"there's nothing worse than a technical problem with your rainlegs to interrupt proceedings."..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
orville and wilbur wright are generally regarded as the inventors of manned flight. as with many working at the cutting edge of technology such as it was at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, they were both excellent self-taught engineers. however, while modern-day engineering principles rely far more on systematic research, the wright brothers had more of a knack for tinkering with stuff in the process of getting from a to b. it is also no real secret that their tinkering with bicycles had great influence on the quest to achieve a stability of control with their flying machines through practice with balance.
in fact, while others concentrated on the means of propulsion in order to have their own aircraft achieve manned flight, orville and wilbur focused on figuring out a reliable method of placing the pilot in control of what was a seriously unstable device. their breakthrough in this particular field was their invention of a three axis control, enabling the chap in the hot seat to maintain equilibrium while steering. their method of control has subsequently become the standard on all kinds of fixed-wing aeroplanes.
in short, while others worked at the wrong end of the coal face, the wright brothers sussed out the more fundamental difficulties by means of their inveterate tinkering.
achieving untold speeds on land via human-powered vehicles incorporates several of the specific control difficulties experienced by the wright brothers in 1903. the most obvious contradiction to be observed is that the latter has need of remaining firmly affixed to the ground as opposed to the former's need to embrace the principles of aerodynamics of lift. while aircraft of even the simplicity of the brothers' device has finite available power, that on offer during any attempt on the human-powered land speed record is of a far lower order, thus aside from mechanical efficiency, the aerodynamics have to simultaneously reduce drag while preventing the vehicle from developing any lift.
i am no engineer, so i would have very little idea of where to begin designing just such a land-bound vehicle, let alone figuring out how to construct one. though software capable of assisting in such matters is relatively cheaply available, modern day tinkerers are more prone to figuring this all out in the kitchen of their one-bedroom flat in saltcoats. at least, that's the way it works if your name is graeme obree.
renowned for his athletic prowess in breaking the hour record on two separate occasions as well as world 4,000 metre pursuit champion, coupled with two subsequently banned riding positions, graeme obree's attempt on the human powered land speed record on the beastie bears more comparison to the wright brothers than it does with anything on the computers at boeing. obree's mechanical skills are impressive, though as his manager charlie milarvie says "using mostly recycled materials, his rudimentary analysis of physics, biomechanics and aerodynamics and nothing more than his mind and imagination, Obree is a purist in the strongest sense, placing absolute trust in his intellectual prowess to provide the optimum solution to overcoming the challenges posed by Mother Nature when riding a bike."
that might sound like something of an overstatement, but there's little denying the truth behind it.
the trials and tribulations of filing tubes of metal in a vice attached to his kitchen table, via speed tests at both prestwick and macrihanish airport runways, to the environs of battle mountain, nevada have been captured on film by producer and director david street in a movie rather obviously entitled battle mountain: graeme obree's story. featuring music by the delgados' alun woodward, the movie will receive its world premiere in edinburgh's fountain park cineworld on thursday 25 june. it signifies yet another chapter in the eccentric genius that is graeme obree.
it might be an idea to book some tickets.
thursday 28 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i've been wearing spectacles since i was in my first year of secondary school. i might qualify that statement by pointing out that, so afraid was i that i'd have fun poked at me for so doing, that i scarcely wore them in the class until midway through my third year. that did not do anything to improve my eyesight in the meantime. when i made it as far as art college, the use of so-called northern light to aid our colour perception had occasion to give me headaches. this was a situation that continued when i worked for one of the nation's premier car rental companies; the under-counter striplighting saw to that.
it turned out that having a graded tint on my lenses pretty much resolved the problem, a situation i wished i had been aware of several years previously. however, though the tint kept artificial light at bay, it was scarcely up to handling hours and hours of sunlight. that problem was resolved by living on the west coast of scotland where sunlight barely penetrates (a little scottish humour there).
in the latter part of the 21st century's first decade, i signed up to ride hot chillee's london-paris ride; paris france, where the sun shines all year round and the intrepid cyclist has need of proper cycling sunglasses. as i pointed out above, i wear prescription lenses and thus had to order cycling glasses with a prescription insert that sits just behind the curved and tinted polycarbonate lenses which the world saw as i breezed by on my way to france's capital city. this pair of glasses served me well for several years, before being upgraded only a few years past.
the range of cycling glasses available for those with less than 20/20 vision is, i'll admit, reasonably impressive (as are some of the prices), but not a patch on the plethora available to those possessed of pin sharp vision. while several models from the higher profile manufacturers can cost as much as some folks would consider expensive for a bicycle, there are also lower cost options, every bit as stylish, every bit as practical but at far lower cost. such an animal is the rather oddly named hastings range from oxford uk based sunwise, a british eyewear brand first established in 1996. the hastings edition, retailing at a wallet-friendly £95 provides not only anti-fogging properties but arrives fitted with chromafusion 2.0 light-reacting lenses.
the more perceptive amongst you, however, will have already foreseen a glitch in my cunning plan; the hastings glasses do not support prescription eyewear.
never wishing to fall at the first hurdle, i had already taken this situation into consideration, enlisting the services of a velo club member blessed with better eyesight than yours truly. this situation just gets better and better, for sunday peloton member grahame had just set his sights on a weekend tour around the roads of the isle of arran. this island has often been referred to as scotland in miniature.
according to grahame "Previously I've always had sunglasses with interchangeable lenses until I was offered the Sunwise to try. he makes a good point; my original cycling glasses had three sets of interhcangeable lenses, wear on which eventually necessitated their upgrading. eventually, clicking plastic lenses in and out to cope with ever-changing weather conditions (it rained the first year i rode to paris), caused wear that prevented those selfsame lenses from safely remaining in place. photochromic lenses more or less dispense with the need for continual lens swapping. graham also pointed out, "The glasses are frameless with wrap-around lenses and look great (even on the dog), offering a range of frame colours to suit most of the pelotonese."
like me, grahame's previous pair of cycling glasses featured interchangeable lenses, but "the photochromic lenses tint and darken in different lighting conditions, thus there's no need to change lenses half way through a ride! (Brilliant)."
that said, if you're wearing glasses hour after hour and day after day while riding a bike, no matter how efficacious their sun protection, they might as well stay in the case if they turn out to be less than comfortable. the sunwise hastings, however are, according to my stunt double "lightweight and comfortable to wear although the nose piece initially felt slightly sticky. but this disappeared after my first bike ride. They offered a very secure fit, but without any undue pressure behind my ears, something previous glasses have failed to achieve."
though grahame's brief sortie to one of the innermost of scotland's western isles was a tad more exertive than he'd been led to believe, it was a good shakedown for the recently acquired touring bicycle and its attendant panniers and tent. cyclist and bicycle survived pretty much intact. and the specs? "Overall superb glasses no matter the weather."
no animals were harmed in the photographing of this feature
sunwise hastings chromafusion cycling glasses retail at £95 per pair. a protective case costs another £4.
wednesday 27 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in this modern day of the interweb, any attempt to learn stuff can be relatively easily satisfied by searching online. in the case of my percussive proclivities, youtube can both salve my inabilities while at the same time, underlining them. currently, i favour the style of an american drummer by the name of jay bellerose; while i have the technical skills to play in a similar manner, where on earth he finds his ideas, phrasing and touch, i will probably never find out to my own satisfaction.
given his status as a session drummer favoured by producers larry klein, joe henry and t-bone burnett, he probably spends more time in studios than on stage, but it is possible to find one or two live performances from which to learn. the most recent to surface is by way of a lengthy trio concert in san francisco college of music featuring the aforesaid mr bellerose, guitarist adam levy and keyboard player larry goldings. the concert was essentially to showcase the talents of mr levy who last year released an album entitled town and country.
in his introduction, levy made mention of the album and eventually explained the premise behind the title, lending a thematic thread to the concert, a similar and ultimately highly satisfying ploy utilised by author peter cossins in his book about alpe d'huez.
though i'm none too sure whether the following ought to be the subject of a spoiler alert, i confess i had read several chapters before i realised the cleverness that was taking place before my very eyes. though i thought it a smidgeon on the odd side that each chapter commenced in italicised text, ending within one or two pages before continuing on what seemed an often unrelated topic. it also pains me to admit that i thought it odd that there was continual repeated reference to specific belgian and dutch cyclists. sometimes i shouldn't be let out on my own.
cossins has brilliantly, in my opinion, commenced each chapter with a blow by blow account of the alpe d'huez stage in 1976, only the second time the mountain had featured in the tour since fausto coppi won the first edition in 1952. the '76 edition showcased an epic battle between joop zoetemelk and lucien van impe, a battle made all the more dramatic by cossins' pacing over the narrative's 285 pages. in retrospect, i should have witnessed the clues; at the end of the introductory, scene setting chapter Queen of the Mountains:
"It highlights the difficulty of the ascent, the splendour of an arena that has no rival in terms of its drawing power, its vital importance to any Tour that tackles it, the reasons why every professional wants to win there, why every amateur wants to climb it, and why it has become cycling's greatest climb."
that last statement is, of course, open to discussion. there are many who may not totally agree with mr cossins, at least not necessarily from the outset, and perhaps not even at the finale of the first chapter. however, the story (if you'll pardon the pun) might well be different on reaching that last chapter.
as to it being the climb that every professional wants to win, it may be pertinent to temper that with a quote from the inimitable robert millar. "This is the only hill I hated. I never got up (t)here in a decent state, not once." these are perhaps unusual words from a true climber, the likes of which the opening few hairpin bends could have been seen to favour more than most. as Stephen Roche puts it "What has always worked against me... is the severity of the early slopes. There is no way you can maintain a rhythm on those slopes... For a pure climber these things come naturally and such gradients provide an opportunity to distance rivals."
this perhaps explains, other than the twenty-five hairpins en-route to the ski station at the top, and despite being described as "a climb that is too often dismissed as an unremarkable road leading to a distinctly unattractive resort", why the mountain is held in such high esteem by the thousands of fans who glue themselves to the roadside every time the tour makes its way to the top. these include the substantial number of dutchmen, attracted by the victories of zoetemelk, kuiper (who claims his victory in 1977 began the dutch occupation), winnen, van der velde, rooks and theunisse. the fact that there has not been a dutch winner at huez for many a long year seems not to have diluted the attraction of orange clad fans.
peter cossins has planned and authored this book almost to perfection. rather than simply list chronological victories since 1976, he has provided a biography of the mountain, how its positioning in the fabric of the tour de france has contributed to its surviving importance, a factor that remains true even to this year, when it features on the penultimate day of the race. and i return to his intellect in prefacing each subsequent strand of that biography with the 1976 stage to what andy hampsten describes as "a very good road to get to a ski resort."
though there is no list of chapter headings and contents at the front, there is a comprehensive index and bibliography at the back. however, cossin's alpe d'huez is hardly aimed at the scholarly market, far more at the emotional cycling fan such as you and me. his prose, pacing and research are admirable to say the least; it is no mean feat to write an entire book in praise of a lump of rock with a ski station at the top. and yes, he may be right, alpe d'huez could very well be cycling's greatest climb.
"Half an hour after Zoetemelk has won the day, Thierry Bolle...rolls in 120th and last. [...] He won't even get the perverse bonus of publicity given to the race's lanterne rouge. That honour goes to the appropriately named Frenchman Henri Fin. [...] (He) won't ride the tour again, this day has seen the renaissance of what will soon become cycling's greatest stage."
alpe d'huez by peter cossins is published on thursday 28 may by aurum press.
tuesday 26 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
one of the central tenets of buddhism is that the source of suffering is desire. if we can separate ourselves from the latter we will live more satisfactory and fruitful lives. i do not intend to pursue any form of eastern philosophy in these pixels, predominantly on the basis that not only am i scarcely qualified so to do, but it's a bit of a heavy subject to discuss in a series of black and yellow pixels. it is, after all, supposed to be about the bike (what a darned good title for a book), an objective that brings me ever so smoothly onto velocipedinal matters.
you may recall the day you either received your most recent bicycle, or the day on which the procrastination ended and you finally clamped the last cable in place. a picture of a pristine, shiny frame married to a matching set of even shinier componentry, all of which had yet to suffer the iniquities of weather, road surfaces and the scuffs and scratches that surely weren't there when you popped in for coffee. that was probably some time ago; not everything works quite the way it did when new; not everything looks as shiny as it did when removed from the box.
even leaving the above home-truths aside for one moment, maybe it's simply a case of having eyes that are larger than your bank account. that's desire at work once more. aluminium bars that might look cooler in carbon. a chainset that belongs to last year's groupset. wheels that have lots of spokes and, heaven forbid, standard depth rims. how can you ever ride such a bicycle in public? do you find that you seem to be progressively ostracised by the rest of the peloton at the point of froth supping? even contador seems to have become bertie no-mates in the last few kilometres of any giro ascent. maybe he left the valve caps on?
it is common knowledge amongst the pelotonese that upgrading is every bit as much a part of the game of cycling, as is trouncing your compatriots at the 30 mph signs just outside bruichladdich village. gone are the days when components and frames were replaced because they'd reached the end of their useful lives; marketing doesn't work that way. i challenge anyone to grab a copy of the comic, cycle sport, cyclist or procycling and not find an advert for some item of cycling paraphernalia that has set the mind thinking. and completely at odds with the functionality of the bit currently carrying out the task.
of course, upgrading can be at the mercy of other factors. an improvement in riding ability can often bring better comprehension of why more expensive and lighter stuff can offer benefits (subject to the ever present law of diminishing returns). investment in a quality frame but less impressive componentry opens the way to extend the life of any bicycle by replacement as items start to demonstrate wear-related inferiority. the tricky bit is evening out desire against pragmatism.
without doubt, any bicycle shop worth its salt would be an early port of call, always bearing in mind that there may be commercial strategies at work. and there is always a litany of independent builders and craftsmen to skew logical thought by not being available through a bike shop. rather altruistically, given their vested interest in stocking many of the bits you'd probably like to upgrade, decathlon have produced an online guide that might just prove the ideal upgrade starting point.
ask someone like me for advice, and there's every possibility you'd end up with squillions more options, yet even less idea than you had before you asked. i used to read digital camera grouptests in computer magazines only to find myself totally stymied even on discovery of the editor's choice. decathlon's guide may often seem just a tad obvious, but in order to sway us away from the latest heavily marketed and eyewateringly expensive geegaw, common sense is most likely the solution you were looking for. when choosing a new saddle, for instance, opting for comfort over weight is hard to argue with. and ensuring that a new pair of shoes allow fitting of the correct cleats for your pedals (or vice versa) may seem every bit as obvious. (i know of at least one individual who failed that choice at the first hurdle.)
so, if that time of year seems finally to have arrived, when it seems velocipedinal largesse has become necessitous, take a quick peek at the decathlon upgrade guide. for many, it will seem overly simplistic, but for others, a quick dose of common sense that was sadly missing. some of it, i'll admit, is a bit generic; for instance 'narrow tyres offer less rolling resistance' is somewhat subjective and a bit non-specific, given that there's nothing to point out narrower than what. there might also be items that do not hold true to current thinking: your bars should be the same width as your shoulders has been somewhat undermined of late.
and i'm none too sure of specifying factory built wheels as the only option for a wheel upgrade. just bear in mind that decathlon are unlikely to stock any handbuilt wheels. commercial constraints are obviously hard to diminish. as the saying goes 'the foolish believeth everything, but the prudent man looketh well to his going.' if you catch my drift.
still, everyone needs some sort of starting point, and this is as good a place to start as any.
monday 25 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have never quite understood the modern publishing idiom and sadly i have been unable to find anyone who will explain it to me. if you'll allow me to elucidate; with few exceptions newly released books tend to arrive in hardback format, yet most of us are aware that within the year, that same book will be published in paperback at around half the price. logically, the bulk of the sales will be in the latter category, so would it not make better sense to open with the cheaper and arguably more practical option? perhaps the hardback could be released simultaneously for those who prefer their bookshelf contents to be more robust.
however, the fact that it has been hardback first, paperback second for as long as i can remember presumably explains why i write this stuff rather than filling my days as a high-powered publishing executive.
notting hill editions may possibly be one of the few exceptions to my seemingly more pragmatic suggestion. jon day's cyclogeography is presented as a compact and bijou volume erring heavily on the side of (dare i say it) exquisite. featuring a magenta cloth hardback cover, the title and quotes are debossed in both white and metallic blue, also on the thin spine. the text employed on the back cover appears to have been screenprinted onto the cloth finish. though we have been implored for many a long year not to judge a book by its cover, in this case (and in the case of all their other publications, as far as i can see), the cover provides every bit as much satisfaction as its contents.
the book's page layout, typeface and even page headings and page numbers are very finely judged, worthy of as much admiration as the ideas they exist to serve. and to quote from the nhe website "judging that the moment is right to reinvigorate the essay, Notting Hill Editions is devoted to the best in essayistic nonfiction writing." if it is possible to verify the veracity of that statement from the pages of a single publication, they have succeeded, if not exceeded in their mission.
author jon day spent several years as a bicycle courier, and while there is no visual evidence in cyclogeography to suggest he did or did not emulate the careworn, rough and ready appearance and demeanour for which bicycle couriers have become renowned, there's certainly no doubt that the man can write. though this ability is presaged in the brief biography on the opening page (he currently teaches english literature at king's college, london), the pages following are every bit as good as the cover would predict.
the city of london is explored in detail through many of the facets which present themselves to the observant and erudite rider. naturally enough, his career as a courier predominates throughout this series of essays, a factor that provides the glue that holds all together. in fact, testament is paid to cyclogeography being a thematic series, finely curated by the acknowledgment that several of these instances were first aired in the london review of books. it could be successfully argued no doubt, that any book of non-fiction is simply a series of essays conjoined by sequential chapter headings; such a categorisation is not always helpful, but in this case, perfectly true.
the author's approach to bicycle couriering was, as it seems to have been for many, as a result of dissatisfaction with the more regular application of the daily grind. it may also have been his apparent inability to fit into a pre-determined mold."Three months as a runner at a TV production company were enough of a taste of office life. Days spent tea caddying, photocopying and washing up left me cold. I couldn't drive, and my bosses told me I needed to learn if I wanted to get ahead in television. I arrived early and left late. Men carrying clipboards with radios strapped to their waists often shouted at me. I couldn't work the telephone system. I spent my afternoons shredding endless scripts on a temperamental shredder."
there's an undeniable rhythm to day's narrative, a factor that not only encourages a comfortable pace of reading, but almost invisibly guides the reader through a series of apparently unrelated subjects. as an example, day compares the number of poets concerned with the bicycle disfavourably with those more occupied with the activity of walking, quoting oulipo stalwart paul fournel (with whom the author has a meeting in a later chapter) as evidence.
in a prime example of the essayist's milieu, the chapter entitled 'race' opens with a graphic description of an alleycat courier race, a narrative that, prior to the meeting with fournel, digresses through the subject of doping and how long it has been an intrinsic and almost inseparable part of cycling's competitive stage. "When Fausto Coppi won the Tour in 1952 he rode up mountains as though they were hills." those mountains also form a specific part of the chapter while discussing the terrain and topography: "Unlike football or tennis, sports that take place on standardised fields of play, cycling takes place in the real world. Its verisimilitude is its virtue: it celebrates the actual. [...]The great road races become exercises in applied topography."
it would be futile of me to list each and every topic in isolation, for it is their interweaving that provides the book with its magic. unlike many first-time reads, there would be no iniquity in immediately re-commencing at chapter one the minute the end is reached, something i have every intention of doing. much like riding the same road when the weather changes, there will be many more things to see, second (and probably third) time round.
cyclogeography treats the bicycle in a manner first described by the tardis in dr who. it is a means of transportation considerably larger on the inside than it is on the outside; the bicycle inhabits a deceptive simplicity yet its influence stretches across several conjoined dimensions. each of us inhabits a few of these if we're lucky, but it takes the perception and perspicacity of an author such as jon day to make sense of their affiliation each with one another. aside from the aforementioned beautiful simplicity of the book's presentation, there is much to appreciate within its 163 pages.
though the contents page truly gives little away as to the nature of those contents, each chapter is annotated with specific and comprehensive references at the back should the reader be sufficiently enthused to read further.
"As a courier the ride I loved best was the last of the day, the ride home, when your legs had gone through weariness, stiffness and fatigue, and finally felt unburdened: light and easy. Then you felt like you weren't riding the bike but being drawn along with it."
a small and perfectly formed masterpiece.
sunday 24 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the joy of the islay whisky festival - or fèis Ìle as it is more correctly known - is the existence of eight malt whisky distilleries in reasonably close proximity to each other. proximity, however, is a relative term. glasgow is reasonably proximitous to edinburgh, but that's a whole different scale to the one that separates ardbeg at one end of the island, to bunnahabhain at the other end. you'd have to be a superb athlete in order to walk to all eight in one day, but the notion of cycling to each in a similar period of time is eminently do-able.
because we did.
when i say we, i refer to richard, renny, david and myself, even though i let the side down by opting to miss one of the distilleries from my own itinerary. there is a perfectly acceptable (to me at least) reason for that, but we'll get to that later. however, the history of this latest escapade has an interesting (to me at least) history, of which i am now about to regale you with.
several years ago, a gentleman by the name of richard goslan (the richard referred to above), a journalist for the scotch malt whisky society magazine 'unfiltered' undertook a cycle journey round several of the speyside distilleries (about which we are forbidden from mentioning in polite company over here) on a colnago arte, a bicycle which subsequently was sent in my direction for review.
impressed with his tenacity and thematic use for the colnago, i continued the theme by riding round all eight islay distilleries as a basis for my own review. whizz forward a few years and richard contacted me once more to let me know that he too would be completing a similar perambulation of the amber nectar as a prelude to the smws open day at the newly constituted islay house hotel at bridgend. the story of our travails would subsequently fill a few pages in the aforesaid unfiltered magazine.
if you've ever tried this at home, or had notions of so doing, the logical route is to begin at ardbeg, pop along to lagavulin and laphroaig, before heading north to caol ila and bunnahabhain. leaving the north, ride south west (stopping at labels café in ballygrant en route for a bite of lunch) to kilchoman on the shores of loch gorm, then down to bruichladdich (coffee and cake at debbie's is optional/compulsory, depending on time and predilection). the final stretch is to return along uiskentuie strand to bridgend, then south to bowmore where you can smile at your tenacity or simply collapse in a darkened room.
so far, so much fun.
the fly in the ointment, for today at least, despite being remarkably close to the end of may was a lack of ambient heat and heavy, misty rain for much of the morning. add to that, the accompaniment of a photographer and videographer and not everything was quite as simple as your own scoot about the principality might be. the progenitors of such occupations have a distinct tendency to ask those on bicycles to repeatedly cycle up and down individually and collectively until they have the imagery for which they are famed. that takes time.
even though fèis Ìle doesn't really start until today (23 may) with lagavulin's open day, we met many european and american enthusiasts frequenting most of the establishments we visited. rather cleverly the swms had produced brevet cards and stamps for each distillery. i believe the future plan is that the latter cards will be downloadable for society members, becoming a simple case of asking each distillery to stamp them on arrival. don't for one minute think that those members who simply drive to each distillery will gain favour at the visitor centres; this is a velocipedinal matter. you have been warned.
richard, renny and david are much faster than yours truly. consistently so, a factor made even less palatable by my having chosen the cielo on a rain-soaked morning. though it's the only bicycle i own with mudguards, it's also the only one with 53/39 rather than a compact. the short, sharp ascent from caol ila started my physical degradation and the similar pathway from bunnahabhain, coupled with the steep hill at ardnahoe, pretty much finished me off. my excuse for missing out kilchoman, though in truth due to the latter reasons, was my having ridden out to ardbeg this morning (about 24km) while the others had used motorised transport from port charlotte. suffice it to say, on reaching our final destination at bowmore, i was several lengths behind my faster compatriots.
i am assured you will be able to view a more impartial report in a future issue of unfiltered, accompanied by considerably more impressive and more relevant photos than appearing hereabouts.
and i think you ought to know that should ardbeg manager, mickey heads, ever find himself desirous of a career change, he'd make a darned good barista.
(almost) eight distilleries, 115.2km, 6hrs 41 minutes of cycling, 3,988 calories, 1152 metres of ascending and there's no way i'm telling you my average speed.
saturday 23 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it is something of an intriguing juxtaposition that individuals such as musicians and sportspersons can find themselves in two different situations either simultaneously or sequentially. my best illustration of that of which i speak is perhaps robert millar. for those who have watched the high life you will undoubtedly recall the scene where robert, sat in the tailgate of a team car, all but ignores a hapless journalist less than eagerly attempting to question the scotsman as to his prospective fortunes in the 1985 tour de france. robert's distinct lack of conversation provides an atmosphere that could almost be cut with a chainsaw.
however, look at it from robert's perspective. he has just completed a mountain stage of the tour in which he is faring considerably less well than in 1984. his job is to ride his bike, to win stages or jerseys and ultimately to represent his team and sponsor to the best of his ability. he signed up to be a bike racer; shooting the breeze with intent journalists quite possibly wasn't part of the job description.
musicians can also find themselves in a similar situation. having practised diligently for years, they have finally found themselves in a musical situation that is offering not only musical reward, but more than reasonable financial compensation to boot. traipsing round radio and tv stations promoting their latest album or concert or spending most of the day enetertaining the often inane questions posed by a series of journalists was never mentioned in the handbook.
watching from the sidelines as interested parties, we must surely be forgiven for not crying into our ipads. particularly if the sportsman or musician in question earns more in a year than any of us will manage in a lifetime. don't they realise that we are the very people who helped put them there in the first place (well, sort of)? don't they at least owe us a few civil and considered answers?
it's a yes and no situation, depending on the personality of those being cornered by the media.
fortunately, there are those who transcend such situations, either by dint of their personality or by having a distinct proclivity to examine factors well outside their original or current remit. marry the latter to an innate ability for public speaking with a tinge of humour and our hero worship starts to become requited. which is precisely why any evening with graeme obree is an event that really ought not to be missed even by those who have little or no idea who the heck graeme obree is.
in order to remedy the possibility of such a situation occurring in the first place, wednesday evening's audience with graeme, in the attractively bluish surroundings of edinburgh's, commenced with a three-minute film encapsulating graeme's not inconsiderable sporting achievements in the field of cycling. this was immediately followed by an interview with mr obree by gary fairley and graham farr, the two clever brains behind the late lamented (whatever they might say themselves) velo club don logan podcast. as averred in the introduction, if we'd simply wound graeme up and let him go, we'd all still be sat in the corn exchange even now. the tag-team of interviewers kept graeme pretty much on track and to the pre-arranged time schedule.
the day had not started well. to join the audience on wednesday evening, i had need of travelling on stagecoach's x77 service between ayr and glasgow, a bus that scarcely made it onto the kilmarnock bypass before it broke down. thankfully it took only twenty minutes to send out a replacement and get us all to glasgow's buchanan bus station around 30 minutes behind schedule.
having subsequently reached edinburgh's haymarket station, my google maps guide to walking from the station to the corn exchange had mislabelled dalry road as dalry place, leading me to believe i had misread my route. once sorted and underway, i took a wrong turning, adding several minutes to a walking route that wasn't as short as the map had led me to believe.
but i did find the corn exchange in time.
though graeme stated at the outset that nothing was "off the table" as far as subject matter was concerned, the interview predominantly remained grounded in his cycling career. we did, however, hear very little about the land speed record attempt in 2013 due to the proximity of a film release concerning the attempt. graeme did however, on the basis that we kept it to ourselves, let slip that the hero survives. (did i just write that out loud?)
one pointed question asked of the flying scotsman was just what it felt like to ride the hour record on the sunday after his failed initial attempt at hamar in norway. "You know those boilers that you see in old movies, where there's steam pouring from every seam and the dial on the front is bouncing well into the red section, threatening to blow at any minute? Well, combine that with the gasping for air you'd experience when school bullies held your head under water, letting you surface at the last minute.
That described the first three laps. And then you see a sign that says 'only 207 laps to go.' i believe eddy merckx simply exited with a pained look on his face.
describing man's two best inventions as "...the bicycle and the duvet", graeme covered such topics as nutrition and hydration ("What we used to call eating and drinking." said gary from vcdl), innovation from the kitchen of a one-bedroom flat in saltcoats and perceiving the bicycle from the unknowing perspective of an alien. the evening concluded with a series of questions from the floor, all of which graeme answered with conviction, humour and an insight that you'd scarcely find in a post soccer match interview.
after all was over, graeme was happy to pose for photos and sign autographs in the bar of the corn exchange (his strongest tipple all evening was coffee) after which i walked the two miles back to haymarket station. only this time i didn't take any wrong turnings (thank you google).
i extend my thanks to organiser rowan mackie, graeme's manager charlie milarvie, gary and graham from vcdl and to graeme obree himself for an excellent and enjoyable evening. this formed part of the advance guard for the edinburgh cycle fest which also takes place in the edinburgh corn exchange over the weekend of 19/20 september this year.
friday 22 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as i may have mentioned on several occasions, if all goes to plan in the office on friday morning, i can almost legitimately play hooky on friday afternoon. doing so can only practically be done after lunch, meaning i leave at around 1pm with stomach that, though not crammed to the gunwhales, would have had to wait for an hour or so had i decided to go swimming instead. (disclaimer: i would never go swimming instead.)
though daylight now extends well past teatime, earlier months of the year dictated that this afternoon sortie be confined to pedalling southwest to debbie's for a brief froth-supping session. additionally, any pre-ride faff involving slipping into something more comfortable would delay departure by more minutes than i was willing to forgo, so inevitably that entailed riding the taurus corinto from the late-lamented pronto gara, while dressed in civilian garb.
it would be foolish to think that i could foil the intent observations of mr washingmachinepost and nip into the croft and back out again unseen. therefore, though she still has an afternoon's work ahead of her (something she is more than keen to point out) my velocipedinal activities are at least well considered by one of us. however, though i rarely undertake lengthy journeys on this most delightful of bicycles, i am presuming (hoping?) that those i pass en-route are oblivious to my caffeinated machinations.
not so, apparently for those enslaved to gps technology. i have placed myself on record previously as comparing strava to the self-publicised iniquities of facebook. quite why anyone wishes to inform the rest of the world as to their minute-by-minute habits, i have never quite understood, but it seems that, knowingly or otherwise, many are prone to so doing.
there is undoubtedly little wrong with placing a gps unit on the handlebars, all the better for recording distance, average speed, time in the saddle or, in the case of yours truly at present, simply keeping an eye on the time. however, on my return i simply switch the garmin off, happily ticking the discard option on the screen. how slow i've ridden and whereabouts are between me and the lcd on the handlebars.
i am, however, very much in the minority, for squillions of cyclists can see no further than their own strava page, allowing not only the world's grand peloton to see how they have fared, but effectively providing permission for the boffins at the other end to collect, quantify and distribute all in the name of publicity. or so they say.
therefore, though my brief trips to bruichladdich for a soya cappuccino and perchance a slice of lemon drizzle cake are for me to announce and no-one else, it seems that the stravanians have used the powers of data capture to announce london's top stops for coffee based on analysis of 38 million strava journeys.
it would be false of me to claim that all those journeys took place in london town, for in truth they have provided sufficient information to map similar details for a total of twelve cities around the world, but for those who might be interested, i have provided a list below of the cafés relevant to the uk. according to strava, over 78,000 rides are recorded in london each week, adding up to in excess of 1.7 million kilometres. i'm really not sure if you should be proud of yourselves or not, but your admittedly anonymous data is now in the public domain.
personally, i'll happily keep you guessing as to whether i've popped out on a friday afternoon or not (as if anyone's actually interested).
1. Roehampton Gate Café, Richmond Park 2. Box Hill Café (National Trust) Tadworth, 3. Peaslake stores, Guildford 4. Cadence Cycling Performance Centre, Crystal Palace, 5. G!RO - Esher, 6. Old Village Café, Hayes, 7. Dish, Hampton Court, 8. look mum no hands!, Old Street, 9. Garden Café, Regents Park, 10. Rapha Cycle Club, Soho, 11. Café St Germain, Crystal Palace, 12. Bike Beans Cycling café, Ashtead, 13. Pretorius Coffee Bar, Hoxton, 14. Grind Coffee Bar, Putney, 15. Artisan Coffee, Putney.
thursday 21 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the time has arrived, or if it hasn't, it's just about to. the introduction of road equivalent tariff on the islay ferry route has made it a less expensive option to pop over to the island by car or, perchance, by motorhome. these latter vehicles are a perennial source of both humour and downright frustration, the former due to the optimistic naming system the manufacturers seem to have set upon (adventurer, sunseeker etc.) the latter mostly because they're all hired and the blokes at the wheel (it is almost exclusively the male adventurer who undertakes driving duties) haven't a clue how to drive them properly. particularly along wind-strewn single track roads.
it has been said, most recently by me, that the simplest way to foil the laws of physics is to strap a sheet of buttered toast to the back of a cat. legend would have it that cats always land on their feet, while buttered toast always lands buttered side down. therefore, in the above instance, the cat will hover in mid-air all day. similarly, have a hired motor home meet a four-wheel drive audi on the kilchoman road, and since neither have a clue how to reverse into a passing place, they're probably still sitting there now.
as bona-fide velo club cyclists, we can (and do) moan about the driving antics of mainland drivers bringing their unwanted motoring skills to the principality. this has necessitated implementation of greater foresight on our behalf than has been even the case during lambing season. my driving instructor of many years ago, always told me to treat everyone else on the road as a total idiot, but i have to admit that i hadn't expected that advice to be quite so relevant on the outer edge.
in the process of castigating the allegedly hapless motorist, we must naturally assume that those of us on two wheels are of impeccable credentials, never once putting a pedal out of line. everybody knows the problem is the blinkered motorist and never the cyclist. or maybe that's just not always true.
as i wended my merry way acros the western part of scotland only the other day, happily listening to a live adam levy concert on the ipod, the citylink coach on which i was comfortably ensconced, had need of driving through the bustling metropolis of lochgilphead. the ninety-degree right hand turn from the ardrishaig road must navigate one of those token roundabouts painted on the road before crossing a narrow bridge. the latter has space for traffic in only one direction, particularly if it has citylink painted on the side.
rather courteously, i thought, a range rover had stopped on the other side of the bridge to allow the coach to pass, and as i looked out my panoramic window, i noted that a road cyclist had drawn almost to a halt behind the rover. we can all be guilty on occasion of missing certain salient points relevant to the movement of traffic round about us, but it would appear that this helmeted fellow on his skinny tyres had completely misjudged the entire situation. so despite a rather large, bright yellow and red coach heading across the bridge in his direction, he pulled out from behind the range rover and made to pass as our coach passed him.
with the coach now mostly off the bridge, the driver of the range rover, blissfully unaware of this errant cyclist passing on his blind spot made to move off, only noticing the cyclist trying to overtake him at the last minute. quite rightly, he blasted the horn, at which point the cyclist unclipped and loudly berated the driver with language that would have you ejected from a palace investiture. quite how this cyclist had not taken note that the car had stopped to allow the coach safe passage across the bridge is quite beyond my ken. but i might tender that it is velocipedinal behaviour such as this that gives the rest of us a bad name.
so as the roads become busier on the belated arrival of summer, please have some consideration not only for yourselves, but for those that might be inclined to cross your path (sometimes, literally) from time to time. i truly have no idea how many of you read the post every day, but i'd rather not lose any through inadvertant misadventure.
it's a jungle out there.
wednesday 20 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it was definitely blue, with something reminiscent of a breadbin between the two rear wheels. that was most often teddy's seat, but occasionally it was brought into use as a transporter of chuckies. because the trike was slightly too big for me when new, there were woodblocks attached to the pedals to allow my little feet to propel it forward. as i recall, it was brilliant; i could ride pretty much anywhere my little head wished me to go. granted, the distances were hardly earth shattering. maybe down to the building site at the end of our street, or once following a fire engine to a house at the other end.
according to the fireman, the television had exploded after the lone ranger had fired a bullet at the inside of the screen. we all believed him implicitly.
oddly enough, the next bike i remember was at a much older age, though it too was blue. i have no idea whatever happened to the trike, or at what age i outgrew its three wheels. maybe teddy is still sat in the blue breadbin at the back in a garage far, far away?
kids on bikes is a sight that seemes to travel in cycles round here (if you'll pardon the pun); at one point there seems to be a veritable peloton of tiny pedals, then just as quickly, they're gone. in times of playstations and x-boxes, that's probably common with many uk suburbs and rural areas i should imagine. but i keep my disappointment to myself that many of them seem to have acquired velocipedinal skills at a far earlier age than yours truly. that second blue bike mentioned earlier remained unridden for over a year because i was still struggling childfully in the back garden on a small red bike borrowed from a neighbouring kid. i was nine before i could remain upright on two wheels.
but once again, when mastered, the bicycle became my equivalent of unlocking the front gate. once more, i could ride wherever my legs had the ability to carry me, either alone or in company. interestingly enough, it was only the advent of adult years that had me take on the mantle of cyclist. previously i had been merely a bloke or child with a bicycle.
there's a lot more traffic on the roads these days, traffic that often seems to care little for the good of others sharing that road. particularly cyclists, no matter their age. washingmachinepost croft is sited within a pedestrianised area, so it's safe enough for the kids round about to ride where and when they want without having to be continually on the lookout for motor traffic. additionally, in the midst of the country, there are many tracks along which little minds might construct adventures of their very own, unhindered by adult perspectives on health and safety.
though christmas has long been the traditional, yet inexplicable time of year during which to bestow the gift of a bicycle upon young adventurers, the school holidays looming on the horizon would seem infinitely more appropriate. that would appear to be the message delightfully displayed in the latest short film from frog bikes. though i may be cynical about the role that health and safety now plays in all our lives, the majority of parents want their kids to be safe when out playing on their own, a desire that if anything, is heightened by letting the little darlings head off into the sunset all on their very own.
there are a few notable brands of junior bicycles on the market, of which frog bikes form a commendable instance. having had a little miss ride one of their models last summer, the quality and build was every bit as impressive as you'd expect on your own machines. the british weather can be fickle, as we are all aware, but an inclement climate rarely seems to trouble the adventurous youth as much as it does fawning parents. ban the playstations this summer, get them a bike and tire them out before bedtime.
monday 18 may 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...........................................................................................................................................................................................................