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...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"the prudent man does the sunday ride on saturday when the weather's this bad."..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
this year in september will see the sevententh running of the islay jazz festival, an annual event in which i am both honoured and surprised to be the only musician to have participated in every year since its inception. until last year, that prestige belonged also to brazilian bass player mario caribe, but due to a coincidental touring schedule, he was unable to appear, leaving me as last man standing. i am under no illusion that this situation has arisen purely on instrumental merit, but more likely on the basis of local inclusion. however, if i were in need of an impressive cv should larry goldings be seeking a drummer for his next tour, 16 jazz festivals and counting surely wouldn't do any harm.
across all those years, the schedule has been pretty much the same. i receive an e-mail offering a set fee for the gig, along with a date and place for both sound-check and subsequent concert. on the appointed date, i arrive as early as possible to setup my drums before the sound crew arrive to place microphones close to those instruments which require a modicum of amplification. we then proceed to approximate the very tunes with which we intend to regale the audience that very afternoon or evening, before heading into the village to find something to eat.
each year i usually find myself and colleagues sharing the stage with a more prestigious name in the jazz milieu. these more esteemed artists often follow on from our own performance, though on occasion, they precede us (eminently more satisfying for the ego). either way, someone from the organisers will announce us to expectant aficionados of the rudimentary, and we make our way onto the stage. the next part has confounded me since the days i first sat behind a drumset in public.
the audience applaud.
though this is hardly an unpleasant situation, considering we have yet to play a single note, i cannot quite fathom the purpose behind the applause. admittedly, it's far more welcoming than a barrage of rotten fruit or perhaps cultivated indifference, but it does rather place the onus on us as a group of musicians to fulfil an unknown set of expectations. the discovery of that reality is generally only found at the end of the performance, when an absence of clapping would be considerably more worrying.
the simile to this in the world of professional cycling surely has to be the team launch. no doubt of great embarrassment to the members of whichever group of riders are being presented at any given time, these extravaganzas of varying import and expense are probably at the behest of the team sponsors, offering an opportunity to demonstrate their allegiance to the cause. of course, there's also the likelihood that the team owners have assembled this cast of characters to prove the veracity of their sponsors' choice.
either way, i can't help cringeing whenever the more salubrious of our world tour teams take to the stage in full team kit, podium caps and shiny trainers. this cringeing lessens not one whit when the smaller teams, racing for buttons and carbon fibre appear in front of a flashlit studio backdrop wearing whatever they put on that morning. preferably something athletic looking.
at the risk of revisiting my usual bah humbug, and incorporating my eternal dislike of pre and post race punditry, can we not simply watch the racing and literally or metaphorically applaud when velocipedinal deeds of derring do meet our desires? it's called cycle-racing because that's what it is; yes it has its stars, but everyone is in the same race at the same time, so can we please refrain from emulating gerry cottle's circus and get back to sporting prowess?
that would be worth applauding.
sky launch photo: bryn lennon/getty images europe
friday 27 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my appreciation of all things bicycle was pretty much led by richard's bicycle book, a paperback held in great esteem and composed, compiled and authored by the late great richard ballantine. it's the book i wish i had read before i bought my first ten-speed racer, because i managed to get all ten of those gears completely wrong. if you plan to tour the world (i could have if i'd wanted to), 42/52 with trouser guard married to a freewheel with only a 21 big sprocket was definitely not the ideal setup.
however, midst all the exciting possibilities offered in each chapter, there were one or two scary bits too, particularly in the sections dealing with the often intricate mechanical niceties. for instance, though i do not have my copy easily to hand, i recall mr ballantine warning the unwary that, in the days of cup and cone bottom brackets, removing either of those cups was likely to result in a flurry of quarter-inch bearings decorating the floor. this accompanied by the likelihood of several making their way underneath stuff they should not be found underneath.
not entirely comprehending that of which he wrote, i left any form of bottom bracket maintenance till the very last.
however, contemporary assembly techniques of the day meant that the prospect of those loose bearings was lessened by the imposition of bearing races. fewer bearings i'll admit, but now not only allegedly simpler to assemble in the factory, but ultimately simpler for the ham-fisted home mechanic. this was certainly my first introduction to the necessities of mass production.
nowadays there are all sorts of aspects of the bicycle that bear the marks of the far east and a means of putting everything together more easily. nowhere is this more marked than in the field of factory-built wheels. though the genre may have begun elsewhere, the most obvious progenitor of the factory-build was mavic's ksyrium. while the french firm had previously offered complete wheels of a classics mold, featuring their own cartridge bearing hubs laced three-cross to a sturdy pair of mavic rims with regular double-butted stainless steel spokes. ksyrium changed all that; a competitive wheel that could be machine built.
featuring flat and straight zircal spokes affixed to the profiled rim via a proprietary, serrated nipple, the inside of the rim was effectively sealed. the construction methods were designed to allow for machine assembly and initial truing, and the concept proved remarkably popular, fostering a whole slew of me too products. nowadays it's possible to acquire factory-built wheels of pretty much every flavour, frequently featuring lashings of carbon fibre. it is, as they say, the modern way.
but while all this was going on, with professional riders regularly seen aboard the latest from someone's factory line, what happened to the handbuilt wheel, once the mainstay of the upper echelons of cycle racing and touring? had the nation's wheelbuilders simply folded up their truing stands, thrown away the wheel disher and pocketed their spoke keys?
derek mclay occupies his daily hours hand-building wheels under the banner of wheelsmith in larbert, scotland, near stirling. meanwhile, jude gerace of sugar wheelworks, builds superlative wheels in portland, oregon, so it seemd pertinent to ask them both whether there was still room in the modern world of cycling for the handbuilt wheel?
"In terms of volume" said derek, "and compared to the percentage of cyclists owning handbuilts years ago, it might seem like a dying art. however, the more people ride their bikes, the more they often realise the wheels fitted to their bikes aren't up to their demands."
jude concurs but perhaps for different reasons. "We've noticed an increase in hand-built wheels particularly when we have to deliver the unfortunate news that a repair is not possible because a part is no longer made. It's not just the economic quandary of a new set, but now what happens to the rest of the wheel when a small part is missing?
"I think more than ever there is room for hand-built wheels and the connected values they have with them: they're sustainable, they're repairable, and the performance is in line with an individual rider's needs, versus a 'one size fits all' solution."
take a look through any of the online cycle sales channels, and you'll find more factory-built wheels to choose from than you could ever imagine. granted, many of them seem like the same wheel but with different graphics on the rim, making it even harder to make a prudent choice within your budget. and you needn't consider contacting the manufacturer to ask if perhaps you could have a couple of spokes fewer on the front, or a rim that's a couple of millimetres shallower than that advertised. that is not the way it works. for that sort of customisation, you'd need a wheelbuilder.
but apart from price, why would i ask either derek or jude to build me a pair of wheels rather than make my choice from the catalogues?
"At Sugar, what you get is a small shop that cares. A shop that knows the vendors and can advocate for you and that cares about you even after you've finalized a sale. Many companies stop caring when the product leaves the factory."
"According to Derek "The main thing is, they will perform and feel a lot better. That comes from choosing the right number of spokes for the rim and the type of spoke, using hubs that are designed to operate as hubs, and not make a design statement or try to be different for the sake of it. One other thing is 'repairability'. We've given up with some factory wheel repairs due to the time required to fix them."
"When we get the balance right, and you are up to speed on a properly tensioned pair of hand-built wheels, there is that feeling that they were made just for you. Like a custom frame does."
in the face of this knowledge, and it's hardly a well-kept secret, you have to wonder why the factory option is so often chosen. granted, many of today's bicycles arrived with factory-built wheels straight from the shop floor. it would make less than economic sense to ship scottish or portland built wheels all the way to taiwan to fit at source. and to be honest, both jude and derek would struggle to supply the demand, even if they joined forces and worked all night. rather a lot of cyclists are more than happy with their shop purchase.
at least until they aren't.
but could it be that the big boys such as mavic, campagnolo, zipp, fulcrum et al have the money to provide the professionals with their products. and seen on the international stage, there could surely be a case of 'if they've got it, i want it'.
derek figures that to some extent this is true. "Given the number of wheels a team gets through in the grand tours or even lower ranking professional use, it would be too costly and time consuming to get their wheels hand-built." some may say that this was hardly the case in eddy's day, when every team's wheels were hand-built. so what's changed? well, the teams are considerably larger nowadays thanks to the world tour, and there's no denying that it's a simpler logistic to ship out a few more factory wheels when needed. added to that, riders today have a wider choice of which wheels they have fitted to their bikes depending on terrain, weather, parcours etc. eddy just rode 32 three-cross for everything.
jude figures wanting to look like the pros is a large part of the equation. "But pro riders are just a small fraction of the number of people that ride bikes, however. There are a lot of really good riders that aren't sponsored that want a product that will work for them and have a long life."
i made reference above to the preponderance of rotating carbon fibre nowadays, a feature that seems to go hand in hand with the increased number of factory-built wheels on the market. it would be naive to think wheels of this description are the sole preserve of the machines, but technically, is it possible for derek, jude or other skilled wheelbuilders to compete at the more exotic and carbon end of the equation?
jude says that sugar are working on that. "There are many ways we can have a slice of the pie. One way is knowing about these wheels so that we can offer repairs for when they need servicing. Another way is to offer aesthetic customization of our product line and thirdly, to exploit the values of a hand-built wheel, which is hard, but we're slowly making that happen."
derek has an outlook every bit as positive. "Yes. For example we use ENVE rims regularly and offer a few hub options that take the wheels into exotic territory. But the Taiwanese rims are nearly as good now, in all respects, so we can build something which is much more durable and just as light as that which would have been termed 'exotic' a few years ago."
however, he holds a healthy attitude towards such exotica. "Some of the exotic low-volume hubs and rims on the market don't actually work for very long and that's difficult to get over to someone who expects everything to last longer if they paid more money for it. There is a threshold, and it becomes disappointing for them when we refuse to build that way."
in the heyday of richard's bicycle book, aside from the cheap steel rims laced with galvanised steel spokes, the cycling world revolved on carefully hand-built wheels. granted they may not have been specifically matched to the rider, but their resilience, repairability and ease of acquiring spare parts made them ubiquitous, popular and effective. things have changed somewhat since then. can the handbuilt wheel regain its lost market?
The market has always been there, but if the market is always 'I want it because the pros have it' then no." says derek. "For the majority of riders who ride a few sportives a year and a few thousand miles, cheap factory wheels will get them round if they maintain them. It's the 'don't fix what isn't broken' thing. But when they do break, or if you want something that can be really enjoyed for what it is and get the best out of your bike, a pair of hand-built wheels will do the job better for longer."
jude sees things slightly differently. "Our shop has never been as busy, so i might have a different perspective; i'm not sure. I'm in it to win it and will always do my very best to give hand-built wheels a 'voice' in this industry. Maybe we'll eke out a good living or maybe we'll be faced with the inevitable truth of having to close our doors. But one thing I know is that it's well worth the effort of advocating hand-built wheels."
for derek, probably echoing similar sentiments from jude "It is rewarding for us to see a pair of wheels going to someone we know will look after and enjoy them for years to come, maybe take them on holiday a few times, or win a few races. It's the feedback we get from these people keeps us going."
but then there's the learning curve that comes with aspiring to a pair of hand-built wheels from a local builder (or in my case, probably the one that's closest. though both the interweb and fedex often mean sugar wheelworks is every bit as close as wheelsmith.) unlike the prescribed components that form the factory-build, there are an inordinate number of hubs, spokes, rims with seemingly endless combinations and possibilities available to the inquisitor. if you are less than well-versed in the art of the bicycle wheel, where do you start? should you ask endless questions of your appointed builder? after all, how else will you learn?
while there is a degree of reality involved in that of which we discuss, all the foregoing can occupy so much time and prevarication, that after a month or so, you might feasibly find yourself no nearer to that ideal pair of wheels you could have already been riding if only you'd placed your faith and trust in the wheelbuilder in the first place.
"Yes. There's got to be a high degree of trust involved and it's imperative that the customer gets the pre-order and back-up service they deserve." says derek. "My output is becoming severely limited by the amount of time I spend answering emailed requests for information. The intangibility of an 'internet' workshop without any perceived queue seems to invite people to ask as many questions as they possibly can, especially when they always get an answer, even if it's not related to our wheels. If someone did this in a small shop where the manager served them, they'd get booted out. I can't think of another market in which this happens to the same extent. If you were to quiz a waiter on the minutiae of the menu or how it might taste, you'd end up really hungry".
it seems this 'problem' is one that traverses the atlantic ocean, for similar woes are experienced at sugar. "I experience something of a similar conundrum. This is made more frustrating after a lot of time and effort answering questions, to be then informed that they'll have their wheels built by someone charging less. My other issue is of people using our design services then purchasing parts elsewhere at a modest discount. We love sharing knowledge but without a way to monetize our time and research that goes into what we do it often leaves us frustrated.
"I love what I do, but the amount of time wasted by people who want to 'pick my brain' (which is quite literally what people say when they come into the shop) has taken a lot of effort not to get jaded. It's like going to a restaurant with your own vegetables and asking the chef to work his magic while expecting a discount."
i have not composed this feature to allow two highly skilled wheelbuilders to have a public moan. there is little doubt that the factory built wheel has encroached on the territory once held as sacrosanct by the devotees of the truing stand. for many, they fulfil a need and do so perfectly adequately, but zipp's recent recall of a particular model of front wheel with the words ..."could incur retaining ring failure that might result in an ejection of all the wheel's spokes. This may result in wheel failure." hardly encourages wholesale adoption by the wary. particularly since their method of spoke retention is common across the genre.
so why did i give vent to the above? it's still my contention that there is little in this world that can equal a pair of wheels hand built by a builder who not only understands you and your style of riding but possesses the skills to fulfil those needs. and if you fear that the big boys are in a better position to carry out desirable research and development, i think it prudent to offer jude gerace the last word.
"We continue to expand our knowledge. Not only do we work with an engineer, we're also working with a metallurgist!" anyone in any profession who can remain curious about their work is, i believe, someone worth supporting.
thursday 26 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
word of mouth is an excellent means of communication, passing on recommendations or otherwise to those in your immediate social circle. such has been the tried and tested method for many a long year. but more recently, both social media and the art of blogging have eased the ability to extend that circle beyond local geographic constraints. i have a number of friends in portland, oregon and the advent of the interweb has allowed them to talk to me and vice versa. now we can recommend or warn each other across a sizeable quantity of rough water.
however, the binding principle behind this situation has to be based on trust. if i happen to be a noted fan of blue bikes, any admonition i might offer against red bikes really ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. thus, what we're looking at is an establishment of credibility, for none of us have the time or disposable income to ride, wear or click everything on the market in order to appraise its suitability for our purposes. we therefore rely on the recommendations or disparagement of others.
but what of those who demonstrably have a vested interest in a particular product or service? how can they go about proselytising to both the interested and couldn't care less amongst the great unwashed? the tried, tested and decent return on investment method is to place adverts in the cycling press, or perhaps take banner space around the nearest velodrome. or, if budget allows, dye sublimating a name on the front of a cycle jersey has been known to pay dividends. always assuming, of course, that your target market forms a part of those who stand at the roadside waiting for a hurled water bottle or flying musette.
however, an alternative method may rely slightly more upon the word of mouth and visible presence as described in my introductory scribblings.
in the world of single malt whisky, the notional idea seems to involve gathering the faithful via international friends associations or committees, fostering the idea that those happy to pour a glass or two of an evening are part of a large, worldwide family, glued together by the label on the front of the bottles. extending this idea a few centimetres further, ardbeg distillery created a number of embassies. there are currently eight of these in the uk and several others around the world '...dedicated to supporting everything and everyone Ardbeggian, ensuring Committee members present and prospective are never left wanting for Ardbeg.'
embassies, almost by definition, tend to have associated ambassadors, currently professionally recruited from within the company's professionals, something they share with the majority of the other distilleries on islay. it seems yet to occur that perhaps the brand's best ambassadors might be the very folks who drink the amber nectar. in this, cycling brands may conceivably be seen to be at least one step ahead of the future. in this respect, consider ashmei clothing.
this may be a name that is new to you in the realm of our increasingly busy cycle clothing market. as opposed to one watchword, they have three: performance, quality and style ( apparently always in that order). it's a company that began its career with running apparel, more recently launching a cycling and triathlon range, probably the very stuff to capture our interest. to further their cause amongst the faithful, ashmei are inviting endurance sports athletes to apply for the position of ambassador.
those selected after the closing date of 2 march 2015 will be provided with a full wardrobe of ashmei apparel, subsequently assisting the company with product development and participating in events and photo shoots, representing the brand at races and similar events. assuming you are of the necessary athletic profile, applying is simplicity itself via completion of a form on the ashmei website. personally i fear personal failure at the first hurdle, for never have i had anyone describe me using the adjective athletic, though i can cycle at a pace that would easily allow close examination of any product i might be seen to be wearing.
however, i am well aware that there are those amongst you who would easily qualify, and i'd urge you to click over to ashmei and fill in the application (or, if you're american, fill out the application). what is there to lose? judging by even a cursory appreciation of their cycle clothing range, there is much to be gained.
wednesday 25 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a cycling colleague from a number of years past was convinced of the merits of wearing a cotton t-shirt as a baselayer under his cycling jersey. no matter the fact that cotton has a deep propensity to not only retain moisture but continually remind you of the fact, every time we went out cycling, there would be that white cotton t-shirt. at the time, the options were somewhat limited, mostly confined to some form of polyester or polypropylene, the very man-made fibres that would wick perspiration to the regions you would most prefer and usually keep you cosy in the process, but at the cost of being somewhat on the aromatic side.
the advent of merino as the ideal natural material for use as a baselayer ticked pretty much every box: wicking, warming and naturally constituted to prevent much in the way of despicable odours. since merino as a baselayer fabric became common currency, i have rarely worn anything else under my cycle jerseys.
certainly not a cotton t-shirt.
however, apparel development continues apace in pretty much all spheres of outdoor activity in an effort to keep us more comfortable on the bike, on foot or while climbing ruddy great hills or mountains. i recently had the good fortune to review rapha's pro-team softshell which offered a different perspective on the art of keeping warm and dry. despite years of breathable waterproofs, it's still pretty much the case that few, if any garments adhering to this format manage to successfully encompass both features. therefore rapha and others have figured perhaps they ought better to concentrate on managing the middle ground between warm and dry without necessarily specifying one or t'other.
based on the apparent success of this approach, rapha have now released a pro-team softshell baselayer for two apparently good reasons. firstly, it matches well as the layer below their new pro-team softshell outer. and secondly it effectively allows regular cycle club members the option of accessing at least a portion of the benefits offered by a softshell outer, while still wearing their club jersey.
despite the inclemency of the current weather system affecting the inner hebrides, now seemed an opportune time to give the pro-team softshell baselayer a bit of a hard time. very much out of my comfort zone, i opted to make the baselayer the sole undergarment to the previously mentioned pro-team softshell outerwear, augmented only by a pair of the latest pro-team armwarmers. experience told me that there would be greater prudence in also wearing at least a short-sleeve jersey, but that hardly seemed the best means of testing the baselayer's mettle.
as pointed out above, and in keeping with most of scotland's west coast, the gales are blowing, the sleet is falling and the temperature is looking at the underneath of zero degrees.
it is worthy of my mentioning that armwarmers, kneewarmers and baselayer all form a part of rapha's pro-team range, and thus take the definition of skin-tight to its ultimate conclusion. that baselayer forms a second skin, but at least its stretchiness somewhat eases the contortions of putting it on in the first place. in my case, i'd to remove my spectacles in order to do the least amount of damage pulling the admirably high collar over my head. the front hem features a short, curved panel of lycra which ought to sit well with a pair of bibshorts. if i have a single pertinent criticism of the garment it's that i'd really rather it was at least a centimetre or two longer, because it barely fitted inside the top of a pair of sky logo'd team-pro shorts.
oddly for a baselayer, the seams atop the shoulders are taped on the outside, while there is a lighter fabric under the arms to aid cooling and flexibility. it also features a similar dwr (durable water repellent) treatment as the pro-team softshell, giving credence to its use under a club jersey and offering weatherproofing not usually associated with the genre.
as to the armwarmers, if i thought it something of a struggle to don the baselayer, the armwarmers brought an altogether different level of faff. take my word for it; if you're wearing them with the softshell baselayer, put them on first. the baselayer features longer than usual sleeves (which may prove a distraction under a short-sleeve club jersey) which hug those bulging biceps. rolling up the sleeves to pull the armwarmers all the way up, is one of the most frustrating experiences i've ever had. the forearm portion of the armwarmers is fashioned from lycra, tight enough to all but prevent the hem making it past my hands. don't get me wrong; these are very finely sculpted to fit the arms absolutely perfectly and in use they're impeccable. however, having seen professionals remove their armwarmers during competition, i figure they may struggle to emulate that manoeuvre with these. though, when removed, they easily fit in a rear jersey pocket.
as to the kneewarmers, they slid on very easily, but i fear i may have erred in requesting the medium size, since even when pulled on as far as they'd go, it was still all but impossible to lose the crumpled kneecap look. however, when pedalling, they proved more than equal to the task of keeping my lower legs in the land of the living when paired with those team sky bibshorts.
the softshell baselayer proved itself to be every bit the ideal partner for its outerwear sibling. despite (galeforce) windchill of a few degrees below zero, i was never cold other than a few chilly moments after setting out for the day. i'd no idea that softshell fabric could provide such excellent thermal properties in this fashion. the cut is very pro-team. despite having forfeited an additional jersey, it kept me cosy and was a lot softer and flexible in practice than i'd expected.
however, the real test of its abilities were shown on the following morning. if you read my review of tesco's waterproofing liquids yesterday, you'd know that having supposedly 'proofed' my orginal rapha softshell, i wore it in galeforce driven sleet and less than amenable temperatures. in short, i got soaked by very cold winds and precipitation, leading to the early curtailment of the sunday ride. i genuinely believe that had i not been wearing the softshell baselayer, 'neath jacket and sportwool jersey, i may have enjoyed the onset of hypothermia prior to reaching the sanctuary of home.
sadly, i'm not really sure that's an exaggeration.
once the jacket was thoroughly soaked, the sportwool jersey had little option to follow suit. had i been wearing my more regular long-sleeve merino baselayer, it would have been next in line, and probably long before i reached home. the softshell was barely damp, providing the ideal insulating layer to keep body and soul together.
and for that, i am truly thankful.
(though the development cycles for each are possibly occupying differing trajectories, it's a bit of a shame that the softshell baselayer cannot currently be obtained with that rather striking data print released only a few days ago.)
rapha's softshell baselayer is available in light grey or black, in sizes ranging from xs to xxl at a cost of £80. bear in mind that this is a very close-fitting garment. if you have bulges you'd prefer not to make public, consider moving up a size or two (medium size reviewed). the softshell armwarmers cost £50 per pair in sizes small, medium and large, as are the kneewarmers at a cost of £55.
tuesday 24 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
despite the recent tack taken regarding the ability of apparel providers to keep cyclists dry, most of us will have one or two waterproof jackets in the wardrobe that we'd really rather wear as infrequently as as possible. these can range from the stowaway type of garment than can be stuffed in a rear pocket in case of inclement weather en-route, to the fully fledged, breathable waterproof jacket. in the case of the uk, there is probably call for both examples throughout the year, but at present, the latter probably sees more use than the former.
the single most remarked upon problem with both types of jacket, relates to an apparent diminution of their purported waterproofing qualities. to simplify, there are really only two distinct types of weatherproof jacket, if we accept as a given that all will be windproof throughout their working lives: water resistant and waterproof. unless a jacket or jersey features taped seams both inside and out, legally it cannot be advertised as waterproof, no matter the impermeability of its fabric. the iniquity of this situation is quite often realised in similar retail prices attached to both, despite the avowed superiority of one over the other.
however, no matter the original sales tag, it's a fact of life that any form of waterproofing seems destined to lessen and ultimately fail over the course of a few years or, in some cases, even months. to remedy this situation there are a number of products on sale that offer to restore the weatherproofing of any suitable garment. supermarket chain tesco are one such to do so, stocking their own-brand outdoor clothing wash and spray proofing. these are both sold in 500ml containers with one aiming to complement the other.
the clothing wash consists of a soap based detergent which cleans the garment(s) without damaging any waterproof layer, maintaining any existing waterproofing and breathability. tesco recommend cleaning out the detergent tray of your washing machine before pouring in a few capfuls of wash and running the recommended wash cycle. once the garments have been cleaned (a maximum of three at a time apparently), it's time to apply the spray.
this proved the more challenging of the two processes. having washed an original rapha softshell (i'd like to make it clear that this was not the recently released pro team softshell) which admittedly was only ever advertised by imperial works as being water resistant, i placed it on a coat-hanger and popped it on the washing line outdoors to commence spraying. it would appear this is almost a necessitous move since tesco recommend doing so in a well-ventilated area (the great outdoors suited the situation very well). it will surprise you very little to learn that this process was a bit more challenging than the directions perhaps envisaged due to the prevalent islay wind.
according to tesco, there is sufficient liquid to coat three garments, but i confess it was a really close call to manage that, before the spray ran out. it is apparently necessary to coat every square inch of the jacket(s) with the less than aromatic white liquid to achieve maximum effect before carrying it dripping into the kitchen for several minutes in a cool tumble-dry to activate the process. this latter stage obviously makes certain cycle garments unsuitable for the described process, as many instruction labels positively prohibit bring the clothing anywhere near a tumble dryer.
i popped the softshell jacket in for a cool tumble for about five minutes or so until relatively dry, before hanging over a clothes drier in the spare bedroom.
until yesterday, unbelievably, the inner hebrides has been bereft of any serious rain with which to test the veracity of the treatment. which is pretty much where extreme suffering for my art comes into play. sunday past opened with galeforce winds and freezing sleet driven into every crevice of whichever jacket i chose to wear. i cannot underestimate the inclemency of such conditions; by the time i returned home after only about 35km, i couldn't feel either my hands or feet, and was having difficulty talking with any hope of comprehension.
the tesco outdoor clothing spray purported to envelope my rapha softshell jacket in a durable waterproof layer that, rather tautologically, is said to repel water. unfortunately that turned out to be rather far from the truth. by the time i'd reached bridgend village, only 5km from home, the fabric of both sleeves was all but saturated, and by the time i met up with lord carlos at debbie's, i could feel that the sleety/rain had already permeated the long-sleeve jersey below.
due to the incessant wind and sleet, i opted to return home directly because i was now becoming very wet and very cold. by the time i entered the back door of the croft to mrs washingmachinepost's greeting of "so, you're just a fairweather cyclist now?", the softshell jacket was simply a heavy and thoroughly soaked garment. from having had high hopes of creating a formidable spray-on shield against the elements, i have had to reluctantly accept that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
i've tried to make logical excuses for such a wholesale failure; was it pointless to use a jacket that was never fully waterproof when new? did i fail to cover every square centimetre with the spray? did i not leave it in the tumble dryer for long enough? but surely even if i'd failed any of the above, there ought to have been some improvement in the waterpoofing?
ah well, you can't win 'em all.
monday 23 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the opening scene from stanley kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey ends with a rather manic chimpanzee throwing a bone into the air and as it descends, the scene almost seamlessly switches to a satellite of similar shape orbiting the earth. and in the process of that orbit we are introduced to an incomplete space station, rotating as it too orbits the planet. the space station of which i speak, has the facility to allow spacecraft to dock, underlining its position as a stopping off point for forays into deeper space.
as the spacecraft makes ready its docking procedure with the still rotating, double-wheel station, the accompanying music is that of johan strauss. to be more specific, the blue danube, a walz composed in 1866 and first performed in february 1867. though initially accompanied by words written by joseph weyl, the instrumental version has proved the more popular and lasting.
the river danube has its beginnings in the black forest near the german/swiss border and passes through ten countries on its way to the black sea. it's the second longest river in europe at 2,888 kilometres. joseph weyl's words paid tribute to a river 'so bright and blue' wending its way 'through vale and field', while observing that there were 'Old castles looking down from high'. if weyl's lyrics are to be believed, it sounds like a rather idyllic backdrop for a bike ride.
riding over 2,800km at one sitting might be a tad exotic for most, particularly if you compare it to the 1407km involved in riding land's end to john o'groats. thus, well-known cicerone author, mike wells has split the parcours into volume one and volume two (the latter yet to be published), the first of which is under consideration here. wells begins his epic ride at the source in german schwarzwald, riding through middle germany into austria, incorporating the home city of johann strauss, vienna, before heading onto bratislava situated on the slovakian border before entering hungary and finishing stage one in budapest.
budapest must surely be one of the finest and most beautiful cities in central europe. the hungarian parliament building demonstrates the sort of architecture that likely influenced the castles we imagine in the fairlytales of yore. the national theatre features a strong art deco element, while the matthias church has gothic written all over it (not literally, you understand). if ever your pedalling starts to weaken en route to budapest, the thought of the treasures that await ought to provide the impetus to continue.
mike wells, in keeping with his companion cicerone guides, provides not only exemplary pedal by pedal instructions on how you too might enjoy the danube cycleway, but impeccable advice on how to prepare prior to commencing your journey. this includes detailed geography and topography of the countries through which part one passes as well as the wildlife the more observant might reasonably expect to see. the route itself has been split into 29 stages of approximately 44 kilometres each. a leisurely perambulation along the riverside would thus take around a month, but the more intrepid may find such relatively short daily distances easy enough to double, spending less time sightseeing and concomitantly more time in the saddle.
i'd imagine it would depend on just how much time you've managed to blag off work.
naturally enough, you'll want to know about accommodation along the way, and though some may be happy to leave the finding of eateries to chance, wells has offered his own thoughts on more scheduled matters. he has included how to get there by road or by air as well as noting that the route best cycled would suit not a racing bike, but not a mountain bike either. perhaps mike wells has found the ideal niche for the latest in gravel bikes, even though gravel does not feature greatly across the 1100 kilometres of riding. add panniers and a bar bag, allied to the smoother genre of cyclocross tyres and it would seem you're good to go.
the detailing and directions accompanying each stage of riding, along with remarkably informative maps do not make for a book that you'd read in the bath, but this may be an intrinsic part of its strategy. these giudes are for those who actively participate, rather than the armchair cyclo-tourist, and is all the better for it. there may be still time to take a month off work later this year.
cicerone appear to have modernised the appearance of their excellent guidebooks, the covers now looking less like forgotten items from the late 19th century and now sporting a more impressive contemporary look. in keeping with this mood of updating, they have also published an updated version of mike wells' the rhine cycle route, a book i first reviewed in march 2013. as few countries remain static for too long, cicerone are to be congratulated in encouraging this revisiting of previously published material to ensure they remain as relevant and accurate as possible. the rhine cycle route also retails at £14.95.
sunday 22 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i've always had dreams of being so far ahead of the curve that i'm barely visible on the horizon. by this i do not refer to my athletic prowess, but a mythical desire to feature subjects that either no-one else has even heard of, or at a time of year when everyone else is looking the other way. achieving such an objective, to be honest, has mostly seemed as far away as the horizon i mentioned earlier, predominantly because i'm definitely not the most organised of individuals. just ask mrs washingmachinepost.
but once in a blue moon, and to be honest i cannot attach any forethought to this happenstance, the planets accidentally align, and i find the curve has cycled all the way over to meet me.
during cyclocross season it seems prudent at the very least, to feature cyclocross related items; such as a bicycle. having owned an ibis hakkalugi for a number of years, i thought 'twould be something of a wizard wheeze to ask my friends at edinburgh's 2pure if they'd be happy to lend me the latest disc brake version of the same bicycle. at this particular point, the planets were scarcely speaking to each other, for delivery of the 2pure review fleet was not expected until mid-january.
however, the event that brought the planets a lot closer to conversation was my good friend james mccallum having taken delivery, as part of a sponsorship deal, of the very bicycle i had hoped to review. what if i asked him nicely to scuttle about on it in a speedier and more skillful manner than i, then tell me about it? as this seemed like the ideal solution, that is precisely what i did.
i can see from the restless movements at the back, that several of you are wondering how on earth this brings me in ahead of the curve? well, somewhere on twitter today i read that the final professional cyclocross race of the year takes place this very weekend. the very point at which you'd think it almost foolish to review a cyclocross bike some seven months before even cross vegas will light up a darkened evening. which is all part of my cunning plan that i will now hold up as part of a pre-planned strategy.
confident that you all have the ability to flick back through the archives and read my original review in october 2010, jimmy's hakkalugi review concentrates more on the difference between the original and the new.
the carbon fibre frame is finished in a tasty matt black with lime green detailing, including the ibis name on the down tube. it still, however, features the lion of flanders on the seat tube, a factor that confers inestimable prowess upon whomsoever's bum is planted upon the saddle. the finishing kit incorporates ibis branded 42cm alloy drop bars, a 100mm alloy ibis stem and a similarly branded seat pin.
unlike my own hakkalugi, the full-carbon cx fork was supplied by enve, matched to a 1.5" tapered integrated headset. the bottom bracket also departed from the standard threaded version on my own frame, supplanted by a bb86 press-fit version. the hydraulic brakes are handled by subtly altered sti units mounted to a 140mm post at front and rear
though the principal concern of any review, including this one, is the frame itself, to coin a well worn cliche, it ain't going nowhere without wheels and componentry. gearing and braking are both supplied via shimano's ultegra hydro group: eleven speed gearing with (unusually) a 50/34 chainset matched to an 11-28 cassette fixed to a stans no tubes ztr ironcross rims, with 32 spokes laced to speed tuned hubs. jimmy's choice of tyres are also from the 2pure stable; 33mm clement pdx cross for off-road use, but swapped for clement strada lgg 28mm for road use. so far, so ginger peachy, but what's it like to ride?
"At first glance the frame looks very similar to the original Trek OCLV frame sets of yesteryear. I really liked that from an aesthetics point of view.
"Stiffness and control are the two words that popped in to my head. This comes not only from the frame, but the extra beefy and sexy looking Enve CX disc fork. This allowed all the feedback from the front wheel to get to my hands, creating a very predictably handing bike. Stiffness at the other end of the bike was excellent and allowed a nice mix of power transference from the pedals and compliance for the bumps. This gave a very comfortable ride with the added benefit of feeling like a top end road bike when you wanted to step on it.
"The one thing I loved about this bike was pretty obvious. The Hydro disc brakes that come from Shimano's Ultegra range. At first glance the levers didn't give away very much, but on closer inspection you do notice a slightly bulkier fit in your hand. However Shimano have managed to conceal the hydro reservoir in the lever way better than SRAM. Therefore there isn't an overly obvious knuckle.
"An added advantage was stress free, one-finger braking and no forearm pumping due to feeling that you needed to have a full hand of white knuckles to stop.
"I liked that.
"Braking performance was outstanding, thanks to the very progressive modulation, compared to the on/off sensation you would get from either a cable-to-hydro convertor or a cable disc brake system.
"I have now used the Hakkalugi as my one and only bike over the last three to four months. Though mostly using the bike off-road, after a quick change of tyres, it feels very competent as a road bike as well. So much so i'm planning on using it to compete in the Paris-Roubaix sportive in April."
"I'm 100% sold on disc brakes. They are both predictable and very reliable. An added advantage is that you don't wear out a set of rims due to road salt etc., chopping away at the wheels' braking surface. If it was allowed, I would definitely road race this bike. Just drop in some nice 30-50 mm carbons on some nice tubulars and I'd be all set."
however, jimmy and i both mourn the disappearance of the fist-shaped rear brake cable stop, now rendered superfluous by the hydraulics.
as september hauls into view, and it's time to think about a new 'cross bike for the 2015/16 season, apart from heartily congratulating yours truly for my perspicacity and temerity in bringing such a desirable and effective bicycle to your attention so early in the year, the next time you see mr mccallum hurtling in your direction, remember to say thank you.
it's the gentlemanly or ladylike thing to do.
(very many thanks to the king of scotland for his invaluable assistance with this feature.)
saturday 21 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you'd sort of figure that everything that's ever going to be invented has probably been invented by now. yes, there will be stuff that none of us have ever thought of and that technological discoveries will suddenly make possible, but generally i think we're probably into what future historians might classify as the era of improvement. and when i use the word improvement, i use it advisedly. though i would usually count myself amongst acolytes of apple products, in point of fact, i do not own an ipad or an iphone (or any type of phone for that matter), and find myself confounded by the millions of these devices that are sold every time they're improved.
it seems that a sizeable majority of us get all hot and frothy about the next greatest thing even if it amounts solely to more shine or a different colour to last year's greatest thing. this is obviously of great interest and delight to those in the business of producing great things, but by no stretch of the imagination could painting something shiny red be described as an invention (not that i'm suggesting that everyone does). however, without wishing to name and shame, i have seen more than one or two product or design developments classed as inventions.
nowhere is this more true than in the world of type design, where the development culture encompasses both redrawing of timeless fonts as well as the invention of more modern idioms. in the day to day melee of information transfer, typefaces such as that currently being read ought mostly to be transparent in function. it would take twice as long to read thewashingmachinepost if your eye paused every few moments to appreciate the finely drawn serifs or descenders. in most cases, the typeface ought to be regarded as purely functional; its design aspects ought not to impinge upon the roving eye.
but applied on a larger scale across a billboard, advertising page or along the side of a bus, it's just possible that the typeface has been used not solely for its informative function but conceivably also for its decorative properties. if you were once a reader of david carson's ray gun, you may be au fait with the use of lettering purely for graphic intent, the informational part having been discarded at point of graphic conception.
yet, once more, you'd figure that the uses to which typefaces can be put have been thoroughly exhausted, in the manner that you'd also think there couldn't possibly be room for any more new type design. i mean, what do professional type foundries actually do all day to fill their working hours?
the folks at london's dalton maag are quite likely used to questions such as "why on earth would i want another typeface" along with you sell how many?" as well as "what is it that you do all day?". enquiries of such ilk most likely come from those who make no effort to change the default typeface or its size in microsoft word, or maybe don't realise they can. but for the more enlightened, the services offered by dalton maag can be worth their weight in gold. cases such as rapha's recently announced partnership with bradley wiggins.
almost since day one, rapha's corporate branding has involved a typeface called trade gothic, a sans serif font designed in 1948 by jackson burke, at one time the director of type development at linotype usa. though its major claim to fame is that of a principal element in the corporate image of amnesty international, its almost neutral stance in the face of more decorative typefaces has made it an excellent partner to rapha's relatively no nonsense approach to apparel design. but on occasion, there are moments when its stoic appearance is required but with a softening idiosyncrasy to differentiate it from more regular use.
a special occasion forsooth.
such an occasion obviously occurred when crafting the jersey for mr wiggins' future racing aspirations. the royal air force target has undergone something of a colour transformation to accept a red outer with gold centre, while rapha's six horizontal bands denoting adherence to the pro team genre find themselves also in gold at bottom left. brad's surname has been provided pride of place on the right breast in what appears to be the favoured trade gothic. except, look a little closer and those two letter gs have what designer ultan coyle described as "a silent swoosh", probably the finest description that could be attributed to any subtle typeface enhancement (technically referred to as 'hinting').
nobody is claiming that this is a ground-breaking reinvention of the wheel. "The logotype needed something unique, so it could stand alone, and the gs turned out to be the best place for it." the modification was made by the type specialists at dalton maag, a level of detail that will never be seen clearly, if and when sir brad decides to ride the velodrome for an hour. but nonetheless, it's there.
as a result of that silent swoosh, the world is a better place.
friday 20 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am now rapidly approaching my nineteenth year of writing thewashingmachinepost, an anniversary that is perhaps not quite the achievement that it purports to be. i mention this because it's only within the past seven or eight years that i've spent every evening both before and after my tea, scribbling words that i hope might entertain, elucidate and very, very occasionally, inspire. to those who have asked, there is no overall strategy; the post survives or fails on a daily basis. more frequently than not, i've yet to settle on a subject or review for the day by the time i remove the macbook air from its comfy shoulder bag.
but if you tell anyone, i'll deny it all.
in those (almost) nineteen years, i've watched several cycling blogs arise and subsequently disappear, and also observed the big guys (you know who they are) infiltrate the interweb with resources i, as a one-person operation, can only dream of. the world's cycling pixels, by and large, have become a tad more commercialised, more serious and ultimately more corporate. with, however, one major exception.
daniel wakefield pasley is a resident of portland, oregon who once filled his days above several free-range hens pecking below an outside stairway that led to rapha's north american headquarters. he's also the fellow who singlehandedly invented the rapha continental, photographing and writing at least the first two years worth of the road less travelled. daniel and i shared a cup of stumptown coffee in the lobby of portland's ace hotel for a morning back in 2012, but due to previous transatlantic collaborations, i felt as if i'd known the guy since my schooldays.
the man could be described as irrepressibly 'off the wall', but in a very good way, having been one of the principal activists behind manual for speed since its inception several years back. irreverence could well be his watchword, something that stands out within the outwardly staid atmosphere occupied by professional road racing. he and photgrapher emiliano granado have brought mfs to the point where you just know that if it didn't exist, you'd have to invent it.
i've never clained to be a photographer, and with very good reason. i still have a collection of photographs by mr pasley sat in a drawer upstairs that i have used more than once as an ideal to be attained when running digital photography classes. but not only is dwp handy with a camera, he has a way with words that i secretly envy (ssshhh; don't say a word). for those who have either not come across manual for speed or have, but scarcely figured out what the heck is going on, the only solution was to ask: what exactly is manual for speed?
"First of all, Manual For Speed is the pre-eminent Road Cycling thing. Secondly, it's a humanistic, intimate and fanciful study of professional road cycling. Also, MFS is all about the vibe. And really, at it's most core, Manual For Speed is about the Greatest Spectacle on Earth; bike racing. Furthermore, whatever Manual For Speed is, at any given moment, it's nature moves around a bit. Point is, it's a fictional, non-fictional documentary about the sport of Road Racing."
of course, the word 'manual' carries with it certain connotations that until recently, would have implied a substantial chunk of printed matter to aid the initiate in matters in which he/she is uninitiated. there's a whole series of books published in the uk by haynes describing every last nut and bolt applicable to pretty much every automobile ever built. these promise the ability to dismantle a car and rebuild before breakfast without so much as a greasy fingerprint on any of its numerous pages. a real manual for speed sounds like the very tangible publication we'd all love to have in our collection. is there ever likely to be such an item?
"For The Record' is a collection of sometimes startling yet often invaluable insights obtained, first-hand, from bona-fide professional road cycling athletes. They're not all quotes, though most of them are. They're often related to cycling, but not necessarily directly so. As is the nature of insights, they're as much lateral as literal. We also have a feature on the site called Manual For Speed Manuals. MFSMs are educational and instructional photo essays designed to illuminate and titilate."
the very nature of the website that is 'manual for speed' is a temple to the scattergun approach to literature. it's possible to gain a semblance of orderliness from its pixels only to have it shunt you off in a direction you really didn't see coming. so doing takes craft and skill that most of us will never possess, but also pays tribute to an overweening strategy of which there are hints, but seem likely never to be appreciated as an entire entity. does manual for speed adhere to a cunning plan?
"We have so many plans, none of them are cunning exactly. Many of them are ambitious, maybe audacious? Covering the Olympics for the New Yorker. Vice Magazine's Tour De France Photo Annual. HBO special. MOMA. Etcetera, etcetera. We're not joking. Seriously, we want these things. Also, we want to earn and maintain continued respect from the Peloton."
dressed in woolly hats, quilted jackets, ripped jeans and converse all-stars, while referring to each other as 'dude' seems hardly worth mentioning in the worlds of bmx and downhill mountain biking; it is the lingua franca of the genre. daniel pasley is one of the few guys i know who can drop the word 'dude' into general conversation, without ever having it sound pretentious. however, it doesn't strike me as the sort of apellation bandied about in the professional peloton which makes me wonder just how the mfs chaps fit into the world of road racing. bmx and mountain biking, possibly even cyclocross i could understand, but world tour? hmmm... isn't there just the possibility that they're all having way too much fun to fit into the staid world of professional road racing?
"Aren't we in the Entertainment business? There are some people (maybe a lot?!); cycling fans, cyclists, enthusiasts, illuminati, beatniks, hippies, burnouts, artists, celebrities, etc. who aren't ashamed of their good taste and intelligence. We're here to serve them."
international trips to bolivia, to paris-roubaix and to racing locations all across the united states while holding together a creative staff of around nine folks can rarley be achieved on food stamps and newspaper coupons. that intellect and creativity has need of putting food on the table. as manual for speed are embroiled in the heavily sponsored world of international road racing, it comes as no surprise that their endeavours have been selflessly supported by castelli since the first set of pixels caught sight of a web browser near you. how do castelli fit into the manual?
"Castelli and Castelli's sponsorships are a built-in source of inspiration. Without their support, we wouldn't exist. They are our patron. And our muse. And we like them a lot, they are our friends. Furthermore, they give us an Unfair Advantage."
the cliche, 'man cannot live by bread alone' is quirkily attributable to mfs. though daniel and emiliano may be the authors of the manual, in order to publish the scope of their ideas, it has been necessary to recruit, dare i say it, 'like minds'. one of the most recent is that of kyle von hoetzendorff, formerly of portland's chris king components, and prior to that originator of some bizarre, yet clever videos for 21st avenue bicycles also of portland. now that kyle is a part of manual for speed, it seems like a marriage made in heaven, one that, with hindsight, was probably always on the cards. what incentives were offered to drag him away from nw nela street?
"We scouted Kyle Von Hoetzendorff six years ago. He was working for a bike shop, and writing, and generally being Kyle. We've wanted him ever since. Since Kevin Brown was grandfathered in from a previous incarnation of Manual For Speed, Kyle is our first 'hire.' We offered him a Shibori teeshirt, a tax problem, fame, and an all expenses paid trip to Bolivia. And what's called in the biz, a vested interest."
several years ago, when the tour de france came to london, i contacted a number of people i know who had impeccable contacts within the amaury sports organisation (aso) in an attempt to gain press accreditioan for the uk stages of that year's race. yet despite being in possession of e-mail addresses that are a closely guarded secret, i failed to even receive a reply telling me to go away and leave them alone. yet a bunch of americans with a wholly irreverent attitude to the beautiful sport have managed to gain the necessary papers to follow the whole enchilada from start to finish come july 2015. how on earth did they manage to blag their way in, and what will they bring to the party that we've scarcely seen or read before?
"Wait, is it hard to get into the Tour De France? We figured it's just like anything else...you register, right? Your line of questioning is unnerving. What do you know that we don't? We don't know how to NOT be Manual For Speed. The only thing we're good at is being Manual For Speed. At the 2105 Tour De France we will be Manual For Speed. We're bringing ourselves to the Party, and maybe some wine to be polite, and some Executive Water, and our cameras, and a special edition capsule collection of Print All Over Me photoreal 'Chilleur' teeshirts. That's it. Oh, and our website. What else?"
to hark back to the platitude about not being able to live by bread alone, does daniel and his manual make a living out of this?
"Yeah, Manual For Speed is basically a full time job for three, maybe four, fully developed adults. We also do Yonder Journal. Emiliano is also a successful commercial photographer. And we got a helluva tight ebay game."
at the risk of coming across as biblical, aside from the bread thing, it is also a truism that, 'in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.' if we all had the sprinting ability of mark cavendish or the climbing prowess of nairo quintana, there would be no real competition in the peloton. it's the fact that we're all different that makes the world go round (allegedly). clothing, component and bicycle fabricators are continually searching for that last tantalising advantage over their competitors. manual for speed's benefactors, castelli, greet the world with the slogan 'an unfair advantage', to which daniel has already paid tribute.
but surely by definition, the more people that read and view manual for speed, the greater the number of folks with an unfair advantage will outnumber those who don't?
"Wait, that's funny. It's also a conundrum. Bottom line, we're not scared. It sounds like the future."
over my almost nineteen years of scribblings, i may have left a shallow mark upon the world of cycling. though i prefer to keep my meanderings confined to the world of the road bike, not everything is about the competitive edge. i'm every bit as concerned with the bicycle's role in every day life. manual for speed on the other hand, by it's very name embodies and celebrates the racing milieu. in daniel's humble (?) opinion, has professional road racing been enhanced by the existence of mfs?
"That's a serious question. And it deserves a serious answer. I mean yeah, we'd like to believe that yes, we're making a positive contribution to Road Cycling Journalism. Whatever that means. Listen, we make jokes and poke the Institution and all that, but producing Manual For Speed is a LOT of work. But we do it anyway. In spite of the math. We do it because we genuinely love the sport of cycling. We do it because we think of ourselves as artists and publishers. And while maybe it's trite or overly simplistic or misleading or something, we do it because we're compelled to do it."
if you have not made manual for speed a regular part of your weekly roundup, i would heartily suggest that you do so from this moment forward. i say this not because daniel and kyle are good friends of mine, but because knowing both of them and their varying endeavours has provided a whole new perspective on a sport that has a distinct tendency to take itself way too seriously. manual for speed is the only serious antidote (see what i did there?)
thursday 19 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
spare a thought for the hapless premier league footballer. though quite likely in receipt of obscene amounts of money each game/week/month, compared with those of us who have to graft for a living, theirs is a comparatively short career, usually hanging up their boots around mid-thirties. you'd be correct in correlating this with the average career span of the professional bike racer, more often than not in receipt of an annual salary scarcely matched to the monthly earnings of the soccer chaps.
however, newton's third law of motion dictates that each and every action has an equal and opposite re-action, and in certain cases this has a ring of degree of truth. for consider the hypothetical footballer introduced in my opening paragraph. when retirement beckons, unless he is gary lineker, the chances of a continuation of that career in any other form are relatively small. the best that he can look forward to is his own signature football boot, preferably in a colour other than black, with contrasting laces and a signature along the outer edge.
allow a few years to pass and not only will the signature become ever more indecipherable, but the person who once scribbled it will probably no longer be remembered, a situation running probably parallel to declining sales of said boot.
win britain's first olympic cycling gold medal for many a long year, or gather a sizeable collection of the very same gold awards plus a knighthood, and the possibility exists that your name could be seen on the downtubes of an entire range of bicycles. ultimately, this offers a steadier source of post career income, quite rightly built upon all those hours of excessive training while your pals were out having coffee and a danish. the most recent fellow to acquiesce to this path is scotland's sir chris hoy, a former olympian who has released many a hoy bicycle in conjunction with britain's evans cycles.
however, sir chris has seen fit not to stop at the double-diamond, having subsequently set his sights on a similarly branded range of clothing, both performance and leisure. with the cycling apparel market all but saturated, it would be a brave man (or woman) who looked at a clothing start-up from scratch; far better, you would think, to ally with an existing and successful practitioner. such as nick hussey's vulpine for example.
according to the hyperbole that surrounded the recent launch of hoy vulpine, sir chris investigated more than just a single possibility for collaboration, but had his eye on vulpine from the start. apocryphal though this might possibly be, it should be noted that sir hoy had frequently been seen dressed in items from the vulpine range long before hoy vulpine was ever mooted. from what seems like a particularly apt match has come both women's and men's ranges, including sports and leisure items comprising jerseys, shorts, socks, caps and t-shirts.
as one quite plainly in the performance end of the world (no sniggering please), hoy vulpine naturally sent a valldemosa race jersey, a pair of el toro bib shorts, stripe socks (from the casual range) and a trackside cap, all of which are remarkably sensibly priced.
my general criteria for the fit of a pair of well-constituted bibshorts is the ease or difficulty with which they can be worn, the latter presaging the better fit. as a gent with rather a small waist, i requested the small size of el toro bibshorts, a size that frequently requires a bit of careful effort to haul past my muscular thighs (what did i tell you about that sniggering?). the hoy vulpine shorts are built from rather thinner lycra than inhabits the more expensive end of the market, sliding on with scarcely a whimper. i cannot deny that i thought this a harbinger of doom, the precursor of much slipping and sliding in the saddle.
i cannot deny that i'd have been happier with a slightly thicker lycra, but in practice it's hard to fault either the fit or the ability of the shorts to fulfil their destiny. the pad is perfectly comfortable and any slipping and sliding was confined to a pair of cyclocross tyres in the mud (how else would you give new apparel a hard time?). the bibs fitted perfectly well, with no signs of slippage or undue pressure on the shoulders. but i'd still have preferred a greater density of lycra if only to better hide my modesty in polite company.
in full flight, however, there is no room for polite company and i have little doubt that my abilities in the keirin have been immeasurably enhanced.
covering the bib section of those el toros was the subtle grey-blue of the valldemossa race jersey. once again, heavyweight is not in the vocabulary; the jersey is fabricated from a lightweight polyester. it's all very well for messrs. hussey and hoy to go cycling in the warm climes of mallorca the better to show off the fruits of their collaboration, but this more budget restricted cycling media person was confined to riding the cold, wet and windy highways and bye-ways of the inner hebrides. thus, though the jersey features short sleeves, i had need of wearing a heavyweight, long-sleeve vulpine merino baselayer 'neath its outer svelteness and a richard sachs shower jacket over the top. similarly, i had to wear leg warmers along with the shorts.
the inquities one has to suffer for someone else's art.
if i held one or two minor reservations over the shorts, other than its summer thinness, there were no perceivable barriers to enjoying the valldemossa. the fit could best be described as casual; a slim fit without emulating the race-tailoring that feels awkward unless sat on the bike, hands on the bars. despite the stretch of the fabric, gloves, pump, digital camera and a cling-filmed slice of mrs washingmachinepost's christmas cake fitted easily into the three rear pockets and stayed put, no matter the trouble i got myself into while passing myself off as jeremy powers. admittedly the centre of the three has little space for more than a mini-pump, but overall, carrying space is adequate. the tag on the full-length zip makes it simplicity itself to adjust the air conditioning, while its subtlety in the face of performance enhancement kept me stylishly anonymous at the coffee stop.
it may be somewhat reactionary to pair hoy vulpine stripey socks pulled from the casual range, with the fast stuff, but in mitigation, those legwarmers and overshoes hid this potentially sartorial faux pas from public view. my feet were happy at this situation.
the fabric ribbon down the centre of the trackside cap matches the general colour scheme evinced by that jersey zip tag, but in the grand scheme of things, it's still just a cap. disappointingly, though we all know that real men ride with the peak down, the hoy vulpine logo is screened on the lower portion, obscuring it from view. to my mind, this is taking subtlety just one step too far; i want the logo on the top for all to see.
i figure the proof of the hoy vulpine pudding may well come in their autumn/winter range later this year; on the basis of this opening salvo, i'm looking forward to october already.
the hoy vulpine valldemossa race jersey is available in orion blue, black/orion blue and cobalt blue/red in sizes ranging from small to xxl. retail price is £69.99. the el toro bibshorts can be bought in small to xxl, only in black/charcoal at a retail price of £79.99. the stripey socks are £11.99 per pair in sizes small to xl. the black or gold trackside cap eschews the 'one size fits all' classification, available in small, medium and large for £11.99.
wednesday 18 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
those who find themselves besotted with their electronic gearshifting and disc brakes might find themselves less than enamoured with the following, even though this is not number 361 in a series of luddite pointings of the finger at suspect developments. i recall some early marketing proffered by shimano in an attempt to justify why they had found it necessary to marry the world of electronics with that of gearshifting.
it would appear that the japanese considered those long stages on the bicycle or lengthy classics such as milan-sanremo could result in fatigued riders with scarcely the energy to select the correct gear for the final sprint. i'm sure we've all been there (not)?
ever since the days that gave rise to indexed shifting, followed by those helpful little ramps in the sprockets, most of us thought we were pretty much set for life. in fact, as i recall, shimano were oft criticised for the smooth silentness of their gearchanging, leaving many of us wondering whether it had happened or not. and not too long before they brought record eps to market, campagnolo markedly offered record red carbon ergopower shifters that provided greater physical resistance as apparently desired by the pros.
yet, peruse the phalanx of shimano and campagnolo bicycles at any world tour event and you're unlikely to find many still relying upon braided steel wires and mechanical effort. and by next year, those reliant on sram for their groupsets will have only a direct connection between levers and brakes, gearshifting will be wireless, something that i'm sure the other two are already feverishly working on.
"if only i'd had wireless shifting and hydraulic discs, i'd have won that race easily" are words that no professional rider has ever uttered. you cannot retrofit disc brakes to a carbon frame, so if it's rotors you desire, a new frame is undeniably compulsory, something that will ultimately benefit the manufacturers. granted, there is a concomitant level of research and development required to ameliorate the forces now experienced by a frame when pulled to a halt by hydraulic discs, but considering the cost of carbon's upper reaches, it's not everyone who can emulate the club riders of yesteryear and purchase a new frame every year (painted the same as the last one so that 'her indoors' doesn't realise).
of course, we are not an entirely innocent party in such proceedings. it's one thing to realise that there is nothing inherently wrong with the five year-old frame and groupset in the bikeshed, and another to deny that the new one in the cycle magazine does not elicit feelings of desire aimed squarely at your credit card. it is this human trait that allows cycle manufacturers to sleep peacefully at night, safe in the knowledge that we all eagerly await the next trend to be foisted upon us.
and now a cycling activity in which many have participated for years, has not only been given a specific name, but a whole genre of bicycle to ease the pain of doing so. now is the year of the gravel bike. north america seems peppered with lengthy trails composed predominantly of gravel; you need only to have favoured rapha's annual gentlemen's races to have viewed that to which i refer. but given that all those praticipating in said rides over gravel tracks are on road bikes, albeit with 25 or 28mm tyres, you have to wonder why there is a defined need for a specific style of bike. would a cyclocross bike not handle such terrain with ease?
that is no doubt a truism, but there is little financial corporate gain in promoting this style of riding if it can be accomplished on a pre-existing bicycle. in which case, enter the gravel bike, a breed of velocipede which can be successfully sold to those who may already own a 'cross bike. because we're wired that way. accepting pretty much all of the foregoing and basking in our own gullibility, brings me onto the aptly named gorge roubaix, taking place in the dalles, oregon on march 28/29 this year.
even a passing glance at the photos from the reconnaissance mission shows more than just a single set of dual pivot calipers, even if they are in the company of disc brakes. i'm rather doubtful that britain plays host to quite so many miles of unfettered gravel tracks, but assuming you find any, and are well-kitted in terms of spare inner tubes and a decent pump, don't necessarily feel any compulsion to buy a new genre of bike to ride them.
photos by ethan furness
tuesday 17 february 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...........................................................................................................................................................................................................