i went out cycling with my 25 year-old son this weekend, a situation that may sound very workaday to you lot, but in this instance, truly something of a revelation. while in his teens and on delivery to yours truly of a colnago c40hp, i cut down the seatpost on my steel colnago superissimo to fit his smaller size, that we might both ride out to islay international airport. the ride, involving a mere 16km was one he was sure would be simplicity itself.
on the outward leg, that was indeed the truth, being pushed along by a breezy tailwind allowing for a modicum of social interaction as we pedalled. on the return leg, however, there was need of ploughing manfully into what had now become a slightly oppressive headwind. ever the caring father, i advised sitting on my rear wheel at all costs while i towed him homeward, being very careful not be a show-off and ride at a speed designed more to be impressive than nurturing.
after only a few hundred metres, i loooked round to make sure he was managing ok, only to find that he was behind by almost those few hundred metres. this process continued all the way home, with me having on more than one occasion to stop completely and wait on him to catch up. by the time we reached home, he went straight up to his room with "legs like jelly" and lay down on his bed for rather longer than you would hope was necessary for a reputedly healthy teenager.
though in possession of a mountain bike since his eighteenth birthday, until relatively recently, it is a bicycle that has received very little use. however, having given up smoking a couple of years ago and now intending to marry early next year, he has decided that, though perfectly slim, he had need of not so much improving his fitness, as actually acquiring some in the first place. though one or two minor excursions have been taken on the mountain bike, he had, of late, figured out that in order to extend his sphere of velocipedinal influence, a road bike would be a more purposeful ideal future.
thewashingmachinepost bike shed contains more than just a single bicycle; rather obviously, i cannot ride more than one at a time, so i offered him one on a semi-permanent basis (there's always the chance that this might be a fad) and after riding round bridgend woods on saturday morning, he on his mtb and me on a specialized crux elite 'cross bike, it was arranged that he would ride with me to debbie's for the start of the sunday morning ride on said loaner bike.
on the supposition that the 15km might be quite sufficient for one day, he figured he would take the return trip at his own pace, stopping as and when necessary. however, despite having persevered into a bit of a headwind on the outward leg, he was quite happy to join a diminished peloton for the bulk of the remaining distance, turning for home only as the rest of us headed back towards debbie's and that headwind. surely the very model of one who has taken rule #5 completely to heart?
there are remarkably few climatic conditions that will prevent the velo club from heading out on a sunday morn. granted, if the average windspeed exceeds 38-40mph, it would be somewhat foolhardy to venture west, but days on which that is the case are actually few and far between. what few of us would ever resort to would be setting up a turbo trainer in the kitchen, with a suitably energetic playlist on the ipod.
so it disappoints me even more than you can imagine, to read of the latest model offered by a well-known turbo trainer provider. according to the blurb accompanying said instrument of torture, it is (and i quote) 'the first ever free-moving electronic trainer, featuring an electronically controlled resistance unit, a massive flywheel delivering the highest inertia of any smart (?) trainer on the market, ultra-quiet operation, accurate and reproducible power data and a realistic ride feel'.
i mostly find that riding full-blast down uiskentuie strand into a galeforce headwind, trying painfully to hear that of which my compatriot may be attempting to converse, offers a perfectly realistic ride feel.. but, as you have probably already surmised, it does not end there. this particular model offers 'connectivity with any bluetooth smart-compatible device, each fully integrated with the next generation power-training app.'
the latter smartphone app arrives with a free six-month subscription, allowing riders to choose from more than 200 individual workouts and 28 specific training plans designed by professional coaches. all of which, of course, takes place indoors, in the safety of your own temperature-controlled central heating.
whatever happened to going for a bike ride?
monday 22 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have stated this on previous occasions, but nothing that has transpired since then has given me any cause to reconsider. sheep are undoubtedly the most predictably unpredictable animals on the planet. this may have something to do with both an alleged short-sightedness and the salient fact that they are hardly camouflaged in any way. if any of you watched the recent tv production about loch lomond, narrated by ewan macgregor, you would have become acquainted with the snow rabbits, animals whose fur alters colour to white during the winter, then back to a dullish brown when spring has sprung.
thus, in the colder months, when predators are anxiously and aggressively looking for food, those little bunnies are effectively hidden from sight while plainly in view. if you catch my (snow) drift? sheep, on the other hand, are white all year round, something of a stark contrast with green grass, a covering that has inflicted itself copiously upon this most southern of the inner hebrides. yet despite the fact that those in the field behind washingmachinepost croft rush eagerly to the sound of a quad bike when feeding time arrives, those met most often on uiskentuie strand are prone to running away from a bright orange/line green specialized cyclocross bicycle, even when its pilot shows no interest in their whereabouts at anytime.
the strand is a three kilometre stretch of grassy dunes that i frequent most often when on a 'cross bike, so you would expect a level of familarity to breed contempt whereby those sheep would be inclined to all but ignore my presence. however, i have ben advised by members of the farming fraternity, that shaun the sheep would be better off wearing spectacles. by this i infer that they really have no idea that it is me once more, thrumming my way through the grassy tussocks. it would certainly explain why they have an uncanny and potentially dangerous habit of walking in front of motor vehicles, seemingly unconcerned.
all this would be of purely academic interest were it not for the fact that, in common with many of us when given a real scare, sheep have a tendency to pepper the grass less travelled with little browny/green droppings, poops that are pretty darned difficult to avoid when carrying off one's world famous impersonation of jeremy powers. and given that even slightly knobbly 33mm tyres are possessed of rotational qualities, those little defecations are then spread all over the seat tube, down tube and seat post. i think most of us would agree that a bicycle thus decorated is most unlikely to garner new friends and compatriots outside the coffee stop.
but social niceties aside, there is a distinct possibility that such organic augmentation could also play havoc with the bicycle's paint scheme over a period of time, one that may result in odd discolourations and the inevitable scratched surfaces that result from use of aggressive cleaning techniques. how then to protect one's prized velocipedinal possession(s) from such manifest irritation?
there has long been the opportunity to purchase small, circular or oval plastic patches to site under brake or gear cables where they make contact with the frame, patches that offer protection from chafing. surely the simple expedient of enlarging those patches and configuring them to be applied over much larger areas of the bike ought to do the trick and without detracting from the colourfulness that encouraged you to purchase the bicycle in the first place?
the clever people at lizard skins, makers of particularly fine, grippy bar tape, have obviously come across flocks of sheep in their own perambulations, for true to form, they have produced a comprehensive set of clear, sturdy stickers with which to protect not only the possibility of frame-rubbing cables, but larger, cleverly designed stickers that offer protection for the underside of even the largest of down tubes as well as the hapless rear section of the seat tube.
i have had one set of these affixed to a specialized crux elite for a matter of several weeks, only a couple of dirty finger marks (should've washed my hands first) alerting the onlooker to their existence. the kit consists of two large and two medium patches, three small and two large frame protectors, all for the princely sum of around £32. a small price to pay for maintaining a sense of chromatic elegance. and if the clear stuff ever becomes too shabby, it's a (relatively) simple case of peeling it off and applying a new protection sticker.
sunday 21 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the sports presenter of radio four's today programme made mention only the other day that, if british cycling's olympic track team was a country, at the time it would have been thirteenth in the medal table. irrespective of your thoughts on the validity of such an expensive track cycling programme, it would be a foolish person who denied that the riders had excelled in their task of bringing home as many medals as they could get hold of, with a distinct preponderance of gold coloured ones.
though our country may not be awash with velodromes, the recruitment plan in place and the subsequent training offered in manchester has surely to be the very best in the world when it counts. thus, since the games in beijing and london, britain has arguably been the best in the world. however, on the road, we've scarcely been setting the world alight, despite the undoubted success of team sky in the tour de france, and not forgetting the late inclusion of the superb steve cummings.
bringing froome to the top step of the podium in july was a masterstroke, one that team gb attempted to repeat in the olympic road race but without success. perhaps the ideal of having a nominated leader, with all others dedicated to a planned victory is not the ideal strategy when the team consists of only five riders. apparently uci president brian cookson is considering a similar setup in the grand tours to make the domination of one team less of a repeatable situation. time will tell.
however, with ride london gaining upgraded uci approval, jlt condor team manager john herety subsequently called on british cycling to instigate and support more high profile domestic racing to prevent the widening disparity between uk riders racing at uci continental level and the pros comprising the world tour circuit. personally, while i think mr herety is absolutely correct, i'd go even further than that. it is going to be hard to instil or maintain the level of obsession with road-racing without high level professional races being held on british soil.
granted, we have the upcoming tour of britain, a stage race that has grown in quality and popularity year on year. even the televising of the event has improved considerably to the extent that a helicopter is now used to provide similar footage as seen in even the minor european races. and who could forget the two days in yorkshire graced by the tour de france in 2014? perhaps inspired by the latter, the guardian newspaper has been offering a t-shirt featuring an outline of yorkshire imprinted with the word right and the remainder of the uk subsumed with the word wrong. they may be more correct than they originally thought.
on thursday of this past week, welcome to yorkshire headed up by sir gary verity, he who brought the tour to northern england, announced their bid to attract the road world championships to yorkshire in 2019. while i cannot deny that this came flying out of left field, it is one of the best pieces of cycling news that has come our way this year. the tenacity of yorkshire in continuing to identify itself with high profile professional cycle racing is more than admirable.
every race that reaches britain's shores seems inevitably to end up in london for at least a day without any serious effort from the capital. but rather than rest on its laurels, which i figure yorkshire would be perfectly at liberty to do, the county keeps pushing and pushing for velocipedinal approbation and excellence, a trait for which it ought to be highly recommended. the mighty dave t has often told me "you can always tell a yorkshireman, but you can't tell him much.", words that he may be forced to eat should this latest bid be successful.
Sir Gary Verity said, "It would be an absolute honour to host the 2019 UCI Road World Championships.
"Yorkshire has everything a bike race could wish for. We can promise a gruelling but spectacular range of routes, huge crowds and the very warmest of welcomes. We are sure the world's best riders will find our beautiful roads both challenging and exhilarating in equal measure.
"We've turned the county yellow once before, and now we want to see it swathed with those coveted rainbow bands."
and in the process, yorkshire may just provide the impetus required to foster the uk's next wave of successful road cyclists. boys and girls who will become every bit as obsessed as are we, but with the physical wherewithal to do something with it.
well done yorkshire.
saturday 20 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if you have read chris boardman's autobiography, you will have become acquainted with his supervisory position at the head of the secret squirrel club, to all intents and purposes a room in the depths of manchester velodrome in which all manner of top secret bicycle kit would be thought of, assessed and implemented. those developments were of a clandestine nature, kept away from the prying eyes of even the more senior managers at british cycling, lest the competition get wind of team gb's strategy for either the olympic games, or world championship track racing.
apocryphal tales of chainrings costing £10,000 and carbon frames constructed at all but unheard of prices have circulated for many a long year, used both as justification for the substantial amount of lottery finding received by british cycling's track team and a stick with which to beat it for spending so much money on bicycles et al. there's no doubt that mr hoy had the power output to give any agglomeration of nano fibres a hard time and he did, at one time, strip a fixed cog from a rear wheel during a particularly energetic standing-start. money has a tendency to solve such problems.
i confess, i had some sympathy, not so much with what i figure is a ludicrous amount of money simply to win metal discs, but with the pursuance of excellence in a similar manner to that of your average formula one team. the resulting track medals won in london, 2012, assuming that's what floats your bicycle, if nothing else, more or less proved their expensive point. but then, as rio loomed ever closer, those bespoke carbon frames were cast aside in favour of an array of cervelos, bicycles for which i would assume british cycling paid very little, if anything at all.
i can't help wondering why the original bicycles, strenuously defended at the time while all other nationalities were astride commercially available machinery, are suddenly persona non grata in team gb. happily, their commercial substitution certainly does not seem to have hindered the national team in the recently completed olympic track events.
however, whether the frame says great britain on the downtube or cervelo, is somewhat academic when considering the utilitarian requirements demanded of less ostentatious bicycles. bicycles that are more readily considered to be 'engines for economic and cultural empowerment' and cost a far more economic $134 (£102) each. yet the difference that a world bicycle relief buffalo bicycle can make in the world, is arguably far greater than laura trott's remarkably small cervelo.
i can only but surmise that with regard to this velocipedinal situation, i may well be preaching to the converted. world bicycle relief most recently embarked upon the self-evidently entitled malawi: wheels in the field campaign, designed to fund a total of 2,000 bicycles and enable their education campaign in the african state. i say this because, according to the wbr website, the current total of bicycles securely funded is 3,100. that equates to a total of approximately £316,200. british cycling probably spend more than that on tubular tyres in an olympic year.
matthias is studying mathematics and english at school and enjoys playing soccer with his pals. every day, he walks 16km (about ten miles) to and from school each day. older boys sometimes steal his stuff, perhaps explaining why he'd like to become a crime-fighting soldier when he's older. a wbr buffalo bicycle would not only speed his journey to and from school, but offer some protection. it would also allow him to pick up some goods for his family at the market.
in malawi, the average time taken to walk to and from school is four hours; 70% of the country's population live on less than $2 (£1.50) per day and 57% of school students fail to complete even primary school. there are any number of reasons for the latter, but time and distance often take their toll, many female students losing the ambition to remain in full-time education due to the hardships involved in attending in the first place. arriving late and tired after a six kilometre walk to school means that many struggle to prevent themselves from drifting off or falling asleep in class. bicycles will mean fewer absences and more time in class.
world bicycle relief may have aimed to fund 2,000 of their buffalo bicycles and ended up with 3,100, but i'm fairly sure they'd be every bit as happy if that number reached 5,000. so, if you've bought a lottery ticket that helped fund team gb in rio de janeiro and you've enjoyed the fruits of their success, miss out on buying a lottery ticket this week and send the money to world bicycle relief. or if that's too risky, buy the ticket anyway, but send the same amount to wbr. if nothing else, it will balance a small portion of the world's yin and yang and help a lot of people in malawi who could scarcely afford the cost of this week's comic to read of team gb's success.
friday 19 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
last year i was moved to research and write an article for our local newspaper regarding the apparent need for the building of more housing to satisfy local demand. this in itself may hardly seem worthy of putting pen to paper or fingers to wordprocessor keyboard, but the situation was not, or appeared not, as straightforward as it seemed. for we had been coincidentally informed that the population of argyll and bute region had been in decline over the preceding decade, dropping by an average 10% across the region. those figures, it transpired, were every bit as applicable to islay as to the rest of argyll.
at the point of moving to the isle in 1987, the population was recekoned to be around 3,500. the declining numbers have now put it at 3,200. so why then were there more public and private houses being built than at any time during the previous 28 years? investigations were required, the results of which were featured over a one-page article in the paper. i will spare you the tedium of my findings; i fugure this is one of those situations where you really needed to be here.
but now a similar conundrum has presented itself in the velocipedinal world, one gleaned from perusing the trade press as we famous members of the cycling media are wont to do. i should point out at this stage that i have a less than rudimentary grasp of modern economics and the apparent confusion may only pertain to yours truly. those of a more educated standing will probably have read and moved on to more pressing matters.
you may recall yesterday that i was keen to point out that british cycling had increased its membership from 15,000 in 2005 to an eye watering 125,000 in 2015. this part is quite easy to comprehend, for there can be few amongst us who have not been exposed, however briefly, to the so-called wiggins effect. the bearded knight of the realm has been not only acknowledged as the saviour of two wheels in the uk (and not only in the sporting milieu), but quite likely progenitor of a mamil resurgence, if local sightings are anything to go by.
so, in the face of what even the mainstream press have been happy to praise as the rise and rise of cycling in the uk, a contention with which it is not hard to agree given the above increase in numbers, why are two of the country's principal cycle retailers experiencing economic pressures?
after ten years of trading in manchester, edinburgh bicycle co-op have closed their most southerly branch. granted, at least part of this misfortune can be put down to the ending of their lease, but as edinburgh bicycle co-op's managing director, jeremy miles stated "...with market conditions as they currently are, we did not feel it was wise to continue in what has been a difficult location." surely the market conditions to which miles refers cannot be the very same ones that have brought an eightfold increase in the membership roster at british cycling?
perhaps my admitted deficiency in the rudiments of economics has placed me at a serious disadvantage in attempting to grasp the intricacies of the situation, an explanation with which i'd have been inclined to have some sympathies were it not for a second and somewhat similar occurrence involving evans cycles. evans owns and operates 63 stores in the uk and has been in the hands of its current owners eci partners - to whom it was sold by active private equity - for just over a year. its pre-tax profits for the financial year ending 31 october last year dropped by £3.1 million. this has necessitated eci partners refinancing its bank loans due to what it descibes as 'difficult market conditions'.
what i'd like to know is how those 'difficult market conditions' appear to have had a detrimental effect on the fortunes of two of britain's principal cycle retailers, yet dramatically improved the number of new members joining the uk's two major cycling organisations. according to a quote from sir chris hoy, mentioned in yesterday's article "cycling is truly booming", even though his own brand of hoy bikes is exclusively sold through evans cycles.
or have i missed something?
thursday 18 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
british cycling, of which i am a member (though solely for the third party insurance that comes as part of annual membership), is currently basking in the glory of having a current membership in excess of 125,000. according to their figures, more than 75,000 have joined since 2012, coincidentally the year in which london's olympic games took place. the inference, i would surmise, is that the so-called wiggins effect is responsible for this dramatic increase in their membership numbers, alongside the concomitant improving interest in cycling as a whole.
it may also be inferred that, with the new members heading predominantly towards the uk's sporting body rather than cycling uk (previously known as the cyclists' touring club). the current membership of the latter stands at around 67,000 and though there are folks who belong to both, i doubt there is too much of a crossover. it would not, therefore, be too unseemly to figure that it may be the sporting milieu espoused by britain's road and track success not only at the 2012 olympics but at the tour de france that has encouraged this distinctly non-traditional enthusiasm for cycling.
according to sir chris hoy "The fact that 75,000 people have joined British Cycling since 2012 shows that cycling is truly booming.
"I know the inspiration from Rio will compel thousands more to join us. The great thing about cycling is that it offers something for everyone, however you want to ride." to place this all in some sort of perspective, british cycling's membership was a mere 15,000 in 2005.
i, along with many thousands of others, have been all but glued to the bbc red button channel, offering wall to wall track cycling since last weekend, ably commentated upon by the partnership of simon brotherton and olympic pursuit gold medallist, chris boardman. some of the qualifying rounds have barely reached the level of watching paint dry, but the heats and finals have provided some excellent and exciting racing, even if much of it is all over and done with in a matter of seconds.
milan san remo or paris roubaix it definitely isn't.
however, in truth, track cycling has inherited at least a small part of the persona attached to freestyle bmx or even those chaps who fling themselves upside down on quarter pipes at public events and cycle shows. you know how clever it is, you know how much training is required to achieve such a level of skill, but it's hardly the sort of thing you'd try at weekends.
the fact that the bicycles are mostly designed to fulfil a particular purpose, with only a single fixed gear and no brakes, makes them largely unsuitable for the sunday morning ride. i am reliably informed that taking your specialized cyclocross bike to manchester velodrome just to 'have a go' is likely to meet with stern disapproval. and though cycle sport prides itself on the ease of rider access afforded to the average fan, it takes just one look at the velodrome in rio to realise just how far from the competitors are the spectators.
this latter aspect seems mostly true at all the world's velodromes, offering tangible evidence of one principal difference between road cycling and track cycling. granted, those who live within easy travelling distance of a velodrome can benefit from taster sessions and regular opportunities once the knack has been acquired. however, the only indoor velodrome in scotland is situated in glasgow; not ideal for those living in aberdeen, inverness or even the hebrides. so if i have been inspired by the sprinting prowess of callum skinner...
though my point is seemingly (and incontrovertibly) vague and ever so slightly pointless, it is ironic that one of the least accessible modes of the sport is being acclaimed as the principal reason for a dramatic increase in the membership of the uk's cycle sporting body, particularly when only a small percentage of that membership participate in racing at either amateur or professional level.
it's a funny old world.
wednesday 17 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i'm given to understand there are portions of the country currently experiencing what might possibly be termed a heat-wave, days of shorts and t-shirts are quite probably numbered. naturally enough, there is an obvious disparity between north and south that has nothing to do with economics, but pretty much everything to do with weather systems. even yesterday, when the hebrides were indeed bathed with warming sunshine and few cotton-wool clouds, there was still enough of a south westerly wind to keep temperatures cooler than would be experienced in the deep south.
though i have no wish to be depicted as a killjoy, there will be rain, quite possibly lots of it and most likely sooner rather than later. despite studies informing us that cycle commuters will, on average, get wet only seven time per year, i seriously doubt any of that study was undertaken on scotland's west coast. i have managed to get wet seven times in one day, and i seriously doubt i am alone.
however, the question must be asked whether, based on the above survey result, is it worth arming ourselves with not only a full-range of waterproofs, but those of better quality rather than just making do? naturally enough, your mileage will vary on this subject (pun intended), but assuming you view the results of the survey with a similar level of contempt as do i, your thoughts more likely centre around how many waterproofs to acquire and of what order.
let me make plain that, in this particular instance, we are considering garmentage that is specific to the art of commuting, rather than that more directly aimed at the pelotonese. the absolute minimum ought surely to be a waterproof jacket, preferably of the breathable variety in order to avoid the notion that one has just experienced a mobile sauna en-route to work. aside from personal comfort, consider your workmates who may be less than impressed with a steaming, malodorous executive in the boardroom.
a second consideration would surely be a pair of similarly breathable waterproof trousers, with all the trimmings to allow for keeping all well away from spinning chains and chainrings? the majority i have come across feature a calf-length zip to facilitate the wearing and removal of without compulsory discarding of footwear. and i'm glad you mentioned that, for shoes have, until recently, been my bête noir. i have arrived at clients' houses, comfortable in my upper dryness, only to sit for an hour or two in an unheated room with damp and cold feet.
though many of the world's cycle clothing purveyors offer a wide range of overshoes, the majority are designed to cover cleated shoes, but rarely a pair of stylish, tan-coloured, leather brogues. what's a style icon to do?
fortunately, the accurately named showers pass of portland, oregon, as part of their commuting range, offer practical, if less than sartorially desirable waterproof overshoes. these comprise nylon fabric uppers, joined to relatively hard-wearing textured soles, zipped at the rear and aided and abetted by velcro ankle straps to adjust the fit. should cleats be a part of your armoury, 'tis but a simple matter of cutting appropriately sized holes in the soles. additionally, there are enough reflective offerings to remain visible after dark.
though placing waterproof trousers outboard of the overshoes would seem the most logical way to proceed, the ankle width is sufficient to tuck the trousers inside.
though the club shoe covers did all that was expected of them, in this case sat upon standard platform pedals on the sit-up-and-beg taurus corinto, you'll never win any style awards thus clad. additionally, though i pulled the velcro ankle straps as tightly as i could, there was still more flapping about when walking than i would truthfully have preferred. this surely has much to do with the size range covered by the covers? the majority of my cycling shoes are size 44, while my civilian footwear is generally 43 (no, i don't understand either). that room to manoeuvre generated what might reasonably be referred to as flappage
the size requested from showers pass was the large which, according to their website, is capable of encompassing shoes of 43-46. while on the bike, there really was no problem whatsoever and the footwear within remained as dry as a bone both top and bottom. but with no disrespect intended, i'd be reluctant to walk the streets while wearing these. perhaps the size below would offer a deal less spare capacity, but in view of the salient fact that they are designed to keep footwear dry while cycle-commuting, it would be hard to overly criticise. however, i'd prefer something offering a closer fit round my brogues.
showers pass club shoes covers are available to accept shoes from size 36 to 49 (small, medium, large and extra-large) in black only at the attractively economical price of £22.
tuesday 16 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................