the next level

ribble gravel bike

today's title is, as you might expect, a tongue in cheek poke at the art of copywriting, both intentional and unintentional, but both inevitably leading to one of modern society's most clichéd epithets, along with 'moving forward' (whatever was wrong with saying 'in the future'?) and 'think outside the box'.

numerous health and exercise promotions encourage us to sign up and take our fitness to the next level, a statement that rather presupposes that health and fitness adhere to specific levels, rather like a multi-storey car park. heaven forbid that there should be a fluid line of improvement, rather a series of hypothetical levels. though i may be guilty of misunderstanding the entire concept, i'm generally of the apprehension that, should i opt to cycle every day for a month, that my fitness would gradually improve, as opposed to finding myself at level two at the end of the first week, heading towards level three at the end of the second. to a certain extent, the concept maybe inadvertently points to there being a distinct hierarchy of levels applicable to all and sundry.

we well know that everyone improves in fitness at differing rates, but the thought that there are specific levels applicable to all, is a bit harder to swallow.

however, i will accede to the accusation that i'm probably making a mountain out of a molehill; over-egging the pudding, so to speak. while public relations firms, advertisers and influencers all may frequently use the term, not for nothing are clichés so named. and following extensive use, they all but lose both meaning and effect. this can be illustrated by a former cliché employed to indicate that any unspecified incumbent was well aware of how matters were proceeding: such individuals were said to have their 'finger on the pulse', a vacuous statement that rarely had anything to do with measuring heart-rate.

taking things to the next level is simply a euphemism for potential improvement, but, like pretty much all clichés, any validity it may once have possessed, has been all but stripped away. by way of example, uk cycle retailer, ribble has opted to apply the concept to its range of gravel bikes. you might consider this to be a set of technical improvements that will upgrade the componentry or frame designs to provide even better value for money from their apparently 'award-winning' bicycles. it transpires, however, that no such tangible improvements are required to attain this next level; their so-called stone collection consists of "an exclusive and unique series of three CustomColour, hand painted finishes that can be added on the brand's Gravel platform".

to an extent, it's a move that has been preceded in recent years, by one or two cycling apparel purveyors who, in the absence of any notable technical advancements, have re-invented their various ranges by releasing the same jersey as last year, but in 'this year's colours'. do not misunderstand; a bit like the continued growth often cited in the business pages of the broadsheets, continued technical advancement is a complete misnomer. no-one would be at all suprised to learn that the dye-sublimated polyester cycling jersey is incapable of being made any better, nor a goretex jacket any more breathable and waterproof. that's just the way things are.

similarly, the faithful road/gravel/mountain bike. how much more aerodynamic or lighter can any of them become, while the hang-tag still features a price within the grasp of the average consumer? and in the absence of the latter, what is the intrepid cycle manufacturer meant to do? well, in the case of ribble, make your gravel bikes appear as if hewn from stone. in the case of bike supplier to team ineos, pinarello, introduce a "full new colour range for its flagship road bike - the Dogma F". their vaunted nine new colours have been categorised as nebula, sonic and speedster, with the first of these apparently state-of-the-art, though no word on whether it has taken the dogma to the 'next level'.

there is nothing inherently wrong with any of the foregoing; it's nice to see jackets, jerseys and bike frames brighten the new season with different colours. but when so doing aims to reach 'the next level' by way of state-of-the-art, one has to wonder whether the bicycle industry might be in more trouble than we thought. mind you, apple's effectively been doing this for years, and folks lap it up every time.

saturday 16 september 2023

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et tu brute?


i consider myself a long-time advocate of cycle sport, specifically the road-racing and cyclocross categories, but hopefully in a non-oppressive manner to avoid coming across as a velocipedinal obsessive. i tend to think that i probably am that very obsessive, but i'd like it if the ordinary man or woman in the street saw me principally as an enthusiast. this also entails my continual comparison of cycle-sport with that of other sports, particularly that of soccer, where not only 'hating' the other teams is seen as a compulsory part of the deal, but also cultivating a similar stance concerning supporters of said teams.

by way of illustration and to counter the mindset that seems to have pervaded many of the nooks and crannies extant in soccer, i have held up the behaviour of the basque fans when euskatel euskadi raced in the pyrenees. atop mountains close to the basque region, flag waving basque fans would cheer everyone who passed, no matter for which team they rode and no matter their place in the general classification.

and the behaviour of the riders could often be held up as exemplary; how often have we seen the victor of a sprint stage congratulated by the riders just beaten to the line; how many times have we seen race rivals share a bottle in the heat of the gradient, or help a rider from a competing team when they appear to be struggling? and within each team, the contractual hierarchy demands that those labelled as domestiques stick with their leaders, no matter the progress, or lack of, displayed by the latter. despite many of those domestiques showing greater ability to forge ahead, when their leader begins to visibly fail, loyalty and a sense of duty often see them ride alongside to lessen the ordeal where possible.

given that there are far better resources when it comes to world tour road racing, i too know my place, generally refraining from critical comment on the basis that i feel the post to be less well-informed than others. however, the current state of play in la vuelta has sufficiently irritated my usually calm exterior, leading to what i am about to scribble.

i refer, of course, to the unfortunate situation that has raised its ugly head within the jumbo visma team over stages 16 and 17. for those less than interested in the machinations taking place on the iberian peninsula at present, allow me to enlighten you. though the two nominated leaders of the jumbo visma team at the start of the race were undoubtedly giro winner, primoz roglic and tour de france winner, jonas vingegaard, faithful domestique, american sepp kuss, found himself in the red leader's jersey, a garment he has worn since stage eight.

yet despite the unwritten rule that you don't attack a member of your own team when he's wearing the leader's jersey (remember the furore that arose when froome appeared to have done that to wiggins when the latter was in the yellow jersey), that's precisely what vingegaard did on stage 16, taking the stage victory and reducing the time gap between himself and race leader, kuss. the following day, on the angliru, despite none of the three jumbo visma riders being in any danger from other teams, vingegaard and roglic simply rode off into the distance, leaving the hapless kuss to his fate. yet uae rider, juan ayuso, was a full minute behind third-place roglic at the start of stage 17, and lost almost a further three minutes during the stage.

therefore, logically, with a team-mate credibly leading the race, no matter their own aspirations, jonas and primoz really ought to have subsumed their own egos and taken on domestique duties and stuck with their team-mate until within sight of the finish line, when they could have fought each other for the stage win with no detriment to sepp kuss. and no matter the jumbo visma management expressing that all three were free to fight it out amongst themselves, that's really only a credible plan during the first couple of weeks of the race. when you're about to win the season's third grand tour with a third rider, it seems clear that team orders ought to have been implemented.

and while the theory that there ought not to be any gifts in top level cycle-sport persists, that would still bring us back to the contrary theory (in this case) that you don't attack one of your own when he's wearing the leader's jersey. couple that with the recorded fact that kuss has worked tirelessly for both roglic and vingegaard in previous years, including this year's tour de france, surely they owe him big time? remember that the redoubtable jumbo visma rider, wout van aert, allowed team-mate, christophe laporte the win in this year's gent-wevelghem as payment for his past and future support. though criticised for doing so, it seems that wout is considerably more sporting and perhaps perspicacious than his team-mates.

there have already been ruminations that kuss may now be considering his future options. if he wins this year's vuelta, as he deserves, his value will undoubtedly increase, yet his options within jumbo visma are likely to remain stagnant. roglic has apparently expressed a desire to have another shot at tour de france victory, but with vingegaard seemingly the de facto leader, is that an opportunity likely to be denied both by jonas and team management? and, as a grand tour winner, will sepp kuss, undoubtedly decent bloke that he is, be willing to return to domestique duties for either rider, given the deplorable way they've treated him in this particular race?

yesterday's stage saw vingegaard and roglic holding station in front of kuss all the way to the finish line, perhaps pointing to team management having finally realised the depth of disapproval by the cycling press and on social media expressed at the conclusion of stage 17. make no mistake, kuss will be a worthy winner, and should roglic and vingegaard possess even a gramme of respect for their devotional team-mate, they'll ensure that he stands atop the podium at race end. after all, barring unforeseen circumstances, they're sure to stand on the other two steps.

true sport amounts to a great deal more than winning.

friday 15 september 2023

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are we all on the same page?

apple iphone 15

the cycling media is currently awash with launch details of specialized's roubaix sl8 a bicycle that features the latest iteration of the company's seven year-old future shock, a means of reducing vibration and thus discomfort at the handlebars by means of a silicon suspension system, of sorts, contained within the steerer/headset area of the bicycle. i have ridden an earlier version of the future shock, but found it to be largely unimpressive. i truthfully didn't notice a great deal of difference between a standard setup and the future shock. aside from that, it rattled irritatingly throughout the review period, about which i seemed unable to do anything.

however, given my old-skool, luddite tendencies, the above should come as little surprise, and i congratulate specialized for having remained sufficiently faithful to the technology, to continue to develop it further. and as you'd expect in this data-driven age, such announcements cannot be made without the accompaniment of essentially meaningless numbers, such as the proffered fact that future shock 3.0 is 'designed to reduce impacts by 53% when compared to other endurance models.'. quite how any specialized customer would test the veracity of those claims is open to conjecture.

but as specialized concentrate in reducing road-buzz on their latest frameset, competitors, canyon, are taking a more holistic approach by creating an innovation lab, intent on harnessing the inherent inquisitiveness present in their engineers. canyon are positioning this as an 'evolution in the brand's approach to product development.' the lab's team manager, wolfgang kohl, commended the innovative talent employed by the company, saying " of our main aims is to work with that untapped potential and turn it into products and innovations."

on one hand, it is encouraging to know that some of the world's top bicycle marques have our best interests in mind, but it's also worth bearing in mind that their continued relevance and profit margins depend quite heavily on those interests being continuously enticed with new products. meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, apple computer have just released the latest versions of their iphones and apple watches, possibly to less unbridled rapture than has historically been the case. one of the faceless analysts about which we constantly hear, has pointed out that the smartphone genre has quite probably reached not only saturation point, but a general consolidation, where there is little in the way of untapped innovation left to be implemented.

sadly, those analysts seem to be conspicuous by their absence when time comes to applying the same logic to the contemporary bicycle. the iphone was launched to great acclaim in 2007, meaning that, within a period of sixteen years, the genre has reached an alleged point of peak technology. the bicycle, however, has more than 100 years of history on which to call, yet here we are in 2023, and at least two of the top velocipedinal purveyors are looking to push things a lot further. at least, based on the likely cost of implementing an innovation lab, i'd imagine they hope/expect to gain substantial mileage from the project (pun intended).

it's worth recognising, however, the often substantial difference between the aspirations of the world's cyclists and those of the folks on the opposite side of the corporate website. this is not to say that paris-roubaix wannabes would not greatly benefit from being bounced around the cockpit a bit less, or marvel at the portfolio of patents submitted on their behalf, but is it at all possible that most of us are quite happy with what we already have?

yes, i am still well aware of my retentive attitude towards what is often positioned as development or advancement, but that doesn't mean that i don't have the right to question the motives and validity of said technology. let's face it, very few of us need more than perhaps three different bikes (road, 'cross/gravel and mtb), and, assuming you subscribe to a similar train of thought, once the set, or a subset, has been acquired, other than theft or irreparable damage, there's little in the way of an explicable reason to acquire more.

notwithstanding that it currently needs a pair of wheels (long story), i own an original model colnago c40 manufactured in 1999, with fully external brake and gear cables and a square-taper, cartridge bottom bracket. it still works and rides in the manner ernesto intended, despite its almost quarter-century of existence. and i own an ibis hakkalugi cyclocross bicycle with wooden-rimmed wheels and cantilever brakes, which is every bit as much fun to ride as is my hydraulic-disc equipped specialized crux (not to mention its noticeably lower weight).

it seems there may be more than one hymn-sheet being circulated.

thursday 14 september 2023

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commonly uncommon

road racing

the secondary school which i attended, was heavily into rugby at the expense of the more commonly accepted soccer/football. though i don't actually recall whether the school fielded a soccer team or not, there was certainly plenty off opportunities afforded for those keen enough to join in scrums, rucks and lineouts. as a career ten-stone weakling, i was quite obviously not built for the sport, but in fairness, i wasn't actually built for any sporting endeavour (cycling was certainly not mentioned at any point of my school years).

however, several of my friends were keen rugby players and friends of my father were well ensconced in the local, national and international chapters of the game, despite he himself having had no particular affiliation with the 'game played by men with oddly shaped balls'. peer pressure and access to those with a greater vested interest brought me to attend school rugby practice, even going so far as to acquire a particularly fine pair of bona-fide rugby boots. needless to say, i was regularly pulverised by schoolboys a lot bigger and heavier than yours truly, my only saving grace being a surprising turn of speed when it looked like a particular opposition strategy might end in my getting hurt.

with both physical education teachers being former members of the local amateur rugby union team, there was no fooling them as to my aptitude for the game, but in their favour, i was chosen for at least one school game each year, purely as a result of my tenacity in regularly attending weekly practice. it might serve to underline my lack of athletic prowess by pointing out that, when it was necessary to choose events in which to qualify for the annual school sports, i opted for long-jump, shot putt and javelin, none of which i was even close to achieving, and thus had the afternoon off when sports took place.

as i entered the latter years of my school career, my artistic disposition took over, and i surreptitiously managed to drop p.e. from my timetable. rugby and all other athletic pursuits were cheerfully left behind.

following marriage and having embarked upon a work career, i count myself as having a far narrower perspective on things than you'd like to think. my morning bike ride to work took me along a portion of a dual-carriageway, which, on certain saturday or sunday mornings each month, was occupied by individual cyclists on fast looking bikes, watched over by several yellow jacketed blokes, all seemingly called marshal. though i was marginally aware of the tour de france and the climbing exploits of robert millar, i confess i had little idea that cycle sport could be practised by ordinary chaps such as myself. that ignorance contributed to my never having experienced the heat of battle from the viewpoint of a bicycle saddle.

much of the intervening period is subject to the mores of history, where cycle sport has achieved a prominent place in my personal psyche, yet totally ignored by both my kids, mrs washingmachinepost, and my three grandchildren. i, in return, refuse to acknowledge any interest in any other form of sporting activity, including soccer, motor-racing and rugby. however, via television advertising and the back pages of my daily newspaper, i am peripherally aware of the onset of this year's rugby world cup, aided and abetted by my being friends with a former scottish rugby captain from yesteryear. he more forcefully pointed out the event's commencement during a recent conversation.

meanwhile, last week played host to a not altogether rivetting tour of britain and the continuing jumbo visma domination of la vuelta, two sporting spectacles that i had attempted to follow on a daily basis. you can, therefore, surely share my disappointment when a customer in the office yesterday morning, spent nigh on ten or fifteen minutes discussing the weekend's opening matches of the rugby world cup with the receptionist. despite la vuelta having completed its second week, not one person outside the sunday peloton, has once mentioned any aspect of the race. the same, sadly, can be said for the tour of britain, a cycle race that you might expect would have engendered even a smidgeon of parochial interest.

fat chance.

so, while we may occasionally congratulate ourselves on cycle sport becoming ostensibly more popular on this side of the channel, with tom pidcock as world xc mountain bike champion, geraint thomas involved in spain, and scotland's cameron mason entitled to wear the national cyclocross champion's jersey, we are sadly misguided. rapha founder, simon mottram, began his one-man campaign in 2004 to make road cycling the world's most popular sport; astute fellow that he undoubtedly is, i think he's probably as far from his goal today as he was nearly twenty years ago.

tuesday 12 september 2023

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