several tours de france past, car manufacturer skoda featured a rather excellent advertisement on eurosport depicting four blokes carrying a framework that supported several race bikes and wheels. running past cheering roadside spectators, the slogan ran something along the lines of 'the tour would be quite different without us', based on the implicit knowledge that skoda have supplied the team, official and neutral service cars of the tour de france for a considerable number of years. the humour was clever, but the message was cleverly direct; without skoda's vehicle supply, teams would indeed have been reduced to running along behind their riders, carrying the spare bikes.
of course, the suspension of belief, or perhaps more accurately, the disconnect, entirely ommitted to point out that the majority of the world's car manufacturers would have been easily able to provide the same service, should their respective marketing departments have decided the return on investment was worth chasing. skoda are currently owned by the world's largest (and possibly most villified) car manufacturer, volkswagen; no doubt one of their estate cars could fulfil a similar function to that of the skodas. thus, objectively, the message contained in the advert was essentially null and void.
though i am aware of one or two cyclists like yours truly who does not own, nor wishes to own a motor car, the incontrovertible fact of life remains that the majority of cyclists are also car owners and drivers. perhaps many have no real wish to be, but modern life dictates that car ownership is often a necessity. there are more than just a few locations about islay where not owning a car would be a particularly difficult, not to say inept, decision to make.
but, so the theory goes, there are now sufficient individuals across britain and europe who identify as cyclists to warrant those in the motor trade directing their attentions towards us in the hope that their own identification with cycling will come into play when time comes to purchase a new car. in my own opinion, the logic of this bears close resemblance to that of islay's malt whisky trade, most of whom are hell-bent on convincing the great unwashed that each oak sherry cask is matured within pouring distance of the sea lapping against the warehouse walls. there is a certain level of truth to this, in that with one notable exception, all the island's distilleries once received all their supplies by sea. kilchoman distillery is situated on a landlocked farm, but all the others have a small pier nearby for the express purpose of docking the puffers that used to ply the route between here and the scottish mainland.
nowadays, of course, all transport to and from the distilleries is by tanker or articulated truck, with the bulk of their output sitting patiently in warehouses not a stone's throw from glasgow. however, the latter is not an ideal best suited to the marketing of the amber nectar. salt sea air will win every time. the majority of whisky aficionados are well aware of this situation, but choose conveniently to ignore it.
skoda have now stepped up their cycle-based campaigning by teaming up with sir bradley to not only supply his team of the same name with support vehicles, but in the making of a new series of television adverts, the first of which was aired during last saturday's rugby coverage. it's eminently possible that this particular advert will do as much for cycle sport in the uk as skoda hope it will do for their car sales, always assuming, of course, that struggling up a steep incline on a pinarello is the sort of activity that appeals to the masses.
viewed with the eye of pragmatism, the latter makes perfect sense. despite recent questions regarding sir brad's apparent need for therapeutic use exemptions just prior to major cycling events, the man is still held in high regard throughout the realm. even his occasional sharp tongue when interviewed has done little to dull his polish. so his recruitment by skoda in order to sell more cars, seems like somethng of a wizard wheeze. none of us would profess any real surprise at such a blatant ploy.
however, rather than let sleeping olympians lie, skoda's head of uk marketing, kirsten stagg had to undermine at least a portion of the credibility i was willing to send in their direction. "From our humble beginnings as a bicycle manufacturer to the innovative automotive brand we are today, we have always prided ourselves in being driven by something different.
"As Britain's most decorated Olympian there is no denying Sir Bradley Wiggins' incredible achievements. We chose to work with him on the campaign because of who he is and what he represents as an individual; he embodies the self-confidence, unique character and spirit which sets him apart from the rest."
what's hot and steaming and comes out of cowes backwards? the isle of wight ferry."
monday 6 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when in the latter years of secondary school, i joined the drama club, mostly at the behest of my art teacher whose idea the entire thespian affair had been in the first place. acting is not, however, one of the skills i might call upon in moments of need; my job for the duration was that of stage manager, though i seem to recall being required to design the programme too. stage managing for school drama productions did not simply end at making sure the sound effects and props were where they ought to be when they ought to be. it was also necessary to design and paint the scenery as well as ensuring any scene changes were managed with alacrity and silence when the performance was underway.
anyway, during the necessary preambles, the flats as each section of scenery was apparently known, were stored in the metalwork department where it transpired, the school canoe club fabricated their fibreglass boats. though i'd be fibbing if i said i knew why that particular department had become the repository for anything mid-production; that seemed to be its designated role in life. at any rate, over the course of a few weeks, i and my assistant became particularly adept at replicating stonework, a necessary necessity to subsequently convince an audience that the acting took place inside and outside an ageing cottage.
these were skills that would eventually serve me well when engaged to perform similar tasks for the school's opera production at the end of my sixth year.
it was ironic that i ended up spending so much time in the metalwork department, even if in the section that saw little in the way of filing, cutting and hammering. i say ironic, because in my third year, i only scraped through by dint of the teacher deciding that no-one in his class would fail the exam. i received a grudging 50%. a mark such as that was not something about which i could complain; i was truly dreadful at all the technical subjects: metalwork, woodwork and technical drawing. in the latter, i could (and still can) draw a straighter line freehand than with the aid of a ruler.
in metalwork, we were tasked with making a coat hook, consisting of a curved chunk of metal riveted to a flat steel back plate. the hook was shaped by heating and bending before drilling two holes to allow for the rivets. sadly, when it came to drilling the backplate for the selfsame reason, i failed to apply the same measurement as to the hook, meaning that none of the holes matched when time came to join both together. an easy mistake to make (if you're me).
it therefore gives me great pleasure to introduce the pupils of adams grammar school of shropshire in england. their technical teacher (if indeed that is still the current method of referral) andrew jones has instigated a programme to have his pupils design and build bicycle frames from scratch. and not just your common or garden tig-welded affairs, but properly lugged steel machines. in fact, if you take a look at the youtube video linked below, you will learn that they even appear to have access to a 3d printer to create patterns for pleasantly intricate lugs.
though i had no earthly interest in bicycles when at school, other than that which allowed me to carry out my daily paper round, it is highly encouraging that a member of the teaching profession has had the foresight to instigate just such a programme in modern-day education. when many schools hold classes and projects concerning climate change from at least a theoretical point of view, this level of pragmatism is to be roundly applauded. but over and above this, bicycle construction from steel seems so much more useful a skill to have than attempting (and failing) to produce a working coat hook from the same material.
i know well, however, that were it me, i'd stand back to admire my workmanship and put the torch flame through the gas hoses and blow everything and everyone to smithereens. mind you, i did do quite well in english.
sunday 5 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
during a recent return trip on the islay ferry i had a conversation with a local businesswoman who regularly advertises in our local newspaper. the service her company offers is one well known to the local population as has been the case for many a long year. it transpires that one or two of her customers had asked why she continued to advertise when there appeared no real need so to do. she told me that, apart from keeping the company name and phone number front and centre, the underlying reason was to continue to support the paper, a forty-three year old local community institution that survives purely on its fortnightly advertising income.
in truth, it would be nice if there were more community spirited business people like her. several of those who once advertised on a regular basis have jumped ship to facebook on the basis that it's free, but without examining whether their target audience are facebook users. in those cases, time will undoubtedly tell.
however, the usual economic basis for advertising of any kind is primarily to alert an expectant public to the products or services on offer in the hope that they will find themselves predisposed to avail themselves of both or either. lord leverhume is famously quoted as saying that 50% of his advertising proved to be ineffective, if only he could figure out which 50%. it has also been said that those who cut back on advertising during a downturn in business, are the very ones likely to go out of business. the advertising industry is one that has flourished in recent years, with sir martin sorrell, ceo of advertising agency wpp being one of the highest paid executives in the world on an annual salary of around £80 million. if they can afford to pay him that sort of money, one can only imagine what their profits must be from helping all and sundry advertise to the world.
there are almost as many ways to promote services and products as there are services and products in the first place, ranging from a few pounds to announce an annual general meeting on the back page of our local newspaper, to the several millions of pounds it costs to have your logo on the side of a formula one car. in fact, with regard to the latter instance, it can cost less to sponsor an entire cycling team for a year than a small colour-co-ordinated decal on the rear aerofoil of a formula one ferrari. and there are more than just one or two commercial concerns who have taken advantage of cycling's growing profile and increased television coverage to do just that. take sky, for instance, or movistar or perhaps dimension data.
but there are also particularly well-heeled individuals who bear the same obsession with cycling as our good selves with either the personal wherewithal to finance a cycling team, either on behalf of a business they own, or as something to show to friends and colleagues.
in the former case, it is almost inevitable that the number at the foot of the balance sheet will condition whether sponsorship is renewed for a further period. or it can be a case of the sponsor feeling that they have gained the maximum exposure they can gain from the sport before moving onto an alternative form of banner. in the case of the private individual, it is almost inevitable that the available money will run out eventually, even though the enthusiasm and spirit are still willing.
but there is a more static form of cycle sponsorship, one that rarely, if ever, can be seen on a cycle jersey: stage starts and stage finishes. the inference here is presumably that such and such a town is cool and perspicacious enough to bring an advancing peloton to their/your town. there seems no shortage of those willing to host a stage start or finish in french france for each year's tour and it may be that a similar happenstance has occurred during the tour of britain.
dumfries and galloway council spent taxpayers' money on hosting the finish of the first stage in castle douglas last year, but presumably were hoping to gain more than just kudos from the cool kids. and in order to check this to be the case, eventscotland commissioned a formal economic impact assessment just to check that the coffers were not being emptied unnecessarily. fortunately, the assessment reported that there had been an additional financial beneft to the local economy of not far short of a quarter of a million pounds. it was also recorded that 28% of the spectators were from outwith scotland.
the fact that syndicated television coverage of the stage was sold to a total of 115 countries would hardly have been injurious to dumfires and galloway's reputation.
councillor, colin smyth said "The Tour of Britain lived up to all expectations and 10,000 people enjoyed a great day out in Castle Douglas last September. As a Council we were able to promote the region as an attractive cycling destination and our efforts with other partner agencies paid off with the large numbers of visitors we enticed to Dumfries and Galloway to take in the Tour."
don't you just love it when a plan comes together?
saturday 4 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"the power of positive thinking is a crock - long live the willing acceptance of the inevitable"
man's spirit of adventure is that which ultimately led to contemporary knowledge of the four corners of the world. the latter is a phrase dependent on the mistaken understanding that the earth was flat; sail or walk too far in any direction and the intrepid would unquestionably fall into the abyss. however, it's possible that i may be guilty of scientific innacuracy by describing the theory of a flat earth as adhered to in error. believe it or not, there is still, in the second decade of the 21st century, an active flat earth society.
i jest not.
this society base their convictions on two principal observations: the horizon always rides to meet eye level, which (they maintain) is impossible on a spherical planet". as if that were insufficient proof for the great unwashed, "the surfaces of bodies of water has been shown to be level. if the earth was a globe, this would not be the case."
though it is easy to poke fun at those who have beliefs contrary to either our own, or that of the majority, in truth, i am insufficiently well travelled to state absolutely that these people are stark raving bonkers. but, should there be need of a target for the latter epithet, i can think of the very people to whom it applies. and then some.
the earnest and academically inclined folks at yonder journal, by their own admission, identify as cultural anthropologists and sportsmen compelled into the wilderness, born to explore american frontiers and western principles. in the words of wayne's world, "we are not worthy". their explorations of elkhorn crest, warm springs road, svaneti, brodrick, sunchuli, piute and iron pass have stretched their home-brewed definition as the caretakers of american field studies to the point where our own velocipedinal perambulations seem positively mundane by comparison.
yet, such far-reaching meanderings mean diddley squat unless there is some form of record. to paraphrase the kids of today 'if it's not on instagram, it didn't happen.' fortunately, yonder journal's great leader, the inestimable daniel wakefield pasley is a dab hand with a camera and there has been scarcely a moment of their foolish ineptitude that has not been recorded on film or digital pixels. all well and good, you may say, but you'd hardly refer to a website as constituting a permanent record. suppose those pixels fade in the sunlight?
thankfully, the perspicacious individuals at california's specialized bicycles, sponsors of yonder journal's admirable efforts in the field, have aided and abetted the publication of the dead reckoning photo book, containing images the likes of which you have scarcely taken note before. if you're willing to accept the basic premise that a picture is worth a thousand words, there seems little point in my describing the contents of those 136 large format, shiny pages image by image. and in order that the names not be altered to protect the guilty, there is a rogues gallery towards the back of this impressive volume identifying those deserving of your praise or derision.
many of you may have followed the exploits of yonder journal, tyre track by tyre track as religiously as those who still think the earth is flat, but ownership of this book will bring warmth to your hearth and intrigue to your broom cupboard. i am fortunate that thewashingmachinepost bike shed currently contains a california sage white specialized sequioa, eager and willing to satiate my new found wanderlust. that said, the book's format is way too large to fit in a rear jersey pocket.
friday 3 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's a hard conundrum to reconcile. government and local councils would have us believe that they are cash-strapped, the latter due to reduced funding from central government and the former due to ever-increasing expenditure and lowered tax receipts. granted, when you take note of the large international corporations with remarkably convoluted tax arrangements, seemingly guaranteed to ensure very little of it reaches the coffers of her majesty's revenue and customs, they may well be correct. either way, the reduced services we all appear to be receiving for our annual council tax would largely point to a funding crisis of some sort or another.
yet, almost on a daily basis, i have sight of press releases attesting to grant funding received by local organisations, often for what appear to be less than necessary projects. and how often have you taken note of arts council logos appended to advertisements and cd covers? i have recollection many years ago of a scottish jazz trio who flew to new york to record a well-funded album at a renowned nyc studio, yet the finished product has never been released.
our local leisure centre was provided with funding to purchase an electric-powered mountain bike. in itself, that seems relatively innocuous, but the conditions of that same funding prevents them from receiving any money in recompense for use by interested parties. the last i heard it was lying unwanted and unloved midst the water pipes under the swimming pool. i was also party to a musical experiment which received funding for recording of a live concert on condition that the recording was not offered to the paying public.
i'm definitely not saying that arts funding is a pointless exercise, but some of the accompanying restrictions do leave many questions unanswered. yet, when there appears to be a demand for specific services or infrastructure, there are the inevitable protestations that the coffers are empty.
2016 revealed that car sales figures in the united kingdom had reached an all-time high, with 2.69 million of the little blighters registered, showing a year-on-year increase of 2%. though the society of motor manufacturers and traders expect sales in 2017 to diminish by between 5-6%, that is really of no nevermind, because the nation's roads are currently stretched to bursting point as it is. and it is something of a tautology to state that any increase in the number of vehicles on britain's roads is likely to lead to a subsequent increase in traffic accidents including fatalities.
as we all know from reading the dailies and the cycling press, more and more of those fatalities and serious injuries are happening to cyclists, road-users who mostly fulfil the position of second or third class citizens. as evidence for the latter, i would cite the all but laughable sentences or fines handed out by the judiciary to motorists blatantly guilty of having killed or maimed members of the cycling public.
most of the above is not good news, but it is old news. so why have britain's cyclists and pedestrians allowed this situation to happen, when others such as those in holland appear to have proceeded in a different and ultimately safer direction? after the second world war, the dutch saw a substantial increase in their average income, leading to an inevitable increase in their acquisitive powers. spending increased including the money spent on motor vehicles, leading eventually to unnacceptable levels of congestion and deaths on dutch roads as government spending centred on catering to more and more motorists in their cities.
it may have simply been the serendipitous arrival of contributing factors, but protests by a large proportion of the dutch public, alarmed and irate at the number of child deaths on the roads and the encroachment of increased road building, combined with a downturn in the economy and the middle east engineered fuel crisis, persuaded dutch politicians to sit up and take notice.
in modern-day holland, while the bicycle may not be king, it certainly has aspirations towards the throne. each and every inner-city or road development has to take cycling into serious consideration. the people of amsterdam have effectively reclaimed their city and their impressive cycling infrastructure has led to a substantial increase in the number of dutch cyclists. these are not the sort of cyclists we'd expect to join us on the sunday ride, but in truth, that's precisely the way it ought to be. aside from any other consideration, ten blokes on skinny tyres and bendy bars on a sunday morning are never going to persuade argyll and bute council's cash-strapped roads department that our presence demands a network of cycle paths around the principality.
but if around half of our 3,000 plus population were to renounce the car and travel daily by bicycle, something would have to happen. extrapolate that across the nation and despite our impending departure from europe, britain's cyclists could ride as safely and economically as our dutch counterparts. granted, it's a chicken and egg situation: many who would potentially cycle are discouraged from so doing by the number of cars on the roads and the lack of any cyclepath infrastructure to support those aspirations. yet without more cycling, nobody's going to bother aquiescing to the demands of the few.
but if the dutch people and their government can achieve cycling nirvana with little in the way of apparent animosity between them, i see no real reason why it can't work over here. the only real question is why it hasn't worked up till now and why we keep buying so many flipping cars?
thursday 2 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
several jazz festivals ago, i was fortunate enough to bump into mark hodgson, formerly the double bass player with bill bruford's earthworks, the leader and drummer of which had been a hero of mine since the early 1970s. despite that fact and having attended several of his featured gigs over the years, i'd never met the guy. up till that point, i figured this was probably a good thing, based mostly on the old wives' tale that one should never meet one's heroes.
i have found over the past eighteen years or so that participating in the islay jazz festival confers an unheard of ability to meet some seriously good musicians on their own terms, without the attendant expectation of sycophancy mostly associated with fandom. thus i was able to have a chat with mr hodgson about his work with earthworks during which he intimated that should i be able to attend an upcoming gig at glasgow's renfrew ferry, he would happily introduce me to bill bruford. it did not take much time to purchase a ticket for said gig.
true to his word, at the end of the earthworks concert (which really did take place on the former renfrew ferry, moored in the clyde), mark introduced me to bill bruford, albeit briefly because there were others wishing to shake his hand and ask for autographs. in those few minutes, he was the perfect gentleman, without a trace of the arrogance that sometimes inflicts itself upon the 'stars' of the music business. it seems that you can sometimes meet your heroes and leave feeling totally justified in all those years of (percussive) adoration.
the world of cycling is every bit as populated with heroes as is the music business, some of whom you'll be really glad you idolised and others that will make you tear their posters from your wall. once again, the fact that i have this incurable tendency to write stuff about cycling has, in most cases, dissolved the potential them and us situation that might just hang over any meeting with the stars. granted, the late david duffield was kind and honest enough to say that he'd never even heard of thewashingmachinepost, but i took that as a compliment because he did shake my hand. i've even had a conversation about sheds with sean kelly.
but every now and again, one of those situations that you never ever thought would happen actually happens. consider those in at birth of the mountian bike, the chaps who invented the repack ride down mount tamalpais, so-called because they'd to repack the coaster brakes with grease at the bottom. were it not for those pioneers, despite their youthful innocence that kept them from realising the importance of their downhill fun, the modern day velocipedinal world would look a lot different than it does.
one of those chaps was tom ritchey. when over on uk soil last year, paying close attention to the british setup and having a few words with my good friend simon beatson, he elected to contact the bicycle academy in frome, somerset, to find out more about their activities. this led to a framebuilding masterclass during which the bicycle academy instructors (new skool) demonstrated their method of joining metal tubes and tom ritchey (old skool) showed them how it was achieved back in the day.
over the course of a day and an evening, they built a complete mountain bike on which tom went for a ride with a local group the following day. the evening also offered a film night and possibly a once in a lifetime chance to hang out with one of the true icons of the bicycle world. if you click the link below, you can watch highlights of the proceedings and discover just how easy-going mr ritchey still is.
go on, meet your heroes.
wednesday 1 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
on sunday morning, after arising at the crack of half-past-eight and checking the weather, i'd to don the cycling apparel i'd rather lackadaisically laid out in the bathroom the night before. though my porridge oats had been pre-soaked after washing the previous evening's dishes, porridge doesn't make itself, so, having rescued the soya milk, orange juice and peach slices from the fridge(idaire), i'd quite literally to stand at the cooker for nigh on five minutes, stirring those oats until they turned into appropriately heated gruel.
as if that were not sufficient to play havoc with getting in the zone for the sunday ride, the specialized sequoia on which i had perambulated portions of the estate the previous day was still sat in the bike shed, clinging onto a great deal of the landscape through which we had ridden together for most of saturday. the previously mentioned lackadaisicality once more raised its ugly head with regard to the inflationary characteristics of that impressively 42mm wide rubber. the heck with pressure gauges; i decided to wing it.
it is fortunate that even review bicycles seem more than acquainted with the route from the croft to debbie's in order that we may commence our regular demonstration of sunday morning athleticism, for in my haste to leave on time, i had neglected to fit the garmin mount to the handlebars. new bicycles can perform one of two ways; either everything functions as slickly as the website promises, or the travel from factory to hebridean rurality might have encouraged a derailleur or two to develop minds of their own. fortunately, in this particular case, fluidity was their middle name.
and despite being a world famous cycling journalist (less of the sniggering at the back), i had to find my own way around the roads leading to and from loch gorm. oh, the embarrassment.
but in truth, my sunday morning differs little from that of almost every other cyclist in the country. or in the world. granted, one or two of you may be a tad more conscientious and spend appropriate time both cleaning and maintaining the velocipede du jour, riding to the sunday start on a shiny metal or carbon machine that has the remainder of the peloton wincing in the bright sunlight reflecting off the top tube and wheel rims. but mostly we are all aboard and confronted with dirty, oily chains, slightly tattered bar tape and more than just a single pair of mismatched tyres.
where's the mavic car when you need it?
this may be all very well for the humdrum, but as we keep on telling ourselves (and each other), we're better than this. were it not for having to do the weekly shop on saturday mornings, we'd have been offered a professional contract. john herety said as much when last we shared the front seats of a team car. and not receiving a christmas card from sir dave was obviously just an oversight. it's easily done. otherwise i'd have opened the bedroom door to be met with a neatly folded pile of freshly laundered kit, before being arrested by the aroma of a healthy breakfast being prepared in the downstairs kitchen. not only that, but even the thought of having to wash up those dishes would scarcely have crossed my mind as i downed the second double-espresso of the morning.
step outside and there, gleaming in the sun would be a bicycle with my name and saltire on the top tube, cleaned and lubricated within an inch of its life, replete with garmin, helmet and a filled bidon in the bottle cage. riding off down the gravely descent, there would be the team car pulling almost silently in behind my rear wheel, spare bikes and wheels on the roof, ready and willing to cater to any mishap that may befall en route.
i can already see your quizzical looks. it's a scenario that we are all familar with, if only before we awaken in the morning, or from reading a selection of the monthlies. very few of us will ever reach those dizzy heights.
or will we?
situated not too far away from the giant of provence, mont ventoux, is the former hamlet of le grand banc a rustic collection of stone-built homes now converted into individual rooms; possibly the finest bed and breakfast in the world; certainly the most unique. le grand banc sits atop a hill, affording some incredible views across the valley, with a lengthy and steep descent to civilisation below and the sort of returning climb that proves everybody needs at least eleven gears and possibly more.
le grand banc is the base from which rapha travel's retreat operates, scene of their very first foray into the travel business. during that particular trip, an ascent of mont ventoux had to be abandoned due to negligible visibility at the summit. however, the alternative, along the precipitous road lining the l'anesque gorge was undoubtedly the finest day's cycling i have ever experienced in over thirty years of riding a bicycle. and no matter how slow my uphill progress, there was always a guide alongside ensuring that i didn't get lost or overly fatigued.
and had the latter become a reality, either a team car or van returned at frequent intervals just to check. when we got back, thor hushovd's personal masseur breathed new life into a very tired pair of legs.
very few of us will ever exceed the norms we've set for ourselves on a daily or weekly basis. but a rapha travel trip (excellent alliteration) does everything it says on the tin, and then some. my own attendance at that first retreat was precisely how i imagined the professionals live, except nobody expected me to ride really fast for a living. the retreat is the relaxing part of the travel equation; for those who feel the need to emerge after a more challenging few days, there's phil deeker's cent cols challenge, a selection of randonees, exploratory raids and for those out to impress patrick levevre, there's a pro team camp.
in an ideal world, the latter would be my first choice, but rapha travel's operations manager james heraty and guide anton blackie would almost certainly advise me against so doing. rapha continental original, ben lieberson would probably laugh, all the while insisting that the road wasn't going up.
starting at just over £1,000 for the ascent trip and topping out above £4,000 for the randonnee, rapha travel isn't necessarily cheap. but if your experience is even half as good as was mine, you'll wonder how they manage to provide so much for so little.
i write from experience.
tuesday 31 january 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................