the way we are

missoula, montana usa

i am not a particularly well-travelled individual. i did holiday in spanish related countries with my parents when only just embarking on my teenage years, but in truth, i really had little option in those cases. as an adult, i've marched in a kilt down sixth avenue, new york and on into central park, beating the living daylights out of a snare drum, and i spent a few very, very cold days in kansas learning how to make those beatings a tad more technical. i spent two separate weeks in portland, oregon, scoping out the bicycle culture in america's pacific northwest and enjoyed several days in california's capital city, sacramento, attending the north american handbuilt bicycle show (nahbs).

in terms of cycling activities, as a creature of habit, i have undertaken three hot chillee london-paris rides, in 2007, 2008 and 2017. and in 2014, i rode around provence at the behest of the launch of the now sadly demised, rapha travel. and that, quite succinctly, is that.

through reviewing many guide books that describe a wide array of fabulous foreign locations, i have become an armchair adventurer, happy to witness a plethora of colour images and read about each twist and turn of a myriad of overseas roads, without any inherent desire to follow in the authors' tyre-tracks. it's not a trait of which i am particularly proud, but in reality, there's little point, i feel, in pushing myself to undertake cycle trips that it's quite possible i might not enjoy.

this was the subject of conversation between the two of us who comprised yesterday's sunday peloton (though i fear we may have been playing fast and loose with the word 'peloton'). the subject was inspired by the arrival at debbie's of an american gentleman aboard a heavily laden bicycle, fronted with a home-built handlebar box contianing a small dog. while the bike's rider had struggled in the strong winds strafing the principality yesterday, the dog seemed largely untroubled.

in conversation with the rider, it transpired that he hailed originally from missoula, montana, and had been riding across europe and the uk for the last eleven months. i seriously doubt that i would have the nerve, not to mention the cash, nor the time to spend almost the last year riding here there and everywhere. but surely one of the joys of the bicycle, is that it can be all things to all people, allowing the likes of yours truly to ride around islay pretty much every weekend, compared with an american chap and his dog for whom such comparatively compact and bijou distances would scarcely be worth getting out of bed in the morning.

this garrulous fellow informed us that the custom bicycle on which he rode, built in seattle, could be easily converted into a tandem (i jest not). apparently, his wife would join him at various locations along the way, carrying with her, the section required to insert in the frame's middle and transform it into a bicycle built for two. trying extending the length of a motor car on the fly. in the post conversation research, satisfying my geographical need to find out just where montana is in north america, i learned that the state not only features a town named glasgow, but is home to yellowstone national park.

who knew?

i am somewhat disappointed in myself that even meeting adventure cyclists (and their dogs) such that described above, did nothing whatsoever to encourage my own lack of any sense of adventure. but as one of my office colleagues is fond of repeating, "it's just as well we're all different." and it's a comforting thought that the bicycle seems sufficiently versatile to cater for the majority of those differences.

incidentally, i did find it necessary to point out how much more appropriate the names of american towns are when included in song titles. imagine gene pitney's 24 hours to tulsa, rephrased as 24 hours to govan.

monday 17 july 2023

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staring me in the face

easy bikes - bike snob nyc

when the soon-to-be ubiquitous e-bike first appeared on the velocipedinal scene, sales were less than complimentary, and i thought i knew the reason. why, went my own rationale, are they advertising motor-assisted bicycles to those who already ride bicycles and to those of an age and capability to ride acoustic cycles? why would anyone with even a half-way decent level of health and fitness, choose to ride such machinery? of course, as is invariably the case, my reasoning was well wide of the mark, making the entirely incorrect assumption that humanity viewed the acoustic bicycle as a perfectly reasonable and functional means of transport.

i had not taken into account the over-riding predilection to subsist on the easiest option available.

apart from the die-hard naysayers, who believe not that the world will succumb to the planet-wide effects of a man-made climate crisis, most of us know what it is we must do to avoid taking our home to the brink and over the edge. the recent energy crisis brought about by the war in ukraine, forced many to take a far closer look at their energy usage, despite, for the majority, the war having no direct impact upon daily life. yet the very threat of more prevalent heatwaves, rising sea-levels and increased number of wild-fires was the province of governments; what could we possibly do as individuals?

therefore, until matters become the subject of law, nobody is inclined to voluntarily alter their behaviour. the fact that western nations have opted to ban the sale of motor cars with fossil fuelled engines commencing between 2030 and 2035, has persuaded those who can afford it, to shift to electric vehicles, a situation that it is hard to believe would arisen had the option been entirely voluntary. and active travel initiatives, such as that portrayed in yesterday's post, strongly suggest that shorter journeys, such as the daily commute, could better be achieved by walking or cycling. the latter, i would humbly suggest, will require a wholesale change of mindset if it is ever to reach the necessary critical mass, a state that i think, however well-meaning, those travel initiatives are rarely, if ever, likely to achieve.

and then the reality of what is actually happening, is highlighted in such a clear and concise manner, that i'm kicking myself for not have seen it staring me in the face.

i mentioned only a matter of days past, that i had been passed by two american visitors to the island, clearly around half my age, riding e-bikes. and on the following day, as the remnants of the sunday morning peloton headed homeward, we witnessed a large group of twenty-somethings, heading in the opposite direction, once again all aboard e-bikes. and a recent blogpost by eben weiss, aka bike snob nyc made glaringly obvious sense out of that nomenclature by branding them as easy-bikes. as he perceptively stated, "...e-bikes and all the rest of it aren't taking people out of their cars; they're taking people away from old-fashioned bikes. I don't know how they can keep pushing this 'reducing car trips' thing when it's so completely obvious."

and mr weiss is absolutely correct. placing everything in a remarkably well-informed nutshell, he says, "Over the course of human history, at no point have we abandoned an easier form of transport for one that's more difficult. It just doesn't happen that way." we are kidding ourselves that those with suvs sitting in their immaculately manicured driveways, or garages with remote control doors, are going to abandon all that in favour of an electric cargo bike, or his and hers turbo vados. it's quite possible that the e-bike sector is the sole growth area in modern-day cycling, because folks are buying those instead of acoustic bikes.

consider, if you will, the fact that colnago, bianchi and pinarello all offer electric road bikes in their ranges, sales of which you would imagine to be the wrong side of almost non-existent. but were that to be the case, why would they bother creating such machinery in the first place? i was always naively of the apprehension that folks who bought any level of road bike, did so for the challege of comparing themselves to the professional classes, eager to demonstrate their ascending or sprinting prowess within their peer group. where could there possibly be any bragging rights to be had doing so aboard carbon fibre benefitting from battery power and motor assistance?

yet, as bike snob nyc continues, "E-bikes and other contraptions are simply attracting the people who were already open to riding regular bikes, and who like being outside, and don't mind experiencing weather. As such, they're not emptying the highways and making our cities safer and more 'livable,' they're simply filling up the bike paths and supplanting pedal power." based purely on observation, the man's not wrong.

and it seems increasingly likely that, until governments or local councils issue decrees that any journey of less than ten kilometres (admittedly, an abitrary distance) cannot be undertaken by motor vehicle, nothing's ever likely to change. the two teachers living in bowmore who drive large suvs a matter of metres to school each day, will doubtless continue to do so until someone actually puts an official stop to it. if the ten kilometre distance were law, parking problems in every village on islay, would likely evaporate overnight, a situation that would spread far wider than simply the hebrides.

as scotland approaches the onset of the uci's world championship series of events taking place in glasgow during august, they are being presented as the country's opportunity to highlight the practicalities offered by bicycle transport. yet, though e-bikes are not an intrinsic part of this colossal celebration of cycling, there is a glaringly obvious disconnect. colourful pelotons of professional cyclists hammering at speed through city-centre streets have about as much relevance to active travel as louis hamilton and max verstappen have to the weekend trip to the supermarket.

the easy-bike as named by mr weiss, is not the solution its makers and supporters would have us believe. though it causes no pollution at point of use, all that electricity has to come from somewhere, and at present, there's still a sizeable proportion not generated by renewables. the acoustic bicycle, on the other hand, once manufactured, creates no pollution, requires only its rider to store and expend energy, and the health benefits of which easily outpace those achieved on easy-bikes.

i am not, nor, i believe, is eben weiss, arguing for the 'un-invention' of the e-bike; there are several categories of people who can benefit greatly from its existence. disppointingly, but not inexplicably, many who have the physical wherewithal to ride an acoustic bicycle a great deal further than my arbitrary ten kilometres, are simply taking the easy option, no matter how much more expensive.

but e-bikes are very unlikely to tempt drivers out of their cars. the sooner those in charge of active travel initiatives understand this reality, the sooner they can consider admittedly less popular alternatives to stemming car use. even if they are easy-cars (to paraphrase bike snob).

thanks to james lamont for the (possibly inadvertent) inspiration.

sunday 16 july 2023

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trying hard

scotland's cycle share fund

i have a feeling i may have broached this initial subject on a previous occasion, but since it seems pertinent to today's monologue, it is probably worth briefly reprising. when i was in my middle teens and particularly interested in motor cars from an engineering perspective (i have since learned to mend my ways) my schoolfriends and i were often in the habit of visiting the car dealerships to be found along a road joining the town in which we lived, with its adjacent partner. though too young to even apply for a provisional driver's licence, there was a certain fascination to be realised by collecting manufacturers' brochures to read, while sitting inside one or more of the vehicles contained within those brochures.

in retrospect, those must indeed, have been very different times; i find it hard to believe that the sales departments of several car sales outlets were actually happy to have two or more schoolboys clambering inside and outside their showroom models, without even thinking of issuing a stern telling off. and i have no recollection of ever being chastised for leaving with several colour brochures in a carrier bag emblazoned with the manufacturer's logo, despite being obviously not a potential customer at the time.

in fact, when i finally did pass my driving test, my first car was a beat-up ford escort mk1 in which the driver's side footwell filled with water everytime it rained. so if those salesmen were being tactically generous in the expectation of future business, it failed miserably.

but even when time came to purchase the aforesaid ramshackle escort, the sales outlet from which it was purchased, still allowed a brief test-drive in order that i might see, at first hand, just how little i was getting for my money, before i drove off into the sunset. there are of course, the verified scare stories regarding test-drives. a friend of mine and his better half once took a test drive in a new vehicle in which they had expressed a preference. however, after only a matter of kilometres on the homeward journey, they realised that, in fact, it was not the car of their dreams.

on returning immediately to the dealership, they patiently explained to the salesman the reasons for their change of mind in favour of another vehicle which had sat close by on the showroom floor. the salesman said that he fully understood their rationale and would see what price he might offer for the return of the originally chosen car. yes, indeed, having driven only a matter of ten kilometres from the showroom, the car's price had devalued by several thousand pounds. you pays your money, you takes your choice.

they chose to keep the car.

a similar opportunity is rarely afforded to the aspiring cyclist. those of us who consider ourselves members of the velocipedinal cognoscenti, prefer to think that our continual research into such matters has prepared us sufficiently well to make satisfactory choices without recourse to an 'actual' test-ride. and if there is any doubt to be expressed over the minutiae of our proposed choices, dave arthur has probably ridden it, so we can rely on his informed opinion. but what of those who are insufficiently well informed; those who have yet to clamber aboard anything remotely bicycle-shaped, at least since they were ten?

the scottish government, thankfully, appears to have a cunning plan, made manifest through their cycle share fund. though defined in in slightly presumptious language, the fund intends to "...get more people in Scotland cycling by providing grants for schemes that give people affordable, easy and convenient access to a bike that they don't own." though not freely available to individuals, grants from the fund will enable suitably constituted organisations to purchase cycles and equipment to provide suitable schemes that enable individual access to bicycles for those who do not own, or cannot afford to own personal bicycles.

in its efforts to bolster active travel across the nation, holyrood recognises that the upfront costs of purchasing a bicycle can sometimes prove prohibitive, while others may feel unsure about just what sort of bicycle might prove suitable, or harbour fears about maintaining their choice, or even find themselves without anywhere safe to store it. the government quite rightly maintains that removing barriers such as those described above will benefit scottish residents financially, support their health and wellbeing and benefit local communities and the environment.

the fund will support the likes of cycle loan, subscription and hire schemes, bike libraries, pool bikes and bike shares. grants are open to any organisation which already operates such schemes, or has plans so to do, including charitable and community organisations, schools and other workplaces. any organisation that feels this might be right up their street (pun intended) should e-mail to receive notification when the fund opens for applications.

governments are often rightly criticised for all manner of indiscretions and wayward policies, but every now and again, they get something right.

saturday 15 july 2023

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me too?

dmt tadej shoes

david millar, currently co-commentator along with ned boulting on itv4's tour de france coverage and originator of vowel deficient chptr 3 cycle clothing, self-identifies as scottish, despite having been born in hong kong. he did, however, live in the country with his mother for several years, so i dare say his claims have as much validity as many others. during his illustrious career as a top-level professional cyclist, his adherence to scottishness extended as far as the wearing of socks featuring the scottish saltire, a national flag that has been all but hi-jacked by the independence movement north of the border.

in that particular era, the highly renowned prendas ciclismo under its previous owners, offered similarly constituted footwear for the less athletically endowed, a pair of which i cheerfully admit, i purchased. and as it happens, i recall asking andy storey whether those nationalistic socks would confer mr millar's time-trialling ability upon far slower individuals such as yours truly. his answer inferred that such would indeed be the case, but i believe he may have fibbed.

the low road on islay, leading in a remarkably straight, thirteen kilometre line from port ellen to bowmore, inherited its trajectory from a 1960s proposal to construct a hebridean railway. that it survives as a tarmac'd, dual-lane road is apparently at the behest of the beeching cuts, the name given to a wholesale restructuring of the british rail system by the then chairman of the british railways board, richard beeching. whether the rail-line was to have terminated at bowmore, or whether it was expected to continue to other villages on the island, we'll probably never know. it is currently the main route for ferry traffic from islay's southern port, and also the principal option exercised by the pot ale tankers carrying the leftovers from the distilling process from both ardbeg and lagavulin, north to the repository at caol ila.

much of the road is built over peat, which not only offers its services to the kilns of several distilleries on the island, but is a less than solid underpinning of a heavily used road. if you stand by the roadside as one of the above mentioned tankers passes, it closely resembles the sensation of standing upon a waterbed. this, as you might expect, has visible repercussions, as the ground below the tarmac tends to relent under the weight, causing visible subsidence at the road's edges.

many years past, when i was regularly to be seen aboard a colnago c40, i would generally ride in and out of those road-edge depressions, while the mighty dave-t maintained station nearer the centre of the road. recommending that i join him on that less troubled section of road, i demurred, on the basis that the colnago c40 had won several editions of paris-roubaix. the might dave quickly pointed out that such may indeed have been the case, but on none of those occasions had i been riding it.

it is a conceit and implication of the modern-day cycling paradigm (and similar musical situations) that riding or using a bicycle in every way similar to those employed by our world tour heroes, will confer upon the less athletically endowed, a similar level of prowess. it is the very basis of the sponsorship model, without belief in which the entire house of cards turns out to be the emperor's new clothes. to wit: if i too were to ride each sunday morning clad in a red bull decorated helmet, i would confidentally exhibit the considerable powers demonstrated by wout van aert or tom pidcock.

the recent acquisition of a second drum workshop floor tom, identically sized to that already in my possession, takes me one step closer to realising a drumset, clad as it is in vintage marine pearl, akin to that played by both buddy rich and gene krupa. i have only a front mounted cymbal arm to position, atop which there will be a 6" splash , and the look is complete. i am, however, well aware, that my ability to play said drumset is as far from the skills of either rich or krupa, as my cycling ability differs from that of mathieu van der poel.

a good friend of mine purchased a specialized peter sagan model several years past, which he not only soon discovered was a tad stiffer than he'd expected, but with him aboard, had no earthly chance of conferring the right to wear the uci's rainbow hoops at any time in the foreseeable future. it would appear that peter sagan might be a far better and quicker rider than my friend. which seriously calls into question why anyone would spend such a large amount of money upon a bicycle ostensibly designed for the abilities of a three-time world road race champion.

sponsorship of this kind stops far short of guaranteeing to produce performances identical to those whose name has been taken in (expensive) vain, but the implication is that, equipped with frame, componentry, clothing etc. as used by the great and the good, we too can attain similar achievements. "if it's good enough for jonas vingegaard, it's good enough for you and i." except, demonstrably, that is very unlikely to be the case. but, as i mentioned above, creating that impression is the very basis of sports sponsorship.

there are, however, occasional slices of reality that intervene. in a feature on the colnago c68 all road in a recent issue of cyclist magazine, colnago's pr fellow stated quite categorically that the v4rs, as ridden by tadej and the other boys in the band, really wasn't designed for the very customers likely to purchase said bicycle on the basis that tadej rides one. but still the metaphor persists, as can be witnessed by italian shoe manufacturer dmt releasing a collaborative effort with tour challenger, tadej pogacar. the special 'pogi' version of their lightest shoe, the kr sl, features a heartbeat design around the shoe with all the colours of his race and stage victories, while the design reflects his signature.

despite being released to coincide with those three weeks in july, the uk version won't be available until later this month, possibly missing a tactical association with the slovenian. the lace-up footwear is also reckoned to be the first example of race footwear to include an nfc tag, allowing immediate recognition of the wearer along with all their biographical and clinical data such as blood group, allergies, current therapies and diseases.

odlly enough, despite the inclusion of laces, i'm sure i witnessed tadej tightening his footwear in preparation for a finish-line sprint, suggesting that perhaps even tadej realises it's not actually the footwear that wins his races.

dmt road footwear

friday 14 july 2023

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look both ways

medicine bottles

i am, happy to relate, not an individual who suffers any form of mental health problems (though i'm sure one or two of my colleagues would take issue), but like many, i do infrequently crave some immediate rest and recuperation to head off any incoming stress patterns before they have a chance to take hold. it's eminently possible that this has been the case for many a long year, but something i first noticed during the periods of lockdown during the covid pandemic.

due to financial constraints at my place of work, along with the furloughing of the majority of staff, coupled with a pressing need to take on responsibilities that had, hitherto, been those of someone else, along with millions of others, life changed a bit. in the long-term, this has turned out to be a tad less onerous that it seemed at the time, mostly because, having found a means of filling the pages of a newspaper when effectively, on the hallowed isle, absolutely nothing was happening, it's a bit easier now. however, during what i like to refer as my (desperately) creative period, the need for some means of releasing pent up pressure was always going to be a necessary part of life at that time.

i count myself as extremely fortunate that, not only did i have my bicycles, but an island that had, in effect, been isolated from the rest of the world. this meant that, pretty much as a result of the latter, all that i surveyed was mine for the taking (so to speak). in the current times of frequent encounters with motorhomes, i sometimes yearn for those far-off days of lockdown. however, as an erstwhile friend once said, "nothing's ever worse after a bike ride", a truism if ever there was one.

an acquaintance of mine who lives on another of the hebridean islands, earlier this week tweeted that, while driving across the isle of harris in pouring rain, there were probably more than just a few touring cyclists at that moment, who were re-examining their life choices. i responded to disagree; there can be few cyclists of any disposition who would cycle across any of scotland's west coast islands, convinced that they will remain perfectly dry, even in the month of july. rain is, in scotland at least, an integral part of the cycing experience. it simply reminds you that you're alive; it's a part of the exercise that adds a frisson of variety.

of course, i and my velo club colleagues were not the sole individuals to resort to exercise (as we like to call it) to lighten the load at the end of a diffficult week in difficult times. however, i tend to think we were more highly favoured, given that our interpretation of the government advice to exercise locally, extended to anywhere at all, as long as we remained on the island. to be quite honest, other than resolving to cycle alone (as advised by british cycling), nothing really changed for islay's cyclists.

though i'm unsure if such an enforced situation could be held responsible, it seems that there are a number of councils south of the border (along with, i'm led to believe, one or two in scotland) who have seen the value of both walking and cycling when it comes to improving the mental health of those who tend to suffer from more negative experiences. though it has been talked about before and even previously mentioned in these very pixels, it seems that the idea of offering cycling and walking on prescription, has begun to take hold in the national health mindset.

eleven english councils have received shares of £13.9 million for projects that will see patients offered free access to guided walking and cycling activities, cycle training and bike loans. though the majority of those gathered here will be more than well aware of the health benefits to be gained from cycling in any of its principal forms, active travel commissioner, chris boardman said that, "Many studies have shown active travel has massive health benefits. Enabling people to travel under their own steam will help reduce conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, whilst at the same time, improving mental wellbeing."

coincidentally, this initiative would appear to tick moe than a single box. not only should it achieve its principal aim of improving health and mental health, but as a result, could eventually relieve pressure on the nhs, while helping make more sustainable travel choices. if i might briefly return to the riding in the rain meme mentioned above, since it is my habitual choice to ride my bike in all weathers, as long as i'm not in danger of being blown off my bicycle, i believe there are several island residents who have questioned my own level of sanity in so doing. with luck, prescribing cycling as a potential cure will allow more folk to see what we see and to feel what we feel.

nothing's ever worse after a bike ride.

thursday 13 july 2023

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you're going the wrong way

as i neared home on saturday afternoon, i became aware of a bicycle bell ringing from behind. sure that it was one of my sunday morning colleagues simply announcing his unheralded arrival, even though several kilometres from his own abode, i backed off slightly, only to be passed by two visitors aboard a couple of hired e-bikes, the first of whom expressed the notion that she might be 'cheating', while her american partner slyly stated "it's on, bro". they were both, on brief appraisal, around half my own age, yet had apparently found it necessary to hire bikes with motors and batteries, despite the outlet from which the hire had originated advertising the availability of regular acoustic bikes.

i confess that i accepted the hastily and obviously humorous challenge, principally on the basis that i figured i'd show them just how quickly a solely human-powered bicycle could proceed in the face of adversity, remaining glued to the fellow's rear wheel all the way to bowmore main street. the challenge sort of fell apart at that point, when they both realised they didn't actually have much idea of where they were going. i left to ascend towards the round church.

then, the following day, as three of us returned from debbie's after toastie for lunch, having slogged into a sturdy headwind along uiskentuie strand, we were faced with a snaking line of twenty-somethings heading in the opposite direction, once again, all aboard e-bikes. but far from producing the more usual 'red rag to a bull' response from yours truly, i bore in mind the admonishment i had recently received, having had it pointed out that not everyone viewed bike riding as both challenge and exercise, particularly if on holiday.

i have frequently mentioned in these very pixels, that, currently (pun intended), the bicycle industry appears to be being saved by the ever-rising sales of e-bikes, flying in the face of flatlining or declining sales of pretty much every other genre of bicycle, including the much-favoured gravel bike. this may indicate that those jumping on the gravel bandwagon may be striding two choices by purchasing e-gravel bikes, a category of bicycle that, if there were any justice in the world, simply would not exist.

though benjamin franklin is generally credited as the inventor, or discoverer of electricity, in point of fact, his experiments with kites midst local thunderstorms, were actually responsible for proving the existence of electricity. the work of several scientists prior to franklin's experiments had already laid the foundations for its natural existence. it was the late nineteenth century before the arrival of early means of independently generating electricity to provide motive power, the electric motor having been invented by michael faraday in 1821.

having moved from steam power through the infernal combustion engine and most recently onto an increasing use of electricity in the transportation paradigm, what concerns many is that the generation part of the equation appears to be well down the list of priorities, not to mention the disarming lack of recharging infrastructure across the uk, for both motor vehicles and e-bikes. so far, there is little indication that e-bikes are being extensively or regularly used for journeys outwith the range of a single battery charge. that day, however, cannot be too far distant if the e-bike acquisition rate is to be believed. and it is also notable just how many automotive manufacturers have taken an interest in the e-bike market, perhaps the most notable adherent being that of porsche.

whether this heralds a recognition that future electric-based transport might not lie solely within the automotive realm is largely untested at present, but it would be a very confident manufacturer who ignores all aspects of what might well be an intrinsic part of the future.

but it seems that such traffic (pun, once again, intended) is not all heading in one direction. this is not to suggest that there are cycle manufacturers intent on producing electric motor vehicles, but more a means of heralding that a media outlet currenty invested in the velocipedinal realm, has announced its intention to move onto four wheels, always assuming that those wheels are powered by electricity. the oddly named f-at digital, owners of, and has opted to join the automotive throng with, a website with a mission " help owners get the most out of their electric vehicle experience through unbiased news, features, reviews and buying advice." though we may all labour under the misapprehension that those responsible for providing us with regular pixelated cycling sustenance are totally in thrall to the world of carbon, it seems a tad more likely that their interest lies more in the accumulation of financial sustenance, a common trait in today's world.

oddly enough, a quick visit to the f-at digital website elicits a claim writ large to the effect that they are 'the uk's fastest growing independent cycling publisher'. at the time of writing, there is no mention on their home page of the new website.

are we feeling betrayed?

wednesday 12 july 2023

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surface tension


the professionals, as well we know, are not like us. they are able to travel at speeds at least double those that any of us could achieve, yet carry on a conversation with their near neighbours in the peloton without breathing through their ears. were we to attempt a similar means of discussion, there would be endless calls for medical support, followed by the need to lie down in a darkened room. yet, despite such obvious differences, there does still, at certain events, seem to be the opportunity to dispense with any thoughts of them and us, where the stars of the sport are every bit as accessible as the delivery chap who just brought me a replacement 13" remo ambassador drumhead.

i confess, however, that i have never seen the fellow aboard a bicycle.

but aside from their demonstrable athletic prowess, there is another factor that separates us from our idols: potholes. particularly during any of the three grand tours, many of the roads over which battle is fought have been very recently resurfaced. there are also the telltale spiders' web threads of shiny tar that have been employed to infil potentially derailing cracks in the surface or, heaven forfend, actual potholes.

it will rarely have escaped your attention that, when following close behind the rider in front, it is all but impossible to notice any potential pitfalls that might swallow the front wheel. it is presumably this specific possibility that led to the frontmost club riders gesticulating wildly at the ground, keen to point out crevasses left on the surface by errant council or utlitity workers. of course, assuming that mainland roads feature similar dishevelled topography as do those of islay, there will be many bicycle riders who spend their entire weekends with only one hand on the handlebars at any given time.

we have curtailed such propensities in visiting riders purely on this basis; aside from which we are generally very well aware of where danger might be hiding in plain sight.

but watch the professionals in their tightly packed peloton, thundering along a local or national road infrastructure at speeds we can but dream of (see above). i have witnessed not one iota of pointing carried out by the likes of matej mohoric, wout van aert, or any members of team ineos, evidence which would testify to the quality of tarmac over which they ride. thus, while they have the confidence to ride within millimetres of each other at speed, you and i are apt to leave clear daylight between wheels, employing our superior powers of peripheral vision to avoid a flat tyre, bent wheel, or worse, an inadvertent face plant on poorly constituted tarmac.

i have been quizzed on many an occasion by the island's drivers as to how we fare, on our impossibly narrow tyres. only last week, as i walked to the office, i met a friend who operates a taxi business and was highlighting the fact that he was down to one vehicle, the other having suffered a broken spring on a particularly inept piece of repair work on the entry road to the village. in this particular instance, i could do no other than wholeheartedly agree. generally speaking, due to our remarkably slim physical footprint, it is simplicity itself to avoid the majority of these sunken obstacles. however, the area of which he spoke was so poorly repaired, that avoiding the worst parts even on 28mm rubber, was nigh on impossible.

however, the taxi driver had taken matters a stage further and reported the breakage to the local council, following which, but a few days later, the area was cordoned off and a set of portable traffic lights temporarily installed, while a full and impressive repair was undertaken. this has vastly improved the riding experience for all road users, as witnessed on both saturday and sunday as we completed our perambulations and returned home.

where once it was suggested that the queen, and presumably now the king, must surely think the whole world smells of fresh paint, all having been hastily redecorated mere hours in advance of a royal visit, it seems quite possible that the professional peloton considers the world to bear the distinct aroma of newly laid tarmac. it is perhaps a condition that the majority of us would be willing to share if it entailed smoother roads on which to ride even at our slower pace.

and it also seems quite credible that the visible sign of having 'made-it', is not necessarily several team liveried bikes in the bike shed, an entire washing-line of team emblazoned clothing, or a framed contract on the wall. perhaps you've well and truly made-it, when you no longer have to point out gravel, potholes or badly patched roadworks to those following in your tyre tracks.

tuesday 11 july 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................