precipitation is a posh word for rain, a climatic feature that portland and islay have in common. on my first visit to the oregon town in 2009, chris distefano mentioned that at least with my geographical history, he felt it less necessary to apologise for the weather. in my early days of cycling on islay, much of it was partaken in the offroad realm, a milieu that, at least in its initial stages, demanded that any form of mudguard would be seen as a fashion faux pas, despite any perceived advantage that may be gained.
take a peek at sir brad this weekend on his way, he hopes, to a pink jersey in milan, and you will catch no sight of any form of mudguard clipped to his pinarello, and he will not be the sole rider in the peloton to have his bike thus attired. plainly put, mudguards offer a simple level of protection from the elements, yet suffer from a complete lack of coolness for no truly discernible reason. it would, i think, take but a simple directive from uncle pat, and we'd all be forming an orderly queue outside our local bike shop.
of course, there is something of a technical barrier to the wholesale adoption of mudguards/fenders on road bikes, mostly down to clearance below the brake calipers, space under the fork crown, and a complete lack of braze-ons to which the guards may be affixed. i do realise i'm stating the obvious here, but think of it as a device to allow me to point out the advantages of one specific brand of guards produced by portland design works. as averred to at the outset, portland knows a lot about rain, and coincidentally, quite a lot about bicycles. this is amply demonstrated by the image of an ira ryan bicycle on the packaging wearing the very same full metal fenders as zip-tied to the samples received from paligap.
the pdw guards are made from lightweight aluminium, not flat as you'd perhaps expect, but flanged on each side to follow the contours of the average bicycle tyre. there are steel brackets to be bolted to both front and rear guards, but not before a thick, clear plastic gasket is stuck in place to minimise the almost inevitable rattling that mudguards seemingly cannot live without.
though the rear guard rather easily slides under the rear pair of calipers (sram red, in this case), rather than increase the thickness at the point by having the bracket do likewise, pdw take a more top down approach by having the bracket hook in behind the caliper bolt and grab the mudguards over the top of the caliper. having defined just where this bracket needs to be on the guard, 'tis but a simple matter to bend the edges over and underneath, thus holding everything firmly in place. at the leading edge, just behind the seat tube, all is held by a mini rubber bungee.
the solution to a lack of braze-ons for affixation is both ingenious and infuriating at the same time. each mudguard arrives with a couple of threaded tabs that fit easily onto the quick release levers, being held in place by the very same clamping pressure that keeps the wheel in the dropouts, the sturdy diameter of the stays slide into clamps that are, in turn, bolted to the aforementioned tabs. the infuriating part, yet to impress upon me its inevitable iniquities, is that these tabs will require to be removed in order to repair a puncture. potential faff, i fear.
it might also be worth pdw putting a 2mm allen key in with each pair of fenders. i have a veritable panoply of allen keys in the bike shed, but at point of fitting, a 2mm was not amongst them. thankfully my neighbour did. additionally, subsequent to successfully fitting the guards, a series of deplorable road surfaces managed to rattle one of these tiny screws to its freedom; might i suggest including at least a couple of spares in the fitting kit might be a rather good idea?
the colnago master to which the portland design works mudguards are currently fitted runs on a pair of schwalbe ultremo 23c tyres, and it took a remarkably simple number of adjustments to have the wheels run free without any rubbing. well, almost. i still experience a modest degree of rubbing on the rear, mostly from the top mounting bracket i believe. had i realised, i may have been inclined to bend the top holding arm upwards just a tad. this is quite hard to do once fitted due to the thickness and strength of the part, but in point of fact, the guards fit remarkeably well considering the very tight clearances offered by the colnago.
however, i fear anything wider than 23c might offer a more challenging fit.
due to an uncharacteristic lack of rain on scotland's west coast, i ran these for over three weeks in dry weather, offering the ideal conditions to explore the world of rhythmic rubbing and rattling, or indeed, the lack of same. i always expect mudguards to emit some degree of noise, but apart from the minor rubbing (which has diminished over the review period) these are far more silent than you might think. on narrow country roads mostly inhabited by overly large tractors, there was never any doubt that some rattling was going to result. however, this was merely periodic, mostly when riding hard over a less than billiard flat surface; the sort that often successfully ejects your water bottle.
lest you think they have suffered not from any precipitation, let me disavow you of that notion. with both front and rear tailed with plastic mudflaps reaching almost to the road, there is very little spray reaching a pair of overshoed feet, and more sociably, almost none flying in the face of your fellow pelotonese who will be inevitably following in your wake. in short, these guards do exactly what they advertise on the box. the form factor is simple enough to offer little in the way of drastically changing the bike's appearance, a feature that ought to assuage the fears of those who wish not to devalue their adherence to pro tour status.
there will, of course, be those who, despite a constant dark brown stripe up the back of their cycle jerseys, who would never resort to mudguards of any flavour, never mind the practicalities offered. there were more than just a few occasions in provence last weekend, when mudguards would have been more than welcome.
these are an ideal solution if you find wet feet, wet bum and protestations from your riding fellows to be an intrusion on your cycling pleasure. sure, you could have a bike shop fit them, but with a simple and clear book of instructions inside the box, you only need the minimum of technical knowledge (and a 2mm allen key) and ability to do so yourself in an hour or so.
from the island that holds an annual ride of the falling rain, take my word for it; these are pretty darned effective and subtle in one package.
monday 6th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it would have been around the mid-nineties as i recall, outside a now defunct hotel in dunoon, argyll. on the last saturday of august each year, the cowal highland games were held in dunoon stadium, and islay pipe band took the opportunity to join the competitive arena. as this was our only outside activity, it was, at the time, looked upon in the same way as would be a sunday school trip. we all got to stay in a nice hotel, had the opportunity to play in front of thousands of spectators, and with no danger of ever troubling the judges in any which way.
at day's end, the members of the band who had need of imbibing in alcoholic beverages (pretty much all of them apart from me) had headed straight for the hotel mentioned above to mingle with those they regarded as their peers in order to provide some much needed (apparently) elbow exercise. rather than suffer an unwanted level of claustrophobia, i opted to stand in the hotel entrance of an august august evening, and wait for the drones of humanity to return, that we could all go home to our beds.
while innocently minding my own business, a small, inebriated glasgow snare drummer, still in possession of his drum, wandered up and proceeded to engage in one-sided conversation. "listen to this", he said "effin' tightest snare drum in the park." at which point, he proceeded to rain several single strokes upon the drum sat at his feet. " ye'll no hear onythin' sharper than that. effin' tightest snare here."
in those days, i still naively laboured under the misapprehension that pipe band competitions were all about the music. as our annual visits to the cowal games became a familiar fixture in the calendar, the mist was removed from my eyes (and ears), and i realised that whether piper or drummer, there was a level of machismo to be demonstrated at every opportunity, leaving any thoughts of melodiousness (in every sense of the word) back in the band coach.
it's a form of behaviour that has parallels with football supporters, and possibly aficionados of other sports, and it can often be identified within cycling circles. no matter the type of event in which you may wish to participate with bicycle, there will always be those who not only ride at the front, but are more than keen to demonstrate just how simple an effort it is for them to do so.
while you and i are grovelling at the rear on a particularly steep climb, someone will be happy to drop back and briefly attempt to engage you in conversation while still riding in the big ring. if you could even recognise who they are through the mesh of black spots inhabiting your vision at that point, there would, in fact, be no breath available to offer any form of riposte before they ease into a bigger gear and move back to the head of proceedings, confident that you will now be in awe of their velocipedinal abilities.
the word 'retreat' has more than one meaning, but in keeping with that almost under discussion, it often signifies a withdrawal from the rigours of society in order to spend some contemplative time either alone, or with those of similar mind. it is in fulfillment of this latter definition that rapha have organised their own version, based in the heart of france's provence region, offering four days of riding and three nights of eccentric, eclectic and definitely luxurious accommodation.
however, the possibility exists that the excursion could simply be a training camp by any other name. the sales pitch on rapha's website definitively and strenuously states otherwise, but what is intended and what transpires might not be one and the same thing, entirely dependent on those taking part. i am more than relieved to relate that despite the inclusion of some decidedly fast riders, this was far from being the case.
prior to arriving at le grand banc, but a few steep kilometres from the village of oppedette, i would have confidently enlightened any within earshot that i considered myself a rather good climber. i'd read in search of robert millar twice, for heavens sake, and been personally ignored by bradley wiggins on at least one occasion. how much more of a grimpeur could i possibly be?
sadly, it took only a few kilometres of french ascending to realise that though others may not have been fooled, i had succeeded in fooling myself. despite my protestations that the ambient temperature was a little higher than i was used to (at least partially true), there was no way i could get on terms with the wheels of those ahead of me. in mitigation, it is worth my pointing out that if my climbing sucks, my descending sucks even more.
there was, therefore, the distinctly unsavoury vision of an overly timid scotsman, hands tightened on the brakes pretty much all the way down any descent you care to mention, and thus well behind the peloton when the road started to head upwards. after a few dozen kilometres of this, the elastic was well and truly broken, but most definitely not in any sort of macho way.
as my scottish compatriot on the retreat and i were delighted to discover, we had in common a particularly inept grasp on geography, no matter the continent under discussion. therefore, if you consider the above situation, you could be forgiven for now expecting that timid scotsman to be well and truly lost in provence. and that's where rapha's due care and attention comes firmly into play.
generally the four guides on the road were brad, anton, christophe and ben, with mattia, james and bart following in the two jaguars and mini-bus, and not once was i ever left on my own. i cannot deny that i felt personally responsible for detaining any one of the above from riding in the manner to which they were more likely accustomed. on the ride from bedouin to sault, along the narrow road hugging the wall of the lanesque gorge, prior to our final departure after coffee, i popped into the loo, emerging to find all had departed minus yours truly.
however, christophe had remained behind and had the onerous duty of shepherding my sorry butt (that saddle was no joke after 80km) all the way to the cars parked at sault. "only five kilometres to go brian", with the decency not to mention that three of them were convincingly uphill. and part way through the most wonderful day i have ever spent on a bicycle, mattia appeared driving the black, rapha liveried mini-bus, turning to follow slowly behind for the remaining distance.
the following day, on the cold and rain-soaked ride to castellet, my descending yet again left me as a solo rider on the lower slopes, accompanied all the way up by anton. on this part of the ride we rather cheerfully plumbed the depths of appalling humour (it isn't nice in auribeau - exactly). as we collectively met at the top of yet another descent, my gravitational despair yet again left me isolated, but this time accompanied by mr sauber himself who, despite suffering manfully in temperatures and driving rain to which he was less than partial, accompanied me all the way back to le grand banc.
the access road to lgb was steep, gravelly and potholed, steeper in some places than others, and a road i was determined to conquer without placing a foot on the ground. i cannot tell a lie, but the road defeated me for a second and final time. but one thing i can cheerfully confirm, the smile never left my face.
i had no idea what to expect on rapha's retreat, but it exceeded in pretty much every aspect. and though i had no intention of proving that the entire affair could be happily enjoyed by an ageing slowcoach on a black and pink pinarello, inadvertantly i seem to have done so. the level of care and attention lavished on each and every rider, quite obviously had no bearing on individual abilities. i have little doubt that had our guides formed a small peloton of their own, they could have left every one of us standing, without getting out of breath. they have my complete and utter admiration. i would ride behind any one of them anytime, anywhere.
were it not enough to have been looked after over such a rather large number of kilometres on the road, the ministrations of bart, when back at lgb had to be experienced to be believed. i would not have ever known it was possible to step out of a room with a brand new pair of legs after some expert massage. and though bart is belgian through and through, his english is good (just as well considering my non-existent command of any foreign languages) and his stories are formidable. half an hour just wasn't enough, for either leg renewal or the accompanying narration.
so, if the thought of joining other guests on one of rapha's forthcoming retreats has either conditioned you to a serious bout of training prior to departure, or a complete reticence to expose your inadequacies to the french countryside, i am here to tell you, from personal experience, that you will be cossetted, encouraged and supported every step of the way. and believe it or not, despite a constant diet of discovering leg muscles you never knew you had, you will return to normality much the better for the experience.
if it worked for me, it'll work for anyone. did i mention i was awarded the lanterne rouge?
sunday 5th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in 1972, the kilmory company of argyll in scotland was at the forefront of the fishing business. they offered an extensive range of reels, hooks, rods and much of the ephemera that keeps those who sit for hours by the riverbank endlessly happy. their argyll location contributed considerably to the number at the bottom of the spreadsheet. not only did the numerous estates hold lengthy contracts with the company for the supply of appropriate gear for their many guests and clients, but those in the area and further north were content to purchase their more meagre requirements from the nearest fishing tackle store. the company's reputation was all but unparalleled.
of course, they could not have grown to their pre-eminent size on homegrown sales alone. the export market provided the bulk of their income, with strong commercial interests in north america, northern europe and, ironically japan itself. this was a source of great pride to andrew killen and his partner james emory (the kilmory name had arrived by combining their surnames), since the largest share of the market at that time belonged to the shimano corporation. kilmory didn't quite threaten shimano's dominance, but there's little doubt they were seen as a thorn in the side.
competition within the industry, however, became increasingly hard to bear, and by the time the kilmory company entered the 1980s, they were struggling to hang onto their scottish section of the market. it may be that they had ended up following the technological developments rather than creating them as once was the case, but there was little doubt that the bottom of the spreadsheet was more often red than black.
yet again, ironically, it was shimano who were to bring great influence to bear on the next step killen and emory took. as both were more passionate about cycling than fishing, the dawning realisation that several of their velocipedes changed gear via componentry manufactured by their erstwhile japanese rivals, they opted to capitalise on the considerable investments they'd made in machinery and turn out a range of cycle components.
many of the developments in chainset technology, including those related to the increase in bottom bracket diameters can be laid at the foot of the kilmory company, and it is a statement of fact that they were the very first to move the bearings outboard of the frame's bb shell. similarly those pins and ramps on the inner face of the chainrings can be traced back to early examples of their chainsets, aspects of chain movement developed in the process of bringing the very first compact chainset to market.
the cycling passion that existed within the offices and machine shop at kilmory found itself spilling over into the realm of cycle racing, with the formation of a european-based squad. the jersey was simple; blue and white, attesting to the colours of their national flag interrupted only by the central placement of the company name on the jersey's front, back and sleeves. it wasn't long before the jersey was a common component of the very best of european races. in 1987, the team rode paris roubaix, and the following year flanders was added to the list of races successfully completed.
kilmory's sales were good; in fact, very good. as, indeed, was their profile within the industry, a factor that not unnaturally led to commercial interest from other parts of the world. as they were poised to move into the big league, so to speak, just as the nineteen nineties hoved into view. a group of wealthy american investors made an offer that neither killen or emory could refuse, but it was only after the deal's completion that the former partners discovered the new owners intended to close down the scottish operation.
the whole shebang was transferred to to the usa where, in a reversal of fortunes, sales started to decline, and becoming established in north america took longer than any of the new owners had expected. they commissioned the inevitable batch of consultants to research the root of the problem; no-one could pronounce the name. as a result, kilmory as a brand name no longer exists; the name was changed, the logo tweaked and currently the company formerly known as kilmory is one of the more notable amongst contemporary cycling aficionados.
faithfully reproduced in all its blue and white glory, solo clothing of auckland, new zealand has revived the team jersey so beloved of those halcyon days of the mid-eighties. eschewing the additional sponsors' logos that inevitably inhabit the real thing, the solo jersey features a quarter length zip, ribbed cuffs and collar and not only the requisite three rear pockets, but a fourth zipped version as required by the uci (i made that last bit up).
the jersey is a relaxed fit rather than the almost claustrophobia inducing race-fit that seems highly popular these days, yet it never quite reaches any degree of bagginess, happy to sit comfortably under a close-fit weatherproof jacket. the pockets are of ample leibensraum, swallowing a stowaway jacket, digital camera and a slightly larger slice of fruit malt loaf than i'd intended to cut. better still, carrying such cargo showed no signs of jumping around when those periods of out of the saddle climbing just had to be undertaken.
of course, for cycling residents of argyll, there can be an additional joy to riding speedily while clad in one of these distinctive jerseys. passing through lochgilphead on the way to inveraray and perhaps an attempt on the climb over the rest and be thankful the happy velocipedinalist will encounter a small roundabout that offers the rider the option of heading towards the offices of argyll and bute council.
this is kilmory.
solo's kilmory jersey retails at £70 ($120) and available in sizes xs to xl
saturday 4th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if this was my book...
leaving bowmore on the a846 from the famous round church at the top of main street, i take a sweeping right onto shore street and head towards bridgend. as the village recedes to only the odd cottage here and there, the road hugs the shores of loch indaal on its way to bridgend, a considerably smaller village than that of bowmore. with little more than a church, an hotel and a shop, rolling over the bridge across the river sorn, i take a left onto the a847 towards bruichladdich and port charlotte, all but ignoring the cattle mart on my left..."
this coming monday, bbc one scotland will be commencing a new series entitled hebrides - islands at the edge narrated rather drearily by scots actor ewan mcgregor. though there is the occasional glimpse of human habitation, on the whole, the series concerns itself with the wide range of wildlife that inhabits these rocks in the atlantic all the way from islay in the south to skye, further up the west coast. these islands constitute the inner hebrides, with lewis, harris, stornoway and barra making up the outer hebrides. at this point, though i've seen a preview of the first programme, i've no idea if the latter are included or not.
but frankly, this is of no nevermind, for it is islay that is of current concern or interest.
as the morose mr mcgregor is less than excited to narrate, one of the perennial features of islay and its neighbouring island is that of the wind. "often reaching 60mph even in summer, the atlantic winds can reach as high as 100mph" you can't say i haven't mentioned this on one or two previous occasions, but if it's on the bbc, it must be true. the corollary of such a consistent weather feature is a propensity for certain herbaceous plants not to survive long enough to grow to adulthood. like trees, for instance.
there are, of course, one or two pockets of trees in the odd sheltered spots across the island, but by and large the country lanes, as we rather picturesquely refer to them, are somewhat exposed to the elements. used mostly for agricultural purposes, the surfaces of these are less than billiard-like, meaning the network can hardly be considered as hidden. it would be hard to come across the ideal picnic spot.
that, quite frankly, is the difference between my neck of the woods (metaphorically speaking) and that of the more southerly resident jack thurston.
mr thurston has been mentioned in these pixels on previous occasions, principally in conjunction with the excellent bicycle reader downloadable at little outlay from amazon. however, aside from his writings in rouleur, he has penned an excellent volume of 36 glorious bike rides in southern england that are as far removed from the roads of islay as chalk is from cheese.
for rather obvious geographical reasons, i have investigated not one of mr thurston's delectable routes, all of which are illustrated by way of some superb photography. in fact, i jest not when i say it would be more than possible to leaf through the book's 255 pages, simply to look at the photos. rarely have i read a travel book which eschews every aspect of the parody i used as my opening paragraph. this is most certainly not a guide book in the sense that you and i may have come to expect.
"The Thames estuary has always been a moody, mysterious place and a favourite haunt of the new breed of psychogeographers, who appreciate the soulful, brooding drama of post-industrial decay and the abandoned military installations that stand out of the flatlands."
"As we approached the turn of our route, just north of Charlwood, the biggest change to the landscape lay right ahead of us: Gatwick Airport. In the 1890s, a racecourse was built here, conveniently located beside the London-Brighton railway, with its own station, so people and horse could arrive by train. After the first world war, land next to the racecourse was used as an aerodrome for a small flying club, and commercial flights began in the mid-1930s."
now isn't that the sort of cycling guide you want to read? from the distanced point of my armchair, it certainly exudes great appeal, colourfully illustrated by the previously mentioned luxurious photography. pragmatism has, however, not been thrown out with the bathwater. not only is each ride accompanied by a rudimentary map, jack thurston has provided a link to a highly detailed online map that can be downloaded; "this is a weighty book and the last thing anyone would want to do is carry it around for a day's cycling."
in addition to such graphical topography, there are gpx files available to load into your gps device for even less-weighty travel. additionally, each chapter ends with a pubs and pit stops detailing local hostelries, tea rooms, coffee shops, bike hire and bike shops.
mr thurston, while quite obviously an intrepid local traveller on two wheels, is also an accomplished writer. i cannot recall the last time i found it hard to put down a guide book, even though i would cheerfully contest that lost lanes transcends the genre. no sooner had i finished reading the minutiae of one country ride than i was eager to continue my armchair reverie by turning the shiny pages to the following.
if it was imperative that i interrupt my fulsome praise with a criticism of even trivial proprtions, it would be the siting of the chapter before you go - practicalities across the very last pages. this assumes, i fear, that the entranced reader will complete the entire volume before considering setting out on one of the included rides. i doubt i would have waited that long, were i in an appropriate location so to do, and thus may head off into the hinterlands without heeding or reading practical advice that might have obviated any unforseen interruptions.
i'd have positioned this chapter at the beginning.
and it is at the beginning that thematic cycling is introduced. it is entirely possible to randomly pick and choose from all 36 routes, but it's eminently likely that specific cycling proclivities might be better pandered to by certain of the routes as opposed to others. thus we have best for wild camping, weekends away, gourmets, ups and downs... i'm sure you get the picture. if this were on an iphone, it would be an app.
i do hope many of you will watch the bbc series on the hebrides, if only to garner a brief impression of the differences between here and there. similarly, it would be the greatest of mistakes to only consider purchase of lost lanes on the basis of location. i cannot deny that, considering my domicile in the wild, wild west, i would most likely have let this jewel slip through, a mistake for which i would have been very much the poorer.
i would implore that you acquire your own copy very soon and revel in a part of the united kingdom that is every bit as intriguing from the armchair as it likely is from the saddle.
friday 3rd may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i count myself as amongst the really fortunate, not just as far as cycling is concerned, but in order to keep my platitudes and unreserved joy to an acceptable minimum, we'll live with that for the moment. sitting mere metres from the back door of washingmachinepost croft is a forest green, dilapidated wooden bike shed; velocipedinal accommodation that would look very out of place in beverley hills, but fits in fine round here.
i'd be pushing the envelope of truthful statements were i to warrant it as completely watertight, but it has stood the might of islay's winter winds for more than twenty years, so i cannot say it owes me anything in the equity stakes.
its inner sanctum should rarely be encountered without recourse to a stout rope fastened about one's middle, just in case rescue requires to be effected. for aside from a number of particularly fine bicycles in both carbon and steel, i have preserved an admirable collection of cardboard boxes, just in case i have to send something somewhere. it's the modern way. and i should perhaps point out that i'm less than tidy in the keeping things off the floor stakes; but then you knew that already.
however, though not alone in this situation (am i?) i think it fair to assume that many others are in a less savoury predicament with regard to their pelotonic situation. quite possibly persuaded in years gone by that the ideal method of grabbing the great outdoors in a short-lived quest for fitness, there are mouldering £49.99 bicycles making acquaintance with ferrous oxide in garden sheds and garages not altogether unsimilar to that residing close to my back door.
worse than that, there will be those who have inadvertantly inherited grandad's bicycle on which he rode over thirty miles to work every day at stupid o'clock in the morning. grandad passed on many years ago, but his bicycle still leans forlornly against a wall, just under the window with the cobwebbed and cracked pane, draped with all manner of detritus that could find no other home when room was made for the car or lawn mower. with the best will in the world, that bicycle has probably passed its sell-by date; vintage is cool in a way that rust isn't.
yet here we are at the centre of a bubble created by brad's victory in paris last year and a veritable slew of medals in london's olympics. this has brought about a major shift in the appreciation of contemporary cycle racing and commuting. i wouldn't go so far as to say cycling is the rebirth of cool, but it's demonstrably less anti-social than was once the case. there is no shame in mentioning cipollini in polite company any more. conditions such as this bring about an inherent sense of belonging, with more and more seriously considering joining the empirical peloton.
but quite possibly not on the disintegrating heap lying in the shed/garage.
ever perspicacious in their appreciation of the horizon, evans cycles are offering an amnesty for those forgotten heroes of the road, replete with their sturmey archers, rubber pedals and rattley mudguards. confidently arrive at your nearest branch, proffering that hulking machine towards a member of staff, and evans will offer you a discount on one of their bright, shiny cycles populating the shop floor.
rocket science it may not be, but surely an open-mouthed gift horse ready and willing to have you emulate brad, chris and even cipollini on your way to the office or college each day.
and should you, like me, find yourself bereft of an appropriately desultory pile of steel, spokes and rubber, you have a number of opportunities to find one. to co-incide with the launch of hoy bikes through an exclusive partnership with evans cycles, sir chris will be tweeting a series of clues to help you find just such a rusting heap which evans will allow in a £1,000 trade-in against something shiny.
enjoy the ride.
thursday 2nd may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there is, generally speaking, nothing new under the sun, or at least, that is as we are led to believe. doubtless if we had unrestricted access to the drawings filed in the patents office, and sufficient free time for endless perusal, we'd discover this to be true, but there's no doubt that every now and again, along comes something that looks so outlandish as to be not only new but slightly incomprehensible.
legend has it that john boultbee brooks, inventor of the leather saddle we all know and (sometimes) love was lent a bicycle by a friend when his horse died, leaving him bereft of suitable transport. so uncomfortable was the saddle on that bicycle, that mr brooks suffered greatly in his daily transportational ministrations. certain that he could improve upon that on which he sat, he brought the brooks leather saddle to market. the rest, as they say, is history.
however, with one or two exceptions, brooks saddles, on which the majority of contemporary designs seem to be based, enter service with the comfort factor of a coal bunker. it is only through regular riding and application of 'saddle soap' that the leather upper conforms to one's own posterior imprint, that eventually one can ride hither and thither with a smile on one's face and without a care in the world.
however, even after this breaking-in period, a certain level of discomfort still has the ability to give at least minor cause for concern, just at the the most awkward of moments. though i appear to have a backside that is all but saddle agnostic, i cannot truthfully maintain that each and every bike ride resembles an afternoon sat in the comfort of a parker knoll armchair. discomfort, as i am wont to call it, seem to be at its worst when powering (all terms of effort are relative) into a perennial atlantic headwind.
this latter situation is one that is a relatively common occurrence round these here parts. it seems that, in order to defeat the drag effect encouraged by a headwind, it is incumbent upon the rider to tilt themselves forward just a smidgeon, lowering the profile presented to a wall of rushing air. doing so is not without repercussions, for one's nether regions (or 'junk' as dz nuts mentions on its packaging) are then placed in the ignominious position of harbouring greater pressure than they were originally designed for. educated conjecture would tend to suggest that the problem is not only one disagreeably felt by by the male of the species.
brooks themselves have presented patented drawings from a goodly number of years ago, that show a slot cut in the top of the saddle designed to relieve pressure on what is euphemistically referred to as soft tissue. it is a method that has been successfully/unsuccessfully applied by the majority of saddle manufacturers. indeed, i have just such a saddle that is normally resident on the colnago master, and though it fulfils at least a portion of its purpose, the nose of the saddle still has the ability to irritate by way of unrequired numbness in places where numbness is not too much fun.
the ism adamo attack saddle seeks to alleviate all perineal numbness by looking particularly weird. it almost looks like a rather aerodynamically shaped foot with two pronged toes. with the split at the front offering two distinct noses, the split widens slightly before conjoining into a more conventional shape at the rear. ism are particularly keen that the saddle be fitted to the seatpost correctly in order that the proffered benefits are suitably appreciated by the rider, and uk distributors upgrade were almost insistent that i watch the demo videos before heading out onto the open road.
i confess that my misinterpretation of the ism design figured (incorrectly), that each of the two prongs were independently suspended, thus providing some sort of pressure alleviaton of the sit-bones, but in fact, the adamo attack is quite rigid as regards its fixing. like many a road-style saddle, the padding is relatively minimal, for the saddle's stock-in-trade is the placing of that split at the front.
with each of the sit bones independently catered for, the so-called soft tissue has no need of providing any support to the rest of the body, and even on lengthy rides into gale-force headwinds (around 80km), there was no trace of numbness whatsoever. of course, removing one factor from the more regular equation does not arrive without some form of consequences, and those sit bones which would more normally have at least a modicum of assistance from that softness, are now required to take on greater responsibility.
this, however, is the equivalent of training thigh muscles to assist with ascending; a bit sore at first, but eventually not that much of a problem.
the biggest difference is that of width, particularly at the front of the saddle. many contemporary standard saddle designs offer a very narrow nose, all the easier for moving around and on and off in regular cycling activity. sitting down again after standing to climb is initially a weird sensation, though not beyond getting used to. i'd figure that perhaps the biggest obstacle to wholesale adoption of any of the ism saddle designs is the look. for while few, if any, will recognise that on which you sit during pelotonic activity, left outside the coffee shop, i can almost guarantee quizzical stares and the inevitable questions.
however, were the design purely for misplaced aesthetic reasons, defence of the realm might be a bit of a struggle. however, after several lengthy rides sat on the attack, i'd be happy to defend my choice to anyone who happened to ask. it may look completely wrong, but that's probably john boultbee brooks' fault in the first place. this is saddle comfort of a magnitude you will have rarely experienced.
sometimes weird is good.
the ism adamo attack saddle is distributed in the uk by upgrade bikes. retail cost is around £175
wednesday 1st may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
...the wayside marker showed 737 metres, and as i stood on the pedals to force my way even further into the mist, i heard nick's voice from behind; "for god's sake man, slow down!" i pretended not to hear and thumped it up another notch..."
that is, of course, utter codswallop. but i told the gentleman concerned that by the time i returned home, the facts would have been inevitably massaged in my favour. it is an inescapable fact, however, that on my final evening with friends and carers on rapha's first retreat in the depths of provence, i was presented with the lanterne rouge award for having been consistently nowhere near the front of the peloton over our four days in the sun.
i should also point out that the latter statement is also utter codswallop, for despite christophe's advice to pack some factor 375 suncream, there was a greater chance of rust than sunburn. however, for two of us at least, cold and rain has rarely been an obstacle to a decent day's bike riding.
it all started very well. as one scotsman (yours truly) flew in from heathrow to marignane airport in marseille, another arrived at the adjacent, garishly painted (orange and lime green anyone?) easyjet terminal, both of us collected by christophe in the elegantly rapha emblazoned, black jaguar xf sportbrake, for onward transport to the middle of nowhere. fellow attendees were already marginally ahead of us with james in the other jag. it is, as they say, always nice to arrive in style.
le grand banc, more affectionately and pronouncably known as lgb, sits a few kilometres above the village of oppedette, reached by way of a remarkably steep, gravelly and potholed approach track. the realisation that this would be our descent into the middle of french nowhere and also its grovelling (for some of us) return had, at that point, not dawned on me.
though i can't say i ever remember anyone referring to it as such, at the foot of the last stretch of gravel was a hand-painted sign resembling the appellation rotorx or some such. that would be the hand-painted sign that i missed completely on a late wet and cold return on saturday evening.
le grand banc was discovered as a ruined hamlet by an englishman after the second world war. he purchased and set about rebuilding it as the homage to eclectic eccentricity it is today. however, it beats the heck out of a travel inn. there wasn't a flat pathway to be found amongst the crazy paving, and no two rooms were even remotely the same. incumbents (us) were looked after to a hitherto unheard of degree by patrice and sophie, offering copious quantities of home cooked, locally sourced food at surprisingly frequent intervals.
man (and woman) cannot, however, live by accommodations and bread alone, for we were all agglomerated with the sole purpose of not training on the bike, for which it is necessary to have an appropriate bicycle to hand. rapha's association with team sky had already paid dividends in the shape of those two ex-team jaguars parked below the battlements, but curiously, the choice of pinarello dogmas as the retreat's 'velocipedes du jour', had less to do with team sky than with rapha travel's 'man on the ground', brad sauber.
brad (now dubbed an honorary scotsman) has been involved in the bicycle travel game for perhaps more years than he cares to remember. the solidly built californian has long enjoyed a good relationship with pinarello, and this, plus a few personal persuasions from mr mottram, led to an entire fleet of custom painted dogma k frames equipped with shimano ultegra groupsets and fulcrum racing zero wheels, kept in immaculate condition by matteo.
at the end of each and every day, the young italian fettled them to within a centimetre of their lives, meaning that come next morning, we all had brand new pinarellos to ride, no matter the crud we had enveloped them in the previous day. did i mention how steep, gravelly and potholed the approach to lgb was? and were it not enough to ride rapha logo'd black with pink, we all had our names and national flags appended to the top tubes (as well as individually proffered and named kask deici helmets and garmin 810 gps devices).
visually at least, we could not have been collectively more professional.
the philosophy behind the rapha retreats is to implement the total antithesis to the archetypal training camp. though this, the first of two in provence this year, will be succeeded by others in differing locations over the coming years, i cannot deny that the notion of not training had great appeal. however, all i can say is that should you ever find the word retreat preceded by the word rapha, you are completely banjaxed. or will be. or at least i was. and i mean that in the very nicest way possible.
my scottish colleague and i both admitted to being completely geographically challenged, so in my particular case, i was blissfully unaware of the similarity between the roads of provence and stocks and shares. both can go up as well as down.
there are two, minor, 14% blips on islay, the longer lasting barely one kilometre. provence is not like that. ascents have a curious tendency to keep doing so for far longer than that usually experienced by an island-bound scotsman, one who always considered himself a climber, but now knew the opposite to be disappointingly true.
did i point out that i was awarded the lanterne rouge?
to be continued...
tuesday 30th april 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................