black gold and the amber nectar

whisky parts fork leg

islay has, by general reckoning, the highest number of malt whisky distilleries per capita in the world. there are around 3,500 folks living on this rock in the atlantic, equating to just over 400 per distillery. of course, the next island heading north rather beats that into a cycle helmet: jura has a resident population of under 200, knocking the former ratio sideways. however, for the purposes of statistical analysis, we tend to lump both islands together and present a united front to the world. it's still pretty impressive huh?

the principles behind making single malt scotch whisky (known as such, because it is the product of a single distillery) have changed not one whit for over 500 years and as such it is a constant source of wonder as to why the same faces appear year on year during the islands' annual whisky festival at the end of may. all nine are comfortably setup to accept a constant stream of pilgrims, with appropriately fashioned visitor centres, labelled clothing, sample drams and numerous other trappings that form a part of the whole experience. in fact, i currently find myself in the final stages of designing the 2012 distillery tour time leaflets, a printed publication that, with a bit of lateral negotiation, will inform the naive as to whether it is possible to take in the morning tour at lagavulin and still make it all the way north and catch the afternoon manager's tour at bunnahabhain.

whisky parts nahbs

unfortunately for the purposes of many, it gives no phonetic indications as to how one might go about pronouncing the names of the more unpronouncable.

come whisky festival time (more correctly referred to as the festival of malt and music) islay's population dramatically increases with an influx of nationalities intent on joining the so-called special tours put on for the occasion. these will most commonly include the occasional anecdote and certainly the impression that the drams up for consumption along the way are not the more common variety that would regularly be doled out at the end of the regular tours. commerciality hs cottoned on reasonably quickly, and unique labelled bottlings can be had for a princely sum ostensibly only during festival week.

what i cannot figure out is just why anyone would wish to travel so far each year to be shown round a distillery that not only looks exactly as it has done for many a long year, (certainly pretty much as last year) but makes whisky in the same fashion that has been the case for many of those previously mentioned 500 years. this quandary has often been answered by those within shouting distance, to wit: "you'd do the same thing if it were the colnago factory". up to a point, that's perfectly true, but i'm reasonably adamant that this is not a pilgrimage i would be inclined to make on an annual basis, even supposing ernesto would be willing to entertain.

whisky parts handlebars

however, no matter my views of what i'd consider somewhat errant behaviour, this need so to do does no harm whatsoever to the local economy, and it therefore ill behoves me to protest too loudly. and irrespective whether the thousands traipsing round each of the nine distilleries can correctly pronounce the names of each instance of uisge-beatha, the one thing that they are all perfectly well aware of is that single malt whisky is spelt without the oft inserted 'e'. though easily identifiable as the mindset of a confirmed pedant, and i know i am not alone in this, the spelling of the word as whiskey is considered extremely bad form. whiskey refers to irish or bourbon, but most certainly not to scotch.

which is why it was not only a surprise to find a booth at the north american handmade bicycle show labelled whisky parts co. but so far from home on the west coast of america, to find it minus that 'e'. so, perhaps rather unfairly, but understandably, the first question i asked was why they's opted to spell it in that fashion. disappointingly the chap to whom the question was addressed, had apparently no idea. still, no doubt someone does.

whisky parts cattle brand

whisky parts co. do not, you may be relieved to know, have little or no intention of adding a washbacks, still room or bottling plant to their premises. in fact, whisky parts produce rather fine carbon implements to adorn the finest of bicycles, from road and mountain bike forks to handlebars for both disciplines and some rather finely sculpted carbon bottle cages. residing in bloomington, minnesota, their hub of operations is a tad closer to islay than their booth in sacramento.

the quizzical looks however, show little or no sign of subsiding, for beautifully identifiable on the back wall of the nahbs booth was a selection of carbon handlebars, escorted to one side by the pleasantly black and shiny carbon bottle cages. there have even been rumours of seatposts and stems, but take even a swift visit to their website, and you'll find none of the latter. in fact, offers only a selection of forks and some carbon spacers. is this any way to run a business? presently, i believe that these exceptionally fine carbon components are available in only the united states and canada, but i have it on good authority that such distribution will eventually stretch to encompass the entire world.

maybe we could exhibit a few well-chosen pieces at this year's whisky festival? ideally fabricated to complement an ardbeg cycle jersey.

whisky parts

posted monday 12 march 2012.


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a bicycle for rent - synaptic cycles

synaptic rental agreement

though perhaps something of an unexpected admission from one now so involved with bicycles and completely devoid of a personal motor car (i haven't seen my driver's licence for more years than i'd care to admit) to state that i spent a few years working for hertz car rental in my early twenties (put it down to naivety and the need to earn a crust). rental cars are generally abused within an inch of their lives, mostly on the basis that they don't belong to those driving and are thus fair game. add to that the degree of payment required and treating the vehicle as a dump truck and the gearbox as a selection of cutlery, is often seen as a god-given right.

hertz, at the time i was employed by them, replaced everything at around the eighteen months point, so nothing in the car park was ever over two years old and thus less likely to cause mechanical bother while managing to still resemble a desirable object for hire, with shiny paitnwork, relatively few scratches or bumps and a license plate bearing an appropriate level of contemporaneity. with far less demand and a much lower rung on the economic ladder, synaptic rentals bicycle hire is comparable only in that something is being hired to someone who wishes to hire. locally, the cycles available are, at the very least, two years old, though often older. maintenance is somewhat ad hoc; depending on how regularly each bike is hired and how much the hirer is aware of the mechanical intricacies of the bicycle. so far as i'm aware, there is no national cycle hire operation, one that would allow the acquisition of an appropriate velocipede in glasgow (for example) and allowing drop-off in edinburgh.

life's just not like that.

joe bartoe's synaptic cycles is based in dana point, california, somewhere south of los angeles and long beach and prides itself on offering high end cycles to an increasingly eager renting public. though no doubt it is possible to walk in off the street and ask joe for a bike, more commonly, prospective customers call ahead or contact via joe's website to book the cycle of their choice, which joe will then setup as close as possible to any exacting specifications that may be in force. cycles on offer are drawn from calfee's tetra pro replete with enve carbon forks, shimano's ultegra pro and fsa slk-lite compact chainsets which, i hope you'll agree is a more than respectable machine on which to ply all that hard-won souplesse.

joe bartoe

though i could perhaps be seen to write from educated conjecture or, perhaps, from the about us page on the synaptic web page, i feel i can now do far better than that. a few weeks prior to my departure for portland and subsequently sacramento, joe e-mailed to inform that he too was travelling to the state capital to visit the north american handmade bicycle show, principally in support of his friend, illustrator jon grant. as such, he would be bringing a bicycle for himself to go ride on the saturday morning and would be happy to bring an appropriate bicycle for my exclusive use on that very same saturday morn.

this missive came with a request for salient measurements such as saddle height from the ground, from the centre of the bottom bracket, from nose of saddle to centre of the bars, height of bars from the ground, and how far behind the bb centre was the nose of the saddle. though i felt i ought to be able to reel off such figures from memory, in fact the only one that i know unequivocally, is that of saddle top from the bottom bracket. i don't doubt the others are intrinsically necessary, but on the basis that most of the review models passing through washingmachinepost cottage arrive with often limited adjustability, i tend to play it by ear.

tim and tracy

this meant, in effect, that my saturday morning receipt of a white calfee tetra pro from the lobby of the nearby marriot residence inn, was the very same as any of synaptic's customers. it seems almost pointless to mention that the calfee fitted perfectly. all renters, even those like me who were not handing over any dollars or flexible plastic, are required to sign a rental agreement that absolves synaptic from any liabilities that may arise from inadvertant eventualities arising from pilot error. in a society with a reputation for excessive litigious behaviour, this did not seem like an unecessary imposition.

joe drives a solid looking honda 4wd with an industrial-looking bike rack attached to the rear. this was chosen very much for its carbon friendliness, not in the sense of saving the planet, but more for a proclivity to leave carbon bicycle tubes in the manner in which they would like to be left. our saturday morning expedition centred around the miles and miles of riverside cycleway that exists in sacramento, tracks free from vehicular access or interference and which extend to a total of thirty two miles. though my geographical knowledge barely stretched to acknowledging sacramento as the state capital of california, i was also blissfully unaware that johnny cash's folsom prison bordered a portion of this cycle track system.

calfee tetra pro

though it may be tantamount to parochiality to state only in america, the club ride both joe and i were to join started in a way it's hard to imagine would feature anywhere else. joe bartoe's brother, tim, was ride leader for the day and, standing aside his girlfriend tracy, he made a few announcements to all gathered prior to the get go. while the first two concerned the morning's ride and an upcoming event, the third concerned his girlfriend. at this point, he got down on one knee, pulled a box from one of his rear pockets and asked her to be his wife.

only in america.

it would be grossly unfair to attempt provision of a bona-fide review of the calfee based on around 35 miles (out and back) of immaculately surfaced cycle track. for one, sacramento is pretty much pan flat; there's the occasional rise along the way, but nothing that could conceivably be classified as a hill. though slate olson would be unlikely to testify positively in my defence, going uphill is an activity i tend to enjoy; it's just that after thirteen hours of transatlantic flights and twenty three hours of being awake, my anti-gravitational powers in portland the previous weekend were severely diminished. that's not to say that the occasional opportunity to give it some welly along the way did not present itself.

calfee tetra pro

boy does a white calfee tetra pro like to fly.

as ever, i had been early for my 8:30 rendezvous to meet joe and the calfee, and as i had waited i watched with interest, the number and variety of cyclists that pedalled towards the junction at l avenue. with nahbs just around the corner, i'd no real notion as to how many of those cyclists were endemic to the city, and how many just visiting. the ride along the riverside track made it all too plain that sacramento has a substantial population of cyclists, stretching all the way from mom and dad out with the kids on schwinns and huffys, to dedicated triathletes intent on riding the entire length of the tracks on tri-bars at speed. though sounding like a feeble excuse, i often let joe, his brother and friends garner a few metres advantage to allow my pathetic attempts at sprinting up to their rear wheels, all in the cause of bike testing.

the easton wheels, of which i have prior experience, brought the expected degree of harshness to the ride, even on such smoothly surfaced tracks. i'm not a great believer in radially spoked front wheels, particularly on more or less standard alloy rims, but it's always preferable, in favour of objectivity, to separate the effects of wheels from that of the frame. the all-carbon calfee had bags of cockpit room in which to manoeuvre, and though largely unecessary on this particular ride, it's a feature worth bearing in mind if the terrain near you differs greatly from pan flat with no headwind.

sacramento riverside cycling

it offers no real solace to know that, as the morning's ride headed towards a satisfactory close and an oat flecked bagel with cream cheese, i was beginning to appreciate the finer points of calfee's frame design and features. the tetra pro has been continually refined from its original 1987 design, to the consummate vehicle it has now become. it would be contentious of me to state that this is a bicycle that would be equally at home on a race parcours as in a more relaxed setting, for i have never raced. but my occasional faux race moves, though not physically sustainable by this boring old fart, were sufficient to prove that the excitement and versatility is enclosed within calfee's carbon layup.

i was moved to point out to anyone within earshot that i hadn't seen sun like i experienced in sacramento since last august, and that probably for only one day. having had folsom prison pointed out to me (where johnny cash used to live), the return ride almost back to where we'd started (joe and i overshot our turn off point; speed is a deadly thing) was endlessly accompanied by 'i hear that train a comin', it's rollin' round the bend, and i ain't seen the sunshine since, i don't know when'... both internally and externally.

calfee pro

i cannot claim to be joe bartoe's greatest friend. until late friday afternoon, we had never met nor, indeed, actually spoken to each other. bearing this in mind, i am absolutely certain that my synaptic cycle hire experience was identical to that which his regular and prospective customers receive during the normal course of business. the attention to detail was impressive and the bicycle itself indubitably worthy of joe's faith in the marque. it presented far more than it initially offered and there is little doubt that white is several kilometres an hour faster than any other colour. the bicycle was offered with two bottle cages, a mini pump firmly attached to the seat tube, and a seat pack with the necessary implements to repair minor mechanicals and punctures.

as a resident of southern california, joe can almost offer wall to wall sunshine as part of the deal.

synaptic cycles | calfee bikes

posted sunday 11 march 2012.


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westend bikes, pdx

westend bikes

twenty-first avenue cycles in portland are not backward in coming forward; their pr material states 'the only bicycle store in portland', a statement of rhetoric that is patently not true, for portland is home to a number of cycle stores, the newest of which is likely westend bikes sited in rather smart corner premises at 1111 stark street, on the west side of the willamette river. which likely accounts for the name. the store comes under the heading of a specialized concept store and is the brainchild of mark ontiveros, formerly of river city bicycles in the same town.

though rarely true in these modern times of sparkly retail, i still have a mental picture of a bicycle shop consisting of a glass-fronted wooden counter containing jewel-like and all but untouchable italian componentry. there would be scarcely a square inch not occupied by cycle related items, while dim lighting would prevent accurate appraisal of the aforesaid. behind the counter would be a grey haired man in a brown coat who knew everything there is to know about bicycles, both old and new, but who would scarcely look in my direction unless there was the rustle of money indicating a possible sale.

service area

those days, however, are all but gone.

my first visit to westend was mid-sunday afternoon, and was brief enough simply to collect the beloved every day about which i wrote yesterday. it literally was a case of in the front door and straight out the side door, with no opportunity to browse or, as billy connolly would have said 'appreciate'. a couple of days later, i had a meeting at the ace hotel, also on stark street, around 10:30am; with no lock for the beloved, i intended to leave the cycle in at westend, from whence it came, before walking across the road. of course, after cycling across the broadway bridge, en-route from rapha usa, i should have continued along the same route, but for reasons not at all clear (even now), i turned right over the bridge, hanging a swift left and suddenly realising this was not what i should have done.

armed with a cycling map of portland, i was sure that it would be a simple matter of locating the ace hotel, and i would be once again upon my merry way. except, the map did not detail either westend bikes or the ace hotel (perhaps less than surprising; it was over three years old), and i had neglected to write down the name of the street on which i would have found both. bizarrely, i asked three people in downtown portland for directions, including two public service employees, and none had heard of either the ace, nor westend bikes. the last person i asked commented favourably on my accent (i was too polite to point out that i didn't have an accent, that it was in fact they who did), before finding my destination on their iphone.

westend bikes

stark street is one way, and not in the way that i needed to pedal, so while blithely walking along the sidewalk (see how americanised i have become?) i recognised a face in the crowd who, simultaneously, recognised me. mark ontiveros was on his way to the laundry, but stopped long enough to rescue the country boy lost in the big city. don't i just love portland?

meeting over, i returned to westend bikes to collect the beloved, but stayed long enough to receive the full tour of a fabulous bike shop.

specialized concept store it indeed is, but this forms only a (substantial) fraction of the bicycles on show. rather obviously, westend are an outpost for portland's beloved bicycles, but have encapsulated a portion of great britain by featuring a corner of brompton bicycles, a fabulous contrast to the venge hanging at the other end of the store. i am not a world authority on specialized bicycles, but it seems quite genuinely possible that not one member of the range was missing from westend's display. interspersing some very fast looking specialized time-trial carbon fibre were displays from mission works (who drove up to portland and handbuilt the display) and nonetheless, a clothing brand entirely new to me, but vociferously recommended by mark ontiveros.


there's barely a cycle shop in the world that has not a dedicated corner of apparel; westend is no exception, with a more than comprehensive selection of assos, contrasted in a different corner by a full range of james selman (owner of beloved cycles) designed westend bikes race kit. accessorising is not even close to becoming a chore with a substantial quality range of shoes (including a selection of quoc pham) and helmets, bars, stems, wheels and bicycle tools. differentiating sharply with my artist's impression of the archetypal ageing bike shop, all this is displayed with remarkable style, precision and attention to detail. it harms not one whit that the building is brightly illuminated and with large display windows from edge to edge.

there is, however, not much point in purchasing a bicycle from anywhere unless it's possible to have it fixed when it's broke, and serviced to prevent it breaking. i have always found it far better to effect any repairs in absolute secrecy, lest any customers witness the occasional bodge job in order to have them riding again. such obscurity is seemingly passe in the modern world, and westend bikes' mechanic, jens schrader, works in full view not only of an expectant customer, but pretty much every passing pedestrian in stark street. scary stuff.

westend t-shirt

the three independent workstands are custom designed for the space, relying on a pully system to easily raise a bicycle to any desired level. a fourth workstand lives in the basement, a space filled with yet to be assembled cycles still in their boxes midst rack upon rack of others ready and waiting to be moved upstairs, filling any gap left by a sale. there lives behind and beside a comprehensive array of tools, making it an easy task to grab the necessary during any type of repair.

if we assume that the intention is to purchase an appropriate bicycle of whichever brand or style, it has become all but necessary to ensure that said velocipede fits like the proverbial glove. to this end, up a short flight of stairs is a well-kitted fitting room helping make sure the most recent purchase is not going to engender creaks and groans when you have your race-face on.

heart coffee

as if there weren't enough distractions to keep the eager customer occupied, or those simply waiting for their cycle to be repaired, a large section of the window looking out over stark street is occupied by heart coffee; this is portland after all. i can attest to the quality of not only the soya cappuccino, but the eye-opening effect of a double espresso accompanied by a rather favourably thick slice of cake. purely in the interests of research, you understand.

mark ontiveros is an unbridled enthusiast. engage him in conversation about the shop, clothing or bicycles, and you'll find it hard to get home before dark. however, unlike those who would podium if tedium were a bona-fide sport, you can not only learn a great deal from any conversation, his enthusiasm is incredibly infectious and is likely to lead to a purchase not under consideration at point of entry. this is very much not one of those intimidating spaces where the less than well-versed in last year's tour results would hesitate to ask for something as simple as an inner tube. in this day and age it's pleasant to find a bike store that treats the request for a puncture repair kit with the same level of service as an earnest desire to purchase a specialized venge.

if you're in portland anytime soon, do not do as i did and turn right when coming off the broadway bridge. don't get lost; westend bikes are at 1111 stark street, just up the road from the ace hotel. or you could always stop mark on his way to the laundry and ask for directions.

westend bikes

posted saturday 10 march 2012.


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beloved everyday eight speed

beloved every day

portland is not a town that demands motorised transport. in fact, its intricate and comprehensive infrastructure geared specifically towards bicycle travel makes such a choice somewhat obtuse. why on earth would you choose to drive, when you could undoubtedly see and experience far more from the saddle of a bicycle? however, the thought of transporting one of my own bicycles over 4,500 miles from home is not one i find myself eager to consider; the thought of the air travel alone demands a level of perseverance even when sporting only cabin baggage.

it was therefore something of a relief and anticipation that i arranged to borrow a beloved every day from company owner, james selman to provide not only transportation but the opportunity for a long overdue review. portland, like many an american city, adheres to a gridlike pattern and streets with consecutive numbers rather than colloquial apellations such as argyll street, sauchiehall street and buchanan street. this should make navigation almost foolproof, but i managed easily to prove this incorrect.

the opportunity to ride and stop, and stop and ride while trying to follow written instructions or a cycling map of portland, made things just a tad easier than they undoubtedly would have been had i opted to try driving on the wrong side of the road. ally this to being aboard a rather fine bicycle that harboured a few unexpected surprises along the way, and i find myself perhaps describing a marriage made in heaven...

read the review

posted friday 9 march 2012.


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the north american handmade bicycle show

richard sachs

i really shouldn't be allowed to attend cycle shows, particularly when they involve a large dollop of international travel and american states to which i have never previously been. but most of all, on the basis that prevention is better than cure, because i have a tendency to wander like a rabbit caught in headlights: too much shiny stuff on show is a major distraction. of course, i don't help this situation by not only having the ability to talk for britain, but proceeding to demonstrate that fact pretty much all day long.

my days in the sacramento convention center started less than promisingly when, upon being directed to the media center, it was discovered that my name was nowhere to be found on the necessary list. prior to waiting for paul skilbeck to arrive and immediately rectify the situation with commensurate ease, i collected a substantial number of pertinent and free cycle magazines, along with an invite to that evening's post nahbs party at a location that was entirely foreign to me. wi-fi and power points were in plentiful supply, disarmed only a smidgeon by the media room's distance from the coal-face. however, i was given directions to a secret passageway into the main hall which bypassed several hundred yards of walking in either direction.

this turned out to be something of a timesaver come saturday afternoon, when there was still a substantial queue outside.

brooks saddles

perhaps this official report (which supersedes all other official reports) would have been either more thematic or more comprehensive had i arrived with an agenda of sorts. i'd sort of missed the point of this and arrived only with a hidden version of same. it does nothing at all for one's professional confidence (no sniggering at the back) to discover that kyle von hoetzendorf at chris king's had already snapped a several dozen photos of the wide variety of bizarre t-shirts and jerseys on display amongst attendees, when i have yet to take my ipod touch or digital camera out of the tweed musette. couple this with chaps like james huang of cycling news and john woodrof at twotoneatl who are systematically travailing every booth, searching for the minutiae that will entice all and sundry to explore the online pages of their respective websites.

i have attempted to salve my conscience by accepting that, if others are working the floor in this manner, there is probably little point in my doing likewise. somehow i cannot envision these black and yellow pixels being populated by exquisite lugwork and extemporaneous paint schemes, much as i might like that to be the case. the media center had helpfully provided a list of exhibitors and numbered map of the booths, and though having earnestly studied this before entering the main hall, i experienced the same sensation as my exploratory rides into downtown portland; i had no idea where i was.

mavic jersey

the hidden agenda to which i referred earlier was part and parcel of my immediate desire to visit nahbs in the first place. there are a sizeable number of stateside folk i have come into contact with over the years who have engendered a wanton need to meet face to face, not least the inestimable richard sachs. my logic of thought extended as far as making it easier for myself to do so by gathering them all in the one place, thus excluding several thousand extra miles of travel and cost by attempting to meet them all individually. sadly, my tenacity reached not quite far enough in this respect, and there were one or two present that i missed completely, despite attempts to do otherwise.

the finest aspect of being at a bicycle show of this nature, in a country to which i am not native, was the presence of folks i did already know and were more than willing to assist in my ministrations. the gents from rapha, though not exhibiting this year, were plying the floor on a daily basis, once the day's ride was over and done, ira ryan and tony pereira, with conjoining booths were an excellent point of rendezvous and query, as was the chris king/cielo stand.

john grant

despite lengthy conversations with photographer nick czerula and mrs debbie sachs on richard sachs' stand, the man himself was in such great demand that facetime between the two of us was fairly limited. i can also demonstrate my total lack of name recollection by being surprised to meet the guy from brooks, england on the selfsame stand, a man who i have met often at exhibitions in the uk. i'm not sure who was more surprised to see who. john grant, who hails from austin, texas held court in the bottom corner of the hall, displaying some of his excellent pen drawings including a stronglight chainset, suntour superbe pro derailleur and ageing brooks saddle. we're talking collector's items here.

the usual suspects were in evidence: independent fabrication covered more than just a few square feet of floor space, showing, amongst others, a very desirable maroon commuter with white balloon tyres. mrs indyfab held an adjoining space displaying an impressive array of baileyworks bags. tom ritchey was about, as was a very gentrified gary fisher, replete with tweed plus fours, tweed cap and impressively waxed moustache. he's taller than he seems in photographs.

a feature i hadn't expected to see, but one in retrospect that seems somewhat obvious, was the presence of true temper, kva stainless, reynolds, dedacciai and columbus tubing, the very food of the contemporary framebuilder. however, if steel is not the fabric of which your dreams are made, one booth featured bicycles made from highly polished woods, construction of which seemed bailey works bags remarkably similar to that of a luthier. though visually appealing, the comparison to items of furniture was surely too close for yours truly and even though undoubtedly light, the look was quite the opposite. though a competition to adjudge the finest example of a bicycle operated by means of the gates carbon drive - a toothed belt drive replacing the more commonly used chain - was conducted somewhere off-campus, i noticed remarkably few examples of this much vaunted transmission system in evidence around the hall. perhaps if i'd been paying more attention.

i'm enough of a realist to be aware that exhibitions such as nahbs cost a substantial amount of money to organise and produce, and that many of those involved in the practice of handbuilding bicycles are not possessed of unlimited bank balances. in other words, for a show that has now reached international status, to do justice to its reputation, the money has to come from somewhere. don walker, who not only exhibits his rather fine machines, is the man with the sole casting vote, a situation that has not always made him mr popular. three years ago, he announced shimano as being the title sponsor, a decision that left something of a sour taste in the mouths of many of the regular exhibitors. it is somewhat difficult to reconcile a goliath from japan with that of handmade bicycles, despite the necessity of fitting their componentry to many of those on show.

ira ryan

this practice has now been extended to allow other mainstream exhibitors to hold court amongst the little folk. hed wheels, fulcrum wheels, mavic, bontrager, continental, schwalbe and one or two others were conspicuous by their non-handmade existence. yet again, it cannot be denied that much of the machinery on display sported items from all of the above, but i think we're all adult enough to realise that it would stretch the abilities and budgets of most, if not all, to build wheels, groupsets, tyres, saddles etc to live up to the nominal apellation of handmade. these are the people with more substantial marketing budgets that doubtless aid the efforts of those without such largesse, and it ill behoves us to forget it.

so i apologise to all who eagerly awaited a blow by blow and booth by booth account of such an excellent exhibition of all that is good and great in the world of bicycles, most all handmade by definition. thankfully there are those with more of your best interests at heart, with better cameras and a more acute sense of innovation and craftsmanship, allied to a more expeditious facility that brings imagery to your browser faster than you can say 'tig-welding'. it cannot be denied, however, that their monastic existence in the face of sociability is a feature i do not possess, and likely never will.


perhaps this is my usual convoluted way of telling you that if you want to experience the north american handmade bicycle show, you should look to booking tickets and flights for denver, colorado in 2013. then you can tell me all about it.

i'd also like to point out, if only to assuage my own guilt, that my trip to portland and sacramento was booked last year before i discovered that bespoked bristol was scheduled to take place later that same month. the latter was held in june last year, if i'm not very much mistaken, and i had hoped to attend this as part of my self-appointed duties. in 2012, this is not going to happen, but i have taken due note for next year. i would hate to come across as one who is dazzled by the other side of the pond at the expense of home-grown talent.

north american handmade bicycle show

posted thursday 8 march 2012.


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unsurpassed by godfrey barlow. mousehold press. softback 102pp illus. £11.95


the furthest i've managed to ride in one swell foop of late was around 200km by way of reviewing rapha's brevet jersey last year. the ride of the falling rain tops out at 162km and it is of constant curiousity to many that it's possible to ride distances such as these on an island that measures roughly 35km x 35km. i cannot deny that there are occasional kilometres when retreading previous portions of roads is of necessity, but it's also true that there are many kilometres of islay road that are left untrammeled if for no other reason than they remain unconnected. they travel one way, but it's then necessary to retrace one's wheeltracks to go anywhere else.

much of this is true of other locations, for though most do not have the restriction of being surrounded by occasionally angry waters, those riding them tend to be conservative in their meanderings, rarely cycling too far from home on a daily basis. so despite the considerable advances that have been made in roadbuilding (though often not so that you'd notice) and bicycle design and manufacture, it's quite possible that the average mileage of the common or garden cyclist has actually decreased. this can perhaps be explained by the wholesale substitution of the motor car as the mode of transport du jour. gone are the days when cyclists en masse would head for the country at the merest hint of a weekend, intent on covering as many kilometres (or miles) as possible.

those years of british cycling are something of an open secret. we have lost the domination of the bicycle as a principal mode of both transport and leisure, and seemingly lost sight of that having once been the case. yet there were those in both pre-war and war years who took advantage of velocipedinal popularity, regularly accepting challenges both official and otherwise, setting records that still exist to this day. this is either because road conditions have so altered as to make new attempts all but pointless, or the tenacity of the cyclist of yesteryear has evaporated.

some of that tenacity was encapsulated in the forerunner of cycling weekly issuing a challenge to all those with nothing better to do with their time than spend all day, everyday for a year, riding their bicycle hither and thither in the attempt to rack up as many miles in a twelve month period as possible. through hail, snow and rain, on freezing, icy roads, under the brightness and the occasional warmth of what passes for sunshine in britain the intention was to have those miles pass by and achieve the status of britain's farthest travelled cyclist. this challenge originated in a copy of cycling in 1910, and all mileage required to be verified on a daily checking card witnessed by a local official. first to enter the challenge was, in fact, a frenchman by the name of marcel planes who, in 1911 claimed a fairly impressive 34,366 miles (55,305km).

'unsurpassed' however concerns the story of tommy godwin, an english cyclist who fell into the world of cycling long-distances and became progressively better and more involved in the daily task of mile after mile, eventually recording his unbeatable distance of 75,065 miles (120,805km) as the clock struck midnight at the end of 1939. despite the war years about to intervene, godwin decided to continue with his 200 plus miles per day until the magic total of 100,000 miles rolled past in 500 days.

when you consider the blackout enforcement of the war, the lighting technology that existed at the time along with the more than featherweight bicycles (godwin rode a raleigh bicycle to his record mileage), such distances are enough to bring tears to your thighs. if anyone fancies enduring just a portion of that experienced by godwin during his 1939 ride, try riding 200 miles every day for just a week and see how you get on. i will excuse myself from this trial on the grounds of sanity.

geoffrey barlow has written a truly compelling book, one that i read in one sitting simply because it was too hard to put down. it is remarkably well illustrated, mostly from the archives of the comic and written in an almost transparent yet easily readable style. barlow is a former clubmate of the indominatable godwin who realised that, if this story were not committed to paper, there was a real danger of it disappearing forever. i generally think of myself as reasonably well-informed with regard to contemporary and past cycling endeavours, yet, till this volume arrived, i was completely unaware of such exploits. that has now been consummately remedied, a situation for which i am truly thankful.

i would heartily recommend you do likewise.

all profits from the sales of 'unsurpassed' are being donated to road peace

mousehold press | road peace

posted wednesday 7 march 2012.


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an open and shut case

rapha race bag

"f.a.a. regulations stipulate that passengers may travel with two items of luggage. one bag that fits the dimensions stated at the check-in desk and one personal item such as a purse or laptop bag."

filled with a fear that sod's law has particular application to aircraft baggage, i opted to travel light on my recent expedition to portland and subsequently the north american handmade bicycle show in sacramento, california. thus, my carry-on luggage consisted of a rapha backpack containing my macbook air, a couple of ipods and various cables to ensure a continuance of power across the atlantic, and a rapha race bag. this latter item of luggage is sorely misrepresented by its common apellation; despite my lack of any proclivity for racing bicycles of any kind, it swallowed a serious amount of apparel that was only loosely connected to velocipedinal sporting activity.

rapha race bag

at the risk of boring you all to death, here's the deal: one pair of outlier trousers; one pair of fixed shorts; merino long-sleeve jersey; rapha cross jersey; bib three-quarter shorts; long-sleeve polo shirt; one pair pyjamas; one wabi woolens long-sleeve sport jersey; one paul smith city riding jacket; one giro aeon helmet; one winter cap; two pairs of cycling gloves; three pairs of boxer shorts; three pairs of socks; one pair of crank brothers eggbeater pedals; one pair dromarti sportivo leather cycle shoes and two long sleeve baselayers. add to this the existence of four t-shirts and an ardbeg cycle jersey as visiting presents and i think you'll agree this is a not inconsiderable quantity of items to stow in the overhead rack.

if that were not enough, a large, outboard zipped pocket played host to a mini-pump, a crank bros multi-tool medicinal products to stave off the thought of a headache, copies of all travel documents and a toothbrush and toothpaste.

rapha race bag

and an inner tube.

in order to ensure that all the foregoing remains safe and sound throughout the vicissitudes of international air travel, the bag is constructed from some serious cordura fabric with two carry handles conjoined by a poppered leather grip and augmented by a padded shoulder strap anchored via a couple of industrial strength clipped hooks. each clip holds onto a neat little outer pocket. a double tagged zip closes everything safely inside. should there be any confusion as to who is responsible for providing said race holdall, the outer pocket features the trademark, rapha embossed white leather strip. this contributes nothing to the item's integrity, but it's a distinctive touch on an otherwise all-black bag.

rapha race bag

however, sod's law is not one to lie down and roll over in the face of an unannounced body-swerve, something that came to light at klm (royal dutch airlines) check-in for the early morning flight to amsterdam. though i can remember reading nothing at all regarding a weight limit on klm's website, it appears that one exists, one that was enforced by the attendant at glasgow; twelve kilos maximum (my two bags reached fourteen) so the race bag had to be checked in and throw itself on the mercies of a series of baggage handlers, something that had not been borne in mind at the time of packing.

my journey to portland consisted of three distinct flights: glasgow to amsterdam, delta airlines to seattle and alaska air to portland. the question was now whether passeneger and bag would be reunited at pdx, and in what condition the race bag would be in when collected from the carousel? i found this out one flight early on having to collect my bag at seattle, just after clearing immigration, upon which it was eagerly grabbed by a nearby baggage handler and popped on a conveyor. both of us arrived safely at portland international airport, both in better condition than expected.

rapha race bag

the weather in portland had much in common with those rainy days in scotland minus the gale force winds, but a few degrees colder. not entirely unnaturally, i was careful to keep my possessions guarded from the elements, so i cannot vouch for the bag's weatherproofing. however, i did manage to spill most of the contents of a bottle of water at one point, the result remaining external and water-resistant.

the internal pockets for a pair of riding shoes are a neat touch, particularly in the light of two substantial, velcro'd straps to keep them safely in place during transit. though a bona-fide roadie wouldn't dare suffer even so much as a speck of dust on their shoes, this feature has the added bonus of keeping any extraneous matter away from clean race-kit. i would not, however, place any pedals into their designed receptacle without enclosing them in a suitable plastic bag or suchlike. pedals need grease; cycle jerseys don't.

federal aviation authority regulations are interpreted less feverishly across the atlantic. the two items per passenger never varies, but there seems to be no notion of ever checking the weights of those, nor whether either will fit in the overhead compartment. some fellow travellers struggled to rapha race bag slide even the smaller bag under the seat in front. the rapha race bag is described as fitting all airline restrictions for carry-on luggage, so i checked. most airports have suitably positioned constructs that allow the enterprising traveller to check the validity of their baggage dimensions. i fear i became something of an irritant or spectacle by trying every one i found. it seems no-one else ever bothers, and judging by the variety of carry-on luggage seen during a round trip of around 10,000 miles, i think i may have figured out why: the majority of roller bags would have little or no chance of getting anywhere near the dimensions stipulated.

bag and owner are now back in cold, rainy islay. the return trip saw no weight restrictions being enforced, least of all from klm at schipol. despite its colourful travel arrangements on both passes across the atlantic, the race bag still looks brand new, ready and waiting for its next set of baggage restrictions. quite frankly, it was a ruddy marvel. never did i suspect i could fit so much stuff into so compact and bijou an item of luggage, nor am i used to inhabiting a sense of style while travelling. if you have travel plans of your own that may, or may not, involve riding your bicycle, this might just be the only bag you need. if not, rapha have a whole range of similarly liveried pieces that will seamlessly take up the slack.

just make sure it lives this side of 14kg.

rapha race bag

posted tuesday 6 march 2012.


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