it is a point of order that has been raised on more than a single occasion recently; the seeming iniquity of having only a finite number of road miles on which to ply our sunday morning trade. i have lived on this atlantic rock for close on thirty years, so it's more than likely that i have traversed each and every kilometre on more than a single occasion. the same can likely be said for the remainder of the velo club peloton. yet, according to common lore, we have yet to tire of so doing.
in fact, with a substantially greater peloton than is usually the case, on sunday past we once more attacked the muur de foreland with varying degrees of gusto to head over to the atlantic and complete another perambulation of loch gorm and its close environs. as we have done more often than it would be seemly to mention in polite company. as creatures of habit, we kind of like it that way.
the last visiting fellow to whom we made mention of this particular state of affairs told us not to be overly concerned. according to him, several of the clubs around the glasgow region have a veritable panoply of roads available on which to ride, yet choose mostly to do the same as us. in other words, they ride the same roads week in, week out. as i made mention above; we are but creatures of habit, happy with the familiarity provided by local landmarks and features. these aid and abet the confidence we achieve in those velocipedinal situations.
who amongst us has not ridden with visiting domestiques and languished in the security that familiarity has provided? knowing how fast to take a corner, when to apply the brakes on a descent, where to avoid mid-road gravel and many other little instances where intrinsic local knowledge not only breeds confidence, but grants a certain status, even if only temporary.
while the above is demonstrably true, other than a rapidly rising wind, there are no longer any surprises to be met. i have even observed a cunning familiarity come lambing time. where there used to be heart-stopping moments as a small, white fleecy animal darted out from behind a roadside bush, now there is a considered procedure. unlike castaways on a desert island, we've been here way too long not to know the difference between the poisonous berries and the wild-growing remedies. well, sort of.
but though the persona of a castaway has unremitting connections to the sea, and mostly the sea that doesn't border the hebrides, the concept seems eminently transferrable to that of the intrepid cyclist. the underlying principle however, most likely requires an ability and propensity to immerse oneself in a hitherto unknown environment, paying close attention to the unseen, to the distinctly not mainstream.
esteemed italian photographer, paolo ciaberta whose works are frequently to be seen in the art paper pages of rouleur has set himself as very much the antithesis of the velo club, diving unblinkered into the hinterlands of sicily.
"The need for that castaway feeling came because I was looking for ample and unpopulated places, wild and far, where time seemed to stop, contest that I consider ideal to move legs and head."
it's not something that islay's creatures of habit could ever achieve in the locale. we could, however, take ourselves wholesale off to hebridean islands we have never explored. in our case, that would be all of them. or maybe we could emulate mr ciaberta and check out low-cost flights to the sicilian region. though he has beautifully documented his own moments as a castaway, we would have to find these all on our own.
in such a case, ineptitude may very well be our best friend.
it seems only fair to point out that lord carlos of mercian and i have at least something in common with this particular italian photographer. immersing ourselves in the unknown is one thing, but footwear an altogether different bucket of ceramic bearings. it seems paolo ciaberta opted for dromarti leatherware too.
monday 22 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there are few barriers to cycling participation. somewhat obviously, a bike is a rather important pre-requisite, hopefully appropriate to the discipline in which one intends to participate, but all things being equal, a bike's a bike. in all honesty, what you wear on the bicycle is entirely up to you; naturally enough competition has a certain expected dress code, but otherwise the rsvp bears no diktat.
however, while we're on the subject, there are garments that will ease the pain that inevitably follows strenuous hours on the bike, and i'd wholeheartedly advise that you at least take a look. the comfort afforded by a pair of adequately padded cycle shorts really cannot be overstated. but we're talking here about new adherents to the faith, those who still wonder how you change gear on an sti equipped cycle. and it is not altogether unusual for these newbies (if i may be so presumptious) to be carrying one or two extra pounds that they're fervently hoping the act of cycling might alleviate.
come to that, there are several members of the pelotonese who, through relative inactivity in the day job, or because they like their food just a bit too much, find it difficult to acquire cycle jerseys in a size that might maintain a svelte profile. many of the so-called race-fit jerseys seem built to fit human beings who have need of running about in the shower to get wet. this tautologically means that many a mamil is left exasperated on the changing room floor. which is why yorkshire's fat lad at the back have quite possibly arrived at a particularly apt time. to quote from the website "It occured to us that, if we couldn't find top quality cycling gear in proper manly man sizes, then probably, no one else could. So we took a bit of a punt and set up a sportswear brand which didn't just do 'usual sizes' but it also did bigger sizes.
as one who often manages to inadvertantly fit into regular small size race jerseys even when medium was requested, it seemed a potential travesty of justice to request a review sample for myself. so doing would, i figured, prove very little. so i turned to the velo club's very own fat lad at the back (though to be honest, he's not actually fat, just bigger than i am), lord carlos of mercian, who regally accepted the role of apparel reviewer for a strikingly fine lanterne rouge long-sleeve jersey.
"Being invited to review a new jersey by the coolest cycling website on the Outer Edge is of course a great honour. Or so I thought. You will forgive my mixed feelings however, when the product in question turned out to be the latest offering from FLAB; otherwise known as the 'Fat Lad At The Back'.
"I fit seamlessly into some of the criteria. I am (slightly) overweight, and I do enjoy being at the back (there is less pressure there), but what's all this about being a 'Lad'? I'm not at all sure that this is an appropriate moniker. I have always been rather proud of my lack of 'laddishness', but it appears that Our Great Leader, none other than mr washingmachinepost himself, takes a different view.
"And I am nearly sixty you know. Sigh.
"Anyway. Having extracted the garment from its plastic pack (why can't these things be wrapped in nice environmentally friendly brown paper?), I am immediately taken by the cheery choice of colours. This is a noisy red jacket with a pleasing lack of symmetry. One sleeve is a different colour to the other. I rather like that; it sets the tone. 'We are going to challenge convention with this outer layer.'
"Because it is a 'sort of' jacket. Long-sleeved, collared and with a full length, robust-feeling zip. We like that too. Slipping it on over my amply proportioned figure is easy. Feels good. And the generous length of the sleeves is immediately apparent. We Fat Lads have gibbonesque tendencies, meaning long arms. We like our limbs to be adequately covered at the extremities. These particular arms are nicely finished with proper cuffs. Excellent.
"It also has three extremely generous pockets at the back. I can almost squeeze in one of those little pumplettes that seem such a good idea in the shop and such a bad idea when you are ten minutes into trying to blow up your tyres post-puncture, somewhere on the Col de Storakaig. Almost, but not quite. There is however, plenty of room for quite a substantial lunch, while still leaving space for a couple of tubes and assorted snacks, soft drinks and sticky concoctions. This is important for Fat Lads.
"I have now proudly worn this splendid garment for several hundred miles of what passes for road out here on cycling's nether regions. Given this experience I would not like to claim it is overly warm. The summer this year has been but a couple of notches to the starboard of gruesome up here, and it's mostly been necessary to wear a couple of layers underneath it to fend off the shivers. Not always with total success, but that is hardly a criticism. Not everyone has to deal with summer temperatures that remain resolutely in single figures, while kicking into forty mile an hour winds. A true winter jacket it is not.
"But it is very comfortable. The fit is suitably generous and yet it looks, as well as feels, very cool. It radiates quality and I like it very much. It has very quickly established itself as my outer layer of choice. In summer. Incidentally, the rear of the garment is dominated by a huge logo declaring that the wearer is the 'Lanterne Rouge'. I am proud to say that I have no idea what this means, but I must remember to ask my Directeur Sportif for a translation next time I see him.
"He is usually somewhere up front."
Lord Carlos of Mercian.
a fat lad at the back long-sleeve 'lanterne rouge' jersey will set you back a less than demanding £59.99. for obvious reasons, it is only available in the red/black colourway as reviewed but is available in chest sizes 40, 44 and 46.
sunday 21 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
not so long ago, in a galaxy pretty darned close to these pixels, carbon fibre was as much an esoteric material as titanium had been only a decade or so earlier. the latter, of course, is still chugging around doing what it does best, offering almost corrosion free frames and 3d printed handlebars for brad's hour record. but in terms of professional cycle racing, it is highly conspicuous by its absence. carbon is where it's at.
bicycle frames that were once constructed from carbon glued into alloy lugs are very old hat and collectible. lugged carbon is almost solely the province of colnago, though there are one or two other practictioners across the globe. otherwise, the taiwanese monocoque rules; there may some truth to the concern that everything looks the same nowadays. same burnt plastic, different paint job.
this is not to disparage the genre. the availability of quality carbon frames for less than a thousand pounds has been a great boon to those entering the world of the speeding velocipede for the first time. even low cost carbon bicycles look every bit as impressive as the frighteningly expensive and though that may not always cut the mustard in a speeding peloton, it sure as heck does the business outside the coffee stop.
especially if you leave it in the big ring.
however, in a case of familiarity breeds contempt, all is not as many a marketing department would have us believe. cycling has laid great store by the alleged fact that you can buy precisely the same bicycle as the hero du jour. the only thing that doesn't come with the transaction is the sort of speeds demonstrated by those selfsame heroes. but it's a none too onerous task to convince yourself that personal velocity is every bit as quick as the guys in front of the mavic car. but, as with mostly everything in life, there is an alternative, for those who seek solace elsewhere.
this weekend sees the return of a ride and festival that britain's cyclists seems to have taken to with great gusto: l'eroica britannia. participants must only ride heroic bikes built before 1987 both with and without gears. the organisers have qualified the commandments by pointing out that, though the gear shifters must be on the down tube, they will allow reproduction bicycles provided they enter into the spirit of the event, displaying a vintage look and characteristics. that so many spend days, weeks and months building such bicycles, seeking long forgotten parts and components proves, if nothing else, that there still remains a market as far removed from carbon fibre as it's possible to get.
i am not entirely sure of the point i'm trying to make, for i enjoy a quick spin on carbon fibre as much as the next domestique, but there is something more stately and, dare i say it, civilised about pedalling a steel frame bicycle fitted with toeclips and straps, brake cables that exit from the top of the levers and wheels that sport at least 32 spokes built three-cross on polished alloy hubs. with many other strains of contemporary life harking back to the halcyon days of yore (mahogany shelled, three-ply drumsets, fiat 500 cars and wool cycling jerseys, vinyl records to name but a few), perhaps there is a general dissatisfaction with that which we have been told is modern and essential.
if you're one of the lucky people attending the eroica festival this weekend or taking part in sunday's ride, i hope the sun shines all day long and you feel suitably enervated on return to the office on monday.
maybe the old days really were better in some respects after all.
saturday 20 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
much has been made of cyclists riding in poor weather or after dark in trendy black clothing, hiding themselves from the searching eyes of the ever-vigilant motorist. to a greater or lesser degree, it's a stance that is hard to argue with, though probably considerably less of a problem at this time of year, with its longer days and lighter nights. but some of the younger folks tend to stay out later than retiring hebrideans. i am assuming, for the purposes of clarity, that all those riding after dark, no matter the clobber, have appropriate front and rear lights attached to the bicycle. if not, you're on your own and i have little sympathy.
thankfully, more recent releases from the world of cycling apparel have adopted brighter hues, though in mitigation, most of the blackout gear is peppered with reflective strips to prevent total anonymity in the deep of night.
when it comes to such discussions, and i know this from personal experience, the average motorist adopts the higher moral stance, though less on behalf of cyclist safety, more on their own self-righteousness. when the tables are turned, even if surreptitiously, that moral stance receives an unhealthy boost of testosterone. though it would be naive to point an accusatory finger at drivers of black cars, (the advent of the light emitting diode has lit most of them up like mobile christmas trees), there are other shades and hues that might conceivably raise the ire of the pelotonese.
this partially relates to yesterday's diatribe on the delights of the hebridean strade bianche, otherwise known as surface dressing. in the days of restrictive roads budgets, many councils have had little choice but to attempt to stem encroaching road surface degradation by means of a thin film of liquid tar, dusted down with a coating of neutral grey granite chips.
though i have no hard and fast statistics to back up my theory, it would appear that one of the most favoured paints for all manner of motor cars is metallic silver, a colour that is not one hundred pantone shades away from that of the surfaced dressed roads.
probably riding on the same basis as many of the rest of the pelotonese, i have developed a natural tendency to read the road ahead, something that many motorists seem not to bother with. at least, not on the basis of the surprised looks on the faces of those i meet driving round the corners of many a single track road. but just to make the avoidance of a cyclist/motor car interface even harder to accomplish is the aforementioned metallic silver paint.
only this past weekend, on two separate occasions, i came upon metallic silver cars that had remained hitherto unnoticed due to their blending in with surface dressed roads. neither encounter resulted in more than mild suprise on behalf of yours truly and arguably a smidgeon more from the folks behind the windscreen. thus, even in these lazy, hazy days of summer (who the heck am i kidding? have you seen the weather out there?), there is an inherent need not only for vigilance, but perhaps for even more highlighting about one's person.
that's a factor that was doubtless uppermost in the minds of the folks at portland's showers pass when fabricating their recently released torch socks. however, it would be fibbing to aver that they can be worn as a shining beacon in the midst of unruly traffic, less than fixated on a contraflow of darkened cyclists. these orange topped, grey socks can be purchased in ankle or crew length and feature a scotchlite reflective showers pass logo on the rear. while this doesn't obviate any lack of visible recognition from oncoming vehicles, even in daytime, that logo might just catch the corner of someone's eye (not literally, you understand).
i might respectfully suggest to the folks in portland that it would be every bit as clever to have placed a reflective logo on the front too. i appreciate that, in general, and almost exclusively in portland town, two way traffic is unlikely to have a bicycle and car heading inexorably towards each other on the same stretch of road, but in the hebrides...
from a purely sock point of view, these promise to be quite hard wearing, though i am somewhat mystified by the presence of the orange chevrons and lighter grey panels, most of which will be concealed by one's footwear. however, a combination of merino wool, acrylic, lycra, nylon and spandex offers a remarkably good fit and a force-field of flexible strength will have them fresh looking in the sock drawer long after their compatriots are in landfill.
the recent influx of showers pass products onto the shores of the uk has been most welcome, but like any new kid on the block, it takes time to have folks learn your name and reputation. despite the best and fervent efforts of sp's fraser ranson on this side of the pond, it has to be admitted that their products are not necessarily readily available in every british nook and cranny. however, with the ever-present assistance of the internet and its wonders to behold, you can now order items online in this country with prices shown in pounds sterling.
i figure you could start with the socks and then build towards a wardrobe of superior cyclist waterproofing.
showers pass torch socks can be ordered in both ankle or crew length in medium/large or large/xtra-large in grey/orange, black, grey or white. crew length retail at £13.50 and ankle length at £12.95.
friday 19 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
none of us in the velo club are what could reasonably be referred to as fast. however, considering the word is a purely relative term, the speed at which we do tend to cycle has acted as something of a discouragement to the would-be pelotonese on the island. though more than likely an apparently elaborate excuse, speed has been the principal reason provided for not joining us on our sunday morning ministrations. well, that and the wind.
but like most of us who will never see the last page of a professional contract, that doesn't prevent comparison with the professional classes. it is of less than truly onerous work to polish the bicycle to a marvellous sheen, degrease and competently lube the chain and if replacing the bar tape isn't an option, a good scrub with cillit bang or one of its relatives ought to do the trick for the short term. appropriate cycling apparel can be easily acquired, or may already be owned, that will present an admiring public with an authentic verisimilitude.
however, modern day road cycling has never been all about convincing others of one's tenacity and level of pelotonic accreditation. after all, we're the folks in the saddle(s) with a mindset that would either see us as the lone breakaway edging clear of a chasing peloton, or a member of that selfsame peloton chasing down a lone breakaway. delete as applicable. unless currently domiciled in yorkshire, chances are your local roads bear very little resemblance to anything seen on eurosport or itv4, rendering the above scenarios somewhat of a greater stretch of the imagination.
though to my knowledge there have been no organised cycle races on the island, that hasn't stopped the velo club designating at least one stretch of unruly tarmac in a manner that increases its velocipedinal aura. as you ride past ballinaby farm overlooking loch gorm near the atlantic coast, the cattle grid marks the start point of the belgian road. this moniker was adopted because, with tufts of grass growing down the centre and bordered by fields of sheep, it reminded of little else but the parcours of an early season belgian classic.
the next step (at which we stop short) would be to have drawn straws to see who was tom boonen and who philippe gilbert.
little could be better than crossing that cattle grid at speed (every bit as relative as fast) into an atlantic headwind, stuck solidly in the big ring all the way to saligo bay. but now all that's changed, and quite probably for the better.
if any of you own a copy of graeme obree's training manual, there is a photo at the rear with a phone box. if i recall, this is labelled as being on jura, but in fact, it's just along the road from carnduncan, a collection of houses overlooking the loch and coast from on high. argyll & bute council have, within the last few days, surface dressed the road stretching from the aforementioned phone box all the way round past coull farm to the junction with the kilchoman road. normally we would be up in arms about such iniquity, but in this case, it has provided our very own piece of tuscany; islay's version of the strade bianche.
after only a single traversing of this faux italiana, the vittoria pavés featured an authentic coating of white that almost offered bragging rights on arrival at debbie's. apart from the fact that most of it had all but disappeared on the bit in between. though our race-day imaginings would seem to contradict, we are realists after a fashion. it may well be that, by the time i have the opportunity to once more shout "arrividerci" to passing strangers, the recent rainfall will have converted my strade bianche into a dull, grey stretch of less than smooth tarmac.
and then i'll have to wait patiently for the grass in the middle to grow once again. mr van vlaminck would have been proud.
thursday 18 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in early 1994, my cycling career was, to put not too fine a point on it, going nowhere. in something of a redundant career move, i'd abandoned all plans of styling myself as a late career grimpeur, principally on the basis of a lack of climbing ability, and fastend my flag firmly to the mast of lead-out man. the trouble was, which enterprising team was going to offer a rider who not only appeared to have a bit of of an identity crisis, but with a palmares that scarcely gave credit to any of the identities i might possibly have adopted. there was always the option of retiring and becoming a directeur sportif, but i only wanted to fall a few steps at a time
scoring the pages of cycling weekly for any team that seemed to be producing such dreadful results that they'd welcome an ageing apprentice lead-out man with open arms, i came across this germaloids schleppers crowd based in gits, a small town several miles west of koksijde, belgium. the guy who almost seemed to be grooming himself as a bona fide lanterne rouge was a rider by the name of kenny van vlaminck. he'd already achieved a career best of 11th place in the '93 edition of gand-wevelgem and figuring i had little to lose, i gave him a call, perhaps exaggerating my talents just a smidgeon, but effectively offering my services as last man in his lead-out train. (i later discovered that last man was also first man). i hadn't, however, entered this completely unawares, having first contacted john herety to ask his opinion of this van vlaminck fellow. john's only words were "kenny who?"
as mr van vlaminck recalls (we always had to call him mr van vlaminck; the kenny bit was strictly for sponsors and fans)
"Brian? Who is this? I cannot remember this guy so much... Ah, I know it now. He was the slow guy from '94. The team was having many health problems, plus we had run out of tyres and I get a call from this guy in Wales I think called Brian Palmier. He explained he was fast and wanted a chance to prove he could make a nice level in Belgium. I asked him if he had some tyres and a bike. Next day he was on the team."
it really was that quick. of course, aside from the fact that mr van vlaminck mysteriously thought i was welsh, there was the not insurmountable problem of getting from scotland to gits overnight. it turned out that the team's sponsor schleppers haulage had a truck returning from cardiff (don't ask), so i'd only to hitch several lifts with bike and kit in tow and the driver dropped me off in gits at around 7:30am the next morning. it turns out they provided this service for the whole team. if you needed a lift to a race and they had a truck heading that way, you could sit in the back hanging onto the bike for grim death.
aside from one or two local criteriums (moorslede and wingene, as i recall), my first major race was the omloop gits in early august. not only was this an important event for personal reasons, it was an important one for the team. as mr van vlaminck is keen to recount.
"We make the Omloop Gits in August. The Home race and of a top importance Germaloids who had just launched a travel size tube of cream. I was in good shape having nearly finished two races at one point.
"We are in the final, riding for maybe top 60 and perhaps in the time cut and I call to Palmier to make the tempo to place me in 250metres so I can show the real Kenny to the people and children who are attending. He comes on my right, nearly 36kph and and I am saying to my mind ok this guy is for real maybe. I take his wheel with 1 kilo only to the line. At one beautiful moment we are like the wind at 40kph but then it is over as I am having problems with my respirations as the level is so high. I am losing the wheel but it is not a decision of the mind or legs it is the poor judgement of Palmier who is failed in his task. It is not normal what happened on this day."
i remember it somewhat differently, but the non disclosure agreement we all had to sign along with even a stagiare's contract prevents me even now from disparaging mr van vlaminck's recollection of events. in fact, despite my being inept enough to get in the way of several pelotons at several events, you need only take a quick peek at mr van vlaminck's palmares to note that i was in good company. as he was more than keen to mention at team meetings either in the back of a schleppers truck or, eventually, the team camper van "Skill is not something that can be learned, I have often learned."
of course, things have moved on since those halcyon days of yore. mr van vlaminck went on from despair to abject ineptitude, recording 19th in the 1996 tour of morocco prologue and almost making it out of the neutral zone in the paris-roubaix of '99. germaloids no longer sponsore the team, having been replaced by internet card company top bonk which, to my mind at least, has resulted in an altogether better looking team jersey.
however, in an effort to redress the balance in my favour, thewashingmachinepost contacted mr ned boulting (i'm not sure he requires the same means of address as mr van vlaminck, but old habits die hard) for a more independent point of view. mr boulting declined to speak to us, but his press office issued the following statement:
"In those years, Palmier's lead-out was simply feeble. One might have been tempted to feel some sympathy for the rider he was allegedly looking after, had it not been for the fact that Van Vlaminck neither had the legs, not the guile to execute any kind of plan. The two of them were as well suited as pineapple and gammon. In other words, they were shit."
there. i told you so.
the top bonk schleppers team jersey (£70) and cap (£15) can be purchased from milltag. the jersey features a full length zip and, as mr van vlaminck himself says "Look at the craft of it in the pockets!"
as the official clothing of probably the best cycling team in gits, these caps and jerseys are likely to sell out quickly. it would be prudent to click the link below very soon. to offer the last word to mr van vlaminck,
"It is reality now."
wednesday 17 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
george herbert leigh mallory took part in the first three british expeditions to mount everest in the early 1920s. unfortunately, he and his partner, andrew irvine, disappeared on the mountain while attempting to make the first ever ascent of the world's highest peak. the last sighting of the pair was made when they were but a mere 250 metres from the summit. whether they ever reached the top of everest before they died continues to be the subject of great speculation.
however, mallory is perhaps best remembered for having uttered the three most famouns words in mountaineering history. in reply to the question "why do you want to climb mount everest?" mallory is reputed to have retorted "Because it's there." though there have been suppositions that this was paraphrased by an over-eager newspaper reporter, there is little doubt that it appears not to have misrepresented mallory's general attitude.
whether the reporter did indeed paraphrase the mountaineer is really neither here nor there, for many of us have subsequently paraphrased his alleged paraphrase and applied it to many other unrelated endeavours, not necessarily comparable in stature to that of scurrying up a large bump in the himalayas. why anyone would ever think of riding a 160km sportive on a weekend off has no doubt elicited not only the offending question, but more likely the very same answer as deployed by mallory. and though probably not even paraphrased in the same manner, prince bradley doubtless had many, even in the world of the velocipedinal realm, enquiring why he would put himself through the turmoil of an hour in the velodrome.
no matter what mr wiggins actually said in reply, the intent was probably remarkably similar.
in changed days from his need for self-validation, graeme obree may be 'guilty' of having applied the very same mantra to an attempt on the human-powered land speed record at battle mountain, nevada. as he said in a recent interview "The hero returned; and survived", (though i may also be guilty of minor paraphrasing of my own). an idiosyncratic genius who espouses the very best meaning of the adjective eccentric, obree's attack on the record involved the construction of a new bicycle, but not as we know it (to paraphrase captain james t kirk). designed, mitred, filed, cut and built in the safety of his own kitchen and seemingly owing much to the mind of heath robinson, it contained not a single fragment of a washing machine.
"I've moved onto fridges now."
thankfully not only for our peace of mind, but principally for posterity, the whole process has been filmed by david street and is about to be premiered in edinburgh on 24 june as part of edinburgh's film festival. tickets can be ordered via the link at the end of this article and there's also a link to the short trailer that will only but serve to reinforce precisely why you should be in the audience.
because it's there.
tuesday 16 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................