i walk to my work each and every weekday morning, a transportation activity that is preceded by a 1.5 kilometre morning walk just after breakfast. i do the latter because my working day involves pretty much sitting in front of a computer, and the former because the office is only about five minutes away. it would take me longer to extricate a bicycle from the shed than it does to walk down the road. granted, those five minutes can stretch slightly if i meet archie on the way, but on average, 300 seconds generally ought to do it.
it's worth my pointing out at this juncture, that the local primary school can be seen easily from the window of the sitting room and at lunchtime, we can hear the kids playing outside. yet you can perhaps imagine my dismay as i approach the office front door to note one of the teachers at the aforementioned school, climbing into her (sporty) little car, to drive to her classroom.
i mean, why would you?
she's not the only one who indulges in such a blatant demonstration of gross inactivity. there are many who work in the village, yet find it necessary to drive to and from their place of employ, despite the village being only 1.5km end to end, measured between its two furthest points. it's sad to note that, as a population, we have seem to have adopted lethargic as our watchword. more and more folks seem less than keen to walk anywhere anymore to the extent of parking their cars as close to home as possible, even if that means using the pavement.
it sure as heck isn't my job to alter this state of affairs, but i can rarely resist the odd snide remark towards those who like to flaunt their laziness, even at the expense of demonstrable self-righteousness and resultant minor unpopularity. yet as we become less active nowadays there is the continuing progress of digital technology to alleviate the perceived difficulty of altering an ingrained lifestyle to encompass a tad more activity. one such company offering the means of so doing is france's withings, one you may have heard me mention in the context as a sponsor of the richard sachs cyclocross team for this season.
i'd not previously come across withings; proof if proof were required that cycle sponsorship works on more than one level.
they very kindly supplied me with an activité pop watch which, when combined with the power of an associated downloadable health-mate app offers a simple means of tracking daily activity. or maybe lack of it.
the watch itself is quite sleek. offered in a variety of colours with matching face and rubbery strap, it presents no external bezels, for all settings are achieved from within the app, including setting the time and the alarm. aside from minute and hour hands (there's no second hand), there's a smaller dial that's calibrated to display the number of steps taken each day. each division equates to 10%; the app figures out what percentage of each walk has been accomplished and displays according. if, by chance you exceed that number, it simply goes round once more. the target number of steps can, however, be altered from within the health-mate app.
so how does the watch figure all this out, and how do you move the info to the app? as far as i can figure out, the back of the watch is effectively a multi-purpose sensor, recording all your relevant data, subsequently transferring it to your ipad, iphone or android device via bluetooth. at the end of each day, it's a simple matter of holding the watch close to your tablet/phone of choice and everything transfers automatically. no user intervention required.
of course this all depends on having made an initial syncronisation between the two after enabling the watch with the supplied tool (which doubles to allow removal of the back for battery replacement). there's the usual requirement for input of relevant data, such as, name, height, weight etc. this allows the watch to calculate the distance walked and the approximate number of calories burned. of how much use all this is depends greatly on what you're setting out to achieve.
there is no means of the watch being able to display heart-rate on a live basis, so presumably it would be a case of viewing the numbers on the app after syncing. the app also tracks weight loss, but that would appear to depend on user input; the activité pop has no means of calculating your weight from its sensor.
however, as we've had it drummed into our psyches over the last few years, rest is every bit as important as any training or activity we might undertake. thus the watch records our nightly sleep activity, the results of which are quite intriguing. not only did the app display how long it took me to get to sleep, but how long i slept, broken down into hours of both light and deep sleep. the recommendation is for eight hours of sleep per night, so those figures are also represented as a percentage of the ideal.
and if the watch can record your sleep patterns, it also has the ability to wake you from them. an alarm time, set within the app, offers up several gentle buzzes at whatever time you may have set, to at least suggest that it might be a good idea to get out of bed. the downside to all of this is the rather obvious necessity to wear the activité pop to bed each night. this is not something i was used to, but then my festina chronograph is of an altogether less svelte countenance than the withings device.
this is far less onerous than it might seem. the activité pop is very light of weight and you'd be forgiven should you forget it was even there in the first place. i know i did.
all this would be just so many different sets of numbers if no further action was taken. however, withings don't just leave you on your own, for the app offers suggestions as to how you might improve your sleep pattern or how those ten thousand steps might be more easily accommodated into the daily travail.
the intangible force of the numbers game, means that it very soon becomes an obsession to accomplish your target number of steps each day and to manage a decent eight hours sleep. once ten thousand becomes a mere walk in the park, it's simplicity itself to alter the number upwards and give yourself a harder time.
and that's a good thing.
oddly, though withings claim that the watch can distinguish between whether i'm walking, running or swimming (it's waterproof), it manifestly doesn't track cycling (though withings are currently working on that). however, when i am cycling, the activité pop doesn't realise i'm not walking and records the activity as if i was. that brought a few smiles on checking my number of daily steps over the weekends. simply stated, if you wish to remain accurate in your walking schedule, don't wear the watch when cycling.
overall, this is not only an attractive device, but pretty darned clever as far as i was concerned. i would have liked a second hand on the watch face (even the more expensive activité leaves this out) and it takes a bit of getting used to when every parameter that affects its use has to be activated via a digital app. however, as i'm constantly reminded, this is the 21st century and there's nothing so sure as change.
though i'm pretty sure that everyone here rides a bike, it's quite possible that you might want to record non-velocipedinal activity separately; i'm thinking of cyclocrossers (running) and triathletes (swimming). there's also a list of other compatible apps should you wish to expand your horizons just a bit. or maybe you'd like to persuade that all-important him/her indoors to make a bit more of an effort in their daily perambulations. either way, the withings activité pop seems like an ideal and stylish means of so doing.
withings activité pop is available in four colours at a cost of £120 ($149.95). battery life is purported to be around eight months.
monday 5 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am on record, somewhere or other, as defining sheep as predictably the most unpredictable animals on earth. they are allowed to roam free in the fields that edge uiskentuie strand and seem almost incapable of distinguishing between grass and tarmac. thus when approached by an incoming bicycle (or motor car, for that matter), something unpredictable is going to happen; the trick is in figuring out what.
there's a a short stretch of singletrack road between the rspb farm at aoradh and loch gorm, the second part of which scurries downhill for a kilometre or so. it is edged on both sides by a few scraggly bushes of indeterminate origin, behind which sheep are inclined to conceal themselves. if that were all they did, cycling life would be so much more agreeable, but right down to the last strand of wool, they have a predilection for running towards moving bicycle wheels just at the moment when the rider is powerless to avoid them.
however, sheep are not the only inhabitants of the hebrides that display suicidal tendencies, but my second example verges on undermining all that charles darwin worked for. pheasants are of multiple numbers round these here parts; the males are bright and varied of colour, while the females are of an altogether less flamboyant hue. in fact, it wouldn't be overstating the case to describe the latter as dowdy. however, rather than criticise, the muted browns of the female pheasant are most likely designed as the ultimate in camouflage, hiding them from predators particularly when sitting on the nest.
sadly, they seem blissfully unaware of this.
no matter where or how well the females of the species have concealed themselves amongst the undergrowth, on becoming aware of an approaching bicycle, they are wont to fly up from their hiding places either into the path of said cyclist or off into the hinterlands. this despite the fact that up until that point, they were totally hidden fom view. i realise that pheasants know little of mirrors and thus have no idea of their inherent camouflage, but should not evolution have taught them otherwise?
this sense of camouflage, if i may be so bold to describe it thus, has inflected rapha's latest and quite possibly finest jersey offering to date. commissioned to celebrate the 1909 tour of lombardy, the latest edition of which took place today, the jersey not only reflects the colours you'd expect to be associated with the race of the falling leaves, but the rich heritage 109 editions would suggest. thus the three strata in descending order are bottle green, antique gold/ochre and what i like to describe as espresso, perhaps for obvious reasons.
given the autumnal colours affecting the various peat mosses around the island, were it to constitute seemly behaviour in cleated shoes, i could stand midst any one of these and you'd never see me. talking of those cleated shoes, when wearing the lombardia jersey, there really is no option but to don a pair of dromarti leather lace-ups. i say this because the jersey can be matched with a similarly coloured pair of thick, woolly socks. with burgundy leather, you'd have easily mistaken me for giovanni manina cuniolo, one of the principal protagonists in that 1909 giro di lombardia.
assisting with this historical context is the means of fastening the jersey at the neck. for in 1909, the zip, though already partially invented had not yet begun to feature on race jerseys. thus this tribute to the past features four wooden (yes, i kid you not; real wood) buttons starting at the top of the collar and spread across the left shoulder. i'd be fibbing if i denied this not to be a bit of a faff to open and close each time the jersey has to be worn or removed, but the end justifies the means. it's a tall sportwool collar and fastened with buttons brought me even closer to being identified as cuniolo.
there are three more wooden buttons featured atop the three pockets at the back, possibly more for effect than pragmatism, for i doubt many of us are too adept these days at flipping a button open to grab an energy bar. aside from which, on stepping out, i'd pretty much filled each pocket, so the buttons were already unfastened. i cannot deny that i'd rather the centre pocket were a smidgeon larger. i like to place my waterproof jacket in that particular location, but in truth, it's just a bit too narrow to accommodate a rolled up race cape.
but in mitigation of its small size, that middle pocket is embroidered with details recalling the 1909 race route. and that's not the sole example of embroidery on the jersey; there are various manina motifs and insignias, that combine to make this a particularly collectable edifice. i'm willing to bet that in ten years' time, the lombardia jersey will look even better than it does right now. and lest you think no cycle jersey would ever last that long, i currently own a pink mortirolo rapha jersey that i purchased in 2005. you'd honestly think i'd bought it yesterday.
rapha portend that it is every bit as suited to training rides as it is worn as casual wear, a sentiment with which i find it hard to disagree, though in view of rapha's eternally impeccable fit, you might want to move up a size if you intend to laze about supping froth and eating carrot cake all day. that way, the jersey will be every bit as relaxed as yourself.
i know i'm perennially reiterating my love of long sleeves, so that particular box receives a thick, black tick, but sportwool, in my book, equates to hard-wearing luxury. in view of the delectable colour scheme, one that attracted enviable glances and more than just a lone compliment as i devoured my double-egg roll on saturday lunchtime, it has achieved favourite status in a remarkably short time.
as to the socks, these are scarcely your average velocipedinal footwear. constructed from a thicker merino-based yarn than we have become used to, with padded toe sections, they're not only the ideal complement to the jersey, but just ginger peachy on cooler autumnal days such as those that have already appeared in the hebrides. and though rapha could scarcely have had it under consideration, they also matched my burgundy dromarti leather quite impeccably.
the price of £160 ($240) may bring one or two tears to those thighs, but in the light of the style, collectability and detail applied it really doesn't seem too onerous an outlay. if it does indeed last those ten prophesied years, that's only £16 per year, which is actually pretty cheap.
but don't tell rapha.
rapha's giro lombardia jersey is available in sizes ranging from xs to xxl at the aforementioned £160 ($240). the socks can be acquired in small, medium, large and extra large for a mere £15 ($25).
sunday 4 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's hard to recall how we all coped with the possibility of mechanical diffculties before someone thought of combining a whole skoosh of tools into the modern equivalent of the swiss army penknife. there is, however a fundamental and irrepairable flaw in the mechanics of such; the hinge that holds several of the allen keys in place is generally held in place with an allen bolt. but how would you tighten this bolt when necessary, without purchasing another multi-tool? hopefully the large hadron collider at cern will one day find a solution to this conundrum.
but nonetheless, the multi-tool cannot be dismissed out of hand, principally because of its ubiquity and practicality. though many of my younger readers may never have known days without this addition to the cycling panoply, i have no desire to return to experiencing the futility of emptying the under-saddle pack at the edge of the most remote road on the island, in the rain, only to realise that the very tool required had been used at home last week and left on the shed floor. if there's a nobel prize for bicycle tool inventors, somebody sure as heck deserves one.
it strikes me, therefore, that the selfsame principle might be transferable to other cycling artifacts. not that i'm thinking of a coathanger out of which it was possible to pull the very jacket that the climatic conditions demanded when needed, but perhaps, while we're on the subject of cycle clothing, some sort of garment that offers more than a single use. though there's some way to go before we reach the status of a sartorial multi-tool, there are one or two current products that look towards the event horizon, one of which i have been wearing to the office this past week.
portland's showers pass, long renowned for their effective waterproofing, are beginning to spread their wings more into what might be termed general cycle clothing, presaged by their cascade range, the track pants of which i reviewed only a few days ago. this time round, i have been stylishly wearing a grey henley shirt, crafted from a mixture of merino wool and bamboo fibres, providing the benefits of odour free fabric and a level of softness that is hard to describe.
the clever part about all this, and call it subterfuge if you like, is that none of my work colleagues have twigged that the shirt has any connection to cycling. not even in view of the large thumbloop holes in each wrist. maybe they were just too polite to ask? it offers the perfect balance between a piece of technical clothing and relative normality.
the length of both the sleeves is particularly well judged; popping a thumb through each cuff loop doesn't overstretch the fabric but prevents the sleeves from riding up in colder weather. additionally, the torso length precludes any untoward draughts in the lower back. but the specific feature that makes this a henley rather than simply a stylish baselayer is the buttoned collar, though unless you're adept at riding no-hands, i'd advise buttoning or unbuttoning before you ride.
the flexibility of the garment that makes it akin to the multi-tool is a perforated strip down the back, one that lowers the potential overheating quotient, yet it's subtle enough not to advertise itself too self-consciously in polite company. i cannot deny that the major plus from my point of view, is its relaxed nature. i have never been accused of sartorial elegance; designer scruff has been heard more often than once, and the showers pass henley ticks every box in this respect. this is not to aver that it cannot be worn in more formal situations, but with rolled-up sleeves and a couple of collar buttons left undone, i could easily pass for a jazz drummer.
the showers pass merino/bamboo henley sport is available in either grey or charcoal (men) and charcoal or plum (women) at a cost of £69.95 ($95).
saturday 3 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the first few years of riding a road bike i cannot deny that i was guilty of snobbism, specifically in the area of tyre width. your average ten-speed racer bought from a bike or department store would almost always arrive with a set of 700x25mm tyres, a width that, as everyone knows, is only for woosses. real men (and women) rode 23mm because legend would have it that the pros did so; anything the professionals did was an intrinsic part of the mental bible.
on having read an article concerning the art of time trialling, i'd learned that one or two intrepid testers had been known to ride tyres as narrow as 18mm on the screamingly obvious premise that they offered a reduced frontal area to the wind. convinced, as are many, that the means to aerodynamic perfection was more a case of buying the right stuff rather than training accordingly, i bought a pair of my own 18mm tyres, ready to pass speeding cars with a big chainring to spare. those of you who may have tried likewise will know that the level of comfort offered by such a narrow cross-section is akin to sleeping on concrete.
now that we're older and arguably wiser, even the old 23mm standby has been ditched in favour of the 25mm that was once the target of unbridled scorn. i'm sure that department store road bikes still arrive with such rubber, but probably not with the words open tubular emblazoned on the sidewall. and since both sexes know full well that size matters, our tinted lenses are now firmly affixed on 28mm widths, always assuming such rubber will fit under the brake calipers.
from my point of view, there are two reasons for the projected shift to wider tyres: scientific tests are reckoned to have proven that narrower profile tyres do not necessarily offer lower rolling resistance, coupled with the knowledge that islay's roads in particular are not what they once were. in fact, there's every possibility that when the lords of the isles lived here in the middle ages, they had smoother surfaces over which to drive their carts.
the elephant in the room, however, is that of speed. despite laborious claims to the contrary, tyre size and width is mostly the result of a demand for a certain alacrity, even if i demonstrably refrain from any other mode of perceptible training. there's almost a tangible possibility that admitting to any measures designed to make me go faster, will undermine my cultivatedly insouciant personality. and that's the last thing i'd wish for.
however, there's no denying that the road bike market is set up to foster a need for speed. just how far we're willing to travel along this potentially lonely road is almost entirely in the hands of those wishing to pursue the need for speed. though the ultimate land speed record achieved on finely balanced velocipedes clothed in carbon fairings is a long way displaced from the average road bike rider, the carrot at the end of the stick provides some frame of reference for both the professional and us mere mortals.
flying scotsman graeme obree attempted a charge at this record just over two years ago, foiled mostly by mechanical inefficiencies not realised until it was effectively too late. despite that, graeme still managed to achieve the british land speed record if not a tilt at the big one.
this past summer, a group of engineering students from the university of liverpool travelled to the same stretch of straight road at nevada's battle mountain, in an attempt to ride their arion1 as fast as possible. sponsored by rathbone investment management, the students partnered with sports scientists at liverpool john moores and liverpool hope universities to gain the necessary training information for those designated to pedal the arion1.
the arion1 features a two-layer carbon fibre shell with 3d rohacell sandwiching to provide ultimate stiffness yet retain low weight. at three times the size of a standard road bike chainring, royce components machined a 104 tooth version to propel the vehicle to the upper double-digits. though i've no idea of the width and diameter, the team chose michelin radials to survive rotational speeds of up to 1400rpm. additionally, the arion1 featured a two-camera visual system ensuring the rider would always know precisely where the road ahead lay.
prior to the area experiencing its worst weather in three years, the team managed first 52mph and ultimately 59.7mph, both runs ofering great promise for a shot at the world record on the following day. sadly, the aforementioned weather delayed this by an all-important three days. after the inclement weather had subsided, rider ken buckley broke the british land speed record by recording an incredible 69mph with a further three days of attempts remaining.
unfortunately, already two miles into their next attempt, the arion1 was hit sideways by a sudden gust of wind coinciding with an unexpected bump in the three-mile stretch of road. this unfortunate series of events pushed the vehicle offroad and nose first into a ditch. the crew had then to put in an uninterrupted twenty-four hour session to repair the arion1 for a final attack on the speed record.
though the damage now prevented the team for attempting to break the world record (currently 86.65mph) twenty-nine year old rider, dave collins subsequently managed 70mph only to be relegated by team-mate buckley's next 75.03mph run. thus, the arion1 team not only broke the the british land speed record three times, but raised it by 8mph. they also gained the distinction of being the first uk university to make the attempt, hopefully pointing the way for other british universities to do likewise.
the university of liverpool team are now working on arion2 in an attempt to improve upon their ultimate speed in september 2016.
the only disappointing factor in this otherwise successful story is how lowly it makes the rest of us feel in our mundane day to day velocipedinal activities. however, should i manage to successfully wrestle a pair of challenge 28mm tyres onto the colnago master, there seems no likelihood whatsoever that it'll make much difference to my average speed. but at least i now know what i'm aiming at.
don't you just love it when a plan comes together?
friday 2 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as adrian belew can be clearly heard to say in 'thela hun ginjeet' on king crimson's 1981 album, discipline, "this is a dangerous place" and as far as the bicycle is concerned, that's about to become particularly true. though we notionally bandy about words such as 'spring' and 'summer', in truth, based on this year in particular, there was really very little to distinguish either from their predecessor 'winter'. we have long joked in the hebrides that the only way to tell summer from winter is that the rain gets warmer.
to compound this perhaps strained monologue, only this past week i read a quote on twitter where a participant in an outdoor activity was offered a raincoat due to the weather, but declined on the basis that he was a scotsman. there is a certain irony in my pointing out that, as i write, the sun is splitting the paving stones in the back garden and i have been able to wear the lapel jacket that saw only two previous outings during the past three months. it is, however, more than likely the (very pleasant) calm before the storm.
and when that storm comes, as it inevitably will, we will all be reaching for the wind and waterproofs at the back of the cycling wardrobe, while instructing the domestiques to pack away anything with short sleeves and less than super-roubaix lined shorts and tights. i already have sets of long-fingered gloves at the ready; one to wear into the maelstrom and a spare pair which might be worn on the return from froth supping at deb's. i very much doubt i am alone in my pessimism towards the inevitable.
but what of the trusty steed? i'm well aware that despite only brief flashes of shiny weather, i have spent the majority of the last few months riding the bicycles that are devoid of mudguards/fenders. the full wood fendered cielo has patiently sat at the rear of the bikeshed, sans pedals for much of the time (i needed them on a review bike for a short period), knowing full well that its time would arrive sooner rather than later. and that its day(s) in the rain would also last for what seems like a very long time.
comparable to neatly folding the lightweight summer-wear ready for winter hibernation, those unencumbered bicycles (excluding the 'cross bike of course; its days are now) should not be left to fester in the cold. there are components that will not be talking to you next easter should you ignore them at this particular moment in time. in other words, whatever the weather is doing outside, this is now officially fettling season and in order to fettle, certain tools will be required. if only we could remember where we put them at this time last year.
for those who either can be less than troubled to go hunting the inner recesses of the bikeshed, filled with darkened corners as it is, or more pertinently, for those devoid of toolkit, today's special buy sale at aldi's might have the very solution for which you search. and at a price that makes an iphone look expensive.
the bikemate toolkit which arrives in a molded plastic case, with each tool or set of tools fitted neatly in individual slots, offers a total of 18 ideal items for bike fettling, including a chain whip that fits everything from seven to eleven sprocket cassettes, a spanner to fit outboard b/b cups, a triangular spoke key device and even a chain rivet tool that will cheerfully cope with shimano's eleven speed chains.
and rather obviously, though unexpectedly, a puncture repair kit.
at a price of £19.99 it would be a tad foolish to think that the enclosed tools would be the ideal basis with which to setup a professional cycle repair workshop, but for the occasional use to which we're likely to put them, they seem more than adequately robust. however, a bit like letting a schoolkid loose with an argon laser, if you're bereft of mechanical skill or knowledge, i'd recommend spending a few more pounds on a reputable maintenance manual. there ought to be one or two reviews from the list on the lower portion of this page that would stand you in good stead.
as mentioned in my last aldi clothing review, these special buys don't last forever, so if you've a notion to become an inveterate fettler, get to your nearest aldi store pretty quick smart.
thursday 1 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i rather enjoyed my school years. granted there were one or two classes that i could have lived without, but in the main i managed to get through to the end in sixth year without too much trouble. and when it came to exam results, i wasn't what you'd call a genius, but i did ok, even managing a respectable grade in my higher physics. that's the one qualification on my palmares that has continued to quiz the heck out of me ever since.
i was pretty sure i hadn't come to terms with protons, electrons, neutrons and their by-products as conferred on an unsuspecting fifth year pupil. though certain concepts made some degree of sense, i completely missed the big picture; there was never any chance of my inadvertently identifying the unified field theory. but then, it also escaped einstein, so things didn't look too bad after all. however, though i figured i'd probably manage better than fifty-percent, i wasn't quite prepared for the high mark printed on my certificate.
perhaps i was more aware than i'd believed.
the oddity nowadays is that i find much of present day physics quite fascinating, though in truth, i'm not sure i comprehend things any better. on the plus side, nobody ever got sniggered at by announcing they'd watched two episodes of horizon the evening before. in a perfect example of if i'd known then what i know now, maybe if i'd stuck in at physics when at school instead of drawing pictures or writing essays, maybe none of you would have to be reading this stuff today.
david millar, in his last season as a professional racing cyclist appears to perhaps have come to a similar recognition. despite describing the classics riders in his garmin team as ..."the crazy bastards, frothing at the mouth, champing at the bit for early season form in Qatar.", he later realises that though his annual race programme has concentrated on the stage races, perhaps he was a classics rider all along. quite how this affects a top professional at the tail end of his career, we're unlikely to learn from millar, for his final season as a pro featured far more twists and turns to occupy his headspace than a possible dip into nostalgia.
"I had, over the years, grown a stage-racing mentality. [...] I had made an early career choice to avoid the Classics: they were so long and hard, and I'm not ashamed to say that, at the time, I didn't have the skill set for that."
later in the book, millar shows he had cause to reconsider. he also feels that it may well have been possible for certain of the classics riders (those crazy bastards) to win without resorting to doping. "I don't believe it was possible in the Grand Tours at that time."
david millar could conceivably have become an altogether different character had he, with hindsight, taken his own classics advice a little earlier in his career (as indeed, one or two pundits had voiced at the time)
in much the same way that members of parliament are required to make plain any interests or considerations that might be thought to prejudice their position, i think it only right that i should do likewise. though millar is often touted as being a scottish rider, i've never quite seen him in that light. additionally, his admittedly media-promoted persona frequently came across as something of a prima donna, a privileged individual who could seemingly do no wrong.
however, in the face of this self-effacing, warts and all narrative of a season that provided at least one major regret in his career, i must offer a volte-face; by the time i reached the final chapter, i had gained a great deal of respect for a rider, a father and a human being that i have obviously seriously misjudged. anyone who can resist the temptation to tell his employers just where to stick their job after a last-minute none-selection for what would have been his last tour de france, and one that commenced in the uk, has my utmost admiration.
"They treated me like a journeyman professional with whom they had no history or personal relationship."
millar's chance to represent scotland at the glasgow commonwealth games was thus severely compromised, racing against those who had come out of le tour with the soupless gained from three weeks of hard racing. this must have been particularly galling after such a successful british championships race over the same course in the preceding year.
of course opportunities and results such as those only happen in the movies; or at least they would do were it not that millar was the subject of just such a moving picture, directed by finlay pretsell, during that final season. "Myself and Finlay both share a similar vision in wanting to capture what it's really like in the modern peloton." if only things were that simple.
"We had two more hurdles to overcome before being able to begin filming: the first was getting permission from the race organisers to film in their races; and the second, surprisingly, was permission from my team to allow me to do so."
filming of this work in progress required the services of a personal motorbike following the peloton, allowing film photographer martin raddich to position himself facing backwards. the pilot of said motorbike was a french gentleman by the name of patrice, a man with "...more than twenty tours under his belt and sporting the sort of moustache last seen in the RAF during the Second World War. [...] He is from another time, an absolutely brilliant pilote de moto and, most importantly, has no fucks to give."
my former appreciation of david millar was not likely to be altered by the subtitle of the book "We lived on the road because we loved to race." if you'll pardon my disrespect, that smacked of pretentiousness. but of all people, i ought to have known a lot better than to judge a book by its cover, for not only is this a particularly enjoyable, well-written and well-crafted read, but the truth of that particular statement is never better understood on reaching the final page.
millar does little to aggrandise his own skills and efforts throughout this last or previous seasons, though he is astute enough to admit to his strengths. there's also an honesty about the abilities of a seasoned pro that do not come across as diluted self-deprecation. "My feelings for January, now more than ever, show how old I am. [...] I used to count on the fact that I could get fit quickly. I relied on my body's ability to rapidly adapt to almost any workload I put upon it. [...] Now everything takes longer."
"I fucking hate January."
though understandably less than complimentary about certain members of the garmin team's management, millar is never less than commendatory towards his team-mates. ryder hesjedal in particular, a team-mate with whom millar often roomed when on the same race, is described by way of his life story in cars. and unusually amongst the allegedly self-obsessed, he also offers gratifying print space to the merits of his team mechanics.
"I've always thought it weird that they're treated as the bottom of the food chain when theirs is one of the most important jobs on the team."
the book is presented in small, sub-headed, managable chunks rather than long, roaming chapters. these are often provided with intriguingly worded headings such as 'I am light, I am strong', 'Welcome to the Suck' and 'The theory of crashes'. though this admittedly makes reading a far less onerous affair than some autobiographies i could name, the pacing and writing are such that there was never a time when i wanted to go do something else instead. on the contrary, while in the process of reviewing several books at the same time, i pretty much always over ran the notional time i'd mentally allocated to this particular publication.
but the over-arching theme throughout all 304 pages, aside from a healthy sense of humour, is the postcards. as a means of dealing with long periods away from his wife and two children, on arriving at each of his designated races millar searches out any tourist postcards in the immediate locale, then writes and sends them to sons archibald and harvey. he has a stylish hand, if the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are anything to go by and commendably, saying a lot more than 'wish you were here.'
though his film project with finlay pretsell was designed to give us all an insight into the heart of the professional peloton, david millar may have outdone his own big-screen intentions with publication of the racer. for me at least, it has revealed a man i didn't know existed. and for that, i am truly grateful.
david millar's 'the racer' is published on thursday 1 october by yellow jersey press.
wednesday 30 september 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
gary larson, famous for his far side series of cartoons, retired from drawing the series on january 1 1995. for those of us greatly endeared to his drawings and sense of humour, it's hard to believe that it's been over 20 years since the last cartoon appeared. it was also something of a revelation to discover that larson was not the person responsible for thus naming the cartoon series that has been archived in a total of twenty-three books, publications that have sold in excess of forty-five million copies.
having already sold his cartoon series to a couple of seattle based newspapers, he offered the same to the san francisco chronicle while on holiday in california and on accepting the strip for both publication and syndication, it was they who renamed it the far side. presumably less than impressed with larson's entrepreneurial spirit, the seattle times dropped the previous moniker nature's way.
since larson retired from his eccentric drawing regime he has only occasionally offered the odd cartoon and illustration, also publishing his first post far side book, entitled there's a hair in my dirt!: a worm's story, though continuing in a similar genre. also very much in his favour, larson is also an accomplished jazz guitarist.
around the time larson decided to call it a day, a friend of mine received a page-to-a-day desk calendar featuring 365 far side cartoons. pretty much guaranteed to place everything in some sort of perspective at the start of each day. though the fellow was promoted in his job and moved away from the island, he sent me red cross parcels every couple of weeks containing a bunch of larson's cartoons. disappointingly, i did not have the restraint to simply read one per day, binging on the whole lot in one whimsical session. i still have all of those cartoons in a bedroom drawer.
in the last twenty years, however, i have not once come across a cycling-based calendar that might offer velocipedinal succour for the day, one that might make me even more unbearable than i probably already am. having just such a calendar sitting adjacent to my imac strikes me as a pretty darned good idea, and perhaps such an item does or has existed. but i never found it. however, this latest book from aurum press, published on 1 october in hardback format, will probably provide the ideal substitute.
the title 'a year in the saddle' could be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, but in fact offers a short individual story from cycling history pertaining to a specific date. for instance, if we take a look at the book's publication date (1 october) the story concerns marianne vos winning her first rainbow jersey on that date in 2004.
"That seventeen-year-old Vos, loaded with potential then, is now widely regarded as the finest cyclist of her generation. The only rider who stands comparison with her is Eddy Merckx and she shares his nickname of the Cannibal."
randomly picking out headings from the book's 352 pages (there is often more than a single story per page) on 23 april The Florist wins Paris-Roubaix (louis trousselier), 4 march Jean Robic wins the first cyclo-cross world championship (1950), Ian Steel wins first Tour of Britain (1951) and probably the hardest to pronounce after a packet of wine gums, 14 september Alfons Van Hecke wins 10th Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen (1922).
as if the wealth of information contained between those two hard covers were insufficient to offer daily joy, daniel seex's illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to belbin's text. i have no idea of the medium in which the originals were conceived or printed, but they closely resemble screen prints. the majority are remarkably inventive, but i confess my favourite appears between pages 23 and 26 and is of a repeating pattern of kangaroos, one of which is aboard a bicycle. it follows the story for 19 january celebrating the inaugural tour down under in 1999.
in the absence of the aforementioned desktop calendar, i will be taking my review copy into the office and regaling my work colleagues with an exciting narrative each morning, though with no disrespect intended, it'll never compete with the cows of the far side.
a year in the saddle is published on thursday 1 october.
tuesday 29 september 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................