it seems that you either get it or you don't. in the early days of thewashingmachinepost, were i able to pluck up the courage to telephone a purveyor of cycle products for either a discussion or to request items for review, on announcing on behalf of what/whom i was speaking, there was either stunned silence or barely concealed giggling. and i'm sure i have mentioned on a previous occasion that i once received an e-mail from a prominent london hotel, enquiring after costs for two tumble dryers and an order of washing machines. you just know that they hadn't made it quite as far as the website.
in those early days, it wasn't a blog, a word that rapidly became a contraction of weblog, mostly because the word had yet to be created (by jorn barger in december 1997; the post started in march 1996). its contraction appeared a matter of two years later, coined by peter merholz; up until then, and a few years beyond, i always thought of the post as a website. though there would probably be little difficulty in registering thewashingmachinepost as a domain name even nowadays, unless intent on selling or writing specifically about washing machines, at the time of origination, it struck me as a delightfully bizarre thing to do. it probably still is.
the idea itself originated in my having prepared a birthday card for a cycling friend, both of us particularly enamoured with the exploits of graeme obree aboard his home-made bicycle subsequently dubbed 'old faithful'. in order to provide a soupcon of originality, i envisioned the card as similar to a newspaper front page, opting to alter the washington post into its verisimilitude, using the same blackletter typeface. for reasons which i cannot immediately recall, the name stuck, initially for the articles of the same name occasionally published in our local newspaper and subsequently into black and yellow pixels.
you can sort of tell that pragmatism was not uppermost in my mind at the time, for in the days before web browser bookmarks and other web technologies to which we have become accustomed, it was a bit of a handful to type into a browser address bar, or to include as an e-mail address. think yourselves lucky that my name is brian and not emerson fittipaldi.
as the years have rolled by, thewashingmachinepost has been frequently contracted to twmp, the first instance, i believe, originating from the fine fellows at prendas ciclismo. it's also my twitter name. it therefore eventually seemed a most excellent idea to acquire the domain twmp.net allowing for less onerous typing in both browser space and that of e-mail. however, for many a long year, said domain was owned by a japanese gentleman who seemed to be doing absolutely nothing with it, for it led to no recognisable webspace, so we were all stuck with thewashingmachinepost.net.
however, i cannot say that at anytime i have found this to be a serious disadvantage, other than mildly confusing for early morning dyslexic fingers. but lo and behold, in the past month or so, the japanese gentleman seems to have divested himself of twmp.net, leaving it ripe for the picking.
so i picked it.
thus, as of now, if you type www.twmp.net into your web browser, you will receive exactly the same experience as you would if you'd stuck to www.thewashingmachinepost.net, but with a smidgeon less effort. likewise, i can now be contacted via email@example.com in the same manner as i can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
for those of you who could care less, i apologise for taking up so much of your time, but i wanted to assure you that, while my adoption of capital letters isn't going to happen anytime soon, despite the occasional protest now and again, i do have your best interests at heart, and i'm always thinking of your gearchanging fingers.
monday 5th august..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i can't honestly remember when i took those baby steps on twitter, but it's certainly been a few years now. according to the statistics that stare me in the face each time i click onto my account, i have tweeted a rather startling 14,065 times (at the time of writing), i'm followed by 1,905 people and i personally follow a total of 1,132. it is entirely possible that there is a code of conduct relating to reciprocity in this particular region of social media, where i really ought to follow everyone who follows me, but it's rather plain from the above numbers that i have failed in this respect. still, i was never one to accede to dogma, so i'm pretty much making it all up as i go along.
what brought me to own a twitter name (@twmp if you're interested) in the first place was an article in bikebiz trade magazine that proffered the advice that those in the industry (i just pretend) would miss out big time if we failed to get used to tweeting. missing out on what, i'm none too sure, but i thought it best if i investigated its intrinsic pointlessness. several years years later, i still haven't figured it out, but most of the time i'm having fun, have made a number of new friends along the way and found the ideal outlet for my smart-ass one-liners.
within those passing months, so-called social media has become big business, creating a flurry of new jobs within every conceivable industry for folks who have magically become social media consultants. perhaps i should have kept my eye more closely on the ball, and i too could have added this pertinent suffix to my business card. that said, i doubt i'm the first person to spring to mind when advice on the subject is required, and for that we must remain truly thankful.
craig middleton, the man who founded the late-lamented onix bikes, used twitter to great effect in order to publicise his (then) new bicycle company for the simple reason that he had no budget for any other form of media advertising. and it worked. it is notable that onix' successor, beacon bikes has not followed suit. so while folks like me wouldn't give you two ceramic bearings for facebook, twitter has become a part of daily life without becoming an obsession. and many others have employed its services in far more creative ways than offering lame humour in less than 140 characters
for reasons that completely escape me, and to be honest i'm too shy to enquire further, international trailer company indespension hit on a novel use of tweets during the recent hundredth edition of the tour de france. and in the true spirit of the media, it all seems delightfully pointless. the folks at indespension monitored the tour on a daily basis on twitter to see who was actually winning the twitter tour. their aim, fabulously obscure as it was, took the form of comparing the real stage winners with those on twitter using the hashtag #tdf and mentions of @letour.
at the end of the tour they took the daily results, handed them to a graphic designer who subsequently turned the whole enchilada into the graphic you see above. perhaps the best that can be gleaned from such a stunningly absurd exercise is that some folks just have too much time on their hands. it does, however, provide an insight into how the tour was perceived on twitter and which riders were talked about, when and why.
brilliance, however you may wish to classify its illustriousness, deserves to have more than one day in the sun, so indespension are planning to repeat the exercise during the upcoming vuelta and maybe even one or two other races later this year. the only bit i still can't figure out is the connection between a company that rents and sells trailers and the world of professional bike racing. maybe i don't even want to know.
in case the graphic above is just a smidgeon too hard to read, i have made a slightly larger pdf of it available to download here.
saturday 3rd august..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though it may be a slight exaggeration, it seems rarely an issue passes without at least one of the cycling monthlies or weekly claiming to contain at least one exclusive. when the same exclusive appears in two magazines, you really begin to wonder about the true definition of the word. much like our local supermarket's express checkout, a queue that often takes longer than any of the others. it has occured to me over the course of the years, that while i'll never shy away from any exclusives i might be offered, i've no intention of chasing after them. once that starts, i figure i'm on a slippery slope to doom.
with that in mind, thewashingmachinepost may well be at the cow's tail when it comes to this year's tour de france. truly, how much more can there be to be said about the hundredth edition of the race? that, of course, depends pretty much on who's doing the telling, and in this case, thankfully, it's not me. though i joined the virtual throng watching every stage via eurosport's old style online player, there's not a darned thing i could tell or show you that you haven't already been told or seen.
even this month's cyclesport magazine purports to contain unique coverage of the race. in actual fact, their reporting of the event is rather good, but i can think of few ways in which it could be classed as unique. don't you just love the way the cycling media is redefining the english language?
the post thus makes no such claim, but i did have the good fortune to ask someone who was not only there, but often in the confines of the teamsky deathstar, and has the pictures to prove it. edinburgh-based photographer scott mitchell has seen his occasional work for team sky morph from an initial outing at the 2012 tour of romandie into his current position as the team's official lensperson. for the second year in succession, the world's number one ranked team has carried off the yellow jersey, making them justifiably the centre of cycling and mainstream media attention.
at great risk of stating the incredibly obvious, the man who stood on the second step of the podium last year, had the luck, skill and tenacity to move up to the top in last month's centennial race, an event that, by common consent, was substantially different from that won by sir bradley in 2012. did it seem that way to scott?
"Yeah, it was very different this year but not just because Brad was not there but for many reasons. Personally I struggled with the extremely hot weather, especially after the cold conditions at the Giro. Also it seemed even more difficult to get to where I wanted to be to shoot. That included nearly missing the finish in Paris."
since last year's tour of romandie, scott has seen duty at both the 2012 giro d'italia and tour de france as well as both races in 2013, along with attendance at this year's paris-roubaix amongst others. few would be the cycling fans who would classify each of those rides as simply the same race in different locations. we all know better than that; each race has its fascinations, winners and losers and is often targetted by a different faction of riders. that's to say little of the change in attitude, fitness, skill and ability of those who raced last year and again in 2013. in parallel with those considerations, does scott figure that his photography has changed substantially from romandie last year?
"Yes, but I don't know how. I suppose I have a lot more cycling knowledge, or at least TeamSky cycling knowledge. I think this understanding now enables me to anticipate what might happen next a bit better. Last year at Romandie I was wandering around missing stuff. I do tend to get easily distracted."
for me, scott's daily gallery on the teamsky website during any particular race, but especially this year's tour, is an essential accompaniment. through his lens, it's not only possible to view often hidden moments from each day's stage, but the significant paraphernalia and imagery that surrounds the cycling. for me, and a whole host of others, those are the pieces missing from not actually being there in person. and even were i lucky to have been on-site, there's a strong possibility i'd have missed the art that lies in the details.
during a race, scott generally posts between 25 to 30 images on the teamsky website each day, but how many never make it that far? "I am posting less now; around 20 each evening. I tend to shoot about 300 frames a day. It might sound a lot, but one photographer I spoke to said he shot around 4000. I prefer to try and be a bit more disciplined about it, it speeds everything up at the edit stage in the evening."
though editing 4,000 photographs each evening would scare the living daylights out of me (and probably scott), even the thought of a deadline that meant i'd to make a selection of twenty from 300 would be unlikely to make for a relaxing three weeks in july. how on earth does he choose the final images? is he conscious of having to do his best for the sponsor...?
"No, not at all. I think it happens quite naturally. The team has great bikes, cars, kit etc and obviously they tend to feature in the shots. I also like using the bus and logo as a backdrop, if say for instance the start is a less photogenic spot like an industrial estate." ...or is the image still king? "Yeah the image is king, otherwise what's the point?"
i was never much good at maths or arithmetic at school, tending towards the more creative subjects. but by using a calculator, twenty images per stage for a total of twenty-one stages works out at around 420 photographs over the course of le tour. if we increase the stakes to encompass scott's average of 300 images per day, we reach 6,300 photos. with all the additional photographs appearing daily on a seemingly endless number of websites, the newspapers and wall to wall television and internet coverage, it has become incumbent on the tour photographer to differentiate himself/herself, consciously or otherwise from their peer group.
does scott struggle to keep the imagery fresh, or does he simply push such thoughts to the back of his mind? "It's the most difficult part of my job, along with sleep deprivation. If you think about it, every day a rider or member of staff, if he's in Oman, France or Australia has the same routine. It's all about performance, but my goals differ. I'm trying to tell the team's story in an engaging way day in, day out. Sometimes I have had to sacrifice an amazing shot with a view, because I need more shots from something like the finish instead. Would be nice if there was two of me sometimes."
it cannot be other than a skilful balancing act trying to exist as a professional photographer nowadays. the inclusion of multi-megapixel cameras in each and every mobile phone has made everyone into a photographer, many who see little difference between their hurriedly snapped photo of chris froome at the suummit of the ventoux with those of the accredited lenspeople. web-based services such as instagram and flickr have also made it a remarkably simple process to disseminate those mobile phone pics far and wide across the world.
scott mitchell's engagement as teamsky's official photographer must surely have made his job more comfortable"? "That's funny but no. I was never uncomfortable last year with the arrangement we had. Obviously from a scheduling point of view it's great to know for sure when I will be busy and when I can do other stuff too. I really enjoy being part of TeamSky, they are a set of extraordinary people."
i'm risking revealing the rather tedious nature of my questioning by bringing up, yet again, scott's claim to me a few years ago, that he was "not a cycling photographer". but as a man embedded with cycling's top professional team, and perhaps a talisman in their successive tour victories, how long can he maintain the innocence of this stance? "Always. I'm a photographer, not a cycling photographer. There are some good cycling photographers out there, but I'm not one of them."
each year, come those three weeks in july, the monthlies, weekly and the websites are festooned with images of the latest in cycling technology. even if the carbon and electronics have been in the cupboard for a few months, it seems the ideal time to reveal their existence, and thus offer the greatest bang for buck in front of an apparently eager audience is at the tour. i'm reasonably sure that the advance of technology is not confined simply to bicycles, though others may not be reliant on a french bicycle race for the publicity. has camera technology changed much since last year's tour?
"To be honest I'm not really a very technical photographer. As long as I've got a nice camera and a great lens, it's all good for me."
on the second thursday of august each year, islay's annual agricultural show is held in bridgend on a field provided by islay estates. commonly held opinion would have it that the second friday of each august constitutes the start of winter, and it is of great concern as to how often this has pretty much proved to be true. similarly, many view the champs elysees as the end of the cycling year, with every subsequent race as somewhat irrelevant, including the world's at the end of september.
however, the tour of poland is currently underway, following on from the one day clasica san sebastian. and before you know it we'll be viewing images of spain in the corner of the computer screen when we really ought to be working. what's next for scott mitchell?
"I'm lucky to have a lot of interesting projects on the go just now. A couple of really cool books this year. A trip to Colorado with TeamSky and working with some very talented musicians and my favourite clothing brand. Oh, and a week's holiday in Brighton soon. I love Brighton."
all photographs copyright scott mitchell 2013. used with permission.
friday 2nd august..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
possibly something of a long summer was that of 1967, a season that allegedly stretched all the way to august of 1969 by some estimations. the so called summer of love took place in the haigt ashbury district of san francisco, with the convergence of an estimated 100,000 hippies causing cultural and political upheaval at the time. these seemingly bizarre bedfellows were realised by the eclectic values held by the so-called flower people, some of whom held an innate distrust of authority in the shape of the american government, were highly suspicious of consumerist values and opposed the united states' involvement in the vietnam war.
on the other hand, some could give a kaftan's flared sleeve about political affairs, far happier to indulge in an endless spree of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. it's the latter feature of hippiedom that was celebrated at yasgur's farm in the catskills on america's eastern seaboard a couple of years later. though it lasted a mere three days in august of 1969, it's influence, like it or not, survives till this day.
for many, the epitome of the festival has always been joni mitchell's song 'woodstock', popularised in the uk by founder member of fairport convention, ian matthews, who recorded it with his band southern comfort. rarely has pedal steel sounded so ethereal. the irony of the song's writing was alluded to by joni mitchell herself in a recent interview, revealing that she never actually made it to yasgur's farm, having been stuck in the middle of traffic heading in that direction.
even allowing for a certain laxity in serious definition, it's unlikely any three-year period in subsequent history could be said to have equalled or surpassed such a lengthy summer of love.
however, in a willful misinterpretation of the phrase, not to mention the addition of an extra consonant, evans cycles have indulged in a spree of altruism, a defined attempt to give away £2,000 worth of goodies. these stretch all the way from a ten pound gift voucher to a new bike from the chris hoy range. having hidden a total of fifty track mitts all across the uk, in reasonable proximity to their cycle stores, evans are challenging those participating in their 'summer of glove' to find the blighters.
those doing so can take the glove and attached tag to their nearest branch to exchange for something delightful in the way of bicycle trinketry. having commenced on july 22nd, it will come as no suprise to learn that one or two gloves have already been discovered, so it might be an idea to get the cleated shoes on in an attempt to prevent anyone else reaching the hidden treasures before you do. photos of where the gloves are hidden can be found on the evans cycles facebook page.
after all, it's not as if you've got anything else planned for this summer.
posted thursday 1st august..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
several years ago my conscience had me contact an insurance company with thoughts of insuring my bicycle collection, only to discover that it had every sign of costing me more than it did to insure the motor car i owned at the time. just to put everything in some sort of perspective, islay lies a two hour ferry journey off scotland's west coast, or alternatively a 30 minute flight from glasgow. i perhaps need not point out that stealing a bicycle is one thing; getting it off the island unobtrusively is a whole 'nuther bucket of gear cables. and bear in mind that any vehicle you may employ for the purpose would have to be paid for on the ferry along with an appropriate passenger ticket.
but what, i hear you ask, of the indigenous population? are they not waiting round each and every hebridean corner with bolt cutters ready to steal examples of carbon exotica? surprisingly not. in the twenty-five years i have lived here, i have singularly failed to encourage more tha a handful of locals to get out the car and onto a bicycle. why on earth would anyone want to steal one? the only recorded examples of bicycle theft involved late night inebriates attempting to make their way home. an unidentified bicycle in the front garden the following morning is always the giveaway.
this would perhaps go some way to explaining why crime of any sort is fairly minimal throughout most of scotland's western isles.
so my endeavours to insure the bicycle(s) were geared more towards possible damage rather than any thoughts of exiting debbie's cafe to find myself relegated to the position of pedestrian. however, i can assure you i do not harbour smug feelings regarding this situation, for i know of several mainland residents who have even had bicycles removed from their garden sheds overnight, even when locked to well secured posts bolted to the ground. that does not seem like fun to me in any shape or form.
the big problem, as i understand it, is not always having the police recover a stolen bicycle, for in many cases, stolen bicycles cease to exist mere hours after being pinched. a high end bicycle can be stripped of its componentry very quickly, items that can find themselves on ebay within half-a-day, with the guarantee that they are all but untraceable. as long as there's money to be made, bicycles will remain a viable target for theft.
with police resources being reduced almost weekly in an attempt to save money in these austere times, it would be a tad unfair to blame the local constabulary for exhibiting less than unbridled enthusiasm when recording details of your missing velocipede. it is no doubt hard enough to track a stolen car, let alone a missing bicycle. however, such is the extent of the problem, that it simply cannot be ignored, so if we cant actually prevent all instances of bicycle theft, perhaps someone could make inroads into a way of recovering some of them.
with the launch only a couple of days ago of the online stolen bike database, stuart russell seems like he might be that very person. currently, as i understand the situation, the stolen bike database is a one man show, surely something of a gargantuan task to assume?
"Yes it's a one man operation, and yes it could potentially turn into a gargantuan task. I have been running the Facebook and Twitter pages for some time now and always had the intention on accompanying them with a website. But should the work load get too much, I have members of my social cycling group who are willing to assist in the running of the website."
much like any new venture, user-friendliness is key to having it used by as many people as possible, so assuming my bicycle has indeed been nicked, how would i go about providing stuart with the necessary details. and then what happens?
"If you'd had your bike stolen you would access the online contact form and submit as much information as possible about the bike. Where it was stolen from, time stolen, serial number, spec etc. You also have the option to upload a photo of the stolen bike. Once all the information has been submitted, it is uploaded to the relevant geographical area from which it was stolen."
as advised above, a more common modus operandi of the modern bicycle thief is to unlawfully remove the bicycle and subsequently dismantle it into its component parts, often dispensing with the frame as it's likely the only traceable part. however, there are no doubt a considerable number of cycles stolen that are sold down the pub for an amount not even close to the bike's true value. these are the one's that have the chance of eventual recovery. however, even via a network of eagle-eyed sympathisers, it could be a very long time before an opportune sighting is made. will bicycles remain on the database forever, or will stuart operate a statute of limitations?
"Stolen bicycles will stay on the database for whatever time is deemed necessary. When/if the database gets to a stage where it's growing out of control, bikes can be deleted from the database. At present there is no set limitations on time; this will be monitored throughout the course of the initial twelve months from launch to see what the best practice would be."
press and television advertising generally advises member of the public, such as you and me, to report any suspicious activity or possible stolen goods to our local police station or via crimestoppers. since those who are brash enough to nick a bike in the first place are unlikely to baulk at assaulting anyone who tries to interfere, doing so could never be seen as a particularly good idea. would stuart recommend that anyone identifying a stolen bicycle contact the stolen bike database, the local police or both?
"I'd recommend that anyone who comes across a stolen bike contacts both the police and ourselves. We will pass on any information we receive to the relevant police force. Some people may, however, prefer to contact us rather than the police, which is fine."
rather obviously, the stolen bike database is simply an excellent means of advising the pelotonese to be on the lookout for a nicked bicycle, in the hope that any sightings may lead to a speedy reuniting between bike and owner. however, it is also somewhat obvious that there needs to be some sort of a network in place that would aid this in happening. does stuart have contacts within the national police forces to aid recovery, or is stolen bike database a more communal way of making things happen?
"At present it's more of a communal way. We intend to use the power of social media to spread the word about bikes which have been stolen, with the aim of hopefully managing to obtain information on the whereabouts of the bike and aid its recovery. I will be liaising where possible with the local police forces to build up a relationship with them, making them aware of what we are trying to achieve and help promote security tips from them. This in addition to posting about any bikes they have recovered and trying to identify the owner(s)."
a brief look at the stolen bike database website shows stolen bikes listed under 'scotland' and 'england. it strikes me that these are rather wide-ranging categories, so does stuart envisage dividing these into more manageable regions as time progresses?
"The website was only launched a few days ago and therefore only has Scotland and England pages. This will grow as bikes are reported. If you hover over the Scotland or England tab you'll see a drop down menu displaying areas within each country. Currently it looks like this: Scotland > Glasgow; England > Cheltenham. As more bikes are added, the areas from where they have been stolen will be added."
though my own personal requirement for insurance is, i believe, on the minimal side, the same might not be the case for those domiciled in more urban or metropolitan areas. though there are several steps that can be taken to prevent your pride and joy being unlawfully removed, insuring it might at least offer the compensation of some cash with which to replace it if the worst case scenario comes true. might stuart consider teaming up with a bicycle insurance company via the website to offer this consolation measure?
"This is something I've thought about and something I will be looking into more seriously. I currently have my own bike insured through a bike specific insurance company. The only issue I foresee may be advertising financial services, so need to look into how advertising insurance companies is permitted, albeit I'm not actually selling the insurance."
advice to have your bicycle security tagged or stamped makes a brief resurgence every now and again, with some fairly sophisticated methods now available. none of these will actually stop your bike being nicked, but surely increase the chances of it being identified when and if recovered. will stolen bike database eventually provide links to the various companies offering such services?
"Yes. I plan to talk with companies who offer various means of identity stamping to see how we can work together to offer a service to the bike community. I encourage anyone providing this service or a similar service to get in touch via the website to see how we can work together for the better of the cycling community."
and has he any thoughts of offering reviews of the various bicycle locks currently on the market? "I plan on adding a reviews section to the website for bike specific security products such as data tagging, locks, gps etc. I will be getting in touch with the relevant companies to see if they'd be interested in providing review samples for publication on the website."
as stuart mentioned above, the site has only been live for a matter of days, so it's rather an unfair question to level at this point, but how does he see the stolen bike database proceeding in the future?
"I see the Stolen Bike Database growing into a social community in the future, utilising all aspects of social media to build a community and spread the word on bike security and highlight theft prevention methods. I have a few other ideas in the pipeline on how to expand the website, but i'm keeping those under wraps for the time being."
wednesday 31st july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the last time i rode a trek was in the days when oclv was simply the twinkle of an idea in a copywriter's head. treks at that time were mostly aluminium or, if you were a certain texan, made by lightspeed and painted to look like a trek. i recall posting a remark somewhere or other that the disbelief was not that lance had won a time-trial by such a time margin, but that he had done so on such a dreadful looking bicycle. i exaggerated, but at the time, the bikes seemed devoid of any true sense of style.
in the intervening years, that has altered to the point of non-recognition; modern day treks are as close to state of the art as it's possible to get, and a black and metallic grey paint scheme notwithstanding, they exude style, substance and purpose in spades. having suffered from such a lengthy period of treklessness it was with a sense of joie de vivre that i gratefully accepted an invitiation from bryan shedden of glasgow's alpine bikes to not only borrow a domane 5.9 for review, but to visit his couper street trek centre for a full bike fit.
the latter has already seen the light of day in these black and yellow pixels, and after a remarkably pleasant few weeks riding the rough roads of islay, i think i'm better qualified to extol the merits and demerits of one of trek's finest offerings.
tuesday 30th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................