nostalgic though it may be, there was a certain degree of satisfaction to be gained from changing from one rear sprocket to the next by means of those friction levers attached to the bicycle's downtube. first time out, much-a-plenty faffing often ensued, but purely because the move from a sturmey archer three speed was a substantial leap. though i am slightly better informed nowadays, at the time, i'd have been hard pressed to explain to even a disinterested bystander how mr sturmey and mr archer's hub gear worked, for all was contained within that rear hub, a casing that was likely best left well alone.
derailleurs, for all their marvel (i mean, how does it actually do that?) were more easily appreciated; all the gubbins were on the outside rather than hidden from view and theoretically, any mismatch that transpired during operation would happen in plain view of an eager audience. or at least in plain view of the mechanic at the local bike shop.
such imprecision, though an operation that had taken place over decades, stopped only briefly for breath and the addition of yet another sprocket before the chaps in japan decided to marry their fishing reels with gear levers and place all in the hands of a few clicks. i may display frequent outbursts of luddidity within these black and yellow pixels, as well as frequently in real life (whether anyone's listening or not), but in this particular case, i'm happy to subsume such displays of public disaffection and gracefully accept those japanese clicks.
the part of implementing a few clicks that i have always found somewhat disagreeable was having imposed them upon the left sti lever. perhaps it would be more politically and geographically correct if i referred simply to the lever that operates the front gear mech. on a road bike, this particular method of changing gears between two chainrings shouldn't be too hard. after all, it only needs to assume one of two positions at a time. disappointingly, shimano took this literally and notched the lever to assume those two positions and rarely anything in between.
assuming that one's efficiency as a rider stretched as far as keeping that chainline as theoretically correct as possible, there was little to become concerned about. hundreds, if not thousands of us do not, sadly, adhere to this profile. if you hadn't come across chain rub up to that point of your career, you most certainly were about to. campagnolo, however, seemed to have opted for a more sane method of operation, more or less retaining a friction shift for that front gear mech. practically speaking, this allowed the speeding racer to adjust the front mech a little bit at a time in a controlled effort to avoid chain rub when in the inner-ring and a smaller sprocket. or, in fact, any other combination that involved an untoward scraping sound.
i prefer the offering from vicenza for the above reason, allied to the greater degree of adjustment available when setting up the mech and associated cable in the first place. it was also a lot simpler to account for any cable stretch as the bicycle and its componentry started to age. from day two, to be precise. however, what cannot be argued against either system, and at this point i'd like to incorporate sram into the proceedings, is the ability to save oneself from any misadjustment of this very same gear mech. perhaps you would now be willing to agree that this component is a feisty little blighter, and one that causes far more misadventure than its size would tend to suggest.
on top or on the outer portion of any front gear mech are two adjustment screws, one responsible for setting the inner limit and the other for keeping it from throwing the chain over the teeth of the outer ring. it might surprise you to know how badly set these two screws are, even on new bicycles, but the consequences of maladjustment of either are less than equible for those intent on getting somewhere rather quickly. should the chain decide to either drop into the bottom bracket or shoot over towards the pedal while pedalling, it can be a disquieting situation for the less experienced, but for the more accomplished, either happenstance is easily dealt with in a calm manner.
though less manageable with that indexed shimano lever, slowly and gently moving the corresponding lever will more often than not shift the chain back to where it ought to be. first chance you get, sort the flipping thing. the advent of electronics has solved one problem but seemingly made the other considerably worse. the majority of reviews pertaining to either di2 or eps make mention of the ability of either system to know in which rear sprocket the chain resides and adjust the front mech accordingly, something of a boon as far as i'm concerned. if justification of electronica is required, this might cheerfully be listed under the case for the defence.
however, with the majority of of shimano and campagnolo sponsored teams using the electronic offerings from either, it appears that an unthought of problem may have reared its electronic head. while professional race bikes are maintained to within an inch of their nano fibres, their sheer numbers allied to often a limited amount of time means that occasionally adjustments go awry, one of which can conceivably (and on recent evidence more frequently than hoped for) chuck that chain over the big ring when changing from inner to outer. previously the professional rider would flick the lever inwards to re-rail the chain, but electronica rather mitigates against this.
in my sole review of shimano's dura-ace di2, i admitted that i could probably have spent all day riding into the back of parked cars while watching the front gear mech changing. one of the coolest bits of trivial fun it is possible to have aboard a bicycle. but it does accomplish its purpose remarkably quickly, a feature that disavows it from remedying the above over-shift should it occur. it cannot have escaped the attention of the eagle-eyed during televised races, that there is a distinct increase in riders standing despondent at the roadside trying manfully to lift the chain back onto either of his two chainrings.
add the above to those elliptically shaped rings, and progress may just have taken its eye off the ball, if you'll forgive the the non-cycling metaphor.
monday 9th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i know i promised not to mention the tour de france while the race was underway, but in a bizare sort of way, i'm not really. at least, not this time. well, sort of.
having dispensed with sky tv at the beginning of the year, thus ensuring there will be no thank you note from brad if he manages to win the tour in a couple of weeks, i have managed to watch most of the races i wanted to see via the luxuries of the interweb. granted, many have been shown in a foreign language, and as one who struggles a bit with english, i wasn't always very sure who was first across the line. however, the whole point of cycle racing, so far as i'm concerned, is the thrill of the chase, and although someone has to win, i'm in favour of the king of scotland's dictum that often the journey is of more interest than the arrival.
both the giro and the tour originated as advertising campaigns for national newspapers: la gazzetta dello sport and l'auto, subsequently morphing to l'equipe. the italians seem to be the more altruistic nation, providing free interweb coverage everyday via an appropriate section of their website. thus, despite managing only meagre italian phrases such as campagnolo and colnago, and fairly oblivious to the daily machinations, i was able to enjoy cycle racing even in the midst of pixel wrangling in photoshop.
the amaury sports organisation seem more akin to the mafia in certain ways, managing to control pretty much every aspect of their race. despite the well-known fact that the race is free to watch at point of origin, they have made darned sure that such is not the case for those unable or unwilling to stand by the roadside.
the so-called digital stwitchover promised to alleviate visual persecution by sky television for sporting spectacles such as the tour de france, encouraging our joining the party with messrs boulting, rendell, boardman and imlach on itv4. except that the two masts through which we receive our freeview channels have been deemed incapable of broadcasting all the channels listed on the freeview service, and one of those missing in action is (you've guessed it) itv4. ned boulting must be so disappointed.
however, eurosport have seemingly taken into account the digital generation, along with the proliferation of ipods, iphones, ipads and many another portable device, offering us, for modest monthly recompense, the ability to watch all the british eurosport programming on the little screen. for technical reasons i know not, this relies on the services of a plug-in from microsoft, instances of which i am less than encouraged to add to my macintosh operating system. many are the tales of this working less than optimally, but thankfully, in my own case, this has proved not to be the case, and though the login at each and every occasion leaves a great deal to be desired (can't i click a box to remain logged in forever?), it does provide some very pretty moving pictures.
with apologies to ned, matt and gary, i have now the wherewithal to sit in the leather armchair, in the company of carlton, david and sean, watching screeds of live cycling. and should it be beyond the realms of pragmatism to watch during the afternoon, i have a choice of options as to when i might watch the highlights in the evening (as long as i stay away from twitter to avoid the result).
those of us who are veterans of tour watching, and i like to think i am one of those, will be well aware of the tediousness that pervades a good few of the stages taking place in the opening week. a few blokes nip off the front, are allowed to have their day on tv, then the sprinters' teams reel them in about 5km from the finish and battle can then commence. this means a considerable number of hours when pretty much damn all is happening, stretching the abilities of even the most accomplished of commentators to keep the interest of both the cognoscenti and housewives doing the ironing. it has to be said that some of it borders on the inane.
the volume can, of course, be turned down, or off altogether, but in this way all those tooting horns, clicking derailleurs and rotating helicopters become persona non grata. those sounds are an intrinsic part of the whole experience, something eurosport have obviously taken into account and provided a whole tour de france channel that eschews not only any adverts, but any hint of a commentary. i can see that the admission that i have been glued to this particular channel over the past few days, will hardly endear me to either david or sean, but frankly, i don't care much. it is a most excellent way to watch the tour; in utter silence (apart from mrs twmp asking if i want a cuppa).
i can't say i understand the commercial point of broadcasting several hours worth of racing uninterrupted by any advertising, but truckloads of brownie points to eurosport for doing this. it's great.
sunday 8th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at a far point on the west coast of islay, one that participants in the ride of the falling rain will know well, is the farm and ruined chapel of kilchiaran. it's a location reached, in either direction, via a 14% descent and departed by a similar inclination. if we assume, for the purposes of brevity (never my strong point) that the direction of travel is towards portnahaven in the south, then as that 14% declivity is climbed, albeit at a slow pace, the view over kilchiaran bay and the atlantic, always assuming a finely weathered day, is one not to be missed, even through the red mist appearing before your eyes.
if ever the excuse to stop and stare were needed, the view is probably it. this is a simple procedure when astride a bicycle, but considerably less pragmatic or opportune should you be sitting in a car. this is principally because the road is a narrow, single-track wind up the hill towards cultoon, bordered on one side by a narrow grass verge and a ditch on the other. should you, as a motorist for the day, find yourself enamoured of the view described above, the only correct solution would be to drive further on down the road and park up somewhere to allow a walk back to the viewpoint. the upshot is, if you want to see islay at its best, you're better on a bicycle.
i would hesitate to impose this categorisation on every location around great britain, but i'm confident enough to think this may well be the case more often than not.
mrs washingmachinepost and i are rather enamoured of the lake district, not necessarily as somewhere we'd prefer to be domiciled in preference to our home on islay, but it is where we spent our honeymoon about thirty years ago, and a region we return to once a year for a relaxing holiday. we are not unique in this respect, for many across the uk and beyond make an annual visit to the area for a holiday. it's a fact of life nowadays that travel to and from holiday destinations tends to be by car; it's simply the way of the world. but such a situation has a propensity to clog up the arteries of transport and presage a need for such natural beauty to be blotted by a myriad of car parks.
in order to make inroads against an increase in this situation, one that would surely mitigate against the reasons most folk visit the lake district in the first place, july 22nd sees the start of an eight day challenge to drive less, see more. this begins at staveley near kendal with a dedicated one-day festival entitled go cycle, go walk, go lakes, offering a wide range of activities such as guided walks, bike rides, electric bike try-outs, a cycle road show and other entertainments.
the carrot on a stick.
the challenge week is organised by the go lakes travel programme, ostensibly the first of its kind in the lake district, designed to get folks out of their cars and to use more sustainable methods of transport such as those mentioned above. there is no point, however, in clamouring for such change in ways of getting around the lake district, if the challenge is viewed simply as a one-off. encouraging residents and visitors to embrace the concept of sustainable transport is not really likely to gain a foothold, if these methods are only in place during the eight days of the challenge.
it would be naive however, to expect that a £6.9 million venture hadn't thought of this from the outset. already a new cyclepath has been created between clappersgate and pullwood near ambleside, providing a traffic-free option for cyclists in the area. work has also begun on the surface of a bridleway along the western shore of lake windermere which, when finished, will provide easy off-road cycling from the windermere ferry terminal all the way up to wray. research is also being conducted into just what existing cyclepath infastructure already exists within this area of the lake district and how practical it might be to provide a method of linking them all together.
not everyone, it has to be said, has either the desire or the fitness to ride everywhere necessary, and that's where two other initiatives come into play: bike and ride buses and an electric bicycle hire network. sort of the rural equivalent of the barclays scheme in london. bike and ride buses are fitted to allow carriage of two bicycles per bus, but there is also a specially kitted bus that can carry up to twelve bikes at a time travelling through the heart of the area from windermere railway station up to whinlatter forest, passing through ambleside, rydal, grasmere and keswick. this vehicle currently only runs at weekends and bank holidays but will become a daily service until the end of september during the summer holidays.
and so to electric bikes. while the idea of hire bicycles that can be used throughout the area, collected and dropped off at strategic points, i thought it somewhat strange that mechanical energy had been eschewed in favour of battery power. isobel stoddart is a director of the electric bicycle network, and i asked her if this was a development of a more conventional bike hire scheme, or a completely new start? "No, it is a completely new start. A Community Interest Company that was set up in 2011 by three Directors; myself, Steve and Paul. While the concept is a first in the UK, it is based on a model that exists in Switzerland and other continental European countries."
why electric bikes rather than those propelled purely by pedal power? "For many reasons! Electric bicycles break down many of the barriers to cycling that conventional bikes can't, eg. fear of not being fit enough, not wanting to get hot and sweaty, wanting to keep up with your partner etc. But also to have fun, the novelty value, to experience the scenery without the hassle. Research has shown that for many people a positive leisure cycling experience can be a great way to get people back on a bike and encourage them to cycle more regularly for everyday purposes. And electric bikes have great potential for commuter purposes, for older people, for those with health problems etc. etc."
the above reasons are a more than adequate explanation of why batteries are included, but in light of a perceived need for folks to exercise more, would conventional pedalling not have been a more appropriate choice? "The bikes we have chosen are normal top quality Giant bikes, but you can choose to add assist as you wish. They are purposely chosen not to offer a throttle to turn and go. You do have to pedal, and there are a normal range of gears, albeit with electric assistance for when required. For many people, getting on a bike while on holiday in a hilly place like the Lake District is just not something they would consider, so the fact that they might get on an electric bike means that they are getting more exercise, albeit gentler than they would have done otherwise.
"The aim is also not just getting exercise, it is also about giving people a viable alternative to getting in their car to get around and see the sights, with bikes located where they are staying, so they don't have to drive to a hire point to get one."
all bicycles need some tender loving care now and again. from personal experience, i'm aware that hire bicycles need several times as much; since they are not the personal property of those riding them, it seems that less care is generally taken. surely, in the case under consideration, electric bicycles would require a tad more maintenance than more conventional fare?
"The bikes are serviced regularly by the Electric Bicycle Network's technical partner Cyclewright, a mobile bike mechanic service. However, the electric elements ask for very little additional attention. It is almost entirely just the standard bike maintenance regime."
the idea of getting folks out of their cars and onto their feet, or aboard a pair of wheels is not a new one, just perhaps one that hasn't met with the success the vociferousness of its proponents might have hoped. such initiatives, however, have a greater chance of success when proposed with the weight and support of an appropriately funded body behind it. but additionally, there is little point in lowering the carrot in front of a car windscreen if the price of admission is somewhat on the heavy side. what's the cost of entry as regards bike hire charges?
"Each hire point is provided with guidelines for hire costs (approx £25 - £35 for a full day, £15 - £20 for a half day), however we want the businesses to find the best way of encouraging their customers onto the bikes, so they are able to market the bikes how they like. For instance, thrown in for free as part of a three day package, plus picnic to take out on bike; or for 30 minute taster sessions, etc. The aim is to get local business to take ownership of the bikes and build them in to a sustainable model that works for them, one that ties in with how they want to present their own business."
mrs twmp and i may have spent several days in the lake district more years ago than either of us can remember, and i made a brief jaunt in that direction last year to attend rapha's supercross on the shores of lake windermere. additionally, we have holidayed in penrith for several years in succession. however, other than that, i know very little about the lake district, so i thought i'd ask the stupid question as to whether it was practical for hirers to use one of those bike and ride buses?
"Very much so. It is a great facility to enable people to, for instance cycle to Ambleside, go shopping and enjoy getting the bus back. The bikes are understandably heavier at the back with the batteries and motor so do require a bit of lift but perfectly possible either on your own or with help from your friend/relative out with you."
sometimes schemes such as the electric bicycle network appear on the scene fully formed, every last contingency having been taken into consideration at the outset, with no rearranging of the furniture required afterwards. perhaps the bike network is such a scheme. i asked isobel if there were currently any plans for future expansion, or did the existing network service the required needs of the area?
"Yes, we are talking to businesses in the area around Keswick and have received a really enthusiastic response to a proposal to expand into that area. We are launching a new mini-network for West Cumbria based at Muncaster Castle on 1st August, covering Eskdale and Wasdale. And we are also looking at opportunities to 'spread' south to the South Lakes peninsular."
the drive less, ride more challenge is something of an open ended summons, one that can be seen to apply just as much to the area's resident population as to those visiting on holiday or even on business. similarly, the electric bike network; does isobel see her hirers emanating from the surrounds or are those paying their money predominantly visitors to the area? "There are locals hiring the bikes (often as a way of testing them, as they are contemplating buying their own) and we do sell ex-rentals to locals at the end of the season. However the majority of users are visitors (albeit locals are also tourists at the weekends too!)"
it cannot be denied that a sense of optimism is greatly improved in the light of this officially sanctioned challenge. would not it be a great boon to the nation's transport congenstion problems were more areas of the uk to be this enterprising? with many too good to miss offers operating under the umbrella of this month's eight-day challenge, including in some cases, free electric bike hire, it's worth underlining that the latter week of july might be the ideal time to plan that first or repeat visit to one of the most scenic areas of the british isles.
saturday 7th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
this cycling thing has been a great education for me ever since i inadvertantly involved myself in its machinations many years ago. i really had little idea of what i was getting into, though i have no wish to give the impression that this has been a bad thing. despite there having been one or two hiccups along the way, in truth, it has been a great boon to my secondary career path. for one thing, the complete lack of any bike servicing on islay when i arrived, has meant i've had no real option other than to learn the ins and outs of bicycle mechanics, more often than not via the hardest way possible.
ball bearings are the most confounding little blighters if you don't treat them right.
intricacies such as brake cables, gear indexing, cassette ratios and tyre widths and treads are, however, on the macro level. to use a well worn cliche, there are much bigger fish to fry. cycle sport can be appreciated on several different levels, but basically there are two approaches: technical and sporting. the latter would be more applicable to the riders, the tifosi, the teams and all that goes along with it. geeks like me have the other eye on bicycle design, componentry developments and, if it doesn't sound too grand, materials science.
the best i can muster is a higher certificate in physics and a diploma in computer studies, so i'm unlikely to be recruited by british cycling or cervelo anytime soon, but even though i delight in railing against what i personally perceive as inconsistencies or solutions looking for problems, i like to try and keep myself appraised of what the boffins are doing behind our backs. aside from which, it does no harm whasoever to use terminology such as fluid dynamics or finite element analysis just in case any of you are impressed by my grasp of scientific principles.
it doesn't actually mean i could carry out such experimental procedures on my mac.
as i have pointed out, i am far from being technically qualified to the extent where i could write a paper on the subject(s). to this point, i am completely self-taught, mostly by reading articles in the monthlies, reading appropriate sections on cycling websites, and making a pain of myself by asking as many awkward questions as i can without getting slapped. from my point of view, this aids my appreciation of all aspects of cycling; though i can throw castigation at any of the world's great marques for their fashionable shaping of carbon fibre tubing, i do like to think i understand where they're coming from. it's a precious form of arrogance to categorically rail against any form of modern technological development without first having made the attempt to comprehend the theory behind it.
i prefer not to be seen as guilty of such a transgression.
however, as one who regularly teaches a further education class, there are many amongst us who would love to have a better grasp of that in which they delight. my ministrations have been thankfully constrained to that of photoshop, but i'm aware of how much simpler it is to grasp the unknown when there is someone or something well placed to put all in a better and more coherent perspective. universities and further education establishments are particularly well placed and equipped to disseminate such information in a structured fashion, often providing access to experts in each respective field.
it is not, however, the desire, intention or likelihood that a smattering of interest needs to be satisfied via a three year advanced mechanical engineering class. or even a two hours a week, ten week course at your local college. for that would perhaps lead to accusations of taking it all a bit too seriously. the last thing you need is to be stood at corner 18 on alpe d'huez, face painted with a union jack, dressed in a sky jersey with wiggo emblazoned on the back, earnestly explaining to a group of pie-eyed dutchmen the pros and cons of pinarello's asymmetric carbon frame as opposed to the giant as ridden by robert gesink. that would just be plain wrong (as well as a total waste of time).
at this stage, and i mean no disfavour to any competing computer manufacturer (well i do, but that's a whole 'nuther article), this could be where the largesse of apple and the open university step into the fray. and it would be, at this point, to carry out a great disservice to cyclevox were i not to mention them in the same breath as the former two. for all three have collaborated to bring a series of eight and a half minute videos concerning themselves with (so far) the history of the hour record, cycling technology, physiology and the various forces acting upon rider and machine in the process of cycling. apple are simply the facilitators in this scenario, but what prompted the open university to contact cyclevox with a view to filming and producing this excellent series? i asked cyclevox founding director, anthony mccrossan:
"The OU saw our race coverage of UK racing and approached us with an idea. We developed the concept, the production plan and the filming schedule. It took a lot of planning and discussion with those that took part, as well as finding the archive to make it all happen too. Others who didn't appear in the film were great in the background e.g Charlie Wegelius went to Italy and interviewed Moser for us with our crew."
i have an inkling as to how some of the british education system works, some of which approaches the subject from a purely informative point of view with no specific end result other than an increase in the knowledge of those with an interest in the subject. more formally, and generally undertaken over a substantially lengthier period of time, are certificated courses. is this collaboration between cyclevox and the open university likely to expand to a certificated course of any description? "It's unlikely to lead to a certified course as far as I am aware. It links with the Open University science curriculum."
it is more often than not the case nowadays that, by the time a subject is appraised, understood, written-up by the approved experts and placed in whichever curriculum is most appropriate, the information is out of date, meaning those at the cutting edge are at least one or two pedal strokes ahead of those eager for learning. while the currently available videos are to be roundly applauded as explaining the current state of the art, are they now placed in a sandbox as a finished edifice, or does the series lend itself to being periodically updated? "It totally lends itself to periodic updates. It has been received well, and is currently the number one hot download globally in iTunesU."
for those of you happy to switch on eurosport each day and simply cheer loudly for either a preferred rider, or the man who crosses the line ahead of the rest, this impinges not one whit. many are happy to clamour in innocence, but likely just as many would care for a little background to their obsession, a background which this open university/cyclevox series the science behind the bike is extremely well placed to provide in a commendably approachable manner.
applause all round in this case.
friday 6th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
once upon a time, far, far away (well, not really, but it ruins the beginning otherwise), all bicycles were made equal, thus promoting much dissension in the ranks. as procedures go, constructing a bicycle frame varied little, if at all, past a collection of steel tubes and a modest number of cast steel lugs which would subsequently be brazed together by an experienced artisan of the craft. with those steel tubes often arriving from the same manufacturer of steel tubes, there was little opportunity for individuality other than that of the paintwork, something that was seen as simply a fundamental manner of staving off any ferrous oxide in the damp british climate.
thus it can be seen that there was little to choose between the craft of one lightweight bicycle purveyor and the next, choice being often decided by proximity.
although we are well used to the bombardment of marketing hyperbole nowadays, it is possible that the dawn of cycle marketing was fostered by this ubiquity imposed by a uniformity of supply. it would have been hard, if not downright impossible for any framebuilder to claim important advantage over any of his competitors if, paintwork aside, there was little if anyhting to choose between them. those cast lugs, however, offered some limited scope for individual expression, happy and willing to be filed, cut and sanded into a myriad of intricate shapes probably not thought of by those who had poured the molten steel into the moulds. thus was the marketability of the modern lightweight cycle born, counting solely on the number of distinctive flourishes that could be carved from a steel bicycle lug.
it likely says more about the purchasers of said frames than of the builders that something so seemingly trivial and insubstantive could persuade the choice of one bicycle over another, but as neddy seagoon once said "you gotta start somewhere". such tender moments in the history of marketing the home product were apparently short lived, for nothing stands still for long. though we nowadays think little of obtaining items manufactured in the far east, north america and mainland europe, such was not the case in the land of once upon a time.
italy has held inestimable sway in the word of bicycle racing since the mid nineteen fifties, promulgated by the exploits of the campionissimo, fausto coppi, that of bartali and many others. such adoration extended to the bicycles on which they rode to victory, the very reason why the manufacturers of same were pleased to have them aboard. taking advantage of this fascination for italiana not unnaturally led to an increase in the number of imported frames from the boot of europe. it is not hard to imagine the kudos to be garnered from arriving at the sunday morning ride on steel tubes and lugs with an italian name on the downtube.
this did not confer any legitimate superiority over the home-grown product, for names such as bottechia and pinarello are undoubtedly the italian equivalent of yates and waugh, but many had chromed lugs embossed with the maestro's coat of arms (so to speak) and an aura that no amount of british marketing could easily surpass. however, no matter from which part of the world such exotica originated, it was as subject to the implacable laws of fashion as any item ever was and continues to be. demonstrable superiority was extremely hard to come by and the italians found themselves in a similar situation to that of the indigenous market only a few years previously.
the lug thing had been done to death. the modern day cyclist (of the time) was no longer impressed by the work of curly hetchins, at least not in the manner that had once been the case, so other forms of subterfuge had to be fomented. even careful crafting of individually stamped and pantographed componentry did not a substantial bank balance create, aside from which, those were impressions on a macro level, when the true race fan and fast rider was looking for something of a more graphic and visible nature. were not the italians famed for their style and artistry? had it not been leonardo erroneously credited with the invention of the bike in the first place? had michelangelo not painted the ceiling of the cistine chapel?
guilty as charged on all counts.
taking advantage of this italian heritage, ernesto colnago, already a progenitor of superior italian frameology took to having the frames of his master frameset individually painted by craftsmen of the airbrush, and art decor was born. search about the interweb for photos of the all conquering wordperfect cycle team, that which morphed across the decades to eventually become rabobank as it is today, and marvel at those beautiful colnago masters with chromed lugs and unique art decor paintwork. it would have been hard to concentrate on any breakaway from the peloton while confronted with such delicate brushwork on the top tube.
though the design when applied to colnago frames, and it did eventually find its way onto the carbon colnago c40, was ostensibly of similar imagery, the fact that each was hand-painted meant that they could be nothing but unique. minute differences added a certain je ne sais quoi that could be individually exploited by each owner. the cognoscenti delighted in this distinction as applicable to their choice of bicycle, making it quite literally no competition when it came to walking satisfied from the showroom floor.
however, as previously mentioned, little is immune from the vicissitudes of fashion, particularly in italy where such seems inherited at birth. as anyone more experienced in their dealings with italians than i, will doubtless agree, it has been often said that the italians are so blissfully unaware of what it is they have that endears them to others, that they are blind to any intrinsic dismissal in favour of the next big thing.
i am inclined to blame the chaps at cervelo, though that may be a slight innacuracy, for the current bland, illogical and downright inscrutable fad for painting random geometric shapes across the carbon fibre now ubiquitous in the industry. i cannot hold colnago entirely to account for their slavish need to follow the geometric folly, for many others have done the very same. the more each manufacturer tries to differentiate themselves from the opposition, the more they resemble each other.
however, 2013 sees the 30th anniversary of the colnago master, the first model having been carefully brazed together in inimitable italian fashion in the 1980s. in an interview with ernesto a few years ago, he intimated that this would be a model that would always be at the heart of the colnago range, no matter how far each foray into carbon fibre subsequently took them. it is the only model in the range to remain faithful to the one-inch steerer and external headset, along with italian threaded bottom bracket. yet it manages to look every bit as contemporary as it did last century.
however, the crowning glory of the 30th anniversay model is the glorious return to art decor, available soon in three distinct flavours: red, blue and black. peruse these variations on the latest incarnation of the colnago website and tell me that it doesn't outshine every other colour scheme apart from the almost and understated art decor on a colnago c59 iltalia. it is hard to play down an overwhelming desire to phone colnago uk and ask them to put one aside the minute they arrive from cambiago later this year. price is likely to be around the £2,100 mark for frame and fork, but if you take into account the fact that colnago have estimated the art decor finish to cost around £300 per frame, i'm happy to consider that a bargain.
the italians may have their foibles (which nationality doesn't?), but they do have an amazing propensity for producing art of the highest standard, and we can only stand and applaud that ernesto has decided to have some of that applied to one of his most famous bicycle frames. perhaps sense has begun to regain a foothold at cambiago, and eventually the option of art decor will be an availability on all the italian made frames.
thursday 5th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a little over 14 years ago, sergeant brian and myself took the now defunct campbeltown to ballycastle ferry as the start of our cycling expedition to watch the prologue and first stage of the 1998 tour de france in dublin, republic of ireland. willy voet had a bit more hassle than either of us at the very beginning of that particular race, but he was perhaps a touch better prepared than either the sergeant or myself. to begin with, the intention was to ride to just south of the border and look for somewhere to stay the night. if you consider that the tour takes place in july, a traditional holiday month, neglecting to arrange somewhere to stay, based on having no idea how far we'd manage to ride was a less than auspicious start.
i'd be hard-pushed to recount our exact wheeltracks; with the dates also being close to ireland's traditional marching season, we decided to give belfast a wide berth and ride the western side of lough neagh. i'm really glad that we took this option, for aside from more peace of mind (the troubles were still in great play at the time) the scenery was utterly fabulous, and though we rode past one or two burned out barricades, we also travelled along many idyllic country roads populated with tractors and providing views of cattle and sheep in fields.
that's what ireland is all about.
though we were incredibly lucky to find an ideal overnight stop just inside the irish border, the major error which almost ruined the second day's pedalling was failing to realise that southern ireland measures distances in kilometres, while northern ireland sticks to the more british mile. thus, having figured that the distance to dublin was around 80 miles, coming across a road sign that stated dublin 130 was a bit of a shock. the things you ought to know but simply don't.
our visit to dublin was condensed into an available period of time, and with a ferry to catch at ballycastle on tuesday, getting lost on the return journey and taking us through a town which had been the scene of fatal violence at the weekend was not the ideal way to enjoy ireland or allow liberal time to enjoy the view.
things have changed in ireland quite considerably since those days, opening up the entire isle to those keen to view all it has to offer from the saddle of a bicycle. to this end, paul benjaminse has collated a compendium of maps, photographs and salient information that will allow both the experienced and less experienced to find their way with ease and to see most everything worth seeing. his prescribed route leads from belfast in the north outwards to the west coast and then southwards through tralee and on to cork, before taking a left turn north to dublin. unless they've altered something in the road system since 1998, it is perhaps no suprise that the bit between belfast and dublin has been avoided. i have nightmarish recollections of riding the gutter while being constantly passed by rather large trucks travelling at speed.
benjaminse opens with fairly persuasive reasons as to why anyone with a bicycle would be keen to investigate the country via this mode of transport. this incorporates salient information that the sergeant and i had completely overlooked such as season, climate, accommodation, food and pre-trip preparation. fortunately, in 1998, i had the foresight to pack some spare spokes and a cassette remover, for my companion broke a spoke only a mile or two outside ballycastle and i'd to effect a repair in the rather well-equipped garage of our first evening's accommodation hosts.
the author has also taken account of the fact that many of his readers will not necessarily have the period of time required to undertake the entire route at one sitting, therefore it's possible that the occasional alternative form of transport might be required, such as bus or train. however, for those who intend riding at least one or two bits of the route (which interestingly seems to avoid much of the middle part of the country) benjaminse cheerfully makes great play of the sights and sounds than can be seen and heard along the way, a narrative that is interspersed with many relevant colour photographs.
the format of the book is both impressively clever and infuriating at the same time. though the cover would suggest a book approached in regular fashion; ie portrait orientation, on reaching the acknowledgements page, it is rapidly discovered that the whole thing is, in fact, formatted in landscape proportions, thus allowing its spiral bound pages to open flat inside the plastic envelope atop a handlebar mounted bar bag. yet throughout all 123 pages, the page numbers pretend that the book is still portrait.
as one who has, on occasion, designed books, would it not have been more pragmatic and aesthetic to have formatted the whole thing in landscape orientation? that most of the pages are populated with easy to read and cleverly consecutive maps, makes it a more than practical mathod of covering whichever part of ireland you choose to explore. i'm not that keen on the two column setup on what is now quite a wide page, but that's more personal preference than typographical malpractice. the back cover opens out as a gatefold, allowing a graphic of the complete route to be seen at one time, in context of each individual day's travel
from a parochial and nationalistic point of view, i'd like to take brief exception to the penultimate paragraph regarding transport to ireland from the uk. if i might quote; "Alternatively, if you don't like flying there's always the boat and train via either England or France. From Stranraer you can catch a boat to Belfast seven times a day.... though it may seem a tad obvious to me, perhaps it is less so to mr benjaminse, but stranraer is in neither england nor france, but scotland.
just so's we're clear on that point.
niggles aside, and i doubt there's a travel book written that won't annoy someone for whatever reason, this is a very cleverly laid out book, one that has taken into account that its intended readership is that of cyclists, and that while riding a bike in pursuit of a proscribed route, there is little opportunity to flick through something that adheres closely to the more regular fare. each section ends with a list of cycle shops and repairers and a comprehensive selection of accommodation providers for that specific area. paul benjaminse has, in effect, done pretty much everything for the intrepid cyclist apart from turn the cranks and change the gears. apart from those albeit not entirely inconsiderables, the only thing left to do is to ride on and admire a beautiful part of the world.
wednesday 4th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
just before i throw myself into a narrative relating to a gargantuan undertaking that would make even ranulph feinnes go weak at the knees, can we spend a few minutes querying the efficacy of the camouflage effected by the female of the species? i do not refer to the fairer sex who are rarely, if ever, guilty of hiding themselves in the undergrowth, but to female pheasants. far more dowdy than their regal male counterparts, they are marvellously concealed in the long grass commonly seen on the road verges around the majority of islay's roads. the trouble seems to be that these female pheasantry are blissfully unaware of their colouring - and why would they? mirrors do not feature large in their world. - leading them to suddenly involve themselves in great bluster and fly upwards with much ado. this often leads to cyclist and pheasant experiencing the same degree of alarm, a situation that is definably surplus to requirements, if only they'd paid attention in self-awareness class.
i sit here in my leather armchair, minutes after watching the end of today's tour stage, clattering away on the keyboard of my macbook air, intent on providing suitable entertainment for those of you reading while trying to get yourselves to sleep. first thing this morning i was forcefully reminded that it was my job to satisfy the needs of my daughter's wedding preparations by designing and printing the invitations for those who will attend the evening reception in around a month's time. neither of these activities are inclined to lead to an elevated heart-rate, calorie burning or any level of cardiovascular stress. this is because they're not really meant to, otherwise they'd probably require a great deal more space and a changing room.
monday to friday for most of us imposes varying levels of endless sitting. keynesian philosophy from the early twentieth century proposed that man would eventually have almost unlimited leisure time at the behest of the machine and a never-ending capitalist dream. the advent of the personal computer was to have simply underlined this effect, creating the paperless society and removing the sort of drudgery that most of us would prefer not to undertake. how much better it would be if i simply had to think of these words and apple offered a way for them to appear in miraculous sequence on the electronic page.
meanwhile, back in the real world...
i promised myself several years ago, that every second week, when work is less constricted by imposing deadlines, that i would occupy at least a half-day, if not the whole cotton pickin' thing, riding around on my bicycle. though i have no need or desire to train in the accepted sense of the word, simply taking the time to ride each weekend is making me fitness poor. any gains made birling round the principality on saturday and sunday are then completely undermined by a sedentary pose in front of an imac for the remainder of the week, something that i find less than ultimately satisfactory. this particular summer (don't you just love someone with such a refined sense of humour?), the weather has not played ball; it has not fulfilled the potential we had carefully laid out for it, thus restricting the number of days on which my resolution could be enacted.
none of this has been helped by my refusal to check any weather forecasts. i am firmly of the opinion that i'm going to get what i'm going to get, and a weather forecast isn't going to change that. however, i cannot deny that paying a tad more attention may just have extricated me from my seated posture on a few more occasions than has been the case. in an effort to alter this miserable state of affairs, i looked at xcweather yesterday and adjudged that today would be the ideal time to play hooky from work and go ride my bike. a lot. it's a sensibility that sneaked up on me at the weekend, when i realised that i was really, really enjoying riding my colnago as opposed to just enjoying it.
now, when i say a really big bicycle ride, it was in fact a heck of a lot shorter than that undertaken by the chaps and chapesses who rode from london to paris a week or so ago, and considerably shorter than mike hall's circumnavigation of the globe. but for me, or any of my associated peloton, it must be said that 110km in a day is not bad going for an ageing pelotonese.
david harmon mentioned on air just the other day that mr hastings, in his tandem record training days, regularly rode 90km and covered every road on the island. though just a touch inaccurate with regard to distance, the point was (almost) well made. there are more kilometres available to the cyclist on islay than such remarks would perhaps have you believe, and due to a wide variety of crap surfaces, interspersed with the occasional smooth patch, it would be a foolish rider who supposed that continually riding around the estates could possibly become tedious.
with only ten kilometres covered, road signs on the verge attested to road works ahead, long delays possible, and a convoy system in operation. when you're playing hooky, time is not of the essence, so if long delays did indeed ensue, well who was caring? disappointingly, i only passed a fluorescently dressed bloke holding a green go sign in rather relaxed fashion, while his compatriots endeavoured to keep a piece of string in a straight line with which to aid the marking of the dotted white line over the pristine tarmac.
you will have no trouble believing me when i mention that the wind was breezy and becoming progressively stronger as the day progressed. in all the time i have lived on this windiest of islands, i have singularly failed to get the hang of how the zephyr operates. the headwind is never in the direction i thought it might be, and the tailwind simply does not assist when required. that could be another reason why riding the same roads for well over twenty years has never become boring.
though taking a day off to go bike riding has little or nothing to do with cycling kit, the reviewer in me simply can't resist. i again wore the rapha etape acte two jersey of which i wrote only a couple of days ago, and it did nothing that would cause me to recant any statement i made at the time. the day was immeasurably improved by my meeting the mighty dave t, intent on riding in the opposite direction to myself. there is never a satisfactory result to come from arguing with the directeur sportif, so i made an about turn and joined him for his choice of roads, all of which eventually led to debbie's cafe for a well-earned lunch, coffee and large slice of carrot cake.
at the time of writing, the rain is stoating off the windows, the grey has closed in and the wind is still windy. tea is over and done with, there's only the dishes to wash and dry and this evening's drum lessons have just been cancelled by my student. i predict snoring before too long.
don't you just love days like this?
tuesday 3rd july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................