i've not ridden round loch gorm for several weeks, having opted most recently to indulge in a bit of pre-summer (who am i kidding?) cyclocross through bridgend woods. if you get there early enough on a saturday morning, it's possible to complete at least three circuits before the horde of dog walkers take up position on the main path. though i accept their right to use the woods for the purposes of exercise just the same as me, i don't ever recall any occasions where i chased their dogs for several hundred yards.
however, for the purposes of nostalgic pelotonic activity, on a day when pretty much all the visiting whisky aficionados were coralled at ardbeg distillery far, far away, i opted to scoot round the loch on the colnago master, a bicycle that has been released from its extended hibernation, just to remind me of what excitement is truly composed. though i'd hesitate to refer to the day as warm and sunny, the latter part was mostly undeniable.
having watched the majority of the giro stages since its beginning three weeks ago, i'm pretty sure i didn't ever see a stage where the italian peloton stopped en masse for a double egg roll, a soya cappuccino and a muffin of sorts. and that, rather succinctly put, even though i do say so myself, is one of the principal differences between you, me and a professional peloton. while we often classify a decent bike ride, whether on or off road, by the quality of the coffee and conversation at the cake stop, it's highly doubtful that such is ensconced in the average professional contract.
the other facet of professional life that seems closed off to the majority of us, is an insouciant option to undertake the hour record when deemed appropriate in mid-season. the record is currently experiencing an upsurge in interest not witnessed since the days of graeme and chris, even if i don't quite comprehend the uci's change of heart over what is and is not acceptable by way of equipment. if i understood a recent headline correctly, alex dowsett was in receipt of more than 40 iterations of his endura engineered skinsuit. yet another difference between them and us. it would be all i could do to have mrs washingmachinepost subject my jersey and shorts to a thorough washing prior to my own attempt later this same week.
but then there is the not inconsiderable question of athletic ability. my perambulation of the loch on saturday morning, coupled to the semi-circumnavigation after lunch took me home to the tune of a 26kph average. this, i'll confess, was something of a surprise, for i'm not usually that quick over a 65km distance, but everyone strikes it lucky now and again. if i were to take sunday morning as a secondary example, my hour would have been lucky to break 15 kilometres, such was the strength of a cold galeforce wind.
while you all take time to let the sniggering diminish, though i enjoyed myself under both sets of circumstances, at no time did i ever find myself viewing black spots in front of my eyes. in athletic terms, this compares disfavourably to graeme obree's description of the latter part of his own successful record attempt. graeme said that his vision was reduced to black and white, while his peripheral vision had all but disappeared, providing just enough scope to see the line he had need of following to get to the finish line.
this description matches rather closely with the explanation of massif central's howard smith as to why they opted to go for a black on black hour record print "...to mimic the blackening pain cave that the riders put themselves into." though i seriously doubt any of us are qualified to corroborate this description, using even a smidgeon of imagination we'd mostly find it hard to disagree. their limited edition, a1 print (only sixty will be produced) covers every holder of the hour record up to and including alex dowsett. additionally, they've included the best human effort records as well as the top women's mark too. since prince bradley has prophesied that he will place the record 'out of reach' this coming sunday, the chaps at massif central expect to be updating the print in only a few days time.
for a more personal look at the hour, they're also producing an a3 size print "into which we will add individuals' marks, placing their details at the bottom if they can send some proof (Strava etc) that they have achieved it." as opposed to the £125 charge for the really big poster, the latter will be available for a more conservative £45. i think it very unlikely that my own hour record attempt will give them any cause to alter the print in any way, shape or form.
the dowsett a1 is available now. massif central hour record poster
monday 01 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
saturday lunchtime, usually after a perambulation of loch gorm, consists of a double egg roll and a soya cappuccino. on days of excessive peckishness (most weeks, if i'm totally honest) i can usually manage a lemon drizzle slice, but in their absence yesterday i had some sort of muffin instead. though i'll happily admit to being a creature of habit and head homewards via a circuit of the loch in the opposite direction (the route, not me), on occasions such as saturday past, i took a slightly shorter route in order to arrive home in time to watch the penultimate stage of the giro d'italia.
as i swung into bowmore main street from shore street, while expecting the traffic to be a tad busier than a regular weekday, what i hadn't expected was to meet an oncoming vehicle signalling to park on my left. and having seen me heading in the opposite direction, i even less expected him to continue on his trajectory across my path of travel. in order to avoid being knocked off my bike, i moved to my right, but had to modify that option very quickly when the driver simply stopped in the middle of the road.
i'm not much given to bouts of road-rage or anything of similar ilk, so i simply switched round the car while shaking my head in disbelief. these things happen, for why i know not, but since no-one was harmed in the process, where's the point in remonstrating in the middle of bowmore main street?
there have been more than just one or two posts on so-called social media locally regarding the problem of cyclists riding islay's roads. though i'm confident that these do not concern myself or other members of the velo club, it seems that we may be being held to account on behalf of the insurgents. this past week has seen another islay whisky festival take place, during which the island's population has doubled, if not tripled. some of those visiting to sample the delights of our eight malt whisky distilleries have been transporting themselves by bicycle and by all accounts several have not exactly been helping the cause, so to speak.
many of the roads around these here parts are of single-track nature, roads that have need of being shared between cyclists and motorists, several of which are driving rather large mobile homes of the type most frequently seen all along the 21 hairpin bends of alpe d'huez. though a meeting of vehicles travelling in opposite directions requires a degree of courtesy on both parties, the onus most often seem to be on the cyclist to give way. was it ever so.
the complaints have concerned cyclists riding two abreast (not illegal) and failing to pull into single file when meeting with motorised transport either from behind or oncoming. as mentioned, this is hardly illegal, but on the basis that bicycles are naturally travelling slower, it would seem to be the right thing to do to either ride in single file or pull over when safe to do so. there is, of course, two sides to every story.
as pointed out by a member of the velo club peloton, were motorists to come up behind a tractor travelling at similar speed to two or more cyclists, they would most likely sit behind until the tractor turned off the road, or it became safe to overtake. unfortunately, cyclists seem to bring out the worst in those behind the wheel and many will simply be desperate to get past, no matter the possible consequences. it's not the ideal situation but it happens with astounding regularity.
however, though there is no legal requirement to cycle less than two abreast, it would only be courteous so to do, saving a tonne of grief for all parties concerned.
on my way back home yesterday, i met a large group of cyclists who had spread themselves all over the road, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they wer ascending a short hill with not only a blind summit, but on a corner with no clear view. given that there is no equivalent bicycle qualification to match the compulsory driving test, the fact that anyone at all can purchase a bicycle and throw themselves into the maelstrom that is islay's holiday traffic (less dense than the inner city, but faster moving), there is a definite need to practice due care and attention. we are fortunate in experiencing virtually no physical interface between cyclists and motorists despite all the foregoing, and i'd really rather keep it that way.
though i use islay as an example, i have little doubt that similar situations occur throughout the west coast and rural areas of scotland. with the advent of the cycle touring season, please, please remain a cyclist and don't become a statistic.
sunday 31 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
several years ago, when the publication of our local newspaper coincided with april 1st, i wrote an article claiming that on behalf of the velo club, i had applied for a lottery grant to build a velodrome on ground opposite islay international airport. this application, i continued, had been successful and we would soon be in receipt of the necessary millions to allow the sunday ride to be complemented with a wednesday evening track meet.
one of the fellows with whom i regularly rode on a sunday met me on my way down main street on the saturday of publication, greeting me with admiration for not only having achieved a successful grant application, but for having managed to keep the whole thing quiet until news of the award had become public. while that in itself raised a smile, it became a much louder smile when i asked him to consider the day's date, at which point, after a few silent moments of thought, he joined in my sniggering.
despite my being renowned for never being 100% serious, several members of the community who really ought to have known better, were heard to be moaning and castigating the velo club. since there are/were only a handful of us riding bikes on the island, the amount of money allegedly coming our way was thought to be disgracefully iniquitous. the joys of a trivial sense of humour.
of course, had the above all been true, islay would now be in possession of one of the largest velodromes in the western world, and i have every faith that not only would alex dowsett have ridden and broken the hour record at glenegedale, but i'd probably have announced my own hour record attempt. however, in order not to appear to big-headed and arrogant, i'd have waited until late june, to let prince bradley enjoy victory for a week or two at least before i removed it from his grasp.
though i have long maintained a pact with rapha ceo simon mottram, that training would not be a part of our velocipedinal vocabulary, i must now admit that i have been secretly undertaking a programme of improvement in order that i might actually attempt my own hour record. in the absence of the humorously purported islay velodrome, i will simply have to suffer the iniquities of islay's roads, weather and probably galeforce winds. this is all as a result of rapha, some weeks ago, challenging its acolytes to do the same as i intend on the week running up to brad's attempt at the lea valley velodrome on sunday 7 june.
though our efforts will likely pale into insignificance by comparison, the release this past week of team wiggins replica kit means that, for those quick to access the rapha online shop, not only can you emulate the attempt of sir wiggins (after a fashion), but now have the opportunity to do so in corporate attire.
rapha's offering features not only the necessary jersey, but bibshorts, cap, socks and a supporter's t-shirt that can be worn when toasting the bearded one's inevitable success, when in the coffee shop post ride. while it would obviously be a ginger peachy notion so to do, even devoid of team kit, you can sign up on rapha's website to pledge your own hour record attempt. oddly and rather contradictorily, pledging for the ride sort of commits you to undertaking the ride on sunday 7 june, despite entry qualifying you for a pair of tickets to watch brad on the boards in london. assuming i was lucky enough to win, how would i complete my islay hour record?
so, in order to avoid any potential conflict of effort, i plan to have a go on thursday 4 june (mostly because the weather looks favourable on that day). i'll let you know how i get on.
the rapha wiggins replica jersey retails at £75, while matching pro team bibshorts cost £190. the socks at cap retail at £15 each.
saturday 30 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in principle, i strongly support the notion that cyclists ought to favour their local bike shop when it comes to plying themselves and the bicycle with new stuff. though perhaps not the best advert for an advert, for i cannot recall who it is that placed the ad in the first place, i have seen a bike shop ad that clearly states 'the internet will not repair your bicycle' or a statement of similar intent. though this is a tautological truism, not only does the internet fail miserably on the repair front, it's pretty darned useless at fitting the shiny new parts that just arrived in the mail. though in mitigation, it will sell us a panoply of tools to do the job ourselves.
however, in common with many others, i do not have a local bike shop. there is one in campbeltown; a two hour ferry journey and a 36 mile bike ride away (always assuming the bicycle is in a fit state to be ridden without the repair) but that, i fear, would be stretching the definition of the word local. the velo club peloton has therefore to rely on the interweb, unless the need for stuff coincides with a scheduled trip to scotland. in the best tradition of murphy's law, such a happenstance rarely occurs. if something is going to break or need repaired, it will do so on return from such a venture to the mainland.
so the velo club mostly rely on the interweb. more specifically, chain reaction cycles. this is not necessarily due to favourable prices, but more because, despite being based in ireland, it is occasionally possible to receive next day delivery on islay. the only other folks i know who can reliably achieve that, are mick and andy at prendas. we have tried competing websites, but the other large online cycle retailer either has no desire to send items to islay at all, or takes almost two weeks to deliver. that's rarely a cheering situation if the bicycle is left immobile in the meantime.
but in these modern times, there is quite a range of products that are either only available online, or their retail partners are spread so thinly as to render the interweb the more favourable option, particularly if domiciled in one of britain's more remote rural locations. this is hardly an iniquitous situation, for most of us have become fairly adept at surfing the interweb to find just what we're looking for at either the price we had in mind, or pretty darned close. and there are now many proffering items of velocipedinal value predominantly as online retailers, having set up pixelated shops as their principal modus operandi.
i am old enough to recall the days when the two principal means of acquiring bits and bobs for repair or upgrade were via the mail order catalogues of freewheel and ron kitching. i'm pretty sure neither of those still exists (though i'm prepared to be proved wrong), but in truth, print has not yet gone the way of the dodo. though rapha are principally an online retailer, with admittedly more than just a few cycle clubs where you can 'never mind the quality, feel the width' up close and personal.
so you'd be forgiven for thinking that the early printed matter that used to emanate from imperial works was now surplus to requirements, deemed unnecessary in favour of those ubiquitous pixels. happily, that is not so. only the other week i was very pleasantly surprised to receive in the post a beautifully produced catalogue (a word that scarcely does it justice) displaying their range of racewear and incorporating the very ben ingham photography that we all know and love.
i offer this testimony not to glorify the cycle clothing produced by the eleven year-old company, but to praise their faith in print. many offer the opportunity to download catalogues in pdf format, but adobe's digital invention fails to excite the olfactory senses in the manner that ink on paper can achieve. and while it is eminently possible to view photography perfectly clearly on-screen, to be honest, even digital imagery gains substantially from appearing in print.
if rapha haven't sent you one of their delightful spring/summer print catalogues, might i suggest you ask them nicely? then luxuriate in viewing their product range offline.
like we used to do in the good old days.
friday 29 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
orville and wilbur wright are generally regarded as the inventors of manned flight. as with many working at the cutting edge of technology such as it was at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, they were both excellent self-taught engineers. however, while modern-day engineering principles rely far more on systematic research, the wright brothers had more of a knack for tinkering with stuff in the process of getting from a to b. it is also no real secret that their tinkering with bicycles had great influence on the quest to achieve a stability of control with their flying machines through practice with balance.
in fact, while others concentrated on the means of propulsion in order to have their own aircraft achieve manned flight, orville and wilbur focused on figuring out a reliable method of placing the pilot in control of what was a seriously unstable device. their breakthrough in this particular field was their invention of a three axis control, enabling the chap in the hot seat to maintain equilibrium while steering. their method of control has subsequently become the standard on all kinds of fixed-wing aeroplanes.
in short, while others worked at the wrong end of the coal face, the wright brothers sussed out the more fundamental difficulties by means of their inveterate tinkering.
achieving untold speeds on land via human-powered vehicles incorporates several of the specific control difficulties experienced by the wright brothers in 1903. the most obvious contradiction to be observed is that the latter has need of remaining firmly affixed to the ground as opposed to the former's need to embrace the principles of aerodynamics of lift. while aircraft of even the simplicity of the brothers' device has finite available power, that on offer during any attempt on the human-powered land speed record is of a far lower order, thus aside from mechanical efficiency, the aerodynamics have to simultaneously reduce drag while preventing the vehicle from developing any lift.
i am no engineer, so i would have very little idea of where to begin designing just such a land-bound vehicle, let alone figuring out how to construct one. though software capable of assisting in such matters is relatively cheaply available, modern day tinkerers are more prone to figuring this all out in the kitchen of their one-bedroom flat in saltcoats. at least, that's the way it works if your name is graeme obree.
renowned for his athletic prowess in breaking the hour record on two separate occasions as well as world 4,000 metre pursuit champion, coupled with two subsequently banned riding positions, graeme obree's attempt on the human powered land speed record on the beastie bears more comparison to the wright brothers than it does with anything on the computers at boeing. obree's mechanical skills are impressive, though as his manager charlie milarvie says "using mostly recycled materials, his rudimentary analysis of physics, biomechanics and aerodynamics and nothing more than his mind and imagination, Obree is a purist in the strongest sense, placing absolute trust in his intellectual prowess to provide the optimum solution to overcoming the challenges posed by Mother Nature when riding a bike."
that might sound like something of an overstatement, but there's little denying the truth behind it.
the trials and tribulations of filing tubes of metal in a vice attached to his kitchen table, via speed tests at both prestwick and macrihanish airport runways, to the environs of battle mountain, nevada have been captured on film by producer and director david street in a movie rather obviously entitled battle mountain: graeme obree's story. featuring music by the delgados' alun woodward, the movie will receive its world premiere in edinburgh's fountain park cineworld on thursday 25 june. it signifies yet another chapter in the eccentric genius that is graeme obree.
it might be an idea to book some tickets.
thursday 28 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i've been wearing spectacles since i was in my first year of secondary school. i might qualify that statement by pointing out that, so afraid was i that i'd have fun poked at me for so doing, that i scarcely wore them in the class until midway through my third year. that did not do anything to improve my eyesight in the meantime. when i made it as far as art college, the use of so-called northern light to aid our colour perception had occasion to give me headaches. this was a situation that continued when i worked for one of the nation's premier car rental companies; the under-counter striplighting saw to that.
it turned out that having a graded tint on my lenses pretty much resolved the problem, a situation i wished i had been aware of several years previously. however, though the tint kept artificial light at bay, it was scarcely up to handling hours and hours of sunlight. that problem was resolved by living on the west coast of scotland where sunlight barely penetrates (a little scottish humour there).
in the latter part of the 21st century's first decade, i signed up to ride hot chillee's london-paris ride; paris france, where the sun shines all year round and the intrepid cyclist has need of proper cycling sunglasses. as i pointed out above, i wear prescription lenses and thus had to order cycling glasses with a prescription insert that sits just behind the curved and tinted polycarbonate lenses which the world saw as i breezed by on my way to france's capital city. this pair of glasses served me well for several years, before being upgraded only a few years past.
the range of cycling glasses available for those with less than 20/20 vision is, i'll admit, reasonably impressive (as are some of the prices), but not a patch on the plethora available to those possessed of pin sharp vision. while several models from the higher profile manufacturers can cost as much as some folks would consider expensive for a bicycle, there are also lower cost options, every bit as stylish, every bit as practical but at far lower cost. such an animal is the rather oddly named hastings range from oxford uk based sunwise, a british eyewear brand first established in 1996. the hastings edition, retailing at a wallet-friendly £95 provides not only anti-fogging properties but arrives fitted with chromafusion 2.0 light-reacting lenses.
the more perceptive amongst you, however, will have already foreseen a glitch in my cunning plan; the hastings glasses do not support prescription eyewear.
never wishing to fall at the first hurdle, i had already taken this situation into consideration, enlisting the services of a velo club member blessed with better eyesight than yours truly. this situation just gets better and better, for sunday peloton member grahame had just set his sights on a weekend tour around the roads of the isle of arran. this island has often been referred to as scotland in miniature.
according to grahame "Previously I've always had sunglasses with interchangeable lenses until I was offered the Sunwise to try. he makes a good point; my original cycling glasses had three sets of interhcangeable lenses, wear on which eventually necessitated their upgrading. eventually, clicking plastic lenses in and out to cope with ever-changing weather conditions (it rained the first year i rode to paris), caused wear that prevented those selfsame lenses from safely remaining in place. photochromic lenses more or less dispense with the need for continual lens swapping. graham also pointed out, "The glasses are frameless with wrap-around lenses and look great (even on the dog), offering a range of frame colours to suit most of the pelotonese."
like me, grahame's previous pair of cycling glasses featured interchangeable lenses, but "the photochromic lenses tint and darken in different lighting conditions, thus there's no need to change lenses half way through a ride! (Brilliant)."
that said, if you're wearing glasses hour after hour and day after day while riding a bike, no matter how efficacious their sun protection, they might as well stay in the case if they turn out to be less than comfortable. the sunwise hastings, however are, according to my stunt double "lightweight and comfortable to wear although the nose piece initially felt slightly sticky. but this disappeared after my first bike ride. They offered a very secure fit, but without any undue pressure behind my ears, something previous glasses have failed to achieve."
though grahame's brief sortie to one of the innermost of scotland's western isles was a tad more exertive than he'd been led to believe, it was a good shakedown for the recently acquired touring bicycle and its attendant panniers and tent. cyclist and bicycle survived pretty much intact. and the specs? "Overall superb glasses no matter the weather."
no animals were harmed in the photographing of this feature
sunwise hastings chromafusion cycling glasses retail at £95 per pair. a protective case costs another £4.
wednesday 27 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in this modern day of the interweb, any attempt to learn stuff can be relatively easily satisfied by searching online. in the case of my percussive proclivities, youtube can both salve my inabilities while at the same time, underlining them. currently, i favour the style of an american drummer by the name of jay bellerose; while i have the technical skills to play in a similar manner, where on earth he finds his ideas, phrasing and touch, i will probably never find out to my own satisfaction.
given his status as a session drummer favoured by producers larry klein, joe henry and t-bone burnett, he probably spends more time in studios than on stage, but it is possible to find one or two live performances from which to learn. the most recent to surface is by way of a lengthy trio concert in san francisco college of music featuring the aforesaid mr bellerose, guitarist adam levy and keyboard player larry goldings. the concert was essentially to showcase the talents of mr levy who last year released an album entitled town and country.
in his introduction, levy made mention of the album and eventually explained the premise behind the title, lending a thematic thread to the concert, a similar and ultimately highly satisfying ploy utilised by author peter cossins in his book about alpe d'huez.
though i'm none too sure whether the following ought to be the subject of a spoiler alert, i confess i had read several chapters before i realised the cleverness that was taking place before my very eyes. though i thought it a smidgeon on the odd side that each chapter commenced in italicised text, ending within one or two pages before continuing on what seemed an often unrelated topic. it also pains me to admit that i thought it odd that there was continual repeated reference to specific belgian and dutch cyclists. sometimes i shouldn't be let out on my own.
cossins has brilliantly, in my opinion, commenced each chapter with a blow by blow account of the alpe d'huez stage in 1976, only the second time the mountain had featured in the tour since fausto coppi won the first edition in 1952. the '76 edition showcased an epic battle between joop zoetemelk and lucien van impe, a battle made all the more dramatic by cossins' pacing over the narrative's 285 pages. in retrospect, i should have witnessed the clues; at the end of the introductory, scene setting chapter Queen of the Mountains:
"It highlights the difficulty of the ascent, the splendour of an arena that has no rival in terms of its drawing power, its vital importance to any Tour that tackles it, the reasons why every professional wants to win there, why every amateur wants to climb it, and why it has become cycling's greatest climb."
that last statement is, of course, open to discussion. there are many who may not totally agree with mr cossins, at least not necessarily from the outset, and perhaps not even at the finale of the first chapter. however, the story (if you'll pardon the pun) might well be different on reaching that last chapter.
as to it being the climb that every professional wants to win, it may be pertinent to temper that with a quote from the inimitable robert millar. "This is the only hill I hated. I never got up (t)here in a decent state, not once." these are perhaps unusual words from a true climber, the likes of which the opening few hairpin bends could have been seen to favour more than most. as Stephen Roche puts it "What has always worked against me... is the severity of the early slopes. There is no way you can maintain a rhythm on those slopes... For a pure climber these things come naturally and such gradients provide an opportunity to distance rivals."
this perhaps explains, other than the twenty-five hairpins en-route to the ski station at the top, and despite being described as "a climb that is too often dismissed as an unremarkable road leading to a distinctly unattractive resort", why the mountain is held in such high esteem by the thousands of fans who glue themselves to the roadside every time the tour makes its way to the top. these include the substantial number of dutchmen, attracted by the victories of zoetemelk, kuiper (who claims his victory in 1977 began the dutch occupation), winnen, van der velde, rooks and theunisse. the fact that there has not been a dutch winner at huez for many a long year seems not to have diluted the attraction of orange clad fans.
peter cossins has planned and authored this book almost to perfection. rather than simply list chronological victories since 1976, he has provided a biography of the mountain, how its positioning in the fabric of the tour de france has contributed to its surviving importance, a factor that remains true even to this year, when it features on the penultimate day of the race. and i return to his intellect in prefacing each subsequent strand of that biography with the 1976 stage to what andy hampsten describes as "a very good road to get to a ski resort."
though there is no list of chapter headings and contents at the front, there is a comprehensive index and bibliography at the back. however, cossin's alpe d'huez is hardly aimed at the scholarly market, far more at the emotional cycling fan such as you and me. his prose, pacing and research are admirable to say the least; it is no mean feat to write an entire book in praise of a lump of rock with a ski station at the top. and yes, he may be right, alpe d'huez could very well be cycling's greatest climb.
"Half an hour after Zoetemelk has won the day, Thierry Bolle...rolls in 120th and last. [...] He won't even get the perverse bonus of publicity given to the race's lanterne rouge. That honour goes to the appropriately named Frenchman Henri Fin. [...] (He) won't ride the tour again, this day has seen the renaissance of what will soon become cycling's greatest stage."
alpe d'huez by peter cossins is published on thursday 28 may by aurum press.
tuesday 26 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................