the last issue of our local newspaper featured a double page centre spread occupied with the words of jamie mcgrigor msp and mike russell msp. though both represent different political parties, they met behind a common cause; that of depopulation, a subject that mcgrigor had managed to have discussed in the scottish parliament. islay's population has reduced by around ten percent over the last decade, a situation reflected across the whole of argyll & bute of which islay is a part. i do not intend to continue the discussion in these pixels, but at least a part of the reason behind this exodus can be attributed to a wholesale movement to scotland's cities and urban areas.
to an extent, this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. as fewer folks live in our towns and villages, small businesses find themselves in need of fewer staff to service a reduced number of residents. in order to create or further their careers, the youth have little option but to move to where the work is. most usually, the cities or larger towns. (london's population is apparently growing at the rate of 2,000 per week.)
this effectively places more onus on the cities to manage their necessary expansion and means of catering to an ever-increasing resident population. city living is, as i have made previous mention, an acquired taste. some folks delight in the hustle and bustle, while others find themselves with no alternative but to grin and bear it. obviously enough, more people in the city tautologically means more individuals who need to be somewhere by means of public or private transport. few, if any of the roads in britain's cities were originally built to cater for the numbers of cars, buses and taxis that have need of using them. and i'm sure more than just a few would agree with me that london's underground system struggles to cater for the number of passengers at certain times of the day.
something that is probably not going to ease anytime soon.
that's not to say or imply, however, that nothing is currently being done to improve city life. the latest news on this front is glasgow city council's posting of an online petition to reduce the city speed limit to 20mph, following edinburgh's achievement of the same on around 80% of their roads. such a move has the potential to alleviate concerns over so-called rat-traps, where city drivers take short cuts through residential areas in order to reach their weekday morning desks on time.
however, no matter the level of personal or constitutional advocacy imposed to promote cycle use, the simple solution to the conundrum is to make cycling the quickest and most efficient means of traversing the metropolitan region. so says pia preibisch behrens of the bicycle office, copenhagen. "when we ask those in copenhagen why they use the bike, they choose it because it's fast and convenient. very few of them are choosing it because of the environment [...] i think it's better to make the cycling the fastest and easiest way of getting from a to b..."
aside from traffic-calming measures and a reduction in inner-city speed limits as proposed by glasgow and already enacted by edinburgh, the counter argument by the authorities often rests on the knowledge that our city streets would struggle to cope with both motor vehicle and cycling lanes. while this could easily be seen as a logical defence, it's a situation that exists across many european urban areas, yet many have coped remarkably well. the story in north america features echoes of those excuses.
however, new york's transport alternatives paul white quotes the sinatra lyric "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." an attribution that has been promoted by european cities when pointing out that many urban areas on this side of the pond have even narrower streets than new york, a city which itself, has narrower streets than many other north american metropolitan areas. but though speed of travel might be seen as a self-evident plus in the bicycle's favour, it might not entirely fulfil the quest to improve the urban quality of life.
paul white, however, makes the valid point that cities are rarely a disparate collection of neighbourhoods, each living independent of the others. by cycling around new york rather than taking the subway, "you are literally knitting together all these different neighbourhoods." this is something that's as true of london or glasgow as it is of the big apple. granted, the joined up city can be discovered by the intrepid individual without aid from the city council. but by easing the means of achievement on behalf of the potential cycling masses, surely such mobility will help create a more unified urban streetlife?
many years ago, i was interviewed by a research graduate, (over) eager to dole out grant funding that might provide augmented cycling facilities on the island. but an island such as islay manages just fine as it is. compared to the mainland, the roads are relatively quiet, even during the summer season. any signposting and cycle lanes would ultimately prove surplus to requirements and, in my opinion, a waste of funds that could have been more effectively used elsewhere. oddly, the fellow was less than chuffed at my stance, but i believe i have been proved correct.
the city, and by implication its urban surrounds, are where money and minds ought to be exercised in favour of the bicycle. unfettered motor vehicle expansion will, almost by definition, bring cities to their knees. it would seem prudent to tackle this problem in timely fashion if the exodus from the rural idyll is to be satisfactorily catered for.
monday 16 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
earlier this week i paid tribute to benedict campbell's movie 'for the love of mud', a marvellous piece of cinematography offering a wide range of views as to just what constitutes the sport or activity of cyclocross. i have viewed more than one movie concerning the sport, some a tad more compact and bijou than campbell's, but no less interesting and addictive for that. however, as i believe i may have said in the review, by the time the movie had finished, were i not already in possession of a rather fabulous 'cross bike in the bikeshed, i'd have been scouring the online sites for something that would occupy pride of place in that same cycle abode.
it was/is, in a word, inspirational.
engendering such a response is a not ill-considered factor in any cycle-related movie. it's doubtless a similar motive applied to films featuring other sporting activities. watching those who are at the top or somewhere near it can elicit one of two responses; either we try and train harder to equal their efforts and skills, or the realisation dawns that we'll never be that good and go play dominoes or scrabble instead. i can warrant the same modus operandi behind drum dvds (unless by neil peart).
however, while cycling fortitude can be a useful source of inspiration to the rest of us, have we ever considered that cycling, or the bicycle might conceivably be a source of inspiration on which to draw for seemingly unrelated meanderings? the evidence would suggest apparently not, for after wracking my brain for more minutes than i care to relate, i struggled to come up with any relevant examples. granted, picasso offered a sculpture of a bull's head using a leather saddle and a pair of handlebars, but i'm not altogether sure that counts.
you can decide for yourselves.
yet, and i know we've been through this before, take a look at the word thewashingmachinepost atop this pile of black and yellow pixels. it was fashioned in this manner by rich roat, the guy in the big office at 1145 yorklyn road, yorklyn, delaware. the home of house industries, the font foundry behind not only the richard sachs cyclocross team, but the impressive typeface that heads my page. in fact, so galvanised was i with the font, that it is now used for headings and captions in our local newspaper.
and the font, as stated by house industries in their latest cheeky little video, was influenced by the bicycle. world domination, one step at a time.
dan chabanov rides for the richard sachs cyclocross team and probably doesn't really smoke in 'real life'.
sunday 15 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there have possibly been more column inches expended on the subject of cycle helmet wear than any other velocipedinally related subject matter. or at least that was probably the case before everyone started announcing attempts on the hour record as new year dawned. often the pragmatic reasons for wearing a helmet are subsumed in emotional responses from both sides of the argument. those clamouring for mandatory helmet wear will usually have a queue of medical practitioners offering incontrovertible evidence in favour, while dyed in the wool cyclists maintain that it ought to be open to individual choice.
fortunately for both you and me, i've no intention of resuscitating the debate here. it strikes me that there is no right answer to the question, and aside from my own opinion, i have insufficient journalistic ability to make any valid contribution to the affair.
whether or not helmets make any difference to the safety of their wearers in the face of increasing motor vehicle use does not nullify the rather cogent and undeniable point that accidents do happen. and in the world of the bicycle/motor car interface, the former almost always comes off worst. according to statistics prepared in 2013, 109 cyclists were killed while out and about, six of whom were children. the figures for those seriously injured and slightly injured are considerably larger. overall, almost 20,000 people were killed or injured while on their bicycles during 2013.
those are, to be honest, rather scary numbers. but it's probably of little consolation to those involved in any of the above accident statistics to learn that, as a percentage of those cycling in the uk, they're not entirely overwhelming. i've always figured that framing cycle accident statistics in such a manner is more to salve the conscience of the motoring lobby than to offer any real sense of perspective. however...
those statistics do make for interesting if less than enjoyable reading. surprisingly, just under 50% of fatalities happen on country roads, but less surprisingly, 80% of all cycling incidents take place during daylight, and completely unsuprisingly virtually all child accidents happen in daytime.
probably the single most important aspect of this endless list of cycle related accident statistics is to ask the question, why? why has anyone spent so much time drilling this far down; does this degree of analysis actually help anyone? and if so, who? as we reach the midpoint of the 21st century's second decade, the fact that so many accidents still take place would rather suggest that, irrespective of where the fault lies, we're basically not paying attention. neither to such horrific numbers nor to our fellow road users. failure to look properly can be attributed 57% towards motorists, but concomitantly towards 43% of cyclists.
no amount of prior knowledge or safety measures will ever completely remove accidents from britain's roads. because accidents do happen. however, by making ourselves much more aware of our surroundings and traffic movements, they can hopefully be minimised to the point where there will be little reward to be gained from presenting them in graphic format as seen here. treat every other road user as a complete idiot and hope that they're returning the compliment, and always make sure that your bicycle, of whatever flavour, is mechanically sound before letting it take you out in traffic.
saturday 14 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the idea of covering the internal wall of one's abode with what is rather tautologically referred to as wallpaper, first found popularity with the bourgeoisie in renaissance europe. the elite continued with the practice of hanging tapestries, much as they had been doing since the middle ages. not only did the latter add a much lauded layer of decoration to what were mostly stone-walled buildings, but in the absence of central heating, provided a desired layer of insulation to often large, cold rooms.
the gentry, keen to differentiate themselves from the proletariat, were a tad short of cash to purchase large collections of tapestries, and thus settled for this new-fangled wallpaper. in those early times, sheets of wallpaper often featured similar scenes to those woven into tapestries, and prior to the habit of pasting them to the walls, frequently hung loose. famed draughtsmen such as albrecht durer worked on both large printed images as well as ornamental work, setting something of an early trend, if slightly more intricate, for modern wallpapers.
by the late 18th century, machines had been invented to utilise hand-carved blocks to repetitively apply coloured tints on long sheets of paper, subsequently replaced by a patented machine that could apply patterns to continuous lengths of wallpaper.
in contemporary times, wallpaper seems as subject to the fashion whims of the day, and not just with regards the designs. several of us will have cringing recollections of the crazed patterns from the sixties that our parents had meticulously applied to the hall, lounge and sitting room by the local decorator. oft times, the more tactile members of the breed, hiding under the all-encompassing epithet of anaglypta, allowed the diy enthusiast the luxury of repainting as whim or necessity dictated, either in the same colour or something more in keeping with the times.
the mighty dave t who, in a previous life was a painter/decorator of no little repute, would generally recommend paint rather than paper, on the basis of the previously mentioned ever-changing fashion. however, there is little doubt that there are both times and places when nothing but wallpaper will truly suffice, preferably featuring a design that reflects your personal preferences, yet thoroughly equitable to other members of the family. the sort of thing i had in mind is probably least well illustrated by wallpapers in kids' bedrooms; who amongst us wouldn't cycle as far away as possible were we to be surrounded by peppa pig or fireman sam?
grown-ups (allegedly) are less swayed by being surrounded with graphic reminders of their favourite television programmes, though this doesn't exclude us from favouring decor to match our sporting or activity obsessions. i should, at this point, issue a warning that him or her indoors may not express the desired degree of tolerance towards individual choice that you might hope would be the case. in other words, you're on your own with this.
as a subset of queensway print ltd, drops offers the luxury of large format panoramic wallcoverings depicting the classic road races, iconic climbs and the grand tours, using imagery drawn from the portfolios of geoff waugh and jered & ashley gruber. this it has done for a year or so. but more recently they have been joined by the inestimable graphic talents of richard mitchelson, he of eddy and cav vinyl figures fame as well as his unique illustrations featured in early copies of rouleur magazine.
never able to restrain himself from sketching productively, rich has hand-drawn and coloured a selection of velocipedinal artifacts including the iconic campag delta brakes, chain links, casquettes, helmets, saddles, pumps and bottles, arranged into a repeating pattern and now available on sizeable lengths of wallpaper (10m x 0.5m) selling for £85 each.
cyclists are renowned (at least that's what i'm telling you) for their sociability and desire to selflessly participate in activities related to the art of pedalling a bicycle. they're also just as keen on attending cycle shows in the vain attempt to differentiate one carbon frame from another. in order that you might alleviate the stresses and strains of so doing today and all weekend at the london cycle show, rich will be there with a black and white oultined version of his wallpaper so that attendees can help him colour it in. there's every likelihood the real thing will also be on display in case your colour sense has temporarily deserted for the day.
should you be as impressed by his graphic prowess as am i, you can pre-order all the wallpaper you'll need to decorate the study, sitting room and bike shed with delivery between five and six weeks later. that ought to offer enough time to subtly introduce the idea to your better half.
just tell them what a really nice bloke rich mitch truly is. that ought to swing it.
friday 13 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the old fashioned way of finding out just where in the uk you actually were has left concrete traces (literally) as low as one metre below sea level to the tops of hills and mountains. trig points feature heavily across the more rugged regions of britain, providing the more intrepid of travellers with a means of figuring out just where in the world they were. though a present location must be regarded as a singular state, in order to accurately plot its location, it was necessary to triangulate that position via three of those trig points. thus the one point on the landscape was effectively being viewed from three differing perspectives.
of course, modernity has all but rendered those trig points surplus to requirements. the intricate network of orbiting gps satellites above our planet offers considerably greater accuracy in pinpointing a location. not only that, but the technology has proved to be not only effective, but cheap enough to offer even the leisure cyclist the opportunity to ride around with a gps receiver on the handlebars. that way, with minimal setup, it's easily possible to detect not only the specific location of the rider and bicycle at any point along the route, but to calculate just how slowly that location is changing.
however, though trig points required a minimum of three to triangulate a position, gps requires at least four satellites to achieve the same objective. yet even in this age of digital immediacy, those four satellites still 'view' that one position from different, if distant, positions. the fact that a trig point remains stubbornly intact atop pen y gent, one of the three peaks traversed in the cyclocross race of the same name is, apropos the following, rather appropriate.
this idea of looking at the same thing from different angles forms the basis of benedict campbell's superb film 'for the love of mud'. cyclocross is cyclocross, is cyclocross, but it's a sport or activity that means different things to different folks. though crowds at the milton keynes round of the uci world championship 'cross series were highly impressive for a minority corner of a minority sport, belgium is a whole 'nuther bucket of cowbells. and across the pond, cyclocross is the fastest growing section of the velocipedinal milieu, where races are more inclusive of all age groups than is the case anywhere else.
however, what comes across through in-flight interviews with sven nys, yu takenouchi, helen wyman, jeremy powers, and ben sumner, to name but a few is that should you wish to make it to the summit of the sport, a house move to belgium is all but mandatory. though flandrian races usually encompass only juniors and elite men and women, with smaller pelotons than seen in north america, the spectator numbers are huge and tv coverage vies with that of soccer. during 'cross season, there are enough well-populated races held each week to demand that any athlete improve beyond all measure.
despite its international coverage, 'for the love of mud' with its glorious, heavy block lettering for titles, has its feet and point of origination in great britain. the film's opening faces and words are provided by rouleur editor and rapha supercross founder, ian cleverly, followed by the ever-present simon burney. the soundtrack is well chosen and allows for some very slick editing yet unobtrusive during race footage, of which there is enough to satisfy even the most demanding of 'cross aficionados.
the notion that cyclocross means so much to all involved, albeit from a variety of differing perspectives, is reinforced by the film's wide-ranging remit. the history of cyclocross, something of a loose amalgam of recollections, is notable for its archive footage, including riders of yesteryear ploughing the mud on penny farthings. also for the definition of steeplechase, when riders would use the spires or steeples of village churches to aid their navigation while racing from town to town in the early part of the 20th century.
the ultimate in eccentricity, the single event that most would claim never to take part in again, yet find themselves lining up at the start in helwith bridge, is the aforementioned annual three peaks cyclocross race. taking place in late september each year, the course almost epitomizes simon burney's loose definition of cyclocross as "cross-country running while carrying a bicycle". except as is also pointed out, the only one running is eleven times winner, rob jebb. footage of the entire field, slowly climbing rough ground and all shouldering their bikes demonstrates just how hard and let's face it 'odd', this race truly is. as both i and benedict campbell maintain, 'cross means different things to different folks.
a small boy wearing a specialized helmet, when asked which part of the race he has just completed was his favourite, after a moment or two of rumination announces "when i finished". and 2012 north american women's vet champion, julie lockhart would frighten even the most committed couch-potato when expressing her total joy and involvement in the sport at the age of 73. ben sumner, one of britain's cyclocross hopes for the future, is followed through periods of training and racing here and abroad while campbell also points his camera and microphone in the direction of stef and helen wyman, surely the most popular couple in european cyclocross. sven nys remains as enigmatic as ever, underlined by short cameos in which he says little or nothing.
to date, this is surely the very best cinematic representation of cyclocross possible. were i not already a convert, i'd have been scouring the interweb for suitable cyclocross bikes the minute that bold lettered 'fin' appeared on screen. 'for the love of mud' is as much campbell's labour of love as that displayed by any of the racers, mechanics and supporters featured in the film's one hour 28 minutes of joy. benedict has totally immersed himself in depicting the sport, without once getting in the way of his subject. though this film will affirm everything you thought you knew about cyclocross, when it's over you'll more than likely have become one of those who views the road season as something to be endured till 'cross comes round again.
as richard sachs has mentioned on more than one occasion 'cross fcuking rules'.
'for the love of mud' will be shown on saturday 7 march in st margaret's hall, st margaret's street, bradford-on-avon. tickets available here.
thursday 12 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my sole contribution to the world of philosophy concerns the human ability to notice that which surrounds them, while being apparently blissfully unaware of other more pertinent details. add to this an innate faculty to project onto others that which they themselves cannot directly see. lest this sounds a tad convoluted for a wednesday afternoon, allow me to illustrate with an example.
if i can convince you just for a minute to be even vaguely interested in performance motor cars, let's take as exhibit number one, a lamborghini aventador. this particular vehicle, leaning towards the utterly pointless generates 700hp from a lamborghini built v12 engine, offers a top speed of 350kph (around 200mph) and can shift the hapless driver from zero to 100kph in a mere 2.9 seconds. performance details aside, and the fact that i doubt there's a road in the hebrides on which it could be driven even in first gear, it is a rather striking looking vehicle. it's not the sort of motor car that you'd lose in a multi-storey car park.
however, this ability to turn heads even when stationary can only be seen by passers-by. at a cost for the basic model of $393,695 (a little over a quarter of a million pounds) the grinning owner can see only the steering wheel, dashboard and windscreen wipers. the folks who gain the bulk of the visual pleasure engendered by this example of italian style are those on the outside.
and so it is too with regard to the bicycle, though admittedly in a less overt manner. hundreds if not thousands of individuals have made use of the bicycle in its ultimate travel form, circumnavigating the globe to view the world at a far slower pace than from the driver's seat of a lamborghini aventador. yet though concerns over the constitution of the bicycle and its associated luggage will have occupied many, many hours of preparation prior to departure, once underway, the rider will be less than visually aware of its existence.
that is not to imply a couldn't-care-less attitude on the part of our hypothetical travelling bicyclist, but more the fact that the world is a far more interesting place than the double-diamond frame and functional componentry. aside from the legendary eight wonders of the world, there are endless other attractions to be seen, such as the statues of buddha in the far east, the remote monasteries of tibet, the oddly shaped backdrop to china's li river and curiously yet attractively lit bicycle rickshaws of malacca.
already you've forgotten the sweeping aerodynamic shapes of that lamborghini.
photographer paul jerissen and his partner grace johnson set off in 2010 "on a multi-year cycling tour covering four continents. Wherever we went, we searched out bike culture, dramatic landscapes and remote places." happily for the rest of us, they documented their travels with some stunning photography. "In 2005 I said goodbye to expensive analogue film and hello to digital photography. With the possibility of unlimited shots, I could finally start taking pictures of a subject that fascinated me; bicycle culture."
Jeurissen grew up in amsterdam surrounded by bicycle culture, but as he states "They were just everyday objects that you used to go to the shops or school." on starting to cycle through other countries and across different continents, he realised that the bicycle meant different things to different peoples, offering the ideal subject for an interesting photographic theme. and so began the extensive cycling trips of jeurissen and johnson.
this free e-book, designed, edited and written by grace johnson is quite stunning. jeurissen has an artistic, yet discriminating eye that picks out the beautiful, the quirky and the downright fascinating without ever once leaning towards pretension, while johnson's accompanying text exhibits a concise regard for the pertinent. it made me realise that i probably spend too much time emulating chris froome and looking down at my stem instead of the potential wonders that surround me. however, as jeurissen has alluded to above, the bicycle means different things to different folks. since free means quite literally, no expense, what do you have to lose? download this minute; you will not be sorry.
whether you own a lamborghini or not.
wednesday 11 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
some of you, predominantly in london village, will recall tour de ville, a bike shop that looked pretty much nothing like a bike shop in an obscure corner of the capital city. rather than stepping off the pavement and in through the front door, tour de ville was reached through an open courtyard, with the shop name writ large on a brick wall separating it from next door. at the time i visited in 2009, it looked less like a cycle store and more like a work in progress, but for all i know, that was a deliberate ploy.
rather than offer the latest in carbon fibre frames and electronic trinketry, tour de ville concentrated on vintage european cycles and a varied selection of new old stock italian and european componentry. in short, it was a cyclist's dream; it was hard to know just where to look next, and it may have helped the prospective customer if they'd provided wheelbarrows at the door instead of carrier bags. unfortunately, tour de ville is now no more.
however, on my sole visit to the establishment, while mentally adding up the cost of all the bicycles i couldn't possibly afford, let alone the thought of mrs washingmachinepost actually allowing me to bring any of them home, i came across a rather delectable steel colnago with the letters rdv engraved in the chrome fork crown.
roger de vlaeminck.
rdv rode for gis-gelati in the early 1980s, from which time i presume this particular colnago dated. however, the period of his career with which roger is mostly identified were the years from 1973 to 1977; the brooklyn years. during that period mr paris-roubaix won the cobbled classic three times, having preceded these victories by an edition previously won in 1972 when riding for dreher. de vlaeminck was not only highly successful in the giro d'italia, winning the points classification three times, but also put his excellent bike handling skills to good use by winning the belgian national cyclo-cross championships on three occasions.
though he retired from professional racing in 1984, rdv hasn't deserted his beloved sport, nor has he found it necessary to restrain from offering one or two firm opinions on the modern incarnation of the sport "...cycling isn't as hard as it used to be." in short, the very character that the cycling cognoscenti would like to have adorning the front of a t-shirt.
satisfying this latent pelotonic need, mick and andy at prendas ciclismo commissioned esteemed illustrator ('cycling anthology') simon scarsbrook to provide an appropriate characterisation to screen-print on the front of this desirable garment. backed by a variation on the iconic brooklyn chewing gum logo, scarsbrook has achieved a remarkable likeness, a factor quite frequently missing from retrospective t-shirts (i'm sure we can all think of a few that fit that description.
"I was able to collect a good amount of references. The finished illustration was made from about five different photos (all of them 3/4 view!), but I also had a couple of side-on views from different times. The likeness I did find tricky, but it is something I seem to be getting better at (after 30 years, off and on, of life drawing helps)."
when at art college, i was quite besotted by the art of the caricature, oddly something that was actively discouraged by more than just one of the lecturers. however, achieving caricature rather than a photographic likeness were two aspects that mostly escaped me. if the opposite turned out to be true, it was more likely by sheer luck rather than by design. simon scarsbrook, however, seems to have it down to a fine art.
"I think it is a case of exaggerating some aspects, leaving
out others, letting the eye fill in the rest. You can't go too far wrong with
those side-burns though.
I also think some things come almost unconsciously; I looked again at (the t-shirt) today and saw how much his profile stands out isolated against the blue. I must have thought about that and planned it that way; but I don't remember!"
simon kindly sent over the initial sketch for the t-shirt design (done on the train to work) as well as another that was rejected for being 'a bit too cartoony'. i've included them above.
with the heavyweight cotton t-shirt available in sizes from small all the way up to xxl for only £19.95, you could likely wear this as an ironic comment on modern racing strategies. or you could just wear it because it's pretty darned brilliant.
grateful thanks to simon scarsbrook for his assistance with this feature and for his early illustrations.
tuesday 10 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................