it's an easy mistake to make. you get up early on a saturday morning, certainly a lot earlier than would be the case if left to your own devices, in order to 'get stuff done.' not stuff that you really want to have done, important stuff like purple harrying the powerdome cassette, adjusting ten clicks in the gear cable or even something as remarkably simple as inflating the tyres. that would be too easy and too convenient. no, this is stuff that has to be done at work. only for an hour or two, mind, and hardly the most taxing operation known to mankind, but the irritation is that it has to be done at a time of day that shouldn't really exist at all.
in order to have a moment or two more in bed, breakfast will be scoffed after the stuff has been taken care of, by which time there's already that nutrition deficiency. i don't doubt there are more equal ways of prioritising, but really, at this time on a saturday morning?
i could be on my own with this, for i detect a dearth of sympathy, particularly at this time of year when the sun is already high in the sky before it's even 6am. but this particular stuff is no respecter of seasons, weather or temperature, and you just know i'll still be doing the same thing come mid-december. it's what stuff does. anyway, with that out the way, why would i go back to bed? isn't that just giving in? be honest, that's just what they'd expect you to do; we're made of sterner stuff and a wholesome desire for some old fashioned porage oats with peach halves on top. except this week, the topping consisted of stewed rhubarb.
i can feel the envy from this distance.
weekdays are partially filled mid-morning with a sheet of toast and marmalade, staving off any offensive hunger pangs until lunchtime. but for reasons i'd be hard pushed to explain, saturday and sunday are different, yet occupied with stuff. now i don't know what your saturday morning consists of, but mine usually has shopping in mind. or at least, mrs washingmachinepost does. the best that can be extracted from such sterling activity is a pretence of weight training. buy one, get one free on a two litre bottle of coca cola has nothing in common with featherweight, and try as i might, i can't get past the idea that bowmore main street has had a gradient increase overnight.
if your saturday is indeed, anything like mine, everything, and i mean everything, is merely an unavoidable preamble to the act of cycling. it hangs like a tangible edifice throughout the house and even stretches as far as the back garden. it's an edifice that keeps the anticipation factor high; mine, that i will go cycling and mrs twmp that i'll have an unconstitutional change of heart and take her out to lunch. one of us is needs a change of heart, but i'm not sure which one.
coffee is the deciding factor, that and a cheese and apple chutney sandwich. it is to my eternal regret that there is no denying that to be the ultimate destination, but it ill-behoves me to avoid many a kilometre (in this case, many a very cold and wet kilometre) of smooth pedalling up hill and down dale, all the time sensing a strong coffee aroma from the direction of bruichladdich. islay's summer has passed on, and we're in autumnal mode even this early in the season.
this is where any carefully laid plans i may have thought i had, turned to just so much mush. frothy coffee and a cheese sandwich are undoubtedly capable of restoring revs per minute, but they are inadvertantly at least 15 kilometres distant. cold and wet places more of a strain on the system than i'd prepared for midway through a saturday morning. just remember the early rise and the stuff that caused it. what's a honed athlete to do?
remember when folks told you not to try this at home, or at least not without a safety net? well, comfortably placed in that middle rear pocket was my safety net. yes, i know you would never believe it of me, for i rarely come across as the organised type, but in a moment designed to confound my inquisitors, i have popped two bikefood lemon flavoured honey gels in that very pocket for just such an eventuality. it was the procrastination of the early morning stuff that made me do it.
the confounding part is its parallel of a previous review. bikefood proffered their gel on an unsuspecting world last year in rather novel fashion, for at that point in time, they had eschewed the more usual foil wrapper with a bite-off top. at that point in time, one bought a big bottle of the lemon flavoured gloop and decanted it into a smaller shaped bottle that could be endlessly re-used. i rode, i slurped and i commented and though favourably, i did find it a smidgeon sweet and sickly at the time. so how come, now that it is packaged in more recognisable format, does it taste like the nectar of the gods, ready and able to keep a kilometre rich cyclist from fading before the coffee stop?
i realise that this is perhaps not the career path that bikefood had mapped out for their latest offspring. its principal trajectory is aimed at the infinitely more athletic. for lets face it, we all want the best for the little darlings. but in a world that encompasses that of pain and suffering along with simple human deficiency, one has to take the rough with the smooth. speaking of the latter, i slurped yet another lemon flavoured honey this morning.
just think of it as convenience food.
a single tasty bikefood gel costs £1.45, but i figure you'd be better going the whole hog and plumping for a box of 25 at £33.75
monday 18th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
like many a an international language, scots has a deep, interesting and oft times inscrutable command of the vernacular. phrases such as 'yer heid's fu' o' wee churly bits' can be deep and meaningful to someone born or domiciled north of the border, while being utterly incomprehensible to others. in common with many another dialect, such phrases are not designed to exclude the uninitiated (though that's sometimes a desirable by-product) but have evolved through a moulding of what is still referred to as the queen's english. much of this is aided and abetted by the fact that such colloquialisms are rarely, if ever, intended to be written down, perhaps a fortunate stance, since few who speak such utterances are capable of spelling them in any case.
it is not, therefore, of great surprise that a bicycle company producing hand-made frames just west of scotland's capital city, would choose to name their bikes in just such a fashion. using an indigenous part of the language to differentiate one's cycles from the rest of the world strikes me as a clever and strategic plan. thus shand cycles of livingston, near edinburgh enter the veil of handbuilt production cycles with three distinct offerings. the skinny malinky road bike, the stooshie cyclocross bike and the bright orange vehicle under consideration here, treading the trails between the latter two:
as owner steven shand himself has categorised the stoater "It was designed from the start as a "go anywhere" bike. We wanted it to be as versatile as we could without getting silly. It was sort of conceived as a 'cross bike for people who wanted a 'cross bike but it turns out they didn't really want a 'cross bike but a 'cross bike was the closest they could get to what they thought they wanted." in point of fact, i doubt i could have put it any better myself.
before i step any further into the affray, it is pertinent to point out that the stoater currently occupying reverential space in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, is the prototype. one or two things have changed as a result of its prototypeness, features that will unlikely create havoc with the impressions my time with the bike engendered, but more art lies in the details kind of changes. it is basically your standard sloping top tube double-diamond frame built from reynolds 853 tubing, the exception being the chainstays which, on this model, are from columbus. steven was keen to point out that this is a temporary measure until they can get reynolds to produce 853 stays that he's happy with. "I'm perfectly happy with the Columbus stays but it would be nice if we could use 853 throughout."
the tubing is described as oversized, though in comparison to the carbon of my ibis hakkalugi, it looks positively anorexic. the fillet brazed joints, however, are as smooth as those ibis carbon transitions. in fact, this is one of those frames that would have to spend a week or so at least, just sitting in the living room being admired prior to meeting its groupset. commendably, the stoater frameset does not adhere to the one size fits all philosophy; "It's worth pointing out here that each size of frame from xs>xl has tubing specced specifically for that frame. For example an xs Stoater has a 32mm down tube but everything from medium up has a 35mm downtube. The wall thicknesses vary in frame size within a model range too. We don't just spec a tubeset and use that on all frame sizes."
there are subtleties afoot all around, even in addition to that impeccable fillet brazing. the sloping top tube tapers from 32mm at the head tube junction down to 28mm at the other end. steven explained that he's unsure if this adds or detracts from the ride quality, but it does make it simpler to join the top tube to the seat tube. "A 28mm constant diameter tube would be too flexy for what we want and a 32mm tube causes some real grief when you need to join it to the 28mm seat tube.". the seat tube is 28.6mm externally butted to 30mm at the top, placing more material where all those 853 tubes join together. this particular example of the stoater arrived with shand's adjustable dropout, currently the dropout of choice.
"This is what most people have been going for as it allows you to run normal derailleur gears, IGH (Alfine, Rohloff etc), single speed or belt drive (we offer a splitter option on the stay for belt drive). The dropout inserts are replaceable so if you don't want one with a hanger, we can supply that or we also do a Rohloff specific dropout too." the frame is also available with a standard dropout placing the disk brake between the stays to make for easy rack and mudguard fitting. though unusual on a steel frame, the latter version comes with a replaceable hanger and a spare, with the bolt threads in the hanger. thus, if the threads are ripped out, you haven't just trashed a perfectly good frame."
the cable routing under the bottom bracket is particularly unique, consisting of three brazed on guides, but this may now be a case of less is more come the production version. "We wanted to run an Alfine on that and I tried something on the under BB routing that didn't work. Although it works ok, it's much cleaner on the production models." while the bottom bracket is under discussion, the prototype has a 73mm shell, a size that is being replaced on the production models with the narrower 68mm. that explained the chainline on my test model being 'sub-optimal'. and lastly, but certainly not least, the unicrown fork is an off the shelf version from salsa, but production models receive shand constructed unicrowns or lugged crown with enough clearance to run the new 29er mtb wheels and tyres.
external 1.125" headset in this case was from hope in england, but a chris king no threadset is also a factory-fit option.
it's the usual story, however; in order to make a frame into a bicycle, you have to add a soupcon of componentry. the most distinctive visual feature is the use of cable operated disc brakes, in this case the very same avid model that appeared on colnago's world tour reviewed last year. these are operated from shimano 105 sti levers that also connect to a set of ten-speed 105 gears. chainset was a very retro stronglight 48/38, fitted to a square taper bottom bracket, a very unusual sight nowadays. front and rear hubs were disc specific hope polished alloy, laced to salsa branded araya rims and wearing a pair of schwalbe sammy slick 700x35c tyres. bars, stem and 27.2mm seatpost were all salsa branded items, and i fitted a brooks professional saddle for the duration of my review, as well as employing a pair of crank brothers eggbeaters pedals...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
disc brakes do not for a light bike make, (at least not yet) coupled with a distinct personal prejudice against this particular method of stopping a bicycle. these are factors i need to get over, for in truth discs work as well, if not better than a set of cantilevers. it is, however, of great testament to the frame that it handles all this with aplomb, principally through its almost sublime arrangement of tubes. see-saws, of which there seem fewer and fewer examples in evidence these days (probably something to do with health and safety) have it sussed. the balance point is right, slap bang in the centre. but that is easily adjudged due to each half being of precisely similar proportions. a bicycle is a slightly more complex ask, for it has lateral movement to contend with along with vertical compliance, so making sure the rider sits in the middle requires greater skill.
it would appear that it's a skill they have in a drawer at shand cycles, for no matter along which road i passed or which section of uiskentiue strand i rumbled, the bike was doing all the work while i simply went along for the ride. add to this the almost intangible follow through from each crank stroke when pressing hard, and the stoater lived up to every last letter of its name. this in spite of the fact that i feel a more sympathetic set of wheels would have revealed more of its delights. i do not castigate the hubs in this respect, for they carried out their employ with magnificence, but i doubt very much that the rims were bringing much to the party. and though the tyres were an ideal choice for the wide difference in terrain, i'd like to have tried something a little more sprightly.
that i didn't, had more to do with the rim width and a lack of suitable alternative rubber in the bike shed.
however, this review concerns the frame, and though it is all but impossible to filter out the accessories, at point of purchase, you can specify anything your heart desires. as steven pointed out above, the chainline was less than ideal on this particular model, something that has been obviated in the production versions. when sitting in the 38 ring and the large sprocket, the chainline was somewhat extreme, a factor that made itself known once or twice by the chain popping back down a cog, or simply voicing its opinion in audible fashion. yet again, with a narrower bb shell and your own choice of chainset, the world could conceivably be your oyster.
turning my attentions to those avid discs for a moment, they would be hard to fault were it not for their itinerant screechings. i have been told on many an occasion that discs offer not only better braking but greater modulation, and it is the latter than i have contention with. pulling gently on the levers to simply scrub off a bit of speed inevitably brought forth an unpalatable noise from the discs. pulling harder to dispel this unpleasantness most often resulted in a shorter stopping distance than i'd bargained for. thankfully, there was little evidence of rubbing while in motion, and in this respect the calipers are easily adjusted by the two bolts holding them to the disc mounts. as it would appear this may well be our future on all forms of bicycle, like my tirade against the integrated headset, i fear i will have to swallow my misgivings and simply accept discs as an alternative method of stopping. doesn't mean i have to like it though.
a bike review would not be a bike review if it didn't, at some point, attempt to break stuff. as mentioned to the point of distraction, there are at least a couple of roads on the isle that can be rolled out for special occasions such as these, and the stoater was given no exception. the joy of the carrabus to coullabus road is that it gets steadily worse every time it is ridden, its principal use being that of farm access and little else (though i did meet some errant visitors about to drive a twelve plate bmw seven series in the direction i had just ridden. not sure that was a good idea). a three mile road that looks as if it had seen service in passchendaele, lightened only by a strategically placed cattle grid, can often find weaknesses in a cycle that more travelled highways would miss completely. though wearing a helmet is almost compulsory, there is no satisfaction to be gained from attempting to shield a review machine from its fate, and despite such unforgiving behaviour, the stoater behaved as if nothing was amiss. it never even chipped the paint.
though the option of discs is not an option at all, i'd love to try this frame with perhaps a shimano alfine hub gear and slightly narrower tyres, but then if i was the chap placing his money on the counter, i could pretty much spec it any way i pleased. though handmade from portland or warwick massachusetts have their attractions along with one or two examples from italy, it brings a warm glow to know that scotland still has the wherewithal and the skilled to hold its head high when it comes to hand built bicycles. for those who know to what the word stoater infers, this is the epitome of its definition. for those oblivious, i suggest you ride one and find out.
now i'm just scunner'd that it has to go back.
sunday 17th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
'What the why of the wail was to the cyclist has been hinted; what, at times, it was to Kapelmuur Independent, as yet, remains unsaid.'
we labour under a misapprehension, one that has been so concretely founded that even those more integrated in the sport than ourselves labour under the same misguided sham. it is unkind of me to refer to it as such, for truthfully, sham is a less than efficacious definition, but my description is based on that which we define it to be, resting entirely on expectation. that it is other could be readily seen to be something of a sham by any other name. much of the substance of the why-ness of the wail is all but inscrutable to the naked eye and to the sportfully affected, so i shall contain my review to the substance expounded in chapter 42 (surely no coincidence between this and douglas adams' assertion of the meaning of life, the universe and everything; the hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy?)
the author is a master of the existential, dissecting the whys and wherefores of that pertaining to the agonist in a manner that would not be out of place in a post graduate research paper. truthfully it is possible a universe too far for the bulk of us, concerned as we usually are with heart rates and power output. but were we to comprehend this dissertation from the acute angle at which it has been conceived, it would bring realisation that such matters are but the froth on a fine cappuccino. consider the following" 'Aside from those more obvious considerations, which could not but occasionally awaken in any cyclist's soul some alarm, there is another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning the wail of one upon a bicycle, which at times by its intensity completely overpowers all the rest;'
surely an aspect of agonism with which it is hard to argue?
that which we inhabit on a day to day basis, and it matters not how this is circumscribed to ourselves, or those closest to us, can be truly seen to be a facade. thankfully a facade in which it is comfortable to live, for were the wailing realisation to be made manifest, there are many who would find its incomprehensibility to be of immediate concern. racing for that imaginary line (for who amongst us is completely fooled by its faux reality?) belongs not only to the victor, but ultimately to all those who have made the supreme effort. first wheel across is simply playing to the gallery, the magnificence of that dramatic wail only that of the actor (with the emphasis clearly on the second syllable), while that which is subject to the purity of the agonist remains unobserved by the multitude, yet eerily resounding with the truly sympathetic.
'But there are other instances where this wail loses all that accessory and strange glory which invests it in the campionissimo and grimpeur.'
it is at this point of the chapter that the author clearly points out the kernel of thought that has been hdden in the narrative for so long. the apellations of campionissimo and grimpeur despite being ostensibly from two distinct languages are all but weighed down by history, heritage and a sense of power, one that lives intermingled in both nouns. for truly the campionissimo has, by virtue of true definition, to be that of a grimpeur. that is where wings appear and the passage between this universe and the next becomes a corridor to agonism and the wail can be seen as precisely what it is and has always been.
you will forgive me if i seem to write in riddles, but it is of tangible note that not everyone will comprehend all which is contained within the why-ness of the wail, and sadly, that is exactly as it must be and indeed, ought to be. it can be likened to that of the zen koan; there is no ultimate answer, only an ultimate answer for each individual and only that which is recognised by the true agonist. though not phrased as such, the chapter is, in effect, inviting us to question what it is that drives us upon the bike. and i do not, for one minute, mean to infer that of the 53/39 chainset.
...no cyclist can deny that in its profoundest, idealized significance it calls up a particular apparition to the soul.' it is here that the author's argument is at its weakest point, for supposition is never a characteristic that ought to feature in a discussion of the existential, particularly as it concerns that of the agonist. at no other point in the book does the author ascribe any form of aspect to a soul, and he does not, in fact, define just what he means by the term. devoid of any such definition, we are left in limbo; does the soul in fact exist?
this aside, if we accept the conventional meaning of the word, the integrity of his argument remains steadfast, but in a work of this nature it is surely an error to make such generalised assumptions?
thankfully, however, its inclusive nature is hard to avoid. to quote; 'The wailing agonist is as well made as other men - has no substantive deformity - and yet this mere aspect of all-pervading why-ness makes him more strangely hideous than the ugliest fringale.' to leave aside the more obvious question at this point, it is, i feel, pertinent to point out that the all-inclusiveness of the term agonist can be interpreted by the lack of a capital 'a'. were it to be otherwise, we might reasonably assume that of a higher order, a status that requires to be achieved rather than inherited. the agonist within me is relieved.
the why-ness of the wail is a work of true import. granted, it is not without its faults and idiosyncracies, but it would be asking a great deal of any author to comprehend the magnitude of the work at hand. it takes many a long year to assimilate all that pertains to the study of agonism; one can only guess at the trials the author must have undergone to bring the more applicable aspects of such philosophical entreaties.
'Is it by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the depths of the roadway?'
saturday 16th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
one aspect of road racing that separates it from many other forms of cycle sport and, indeed, from many other sports, is its impressive heritage. though many of the disciplines included in the olympic games have been around for a lot longer than those involving two wheels, rare is the occasion that any have rivalled road racing for excitement and downright flagrant exhibitions of cojones in the face of adversity. not for nothing do the current pro team baselayers from rapha proclaim 'vous etes des assassins'; contentiousness and contoversy are not strange bedfellows when applied to the realm of racing bicycles.
but in common with many other strata of life, cycle racing has produced more than its fair share of heroes, of patrons, of figureheads, some who promulgate notions of controversy even by their very existence. those who have read paul howard's excellent sex, lies and handlebar tape about the life and times of jacques anquetil will be aware of the controversy engendered by his carefree admission to have conquered five tours de france not purely on mineral water. hounding cyclists to the ends of the earth to prove their iniquities seemed less of a concern in those days, and after all, anquetil was french; the tour was french.
and while much has been said over the years regarding team sponsorship, in some ways it has been of benefit to the tifosi that commerciality doesn't tend to hang about for very long. unlike rugby and football teams, whose song remains the same year after year, last year's bouygues telecom is this year's europcar. personnel changes along the way, but essentially it's same time, same channel, same race programme. what does change is the team jersey. armstrong commenced with motorola, became us postal and ended up as discovery channel, allying his seven tour victories with differing shades of similar colours, though radioshack ended all that with a full stop.
other tour heroes were more steadfast in their employ, miguel indurain spending most of his career in the colours of banesto, and dominating in a quieter but just as forceful manner than many of his erstwhile peers. think back across the last fifty years, and that half-century has accounted for many of the most impressive and recognisable personalities in the rich panoply of road cycling. this is not, of course, to cast doubt on their predecessors; bartali, coppi, bahamontes, garin and others, but the advent of what could arguably be referred to as the modern era has made the exploits of our heroes far more visible and high profile.
yet, despite all the foregoing, cycling remains a minority interest, perhaps a substantial one, but not quite reaching the status of formula one motor racing, tennis, cricket, rugby or the bane of non-supporter's life at the moment, football/soccer. these are the sports for which cycling is delayed on eurosport and all regular programming cast aside on the uk's principal channels. yet we probably secretly accede to this state of affairs, because it sets us apart from the mainstream and cultivates the covert symbols such as oval tanlines on the back of each hand. anything that might happen along to accentuate this isolation, something that will identify us to others amongst crowds of civilians is received with gratifying acceptance.
i say this with some justification, for the evidence is there for all to see.
only a matter of days past, the sartorialists in london's perren street released to the cycling world, a range of five t-shirts, carefully selected for their relevance to the cause as well as to the practicalities of daily riding. these represent the five decades since trade teams returned to the tour de france, each personifying an emblem of each intervening ten years; jacques anquetil, eddy merckx, bernard hinault, miguel indurain and lance armstrong. these t-shirts are perfectly formed from 100% cotton, feature a slim cut for the aspiring icon and a rear pocket for coffee money. and just to underline my contention that their popularity feeds off the psyche of the archetypal roadie, they're almost sold out already.
however, should a £40 t-shirt fail to satisfy that roadie exo-skeleton, augmentation is available in the shape of a five decades cap and a uniquely liveried musette, just in case the sole rear pocket provides insufficient cargo space. details on each shirt includes the printed motto 'cinq decennies de champions (five decades of champions) with an emblem on the back inspired by each rider's nickname. though these are outpourings from rapha, london, initial design work was carried out by james selman's portland based weights and pulleys design studio, making this a triumph of cross atlantic pollenation.
if you're quick, you can nab one of the few remaining shirts because these form a true limited edition; once they're gone, they're gone. and they're going fast.
friday 15th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's a momentous part of a first day at art college when the college shop opens specifically for the newbies to stand in line ready to collect that first year pack. the occasion is so rife with excitement and anticipation, partly because the newness of everything still holds great intrigue and because the majority of those you're queuing with are folks you've never met before. several, like me, were unconcerned about hiding any naivete in new surroundings, while others were trying (too hard, in most instances) to let it all wash over and appear as insouciant as they could manage.
never once did the eye take a good long look at the contents list of that welcome pack to discern any particular reasoning behind its composition. why, for instance would we need prussian blue and light red? surely vermilion and ultramarine would suffice? why would i ever need ten sheets of mellotex; and just what was it anyway? insufficient experience gave rise to most of these questions, and at that very early stage, it never dawned on any of us that the materials prescribed might just be the result of institutional convention.
since our artistic abilities had yet to be tested in any way shape or form, anticipation played greater than just a bit part in the proceedings, but it still concerns me slightly that, at the end of my first year, i still had one or two items that lay unused in my locker, the reasons for which i never truly fathomed. but if education then was anything like it is today, several learning outcomes had probably moved on faster that the composer of the first year starter pack.
as one who fully intended to specialise in the art of either oil or watercolour painting, the inclusion of a large fold of unprimed canvas, several stretchers and a tin of white undercoat held the greatest promise. these were hitherto unknown components of artistic struggle, components of which, i don't mind admitting, i was a little unsure. it came as great relief, therefore, that day one in the painting class consisted of a demonstration as to just how such items ought to be usefully optimised for painterly expression. though the canvas was to be stapled to the back of each stretcher, it was of economic comfort to learn that this could be unhitched and the stretchers re-used at a later date. though the concept of so doing was far from anyone's mind at the time, that all but penniless third term encouraged great invention to continue assignments in the face of an empty bank balance.
the latter was of even more pertinence to the classmate who spent his entire grant on records before the first week was out.
though an idea poo pooed at the start of our collective art school career, economics eventually dictated that sheets of hardboard slathered with the very same white undercoat would ultimately suffice for the latest masterpiece. the secondary joy was that of leaving acres more room in the painting racks outside the drawing and painting classes. the downside was often that of taking an age to dry when using oils rather than acrylics, even though, unbeknownst to most at the time, this property of oil paint allowed constant reworking over a lengthy period of time, somewhat of a boon when continuing the one work for several weeks.
the lesson learned, if indeed it was learned at all, was that the medium and substrate prepared for any work of artistic endeavour were of secondary importance. many a great master expressed his greatness on materials considerably less worthy than cotton duck canvas. though works of art sell for millions nowadays, earning a living as a professional artist was, and is, a somewhat precarious existence and necessity truly is often the mother of invention. the great david bomberg, who lived a mostly penniless existence in british obscurity resorted many a time to painting on oiled paper, not the simplest of fabrics to have framed for exhibition. but then a determined need to keep painting has often been compared to the compulsion to go out and ride a bicycle or indeed write about it every day. neither are truly necessitous, but rarely is compulsion a respecter of logical thought.
this ability for art to be applied to various surfaces has its origins in the cave paintings of pre-christian times, many examples of which have been found all across europe, australia and africa. there are still tribes today who would consider a set of windsor and newton oil paints and brushes to be of singular curiosity. it is little wonder, therefore that the bicycle frame, though not perfectly adapted for expression writ large, has found itself on the receiving end of some exquisite artistry. the nature and material of this velocipedinal canvas rather precludes those characteristic crinkled tubes of artists' colours, more readily laying claim to the fine mist of an airbrush. in the right hands, however, many a frame has arguably come to rival the works on art gallery walls.
the pinnacle of such artistic proficiency i would regard to be encapsulated in the art decor series promulgated by colnago during the late nineties and on into the early noughties, an example of which sits patiently in thewashingmachinepost bike shed. there was little need to query whether one had acquired such a frame, for inevitably the words, art decor appeared at a strategic point of the frame in question. for reasons of which i know not, though doubtless fashion played its part, these were phased out via slightly less complex and individual paint schemes until they disappeared from view altogether, replaced most recently by most underwhelming and seemingly pointless geometrics, featuring little darts of colour or carbon overlapping the joint of one or more tubes.
a colnago video of one or two years back provided an insight to the skills of cambiago's paint shop, where a substantial amount of masking and colouring led to the pristine final state. ultimately, i found it almost a crying shame that such skill was, in my humble but regularly voiced opinion, being curtailed in its output. all those hours to look identical to many of the mass-produced outpourings from taiwan seems an utter shame.
all, however, is not lost.
on a recent visit to the colnago factory near milan, windwave ceo peter nisbet collected three prototype designs for the recently offered ottanto, built to celebrate ernesto's 80th birthday, one of which just happened to be a drop dead gorgeous example of the art decor that i and many a colnago aficionado would dearly like to have occupying our respective bike sheds. in the spirit of this, it might just be possible that such artistry could be persuaded to see the light of day in a limited edition, and i'd be very interested to know what any listening colnago enthusiast thinks of just such an idea. the finished work need not be such a blatant rabobank testament as the example illustrated, (the colour is malleable in this respect) but if you think this might set off those tanned thighs of steel, feel free to drop me a line and i'll have a word with the powers that be.
naturally enough, the art decor applique can only feature on italian built frames; the epq and c59 and it's not something that you'd knock off before breakfast and an italian espresso, so there is an additional cost factor involved, but ultimately allied to the not inconsiderable cost of such a frame in the first place. if you think you'd like it, this is a genuine entreaty to let me know.
and while we're discussing colnagos, nick bourne of pendragon sports has an offer that some of you might not want to miss out on. nick's been offered a dozen vip starts for colnago owners in this year's gran fondo colnago piacenza on 2nd september. flights will be from gatwick to milan malpensa and accommodation about 5km from the start at the picenza best western. if your incredibly busy calendar has an inexplicable gap between 1st and 3rd september this year, and you have a ready and eager colnago wishing to visit its ancestral home, send nick an e-mail for further details really, really soon.
thursday 14th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i can but raise my hand in shame as one guilty of misappropriation when it comes to adjectival use of certain words. many of us are guilty of ascribing the word 'art' to items, details and practices that are perhaps less than deserving. it is, of course, an apportioning based on a substantial level of subjectivity; art lies in the eye of the beholder and indeed often in the details, but frequently this is something of an overstatement. riders such as mark cavendish can be thought of as being exemplary practictioners in the art of sprinting, while robert millar maybe personified the grimpeurs' art. but in point of fact, their achievements are possibly more akin to skills or unique facility, highly developed though those may be.
while i'd stop short of describing any of today's carbon frames as representative of any subsection of the artistic panoply, if only because of their repetitive form of assembly, i have heard many (including myself) refer to several hand made steel frames as the epitomy of the framebuilders' art. yet again, this might be more accurately translated as skill or ability, for the construction of said items can conceivably be learned, rather than being the result of an innate ability acquired at birth. of course, there are many so-called artists with exhibits in the world's galleries, who are surely guilty of stretching definition of the word to its ultimate, but again, much of the blame for that rests with marcel duchamp who proposed that his gents urinal placed in a gallery was art because he said it was.
perhaps then, we should leave any decision regarding the validity of such a statement when applied to bicycles to someone whose day job is that of an art teacher. though i have no wish to judge the ability of such keepers of the paintbrush, i'd be far more likely to invest my trust in the judgment of just such a person, and just such a person is american framebuilder craig ryan, based in noblesville, indiana. craig has come late to the party with regard to building frames, at least as far as commercial offerings are concerned, and holds down a day job as an art teacher. was it, therefore, the form of the bicycle that attracted him to the building process, or does it remain an entity of its own?
Actually, the bicycle as a form is very limiting for me as an artist. Above all, the bicycle's form is dictated by its purpose, which is to carry a person down the road safely. Any artistic design must remain separate from the geometry and structural components. In order to stay true to that purpose, I have had to look beyond changes in engineering to focus on the whole. I am not trying to reinvent the wheel, the modern double diamond frame has evolved and kept its shape for a reason, it works. It is far more important for the wheels to be in the right place than any stylistic consideration I might dream up. For this reason I keep my artistic urges confined to the unity of design, and elemental flourishes.
"Personal vision and content are of primary importance to expression, and creation. Minor detail flourishes either add, or detract from the whole. My aesthetic is one of simple and refined elements, all contributing to a sense of unity. My lug work is consistent yet simple; while drawing from the rich heritage of the lugged bicycle, it refrains from gaudiness and a forced statement. Unity with a clear sense of identity and purpose are what I am after.
"It's difficult to keep design simple yet effective, but a lugged bicycle provides opportunities. The best way I can describe this is to make an analogy to an artwork hanging on the wall. From a distance the viewer notices the art and is drawn to it because it is visually interesting at a great distance. At a closer distance the details meld with the larger shapes presenting interest. It is clear there is more detail to be seen, and it invites the viewer closer. Upon close examination, viewers are pleased to see small unapparent details emerge. The artwork is successful at all distances.
"This is what I strive for in my work, and it's why the bicycle provides such a challenging subject. The aesthetics of the whole, and the notion of hand building something of such elegance speaks to the artist within me. One of the main reasons I don't use a lot of machinery in my building is because I desire the hand built aesthetic. I want to look closely at one of my bicycles and see that it was hand made. As an example, recently on one of the framebuilder internet hangouts there was a long discussion on what machine works best for cutting the slit in the top of the seat tube. Many builders use mills and all kinds of power tools to make this cut perfect. Some commented on how they cut it early on in the process because they were afraid of messing up their nice work. I take pride in knowing my seat lug slot was cut by hand with a hacksaw. "And if you look carefully at one of my frames you may be able to tell. It's a small part of the whole. My hand cut and drilled lugs often reflect this same thought process. It's part of the whole frame-building package for me. It's not that I am after sloppy work, I want it to be as fine as I can get it, but I want the viewer to be able to see it was made by hand, not some machine."
I made the move to Islay twenty four years ago to employ myself as an artist, perhaps a high falutin' ideal, but one that, at the time had to be made. though the years prior to this had been fraught with occasional forays into the world of artistic expression, i had myself convinced that any satisfactory development would be forestalled until such time as i was able to occupy the majority of my waking hours with drawing and painting. i was only partially correct. does craig ever find that the day job gets in the way of necessitous brazing, or is he sufficently well organised to avoid such conflicts?
"Yes it does, but (my wife) Susan keeps me on track and off to work I go! Seriously though, I don't have any issues with getting up and starting my days teaching. I've made a career of working with teenagers and I'm proud of it. When I get off from a day at school, I'm ready for some time alone in the shop. I can usually work a couple of hours on any given afternoon, and since Susan works a couple of evenings through the week and most Sundays that gives me the time at the bench I need.
"A bigger problem might be if Susan we to no longer work evenings. I would feel bad taking time away from our limited time together."
though i have yet to meet a frame-builder who finds the act of cycling to be less a part of the process than the hacksaw and brazing torch, it cannot be outwith the bounds of reality for one to have the technical ability to join a bunch of metal tubes, one which is divorced from a love of cycling. many of the chaps who start their careers at chris king's in portland start for the love of a pay packet rather than shiny bike trinkets. is it an obsession with cycling that got him started, or was it aimed more at the bicycle as a desirable object?
"I don't know how you could separate the two, but the bicycle as an object first piqued my interest only after I had been riding for some time. My love for the bicycle has always been strongest while upon it. I'm not sure I could approach building most anything else with as much vigor. The most pleasure I get from a bicycle is riding it."
modern web technology has allowed the creation of forums that either support a particular corner of society or, in many a case, confound it. for the individual framebuilder working isolated in a workshop festooned with tubing, lugs, vices and files, there is the velocipede salon, a hangout frequented by craig along with many of his peers. in 2009, he posted there a brief biography of himself and his framebuilding exploits which, at that point, he had pretty much kept to himself. "I've yet to sell a frame. I haven't felt it's time yet. I've been working hard at getting better, and I am very close." was the long delay between starting this second career and offering his first frame for sale a lack of confidence in his skills, or a carefully measured approach to commerce?
"For many years the stars weren't lined up for me to start building. Then one day the opportunity became clear and I started. I'm now in my sixth year of building, and feel my work is the result of a slow incubation of forty years. I've approached this endeavor very methodically and steadily. While making the first 10, 20, or 30 frames the skills one is lacking are not evident and patience is needed. During this period I didn't even think about commerce, I built frames, one after another. When I thought I could stand behind my work I made the commitment, and stopped cutting them up and began to sell them."
fellow framebuilder and admirer, richard sachs, is on record as professing to continually build the same frame over and over again, at each repetition trying yet again to "progress the empire". order a sachs frame, and though i believe it may be possible to own it in a colour other than his trademark red (why would you?), essentially there is no true specific variation from one to the next. does craig mete his skills similarly to only one type of frame or do foresta frames form a myriad of styles?
"I specialize in road bicycles designed to take tires up to 28 millimeters with a variety of brake offerings, or fenders. While seemingly limited, my bicycles cover the needs of 98% of the riding a person might do on paved or gravel roads. Very early on I sat down with a veteran framebuilder, and one tip he gave me was to define a style, pick materials, and stick with it. I've taken that advise to heart and it's guided me well as I grow. For materials it's no secret I use Columbus tubes, and Richard Sachs lugs. They are the best and meet my needs well.
"I build frames and forks as matching units, and do not offer a carbon fork. When you buy a Signature '359', there are no extras. Everything is included in the price: frame, fork, paint, matching pump, cable adjusters, seat post bolt, everything. I also offer complete builds based around the Campagnolo Chorus group. I feel this all adds up to a fine bicycle, and limiting choices makes my work manageable."
i have one or two freinds and colleagues who have gone down the road of the custom steel frame, mostly because they want to stamp their own personality upon it, rather than allow that of the builder to shine brightly in their particular pelotons. is craig happy to accede to individual pecadillos, or does he have the final word? "There is always give and take, and I want the end user to be pleased with the results of our work together, but mine is the final word. If it looks like the customer and I have different goals, I help them find another builder. In the end decisions affecting geometry and how the the bicycle performs are important to me. I'll do everything I can to fit the rider, but make it clear the rider has to be "fit" to ride a proper bicycle. I have worked hard to develop what I consider to be my "style," and how the bicycle looks defines me and how my bicycle is perceived in the market. I give the buyer options for lug work, and paint, but every one of my bicycles is clearly a Foresta. I realize I may lose potential customers because of this, but I am confident there are people who will appreciate my bicycles the way I intend."
there are two schools of thought when it comes to applying paint or decals to the downtube of any framebuilders offerings. natalie ramsden (sweetpea), and chris king (cielo) both opted to 'de-personalise' the situation, while steven shand, ira ryan, tony pereira and richard sachs have headed in the opposite direction. why did craig choose to place foresta on his frames rather than 'craig ryan'?
"I never seriously considered having Craig Ryan on the down tube. Forest is my middle name, and it's what I put on my first frame. I liked the sound and look of Foresta, so on a whim I started using it. As it turns out I think I made the right decision and do not plan on changing."
one of the confounding factors of being an 'artist' is the amount of time it takes to complete a piece of art. some say you're never truly finished, that it's more a case of deciding when to walk away. even worse, designed to play upon the mind of every artist, is finding that your own exploits take half as long or twice as long as those you admire, immediately reinforcing any notions of inadequacy. frame construction surely inhabits a more regular mode of employ, given its essentially repetitive nature. on average how long does a foresta frame take, start to finish?
"Including paint I have a frame in process about four weeks before it's ready for shipping. That's not actual touch time, but it takes that long to get through all the processes, and I may have other work going on. I spend close to 30 hours working metal, and 15 hours painting. Because I break my building into chunks, I'm never doing any one activity very long. I've come to the point where a frame comes together very quickly, but details take time."
building a steel frame by joining tubes and lugs was once the only satisfactory method of joining all together to form a bicycle. this has since been consolidated, and in some cases superseded, both by fillet brazing and tig welding, the former perhaps more labour intensive, the latter less so. foresta frames are all lugged and brazed. is this because craig sees no merit in the other two?
"How the tubes are joined makes little difference to the bicycle going down the road. All methods done correctly are fine with me, but lugs are an important part of my aesthetic. I enjoy seeing others work with welding or fillet brazing, it's fascinating, but not what I wish to do."
when frames moved from steel to aluminium and thence to carbon, in order to match the strength offered by the ferrous metal, many of the tubes required to be oversized. with the perennial quest for stiffness, often in the face of logic, this ever-increasing diameter seems less than keen to stop. such oversizing has had its effect on several of the components used to complete the bicycle, most notably the humble headset. at some point someone realised that increasing the head tube beyond a certain specification would allow the bearing cups to be placed inside the tube before they became like dinner plates on the outside. the more traditional builders have avoided this excess, partly because steel has less need of the increased rigidity. though i may be remiss in my observations, i can see no evidence of internal headsets on foresta frames. is this an expression of luddite tendencies, or that he sees no advantage in the genre?
"I'm sure internal headsets are great in the right application. Bianchi used to do it many years ago with a quill stem. For my bicycles, that 13mm the upper headset stack occupies is important. To lose those 13mm would mean a longer head tube, or stem spacers in its place. I'm not interested in extending my head tube beyond where it is. I don't think this would help the aesthetic of my bicycles. This would impact the visible seat post with a level top tube frame.
"This was a serious question, right?"
as i have said before, i am keen to save the world from any unwarranted explosions by refraining from ever indulging in any form of frame building. i can mentally see me now, stepping back to admire my work, brazing torch in hand, as i casually burn through both gas hoses and blow several of us, and the frame, to pieces. i am able bodied, and yet seriously doubt my ability to even attempt building a bicycle from the frame up. craig suffers from rheumatoid athritis which i'm pretty sure cannot make the building process any easier. does he find this a satisfying form of therapy?
"Being diagnosed with RA was a real blow, but it also meant I was able to get help with proper meds and education. Although I have joint damage in both hands I don't feel it limits my ability to build. Early on in the learning curve I had all kinds of trouble, but as I grew more experienced I realized a lot of repetitive work could be avoided with proper skills. Making a lugged frame takes many small skilled steps. Building keeps all of my joints active and strong, which is good for my RA.
"Sometimes I get a bit run down from the long days on my feet, but generally my RA affects my riding more than my building. My hands are the limiting factor with my riding, but life is all about adjusting. In my doctors eyes I am doing fantastic, so I stay positive and count my blessings."
for some, just good enough is good enough. i had thought my wheelbuilding to exhibit some favourable traits until i perceived the work of jude kirstein (sugar) and derek mcclay (wheelsmith). that's when you realise that 'good enough' really isn't good enough. craig ryan has professed the desire to be 'one of the best'. does he feel he's on target to achieve this? "I set my sights high and believe the bicycle I produce is exceptional. There is always room at the top, I don't compromise on methods or materials, and I stand behind my work completely. This view originates deep within my roots, and is as such a goal which guides my work. I attribute it to my background in art and many years of working in a "wet" darkroom."
my art teacher at school insisted that all our figure drawing was carried out in ballpoint pen, a technique that horrified my lecturers at art college. however, his motive in employing the humble biro was to stop us from constantly rubbing things out, to concentrate more on the drawing, working into the image rather than removing the evidence of our errant ways. craig ryan has stated that its not often apparent how to get things right until you've done it wrong. does he figure this is just as applicable to art as to framebuilding?
"This has always been my way of thinking, and I tell my students this often. For example, when drawing it is difficult to see the correct line to make until you make a line you know is wrong. I tell my students to draw a line, any line, then redraw the correct line before erasing the wrong one. I know it's kind of vague, but in practice it works, and it can be applied to drawing a perfect circle by hand, or to frame building at any level. This is why I cut up most of the early frames I made. There's no erasing in frame building, just doing it again."
craig is not too many years away from the option of retiring from his day job as an art teacher, meaning a lot more hours with the brazing torch, hacksaw, files and bench-vice. this can do little other than expose him to an expanded horizon, both in available time and the opportunity perhaps to build upon his skillset. does he have an ultimate destination in mind, or is the case for craig ryan that building frames is both the journey and the destination?
"I don't expect to dominate the world with my frame building, but I think I can set a high standard and elevate my little corner of the world. I build my frames for my own selfish reasons, but having customers makes it a richer experience. I'm not sure where my building will take me in coming years, I will continue to focus on design, quality, and working with one customer at a time. I could retire from teaching at any time, but I enjoy it and will likely continue for some time. In the meantime I intend to build as much as I comfortably can, and when the day comes for me to retire from teaching I will enjoy building full time."
wednesday 13th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
human beings have a great propensity towards anthropomorphism, the ability to ascribe human facets to animals or even inanimate objects. though perhaps not clothed in the same adjective, this curious behaviour extends to all sorts of stuff, even that of so-called 'constellations'. this was inadvertantly brought to mind in a press release today from the european space agency. though this particular example concerned two galaxies that appeared to have crashed into each other (in fact this is apparently simply an illusion created by the plane of view as seen from the hubble telescope), this is not the bizarre factor. several press releaseas from the esa arrive every week, almost all of which are embargoed for at least a couple of days past the date of receipt.
it's not at all unusual to have press releases embargoed for one reason or other, but it strikes me that stars several million light years distant, weren't, not to put too fine a point on it, born yesterday. in which case, why stop anyone printing until a couple of days hence? that aside, there are billions of stars in the firmament all inhabiting locations at varying distances from the earth. yet such factors are conveniently ignored when ascribing names to some of them. does anyone honestly think that the stars comprising the big dipper (ursa major) are conveniently arranged on a flat plane as depicted in the accompanying illustration?
however, it is not purely such distant objects that receive such treatment; even those within cycling distance are subject to the same laws of convenience.
several years ago i was approached by the local marketing and tourism group to assist in the preparation of a leaflet expounding the local whisky trail. though there are eight working distilleries on islay and one more on the neighbouring isle of jura, they are hardly arranged in a geographical order that allows for anything like logical access. the three occupying islay's southern coast - laphroaig, lagavulin and ardbeg - are, more or less, in sequential order and often treated thus by those walking, driving or cycling from port ellen intent on visiting all three. it can at times be a bit of a logistical stretch to manage a guided tour at each over the course of one day, but that's the thrill of the chase.
move to the north of the island, however, and the two north coast occupants: caol ila and bunnahabhain present a more convoluted barrier to convenient access. caol ila is sited just round the coast from the ferry port at port askaig, reached by means of a short road leading steeply downhill to the shores of the sound of islay. bunnahabhain is three miles further on, again sited right on the sound, but accessed by an altogether different stretch of road. not a trail that could be considered a tangible object. add in the fact that whisky enthusiasts are more inclined to start their sequence of visits with either their favourite or least favourite dram, and there really isn't an islay whisky trail at all. it's a realisation that is conveniently transferable to that of speyside where there are more distilleries than islay could shake a stick at, though i couldn't possibly advise choosing the former over the latter should you wish to indulge your passion for whisky.
add cycling to the party, however, and there may well be an identifiable and justifiable reason for at least taking a look at the speyside option. and darned soon too, if you don't mind me saying. on the 24th of this month, all the way north in elgin, the 2012 whisky trail sportive will take place over three routes to suit your specific goals or abilities. of course, much like islay and jura, there's not really a whisky trail at all, just half of scotland's distilleries dotted about the countryside. while you would obviously not stop at each for a swift dram in the course of demonstrating your immense worth on a bicycle, there's really no harm in hanging about for a few days before or after just to see if i'm right about the lack of a definable trail. eighty, forty and ten mile routes are on offer. enter before the 17th of this month and it will cost a mere £35 for the two longer versions.
if whisky isn't your thing, and i am on record as stating that it certainly isn't mine (snigger all you like), then perhaps riding with one of the world's true cycling legends might prove a viable alternative. two years ago now, we held so far the only ardbeg distillery gourmet ride at which our guest and after-dinner speaker was graeme obree. if you've ever thought for even just one minute, that obree's continued contribution to cycling, let alone everything he has achieved to date is a mite over-rated, please let me disaffect you of that notion. graeme is a true genius and would remain so even if he had not chosen to point his intellect in the direction of bicycles. he is also one of the most genuine and sincere blokes it has been my great pleasure to meet and cycle with.
hang about for a month, until the 29th of july, and the opportunity to ride with graeme on the graeme obree ayrshire sportive will present itself for only £35. the price remains the same for either the 48.5 mile intermediate ride or the 68.5 endurance ride. as graeme said of last year's inaugural event "(It) was really enjoyable. I set off with the intention of riding the shorter course and chatting with as many riders as possible. I ended up riding the longer course and this allowed me the chance to share a chat with a huge number of riders of all abilities and from lots of different backgrounds. This proved to be an inspired choice, as the feedback I got was enlightening and the general consensus was the Sportive was proving to be something special."
of course, hanging about for too long and dithering over which to enter or even whether to enter both, could easily lead to major disappointment. the double whammy of whisky and riding with graeme obree will not remain unoccupied for long. if you fancy either, click the appropriate links below with flexible plastic in hand.
you know you want to.
tuesday 12th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................