it used to be said that an englishman's home was his castle. i have no idea if this directive was intended to apply to the scots, welsh and northern irish; englishman may have been intended as a generic term for british citizen, but either way, i feel the sentiment may have been usurped. and the usurper, according to my view of modern society, is that of the motor car. i'd hope that the majority of readers will not misunderstand my intent, for though the motor car is probably lowest on my list of desirable objects, my enmity more reasonably lies with those who own and drive them than with the inanimate objects themselves.
it is all too easy to be drawn into a rant about the problems engendered by many car owners and the seeming need to display a sense of arrogance both on the road and when it comes to finding parking place, but i am steeling myself against making a start with my next sentence. my contention is that the car is not only offered as a status symbol currently greater than that of one's domicile, but has almost outgrown its original intent. namely, that of transporting a number of people from point a to point b.
if the latter were entirely true, then a wide variety of alloy wheels, tinted glass, chilled glove compartments and any other number of gadgets would not be included as standard in the modern motor vehicle. my son owns a brand new shiny two door compact car, yet it is provided not only with electric windows but, bizarrely in my opinion, cruise control. the former is of debatable benefit, though hardly a recent innovation, but i do find it somewhat disingenuous to offer cruise control on such a small car. granted, the roads on islay are hardly conducive to having the motor car regulate its own speed, but in mitigation, the manufacturer would hardly be aware of where its progeny are likely to spend the bulk of their lives.
however, the aspect that has me convinced that the emphasis has shifted from the home to a vehicle that can conceivably cost more than washingmachinepost cottage, is the headlong rush to personalise that vehicle. by this i do not mean carefully choosing the exact shade of the dice hanging from the rear view mirror, nor indeed, selecting the mp3 playlist to deafen unsuspecting passengers, but the narcissistic need to have a personalised number plate.
my recent trip to scotland was accomplished by means of slight variations on public transport (if the difference between a boat and a bus can be described as slight), something i used to view with mistaken disdain, but one i have come to embrace since divesting the household of a motor car. the cost is happily amenable to the twmp budget, and i rather like the opportunity to sit back, white earphones in place, and allow someone else to take care of the roads and traffic. it also aids the opportunity for unaffected observation; perhaps the most obvious distraction is that many of those personalised number plates are attached to motor vehicles in which there is only one person. it is no wonder that the edinburgh to glasgow bus took two hours to travel around 35 miles last tuesday. all those single occupancy vehicles slowed the bus to a crawl.
ef 123, 15 lay, g4 org, pla 1t, b13 yyy and an endless stream of variations are in great danger of making the once effective means of registering a motor car with the dvla totally outmoded. if people wish to spend more money on a number plate than they did on the car, i am truly in no position to cast disapproving looks. it is, as we are often told, a free world, and provided the wherewithal is in place, there is no real harm in the great unwashed continuing to prove that fact as undeniably true. the humour in the situation is the level of obscurity levelled by most of these personalised number plates. in the manner of those who set crossword puzzles, the answer is only obvious to those who already know. dv12 dda seems little different to me than pot 80, for i know little about the owners of either, and the licence numbers do very little if anything to change that.
however, in the light that the bicycle is making inroads into the transportational world, should we perhaps not be offered a similar opportunity to personalise the carbon in the bike shed? we have steadfastly railed against the frequent barbs thrown in our direction, such as the erroneous need to pay road tax, calls to enforce helmet wearing, and occasionally for a need to license each and every bicycle. i see no need to impose any one of those, though i do confess to not understanding why it is that cars are required to carry licence plates and bicycles aren't. the police are able to check a great deal of information through those individual plates; should they not have a similar ability to check details relating to the pelotonese, particularly when related to the substantial numbers now cycling to work in our cities?
traffic cameras are able to catch those who jump red lights, who drive the wrong way on one-way streets and commit many other misdemeanours, all through an ability to track the individuals responsible via the numbers on the front or back of their vehicles. the same cannot be said regarding cyclists. however, i have read not a single headline of late that castigated a cyclist for knocking over a truck driver at a left-hand junction, nor of anyone aboard a black and blue pinarello caught speeding in a residential area. so perhaps i have let myself be guided along the wrong track.
sure, you can buy stickers/decals on the interweb that will allow you to add your name in the script of your choice to the front or rear of the top tube. for a relatively modest amount, you could even have the bicycle sprayed your favourite shade of mauve to signify your undoubted individuality. but, in point of fact, though many a bicycle owner has blessed their cycle with its very own name, the bicycle is in little danger of replacing that englishman's castle. a range rover with all the trimmings may conceivably be the mobile representation of a palatial residence, but i can think of not a single bicycle that offers the same opportunity for misguided arrogance.
i have ridden some very fine bicycles myself, and have ridden alongside those with many thousand pounds worth of their own, but the personality traits of the pelotonic majority do not seem to ape those of the well-heeled motorist. this is not a call to self-righteousness, nor an attempt to praise the morals of the average cyclist, but perhaps a pointer to the simultaneous ability of bike riders to be both solitary and companionable. the increasing isolation engendered by the modern motor car, perhaps fostering that need to become even more of an individual by means of a personalised number plate, is not paralleled in the public peloton. and that has to be seen as a good thing.
and did i mention that a great many of the cars travelling to and from edinburgh had only one occupant?
monday 20th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as averred to on one or two previous occasions, there is great delight to be taken in sitting back in a comfortable seat, with a puny lap belt in place (just what are they supposed to do?) beside a large, almost panoramic window allowing one to survey all one perceives. it's what coach travel is all about. if there are those keen to spend many an hour behind a large steering wheel in the pursuit of putting food on the table, it seems only prudent that i accede to their career demands and allow them to practise their art. for truly i was a crap driver when the moment arose, and i'd far rather place my comfort and safety in the hands of those who know of what it is they do.
not only am i safer on a bicycle, but so is the rest of humanity.
and in the process of benefitting from that apex bus ticket, it is rather fascinating what can be seen from the coach window, even on a routine trip from kennacraig to glasgow. this is a more than marvellous country in which we live, with scenery that is almost as breathtaking after the twenty fifth year of viewing as it was for the first time. it is also one of the great pleasures of riding a bicycle, perhaps not across the one hundred and twenty-five miles between here and the greater metropolis of glasgow, but perhaps on a more modest level. this is not to diss the trip that would would bring the intrepid pedallist within viewing distance of the erskine bridge or the congestion that is great western road, but i feel compelled to refer you to the aforementioned bus trip as a more palatable alternative.
the make model and age of bicycle that you drag from the bike shed in order to peruse the scottish countryside matters not one jot. it is the eye of the beholder that is of import here, not the number of sprockets on the rear wheel, nor the shape of the bars attached to the front end. it is an eminently better proposition should the possibility of some character building be involved, via a most welcome headwind or perhaps the occasional elevated section of road, but neither is a condition of enjoyment.
this i feel we have proved regularly on the first sunday of august each year, when a considerable assembled multitude participates in the ride of the falling rain. remaining unmoved by the apparent necessity of filling each mile of riding with as many steep ascents as possible, there are but two climbs of note filling the rotfr's one hundred miles. the remainder is surely a joyful mobile conversation against a backdrop of islay's finest.
but to put not too fine a point on it, the constant praising of one's homeland is not only a touch prejudicial, but likely somewhat simultaneously parochial, a situation that surely ought to be mediated by introducing islay's next of kin.
there are a number of ways to reach islay by bicycle, all of which eventually require some sort of ferry to reach either of our ports. the principal is sited at kennacraig, around four miles south of tarbert on the kintyre peninsula. apart from the previously mentioned route from glasgow, climbing up and over the infamous rest and be thankful, it's possible to leave from ardrossan in ayrshire by ferry to arran, cycle round to lochranza and arrive on the peninsula by means of the smaller car ferry arriving at claonaig. tis then but a simple matter to ride the five miles to kennacraig, though i should point out that this road goes up quite steeply before descending in similar fashion.
either end of this short stretch of road can be used also to turn left and head to campbeltown; from claonaig it rides a singletrack and often steep route; avoid kennacraig by riding the main road to campbeltown, and your passage may be a touch less convoluted, but you will be constantly passed by large trucks heading to the wee toon. come 14th october however, and basing yourself in campbeltown, the more adventurous amongst us can voluntarily ride this entire course from top to bottom and edge to edge, raising funds for macmillan cancer research.
a smidgeon shorter than the ride of the falling rain by about thirty miles, it's probably harder to forgo the whole enchilada by means of the occasional escape route, but for those wishing a less daunting approach to their october weekend, there are other shorter routes available all the way down to a family and fun route encompassing between three and ten miles. though i would be failing in my duty if i did not point out that kintyre (and islay for that matter) are not always possessed of blazing sunshine that this particular time of year, it remains a truism that the scenery is unfailingly wonderful forever and ever.
sponsorship from the ardsheil hotel in campbeltown means that, aside from being the start and finish point of mokbike 2012, a fine repast in the evening is guaranteed. russ wilkes has also pointed out that the more tenacious can partake of a 103 mile route if there is sufficient interest shown, and for those happier on knobblies there is also a cross-country offroad challenge. those with a desperate need to enjoy one of the less travelled regions of scotland and to occupy their mid october weekend with fine cycling, pop over to mokbike.com right this minute and book your spot on the start line. early bird entry is £20 for individuals, or £25 if you're a tad slow on the uptake.
i might just find it in my busy social calendar to join you.
sunday 19th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
essentially, that's what it comes down to; the quality of the almond croissant.
it's thirty something miles from glasgow to edinburgh, likely exacerbated somewhat by the convoluted approach to edinburgh's city centre. the city is in the throes of building a tram system that will not achieve the majority of objectives it was originally set out to do, stopping short of edinburgh airport at turnhouse and going no further than princes street. the citylink bus connecting the two cities has thus to adopt a round the houses approach to reach the safety of the bus station off queen street.
at least it would do if it made it as far as the city centre in the first place.
it's currently festival and fringe time in scotland's capital so on arrival at glasgow's buchanan bus station, there is an inevitable queue waiting for the every fifteen minutes service operated by citylink. such frequency places great demands on rolling stock, so the bus i boarded was plain white with no delineating logos that associated it with the more regular blue and yellow liveried coaches. we were less than half-way to our destination when a loud beep issued from the coach driver's control panel, accompained by a red warning light, the significance of which i could not read from my fourth row seat.
this mild cacophony was repeated twice more but seemingly ignored by the young driver until, just a half mile or so from the airport, he pulled the coach into a bus stop and declared the vehicle redundant. as customers having paid our requisite fare, the full complement of passengers and i felt sure citylink would send a coach to rescue us from this dilemma, but the best they could offer, via the very nervous looking driver, was that we should flag down a succeeding glasgow-edinburgh bus and hopefully persuade them to complete the journey.
those of you who have been paying attention will already have spotted the potential flaw in this solution, for in order to quell the seemingly endless queue of passengers at glasgow, each edinburgh bound coach had been leaving fully filled, thus the two coaches that did approach from the west, carried on regardless, having no spare seats that would swallow the entire contents of a previously brimming coach. the eventual solution was for us all to clamber aboard a regular edinburgh service bus, pay the nominal fare and reach the capital's inner recesses, both shaken and stirred.
not being a frequenter of edinburgh's streets on a regular basis, i had prepared myself for the walk to ronde in the stockbridge region of town on leaving the bus station situated in the east end of the city centre. being dropped at the west end of princes street required a modicum of re-planning, particularly by one with an oft retarded sense of direction. having arranged to meet others at a vaguely specified hour, i was happy that my perambulations delivered me to the front door only marginally later than my haphazard estimate.
and this is where the almond croissant comes in. it is almost exactly one year since i first visited ronde, just after the two neils opened for business in 2011 and at that particular time i was delighted to assuage both thirst and hunger with a soya cappuccino of exacting proportions and a very welcome almond croissant. the latter, in the intervening months, had acquired an elevated status, so much so that it had replaced the more regular red carpet one would expect as a welcoming gesture. this was underlined more emphatically when one half of the proprietorship, neil dryden, mentioned that the aforesaid morsel had been rescued on my behalf having realised that it was the sole example left in the shop.
an almond croissant ought readily to balance the needs of a sumptuous pastry that does not eschew the values of a croissant in favour of an overpowering almondness. another purchased a day or two later from the breadbaskets of sainsbury's had ignored the light, airy space that should pervade this particular example of patisserie in favour of an almond butter that exhibited strong overtones of marzipan. the latter is not favourable to my palate, and certainly not one that should colour such a potentially delectable pastry. the example proffered at ronde featured not only flakes of almond that crunched, but most of whom hid beneath a light dusting of icing sugar.
this is the true way to adjudge a bicycle shop.
by the very definition of the name, a bicycle shop sells bicycles, each according to its lot in life, the trade contract it has managed to successfully negotiate and the financial demeanour of its catchment area. the very idea of selling colnagos in a district that identifies itself more readily with meridas would not make for a healthy balance sheet. whether the velocipedes on display fit comfortably with your needs or, perhaps more importantly you bank statement is between you and the gentleman behind the counter.
edinburgh's ronde, sited in hamilton place has taken the rapha cycle club or look mum no hands concept a stage further, featuring a fully-fledged cafe (with the above praised croissant) in one door, adjacent to a sparse, yet desirable cycle shop reached through the next door, or through an adjoining portal from the coffee shop. neil dryden said they had yet to experience the much-vaunted influx of cycle customers in the wake of bradley's tour win or team gb's success at the olympics, but he expected that to kick in within a couple of months. and bradley's tour win featured prominently in a subsequent conversation with team sky photographer, scott mitchell, once an unassuming advertising and studio photographer based in the city, but now launched to fame and fortune (well, fame at least) on the back of his superb imagery produced at the giro d'italia and the team sky winning tour de france.
scott and i had been interweb acquaintances ever since he sent me a copy of the book he produced with wiggins entitled on tour, in which brad wrote the words and scott supplied the photos. you will hopefully have seen his work on sky's behalf from romandie, italy and france on the team sky website, and he has been gracious enough to provide me with copy and images for the post during the latter two races. on friday, a few days after our meeting over tea and coffee, he flew off to spain for three weeks on the vuelta and i'll have more from scott as that race unfolds, perhaps leaning favourably towards success by chris froome.
as is often the case in such conversations, subjects are brought to light that have to remain between those conversing, a metaphorical not yet for public consumption rubber stamp across the contents. i say this not for the purposes of self-aggrandisement, but more to explain the lack of specifics within this article. scott's life and career has, on the basis of "a short conversation about scooters" turned upside down, and he has had to withdraw from many of the account first-calls that were previously the mainstay of his livelihood. but then which would you prefer; arranging studio lights in edinburgh or photographing brad and cav on the champs elysees and the tourmalet?
saturday 18th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i may regret admitting to this, for there is every likelihood that you will be thinking me more deranged than normal, but it's something i have borne in secret for many a year, that has now resurfaced in the wake of the recently completed olympics. doubtless many of us would have wished to have been a a part of team gb's cycling entourage, possibly never having to buy a raspberry and banana smoothie ever again, as long as that gold medal was visible for all to see. i think i speak for most of us when i point out that, in the real world, that is never going to happen. unless you already have a team gb tracksuit in the wardrobe, it is very unlikely that dave brailsford has your telephone number on speed dial.
brailsford is a man i have never equated with cycling on a personal level. like you, i watch him providing almost pre-scripted answers to the media and moving about the centre of track, or in and out of either the sky bus or an impeccably turned out black jaguar with a blue stripe down the centre. but it never dawned on me that he might actually enjoy cycling; more of a numbers sort of chap. however, a recent conversation with one more professionally connected with team sky, informed me that during the tour, dave was up and out every morning around 6am, no doubt on a suitably attired pinarello.
with most of us now past the point where any meagre cycling talent we may have at one time owned now locked in a cupboard and unlikely ever to see the light of day again, our best stab at glory might be to affect membership of either team sky or team gb in some more subdued and menial role. the bonus, should such come to pass, is that we would be entitled to officially wear an appropriately badged polo shirt. for me, that would be the culmination of a hard won career.
i have, over the past few years, taken it upon myself to attend the occasional gathering of the cycle industry, mostly in large hangar-like buildings, filled with all that is great and good in the land of carbon fibre. despite a name-tag swinging pointedly from its sponsor's lanyard, i thought it meritorious to dress in a corporately styled polo shirt, one that reflects the black and yellow colours of its progenitor and makes not infrequent mention of the website it is designed to represent. it is more than likely that such attire is all but ignored by those standing beside their product range. thewashingmachinepost is always a fine conversation opener, but rarely from a point of recognition. those whose polos advise of an affinity with an italian cycle manufacturer not only seem to carry more weight, but do so due to their relatively larger numbers.
comforting though it would be to dress similarly and hope to pass myself off as a fully paid up member of the great and good, it would surely be tantamount to idolatry to have the right to wear a polo shirt that connected me with that of great sporting prowess? it may be that the daily task is simply to polish those inordinately expensive team gb chainsets, but if you don't mention it, neither will i.
reality dictates, however, that this remain an unrequited pipedream, but not a situation that need be left unanswered. nick and philip of new, yet perfectly formed kids on the block, vulpine, having made almost the perfect start in clothing us for the stylish normal as opposed to the stylish fast, are now consolidating their rested laurels by augmenting the range. first to this escalated sartorial offering is a finely crafted merino polo shirt, a garment that confers enhanced status upon the wearer yet subtly so. made from the finest of new zealand merino wool, the syle would not be out of place at wimbledon (though the colours might implement heated debate) or royal st andrews. thankfully, we are less dogmatic in our traditions, and to be seen cycling in an indigo blue or black polo shirt is unlikely to trouble the commissaires unnecessarily.
style is somewhat vacuous unless accompanied by soupcon of pragmatism, something the chaps at vulpine have not left us wanting. a flapped pocket on the left breast is joined by a similar receptacle on the lower right rear, allowing the carrying of modest and preferably lightweight cargo. bearing in mind the fineness of the merino knit, heavy items would be more than likely to predicate unsightly bulges in one's faux officialdom, but it is something of a bonus that they offer a modicum of closure via those monogrammed flaps. i confess i would have preferred the front pocket flap to have offered either a vulpine logo'd button or popper to prevent the flap from sitting less than in line with the shirt itself. or perhaps a variation on the magnetic closure offered on the rainjacket and softshell, but the flap that is the flap, is preferable to an altogether unfettered example.
even those intent on less than speedy motion are wont to sit less than bolt upright in the saddle, thus the drop-tail afforded by the rear of the shirt ensures that no gap will appear to trouble the lower back in colder weather. undoubtedly a part of the style of such a garment is the means of buttoned closure below the collar, not always the cyclists' friend when it comes to one-handed unbuttoning while cycling. the object of vitriol is often the very topmost button when it steadfastly refuses to be undone despite a necessity for so doing. happily in this case, such was not the case; though i doubt i could fasten all three while riding, that is more often than not, an unlikely happenstance in any case. unbuttoning was not a problem.
in a similar manner to oval tan marks on the back of each hand, there is a certain satisfaction to be gained from wearing an apparently normal item of apparel that holds a secret identity. and while i'd be the first to admit that vulpine's short sleeve polo is not going to get you past security at manchester velodrome or on the champs elysees, it's probably the next best thing.
the vulpine short sleeve merino polo shirt is available in either indigo blue or black, in sizes ranging from xs to xl at a cost of £70.
friday 17th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when colnago uk informed me that my review model was not only on the freighter from taiwan, but that my name was on it, it ended a lengthy period of waiting. this particular edition of the clx was announced mid-summer 2011, but it has taken the best part of a year to find its way to the inner hebrides for a holiday. i know not whether this is because colnago were errant in their frame production or whether the blame ought to be apportioned to shimano for providing insufficient quantities of their electric ultegra groupset. either way, the review model was not amongst the first shipments to arrive, but previous bicycles have been snapped up by orders from colnago dealers.
supply and demand. an excellent problem to have.
when the bicycle did finally arrive, a few days earlier than expected, it turned out that far from having my name on it, some chap called ernesto haad beaten me to it with a white felt pen. the clx was colnago's first foray into far eastern monocoque production, creating a minor furore at the time. the fact that the clx 1.0 was considered something of a success has pushed all that to the background for most, though i have no doubt there are still a few members of the underground resistance who bemoan the lack of a made in italy sticker on the seat tube.
this particular model tips the price scales at a few pence less than £4,000, a £1,000 premium over the regular ultegra equipped version, so are those extra pennies justfied? is electronica in this case to be considered a value add or a masking agent for lack of frame innovation?
sunday 12th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................