all around the small rigid inflatable are slow moving ice floes, all set in perspective against a towering iceberg, one of the largest to have set itself loose in the north atlantic. the idea, apparently, is to take a look at what differing water temperatures below sea-level are having on the ice, and whether that might explain the substantial ice-shelf that juts out only a few metres below the surface.
as the location is proximitous to the coast of greenland, it's likely the waves lapping along the side of the boat are cold. probably very cold. it is also quite possible, therefore, no matter how experienced the diver is at swimming in waters such as these, he's experiencing more than just a little apprehension regarding his imminent dunking in arctic waters. that's sort of what it felt like yesterday morning.
just to devalue the situation a tad or so, i was not sitting in a small rubber boat anywhere near the arctic circle, nor was the temperature particularly close to freezing. it was, however, wet. not that the morning had started that way; to begin with, there had only been the galeforce wind rattling the kitchen windows, but on the point of 9am, the mighty dave t telephoned to inform that it was "lumping it down" in the city of port wemyss, and perhaps we ought to consider an alternative pastime for the morning.
as is my wont of a sunday morning, i had already clothed myself in appropriate cycle wear, had breakfasted heartily on porage and peaches, and was raring to go. at which point, the heavy rain casually mentioned by the mighty dave, arrived with a vengeance in bowmore. there seemed little real point in travailing the highways and byways under such conditions, so we unanimously decided to divest ourselves of our hebridean hardman personas so confidently cultivated over the last few years, and stay at home. debbie's cafe would need to resound to an altogether different form of bonhomie this particular lunchtime.
so, in view of the forgoing, why am i comparing myself to that of an experienced arctic diver surrounded by flotillas of ice? sometimes the only way of satisfactorily testing/reviewing a product is, to coin a well-worn phrase, getting down and dirty.
we have, collectively, over the years, been served something of a falsehood in the manner of appropriate rain protection. this is not to say that this misleading has been deliberate on the part of those proffering such apparel; it is more a case of a slight economy of truth. garment technology has provided the more active outdoor sorts such as ourselves with jacketry that threatens to curtail the ingress of rain and outgress of perspiration. as we have come to realise over more recent periods of time, the promise quite often fails to live up to expectation. that is, for the time being, a concern for the by and by.
what has come to light over a similar period of time, one that not only have i experienced, but a considerable number of those reading. and these misgivings have seemingly not been ignored by the garmentiers themselves. modern waterproofing does not, we have now sussed, last for ever and ever. wash any of the wonder materials often enough, even stretch so far as offering them a brief cool tumble-dry, and yet unwarranted precipitation eventually gets under your skin (so to speak). which, in the light of just how much some of these breathable waterproofs cost, is something of an irritant.
what do do?
one of those having recognised all of the above is rapha, and in order to at least attempt to remedy the situation their online shop now carries a threefold selection of bottled medication. this consists of a merino wash which rather self-evidently does what it says on the box, accompanied by an apparel wash and apparel reproofer. it was a combination of the latter two products that had me apprehensively staring out the rain-splattered windows, debating whether my dive into the ocean was really exactly what i wanted to do.
it is something of a tautology that only one rainjacket can be worn at any given time, a truism if you wish still to have sufficient flexibility to actually ride a bicycle. so while several jackets had been put through the washingmachine and cleaned using the recommended amount of apparel wash, in truth, only one of them had been subsequently drenched in fine spray form with apparel re-proofer. in this particular case, a three year-old rapha rainjacket that had lost at least a part of its protective mojo. rapha recommend that the garments are re-proofed while still damp, but circumstances dictated that dessication had taken place before the bottle was removed from its stylish packaging.
however, nobody said it wouldn't work if sprayed when dry, and i was about to find out.
if there's one good feature about gale force winds and driving rain it is that the combination is almost guaranteed to find any nook or cranny bereft of its force field. i may be daft, but contrary to common consent, i'm not stupid, therefore i spent only around 50 minutes in the maelstrom, one that thoughtfully included an appropriate amount of slogging into a headwind. for where is the pain and suffering endemic in pedalling in the wet with a tailwind?.
i cannot pretend to having been scientific in my approach; basically, it comes down to a suck it and see approach. ride out, get externally wet, then check how dry the lower layers are on return. in this particular case, i must say that things worked out rather well. the rainjacket is not classified as totally waterproof when new, for only the upper seams are taped. the underside of the arms and the side panels are perhaps the most susceptible to water ingress, a fact noticed on my return. however, any dampness on the sleeves was remarkably sparse, and some may indeed have been caused by perspiration failing in its attempt to escape.
on this latter count, i thought it worth examining whether the re-proofing had, in any way, affected the jacket's breathability, so i deliberately overdressed. a rapha winter weight baselayer, winter jersey and topped with a pro-team jacket under a light cream re-proofed rainjacket seemed the ideal concoction with which to test the veracity of that breathing (the jacket's, not mine). despite a mildness of climate and a need to slog those headwind kilometres, i think the washing and proofing proved more than acceptable.
the joy of this versatile and modular system is that washing and subsequent re-proofing can be undertaken at any time you see fit, and for the remarkably little outlay of £10 per bottle. based on the shakeability of the bottle of re=proofer, it seems eminently possible that one jacket could be re-proofed thrice, or three jackets once each. at a guess. let's face it, a tenner for wash and the same for proofing is a small price to pay when you consider the jacket retails at £195 in the first place. though slightly off-topic, there's nothing to indicate that the fabric products have the faintest inkling as to whether that being subjected to their efficacies have rapha stamped or embroidered about their person, so it's likely that stuff from other folks would react just as favourably.
but i didn't tell you that.
monday 7th january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
nothing's much of a surprise anymore, at least not in reference to that which transpires in professional cycle racing. after only one season, mark cavendish decides that a green jersey is all but unattainable from within team sky, and not only transfers to quickstep, but does so free of charge despite having more of his contract yet to run (at least, so we've been told). who would ever have thought you'd watch not only the first british winner of the tour de france, but the selfsame yellow clad rider leading out the world champion to win on the champs elysees?
i'd be hesitant to contend that the upper echelons of pro cycling constitute something of a clique, but there's little doubt that this is at least partially true. it's inevitable that people get to know other people, and such is the nature of social etiquette, it's unavoidable that such connections, to all intents and purposes, bring the formation of 'clubs'. i have little doubt that many conjoined in such a way are all but oblivious to such happenstances, but that's the way of the world. and it's not solely confined to the world of cycling.
on the outside, looking in.
there's a dependency of sorts that generally brings out the best in people and, on occasion, what others might perceive to be the worst. but without these cogs within cogs the path of professional cycling would be less well oiled.
according to a press release issued at the beginning of 2013, rapha's ceo simon mottram stated "I have known Team Sky's principal, Dave Brailsford, since he first began to establish the team he presides over today. His progressive philosophy and drive within the sport resonated with me then and continues to serve as an inspiration. For Dave and his team to have chosen Rapha as their clothing partner is the best possible endorsement of the quality and performance of our products."
do we believe him? is it not simply commerce speak, common within many industries, to aver that one's product has 'been chosen' by the higher profile partner? brailsford has guided wiggins, froome and the remainder of the sky tdf team to two tour podium positions in less time than he (seemingly rashly at the time) committed to at the team's formation. in similar fashion to the rider who wins the world or national championship; his worth in every sense of the word is subsequently raised to an all but unquantifiable status. so would you not think it well within his (sir brailsford's) power to make whatever choices he deemed fit, including that of whose name is on his team's apparel?
it is a remarkably poorly kept secret that team bicycle suppliers suffer in negative terms. rather than any team requiring to pay for their bicycles in the way that you and i must do, it is incumbent on those intent on playing within the professional milieu to not only supply a requisite number of race, time-trial and training frames but at the same time, pay for the privilege of so doing. so, a bit like the dishonest riders who taint opinion against those riding clean, any suspicions of vast sums of money changing hands in order to field a logo on a jersey are not entirely unexpected. and i did ask the question.
rapha, however, are a mere eight years old, going on nine. and though they now occupy an entire floor of the former piano premises at imperial works in kentish town's perren street, they're still a very small business in the face of corporations the size of sky broadcasting. mottram's friendship with dave brailsford had apparently previously raised the subject of rapha supplying kit to team sky, but the scope of such a venture was thought to be outwith their capabilities at the time.
however, good things will generally come to those who wait, and brailsford apparently never lost the notion of the partnership eventually bearing fruit. when the subject came up yet again in 2011, particularly in the light of the team's present clothing contract coming up for renewal at the end of 2012, the answer morphed to a more optimistic 'maybe'. as evidenced by recent events and press releases, that has become a definite yes.
it seems that team sky genuinely chose rapha.
i have had many conversations with simon mottram in the past eight years, over which time it has become very apparent that perren street does nothing that was not a bullet point on a three or five year plan. even notions and events that seem could only have resulted from an earlier happenstance have been likely written in stone some several months earlier. so was the likelihood of providing apparel for the world's top road-racing team included in any of those plans?
"I used to think that sponsoring a team was a pretty crude way of building a clothing brand. 'Buy this jersey because it's the same as the one Lance/Mig/Greg/Marco uses' looked expensive and crude and didn't seem likely to work with the more knowledgable and mature riders we were targeting. I still think that is true. If we were merely looking for ways to build awareness, we wouldn't be looking to sponsor a World Tour team and hoping for the benefit of 'your logo here'."
rapha has always been about more than just offering a wide range of cycle clothing, in some cases emulating apple by offering items that we didn't know we needed/wanted until set before us. were the converse to be the case, why oh why would there be so many expensive-to-make films listed on rapha.cc? why would some of the world's finest photographers be displaying their black and whites throughout beautifully printed catalogues and web pages? why would there be a veritable plethora of stories featured across all levels of those black white and pink pixels?
i recently spoke to rapha's uk marketing manager, laura bower, about the team sky partnership and throughout the entire, lengthy conversation, there was a complete absence of marketing speak. everything, and it seems to matter little to whom you speak at rapha, revolves around bringing to the attention of the world, the fact that cycling is indeed the king of sports. there is an inherent need to tell stories about the activity we all know and love; the exploration of different avenues it seems, is an endless quest. of course, those stories also help to sell sportwool.
simon mottram continued: "Partnering with Team Sky makes sense for two reasons that are more ambitious and much more important to us (than simply displaying the company logo on the collar):
"Firstly, the opportunity to use access to the world's best team to tell better stories and connect more people to the sport of road racing. Celebrating the sport has always been a core part of what Rapha is all about. We have spent the first eight years exploring the places and events of the sport with stories and products. Although we have had some access to individual riders in the past and still count a number of them as friends, as Rapha has become better known, those professionals' official clothing sponsors have tightened up access and the potential to work with them on features and events. It is increasingly hard for us to celebrate the sport and engage people if we are effectively 'shut out' of the highest level of racing. Working with the Rapha Condor (now Rapha Condor JLT) and Rapha Focus teams continues to have a great deal of value, but that's clearly not the same as having access to the World's top races, through the eyes of the best riders. Team Sky is a wonderful platform for creating insightful and inspiring content."
rapha, however, is no longer simply one that offers apparel to the uk and european markets, the traditional stomping ground for teams such as sky. there may be one or two ventures to other continents in the light of the uci's globalisation of the sport, but the bulk of racing tradition is still firmly rooted in mainland europe. my own perception of north america's appreciation of the professional metier was one that had substantially diminished over the course of lance armstrong's two high profile retirements. in which case, would the partnership between black, pink and blue have as much impact commercially across the pond as is presumably hoped to be the case over here? would the stories that could subsequently be told hold the same relevance in places such as portland, chicago, new york and los angeles?
i asked rapha's general manager in north america, slate olson, a man who has logged a considerable number of air miles in the pursuit of the thin blue line this past year. "I don't know that professional cycling took a step back when Lance hung it up. One way or another, Lance has kept himself and the sport in front of a wider audience. Sadly in 2012 it was for many of the wrong reasons, but still Lance and cycling were taking bold ink. If you ask many outside of the US, I'd suspect that they all felt the sport could once again thrive when the era of Armstrong's dominance ended and he retired (the first time).
"Cycling in the US continues to grow, the success of Colorado's Pro Tour Challenge is a great sign that professional cycling still has a growing and excitable audience here in the States and while there isn't a "new Lance" for the broader US to follow, there are some incredible Americans in the peloton. Team Sky has the likes of the quiet, hard-working Coloradan Danny Pate, and the two new kids- Ian Boswell and Joe Dombrowski- are going to be capturing the imaginations this year and for some time to come. Getting to know the team the little that I have already, it is abundantly clear that this team has brought a completely new approach to building up and bringing out the most from their riders. They have brought a holistic approach to health, fitness and performance- far different than anything the sport has known in the past. I'm excited to see what Ian and Joe do as part of Team Sky this year."
in which case, the tie up between sky and rapha would appear not only to be a win/win situation but one that is perhaps more astute than it would first appear. additionally, there always exists more lateral markets, some of which take their lead from the land of the football supporter. with the ink on the contract probably still drying, initial offerings from imperial works consist predominantly of replica kit and perhaps the odd peripheral garment, but rapha will also offer supporters of sir bradley, chris and associates, the very garments that will allow them to stake their own corners of the pub, come the next four julys.
according to laura bower "we'll be producing a replica team jersey that offers a more 'relaxed' fit, one that could be worn to the pub or supermarket by those fans who'd like to show their support." simon mottram concurs "The second reason this all makes sense is the opportunity to create even better products and connect the team to their fans by offering a much broader range of products for sale. We are getting under the skin of the entire team, from the riders and soigneurs to mechanics and coaches, looking for ways to add more performance and style. We don't think that any other company has looked far from the basic racing kit to add value. We can do that. And we can make much more of it available for people to purchase and try for themselves."
it's easy, from our point of view, to look upon the goodies that will be heading in our direction via the rapha website, but in order for that all to make sense, the team apparel itself has to reach the parts that other team kit failed to reach. with no disrespect to rapha, they are not the first cycle clothiers that spring to mind when discussing state of the art performance fabrics, and i confess that i've never seen rapha and wind-tunnel testing in the same thought bubble. however, they are able to hit the ground running, so to speak, having developed their pro team kit over the past couple of seasons with their own race team. in this, they have an excellent product and one that already has experienced racing success, albeit at continental level as opposed to that of the world tour series. known predominantly for being at the vanguard of the merino and sportwool resurgence, how will they deal with hi-tec areas such as those pertaining to the time-trial?
rapha designer, graeme raeburn; "Team Sky were active in development, testing, and improving of fabrics and designs when it came to aero-crucial products. We have very good relationships with the best fabric suppliers and garment makers, who have been very happy to work with us (not just in the advent of the Team Sky news) and provide us with the most suitable solutions for specialist products based on their experience." for those with a rapha fetish, the possible availability of stylish and performance-based cutting-edge is an encouraging thought.
"Rider feedback is very important as well. `Psychologically a rider might prefer a 'faster looking' fabric, or a simply a more comfortable option to wear next to the skin. We look at all these factors, and make the most appropriate selection, and with an open mind that we can evolve the design over time."
it's a not inconsiderable undertaking to kit out an entire team with both race kit as well as leisure apparel, and even if no money has ever to change hands, that's going to be expensive. currently, in conjunction with condor cycles and new sponsors, the jardine, lloyd, thompson group as well as focus bicycles in the usa, rapha support two race teams, ones that may conceivably place fewer demands on the company's wherewithal, but two concerns that might now be perceived as occupying unnecessary space. not so, according to simon mottram "The success and enjoyment we've had working with the Rapha Condor and Rapha-FOCUS teams in recent years has set us up for this next step. We remain committed to continuing those relationships, just as we look forward to forging more through this exciting new partnership."
though the joys of the american cyclocross experience have been brought to the uk via two years' of ian cleverly's successful rapha supercross, and jeremy powers' victory in the usa cyclocross nationals in early 2012 have brought the rapha name to sporting prominence in north america, one does have to wonder how the european race experience will translate to the 52 states. slate olson has little worry on that score. "I don't think anything will match the UK's energy and support for Team Sky, but I do think we have a chance elevate the sport- the stories and the riders- and to grow the following of Team Sky from America. We have always had fans of Rapha Condor JLT in the US, and that was for a team that really people could mainly follow through online race reports."
it is undeniable that rapha usa's pursuit of the 'rapha continental' franchise has crossed the atlantic with little effort. telling illustrated stories of the road less travelled while riding hand-crafted bicycle frames is something that we can all easily identify with, even if we ourselves are only moderately tempted to follow suit. can the sky affiliation work in just such a way in north america?
"I have to think that being able to watch Team Sky at the highest level in the biggest races, will have a positive impact. I don't think it will have the same personal impact that the Rapha Continental has had by the very nature of how personal and approachable the Continental is vs. professional racing. What is great about the Continental is the inherent journey and call of the open road, something that is open to every single one of us, we almost instinctively get 'it'. Racing is something most of us really can only be in awe of, especially at this level. I've never had any misgivings about being able to compete at the highest level in anything, but that doesn't mean I'm not inspired by the heroics and efforts that I watch play out on TV, and occasionally bring those visions into my own rides."
there are, of course, greater implications brought via the apparently simple notion of becoming the jersey sponsor of team sky. this seemingly innocent move places rapha in an entirely different perspective than has been hitherto the case. for now rapha have potentially added the ability to offer custom clothing, something that many have clamoured for over the years. of course, there have been isolated examples along the way, but nothing that would have led to constituting the arrangement on a more formal basis. the guys that comprise the rapha new york riders have jerseys that reflect this association, and i have, in a jersey drawer upstairs, a rapha pdx jersey featuring a sponsor logo for river city bicycles.
as a result, it seemed a not unnatural question to ask laura bower as to whether all and sundry will now be able to ride rapha clothing emblazoned with their own team colours. "It's something that's been requested for a long time, but until now, we weren't really set up to oblige. However, though I can't put a specific time on it, it's likely we'll be able to offer a custom service towards the end of 2013." and while it's perhaps a bit early to have tabled such considerations, are rapha likely to bid as supplier to other world tour teams in the future?
whatever you think of the conjoining of sky and rapha, and irrespective of how much or how little you wish to support sir brad and his knights at the round table, it would be very hard to deny that, while it may not be the greatest step forward for the brailsford empire, it's a move that spells interesting times ahead for perren street. former mountain biker, david hemmings has been engaged as the rapha/team sky commercial manager, several current employees at imperial works will have their job titles and responsibilities subtly or considerably altered, while a few more will join the rabbit warren that is rapha's nerve centre adjacent to kentish town's railway line. in a mere eight years, rapha have gone from offering a black or white sportwool classic jersey to becoming a major player in the world of top level professional cycle racing. i asked simon mottram if it would be true to say that this is a landmark in the company's short history?
"Absolutely. This could be the most significant thing we have done in the short life of our company. Only a few years ago, I was a fan peering over the fence at races, trying to catch a glimpse of my heroes. And here we are today, close partners with the greatest team in the World, the yellow jersey winner and the World's best coach from any sport, talking to them about products, finding out what makes them tick, looking forward to sharing their highs and lows through the season. It's quite amazing really."
if i personally experience any disappointment about the partnership, it's that poor old sportwool, the very fabric that rapha single-handedly brought to the fore after years of wall to wall polyester, seems to play little or no part in all of this. granted, sportwool has to be screenprinted (rather than the more ubiquitous dye-sublimation) constraining a fast turnaround when logos need to be added or removed for a specific event. but i for one would have liked to have seen the fabric adorned with bits of blue amongst its black during those three weeks in july. that is, however, something of a trivial concern. that the british-based and currently 'best team in the world' have partnered with a british-based clothing supplier is, i think, cause for celebration. we may no longer rule the waves, but a few cobbles, mountains and another yellow jersey would go some way to redressing the balance.
sunday 6th january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
take a wander through the archives of bicycle road racing and it will take not long to notice a simple distinction between the jerseys worn by those black and white heroes and the garments we all but take for granted today. of course, it's not just the jerseys that have changed. how much more difficult must it be for modern day television commentators to identify riders from aerial shots or even several instances of motorbike footage because all are required to wear helmets? even those leather hairnets of yore offered a deal more cognisance, though in the truly early days of the sport, several riders were known to wear goggles rather than the oakleys of today.
if we conveniently ignore the contemporary method of gear changing as a means of differentiating the bicycles of old, the early part of the 20th century would often give rise to viewing aluminium water bottles contained within a bar mounted cage of sorts. and the buttoned pockets were on the jersey front at chest height. indeed, though logic and ergonomics dictate that modern day jerseys feature three pockets on the rear, allowing a rider to enter the time-trial or downhill tuck without scrunching his energy bars, house keys or mobile phone, it seems it was a few years before it dawned on anyone to move them rearwards out of harm's way.
this adaptation of cycle clothing to meet the needs of those who are required to wear it as part of their company uniform is a process that has been capably dealt with throughout the sport's history. we have moved from relatively heavy woollen jerseys that would all but drag on the rear tyre when wet and onto which any sponsor logos had to be stitched, to sophisticated, man-made products that dispel unwanted heat, improve airflow and offer up the ability to have complex artwork applied to their surfaces, irrespective of the requisite colours.
one or two of these advances have been through regular and pertinent testing by both riders and manufacturers, while others have been as a result of modern cycle racing's commercial demands. either way, it is those of us who have only irregular need to don such apparel who have perhaps benefitted most.
happily, many of these benefits have trickled over to the less competitive requirements of the commuter or more casual cyclist. as rapha's chris distefano made mention of only a day or two ago in respect of cycling whatever you happen to own in the moment, it is also more than equitable that we do not see the need to dress up to go out on the bike. "wear what you wear" was, i believe, the gist of his exhortations.
sage advice indeed, and adhered to by the many, but on the basis that few of us would go swimming in a pair of levis, it seems not too over the top to find a desire or need for casual clothing that has cycling as its watchword at the very least. many an cycling apparel provider has either built their raison d'etre around the premise of offering innocuous looking shirts, jerseys and trousers that secretly take the bicycle into great consideration. from ten paces and sans bicycle, the ordinary civilian would never know, and i think it only fair to point out that this is likely exactly the way it ought to be.
however, while the active racing jersey and matching bibshorts have had the benefit of many years intrinsic development, the so-called urban garment is the archetypal new kid on the block, one that suffers from a certain level of 'me too'-ness. i take the opportunity to point this out here, not in a superior manner or one born of arrogance, for i know i would have not even matched the current level of success and design on offer, but simply because a minor but endemic shortcoming has suddenly come to light.
some of you will be aware of a growing number of jackets that feature an offset, full length zip. this either commences travel from the centre of the hem and skews off to one side as it reaches the collar, or it's off-centre from bottom to top. i originally thought this to be a simple but effective design feature, one that would provide a more distinctive look to any jacket to which it was applied, but it seems that there was more than a smattering of ergonomics at play.
though i am not one for being over-dressed when riding out of a morning, several of my acquaintances deem it necessary to be clad in baselayer, short-sleeve jersey, long-sleeve jersey and topped with a waterproof jacket. in my opinion, way over the top. however, it does not take a research physicist to realise that each zip will effectively lie on top of the next. in my example, three. by offsetting even one of those, a subtle degree of comfort is added.
but, if we take a closer look at the urban wear, we find a problem similar to that of the zips, but a progenitor of conceivably greater discomfort or impracticality.
though i have spent my festive kilometres whizzing along the highways and byways clad in all manner of rear-pocketed jerseys, jackets and full-length tights, there are times, such as yesterday, when i have cause to venture afield in more civilian attire. in order not to offend, i will refrain from naming those whose apparel was worn, but suffice it to say that the shirt worn under an outer stylish jacket, bore a small pocket on the lower right. as, indeed, did the jacket. it has evidentially become the de rigeur position at which just such a small pocket ought to be placed, for i have several garments that follow this trend.
though the morning's business could hardly be referred to as onerous, i thought it more prudent to arrive in other than pelotonic garb, yet unfortunately ignored one of the fringe benefits usually attaching to this particular place of business. it is on a farm, and the farmer's wife seems always to have a never ending supply of home-baked goodies with which i am plied on my departure. this is not the first time this has happened, yet i again neglected to take with me a musette in which to place any proferred goodies. i think some of this neglect may rise from a wish to not be seen as being presumptious.
however, true to form, my presumptions were correct and i received a large bag of home-made tablet and a large jar of home-made raspberry jam. in order to carry out my business, i had already taken with me a pair of regular spectacles and an ipod, both of which had resided in one of those small(ish) rear pockets. now, with tablet and jam to carry, placing specs and ipod in the shirt's rear pocket meant they would now sit directly under the jacket's version which now played host to a large and heavy jar of jam.
you can, perhaps, see my forthcoming point. would it not be of more practical use to place the outer urban rear pocket on the opposite side to that of the shirt? i can see that this may meet with logistical difficulties where each garment has been obtained from differing marques, but my limited research would show it to be a concern on items from the same coat rack.
maybe in time, the urban clothing dialectic will solve this and any other trivial problem that might unsuspectingly rear its less than pulchritudinous head, but in the meantime i had to carefully pedal with spectacles in a trouser pocket, a handful of tablet graspingly held around a sram brake lever and a jar of raspberry jam wallowing in a surprisingly capacious and capable rear jacket pocket.
the jam was lovely, by the way.
saturday 5th january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though it may often seem remarkably like it, these words do not write themselves. there are frequently a myriad of parameters to measure, to comprehend and ultimately to disseminate in order that when composed into joined up writing, they make some sort of sense. i will admit to having experienced one or two slightly off-centre moments when my prose may have been less than lucid, and unfortunately on those occasions you, the reader, has had need of adopting the persona of innocent bystander. but by and large, i think i succeed on my own terms.
while undertaking the traditional first footing midway through the new year's day ride, a casually placed christmas present became at least a small part of the ensuing discussion. this present was a lumix dslr camera which not only the recipient, but two others in the company subsequently struggled to comprehend the seemingly endless offerings of digital information, all of which seemed designed to make picture-taking as difficult as possible.
in such circumstances, i have not yet come across anyone who maintains their image-making to be of superior result. despite owning the cutting edge of image technology, no-one ever seems confident in their abilities to operate to best effect. i, with my rather bashed about compact lumix (it gets dropped every now and again) have no need of apologising; the camera promises more than even i can attain, and that's not saying much. aside from the fact that dslrs do not fit comfortably in a jersey pocket, it is one of the principal reasons why i have remained steadfastly true to the no frills point and shoot.
and it was to stretch the little blue lumix to the full extent of its meagre megapixels that i opted to nip out after tea last night in order to augment the illustrations for yesterday's lezyne mega-drive review. the idea was to display the after dark capabilities of the light's 1000 lumens, something that could only take place after the sun went down.
since the croft is but a mere smattering of metres from unspoilt countryside with its attendant narrow tracks, i tucked vulpine trousers into sock tops, grabbed my vulpine rainjacket from the banisters along with a fleece beanie, clambered into a pair of mavic offroad shoes and took the cielo for a very brief night ride. since we are truly talking of a round trip of a few hundred metres in drizzling rain, there seemed little point in wearing a helmet which, in retrospect, was not such a bright idea.
at the foot of our drive there are four houses in the process of being constructed, currently surrounded by modular security fences. unfortunately, in the recent gales, the fence wire that inhabits the substantial framing on one of these units was blowing over the roadway, a fact that i noticed only at the last minute, by which time it had caught the left brake lever and launched yours truly rather unceremoniously onto a wet, roughcast road surface. thankfully, my head did not make contact with the ground, though my fleece beanie did blow off, but i did feel something of an idiot for leaving the helmet on the kitchen table.
the vulpine jacket received only a couple of muddy marks, remaining otherwise unscathed, and mrs washingmachinepost had me down some painkillers and press an ice-filled teatowel on my rather painful elbow for around an hour, thus saving serious discomfort that night and the following day.
i have no great desire to moralise on this situation; it's entirely up to you whether you opt to wear a helmet or not, but i had considered my simple attempt to garner appropriate illustration to be one undeserving of headgear. it was but a few revolutions of those chris king wheels. and yes, my head remained perfectly intact.
friday 4th january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i don't get out much after dark. there's no island bus service after 6pm, i don't own a motor car, and there are too many top gear watching idiots trying to find just how many miles per hour they can achieve along the island's twisty roads.
if i'm truly honest, it's the latter that gives me greatest cause for concern. the croft is but a few hundred metres from bowmore's famous round church, an iconic building that sits proudly at the top of main street. for reasons that entirely escape me, it seems the round building acts as a pivot point for those intent on using as much (expensive) petrol accelerating from the harbour to the top of the hill, followed by as much tyre screeching as possible while leveraging their darkened screen corsas and subarus onto the low road and screaming past the bothy on a very short drag strip to bowmore distillery's bonded warehouses.
it is a repetitious evening procedure, sonically accompanied by souped-up engines feeding into drainpipe exhausts for that jeremy clarkson approved buzz. in truth, i am sufficiently attached to my wellbeing to fervently wish not to place it in the path of any of the aforementioned. i don't doubt that these vehicles are festooned with appropriate levels of exterior illumination, but at such speeds, it would take only an irritatingly placed blind corner to find me and the cielo decorating the radiator grill.
so i stay at home.
however, it would be a great untruth and deliberate misapprehension to have you believe that there are times when i wish to travel someplace after the hours of darkness. in such cases, i'd be looking not only for a bicycle light that offered to identify me as being on the road on the first place, but one that would suitably illuminate my path when on more poorly or unlit roads. the ideal specification would include a reasonable battery life along with the option to replace the original battery fairly speedily, should my darkened travels be interrupted by any form of mechanical malfeasance.
even a rudimentary online search would quickly identify lezyne's mega-drive as one of the more appropriate options at a not stunningly over-exorbitant price.
the mega-drive arrives in a small, foam-padded box that includes pretty much every accessory needed to make best use of the light. or at least it seems that way on first opening. included in custome slots are the finned, aluminium light itself with a lithium-ion battery already in place. there is an additional battery included with the set as well as a usb/micro usb cable to allow charging via a computer or by means of one of the mains adaptors kindly supplied by distributors upgrade. according to lezyne, recharge time is between five and ten hours, but it seems the batteries supplied were at least partially charged, as it took less than an hour to have the button remain green.
also in the box are two differently sized cnc hinged clamps, one already with the mounting bracket in place. there are also a couple of differing thicknesses of rubber gasket to place between clamp and handlebar. this is where things started to head ever so slightly downhill. i intended to fit the mega-drive to the oval concept classic bars on the cielo, yet the smaller of the two clamps was simply not large enough to be affixed to the bar, even without either of the rubber gaskets.
disappointingly the bigger of the two turned out to be too large to fit the selfsame bar even with both gaskets in place. a bit of a fail in this department. i tried to fit the larger bracket to the ibis badged bars on the hakkalugi, but it would only just fit, minus either gasket, and that promised to be somewhat unkind to the metal. the same story was true of the carbon bars on my c40 and alloys on the master.
i subsequently had little option but to fit the larger clamp to the top edge of the brooks bar tape under which the brake and gear cables sat. here's where it didn't actually get much better. the mounting bracket can be sited facing forward or backward; there is nothing in the multi-language instructions to indicate which is the preferred option. however, the mount itself is integral to the mega-drive's aluminium casing and features a bevelled lip on its rear edge, so i assumed this, by implication, meant the bracket ought to be installed at the front of the bars.
the nature of the bracket allows its partial rotation (a handy and pragmatic feature) due to the top part being threaded for the mounting bolt. however, the release lever prevents the mounting section from turning through 180 degrees. thus, the bracket is sitting in front of the bars, compeletely unsupported. the integral bracket is sited towards the front portion of the light, another factor that mitigates against fitting the bracket towards the rear.
having first charged the battery, the rubber button atop the light offers three standard modes: once for full beam, twice for dipped beam and thrice for flashing. quizzically, there is a further two modes achieved by holding the button for five seconds or more which offers blast and enduro modes.
as evidenced above, i tend not to venture out after dark too often, so the bulk of the mega-drive's travails were spent in flashing mode, where i have less need of seeing than being seen. even in this mode, the brightness of the two leds was, to coin a phrase awesome. road signs well over two hundred metres distant, in regular daylight, were in receipt of substantial illumination.
however, the bracket design was a big let down. i'll admit that my affixation of the latter was not as recommended in the not overly informative instructions, but even with the bolt tightened as fiercely as i could muster, over less than palatable road surfaces, the light had a tendency to dip either forwards or backwards (i tried the bracket in both fore and aft positions just in case). i can appreciate that a finger tightened bolt offers perhaps more practicalities than one fitted via spanner or screwdriver, but had either the bracket been sited atop the bar, and thus supported by it, and the integral mount been shifted to the mega drive's centre of gravity, these problems would likely not have made themselves known.
as a confirmed roadie, having to frequently straighten up the light was simply in the realm of irritating. however, for those more endeared of offroad adventures, it could be something of a liability, making it a less than positive choice. however, most of us are possessed of the figure it out gene, meaning it would take only a few homebrew measures to sort this out to your own satisfaction. i'd warrant however, that a light costing very close to £200 ought not to bring with it such baggage.
the illumination qualities, on the other hand, are hard to beat. full beam (1000 lumens) would not be out of place on the daily flybe flight from glasgow, with so-called dipped beam just being something of a consideration towards oncoming motorists. the on/off/mode button allows the rider to check battery level on the fly. the option of carrying a second, fully-charged battery doubles ride time at full blast to around three hours. on a single battery, enduro mode gives 500 lumens for 2.5hrs (a contention i am happy to verify), economy provides 250 lumens for 5.5 hours and flash mode provides the same 250 lumens for ten hours.
not that the thought had originally occurred, but my two extended daylight rides in flash mode were accmpanied by substantial quantities of galeforce wind driven rain, the sort of malevolent precipitation that has an uncanny tendency to find any tiny little gaps into which it might annoyingly enter. yet the battery bay remained satisfyingly and thankfully dry on both occasions.
strenuously avoiding bowmore's boy racers after dark, the brightness of the mega-drive was remarkably impressive, at which point the available rotation of that bar mounted bracket came handily into its own. many of islay's roads are edged either by grassy ditches or wide open stretches of field, and nary a white line to be seen. it is thus a more than handy feature to be able to angle the beam(s) ever so slightly towards the left road edge. it's surprising just how few front bicycle lights offer this option.
in view of the heat-sink design of the aluminium body, the ruggedness and precision of construction and the inclusion of a second battery, the price ought not to be considered an obstacle. there are one or two others on the market where a spare or replacement battery can cost in excess of £100. however, to make the mega-drive the only option you'd consider, they really need to do something about that fitting bracket.
thursday 3rd january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
this did not start well. i've spent too many pixels detailing the ins and outs of the festive 500 and i do not intend to further detain you on the subject unnecessarily. however, as it has specific bearing on that which follows, i hope you will allow me a modicum of indulgence on the matter. it starts, not unnaturally, with those challenge open tubulars, the definition of which i will begin.
according to challenge, their road tubulars and tyres are constructed in similar fashion, the difference being in the manner of their finishing methods. the tubulars are filled with a latex inner before being sewn around their circumference. the tyres, on the other hand, are folded back around an aramid cord to form the bead seen on the majority of folding clinchers.
the open tubs in question seem almost perfectly adapted to use over terrain inherent in their naming. though the website and catalogue refer to them as paris-roubaix, for reasons beyond my grasp, the sidewall label says parigi - roubaix. their dimensions of 700x27c do, however, offer great confidence in their ability to carry out every promise that arrives in the minimal packaging, from the fine, yet substantial herringbone tread pattern to the conviction ascribed to their 260g per tyre weight.
not much is going to shift that in directions which it does not wish to go. and to a large extent, that was my initial problem.
to briefly return to those festive kilometres, the idea had been to fit the tyres to the cielo and ride all 500 across the crappy roads and cattle grids that populate the hereabouts. the possible fly in the ointment was a perceived difficulty in fitting such substantial rubber girth beneath those fullwoodfenders, a problem that had raised its ugly head on at least one previous occasion. figuring the rearmost to be the more likely of the two to cause grief, i attempted to fit a parigi-roubaix open tub on the rear wheelsmith race 23.
oh how the mighty are fallen.
though i am relatively used to new tyres being a trifle awkward to fit, this is rarely a difficulty experienced with the first bead. but in the case of the challenge, it proved well nigh impossible. eventually, after a major wrestle, i managed one side of the tyre on the rim, fitted a latex tube (recommended by challenge as the ideal way to emulate the ride quality of a true tubular) and then darned near broke both thumbs while attempting to complete the tyre fitting. i have, in the bikeshed, an industrial type workshop tyre fitting tool, but even it was defeated by the reluctance of the tyre to slide onto the rim.
having achieved success after an hour and fifteen minutes (really. for one tyre), it required only a modest degree of adjustment to fit the whole kit and caboodle to the cielo without undue friction between tyre and guard. beaming with the flush of successful achievement, i spent a further hour fitting the second open tub to the frontmost wheelsmith hoop only to be devastatingly defeated by the front wood fender. though the bracket had sufficient travel available to be raised clear of the tread, the top of it was butted hard up against the headset crown race on the fork. a modest degree of filing or sawing might conceivably have remedied the situation, but at that point, i had lost the will to live.
this is where everyone should have an ibis hakkalugi in the bikeshed, especially one fitted with a pair of sugar wheelworks' ghisallo wooden rimmed wheels. apart from more than generous frame clearance, those rims offer a substantial 29mm of width; ideal for the comfort desired. though i will spare you all the gory details, remmoving the tyres from the wheelsmith rims and subsequently re-fitting them to the ghisallos was an entire horror movie all of its own. never in all my years have i owned such painful thumbs and so many broken fingernails.
that, however, was the bad bit; the really, really hard bit, if you will. though many would say things could only improve after such an extended tussle, happily, they weren't wrong. challenge recommend inflating to between 94 - 123 psi, far too onerous for those rather fragile wooden rims, the builder of which prefers them to sit more around the 60psi mark. technically, the ghisallo rims offer a substantial footprint to support any fitted tyre, along with a far thicker sidewall than that owned by more regular alloy rims. if fitting the parigi-roubaix to the latter, i'd be inclined to follow the manufacturer's inflation instructions in such matters.
my first couple of days' riding were covered aboard the 24mm shod cielo, and by christmas night, i had two rather shaken and stirred arms, both of which gave substantially more discomfort than my legs. with the majority of my kilometres being ridden along islay's minor single track roads, many festooned with cattle grids and utterly appalling surfaces closely related to those on the road to roubaix, i was quite literally being shaken to pieces. out of my festive total of 581km however, around 320 were covered aboard the ibis, shod with the challenge tyres, and the four days following christmas were ridden in this manner.
by saturday, my arms had returned to their more usual state of comfort.
i think it eminently possible that the combination of wood rims and challenge parigi-roubaix 700x27c tyres is darned near the very best that modern technology can muster in the face of adversity. even at a mere 60psi, riding seated over cattle grids or hammering along across the pockmarked surface of the abattoirenberg forest road provided superb stability and evened out considerably less than pristine surfaces. they were utterly brilliant in the wet, never once lost grip even when climbing hard on gravel and mud infested short, sharp climbs, and managed to keep me upright on the occasion when a motorist forced me to evasively take to wet grass (though i would not recommend that you try the latter at home).
the only time i felt the negative effects of their weight and width was on lengthier climbs, though the jury is out on what perecentage was the fault of the tyres and how much could be laid at the feet of the pilot's less than impressive climbing efforts. even on smooth tarmac (we do have the odd example around the principality), they behaved as if 4mm narrower, hastening a decent turn of speed when desired.
by the time my festive kilometres were complete, all thoughts of strained thumbs and distorted tyre levers were ancient history. i plan on taking action to raise that front fullwoodfender and eventually have them fitted to the cielo for my riding pleasure. i confess i am smitten. their construction is par excellence, 300 plus kilometres of disastrous roads has scarcely left a mark upon their treaded carcasses, and i absolutely love them. at a recommended retail of £48 they're certainly not the cheapest on the market and nor do they inhabit the world of the svelte and featherwight, but i'm pretty darned sure nobody would be fitting a pair to ride alpe d'huez. these are meant for more onerous purpose.
i doubt the roads on islay are any better or worse than those experienced by the majority of uk riders, though i'm willing to accept that several of our single-track backroads might be a few degrees worse. however, given the current extenuating financial conditions experienced by the majority of councils, it may be a forlorn hope to expect unbridled smoothness to infest our cycle routes anytime soon. these are undoubtedly the solution we've been looking for, tyres that more than justify the financial outlay.
aside from which, there's many a moment, if no-one's looking, when you can opt to be gilbert ducloss lasalle or tom boonen intent on distancing a chasing peloton, though i'll deny it if anyone repeats it in public.
many thanks to uk distributor paligap for assistance with this review.
wednesday 2nd january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
like an ever increasing number of cyclists across the world over the past week, i have been indulging (if such is the correct terminology) in rapha's festive 500. for the uninitiated, and i confess there are few islay residents who find themselves unaware of just why i have been seen on virtually ever corner of the isle over the past week, the general idea is to ride at least 500 kilometres between christmas eve and new year's eve. if you do the arithmetic correctly, unlike yours truly, that equates to 62.5 kilometres per day. having messed up in similar fashion a couple of years ago, i really ought to know better by now, but i thought we were talking about seven days rather than eight, and calculated my daily average as almost 72km per day.
i should never be trusted with numbers.
however, after a couple of days, realisation dawned and i appropriately adjusted my daily goal. well, actually, that's not entirely true, for the oddly eccentric weather website xcweather.co.uk continued to have me convinced that the wind speeds that would feature from friday onwards, would likely prevent my cycling even in the back garden of the croft.
weather and its concomitant wind speed seems, on reflection, to be a moving target, and on each viewing of the site across the days of the week, the probability of storm force winds seemed to be shifting closer towards new year's eve. i therefore decided to ignore any thought of sticking to a notional daily average and simply ride as many kilometres per day as i found possible in order to keep a few in the bank, so to speak.
unlike christmas week in 2011, the weather never quite qualified itself as a cycling impossibility. though the winds did reach well into gale force on sunday 30th, they were insufficiently tiresome to prevent riding, and my excess kilometrage over the previous days meant that i cleared the necessary 500 kilometres on the way to debbie's (at blackrock, since you ask) on sunday morning.
i'm not a great one to play the numbers game, and generally ride without the aid of a cycle computer for the bulk of the year, though one was utilised to maintain accuracy in the face of adversity over the past seven or eight days. so come monday, though it would have been perhaps seemly to add that particualr day's distance to my sunday total of 531km, in truth, i was merely completing the latter part of a tyre review and heading to deb's for a coffee and a cheese and tomato toastie.
though the finer details of the referenced tyre review will be dealt with in a day or two, suffice it to say, they were affixed to the ibis hakkalugi cyclocross bicycle. this features a crud products raceguard attached to the seatpost in order to prevent that embarrassing brown stripe up the back of any rapha jacket i happened to be wearing across the length of the challenge. but due to a lack of appropriate fitting points and a general predilection towards not normally requiring such crud protection when pretending to be jeremy powers, the front wheel remained indecorously naked.
this in itself was not a major indiscretion, for we are all hardmen (and women) here, so a peppering of winter tights and overshoes with agricultural detritus was hardly cause for personal embarrassment, though on wetter and windier days, i cannot truly state that a modicum of spray resistance would not have gone amiss.
that, however, in this case, was not a consideration that gave credence to itself, but many of you will have remained true to those black and whites, depicting the great classics riders ploughing their way across french, dutch and belgian fields and farm roads, muddied if not bloodied and giving rise to our inveterate and justified admiration. we, however, are unlikely to achieve such worthiness, and if carrying out the described christmas challenge, or any other similar notion as it happens, it would be nice to think that the sliver of carbon could carry adequate agricultural protection despite the cigarette paper clearances proffered nowadays.
though it is some years since the fertile brain of pete tomkins gave us the lightweight and minimalistic roadracers, little has appeared in the interim that would undermine their sporting efficacy. a goodly number of you will have likely experienced the joys of weather protection afforded by the roadracers, while many will still be unaware of their benefits at first hand. and there's just an outside possibility that at least one or two will have been as incompetent and as i have been when placing the colnago in the bike shed.
it only takes a moment's inattention to find a bit of broken roadracer lying forlornly on the shed floor.
for one lucky individual amongst you, here, in conjunction with the generosity of mr tomkins, is the opportunity to win a brand new set of roadracers by simply correctly answering the following question, the answer to which can be found on the crud website.
how much does a pair of roadracers weigh?
please e-mail your answers to email@example.com by sunday 6th january 2013, along with your full postal address, and the first correct answer selected will receive a pair of crud roadracers
tuesday 1st january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................