yesterday's elite men's cyclocross world championship race was effectively decided by an unfortunate puncture around two and a half laps from the finish. matthieu van der poel looked to be risking a great deal by powering off the front from corner one and almost literally never looking back. however, the rider who has arguably taken over the mantle of sven nys by often riding off into the distance in pursuit of yet another victory, wout van aerts, after a not altogether convincing start, was eventually closing on van der poel's back wheel. those of us who are entertained by the cyclocross milieu were at that point looking forward to a similar battle as that played out between vos and cant in saturday's women's championship race (ultimately won by cant pretty much on the line).
unfortunately, the cyclocross fight of the century failed to materialise when the hapless van der poel experienced a rear tyre puncture just too far from the pits to enable him to hang onto van aerts and give him a hard time until the final straight.
it was an unfortunate hyphenation to what promised to be an excellent race, even though first and second were around a minute ahead of kevin pauwels in third place. though i'm not one who pays any real attention to formula one motor racing, one or two races during the season and now including the world championship race have resembled a common criticism levelled at motor sport's premier division; the leader is so far in front that the event scarcely constitutes a race.
it would be wrong to make it sound as if van aert's victory was achieved with relative ease; two successive fastest laps are testament to the effort he maintianed to retain those coveted rainbow hoops. but were it not for van der poel's unfortunate puncture, things could have been a lot different.
but, interestingly enough, commentary from anthony mccrossan and simon burney featured a race length thread discussing the mint green tyres seen not only on van aers' race bike, but also on the bike he swapped it for during his only race pit stop. this discussion was augmented by many individuals tweeting their own contributions to the narrative. i confess i have not been following the sport for long enough to remember the michelin tubular tyres which van aerts' were purported to be, principally in the knowledge that those particular items were last produced around the turn of the century. (however, looking closely at the tread pattern on van aerts' tyres, they don't appear to match the tread pattern on the long lost michelins).
the tread on those tubs was made from a silica-based rubber with an open tread that allegedly had superior grip in wet conditions. assuming this to be true, i rather wondered why it was that neither they, nor subsequent derivatives were still being offered to both race-going and leisure cyclocrossers in 2017. it appears the answer has little to do with the colour, but everything to do with silica's rather poor wear characteristics. silica provides a typically harder compound which reduces hysteresis, or loss of energy due to deformation. in a muddy cyclocross race, where riders typically run abnormally low pressures to enhance grip, silica, combined with the tread pattern would presumably have offered the ideal advantage.
several of those tweeting to mccrossan and burney alluded to the fact that they had either one or two pairs, or in one case, an entire box of those mint green michelins in the shed or basement. in the knowledge that they are currently objects of desire, it appears that new old stock can achieve prices in excess of £75 per tyre on tubular. the outset of this underlying chapter to a world championship cyclocross race, is that any rider vaguely interested in cyclocross is probably now looking for a set of green tyres to fit to their 'cross bike (i know i am, shallow though it may be).
makers of quality competition tubulars, fmb currently offer a 'super mud' 'cross tubular available with either a black or green tread, though it has to be admitted that the shade of green is of a more sombre shade than those relied upon by wout van aerts. disappointingly, during an albeit brief minute of research on sunday afternoon, i was unable to find any currently available mint green coloured cyclocross clinchers, but that doesn't mean they're not out there just waiting to be discovered.
mind you, even if i find some, you can bet your world championship jersey that it won't make a blind bit of difference to my cycling performance in islay's muddy undergrowth. this should also help prove that cyclocross racing isn't only about mud, sweat, gears, frites and mayo.
monday 30 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in november last year, the uci world cup cyclocross race at koksijde was cancelled due to high winds, gusting up to 50mph. as one with first hand experience of winds in excess of that, i can imagine the havoc that might have been wreaked considering the principal feature of the koksijde course is a plethora of sand. though the rain might conceivably have damped that down just a bit, there's every likelihood that winds of that velocity would have found ways of spreading it about a bit.
on islay's atlantic coast, galeforce winds frequently coat the roads with a peppering of sand, so it's not hard to conceive that the cyclocross race would have fared little better. however, though the general consensus from the riders was that the correct decision had been made by the organisers, it's very unusual for a cyclocross race to be abandoned due to weather. when you consider that each race in the world cup series as well as comparable events often feature rain, snow, mud and many other forms of inclemency, cancellation of a cyclocross race is a rare happenstance.
the oddity of this situation is that cyclocrossing tends to be my escape route when the hebridean weather precludes the regular perambulation of the estates. it's a mere 5km from the croft to bridgend woods and assuming the wind doesn't quite reach tree-felling proportions, and i can make it round the head of the loch in the first place, the myriad tracks formerly the province of islay's landed gentry offer hours of unstinting fun in the undergrowth.
it is this particular tenacity, endemic in the majority of velo club members, that rarely prevents a bike ride of some sort or another. for even on days of unbridled sunshine, when all and sundry are prone to pointing out just what a fine day it is for a bike ride, i am wont to make mention that every day is is a fine day for a bike ride. the only conceivable reason/excuse for not going out would be in the teeth of an atlantic storm; endangering life and limb is most definitely not in the rule book.
and while we're on that subject, the rule book of velo club d'ardbeg, an edifice which exists only in theory, but not in reality, contains only two rules. rule one is that there are no rules and rule two refers the member to rule one. we have no yearly membership fees, no annual dinner dance, no boxing day 10 and definitely no annual general meeting. yet despite those glaring omissions, membership has increased since the pre-debbie's days when the mighty dave t and yours truly used to meet at the gates of bruichladdich distillery and ride to the ancestral home at ardbeg for a coffee and perchance, a slice of clootie dumpling.
currently, if everyone turns up on a sunday morn, we might just manage a peloton numbering around a dozen. small fry to you perhaps, but impressive for the outer edge.
which is why several of us have uttered guffaws of mild dersion on learning that there are those amongst the population who would constitute a mountain bike club. there's no doubt that the hebridean isles bear a propensity to form clubs, associations and voluntary organisations at the drop of a hat. the factors of eventual disintegration are almost built-in at the outset, when committees and sub-committees are formed and suddenly there appears a hierarchy more often than not with its own agenda.
in our collective and humble opinion, it is far better to leave everything to chance, particularly if there is no demand for external funding. i am aware, from the regular weekly feature in the comic, that there are many british cycle clubs that have survived since roman times, replete with their own well-chosen, or downright hideous club colours. but with so many cycling apparel providers pushing the boundaries of technical innovation seemingly on a weekly basis, we're happy to leave choice of outfit to that of individual preference. yes, there is an ardbeg cycle jersey, but technical it certainly isn't.
this way, nobody can make the decision not to ride in the wind.
sunday 29 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the early nineties, despite considering myself to be a mountain biker (not exactly fearless in the face of adversity, but i rarely read the small print), i thought it something of a wizard wheeze to assemble a road bike on the pretext of demonstrating my bike building and mechanical skills to an ignoring hebridean population. though i'd headed off at the pass any potential accusations of slothfulness by aligning myself with the so-called slow movement, the speedier possibilities offered by a much narrower set of tyres were best described as 'intriguing'.
the idea had originally been to purchase a lugged steel frame (there wasn't any real alternative in those days) and, stage by stage, append shiny components until i had before me a machine worthy of my world famous robert millar impersonation. however, when the red 531 frame arrived, i had little hesitation in turning impatience into a virtue, almost immediately ordering a campagnolo chorus groupset by convincing myself that it would be cheaper than acquiring each bit individually. there's every possibility that was a myth.
there was also the fringe benefit that purchasing an entire groupset (including hubs) alleviated the need for any procrastinating decisions regarding what was going to convert the frame into a complete bicycle. up until relatively recently, this was the accepted manner of purchasing a road bike, a hangover from the early fifties and sixties when, in the uk at least, frame and components purchased separately were exempt from purchase tax, while an entire bicycle simply wasn't. it also led to the apocryphal tales of husbands buying a new frame each year in exactly the colour of the old one. that way, her indoors would be blissfully unaware of the extra-curricular expenditure.
in my case, i was starting from scratch.
this stage by stage assemby of velocipedinal joy was confined not only to items such as bottom bracket (cup and cone), derailleurs and headset, but i'd opted to go out on a limb by also building my first pair of wheels; the only set on which i'd be riding. surprisingly enough, despite wheelbuilding being positioned as cycling's darkest of black arts, those wheels lasted considerably longer than did the corrosion protection factory applied to the steel frame. wheelbuilding is ultimately a relatively simple process, but the preparation most certainly isn't.
experience has taught me roughly the length of spokes required to build both road and mtb wheels, even as far as the differences engendered by different cross patterns. but starting from zero, figuring out the right size was scarcely simplicity itself, particularly for one with a remarkably tenuous grasp on both arithmetic and mathematics. and if you've ever taken a look at the different brands and butting profiles available to the inexperienced newbie, you'd realise the unsubstantiated decisions that were required to be plucked from thin air.
nowadays, purchasing a complete bicycle is almost common practice, unless you've a penchant for the upper reaches of any particular manufacturer's range. even then, the chances are that your local bike shop will provide a more than welcome set of tried and tested options. in the case of the less pricey options, those decisions, decisions, decisions have already been taken care of by mr specialized, mr trek, mr giant, mr colnago and several other gents with your best interests at heart.
not only that, but many arrive at your front door in a box the size of a glasgow tenement, just waiting to be rolled out, ready assembled, tyres inflated and leaving its new owner to merely adjust the saddle height and straighten the handlebars before riding off into the sunset. just such a beautiful item arrived today at washingmachinepost croft from the nice folks at specialized. in this particular case, it is a specialized sequoia elite in what i would describe as duck egg blue, but which the specialized website assures me is white sage. however, the item of most immediate interest is the metal name plate affixed to the top of the seat tube. the legend embossed underneath the word 'sequoia' reads...
"a thousand decisions properly made"
saturday 28 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the early days of sky television, eurosport was a welcome addition to the daily programming, particularly if you were in any way into tractor-pulling or any other number of distinctly odd forms of sporting prowess. the channel also offered wall to wall coverage of le tour in a format that was most pleasing to the eye. by this, i refer to the unfettered coverage that simply went straight to the race, accompanied by the intriguing digressions of commentator, the late david duffield, frequently aided and abetted by sean kelly. aside from the tactics and strategies played out across the mountain stages, it was amazing how much could be learned about regional cheeses and french wines.
when tv life entered the digital realm, 'real' eurosport disappeared from our uk screens, to be replaced with british eurosport, a newly constituted channel which, it claimed, would reflect more accurately the sporting demands of the average brit. i took this to mean football, but ultimately they did redeem themselves by not only continuing the coverage of le tour, but adding in the giro and vuelta, often with edited highlights in the evening. slide in a smattering of one-day classics and what was not to like?
of course, as with many an aspect of hebridean life, the wind stuck its oar in, carefully repositioning thewashingmachinepost satellite dish just far enough that we could no longer access any of the delights promised by our ever more expensive sky subscription. despite having taken every financial precaution against just such a happenstance, sky were unable to offer any televisual relief for several weeks, so we cancelled our subscription.
the downside to so doing was no more eurosport. despite tantalising us with the promise of negotiations with freesat and freeview, cycling on both remains the preserve of itv4 and the bike channel. like many others, i have subscribed to the online broadcast features of eurosport player in order to watch the cycling events without which i'd find it hard to survive. but i now discover that, due to unsuccessfully protracted financial negotiations between discovery and sky, it seems very likely that eurosport will disappear from the satellite broadcaster altogether.
quite where that puts eurosport, i know not, but them's the breaks, as they say.
however, returning, albeit briefly, to the eurosport player, i was once informed by someone who knows a great deal more about this sort of thing than i, that broadcasting via the internet is a far cheaper means of reaching the end user; in other words, you and me. and it is this ease of accessibility and economy that has allowed two of my good friends to invade the warmth of your living rooms in a manner that may have you wondering why they ever invented the internet in the first place.
yonder journal, having recently announced the end of their dead reckoning project (the book of which will be reviewed in the mearest hint of time), now have too much time on their hands or, to be more accurate, on their video cameras. this has led to the creation of yonder televisions, the sort of televisual experience your mother always warned you about. but rather than make the effort to explain what can only be described as a bit of a worry, allow me to quote from the yonder website.
"WE ARE CONSTANTLY fielding questions from readers, watchers, friends and colleagues about what we're doing and why we're doing it. Is Yonder about bicycles? Is it about exploration and adventure? Rodeos? Car racing and Vortex National Parks? The answer is yes. Yes, it's about all that shit and so much more. Listen, to be honest we're still trying to figure it out. The point is, we're committed to exploring Professional Recreation through Performance Art. That much we know for sure. Beyond that we're still trying to figure out the details, that's why we created Yonder Televisions; a weekly State of the Union address about the details."
on first viewing you could be forgiven for wondering why anyone ever allowed messrs. pasley and hoetzendorff within ten metres of a record button. but if you've followed yonder journal across any of its previous exploits, yonder televisions will only serve to confuse you further.
be warned: there is uncensored reference to socks in this episode.
friday 27 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i have ridden previous versions of the groupset, continuing explorations aboard a specialized crux elite have offered the welcome opportunity to experience the fun and foibles* of sram's cx1 cyclocross groupset. the portent, as it approached from the corner of unfamiliarity, was not filled with promise, based entirely on my experience with kids' single chainset bicycles. if you were thewashingmachinepost's back door, you too would have emitted a sigh of regret everytime a small child's hand rapped upon its wooden surface.
to elucidate further, the marriage of a small single chainwheel up front with several variously sized sprockets at the rear, mediated by a derailleur of sorts, has mostly had all the hallmarks of someone's idea of a joke. i am insufficiently well-versed in the art of micro-engineering to know if it is the remarkably short distance between bottom bracket and sprockets that has a propensity to pull the chain from any set of teeth to which it is married; or some other even more obscure reason. either way, in the summer months, stepping out the back door to be confronted with yet another child's chainless bicycle against the shed door, has lost the ability to even raise an eyebrow.
yet, until saturday past, the sram chain on the specialized's rival cx1 groupset had stuck to the chainring like glue. only a slightly inept meander through a plethora of dismembered branches and twigs resulted in one of the latter catching between chain and teeth, unshipping it inwards towards the bottom bracket. were this to have happened on the ibis, there would have been the opportunity to shift the front derailleur outwards to the big ring. with luck, this would have lifted the chain back to its desired position, but if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry christmas.
that aside, it would be hard to fault the operation of sram's technology. in fact, after almost six months aboard, it must surely be time to reconsider one of the fundamental principles of mechanical rhetoric.
on bicycles featuring two chainrings (or three, if you fancy complicating matters just a smidgeon), common lore has advised from time immemorial that running the chain from big ring to big sprocket or small ring to small sprocket was pretty much a non-starter due to increased chain wear. the mechanical reasons appear quite sound; derailleur chains are designed to be laterally flexible in order to cope with the sideways pressure of derailleur changes. though we've been advised not to do so, the gear system still has to work if the big-big or small-small combinations are deliberately or inadvertantly chosen. once you've sold someone a bicycle, it would seem a bit restrictive to tell them just how to use it.
but restrict that chain to resting upon a single chainring and suddenly, in order to utilise each and every rear sprocket, it now requires to run at angles acute enough to bring tears to a can of three-in-one oil.
the fine fellows and fellowesses at sram's headquarters in germany are continually looking at teeth, chain and sprocket profiles on their xx1 mountain bike groupsets along with rear derailleur actuation. perhaps quite obviously mountain bikes constitute the area in which those components are given the hardest of times by their riders. the knowledge gained from such serious mechanical hassle will presumably trickle down to not only the cyclocross genre, but probably the 1x road setup.
as a fully paid up member of the luddite society and flat earth society, it ill behoves me to offer any recommendation towards what could reasonably be regarded as new technology. integrated headsets, press-fit bottom brackets, hydraulic disc brakes have all been pilloried to no avail in these very pixels and though i have no vested interest in losing a chainring (so to speak), i'm inclined to smile in the direction of this particular feature. this qualified approval, in the grand scheme of things, means less than a great deal to the industry at large, i'd imagine, but i'm just getting my name on the list in case posterity has a vacancy.
based entirely on experience, you understand.
*actually, there appear to be no notable foibles
thursday 26 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it might surprise you to know that even a normal sized bicycle shaped object struggles to fit into the rear of the now discontinued landrover defender. i know this because many years past, the local sergeant brought me over his newly purchased bso to have it correctly assembled and i think we may have caused one or two hitherto unseen scratches on the rudimentary seating. this was apparently on which police or suspects were expected to plant their bottoms.
i do not wish to infer that the sergeant was an inept fool, unable to undertake the simplest of mechanical tasks such as fitting a saddle and a pair of wheels to his shiny new bicycle shaped object, but the accompanying instruction manual was about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. when the cycle was ultimately extricated from the compact and bijou rear portion of the police landrover, it transpired that he was midway through committing a mechanical faux-pas that might well have seen him sustain unfortunate injuries.
the aforesaid instruction manual detailed the process for the fitting of bolt-on hub axles, when in point of fact, the bso had arrived with a quick-release front. in an effort to reconcile what he saw before him, via the rudimentary drawing in the manual, he had unscrewed the locknuts on each side of the hub and attempted to thread them back in place on the outside of the fork dropouts. after only minor questioning, it turned out that he had no notion whatsoever of the purpose of the included quick-release skewer.
naming no names and pointing no elbows, things have scarcely improved in the interim. i cannot recall the last time i had a brand new, shiny and fairly expensive bicycle in for review that came replete with a user manual bearing any resemblance whatsoever to the machinery in the box. the irony, or iniquity of this situation revolves around the fact that invariably there is a sticker somewhere about its person informing the new owner that the manual should be read from cover to cover before heading into the wide grey yonder.
one is thus moved to ask: for why?
however, rather than concern ourselves with the relevance or irrelevance of accompanying velocipedinal paperwork, it behoves us well to consider the very purpose of anyone purchasing a bicycle shaped object in the first place. in the case of the policeman mentioned above, he and his wife had decided that a tad more exercise was required on behalf of both of them. this was a fad that at one time had infiltrated the thoughts of most of my neighbourhood, one that seemed to have lasted a mere ten minutes before the classified column of the local newspaper was filled with several 'barely used bicycle for sale' adverts.
many of those whose sheds had once been occupied by a pair of his and hers bicycles, are now reaping the rewards of failing to embark upon the much-promised exercise regimes the cycles had been purchased to undertake. to put it bluntly, the exercise would have done them a power of good. this is scarcely an indictment peculiar to those domiciled in my village. according to a recent survey by the british heart foundation, the average uk resident (should such an individual exist in the first place) hasn't ridden a bicycle in nine years, despite more than ten percent of respondents admitting that they'd received a bicycle for christmas. another ten percent admitted that they'd forgotten how to ride a bicycle, a crime for which there is scarcely an appropriate punishment in my opinion.
according to the organiser of the annual london to brighton challenge ride "cycling is a fantastic way of keeping your heart healthy.", but then we knew that already, didn't we?
now, about those user manuals...
wednesday 25 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the days when the internet was merely a few zeros and ones in the mind of tim berners-lee, when system software updates were mostly included on covermount cds on certain monthly computer magazines, i would maintain my tenuous grasp on modernity by buying my copies of macworld and macuser magazines from my local newsagent. i have, i'm happy to say, never been one to enthuse about computers merely for their own sake; for me it's always been about just what they can do for me rather than vice versa.
aside from desirable and often important updates on those covermount compact discs, there was usually a folder containing a series of free games and trial versions of those the manufacturers would rather you paid for. that was the only item on the disc that i completely ignored; to be honest, i could rarely be bothered to read the instructions, let alone press the up and down arrows in the search for digital nirvana. that particular situation hasn't changed since.
i seem to recall a copy of sonic the hedgehog playing on a games machine in my daughter's bedroom, oh so many years ago and there's every likelihood that i may have attempted to grasp a whole slew of floating metal rings across one or two levels before boredom set in and i went off to adjust a gear mech or inflate a tyre or two instead.
but now, it's all coming back to haunt me (and you, and you and you). after years of endless promises, virtual reality appears now to be an actual reality. no longer is there anything virtual about it.
until recently i had aways considered the idea of sitting in the comfort of my own sitting room, replete with a particularly ungainly headset, meandering at will through a computer generated scenario to be a particularly pointless pastime. aside from appearing positively ridiculous to any innocent bystanders, i had faith that there were very many other more interesting things that could be done instead. that was until reading a recent article regarding the star wars franchise, currently being curated by disney pictures. it appears that the resident white lab coats have developed the ability to computer-generate entire scenes from upcoming star wars movies, set them on an infinite number of loops and allow the director to virtually 'walk' through the scene looking for the ideal camera angle to commit to celluloid or digital.
this, of course, is predicated on the notion that you find star wars films of sufficient import on which to devote such vast quantities of research and development. the spin-off from such flights of fancy is that the resultant technology can be applied to other realms of reality, a concrete concept that may soon be under threat of extinction. (and i can't believe you'd even question the importance of star wars).
if this diatribe seems to be declining into the outer reaches of despondency, then you're every bit as clever as you look. far from celebrating the tangible reality of spending the months of winter and spring ploughing through horizontal rain, driven by galeforce atlantic winds, it seems that eric min, ceo of the recently popular, computer-based zwift cycle training system. though zwift eased its way into our velocipedinal world by seeming to be little more than a turbo trainer in front of a tv screen with just enough interactivity to be enticing, min has more stratospheric ambitions.
lo and behold, mr min has taken advantage of the recent developments in three-dimensional virtual reality presented via the very ungainly headset mentioned above. i can perfectly comprehend zwift's business model and the need for some bells and whistles to attract the hardy boys. but is it just me, or is not the core attraction of bicycling the wide variety of circumstances under which pedalling might take place? out of doors in all weathers, twelve months of the year?
granted, as one revered (reviled?) for perennial criticism of bar-mounted gps units and the subsequent uploading to strava, i'm hardly in mr min's target audience. but after recently bemoaning the possible demise of a spring classic or two due to a lack of team support, are we in danger of encouraging a new generation of cyclists with no practical experience of real wind, real rain and real cobbles?
suppose they gave a bike ride and nobody came?
tuesday 24 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................