there are inherent dangers that arrive with writing daily for many a year, one of which is undoubtedly that of repeating oneself. i'm sure i do so regularly, but i live in hope that those of you reading have memories similar to my own and such irregularities will pass by unnoticed. i live in hope. i say this because i have vague recollection of having previously quoted the much-quoted groucho marx, to wit: 'i would never join a club that would have me as a member'. of course, most of us who quote the above do not place any store in its meaning, employing it more as a sort of throwaway remark that will simultaneously demonstrate how apparently well-read we are. the latter impression, however, may have been largely undermined by frequency of use.
i'm definitely not one for joining clubs or societies, not because of any superior level of social inability (though i'm not discounting it), but it is my experience that however well-meaning and enjoyable these endeavours may seem at the outset, internal politics inevitably rear their ugly heads and it's downhill from there on in. not for nothing has it been mentioned that those intent on captaining such incorporated bodies really ought to be barred from so doing. the very evidence is rather graphically contained within george orwell's animal farm. since i'd rather ride my bike, play my drums and footer about in photoshop, membership of a club ultimately destined for administrative armaggedon is well down the list of things to do before i'm sixty.
there are, of course, exceptions to this narrow minded view of an intrinsic and necessary part of society. if i might apply certain chemical terms to the two (as i see it) variations on a theme, there are endothermic clubs and exothermic. the former is purely concerned with the facilities and services it provides to its members and the rest of the world is merely an inconvenience to be kept at arms length. on the morning i went cycling with joe bartoe in sacramento last month, i had a pressing need to visit the loo, facilities that were not exactly advertising themselves around the car park in which we had alighted.
espying a 24 hour fitness studio only a hop, skip and a jump away, i ventured to ask if i might use their rest room. on ascertaining i was not a member of said club, i was asked to complete a form absolving them of any liability should i manage to impale myself on any stray piece of exercise equipment en-route to the loo. very much a club with its own interests at heart.
those to which i might apply the adjective exothermic, are not unduly dissimilar to their counterparts, but have the greater good of society at heart, even if that devolves to a specific corner of society as attested to by the club's affinities. one such to embody the latter is the rapha condor club, originally incorporated to provide a means of both vocal and financial support for the selfsame bicycle racing team. it was not, however, one of the prime strategies behind the setup of what is currently known as the rapha condor sharp team. simon mottram, rapha's ceo:
"The team was born from conversations between Grant Young (owner of Condor Cycles) Dominique Gabellini and myself. Dominique is a long standing friend of both brands (and sometime Rapha model). He convinced us that a team would be a good idea. We always thought that the team would resonate well with our customers, but the idea for the club didn't come together for a year or so (2007)".
however, without wishing to aggrandise the workload of either simon mottram or grant young, both had/have more pressing duties than attending to the setup of a supporters' club for their newly formed racing team. in fact, placed in context, doing so could easily be regarded as an unsavoury form of corporate narcissism. not unsurprisingly, the act of doing so involved a third party and the aforementioned dominique gabellini. currently club president, charlie pearch recalls the circumstances that led to the formation of the initial rapha condor club.
"I've been a customer of Condor for a number of years, indeed my account number with them is number 5, and I guess I probably bought my first piece of Rapha kit there. Condor and Rapha are very good at involving their customers and I often met Simon Mottram at various functions.
"On one day in 2007 we had lunch together and I voiced the opinion that he might consider a team supporters club. About a year later in the autumn of 2008, Dominique Gabellini called me with the idea to "invest" £1,000 in a supporters club; the Rapha Condor Club was born. Initially there were a handful of members who gradually got to know each other, mostly at events where the team were featuring, such as The Lincoln GP and London Nocturne. As members we had certain VIP priviieges at these events."
professional cycle teams do not come cheap, if you'll forgive my omission of the adverb, and while the rapha condor sharp team exists to benefit the diverse yet similar marketing strategies of its principal sponsors, the price of entry is high. though a marked aim of the team is to race competitively yet stylishly, adhering to the unwritten motto of gentlemen of the road, its principal raison d'etre was originally to not only put something back into the sport from which both rapha and condor arose, but to help raise the level of domestic racing. it will not have escaped your attention that cycle racing is rarely amongst the more prominent articles published in the sports sections of the british press. both rapha and condor are of the opinion that the only way to alter this is to provide a platform for promising british riders to hone their skills before moving on to bigger and better things.
though currently riding for endura equipe, former rapha condor sharp rider jonathan tiernan locke would seem to be a case that proves the point.
so where does the club come into all this? if i might quote from the relevant page on the website 'In 2012 RCC's goal is to raise £50,000 for the team. A tall order perhaps, but our goals are that we will achieve this target, through subscriptions; additional voluntary support from members; Club kit sales (and) Auctions.'. as secretary charlie pearch relates:
"in 2010 we opened the club up into two levels of membership; pink members paid an amount of £1500 and white ones, £40. By being a member you could get a 10% discount from Rapha. Membership went haywire and reached 585 members, bigger than London Dynamo, almost up there with Chippenham Wheelers.
"It was crazy. We had a full-time paid secretary, but bottom line, the club was losing money and an element of them and us crept in. I guess we had a committee of sorts that met on an ad hoc basis and I got elected as President in 2011.
That year the club offered one level of members with the subscription falling to £250 with a discount code. This change saw membership plummet as the white stripe 40 quid members fled away from the £250 fee. We came under a lot of critique and some verbal abuse from some members.
"This year, however, we decided to uncomplicate the club and get rid of the discount code completely. We wanted members to be members because they liked supporting the team, liked to ride with each other, and liked to enjoy each others' company. 2012 has seen a real change in attitude; the club seems a much happier one and we seem to have found our feet once more."
it is plain to read from charlie's historical rendering of the club, some of the benefits gained in return for economic largesse. though stopping short of sitting in the passenger seat of the team skoda while john herety keeps an eye on the boys, there are several opportunities to meet with members of the race team conjoined with one or two privileges at specific events throughout the year. additionally, since all have hopefully the same end in sight, the chance to go riding with each other at various times and locations throughout the year brings the rapha condor club in line with the majority of other uk cycle clubs. one wonders, however, whether the powers that be curated the idea of the club as one to educate the few as to the whys and wherefores of a racing team, or as a method of sharing some rapha condor love (in both directions). simon mottram again:
"It was about both. The chance to get close to professional racers is something that any fan is excited about and the team offers 'money can't buy' experiences for our customers. Like me, most of them are passionately interested in the sport and keen to understand more.
"I have been lucky enough to sit in the team car with John Herety as he drives one-handed on gravel roads at 70mph, while speaking on his mobile, eating a sandwich and handing a bottle to a rider. it's a thrilling and revealing experience and a total privilege!"
my opening testimony that i am less than encouraged to become a part of any club, of whatever texture and hue, was in this case i freely admit, somewhat reinforced by that initial £1500 of yesteryear. though i support any situation that encourages an improvement in domestic racing opportunities, i simply did not have a spare one and a half thousand pounds, even if it did avail me of a black jersey with a pink hoop on the sleeve. mrs washingmachinepost would have never forgiven me. though the subsequent year's drop to £250 was a mite more promising and probably a mere fraction of that necessary to join even an average golf club, that mistrust of club membership kept my money in the bank. this year's £75 is far more approachable, particularly if you're in the habit of purchasing rapha kit in the first place.
there is, undeniably, the simmering notion, partially through that website statement reviewed above that £75 is merely the price of admission with perhaps much more expected, just as you congratulate yourself on tweeting in reply to scots rapha condor sharp rider, jamie mccallum. is it true that charlie expects members to contribute more through their year of membership, or is it very much a case of each to their means?
"£75 is frankly a high entry point Brian. It turns many people off because you can join Otley Cycle Club for £25. The thing is we're trying to raise funds for the pro team; all our fees go to RCS not to Rapha or Condor. London Dynamo has a surplus of £40,000. We'd rather see that go back into the team and to promote the youth, so we are making a big push to try and gain second claim memberships. For example Andy and Jacqui Cook who are honorary members, are talking to the CW membership to ask if they would like to make second claim for the good of our sport.
"We don't want members to be means tested, but there are those members that want (and can afford) to put more back.
"Just take as an example, the money that's been raised to send the U-23 kids to the Vuelta on July 3rd. We've already raised £3800, which came from seven members. It's a purely voluntary thing. We are a platform from which members can put something back. The heart of the club is actually comprised of teachers, filmmakers, a butcher; we're not all bankers."
the world of a professional cyclist is one of constant cosseting, admittedly in return for large dollops of pain and suffering in pursuit of the cause, so while those seventy-five pounds accrue in a benevolent bank account, are the riders even aware that there are mere civilians pledging their hard-earned to keep them in the black and pink to which they have become accustomed? scotland's jamie mccallum has been a member of rapha condor sharp for two years, presumably benefiting from such largesse. how aware is he and his co-riders that there are a group of individuals with their best (financial) interests at heart?
"More aware now after the last week at Henley. I think we all now realise how much time and effort the club puts in to support us. And it's great to meet the faces that fit the names you hear."
it would be naive of me to pretend that once past the membership fee, the fast lane would be within easy reach. a recent invitation to spend a day with the rapha condor sharp team at a classics weekend in henley on thames didn't come without considerable economic baggage. though a place at the club/team dinner table cost a more than reasonable £35 per person, staying overnight in the team hotel carried a price tag of £170 per room for bed and breakfast. perhaps mere pocket money to some, but i can't say i'd include myself in their number. however, while such luxury is more than likely worth paying for, there was nothing in the invite that maintained this was a compulsory option. each according to their means; you don't get something for nothing, and i don;t doubt that henley-on-thames is harbour to alternative and more economic accommodation.
the weekend, however, seems to have proved a success with both club members and team members alike. though having only attended the get-together at henley, mccallum said, "I really enjoyed the experience as we got to meet all our supporters face to face instead of when they're shouting by the roadside. They also seemed to really appreciate us taking the time to hang out, answer questions and give them tips.
"Overall, (the weekend) was pretty freestyle to be honest. We rode for a few hours, helped them out if they had any bike problems on the ride and shared some of 'the knowledge'. Then there was a Q & A session and a bit of banter filled dining..
one of those attending related "(It) was awesome. Thanks to the riders, John, the staff and everyone else involved for a massively memorable day, one that made me feel proud to be a part of the RCS/RCC project."
clubbing (part two) will continue in tomorrow's washingmachinepost, continuing to look at the rapha condor club and the team it exists to support, including andrew telling's film 'sella'.
monday 30 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have heard it said that there's a novel inside everyone, but i feel this may be the ideal time and platform to state that, though i'm not denying the veracity of this statement, i think it unlikely mine will ever see the light of day. there's always the possibility that i'll manage to write a book of sorts one of these days, but what i can guarantee is that it will not be an extension of the sort of stuff you read here on a daily basis. though on occasion these articles can extend slightly further than either you or i feel they ought to, i cannot see an opportunity to pad any of them to the extent of an entire book.
i think it appropriate to point this out here and now because there is a likelihood that something i have planned for the coming week might either extend to the length of the average toilet roll, or will require publishing in more than one episode.
i have a long lasting admiration of joni mitchell, one that has existed since my art college days (which wasn't yesterday), if for no other reason than her ability to say so much so eloquently in her songs, an ability that, despite frequent efforts on my part, escapes me to this day. and that very failing is the same one that has stopped me from ever attempting chapter one. the fear of completing the whole book in less than ten pages is the sort of thing that keeps me awake at nights. fortunately, for the benefit of those of us who enjoy the act of reading, irrespective of genre, there are far more intrepid and literate individuals who think nothing of completing more than just one book and scheduling a signing tour round branches of waterstone's or barnes and noble.
that is not to say that those who indulge always come out on top, as an admittedly few examples i have read failed to hit the mark. their words would have been better kept to themselves. and then there are the ideas that make for an excellent column or even short story, but should not have been indulged to the extent of a whole book. many are the individuals or publishers who should have heeded the example of john cleese in his comedy series fawlty towers, constraining the situation to only twelve episodes. i know there is many a series still showing today that should have been shown the door a long time ago.
and so to the book in hand, the second by eben weiss, more recognisably known as bikesnob nyc. here is a man who inaugurated an incredibly popular cycling blog while keeping his true identity a secret, a feature that undoubtedly added to the allure of of his weekly words. the basic premise of the blog was that of relentless piss-taking of all and everything associated with the world of cycling, from inept marketing to the recurrence of epic allied to the fashionable end of our world. though filled with occasional sparks of genuine humour and admirable irreverence, i have admitted here in black and yellow, that i wasn't what you'd call a fan.
though i cannot deny there are aspects of the more corporate end of cycling that need a good prod now and again, i'm afraid i failed to see why that was necessary on a daily basis, even though i will confess to the odd snigger now and again. his first book 'systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling' was pretty much the progenitor of his having to reveal his secret identity. it is very hard to embark upon a book signing tour while remaining incognito. i have little notion as to how that affected readership of the bikesnob blog, but the book itself was particularly enjoyable; eben weiss is demonstrably a clever man with a particular bent for succinct humour on the printed page. though this current publication more or less continues in the same vein as the last, i fear he may have stretched his fawlty towers to that thirteenth episode.
there has been no diminution of his observational abilities since book one, nor in his ability to cajole these into successive paragraphs. the enlightened cyclist has as its subtitle finding the path to two-wheeled transcendence which, ironically as it turns out, could almost be seen as a volte face when compared to the unbridled scathing that inhabited the blog that made him famous. the narrative is exceptionally fair-minded, refusing almost to castigate the unashamed owners and drivers of something so un-ecologically sound as a hummer. throughout the often eccentrically illustrated pages, comedy goes hand-in-hand with profound common sense; it is an common observation that the finest comedians are excellent observers of human nature and a dab hand at achieving laughter at others' expense.
the basis of this second book has parallels with an objective look at the world's religions. as a far more insightful person than i once put it 'there's more than one way to get to the sun'. simply because your neighbour's way is different to your own, there's no need to castigate the poor individual and impose your own method. thus bikesnob forms an overview of the varying modes of transport employed by the human race. all would like to be happy in their chosen method and generally have no great desire to lord it over others in the process of getting somewhere. nor do they set out each morning with cunning plans to obfuscate others in the process of getting from a to b. as cyclists, we are often (not unfairly) seen to inhabit the higher moral ground based almost entirely on the ecological benefits of our chosen mode.
while there is much to be said in favour of cycling, with regard to our subjectivity, it is singularly unfair to judge others on that basis. concisely put, live and let live, bearing in mind that the driver who cut you up en-route probably didn't do so deliberately. eben weiss, however, says the same but in a more expansive and humorous fashion. i believe that to be why he is an author and i am not.
however, while demonstrating natural and admirable comedic ability, the secret is often in knowing when to stop, and in my humble opinion, as one who has just admitted the unlikelihood of ever seeing his own words in book form, that is a skill that has escaped both bike snob and his editor.
lest this be seen as a damning condemnation, allow me to explain. a decent espresso is one that matches the ideal amount of coffee with a similar quanity of water. add just a bit more of the latter than truly judicious, and you end up with a decent coffee, but not the espresso you had hoped for. the enlightened cyclist is a remarkably enjoyable read, but one that would have benefited from a smidgeon less water. i'd strongly advise buying a copy, because the man has some undeniably valid points, most equanimously put without a trace of preaching to the converted. but in the course of reading the last few chapters, i couldn't get rid of the notion that mr weiss was writing to some undefined target number of words.
bikesnob nyc will be appearing at look mum no hands, old street, london on 10th may.
sunday 29 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
contradictions are something of a standard fitment these days. a son who says he wants to get fitter, yet his mountain bike remains in the bikeshed untouched and unloved; a five pence reduction in the duty on petrol for the highlands and islands, except the cost of the fuel goes up by around seven pence; those darned southerners moaning about the hospepipe band, yet complaining that they've had heavy rain for several days. i'm sure, with a little effort, you could find more than a few of your own.
while enlightening my once weekly digital photography class as to the effect that contrast may have upon their imagery, i introduced the colour wheel, a colour basic that i learned at school in the art department, and one that was consequently reinforced during my years at art college. the colour wheel is a passive icon; it worries not about the psychological effects colour may have when applied to an object or image, content with merely displaying diametrical opposites which, in perhaps a blatant example of contradiction, are known as complementary colours, despite their being anything but.
i'd be inclined to infer that complementary colours were those that sit well with each other, the very ones that would be chosen to paint the sitting room. that, however, is decidedly not so, for black and white are the most basic of complementaries, sliding to the depths with blue and orange, red and green... i'm sure even the least interested amongst you have begun to get the picture (no pun intended). clever observation of the natural occurrence of colours in these combinations can, in certain circumstances, provide an appropriate level of tension in subsequent photographs.
as a for instance, imagine a winter landscape with a heavy frost visible in the foreground, engendering blue shadows, framed by a background of winter bushes displaying that terracotta shade that some inherit at that time of year. reds are regarded as warm colours and are thus perceived as pushing to the front. blues, as a rule, inhabit the colder end of the spectrum, tending to recede. this can be seen most dramatically when viewing distant hills or mountains which acquire a bluish hue indicating to our eyes that they are somewhat distant and unlikely to slap us in the face anytime soon. it's the natural order of things. reversing this seems contradictory, yet can happen in real life as opposed to the artistic.
you therefore have to wonder what the folks at perren street had in mind when introducing tins of summer embrocation to our legs to have them smell of the ventoux during the months of endless summer (a little hebridean humour there). for is the stated purpose of embrocation not to excite the blood vessels just under the skin of those gnarled, rough hewn calves and shins? throwing caution to the wind come the winter months, rumbling across less than billiard flat roads in wind, rain, ice, hail and snow, calls for more than just appropriate clothing and coffee that leans ever so slightly towards the hot end of the milk frother, and embrocation is that added extra.
being extremely careful to rub on chamois cream before taking the top off the tin of embrocation, it is customary to slather the lower limbs with the bright orange of rapha's winter embrocation. the general consensus is that so doing postpones the necessity to wear that pain and suffering in the opening kilometres, simply to coax the thighs of steel into some form of excited action. once cruising speed and altitude have been attained, the orange cream has less work to do, but in case of conditions preventing the build-up of a suitable head of steam, the cream continues to carry out its purpose in life for more hours than could be reasonably demanded.
however, this is summer time. i know this because rapha have introduced their spring/summer range, and they would never do this unknowingly (would they?). and in any case, it is sunny outside and has been for many a day (apart from possibly last sunday morning). though we have no hosepipe ban in place, it hasn't rained too often since the beginning of april. that counts as summer, particularly when may is but a few days distant (it still inhabits a bluish hue), but the question that remains unanswered is why it should be thought necessary to provide an embrocation for the forthcoming months?
possibly, if my visits to the big smoke are anything to go by, it's a product that will see little other than cosmetic use in the extreme south of the border. however, sun in the sky round these here parts does not equal in ancrease in ambient heat. that glowing orb is, i hate to point out, around 93 million miles away, and the gap in between is that of a very cold vacuum. thus, the past week, though demanding strongly tinted rudy projects, has also necessitated a long-sleeve baselayer and short sleeve cross jersey under that pro team jacket (the ever so stylish black version), bib threequarters and long-fingered gloves. could this be the very opportunity to slather my exposed skin with the dark brown embrocation that smells sweetly of mont ventoux?
you bet your sweet bippy.
and so it is that i have ridden the highways and byways through insufferable windchill (not quite, but it adds a level of drama to the review) comforted and protected by rapha's summer embrocation. visibly, i cannot attest to the hue of bertie the accountant being the hoped for by-product, and in use the only indicator is a fine film of grime adhering below the silicon grippers. however, it does appear to accomplish that which is stated on the tin. the summer embrocation does not engender the same buzz as its more orange winter counterpart, but then that's hardly the point. the watchword is tingle; not one that in any way irritates (perish the thought), but did help greatly in the face of chilling adversity.
i cannot admit to being a cyclist who regularly applies such products, mostly due to memory lapse i'm afraid, but in the light of how well this recipe fares on wobbly legs, i may leave the tin beside the day's cycling apparel for more regular application. i respectfully suggest you try the same; it is the flandrian/hebridean/continental way.
rapha summer embrocation costs £20 per tin
posted saturday 28 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i don't really get bmx, a garment i do not wear alone. while sitting in glasgow's central station a few years back, waiting to be notified that the london sleeper was ready to accept weary passengers, i was amused to watch two teenagers riding round the concourse on bmx bicycles, one of which had a saddle, the other which did not. whether this was because it had fallen off or not, i do not know but neither did the cycle own a seatpost, so i can only assume that the rider had removed it for reasons unknown to me. surely something of a pointless exercise?
i realise that, to a certain extent, i'm willfully missing the point, since this was quite blatantly a bmx rigged for trials riding of some description, a discipline in which a saddle could conceivably be somewhat surplus to requirements. but in a manner similar to that of pure cyclocross bikes without bottle cage bolts, this surely minimised its practicability. admittedly, the lack of a saddle or seatpost seemed to be giving its rider little cause for concern, allowing him to deftly and acrobatically impress the young ladies who seemed to be following the two bmx-ers (can i call them that?) like flies. i can think of few occasions, if any, when the notion for removing the saddle and seatpost from my colnago in the interests of impressing the opposite sex has occurred, but perhaps i should conduct some sort of poll to ascertain if i am in a minority.
i doubt it.
though the times they are a changing, with cycling adopting a more long-term strategy amongst its adherents, there is still a prevailing attitude in many parts of the uk, that a bicycle is a mode of transport better suited to children. until such time as that particular birthday happens along, allowing the acquisition of a provisional driving licence, the bicycle will simply have to do. in the more urban regions of the world, the bmx has found favour as both transport and plaything. it's not an attitude of mind that has ever found mainstream favour in more rural corners, most likely due to its impracticality as a means of travelling substantial distances. leaving bowmore for other parts involves three miles to bridgend to the north and ten miles to port ellen in the south, neither particularly appropriate for a bicycle bereft of a suitable length of seatpost to allow comfortable pedalling to even the shorter of these two distances and even for those shorter in leg.
bmx stands alone as a form of cycling originated almost as an opposite to cycling. the initials by which it is known are something of a clue; bicycle moto cross. introduced in 1960 with the advent of the schwinn sting ray, the cycles were intended to appear as cut-down versions of moto cross motorcycles, allowing those not of an age to emulate their heroes up until the magic year appeared on the calendar. it's the very antithesis of the historical and contemporary road bicycle which is, to all intents and purposes, an end in itself, while, assuming a logical conclusion, the bmx is simply a means to an end.
the latter is principally conjecture on my part, since it has allowed riders such as matt hoffman to break every bone in his body more than once, and brought sir chris hoy and robbie mcewen fame and fortune in two distinct disciplines: track and road. so while the genre may have been intended for one purpose and one purpose only, like many an open ended field of endeavour, things are often changed along the way. it is highly unlikely that those who eagerly purchased a schwinn sting ray would have expected their weekend of making motorbike noises to end up an olympic discipline. nor indeed might they have considered that the resulting sport would become just as much the preserve of so-called adults as it is that of those not yet old enough to ride a motorbike.
rad rides is the culmination of a call for entries to provide the avid bmx collector or aficionado with a whole earth catalogue of the history of the bmx familial line. the book's opening pages are filled with photos from the sport's heyday along with a brief history of who, what, how and when, to simply set the reader in motion, including a brief synopsis of each discipline spawned by that 1960s schwinn. an exploded diagram detailing the various parts of a typical bicycle seems almost gratuitous; if you don't already know, you're probably not interested. i'd imagine the target audience for rad rides is already possessed of such information.
mysteriously, despite an introduction alerting the reader to its 1960s heritage, the first bicycle portrayed on page 20 is a 1975 kawasaki (yet again signifying the sport's subjugation to that of the motorbike) and each subsequent page depicts the bmx development over the years, up to and including a 2011 fbm steadfast. each is accompanied by a brief description and historical notes. across the decades, it's a style of bicycle that has varied very little, and i think it necessary that the reader have an intrinsic interest in bmx to appreciate an endless parade of similarity. this is not an accusation that can only be levelled at the world of bmx; books on either mountain bikes or road bikes would generate similar observations.
however, if bmx is or was your thing (back in the day), this might just be the publication for you, setting all against a coherent background or simply enabling technicolour reminiscing. the book ends with a few collector interviews. these are guys (they're all male) with an obsession similar to our own, the main difference being that of tyre size and the fact that you can probably cram more bmx cycles into a smaller space than could be said of a similar number of road bikes.
not a book for everyone, but quite possibly indispensible to everyone who wears vans shoes.
posted friday 27 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
'the difference between them was measured at eight ten-thousandths of a second'
ah, the dance, the dance; 'tis but the physical embodiment of rhythm, the latter of which i have in spades, while the former eludes me completely. though it is almost expected of the confirmed road-cyclist, triathletes are an easy target. yet similar to my total lack of dancing ability, my swimming is akin to a mobile jacuzzi and i couldn't run the length of myself if life depended on it. but it is of no never mind as regards triathloning, it's the dancing that has me slightly concerned. for surely that is a required aspect of cycling no self-respecting roadie should be without?
it has become something of a cliche to read testimony of the legacy left by the late great marco pantani. how often have you read how the diminutive italian 'danced on the pedals' heading towards yet another mountain top victory, steamrolling all before him. at least, that's how laurent jalabert put it. the opening steps begin long before the neutralised section ends with a wave from the commissaire's sun roof. those with designs on satge victory are involved in a slow waltz, while others aiming for the doomed breakaway are already jitterbugging at the front. enough, however, of the trite dancing comparisons; there are more pressing works at hand.
in common with many an ageing cyclist, the time taken to loosen up sufficiently has begun to lengthen. it used to be round about debbie's, some 15km distant, but now i fear the coffee shop will either require to move further southwest, or my intended route will need at least one detour before froth supping commences. for it is difficult to concentrate on cycling's inherent rhythm until the funk is comfortably in place. it is the same behind the drumset; my inherent rythmicality will struggle big time if i do not ease myself into the flow. fast eighths or sixteenths on the hi-hat are definitely not the way to go in the first three tunes.
just ask geoff waugh.
it seems horribly pretentious in black and yellow to insist that matching the rhythm of pedalling with one's surroundings makes it a whole lot easier to adopt the secret identity; that of sportwool, lycra and derailleurs. but if that's the way that it has to be, there's no use in pretending otherwise. this has little or nothing to do with racing. a number on one of those three rear pockets demonstrates a greater sense of urgency, one that happily goes hand in hand with the youthful exuberance that makes the finish line seem closer than any of us would ever recognise.
watch the peloton from the tv helicopter shots and it's easy to identify the varying rhythms at work from front to rear. those who have successfully broken free as soon after that flag waving as practicable are in a zone other than the inseguitori, for they have time, strategy and race radios on their side. it verges on the laughable that, cavendish having failed to show in the spring classics purely because cavendish failed to show in the spring classics, this week's comic asks the question if sky are failing mark. i would have phrased the question in reverse. but watch the man during milan-sanremo and i would not have chosen him to accompany the earth wind and fire horn section.
yet as that unseen finish line gets nearer and nearer, it's hypothetically and practically possible that the rhythm of two, in some section of the pelotonese, will coincide. total eclipses of both moon and sun pay witness to this happenstance, but one that has greater chance purely by the numbers involved in any given race. at which point, i would like to introduce you to the tour of turkey.
commencing on sunday 22nd april and continuing until the 29th of this month, stage one fell to rabobank's theo bos, the overall lead altering on a daily basis, a feature dependent on factors within the race and the quality of each contender's inherent rhythmicality. it is, in part, the beauty of the sport. however, unlike my oft contested dislike of applying competitive constraints to artistic endeavour, the race is a whole 'nuther bucket of chainring bolts. the first man across the line is undoubtedly and objectively the winner, post-race official objections notwithstanding. however, on occasion, first man across the line is not the easiest call to make as the accompanying photos will attest.
it is entirely apposite that these arrived in my inbox from the author of 'salsa for those who probably shouldn't', the inestimable mr matt rendell, world class writer and fellow sufferer of dancing dyslexia. the deciding tyre tread went to former cavendish leadout man turned rabobank sprinter, mark renshaw, who's inner click-track seemed all but locked to that of disappointed second place, matt goss.
thank goodness for that thin red line.
posted thursday 26 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
perhaps in common with many of you, i am regarded as slightly the wrong side of not quite normal because i enjoy riding my bike. it's not specifically the act of riding that gives cause for concern; my editor receives regular praise for his daily travail of 22 miles to and from the office in pretty much all weathers, so it is possible to earn local respect as a cyclist. my transgressory approach seems to centre around the fact that i, in common with many across the country and, indeed, the world, take great pleasure in riding for the sheer joy of riding. that i might cover more than seventy kilometres in one sitting yet still appear with a smile on my face is regarded as deviant behaviour.
welcome to our world.
it is, of course possible to ameliorate this suspicion in the current climate of anti-obesity manoeuvres, for as most of us know, it would only take a grand helping of those 70 kilometres each and every day, and you too could look like bradley wiggins in the pyrenees in july. despite unlimited coffees and lashings of sticky buns. even the most circumspect of critics would feel stalled in the face of such dieting power coupled to unfettered face stuffing. cycling will do that.
the one aspect of pelotonic activity, however, that remains steadfastly beyond the pale when it comes to mass public acceptance, is that of riding up hills. steep hills (though steepness quotient is another one of those specifically subjective and relative terms). even the most reluctant of cyclists can find common ground when it comes to the joyous act of riding a bicycle downhill, but quite why anyone in their right mind would want to ride forever uphill when there was plainly no need so to do, smacks of some degree of mental deficiency. discount the acknowledged fact that all those euskatel supporters with their orange and green flags fill every available square centimetre of anything resembling even a modest uphill road in the pyrenees, accompanied by thousands of others come july. uphill simply does not compute with the average civilian.
so, if those who desire to ride everything that defies gravity to some degree are thought of as somewhat aberrant, what must be made of a man who not only spent some perfectly good time away from the telly, gathering one hundred climbs with which to fill a book, but rested not upon his publishing laurels and promptly nipped out to find one hundred more? one fears there must be something amiss in his diet, for 'tis surely less than upstanding and responsible behaviour?
yet that is exactly what simon warren has been and gone and done, resulting in a compact and bijou fully illustrated volume entitled another 100 greatest cycling climbs. as you might infer from the foregoing, simon warren (for it is he and his mental state under discussion) published 100 greatest cycling climbs in june of 2010, and apparently spent the intervening period endlessly searching for those filling this second book. what can doubtless be inferred from this state of affairs is that there are a substantial number of the pelotonese with either the skills, the tenacity or the aspiration to defy gravity aboard their bicycles, and preferably to box that all in the confines of 200 attempts.
it would be a pointless and thankless task for me to start listing the more excellent examples contained within; that's what the book's for. however, it is of note for those who fear (as i do), that they'll be lucky to attempt even a half-dozen of the climbs across two books, that there is more to this publishing lark than at first meets the eye. just past the introduction, where warren valiantly attempts to justify why he keeps riding up hills (appropriately entitled 'welcome back') is an intriguing little article on the obsession taken further. though it may come as little surprise in retrospect, simon warren is a long-time, classified weight-weenie, and has taken a page and a half to air his confessions. worth the purchase price alone.
this is not the book's only digression from a seemingly endless list of hills, for on page 92, mr warren lays bare the subject of pain and suffering related to the human capacity for same with a careful allusion to science fiction. climbing most of the hills within cannot realistically be described as an armchair experience. though he has not crossed the water to islay and experienced the 14% rise from port askaig ferry terminal, no doubt that will appear in yet another 100 greatest cycling climbs, quite probably in the throes of research even as we speak.
you know we want him to.
posted wednesday 25 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
few of britain's traditional industries still remain, and by traditional, i mean pretty much everything we made or owned. though car manufacturing still exists, few if any are british owned anymore, being in the possession of either the germans, americans or those from the far east. i doubt very much if we still make televisions and radios, at least not in the way we used to, and most of the steelworks and coal pits are now silenced. i'm not enough of a social or political historian to be able to explain how this all came about, but it does seems an unfortunately sad state of affairs.
becoming just a tad more specific and relating this all to the subject of our obsession, the british bicycle industry (in the large, mass production sense) pretty much vanished when raleigh in nottingham became simply a large warehouse for its far eastern sourced produce. sturmey archer belongs to sun-race and though brooks leather saddles are still made in time honoured fashion, they are currently owned by the italians.
in this respect, perhaps my opening gambit was a smidgeon misleading; we still make stuff, we just do so for other countries.
long gone are the days when every village had a smithy, or smiddy as we are more likely to refer in these parts. should i choose to ride from bowmore to bridgend, i cycle past the old smiddy, one that was still in use when i moved to islay over twenty years ago, though even at that point, there was no open fire, anvil and steel hitting steel; gas bottles were the stock in trade. the old gent who operated the service has now departed this earth, and the fact that no-one has thought to continue the tradition, would rather suppose there is insufficient demand. though horses are by no means numerous on the isle, apart from at the two trekking centres, i believe there is only one farrier still here, and more often than not, someone nips over from the mainland.
some of these really traditional services would at one time have included a wheelwright, quite likely several, for in the 19th century there were in excess of 15,000 people living on islay (only around 3,500 at present), whose principal mode of vehicular transport would have been horse and cart. when the bicycle arrived, it may well have been a part of the wheelwrights' charge to learn the servicing and repair of the spoked wheel. with the car and motor bike following hard on the heels of the bicycles, initially rolling on heavily spoked and tensioned wheels, the opportunities for business expansion would doubtless have been most gratifying.
my son's new car is fitted with what seems to be casually referred to as alloys and it seems most unlikely that these will ever need other than cleaning with apposite alloy cleaner. spokesmen need not apply, i fear. even in the world of the bicycle, things ain't what they used to be. i have rudimentary wheelbuilding skills, sufficient to replace broken spokes in tourists' over-burdened wheels, but with the regular fare of cheap cycles, it is uneconomic to attempt repair if they break. and they almost undoubtedly will. with only four regular cyclists, in the manner to which we would refer as cyclists in the velo club, setting up shop in my bikeshed would be a somewhat uneconomic enterprise.
many a cycle arrives nowadays replete with factory built wheels, items that, as the years have rolled by, have become not only more steadfast and reliable, but attractive enough to make molteni painted colnagos look suitably fast when leaning against a wall. the kudos nowadays, however, reside heavily in the fabrication of handbuilt steel bicycles, requiring skills well beyond my means, and more likely to result in my being not only a danger to myself, but to anyone within a five mile radius. i build the occasional wheel because i have need of some mechanical alliance with my chosen obsession.
yet, there are still those, admittedly few and far between, who have comfortably kept the wolf from the door by lacing spokes to hubs and rims, offering the unashamed luxury of handbuilt wheels with which to augment that already fine steel or carbon frame. one such is derek mclay of wheelsmith, based in larbert near grangemouth in scotland. while offering the traditional alloy rimmed hoop, wheelsmith also specialises in the more contemporary deep carbon. in the way that a bass guitar player is often a failed guitarist, is derek a wheelbuilder because he couldn't build cycle frames?
"No. I tend to think of the wheel as being more like the guitar and a frame like the bass. But then I would say that! The wheel is a more finely tuned instrument with a higher degree of variation, n'est-ce pas? Actually, it's like a tuneless harp. I had a shot of frame building when I was young - I made a rather unsuccessful unicycle - but I never went back to it and I got sick at the sight of welds when I had to test them in a bad job I once had."
someone other than i coined the word wheelaholic to describe those of us with an inherent fascination for the spoked endeavour. though i do adore my mavic r-sys carbon spoked delights, i could sit for hours just looking at the more traditionally built chris kings that adorn the cielo. there's just something about the way those bendy spokes can assemble into such a resilient structure capable of shrugging off the worst of islay's roads. what is it that intrigues derek about wheels?
"It's the 'small structures' thing. Being able to create a product which brings to life its component parts. I'm a trained potter - I think it's a similar process to throwing pots. However, paradoxically, an unskilled potter can produce something fresh and lively simply because 'greater' skill hasn't got in the way, wheels need to be executed accurately and with precision or they potentially fail at doing the job intended for them. Wheels also suit my needs to create something with a gentle blend of unconscious creativity and mathematical precision."
much as i enjoy lacing a pair of wheels in front of the telly, finding it as therapeutic as my mother finds knitting, i build wheels so infrequently that i often have to return to my manual to remind of the initial lacing pattern required. the practiced wheelbuilder, however, could probably construct while carrying on a detailed conversation with jehovah's witnesses due to years of rehearsal. how long has mclay been building?
"I started mending wheels at about eight, in 1977 when I got an early BMX. I experimented with my own wheels and fixed anybody else's around me. Then at about twelve, I was building or rebuilding anything I could get my hands on. I've had loads of jobs and Wheelsmith is only six years old but I've always been making a few bob by fixing wheels and bikes. My grandmother used to make wheels for her father's shop (he made the frames!) so I guess it's in the blood so to speak."
building is, of course, only one part of the process, for there would surely be little reward in constructing a pair of featherlight carbons with only a dozen anorexic spokes for a rider in excess of 15 stones. at this point, the wheelbuilder has to become part builder, part psychologist, asking many an impertinent and pertinent question to make sure all preparations are not in vain. if i trundled across to larbert for a new pair of wheels, what questions would derek be likely to ask?
"What kind of bike do you have? What is the intended use and typical distance per annum? How fast are you? How heavy are you? What's your budget?" the big problem there, i would think, is that most of us would lie about question three.
the choice of wheel rims until relatively recently has been mostly confined to variations of alloy , some of box construction, some double-eyeletted, some not eyletted at all, and those with faux aero pretensions. however, as with virtually corner of the bicycle world, carbon has been invasive. mavic have carbon spokes, carbon sports have endless carbon kevlar, and almost all employ deep(ish) carbon rims. the latter have always engendered notions of expense and fragility when it comes to handbuilding. what if i do it wrong and trash all that burnt plastic? will my bank manager still talk to me? will mrs washingmachinepost still talk to me? has the carbon rim become the darling of the modern cognoscenti?
"Deeper, stiffer rims at a lighter weight than alloy? That makes a lot of sense. Monocoque clinchers are excellent too now. They still seem to carry a lot of paranoia but it's in equal measure to puncture paranoia with tubs. I get reports from customers finding that they become inspired by their carbon wheels - making them ride more and faster. Like a trusty old Gibson acoustic guitar inspires a songwriter maybe?" are those any harder to build with than aluminium? "Quicker to build up, easier to true but because they are generally so stiff in compression, spoke tension ramps up really quickly and I guess could catch people out. I do get a lot of basket cases sent to me to finish off. Bit of a gamble given that things may have been over tensioned. But the more I build, the more organic it feels. I actually prefer them to alloy now because they are more predictable - which is not what I'd expect given that the rims are of a composite construction."
as you will perhaps have noticed from my review of the north american handmade bicycle show, carbon and aluminium have been joined at the exotic end by antonio cermenati's italian wood rims fashioned from the finest beechwood. many an eyebrow has been raised at the thought of placing a pair of wheels built with such rims on the everyday bicycle, but i have it on good authority (ric hjertberg and jude kirstein) that, under most circumstamces, they are as sturdy as a regular pair of alloy rims. wheelsmith had a built up pair of wood rimmed wheels on their stand at the scottish bike show, but just how hard are those to build?
"They are tricky little beauties and require a lot of patience. However, after a couple of re-trues and when the wood is finally tamed they are surprisingly stable. Antonio Cermenati is making the rims with a carbon strip now to enable high pressures. He's at the leading edge of shedism; his workshop is amazing."
in the manner of the zen koan where does my lap go when i stand up?, can it be realistically referred to as a wheel when all that sits on the workbench is a collection of spokes, a couple of hubs and a pair of rims? i'd imagine that would depend on the circumstances and surroundings in which the case was considered, but whichever point of view you're willing to take, there's no getting away from the fact that those are the very components that constitute a bicycle wheel. and in this context, there are multifarious brands and specifications from which to choose, not all of which are comprehensible to those bereft of wheelahoic tendencies, and in many a case, not even privy to such as those. in the case of wheelsmith, is it possible to request specific componentry, or would derek prefer to build with the tried and tested items listed on his website?
"I'm happy to build with any decent functional rims and hubs but I've ruled out stocking a lot of stuff simply due to warranty issues in the past. Poor dealer service has killed a few brands too. Frankly, some rims and hubs are just plain junk and it ends up a costly mistake. Give us a call and let us know what you've got or fancy."
it would be hard to deny that derek here displays a more than open mind when it comes to which bits can be joined to which in the quest for the ideal pair of wheels. is he, however, just as opened minded when it comes to some of the more exotic spoking patterns that can be achieved? would he, for instance, be happy to deploy bizarre stuff such as 'snowflake' spoking, or would he generally advise customers against this sort of thing?
"Nice to look at and good fun to build but it's too time consuming to make it a worthwhile commercial venture. Might be better left to DIY projects and wallhangers."
if we now accept that i have answered those searching questions, chosen just which bits and bobs i would like my wheels to display and my hypothetical wheelsmith wheels are about to be solidly built and presented in a matter of days, do i wish to inherit the faff that ultimately arrives with a pair of sprint rims and tubulars, or should i play safe and stick to clinchers and their ability to accept a spare inner-tube? what's the general consensus?
"Right now, having just done some stats, about 30% of my customers go tubular. And 80% of those sales are with carbon rims. Some stay with tubs, some switch, some go back to tubs. I think the general consensus is still that 'tubs are for racing', although I would say that about 60% of wheels sold are raced."
though i'm hardly next door to wheelsmith's larbert headquarters (i need hardly point out that i'm not actually next door to anywhere), it would take only a ferry ride and a couple of bus or train rides to arrive knocking on the front door eager to indulge my wheelaholicness at my own expense. but we are now in the digital age of the internet, when carrying on a conversation with someone over 5,000 miles away is a simple and convenient procedure. in complete contradiction to the 19th century norm, where you would need to have been the wrong side of weird to have travelled the same distance rather than visit your local wheelwright, it is now possible to pick and choose from worldwide suppliers. does derek find the bulk of his orders from north of the border, or is the spread widening?
"No, mostly London and the rest of England due to the power of the internet. The canny Scot is entirely enigmatic - but I suppose per head of population and with an internet based company it's what I should expect. Back to the sales stats: 60% England, Wales and N. Ireland. 20% Europe and Scandinavia and 20% Scotland. It remains to be seen the effect our presence at The Scottish Bike Show will have."
while we're on the subject of sending wheels hither and thither, i noted that wheelsmith are keen to point out on their website that north americans need not apply. wheelsmith wheels do not travel well across the atlantic. is this because derek perceives that market to be saturated, or are there other reasons for this? "The insured shipping costs are prohibitive for most countries outwith Europe and Scandinavia. For example, a customer in Kuala Lumpur paid £120 recently for shipping a pair of Paris-Roubaix sprints out to him to take to France on holiday. The US would be a fantastic market but I haven't yet found a realistic courier price. Please let me know if you find one. Boxes are 65x30x65 and weigh on average 4kg."
after all that, it ill behoves me to admit that, when it comes to knowing of those with the steadfastness to laugh in the face of adversity, look the commercial world square in the eye, and refuse to be thought of as the silent majority, wheelsmith were sort of unkown to me. few would disagree that there are easier ways to earn a crust than building bicycle wheels, perhaps even more so to be based in scotland. does derek think of wheelsmith as a well kept secret?
"Not really, but it was surprising how few Scottish people knew Wheelsmith existed. I think customers found us online by demand for particular brands of components rather than the company name. This is something that website stats can never tell you! A Google search for Wheelsmith is no.1 on how people access the site."
even a brief squint at the wide variety of expertly built wheels that festooned the wheelsmith booth at the recent scottish bike show would have been enough to realise that here was someone comfortably master of all he surveyed. at least in terms of wheely bits. there are those who are more than satisfied with the level of success they have achieved, while others have success thrust upon them and perhaps enticed by the growth and more growth mantra that affects much of the western world. irrespective of which particular philosophy appeals to derek mclay, what constitutes his own cunning plan for world domination?
"I don't have time to finalise my plans right now. If I could earn enough to employ a personal assistant type person I might think I've conquered the world. further plans will have to wait. A reasonably priced worldwide fully-insured courier deal would help though..."
posted tuesday 24 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................