some of you may have seen a recent episode of david attenborough's latest wildlife documentary series in which some remarkable footage was shown of baby barnacle geese jumping out the nest, at a height of 400ft, and falling down a sheer cliff to their parents waiting below. not unnaturally, not all survive this extraordinary right of passage, and those that do, have often then to run the gauntlet of arctic foxes along the shore on which they have arrived. for all the gasps and tears on behalf of the tv audience witnessing this debacle, it's obviously a birthright that is more successful overall than you might think, for every october, around 60,000 geese arrive on the island of islay to create havoc on the lush agricultural ground for which the isle is famous.
apparently the barnacles don't simply munch on grass, but pretty much pull it up by the roots. scottish natural heritage, currently debating the likelihood of culling at least a few of these sizeable locusts, pays out substantial amounts of cash to the local farmers by way of compensation. depending on who you talk to, it arguably costs them more to winter feed their cattle and sheep, as well as re-seed their fields than they receive by way of compensation.
however, despite their colossal numbers (the goose count was only 24,000 when mrs washingmachinepost and i moved here in the late 1980s), or perhaps because of them, large numbers of birdwatchers (twitchers) arrive almost simultaneously to observe the birds (there are also whitefront and greylag geese making up the numbers) from the windows of their hired minibuses and overly large telescopes and binoculars. from my point of view, there are only two types of bird: geese and not geese. but in the true style of the blase philistine, my wind battered face has always to smile as i pass considerable numbers of twitchers on sunday mornings as i head to the velo club rendezvous point at debbie's.
why in heaven's name would you get up so early on a sunday morning, be confined to the seats of a volkswagen minibus, while dressed in the compulsory barbour jacket uniform just to look at geese that can be seen from pretty much every stopping point round the island? but then, if i might turn the situation on its head, let's look at it from their point of view.
on a wet and windy sunday morning, while harmlessly studying birdlife that is not native to your own location, on the trip of a lifetime, some idiot passes at a speed he probably thinks is quite impressive, wearing a lime green helmet and other ludicrous garb, astride a sliver of carbon fibre that probably cost not a lot less than the minibus. horses for courses i suppose.
however, it's not even as simple as that, for that selfsame sunday morning cyclist has a hidden secret that turns the appreciation of items designed for specific purposes into something approaching an art form. then just in time, messrs andrews and dubash come along with a book possibly designed specifically to satiate such closet realities. their latest publication, bike mechanic, manages to be at least three things inside one set of covers. firstly, guy and rohan provide us with first hand experience of what it's like to be a pro mechanic on the world tour race circuit. the unsung heroes of the peloton, or perhaps even more accurately 'the roadies of the cycling world'.
it's a career that pays scarce heed to a regulated number of hours per week, that embraces early mornings and late evenings, and is interspersed with interminable hours cooped up in the back seat of a skoda. and it's not one that is open only to the team mechanic. necessity and marketing have decreed that shimano, vittoria and mavic provide a similar, but neutral service across all of the grand tours and one day classics. it's also a career that has little truck with academic qualifications.
"I just gave them my CV, but in this job a CV doesn't mean shit, really, does it? And then, a month later, I got an email - here's your contract."
aside from the writings and literal observations by both excellent wordsmiths, the imagery of taz darling, much of it in the monochrome style of rouleur, provides easily as great a point of interest as the paragraphs and sentences. in fact, on finishing the book, i returned to page one and simply enjoyed all the photos.
but documentary is but one facet of bike mechanic, for the middle section indulges those of us who take as much pleasure in drooling over beautifully photographed campagnolo workshop tools as in applying their features to intrinsic parts of the bicycle. probably every bit as suspect a pastime as watching geese from a minibus. however, part three is arguably the finest feature of this truly excellent book. for not only does rohan dubash easily (and visibly, courtesy of ms darling's imagery) walk the reader through the steps of assembling, repairing and fettling a range of bicycles and componentry, but shamelessly displays the ocd that is part of his fastidious demeanour.
"As always, the devil is in the detail, so align any relevant logos or graphics, separating a bike that looks like it has been thrown together from one that has been assembled with care."
the only conceivable way this book could have been improved would have been to print it on greaseproof paper and ring bind the pages allowing it to lie flat on the workbench. but then it would have been an altogether different edifice altogether. guy andrews is both an accomplished writer, editor and mechanic, and while rohan dubash is no mean writer himself, he ranks amongst the uk's finest bicycle mechanics. there is much to learn within these 272 pages, pretty much all of it in a style that educates and never preaches.
if you think you know everything there is to know about bicycle mechanics (both the process and the individuals), this is the very book for you, as indeed it is also even if you can't tell the difference between a bb30 bottom bracket and a quick-release skewer. for those of us who could spend hours simply staring at a campagnolo peanut butter spanner, it is manna from heaven.
wednesday 29 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................