it's not you, it's me

wind tunnel

during the reading period prior to reviewing james witt's riding with the rocketmen, it was hard not to realise that the entire industry behind the archetypal roadie is built around the quest for speed; the more, the better. the contention that your position on the bike, whether for straightforward riding, or time-trial potential, is endemic to just how fast you are or could be, the need for optimal nutrition, the aerodynamic properties of the bicycle on which you ride and the fabric from which your apparel is constructed, all point in a singular direction.


yet, from anecdotal information, the average man or woman on the street has no intention of every pinning a number to one of those back pockets. i own several pairs of rapha bibshorts which feature a small rear pocket designed to accommodate a race-radio, though i believe that particular practice may have ended. its existence was surely only to provide an air of professionalism amongst rank amateurs. with my ludicrously expensive drumset, i am no doubt attempting the percussive equivalent, knowing full well that a budget kit would serve every bit as well, and likely sound identical to any audience in front of which i may be asked to perform.

and a similar set of circumstances can be seen in the local youth, several of whom have armed themselves with sports oriented motor cars, the top speed of which, on islay's roads, would surely see the underside removed completely within a matter of days. as aspirant roadies, we seem to have missed the fact that the professionals ride what they ride because they are paid to, not necessarily because they have any emotional attachment to the carbon aboard which they ply their trade. and that their doing so is expressly designed to have us demand the same, but without the wherewithal to give it a hard time.

so what if the genre of road-riding appeals, but without any great desire to ascend whopping great french, spanish or italian mountains? even this past weekend, i rode, not only in torrential rain, but in galeforce headwinds, the strength of which was in excess of that which has previously cancelled professional events, or had the stage length curtailed. i have demurred from riding my campagnolo bora wheels due to the predisposition of the frontmost to act as a sail under such conditions. and had i succumbed to the trend for aero frames, with their narrow, flattened profiles, i'm sure i'd be writing this from the middle of a field on uiskentuie strand.

if there is not already, there likely soon will be a dearth of frames and wheels capable of coping with rim brakes, to say nothing of the cable stops required to install mechanical gear shifting. in fact i can, unfortunately, see a day on the horizon, when the latter will be confined to mountain bikes and children's cycles. for in keeping with our future motor cars and bicycles, we will be expected to adopt the electron for both motive power and gearshifting, not necessarily because we want to, but because the bicycle industry wants us to believe those are our best options. it is, i believe, less complex to manufacture electronic gearshifters than it is mechanical, and if there is a wholesale shift (pardon the pun) to the former, simply because the latter are in scarce supply, the outcome has already been predicted.

but old people buy road bikes too. in fact, it's quite possible that the retired roadie has a greater disposable income available so to do. and with fast being a relative term, though most to be seen aboard road bikes like to move quickly, they have little need or desire for the stopping power afforded by hydraulic disc brakes, and nor do they mind pressing levers as opposed to buttons. the mighty dave-t is no longer a spring chicken, but enjoys his road-riding every bit as much as was ever the case, without any perceived need to be first past the village sign at bruichladdich. yours truly is quite happy to maintain the same average speed which the availability of twelve mechanical sprockets is of no real assistance whatsoever.

i am not indirectly suggesting that these deux vitesses demand a wholesale shift in thinking within the industry; in truth it is too well set on its current trajectory for that to happen. but it might offer a different perspective if road bike manufacturers paid a tad more attention to their commercial market and those who inhabit. it has always struck me as distinctly odd that road bike manufacturers actually pay for the professionals to ride their bikes, having already spent millions developing the machinery in which they hope the pros will find favour. i'm just not sure that those of us who actually spend our own money on those over-developed bicycles and components actually figure in the equation at all.

sunday 2 july 2023

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more questions than answers

campagnolo super record wireless

as previously advised, i am in the habit of riding to debbie's on alternate friday afternoons to deliver copies of our local newspaper, providing me not only with green credentials, but an oatmilk latté to boot. friday afternoons are rarely the busiest of times in bruichladdich; the distillery bottling hall works only four days of the week and the remaining staff generally finish at noon, making it the ideal time of the week to sup froth and take a look at the latest issue of the comic.

in the current issue, staring me straight in the face upon opening the cover, was a double-page spread inserted by campagnolo, advertising their latest wireless super-record groupset. at one time, the italians were renowned for their aesthetic design sense, able to sculpt even the most mundane of items into exquisite shapes, from clothing to front gear mechs. it was their stock-in-trade.

however, campagnolo's wholesale adoption of carbon fibre as the solution to pretty much everything, has, over the years, begun to undermine their former command of industrial design, a disappointing trend even reflected in their typography. only the italians could have one of the finest script logos in the world, yet frequently supersede it with a partially futuristic, sans-serif typeface. even the flying wheel logo has been modernised; not to the point of controversy, but i often wonder what was wrong with the original? despite my luddite tendencies, i well know that industry harbours an inherent need to modernise, but i think it bears some degree of questioning whether doing so is actually necessary?

however, not for the first time, i digress. there have been a number of video reports from the recent eurobike exhibition pointing out not only the comparatively gargantuan size of that wireless rear derailleur, but also its lack of pleasing aesthetics, a contention that seems hard to ignore in the double-page spread alluded to above. no doubt sram's patented battery prowess has left vicenza in somewhat of a quandry as to how they might emulate their far eastern competitor without bringing down lawsuits upon their carbon fibre. that said, sram's rear derailleurs, originally devoid of much in the way of design prowess, could hardly be described as a pretty picture even today, so perhaps ugly is the new black?

however, recalling that quickstep boss, patrick lefevre, once stated that it wasn't his responsibility to ensure that his riders were comfortable on their team bicycles, despite the professional cycling milieu having been described as a circus, thus predisposed towards displaying a coherent outer shell to an adoring public, there's no uci rule dictating that componentry be pleasing to the eye. i would imagine the base disposition to have taken a pragmatic and functional approach. but where, then, does aerodynamics step into the frame (literally and figuratively?

later in that selfsame issue of the comic, is a review of the bmc team-machine, outfitted, in this case, with sram's wireless axs groupset. and not to isolate campagnolo for its apparent lack of pulchritudinous attraction, sram's efforts are no less chunky. in fact, viewing those derailleurs affixed to bmc's remarkably smooth and potentially quick carbon fibre, by comparison they look a tad rudimentary. you certainly wouldn't find such crudity within apple's californian headquarters. i'm very far from being an expert in industrial design, and i cannot deny that i am a great fan of function over form, but surely it was within the capabilities of both component manufacturers, particularly those in vicenza, to have smoothed out a few of those oblique corners?

if current computer processors can fit millions of transistors onto a sliver of silicon little bigger than my thumbnail, it must surely be possible to smallenate those derailleur batteries to more pleasing dimensions? considering the hours and hours of wind-tunnel testing undertaken to ensure those carbon frames disturb as little of the firmament as possible, not to mention the associated costs, is it not within the realm of possibilities that campagnolo, sram or even shimano could create gear-changing componentry that is not only pleasing to the eye, but nabs those few extra seconds of aerodynamic advantages into the bargain?

and while i'm on the subject, why is it that apparel technology can produce a wind-cheating fabric used in a £3,500 time-trial winning skinsuit, yet so many of the professional peloton are sporting substantial quantities of facial hair? given the much-vaunted marginal gains to be acquired from all those hours in the tunnel, surely a frankie boyle beard will undo any purported gains?

funny old world, isn't it?

saturday 1 july 2023

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yesterday afternoon, i was invited to port ellen in the south of the island to witness the cermonial ground breaking at port ellen playing fields. after many years of concerted fundraising, rudely interrupted and inflated by the covid pandemic, south islay development company (sid) achieved sufficient financial security to build a new pavilion that will double as a community hub for the area. the previous example had been in situ for many a long year and was in sore need of upgrading before it fell down. the plans are, therefore, to replace it with a modern, state-of-the-art, environmentally-sound building that will serve the community for many years to come.

however, in his brief vote of thanks prior to the shovel being dug into the ground, sid's chairman paid heed to the fact that there were members of the community who were not entirely in favour of the plans for re-development. aside from the pavilion, the kids' playpark will be moved onto what was previously the putting green, in order to make space for an enlarged motorhome and campervan park. apparently this has proved unpopular on the basis that the existing three available motorhome spaces are rarely filled.

not everyone likes change and/or progress, and i cannot deny that i can often be found amidst those numbers. in the 35 plus years i have been resident on the isle, the last five or six years have seen a virtual explosion in housebuilding, both private and social, despite an alleged decrease in population. though i have singularly failed to find a suitable answer to this conundrum, it also lowers the morale somewhat to view yet another holiday home being constructed in what was once relatively remote countryside. of course, that can be viewed as totally selfish, on the basis that, yes, i live here, but i'd rather you didn't find it necessary to move here too and build another house in the middle of my serene cycling region.

i'm well acquainted with the descriptive term luddite; it's an adjective i have applied to myself on many an occasion. however, i fear that it may have been conjoined with an even more descriptive term, casting me as a grumpy luddite. sadly i can find no ameliorating conditions that would undermine such a description.

i probably have not mentioned it for a while, but i am still bereft of mobile phone, something that started out as a minor whimsy, but has now developed into a far more obtuse stance, one that has no redeeming qualities other than the response from the majority indicating that they wish also they had not been enticed down the rabbit hole. while yesterday's ground-breaking ceremony was recorded on many a ubiquitous smartphone, yours truly was to be seen with an ageing compact digital camera, a device that is likely soon to be seen in the victoria and albert museum.

the last time i took a train from glasgow central to drumchapel in order to visit family, everyone in the carriage (apart from me), was to be seen on a phone or tablet, and when i disembarked at partick to change trains, everyone on the platform was staring at a screen of some sort. boarding my change of train, the scene in the carriage was, once again, exactly the same. no doubt there's a rational, sociological explanation, but it's one of which i'd prefer not to be a part.

however, to reiterate a once well-worn cliché, there's an app for that.

i do, however, possess a couple of apple ipods, used predominantly for listening to jazz, but additionally making use of the reminders app. aside from the mundane day to day, when i replace the chain on my ritchey or specialized, i set a reminder for three months hence to check whether a replacement is due. it has proved both simple and effective. but, of course, it lacks a certain redundant sophistication, and links not to zwift, strava, or digital banking. on that basis alone, i am assured that my method is without the necessary gravitas. thus, the velocipedinal sophisticate must look elsewhere.

fortunately, for those who laugh in the face of pragmatic simplicity, there is ceramicspeed. their new bike app available for both ios and android devices, will calculate the shelf life of components such as bottom bracket bearings and chains, by linking to strava (of course it does), collecting your generated distance information to calculate when said components are likely to be in need of renewal. additionally, it offers to assist the needy when it comes to aligning the handlebars with the front wheel.

how did mankind ever make it this far?

to further refine the experience, ceramicspeed hope to add-in weather conditions in future updates to take account of inclement conditions that might conceivably aggravate wear and require more frequent replacement (perhaps there should be a bespoke 'west-of-scotland' edition?). and yes, there are different wear calculation rates for road or gravel bikes.

remember when we used to be clever and pay attention to details?

friday 30 june 2023

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emerging from the quandary


it's quite probably the result of hitherto unconsidered insecurities, but i am currently undertaking several hours of percussive exploration in an atempt to improve my dexterity and co-ordination across my remarkably impressive drumset. soon to be augmented with a second floor tom, its resemblance to the sets used by gene krupa and buddy rich only serves to increase its aesthetic, and it is perhaps this verisimilitude that impresses upon me the need (or desire) to replicate at least a smidgeon of their respective talents. that said, i am convinced the closest i will get to the abilities of either will be sitting behind a near replica drumset.

marine pearl has rarely looked so good.

though you may not have given the subject much thought, it is a tautology that the isles of islay and jura are very far from being the centre of the musical universe. though i have played drums across the thirty-something years i have been domiciled in the hebrides, there have been large, yearly gaps in my percussive productivity. currently, that has been salved by the timely emergence of a band in which i might make a glorious noise, but invariably, the frequently nomadic existence of island residents, tends to ensure that such music-making exists as a short-time endeavour.

prior to moving this far west, i was mostly gainfully employed in the art of playing the drums, a period during which i also found myself questioning the minimalistic upper limits of my technique. this, i think it safe to say, is something that affects all musicians, not just drummers, despite apparent evidence to the contrary. for starters, in my previous life, i never struggled for session gigs, presumably, i am led to believe, on the basis that those meagre abilities mentioned earlier, were considered more than adequate. it could be that there is some truth in this approach; throughout my lengthy career (such as it is) as a drummer, the only odd time signature which i have been asked to play, is 5/4. it's hard to deny that the majority of bands are looking for a drummist closer to charlie watts or kenny buttrey, rather than dave weckl or billy cobham.

strangely, that doesn't seem to stop the majority from trying to emulate the latter, as opposed to the former.

my current music-making endeavours are no different; though i like to think there's always room for improvement, in truth, i am perfectly capable of accommodating pretty much all that is likely to be thrown in my direction. which, aside from shifting the accent across flammed paradiddles, has me continually querying why i spend so much time philosophising over the need for continual complexity of rhythm? there are very few additional techniques for which i might find recurring use, so why not stop now and be satisfied with what i've got?

but then i find a comparison within the velocipedinal world that makes me feel a tad less out of sorts, a vehicle for comparison that can be summed up in a single word: saddles.

the brooks website currently displays a total of 42 saddles, while selle italia features 20 saddles for road alone. had i the time, i'm sure that by checking alternative saddle-based websites, i could numerate saddles in their hundreds. and then, i come across news that ere research has announced the launch of its new saddle line. according to ere, these have been designed "with the needs of professional and beginner cyclists in mind". somewhat unnecessarily, they also mentioned that the saddles offer "comfort, performance, and versatility for riders of all levels.", factors that you'd imagine would be the very goals that were set out to be achieved in the first place.

i do understand that our posteriors are reputably all different, and that, taken to its logical conclusion, there ought to be as many saddles as there are backsides wishing to ride bicycles. but over the course of a cycling lifetime of nigh on fifty years, i have only ever found one particular design of saddle that proved imcompatible with my bum. and over those fifty years, i have ridden a lot of bicycles. so why, when there are surely already enough saddles in the world, offering (and i quote) "comfort, performance, and versatility", why are there still manufacturers hell-bent on adding to that world?

can we not simply agree that there are already enough from which to choose, and time would be better spent inventing something else we don't really need?

thursday 29 june 2023

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opposites attract

skoda 2010 tv advert

first published in 2014 by velopress, goggles and dust is a compact and bijou hardback featuring monochrome photos from cycling's rich heritage, and drawn from the horton collection, a uniquely impressive assemblage of cycling memorabilia curated by shelly and brett horton. the cover image depicts jef demuysere and gaston rebry battling each other on the col bayard during the 1929 tour de france. aside from the two velocipedinal opponents, the only other object to appear midst the dust, is a motor car.

opening the book to view the remainder of these historic images, the first illustration encountered by the reader is of a toy jeep sporting a tall rack at the rear, which carries two drop bar race bikes. of the 100 images contained within goggles and dust, at least 24 feature motor vehicles of one description or another. these photos mainly originate from the halcyon years of the 1920s and 30s, when the motor car was still in its relative infancy, and considering the condition of the roads depicted in this collection of photos, possibly of sturdier construction than those in today's showrooms.

the same could probably be said of the bicycles and their riders.

as far as road cycle racing is concerned, the motor car is an inseparable part of the process. though many of the tv cameras are now operated by motorbike-mounted videographers, the realisation that riders such as primoz roglic can opt to change to a cervelo with gears more in tune with the mountain he is about to ascend, has necessitated that each tour de france team be equipped with a veritable phalanx of motor vehicles, without which, such events would simply not exist in their present format.

several years ago, skoda, official car sponsor of the tour de france, presented a tv advert showing a group of cyclists cresting a mountain summit, soon to be followed by four stout fellows carrying a shouldered rack with spare bicycles. the implication and the caption suggested that the race was every bit as reliant on skoda as it was on the competitors. to quote aso's christian prudhomme, "Skoda is an important partner and plays a key and obvious role in the organisation of the Tour de France due to the fact that it is an event where we are almost constantly on the move."

there are, of course, the naysayers, a group of which i might count myself as an affiliate member, but one with perhaps a more pragmatic outook. discounting the impracticality of skoda's tv advert mentioned above, it has been occasionally suggested that featuring more and more motor vehicles each year, to the point where the agglomeration of cars and motorbikes, to say nothing of the helicopters, already outnumbers the bicycles themselves. surely, the queries continue, if the bicycle is indeed the solution to the world's transport problems, the professional milieu is in serious danger of minimising the very message it perhaps endeavours to spread?

but is that a realistic apprehension of that which cycle racing appears to purport? at any point in cycling's rich heritage, did anyone actually state that the whole point of the exercise was to promote the all encompassing power of the bicycle? granted, there are videos on youtube depicting how it is perfectly possible to move the entire contents of a house by bicycle; fridges, washingmachines and wardrobes included. however, i have a more than sneaking suspicion that such videos are expressly filmed to make a point. in certain jurisdictions (portland, oregon, for instance), those of a velocipedinal disposition are quite likely to have many friends of a similar inclination, armed with cargo bikes and eager and willing to proselytise to the great unwashed.

cycle racing, on the other hand is all about competition. following his retirement from track success, sir chris hoy appears to have moved onto motor car racing, denying, in one simple move, any unique efficacy of his named bicyle range, while simultaneously demonstrating that he might be of a distinctly competitive nature, irrespective of how that is expressed. meanwhile, it may be apprehended as ironic that a car company such as skoda gains a sizeable proportion of its commercial adulation from association with cycling. it may, however, be considered slightly odd, that in 2004, someone within skoda figured it a bit of a wizard wheeze to associate itself with a bicycle race in the first place.

odd, but remarkably astute.

according to the company, it "...provides more than 200 support vehicles for members of the organising team and event management." considering this year's event commencing in bilbao this coming saturday will host a total of 176 riders, the naysayers may well have a point, smugly highlighting that there are way more cars involved than bicycles.

what is possibly of greater concern to skoda and the tour organisers, is the current range limitations of the few electric vehicles driving behind the peloton. is it likely that, come 2030 when new petrol and diesel cars are no more, that there may be either shorter stages, or mid-stage breaks in order to recharge the tour's e-cars?

potential impracticalities aside, positioning any professional cycle race as the poster boy for the power of the bicycle is never going to end well. and were we to look behind the wizard's green curtain, would we not find a peloton of riders whose often impressive salaries have allowed their garages to fill with porsches, ferraris and other assorted excessive means of transport?

lobbying governments and councils to provide better cycling facilities to improve the lot of commuting and leisure cyclists is all very well and good, but cycle racing, just like formula one motor racing, has as much in common with such aspirations as verstappen's red bull has with a community mini-bus. we all know that the bicycle eats other means of transport for breakfast, and would, if given half a chance, cure both climate change and hayfever. but the tour de france is not the way to either prove or advertise the fact.

just enjoy the spectacle its three weeks provides, unfettered by environmental and social concerns. those can restart in august.

wednesday 28 june 2023

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return of the jedi

star wars

progress, in pretty much every strain of modern (commercial?) life is inexorable. when was the last time you read a press release from one of the world's major component manufacturers announcing the upcoming release of a seven-speed groupset? to save you any time on google, i'll simply point out that the answer is never. though i confess i'm still surprised that campagnolo's wireless groupset was only twelve-speed, given the existence of (albeit mechanical) a thirteen-speed ekar groupset, i think it safe to say that we expect gearing to head in only one direction. even yesterday's highlighted pinion motor/gearbox combination tops out at twelve internal gears. it seems to be very much a case of the first manufacturer to blink, or state that their recent developments were possibly a mistake, will be deemed a cissy.

granted, there was a time in the world of percussion, when bigger equated to better. where once tom-toms adhered to the industry standard of 12" x 8", there was a time not so very long ago when those dimensions expanded to 12" x 10", or even, on rare occasions, 12" x 12". at the local secondary school, the music teacher's classroom is inhabited by just such a drumset, one that has proven particularly popular with many a teenage percussive aspirant, entirely on the basis that it looks more 'rock'n'roll' than its more modern counterpart in the recording studio. of late, matters have returned to the more conservative 12" x 8", except the latter has become the large tom to the right of a 10" x 7" or 10" x 6".

and while i have criticised the falsely described new tech purportedly displayed in the past weekend's eurobike videos, drum shows are every bit as lacking, content mostly to re-wrap last year's drums in a hitherto unseen sparkle. and where electronic drumsets were once pragmatically portable consisting of easily carried thin, flat pads, more recently, e-drums have become all but indistinguishable from their acoustic brethren, for no other reason than the manufacturer has learned how to make them indistinguishable from their acoustic brethren. even though there is, in fact, no explicable reason for so doing.

once again, a deaf industry has created another solution desperately searching for a problem.

increasingly, even casual observation would suggest that many new products and so-called new technology, exists because it can, rather than because it needed to. over recent years, we have been presented with a variety of 3-d printed saddles, when there are surely so many saddles already available, that it would be an incredibly unique person unable to find a suitable seat. and eurobike did display a 3-d printed titanium bicycle frame, retailing far above the cost of a tig-welded example and apparently existing solely to demonstrate that it could.

despite the majority of recent pelotonic conversations surrounding electronic groupsets on road bikes, a general agreement that it is, indeed, a solution looking for a problem, seems to be the common outcome. yet, shimano and sram have appeared to deny the futile cries from at least some of their customer-base, to hold back on the electrons, while frame manufacturers, probably encouraged by the electronic trend, have removed every last cable stop from the tubing. to paraphrase sir cliff richard, the modern way is wired for shift'. if i might cite my own circumstances, my ritchey logic does feature external cable stops and would likely prove less than convenient were i to attempt installation of an electronic groupset. and not just because of those redundant cable stops.

however, it may be that logical reasoning, encouraged by at least one eye on the bottom line, may have brought about a small retrenchment. sram recently introduced their apex axs groupsets in both electronic and mechanical versions (the latter due in september this year), while a bicycle on the corratec stand at eurobike last weekend, sported the unannounced (and subsequently denied by shimano) 105 mechanical. the denial was relinquished on demonstration of video by shane miller.

granted, i think the rim/disc brake battle has been lost, but you do have to wonder whether the release of mechanical versions was always on the cards, or whether the customer has, in effect, called, if not a halt, a bit of a slowdown? as has been pointed out by several commentators, the quest for both electronica and hydraulics was borne from neither the professional classes nor the average customer on the street. both were entirely industry led, for which there are many conspiracy theories. now that the 105 cat is metaphorically out of the bag, it'll be interesting to see how long it takes shimano to admit its existence, and how many manufacturers will spec it on next year's bicycles?

if this small resurgence becomes comparable to the rise and rise of the vinyl record, perhaps sooner, rather than later, the trade publications will inform us that mechanical has begun to outsell electrons

tuesday 27 june 2023

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