those bright city lights


"they threw off blankets and grabbed boots, coats, cowbells, hats and gloves. by the time the elite men had started, twelve inches of snow had dumped on the course, and thousands of people had showed up to watch. skidding racers smacked into spectators; there were as many wipeouts in the audeince as there were in the race."

the above is excerpted from simon burney's cyclocross training and technique, and describes the very first cross race that burney and friends organised in leicester, near the massachussetts turnpike, usa, and will appear as nothing out of the ordinary for cross fans or racers confined to europe or the more northern states in north america. snow, rain, mud, bike changes every lap and a hard time for the washing machine when the day is done. but, of course, it doesn't have to be like this; even in europe, the sun comes out once in a while past october 1, and all is bathed in sunlight, but temperature-wise, it's a good idea to retain those bib-threequarters and thermal jerseys.

but then somebody has to be different.

if you're in the trade, in one way or another, you will be aware that september kicks off the cycle show season, many of which are trade only, some of which allow civilians in for a sneaky peek and a girding of wallets. first off is eurobike at the beginning of the month allowing just enough time for recovery and baggage check-in before heading off to nevada for the huge american trade show at interbike. this takes place on 23rd - 25th, more or less slap bang in the centre of north america in the brightest city on earth - las vegas. most days during september, the temperature reaches 95 degrees (35c), though by evening this a plummets to around 80 (27c), a far cry from the temperatures and conditions introduced by mr burney at the opening of the article.

and on the first eve of interbike, they hold a floodlit cyclocross race.

last year, lance armstrong presaged his comeback to the international peloton by racing to second place at the leadville mountain bike race, and followed that up by racing at crossvegas. he didn't win either event. but as glasgow and dublin have seen over the past week or so, lance is still big news, even amongst the supposedly hardened, world weary bicycle trade representatives. you can see the results of having lance in your cyclocross race here


according to crossvegas organiser, brook watts, attendance at the race is " approximately 80 percent interbike attendees with the remainder being local to las vegas or visitors from other parts of the usa.  there were 7,500 + spectators in 2008". this year's big draw is former world champion cross rider, erwin vervecken who may or may not be interested in the uci points available for winning a cat 1 sanctioned race. "this is a major motivation for many riders who come to crossvegas.  erwin's main motivation is to compete in crossvegas before his career ends at the conclusion of the season."

although the race takes place on the first evening of the interbike show, it is independent of the trade show. however, the two are in such close proximity both geographically and thematically that both definitely love each other. interbike supplies shuttle buses from the show location six miles away to allow spectators to reach the course. so why a cyclocross race rather than something to appeal to the larger markets of both road and mountainbikes? brook watts again: "my business partner and i are cyclocross fans of many years and we felt the sport needed exposure among the attendees at interbike". and that, if you need my opinion, is an excellent reason to organise any form of cycle event; a race for racing's sake is good enough, but running one for the entertainment value, coupled with what amounts to a high degree of proselytizing takes top spot on the podium every time.

schlamm wetzikon jacket

but it's not all american through and through. a high profile cycle race of any discipline needs marketing, and it also needs t-shirts, caps with the logo prominently featured on front and back. despite the myriad companies who could doubtless provide the preceding in the usa, this year's crossvegas leisure clothing is being supplied by schlamm, perhaps a name you have not heard of before. i confess to being in the same saddle, so to speak, until a week or so past, before a series of fortuitous e-mails led back to the start. schlamm clothing is the brainchild of dan elmore and our opening author and cross expert, simon burney, and based in lincoln, england. (schlamm? - brilliantly, it's the swiss word for mud).

it may have crossed your mind (pun not intended) that just what the world needs right now, is yet another cycle clothing company, but schlamm claims the nichest part of a niche market - cross specific clothing. you can have a good look at their current range on the website, but i currently have a wetzikon training jacket in for test/review, details of which will be revealed when i've finished getting muddy. on islay's roads, it's cyclocross everyday.

crossvegas | schlamm

crossvegas photos: mia sullian | studio m productions


posted on thursday 27 august 2009

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boys and their toys

old mobile phone

in the 1990s, when i had yet to see the light that would take me from knobby tyres to skinny wheels, i received monthly copies of an upmarket mountain bike magazine called mtb pro, a magazine whose demise predates the online version of thewashingmachinepost by a good few years. i cannot claim to have held on to the bitter end, because one particular monthly issue bore a feature regarding the most practical mobile phone to take with you when you went mountain biking. note that the word 'practical' is used in its relative sense, if you can remember just what bricks most mobiles were in the early part of the nineties; certainly nowhere near the sophistication and wafer thin-ness displayed by current models. however, it was at this point that i decided that i would forego any further issues of the magazine, because it seemed to me that the editorial department had somewhat missed the point.

after a hard week's work, the joy of jumping on board my then state of the art mountain bike at weekends was just what the doctor ordered (though i will admit that our doctor has never been seen on a bicycle of any description). why would i, or anyone else for that matter, wish to have this unadulterated fun interrupted by a phone call from mrs washingmachinepost asking for a modicum of assistance with the weekly shopping? a bit of a killjoy, if you ask me. now that i have reached self-imposed roadie status, i still do not own a mobile phone, and my weekends, evenings and occasional days playing hooky are mercifully phone and text message free.

those confirmed users of mobile communication technology will be eagerly attempting to point out that i could just as easily switch the phone off, and carry it purely for reasons of emergency, such as my handlebar tape coming loose at one end or getting mud on my socks. but this is, in my opinion, to miss the point of a bike ride. life is highly cossetted these days, with remote controls for the television, timed central heating, buses with automatic doors and being able to watch movies on your ipod. take a look at any photo of fausto coppi on those unmade roads somewhere to the south of paris, and you can't quite imagine him digging into a woollen rear pocket and extricating a mobile phone, just to say to mrs coppi that he might be a tad late for tea.

cycling is all about adventure, at least it is if you pedal the way i do, and somehow the ability to fire off down the road, leaving troubles and shed door key behind encapsulates what cycling is all about; that and carbon fibre. read the opening chapters of graeme obree's book, the flying scotsman and you will grasp the joy and freedom that can be had from getting away from it all on your bike. graeme didn't own a mobile phone, and there's few enough of us could keep old faithful in sight on the sunday ride.

progress, however, can be a wonderful thing: if i was to stop subscriptions and newsagent orders for cycling magazines on the basis of featured electronic doohickies nowadays, i'd have a lot more time on my hands, and doubtless a shade more money in the bank. cycle computers, power meters, gps units and latterly, electronic gear shifting have all made inroads to the cyclistic psyche and are likely here to stay. having tested and reviewed a number of these items, i cannot, in all honesty deny the efficacy of the majority. with the costs involved in purchasing most of them, it would be a sad day indeed if that money were not justifiably spent.

but unless serious training is uppermost on the daily menu, most of them are mere numerical displays; unless analysis is made of recorded digitation, sticking one (or two) of these to the stem could reasonably be regarded as bragging rights, particularly if you have an orange garmin 705 or a green srm. if, like most of us, riding a bike is the real fun part of the day(s), gadgetry that requires batteries is scarcely to be classified under the heading of necessity. you can debate whether a black iphone is the new white 'til you're blue in the face, but only when you've ridden the bike unfettered, with a clear head and no ringtone.

and no, you can't text me if you disagree.


posted on wednesday 26 august 2009

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clothes maketh the rider

derny clothing

scarcely a press release goes by nowadays without one entity or another wishing to ally itself with the bicycle, or at least point out that the bicycle could well be one of the principal factors in saving the planet. let's be quite clear about this: few of us are seriously interested in saving the planet, but in safeguarding our way of life. but saving the planet seems so much more altruistic and commendable. cycling has to be considered at least partially in this light. much like most of you, i ride my bike because i like riding my bike, and have done so for more years than i can accurately remember. the fact that global warming has happened along in the past decade or so (or at least the perception) is merely a merry happenstance that puts me, you, and thousands like us in a very favourable light, a light that doubtless many of us have accepted with glee and not just a small amount of self-righteousness. but basically most of us would continue to ride our bikes if all were well with the planet.

there are, make no mistake, many others who have taken to two wheels and a pair of pedals for environmental and transportational reasons, folks for whom spandex holds no attraction, and quite likely a degree of revulsion. the bicycles they employ in the daily commute, or perhaps even the odd weekend trundle, are unlikely to feature much in the way of carbon fibre, treadless tyres and those saddles oft compared to razor blades. of course, this generalises in just the same way as those of us on skinny wheels and bendy bars, and there is probably a no-man's land in between the two.

enthusiasm for the bicycle is not hard to come by, even on behalf of those who fit in the above category, but appropriate apparel may have been, up till now, a bit harder to find. it's a problem likely to pass by those content to ride with nose on the front of the stem; there are a huge variety of companies proffering a similarly huge variety and combination of shorts, jerseys, and jackets that will keep the weekend warrior's wardrobe comfortably bulging at the doors. but for the more sedate pedalist, something stylish, practical and devoid of sponsors' logos is far more likely to fit the bill. this is now the burgeoning market, or at least it will be when some of the more perspicacious suppliers get their act well and truly together.

one company which has ploughed a solo field in the spandex market, offering a unique range of screen-printed jerseys evoking a bygone age of mythical sponsors, wool collars, and cuffs over many continents, is new zealand's solo. and solo has now been joined by derny (a rather excellent name for a clothing brand, if they don't mind me saying so) which is about to release some tasty, yet subtle cothing onto an unsuspecting market, some of it at eurobike early next month.

tailoring jerseys, jackets and ultimately, in november this year, lugged shorts, does not necessarily qualify you to shift over to the more sartorial side of the market, something paul mason sussed early on in derny's development cycle: "in order to create the sharp, beautifully tailored clothing we wanted, we knew we would need a clothing designer with an exceptional pedigree." renowned for its sense of style, italy would be many a clothier's first port of call. in the case of derny, this italian flavour was already living and working in new zealand in the shape of claudia pellizzaro: "claudia has taken our initial concept and ideas and refined them into the first few items in the collection. There are further pieces underway for next season and we hope to continue working together as we develop the derny range."

so there you have it. for those days, weekends, moments when, in the process of saving the planet on two wheels, you can lock up the bike or take it on the bus or train, while still resembling a stylish human being, and far less like the dregs of the peloton searching for that team bus. all being well, i hope to be testing/reviewing items from the derny range as time flies by.

derny clothing

derny clothing

posted on tuesday 25 august 2009

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niche market


much of the world is now online, an example of which is evinced by the pixels before you now: there have been a multitude of adjectives pertaining to this shift in media consumption - the youtube generation, the playstation generation rather underlining that the media considers this applicable to a specific demographic. doubtless this makes interpreting the numbers a whole lot easier: despite the newness of the media and those responsible (self-appointed or otherwise) for analysing this shift in our reading, viewing and listening, the old pigeon-hole still comes in handy. and this digital revolution has also satisfied old and new generations who lust after the instant gratification of 24 hour availability of pretty much everything.

long have we heard recollections of the old days when weeks could pass before news of such as the tour de france or giro d'italia would arrive via french or italian newspapers - at least in the major conurbations. have the temerity to be a rural cyclist, and you could be waiting a while. reach back to only last week, when i'd installed a tour of ireland app. on my ipod touch. always assuming the presence of a suitable wi-fi connection, it was possible to receive a continuous live feed throughout each stage, accompanied by a show of photographs by graeme watson.

and now that the race is over, the program and its icon have been removed. the ipod generation of which i am comfortably a part. but the success of (their own inconsistencies notwithstanding) and now eurosport online, points to a noticeable shift from words and stills to moving pictures. i may have a vested interest in the written word and its ability to paint an accurate, yet personally skewed vision as possible, but to quote a phrase no longer strictly true: the camera never lies. this was perhaps contentiously true when cameras used film, but now wrangling of those zeros and ones can re-arrange the present to match the words, should such be deemed necessary.

but we have moving pictures readily available to anyone with a flip, and able to get themselves to a suitable vantage point for filming. in much the same way that having a blog doesn't suddenly turn one into a literary genius, neither does possession of a video camera turn you into steven spielberg. quality varies, but then i don't need to tell you that. i've dallied with the aforesaid moving pics myself, to which my vimeo channel will attest, but much the same as my photography, it is there by way of illustration to accompany the words, not to outwardly proclaim any abilities i may not have in that direction. skilled individuals such as dave christensen who produces the majority of the rapha continental footage, have the advantage on me there, but by studying such as he, hopefully the movies on the post might improve over time.

but obsessions need fed, and they need to be fed well and frequently: the youtube generation comes home to roost for this need, the google owned web channel catering to many differing tastes, sports, hobbies and music in rather unprecedented quantities. but even youtube relies on associated videos to provide the next step(s) after the initial viewing, and possibly even a degree of searching to find episode two. oh, faff. the instant gratification could conceivably have hit a glitch at this point were it not for obsessives even more obsessed than ourselves.

crosstube. crosstube

yes, some skilled genius with more time on their hands than us, has collected all the youtube cyclocross videos in one place, sort of what i've tried to do with articles featuring robert millar, and then some. i can accept that i am perhaps late to the table here, and half the world's cyclocrossers are reading this and emitting a collective duh!, however, experience tells that if i have only just found crosstube, there will be others in a similar position. and the if the digital revolution has achieved nothing else, communication across borders and boundaries would be quite sufficient for me.

so as the grey and muddy days still approach, only a short period after the major cycle shows have shown us what we still can't afford for next season, feel free to assuage those desires for hours and minutes of cross, culled from france, usa, the uk, and its european home(s). as simon burney said: "oh, many a wasted hour spent, when I should have been doing something more constructive"

if i've written this well enough to whet your appetite, there's every chance you won't have made it this far, having foolishly placed the link two paragraphs north of here. still, it's all in a good cause.



posted on monday 24 august 2009

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bicycle diaries by david byrne. faber & faber. hardcover, 303pp illus. £14.99

bicycle diaries

"though i have tended to paint a bleak picture, not every city in the usa is going to hell in a handbasket because of dying industry, stupid planning decisions, or racially motivated white flight. it doesn't have to be that way. san francisco, portland, much of seattle, much of chicago, minneapolis, savannah and many more are vibrant and full of life. these are places where things are turning around, where the quality of life has completely returned, or where it was never allowed to be destroyed. strangely, the recent economic downturn might be a great opportunity. sustainability, public transport, and bike lanes aren't scoffed at anymore."

my week in portland was helped immeasurably by the loan of a cielo bicycle from chris king components; with so many of the people i wished to visit being involved in the bicycle business and spread across various parts of the city, cycling was by far the most practical method of hopping from place to place. this made even more sense when my tour guide (thank you mr distefano) was also aboard a bicycle. portland's like that.

but being the guardian of a brand new bicycle in a city, rather than in the more tranquil surroundings of my home, meant more attention had to be paid to retaining that temporary ownership; in other words, not getting it stolen.the cielo did not arrive with a lock or security guard, so while it was safe enough in slate's basement during my time staying there, i was none too keen on leaving it all on its own in the basement car park of the hotel i moved into for three nights. thankfully, portland has a more enlightened attitude to bicycles than many of the uk or european cities i can think of - they batted not one eyelid when i rolled the bike into the elevator and stowed it under lock and key (well, plastic security card) in the room.

and a cielo does not fold.

david byrne is a scot by birth, having his origins in dumbarton, near glasgow. in 1954, his parents moved the family to hamilton, ontario in canada and then on to arbutus, maryland usa. byrne was one of the founding members and idiosyncratic front-man for the new-wave band talking heads who played their first gig in 1975. in the time since talking heads went the way of many bands of that era, byrne has collaborated with brian eno amongst others, as well as forming the record label luaka bop and involving himself, in a similar way to peter gabriel, in world music and his own musical and visual artistic output.

while a lack of perspective, musicianship and possibly even intellect could reasonably have been levelled at many of those involved in new wave, these are not of valid contention when considering david byrne. he currently lives in new york, and has travelled around that city by bicycle since the late seventies/early eighties. since he finds this a practical way to get about, he has transposed the activity to the many countries visited during the itinerant life of a contemprorary musician and artist. in most cases this takes the form of a folding bicycle, but not always of the dahon/brompton variety, finding the wheels sometimes a little on the small side for such journeys.

bicycle diaries

"there are more new yorkers riding bikes than ever. and not just messengers. significantly, a lot of young hip folks don't seem to regard cycling as totally uncool anymore, which was definitely the case when i began to ride around in the late seventies and early eighties. i sense that we might be approaching a tipping point, to invoke that now cliched term. new yorkers are at the stage where they might, given the chance and the opportunity, consider a bicycle as a valid means of transportation - if not for themselves, then at least they will tolerate it as a reasonable means of transport for other new yorkers."

throughout these many years of world travelling, david byrne has kept a diary, or several. diaries that not so much employ the meeting at 11:00 or don't forget to put the bins out method of recording daily activities that need to be remembered, but more a journal detailing locations and people encountered and digressions and thoughts thereof. the chapters deal with a variety of cities: berlin, istanbul, buenos aires, manila, sydney, london, san francisco and home in new york. there is a frail yet concise attempt at the start of each to acquaint us with just what sort of cycling the layout of each brings to the eager traveller with bicycle, but generally that is the only involvement the bicycle plays in the book. so readers eagerly wishing to find out whether the former talking heads frontman prefers campagnolo or shimano and whether he wears rapha or assos will be sorely disappointed. these pages are more concerned with byrne's philosophies and observations as he travels, though perhaps informed in part by his method of transport.

the bicycle is mute, yet says everything you need to know.

"i'm not saying cycling is a matter of survival - though it might be part of how we survive in the future - but here in buenos aires it seems so much a common sense way of getting around that cultural abhorrence is the only explanation i can come up with as to why there are no other cyclists on the streets. my cycling is considered so unusual here that it is newsworthy - it is written up in the local papers."

it is this intellectuality, albeit of a certain rarefied atmosphere that makes this book the gem that it is. on a purely superficial level, it is a pleasing thought to identify with one who has such affinity with the bicycle as modern transport, yet doesn't once mention mark cavendish or sram red. this is food for the brain. there are some very persuasive dialectics within these chapters that happily give the reader a holiday from the more restricted thought processes of modern cycling journalism. if i am giving the impression that this is an intellectual massage for readers wishing to indulge in the pretentious, maybe that is true, but very much on the part of the reader, never from david byrne. he has a real sense of his own place in the world at large, never indulging in self-aggrandisement, and never resorting to patronising either the reader or those he meets in the cities.

byrne has also refrained from becoming an insufferable bicycle advocate, despite having ridden long enough to justify so-doing, and observing its undoubted utility and practicality in conurbations throughout the world. it is only when we come to the chapter on his home city of new york, that he starts to deal with such items as bicycle lanes, bicycle parking and his own involvement in the forty two mile five boro bike tour which, quite frankly, comes as a bit of a surprise. until this point cycling for byrne has not been a leisure activity but one confined to transportational requirement. he then relates his year of attempting to stage a public forum on the bicycle-as-transport, which took place in new york's town hall in october of 2007. given byrne's background, this was not three people behind a table on stage alternating their particular brand of proselytizing: it was a multi-media event with film, music, discussion, bicycle parking and a level amount of advocacy.

david byrne

"london sprawls for an old city. most european capitals are pretty compact, but london, being an amalgamation of former villages, has many centers, and activities can take place miles apart from one another. as a result there can be some long and strenuous pedals. these don't necessarily result in making a trip longer than i twould be on the tube, but i sometimes arrive a little shiny."

bicycle diaries achieves as much as alluded to this organised event. in a very subtle way, i am drawn into byrne's seemingly bohemian existence, and it comes as somewhat of a shock to reach the last pages; back to my reality. the book is illustrated throughout with photographs by david byrne from his travels as well as many images culled from the locales. eccentricity pervades both collections, both in subject and photographers' eye. the end of the book features appendices recounting the author's notes on the various types of folding bicycle available, on appropriate clothing for bicycle travel, security tips (how not to have your bicycle stolen), and the shortest section on maintenance i have ever come across in a non-fiction book with bicycle in the title. there are also a few pages of drawings made by byrne for bicycle racks in the new york area.

i know not whether david byrne would take kindly to the epithet eccentric, but seen in the context of cycle publications, this would seem quite appropriate. with the book's design also by the author, at the foot of each right hand page is a tiny drawing of a bicycle which moves further to the right as each page is turned, before disappearing off the edge. a few pages later, it appears again going in the opposite direction. a giant flick-book. see the very, very short movie below.

an absolutely superb book which everyone should own or read. it won't make you any faster than you already are, and won't solve the armstrong/contador conflagration anytime soon.

the same as it ever was.


posted on sunday 23 august 2009

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squirt lube

it has rained quite a lot this week. this is good news for the distilleries, which are mostly all finishing their quiet season when they produce no whisky and carry out essential maintenance that can generally only be achieved when the switch is off. whisky needs a lot of water, and now they've got it. it also should keep marjory in the office quite happy: she has a house over on the west coast that draws water from a borehole. it ought to be pretty full by now. of course, there's a minor downside to all this, in that there is standing water on the roads, and unpredictable lightning showers that catch the unwary heading towards debbie's for a friday afternoon coffee. and due to the agricultural nature of cows, sheep and tractors, poo turns to sludge, mixes with mud and splatters carbon downtubes, shoes and socks.

and chains.

the ten speed kmc on the company colnago has had a pretty easy time of it this summer. aside from gravel, dry sand and dusty stuff, it has emerged pretty much unscathed throughout the last three months or so, meaning that my practiced lackadaisical attitude towards mechanical maintenance in the light of such, bears no pain. however, now that the monsoon season is upon us, preventative maintenance is an overweening necessity, and i'm happy to start with the chain, being that it is the lowest moving part of the bicycle likely to suffer from an inhalation of crap problem.

liquid lubes, of whatever composition, generally do a grand job of keeping those link bushings from metal to metal contact, and often from the orange ferrous oxide that appears on the side plates after being left in the bikeshed uncared for after a wet scoot that passed for training hours. but viscosity attracts dirt and generally doesn't let go too easily, meaning that either a thick or thin film of grime disguises the chain from recognition after only a few outings. what we really need is something that can accommodate the prevention required, while emulating dryness. such is squirt.

this is an emulsion, wax based and apparently long-lasting dry lube for use on the very bicycle chains i have been describing. strangely, the website of bikeinventions, maker of squirt, claims no degreasing required, but carl, the uk distributor, advised otherwise. i'm usually happy to do as i'm told, so the kmc was scrubbed within an inch of its life with very soapy water and several cloths, before being left to dry. i was supplied with two bottles of squirt, one being the standard 120ml bottle that can be obtained by all and sundry, and a smaller, sample bottle, the latter being chosen for the test.

much as we used to do (didn't we?) with those tins of three-in-one, application is by way of one drop of the off-white liquid on each link of the chain, before leaving for five minutes then re-applying in the same way. the squirt dries off reasonably quickly and loses the whitish colour, leaving the chain as it should be.

i've ridden as often as i could manage since application, in dry and wet weather and through as much of that agricultural spread as i could find (just ask my sponge), checking the amount of residue on the chain after each ride. true to their word, the chain looks only marginally less shiny than it was on application, so on that score i'm reasonably convinced, but squirt claim that it reduces chain noise and chain suck. the latter is a rare problem on a road bike, something that the campagnolo/colnago combination has never suffered from since birth. however, i can't really concur with the contention that the chain noise is reduced: if anything, i find chain noise slightly more apparent, but purely in relative terms, since the previous lubricant was a thick oil which removed almost all chain noise, apart from that lovely sound the chain makes as it rolls through the rear mech pulleys. think of the sound a brand new, unlubed chain makes when you first fit it, and you're close enough for jazz.

squirt claim that reapplication can be made at anytime without having to clean the chain first, though most of us are too lazy or otherwise occupied to bother anyway; unless you're one of those with ocd. it may take longer than i've given this for a really proper long-term test, but i'm willing to re-visit the further we head towards winter. for the time being, i can see nothing obvious to fault, and my chain hasn't complained once. it's biodegradeable, harmless to the environment and pretty simple to apply and re-apply. in summation, everything we'd expect from a chainlube except the dirt pickup, is encapsulated in a little bottle of squirt costing a mere £7.99 for 120ml.

the rain and farm crap is only going to increase between now and christmas, so if the squirt lube keeps doing what it's done so far, i'll likely be the happiest lanterne rouge in our peloton.



posted on saturday 22 august 2009

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