it's an odd situation, not entirely unprecedented, but remarkable enough to mention. the pavé holds an irresistable attraction, calling into question the wisdom of actually holding a sunday morning ride at all on a specific april sabbath. commencing stupidly early for televised bike race coverage, eurosport, the self-styled #homeofadvertising began its portrayal of paris-roubaix when most sane folks still had an hour or so before reaching to switch off the bedside alarm.
and should you be currently staring at me with a quizzical face, let me just remind you that this was british eurosport, safely in the hands of rob hatch and sean kelly, a far more enticing combination than one containing carlton kirby. with enthusiasm for the queen of the spring classics being historically high throughout mainland europe, coverage such as this would not be too much of a stranger. but in britain...
it is, i think, worth placing this in some form of comparative context. last sunday saw not only the annual running of the tour of flanders, won by world champion peter sagan, but that of a women's race, won by world champion lizzie armitstead. even if attention to women's cycle racing is very far from consideration by the bbc, the fact that both races were won by their respective champions would have, i'd have thought, been worthy of note on radio four's the today programme on monday morning. sadly, i was greatly mistaken; much of the sports report airtime was devoted to england having been defeated in a cricket match.
the more the world changes, the more it stays the same.
eurosport is, i cannot deny, an easy target. they have an uncanny knack of going to an advertising break just as someone like tom boonen takes a flier off the front. but lets face it, with broadcasters such as sporza, rtbf and vier restricting more and more of their cycling coverage to their country of origin, were it not for eurosport, we would all be the poorer.
carlton kirby notwithstanding of course.
but the trade-off is whether we take live coverage of the very best cycle race of the year (i'm right, you're wrong) more seriously than popping out for a few hours on the bicycle. in retrospect, it would have been foolish to remain glued to the macbook air's web browser, turning my eyes a smaller shade of square via eurosportplayer. i present my evidence for this choice on the basis of the number of visiting cyclists joining the remnants of the velo club to boost the sunday peloton to a healthy eleven riders.
that is, to put not too fine a point on it, what can only be described as critical mass, where any cars we met along the way were honour bound to pull over and let us past rather than vice versa.
there had been prognostications during last week that paris-roubaix might be played out in rain and mud for the first time in years. as luck would have it, they appear to have been blessed with the same sunny, breezy day that hovered over islay. in the case of such days, lord carlos of mercian will always opt to take us over the mountain and a singletrack farm road that seriously vyes to become yet another sector of paris roubaix. the hapless fellow in charge of the roads department has scarcely sufficient budget to keep the main roads smooth(ish); farm roads in the hinterland have little to no chance of seeing new tarmac for quite some time to come.
therefore, the enlarged peloton enjoyed a ride with a harder second half than first, followed by coffee supped al fresco for the first time this season. the anticipatory part of the equation was us all trying very hard not to be the first to call time on froth supping in favour of heading back for paris-roubaix coverage. as luck would have it, obviously feeling less self-conscious than the assembled multitudes, i was first to put my hand up. as long as i'm home for the arenberg forest (and i was) all is well with the world. however, in my haste to depart, i neglected to acquire my jumbo porridge oats ration for the coming weeks.
i love paris-roubaix.
monday 11 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
paul cézanne is an artist whose work i have admired even from my days prior to attending art college. though classified as a post-impressionist painter, it is possible to detect certain leanings towards cubism from the manner in which he depicted the likes of mont sainte-victoire, a 1000 metre peak in aix en provence. this formed the subject matter of a series of paintings by the french artist, mostly in oils, but also in the less malleable medium of watercolour. it was his explorations of the latter painting method that had me transfixed.
watercolour is allegedly the province of the amateur, but in truth, due to its semi-transparent layering and use of the paper for white, means that any artwork effectively needs to be planned and carefully considered prior to applying brush to watercolour paper. oil paint, on the contrary, can be continually worked for days or even weeks, with colours lightened by means of white paint. and if things go horribly wrong, there's still the escape option of scraping the paint from board or canvas and beginning over.
cezanne's obsession with a single subject is not one confined to him alone. many artists continue to labour for lengthy periods of time upon one particular motif. consider frank auerbach's many workings in charcoal and paint of primrose hill, or joan eardley's superb renditions of the sea at catterline. though you and i may be less than aware of any improvement to be seen across such a similar body of work, that is scarcely the point; it's a bit like continually riding a hill in the hope that we might consistently improve on the time.
art is, so the maxim goes, in the eye of the beholder, words that are applicable to art in all its many forms, whether drama, the visual arts or music. what i find to satisfy the soul might well irritate the heck out of you. but though we have at least partially referred to both oil painting and watercolour, the world of print, howsoever constituted, is every bit as artistically valid. there have been arguments brought against prints been considered as art; an oil painting or watercolour is essentially a singular example of the artists' metier, while the world of print offers the luxury of an almost endless number of identical works.
unless, of course, they're unique.
the fine fellows at massif central have very cleverly found themselves inhabiting pretty much all of the above, yet the forward march of their artistic endeavour has rarely been more obvious in the shape of this year's milan-sanremo and ronde van vlaanderen data prints. where the originals scarcely disguised the nature of their being, 2016's versions are every bit as much art as data. an excellent example of following up the first album with an even more successful second. cézanne and one generation would have been proud.
artistic development is something of great concern to the perpetrator (consciously or otherwise) and not always for commercial reasons, though those ought not necessarily to be discounted too quickly. however, we need not fear too much that massif central have yet fully explored every avenue this early in their career. ma/ce's howard smith mentioned that they are currently working with dan mather, one of the world's finest screen printers, on a very limited edition 100th tour of flanders data print, screened in gold ink on black. only thirty will ultimately be produced; pre-ordering can already be pursued on the massif central website.
perhaps not surprisingly, today's paris-roubaix will also be featured on the site within the next day or two, so i'd clear substantial wall space to fit all three side by side if i were you.
of course, once recognised as being leaders in a field, the origination of which you are solely responsible, other standard bearers are often keen to collaborate. as mentioned in my recent article concerning rapha's conjunction with liberty, the folks at imperial works are no strangers to sharing the limelight. according to howard, massif central too, have "teamed up with Rapha to provide memento prints for riders who go on their Travel Excursions."
as if that were insufficient to be getting on with, howard continued "We are planning a crowd-funding push soon to make available a web-based version of what we do, for people to interact with directly and build their own Massif prints." if ever you doubted that information was king, the continuing work at massif central ought to give cause for second thoughts. i'm certainly not one for a seemingly endless display of numbers, but i have great admiration for those who can translate them into a format that has all the markings of fine art. they'll be exhibiting at next weekend's bespoked bristol; be sure to say hello and take home some velocipedinally inspired art.
sunday 10 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
for many a long year, the folks at one, infinite loop appeared to be operating under a not-invented-here regime. to a certain extent, that is why apple's computers cost a notable amount more than your average windows pc. many of the connection ports, internal video cards, hard disks and various other cards that slotted into the gubbins inside their beige boxes were peculiar to apple. and since apple computers still only account for a small fraction of the world's personal computers (excluding ipads and iphones), that meant that cost of those items was correspondingly higher than their windows counterparts.
i daresay steve jobs and his predecessors had perfectly sound commercial reasons for operating in this fashion, but from the consumer's point of view, it appeared as if apple were guilty of arrogance; basically, they seemed to figure that no-one else was capable of designing products to the standard they demanded. they may well have been correct, judging by my limited experience of windows computers, but either way, at one time the apple user was certainly paying over the odds for the comparative joy of using an arguably superior computer.
in july of 2004, simon mottram brought rapha to market, principally on the basis that, when looking for cycle clothing that he actively wanted to purchase and wear, the market was devoid of the style he felt merited his hard-earned cash. at the time, he was undoubtedly correct and the rise and rise of imperial works in the last dozen years has pretty much confirmed the veracity of his observation. disappointingly, almost every cycling apparel company to have surfaced since has trotted out the same reason for their coming into being.
you only get away with that once, in my opinion.
over the years, i have read of many comparisons between infinite loop and imperial works, some of them justified, others just wishful thinking. but one of the principal differences between apple and rapha centres around the latter's unconcealed basking in the glory of collaboration. admittedly, some of the earlier partnerships were not quite as successful as they perhaps deserved to be, but their latest, echoing a previous conjoining, does seem to be creating a whole that might be seen as greater than the sum of its parts.
yesterday, rapha and liberty, the idiosyncratic store in london's regent street announced the release of their latest collaboration, designed specifically for the fairer sex. though the clothing itself is designed in-house at rapha, the pattern applied to each component of the spring/summer range is drawn from the liberty archives. in this case, from the 1970s.
according to rumours from within imperial works, i'm not the only bloke who mentioned that i'd be happy to wear a gent's version. i'm pretty sure that liberty must have some archive patterns that would look every bit as good on the male peloton as this particular range does on the ladies for whom it was designed.
and just to extend the collaboration a tad further, but away from the realm of soft goods, framebuilder tom donhou has created a custom paint job on one of his road bikes to complement the liberty pattern. this bike will be on show at soho's rapha cycle club and available to purchase directly from donhou cycles.
on a related yet separate issue, rapha's famed sample sales are about to visit locations that have hitherto found themselves on the outside looking in. next friday, saturday and sunday, the sale visits the market hall in birmingham; on the weekend of 6-8 may, it moves to dukes studio in leeds, before ending the tour north of the border in glasgow's briggait over the weekend of 13-15 may.
obviously, at a sample sale, you're very unlikely to come across the rapha/liberty range, but there ought to be many other desirable and affordable items competitng for your cash. to coin a a well-worn phrase you snooze, you lose
bicycle photo courtesy donhou bicycles. rider photos by emily maye.
saturday 9 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the sign-off from yesterday's feature on graeme obree's becoming a brand ambassador for endura centred around the fact that neither the flying scotsman nor yours truly have any truck with motor cars, if you'll forgive the mixed use of vehicles. on a personal level, dependant on circumstances, that's a perfectly acceptable stance to adopt. though i'd probably be happier if there were a pragmatic means of transporting a drumset on the back of a bicycle, until that day dawns, the bicycle will suit just fine.
however, the world of cycle sport as was ever the case, is pretty much reliant on any number of motor vehicles to enable the practicable running of any modern bike race. aside from monsieur prudhomme standing proud through the open sunroof of his red skoda and the inevitable phalanx of race commissaires, the nineteen world tour teams and the attendant wild cards are all in possession of at least two team cars.
much comment has been made regarding the growing motor cavalcade that inevitably surrounds each race, though much of that has been more specifically directed at the motorbikes, vehicles that seem to attract pointing fingers in the light of recent incidents. but the team car has become more or less a necessity. though it is not uncommon to see jacketed individuals at the roadside during certain of the spring classics, eagerly displaying a pair of wheels to the passing, if fragmented peloton, jackets, food, drink and mechanical assistance can really only be served from the open window of a team car.
recent advertising by one of cycling's principal vehicular sponsors has highlighted the iniquities suffered by these vehicles over the course of a season. great is the wonder that many more are not to be seen languishing at the side of the parcours with steam emanating from beneath the bonnet (hood), having suffered an unrequitable malfeasance on its way to the finish line.
however, when there are cobbles looming on the weekend's horizon, a modicum of prior reinforcement might be a prudent notion on behalf of the team's car sponsor. for after all, the guys in the team jackets have riders and fragile bicycles to fortify; better to leave the motor cars to the experts back at the corporate garage.
such has been the regime at the ford motor company recently in preparation for this weekend's paris-roubaix, the one race on the calendar that is every bit as hard on the team cars as it is on the poor guys fighting their way across stones that appear to be straining every sinew to escape from the ground. ford are the current car suppliers to team sky and obviously out to impress. to offer an improved defence against less than flat, cobbled tracks, the ground clearance on the team's ford mondeos has been increased by 20mm, the suspension has been stiffened and combined with higher tyre pressures allowing the vehicles to handle an extra 400kg, much of which will reside in the back seat.
to prevent those angry looking cobbles taking bite sized chunks from the underside of the sky mondeos, 5mm thick aluminium plates have been affixed over sensitive components such as the sump, fuel tank and tender parts of the exhaust system. additionally, the mondeos feature intelligent all wheel drive, ensuring that the directeurs sportifs can drive themselves out of any difficulties they might have inadvertantly got themselves into.
well, any motoring related difficulties...
in order to acclimatise the mondeos to that which they can expect to meet on sunday (and indeed, during any of the inevitable reconnaissance missions already underway), the cars have been pounded across 50 kilometres' worth of roubaix verisimilitude at ford's lommel proving ground in belgium. perhaps not unnaturally, specific team sky modifications aside, ford's senior engineer, stephan anssems was keen to point out that the ford mondeo on offer to you and i (well, you mostly) is the same "tough and durable design" that goes into all their vehicles. which is just what you'd expect him to say.
races such as the tour of flanders and paris roubaix offer motor manufacturers such as ford, the opportunity to more subtly refine their cars in ways that the in-your-face world of rallying possibly misses altogether. whatever we think of motor cars in the peloton, team sky directeur sportif servais knaven, a former victor in roubaix said "We rely on our team cars to battle through the toughest conditions and be on the spot to deliver the new wheel, rolling medical attention or drinks bottle that could be the difference between first and second place."
if ever you needed any tangible evidence that cycling is the toughest sport on the planet, just ask the chaps at ford.
photos courtesy for europe.
friday 8 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
surprisingly, not everyone makes the connection. perhaps it's one of those 'you-had-to-be-there' moments; maybe you had to be of a certain age at a certain time in your cycling obsession. graeme obree sneakily stole his nemesis' thunder by breaking the world hour record at hamar in norway several days before chris boardman advertised his own services to the velocipedinal world by breaking it once again at bordeaux during the 1993 tour de france.
it's a well-worn story that graeme undershot francesco moser's record by almost a kilometre at his first attempt. having booked the velodrome for 24 hours, he decided to go again the following day, reaching 51.596 kilometres and breaking the existing distance by 445 metres. all this was achieved aboard old faithful, a bicycle built, as he is won't to do, in his kitchen, with bottom bracket bearings scavenged from the drum on his washingmachine and the seattube fairing fashioned from one of the machine's metal side panels.
thanks to people like me and the rest of the uk media, that washingmachine became arguably as famous as graeme himself. he once told me he wished he'd never mentioned that part of old faithful's construction. mind you, he was smiling when he said it.
it's also a major part of the flying scotsman's history that he suffers from bi-polar disease, one that has caused him more than a few days, weeks and years of mental anguish. while most of us are quite happy if we manage to cross a finish line in first place, graeme's mental condition in the 1990s meant that he often felt that his life quite literally depended on it. despite this, graeme not only broke the hour record for a second time in 1994, but was also world 4,000 metre pursuit champion in both 1993 and 1995.
graeme is a highly intelligent guy with a superb knack for lateral thinking. when building the beastie, a variation on the recumbent cycle and designed to challenge the world human-powered land speed record at battle mountain in nevada, who else would have made use of a saucepan in the build? one or two of you may have been lucky enough to have seen the movie documenting this particular story. graeme has been attending several of these screenings to enhance the viewing experience in a manner that only he can.
you do, however, wonder what the future might hold for a man who questions many of the things that most of us take for granted, often pointing to solutions that were formerly less than obvious. if you've ever had the pleasure of conversing with graeme for any length of time, you'll know exactly what i mean. rather brilliantly, scotland's endura cycle clothing have displayed a perspicacity that deserves a thorough round of applause, by engaging the services of graeme obree as brand ambassador.
but, as managing director, jim mcfarlane was keen to point out "My only regret is that we didn't start working together sooner. I am genuinely excited to see where this partnership leads." and for those of us already enamoured with the prospect, graeme stated himself "Delighted to be working with an iconic Scottish brand to produce clothing that I want to wear myself." which ultimately means that some of that obree magic might just rub off on the rest of us; hopefully sooner, rather than later.
unlike many of our cycling heroes, most of whom seem to own a garage of audis or maseratis, graeme continues to use a bicycle as his principal mode of transport, meaning that he's every bit in touch with the demands of cyclists when it comes to clothing as you'd hope he'd be. and at least i have one thing in common with graeme other than the washingmachine connection; he too prefers not to own or drive a car.
thursday 7 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
according to common lore and the book of old fishwives tales, if you can incorporate any activity into your schedule for a minimum of twenty-one days, it becomes a habit and no longer a chore. granted, i can think of one or two itinerant exceptions to that, but in the main, those old fishwives are probably correct.
that's sort of how i get by updating the post each day. the daily scribble has become so much a part of everyday life, that it has become a permanent part of my psyche. and in the main, i look forward to finding out what the heck i'm going to write each day. even washing the dishes after tea each day allows me the opportunity to listen to several of the jazz albums of which no-one else wishes to be within earshot.
that does not explain, however, despite spending pretty much an entire winter battling galeforce headwinds and crosswinds, that this aspect of our hebridean existence is still worthy of comment. in mitigation, its repetitive appearance in these very pixels is probably more a part of the contention that, while everyone else has climate, we have weather. after all, rain is very much a part of daily conversation from lands end to john o'groats, despite its having been around for a darned sight longer than the prophetic twenty-one days.
wind is, of course, an effect of atmospheric pressure, every bit as true after a tin of beans or plate of brussels sprouts as it is for atlantic weather fronts. perhaps a tad tautologically, an area of high pressure will tend to repel all boarders, since the only insurgents are likely to be of lower pressure. areas of whichever pressure rarely hang about for long and when a high pressure is eventually replaced with an area of low, any neighbouring areas of higher pressure will, like fools, rush in to equalise the situation.
if you've ever watched those little tellies on the back of aircraft seats, not only will they indicate how far along the flight path the aircraft has reached, but at what speed it is travelling. and quite often, it will also dispense information relating to the windspeed; a heck of a lot faster than even those we're used to in the hebrides. the reason for this slowing is that of friction close to the earth's surface. if you ever meet the guy who invented friction, give him a high-five from me.
yet despite my understanding of the principle relating to habit, there is little doubt that the constantly changing speed and direction of localised wind, whether named by the met office or not, impinges on our appreciation of pedalling speed. and i do appreciate you pointing out that a galeforce headwind has to become a galeforce tailwind at some point, but if you've ever got half an hour or so, i'd be more than willing to debate that contention. your acceptance of my reality might well help to understand why any item of cycling apparel prefixed by the word windblock elicits such apparent fervour.
rapha have recently taken to developing their esteemed brevet range, clothing designed to minimise even the smallest hardships to be experienced by riding a large quantity of kilometres in one (almost) manageable chunk. prior to the arrival of the current item, imperial works released a rather fine pair of bibshorts, that not only cosset those honed thighs with an immaculate softness of constitution, but feature the innate ability to dry overnight. several hundred kilometres at one sitting are hard enough all on their own without the added discomfort of a damp chamois pad.
this designed ability, welcome though it is, would be conceivably undermined were the bibshorts to be matched with a jersey that failed to equal such speedy dessication. gratifyingly, this newest of brevet jerseys from rapha accomplishes this magic with ease. it is almost easy to see how this is attained; the merino wool verges on the transparent if you hold it up to the bathroom light. such incredible lightness of being translates into a jersey that is astoundingly comfortable to wear. but merino that is thinner than mrs washingmachinepost's kitchen roll is highly unlikely to keep the wind at bay, which is where the brevet gilet enters the room.
you may recall that my review of the latter praised not only its thermal properties but its very own windblocking properties. buoyed with this particular propensity, rapha have overlaid a panel of the very same fabric across the jersey's frontispiece and on an impressively tall collar. in this it is almost singularly unique, at least as far as jerseys are concerned. rapha's own winter jersey features the windproofing panels on the inside of the sportwool, as indeed does the recently reviewed city-riding wool windjacket. however, given the gilet fabric's wind and water resistance, sticking it on the outside seems perhaps the best of ideas.
aside from the expected three rear pockets, the zipped fourth appears on the left front, the pocket space intruding (if i may use such a word) forwards rather than rearwards. i'm ashamed to admit i made no use of this pocket throughout the review period, but i did perhaps overuse its three rear-mounted brethren with gilet, waterproof, essentials case, mini-pump, spare gloves and even a musette.
if you take into account the notion that brevet riding, also referred to as randonée or audax, is over extended distances, several of which might just invade the hours of darkness, then some form of visibility would not go amiss. this is taken care of with both hi-vis pink (on the blue jersey) and reflective white hoops front and back, or dark grey on the black version.
though islay has been blessed with a veritable peppering of sunny days of late, the habitual wind rarely goes away. as i said only the other day, when xc weather tells you that the wind speed will be in single digits, they're probably fibbing. my travails over the past week have brought me into contact with truckloads of wind, some cold, some less so, but it gives great pleasure to make mention that it all remained satisfyingly on the outside of the jersey. though the windblocking fabric on the gilet exhibits a grateful amount of breathability, leaving the back of the jersey unsullied is a most welcome choice.
and it dries overnight, no matter how many kilometres you managed beforehand.
rapha's brevet windblock jersey is available in black or blue with either white and pink stripes or white and grey. sizing is from xs to xxl at a price of £135.
wednesday 6 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
allegedly the low road, leading from port ellen to bowmore, was to have been the site of a railway, supporting evidence for this being its uncanny straightness for a distance of eight miles. it may well have originally been a drove road for farmers or somesuch, but either way, the beeching cuts of the 1960s put paid to any further thoughts of thomas the tank engine midst the distilleries.
prior to this, travel between the southern end of the island and more northerly villages and places of work was by means of what is locally referred to as the high road. this particular stretch of tarmac, forming a singletrack road along its entire length, was built by thomas telford in the late nineteenth century, sections of it crossing the myriad of indigenous peat bogs. aside from providing the legendary peat smoke for the distilleries' barley, the majority of households at one timeeach rented individual peat banks, cutting once a year and leaving peat bricks in stacks to dry over the summer months before using as heating fuel for the winter.
the peat is still there, but numbers still performing the annual cut are now drastically reduced partly through lowered population, and partly due to a dramatic increase in central heating installations. no longer is islay's population subjected to days of back breaking work; heating is now available at the flick of timer switch.
however, thomas telford's road, not to mention the low road, is now under constant, seven-day attack from a fleet of 40ft articulated tankers, thanks to the ministrations of the scottish environmental protection agency (sepa). they helpfully interpreted an eu rule preventing industrial units from dumping waste into the ocean as also applying to islay's distilleries. this means that, for the last few years, the pot ale, an almost entirely organic waste, is now tankered to a repository at caol ila where it is, ironically enough, released into the sound of islay, a fast flowing tidal current that disperses the pot ale out into the atlantic ocean.
though one or two of the distilleries feature outflow pipes adjudged to be of a length that encourages suitable dispersal, the majority are at the mercy of the daily tanker visit and the roads are at the mercy of their trundling weight.
it is sad that i know of all this, given that despite being (almost literally) surrounded by several single malt distilleries, i have never tasted any of their product. succinctly put, i do not partake of any alcoholic beverages, including islay's single malts. meaning, of course, that at no time in my past or at anytime in my future, am i likely to find myself inebriated while in charge of a bicycle. this is something of a comforting thought in the light of recently received statistics proving that cyclists who are impaired by alcohol are more likely to hurt themselves in a fall, are less likely to be wearing a helmet at the time, and are far more likely than sober cyclists to be severely injured or killed.
an analyst with alcohol safety experts alcodigital states that the dangers of alcohol are every bit as profoundly risky for cyclists as they are for motorists. though cyclists are unlikely to be subjected to a roadside breathalyser test, riding a bicycle when under the influence of drink is unlikely to be of benefit to either the rider or surrounding traffic.
however, the news here is not the fact that we shouldn't be riding our bikes under the influence in case we hurt ourselves, but that anyone saw the need to make this the subject of a press release in the first place. if i kept a physical filing cabinet in which to store such items, this one would have been filed under 'stating the glaringly obvious'. that said, i confess i was unaware that there is in fact, no uk drink-cycle limit for cyclists, but don't take that as a green light.
tuesday 5 april 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................