very many years ago, when in london town for some forgotten reason, i met with dromarti's martin scofield for lunch in a part of the city i would be hard-pressed to identify. while the repast offered by the bar in which lunch was partaken was more than welcome, along with the attendant conversation, we had distinct misgivings over the quality of the coffee with which we might possibly satisfactorily end our meal.
we opted, therefore, to delay the onset of caffeine consumption until we could chance upon a promising coffee stop on the way to our respective transport home. inevitably, as coincidence would impose itself upon our velocipedinal enquiries, the choice was made for us. there, in an obscure back street in the region i have totally failed to recall, was a coffee shop displaying a marvellously retro steel colnago in the window.
it would have been rude not to.
though my failing memory has been contrite in refusing to flesh out several background details to this anecdote, i do recall the subsequent double-espresso to have been one of the finest ever experienced anywhere in the world. though i am not an imbiber of alcoholic beverages, particularly the single malts that pervade my present surroundings, i'm pretty sure the first sip of the aforementioned espresso must surely have been the equivalent of a well-aged whisky.
since that particular day, i have hoped (forlornly as it turns out), that each ordered double-espresso in coffee hostelries throughout various parts of scotland, portland and beyond, would replicate this salutory experience. yet even in this age of enlightenment, there are still faux baristas who interpret the word double to mean twice the quantity as opposed to twice the strength. there is a chap occasionally employed in the coffee cabin on calmac's mv finlaggan, who has come pretty darned close to offering espresso perfection, but those sterling efforts were then totally undermined by his relief co-worker who truly made me wonder why she bothered.
this would have remained a tale of a quest for the holy grail had it not been for a chance remark this past weekend. it is my continued hope that i will finish the majority of my outstanding workload by lunchtime on a friday, allowing me the luxury of nipping out on the bike to debbie's of a relaxing afternoon, ostensibly for a bout of froth supping. however, this past friday pm, a large cup of frothy coffee seemed just a few slurps too many, so i enquired of samantha whether she might pour me a remarkably strong espresso in one of the café's tiny espresso cups, more by way of framing my specific requirements rather than any implied criticism of the regular fare.
suffice it to say that the holy grail has now been discovered; and how. and in the manner of a double-whammy, not only to satisfy my periodic caffeine craving, but to prove the friday episode to be no fluke, i ordered another after sunday morning's period of badassery.
then i had a second.
monday 27 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there is a t-shirt with the phrase on it. 'outside is free'. though its originality is open to debate, in this particular instance, the progenitor is the rapha continental's ben lieberson, a man well used to the great outdoors as explored by the original continental across the more obscure parts of north america. at one time, chugging across gravel treacks in the middle of outside was pretty much the preserve of the mountain bike. the rapha continental did much to change our perspective on the subject.
granted, a 28mm road tyre will scarcely fend off the worst that obscure parts of america can throw in its direction, but mountain bikes are so much more cumbersome, particularly when accessorised with suspension forks. and mountain biking is mountain biking. it's not road biking.
the logical extension of this offroading on bikes not specifically designed for the purpose, demonstrates the human predilection to take everything beyond its logical conclusion. in this case, being less than satisfied with only a few miles of the great outdoors. "why not", these individuals are likely to have said, "pack some overnight gear and ride for days and days and days?". or even just days.
the downside to this new approach to velocipedinal adventure has mostly centred around the available bicycle luggage that would enable guys like ben to head into the foothills with an appropriate degree of self sufficiency. backpacks are not the most practical of appendages, while panniers necessitate racks and racks need bolted bits on the road bike that probably doesn't have any. in any case, one of the guiding principles behind road biking is that of light weight, so bikepacking would seem the most appropriate bedfellow, where bar packs and seatpacks, affixed to the bicycle without an intrinsic need for any racks whatsoever.
that's precisely what the collaboration between rapha and apidura is designed to enable, extending rapha's brevet range beyond the realms of technical clothing.
the bar bag is simplicity itself, consisting of a tube of lined, weatherproof material into which all manner of stuff can be, well, stuffed. once everything is inside, it is a simple matter of rolling the ends inwards before clipping each end together to keep all safely inside. rapha advise that the packs may not be considered totally waterproof due to the method of closure, advising that it may be prudent to pack items into waterproof inners to maintain a particularly high degree of waterproofing.
once full to your own level of capacity, the pack is attached to the handlebars by means of two brevet styled straps, then held stable with a clipped strap round the head tube. i had fears that the width of the pack might interfere with an appropriate hand-position on the drops, but in practice this was most certainly not the case. having ridden the specialized awol elite with a standard bar bag attached, the rapha + apidura pack is not only funkier, but considerably less intrusive to line of sight. the top also features an elastic drawcord under which you can safely place a jacket, armwarmers, a map or any other items of cycling paraphernalia you may care to ride with al fresco.
the only bit missing, as far as i'm concerned, is a shoulder strap that could easily be hooked into each closed end for increased practicality when off the bike.
the seatpack works on a similar basis, in that once everything has been crammed into place (and it seemed happy to swallow a substantial amount of stuff), the open end is rolled up and its clips attached to two side straps. it fits to the bicycle by means of a tensionable velcro strap which fits round the seatpost and a further two clipped straps threaded through the saddle rails. i confess that i was less than confident all this would remain in place when ploughing across the roughest bits of the great outdoors, but i was wrong.
the seatpack also features the same elastic drawcord on the top, making it simplicity itself to carry a wind or rain jacket for easy access. with each and every bit of cargo encased within those bright pink bags, even in the event of an occasional cloudburst, everything remained as dry as it had been when put there in the first place.
if you have plans to emulate the rapha continental or perhaps a bit of audaxing now and again, these are the ideal appendages to a bicycle that is not a mountain bike (though they'd work every bit as well on one of those). if it's important to you to maintain a matching corporate presence, the fact that both packs feature the same white and pink stripage as rapha's brevet jersey and shorts (and socks, come to that), you'll be more than enamoured with these first two items from the rapha/apidura conversation. the practicality, design and superb construction of both has all but convinced me to saddle-up and head off into a hebridean sunset. at least until my tea's ready.
unfortunately, at the time of writing, both items have sold out, but i am reliably informed that they will be re-stocked in october this year. you might want to consider forming an orderly queue the minute you've finished reading.
the rapha + apidura handlebar pack retails at £85 while the seatpack is priced at £105. | rapha brevet range
sunday 26 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
islay's local newspaper, published every two weeks, is printed on a somewhat ageing offset litho printer. because it's a mechanical device, there are rollers, widgets and spring-loaded do-dads that do occasionally move out of sync with each other, leading to one or two bad words from the lady who takes care of the machine on the days prior to publication. but similarly, because it's mechanical in operation, it's often reasonably easy to diagnose what is causing any specific problem; then we hit it with a hammer, or stick a screwdriver in places where a screwdriver probably ought not to be stuck.
however, the most obvious outward sign to an eager reading public is the occasional blank page that appears stapled between the front covers. this is due to the paper feed, where the printer in its innocence lifts two sheets of paper instead of one. rather obviously, this entails only one of those sheets receiving ink from the rollers. the other remains starved of its line-screened dots.
naturally enough, we simply replace any copies found to have blank pages, but that hasn't prevented us from inventing rather more circuitous reasons as to this happenstance. these range from "we're trialling a new type of white ink" all the way to "there wasn't quite enough news this week." naturally enough, very few of the reading public place any faith in such obviously fabricated untruths.
and though every bit as fallacious as either of the above excuses, we've occasionally mentioned that the blank pages were to allow the reader to make notes regarding the veracity or quality of the articles that did appear in black print. laurence king's 'cyclist's bucket list', subtitled 'a road bike journal', would stretch our credibility to its limit. the book, presenting a minimalist faux leather, embossed cover contains 115 blank pages, a vacuity that is there entirely on purpose, purportedly for the intrepid road cyclist to make notes concerning the proposed bucket list.
this list offers a wide range of options that the publishers feel ought to feature in the average road cycling career. ride the tour of flanders sportive, the race across america (?), climb alpe d'huez, ride on the boards of a velodrome and conceal bicycle expenditure from your partner. other than owning more wheels than strictly necessary, i figure the latter list item to be the only one aside which i could legitimately place a confident tick.
the saving grace midst all this deliberate emptiness is the work of illustrator eliza southwood. there are thirty examples of her highly individual work, but only eight of which feature as full (a5) pages. the others inhabit the lower corners of those interspersed midst total blankness. and that's kind of the problem in a book that retails at £12.95.
do not misunderstand me; i adore ms southwood's illustrations, but for my £12.95 i would rather have had an entire book-full and no blank pages whatsoever. despite my twenty-year habit of writing an average of around 12,000 words per week, i really have little need of 115 pages on which to write some more. none of my pelotonic colleagues have ever expressed a desire either to complete a specifically designed bucket list, or to make notes relating to their sprinting technique for the 30mph signs at the entry to bruichladdich village. which leaves me wondering at which part of the cycling market this book is pointed.
the cyclist's bucket list is a nicely presented publication, but in truth, it's something of a solution looking for a problem (eliza southwood's illustrations notwithstanding).
saturday 25 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a good few years ago, i had notions of participating in rapha's hell of the north bike ride in london town and had usefully engaged the services of designer, graeme raeburn, to guide me from my accommodation to the ride start near highgate cemetery. it transpired that my watch was more than just a few minutes ahead of itself, so the apparent time at which we had agreed to meet passed, but without any sign of graeme. foolishly, thinking that he lived along my direction of travel, i set off expecting to meet him en-route.
of course, graeme lived in entirely the opposite direction and i had headed off into the big city, not only with no idea of where i was going, but more importantly, without the guide on whom i had intended to rely. still, i wasn't totally unprepared; prior to leaving home, i had copied a few pages from google maps just in case. however, anyone who has attempted to find their way about a bustling metropolis such as london's city centre, will know that a few folded sheets of photocopied paper in a back pocket are most certainly not the way to go about it.
to cut a long and potentially dangerous story short, i never quite made it to highgate cemetery and the subsequent london parallel to paris-roubaix. in fact, as the ride was due to commence, i had only just made it to oxford street, having circumnavigated a few roundabouts more than just once and found myself heading down a one-way street in the wrong direction. not the sort of situation anyone wants to find themselves in and made all the more frightening by having no idea where i was at any given time. the return trip was every bit as fraught as the abortive outward expedition.
those of you who regularly navigate the roads of the country's capital on a daily basis will doubtless be concealing more than just a few sniggers, or even a loud guffaw. but remember that i am more used to obscure, single-track roads and fending off stray sheep and the odd errant hired motorhome. it would be very hard for me to get lost on islay even if i put a bit of effort into it.
gps is hardly the latest technology on the block, but assuming i could be persuaded to acquire a smartphone in the first place, there can be little argument over the visibility of the average touch-screen when affixed to a pair of handlebars. even less so if necessity dictates that it be pulled from a pocket at regular intervals to pinpoint precisely how lost i really am. but short of learning the knowledge (impractical if only in town for a brief visit), or having a guide positioned on every appropriate street corner, i can see little alternative.
thankfully, the latter option might just be a smidgeon closer than i at first thought. brokering on kickstarter only a matter of days ago is blubel, launched with the assistance of the european space agency and ibm. blubel consists of a slightly oversized bicycle bell (that can actually be rung in the accepted manner), which attaches to bicycle handlebars and points to the way home. positioned around the top of the blubel's circumference are a series of leds which illuminate at the behest of a smartphone app into which you have previously typed your destination. as the kickstarter page describes...
"Every time a Blubel is rung, it indicates an alert point in the supporting app and cloud technology. These location points and other journey data are gathered and analysed to calculate safest routes and highlight any potential hazards on your selected route. Because we believe in the collective wisdom of the cycling community."
a bit like pretty much everything nowadays, the blubel is charged via usb with a projected battery life of two weeks, while the device itself is removable whenever the bicycle is parked. the most obvious advantage of the device is its simplicity; there's no need to strain eyes in the middle of traffic attempting to get yourself out of the maze. those lights around the edge of the blubel, in conjunction with the smartphone secreted about your person, will continually indicate the direction of travel. using cloud technology, it can route you past any potential snarl ups and will even recalculate your journey should you get lost.
in my case, i would imagine the latter feature would find itself working overtime.
the simplicity of blubel's design and its implementation are remarkably commendable. assuming yourself to be wholly in agreement, i have thoughtfully placed the kickstarter link below.
friday 24 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i can only attest to the current technological developments in the world of velocipedinal apparel, i know from a process of osmosis that it stands not alone. only a matter of days ago, a news item concerned whether it was an appropriate use of a government funded antarctic research vessel to guide a cruise ship through the northern passages, a debate that may not yet be resolved. but if there are sufficient numbers of tourists wishing to brave the sub-zero temperatures of the arctic or antarctic, it seems more than likely that they will all be in need of appropriate attire.
that need will doubtless have kickstarted an entire series of new ranges from the outdoor folks, keen to outfit all those well-heeled tourists in sore need of colourful, stylish outdoor-wear with an entire array of technical features that can be discussed over a cooked, on-board breakfast. so aside from the possibility of improved sales to a hitherto non-existent market, there will be a pressing need from the various marketing departments to populate the hang-tags with all manner of technical jargon.
yet, almost like the resurgence of merino wool, now positioned as one of the ultimate technical fabrics, there is a material originally developed as far back as the 1930s, designed to replace a perceived national shortage of flax for fire hoses and water buckets. the research into just such a replacement centred around the use of cotton threads, but woven in such a way as to keep water in. this research was subsequently diverted towards the complementary feature of waterproofing demanded by wartime pilots required to ditch their hurricane aircraft in the sea (there was no means of landing them on the decks of the merchant ships from which they had been catapulted.)
trials commenced at manchester's shirley institute eventually resulted in a woven cotton fabric which they termed ventile. military clothing manufactured from this new material was begun in 1943 and extended those pilots' life expectancy in the water from a few minutes to almost twenty. the association of ventile with the military continues to this day.
ventile is made from 100% cotton fibres, neither coated nor laminated. it's the combination of the material's woven density and a propensity to swell when wet that provides its excellent waterproofing abilities. naturally enough, the weave also provides the ideal level of windproofing and comfort as well as a concomitant degree of breathability.
so why don't we use it for cycling jackets then?
that is a rather excellent question, but unfortunately one that i'm unable to answer. what i do hope to answer is how well a greenspot double-ventile jacket from hilltrek of aboyne, aberdeenshire fares as a cycling jacket, given that its original purpose might not have been cycling specific. it's quite probably also worth pointing out that this is not the sort of jacket that chris froome would pop back to the team car for, in the event of a sudden bout of inclement weather. hilltrek's greenspot seems more the jacket to be worn for commuting or touring purposes.
the epithet double-ventile most likely refers to the jacket's construction, featuring a ventile outer along with a ventile inner lining, though it's not without credibility that the latter might impact, however subtly, upon the jacket's ultimate breathability.
the reason that this review will occupy two distinct parts, has a great deal to do with the weather that the hebrides has experienced these past few weeks. the curse of the waterproof review is well-known; receive a waterproof jacket or jersey through the post and there's every chance that the weather will be bone-dry for longer than i can reasonably get away with, yet not send an e-mail of apology to the supplier. so far, i have sent two e-mails of apology to hilltrek.
that's not to say that i haven't managed to get it wet on more than a solitary occasion, nor that it hasn't been worn while meaningfully pedalling somewhere, but i'm sure you'd agree that a jacket of this provenance deserves a thorough soaking, preferably in the teeth of a howling gale, climatic conditions that have been conspicuous by their absence of late. that particular set of circumstances will have to wait until part two.
though available with a detachable hood (at extra cost), that would seem an unnecessary appendage from a cyclist's point of view, given that a substantial number of us would be inclined to wear a helmet in any case. if you intend adding one of these superlative jackets to your walking gear wardrobe, you may wish to take this under advisement. despite the double-ventile construction, the jacket is impressively light weight, meaning that wearing it even in humid conditions is far less onerous than its genre would suggest.
from a cycling perspective, the greenspot has a number of features in its favour, the most obvious of which is the existence of two rear (zipped) pockets. though sticking a mini-pump in one of those necessitates leaving it unzipped, in practice that's hardly much of a problem. ventile offers no stretch whatsoever, but that's hardly something unseen on a number of cycle jackets. and though the jacket displays no excessive degree of flappage even into a headwind, there are two adjustable straps to pull the torso a smidgeon tighter should you experience any while pedalling.
my blaze orange review sample is medium-sized, offering an excellent compromise between closeness of fit and the ability to add layers later in the year (when it's not quite so sunny and warm) it's perfectly comfortable in both the sit-up-and-beg position and on the drops. the latter position, however, showed up the one noticeable flaw; the sleeves are just a tad too short; another centimetre wouldn't have gone amiss. in mitigation, hilltrek offer the option of custom-length sleeves (at extra cost). definitely worth considering in my opinion.
in addition to the two rear pockets, the greenspot offers another four on the front: two vertically zipped editions up top, and two zipped hand pockets lower down. the collar is impressively versatile, allowing it to be positioned up or down depending on the prevailing weather conditions. the sleevs can be effectively closed to the elements by way of velcro straps. this is a handy and convenient method of controlling ventilation other than by way of the full-length two-way front zip. this hides a similar length ventile baffle behind to maintain the weatherproofing. it would have been nice to see a drawcord at the hem, but until the weather deteriorates, i can't say whether such a feature might be necessary.
i have managed to get the jacket wet, but not quite in the proportions that it is capable of sustaining. even in a brief, yet heavy shower, the rain simply beads on the surface and rolls off. pretty much any waterproof jacket worth its salt will display similar properties, but usually only as far as the first couple of washes. despite being of cotton construction, the washing instructions supplied by hilltrek do not allow for throwing the jacket in the nearest washing machine. dry-clean only at least promises that the waterproofing properties are likely to remain for the foreseeable future. it does, however, provide a minor problem for those of us who live nowhere near a dry-cleaner.
but i can't expect to have everything. right?
with a bit of luck, the heavens will open sometime soon, accompanied by at least an afternoon's gale-force wind and i can gain some quality time with a quality jacket that i really, really like. part two will be here when that happens.
hilltrek's double-ventile greenspot jacket is available in sizes xs to xl and a range of colours including bronze, red, black, olive, navy, stone and cinnamon as well as the blaze orange reviewed. price is £235. a detachable hood costs another £45. | hilltrek double ventile greenspot jacket
thursday 23 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at least within the confines of our sitting room, my aversion to numbers is all but legendary. this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, for the more this aversion manifests itself, the more i manage to convince myself that numbers are not my principal forté, and the truer it becomes. thankfully, this does not overly impinge on my ability to maintain a decent and accurate set of annual accounts, though the bulk of that task has been delegated to a rather efficient spreadsheet. assuming its operator inputs the correct numbers, all is well with the world.
this has occasionally become an awkward dichotomy, for i have long been enamoured with douglas adams' tale of ford prefect, the two-headed zaphod beeblebrox, arthur dent and marvin the robot with a brain the size of a planet. despite the cover of the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy advising the reader not to panic, the fact that the central premise of the book results in the answer '42' would seem, this, in my case at least, to be counter-intuitive.
this disinclination to align myself with the meaning of life, the universe and everything is countermanded by my early percussive career. i can deny it no longer that i am one of those individuals who displayed an early infatuation with so-called progressive rock, despite some of it scarcely being recognisable as rock and not always as progressive as its proponents would have had me believe. in the case of this particular musical genre, the bands concerned would rarely play in 4/4 when there was such a plethora off odd time signatures available to spice up at least one or two of their progressive manipulations.
it took only a few recordings from yes, genesis and king crimson to have my paradiddles inhabit bars of seven, nine and even 13 beats in the service of music that was probably only described as such by those on this side of the foldback monitors. sadly enough, i note that of late, my vic firth sds4 drumsticks seem to be once more expressing themselves in odd subdivisions.
but one particular number that has recently gained particular significance in relation to the world of the velocipede is '95'. this is not, as you would be forgiven for surmising, the speed in kph experienced by chris froome during a fast descent on the way to victory in the dauphiné, but the cost in pound notes of a world bicycle relief buffalo bicycle. one of those incredibly sturdy, yet immensely practical machines that the charity distributes to those in need within the african continent.
though you and i have the ability and often the wherewithal to festoon our slivers of carbon fibre with devices that will return any number of meaningful and yet meaningless numbers, such devices can rarely substitute for the sheer joy of riding a bicycle. in the case of those proud african owners of buffalo bicycles who can now ride to school, cycle to work, collect water on a daily basis and even nurse those in their immediate communities, 95 is the only number that seriously matters. however, it matters more directly to you and i, for world bicycle relief's latest challenge95 campaign is designed to persuade us to undertake any sort of fundraising activity, wheeled or otherwise, to achieve as many multiples of £95 as is practicable, providing them with the opportunity to deliver more buffalo bicycles to africa.
wbr see no need for you to do so all on your lonesome, providing online facilities to aid the setting up of a suitable fundraising page. with summer allegedly on the horizon, why not go out on your bike, enjoy yourselves with the aid of any gps, cadence or powermeter you care to mention and have friends and family empty their piggy banks in favour of your efforts and ultimately in favour of more buffalo bikes for the less well-favoured in africa. if nothing else, why not join us on august 6 for the ride of the falling rain and make the recommended voluntary donation of £10 to world bicycle relief?
one of a number of options.
photos: matt pierce
wednesday 22 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i mentioned at the beginning of last week that the king of scotland, jimmy mccallum was undertaking a 517 mile ride around the north of scotland in order to raise funds for thrombosis uk in memory of a young family member who died last year of the disease. i confess that, at the time, quite what that distance looked like on a map hadn't quite clicked; when the pr blurb referred to a route across the north of scotland, i had in mind something far less onerous than is/was actually the case.
starting and finishing in inverness, jimmy mac, assuming he was taking advantage of the usually prevailing south westerly winds and rode clockwise, headed across the country to applecross before heading north through gairloch, poolewe, ullapool and ultimately to kinlochbervie and durness before turning east towards john o'groats via dounreay and thurso, then south once more to reach inverness and the end of this particular purgatory. if i've misinterpreted the direction of his ride, simply read that lot backwards.
the fundraising target was a not inconsiderable ten thousand pounds of which a creditable £9,191 had been raised at the time of writing. however, if you read on for a few more paragraphs, you may feel encouraged to pop over to jimmy's just giving page and offer a few more shekels for the coffers.
my first meeting with jimmy was in the esteemed premises of rondebike in edinburgh's stockbridge. at that time he was a fully paid up member of the rapha condor jlt race team, and only a particularly well-timed remark from claire beaumont of condor cycles prevented me from making even more of a fool of myself than i ususally do. for i seriously wondered if this fellow wasn't taking fandom just a tad too far, arriving on a rapha condor jlt team bike and kitted out in every item of team clothing i believed was available at the time.
i hadn't recognised mr mcallum and was about to put both feet in my mouth when claire greeted the chap who had sat down opposite to join me in a cup of coffee, while he explained that he had just completed the day's training session. having met the fellow once more at a glasgow round of the revolution series and again at the british championships in glasgow, i can attest that his training regime appeared to be paying due benefit.
though now retired from active service and currently a directeur sportif at one pro cycling jimmy has obviously not let up on the maintenance of speed, undermining mark beaumont's existing record for the north coast 500 on saturday past by just over nine hours. the record stood at 38 hours; jimmy mac completed the route in an incredible 28 hours 57 minutes. though it does not lie with me to persuade you to contribute to jimmy's fundraising effort, if you have not already contributed, it would be a noble gesture to acknowledge this superhuman effort and at the same time support a charity involved in promoting awareness of a little recognised disease.
i have once more appended jimmy's just giving web page below. you know the drill.
tuesday 21 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................