"this is going to freak you out, but there is actually more than one kind of biking."
i've been doing this for just over eighteen years. well, actually, thewashingmachinepost has existed much longer than that; it was originally a regular column in islay's local newspaper, but at that time it wasn't called thewashingmachinepost. as the newspaper is published every two weeks, when the transition was made to the web, that was the post's original frequency too. i'd come home from work on a friday afternoon, sit down in the armchair and figure out what i was going to write about there and then.
fortunately, few of those original web pages still exist; the notion of archiving anything didn't immediately spring to mind, so one episode simply replaced the last. this is probably quite fortuitous, as i doubt many would bear re-reading at this point in time. if you do happen to visit the archive page and scroll all the way to the bottom, you'll find that one or two of the links don't work (i must fix that sometime) and the shade of yellow background leans a tad towards the fluorescent side. and in my opinion, a lot of the writing has me wondering why anyone started reading in the first place.
however, once i'd divorced myself from the rigid two weekly update and eventually created a rod for my own back by updating daily, despite a total lack of focus (oh, you'd noticed that had you?) the post has taken on something of a periodical rhythm. during those last few years it has been suggested once or twice that i might consider grouping a heap of articles and features into either a pdf or, as is customary these days, an e-book. thankfully, for the greater benefit of mankind, i have declined so to do, and no recent events have given me cause to reconsider.
perhaps thankfully, elden nelson, otherwise known as the fat cyclist ("Elden Nelson is not fat. At least not in any real sense.") has been less reticent, having released his second collection of fat cyclist articles as an e-book entitled the great fatsby. "This is the best of about four years' worth of FatCyclist.com posts, with a few modifications." those 'few modifications' amount mostly to shuffling the articles from any recognisable chronlogical order and presaging each with some form of context.
unlike many of you, i cannot say that i am familar with fatcyclist.com. not for any reasons of arrogance, but that i rarely read other cycling blogs for fear i might realise the inadequacies of my own. in common with many who choose to write blogs (a word that had yet to be coined when i commenced the post) nelson possesses a particularly acute sense of humour. it's a feature of cycle writing i think is endemically necessary, given that most of us have the guts to ride amongst the civilian population dressed in lycra and often garish polyester yet seemingly oblivious of any lack of approbation.
"My overall impression? Spin classes might in fact be an interesting and fun way to change up your workout, and they probably burn a lot of calories in a short period of time.
"And also they really really suck."
however, there really is little chance of the prospective reader grabbing a copy of the great fatsby under any misapprehension as to its contents, for the title is subheaded "absurd cycling stories disguised as expertise & insight". and to help guide the uninitiated through its electronic pages, the author has conveniently grouped the articles into loosely thematic chapters, but sadly the e-book format seems not to support either listing of these at the front of the book nor, in their absence, any means of readily accessing the specific chapters you may wish to read. that, however, is perhaps more of a technical constraint of the format rather than a lack of forethought by the author.
the opening chapter effectively sets the tone for much of what is to follow. 'So You Want to Be a Cyclist?', which, despite its odd chapter capitalisation has much to commend it, not least for its opening sentence. "One of the really great things about cycling is how inexpensive it is." the subsequent paragraphs embarrassingly contain truths that you'd better hope your other half never gets to read. "...if you spend just $500 on that bike, you're going to find that you want to trade it in on a much nicer bike within a few months anyway.
"So you'd better plan on budgeting around $2,500 for that bike."
despite nelson's protestations on the cover, there is much sense within its pages, a lot of which could be held up as a mirror to most of us. in fact, each chapter ends by incorporating a few of the comments posted on the blog at the time of publication. several of those are every bit as humorous as the author's writing. during my reading of the great fatsby i've tried hard not to embrace any feelings of inadequacy on my own part. i fervently wish i was this perceptive and whimsical a writer. any future collection of washingmachineposts would be more than likely to pale by comparison.
with so many of you owning tablets or ruddy great smartphones these days, a smattering over £6 to arm them with some excellent reading for the holidays seems less than onerous. or you could gift it to one or two of your sunday morning peloton.
"Here's the thing about the way chains break, though: they never do it at a good time. They never break while you're coasting downhill or riding along, seated on the flats."
monday 22 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm very wary of giving away my level of decrepitude, but when i learned to drive, it was still necessary to give hand signals to indicate direction. aside from anything else, having to do so in inclement weather was hardly the most practical of situations, however... never mind the impracticalities inherent in the practice, having to remember which signal to give dependent on direction, change gear, steer to the appropriate side of the approaching junction and apply an appropriate level of braking was something i figured would be best left to the ambidextrous.
today's learner drivers (other than the one who overtook on saturday despite a motorbike heading in the opposite direction) don't know they're born.
it's an analogy i use quite often when teaching drumset. though i have questions of my own regarding the standard method of learning to play drums, there's no doubt some of the more exploratory lessons depend substantially on a level of co-ordination that can always be learned with persistent study. however, maintaining the requisite sense of rhythm throughout doesn't always respond quite so easily. for those not aware of such intricacies, there are pedals for hi-hat and bass drum along with a need to play differng patterns with each hand. fortunately, most of this requires varying degrees of co-ordination rather than any implied independence, but that's not to say it's ultimately a simple process. at least, it rarely has been for yours truly.
one of the first drummers to utilise two bass drums was the great louis bellson, who employed them as much for their visual effect as for any musical need. since carting about two large bass drums is unlikely to ease the burden of the contemporary drummer in a ford fiesta, the invention of the almost ubiquitous double pedal has been something of a godsend. this setup allows the versatile to play two beaters on one bass drum, simulating the auditory if not the visual effect of two bass drums.
in a recent issue of modern drummer magazine, a column dedicated to educating the unwary as to the techniques of playing two bass pedals, it was recommended that the act of cycling may aid the flexibility required of both feet. as one who at one time owned just such a double pedal, i can honestly say that riding my bicycle appears to have had no beneficial effect on my remarkably poor attempts at playing said pedal. i fear the author may have been misinformed.
but the act of riding a bike, despite often being described as something one never forgets, displays a consummate level of co-ordination all of its own. consider the art of clambering aboard, exerting suitable balance while steering and clipping both feet into pedals you really ought not to be looking down at on the open road. most of us take it for granted and give scarcely a second thought, but it is quite an achievement in and of itself. something you can occasionally be reminded of when failing to unclip at a road junction.
is it just me, or is modern day tarmac less welcoming than yesteryear?
but one facet of cycling few of us have need of appraisal these days is ringing a bell. though the british standard bs6102 as applicable to new bicycles demands that they are supplied with a bell of some sorts, there is apparently no legal requirement to fit it to the bicycle. lets face it, a bell attached to something such as a pinarello dogma would just be silly.
or would it...? now watch 'oh what fun it is to ride'.
sunday 21 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the bit that i never managed to figure out was the markings on the wheels of jens voigt's hour record trek bicycle. considering the technology that must have gone into the building of that bike, the precision with which it would have been custom fitted to the popular german and all the organisation that accompanies such a record event, the oversight was/is pretty much inexcusable. for both disc wheels featured minutes and seconds marked around the circumference of each, yet there were six divisions marked between each point. therefore, rather than reaching fifteen seconds at the quarter past mark, there were 18; 72 divisions altogether on each wheel.
surely somebody would have picked up on that before introducing the bike to the press?
the hour record seems to have received a new energy since the halcyon days of messrs. obree and boardman, losing some of its lustre, i'd suggest, due to the incessant meddling of cycling's governing body. thankfully, someone in aigle has seen a modicum of sense and we now have (i'm led to believe) only one hour record, offering a level velodrome to all-comers. after a quick check on twitter this past week, i'm beginning to think i'm the only soul in the world of cycling who hasn't announced an attempt in the coming year. a bit like having a cold or a bad back to excuse a day off work, i'm leaning heavily on the fact that i can't ride fixed gear to save myself.
someone with no real difficulty either on the velodrome, fixed gear or riding very fast for more than just a few minutes is movistar's alex dowsett. and taking all the foregoing into consideration, he's just announced that he's to make an attempt on the hour record at lea valley velodrome on 27 february next year.
undertaking such an effort must surely behave according to the law of diminishing returns, so, unlike the wheels on voigt's bike, all the minute details have to be looked at very closely to ensure success. riders such as dowsett and those against whom he races in world tour events, are at a level of fitness and performance offering little variation between individuals, so to successively improve on an existing record will ultimately become harder and harder. art lies in the details.
to aid dowsett in this quest, movistar clothing supplier endura, based in livingston, scotland have dressed him in a speed suit specifically developed for the event. to do so, endura teamed up with simon smart of drag2zero, carrying out extensive work in the formula one wind tunnel belonging to the mercedes amg petronas team. with endura still working on the technology, none of it has yet filtered down to the more mundane jerseys and bibshorts worn by the rest of us. however, the technology has already been proven when assisting dowsett to break the british national ten-mile tt record.
but though watching a guy ride round a velodrome for an hour is only marginally more interesting than watching paint dry, and the event itself engenders great interest with the pelotonese, ultimately, what is the point? what possible benefit for the rest of us could be satisfied by alex dowsett riding further than anyone else over the course of an hour?
well, that skinsuit doesn't exist in isolation. endura long held a reputation as providers of mountain biking apparel. long baggy shorts, jerseys with no back pockets and loosely fitting sleeves and gloves that would not have been out of place at a motocross meet. granted, there was some token road riding kit, but in truth it was not necessarily better or worse than most of their competitors. then they decided to sponsor a road racing team, eventually producing the equipe range, one which demonstrated the potential most of us knew was there all along. buoyed with the success of this, jim mcfarlane continued the upward mobility of endura cycle clothing, culminating in their becoming clothing supplier to spain's movistar team.
i still have one or two examples of endura kit from those far off days of mountain biking reputation. the movistar replica kit, identical to that provided to the professionals, quite literally knocks that into a lime-green helmet. the endless process of improvement is, of course, not confined to livingston; we ought to count ourselves extremely fortunate for this state of clothing affairs.
admit it, when was the last time you saw rory mcilroy wearing a wind-tunnel tested pringle jersey?
saturday 20 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my own first proper bike was a blue, single-speed affair, with swept back handlebars and light blue mudguards. memory does not allow me to recall what size wheels it had, but i'm willing to bet they weren't as big as i think they were. however, it appears that they were too big for the moment, because i couldn't ride it. at all. it was just a smidgeon too big for me and i could never achieve any practical sense of balance to try and learn. a great disappointment to both my dad and i, who'd just bought this vision of blue.
so i borrowed a smaller red bicycle from one of my friends across the road and spent many a frustrating day, week, month falling off in the back garden until i could eventually ride a bicycle. nowadays, when trying to assist my own kids, and presently some of those looked after by mrs washingmachinepost, it was/is a case of bending uncomfortably and holding the back of the saddle as we run/walk incessantly between here and the distillery bonds. a ride of passage, so to speak.
modern day thought currently revolves round small bicycles bereft of cranks, a chain and pedals, allowing today's kids to place both feet firmly on the ground and propel themselves along unfettered and allegedly without need of adult assistance. while there are many paeans of evidence to the efficacy of this means of cycle education, i sort of have my reservations; somehow it all seems a tad easy, if you get what i mean. allegedly, balance on these crankless cycles comes naturally, allowing the little blighters to commence riding pretty much immediately. within hours, they're scurrying here, there and everywhere while dad contacts sir dave about a future contract for his impressive offspring.
but much like many modern day conveniences, i can't help wondering whether this gross simplification of the art of the velocipedinist isn't turning out youthful cyclists with no sense of the pain and suffering that awaits them if sir dave ever follows through on those faint platitudes when dad phoned him in tenerife. graeme obree is on record as advising any incumbent simply to press harder on the pedals when the going gets a little tougher. if the evolutionary path trudged by today's kids is as easy as falling off a saddle, where will be the impetus to live the words of the flying scotsman?
it turns out, however, that for all the hardship not being experienced by the little people, those who produce the very type of cycles to which i have been referring are involved in a battle of their very own. and while internecine commercial warfare is hardly unknown in the world of business, the naming of both parties seems closer to the wonderful of disney than current thinking on brand awareness.
the claimed 1997 inventor of the balance bike, germany's like-a-bike filled the void that has now become a recognisably mature part of the cycle market. in order to differentiate, two manufacturers, latvia's brum brum and america's zum zum (honestly, i'm not making this up) have produced variations on a theme fabricated from bent birch or plywood, the latter currently seeking funding via kickstarter. in a weird oddity of market forces, brum brum have become a backer of zum zum in order to post messages on the former's kickstarter page claiming intellectual property infringement.
i have no intention whatsoever of entering into the intricacies of modern day commercialism, because i seriously doubt i'm well enough acquainted with its machinations to bring anything meaningful to the party. and i don't intend to try. however, at the time of year when, theoretically at least, more bicycles are presented to eager children than at any other single time of year, doesn't it fill your little elf heart with joy to know there are still big people in the world willing to name their companies brum brum and zum zum?
friday 19 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's a gent in the village who's been here for a number of years, yet seems not to have quite fitted into what might be termed the local groove. don't get me wrong; he's affable enough in a curt sort of a way, but he's the only bloke i know who still wears a long trench coat in winter. while to most of you this may not seem even close to aberrant behaviour, it's worth my pointing out that nobody, but nobody wears full length coats on islay (though there may have been the odd one or two during the goth period). it's the wind wot does it.
the rest of us all wear jackets (this only concerns the male population; islay women seemingly have little idea of sartorial presence).
i cannot claim total immunity from this deviation. having failed to even grasp the basic rudiments of the gaelic language and failed miserably to recognise any birdlife other than the ubiquitous barnacle goose, i attempted to reclaim some degree of locality by purchasing a waxed cotton jacket (yes, even worn while cycling) and even a similarly constituted cap. not of the cycling variety i might point out. heaven knows what i must have looked like; i'm sure that rather than seamlessly fitting in, i likely stood out like a sore, waxed cotton thumb.
this bears velocipedinal comparison. the act of cycling in the uk, prince bradley notwithstanding, is still seen as something of an eccentric activity, particularly in the light of the clothing most of us are (seemingly) happy to wear. the happy factor appending to this state of affairs is that cycling's sartorial rules, despite what you may think, are comparably lax. no matter the label affixed to the inside of the jacket or the logo applied to the leg of your bibshorts/bibtights, the very fact that we are dressed thus, automatically singles us out as members of the pelotonese. however, as with waxed cotton jackets, some are substantially better than others.
and if i may carefully reprise a portion of my opening gambit, the wind has a great deal to do with the perceived quality of any item of cycling apparel, particularly the jacket. and it is noticeable that cycle clothing has evolved to a level where the full panoply of jackets occupies that of speciality. for we are incredibly well supplied with waterproof stuff-jackets, water-resistant softshells, fully waterproof hardshells and those that offer at least minimal shelter from precipitation but full shielding from the wind. that's without even considering the varying levels of cosy insulation on offer.
the latter is a fabulously impressive factor in mavic's cosmic windjacket, apparently constructed from three different fabrics with an exterior windshell, a breathable membrane and a fleecy inner that extends all the way down each sleeve. in fact, had i realised that on my initial outing, i'd have been happy with a short-sleeve baselayer rather than the long-sleeve i wore instead. while the breathability is every bit as good as any comparable jacket, it's easily warm enough to wear with baselayer only, even in relatively cold weather.
those cosy sleeves are of an impressive length, ending in mavic's ergo cuffs which succeed in clinging closely to the wrist in order to keep the cold at bay. perhaps its most eccentric visual oddity is the full-length zip that begins in the middle of the hem, but wends its way gracefully towards the left shoulder. the fact that the zip ends in a zip garage as part of that high collar is perhaps unremarkable in itself, but starting in one seems wholly unnecessary and a bit of a footer, if i'm honest.
and while we're on the subject of zips, there's an almost full width version closing an internally portioned rear pocket, the tag of which features a pull-toggle to simplify use when riding the bike. sadly, the front zip does not possess this feature, nor is there provision for an after-market remedy. that makes life a tad more awkward when riding with gloved hands, if unzipping is deemed necessary for aerodynamic cooling. a minor detail, but...
having been inadvertantly caught in heavy rain on my way home from froth supping one saturday, i had rather resigned myself to reaching the croft a trifle damp inside. for though the cosmic jacket advertises itself as water-resistant, a lack of any taped seams seemed likely to expose its limitations in the face of a downpour. however, i'm happy to relate that those water droplets bobbled delightfully on the jacket's surface and my insides (so to speak) were nice and dry.
overall, the cosmic wind jacket is a substantially versatile item of cycling apparel, more than i'd have figured when formally introduced. come 1 january, when the jlt condor team put away their current-day clothing in the cycling wardrobe, this is one item of mavic clothing that will cheerfully see them through the rest of the winter.
thanks to mavic's michel lethenet and claire beaumont of condor cycles for assistance with this review. the cosmic jacket retails at £170.
thursday 18 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
how quickly could you ride five kilometres? ok, for me, that answer depends on wind direction, while for you the amount of traffic might be a more sensible consideration. either way, i figure most of us would ride that distance rather than walk, especially if we'd stuff to carry and had to undertake the same journey in the opposite direction at the end of the day. if it was the distance your kids had to walk to school and back (ten kilometres), more than just a few of you would soften up and give them a lift, maybe even stretching as far as to collect them again when school ends. given the weather currently troubling my sitting room window, that wouldn't be overly surprising.
the single secondary school on islay is located in bowmore, with the kids from outlying areas and the other villages being bussed in each morning. free of charge i believe. and very much to my disapproval, considering bowmore village is a mere one mile end to end, an inordinate number of children are driven to school each morning. with the average distance of a bowmore child from school of half a mile, you'd figure they could walk. they certainly can when popping down to the main street for chips and curry sauce at lunchtime.
unfortunately the same travel arrangements seem to apply to those attending the village primary school which sits directly opposite that of the secondary. bicycles are almost conspicuous by their absence, unless the school is training for whatever they call the cycling proficency test these days. were the latter to walk from home to school and back, there's really nothing bad that can happen to them unless they step off the pavement onto the road.
a number of those kids will be getting bicycles for christmas, admittedly not the most clement time of year for teeny tinies to go out cycling on 25 december, but somewhat of a tradition going back many a long year. considering the cost of even a bicycle shaped object these days, it's likely the best time of year for the big parental spend.
though i may be guilty of stating the obvious, not everywhere is this safe nor with a school that's so easy to access.
"every morning, tamara performs chores for her family before leaving for school: cooking, cleaning, fetching water, and washing dishes. then she sets out on the four kilometre walk along challenging roads to kabulanga primary school in the kafue district in zambia. tamara is twelve years old. she lost her parents when she was young and now lives with her grandmother, aunt and uncle, and four siblings in kampongwe, zambia. her favorite school subject is english and she has dreams of becoming a teacher. her grandmother says tamara is a hard worker and likes going to school. but tamara often misses classes because of the distance and difficult route."
the above is quoted from the world bicycle relief website. on july 14 this year, admittedly a long way from christmas, tamara and 99 other students at the school were presented each with a bicycle. for these they had to sign a contract agreeing to ensure a timely and regular arrival at their primary school. the bike also offers independence for her immediate family. tamara's aunt says "We will use this bike as a family. On Saturdays we will be able to take maize to the mill to grind, while Tamara will also use the bicycle to go to church on Sundays."
in addition, wbr were able to train two mechanics to service the bicycles for the school and the surrounding communities. and when tamara moves onto secondary school, the bike is likely to be handed down to younger members of the family or to other kids at kabulanga primary school.
take a look at the video linked below to see just how happy the presentation of a bicycle has made tamara and her schoolmates. though i figure we're all facing at least one month of penury as a result of our over-profligate christmas spending sprees, perhaps you could spare a coin or two to send in the direction of world bicycle relief to help them continue their darned near essential work.
after all, as we are constantly reminded, a bicycle isn't just for christmas.
wednesday 17 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
one hundred and seventeen days. that's how long we have to wait until the 2015 paris-roubaix, the one-day classic that i would happily swap for all three weeks of the tour de france. an easy statement to make, safe in the knowledge that both will likely remain in the international cycling calendar for the foreseeable future. and much as i'd hate to give the impression that between now and then nothing else matters, in point of fact, nothing else matters. it is a huge and embarrassing iniquity that most of us moan like stink about the state of the public roads, then shake our metaphorical fists at the tv, when most of the peloton opt to ride in the smoother stretches of road that border the cobbles.
there's no pleasing some folks.
the very same sense of apprehension can be seen in the eyes of the cyclocross brigade. their season ends around the switch from january to february, with nothing serious taking place between then and cross-vegas at the end of september. for the cyclocross fanatic, the spring classics and grand tours might just as well not exist; they are but insignificant events that get in the way between each season of hurdles, mud and sand. i'm not arguing against either of those facts; if i'm in the right frame of mind, either will likely seem quite equitable.
this wishing our lives away is a common state of affairs amongst members of the human race. who hasn't sat either in college or work, mentally willing the wall clock to move a darned sight faster than it has been doing all day? and now it is that time of year when polar opposites view each other's seasonal motives with suspicion. mrs washingmachinepost is a christmas enthusiast as can be witnessed by the substantial quantity of decorations and tinsel not only on our tree, but festooned about strategic parts of the croft.
i, on the other hand, view the proceedings at the end of the year with a large helping of bah humbug. the sooner it's all over the better, as far as i'm concerned, and that goes double for new year when i have need of redoubling my efforts to avoid any visible trace of scottish hogmanay tv. it is probably the biggest annual anti-climax known to mankind, or would be were it not for one salient feature...
rapha's festive 500.
ever since designer graeme raeburn was daft enough to spend his christmas holiday riding 1000km between christmas eve and new year's eve, the boredom engendered by the christmas holiday has taken on a more scintillating existence. aware that the majority of us have families to whom we owe a certain level of seasonal allegiance, the fine folks at imperial works halved the number of kilometres and offered the challenge to the great unwashed.
and thus, for the last four or five years (who can remember) i, along with a sizeable number of the world's cycling population, have had no need of watching endless repeats of only fools and horses. instead, i have kept one eye firmly set on the local weather report, for almost every year without fail, there have been days of excessive wind speed curtailing my exuberance. the silver lining that surrounds the latter fact is an opportunity to redress the situation over the following days.
they don't call it a challenge for nothing.
many of you will have joined me on my festive 500 in past years, if perhaps at somewhat of a distance. and i hope we've agreed amongst ourselves that those 500 kilometres ridden from rapha's san francisco cycle club are of hollow virtue by comparison to the same distance in britain's less freindly climate? there will always be those who err more towards the raeburn distance and which the festive 500 welcomes with open arms. but similarly to an audax ride, it is simply a case of riding those 500 kilometres in whichever manner you find most suitable.
do them all in one day if you want, or average them out over the eight day period. if you're working over the festive period, i'm sure you'll figure it out somehow, but whatever the circumstances in which you find yourself, i'd recommend embracing the challenge.
end the year in the manner in which you'd like to continue the next.
tuesday 16 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................