i have made an album or two in my past, or at least i've been the drummer on those selfsame recordings. one consisted of blues songs the choosing of which i played no part in whatsoever. the more recent (and even that was more than a handful of years ago) took the form of a live album recorded direct from the mixing desk during islay jazz festival. almost entirely due to the quality of singer on the latter, sales were reasonably healthy and it even received extended airplay on bbc radio.
the principal reason for issuing the latter as a compact disc was to raise funds for cystic fibrosis, the other two musicians (mario caribe and paul harrison) waiving any requirement to receive earnings from sales. however, as the recording of a live performance, the singer and i had spent the preceding months deciding on the material to perform and rehearse (as well as a singer and drummist can) ensuring that the audiences for the gig and the disc would hopefully have few, if any, grounds for complaint.
despite the rather last minute circumstances surrounding the recording, after a modest degree of editing in audio software, the sound quality of the resulting issue was actually not that bad. in fact, i almost committed a bit of a faux pas a month or two later when i failed to recognise a track from the cd and almost unknowingly complimented myself. how embarrassing would that have been?
fortunately, the situation whereby a follow-up issue was required did not materialise, for truly, that's where the problems would undoubtedly have begun. for instance, did our audience enjoy the songs because they were all originally performed by billie holiday? in which case, would they then expect a second recording of songs by the same artist, or would they have preferred that we move on to a vocalist of the same era? perhaps a touch of contemporaneity, adopting material by a modern-day singer or maybe even an original number or two? i think you can probably see where i'm going with this.
version one of anything can go one of two ways; either it's a roaring success or it sinks without trace. strictly speaking rapha's latest offering in their classic range is version three rather than number two. for the original rapha bibshorts, though maybe the first set weren't bestowed with the classic name, featured a petacchi insert manufactured by nalini, the form of which suited my posterior just ginger peachy, though apparently that was not the case for many others. so the pad changed.
i'd have been inclined to view that new, improved version as edition number two, but since nothing else on the shorts had altered, perhaps rapha adopted the system beloved of software developers and imprinted them as version 1.1. either way, their original classic shorts have proved to be one of the most popular items of cycling apparel over the past ten something years. so much so, that altering them in any way was always bound to be something of a worry. bear in mind that coca cola issued and recalled an improved recipe of their fizzy drink which, at the time, probably did them more harm than good. history is replete with instances where the second edition of anything ought better to have been left in the design cupboard.
however, buoyed with the confidence that comes with twelve years of unrelenting expansion and success, the folks at imperial works (version two) have seen fit to issue not only version two of the classic shorts, but also of their pro-team bibshorts and women's shorts too. on the basis of almost 150km in a pair of the new classic shorts, a considerable part of which was in galeforce wind-driven rain, rapha need have little fear that the reaction will be in any way negative.
the lycra featured in both versions one and two is quite probably fabricated from the soft fur of an angora bunny. rarely has my posterior been cossetted in such a soft and cosy fashion. but, not to put too fine a point on it, soft lycra is rarely the first point of contention in a pair of bibshorts. with many of my non-cycling colleagues still referring to race-bike saddles as perilously close to razor blades, the bit that we are all more than interested in is the padding concealed within. though it's a philosophy that can be applied to several aspects of velocipedinal life, the more invisible the shorts are in use, generally the better they are. this pad is invisible.
i have ridden in bibshorts before that have acquitted themselves well when the weather is dry and warm, but which bite back with a vengeance in pouring rain, pointing out with some certainty, just what the word chafing really means over an 80km bike ride. however, from the mesh straps that leave no trace, to the low cut front in case nature calls, along with what can genuinely be reported as an improved padded insert, these are the bees knees. and while on the subject of knees, the gripper at the hem does its job most admirably without any undue pressure. i offer only by way of mitigation, the fact that i'd to pair the classic ii bibshorts with a pair of rapha shadow kneewarmers solely on the basis that it's still pretty darned chilly and wet up here, even for a hebridean such as myself.
it is the way of the spring classics is it not? peter sagan wore kneewarmers both at omloop and kbk, but probably did not have the luxury of edition two of rapha's finest bibshorts to date. he's probably beyond consolation.
the second edition of rapha's classic bibshorts can be had in sizes ranging from xs to xxl with varying pad width across the sizes. the piping and mesh are also available in navy, dark purple, dark grey, cream and black, cost per pair is £165. though that might seem a tad pricey, my original pair lasted over six years. as the saying goes 'you do the math'
monday 27 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
languages were never quite my strong point, though there's every likelihood that any competence i may have had was strangled before it had a chance to flourish. in the first couple of years at secondary school it was compulsory to take french, a language that may have excited me more had i had the faintest interest in cycling at the time. however, on entering third year, my selected timetable contained a fatal flaw. having opted to take both french and statistics, it turned out that these were incompatible options and for reasons i cannot recall, statistics won the day. though i ultimately gained an o-level in the subject, i doubt i've consciously used the acquired skills since.
european language skills would have stood me in good stead, now that the internets are awash with live cycling. granted, many of the former streaming services appear now to be geo-restricted, but time was a fellow could sit down of a weekend afternoon and watch the most obscurely named minor european races accompanied by totally inscrutable commentary. in my opinion, that was a generous plus; there is little more pleasing to the ear to hear the word 'achtervolgers' pronounced in its native tongue three or four times an hour.
granted, those pop-up adverts were a flipping nuisance, but considering the broadcast was free, any complaints really had to be confined to barracks.
i can but compliment british eurosport therefore (is it still referred to as british? i can see little reference to the word on the web), for providing such excellent live coverage of omloop het niuewsblad on saturday afternoon when i thought it far more likely i'd be viewing a matchbox-sized picture at very low resolution, while listening out for the aye, aye, aye, aye, ayes and frequent mention of the achtervolgers. as it turned out, i listened to pretty much nothing at all.
yesterday's eurosport player offered two options for omloop; one bearing the eurosport logo and the other simply featuring the letters uci. unaware of the commentary team for the live broadcast, but willing to give it a go, i clicked the former option. on the three successive occasions i tried, all that resulted was a still image and no sound. not to be done out of my monthly subscription, i opted for the uci channel to be rewarded with instant live coverage, all the sounds from the race and no commentary whatsoever. at the risk of receiving the ire of those in the eurosport booth, i thoroughly enjoyed this option.
perhaps that ought to be the sole option available?
based on the onscreen information, i'm inclined to believe that the live coverage was courtesy of sporza, competently updating the distance to go, time gaps and identifying riders in the lead, the chasing groups (achtervolgers appears to be persona non grata in these days of globalisation) and anyone left behind after a crash. the accompanying sound was that of the race itself: the overhead helicopter, the fans at the roadside, bottles falling from bottle cages and the incessant horn tooting that accompanies every professional race. there wasn't even the often lengthy wait to discover just who it was that had crossed the finish line first.
by the time you read this, i'll have found out if there's the same option available for today's kuurne-brussels-kuurne. i certainly hope so. (and on an almost unrelated note, i think it ought to be compulsory for all riders participating in the spring classics to wear leg and armwarmers. if it's good enough for peter sagan...)
sunday 26 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
cycling weekly carries a regular feature each week depicting one of britain's wide range of cycling clubs. so far they have resisted the temptation to cross the water on a cancelled ferry to catch velo club d'ardbeg as we meander aimlessly around the estates, but on the basis that we're far more average than these pixels would have you believe, that is of no great loss to the cycling community. however, to return to the clubs that have been seen in the pages of the comic i find myself quite mystified as to the uniformity of their apparel.
it is probably written on page one of the british cycling book of do-it-yourself club constitutions, that many a long hour ought to be dedicated round the conference table arguing over firstly, the design of the club jersey and secondly, who ought to be charged with providing same. when at college, the guitarist in the band of which i was a founding member always carried a notebook in which he would scribble possible names for beat groups, all the better to lessen the period of silence when time came to choose one to paint on the bass drum head.
it's always possible that there are like-minded individuals in the velocipedinal world who are perennially scribbling sketches pertaining to jersey design for precisely the same purpose. if that is truly the case, on the basis of one or two seen in the comic, they should have been either encouraged to scribble a while longer, or quit altogether and let someone else take over the task.
but if we accept that club jersey design is a highly emotional and subjective subject that ought to be relegated to the conference table mentioned above, what about the 'never mind the quality, feel the width' aspect of life? for, without wishing to diss the majority of those keen to offer the use of their dye-sublimation facilities, very few of the world's team jerseys, shorts, jackets or even casquettes inhabit the area best known as cutting edge. this is not to infer that it really ought to be, but if climate change is as true as they say, the day of reckoning might not to be too far distant.
basically what i am taking the usual roundabout way of saying is that when folks such as rapha, santini, endura, castelli et al spend more than just a few research and development pound notes on continually pushing the state of the art. on the basis of cycling weekly's regular feature, why are so many willing to suffer the iniquities of fabric ordinariness? there are jerseys and jackets on the market today that are all but impervious to kryptonite, yet alf and norm from the cycle club are still quite content to pooter about in bog-standard, slightly ill-fitting polyester, apparently oblivious to the availability of cycling's force fields.
one gent who must surely be wondering the same thing for most of his working week is simon carr, principal fellow at maratona cyclewear. having very recently perambulated my hebridean retreat clad in their excellent spring classics jersey, i thought i'd find out a bit more on our behalf. maratona is a new one on me and when it comes to cycle clothing, i (and others) consider me to be a bit of a know-it-all. so how long have they been in existence?
"Officially, the shop door opened at the end of September last year, so Maratona is very much in its infancy. As our current stock is all spring/summer wear, we are looking at the '17 season as our first. The original plan was to launch Maratona earlier in '16, but the behind-the-scenes work to set up the right supply chain, design and approve samples, photography, website build etc. was quite extensive and took far longer than anticipated."
if i might take you back a few paragraphs to where i made mention of the guitarist and his book of names, i doubt that it is any easier to arrive at a suitable name for a clothing company than it is for a beat combo. bear in mind that it is rarely the sort of thing about which you can change your mind just as the business enters its third year and you realise it might be the name that's holding you back. and there are other considerations too. i am far too much of a prude to go any further than to simply point out at one time a race car sponsored by cona coffee had to have the decals blacked out when racing in portugal because the word has a somewhat rude connotation in the iberian peninsula.
no doubt hours of enlightened chatter took place at maratona headquarters, but for the record, from whence did the name arrive?
"Good question! We went through many names. All didn't survive the overnight test and ended up in the bin. A close riding buddy visits the Maratona Dies Dolomites every year and every year he has asked me to join him. My work as a photographer has stopped me so far, but the yearly discussion about this road trip set the seed for the name Maratona. Aside from the translation to marathon, we also wanted to reflect the Italian aspect; it's where we source our performance fabrics from. It just felt and sounded right."
having mentioned his work as a photographer that leads me to the question as to simon carr's involvement in the cycle clothing business. the majority of my photographer acquaintances and friends are people who rely a great deal on their sense of design, even those who deny they have any in the first place. i'm thinking of individualists such as ben ingham, emily maye, camille mcmillan, scott mitchell, daniel pasley and others. contrary to the widely held belief that, in these days of intelligent auto settings on the majority of digital cameras, anyone can be a photographer, the above mentioned provide quite definitive evidence to the contrary.
in which case, what is simon's background with relevance to his having created maratona cycle clothing?
"I studied at art college and became a graphic designer, working for a major London advertising agency, ultimately progressing to my becoming a senior art director. I worked on automotive accounts and directed photographic shoots for Ford, Mazda and Jaguar. These sent me to many locations around the world, often away for three weeks at a time and being responsible for creative content of the images and managing a sizeable location team: Photographer, production, lighting and rigging crew, models (that bit was tough), vehicle transport etc.
"My passion has always been photography. I learned a lot from the commercial guys that I was hiring and in the end, took that step a little closer to the camera and became a professional photographer myself. So my background is mostly visual and creative based."
referring to my quizzical opening paragraphs and why so many club members would opt to wear team kit as opposed to the more formidable commercial offerings, you cannot have failed to take note of even the minimal number of apparel purveyors mentioned at the time. though i've said it before, i bear no embarrassment in mentioning yet again my contention that cycling must surely be the most overcrowded of apparel markets in the world. unless, of course, you count the endless variations on the pringle jumper worn by golfers.
assuming simon doesn't disagree with my contention, why on earth would he subject himself and maratona to the vicissitudes of such fierce competition?
"I think it was the culmination of a number of things. A personal frustration, as I felt some of the smaller brands that produced unique and original looking kit had taken their eye off the quality ball, opting for cheap oriental production and fabrics for their designs.
"I felt that there was a clear space for a cycle clothing company that valued performance and fit as much as creative originality delivered at a fair price. That's pretty much where Maratona sits as a mission statement.
"Over the past couple of years I have also become involved in some club kit design that either went down very well, or was deemed to be pushing the boundaries slightly too far.
"The UK cycling apparel market is looking busy. But, as cycling popularity continues to blossom, we feel that quality and originality will continue to be desirable."
many of you will be less than surprised that i am, once more, about to make use of a percussive metaphor, but it's one that i think quite relevant. in north america there exists a company by the name of keller who will supply wooden drumshells to individuals and companies keen to make their own drums. of course, in the majority of cases this consists simply of engineering the bearing edges, providing a stain or covering for the outside and attaching appropriate hardware. ultimately, with a shiny metal badge on the outside, the finished drum(s) could be sold as the latest marque on the block.
perhaps you'd need to be a drummer to comprehend the disappointment on discovering what you took to be a fine vintage drum was no more than the badged produce of someone else's efforts. on becoming involved in the cycle industry all those years ago, i was naively of the misapprehension that each and every apparel provider had a roomful of seamstresses confined to a backroom and grew their own lycra in the company allotment. at the risk of busting another myth, does maratona have its own manufacturing facility?
"No. Maratona is just too small at the moment to consider that, although, in the grand scheme of things it's very much our thinking.
"Finding the right people to partner Maratona took some considerable effort. We found a great European manufacturer who supplies national teams, the pro-peloton and had many road and velodrome winners at Rio wearing kit produced by them. They're very much driven by similar thinking to our own - technology and cycle garment performance - so the relationship is working well."
in my daily work, also as a graphic designer, i have been recently charged with producing a contemporary style menu for a new restaurateur. initially the finished product will be printed in a small quantity until such time as things settle down and the new proprietor comes to terms with that which sells and that which doesn't. when that point is reached, the menu will likely be printed in bulk to take advantage of pricing.
the same scenario presumably applies to recently constituted cycle clothing companies. there would be little commercial prospect in offering a wide ranging lookbook featuring all manner of cycling kit only to find nobody wanted to buy it. thankfully, maratona cycle wear has been well received, but would it be safe to assume that simon plans to introduce jackets, bibtights, overshoes, caps etc in the future?
"Yes. The response to Maratona so far has been extremely promising. We have just added two new short sleeve jerseys (illustrated here) to the mens '17 range, including the first in our Elements wind/rainproof fabric, plus another pair of men's bibs. There is a new ladies bib short due soon. Baselayers from plain branded to uber funky will be along soon. We are also working with a UK sock manufacturer to develop a very high quality summer sock; these are currently being tested by our Essex-based friends who ride for pro teams. All of the kit has been out in Lanzarote this year at pro training camps. These guys kindly give us some valuable feedback and the reassurance that we maintain our brand mission statement.
"At the end of summer '17 we will release a range of autumn winter wear. Long sleeve jerseys, jackets, 3/4 pants, bibtights etc."
a cycle clothing range can become like the proverbial piece of string. start with jerseys and shorts, add socks, tights, baselayers, jackets, collars, caps, gloves, gilets... the list is endless. and that's only for the chaps and chapesses who like to go fast on skinny wheels and bendy bars. but what about the folks who regularly commute at a more sedate pace?
"We are very much focused on 'race' wear and do not want to dillute that offering. There are a few dedicated leisure/commute based cycle clothing companies that cater for this market very well.
"At some point we will offer some branded casual gear; Tees, caps, hoodies etc."
were it not for the tacit arrangement that members of the velo club meet at around 10am outside debbie's on a sunday morning, there probably wouldn't be any club at all. we'd be a disparate bunch of misfits riding around on our own, all dressed up with nowhere to go. the ten o'clock thing is, in essence, our cunning plan. coffee aside, is this something that maratona has in a filing cabinet drawer?
"At the moment we are just seeing where the journey takes us. Having fun with the brand is key. As long as it remains fun we'll keep pushing and hopefully growing."
saturday 25 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i know a great deal about bicycles and about cycling, though i'll admit that much of it is probably of little interest to anyone other than me. occasionally snippets can be the ideal introduction to a conversation when there's one of those awkward silences in the room, but more often not, they are the cause of it. nobody really needs to know that a sub compact chainset features a 48/32 ring combination because there is an entire generation that is unaware anything preceded the compact chainset on which they ride. if i were to rename thewashingmachinepost 52/42, the meaning would be lost on a great many readers.
this apparent knowledge, sad to say, does not extend to the team roster of, say, dimension data, nor would it bring me the luxury of being interviewed on any podcast you care to name regarding which of the current peloton are 'in form' as they say in sporting circles. were i to be invited to forecast the winner of this weekend's kuurne-brussels-kuurne, i'd be inclined to nominate the rider that crossed the finish line first. accurate, but less than helpful. there are a number of websites whose primary concern is that of the above; i see no necessity for the post to further muddy the waters.
and neither am i particularly clued up on the latest thoughts on contemporary training principles. even though the bookcase is fraught with 'manuals for speed' (sorry daniel), i can rarely work up the enthusiasm for the frequency with which state of the art advice changes tack. this particular admission will probably come home to roost around the third week of july when i realise on the second day of my ride from london to paris, that i am effectively going backwards. and no amount of lunch stop leg massages is likely to alter that scenario.
i mentioned not at all long ago, that i was once more subsuming my weekend rides to the tune dictated by thomas chapple in his velopress publication that advised going slow in order to go fast. i'd be fibbing if i did not admit that such adherence was solely due to the inclusion of the word slow, a word that would seem to wholly excuse any need to experience pain and hurt in the process of proving myself to be the match of anyone around. i did, at one time, have a tacit agreement with rapha's simon mottram that neither of us would subject ourselves to any form of cycle-related training regime in the first place. however, the alacrity with which he ascended one or two of france's steeper hills would tend to suggest that i fell for his cunning ruse. either that or he's a better man than i am gunga din.
the slow factor alluded to above was to have been my own secret weapon; it had worked sublimely some ten years ago, so obviously it would prove every bit as effective in the present. or would it?
though very much against form, i have a garmin strapped to the handlebars, complete with a little portion of the screen, ready, willing and able to display a heart-rate that would put fear into any professional within shouting distance. it remains, however, effectively silent, for the chest strap that arrived with the device some considerable number of years past, cannot be coaxed back into life. you would think it a simple matter to place an order for a replacement, but of course, you'd be wrong.
indeed, in this modern age of the internets, a new heart-rate chest strap is but a click away, but a serious bout of prevarication has prevented that coming to pass. i believe this may be due to the fact that, if and when the click is made, it will be tanatamount to resigning that laissez-faire attitude that no-one finds alluring but me. when those numbers start to increase before i leave the safety of the car park, i cannot deny that training has begun. i dearly want to be one of those blokes who would never admit to having studied when at school. you know the sort; allegedly never opening a homework book, yet attaining a plethora of certificates when the plaudits were handed out.
the lack of any concerted training effort in the sunday peloton is easy to conceal, for nobody else actually trains either. and when visiting cyclists join for a morning jaunt, it would surely be rude to beat them at our own game? yet three days in the saddle covering at least 160km per day is not going to happen all by itself. currently going slowly seems not to be getting me where i want to be, most likely because i seem to be having insurmountable difficulties in going neither slow nor fast.
you can, however, do me a small favour. if any of you see hot chillee's sven thiele, don't tell him i said any of this. i wouldn't want to give him undue cause for concern.
friday 24 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
years and years ago, i owned a colnago watch, a rather impressive and stylish timepiece with a carbon fibre face featuring the italian marque's asso di fiori logo in white. but as with every horological device that relies upon the services of a battery, it eventually stopped. i have had it pointed out to me that even in a stationary state, a watch can be guaranteed to be at the correct time on at least two occasions per day. the big problem is figuring out precisely when those two moments occur. naturally enough, i was able to lever off the backplate in order to replace the tiny internal battery, something i had achieved on more than one previous occasion. however, on this particular occasion, the replacement battery failed to restart the watch.
on the basis that perhaps i had purchased the wrong item, or there had been a fault in the first item, i obtained a second. that didn't work either. thus, despite the desirability of continuing to have even a small chunk of carbon on my left wrist, i'd to consign the colnago edition to the back of a drawer and resign myself to being watchless for the foreseeable future. after all, there's a clock on this laptop, one on the mantlepiece and another on the imac at work; where's my motivation?
only a few months later, however, the very nice folks at festina watches sent me a tour of britain edition of one of their fine timepieces, one with buttons on the side that keep children endlessly amused for hours, timing how long peter rabbit lasts and the like. however, a bout of overactivity involving traditional grip on a drumming practice pad and bouncing around on a cyclocross bicycle, caused the rubber strap to break. therefore, i have confined watch usage to less frantic forms of recreation and use my garmin as a rather exotic clock when out on the bicycle.
this particular garmin, along with many other gps variants, has the ability to connect with a mobile phone concealed in a rear jersey pocket, offering live upload to strava should that be the way that you roll. as i have probably mentioned far too often, i have never even attempted to roll in that fashion. for aside from the admissible fact that i do not own a mobile device of any flavour, i'm pretty darned sure that, should i have opted to do so, carrying it about in a cycle jersey pocket would be one of the actions i could well live without. why on earth would i want anyone to contact me when i'm out enjoying a bike ride?
but i also know that i occupy the minimal space of the sequestered minority. several of the sunday morning velo club peloton are guilty of having mobile devices with them and worst of all, are frequently seen to be using them in earnest. i have regularly condemned this anti-social activity, but as per usual, my moaning falls on deaf ears. however, no matter my personal opinion of strava, there are boffins at strava city whose machinations now promise to lighten the load of the average member of the pelotonese by replacing a heavy brick of a smartphone with the lightness of being encapsulated within an apple watch 2.
making full use of the watch's gps capabilities, strava aficionados can now record time, pace, distance, speed and heart rate without any need to be within several dozen kilometres of a smartphone. all this while they can appear to all intents and purposes, to be regular members of society, free from obsessive fixation on the very criteria the new watch app is designed to take care of.
this adds even more credence to the oft repeated mantra "there's an app for that.", but you will not be surprised to learn that i do not own an apple watch either, no matter the attractive properties of having mickey mouse tap out the seconds. you're mileage may vary.
thursday 23 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
specialized bicycles have, to put it mildly, a rather substantial range. in the interests of propriety, i attempted to count the individual models available on their website, but gave up when i lost count. and that was only the mountain bikes. the sequoia elite reviewed here is categorised under their adventure series, from which i've already featured the rack-festooned awol. similar to the latter, the frame of the sequoia is cro-mo steel, but this time with the added benefit of a sturdy carbon fork. though i and my partners in crime would be more likely to describe the colour of this as duck egg blue, specialized prefer the less descriptive but more endearing california white sage.
the steeply sloping main triangle is formed with tig-welded steel tubes, featuring an almost anorexic (by today's standards) bottom bracket and a tapered head tube. the down tube offers three bottle cage bosses to allow more specific placing of the cage to suit your requirements, augmented by a further two on the seat tube and another set under the down tube near the bottom bracket. all cabling for both the shimano hydraulic 160mm discs and the wide-range 105 gearing follow the underside of the downtube and are held in place by sturdy frame clips. this means that the gear wires are completely encased in cable outer from one end to the next.
the almost spindly seat stays bear a couple of bosses at the top for a rear rack, with corresponding threaded bolt holes on the dropouts. intriguingly welcome are bosses on the front carbon fork on which to mount a low-ride rack. the word dropouts has become something of a misnomer of late and not just on bicycles from specialized. both front and rear hubs are held in place by allen-bolt fastened thru-axles. i can only surmise that the absence of ratcheted axles as seen on the crux elite 'cross bike has to do with their fragility in the face of potential adversity. my friends at yonder journal have made far more rugged use of this bicycle than have i and i can only imagine how long external appendages would last in the bolivian hinterlands.
in contrast to the steel main triangle, the carbon fork offers internal brake hose routing on the left leg, leaving no dangling accidents waiting to happen. the headset is of the semi-integrated type, tapering from 1.125 to 1.25. the relatively short alloy stem grasps a pair of shallow parabolic drop bars, flared outwards slightly in the manner once sported by every touring bar on the market. the lookalike denim bar tape is nicely matched to the denim effect phenom saddle sitting atop a 27.2mm steel seatpost.
though i have no idea if it is indicative of a sea change in californian thinking, the bottom bracket is of the external bearing cup design as opposed to the increasingly common, yet increasingly loathed press-fit variety. this plays home to a cold -forged alloy fsa sub-compact chainset, featuring a 48/32 chainring set. matched to an 11-32 cassette at the rear, this provides the intrepid rider the opportunity to clamber up the side of houses with a 1:1 gear ratio. such a widely spaced set of sprockets is handled by a long-cage shimano 105 gear mech, with the same manufacturer providing the clamp-on front mech.
however, perhaps the most obvious and ultimately impressive aspect of the sequioa is the substantial pair of amber-walled 700 x 42mm wide sawtooth tyres with a less than chunky tread. specialized have positioned the sequoia as a viable alternative to owning a road bike and a touring bike, by combining the best features of both into one bicycle. though not the lightest machine on the planet, the all-up weight pays testament to the fact that steel though no longer cutting edge, still has its place in the modern velocipedinal universe.
as mentioned above, according to specialized, the sequoia is effectively a road bike with a tad more than just wanderlust pretensions. there is an image in yonder journal's dead reckoning photo book of this very bicycle, festooned with framebag, bar pack and other luggage associated with heading into regions of earth devoid of much in the way of population. however, wimp that i am, january and february's weather precluded any investigations into islay's rustic hinterland. sad to say, this particular sequoia was only saddled (pardon the pun) with a seatpack containing tube and tyre lever and, ironically enough, a dead reckoning water bottle. in the face of my less than intrepid personality, i opted to review the bicycle on its less rugged propensities.
the one blatant and apparently obvious detriment to its assuming pelotonic status would undoubtedly be those large 42mm tyres, yet that is a conclusion to which it is distinctly not in our interests to jump. i cannot deny that defying gravity is not one of their better traits, but when it comes to the flat, those forty-two millimetres behave as if they were only 25 or 28. i will readily admit that the sunday morning velo club peloton would scarcely see peter sagan's rear wheel for dust, but they failed to leave me wallowing in the same.
and with reference to the sequoia's climbing ability, that 32 tooth inner ring was welcome on more than just a single occasion. however, the surprise arrow in its quiver was repeatedly revealed on the subsequent downhill, where the extra kilogramme or so, allied to a quite enervating sense of balance, often meant that i was at least first in the queue for the next uphill slog. once again, however, i must raise the subject of a stem that was several millimetres too short for yours truly. this was offset marginally by a welcome length of top tube, but the real reason i make mention has more to do with colour than length.
were this my very own californian sage white sequoia, i would be publicly embarrassed to replace the stock stem with any substitute that did not embrace that selfsame colour and i'm not altogether sure that specialized stock replacement 130mm stems in this particular colour (though i'll admit i didn't ask).
as one brought up with campagnolo coursing through my veins, sheer prejudice has conditioned me to approach shimano with temerity, mostly, it should be admitted, because i formerly found their sti levers less than ergonomic. however, though their newer models obviated that criticism several years ago, those that actuate a set of hydraulic discs have managed to offer brake hood nirvana, only marginally lessened by the shortage of stem.
i have frequently quoted myself as saying the finest compliment that can be paid to any new bicycle is scarcely noticing its newness or, in other words, its often significant difference from one's usual ride. tom ritchey may have been onto something when he noted the realness of steel; in the case of the sequoia, aside from that beefy carbon fork, there's no doubt that a steel frame can be more easily repaired when several hundred miles from home. however, if that aspect were to get in the way of the invisibility of its personality, the elite would have been far less endearing than it transpired.
there is a point on that rear cassette, when reaching for the bigger sprockets, that shimano's legendary precision of shifting experiences a minor hiccup or two. however, such is the plethora of sprocket teeth available, it's unlikely the rider will be at terminal velocity when a determined change becomes necessary. and to be honest, if you've need of grasping for the 32 tooth dinner plate, you're probably already seeing black spots and breathing through your ears in any case. seamless gearshifting at that point is likely of purely academic interest.
the cockpit offers every bit the same level of comfort and balance as offered by the crux cyclocross bike. the width and slope of the bars took a bit of getting used to, but are well matched to the bicycle's personality. however, i fear i have to decry the parabolic curve. the further along the curve, the further your hands are pulled from from the brake levers. any extended downhill period in the drops does eventually bring on soreness of thumb. it's scarcely an onerous problem on relatively flat islay, but it might be less amenable in the upper reaches of khatmandhu. meanwhile i cannot praise specialized's range of saddles highly enough; throughout all the foregoing, the comfort of my posterior never really entered the equation.
the sequoia, despite first impressions when, marcel wust-like, it was rolled from its enormous cardboard box, turned out to be far less landrover-like and perhaps a bit more porsche cayenne like, if you'll forgive the imposition of a vehicular metaphor. yes, despite their dislike of squishy mud (though they laughed in the face of gravel, grass and sand) the tyres produced a superb noise on the road while offering only a fraction of the rolling resistance their size suggested. and despite the width of both tyres and wheels, the handling was, dare i say it, well towards the perky side of ginger peachy.
it would have been nice to have experienced the 'fully loaded' scenario, but i want, i want, doesn't always get. at only £1750, the sequoia offers a great deal for, relatively speaking, not a lot of dosh. though many of us harbour notions of disappearing into the undergrowth of some far flung country, bikepacked to the gunwhales and ready to live off the fat of the land as long as we have our thru-axles, there's a greater than evens chance it'll never happen.
but it would be really nice to think we could if we wanted to. a truly marvellous and adventurous bicycle.
wednesday 22 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
self-styled cask whisperer jim mcewan, a man who could confidently be described (as we say north of the border) as having the gift of the gab, retired some 18 months ago as master distiller at bruichladdich distillery. originally an apprentice cooper at bowmore distillery, he rose through the ranks to become manager, before moving across the loch to take charge at bruichladdich when messrs. coughlin and reynier rescued it from its mothballed status at the end of last century.
the man is revered throughout the whisky industry. if evidence of the latter were needed, his masterclasses held each may at bruichladdich's open day during the annual whisky festival, were regularly sold out months in advance. He once proclaimed that distillery managers were the rockstars of the 21st century, the veracity of which you'd be more than well aware if you were in any way associated with islay's distilleries.
however, just like frank sinatra, jim mcewan's retirement was short-lived.
As if eight malt whisky distilleries on one island were not enough, glasgow's hunter laing have purchased land from islay estates at ardnahoe, around half-way along the singletrack road to bunnahabhain to build a ninth. and lo and behold, the aforementioned mr mcewan has surfaced as a distillery consultant to hunter laing, perhaps an astute move on their part, but time will tell.
however, the press release that accompanied this announcement featured all the rhetoric and hyperbole for which both jim and the whisky industry is famed. the site of the new distillery is, in fact, particularly picturesque, overlooking as it does the sound of islay, the paps of jura and north to colonsay and the isle of mull. though apart from a few years in glasgow, mr mcewan is an islay lad born and bred, yet professed "...when i visited the distillery site... it absolutely blew me away", despite having travelled the road on more than just a few occasions during his time of island residence.
but then, just to move things one stage too far, he claimed "It felt as though the stars were aligning."
i would therefore like to adopt some of this verbal and philosophical superfluity in the telling of my weekend tale involving weather, bicycles and apparel.
at the time of writing, there are a but a few days until 'proper' cycle racing commences at omloop het nieuwsblad, closely followed a day later by kuurne-brussels-kuurne. at that particular point, we have entered the period dearly beloved by cycle fans the world over, known as 'the spring classics' a particular genre of one day events that includes milan-sanremo, ronde van vlaanderen, paris-roubaix and several other iconic events. not only do several of the aforementioned demand closer attention to the model of bicycle being ridden, but the terrain over which they are raced and the traditional european late february/early march weather provide a certain 'je ne sais quoi' totally absent from the grand tours.
maratona cycle clothing is relatively new on the uk market, currently offering a compact and bijou range of men's and women's jerseys and shorts featuring an intriguing range of designs, the most notable of which (in my opinion) is their spring classics jersey reviewed here. in common with james mcewan,it seemed as though the stars had aligned in my favour when the jersey was augmented by a brand new specialized roubaix and particularly inclement weather, necessitating the wearing of a showers pass waterproof jacket.
it is, i believe, a pertinent fact that hebridean temperatures at the end of february preclude the al fresco wearing of a short-sleeve cycle jersey, even for a swift 80km around the estates. underline that fact with persistent rain and you will perhaps forgive my accompanying said maratona jersey with a pair of armwarmers covered by the showers pass jacket. however, this is something of an occupational hazard at this time of year and scarcely impinges upon the efficacy of any jersey review under these conditions. in fact, it's possible that so doing gives it a harder time than would otherwise have been the case.
it is nice to see that the new kids on the block have adopted that to which we have become accustomed. aside from a most welcome full-length front zip, the three capacious rear pockets have been augmented by the all but compulsory fourth zipped security pocket. however, where this italian made jersey really scores is the detailing: a camlock ykk zip with attendant zip garage at the top, close fitting sleeves and a highly breathable fabric that did its level best to cope with being stuck under a waterproof jacket for most of its first day out.
the decor, which, on a technical jersey probably ought to be the least of your considerations, is quite magnificent. aside from the bright pink design paying testament to the spring classics, the names of the pertinent races are subtly included as a background pattern on the jersey body, contrasting nicely with the leaves design seen on the sleeves, the latter being bordered by a striking set of coloured hoops. the principal design feature is repeated in smaller format on the back, though i fear its presence was likely mostly obliterated by my ponytail.
much as i'd love to have adopted a tom boonen stance and ridden sleevelessly hard all day, i am too much of a wimp to be included on anyone's spring classics roster. however, divested of outerwear in the process of froth supping and toastie munching, the jersey did attract favourable comments from those usually too distinterested to comment. my subsequent verbal dissertation on the joys of omloop, dwars door vlaanderen and the importance of cobbles in day to day life probably left them wishing they hadn't.
in what has become something of an overcrowded cycle clothing market, it's nice to see a new company with at least a smidgeon of creativity and originality and one that appears to have hit the ground running. the medium-sized jersey reviewed is available for a most amenable £65 in sizes ranging from small all the way up to xxl. if you're really quick you could have one in time for omloop and kbk this weekend.
tuesday 21 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................