning and bearing the effects of that consistent wetness.
in one of those don't try this at home moments, it cheers me to say that the underpinning merino jersey was bone dry on reaching thewashingmachinepost bike shed. this is not just a jacket that you want, it is one that you quite probably need. and to appear more gritty in any ben ingham photograph in which you may inadvertantly appear, i'd bypass the chartreuse and head straight for the black.
posted monday 9 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
we have quite a large sitting room by modern standards, or at least it would be had we not filled it with some questionable items of furniture, a couple of leather sofas and the early learning centre paraphernalia that goes with being married to a childminder. do not misunderstand, i find none of this distasteful in any way, shape or form, though it is an occasional irritation to hear winnie the pooh invite us to read a story while watching a particularly poignant scene in tom hanks' philadelphia. a feature not a bug.
however, were we to take partial leave of our senses and remove every last item of furniture and televisual entertainment, there would still be insufficient space to host a cricket pitch, a ten pin bowling alley or a wimbledon tennis court. and unless you are ensconced in one of your nation's stately homes, i figure the same goes for most of us. bearing this in mind, it is perhaps not too hard to see the attraction of games consoles such as nintendo's wii. despite continually wondering why on earth it was bestowed with such a bizarre name in the first place, its continued development has encouraged more and more couch potatoes to acquire one, bundled with electronic activities, in the quest for increased physical activity without the inevitable hassle and faff that goes along with gym membership or any alternative form of outdoor exercise.
so, should you wish to bowl a googly (whatever that actually means), serve a volley or knock every skittle into pixelated oblivion with a single virtual bowl, this can be accomplished with sufficient sporting application and without invalidating your building insurance. in the rush, however, to be all things to all those of lethargic disposition, certain iniquities have escaped the critical faculties of common sense, to wit, the game of darts.
in order to be sure of my ground at this point, i undertook extensive journalistic research by looking up a couple of items on amazon. for a measly £14.89 it is possible to order yourself a perfectly good dartboard complete with a set of darts with which to pepper the surrounding walls with unsightly holes. or you could go the whole hog and purchase a nintendo wii for the princely sum of £115 plus a further £28 for software providing a game of darts (holes in the furniture may be extra). all this in the name of family fun and frolics without so much as setting foot over the threshold.
but darts on a computer screen?
an article in the guardian newspaper pre-christmas, the government were being exorted to add copious amounts of vitamin d into the food and drink of those of us living north of the border; the scots, to be quite blunt. apparently due to a distinct lack of light of any flavour, let alone sunlight, residents of scotland have the lowest uptake of natural vitamin d in europe, if not the world. don't be mislead, there is vitamin d to be had, but the depressingly grey, wet and windy days that form an endless string of winter weeks, coupled with minimal hours of daylight mean that few of us are keen to explore the great outdoors. when i say 'us', i am of course excepting the cycling obsessives, who have already lapped up every festive kilometre rapha had to offer, and are now intent on nabbing several hundred more despite those perennial winter blues.
a lack of vitamin d has great bearing on the incidence of multiple sclerosis, a not especially enjoyable disease for which there is no known cure. so while i have just spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours surveying the estates in the company of lord carlos of mercian through thick drizzle and grossly overcast skies, i have not only added to my exercise quotient (that headwind down the strand was most character building), but managed to mop up any odd pockets of vitamin d that may have been there for the taking.
so might it be that the current advertised social craze for offloading every calorie of exercise to some form of remote control or motion sensor ought to be given serious consideration? not because i figure it to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but for exactly the opposite reason. that serious consideration ought to rationally lead the potential exercisee to something featuring two wheels. christmas has long been seen as the ideal time of year to give children the present of a bicycle; uk weather does rather mitigate against those bicycles being used unhindered during subsequent weeks, but perhaps the idea of cycles as appropriate christmas presents could be extended to those of more mature years, those for whom a smidgeon of rain or wind ought not to be seen as a major deterrent to getting out and about.
i am of course, preaching to the converted; we all have several bicycles ready and waiting to reduce that vitamin d deficiency. but we are the ones with the power to proselytise to the acolytes of wii, sitting at the dining table with rosy cheeks and honed physiques that do not require an increase in waist size come the new year sales. even riding one mile from the bikeshed and back again, will serve as the basis for a cycling future that, in most cases, ought to increase along with the daylight hours. capitalise on the fashion for making rash new year's resolutions to get fit using a method that comfortably doubles as a means of transport. riding to and from work adds a level of pragmatism to an ideal exercise regime.
while i am most reluctant to even consider recommending one of those £49.99 bicycle shaped objects, if that's what it takes to get bums on saddles, then so be it. long has the mystery existed as to why it is socially acceptable to spend up to five figures on a totally unnecessary four-wheel drive vehicle, yet blood has been seen to drain from faces upon my expounding the cost of the steel and carbon in thewashingmachinepost bike shed. there's nowt so queer as folk.
pixels have their place in the firmament, but as a medium for physical exercise, they are out of their 16-bit depth.
posted sunday 8 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in october of last year, roadcycling uk's richard hallett penned a piece for the site informing readers on 'how to beat a headwind'. though taking the form of an article that erred ever so slightly on the trivial side of instruction, it filled several thousand pixels at least and provided the occasional nugget of tactical wisdom. were this article to have been written by anyone other than mr hallett, i fear i would have been inclined to sneer unbearably, for which indigenous resident of the great metropolis could have the faintest idea as to the true nature of gales, storms and hurricanes even when knuckled down on the drops into a headwind?
as a frequenter of twitter, i was recently somewhat aghast to read a tweet in which apologies were made for a degree of tardiness in training, but a 15mph headwind had put paid to higher speeds. i was moved to point out that 15mph did not constitute a headwind by any manner of means, a reply that doubtless did little to endear me to the original tweeter. there is surely little worse than a blase scotsman with a twitter account.
however, to return to the aforementioned mr hallett. several years ago, the annual braveheart ride traditionally taking place in kilmarnock met with a severe bout of inclement weather consisting of both precipitation and gale-force winds. braveheart offers two distinct routes; one of twenty miles and one of forty two, and in this case, the organisers recommended that all riders adhere to the shorter of the two, since the lengthier version incorporated a stretch across exposed moorland and the worry was that harm could come to any rider foolish enough to choose that option.
oft-times, instructions such as the above are taken as a challenge by those with a grander appreciation of their riding abilities than is perhaps judicious. true to form, several riders decided to follow the longer excursion. i know you'll figure i would have been one of the above, but feeling i had little to prove, twenty very wet and very windy miles were sufficient for me. richard hallett, also a rider with nothing to prove found himself inadvertantly on the longer course having simply followed the wheel in front. i have therefore every faith that when richard scribes words regarding the act of riding into the wind, he is doing so from experience.
however, as you would know had you spent any time on this rock in the atlantic, there's wind and there's wind. and despite many too many hours spent battling an atlantic headwind, there is still plenty of room for unabashed idiocy from those who really ought to know better. for while the roadcycling uk article dealt most specifically with entertaining a headwind, those are generally the least of your worries. a bit like playing a medley of status quo tunes, it is basically a case of hanging on for grim death till it all ends and becomes a tailwind. which it is bound to do at some time or another.
the scary bits are the crosswinds, for those are no respecters of the finely honed athlete with a keenly developed physique. though the likes of chris hoy could most likely fight a headwind more successfully than i, tis but a simple case of ploughing on inexorably until light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. a crosswind doesn't care about knighthoods and gold medals; it would cheerfully blow either of us off the road (though chris does have the slight advantage of greater bulk.)
to the western side of islay is a patch of water known as loch gorm, whose western shores are but a few hundred metres from the atlantic coast, a distance divided by a singletrack road. next stop to the west is the eastern seaboard of canada and it is perhaps not too hard to picture the total lack of shelter that comes with the territory. (plans are currently afoot to site a large offshore windfarm facing this part of the island.) in the process of attempting to add to my daily kilometreage, i was foolish enough to take this route on the road to redemption, a choice that led to my being hit hard sideways by an atlantic squall speeding in the region of 85kph. not unsurprisingly, this pushed me unceremoniously from one side of the road to the other in mere seconds, and had i not managed to unclip my left foot, i'd have been in a rather uninviting ditch. exactly the same fate befell me only a few kilometres further round the loch, this time at the entrance to kilchoman distillery where i had to seek minimal shelter behind a stone wall for ten minutes or so, unable to progress in any direction.
i was asked a few years ago, by a german cyclo-tourist, if i ever ventured out on the bike on windy days, to which i genuinely replied that were i not to do so i would need to seek an alternative form of exercise. such practised skill, however, should not be taken as a guarantee of being bullet-proof, a conceit that i willingly admit almost gave serious cause for concern in the course of trammelling the festive 500.
so while i truly have few, if any, qualms regarding richard hallett's authorship of a light-hearted article on the vicissitudes of a headwind when related to cycling, i freely offer my considerable foolhardiness in the face of adversity should roadcycling uk ever wish to fill a few more pixels on the subject.
wasn't it steve jobs who said "here's to the crazy ones."?
on tuesday january 3rd, islay was hit by hurricane force winds, registering a maximum gust of 96mph, but by common consent often reaching speeds in excess of this number. my illustrations along with this article depict some of the collateral damage incurred.
posted saturday 7 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there are many aspects of contemporary cycling that require to be taken into consideration, though most will pass all but unnoticed by those who spend every spare minute aboard their bicycle(s). in summer months (whatever those are), most are simply taken for granted; the great outdoors, a warm breeze, blue skies and verdant pastures often tempt the wintertime naysayers; even members of the civilian population. almost like those who have recently given up smoking or drinking, the advocacy for climbing aboard a bicycle to get to and from work, the coffee shop or simply the unbridled joy of pedalling nowhere in particular, the nouveau cyclist will find it hard to contain their joie de vivre.
those of us with our noses buried inside the pages of procycling or rouleur until the next issue comes along, with several kilograms of cycling apparel fighting for wardrobe space and a mini-pump permanently lying atop the microwave in the kitchen are amongst the hardened many. the summertime arrives as a blessed relief from the character building battering we've been receiving throughout the other three seasons, but it is simply one more link in the chain that makes up another year's cycling pleasure.
hopefully we are at least partially acquainted with the need for regular fettling of whichever cycles form part of the regular complement, or have the savvy to leave them frequently in the hands of those better equipped. if carrying stuff is a partial necessity, care will have been taken to own appropriate luggage capacity, luggage that will not fare badly during inclement weather and is likely to last more than one season. it will also be of an aesthetic that creates a gestalt; why would anyone want that bar bag to look like an incoherent appendage?
so the bicycle is taken care of, and with the wide variety of quality cycle clothing available, there is really no excuse to become overheated, uncomfortable or soaking wet, no matter the weather conditions. add to that, if you'd prefer not to look like a member of the liquigas team while supping the froth from a cappuccino, there's plenty of options in that direction too. as many have been quoted as saying there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choice. (on a side note, after the past two week's cycling, i'd take issue with the contention that there's no such thing as bad weather.)
but as all this amateur professionalism rolls along unabated, many of us have eyes firmly fixed on those jerseys and outer shells. it's not an unusual fixation to have; bragging rights and style points are adjudged on that which flashes by on uiskentuie strand, or grovels up bowmore main street. on what else would you base aesthetic appreciation? however, if we accept the common notion that layering is the way to ultimate happiness, something needs to be at the base of the pyramid and not unnaturally, that item is referred to as the baselayer.
aren't words wonderful?
i cycled for several years with a colleague, well-versed in the ways of the peloton, who insisted on wearing a cotton t-shirt as his baselayer. qualms with such a garment are hard to justify when standing stock still in the bikeshed, and there may even be redeeming qualities during the moments of bicycle removal. but add any degree of effort or distance into the equation and those qualities evaporate as quickly as perspiration doesn't. that unsung hero of the wardrobe has a job to do; several in fact. warmth is perhaps number one, but we could likely agree that the cotton t-shirt has that well-covered; number two would undoubtedly be the ability to absorb more perspiration than should be mentioned in polite company while affecting not to be affected. thirdly, it would be a neat coup if that perspiration could be 'pushed' outwards to those more sartorial layers to evaporate in the slipstream.
fabrics that accomplish the above are many, several developed by scientific study, one or two simply the endemic properties of natural fibres. merino wool springs to mind. it would also be particularly welcomed by those required to exist in close proximity to the pedallist in their lives, that a degree of odour prevention might form an intrinsic part of the package.
the aptly named velobici ride 't' flatters to deceive in the sense that it is truly a t-shirt should you wish to wear it as such - and come those mythical summer months, i might just do exactly that - but is happy to double as an appropriately conditioned baselayer. constructed from a substance referred to as supplex lycra, it stretches, wears well and has admirable wicking properties, the push to which i referred above. for those of us with leanings towards the more natural fibres end of the spectrum, the combination of dupont engineered supplex nylon and lycra may concern by its oil-based extraction, but from a visible and tactile point of view, you'd be hard pushed to distinguish it from cotton.
the ride 't' sports a dropped hem to cossett that back from inadvertant exposure to the elements, and the fit can be described in no other manner than 'close', an adjective it wears with pride. it may also be prudent to check size before ordering; i more often than not find my upper torso to inhabit the world of 'medium', yet the item reviewed states 'large' on the label. i don't mind admitting that at this size, the fit was damn near perfect.
velobici is not a name you're likely to find associated with the professional peleton; their apparel bears cycling front and centre, but from a more relaxed perspective. however, the ride 't' loses nothing from this, fulfilling all the functions that any professional or amateur would find it judicious to demand. even when wet, through perspiration or ingress of precipitation, not only did the ride 't' never feel clammy, it didn't feel wet at all. though no specific claims have been made for its resistance to acquiring inordinate and ant-social aromas, even after two days' worth of hard physical exertion, i failed to determine that which would have people moving to an alternative table at debbie's. all boxes would appear to have been ticked.
it's a bit of a shame that the ride 't' is one of those garments that will rarely be seen (at this time of year at least) by anyone other than mrs washingmachinepost and myself. how i long for the day that likes to be called 'summer'.
the velobici ride 't' is available in grey melange only, in sizes small, medium, large and extra large. as a lifelong medium, it was a bit of a surprise to find myself wearing a large that fitted superbly. according to velobici's size chart, the large is designed to fit a 98-102cm chest, meaning i ought to be at the low end of these measurements. it's by no means a criticism, simply a statement of fact. regular cost of the garment is an appealing £48, but at the time of writing, velobici are offering it for an even more appealing £33.60 ($52.10). jump at the chance.
posted friday 6 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i've never been much good at becoming a member of anything at all. even at secondary school when the attractions of the debating society seemed geared towards fomenting some necessary skills in the teenage me, i refrained from participating because i'd have to declare, however, subtly, that i had joined something. from afar, the conditions of membership always seemed too onerous, despite my never having joined anything to find out if this were indeed true. none of my reticence was due to groucho marx's maxim 'i'd never join a club that would have me as a member'; i simply never thought of myself as someone that fitted the description of a likely recruit.
thus, though i have often related those youthful, yet quizzical looks cast in the direction of lycra'd riders on the ayr bypass, had i been aware of the club infrastructure to which they belonged, i'm almost certain i'd have shied away from pursuing the matter further.
joining such an edifice as a cycling club would cut across two regions of personal distaste which pretty much survive to this day. firstly, the lack of a desire to be a member of anything in the first place, and secondly the likelihood of becoming embroiled in that work of the devil: competitive events.
the latter i have nothing against in the empirical sense; i like watching competitive cycling as much as the next member of the pelotonese, i'd simply prefer not to have a number pinned to one of my rear pockets. having reluctantly joined the local tennis club in my early teens, this aspect of club life quickly turned around to bite me on the backside. when summer holidays were long and summer-like, all those days of innocence required to be filled with some sort of physical activity, particularly one that involved a reasonable percentage of my peer group. it seems that, at the time, tennis was the activity of collective choice.
a junior membership of said club bestowed upon the cardholder a discount on court hire and notional preference of access, should any particular day prove to be popular with the masses, so it was hard to argue with my parents' contention that i should join. however, only a matter of days after taking possession of my green piece of card, signed by the club president and secretary, i found my name typed on an official event form pinned inside the club noticeboard. this advertised to all and sundry that i was to play against another, far more skilled in the art of tennis, in the opening round of the annual club championship.
as one with no real grasp of a racket, let alone the official rules of the game, i had little intention of prostrating my inadequate skills in front of even a modest audience. nor was i that keen to have my ass whupped by someone several years older and several inches taller. even though i doubt it was ever classed as an official withdrawal, i simply did not turn up for the match and effectively resigned my membership, economic benefits and all.
i do not believe that i have joined a proper club since.
until today, that is. arriving in a small white envelope from switzerland, i received a stylishly produced plastic card with my name, country of residence and membership code from cervo rosso, officially enrolling me as a member of the quality clothing brand's test team. i have previously devoted a number of pixels to the benefits proffered to those who wish to avail themselves of just such a cervo rosso test team membership. simply purchase one of the team bundles via the cervo rosso website and, aside from receiving some of the finest cycle clothing on the market today, the fringe benefits are not necessarily to be ignored. the most immediate benefit is the opportunity to receive a 25% discount on all items sold via the cervo rosso website, perhaps worth the price of admission alone.
however, a cycling club would surely not be worthy of the name were there not an abundance of cycling involved. here, the cervo rosso test team smiles brightly on its members, inviting them to all international events that form a part of the test team calendar. despite my misgivings over any form of club membership, i have yet to find the catch that will strengthen my long-held beliefs. for even supposing you purchase the membership bundle and partake of nothing more, you'd still have the clothing that you wanted and a healthy discount should you wish to augment your wardrobe.
but suppose you could gain access to the online discount and invitation to those international events without that initial purchase? (though you could still purchase a test team bundle if you wished).
cervo rosso have generously provided three test team memberships to be won in this remarkably simple competition, the answer to which can be found on the cervo rosso website. simply e-mail the answer to firstname.lastname@example.org including your name and postal address, and the first three correct answers out the cervo rosso musette will each win one of the prizes on offer. closing date is thursday 12th january.
the all-important question:"what letters and numbers describe the padded insert in the 2012 cervo rosso strada mk2 bibshorts?"
posted thursday 5 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it can be almost refined and then defined as a distinct difference in attitude. view the nefarious early season photos from either team training camps or indeed, races, and you will almost always come across a polite line of immaculately prepared bicycles leaning innocently against a liveried team bus. aside from any national champions in the team, each will inhabit the same gleaming paint scheme, bar tape, tyres and componentry, ready and willing for each similarly attired team rider to recognise his/her race number and head to the sign on.
flick through the pages of such as singletrack magazine or the more luxurious privateer and those full-suspension mountain bikes are more likely to be lying unceremoniously on the ground. if any of them have been washed, it's likely to have been a couple of weeks earlier and the paint scheme will probably exhibit the occasional chip through to the aluminium. though one should not criticise the ride apparel of others (since to civilians, we both look ridiculous), but the word 'team' is probably one that you would not associate with the scene before you. and while professional mountain bikers are rarely overweight - it's a hard sport too - emulation of stick-insect road professionals is not one of their attributes.
it's a difference in attitude.
though i admire the so-called purity and simplicity of the average carbon road-bike, my admiration of a full-suspension farm gate is somewhat grudging at best. they are quite 'muscular' however, and it would be difficult to ignore their fitness for purpose. i just wouldn't want to push one of them uphill, let alone attempt to ride it there.
examined in isolation, the notion of a couple of hundred guys on slivers of carbon fibre, riding a few hundred kilometres from point a to point b, or even from point a to point a could be seen as a tad pointless, particularly since little often happens until the last dozen or so of those kilometres. the same pointlessness could be levelled at the guys plastered in body armour throwing themselves down the steepest and rockiest of mountain sides in order to see who gets there first. there are other modes of mountain biking, such as riding singletrack: seemingly far more civilised and less fraught with danger than the mountain side hurling variety. road and off-road are hardly mutually exclusive pursuits; cyclocross is perhaps the bridge between the two: road-style bikes on more of a manicured surface, yet still offroad.
however, not all professional adherents of the singletrack and mountain hurling genres have finish-line victory in mind. many are paid by bicycle companies, clothing manufacturers and component suppliers to simply ride their bikes in public view, doing their very best to break them into little pieces while engaging in a series of dramatic acrobatics on two wheels. to paraphrase mr spock 'it's biking jim, but not as we know it'.
since 2004, a group of north american film-makers have taken it upon themselves to document the gnarlier side of mountain biking in a series of dramatic locations. as digital film-making was the preserve of the obscenely budgeted holywood movie in the earlier part of this decade, their movies were made using 16mm film, marrying pragmatism with the uniqueness of 'real' film. 2004's movie number one was simply entitled 'the collective' followed in 2006 by 'roam', rounded out by 'seasons' in 2008.
since then, they have been remarkably quiet, until late last year when 'the collective anthology' was released, comprising all the aforementioned three movies plus a fourth disc featuring the making of 'seasons', a commentary on the stills photography of sterling lorence and a couple of remix highlight reels of the best action riding from all three films. the full package arrives in an appropriately embellished tin, matched with a book of some of lorence's finest images and, for a short time, a copy of the 'seasons' dvd on blu-ray.
as a confirmed roadie (everyone has to make choices), thewashingmachinepost rarely concerns itself with the world of knobbly-tyres; far too many do it so much better and with more personal involvement. i have not owned a mountain bike since the early nineties and have no intention of altering that state of affairs. however, despite my misgivings over the acrobatic nature of much of the collective's capture, it's hard not to admire the skill and ferocity with which the riders approach the scariest of cliff drop-offs or similarly frightening, man-made north-shore tracks through the forest.
while watching the forest for the tree documentary on disc four, the lengths to which the film-makers go, and the attention to detail involved is quite exceptional. yet watch the first three discs and it is all but invisible to the naked eye. i also think it instructional to watch these chaps practice their art, despite little, if any, similarity with those of us on skinny tyres. any crossover that can be absorbed might look well to our going. i have at sometime commented on the handling skills of roadies who easily jump kerbs and road furniture in the classics and tours, but their attempts are but those of the amateur in comparison to the guys on springy farm gates.
and every once in a while, i wish i would take it upon myself to go out on the cielo, colnago or hakkalugi wearing baggy jeans and a shirt large enough to wear a rapha backpack underneath, feet shod in a pair of vans or something similar. just to show that it's only a conservative upbringing and tyre width that prevents my being a gnarly dude. whatever you think of 360 degree backflips, this is a thoroughly entertaining package no matter your wheel diameter.
the very best bit, however, is the price: all four dvds, the possibility of a blu-ray fifth, a book of photographs and free download of tracks from the soundtrack for a measly £27.47 ($46.95) plus postage. orders can be placed via the collective store.
posted wednesday 4 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have long excluded myself from the live musical equation by pointing out that, as a drummer, i can only be out of time, but not out of tune. simplistically, this is indeed correct, but it precludes the antics of the earnest percussionist from any melodic music-making that might be taking place. other than the enormous drumset employed by terry bozzio, i am aware that drums are generally regarded as unpitched instruments, but this does not necessarily mean that they cannot partake of melodic accompaniment in one way or another.
should you be predisposed to the art of drumming, you can search the method books in vain for any mention of tone or timbre and how one may incorporate either into one's percussive meanderings. from day one, and i speak from personal experience as both pupil and teacher, the would-be drummer is taught (or should be) the twenty-six prescribed rudiments. think of them as scales for drums. basically these are all technical variations on single and double strokes and combinations thereof. starting slowly and building up speed over a seemingly infinite period of time will eventually produce accomplished control over how and where those sticks fall on the drums and cymbals. once reasonable facility has been acquired, it's time to marry that to co-ordination between all four limbs, usually the part where the house of cards starts to fall in on itself.
grab hold of any method book or instruction dvd, and you are likely to find progressively more technical exercises, placing more and more notes into the phrases expected of the drumming acolyte. strangely, there often seems little concern with conjoining this technical ability with any relevant music to which it may be applied. there is little doubt that having the ability to define polyrhythmic patterns at the drop of the hat is something of which to be proud, but in my experience it rarely endears you to your fellow musicians, who would likely be more than happy with a basic 4/4 beat interspersed by the occasional cymbal crash.
i have taught drumming for many a long year and have gone along with the accepted norm: long roll, double stroke roll, five, seven and nine stroke rolls, single double and triple paradiddles and so on, yet have scarcely seen fit to describe any real word situation where those may be used to great effect. pipe band and american corps drumming notwithstanding, most popular music simply requires the drummer to keep a beat. i have never forgotten the advice imparted to king crimson drummer bill bruford, by erstwhile crimson percussionist jamie muir; "think not that the music exists to serve you, but that you exist to serve the music". it has taken me far too many years to fully understand the implications of that advice.
as we headed off on holiday in late november last year, i purchased the album raising sand by zeppelin frontman robert plant, and country diva alison krauss. the drumming on this particular recording is the preserve of jay bellerose who manages to accompany every song in a different percussive manner but in so doing, has all but evolved a new percussive language. you'd almost be forgiven for not noticing his contributions, for unlike the bulk of modern drumming, they do not separate themselves from the melodic intent. very much liking what i heard, i searched out other examples of his playing: joe henry, ray lamontagne, sam philips, ramblin' jack elliot to name but a few, and his non-style is consistent throughout.
the man has almost re-invented drumming.
so what do you do if you're mavic and you've decided not to rest on your wheel, rim, shoes and clothing laurels and expand your offerings to include helmets? do you take a long, hard look at the competition, see what the general trend is, then leap aboard with both feet and join the happy throng? do you continue to play paradiddles, ratamacues and flams or do you become the jay bellerose of the helmet world, all but ignoring current thinking based on dialectic progression over the last twenty or so years, and starting from scratch? it appears that mavic may well have opted for the latter.
three helmets are being offered as mavic's initial foray into an already well-supplied market: the plasma slr (reviewed), the plasma and the syncro. it isn't technically difficult to produce a good helmet; the technology has been around for quite some time, and at worst there was nothing to prevent mavic from sub-contracting an existing helmet manufacturer to produce something on their behalf. however, you win few plaudits and awards for excellence via this route, so mavic's annecy design centre spent three years of research and development along with 'an ergonomical study based on 25,000 head shapes'. if you're like me, you'd expect them to say that anyway; that's how marketing departments earn their crust.
mavic very kindly sent their top of the range plasma slr helmet for review, in the yellow and black colour option. there is nothing that says mavic quite so well as that bright yellow. similar to every other helmet on the market, the vented shell is of expanded polystyrene construction, topped with a hardshell outer to retain integrity should you crash. there is a modicum of carbon fibre reinforcement allowing those vents to be of generous size without compromising the helmet's strength. size options for the uk market are small, medium and large; the helmet in my possession states 52-59cm and comfortably fits atop a winter cap without squeezing what little contents my skull has managed to hang onto. mavic's ergo-hold retention system consists of an inner nylon skeleton culminating at a large adjustable yellow wheel at the back of the helmet to allow for minute fitting adjustment.
that marketing hype averred to above is not some vaccuous copy tacked onto some glossy pictures of the plasma; the fit of this helmet is, in my humble opinion, second to none. i have worn it with no cap (though rarely in this weather) with a regular richard sachs monikered cap and with two variations of rapha winter cap. in every case it has been a simple matter of tensioning or loosening that yellow wheel to provide an exemplary fit.
while being stupid last week and getting myself well and truly caught in 80kph + crosswinds, the helmet moved not one smidgeon, and given the conditions in which i found myself, i had the utmost confidence that if falling over miles from anywhere, i would at least retain what little sense i had left. the plasma is by no means the lightest head covering on the market (it's a good 100g heavier than the recently reviewed giro aeon, but in all honesty those grams are only noticeable when lifting the helmet out of its accompanying vented bag. when worn, the weight is far from oppressive or, in fact, noticeable.
the internal padding (ergo-fit pro-pad with x-static) cushions the forward part of the head on every spar between the vents. there is little point in producing a helmet of strength and beauty if it is not comfortable to wear.
the rear vents encasing the all-important rear portion of the head, eschew that shiny yellow covering in favour of a matt black finish. if there were a wish list along with the plasma, i'd be inclined to hope for yellow on that portion too; i just think it would look better. that, however, is a wish of superficial aesthetics and not something that ultimately has any bearing on the plasma's functionality. december is not hoted for its unbearable heat, so i cannot vouch for the air conditioning efficacy of those myriad vents, but it would be hard to argue with that which they promise.
it was never that likely that a company of mavic's reputation was going to hit the ground in any other mode but running. too much professional reputation was at stake. i figure they've exceeded any reasonable expectations. it's still a helmet in the accepted sense of the genre, but those years examining 25,000 heads have been well worth the effort. that it inhabits the more stylish end of the spectrum is unlikely to harm sales either.
it's just a pity i can't see that yellow when i'm wearing it.
the plasma slr helmet costs around £150 is available in small, medium and large and in either all black or yellow and black.
posted tuesday 3 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................