in the days when port mor wheelers were more than a fond but distant memory, a number of the kids attending were in favour of wearing bmx style helmets devoid of anything that could be remotely construed as ventilating slots. i perhaps exaggerate slightly, for if memory serves, one or two holes were apparent on the helmets' surfaces that would likely have allowed hot air out (kids are well known for possessing almost limtless supplies of hot air), but quite frankly, i think they would have to have been pedalling for all they were worth to force cooling air in. this latter state of affairs was rarely, if ever, one to cause either trainers or parents much concern, for most activities undertaken in the course of a morning were of frantic duress but for thankfully short periods of time.
nobody ever collapsed from heat exhaustion.
i am of the opinion that these helmets were selected more for their cool appeal rather than any reduction in temperature that might have been effected, and certainly in preference to the more usual hardshell offerings that we ourselves would be inclined to wear. it is also perhaps of note that this almost exclusively pertained to the boys rather than girls, though there may have been the odd exception.
for the holy grail of helmet design, so we had been led to believe, was that of a suitable and safe compromise between appropriate head-protection and that of sufficient number of slots to provide an airflow that would prevent us cooking what little grey matter may have been contained within. numerous standards have come and gone over the years to promise us that the very lump of polystyrene we held in our hands had been strapped to a solid verisimilitude of the human head prior to being dropped (ceremoniously or otherwise) onto an eagerly waiting anvil. this was done across a wide selection of angles to check that those streamlined and obviously aerodynamic vents did not preclude a certain degree of integrity that would save our bonces from irrepairable harm.
as pointed out by someone infintely more astute than i, it is a somewhat obvious point (or it is once it has been made plain), that a head in a helmet is, in most cirumstances, attached to a rather heavy body, one that might be guaranteed to propose a greater amount of destruction to the polystyrene protection. however, we must place our faith in those who determine the efficacy of such testing, and much like purchasing insurance, hope that we never have to find out just how effective - or otherwise - they really are.
perhaps a fly in the ointment of all those hours spent in the wind tunnel, determining the ideal airflow across and through those sleek vents in the helmets' fabric, is the proclivity of some (me, for instance), to wear a casquette underneath, quite likely undermining any statistics relating to cooling airflow. however, i see no manner of the manufacturer being aware of the uses and methods of wearing proposed or actuated by the end user, so it would be unfair to level any criticism in this direction. and as of last year's world championship road race, kaskco, suppliers of helemts to team sky, may just have been a trifle miffed that after all that expensive airtime, mark cavendish and several cohorts decided to block off all the prinicpal vents that had been so carefully carved into the helmets.
such a practice was and is nothing new. track riders have been employing this method of streamlining for many years, but most of the latter are rarely required to cycle for longer than a few minutes at a time, a period unlikely to engender too much heat discomfort around one's stylish (or not so stylish) haircut. a world championship road-race, however, lasts a smidgeon longer than the 4,000 metre pursuit, a duration you would think in which as much comfort as possible would be desirable if intending to claim the victor's spoils. the practice by team sky has spread to others, showing either that the peloton is consumed by a need to be fashionable, or someone's laptop showed that closing in the helmet would result in a 3.5 second gain over a 240 kilometre distance. cries of "that'll do it for me" could doubtless be heard in the changing rooms and in several different languages.
but up until recently, these were merely bodged helmets, either removed from the mould without further ado, or existing models with the racing equivalent of cling-film plastered over the top. giro, however, have decided that a more legitimate design ought to be available to their formula one superstars; cling-film looks so tacky on the electronic timing cameras, and woe betide any that showed up on the cover of cycle sport. so they have gone back to their fluid dynamic drawing board and found clever ways to fool the airflow into thinking that the helmet has an aero tail, while offering similar air conditioning to their current state of the art aeon. we are more than likely to see examples of this latest product in the tour de france, dubbed rather obviously the air attack, sporting remarkably few air vents on top.
fashion and neurosis dictates that every other helmet manufacturer has a similar product sitting in a wind tunnel somewhere in mainland europe or north america; eurobike and interbike will probably be infested with the little blighters. this is, i would imagine, all well and good for the sponsored professional who doubtless wishes to take every minimal advantage that comes his or her way. take a look at the enterprising video below; all that is involved in producing such a helmet did not come cheap, and when the helmet is eventually available to the rest of us, you can bet your adjustable chin-strap that giro's marketing is going to make us wonder how we ever managed to pedal to debbie's without it. not only safety and cooling, but the opportunity to get to the new coffee bar before the beans have been fully ground.
prices have yet to be announced, but i have read some meanderings taking a guess at over the £200 mark, which is unlikely to be far from the truth. do we really need one? probably not, and almost definitely not if competitive cycling does not feature on your horizon. but the necessitous return on investment will indubitably persuade us otherwise, so it surely only remains to be seen which particular colour will go best with those prendas belgian socks.
monday 25th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it has already started. with just under a week to go till the 2012 tour de france leaves from (or stays in) liege, this week's comic has portrayed what makes for a grimpeur's bicycle and that of the sprinter/rouleur. for us ordinary folks, this is of academic interest, since mostly we'll need a bicycle that covers all eventualities and preferably at a price that doesn't scare the bank manager. in some ways, it is fascinating to gain this sort of insight; looking at how grams have been saved in the quest to defy just a small portion of french gravity, or the almost ridiculous degrees to which manufacturers and teams will go to have a frame comprise that nth degree of stiffness. as has been said by at least one directeur sportif in recent months, "they're not paid to be comfortable."
the hook, of course, is just how many of these features will be incorporated into future models sitting on the sales floor of your local bike shop. developing the carbon technology that allows bradley to reach the summit three seconds faster than was the case last year, or cavendish the luxury of a few more newtons (or whatever the applicable measurement is) of bottom bracket rigidity, costs money. and that money has to be recouped in one manner or another, most obviously by incorporating it into forthcoming models while having the marketing department convince us that it's just exactly what we've been looking for all these years.
provided one retains a healthy cynicism towards such claims and offerings, watching the never-ending development of the bicycle, from plaything of the rich in the late 1800s to the plaything of the rich in 2012, it can be quite fascinating. and in all honesty, the respective marketing departments do not have to bust a gut with their sales promotions; one look at many of the bikes in the tour and the word want is not far from the vocabulary of even the least athletic amongst us. developments such as noted above are a relatively recent innovation. up until aluminium, then carbon hit the fan, bicycle development, such as it was, continued at a far slower pace. someone, somewhere knew that our frail little bodies were more than happy with the reynolds and columbus steel on offer and saw little reason to tell us otherwise.
it is a portion of the cycle market that still quite proudly exists. aside from those who wish only to purchase a bicycle for mundane transportational purposes, there are still those amongst us who either yearn for the halcyon days of yore, purely for nostalgic reasons, or perhaps more sensibly, because there was truly nothing wrong with the lugged steel racing bikes of the pre carbon era. craftsmanship was then still a paragraph on a framebuilder's job description, and the throwaway culture had yet to see the light of day. many of the finest machines fitting this description were the product of italian craftsmen, if only because of italy's love of the racing bicycle, allowing for the economic proliferation of many italian builders. some of these have continued to this day, still with that sought after name on the down tube, though more likely purveying carbon from taiwan. many more have ceased to exist altogether, succumbing either to a declining interest in steel, or simply economic realities.
such was the extent of their craftsmanship, however, and the sturdiness of their steel constructions, that many bikes still exist, and in a condition that allows unfettered pedalling of same in the contemporary sunday morning peleton. niall mccart fostered the introduction of restrospective cycles to satisfy the demand for the italiana of yesteryear, starting out with scooters such as vespa and lambretta but moving onto ageing bicycles. what prompted the latter?
"The bicycle thing happened two and a half years ago when i was in Italy on a scooter buying trip and i thought i'd try a few cycles. Initially just ten and nothing too adventurious or expensive to begin with. I found a Colnago Mexico in poor condition, a Galmozzi Supercorsa and very old Wilier Triestina with cowhorn handle bars on it, as well as a few others. They went on e-bay on my return and all sold very quickly. The profit margins were promising so I decided to take it further."
there is little doubt that a market for previously loved bicycles exists, and it may well be larger than you'd think, but not everyone has the time or patience to keep such bicycles in good running order. many of us are blissfully unaware of just how many daily tweaks were required before everything became indexed, wheels lost most of their spokes in the process of being factory built and transmission componentry became almost scientifically matched. many, though perhaps in love with the idea of having an elderly gem in the bikeshed, prefer to buy modernity off the shelf with some comfort that it'll all work well from day one. for those reasons alone, would it not have been more prudent for niall simply to sell new italiana?
"The vintage theme [retrospective] is what we do. We're not interested in new! They just 'don't make 'em like they used to' and that appiles to anything!"
though not necessarily concerning bicycles, it is interesting just how often programmes like 'the antiques roadshow' brings up, in the course of its allotted tv space, just how many antique and vintage items are uncovered when clearing out a house, garage or attic. there are still inviting antiquities to be found at the average jumble sale or car boot extravaganza, items that you'd figure the seller would be a tad more aware of. however, such unearthings tend to be few and far between, and it would be a foolish man who setup a business in the hope that such happenstances would be frequent enough for some return on investment. retrospective cycles offer a not inconsiderable range of fine vintage cycles, so how does niall go about finding such delights? does he have agents in italy scouring the classifieds for opportunities?
"I have my scooter contacts still looking for me. I have been building a list of contacts in the cycle scene, little shops, collectors and private buyer/sellers who are now aware of my interest and constantly keeping an eye out for me and e-mailing me anything of interest to line up for each trip i make. There is a lot junk out there as well and some very over-rated and expensive stuff that I have to wade through before I find something worth buying."
though italy makes perfect sense for a man who originally sought out vespas and lambrettas, it also makes a similar degree of discernment when applied to vintage steel frames. as mentioned above, italy was, at one time, almost over-run with framebuilders, such was the interest from the italian population. though the situation is considerably changed nowadays, many towns and villages played host to a local framebuilder serving the perceived needs of a country in love with the bicycle. however, it would be naive to think that the rest of europe was oblivious to this desire in the fifties and sixties. france rather obviously had a say in proceedings and doubtless some of the more northern of european countries. does niall gather all his retrospectives from italy, or are there other countries of interest?
"Italy for the cycles for now. I have been everywhere else looking for the scooters: Spain, Argentina, Pakistan, Israel and Malta."
of course, the fact that many an italian domicile held to their own framebuilder, rather underplays the products they offered their clients. many of us equate the word 'bicycle' with that of a drop handlebar, multi-geared racing bike, for that is what we're used to and often why the obsession took hold in the first place. but it would be supercilious to expect that everyone thinks likewise. many an italian villager in the forties, fifties and even sixties may well have required a bicycle to help them get to and from their place of work or, indeed, to help them carry out their work in the first place. the film 'the bicycle thieves' underlines this fact with considerable gravitas, pointing out just how necessitous a bicycle could be to one's personal well-being in the aftermath of war torn italy. in this respect, is niall looking for a specific type of vintage bicycle?
"Vintage steel framed racing cycles of a high quality, with top components if possible. Mainly Italian, but some French and Swiss cycles turn up as well."
even casual observation of the current market for racing bicycles will throw up a whole host of features that seem to appear at the whim of fashion. this is not to say that some are without merit, but paint schemes seem almost to be a case of 'follow my leader', as is the factory wheel market. stem length and bar width would often appear to have less to do with anatomical fashioning, and to be sure, those ever increasing tube diameters, shapes and head tube taperings cannot all be there to help us cycle faster or even more efficiently. in the days when every bicycle frame was assembled from tubes and lugs, the latter often became far more ornate than efficiency alone might dictate, but were crafted in this fashion to help differentiate one marque from another (almost the opposite of what transpires nowadays).
fashion, however, may be seen to play its part in the market for elderly bicycles in another way; that of continued demand. while there will likely always be the hard-core collectors, it is possible that the market for vintage cycles is currently artificially inflated due to it being 'trendy' to own and ride a retrospective italian frame. does niall think the vintage market to be as susceptible to the travails of fashion as that of contemporary carbon?
"Do you mean that in five or ten years time, people will no longer be interested
in these old cycles?
"I can only answer from what I have experienced in the scooter scene. The interest will always be there to some degree, but the problem we have is our supply of these lovely old two wheelers. It is expandable and right now I'm finding these cycles mostly in very good 'original paint condition'. However, as the years go by, it'll become harder and harder to unearth these gems and we'll just have to start dropping down a notch in condition, because the demand will still be there but the bikes will not. So in five or ten years from now we'll take what we can get, and if it needs work or restoration, then that's what we'll do."
however, with so many different 'off the shelf' marques available at present, often at most attractive prices, why would anyone wish to take on an unkown quantity, one that may be less than as comfortable to ride as taiwanese carbon and with the likelihood of a considerable search and rescue operation should any of that ageing componentry give up the ghost. why is there a market for vintage cycles in the frst place?
"Because they are beautiful, works of art and people realise the quality and craftmanship that's gone into these old cycles is a thing of the past."
the mighty dave t, a man who cycled in the days when such bicycles were not retrospective but contemporary, is less than interested in reviving his past. as far as he is concerned, we've never had it so good. with indexed gear changing, combined braking and shifting, lightweight and reliability, there's a more than evens chance that he's quite right. in which case, is there a typical restrospective customer? "Men mostly; older guys spend a bit more on a real collector's mint condition piece, while younger guys like something more daily useable. They all, however, want something of supreme quality and durability, plus value for money."
lord carlos has a mercian of indeterminate age, luxuriously decorated with chromed fork, lugs and rear stays. the indigenous climate on islay, however, eats chrome for breakfast. i too am possessed of a colnago master with similarly chromed lugs and a chrome precisa fork. though the lugs are holding their own in the face of adversity, the fork is already riddled with rust spots, merely surface at present, but unlikely to stay that way for too long. it would be ideal to only take these steel delights out of the box on a sunny day, but living on islay to chase the sun is remarkably similar to expecting to ride alongside brad in the tour because you subscribe to sky sports. both are definably lost causes. in the light of a perceived narrow window in which to ride such vintage machinery, are there particular times of year when purchases are more frequent?
"Christmas last year was surprisingly good. A lot of bikes were bought as presents. I think wives and girlfriends perhaps saw their partners looking at our website regularly and put two and two together. There is a steady flow of sales at all times, and if the right bike pops up for sale, people just grab it whatever the season."
i figure i can't be the only person who has purchased an elderly campagnolo gear mech from e-bay, simply to have it sit in pride of place on the bedside table. and when those wood-rimmed wheels arrived from portland, it was something of a toss-up as to whether they went on the wall or fastened to a set of dropouts. vintage bikes engender similar feelings no doubt, depending on whether the owner wishes to simply appreciate the aesthetics or the past's ability to provide the ideal race machine of yesteryear. has niall any idea whether purchases go on to be used in the manner for which they were designed or simply to become objects of desire?
"Both. I would say most get ridden at some time or other, but there is a particular sale of our vintage Italian bikes to the guys who do "l'Eroica" every year in Tuscany, an event involving the racing of vintage steel racing cycles only. Most of our cycles meet the strict rules that govern that classic racing event."
as niall has already stated, as time goes by, the condition of the bicycles that turn up is almost bound to diminish given that none of them are getting any younger. it is more than likely, however, that the majority are in sound condition just a little the worse for wear either through constant and perhaps inappropriate use, or a lack of thoughtful storage. is he willing to carry out refurbishment of certain examples prior to offering for sale, or is he loathe to purchase anything that might need some tender loving care?
"We have refurbished some cycles, but tend to have more customers who prefer to do their own refurbishing, that being the fun part for them."
in the light of the latter state of affairs, is there a corresponding market for vintage componentry that parallels that of retrospective cycles? "I know there is a market for parts and components, but right now I'm too busy to get involved. Frames are all I have ventured into, as well as complete cycles for now. However, it may happen in the near future."
as evinced by the recent islay whisky festival, there is a burgeoning market for so-called 'limited editions', deliberately restricted issues solely designed to increase their allure, with the faint promise of increasing value over the years. it is mostly a conceit of the later 20th century; almost every motor manufacturer has at some point, released a limited edition model consisting solely of the occasional twee feature or colour scheme. vintage bicycles, however, are a limited edition in the making, if you'll pardon such convoluted language because they are, by their very definition, no longer being made. in which case, what happens when retrospective run out of old bikes?
"It'll all be over, so get them now while I can still find them!"
sunday 24th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i only entitled this article as above because i started writing the words "long, long time ago..." the very opening sentence i had intended to use, when it brought to mind the don mclean single as evinced in my heading. sadly, this song has nothing whatsoever to do with the following, but it certainly made for an entertaining opening gambit.
a long, long time ago, in a different life to the one i have now, when offroad riding was in the ascendancy and i had yet to witness the errors of my ways, i taught myself to build bicycle wheels. so surprisingly successful was i in this endeavour, that my arrogance led me to offer my perceived 'expertise' in the form of advertising in the now defunct periodical mtb pro. my usp, or unique selling point was to have been cobbling together fashionable and shiny hoops fabricated from rims and hubs that occupied the higher end of the market, components that owned their own price premium.
it will perhaps surprise you not that i received only one enquiry from a series of three advertisements, and the chap that made that phone call simply wanted bog standard deore hubs laced to "something not too expensive". i declined on the grounds of profitability and put him in touch with someone more answerable to his needs.
in preparation for this burgeoning career as a wheelsmith, i had built one or two wheels (which i now realise to have been a woefully inadequate number), and even had the temerity to construct a snowflake pattern, when a box of 172mm spokes arrived instead of the 168mm i had ordered. it was (and is) a pretty pattern to be seen in a wheel, but there were always doubts as to its longevity, and as soon as you started pedalling, the pretty pattern disappeared. in retrospect, you have to wonder why anyone would build a wheel that only looks good when standing still.
however, my principal concern was that of robustness, for there was a pretty good chance that very few of my prospective customers were likely to be from my immediate neighbourhood, so i'd be building wheels for folks i'd probably never see or meet (this was in pre-internet days; some of you won't remember those). thus, by way of experimental destruction, i ordered a 28 hole, white industries suspension hub and built it two cross with carbon spoke nipples. the latter proved to be a major mistake in the long term, and i would advise anyone thinking of doing likewise to think again.
the above may not seem particularly adventurous in these current times of factory builds with minimal spoking, but the wholesaler from whom i purchased, distinctly warned me against building two cross on a front suspension wheel, because the manufacturer did not recommend this as being an efficacious thing to do. which is exactly why i did it. instead of un-weighting the front wheel before crashing over logs or cattle grids, i'd simply hammer on regardless in an attempt to find an expected weakness in my building, one that would provide me with upper limits in which to reside. bizarrely enough, as far as i am aware, that wheel is still in use today, though i believe it might need few tweaks with a spoke key. if only i hadn't built with those carbon nipples.
that was the first time i'd come across white industries, and if i'm excoriatingly honest, it was, up until now, also the last. i did service the hub at one point, a task which turned out to be a lot simpler that portent would have it, and throughout its working life, it continued to provide service above and beyond the call of duty. my wheelbuilding venture never made it past those three advertisements, which is probably just as well. having met and discussed the obsession with jude at sugar, and derek at wheelsmith, i realise i was only tickling the edges of an inner tube. the world is a safer place now that i mostly concern myself with building very occasionally and mostly for my own bicycles.
however, after such a lengthy period of being unaware that white industries were not only happily still in existence, it was of great comfort to discover that they have continued in their efforts to produce both practical and aesthetically enhanced hubs, a pair of which currently grace those ghisallo wooden rims we discussed only a matter of weeks ago. making rash judgments regarding any new component fastened to a bicycle is not one i'd encourage, and though i provided a brief insight into the pride and joy affixing the aforesaid sugar built wheels to the hakkalugi, i intend to force upon you my observed insights over an extended period of time. surely you would expect nothing less?
in pursuit of this extended review, i must apologise in advance for a lack of specificity regarding the sensation engendered by riding on wooden rims. though 'tis true that they perform a similar function to that of any other wheel, there is an almost tangible difference in experience sustained while riding across anything that lands under foot. though from my riding position on the ibis i can gratifyingly look down to see that glorious varnished wood spinning between carbon fork legs, i am still struggling majorly to pin down their wonder and joy in words that are of suitable translation. so doing is almost as much a thrill as riding the wheels.
suffice to say they provide a beautiful solidity of purpose, not one that hinders whether on flat ground or crumbly ascent, but probably the same sort of experience enjoyed by owners of rolls royce motor cars. a part of this is undoubtedly achieved by the beechwood rims themselves, for it would be a foolhardy observer who ascribed similar properties to two substantially different materials; that of wood or extruded aluminium. however, the other two parts can be accounted for by the distinct appropriateness of the hubs, fielding a relatively quiet freehub ratchet and very little in the way of detracting friction, and that of the superlative build quality. if ever you think yourself possessed of skill in this department, the excellence of miss kirstein at sugar wheel works will quiclkly disavow you of any misapprehensions.
the practicalities of riding around on wood are greater than the material would initially suggest. 'gi'in it laldy' over substantially rutted, potholed and gravel strewn roads seems tantamount to heresy, should such be admitted in polite company, but laldy they have been given across just such road-like impostors without so much as a scratch on the varnish. wet weather braking was, i have to admit, approached with substantial temerity and not without good reason. older readers will remember the sensation (or lack of) experienced by attempting to stop by pressing rubber against dimpled steel rims. never a particularly successful exercise. my first stop in wet conditions almost led to a scary overshooting of the bike wall at debbie's; scary on more than one account.
however, there is still much of the varnish concretely in place, giving those slivers of cork pad a somewhat trying time. subsequent commands to halt in the very same precipitative conditions were, gratifyingly, a tad more successful, though i'd not argue with anyone who pointed out my heightened anticipation of just when to pull on the brake levers. if a simile were required, think braking with carbon rims.
the white panaracer pasela tyres have both inspired and confounded at the same time. the inspiration comes from their undoubted speed and tenacity no matter the abuse hurled at them. 28mm is not the width preferred by those of speed, yet in company, i have yet to find myself adopting the pose of the insiguitori. the confounding part is the refusal of the rear to settle in around a single portion of the rear rim's circumference. lest any accusation be directed at the rim, i have rotated the tyre to a different position on two occasions, yet it is always the same portion that refuses to sit nice. there seems no flaw in the tyre that i can detect, and the slight bump when travelling is indeed that; slight. i can learn to live with this if the pasela refuses to play ball, for in truth it is only noticeable on smooth tarmac of which there are very few examples on islay. however, as last resort (until i come up with another cunning plan), i have deflated the tyre fully and sat the offending section under the weight of the ibis in the hope that the tyre bead will see sense when it is finally re-inflated.
there's a song by scots band capercaillie that appropriately describes the sense of satisfied ownership that accompanies any ride on these wheels, as well as graphically describing the visual aesthetic conferred upon bicycle and rider.
grace and pride.
saturday 23rd june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
some considerable time after apple released the ipod, former arch rivals microsoft produced the zune, fashioned as an ipod killer. the wording in the press release was about the nearest microsoft ever came to giving apple any trouble, the ipod going onto world domination while the drab brown zune plummeted into obscurity before being unceremoniously discontinued by redmond. as time rolled by, the chaps at one infinite loop grew the ipod into the ipad, a computing device that has made the domination of the ipod seem paltry by comparison. just this last week, microsoft announced their latest offensive to detract one or two sales from apple: surface. whether this gives apple any serious irritation when released, remains to be seen.
though the ipad's existence has impacted on more than just a few areas of human existence, its extension from that of an ipod or iphone has made it the darling of media and the media. there is barely a national newspaper that does not offer an ipad specific version, frequently at far lower cost than that of its dead tree counterpart, despite considerable development and operational costs. it's one thing to create the equivalent of an adobe pdf that could be looked at in either portrait or landscape format, quite another to offer something that includes the darling of the 21st century, interactivity.
the technology magazine wired worked for a lengthy period of time with adobe, to produce one of the finest examples of an ipad based publication that currently exists. but then you'd expect a large company such as adobe, responsible for illustrator, photoshop and indesign to want a spectacular showcase for their products, while wired, as a contemporary technology publication is understandably keen to sit at the head of the field.
however, the ipad is a neutral device; it cares not one whit for the proclivities of its owners and is easily at home in a professional recording studio, as it would be happy providing the medium for my writing each daily issue of thewashingmachinepost. it is of little surprise that the long-time cycling media have (sort of) employed its pixels to provide their readers with an alternative to paper and ink. even the renowned guardian of all that is good in the world of quality paper and print, rouleur, has an ipad app that allows reading each issue on that little oblong screen. of course, it goes without saying that the ipad edition does not offer the tactility or intoxicating aroma of the print version.
there have been, and likely will continue to be, apps for the ipad that transcend our existing notions of print media, whether those be books or periodicals. oft likened to the gutenberg bible and its reliance on the invention of print, the advent of the ipad has offered a platform for creative media thinking. i have reviewed at least a couple of these in the recent past, most notably the collarbone, a collaboration between former rapha chappie, luke scheybeler and photographer camille mcmillan (interestingly, perhaps fomenting a reverse trend, there have been rumours of the collarbone expanding into print) offering stunning race photography and the option to purchase prints from within the app.
however, the cycling app that i feel currently best demonstrates the superiority of the ipad version over the printed version that might sit on the bookshelf, is cyclepedia, a searchable book that offered not only the illustrations as seen in print, but the opportunity to rotate each of michael embacher's vintage bicycles in pretty much any way the viewer/reader fancied. but pixels offer something else that paper and ink cannot even come close to competing with.
just recently, a short e-book nominally regarding mark cavendish's successful campaign to get hold of the 2011 green jersey was released by ned boulting's publishers. the print version of how i won the yellow jumper has now been re-released (i offered the opportunity to win a copy in a recent competition, the winner of which has still to be announced; my bad) incorporating the green jumper pages. the forthcoming cyclepedia update, pretty much knocks that into a top hat, adding as it does a whole section about the tour de france, along with archive footage to complete the immersable entertainment package. the clever bit, however, is that the price remains the same as the original at £6.99 ($9.99) and those who had the perspicacity to purchase the original release of this app will automatically receive the update, if i understand my received information, at no extra cost.
as they would state in portland, "awesome".
the cyclepedia app, based on the book by michael embacher is available from apple's app store. the updated version is released on friday 29th june, just in time for this year's tour de france.
friday 22nd june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i came to the handmade bicycle by a rather circuitous route involving portland, oregon as it happens (admit it, you're not really surprised), but perhaps not in the way that everyone thinks. having visited portland village on two occasions, i can understand why there are those who figure i think it the bees knees, the best thing since sliced bread and overshadowing any other place on earth apart from islay. this is, though you may think i doth protest too much, not the case at all. if you're sitting comfortably, allow me to bore you to tears.
headsets. that's how it all started, my luddite like tirade against the onset of the integrated and semi-integrated headset. ernesto colnago once stated that we'd never find one of the blighters on any of his frames (though in mitigation, he also said he'd never manufacture bicycles anywhere other than italy), but now all spare the master steel frame are blessed (ironic and cynical in one word) with the ch-1 and ch-2 headset system sitting inside those fattened head tubes. though integration of this simple component has steamrollered the bicycle world without mercy, it still bugs the heck out of me. seems i'm easily annoyed.
up until recently, chris king precision components of nw nela in portland produced only external headsets even as far down the size chart as the all-important one inch variety, in both no-threadset and threaded versions. it's all very well jumping up and down and waving both hands at the purported ignorance of an entire industry, but in order to make a more forceful case to the great unwashed, it is necessary to add a few pertinent facts into the mix. of those i had none at all. so i e-mailed chris distefano, then marketing manager at chris king, and asked if there were any technical advantages to an internal move.
cd passed me onto ira ryan to discuss same. we're going back quite a number of years here, and i confess i had never heard of ira, never seen his bikes and was blissfully unaware of any burgeoning frame-building scene in the city. as correspondence developed with both ira and cd, i gathered a great deal more information about portland, about frame-building and many of the others in the city who offered a similar service to ira ryan. i did make rudimentry enquiries as to whether a similar set of circumstances existed in the uk, but either those involved were too involved to come out of hiding or i was simply asking the wrong people the wrong questions.
my first visit to portland was brilliantly curated by mr distefano, allowing me to meet with tony pereira, sacha whyte, jordan hufnagel, jude kirstein, natalie ramsland of sweetpea and jonathan fairman at courage. ira ryan was in italy with his girlfriend, so i didn't meet him until last march. all this in a city the size of edinburgh, and many of the above were within walking distance of each other. you can imagine how a country boy's head would be turned.
lengthy correspondence with richard sachs led me to arrange a visit to this year's north american handmade bicycle show in sacramento, where i could meet with the inestimable mr sachs and renew friendships with one or two others.
meantime, while my head was turned across the pond, a legion of british framebuilders had sneaked up behind my back, not only encouraging the setup of bespoke in bristol, but starting to invade the british cycling psyche and take a chunk of attention away from portland. in 2011, bespoke was held in bristol town the same weekend in june as hosted the london nocturne at smithfield, and i naively expected the 2012 edition to occupy the same time, same channel. i was, of course, wrong: bespoke took place about two weeks after i returned from sacramento, just the wrong time of year to tell mrs washingmachinepost that i was about to head off to the hinterlands to look at more steel bicycles. so i failed to provide bespoke with the respect it deserves, though it must remain partly to blame for the change of month.
having just returned a stoater of a bicycle to steven shand in livingston, it will be clear to most that the handmade bicycle is ecperiencing its own resurgence on this side of the pond, recently aided and abetted by both the rapha continental and nick hussey at vulpine clothing who has shown a rather fetching green custom creation from ricky feather. it's true that at one time in britain's past, cycle builders were rarely separated by too many miles, predominantly due to a greater preponderance of bicycles to that of motor cars. life has changed greatly since those halcyon days and the motor car has left few, if any, stones unturned in its encroaching world domination. however, changes in lifestyle choices, coupled with the downsides of car sovereignty have led many back to the bicycle, coupled with a desire to acquire or own other than the humdrum and mass produced.
strange though it may appear, carbon fibre is not for everyone.
the last time we had a situation like this, it was accepted as normal practice; there was no instrinsic speciality apportioned to those handy with a brazing torch. however, given the profile of the handmade bicycle in modern times, documenting its existence, its rise, and hopefully its burgeoning flourish is undoubtedly what constitutes not only a good idea, but an excellent one. and that, you'll be happy to note, is just exactly what is in the process of being done by the previously mentioned ricky feather and his partner in excellence, matthew sowter.
this coming october, a substantially sized 1.6kg book will be available to purchase, a book entitled made in england. accompanied by photographer kayti peschke, the progenitors of this project have been travelling the length and breadth of england getting in the way of uk framebuilders, asking them awkward questions and sticking a camera lens in their faces to satisfy our impetuous curiosity. the list of twelve builders is being kept a secret for the time being, though the inclusion of dave yates remains one outside that access denied rubber stamp. a preview of the photography and text concerning the latter well-known gentleman makes the ultimate arrival of the entire edifice of great interest to any who delight in the art of the handbuilt steel bicycle, and one that substantially disproves the notion that 'we don't make anything here no more.'
the words of wisdom and gems of knowledge are truly excellent and the photography every bit its equal. if, like me, you missed bespoke bristol (though i don't intend to make the same mistake again next year), this could be the very best next thing to having been there. i still find it scary to look at photos with a gas cylinder or two sitting nonchalantly in the background, but i dare say i'll get over it in time. and in case anyone with a good heart is listening, it's my birthday in october.
thursday 21st june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
most recently i read on an american tech website, and this was prior to the untimely demise of apple computer's erstwhile leader, steve jobs, that if it were necessary to separate the word 'nerd' from that of 'geek', the former applied to microsoft founder bill gates and the latter to steve jobs. for those not especially interested in the personalities rampant in silicon valley, this may not bring any greater degree of knowledge regarding such literary definitions than was the case prior to reading the above, but the difference may be important in respect of the subject under consideration.
placing the entire situation in some sort of perspective, though we may bristle at the thought of being described as either of the above, in truth many of us with a bicycle obsession could comfortably wear an i'm a geek' t-shirt, based pretty much on the evidence of random questions fired in the direction of cycling's great heroes. while i have no wish to add my name to a list of name-droppers, several years ago, i was sitting next to sean kelly at the annual braveheart ride, and as becoming of one who is comfortable in such company (who am i kidding?), we had eschewed any pretence of discussing the finer points of competitive cycling, choosing instead to converse about garden sheds (you really had to be there).
as our conversation progressed, i was aware of a gentleman standing in close proximity to sean and myself, somewhat obviously waiting for a suitable break in shed discussions, to intersperse a question of his own. this consisted of a two parter; part one was to congratulate sean on winning the 1992 milan-sanremo (known as a phatic statement, designed more to open the lines of communication rather than provide any lasting nugget of wisdom), and part two was to ask the great sprinter which gear he was in when thundering for the line.
sean kelly has doubtless been asked so many variations of this question that i'd have been unsurprised if he had opted to continue our shed narrative rather than answer, but in point of fact, he smiled and said "the right one". harking back to my previous advice with regard to such interventions, unless you have something that desperately needs saying or asking of the more famous amongst us, it is better to keep shtum. however, there's always the outside likelihood that the anonymous gentleman was genuinely interested in which particular rear sprocket mr kelly had chosen to pair with his outer ring back in 1992. i would be suprised if sean had actually been able to remember, but then quite a few professional cyclists and former instances of the profession have been known to demonstrate geekish qualities of their own.
interest in the minutiae of pretty much anything, confers the status of geekhood on the hapless incumbent, particularly by those who have little or no interest of their own in whichever subject is under discussion. however, the epithet is more readily associated with folks coralled in individual booths as part of a large 'open' plan office. adopting a variation on the renowned studio tan, this section of the geek race spend the bulk of their working lives and beyond, staring blithely at computer screens and literally endless lines of code. such individuals gave rise to jolt cola, a recreational drink over-run with caffeine to help the imbiber stay awake when all else around were indulging in activities of greater recreational interest.
author bruce perry knows of which he speaks, occupying his waking hours as both software engineer and journalist, a man with concern over the lengthy periods of inactivity many of his kith and kin will spend during their working hours. bluntly put, sitting isn't good for us (though sitting on a bicycle doesn't quite come under this heading), and by the time many discover this iniquity, it may already be too late. though british health and safety regulations dictate that employers allow those working with visual display units a five or ten minute break in every hour, it is discretionary on the part of the employee, meaning most of us tend to ignore the diktat in favour (?) of getting the work done.
mr perry would prefer that we didn't, and has compiled a substantial amount of advice and information that, if followed, couldn't possibly harm the health and fitness of those on the receiving end. though rather tautologically, a book that can be read end to end, the composition of each chapter makes for an easy pick and choose, depending on your perceived need. the physiology of the average human is explored in depth, along with nutritional requirements, level of exercise, means of exercise and the efficacy of certain foods and their constituents.
gearing all towards what he perceives to be his target audience, there is much discussion of apps and software that can help account for distance walked, cycled, and run, contrasting with an nth degree dissertation on vitamins, proteins, and carbohydrates that would prepare many a degree student. though there may be only a fraction of us who spend the majority of our waking hours with glazed eyes in front of a computer screen (like writing this stuff everyday), geekness extends to the cycling obsessive, meaning there are more than just a few chapters in 'fitness for geeks' that will help improve the fitness and health of those who wonder whether they ought to fit a 23 sprocket or a 25.
many a professional fitness manual aimed directly at the cyclist is written in a language and style that the author feels will impart a suitable degree of gravitas to the proceedings. perish the thought that we might consider the contents to be optional. bruce perry is of the polo shirt, jeans and trainers school of thought, offering a thoroughly relaxed and conversational tone even when discussing particularly complex subjects. "Given the number of studies they've conducted on coffee and caffeine, 'the most popular drug in the world', it seems like researchers have had plenty of opportunities to find something really bad about it, and so far they haven't. as long as they don't, i'm going to continue to enjoy my morning dark roast."
if you've taken the step of acknowledging that the daily travail is doing more harm than good, keeping you from that professional cycling contract or even just dragging down the minute gains made by regular or occasional weekends of cycling, this may well be the book for you. if, like me, training is simply a word used to disguise a fast pedal to debbie's for some frothy coffee, one who is less impressed by the serious style of many a discourse on the subject, this is definitely the book to acquire. it may be just a tad too complex in places, but sometimes it's better to need and not have, and it's often a simple matter of skipping the bits that are just a smidgeon too hard to comprehend.
a serious message wrapped in an easy to approach read.
wednesday 20th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at the risk of stating the glaringly obvious, it will soon be saturday june 30th, time then to huddle round that tiny 42" flat panel television and enjoy and explore the wonders of liege, as almost two hundred advertising hoardings on two wheels launch themselves off a starting ramp in the quest to be first kid on the block to wear what ned boulting has now committed to the annals of legend, the yellow jumper. it is a televisual spectacle that draws in an audience of far more than the cognoscenti and those who didn't finish their coffee in time at look mum no hands. for the money lavished upon blokes on motorbikes and several helicopters goes not to waste, almost incidentally providing the onlooker with a feast of imagery; rivers, mountains, chateaux and quaint little villages in which to spend next year's summer holiday. the tour de france, almost more so than any other sporting event, with the possible exception of the giro d'italia, has anchored itself truly as a geographical institution, proving the benefactor of many a day's festivities for the towns through which it sears its way, and ideal entertainment on so many levels for those with eyes on the box.
endless bographies of the british greats from yesteryear pay testament to the fact that it was often weeks before the results of any stages of le tour would be known this side of the channel, accompanied as they were by black and white photos of the principal protagonists. such relative hardships should be well borne in mind when eurosport's coverage of some other, lesser sporting event happens to run over its alotted time, for we can rest assured that edited highlights will fill many an hour when live coverage is otherwise occupied.
many of todays' major races, whether the grand tours, less grand tours or one day classics have televisual coverage available on the internet, for in truth, it is far cheaper to broadcast via this method than to place the moving pictures on that big flat box in the corner of the room. the joy of much of this is its free to air status, meaning that though we are ever so grateful to the murdochs for placing their sponsorship on both brad's and cav's jerseys, we are happy to circumvent their subscription model to watch them win. graciously, la gazzetta dello sport provided free live coverage of the giro on a daily basis via the la gazzetta website, albeit interspersed with mostly incomprehensible advertisements. up till now, the amaury sports organisation have been far more protective of their investment, and it has been all but impossible to view any free live tour coverage on a computer screen.
the daredevils amongst us with no sky subscription wait with baited breath for june 30th to find out whether it might be possible to cull some online coverage of the brashly marketed, greatest free show on earth. i am not numb to the financial investment required to bring moving french pictures to our screens, but you have to admit, there is something about the thrill of the chase trying to watch it for nowt.
even though sky subscribers are paying for their excellent eurosport coverage aready, should you wish to watch it on your laptop or tablet device, they would like to charge you once more for the privilege of leaving the telly siwtched off or on a different channel. this year, i will fit into the category of subscriber soley to the eurosport player, having politely told sky just what they could do with their dish when after-hurricane repairs were implemented with no alacrity whatsoever. now i simply have my fingers crossed that it works better than it used to.
however, no matter your mode of electronic spectating, it is surely a truism that many more access the tour de france through the medium of shifting pixels than are stood at the french roadside waving big green hands and advertising dirk hofmann motor homes in those final few kilometres to the line. that in itself is just as much of an annual institution. therefore our collective recollections of those three weeks in july are likely framed by a plain black bezel and seen in something approaching widescreen with a broadcaster's logo in one or other top corner. it is with this aspect firmly in mind that photographer andrew smith will be presenting an exhibition of television images in bank street arts, sheffield.
the troubling thing about art and photography exhibitions is their relative fleetness of foot, leaving you days, weeks or months later wishing for some degree of permanence. to accede to this hypothetical, yet latent demand, the exhibition entitled 'velo' is accompanied by a book of the same name, though limited to an edition of 60. your own fleetness of foot may be required at this point. legendary author of 'the rider', tim krabbe has written of the book; "Cycling was mythical, but it survived its visibility. In 'Velo', it becomes a visible myth."
thus it is that andrew's imagery is often blurred, indistinct, a melange of a restricted colour palette, but in its own static way, it engenders a familiar excitement, for this is the way we're used to seeing the race unfold. there are thoughts of the exhibition taking a southerly trip later in the year, but just as andy schleck's tour aspirations have also gone south, don't hold your breath until the posters are printed; visit sheffield's bank street arts when you're not watching the tour on the telly (if that doesn't sound like too much of a contradiction).
tuesday 19th june 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................