"darned if this isn't an excellent alternative to carpet bowls."..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's that time of year once more when mrs washingmachinepost and i head off for our well-earned summer holiday. the consequences of this, of course, mean that there will be no daily post until at least sunday 6 december.
i hope you won't find velocipedinal life too difficult when left to your own devices for a while.
thursday 26 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
rumour has it that, to have any pretence at being serious about your cycling, be it road, offroad or cyclocross, there is no substitute for carbon as the preferred frame material. you'd probably struggle to find anyone to disagree with that statement, but it's one that is genuinely applicable to a very small proportion of the cycling public. it's also a statement or notion that has connotations accepted under false premise. while i can fling myself here, there and everywhere on a cyclocross bicycle, there's not a chance in christendom that i could ever be considered for even a part-time competitive career. heck, even my training schedule, laughable though that concept might appear, can be seriously undermined if there are no small caramel biscuits to accompany my soya cappuccino.
in that respect, nice though it is, i have no real need of carbon fibre (want, however, is whole 'nuther basket of hurdles). therefore, the fact that ridley's x-ride 20 disc bicycle features a smoothly crafted aluminium frame entertains more of an esoteric objection rather than a practical one. the only apparent concession to carbon fibre is by way of the oryx fork and even that has a tapered alloy steerer.
the front portion of the ridley frame follows the tried and tested method prevalent in 'cross for many a long year, featuring more or less roundish tubing with a traditionally level top tube. in contradiction to that statement, the top tube is a bit flat. thankfully, the rigours of cyclocross mitigate against the adoption of sloping tubes, in order to accommodate the all-important shoulder. cable routing is intermal. where the ridley displays its modernity is at the rear stays; the seatstays pretend to adhere to normality until midway to the dropouts at which point a subtle kink interrupts the flow southwards. the chunkier chainstays exhibit a quite pronounced outward flair midway along their length, seamlessly curving to become one with the seatstays.
in these days of confusing bottom bracket standards and colossal bb frame joints, that on the x-ride is conservatively small, holding onto a more or less standard fsa bottom bracket with outboard cups. componentry is a bit of a mix and match, but one judiciously chosen to offer the best of compromises. the fsa chainset sports an inner 36 ring matched to an outer 46, combining with shimano's 105 front and rear derailleurs for changing duties. the levers, however, are sourced from shimano's ultegra range with enlarged top sections to take care of the hydraulic pots for the discs. the latter are 160mm diameter rotors attached to a set of fulcrum racing sport cx wheels. rubber is taken care of by challenge's excellent 32c grifo clinchers.
the functional items such as stem. bars, seatpost and saddle are all forza branded, but it's worth noting that the seatpost is of a most practical 27.2mm diameter. as with pretty much every sports bicycle these days, pedals are not supplied, so i fitted a pair of crank brothers re-vamped candy pedals. though ridley describe the colour as black, due to its inherent mattness it generally appears closer to slate grey. it's scarcely the most endearing of colour finishes, but assuming its days will be spent thickly coated with mud, it hardly seems worth moaning about.
the 'done in sixty minutes' decal on the seat tube was a pleasantly humorous touch.
there was a time that my material prejudice would have shunned aluminium as a suitable means of containing two wheels and a gearset, when sage advice would have recommended that even triple-butted 7000 series alloy were better suited to the larger figure. one or two rides on aluminium in previous years have only mildly ameliorated that opinion. maybe the ridley x-ride 20 has changed my mind for the better.
strictly speaking, a true cyclocross bike would be bereft of bottle cage bosses, for how else would riders shoulder the bike when faced with scrabbly climbs? the ridley featured not only a couple of bosses on the downtube, but another two on the seat tube. true to my mythical cyclocross background (ie, all but non-existent), i left the cage bolts in place without need of employment. but nonetheless, ridley are positioning the x-ride series as appropriate vehicles for riding 'cross and it would be a naive reviewer who didn't at least give it a shot.
i've ridden and reviewed the challenge grifos on a previous occasion and thundering through the varying terrain offered by my favoured route in bridgend woods gave no cause to alter my favourable opinion. the rubber is important because no matter the expertise of the frame designer, if grip is compromised, it all comes to nought. ridley's frame designer's expertise is probably deserving of a pay rise; the balance and predictability of the x-ride 20 led me to have a far more exciting time in the undergrowth than its weight (almost 10kg) initially promised.
if this were mine in perpetuity, i'd probably opt for a slightly longer stem, but the bars seemed pretty much the ideal width, providing a decent compromise between comfort and a narrowness that allowed passage between closely spaced bushes and trees.
unfortunately, the frame being a tad overweight offers undesired side-effects in a 'cross bike. i know i'm not the only rider who has need of shouldering their bike when completing several training circuits and it would be hard to dismiss the major shoulder discomfort when necessarily lifting the x-ride. a cross specific jersey with a padded right shoulder eased the situation only minimally. it's perhaps natural to place the blame for this squarely on those shimano hydraulic disc brakes, but short of stripping the bike down to its metal tubing, that's hard to consolidate.
what the brakes did perpetrate under pretty much every set of circumstances was two distinct howling screeches. whether wet or dry, i failed miserably to prevent them doing so. the noise made no difference to the impressive braking prowess, achieved, it should be noted, with less than onerous input from the brake levers. the howling banshee imitation did seem to be peculiar to the pair of disc rotors fitted to the fulcrum wheels, for when riding the bike on a pair of wheelsmith aeros, the shimano rotors attached to those only exclaimed loudly in the first couple of kilometres, remaining generally fairly quiet after that point.
i have every faith that continued riding and braking would lessen this problem to the point of inaudibility, but i'd have preferred it to have done so a bit more quickly. the wheels to which the disc rotors were attached performed most admirably, perhaps contributing to the weight problem, but easily compensated for by their trackability and often impressive acceleration.
brake noise is, however, a relatively superficial complaint, one that scarcely detracted from the sheer joy that the x-ride provided under pretty much every situation. fitted with a pair of crank brothers candy #7, pedals leaping on and off, chuntering up and down rocky and muddy climbs, it was hard not to smile even if it resulted in muddy teeth.
from my point of view, the 46/36 fsa chainset seemed rather well judged, even when riding on-road rather than loose gravel and mud. with a galeforce tailwind and clicked into the outer ring and a smallish sprocket, i'd be fibbing if i claimed to be undergeared at any juncture. perhaps rather predictability, the 105 mechs never missed a change. nor did those hydraulic discs ever once lock up, though that may have been more through my inability to suffer the howling any longer.
the sturdy alloy chainstays which head straight back from the bb shell, describe an outward kick about halfway to the dropouts on which i oddly kept catching my right heel every now and again. however, after a couple of weeks riding, this only occurred very occasionally. in other words, you'd get used to it.
as i've mentioned on more than a single occasion, i am in possession of a saddle agnostic posterior, one that easily warmed to the ridley badged seat on the x-ride. not once did i experience any discomfort no matter the tactility of the ground under the tyres. that included a lengthy period of once more practising my mounts and dismounts in a secluded corner of the woods where there was no-one around to laugh.
i realise it's something of a cliché to state that a bicycle rides lighter than its weight ought to dictate, but in this case, that's perfectly true. i have used the x-ride on a couple of sunday morning rides, joining my fellow velo club members one of whom rides a colnago c60. i can't say i left all behind on the climbs, but i wasn't riding shotgun at the back. aluminium may be regarded as the 'has been' of frame materials by those more inured to the luxuries of carbon, failing even to offer the retro caché of steel, but on the strength of this particular strain of ridley, i wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. its big brother, the x-ride 10, is only about half a kilo lighter.
ridley base much of their reputation on a belgian heritage. i'd say this bike comfortably justifies the implication.
the ridley x-ride 20 disc edition retails at around £1600 and is available in frame sizes ranging from 48cm to 58cm. the model reviewed was 54cm. thanks to uk distributors sportline/madison for supplying the x-ride.
thursday 26 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my not always fully engaged participation in graphics class at college at least demonstrated a more than passing interest in the printed word. and not just words; lithographs, etching, engraving and, believe it or not, stone lithography. in the true character of a teenager who knew it all and holding the innocence of disrespect for one's elders and betters, stone lithography seemed about as relevant as learning to paint the walls of caves. in the mid to late seventies, laser printers costing the price of a small house were gaining favour in the more elite reprographic houses across the world. why on earth would those earnest, yet obviously deluded lecturers spend even a small portion of their time teaching us how to make pictures from a large lump of polished stone?
letterpress too. who in their right mind would spend the better part of their academic day sliding individual back to front letters into a wooden frame, frustratingly attempting to have them float past the woodcut completed yesterday? bear in mind this was several years before apple gave us the macintosh computer and aldus accompanied their largesse with a copy of pagemaker 1.0.
letterpress and stone lithography are niche crafts these days, promulgated to cater for those who appreciate such artistic anachronisms. but despite the prevalence of illustrator and photoshop in favour of lino cuts and monoprints, and the inexorable rise of the interweb, print has refused to die. in fact, some might say that, in similar manner to the vinyl record album, it's resurgence has made it a stronger medium than when it was just print. granted, there is an aura of doom and gloom about the newspaper industry which continues to haemorrhage print sales almost on a weekly basis, but that has more to do with the way that news is distributed and disseminated nowadays, rather than any symptoms of disaffection with the medium.
it takes only a brief saunter along the shelves of any large branch of w h smith to realise just how many pages are offered for our delectation every month or week. the internet may be considered king as far as news is concerned, predominantly due to its immediacy, but for reading and viewing satisfaction, there's very little beats ink on paper. and that includes the delightful aroma emanating from the heavier-weight, artier publications.
like rouleur for instance.
rouleur is often held up as a quality cycling publication that still offers some of the finest cycling photography and writing currently available, a periodical that found such favour amongst the pelotonese, that its initial quarterly publication schedule very quickly grew to the eight issues per annum that we currently enjoy. but, for those who are perhaps unaware, rouleur was born in the original imperial works in kentish town, a collaboration between originating editor guy andrews and rapha ceo, simon mottram.
guy is no longer the editor and rouleur is no longer a part of the rapha empire, having been sold to gruppo media a few years past. yet, almost like british telecom who sold off o2 in the early part of this century before realising that actually, having a mobile network was rather a spiffing idea, rapha have entered the world of print once more with mondial, a twice yearly publication, the second issue of which will currently be in the hands of rapha cycle club members.
what several of us are wondering, however, is why on earth the new imperial works has renewed its acquaintance with print so few years after dispensing with its first, highly successful foray. i asked this very question of rapha's head of brand and central marketing, james fairbank.
"Creatively we wanted to do something that was entirely ours: conceived, art directed and commissioned by Rapha. Financially, Mondial's an integral part of the Rapha Cycling Club. We also wanted to make a statement, to produce something that's a physical testament to the company aims of honouring the sport and trying to help it become the most popular sport in the world."
early adopters of the rapha mindset may recall with an appropriate level of fondness, the carefully designed and printed rapha catalogues, featuring the monochromatic imagery of ben ingham. these exuded the aroma of print that is sadly lacking in the modern idiom often on a weight of paper that offered a very fine and pleasing textural tactility. since those heady days of yore, rapha's marketing intent has spent more time occupying the pixels of online and the moving imagery of vimeo. yet if rapha now shows such enthusiasm for print, is this perhaps predicated by the decline in paper-based marketing material?
"That was certainly a factor. I remember getting hold of one of the elite brochures shortly after I started at Rapha in 2010. There's no way to financially justify that kind of print expression but, brand-wise, it was so potent. For a plethora of reasons we stopped doing brochures in a broad sense in 2013. Perhaps Mondial's overcompensating a bit for that."
however, with all that prompted my opening paragraphs, it would be foolish to think that rapha have re-entered the world of the printed periodical purely for reasons of nostalgia. everything happens for a reason and with many a quality cycling publication vying for committed readers, imperial works surely must have something in mind other than an overweening need to print pink covers. apart from healthy sales figures, is there a specific target at which mondial is aimed?
"There are a few. We need it to stand alone financially, it can't be supported by a marketing budget. We're also using it to broaden our creative network and there's nothing like a magazine to make you better at planning. Online's very forgiving when it comes to publishing, but there's a rigour to print that you can't ignore if you want to make something good."
so, those are the whys and wherefores. but the greatest of intentions and design room plans don't necessarily prove that there's any commercial point to the original notion. to paraphrase the old-time cnd slogan, 'suppose they gave a magazine launch and nobody came.' was the first issue of mondial well received?
"We're up for a couple of awards with Stack: magazine of the year and cover. It was important that the design press noticed. The Rapha Cycling Club feedback has also been positive."
the biggest difference between rouleur and mondial is perhaps signified by james' statement "conceived, art-directed and commisioned by Rapha..." though rouleur was once owned by rapha, commercial constraints dictated that at least a portion of its pages contained advertising. and that advertising could be somewhat restricted if seen to be curated by imperial works.
with mondial, however, there is no need to appear or be independent; any slant towards black and pink can be celebrated with impunity. does this relative freedom allow the magazine to feature a more in-depth approach to specific rapha products within its pages?
Definitely. It's also great place to blood upcoming new product and dig a bit deeper into the production and design side of our business."
throughout the time that guy andrews was editor of rouleur, i continued to chide him about when it was likely to go weekly. not unnaturally, his repeated answer was "over my dead body". though not necessarily an in-house measurement of success, the great unwashed (that's you and me) are likely to view an increase in publishing schedule as a measure of success linked to undeniable demand. though i can appreciate that it's early days yet, is there any intention to bring mondial to an endearing public more than twice a year?
"Simon's (Mottram, Rapha CEO) ambitious, and has mentioned going quarterly, but the financials don't work unless we start printing and selling, thirty thousand copies of each issue. We'd also have to employ a lot more people to help, or outsource the work. We aren't very good at outsourcing and good people are very hard to find."
the fact that we're even having this conversation proves that the printed word still means far more to each and every one of us than the modern age of technology would suggest. it's a situation that really makes no sense whatsoever; by now we should be reading everything either online or on our ipads and kindles, but those stacked shelves in w h smith would surely seem something of a contradiction? does james have any answers as to why print is still so important to us all?
"It's tangible and timeless. It's a stake in the ground, a rallying point and something to agonise over. Someone also said it was dead..."
james also asked me to point out that, although he provided the business justification for mondial, it was delivered creatively by editor, mark mackenzie and art director, jack saunders. "It could not exist without them and it represents a colossal amount of work on their behalf."
wednesday 25 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the story so far: over a year ago, derek at scotland's wheelsmith posted a photo on twitter of his latest aero build. so impressive looking were these deep alloy rimmed wheels, that i suggested it might be a whizz bang idea if he were to kindly send over a pair of thes for a brief holiday on islay. to this he readily agreed and only a few days later, a tall, narrow cardboard box arrived by carrier at thewashingmachinepost croft. more impressive though this wheelset was in the flesh (so to speak), it took only a moment or two to realise that a) there was no braking surface and b) there were six bolt holes on each hub for the affixation of disc rotors.
these aspects were not in themselves a disappointing feature of a particularly inviting set of wheels, but in view of my not possessing a disc equipped bicycle on which to fit them, my only pragmatic option was to apologise profusely to derek for my short sightedness and offer to return them forthwith. mr mclay is obviously a more optimistic gent than myself, declining their return and willing to wait until either i purchased an appropriate bicycle, or a suitable applicant arrived for review.
that moment, as described above, arrived only a matter of weeks ago when a bicycle, yet to be reviewed, turned up at the croft in a surprisingly large carboard box.
i have recently described the next hurdle that required to be overcome on discovering that the freehub was configured for a ten-speed cassette and the review machine was an eleven. once again, derek saved the situation by sending a shimano pattern eleven-speed freehub. simplicity itself. in order to ease the wheel transition from the factory builds to the wheelsmith aeros, i purchased an appropriately sized pair of disc rotors (160mm) at which point, we were good to go.
even after so many years of reviewing various items of cycling paraphernalia, i still have frequent cause to doubt my own abilities as a competent witness to the efficacy or otherwise of that under scrutiny. the wheels fitted as standard to the anonymous bicycle (which will be reviewed later this week) were actually rather spiffing, achieving greater heights than i was expecting. thus, i had grave doubts that fitting the wheelsmiths would elicit any notable difference. fortunately the wheels were far more impressive than my scrutineering skills. it is remarkably difficult to put into words just how much of an edge the wheelsmith aeros provided over the stock wheelset.
there's a sprightliness and sure-footedness that announces itself in a totally unfussy manner. many of you might consider that, weight being equal, one set of wheels will be pretty much like another, but take it from one who thought he wouldn't notice, that is very much not the case. i am, by personal admission, something of a wheelaholic; very much of the persuasion that proabably the finest upgrade you can ever make to your bicycle(s) is to fit a better pair of wheels. i'd love to say that choice can easily be made on the basis of price, that more expensive is always better, but several of derek's wheelsets speak to the contrary.
it's possibly not giving too much away to mention that the bicycle in question is of the cyclocross genre, so the wheels have experienced both on-road and offroad. in my opinion, they excel on both smooth and rough surfaces, but if anything, i'd favour scrabbling about in the undergrowth. on road and off, the wheelsmith aeros wore an excellent pair of challenge limus clinchers, with only the pressures altered to cope with the different impositions on traction.
allegedly, deep rimmed aero wheels are consituted to cut through the air at impressive speed, with a possible downside being susceptibility to strong crosswinds. however, the wheelsmiths have been ridden in nothing but strong to galeforce winds, acquitting themselves impeccably in each and every instance. not unsurprisingly, aero really has little place in cyclocross, but the deeper rims offer greater strength and less deflection in the face of adversity.
now that i've mostly got the hang of the offroad habitation, these provided a greater dollop of confidence to the temeritous amongst us. built on wheelsmith branded, sealed cartridge bearing, disc hubs and sporting two-cross 24 sapim x-ray spokes (brass nipples) both front and rear, these are a testament to the wheelbuilder's art. the disc interface is the international star-shaped six point standard fitting, onto which i bolted a pair of shimano deore 160mm rotors. they're also available with 15mm thru-axle up front and a similar style 12mm at the rear.
as it turns out, despite the length of time these have rested in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, they are to all intents and purposes, prototypes, not quite yet to be found on the wheelsmith website. however, the sharp intake of breath comes with the price; a mere £480. that's the sort of number at which you'll be continually refreshing the page, just in case it's an error likely to be hurriedly corrected. but no; four-eight-zero it is.
whether you're a confirmed roadie who cares not one whit for the rough stuff, or a rider who feels the mission has failed unless arriving home under a thick coating of mud, these truly have to be one of the finest upgrades you could offer any disc-equipped bicycle.
tuesday 24 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm not sure if brian smith does quite as much bike riding these days as was once the case. looking after a squad that next year will comprise not only roger hammond in a team car, but mark cavendish on a cervelo (didn't think that would ever come to pass) probably doesn't allow for too many miles of solo riding. and with no disrespect intended to smiffy, popping out on a training run with the rest of the guys is likely only ever going to end in tears.
however, as a lad from paisley, he has the enviable hard man reputation of scotsmen to uphold at every juncture. if that's a statement that needs an underline, just think of the late ian steel, winner of arguably the hardest amateur race on the calendar; the peace race. and robert millar was no slouch either, come to that. brian's most obvious statement of intent was/is always to ride without gloves, whether the weather was bright and shiny or dark and gloomy. i have manfully attempted to follow in his tyre tracks in this respect, but i must lamentably declare my wimpishness; i like wearing gloves.
the mighty dave t is also of similar ilk. having spent an entire career that often demanded working outdoors in less than salubrious conditions, he'll still be wearing short finger track mitts while the rest of the velo club peloton is clad in duvets with fingers. despite his advancing years, we can still be put in our place.
though both gents offer much to which we might aspire, i am very much in favour of having just the right type of glove to hand (pardon the pun) for the sunday morning ride. and considering the lackadaisical manner in which my selection of gloves is stored, it behoves me well to look out a matching pair on the previous evening. keeping your team-mates waiting because you "couldn't find two gloves the same" does not go down well on a cold sunday morning in november. this is a choice or hunt made a smidgeon harder by the wide choice currently available to the pelotonese, a choice very recently joined by vulpine's new softshell gloves.
unfortunately, the generic word softshell has come to mean different things to different folks, but i'd say that vulpine's lstest offering pretty much encapsulates the genre in inimitable style. the all black gloves display most of the features that you'd hope for in a winter glove.
the suede palm offers excellent grip on the bars and brake hoods, yet is pliable enough not to offer the sensation of crushing cornflakes when reaching for the drops. the back of the thumb and forefinger are covered in a nice, soft fleecy material to prevent facial lacerations when necessarily wiping a runny nose, and there's a wide, dark grey panel across the knuckles that is highly reflective when seen with car headlights. there are a couple of smaller strips on forefinger and middle finger.
thus, in the dead of night and following the cyclists' code of clearly signalling in which direction you are about to turn, there will be no recourse to the oft repeated motorists' mantra sorry mate, i didn't see you.
with so many teenagers of all ages unable to ride more than a few metres without reaching for that smartphone, just to check stocks and shares as well as their facebook status, the pads on the fingers are able to easily manipulate any touchscreen you care to mention. personally this is a feature i have no specific need for, but it's nice to see the old folks catering for the young (yes, nick, i mean you).
the gloves offer a decent length of cuff that can snuggle inside that of a jacket sleeve, keeping draughts and gales at bay. and though the gloves are not lined, they are perfectly comfortable to wear even if your hands tend to frequent different portions of the handlebar. it may be worth your while trying a pair before you purchase; i generally reckon to be a size large in gloves from the majority of manufacturers, but the vulpine review samples are just a tad on the loose side. this did play to my advantage on one particularly cold ride, as i was able to easily wear a pair of thin merino gloves as a warm but removable liner.
but the main reason we'd wear gloves of this ilk come winter, is to shield our chilled hands from the elements. vulpine declare these to be water resistant but not entirely waterproof. to that i can attest, having returned home with wet (but not cold) hands after a few hours in steady rain. windproof they most certainly are and though breathable, i'm really not sure that anything will satisfactorily cope with the persirational proclivities of an active cyclist. that said, even when a touch damp inside, they failed to reach even the rough edges of discomfort.
if, like me, your winter bike rides tend to be cold, wet and windy, it's possible you may have to look further up the tree for aspirationally waterproof gloves. but if you're more of a fair weather cyclist, or it never rains in southern california, then these might be the ideal choice.
but brian smith won't like them.
vulpine's softshell gloves are available in black only and retail at £49 per pair. they are available in sizes ranging from xs to xl. however, i'd advise to check sizing before purchase.
monday 23 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in conversation with a renewed friendship only the other day, i let slip that i might just prefer this time of year because the poorer weather and lower temperatures offered endless opportunity to wear all that lovely winter kit hanging on the back of the spare bedroom door. though the latter and early part of each year is often fraught with sodden gloves, drenched tootsies and rain dripping from the peak of my winter cap, the thought of riding in shorts and short sleeves can be configured as the carrot on a stick. but when that situation occurs (i believe it happened on at least two separate occasions during summer past), i can almost hear my thermal bibtights and insulated jackets calling to me from the end of the upstairs landing.
there is something infinitely comforting about stepping out the back door on saturday or sunday mornings wearing a sizeable portion of my entire winter wardrobe about my person. the worst that can happen is that i overheat just a tad, but that is far preferable to being stuck on the outer edge, chittering for want of an additional outer layer or two. it has its personal benefits too; if those who marvel at my tenacity in riding in all weathers were aware of the benefits conferred upon a skinny body by the latest in technological apparel, they'd be more likely to keep their adulation to themselves.
i won't tell if you don't.
but it's not all coffee and roses. every silver lining has a cloud, and in this case, that cloud is a combination of weather and the thin, slippery road veneer provided by the agricultural idyll. the folks who inhabit radio four's farming today probably never see a cow or sheep outside of its designated field, but local tradition in the hebrides seems perfectly au fait with classifying a bordering roadway as simply a field of a different colour. and if it's not the livestock themselves fertilising the tarmac, it's the monumental tractors that appear to be de rigeur these days, making their way from one muddy field to the next, distributing silage to the needy.
it is apparently incumbent on dog owners to carry poopy bags lest their pups soil the verge, but immunity is granted if your name is john deere or massey ferguson.
this belgian toothpaste has a viscosity that endears it to tyre rubber and if you're either idiotic enough to ride without mudguards, or aboard a review bicycle that has simply nowhere to put such devices, i'd be willing to bet a pair of straddle wires that everything from the saddle upwards becomes a repository for the finest of brown stripes, one that often challenges the definition of aromatic.
lycra may well vye as one of cycling best of friends, but even that lined with super roubaix is apt to allow unwanted ingress when soaking wet. to remain as delicate as possible when discussing delicate areas, after more than a few kilometres, those nether regions are apt to collect a less than savoury amount of grit. and far from being slippery when wet, it's the texture of sandpaper that springs more readily to mind.
i have found, however, that a liberal spreading of a decent quality chamois cream can be the ideal antidote. there can surely be few amongst us who does not apply a healthy quantity to the unmentionables prior to dressing in bibtights or bibshorts? it is not only a tradition of immense importance, but one that has its origins in potential comfort. there are two specific instances when such application can be held as essential: when the weather is gloriously hot, and when it's cold and wet. since few in the west of scotland will have experienced the former, it is the latter that need only concern us of the moment.
it has always struck me as the beginnings of a cunning plan were the world's bibshort and bibtight purveyors to offer a small jar or sachet of chamois cream along with their apparel. it concerns me that many of today's newbies and mamils will forgo the immense benefits through a lack of awareness. of course if said manufacturer does not produce their own brand of cream, they would be well advised to phone the nice people at muc-off to conclude an appropriate deal forthwith.
i confess to having no idea why it has been found necessary to provide such produce with an ostentatious, yet subtle aroma. i have yet to be sat in debbie's for a session of froth-supping, only to be complimented on the fragrance of my chamois cream. that's a sure fire way to be given a wide berth in the peloton, i'll warrant. muc-off's luxury chamois cream is apparently enriched with aloe vera, witch hazel, shea butter and sunflower oil, all of which readily combine to underline the word luxury, while providing a not at all unpleasant whiff into the bargain.
but from a pragmatic point of view, this stuff is pretty downright marvellous. offered in a cleverly and attractively packaged tub of 250ml, the apparent abundance of its contents encourages the owner not to skimp on the application. so far, this poor unfortunate substance has not experienced a single dry day, nor has it ever had the protection of a set of mudguards. yet i can readily attest to its efficacy in the face of adversity. granted it's not a major topic of conversation in the peloton, nor is it uppermost in my mind while getting the miles in (as the mighty dave t is wont to say), but the absence of any chafing or undercarriage discomfort even after a sturdy distance in the wet can undoubtedly be laid squarely at muc-off's front door.
after figuring out how to open the hexagonal packaging and not drop the athlete performance sticker on the bathroom floor, i did have mild concern over their choice of the adjective luxury, purely on the basis that it did not seem like an apposite precursor to a large jar of chamois cream.
once again, i was quite wrong.
a 250ml tub of muc-off luxury chamois cream retails at £20 and is available direct from the muc-off website or any decent bike shop. | muc off luxury chamois cream
sunday 22 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the early nineties, a colleague and i progressed from simply repairing bicycles to selling the blighters, in the days when carriage to the islands was a) possible and b) cheap enough to make it a viable proposition. delivery in those days was more often than not via the much maligned parcel force, a method that suited us just fine, as our workshop was in the garage adjacent to the post office. lugging boxes of bicycles straight from the truck to the workshop was simplicity itself.
assembling bicycles became something of a stock in trade, particularly around christmas, but in truth, the hardest and lengthiest part of the process was removing miles and miles of bubble-wrap, snipping a panoply of zip-ties and removing polystyrene tubing taped to every tube section of the bicyle. it was necessary to fit the front wheel, assemble saddle to seatpost, fit brake levers and bar grips to handlebars after clamping the latter into the stem. this was in pre-aheadset days and before removable stem face plates.
since the large type along the top flap of the card box in which all this arrived clearly stated that assembly should be carried out by qualified mechanics, we were probably invalidating some sort of warranty. neither of us were qualified, but in those days, very few were. that meant, however, that the packaging was of no concern to the customer, as long as their bicycles were nice and shiny and sporting at least twenty-one gears.
some twenty odd years later, the most recent bicycle to arrive at the croft for review purposes arrived in a card box for which it is probably necessary to gain planning consent and very likely pay council tax too. the bicycle sitting calmly inside was fully assembled, with only the bars needing to be straightened and tilted upwards and a suitable pair of pedals attached. what confounds the heck out of me is why it was once seen as necessary to cossett every inch in bubble wrap, but now the only piece of packaging was a thin tube of polystyrene preventing the bars from damaging the top tube.
what has changed, and very much for the better is the understanding that presentation is king. though we always have one eye on the price tag, the other is on the packaging, a point-of-sale aspect that can have every bit as much bearing on a possible sale as the efficacy of the contents. this is a progressively dawning realisation at the green oil company that has led them from the early days of their "first label designed in Microsoft Word, printed on paper and hand applied". if ecology wasn't really your thing, less than shiny packaging probably wasn't going to persuade you otherwise.
contemporary marketing nous demands more and even the company's 2012 rebranding "didn't quite work", but ceo simon nash now figures they've got it just right. he's probably correct, but if i was in need of any convincing, the package received at the croft over a week ago accomplished its purpose ten-fold. the bottle of oil, of chain degreaser, chain wax, bike cleaner (only partially filled with concentrate), brush and eco sponge were protected from the harsh, outside world by the most novel form of padded packaging it has been my pleasure to come across: a large pile of dried leaves.
i have no idea if this is the manner in which regular shipments are despatched from green oil headquarters, but i cannot deny being mightily impressed with their ecological train of thought.
the reformed packaging of each item is undoubtedly more attractive than its predecessors, but what hasn't altered is the efficacy of the liquids inside those bottles. i have spent much of my career, degreasing chains by spraying them with gt95 and wipng them clean with a sturdy rag. those, however, were the old days, now superseded by use of the delightfully aromatic green oil chain degreaser, followed by a link by link drop of green oil for effective lubrication.
currently, 'tis the season to get mucky, a season when my chain cleaning obsession goes into overdrive. fortunately, i have nice, bright, shiny, ecological friends to cater to my every chain-based whim.
but do you rhink their recycled notepaper really contains elephant poo?
saturday 21 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it may have been the giro helmets sticker on a guitar case at the jazz festival, or the erroneous advice that cycling is beneficial for those learning the art of double bass drumming. to consider either as prescient, indicative or even correct is surely to have lost the plot before the process of discovery has even begun? jazz is not cycling, but cycling can, implicitly, be jazz.
the latter should not be mistaken for intellectual misadventure, for in truth, it is the process that displays such qualities, rather than the final result. playing miles davis' 'kind of blue' to a room full of metallica fans would seem to offer confirmation of this thesis. in the same sense, cycling can, at heart, be seen to offer the possibility of the abstract, sight unseen through the eyes of the innocent bystander.
in many ways the apparent need to distinguish oneself, firstly from one's peers and secondly from the world at large, would appear to be the defining and overarching requirement. the former reaches a point of redundancy when it coincides with the ambitions of others of pelotonic intent. the purpose of the ride is surely not to become distinguished in the eyes of itinerant onlookers, but to extinguish every last drop of obligation that proposed the ride from the outset. it truly is the fortune of the agonist.
the parallel with jazz can be once again brought to the surface if i might take leave to examine the idiosyncratic ruminations of thelonius sphere monk. the composer of such classics as 'round midnight', 'straight no chaser', and the iconoclastic, 'crepuscule with nellie', endlessly chased angularity and dissonance in many of his arrangements, yet did not pursue this seeming directionlessness as a means of distinguishing himself within a notional peer group. despite accusations that he was singlehandedly destroying jazz. monk was monk because he saw no other way to be monk.
saint aubergine of rubayus, a first century monk of an altogether different order, broke from established religions to develop his own theological approach, tangibly framed. the philosophy that nobility and grace might be achieved through voluntary suffering, offers succour to the agonist in his velocipedinal reverie. bridging the gap between distinguishing and extinguishing was the essence of saint aubergine's doctrine, stating that the transformative element at this point was not the suffering per se, but its total futility. realisation of this as at least experimentally correct, was and is the catalyst conditioning an empty approach to the bike ride.
sunyata, if you will.
though external to our discussion at this point, saint aubergine's habit of finding the highest point in each region from which to preach his considered philosophical doctrine has been cited as the unifying reason behind the continent being now peppered with churches and temples located at the crest of so many of the sport's great climbs.
and yet, consecrated within the pinnacles of the sport and diluted by effort within a myriad of sportives, aubergine's doctrine has a contemporary prescience from which it is hard to escape and even harder to deny. "crested with but to descend, you will not regret having suffered; you will regret having suffered so little and suffered that little so poorly." how many have heard echoes of those very words, all the while trying manfully to wrestle the wrapper from a caramel biscuit with wet hands? coffee may be regarded as the true reward of the agonist, but many have entreated their gods to end such suffering.
but not just yet.
whatever is inscribed within the club rule book, whatever is paid homage to at the annual club dinner, it is so often a mere abstraction of the original intent. as humans, we are apt to confuse the pointing finger with the moon, randomly applying nomenclature to animate and inanimate objects without thought for their true essence. is a tree any more a tree for being called a tree? precisely. that sunday morning ride can be viewed as an act of supplication, one that now only exists in a state of superficiality, far distanced from the kind of all-out dispersion that once returned us to the purest state of being, a state that once passed for oblivion.
coltrane referred to it as incresha. it is the very wherewithal of the kapelmuur independent. and as scully and mulder have oft proclaimed; "the truth is out there."
translated from the original by bill strickland. ten points for that
friday 20 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm assuming that we all have similar mornings every now and again. the wind is rattling the window panes aided and abetted by lashings of rain and because we've put the clocks back (in the uk at least) even though it's nigh on 7:30am, it still looks and feels like the middle of the night. snuggled up in bed, under a duvet that has more togs than your bicycle has gears, the thought of having to get up, never mind going out on the bike, has probably been pushed as far to the back of your mind as it can possibly go.
this may or may not be regarded as a realistic setting at present, though with galeforce barney currently doing precisely as i described above, it would be a far stronger person than i who would venture outdoors on foot at the moment let alone in the saddle. and in only a matter of weeks, the annual festive 500 will come round once again, when this scenario will more than likely play out every morning between christmas eve and hogmanay. and assuming challenges are your thing and only fools and horses isn't, there's quite possibly no option but to force yourself out of that snuggly, cosy bed and assume a pelotonic mantle.
i have, however, found the perfect solution to such a dilemma, one that combines both of what graeme obree regards as man's greatest inventions: the bicycle and the duvet. perhaps better known for their excellent wheels, mavic have borrowed their best known apellation and re-applied it to a curated collection of clothing. in other words, the ksyrium pro thermo kit. though available individually, the thermo kit consists of a long-sleeve baselayer, the thermo jacket, thermo bibtights and the totally excellent thermo shoes.
crafted from a polyamid/merino wool blend with a smattering of elastane, the white baselayer sent by mavic appears as the very brightest of whites more ususally seen in washing powder adverts. in order to maintain this impressive level of white, i'd suggest washing it separately from the darker colours featured on the rest of the set. the baselayer offers impressively long sleeves and a very snug fit. however, since you're going to be wearing this under that thermo jacket, any bumps and bulges that may have accrued now that racing is over will be suitably obscured.
mavic's ksyrium pro thermo jacket is quite possibly one of the finest inventions now known to cycling-kind. it actually consists of two jackets: a thinner fleece jacket zipped into the thicker outer garment. not only is it a fully featured, long sleeve jacket, with a nice waffley material at the sculpted cuffs, once unzipped it can be worn as a separate jacket, something i tried out under a waterproof softshell.
the outer jacket is the piece de resistance with two vertical zips on the front to mediate the temperature should such be necessary along with a single zipped pocket. the latter is augmented by two rear outer pockets and a centre zipped example just above a dropped tail. it's thermal properties are provided by a primaloft sport filling which is pretty much from whence my duvet comparison comes. though mavic do not promote the jacket as fully waterproof, it does provide a decent level of water resistance via a durable water repellency coating. my medium size review sample was an excellent fit, though if you're removing the inner jacket, it's bound to be a bit looser over the top of the baselayer only.
the third component of mavic's thermo collection consists of a pair of super-roubaix lined bibtights. their thermal properties make them a lot less skintight than their pelotonic brethren, but in view of their employment prospects, this really isn't a problem, particularly as flappage has been totally excluded. the lower calf portions feature zips to ease fitting and removal along with a couple of elastic foot loops to keep all draughts at bay. they also feature mavic's ergo 3d pad, one of the most comfortable on the market. though it seems rather thick when first worn, in practice it's all but invisible. you could ride all day on this without a hint of discomfort.
mavic state that these zips fit perfectly with the ksyrium thermo shoes which i initially took to mean that they could be zipped over the top of the ankle closure on the footwear. it seems i was wrong on this count, for though we're talking thermal rather than waterproofing here, doing so would surely prevent water soaking from the tights into the shoes/socks? however, i really have no objection to the current means of keeping me snugly warm.
the shoes vye with the jacket as to which component will be your eventual favourite. with details refined over years of providing superb footwear, the fit here is close to perfect. a goretex lining provides an almost unheard of degree of breathability in a shoe with no visible vents. closure is by means of mavic's ergo dial variation on the boa system, coupled with a top zipped enclosure matched with a neoprene ankle closure that is velcro'd in position when the shoe is comfortably fitted. thoughtfully, this dial is still easily adjustable after all closures have been made. the sole is a combination of fibreglass and nylon which provides a stiffness comparable to the more usual carbon.
though the rest of the set offers mere water resistance, these seem almost impermeable to water. believe me, they have been tested through driving rain and floods on more than one occasion.
mavic's press release describes the ksyrium pro thermo kit as being engineered for extreme cold weather riding and i have very little doubt that you could cycle across the antarctic ice shelf without so much as a shiver, but i fear that mavic do themselves a disservice. my first ride thus clad was in eight degree ambient temperature, lowered by windchill to around five, yet i was as snug as a bug in a rug, so it's not the idiosyncratic purchase that it may first appear. the duvet supremacy. with a tailwind, i simply opened the zip at the neck and both front vents; when turning into a strong headwind, even though energy expenditure improved internal heat production, the wind was cold enough to have all the above fully closed.
if there's a fly in the ointment (pardon the pun on a forthcoming detail) it's with the bibtights. the front panel reaches to just below the chest, meaning there is simply no way you're ever going to manage a natural break without removing the jacket or jersey and slipping off the bibs. if it's cold enough to be wearing bibs and jacket in the first place, that's a tad inconvenient. a front zip would have been more than welcome.
this detail aside, mavic's ksyrium pro thermo kit is little short of marvellous. it truly is like riding round wearing a duvet all day and in bright, yet subtle colours that identify your presence to any traffic you might meet on cold, grey and overcast days. the two piece jacket is a wonder to behold; i wore them as two separate garments, allowing me to divest myself of the outer when popping in for some coffee and a double-egg roll, yet storing the heat within the inner jacket. if anything, the bibtights verged on being just a smidgeon too warm for their own good, but under the suddenly cold conditions, i much preferred an excess of heat to the alternative.
i also had the opportunity to wear the inner-jacket along with a waterproof softshell on a three hour ride of driving rain. its thinner constitution, when separated from the outer shield, only underlines the versatility of mavic's technical prowess. this makes the latter item a decent alternative to wearing a long-sleeve jersey without the bulk but with all of the insulation.
even when caught in a rain shower about eight kilometres from home, the water resistance proved better than advertised, while none of the thermal properties were diminished in any way. i am desperately hoping for much lower temperatures this weekend so that i can once more inhabit the duvet supremacy.
the ksyrium thermo jacket is available in red/orange or black/grey in sizes from small to xxl at a cost of £180. the cold-ride baselayer is available in black or white in sizes from xs to xxl at a cost of £60. the thermal bibtights retail at approx £135 in black or grey with orange piping. sizing is small to xxl. the thermo shoes cost around £135 per pair. uk sizing ranges from 3.5 to 13. there is also a pair of thermal gloves available (not reviewed)
thursday 19 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
apocryphal tales of the tour de france's early years mix legend with myth, but what they don't disguise is the considerable length of each stage. consider that the initial tour in 1903 began on 31 may and ended over one month later on 5 july, and it wouldn't take much more than primary school arithmetic to work out just how much cycling was involved. in fact, stages often continued through the night and into the following day; a long time to spend in the saddle.
in the intervening hundred or so tours, sense has gradually prevailed, allowing not only derailleurs to be used on the bicycles, but the lessening of restrictions as to what constitutes a legal bicycle repair. heck, nowadays, riders can even switch to special bicycles just for mountian climbs. nonetheless, modern day tour stages, in companion with their fellow grand tours in spain and italy, still occupy the better part of four hours of tv time and occasionally more.
the one-day classics are no better in this respect, but in truth this is scarcely an onerous situation for the eager aficionado glued to the television screen. though i've little doubt that the riders would welcome shorter stages, a day's work is a day's work.
track riding, on the other hand, occupies a tad less time per event. currently australia's jack bobridge holds the 4,000 metre individual pursuit record, reaching the finish line in a mere 4m 10.534 seconds. the british team pursuiters hold the world record in the considerably lesser time of 3 minutes 51.659 seconds. and then there's the hour record, an event that has seen a resurgence of interest recently with the uci altering the long-standing requirement to emulate eddy merckx. the official record is currently held by sir bradley wiggins at a distance of 54.526 kilometres, the number creatively and very quickly displayed across the rapha jersey worn at the press call immediately afterwards.
as evidenced on the back cover of this very fine book "There is no second place in the Hour. You either do it or you fail." you will perhaps note that the hour gains a capital letter, on order to both separate it from any other hour and to position it as a period of sixty-minutes worthy of reverence. much as i hate to set off on the wrong foot, though it probably says more about me than brad, this turned out to be a surprisingly good book. no doubt mr wiggins was expertly guided by his accomplice in the (written) project, william fotheringham.
think of sir bradley what you will (and i frequently have), the man has a level of humility that often seems to be missing in his occasional public outbursts. there is ample evidence of this by the interspersing of brief chapters all entitled hero featuring those who have held the hour record in the past. riders such as graeme obree, fausto coppi, eddy merckx, francesco moser and others are all presented as being individuals that wiggins holds in high esteem.
"I wanted a place on that list and I liked the tradition I would be trying to keep up. [...] I would then be able to compare myself to those greats, using the equipment available to me 20 years on."
"Without all those people, I couldn't have done what I've done, because I wouldn't have been in love with the sport."
similar to the hour attempt itself, the book is very well paced, describing small portions of brad's hour interspersed with details of the training regime followed to achieve those 54.256 kilometres. "I started quite hard and it took me three or four laps to start seeing the lap time drop to 16.3sec. This feels really easy..."
with a distinct lack of printed material regarding just how one would approach riding a velodrome as fast as possible for one hour, wiggins decided to adopt and adapt the programme followed by miguel indurain, a strategy culled from a feature in a 1994 edition of cycle sport. up till that point, the question remained "What kind of training is best? There is no point in going to Majorca and going up and down Lluc or Puig Major when you are going to ride on the track."
in essence, my hour is a very desirable coffee table book, perhaps heralding a more pragmatic size of the genre in tandem with the recently reviewed shoulder to shoulder. there are infographics describing the infamous air pressure versus aerodynamics, the hour's history and bike evolution and a graphic detailing brad's speed kilometre by kilometre. arguably, there are several too many photos of the pinarello (i counted nine), the velodrome and moody pics of a bearded sir bradley.
however, considering it was possibly the cycling event of the year (tickets sold out frighteningly quickly), it does no-one any harm to allow brad to luxuriate in and extend his achievement just a wee bit further. contrary to my expectations, the reading was quite addictive and i mean it not as a denigration of the contents to state that i actually read the entire book in almost exactly one hour.
as a memento, my hour is a highly desirable publication. as a study of the fortitude required to undertake such athletic activity, its clarity is impressive and as a testament to the blue riband of cycling athleticism, it is quite impeccable. add to that the copious number of colour illustrations, perhaps veering just a tad close to excessive and the quality of production, you're going to have to search long and hard for a reason not to purchase a copy.
"The last thing I wanted to do was get back on a bike, but I wanted to do a lap of honour to thank the fans for coming along."
'my hour' by bradley wiggins is published by yellow jersey press on thursday 19 november.
wednesday 18 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
more often than not, the reviews that appear in these pixels and in the pages of the magazines we all pretend to have read are more or less the end of the process. though jackets and jersey continue to be worn, bicycles to be ridden and componentry to be clicked, whirred, flicked and pushed, there has to be an adjudged state in this self-appointed timeline, when the reviewer figures he/she has learned everything pertinent to penning a few words for the edification of others. this is, by its very nature an arbitrary and subjective decision based on experience (or lack of) and expediency.
though the majority of bicycles and components have a shelf-life of at least a year before they are replaced by next year's improved version, it is a salient fact that many an item of cycle clothing can have sold out before anyone has a chance to read quite how essential a garment it truly is.
several years ago i was able to prevail upon the distributor of a well-known bicycle marque to allow a review model to remain in my possession for a couple of months longer than usual, in order that i might offer a longer-term review. i had hoped this would benefit the brand every bit as much as it would be instructional to yours truly. unfortunately, before i had even put fingers to keyboard, the model under review was usurped by the release of an updated model.
c'est la vie.
however, for the pair of pedals sent for review by crank brothers uk distributor extra, what follows is intended as only the beginning. i and several others have moved so far as to write to crank brothers in the usa offering suggestions as to how they might reasonably improve the reliability of their pedals. the eggbeater and candy pedals are essentially of the same ilk. the latter is effectively the former surrounded by a platform to offer greater real estate for the soles of your shoes.
their previous mechanical construction consisted of a tapered axle supported by a small cartridge bearing at the outboard edge and needle bearings on the inboard edge. the problem was, as experienced by many of us, those needle bearings had an innate tendency to self-destruct. my original review pair from several years ago both failed within an hour of each other on the same day and only a matter of days after i'd published my review. crank brothers' previous distributor kindly sent a rebuild and bearing replacement kit, but it's not really what you want to be doing to a relatively new pair of pedals.
so i e-mailed crank brothers to suggest that if those needle bearings were replaced with a sealed cartridge bearing, the problem would more or less disappear. not surprisingly, i did not receive any reply, positive or negative.
yet here we are, a few years further on and crank brothers have seen fit to upgrade their eggbeater/candy range by replacing the needle bearings with an igus glide bearing, technically a premium plastic bushing. this end of the pedal also receives double lip seals which ought to better rebuff dirt ingress than did its poor relation on the previous versions.
oddly, in order to sort of prove my point, i purchased a pair of basic candy pedals over a year ago, featuring a basic metal bushing in place of the needle bearings, a pair that has survived unsullied and unserviced far longer than any of its more expensive brethren.
so far, i've only covered a couple of hundred kilometres on the new version of the pedals, my feet telling me that these feel a tad smoother than the older versions. however, that could simply be me fooling myself or because they're just new out of the box. externally, the candys now benefit from traction pads on each side of the pedal clip and the platform has been subtly profiled to reduce the chances of clouting it on any rocks that might spring up unannounced.
so, from that point of view, this is just the beginning; there will be more to follow, but i hope to continue where i left off, probably early next year.
crank brothers candy 7 pedals are due in the uk later in december with a projected price of £129.99.
tuesday 17 november 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
quick mention for those intending to visit islay's shores on a bike during the summer. velo club d'ardbeg recommended coffee/tea stops - in no particular order.
club headquarters at the old kiln cafe, ardbeg distillery. excellent food as well as designer coffees with froth. the single malt is apparently just ginger peachy. open monday to saturday from easter to september, seven days from june to september.
bruichladdich mini market (debbie's cafe), a few hundred yards from the distillery. highly commended designer coffees with outside tables. we like. open all year round with a cycling wall in the coffee corner...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as always, if you have any comments, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading...........................................................................................................................................................................................................