as a percussionist of no repute whatosever, i am generally overly protective of my sense of timing, yet there is no doubt that i am frequently late to the party. with the possible exception of shimano's di2, which i reviewed within two months of its original release, i seem rarely to have been as close to the forefront of bicycle technology as you'd expect from a world famous member of the cycling media. items such as disc brakes, press-fit bottom bracket bearings and thru-axles have all appeared in these black and yellow pixels so much later than everywhere else.
this seems also to be true of tubeless tyres, a pair of which arrived at the croft only a matter of days ago.
i have approached these with great trepidation, based purely on previous experience of failed mountain bike examples belonging to visiting cyclists. in more than a single instance, i have been asked to re-inflate one or two of the tubeless breed, covering hands in a green gloop in the process. on every occasion i have had to resort to an inner tube in order to have them on their way with the minimum of delay. i thus had little faith in my ability to fit a set of my own from page one.
the process was, however, greatly aided by the simultaneous arrival of a pair of tubeless-ready, 1450g ascent wheels from the expert hands of wheelsmith's derek mclay based in larbert, near stirling. i figure that there may be others who inhabit the same traling edge of bicycle technology as do i, thus i will attempt to be as descriptive as possible concerning the act of shoeing your very own bicycle in this manner. i am led to believe that it is possible to purchase rim tape that allows conversion of any wheels to the tubeless state, but those to whom i have spoken seem less than convinced of the efficacy of this particular method.
however, the wheelsmith rims featured an appropriate profile and tape to ease the fitting procedure.
schwalbe's pro-one tyres arrived with individual valves ready to be pressed through the valve hole from the inside, along with a lockring to keep them in place. according to the small instruction leaflet in the box, fitting the tyres to the rim required a tube of schwalbe easy-fit, something that wasn't present in the box. not wishing to fail at the first hurdle, i found a youtube video explaining all and in which the presenter referred to the missing substance as 'expensive soapy water'.
so i used washing-up liquid.
i've no idea whether it pays to be circumspect when inflating tubeless tyres, but i pushed them up to 60psi and left them for a day or two just to make sure before deflating, removing the valve core with the supplied tool and emptying fifty percent of the white gloop intended to assist with any leakages into each tyre. i doubt that this is meant to be a particularly messy procedure, but in my case it most certainly was, requiring both tyres and rims to be wiped clean before taking the pressure back to sixty and onto ninety later that same day.
this is not intended to be the review, the whole review and nothing but the review; more an introduction to tubeless tyres for the faint-hearted. suffice it to say, i have completed the first ride on the schwalbes and wheelsmith's excellent hoops without undue complications. it will take a few more future revolutions before i know whether to be a convinced tubeless aficionado or not, but it's looking promising at the moment, having freewheeled past most of the velo club peloton whenever the road descended. this is a situation i am attributing to a reduced rolling resistance which, i am supposing, ought to be one of the more prescient features of leaving home without inner tubes about one's personage.
well, at least, not inside the tyres.
reviews of both tyres and wheels will appear in the fullness of time.
monday 27 march 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have recently finished reading a soon to be released book which concerns itself with the disparity between utopia and the act of cycling in urban and inner city areas. it's a particularly effective piece of writing; well-researched and intelligently positioned between castigating the motorist for every iniquity visited upon the cyclist and perhaps paying proper attention to personal safety.
in a publication of this type, it would be naive not to expect at least a modest discussion of the helmet debate, if only because it has become common to point the finger at any cyclist involved in an accident not wearing one. i don't propose to enter into a debate as to the whys and wherefores surrounding the subject; i've mostly lived by the 'better to be thought a mushroom head than become a vegetable' train of thought.
this is less because of perceived traffic problems but more due to itinerant cattle and sheep on some of islay's backroads, conjoined with vast quantities of gravel on the turns at the foot of some of the more inviting downhills. though we are soon to reach easter weekend when there will be an influx of visitors frequently driving aimlessly around the more obscure parts of the island, in the winter months, it is entirely possible that falling off at speed and being injured could result in lying there alone for more time than would be ideal.
since today's helmets weigh remarkably little and could rarely be considered uncomfortable in use, i can really see little argument against wearing one. but i'm well aware that so doing in urban and city streets is unlikely to protect any rider from being hit and injured by a car, taxi or bus. research has also concluded that motorists may be less considerate towards helmeted cyclists than those with their hair blowing in the breeze. quite why this is the case, i know not, but if them's the facts it is incumbent on the cyclists to adjudge whether wearing a helmet is in their best interests or not.
those of us who like to harbour ideals of pelotonic activity are more likely to wear helmets, not only because it makes us look faster, but because our heroes are compelled to as part of their profession. and we are nothing if not compulsive imitators. however, i would like to think that there are limits to what we might find acceptable by way of helmet design and function; it seems i might be very wrong.
despite the reluctance of many cyclists to wear any form of protective headgear whatsoever, sweden's hovding claims to have sold 50,000 of its airbag helmet, which in reality is more of a collar than a helmet. according to the manufacturer, the collar contains advanced sensors that sense the cyclist's movement patterns, reacting in the case of a perceived accident to protect the individual's head and neck. in my opinion, it's not what you'd call a good look, but i am no doubt guilty of subjectivity bordering on ignorance.
but even with this knowledge, would you wear one? i mean unless you'd just been offered a part in the next star wars movie. really?
sunday 26 march 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have, to all intents and purposes, desisted from my former evangelical proselytisation of cycling as the curer of all ills, at least amongst the local islay population. with a finite number of persons contained within its weather-beaten shores, and having been domiciled here for nigh on thirty years, there's every likelihood that i've not missed anyone out when it comes to pleading the cause.
though an increase in the popularity of velocipedinal matters over the past decade has certainly paved the way for introducing cycling-related matters in any formerly unrelated conversation, even i have pre-determined limits as to how unpopular i wish to be in polite company. so i have decided that the simplest way of demonstrating my pledging of allegiance to the cause is simply to ride my bicycle as often as possible in as many different parts of the island as possible. and just to underline this dedication and the purported efficacy of so doing, i hope to remain as unflustered as possible if and when spotted by passers-by.
in common with lord leverhume's pronouncement on the effectiveness of his advertising ("50% of it is ineffective, if only i knew which 50%"), i have no real means of quantifying whether my actions have encouraged others to do likewise, though there's no doubt the sunday morning peloton has increased in the last few years.
however, in common with the band whose name forms the above title for these ruminations, i still think that cycling is worthy of celebration, not only the riding to and from work, school or the shops, but the sporting side too. those of us living in the uk now have genuine reason to celebrate the popularity of the sport from the point of view of having produced several of its recent victors. gone are the days when we had need of constantly pointing out that one of our own had not only worn the tour's king of the mountains jersey in 1984, but had reached fourth place in the process.
should it suit our purposes, we are now able to point enthusiastically to team sky's continued success across those three weeks in july as well as the exploits of others in races of no less international standing. granted, a ticker tape parade down bowmore main street on the upper deck of an open top bus is not something that is even on the distant horizon, but that hardly excludes a collective celebration in the manner of the upcoming series of rapha's global rides.
commencing on 5 may 2017 with a ride in sydney, australia, the uk celebratory ride and associated celebrations will arrive in manchester from thursday 7 until sunday 10 september. these rides will encompass a total of 20 cities worldwide and, according to rapha, they 'have been created to highlight the people and ideas that make the great sport of cycling unique. each weekend will include rides, films, talks and parties, with events centred around rapha clubhouses.'
the plan is that these locally curated rides will showcase the best routes and (coffee) stops in each area, featuring short city loops as well as transfer rides incorporating an overnight stay for the more adventurous. aside from printed and collated roadbooks, the rides will be accompanied by talks, exhibitions, guest appearances by local legends as well as film screenings. there's every likelihood that the rapha rides series is very much a case of preaching to the converted, but there's no real harm in an occasional bout of self-indulgence now and again.
well is there?
saturday 25 march 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though the following has little or nothing to do with the fact that a three year project at cambridge university claims that dinosaurs may have originated in scotland, it does pay homage to the scots' reputation as a particularly hardy race. alex salmond and nicola sturgeon notwithstanding, it seems highly appropriate that the world's biggest and baddest animals might have come to fruition in a small bothy near fort william (i may have made that bit up). and carrying this particular tradition into the modern era is the basis of my oft-repeated contention that the hebrideans are the flandrians of the west.
if evidence were required, my good friend brian smith can rarely be seen riding his bicycle while wearing gloves. though his birthplace of paisley isn't quite in the hebrides, the service plane to both islay and tiree departs and arrives from nearby glasgow airport which is good enough for me. his predilection for having immaculate hair, however, has probably come from living in the south for too many years.
though obviously members of the velo club think little of riding in galeforce sub-zero windchill wearing lightweight bibshorts, most of us have deferred to the peter sagan dress code for the spring classics, opting either for knee-warmers or the more flemish bib-threequarters. but our insouciance should not be mistaken for foolhardiness in the face of potential adversity. in the finest tradition of belgium and portland, oregon, we frequently resort to hand applied embrocation, all the better to protect those lower limbs from corrosion and climatic shot-blasting.
in the finest tradition of cycling's green credentials, it also behoves us well to slather our calf muscles with natural product which, in the particular case which i am about to elaborate, is collected from beehives. beeswax is an entirely natural product, one which lends itself to a wide range of useful products, now including a rather fine embrocation from the aptly named plan bee. this soon to be offered product is joined by an anti-chafe cream, one that lends itself remarkably well to the chamois area of your bibshorts.
i asked plan bee's david hall, erstwhile founder of the 5th floor fixed gear racing squad, what gave him the idea to produce both products from beeswax?
"My previous life saw me at the helm of The 5th Floor NYC; itself an evolution of The 5th Floor I founded in London in 2009 in response to the burgeoning fixed gear sub-culture. While we grew into a multi-national racing squad, our subversive and grass-roots ethos was pervasive. As a result, we worked with a number of craftspeople in mutual support.
"In the USA this included Mad Alchemy based in Denver.
"This translated to my work with Plan Bee in two respects; while beekeeping is a rural craft, we're very much about innovation and how the by-products of the hive can be harnessed in the 21st century. Secondly, as a sustainable company, the circular economy is at the heart of of our operations and manifesto and we have a lot of wax to work with!
"We've previously harnessed the wax for use in candles and soaps, but when I explained the concept to the founder and head beekeeper here at Plan Bee - Warren Bader - he threw himself into the R&D here at our Wishaw (Scotland) workshop. After some field testing - often literally - we arrived at the blends you find in your hands today."
there are almost as many brands of chamois cream available as there are brands of bibshorts, several of which are fashioned from petroleum-based ingredients, constituents not renowned for their sustainability in the face of close investigation. however, anti-chafe cream is not necessarily confined to the posteriors of the cycling fraternity. and to be honest, the same could be said for embrocation. so are the plan bee products packaged specifically towards cyclists?
"Embrocation is relatively niche and I'd say still even East Coast America CX racer niche. That being said, having moved away from highly competitive racing myself I've found it incredibly useful in trail running or when easing an injured muscle back into use (remember though, that the heat is a reactionary trick and doesn't equate to a physiologically warmed muscle). The UK and Scotland in particular is known for experiencing five seasons in one day, and in trail running where saturated or muck-heavy clothing can be detrimental, embrocation has a place.
"Our anti-chafe cream is specifically that; anti-chafe rather than a chamois cream. As such its applications extend far beyond the saddle. The lack of petroleum means no stained running tops if used to combat nipple rash or thigh chafing; again especially in an oft wet UK climate. It's actually incredibly well suited for bike touring or hiking too, for the same reasons. It's also a practical treatment for small wounds, cracked lips, blisters or even, at a pinch, waterproof equipment such as knives and boots.
"Beeswax isn't just a sustainable solution that we happen to have lying about; it's truly amazing stuff and absolutely the best for these applications. Rainforests aren't being ripped up to plant bees the way soya is and petrochemical-based products can actually aggravate even normal skin."
plan bee supplied me with a sample jar of each product, both of which have been trialled in less than favourable situations: cold, wet and windy. the anti-chafe cream i used solely as a chamois cream substitute and though in the jar it's viscous to the point of solidity, on application, body heat makes it a very simple product to apply. though david hall mentioned that the eventual packaging of both products is likely to be as a roll-on, i'd be inclined to recommend that they also offer them in jars, though perhaps just a smidgeon larger than the review samples.
i'm not sure i fancy trying to apply the anti-chafe cream by way of a roll-on. and perhaps not the embrocation either; it hardly seems the flandrian way.
if you'll pardon the pun, the plan bee embrocation offers a gentle buzz to those chiselled lower limbs, apparently waterproof, but like all forms of embrocation a veritable magnet for all the muck of the day, including cobblestones. its force-field effect seems not to suffer from a sell-by date; those legs were every bit as well protected at home time as they'd been at the point of departure. the anti-chafe was quite marvellous, every bit as transparent in use as you'd hope it would be. in short (see what i did there?) i could cheerfully live with these throughout every spring classics season and beyond.
such versatility from beeswax came as something as a suprise to me, so is it likely that there are yet more innovations to come from wishaw?
"Certainly. Even within the product applicators there are innovations to come. We've championed the roll-on, as I've often found myself putting embrocation on prior to a race with detritus from the car to avoid my hands becoming a hazard. When it hits our online store we will be offering it in a cardboard roll-on. This brings it in line with our ethos and we believe these green credentials will add further value to the cyclists that use it. We're working on a dedicated boot and shoe proofer too.
"And that's only counting the wax based products.
the price, when both the plan bee embrocation and anti-chafe creams are available soon, will be around £14.50 per roll-on. check the website linked below to find when sales are online.
friday 24 march 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
once again, i had the good fortune to partake of the devil's commute to ardbeg distillery yesterday for the purposes of taking a few photos of developments inside the historic white buildings. having managed to make a pig's ear of a rendezvous with a friend due to come along for the ride, i headed out alone. little more than two-thirds of the way along the low road, there was a sudden scraping of brakes from behind and an unexpected friend of mine pulled alongside, obviously slowing to match my embarrassingly low speed.
after exchanging a few pleasantries, he headed off, leaving me floundering in his wake, but promising to wait at the turn to port ellen. on stopping to converse more sociably and devoid of heavy-breathing, the fellow i should have met prior to departure hoved into view and the three of us celebrated the serendipity of our midweek velocipedinal situation.
disappointingly, the other two chaps tend to be a tad quicker than yours truly, most of the time, possibly because they spend more hours on the bike than do i, but perhaps also due to my advancing years and lowered reluctance to admit to more slothful performances. that said, i'm undoubtedly amongst the fittest of my age group on the island, quite probably fitter than i was when i was your age.
there's little dispute over the effectiveness of riding a bicycle to maintain a satisfactory degree of health and fitness, however, like many things in life, everything in moderation; it's all too easy to overdo it. for if a little bit of riding your bike every now and again proves to be beneficial, then surely even more riding a bicycle will be even better. perhaps surprisingly, that's not necessarily the case and this book's 300 plus pages explains in great detail just why that might be.
the opening case study concerns lennard zinn, one of the book's three authors. zinn is a renowned technical author and mechanic and a former member of america's national cycling team. once again, strava rears its ugly head, for in the process of attempting to set a new king of the mountains time for his age group, he apparently felt his heart skip a beat. his garmin also showed that his heart rate had increased from a nominal 155 beats to well over 200. there's no easy way to say this, but it's a situation that hardly commended itself to his health and wellbeing.
in order to cut a long story shorter, it transpires that he was suffering from multifocal atrial tachycardia, a medical condition that subsequently changed his life forever, more specifically, it seriously curtailed any future intense periods of cycling.
the book as a whole, deals with what can collectively be described as intense exercise induced heart arrhythmias in masters endurance athletes. let me point out at this juncture that the narrative makes it plain this is a condition that seems specifically to affect endurance athletes of all disciplines (not just cyclists) of a certain age.
"Zinn quickly realized he was not alone. [...] he reached out to friends who had been fabulous athletes in their day and who continued to push themselves well into their 40s and 50s.
"The number of friends, colleagues and former teammates who had similar or more severe heart issues was alarming. Far from being an outlier, Zinn was one amongst many."
it would be naive of me to contend that i could satisfactorily explain the medical rhymes and reasons as to why the human heart suffers what can only be described as trauma, one that seems not to be the case for those who train less extravagantly. however, if you're already past the age of forty and with the intention of pushing the boat out further and further as the years slip past, you might just like to read this superb book from cover to cover, before immediately re-reading it.
cycling, along with many other forms of exercise, releases endorphins into our operating system, meaning that we enjoy our brief bouts of pedalling. apparently misplaced logic convinces us that more of the same will be even more ginger peachy. this book explains in clear detail why that might be an erroneous view to hold. it is well written, well researched and even for an avowed avoider of medical issues, a less than taxing read.
"Mike was in ventricular tachycardia. The result was sudden cardiac arrest. he was 50 [...]
"They would have pronounced me healthy as a horse... The ECG would have been perfect because I wasn't having any symptoms."
i don't find myself particularly at ease when reading books such as this which feature not only illustrations of the human heart but graphic descriptions of what might be wrong with them. i'm well aware that ignoring it is the equivalent of burying my head in the sand; just call me squeamish. i don't think i'm anywhere near being considered an endurance athlete and therefore completely immune from the scenarios contained in 'the haywire heart'. but then, lennard zinn probably thought the same and maybe you do too.
this book could save your life.
thursday 23 march 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
argyll and bute region's member of parliament is of the snp persuasion in the shape of a fellow by the name of brendan o'hara, not, as you might imagine, an irishman, but as scottish as you and me. well, me at least. though i have no political leanings one way or the other, i first met him during his election campaigning when there was no-one else in the office available to go, in debbie's café of all places.
at the time, i had a folding bike review model from a manufacturer that isn't brompton, a style of velocipede that found favour with the now elected gentleman, who said at the time "if i'm elected, that's the very type of bike i might find myself needing when in london." i did bump into him once more only a matter of a week or so past, greeting him with the presumptious phrase "i almost didn't recognise you without the folding bike." though his politics are entirely incidental to this anecdote, it was nice to note at the time, that he'd identified a folding cycle as being of pragmatic value in the big city.
there have been times in the past (and there have been a few) when i have found myself exasperated at what i perceive to be the limited value of cycle advertising in the monthly press. though i have no wish to reiterate every morsel of this dissatisfaction, basically they come under the heading of 'we make these. buy one.', usually accompanied by the photo of said bicycle from one of three angles. additionally, i doubt i'm the only one who has noticed the occasional advertisement in the cycling press for one brand of motor car or another. currently, skoda have a comprehensive print and television campaign featuring sir bradley, but others have seen fit to take full page colour ads to promote their motorisation to the velocipedinally inclined.
though bereft of any experience of the advertising industry from behind the printed page, i have frequently wondered, often out loud, why it is that the bigger cycle companies (such as trek, giant and specialized for instance), haven't found it in their budgets to turn the tables and advertise in the motoring press. in comparison with other commercial concerns, bicycle advertising would appear to be stuck in the dark ages.
i know from personal experience that many folks on islay refrain from cycling because at some point in time, it's going to be hard work. we have far less shelter from the elements than our mainland counterparts and the luxury of a comfortable, heated and undeniably shorter trip in a motor car holds greater appeal for the majority. but then, motorists in the rural idyll are far less likey to spend hours stuck in traffic of which they form a part. in busy towns and cities, relatively speaking more sheltered than are we, it can often be a darned site more practical to cycle to and from home or work, a state of affairs our local mp had already spotted before he became embroiled in the reality that is london town.
it therefore behoves us to applaud the brompton bicycle company who, rather than create full-page, colour advertisements promoting the benefits of a compact and practical folding bike (because they would say that, wouldn't they?), theyve decided to put their money where their pedals are and undertake a tour of at least the southern principalities, including bristol, london (five times, as it happens), cambridge, manchester, nottingham and reading. on those occasions at those locations, brompton staff will be on hand offering the opportunity to try a brompton bicycle.
that, to me at least, seems a far more pro-active and user-friendly means of interesting your target market in your product; in this case a rather magnificent and practically inclined small-wheeled bicycle. for those less than adjacent to any of the above locations and particularly those of us with a scottish nationalist for an mp or msp taking the opportunity to demo a brompton at their nearest dealer, the company are offering a free gift by way of compensation for loss of the personal touch.
having reviewed a brompton at least once in the past, those small wheels seem not only perfectly matched to city streets but, as i recall, made a no less grand job of the countryside.
you can find your nearest brompton dealer here
wednesday 22 march 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the days before t'internet, distribution of software updates, software developments and computer games was frequently via covermounted discs with some of the more popular computer monthlies. in most cases, these were conveniently formatted into a series of folders, separating one from another and i can honestly put my hand up to make it plain that the one marked games was rarely, if ever investigated.
rather obviously, there had been an initial point when i had taken a brief wander through the contents of said folder, but so disenamoured was i with the whole concept of playing games on a machine for which i'd paid a substantial amount of money, that clicking on any of the icons scarcely seemed an astute move. and in any case, rarely could i be bothered reading through the instructions to figure out which function key need to be pressed to avoid a crash-landing.
it was therefore something of a surprise to be recently approached by a computer games developer with a view to my assisting with their android and ios tour de france game. naturally enough, the persons repsonsible had no knowledge of my distinctly underwhelming history with computer games and in the spirit of enterprising generosity, i agreed to download the game to my ipod and give it a go.
the big problem, which many of you will have already seen coming from afar, is my total lack of a benchmark; having never played a game on my ipod, i had/have no idea what would be considered acceptable. in this particular case, once opened, the game spent what seemed like a rather long time downloading data before commencing. this was followed by what i'm hoping was a short demo period of how the game ought to proceed, but in my agnosticism, i completely failed to comprehend.
it's all very well asking me to choose my sprinter, but which of the hypothetical riders profferred at the top of the screen was the sprinter? at this point, nobody had told me and i couldn't find any way of asking.
i have since contacted the developers to point out that i might not be the ideal individual to provide the expected assistance. i figure they'd be better off with someone who knows stuff about cycle racing and every bit as much about computer games. and that's definitely not me. however, this digital ineptitude brought me to question how this would pan out in so called real life. though i am far too long in the tooth to ever contemplate pinning a number on my jersey pocket, should team sky suddenly find themselves a rider short for the ronde de vlaanderen this weekend and sir dave were to call, how would i know what to do?
it's all very well being designated as a domestique, but what would be expected of me? for instance, who would i be looking after? and if you've ever tried identifying individual riders on the telly, imagine trying to do so in the midst of a whizzing peloton. and what if i couldn't keep up? what the heck would i do then? look after someone else instead?
i'm not the world's greatest at believing my own publicity handouts, but suppose i turned out to be way better than anyone could possibly have expected, finding myself in the breakaway with a mere ten kilometres to go? should i figure on taking part on the sprint? and if i did, how do you do that? bear in mind, up until today, i was simply a bloke with a cycling blog and suddenly i'm heading towards potential victory in one the world's finest one day classics.
of course, all this is completely hypothetical. i mean, how on earth would sir dave get in touch? i don't even own a mobile phone.
if you consider that i managed to cycle to work along the prestwick bypass for years, totally oblivious to the early morning club time-trials that frequented said dual-carriageway, how on earth could i have joined in a proper race. at that point in time i was pretty close to the age of cycling consent and i too could have been seeing black spots in front of my eyes and breathing through my ears. at the very worst, i could have been one of the blokes standing a junctions with a flag and wearing a hi-viz vest with marshal written on the back.
but, in the spirit of the digital age, is there perhaps an app that explains how to race across all the different levels of cycle racing? preferably one that was written either by peter sagan or ned boulting.
tuesday 21 march 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................