so many of my colleagues in the cycling world have become enamoured of cyclocross, perhaps a season or so after i began to take an interest, but in most cases, seriously enough to involve themselves in the competitive aspects of the sport. it is remarkably easy for me to affect an air of superiority at this point, as if getting my hands (knees, arms, face, and feet) dirty were somehow beneath me. however, given my location of residence and seeming inability to travel anywhere meaningful, it's easy peasy to eschew the formalities of organised competition.
bluntly put, there is none.
in point of fact, there is currently not another cyclist on the island in possession of a 'cross bike, leading to the only satisfactory solution of competing with myself. yet, though i am given to the occasional bout of whimsy, i cannot deny that any passers-by who may have inadvertantly caught sight of this unique situation have been ravaged by a barely concealed sense of mirth. their cause to smile out loud is not brought about by a less than appropriate mode of dress, for in this i am particularly well kitted out for the part. in fact, were you to catch me strolling through the pits at any particular 'cross meet, you'd likely have an uncontrollable desire to hand me a bicycle.
it is, i'm embarrassed to state, when in possession of a cyclocross bicycle that the house of cards falls completely apart. in order that one might realistically offer a competitive edge against the competition, it is necessary to be able to mount and dismount both quickly and efficiently. anything less is likely to render even a phenomenal pedalling technique somewhat redundant, as those more fleet of foot throw sand in my face with appalling and unfailing regularity. at this point i can do little else but admit to the ineptitude in this area that has been the cause of such hilarity at my own expense. heck, even i ended up laughing.
as a confirmed roadie, the act of clipping or unclipping from the pedals is generally only required at the start and finish of the ride, unless wandering farm animals interrupt the less than race pace. rare is the need to exit the bicycle in a hurry or even to plonk bum on saddle at speed in an effort to catch a fast disappearing peloton. cyclocross, as if you didn't know, is a whole 'nuther bucket of valve caps.
i have previously impressed upon you my laughable attempts to emulate sven nys, yet despite an irregular practice regime (you will note that i did not use the word training) i have become no better than i was when taking up the challenge around two years ago. the equipment is unimpeachable, so i do not have the luxury of blaming that. in short, despite watching 'cross on the telly, coupled with attendance at last year's rapha supercross on the shores of lake windermere, i still have no clue as to just what it is i am trying to achieve.
well, that's not strictly true; i know what i need to do, just not how to go about learning.
however, as implied in every superman movie to date, help is at hand in the widescreen format of jeremy powers' cross camp video. i have on occasion read books on the subject of becoming national cyclocross champion in mere weeks, read many an issue of cyclocross magazine, and perused videos on youtube that might just aid my rather poor attempts at getting on and off the bike with alacrity. none have quite managed to place all in perspective that would allow for appropriate improvement. it could be, of course, that i am just a very slow learner.
jeremy powers rides for the rapha focus cyclocross team in the usa, just occasionally heading over to european shores in homage to the sports countries of origin. along with videographer sam smith, he has successfully and very entertainingly broadcast a regular behind the barriers series of videos covering the ins and outs of his 'cross season for the past few years. through these, he has been remarkably successful in introducing many a cyclist to the attractions of off-road riding with drop bars. this instructional video now seems like the natural progression from behind the barriers.
if i have little intention of racing cyclocross, why then do i need to arm myself with such techniques in the first place (i hear you ask)? the short and succinct answer is because i do, and because i will be unable to hold my head up in public until such time as achievement is mine. i believe this 45 minute presentation by mr powers will solve my predicament, for not only does he demonstrate in glorious slow-motion how to successfully dismount the bicycle prior to running across a set of barriers, but provides an exceedingly simple and practicable set of exercises allowing the leap of faith to get back on, something to be eventually and successfully enacted with industrious practice.
by next saturday, bridgend woods will resound to the sharp intakes of breath as innocent bystanders stand aghast at my powers (did you see what i did there?) over the humble cyclocross bicycle.
once achieved, i will also have the necessary technique enabling yours truly to lift the bike effortlessly onto the right shoulder, again shown in magical slow-motion while jeremy describes just what is going on in front of your eyes. the video details succinctly and clearly the advantages of tubular tyres over clinchers, the advantages of taking one line through a corner as opposed to the alternatives and even how to change bikes in the pits, beautifully illustrated by means of an overhead camera shot.
it must be admitted that the introductory session describing what kit ought to be in that oversized shoulder bag and just what ought to be worn depending on weather and temperature conditions offers the ideal opportunity for powers to display copious amounts of rapha and giro apparel. however, as the principal rider in the rapha focus team, it would be naive to expect otherwise. it's an advert jim, but exactly as we know it.
though i have opted not to involve myself in the competitive aspects of the sport, it seems only realistic that the principal market for this excellent tutorial will be cyclocross racers. in which case, the chapters on race-day nutrition, how to dismantle and pack your bicycle, sussing out the race course and how to effect a competitive start , will likely prove invaluable. the camera work is superb throughout, with truly exceptional use of slow-motion allowing every last ounce of jeremy's technique to be appraised without the need to continually rewind to see if what you thought was going on was indeed the case.
if this video taught me nothing else, its that 'cross riders are not necessarily born with the abilities and skills demonstrated on the professional circuit. even basic techniques that i marvel at in belgian and dutch are the result of hours and hours of practice. up till now, i was beginning to think these were capabilities everyone else owned but me. for that, it's worth the price of admission alone.
nothing is overstated, no chapter is longer than it needs to be. if anything could be said to be missing, it's a chapter containing the bloopers that must surely have been a feature of the filming process (maybe those could be added to the website at a later date?). jeremy powers is highly articulate and erudite in matters concerning the sport of which he is justly national champion, making him, in my humble opinion, perhaps the ideal 'cross rider to bring us the benefit of his experience. even if, like me, the competitive world of cyclocross is not to your taste, i'd highly recommend that you pop over to jeremy powers cross camp and download a copy for a mere $14.99 (£10). you will not regret it. if you'd prefer to purchase via itunes or amazon, you'll have to wait until mid-month, or if the physical media of a dvd is more your thing, that ought to be available by october at a cost of $24.99 (£16.50).
short of jeremy turning up in bridgend woods to laugh along with my less than clandestine onlookers, i can't think of a better way to improve my 'cross abilities. if it'll work for me, it's going to do wonders for everyone else.
monday 3rd september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
we are nothing if not creatures of habit. were this not the case, our lives would be considerably more random than they are. but it is something much taken for granted that seemingly disparate lives have the ability to schedule a series of rendezvous over an extended period of time, taking into account the wide variety in personal circumstances that could doubtless intervene. repetitive features are, however, perhaps more easily regulated if only because they have time to become ingrained in the mind of each participant. thus, the sunday morning ride simply happens, without any need to set electronic reminders, without the need to telephone each prospective pelotonese the night before and possibly even without setting the alarm clock.
weekday arising demands that the farming programme on radio four bursts gently into life a little before 6am of a morning. this seamlessly blends into the today programme via the news. despite my protestations that regular events need little external management, i daren't change the alarm for only sunday, so i listen to excerpts from a programme that annoys the life out of me before there is farming once more and then the sunday version of the today programme.
the radio runs its course before sunday worship (thankfully), not because i have any particular aversion to religion, but i really can't bear the sound of singing hymns around quarter of a beat behind the organist. with luck, habit and a nudge from mrs washingmachinepost, i drag myself out of bed by 8:45, having carefully chosen my sartorial accoutrements the night before.
on food packets the nation over are many a series of numbers and colours advising the consumer as to the percentage of recommended daily intake for a variety of vitamins and minerals as well as calorific values. the percentages are based upon a national average. however, it will come as little surprise that chaps and chapesses who get up early of a sunday morning to ride their bicycles for several hours cannot readily be said to adhere to the adjective average. we are therefore advised to be a tad more judicious with our intake of nutrients. i mention this by way of excusing that extra half cup of old-fashioned porage oats and just maybe an extra peach slice or two on the top.
though the sunday morning preparations inevitably take up less time than i had allowed for, it would seem tantamount to heresy arising any later. at one time, it was agreed that we leave our respective abodes in time to meet at debbie's for 11am, but during a summer not so very long ago, it was decided that we could accommodate a greater mileage by meeting one hour earlier. it has remained so ever since. 9:30 would be the appropriate time to leave bowmore, but try as i might, i doubt i've ever left later than 9:20. it's a feature, not a bug.
those highly developed social skills regularly result in the velo club arriving outside debbie's within several minutes of each other. let's face it, if nasa can pop a little buggy in the middle of a martian crater and receive colour pictures of sand only a matter of hours later, how hard can it be to meet for a bike ride at roughly the same time each week?
the mighty dave t lives at the most southern tip of the rhinns of islay, in the sunny resort of port wemyss. his commute to bruichladdich takes approximately the same length of time as does mine from bowmore. yet for reasons not altogether apparent, the peloton never ever rides south after meeting. outward bound is always north with a few westerly or easterly variants thrown in for good measure. a benefit to this is meeting any latecomers, for most will be slogging down uiskentuie strand in the opposite direction when we pass with a 'hail, good fellow, well met' by way of greeting.
inexplicably, lord carlos likes to attempt the climb to storakaig at every available opportunity. now that the cattle grid at knocklearach has been repaired, this is a less onerous travail than was once the case. ineffective at countering his demands, perhaps because we too are enamoured of the selfsame route, the turn towards mulindry is made only a few hundred metres past bridgend hotel.
all this takes place with incredible regularity, yet due to wild variations in the weather, such seeming repetition rarely becomes repetitive. after climbing the short hill to the raw (pronounced the ra) with its spinning wind turbine in the back garden, there is a brief roll downhill before a gravelly climb to the refurbished ballitarsin smiddy now a dentist's residence. the road descends once again rolling to the right and onwards past neriby farm.
as we approach the gate that would allow a muddy walk to the iron-age fort at dun nosebridge, the road again descends before crossing the bridge to what the mighty dave refers to as the village of weak bridge. we cross the bridge and climb smartly to be confronted with a marvellous view of the glen and the hills surrounding each side.
"look at that," exclaims the might dave, "bloody marvellous. aren't you glad i brought you out this morning?"
photos from islayinfo.com
sunday 2nd september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the latest pair of handbuilt wheels to inhabit thewashingmachinepost bike shed and psyche have been already introduced, perhaps with more vigour than absolutely necessary. but allow me briefly to reprise the current situation. my bog standard chris king r45 hubs were despatched to nw nela street in portland to allow the boffins at chris king components to remove the regular bearings that had served me well for the past two years and replace them with the new ceramic option announced at the end of last year. as of march this year, the cielo had been aided and abetted by a ceramic bearing bottom bracket, and i was now being offered the opportunity to sail almost friction free.
of course, a set of hubs are of little use to anyone unless they're built into an appropriately expert pair of wheels. jude kirstein at portland's sugar wheels had previously offered to build my ultimate pair of wheels, so when the planets had all lined up so fortuitously, it seemed a tad obvious to ask dylan at chris king to pop across to north williams avenue and deliver the hubs to one of the world's finest wheelbuilders.
partly on recommendation, and partly for reasons of comparison, the hubs were built using the same dt swiss rims as featured on the originals. except the new ones are black rather than silver grey. the hubs have twenty-eight holes in each; the originals were built two cross, and these are also built two cross, apart from the drive side rear which is three cross to resist those drive-side strains. but the coup de grace involves having each set of spokes tied and soldered at the point where they cross on their way to the rim. as jude was wont to point out.
"If you're going to tie and solder, there has be a balance point with the spoke in terms of adding stiffness/efficiency and balancing it with weight. The other benefit is that it prevents fatigue at the spoke elbow making it more durable.
"Tying/soldering was popular in the days when people wrote letters to each other. I'd like to bring both back to the forefront."
thus the cielo was brought back to its original configuration, but with what we shall refer to as sugar benefits and a set of bearings reputed to be one thousand times more round than those they replaced. up till this point, all is circumstantial and conditional on marketing hype. no-one in their right mind is going to offer a more expensive solution to forward motion and then tell you that they're alright. if i might quote directly from the chris king website 'we build them to the same exacting standards as our classic, time-tested stainless steel ball model. Pairing the corrosion resistance of ceramic balls with our proven sealing system allows for greater flexibility. Our ceramic bearing R45 hubs are built with a very small amount of silicone-based lube for a system with very low drag."
tin the light of my subsequent experience with these wheels, the chris king marketing department are slightly relaxed in their proselytising of the benefits of ceramic bearings, for though i have previously attested to a gliding sensation when riding the bicycle, that can now only be described as floating. and most unexpectedly, as the kilometres have rolled by, the friction quotient seems to have lessened quite noticeably. this is not only a quandary that i am more than willing to accept, but it is also one that causes me some embarrassment. for though i was most sceptical about any perceived benefits that might result from the chris king ceramic bottom bracket, i was even more so regarding the wheels. i am inclined to agree with anyone pointing out that surely this is stupidity on my part, but much is the result of my cynicism.
though i'm under no illusion as to my mediocre skills and speed on the bicycle, i would more usually figure that such as ceramic bearings would come under what team sky refer to as marginal gains. thus bearings such as those provided by chris king would assist riders such as bradley wiggins and mark cavendish because they're travelling at speeds where such minimal differences can add up to greater than the whole. hand the little blighters to fellows such as i, and you'd wonder what all the fuss was about. well, of course, me being me, i was wrong again.
the difference between the hubs i returned to portland and the ones i got back verges on the difference between night and day. on my first concerted effort aboard the ceramic equipped cielo, the average speed displayed on my bbb computer was of an order of magnitude greater than i could have reasonably expected. meaningless to the professionals, but worth bragging rights to me.
the hubs and their nice new bearings however, are only one quarter of the equation; the spokes, the rims and the wheelbuilder make up the other 75% and you will be less than surprised to learn it's a whopping 75%. the level of trueness (is there such a word?) is incredible. though i did not have a chance to pop the wheel in my var truing stand, simple visual inspection as the rim ran past the brake shoe was enough to confirm its absolute roundness. it is, you will understand, way too early to learn whether the tying and soldering provides the benefits its publicity handout would have us believe, but in the interests of not giving these sugar wheels a cushy ride, i have already crunched my way along the road kept for special occasions.
that three mile ride, one which will be oft repeated in order to keep the pressure on, offered the added benefits of a herd of cows making their way along the lower slopes of the 14% gravel and pothole strewn climb. standing midst the remains of tarmac was a substantially sized bull, a situation i am told by those more agriculturally inclined is less onerous than it might at first appear. a bull accompanied by its herd of cows is apparently less inclined to display aggression than an individual alone.
that, however, is of little comfort when an animal little smaller than my bike shed is stood immovably in one's intended path. it seems, however, that my temerity in continuing past (were such possible) coupled with an attempt to unclip caused the bull more concern than one could have hoped for, and the brute moved off onto the roadside mud. the more observational amongst you will have extrapolated the existence of many cows into a less than amenable road covering still to be negotiated over and above the gravel and substantial holes in the road.
though less than inclined to experience all this in one sitting, especially uphill, some of it was impossible to avoid before the summit was reached and an exhilarating descent over similarly clad roads. having recently returned a colnago with shimano factory wheels, the sugar build was of great comfort and relief to my nerves and bum. though the shimanos had served the colnago well, along the same stretch of road, jude's handiwork imparted oh so much more. at that point, the frictionlessness was of secondary consideration; the imaginary line through each gravel strewn corner was uppermost in my mind.
these wheels have a level of resilience that i cannot honestly relate has been experienced before. it's a very hard set of specifics to pin down in words that might make a lot of sense to either you or me. their lateral rigidity is not in doubt, but for now the best i can say is that they're like a regular pair of wheels but with super powers, the sort that would require they wear a mask while fighting crime. perhaps one of the more graphic displays of these powers is demonstrated when climbing. i am a great believer that a quality frame ought to display an intangible follow-through at the bottom bracket for each pedal stroke. the sugar wheels seem set to amplify this sensation, pushing the rider forward with gusto at the greatest point of effort.
i love these wheels.
however, just as one swallow does not a summer make, a few rides in sunny weather are hardly the sort of trials and tribulations to which i expect to cause any set of wheels much concern. since these are here for the long haul, rest assured that i will make mention of them again, and probably before christmas and rapha's festive 500.
a similar spec on a pair of sugar wheels would cost from around $1000. though that translates to around £700, it's obviously based on american pricing. for us, there is the dreaded import duty and vat to be added. evolution imports in the uk have set the retail price for an r45 front hub at £212.99 and £442.99 for the rear. there will eventually be an upgrade available for owners of regular r45 hubs but at the time of writing date and cost had yet to be set. and as jude pointed out, using quality hubs such as those from chris king, the wheels can easily be rebuilt if such becomes necessary in the future..
saturday 1st september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"And then, one morning, I no longer heard the noise of running behind me, no more rhythmic breathing on my back.The miracle had taken place. I was riding. I never wanted to put my feet back down for fear that the miracle wouldn't happen again. I was jubilant."
in my daily travails i have the good fortune to mess about with pre-press preparations, eventually leading to colour printing in one form or another. it is not a particularly onerous task, it's one i enjoy and for which i trained and one which brings me into contact with people and organisations with which i would not normally find myself associated. aside from that, for the time being, i am the only individual on the island suitably equipped to carry out these ministrations on others' behalf.
the most recent venture has been that of designing and compiling the brochure for next month's islay book festival in which one of the visiting authors (geoff dupuy-holder) will present a talk on 101 things to do with a stone circle. on the basis of the title alone, i am inclined to buy my ticket and eagerly await the content of his discourse. the title itself is not, however, an original concept, as our senses are continually assailed by articles and books that offer to inform us as to subjects such as 101 derailleurs to fit before you die, or 100 uses for a punctured inner-tube. in keeping with this theme that i have rather arbitrarily extracted from innocuous beginnings, i have had thoughts of 101 cycling books that ought to fill your bookshelves.
the first is the rider by tim krabbe, an essential read for the aspiring roadie. the second, but not necessarily adhering to any hierarchical listing, is the book currently under consideration: velo by paul fournel, illustrated by the inestimable jo burt (yes, that jo burt). any further additions to that list would, by definition, require to be subjected to differing criteria, for though i intend no disrespect to any of the authors whose books i have reviewed over the years, the above two examples are as much about language and emotion as they are about cycling.
paul fournel was, until a couple of years ago, the french cultural attache in london before returning to paris where to concentrate on his writing. he is renowned in cycling circles not only for his contributions to each issue of rouleur (publishers of this particular volume), but for his 2001 publication 'need for the bike'. this beautifully illustrated contemporary edition contains all of the original need for the bike essays, augmented by several subsequent articles originally published in rouleur magazine. his writings in the magazine have almost always been accompanied by the dextrous pencil work of jo burt, several of which have been included here. to all intents a win/win situation in my opinion.
though the work of author and illustrator appear on the same pages, neither have actually met, though as jo burt says "it's not unusual for the illustrator to never meet the author."
fournel is a member of the literary group oulipo, a movement born in 1960 that attempts to incorporate mathematics and the sciences in developing new structures for literary works. ostensibly a response to surrealism. though the short essays included in 'velo' display little direct evidence of oulipo doctrines, it would be hard to deny that this voluntary conditioning has influenced his style of writing. the result is quite beautiful, and a beauty that is continued by jo burt's sympathetic artistry.
"To be seated in the saddle, to not carry the weight of your own body, gives bike riding something of swimming, something of flying. The saddle carries you, like water, like air. The saddle, but also the frame, and the tyres, and the compressed air in the tyres all give you wings."
on a purely personal level, i truly wish i could write this well. while i feel it my duty to employ as many obscure words of several syllables or more in the course of my daily scribblings, it would be hard to deny that this often results in exceedingly lengthy monologues which may occasionally be of an appropriate level of entertainment. but they could never attract the adjective concise.
fournel on the other hand is a true wordsmith, one that has language at his every beck and call and with an ability to encapsulate in a minimum of words, the very emotions and experiences that result from our need for the bike. unless you are possessed of a particularly ignorant disposition, the sunday morning, saturday afternoon or wednesday evening bike ride is about more than just pedalling and changing gear. though we are all thankfully different, there is a whole existential world out there that is often brought to life through the simple process of riding a bike. fournel is not a stranger to this. oh that we could recall each and every ride experience with such perspicacity and flavour.
given the wide range of the latter that fournel has ascribed to the bicycle and the act of riding, was it an easy task for jo burt to choose which essay or aspect to illustrate for the book?
"Not really. It was a complicated procedure, but more to do with getting the design and feel of the book right than to do with any trouble interpreting the stories pictorially. Some of the stories already had images attached having been printed in Rouleur over the last few years. Those were already in place; but where these stories sat in the book meant some of the illustrations where bunched together, leaving large sections of the text image free.
"So those areas had to have images slotted in, so that the book 'flowed' nicely. There was a lot of conversation and discussion with the book's designer, Jonathan Bacon, to make sure it worked as a whole with regard to images. Some of the illustration choices were mine from an artistic viewpoint and some were Jonathan's from a layout perspective. We met in the middle to give the book a pleasing image/text mix, be that where we put illustrations, whether they were full page, drop-ins, or somewhere in-between. It was a lot of work for both of us, and significantly more than included in the original brief, but we thought it was worth the effort. We wanted to make the book look as pretty as we could."
fournel has also the ability to recall kernels of his cycling past without the cloying nostalgia that would undermine any poignancy of thought. "That summer I had punctured 23 times. Thanks to inflating and reinflating my tyres on the slopes and in the ditches beside the roads, my arms were bigger than my thighs." these reminiscences avoid the inevitable incidentals that feature in coffee shop banter, relieving us of any imposed tedium while promoting the quest for more. many will identify with the observations expressed, particularly when seeing them made manifest rather than voiced as more than a few incoherent grunts. no doubt this is as much a result of fournel's inherent editing process as it is his skill with prose.
jo burt's illustrations follow a parallel course, displaying an uncanny grasp of the narrative's economy of words, and resulting in a similar economy of line and shade. were burt's visuals subject to the same editing process as would apply to the author? in other words, were there any drawings left on the cutting room floor? "No, none at all. The design process eliminated that, and due to a tight deadline there wasn't any time for wastage."
as to that fluidity of expression in burt's unique style, he exhibits a consummate facility with a pencil. does he suffer for his art, or is it all as effortless as it looks? "As someone probably once said, if it looks easy it probably isn't.
"Nevertheless some of the illustrations were easy, the image popping into my head while reading the story and the drawing spilling out the end of the HB quickly and effortlessly. Others took a bit more thinking time to make it to paper and some just took a lot of plain old pencilwork and rubbings out to get down. So overall a lot of hard graft, not working-down-the-mines sweaty dangerous work, but pretty labour intensive nonetheless."
and though an completely unfair question, does he have a favourite illustration from the book? "Hmmm, yeah, not a fair question. As a hyper-critical reviewer of my own work, I will always find fault with what I've done, and leafing through the book I could point out what I see as errors, or something I'd do differently, better, in each illustration. But then in each picture - even ones I'm generally unhappy with - I can see something that I like, even if it is the tiniest detail.
"But I like San Francisco because it's a funky image, I like Machine because it's something we can all relate to I think. Landscapes and Blue Jersey are lovely diptychs that I'm a sucker for and I like the cover, because covers are something I don't get to do often. And I like some of the smaller drawings because they're so frail and precious and yet incidental and almost throwaway. I also think some aren't very good."
perhaps, however, one of the overlooked aspects of fournel's writings is that to which i have already paid tribute; his brevity. few of these essays are longer than two pages, allowing the reader to dip in and out according to mood, time and taste. as evidenced by many a book or magazine article concerning the most efficient manner of conducting oneself on the bike, hydration, eating and a warm-up are prescribed prior to clambering into the saddle. similarly that of the apres ride when there are complementary ministrations to be dealt with. i would humbly suggest that each intended ride be preceded by a chapter from fournel's velo and ended in the same manner. and while riding, do your utmost to imitate the mannerisms of jo burt's pelotonese.
an absolutely essential book. in fact, buy two and leave one for communal perusal in the coffee shop.
there is also a limited edition version of this book available at a cost of £120. capped at 150, these are signed by paul fournel and come with a signed art print by jo burt, packaged in a limited edition foil-pressed box. this can be pre-ordered here. brownie points are also due to jonathan bacon for design and claire read who did sterling work on checking the original french against the english translation.
friday 31st august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i, like many, have a day job, one that puts espresso on the table and keeps a selection of bicycles in the shed. this allows me the luxury of being a cycling obsessive who need only make time each day to sit ignoring all those around while typing out these words of exceedingly dubious wisdom. i need not depend on funding from a mysterious benefactor or advertisers in order that i might continue to impose my daily thoughts upon the unwary. to my mind, that's a neat situation to be in, for were i to arise tomorrow morning with the thought 'y'know, i can't be bothered', this would not result in bailiffs at the door eager to repossess all that i no longer own.
i view with interest many who have approached the life of the cycle blogger in the years since i brought thewashingmachinepost to fruition, and have seemingly embraced the world of commerciality and earn at least a portion of their living by such means. i have no idea how that works, and in my own individual way, i'm considerably less than bothered.
spending a sizeable portion of my time riding bicycles in an attempt to bring you my views of same, or indeed, reputable clothing, componentry and books seems like the ideal way to indulge a passion (oh, how i hate that word) while irritating a large portion of those who have similar ideals. however, over the years, even though a financial recompense has remained at arm's length, i have forced myself to view the post from a more business-like point of view, though i confess were you to ask many of those with whom i have professional contact, they would be hard-pushed to notice any real difference.
but, i assure you, there is.
for while most of you harbour the endless arguments posited by your better halves, struggling manfully or womanfully to justify exactly why it is necessary to bunk off work just after lunchtime to go ride with friends or check out a road that you must have travelled on thousands of previous occasions, i can cheerfully (if not always convincingly) put it down to product testing. the situation is entirely foolproof. should mrs twmp inadvertantly stumble on the fact that nothing i am wearing or riding is unreviewed, i can excuse it as being part of a long-term review, or possibly even the need to assess its performance in adverse weather conditions. this is islay; there are always adverse weather conditions somewhere abouts.
the tricky part is vindicating an incessant need for coffee and cake. sadly, the old-faithful (carbo-loading), no longer carries the weight it once did. here, it is far better to have even a tentative arrangement made with visitors to the locale, that one might show them the face of local hospitality and the coffee bar at debbie's. concomitant with the latter, it would surely be directly impolite not to show them the finer aspects of the hebridean landscape from the saddles of their very own bicycles?
the business-like portion of the foregoing is maintaining a solid facade regarding these carefully crafted excuses. a bit like asking time off for granny's funeral, having apparently done likewise on at least two prior occasions, its credibility is likely to have worn a bit thin. thus, though i may not stretch as far as keeping a written record of how often each spurious reason has been previously attempted, i try hard to commit all to memory.
did i ever mention i have an appalling memory?
i do not wish to promote the impression that i take my work less than seriously. i have spent many an interesting hour in the pouring rain and driving wind, checking whether the little product tag hanging from the zip is telling the truth (i do remove them prior to venturing out). there are the days when tyres and wheels have been crunched to within centimetres of their conversational abilities, all to verify the veracity of their promises. it is then necessary to relate all this in my over-florid and melodramatic style in the hope that it may stir you to accessorise for your own velocipedinal activities.
but the perennial question always at the back of my mind is 'am i stretching credibility too far?, not from the point of view of any subsequent articles, but when pressing and paying work is set to one side to allow for unfettered bike riding. i am fortunate that i have the opportunity to do so; many others do not and are constrained to riding bicycles at weekends only, fitting around those excuses i brought to light at the top of the monologue. perhaps others do the very same thing all the time, bereft of the professional excuses that i have at my beck and call. i have consulted with others who occupy more elevated positions within our universe and they too profess the undertaking of so-called research with nary a frown, wink or confession to bunking off while the maelstrom proceeds all around.
i've been doing this for years and years; if it's going to come back and bite me at some point in the near future, it's going to be one heck of a chomp. but on the basis that nobody on their death bed ever croaked 'i wish i'd gone into the office more often', it think it right and proper that i continue to ride my bicycle as often as is humanly possible, sometimes on my behalf and sometimes on yours. and in the light of the fun and carefree hours i have spent in the saddle, whether dodging hailstones or fighting against a gale force headwind, i'd respectfully suggest that you do likewise. the islay show day has passed and we are now condemned to the onslaught of winter.
cast aside the feelings you may have engendered for what has been laughingly referred to as summer. that, like most of my professional excuses, is simply a state of mind; something the media, marketing and human expectation have foisted upon us in the interest of maintaining seasonal parity. before you know it, we'll be getting ready for rapha's festive 500, something that could conceivably be a walk in the park if the intervening days, weeks and months are spent riding our bikes.
i do so hope mrs washingmachinepost doesn't read any of this.
thursday 30th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it is simply a cross one has to bear when brilliant ideas spew forth on a regular basis; almost daily in fact. were i to disseminate the results of my daily ruminations i fear it would be an unseemly conceit, for no sooner would the great british public (in this case, that means you) have had time to assimilate the first of these brainwaves than they (you) would be hit with another one. probably more than the average mind could cope with, and the very reason why thewashingmachinepost concerns itself with less onerous subject matter. i am nothing if not magnanimous in my magnanimity.
of course, you and i both know that i made that all up. it's quite some length of time since i last had an idea worth discussing. ask mrs washingmachinepost. a think schedule as i have suggested is quite possibly beyond the capability of even the brightest amongst us, or even the amalgamated minds of the greater part of the cycle industry. on second thoughts, strike that last statement, for in reality, the minds of the cycle industry spend an inordinate number of hours, days, weeks and years finding ways to make that which we already own marginally better. and in the process making the very same set of circumstances completely obsolete.
much of this think tanking seems like the borg in star trek-the new generation emanating from the collective mind. much of what appears nowadays seems to have grown into being by osmosis, leaving the little guy to play catchup. there are many current marvels incorporated in every day bicycles that seemed somewhat tentative at the point of origination. consider the dilemma of those who are less than incorporated as a multi-national.
somebody somewhere had the idea of taking the bearings out of the bottom bracket shell and threading them outboard. it seems so matter of fact nowadays, but at the time, those looking from the sidelines would, not unnaturally, have hesitated before dipping toes in the water. for had we all rejected the idea wholesale, or the bigger players decided they had no wish to follow along similar lines, there would not have been the world market for aftermarket componentry that there currently is today. of course, one of the few certainties in today's world is that there will always be change, something that continues to affect not just the world of the bottom bracket.
chris king precision components of portland, oregon did have, at one time in their past, plans to bring a square taper cartridge bottom bracket to market, an item that would now be all but obsolete. are they glad they didn't make to the point of anodising? more than likely. but they are now, as of the upcoming eurobike show, about to launch a whole slew of components that will allow those with cutting edge bicycles to retro fit cutting edge technology in a neat range of anodised colours.
chris king resisted the internal headset for more years than most, only bringing the inset to launch when it seemed they had little option and prospective customers were crying out for the opportunity to affix chris king bits to their modern carbon. since then, headset and fork technology development has continued unabated, resulting in the almost ubiquitous tapered steerer; narrower diameter at the top race than the even more oversized circumference at the crown race. chris king are releasing very soon, the inset 8 accommodating an increase from 1.125" at the top to 1.25" at the base in their usual wide range of anodised colours.
returning briefly to those bottom brackets, though i had hoped the external threaded bearings would be the culmination of evolution in this department, that was seemingly a false hope. more recent progress has resulted in the bearings losing their threads and being press-fitted into a smooth bottom bracket shell. though i'd be lying if i said i completely understood the myriad of specifications applying to this particular animal, the chaps at nw nela street presumably do, and are now set to offer press fit 24mm and 30mm for those oversize solutions.
were that not enough to chew on at one sitting, brian schultz and his colleagues have not been ignoring their exceedingly fine r45 road hubs. with shimano ready to bring eleven-speed to market all too soon, it is apparently necessary to equip any shimano compatible hub with an updated freehub to accommodate that extra sprocket. the new r45 hubs will soon arrive with a freehub that can cope, along with spacers that will allow backwards compatibility with nine and ten speed cassettes.
additionally, and slightly contrary to one other hub development, the r45 is now available to cope with lower spoke counts; 16, 18 and 20 to be precise. i say this is slightly contrary to one other variation on the r45 because in anticipation of the craze (my choice of word) of adding discs to road bikes, shimano/sram and campagnolo eleven speed compatible r45 hubs will be available with iso disc mounts.
velonews technical contributor, lennard zinn has already expressed doubts over the twisting forces of disc brakes on the minimal spoke counts prevalent in many of today's race-ready wheels. maybe we ought to constrain our choice of disc facilitated chris king hubs to those with 28 spokes and upwards. and lastly, but not leastly, for the roadie who likes a smattering of mud in the off-season, the rather delectable cielo cross racer, smartly painted with matching enve carbon fork, has grown in line with uci permissions and now eschews cantilevers in favour of discs, should that be your preferred method of coming to a halt. as all the cielo bikes are built in-house, i'm sure those of us with cantilever preferences will still be taken care of.
while i often despair of the inveterate tinkering that goes on behind closed doors, more often than not resulting in the need to upgrade, replace or buy something new and shiny, it is of comfort that some of the finest minds and top quality machining are waiting in the wings as a source of comfort. i can jump up and down as often as i like (and frequently do), but our world is changing whether i like it or not. i should get used to it i suppose.
if only they'd make an italian threaded bottom bracket. my colnago master is in sore need.
wednesday 29th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there is a breed of folks who, either through an inflated sense of their own worth, or to be more kind, through an individual concern that brokers no extraneous interruption, persevere with ignoring me. this is not an isolated case, for i know this happens to many, and it is something borne not out of malice (so far as i know) but possibly through a lack of social conscience or ability. doubtless all of you reading will know of at least one individual ho presents this less than desirable trait, that of only acknowledging your presence and/or skills when it suits their purposes to do so.
part of my working life is spent in a small office along with a newspaper editor. since my part of the job requires only that i sit in front of an imac, manipulating specialist aspects of frighteningly expensive software, it is not at all unusual that visitors to this office predominantly wish to converse with the editor. it is, after all, his job to listen to what they have to say and reproduce it in paragraphs and sentences of intelligible discourse. however, as this is a small community, many of those persons are known to me too and have at least the graciousness to acknowledge my presence prior to sitting opposite the editor.
however, one or two have a far more single-minded and blinkered approach. if the editor is the sole target of the their visit, i am persona non grata, for in their eyes, i am of no tangible benefit to their mission. however, on occasion, the opposite is true, and if it is my expertise in the area of web design (paltry at best) or more likely, pre-press or digital image manipulation, then the editor, to put not too fine a point upon it, can go raffle himself. there is little to be gained in making this aspect of their personality manifest, for they have had more than an adequate number of years to come to terms with this social deficiency before now. these people are beyond saving.
there is, at this particular time of year, a certain parallel existing in the cycle industry, again, something that i fear does not pertain specifically to yours truly. we are about to enter the hallowed month of the cycle show; firstly there is eurobike in a mere matter of days, with america's interbike to follow later, not a match strike away from the uk cycle show in birmingham. i often wonder whether these events have not become an end in themselves rather than a means to an end, something that has suggested itself through the increased number of e-mails i have recently received from folks who more normally, wouldn't give me the time of day.
my quizzical look is brought about by the note that both eurobike and interbike are effectively trade only shows, designed initially at least, to let the cycle retailer have a look at that which ought soon to be occupying the shop floor. the fervent hope, made all the greater by the current economic climate, is that they will collectively be suitably impressed enough to order substantial numbers of that which is on show. i, on the other hand, have no need, desire or financial wherewithal to accede to any of their proselytising. since it is often hard enough to gain a meaningful reply through the rest of the year to my requests for review samples, i wonder why it is that several now find me irresistible enough to send invites to join them on whatever stand number they have been allocated, frequently adding tangible benefits were i to do so.
i am, happy to say, shallow enough to ignore the other eleven months of being summarily ignored by the great and mighty, all for the promise of something shiny and tempting in a monogrammed carrier bag. however, my shallowness is ameliorated by a less than desperate yearning to travel to friedrichshafen and occupy three days wandering around huge halls with eyes wide open trying to take in all the carbon fibre the world can offer the cycling aficionado. from previous conversations with those who visit on an annual basis, it seems highly unlikely that i would be able to acquire any appropriate accommodation; at least that which would allow for easy access to the show.
from all accounts, everybody who is everybody will be there, but since i do not include myself in that elite company, i doubt my presence will be missed. and in addition, if indeed everybody will be in attendance, then i can see little need for my being in attendance too. for the magazines will likely fill many of their colour pages with droolsworthy images of everything you want for chrstmas, along with more websites that could be counted on the fingers of one hand. surely that would preclude any need for me to be amongst the great and good, getting in the way of expensive camera lenses with my pocket lumix?
i confess it does warm the cockles of my bottom bracket that these e-mails arrive year on year; at least i have not been completely forgotten. but as per usual, i wait comfortably and more cheaply in my leather armchair to see just exactly what it is i cannot afford from 2013. a man of the people and non-existent travel budget.
tuesday 28th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................