i posted to twitter only the other day, just how many sleeps we must endure until this year's paris-roubaix. judging by the amount of interest that simple statement encouraged, i think many of us are on the same page. apart from next weekend's cyclocross world championships, surely the finest one day cycling event on the calendar? (though if there are any ronde fans in the audience, i'd be willing to enter into a debate). but before those cobbles impinge themselves upon our collective psyche, there are one or two perhaps lesser one-day classics to be enjoyed. i mean no disrespect to any of these events, for were it not for their existence, the anticipation surrounding both flanders and roubaix would be far less enjoyable.
but now would seem the ideal time to enter into the spirit of the coming season, long before we inhabit three weeks of italian spirit and pink jerseys. given islay's usual weather conditions, this is not too hard to accomplish during the weekly sunday ride, but in order that those psyches might receive some gentle enhancement, discussion had yesterday turned to appropriate aliases for the job at hand. one or two of our number are fortunate to have names that, with only minor alterations in pronunciation or translation into an appropriately european language will mark them out as the hardmen of the west that we know ourselves to be.
however, that still leaves a modest portion of the hebridean pelotonese who are looking for wholesale change by adopting mostly the names of former belgian pros. personally i am currently considering either bram de groot or gerben de knecht, for, suitably attired in bib threequarters, prendas belgian socks and a rapha winter hat, it's a characterisation i feel confident i can assume with aplomb. granted, there may unconcealed sniggering at the rear of the peloton, but those responsible will find themselves left hanging in the wind when it comes time to form an echelon on uiskentuie strand.
such characterisations, which i must say, appear to be finding favour in the sunday peloton, can really only be of belgian descent. this not only because of my continued contention that hebrideans are the flandrians of the west, but because the bulk of the classics calendar seems to have originated in that fine country of mud and cobbles. were the season's opening gambit to inhabit, let's say, antipodean shores, perhaps our enthusiasm would be conspicuous by its absence.
i mention this in the full knowledge of the fact that the opening race of the year is in fact held in australia. and i feel it is worth my pointing out that in the course of our pelotonic discussions, nobody volunteered that they might adopt the persona of richie porte (no disrespect intended.) in fact, though i was peripherally aware that the tour down under was recently in progress, i'm almost ashamed to admit that i made no effort whatsoever to familiarise myself with either its parcours, or indeed, the daily results.
ultimately, the tour down under owes its continued existence predominantly to the uci's globalisation of the sport, a philosophy seemingly hell bent on bringing sanctioned events to parts of the world without a trace of cycling heritage. this (in my opinion) mistaken ideal has had the unfortunate side effect of finishing off several european-based classics and tours that were once the backbone of the cycling calendar (though i'd be willing to excuse the tdu from such blame; nobody up here is racing in january anyway). already there are discussions being held with the wanda group in china to create a stage race in country more usually associated with millions of pigeon bikes clogging the streets of beijing, rather than races of untold character.
and though the uci sanctioned world tour events require compulsory attendance on behalf of the eighteen world tour teams, events recently added offer the opportunity for any of that number to get away with a sick note. disappointingly, three have already decided not to bother with the classics season opener omloop het nieuwsblad. it gives me no great pleasure to name and shame cavendish's team dimension data, valverde's movistar team and the brand spanking new abu dhabi team. while this does open up wild card entries for more pro-continental teams, one has to wonder for just how long races such as omloop can survive if the big boys opt for somewhere less taxing than belgium in the spring.
and it doesn't stop there. dwars door vlaanderen will this year start without team sky and once again, dimension data, while kuurne-brussels-kuurne is expected to field only 14 world tour teams.
the iniquity here is not quite so much the uci chasing the lucrative dollar by sanctioning events in the oddest of locations, but the fact that they are playing fast and loose with cycling's great heritage. many of these smaller events have existed for decades, having grown into the prime positions they once held in cycling's professional season. yet it seems that china or saudi arabia only have to hint at the possibility of a grand event and it immediately has uci approval and a categorisation that makes it more attractive to teams seeking uci points. apparently rich countries have no need to wait.
if this aigle philosophy (if that's not granting it too favourable a status) continues unabated, the only recollection of europe's once domination of a sport that grew up across the channel will be a sad (yet happy) bunch of hebrideans pretending they're belgian for a couple of months every year.
monday 23 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the birth date of the legendary english highwayman, dick turpin, is apparently specifically unknown. the best that we know is that he was baptised on 21 september 1705 and died in york on 7 april 1739, aged only 33. having joined a gang of deer thieves, he subsequently became a poacher, burglar, horse thief and killer, executed ultimately for horse theft.
the real dick turpin was almost undoubtedly at odds with the fictional character described by the victorian novelist william ainsworth who invented turpin's 200 mile overnight ride from london to york on black bess, a horse every bit as famous as turpin himself. oddly enough, tarnishing my family name, he had moved to yorkshire and adopted the alias, john palmer. magistrates discovered his real identity, however, by way of a letter he wrote to his brother-in-law, evidence that led to his conviction and subsequent execution.
the legend of dick turpin and his mythical ride (while being pursued by the law) from london to york ended with the collapse and death of black bess from the stress of having to maintain a pace that would keep turpin ahead of his pursuers. at this particular point, turpin is alleged to have said "that's funny, she's never done that before."
happily, my experience with campagnolo's potenza groupset has not only not ended in its demise but neither has it given cause for concern over having done the unexpected. this despite having to contend with islay's often inclement winter climate at the turn of the year. i have explained at great length my only concession to obsessive compulsive disorder with regard to the shininess of any bicycle chain, let alone the eleven-speed version currently propelling the colnago master. in my first review of the componentry i was slightly disparaging of campagnolo's insistence on retaining that special rivet and guide pin, when others have moved to the smart link. however, no matter the effort of propulsion required, particularly on a struggle up the 14% incline between kilchiaran and port charlotte on new year's day, the chain has complied more or less uncomplainingly.
only just yesterday when preparing the colnago for the sunday ride, i noted smatterings of ferrous oxide on that selfsame chain, obviously the result of last week's ride in imperious drizzle. however, a quick swipe with degreaser brought it back to an impressive lustre.
i still have work to do on the adjustment of the front derailleur, something that may possibly be the result of cable stretch but could be every bit as much to do with shoddy mechanics with the screwdriver. on the majority of occasions, shifting from inner to outer is accomplished with ease, but just when i least expect it, the chain continues on its merry way, overshifting the outer ring and depositing a smudge of oil on my bright blue shoes. fortunately switching back to the inner ring while soft pedalling has always resulted in continuance of forward motion without expletives.
compared to the competition, i am very much in favour of campagnolo's shifting system, offering a separate lever for each function. the improved design of the downshift button on the inside of the unit compared to that on the centaur levers which the potenza replaced and of which i was originally a bit dubious, has proved itself to be an ergonomic delight.
but in the long-term, campagnolo's newest groupset suffers from precisely the same problem afflicting both centaur and an ageing record/chorus groupset affixed to the colnago c40. rust. it is most noticeable on the cable pinch bolts on both calipers as well as on the front mech bolt plate. i really had rather hoped that campagnolo would have come to the realisation that not everyone lives in tuscany. and for the unit cost of each, surely it is not outwith the bounds of sensibility to fit stainless steel? i realise that potenza scarcely inhabits the upper echelon of campagnolo groupsets, but since even super-record suffers from the same affliction, this iniquity is apparently not price based.
if valentino campagnolo happens to be reading, perhaps you could put stainless steel bolts on the vicenza shopping list?
apart from that, the potenza groupset is not only a stylish addition to the range, but arguably functionally superior against aspects of vicenza's competitors. despite the superficial corrosion problem (and others are scarcely better), it's an impressive set of bits. the italian flag still proudly flies over the non-professional peloton.
sunday 22 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
islay is somewhat cycling agnostic. if everybody i know with a road bike were to turn up at debbie's on a sunday morning, the numbers might just top a dozen. if we spread ourselves out quite a lot, we might possibly constitute a mobile traffic jam, if only there were enough cars about at that time on a sunday to be bothered. though the bradley bubble has all but stopped the villagers crossing the road to avoid becoming engaged in a conversation about cycle races of which nobody but yours truly has ever heard, i still occasionally feel like a stranger in a strange land.
if i might frame things more blatantly, there's not a lot to be gained by instigating a discussion during office lunchtime, concerning the relative merits of electronic versus standard shifting, or whether roadies have any real need of disc brakes. believe me, it only leads to name-calling when your back's turned.
unless we're well out of the ordinary, the lack of velodipedinal discussion on a sunday morning is scarcely an unusual occurrence. though i have rarely, if ever, ridden with pelotons other than my own, i'm fairly sure that, with one or two exceptions, most of us talk about matters that do not directly relate to the cycling milieu, unless of course, there's been a particularly entertaining stage of one race or another on the previous day.
i'm assuming that this is hardly uncommon behaviour, for even when involved in percussive matters of a public nature, discussion amongst fellow bandmates seems rarely to centre around whether the bass player favours roundwound or flatwound strings and just which type of pedal it is that provides the guitarist with such impressive sustain. in fact, i spend most of my time continually advising the bass player to avoid knocking over my glass of san pellegrino sat next to the hi-hat.
taking a logical and generic overview of such situations, i'm pretty sure that there is much rolling of eyes and unconcealed sighing if i even hint at incorporating aspects of cycling into any dialogue that originated around an entirely unrelated subject.
however, according to common lore, every dog has its day. i recall many years ago being called during a weekend evening by an old acquaintance, convinced that i would be the very person who would immediately know which record-breaking cyclist had built his machine from washingmachine parts. there were promises of sharing in the gargantuan prize to which this correct answer might lead, but since my financial situation has scarcely improved by much, i must conclude that at least one of the accompanying answers may not have been found to be as correct.
and that day can also be arrived at when inescapably found in the company of those with whom one would prefer not to be. it has often been maintained that neither religion or politics should be discussed if cordial relations with the civilian population are to be maintained. in my case, that is excellent advice, for i am scarcely well enough educated in either subject to ensure both a healthy respect yet a concomitant clearing of the room. however, i've frequently noted that by embarking upon a dissertation on the comparative rolling resistances associated with differing widths of tyre, or whether wheels built in a cross pattern as opposed to radial work better with discs, suddenly most of those round the coffee table have found various things they had previously forgotten to do.
under normal circumstances, that would be not only embarrassing, but just a smidgeon offensive and rude on the part of others. but when using cycling as a weapon in this fashion to bring about a desired exodus, i'd count it as something of a result. i daresay it's a situation applicable to other genres of eccentricity; any discussion regarding quantum mechanics or gravitational waves would surely achieve similar results. having said that, my educational level pretty much excludes either from my own sphere of influence, so when push comes to shove, tonight matthew, i'm going to be the obnoxious cyclist.
feel free to join in when you know the words.
saturday 21 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when i was much further north of my current home and just a few hundred miles east, in the early, but ultimately vain pursuit of my artistic career, there was a record shop (selling a musical format that is now making a more than welcome comeback) idiosyncratically named the other record shop. this may be of less than remarkable note nowadays, but at the time, there's no doubt that it piqued the interest of your (very) average student.
as if that were scarcely enough to identify it as the record store of choice, the fact that all purchases could subsequently be carried in transparent carrier bags was simply the icing on the cake as far as most of us were concerned. it was then possible to parade the length of aberdeen's union street, carrying the latest pink floyd, 10cc or king crimson album on clear display to impress considerably less than interested members of this north-east population. of course, if you happened to have a predilection for abba or the bay city rollers, that clear bag would most likely be concealed under a heavy overcoat, recently purchased from the local oxfam shop.
though the other record shop as i have described it is no longer in existence, the practice of attempting to demonstrate one's innate superiority over others in an alleged peer group continues to this day. not so many years ago i was, for no discernible reason, in receipt of a regular copy of management consultant magazine (or something remarkably similar in intent) which, for totally spurious reasons, i would occasionally carry demonstrably in full view of colleagues and passers-by who expressed as little interest as did those aberdonians in the 1970s.
around this time, in possible need of a business card, i thought it a wizard wheeze to append somewhat inept qualifiers after my name. thus, as a gent of advancing years, i thought it about time i adopted the title of senior publishing executive. this was subsequently expanded to senior publishing executive (northern hemisphere) principally on the advice of mark reynier, former ceo of bruichladdich distillery. this did indeed render the business card some considerable distance from reality, but on the premise that few, if any, in receipt of a business card actually read it, i figured i'd get away with it.
perusing the pages of my copies of management consultant enlightened me to the existence of those described as knowledge management consultants, terminology the meaning of which evades me to this day. however, figuring that this might play to my advantage, purely on the basis that perhaps others would be every bit as confused, it is a vocation that i one day hope to adopt as my own.
you try proving that i'm not.
the importance of becoming a consultant rests entirely on the impression that such individuals appear to be capable of being infallible. it seems that no matter the veracity of that which they advise, they are subsequently untouchable even if proved to be well-wide of the mark. since much of my proffered advice tends to fit snugly into this category, it seems possible that the consultant epithet has already been applied on my behalf.
none of the foregoing, however, seems to prevent my being frequently asked to advise on the purchase of a new bicycle. i'm happy to say that the most recent instance concerned the portended purchase of a quality road or cyclocross bicycle, but that is very much the exception rather than the rule. in the majority of instances, when i enquire as to the particular price-range under consideration, the number quoted is often less than you'd pay for a brooks cambium saddle.
i imagine that it is the job of a consultant to comprehend the needs of a prospective client without appearing demeaning by way of one's answer. the fly in the ointment, so to speak, is my being particularly poorly informed as to the specification and (lack of) quality exhibited in the lower regions of the online cycle store. though many of you will have realised that i am trying manfully to refrain from classifying myself as a bicycle snob, there is perhaps value to be gained from adopting just such a stance.
each thursday morning, for around an hour or so, i attend the local secondary school to better educate those studying higher drumming in the ways of the percussionist. disappointingly, it is all too obvious that the drumset is the ugly duckling of the music department; the set on which instruction takes place features a bass drum with almost an inch of dust on its topmost surface, gaffa tape across all three tom tom heads and a snare lever that requires the fortitude of schwarnold arzenneger to either apply or release. as if that were not sufficient insult to injury, the appended cymbals have all the sonic characteristics of bicuit tin lids.
in order to bring a little sonority into their musical aspirations, i have taken to carrying in my own set of zildjian cymbals each thursday morning. when i recently offered to lend these for their prelim exam earlier this week, the music teacher quite rightly accused me of being a cymbal snob (if the cap fits, etc.) however, on arriving at the music department after school on monday afternoon to retrieve said cymbals, the music teacher was hard pushed to conceal a favourable expletive when describing how incredible he'd found those cymbals to be.
in percussive terms, i am now totally insufferable and quite possibly infallible (according to my opinion).
this particular situation has now encouraged me in my velocipedinal snobbery. no longer do i feel pangs of guilt and superiority when advising prospective cyclists to pay a smidgeon more than they had previously considered sufficient. do not mistake my evil intent; if the inquisitor has no more in mind than cycling to the shops every now and again, those sterling house bicycle shaped objects will do just nicely, thank you very much. however, on the supposition that the future may hold even tenuous membership of the velo club, i'd be inclined to err towards something which may trouble their bank account just a bit more than they'd at first thought.
i consider it my responsibility as a bona-fide cycling consultant.
friday 20 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"I'm just one bike ride away from figuring it out."
drummer bill bruford led at least three variations of his jazz group earthworks for a period of almost thirty years, morphing from a band that explored many of the melodic aspects of the new-fangled simmons drums, before settling on the more tried and tested acoustic format for the latter two editions. but you will rarely see his name appended with those particular jazz credentials; more often than not, he is known to the world at large as bill bruford (yes, king crimson).
despite a career of some 41 years prior to his retiral at age 60, bruford is more famous for leaving the progressive rock group yes in 1972, than he is for any other part of his successful career. he departed for the arguably more percussively textural pastures offered by robert fripp's king crimson just as yes released the concept album close to the edge, their fifth album, bringing them into the big time of commercial success.
bruford said that after the oft times traumatic process of recording the album, he couldn't face the rest of his career having to play the piece live. bruford is a drummer i have always admired, not purely for his percussive abilities, but every bit as much for his credibility as a musician, often eschewing the prospect of commercial success in favour of musical integrity. there are not too many who choose the latter option.
bruford has now retired, admitting that he may have fallen out of love with the drums, having commenced his career as a teenager who knew everything and ended as a sixty year-old who knew nothing. it is fairly unusual for any musician to actually retire; the majority simply keep playing for as long as they can physically manage, though it has to be admitted that there are more than a few who should probably have resisted the temptation and faded away gracefully into fondly remembered obscurity.
though unrelated to drumming in any way, having reached three score years i have no notion of retiring anytime soon, but then i've scarcely had a career particularly worthy of note. but another gent of far greater notoriety and one sharing my age, despite having packed more into those sixty years than most of us could manage in twice that period, shows little sign of slowing down. he still admits to riding close to 10,000 miles each year in pursuit of his current, self-nominated vocation of one man development department.
tom ritchey was one of the founding fathers of the mountain bike, having been inducted into both the mountain bike hall of fame in crested butte, and the united states bicycle hall of fame in davis, california as well as having won the uci mountain bike world championships and several other major competitions.
while all this transpired, he was building his own company, one responsible for marketing many of his engineering innovations and one that still offers a full range of steel road, mountain and 'cross bikes, a range that pays lip service to carbon fibre via a single model. you'd be forgiven perhaps, for thinking that an accomplished sixty year-old tom ritchey would now be happy to sit back, rest on his laurels and watch the rest of the cycling world roll by. yet he still remains faithful to his own personal mantra "my bike is my office" and that office is still very much in daily use.
having recently reviewed an excellent pair of ritchey logic offroad pedals attached to a specialized 'cross bike, i did wonder, on the basis that the bicycle has been around for more than just a minute or two and with most of its bits having come under close scrutiny at some time in their lives, where would you even begin to consider how the humble clipless pedal might be improved?
"I consider the pedal one of the most important parts of product development. If you look at my line of pedals, I've tried to keep them low profile and I've made the jumping on and off, mounting, dismounting and reconnecting to the pedal a design goal of mine, so that the pedal is easy to slap your foot on and off. I would say the holy grail is a one-sided mountain bike clipless pedal. All clipless pedals today are two-sided but the need for a rotational momentum to clip in would be done away with if it was one-sided, off-centre and off-axis. I've made prototypes in the past and I've set myself a future goal to learn how to do that.
It's going to require a number of changes which might include doing away with the old 9/16" thread and some other changes. It's a system that I think will come to fruition soon and change a lot of things associated with the standard clipless pedal (a component) which has been around now for about 25-30 years."
but surely there will come a time when everything currently associated with bicycle design will have been refined to the point of redundancy, not to mention the fact that eventually tom ritchey will have to hand over the reigns of his department of one to someone younger, albeit less-experienced. in the light of this, does tom see his role in product development ever coming to a natural end? is it not likely that the law of diminishing returns will eventually come home to roost?
"I would answer that in a number of ways quite carefully. If anything, at 60 years old, I need product development more than anybody. I'm kind of an old-time dinosaur on the bike these days. When I'm trying to keep up with the young guys, I need every possible advantage I can come up with and I'm more motivated by that than anything. The other thing that I think is important is that the older generation that designed components is almost non-existent today. Nowadays they're young, having graduated from engineering college, which is valuable in bringing ideas to production, but they're not always remaining true to simple, classical values. (They need to) value the past, value the heritage, value the shoulders that were stood on in order to get where we are today.
"Having done this for 45 years I've seen, heard and talked to people before me, like Jobst Brandt and my father. Both of them had analysed designs during the 70s and taught me about the reasons for and values of those designs which had reached around 70 years of design evolution. It's a unique position to have in product development.
"But to return to my point, very few of the young bucks arriving on the scene fully understand how we got to where we are now. A lot of them don't factor much of that into what they're doing. So there's always a value to having that deeper history of understanding, experience and miles, allied to any unintended cause and effect of design and what happens in the real world. I now have almost half-a-million miles in my legs and often ride in environments that truly and deliberately push everything to the limit.
"So my riding alone many times into the wilderness, knowing basically that it's going to be a long walk home if there's a problem with the part or design, means I have a lot at stake personally. It's a result of the way that I started out and the way that I continue to ride and want to ride in areas that don't have cell phone reception.
"Only a few people would know that I'm missing.
the modern world of the bicycle has all but dispensed with materials such as steel and aluminium. even titanium gets a bit of a raw deal these days, all in favour of what mike burrows once described as "burnt plastic"; carbon fibre. framebuilder richard sachs once said that he continues to work with steel because that is what he knows. if he were starting out today, there's every chance that he'd be more immersed in the carbon world.
however, with only a single carbon frame in the catalogue, tom ritchey has remained faithful to steel, allegedly being the man responsible for the "steel is real" tagline. is there any reason why he's remained faithful to that material and why has that faith not followed through to the forks on his road and 'cross frames?
"If any material has re-emerged without a due amount of understanding, it's steel. Carbon gives you a very wide playing field to organically shape and create structures that will surpass and improve upon formability factors that you could never achieve with steel. The metal is wonderful in a lot of ways, but it's got its pluses and its minuses.
"I don't know if you know about the history of Ritchey Logic tubing, but back in the 80s, some 35 or 40 years ago, the formability of steel hadn't changed since the turn of the century. When I visited Columbus (tubing) in 1983, they showed me a steel tube that was identical in every way in butting, formability and heat treatment to a spec. sheet from 1899. And when I originally asked them to make Logic tubing, they were unable to do so.
"The formability characteristics, the pushing of the material into more differential, taper and off-centre butting and all kind of things that I asked them to do, no-one had ever tried to do with steel. That was the beginning of the Ritchey steel story with Logic tubing and continued until aluminium and carbon fibre became popular for a lot of reasons, not only in the pursuit of performance and light weight, but basically because manufacturers could have the largest billboard. If you try to put a billboard as big as that on a steel bike, the steel tube would be too heavy.
"Steel lost a lot of momentum, but now it's back with a lot of new builders who don't know the truth about the material, its diameter equation and formability, plus all the things that went into thinking out of the box with steel. So, if there's ever a reason to continue to play in my sandbox with steel and pushing the material to its limits, it's now.
"I enjoy it, and I'm still working on steel forks, with new models coming out, though there are steel forks on some of the current models. But I would also say that because of the characteristics of carbon, the steering column integration with a fork blade is one of the uniquenesses that makes for quite a successful product. But the trade-off that people don't truly appreciate or understand, is that despite less weight and the performance you can get from it, there are some disadvantages; there are pluses and minuses to every product.
"It's always going to be that way. You can't take away weight and add stiffness without consequences. If your goals are a lightweight carbon structure with added aerodynamic features, you're going to give up ride quality characteristics, clearances and things that are very important (such as) the jacking up of the front end. There are all kinds of stories I could tell about the success of my stem, bars and seatpost that are in direct correlation to the growth of aluminium and carbon fibre and how those materials dictated positions on bikes that were taken for granted. For generations of racers and performance riders, (none of) that could be achieved without the selection of stems, bars and posts that kind of fell into my design challenge lap. There's a lot of back story to the use of materials and (their) cause and effect."
it is not, however, just about an impressive number at the bottom of the balance sheet. the bicycle, if you overlook certain aspects of the manufacturing process, has a reputation as a green machine, one which positively encourages social repsonsibility, an aspect of velocipedinal life that has not escaped tom ritchey. take even a quick peek at ritcheylogic.com and there is plain evidence that the company has forged relationships with many bike-related projects such as nemba, plus 3 network, imba etc, but most notably with project rwanda. does tom still maintain close relations with the latter and is all this a means of giving back to a sport that has offered him so much?
"I do maintain a relationship with (all) the projects. The team (Rwanda) was the first effort that I initiated and invited Jock (Boyer) over along with Alex Stieda. Jock was the one that stayed on, but is now transitioning away from team coach. The picture that I've sent you (right) is kind of a unique story; the current coach of Team Rwanda is Sterling Magnell who I sponsored as a junior and who won the national championships with Team Ritchey in 1995 (he's fifteen years old in the photo). Anyway he's now 34 or 35 and went through becoming a professional cyclist and managing a team and now he's living in Rwanda and loves it. I do stay in touch with him and with Jock and I'm very excited to see them continuing."
It is something of a tautology to mention cycling and coffee in the same breath. from the double espressos consumed in the village depart prior to each stage of le tour to the soya cappuccinos consumed after the sunday ride, the beverage and the sport are all but inseparable. Ritchey was the man originally responsible for what came to be known as the coffee bike, a long wheelbase cargo-style bike developed in response to Rwandan coffee farmers needing a more economic yet pragmatic means of transporting their crop. was the latter purely happenstance in its connection with coffee?
"The Coffee Bike Project was something of a coincidence; it turns out that the Texas A&M (an agricultural and mechanical college based in College Station, Texas) people that were in charge of improving the coffee quality in Rwanda when I arrived in 2006, were headed by a cyclist named Tim Schilling. And it was because of him and his background in cycling and his involvement in the country, plus his attendance at the first 'wooden bike classic' in 2007, that he challenged me then and there to develop the coffee bike.
"So Texas A&M and Tim Schilling, along with some help from the government, brought this to fruition and it was subsequently employed as a utility bike for others, such as potato farmers and anyone who needed a human-powered pickup truck at the time."
though the coffee bike is of a distinctly utilitarian hue, a brief scan of the ritchey logic website will result only in cycles pertaining to the road, cyclocross or mountain bike disciplines. though it would not be out of the ordinary to utilise any of these for more mundane and less sporting pretensions, it would be stretching credibility a tad too far to consider any of them as sitting at the cutting edge of utilitarian bicycle pragmatism. one of ritchey's co-conspirators in the invention of the original mountain bike was joe breeze, a gent who currently offers an impressive range of practical commuting bicycles. has tom deliberately avoided this particular genre of utlilitarian cycle?
"The length and breadth of specialty that's come into the bike design market is too wide for me to take on everything. I applaud Joe in his efforts and I know that Joe has done likewise to me in the development of the long wheelbase coffee bike.
"However, I think that bike design is based on geography and if you live where I live and you experience the kind of challenges that have to do with adventure cycling in California and places that I like to go, it leads you to designing the kind of products in the Ritchey range. If I'd lived in Holland, in places such as Amsterdam where the utility bike is king, I would probably have developed a product more along those lines."
as tom ritchey pointed out in his introduction, he's now reached the young age of sixty, having achieved an enviable reputation within the cycling industry, amongst his peers and within the cycling community at large. much of contemporary business relies increasingly on plans and consultations, both to guarantee continued investment and to offer a template for the future. thankfully not everyone adheres to this particular modus operandi. in the case of tom ritchey, is there a cunning plan in place, or is it more a case of refining the present rather than wholesale adoption of the future?
"I'd circle back and basically explain once more that my bike is my office. If you know who I am, you'll know there has never been a cunning plan. There's always been an effort to innovate, though not necessarily invent, on the shoulders of previous wonderful designs that have come to my starting point. I have a need for good product and for good people basically my age who need good product. I'm excited to look into the future and to see how long I can continue to ride a bike in places that I want to ride a bike. In reality I'm just one more bike ride away from figuring it out."
i'd like to thank tom ritchey for the considerable time he gave to answering my questions and for the speed with which he returned the answers. i'd also like to offer my gratitude to ritchey's uk brand manager, simon beatson for his considerable assistance with this feature.
thursday 19 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
for no fathomable reason, i have a particular affinity for science fiction, with fond memories of awaiting the latest paperback issue of america's analog magazine to arrive in the newsagents at prestwick airport. it is the principal purpose of this distinct strain of literature to take a no-holds barred approach to any number of projected futures, in order to explore a series of likely and altogether unlikely scenarios involving the human race, aliens or the robot population expected to land upon us from a great height anytime soon.
the unintended comedic effect of this most often centres around our reaching a one-time future date once seen as the harbinger of a utopian or dystopian fate. consider, if you will, george orwell's 1984, a date that has now passed into the annals of history without impinging its depressing prognosis upon a cowering population. less serious science fiction such as the animation series the jetsons, a cartoon vision of the future originally broadcast in 1962, visually proposed that at an unspecified date in our future, we'd all be travelling through the skies in mini-spaceships with glass bubble tops. yet here we are in the second decade of the 21st century with rubber still firmly planted on the streets.
one present day consternation, which once may well have been considered the subject of science fiction, is the inevitable interaction between autonomous motor vehicles and distinctly more random cyclists.
the advent of the driverless car, models of which are under development by several different agencies, introduces the potentially dubious control of programmed digital electronics which many claim (mostly those with a vested interest) will be the progenitor of reduced vehicular collisions accompanied by a concomitant lowering of insurance premiums. this is all framed by the likely increase in remuneration amongst the legal profession, as lawyers occupy the courts more frequently to argue just who should accept the blame if a motor vehicle under its own control comes into contact with same, or perhaps more likely, an irritating pedestrian or cyclist.
in the recently reviewed m.i.t. publication reinventing the automobile, it was proposed that a combination of intelligent digital control systems and the internet of things would see each and every driverless vehicle connected as part of a traffic network. this network would know or learn where was each individual node, allegedly preventing congestion, learning of any accidents to be avoided and other network infractions that might affect the smooth passage of the day's traffic.
under current conditions, this still remains science fiction, for each manufacturer of a driverless vehicle would have need of agreement on the protocols to be adopted in order that such communication would have at least a semblance of being seamless. consider cars made by apple and google attempting to talk to each other.
but we, as cyclists, are prone to less predictable behaviour and though it is a life-saving necessity that we are aware and beware of current traffic conditions, a report by engineers wsp/parsons brickerhoff in association with the architects farrells, proposes a commuting nirvana populated with high streets free from clutter, roads edged with cycleways and city centres running smoothly due to a plethora of robot cars. however, in order to maintain this idealistic mobile existence, it seems quite likely that itinerant cyclists and pedestrians may have to become yet more nodes on the network of the future.
as the report quite clearly states "...we will all have to get used to a new etiquette for AVs (autonomous vehicles) to match the logic and behaviour of the vehicles." it would be less than fair to pre-judge science fiction, but if the foregoing comes to pass, some of the idiosyncratic freedoms that we currently take for granted on foot or two wheels, may rapidly disappear into history, with the potential of us becoming even more subservient to the whims and fancies of the motor vehicle.
it's utopia jim, but not as we know it.
read the full report: making better places: autonomous vehicles and future opportunities
wednesday 18 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you may have seen the tv advert. it revolves around the realisation that the kids of today have a far better grasp of technology than those of us who are often characterised as 'older but wiser'. i'm inclined to attribute the wisdom part to knowing when i'm beaten, but in this instance, the basis of the tv advert (for virgin tv if memory serves) is that seven year-old kids can access any of the plethora of modern-day television in a heartbeat while we're still vainly searching some website or other for the instructions.
several years ago, i voluntarily taught a school's extra-curricular computer class after work, during which time i attempted to have the children design and ultimately print a poster for their forthcoming christmas pantomime. due to my being in school for about an hour after classes had finished for the day, several of the teachers took advantage of this fact to complete additional work. during this time, they would frequently ask one of the kids to assist them with one or two computer tasks on the basis that "they're so much better at this stuff than we are".
i did point out that, as teachers, using the above as a get out clause really wasn't an option in this day and age. if computers were to form an ever-increasing part of the current education curriculum, it was surely in their best interests to become more acquainted with the digital realm?
i've not taught such a class for quite some time, principally on the basis that my own predilection leans towards apple macintosh computers, while the school has now demonstrated a greater investment towards microsoft windows, an operating system i prefer to keep at arm's length. the fact that i have also eschewed any association with the smartphone means that my own computing knowledge is now concentrated on more specific tasks utilising specialised software.
however, that has scarcely put a dent in the avowed confidence and surety of the younger generation. this state of affairs, however, is occasionally put to the test in the velocipedinal realm. my son, now in his mid-twenties, has finally seen the light and adopted the pelotonic path with great gusto. as with many an individual, this originated in the desire to improve a non-existent fitness, but repeated exposure to the sunday morning peloton has proved a tad more addictive and i now have a young man who is every bit as keen to get out on the bicycle as am i.
however, there are specific niceties that will hopefully arrive with experience, niceties such as carryng a tyre lever in his on-bike toolkit. this particular omission came to light after a particularly gravely descent past the rspb farm at aoradh. as i was aboard the rather sturdy specialized crux at the time, the road surface was more or less of no nevermind, but the lad was on a colnago which featured 25mm road tyres, one of which was so upset at the surface, it decided to let go of all the air in its tube.
as an allegedly responsible parent, i thought i had impressed upon him the necessities of cycling life, not least of which was the carrying of at least one tyre lever. sadly, this appeared to have fallen on deaf ears; though there was an inner tube and a mini-pump at his behest, a tyre lever was conscpicuous by its absence.
this would have been one of the ideal moments to bring his attention to the particularly brilliant and stunningly clever ritchey barkeeper lever, a tom ritchey invention that is so simple and effective, you have to wonder why no-one has had the perspicacity to think of it before. as the name would suggest, the barkeeper lever fulfils two necessary functions; firstly, it fills the hole at the end of a pair of drop bars, whether fashioned from alloy or carbon, and thus keeps the bar wrap from inconsiderately unfurling in use.
but secondly and more importantly, the barkeeper lever forms a practical and sturdy tyre lever, one that's arguably less likely to go missing in action. the fact that these levers arrive as a carded pair has the potential to make airless life in the wilderness far less of a problem than would have been the case had my son been out for a bike ride on his own. currently, these occupy bar space on the ibis hakkalugi, where they are far less prone to distancing themselves from the bicycle than in the more usual space reserved for the purpose in the seatpack.
no bicycle should leave home without them.
recommended price for a pair of ritchey barkeeper levers is around £15.
tuesday 17 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................