the above initials are generally used as an abbreviation for low noise block, the little box that sits at the end of a satellite dish arm, collecting the microwave signals received from whichever satellite it happens to be pointed at. this little box is a combination of a low-noise amplifier, a frequency mixer and an intermediate frequency amplifier. its job is to take the frequencies received and downsample them to a lower band of frequencies, ones that can be transferred to the indoor satellite box by means of a cheap co-axial cable. if this downsampling were not to take place, the connecting cable would be a tad more expensive to buy.
hence the lnb.
in the world of cycling clubs, even a bunch of rank amateurs such as the velo club, those initials have a definition that is some considerable world away from the area of high frequency oscillations. but more about that in just a minute.
despite being reassured by a quick perusal of the weekend's weather forecast that sunday might conceivably feature a repeat of the sun and relative warmth of saturday, that turned out to be very far from the truth. you will wonder, perhaps, why, after a winter of what can only be described as discontent, a modicum of rain and cold ought to be worthy of any comment at all. in order to be uncharacteristically brief, i can answer that in a single word: visitors. yes, with school holidays now upon us, the islands accommodation providers are rubbing their hands with glee at an influx of more than just a few of the species.
in our particular case, this resulted in a father and son electing to spend their first sunday morning on the hallowed isle, joining us for the morning's ride. and though we are more than welcoming and hospitable, the effect would be more readily underlined if the weather played its part. it must be most disconcerting to ride in cold, wet, rain while wearing shorts because the leg warmers were left at home. however, in order to minimise the effect, we collectively refrained from commenting.
on the weather, that is.
in situations such as these, where a part of the peloton is unknown, there is always the question of quite which subject on which to converse while riding. after all, that is precisely what the sunday morning ride is all about. well, that and coffee obviously. while riding with a youngster every bit as tall as myself and my pretending that the pace was scarcely troublesome (all the while, breathing through my ears), the conversation turned to favourite cycle teams, riders and who i fancied for the victory in flanders.
sadly, this exposed a deficiency in my armament, for not only do i not really have any favourite bicycle riders, but i'm not really all that bothered as to who wins any specific bike race. i'm one of those awkward chaps who like to enjoy the racing for its own sake, firmly of the belief that whoever crosses the line first probably deserved the win. you can perhaps understand how this adversely impacts upon a morning's conversing.
the eventual disappearance of the young fellow into the distance, still riding the big ring, brings me neatly back to those lnb initials. in the case of the sunday morning ride, it means leave no-one behind. in order that everyone enjoy riding whichever of our select routes has been chosen, it would be a tad draconian to impose a maximum or minimum speed. but it seems less than friendly to invite anyone with an interest to turn up at debbie's of a sunday morning, only to ride off into the wide grey yonder and leave a sole hapless individual in solitary pursuit.
situations such as this are either accommodated by stopping en masse every now and again to allow a catching up, or, as was the case yesterday, one of us drops back to accompany and encourage the back marker. i well know there are clubs all across the country who take great pride in riding at a set pace, leaving stragglers to adopt rule #5, or simply give up and take up dominoes instead. to my mind, it marks out a cycle club as far more all-inclusive to cater for those who have yet to acquire speed and stamina (note: technical terms used are entirely relative).
and just for the record and purely for conversational purposes, i did in fact pick sagan for the win at flanders.
monday 4 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
several years ago, one of the more prominent cycling monthlies published a group test of cycling waterproofs. their criteria as to the effectiveness of each item was garnered by having some hapless individual wear each garment in turn while standing under a bathroom shower. i realise that there was a modicum of humour involved in this method of testing, but it struck me that it was a less than scientific means of determining the efficacy of the apparel's water resistance.
at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, rain does not fall entirely at the behest of gravitational force, ie vertically. at least, it doesn't do so over here. in the majority of cases, i've found precipitation is driven by a perennial wind. even on the days when xcweather purports that the wind will be in the low single digits, they're fibbing. it may have happened on a singular occasion but possibly not in my lifetime.
you do, however, have to admire the perspicacity of whoever named a company producing cycling waterproofs, 'showers pass', the water resistant stalwarts resident in the pacific northwest city of portland, oregon. for their name consist of a tautological truth; showers do indeed pass. mind you, rain that lasts several days probably does not come under the heading of a shower. though a small welsh village attempted to lay claim to the record of having seen rain at least once every day for more than 80 odd days, islay, though not the record holder, has managed to achieve daily rain for more than one hundred days (according to islay estates, who keep tabs on such things.
so with the exception of a town in sutherland, northern scotland, i am resident in the ideal location to review waterproof cycle clothing.
but to return to the concept of testing the mettle of cycle waterproofs by means of artificial showers, while the towering strengths at south east 6th avenue would never stoop to such artificial levels, in the process of showing singular support for their portland colleagues, western bike works have independently concocted a particularly inviting and very wet video.
yet, in this particular case, the humour is well aimed, for there can be little argument that showers pass waterproof clothing has also survived consistent dowsings in the southern hebrides. in fact, given the part of the race calendar in which we currently find ourselves, their aptly named classics jacket has been something of a godsend during moments of considerable precipitation in the early part of this year to the present day. honed close to perfection during sp's brief affiliation with the katusha world tour team, it is the ideal jacket to have stuffed in a rear pocket.
just in case you come across a bloke standing atop a tall ladder with a watering can.
sunday 3 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the recent bout of cyclocross review bicycles on thewashingmachinepost has presented me not only with unbridled joy, but one or two what if...? moments along the way. the potential problems offered in a partially offroad environment can be laid entirely at the doorstep of non-conformity, more specifically in the bolt department. i can recall not so many years ago when quill stems could be tightened in place by means of a 10mm spanner, soon to be replaced with a lengthy 6mm allen bolt. at the same time, the chrome seatbolt could be adjusted by means of a 5mm allen key.
with the advent of the now ubiquitous a-headset, the bolt diminished in size to a more pocket friendly 5mm, at which point the bunting was almost draped around the garden fence at the thought of being able to adjust two entirely different bolts with one specific tool. except someone had the bright idea of reducing the seatpin bolt to a more modest 4mm (and even smaller, on one particular example).
then campagnolo and subsequently sram thought it a wizard wheeze to feature chainring bolts that required a torx wrench to fettle, while sram's science of contemporary cyclocross has resulted in the disc caliper mounting bolts to be of a similar strain. so where once cycling life could be satisfied by stuffing one multi-tool in a rear pocket, the day when even a mere amateur such as myself has need of a mavic skoda following behind cannot be too far away.
rather than the simplicity of use applied to the contemporary road bicycle making life less onerous, it has incurred a growing degree of wrath from the pelotonese. of course, there are already many types of pliable containers cunningly crafted to fit a rear pocket or sit inconspicuously under a saddle, carrying all the paraphernalia of a team car, but that doesn't necessarily mean they all got it right.
jonny hintze, a fellow who spends many of his waking hours curating graphic design for enve has at least a part of one foot in a side project delightfully named snek cycling. jonny's initial offerings to the velocipedinal world have centred around an embroidered t-shirt and two very distinctive merino wool winter cycling caps, traditionally in the style of the flandrian.
but while keeping his psyche filled with all things bicycle and as a rider both on and offroad he found himself "switching between tools for each specific bike. There was not a clean or efficient system for holding all of the loose parts. I wanted a case that would fit in my jersey pocket, attach to my bike, or be put in a pack."
this proxy desire on our behalf has resulted in the vital case, the funding opportunity for which is currently live on kickstarter. the quality leather vital case which will accept even an iphone 6, has been rigorously tested for over a year and is designed to hold a phalanx of necessary tools, the aforementioned mobile phone, coffee money, an inner tube, patch kit, two tire levers and even a co2 inflator. granted, it might be somewhat of an ask to squish that into a jersey pocket, but hintze has already thought of that, incorporating straps that'll allow the vital case to attach to saddle rails.
it does not, however, end there. in an almost perfect example of lateral thinking, while working on the development of his vital case, hintze became similarly obsessed with the idea of an all-in-one tyre lever, one that would not only perform the perfunctory and necessary tyre change, but also remove the valve core from a tubeless tyre and open the bottle of belgian beer sitting on the cobbles beside your estranged bicycle. featuring a metal interior and a plastic outer, the lifeboat tyre lever possesses all the strength that an exhausted cyclist no longer has, while offering cotton wool softness on such as an enve carbon fibre wheel rim.
if your multi-disciplinary bike riding has suffered the iniquities that life on the bike has a habit of throwing in your direction, i think we all know which particular kickstarter campaign deserves our patronage. the link's printed below; you know the drill.
saturday 2 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
every weekday morning, after breakfast and my morning walk (purely because i spend the remainder of the day in a computer chair), i get myself ready and walk the five minutes to the office for the daily grind. actually, that last bit's not entirely true; the job's actually ok. on the way, i see and meet several others doing the same thing, though disappointingly, there are ever so many more driving the same short distances.
yet, even though this event is repeated ad nauseam, weekday in, weekday out, it would never dawn on me to promote it as anything special. nor indeed, i'd imagine, would any of the others mentioned above. similarly, come a sunday morning, the velo club insistently congregates at the picnic tables outside debbie's ready to head off into the hinterlands. the al fresco agglomeration is purely due to the fact that we depart at 10am and the café doesn't open until 11am.
but once more, other than a small card pinned to the wall next to the kitchen door, we do little in the way of promotion for this as a special case.
the back page of our local newspaper is effectively set aside for local organisations to advertise their upcoming events. family ceilidhs, bingo, annual general meetings and drive-it days all feature prominently in a chronological list of advertisements. yes, i did type drive-it day, something you'd figure was every bit as noteworthy as my morning perambulations to the office. for though national bike to work day seems to receive a level of publicity singularly out of proportion to its perceived importance amongst the great unwashed, you'd figure that drive-it day is probably every day, weekends included.
it may be necessary to mitigate such circumstances; the drive-it day is organised by islay's motor club, an organisation composed of owners of vintage and veteran cars and tractors who bring them out from their immaculate storage conditions to drive from port charlotte to bowmore on a sunday afternoon, where they park up and allow admiring glances for an hour or so. i cannot deny that the condition to which many of these vehicles have been restored is no less than impressive and it is nice to see them still in even minimal use.
the fact that membership allows for anyone with a motorised vehicle, once prompted the mighty dave t to enquire whether his petrol strimmer might qualify.
so i may have perhaps been a tad unfair in singling out islay's motor club for their self-styled drive-it day, but even on an island where there is scarcely a parking place to be found in the principal villages, everyday is drive-it day. and frequently when it really ought to be swapped for walk-it day or cycle-it day.
mind you, now that i come to think of the latter, those back page adverts aren't all that pricey.
friday 1 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
ever since i emptied the bearing contents of a shimano freewheel all over the garage floor in the late 1980s (remember freewheels?), i have taken a close interest in the mechanical workings of the average bicycle. and fortunately in those days, there really was such a thing as an average bicycle, festooned with little pockets of loose bearings that had frequent need of fettling or occasional replacement. there were also cables that pulled things, mostly without complaint; it was not entirely unheard of to see both gear cables hanging loose along the length of the downtube. that was in the days before somebody thought of indexing the gear-changes.
bottom brackets featured an adjustable cup and a fixed cup, the latter requiring a specific and often unfeasibly large spanner designed to take most of the skin off your knuckles even when used correctly. i eventually purchased a cunning contraption that looked as if it might remove boy scouts from horses hooves; it breezed through a bb fixed cup without even giving those knuckles a fright.
and there were then those long, lazy, hazy days of summer, sat on the imaginary porch undoing axle cones, removing a pile of quarter-inch bearings, slurping their former repository with grease and replacing them with new. do not necessarily mistake this for enthusiastic nostalgia; a bit like a long ride in foul weather, it was purgatory at the time, but now encapsulates a simplicity of purpose.
i'm fairly sure i need not detail the numerous improvements that have befallen several if not all of the contemporary road bike's componentry. it ought surely to suffice that each subsequent external faff has been brought to you from the makers of improved stiffness™ and offers greater ease of use, even if that entails greater levels of investment in specific bike tools. and the encroaching dawning that the arcane examples hanging on the shed tool board if not already obsolete, are very cloes to becoming so.
there has not been a single eureka moment that has brought my mechanical senses to the reality that they too are almost obsolete. where once i read of technological developments with unbridled glee, i now view them with increasing despondency, safe in the knowledge that i'm pretty sure i'd be unable to fix many of today's road bike ills.
at one time in the past, i happily identified myself as a self-taught but reasonably competent bicycle mechanic, always willing to assist a tourist in distress and a long way from home. nowadays, i'm not so sure. those of you long familar with the world of mountain biking will probably take such simplicities as bleeding hydraulic disc brakes in their stride. though i've had a few disc equipped cyclocross bikes in for review recently, it's a process i don't mind admitting i'd prefer to leave to the local bike shop islay doesn't have.
and though my son is a qualified electrician, happily rewiring houses and the like on a daily basis, yours truly would struggle manfully to connect wires to a plug. so that pretty much excludes any variation on di2 or eps. i do know that bicycle bits such as electronic shifting and hydraulic discs tend to work almost faultlessly, but i can't help myself thinking about the times when they possibly won't. sod's law will undeniably dictate that when that happens, it's on the atlantic coast in the teeth of one of those storms with a name.
it fills me with a certain amount of optimism however, that one of my riding colleagues of a sunday morning has taken sufficient interest in mechanical modernity to sign himself up for a lengthy certified bicycle mechanics course later this same year. for by the time he graduates replete with a boxload of new tools, i will be able to cycle any electrically equipped bicycle with hydraulic stopping power with carefree abandon, safe in the knowledge that he doesn't live that far from washingmachinepost croft.
but i can't deny that the days of rustic naivety do hold a smattering of nostalgic attraction. apart from the fixed cup spanner.
thursday 31 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a bike ride is a joyous thing. even in the teeth of an atlantic gale with more precipitation than is good for ageing bones, while it may be purgatory at the time, the smile of satisfaction is rarely far away. there could be any number of perfectly good reasons for that to be the case, but as far as i'm concerned, it's the relative simplicity of purpose.
the ride to which i vaguely allude has naught to do with a daily commute, nor indeed a pedal intent on improving both bike-handling and fitness. though i realise we're straying into the word of semantics just a bit, commuting and training are altogether different purposes, filed under their own headings and most definitely a means to an end, rather than purely an end in themselves. that is not to decry either of the foregoing; folks need to get to work and if that can be accomplished by bicycle, so much the better.
and whether training is an activity undertaken for serious competitive purposes or merely to engender a smug grin at your next sportive, the attainment of a specific objective is undeniable. but even the perpetrators of the latter have need of entering the world of simplicity at some point in their lives. and fortunately, despite an endless series of bicycle-based technical progressions, the simple, enjoyable bike ride still awaits those with a periodic notional desire to participate.
which sort of beggars the question as to why some folks seem hell-bent on changing that premise.
of course, not unusually, i am particularly guilty of duplicity in my assertions. however, in mitigation, m'lud, it's a fair cop, but society is to blame. having paid lip service to the need for some to improve their fitness to the point where they inhabit greg lemond's maxim "it doesn't get any easier, you just go faster", i am now going to valiantly step away from this previously conciliatory stance. in short, there are way too many wayward numbers infiltrating my happy little existence of unicorns, easter bunnies and purgatorial bike rides. in my defence, might i call the speedx leopard as my first witness.
to quote from the kickstarter web page "SpeedX Leopard is the only smart aero road bike with the ability to help you train and track your progress in real time." to a certain extent, it seems they may not be incorrect in their claims, but i can't help remembering the beru systems factor 001, the ancestor of the very machines being ridden this season by one-pro cycling. originally touted as a £24,000 bicycle with pretty much every facet of telemetry built-in, this was the machine that was going to re-design the world of bicycle training, lofty aims which one or two models might have achieved, but overall, it seems not.
i can tell you little more about factor bikes at present, as their new website is not yet fully formed (though if mr factor is reading, might i point out that in the slogan 'the worlds most advanced bicycles', there is need of an apostrophe in world's
the speedx leopard, however, is a totally different kettle of spoke nipples. hoping to raise $50,000 dollars to commence production, with 22 days still to go on kickstarter, they are looking at well over one million dollars and counting. it seems reasonable to assume that those who ponied up for a new carbon fibre bike will be watching for the delivery truck in july later this year.
so what is it about the speedx leopard (apart from the name) that has me mildly troubled? for starters, the rhetoric accompanying the welcome video and product details truly belongs in pseuds' corner. to wit: "Riding is an activity that touches people's mind. Riders want to be integrated with the bike, in each own rhythm, in fluency, without distraction." my only hope is that the bike's perpetrators are better qualified to finagle layers of carbon fibre than they are in command of the english language.
in order that the bicycle fulfil some impressive claims, the speedx features a very smoothly designed and constructed cockpit, a more apt description of the front end of the bike than stem and bars. the xcoach styles itself as your personal coach, using a range of data to analyse your performance (or lack thereof) to train you in real-time. and all this on a 2.4 inch screen. the eponymously named smart control features an integrated gps unit, computer and front light, the latter switching itself on when it gets dark. it will surprise you not one whit that the speedx arrives with an ultegra di2 groupset as standard. (batteries included)
i'm enough of a luddite to find all that oppressive. though i do own a garmin gps unit, the sole time it is used to any degree is over the course of each year's festive 500, just to make sure i don't cheat. however, in this, i'm quite happy (and old enough) to be content in my isolation. having seen at first hand the abilities of cycling's top athletes, i'm well aware that none of them became that fast by pootering down the road for a coffee every friday afternoon. nor by guessing their power output.
and oddly enough, that particualr aspect of modern training seems conspicuous by its absence from the speedx leopard. still, there's always the chance it may change its spots.
wednesday 30 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
those of you who have visited islay and others who have braved their insomnia and read most of my daily output will well know that the principal method of travel to the island is by caledonian macbrayne ferry. granted, you can get here a darned sight quicker on the flybe saab from glasgow airport, but aside from carrying a price premium, that's hardly the ideal way to bring a bicycle and definitely not an option for motorists.
the largest ferry on the route is the recently built mv finlaggan, the one with a flux capacitor in the centre of the coffee lounge. this boat is mostly aided and abetted by either the mv arran or the mv hebridean isles, both of which are past their sell-by date and a tad smaller than their big sister.
it is a condition of maritime safety that each and every one of calmac's boats return to dry-dock once a year for what the company terms a re-fit, but is basically a service and m.o.t. test. since they have almost exactly the number of ferries required to ply the western isles, but with one to spare, this means moving boats around over the winter period to cover for whichever vessel is in dry-dock. the finlaggan was therefore left all on its lonesome for january and most of february while the others held the fort elsewhere in the hebrides.
last year, the boat for which the finlaggan was substituting was late in departing dry-dock, meaning the easter week islay traffic was transported by the two older and smaller boats, one of which broke down on the tuesday. by wednesday, it had been repaired, but on thursday a boat further north broke down and they took one of our ferries away. this had a serious knock-on effect, with families visiting for easter either arriving over a day late, or leaving up to two days late.
our local newspaper ran with the headline 'grim ferry tales'.
this year, in order to prevent calmac gaining more adverse column inches, the finlaggan went in for its own service a couple of weeks before this past easter weekend and very much against expectation, it returned to the route, as promised, on wednesday of last week. you'd have thought such planned service was worthy of at least a few plaudits, but then on monday morning, the boat broke down, cancelling all its sailings for the entire day and leaving one of the smaller, elderly boats to deal with irate travellers hoping to be back home in time for work on tuesday.
you could almost hear the collective 'told you so' across the island.
at least a part of this narrative could almost have been applied to the pedals offered by the brothers crank at one time in their recent past. included in each box was usually the inevitable warranty information in 63 different languages, accompanied by the suggestion that each pair of crank brothers pedals be stripped and rebuilt at east once a year, or perchance a tad more often if weather conditions were particularly nasty. it's not entirely unheard of for precision components to receive at least an annual service, but in the real world, who has the time, patience, skill or inclination so to do?
the situation was not, as i have repeatedly brought to your attention, helped by the particular strain of needle bearing fitted to the inboard end of the axle, which has displayed an almost suicidal tendencey to disintegrate without rhyme, reason or warning. though crank brothers have known of this for many a long year, it wasn't until last year's interbike, that they showed a revised model featuring an igus glide bearing, essentially a quality plastic bushing that offers, to my mind at least, improved performance while minimising the need for an annual maintenance regime.
and yes, you have heard from me regarding these candy #7 pedals on previous occasions, for i first rode them last november, and i'm still riding them now. in the interim, the black and silver candys have cyclocrossed, been frequently submerged during a few weeks of localised flooding, found home to more than a single pair of footwear and generally been treated with the disdain that seems to befall almost every set of offroad pedals you care to mention.
but unlike the mv finlaggan, the candy #7s have yet to skip a beat. the have featured at the end of the cranks on both a ridley x20 and a specialized crux e5, carrying out their duties with aplomb. i have just switched them back from the specialized to the ridley and in the process, checked their frictionless bearing (if you'll pardon the double-meaning).
aside from the grubbiness you'd likely expect on a pair of pedals that have seen over four months in grit and grime, they function every bit as well as was the case when first extracted from the polybag in which they were sent (these were essentially pre-production models and thus devoid of crank brothers usual smart, practical packaging.)
though i'm sure the operational board at caledonian macbrayne breathed a sigh of relief when the finlaggan returned to active service last week, they'd have been less cheery when they made it to their corporate desks this morning. but at the risk of emulating their short-lived self-satisfaction, allow me to congratulate the chaps and chapesses at crank brothers who seem finally to have provided us with the pedals their reputation deserves. and gracious thanks to the folks at extra uk for providing the review pair.
my easter riding was just fine thank you.
crank brothers candy #7 pedals retail at £130 per pair.
tuesday 29 march 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................