a lad with whom one or two of us used to cycle in my faux mountain biking days, had a predilection for lusting after the next great thing, even though the word great was used in an advisory capacity. he could convince himself, with only modest assistance from the rest of us, that rather than simply wanting to own the latest in trinketry, he actually needed to. such a state of affairs was one ripe for good natured jesting (or so we all thought), allowing us to suggest saddles covered with aircraft-grade lycra and the like.
oh how i'd have loved to have been the sales assistant listening to that request on the phone.
however, there may have been some grace due for his need of instant gratification. in the late 1980s and early nineties, aluminium, (preferably of an aircraft grade configuration) assumed a different anodised colouring almost every second week, each subsequent hue rendering the previous one null and void. and decidedly uncool. as one distinctly uninformed in the intricacies of metallurgy, i have no idea whether the usurper in the form of titanium, could or was ever anodised. perhaps its brushed sheen was enough in and of itself.
however, as the sway of metal diminished as the latter stages of the 20th century progressed and burnt plastic, as mike burrows once described it, occupied the top spot in all things bicycle, the overwhelming picture was one of black. granted it could be viewed with an outer laminate of tidy weave or perhaps more of a marbled effect, but with one or two exceptions, in the manner of henry ford, it could be any colour you like as long as it was black.
this rule of carbon has remained prevalent for a considerable length of time, inflitrating many aspects of the cycle world, from brake calipers to saddle tops, from handlebars to bottle cages. considering the material is employed in holding wings onto jumbo jets, there seem few applications to which carbon fibre is not suited. britain's ashmei cycling apparel has even managed to have it infiltrate the fibres of its excellent merino jersey, though the colour black is conspicuous by its absence.
ashmei, along with many other cycle apparel providers, pay great tribute to the benefits of merino wool; excellent wicking properties, warm in winter and cool in summer, almost impervious to odour and properly constituted, very comfortable next to the skin. however, in a clever twist, ashmei have incorporated carbon filaments which, according to them, speeds up the moisture wicking and drying process.
given that, up until very recently (yesterday, in fact) the hebridean ambience has been less than sweltering, the only sensible means of putting their claims to the test was to subject the short-sleeve jersey to several score kilometres over a winter baselayer and under ashmei's own softshell jacket. add a bit more welly than is seemly in public view, and even in cooler atmospheres, the jersey had its work cut out to keep me in the manner to which i wished to continue.
i will not kid you on, or tell fibs; the back of the jersey did become a trifle damp, but in truth not only was this to be expected, but it was no more nor less than any other merino jersey in my possession. actually, it was probably a bit less, but that might just have been because i wasn't trying hard enough. though it may not seem like it, the fact that its merino/carbon-ness was hardly noticeable, strikes me as something of a positive result.
though the existence of that softshell over the top rather alleviated any necessity to occupy the jersey's rear pockets, once more i find myself slightly at odds with ashmei's pocket philosophy. the two open pockets, divided by a black decorative stripe are generously proportioned, and capable of swallowing even a stowaway rain jacket with ease. however, as a creature of habit, i rather prefer the standard three pockets. additionally, though i'm a stickler for a zipped pocket somewheres about, i really can't see the case for providing two of the little blighters.
on the face of it, quibbling over pocket arrangements may seem a tad superficial, and i'd probably agree with anyone taking me to task, but i'm none too sure of any convincing reasons for messing with the tried and tested.
my only other quibble, and it's one that affects not only the ashmei jersey, is the need for a zip garage at the bottom as well as the top. as one who has nipped the skin on his neck on more than one occasion, i need no convincing of the reasoning behind the one on the collar. however, i cannot for the life of me figure out what one at the foot of the zip is preventing. in this case, as in others, it simply added an unnecessary level of faff into zipping up in the first place.
i have become used to it, but i'd really rather not have had to in the first place.
however, neither of those supposed deficiencies can detract from the fact that this is a truly superb jersey. in similar manner to their recently reviewed softshell, this is a very stylish piece of kit, one nicely complementing the other. it's also a jersey that tends not to look too out of place in the coffee shop. ashmei contend that it's a bike-specific fit, one with which i would not argue, but it's also a reasonably relaxed fit, obviating any possibility that you'd be mistaken for a refugee from the peloton.
the added carbon seems to have had a convincing effect on the jersey's constitution, not only in the fierce heat of battle, but also after washing, a process it has survived with aplomb. in a parallel with flann o'brien's the third policeman, when i ride my colnago c40, it's now difficult to view where colnago's carbon ends and ashmei's begins.
monday 23 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my parents' former abode was situated right on the corner of what was rather laughingly referred to as a crescent. this meant that though the front garden was commendably compact and bijou, the garden to the rear was a heck of a lot larger. when we moved there in the early 1960s, the previous owners left us with two cooking apple trees, one eating apple tree, gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes, fresh mint, a crab apple tree, raspberry bushes, a pear tree and a cherry tree.
all of those were more than welcome come summertime when we could eat fresh apples every day, apple crumbles and pies were never in short supply and nor was raspberry and blackcurrant jam, gooseberry crumble, crab apple jelly and one or two less than savoury pears, a fruit that steadfastly remained chough; a good scots' word meaning, in this case, hard and unpalatable. but what of the cherries, i hear you less than interested to learn? well since you could obviously care less, i'll tell you anyway.
the cherries only ever got to the point of turning a pale yellow before the birds nicked the lot. in the 21 years i lived in the house, i only recall picking a single red(ish) example which tasted rather tart if truth be known. to be honest, i was rather expecting it to taste similar to the glacé cherries my mother used for baking. i rather liked them. but in point of fact, the taste of the cherries on our tree remained somewhat academic, since we never managed to harvest anything like a significant number that would have provided any of the benefits in perhaps a cherry pie.
it is possible, recalling its sour taste, that we owned a montmorency cherry tree, currently the most popular sour cherry in north america and the principal constituent in american cherry pies as well as in jams and preserves. it also appears that the montmorency cherry has a myriad of benefits other than filling the gap between two layers of pastry. major research carried out by a number of british and american universities have bestowed healing properties upon this large, bright red fruit including the ability to fend off the worst symptoms of arthritis and insomnia, an aid to exercise recovery plus ownership of masses of antioxidants.
almost hard to believe in a fruit so relatively small.
but apart from fruit pies and jams, montmorency cherries are often presented in concentrated form such as that offered by cherryactive in their shot packs. these easy to open sachets, similar in style to energy gels, contain concentrated cherry juice that can be added to water, providing a surprisingly pleasant drink both on and off the bike. despite their tart reputation, little of that comes across in drink format, particularly if, as any self-respecting cyclist would, you add it to a glass of san pellegrino.
as with many gels and energy drinks, we pretty much have to take the manufacturer's claims at face value. there is no scientific way i could honestly tell you that my cherry active inflected glass of san pellegrino had me recovering any more quickly or better than consumption of a straightforward glass of the fizzy stuff. or any other recovery product for that matter. however, i still maintain that, no matter the professed benefits, if it doesn't taste good, neither you nor i are likely to ingest enough of it to be of benefit in the first place.
the slightly tart taste is, to my palette at least, preferable to many of the sickly sweet alternatives. so much so, in fact, that i rather look forward to that glass of fizzy montmorencies after 70 or 80 kilometres in the saddle. one cherryactive 30ml shot costs £1.79, but on the basis that you're unlikely to order just one, the cost becomes progressively cheaper the more you purchase. for instance, order six dozen, and the price reduces to £1.50 each.
sunday 22 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the world of pipe bands is, as you might expect, fairly well regimented, though allegedly not as much as was once the case. having originated from military beginnings, there was no doubt a degree of disciplinary momentum that carried a few of them into the periphery of the musical realm. the elderly gent who had received much of his percussive training while in the army and once played both tenor and bass drum in islay pipe band maintained that the short flashes that accompanied a pair of thick woolly socks had need of being precisely perpendicular to the shin. otherwise, he intimated, we would be docked several marks by the judges when taking part in competition.
of course, he may have made that up.
my defection from the world of pipe bands back to civilian status several years ago had pretty much everything to do with this perceived need to participate in competitive events. i still maintain that the two activities that ought not to be subjected to the vicissitudes of competition are music and art. for both are purely subjective in the eyes or ears of the beholder. there are no correct answers applicable to either. this is pretty much entirely at odds with competitive sport where, no matter your own predilections of support, the first across the line is the winner; or the team scoring the most goals; or the player gaining the most pointage. i think i've explained the gist of my contention.
however, there is one aspect of pipe band music that i missed out on completely due to my aversion to the strictures of competition and that was the opportunity to get my jim kilpatrick sticks into a strathspey.
this was originally a type of dance tune written in 4/4 time, similar in intent to a hornpipe, but played more slowly and in a stately fashion. the emphasis of the four beats takes on a strong, weak, strong, weak mode, and due to its dotted note rhythm, it offered the intrepid snare drummer the ideal opportunity to demonstrate his/her rudimental skill. or, as in my case, complete lack thereof.
in pipe band competition, as the band moves up the grades from the lowly position of grade four, the band is often required to have two selections available, being told only which they are required to play as they march onto the field. these are simply known as a medley, consisting of a selection of tunes arranged by the band or a march, strathsepy and reel. the latter is often shortened to msr.
you'll probably be at least one step ahead of me at this point, but as i was inducted into the intricacies of a traditional style of music of which i knew (and still know) very little, everytime the msr was mentioned in the early days, i couldn't for the life of me figure out what milan sanremo had to do with the skirl of those god awful drones. even today, when msr is brought up in conversation (and you might be surprised to learn just how often that is round here), i still feel i missed out on not having played a strathspey. milan sanremo still holds the upper hand in a head 'full of wee churly bits', as my mother used to say.
only a day before the real thing, milan sanremo is also uppermost in the minds of the fellows over at massif central. not content with offering custom data prints and the tours of both france and italy, they have turned their digital sights to the monuments, beginning, not entirely unnaturally to the first, taking place in italy tomorrow. the format is, to a certain extent similar to that of the grand tours, but the scheme of a single day event has had, to my mind at least, a beneficial influence on its graphical presence. you need only take a look at the accompanying illustrations above to realise just how monumental an edifice massif central have produced.
of course, the race hasn't taken place yet, so details from the 106th running of milan sanremo will be added before it heads off to the printer. for only £35, you can have a piece of cycling history to adorn your wall. a limited edition of 106 and available in black or blue.
while they have concentrated on the distance for msr, for the others in the series, flanders gets the cobbles and bergs while roubaix has the infamous pavé. liege, as the old lady will feature the age factor. and aside from what they have planned for the race of the falling leaves this october, the combined version will be a doozy.
as a footnote, it's likely entirely coincidental that remo manufacture the drumheads used on the pipe band snares.
saturday 21 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's many a long year since i eagerly perused the monthly mountain bike magazines for all manner of anodised aluminium and titanium geegaws that i might affix to my muddy fox. these would rather obviously make me the envy of the entire island's population and at the same time provide me with a mountain bike that could be blown away with a good sneeze. there would scarcely be any effort in ascending grassy knolls and should a farm gate obstruct my onward path, it would have been but a simple matter of hoisting those oversized frame tubes over my right shoulder and lightly stepping over its firmly closed flimsiness.
...on my way to that errant farm gate, inconsiderately sited across the path leading to laggan point, i had acquired almost an entire field's worth of mud that still clung tenaciously to every nook and cranny that muddy fox had thought to include in their mega range. this situation was a source of constant humour; that offroad weight weenies would spend every last penny in order that they would own featherweight knobblies, yet whoop and grin when stumblining across acres of mud. surely something of an economic contradiction?
it's a conundrum that affects not only the knobbly people. naming no names, there have been generously proportioned mamils pictured in the comic, riding state of the art carbon and electronic doohickery, when they may well have been better carrying out hill repeats on an old steel boneshaker to lose a bit of girth.
it's a situation from which the eager cycle commuter is far from immune. despite riding less than salubrious machinery to prevent thievery and envy, hooked about their person or bicycles will almost without doubt, be a heavy d-lock to ensure the bike is still there at day's end. if only there was a way to make the necessary bike lock a smidgeon lighter than your bicycle.
former aeronautical engineer and keen cyclist, professor neil barron figures he may have hit upon the ideal solution. weighing less than one kilogram, the litelock by its very name sounds like it could be the answer to several velocipedinal needs. making use of several lightweight materials, neil and his colleagues have created boaflexicore, a layered composite strap that is able to withstand a sustained attack for longer than five minutes. cable cutters, bolt croppers and hacksaws can all be restrained from breaking the lightlock in the twinkling of an eye that most cycle thieves adjudge necessary to steal and make a clean, unhindered getaway.
if the above features seem too good to be true, it gets even better. the name boaflexicore probably gives a bit of the game away, but the strap is, by its very nature, flexible. that means there are several practical ways it can be carried; strapped along the top tube, curled into a loop and affixed to top tube and seat tube, or even looped through the straps of your courier bag or rucksack. its flexibility also allows two locks to be clicked together into one large lock and even operated with a single key.
so where can you get one (or two) of these marvels? like many contemporary innovative ideas, professor barron has elected to run a kickstarter campaign to fund tooling and final testing. far too many of us ride around on paperweight carbon fibre these days, bicycles the price of which would not only scare your bank manager, but also your significant other half if your monthly credit card bill was ever found. the ability to securely lock it while coffee and cake are consumed, removes the need to sit right by the window and keep an eye open for miscreants. and all this because a standard d-lock would undoubtedly cramp the style for which you would like to become accustomed, famed and praised.
there's an astonishing level of technological creativity being applied in the field of bicycle science these days. it would be a crying shame for any of it to scatter to the four winds for a lack of support. go on. you know you ought to.
friday 20 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i really do want to, honestly, but the notion of riding around either britain's roads or even those on the continent in the company of one or two thousand others has never filled me with gleeful anticipation. no doubt it's as a result of participating in the annual 'ride of the falling rain' where i probably know more than just a few of my fellow pelotonese and certainly every centimetre of every road. of course, the other way of looking at it is that i'm a total wimp possessed of ant-social tendencies and a lack of velocipedinal skills in a group of more than four.
i will accept either as the correct answer.
my most recent experience of riding in what could legitimately be regarded as a peloton was a couple of years ago on the inaugural rapha retreat in southern provence. however, it wasn't long before both my ascending and descending inabilities were called into question. in this case i attributed it to journalistic licence; i was simply viewing the scenery at a more sedate pace than my compatriots. though i was unaware of it being the case in the latter instance, it's my experience that there are always one or two in a group of cyclists who have need of demonstrating their avowed superiority (even if it is subsequently proved to be missing altogether). i'm not one of them.
therefore, you really have to wonder why a self-confessed loner of a wimp has taken on the task of reviewing the latest book from the highly respected cicerone press consisting of twenty classic sportive rides in the south-east of england. for heaven's sake, just check out my geographical location to see just how apposite this might be.
but on the other hand, perhaps i'm the very person who should be reviewing this slim, but fastidious volume. for surely those who reside in the area will already be familiar with the highways and byeways described in glorious detail within? and in that case, they may be inclined to ride on experience as opposed to directed instruction.
the book opens with a brief precis of the popularity currently applied to the sportive (a genre of cycling now with its very own magazine), and doesn't take too long to point out that the south-east of england is amongst the most highly populated in the country. this makes quite a difference in terms of traffic density if you compare it to my own sunday morning ride. and perhaps rather obviously, if i do eventually decide that riding my bike in the south-east of england is the very fun thing i ought to do, i'll need somewhere to stay. colin dennis has thought of this for folks like me.
he's also paid close attention to the accessories i might like to take with me in case of mechanical malfeasance. i did however, manage a wry smile at the short paragraphs on how to ride on single-track lanes and over cattle grids.
it will surprise you not one whit that the book's 124 pages contain a total of twenty sportives including rides in sevenoaks, portsmouth, reigate, newbury, reading and brighton. i'd like to point out that, as a hebridean who has lived a sheltered life, i confess to having never heard of brockenhurst, theale or fleet. but then, folks living in those hitherto unknown regions have likely never heard of gartbreck, uiskentuie or kilchiaran.
though each ride contains a route overlaid on an ordnance survey map, the author does recommend acquiring a larger version. it's often hard to keep a paperback open at the correct page, never mind the strain on your eyesight when looking at an a5 sized graphic while straining every sinew climbing a large bump in the road. all are graded according to a scale originally met at the beginning of the book, and after a brief overview, a series of explicit directions and a course profile ought to safely get you from start to finish with little other than the danger of physical exertion in between.
the index at the back of the book offers a list of geographically relevant bike shops and cycle repair outfits, should any mechanicals of a nature outside your abilities occur, and each sportive ride has gpx files available for download. though i am under no illusion as to how hard it would be riding any of these twenty, even without a headwind, it strikes me that the really hard bit, for me at least, would be getting there in the first place.
but at least i now know where brockenhurst lives.
(there's a price in american dollars on the back cover; is there really a market for these routes from across the pond?)
thursday 19 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
we are, as members of the cycling cognoscenti, if nothing else, are more than adept at huddling ourselves into factions. tidy little enclaves of fandom that are somewhat amorphous at the edges. by this i mean there are those of us besotted with the spring classics, those who adore those three weeks in may, again in july and latterly in late august early september, and those for whom the road season is but one more hurdle in their appreciation of all things cyclocross. adherence will, at best, take on a seasonal hue, meaning that i can hang flandrian flags from my bedroom window on the weekends of paris-roubaix and la ronde, yet take my cuddly credit lyonnaise lyon to work when it's short sleeves and bibshorts weather. plus, i adore cyclocross.
though there is an undoubted proud affiliation with either, dependent on who's asking, there's nothing in the uci rule book that says we cannot experience an unbroken timeline of besottedness.
but there is a fundamental difference between the pounding of italian white roads, a cipressa or two and demonstrable variations in cobble height and nationality, and three weeks of shifting momentum and geographical location. it was the later part of the second decade in the 20th century that a yellow jersey signified the man currently wining the tour de france, while italy's gazzetta della sport favoured comparison with its pages to honour the chap at the front of its own race. spain, on the other hand has seen fit to offer variations on a theme and not only for the leader's jersey; probably a facet of the iberian temperament.
aside from the many that are signed after each stage of whichever grand tour under consideration, the chap on the podium with his own cuddly lion and a bouquet gets to keep that jersey as a memento of his velocipedinal endeavours. and that's where factionism may have a case to answer.
the rider who stands midst second and third at roubaix, the ronde, strade bianche and even milan san remo, is simply clad in a cleaner version of the jersey he has just worn to victory. there is no denying that physical trial of strength having to hold aloft a trophy or cobblestone that no doubt weighs more than the bicycle that carried him to victory, but the suitcase of jerseys in the attic will not gain any weight at all after a classics victory. surely an administrative error at best?
if i might tentatively tender that a single stage of le tour, il giro or la vuelta might bear comparison with a one day classic (yes, i over simplify, but bear with me), the victor of such, who may have little interest in standing aloft in milan, madrid or the champs elysees, still walks away with the jersey, and as such is perfectly entitled to wear it on club runs for ever more. for those who won a monument, there is nothing to distinguish them on that same club run.
screenprinter dan mather may have inadvertantly redressed the balance if you're willing to accept my rather convoluted logic. as testimony to the classics season which thunders in our direction with impending glee, he has produced a tidily beautiful silk-screened poster that lists the great one-day races in an order that has allowed him to pick out the word classics in gold. for no matter the colour of the leader's jerseys, gold is the colour most associated with the man at the front of proceedings in any sport. the fact that winners' medals are precisely hewn from that colour is surely evidence enough.
therefore, no matter that roubaix, flanders and msr do not honour their victors with a jersey of any colours, mather's picking out of the word classics in gold might conceivably offer succour to the fans of them all, the sort of edifice that would enhance any wall anywhere. even if your workmates have no idea why cobbles feature so highly on your horizon.
there is, however a salient flaw in my logic, or so it would seem. for no matter any existential twaddle i might conceivably weave around my contention that dan mather's classics screenprint is any kind of substitute for a leader's/winner's jersey, heavyweight, matt-black paper has rarely been described as wearable. which is why, in his infinite wisdom, he has also transferred the design to a t-shirt. which is most definitely wearable. and dan tells me that pre-ordering a t-shirt (along with a poster, obviously) will almost certainly result in it arriving by the end of april.
dan mather's 'classics' 50 x 70cm poster has been printed in a limited edition of fifty, hand-stamped and numbered. cost is £40 plus postage and packing. the t-shirt can be pre-ordered at the special price of £25 including two lovely labels. you can order both from dan mather's online shop
wednesday 18 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am led to believe that the competitve instinct is one that remains throughout life. it may change direction slightly or transmogrify itself onto another discipline altogether, but much like the dictate that 'momentum is conserved', so too is the need to win at all costs.
it is something of an unexpected series of moments in the opening chapter of ray pascoe's excellent film about time triallist alf engers therefore to find the great hero of his time setting out for a day and night's fly-fishing accompanied by monty the spaniel, a deckchair and a small tent. i believe it may be pascoe himself who asks whether it really matters whether or not he catches anything, to which engers replies "well, it would be nice to catch (something), but no, it doesn't really matter."
"cycling ceases to become fun if you've got to win. if you have to win you don't sleep at night."
the film opens with a voiceover asserting to engers' more unpleasant character traits: he was a rebel, a mutineer in the quiet waters of time-trialling. he was a chancer, an egotist, a showman, a man with a chip on his shoulder, a man with something to prove. he was a man who needed to excel. he was an awkward bastard. he was a genius." it's a tribute which, thankfully, isn't overly cited throughout the remainder of the film, though there is little left to doubt about his competitive spirit and rebellious personality.
after an operation to remove his kneecap following a fall from his bike at the age of fourteen, engers was no longer able to participate in the sports at which he had excelled at school; swimming and running. he therefore turned to cycling to let loose his competitive nature. the character flaws detailed in the opening segment were already noticeable in his teenage years, having been expelled from school and already received a written warning from the road time trials council (rttc) at the age of 16. "a controversial character."
on leaving engers preparing for an evening's worth of carp fishing in the lea valley, pascoe's film occupies itself primarily with a series of 'talking heads' including lengthy and remarkably honest contributions from the man himself, frequently accompanied by archive footage not only of wartime in kings cross where his father owned a bakery, but of time-trials and races across the late fifties and sixties. the family bakery collapsed under german bombing with alf and his father inside and they subsequently moved to a farm in barnet where engers joined his first cycle club at age 12.
he was offered an independent contract by gerrard cycles in the early sixties, classifying him as midway between amateur and professional. his other work and family commitments meant that he rarely raced and two years later applied to be reinstated as an amateur. this was refused. so despite the characterisation of engers as being something of a troublemaker in the world of 1960s cycling, it's likely that the authorities were every bit as much to blame, hampering his cycling career until 1968 when he finally re-achieved amateur status.
the film allows engers to narrate the bulk of his career, from being allowed to follow british road race champion, ted gerrard and learn at first hand the preparation that britain's most successful rider of the time undertook. however, ray pascoe has steered clear of making of this movie an engers monologue by incorporating pertinent and often complimentary interviews with contemporaries such as the higginson twins, alan rochford, an impressed sounding sean yates, phil griffiths and others from the era.
engers' glory years were encapsulated in those from 1972 to 1976 when he won the national 25 mile time-trial championship five years in succession. in the latter part of the king, engers is brought once more into contact with the custom built, shorter frame that carried him to so many victories. though currently existing purely as a frame and forks along with a pair of wheels, though engers rarely comes across as a nostalgist, there's a tear in his eye as he stands once more behind that frame.
among the substantial extras included on this dvd are a photo gallery, archive 8mm film of the 1975 men's 25 mile time-trial and team time trial along with a feature that sees john harvey and richard wall taking a close look at ted gerrard's 1960's road bike.
engers was obviously one of the more enterprising time-triallists of his era, looking at every aspect of his bike, including rear facing brake levers and front caliper, to give him an advantage over his rivals. the embodiment of that competitive spirit to which i alluded at the start. however, those modifications are as nothing compared to the lengths to which the modern-day frame manufacturers have gone in the same direction.
engers and his contemporaries were privateers without access to that which is pretty much taken for granted nowadays. ray pascoe's film is not only about alf engers, but about a niche part of british cycling heritage the likes of which we're unlikely to see again. in those days, riders in local and national time-trial competitions were able to "ride in a straight line" ostensibly before the motor car infiltrated every last square metre of road space.
the king is every bit as much social commentary as it is about cycling. modern-day family history societies emphasise the desire to discover from whence we originated, a desire that ought surely to apply to every british cyclist too?
tuesday 17 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................