as a lad in my mid-teens, i embraced the usual and dare i say it, normal obsession with motor cars, not so much from the point of driving them (not old enough at that point), but on the basis of how the darned things worked. you have to admit, even if you're as car agnostic as i now find myself, it's quite intriguing as to just how those big chunks of metal under the bonnet (hood, if you're reading across the pond) did as they do. you will be pleased to know that i have no pressing desire to relate each and every piston stroke, but deal more simply with some basic principles.
if we can exclude gas turbines from the equation, there's the petrol engine, the wankel rotary engine, and the diesel. the petrol engine has all but eschewed use of the carburettor for feeding an air/petrol mixture to the cylinder combustion chamber (a device much loved by young schoolboys, though confusingly devoid of any semantic connection to its true purpose) in favour of the race-car developed engine management system. this is now allied to fuel injection. the wankel, despite owning a name again much beloved by young schoolboys, i will leave for the time being, since apart from the late-lamented nsu ro80, not much has happened on that front.
the diesel, however, though likely also the subject of a modern electronic management system, was never under the influence of a carburettor; fuel has always been delivered by means of an injection system to be ignited by a so-called glo-plug, and it is this fact that brings into contention the naming or lettering system used by contemporary car manufacturers. for why, if a diesel cannot function other than by fuel injection, do so many append the letters tdi to their vehicles' name? i have no idea for what the letter 't' signifies, but generally the 'd' is for diesel and the 'i' for injection. a somewhat tautological statement, if you will.
what effectively and dramatically countermanded this automotive tautology, was the placement of a jaguar motor car on one end of the track centre at saturday's final round of the revolution series at the sir chris hoy velodrome. quite what sort of economic response the jaguar dealer responsible (taggarts i think) expected from a capacity crowd intent on watching a particularly fine display of track racing, i simply cannot fathom. major kudos, however, for placing the silver demonstration model on display at an event that was surely the antithesis of motor transport; would that one or two of the larger cycle manufacturers shown the same intiative at motorsports events. cycling, it seems, is content to preach to the converted.
placing the vehicle in a restricted section behind the track teams' rest and preparation area, meant that few, if any, had much of a chance to view its presence. i was only aware of its existence from on high prior to the commencement of battle, and the sir chris hoy velodrome bears no seating above either of the (scarily) steep bankings. (after a crash in one of the events, the repairs team had to abseil from the top in order to check for damage).
but what an astounding facility. i'm sure there were several people trapped in the track centre who became more than tired of my professed disbelief that a sport occupying minority interest in the uk, could engender this fabulous state of the art velodrome. i have been a self-confessed cyclist for more than twenty years, more or less resigned to the fact that cycle racing in any of its manifestations would never form the basis of conversation between consenting adults. how things have changed.
and it is surely more than fitting that the 2012/13 revolution series was won by a lad born and bred in the city (even though he has now defected to edinburgh). rapha condor jlt's ed clancy and jimmy king of scotland mccallum started saturday evening's proceedings as series leaders, by a not inconsiderable margin from the two gents forming the rudy project team. the ensuing rumbles round the boards could almost have been stage-managed to provide a cliffhanger of a finish (sorry to borrow some cliches from scotland's other national sport). mrs jimmy mac was deftly managing the numerics at each stage of the racing to calculate just where ed and her husband needed to place themselves in order to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
in the evening's final event (scratch race) counting for the series championship (the presentations were followed by a three-man team sprint event between scotland and the rest of the world; the latter won), the rudy project chaps required to win this specific contest with ed and jimmy failing to place at all, in order to take home the bouquets. you may infer from the tone of my writings that this was not the case, and messrs clancy and mccallum received their flowers, festina watches and champagne from a glasgow city council dignitary and festina's andy barron.
though i'm sure you consider me worldly-wise in all matters pertaining to cycling, this was, in fact, my first ever time at a velodrome (though i did watch some intriguing outdoor competition at portland's alpenrose some four years ago). like most, i have listened to the dulcet tones of mr hugh porter commentating on many a track meet on the telly, but this was my first actual visit to an actual velodrome to watch actual professional level racing. i think many who were present would agree that it was very much an evening to remember.
though the numbers posted on the large screen at the jaguar end of the track paid tribute to the incredible speeds being thrashed out on the shiny boards, it's not till you're standing within one or two metres of the sprinters' line, that you realise just how fast these guys are travelling. and if the sight of such were not sufficient to invoke feelings of inadequacy, with no visible exception, they all made it look remarkably and disgustingly easy. even the unfortunate paralympian, jody cundy, with one union jack painted carbon fibre leg below his right knee (with a cleat bonded to the sole), had a turn of speed with which few of us able-bodied cyclists could hope to reach, let alone compete.
that's what i want to do when i grow up.
and in the company of charlie pearch, president of the rapha condor club, there were also two young lads attending their first ever track meeting, beating me by some considerable number of years, both twelve years old. and wearing his benefactor's hat, mr pearch had invited the two lads and their mums as his guests, presented them with king of scotland jerseys, duly signed on the white left sleeve hoop by the man himself, then subsequently worn all evening, including for a photo opportunity with ed clancy and his olympic gold medal collection. guess who are now pestering their mothers for road bikes?
the evening's organisation was impeccable, though at least two of us wished to have several stern words with the official who insisted on firing a gun to signify race conclusion. not funny when you're innocently looking the other way. and of course, track centre may not be the ideal location to watch track racing carried out at such incredible speed. i know for a fact that i could not have equalled anyone's speed with even an islay gale-force tailwind. thus, in order to keep track (sorry) of each individual set of competitive proceedings, it was frequently necessary to make oneself dizzy.
however, yet again, pride could not be seen to bear any pain; such circular choreography was more than softened by meeting many friends from the world of cycling, and having access to idle banter with several of the competitors. though jimmy mac, tongue-in-cheek confessed to one of the two lads that he found the racing highly dislikable, he redeemed himself en-route to the podium by pointing out that it was all well worth the effort when he won.
highlights of the evening will be shown on itv4 at 8pm on thursday evening (february 7th) with commentary by anthony mccrossan and presentation by ned boulting and lizzie armitstead. and it probably won't look anything like it did on the night. i know not whether track taster sessions are available at glasgow's velodrome in the manner that is common at manchester, but i think it unlikely that scottish cycling will want to squander the opportunity to introduce the young and the uninitiated to the excitement of track racing. as darth vader once famously said "it is your destiny."
grateful thanks to charlie pearch, rapha condor jlt, jimmy mac, ed clancy and andy barron of festina watches for a grand night out. i promise i will try not to freewheel ever again. and i can assure bunnahabhain distillery that the fruits of their labours were very well received.
monday 4th february 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm sure there are advantages and disadvantages to pretty much everybody's bide-a-wee. cities and larger towns have a far greater range of evening and daytime activities with which to while away their bank accounts; shopping incessantly until dropping becomes a tautology rather than an option. bowmore village has a total of about ten or eleven shops, an extravaganza that hardly occupies morning till night of a weekend, but then it wouldn't be bowmore village if strewn with department stores, branches of subway and costa coffee. we have an occasionally idyllic existence, but one that is currently being partially undermined by virtually storm-force winds.
we lost a tile off the croft on thursday morning.
but, in the same way that black couldn't live without white, fast without slow or loud without quiet, an idyllic existence cannot be seen to be such, unless it receives occasional comparison with mainland dishevelment. though many seem confirmed in the church of city-centre shopping, loudly protesting their innocence in matters of enjoyment, it is seemingly the natural way, as much a part of the fabric of normal life as stopping for petrol more often than you'd like. that i might set my own circumstances in the pleasant light of comparison, i have occasion to depart the hallowed isle every now and again for purposes of entertainment, education and sociability, a singular opportunity on which i was set to embark towards the end of last week.
it's hard to argue against the knowledge that the months of january, february and ever so occasionally, march comprise an hebridean winter, a season that can literally stretch from the depths of november all the way to mid may if it is of a mind so to do. though freezing cold is rarely an oppressive factor, horizontal rain and winds occupying the upper double digits are as common as malt whisky distilleries and cows that are outstanding in their fields. the coming week offers little respite from weather systems rather unsubtly introduced last week.
there are two methods of reaching islay; the quickest and most expensive method is to spend 35 minutes on a flybe saab between glasgow and islay airports. the slower, but according to my opinion, more refined method is by calmac ferry, augmented for the seasoned traveller by a citylink coach trip between kennacraig and buchanan bus station. i had intended using the latter method last week, leaving on the 9:45 ferry diverted to port askaig due to the high winds. that was the day we lost a tile from the roof at about the same time as the ferry actually left the mainland bound for islay.
i and several others were rather pleased we weren't on that particular boat, and it appears that the captain may have concurred, for on arrival at port, the remainder of the day's sailings were immediately cancelled. so instead of travelling by boat and bus to the big city, i spent a windy day at home.
though there's a certain degree of miffedness in this, there's also more than enough to celebrate. it would be naive of anyone to move to any of the scottish islands and expect all to be the same as it is/was on the mainland; the remoteness is something to be savoured rather than endured. if we're at all honest about this, it's what the move west was all about. and though a smaller population by definition means a considerably reduced peloton, that's hardly a major disaster when coupled with the personality of the mighty dave t and the coffee at debbie's.
i think it's also indicative of the modern cyclist's state of mind. rapha's festive 500 was populated by a substantial number of solo rides, and even one of scott mitchell's mallorca team sky galleries showed sir bradley and his sideburns traversing the island's roads all by himself (well, apart from scott, the scooter pilot and a team car). though the time-trial is one of the few road disciplines undertaken as a solo rider, the majority of racing is spent trying to get rid of all those around you. and the act of training is too, a somewhat solitary affair.
the time for sociability is round a large cup of chocolate dusted froth and as big a slice of carrot cake as will fit on the plate. everything else ought to be kept between a man or woman and his/her polar, srm and the open potholed road. it bears comparison with the fly fisherman who fishes alone to rehearse the 'you should have seen the one that got away' speech for the folks at home. if we ride alone, even if there is no earthly reason to train in the first place, it is far easier to convince ourselves that such is the principal and only purpose of each and every ride. except, as robert millar saliently pointed out, there are no races in which the peloton has a cake stop.
so in a convoluted fashion, being unable to leave the island due to a day without ferries, is a satisfying confirmation that not only am i a real cyclist, i am right where i ought to be.
sunday 3rd february 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i've enjoyed my last two years with rapha condor sharp (now rapha condor jlt). the improvement in my abilities has been in gradual decline, but since that was the point from the outset, i think it a success for both parties. it's a little known or admitted detail that at the end of the 2009 season, the uci introduced a regulation applying to continental classified teams, requiring the recruitment of riders who would contest what is frequently referred to as the lanterne rouge.
along with the uci's intent to globalise the sport of road-cycling, they apparently also wished to make the professional sport more all-encompassing, opening up team membership even to those without a natural talent or innate ability to race with the front runners. the reasoning seems to have involved some convoluted sense of fair play, one that allowed me to be signed by john herety to make up the grupetto at each race i entered, even if i was a grupetto of one.
i think i acquitted myself well.
part of the conditions attached to the regulation concerned the non-appearance of the nominated riders in the published results, but strictly ahead of the time cut-off. though my early outings in black, white and pink were characterised by the race crew dismantling the podium and a distinct lack of spectators. by the end of season one, i and my fellow grupettists were becoming well used to it. the conundrum is contained in the knowledge that the only acceptable improvement was a drop in performance.
my pride in the latter was greatly enhanced as a member of last year's rapha condor team. they had quite notably changed tack for 2012, recruiting an impressive number of young and inexperienced riders who, i hope, learned nothing at all from yours truly. you'll note that not once was i mentioned in the subsequent book by tom southam and camille mcmillan; 'inside out'. in fact, while these youngsters were still settling in to the reality of pain and suffering, stretching every muscle fibre and sinew in an attempt to impress mr herety, i was still several kilometres behind with nary a view of the team skoda's rear window. even more impressively i'd warrant, other than on the start line, i never saw hide nor hair of the king of scotland during last year's scottish road race championships. in fact, i didn't get the opportunity to congratulate him till the following monday.
every black team kit, however, has a sky blue lining. as of 2013, the same regulation now applies to pro-continental and world tour teams, meaning a need for recruitment in the upper echelons of the sport. having acquitted myself well over the preceding two years, the new partnership between team sky and rapha obviously had fringe benefits, with a recommendation from mr herety to sir dave. to place all in present day context, i am now an official member of team sky, with a mandate to fulfil similar duties on a more international and salubrious stage.
you'll have heard by now that sky have distributed their numbers into two distinct streams; the one that will ride the major tours, and those who will ride the classics. i believe i have been included in the latter division, but with the possibility of racing either the giro or the tour. i tend to favour the former option, for the route is so hilly this year, that i shouldn't have to try too hard to be nowhere near the front. perhaps the only perceivable disadvantage is that i'm unlikely ever to see myself in one of scott mitchell's team sky web galleries.
you will also be aware, no doubt, that apart from the team that contested the tour down under, the remainder spent a good couple of weeks at a training camp in mallorca, an excursion i had hoped/expected to join. however, despite many unreturned calls to sir dave, my airline tickets failed to arrive. a short e-mail pointed out that actual training might irreversibly affect my natural ability for finishing well towards the back. any likelihood of my achieving a recorded position could seriously affect the team's relationship with the uci. they obviously do not wish to endanger that number one ranking.
the disappointment of having to face a scottish winter rather than a group hug in mallorca, was somewhat tempered by the much vaunted and anticipated receipt of up to 780 pieces of new rapha kit tidied into two monogrammed cases. i had a phone call from that nice mr hemmings at rapha, informing me that he would be driving the majority of kit over to mallorca in a van, so he'd arrange for my own selection to be dispatched independently. a couple of days later, a message from the harbourmaster at kennacraig ferry terminal mentioned they had a nicely marked bag for my attention.
you can almost tangibly feel the excited anticipation with which that call was met.
now, i'm not one to complain (well, not much), and i can sympathise with rapha's concern over the weather conditions in which i am required to ride, but a race bag containing only a sky monikered winter hat (lovely though it is) did not quite live up to my heightened expectations.
a quick phone call to mr hemmings brought to light the discovery that much of my promised apparel had been delayed due to a typing error in the name on the jackets' and jersey side panels. having checked the spelling on my e-mail from sir dave, i think i can see the history behind that one. however, i cannot deny that the cap has elicited many laudable responses from those i have met when out on my training rides, though if i have to re-set one more sky hd box, i'm going to scream. and to be perfectly honest, how do i know why their broadband's not working?
in the sub-zero windchill, the elasticated ear covers have kept me warm and cosy, while the peak has not only tempered a low, watery sun, it has seen greater use alleviating a substantial dripping of water onto my tinted eye coverings. i have no doubt as to the quality of the kit that will eventually head my way. i believe my first outing at the back of the race will be on 23rd february at omloop het nosebleed, so there's plenty of time to correct the spelling on my jerseys and send them onto the calmac ferry terminal. when all turns up, i'll let you know what it's like, because whatever sir bradley and mr froome tell you will be conditioned by the fact that they are one heck of a lot faster than the rest of us. surely a different world? i'm sure i need not remind you that i'm a lot nearer your own level of competitive tardiness.
i wonder if i get a sky dish as part of the deal?
friday 1st february 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
many a cycling website has developed a few metres past mere words or photographs. or even both. more than just a few have begun offering printed matter, t-shirts, caps, water bottles and all other manner of cycling paraphernalia. it will not have escaped your attentions that i have refrained from such practices. this, i might point out, is not due to inherent niggardliness, though i'm sure there's a modicum of that involved, but the true reason has more to do with my thinking there are less than a handful who would wish to decorate self or bicycle with twmp blazoned trinketry.
but let us suspend disbelief for a moment or two and pretend that i have dismissed my misgivings regarding such affairs and decided to offer a branded item for your delectation. not for me the superficial niceties of screenprinted cotton, dye sublimated polyester or logo-emblazoned bottles (in both 500ml or 750ml, seeing as you ask); i have (hypothetically, you understand) decided to market my own brand of bicycle. not just a simple frame, but a whole bicycle. how cool would that be?
but where to start? should it be traditional or sloping; carbon, aluminium or steel; and if the latter, do we tig weld, fillet braze or lug? and if i opt for carbon, do i attempt to have tubes and lugs, tubes and wrap or simply call xingmao in taiwan and order an off-the-shelf monocoque? bearing in mind the aforementioned options, how to decorate across the extensive range (i did mention the extensive range didn't i?). for, if you recall, i'm offering complete bikes, so do we head for internal cable routing to accommodated di2 and eps as well as real cables, or if steel, should i opt for a threaded steerer and downtube brazeons and make this entirely retro?
in the early 1990s, a colleague and i started a small business repairing bicycles, an occupation that morphed into adding sales of cycles too. we thought it rather a wizard wheeze to look at offering our own-branded machines, so we made enquiries about frame and component options; our investigations were considerably more than naive. aside from looking at only a handful of frames at a time, we priced components on an individual basis, giving an end result that saw the possibilities costing more at trade price than we were currently asking for similarly specced machines at retail. you will be unsurprised that the option was still-born.
though i have, up until this point, been toying with your emotions, i'm beginning to have palpitations over all the hypothetical options listed above that are now knocking on my virtual factory door.
all the above mentioned choices still exist in the real world, however, and none of them are going far away anytime soon. they are still all ready and waiting to impinge themselves upon those for whom such decisions are all too real. such as sir chris hoy, for instance. now that he is tapering his stunning track career, he is in a position where he needs to look to the future, and i doubt that selling life insurance door to door figures high on the list of career opportunities. in fact, as many will already be aware, he has partnered with evans cycles to produce a range of bicycles with hoy written on the downtube.
gareth evans is exclusive brand manager for evans cycles, responsible for dealing with the marketing aspects of this latest range of cycles. with so many different marques available to the discerning buyer these days, how does he go about positioning yet another bike brand on the market? "Sir Chris is hugely passionate about getting more people into cycling and thanks to his years of hard work and incredible success on the track, he's in a unique position whereby he can inspire new and aspiring cyclists. This was the primary reason why he wanted to develop the HOY brand and by partnering with Evans Cycles we hope to be able to deliver a unique service which means customers can be sure they've got a bike which fits them perfectly, that they'll want to ride again and again.
"We want to truly create 'bikes for all' with a more inclusive approach to smaller bikes for women and children, without compromises."
and while it's gareth's responsibility to alert us all to the benefits of the prospective purchase of a hoy branded bicycle when they launch in a few months, james olsen is the chap who will have made them look they way they do. as bike design manager at evans cycles, and in a world seething with a huge variety of bicycles, where on earth does he start designing a new range of bicycles?
"With a few exceptions there aren't many obvious differences between bikes, the 'types' are well established, but I'm constantly either surprised or pleased by how much difference small adjustments can make. All brands have a way of doing things and Hoy is no different there. Chris has many ideas about the bikes as well as a willingness to let our design experience take over in other areas.
"We wanted to offer bikes that had his mark on them as well as not being too generic with regard to geometry numbers, sizing, or how we can adapt the fitting to a customer. There are some things that he's very much in favour of and others he's less keen on. This and his racing and training miles are great influences for the bikes."
which particular materials has james specified for the initial offerings? "Aluminium for the frames. Carbon is for future ranges; we're not buying any open-mold frames for Hoy bikes so it'll take time to develop this area. A steel Keirin bike is a possibility too."
as gareth notably mentioned above, sir chris has had pretty much all his success on the track, yet the prospective range is currently exclusively for the road. there's little doubt that hoy's name on the downtube will aid the profile, but he's not renowned as a road rider. does gareth figure that'll matter?
"Sir Chris has been riding bikes for nearly thirty years, having raced everything from BMX and MTB, as well as a couple of seasons on the road before his dominance on the track. Although Chris is known for his track cycling, road cycling is still an integral part of his training and through the winter he'll often ride around 500km a week.
"Sir Chris' experience, knowledge and bike handling skills, combined with his no compromise mentality really does make him the ultimate test rider."
london 2012, if nothing else placed both the city of london and the efforts of britain's cyclists well and truly on the international map. there can be few cyclists worldwide who have not heard of chris hoy, and possibly quite a few non-cyclists too. whether this makes the scotsman an internationally marketable property, i hardly think i'm qualified to assert, but it seems a not unfair question to ask whether evans cycles will be solely promoting the hoy range of bicycles in the uk, or whether they have their eye on a more international market?
gareth evans: "As a retailer, our primary market is the UK and EU, but we have seen significant growth further afield, notably in Australia and Japan. Sir Chris is a superstar of track cycling and a worldwide icon, and we are already seeing interest from overseas fans. So I think the brand has huge potential."
this prospective potential international market for the as yet unreleased hoy bicycle range, surely impinges upon some of the design considerations. aside from the look and feel of each individual bicycle design, there's the not insignificant matter of the decals and graphics to be added under the clearcoat. is this also a part of james olsen's remit, or is his responsibility solely concerned with the technical aspects?
"There's a team that has input in most areas and we cross over quite a bit, since we're all cyclists. I'll have input to the production side of the finish or an opinion on visuals, but the technical side is mostly what I do. The overall package has to match up at the end though, so we're all involved."
with this knowledge that all aspects of the bicycle design requires to meet in the middle, has james an overall watchword for the hoy range of cycles? in other words, is there a pervading philosophy behind the impending release? "Chris is known for his success but he's very keen for people to see how good a bike can be for enhancing your life. Many non-cyclists see him as a role model. It's about accessibility and enjoying yourself, whether going from a BMX race to gold medals or from a sedentary life to getting outdoors more often. Or starting out on a good bike as a young rider.
"It's also about good fitting and ergonomic performance for more experienced riders, things Chris has a great deal of experience in, that have brought some new ideas into the range. Personally, I felt a real sense of pride riding a Hoy for the first time; it's a name that motivates and has only positive associations for most British cyclists. That influences what we do too."
given james's testimony as to the experience displayed by sir chris and despite his involvement in the region of testing, fitting, and advising on the handling expected from the prototypes, hoy is not specifically renowned for having an over-riding technical reputation compared to, for example, eddy merckx. how closely does james work with the olympic champion?
"He knows how important certain aspects of the bike set up are and has experience that challenges our ideas thus leading to new ideas. There are also areas where he is happy for us to put forward what we think will work best for people buying a Hoy bike (or riders like us with a lowly few hundred watts available!).
"We discuss styling influences and bikes we admired when we were younger, being similar ages but with very different cycling backgrounds. Two or more heads are better than one and I'm enjoying being pushed harder! Discussing a frame layout with Chris Hoy is like designing a custom frame for someone; it's a two-way process and the result is different to the result I'd arrive at working with my own methods.
My first ride on a Hoy road bike put a smile on my face. It felt familiar in some ways but it wasn't quite the bike I'd design alone. It felt better for it. Riding a mountain bike with Chris was fun too, or fun for him and hard work for us. For someone who hasn't ridden off-road much recently, he certainly hasn't lost his BMX/MTB skills."
it'll be may of this year before we see the first seven bicycles in the hoy range from evans cycles. with a bit of luck, i might just be able to borrow one of them for a brief holiday on islay. sir chris is more than welcome to join me if that proves the case; wouldn't that offer more than just a few photographs for the family album?
thursday 31st january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when i was considerably more of a youth than is presently the case, a young lady of my acquaint related a partial story regarding her sister who, as i recall, was studying to be a psychologist. the incident under discussion referred to an exam which the sister had recently undertaken as part of the course, and the seeming bizarreness of several of the questions after which the paper had enquired.
at the time, and even now, i was sufficiently unaware of the female psyche to understand whether the mystique surrounding the revealing of this question was simply a ploy to make all seem considerably more enigmatic than was truthfully the case, or whether there exists an omerta preserving student/professor confidentiality.
however, after considerable badgering on my part to have her reveal even one of the questions asked, i was informed in no uncertain times, that the passing on of this gem of information was thoroughly forbidden on pain of being sent to coventry during any subsequent attempted conversations. not being one for gossip or the passing on of secrets, i readily agreed. the second condition, at which point i was beginning to wonder just who it was that deserved the adjectival description of bizarre, was that, should i be unable to guess or ferret out the answer, it would not be given.
the strange people that you meet.
to bring my narrative to a more satisfactory level, let me avail you of the exam question itself; if this is the question, what is the answer?'. i made several guesses at the possible outcomes of which i could think, none of which were correct, though i'm sure there are many qualified psychologists out there grinning from ear to there at the recall of such a simple trial. no doubt steve peters has already moved onto bikeradar's pages by now. throughout my daily badgerings of prospective solutions, i was denied the correct response, until one day, out of desperation i proffered the answer 'if this is the answer, what is the question?'. that, apparently was exactly what would have set me on a career as a psychologist, despite my being none the wiser after the fact.
a similar concept informs douglas adams' the hitch-hikers' guide to the galaxy, where a magnificent galactic experiment engendered by dolphins and mice into the meaning of life, the universe and everything, results in the number 42. the fact that no-one understands this answer gives cause to reconsider whether the correct question had been asked in the first place. it is a conundrum such as this that inhabits the world of road cycling, one that many of us rarely pause to consider until the blatant converse is graphically demonstrated.
on the sunday ride only a week or two past, we were joined by a visiting cyclist who, by his own admission, was more regularly seen on a mountain bike rather than the skinny tyred machine on which he'd arrived. as we headed down the strand en route of coffee and cake, it was hard not to notice that, beneath his baggy shorts, were a pair of sturdy but hirsute calves. those beholden to the world of knobblies are all but oblivious to the art of leg shaving, yet it is a practice that harbours almost as many answers as the number of roadies who practice it.
for instance, if the true purpose is really akin to a perceived aerodynamic advantage, why then do we not shave our forearms? and again, if it is to ease the applications of creams, bandages or other manner of medical dressings, the second question remains; why not shave the forearms? or head, for that matter? it's likely that each individual has their preferred situation for shaving; mine is ever in the bath, slathering on some rapha shaving cream before the application of those five gilette blades that would streamline me appropriately for an islay headwind.
but, and it is a but worth emphasising, unless i replace the blades each and every time, eventually those five sharpened slivers of steel become dulled and scrape almost as much as they slice. and those smooth, yet athletic pistons do not like that at all.
yet again, however, those fine fellows at perren street have a solution, and a rather aromatic one at that. only recently released onto an unsuspecting, shaven-legged peloton is the latest in rapha's skin-care products in the shape of a post shave lotion enhanced with the usual herbs and plants from the ventoux as well as cocoa to inhibit hair regrowth and anti-ageing constituents. the latter may be more welcome on my face than legs, but at this stage, i'll take all the help i can get.
as far as using the lotion for facial shaving, i can think of no greater recommendation than the knowledge that rapha usa's chris distefano, a man who can attain a five o'clock shadow mere minutes after shaving, finds it much to his liking. anything i can add by way of recommendation seems almost surplus to requirements, but it is worth emphasising that the lotion is not simply for legs. a small splodge in the palm of one hand can be rubbed into both before smothering the shaven visage to both sooth the furrowed chin and enhance once facial aroma with faint strains of the ventoux.
yes, both we and rapha are inured to the vicissitudes of pain and suffering, but that doesn't mean we can't pamper ourselves when no-one's looking.
wednesday 30th january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
sunday is and has always been, as far back as i can recall, bike ride day. though debbie's doesn't open until 11am, this works pretty much to our advantage, for were the opening hours a tad earlier, we'd likely drop in for a pre-ride coffee and simply forget to leave. thus, meeting up at 10am suits all purposes just dinky-doo thank you very much, and the coffee machine has been on for long enough by our return, to offer a most delightful, froth-topped beverage. it is, if truth be told, one of the principal reasons for venturing out in the first place.
however, this is january, and if any would care to have taken a look at the windspeeds indicated on xcweather.co.uk, you may have been more inclined to turn over in bed and leave pedalling for another day. we, however, are not built that way; we are the flandrians of the west, possessed of a stupidity that knows no sensible weather inflicted boundaries.
the mighty dave t phoned at 08:15 on sunday morn to indicate his reluctance to join the sunday ride. it would be hard to criticise this early morning decision, for on his tip of the outer edge, the water feature (the mighty dave t's pet name for the atlantic ocean) was intent on invading the shore from a great height, egged on by impressive gale force winds and substantial quantities of freezing precipitation. though the wind would have pushed him northwards with ease, the return journey may not have been so cushy.
slightly more cosseted in the village, i was happy to ignore the mighty dave's climatic misgivings. unfortunately, turning over for a further ten minutes snoozing was a bad idea, for i woke up an hour later.
it is of strategic importance that every ride heads up uiskentuie strand, allowing any latecomers the luxury of meeting the pelotonic advance without a note from their mother. i, however, made it not even that far, when i met the mighty dave t riding in the opposite direction. it was obviously evidential that the weather had cleared somewhat since that early morning alarm call, and the fact that mrs dave t had decided to watch andy murray in the australian open, pushed him to the sanctuary of the bike shed, and ultimately onto the bike.
we rode round a portion of the estates before matching our trajectory with the return path towards debbie's, and at this point everything in our favour turned against us. blue skies retreated with alarming alacrity, white foamy bits took up station across loch indaal, and a sleety precipitation filled the void. it seems almost uneccessary to make mention that the windspeed increased substantially. here's where those years of echelon training paid dividends.
the problem or advantage, depending on your point of view, is the curving road at the top of loch indaal. passing crosshouses into a south-westerly predicates an immediate headwind; simple grunt work, with one rider ahead and the other(s) sheltering behind for what little relief is available. but as the road straightens out a smidgeon rider and bicycle are subjected to a crosswind, one that is rendered more effective by variation in roadside vegetation.
look at it this way: if the bushes are tall enough, they'll partially shield the front wheel, but where they diminish, that gale force crosswind has free reign to inflict more than just a little consternation to those heading coffeewards. the problem with echeloning at this point was the ferocity of the crosswind, making it not only a bit scary for the frontmost rider, but for those sheltering; sudden involuntary movement by the former was most likely to push them into the latter.
by the time we'd made it past uiskentuie farmhouse, we were more or less into the headwind that would remain until we reached the 40mph signs at bruichladdich. though i've nothing on the bike that will inform as to the current windspeed (garmin?), a quick check of the windspeed history on my return showed a steady 38mph, gusting to 50. headwinds are of great comfort, partially because they'll turn into extremely favourable tailwinds on the return journey, but also because they remove the dangers wrought by the earlier crosswinds.
lest you think we wear this sort of sunday morning ride as a badge of honour (well, only sometimes), in truth, it's an occupational hazard. if you want to ride your bike on islay (or other portions of scotland's west coast) at this time of year, there's little alternative. the character building factor may something of a myth, but made more concrete when meeting cyclists who consider 15mph to be a headwind. in the course of sunday's perambulations, we met with a stalwart fellow who had cycled to bruichladdich from port ellen (around 30km) and was intent on reaching portnahaven for a pint at the pub (a further 15km) before embarking on the return trip.
he did, however, mention that, if he lived here, he'd never have gone out in such conditions, a remark that may have given us cause for concern, but in reality, probably not.
that's because we've not read the manual.
tuesday 29th january 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................