it's a continually debatable point as to whether such an object as the holy grail truly exists; the cup or dish allegedly used by jesus at the last supper supposedly imbued with miraculous powers. it's subsequent connection with joseph of arimathea dates from the 12th century when robert de boron penned the description of joseph receiving the grail from the ghost of christ and sending it with his acolytes to, of all places, great britain. as is often the case with legends, particularly those originating in the dim, distant past, constructs have appeared round the edges; the grail's legend was enhanced by its supposed utility in containing christ's blood at the time of interrment, and the subsequent creation of a line of british guardians to ensure its safety. from whom is pointedly left unsaid. its connection with britain presumably provided the entwinement with arthurian legend.
legends are notoriously difficult to prove or disprove, but the fact that no museum in the known world professes to have the grail on display, or at best, sitting in a protected vault, must surely give rise to the notion of a quest to find a holy relic that may or may not exist. quests would, by their very definition, be seriously undermined were the object of desire readily discoverable, the tautology of which has allowed the quest for the holy grail to apply to any puzzle that remains unsolved. hopefully many of these objects of research and development will remain just the wrong side of obscured, otherwise a culture of endless improvement may well come to and end, either in the form of another brick in the wall, or resounding success.
this is november; a month imposed on every corner of the world, even allowing for the fact that the world, like bowmore's round church, has no corners. in the northern hemisphere at least, this heralds the opening gambit of winter and pretty much all that that entails. sitting here on the edge of the atlantic, the appearance of substantial rainfall and wind that didn't come from eating too many baked beans is no real suprise. to sit by the double-glazed window in the office, spattered with heavy raindrops, watching a not insubstantial river of water doing its best to provide white water rapids down bowmore main street, cannot be regarded as unexpected. the balance comes from accepting this state of affairs, and acknowledging that things will get a lot worse before they get much better.
just ask my shed roof.
there may be little pleasure to be had from riding a bicycle in such conditions, but oft times option is not a word that can be successfully applied to the process. we have acres and acres of sky, almost unobstructed by a man-made skyline of buildings; a distinct lack of trees is reflected in the low profiles applied to the panoply of whitewashed cottages and houses constituting each village. thus, as the atlantic is about to drop significant amounts of precipitation upon any hapless individual aboard a bicycle or intent on pedestrianism, the observation rarely leads to a hurried quest for shelter. much of islay's road network is bereft of the latter, leaving little option but to grin and bear it. and often, such conditions, despite their lack of concealment, can simply sneak up from behind.
in such cases it is not only pragmatic to be well clad against the elements, but in the case of frenetic physical activity it is simply not enough to be protected against the ingress of moisture from the outside, but also against invasion from that generated by the physical activity referred to only a moment ago. breathability.
there are a considerable number of jackets which favour the latter as their reason for existence, many bearing trademark membranes as a guarantee of efficacy against becoming swot and hetty while casting off thunderous precipitation, promising the holy grail of a dessicated arrival at one's destination, commensurate with that which existed at point of departure. sadly, not all promises come true.
it is, to be fair, a particularly open-ended grail to be searching for; human beings are not built to a common standard, there fore that which keeps one warm and dry may struggle continuously and ultimately unsuccessfuly to do the same for another. i know not if there is an accepted standard for such breathable membranes, quantified by numbers of millilitres of moisture transferred from inner surface to outer in a given period of time, but even that would be rendered unsatisfactory at best, depending on the overall construction of any specific jacket. personal experience would suggest that those garments which feature breathability above and beyond the call of duty, do not necessarily excel at waterproofing from the outside. or vice versa.
so the holy grail of designing and producing a breathable, waterproof jacket, capable of satisfying the most exertionary of cyclists in both respects is one that has continued for more years than seems credible, given the technological advances over the past two decades. on more than one occasion i have acquired a garment in receipt of a handsome testimonial from another credible source only to find it wanting. so in the case of such jackets, my expectations have become, perhaps not unsurprisingly, somewhat lowered over time.
waterproof, as defined by trading standards, is a description that can only be applied to garments featuring fully taped seams, thus rapha's rainjacket can only be legally described as water-resistant, however inadequate a description that proves to be. taped seams, fairly obviously, will be more likely to contain internal moisture than those simply stitched together. the art of breathability gets harder and cycling makes it harder still.
saturdays have taken on an altogether more remedial hue than has historically been the case. it may be a factor of age, or perhaps even of exposure to the very technology designed to alleviate daily strain, but the daily travail has not become any simpler. there is a parallel here with the art of cycling itself; cover appropriate distances on a regular basis with a view to continual improvement, and disappointment will be the only result. for, as greg lemond helpfully pointed out 'it doesn't get any easier, you just get faster. thus saturdays have taken on the role of palliative; a way of ridding the mind and body of accumulated grief and anguish engendered by the nine to five.
this is most certainly not weather dependent, for the weekly baggage is no less real if the sun is shining or the rain thundering while the 20 kilometre quest for lactic acid and soya cappucino is in saturday progress. it is mostly cosy and warm on the couch in debbie's, and of preference, i would like to sit in comfort and joy while ordering that carrot cake and coffee. as alluded to only a few pixels further north, this is november when cloudbursts must be accepted with equanimity and hopefully some purple rapha + paul smith waterproofing and breathability. if the holy grail has not exactly turned up on the kitchen table, it can almost certainly be seen through the window. as i turned south at bridgend auction mart, the meagre tree covering of bridgend woods surrounding islay house occluded the bouncing rain from the radar.
a veritable downpour.
it continued until at least half-way down the scarily exposed uskentuie strand. it's a strange reaction, perhaps, to be enclosed in a waterproof, breathable jacket, yet to substantially increase speed. this has little effective result as regards getting out of the rain, but is almost bound to test the breathability of the paul smith rainjacket: comfort and joy, comfort and joy. i have pedalled very hard on a number of subsequent occasions, layering the jacket over a long-sleeve jersey, a merino jersey and the recently reviewed rapha breton jersey. the breathability has proved exemplary; and subsequent to its initial dousing in rain after only ten minutes of wear, freezing rain made itself known on the way home from today's sunday ride. not easier, but faster yet again.
that is the business end of the equation suitably discussed at perhaps more length than is seemly for a sunday evening, but the words rapha + paul smith raise far greater expectations than 100% functionality; there is the not insignificant matter of sartorial elegance, something easily as important to the former as it is to the latter. purple, it turns out, is a trademark colour associated with paul smith, and though the rainjacket is available in more sombre black, i would think the purple to be of higher visibility; as a city jacket of commuting apparel that is surely of substantial importance. there are neat touches in this direction, for the velcro'd cuff straps fasten either way; one matches the jacket's colour, the opposite reveals a scotchlite edged fluorescent strip facing outwards. clever and practical.
though most commuters will have educated themselves to the benefits of mudguards (or fenders), the dropped tail on the jacket, tensioned by an adjustable internal cord, features a zipped section that opens to reveal a fluoro pink extension, keeping the rider firmly in view of following traffic, and protecting bum and upper thighs. there's a zipped internal pocket, a front left, zipped and flapped debbie pocket, and yet another, larger rear pocket on the right. all the zips are taped and waterproof. the close-fitting, high collar is soft lined and exceptionally comfortable, but the mystery, given rapha's almost trademark association with the ubiquitous zip garage, is that this top of the range waterproof has none at the collar end of the full length, flapped, offset front zip closure. maybe i should ask why.
the outer fabric is tangibly more substantial than that of the rapha stowaway or standard rainjacket, and seems to inhabit the area between the latter two and that of the softshell. i did have occasion to use a canvas musette filled with bicycle tools on one of my cycle trips to the far south (port wemyss); hard wearing is good.
but there is one other quest for the grail that has also been explored. rapha's stowaway combined an impressive degree of waterproofing with a foldability that made short work of stuffing it in a rear pocket before and after science. the standard rainjacket built on this, despite its less flimsy construction. given that the paul smith + rapha rainjacket could reasonably be expected to continue this trend, are we now expecting a breathable, waterproof garment that can be unceremoniously bunged in a pocket? aside from the fact that the answer is yes, it is previewed by the provision of a fluorescent pink goodie bag into which the jacket can be unceremoniously stuffed. i would be less than keen to use this as its mode of transport in the real world, for you would be a tad wet by the time the jacket was released from this hi-vis enclosure, but it's a useful method of daily storage if wardrobe or coat rack space is at a premium.
it ill behoves me to predict the quest for the holy grail as complete, for doubtless the quest will continue unabated, but as an aggregation of breathability, waterproofing and stowability, this is as good as it gets for the present, and as good as it gets is pretty darned impressive.
the rapha + paul smith city rainjacket costs a reassuringly expensive £270 in sizes from xs to xxl and in black or purple. and let me advise that it works just as well, if not better, in an inner hebridean city too.
posted sunday 14 november 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................