back to school again

pdx school of cross

i didn't learn to ride a bike until i was nine years old, and even then, it wasn't on my bike. a smaller lad along the road had a red bike that could be easily negotiated around my parents' largish back garden, so that if i fell off, which i did with alarming frequency, then it would be on grass. using grim determination, and a level of tenacity which i have rarely displayed since, i eventually got the hang of riding in an upright position, acquiring skills that transferred easily to the road and longer distances.on moving to islay, i managed to involve myself for several years in the cycling proficiency scheme, by visiting the local primary school to teach the basics of negotiating the big bad world on two wheels, in order to receive a certificate and an enamel badge. i don't remember either of the above mentioned being fun; at least not for those with bums on saddles, the memory of which is at least partly responsibe for our having created port mor wheelers. through the regular meets of this we're kind of hoping to point out just how much fun you can have on a bicycle, and that it is a viable form of transport that can be continued past driving licence age. whether we succeed on impressing this last philosophy has a way to go yet; i can probably let you know in about six or seven years.

when it comes to sitting astride a carbon framed skinny wheeler with bendy bars, the world is your oyster (or the vegetarian equivalent), and should you wish to test the potency of just such a combination, there are races regularly available at most levels for the intrepid to find out. i am likely completely wrong and at least partially ignorant, but i don't seem to remember too many weekends or evenings set aside to teach the unwary the finer points of road racing (with profuse apologies to scottish and british cycling who probably work their socks off doing exactly that; your press releases and advertising are passing me by).

maybe this is an arrogance thing, on the part of the would-be competitors. several years ago, i travelled to kansas city for a long weekend of pipe band drumming tuition by some of the finest snare drummers scotland has ever produced, tuition that was not readily available in scotland. the reason given was that scottish pipers and drummers think themselves above requiring such elevated learning. apparently those from the usa, australia, germany, south africa and beyond did not share this confidence. i was the only scot on the course.

so maybe our intimate knowledge of every stage of the last tour, the hours spent watching this year's worlds and a library of race dvds has instilled the required knowledge in our bibshorts, and turning up at the start-line with confidence and bravado is really all that's required. not, however, when it comes to cyclo cross. having recently given airtime to yakima's pdx school of cross held in portland over a three week period, it is gratifying to note that pdx cross photographer, mike davis, turned up on the first night to record the occasion for posterity (see link below).

pdx school of cross

portland is portland; they do things a bit differently there. with cross growing at a seemingly alarming rate amongst the cognoscenti all acros the world, it's nice to discover that similar happenings are happening in our own scottish backyard, so to speak. scottish cycling have seen fit to engender a series of wednesday evening, floodlit cross training sessions at netherpollok in pollok park, south of glasgow. commendably, these sessions are for ten to sixteen year olds and will take place each wednesday evening from 7pm to 8:30pm. however, if the popularity of cyclocross continues to increase, i'd really rather like to see similar sessions for adults, in the manner of the portland version. with the more relaxed attitude prevalent in cross, it might well suit those with less time on their hands to train in the manner necessary for road, and it's a more convenient way to involve the family.

as a percussionist of note, i will be running floodlit classes in cowbell technique for those keen to encourage family and friends when cross comes to town. both right and left hand techniques will be demonstrated and in several time signatures. contact me for details.

pdx school of cross photos | pdx school of cross

photographs by mike davis. reproduced with permission


posted friday 2 october 2009

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rapha rainjacket and overshoes

rapha rainjacket

if you can remember back to my initial announcement of rapha's autumn/winter range, you may remember that michael robertson and myself were hoping to attempt, along with the blogpersons from perren street, the first mexican wave across the interweb and indeed, the atlantic. that historic moment in internet history will have to be shelved for another day due to a couple of inadvertant hiccups. i will say that i'd always had my doubts that this would work, just because it seemed like the sort of cunning plan that was set to go awry from the moment it was thought of.

in order to satisfactorily test waterproofs of any hue, one first needs at least a modicum of rain; anything else is just window dressing and bluster. michael lives in san jose, california where, it will surprise you to know, they haven't experienced much precipitation. or if they have, michael hasn't exactly been sitting on his track mitts waiting to get out in it (which of course, you will know if you're keeping up with velodramatic). i, on the other hand, live off the west coast of scotland, where rain is not entirely unknown, though seemingly so the minute waterproofs are delivered by our nice post lady. in a variation of sod's law, we had three weeks of uninterrupted rain prior to receipt of my review sample of rapha's new rainjacket and overshoes. then the sun shone.

but just to throw an extra spanner in the works, rapha had given both of us to believe that the jacket would not be available until late october or even into november. then perren street sent out their weeky e-mail just the other day announcing the availability of the much anticipated successor to the stowaway. suddenly, all those future weeks of planning disappeared out the window. the magic of the web is at least in part, it's immediacy, and i'm not sure i'd be too chuffed if i'd sent out a review jacket in mid september only to read the review in november. so things have been forcibly brought forward; at least on this side of the atlantic. michael will do the jacket photographic justice in the fullness of time, but i got wet a lot sooner.

during this year's completely dry ride of the falling rain, there was much discussion amongst the peloton regarding rapha's stowaway jacket, a garment that, as the current item at the end of a lengthy development cycle, rapha had got about as right as it's possible to get. despite being constructed of a material thinner than the toilet rolls in our local supermarket, it managed the seemingly impossible task of being not only highly breathable, but undeniably waterproof. and the wispiness of the material made it very easy to fold and stuff in a back pocket. at which point, you really have to wonder how it could ever be improved on.

one of the joys of setting myself up as a reviewer of various types of product, is that it is necessary to take the rough with the smooth. generally i have no problem with being out in the rain, provided it was dry when i went out; much like many a leisure cyclist, the thought of going out when precipitation is already creating puddles on the road is anathema. i have nothing specific to train for, so usually i prefer to wait until it's dry. however, clad in the cream version of the rainjacket, shoes also protected by rapha's new neoprene overshoes, a september saturday morning was spent stopping and starting for photographs, trying to keep the camera dry, before a lengthy ride in varying depths of rain to check out the claims made for both items.

this was the same day finding out how inept an aging cyclist could really be on a 42 tooth inner ring, so climbing the hill at storakaig seemed custom designed to heat up the ailing to the point of breathability threshold, particularly while the rain still came down and just a bit of wind blew from the south. planning ahead is the principal notion here; it's no use wearing a black jersey underneath because it becomes well nigh impossible to check whether there has been water ingress or a sauna effect from the inside. i wore grey.

rapha rainjacket

changes? yes, there are a few visual differences from the stowaway: the debbie pocket is no more. the single pocket has now gone round the back and changed orientation. the taped zip is now vertical, and the space it encloses is considerably larger than before. where the stowaway has a vertical front zip, offset to the right, the rainjacket has a squint zip trailing from bottom right up to the high collar. as i alluded to in my review of the softshell, rapha don't just randomly, or even stylishly, plop a zip on at bizarre angles for fun; the point is to avoid zip overlapping zip, something which works just dinky doo, in my opinion. and while it's a completely trivial point i am very much in favour of the sleeve stripe having disappeared to be replaced with a contrasting hoop on the left sleeve. cuffs are a tight fit in neoprene, so you'd likely need to remove any track mitts to get the jacket off, though it's easy enough to put it on. the cuffs keep the elements at bay.

the rainjacket is constructed of a heavier, lined material than the stowaway, making it a tougher little blighter, but no less packable for all that. to provide the ultimate in waterproofing, neck and shoulder seams are taped, and there are breathable panels under the arms. in practice, i couldn't actually find any fault with the jacket at all. i was out in the pouring rain for well over two hours during photography and cycling for around 50km. naturally there was coffee involved about threequarters the way through this process, at which point i removed the rainjacket to reveal a perfectly dry grey jersey.

that does it for me.

rapha's new rainjacket is available in cream with contrasting grey hoop, or grey with contrasting cream hoop, in sizes extra small through to xxl at a cost of £190 ($295). for the time being at least, the stowaway remains in the range at £165 ($260)

neoprene overshoes

rapha overshoes

if there were no other reason to praise rapha's new neoprene overshoes, the placement of a storm flap inboard of the zip would be enough for me. i have permanent scarring on the back of each leg where the zips of competitors' products have been scraping away at my skin because short socks are not long enough to protect from such insistent abrasion. pull the raphas over road shoes, zip up the back and close over the velcro tab, and you'd almost believe they weren't there. this stretches to pedalling: a reasonable thickness of neoprene guarantees cosy toes while preventing road spray and rain from soaking those handcrafted italian leather shoes. the soles have reinforced cutouts for cleat and heel, and both seem well prepared to resist the scuffing and scraping of indifferent road surfaces. time will tell. the inside story label is pink screenprinted, declaring 'belgian winter training rule #7: never ride without overshoes'. i wouldn't actually go as far as to say never but i'll bear the principle in mind over this coming autumn and winter.

rapha's overshoes are available in sizes s, m, l, xl at a cost of £50 ($70)


posted thursday 1 october 2009

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prendas new generation long fingered gloves

prendas long finger gloves

as i could readily tell from my late evening cycle to bowmore after an enjoyable, if damp excursion on the jura ferry last sunday, autumn has fallen. and even though it has felt like autumn here since the beginning of august, the piles of colourfully dead leaves at the roadside, joining reddish brown ferns is a bit of a giveaway. it may not have encapsulated your own part of the world, but unless you are preparing for summer in the southern hemisphere, autumn is on its way.

while autumn is a season for which i have a great deal of affection, its real problem is that it's not winter; it is, to place it in context, a transitional season, performing a similar function to that of spring. if we take summer and winter to be the two monster seasons when, if they perform true to character, we'll have extreme cold and extreme heat (these are relative terms and depend entirely on your place of ensconcement). spring slides us more or less easily from the depths of winter into the short sleeved months of early summer. autumn ignores completely the fact that summer has, once again, failed miserably to materialise and drags us all kicking and screaming into winter.

however, it's possible that we, as an earthbound race, can be divided into two separate camps: those who eagerly await any hint of summer and mourn its passing from september through to may. and those of us who rather enjoy, for whatever reason, the cooler, darker, colder and wetter months of autumn and winter. the big advantage that autumn has over winter are those superb colours on the trees; somewhat of a rarish occurrence over here, due to severe tree rationing.

this is sort of why many of our favourite appareliers (i just made that word up) populate their catalogues and websites with items that will shield us from the elements while we're out and about enjoying our seasons. prendas, rather timeously, are now proffering a pair of new generation long-fingered gloves to keep those digits warm while you smile from helmet to helmet. some of us are more desirous of such than others. brian smith likes to be the hard scotsman and ascribes to wearing no mitts whatsoever, though we only have his word for that. the mighty dave t, after a lifetime working mostly out of doors seems to spend at least a couple of months more than the rest of us still wearing short fingered mitts, while i, on the other hand (pun intended) leap at the first falling leave to wear long fingered gloves.

prendas long finger gloves

the arrival of the prendas new generation version was a moment greeted with open fingers. similar in concept to their summer mitts, there is a grippy padded surface covering the palm which not only bears the prendas lettering, but cleverly has their logo engineered into a repeating pattern: functional and corporate. the padding toes the fine line between too thick and too thin, by which it doesn't feel as if your personal mechanic has wound a second layer of bar tape overnight. nor does it feel as if you're holding an old pot handle. the thumb, forefinger and middlefinger continue with the grippy padding, ideal for the current crop of ergo/sti levers, and there's a terry towelling strip on the back of the thumb for autumnal nose wipes. cuff is elasticky stuff to keep the draught out.

now for some reason or other, i thought that these gloves were intended to be windproof, until it was pointed out by andy that that wasn't strictly true, and that they had made no such claim. i only found this out after the first extended ride; they seem plenty windproof to me. the gloves are cosy, very light and exceptionally well made, coming up a tad larger than the norm. i would usually wear medium size gloves, but my review pair were small size and fitted snugly without restricting the fingers.

prendas new generation long finger gloves can be had with a black or white back, in small to xl in both colours and all for a comforting £34.95 ($56)

i shall now face autumn with glee and warm fingers.

prendas ciclismo


posted wednesday 30 september 2009

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show and tell

oregon manifest

september rolling over into october is bike show season; eurobike kicked off, milan seems to have sneaked in there somewhere abouts, followed by the gargantua that is interbike, las vegas, and next week, it's off to londonshire to wander aimlessly around earls court for a day (though the show does last for four, if you include trade day). i know not whether you are in the habit of frequenting any of the above - unfortunately the very limited budget at the post means that only the nearest and cheapest can be accommodated (and unless there's a low-cost overnight train to vegas, it's likely to remain that way) - but i rather enjoy the experience away from civilisation.

of course, i'm not that great at getting the money's worth from my free press pass; last year i'd been in earls court for over two hours and only visited two stands, while i trained to talk for britain at the 2012 olympics. this later resulted in a very hurried rush round every stand that had notionally been on the mental list to visit. i'd like to apologise to all those who were inadvertantly ignored in the day's haste. however, give or take an exhibitor or twelve, the world's cycle shows are of similar ilk, consisting of often oddly shaped floorspace containing either the very item you thought you'd always promised yourself if you ever get round to actually buying a lottery ticket, or several of those wtf? moments.

granted, interbike has its demo days when people other than the buying public can chunter about on next year's exotica, but a different type of show altogether can be visited this friday in the grand city of portland, oregon. perhaps unsurprisingly, this extravaganza is known as the oregon manifest and while i am guilty as charged of having brought this to your attention in a previous post, i hadn't quite grasped its significance in the context of which i have just placed it.

altering a format of passivity, the manifest earlier this year announced its constructors' design challenge whereby bicycle constructors were openly invited to build and submit 'well-considered, versatile, and multi-purpose bikes' in order to proclaim the relevance of the bicycle to modern day life. of course, if such were built and placed on a stand, there would be little real difference between earls court and portland; the bicycles have to take part in a 77 mile race, either with the constructor aboard or a nominated rider. this part has attracted the attention of quite a number of frame builders - 31 to be precise, including some of the more prominent names: ira ryan, jordan hufnagel, tony pereira, cielo bicycles, sycip bicycles and a host more.

of course, i have perhaps done the manifest a disservice by categorising it as a bicycle show, since there is precious little chance of trek, specialized or even colnago standing in front of their carbon finery. the manifest is more of an event than a bike show, incorporating a pop-up storefront bike union, a cycling fashion show, cyclocross and generally showing itself to be a celebration of the bicycle's influence on culture, sustainability, and urban design. such can obviously not be squeezed into the few days occupied by the rest of the world's bike shows, and this is reflected in the manifest running from thursday, october 1 all the way through until november 8.the constructors' race takes place this saturday, october 3, with a bit of a party the eve before (and likely after). a collaboration between the danish embassy in washington dc and the city of portland, will see the usa debut of dreams on wheels, a showcase of danish cycling culture and denmark's commitment to sustainability via urban design. this runs on consecutive weekends from the beginning of october at 539 nw 10th at hoyt. perhaps this is the way forward for bike shows (if they're still called that): instead of the bikes standing there looking at us looking at them, maybe audience participation is the future.

the oregon manifest takes place in portland, oregon from thursday october 1 until the single speed cyclocross world championship at cross crusade on sunday november 8. the manifest is presented by chris king components.

oregon manifest

photograph courtesy velodramatic


posted tuesday 29 september 2009

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a day out in the country - rapha gentleman's cap

waxed cotton cap

john barbour, perhaps the most well-known purveyor of the waxed cotton coat, jacket and a myriad of other items of apparel was born in 1849 and raised on a farm in west galloway, a most scottish rural retreat if ever there was one. he married his wife margaret and, in the days prior to satellite television had eleven children, many of whom eventually joined him in the business of j barbour & son, set up in 1894 at 5 market place, south shields. the principal source of income at that time was the selling of beacon brand oilskins to sailors and fishermen. a relatively little known fact is their production of motorcycle suits from the 1930s up until 1977 when they took the step to withdraw from this area of clothing. in 1974, they received their first royal warrant from the duke of edinburgh, and many of their current designs of barbour waxed cotton jackets originate from this era.

barbour clothing is immediately identifiable by the tartan lining, a green and gold enamel badge and a label proclaiming their three royal warrants. unless of course, it's a rapha gentleman's waxed cotton cycle cap.

when i first moved to islay, it seemd that the barbour jacket was an unwritten item of uniform amongst summer visitors, presumably under the misapprehension that such would help them blend into island life. in much the same way that prospective art students dress flamboyantly, this actually served only to mark them out from local dress sense. the waxed cotton jacket has, more recently, been replaced by roof racks bearing bicycles that seemingly never stray from this rooftop location, whatever the duration of their visit.

having soundly berated perren street for their fixation with urban matters (only kidding simon) in yesterday's review, there can be no doubt that this has been at least partially remedied by a cap that wouldn't look at all out of place in bridgend hotel, about three miles from washingmachinepost towers, where stalking parties are want to abide. parking the bike at roadside and surveying the estates in the manner of the landed gentry is easy enough if you have the correct dress code; the waxed cotton cap is as good a start as any.

the peak is finished underside with brown corduroy and the waxed cotton outer bears a centre ribbon also of waxed cotton. the lining is remarkably similar to that of the original barbour jacket, as is the enamel rapha pin badge hooked to the front left (low enough to avoide interference with helmet). each side features two brass eyelets for ventilation, both mesh covered.

art lies in the details.

the caps are available in small, medium and large, but the waxed cotton is of a consistency that separates it from any other cotton cap you might own. it satisfactorily retains its shape even when you take it off, but really the very best bit is the waterproof ability of waxed cotton. if you cast your mind back to my rain soaked ride from the jura ferry to home, it gives me great pleasure to inform that at least a part of my scraggly hairstyle remained sheltered from such precipitation.

there are two other designs available in this particular range of rapha caps, but for a hebridean intent on carving him/herself a piece of epic this is really the only logical choice. each retails at £45 ($60) and is a more than worthy addition to any casquette collection, particularly if you reside in the more refined parts of the british isles.



posted monday 28 september 2009

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a day out with rapha - trousers & red softshell


not quite what the heading might suppose. nobody from rapha was on my day out, but new stuff was. rightly or wrongly, certain items of rapha apparel often seem targeted at the urban rider, and that can lead to feelings of inadequacy amongst those of us resident very far away from urban-ness. in this case, a two hour ferry sailing away. of course, this isn't an affliction applicable to the entire range, but having just released their long awaited trousers, are rapha in danger of becoming rohan?

the fixed shorts are still about, perfectly formed to allow practicality on the bike, tied in with a suitable level of acceptability when removed from the safety of pelotonic surroundings. and in the manner of those neat little tan lines from a pair of backless track mitts, they still say cyclist. maybe not everybody wants to be seen as a cyclist all the time. rapha's slogan for the trousers emblazoned on their website is created for the urban rider. however, i'm not, and likely so not are others. i have no access to rapha's customer demographic or, more to the point, geographic demographic; it may be that the bulk of purchases for such products do indeed come from the urban domiciled.

so in order to prove once and for all that this is only a percentage of the story, and perhaps to convince those easily swayed by slogans, i spent a long day wearing a new red softshell jacket and a pair of trousers. nothing out of the ordinary there, but allowing for the maxim that it is better to travel well than to arrive, i travelled rurally almost as far as it's possible to do and partook in an activity probably not considered by perren street during the design stages.

the last weekend in september is, according to local nomenclature, known as the september weekend. and on september weekend, jura, the next island up, holds its annual music festival. my jazz partner, singer sheena swanson and jura guitarist, giles perring and i have been asked to play both last year and this; it's a bit impractical for an half hour set to struggle with a drum kit, so in this instance i percuss on a pair of congas, which sheena takes over by car at the start of the weekend. my mission jim, should i decide to accept it, is to get myself over to jura for the sunday afternoon. this is a 70km round trip including a there-and-back ferry trip of five minutes each way.

jura ferry waiting room

jura is hilly; the road leading from the ferry follows the coast along the sound for a couple of kilometres, before turning left and climbing, and climbing and climbing. fortunately, while the weekend had been grey and closed in, the trip up to craighouse was dry, if a bit mild. the softshell is nothing if not versatile; if you quiz over the offset zip, as did i (seemed like an attempt at trendiness), there is grand logic at work here. your jersey is likely to have a straight up and down zip, so offsetting the zip on the outer shell prevents one sitting on top of the other.


there are also zips under each armpit to aid cooling when necessary, without letting the water in. the three rear pockets are joined by a small hidden zipped pocket on the left side and there is the expected standard zipped pocket piggybacking on the right rear. there's also one of those internal pump pockets inside the centre rear. however, what was unexpected was the thumb loops on the elasticated cuffs, and fine enough to allow wearing a pair of track mitts over the top without discomfort. hook thumbs in place if it's cold, leave them off if cooling is required.

it is, however, a tad unfortunate that such an expensive and fabulous jacket isn't completely waterproof. i don't see that as too much of an ask.

the trousers were weird - well weird if you're used to pedalling about in shorts or threequarters. but it took only a few kilometres for the weirdness to dissolve into comfort and joy. it may be that the trousers can be successfully worn on and off the bike as normal, if your journey is relatively short, or broken up into manageable chunks. however, when the numbers add up to 70km, i'm afraid i can't ride without a pair of padded shorts underneath, so i did. mrs washingmachinepost doubted their ability to continue to look stylish with a padded insert invading their inner space, but the proof of the pudding proved her wrong. the trousers are made from pretty tough polycotton with two side pockets, one of which has an inner loose change pocket. there's even a clever flap to prevent loose coins from falling out when you sit down on the bike or in the jura ferry waiting room (that's another story). there's also a zipped rear pocket and grippy stuff inside the waistband; bear in mind that if worn with lycra shorts, there will be a lot of shimmying going on.

leg length is a standard 34" which is about three inches too long for me, so i just turned them up at the hem. however, i had rather expected there to be some sort of something on the right leg to keep material away from flailing chainrings. surely in this day and age, wearing trouser clips or tucking into socks (which aren't actually long enough) can be bettered, particularly by rapha. the hem of the fixed shorts has an adjustable strap to pull the leg tighter. something similar would have been a nice and practical touch.

so we're clear on the benefits to the everyday or sporting cyclist from both items of clothing, but as mentioned previously, are there benefits to those of us indulging in extra-curricular activities? picture in your mind's eye the possibility of myself sat behind a pair of glossy wooden conga drums wearing liquigas or garmin jersey and shorts. do you think anyone would notice? in reality, i had taken my merino jersey in which to play, but jura distillery's cooperage isn't the warmest place on earth, particularly in september, and i was too much of a wimp to remove the softshell and chill. so the half hour gig went ahead with moi hurting my left hand (must practice more) dressed in perren street's finest and well within the visual expectations of the considerable assembled multitude.

jura ferry waiting room

while the tardiness of our singer is not something to be discussed on the pages of a cycling website, suffice it to say that we didn't play at quite the appointed hour we should have, and by the time we'd finished, i had 25 minutes to get myself and colnago from craighouse to the ferry eight miles away. michael hutchinson and bradley wiggins would have managed with ease, but now into a growling headwind on a road that was a darned sight hillier than i remembered from the inbound journey, and threading carefully through a herd of cows ambling slowly homeward. the ferry was heading to port askaig on islay as i pedalled frantically into sight.

the sunday timetable has gaps of two hours between journeys; it was now 16:45, and the next ferry was due to leave islay at 18:30. the rain was heading in, and it was starting to get dark. joy. thankfully, the ferrymaster figured he may have more cars waiting at feolin on jura than would fit one trip, so he left islay at 18:00. joy again.

it's a 14% climb out of port askaig, the rain was well and truly throwing it down by now, and the headwind was a headwind all the way to bowmore. not having expected to be returning this late, i had no lights with me, so resorted to the softshell's hidden feature. inside, there is a large, ass-covering tail velcroed halfway. when the tail is pulled to drop down, there's a small flap that covers the bit of raw velcro inside thus preventing a fluffy patch appearing on the back of your jersey. clever. the tail flap bears a large, reflective rapha logo which, in this case, had to make do to alert cars approaching from the rear, out of the grey, drizzly gloom.

rapha's fixed shorts have an outer skin of schoeller nanosphere which renders tham pretty much stain resistant, and highly water resistant; why it was not possible to have crafted the trousers from the same material, i know not. 18 kilometres into a rainy headwind is not the best way to keep a pair of polycotton trousers dry. the softshell is not waterproof, it's water resistant; i need to say that it managed a fine job of keeping me almost dry and definitely warm, despite wearing only a long-sleeve merino below.

the softshell has been around for a long time, and i totally agree with rapha that this is the finest version to date. if you only buy or need one jacket, this is most likely it, and the addition of the red one is to be welcomed with open wallets. the trousers will likely last forever in daily use; the seams have been carefully considered for riding comfort, the waistband grippy stuff doesn't let them slide down in use over lycra, and the pockets are of generous proportions. it would be nice if there were a built-in way to restrict the right leg from grabbing at chainring teeth, and schoeller nanosphere could perhaps be a viable alternative if it's ever up for jura ferry waiting room discussion. and currently they subscribe to the henry ford book of colour; you can only get them in black.

they can easily be worn in the office, the coffee shop, the kitchen, jura ferry waiting room, or any other normal place, as well as in the saddle, which i know is the desired intention. box ticked.

so, in an open memo to rapha, perhaps you might like to reconsider the urban thing; the rapha hebridean have not only verified their rural credentials, but their ability to hold a quinto in place between the knees during a rather fine rendition of little feat's dixie chicken, even if i do say so myself.

rapha's softshell jacket retails at £240 ($375), is available in either red or black and in sizes from extra small to xxl. the trousers are available in black and 34" leg length only; waist sizes go from 30" to 38", retailing at £150 ($210).


posted sunday 27 september 2009

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39/53 - are we all wimps?


my brother had a ten-speed racer when i owned a raleigh twenty shopper. fate is often unkind. so after leaving college and entering the big, bad world of work, and the cost of stuff, particularly that of petrol, it was time to retrench and get a bike. no shoppers this time round; as a grown up with athletic pretensions if none of the ability to fulfil those pretensions, there was only one kind of bike that would look good in the garage.

a ten speed racer.

and that was about the sum total of my bicycle knowledge at the time. no remote inkling about gearing, or wheels or tyres or frames. as long as it had ten gears, all would be well with the world wouldn't it? well wouldn't it? a five speed freewheel (oh those halcyon days of nostalgia) at the back and a couple of rings at the front, rings that at the considerably less than expensive end of the market i intended to inhabit, were made from pressed steel and rivetted together. this way my mechanic wouldn't be overstretched in the options department. options that didn't really exist to be quite honest; if memory serves correctly, the freewheel topped out at 21 teeth, while the chainrings were the international standard 42/52, a combination that did little for the unfit with robert millar aspirations.

pedalling from troon to dundonald involved a hill, an obstacle that must have been (and likely still is) a mere shadow of the alpine slopes observed on channel 4, but an obstacle that took a lot of getting over. 42/52 with 14-21; peugeot never phoned.

so now i know lots, probably much more than is good for any one person, and certainly enough to bore for britain. i have twenty gears, and those front rings are 5mm allen key bolted to an aluminium spider; these can be altered for the day's ascent should the mood require, and i, along with everyone else, have adopted the de rigeur 39/53, on the off chance that a climb of alpe d'huez proportions is just around the corner that i have failed to turn before. it's unlikely that many consider the rings on their chainset, and with 34/50 becoming ever more common, there is less and less need for concern, since with such a combination, unclimbable ascents must surely be on the wane.

but have we all gone soft around the edges? rarely does a week go by when the comic doesn't feature several pages on how to maximise that effort based on recently discovered and hitherto unknown training or nutritional methods. taken at face value, surely such improvements ought to make even recreational cycling a tad easier than it was in the days of 42/52. meaning that the current standard of 39/53 and the trend for compact chainsets is heading in the wrong direction. surely?

so in order to test this theoretical stratagem based on sound nonsensical principles, i contacted chicken cycles, importers of ta specialites chainrings with a bolt circle diameter compatible with campagnolo chainsets. why so instead of the real thing with vicenza stamped on it? well, not to put too fine a point on it, it's a question of cost. i'm as much a fan of original equipment campagnolo as the next obsessive, but with campag rings bearing an rrp nearing £70 ($110), ta's £36 ($57) is considerably more wallet friendly while losing nothing in the mechanical stakes. the idea here was to replace my inner 39 ring with a nostalgic 42, since i already owned a barely used campag 52 outer ring.

now bear in mind that this experiment, such as it is, is most certainly not designed to show off any bulging thighs that i might think i have under a pair of bib-shorts, but simply to find out whether the standard of a bygone age (current campagnolo eleven speed offerings are 39/52 or 39/53) had any merits that modernity has overlooked. i can hear the naysayers chorusing (no pun intended) that my place of residence is scarcely angliru country, and i couldn't agree more, but the same could be said for many a domicile in the uk, usa or many parts of europe (i hope you're paying attention ron). however, it would be naive at best to avoid hills and pronounce the experiment an unqualified success, so i rode up a hill; only about 1km admittedly, but it did manage 9% for several metres of those thousand, and it's almost the best i've got.

am i converted? well, to be quite honest, i probably am. long(ish) climbs seem ok; perhaps finding a rhythm, is finding a rhythm, is finding a rhythm. the short, sharp ones gave a wee bit more of a problem, or to be precise, required a sudden input of effort, and in most cases, there was only one bail-out gear left rather than two. i have yet to attempt the climb at ardnahoe which tops out at 20%, but i believe i could confidently predict that there would be no gears left and i'd be desperately searching for one. however, the necessity of climbing such on a regular basis is not one that invades my day, nor is it likely to. i suspect the same goes for many of you reading.

will i be leaving the 42 in place? yes. with a bit of practice and effort, i could conceivably gain major bragging rights. and even after only a three hour ride in the wet, i'd pretty much forgotten about the extra three teeth. despite not being an official campagnolo ring, the ta was imperceptible in use, changing up or down without missing a step.

so maybe we have gone sort of soft, or maybe we've just become complacent and accepting of the manufacturers' dictates. it's obviously quite easy to have whatever rings you fancy on that chainset, and i don't doubt that any shop worth its salt would happily make any changes at point of purchase. so, if you feel of similar mind, let's start a quiet revolution, one that challenges big bicycle brother, and swap that inner ring to a 42. if the outer is 53, i'd just leave it because one tooth is unlikely to make much difference unless you're category two or above.

always remember that chainrings are a state of mind.

chicken cycles stock shimano compatible rings in addition to the campagnolo compatible ta specialites tested. these should be available from any decent bike shop.

chicken cycles


posted saturday 26 september 2009

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