bearing up


i should make a clear disclaimer at the beginning of this monologue that not only am i not a qualified bicycle mechanic, but a self-taught amateur who probably just got lucky. granted, when it comes to certain upgrades or repairs, i have occasionally had the good fortune to have had experts on whom i could call, but other than that, my principal success is in giving the impression that i know what i'm doing.

the latter skill is that which brought me to a few years of bicycle fettling and even an opportunity to sell the blighters, initially by carrying out maintenance on the bicycles belonging to a local cycle hire business based in the former post office, only a few hundred metres from the croft. it transpired that the postmaster had diversified slightly by acquiring a few motley bicycles and offering them for hire to visitors to the isle. unfortunately, from his point of view, he was bereft of mechanical aptitude, particularly in relation to the bicycles he owned.

very much in a case of right place at the right time, i was invited to caretake the velocipedes on a pay-as-you-go basis.

the majority of undertakings concerned snapped chains, stretched gear cables, poorly functioning brakes and more punctures than you'd think possible. however, islay sports a lengthy stretch of beach on the shore of loch indaal, imaginatively entitled the big strand. there's even a road sign describing it thus. an uncommonly large number of renters displayed an annoying predilection for riding their hired bicycles along this lengthy beach, resulting in highly untoward grumblings emanating from the bottom brackets and hubs

well do i recall sunny afternoons sat on the step of the bicycle shed, surrounded by cone spanners, bottom bracket tools, a large tub of michelin grease and numerous packets of ball-bearings. a bit like my mother knitting while watching the television, or those who wash windows for a living, i found those afternoons quite therapeutic, but fervently wishing the postmaster's expenditure had stretched as far as bicycles featuring cartridge bearings. those may have dispensed with the therapy part of the equation, but would surely have provided a deal more personal cycling time.

however, having been through a cartridge bearing era all of my very own, i now find myself in possession of a wheelset built upon campagnolo record hubs, one of the purported features of which is cup-and-cone bearing construction. this means that, when eventually a smidgeon of lateral play becomes noticeable, it will be a simple matter of tightening the cones to remove the movement. and should the hubs begin to run a little rough, 'twould be simplicity itself to strip them down and either replace the grease or the entire bearing set.

i can visualise your argument against so doing vis-a-vis cartridge bearings. the latter are effectively, self-contained units; when they eventualy wear out, they can be thrown away and replaced, having caused no distress to the internals of the hub or bottom bracket. but, especially for the home mechanic, carrying out the above procedure invariably requires specific tools, if not to remove the cartridge bearings, almost certainly to replace them. the latter is not helped by the fact that there is often one or two bearing sets concealed in the inner recesses of the hubshell. for want of a better description, faff.

i believe a sizeable majority of the velocipedinal world has already moved wholesale onto cartridge bearings, with only elderly and, in my case, campagnolo hubbed wheelsets remaining true to the humble loose ball-bearing. even the recently released campagnolo bora ultra wto wheelset features cup-and-cone hubs, with ceramic bearings. which brings me onto the inspiration behind today's discussion in the form of a youtube podcast. in this, a bona-fide cycle shop mechanic described his dismay that campagnolo's not inexpensive carbon wheels, were reliant on such elderly technology. he claimed that customers would be particularly dismayed if told that their newly purchased, costly wheelset would require to be periodically returned for adjustment or replacement of said ceramic bearings.

as advised above, i am not a qualified cycle mechanic, and therefore my views are unlikely to be those of my betters. however, that said, i cannot deny that i was quite overjoyed to learn that my condor cycles handbuilt wheels offered cup and cone bearings. as far as i'm concerned, this allows for far easier adjustment and simple replacement without the need for specialist tools other than a couple of differently sized cone spanners. no more evenings spent trawling ebay searching for reputedly compatible cartridge bearings and tools with which to fit them. i therefore found myself in disagreement with the mechanic fellow.

i'm right, they're wrong.

wednesday 31 january 2024

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

keeping it real

enigma endeavour

stuff of all varieties has a natural resting point, if i might phrase it thus. drumsticks, for instance, are almost all fashioned from wood. there have been examples crafted from aluminium or the ubiquitous carbon fibre, but neither have caught on to any noticeable degree. newspapers and magazines appear to have long rested in the realm of paper, despite one or two redundant explorations into plastic. i think you get the gist of my contentions.

when it comes to bicycles, however, the trend, ever since ernesto re-imagined the master frameset in carbon fibre, has skewed demonstrably towards this once space-age material. combine the above with the initial realisation that labour costs in the far east were more than advantageous, and the majority of the bicycle market pertaining to you and i, has adhered to carbon monocoque construction, a technology in which the taiwanese are acknowledged experts.

though i keep the artist formerly known as twitter open on my workplace desktop, purely to keep tabs on calmac ferries and citylink coach services amongst others, my use of social media is somewhat minimal these days. having initially pledged my allegiance to twitter around twelve years ago after persuasions from a trade press outlet, i had hoped i might learn the ultimate point of the service. over a dozen years later, i fear i am no nearer succeeding in that quest. however, recent accidental perusal of a particular thread concerning the materials from which our bicycles are made, i was somewhat surprised to come across such widely digressing opinion.

certain correspondents queried the efficacy of building in carbon fibre, at least in part due to its untested longevity and questionable environmental proclivities. even mention that the wing roots of very large aircraft employ the material, seemed not to quell the comments of insurrection. you will perchance, be less than surprised to learn that there appeared to be considerable support for the bicycle's long-term favourite: steel. in support of the latter, one correspondent insisted that, for the majority, carbon fibre is a rather expensive waste, an argument with which i confess i find it hard to argue.

that said, i do ride both steel and carbon.

but there may be demonstrable tangible support for the 'steel is real' contention, and from a source that i confess, i didn't see coming. we have all learned recently that the bicycle industry is in all manner of dire straits, from overstocking, to high pricing, to a reputed dearth of innovation. it therefore comes as something of a surprise to learn that one of britain's unheralded velocipedinal secrets is in the process of experiencing 40% year-on-year growth in demand.

enigma cycles was born in 2006 with the express intention of importing titanum frames from the far east, while they learned to build their own frames in-house. the latter commenced two years later in 2008. sixteen years on, and enigma has accumulated a substantial degree of expertise in the construction of its own signature titanium and steel frames. managing director, jim walker said, "...witnessing substantial growth in our 'Signature' programme, especially in challenging market conditions, is truly encouraging."

while i'm happy to let elon musk's x deal with altercations and fallout amongst its adherents over the pros and cons of carbon, steel and others such as titanium and aluminium, it seems quite likely that carbon has won out due to our obsession with the competitive milieu, low weight, cunning marketing ploys and our inherent hope that we might emulate the professionals. tadej, jonas, wout and mathieu more than likely benefit greatly from the properties allegedly purveyed by carbon fibre, but there's a substantial body of evidence to suggest that, for the great unwashed, reputedly lesser materials will more than suffice.

enigma cycles' current popularity might suggest that more than a few of us are beginning to realise just what makes the universe tick.

enigma cycles | photo: lightwolf studios

tuesday 30 january 2024

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


tony williams

on saturday evening, i opted to listen to a podcast, something i am rarely in the habit of doing. i tend not to listen to cycling podcasts, though i did dabble with the format when it first reared its head over a decade past. however, i decided not to pursue the media on realising that it took far longer than i'd expected, and i wasn't particularly good at it in any case. however, the podcast to which i lent an ear this past weekend, was, you'll be surprised to learn, a drum podcast. in fact, the drum history podcast, the specific subject matter of which was the drumsets of tony williams. this, i had hoped, would be of interest, given williams' influence on the jazz drumming community and the originality of his playing style.

however, i have to advise, as somewhat of a spoiler alert, that i gave up well before the end, somewhat dismayed at the fanatical attention to detail, much of which i felt was verging on the irrelevant.

this is not to disparage the enthusiasm of the two gents involved in this particular quest, yet i feel the need to place my remarks in some sort of perspective. though i have been playing drums for over fifty years, i still have a pair of sticks alongside the armchair to allow for any impulsive bouts of rudimental practice that might arise at any moment. but my concern, and that of many other percussionists, is with improvement of my abilities, though i don't mind admitting that i do tend to practice that which i have already mastered, meaning i simply get faster at what i can already play. such ministrations, however, are rarely, if ever, concerned with the equipment with which my betters were or are armed.

my particular drum 'hero' is former king crimson percussionist, bill bruford, but i guarantee that were i to acquire a set of drums identical to those played by mr bruford prior to his retiral, i would still, unfortunately, sound like me. and defiitely not him. in fact, i own a tama bill bruford signature snare drum, and no matter if i play phrases from bill bruford's book 'when in doubt, roll', nobody would mistake them for execution by the man himself.

therefore, learning that tony williams originally played a gretsch silver sparkle drumset that he purchased due to his own hero, max roach, having featured an identical set, is of little help to anyone. and i do rather wonder about the podcast guest who assured us that this original set was built round a 20" bass drum, because he could tell the difference between that, and the 18" bass drum that formed the centre of his subsequent black drumset. and learning that the gretsch drum company, in the late 1950s, experienced a shortage of small tension lugs and had, as a result to fit larger examples to the floor tom (as apparently seen in photographs from the era), allows for interesting anecdotes when conversing with fellow drummers. but it's of academic use to anyone else.

several years ago, on a visit to the late lamented ronde bicycle shop in edinburgh's stockbridge area, i had not been long within its premises before a cyclist entered, clad head to toe in rapha condor team kit and wheeling a rapha condor badged bicycle. having parked his bicycle in the service area, he sat opposite yours truly at one of the coffee tables. i was about to broach the subject of his being tad fanatical to sport such a large selection of imperial works' black, white and pink colours, when claire and grant from condor cycles, who were in-store for a condor promotion, bid him a hale and hearty welcome. at this point i learned, much to my embarrassment, that the cyclist was, in fact, jimmy mccallum, a bona-fide member of the rapha condor cycle team.

prior to the unveiling of my ignorance, i thought i had happened across an enthusiast who had expensively adopted the mantle of the professional wannabe, a velocipedinal commonality that is not entirely unknown.

i wonder, therefore, not having listened to any cycling podcasts, whether there are those which attempt to emulate the subject matter of the aforementioned drumming podcast? i know that when glasgow's billy bilsland bike shop acquired a peugeot bicycle formerly owned by robert millar (as was), i contacted pippa york to enquire whether she had found the bicycle in question to be of commendable quality. with incredible power of re-call, pippa gave me chapter and verse on almost every aspect of that bicycle (which i subsequently passed on to billy bilsland). however, though pippa had given me far for information than originally requested, at no time was i, or she, attempting to imply that knowing the specifics of the bicycle would make any apprecaible difference to the pedalling ability of any of us.

in his book in search of robert millar, the late richard moore related the gist of a training session for the scottish commonwealth games cycle team, of which he was a part, led by robert millar. the former king of the mountains made it quite clear that he would not answer any questions concerning his gearing or equipment choices from his tour de france years, entirely on the basis that none of those assembled would be riding the tour de france.

and unlike the habit of football supporters to wear the jersey of their favourite team, even when shopping at the local supermarket, similar behaviour by members of the sunday peloton tends to be frowned upon. next weekend at tabor, few would bet against mathieu van der poel successfully defending his cyclocross world champion status, but even fervent fans of the dutchman would be highly unlikely to go cycling in their locale clad in replica world champion's rainbow bands. similarly, no matter how strong your support for jonas vingegaard, you would surely incur the wrath of the peloton were you to ride in the yellow jersey. as velominati's rule #17 declares, 'team kit is for members of the team' - wearing pro team kit is questionable if you're not paid to wear it.

i will concur that at no time did the gents presenting the drum history podcast state that the knowledge they presented was designed to accord any demonstrable playing improvement on behalf of the listener. but it concerns me that they made mention of future podcasts which would investigate not only the drumsets used by tony williams, but his cymbals, hardware and even the cases in which he transported his drums.

hopefully there is not a rival podcast currently disseminating the bicycles, wheels, tyres and componentry favoured by eddy merckx? if there is, please don't tell me about it.

monday 29 january 2024

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

electronic interference

bangers and cash

strange though it may seem, i have found myself watching several episodes of bangers and cash, a series on drama channel, featuring the matthewson family of yorkshire's thornton le dale, where they auction cars of varying vintages and in various states of disintegration. as i may have mentioned on one or two occasions, i have no great love of the motor car, but i am fascinated by the mechanical activities of those who resurrect these vehicles following purchase at auction.

a recently watched episode began with what was described by the narrator as the holy grail, the discovery of an original mini cooper that had lain in a garage for many a long year. in truth, what was actually left of the mini appeared the sort of thing that you and i would have consigned to landfill. the bonnet was missing in action, as was one front wing, while the engine, the very aspect of the remnants that confirmed its status as the genuine article, was a portrayal of rusted metal. it may better illustrate the visibly poor condition of the mini if i explain that the vehicle had to be placed upon a wooden palette to allow a forklift to place it on the trailer that had arrived to take it away.

my lack of knowledge in such matters was heavily underlined when time came to auction the rusting heap. where i would have felt short changed if i'd had to pay more than a fiver, when the hammer came down, the new owner had just spent £20,000 on a pile of rubbish that would allegedly cost another £20,000 to have it up and running. however, a remark that has been repeated across several episodes concerns the one-time simplicity of motor vehicles; where once were carburettors, now there are engine management systems, alongside all manner of electronic gimmickry, such as heated seats, electric windows and more sensors than at which you could shake a stick. in order to diagnose any fault, a computer is now a pre-requisite.

i'm sure you can see where i'm going with this.

as i hurtled (everything's relative) towards springbank yesterday morning at the beginning of the saturday velocipedinal ritual, i paid a quick glance in the direction of the garmin gps device affixed to the handlebars. this particular electronic unit displays a maximum of eight different parameters, all of which i have in view, just because i can. the most important number, from my point of view, is the time of day which i have set to show at the top of the screen, just above the distance covered. of less importance, but displayed nonetheless, are actual speed, average speed, calories burned, battery level, temperature and gradient.

the last four, of which only the temperature has any real bearing on any bike ride, can effectively only be seen when i and my bicycle are stationary. this is principally because they are too far down the screen and the prescription inserts in my rudy projects are for distance. were i to click the icon that allows access to the considerable number of options available, i'd probably need another ten or more garmins to display every last one of them. however, that last sentence minimises the actions required to view all the choices. one has to click through several screens to finalise one's preferences, before returning through each of them to implement the final display.

how then, as i rode towards springbank yesterday, had the device managed to dispense with the time of day and replace it overnight with an account of the calories i appear to have been expending? friday afternoon's bike ride completed, i had simply switched off the garmin and left it available for use on saturday. other than that i had made no other inroads to its kernel activities. and sadly, this is not the first time that the device has chosen to vary the information on display without any apparent user input. could this be an early example of artificial intelligence at work?

i am not an acolyte of strava; none of the material recorded by the garmin is ever seen by other than yours truly. and given the age-related decrease in my top line and thus, average speed, i scarcely need a digital display to confirm just how low those numbers are in actuality. what i'm struggling to imply is that, apart from knowing the time of day, i could easily go cycling, bereft of that handlebar mount.

but, to briefly return to the rusting shape of a mini-cooper mentioned above, it appears that a sizeable proportion of those bidding at auction actually enjoy purchasing a vehicle that might take several months or years to bring back from the dead. not for them the shiny, polished vehicle into which they could clamber on day one and drive insouciantly homeward; the majority prefer a big box of rusty parts that can subsequently be bolted together to recreate something first seen in the 1960s.

that is most definitely not me. i want to grab lights, water bottle and garmin from the kitchen table, drag the bicycle du jour from the bike shed and climb aboard, secure in the knowledge that not only does everything work, but that it will continue to do so throughout my bike rides of indeterminate length. i do not, for example, want to stop adjacent to an argyll & bute council earthmover, peering over my rudy projects and flicking through a wide range of options, trying to recall under what heading i previously found the time of day.

i think i see from where those bangers and cash auction attendees are coming.

sunday 28 january 2024

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

still a class act

members only

in a conversation over coffee yesterday, my conversant was heard to say that she was less than inclined to join local or regional marketing opportunities, because she felt that several of her peers were likely to look down upon her as being less than their equal. though this probably appears to be a case of neurosis or paranoia, in her defence, i know that her claims, at least those pertaining to one or two of whom she mentioned, are probably true. but it should also be pointed out that they are inclined to behave in such a manner towards the majority with whom they come in contact. there is an argument for the situation being class-based, but in this instance, that's a highly subjective contention.

as has been the subject of discussion on previous occasions, due to changes within the royal mail delivery structure on the island, it has, for several years now, become incumbent upon the local newspaper to undertake personal delivery of sales copies prior to publication day, to allow retailers on the western portion of the island to receive these in a timely manner. in the days of the much-lamented post bus service (dispensed with on the island many years ago), these particular outlets would receive delivery early on the saturday of publication. latterly, this had been downgraded to the tail end of the same day.

since several of these westerly newsagents are closed on sundays, it meant that the window for sales opportunities had been largely closed off, through no fault of their own, a situation that we felt had need of being remedied in a pragmatic manner. though a member of the newspaper staff had been willing to deliver on friday afternoons as she travelled home, that particular position was furloughed during the covid pandemic, meaning an alternative had to be immediately sought. never one to look a bike ride involving coffee disfavourably, i opted to leave work by lunchtime, don a suitably proportioned backpack, and deliver the newspapers myself, along with one of the newsagent owners who happens to be a member of the sunday morning peloton.

the return bike ride of some 28km is, for myself at least, incentive enough, not to mention the soya latte to be had when dropping off at debbie's. but one member of staff rhetorically mentioned to me earlier this week, "i wonder if the editor of the times has to deliver copies of his newspaper?" i say rhetorical because quite plainly, tony gallagher would be most unlikely to follow in my tyre tracks, even were it proved necessitous. a well-funded newspaper such as the times, is bound to have 'people' for that sort of thing, should the day ever arrive when push comes to shove.

yet mr gallagher, whom i have never met, nor spoken to, surely is actually better placed to carry out such velocipedinal delivery requirements than yours truly. i base this purely on the fact that he is some seven years younger, though i will grant you that superficially at least, he does not look to be a member of his local sunday morning ride.

but, returning briefly to reality, on my pedal yesterday afternoon i neither saw, passed or was passed by any others on bicycles, despite local knowledge suggesting that several seen in motor cars, could easily have accomplished that which they pursued from the saddle. on two counts, that's hardly surprising. firstly, friday afternoon in the hebrides was particularly showery, conditions with which not too many of my acquaintances would find favour. but secondly and possibly more importantly, few, if any, would revert to a bicycle, entirely due to the social connotations such action would imply. i have been a cyclist across the thirty plus years of domicile in the hub of civilisation; though i have little doubt my forays into the hinterlands aboard a bicycle in all weather conditions are seen as leaning just a smidgeon towards eccentricity, i am pretty sure they are entirely classless in their judgments.

however, if my ability to read between the lines is still intact, a sizeable majority would see a move from motor vehicle to bicycle, even in these environmentally challenged times, as downward social mobility, a situation they would wish to avoid like the plague. if you think i exaggerate, despite my perennial, less than subtle persuasions over those thirty odd years, assimilation of a larger peloton has remained completely out of reach. i rather cheekily forwarded a recent press release from the local council suggesting that residents pay greater consideration to their transportational choices, to a woman i know drives considerably less than five hundred metres to teach at the local primary school each and every day.

i am assured that she found it particularly humorous, yet continues to drive her suv across that same distance despite my well-intended suggestion at the behest of her employers. that, of course, may have little to do with class (in either of its definitions), or indeed cycling, since such a distance can easily be accomplished by walking. in fact, mrs washingmachinepost walks to the same educational establishment on the same days, but over a greater distance. however, i still surmise that it is intially class distinction that prevents many from considering cycling as a viable alternative to their current mode of transport.

tell me i'm wrong.

saturday 27 january 2024

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

following suit?

last mile

during the covid years, the newspaper at which i ply my trade, in common with many small (and large) businesses, found its financial reserves somewhat challenged. however, as a registered charity, an application was made to a local community benefit fund for assistance with upgrading the office heating system, in the light of it having been originally installed over 30 years ago. disappointingly, the application response indicated that this was something for which the business ought to have planned, thus excusing themselves from issuing the asked-for grant aid.

i confess this seemed somewhat iniquitous, given that the reason for the funding application had not been a lack of forward planning, but the result of dramatic, worldwide unforeseen circumstances. though we did appeal against what still seems like a rather draconian decision, the heating remains unchanged, with alternatives still under (lengthy) consideration.

commercial businesses of a greater economic standing, however, frequently appear to be at the behest of either a three or five year plan, one which describes where they expect to be at the end of either period, and how they propose to get there financially. though i'm scarcely an expert on such matters, it would seem a reasonable assumption that, should the business require the use of specific machinery or fleet of vehicles, future financial provision would include the replacement or upgrade of such items in order to safeguard the future of said business.

frequently, in order to minimise any capital expenditure that might threaten financial liquidity, items of a vehicular nature are often leased. over a specified period, the costs of leasing may exceed those of outright purchase, but the flexibility offered by the leasing model can be considerably more beneficial. for instance, the newspaper leases a digital printer for production of each issue, alleviating the potential problem of being saddled with an expensive piece of equipment that will become outdated sooner rather than later. most printer leases are taken over a five-year period, with an upgrade suggested at the three-year mark.

with the relatively recent advent of the e-cargo bike, poised to replace small vans on the much-vaunted last mile delivery, more and more businesses are evaluating the possibilities offered by joining the cargo-bike peloton. while i'm not excluding the possibility that islay's local newspaper may one day find itself in this very position (particularly if the royal mail is allowed to decrease its weekly delivery schedule to three days per week). however, at present, for a portion of our delivery schedule, we are even greener than electricity.

since the pandemic, three newsagents on the western portion of the island, have required that delivery be made on the day prior to official publication, due to substantial changes in the royal mail delivery schedule. the owner of one, along with yours truly, has thus been responsible for collection and delivery of each fortnightly publication. while i ride my ritchey logic with a rapha backpack, my fellow cyclist transports on a carbon colnago, and his own rapha backpack. batteries not included.

however, i find it hard to comprehend why the industry now looks towards leasing e-cargo bikes rather than outright purchase. i will concede that this particular genre of electric bicycle is a smidgeon more expensive than the average e-bike, but, in common with the castigated community fund mentioned above, i'd imagine that outright ownership is within the financial and practical remit of any enterprise that plans to replace considerably more pricey vans. the retail cost of one e-cargo bike quite possibly equals the annual leasing cost of a small commercial vehicle.

there is little doubt that bicycles, even electric ones, tend to last considerably longer than most motor vehicles and are a great deal more economic to service. and it strikes me that, while motors and batteries probably have several years of development ahead, neither are likely to have a sizeable impact on the function performed by a contemporary e-cargo bike.

however, those possessed of greater financial understanding and abilities related to strategic planning might find my disparagement and naivety to be entirely misplaced. according to arval, a subsidiary of bnp paribas, the practice of e-cargo bike leasing is already common in central europe, particularly belgium, germany and the netherlands; they see no reason why the practice shouldn't work on this side of the channel. and given the speed with which the battery has inveigled its way into british society, who would bet against arval being correct?

as a hopeless naysayer against a current that has already flooded any likelihood of slowing down in the foreseeable future, i can but accede to the probability that, once again, i find myself on the wrong side of progress. however, though being a tad more conciliatory will undoubtedly be forced upon me from a great height, there comes a point in the leasing company's prognostications where i must hold my hand up and declare they may be entering fantasy land. tim hammond, co-founder of arval partner, bikeflex has been quoted as saying, "As clients have company cars via fleet leasing, perhaps they add some company eBikes alongside the company cars."

the latter contention forms part of what mr hammond described as a "multimodal mobility strategy."

remember when we just used to go for a bike ride?

friday 26 january 2024

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


look blade pedal

somewhere around 1992, the local swimming pool manager and i concocted the islay try-athlon, with the emphasis very firmly placed on the try part of that title. our logic was based on the correct assumption that only those with skills in swimming, cycling and running would be inclined to enter the event, were it to be promoted as a straightforward triathlon with all the connotations such an event implies. by changing the 'i', to a 'y' and basing the entire premise around teams, we hoped that by interesting those with abilities in each of the separate disciplines that comprise the definition of a triathlon, we'd garner sufficient entries to run a decent event.

thus, the first swimmer to emerge from the pool following completion of the designated distance, would choose a ping-pong ball on which was written a number. that number represented a particular cyclist, who would then descend the fire-escape at the rear of the pool building, clamber aboard his or her waiting bicycle, and pedal off into the distance at speed. at the end of the cycling section, the rider would again randomly choose a numbered ball, and the runner in possession of that number would complete the triumvirate. the thinking behind the numbers part, was to prevent the cream of the crop forming their own teams, perhaps making others less inclined to enter.

as it transpired, the first swimmer to emerge from the deep end of the pool, chose yours truly, at the time, probably the fastest and fittest cyclist available. charging off down the fire escape in cleated shoes, holding tightly onto the guardrail in order not to slide down the descent, i climbed into the saddle, clipped in my left foot, and pushed myself off from the grounds of bowmore distillery, intending, as do many of us, to clip in my right foot as i progressed.

disappointingly, despite having endlessly practised the manouevre, i could not get the cleat on my right shoe to engage with the pedal until i had reached the steep climb that is bowmore main street. by the time that comforting click could be both heard and felt, so annoyed was i with myself, that i actually overtook two cars while puffing and panting all the way to the round church at the top of the road.

those of you who have witnessed any of this year's televised cyclocross events, will know that often the key to winning or placing well, is the ability to execute a good start. so doing begins with clipping-in as speedily as possible, gaining immediate power transfer from both legs. many are those who suffered lowly placings due to an inability to achieve the above. it's a situation with which i can readily identify, following my strenuous mounting and dismounting cyclocross practice from several years past.

having managed to leap aboard in a single bound after many weeks of occasionally painful repetition, my eventual downfall (literally) would usually be at the behest of a right foot that waggled in mid-air, completely unable to connect with an unfound pedal. thus, despite gaining sufficient forward momentum from which to base my cunning attack, the bicycle would ultimately come to a complete halt in the undergrowth, plantlife with which i was sure to make physical contact as i keeled over to one side.

of course, when there was nothing directly to be gained from clipping in first go, you could be sure the click would heard immediately.

so-called clipless pedal technology has not altered a great deal since look created the first clipless pedal in 1984, with the idea borrowed from that employed on skis. granted, shimano later introduced the spd (shimano pedalling dynamics), often referred to as 'spud' and, just like the hoover, a denotation applied to any offroad pedal featuring a two-bolt recessed cleat, but essentially not a lot has changed in the interim. however, it appears that look have not been entirely resting on their laurels, having announced the latest revision to the keo blade pedal first released in 2011. but for the first time of which i'm aware, they have managed to apply percentages to the clipping-in process. i'd be more than keen to discover the mechanics that lie behind the such a measurement.

according to look, this latest model is '60% easier to clip into'. i am assuming that this measurement is in comparison to the previous model, but that has not been made clear. nor has clarity been applied to quite how the undecided cyclist might compare this improved clipping procedure with models from other manufacturers. at least when the nation's supermarkets claim their prices to be a specific percentage lower than those of aldi or lidl, comparisons are easily made, but those are objective measurements, whereas the ease of clipping into a pedal would seem to be a tad more subjective. should there be need for supporting evidence, i would cite the ineptitude of yours truly presented in the opening paragraphs.

and though i was unable to find any specifics from look themselves, they also claim the new blade model to be their 'fastest' pedal ever. surely now they're just being ridiculous?

photo: look

thursday 25 january 2024

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

size matters


in common with the majority of hebridean islands and many parts of the rural highlands of scotland, islay possesses a large number of single track roads, predominantly at the behest of its agricultural heritage, forming a quieter backwater of transportational delights. in order to facilitate two-way traffic, these roads feature varying numbers of passing-places, along with a an advised protocol for their use. several decades ago, the rspb reserve at gruinart installed additional numbers of passing places to prevent traffic congestion during the annual periods of 'twitcher' infestation: birdwatchers.

despite this increased number of passing places, it is still quite common to find the latter strain of humanity stopped midway between two lay-bys observing a lesser-spotted something-or-other. or indeed, parked up in one or other for lengthy periods of time, in direct contravention of hebridean etiquette that suggests passing places ought best be employed as passing places as opposed to parking areas.

for reasons i'm sure are manifestly obvious, the sunday morning peloton is inclined to employ those singletrack roads as a majority of the parcours de jour, predominantly to avoid motorised traffic as much as possible. at this time of year, so doing is none too hard to achieve. only last saturday, as i circumnavigated loch gorm, taking me past kilchoman distillery, i met not a single motor vehicle until rejoining the main bridgend-bruichladdich road. the entirety of that route, from foreland to uiskentuie consists of single track road of varying surface quality.

however, in its defence, kilchoman distillery is currently closed until monday 4 february, at which point visitors are welcome from monday to friday. as we near easter, however, there's every likelihood that the distillery will open on saturdays and from the point of this year's whisky festival in late may, it will open seven days per week. even the less trammeled singletracks will begin to be frequented by increased numbers of motor vehicles, either at the behest of a pitcuresque means of getting from a to b, or quite frequently, because the driver and passengers are lost. those are the months when bike handling skills become particularly important.

according to research by the transport and environment campaign group, motor vehicles are getting wider, year on year. it would be foolish to imply this observation has not been uppermost in our collective mind in recent years, but one that has not, by us at least, been codified into specific numbers. though it's eeksy-peeksy amongst car drivers as to whether any courtesy is displayed towards the peloton or otherwise, those whose aim is singularly targeted on the nearest distillery at the expense of any who get in their way, are becoming harder and harder to avoid.

i have previously indicated that it would be nice to see the honour system prevail, whereby whomsoever reaches a passing place first, gives way to those travelling in the opposite direction, whether car, motorhome or bicycle. if you happen to be riding a bicycle, however, it is highly pertinent to realise that rarely will that apply. in almost nine times out of ten, the cyclist will be the one expected to pull over. there are all too many instances where the peloton happens upon an oncoming motor vehicle, with no available passing place into which one might dip. as the cars get wider and wider, they become harder and harder to avoid, particularly the plasma tv-sized wing mirrors.

there have already been cycle/mirror interfaces, though happily none have resulted in injury.

according to the campaign group, in the first half of last year, the average width of the best-selling 100 cars was 180cm - 200cm, including the aforementioned wing mirrors. however, the new breed of so-called mega-suv have reached up to 220cm. it seems almost pointless to mention that none of the island's roads are any wider than they were when thomas telford first built many of them. unfortunately, only france seems to have the intent to curb such physical expansion; in 2022 the government expanded its desire to have french motorists purchase more environmentally sound vehicles, to include penalties based on car weight.

with the increasing number of electric vehicles to be seen on the world's roads, it's worth bearing in mind that the suv variety is becoming heavier and wider.

the law demands that motorists offer at least 1.5 metres when passing cyclists, a distance completely out of the question on single track roads. but if vehicles continue to widen without restriction, that gap is surely under threat on even two lane roads, particularly in the hebrides where the latter tend to be ever so slightly narrower than those seen in more urban settings.

never has the phrase 'they're out to get you' perpetrated greater resonance.

wednesday 24 january 2024

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


double stroke roll

though one does not wish to come across as sexist, in my experience, it is predominantly the female of the species that concern themselves with losing weight. from anecdotal evidence, the local slimming world club consists primarily of women, many of whom have successfully lost a considerable amount of weight. there are a whole range of conclusions that might be drawn from the above dubious evidence. firstly, it could be that blokes are either satisfied with their physique, healthy or otherwise, or possibly the male species simply lives in a world of self-denial, deliberately or unconsciously oblivious to the number displayed on the bathroom scales and the need to buy larger bibshorts each year.

it could also mean that women are inclined to lean a bit more heavily towards the vain side, more aware of their physical appearance than the neanderthal sex. but, coincidentally and unrelated to the author of this piece in any way, shape or form, weight loss would appear to occupy similar space to that of the intrepid newbie percussionist.

allow me to illustrate.

where musicians such as guitarists and pianists initially learn musical scales to allow educated progress on their repsective instruments, propsective drummers require to acquaint themselves with the rudiments, a set of prescribed exercises designed to improve one's dexterity. originally the set of rudiments numbered a total of 26 (equivalent to the letters of the alphabet). unfortunately for the less intrepid amongst us, america's marching corps invented a whole slew of remarkably oddly-named additional rudiments, bringing the total closer to forty. however, that information is of incidental interest to this particular discussion.

it is not entirely unusual to expect members of the great unwashed to expect any drummer to demonstrate the ability to play a drum roll, a rudiment that turns out to be a great deal harder and more laborious than it sounds. starting very slowly, the aspiring percussionist plays two even strokes with the right hand, followed by two similar strokes with the left. that exercise continues for as long as it takes to have it sound the way most of us would expect a roll to sound. in my case, with at least one and a half hours' practice each evening (at the age of 15), it took around one and a half months to achieve a standard recognisable by others.

though the end result justifies the means, there's no denying that it's as boring as mince, as, it must be admitted, are the majority of the other 25 rudiments. obviously enough, it is drudgery such as that described, that usually prevents many from eventually becoming drummers. if you truly wonder why, let me point out that, after over fifty years of drumming, my practice sessions sound little different from those beginning the process. perhaps a bit faster and smoother, but ultimately, just a series of stokes on a drum or practice pad. even after only two weeks learning guitar, chances are it will be possible to produce something resembling a recognisable tune.

the apprentice drummer, therefore, tends to look for shortcuts; i know i did. the problem is, that the time spent looking for shortcuts would be better spent in studious practice.

as cyclists, we are, by and large, no different. watching both wout van aert and mathieu van der poel during sunday's world cup cyclocross race from benidorm, who wouldn't want to possess the power and acceleration displayed by both. and while the belgian and the dutchman may well have been born with advantageous physiques, the speed and technical abilities on display are predominantly acquired through persistent hard work. the difference, as has become blatantly obvious, is that even the minutest difference either can make, may well result in victory over the other.

you and i, on the other hand, do not have either the time or the financial wherewithal to nip down to the south of spain and undertake a training camp of several days' length. and to be quite honest, rarely, if ever, do we have quite such the same pressing need as wout or mathieu. therefore, it is not unknown for the undistinguished amateur to look for shortcuts, playing right into the hands of those who proffer all manner of legal supplements to enhance one's physical prowess. and more tangibly, bicycles that promise to have you complete a set distance at least five seconds quicker than the bicycle you purchased last year.

it seems this is a part of the human condition, desirous of a particular outcome, but considerably more so if provision can be made of a shortcut that would spare weeks, if not months of blood, sweat and tears. during my time in islay pipe band, there were far more aspiring drummers who fell by the wayside, than ended up wearing a kilt.

if you are of the competitive fraternity, there's little doubt that patience, allied to hard work, may assist you in overcoming your nearest competitors; bear in mind, however, that they're probably doing precisely the same thing. if, like the majority of us, you ride your bicycle because a) you enjoy it, and b) it provides an agreeable level of fitness, you're possibly invested in neither the hard slog or exploration of avowed shortcuts. it's really not worth the effort of enlisting the services of a personal coach, simply to beat your colleagues to the village signpost (unless you actually enjoy such strenuous effort)

it's all a matter of perspective.

drum score illustration from max abrams 'modern techniques for the progressive drummer' (1966)

tuesday 23 january 2024

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