i have recently been engaged by what i shall term as a client to convert a photo of a cardboard cutout device (that's all i'm prepared to say at present) into a printable eps (encapsulated postscript) file that they might send to their printers for reproduction. this device makes pointed reference to a feature of islay life that regularly impacts upon our indigenous sociability without remark, yet one that seems frequently to capture the attention of those not resident in these here parts.
you will perhaps allow me the luxury of obfuscation at this point, for the said device has not yet made it to the local market, so i'm less than keen to undermine any strategic marketing my client may have concocted in the interim. however, what i can reveal is that it relates to the local habit of both motorists and cyclists waving to each other in the course of their localised mobility.
it would be a tad inaccurate to have you believe that this wave takes the form of that practised by royalty. in the majority of cases it entails merely the raising of a few fingers from either the steering wheel or, in the case of yours truly, the hood of my brake/gear lever. in short, it is a subtle, yet visible means of acknowledgment. of course, for those merely visiting for a day or two it can appear a tad intimidating; several folks have made it known over the years that they were mightily concerned that either the wave indicated some hitherto unknown misdemeanour, or perhaps a case of mistaken identity.
as local folks, we find it scarcely worthy of mention; it's just a singular part of island life. but my clients seem possibly misguided that it is a more important factor than is truthfully the case. try practising the same form of acknowledgment off the island and i fear that quizzical and incomprehensible stares will be the result. this device is, i believe, to be marketed directly at the visiting public; i seriously doubt any resident would part with their money.
however, in a world that has allegedly become more dependent on the world of social media, it is still of great concern that an alarming percentage of visiting cyclists seem to lack basic manners. i don't doubt that those arriving on bicycles laden with the riders' entire worldy belongings, will have brought one or two digital devices enabling them to broadcast the minutiae of their travels to an adoring public who could probably care less. yet meet them on the road as they travel from the ferry to their ultimate place of residence and offer a hearty "hail fellow, well met" by way of a more extravagant wave than offered to friends and neighbours and it is of great disappointment as to the response.
or, to be more precise, the total lack of response.
i know i have broached this subject on an annual basis and that i am not alone in this respect, yet it should not go unmentioned that more than just a few of those travelling by bicycle to foreign parts seem not to have acquired basic manners or sociability.
granted, we may be on slivers of carbon fibre and sporting full movistar team kit, moving with a deal more alacrity than those overladen steel or aluminium beasts of burden, but we're only trying to be friendly. we're trying to offer a welcome to our island and by implication, hope that you enjoy your visit, for however many days it may last. it is late may; the winds are entirely innocuous even if they're in your face. you cannot possibly be too tired to respond.
and yet a worrying number ride past as if we weren't there, as if they hadn't seen us at all and as if we had not just offered them physical notice of welcome. we're all nice folks on bicycles over here; we're justifiably proud of our island and as fellow cyclists, of whatever discipline, we'd like to say hello in the traditional manner displayed by those pedalling at speed in the opposite direction. or perhaps even in the same direction.
it would not be the first time we have come upon a string of touring cyclists heading in the same direction and offered salutations as we pass, only to be met with stoic indifference. that is not the way life proceeds and it is not a response any of us deserve. so if you intend visiting the land of the single malt at anytime during the coming months, don't be a stranger. if a cyclist waves to you in the passing, for goodness sake, wave back, even if your mental solitude would prefer to retain precedence.
it is a condition of entry to the hallowed isle that the location of all visiting cyclists is notified to the velo club. we know where you're staying. please don't make me have to write this again next year.
monday 23 may 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it may seem a tad incongruous to discuss the tour de france when we're really only half-way through this year's giro d'italia, but such are the vagaries of contemporary publishing, that it is a short, but necessary diversion from the present.
like many, the tour was first brought to my attention via channel four's daily update with gary imlach and the commentary talents of messrs. liggett and sherwen. though placing the world's greatest bike race in a daily context and subtracting the ad breaks left precious few minutes to describe more than one hundred kilometres ridden through the french countryside, it was something of a broadcasting breakthrough.
you will doubtless have read many admissions of fans from yesteryear that they had often to wait more than a week or so to read the exploits of a foreign peloton in a foreign land. by the time of channel four's nightly introduction to the event, most of us would have been in the habit of contentedly awaiting each week's issue of the comic to find out who had been doing what, where and at what altitude. this daily update, brief though it may have been, was a more than welcome change. with the advent of eurosport and subsequently itv4, those days seem far more distant than chronology is likely to admit.
in the mid 1970s, i had not long left the safety of a secondary education to assume the mantle of art student, with all the precocity that such entailed. what i did not have any knowledge or interest in, was bike racing. i do recall at least one occasion having seen some chaps indvidually pedalling for all they were worth along the prestwick by-pass, but it never dawned on me they might have been involved in a niche faction of cycle sport. i'm pretty sure i had heard of eddy merckx, but i'd be fibbing if i said i knew what it was had brought him to my attention.
in the light of the above, i think i can honestly say that had someone had the perspicacity to present me with an original copy of the great bike race in 1977, things may well have been a bit different. however, ifs and buts...
the foreword by will fotheringham to this republished edition from the excellent velodrome publishing brings to light the fact that mr fotheringham came from a less velocipedinally deprived childhood than did i.
"...my mother [...] brought home a copy for me and my late father, a former cyclist who kept a close eye on his old sport. I don't know whether poor old dad even got to read it."
to be quite blunt about the current situation even in the year 2016, this is unquestionably the finest book ever written on the subject of cycling, bar none. the combination of the late geoffrey nicholson's (he died in 1999) observations, coupled with an impeccable writing style, make the great bike race almost a complete education in and of itself. reading such superbly composed prose only highlights what i am brave enough to describe as a lowering of standards ever since (though from this indictment, i think william fotheringham may be excused.)
as the latter himself states "...his writing could have made any tour spring to life."
initially published in 1977, nicholson's narrative concerns the previous year's tour de france, an event that commenced in 'saint-jean-de-monts' on 24 june with a prologue time-trial and ended on the champs elysees on sunday 18 july. each stage is dealt with at varying lengths dependent on that which transpired across the day's kilometres. however, though today the cognoscenti of which we are a part, are far better informed as to the intricacies of each twist and turn, those with even a passing interest are also more aware of at least the outlines of the race. and perhaps even one or two of the protagonists assuming bradley wiggins takes part.
however, in 1976/77, even a cycle race as big as the tour de france was largely an unknown quantity on this side of the channel and nicholson takes the time to patiently, wittily and clearly explain some of the niceties, history and ancillaries that make the race what it is, along with portraying the leading characters.
"Today the peloton agrees on how best to check the repeated successes of Maertens. It is to release one rider, like a hare from a trap, at a reasonable distance from the line. [...] The man picked out for favour is Hubert Mathis, a twenty-five-year-old second-year professional from northern France. [...] The more prosaic fact of the matter is that Mathis is 61-3 down on general classification..."
it would be hard to overstate just how good this book truly is. though present day books and periodicals provide the same blow-by-blow account of those three weeks in july, their prose is considerably less descriptive, leaning more towards the statistical and calculated than the atmospheric. nicholson also ultilises the full breadth of the english language to his and our advantage. if ever you had doubts over the slow demise of the british educational system, the great bike race may be offered up as a prime example of how good it once was.
"Shortly before noon the people of Saint Jean are drawn to the north end of the promenade where the teams are gathering in the curve of the Arc-en-Ciel, a raised apartment block with flying balconies like a great white chest of drawers."
"(the riders) transfer the food to the pouch pockets of their racing jerseys or, as often as not, to their mouths. Before any race, cyclists eat like rescued castaways."
of course, the tour de france was an altogether different kettle of casquettes in the mid-seventies; still a circus, but substantially less so than in its current incarnation. rose-tinted spectacles undoubtedly colour my comprehension and appreciation of international cycle racing some forty years ago in the days of 32 spokes and chromed steel frames; it would be more than interesting to read how nicholson would describe this year's race.
however, some of that interest must remain academic and not just for the obvious reason. nicholson has captured a moment in time, one that will remain so pretty much forever. but in the manner of a novel by dickens, hardy or austen, the great bike race is a volume that can be solely appreciated for its own values, values that are distinct from the race it describes and entirely separate from the final yellow jersey worn by lucien van impe on the champs elysees in 1976.
it has taken forty years for this book to find me. don't, under any circumstances, let this happen to you.
sunday 22 may 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
glasgow's queen street station is currently undergoing what i believe is being touted as improvements and at present, just a couple of feet past the entrance, there is nothing but wooden horadings and a few well-meaning individuals with hi-viz vests pointing out that you can't go where once you could. the trains that used to depart and arrive at queen street upper level have now been redistributed between queen street low-level station and glasgow central, a logistical nightmare that i'm very pleased is not part of my daily commute.
however, on wednesday of this past week, there was need of easterly travel, thankfully not on a drastically re-routed scotrail train (how on earth did scotrail ever come to be operated by the oddly named abellio?) from my point of view, this was a journey to the far east, but then everything's relative as albert einstein used to say.
you do, however, have to admire the scots' tenacity in the face of potential adversity. i have droned on ad nauseam about the weather that pervades the west coast of the country, a droning that has frequently made great use of the words rain and wind, two aspects of west coast life that are features, not bugs if you live here and probably wildly underestimated by those who don't. the east coast is not that different, but traditionally a smidgeon cooler.
taking the low-level train from queen street ultimately to edinburgh waverley includes such luminary stopping points as coatdyke, airdrie, drumgelloch, caldercruix, blackridge and armadale, bathgate, all of which are preceded by the optimistically named - and once more might i remind you of the prevailing weather situation - coatbridge sunnyside. i could find no reference as to how this eponymously named railway station was blessed with such a bright moniker, but suffice it to say, on passing through said station, the weather wasn't that bad. at least, not on the outward journey.
if you will forgive my incessant harping on about scotland's climate, there is a pertinence to my story. those well-versed in the art of train timetables will perhaps have realised that the final station in the above list (bathgate), is that preceding livingston north at which it is prudent to alight if you intend to visit scotland's, and one of the world's, premier cycle apparel purveyors endura.
it has been of continual personal embarrassment that i have known endura managing director, jim mcfarlane, for nigh on ten years, in a blogging career that has lasted twice as long. yet this past wednesday was the first time i had made the trip eastwards to visit him and his sterling company. in the course of doing so, i may have over profusely apologised for not having ticked this particular box a great deal sooner.
as i write, the movistar team have a rider in the pink jersey (amador) and valverde in fourth place. this is pertinent to my discourse, for not only do endura provide the clothing for the spanish team, but two of their top brass were meeting with jim mcfarlane on the morning of my visit, a situation that temporarily delayed a long-awaited meeting. of course, it would be a tad unseemly if visiting media persons such as myself were to be given the manager's tour. such formalities are best left to those in charge of islay's malt whisky distilleries, a fate they will be well used to by the end of next week's islay whisky festival.
commerce and sponsorship are considerably more important than shooting the breeze with ponytailed members of the press, even if the latter apellation is one foisted upon me rather than cheerfully adopted. in deference to the gents from movistar and subsequently drag2zero, i was guided through the labyrinthine facility at starlaw park by pr manager katrin mcdonald and production manager alison moody. you'll have to take my word for it; it's an eye-opening experience.
i fear tedium would take over were i to reiterate each stage of my tour; some things simply do not transfer well from actually being there into fascinating narrative. unlike many of their contemporaries and peer group, endura's facility does a darned more than simply design and market a quality range (or ranges) of cycle clothing. they also manufacture a substantial proportion in-house. all the official movistar clothing is made in livingston, also meaning that the replica kit does too.
the latter term has often been applied to a category of cycle clothing that simply embodies look-alike properties, devoid of the quality and fabric demanded by the world's top riders. in endura's case, nothing could be further from the truth. i watched a replica jersey being printed from the very same large format dye-sub roland printer from whence came the very jersey worn by amador before he nabbed pink on friday. endura also produce each and every item of their much admired equipe range at livingston as well as the rather striking official kit for this year's ride london.
a facetious remark from yours truly as to whether the design department received the proverbial sketch on the back of an envelope (so to speak), brought to light that very situation. except the design i was shown was hand-drawn on a scrap of paper, rather than an envelope. endura are more than adept at producing individual designs to suit pretty much every club in the land, based on either high-quality artwork, or the aforementioned pencil sketches. you can even have riders' names applied to each of the final editions at extra cost.
until recently, britain was bereft of a high-profile cycling heritage. there have been the odd (in both senses of the word) individuals who have forged across the channel and returned with the victor's spoils, but it's a heritage that pales into insignificance by comparison with that of france, belgium, italy and even holland. scotland, robert millar notwithstanding, has pretty much no road racing heritage whatsoever. it is therefore of great national pride that endura not only exist at all, but do so at the highest level, not just in the arena of road racing, but also in the world of mountain biking, the latter a successful heritage that preceded their wholesale entry into world of skinny tyres.
who better to understand the needs and requirements of the scottish-based road rider than the very chaps and chapesses who inhabit its rain-soaked, windblown landscape? passing the clothing rails that edge the design room, it's not hard to appreciate the extent and breadth of the company's endeavours on behalf of the great unwashed (you and me). if you can't find something to satisfy your idiosyncracies from amongst those garments i was briefly introduced to, then you probably need to get out more.
deep in the bowels of endura ltd. and bearing more than just a passing resemblance to the shop floor of the clothing business featured in coronation street, there are two rows of sewing machines and their highly-trained operators who quite literally sew the arms onto the jerseys and the zips into the body. though several of the latest drag2zero influenced garments feature bonded seams, it will be a long time before any of endura's sewing machines lie silent. and when they say that every garment is checked prior to packaging and dispatch, they really mean every garment.
i know. i saw it happen.
prior to my departure once more to the twin platforms of livingston north railway station (thank you brendan) and a subsequent passing through of coatbridge sunnyside (it was raining this time), jim mcfarlane took a few minutes out from his series of meetings to make sure i left the premises. he is not at all the figure you would expect to head up an internationally renowned cycle clothing company. dressed in jeans, an endura t-shirt and an open checked shirt he's affable, relaxed, humorous and refreshingly informal. there was no sales pitch and no corporate speak, facts worthy of laudatory approbation in themselves.
the phrase that greets you just inside the front doors "born in scotland, ridden worldwide" is one that scarcely describes all that exists behind those doors. but it's a subtle claim to fame that could hardly apply anywhere else. as the tag inside the endura classic jersey proclaims 'if you think the spring classics are bad, try scotland.'
i'd like to thanks katrin, alison, jim and brendan for their consummate hospitality during my recent visit. it was very much appreciated.
saturday 21 may 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my late father once related a story to me regarding an architect friend of his who had travelled abroad for business, before returning a few days later and entering the multi-storey car park in which he'd thoughtfully lef t his car prior to flying. after a thorough search of where he thought he'd left the vehicle and one or two less likely corners of the facility, he came to the conclusion that someone had unhelpfully pinched his motor car.
at this point, the car park attendants were brought in to assist and they in turn called in the airport police. details were asked for and given as to the make, model, colour and registration of the missing vehicle after which my fathers' erstwhile friend telephoned his wife to have her collect him from the airport. "certainly" she said, "should i take your car or mine?"
it transpires that his wife had driven him to the airport in the first place, a salient fact he had rather embarrassingly forgotten; his car had never been parked at the airport at all. i'm sure you can imagine the brightness of his red face in front of ncp car park attendants and the boys in blue.
it's a largely unremarkable fact that as fallible human beings, we are apt to lose stuff, either through carelessness or forgetfulness. current thinking revolves around the not altogether fanciful notion that the quickest way to find a missing item is to purchase a new one. it certainly works for bicycle tools. only a few weeks ago, mr marshall and yours truly went in search of the lost panini of proaig, an ultimately redundant trip (in one respect), that had us briefly lay down our bicycles in the heather in order to scrabble up a hill and hopefully find our bearings. the latter thus found, we could now no longer recall in which direction those bicycles lay. that did provide one or two moments of heart fluttering.
had we been in possession of a sherlock gps device, those hearts may have remained steadfast in their duty. or perhaps to put it more accurately, if our bicycles had been in possession of a sherlock gps device. launching today on crowdfunding platform indigogo, sherlock consists of a gps enabled unit that fits inside the bicycle's handlebars or frame, making it effectively invisible and unknown to any postential bicycle thieves. this internet connected unit constantly monitors the bicycle's position and should it become aware of movement in excess of the designed parameters (error lower than five metres) it alerts an app you previously downloaded to your smartphone.
it is fortunate that i do not live in an arena susceptible to theft in general, let alone that of bicycles, because the internet connection is maintained across gsm/gprs, a service that can be more than just a bit flaky on the outer regions. and add to that the fact that i do not own a smartphone, or even a dumb one, come to that.
however, sherlock is designed for the real world, where bicycle theft is almost too common to be newsworthy and nobody is ever away from their smartphone for more than a few seconds at a time. assuming your bike is nicked and sherlock has helped you find it, the app contains a unique identifier by way of a bicycle passport, one that confirms ownership and aids any police assistance required to regain possession.
the sherlock design exists as a result of a personal bike theft in which there was no appreciable means of retrieving that which was stolen. the team behind the device originated the idea in 2014 and were subsequently awarded a scholarship to join the setsquared entrepreneurship programme in bath. marketing and sales have now launched on indigogo. if you happen to live in an area beset with potential bike theft, this may be the best thing you've invested in since purchasing that heavier-than-you'd-like-it-to-be d-lock that's already scraped some of the paint off the top tube.
you can never be to careful when it comes to keeping even a digital eye on your beloved bicycle.
friday 20 may 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the definition of 'a long way' is akin to that of asking the length of a piece of string; ask enough questions and you'll obtain enough differing answers. better usually to couch your answer in kilometres, as that will always seem to be more impressive to those who don't cycle kilometres for a living. or even for a weekend or so.
the act of traversing great distances by bicycle is hardly what could be regarded as a novel event. there are more than enough people doing so at any given time of the year and pretty much across any continent you care to mention. not being one blessed with the travel gene, at least not when associated with the saddle, i find the object of such quests to be a tad on the obscure side. i'm never sure whether undertaking great distances over specific time limits is in an effort to impress me, and by implication, the rest of us, or whether these are challenges without which those individuals cannot continue their normal lives?
this is perhaps to oversimplify the knowledge that certain portions of humanity will always have need of so-called superhuman efforts and it would be naive and unnecessarily derogatory to dismiss these efforts as simply so much fluff on the outer edges of (in this case) cycling life. it seems highly likely that this is an overt case of you-had-to-be-there.
scotsman, mark beaumont first came to public prominence as one becoming practised in the art of distance cycling when he completed a round the world trip, thoughtfully documented by way of word and moving picture for episodic transmission on the bbc. it is rare that those possessed of the adventure demon and the physical prowess to follow it through, have also the presentational skills to satisfy any public interest. i may be guilty of demeaning others who have also blazed a trail across various portions of our planet, but i cannot deny that beaumont's round the world trip made for entertaining television more because of the man himself than his admittedly gargantuan undertaking.
africa solo begins not with tales of the darkest reaches of this often mysterious and fragmented continent, but the unfortunate and near catastrophic incident that predicated the subsequent bike ride of almost 11,000 kilometres from north to south in a matter of 41 (and a bit) days. in january 2012, beaumont was a member of a team that set out from morocco to row across the atlantic to barbados, a trip that did not end well. in fact, it ended with them all turfed into the water by a rogue wave, capsizing their boat in the process. they were rescued by a taiwanese cargo vessel en-route from venezuela to cairo.
not entirely unconnectedly, cairo subsequently became the starting point for beaumont's trans-africa solo bike ride, the subject of this particular tome.
in the intervening three years, beaumont plied his previous trade as a tv presenter, travelling the length and breadth of the commonwealth to provide snippets of the lives of those who would eventually travel to glasgow in 2014 to participate in the commonwealth games, but i figure it's safe to say that 'once an adventurer, always an adventurer.'
"At 6,750 miles, Cairo to Cape Town is three times the distance of the Tour de France, twice the distance of the Race Across America and with exactly ten Everests of climbing. I wanted to do it solo and unsupported."
i tend to think that there are not many of us confrotnted with such devilish statistics, would see that as an opportunity for a very big bike ride. and despite it being the sort of distance open to record-breaking as touted by the guiness book of records, it's perhaps not even a suspect in the 'my, that sounds interesting' vein that might produce a tv documentary with accompanying book. as i stated in my opening paragraphs, there has been no end of exotic challenges undertaken on the bicycle since its invention. surely one more might reasonably be filed in the 'oh no, not again' category?
however, no matter my, or your opinion of what might seem a somewhat self-seeking undertaking, that assumption would be to discount the not inconsiderable documentary talents of mark beaumont. though he may come across as a tad aggressive in relation to an insatiable desire to ride further and faster than is probably good for his health, he owns a remarkable ability to write clear, concise and captivating narrative in a style that has you emulate his own eagerness and probably read at least one more chapter than originally intended.
"Fast miles are like fast money: the more you get, the more your greed grows and the more you need, desperate to cover miles before luck runs out."
for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on the bicycle with little or no support in remote parts of the world, he freely admits he's not much of a mechanic, as witnessed by his fear of the potential complexity of replacing a gear cassette. and he's a braver man than i to have ridden his carbon koga road bike laced with shimano's di2 electronic groupset across a continent that ironically sufffers from frequent power cuts. but aside from detailing his daily pedalling exploits, he has a keen eye for observation and a beautifully laconic way of expressing it.
"The full name for the [police] force is the Tourism and antiquities Police - a fitting name for a country that in my opinion looks back a lot more than it looks forward."
africa's fragmentation forms the backdrop to beaumont's record undertaking (a record, incidentally, that i'd rather they'd kept for the narrative, rather than announcing that the butler did it, on the cover). the 41 day trip took him through egypt, sudan, ethiopia, kenya, tanzania, botswana and ultimately south africa, where the only notable commonality would be our western need to refer to the inhabitants as african.
i well know that i would not ever have considered subjecting myself to the potential dangers (often unrealised) of such a massive trans-continental bicycle ride, but in truth that's what gives rise to a healthy admiration for a man who, despite his own misgivings, went ahead anyway. trips such as this are easy to dismiss as ultimately pointless, especially from the comfort of a sitting room armchair. however, that's often because secretly we wish we had the guts to be the one in the saddle.
thursday 19 may 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................