an elderly gentleman who resides in my village has occasionally raised his head in support of an invention he claims will drastically reduce the amount of fuel used by the average motor car. the difficulty in verifying these claims has been his reluctance to offer up too much information lest anyone steal his ideas. i recall quite some years ago that he did offer the local newspaper communication with a third party who had apparently carried out tests on his invention, however, their comments were largely inconclusive, though it did appear to fulfil most of his promise.
what he did contend, however, was that the large fuel corporates were actively interfering with any developments. if, as you might expect, this device were to be fitted as standard to new vehicles, the large oil companies would see a substantial and noticeable reduction in profits and income. adherence to the conspiracy theory would not mitigate against such a happenstance.
and though i would not wish to position islay as the centre of technological development, the previous owner of islay house, a former airline pilot, apparently suffered in similar circumstances.
jet engines work very basically on the principle that turbine blades suck in substantial quantities of air and compress it, thus increasing its temperature, before adding fuel. the resulting series of controlled explosions propel the aircraft at a speed allowing it to fly. but those controlled explosions coupled with speeding compressed air, will always create substantial noise. you need only listen to military fighter aircraft to realise that.
in order to comply with ever increasing noise regulations, jet engine manufacturers increased the diameter of the turbine blades and the nacelles in which they sit, allowing much of that air to simply avoid the compression stage. these are known as high-bypass engines, leading to less than apt descriptions of some thus equipped aircraft as whisper jets. the fellow i made mention of above, developed some means of retro-fitting existing jet engines with a device that substantially lowered the noise levels, thus avoiding the expensive need for replacement. naturally enough, so doing would adversely affect the ability of aerospace companies to sell brand new shiny high bypass engines to the airlines.
to an extent, that's the way business works. it's similar to the means by which the roads lobby can succesfully campaign for the widening of already substantial motorways and the building of more, while the cycle lobby struggles to have any meaningful numbers of cycle lanes imposed upon urban britain.
so how will the introduction of puncture-free tyres to the cycling world fare? no matter the resistance to flat tyres, road wear will eventually demand that they need replacing. however, the industry survives to a greater or lesser degree on value-add sales to complement sales of lower profit bicycles. puncture free tyres would surely have a negative effect on sales of inner tubes, repair kits and tyre levers. maybe even those little saddle packs, if there is no seeming need to carry a spare inner on each ride.
there have been umpteen attempts to remove the need for tyre repairs almost since the year the bicycle was invented; brightly coloured solid tyres are surely nothing new? the fact that we all still carry spare tubes and tyre levers would perhaps testify to a lack of wholesale adoption of any. the tannus puncture free tyres ought to be on show at this years national cycle show in birmingham at the end of next month.
we shall see what we shall see.
monday 11 august 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
even in conversation with members of the cognoscenti regarding the halcyon days of yore, when bicycles were of lugged steel, with brake cables that came out the top of the hoods and gear changing was effected by two levers on the down tube, the same names will be regularly mentioned. fausto coppi, gino bartali, jacques anquetil, raymond poulidor, eddy merckx and perhaps even tommy simpson. though not all from the same era, you might be forgiven for thinking this not to be the case.
black and white photography has an uncanny ability to be a great leveller. though road surfaces, team jerseys and bicycles may alter over time, the imagery from the mid-fifties all the way up until colour photography made its presence known, would perhaps have you believe that the aforementioned riders were at one time, all in the same race. that, of course, is very much not the case, but in the course of such discussions, there is often one rider missing and conspicuous by his absence.
then, as now, riders tend to be classified on their tour de france performances, and ocana's sole victory in the french race in 1973 hardly ranks with his peers. despite a career that seemed obsessed with besting eddy merckx (an obsession that was hardly his alone), his fragility and somewhat unorthodox, attacking style did not commend him to the top spot of le tour's podium. yet his palmares is nonetheless impressive over a career spanning fifteen years, riding for fagor, bic, super ser and latterly, frisol gazelle. as publisher adrian bell mentioned in an e-mail "You wait years for a book and then two come along at the same time."
he is, of course, referring to the recently reviewed excellent ocana biography by alasdair fotheringham. this particular instance is written by el pais cycling correspondent, carlos arribas, but lest you concern yourselves over whether there is space on an overburdened bookshelf for one more testament to a largely ignored cyclist, this one is a tad different.
to quote from the introduction "It is customary in works of fiction to warn readers that any resemblance to reality that they might encounter in the lines they are about toread is pure coincidence. I would like to warn my readers that in this particular book, any resemblance to reality is not coincidental.". why so, you may well ask? arribas continues: "...what I finally produced is a book that resembles more a fictionalised life, or a biographical novel, whichever you prefer to call it."
in case you find yourself no wiser, let me explain. the content of ocana is indeed a faithful biography of ocana's life, right up to and slightly past the point where he took his own life in 1994. however, rather than describe each and every stage of that illustrious career from the outside looking in, arribas has placed us firmly as flies on the wall.
"Most of the situations narrated and described in the book, as well as the dialogues guiding such narrations... are like scenes from a film." that very accurately describes what follows; if anyone ever has the gumption to make a film of ocana's life, this is very likely what the screenplay would look like. looked at in this respect, there is every danger that such an undertaking would come across as undeniably cheesy, for how can anyone truly know the conversations that transpired between luis and his team-mates, managers, parents, wife? let me tell you that by the time you're even part way through chapter one, you'll believe every word to be true.
every saturday i purchase the guardian newspaper, partly because i find the motoring reviews in the colour supplement to be remarkably humorous, but mostly for the review section. however, while i am happy to read almost all the reviews of the non-fiction, i pretty much skip past the fiction section and make for the author interviews and art appreciation sections. though my sixth year studies in english while still at school were filled to overflowing with lord of the rings and pretty much every book ever written by thomas hardy, supplemented by a decent helping of shakespeare, other than tim krabbe's the rider, i cannot recall the last work of fiction that appeared on my reading list.
i therefore had serious misgivings prior to beginning arribas' ocana. yet he has, in my opinion, pulled off the impossible. few of his fictionalised conversations arouse any suspicion that he might have over egged the pudding. "But I would have liked to have made my farewell to all that at the Montjuic hill climb. I said that to Sabater the organiser, hoping he'd know how to reward me for the gesture, but what he did was to insult me. He offered me 75,000 pesetas, half what he was giving to others, as if I, Luis Ocana were a Mister Nobody. I told him he could stick it up his arse. I went back to my estate in France and there it all ended."
while the more regular autobiography presents chapters in a rider's life as a series of lows and highs, peppered with exploits and misfortunes, arribas, by means of dialogue brings a most satisfying levelling to ocana's timeline. even the oft repeated incident where ocana fell off in a rain soaked downhill pursuit of merckx, being subsequently hit by following riders and abandoning while in yellow, is narrated but with considerably less emphasis than read elsewhere. i find that far more realistic an appreciation of events; few happenings in life, other than births, weddings and perhaps deaths, gain such isolated importance. life goes on whatever the circumstances.
perhaps this biography of ocana succeeds because of its uniqueness and the undoubted skill of the author; i can think of few others who could, or would want to carry off a similar appreciation of one of cycling's greats. however, writing of this quality and style may very well make inroads into the reading lists of those who count themselves not only amongst the non-cognoscenti, but quite possibly those who have little or no interest in cycling in the first place.
and of all the recent books published about cycling's many facets, this has by far the most apt and monochromatically excellent cover.
sunday 10 august 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i touched on this earlier in the week, but truth be told, my target was of a different order altogether. well, it still had a lot to do with bicycles, but at something of a tangent to the fare currently under discussion.
as i have been a pains to point out over the years, a situation that every now and again provides a degree of mild consternation, is my daily birthright. i do not live far enough away from my office to have need of a bicycle ride. in fact, though i have not checked with any form of timing device, i have a feeling it would take me longer to remove the taurus from the bikeshed than it does to walk round the corner and past the post office before crossing the road to my other front door. of course, if i meet archie the street cleaner on the way, conversation will render the whole exercise moot and revisionist, but i'm sure you've grasped the general idea.
aside from a lack of the necessity of daily pedalling, i would like to cycle to my work because i think it is the next exciting chapter in the bicycle's development. i appreciate this may seem somewhat at odds with thewashingmachinepost's general demeanour, allied as it often is to nano particle carbon fibre, but that is just a front; i may just be a bit nervous of stepping outside not only the velominati rules, but any hint of not being either a mamil or paid up member of the lycra brigade. the subtle art of commuting may just be a crank revolution too far.
allowing for a slight deflation of the wiggo effect that has been prevalent since 2012, those of us riding about on steel, aluminium or carbon fibre with skinny wheels and bendy bars are arguably guilty of adhering to the herd mentality. numbers will increase at times and decrease in cycles, if you'll pardon the pun. and assuming my posit to be even close to correct, the only obvious growth potential in conntemporary cycling is that of the cycle commuter and leisure cyclist. the very folks who really couldn't give a monkey's about tube profiles, stem lengths, bar width and all the other paraphernalia that is the mainstay of conversation in the coffee shop.
you might argue, as i expected you might, that surely that section of humanity is already perfectly well served by the cycle market? aren't most of them quite happy riding about on badly adjusted mountain bikes bought from the nearest supermarket? that may well be the case for now, but i'm thinking far more of those who may currently be at least partially in thrall to the motor car, but have sufficient nous to realise that the world might be moving on without them. earning a comfortable amount of disposable income, if the car is being left in the garage, its replacement ought to have a tad more street cred than a farm gate with dual suspension.
this is the very reason, i believe, that portland's oregon manifest was constituted in the first place. though the bicycle may currently be the preserve of one or two factories in taiwan, or on a simpler level, the individual framebuilder, the solution to our riding needs may reside with folks outside or closely related to the bicycle industry. the oregon manifest exists to celebrate and curate bicycle craft, design and innovation, providing an independent platform for designers, engineers, and craftsmen. the hope is that such a collection of disciplines can collaboratively develop bicycle designs that will offer expanded transportation options for us all.
in my opinion, they have succeeded in this aim.
with co-operation from levis, the jeans people, the oregon manifest created this year's bike design project amongst five north american cities to design and build bicycles that would satisfy the needs of the demographic we have just been talking about. partnering five high-level design firms with american bicycle craftsmen in chicago, new york, portland, san francisco and seattle, the winning bike would be put into production for 2015 by fuji bikes. from an entirely selfish point of view, the fact that the winner came from the most northerly of those cities, seattle, augurs well for any potential commuting needs i may find myself with, should i ever be more than five minutes from the office door.
the city of seattle is renowned worldwide for the amount of rain it receives in the winter, garnering the highest rainfall of any north american city. in this it is only marginally drier than islay, so my reckoning is that the collaboration between the city's teague design consultancy and sizemore bicycles will almost undoubtedly have taken precipitation into consideration. in point of fact, their minimal and revolutionary mudguards that remove water from the tyres are proof that such is the case. for no discernible reason, the winning bicycle has been named denny, and includes a removable handlebar lock system, automatic gear shifting, electric power-assist, indicators and integrated lighting and safety lights that flood the surrounding road with light.
it is truly not the sort of machine likely to emanate from pinarello, colnago or even specialized. roger jackson, creative director at teague said "We're very impressed and proud of what the other firms achieved with their bikes, and thankful to have had the opportunity to work with Taylor Sizemore. The fact that this was a public vote means a lot to our team, and we're excited to be working with Fuji to refine the 'Denny' and bring a great cycling experience to market."
though i don't doubt there are folks in the uk with similar considerations, in much the same way it was at the vanguard of the handbuilt revival, it seems that america, even with its considerably lower priced fuel, is still a step or two ahead of current thinking on this side of the pond. skinny wheels and bendy bars are undoubtedly the stuff of which weekends are made, but modern day bicycles for modern day city and urban conditions they almost certainly aren't. my fervent hope is that fuji do not contain distribution of the denny solely to the north american market. its availability on britain's roads might just be the catalyst to jump-starting our own, similar revolution.
saturday 9 august 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i believe it may have been richard sachs (though i may be mistaken) who tweeted almost the minute this year's tour de france ended: "right, now it's cyclocross season." with the possible exception of ronde bike's haughcross, we all know that's really not the case, but in cyclocross terms it's probably completely true. for a sizeable minority, the road season is simply something that gets in the way of successive cross seasons. irrespective of your velocipedinal affectations, you pretty much have to admire that particular point of view.
look at it this way; for those adherents of skinny wheels and bendy bars, the road season comes to almost an abrupt end with paris-tours in october. (why it was felt necessary to move the tour of lombardy closer to the world championships i will probably never know, for it is surely the rightful owner of season's end?) however, after a few six-day track meetings, the road season begins again in earnest come january, with the tour down under. even my rudimentary arithmetic brings that out at pretty much ten straight months of one day races, three grand tours and a number of shorter tours, all spread right across the four corners of the world.
cyclocross, for reasons i haven't quite fathomed, fills only the months of october, november and december, because at the end of the january there's a world championship to be decided, preceded by a series of national jerseys. the majority of race series are all but over when new year comes around, give or take a few individual races. oddly, because cyclocross is historically a european sport, though mostly confined to belgium and holland with a few excursions into france and italy, the cyclocross press seems mostly based in north america. there are websites and printed publications easily acquired in the uk that only on infrequent occasions mention cyclocross on this side of the pond.
it could likely be successfully argued that this is pretty much all we deserve. despite a vociferous band of scots 'cross riders, rapha's supercross series and the existence of a number of local british cyclocross associations, only an obsessive fanatic would contend that mud and hurdles are front and centre of the uk racing scene. if we reluctantly accept that as the case, it is perhaps quite comprehensibe why column inches covering the sport tend to be restricted to an occasional feature in the comic and one or two other publications. indeed, it would be unfair to exclude websites such as ukcyclocross.com, but you can't help feeling there might conceivably be pent up demand for a few words more.
the only mountain bike magazine to which i have continued to subscribe is chipps chippendale's singletrack, notwithstanding the fact that i'm still somewhat miffed that rouleur's publishers canned the excellent privateer magazine. (i figure i'm not alone in that). while mountain bikes are not my daily bread, i have been impressed with singletrack's tolerant attitude towards the sport of cyclocross, therefore it is likely not surprising that the same publisher has seen fit to bring an online digital cyclocross magazine to market this coming october.
though i have made mention of this on a previous occasion, the front page of their dedicated website is already hiding behind password protection (admittedly there was a tad more a few weeks back). with the premier issue due on 1 october, grit.cx has announced its editorial team of editor jeff lockwood, an american cycling journalist who has worked on dirt rag, bicycle times, and others, plus online editor neil webb. the latter has previously worked on the comic, mbr and others as a journalist, but has also been a product manager at madison and marketing manager at evans cycles.
the website will be live later this month, just prior to europe's major trade show at eurobike, america's own show at interbike and the start of the cross season. rather impressively for a publication that has yet to see the light of an ipad, it's the media partner for the world cup 'cross race in milton keynes, even producing the souvenir programme for the event. (i can't help feeling there's a joke in a cross race at such a location, but i can't quite think what it is at present).
though i have never, nor intend to race cyclocross or any other genre of cycling, i always enjoy the anticipation proffered by an impending season of falling off into the undergrowth and hurting my right shoulder in the process of emulating jeremy powers. the advent of grit.cx has just made that process all the more attractive.
we all love dirty weekends, don't we?
photos courtesy richard sachs
friday 8 august 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
both my kids, who can no longer be referred to as such due to a lack of age restrictions, were fairly quick in learning to ride their bicycles. when we moved to islay all those years ago, my daughter was three years old and a mere smidgeon away from riding her small red bicycle without stabilisers. my son was even quicker to learn, burling round the houses with acquired abandon. disappointingly, their love affair with the bicycle didn't last very long.
if memory serves correctly, my daughter had left two wheels behind prior to entering her teenage years, whereas my son purchased a new mountain bike only a few years ago before departing his teens. unfortunately purchasing it was pretty much as far as it went, for truth to tell, the wheels have scarcely any revolutions between them.
as seems to be the case all across the uk and probably the entire world, learning to ride a bicycle is still seen as a means of acquiring a level of freedom that a pair of legs will not provide on their own. cycling allows kids of all ages to reach parts of their locale that walking is unlikely to achieve. and if the scenes outside washingmachinepost croft are anything to go by, riding a bike automatically makes you a part of an unofficial club, that pedestrianism quite plainly doesn't. though pressures of modern day western society seem to lead inexorably towards learning to drive a motor vehicle at the earliest opportunity in late teens and ownership of same, there is obviously less demand to continue cycling, or indeed, to ignore the motor car altogether.
at that point, more often than not, the bicycle is left discarded in the bike shed, superseded by an environmental disaster waiting to happen and a serious, yet apparently unconcerned drain on the hapless bank balance. in many cases round here, it is unseemly to acquire a small, economical and practical vehicle in which to travel the relatively short distances demanded by island life. the male of the species in particular seems hellbent on imitating those worthy fellows on top gear, adding drainpipe exhausts, go-faster stripes and sitting so low in the driving seat as to be virtually unable to see over the top of the tiny, leather-covered steering wheel.
this is perhaps less of a rant than it may seem, for though i thought my days of teaching pre-school children to ride bicycles were long gone, it appears that is not the case. two of the kids in the care of mrs washingmachinepost are particularly keen to learn to ride their bikes minus stabilisers. as if i needed a reason by way of explanation, might i refer you to the view described above, from my sitting room window. both are keen to join the happy two-wheeled throng haring up and down the pathway leading to our houses.
and i'm keen to assist them.
so i am now suffering from most uncomfortable lower back pain, leaning over to hold the back of a small pink and purple saddle while a little girl emulates the demeanour of the scary witch from the wizard of oz, frantically pedalling for all she's worth. the reward, however, is worth every strained vertebrae, for so quick has she been to learn, that i'm currently runing along behind waving my hands in the air while she thinks i'm the one keeping her on the straight and narrow. the downside is now that she's off into the wide blue yonder, i have her four year-old brother to contend with next.
hopefully by the time they reach 17, either petrol will be so scarce or expensive as to be impractical, or there will have been such a dramatic shift in society that it has made bicycle transport far more desirable and pragmatic than seems to be the current majority appraisal.
thursday 7 august 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's worth keeping an eye on the goings on at the oregon manifest. this is an exhibition of sorts tenuously related to the north american hand made bicycle show, but perhaps with a more focussed manifesto. hence the name, as it happens. in addition to their bi-annual autumn exhibitions, shannon holt and her team of velocipedinists have curated one or two bicycle-related competitions. not the sort where folks with numbers on their backs race each other for some far flung line, but a competition encouraging some incredible ingenuity in bicycle design.
involving five teams and five cities, the 2014 contest to design the ultimate utility bike resulted in victory for seattle's 'denny'. the winning bicycle had need of incorporating an appropriate security lock, fenders (mudguards) of one kind or another, lighting and some means of transporting at least a modest amount of cargo. aside from the design challenge itself, surely a worthy prize in itself, teague and sizemore's denny will be put into at least minimal production by fuji bikes.
i know i'd buy one.
however, while the denny's ingenious removable, lockable handlebar will more than likely keep the bicycle in the possession of anyone lucky enough to become its owner, the rest of us, along with the bulk of the bicycle owning world, are perhaps not quite so fortunate. not for us the luxury of sidling up to the coffee shop, unhitching the squariel set of bars and locking it securely to a nearby lamp post or silage trailer. in the face of this dilemma, we are condemned to carry a heavy u-lock in some manner that hopefully looks realy cool, but probably doesn't.
and even assuming such a procedure forms part of our velocipedinal ruggedness, there's always the likelihood that some miscreant will nip off with our wheels. literally. though track-nutted axles offer up a tad more less-than-subtle effort for removal in a busy shopping centre, with the right spanner, there's not too much difference in security between those and a pair of titanium skewers. in a perfect world, your bicycle would be left well alone because it belongs to you and not someone else, but there's a reason that fairy stories are known as fairy stories.
a group of college students, comprising both engineers and entrepreneurs at the university of southern california have created a rather innovative means of keeping the wheels firmly affixed to your bicycle no matter where you choose to leave it. despite doubling as a bottle opener, the spanner unique to each set of quizzically machined wheelnuts is pretty much key to the product's ingenuity. the cnc machined wheelnuts feature three sculpted slots carved into the cone shaped devices. since each set of slots and their accompanying spanner are different to any other, even if we both opt to replace the wheelnuts or skewers on our respective bicycles, we can't nick each other's wheels from outside debbie's.
should you have any qualms about the efficacy of this potential device, it's worth noting that not only is a patent pending on the design, but the university has not been slow to invest in the potential future of the nutlock team's entrepreneurship and engineering skills. however, even with the confidence and funding of academia, it takes more than just a few cents to manufacture in quantity. thus, in keeping with the modern way, nutlock have today launched a kickstarter campaign to make a commercial reality of the whole enchilada.
since bicycle theft is only likely to increase rather than its opposite, any effective means of keeping your property definably yours, is to be welcomed with open arms. or perhaps your paypal account.
wednesday 6 august 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though we are straining at the bit to have it conform to its name, yet again, the ride of the falling rain was conspicuous by a distinct lack of the latter. no matter that a few hundred miles east, or so, as the crow flies, the commonwealth road race was engulfed with several deluges, our biggest problem was that of possible sunburn. though i'm pretty much satisfied with the ride's naming convention, i live forever with concern that one sunny sunday in august, trading standards will turn up unannounced and shut us down.
i'd be hard pushed to recall precisely the year the bike ride assumed its current moniker, but i do remember that it rained steadily from 10am in the morning until well past 4pm in the afternoon. you can no doubt understand our reasoning. in marketing terms it is all but infallible: if, as has become commonplace, the sun shines for most of the day, it can be considered a bonus. if it rains, well then we did tell you. smart thinking, huh?
it does, however, frequently create something of a predicament, mostly as far as appropriate apparel is concerned. on saturday past, the rain began just as the islay half marathon got underway, and failed to stop until around teatime. as is customary, i went cycling, more than adequately fortified by way of waterproof clothing, quite expecting the following day's expedition to be of similar intent. but sunday morning blossomed bright and sunny, demanding even as much as the application of sunscreen to face and legs, but excluding my arms which i clad in armwarmers.
you just never know.
but as the day progressed, and we enjoyed both the pre-ardbeg section as well as that of the post-ardbeg section, the sun and heat showed no sign of going away. during a communal comfort break at bridgend, my bravery showed no bounds and i removed the armwarmers, only, as you may recall, neither limb had been party to a liberal smothering of sunscreen. and that is precisely when the convenience of a compact and bijou stick of secret-training sunscreen spray in a rear pocket came in remarkably handy, not only for yours truly, but for one of my companions who found themselves in similar circumstances.
the secret training range of products has been developed by former european champion track cyclist, tim lawson. he is perhaps more readily known as the founder of science in sport. the samples sent for review included the aforementioned sunscreen spray, a tube of anti-chafing cream (why not just call it chamois cream?), start oil, post race wash and a couple of micro fibre cloths, all smartly presented in appropriate silver coloured containers with contemporarily styled lettering.
i'm none too sure quite how to review the anti-chafing (chamois) cream, for in truth, one is remarkably similar to another. however, the secret training product seems more than adequate and pleasantly aromatic. however, i did rather take a shine (literally) to the start oil which, on the very wet saturday preceding the ride of the falling rain i thought it a good idea to smother my legs in this particular product. rather surprisingly, it was pretty much all still there on my return, having more than adequately done what it says on the bottle. ironically, though untested in this respect, the sunscreen is labelled as non-waterproof, something of an oddity on sweating cyclists.
though thewashingmachinepost croft is possessed of a throughly warming shower, being in possession of secret training's post race wash, i opted to use that in conjunction with one of the micro-fibre cloths. the wash is designed to be used when a shower or bath is not immediately available, by spraying it all over before wiping yourself clean with the cloth. though the aroma is actually quite pleasant and quite strong, by the time i had dressed myself in civilian garb, the likelihood of stunning small animals at twenty paces had receded to more acceptable levels.
tim lawson has already helped many thousands of cyclists through his science in sport products and now seems likely to offer every bit as much care and attention to our externalities. though the claim to be 'with you from warm-up to clean-up, helping to invigorate, protect, calm, sanitize and nourish might read as just so much hyperbole, there's a reasonable chance there's more than a smidgeon of truth to that claim.
the secret training sunscreen (factor 30) retails at £5.99 for 25ml; the micro-fibre cloths (two in a pack) cost £4.99; 250,l of post race wash costs £5.99; 75ml of anti-chafing cream costs £7.99, and 100ml of start oil retails at £7.99. these and other products are available online from secret-training.cc
tuesday 5 august 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................