it's hard being hard. we're a long way from suburbia, the elements surround us, and most of the time, they are not happy. it's winter; both a horrible place to be and a wonderful place to be, inhabited by sub zero winds, sleet, horizontal rain, brief flashes of sunlight, and this year, even snow. justiying the desire to remain indoors would not be particularly difficult, but with the only real alternative to getting those kilometres in, being the torture of the turbo trainer, in retrospect, a little harshness never killed anyone. at least, not yet.
and i don't own a turbo.
there is, as a hardened scotsman, a reputation to live up to, though it wasn't my idea to have this reputation in the first place; it was just sort of foisted upon me. i blame brian smith. character and building are the two words tattoed on the inside of my eyelids (metaphorically speaking, you understand), joining those of pain and suffering to build into a description that suggests sleeping rough and not brushing one's hair of a morning. as i have said on more than one occasion, ileachs are the flandrians of the hebrides, and honour bound to maintain this reputation, even if only in words.
of course, we are nothing, if not prepared for the onslaught, with wardrobes of oilskins, cleated wellies and full face motorcycle helmets topped off with insulated oven gloves. underneath this muscular outer shell, i have become used to the soft face of merino. in fact, so ingrained has this become in the apparel armament, that the local sheep recognise me as one of their own, and no longer make for the grass verge as i pass at close to mach two. yes, a cielo is that fast.
in the days when i knew less than not very much, i was wont to purchase three base layers for only £15, garments with an outer skin that bore an uncanny resemblance to that of my lunchtime waffles. i do not remember whether these functioned quite as expected, but i do remember that on reaching the coffee stop, personal hygiene had already taken a step backwards. you really do want the coffee lady to love you. but thanks to those farmers in new zealand, the ultimate in recycling arrived in the shape of soft, comfortable and most importantly, niff free baselayers that could be worn for a year at a time, and the coffee lady would still take your empty cup away, wipe the table top and cast a pleasing smile. no longer did the sunday ride confer unsociability.
it's now even harder being hard. how can such a reputation be maintained in the face of such unashamed luxury so close to the skin, no matter the elements that re-shape the exterior public face? just when you thought that comfort and joy could make no further inroads into pain and suffering, along comes yanto barker with a long-sleeve baselayer that is so impossibly soft, that it makes a pair of pyjamas feel like scouring pads. similarly to a wabi-woolens jersey, you really don't want to remove it after the ride is over.
made from an 80/20 mix of angora wool and viscose, the top is very close fitting: you might want to appraise those bumpy bits that exist where bumpy bits should not be. in contrast to many other baselayers, even the neck is tight enough to require the removal of my glasses in order to pull over the head. le col clothing is cleverly and carefully put together in italy, where at least the cycling population is seemingly a lot less substantial in girth than ageing scotsmen, thus where i would regularly order a medium in any top, the le col needs to be a large, and a very snug fitting large at that. i mean this not as criticism; the fit was quite superb, but just bear in mind when ordering. in keeping with the rest of the range, all seams are triple gold stitched, and the le col name embroidered at the neck. important for those unzipped collar moments.
raving over softness and build quality means not a groat if the performance lags several laps behind, so the proof must be, as always, in facing the elements in their own backyard. quite obviously, a baselayer from any stable can be worn with outer shell(s) from a whole 'nuther courtyard, but as yanto has created a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, it seemed only fair to ally the baselayer with a le col winter jacket, and head into the winter sun.
the outer edge needs no introduction, and today, while the mood was generous, the windchill hovered around zero, a bit of a leap of faith to restrict myself to a baselayer and winter jacket. in fact, halfway to bridgend, the break-even point for the good old heat test, the finger was pointing, laughing and saying you have it seriously wrong today. at that particular vector, i was not entirely against disagreeing; ageing scotsmen are slow to get started. however, past the point of no-return, i confidently snubbed the pointing finger. this continued to be the case even down the exposed, sheep infested road that is uiskentuie strand.
i don't mind admitting that, suffering from the ailment of the season, after my soya cappuccino and lucozade bar, man flu had encouraged me to apply another thin outer layer for the return journey, the temperature having dropped just a tad since the off. however, simulating the closest i'll ever achieve to time trialling, i had to stop en-route to remove this extra, if thin, insulation due to over-heating. part of the litmus test is whether mrs washingmachinepost will allow my presence in the sitting room at the point of return. we know that merino doesn't pong, but i have little experience (none whatsoever) of angora (which comes from rabbits, now that you ask. the wool is plucked or sheared, and the wittle wabbits are unharmed). the le col top was worn for both saturday and sunday rides, with no washing in between (testing can be a lonely affair), and i'm more than happy to say there was no trace of niff. and it still feels embarrassingly soft.
when the mercury heads just a few degrees further north, i may consider wearing this as a leisure garment if the notion takes me, for it is certainly not lacking in individual style. just watch me. the le col angora wool baselayer can be obtained in sizes small to extra large, in a not unattractive charcoal grey, at a cost of £79.99. it's a bit more expensive that most of the merino out there, but, as they say in the l'oreal adverts 'we're worth it.'
posted sunday 7 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................