the easy way out of all this is to blame global warming, something i'm still not convinced is quite the reality the doomsayers would have us believe, but that could well be the literary and intellectual equivalent of burying my head in the sand. this, i was once informed, would be a more than welcome improvement. what i am lackadaisically blaming on this melting of the icecaps is the strangeness of the weather currently plying its trade across the west of scotland. it is, in essence, little different from that which traditionally blights the landscape at this time of year, but it has it's own peculiarities this year, the most notable of which is temperature.
washingmachinepost cottage is heated with startlingly efficient electric storage heaters, and anyone familar with the breed will be aware that switching them on the moment the mercury drops is unlikely to be a timeous remedy. the clue is in the name; storage. so upon waking, fresh as a daisy on a cold october morning, the knowledge that a comfortable heat will not encase the ambience of the rooms until the following morning, takes away just a little of that bright and breezy demeanour. and this has fascinating parallels with the cycling wardrobe, because assuming that the central heating has kicked in, the external temperature is then a bit of a mystery until reaching the rear portcullis. but taking things even further into the realms of misinformed indecision, if jersey and threequarters were adequate for yesterday's ride, how was one to know that a softshell and tights would be the order of today?
in the finest tradition of triathlon, it would not seem too indiscrete to treat this as a transition period; the tricky part is sussing out how long this transition will last and when outer shells and tights will be de rigeur and no longer an option. because if you are as geographically challenged as islay, there are few, if any, weather forecasts that reach anywhere near accuracy. other than safety in the knowledge that it will be windy.
clothing is protection against the elements, a prime consideration when cycling at any time of the year, but perhaps a tad more worthy of consideration at this time. in this, perception is king, perceptions which vary wildly between individuals; if you figure it to be cold, grim and worthy of the phrase 'today matthew, i'm going to be gerben de knegt' then dressing to the nines, so to speak, is exactly where you should be at. there is, as i may have alluded to on several previous occasions, something delightfully safe and secure about a long-sleeve jersey, a sentiment that goes doubly for a pair of cycling tights: the velocipedinal equivalent of a force-field. attired in such fashion, concentration on the task at hand can be total, since appropriate apparel will deal with the extremities.
so thus: rapha merino hat under helmet, red softshell with no speedvagen logo on the back, grey long-sleeve jersey, merino baselayer and a pair of those fleece-lined bib tights over rapha shorts. the lycra involved in the latter bears no shame in the light of an adjective such as luxurious. there are defining marks such as the red panel on the left calf, mesh honey nut footloops, the word wheelsucker a reference to tim krabbe's the rider and a concealed, zipped rear pocket, almsot big enough for the banned race radio.
the luxuriance is not simply a literary device, but a less than adequate description of just how well fitting these tights are. whether cycling tights should contain a comfy bit at the seat or, like these, rely on a pair of shorts underneath is a discussion for a forum far, far away, but the rapha reds maintain the invisible feel applied by me to their sibling bib threequarters. but it's not all show and no go, for inside that thermoroubaix (roubaix, a word worth repeating in this context) is brushed thermofleece: comfortable and not unsurprisingly, thermal. to this i can reliably attest, having spent two entirely different global warmed days, wearing remarkably similar garb - i may have had on a waxed-cotton gentleman's cap the second time.
in a modest variation on lance armstrong's diktat, it's all about the cycling, and thus clad, indeed it is. there was variation over the two days extensive pedalling, day one being of the chillier variety, the second concurring with the more recurring mildness pervading this late autumn/early winter. even over a pair of rapha shorts, there is no bunching, no discomfort from two bibs overlaying each other under the jersey. pedalling hard, pedalling through substantial surface water, a maze of what i believe is known as belgian toothpaste most of which has an affiliation with cows and sheep, and occasional forays into the realm of the unsurfaced made no such nevermind.
and in the world of top to toe, the top was also remarkably well catered for under the helmet by rapha's merino cap, with a black ear band to remove the sting in the cold, but rolled up when in less demand. it is little less than admirable that such a thin layer of new zealand wool can have such a beneficial effect on temperature control, whether hot or cold. i'm no expert in the realm of natural or technical fabrics, but it seems likely that it's the thin-ness of the cap that allows it to feel dry when it's soaking wet, and to become really dry in a very short space of time.
if you wish to colour co-ordinate, the red cap goes well with the red softshell, and the winter tights without seeming too ostentatious, but for the sake of a little contrast to the ensemble, the hat can be had in grey or green. or, if there is already too much colour in your life (you may own a liquigas cannondale for all i know), the hat can be reversed and worn black. rapha's merino hat is of the one size fits all variety and can be acquired for a very reasonable £35 ($50)
the wheelsucker winter tights do seem a smidgeon on the expensive side at £170 ($240), especially since they are lacking in the chamois department, but i can honestly put my hand in the air and say that i have never worn a more comfortable pair of cycling tights in my fifteen minutes of fame. and if that's what it costs for near perfection, to paraphrase richard sachs, according to my opinion, it's a price worth paying.
posted tuesday 27 october 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................