only last weekend, when the velo club, or remnants thereof, were plying their sunday trade in autumnal weather not common for this time of year, we debated whether this was likely to be a winter of content. either that, we ruminated, or it's going to turn itself round and bite us mightily on the ass sooner than we'd like. for our reputation is built upon galeforce headwinds and seering crosswinds, often accompanied by horizontal rain, features that have been conspicuous by their absence of late.
we need not have worried (as if that were a likely situation) for this past weekend's sunday ride was augmented by pretty much all of the above. and if i'm perfectly honest, not one of us would have missed it for the world. that probably says more about us than should be admitted in polite company. however, such rides of iniquity last only as long as a mid-day stop at debbie's for froth and as dark a corner for recuperation as can be imagined. though islay's roads are peppered with the occasional short, sharp climb, all the bumpy bits are round the outside, so we are never troubled in the way that chris froome was during this year's vuelta.
we like to consider ourselves more in the classics vein, than grand tour contenders, and if lord carlos' inadvertant venture onto the grass at uiskentuie is anything to go by, we may have the occasional predilection for cyclocross. none of this can hold a candle to the recent successful undertaking of sophie radcliffe.
on the last day of august this year, she completed the world's first alpine coast to coast journey, cycling the length of the alps as well as climbing to the summits of the highest in each of the eight countries that play host to the mountain range. and in case you are sitting comfortably in front of the central heating with a so what? expression on your face, she completed all of the above in one month. that very much places the sunday ride in a wider context.
mrs radcliffe's adventure (i can think of no other approrpiate way to describe it) involved cycling 1669 kilometres and climbing 141 kilometres on foot with husband charley. the 45,530 metres of ascent is the equivalent of climbing everest more than five times or ben nevis 35 times. i'd have needed more than just one coffee after that lot.
therefore the obvious first question to ask was, why?
"It's the exploration of myself that intrigues me. To understand where my limits are and to explore how I can push them beyond what I thought possible. To learn how to ask myself to perform to my maximum, day in day out, to know how I can ask myself to deliver and produce the goods when I had nothing left in the tank. These are the reasons I did it."
every sunday morning i get up around 8:30, put on my cycling kit, conveniently arranged the previous evening, grab some epo (extra porridge oats), shave, and head out on the bike to meet the others at deb's around 10am. it's an automatic process that's been going for years. as to where we might ride, that depends on who's there and what the weather's like at the time. pre-planning does not come under the heading of an absloute necessity. however, riding well over 1500 km and climbing a few mountains is not the sort of thing you wake up one morning and decide to do on a whim. how much pre-planning did sophie undertake for the trip?
"I had been planning it in my mind for a year before. However, the actually preparation, training and planning for the trip started three months before. We wanted the route and itinerary to be flexible, so we didn't have it all planned out in detail beforehand. We were on an adventure after all! Each evening when I arrived at the camp site, we would decide on how or whether I could cycle to the next mountain in one or two days and which towns we wanted to stop at. I loved the flexibility of working this way. It meant we could march to the beat of our own drums."
not so very long ago, while riding at islay's outer edge, lord carlos blew out a back tyre while pedalling across a cattle grid. aside from the loud bang, the first words we heard were "i hope one of you guys has a pump, because i left mine at home." as it turned out, neither pump nor inner tube were of any use, since the worn tyre had blown a hole in itself, meaning lord carlos had a bit of trek homewards, for there is no mobile phone coverage on the outer edge. admittedly this was a maximum of ten miles from home, so hardly life threatening, but on an extended journey such as sophie radcliffe's alpine coast to coast, there must have been more than just the odd puncture?
"I didn't have any mechanicals or punctures. How awesome is that?"
the true cyclist, and by this i don't necessarily mean those ascending alpe d'huez in mid july with a phalanx of team cars and nuetral service vehicles in tow, is often fairly versatile, able to adapt to different sets of circumstance as the ride progresses. if we weren't so equipped, we'd probably all be driving cars. given that sophie, by her own admission, left the variables in place to allow the expression of an adventurous spirit, would she undertake the same trip today if she'd known then what she knew now?
"You mean if I knew how much it was going to hurt? Absolutely! The times of challenge and diversity, the moments that left me feeling broken are the ones that made me grow and develop as a person. The times when I was overcome with strong, positive and happy vibes, are the moments I live for. Both of them made the adventure what it was. I wouldn't change a thing."
with the number of sportives now clogging the calendar, for many an intrepid cyclist, there's the opportunity to indulge in a season of box ticking. by planning each weekend of the summer season, it's no doubt possible to start simply and build up towards one of europe's major gran fondos. there may well be those who go back year upon year to ride the same roads once again, but surely the challenge is to test your mettle across many a different course? however, assuming the onslaught has been successful and tireless, there may well come a time when enough is enough, and it's back to plying the local roads on the sunday ride. which is sort of where we came in.
however, not everyone can get rid of a restless spirit in such a methodical manner. for sophie, is it now a case of feet up in front of the telly, or is she now deep in the recesses of google maps planning other expeditions?
Well... I'm not very good at that 'feet up in front of the telly' thing. I don't actually have a TV! Perhaps I should invest?
I'm trying to keep fit in a gentle way, keeping the heart rate low but making sure I get out and enjoy the mountains. I'm definitely planning future expeditions, but I'm also giving myself time to let all the dust settle."
to give a better idea of the expansiveness of the alpine cost to coast challenge, take a look at the video.
monday 20 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
those of us glued to the world of road racing are pretty much inured to the fact that drug taking exists in the sport at more levels than is desirable. these drugs, though allegedy diminishing as each successive generation inflitrates the peloton, have been predominantly of the performance enhancing variety. as one who has lengthy personal debates about taking a couple of ibuprofen to cure a headache, i'm the last person to discuss or lecture about the iniquities of succumbing to the temptation. simply put, it's against the regulations of the sport and thus likely to incur the wrath of the governing body in proportion to the seriousness of the offence.
however, modern society would seem also to have a problem with what are termed recreational drugs, in which alcohol is every bit as great a factor. judging by the state of some folks i've seen on a saturday evening, these could rarely be described as performance enhancing, though i'm sure through the mists of the participants, that is probably a subjective point of view.
sadly there are those who become addicted, travelling from the highs reputedly available, to the all-time lows of needing a fix on a daily or more frequent basis. i have known many who are no longer with us due to such abuses, and i'm sure most of you have too. however, rays mtb indoor bike park is a story of alcohol and drug abuse with a happy ending, one that not only confirms our faith in the bicycle as the ideal cure for all known ills, but one that proves if you grab those opportunities when they shine in your eyes, you might solve more than just the one problem.
ray petro is just such an individual, who happily consumed far more alcohol and cocaine than is considered appropriate for anyone wishing to adhere to a healthy lifestyle. living in cleveland, ohio, he left home as a teenager and moved into a rundown warehouse in the heart of downtown cleveland. He started a construction business called Studio 1863 and began making funky furniture and cabinets in the empty space next door.
"That was the first time I started to see myself as an artist. I loved the city and creating things and I had all this cool loft space where I could build whatever I wanted to make it even cooler."
that warehouse space turned into the ideal after hours party haunt for most of cleveland's party people, including drug dealers, trippers and sport and music celebrities. this offered ray the opportunity to indulge his addictions either free or at very little cost, since those party people provided ready made customers for the dealers. it's hardly stretching the imagination too much to realise his downward spiral became ever faster.
until he saw that mountain bike.
"I remember thinking it (a GT Zaskar) was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen... the fact that it actually looked fun to ride through the woods - totally blew my mind."
looking through a copy of mountain bike action pretty much sealed this far healthier addiction "It all looked cool and superhuman. The next day I stopped into the local bike shop... and ended up buying a Nishiki for like $200."
in the uk, most mountain bikers have the luxury of riding pretty much all year round. yes, it gets a bit muddier in the winter months, but for most, that's a major part of the attraction. cleveland, however is on america's east coast, on the shores of lake erie, and almost on the canadian border. the winters are rather colder than they are over here, so while mountain biking may be the ideal summer sport, it becomes a bit harder to continue in the winter months. that's what gave ray petro the idea to create an indoor mountain biking park, that would allow him and others to continue to ride all year round.
since offroad riding had completely undermined his previous alcohol and drug addictions, continuance of his new obsession held a greater degree of necessity than is probably the case for the rest of us. including those who flocked to this new-found indoor mtb recreation.
though the idea remained ever present, it took more than a brief period in time to find the ideal warehouse premises at a price that would make the whole project viable. suffice it to say that not only did he create the ideal indoor mountain bike park, but it made enough money to allow him the luxury of adding a second to his franchise, this time in milwaukee.
rays mtb indoor bike park isn't the lengthiest read i've come across, but it's every bit as addictive as the predilections of its principal subject. johnathan allen has a laconic, laid-back style of writing, one that serves his subject most appropriately. the prose is particularly fast-paced, with little in the way of unnecessary embellishment, providing as much in the way of social commentary, as it does in describing the singular mind and success of ray petro. there can be few books that open by describing a blatant disregard for the principal subject's well-being, yet end over 100 pages later with what can only be described as an overwhelming feel good factor.
if the chance presents itself, i'd suggest grabbing a copy of ray's mtb indoor bike park. the story of achievement is as pertinent to each and every one of us as it is to ray petro.
sunday 19 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
motor car manufacturers are very keen on the specifications contained in the small print at the foot of their advertisements. these most often, aside from detailing the interest free monthly payments that would have a shiny new model parked in your driveway, give credit to the miles per gallon available, garnered most likely by a professional driver circling a test track at a steady 56 mph, governed by a very attentive cruise control. in some you may also be made aware of the speed at which it can accelerate from zero to 60mph, though quite why that might be of interest i have never really managed to fathom.
but suppose the car showrooms and advertisements in both press and television showed only the chassis of these vehicles. yes, there would be steering wheels, engines and seats, but the bodywork would be completely absent. how would you make your choice from that? while i have little doubt that fuel economy, top speed and maybe even the torque produced at a steady 3,000 rpm are important factors in many drivers' ultimate choice, along with the apparent value for money and total cost, i figure the colour and shape of the bodywork plays a greater part in most folks' choice.
were you to view a bmw five series devoid of bodywork side by side with one of those dacia thingies that seem to be amongst the most economic vehicles available at present, those pertinent numbers may well take on greater importance in the absence of a saleable aesthetic. no doubt there are those who would dispute my contention, but i think the local hotelier who has recently taken delivery of an alfa romeo 4c would find that he impressed the local boy-racers a lot less if the bodywork looked far less akin to a le mans entry. granted, it's raspy exhaust note would likely still elicit enviable glances from top gear aficionados, but i think it a truism that many a motor car is selected as much on the emotion of its body shape as the numbers that tarry along for the ride.
and the same may very well be true when it comes to choosing a cycle jersey. granted, none of those i own have ever taken me close to the 1.1g acceleration claimed for the sporty alfa, but i'd be somewhat loathe to clothe myself in a polti or even liquigas cannondale jersey, because no matter the wicking claims for the latest technology in polyester, they're just plain ugly.
but in an overcrowded cycle clothing market, i often wonder why it is that new kids on the block put in regular appearances. unless you're truly bringing something new and unique to the peloton, why would you bother fighting it out midst the good, the bad and the ugly? ultimately, given the proverbial level playing field, new products that are every bit as good as, but essentially no different from the majority on offer must surely create (or recreate) a style that will find favour amongst the cognoscenti? one such candidate recently surfaced is that of barcelona's cucu.
according to cucu, the company was born from "mix of a love for cycling and a passion for design. We understand cycling as a culture that we have lived with since our childhood, when we spent our summer afternoons watching the legendary stages of the Tour de France." that pretty much puts in a nutshell, the reason why i have been riding around the principality clad in a molteni orange jersey with the word 'hautacam' writ large across the front. it is one of a range of jerseys celebrating well-known mountains featured during those three weeks in july. others bear the names of the plateau de beille and the tourmalet.
i cannot deny that each, including the hautacam edition on review, bear attractively simple designs and colours, married to a conventional, three rear pocket jersey, apparel that is every bit as good as its competition. the front features an almost concealed three-quarter zip, ending in the ubiquitous zip garage at the contrasting collar. rather cheekily, this jersey along with the plateau de beille example features a contrasting band on the right sleeve. unlike several others, however, those sleeves are rather more casual, with no sign of the silicon gloop on the cuffs to maintain a pelotonic professionalism. that said, they're a close enough fit, and were never in danger of heading towards either shoulder.
the dropped tail does, however have a thin line of gloop to prevent the back from riding up, thus keeping the lower back from experiencing any cold draughts. there are a lot of those around at present. above the tail are the three capacious pockets. these happily swallowed a showers pass elite waterproof jacket, a digital camera, tyre lever, musette and one of those granola bars you can buy in the co-op supermarket. sadly, there is no sign of a zipped fourth, an accoutrement i feel ought to be mandatory on essentially non-competitive cycle jerseys. i think we all carry loose change for a coffee, house or car keys or heaven forbid, a mobile phone, and it's nice to have somewhere secure in which to place any or all of those.
however, cucu are not alone in such remissiveness, so it would be unfair to single them out in this respect.
basically, the hautacam jersey is a stylish, well-fitted and pragmatic addition to anyone's cycling wardrobe. it doesn't break any new technological ground, but then it doesn't pretend to. it's principal sales point, i would think, depends entirely on your sense of aesthetics, coupled with a desire to satisfy them in the manner of a cycle jersey.
the cucu 'hautacam' jersey is available in sizes small to xxl at a cost of €72 (£57) currently with free postage from the cucu website
saturday 18 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
perhaps you've noticed, in american tv shows and documentaries, that it is apparently common fashion sense for blokes to wear regular shirts, but with t-shirts underneath? i'm sure it's not just on tv however, for the entire amalgamation of united states police forces also seem to have a smidgeon of white t-shirt showing at the collars of their uniforms. i can comprehend that such would be the case in northern climes or where it's bitterly cold in winter, such as the midwest, but unless my eyes deceive me, this seems to be standard dress sense even in temperatures that would make my kneecaps perspire.
there is a certain ubiquity about the look that endears itself to daily mode of dress, even on this side of the pond, but more often than not, something a tad more practical than a t-shirt is required to cope with moving from the cold outside to the overwarm inside, as well as keeping he body fortified against the cold and the wind. which is sort of where the merino baselayer steps up to the plate (to use a well-worn stateside phrase).
sadly, merino baselayers rarely pretend to be anything other than merino baselayers; no problem at all if climbing the ventoux with jersey wide open, but less than sartorially elegant in the office or the coffee shop. generally speaking, that may not be considered an overweening problem in the grand scheme of things, but if travelling on one's taurus corinto for business or pleasure, with the fervent hope that one will not be swot and hetty on arrival, a simple t-shirt 'neath that reversible jacket or, earlier in the year, a rather smart lapel jacket, is likely all one would require.
perhaps they don't have bicycle cops in the usa.
in the cases outlined above, merino is still the favoured fabric, but i'd be less than keen to wear a simple black or cream baselayer. that would surely give away the nature of my secret identity. the chaps and chapesses at imperial works have obviously run into the very same problem, even in the overwhelming heat that infects london town. and to solve what must be a universal dilemma, they have offered the city riding gent a crew-neck merino t-shirt. however, it would be unfair to confine this latest offering to the realms of the daily commute; patterned as it is, you could easily wear it below a team sky jersey or a smattering of sportwool.
fashioned from 100% fine merino wool, the rapha crew neck t-shirt can be had in four colour variations displayed as a series of narrow hoops, interrupted only by a flapped chest pocket. though they are, as you'd expect, a slim fit, the merino has sufficient natural stretch to allow for the fuller figure. the fineness of wool makes it ideal for wearing under a merino jumper or, as in my case, a reversible jacket. on a relatively mild day, only a surreptitious opening of the zip was required for extra temperature control. the fact that merino is naturally odour resistant makes this an excellent alternative to the cotton tee proclaiming you were once a student of ucla.
it may now be offered as a component in rapha's autumn/winter city riding range, but this has designs on being practical all year round.
the rapha crew-neck merino t-shirt is available in navy/cream, green/cream, green/black and black/navy (as reviewed)in sizes from xs to xxl. cost is £55.
friday 17 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when my son was learning to drive, despite my being a less than companionable passenger, i reluctantly agreed to sit in the other front seat while he navigated the various hurdles that befall the leaner driver. one of the manoeuvres in which he felt he needed practice was what is apparently known as 'reverse parking'; the art of fitting the car in between two already parked cars. aside from the intrinsic difficulty of carrying out such parking manipulation in the first place, his hardship was dramatically increased by the fact that the only two roads where minimal traffic flow made this a practicality, featured nose to tail parking along both sides.
even when we'd managed to find a solitary space wide enough for a volkswagen polo, by the time we'd driven to the end of the street and turned for a second attempt, someone else had parked in it. on more than one occasion, we'd to drive to a neighbouring village to find an altenative.
yet carlton reid contends that roads were not built for cars.
of course, his contention is entirely correct. in this particular case, the village of bowmore was built in 1768 by campbell of shawfield, a planned resettlement for many of the retained workers of islay estate. in the mid 18th century, neither cars nor bicycles were even a twinkle in anyone's eye. thus the remarkably wide roads now infested with parked cars, were constructed thus to allow the local farmers to drive their cattle and sheep not only to market, but to the old dairy once situated in flora street.
of course, as related in chapter one "Many country roads in the 19th century were rutted in winter, dust bowls in the summer and churned with deep mud at most other times."
such is the state of national pride that several countries vye for the credit of having invented the bicycle. as a scot, i'm much in favour of backing kirkpatrick macmillan as its progenitor in 1839, also likely the first person to have been involved in a bicycle accident in 1842. as the bicycle became a more popular and accepted form of transportation, its growing number of adherents began to voice their opinion over the condition of the roads on which they were attempting to ride. this was not simply a protest confined to britain and europe; america too, brought this to governmental attention through the auspices of the league of american wheelmen. this latter organisation, as reid relates, influenced our very own cyclists' touring club, most obviously in the shape of their winged logo.
however this seems to have been a reciprocal situation, with the american good roads movement modelled on britain's roads improvement association, formed by uk cycling organisations in 1886. according to association leader, william rees jeffreys, speaking in 1949 "Cyclists were the class first to take a national interest in the conditions of the roads." this is a statement presaged by the city of brooklyn's mayor in 1896 "The bicycle has done more for good roads, and will do more for good roads in the future, than any other form of vehicle." it's a notion that might seem somewhat mysterious to the modern day cyclist.
karl benz, generally credited with being inventor of the first automobile, was granted a patent for his first internal combustion engine in 1879 and subsequently another in 1886 for his first automobile. though initially the preserve of the wealthy, the motor car had, of necessity, to travel the same roads that cyclists had campaigned to improve. and there is little doubt that many of those early motorists had cut their transportational teeth aboard a bicycle.
of course, as was the case with the bicycle, the motor car did not immediately receive great approbation from the public at large, but its ability to travel further and faster while transporting greater numbers were not totally ignored. professor of surgery and pathology at the royal college of surgeons, sir henry thompson, was quoted on the health benefits of the new-fangled motor car. "The easy jolting which occurs when a motor-car is driven at a fair speed over the highway conduces a healthy agitation... it aids the peristaltic movements of the bowels and promotes the performance of their functions."
several roads may not have improved much in the intervening century, but i can think of few cars nowadays that would confer such health benefits upon their drivers.
in almost a similar manner to stalin's rewriting of history, it appears that the motoring fraternity have buried the benefits conferred upon their vehicular industries by the early bicyclists. and over time the facts have become all but forgotten. carlton reid's substantial research portrayed throughout 'roads were not built for cars' places modernity in a more accurate light. though undoubtedly motorways, freeways and autobahns were constructed with the motor car solely in mind, all of the builders of roads in our ancient cities and villages (such as bowmore) would be horrified to see what has been imposed upon their handiwork.
it's sort of a sad realisation that roads were not built for cars will likely speak to the converted. there may be one or two conscientious motorists who will find themselves intrigued by the book's title, but it seems more than likely that the bulk of its sales will be to cyclists such as you and i, who will revel in the considerable ammunition that carlton reid has provided us with. according to carlton, the contents took him four years of research and writing, and there is little denying that it is a monumental undertaking for which he deserves our considerable gratitude.
despite my scepticism as to its extended audience, there is another aspect to the book that may be in danger of being overlooked. for within the 170,000 words there is a wealth of essential history, connections between which may very well have been ignored or neglected by bona-fide historians. despite forming the character of an educational tome, reid's style of writing is compulsive; he does not over-egg the pudding, so to speak, by dwelling on particular aspects for too long, nor does he come across as the archetypal activist, intent on demolishing the shaky edifice that is the modern motor industry (though we can but hope).
he makes a convincing case for the debt of gratitude owed by every motorist to the pioneer cyclists of the late 19th century, without the reader feeling that he awaits a public apology. and it's not all bad news if you catch my drift. the book catalogues the inventiveness of individuals such as j k starley, henry sturmey, john boyd dunlop and even karl benz. it also makes mention of the effect certain inventions such as the ball bearing eventually conferred upon the infernal combustion engine. ("In Latin, Volvo means 'I roll', a reference to ball bearings") and i even learned that between 1899 and 1930, argyll motors employed 1500 staff in a "palatial purpose-built factory in Alexandria, by the banks of Loch Lomond."
however, when all's said and done, i don't really care why you buy a copy of this book, whether it's on paper or in pixels, but buy it you must. a bit like a joni mitchell album, you're bound to find something really good that you missed last time, on every subsequent perusal. this is a major triumph for carlton reid and a perhaps less obviously, for each and every cyclist the world over.
thursday 16 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm sure i'm not the only local cyclist who is regularly approached to assemble bikes for little people. the parents of these about-to-be-fortunate kids seem not to have realised that their bargain purchases do not arrive ready-assembled, but rather inside cardboard boxes, wrapped in several miles of bubble wrap. though the purist in me would prefer that they chose cycles for the little darlings from a reputable cycle store, in the absence of anything resembling the latter on islay, it seems more prudent to swallow my pride and agree to some spanner wielding.
this is a procedure that usually results in the purchase of several packets of ibuprofen to cure the resultant backache. modern day children's bicycles seem wholly intent on providing both front and rear suspension attached to an agglomeration of plain gauge and very heavy steel tubes. this results in a machine that is not only well nigh impossible to lift, but presumably every bit as hard to pedal. it is surely no wonder that today's offspring prefer their x-boxes and playstations to expending serious effort in the car park or public roads.
kid's bicycles were not always conceived thus, and in a commendable effort to remind us all of those halcyon days, frog bikes offer a comprehensive range of superbly built, lightweight bicycles. having engaged the services of a five and threequarter year-old, frog were kind enough to send a frog 55 from their hybrid range for review. the 55 in the name refers to the nominal inside leg measurement judged most appropriate for this particular model. frog recommend the 55 as suitable for six to seven year olds, but kids vary dramatically in size relative to their age, so it's worth checking the measurements.
the 55 is available in several colours including the white with coloured spots of the review model, the pink and purple spots proving particularly popular. it's also remarkably light, particularly in comparison to those dual suspension nightmares that scarcely fit the description of bicycle shaped object. if junior decides he/she is too tired to pedal anymore, it's less onerous on mum or dad to have to carry the bike home.
the sloping top tube frame is constructed from welded aluminium, as is the fork, the latter being home to a quick-release equipped 20" wheel. in a pleasantly surprising move, the rear eight-speed cassette equipped wheel is also retained by a quick-release skewer. the art of the quick-release is extended to the seatpost clamp (27.2mm seatpost diameter), meaning that when my reviewer's four year-old little brother demanded a shot, it was simplicity to drop the saddle to the correct height (aside from the bars being just a smidgeon too far away for comfort, the frog 55 fitted him rather well too).
i was once told that the cost of manufacturing a quality kids bike was not that much less than a similar adults' version. there was simply less material used. continuing their craft of offering effectively a scaled model of one intended for big people, the 55 has two bottle cage bolts on the down tube, as well as a windowed eight speed shimano alivio rapid-fire gear lever on the handlebar. the tektro linear-pull brakes are operated by a pair of closely fitted levers with substantial adjustment for reach, allowing little hands to effect a stop comfortably.
though the frog 55 also arrived in a box, cocooned in endless lengths of bubble wrap, it was the enclosed mudguards that promised impending doom for thewashingmachinepost mechanic (me). however, for a very refreshing change, fitting the guards was simplicity itself. there are one or two adult versions that could learn from such simplicity.
the tyres are comfortably wide kenda 20" x 1.5" fitted on properly spoked wheels each featuring a couple of bright green spokes to keep the kids happy. everything that truly ought to have bearings, does have bearings; including the headset and bottom bracket. basically, this is a bike that will still be in working order long after its first occupant has graduated from university.
this is the hardest part of the review to quantify, since the frog 55 is way too small for me to sit on, let alone pedal. and since my five and threequarter year-old's current steed is a pink, my little pony princess model with a dolly seat on the back, there really seemed little point in quizzing her about vertical compliance and lateral stiffness. as if a professed lack of junior technical knowledge were not enough, my prima donna in the saddle refused point blank to be photographed when riding the bike. she was more than happy to stand and pose with it, but any surreptitious attempts to photograph while riding resulted in a sudden and firm application of those tektro brakes and a stern face and folded arms.
however, despite the frog 55 being a tad larger than its my little pony predecessor, it took little time for her to adjust, particularly when the cycle seemed the perfect size with room for growth. even her little brother was happy to pedal around the car park as long as i held onto the comfortably padded and frog logo'd saddle. i had thought it possible that the front mudguard might foul little converse shoed feet, but in practice that has never happened. the bell fitted to the left of the handlebars has proved a major pinging attraction, even when the frog has been safely ensconced in the hall porch.
the kenda tyres seem to repel all boarders having been bumped up and down several kerbs in their short lifetime, but it was the gears that gave most cause for concern on my part, and endless fun for the rider. it has been a bit of a slow process trying to educate the small rider as to the correct use of the rapid fire shifters, though great progress has been made in a relatively short space of time. however, when spinning up and down the path between the houses, or the occasional adventure to the distillery bonds, if she wants to remain in one gear, then that's ok by me. there's plenty of time to learn about hyperglide later.
the lightness of the frog 55 no doubt contributes greatly to its enjoyment. it appears there's very little effort needed to travail the occasional gradient, and when a concomitant fitness results from regular pedalling, the joy ought to increase exponentially.
this is by far the best child's bicycle i have come across in the last two decades, and i only hope more parents choose frogs for their sprogs in order to save my aching back.
the frog 55 is available in the spotted version reviewed, as well as red, yellow and purple. retail cost is £255.
wednesday 15 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have inadvertantly ended up with two drum sets, where once there was only one. it did honestly happen by accident, at least in my little world it did.
the satin maple drum workshop kit i have owned for the past ten years or so, has acquitted itself particularly well, but there's no denying that its jazz influenced sizes have been challenged on more than one occasion, something that played a small part in there now being two sets of drum cases in the spare room.
notionally and historically my proclivities lean towards the jazz side of music making, and in an ideal world, i'd be playing every friday and saturday evening in a piano trio with my highly tuned drumset. however, jazz is not traditionally built around ear-splitting volume and thus the bass drum is a highly portable, convenient and quietly sonorous 18 inches in diameter. but this is islay, an island with a modest population of just over 3,000 people few of whom have any particular interest in jazz. granted, ceilidh music survives every bit as well with such a modestly proprotioned bass drum, but on the occasions when i have been required to play free's alright now, that bass drum has been rather lost in the melee.
so, on receiving an e-mail one evening from a drum store of repute, offering a shop-soiled 22" drum workshop bass drum for around a third of the new price, i'd have been rather insolent to have passed on the opportunity to own it. suffice it to say, that very drum now resides in a suitably sized case at the bottom of a growing column of drums. you see, not only was the sound from this new acquisition more than impressive, despite my feeble right foot, but its vintage marine pearl covering is, quite simply, to die for.
which not unnaturally led to thoughts of ordering a pair of matching toms. so i now own a small satin maple jazz kit and a somewhat larger, gene krupa tinged vintage marine pearl drum set.
the question is, however, which one do i favour? in truth, the larger edifice has yet to be imposed upon an adoring islay public, though the bass drum did see the light of day at the recent lagavulin islay jazz festival. i know, i know, despite being the owner of a specifically denoted jazz set, i opted for the larger alternative, played quietly. but it was new, shiny and particularly visually impressive, so cut me some slack.
however, the question as to which will find greater favour may depend a lot on what and where i'm asked to play. many of islay's venues are compact and bijou, favouring the smaller kit. and as every musician knows, the entry door is always as far from the stage as possible, so carting the larger drums may not win them too many brownie points. but oh, the sound. so any likelihood of your finding out which i prefer will have to wait a wee while.
in that sense, exactly the same as rapha's new reversible jacket, now that you come to mention it.
it's very much a visual state of affairs, as trying valiantly to describe the colour combinations to the innocent bystander is something of a conundrum. to quote from rapha's website, the options are: mustard/dark blue, dark olive/mustard and dark blue/dark olive. the option under review is the mustard/dark blue, but let me explain just what that entails.
the principal and arguably more pragmatic side in this case, is the mustard. more tactile in constitution than its darker alternative, the mustard side features a zig-zag quilted pattern with merino-blend cuffs and a lightweight primaloft insulation between outer and inner. it seems very likely it has inherited at least its quilted design factor from last year's rapha/raeburn thermal jacket. it bears also a zipped left chest pocket and two zipped and decently sized hand pockets. perform the reversible trick when no-one's looking, and the dark blue alternative is of a smoother and shinier fabric. this side features a zipped internal pocket on the right, accessed adjacent to the full length, two-way front zip.
both chest pockets act as internal options whichever colour is facing outwards. however, thought the navy side offers the trademark rapha hoop on the left sleeve, it has no hand pockets. in fact, this way round, there's really only that hidden chest pocket for unfettered cargo carrying. bulky items need not apply, though an ipod or smartphone would give little cause for concern. however, since this jacket forms part of rapha's 2014 autumn/winter city riding range, i figure there might be more than just the occasional crevice on the bike for carrying anything larger. i know there is on the taurus.
both sides are treated with a durable water repellency (dwr) coating, so while it's not waterproof, it will shrug off light rain showers with confidence. though the medium jacket reviewed is a particularly close and comfortable fit, there is a healthy degree of stretch built-in, should you have need of occasionally wearing office clothes underneath. i paired it with a rapha merino crew-neck t-shirt on occasion, as well as a rapha/raeburn henley top and a fred perry, brad wiggins merino jumper.
the insulation properties are pretty darned good, maintaining a comfortable temperature when cycling even on chillier mornings. the light weight plays well to its and our advantage; there's little more annoying than wearing bulkier garments when commuting than has been the case during a weekend in the company of the pelotonese.
the pocket arrangement notwithstanding, i haven't quite made up my mind which side i prefer. the mustard option wins hands down when considering on-the-bike visibility, but i can see the navy option being more pertinent in several business situations.
i'll get back to you.
rapha's reversible jacket is available in the above noted colour options in sizes xs to xxl at a retail cost of £190.
tuesday 14 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................