there is a scene in an episode of the itv crime series lewis where robbie lewis and his sidekick hathaway are standing at the door of a college dining room in the company of the college porter. just as they are about to enter to question a potential suspect, the entire room rises to say grace prior to the serving of lunch. being an educational establishment of no little repute, this is said in latin. as a non-academic, lewis asks hathaway if the words are in reference to items on the menu, at which point, the latter says "soup of the day, burger and chips and spotted dick..."
my father always used to repeat a similar form of humour when faced with an hotel menu written in french. pretending to have ordered one of the more obscure items, he'd then mimic the waiter saying "i'm sorry sir, that's what the band's playing this evening."
the premise of humour (such as it is) of such a fashion, rests entirely on the incomprehension of the subject under discussion, and those are but two examples of such. the humour of my having no earthly idea of the location of something identifying itself as the moselle cycle route is not lost on me, nor i should imagine on those of you reading this review. i have made it known on several separate occasions that i am extremly geographically challenged; my map drawing skills are reasonably well identified, but only if someone can place the locations prior to my commencing.
the moselle river, as everyone apart from yours truly is aware, begins its journey at source in the east french vosges mountains, wending its way through luxembourg and belgium, before joining the river rhine in germany. author and cyclist mike wells, in keeping with the format applied to almost all of the excellent cicerone guides, explains the moselle route in great detail, presaged by a brief history of the regions through which it travels. the latter is most helpful in identifying the heritage of many of the elderly buildings that can be seen along the way, and given the ideal travelling size of these guides, it's simplicity itself to pull the book out along the way to check prudent details.
of course, aside from the geographical and historical niceties that make the route worth pedalling in the first place, what most cyclists would wish to know at the outset is 'how long will it take?'. it's an answer that mr wells has had the decency to answer before elucidating other pertinent details such as an appropriate velocipedinal choice, how to get there in the first place and the level of accommodation that can be expected by the intrepid traveller travelling north.
wells has split the route into 14 discrete stages averaging 36km per day, allowing the fitter amongst us to double that daily distance and effectively complete the moselle cycle route in a mere seven days. however, should you wish to undertake a holiday incorporating a wealth of sightseeing, two weeks would seem the more leisurely option. and perhaps even more pertinent to even the average cyclist, what and where to eat and drink is covered in more than sufficient detail.
the book is well illustrated with landmarks, objects of interest and architecture to be seen along the way, and though my map reading leaves a great deal to be desired, those accompanying each and every chapter seem quite clear enough to me, unsullied by extraneous detail. as has been consistent in the majority of the cicerone guides i have been privileged to review, the moselle cycle route is every bit worth purchasing even by the armchair explorer. though the principal text is primarily functional, as is most sequential instructional material, the sidebars offer an insight into a part of the world with which not all of us will be familiar.
"Remiremont (pop. 8000) straddles the Moselle below the confluence of the Moselette and is surrounded by forest-clad hills. From 910, Remiremont Abbey (originally founded by Benedictines in 620) housed a chapter of noble-born 'canonesses' (nuns) and was the most renowned nunnery in Europe for its wealth and recruitment of canonesses, who had to show 200 years of royal or noble lineage (mostly, presumably, unmarriageable daughters).
should i ever be overcome by the wanderlust that seems to inhabit the minds of cicerone's authors, i have the ideal script to follow.
monday 15 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
with both the tour of england and wales and la vuelta in progress over the past few days, there has been ample opportunity for armchair cycling spectators to watch pretty much wall to wall cycle racing on every day of the week. and such has been the raising of the former's international profile, helicopter shots displaying (almost) the finest of britain's landscape may well do the same for britain's tourist trade as the tour de france, the giro and la vuelta annually achieve for their respective countries.
however, what those aerial shots also witness, is the potential lack of green-ness inherent in a sport that admittedly, rarely makes claims in that direction. but the bicycle lays claim (quite rightly, in my opinion) to a high level of environmental friendliness; it's emission free, it consumes no fossil fuels in use, reduces traffic congestion and confers a myriad of health benefits on those that choose it as a means of transport. the sporting aspect of the velocipede all but undermines that. i can't speak for the tour of britain, but spain currently pays host to at least two cars for each team, several neutral service cars, commissaire and medical vehicles and a phalanx of team coaches back at the hotels, to say nothing of the peloton of photographers' and tv motorbikes.
you could easily argue that any uci sanctioned race takes away all the good conferred by the average cyclist.
of course, it would be particularly iniquitous to argue against this situation; how else would international cycle racing be brought to an eager television and press audience? and without such coverage, it would be very hard to argue the case to potential sponsors. the racing would hardly be as slick and impressive as it is were we to revert to the days of henri desgrange with no outside support and riders having need of repairing their own punctures and mechanicals. in this instance, it is perhaps better simply to acknowledge that cycle racing has affinities with that which we know as cycling, but in truth inhabits a parallel universe, unaffected by attributes pertaining to the real thing.
meanwhile, in our own universe, the benefits of pedal power continue unabated and not always from the sources you'd first consider. first produced as a graduation project by london's royal college of art design students, amos field reid and lasse oiva, the uniquely original velopresso has now become a viable reality and entered limited production.
there have been entire dissertations written about the connection between cycling and coffee, yet the true inspiration for such remains largely undiscovered. fortunately there is no real need for a doctorate in the subject to enjoy a decent espresso or the much-maligned soya cappuccino, simply enough coinage in that zipped rear pocket to hand over at the till. and one of those little caramel biscuits wouldn't go amiss neither. the velopresso if nothing else, brings that connection several stages closer.
with no tricycle platforms available that suited the velopresso's front wheel drive yet rear steering, combined with a riding position that had need of supporting both cycling and barista stances, reid and oiva designed and built their own. they also designed the conical burr grinder from the ground-up driven as it is by a gates carbon belt drive from that seated position. the espresso machine is a gas-fired, spring-lever device designed specifically in collaboration with fracino. the gas cylinder is easily replaceable as is the water supply.
the cycling part of the equation features powder-coated reynolds 631 plain gauge tubing, topped with a brooks b33 leather delivery saddle. the transmission duties are also undertaken by a gates carbon drive, while stopping is taken care of with a magura hydraulic disc brake on each wheel.
look mum no hands! have successfully operated one of the prototypes for a few months. to quote director matt harper, "We immediately recognised the potential of the Velopresso as a practical mobile coffee solution for all sorts of events, cycling related or otherwise. Not only does it look beautiful, it's well constructed. And its human-powered operation means that you can turn up anywhere and be self-sufficient. Perfect for the sort of events that look mum no hands! is getting in."
perhaps rather obviously, the velopresso has its limitations, pedalling rather than in the coffee sense. the website sees it as being able to cover up to 20km (obviously dependant on the cycling ability of the barista), though they do recommend avoiding bumpy roads and big hills, all but ruling out the pragmatism of operating one on the west of scotland. however, as a versatile, easy to operate means of selling quality espresso at the drop of a handbrake, it seems hard to beat. pricewise, it seems also well in the ballpark of afforability. when you consider just how many components are custom built, a few pounds under £10,000 makes it on a par with the disc version of the colnago c60, and even i'd hesitate to try selling coffee from one of those.
come the revolution...
sunday 14 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you need only look back to the late eighties and even into the early nineties to see professional bike racers aboard rather delectable steel frames, often with shiny chrome, particularly when decorating italian steel. those tubes were considerably thinner than the bulk of their carbon replacements available in the present day. my original carbon fibre colnago c40 features fluted carbon tubes that emulate the columbus steel employed on the colnago master, effectively the c40's antecedent. in the early 1990s carbon was in its infancy; still a bit noodly now and again, before finite element analysis entered the fray. between titanium, aluminium alloys and the onward march of burnt plastic, steel was relegated to the position of 'has-been'.
of course, there are always those who never lost the faith, most notably massachusett's richard sachs, eventually joined by the vanguard of steel construction in portland, oregon which in turn, fostered a whole new steel is real culture across north america, the uk and mainland europe. though carbon is nice and with the incomparable ability to be tuned to the builder's requirements, it's not the world's toughest material, despite what formula one race cars might have taught us. different place, different need. though frame repairs are not something likely to trouble your average professional team, those of us who have to pay for the privilege would prefer something a bit more fixable.
it was comforting therefore to note that condor cycles offered the acciao as an option for the guys in the rapha condor jlt team (jimmy mccallum was known to have favoured the steel option over a carbon leggero) and the flags were out when the madison genesis team put all their weight behind a reynolds 953 frame for a full racing season to the exclusion of all else. this is a situation that has endured for the past two seasons; the fact that they have not notably been occupying the rearmost portions of the domestic peloton, has given great credence to the viability of steel as a tool for the professional rider.
or at least that's the way it looked until the end of last week when genesis announced the release of the all-carbon zero, examples of which were being made available to the madison genesis team for this year's tour of england and wales. so does the appaearance of a carbon range signal the end of the line for steel in the race team? i asked madison genesis rider chris snook, a man who has ridden both options.
"Certainly not. The Zero is all about choice. What it provides is another option for riders to choose from. You will see the team continue to use the steel bike throughout the rest of this season; and next. Pete Hawkins won the Irish Crit champs recently on his Genesis Volare 953. With its short wheelbase and stiffness, the 953 frame is perfectly suited to criterium racing, so expect to see it prominent at the Pearl Izumi Tour Series again."
it would be naive to deny that steel has inherent problems, not least of which is that of weight. though the uci minimum limit can often be closely approached, there's no denying that carbon beats metal hands down. so has the zero now seen the light of day because of this factor? have genesis pretty much reached steel's minimum in this respect?
"Weight is a part of it, yes. Genesis have reached appoint where they have taken the material as far as it can go. To get the weight down further at this stage does not make sense for the cost implication involved. To compromise the bike's race pedigree by reducing stiffness was not an option. However, Genesis will continue to work with Reynolds to keep at the cutting edge of the steel game.
Aerodynamics has been another consideration in the creation of the Zero. One of the great advantages of carbon is that you aren't restricted by shapes in the same way as with steel."
racing is often used as a means to promulgate research and development and not just in the cycling milieu. professional riders are a lot harder on their kit than any of us are likely to be, and with the frequency of hard training and racing, any design or equipment flaws will likely show up a lot quicker than they would in the hands of the civilian. it's often the sole reason why you see the pros on gear that can't yet be found in the shops; by the time it gets there, it ought to be working pretty well. are genesis following a similar path, to see if carbon really is that much better than steel?
"We aren't going out to say one material is better than the other. The aim is to use whichever material correctly, with thought-through design and sound geometry. Genesis have a reputation for producing steel bikes, but have never restricted themselves to using just one material. We have a range of aluminium road bikes in the Volant as well."
last week's press release announced that the new carbon zero was being made available in time for the tour of britain. the timing obviously had as much to do with marketing as with race strategy, but had the team invoked a three-line whip with regard to the zero, or are there any team riders continuing with the steel frames?
"I am continuing to use my steel Volare at the minute. Riders will have the choice in which bike they would like to use for any given race. All the riders at the ToB have both options there to choose from."
if both materials are to continue fighting for results in the madison genesis racing team, that suggests a particularly enlightened attitude on behalf of the sponsor and the team management. what had they learned about steel over the past couple of seasons as to its suitability for the professional peloton?
"Genesis have learned a great deal. The first lesson learned in the early days is that it is very easy to over-build a steel bike using 953. Feedback from the team regarding the first generation bike was that it was too harsh; a property not normally associated with steel. The latest generation bike uses a more sloping top tube, which is smaller in diameter and also bi-ovalised to provide stiffness and compliance where it is needed most.
"The bike was successfully raced throughout 2013, taking a number of high profile wins, podiums, and now a national title. In that regard, it proves that steel certainly has a place in the professional peloton.
"One of the key things with steel, and stainless steel in particular, is the longevity of the material. Steel isn't as fragile as carbon. It may dent, but the bike can still be ridden. The bikes have proved to be hardy, and we still use a number of the frames from last year's fleet to this day."
given the above information and the fact that the retailer is unlikely to provide you with a new frame if you happen to ding it on the sunday ride, presumably steel will remain in the genesis retail offerings?
"Steel will continue to be in the Genesis line up in a big way. Genesis still has a strong relationship with Reynolds and will continue looking to push boundaries with the material. The 2015 range has recently been launched and contains more steel bikes than ever before."
for those of us with a penchant for the ferrous material over more fragile plastic, this is good news. there's a whole host of plain gauge tubing at the budget end of the market that's mostly functional rather than featuring any sporting pretensions. other than phoning richard sachs to ask if there's a gap in his schedule, the less well-heeled amongst us ought to be grateful that a major player in the british cycle market continues to have faith in lightweight steel. however, considering chris snook's comments above, genesis would be failing in their commercial duty if they didn't at least take a look at the world of carbon. with the arrival of the zero, does this mean genesis will now forge ahead with other carbon offerings in the future?
"Genesis will continue to forge ahead with all materials. There may well be more carbon to come in the future."
very many thanks to madison genesis' chris snook for his considerable assistance with this article.
saturday 13 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my grandson was one year-old the very day that the tour de france set off from leeds en route to harrogate. there was, you'll be less than surprised to know, a three-line whip on family members to attend this momentous event, creating something of a potential quandary for yours truly. one didn't want to leave the little fellow solely to the ministrations of his mum and dad; i mean just how much fun can a one year-old have on a large bouncy castle?
i did point out prior to travelling to the great metrolops, that i would most likely be sat in front of my daughter's rather larger than life television, with its hi-fi sound, watching the yorkshire proceedings. (there was that one time when i thought of boycotting the start altogether after yorkshire was favoured over edinburgh, but that would have just been childish.) but in a distinct turn-about of the usual familial hierarchy, i was warned within an inch of my bottom bracket that that simply would not be happening.
unfortunately, a large bouncy castle didn't seem to qualify as a viable alternative.
however, all turned out a great deal more fortuitous than promised to be the case. hordes of mums, the occasional dad, and a bunch of screaming weans turned up shortly after lunchtime to totally dominate the bouncy castle, aided and abetted by more than just a few adults who had been warned to keep off. thus, it was simple enough to discretely remove myself from such joyous happenings and sit glued to the telly. the fact that there was a tad too much ambient noise to hear carlton and sean may actually have been considered a plus.
therefore i saw the false start from leeds, the meeting of the great and good at harewood house, a royal person cutting a ribbon (headlined in one of the national sunday papers rather creatively as the kate british bike off), and the nine red arrows streaking coloured smoke across remarkably clear blue skies. and i watched cav make a bit of an idiot of himself in the sprint, trying to barge his way to the line and end up going home instead.
sunday turned out to be even better, for everyone else headed out to some scary sounding shopping centre nearby, leaving me all alone to sloach about on their rather abundant sofa watching a peloton of riders make their way from york to sheffield.
but my watching of the 101st tour de france was presumably no different from anyone else's. there must be scores of homes across the country in which cycle racing is a less than minor interest, seen as a something of an intrusion, rather than a (moving) object of veneration. nobody even asked me who had won either stage, an omission for which i retaliated by telling them anyway. not that they cared.
however, we all genuinely marvelled at the enormity of the crowds at the roadside, at the fact that the weather was most un-yorkshire like, and that some folks managed to see anything at all. though the spectacle in the flesh must have proffered much to admire, there's little doubt that even with a bouncy castle in the back garden, i saw a lot more of the race than many.
however, to lift my head from the sand for a moment, that's entirely to miss the point. yorkshire had promised a grand depart to remember; i had embarrased myself in print by stating that if i never saw another press release for the tour depart, it would be too soon. boy do i look foolish now, and being reminded of that fact with the arrival of the creatively named pave (pan y agua velo europe ) publishing's two days in europe makes me realise just how far wide of the mark my lack of appreciation truly was.
a page of yellow sheep, that red arrows moment, thousands of people lining ilkley's church street, the man half out his skylight window as the race passes through skipton high street, but most of all, and every bit as important, that fabulous smell of ink on art paper beloved of rouleur subscribers all across the land. if you only ever nab yourself one book about the tour de france, make it this one. with photographic contributions from the grubers, rick robson, mark denton (is that a photoshop motion blur?), tim de waele and a whole host of other expert lenspeople, the large format colour photography is the sort of thing you'd go out and buy a coffee table for.
there are words, of course, but commendably of minimal quantity, and probably just like the assembly instructions for that ikea coffee table, you'll only read them as a last resort. for once the phrase "i only looked at the pictures..." won't confer dunce status upon the plaintiff.
the most fabulous photo in the entire publication is that depicted on pages 72 and 73 of the peloton climbing buttertubs in the yorkshire dales, seamlessly melding into the enormous crowds surrounding their efforts. though there's no mention in the book itself, apparently the oddly monikered climb is named after the 20 metre deep holes in the limestone, allegedly used by farmers to keep the butter cool on hot days while resting on their way to market.
two days in yorkshire is a marvellous testament as to how an essentially non-cycling nation can get behind a bicycle race that contians the name of a foreign country. not only does it honour gary verity's intrepid band of organisers and visionaries for bringing the race to yorkshire in the first place, it also offers plaudits to christian prudhomme for believing that they could. pave publishing should be proud.
thursday 11 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
before the internet was king, and everything you could ever need was downloadable to your computer, ipad or phone, software distribution methods were what is now regarded as a tad archaic. if the monthly tech and lifestyle report didn't have a cover-mounted cd, it quite obviosuly wasn't worth buying in the first place. in my own sphere of work and play, apple used this means of distributing their free software updates, while many another supplier did likewise, allowing us to marvel at their altruism and immediately creating a guaranteed market for the following month's publication.
it was not, however, solely the serious people that wanted to give us software. as can still be seen to this day in the shape of an endless stream of free apps, there was a whole community dedicated to using up their spare time creating games, riddles and intrigues to occupy our own spare time. and for some reason i have never quite been able to fathom, they were happy to do all this free, gratis and for nothing. admittedly the field was infiltrated by the commercial games producers who would often give away a portion of a tidily expensive production as enticement to a larger spend later in the day, but for the most part, the intent gamer could play from one month to the next pretty much free of charge.
it worries me to a certain degree that i know as much about this aspect of the software empire as i do, for in truth, i can't be bothered one whit about any form of computer or board game. while my family would often drag out cluedo, monopoly or snakes and ladders of a cold, dark, winter's eve, it was to a wall of apathy on behalf of yours truly. i am not decrying that sometimes playing real or virtual games doesn't engender a favourable amount of fun, but the stumbling block from my point of view is in attempting to comprehend the rules, or latterly, the keyboard commands required to achieve any level of satisfaction.
though i cannot deny a certain number of wasted hours in the company of sonic the hedgehog, much of those were managed with a high level of brute force and ignorance, with the emphasis on the latter. faced with a multitude of folders on my cover-mount cd all containing the latest in gaming technology (or not, as the case may be) and their accompanying read me files, i was more prone to getting the bike out the shed than trying to remember whether alt - function - 7 brought the tiger moth into land, or if that was ctrl - shift - 9.
i'm sure i wasn't alone.
but along has come a cycle related card game that is not only free at point of distribution, but looks as if its timing may be particularly adaptable to whiling away the hours over froth and a piece of lemon drizzle slice at debbie's after the sunday ride. or at least that would be the case if a) i could understand the instructions and b) could be bothered trying to figure out which bits don't make sense (to me).
i am, of course, talking about the condor cycles' alumni trump game, a title so impressive that i'm really, really annoyed that i appear to be so dense.
in case you're wondering why condor have offered such largesse, the game celebrates not only the tenth running of the tour of britain (or the 'tour of england and wales' as we call it up here), but also the release of condor's 'since 1948 clothing range'.
however, all is not lost; each card in the alumni trump game has been drawn and hand-painted in water colour by condor designer, ben spurrier. that's good enough for me; once they're all cut-out, i may enlist the services of my local picture-frame. a satisfying result all round. for the rest of you all that's required is to download the free pdf, cut out the cards and decipher the instructions displayed on the website.
i made it as far as cutting them out.
wednesday 10 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
by and large, i am happy with my relative obscurity, a state of affairs encouraged by my relative distance from what passes for civilisation. as was pointed out by someone very many years ago, if i'd presented a business plan for thewashingmachinepost consisting of daily writings about the various goings-on in the world of velocipedinal happenings, i sincerely doubt i'd have got past the receptionist. though the post in its present form was never the result of conscious strategy, for the most part it keeps me happy and there's rarely a day goes by without at least some subject of interest popping up demanding attention.
my day to day travails involve what i like to denote as graphic design; posters, brochures and pages and pages of newspaper. but in each case i rather hope i'm not guilty of confusing the medium with the message. unlike many an adobe flash designer, i really have no desire to impress others working in a similar field; ideally the design aspect is all but transparent.
but like many a modern realist painter in these days of digital photography, there's always a danger of the end result being appreciated for its technique, rather than any artistic vision that might be on display. therefore every now and again, someone from the land of civilisation has perhaps paid closer attention to my use of words and language than what i'm actually saying. rather than jumping up and down and demanding a recount, i have mostly found this to be rather flattering, even if that's not quite the happy ending i was aiming for.
though i'd be guilty of narcissism to imply the above in this particular occasion, one of those who may have accidentally found themselves with a spare five minutes prior to lunch, were the very nice folks at decathlon, the french-based sports superstore people. though the best i can manage to provide any sort of tenuous connection between them and me is recalling that one of the french tdf teams used to ride their bicycles. other than that, i had no idea they knew i existed.
how wrong could i be?
this admitted wrongness was made plain only the other week when i received an e-mail from the world's largest sports retailer (their words, not mine). the mail continued "we're looking to highlight individuals, blogs and websites that we feel share this same ethos." you can see where the flattery came from. "we feel that you would be well placed to help inspire our readers into discovering cycling through sharing the story behind your love of the sport and your blog. We would look to do so through a new 'Featured Blogger' section of the Decathlon blog"
and, true to their word, that is precisely what they did, sending a few questions which i did my best to answer while pretending that i was knowledgeable about their askings. i am probably the last person to blow my own trumpet (though in a jazz context, i'm more than capable of banging my own drum), but just in case insomnia has got the better of you, you might like to peruse my fifteen seconds of fame via the link below. i'll try very hard not to make a habit of it.
tuesday 9 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................