i have pretty much always had long hair, apart from a brief period in the early nineties when a minor deviation saw it reach bradley wiggins hour record proportions, an era of which i'm not altogether proud. my late father put it down to an art school education, but in reality it had pretty much reached my shoulders before that time. though i have never been one to dabble in the range of esoteric cigarettes or substances all too freely available in an art school's corridors, the length of my hair had pretty much everything to do with latent hippy ideals and nothing whatsoever to do with heavy metal.
however, while the former may well have fomented the length of my hair in the first place, a healthy dose of reality soon diffused such origination in favour of it being simply a feature of my personality. i know my father was less in favour of this situation, but it seems that more than just a few of the local louts around town also took a cultural dislike, if the vocal exclamations from the occasional passing car were anything to go by. i liked to think of myself as enough of an individual that such catcalling would be unlikely change my approach to such a pertinent detail of personal fashion.
hence the current preference for a particularly greying ponytail.
society has a curious predilection for pigeonholing everyone and everything it meets, presumably in an attempt to categorise that which it comes across. so in love with demographics are the modern day marketing departments, that their often suspect apellations have a habit of spilling over in to day to day life. such as the invention of bicycle riders known as mamils, or middle aged men in lycra.
of course, you do realise that this is an affectation that could not be realistically applied to ourselves, whatever age group you may fit into. for we are, by our own definition, the cognoscenti; bicycle riders with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the velocipedinal world, who converse in terms of defined rules and who have never once set foot inside a golf club. we are rarely in possession of sufficient financial wherewithal to keep a pinarello in each of our four holiday homes, though we may possibly have been inadvertantly led astray by our strava membership, one to which we would be loathe to admit in polite company.
mamils, however, we most certainly are not.
therefore wilson and rickett's the modern mamil is certainly not a volume we would welcome as a birthday or christmas present, but certainly one that we'd purchase as a present for others. or perhaps one that deserves space on the bookshelf purely for informational purposes. or maybe just for a laugh. more than just a few of this a to z of definitions is bound to raise a wry and knowing smile, either from having seen failings in others, or recalling similar faux pas of our own in the early years of flabby muscles and an executive lunch endowed paunch.
"The mirror suggests you need to get into shape. Football is a long forgotten dream and the gym membership has so far cost you £300 per visit. A few friends suggest joining them fo a bike ride..."
so reads the book's introduction, following which we enter the alphabeticised pages, a section that rather unfortunately commences with the word addiction, presumably just in case someone gives lance a copy. this slight faux pas is almost immediately redeemed by the definition of attack! accompanied by one of spencer wilson's delightfully idiosyncratic illustrations.
"Attack!: The moment when you push hard on the pedals to gain a leading margin. Ideally you will take your competitors unawares - even if those competitors are purely in your imagination."
i'm not too sure that simon mottram will be overly impressed with the entry under rapha, though in essence, there's nothing wrong with a tongue in cheek approach now and again. and as far as i can see, it's the only cycle clothing company that gains a mention, so they're obviously doing something right.
the modern mamil is unlikely ever to find itself on the suggested reading list for the open university and it certainly wouldn't take a long bath to complete its 61 pages of definitions and illustrations. but it does have the distinct advantage of being able to raise a regular chuckle or two. i'm pretty sure we all know of at least one person for whom this book will become an instruction manual.
in order that such a colleague of yours might receive the education they so richly deserve, kinkajou books have graciously provided a copy to be sent to the winner of the following competition. simply tell me to what the word 'mamil' refers. send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org and please include a full postal address.
the modern mamil will be released on 4 february.
monday 18 january 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the phrase 'you never get a second chance to make a first impression' is the sort of tautologically obvious statement with whch it is hard to argue. most recently it was (mis)appropriated by a well-known brand of shampoo to underline the possible social faux pas of finding yourself in a situation where dandruff on the shoulders might conceivably work against any hoped for ministrations you may have had in mind.
however, it might also be safely accorded towards an individual's attempt on the world hour record, were it not for the fly in the oitment that is graeme obree. as many will recall, the flying scotsman made his first attempt on the hour record at hamar in norway in july 1993, but failed by almost a kilometre. given that eddy merckx is known for having stated that his own hour record was the hardest thing he had ever done on a bicycle and had to be lifted from his colnago past the finish line, you'd figure that a second attempt less than 24 hours later would be simply a few pedal strokes too far. even for a man who trained on jam sandwiches and cornflakes.
yet on 17 july 1993, graeme obree achieved the distance of 51.596 kilometres to take the record from francesco moser by 445 metres. perhaps one of the few occasions on which a first impression occured for a second time.
though obree is and was something of an individualist when it comes to pretty much everything, there are few, if any riders who would nowadays attempt the hour record on a bicycle made for around £50 using parts from a washing machine. respectively, bradley wiggins' pinarello and alex dowsett's canyon bicycles ought to provide concrete evidence of that. but as the stakes become higher, utilising the cutting edge of aerodynamically formed carbon fibre is no longer the last word.
for now, cycling's increased profile worldwide, means that taking to the stage/velodrome is likely to attract a far greater personal and televisual audience than was once the case. no longer would a failed attempt be confined to the coffee shop conversations of the cognoscenti. thus, aside from frame and wheel technology, sir wiggins had the considerable technical knowledge of britain's muc-off placed at his disposal, specifically related to achieving virtually zero friction from his shimano dura-ace chain.
considering the avowed £6,000 cost of so doing, this attracted almost as much attention as did brad's 54.526 kilometres.
there is, however, most often no smoke without fire and those substantial development costs could soon be found to be half that sum in the light of muc-off providing a similar service for australian rider bridie o'donnell who will mount her own attempt on the women's hour record this coming friday, 22 january. o'donnell's cervelo track bicycle will be fitted with a high performance chain treated with the same formula as provided to wiggins. this, according to muc-off will use ' the world's most advanced additives, offering unrivalled friction reducing technology. Plus it will be graded on Muc-Off's unique Chain Lube Optimisation Dynamometer. This process ensures the chain will instantly work at its optimum level.'
bridie o'donnell's hour record attempt will be streamed live from the 250 metre adelaide super dome on friday 22 january via the uci's youtube channel. however, in the light of australia being far, far away on the other side of the planet from those of us in the northern hemisphere, i couldn't begin to guess at what time the broadcast will commence.
looking at the images accompanying this article, you may note that bridie appears to be outfitted by edinburgh's endura cycle clothing. rather satisfying on a parochial level. endura also supplied a state of the art skinsuit for movistar's alex dowsett for his own successful attempt last year.
sunday 17 january 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when it works, the interweb is quite a marvellous invention; it might even be the holy grail for which computers were originally developed. except, up till the early nineties, no-one had quite realised that to be the case. but leaving aside the reputed advantages of being able to let the world see your powerpoint presentions, or post a photograph on facebook of the cereal you had at breakfast, computers and the internet were patently created to access dodgy online feeds of the european superprestige cyclocross series. disappointingly, progress with information technology isn't always all it seems.
in both 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons it was almost simplicity itself to watch pretty much every major european cyclocross race on a little screen on my macbook air. more recently, the much-maligned uci foisted their own youtube channel upon an eager internet audience, showing each and every round of the severely depleted world championship series. which still left the super prestige series in the hands of the intrepid internet adventurer, a quest that is seemingly fraught with diminished returns.
though neither belgian or dutch are languages within my sphere of linguistic comprehension, i'm beginning to get the hang of the phrase "this video cannot be shown in your country". rather than expanding our international horizons, it seems the internet has bitten back with a muddy vengeance.
the situation is hardly assisted by the appearance of large boxed adverts right in the middle of the live coverage. though it has taken me a number of weeks to discover that the little boxes allowing dismissal of the ads are in the centre and not the top right corner, i'd seriously question the logic of placing adverts that cover live sporting coverage. why on earth would anyone select the ads after switching on to watch cyclocross?
however, it is conspicuous amongst this potential melée of cyclocross that the recently held british national championships, the men's won by liam kileen, women's by nikki harris, seem not to have been televised. not even behind two boxed adverts for scottish southern electricity. there's always the possibility that i was looking the other way or the wrong website, but it seems that britain's recently re-discovered love for all things cycling stretches not as far as an afternoon in the mud.
in this respect, no matter to what monty python alluded, belgium is the superior country.
however, more often than not, the eye of what i'd like to call a visual expert can either enhance the live experience after the fact, or replace it entirely. for those of you who did not attend the mudfest that was the british national cyclocross championships (me), or did not manage to find an ad-blocked viewing of the race online (me again), one of cycling's best openly held secrets, photographer geoff waugh, has assembled one of the finest collections of imagery this side of easter island. entitled helpers it exists in tribute to those who assist in taking care of everything else while the racing proceeds.
i must admit that, while i have always held the drumming photographer's work in high esteem, his cyclocross fiesta is little short of stupendous. so might i respectfully suggest that you drop everything you're doing (unless you're holding an iphone over a concrete surface) and click the link below. you will not be disappointed.
all images copyright 2016 geoff waugh photography
saturday 16 january 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
before the imposition of value added tax, goods sold in britain were subject to discriminatory purchase tax, though since i was quite young at the time, i'd be fibbing if i said i could remember at what percentage rate it was applied. this, allegedly, is the reason that roadies more traditionally purchased framesets and groupsets separately for assembly at home or by a well-intentioned friend. complete bicycles attracted the full rate of purchase tax, while frames and components did not. ever on the lookout for economy, there wasn't much debating over the form factor of next year's purchase.
value added tax removed that option, though in its early years, even that was subject to bizarre vagaries. as a student at college, it was less than remarkable that i was the drummer in an art-school band, a career that had need of surrounding each band member with the tools of their respective trade. but oddly, acoustic instruments such as drums, cymbals and acoustic guitars were hampered by a mere 8% vat, while electric instruments such as gibson les pauls and fender rhodes electric pianos were subject to a more punitive 12%. the decent fellow in aberdeen's thomson's music store, a man with the patience and tolerance of a saint, in the light of the hours we spent getting in the way every saturday, provided us with a conundrum. if a customer wished to purchase a guitar plectrum, he felt honour bound to enquire whether it was to strum an acoustic or electric guitar.
those were the days when britain had a thriving drum industry; marques such as beverley, premier, hayman, arbiter, carlton and others i've already forgotten, continued to provide british percussionists with something to hit in the face of the ludwig, gretsch and rogers onslaught from across the pond. those were also the years when british bicycles were still actually british and 'made in britain' actually meant what it said on the label. it would be unfair to single out britain as being the sole country to abandon any thoughts of home manufacture. europe, north america both joined us in outsourcing everything to the far east, where labour was cheaper while the quality was arguably pretty much the same.
britain's flagship bicycle manufacturer, raleigh, ceased uk production altogether in 1999, though assembly of far eastern product continued up until 2003. after that point, all that raleigh has maintained on british soil is a few offices to administer sales and production.
however, as of 2016, the rather oddly named and far eastern built raleigh militis team will achieve limited production abroad, with assembly in the uk. to my mind, that's the equivalent of my letting you know i quite like pizzas with a dusting of jalapeno peppers. in other words, of no real interest at all. i'm at something of a loss to comprehend why it is that raleigh think it noteworthy to inform us of this and also what it is that makes them consider british mechanics to be so remarkably superior to those in taiwan. brand manager, duncan mackenzie said "By assembling the bikes here, we will shorten our lead times and will have the bikes ready for our customers as fast as possible. We can personally QC check every single bike in minute detail."
the unfortunate corollary of that statement is the implication that the quality control checks since 2003 have been of a lower standard.
that aside, it strikes me as rather disappointing that it has come to this. a song and dance about assembling bicycles in the uk, something that likely occurs in bikeshops all over the country on a regular basis, makes raleigh seem just a tad desperate. particularly in the light of britain's burgeoning handbuilding expertise.
oh how the mighty are fallen.
friday 15 january 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
reputedly there are two subjects that one ought to avoid in polite conversation: religion and politics. as far as is possible i have adhered to this policy, but i cannot deny that there might be a smattering of the latter in the words that follow. however, do not be put off; it's really only incidental, forms a part of my usual digressions and could scarcely be regarded as complimentary towards the political milieu.
a local fellow who is as obsessed with politics as i am confounded by the whole subject, despaired that i happened to mention my finding the majority of politicians to be in possession of what i shall euphemistically refer to as a healthy ego. in support of my contention, i was wont to point out that this fellow's recently distributed leaflet displayed at least three photographs of himself. i won't bore you with the details of our lengthy and tiring conversation, but to this minute the fellow is not in agreement with my ego statement.
however, it is my belief that in years gone by, folks entered politics because they felt they could make a difference of some sort. nowadays i get the distinct impression that politics is a career choice viewed predominantly from a remunerative point of view. not so much what they can do for politics, but what politics can do for them.
paraphrasing the joke "how do you make a million from being a jazz musician? start with two million." it's a truism that can be every bit as easily applied to the bicycle industry. granted, there are those who have fared quite nicely thank you very much, but in the words of someone a lot wiser than i, "there are easier ways to earn a living." so, and many of you may already be aware of this, the cycle industry is mostly frequented by those who are as obsessed with bicycles as are we, content to make at least a decent living from their velocipedinal ministrations.
if awards were offered for genuine personality, enjoyment and all-round decent folks in the world of the bicycle, my first and foremost nominations for such bestowal would be mick and andy at prendas ciclismo. other than love of the bicycle, prendas has in common with thewashingmachinepost that both saw the light of day in 1996. this year is our joint birthday. however, unlike the post, prendas have only this week announced their sponsorship of the drops women's cycling team by providing them with a rather fetching santini team kit.
since the days of bartali, coppi and anquetil, cycle racing has benefited from not only inherent excitement, pain and suffering, but a certain sartorial elegance both on and off the bike. this is an aspect of racing that has increased in importance over recent years, almost to the point where it rivals that of the carbon frames being ridden by our heroes and heroines. it is this aspect of contemporary cycle racing that inspires the lads in poole, dorset.
mick tarrant, the fellow who began it all in 1996 said "It is our ambition to ensure that the Drops Cycling Team is the best clothed and best dressed women's team in the UK, if not Europe. We intend to be far from 'just a sponsor'; our considerable social media reach will help bring the team to people's attention and we have sufficient confidence in their organisation that the publicity created will be reciprocal."
the title sponsor, drops, launched only two years ago, supplying bespoke wallpaper (think richard mitchelson) along with a myriad of cycling imagery large enough to obliterate a bedroom or even office wall. this year they have capitalised on their presence in the cycling psyche "...with the aspiration to be the most professional Women's amateur team in the world.". prendas' sponsorship contract runs across both the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
if i might for a moment, step back from the world of serious cycle racing, it is very much to the credit of prendas that not only have they shown the perspicacity to bolster the ever-improving women's racing scene, but have proved to have the uncanny ability to deliver clothing orders even to the outer edge of the inner hebrides within twenty-four hours. to those of you in the land of comfort and joy, this may not seem a factor worth applauding. after all, amazon are little short of offering to deliver before you've ordered. but if you had the great good fortune to live this far west, where many refuse to deliver at all, or add a substantial premium to the carriage fee, you'd understand how rare yet pleasing an occurence this is.
constituted for male or female riders, the drops/prendas/santini kit is already available direct from poole in dorset in a design that scarcely needs my prompting to order. the link is printed below; you know the drill.
thursday 14 january 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my title is culled from the 1975 album 'cook' by italian prog rockers premiata forneria marconi or more colloquially pfm. often featuring english lyrics by the inimitable peter sinfield, this particular album (their second on emerson, lake and palmer's manticore label, as i recall) featured a track entitled four holes in the ground which ended with the words printed above. (think about it.)
it was and is a moment of linguistic humour that has, unfortunately, a far less joyous corollary of recent days. just as we made our way into 2016, on january 3, a 52 year old woman cyclist hit a pothole in a country lane in warwickshire, throwing her into the path of a motor vehicle. she was declared dead at the scene by attending paramedics.
this accident was not her fault and nor was it the fault of the 60 year-old woman driver who hit her. not surprisingly, the latter was treated for shock after the accident. it transpires that the potholed road had been scheduled for resurfacing before christmas, but the work was delayed at the request of a local farm selling christmas trees. rather predictably, the pothole was filled in by the local council within 48 hours of the accident.
it would be unfair to cite the christmas tree selling farm as being complicit in what was a very unfortunate accident. to a certain extent it would also be unfair to point the finger at the council's roads department for both allowing such a pothole to exist in the first place and subsequently acquiescing to the requested postponment of pre-christmas repairs. i have no real idea whether danger to cyclists is even a major consideration when deciding which potholes ought to be filled in and when, but i doubt we're very far up the pecking order.
i've occasionally met our local roads engineer out on a bicycle taking a look at the state of many of the remote singletrack roads under his jurisdiction. i'd be lying, however, if i said i'd noticed any serious improvement in the state of said roads. a bit like calmac ferries, the council roads departments are easy targets, disregarding or perhaps unaware of the budgetary restrictions that prevent them carrying out all the repair work that common sense would demand. on taking up his current position, islay's roads engineer estimated it would cost £25 million to restore all the island's roads to pristine condition. yet the total roads budget for the whole of argyll and bute was a mere £17 million.
i'm sure you can see the problem.
with persistent rain over many parts of the country recently, it would be quite abnormal if this did not have an adverse effect on even the roads that were not subject to wholesale flooding. add in even a brief period of severe cold and you can imagine it's all going to end in tears.
allegedly, any pothole of which a council is made aware ought to be filled within forty-eight hours. if fact, that would surely make warwickshire county council legally and morally liable for january's unfortunate death, but pressing that point would be a mite simplistic, bearing in mind all that i have mentioned above.
ostensibly it would be possible to take a bike ride round the locale and catalogue each and every pothole found, reporting them all to the council. but if they simply don't have the budget to carry out repair work, what's a hapless cyclist to do? to make matters worse, when repairs are implemented, the methods used seem scarcely to last more than a few days, something that would seem to simply squander already stretched budgets on continually refilling the same hole in the road.
however, to be quite blunt and arguably disingenuous, the council's financial woes are not entirely our concern when related to our safety on the road. it has always seemed slightly iniquitous to list each day between now and the iconic road classic paris-roubaix, eager to watch the pros cope with cobbled road surfaces that we'd scarcely traverse if they stood between us and our commute to and from work. in short, at the first sign of a bumpy road, we moan like stink.
but there is a distinct difference between professional and skilled bike riders racing over a series of cobbled roads, traffic free apart from following team and press vehicles and our own navigation of both potholes and fast-moving vehicles. it is most certainly the job of your council to consider the safety of all road users, but perhaps specifically cyclists, since they are by definition, the most susceptible to riding on uneven surfaces. sadly, both the councils and motorised road users seem less than pre-disposed towards bearing this in mind.
well, well, well, well.
wednesday 13 january 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
on my first visit to portland, oregon, i stayed for part of the time with my very good friend, chris distefano. at that time he and his family stayed in beaverton, a suburb of the city some 13 miles distant from the city centre. both of us being committed cyclists, on my first morning in beaverton, cd and i rode to the nearest stopping point for the portland light railway (what we in scotland would refer to as a tram) to take the first available ride into town.
situated just inside both sides of the carriage doors were two sets of hooks to allow itinerant cyclists such as ourselves to hang up the bikes by their front wheels and take our seats in the carriage. on reaching the city centre, we alighted at our designated stop and rode the rest of the way to the chris king plant where cd worked at the time. i'm embarrassed to say, cd paid for the tickets, so i've no idea how much the journey cost, but knowing how little i was subsequently charged to travel from the city out to pdx airport, it was probably a very economically priced 13 miles.
the part where we disembarked the train to ride to our eventual destination is what is euphemistically referred to in current parlance as 'the last mile problem'.
i'm a tad concerned that the powers that be have found it necessary to append the word problem to the phrase, but the concept is one that's under persistent discussion in the inner sanctums of city transport planning. all manner of conferences about the way forward with inner-city planning are taking place all over the world. it's a modern truism that more folks live in cities and their urban surrounds than live in defined rural areas. the 2011 census figures for england and wales show that 81.5% of the population live in cities and urban areas, with a far more minimalistic 18.5% out in the country.
with so many people living in the more built-up areas of the country, there is considerable logistical demand to offer appropriate transport connections to and from the city centres. as discussed at massachusetts institute of technology: 'While rapid transit solutions such as light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit (BRT) are popular ways to increase a particular area's transit network coverage, the fact that they stop only every mile on average to maintain a high average speed means that geographically most of an urban area will be beyond an easy walking distance to a station. The fact that many residences and businesses lie beyond an easy walking distance to a station is known as the 'last mile problem', and is a barrier to better utilization of a rapid transit network.'
potential solutions to the apparent problem consist of walking, bicycling, car and a more local bus service; an intranet of transport, so to speak.
however, what seems to be missing from the equation altogether, is use of the bicycle as an end to end solution. even the planners are willing to admit that in many instances, creating space on the trains or trams themselves could conceivably be an expensive undertaking, with the possibility of reducing available space for seated passengers (obviously failing to take account of the situation in portland). thus they concentrated their thoughts on the railheads, offering secure cycle parking and economic cycle hire. a case of ride your own bike to the nearest station, leave it there till later, then hire a bike at the other end.
several cities in the usa have buses featuring cycle racks bolted to the front, allowing up to three spaces for passengers' bicycles. this, however, has never made itself known in the uk or europe due to the european union's health and safety regulations. their reasoning revolves around the fact that the handlebars of any carried cycle tend to be at pedestrian head height. the fact that this offers the potential for injury seems to take no heed of the fact that the considerably more populous united states seems not to have suffered from a spate of such incidents.
but that still beggars the question regarding the use of the bicycle to get from home to work and back again. if more and more people will live in our cities of the future, increasing the number and frequency of buses, trains or cars is surely a gridlock and pollution situation waiting to happen? bicycles, on the other hand, create no pollution, take up a lot less space on often narrow city roads and do not require the substantial parking infrastructure that both cars and buses demand.
granted, not everyone will wish to, or be able to cycle, depending on physical ability or distance from a to b. it would be foolish to think that cars, trams and buses could be dispensed with altogether and as far as i know, no-one is suggesting as much. however, nothing i've seen or read from recent papers on the subject have had the temerity to include cycling as one of the principal means of transport alongside those already mentioned. certain cycling lobbies may have attempted so to do, but when it comes to the cutting edge of discussion, the bicycle seems conspicuous by its absence, relegated merely as a solution to the last mile problem.
but i've said it before and i'll say it again: come the revolution.
tuesday 12 january 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................