there are, it has to be admitted, a rather conservative number of cycle routes in the principality. on a land mass of around 34km top to bottom and only a smidgeon less side-to-side, that's pretty much inevitable, and there are only so many kilometres of two-lane and single-track tarmac that can be fitted into such a compact and bijou space. several of these roads, if not quite derelict, have certainly seen traffic numbers decrease over the years, as the domiciled families that once made them a necessity are no longer resident.
according to common lore, the population of argyll and bute, of which islay is a part, has been dropping steadily over the last decade. allegedly, islay has succumbed to a similar trait. it's a hard situation to reconcile in the light of the amount of house-building that seems to have taken place recently, but there's no getting away from the fact that many of the ageing housing stock from islay's original settlements of the late 19th century have slowly but surely succumbed to the malady known as second homes.
some of these are occupied perhaps a couple of times per year, purchased by particularly well-heeled individuals, predominantly from south of the border, but possibly more of them have transformed into holiday accommodation, frequently occupied, but only for a week at a time. at this time of year, many of what now feature mostly as conduits for farm traffic and the occasional visitor who failed to read their map correctly, are a tad busier than is the case during the increasingly minimal off-season.
only last week, as we rode with two visitors from out of town, one of them mentioned how few cars we had come across on our perambulations, thus invoking a variant of murphy's law during which we met more motor vehicles in one kilometre than we'd seen over the course of the morning. but relatively speaking, islay traffic is far lighter than is the case on the mainland. island life means that the island's road network is scarcely used as a means of travelling somewhere else.
and we are no different than any other velo club, plying their local routes of a sunday morn, in that we think nothing of complaining about the state of the road surfaces as if it was a pre-condition of cycling in the first place. of course, this complaining rather innocuously takes the form of moaning amongst ourselves; only in the case of the knocklearach cattle grid of a few years past has it necessitated putting pen to paper. but there's little denying that those roads, such as they are, provide islay with at least a portion of its riding character.
the remaining part of that character is offered up by the weather.
for the so-called bumpy bits are all round the eastern edge of the isle, forming, if you like, foothills to the paps of jura. though gradients are not totally absent, much of our riding pleasure is conducted over relatively flat ground. the wind is endemic; i have waxed overly lyrical across the past two decades of its many iniquities, yet combined with untrammeled rain it offers succour to those of us convinced of our flandrian heritage, undermined by the simple fact of being born in the wrong country.
yet a july weekend punctuated by more rain than the word summer would tend to suggest has been perversely enjoyable. it really is a truism that there is no such thing as bad weather, only poor choice of apparel.
the french alps, the pyrenees, the appenine are all regions of europe frequently visited by intrepid cyclists, keen to test their mettle against unrelenting gradients and endless kilometres of descending. yet despite such attractive pelotonic terrain almost on our virtual doorstep, the number of cyclists visiting islay seems on the rise (though i have no hard and fast numbers to prove my tenuous contention).
perhaps the flandrian genus is more widespread than originally thought? or maybe today's folks consult the weather forecast less often than is prudent? if tom boonen's reading, we'd be more than willing to welcome him on a sunday morning training ride.
monday 11 july 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i believe it is incumbent on uk members of parliament to declare any business or personal interests they may have that could conceivably compromise their position with regard to parliamentary business. in a corollary to that, i feel it only right and proper that i declare what you might call a personal disinterest in that which follows. do not mistake my purpose in so doing; this is not because i find the subject of this review to be trivial, but more that its intended purpose is rather unnecessary in this neck of the woods.
it would be foolish to pretend that no-one on islay has had a bicycle stolen at sometime in the past, though more often than not, said bicycle has been discovered the following morning in someone's front garden. when exiting the pub on a friday or saturday night, a random bicycle has apparently often seemed the ideal way to make it home in timely manner.
however, though the local police force may be able to advise otherwise, i am unaware of anyone who has had bits of their bicycle stolen. such as a saddle for instance.
this appears to be the principal thrust of selle royal's ta+too interchangeable saddle. available in three distinct flavours, the ta+too consists of a top and bottom that are not permanently affixed to each other. while the saddle rails clamp to a standard seatpost in the regular manner, under the plastic base is a removable clip which, when let loose from its place of residence, allows a round panel to be twisted, thus loosening the saddle top from its base. the next part of the deal is that you take it with you.
the circular panel incorporates a triangular key which, when removed, prevents anyone else from nipping off with the best bit of the saddle. unfortunately, all the above has need of taking place under the saddle which, while far from impossible, can become a bit of a faff at times.
even loosened from its bottom part, the interchangeable section is not the smallest of items; handbags need not apply. however, the seatpost with the base will still be in situ in the seat tube and i believe that the usual means of making off with a saddle is to remove the entire assembly from the bike. i'm surely not the only chap to have seen seatpost-less bicycles padlocked to bike racks in the big city. therefore, with the greatest of respect to the folks at selle royal, the ta+too would seem to me to be a solution searching for a problem.
selle royal commissioned three artists to create limited edition saddle tops, my review sample featuring an original design by italian illustrator roberto hikimi blefari, who apparently goes by the more user-friendly moniker of hikimi. each design has been produced in a limited edition of 100, the specific number relating to each being marked on the underside of the comfy bit. once more, i find myself somewhat mystified, for while riding, rather obviously, no-one can view the original, limited edition design and when you park the bike, you're probably going to take the top with you.
a bit like a picasso hidden away in a private collection.
however, aside from the ability to to remove the top and presumably swap it with others in the series, no saddle is worth any amount of money unless it functions in the manner you'd rather hope it would. and in this aspect, selle royal's many years of saddle making ensure that it is not found wanting.
the ta+too is not the style of saddle i would usually fit to any of my bicycles. overall, it's just a bit on the tubby side, with a squishier constitution than is generally found on the average ten-speed racer. appearances, however, can be miselading. at the point of writing, i've ridden over two hundred kilometres on the ta+too and my bum has personally thanked me for it. granted, its form factor is not ideal for extended riding in the drops, but i think it more than likely that this is not its intended purpose. i found it just a smidgeon too soft for my liking.
as mentioned above, the ta+too is available in three models, ranging from €70 up to €80 for the limited edition reviewed. at the current rate of exchange that's roughly between £55 and £65, hardly an onerous amount to pay for any saddle in my opinion. therefore, even if i would still question the whole point of the exercise, whether or not you feel the need to take your saddle with you when off the bike, it's actually rather a good saddle with a nice design on the top.
sunday 10 july 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there is a feature beginning on page 86 of the current issue of rapha's twice yearly journal, mondial, concerning the design and manufacture of fast clothing. given that a substantial proportion of the aerodynamic drag acting on a bicycle plus rider pertains to the latter, it is surely not unseemly that those at the cutting edge will seek to minimise this effect as much as possible?
however, at that particular point, the old enemy compromise begins to enter those mathematical equations. it may be true that the professional rider has very little say in that which he/she is provided by way of competitive apparel, but anything truly out of the ordinary, no matter how efficient, might be something of a hard sell to those of us who have to pay for the wardrobe (so to speak).
of course, there will always be a group of individuals happy to suffer slings and arrows if it means they can win the club ten on a wednesday evening. as if the svelte carbon, disc wheel and tri-spoked front were insufficient to mark you out as competitive. however, i can't help thinking that this is the point at which comparison can be made between digitally downloaded music and the currently reviving trend for vinyl.
let's face it, the majority of us participate in bike rides that feature, at the very least, one coffee stop, establishments hosting customers who might feel a tad uncomfortable sitting adjacent to a rider clad in a skimpy skinsuit featuring dimples all across its surface. decorum suggests that there is indeed a sartorial line which ought not to be crossed, even in the search for the ultimate espresso.
though such developments in the world of cycling apparel are fascinating in and of themselves, i fear i may have entered this world around ten years too late, for i cannot deny a hankering for a wool jersey on which the sponsor's name(s) is embroidered rather than dye sublimated. in a modern world that expects something new every day and a professional world of cycling that must append or lose sponsors' logos overnight, i can almost hear the sigh of relief exhaled when polyester gained the upper hand. but truly, there is little more comfortable and more velocipedinally admirable than an embroidered merino wool jersey.
there have been several offerings available that fit the above description ever since wool disappeared from the professional peloton, but none, i'll wager, as authentic or as attractive as the current range from belgium's magliamo. let's face it, the very fact that they originate from belgium gives them a colossal head start. though there are several designs featured in the magliamo catalogue, i opted for perhaps the obvious by way of the black and brown molteni alimentari jersey as worn by eddy himself.
lest you snigger at my conventionality in the face of exotic optionality, i had in mind that there lurks in the bikeshed a molteni coloured colnago master that surely complements magliamo's merino wool to perfection. always willing to suffer for my art.
available in either short sleeve or, as reviewed, long sleeve, this is, as cyril lord once proclaimed, 'luxury you can afford'. the quality is beyond reproach, both in the jersey's construction, weight, fit and embroidery. granted, i possess barely a fraction of the character described by the cannibal, but aboard the orange colnago master with a merckx casquette 'neath my helmet, i cannot deny the occasional delusion of grandeur.
collar and cuffs feature the rainbow stripes, the former offering a good home to the quarter-length zip. the torso length is commensurate with that of the period (ie, longer than today's shorter professional cut), but three capacious rear pockets still allow the carrying of an essentials case, digital camera, mini pump and waterproof stowaway or gilet, all this without the hem dropping closer and closer to the rear tyre.
however, the open secret attaching to such wool-based luxury is not only its affectation with the halcyon days of yore, but the sheer joy of wearing it both on and off the bicycle. there are several contemporary cycle jerseys in which i feel perfectly at home when sat facing a family of four sheltering from the hebridean rain in debbie's of a saturday afternoon, but magliamo's vintage molteni alimentari has a je ne sais quoi all of its very own.
beauty, perfection and authenticity all in one jersey.
magliamo's diederik degryse very kindly sent me a pair of molteni bar end plugs to fit the colnago, for which i cannot thank him enough. magliamo also offer a range of cycling t-shirts, merino track tops and merino wool winter caps, a molteni example of which i intend to make mine when the weather turns more foul. long and short-sleeve magliamo jerseys retail at €109 (around £85) | magliamo merino jerseys
saturday 9 july 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in a couple of months, i will once again be occupying the best seat in the house at the islay jazz festival, when i'll have the opportunity to fool myself into thinking there's a direct line of descendency between yours truly and art blakey. to those less than enamoured with this particular musical genre (and that unfortunately includes the bulk of islay's population), it can seem a particularly difficult music to comprehend, displaying none of the trappings exhibited by daniel o'donnell, alvin stardust or adele.
as one whose introduction to jazz was by way of 1960s max roach and john coltrane, i can, to a certain extent, sympathise with any potential misgivings. but i'm pretty sure that even those who declare an affinity with thrash metal have one or two bands with which they are less than enamoured. similarly even the anodyne world of pop music about which i thankfully know very little.
however, the latter style of music displays a commonality in its almost ubiquitous choice of four beats to the bar as the underlying rhythmicality. four beats are easy for anyone to understand, whether the soing occupying the space is to their liking or not; four beats, even at speeds hitherto unheard in polite company, make it easy to dance to. the advent of so-called jazz-rock in the 1970s, more recently dubbed fusion, brought a whole host of obscure time-signatures to the attention of the great unwashed, predominantly, in my opinion, to demonstrate a musical versatility on behalf of its practitioners that ultimately became an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.
in other words, showing off.
the result was a perceived need by drummers, guitarists and keyboard players of the 1970s to acquaint themselves with numbers other than two and four. though i have since come to see this faux complexity for what it truly is, i cannot deny that my former familiarity with odd time signatures looks as if it might become my friend for at least one of the tunes that we, as the islay jazz quartet intend to offer on the evening of 9 september.
i will only offer the clue that it involves five beats to the bar.
it is a factor that straddles both my percussive machinations and the two cycling disciplines which i treat with the same disdain as thrash metal, namely time-trialling and triathlon, for both are similarly (sort of) concerned with time. the latter discipline i consider in the light of velominati rule #42, while the former is probably outside of my limited abilities and thus not to be taken seriously (by me, that is). yet, though many bicycle distributors stock only minimal numbers of any cyclocross bicycles, it seems the same cannot be said regarding time-trial bicycles, machines that have a remarkably singular purpose.
this was all brought to my attention by the arrival of planet x bikes' announcement that they can now offer the world's speed merchants and those who care not one whit for rule #42, three new slivers of carbon fibre on which to practice this need for speed.
essentially the same bicycle in three different flavours, i'm probably not the only individual arguing with myself over whether time-trial bikes such as the planet x exo3 are a delight to behold, or simply the cycling world's ugly ducklings. those of us in thrall to the minimal tubes featured on a steel frame such as an eddy merckx liege 75 might point mockingly at the faired head tube adjoining a down tube on which council tax is probably due. but then time-trial bikes have a need to slice through the air in a manner that would ultimately lead to the top step of any podium you care to mention. and that apparently calls for drastic aerodynamic measures.
like many a bicycle these days, the existence of three distinct frame builds caters to varying depths of pocket, so to speak. thus, the race edition at a penny under £2,500 features sram's force eleven speed, while the most expensive (£3,999.99) pro edition has shimano's dura-ace to aid targeted victories. frankly, there's not much other than triathlon or time-trialling these assemblages of carbon composites and lightweight alloy can accomplish. i think it less than likely i'll see a member of the velo club arriving at debbie's of a sunday morning riding a planet x exo3 pro edition time-trial bicycle anytime soon.
but, on the other hand...
friday 8 july 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
hopefully someone in the audience will have greater powers of recall than have i, but i'm sure i remember watching a black and white british film made in the 1940s featuring the weekend outing of a cycling club in the days when the bicycle was king and the motor car not yet at the head of the transport hierarchy as is the case today. though obviously viewed through rose-tinted glasses, those seemed like the halcyon days of yore, when the daily toil was tolerated simply to afford the delights of a velocipedinal weekend.
but of course, this was cinema, where arrangements can be made to portray any activity in whatever light decreed by the film's director. though i can remember neither the name of the film, nor indeed the specific narrative thereof, i do not recall any lengthy period of inclement weather either. rain, according to statistics, will only affect cyclists on seven days per year if cycling to and from work. but as one individual once commented "is that per week if resident in wales?" i think the latter is eminently transferable to those of us living on the west coast of scotland.
if nothing else, it offers succour and justification to those spending a large portion of their incomes on wind and waterproofs.
though perhaps not quite as onerous as those of us domiciled in the area would have you believe (or maybe it is), a wet and windy west of scotland is now a description pretty much endemic in guide books to the area. a visitor to the office only the other day was relaxed enough to comment "we don't holiday on islay for the weather" which, in our opinion, was a fairly healthy mindset to hold.
the finest upshot of this knowledge and expectation is the joyous celebration of anything resembling warmer and drier weather, even if heavily overcast, but dry. though many of us would proclaim an enduring optimism, i would tactfully query that suggestion. no matter how long or short any period of decent weather, it takes no time at all to run into someone locally who will advise of how soon the return of rain or wind is likely to be. in short, no-one can enjoy good weather because they're always looking for the next bout of the crap stuff.
however, on the basis that every silver lining has a cloud, this parochial view of the weather offers an ideal marketing solution to our annual august bike ride. many of you will already be well-acquainted with the 'ride of the falling rain', one hundred miles around the principality on frequently less than savoury road surfaces and, all being well, copious amounts of precipitation. it is the latter that provides what can only be described as a marketer's dream. if the weather is warm and sunny (as you might tend to expect in the month of august), then that can be seen as nothing other than a bonus. should it rain as advertised, well, we did say.
though we in the velo club are well aware that the weekends are awash with cyclo-sportives, many with terrain considerably more challenging (and thus offering greater bragging rights) terrain than rotfr. but most of those who return year upon year are endeared with our complete lack of an entry fee (though we do respectfully suggest that each rider donate at least £10 to world bicycle relief) and no feedstops whatsoever other than at ardbeg distillery's old kiln café. neither do we feature timing chips, free t-shirts, water bottles, medals or certificates nor any other paraphernalia associated with more grown-up events.
though 100 miles are on offer for those keen to prove their mettle, the ride of the falling rain also offers a shorter, less trying conversational ride, for those who'd simply like to savour island cycling with some idle banter thrown in for good measure.
why am i telling you this? well as of yesterday, there's only a month until the grand depart at 10am from the new bicycle rack at debbie's café on sunday 6 august. and on the off-chance that i've just provided information that has previously passed you by, that means just under four weeks to arrange accommodation and book the ferry. if you're a stalwart in the saddle and intend to arrive by bicycle, calmac don't charge for the bike, nor do they require pre-booking. or perhaps you're awash with cash and will arrive by aeroplane, in which case, you're going to have to book space for both bicycle and self with flybe at glasgow airport. that said, the last flight to islay from glasgow is on saturday morning, 5 august.
of course, the portent of wind and rain might not be your thing, in which case, enjoy any sojourn you may have planned in the europe we're apparently in the process of leaving.
thursday 7 july 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
after making mention of shimano's latest edition of their dura-ace groupset a few days ago, i received a piece of correspondence from a colleague of mine, pointing out a little-known, yet significant detail pertaining to one of the groupset's components. though the uci are currently considering their position on allowing disc brakes in the pro-peloton, one of the potential benefits of rotors as opposed to calipers is the former's ability to cope with any width of tyre (frame clearances not withstanding).
so while this latest upgrade to one of the world's finest groupsets is ready, able and willing to embrace what we're continually told is the future of stopping, its more traditional counterpart has taken a step backwards. well, steps of between two or three millimetres. for my colleague was keen to point out that the tyre clearance afforded by the r9100 calipers had been reduced by those very dimensions. that is either a convoluted means of pointing potential customers in the direction of shimano rotors, or an error of judgment on behalf of the japanese industrial giant.
as i've mentioned at least once before, i currently have a set of challenge strada bianche tyres fitted to my ibis hakkalugi, rubber that tops out at an impressive 33mm. the very width favoured by sven nys, jeremy powers et al, albeit with, in their case, a somewhat chunkier tread. i can think of few, if any, road bikes that would cope with such substantial width of rubber, however, cross bikes are designed to cope with tyres such as these and the fsa cantilevers are happy to cope.
impressively enough, my colnago master copes with slimmer, yet girthful rubber; in this case a very comfortable paris-roubaix 28mm. the frameset and front forks afford excellent lateral clearance front and rear, but i cannot deny that the clearances under the sram red calipers, particularly at the rear, are nothing if not wafer-thin. once or twice (or thirty), the occasional fragment of gravel has caused unsavoury grating where once there was none, but overall, 28mm is remarkably ginger peachy on roads that are no longer akin to anything like a billiard table.
apparently testing carried out by at least one or two of the world's top tyre companies has shown that, contrary to popular lore, wider tyres offer better rolling resistance than the narrower options that used to be dogmatically (self) imposed. though i can recall etixx quickstep boss, patrick lefevre claiming that he didn't pay his riders to be comfortable, i'd imagine that the number of us in possession of an etixx quickstep contract to be remarkably few. and though the occasional burst of speed has not been entirely unheard of (it's all relative), many of us would favour at least a modest degree of comfort over an ultimate attainable turn of sustainable acceleration.
i know i would.
so, while i would hasten to call this a shameless attempt at shimano-bashing, i think perhaps osaka's finest ought to take a closer look at the tolerances offered by their design department and re-calibrate their brake caliper building machine. assuming such a device actually exists.
we're almost all wide-boys (and girls) nowadays.
wednesday 6 july 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
saturday's weather was not the most clement we've experienced in recent weeks, but if i'm honest, i rather like it that way. i've often been heard to say that, were it not for the wind and rain, there would be a lot more people cycling on islay. but for those of us who like to pretend we have a hardy, belgian heritage, it's the difference between cycling and cycling for softies. however, always preferring to err on the side of optimism and rather than cycle directly home after lunch on saturday, i opted to take a slightly more circuitous route involving a short, sharp climb at the beginning.
the first twelve kilometres occupy singletrack roads, so other than the occasional passing places, should i come across motorised traffic, there's nowhere to go. as i puffed and panted towards the summit of the climb, i was aware of a vehicle behind me and signalled that i was intending to pop into a passing place on my left a few metres ahead. yet for reasons i can only attach to a sense of holiday impatience, the driver sounded his horn a couple of times.
however, i cannot pretend to be the sole cyclist on the receiving end of motorist frustration; it's a frequent occurrence, particularly at this time of year. so i carried on in my sloth-like manner heading ever homeward. further on, i was once again aware of a following vehicle, sufficiently far behind that i had time once again to pull into a passing place well before the car reached, allowing it to pass unfettered.
at the point of overtaking, we'd both reached a pleasant descent near islay's rspb reserve at gruinart, but as i once more accelerated to escape velocity, the driver suddenly braked in the middle of the singletrack road, for no apparent reason, but surely aware that i was riding behind, leaving me nowhere to use as an escape route. a locked rear wheel and one or two bad words brought me to a halt once more but a few metres from the back of the car, before the driver decided to carry on down the hill. at the foot of this descent, the driver indicated left and pulled off the road, leaving me to continue on my merry way.
at which point, i saw yet another car heading in my direction. remaining courteous to the last, i signalled to pull into the nearest passing place, only to see the driver pull into a passing place nearer him and flash the lights advising me to continue. quite intriguing to view both sides of the argument, so to speak.
thus, in the manner of the earnest school headmaster, let me ply you with a modicum of advice, hard won in the name of self-preservation. on singletrack roads, only ride two or more abreast when there are no cars behind or oncoming in front. with cars approaching from behind, there is always a speed differential, so i believe it is uncumbent on the cyclist(s), to pull over at the first safe opportunity. as to oncoming vehicles, the honour system really ought to come into play, for the speed differential is no longer valid (in my opinion).
it would be nice to think that, if the oncoming driver was nearer a passing place than you, they would do the decent thing, but i generally work on the assumption that they won't. your mileage may vary. if they drive past a passing place despite being obviously aware of your presence, the best you can manage is to keep well to the left of the road. there's really no point in visually or verbally expressing your displeasure, becasue it won't change anything.
two abreast on a two lane road is perfectly legal where road conditions allow, a designation that is admittedly a tad subjective, but on the basis that cars buses and trucks are a darned sight larger, heavier and faster than anyone on a bicycle, i'd prefer to err on the side of keeping myself safe, even if that includes a concealed level of righteous indignation.
swallow your own self-importance and if it's a busy road, then ride single file.
by way of example, we in the velo club have gone out of our way to make sure we do not hinder the progress of the articulated tankers that ply islay's roads virtually 24 hours-a-day, transporting the pot ale from the distilleries to a collection tank at caol ila. these guys are working; we're only playing. the result of such velocipedinal courtesy has meant that the drivers of those tankers now make every effort to keep us safe, by remaining behind till we can safely remove ourselves from their path and, on occasion, pulling the tanker into a passing place to let us past simply, because they were closer to a passing opportunity than were we.
rather obviously, our experiences on islay are not necessarily transferable elsewhere, but since riding on singletrack roads is a large part of our existence. if it works for us, it might well work for you. bluntly put, there are always going to be idiots: some of them drive cars and some of them ride bicycles.
stay safe and don't be an idiot. at least, not on a bicycle.
tuesday 5 july 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................