i may have mentioned it once or twice in the passing, but my years of further education were spent within the confines of an art college, the design of which was allegedly based on that of the chicago art institute. assuming this to be true and not simply a vile rumour passed amongst first year students to throw them off the scent, chicago's art building must surely have ordered several square kilometres of glass.
the college at which i was a student shared its grounds with a school of architecture, yet throughout all my years, i failed miserably to comprehend whetever it is that inspires the average and not so average architect. when it comes to housing schemes, i can understand the budgetary constraints that rarely allow for personal flourishes, but in the case of individual buildings such as the art college under discussion, i'm none too sure why it was found necessary to emulate a previously built example on the other side of the atlantic.
there was, however, a fatal flaw in this verisimilitude that surely ought to have been given a few more moments of consideration; namely, ventilation. it transpires that, between each floor in chicago was a relatively sophisticated air-conditioning system, negating any need to install windows that open. when the scottish version of this building reached completion, it had been decided, for reasons of economy i am led to believe, to omit any form of air-conditioning. after all, this was the north-east of scotland, so how warm could it get?
consider, therefore, a building composed principally of glass on a sunny day; i think you can see where i'm going with this. so, in retrospect, with an honours degree in hindsight, it became necessary to fit windows that could be opened to compensate for the complete absemce of air-conditioning. as i have said, this could have been a wild fabrication to which i and my fellow students fell hook, line and sinker, but it does sound like the sort of thing that has a ring of truth about it.
however, such possible iniquities were all but lost on students supposedly concerned with more existential matters such as the meaning of life, the universe and rose madder pigment. partly out of necessity, partly out of periodic poverty and partly out of an innate sense of exhibitionism, the majority of us were dressed very much at odds with the fashion of the day. if i may be permitted to point out that at least one fashion strain at the time pertained to the ankle length tartan trousers sported by the bay city rollers, you might be predisposed to grant a modicum of leniency.
it can be worn as a badge of honour by some that they defy the common notion of fashion, whether applied to apparel or personal looks. but ultimately, we're all adhering to some derivation of the fashion industry, even if that can be classified as unfashionable. the latter designation offers personal solace that we are not swayed by the predilection of the masses. if everyone else uses microsoft windows, then i'll use a mac. if pinarello is flavour of the day, maybe a colnago is a viable alternative.
but those of us of a velocipedinal persuasion are, dare i say it, fashionable right now. the guardian newspaper regularly features the catwalk shows from the world's high profile designers, currently displaying their 2017 collections, the appeal of which pretty much passes me by. and over the past few days, the cycle industry has been striding its own catwalk, offering the designs and components that we will hopefully all drool over for next year. and in similar style to those of the fashion industry, a great deal of what has been seen in feiderichshafen won't be in the shops for a month or two yet.
some buck this trend; the specialized crux elite reviewed only a matter of days ago forms a part of the company's 2017 range, even though this is still 2016. it seems almost the same as receiving october's copy of procycling at the beginning of september. eurobike will be followed by interbike, followed by, well, all the world's other cycle shows. depending on nationality, certain product launches will be held over from one to the next, but mistake me not; not only is cycling fashionable, it is inherently tied to the vicissitudes of the fashion industry.
brilliant, isn't it?
photos courtesy of eurobike.
monday 5 september 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when i was in primary three, a class i had joined after moving south from aberdeen where i'd lived from eighteen months old, i recall that on one of the large windowsills sat the class radio. this took the form of a large wooden box fronted by a circular, brass coloured grill, below which sat two knobs; one of those was for volume, but as a primary three pupil, i've no idea what the other one was for.
at indeterminate points of the school week, we would all put our books in our desks, sit back with folded arms and listen to an allegedly educational bbc schools broadcast. one of those weekly listens involved a narration of beatrix potter's peter rabbit a book currently enjoying animated visual popularity on cbeebies. the principal reason for this age-old recollection, specifically related to peter rabbit, was my knowledge of the proper name for a rabbit's tail.
for those of you oblivious to the correct delineation for this furry appendage, let me inform you that it is properly called a scut and this particularly moment has stuck in my mind because i was the sole pupil in a class of 45 who actually knew that. i think most of us remember times when we were praised.
but what is most noteworthy about this memory is not the actual subject, but the fact that i can so clearly recall a minor event that happened well over 50 years ago. if you were to ask me what i had for tea last monday, despite stopping for a moment's reflection, i'd be unable to tell you. it is no wonder that the reminders app on my ipod is used so frequently.
the downside to this seemingly random action of my personal operating system is mostly what it remembers and what it doesn't. there truly seems no rationale to its selectivity, though i know from my friends and colleagues that in this, i am not alone. that said, a lack of specific recall does field the occasional silver lining.
as many media outlets, including this one, are keen to remind us, the cyclocross season will soon be upon us. only just yesterday did i receive an e-mail from rapha, introducing recipients to ellen noble, team-mate for this season of the inestimable jeremy powers. for a couple of seasons, powers has ridden alone in a team of one, but ms noble has the distinct privilege of joining jeremy to create a team of two, though rather obviously they will not be racing together.
scrolling through this rapha hosted feature brings the reader to a brief section entitled slow down to speed up, a mantra that, if rigidly enforced, would likely suit the majority of those riding a bicycle. however, in this case, it refers to practicing the art of mounting and dismounting. as the commentary states "When out riding, it is normal for Jeremy Powers to meticulously practice his dismounts and remounts. Seeing a rider of his caliber break down a motion to its constituent parts is enlightening - seen only at full-flight, the complicated skills of a cross race can seem impossible - but it's also a reminder that even the best have to slow down sometimes."
at this point we return to my selective memory. despite remembering rabbit's tails from more than five decades ago, the period of time that has intervened since last cyclocross season has removed my ability to re-enact precisely that which jeremy has been fastidiously practicing for his own season of mud, sweat and gears. yes, i can remember how it's done, i just can't remember how to do it (if that makes any sense?).
so, very soon, i'll make use of my trusty allen key to lower the saddle on the specialized crux elite and wheel myself back and forward over the same patch of muddy grass (a soft landing is preferable), practicing the skill of leaping aboard and remembering to unclip when jumping off. it is a time-consuming process, particularly for those of us bereft of talent, and knowingly allied to the fact that i don't actually need to be able to achieve either skill. but it's something i'd really like to completely master purely for personal satisfaction and so that i might have at least one thing in common with jeremy powers.
then all i have to do is remember how i did it.
photos by andy bokanev
sunday 4 september 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the original guys at pdx cross were my 'proper' introduction to cyclocross. perhaps not the traditional way in for a european (we'll leave the politics out of this), substantially closer to european mud than that of america's pacific northwest. but, accepting that what it is, is what it is, and being handed a copy of the clevery entitled dirty pictures, pretty much sealed the deal.
that was some eight years ago now, in days before i'd realised there was such a specific item as a 'cross bike, days filled with obvious lashings of mud, but also with cantilevers rather than today's ubiquitous disc rotors. on the basis that one thing almost inevitably leads to another, i then found sven nys and the almost godlike adulation that followed his every 33mm tyre track. cyclocross is a comfortable place to be.
however, my decade of 'cross appreciation pales into insignificance against the thirty-four years of participation by the inimitable richard sachs. i claim only fandom; i have yet to pin a number to my back and making any attempt to field a placing at the end of an hour's worth of scrabbling for position. and at the risk of repeating myself, that is very unlikely to happen anytime soon. richard, on the other hand, is not only responsble for building and fettling the bicycles on which he rides, but also those of his fellow team members.
well, apart from the lovely debs and buddy the dog.
but notions of ownership are not first and foremost. though richard may fulfil the position of general factotum, even to the point of acting as pit crew when he himself is spared the muddy accelerations, he doesn't regard the richard sachs cyclocross team as solely his. "It has always been ours - an organization comprised of dedicated and enthusiastic racers and the support team system that allows it to exist."
the list of sponsors that appears on the richard sachs cyclocross team website is lengthy, almost rivalling those of many a second division italian road team. but the principal difference here is that of honour. though any form of sponsorship contains a percentage of commercial interest, the relationship between the two sides of an e-ritchie lugged steel frame is one of commitment on both sides. "The team is a family. The wind behind our sails has always been the long list of sponsors and industry brands who keep us well-oiled."
it is common practice in all strains of competitive cycling to ensure that those agglomerated as a team, ought best to present a similar face, so to speak. this is mostly dealt with by identically matching jerseys, shorts or, in the case of cyclocross, skinsuits. after the ravages of the previous season, a new set of apparel is pretty much de rigeur, particularly if a sponsor has moved elsewhere or, better still, joined the fold. the richard sachs cyclocross team is no different; well, maybe slightly, in that once the design has been finalised, mr sachs is happy to offer his international following the opportunity to pre-order identical clothing to wear during their own 33mm adventures.
i'd imagine this to be a compulsory addendum to any owner of a richard sachs bicycle.
until a few years back, everything sachs was red and white, but on the basis that older is wiser, richard had the fine fellows and fellowesses at house industries revamp the team's entire public image, from individual bicycle colours to the striking green and cream team kit now available for order. if you're keen to 'join' dan chabanov, sam o'keefe, libby white, brittlee bowman, richard, debs and buddy in their 34th year of cyclocross, e-mail email@example.com before 15 september, using the subject line 'dress like us'. a short sleeve jersey costs $110 (£83), long-sleeve $130 (£130) and the winter jacket is $170 (£130). you can find a sizing chart here.
"there is only one reason we go to races. we owe our souls to give good brand. it's a gift to be in each other's lives, racing cyclocross & having our support and camaraderie. let's represent, make lifelong memories & race."
friday 2 september 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the northern tip of ireland really isn't that far away from the southernmost tip of islay. i've been there on a couple of occasions; once in 1998 via the now defunct campbeltown - ballycastle ferry and more recently in 2014 to witness the first stage of that particular year's giro d'italia, a race that took a distant break from its italian home for three days at the beginning of the event. true to form, on the latter occasion, it rained the entire time we were stood by the roadside, eagerly awaiting a bedraggled peloton who all looked as if they'd have been far happier to be cycling in italy, a sentiment not necessarily shared by the predominantly irish spectators.
though this trip was undertaken on board a chartered fishing boat, bicycles were never part of the equation from a personal point of view. however, that 1998 trip was somewhat more of an expedition, when two of us rode from ballycastle ferry port all the way to the capital of eire in dublin for the commencement of a tour de france that was beset with controversy after the arrest of festina's willy voet and his mobile pharmacy. on the plus side, it did offer the opportunity to witness not only eventual winner marco pantani arriving dead last in the prologue time trial, but the lion king, mario cipollini in the second-day's sprint at a speed i didn't realise could be achieved on a bicycle.
certainly not by me.
that second stage, if memory serves correctly, took the riders out round the wicklow mountains, but as in the case of almost every cycle race, the guys on the bikes scarcely had time to admire the view. personally, that's rarely a problem and i'd imagine that's just as true for the the majority of us. in which case, there's little denying that ireland offers some fabulous bits of countryside in which to ride a bicycle. my nineties tour de france trip traversed pretty much the same route north to south, so i've only had the opportunity to see bits of the country. believe me, the principal dual carriageway from south of the border into dublin is probably one you'd want to avoid. i wish i had.
however, if i accept my island home as centre of the universe (which we all know it be anyway), there are two directions in which i'd be more than happy to ride my lightly festooned (think rapha's brevet style luggage) bicycle; north to the outer hebrides and south to ireland. it may yet happen. i have several pelotonic colleagues who have done the former and can therefore advise me on where and where not to go, but south...? well, i'd be riding by the skin of my cambium.
in which case, i was rather encouraged to come across county sligo's ocean sands hotel, not just because their accommodation looks rather enticing, but because they've had the seriously good sense to compile what i believe is referred to as an infographic, referencing ten of what they describe as the 'best cycling routes in ireland.'
these have been conveniently categorised into short routes (25-56 miles), long routes (52 miles - 125 miles) and lastly very long routes for the inveterately intrepid (230 miles - 1,708 miles). i cannot deny that the latter is very unlikely to appear in my list of potential itineraries, though the ocean sands has listed it as not only family friendly, but dog friendly too. naturally enough, it would be foolhardy to set of to ride the wild atlantic way based on the minimal information posited by the infographic, but then they have thoughtfully appended this graphic list with a series of weblinks offering more specific directions and information.
personally speaking the opportunity to ride on ireland's west coast is one i think will be succumbed to, for climate wise it's not too different than that which i'm used to and if heading south west, as would seem the logical thing to do, the ocean sands hotel could well be an ideal base from which to start. after all, they were nice enough to point out ten of the good bits.
thursday 1 september 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a frequent member of the velo club peloton has signed up for a two-week intensive bicycle mechanics' course, mostly to satisfy his own inquisitiveness and growing mechanical aptitude. for though several of the course specifics cover more recent technical developments in the road bike genre, such as hydraulics, electronics and the like, there really are insufficient numbers of cyclists on the island to make offering this level of expertise anything like a commercial reality.
until relatively recently, i have thought myself to be pretty much au fait with the intricacies of the modern-day road bicycle. this would have once included aspects of mountain biking life, but when they started to get clever, adding hydraulic disc brakes and big springy bits front and rear, the level of knowledge, skill and cost of the necessary tools to maintain such technology, pushed that particular talking point out the front door.
road bikes were (and i cannot stress that word strongly enough) at one time, relatively simple. just a matter of choosing frame and componentry before joining the two together in one sleek package that would last forever and a day, unless something broke or your premium bond number came up. life has changed substantially since then; it is far easier to purchase a complete bicycle these days than was once the case, making it simpler for each and every factor to be considered, matched, built and sold to an adoring pelotonese.
of course, all that has meant such iniquities such as integrated headsets, press-fit bottom brackets, (potentially) hydraulic discs, thru axles, all of which have made road bikes lighter, definitely stiffer, probably more fun to ride and almost definitely easier to buy. i have railed manfully against most of the foregoing improvements and i'd love to have been able to review just such a bicycle and find fault after fault that would justify my single-minded castigation. unfortunately, in almost every case, bicycles bearing such modern-day trinketry have turned out to be pretty darned excellent.
but whether or not you agree or disagree with my stance for or against this inveterate tinkering, the chances are, it's not going to disappear anytime soon. and faced with just such an inevitability, it behoves us well to accept it into the fold and learn at the very least, the basics of its operation.
this does not undermine my previous assertion that the tools required to keep everything in tip top condition might well rival that of the cycle's purchase price, but i am firmly of the opinion that every cyclist should hold a rudimentary understanding of each component on their own machine. if you have the ability to fettle when things go awry, so much the better, but comprehension will not only improve a personal sense of confidence, but make you look considerably less of a numpty when stood before the bike shop counter when in for repairs.
speaking from personal experience, nothing comes across less impressively when informing the shop mechanic that you need a new back wheel when in point of fact, you are referring to the inner tube (true story). nor, indeed, will the selfsame mechanic feel compelled to invite you round for dinner or out for coffee when you inform him/her that your bicycle seems to be 'making a noise'.
conversations that begin with "i fear my bottom bracket bearings may be in need of replacement. i noticed more than just slight lateral play in the crankset prior to yesterday morning's bike ride." might even result in a job offer. a propensity to utter such technically inflected words will gain you brownie points in the majority of bike shops throughout the world; not needing such approbation doesn't absolve you in any acceptable way.
so, as the part of the year that encourages mechanical malfeasance in the most remote part of the bike ride hoves into view, now might be the very time to enrol in a nearby bicycle mechanics course, or order a copy of publications from the esteemed lennard zinn, or guy andrews and rohan dubash to better educate yourself as to the processes that up till now, have made cycling so much pleasure.
don't believe anyone who insists that ignorance is bliss.
wednesday 31 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
only a few days ago i reviewed a set of lizard skins clear frame protectors which i had applied to the carbon tubes of the specialized crux elite, a bicycle that took up a fair number of pixels only yesterday. the notion of so doing was two-fold: it enabled me to review a submitted product and it kept that brightly decorated bicycle in pristine condition after more than just a few tussles with bramble bushes, wayward gravel and a liberal dosing of sheep poo.
until someone creates an integral ultrasonic device that divests all tubing of attached grubbiness at the flick of a switch, the frame protection kit will probably have to suffice.
which is something of a damning indictment against yours truly. i well recall the days when a grubby bike ride would be immediately followed by a period of dedicated cleaning, unless of course there was precipitation in the air. it's not as if there's a shortage of bicycle cleaning products on the market after all. yet those days are really only something of a distant memory. granted, a summer fraught with many months of dry, if not sunny, weather has scarcely created an onerous level of scruffiness on any of thewashingmachinepost bicycles, including those of a cyclocross persuasion.
the raggedy towel sitting just inside the shed door has been employed mostly to wipe a thin crust of dry dust from all manner of frame tubes, though i can confirm that my obsessive need to keep the chains all shiny and bright has not diminished. having once spent an entire day riding a review bike with a bone-dry chain and no opportunity to add a touch of lubrication has made me fretful that i will be mid-peloton and the object of derision due to a high-frequency transmission.
however, as billy connolly once mentioned, 'the nights are fair drawing in, are they no', an oblique reference to the onset of autumn followed by winter and the concomitant darkening of the evenings. this is not to suggest that dark evenings in and of themselves will make the bicycle dirty, but i'm sure we're all grown-up enough to link autumn and winter with rain and wind. and that, boys and girls, is when the bike gets dirty.
so, in a manner similar to that of my leaving myself constant reminders on my ipod, i'm more or less pointing up the fact that my tardiness in the bike-cleaning realm will soon have to change, always assuming that i'd like to keep my bicycles crud-free and at least modestly maintained. several (not least mrs washingmachinepost) have suggested the acquisition of one of those pressure washers, the very device, i am assured, that would make cleaning the bike what i believe is referred to as a 'no brainer'. certainly i have witnessed efficacious use of such machinery in the pits at super prestige and world cup cyclocross races and possibly behind the mechanics' truck after a spring classic or two, so the proposers may well have a point.
however, though mindful of the time-saving properties of such methods, it seems perilously close to cheating, if such a concept can be applied to bicycle cleaning. surely the process ought to consist more of copious use of aerosol degreasers, stiff brushes, soft cloths, polish and more than just a minimal amount of elbow-grease? maybe that's just the protestant work ethic beginning to surface once more?
however, though i may have written the foregoing as a personal reminder, as a favour to you all, i'm offering it as one that might save the world from more than just a few sunday morning, crud-infested bicycles just because you (i) forgot to clean it after the previous week's ride. we're all keen enough to clad ourselves in the finest of sartorial offerings from many a cycle outfitter; let's not spoil the effect aboard a clatty bicycle.
photo courtesy balint hamvas ©2014
tuesday 30 august 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................