the remarkably successful american sitcom friends ran on our television sets for ten years from 1994 until 2004. i'm well aware that it's still being shown even now, but it only serves to underline the success of a screen formula arguably being currently repeated by the big bang theory. actor matt leblanc played the part of joey, an affable idiot who seemingly was no more aware of his intellectual failings after ten years than he was when the series started. it's what i believe tv producers would refer to as a device; in real life we would question its validity, but in tv land, a more than acceptable and ultimately humorous situation.
however, after friends was over, somebody who ought likely to have known better, offered leblanc a series of his very own, entitled not unsuprisingly joey. this fared considerably less well, interrupted by the broadcaster during the second series and finally withdrawn altogether when overtaken in the ratings war by american idol. the fundamental flaw in joey the series, was leblanc's continued affectation of lovable stupidity, a situation that worked well in the context of friends but looked positively anachronistic in the solo series.
i fear i may have been in danger of repeating this unbelievable affectation when it came to my professed ineptitude at cyclocross. this is/was a situation that i would wholeheartedly agree had continued for far too long, entirely due to my lack of suitable application. though i do thoroughly enjoy scuttering through the undergrowth in bridgend woods and subsequently across the machair that inhabits uiskentuie strand, quite frequently this is in the pursuit of some form of review. and even when that isn't the case, i kind of like simply to ride my cyclocross bicycle as fast and as hard as i can manage.
therefore, the finer points of mounting and dismounting allied to the honing of any handling skills i might need have mostly been neglected in favour of instant gratification.
but, having had jeremy powers send me his cyclocross video a few years back in which the art of mounting and dismounting is clearly dealt with, it seemed prudent that i finally spend the necessary time to learn these particular skills. so over this past weekend, i found a quiet spot near daill farm, lowered the saddle a few centimetres and spent over an hour learning to get on and off my bike the way sven and jeremy do. well, almost the way sven and jeremy do.
by incrementally raising the saddle everytime i mastered a specific height, when it was eventually necessary to head off to debbie's for lunch, i had almost reached the point where the saddle was back at its original height and i could offer a slow-motion similitude of a proper cyclocross rider. i know that these are not skills that are totally necessary for one who will never pin a number on the back of his jersey, but they're skills i really wanted to be able to say i had mastered.
i know fine well that by the time i return to my quiet spot in the sun next saturday, some of the acquisition will have faded and repeat work will be sorely required, but i'm just fine with that. though i'd never have managed any of this without the aid of jeremy powers' video, i'd also have failed miserably had it not been for prendas' aqualight thermal long-fingered gloves. though mick and andy have not specifically denoted these as cyclocross specific, i'm going to stick my neck out and do it for them.
bridgend woods, by its very nature, is full of trees. even on sunny mornings such as experienced in the hebrides over the past week or so, it means that tree-lined pathways do not heat up very much over the course of a morning; this is october and even when sunny, it's a tad chilly. hence the long-fingered gloves as opposed to the more usual track mitts. however, the palms of thes gloves are peppered with white grippy stuff in the shape of the prendas logo, making it simplicity itself to ensure both hands remained precisely where they needed to be, over and over and over again.
and believe me, they needed to be where they needed to be.
despite the improving heat both from a rising sun and repetitive exertion over the course of an hour or so, my hands never overheated. buoyed with my success, i undertook a couple of circuits around the woods, one section of which has need of dismounting, grabbing the bicycle with two gloved hands and running up an undergrowth infested piece of singletrack. i really am getting too old for this sort of thing.
the short cuff on these gloves is ideal for this sort of activity, not only when in hard use, but easing the job of stuffing them in a rear pocket when it really does get too warm. the aqualight designation infers that they're pretty well water resistant, a feature that currently i've been unable to verify. considering it's mid-october, i'll take that as a plus at the moment. if 'cross is your mojo and you don't mind taking advice from one who's admittedly just 'got the hang of it', i'd grab a pair right this minute. according to the prendas website, they're currently reduced to £29.95 and available in sizes from xs to xxl (medium reviewed; believe me, worth every penny.
monday 19 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
apple computer, under the leadership of the late steve jobs denied that the tablet computer was ever likely to be a practicality. with a range of imac desktops, macbooks and the iphone, he argued, the tablet as promoted by rivals microsoft, was effectively surplus to requirements. of course, as we now know, the ipad was most likely at an advanced stage of development within infinite loop. with the ubiquitous apple logo on the back, on release, the ipad almost immediately became the success it has continued to be, throughout each subsequent iteration.
others have now surfed along on the ipad's coat tails to the extent that tablet computers are now to be seen in almost every conceivable situation. this has brought a similar situation to that of the mobile phone, where not only has pretty much everyone got one - including, questionably, many children - but the absence of one in daily use is the more remarkable situation.
much of this adoption of such technology is based on the me too principle, where phones and tablets are purchased on the basis that if everyone else has one, then alleged necessity brings a pressing need for ownership by those who then find themselves desperately trying to justify their purpose. i'd love to have an excuse to own an ipad, but i've yet to find one that comes even close to sounding convincing.
that, however, is not a situation that surrounds the cycling anthology, first brought to our senses by messrs bacon and birnie in november of 2012. in much the same way that apple release technology that none of us realised we needed until it appeared in the apple store, the cycling anthology only underlines what we'd all been missing until lionel and ellis had the foresight to put it on our bookshelves. the brief hiatus that saw one or two editions published by yellow jersey press is now no more, with originators peloton publishing having retrieved it from the corporate milieu, in the process reverting to the simon scarsbrook cover illustration style that we all know and love.
aside from writing by both editors, the contents of issue six are particularly enticing. having proven to be a man with an excellent sense of humour and a unique writing style, robert millar joins ned boulting, brendan gallagher, peter cossins, felix lowe, kathy lemond (yes, that kathy lemond), sam abt, will fotheringham and andy mcgrath in offering probably the finest collection of contemporary writing available today. you will note that i did not add the word cycling to that contention, for indeed i feel the cycling anthology can reasonably be regarded as a literary edifice without peer.
millar treats us to the one-sided correspondence between vern vurner of biscoe, north carolina and lance armstrong. traced through sixteen letters that begin with hero worship and end with disgusted admonishment it's a remarkably original and often humorous way of dealing with the story of the disgraced american seven-time tour de france winner.
"Folks everywhere ought to listen to what you said and respect your example of humility and honest hard work."
ned boulting, who entered the cycling fray with how i won the yellow jumper now brings us up to date with his latest career move into the realm of cycle commentary alongside former professional rider, david millar. though guilty of unnecessary self-deprecation, boulting's telling it like it is features more than just a soupcon of humour.
"Try as I might, shouting out loud at those Eurosport races with the sound turned down, I failed to convince myself, let alone our cat, to whom I was exclusively broadcasting, curled up on the couch."
if, however, you are still bristling at my confessed notion that the cycling anthology is on a par with the finest of contemporary writing in any genre, brendan gallagher justifies my faith with a chapter entitled hemingway and cycling where he openly discusses ernest hemingway's continued flirtation with competitive cycling suggesting that "Perhaps for one of the few times in his life, he just bottled it. Cycling was too big a subject even for Hemingway." the chapter ends with a comprehensive bibliography.
at the risk of raising the ire of those i have not mentioned in any specific way, the remainder of the anthology is every bit as excellent as the foregoing. in common with the previous five editions, one of the very best features (aside from scarsbrook's uncannily apt cover illustrations) is the lack of any necessity to read the chapters sequentially. perhaps not unnaturally, i made immediately for the robert millar chapter, number four in the table of contents. i will regain my professed neutrality by refraining from saying which was my second choice.
according to the final page, issue seven of the cycling anthology will be published sometime in 2016, which at the moment, seems an awfully long way away. but just like the anticipation that preceded the current release, and no matter what happens in the cycling world in the interim, at the risk of turning impatience into a virtue, i'll struggle to wait that long. for just as much as paris-roubaix, ronde van vlaanderen and liege-bastogne-liege, the cycling anthology is an essential, nay compulsory feature of the cycling season.
there ought to be a velominati rule about that.
sunday 18 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
civilisation dictates a certain dress code. it's one that's almost infintely variable, but a bit like a gating filter on a recording desk, it has certain limits. and not only has it a versatility that affects little else in this world, but just like the eponymous venn diagram, there are intersections between each semi-distinct region.
for instance, dressed in team sky race kit (other team kits may be available), there are a distinct number of locations and social settings in which you may appear without incurring ire or unbridled hilarity. our colleagues in the offroad fraternity benefit from a greater degree of leeway; pairs of baggy shorts that would scarcely raise an eyebrow, cleated shoes that resemble those of the outdoor brigade and often baggy jerseys whose short sleeves do not leave red gripper marks on your biceps.
once again, there are set limits as to where even the latter might seem a bit out of place, though i'm not sure even the first tee at machrie golf links would necessarily be one of them. we are mostly at the hands of the majority. islay's current population is around 3,200, about eight of which have the requisite enthusiasm to meet every sunday morning to collectively ride bicycles. only a portion of those feel the need to ride later in the week for commuting purposes.
london, on the other hand, suffers a population of 8.63 million, three million more than in the whole of scotland. it makes both economic and social sense to concentrate on the transportation habits and sartorial needs of the majority. bring in the populations of manchester, birmingham et al which allegedly bear a greater similitude to their capital city than to the rurality of western scotland and it's easy to see why rapha have yet to offer their acolytes a windproof and water resistant pair of tartan trousers.
that almost returns us to the first tee at machrie, for in truth, i doubt any scot worth their heritage would be seen dead in a pair of tartan trousers. and a kilt would just get caught in the spokes.
thus, those nether regions are clothed in the finery that is rapha's city riding range, designed for avoiding bus lanes, but in my case watching out for sheep at the side of the road. and, believe it or not, a passing maserati.
in one swell foop, rapha have offered us two similar, yet distinctly different pairs of trousers designed expressly to offer comfort and joy on the bicycle no matter the beauty or otherwise of our surroundings. unlike the recently reviewed loopback trousers, these present a thickness that the pertex lacks, along with a concomitant reduced flexibility. however, during my rural perambulations, that flexibility was still in excess of that required. if there truly are varying degrees of formality, these cotton city riding troos (as those of us north of the border are wont to say) harbour just a smidgeon more than their friends and counterparts.
not quite in the sense of a university challenge contestant, but in more of a sartorial denotation, these are very smart. as my late father would have said respectable. but they are respectable with a purpose, one that will apparently wear to a satisfactory patina over time, while london's population undoubtedly grows and that of islay may regretfully decline. and while sat at debbie's supping froth, it was indicative to note that a large group of italians, who asked for tabasco sauce with their toasties, were altogether oblivious to the italian finery that is my lugged steel taurus corinto.
noted for their fashion sense (though perhaps not this particular group), none were seen to roll their eyes in disdain at my city riding garb. though it may be a small point, i count that as a result.
also unlike their loopback colleagues, the two frontmost pockets are conveniently zipped to retain my office keys, drum key, usb pen drive and coffee money from being snaffled by a passing sheep. one rear pocket is also zipped while the other features a similar pink buttoned tab as on the loopbacks. there is nothing on the rapha website to contend that these ought to be selected in a waist size lower than your regular choice; those reviewed were a 30" waist and 32" leg, in a style that tapers below the knee to offer appropriate pragmatism at the ankle.
once more the popularity of the black, navy or beige alternatives have led to this particular trouser variant being as out of stock as the loopbacks, though that may have changed for the better by the time you read this.
every bit as practical in the wilderness as in piccadilly circus or oxford street. much the same thing i suppose.
rapha's cotton city riding trousers are available in waist sizes ranging from 28 to 36 in leg lengths that vary relative to the latter. retail price is a very amenable £95.
saturday 17 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
portland's jude gerace started her wheelbuilding business in the south-east district of oregon's capital city in 2009. in keeping with all that you may have heard about portland, she named it epic wheelworks, perhaps with tongue in cheek, since her workshop was scarcely bigger than the elevator that took customers up to her first floor premises.
in a move that did one of the world's largest cycle manufacturers no favours whatsoever, specialized's lawyers sent her a cease and desist notice as they had already called first dibs on the name epic and applied it to the top tube of one of their bicycles. quite how anyone was likely to confuse a young startup building wheels in a cupboard with a taiwanese-built carbon bicycle, none of us other than mike sinyard's legal department quite understood.
but my story does have a happy ending; forced to reconsider, jude re-named her fledgling business sugar wheelworks, providing not only a better name (in my estimation), but a very attractive script logo.
it all rather underlines the fact that our interpretation of certain words is widely subjective. one person's epic is another's entry into possible litigation. portland itself may be the originator of at least some of the confusion, with rapha being guilty of misappropriating the word for their own purposes. with their north american headquarters not all that far from sugar wheelworks' current abode at north williams avenue, the rapha continental, in the process of riding the road less travelled, inhabited the world of epic pretty much to the point of exhaustion, a fact that was not spared by those who saw fit to parody anything the imperial works outpost undertook.
on the basis that the only thing worse than everyone talking about you is nobody talking about you, rapha took it all on the chin; in the long-run, it's probably played well to their favour. but now that we're all in the habit of using epic to describe a bike ride that uses the big ring and might traverse the odd section of offroad, the velocipedinal lexicon has been suitably augmented, though perhaps even more subjectively than ever.
so when along came a book a couple of years ago, laying claim to its authors having accomplished a dozen epic rides, you can imagine my apprehension. for if you have even the vaguest notion that you may have heard of twelve months in the saddle somewhere before, i reviewed the hardback in may of 2013.
opening with a foreword by sean yates, the contents describe john deering's and phil ashley's bike rides from coast to coast, the south downs way, the west highland way, paris-roubaix, scotland's bealach na ba and one or two other epic rides. however, since neither deering nor ashley are the sort of fellows one should take too seriously, this is a particularly enjoyable read, accompanied with some excellent photography from the lens of phil ashley.
"OK, This will be the last one. Promise."
"Apart from next month."
"Apart from next month."
i know that there have been at least several of you around for the long haul, who may have read my original review and may even have bought the hardback edition. for those who missed out on both, i have a single copy of twelve months in the saddle to give away to the sender of the first correct response to the following question.
with which vegetarian cycle team was john deering once associated with?"
please e-mail your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org including a full postal address. closing date is friday 23 october.
friday 16 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's not often the bike repair scenario gets itself the wrong way round, but oddly, that's precisely what's happened this past week. though the indian summer continues apace (surely it can't last?), winter will be along in the fullness of time, generally not the prospective circumstances that bring the civilian population to have their bicycles repaired. at least round these here parts, most cycle repairs would be left at the back door prior to easter.
it might be an interesting project to follow these things up; after i've repaired a bicycle to find out if the owners actually ride the darned thing, other than back to the car to take it home. several of our neighbours a good few years ago, in the last pre-bradley bubble, purchased catalogue mountain bikes with the proposed intention of getting fit. though i assembled most of these on their behalf, the majority were subsequently sold off through the local paper's classified column with scarcely a wheel turned.
it's fitness jim, but not as we know it.
however, in the present example of cycle repair, i made the usual practice of pulling the brake levers on the way out to my morning walk to be somewhat taken aback by no resistance and a flailing front brake cable. the front fork had braze-ons for cantis, but quite obviously no brakes were attached to the bike. the mental list had begun.
but on my return, i noticed a disc rotor attached to the front wheel, thus adding a set of pads to the list, while deleting the cantis. further cursory investigation revealed that though the disc itself remained, along with the mounting bracket and bolts, the caliper was nowhere to be seen. which rather asks the odd question of why? there's a certain generation of kids who think nothing of removing the brakes from their bmx or mountain bikes on the basis that 'it looks cool', but i confess, i have not seen the dubious habit applied to discs.
perhaps it is the modern way?
i have tried manfully to refrain from mentioning the chain in this conversation, but this length of orangey brown metal was fixed in a shape that rather mitigated against it being of any propulsive use whatsoever.
i recall in the early days of index shifting, on mountain bikes at least, that the levers still offered a friction option should the notched option find itself out of favour due to derailleur clouting. (however unlikely such an eventuality might have seemed, i did once destroy most of a suntour derailleur while pottering about the woods. at that point, i was very welcoming of the friction option.)
the mountain bike's almost wholesale adoption of the disc rotor has mostly bypassed the safety net of leaving cantilever pivots on the fork legs. but in this case, with the very unlikely option of my being able to acquire a single, un-named front-only caliper to fit a budget offroad machine, i'm sure the customer has cause to celebrate this unwarranted transitional yet welcome period.
suffice it to say, the bicycle is now in working condition, with front and rear sets of v-brakes, a chain that shines and glides easily through both derailleurs and a pair of pedals that will now accept feet.
i still have no idea why the owners of a bicycle that is plainly unloved would wish to have it repaired in time for the impending and all but guaranteed crap weather. i'd have thought it better to leave it till easter. meantime, there's a rusty 60mm rotor lying on top of the coal bunker, where it will probably remain until the wind blows it away.
thursday 15 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
people can be so cruel, especially, it seems, when the hebrides are blessed with days of endless sunshine coupled with azure, cloud free skies. in fact, strange to relate, on nipping down main street at lunchtime yesterday to purchase my daily copy of the guardian newspaper, the loch was pretty much flat calm. and it's a sea loch, so really there's no excuse.
the cruelty was brought to light by three individuals, all of whom pointed out what excellent cycling weather we were currently experiencing. i cannot deny that i was disinclined to disagree, for were i free to do so, i'd have been gathering in the kilometres quicker than they harvested the barley at the weekend. but this week is filled with office duties, chores that rather preclude any velocipedinal activity.
life's not fair.
the morning was chilly with the very beginnings of a ground frost, so my thin, raggedy fleece jacket seemed less than appropriate. fortunately, my next door neighbour used to work offshore on the oil rigs and was kind enough to pass on a thick, warm, reflective and extremely bright orange survival jacket. this not only cuts the mustard over the couple of kilometres undertaken on foot each morning, but makes sure that the council truck drivers are unlikely to nudge me into the ditch. it also has the distinct advantage of being quite waterproof.
it's the anticipation that's the hardest to accept. the sense of doom and gloom prevents most of us from enjoying the current spate of sunshine; it's going to rain very, very soon and that rain is going to be brought to the bike shed on the wings of an atlantic gale. it may seem that i am guilty of gross pessimism at this point, but nothing could be further from the truth.
though this year's scottish summer has hardly lived up to the usual definition of the word, it wasn't quite as onerous as its press department would have us believe. as we are in the habit of saying, you can tell it's summer because the rain gets warmer. but i have several wind and waterproof jackets on the premises, adequately sized to fit comfortably over more than just a single winter jersey. i have kept pace with the contemporary developments in the art of staying dry and comfortable on the bicycle and if ever despair threatens to get the better of my enthusiasm, i simply look upon it as training for the festive 500.
like it or not, rain is the lifeblood of the hebrides. it makes the whisky. visitscotland can portray it as the bane of their marketing campaigns, but it is the very manna that separates us from the (warm and dry) mainstream. my contention that hebrideans are the flandrians of the west would all be for nought if it weren't for the rain (and wind).
but maybe with luck, we'll get double-glazing in the croft before the tempest arrives.
wednesday 14 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am, much to my chagrin, a creature of habit. though there's no real need for me to be in the office until 10am, to a fault i'm sat at the desk by 08:40. though lunch is generally from 12:30, habit makes me pop down the street at 11:45 to buy my newspaper and get something for lunch.
if all goes according to plan, and it usually does, my part of the week's work ought to be finished by lunchtime on friday. that way, others who have need of finishing off the production process are not unfairly delayed. which leaves me with a friday afternoon devoid of strenuous activity, or at least activity which brings no revenue. what else can the intent velocipedinist do but acknowledge the pleading invitations from the bike shed (surely everyone else can hear it too?) and head off to the bruichladdich environs, ready to assuage a certain thirst with concentrated froth supping.
this has also become a habit.
however, an afternoon of cycling interrupted by coffee swilling and perchance some polite conversation, leaves very little time for active pedalling. such would be lessened even further if i'd to change into my refugee-from-the-peloton outfit. so my friday afternoon habit eschews any thoughts of bendy bars and skinny tyres, opting instead for the taurus roadster, a bicycle that welcomes civilian garb with no outward pretensions.
maybe there's a lot to be said for normal cycling after all.
however, i would be leading you along a hidden garden path were i to aver that non-peloton garb results in a pringle jumper, jeans and a pair of gardening gloves. on the contrary, several of today's cycling apparel specialists offer entire ranges of, in this case, city riding clothing that to all intents and purposes look just like ordinary garmentage to an unknowing (and pretty much, uncaring) public. from our point of view, that's pretty darned excellent.
rapha (for indeed, it is they) offer a comprehensive and particularly well-designed range of clothing which their naming protocol would suggest ought to be worn midst taxis, buses, traffic snarl-ups, traffic lights and jaywalking pedestrians. yet here am i, on the outer edge of the rural idyll, smartly dressed in a pair of the latest loopback trousers, matched with a rapha/raeburn thermal jacket and henley. the saddle supporting a loopback clothed posterior is a sprung brooks b16, not your regular sprinting attire, i'm sure you'll agree?
the loopback trousers are constructed from nylon-based pertex fabric, one that offers impeccable windproofing and a healthy dose of water resistance via a durable water repellant (dwr) coating. the fit is contemporary, right down to the tapering below the knee. rapha advise on their website that prospective purchasers might like to consider downsizing from their regular rapha trouser size, but since this would have meant opting for a 28" waist rather than a 30", i figured i'd pass on that one.
however, it looks as if rapha may well have been at least partially right. though i figured a drop of two inches might just have been a constriction too far, there's no doubt that the elasticated waist is a smidgeon larger than usual. i have not yet had need of resorting to a belt, but should that prove necessary in the future (if i become even thinner), there are belt loops to facilitate such an option. the loopbacks can also be ordered with differing leg lengths and colours; i opted for the 32" leg because though 30" is perhaps closer to my actual measurement, the extra two inches keep my socks concealed during frantic rural pedalling.
and instead of the black reviewed, they're also available in navy. ever the pragmatist, i asked for black, for though the taurus owns one of those compulsory all-enclosed chains, i have a tendency to be a bit of a mucky pup. their all-over blackness allowed me to fit a new chain, set of cantilevers and a pair of pedals to an ageing mountain bike, left in my charge for those very repairs. i'm pretty sure i kept all oily marks at bay, but on black trousers, who can tell?
the windproofing is pretty much the clincher as far as i'm concerned. though my neighbour's anemometer is hardly working overtime at the mo, it will not be long before we can feel its spinning draught from the far corners of our own garden. couple that with an impressive degree of inbuilt stretchability and you'd need to be ruddy hard to please to find fault.
but the wearing of trousers specifically cut for velocipedinal activity cannot be truly their only forte. if i may refresh your memories regarding the ratio measured between length of commute and time spent working or playing candy crush on the office ipad, any pair of augmented trouserage should be every bit as at home standing at the water-cooler (do people really do that?) without alerting all and sundry to the fact that you most likely watched paris-tours on sunday afternoon, or that cyclocross might occupy the bulk of your autumnal weekends. the loopbacks accomplished this with ease. so inured to bright pinkage have my own work colleagues become, that not one of them has commented on the fluorescent pink flap featured on the leftmost rear pocket.
the two front pockets are generous in their depth, lined with a silky smooth fabric. the left front is joined by a secretly zipped accomplice and another more visibly zipped option on the rear right. my habitual nature has a pair of keys, a usb pen drive and a drum key (don't ask) permanently contained within the pockets of any trousers i might wear. when riding, those contents gave no cause for untoward irritation.
i have mentioned on several occasions that there is great danger of my designer scruff becoming a thing of the past, principally through the machinations of delights such as rapha's loopback trousers. but do i look as if i care? i'm not too sure why they opted to bestow such a quizzical name upon such sartorial brilliance, but to be honest, i don't much mind. even if your bicycle collecton contains nothing that would suggest the word commuter, i'd nab a pair just for lounging about the team bus or attending the annual club dinner.
they look just fine and dandy in the phone box at carnduncan.
as if to prove my point, rapha have currently sold out of the first run of loopback trousers. there are more due in early november. get your order in now.
rapha's loopback trousers retail at a cost of £110 and available in navy or black in waist sizes ranging from 28" to 36" offering varying leg lengths proportional to waist size. and don;t forget rapha's recommendation to move down a waist size.
tuesday 13 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................