on the weekend that britain transitioned from greenwich mean time to british summertime, the weather on islay has paid no attention whatsoever. saturday morning brought the very galeforce winds that had caused caledonian macbrayne to cancel the morning ferries in both directions almost twenty-four hours previously, sunday, on the other hand, pretended to be the advent of summer, but in reality simply a one hour change to bring britain momentarily in line with mainland europe, offering temperatures only marginally above freezing and accompanied by remarkably persistent and heavy rain.
always mindful of rules five and nine, i was out on my bike on both days of the weekend. if you spend the bulk of the week sat in even a comfy chair positioned in front of a computer, the weekend offers grateful solace from such stupor. therefore the weekend roads, no matter the climate that is inflicted upon them, are greeted with open arms and joyfully trammelled from the saddle, before monday morning dawns once more (one hour earlier) and relative inactivity once more casts its blanket over proceedings.
for in truth, what alternative is there to soul-destroying headwinds, low temperatures and seemingly perpetual precipitation?
well, though depicted by velopress author jamie smith as an instrument of torture akin to the rack, thumbscrew and all other forms of mediaeval pain infliction, the turbo trainer is always a legitimate alternative. i must, however, at this juncture, point out that i have nothing but scorn and hatred for such indoor devices, though for the purpose of fulfilling the demands of my career as a famous cycling journalist, i have embraced the magnet.
fox online cycling is a self-styled and as far as i know, unique setup that offers live training sessions of between 45 minutes and an hour that can be adopted in the comfort of your own home. 'tis but a simple matter to choose your time-zone from those displayed on the fox cycling website to learn of the session timings for any given day. there are sessions available for complete newcomers (pretty much where i started), progressive for those on the portable road to fitness and advanced for those who struggle to make their heart-rate monitors display the larger numbers.
each online session costs a nominal £3.99, payment for which can be made by credit card or paypal and offering instant access.
this is sort of where i hit (metaphorically speaking), my first online obstacle. the bulk of the live sessions on offer in the mornings, take place mostly between the hours of 8am until around 10:30. if your household is anything like mine, that is the very time when breakfast and preparation for work is taking place. and even if that's not a problem personally, i'm willing to bet that your significant other might be less than impressed by a bicycle and turbo trainer in the middle of the kitchen or living room. if it's in the shed or garage, you're definitely one step ahead of me.
the evening sessions tend to agglomerate around the 18:00 - 20:00 part of the day, again perhaps not the ideal timing if home from work and involved in the evening meal routine. however, as a colleague pointed out, making time at either end of the day may well be an entirely necessary factor to display commitment to the cause. as long as that's acceptable to the rest of the family i shouldn't wonder.
the sessions themselves are carried out on the small screen (or on the telly if you have one of those excellent devices that allows you to broadcast your computer screen to the tv) under the auspices of differing instructors. fox online have at their behest, several, more than qualified instructors to lead you through each session. the screen shows the instructor aboard a duke magnetic heavy duty exercise bike which, as you would expect, allows the instructor to set the profile of the session displayed atop the screen.
each slice of training offers a workout tailored to specific requirements, but on all the sessions i joined, they scarily resembled the inside of a shark's jaw. sat in the saddle at home, bicycle clamped into a turbo trainer without variable resistance, i cannot deny that there's a certain degree of ingenuity required to replicate the on-screen training demands. use of a heart-rate monitor, though not compulsory, does make a considerable difference, and no doubt a cadence monitor would be every bit as helpful. a cursor travels along the shark's teeth to indicate which portion of this purgatory is in force at any given time.
for those devoid of heart-rate numbers, there's a figure indicating the perceived rate of exertion, but i tend to think this might be just a revolution too far for the beginners' class. there are several other displayed numbers the reason for which i never did discover, and nor did i hear any reference to what they might mean from the instructors. however, since they seemed to make no difference to the effectiveness of the sessions, i simply ignored them.
it's pretty clear from the live stream that there are other participating riders in the studio, though we never get to see them, and are really only aware of their existence from the perhaps overly familar bonhomie as the instructor says hi to each in turn at the beginning of the session. while i wouldn't detract from the quality of the training sessions themselves, in these modern technological times, i would dearly have loved to be able to turn off the awful music that accompanies the frantic pedalling. i'm sure it's meant to be inspirational, but i just found it dreadful. and on one or two occasions, the music threatened to drown out the instructor's words, communicated via a headset microphone.
there appear to be only two cameras, one which provides an overhead profile shot of the instructor and the other a head-on view. disappointingly, the seemingly random switching between them results in a few seconds of black screen. it is surely not outwith the bounds of installing a vision mixer that could fade or seamlessly switch between the two? and while the black backdrop is peppered with sponsors' logos, it would have been nicer and visually brighter to use one of those large-format images of the stelvio, ventoux or some other inspirational climb from the world of cycling. maybe a berg or muur given our current immersion in the classics.
i have no doubt that my criticisms above pertain mostly to the window dressing, as surely the principal reason behind accessing these live streams is to improve your cycling fitness as part of a crafted programme of lessons? and assuming specific times are not a problem, it would be a simple matter of mixing and matching depending on specific needs, though sadly the actual content of each session is not flagged up in advance to allow discrete tailoring of any perceived requirements. i'm sure they'd welcome suggestions if you have any.
i'm generally not one for training; i like my cycling too much to impose regimes upon it (and i'm lazy). however, even joining only a few online sessions a week makes perfect sense if you have limited time to get out on the bike and need to train for specific events. however, i can't help feeling that the whole edifice would be immeasurably improved if the people at fox recorded each session and made them available 24/7, allowing more folks to access their excellent content. perhaps that's yet to come.
however, with no disrespect to the folks at fox online, personally i'd rather go out on my bike and get blown from one side of the island to the other, while being dumped on by any amount of rain you care to mention. the turbo trainer (about which more tomorrow) is on its way back to paligap.
in order to clear up one or two inaccuracies in my review above, it seems only right and proper that i publish comments from angela reed-fox, marketing director of the company.
"£3.99 is the price of 24 hr access, not one single session as mentioned. In 24 hours, if you were nutty enough you'd be able to attend up to five classes. (Big difference from £3.99 per session!)
"Our morning classes start with commuter ones at 7am and the later morning classes are around the 9:30 mark.
"Our evening classes range between a 5:15 start (or 4:30 if you consider that the evening) and the latest ones start at 8:30pm
Although excellent, the BH bikes do not yet come with the facility to design and broadcast heartrate profiles. This is provided by our iQniter software which is compatible with Suunto watches and straps; therefore the software can be used in a variety of settings independent of studio cycling.
"The additional metrics on the screen are explained on our website here: We have very clear guidelines for each category of class that we run. Instructors tend to mention the lesser metrics in passing as they're not integral to the workout, but just provide additional information. Naturally if they went through the whole screen every time, our veterans would probably find that a bit tiresome. And beanbags may be thrown in the studio.
"We do have developments in the pipeline, in response to feedback received, these are:
"Our first step is to make the stream more accessible by installing it on Facebook. Close behind is recording a library of sessions, so if you particularly like m'Julie, you can exclusively use her sessions. These will be indexed not only with category and instructor, but also with style, content and identifying features so you can easily remember which ones you've done. We are unable to catalogue live sessions in this manner because instructors are coming up with new profiles all the time; they're encouraged to do so to keep it interesting for our riders. If they only finish designing 30 mins before they go live, it doesn't give us enough time to update all eight timetables. But with recorded sessions, if you want to pick your session, you'll be able to do that. We had considered having a photographic backdrop, but ultimately we will be switching to a green screen showing different tours. It was felt that having a moving instructor in front of a static backdrop might at best make people queasy and at worst make it look like something out of Charlie Chaplin."
monday 30 march 2015 (updated 1 April)..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the local high school has, for a number of years, run a bi-annual trip to some of the more obscure corners of the world. this year's expedition is concentrated on peru. due to the cost, the trip is rather geared towards the better-off families, something approaching discrimination these days i'd have thought, but they continue nonetheless. of course, though there is an ultimate cost per child, the two years leading up to departure are peppered with a variety of fundraising events, participation in which by those destined to travel is pretty much compulsory.
aside from the tempting luxury of around six weeks' holiday in a foreign land, there is an educational aspect to these trips. the kids will learn about many features of the social and geographical nature of the region, allied to a specific project helping the folks of the area. the hope is that these relatively privileged islay children will return home with a better perspective of those privileges. as far as i'm aware, this is most often the case, though 'tis still something of a conundrum that it takes a substantial amount of mummy and daddy's money to send them abroad to learn that in the first place.
however, the iniquity of such trips, which have seen islay children travel to parts of africa and south america, is in the nature of the locations. though i would not wish to confer the status of hermit on the island's population, many of islay's schoolchildren do not spend many days away from their island during the course of their educational years. in fact, there's a distinct possibility that at least one or two of these schoolchildren have not been to edinburgh, inverness, aberdeen or even dundee. the northern parts of their own country, including the rest of the inner hebrides and almost definitely the outer hebrides remain simply destinations served by other calmac ferries.
as cyclists, we are frequently just as guilty in this respect. every year the monthlies and weekly cycle publications offer words and pictures pertaining to cycle tours and training camps in many a european location, keen to pique our velocipedinal interest. oddly enough very few of the so-called cognoscenti ever have thoughts of taking themselves and carbon fibre to locations a lot nearer home. granted, you may not find endless days of sun in western scotland, but i seriously doubt that rules five and nine are accommodated in any way by summer sun and following in the tyre-tracks of the great and good.
though i am very obviously prejudiced, it is my contention that northwest scotland offers possibly the best scenery in the entire world. some will agree wholeheartedly, others will likely disagree. but the latter are completely wrong. i'm right.
one who i know would not disagree is john deering, noted cyclist, author and self-confessed highlandsophile. after many years of insistent badgering, he has managed to persuade top quality cycle tour company la fuga to add the scottish highland raid to their 2015 range of offerings. as john is very keen to point out "Northwest Scotland. You've probably got an idea in your head of how beautiful it is, but have you ever been there? Most people haven't, and therein lies the real attraction of this tour. There's nobody there."
that latter statement, while perhaps appearing a tad overwrought, is more or less true. our own inner hebridean roads have undoubtedly become busier with the expansion of islay's eight distilleries. in the time i've lived here, both ardbeg and bruichladdich have been wrested from mothballing to full production while the farm distillery at kilchoman has opened up shop. the existence of so many single malt distilleries in one place has led to a substantial increase in haulage traffic as well as whisky tourism. yet, visiting cyclists still find islay's roads delightfully quiet.
the isle of skye is home to its own single malt distillery, with a population some three times greater than that of islay. but the mainland opposite this most northerly of the inner hebrides is pretty devoid of anything other than very quiet roads and some stunning scenery. locations such as glenelg and applecross (not that far from the legendary climb of bealach na ba an ascent of which is included in the tour) offer the intrepid cyclist some of the most fabulous riding this side of anywhere. it is this experience that john deering, aided and abetted by la fuga would like to share with twelve others in september of this year.
"I've been wanting to do this for years. Decades, actually," said John. "I've been all over the world riding my bike, but I've never ridden better roads than these. It's simply the best place on the planet to ride your bike."
oddly enough, for a five-day cycle tour of scotland's northwest highlands, the starting point on wednesday 9 september, is from the city of inverness on scotland's east coast. 135 kilometres later, the party of cyclists will have reached glenelg on the west coast. on 10 september, the ride covers the 90 kilometres north to applecross, followed by 110 kilometres the next day to the oddly named poolewe. scotland's predilection for encompassing bizarrely named townships is underlined on saturday 12 september when riding from poolewe to achiltibuie.
after that, it's time for a return to what is laughingly referred to as civilisation.
la fuga's john holt attested to not only deering's persistence, but his love of the region "I've known John ever since I was racing in Italy ten years ago. He's been on at me to get this trip going for most of that time and I eventually gave in."
however, were it all to end at this point, everything would be just ginger peachy. but the nature of this isolation brings with it a fragility that has almost disappeared on islay. as john himself phrases the dilemma "Much as I love it in Wester Ross and in the northern wilderness, I'm very aware that so much of the attraction comes from there being nobody there. So if you do come on this trip, you're not allowed to tell anybody about it." in fact, if i hear of anyone linking to this article or repeating its message in public, i'll deny it all. and so will john. therefore the link below leading you to all the details you'll need to become one of the favoured dozen, should only be shared with every cyclist you know.
mum's the word.
sunday 29 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm not a great fan of hoods.
it's probably one of those childhood things; as i recall, i had a blue jacket when at primary school that featured a hood, and my mother would always insist that i pull it on if there was even the slightest hint of rain. quite why i found that so iniquitous, i really couldn't say, but bother me it still does to this day. yet the hood seems to have become one of those unnecessary accessories applied to garments that really have no need. if you need a for instance, consider perhaps, the sweatshirt.
here's a garment beloved of american colleges and universities that served a purpose under its alternative description as a sloppy joe. not only could the sweatshirt screenprintedly display the student's collegiate affiliation, but it could be worn for basketball or football practice, worn to college dances and more generally for lazing around when likely supposed to be studying feverishly. and then someone decided to add a hood.
i cannot claim total innocence, however, since my distant past also included a hooded sweatshirt. however, the pointlessness of the exercise was admirably illustrated when i plucked up the courage to pull on the hood. it could not be adequately worn without pulling both shoulders skywards, making me look even sillier than normal. this was prior to the days when phrases such as 'boyz in da hood' were misconstrued to be referring to those who stood in gangs on street corners, with one leg against the wall, and a well-scuffed skateboard at foot.
my morning walk, taken prior to spending the day sat in front of an imac, passes a building site upon which twenty local authority houses are in the latter stages of construction. the younger members of the workforce almost to a man, are dressed in hooded sweatshirts which, under the circumstances, are presumably not being worn for sartorial or fashion purposes. it turns out that there is a pragmatic reason behind this choice of apparel. construction site helmets, somewhat generic in their sizing and form factor, are apparently prone to inflicting discomfort upon the head when worn for the majority of the working day. these youngsters pull the hoods up and place the helmets on top to alleviate such tribulations.
this is similar to the function played by the hood on vulpine's latest waterproof jacket, one that is sized with care to allow pulling on under a helmet. in this instance, however, discomfort plays little or no part in the equation. and in one of those 'strange to relate' moments that you probably didn't see coming, it can be pulled up over a winter cap when a sudden hailshower stings one side of my face.
all of a sudden, i have an odd liking for hoods. or perhaps just one in particular.
in the now customary climatic conundrum, the arrival of a waterproof jacket at washingmachinepost croft led to a sudden abatement of the winter precipitation season and an outburst of sunny weather. less than ideal conditions for examining the veracity of a garment described by vulpine as the most waterproof jacket they've ever offered the cycling public. however, the west of scotland is not the west of scotland for nothing, eager and willing to dump a bucketful of rain upon the unsuspecting velocipedinist at the least amount of prompting. thus, on one of those spur of the moment rides on the taurus corinto, heading inevitably towards a bruichladdich coffee, several unremitting downpours of both rain and hail from a clear blue sky, tried wistfully to catch the new gill jacket unawares.
that hood saved the day at the time, but if my dislike of the appendage ever resurfaces, 'tis but a simple matter of unzipping and stuffing in one of the plentiful pockets peppered about its person.
the jacket is aimed, i should think, more at the commuting cyclist rather than those for whom performance is king. the fit is commendably relaxed, allowing the wearing of a shirt, tie and more formal jacket underneath. though its taped seams help fend of any ingress of water, there are mesh protected flaps (from which the gill takes its name) that will strenuously defend your right to remain perspiration free even in the heat of a drag race from the traffic lights. (i'd like to take this opportunity to point out that islay is not only devoid of the latter, but also of roundabouts and road crossings).
referring back to those pockets, there are two waterproof zipped hand-pockets just where you'd expect to see hand-pockets, while the inside offers yet two more sizeable alternatives without zips. and just for good measure, there's a zipped internal chest pocket accessed by unzipping the top section of the full-length waterproof front zip. i have to confess, i'd rather favour a full-width zipped pocket at the rear, should i choose to wear the gill jacket on one of my bicycles with more sporting pretensions. but to be quite honest, that would likely fail the sartorial test when worn during civilian, non-velocipedinal activities. i happily defer to vulpine's greater experience in such matters.
given its perfect applicability to weather protection when walking to and from work, it helped fend off some seriously galeforce assisted rain on a few mornings last week, yet fooled the office administrative staff. who would have guessed that, away from the bicycle and vulpine website, the jacket assumes a mantle of respectability (my late father would have been proud)? this can be posteriorily undermined by dropping the magnetically fastened and removable drop-tail, designed specifically to shield your bum from back wheel spray when riding fenderless. i would, however, advise that you check when dismounting with this in the 'down' position at the coffee shop, for it has a tendency to lead to undesired pointing and sniggering from behind the counter.
try as i might, i have been unable to subject myself to a thorough and lengthy drenching, and though my location is renowned for doing just that, the forecast only promises sufficient rain at a point when i will be otherwise engaged. however, i have been caught in enough of a wide variety of inclement weather to attest to not only the gill jacket's waterproofing qualities, but a comparably proficient level of breathability. the latter of course, depends greatly on what is being worn beneath, but i have attempted to vary this in order not to provide the gill with an easy ride. yes, there have been light perspirational moments, but waterproofing and breathability in a cycle jacket has always been a bit of trade-off, during which one will undoubtedly triumph. on current experience, the waterproofing is highly unlikely to lose.
the gill is well-designed, well-constructed and according to those in the office (including yours truly), well-liked. perhaps surprisingly for such a finely tuned garment, it's perfectly possible to scrunch it up and stuff it in a back pocket, though i can't deny some of its sartorial elegance had suffered when extricated later that same bike ride. if i might quote from the vulpine website "...we believe that our Waterproof Gill Jacket, designed from the ground up has created a new way of thinking in harsh weather apparel, combining style with a new level of real-world performance."
i figure that statement is more than justified.
the vulpine gill jacket is available in acqua, charcoal or lanes green (as reviewed), in sizes ranging from small to xxl at a retail cost of £229
saturday 28 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my lumix compact camera has a maximum self-timer of ten seconds, enough time for me to move into the position i hope i want to capture, but scarcely enough time to grab the bicycle and pedal off into the sunset while still capturing an action photograph. i did download an app for my ipod touch that would allow up to a couple of minutes, but the camera on the ipod isn't that great, and it's a devil of a job to find somewhere to set down an upright ipod.
however, in the world of slow exposure times, that proposed by jonathon keats puts either of my cameras well into the shade. he is in the process of taking a photograph the result of which he will not live to see. his project, possibly underway as we speak, is attempting to capture a 1000 year exposure of the skyline seen from the roof of the arizona state university art museum, based in the city of tempe, arizona.
the camera is fashioned from solid metal, fronted by a 24 karat gold plate featuring a miniscule pinhole. instead of a digital ccd or indeed, film, this 1000 year camera will store the image on oil paint. over the projected time-span, the colour in the paint will fade where the light is brightest resulting in a very, very slow positive image of the world in front of its pinhole. according to keats, the photo will show not only the skyline, but how it develops over time.
"for instance, old houses torn down after a couple of centuries will show up faintly, as if they were ghosts haunting the skyscrapers that will replace them."
in a display of faith and optimism, the arizona state university has said it will hold an exhibiiton when the work is completed in the spring of 3015.
the notion that imagery long since past ought to appear as faded portions on the paint strikes me as a particularly apt way of recalling past events. assuming your memory to be as pin sharp as the front of keats' camera, rides that have been undertaken recently ought to be pretty much fresh in every detail. it would be nice to think that those from further back on the personal timeline could exist in a less 'in your face' manner, allowing for a healthy degree of perspective.
nostalgia has a habit of making events from the past seem far more amenable than was perhaps the case at the time. the mighty dave t has often entreated us to a verbal dissertation on how much better those lugged steel and ten-speed days were before electronic and hydraulic modernity took over (actually, that's not true, but it fits my story far better), and i remember both parents and grandparents offering similar platitudes of nostalgic joy.
and so it is with yesterday's cycling jerseys, particularly those beloved of the professional peloton, decorated as they were with contemporary graphics and the names of sponsors, several of which are now confined to history themselves. perhaps it's better that we recall them as faded shadows of their former selves, embodying the spirit of the era but without underlining the anachronism of sporting defunct logos in the coffee shop. such has been and remains the philosophy behind rapha's annual trade team jersey collections. this year's release recalls the renault years of bernard hinault and laurent fignon, the la vie claire spirit of greg lemond and the british assault on the tour de france through the auspices of anc halfords.
having queried the loss of sportwool as the fabric choice for all three, it was pertinently pointed out by rapha's press officer that these three formed a part of the transition from wool jerseys to the variations of polyester that frequent the peloton today. in the light of this explanation, their man-made constitution makes perfect sense. it would be naive, however, to think that the lack of embroidered sportwool might be seen as short-changing of the prospective customer. while rapha's pro-team range occupies the hi-tech, minimalist cutting edge, the 2015 trade team jerseys offer a slightly less restraining fit and a variety of panels designed to aid breathability while attacking in the mountains. the fabric is indeed that of the pro-team kit, but to my mind, seems less aggressive for want of a better word.
the designs are cleverly conceived, the la vie claire jersey featuring an outline motif of the oakleys sported by lemond, while the right sleeve of the anc jersey features the capital letters ang, preceded by les and the subscript lais (les anglais). art does indeed lie in the details.
the fit of all three is, as usual, impeccable, with a full-length front zip and a low collar. the three capacious rear pockets are augmented by a fourth zipped version cunningly concealed inside. the faded imagery proffered by these three excellent designs can also be accessorised with matching cotton caps, the print of which seems almost rubberised in its screen printedness. with one very much the twin of the other, it would be silly not to purchase the matching set.
in an embodiment of the spirit of the old grey whistle test, despite my not making any fuss of wearing any of the three, i was greeted with more than just one "that's a nice jersey" from those who rarely notice my existence, let alone the clobber i'm wearing. mind you, the mighty dave t was mightily impressed by the anc halfords version.
all in all, a delightful way to recall the faded, yet halcyon days of yore.
rapha's trade team jerseys retail at £90 each, available in sizes from xs to xxl. the matching cotton caps cost £25 in one-size-fits-all.
friday 27 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
an acquaintance of mine, one with whom i've not been in touch for many a long year, has embarked upon a project entitled documenting life on the isle of islay. this undertaking is part of his work as a canon cameras ambassador, and while sharing the link to his current work with islay's professional photographer, i was informed that this recent visit to islay involved using the new canon 5d.
as midge ure once sang 'that means nothing to me.'
though i have viewed the canon and nikon advertisements in the weekend colour supplements with thoughts of improving my own photographic abilities, i know for a fact that this would be simply a case of spending money to no real practical result. for starters, my aging blue lumix compact camera fits perfectly into a jersey back pocket, something a digital slr has pretty much no chance of achieving. secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, by the time i'd figured out all the lcd information displayed on the top, the real world would have moved on by several hours.
but apart from all that, i've no real notions of taking photos other than those deemed necessary for washingmachinepost reviews.
so while i may be tangentially impressed by the macho looking cameras and lenses in the ads, in actual fact i know a lot less than my photoshop skills would have most folks believe. i therefore relied on the chap at islay studios to enlighten me to the fact that the canon camera used by the canon ambassador fellow has a 50 megapixel capability. compare that with the six megapixels offered by the slightly careworn lumix, and even if you don't understand such matters, you have to realise that 50 is deemed to be more capable than six.
yet, according to informed opinion, those extra 44 million pixels do not necessarily add up to a photograph seven times better than that contained in my back pocket. how many publications are you aware of that resemble a wallpaper sample book, with a need for images that would cover both pages?
somewhat smaller in physical size, but every bit equal in stature is bloomsbury's beautiful publication entitled hinault. in fact, such is the stature of the rider named in large, white sans serif type on the cover, overlying an image of the badger in full flight, that there is no need to add either his first name or any further reference to inform the unwary.
hinault has always seemed one of those individuals who entered public life as a fully constituted patron; never a rider content to sit at the back of the peloton awaiting encouragement from his elders and betters at the business end of the pack. no doubt there were days when this was the case, but you need only flick through the majority of these fabulously reproduced images to appreciate hinault's aura being every bit as forceful on the printed page, as was no doubt the case in real life.
robert millar, in the 1985 granada tv documentary 'the high life' makes mention that he is impressed by hinault as a rider, but less so as a person. however, to quote from chapter four, "i race to win, not to please people." of course, following such a philosophy to its logical conclusion does not necessarily bring about a state of mutual exclusivity. the more hinault won, the more his team managers, sponsors, fans and france at large was likely to be pleased. he has frequently been compared with the great eddy merckx in several different ways. granted the belgian won far more races, but hinault achieved many of his own victories with similar displays of physical prowess and domination.
as this book reaches its final few pages, there is a glorious photo of the cannibal and the badger astride a tandem. the caption says it all: "merckx and hinault, who between them have ten tour victories, eight giros, three vueltas and several other major victories..."
the book's narrative, fighting manfully for equality midst the overwhelming power of the images (and largely achieving it), reads precisely as i have described; a narrative. think of those tv documentaries with a stately voice-over, then read each chapter with this mental audio accompaniment, and you'll see exactly what i mean.
"Zoetemelk makes another all-or-nothing attempt on the side of the Dutch Mountian, Alpe d'Huez. It pays off and Joop comes away with a stage win. The recapture of the lead, however, is fended off by a solid Hinault. The remaining spark of Dutch hope snuffed out."
it's a style of writing that works brilliantly, accompanied by the stunning imagery; a symbiotic relationship perhaps. there's a real sense of being involved in the very middle of an ongoing documentary, hinault's retirement from racing in november 1986 notwithstanding. this is a superb testament to a marvellous career, a repeat of which france still waits with bated breath almost thirty years later. despite many of the images taken in the days of black and white, seguing smoothly into colour, every one of them was captured on film. no pixels were involved, yet the atmosphere and sense of presence outweighs many a contemporary digital photo, 50 megapixels or not.
there are no negative criticisms applicable to this grand publication. from the foreword by bernard hinault himself, through tim bisschop's graphically superior layout of both text and images, to rebekah wilson's english translation and bloomsbury's quality presentation, it is every bit as impressive as hinault himself.
along with similarly styled books on coppi and merckx, this is a volume that no serious fan of professional cycle racing should let slip by. due for publication on 9 april, perhaps you can persuade your other half as to just how apposite an easter present this would be.
"There haven't been many people who've had a career quite as phenomenal as Bernard Hinault's, there are even fewer people who've left such an overwhelming impression on their colleagues, and there's barely a sportsman around who stopped when they were at the top. Bernard Hinault did it all."
thursday 26 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
ordering american magazines through my local newsagent is always a bit hit or miss. not, as you may think, because the issues fail to turn up - my newsagent is fairly tenacious when it comes to such matters - but mostly due to the erratic nature of when those publications arrive. in the example that we will be discussing today, modern drummer seems to have no rational arrival schedule. it is easy to discover the release date in the usa by either watching the magazine's twitter feed, or taking the occasional look at their website.
however, across all the years in which i have been in receipt of the percussor's magazine, i have singularly failed to discern any form of regularity in its arrival. some periodicals are issued on a calendar month basis, others on a four-weekly cycle. modern drummer seems to follow neither pattern.
however, on thursday past, the april issue of the magazine arrived on the counter of my newsagent, featuring the highly influential bernard purdie, originator of the fiendishly difficult to play competently, purdie shuffle. you may well have come across this particular rhythm when listening to rosanna by toto or even steely dan's, 'babylon sisters'. for those in the know, i hope we are now singing from the same hymn sheet. for the rhythmically inert, i doubt it'll make much impact on your day to day.
but turn to the inside cover and there in all its minimalist glory, is the regular ludwig drum company advert, currently sporting the slogan 'sometimes it's the step backwards that moves you forward' in order to promote their latest range of legacy mahogany drum sets. once more, for those who could care less, the drum world is in the midst of retro angst, during which a substantial number of manufacturers are intent on revisiting the days of thin shells with our without reinforcement rings, and employing the wood combinations used in the forties and fifties. whether any members of the audiences subjected to these retro sounds can truly tell the difference between a six-ply poplar/mahogany shell and one of ten ply north american maple is open to serious doubt.
but in commercial terms, it's the current modus operandi, as original kits from that particular era become rarer and perhaps, like many of us, just a little infirm.
it would be unfair to single out the drumming industry for its retro stance, for their's is not the only one looking backwards and wondering whether things really were better in the past. though the result of several years development, steel as a frame material in the face of the carbon onslaught has not been backwards in coming forwards. and there are a number of vintage cycle suppliers that have sprung up in recent years to satisfy an apparently insatiable demand. you need only witness the oversubscribed nature of both the original l'eroica and the recent british version.
oddly enough, giro's footwear division did not produce their latest empire road shoe out of a yearning for the past, despite what the lace up nature of this item of footwear might suggest. originally constructed for american taylor phinney as an aerodynamic alternative to the more regular lumpy, bumpy closure systems apparent on most team issue footwear, there's no real denying that many thought their days of tying laces before hitting the open road, had pretty much passed for good. however, aside from any aerodynamic benefits the empire shoes might confer, there's no mistaking the technology.
a couple of years back, i received a pair of extremely lightweight road shoes featuring the almost ubiquitous boa fastening system. keen to check the fit of such pristine footwear, i popped them on my feet in the sitting room, their soles still devoid of cleats. unfortunately, the implementation of the boa system on this particular model was not the same as another pair i have in the shoe cupboard. accompanied only by an inscrutable italian manual, it was an embarrassing half hour before i figured out how to get them off.
giro's empire shoes offer no such technical issues, even for the podiatrically challenged such as myself. these remarkably light, stealth black with flourishes of fluorescent orange shoes arrived with black laces already in place. however, based on my tenuous contention that their purpose would be better illustrated via the matching fluorescent laces inside the box, i swapped black for orange to satisfy my latent exhibitionism.
providing the new owner with a zipped carrying bag is a nice touch, as is the inclusion of three differently-sized arch supports to better cossett those tootsies. there's an appropriately constituted slot on the underside of the footbed to accommodate the user's choice. personally, my feet were more than content with the default setting. also in the box is a set of bolts with which to affix the cleats du jour.
quite frankly, these are amongst the most comfortable shoes it has ever been my pleasure to wear. though apocryphal comparisons to a pair of slippers may be rife, in all honesty it's one that bears repeating here. the empires were supremely comfortable even when i sat on a kitchen chair preparing for velocipedinal departure. and there need be no fear over the length of either the orange or black laces; should the loops and trailing edges be on the excessive side, giro have thoughtfully provided elasticated loops half way along the lacing section under which the extra stuff can be tucked.
they've even incorporated tiny flaps on the elastic to ease any prospective difficulty.
i cannot deny that i feared those loops would scarcely constrain flapping laces when in the heat of battle, but after several 60 kilometre plus rides, no untoward flapping was observed. and in the process of trying desperately to pretend i can ride as fast as i think i can, it was comforting to know that the great god stiffness had been kind enough to bless the easton carbon soles of the empires. even when doing my very best to resemble robert millar, flex simply didn't exist. nor any signs of discomfort.
it really makes no nevermind the weight claims (205 grams) proffered by giro; these things are delightfully light, becoming almost physically invisible (if you catch my drift) when doing what it is they do best. the peppering of tiny ventilation holes on the shoes' uppers obviously carry out their mission well, for even under a pair of overshoes in less than chilled surroundings, was fortunate to retain aerated feet. and the folks at giro have not thrown away pragmatism in the face of overarching style. aside from the ease with which a pair of mavic cleats were fitted, all the while paying close attention to the multiple markings around the bolt holes, the compatibly fluorescent orange heel sections can be replaced when they wear out.
though giro offer a more expensive slx version that claims lighter weight as part of its manifesto, a bit like opting for super-record over record, i can't quite see why i'd ever find that necessary. and with those shiny fluorescent orange heel graphics, if i ever have to ditch in the sea, the helicopters will find me first.
giro empire shoes are distributed in the uk by zyro. they are available in sizes from 40 to 48 in half-sizes up to 46.5 and in colours black, black/orange (as reviewed), black/yellow, silver/flash black and white/black. retail price is £229.99
wednesday 25 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my brother was the family member who benefited from owning a ten-speed racer while i was confined to the more sedate pace offered by a raleigh twenty shopping bike. considering that he is, by his own accurate statement "one year and ten months" younger than yours truly, you can perhaps imagine the consternation such apparent favouritism towards a younger sibling engendered in velocipedinal matters. not taking into consideration the fact that the raleigh was eminently better suited to the daily paper round due to a substantial carrier affixed to a rear rack, there's no way the latter was anything like as cool as ten speeds.
i do not, however, blame my parents for this state of affairs, for there's no doubting that the redoubtable mr benzie, owner of the local bicycle shop, was the sole miscreant in this episode. though i was unaware of the commercial influence at the time, when my father and i enquired after the possibility of outfitting me with my very own ten speeds, the man came up with all manner of reasons why this was a less than opportune decision waiting to be made. dropped chains, stretched cables and all manner of other malfeasances were posited as obstacles to ten speed heaven; the real reason was a lack of any suitable ten-speed racers in stock. so the raleigh with its sturmey archer three speeds had to suffice until it was time to head of to college and four years of pedestrianism.
i was in my mid-twenties before it dawned on my dwindling bank balance, that a bicycle may be a more economic manner of getting to and from work than the motor car that sat in the driveway. in a situation that has echoed throughout my career, i simply did not live far enough away from the workplace to justify the weekly fuel bill incurred. and at this point, complete with free team poster, i acquired a viking ten-speed racer, a fact that satisfied one part of the cycling equation, but brought about a quizzical other.
you'll probably laugh when i tell you, but i really couldn't figure out just how those ten speeds were supposed to work. intervening years that had brought about a driver's licence educated this individual to the habit of starting off in first gear and moving through to fourth sequentially. the same procedure worked in the opposite direction when slowing down (for whatever reason). my viking sported ten gears, five of which pertained to an inner ring, and the other five perhaps rather obviously, via the big ring on the outside. but if and when i pulled the left downtube lever to shift from inner to outer, did that mean that the chain worked its way back to the innermost sprocket in order to start over?
i told you you'd laugh.
the technology of the day had little option but to offer a five-speed freewheel and a 52/42 chainset; that's what the pros rode, so we'd have to endure the same. the advent of shimano's cassette system, saving the cycling world from endless broken rear axles, coupled with the development of index shifting and narrower chains has brought us to the point where we have access to 22 speed racers. it's an epithet that never really caught on.
but a sideways glance at the worlds of mountain biking and cyclocross shows them to be adopting a sparser attitude to gearing, particularly at the front end of the equation. sram in particular have thrown away two rings from the mountain bikes and one of those from 'cross, apparently with no great consternation from either set of adherents. in fact, one might almost state that they have both accepted this new set of constraints with glee.
so is it time that the roadies followed suit and settled for a single ring up front, no matter the research and development dollars that have been thrown at the clever electronic front mech?
there's no denying the wonder and joy of watching either a di2 front gear shifter or its italian counterpart move itself entirely unaided when shifting to a larger or smaller sprocket at the rear. the electronica is clever enough to know which gear you're in at the rear and moves itself accordingly to avoid chain rub. it's the sort of thing you could probably watch all day, though cycling into parked cars is something of a discouragement from doing so.
however, only one chainring up front is a feature bound to keep the weight-weenies in a state of constant ecstasy, for at one fell swoop, it removes the front gear mech, one chainring and the necessary bits of the crankset to support two rings. but does it work? well, it seems to be managing rather well for the offroad fraternity but then, and no disrespect intended, neither of those genres are ever likely to have need of a sustained forty-odd kilometres per hour top speed for hours on end, nor do they practice their art over 21 alpine bends. so maybe that inner ring is an absolute necessity after all.
it would seem that the technical whizzes at sram are not in complete agreement. already a triathlon bike belonging to american jordan rapp has been seen sporting a single 54 tooth front ring. then couple this with the fact that zipp (a member of the sram family of products) released two new wheelsets that offer compatibility with the xd freehub body. this supports a smallest sprocket of only ten teeth, and there have already been reports of sram sponsored riders featuring a 10-26 cassette on their bicycles. it's of particular note that specialized already have a single-ring bike in their range, the oddly named venge lunch race, sporting a single 52 chainring.
at least in this case, for once, there's no real need to rush out and buy a new frame to take advantage. but perhaps it explains the non-appearance of sram's wireless groupset; no sense in spending too long on a front mech that might be very soon surplus to requirements.
sram component illustrations courtesy sram corporation. specialized lunch race, courtesy specialized.
tuesday 24 march 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................