in the manner of my perusing corners of the interweb (mostly twitter, i'll admit) i came across an online article entitled 'on why it's important to make cycling look normal and appealing'. i'll admit at this point that i misconstrued, or rather misread that title and assumed that the author was querying such a necessity. in fact, that's the very reason i clicked the link to read. despite my desire to encourage the entire world to cycle a bicycle in preference to the ubiquitous motor car, i sometimes wonder if we're not bending over backwards just a bit too far to appease the great unwashed.
on occasional sundays, as i return from another excellent morning of sedate pedalling in the wind and rain, i pass two football teams on the school playing field dressed in less favourable apparel than worn by myself. to make matters slightly worse, there often appear to be spectators also standing in the very same inclement weather conditions. the fact that they are dressed in shorts and jerseys with numbers on the back, scurrying around a grass playing field in studded boots attempting to pop a ball in each other's nets seems to be quite acceptable behaviour. though i have no truck with football whatsoever, if twenty-two blokes want to kick a ball about in the pouring rain, that's their lookout.
however, that's not quite the point. rather than the soccer fraternity wishing to make the game seem more normal and appealing, it seems that society at large has accepted football on its own terms.
if i can move the conversation away from the sporting milieu for a moment, might i place for your consideration, a pipe band. in order to play publicly in a pipe band, it's necessary to learn either drumming or piping; both major undertakings in and of themselves. however, the scene does not stop there. shirts, ties, jackets, kilts, sporrans, thick socks and non-negotiable footwear are very much the order of the day. and should you be a part of the percussive department, there is need of wearing a harness on which to hang that rather heavy, loud, snare drum. though one or two concessions to modernity have crept in over the years, by and large, a pipe band looks pretty much the same nowadays as it did in the past. no concessions have been made in order to approach any form of acceptibility.
so why then, is it necessary to make cycling look more normal and appealing?
there are minimum requirements for cycling, not least of which is a bicycle. those more usually under consideration in these pixels are fabricated from hi-tec carbon fibre, with lightweight componentry, skinny wheels and bendy bars. hardly the sort of thing on which the average member of humanity would be likely to undertake the weekly shopping or a joyful ride in the country. to say nothing of the price tag attached.
most of us delight in endlessly discussing the minutiae of the above over a cup of strong coffee. however, even if we amsterdamise the act of cycling in order that it might be more attractive to those more used to climbing in the car each day to accomplish even the shortest of journeys, those bicycles still have to be pedalled. and all the propaganda in the world is not going to remove the fact that, in the uk at least, the born again cyclist is likely to get rained on, hailed on, snowed on and blown the wrong way down a one-way street. perhaps it's worth accepting that there are factors involved in cycling promotion that are outwith our remit.
by all means we should never let up pressure on government and local councils to provide more practical facilities for those of us who do choose to cycle. nor should we lessen the pressure on car drivers to be a tad more considerate to those they share the road with. but isn't it just possible that too much effort is being put into trying to make cycling look normal and appealing. what if we're looking at it from the wrong perspective and in truth, the appealing factor about cycling is that it's not normal?
monday 12 january 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if i could blame it on the increasing grasp that health and safety holds over modern british culture, then i would. but i think that may be a tad on the simplistic side by way of explanation. the house in which mrs washingmachinepost and i lived for a year when we first moved to the hebrides, featured large, plate glass french windows at the gable end of the kitchen. these faced out over loch indaal, offering marvellous views of the rhinns of islay across the water, as well as any fishing boat activity that might take place in early morning or late afternoon.
however, an added bonus (or demerit, if you're that way inclined) was an ability to see whatever weather was heading in our direction long before it hit the east side of the loch on which we lived. it is a dramatic feature of both the highlands and islands that we have acres and acres of sky (nothing to do with rupert murdoch); there are no tall buildings obscuring its often cloud laden beauty from sight. thus, assuming the wind to be proceeding from a northwesterly direction as it is at present, rain, hail or snow was impeccably evident out over the atlantic long before it made landfall. always assuming we were in the kitchen in the first place.
such a view, either from the safety of the coal-fired rayburn stove, or even in the saddle on the way to the middle of nowhere, one either existed in climatic ignorance or fearful apprehension, depending on the season. but matters have changed considerably in the past quarter century, what with the increased computing power available in ever smaller boxes, the invention of the internet and allegedly major strides in the field of meteorology. despite concrete evidence of the latter, combined with easier public access to its generated content, the weather has remained steadfastly and ultimately unpredictable, at least for more than 24 hours at a time.
for reasons of uniformity, many of us out here rely on a website by the name of xcweather to keep us informed from where we might expect to rescue the washing that used to hang on the line in the back garden. in fairness, it is reasonably accurate, but only within the 24 hour period mentioned above. it is not at all unusual to check the weather for the following weekend in order to better plan the velo club sunday ride, only to find that by friday evening all has changed for better or worse. and if followed on twitter, the met office has started issuing various colours of weather warnings; yellow for pretty breezy, amber for 'batten down the hatches' and presumably red for 'holy shit'.
those can surely only engender a greater level of fear amongst the populace? there's a great deal to be said for ignorance is bliss; more often than not, the warning turns out to have been mostly in vain. and calling certain sets of circumstances by the apellation weather bomb, really does no-one any favours.
of course, none of the above really serve to prevent what i shall heretofore refer to as the twmp principle. based loosely on the existing peter principle in which everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence, the twmp principle states that ultimately, every bike rider will reach their own level of stupidity.
i know this because i have already tested the veracity of this contention to its ultimate conclusion.
this past week (and if xcweather is to be believed, most of next week) the west coast of scotland has been home to winds inhabiting both yellow and amber weather warnings. stornoway, quite some distance to the north, experienced a record breaking gust of 113mph, while islay was let off relatively lightly with gusts of only 70mph. those are winds in which, no matter how badass you might think yourself, you simply do not ride your bike.
however, when the weekend hoves into view, that inherited need to go cycling, competes feverishly with wind speeds that are hellbent against that happening. at some point, something has to give; either i stay indoors all day bemoaning my fate and convinced it's perfectly ok to go riding (even though i know it's not), or i bite the bullet (so to speak), and take the cylocross bike from its somnolent repose in the shed and go riding anyway.
yesterday, despite evidence of the winds hovering between 40 - 50mph, with gusts of up to 60mph, i dressed in fleece, polyester and lycra and went out anyway. headwinds, though not to be sneezed at, are mostly a matter of gruntwork; the cliched heads down, no nonsense, mindless boogie, if you will. however, one need only take a look at a map of islay to realise that the road from bowmore to bruichladdich, and a most welcome cup of froth, forms an approximation of a semi-circle. this means that at one point or another, there will be crosswinds, and they will have every bit the same amount of force as those headwinds.
not only is my bicycle not very heavy, neither am i, and when attempting to make it to the froth station yesterday, i believe i may have overextended my luck. almost. the short stretch of road between bowmore and bridgend ran at right angles to the rather severe wind direction, meaning i was being continually buffeted into the middle of the road. no matter how strong a rider you may think yourself to be, those erratic and unpredictable sideways gusts will do everything in their power to alleviate you of that belief.
in my favour, i did manage to reach the few houses at carnain, just at the carrabus road junction some eight kilometres from home, but mitigating against that was the fact that this was far more by luck than design. i'd love to say this was purely due to the power of my chris hoy thighs, advanced bike handling skills, and tenacity n the face of adversity. but in truth, i was very lucky that passing vehicles gave this idiot a very wide berth and that i had the good sense to stop occasionally when life seemed to be getting a bit on the dangerous side.
i'm used to riding in the wind, and fairly serious winds at that, but i really need to remember that i'm not getting any younger and that i'm not always in charge of my own velocipedinal destiny. yesterday, i reached my own level of stupidity, but the worst bit is that i'll probably do so at least once more in the very near future.
some folks just never learn.
sunday 11 january 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
let us for a moment assume that i am applying for the position of directeur sportif at a well-known cycle racing team. though this is an entirely hypothetical set of circumstances, i'm sure many of you will already have had difficulty in suppressing a whole flurry of sniggers. however, bear with me for a paragraph or two. by paying close attention to more than just a single season of cycle racing of many distinct flavours, i now feel i have sufficient sporting nous to assist any enterprising race team in their quest for 2015 victory.
you would imagine that whoever has been designated responsible for carrying out the job interviews will have appraised themselves of my inherent qualities, as indeed they will also have done for my co-applicants. not that any of them stand a chance, you understand. a knowledge of the how a team works, how to manage highly strung athletes, understand at least the basics behind sports nutrition and be able to keep a close eye upon the logistics behind an entire season's international racing. additionally, a motivational character ought surely to be of particular use.
however, aside from having subscribed to eurosport's online service that i might acquaint myself as to the nature of the dance, i have no real background in cycle racing. in fact, if we're being quite upfront and honest about it all, i've never pinned a number on any one of those three back pockets. nor, indeed, do i have any sports qualifications that would assist my case when it comes to both the application and interview processes. depending entirely on the quality and qualifications of my co-applicants, there would be a fair case for giving me only a cursory glance before telling me that '"we'll be in touch".
i'm fairly sure that several years studying art at college, followed by a reasonable number of further years involved in graphic design and prepress processes has little, if any, bearing on attempting to become a directeur sportif, particularly at such an advanced age in life. but those of us in what i might disparagingly refer to as the menial end of the employment scale are apparently judged by a different set of criteria than our so-called betters.
halfords was established in 1892 as a wholesale ironmongery in birmingham by frederick rushbrooke. ten years later, he opened a store on halford street in leicester, after which the business was named and started selling cycle products. last year, they bought out the bike brand founded by chris boardman of which they had previously been sole retailers. its present chief executive, matt davies, has overseen a 43 percent improvement in share price since joining in 2012, ironic in the light of a 6% drop in the value of those very shares when he announced he would be leaving the company later this year, to take over the position of chief executive at the ailing supermarket chain, tesco.
now, while i'm well aware that both halfords and tesco could be accurately described as retailers, even the least interested observer of either couldn't miss the fact that they don't actually sell the same sort of products. in fact, there really is very little comparison between food and drink and bicycles and car spares. so how is it that a man with a demonstrably successful background in the latter is welcomed at a company that's not doing so well these days selling (or rather, not selling) foodtsuffs. did they miss this salient fact on his application form?
odd sort of world, isn't it?
matt davies photo: cavendish press
saturday 10 january 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
samuel alexander mudd lived in the middle years of the 19th century, and as owner of a tobacco farm he was also gainfully employed as a doctor in southern maryland. the instrument of his downfall was a chance meeting with john wilkes booth. the civil war had seriously damaged his business, particularly when maryland abolished slavery, in one fell swoop, removing much of the labour employed on his farm.
john booth had originally planned to kidnap president lincoln, but instead, as is well known to those with even a passing interest in american history, he assassinated the president on 14 april, 1865, subsequently riding with his co-conspirator, david herold, to samuel mudd's home the following day. mudd's involvement in the assassination plot remains unclear, for booth had visited the doctor at his home the day after shooting lincoln, allegedly for the sole purpose of surgery on his fractured leg. following this, he crossed into the state of virginia.
mudd's failure to report the visit until 24 hours later seems to be the sole circumstance connecting him to the heinous crime. there is no evidence to prove that he had previous knowledge that booth intended to kill the president. however, he was arrested on 26 april and found guilty of aiding and abetting the murder, a crime carrying a life sentence. a single vote saved him from the death penalty.
in 1869 president andrew johnston pardoned samuel mudd and released him from prison , but despite repeated attempts by family and friends, his original conviction was never overturned. this fact alone is reputedly the origination of the phrase mud(d) sticks. it's an aphorism that remains every bit as true today as it was in the 19th century.
you would think, however, that the smoothness of matt finished carbon fibre would be all but immune to the vicissitudes of gravel, mud and islay's equivalent of belgian toothpaste. it would be naive to pretend that such a carbon finish does not offer at least some defence against dark-matter, but after 110km on the hebridean version of paris roubaix, the iniquities of the roads department's seeming inabilities in the field of road repairs as well as the outpourings from several hundred cattle and sheep, as the borg would have said "resistance is futile".
though i'm sure it's a situation that manifests itself only inside my head, as one of the founding members of velo club d'ardbeg, i feel it incumbent upon my public persona to ensure that the velocipede de jour offer strength and conviction to the civilian population. thus, when one is astride a machine with the bearing of a colnago c60, not only should its passage be feverishly quick, but it ought also to be seen to do so in impeccable fashion.
in other words, i like to keep it clean.
for this very purpose, and named in typically laconic american style, pedros' green fizz is the very foaming substance designed to keep the bicycle in the manner to which its maker figured it ought to look on the shop floor. available in 500ml or one litre bottles, this green liquid is applied to the frame and its bits via a removable spray nozzle that immediately foams the green fizz as it leaves the bottle. rather disappointingly, the foam turned out to be white and not green; the latter notion was an attractive one while it lasted.
it's simplicity itself to lather the entire bike in fizzy foam, but i'd advise standing upwind while so doing if you'd prefer not to emulate frosty the snowman. because the foam uses surfactants rather than solvents, it's safe to use on all parts of the bike, including carbon, without causing any untoward damage. once the bike looks like my grandson's bubble bath, the fizz can be removed either by chucking buckets of water over the frame, or as did i, with a squirty bottle of water.
brilliantly, on rinsing off the foam, almost all of the aforementioned detritus had drained off onto the ground under the workstand. i'm tempted to say effortlessly, but i did have to persuade one or two awkward patches with a sponge. the only downside i could find was the potential economy involved. after three liberal foamings of the c60 and its tyres and wheel rims, there was only around a quarter of the contents left. perhaps when the novelty of spraying so much foam wears off, it'll last a bit longer.
but i do think the chaps at pedros ought to consider making the spraying of green fizz result in green foam.
friday 9 january 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's been nine months since colnago released their c60 on an expectant world. models in a rather fetching gold and white art decor paint scheme had been seen at the taiwan cycle show in early 2014, and team europcar had several of their riders aboard the c60 in both giro and tour de france. but with the ever increasing and squaring of the tube profiles (one of the few carbon bikes still actually made from definable tubes), how long can colnago continue to retain the handling and comfort properties for which they have become renowned?
this was probably one of the most consistent review periods i've ever experienced with any bicycle. arriving just prior to my undertaking the 2014 festive 500, it was a bike i rode every day for almost two weeks. and on more than one occasion, i extended my minimum distance by some considerable margin because i was enjoying the ride. many others have already expressed their considered opinions of the colnago c60, and now it's my turn.
thursday 8 january 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
one of the girls with whom i work has a definite case of obsessive compulsive disorder specifically related to a determined need to tidy and clean. both of us tend to be in the office at least fifteen minutes before we're officially due to start, mostly, in her case, to make a cup of tea before settling down to spend the rest of her day dealing with inscrutable numbers on spreadsheets and accounts packages.
while she's through making the tea (i generally abstain at that time of the day), i can trudge my way through lots of lovely e-mail spam, on the close lookout for something that might actually be relevant to the day's business. quite frequently, about half an hour has passed before it dawns on me that she has not returned from the kitchen. on further investigation, there she is, with marigold gloves on, cleaning the sink, polishing the surface, sweeping the floor... you gain the general idea.
unfortunately for one so impeccably clean and tidy, she occupies the desk opposite mine, one who has no qualms whatsoever about leaving all manner of pens, cables, sheets of paper, envelopes and all the other items related to the paperless society cluttering the area around the imac. sitting midst such superficial chaos fills me with a sense of purpose; oddly, i find it comforting, and though i couldn't immediately find anything of importance, i know it's there somewhere. i'd like to say we have a symbiotic relationship, but i'm sure i'd be lying.
however, everybody has a character failing somewhere, and mine concerns bicycle chains. if there's a deep psychological reason for this, i'd be willing to point the finger at eurosport's tour de france coverage. every now and again, one of the intrepid motorbike camaramen will hang over the side of the bike, holding the camera a few centimetres above the tarmac, giving us a worm's-eye view of one or two derailleurs and ever so shiny chains.
i'm well aware that professional riders are supported by an entire staff of mechanics who's sole purpose in life is to fettle a truckload of bicycles at each day's end, handing them back each startline morning as if they'd just been lifted from a cycle store showroom. i'd like my bicycle to be like that, but just like everyone else, there are more pressing necessities at the end of a mucky winter's ride. such as having a hot shower and gorging on food.
however, my mechanical knowledge stretches as far as being aware the following day's forward motion depends greatly on the chain being in pristine condition. particularly if i've given the mavic car the day off. if the chain breaks, won't i look silly? so, once the niceties have been taken care of, i clean the chain with liberal squirts of degreaser and an old rag, before drying it and applying an appropriate lubricant.
there is a good case for accepting all modern-day chain lubes as equals, but in the case of aesthetics, some seem far more likely to leave the chain looking black and oily, though ostensibly carrying out their prescribed duties. i dare say that's an excellent indicator of it fulfilling its employment demands, but i'd still like to own a shiny chain, just in case eurosport start broadcasting the velo club's sunday ride.
the recent eight days of festive 500, followed by 70km on new year's day, in weather conditions that were not always favourable changed my daily chain medication not one whit. but in this case, each day's application of chain lube was of the original synthetic lube, developed by bruce fina and andrew herrick in 1989. both fellows were avid mountain bikers in america's pacific northwest, a region of the states that receives only marginally less precipitation than the scottish inner hebrides. pedros syn lube offers a rather satisfying concoction of synthetic oil, teflon tenacity and detergent ingredients which, according to the label, is waterproof in the face the insistent and persistent wet stuff.
i cannot deny that i barely gave the syn lube a chance to prove its longevity, or indeed its waterproofing qualities. in order to retain a satin sheen on the review colnago's eleven-speed chain, i subjected it to the daily routine, ending with a drip of the faintly green syn lube on each chain link, then wiping off the excess with one of those handy rags that seem to follow any bicycle fettling.
throughout the review period, not only was there nary a whimper from the drivetrain, the shifting across eleven campagnolo sprockets and two campagnolo chainrings was damned close to perfect. granted, a more exacting review would have been to lube the chain on christmas eve and leave well alone until the new year. but as i mentioned above, a shiny chain is my one concession to obsessive compulsive disorder.
wednesday 7 january 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though it's probably irreligious to make light of the true meaning of christmas, i note that a christian theologian took time to point out that christ was probably not born in a stable. according to the rev. ian paul, this misconception is likely due to a misreading of the new testament, a manuscript that, according to paul, scarcely even hints that this might have been the case.
though still a religious holiday for many, the commerciality of the modern western world often means a never-ending diet of christmas movies, children's tv channels populated with nothing but toy adverts and city-centres teeming with exhausted shoppers ever eager to put themselves in financial debt that will probably take until next christmas to pay off.
but christmas, for many, is also holiday time. possibly a time to be with family and friends, making every effort to over-eat, but only to excess, and hopefully shift those extra pounds with a half-hearted new year's resolution. but holidays also, by their very definition, mean time away from the office and at least a few hours in which to indulge those singular passions, away from too much christmas spirit and endless re-runs of only fools and horses (or the equivalent comedy show in your country). for those of a velocipedinal persuasion, there's the annual rapha festive 500, a personal challenge to ride 500 kilometres between christmas eve and new year's eve.
as many of you will know, the precursor to this annual event was rapha's senior designer, graeme raeburn, spending his christmas holidays in 2009, riding a substantial 1000km. since not all of us are possessed of the spare time and fortitude of mr raeburn, in 2010, the more realistic target of 500km was initiated. i, along with many others, have participated (successfully, i might add) since that first year. though figures are unavailable for 2010, charlie pearch of jardine lloyd thomson, better known in racing circles as jlt, offers the following analysis of the 2014 festive 500.
"If the last few days are anything to go by, the phenomenal interest in cycling in the UK continues unabated.
"For the past three years, Strava has sponsored the Rapha Festive 500 'skill challenge' where anyone riding 500 kilometres or more during an eight day festive period (December 24th to midnight on New Years eve) is eligible to receive a small cloth patch courtesy of Rapha, who also provide some lovely 'awards' for stories emanating from the challenge.
"In the challenge just finished 7,500 British participants took part with 1,239 of them completing the challenge. A rider in Earby - who stopped 200 metres short of the 500km mark - must be kicking his front wheel in frustration if he wanted one of the delightful 'limited edition' patches.
"In purely numerical terms, UK participants were eclipsed only by participants from the USA. But considering the population differential (64 million versus 316 million) the UK's figures are remarkable. Unsurprisingly given the weather conditions, and the fact that the country is long recognised as being sport mad, Australia (population 23 million) had the highest country participation proportion.
"According to Strava a total of 10.4 million kilometres were ridden by 40,000 riders, equating to an incredible 261 times around the circumference of the globe or 2.4 times around the circumference of the sun.
"However, what is perhaps surprising is that the two powerhouse cycling nations Belgium and France - feature so far down the participation pecking order.
Of course, the challenge brings out male testosterone and many watch the ding-dong battle for top dog with considerable interest. This year it goes to Matsuoka Hiromasa from Kobe, Japan who rode a record 2,292 km in this years challenge.
"While Rapha deliberate as to who they will hand out their awards, my hope is that they will give due consideration to Paddy Dunne, a 50 plus-year-old Irish farmer hailing from Wilton in Wiltshire, and who for the third time in succession came in second. In 2012 he rode 1,606 km and was beaten by an Australian riding 200km more; last year he rode 1,740kms only to be pipped at the post by an American (+55km) and this year he upped his game yet again spending three days six hours (of the eight) riding 1,932 km, only to be beaten once again! This time by a younger man from Kobe, who unlike Paddy, did not have to battle with dangerously icy roads.
to everybody who took part in the 2014 festive 500, whether you achieved the target distance or not, charlie and i offer our congratulations. there will be another one along in around 50 weeks.
tuesday 6 january 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................