i have carefully observed the behavioural pattern of the modern-day individual, specifically with regard to their mobile phone habits. this takes on a different perspective from my point of view, because as i have reitertated to the point of boredom, i am one of only two people in the world who do not possess a mobile device, smart or otherwise. i am led to believe that the other is elton john, but since he never phones, i'm not able to confirm that assertion.
aside from perpetually checking their phones for reasons i can only surmise (are schoolkids really so important that they receive a constant stream of urgent messages throughout both day and night?), it's possible to notice the frequent checking that they still have the phone on their person. heaven forfend that home should have been left without a smartphone in a jacket or jeans pocket. the specialized prevail encourages a similar mode of enquiry. no doubt many of islay's motorists have held a quizzical look upon their faces, querying why it is i often ride these days, apparently patting myself on the top of my head?
i am not sending a subliminal and hitherto secret signal to others, but simply checking that i have indeed remembered to put the helmet on before departing home or debbie's. i have paid careful attention to where i leave it when supping froth; a misdirected sneeze could conceivably blow it clean across the room.
hebridean observations this far south most often concern either the island's birdlife or its distilleries. the sunday rides of recent time have been punctuated by barbour-jacket-clad visitors arranged neatly behind an array of telescopes and binoculars. no doubt a peloton of lycra-clothed cyclists looks every bit as odd to them as they do to us. this ornithological backdrop does, however, have a starting point and an endgame. the distilleries are of a more permanent fabric.
the disconnect affecting the amber nectar concerns its maturity. the marketing of pretty much each and every islay dram consists of the believability that it spends at least the first ten years of its life stored in wood casks in close proximity to the salt sea air of the atlantic. this construct reputedly makes it far more open to affectation of sea-borne tastes and aromas. i have read of more than one of islay's drams offering up seaweed as part of the incongruous nosing ceremonies indulged in by the majority of the liquid's aficionados.
in reality and to avoid islay's green hills being obliterated by concrete warehouses, much of the whisky is despatched in tankers to the mainland where it will spend the bulk of its maturing period in glasgow-based warehousing. the odd part of all this concerns the fact that those selfsame whisky geeks are perfectly aware of the situation, but simply choose to believe the official line promulgated by distillery led social media.
to a certain extent, the same can be said of helmet reviews. i do not contend that anyone's marketing department is attempting to pull the wool over our eyes, but from a reviewing point of view, we are probably all guilty of ignoring the ultimate point of wearing a helmet in the first place. while i can inform you as to the fit, comfort, colour, weight and several other helmet-related factors, though i'm more than willing to suffer for my art, that does not stretch to the possibility of self-inflicted concussion. for in no helmet review that i have ever read, has the reviewer deliberately thrown themselves over the handlebars to test the efficacy of the design and veracity of the safety sticker inside.
we must surely hope and trust that all the testing procedures that preceded the affixation of that sticker were as effective as we all hope they are. of course, narcissistic individuals that we generally are, to a greater or lesser degree, it is often the case that no matter the portended safety aspects, unless the helmet in question makes us look the way we'd like it to, it probably would be left at home.
the usual associated faff with any new helmet is the to-ing and fro-ing of the chin strap, attempting to create a tight yet comfortable fit, one that does not leave one side flapping in the wind while the other side cuts a deep channel in your cheek. specialized's fabulously bright matt orange prevail was subjected to no faffing whatsoever. it is rare that a helmet can be lifted from its box and fit perfectly first time, but this one did precisely that, allowing me to leave the specialized 's' precisely where it was meant to be: over the side adjusters.
it would also not be contentious to say that a helmet is worth less than a hairband if it refused to stay securely attached above the eyebrows at all times. not only is the buckle/clip simplicity itself to fasten and unfasten, but is very unlikely ever to become inadvertantly opened. the thin-ness of the helmet's matching orange straps makes them comfortable to the point of invisibility. it also arrives with a replacement for the comfort pad featured round the front portion of the helmet's interior circumference.
at all times of year, i wear a casquette beneath the helmet du jour; at this time of year it's a cosy winter version, sporting elasticated ear flaps. when the weather gets warmer around mid-july, i'll revert to the standard version. this factor was easily accommodated by the prevail, the medium-sized review model being versatile enough to protect both a casquetted or un-casquetted head. the fine tuning adjustment, as with almost all contemporary cycle helmets, is by means of a dial at the rear. if i'm honest, this is the single factor that's theprevail's weak spot. it's not that it doesn't work; in fact it works exactly as designed. but in practice, not only is the dial a tad on the small side, but it's effectively too close to the lower part of the back of the helmet to allow a gloved finger to make adjustments while riding. this makes it necessary, in my opinion, to make sure the fit is adjusted prior to the grand depart.
i am, of course, willing to accede that specialized's mindset, five position height adjuster may offer relief from the latter, but since i could never quite get the hang of this and the manual seemed not to cover its operation, i fear this says more about me than it does about specialized. from a personal point of view, the fit was nigh on perfect.
referring back to my earlier statement regarding its incredible lightness of being, from that point of view, the prevail is a masterpiece of the compromise between safety engineering and ventilation. i counted 35 separate vents, including the four in the mouth at the front, and two subtle little blighters towards the rear of the side, yet the overall rigidity seems not to have been adversely affected by all of this open space. granted, the ambient temperature in the hebrides at present means that none of us relies upon the potential ventilation afforded by our headgear, but neither was i inconvenienced by an excessively cold head even in sub-zero windchill.
it is, without doubt, one of the best fitting and comfortable cycle helmets i have had the pleasure of wearing, while the matt neon orange colour means that should i ever have to ditch in the sea, the helicopters will find me first.
and it makes me look fast.
the specilized prevail road helmet is available in navy, white, black and neon orange in sizes small, medium and large, at a retail cost of £160.
monday 7 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"Boring Tour," I said. "The Dutch have given up and the Brits have sent a computer-driven team."
whatever else the bicycle is, it excels in its role as a catalyst; perhaps its finest hour. even on saturday lunchtimes at debbie's, when full of visitors unknown to yours truly, almost without fail, someone will either make mention of my mode of dress, or refer to some aspect of cycling in order to open the lines of communication. it makes a welcome change from discussions concerning the weather.
but it also brings together entirely un-like-minded people. on my perambulations through bridgend woods this past saturday, while stationary to allow a gent on a bicycle with following dog to pass, he stopped to converse about the relative merits of different tyres. though i know the chap only well enough to say "hi in the passing, i seriously doubt that any other words would have been exchanged had we not both been astride bicycles.
even when minding my own cup of coffee, the standard guilt-driven opener most often concerns the conversant's adherence to the bicycle as transport when of considerably younger years. and judging by the physique of many, they'd have been well advised to have continued their velocipedinal activities well into their senior years.
bert wagendorp's ventoux is perhaps the prime example. i often worry greatly when presented with a work of cycling fiction, that the narrative will be solely concerned with the racing milieu, picking the best bits from the best races, and resulting in our hero beating the all odds stacked against him/her finally winning the plaudits of all concerned. along the way, there will undoubtedly be inaccuracies that will irritate pedants such as myself.
ventoux is nothing like that. it's excellent. aside from a marvellously designed cover, the bicycle is superbly portrayed in its guise as catalyst.
you may have already sussed that the author is not of english origin; in point of fact, he's dutch. this paperback edition, published by world editions, is the 2015 translation (excellently handled by paul vincent) of wagendorp's 2013 novel, a book that has sold over 140,000 copies in the netherlands. since i'm attempting to review a book that i thoroughly recommend you read for yourself, i'm consciously trying not to reveal salient aspects of the plot. no spoiler alerts need apply.
very basically the story concerns a disparate group of dutch school friends, brought together by varying degrees of affection for the racing bicycle. as can probably be gleaned from the book's title, the story hinges on their youthful ascent and subsequent descent of mont ventoux. a situation that occurs during this pilgrimage to the giant of provence predicates their return in later life to once more ride to the weather station, as a form of exegisis. throughout the intervening years, during which several suffer the iniquities that life can bestow upon the unwary, the bicycle and the mountain remain as both light and shadow in all their respective lives.
"When I turned 40, I stopped smoking, got my old Batavus out of the shed, and began cleaning it up. It was, may I say, one of my better decisions. On the bike I began slowly but surely to realize that you can go right, but also left."
the trappings are all in place: the archetypal cycling novel of all time is surely tim krabbé's the rider and it's a clever ploy to have fiction quote fiction by mentioning the latter in ventoux. "The urge to sit on a racing bike came back later. That was after I had read 'The Rider' by Tim Krabbé. I was 15, read it at one sitting, and knew instantly what I had to do."
and perhaps solely in an attempt to cement the book's cycling credentials "(I) ordered a Rapha jersey. Do you know it? Brilliant, really brilliant. Merino wool. And a silk bandana. If I'm going cycling, of course I want to look well groomed. That's what they call it, isn't it? it's a credibility of which i'm sure imperial works would wholeheartedly approve, but its place in the narrative does not for one minute, come across as contrived.
in fact, ventoux is so convincingly written that contrivance is a factor that never once rears its potentially ugly head. the storyline is well conceived with an unsuspected twist as it draws to a close. the characters are thoroughly and naturally believable, as are their various interactions, while the book's 285 pages provide compulsive reading from page one.
in fact the only feature of the book that left a quizzical thought, was a quote on the back cover. according to nrc handelsblad (?), the novel is "hilarious, stirring, feel-good". the word stirring might just be seen as applicable, but i have serious doubts over the other two descriptions. i do recall finding the occasional passage raising a snigger, but hilarious might be stretching credibility a tad too far. the fact that the narrative is built around the ventoux and bicycles may qualify it as 'feel-good' but it's not an apellation i would have applied. maybe they were talking about something else entirely?
if you think of yourself in any way as a road cyclist, you need to acquire and read a copy of this book. it places a subtle, yet apparently deliberate emphasis on the bicycle's place in the firmament, yet transcends its subject matter; it can be read and enjoyed every bit as much by those who could care less about dario pegoretti's flare with steel tubing (Plays only jazz in his workshop.") or the provenance of a "1977 Raleigh."
"You can't talk about that on the telephone. The Beatles never got together again on the telephone.'
'They never got together again at all."
"That's what I mean."
sunday 6 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
to illustrate an article published earlier this week, i included a few photographs of a bicycle currently in for review. only a matter of days later, i received e-mail correspondence from a reader demanding (i think) that i remove the pie plate included in said article. not one readily acquainted with what i later understood to be bicycle slang, i replied to the effect that i had little to no idea of which he spoke.
his reply directed me to an article on bikesnobnyc decrying the fitting of the pie-plate to modern-day bicycles, reiterating this need to have them removed. at this point i realised the subject of this rather blunt discussion.
on many lower cost cycles, fitted behind the cassette sprockets and over the lower portion of the rear wheel spokes, is often a transparent plastic disc. though the cassette prevents this disk from leaving the confines of the wheel, it is also tentatively held in place by circumferentially sited clips which slide over the spokes. it is a device fitted in order that the chain should not have a meeting with the spokes should it overshift the largest sprocket and jam between cassette and hub.
in replying to my correspondent for a second time, i pointed out that the bicycle in question was on loan from the manufacturer and i thought it to be overstretching my jurisdiction to remove items from a bicycle that would surely be due for return at the end of the review period. added to the above, i also was at pains to point out that, despite never having met the gentleman masquerading as bikesnobnyc, i was less than inclined to act upon his new york demands, simply because he'd made them.
however, that did not in any way dissipate the fact that having learned what a pie-plate actually was, i was in total agreement that the ruddy things have no place on a bicycle of any description, let alone one that left little change from £2,000. however, though i had secretly removed the wheel reflectors from the same bicycle at the point of assembly (me neither), i still maintained that it was not my place to remove appendages from a bicycle that would feature on retail versions.
that was, until yesterday.
i've made mention on one or two previous occasions that now and again i find it possible to play hooky from work on a friday afternoon, offering the ideal opportunity to go sup froth and eye-watering espresso. yesterday was one of those days.
i had travelled only a few metres when a constant clicking made itself known as i headed into the wind along shore street. suspecting one of the disc rotors, i stopped to check, only to note that the pie-plate was no longer in the position it had been when new. it is a feature of such bits of plastic that once they've decided to become eccentric (if you see what i mean?), attempting to correct the spin is well nigh impossible.
the long and short of this is that bikesnobnyc, darn his new york correctness, is absolutely right in his assertion, at least as far as pie-plates are concerned. if there's one on your rear wheel, get rid of it now.
this is non-negotiable.
saturday 5 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
thewashingmachinepost began in arguably more salubrious, yet humble surroundings as a one-off article for islay's local newspaper. having moved here with mrs washingmachinepost from more densely populated urban surrounds, i was somewhat taken aback to find that, aside from one chap who was on a three-month sabbatical to the island, nobody else cycled. not even to the shops. having attended a school that featured quite literally, wall to wall bicycles along the front, often double-parked, it was less than encouraging to move into a house adjacent to islay's secondary school that showed evidence of not a single velocipede against its gable wall.
granted, the latter situation was and is, primarliy due to many of the pupils being resident in the more far flung regions of the island; it would be necessary to arise at around 5am for many of them were they to cycle to their place of learning. however, the complete lack of visible cycling led me to submit an article to the editor, pointing out just how much money could be saved were the average family of four to purchase decent quality bicycles, along with appropriate cycle luggage and waterproofs. on the few occasions each year when travel further afield was deemed necessary, it would be but a simple matter to rent a motor car.
despite following up this initial subterfuge with regular articles regarding the joys of cycling, it was all too apparent that my gentle persuasions were going nowhere. perhaps it was time to stop.
it was pretty much at this point, i accidentally discovered that i had many readers who found the material entertaining, though certainly not to the point of bicycle acquisition. in the light of what i took to be encouraging approbation from my public, i continued. in the mid to late 1990s, the interweb became a practical proposition for the rest of us, so i moved to pixels instead of paper, despite the forgotten reality that many of my former readers were blissfully unaware of just what an internet was.
around 1999, still continuing to post mildly entertaining features on cycling's place in the grand scheme of the world, the universe and everything, i sent a handmade birthday card to a friend, mocking it up to resemble the front page of a (small) newspaper. in this instance, i used the same typeface as favoured by the washington post, but deferring to the flying scotsman's deeds of derring do, that heading morphed into the washingmachine post, a rather bizarre name that i subsequently applied to what would soon become known as a weblog, shortly thereafter truncated to blog.
the most humorous aspect of naming an internet blog as i have done, was receiving an e-mail from a prominent london hotel asking if i might return a quote for three washer/driers and an industrial size washingmachine.
over the intervening years, the frequency of posting increased from its original appearance every second friday, to its contemporary daily occurence. that particular rod for my own back began when setting the doubtful task of being able to post each and every day between christmas and easter. at that point it was supposed to stop. however, it is common knowledge that if you can undertake any activity or regime for a minimum of 21 days, it becomes habit, no longer seen as a travesty to be endured. of that i can attest.
sadly, for any future historians who feel compelled to document any aspects of the blogosphere in later decades, there has never been, nor is there ever likely to be, a washingmachinepost strategy. up until tea-time yesterday, i'd all but forgotten i was going to write this testament to habitual block-headedness; there is no grand scheme or cunning plan.
if this has so far read as rather twilight zone(ish), a short summation of the above may be described thus. as of this month, thewashingmachinepost turns twenty years old. it is, so far as i can ascertain, the world's longest surviving cycling blog, due more to my inherent need to write using big words, than any adulatory popularity it may have achieved along the way. i seriously doubt anyone has read from day one, but to all those who may have only dipped in and out occasionally, and those who, for reasons best known to themselves, read every day, i thank you for your company.
to all the wonderful people in the cycle industry who have provided me with items for review and discussion, you have my eternal gratitude. the post has given me a whole new peer group that would have been otherwise impossible in the light of my slightly remote scottish location and i now have numerous friends whose lives have been blighted by my presence, sometimes on more than one or two occasions.
here's to the next twenty years when i hope to be still young enough to ride a bicycle faster than i can walk.
friday 4 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as my hall cupboard will attest, there is currently a particularly wide range of cycle-related footwear available on the market, offering styles and sizes that ought to suit even the most demanding of the pelotonese. these can be divided, fairly simply, into two distinct genres: those you can wear offroad and those you probably shouldn't. i am aware that there is a small subset of intrepid cyclists, hellbent on proving that the humble (and not so humble) road bike can tackle most surfaces laid in its direction, but that's probably a different story altogether. and one for a different time.
i think it also safe to say that, while the chunkier soled offroad footwear will happily provided its services without hardship through gravel, mud, grass and tarmac, the same cannot necessarily be said for the far smoother soled road shoe. crank brothers do offer an adaptor that allows the use of road shoes with their offroad pedals, one that works remarkably well, but that's not to say you could then scrabble up a grassy slope while wearing said shoes. bearing in mind the mantra horses for courses i would likely advise that, if you intend to ride offroad, whether on a springy farm gate or a cyclocross bike, you would best contain your choice of shoe to one exhibiting a reasonably chunky sole.
at this point, we come across yet another difference between the two styles. though the placement of three-point cleats sitting proud of a smooth carbon sole is the principal reason most roadies walk like ducks, this situation is enhanced by the stiffness of that very carbon. to put it more bluntly, road shoes are very difficult to walk in, an occurrence that is not there purely by chance.
road-riding usually takes place at a higher rate of knots than does passage through the mucky stuff, encompassing as it does while in race mode, the need to outsprint your pals in the peloton or climb strongly for a considerable number of kilometres. in order to maximise power transfer, losing as little energy as possible in the process, those road shoe soles are designed to offer little or no flex.
offroad shoes on the contrary expect to be both walked in and, when it comes to cyclocross, run in. the criteria for the soles of such shoes is altogether different than their roadgoing brethren and something of a compromise at that. yet again, power transfer cannot be ignored, especially since this style of shoe is more likely attached to the pedal by means of a far smaller cleat. yet a certain dialed-in amount of flexibility cannot be ignored. getting that bit right can make the difference between a good and a less-good pair of shoes.
specialized's recon offroad shoes are not necessarily the fellows you'd choose to wear when racing cyclocross, but then the majority of 'cross bike owners have no intention (or ability) of so doing in the first place. their demands are subtly different from those who may prefer to choose the more competition oriented s-works xc. recon's prospective customers want the best of both worlds that the shoe offers. even with a pair of crank brothers cleats in place on the tan-coloured soles, it's quite possible to walk to the shops to see if the co-op has taken delivery of any more cartons of alpro plain soya yoghurt (unfortunately they hadn't, but thanks for asking).
specialized classify their recon footwear as suitable for mixed terrain. if i might quote from the website "Designed for riders who take one look at that switch from paved to gravel and say 'yes please". i cannot deny that my perambulations on a 'cross bike tend to fit precisely into that demographic. given the perennial demise of islay's road surfaces, i have for the time being, decided that scuttling about the estates ought to be undertaken on a cyclocross bicycle, occasionally (ok, frequently), finding that the overwhelming desire to offer my world famous impersonations of jeremy powers or sven nys gets the better of me, in which case, i have need of underfoot grip in the undergrowth.
in short, this may be the ideal shoe for the velocipedinally impulsive.
the chunky tan coloured sole features a pair of removable toe studs, should you find yourself shopping for soya yoghurt more often than riding the book of 'cross. in full battle mode, those appear to be of considerable practical benefit. though my chris hoy thighs would obviously and tirelessly carry me across the rough, gravel besotted hill path leading to foreland road, in order to suffer for your art, i shouldered the bicycle and ran (all terms of athleticism are entirely relative) up the gravel slope against the flow of water heading in the other direction.
though there was the threat of having need of a paramedic when re-mounting, the soles fulfilled their destiny with aplomb.
the shoes' uppers are fabricated from an easily cleaned synthetic leather material that has so far proved to be every bit as robust as it looks, with little evidence of scuffing. whether for reasons of keeping up with the trendy or more for touring bike pragmatism, the recons are lace-ups, with a midway mounted elasticated loop to keep the ends from investigating the pointy bits around the circumference of your chainrings. i figured the laces might actually be a tad on the long side, but in practice, no foibles have been so far noted.
however, aside from their rugged robustness, all would come to nought if they failed in the comfort stakes. happily, that's precisely where the recons excel. specialized as a company have a grand reputation in the field of body-fit products, therefore the contouring of the insoles does everything it can to support the foot no matter the trials and tribulations thrown in its direction, while the width, for my feet at least, cossetted, supported and threw flower petals underfoot.
if your competitive urge remains latent or dormant, yet the odd excursion into the hinterlands holds more than just a passing attraction, these are the very shoes for you and your feet. and your pedals. and your bicycle.
specialized recon mixed terrain shoes are available in black/tan only, in euro sizes 39 to 49. recommended price is £180.
thursday 3 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the mighty dave t's favoured saying, whenever the road tilts upwards, is "let the climbers through", a phrase quite often accompanied by the sight of the rather too sprightly for my liking 74 year-old pensioner happily passing us all on the way up. though the sprinters seem to be the fellows most often in the limelight when it comes to individual victories, it us undoubtedly the climbers that have us fascinated when it comes to the season's stage races. riders such as marco pantani, vincenzo nibali, chris froome and robert millar are/were the riders that cornered our attention due to a fragile ability to climb hills at an alarming rate of knots.
my original thoughts on this particular matter were earlier governed by what i perceived as viewing pragmatism. attend the likes of milan san remo, paris tours or any of the flat stages of the giro, tour or vuelta and there is every likelihood that you would have need of watching a slo-mo replay on the big screen to learn of the victor.
though the sight of a dozen or so riders approaching at what seems untenable speed is an exciting spectacle to witness, after standing to guard your strategic position near the finish line for the better part of a day, it's all over in seconds. stand on the side of a mountain, however, and there is every possibility that you will be granted more than an hour of two of viewing as the grupetto trails far behind the climbers who passed ages ago.
value for money.
but in truth, i seriously doubt that's the real reason. it is an unassailable reality that the majority of (ordinary) bike riders cannot climb. it's for this very reason that the ascent from kilchiaran over a 14% gradient features in the first few kilometres of the ride of the falling rain. that climb splits the riders into much smaller groups, obviating any potential complaints from sunday drivers, just a bit over-eager to pass a clump of lycra-clad bicyclists. in my experience, many who realise that climbing is not one of their favoured pastimes, tend to avoid hills like the plague. it is therefore of great commendation to lord carlos that he makes for the climb of storakaig hill at the first sign of bright sunshine, despite being what we might diplomatically term gravitationally challenged.
however, what we and the pros undertake (admittedly at stratospherically opposed tempos) is nothing more than make believe. nowhere in the velo club rule book does it maintain that an ascent of the brae at port askaig is a necessity on the way to coffee. we're not actually going anywhere in particular and at the risk of undermining the whole ethos of professional cycle racing, neither are those in the world tour. those climbs of alpe d'huez, the galibier, the mortirolo and the angliru are ultimately quite pointless. the only reason anyone goes there is because the organisers, directeurs sportifs and sponsors say that they have to. and because we like to watch them do so.
in short, though the french version is named le tour, it's not a real tour at all. where are the bar bags? where are the mudguards, where are the panniers and where's the easily foldable, lightweight tent?
you see where i'm coming from?
in the sadly defunct cycling fanzine, 'well phil' from the early nineties, i recall a short feature on the place saddlebags held in the history of time-trialling. according to the writer, malcolm elliot swore by use of a cotton-duck example to assist with his very own sprinting prowess. i fear this may simply have been an elaborate jest (who could tell?), but it has some basis in fact. well, sort of.
though many of the pelotonese are now equipped with strava counting gps units, keen to see who has the cojones to feature atop the podium of the col du rspb or the mur de foreland, you wonder just how much longer those times would appear were the riders to ascend on a fully loaded, reynolds 531 touring frame? that would certainly separate the men from the mamils. for there are quite likely far more cyclists who undertake anything from a modest spin around the countryside to a wholesale, self-sufficient grand tour of the principalities, kitted out with a sturdy velocipede and attendant ephemera that the professionals would need a mavic car to contain, than don lycra of a sunday morn.
this being the case, why are expressions of cycle-borne athletic prowess not contained within a more realistic frame of reference? would it not be something of a wizard wheeze to have a bunch of folks compete over a 700 metre climb on board a bona-fide touring bike carrying a pair of fully-loaded panniers?
if you're in total agreement (or not), i should point out that this apparently original idea is not mine. it belongs ultimately to stefan at pannier.cc. i've never previously come across the concept of a loaded hill-climb. so is this the first of its kind, or has this sort of thing been going since the late 1800s and i just missed it?
"We're sure the odd loaded hill climb race has been staged before (at one of the old CTC rallies, maybe?), but our aim is to put this concept on the map, appealing to the travelling cyclist: those who don't cut their bars down and take their saddle off to save weight; those who carry loads of kit on their bikes.
Some might say that the idea of a loaded hill climb goes against the spirit of touring, but we believe it would be a great opportunity to forge a 'touring' event around, building the climb around a slow weekend of camping, socialising and riding, in the Pannier spirit. Chris Boardman sums our views up best in Paul Jones' recent book A Corinthian Endeavour - The Story of the National Hill Climb Championship: 'The Hill Climb is a wonderfully social, spectator-friendly event... Not everything has to be about winning and beating the rest of the world; some things can and should simply be enjoyed for their own sake.' "
the fact that the event in question seems almost totally unheard of round these here parts points to one of two things. either this is the outpourings of an inspired, intellectual, yet sadistic mind, or the result of pent-up public demand. which are we looking at?
"In the planning stages of a tour, we are always interested in seeking out those roads on the map that cross contours; a chevron is a bonus. Everyone secretly loves a challenging climb on a loaded bike, don't they?
"The idea to establish a Pannier Loaded Hill Climb series was born back in September last year, on our 'Welsh Munro' tour. We were messing about at the foot of chevron-packed Ffordd Pen Llech (the steepest public tarmacked road in the UK at 40%+) on the Snowdonia coast, discussing whether front-loading the bikes would be the best/only way to avoid flipping over backwards on the 40% hairpin. Locked into our granny gears, a couple of us went for the climb whilst the other three lined the bend cheering us on. We eventually made it up to Harlech with just handlebar loads; the panniers were too much. It was a challenge, but a good laugh.
"On the lengthy climb up through the valley back to Rhyd-Ddu from Bedgellert, a few of us struck upon the idea of an organised Loaded Hill Climb at the same time. Having been to a number of hill climb spectacles in the past, we brainstormed over a swift drink at the Cwellyn Arms, and decided it might make a good event for like-minded people to meet up and socialise over some great drinks, food and interesting talks; head somewhere special, camp, ride, and do a hill climb. I mentioned the initial concept to a few people, and everyone seemed to get it, immediately suggesting a whole host of other ideas: 'why don't you have a halfway point where you have to pitch a tent and brew a tea before pedalling up the last half?' OK...
"We wanted to pick somewhere that aligned itself to the spirit of travelling by bike - not just a steep street in the middle of a city centre - but a special location we can spend the weekend, and head out for social rides. We also didn't want to tread on the toes of the National Hill Climb championship and pick somewhere like Monsal Head, although it might be interesting to compare the times!
"The Peak District made the perfect start point for the series, an area in central England we know well. There is a quiet link road we knew of between Stanage and Hathersage, just off NCN Route 6. Between two well-placed cattlegrids, 'Cattis-side', a dry-stone wall lined single-track road open to a rising expanse of moorland, is the ideal length and gradient for a challenging hill climb: about 75m of ascent over 700m. Stanage Edge, the world famous (rock) climbing gritstone edge comes into view halfway up the long straight. It makes the ideal natural theatre. We are supporting the Peak District National Park and local North Lees area, farms near Bakewell are providing food, the local 'Sunshine' pizza oven is parking up on the Friday night, we are sourcing trout from the local Ladybower fishery for the traveller's feast on the Saturday night, and are brewing a batch of our own 'Route Beer' at a micro-brewery nearby.
"With it being lambing season in April, the temporary closure is on one condition: that we let the North Lees farmer(s) through if there are any sheep-related emergencies...
as in every walk of competitive life, even one associated with the relatively sedate pastime of cycle-touring, there's usually at least one or two individuals who seem unable to enter into the spirit of any purported regulations. though the aura surrounding this event is decidedly rooted in the touring milieu, does stefan expect any 'specially prepared' cycles to be entered?
"There are no rules on bikes, although needing to carry the standard kitlist sets some constraints. Ultimately, we are hoping people will just ride their normal go-to touring bike that they will arrive at the weekend on. The beauty of this means sticking to the climbing tactics you are used to on a tour and picking the right gearing from a potential triple chainset: coast up steadily in the 24-34 granny gear? Or crunch your way up on a bigger ring? I now have a Plug III USB dynamo that only charges above 10kmh; I don't expect the green charge light to be on much...
"Over evening drinks on recent tours, we discussed the format that a hill climb for travelling cyclists might take; deciding that a standardised kitlist - a set handicap - was the best way of doing it. So, we have curated a lightweight(ish) kitlist for an unsupported tour: food and drink (including Nutella and a spork to eat out of the jar); tools; clothing; cookware; maps; and shelter (bivvy setup) all of which neatly fits into two small panniers, and comes in at just under 10kg.
"For future events, we will probably introduce more loaded editions, and those that integrate other touring skills, like the 'putting a tent up and brewing a hot drink halfway' idea, but it was important that the first one is kept simple, works, and is understood. Sort of...
the standard panniers with identical contents is a particularly keen idea. though riders in the tour are hidebound by the uci regulation that limits the lower weight of their bicycles, there are considerable research and development dollars spent in finessing the art of the carbon fibre machine in order to eke out the minutest advantage. it's the sort of principle that might entice the prudent cycle-tourist to experiment with pannier contents in order to weight their advantage, if you catch my drift.
however, looking at both the panniers and their carefully selected contents, it strikes me that one or two contestants might find them an attractive purchase, no matter their placing on the final results list. is that a possibility?
"The provided panniers and kitlist will be available as a bundle, for sure: everything you'd need to head off the beaten track unsupported. We will also have other touring kit available, a handful of other stands at basecamp over the weekend, as well as a journey planning area and touring library. Next to the bar of course...
if this seems like the very event that you've spent your entire career patiently waiting for, it takes place at cattis-side, stanage in the peak district national park over the weekend of 22-24 april. every bit as much a social weekend as it is a competitive event, tickets starting at £14 and are available via the link below. as with many a contemporary event, entering early rather than later might not be a bad idea.
wednesday 2 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
one of the girls in the office, who moved to islay around the same time as did i, only from much further south, was relating the story of her brother having told her teenage daughter that because chips (fries, frites, whatever you like to call them) were made from potatoes, when ordering fish'n'chips north of the border, she ought better to refer to this as a scottish salad. which is very close to comedian bill murray's recent contention that, since beer is made from hops and hops are a plant and plants effectively constitute the basis of a salad, then effectively, by his twisted logic, beer equates to salad.
when you consider that in north america, allegedly, pizza constitutes one of your five-a-day, it seems very likely that any form of food can be reverse engineered to fit whatever description allows you to eat it without worrying your conscience or that the obesity police might soon be knocking on your front door. technically speaking, it may or not be true that we are what we eat, but there's little doubt that what we choose to consume can have a marked effect on our daily lives.
depending on just how seriously you take your cycling activity, keeping a bleary eye on daily food intake can turn from a pleasant activity into something of an obsession that begins as a means to an end, but soon becomes an end in itself. the principal problem with that is that most who suffer from just such an inquity, scarcely see it coming.
i have little doubt that many of us would benefit from losing a pound or two to make ascension of even the shortest of climbs, if not more pleasurable, then at least a tad less onerous. the big problem is deciding just what ought to left at the side of the plate, so to speak. plenty of us figure that our food intake is of moderate dimensions, leaving little on which to cut down. the trouble when it comes to such decision making, is the change from eating as an enjoyable part of the day, to one of concern and dare i say it, anything between mild and major concern.
thankfully, there are those who are delighted to place food in an altogether different perspective, leaving aside the specific desires of the individual and presenting what i believe is termed real food devoid of any associated rhetoric. what you as an individual choose to do with such nutritional armaments depends almost entirely on how obsessive you've become or intend to become.
just under three years ago, i reviewed anna brones' the culinary cyclist a book that offered itself up as a 'cookbook and companion for the goodlife'. ms brones has continued her quiet, yet intense association with food in the intervening years and is now in a position to make her commitment to us, as aspiring healthy food lovers, on a more frequent basis.
"In this day and age we are inundated with food media; glossy food magazines, elaborate food blogs, celebrity status chefs. But has all of this made us eat better? Not quite."
in order that she might play a part in our ongoing and apparently necessary re-education and appraisal of food, she has plans to publish a quarterly journal "Part food narrative, part food guide, part cookbook" entitled comestible, a print publication dedicated to real food. in this day and age of social media and extended pixel manipulation, it is a serious undertaking, though a particularly commendable one, to enter the world of print. and to put not too fine a point on it: expensive.
in order that we might potentially benefit from ms brones' wealth of experience in such matters, she has begun a kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary $4,000. and far from being a dull, academic treatise on where we're all going wrong, comestible has the potential to be a breath of fresh air on the subject. "It should inspire you to do more with your food. To cook something, to plant tomatoes, to build a beehive." refreshingly, there will be no photos, but there will be "...some pretty cool visuals. Illustrations are done by Jessie Kanelos Weiner, and there's a full spread of seasonal produce that you can color if you feel like it!" the cover will consist of a papercut made by Anna Brones, with several more throughout the publication.
though i'm arrogant enough to believe that cycling ought to concern everyone on the planet, the truth is a whole lot different. however, food most certainly is a tangible subject that cannot but affect everyone who reads thewashingmachinepost and all their friends and relations. it seems, therefore, that on that basis alone, it would behove us all well to financially assist ms brones on making comestible a successful reality. the link is at the bottom of this article.
you know the drill.
tuesday 1 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................