the fonts people at emigre in california have a slogan that states 'design is a good idea', clever words that have more than one direct meaning. i know i've made mention of this before, but in the intervening period of time, their efficacy has lessened not one whit. what occasionally bothers me about impeccable design, often allied to to engineering that's every bit as beautiful, is the consequent dithering over whether to put it to the use for which it was designed. as an example, i have a campagnolo nuovo record rear derailleur sitting atop my bedside table; it is there by merit of both its design and manufacture.
arguably, contemporary products from vicenza have lost some of that allure, fashioned as they are today mostly from carbon fibre. polish it all you like, it's never going to shine like that nuovo record.
the same could be said for bicycle frames from yesteryear, most often those with finely cut and fashioned steel lugs accompanied by a delicately painted colour scheme. it's of great comfort that mrs washingmachinepost has been gracious enough not to moan incessantly about that derailleur in the bedroom, but i'm pretty sure that a steel frameset on the wall would be considered a rawlplug too far. i'm pretty sure i'm not alone in this; there are probably many items of cycling paraphernalia that have never made it as far as the bicycle they were ordered for, no matter the expense and ridicule incurred.
i was fortunate a couple of years ago to receive a handbuilt pair of wheels from jude at portland's sugar wheelworks, joining a very shiny pair of white industries hubs to a pair of italian wood rims. since the latter are a tad too wide to fit my caliper equipped bicycles, they ended up on the cantilevered ibis hakkalugi 'cross bike. and in order to fulfil the promise delivered by scot nicol, those wood rims experienced the very worst that bridgend woods and an inept 'cross cyclist could throw at them. concerned about whether this was quite how such beautiful wood ought to be treated, i made mention in my review, subsequent to which i received an e-mail from the american importer, ric hjertberg attached to which was a photograph of charles pellisier wnning the 1927 french cyclocross championship on wood rims.
i now have no fear of their imminent demise.
i silently voiced similar concerns over those beautiful leather shoes proffered by martin scofield at dromarti. the most recent pair i reviewed are of the offroad variety, home to a pair of crank brothers cleats to fit the eggbeaters on the hakkalugi's cranks. by a process of deduction, it's not hard to figure that those shoes have experienced their fair share of undergrowth since arriving. but is that really the sort of thing that ought to be handed out to admittedly seemingly rugged footwear? in similar manner to that 1927 photo of charles pelissier, i received some rather impressive information from martin concerning oregon cyclocrosser greg eyerly.
he ordered some dromarti leather shoes to be sent to salem in oregon, but as is often the case with online purchases, no more was heard, at least not until earlier last month, when he sent some photos of his cyclocross activities, feet clad in those dromarti shoes.
"My brown Dromarti Sportivos are the most comfortable stylish cycling shoes i have ever worn. Here in Oregon, there are cyclocross races most evenings during the week. It's not uncommon for me to wear my Dromartis to my last business meeting of the day, with my race kit underneath my slacks, shirt and tie. The Dromartis look so good with slacks, nobody notices they are cycling shoes. I drive straight to the bike race after work, pull off my business clothes and I'm ready to warm up and race."
i must admit that i have once or twice worn a pair of dromartis to the office without comment, but since there are very few (none whatsoever) cyclocross races on islay, that has been the worst that happens to them on weekdays. but i have found myself being perhaps overly careful during my jeremy powers impressions if wearing my black dromartis, ever too nervous to mention to martin just what i've been doing to his beautifully crafted footwear. seems i need not have worried.
"One should not be worried about racing in a pair of Dromartis. They aren't too pretty to race... with a little shoe polish, they will shine like new again after a weekend of hard racing."
i have, however, stopped short of placing them on the sitting room wall.
monday 1 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i like to be helpful. i have stepped back and held out my hand to indicate that i'm happy to let someone enter the averagemarket before me. i've picked up a dropped glove and handed to someone who had yet to realise they'd dropped it, and i've placed cuddly toys back in the pram of a child who has inadvertantly chucked them overboard while trying to figure out where their fingers have gone since mummy put woolly mitts on their hands.
when my neighbour pops off to visit his daughter in some far flung land this christmas, i'll feed his two goldfish every day and sit his mail on the kitchen table to prevent a large paper build-up behind the letterbox. i've stopped on the road to assist a cyclist with a flat tyre and helped with directions where possible. this has all been done in the spirit of altruism; i have no need of payment other than the occasional thank you, and i'm not even bothered if that fails to happen.
like i said, i like to be helpful.
but despite the best efforts of several pr agencies, i draw the line at compiling a christmas gift guide, as seen in a magazine, website or television advert near you. let's face it, though some of us have known each other for a long time, i actually know very little about you. i don't know how much you have to spend, or perhaps more importantly, i don't know how how much your nearest and dearest has to spend on you. and though it's an affliction that affects every website as opposed to print publications, you can hardly leave thewashingmachinepost lying around, open at a helpful page for those who may cast a cursory glance.
and i really don't know whether you prefer rapha, castelli or endura, whether you'd rather affix your saddle to a colnago, pinarello or a shand, or even if you'd rather have cloth bar tape as opposed to cork. you might be a campagnolo aficionado, prefer double-tap or eager to move up the ladder to some japanese electronica. so in the absence of knowledge regarding the above, why would i entreat you to a list, especially when there are so many others already compiled on your behalf?
many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, i used to end the year by listing my top ten items of the year, latterly based on those i had direct experience of. but prior to that it took the form more of a wishlist, the more expensive parts of which rarely came to pass. to be honest, i have pretty much no idea whether these were of any interest to anyone other than myself. and that's the reason why i know the post cannot be left around by way of a hint, for not once did i come downstairs on christmas morning to find keenly wrapped carbon fibre (or any other frame material come to that).
so while i fervently hope that each and every one of you manages to receive velocipedinal bits and bobs for christmas; stuff that you had no idea you needed until someone bought it for you, i think i can safely say that recommendations of purchase will not have been found in these black and yellow pixels.
why am i making mention of this now? well, tomorrow is the first of december; a mere 24 days of shopping left; two dozen days to give your credit card more grief than it has ever experienced in its life. and on the off chance that you're holding back until publication of thewashingmachine christmas gift guide, i thought it better to admit to the non-existence of such an artefact before it's too late.
now, wasn't that helpful of me?
sunday 30 november 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
mrs washingmachinepost periodically purchases boxes of those instant cappuccino sachets that, in my humble opinion resemble a decent cup of cappuccino not at all. but prior to offering such succour to the desolate, nestle brought little sachets of espresso to the minds of those, like me, who really had no idea what an espresso actually was. as far as i know, such an instant beverage is no longer a part of the company's portfolio, and i can scarcely recollect whether it tasted anything like a proper espresso such as that i enjoyed on friday afternoon.
i tend to think it didn't.
and there was a time on islay when only one establishment profferred such designer coffee (the late, lamented croft kitchen formerly of port charlotte), leading to some of the very early episodes of thewashingmachinepost detailing the traversing of the aptly named espresso run. those delicately small cups of crema varied enormously in quality week by week, pretty much ensuring that a single visit to debbie's when it opened, resulted in the velo club staying put for ever.
now of course there are purveyors of froth to be found all across the island, underlined by a stunning frequency of similar establishments on every inner city corner all across the country and beyond. you'd figure there would be nowhere left safe from the pressurised coffee bean and it seems you (and i) may well be right. in the last week or so, it has come to light that even the international space station is now in possesion of an isspresso machine, confounding the absence of gravity.
italian coffee suppliers lavazza teamed up with argotec engineering to produce a cream coloured box for italian astronaut, samantha cristoforetti. proper italian espresso relies on water heated to 94 degrees celsius and passed through ground coffee under high pressure. on earth, gravity aids this process, needing nine bars of pressure to qualify as a certified italian espresso. the 20kg machine has had its piping designed to withstand pressures of 400 bar; an error in space maybe a tad more onerous than splashes on the kitchen wall.
but when my individual gaggia coffee machine ultimately failed a few years back due to a perforated pressure seal, i opted not to replace it. debbie's is but a mere 15km round the corner, the attraction of a bike ride followed by froth seriously outweighing the faff and cost of searching for the gaggia's replacement.
however, in order not to become a caffeine free zone, i acquired one of those iconic bialetti mokka pots capable of sitting on my cooker ring and providing perhaps not espresso, but a more than adequate cup of java. it straddles the fine line between the lesser forms of espresso and the drink obtained from a cafetiere; the accidental achievement of a minor level of cool, is surely simply an added bonus. the avid cyclist should always ensure that some form of coffee is readily available should withdrawal symptoms ever rear their ugly head.
the presumption is, of course, that a supply of decently appropriate ground coffee (truthfully, who can be bothered with the grinding process at home?) is readily to hand, something currently fulfilled by three 250g packets of chapeau ground blends: fixed, watts and crank. the latter is described as 'a rich, sweet and balanced blend of brazil monte cristo and colombia las acacia coffee beans.', the watts blend as 'a strong, chocolatey and full caffeine blend of colombia huila and uganda robusta coffee beans.' and the fixed variety 'a bright, light and fruity blend of brazil santa colomba, ethiopia yirgacheffe, and colombia las acacias beans.
i'm happy to take their word for all that; to my mind each offered not only a great deal of olfactory satisfaction on opening each pack, but three pretty darned decent cups of coffee. i bear the conflict of wishing to remain impartial in the face of having a distinct favourite amongst the three (the crank edition), so there's every chance that's the resealable pack that'll find itself emptied before its compatriots. but i'll save the tears for when all three are empty.
the above three variations of chapeau coffee blends are available as either ground or beans in 250g resealable packs at a cost of £5.50 each. they can be ordered direct from the chapeau website
saturday 29 november 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the world of popular music is littered with the remnants of bands who split early on in their fulsome careers through so-called musical differences. there are of course, exceptions to this state of affairs; status quo and the rolling stones spring to mind, but frequently it is the seeming iniquity of the royalties system that puts paid to future musical co-operation. many who started out as friends start to resent the fact that the singer and/or guitarist/keyboard player seem to be accumulating a small fortune in publishing royalties that have failed to trickle down to the drummer and bass player.
such a potential point of disagreement often leads to the latter hastily composing their own number one hits to bring their remuneration up to parity, only to be informed that the material is of derisory quality. hence those musical differences.
should, however, those close friends have decided that royalties would be equally split amongst all band members, it's possible that egos start to interfere. who amongst us has not come across the musician surreptitiously moving his/her mixing desk fader ever upwards in the hope of increasing the volume of their own contribution, blissfully unaware that the other members have already done the same thing? what started out as a chart topping concept album ends up as a somewhat disparate cacophony.
in my own experience, the format that worked best of all was when one musician had been responsible for creating the band in his/her own image. rather than making contributions to the overall sound, it's necessary for each recruited musician to submit their structured suggestions. it is entirely the opposite of a democracy, but everyone generally knows where they stand, quashing so-called musical differences at birth. it doesn't negate the royalties question, but once again that's a situation that either never comes up in conversation, or is made perfectly clear at the outset.
this is not to decry the nature of a democracy; they can work remarkably well and though not a precise definition of the publication, it's just how the inestimable ride journal comes across.
though ostensibly curated by brothers philip and andrew diprose, the nature of the contributions both written and illustrative give the impression of having been assembled by a co-operative. when asked to write for publications other than thewashingmachinepost, i'm inclined to send my piece well before the specified deadline because i expect to be edited. on both occasions i've been fortunate to have had work included in the journal, it seems all that was necessary was correcting my spelling and adding a few necessary capital letters. this plays well to their skills as editors, because i know i'm not really good enough to be left well alone.
now about to reach issue nine ("I certainly didn't expect it to last this long" - philip diprose) the alternative nature of the publication allows it to comfortably stand out amongst a veritable crowd of cycling publications. as if testimony were required, number nine includes contributions from such luminaries as jeremy powers, nicolas roche, taj mihelich and helen wyman, and its geographical spread takes the reader to patagonia, israel, china, new york and nepal. the ride journal's catholic taste sits not solely upon one genre of cycling: couriers, tourers, racers, commuters and track riders all have their place in its pages. it truly is a marvel that all the above can be accessed for a mere £10.50.
number nine (or ix, in publishing nomenclature) will be sent out on 15 december, and is currently available for pre-order at the address printed below. don't leave it until 14 december, because you'll forget. do it now.
friday 28 november 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though it may not be the current state of affairs in british art schools, during my own tenure as a third year graphics student we occasionally were presented with real world briefs to solve. however, for one particular project, deliberately or otherwise, a relatively important aspect of the design process was never passed onto any of those participating. we were asked to design and produce a publicity poster for the charity shelter which i decided to base on the slogan 'campaign for more umbrellas'; i know, but it made perfect sense at the time.
all this took place long before the days of the apple mac computer and its attendant adobe illustrator design software. thus all had to be hand-drawn and coloured, so any errors that happened along the way had either to be ingeniously remedied, or it was a case of starting all over again. this is not quite as onerous as it may seem, for unlike the real world where posters may be required within a single day, we had an entire term to practise our skills, (such as they were).
this possible propensity to err happily failed to impinge upon my own efforts, but not that of the fellow sat at the adjacent desk. for reasons i really cannot recall, the word yogurt featured in the slogan atop his own poster, yet he had not only spelt it 'youghourt', but succeeded in carefully painting that very mis-spelt word without going over the lines. it took an entire morning of deliberation on my part to decide whether to point this out or not, but i eventually succumbed to pragmatism and let him know.
without the benefit of google to settle the argument, he maintained that his spelling was 100% correct, and left it well alone on his now less than error free poster.
neither of us won the poster competition; in fact, none of the students in the college were even in the top three for one very good and salient reason. we had all produced beautifully coloured posters, but since shelter is hardly awash with money, the winning design was monochrome. a lot cheaper to produce.
i'm not too sure whether my fellow students, or even my lecturer quite understood my allusion to umbrellas as a means of shelter, but there's no doubt that it is/was a method of weather protection that found a great deal of favour in aberdeen's union street, only but a few miles from the college. not, you understand, with the large body of students - that would have been decidedly uncool - but certainly with the indigenous adult population. it's an implement that is conspicuous by its absence on islay, in fact, quite possibly across all the hebrides, mostly i should think, due to the propensity for windy days. aside from the fact that local rainshowers are often horizontal, thus defeating the usual vertical nature of an umbrella. but should it be directed towards that incoming horizontal rain, the wind would more than likely turn it inside out.
granted, though on the occasional trip to glasgow, it can still be something of a navigational challenge to make it from one end of buchanan street to the other without attendant ducking and diving to avoid permanent scarring, it's a weather device that seems also to have made considerable inroads to the world of sport. golfers have long seen the benefits of enormous, multi-coloured umbrellas while standing aside the green, hoping their compatriots would miss that final putt. and though rarely exposed to precipitation, i believe i have noticed young women standing beside formula one racing cars, holding sponsors' logo'd umbrellas for reasons that escape me entirely.
and yet, for such an anachronistic contraption it has successfully inveigled its way into the fabulous world of cyclocross. you need only click over to the website for this weekend's milton keynes uci world cyclocross race (saturday 29 november) and have a look at the merchandise page to find a rather fine, red state of the art example. for a mere £25 you can stand head and shoulders above anyone dressed in a dirk hofman scarf for the day. and as a souvenir from the first time a round of the uci world cup cyclocross series has taken place in the uk, it would be hard to beat. in fact, should you find it prudent to extend your cyclocross weekend, there's a round of the british national trophy the following day on which that umbrella could once more be paraded in front of an adoring public.
american national champion, jeremy powers asked whether i would be attending the race (with or without umbrella), but due to work commitments here in civilisation until late friday, there is no real practical way i can make it to milton keynes without a great deal of effort and expense. so i'll watch it on the uci's youtube channel come saturday afternoon. those of you within travelling distance not attending the sunday race can, however, meet up with jpow for a jeremy powers special cross ride leaving from and returning to the rapha cycle club in central london. if you fancy that, sign up via the link at the end of these words.
but leave the umbrella behind the counter.
thursday 27 november 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
apparently those playing the principal characters in the big bang theory, are not as obsessed with science fiction series such as star trek, star wars, babylon five and lord of the rings as their on-screen characters portray. i guess that's why they call it acting. on the other hand, many of those watching (i have my hand up) find the programme quite humorous at least in part because we are (obsessed, that is). much of the lexicon associated with such tv series have entered our very own, and our personal knowledge is enhanced to a greater or lesser degree by immediate recall of names and technology that in truth, don't actually exist.
it explains why there is a metaphorical cheer when star trek characters such as wesley crusher and geordie la forge appear on the big bang couch. it's also why phrases such as 'beam me up scotty' hold sway in common parlance. this extends even to the eccentricities employed in naming entire interplanetary races in star trek-the next generation.
before we had new double-glazing installed in the office to improve necessary ventilation during those hot scottish summers (a lttle hebridean humour there), there used to be a more or less defunct expelair fitted to one of the office windows. though it made an uncommonly incongruous noise when in use, the sense of peace and quiet that resulted from it being switched off was almost palpable. and while it would have been decidedly naff for gene rodenberry to have deigned an entire species, the expelarians, star trek's writers did in fact, resort to using the name of the aforementioned air-conditioning company's principal rivals.
thus in one particular episode of the next generation, captain picard came up against the ventaxians. stunningly obvious and gratuitously twee now that it's pointed out, but many viewrs will likely have missed the reference at the time. if you own the boxed set, go look it up. sadly it is often true that real life imitates fiction, rather than the other way round.
i have long wearied of the fact that in the world of football (soccer), no matter the logo or brand seen on the jersey front, the name of the team remains the same year after year. manchester united will always be manchester united. however, belkin used to be rabobank who were buckler before that and wordperfect before that. if garmin had been simply slipstream, then the change to cannondale and whoever else would not alter the name of the team. it could simply have been slipstream sports, riding either cervelo or cannondale bikes and sponsored by liquigas or whoever. but formula one cycling doesn't work that way.
as such, the ever-changing jersey situation hardly encourages an established fanbase, while a lack of tv money, transfer fees and the nature of international cycling effectively removing the ability to charge an entrance fee or season ticket money, makes the teams entirely dependant on commercial sponsorship. admittedly, the teams frequently belong to folks other than the sponsor. but such is the iniquity of the situation, that offering to name the team after the sponsor has become the standard operating system. perhaps not surprisingly, today's business oriented team owners are less than impressed with their straight-jacketed dilemma.
but after murmurings in the jungle for several years, with various amalgamations of tier one teams threatening to break away from the domination of aso and the uci, some of them have finally agglomerated to form a rights management company representing eleven of those teams "to drive a financial model that, in line with other international sports, ensures a sustainable future for the teams." and what did they call this vanguard of velocipedinal muscle?
if uci president brian cookson were a cowering super hero with the power to alter the hour record rules on a whim, he would likely be hiding behind the couch even as we speak. and to accompany such a fright- inducing name, is a decidely odd purple hued geometric logo that, in the finest of traditions, seems to bear no relation whatsoever to the realm in which it lives. remove the word velon and fax the logo to bernard hinault and the badger would be every bit as confused as i am.
and in the truly dramatic fashion expected of a new world super-power, the first earth-shattering move made by velon (incidentally, chaired by a former commercial director at liverpool football club and who has also worked at uefa and nike) is to extend the use of on-bike cameras 'to bring races alive from the riders'perspective, showing fans what it's like from the saddle.'
i bet manchester united wish they'd thought of that one.
wednesday 26 november 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
apropos of not very much at all, i watched the superprestige cyclocross race from spa-francorchamps on sunday via belgium's vier website, providing picture quality and size that i hope a few other broadcasters have viewed with envy. for even when the inevitable adverts were shown, they occupied on-screen boxes of their very own, while the live coverage continued alongside. in the past, while watching cycle racing on sporza, i seriously questioned the intelligence of blocking out the live coverage with adverts inviting a clickthrough. who on earth switches on to watch live sport, and midway through decides to follow a link to spurious online advertising?
however, as per usual, i digress somewhat. despite disc brakes being of legal tender in the world of cyclocross for the past two years, it's notable that the majority of european riders are still brought to a halt by front and rear cantilevers. across the pond, messrs. powers et all seem in thrall to the disc brake, a factor that may or may not be the result of slightly differently constituted 'cross courses. however, whatever the reason, kevin pauwels crossed the line well ahead of second place, lars van der haar. granted, the latter occasioned a slip on the final lap, placing himself too far back to mount a challenge for first place.
admittedly van der haar was riding a disc-equipped giant, but if my eyes do not lie to me, third and fourth places were also aboard disc-less bicycles. i'm darned if i can figure out just what that actually proves, but at the very least, in the light of continuing discussions over the possibility of discs becoming road legal, they do not appear to have taken the cyclocross world by storm.
disc brakes may not, however, be the principal point of concern (for those of us who find it of concern). the elephant in the room might possibly be more insidious; electrics.
though we've had electric/electronic shifting on road bikes for a number of years, its existence still seems more of a solution looking for a problem. it's a notion that may have been at least partially confirmed by campagnolo's recent issue of their 2015 record groupset. if i might quote from their website feature "shifting under load is no longer a problem and when you realise that the chain has moved from the small chainring to the large one, you may even think you are using an electronic EPS drivetrain!". though there's no denying the high cost of even a mechanical campagnolo record groupset, the price of the electronic version as what i like to describe as astronomical. so if their latest mechanical setup behaves as advertised, then perhaps we're witnessing if not the demise of electrics, then perhaps at least their plateau.
and the very same might be the case with electric bicycles, or at least a particular subset. i have long maintained that the electric bike market is pointed in the wrong direction. they may be constituted as bicycles jim, but not as we know them, but the addition of a motor surely moves them more into the region of scooters and mopeds. two-wheeled vehicles with the ability to move folks back and forward with the minimum of effort, providing few of the promoted benefits of cycling as we know it. however, there is no doubt that an electrically powered bicycle can provide at least a degree of that much vaunted independence to those less physically able.
the problem comes when those electric bikes begin to infiltrate the bastions formerly rightly occupied by athletic prowess and cardiovascular exuberance. at present, that almost solely concerns those who potter about on farm gates with springs and knobbly tyres. but there's nothing that says it has to stop there.
the exotic 'slickrock' sandstone trails in moab, utah have been the object of many an offroad pilgrimage even in the days when i owned and rode a mountain bike. and that wasn't yesterday. recently, the u.s. department of the interior's bureau of land management that oversees moab's mountain bike trails has added the following addendum to its website: "The Moab BLM has determined that motor assisted bicycles (electric, gas or diesel) are motorized vehicles. Use of motor assisted bicycles is only allowed on motorized trails. The use of motor assisted bicycles is NOT allowed on mountain bike trails."
conjecture and related rumblings in the world of the twenty-niner intimate that this may just be the first of many to instigate such restriction. there have been (possibly apocryphal) tales of mtb riders descending highly technical downhill courses, only to meet others on electrically assisted mountain bikes riding up in the opposite direction. if you've ever experienced the weight of a bona-fide downhill bike, you'll know that being ridden uphill is not one of its advertised features. there might be the possibility that moab's ban is something of a knee-jerk, yet preventative measure. there are many areas both in the uk and across the pond, where mountain bikes are already a touchy subject. if this is exacerbated by the interference of electric bikes (more or less motorbikes if truth be told), there's an outside possibility that it could lead to the banning of all bicycles in areas that have almost become traditionally theirs.
suddenly the prospect of cancellara having a motor inside his trek's seat tube seems rather trivial.
tuesday 25 november 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................