litmus test

focus izalco

so competitive is the cycle market, that very few manufacturers are producing anything less than qualified excellence across their respective ranges. obviously, there will be variations depending on price, but in the majority of cases, the law of diminishing returns is still applicable; a £10,000 bike is very likely to be better than a £5,000 machine, but it's relatively unlikely to be twice as good. though quite how such would be quantified, i know not. which is why one has to view, with a certain degree of suspicion, announcements concerning categories such as road bike of the year, or race bike of the year

a bit like the road world championships each year, the event could only truly be categorised as such if at least the winners of the preceding season's major races participated. in a way, it's a bit like the current giro d'italia, where pogacar leads the rest of the peloton by over two minutes, at least in part because his principal competitors are missing in action. it is, of course, entirely possible that pog would still be in pink were he up against remco, wout, jonas and mathieu, but at least he might have had a harder time reaching the podium.

taking our lead from rider competition, can it truly be pragmatic to annoint one bicycle as race bike of the year, when, in point of fact, the manufacturer does not feature in the world tour? but that appears to be the case, if we accept the concerted opinion of the bike testers at bikeradar and cycling plus, who chose the focus izalco max 9.8. this particular machine retails at £6,800 equipped with shimano's ultegra di2 groupset. does this mean that the world tour professionals are riding the wrong stuff?

for instance, the decathlon van rysel bicycles ridden by the ag2r-la mondiale are outfitted with shimano's dura-ace di2, retail at around £9,000, and reckoned to be the cheapest in the professional peloton. pogacar's colnago, geraint's pinarello, remco's specialized and wout's cervelo are likely to feature considerably higher price tags. of course, price is no guarantee of superiority, but as mentioned above, it does tend to be a reasonable means of gauging quality. and considering that there are no world tour, shimano-equipped teams riding on ultegra, is it valid to choose the focus izalco at the race bike of the year? but then, do we know the criteria by which the choice was made?

bikeradar headed their review of the winner, "no longer in the world tour, but still worthy." which makes a valid point. the professional peloton's bicycles are rarely, if ever, chosen on merit, supply being almost entirely based on the sponsorship money that changes hands between the manufacturer and the team. surprisingly, the manufacturer invariably has to pay to have a team ride its expensive bicycles. if i read the review correctly, the bestowance of supremacy was based on all-round performance, quality spec list and reasonable price. if my interpretation is correct, the criteria for race bike of the year had nothing whatsoever to with any accrued or potential victories in real races.

after all, as lord voldemort assured us, 'it's all about the bike'.

which sort of calls into question the distinction between race bike of the year and road bike of the year. many, including yours truly, will find it surprising that there is any, or should be any, difference at all. the same panel of reviewers chose giant's defy advanced pro 2 as overall road bike of the year. as many will be aware, giant are participators in the world tour, supplying bicycles to jayco alula, though their riders don't ride the defy, choosing instead, the giant propel. so why isn't the defy advanced pro 2 the race bike of the year, instead of road bike of the year?

if we pay attention to the sponsorship paradigm, where manufacturers pay to have the world's top riders aboard their bicycles, it appears that there may be something of a disconnect within this bike of the year situation. the whole point of providing bicycles to world tour teams is that the bicycle-buying-public, (that's you and me) will be inclined to favour the marques ridden by our heroes. and it appears that the theory might actually work in practice, with pogacar's bike sponsor, colnago, having announced a tripling of profits in the last year.

designating a non-team bicycle as race bike of the year could be seen to not only fly-in-the-face of sponsorship logic and the winning of grand tours and monuments, but underlining the contention that the cycling media harbours just a smidgeon of arrogance and the notion that they know better.

of course, despite cycling plus editor boasting of their "...unparalleled industry access", i'd be surprised if every bike represented in the professional peloton was included in the test range. i can understand that price, availability and other pragmatic considerations being applied to the choice of road bike of the year, but surely the race bike of the year should be the best available, irrespective of price? after all, if the concerted opinion is that the focus truly is the best available and at £6,800, what is the point of buying a pogacar colnago v4rs at £16,000 if the sole intention is simply to win races?

my own best road bike is a ritchey logic with campagnolo record and a pair of handbuilt custom wheels, but i'm willing to bet that the name ritchey was conspicuous by its absence from the judges' list (though in mitigation, i'll admit that it's not available as an off-the-shelf, complete bike). group test features such as this can be both informative and entertaining, but they cannot be other than entirely subjective.

don't believe everything you read.

tuesday 14 may 2024

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giro stage 9

during the recent six nations rugby tournament, one of islay's hostelries, not too many kilometres from the croft, offered not only tv access to every game, but during match afternoons, they provided wood-fired pizzas on the veranda to accompany the presumed consumption of ale that seems to characterise the common predilection of rugby fans the nation over. accompanying the hotel manager during a recent distillery tour, i pointed out that, with the giro d'italia currently underway for three weeks, would not it be a wizard wheeze to provide wall-to-wall live coverage of that particular event, where pizza would seemingly be a more appropriate form of sustenance than it was during the rugby tournament?

of course, the fly-in-the-ointment with that particular suggestion, is tempered by the knowledge that i could count on the fingers of one hand, the number of islanders who are even aware that such a cycle race is taking place. though i believe the rugby provided a suitable return on investment, it seems unfortunately evident that my suggestion would possibly cost more than the potential return. for starters, the rugby matches, i'm led to believe, took place only at weekends, while the giro, with the exception of rest days, takes place on a daily basis, when even the velocipedinal cognoscenti are likely to be at work.

exhibiting no particular difference to the remainder of the country, many islanders are acutely aware of the tour de france during those three weeks in july. this i know, because many are inclined to stop in bowmore main street to appraise me of the stage they watched on itv4 highlights the previous evening. i believe most of us who comprise the sunday peloton are inclined to keep such conversations at a minimal level, preferring to avoid any discussions that might concern strategies or any of the more detailed aspects of the sport, just in case our interlocutors are put off by the possibility that perhaps they know a great deal less than they at first thought.

that particular notion applies, i believe, to any sport, but given that this is reputedly a cycling blog, i would like to concern this monologue with the event currently underway at present; the giro d'italia.

i have watched both live coverage and edited highlights of the first week, during which there has been a constant rotation of commentators and pundits intent on keeping the watching public informed as to that which appears upon their screens, either computers or tellyboxes. but is it entirely necessary that the race receive such explanatory comment in the first place? in my early days as a visual artist, i was in the habit of spending several hours in front of my landscape subject with cartridge paper and charcoal, attempting to refine my vision to the least number of marks on the paper.

granted, these were studies for paintings; working drawings that were simply a means to an end, rather than intended as an end in themselves. however, during one or two local exhibitions, i featured several of these drawings as a means of illustrating the workflow that resulted in a few of the accompanying paintings. i cannot argue against the point that many were totally obscure to the average viewer, a point that was well made by two visitors to my exhibition. on viewing one of these drawings in particular, one woman turned to her companion and said "i dont' think we're well enough educated to understand this."

that was one of those light bulb moments. though simply studies, if the drawings seemed inexplicable, was i guilty of being inadvertently (or even worse, deliberately) pretentious, since the resulting paintings tended to be simply more colourful versions of same. is it a logical pursuit to make artifacts that remain incomprehensibe to an intended audience? after all, when perusing works in an art gallery by myself, if i need to have the work explained, has it simply failed? already one artist has railed against the commentaries provided within galleries, claiming that those well-meaning audio narrations do a disservice to the artists' original intent. i tend to disagree up to a point, but i do see what he means.

so when i, or anyone else, is involved in watching a cycle race such as the giro d'italia, though i fully comprehend the role of both the commentator and pundit, does this mean that the sport itself has failed in at least one of its missions, having brought itself to a level where it can only be readily understood by those of us who consider ourselves members of the cognoscenti, others relying entirely on the commentators to reveal the seemingly impenetrable?

this, i believe was brilliantly communicated by team ef education easypost ceo, jonathan vaughters. there is little doubt that he is far better aware of the ins and outs of modern-day world tour cycle racing, than any of those on either side of him in the commentary box. though i am a fan of sean kelly and his often abrupt assessments of pelotonic affairs, he is the same age as yours truly, having retired from professional cycling thirty years ago. in short, sean could be considered as old skool, particularly in comparison to mr vaughters.

that, however, is by-the-by; jonathan's professional insight into the modern-day sport was truly enlightening, but only served to illustrate the extent to which the professional sport has travelled to maximise athletic endeavour. ultimately, this means that the sport that we think we're watching is only the superficial display created for the cameras and those of us sat comfortably in our armchairs, whose combined power output would scarcely equal that of a single world tour team. robert millar told me years ago "always remember, it's just entertainment."

that might conceivably be less true today than it was in robert's and sean's era.

monday 13 may 2024

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out of sorts

garmin 810

it is a rookie mistake of the 21st century, one that would certainly never have happened to eddy, and truth be told, one that ought not to have happened to yours truly. as previously mentioned, on thursday of this past week, i had been invited to ardnahoe distillery to preview the launch of their first single malt at five years old. aside from the likely pointlessness of inviting a verified non-drinker to a distillery in the first place, as someone who regularly cycles without a watch, i had the garmin attached front and centre to ensure that i arrived, preferably in advance of the appointed hour. despite opting to pause briefly for a conversation with one the local farmers, i was still twenty minutes early, a fact that i humbly put down to my impressive speed along the parcours. a reason that fooled no-one.

forgetting that the garmin had already undertaken a day's gainful employment, i set out on saturday for the obligatory soya latte and double-egg roll, once again making use of the garmin's digital services, to ensure that i knew where i was and, more importantly, when. having had an enjoyably lengthy conversation with an australian cyclist at debbie's, i opted to curtail the length of my saturday ride in favour of watching the final 40km of the giro stage to prati di tivo. having ridden my big boy bike on the grass at uiskentuie strand, i chose to do so once again on the return journey. though this tends to be the safety route in the face of gale-force winds, i have regularly taken to plying this particular portion of islay in the probably mistaken notion that so doing will immediately improve my bike handling skills; a sort of summer cyclocross, if you will.

however, prior to my australian conversation, i had time to skim through the pages of this week's comic, in which there is a lengthy article charting the rise and rise of strava and how it has affected the world of the roadie since its inception. for those who have been here long enough, you will be aware that none of my velocipedinal undertakings get anywhere near strava; any data that has been recorded on the garmin is immediately zapped upon my return. but it dawned on me during my return journey that, for strava aficionados, the bleep to warn that there was very little battery power left in my own garmin, would be likely to cause palpitations and possibly even sleepless nights. everybody but me knows full well that 'if it's not on strava, it didn't happen'.

they and i lead very different lives.

but the headlined front cover of this week's comic promises free speed, if only we had the good sense to ride narrower handlebars. that does make some sort of pragmatic sense; narrower bars would, by their very definition, bring the arms closer together, and assuming that happens to an appropriate degree, it will lessen the amount of rider flailing in the wind. of course, while it might be prudent to offer conjecture that that would, indeed, be the case, the more professionally vocational within the cycling media would, as did the comic, take their theories to a wind-tunnel to have them scientifically verified.

i assure you, i had intended reading further, but my australian coversation began at that point, and i read no more. however, i did learn that resorting to bars that measured 35cm from curve to curve, could easily result in the gain of 70 watts. i'm sure that the feature does, in fact, explain just what 70watts of extra power would mean to joe average, but i figure that, for many of us, it would essentially be meaningless, given that the majority are rarely in the business of trying to get somewhere ahead of their peers. aside from the occasional sprint for the village sign at bruichladdich, we're all quite happy to ride as a group, stopping every now and again to let any stragglers catch up.

in this respect, i am not dissing the comic's well-researched feature, for there must be more than a few readers who enjoy the competitive milieu, and for whom the granting of an extra 70 watts without days and days of training, must be like manna from heaven. however, if i recall from my mountain biking days (everyone has a past), when it was incredibly trendy to ride on bars verging on impracticality, though the bike's aesthetics were arguably improved, the handling most certainly wasn't. so if i were to pop out and acquire a narrow set of bendy bars, would that not work against my efforts on the grassy surface of uiskentuie, to improve my bike handling skills?

given my total lack of engagement with strava, even if i find out, you'll probably never know.

sunday 12 may 2024

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the privileged few

magazine covers

in the 1970s, the musicians' union invoked a ban on its members undertaking any work for the bbc, for reasons i have since failed to recall. having joined the musicians' union at the time, primarily for their provision of professional instrument insurance, i keenly trumpeted my compliance with the ban; entirely true, but rather obviously, if you've ever heard me play, you'd know that the chances of my being employed by the bbc were between slim and none at all. in that particular department, nothing has subsequently changed.

and now a bicycle-related ban (of sorts) has arisen with which i'm sure i will also find it all too easy to comply.

f-at digital, publishers of, ebiketips and has opted to adopt a no-fly policy when it comes to their attendance at overseas bike launches. it something that was first publicly broached in a recent editorial by pete muir of cyclist magazine. he wrote that they had hit something of a brick wall when attempting to arrange a trip by rail to france for review purposes, something that proved far harder and more expensive than the more usual route of organising cross-channel flights.

however, tony farrelly of f-at digital has been quoted as saying, "if we've got to fly there, we're not going." this stance is not totally aimed at excluding flights, but attempting also to avoid "...multiple days away from slaving over a hot laptop in blighty." his contention is that, with limited availability of journalists, sending them abroad to cover a bike or product launch, is not necessarily the best use of staff, claiming that while and its peers may well still wish to cover such product launches, "...we'll have to do it remotely." in issuing such statements, mr farrelly listed a number of means by which they expect things to work in the future, at least in part based on the way things worked during covid.

to maintain parity, i too have excluded any likelihood of flying anywhere in the world to cover a cycling product launch (which is saying very little, for other than a recent trip to turkey for the launch of a calmac ferry, i've never been invited abroad by any cycle-related manufacturer. ever.)

perhaps not unnaturally, the list tends to favour the stance of the publisher(s), rather than the manufacturers, which, to a certain extent comes across as a tad arrogant. in fact, mr farrelly is hardly alone in such a stance; it's been possible to detect a certain superiority on behalf of uk cycling publishers for several years. i'm sure that, despite being a very small player in a very small niche, i have been guilty of same, but many a review or feature in the cycling press, online or in print, has given leave to the stance that they are the arbiters of all that appears before them and us, and that there is no room for dissension.

it appears that this attitude may be still in evidence. during his conversation with trade website, cycling industry news, mr farrelly said, "...a sizeable number of the uk's bike press is based in a relatively small area, in the bath-bristol corridor. [...] as well as, and ebiketips, central bath is home to cyclingnews, cycling weekly and gcn. bikeradar, cycling plus and mbuk are a few minutes away in bristol,... while cyclist is an hour and 20mins away by train."

of course, mr farrelly is perfectly correct, presenting the location as, for whatever reason, the location of the majority of britain's cycling press. however, deliberately or otherwise, he then goes on to qualify the above by stating "between us that's not just the entire uk road cycling audience, but also a sizeable chunk of the english speaking cycling world." that, i'm inclined to say, strikes me as somewhat arrogant. i've been 'publishing' thewashingmachinepost for the last 28 years, long before any of the above online publications were even thought of. and though i would stop well short of claiming the post, in any way, compares with the likes of, cycling weekly or cyclist, in the days when the post leaned more heavily towards bicycle and product reviews, i was once informed by rapha's marketing department that responses from washingmachinepost reviews of their products, were third in line behind the guardian and

and i'm hardly the only cycling blogger who commands a not insignificant online audience, one that spans several continents. lest you mistake my own comment as its own form of arrogance, nothing could be further from the truth. i am well aware of my place in the cycling firmament, one of the principal reasons behind my resolve to eschew bike and product reviews, was on the basis that others are far better equipped than i to do so. but i do take exception to someone claiming ownership of "...the entire uk road cycling audience.". commerce is not the be all and end all of velocipedinal comment.

many of us 'little people' possess a similar level of expertise and insight, as do the big boys.

saturday 11 may 2024

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an unfair advantage

ardnahoe still room

like many, i habitually spend most, if not all, of my working day in an office, confronted with an apple imac. aside from popping down the village at lunch time to purchase my daily paper, the most exercise generally achieved is at the behest of a trackpad on which my right forefinger scrolls indefinitely, feverishly attempting to make the pages of a newspaper look pretty. a bit like an artist, it's all very well spending days and days making sketches, but at sometime in the process, a painting will probably be required. therefore, though i can fritter away the hours making phone calls and undertaking relevant research, at some point, all the gathered information, will have to be assembled into a finished article.

living in the age of the interweb, much of my research can be undertaken without strolling further than my web browser, but every now and again, reality rises its welcome head, and an away-morning beckons. interestingly, prior to taking advantage of this unexpected away-morning, i had to make precocious use of those interwebs to create a series of questions that would have my interviewees think me to be so much more clever than is the accurate truth.

currently underway is a scottish power renewables project to construct an offshore windfarm (machairwind) between the north end of islay and the (relatively) nearby island of colonsay. as part of this long-term project, utlimately designed to generate two gigawatts of renewable electricity, they have been conducting self-engendered drop-in events across islay, jura and colonsay, two of which took place on islay yesterday. their public relations department had arranged the opportunity for me to meet with senior members of the team prior to the drop-in event, in advance of which i had concocted a series of devastatingly searching questions that i believed would have them reeling in the face of my brilliance, enhancing my reputation in the process.

i'm pretty sure all the above would have come to pass, had i not left those deeply researched questions on my desk in the office. suffice it to say, my lunch consisted of a large serving of humble-pie, as i had to strain every last brain cell to recall what i'd written and had to beg a scottish power renewables notebook and scottish power renewables pen to note their answers.

how the mighty are fallen.

however, serendipity was very much on my side of the fence, as last friday, i had received an invitation to visit ardnahoe distillery on islay's north coast during thursday afternoon. suddenly the away-morning had become an away-day, one which required the services of a bicycle. ardnahoe became islay's ninth distillery in 2019, meaning that the spirit distilled during the opening year is now five years old, just at the corona edge of acceptability as a single malt whisky. launch day for this first ardnahoe bottling is today, 10 may, but as a courtesy, the distillery invited those and such as those for a tour and a tasting on thursday afternoon.

ardnahoe, near to the ferry terminal at port askaig and sporting idyllic views across the sound of islay to the paps of jura, is around 17km from bowmore village. earlier in the week, the forecast was for rain, but the reality was warm sunshine and very little wind, curating one of the nicest away-day cycling excursions i had undertaken in a long time.

however, though the road towards port askaig is of two-lane construction all the way, turning left at persabus to head the two kilometres to ardnahoe takes the intrepid cyclist (that would be me) onto a single track road which ultimately ends at islay's most northerly distillery at bunnahabhain. because of trees and bushes, it's not possible to see whether there are any vehicles heading in the opposite direction at the junction with that single track road, therefore there is a wide passing place at the turning point to avoid any unfortunate vehicle-to-vehicle contact.

as i turned onto the road, there were two vehicles parked in that passing place, two blokes in the first, locking up prior to heading on foot to ardnahoe. behind them, a family taking items from the boot of their car and about to do likewise, with scant concern for the true purpose of the passing place. that's something that's only going to get worse. but the real point of my endless monologue, is the state of the road leading to both ardnahoe and bunnahabhain distilleries, disintegration that, oddly enough, favours the cyclist far more than the hapless motorist.

it's a question i field with alarming regularity from island motorists:'how do you guys manage on such poor road surfaces?'. we have previously discussed the pot ale tankers which ply islay's roads pretty much 24/7 to removed the waste liquid left from the distilling process. the scottish environmental protection agency (sepa) decreed at the turn of the century that there was no longer to be any outflow from industrial units into the sea (though ironically, the pot ale is indeed, ultimately disbursed into the sea). the tankers responsible for collection are 40ft articulated trailers, totally unsuited to the island's single track roads, gradually pulping them into fine gravel surrounding a myriad of substantial potholes.

where the bicycle wins out is in its manoeuvrability, providing the opportunity to avoid the majority of the disintegration. but just to add insult to injury, ardnahoe is currently constructing several large warehouses, and construction traffic has contributed greatly to the dismantling of the roads. it's not often that the bike wins out when measured against the motor car, but i can assure you that i fared considerably better than the vehicles ahead of me, though i was admittedly on my big boy cyclocross bike.

though the ardnahoe/bunnahabhain road is an unmitigated disaster at present, i doubt it is unique amongst britain's road network. if you weren't before, now is the time to be smug.

friday 10 may 2024

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identity crisis

dmt pogi shoes

though with hindsight, it might not appear the spontaneous burst of enthusiasm it seemed to be at the time, as marco pantani took flight between briancon and courchevel in the 2000 tour de france, i began to think that i might undertake to honour velominati's rule #12 (the correct number of bikes to own is n+1, where n=the number of bikes you already own) by dipping my toe into the bianchi world and acquiring a celeste coloured replica of that ridden by il pirata. of course, we now know that marco was every bit as guilty as lord voldemort in the cheating stakes, though he seems to have escaped the hellfire and damnation incurred by his nemesis. this desire to own a verisimilitude of the professional milieu, was, at the time, a seminal moment that has rarely been repeated since, within either my cycling career or percussive endeavours.

the only exception to which i'm willing to admit was the relatively recent purchase of a tama bill bruford signature snare drum, an instrument introduced in the late 1990s and an example of which i had ever since, attempted to get hold. i am, however, sufficiently aware of the mores of signature products to know that this particular drum does not in any way, make me sound like dr. bruford.

but i figure i can live with that.

in the intervening period i have, to my knowledge, never purchased a particular item of velocipedinal or percussive value on the basis that it was ridden or played by a particular rider or drummer. yes, my drum workshop set is fnished in white marine pearl, and i have attempted, as far as is practical, to replicate the drumsets of gene krupa and buddy rich, but that is entirely for aesthetic reasons; neither krupa nor rich was a noted endorser of drum workshop products. yet i can only surmise that there is a sizeable number of fans in either discipline, ready and willing to purchase a product on the basis of its reputed recommendation by a star of the realm.

ludwig did produce a buddy rich edition set to commemorate what would have been his 100th birthday, and i have seen several sets which replicate those of led zeppelin drummer john bonham. but how many of each were actually sold, i know not. there is even video documentation on youtube of an american collector who owns every dw snare drum issued in favour of rush drummer, neil peart, along with a very expensive replica of the canadian's final tour drumset. however drumming is reputedly an art form and the sensibilities of those who practice it are quite possibly at odds with those who ride bicycles (though i'd have to hold some serious conversations with myself to find out just how true is that assertion).

so are cyclists guilty of lusting after products endorsed or signed by the sport's top riders? i can fully understand the pent up demand for signed leaders' jerseys from any of the three grand tours, but that's not quite the same thing. this particular line of questioning has arisen from the news that italian cycling shoe manufacturer, dmt has released a tadej pogacar branded pair, of a style precisely the same as those presented to the slovenian ahead of this year's giro d'italia. they are indeed, fine looking shoes that the majority of us would be happy to wear during our own feeble attempts at speed, but will they still hold the same cachet when pog has retired and become a rally driver? or worse still, switched allegiance to another shoe manufacturer?

i once possessed a greg lemond giro branded helmet, along with lemond endorsed scott drop-in bars and tri-bars. however those actually counted as stock, in the days when i sold bicycles and accessories and were not for personal use. ironically, i sold the drop-in bars, still in the original box, to a collector, only a couple of years ago .

but aside from signature products, does anyone actually purchase a particular marque of bicycle on the basis that machinery with the same logo on the downtube was ridden to victory by a well-known and admired cyclist? one of the purported advantages of being a cycling fan is the availability of identical equipment (financial wherewithal notwithstanding) to that of our heroes. but that information is surely tempered by the recommendation never to ask a professional for endorsement of any cycling product, entirely on the basis that they have to ride that with which they are provided, whether they like it or not. yes, the adverts will state that such-and-such a bicycle is the very reason for an impressive palmares; until the following year when the bike sponsor changes.

but implied endorsements such as those hypothetically outlined above, are surely the very basis of team sponsorship? shimano choose to supply world-tour teams in order to imply superiority over products from sram (campagnolo are currently missing in action from the world tour roster, though they do equip the de rosa bicycles of bardiani csf faizané), searching for a greater number of victories than the pioneers of wireless gear changing. presumably there must be market research to prove that sponsorship actually works, providing an equitable return on investment. oddly enough, there is such evidence to show that road cycling fans have a distinct tendency to purchase skoda motor cars, and frequently, the estate version.

on the other hand, perhaps the whole sponsorship paradigm is cycling's equivalent of the emperor's new clothes - as long as no-one questions the whole arrangement, everyone's happy. (though that happiness might evaporate rather quickly on learning that the previous pair of pogi shoes retailed in excess of £400.

dmt cycling shoes

thursday 9 may 2024

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john lewis store, buchanan galleries, glasgow

the daughter of one of the women with whom i work on a few days each week, is soon to head off on a three day trip to the island of arran. the latter is situated in the clyde on the other side of the kintyre peninsula from the centre of the universe. in previous years, i have been invited to address those undertaking the trip on the matter of bicycle maintenance, primarily on the basis that the first eight kilometres, following disembarking the ferry, are undertaken by bicycle. though geographically, there is little alternative, i fear the teaching staff have perhaps played a rather cruel trick upon the more junior pupils of the school; the first two kilometres consist of a 14% uphill gradient.

at the end of those initial eight kilometres lies a second but considerably smaller car ferry, crossing from claonaig on kintyre to lochranza at the north end of arran. but on arrival at the village field centre, the bicycles will be put away for the duration of their stay on arran, only resurfacing for the return trip. originally, i was under the misapprehension that the trip would comprise of cycling across all three days, therefore my speech contained advice on how and when to change gear, how to repair a puncture, or simply replace the inner-tube, and all manner of other snippets of pertinent advice, that, it transpires, were effectively surplus to requirements.

with the best interests of the children at heart, the excursion leaders have advised that the children each carry a spare inner-tube, a puncture repair kit and a pump. oddly, there was no mention of a tyre lever, without which, as you and i well know, there's little point in carrying any of the other three. what they also failed to intimate when inviting yours truly to speak, was that there will be a twelve-seater minibus following the junior peloton, into which any punctured or broken bicycle will be immediately placed, in order to avoid unnecessary delays on the way to the arran ferry.

though i have explained to my colleague the pointlessness of attempting to repair a punctured inner-tube while trying to maintain parity with a calmac timetable, she in turn pointed out that schoolkids, at that age, have a tendency to hang upon every word spoken by the teaching staff; therefore, if an inner-tube, pump and repair kit are to be carried, no alternative suggestions will be entertained. i have provided both tyre lever and repair kit, but in order to lend an inner tube, i needed to know what size and what type of valve.

unsurprisingly, not only did i have to explain where to learn of the tyre size (the numbers i was given bore no relation to anything at all), but provide illustrations of presta and schrader valves. it is, encapsulated thus, a perfect example of the fact that cycling, like many other traits of contemporary life, features its own language, common enough to the cognoscenti, but completely impenetrable to the great unwashed. i also find it a curious state of affairs that motorists, by and large, are blissfully unaware that the valves on all four wheels of their motor cars, are correctly referred to as schrader valves.

this salient fact has, at times, been directly levelled at some bike shops as the reason why the uninformed, would-be cyclist feels tangible discomfort on entering a bicycle emporium, less than well-acquainted with that of which they hope to leave the premises. personally, i think that may have played an unsung factor in the increasing sales of gravel bikes, telling the confirmed newbie that such is the genre being purchased by others. i believe they simply refrain from mentioning that the other sales have also been at their pressing suggestion.

however, in the majority of cases, though bike shop staff may occasionally display less than subtle arrogance or smugness when confronted by the less well informed, in the main, they do know their stuff, able to advise of the difference between schrader and presta, campagnolo and shimano, bb30 and t47. it is, in short, why bike shops exist in the first place, and why i find it hard to come to terms with the knowledge that john lewis stores, better known for televisions, home furniture and cosmetics, are now stocking volt e-bikes.

so, the next time i arrive at glasgow's buchanan bus station, cross over to the adjacent john lewis store, often used as a shortcut into buchanan galleries, i will stride up to the cosmetics counter and ask the no doubt bemused assistant behind the counter, whether a volt 'pulse' features presta or schrader valves.

volt e-bikes

wednesday 8 may 2024

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by special request

cycle parking at bunnahabhain distillery

as the barnacle geese leave islay's fields and head north, back to greenland from whence they came last october, they are being replaced by what we have tentatively chosen to refer to as ofm (over from mainland), an in-house private joke that may or may not replace the more common reference; visitors. though i'd like to take credit for this obscure acronym, in truth a purloined it from a tv programme, where visitors to a southern england coastal town were categorised as dfl, their own acronym for down from london.

that has entailed the commencement of the time of year when being overtaken on blind corners has once again begun in earnest. though almost entirely a state of affairs created by the motoring public, in essence its has more to do with a remarkable demonstration of stupidity on behalf of individuals who simply happen to be at the wheel of a motor car when such stupidity takes place. despite the fact that the person best placed to see what's round every corner (namely, me), can't actually see round corners, idiots at the wheel of a one tonne metal box, frequently with innocent passengers in at least one of the other seats, opt to overtake yours truly, placing themselves on the opposite side of the road, directly in the path of any oncoming traffic which they are unable to see.


though i'd prefer that it didn't happen at all, i cannot lay the blame entirely at the steering wheels of visiting motorists; more than a few of my overtakers are known to me as local residents who truly ought to know better. however, while it may be irritating to be sat behind a much slower moving cyclist, in truth, that state of affairs is likely only to last for a matter of seconds. it seems that patience may no longer be considered a virtue. that said, i do have a certain level of sympathy towards islay's drivers, now that ofm season has begun.

in years gone by, there was always the option to hire bicycles on islay and jura, popular with those who may have arrived bereft of motorised transport and discovered that islay's public transport service scarcely meets their demands. i like to think that those hiring bicycles were individuals with at least a working knowledge of how to cycle in traffic, but having witnessed many aboard those hire bikes, i know that, by and large, i was only kidding myself. however, now that the population of ubiquitous e-bike hires has overtaken any thoughts of hiring acoustic bikes, matters have become considerably and demonstrably worse.

anecdotal and visible evidence would tend to suggest that many e-bike hirers have scarcely ridden any sort of bike since they were ten years old, and are blissfully unaware that any sort of highway code exists for their benefit. for starters, almost without exception, they tend to place the chain in the smallest rear sprocket on acquiring the bike, and leave it there for the duration. it's odd to think that the only individuals who will eventually require to have the cassette replaced due to a worn-out eleven sprocket, are e-bike hirers and world tour sprinters.

as i wandered up bowmore main street on saturday afternoon, having collected my weekend newspaper, i witnessed four e-bike hirers, without helmets (as supplied by the hirers) riding all across the road, without any concern for following or oncoming traffic. and that was scarcely an isolated incident. i'm well aware that there is no legal requirement in the uk to wear a cycle helmet, but if riding in the manner of those e-bike hirers, it would be a particularly prudent idea.

however, matters do not end there. the cycling and national press have regularly featured the reputed demands of would-be cyclists for better, or even any, cycling infrastructure. segregated cycle tracks and appropriate cycle parking at their destinations. port ellen distillery recently opened its doors to those with very deep pockets, with the car park still under construction. i mentioned to the distillery management that i would hope to see cycle parking facilities within the car park, when all is completed, so at some point, i will need to pay a return visit to check. bruichladdich distillery did provide cycle parking at one point, but on my last visit, it had either been moved or removed. kilchoman distillery features cycle parking as does bunnahabhain, but i'll need to check ardnahoe distillery when i visit later this week.

bowmore doesn't offer any cycle parking, but then strictly speaking, they don't allow any vehicular access to the premises.

however, taking advantage of the may bank holiday, i opted to ride over to ardbeg distillery for lunch, having not visited since last year's ride of the falling rain. what i have been disparagingly referring to as the burger van situated in distllery's open courtyard was, unfortunately, not yet open for business, so partook of a panini in the old kiln café. prior to my departure, i was faced with the arrival of several individuals on hired e-bikes, all of whom rode past the extensive number of bicycle racks sited at the entry point to the courtyard and left the bicycles leaning against the courtyard wall.

it seems the facade continues unabated; say one thing, do the opposite. that said, i do believe they had all reached ardbeg via the three distilleries path*, providing segregated travel from port ellen village, past laphroaig, lagavulin and ardbeg.

*soon to become the four distilleries path on completion of portintruan distillery next year.

tuesday 7 may 2024

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