there will be one or two of you well acquainted with that of which i am about to elucidate along with a substantial number of others who know not of what i speak and, to be quite honest, could care less. however, bear with me for a paragraph or two and hopefully all will eventually fall into place.
adobe photoshop is a quite phenomenal piece of software offering endless possibilities for pixel-wrangling, software that has a rather steep learning curve, but one that can be used by the innocent to reasonably decent effect, if all you need is a smidgeon of sharpening and a brightening of a rather dull image. but one of its magnificent features, as far as yours truly is concerned, is referred to in photoshop nomenclature as layer masks. i do not propose to delve into the innermost secrets of this feature, but a basic explanation would surely not go amiss?
basically speaking, by placing one image atop another in two separate layers and adding a layer mask to the topmost edition allows a relatively simple means of combining individual aspects of both images. painting on the layer mask with black reveals all below, while painting with white achieves the opposite effect. thus, in those wedding photos (for example), where auntie maud was still in the bar when the family photo was being taken, assuming a separate image of auntie exists, it is possible to add her into the group photo almost seamlessly. and should a less than steady hand overshoot the mark at any point, it is a simple matter of switching to white and removing the error before going to print.
the possibilities are endless.
however, far from wishing to provide an online tutorial in the more arcane facets of photoshop, what i want to ask is "how did they know?" by 'they', i mean adobe's software engineers. how could they possibly have known of auntie maud's proclivity for sloe gin and lime? and having found out, how did they manage to provide the very means of remedying the iniquity of this previously private family secret?
there is no other answer to this query that makes logical sense other than there being a class of individuals occupying a different intellectual strata than the majority of us. i can surely not be the only fellow who asks how come carbon fibre exists, who figured out that it was not only possible to balance on two inline wheels, but to race the darned things. and faced with a large tibetan animal sporting less than the bare minimum of social graces, who figured out that its wool could be carved into the very item to wear beneath a sportwool or polyester cycle jersey? i have watched more than my fair share of documentaries concerning the tibetan plateau, the remoter parts of which are always host to the yak. but across all thos years of viewing, i can honestly say i have never once thought of fashioning a baselayer from the wool.
islay, as a repository of agricultural know how, is close to being overpopulated with sheep; we come across the woolly blighters on each and every foray into the hinterlands. shearing wool from domesticated animals and spinning it into very long threads that might eventually become a rather stylish sweater, seems a lot more obvious than photoshop's layer masks. that may well be the result of hebridean socialisation; perhaps the tibetans are of similar mind, but given that the foothills of everest are not renowned for their quality cycling parcours, it's still a bit of stretch.
however, peak to plateau founder stefan warnaar spent some time living with the nomadic yak herders in just such an inhospitable region, often feeling cold and wet and figuring he could probably improve on the insulation abilities of that which he wore. with winter temperatures frequently dropping as low as -40 degrees, he figured that the wool that kept the yaks warm would probably do likewise for the human population. after some twelve months working to develop a yak wool fibre of suitable constitution and ensuring the promise of a regular supply, peak to plateau has taken the final plunge and started its very own kickstarter page to help bring three variations of yak wool garments to an eagerly awaiting public.
with the weather having turned colder and wetter just recently, i can't see too many folks arguing with the need for a decent layer of insulation when on the bicycle.
you know the drill.
monday 14 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have a glaringly obvious disconnect in my relationship with cyclocross, one that almost seems comparable to admitting you don't like riding up hills. even lord carlos of mercian, who holds a perennial argument with gravity, thinks nothing of heading to the hill at storakaig if ever the sun shines on a sunday morning, so perhaps i ought to adopt rule#5 and just get on with it. because i have this love/hate relationship with mud, not due to any difficulty in negotiating the gloop, but more due to its negative impact on my sartorial elegance.
there is a rather marvellous track leading from caol ila road end all the way to ballygrant, one that parallels the main road, but on the other side of a dry stone wall. its chunky gravel surface is ideal for the development of bike handling, free from any muddy coating, but the true cyclocross means of reaching its beginning involves pedalling through ballygrant woods, a route that is fraught with mud from the very beginning.
so, if i am all but besotted with the discipline and astride a suitably featured specialized crux, what possible contention could i have with a little bit of mud? there are two different, yet related answers to that.
firstly, in order to review any cyclocross related apparel, you will surely agree that even a modest level of offroadedness is required, though preferably a great deal more. at this time of year, when the 'cross routes are festooned with peppa's muddy puddles and squished landrover tyre tracks, more than just a modest portion is likely to end up attached to my person. though we are all accustomed to watching cyclocrossers disguised as the creature from the black lagoon after only half a lap, i cannot but think photographing garments thus decorated is not the ideal means of accompanying the reviewer's words.
there are ways round this, but that would surely mean a level of pre-planning that has rarely featured in these black and yellow pixels.
and then there is the ever-present danger of negative public approbation. of pragmatic necessity, the majority of reviewing responsibilities take place over the course of a weekend, days when a necessitous visit or two to debbie's is a compulsory consideration. though i'm sure aileen is too polite to make mention of my trailing half of bridgend woods across her café floor, i cannot deny that i have noticed fellow patrons preferring to sit a smidgeon more distant than usual. be honest, if you were out for a lunchtime coffee and a toastie, would you be happy sitting next to a mud-dripping, lycra-clad individual while trying to decide which slice of carrot cake would fit on a standard side plate?
so while i adore the joys of scrabbling along the sheep tracks on uiskentuie strand after thundering through a phalanx of puddles and mud in the woods, i feel i am over-sensitive to the implications of so doing, implications that have tempered my undoubted skills (?) off the beaten track.
of course, when the weather has been dry for more than just a few days, when riding through the woods elicits no more than a minor dust storm and the crux elite's fluorescence has been dimmed due to a coating of sandy consistency, froth supping and image-making have me appearing as a responsible human being. a bit like the conditions that seem recently to have been pervading the town of portland, oregon. after a recent series of images and videos in celebration of glorious mud, river city bicycles' chris distefano more cheerfully pointed out "There's just something about knowing you won't be shivering by race's end that puts everyone at ease for the day."
i could not agree more.
sunday 13 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's no denying that last weekend's rouleur classic favoured the velocipedinal elite, or at very least, those with a more than modest disposable income. this could be seen from the level of bicycles sitting on each of the stands; all those from specialized eschewed their maker's name in favour of being emblazoned with s-works, bicycles that sit at the very top of the range. similarly those from colnago and you really don't want to know the price tag appended to the frame and wheels on the lightweight stand. i am very glad that my credit card remained a recluse for the evening.
i am not, however, meaning any of the above as a criticism. in comparison to the amount of money spent on motor cars, for example, i'd imagine that the spendthrift pelotonese are towards the lower end of the scale. if i might be allowed to illustrate, the little card offering directions around victoria house featured an advertisement for one of the sponsor's (maserati) vehicles; a maserati ghibli retailing at £52,725 on the road. should this not deplete your bank balance sufficiently to offer suitable bragging rights, it could be easily augmented with metallic paint at £660 and a set of alloy wheels for £2,205. this would have skimmed my credit card just a tenner under £56,000. suddenly that £7,500 s-works doesn't look so bad after all.
the cost of owning a maserati ghibli would, to place all in a more pelotonic context, equate to more than fifty rocket espresso machines, assuming you opted for the apartamento model, though as with everything in life, it's possible to minimise that ratio by moving up the espresso ladder, so to speak. however, probably in keeping with the luxuriously upholstered driver's seat in the ghibli, the espresso obtained from a rocket device is amongst the finest in the world. i can attest to this first hand, having been presented with just such a beverage on the prendas stand at the rouleur classic.
sharing the same twenty years as thewashingmachinepost, mick and andy had invited andrew from rocket espresso to share a retro themed space in bloomsbury as a result of their joint association since 2014. for those two years, rocket and prendas have offered a rocket espresso milano range of clothing, with £10 from each sale being donated to the dave rayner fund. so as the fund prepares to hold its annual dinner this evening, mick, andy and andrew are proud to announce that to date they have donated £18,000 to its well-being.
however, rather than rest upon their collective laurels and bask in a well-deserved glory, prendas have brought yet another admirable retro jersey and accompanying bibshorts back from the dead. this time it is from britain's heritage in the shape and colours of the raleigh banana team, a team for which dave rayner rode in 1988 and '89. once again, £10 from each sale will go towards the rayner fund and the jersey and shorts ought to be available next month, just in time for christmas.
so while cycling might have been positioned as the new golf along with a concomitant financial investment, it's a sport and activity that has an excellent reputation for looking after its own, a trait married to a sense of sportsmanship that i'd venture is rarely equalled elsewhere. this also reinforces my long-held contention that if prendas didn't already exist, we'd need to invent them. and on the basis of only one rocket double-espresso in london, that goes for them too.
saturday 12 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
some of you will laugh at this and in truth, i might join in, but it was not so long ago when i would frequently receive e-mails inviting me to the launch of a new website. the implication was, i believe, that a new website on the interwebs was something to sit up and take note of. i can even remember when the amazon website (usa only; it hadn't made it this far at that point) featured a disclaimer asking users to keep their arms inside the browser while searching and that no pixels had been harmed in the making of their website. since those days, pixels have carved out a far greater sense of importance in daily use.
websites nowadays are, to coin a phrase, 'ten a penny', though i'll admit most cost just a smidgeon more. announcing a new website is possibly the equivalent of informing your workmates that you are wearing a new pair of shoes. to a certain extent, the same could be said of cycle jerseys, items of velocipedinal utility that all but impinge upon the mundane. that, of course, is surely to undermine the design and technology that goes into the average cycle jersey worn on the world tour stage. with riders often now targeting specific events, the competition is proportionally greater, logically leading to a greater level of physical and mental stress placed upon the team leaders and their domestiques.
when the cycling is hard enough already, the last thing you want to be concerned with is how hard or simple it is to pull up the zip to display your sponsors' logos when first across the line.
the recent book from the pen of guy andrews made mention of greg lemond's efforts to improve the remuneration of the average professional. the uci regulations enforce a certain minimum wage for each strata of professional, from continental, through pro-continental up to those competing at world tour level. however, if mr lemond has increased the wage bill, a greater level of sponsorship has had to help pay for this, some of which comes via the team clothing sponsor.
so, aside from wishing to gain a suitable return on investment, the world's cycling apparel providers can but do so, not simply through association, but by promulgating technical improvements at the behest of the pros, subsequently to offer to the great unwashed. but just like any form of sponsorship, there comes a time when the investment has been satisfied and it's time to move on. such has been the case with team sky who, having raced their final event clad in rapha, are now looking forward to wearing castelli for the 2017 season. the launch of this commercial change took place at last week's rouleur classic, where the new jersey gained its first public outing.
but not everyone sees the need for change. as castelli garnered a few column inches on thursday eve, scotland's endura did likewise on friday afternoon, when they revealed the largely unchanged movistar kit for next year, having recently extended their contract with the spanish team. in this particular case, as endura's jim mcfarlane told me "The changes are more in the technical spec and surface texturing technology for the team riders than any revolution in print graphic design." this is a situation that will probably become more and more common as the years progress. though a change of logo is probably as newworthy as a new website, it's a relatively rare occurrence, meaning the appearance of last year's jersey won't be all that different from this year's. but considering that the rider is the biggest hindrance to aerodynamic nirvana, garment technology is likely to be a substantial factor in nearing that goal.
the majority of us might have all but exhausted the secret part of our bank balances that acquires new kit for the cycling wardrobe, but it would be a less intriguing (and comfortable) world if they'd called a halt when eddy retired. there's no need to hang out the bunting the next time someone announces a new jersey or pair of bibshorts, but a smug grin when froth supping wouldn't go amiss.
friday 11 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
with no intended disrespect to those who earn their living from the practice, i don't have a great deal of time for pundits. in the good old days of yore, when satellite tv was still in its infancy, eurosport simply presented the tour de france with commentary. if you'd no idea what was going on through central france, it was a simple case of figuring it out, or paying close attention to the commentary in the hope of gleaning the necessary information as the race transpired.
however, along came british eurosport and the world of cycle racing changed, but in my opinion, not for the better. suddenly a studio appeared at the start middle and end of each race, featuring the fellow better known for curating italy's serie a soccer coverage with a minimum of two of cycling's more adept protagonists, discussing often at great length, which of the peloton were in form, who might be favoured by the day's parcours and who they'd each tip for victory. well, to be bluntly honest, i really couldn't give a monkey's.
depending on who forms eurosport's commentary team, i've lately opted for the channel showing only the cycling, utterly bereft of commentary. or if that's not available, simply turning the sound off. this is not because i have an eagle eye that can expertly identify individual riders from the helicopter shots. nor indeed, am i particularly well acquainted with the members of each team. more often than not, when a lone rider emerges from the sprint with arms aloft, i've no earthly idea who that rider is. and i'm none too sure that, at that particular point, i actually care. for the onscreen info will soon enlighten me.
if i have decided to endure the post-race punditry, the participants will either congratulate themselves on having correctly predicted the victor, or mire themselves in contradiction to find a face-saving means of absolving their previous ineptitude. either way, whatever anyone has said, left unsaid or excused themselves for having missed the ball (so to speak), none of it will have made any difference to the outcome. and therefore, why haven't they all just kept their opinions to themselves and watched the racing? just like me, in fact.
that is precisely where the joy lies; the entertainment of simply watching cycle racing.
i'm not naive enough to think that this state of affairs exists purely in the velocipedinal realm. in fact, i'm inclined to point the finger directly at the uk's presentation of soccer, a sport that surely employs more pundits than players. i recall my father and brother watching grandstand on a saturday lunchtime during which the talking heads would offer up their predictions for the afternoon's matches. they would then appear during the results programme later that same afternoon to explain how they'd got it so horribly long. i seem to remember the referee being blamed rather a lot.
but, like it or not, punditry is now an intrinsic part of pretty much every sport on the planet. i ought to embrace the concept, rather than moan like victor meldrew. because only last year, those with their fingers on the pulse of cyclocross were predicting gloom and despair as belgium's hero of the mud retired from the circus.
sven nys has now hung up his deep-rimmed wheels and fluorescent trek to settle in as a serious investor in and manager of the telenet-fidea team for the 2016/2017 season. he is thus not absent without leave from the international 'cross circuit, but he is no longer a competitor on a bike, a state of affairs that was predicted to spell the end of the world as we know it. cyclocross, even at this level, lags far behind the adulation and financial investment enjoyed by road racing. it's why a number of the top riders have departed the mud in favour of three weeks in the sun. it was alleged that nys was cyclocross and without him, it would wither and die.
but they were wrong.
continuing his superb form from last season, wout van aert has all but emulated nys' method of simply riding away from the competition. and there are others, such as lars van der haar, kevin pauwels, tom meeusen and jeremy powers to keep the cyclocross flag flying. though i have distanced myself from the art of the pundit, all this was relatively plain to see throughout the 2015/2016 season. and if you can't remember that far back, thank goodness for balint hamvas.
the above named gent has doggedly dedicated his working life to photographing mud-related cyclocross racing for a number of years, producing a substantial compendium of his imagery for the perusal of his acolytes (self-included). there is, however, a fly in the ointment that is not directly related to the retirement of sven nys; time and money. these superb volumes that are as much a part of the cyclocross year as the racing itself cost a not insubstantial amount of money to produce, so for the first time, hamvas financed this latest edition via a kickstarter campaign earlier this year.
the more astute amongst you will have realised by now that, if a copy of this book is not already sitting beside your armchair, that situation is very unlikely to change; only those who subscribed to the kickstarter campaign received a copy and there are no more to be had. for those who are near to tears at this point, i'd keep your eye on balint's cyclephotos website at the end of the current cyclocross season as he tells me that a similar model of funding will be employed next year.
and in order to be cruel to be kind, let me tell you that the latest book is probably the best yet, featuring imagery from the world cup, the bpost bank trofee series, super prestige and the world championship alongside some excellent writing from hamvas, paul maunder, dan seaton, caroline cardinaels, brecht decaluwé and others. it brings new meaning to the phrase 'state of the art'.
and sven gets a chapter all to himself.
cyclephotos | all photographs copyright cyclephotos/balint hamvas 2016
thursday 10 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i vaguely understand the concept of keeping the wheels of sporting endeavour turning smoothly by oiling the bearings with copious amounts of funding and sponsorship, it does seem a bit of a shame that glasgow's chris hoy velodrome has been all but subsumed under the banner of the emirates stadium. where are the kudos in asking the glasgow city cab driver to take you to the emirates stadium, rather than voice the name of scotland's most famous cyclist (aside from robert and graeme, obviously)?
i am not well acquainted with glasgow's east end, home of celtic football team's stadium in remarkable proximity to the aforementioned emirates thingy. and under the darkness of greenwich mean time, i'd have been hard pushed to test the veracity of the driver's route. hard pushed, that is, were it not for the cab driving up behind four cyclists uniformly clad in belgian team kit (probably the best looking national kit in the whole world). though we hummed and hawed over whether those cyclists could possibly be genuine team members, subsequent events would prove that assumption to be correct.
though i was fortunate to previously have visited chris hoy's velodrome for a glasgow round of the revolution series a couple of years ago, i have never before attended a round of the uci world cup series, nor, in fact, have i ever been so incredibly warm while watching any form of cycle racing. it is little wonder that the associated international team staff have adopted the ubiquitous uniform of short-sleeved polo shirts and baggy shorts. there were similarly clad individuals proffering tubs of mackie's ice-cream from the seating aisles, but attempting such a cooling purchase would have meant missing precious seconds or minutes of compulsive track racing.
as with companion rounds of the world cup, racing is arranged over three days, the minor heats taking place in the afternoons, while the evenings played host to the serious stuff that ended in medal ceremonies. it would also appear, from even a cursory glance at the substantial programme acquired on the way in, that suspense is tempered by economic satisfaction. in other words, there was no need to obtain tickets for more than one evening in order to watch the culmination of any particular event.
thus, on attending the opening evening, we were able to play witness to the final rounds of the women's team pursuit, women's sprint, women's keirin, men's sprint and men's team pursuit. aside from an evening of quality events, the pacing was immaculately managed; as one event ended, the next was already being lined up. add to that, perfectly audible commentary augmented by two large screens providing necessary timing information meant that even the least informed newbie wanted for nothing.
and on that last point, perhaps i could arrogantly interject on behalf of the cognoscenti. if you don't understand how these events play out, you simply shouldn't be there. preceding each event with a basic description by the commentator of that which was about to transpire is surely unnecessary. how could anyone possibly not comprehend what's happening in a team pursuit or sprint? sometimes things are just so obvious that interjection seems superfluous.
and assuming that any uci members are reading, i cannot stress how important it is that they learn to leave stuff alone. yes, they are the ruling body, but that doesn't for one minute mean that they have the faintest idea of what they're doing. as evidence for the prosecution, might i use the keirin as a perfect example. previously the derny (and glasgow had a proper derny) would pull off with two and a half laps to go but the latest uci ruling has the little motorbike exit the racing line with three laps left.
i have no earthly idea why this change was deemed necessary, but all that has resulted is a half lap when none of the riders seems motivated to 'go for gold'. there's a half lap of holding position before commencing the race for the line, ultimately meaning that the rule change has achieved precisely nothing. and while i'm pointing out perceived deficiencies, might i suggest that chris hoy buys his velodrome a couple of sets of lights to brighten up the medal presentations?
there were a number of light-hearted moments of humour throughout the evening; some intentional, some otherwise. at the beginning of the men's sprint events, the competitors' details were posted to one of the large screens, except their heights were erroneously transcribed as centimetres rather than metres. at 1.88cm and 1.62cm respectively, it's wonder we saw anything at all. and i cannot deny that watching the broadcast cameraman on a segway following the riders round that slow first lap elicited no more than just a smile.
though i may sound like a born-again trackie, might i humbly suggest that if just such an event arrives in your locale, you expend every effort to repel all boarders and grab some tickets for yourself. it's what i'd definitely call an excellent night's entertainment.
wednesday 9 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it was mr spock in the original star trek series that turned our minds towards the concept of logic. allegedly devoid of emotion, aside from a small percentage bestowed by his human mother, the vulcan approached all from a logical approach, ruling with his head and almost never with his heart. as my case for the prosecution i can therefore logically conclude that the person responsible for the virgin trains timetable between glasgow central and london euston was not born on the planet vulcan.
as a perennial cheapskate, i had opted for the lowest price available on thetrainline.com, which had me boarding a train at platform two accompanied by two tickets. those were designed to transport me to crewe, where i would disembark at 14:55 to subsequently board a euston bound train at 15:22. the oddity of the above was learning that the train leaving glasgow was already destined to reach euston, though bizarrely, around 45 minutes later than the second train at crewe. i've no doubt that there's logic in there somewhere, but though i'm still enough of a nerd to enjoy trainsets, i'm not sufficiently clued-up regarding real-world train scheduling.
that said, i did manage to reach the monstrosity that is euston station, a building that has all the charm of a grand tour broom wagon, and a destination that brought me considerably closer to this year's rouleur classic than a window seat in glasgow's gordon street coffee. here's where there was a definitive thread of logic; i had garnered myself overnight accommodation adjacent to the station from where it was but a straight line to reach victoria house in bloomsbury square. the only hurdle remaining by that point was attempting to find the relevant entrance, though a snaking queue occupying at least two corners of the building was something of an obvious clue.
if you consider that the average price of a ticket for the thursday evening opening night was around £100, there are obviously still a few well remunerated cycling fans south of watford.
in a move that did me no professional credit whatsoever, i completely neglected to peruse the list of exhibitors before leaving the safety of the hebrides. so to be perfectly honest, absolutely everything beyond the front door came as a more than pleasant surprise, as did many of those i met during my somewhat aimless wanderings. i would love to relate that i fastidiously examined each and every exhibition stand (all of which were a deal more compact and bijou than those you'd find at eurobike or the london bike show), but i'd be fibbing.
as a conversationalist of olympic standing, i'm afraid i spent far too much time practising my art as opposed to examining far eastern fashioned carbon fibre. in my defence, i am led to believe it is known in the trade as networking.
the proximitous arrangement of stands is/was to my mind, a far more amenable state of affairs than necessitous at the major shows. i assume that the presence of exhibitors such as s-works (specialized), colnago, lightweight, campagnolo, sram, et al was ultimately to sell more product, but everything seemed to be taking place on a far more sociable level; the hard-sell had been left in the van.
the most fearsomely active exhibitor was surely doctor d (rohan dubash), a gent who spent thursday evening at least, assembling a reynolds 753 steel-framed, laurent fignon replica raleigh with an appropriately period campagnolo record groupset, replete with a set of delta brakes. bristol-based documentary maker, dominic wade, brought a framed fignon print to rohan's stand on the final day of the classic reuniting the professor's spirit with his bicycle. aside from the beautiful campag componentry (why don't they make them like that anymore?), rohan had an original wooden-cased campagnolo tool set open on the worktop along with a set of more contemporary unior tools.
sponsored by maserati, an association unsubtly alluded to by the presence of two white examples parked outside the entrance, the central highlight of the rouleur classic was the theatre, hosted by ned boulting and sky tv's orla chennoui. on the stage for the launch of team sky's new clothing association with castelli were dave brailsford and team sky members, while the larger-than-life jens voigt nabbed the limelight from both david millar and ned boulting in extravagant and eccentric style. sadly, on my occasional visits to the dimly lit theatre, the pa system seemed to be less than keen to work, while the throng of eager spectators all but obscured any view of the stage and its occupants.
though i'd prefer it that you thought of the post as an intangible entity with its finger firmly on the pulse every bit as much as the fine fellows from velocast, i must once again disavow you of that impression. during my half-hour wait to gain entrance, the two gents stood behind me incessantly discussed the difference between the power output from a turbo trainer and that of a garmin bar-mount gps unit. this was interspersed with revelations garnered from the training schedules proffered by their respective coaches, just how much tapering was included and their race and sportive plans for 2017. i spent those thirty minutes seriously wondering whether i too ought to be entranced by such velocipedinal geekery, but by the time i made it to the nice lady handing out the wristbands necessary to identify visiting members of the media, i'd decided the answer was probably 'no'.
the ideal antidote to such seriously discussed minutiae was not only meeting mick and andy from prendas (bearing handfuls of casquettes), but the welcome availability of a rocket espresso created double espresso that would bring tears to your thighs. and as if this were scarcely sufficient to bring feelings of bonhomie so far from home, finding former team sky photographer scott mitchell hosting an exhibition of his own images was a source of joy for us both.
many of you may well have attended on at least one of the three days set aside for the 2017 rouleur classic and i sincerely hope that you enjoyed the experience as much as did i. if you were amongst those who didn't, might i recommend that you set aside a day or two next november to join the party? and thank you to all those who stood feigning interest as i discussed allegedly velocipedinal matters in an inscrutable scottish accent; you made an old man very happy.
photo credit (1,2 & 5): rouleur classic/themusette (ian s watson)
tuesday 8 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
hanging on the wall at the top of the stairs in washingmachinepost croft is a framed monochrome poster depicting a well-respected climber. it was a more than welcome gift of several years ago from my very good friends at prendas ciclismo and sits in close proximity to a signed jersey gratefully received from the same fine fellows. the subject of the poster and wearer of a remarkably similar wool jersey is 1984 tour de france king of the mountains, robert millar, the diminutive scots climber responsible for bringing a not inconsiderable number of scottish cyclists into the pelotonic fold. the wholesale recruitment came via not only his tdf exploits, but also those in the stolen vuelta of 1985 and tour of britain to name but two more.
to a naive acolyte such as yours truly, the association of hill (or, to be more accurate, mountain) climbing with scottishness seemed totally natural. despite ownership of a heavy, plain gauge steel road bike, it seemed stunningly obvious that scottish nationality genetically conferred inherent defiance of gravity, no matter the ineptitude of one's gear ratios. so obvious was this, that several successive and unsuccessful attempts to cycle up dundonald hill in ayrshire were scarcely sufficient to convince me otherwise, a falsehood that continues to the present day, when advancing years have only served to underline those deficiencies.
it hardly seems credible that such misguided faith should survive quite so long, particularly when exposed to the reality that is not arriving at the summit alongside the advance party. but then, in mitigation, robert might well be suffering similarly these days.
the addiction to riding bicycles uphill is nothing particularly new; you need only glance at the profiles offered by the current spate of sportives to learn of that. but despite everyone in possession of a compact chainset thinking themselves akin to the mountain goat; where wearing endura's movistar team kit allegedly confers nairo quintana status and where every second rider admits to weight-weeniness, the reality is often substantially different. unless, of course, your name happens to be simon warren.
mr warren is author of several compact and bijou books, the most famous of which are probably 100 greatest cycling climbs and my most favourite hellingen: a guide to belgium's greatest cycling climbs. not content to rest upon his granny gear, simon also has a few more publications due in the early part of next year, including cycling climbs of scotland, space for which i have already reserved in thewashingmachinepost bookcase. but by way of a slight diversification and offering a superb choice of christmas present for the cyclist(s) in your life, he has collaborated with the folks at 1810 creative to produce a poster depicting an admirably graphic representation of those original 100 greatest cycling climbs.
the poster is available in two versions. the premium edition is printed on museum-grade 225gsm stock using fade-free pigment inks. this version is strictly limited to 500 copies and "represents Simon's difficulty rating, colour matched to the regional sections in the book." should you care to indulge in a tad more interaction with both book and poster, the prestige edition is heat-mounted to aluminium re-inforced kapa board to render it a tad stiffer than its counterpart. it arrives open-framed along with 100 push pins in order that each climb may be recorded, creating not only an impressive palmares, but a 3d graphic representation of your stoicism. this edition is confined to 100 copies, each individually signed and numbered by simon warren.
though i have an eager packet of drawing-pins at the ready, i fear my own premium edition copy will remain somewhat naked for the foreseeable future. however, even in this state, the 100 climbs poster offers sufficient graphic intrigue that i think it likely a framed edition may find its way onto the wall of a well-known islay coffee establishment in the fullness of time.
the premium edition of the poster retails directly from 1810 creative for £85. the prestige edition costs £225.
monday 7 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i own a pair of those jeans designed specifically for cyclists, the very pair that are bereft of that seam, the one guaranteed not to get on comfortably with any kind of saddle. and since we're not talking refugees from the peloton here, such a garment is ostensibly aimed at the commuter, the chap or chapess used to parking their sit-up-and-beg against the inner-city railings bearing a sign advising that locked bicycles will be removed.
sometimes being smug just leaves you being smug, as long as the prospect of it coming back to bite you on the posterior is sufficiently distant as to be hardly worth considering. therefore, the additional loop extending one of the belt loops, presumably in order that i might carry a d-lock about my person is, in my case, just a tad redundant. for bicycle crime is all but unkown in these here parts; i'd have to pay folks to ride bikes in the first place; the chance of one being pinched is perhaps a level of optimism too far. add to that the prospect of the thief having to board a ferry in order to make off with his/her ill-gotten gains and that self-satisfied grin just about makes sense.
it is with a wry smile that i observe summer visitors making use of two locks to secure their machines to the bike racks in bowmore's main street. but in truth it is as well that they continue to do so, for on return to the iniquitous mainland, it would take only minutes for that bicycle to disappear sans lock. however, there is no doubt that the search for any lightweight bicycle is going to be compromised by the need to carry at least one, if not two heavy locks, either slung from the belt loop of a pair of denims, or affixed to the bicycle in a suitable manner.
thankfully, the very same lateral thinking that has devised ways of circumventing the uci's lower weight limit has been judiciously applied to the construction of an appropriately secure lock. in this particular case, i am referring to the not altogether salubriously named foldylock compact. perhaps, however, not all is as bad as it seems, for a previously available product is still offered as the seatylock; cleverly constituted, ideally manufactured but simply failing in the nomenclature department. the foldylock compact in person is a delightful improvement, obviating the need to choose the saddle perhaps not of your desires, but affixing to the bicycle's downtube or seat tube by means of two adjustable straps. yes, the 1kg weight might be less than palatable on your specialized venge, but far more bearable surely than the loss of your specialized venge?
the lock itself is quite ingenious, probably better seen from the accompanying images, than from any misleading description i might offer. and while we're on the subject of offers, the compact version of this marvel is currently featuring on kickstarter where pre-ordering could see one in your possession for a mere $55, possibly not quite as cheap as it might have been post brexit referendum. as ever, the link is below and i'm sure everyone knows what do do.
wednesday 2 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as the proud owner of a taurus corinto, a steel, three-speed, sit-up-and-beg roadster, i am well aware of the disparity between this and the likes of a colnago master or specialized crux. but in terms of utility, it is a bicycle hard to beat. for starters, there really is no need to don lycra and polyester when heading west for a coffee of a friday afternoon. nor, indeed, is there requirement for cleats on the soles of my shoes. add to that a handlebar mounted newspaper rack, a load-carrying rack over the rear wheel and on my own edition, a pair of brooks 'brick-lane' roll-up panniers, should my eye espy a 3kg bag of jumbo oats at debbie's.
but, delightful as it is, to make this my velocipede of choice on a sunday morning would doubtless have me arrive at bruichladdich after the peloton had left. and were that not to be the case, i'd surely be dropped before we reached the foreland turn-off. though i'd fare considerably better were i to choose the specialized crux, leaving it shod with the 33mm 'cross tyres is almost bound to have me struggle just a tad when the speed limit was raised.
in short, there are horses for courses; or in this case, bicycles that are more suited to one thing than another. though i'm sure it's been done, riding a pinarello dogma f8 to the average market for some crisps and a bottle of coke, could legitimately be seen as odd at least and maybe overkill at worst.
motor cars, on the other hand, seem not to adhere to this sort of logic. the more expensive versions of certain brands feature seat coverings of quality leather, hand-picked by a team of experts before being hand-fitted and sewn in place. the dashboards are frequently upholstered to a similar level of quality, augmented by finely grained wood, while there are headlights surrounded by clusters of swarovski crystals to better enhance their penetrating glow. if money is no object, the option of settling for a ford fiesta is rarely considered, despite that fact that either model will easily achieve the national speed limit in less than ten seconds and rather obviously make it to and from the average market without giving any cause for concern while the crisps and coca-cola are stowed in the boot.
in short, you pays your money, you takes your choice. and it seems that the same logic is applied to the prospect of a cycling holiday.
though 'tis many a long year since i affixed panniers and headed into the wide grey yonder, at least one of the sunday peloton has recently resurrected the art on a local basis, having taken in the isle of mull and the outer hebrides at a pace possibly closer to my perambulations on the taurus. obviously the duration of a cycle tour depends a great deal on the available time and choice of route and many of those i know who enjoy this sort of thing, tend to err on the side of economy in the process. packing a one-man tent instead of a night in a luxury hotel, carrying a small camping stove as the alternative to a three-course meal in a luxury hotel or restaurant.
but just like the disparity between opposite ends of the car or cycle market, there are cycle holidays the cost of which would easily cover the price of a decent touring bike and luggage. cycle tours such as those offered by the carter company's luxury scotland.
i have in front of me as i write, the details for their four-night highland fling staying at the rocpool reserve hotel with its chez roux restaurant in inverness and boath house hotel in nairn with its michelin starred restaurant. with no disrespect intended, that does sound a smidgeon more luxurious than debbie's on saturday lunchtime. of course, when it comes to price tags, there is similarly no comparison. for four nights accommodation with breakfast and hybrid bike hire, bearing in mind that this is a self-guided tour, the cost is from £1570 per person. suddenly that pinarello f8 begins to look like an attractive proposition
but, as the saying goes, it doesn't end there.. it is possible to dispense with the self-guided aspect of the tour and retain the services of a cycling butler (yes, you did read that correctly) for an additional £3,843, based on two people taking the tour. if i may quote from the press-release, "As local experts, the Bike Butlers will provide support throughout the trip, accompanying in a road vehicle, so that weary cyclists can take advantage of a pick-up en route, as well as providing weather updates and on-the-road bike servicing. They will also be on hand to organise much-needed refreshments, including afternoon teas and lunches." i might place this in some sort of perspective by pointing out that the daily mileage is expected to be between 26 and 43km. i would worry if i became weary over such a short distance and be very concerned if my hired bicycle needed on-the-road servicing.
as a particularly scary set of digits at the foot of the invoice, that's a not inconsiderable amount that would leave you with £17 change from £7,000. for three days of cycling. per person that's about £1164 per day. if you need the bank account emptied a bit quicker, there's a five night scottish grand tour also available.
either i want a job as a cycling butler, or i'll be sticking to my double-egg roll and cappuccino each saturday lunchtime.
tuesday 1 november 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................