tell them we sent you (part one)
somewhere in the world it's always going to be sunny, and the honed athlete will thus always be in need of an appropriate choice of designer/sports sunglasses. this link ought to do the trick...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"as a protected rider, i had an empire biscuit with my coffee"..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
german drummer thomas lang deserted his endorsement with sonor drums and moved to the american drum workshop company, a situation that not unnaturally was exploited to the hilt by the latter's marketing department. oddly enough, the sponsorship situation in the music world exists in almost exactly the opposite manner as that in the sporting milieu. a drum company does not sponsor the drummer (as such), the drummer endorses the drum company. no, i don't understand it either.
thomas lang is one of those kit percussionists who has all but drummed himself into a corner, finding most of his public performance by way of clinics for dw. during these forays into showmanship, his technical ability verges on the scary, and is fawned over by many an aficionado, despite the musical impracticality of many a superfast double bass drum roll. despite the growing complexity of contemporary ceilidh accordion music, (only kidding) i have yet to find to find an opening or opportunity for any variation on double bass drum patterns. however, when pictured by dw's publicity department in front of his sizeable drumkit, i cannot deny that some of the hardware used in the photo shoot garnered some personal appeal.
playing in a rather loud band at the time, i ordered a series of heavy duty stands that would do justice to a saturn v rocket in order to create visual appeal and keep my drums as rock steady as i'd always hoped my drumming might be. this hardware was everything it was meant to be and fulfilled its promise as advertised, but very much at the expense of mobility and my aching back. this sort of came to a head at the islay jazz festival a few years back when i lent my kit to a visiting drummer and both of us had to puzzle out quite how we'd bring the ride cymbal to a low enough height that did not require a step ladder to reach.
currently, my drumming proclivities lean towards the less voluble, and i have less and less desire to cart about heavyweight equipment when there are far lighter items of hardware that perform remarkably similar functions to those preferred by nasa. drum hardware such as this is regarded as vintage, resembling as it does that used by drummers in the 1950s and 60s. possibly contemporary drummers have a proclivity to hit harder than buddy rich, gene krupa or max roach, but i doubt that's something that concerns guys like thomas lang.
i cannot but raise a smile when comparing old with new, for there's a sweeping generalisation that contends modern cannot but be substantially better than old. if you have a road crew behind you, that may be a moot point, but for those of us who have to cart our own gear as well as set up and take down the set before and after gigs, modern vintage may well be the way to go.
it's a philosophy that informs certain aspects of the cycling world too. carbon may make commercial sense, along with ever-increasing stiffness (a factor i cannot but help feeling is being imposed rather than introduced), but in truth, steel has a lot going for it still. and while dye-sublimated polyester may result in simplicity of intent, wool and sportwool can be seen to be every bit the equal of the latter for those of us not party to the inside of a death star. this continues even as far as cycling footwear; modern synthetics with lightweight carbon soles and ingenious closure systems may be the bread and butter of the professional peloton, but in truth, laces and quality leather are both man enough and comfortable enough for the pelotonese.
you'd almost be forgiven for thinking that the progenitor of fabulousness in leather footwear dromarti had moved into the sitting room and hidden behind the sofa for the last year or so, but it turns out that dromarti is alive and well and continuing to offer two distinct ranges of leather fabulousness. previously hand-crafted on italy's adriatic coast by marresi, dromarti's martin scofield has now shifted production further east, principally due to irregularity of supply. in so doing, the cleat-free storica model has disappeared from the range, though both the race and sportivo models still survive in both black and a rather superlative wine red.
the packaging has also immeasurably improved. moving on from the often flimsy red shoeboxes provided with the previous incarnations, dromarti leather shoes now arrive in a more substantial blue and burgundy box bearing the dromarti monogramme, as indeed does the heavy cotton bag containing the shoes inside. neither may have any direct bearing on the fit and comfort offered by the footwear, but it does pre-empt the luxury contained within.
i have reviewed models from the previous range on more than one occasion, but was particularly interested to learn how the latest incarnation compares. the answer, put quite bluntly, is very well indeed. visually, the shoes are all but identical to their predecessors, though on the black sportivo review sample (fitted with crank bros. spd style cleats), i figure the padded tongue to be of improved proportions and perhaps greater comfort. in fact, the latter factor seems to pervade the entire shoe; there is tangible substantiality to the current dromarti range (the word dromarti is now de-bossed in the leather rather than marresi) which seems to have resulted in a level of comfort only hinted at by the originals.
the fit of the size 44 reviewed was well nigh perfect; neither too narrow nor too wide, offering plenty of support without cramping the style of either foot.
on the sportivo shoes, the most noticeable aspect is a differently patterned sole, very much to the benefit of the wearer. though the sole feels stiffer, the chunky tread puts a delightful spring in the wearer's step. i cannot deny, however, the occasional newness squeak on the lime green candy pedals, a noise i'd expect to disappear after a few more rides. in terms of their offroad capabilities, leaping off the hakkalugi and climbing a narrow, steep and rocky path with a copious covering of green undergrowth, they offered no cause for concern.
the italian workmanship of the marresi branded leather was impeccable. i have several pairs of the italian branded dromarti shoes that have been put through the mill with less than conscientious regard for their wellbeing. this new incarnation is, in my opinion, better. granted, i've not possessed this pair for anything like that of the others in my imelda marcos shoe cupboard, but quality is hard to conceal, even or perhaps especially because of their vintage constitution.
i learned to tie my laces around age six; it was good enough then, and it's every bit as functional nowadays. walking into the coffee shop with feet clad in quality leather laced shoes may or may not confer additional status upon the wearer, but when all the modern-day, team-issue footwear takes on the mantle of has-been, these will still look and function every bit as well as their early twentieth century antecedents. as it says on dromarti's website "We believe that you will find these to be the finest most beautiful and comfortable cycling shoes you have ever owned."
they're not wrong you know.
saturday 20 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
over the past couple of months, i have received unsolicited calls at work from bona-fide firms wishing to help me in my daily computer chores, allegedly to the benefit of both them and me. once we're past the opening pleasantries, it's down to business; "so mr palmer, can i ask about your back up strategy...?". i confess that a few years ago, such a question would probably not have elicited a favourable or comprehending answer, but now that i'm pretty much au fait with such technological terminology, i can offer a response that appeases their salesperson, while maintaining the impression that i actually know what i'm talking about.
while calls such as these are, as i said, unsolicited, in point of fact, they're not the sort that ought to be dismissed out of hand. however, in common with mrs twmp ordering a new pair of shoes, then discovering that matching gloves, handbag and any other number of accessories have suddenly become necessary, the opening gambit eventually leads to more and more.
surprisingly enough, we do have a corporate backup strategy, ensuring that all the data that might conceivably be necessary to the running of the business is regularly copied onto external disks. but, as all these callers are delighted to enquire, where do we store those backups? like many who have failed to consider each and every scenario that might befall even the partially confident, the disks sit adjacent to the computers they're responsible for backing up. step two of each phone call is to point out that were someone to break-in (unlikely) or the building to burn down (well....), how quickly could we be back up and running?
ok, so nobody's perfect.
though the foregoing refers to a feature of our modern, computer based world that everyone would do well to heed, it has parallels in other walks of life. given our predilection for the bicycle and a not unnatural perceived need to hang onto our own for as long as possible, there are many factors to consider. often these depend greatly on our own personal circumstances and just where in the uk we are domiciled. as i pointed out only a matter of days ago, islay is amongst one of the safest places in scotland to leave a bicycle unattended.
at its simplest, this may be due to the fact that i have struggled for over twenty-years to encourage the local population to leap aboard their bicycles en-masse without any notable success. thus, there is no market for stolen bicycles. and if i can't get folks to ride them even once a week, they're hardly going to take the time and/or trouble to go pinch one. therefore it could reasonably be argued that my paying for insurance against theft would be something of a pointless and potentially expensive undertaking. that effectively makes me immune to advertising that suggests i might wish to partake of any offer.
but while it might be very unlikely that any of my bicycles will be purloined by another, there's always the chance that my ineptitude (particularly when playing at being jeremy powers) could cause expensive damage to bicycle or components. or both. and that is precisely where my backup strategy could be seen to be lacking.
in common with many other cyclists, i cannot recall any cycle insurance advertisement that has lept from the page and slapped me on the face. as i sit writing these words, i'd struggle big time to think of any brand that i might google for further information, though i'm sure i'd manage to find something of interest on the interweb if i looked long and hard enough. as an homogenous group, we are known to be incredibly fickle; we're notoriously hard to please, and that has to be a hard sell for anyone trying to flog insurance, or anything else that doesn't involve shiny carbon fibre.
the very fact that i am cold-called by technology companies interested in discussing backup strategies, if nothing else underlines the modernity of the world in which we live. and if this is the bold modern world, then a bold modern approach ought to appeal to the present day cyclist, living in times when others think nothing of removing property that lawfully isn't theirs.
the inestimable richard mitchelson arguably redefined the cycling-related coffee mug, the telling of major landmarks in cycling's recent history and one or two twitter avatars. his animation skills have previously served the world of cycling remarkably well, his pedalling eddy merckx having hit the ground running, and his plastic 'cav' and 'eddy' figures meaning cycling toys will never be regarded in the same light again. if anyone can sell insurance to the pelotonese, it would be richmitch.
and once again, i find myself in good company as regards this consideration. yellow jersey cycle insurers have employed richard's blatant talent to create the lovable character yj, to whom we are being introduced as an amalgam of all our insurance naiveties, principally the two outlined above. as with many a brilliant idea, simplicity is well to the fore; no green screening, no stunt doubles and no cgi. just yj and the misfortune that can befall the unwary or unfortunate and their bicycles.
genius is a dramatically overused term nowadays, one that i have oft times been guilty of repeating, so let me just say that this is damn clever, and highly entertaining to boot. not to mention i can now recall the name of a cycle-specific insurance company without resorting to google.
friday 19 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
next week sees the start of the world road cycling championships in ponferrada, spain, culminating in the men's road race on sunday 28 september. however, for an ever-growing section of the cycling world, the minute the tour de france ends in the latter days of july, there's only one form of cycle racing that occupies their focus: cyclocross. if i recall correctly, the minute nibali had guaranteed that yellow jersey on the paris podium, someone was already on twitter to announce the start of the 'cross season.
though many of the more recent developments in cyclocross technology, most notably that of hydraulic disc brakes, have been aimed at easing the strain in the mud, there's no real reason that cyclocross ought to be confined to the winter months each year. though i've never raced cross (nor am i ever likely to do so), it strikes me as every bit as exciting to watch in the sunshine as in rain, hail or snow. in fact, many word championship races have been raced over dry ground.
within the realm of scotland, just such conditions have been catered to by edinburgh's rondebike via their annual haughcross race in early august, but the tradition behind cyclocross allegedly stems from road-racers in the early part of last century devising a means of keeping themselves fit in what was once referred to as the off-season. this mostly entailed challenging each other to races between french and/or belgian villages, using the fastest means of getting there by way of fields, streams and the odd rocky outcrop, hence the need to shoulder the bike for brief periods of time.
however, aside from the competitive element that is a part of every cyclocross race, its emergence as a family sport in north america, more specifically in portland, oregon, has brought alternative dimensions to the average rock around the block. hazards such as foam tunnels, whisky handups and many an accompanying foible have brought in a different kind of racer as well as a complementary appreciative crowd. and there's no real good reason to remain clad in team jersey and lycra, when fancy dress would surely add to the spectacle.
the ideal time for introducing the latter would surely be at october's end, when it's dark, there are ghouls about and it's hallowe'en? something entitled hallocross for instance.
james mccallum is well known for his time at rapha condor jlt, winning the scottish road race championship and his subsequent dubbing as the king of scotland. jimmy moved onto nfto for the 2015 season, but with an apparently reduced race programme that did include the commonwealth games road race in his home town of glasgow. with retirement looming at the end of this season, he's keen to stay closely involved with cycling, the first step of which was to organise the 2014 edition of hallocross. with no disrespect, jimmy's perhaps better known as a road rider than a cross rider. what brings the king of scotland to organise a hallowe'en cross race?
"Cross has always been close to my heart. However I've never really had the chance to get properly involved due to my road or track commitments.
"My organising of the event came around randomly and then escalated pretty quickly from a conversation on the bike one weekend. Hallocross had run for the previous two years but due to circumstances it wasn't going to be on this year.
"So I thought let's do this. I hate to see great events get lost. Hopefully I can do it justice."
for those, like me, hearing of hallocross for the first time, having been blissfully unaware of its previous existence, there are one or two questions that need answering. hallocross takes place in dalkeith, but a few miles south of edinburgh on friday 31 october, coincidentally, hallowe'en. knowing is one thing, entering another. so how would the intrepid, fancy dress cyclocrosser gain entry to this event?
with rapha's supercross due to take place at the beginning of october as well as scotland's own cyclocross series, there's likely as much variation on the standard version of cyclocross as there is in the flavours on a shelf of instant porage oats. in which case, could jimmy tell us the difference between a regular scottish 'cross race and hallocross?
"Firstly, it's the only event in which you get to dress up at night and get muddy. Secondly it's a single race instead of the standard four or five races you would be used to at an SCX event. This is mainly due to the timing of the event."
many a position on a committee or sub-commitee has been held due to either having been in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not being in possession of an excuse that didn't actually sound like an excuse. at which point it becomes all too clear that no-one else would have touched that gig with a barge pole, and you're left to get the job done all on your own. in the case of hallocross 2014 is jimmy flying solo, or is there a merry band of assistants wheeling and dealing on his behalf?
"I'm pretty much flying solo on this one at the moment. However, I have been inundated by people from all over the 'cross community offering assistance.
"I'll defo be taking some of the offers up."
having just spent many a long hour rehearsing for the recent lagavulin islay jazz festival, i and my fellow music-makers have decided that this effort would simply go to waste if we didn't capitalise with the occasional gig now and again. the same situation surely beckons to james mccallum; why lose the skills acquired organising a single event without bringing them to the table a few times more. will this be the first in a series of mccallum organised events?
"Yes definitely. I have a fair few plans up my sleeve at the moment. I'm lucky enough to have been really spoilt in my racing career and seen a heck of a lot of what we can do at events to make them better.
"Having worked in events previously, I can see so many holes that need filling and I plan on doing just that."
is hallocross open to all comers and will jimmy be taking advantage of the fringe benefits afforded the organiser and participating himself?
"Yes. The race is open to all those over 16. There are only 150 places and it's already over half full. Basically: Wake up, Dress up, Turn up!"
so what does the former racer do when the civilian life beckons? simply because there's no finishing line to contend with, no team car following on each ride and the washing machine finally gets a break from a daily diet of jerseys and bibshorts? the mccallums recently became parents for the first time, and as many of us will already know, the first twenty-seven years are the worst. food, clothing, shoes, buggies, toys, bedding, and that's only for jimmy. is hallocross the first step in a post race career?
"It sure is. I'm currently in the process of starting a few new projects. Now that I have more time on my hands, I want to expand my coaching business as well as get started on putting on some proper bike races for the bike racers in Scotland.
"Cycling's shop window is events. If we don't put on great events, our sport won't continue to grow. Scotland has so much potential for growth and I want to do all I can to help it grow."
thursday 18 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
aside from the friendly folks, the wide open spaces and for some, the eight malt whisky distilleries, islay is a marvellous place to live because any crime that may exist tends to come under the heading of minimal. sure, there's the odd bicycle that disappears, but more often than not, it's been borrowed after a hard friday night out in a drunken effort to get home. usually found forlorn in a front garden. lots of folks don't lock their house or car doors and the folks at ardbeg distillery left me with the keys one night while they visited the ark royal for dinner (long story).
you can tell when summer season begins because bowmore main street is rife with (visitors') car alarms going off, and it's the only time of year when you'll find bicycles padlocked to the bike stands sited on the village's pavement corners. it's a far cry from the urban jungle where you'd scarcely lay your newspaper down on the bus seat, lest it disappear into the wide grey yonder. as a theory, based on little more than occasional observation, i figure it's mostly due to everybody here knowing everybody else. if we ever had any notions of pinching something, there's a pretty good chance we'd know who it belonged to in the first place. that fact alone likely mitigates against any prospective wrong-doing.
of course, i could be incorrect.
however, i and my fellow hebrideans no doubt count ourselves quite fortunate that this is the case, particularly with reference to velocipedinal matters. i receive an infrequent stream of brand new and often expensive bicycles for review, all of which are a fairly safe bet to be left outside debbie's while supping froth, with the confidence that they will still be exactly where i left them at time of departure. thus, the substantial chain lock that i purchased to use at the time of riding the tweed ride several years ago, still occupies a hook in the bike shed, having remained there since my return from london.
however, though the chorus of car alarms and humour of watching touring cyclists locking their bicycles outside the cottage restaurant may be the ideal diversion for the island's residents, in point of fact, it's as well that these habits are not dispensed with during a relatively brief visit. for were the subjects of our mirth and silent derision to become used to the laxity that prevails this far west, they may well continue that on return to less amenable locations.
when one has to contend with thieves equipped with bolt cutters taller than the average person and even motor driven grinders, there are few locks available today that will fend off such driven attacks, yet still remain light enough to be carried in the first place. i have seen cycling apparel with loops and straps, enabling the security conscious to take with them an appropriate means of defence against the dark-side. but ideally, any theft protection devices ought to be easily carried upon the frame of the bicycle, or perhaps even become part of it in the first place.
several of the entries for the oregon manifest competitions held over the past few years have incorporated some particularly ingenious solutions, but the recently revealed seatylock may be one of the cleverest and most innocuous means of retaining ownership of a bicycle i've so far come across. for the eponymously named seatylock forms an integral part of virtually any style of bicycle you may care to mention, yet is all but unseen in use.
basically put, the seatylock is a bicycle saddle that can be removed from its regular position atop the seatpost and transformed into a solid bicycle lock. this is achieved by opening out the structure forming the saddle rails before lacing them through the frame, wheels or perhaps both. when it's time to remount and head elsewhere, the seatylock can be simply unlocked, re-folded and clipped in place back on the seatpost. the steel links forming the seat rails/lock are manufactured from hardened steel and coated to prevent damaging your bicycle's paintwork.
saddles, of course, are one of the most variable features pertaining to daily bike use. the very saddle that offers me comfort and joy may be akin to a bed of nails to another, making it fairly important that the seatylock not only protects your bicycle but also your posterior. at the point of entry via the kickstarter campaign linked below, there is a choice of two styles: trekking and comfort, both of which feature a central slot for relief of pressure on the undercarriage.
if my explanation of just how this innocuous looking bicycle seat can manage to repel all boarders seems a tad on the confusing side (and i can appreciate i may have been less than clear), nip on over to the seatylock kickstarter page with flexible plastic in hand, to view the presentation and explanatory video. if you reside in an area renowned for bicycle theft, or your current lock is a bit of a pain to carry about (in all senses of that word), you may care to consider an investment in its cleverness.
wednesday 17 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
scarcely a week goes by without some section of the cycling press, both print and virtual, bringing news of the latest in technological advancement by the white-coated boffins kept in secluded isolation in a locked back room. nowadays most of these seem to revolve around fluid dynamics and finite element analysis, subsequently refined using both 3d printers and expensive wind-tunnel testing. such is the dependence on the latter, that one or two of the larger manufacturers are now bringing this portion of practical testing in-house, having built their own wind tunnels. aerodynamics are the new black.
yet little, if any, of these advancements have considered associated factors. it's not always the case that what makes aerodynamic sense is aesthetically pleasing, and no matter how fast it goes, if it's pig-ugly, it'll probably stay on the shop floor for longer than commercially viable. no amount of painting a brick all the colours of the rainbow will entice someone other than a builder to buy it. and that too is an area of research that suffers from ignorance and relegation despite our knowing the substantial difference that a decent colour can make to the perceived speed of your average velocipedinist.
take endura's second generation airshell helmet. to all intents and purposes, the untrained eye will see little visual difference between the scottish firm's initial offering and the latest in shiny headwear. however, what livingston seems to have discovered in the period between versions one and two is just how much of a difference colour can make.
it's not so many years past since many a motoring manufacturer offered sports versions of their bog standard fare, augmenting it with brighter colours and go-faster stripes along each side. if you were lucky, there might even be a pair of bucket seats similarly striped. if the standard version was offered in tasteful blue or burgundy, the sport version could be had in orange, white or lime green. which brings us smoothly into the helmet that i have been wearing on my head for the last few days. it's not only lime green, but a massively forceful lime green; if i had to ditch in the sea at any point during the sunday ride, the helicopters would find me first. and it's surely no secret amongst the cognoscenti that lime green is worth at least an extra 5kph (a factor on which endura's jim mcfarlane and i are in total agreement).
though the professionals may be willing to put up with all manner of inconvenience with the promise of extra speed, few of us are similarly constituted. when we hand over our hard-earned £89.99 we're far more interested not just in the pantone shade of green, but whether it will protect our intelligence centre and cosset it with luxurious comfort. in this latter respect, the airshell is like a new helmet compared to its retired elder brother, and it was no slouch in the head protection stakes in the first place. i'd be kidding if i said i knew how they'd achieved this for the price, but in version two, the subtle but highly effective changes seem to be mostly confined to the internal roll cage.
the webbing strap is now connected to the cage rather than directly, to the helmet itself. this can still be adjusted via an easily operated dial tensioner at the back of the head, creating a snug fit either with a cycle cap in place or not. the comfort seems to have been immeasurably improved by connecting all of the internal padding into a single unit, rather than the two brow pads being separate entities.
while some folks might admit to having a favourite bicycle, pair of shoes or socks, or perhaps even a jersey or shorts, i now have a favourite helmet that voids any thoughts of "sorry mate, i didn't see you." and makes me 5kph faster even when i'm standing still. imagine the trouble that gave when trying to take the accompanying photographs. for the less ostentatious, or those who have little need of free additional speed, the airshell is also available in more sombre shades of white, black, red or silver for the same £89.99 in three different sizes. i'm convinced that at some time in the near future, the accounts department in livingston is going to realise that one of the buttons on their corporate calculator isn't working, so if you're in the market for a new helmet, get in there quick.
added to the promise of all the safety a cycle helmet can provide, it even has go-faster stripes.
tuesday 16 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there is a scene in an episode of the itv crime series lewis where robbie lewis and his sidekick hathaway are standing at the door of a college dining room in the company of the college porter. just as they are about to enter to question a potential suspect, the entire room rises to say grace prior to the serving of lunch. being an educational establishment of no little repute, this is said in latin. as a non-academic, lewis asks hathaway if the words are in reference to items on the menu, at which point, the latter says "soup of the day, burger and chips and spotted dick..."
my father always used to repeat a similar form of humour when faced with an hotel menu written in french. pretending to have ordered one of the more obscure items, he'd then mimic the waiter saying "i'm sorry sir, that's what the band's playing this evening."
the premise of humour (such as it is) of such a fashion, rests entirely on the incomprehension of the subject under discussion, and those are but two examples of such. the humour of my having no earthly idea of the location of something identifying itself as the moselle cycle route is not lost on me, nor i should imagine on those of you reading this review. i have made it known on several separate occasions that i am extremly geographically challenged; my map drawing skills are reasonably well identified, but only if someone can place the locations prior to my commencing.
the moselle river, as everyone apart from yours truly is aware, begins its journey at source in the east french vosges mountains, wending its way through luxembourg and belgium, before joining the river rhine in germany. author and cyclist mike wells, in keeping with the format applied to almost all of the excellent cicerone guides, explains the moselle route in great detail, presaged by a brief history of the regions through which it travels. the latter is most helpful in identifying the heritage of many of the elderly buildings that can be seen along the way, and given the ideal travelling size of these guides, it's simplicity itself to pull the book out along the way to check prudent details.
of course, aside from the geographical and historical niceties that make the route worth pedalling in the first place, what most cyclists would wish to know at the outset is 'how long will it take?'. it's an answer that mr wells has had the decency to answer before elucidating other pertinent details such as an appropriate velocipedinal choice, how to get there in the first place and the level of accommodation that can be expected by the intrepid traveller travelling north.
wells has split the route into 14 discrete stages averaging 36km per day, allowing the fitter amongst us to double that daily distance and effectively complete the moselle cycle route in a mere seven days. however, should you wish to undertake a holiday incorporating a wealth of sightseeing, two weeks would seem the more leisurely option. and perhaps even more pertinent to even the average cyclist, what and where to eat and drink is covered in more than sufficient detail.
the book is well illustrated with landmarks, objects of interest and architecture to be seen along the way, and though my map reading leaves a great deal to be desired, those accompanying each and every chapter seem quite clear enough to me, unsullied by extraneous detail. as has been consistent in the majority of the cicerone guides i have been privileged to review, the moselle cycle route is every bit worth purchasing even by the armchair explorer. though the principal text is primarily functional, as is most sequential instructional material, the sidebars offer an insight into a part of the world with which not all of us will be familiar.
"Remiremont (pop. 8000) straddles the Moselle below the confluence of the Moselette and is surrounded by forest-clad hills. From 910, Remiremont Abbey (originally founded by Benedictines in 620) housed a chapter of noble-born 'canonesses' (nuns) and was the most renowned nunnery in Europe for its wealth and recruitment of canonesses, who had to show 200 years of royal or noble lineage (mostly, presumably, unmarriageable daughters).
should i ever be overcome by the wanderlust that seems to inhabit the minds of cicerone's authors, i have the ideal script to follow.
monday 15 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
with both the tour of england and wales and la vuelta in progress over the past few days, there has been ample opportunity for armchair cycling spectators to watch pretty much wall to wall cycle racing on every day of the week. and such has been the raising of the former's international profile, helicopter shots displaying (almost) the finest of britain's landscape may well do the same for britain's tourist trade as the tour de france, the giro and la vuelta annually achieve for their respective countries.
however, what those aerial shots also witness, is the potential lack of green-ness inherent in a sport that admittedly, rarely makes claims in that direction. but the bicycle lays claim (quite rightly, in my opinion) to a high level of environmental friendliness; it's emission free, it consumes no fossil fuels in use, reduces traffic congestion and confers a myriad of health benefits on those that choose it as a means of transport. the sporting aspect of the velocipede all but undermines that. i can't speak for the tour of britain, but spain currently pays host to at least two cars for each team, several neutral service cars, commissaire and medical vehicles and a phalanx of team coaches back at the hotels, to say nothing of the peloton of photographers' and tv motorbikes.
you could easily argue that any uci sanctioned race takes away all the good conferred by the average cyclist.
of course, it would be particularly iniquitous to argue against this situation; how else would international cycle racing be brought to an eager television and press audience? and without such coverage, it would be very hard to argue the case to potential sponsors. the racing would hardly be as slick and impressive as it is were we to revert to the days of henri desgrange with no outside support and riders having need of repairing their own punctures and mechanicals. in this instance, it is perhaps better simply to acknowledge that cycle racing has affinities with that which we know as cycling, but in truth inhabits a parallel universe, unaffected by attributes pertaining to the real thing.
meanwhile, in our own universe, the benefits of pedal power continue unabated and not always from the sources you'd first consider. first produced as a graduation project by london's royal college of art design students, amos field reid and lasse oiva, the uniquely original velopresso has now become a viable reality and entered limited production.
there have been entire dissertations written about the connection between cycling and coffee, yet the true inspiration for such remains largely undiscovered. fortunately there is no real need for a doctorate in the subject to enjoy a decent espresso or the much-maligned soya cappuccino, simply enough coinage in that zipped rear pocket to hand over at the till. and one of those little caramel biscuits wouldn't go amiss neither. the velopresso if nothing else, brings that connection several stages closer.
with no tricycle platforms available that suited the velopresso's front wheel drive yet rear steering, combined with a riding position that had need of supporting both cycling and barista stances, reid and oiva designed and built their own. they also designed the conical burr grinder from the ground-up driven as it is by a gates carbon belt drive from that seated position. the espresso machine is a gas-fired, spring-lever device designed specifically in collaboration with fracino. the gas cylinder is easily replaceable as is the water supply.
the cycling part of the equation features powder-coated reynolds 631 plain gauge tubing, topped with a brooks b33 leather delivery saddle. the transmission duties are also undertaken by a gates carbon drive, while stopping is taken care of with a magura hydraulic disc brake on each wheel.
look mum no hands! have successfully operated one of the prototypes for a few months. to quote director matt harper, "We immediately recognised the potential of the Velopresso as a practical mobile coffee solution for all sorts of events, cycling related or otherwise. Not only does it look beautiful, it's well constructed. And its human-powered operation means that you can turn up anywhere and be self-sufficient. Perfect for the sort of events that look mum no hands! is getting in."
perhaps rather obviously, the velopresso has its limitations, pedalling rather than in the coffee sense. the website sees it as being able to cover up to 20km (obviously dependant on the cycling ability of the barista), though they do recommend avoiding bumpy roads and big hills, all but ruling out the pragmatism of operating one on the west of scotland. however, as a versatile, easy to operate means of selling quality espresso at the drop of a handbrake, it seems hard to beat. pricewise, it seems also well in the ballpark of afforability. when you consider just how many components are custom built, a few pounds under £10,000 makes it on a par with the disc version of the colnago c60, and even i'd hesitate to try selling coffee from one of those.
come the revolution...
sunday 14 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you need only look back to the late eighties and even into the early nineties to see professional bike racers aboard rather delectable steel frames, often with shiny chrome, particularly when decorating italian steel. those tubes were considerably thinner than the bulk of their carbon replacements available in the present day. my original carbon fibre colnago c40 features fluted carbon tubes that emulate the columbus steel employed on the colnago master, effectively the c40's antecedent. in the early 1990s carbon was in its infancy; still a bit noodly now and again, before finite element analysis entered the fray. between titanium, aluminium alloys and the onward march of burnt plastic, steel was relegated to the position of 'has-been'.
of course, there are always those who never lost the faith, most notably massachusett's richard sachs, eventually joined by the vanguard of steel construction in portland, oregon which in turn, fostered a whole new steel is real culture across north america, the uk and mainland europe. though carbon is nice and with the incomparable ability to be tuned to the builder's requirements, it's not the world's toughest material, despite what formula one race cars might have taught us. different place, different need. though frame repairs are not something likely to trouble your average professional team, those of us who have to pay for the privilege would prefer something a bit more fixable.
it was comforting therefore to note that condor cycles offered the acciao as an option for the guys in the rapha condor jlt team (jimmy mccallum was known to have favoured the steel option over a carbon leggero) and the flags were out when the madison genesis team put all their weight behind a reynolds 953 frame for a full racing season to the exclusion of all else. this is a situation that has endured for the past two seasons; the fact that they have not notably been occupying the rearmost portions of the domestic peloton, has given great credence to the viability of steel as a tool for the professional rider.
or at least that's the way it looked until the end of last week when genesis announced the release of the all-carbon zero, examples of which were being made available to the madison genesis team for this year's tour of england and wales. so does the appaearance of a carbon range signal the end of the line for steel in the race team? i asked madison genesis rider chris snook, a man who has ridden both options.
"Certainly not. The Zero is all about choice. What it provides is another option for riders to choose from. You will see the team continue to use the steel bike throughout the rest of this season; and next. Pete Hawkins won the Irish Crit champs recently on his Genesis Volare 953. With its short wheelbase and stiffness, the 953 frame is perfectly suited to criterium racing, so expect to see it prominent at the Pearl Izumi Tour Series again."
it would be naive to deny that steel has inherent problems, not least of which is that of weight. though the uci minimum limit can often be closely approached, there's no denying that carbon beats metal hands down. so has the zero now seen the light of day because of this factor? have genesis pretty much reached steel's minimum in this respect?
"Weight is a part of it, yes. Genesis have reached appoint where they have taken the material as far as it can go. To get the weight down further at this stage does not make sense for the cost implication involved. To compromise the bike's race pedigree by reducing stiffness was not an option. However, Genesis will continue to work with Reynolds to keep at the cutting edge of the steel game.
Aerodynamics has been another consideration in the creation of the Zero. One of the great advantages of carbon is that you aren't restricted by shapes in the same way as with steel."
racing is often used as a means to promulgate research and development and not just in the cycling milieu. professional riders are a lot harder on their kit than any of us are likely to be, and with the frequency of hard training and racing, any design or equipment flaws will likely show up a lot quicker than they would in the hands of the civilian. it's often the sole reason why you see the pros on gear that can't yet be found in the shops; by the time it gets there, it ought to be working pretty well. are genesis following a similar path, to see if carbon really is that much better than steel?
"We aren't going out to say one material is better than the other. The aim is to use whichever material correctly, with thought-through design and sound geometry. Genesis have a reputation for producing steel bikes, but have never restricted themselves to using just one material. We have a range of aluminium road bikes in the Volant as well."
last week's press release announced that the new carbon zero was being made available in time for the tour of britain. the timing obviously had as much to do with marketing as with race strategy, but had the team invoked a three-line whip with regard to the zero, or are there any team riders continuing with the steel frames?
"I am continuing to use my steel Volare at the minute. Riders will have the choice in which bike they would like to use for any given race. All the riders at the ToB have both options there to choose from."
if both materials are to continue fighting for results in the madison genesis racing team, that suggests a particularly enlightened attitude on behalf of the sponsor and the team management. what had they learned about steel over the past couple of seasons as to its suitability for the professional peloton?
"Genesis have learned a great deal. The first lesson learned in the early days is that it is very easy to over-build a steel bike using 953. Feedback from the team regarding the first generation bike was that it was too harsh; a property not normally associated with steel. The latest generation bike uses a more sloping top tube, which is smaller in diameter and also bi-ovalised to provide stiffness and compliance where it is needed most.
"The bike was successfully raced throughout 2013, taking a number of high profile wins, podiums, and now a national title. In that regard, it proves that steel certainly has a place in the professional peloton.
"One of the key things with steel, and stainless steel in particular, is the longevity of the material. Steel isn't as fragile as carbon. It may dent, but the bike can still be ridden. The bikes have proved to be hardy, and we still use a number of the frames from last year's fleet to this day."
given the above information and the fact that the retailer is unlikely to provide you with a new frame if you happen to ding it on the sunday ride, presumably steel will remain in the genesis retail offerings?
"Steel will continue to be in the Genesis line up in a big way. Genesis still has a strong relationship with Reynolds and will continue looking to push boundaries with the material. The 2015 range has recently been launched and contains more steel bikes than ever before."
for those of us with a penchant for the ferrous material over more fragile plastic, this is good news. there's a whole host of plain gauge tubing at the budget end of the market that's mostly functional rather than featuring any sporting pretensions. other than phoning richard sachs to ask if there's a gap in his schedule, the less well-heeled amongst us ought to be grateful that a major player in the british cycle market continues to have faith in lightweight steel. however, considering chris snook's comments above, genesis would be failing in their commercial duty if they didn't at least take a look at the world of carbon. with the arrival of the zero, does this mean genesis will now forge ahead with other carbon offerings in the future?
"Genesis will continue to forge ahead with all materials. There may well be more carbon to come in the future."
very many thanks to madison genesis' chris snook for his considerable assistance with this article.
saturday 13 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my grandson was one year-old the very day that the tour de france set off from leeds en route to harrogate. there was, you'll be less than surprised to know, a three-line whip on family members to attend this momentous event, creating something of a potential quandary for yours truly. one didn't want to leave the little fellow solely to the ministrations of his mum and dad; i mean just how much fun can a one year-old have on a large bouncy castle?
i did point out prior to travelling to the great metrolops, that i would most likely be sat in front of my daughter's rather larger than life television, with its hi-fi sound, watching the yorkshire proceedings. (there was that one time when i thought of boycotting the start altogether after yorkshire was favoured over edinburgh, but that would have just been childish.) but in a distinct turn-about of the usual familial hierarchy, i was warned within an inch of my bottom bracket that that simply would not be happening.
unfortunately, a large bouncy castle didn't seem to qualify as a viable alternative.
however, all turned out a great deal more fortuitous than promised to be the case. hordes of mums, the occasional dad, and a bunch of screaming weans turned up shortly after lunchtime to totally dominate the bouncy castle, aided and abetted by more than just a few adults who had been warned to keep off. thus, it was simple enough to discretely remove myself from such joyous happenings and sit glued to the telly. the fact that there was a tad too much ambient noise to hear carlton and sean may actually have been considered a plus.
therefore i saw the false start from leeds, the meeting of the great and good at harewood house, a royal person cutting a ribbon (headlined in one of the national sunday papers rather creatively as the kate british bike off), and the nine red arrows streaking coloured smoke across remarkably clear blue skies. and i watched cav make a bit of an idiot of himself in the sprint, trying to barge his way to the line and end up going home instead.
sunday turned out to be even better, for everyone else headed out to some scary sounding shopping centre nearby, leaving me all alone to sloach about on their rather abundant sofa watching a peloton of riders make their way from york to sheffield.
but my watching of the 101st tour de france was presumably no different from anyone else's. there must be scores of homes across the country in which cycle racing is a less than minor interest, seen as a something of an intrusion, rather than a (moving) object of veneration. nobody even asked me who had won either stage, an omission for which i retaliated by telling them anyway. not that they cared.
however, we all genuinely marvelled at the enormity of the crowds at the roadside, at the fact that the weather was most un-yorkshire like, and that some folks managed to see anything at all. though the spectacle in the flesh must have proffered much to admire, there's little doubt that even with a bouncy castle in the back garden, i saw a lot more of the race than many.
however, to lift my head from the sand for a moment, that's entirely to miss the point. yorkshire had promised a grand depart to remember; i had embarrased myself in print by stating that if i never saw another press release for the tour depart, it would be too soon. boy do i look foolish now, and being reminded of that fact with the arrival of the creatively named pave (pan y agua velo europe ) publishing's two days in europe makes me realise just how far wide of the mark my lack of appreciation truly was.
a page of yellow sheep, that red arrows moment, thousands of people lining ilkley's church street, the man half out his skylight window as the race passes through skipton high street, but most of all, and every bit as important, that fabulous smell of ink on art paper beloved of rouleur subscribers all across the land. if you only ever nab yourself one book about the tour de france, make it this one. with photographic contributions from the grubers, rick robson, mark denton (is that a photoshop motion blur?), tim de waele and a whole host of other expert lenspeople, the large format colour photography is the sort of thing you'd go out and buy a coffee table for.
there are words, of course, but commendably of minimal quantity, and probably just like the assembly instructions for that ikea coffee table, you'll only read them as a last resort. for once the phrase "i only looked at the pictures..." won't confer dunce status upon the plaintiff.
the most fabulous photo in the entire publication is that depicted on pages 72 and 73 of the peloton climbing buttertubs in the yorkshire dales, seamlessly melding into the enormous crowds surrounding their efforts. though there's no mention in the book itself, apparently the oddly monikered climb is named after the 20 metre deep holes in the limestone, allegedly used by farmers to keep the butter cool on hot days while resting on their way to market.
two days in yorkshire is a marvellous testament as to how an essentially non-cycling nation can get behind a bicycle race that contians the name of a foreign country. not only does it honour gary verity's intrepid band of organisers and visionaries for bringing the race to yorkshire in the first place, it also offers plaudits to christian prudhomme for believing that they could. pave publishing should be proud.
thursday 11 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
before the internet was king, and everything you could ever need was downloadable to your computer, ipad or phone, software distribution methods were what is now regarded as a tad archaic. if the monthly tech and lifestyle report didn't have a cover-mounted cd, it quite obviosuly wasn't worth buying in the first place. in my own sphere of work and play, apple used this means of distributing their free software updates, while many another supplier did likewise, allowing us to marvel at their altruism and immediately creating a guaranteed market for the following month's publication.
it was not, however, solely the serious people that wanted to give us software. as can still be seen to this day in the shape of an endless stream of free apps, there was a whole community dedicated to using up their spare time creating games, riddles and intrigues to occupy our own spare time. and for some reason i have never quite been able to fathom, they were happy to do all this free, gratis and for nothing. admittedly the field was infiltrated by the commercial games producers who would often give away a portion of a tidily expensive production as enticement to a larger spend later in the day, but for the most part, the intent gamer could play from one month to the next pretty much free of charge.
it worries me to a certain degree that i know as much about this aspect of the software empire as i do, for in truth, i can't be bothered one whit about any form of computer or board game. while my family would often drag out cluedo, monopoly or snakes and ladders of a cold, dark, winter's eve, it was to a wall of apathy on behalf of yours truly. i am not decrying that sometimes playing real or virtual games doesn't engender a favourable amount of fun, but the stumbling block from my point of view is in attempting to comprehend the rules, or latterly, the keyboard commands required to achieve any level of satisfaction.
though i cannot deny a certain number of wasted hours in the company of sonic the hedgehog, much of those were managed with a high level of brute force and ignorance, with the emphasis on the latter. faced with a multitude of folders on my cover-mount cd all containing the latest in gaming technology (or not, as the case may be) and their accompanying read me files, i was more prone to getting the bike out the shed than trying to remember whether alt - function - 7 brought the tiger moth into land, or if that was ctrl - shift - 9.
i'm sure i wasn't alone.
but along has come a cycle related card game that is not only free at point of distribution, but looks as if its timing may be particularly adaptable to whiling away the hours over froth and a piece of lemon drizzle slice at debbie's after the sunday ride. or at least that would be the case if a) i could understand the instructions and b) could be bothered trying to figure out which bits don't make sense (to me).
i am, of course, talking about the condor cycles' alumni trump game, a title so impressive that i'm really, really annoyed that i appear to be so dense.
in case you're wondering why condor have offered such largesse, the game celebrates not only the tenth running of the tour of britain (or the 'tour of england and wales' as we call it up here), but also the release of condor's 'since 1948 clothing range'.
however, all is not lost; each card in the alumni trump game has been drawn and hand-painted in water colour by condor designer, ben spurrier. that's good enough for me; once they're all cut-out, i may enlist the services of my local picture-frame. a satisfying result all round. for the rest of you all that's required is to download the free pdf, cut out the cards and decipher the instructions displayed on the website.
i made it as far as cutting them out.
wednesday 10 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
by and large, i am happy with my relative obscurity, a state of affairs encouraged by my relative distance from what passes for civilisation. as was pointed out by someone very many years ago, if i'd presented a business plan for thewashingmachinepost consisting of daily writings about the various goings-on in the world of velocipedinal happenings, i sincerely doubt i'd have got past the receptionist. though the post in its present form was never the result of conscious strategy, for the most part it keeps me happy and there's rarely a day goes by without at least some subject of interest popping up demanding attention.
my day to day travails involve what i like to denote as graphic design; posters, brochures and pages and pages of newspaper. but in each case i rather hope i'm not guilty of confusing the medium with the message. unlike many an adobe flash designer, i really have no desire to impress others working in a similar field; ideally the design aspect is all but transparent.
but like many a modern realist painter in these days of digital photography, there's always a danger of the end result being appreciated for its technique, rather than any artistic vision that might be on display. therefore every now and again, someone from the land of civilisation has perhaps paid closer attention to my use of words and language than what i'm actually saying. rather than jumping up and down and demanding a recount, i have mostly found this to be rather flattering, even if that's not quite the happy ending i was aiming for.
though i'd be guilty of narcissism to imply the above in this particular occasion, one of those who may have accidentally found themselves with a spare five minutes prior to lunch, were the very nice folks at decathlon, the french-based sports superstore people. though the best i can manage to provide any sort of tenuous connection between them and me is recalling that one of the french tdf teams used to ride their bicycles. other than that, i had no idea they knew i existed.
how wrong could i be?
this admitted wrongness was made plain only the other week when i received an e-mail from the world's largest sports retailer (their words, not mine). the mail continued "we're looking to highlight individuals, blogs and websites that we feel share this same ethos." you can see where the flattery came from. "we feel that you would be well placed to help inspire our readers into discovering cycling through sharing the story behind your love of the sport and your blog. We would look to do so through a new 'Featured Blogger' section of the Decathlon blog"
and, true to their word, that is precisely what they did, sending a few questions which i did my best to answer while pretending that i was knowledgeable about their askings. i am probably the last person to blow my own trumpet (though in a jazz context, i'm more than capable of banging my own drum), but just in case insomnia has got the better of you, you might like to peruse my fifteen seconds of fame via the link below. i'll try very hard not to make a habit of it.
tuesday 9 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
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...........................................................................................................................................................................................................