style on a bicycle

i apologise for once again introducing the arcane subject of drumming into this article, but aside from the fact that it suits my purposes, i believe it will prove to provide a valid point, one that, as per usual, will be disturbingly convoluted in the telling.

a few weeks back i brought to your attention the fact that there are two principal means of holding a pair of drumsticks: traditional and matched. if you were paying attention, you may recall that the so called traditional method was originated when marching drums were worn about the shoulder on a leather strap. with knee-rests yet to be invented, this entailed the drum hanging at an angle. assuming a right-handed drummer, the angle at which the drum persisted suited the right stick being held in similar manner to which a hammer might be held, but employing a similar grip with the left hand meant that the left elbow stuck out to the side, roughly on a level with the shoulder.

aside from being impractical, it was more likely to instill uncontrollable laughter in the enemy, rather than feelings of dread and foreboding. thus, the drumming fraternity evolved the traditional grip in which the left palm faces upwards and the stick sits under the first two fingers and over the second two, cradled by the thumb.

nowadays, with marching drums carried on a lightweight harness at a suitable distance from the body and often perfectly flat, there is no good reason whatsoever to persist with traditional grip in favour of matched. however, not only do american marching corps drummers predominantly play using traditional, but pipe band drummers do likewise, no doubt out of respect for tradition. with even amateur kit drummers often featuring upwards of six drums and a plethora of cymbals, traditional grip really makes no sense whatsoever.

and, in the process of making no sense whatsoever, yours truly persists with traditional grip on a four-piece drumset, accompanied by a mere four cymbals. this, i have realised, has nothing to do with technique, but from what i like to think is a sense of style. matched grip would make a lot more sense, and i truthfully think that i would play more easily if i switched. however, i think that traditional grip looks better, and given that i am rarely required to play anything technically clever these days, traditional grip plays well to my liking for the 'less-is-more' sensibility.

cycling, unlike drumming, features nothing quite so specific as a means of grasping the handlebars or lever hoods. riders such as bob jungels and chris froome have a tendency to ride with elbows pointing outwards; not a good look in my book, but one that seems particularly effective for both riders. however, my gripe with cycling, if indeed that's what this is, revolves around the constant need for speed, as if the latter really mattered.

pretty much every week in the comic, will appear an article advising how we might improve our cycling velocity through use of a power meter and suitable interpretation of the gathered data. or, as was mentioned only a few weeks past, the ubiquitous heart-rate monitor, a device i, along with many, considered to have dropped from popularity. and then there's nutrition and how that can help condition our bodies for better speed, more efficient climbing, and ultimately, top-line sprinting. but, though such features are common fare, i cannot deny a pressing need to ask why?

speed for its own sake, as well as when directed towards the competitive milieu, is all well and good, particularly if it's the day job, or you're into racing or time-trialling at the weekend. but is it not possible that those of us who have no real need to ride as fast as possible are being misdirected? this is something that came to mind as i grovelled in lanterne rouge position on the sunday morning ride. due to a rear tyre puncture as we left bowmore, i'd to nip home to change the tube, only to find a tiny hole in the tyre sidewall, necessitating a switch to my 'cross bike.

the latter currently features 33mm challenge road tyres, which are quick, but certainly not as quick as my compatriots on 28mm and 25mm road tyres. thus my efforts to remain a part of the peloton were considerable, particularly when the oldest of them is still at least ten years younger than yours truly. this situation was brought even more into focus when we passed the mighty dave-t riding in the opposite direction, a man who spins rather than grovels, and confers a speed more befitting the non-professional.

so, for the selfsame reasons of style that have me persist with traditional grip when drumming, i seriously wonder why our collective sunday perambulations are carried out as fast as possible. would it not, i ask myself, be a tad more stylish and pragmatic, to ride at an equitable pace, enjoying the surroundings and conversation that has no need of breathless interludes? my eventual distancing on the road into bruichladdich village, offered a soupcon of relief, and allowed me to arrive at debbie's in better style than had i attempted to keep up with the speeding peloton.

perhaps i should revert to cycling with the mighty dave-t; slower but with far greater composure. let's leave the fast stuff to wout van aert.

monday 11 july 2022

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stelvio magazine

where once we luxuriated in a preponderance of road cycling magazines, and it was noted that surely the velocipedinal realm was awash with stunningly great photographers, the extra-curricular life of the average roadie has taken an apparent nosedive of late. first it was cycle sport magazine that bit the dust, having featured on the news-stand for many a long year. and though it still maintains a twitter account, any links included alongside the tweets lead to the cycling news website, owned by the same folks that once brought cycle sport to our doors. except, many of those links lead to articles concealed behind a paywall.

and despite having had the market all to itself on this side of the pond, since the demise of cycle sport, procycling unfortunately suffered a similar fate. yet, while all this was going on, the most expensive british road cycling magazine, rouleur, managed a successful subscription offensive, continuing unabated, if under different ownership. having said that, rouleur's executive editor and editor have both flown the coop lately, the latter recently replaced by ed pickering, previously editor at procycling magazine. it has often seemed that the world of cycle publishing is every bit as intriguing and active as the transfer market in professional cycling.

however, it's not solely the uk market that has seen recent disruption. outside publishing, publisher of north america's peloton magazine, recently decided to discontinue the print version of the magazine, moving to an all-encompassing digital platform. digital, however, is all very well, undoubtedly a sign of the times, when everyone gets everything through their smartphones. but as the founding editor of the new stelvio magazine, the admirable jeremy whittle, states in the launch issue editorial "...sometimes you also need something more profound, more considered, more reflective."

published by platform media, stelvio magazine will be available as a quarterly publication at a cost of £10 per issue. (the launch issue is available at a cost of £8 + p&p from should you wish to subscribe, the introductory offer is priced at £32.39 as opposed to the regular price of £35.99 + p&p.

launching a print magazine in the wake of others doing precisely the opposite, is either opportune genius, or a big risk (or both). the demise of the above mentioned three magazines is both a surprise and a disappointment, though not necessarily in that order. with most of us either spending our time in front of a computer screen, day in and day out, or perennially staring at a smartphone screen, i would have thought the relative luxury of settling down in the armchair and turning 'real' pages as opposed to constant swiping, would be one that many would find attractive. maybe that's only luddites like me.

either way, i have acquired a copy of stelvio's launch issue, all 130 pages of it. this compares well with the 146 average in cyclist magazine, though at the lower cost of £6.30 per issue. however, stelvio features 117 pages of editorial, and cyclist offers a few less at 107. the current tour issue of rouleur, a magazine that started life as a quarterly, provides 161 pages, of which 131 are editorial. that said, few launch issues of any magazine are likely to carry the amount of advertising they may accumulate in later issues, and it's as well to remember that of the three, cyclist is the only monthly publication.

so what's it like?

i confess i've not read every article so far (one has to keep something to savour), but in a format just a smidgeon smaller than either rouleur or cyclist, the layout is professional and uncluttered, featuring good, if not outstanding photography, and printed on quality stock. with jeremy whittle carrying out editorial duties and peter cossins installed as features editor, it will come as no surprise to learn that the writing is at he quality end of the literary spectrum.

the launch issue sports features on both men's and women's tours de france, vintage jerseys, the route de occitanie, tadej pogacar (by former rouleur editor, andy mcgrath), rider, demi vollering, the whys and wherefores of grand tour gravel and several more. however, the open-ended question has to be how well it will fare in an apparently shrinking print market? to be honest, that's a question that can only be answered by those reading this article. unless the majority of you click the link below and subscribe, its place in the sun could be short-lived.

if you consider yourself a bona-fide roadie, now might be the very time to prove that to be true, by putting the app down and stepping away from the ipad. print is a long way from dead, but someone has to step up to the plate and prove it.

sunday 10 july 2022

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pavement tax

bike parking

there can be few regular cyclists who have not, at sometime, been met with admonishment from a member of the motoring public claiming that we have fewer rights to be on the queen's highways than do they, on the basis that we don't pay road tax. the response to such an accusation is mostly dependent on the size and belligerence of the accuser, but mentally, most of us are replying in our heads, 'neither do you.' the better informed amongst us will have the year 1937 tattooed on the inside of our eyelids, alongside the location of every passing place on the loch gorm road.

for that was the year in which road tax was abolished under the auspices of the 1936 finance act, replaced with what was once referred to as the car tax, but now seems to have adopted the moniker, emissions tax. other than those who may have overdone the protein shakes, or had more than a single can of baked beans for lunch, bicycles emit no emissions whatsoever. technically, the fact that the electricity used to charge the battery of an e-bike may have been generated by means of a coal or gas-fired power station, could be construed as applicable emissions, but i don't see that becoming the subject of road-rage anytime soon.

though the nation's roads are now financed through general taxation, thus allowing all taxpaying road users the luxury of raising two metaphorical fingers in the direction of any dissent, according to a report in the guardian newspaper this past week, the lessening of duty received via the emissions tax and diminishing amounts received from petrol or diesel as more and more motorists switch to electric vehicles, promises to increase britain's debt by a substantial amount over the next half-century, unless steps are taken to remedy the situation. at present, i believe the uk government may have other matters with which to deal, but sometime soon, and amost definitely by the end of the decade, reparations of some sort will have to be agreed.

this, not to place too fine a point, offers greater smug leverage to the intrepid velocipedinist, a body of people scarcely unused to the concept of smugness, given the bicycle's part played during the pandemic and its potential to alleviate at least a few morsels of climate change. in other words, or green hue has rarely glowed so bright.

however, the majority of brownie points accrued have been predominantly at the behest of the bicycle itself; bicyclists really only have their perspicacity of which to be proud. but, bearing uncanny similarities to the theory of communism, the minute you add people to the equation, much of the garnered credibility tends to dissipate in the bicycle's emissionless wake.

since wednesday evening of this past week, the twice-daily loganair flight to and from glasgow airport has failed to alight at islay international airport. this is not of our choosing, and, i'd imagine, not of loganair's passengers either. the culprit for these non-arrivals has been an almost fixated heavy mist, reducing visibility below operational limits, and dousing the island in often heavy mist. as the media point skyward towards an incoming heatwave, we have yet to gain sight of the sun for over seven days, and have most certainly not experienced temperatures that might suggest it's november, let alone july.

this is proving unfortunate for those who chose to spend their sumer vacation time in the hebrides, and even more so for the poor couple who opted to get married in bowmore's round church yesterday lunchtime. you can but imagine that the choice of a july wedding on islay seemed a good idea at the time. despondent visitors, clad in shorts and dripping cagouls can be seen every lunchtime, plodding the pavements of bowmore village, presumably thinking that mallorca would undoubtedly have been the better option, nine distilleries notwithstanding. the irony that islay malts would not exist were it not for our substantial rainfall has probably not occured to the majority.

however, their perambulations of the recently refurbished pavements are not as carefree as one would imagine. due to our relatively low traffic levels, islay is an ideal destination for cycling visitors, usually arriving on islay before moving on further north in the process of 'island-hopping', a section of the tourist experience that enjoys rainfall no more than do their pedestrianised compatriots. allied to this is the existence of two e-bike hirers on the island, both of whom seem to be doing a roaring trade in spite of the inclement weather.

but other than the difference in their bicycle transport, there is little to separate these two-wheeled visitors when time comes to park-up and visit shops or cafés around the principality. more often than i'd like to admit, i have come across heavily laden touring bikes leaning against restaurant/café walls, greatly intruding into the space available for pedestrians. though this is less of an obstacle on the wide pavement in main street, those in shore street are considerably narrower, leading, in some cases, to pedestrians having to walk on the road to pass a group of badly abandoned bicycles.

the weight of the average e-bike makes it somewhat onerous for any visitor to attempt to move it out the way.

i doubt this is an iniquity confined solely to the streets of bowmore, or even those of greater islay. cycle tourism is a welcome addition to the numbers visiting the western isles, but it is noticeable that a growing proportion are new to the milieu, and apparently unaware of the etiquette expected of the modern-day velocipedinist.

rarely are the cylists anywhere to be seen when coming across their badly arranged bicycles, always assuming i could summon the chutzpah to berate them for their parking slovenliness. the police once advised, in response to a parking-on-the-pavement question, that were i to park a car on the pavement (assuming i had one in the first place), they would immediately move me on and fine me for obstruction. beneficially for the cyclists alluded to above, those selfsame police seem to be blind to obstruction caused by leaving often heavy bicycles lying all over the place.

i await reports of the first pedestrian to invoke a "you don't pay pavement tax" admonishment, though i tend to think they would have my full support.

saturday 9 july 2022

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return of the jedi

bicycle manufacture

rapha's simon mottram told me many years ago, that when starting rapha, he held high hopes that the majority of the apparel brand's products would be sourced from within the uk. however, while he claimed that samples sourced from uk clothing suppliers were invariably of high quality, when orders were placed in number, the results were often seen to be lacking. conversely, orders placed with manufacturers in the far-east were identical to the original samples, often with far shorter lead-times, and at appreciably lower costs.

that said, there are other uk cycling apparel providers, such as velobici, who continue to have their product range made in this country, though arguably in smaller quantities than the now multi-national imperial works (recently re-named, 'rapha works'). unfortunately, it's a fact of life that britain is no longer a manufacturing force to be reckoned with, neither on the european stage or worldwide. there are many reasons for this, several of them down to political choices made decades ago, but it's often surprising to find a made in britain label on any product these days, hence the need to outsource to the far east and elsewhere. this was once seen as a 'cheap' option, but in many cases, that's where the expertise lies.

and it's not only a situation that affected the uk. major american aircraft manufacturer, boeing, was another which depended on ousourcing manufacture of the components required to assemble a passenger jet. however, factors such as the last administration's trade policies, increased risk of disruption within the supply chain, and increasing labour costs, convinced them to repatriate the majority of their manufacturing to the usa, beginning in 2014, when it returned over 3,000 jobs to its homeland.

the recent covid pandemic, if nothing else, exposed the fragility of having outsourced manufacture of bicycles and components to the far east. when cycling gained a dramatic increase in popularity during covid restrictions in the uk, the supply chain disruption had many cycle shop mechanics scrabbling to find enough parts to keep bicycle wheels in motion. one shop said that a customer who came in to purchase a replacement for a damaged derailleur, was told by the manufacturer that it would be six months before they could supply a new mech. unless he wished to upgrade to the electronic version, in which case, the delay would be only three months.

supply chain problems from the far east were exacerbated recently, when china suffered more lockdowns, and though such problems continue, matters have alleviated somewhat in the meantime. however, despite such trials and tribulations, european bicycle sales have continued to show increasing numbers, surpassing 22 million units for the first time since records began this century. much of the growth has been fuelled by the current demand for e-bikes, but if anything, such velocipedes are more dependant on the far east, if only for the battery technology.

however, president of the confederation of the european bicycle industry, erhard buchel has said that the re-shoring of manufacturing to europe midst the aforementioned supply chain disruptions, may be a process that won't happen overnight, but presents the european bicycle industry with an opportunity for sustainable growth in the long-term.

it is less than a month since scottish based route assembly announced the launch of a new assembly and bike manufacturing hub north of the border. founder ian byrne said he hopes to replicate the success of european manufacturing and assembly in places such as portugal. this new glenrothes-based startup has committed itself to an annual assembly capacity of 25,000, citing an obvious shortfall in goods arriving from china and taiwan.

so, apart from handmade british bicycle frames that will always be a part of our velocipedinal culture, it is eminently possible that the foreseeable future will bring us british bikes, resembling the heyday of the likes of raleigh, carlton and even sturmey archer, incorporating both analogue and e-bikes. accuse me of being over-enthusiastic, or even gullible if you like, but don't tell me you wouldn't be as happy as me if it turns into reality?

friday 8 july 2022

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climbers -how the kings of the mountains conquered cycling. peter cossins. cassell publishing hardback. 335pp illus. £20

climbers - peter cossins

every sunday morning, the velo club peloton perambulates the very same parcours, a section of which takes us up what strava refers to as the col du rspb, a short climb that averages around 6%. though i will usually have ridden the approach road along gruinart flats quite comfortably, the minute the road heads upwards, i find myself drifting back from my compatriots' rear wheels. it's a disappointing situation, for at one time i would have been the chap up front, leaving riders behind without undue strain. how things have changed.

i am therefore working on the theory that gravity has greater effect on the over sixties. were it simply a case of my slowing down due to the effects of advancing years, i could (disappointingly) live with that fact, but it is notable that, when the road goes down, i am often able to freewheel at a velocity comparable to the pedalling efforts of my colleagues. scientifically speaking, that is surely evidence for the gravitational pull as described above?

nonetheless, in my younger days, i had convinced myself that my abilities as a grimpeur were the equal of many, though in retrospect, that may have been more wishful thinking than demonstrable athletic prowess. when time comes for the giro, tour, or vuelta, along with many, it's the mountain stages that offer the greatest attraction (along with cobbled stages such as yesterday's, obviously). it is this aspect of velocipedinal life that has been ably investigated by author, peter cossins, a man who lives in the pyrenees that form an intrinsic part of his subject.

in a book that features polka dot endpapers (and why not?) the author commences with a few words with noted climber, pierre rolland, who encapsulates just what climbing means for many pure grimpeurs. "...being in the mountains increased the amount and degree of pleasure that I felt. I knew right away that this was the kind of terrain I needed to focus on." there's obviously a difference between sprinters and climbers, both having different objectives in life, but it would be interesting to learn if the former had similar feelings during the freneticism of a sprint.

but the art of the climber, one which has changed considerably over the years, still aims for the same goal, and in the words of rolland, still curates the same sensations. "I want to cycle in the same way I saw riders doing when I was a teenager. That goes against the current flow, where teams and tactics are more organized in the mountains."

chapter one sets out the breadth of cossins' investigations, entitled as it is, From Pottier to Pogacar, the former being rené pottier, who rode away from his rivals on the ballon d'alsace in the 1905 tour de france, described as cycling's "...first great climbing exploit." prior to the existence of the tour de france, the author describes a cycle tour organised in march 1902, by the touring club of france, designed to "...test the function and resistance of all parts of the bicycle." the 225km route included tarbes, lourdes, luz, col du tourmalet, bagnere-de-bigorre before returning to tarbes.

and then there's the oft repeated tale of how, in order to reinvigorate the tour following persistent domination by 'strapping rouleurs' a dilemma answered by his associate, alphonse staines, "...what if we made the riders go through the Pyrenees?" the account of his subsequent exploration of the possibilities across a snow-covered pyrennean mountain pass has all but entered the realm of mythology. despite conditions being far worse than expected, he advised henri desgrange that "...Passé Tourmalet, trés bonne route."

cossins then goes onto feature those who have set the mountains alight with their climbing abilities, riders such as bottechia, binda, trueba and the rivalry between italians, gino bartali and fausto coppi. "Bartali had stamina, but Coppi had speed. Bartali's racing was based on grinta, guts and strength [...] (Coppi's) ability to ride solo would ensure he could not be caught."

he has also featured more modern exponents of the climbers' art, including philippa york (robert millar), andy hampsten, marco pantani ("...returning the sport to its most beautiful dimension.") michael woods and south-africa's ashleigh moolman passio. but, for me, the standout chapter is one entitled, "Hammers and nails" in which the author asks, "How do they do it? What do you feel when you race up a climb full bore? Do you remain lucid? Does it bring any sense of enjoyment? considering himself unqualified to answer any of those questions, cossins asks the experts.

as ashleigh moolman passio explains, " have to learn how to find some kind of enjoyment in that suffering, to overcome the challenge." as to the change in climbing tactics seen over the last decade or so, dan martin says the emphasis on nutrition has been key. "Nobody makes mistakes with nutrition any more. [...] cyclists' bodies have changed over the past twenty years." but as to the contention by notable climbers that, when 'in the zone', it almost resembles an out of body experience, philippa york told the author, "When you're going really, really well [...] the mountain just goes past like it's not there."

but perhaps it's all a tad more mundane than that, the reasons for climbing mountains very quickly, being less about philosophy and more about pragmatism. when asked why he climbed so fast, marco pantani was quoted as saying, "To abbreviate my agony."

for those of us who, as we grovel up the col du rspb every sunday morning, are inclined to ask the same questions as peter cossins, this is the perfect antidote to exasperation. many of the included histories have been highlighted in any number of cycling books, but never in such perfect context, and rarely told so well. 'climbers' is an immensely readable book, well written and researched and a highly entertaining read, whether you can go uphill fast or not.

the climbing fan's bible.

thursday 7 july 2022

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beryl. in search of britain's greatest athlete. jeremy wilson. pursuit books hardback. 338pp illus. £20

beryl - jeremy wilson

britain has lauded its upper echelon of cyclists in many different ways, through magazine articles, documentaries and a number of published biographies. though cycling often seems to include the more erudite of sportsmen and women, capable of speaking many different languages, not all are able, or willing to complete an autobiography unassisted, often engaging the services of a more accomplished author to undertake what can be a lengthy task, depending on the breadth of their palmares. however, one facet appears common across all modern threads of publishing; the subject of the majority tends to be male.

mark cavendish, bradley wiggins, charlie wegelius, steve cummings, brian robinson; all have been immortalised in print, yet britain's top female protagonists are often conspicuous by their absence. it would be easy to point the finger and bemoan this glaring lack in what is supposed to be a country of equality, but modern economics dictate a degree of perspicacity when it comes to the world of publishing. it's a brave publisher who will commission an author to write on a subject that promises few sales. this is not to disparage britain's professional female cyclists, simply the realisation that we have few riding at international level, and even fewer who would be recognisable to a reading public. lizzie deignan may well have won last year's women's paris-roubaix, but there's little doubt that it's still the male side of the sport that holds even the cycling public's imagination. that, however, is a situation in the process of changing for the better.

and it's a situation that can be viewed as somewhat ironic, when probably the best of all britain's sporting cyclists still remains a secret hidden in plain sight: beryl burton.

beryl remained an amateur throughout her long career, though it has to be admitted that turning professional in those days, for a woman at least, was certainly not what it means today. (however, remaining amateur was beryl's specific choice). it does, however, seem unusual that this nonetheless excellent book by jeremy wilson, is published a mere three years after the greatest- the times and life of beryl burton by will fotheringham. perhaps beryl burton's place in the sun has indeed truly arrived.

burton was, as are many ultra-competitive sportspeople, an enigma, driven beyond personal limits that the majority of us live comfortably within. she was born as beryl charnock in 1937 in a working-class district to the east of leeds, circumstances that the author later considers to be responsible for her stubbornness and work ethic, (captioning a photograph of a young beryl as "Fierce determination and a head of curls were lifelong charateristics."

"Times were tough and so was Beryl-she had to be..." growing up, she and her siblings would play in streets often disfigured by luftwaffe bombing raids. when at school, privations meant that school dinners were not available to every child; beryl and her sister maureen would thus run the mile distance home every lunchtime. her affection for swimming also entailed a three mile walk to the nearest swimming pool. in these early years, it's possible to see the development of the determined character she would eventually become. childhood friends said that she would often "...spend hours in front of a wall with an old tennis ball. She would set herself targets. Ten catches off the the wall. Then twenty. Next, twenty-five..."

she did, however experience subsequent serious illness following the sitting of the eleven-plus exam that all pupils were required to sit at age ten, when she collapsed, having developed a high fever, diagnosed as sydenham's chorea and rheumatic fever. as a result, she missed two full years of schooling, recommencing her education at stainbeck high school, and apparently prone to reporting noisy classmates to the teacher. "She was a loner".

the author expands on these circumstances citing a growing body of academic research that "...draws a correlation between childhood trauma and exceptional achievement." this is achievement to which we have already been introduced in the opening chapter, where jeremy wilson begins his biography of beryl burton with one of her many notable exploits, one which took place on sunday 17 september 1967. the event was an attempt to cycle as far as possible within a twelve-hour period, only one item in a year that had seen her regain the women's world road race championship, and "...swept the board domestically in the various British national championships."

events such as this twelve-hour challenge took place against the background of official distaste for massed start racing on british roads, thus time-trials such as this one, took place on coded courses to maintain some level of secrecy (the course under question was denoted as v181'). in an event featuring both male and female riders on the same course, the top seeded rider and last man to start, was mike mcnamara. beryl started two minutes after mcnamara. now married to charlie burton and with an eleven year-old daughter, (denise), after riding for over ten hours, burton caught and passed mcnamara, famously offering him a liquorice allsort in the process.

she completed her twelve hour stint on the bicycle having covered 277.25 miles, not only setting a new women's record, but beating the men's record by almost threequarters of a mile. it's a women's record that stood for fifty years.

as mentioned above, burton remained an amateur throughout her career, combining her life as a dedicated housewife, with daily work at nim carline's rhubarb plantation, work that she often attributed to providing strong core muscles. carline was also a top cycle racer, who was happy to allow burton all the time off she needed to train or race.

the author has conducted hours of research into his subject, interviewing burton's husband, charlie, who selflessly subsumed his own cycling career in favour of supporting his wife at every opportunity, along with daughter denise, with whom it seems burton had a love/hate relationship when her teenage daughter began competing alongside her mother. "Beryl's bluntness was also apparent when she was asked how she felt if Denise won a race. 'I don't get all excited if she's done something and I've already done it,' she said."

in the 1976 women's road race, denise burton outsprinted her mother to win.

beryl burton died on sunday 5 may 1996, while delivering invitations to her fifty-ninth birthday. the post mortem revealed evidence of heart-disease and chronic anaemia. it is indicative of her standing in the world of international cycling when eddy merckx said that the "amazing, totally incredible Beryl was the boss of all of us." yet it's worth pointing out that the author expresses a sentiment in his 'prologue', that could have come from any one of us;"Why didn't I know her?"

unlike beryl's 1986 autobiography, 'personal best', this book by jeremy wilson, chief sports reporter for the daily telegraph, is an enervating read from start to finish and one that can but bring the exploits of britains finest ever cyclist to a wider cycling public. you simply cannot describe yourself as a roadie if you are ignorant of the women's substantial palmares. and in relation to that palmares, the author has devoted a chapter to contemporary wind-tunnel research hoping to determine how successful burton may have been had she been riding in the modern era. conducted by renowned aerodynamic expert, xavier disley in a wind-tunnel at silverstone, it's intriguing to read how her records might compare if she'd had access to the state-of-the-art technology that prevails today.

the book also highlights what might be regarded as her failings as a person, wife and mother, undoubtedly the result of her lifelong obsession with pushing herself just those few miles further, again and again. there are comparisons to be made, i believe, with graeme obree, who exhibited similar obsessions during his career, unable to enjoy what he'd achieved because he was already looking ahead to whatever came next. beryl also appears to have judged her self-worth not on past victories, but on whatever the next race might bring.

the author has produced a well reasoned, well written and addictive read, while revealing many of the contradictory facets that made beryl burton the incredible athlete she surely was.


wednesday 6 july 2022

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great british gravel rides. cycling the wild trails of england, scotland and wales. markus stitz. vertebrate publishing softback. 243pp illus. £25

great british gravel rides - markus stitz

following the wholesale introduction of the mountain bike in the 1980s, in retrospect, that particular genre of bicycle was cited as being the saviour of the bicycle industry. caught-up in the latest trend from across the pond, folks who lived nowhere near a humpback bridge, let alone a hill or mountain, opted to purchase these eighteen-speed bicycles that featured knobbly, but comfortable tyres and sturdy, dependable frames. i know this because i was one of them. desirous of something that would offer a wide range of useable gears along with the ability to fit cycle luggage when necessary, i purchased an original muddy fox courier.

it's possible that i did, at one time or another, climb a hill that demanded the sort of suntour gears fitted at the rear, but i can almost guarantee that it was on metalled roads, and not the scrabbly stuff for which it was designed. the majority of riding undertaken in the hebrides was of similar constitution, eventually replacing the two-inch knobbly tyres with 1.5" road specific rubber, along with a lengthy, steel stem a set of touring bars and bar-end levers, effectively converting it into a touring machine, a specification that endured until its ultimate replacement.

during that time, i bought numerous anodised widgets and umpteen mtb magazines, (if only for the cartoon mountain biking sheep). but i'd struggle to categorise myself under the heading of 'mountain biker'.

great british gravel rides - markus stitz

my long-standing cynicism would tend to hold gravel cycling with the same level of suspicion. both north america and europe have long had the option of the cyclocross bicycle to undertake a similar style of cycling, and though i'd imagine there are any number of adherents who will be keen to point out just how wrong i am, currently, my cynicism holds true. but that cynicism, while not denying the right of the cycle industry and its customer base to supply and purchase whatever is en vogue, i cannot deny that the gravel bicycle might well be emulating its mountain bike antecedent.

aside from the variations of gravel bicycle currently to be found from any number of manufacturers, it has fostered the growth of bikepacking and the products required for so doing, along with a series of articles and guides for the aspiring gravel cyclist. a major proponent of the genre has been edinburgh-based, round-the-world cyclist, markus stitz. but rather than simply adopt a a style of bicycle and leave it at that, markus has appeared tireless in his efforts to popularise gravel cycling, mostly in scotland, by forging and discovering new routes, while maintaining a high profile on social media to publicise these efforts.

great british gravel rides - markus stitz

and now the enterprising vertebrate publishing has released his first book, curating a total of twenty-six rides the length and breadth of the uk, contributed by several well-rounded and respected cycling authors, including guy kesteven, jenny graham, and my good friends, esther tacke and warren sanders. the final route, worded by markus himself, is right on my doorstep, just across the stretch of water known as the sound of islay.

but first things first; as markus asks in his introduction, "Why a book about gravel riding in Britain? the answer to which almost paraphrases my own thoughts. " opinion about gravel riding was mixed [...] when I picked up a Surly Straggler, I didn't see the need for another bike and thought gravel bikes were simply another marketing move from the bike industry." perhaps the difference is that i still hold that opinion, while markus, who has far more experience of such matters than have i, has accepted it lock, stock and gravel. "By the time I was researching this book in the summer of 2021, my definition of gravel riding had changed significantly."

markus maintains that since he joined the gravel revolution, he's hardly touched another bike, but admits that what we call gravel riding has been around "...ever since people took their bikes off the beaten track, often in the pursuit of adventure." assuming you subscribe to 'Gravel joy', it's hard not to be drawn in by his enthusiasm, and that being the case, he has provided a comprehensive guide to what constitutes a suitable bicycle, what clothing might be deemed pragmatic, preparing the bicycle prior to departure on any gravel adventure, and several other points that even experienced cyclists will find useful.

great british gravel rides - markus stitz

after all that, we're onto the rides themselves, beginning with, naturally enough, scotland

each ride description follows a logical pattern, featuring both illustrations and a detailed map, all of which extend across two pages, with the route clearly delineated. in the top right corner of each opening page is the location of the ride highlighted on a thumbnail map of britain, along with the distance clearly marked, and followed by a brief profile of each author. and should your enthusiasm for gravel cycling receive a boost from the route description, markus has thoughtfully included a list of other nearby routes.

this is augmented with notes on where to eat, nearby bike shops, should you have left something at home, or suffered a mechanical malfeasance while strutting your gravel stuff, and where to stop along the way. each ride features footnotes describing, amongst other things, the amount of climbing involved, the percentage of path versus road and singletrack, the grade of route (expert, challenging, etc.), the best time of year to ride and a profile of the route to place it in some sort of context.

to be highly partisan, if i might quote from the raiders gravel ride by esther and warren, "We were actually coming from the road cycling scene, and during wintertime it was just not very nice to be out on the roads. We absolutely loved gravel cycling! We could actually go out in wintertime and just ride."

personally i have yet to ride markus' bonus route on the neighbouring isle of jura, though one or two friends of mine have done so in recent years. but when that happens, i'll be riding a cyclocross bike. if you're into gravel riding, this is to gravel, what simon warrren's excellent series on climbing has been to road cycling, and one would hope that, as the gravel scene continues to expand, markus and vertebrate publishing may find the resolve to produce more. reading may not have cured my cynicism, but it has brought the likelihood of my crossing to jura for a scoot around the base of the paps on inver estate potentially a tad closer. and, if enthusiasm gets the better of me, i can always go and visit esther and warren in dumfries.

if you're into gravel, this is the shizzle.

great british gravel rides is published by vertebrate publishing on thursday 7 july.

tuesday 5 july 2022

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................