on the occasions i have visited the country's metropolises (glasgow, edinburgh and london, but that's enough to be getting on with for now), when it comes time to return to what my wife's grandmother always referred to as god's own country, i have become enamoured of the cliche that i am returning to civilisation. though cliches inhabit the description predominantly through over-use, that does not always devalue their pertinent intent, thus though i make mention with a smile, i for one do not doubt the veracity of my statement. for those ensconced in the hustle and bustle it is no doubt seen as an empty platitude, but for me it is completely and utterly true.
my most recent visit to london earlier this year involved at least two traipses up and down oxford street, at which point it was completely impossible to avoid most of those heading in the opposite direction, more often than not with their heads buried in study or text mode on a mobile phone. but the most concerning part was that truly and honestly, nobody seemed to have any intention of moving to avoid anyone else, often resulting in perambulatory stalemate. this does not excuse the scottish towns, where similar behaviour has been experienced en-route to the apple store in buchanan street.
hardly civilised behaviour, i'd warrant.
i lead a sheltered existence in more ways than one, its estrangement from eternal fractiousness one of its more attractive features. though not one to gloat, the complete lack of what might reasonably be termed urban sprawl is a joy to behold. open the back gate, take the bicycle from the bikeshed, and wide open spaces and acres of sky are my playground, even when they are, in fact, the road to gainful employment. to employ more regularly used terminology, the commute.
for reasons that are none too obvious to me, the commute is part and parcel of urban sprawl, being the means by which the great unwashed move like shoals from their suburban residences to the claustrophobia of a fourth floor desk with a view into an adjacent fourth floor window and corralled by a jumble of black dell flat panel monitors. it is, i am reminded, the civilised way. ok, so i lied; i perfectly understand the need for the commute, but what i don't fully understand is the need for specific cycle clothing to match the twice daily task. if we take the art of the pelotonese from the equation, surely the mundanity of riding a bicycle to and from work ought to be simplicity itself? get up, get (appropriately) dressed and commence pedalling. why should there be any level of discussion over specific clothing for the purpose?
i think that to be a particularly necessary question if one is to avoid the appearance of soggy, crumpled paper on reaching the office. and might there not be a modicum of comfort required in the process? have you ever ridden a bike in a pair of bog standard levis? that's got to hurt. with more and more joining the merry throng aboard a bicycle, there are are more than just a few cycling apparel providers intent on stylishly and pragmatically clothing the unwary, that they might find the act of getting to and from work a more pleasurable experience than it would purport to be. this, i am led to be, constitutes an urban activity, one which, not unnaturally, has lent its name to the style of clothing employed in its practice.
except, that's not entirely true, is it? the bit about it being an exclusively urban activity i mean. for on the occasions upon which i am called to visit the village of keills to restore wi-fi to an imac, do i not commute from home and back? and by my own description and admission, do i not live in rural surrounds? so will everyone please stop referring to this genre of cycle clothing as urban?
if you'd gone down to the woods today (to be more accurate, a few days ago), depending on your outlook on cycling life, you may have been in for a small surprise. for having arisen first thing, and with duties other than immediate cycling, i dressed accordingly: trousers, long-sleeve tee, and a polo shirt. it would better suit the purposes of my narrative if at this point a made it plain that all three of these garments bore the v in a circle logo that is applied to all vulpine clothing. duties past, the option for some cycling presented itself and here's where i become even more convoluted than i have been up to this point.
though monday to friday would more regularly be regarded as workdays, thewashingmachinepost is also my (most enjoyable) work, and when items arrive at twmp cottage for review, it is my sworn duty to incorporate those into my workload. perhaps somewhat tautologically, this almost always involves the photographing of said items. if i could bring to your attention, the confluence of events that this diatribe concerns, here i am with at least two items marked out for photography, which i will require to wear to the location in which said photographs will be taken, thus they can be considered as appropriate for the commute to my work.
is everybody following this so far?
additionally, am i not entitled to enjoy the type of cycling regularly undertaken of a saturday without the concern and faff of changing into proper cycle clothing which is; cyclocross? i have never thought of myself as one to blur borders, but here was surely the ideal opportunity. to briefly recap, i am off out on my ibis cyclocross bike dressed head to toe in vulpine clothing, including the very latest, sage coloured, lightweight harrington jacket and khaki hued tailored trousers, about to get down and get dirty in my urban wear amongst the trees and river while attempting to photograph at least a portion of the process. doesn't everybody?
rather surprisingly, the experience was less bizarre than my mode of dress would imply. sure, sven and jeremy are unlikely to follow in my tyre tracks, but that's their lookout. the vulpine tailored trousers arrive with a built-in cycle clip, sort of, consisting of a tab and a button that tightens the leg around the ankle. since this was cyclocross, i decided not to rely purely on this device, but to tuck the leg inside my sock. and on the left too, where the hem features that v-in-a-circle. i am somewhat narrow of waist, but after brief discussions with mr hussey, he of vulpine's ceo designation, i was sent the size small, equating to a 30/32" waist. the variation is taken care of by means of two flaps on the waistband which can be tightened over two vulpine monogrammed buttons. to complete the fit, this i had to do, for though there is provision for a belt, i am none too enamoured with such.
though these are described as tailored, they are in fact a comfortably loose fit, not so that they interfered with my cyclocross emulations, but skin tight they are not. composed of a lightweight, stretchy and weatherproof fabric, they have two front pockets and an almost hidden third zipped security version. vulpine's famous magnetic fasteners have not been altogether ignored; the rear flapped pocket keeps itself shut by this slightly eccentric but effective means. cyclocross, not altogether surprisingly at this time of year involves mud; with islay estates intent on driving every square inch of track with their landrovers, there was a bit more than evident a couple of weeks ago. yet despite a jackson pollock masterpiece of spatters all across the legs, when dry, it simply brushed off.
i had no idea that a harrington jacket was a bona-fide style of jacket. i thought it simply the result of an over-active imagination at vulpine headquarters, rather pointing to my sheltered rural upbringing. created from the very same epic cotton that informs the vulpine rainjacket, though of a lighter weight, it is a somewhat pared down garment relative to its rain and softshell stablemates. (though i'm none too sure that someone called harrington would ever admit to having companions of such pedigree). the harrington jacket has a commendably high collar of relaxed fit, no dropdown rear flap, one magnetic flapped rear pocket which is substantial enough to contain a digital compact camera, a mini pump, a spare tyre lever and still a bulk of space for other small items without pulling down on the jacket.
the back also features two buttoned flaps, one each side to further tailor the fit, there are a couple of zipped pockets on the front at around elbow height and a single, buttoned large top pocket above the left breast. in a similarly clever manner to the vulpine rainjacket, the outer pockets also create two secure inner pockets in which it is a mere snap to keep valuable s safe when in any of the aforementioned metropolises all in, it's a particularly stylish garment, pleasantly lightweight and very effective for churning about in the mud of a saturday morn. i must apologise in advance for my language, but urban my ass!
this is not racewear, nor indeed, is it cyclocross wear, at least not by design and despite my dubious use while commuting to work to photograph the clothing in which i commuted. that, i believe, rather underlines my excessively laboured point. the chaps at vulpine know not of my extra curricular and often ill-advised excursions (well, they do now) but definitely have their idea of urban particularly well covered. i almost don't have the heart to tell them that rural is the new urban.
yet again i'm well ahead of the game.
the vulpine lightweight harrington jacket is available in sky blue or sage (reviewed) in sizes xs to xl at a cost of £135. the tailored trousers are available in khaki or charcoal in sixes xs to xl at £120.
monday 26th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"She wanted to call the boy Angelo after her father but he said he wanted, just this once, to choose. He chose Fausto, his brother's name."
in my naive early years as a wannabe cyclist, i had it figured that if i could train hard enough over the year, eventually i'd be able to ride at 20mph quite comfortably, almost without breaking sweat. i doubt i'm the only one who thought that way and in fact, aside from his tour victories and being shot by his brother-in-law, greg lemond is famous for having pointed out that, in fact, it never gets easier, you just get faster. and that is the truth no matter the speed at which you start from.
in a similar but unrelated manner, that would be the contention with regard to computer and software developments. in the good old days of yore, when i first worked on our local newspaper. photographs for the week's issue were sent off to glasgow on a monday afternoon with specific directions as to page placement, size etc., with the fervent hope that they would return ingrained on zinc plates ready for printing on thursday. at this time of year, when christmas adverts would appear, we had large sheets of photocopied clip-art which would be cut out and pritt-sticked onto the finished page before it was made into a plate for offset printing.
as the years have rolled by and the microprocessor has invaded every walk of life, i was able to scan the christmas trees, baubles, bells and holly and use the page layout software to place all in the location and size desired. additionally, it became no longer necessary to send the photos off to glasgow so early in the week; now we had a scanner, meaning we could include as many photos as the editor felt necessary, placing them wherever we wanted and without the limitations of the cost of two zinc plates. even that system has been usurped by the advent of the digital image which is in the process of making the flatbed scanner all but redundant.
yet despite all these technological advantages, it still takes the same five days to produce each issue. the pagination has increased concomitantly and the ease with which digital images can be manipulated means that page layouts have become more sophisticated, allowing hitherto unknown freedom. the technological leaps bring with them, however, some incongruous behaviour, for many a contributor or advertisers still insists on printing their digital images on the home inkjet and handing it in for me to scan. similarly with those word documents; why not just e-mail them rather than print, for now they have to be scanned using optical character recognition software to turn it back into editable text.
and they call it progress.
such is at least partially the story behind this latest of publications from rouleur magazine, the first of their collaborations with bloomsbury publishing. in this month's issue of the magazine, taz darling, guy andrews and herbie sykes disseminate the story behind the book. it seems this superb volume is predominantly the result of the age of technology. contact any of the photo agencies with requests for a specific genre or subject, and they will perform a search on their digital libraries. but there are thousands upon thousands of images stored in boxes and filing cabinets taken long before the digital age was even thought of, and it is more than likely that these will remain in their boxes and filing cabinets until dave brailsford's sky subscription runs out.
the folks at rouleur, however, are more fastidious than most, and accepted the challenge to wade through printed images, glass slides and transparencies in order to mine the stunning array of fausto coppi images that fill the pages of this book.
author herbie sykes opens the book's introduction with the words "The reality is that I'd promised myself that I would never, under any circumstances, write a book about Fausto Coppi.". the beauty of 'inside the legend of the campionissimo' is that herbie has remained true to his promise. he has not written a book about angelo fausto coppi, at least not in the sense that you'd immediately recognise.
many years ago i wrote an article for 'rhythm' drumming magazine regarding the different ways in which the best of percussors described the beat. some directly play the ones, twos, threes and fours, while others, mostly jazz drummers tended to play everything but. think of how to describe a white line: either take a piece of coloured paper and draw a white line, or take a white piece of paper and colour in every part except that white line. herbie has achieved the latter, writing a book about coppi by filling in everything around the campionissimo.
this he has brought to pass by scurrying the length and breadth of italy, interviewing as many riders as he could find who touched the career of coppi. their stories bring coppi's life to the fore in a manner i doubt has been apportioned since the great man died in january 1960. names such as raphael geminiani, giuseppe minardi, luigi bertazzini, carlo martini and vito liverani, riders whose stories provide a different perspective than the often adulatory and sycophantic biographies and treatises more often experienced from italian bookshelves. herbie's coppi is, though i doubt he'd necessarily agree, a masterpiece of lateral thinking.
and while my narrative rests still upon the book's written words, herbie's article faustin inhabiting pages six and seven, and previously seen in a rouleur photo annual accompanied by ben ingham's imagery, has to be one of the finest pieces of writing ever. really. would i lie to you?
but i think it more than likely that it is the photographs occupying the bulk of the book's pages that will be the principal attraction. many of these have not seen the light of day since the photographers developed them in the 1950s. these, if anything, fulfil the words of pietro nascimbene "I never thought he fully understood who he was or what he meant, and i still don't..." and that may be the enduring attraction of fausto coppi. cast your eyes over the post from the past few weeks, and you'll see reviews of a number of books concerning bradley wiggins. there are even more published that i have not included in this panoply. we now know everything there is to know about brad, yet with coppi, despite the endless number of books and articles written in the past 50 plus years, there is still an air of mystery about the man, and this despite the unrivalled media attention he attracted wherever he went.
i have spent two evenings, over an hour in each, simply wallowing in the incredible imagery contained within this book, dipping in and out of those interviews and subconsciously trying to figure out what it is about coppi that fascinates someone who was only three and a half when the campionissimo died of mis-diagnosed malaria. i seriously doubt that i ever will, and i think it more than likely that the same sense of intrigue occupies the minds of many other coppi acolytes.
this book will not answer your questions, at least, not all of them, but it will bring you closer to thinking that it might.
Fausto told me he's been to Sanremo... He says he's been to Milan and he's been in the clouds."
monday 26th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at this year's scottish bike show, i stayed in the crowne plaza hotel, but a stone's throw from the scottish exhibition and conference centre (secc). admittedly that stone would need to have taken a slightly convoluted trajectory in order to reach even one of the side doors, and it's highly likely that those very nice security guards (afternoon lads) would not have looked favourably on my throwing of stones in the first place. if memory serves, i had a room on the eighth floor, and though a stunningly fit chap such as myself could easily have reached number eight in a few athletic bounds, i confess i was unable to find the entrance to the stairs from the hotel lobby.
an hotel as salubrious as the crowne plaza made me feel uncomfortable enough as it was (in the fish out of water sense, certainly not by any failing in the quality of the accommodation or food); i had no intention of exaggerating that sensibility by eccentrically wandering lonely as a cloud looking for the stairwell. so i took the elevator. and one of those elevators has a window on one wall allowing for an excellent, if brief, view along the river clyde. the largest object filling that view is the infamous finnieston crane.
this construct, commissioned in 1926 was completed six years later, and though officially known as the stobcross crane, its proxiity to finnieston quay has led to its more common referral. it was connected to a spur line of the stobcross railway with the main purpose of lifting heavy machinery; quite frequently steam locomotives built at springburn being exported by ship. with the rapid decline in not only locomotive construction but pretty much all of glasgow's heavy industry during the 1960s, use of the crane diminished until it ceased to be employed in the early nineties. nowadays, it's a category a listed structure, left in place as a testament to what once was. glasgow, the clyde and subsequently most of scotland no longer is the industrial hub it once was, a blight that can be seen throughout the uk.
there is, however, something of a resurgence in having things made on our/my very doorstep, a very gratifying situation that i will shortly be dealing with in greater detail. meanwhile, a product that arrives in a card box proudly bearing a printed logo that declares handmade in glasgow comes from a workshop adjacent to glasgow's the bike station at yorkhill. here, alec farmer set up trakke bags and with the skills of james, a former sailmaker, they produce several styles of handmade bags and rucksacks for the cyclist about town and country, constructed from waxed cotton and, a tad more expensively, harris tweed.
the photos on the trakke website look particularly impressive but, unwilling simply to take alec's word for it, i asked if they'd mind sending over one of the messenger bags for a short holiday on islay. that's where that card box with handmade in glasgow joins the story.
the finnieston crane has nothing on these.
constructed from heavyweight waxed cotton (purple, in this case), the bag is flipping enormous; you could move house without ever calling on pickfords. there's a full depth flap closing in on the bag's contents, kept in place by substantial quantities of velcro and two insanely clever straps and stainless steel buckles. embarrassingly, it took me way too long to figure out the simplicity of those buckles, resulting in a cluttering of places that i should not have been cluttering. complementing the huge internal space is a full width set of three pockets, topped by a large, zipped security pocket. on the outside, but still under the flap is an expandable full-depth pocket, the flap of which is kept in place by two stainless poppers.
trakke bags, in particular, the mule, are apparently customisable, so it may be possible to have alternative additional pockets. in my relatively brief use of the bag, i'd be inclined to have a small pocket added to the enormous outer flap in order that i might have access to small items without opening and closing the whole thing. either that, or a pocket on the main strap, should such be possible. and while i'm on the subject of that main strap, it maintains the company's trademark of building like there's no tomorrow. the buckle is apparently the very same as used by paratroopers; it's occasionally a bit finicky to release, but there's never any danger of the bag succumbing to gravity even when jammed to the gunwhales with stuff. and heavy stuff at that.
the strap connects from bottom right, slipping over the left shoulder and fastening just below the collarbone. it's very easliy adjustable, even when riding, and the whole kit and caboodle is kept from sliding about by a tag strap connected to the bottom left, hooking onto the main strap from under the left arm. it is conceivably a disadvantage if you'd prefer to have the strap sit over the right shoulder, but it is simplicity itself (now that i've had it pointed out) to reverse the fastenings to suit.
mrs washingmachinepost and i are bereft of a motor car, and have been (deliberately) for several years now. there are times when this is a perceived disadvantage, but for the most part, we survive rather well. however, a mere three miles from washingmachinepost cottage is the hamlet of bridgend which features a rather fine spar shop and freezer shop. in the days when the household was motorised, we would often visit the latter on a saturday morning for the excellent choice of frozen products, in particular and entire chest freezer full of vegetarian food, none of which can be acquired in the local supermarket. in fact, the store contains a sizeable number of products unavailable more locally, but without a motor car, we have rarely visited in recent years.
while in possession of the trakke mule bag, it seemed an excellent idea to test the veracity of the bag's enormity by visiting and purchasing a wide and numerous variety of deirable foodtsuffs. this turned out to be one of my better ideas, for the number of boxes it is possible to fit inside the trakke messenger bag has to be seen to be believed. even better, the system of straps keeping the bag in place are obviously the result of a carefully thought out cunning plan. i have positioned a couple of photos depicting my purchases over the course of two weekends, and even with so much filling its internals, the bag never moved a centimetre even in the process of standing on the pedals uphill. movement is virtually nil.
it turns out that the mule is also something of a conversation piece, and in the course of discussion, the cost of the bag has often arisen, leading to one or two sharp intakes of breath. £240 is indeed a substantial amount of money to pay for a messenger bag; it's more than many would consider spending on a bicycle. however, let's place this in context; it's entirely and excellently made by hand. cut from a large chunk of waxed cotton by hand, sewn together on a singer sewing machine, while all the straps, buckles and poppers are subsequently added by the same method. the process is somewhat labour intensive, but believe me, this will last longer than i will.
i think it highly unlikely that we can benefit from the so-called luxury of handmade while expecting to pay the price of mass production. and it's also very unlikely i can emphasise enough just how incredible the trakke bags really are. if there's even the slightest chance that you think either a rucksack or messenger bag would absolve you from the indignity of driving to the supermarket midweek or at weekends, i'd get on the phone or website to trakke right this minute.
cities such as portland in oregon take this sort of thing for granted. in portland town, you can acquire a full set of handmade everything, from bikes to bags, from jerseys to wheels. it warms the cockles of my rear derailleur that the same opportunities are within reach in scotland. i don't like to preach or appear overly parochial, but i think it right and proper to support home-made industry, particularly when it is this good.
sunday 25th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the history of cyclocross seems as mired in the mud as many of those who participate. by common, but not exclusive consent, it appears that european riders in the early part of the 20th century would challenge each other to race to the next village. pretty much any method held validity, so fields, gates, walls, rivers and the odd cliff would be part and parcel of the process. it may not have been pretty, but had the advantage of maintaining an appropriate level of fitness over the winter months. however, it may not have assisted those early bike designs to remain in one piece for long. fit, but broke.
around a century later, the world of cyclocross has become somewhat sanitised, and it is now necessary to train for an event once used for training. across those years, the bicycles used for this branch of the sport have also become developed and refined such that they now inhabit a genre and corner of the cycle shop all of their own. though all intended for the same purpose, like all strains of bicycle design, it's possible to spend a little or a great deal, depending on level of ambition and disposable income.
more expensive doesn't always translate into better. a pure 'cross bike will be devoid of bottle cages; with one hour races and varying amounts of shouldering the bike, they'd be somewhat pointless, but not everyone keeps a bike purely for 'cross, so a soupcon of versatility wouldn't go amiss. if that sounds familiar, it might just sound like condor's bivio x frameset. but does compromise in pure race pedigree mean a lesser bicycle?
saturday 24th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
yesterday's review of team sky's 21 days to glory and the previously reviewed allez wiggo would lend themselves to proving that there is an eager market for the visual aspect of cycling. though lionel birnie has now proffered the completely unillustrated cycling anthology, books such as herbie sykes' coppi and a third edition of michael barry and camille mcmillan's le metier gives credence to the theory that 'a picture is worth a thousand words.' perhaps our need for instamt gratification has made the effort required to read lengthy regions of the printed word more than the modern consumer of cycling ephemera and paraphernalia is willing to expend.
if true, it's surely something of a dichotomy? the advent first of heart-rate monitors and subsequently the almost ubiquitous power meter has led even the most reticent of sportive cyclists ready and willing to expend inordinate amounts of energy on the bicycle. this may be down to perceived peer pressure and the need for bragging rights in the coffee shop. it is conceivably something of an embarrassment to be outdone by a matter of several dozens of watts by someone you know you can outrun in the speed limit sprint. nobody is ever going to show you their srm print-out, meaning that months must be spent training in the search for numerical superiority.
reading has no bragging rights, and is probably not even discussed over froth.
however, such is the march of technology that books were usurped by radio, the latter in turn by television (allegedly) and ultimately by the internet. drawing and illustration is most certainly a lengthier and more taxing method of illustration than clicking a camera shutter, but the advent of youtube and vimeo suddenly presented the opportunity for still images to be replaced by moving pictures.
these were, by definition in the early days, somewhat rudimentary, partly due to the cameras on offer and almost certainly by the former state of editing software. the march of technology however is scary, and those ever so slightly fragile video cameras of yesteryear (flip?) are currently being replaced by more rugged examples that will shrug off the conditions that often threaten to halt the personal movie business in its tracks. one of the most recent entries to the market for such is the bizarrely named 'foolish' hd action video camera from nilox. in keeping with its competitiors in this emerging market, the camera resides inside a clear, toughened plastic watertight case, allowing most operations to be carried out in water depths of up to 60 metres.
thankfully, there are few cycling circumstances that take place at such inordinate depths, but at this time of year in particular, dry days are often few and far between, so a camera that can shrug off the elements as easily as those riding bicycles is certain to be welcomed with open arms in certain quarters.
the basic foolish starter kit consists of the camera capable of full 1080 x 1920 hi-definition recording and 4 x digital zoom as well as 8mp stills capability (3200 x 2400 pixels), a removable lcd panel, two waterproof cases (one for the camera with lcd and one without) rechargeable battery, 8gb micro sd card and a mount or two. uk distributors windwave kindly sent along a chest harness allowing on the bike filming, and a handlebar bracket for fore and aft filming. additionally, everything needed for charging the battery and transferring files is also included.
the camera is simplicity itself to operate, which is just as well because the enclosed intruction manual verges upon the obscure. topside are two buttons, one for recording and one for taking stills. there's an on-off button as well as one to switch audio recording on and off and a very small lcd panel to indicate what's going on. although it's possible to accomplish basic setup via this panel, unless you have really good eyesight, i'd recommend fitting the lcd back panel and carrying out everything via the colour screen. it's quite simple really. there's a convenient red light on the top to indicate that recording is taking place, the latter activated by a spring-loaded button on the top of the waterproof casing. a separate button allows for stills.
there's no doubt that a movie of any length benefits from a modicum of pre-planning, and though the camera lends itself well to being switched on to simply record any action that might be taking place, non-linear recording and editing often makes for a more pertinent end result. in order to properly review the nilox 'foolish', i opted to employ it as part of the process while reviewing a condor bivio x cyclocross bike (review to follow soon). though this amply demonstrates my compete lack of cyclocross abilities, filming from the handlebar bracket, the chest harness and sitting by the wayside on a mini tripod proved rather fun if, as is often the case, a rather lengthy process. the film portrayed below lasts a few seconds longer than two minutes, and took about five hours over two successive saturday mornings to record the raw footage.
on both occasions, though filmed in the shelter of bridgend woods, it rained heavily and frequently, none of which phased the camera at all, other than one or two smears of water which can be seen in portions of the movie. if you need ultimate clarity, it's best to place the camera away from direct rain, and make sure you clean the lens front regularly. the colours seem just a tad on the desaturated side, but that could conceivably be due to the low light and grey skies under tree cover. the camera seemed just a bit put out by the relative brightness of the sky, but digital cameras costing several thousand pounds are often hard-pushed to cope with such drastic contrast levels.
the chest harness, though featuring a removable and adjustable threaded camera mount, suffered from a tendency to point slightly downwards when i'd hoped to show more of where i was heading at the time. the hingeing theoretically allows the camera to be tilted backwards, but in practice, one's body mitigated against achieving total verticality. however, when combining footage from the harness with a forward pointing handlebar bracket, it was possible to achieve appropriate footage. the bar bracket does not fare well over rough ground, being hinged parallel to the straight portion of the bars. though this position can be tightened, it seems impossible to do so sufficiently to prevent the camera eventually tilting onto the bars.
this bracket seems very susceptible to road induced vibration; the resultant footage is hardly to be regarded as steady. in the context of the movie displayed below, this was not of great concern, for those sections of the film are mercifully short and are most likely to be so, if viewer interest is to be maintained. if i had any concerns during filming, it was the possibility of stripping the tripod mount thread in the camera body. continually moving the camera from tripod to harness to bar mount (and possibly any of the other mounts that arrive with the camera) over several filming occasions is bound to increase the possibility of this happening.
in the interests of testing the appropriateness of using the 'foolish' in less than favourable conditions (my orange flip camera would have been seriously challenged to complete the movie below) i made no special concessions, carting the camera and all its associated parapernalia in a tweed musette over less than billiard table tracks.
though the camera is capable of full 1080 hd, i discovered on uploading to vimeo that unless i subscribe to the pro version, it is downsampled to 720. not being the most sophisticated of spielbergs, i was unable to figure out why the raw footage in apple's final cut express was so much clearer than the end result. though everything is digital, quality was being lost somewhere in the process, and likely a touch more when exported to h.264. sadly, video codecs are not a competent part of my expertise; suffice to say that the footage direct from the camera looked a lot more impressive than that displayed below, acceptable though i think it to be. i don't intend to bust a gut attempting to figure out where i'm going wrong, particularly if vimeo insists on downsampling, though in retrospect, i think it possible that i have the display preferences incorrectly set on final cut.
my own requirements of a camera such as the nilox may diiffer greatly from yours, but i think it unlikely that it will not satisfy your demands whatever they might be. several of the mentioned foibles are likely to affect such a small camera, no matter the brand, and it is eminently possible that familiarity will offer solutions that i will kick myself for not having thought of this time round. apart from the chest harness and bar bracket, all the above can be had for a most reasonable £199.95, always remembering that it also takes particularly high quality still images into the bargain.
i see a new career in hollywood beckoning.
friday 23rd november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i'm probably a bit late to the party, the last time i was in waterstone's in glasgow's sauchiehall street, i was searching (almost in vain as it turns out) for an historical book relating to the second world war. it is not a particular interest of mine; i rarely read or watch anything regarding conflict because there are far more pleasant things in the world with which to entertain oneself, but sometimes you just have to in order to better understand the follies of our forebears. though i did eventually find sort of what i was searching for, in the process of doing so i came across an entire and remarkably substantial section of the shop concerning itself with graphic novels.
though such animals have crossed the path of my radar on previous occasions, these have been mercifully brief, for i find a two page spread in such a volume to be similar to looking at someone's facebook page. i have not an earthly of what it is i'm expected to view. having grown up reading first playhour followed by weekly doses of the beano and the dandy, my reaction to a slew of graphic novels was something of a surprise, for i thought they would be more pleasing and comprehensibe to the eye. but coincidentally, remembering my initial reason for being on the second floor of waterstone's in the first place, they did remind me of commando comics, visual literature concerning itself with both world wars.
and i never much cared for those.
you'd think. therefore, that before now, someone would have portrayed our favourite grand tour in a similar manner. can you just imagine the implied conversations between brad and cav; think of the facial expressions. so far as i know, that hasn't happened, but the tour de france is most definitely an event that begs to be depicted predominantly by way of imagery, accompanied by few or no words at all. i think it possible that the publication that comes closest to fulfilling this notion is 21 days to glory featuring the least number of words i have yet come across describing team sky's domination of the 2012 race. those words are supplied by journalist and author, sarah edworthy while the imagery comes from the lens of renowned team sky photographer, scott mitchell.
if there's a slight creepiness about the whole affair, it's the apparent necessity to presage the title with the official team sky book of the 2012 tour de france. isn't that the sort of legend you'd expect on a britney spears annual or peter andre biography? does it imply that here exists an unofficial version? this oddness is, to my mind, compounded by the insistence within that 'team sky asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work'. but i thought that was the preserve of both edworthy and mitchell?
however, the book has two major saving graces: edworthy's narrative and scott mitchell's superb photography. should you require reinforcement of the latter assertion, and i appreciate that the placement may not be that of mitchell himself, the image occupying the spread inside the front cover is of the blue line in the centre of a team sky jaguar, while that inside the rear cover describes a similar panel, but this time in yellow.
not unnaturally, the foreword to this team sky production is from the man at the top, dave brailsford, offering a precis of how and why this three year old team managed to fulfil its destiny two years ahead of brailsford's seemingly far-fetched launch prognostications. the remaining chapters are entitled in my most hated manner; the stages as they unfolded over the 21 days. in a bizarre way, however, it pretty much seems to work. sarah edworthy's text is remarkably fresh and unaffected. no bias is exhibited towards any particular rider or member of staff, up to and including bradley himself. by its nature, it has a tendency to generalise slightly, but in my opinion, this is one of its great strengths.
'It was always going to be a stressful day. First-week nerves were compounded by the prospect of a tough stage, the first in France, which started across the border in Orchies. It is unusual to feature a stage with five short, steep climbs - which were categorised for the mountains jersey competition - early in the first week and this one, close to the coast, came with the threat of winds and a twisty last 70 kilometres.'
it is particularly notable that edworthy exhibits no tendency to patronise the reader, nor to talk in riddles that might confuse a tour de france newbie. quite a skill in itself. each assertion or strategy is underlined with comments from the riders concerned, staff, brailsford, directeurs sportifs or mechanics, offering a far more concerted impression of a team pulling in one direction for three weeks. i mean not to infer that this was ever in doubt, but many of the alternatives on the bookshelf seem concentrated more on the yellow jersey, relegating others to the position of support band. i offer as an example, that this is the only tour book i have read that pays specific attention and tribute to the team's own chef, soren kristiansen.
concerning the duopoly of reaching for yellow at the expense of green, mark cavendish adds his own views. 'I usually win an average of five stages on a Tour de France, but I had to take a back seat,' a rueful Cavendish said later. 'The yellow jersey is the most iconic symbol in sport. That was the team's goal, and it had to take precedence.'
but to return to my opening thoughts regarding the possibility of a tour described purely by way of imagery, surely the principal, if not sole reason for acquiring this £25 book is the exquisite imagery of scott mitchell. i doubt i'm breaking too much of a confidence if i let slip that scott's photography at both the tour and the giro formed a substantial part of the traffic on team sky's website. i will readily admit to personal interest here, for i have known scott for a number of years, throughout which he has stoically maintained that he is not a cycling photographer, but a photographer who takes photographs of cycling.
this he does with a perspective that seems not inform many of the hundreds of other clicking shutters across those 21 days in july. i have revised this book more than once by attempting to understand the race purely with reference to mitchell's photography, a pleasurable labour that has paid dividends. i think it likely that the dyed-in-the-wool tour photographer understands the race perhaps just a bit too well, pre-planning those iconic but ultimately vacuous shots of the peloton passing fields of sunflowers. scott mitchell avoids cliche entirely appearing to be using his lens to make sense of that happening all around him, and in so doing, offering the great unwashed a tour de france rarely, if ever, seen before.
his friendship with bradley has taken him to the tour once before, the result of which was the collaboratve publication on tour. i think it likely that many would have given their sd cards to be right where scott was when a british team won the tour with british riders in first and second places. it is nigh on impossible to remain separated from published works on the tour if you inhabit the cycling media in even the minimal fashion of thewashingmachinepost, and i happily admit that i have never experienced the race in the manner portrayed by mitchell. at the risk of appearing totally sycophantic, i think it possible this particular volume could have been published bereft of of sarah edworthy's narrative (no disrespect intended) and been every bit as successful.
however, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the service course, sky undermine the immense gestalt of the first 145 pages, by augmenting them with a stage by stage account of how the west was won. totally unnecessary other than as an excuse to publish more scott mitchell images. some folks just don't know when to stop. with that in mind, i think it only right and proper that, in my opinion, 21 days can be viewed as a qualified success, a book more than worth its price of admission.
all photos copyright scott mitchell. reproduced with permission.
thursday 22nd november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
on saturday past, with items of commuter clothing and paraphernalia to review, i set off to take the long way round, but all the while heading towards that weekly cappuccino and a cheese and tomato toastie for lunch. the next village along the coast heading north is that of bridgend, consisting of a few houses, an hotel and a shop. perhaps that doesn't even qualify as a village; i believe it may qualify more as a hamlet. however, the three mile stretch of road leading round the top of the loch is somewhat exposed to the elements. if it rains, hails or blows, there is quite literally nowhere to hide until the safety of bridgend woods is reached.
on saturday, a large dollop of black clouds blowing in from the west looked threatening enough for me to proceed at greater than commuting speed to take shelter in the bus stop opposite the shop. true to form, more than just a smattering of heavy rain drenched everyhting within dripping range, so i remained where i was, until it looked as if the bulk of it had passed before continuing upon my merry way.
i had managed only a few hundred metres before a friend of mine pedalled up from behind to join me in the ten kilometres to debbie's. i had opted to miss out the extra curricular pedalling in favour of remaining dry and not hungry. en-route to our coffee salvation we discussed the fact that we hadn't bumped into each other in recent weeks; he works a shift pattern that rarely remains the same from week to week, thus he is often not available on a sunday morning to join the velo club peloton. depending on my own workload, there can be six days between the sunday ride and the succeeding one on the following saturday and both of us were bemoaning the fact that we rarely seem to manage enough kilometres to avoid a sunday's gained fitness disappearing into nothing, while we sit facing computer screens on a daily basis.
i think it likely this is a common complaint, but economic necessity rarely abates in favour of some pedalling on the sly. it seems this was a conversation or problem that never seriously concerned the great beryl burton.
introduced to cycling by her husband charlie whom she married in 1955, beryl took only a couple of years to win her first medal (silver) in the 100 mile individual time trial, and by the time 1960 had rolled around, she was competing internationally. in fact, by then she had won the world pursuit championship in 1959, had become national road champion the same year, following it with similar success in 1960. she took the 25 mile time-trial win in 1958, 59, and 60 (with many more to follow, the 1960 national pursuit championship as well as wins in the national 50 miles and 100 miles. she rather dramatically, won the british best all-rounder championship every year from 1959 to 1983, a record 25 times.
these are not victories you achieve by sitting at a desk between one week's sunday ride and the next. to achieve so much, beryl burton worked part-time in the rhubarb and fruit farms of west yorkshire, her life completely consumed by a love of cycling. shortly after her only daughter, denise, was born, charlie fitted a kiddie seat to the back of beryl's bike allowing her to continue joining the club rides from their home town of morley. it rather goes without saying that she is the most successful female cyclists ever, and this dvd tribute by david bromley and ray pascoe is truly without compare.
featuring narration by phil liggett and interviews with martin cowgill, denise burton, charlie burton along with both beryl's brother and sister, the 88 minutes of documentary is, no disrespect intended, a far more rivetting account of her career than her autobiography personal best. the medium is greatly enhanced by the archive footage produced by peter and tony jackson of the morley film unit, two men who were learning the process while making some superb films of many of the morley cc weekend rides and time-trial competitions. there is even some superb footage of beryl's participation in her first cyclocross event (in which she was unsurprisingly victorious) on a course that would have given sven nys heart failure.
these were the days before professionalism had inveigled a distinctly amateur sport, where the acceptance of payment of any kind, could bring the competitive amateur into conflict with cycling's authorities. thus all her competitive forays, accompanied by husband charlie had to be personally paid for. there was no lottery funding in the fifties and sixties. success of this calibre depended on beryl spending every spare minute out on the bike training, sometimes in the company of her employer at the fruit farm, but more often alone. it would be safe to assume that if we consider ourselves as cycling obsessed, beryl burton took it to a whole new level.
there are interviews and cameo appearances from lisa brambini, roger st pierre, mandy jones, and author peter whitfield, but i think it safe to say that the outstanding feature of this documentary is the archive footage. it is quite educational (for want of a better word) to see the bicycles ridden in the late fifties and early sixties. no deep flange carbon wheels, no tri-bars, no di2 and also remarkably little seatpost showing, a feature that seems to have headed in completely the opposite direction in contemporary times.
though the film footage is not of the hi-definition quality more readily expected nowadays, it is all the better for it, offering a level of atmosphere and character that often seems to have disappeared in the digital age. beryl burton comes across as an easily approachable star of british cycling, always eager and willing to converse with anyone who approached her after any of her successfully completed events. messrs bromley and pascoe are to be soundly congratulated in producing this superb tribute to a wonderful cyclist. if this is missing from under your christmas tree, i think it likely you have serious grounds for redress.
wednesday 21st november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
borrowing stuff brings with it an unwritten sense of responsibility. not only is it dutiful to return said stuff in the same working order that it was received, but i feel honour bound to make sure that whatever we happen to be talking about is appropriately clean. in this particular case, i make reference to bicycles kindly sent for a few weeks' holiday on islay, during which they can be thrashed within an inch of their lives (just kidding), photographed in all sorts of embarrassing positions and locations and treated as if they belong to someone else.
which they do.
but as with most holidays, these joyous times must someday come to an end, which is where the real work starts. assembling a bicycle, should that be necessary, is, if i'm honest, rather fun. there is great joy to be had watching a bicycle take shape before your very eyes, appearing as if by magic and a park multi tool. disassembling is more of a chore than a joy, partly because the bicycle is about to be returned in the cardboard box of its arrival, and because all that yuk i obliviously ignored while riding in the rain now has to be painstakingly removed.
i would hang my head in shame if i returned a bicycle in a less than pristine state.
like many of you, i have seen the short documentaries on tv as well as on youtube portraying the work of professional team mechanics, and mostly, they use soap, water and the occasional pressure washer. i do not own or have access to one of the latter devices which is probably a good thing; i fear i would be a danger to life, limb and small animals. however, soap and water is not a problem. but, there are a number of folks willing to aid and abet the basics by proffering sponges, cloths and sprays to lessen the level of elbow grease required, one of which is simon nash of the green oil company. it seems a touch unnecessary to mention that simon's products are environmentally sound, making them less dangerous to those aforementioned small animals than yours truly in charge of a pressure washer.
first things first, and prior to applying any water to a mucky bicycle frame, spraying green clean from its one litre bottle allows for a loosening of the agricultural crud that is feature not a bug of living on the inner hebrides. had i been astute enough to remove the crap at point of origination i'm sure the green clean could have remained sleeping in its wash bucket, but that is, of course, purely hypothetical. ever inventive, the green oil folks have thought of pretty darned near everything, providing an eco sponge made from the luffa plant. in its natural state, the sponge would likely remove paint along with any accrued crud, but a brief soaking in warm water turns it into a big softy, ready, willing and able to wash stuff.
resembling a skinny version of a shredded wheat, i think i like the idea slightly more than i enjoyed its cleaning abilities. don't misunderstand; the eco sponge cleans the nooks and crannies, but its very open weave has an irritating tendency to catch on cables, chainring teeth, bottle cage bolts and one or two other protruberences peppered about the frame. perhaps there's a knack i have yet to acquire. when its life of scrubbing is over (about a year of normal use), tis but a simple matter of composting the item or burying it in the garden.
some of that crud, left to its own devices takes on the properties of reinforced concrete, and is often about as easy to remove. reinforced concrete would give that poor little luffa sponge something of a scary fright. happily, contained within an eco rider deluxe set or available on its own, is a sustainably sourced wood-handled bicycle brush with plant based bristles that simply laughs in the face of reinforced concrete. and, if you're not careful, sprays your jacket with lots of water.
during the grand tours, it is frequently possible to watch motorbike camaramen hanging dangerously close to the rear hubs of speeding domestiques and team leaders. pay particularly close attention, next time you're watching, to the sheen catching the sunlight on each link of those ten or eleven-speed chains. that's precisely how i expect my chains to look, but they rarely do, having been placed in closer proximity to the crud that has already been described as magnetically attached to the frame. lubricating the chain at this point will simply compound the problem, adding greatly to the rate of wear and likely necessitating a new one sooner rather than later. and i surely need not point out that a worn chain is not doing that expensive cassette any good in the process.
pragmatism dictates that the chain ought to be rid of its grit and previous oiling before adding a new coating, and for this, green oil offer a small tube of chain degreaser. this is applied in similar manner to that of applying the green oil (which we'll get to in the next stage, as they'd say on blue peter). after working this through the system, so to speak, by clicking up and down the gears for a couple of minutes, rubbing with a cloth before rinsing off with water presents a shiny chain just like the ones you can see on the telly. professionalism in a bottle. this stuff works a treat.
a thoroughly de-greased chain, even one that's about to be wrapped up and put back in a box (or, indeed, one that is going to spend a week sitting still under a bike parka in november weather) needs a modicum of lubricant. the next recipient of the machine may not be quite so conscientious, and that chain won't lube itself. swapping the degreaser bottle for that of some green oil, either applied from the handy little tube or, perchance from the cf3 spray. i do not mind admitting that this device had me confused, for despite containing green oil, it arrives with a plunger thingy that is used to pressurise the container with fresh air, converting it to a device that sprays lube onto the chain. in truth, it's simply another (albeit quicker) way of applying lube to a degreased chain, but labour-saving is definitely labour-saving
as advised on more than a singular previous occasion, i am a less than tidy and organised person, so prior to preparing for the bicycle clean outlined above i took the lid off my eco deluxe set and emptied the contents over the bike shed floor. in the process of accounting for everything, i came acros a small brown enevelope which, on closer inspection offered up a clever little treat. while the majority of products and containers used by the green oil company are recyclable, it turns out that the plastic tub (useable as a wash bucket) actually isn't. not to be defeated, mr nash has provided a packet of rocket seeds to be stored in a safe place until the bucket has reached the end of its serviceable life. at that point, poking a few holes in the base and sitting it on top of the lid, allows its continued use as a tub for growing rocket salad.
how utterly cool is that?
though i've based this narrative around my returning of borrowed bicycles, it is undeniably true that the forthcoming months are not the most bicycle friendly. considering what the bike does for me, i'm more than happy to spend as long as it takes to make sure it continues to do so for as long as humanly possible. the fact that all the above, as well as some green oil eco grease and the previously reviewed dry wax lube can be acquired as a complete set encased in a future plant tub seems something of a no-brainer to employ the vernacular. surely the bike is worth spending a mere £34.95 on?
tuesday 20th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................