loch gorm road islay

i was berated for this by my fellow members of the peloton this morning, and i will agree that there is substantial influence from the great victor meldrew, a figure that i cannot help but look up to, but such iniquities really must be pointed out. yes, there is more than a tinge of self righteousness, and moaning git-ness but i feel it my duty to fulfil this occupation to the best of my ability, and to make observations from the saddle. however, prior to actually getting anywhere near the point, a modest degree of rural education is required. those of you living in the wilds of scotland and its islands should proceed forthwith to the kitchen and brew either a tea, coffee or recovery drink.

many roads in the wilds, and on islay that covers at least 75% of tarmaced and potholed real estate, are single track, bordered on each side by not only a grass verge, but often a ditch just a couple of feet past that. these roads, by the very apellation, allow the passing of only one motor vehicle at a time in any given direction. in order to allow successful passage of more than one, the roads are littered with frequent passing places, generally signified by a black and white hooped pole stuck mid-point on the verge. i will readily concede that there is little written material to educate the mainland motorist as to the point of these blips in the firmament, but i doubt it is beyond the ken of most to figure out for themselves. after all, many of them seem to be able to find parking spaces in town where none actually exist.

i should perhaps also point out that islay is often temporary home to a rather large and interesting array of birdlife at pretty much all times of the year.

so now that we are aware of how the land lies, let me move on to my uncontained rant. as we wended our merry way round loch gorm on the outer reaches of this flat world on which we live, we could see a vehicle ahead that appeared to be stationary. on closing at the usual alarming rate of knots, it seemed that the original observation had been correct, and the vehicle was indeed stationary. in the middle of a single track road. about three metres past one of those passing places, clearly marked by a black and white hooped pole. as we closed on the car, the gentleman standing behind an open front passenger door, holding a pair of binoculars, climbed back into the car and the driver manoeuvred the vehicle onto the grass verge.

loch gorm road islay

what the flipping heck was wrong with the passing place?

had this been an isolated incident, it would be unremarkable, but this sort of behaviour has been going on for many a long year; while i have no interest in twitching, i am of tolerant views, and those who wish to indulge should be free so to do. but just a smidgeon of regard for others using the countryside wouldn't go amiss.

of course, it doesn't stop there.

as we continued on my disgruntled way (couldn't they see the calibre of bicycle i was riding?), we met a significant amount of traffic heading in the opposite direction, still on a singletrack road. we are nothing if not considerate towards other road users; well, superficially at least, and deem it the equivalent of doffing cap to the laird, to pull in to the first passing place we come across, allowing safe passage. at this point, the mighty dave t, who is nottingham born and bred, and therefore as grumpy as they come, has been known to comment on the lack of corresponding acknowledgment on the part of the motorists.

as a cyclist, i have come to realise my lowly place in the pecking order (though come the revolution etc.), but it is surely not outwith the bounds of common decency for those we have just done our best not to inconvenience, as they drive to nowhere in particular of a sunday morn, to acknowledge this cap doffing. and why is it necessary to drive past an obvious passing place where they could have sat in corresponding displacement, then have to put the nearside wheels into the ditch in order to allow safe passage of the peloton who have nowhere else to go? wet grass and mud do not mix well with all but treadless skinny tyres.

as progenitors of the friendly islay wave and welcoming to those visiting the hallowed isle for a brief wisp of time, it is not in our nature as conscientious ambassadors, to shout uncivil platitudes at the errant. but an off-camera rant is surely not a chainring too far?

if victor meldrew did not exist, he would need to be invented.

r.i.p. marco


posted sunday 14 february 2010

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welcome to my world

solo pave mat

it's spring, or rather, it isn't really. in much the same way as each monthly magazine is dated around a month ahead of the month it actually is, and bicycle companies release their 2010 models around midway through 2009, the seasons are being run ahead of themselves. the worst part is that i don't remember anyone asking if that was ok by me. living in the moment is well nigh impossible; everything that impinges on our daily toil would have us look to the future. to my mind, spring does not intervene until at least mid to late march, and if truth be known, i don't think it really starts until the cobbles have been traversed through the arenberg forest. of course, by my drawing your attention to paris-roubaix (april 10th) when we haven't reached the mid-point of february, i may just be guilty of perpetuating the myth; paris-nice hasn't even come under starters orders yet.

it's the spring classics that make spring what it is. greetings cards and charlie brown cartoons might purport that spring is all about daffodils, creme eggs, the easter beagle and fluffy yellow chicks, but this has no truth in reality. good grief, charlie brown isn't even real (did i say that out loud?). flanders, liege-bastogne-liege, ghent wevelghem and the queen of the classics, paris-roubaix, are by far the definers of the season. the giro is a very welcome dessert to this panoply of european hardmen refining the act of pain and suffering to an art form. the tour de france is disneyland by comparison.

the spring classics put the boot into the early season, and association with the cobbles, whether or not they specifically feature in any given race, is to be accepted at all costs by those intent on selling their wares to the impressionable. that's us, or at least, it's definitely me. having made a career and a very fine range of what could be called associative jerseys, new zealand's solo has been quietly expanding throughout the western, southern and northern world, and in the not too distant future, they'll be releasing a new range of less pelotonic wear entitled derny.

but with the impressive number of clothing suppliers intent on acquiring our pounds or dollars, and dressing us with distinction in the saddle (and out), how will you ever know that you've stepped inside a shop that has the wherewithal to supply you with items from the solo range? a sticker on the window, or a mention on the website might be the more traditional and obvious ways to signpost such a facility, but perhaps a more cyclical way (if you see what i mean) to do so, is to appeal to the emotions and attachments that the dyed-in-the-wool cycle fan wears on his/her sleeve, and what better way than to welcome them with open feet?

paul at solo sent me the above photo just the other day, and while i am not a solo accredited dealer; in fact i don't sell any sort of cycle clothing at all, i would be considerably more than chuffed to have one of these sitting just inside my front door. or perhaps we could place it in front of the coffee serving area at debbie's.

either way, the acquisitive gland has been stimulated. brilliant.

solo clothing | derny clothing


posted saturday 13 february 2010

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pink is the new black again

pink stowaway

adobe's flagship software, photoshop, was originally released in the late 1980s, well before there was any sort of digital camera that would fit in a pannier, let alone the back pocket of a club jersey. the program was offered as a design tool, and allowed drawing and painting on a computer screen to become sufficiently more sophisticated than had hitherto been the case. as is the standard practice where consumer goods are concerned, even those in a certain niche market such as digital imaging, or, perchance, continental cycling, it is necessary from a number of points, to release regular upgrades. in many cases, where the customer base encapsulates a wide variety of skills and needs, not every upgrade will head in the same direction. thus when digital photography became a practical and economic reality, adobe concentrated on providing ever more fabulous ways of manipulating those pixels.

however, you can only continue to head in the one direction for so long, before those with differing requirements begin to lose faith and look to other sources for relief. many interim upgrades of photoshop have thrown a lifeline to those working in the realm of digital painting and illustration, as well as 3d, animation, and film. it makes perfect commercial sense. however, along with this pleasing agenda, they still have an uncanny knack of coming in from left-field and providing a feature that you never saw coming.

tweed jacket

with the notable exception of the giro d'italia, rapha have probably done more to popularise the colour pink in the weekend warrior peloton than any other. prior to the company's entrance into the fray almost six years ago, most of us would have shied away from decorating our personas in this colourful manner. after all, common wisdom has it that such would be rather effeminate. in the light of just what it takes to win the giro, this seemed, at best, somewhat contradictory. over the succeeding years, pink has been omnipresent throughout rapha's diversifying range to the extent of slivers of the colour appearing woven into the timothy everest tweed suit that appeared over a year ago. and on the day that rapha announce/release their 2010 spring summer collection, pink makes a welcome return to the stowaway jacket.

sitting at the back of thewashingmachinepost wardrobe is an almost pristine edition of the original pink stowaway, brought out of the darkness only on special occasions, and i think this may well be one of them. purely in the interests of celebration you understand. and there may also be cause for celebration amongst the besuited cyclists of suburbia, as that timothy everest suit has spawned a sibling in the shape of an off-the-peg tailored jacket (approx £400). it's unlikely that dean downing will compete in the tour series dressed in this manner, but it would look rather cool on that brompton cycling down oxford street. or even at debbie's if it's someone's birthday.

women's range

with a range of new long and short sleeve shirts, merino undershorts (those will be a blessing for many), new fixed shorts, and a grey version of the trousers, not forgetting the everest style jacket mentioned above, rapha have created this upgrade in the image of the sophisticated commuter. after all, there really is no convincing reason as to why you should look like a dayglo bin bag on the way to your executive locker room. and there's a merino polo shirt should the meeting get too warm.

but then, there's the bits that we didn't see coming, the artefacts that extend the sphere of influence and make cycling more of a lifestyle choice than something that gets us to work or works us into a sweating wreck at the weekend. and tonight, matthew, i'm going to be rock'n'roll, in the shape of music and sounds inspired by the worlds great road races. i have a notion of the form this is going to take, but i am sworn to secrecy by your ipod. the first in this series will be available in time for the giro and that pink jersey in may of this year. there will be a range of rapha luggage with a more cohesive style than has been the case up till now, performance skincare launches in july with chamois cream and embrocation that takes its lead and aroma from the slopes of mont ventoux, and just days after i have berated the world at large for acquiescing to the demands of the mobile phone, there will be a rapha iphone app.

long sleeve short

but this would not be a steve jobs parallel if we didn't finish with 'and there's one more thing'. coinciding with the development of a women's cycle team, there will be select items of rapha apparel (shorts, stowaway and classic jersey) available in women's cut and styling. many of the fairer sex will be muttering 'and about time too, so with launch at the end of march, you've waited this long, a few more weeks won't go amiss. i can see that some of you are already wanting to ask how the post is going to review that particular range, but rest assured, a couple of plans are in mind: you will not be forgotten.

in similar style again, to apple, not all of these products are available as of now, but if you're a signed up rapha customer, those delightful little e-mails will filter through week on week, letting you know when to arrange that bank loan. and a selection of garments from the range will be reviewed in these black and yellow pixels in a timeous manner.

another summer that looks like fun.

jacket and stowaway photos courtesy trackosaurus rex


posted friday 12 february 2010

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those other bits - oval concepts

oval concepts

when looking at reviewing bicycles, there is an imposed hierarchy of componentry that shapes appreciation of any particular machine. this is an arbitrary and often random selection, depending very much on how impressionable i, or any other reviewer is, when faced with a previously unexplored bicycle. if i might give an example of this, the presence of a pair of steel forks on the all-steel cielo frame, is of particular significance to me because i've been cosseted by carbon in this position for nigh on seven years. this elevates their importance beyond what would have been the case had carbon been less prevalent and steel more plentiful.

in point of fact, i will not be discussing forks at all. i'm stepping down the arbitrary list to look at apparently more humble items in the grand pecking order, items that quite frequently seem like afterthoughts to bring a complete bicycle package in either on, or under, budget. handlebars and stems are two very important constituents in the enjoyment of any bicycle. if you have moments on the dark-side and ride a mountain bike occasionally, you may share the same distaste for flat bars as myself; it's not that i think they look particularly horrible, just that on lengthy and less than silky smooth rides, having to keep the hands and wrists in the same position was not my favourite part of the experience. drop bars offer a multitude of hand positions, and are one of the three major contact points on any bicycle, so shouldn't they be given all the attention they deserve?

if building a bicycle from scratch, bars and stem can be specified to suit taste and budget, including the length of the latter. complete bicycles have to adhere to the unwritten rules of mr average which, according to the majority of review machines spending a night or two in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, tops out at 120mm. very rare has been the bicycle that featured my preferred 130mm: distraught is the world of the long-armed. getting the measurements right is at least half the battle, since the width of the bars is almost as important. quite how you'd figure all this out, i'm none too sure, other than employing the services of someone like cyclefit. the last colnago to grace this isle, bore 40cm width bars which were a bit of a fright at first, yet by the time it returned to its home, the bar width i have ridden since birth (well, almost), felt like driving a bus.

oval concepts

it's thus possible to become accustomed to whatever you spend enough time riding, but that doesn't mean it's right. the wording included in the warranties for both bars and stem imply that matching either with and alternative brand could conceivably give you cause for concern if anything fails during its lifetime. more importantly for most is the implicit style factor: do you really want to match that pewter coloured pro stem with a pair of matt black oval concept bars? of course you don't. and when it comes to mix and match above the top tube, it ill behoves you to choose any more than one supplier.

of course, this can be negated if the frame manufacturer provides a stylish and mechanically satisfactory seatpost, but lets not complicate matters any further. in the case of the chris king cielo currently under test, the guys at ck kindly sent a pair of pro handlebars and a matching pro stem. however, as i'm sure i mentioned before, the bars were of the anatomic variety with those wiggly bits on the bends, and i really don't like those. therefore, i fitted the cielo with a pair of oval concepts r710 traditional bars and an r700 130mm matching stem. it's comforting to note that, having sent pro bars and stem, the cielo chaps matched those with a similarly monikered aluminium seatpost. you would be aghast and immediately dismissive of my style guru-ness had i left this underneath the brooks team pro saddle; i feel your pain and acquiesced by fitting, courtesy upgrade bikes, an r700 oval concept seatpost.

oval concepts

you would figure that a seatpost is likely one of the simplest components associated with any bicycle frame, yet there are continued efforts to re-invent the wheel, so to speak. i remember the day when the saddle clamp was held in place by a single bolt, though it seems nowadays that one is nowhere near enough. colnago's carbon versions survive with two bolts lined fore and aft: unbelievably awkward on the version fitted to the c40, though more recent versions seem a touch easier to adjust. the oval concepts concept, is to clamp also with two bolts, but this time in a port and starboard arrangement. this does work quite well in practice, though i can't honestly see what the advantage is over a single bolt.

the post has been in place for over a month so far and, unlike may others i've ridden, hasn't shown any signs of moving or loosening, which i would have expected on a new post in a new bicycle. maybe there's more to this particular bolt arrangement than meets the eye. however, having two bolts on opposite sides to loosen and tighten, made the angle adjustment a wee bit more footery than seemed absolutely necessary. still, once set and in position, most of us have no need to alter the settings, so perhaps i doth protest too much. in an effort to retain all the style that these matching components confer, i am keeping well aware that an alloy seatpost in a steel frame has a habit of becoming more personally acquainted than is seemly, so every few weeks, the post comes out, is slathered in grease, and goes back in at the same height.

it's one thing, perhaps, to accept my word that these are particularly fine non-carbon steering and sitty bits, but someone who has put in more kilometres in a more aggressive stance than will ever be the case for me, is the inimitable mr richard sachs. his cyclocross team have pounded their way across numerous fields this past winter, all fitted with oval concepts, and his faith in the product is as sound as mine.

all components can be created equal.

upgrade bikes | oval concepts

posted thursday 11 february 2010

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look out: it's all around you


i'm currently reviewing a book entitled the sustainable network by sarah sorenson; not for the post you might be pleased to hear, and at this point i've not reached the end to find out if the butler did it. very basically, ms sorensen's point, obscure as it is turning out to be, is that we have become inisgnificant beings surrounded by a digital network that has rather grown to proportions perhaps not envisaged by the various constructors of said network. she finds this a good thing that should not only be welcomed with open arms by the human race, but has the capacity to ease the environmental problems that it, and many other constituents, have endowed us with. this latter notion is the explanation of which i have yet to read, but i'm secretly wondering how she's going to dig her way out of the labyrinth she has constructed heading in the opposite direction.

however, there can be no denying that the existence of such a network has become such an endemic part of daily life, that almost all of it is taken for granted. we likely couldn't live without it. in fact, if the network were to disappear overnight, this would be the last washingmachinepost you would ever read.

if i hear any more cheering like that, i'll have you removed.

'what happens when broadband access is severed? recently those living in the bay area found out when someone cut some of the san jose and san carlos fibre-optic cables that deliver at&t and verizon telephone and internet service to the region. with just a few snips, people and organisations everywhere felt the effects. the 911 emergency service was impaired, police and fire departments were unable to co-ordinate responses to incidents; hospitals and doctors' offices couldn't communicate with patients outside of their facilities; many companies shut down because work could not be conducted without phone and internet access (ibm sent its employees home); and schools couldn't report attendance and had to revert to manual processes. again, all of this turmoil resulted because broadband access went down.

the quote above is from the book, but i have emboldened certain words because i have long been concerned that there is a lengthy list of items that are now totally dependent on computers or the network, even though the reasons for doing so seem rather pointless. i'm sure i could be classified in that subset of humanity that answers to the description of luddite, even though my own scribblings are entirely dependent on that very same network. but i am currently riding an all steel bicycle and i do not own, nor have i any real intention of owning, a mobile phone. it is becoming very much harder to avoid the latter, though more due to external pressures than that of gadgetry, and a need to be at the cutting edge.

one of these external pressures is the apple factor; i have used apple macintosh computers for many a long year, and i have had a succession of ipods. both facets of technology from 1 infinite loop have proved themselves to be able and helpful companions to the day to day life of a blogging person such as myself, and the logical next step would be to enhance this situation with an iphone. having already fitted a park tool frame fit pump to the cielo, i have no need of any greater degree of cool, so ease of use and those endless apps available for the device would be the principal raison d'etre should i wish to benefit o2, vodafone, orange or tesco with exorbitant monthly payments. i am next to a phone all day, i have skype available all evening, and when i'm out on my bicycle, i have no wish for reverie to be interrupted by a ring-tone.

the sustainable network

however, it was likely only a matter of time before someone other than garmin and perhaps nokia conjoined gps with phone with cycling, and indeed, the social networking website map my tracks has enhanced its percieved benefit to the athletically inclined by releasing an iphone application called outfront currently promoted as the ultimate multi-sport gps app. apparently this small and inexpensive piece of software will happily run on the iphone, letting you track and share your outdoor sports activities live on the web, thus better understanding your sporting performance and improving your training. their words, not mine.

as already stated, i have no mobile phone of any description, let alone an iphone, so i can only comment from the position of cynical bystander with a vested interest. there is, perhaps, a strong possibility that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and i should simply be told to stand in a darkened corner and keep my notions to myself, but i worry that we might be in danger of confusing the pointing finger for that of the moon. the so-called 'sustainable network' will not be going away any day soon; if i can re-join reality for just a second, the network is likely to become even more entangling than at present, and more and more of our daily activities are added to its inventory. the inveigled use of computers and their attendant network in the realm of education is sure to see that it is so, is it not?

but one of the simple pleasures still available to the cycling obsessive, is that of hurtling along country lanes and potholed roads, with the wind blowing through the helmets, hail in stinging the face and lactic acid in those legs: pain and suffering at first hand, not interfaced via an iphone's touch-screen.

the most worrying part of sarah sorenson's book is one word in the title: sustainable. of course, no doubt someone will remind me of these suspicions when i'm half-way up the glen road in horizontal rain and a howling gale with a puncture.

where's an iphone when you need one?

mapmytracks | the sustainable network


posted wednesday 10 february 2010

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which switch is the switch, miss, for ipswich


i am a cycling child of the 1970s where the gearing on offer consisted of only three. why would anyone need any more, though i will confess to coveting bugsy berndt's ten speed racer? enquiries at the local bike shop (something undertaken with a deal of trepidation; you'd understand if you'd ever met mr benzie), on acquiring a velocipede of similar ilk were unfortunately met with a similar reaction to that of henri desgrange when he was asked about derailleur gears. sturmey three-speeds would have to be categorised under the heading of 'indexed gearing', since clicking through the three options provided on the lever, cleverly marked 1,2 and 3, would (mostly) result in the appropriate gear being selected.

three gears sufficed for many a year of delivering newspapers and travelling to school, but on leaving college and filling a year or two in what we students were wont to refer to as an employment situation, something a bit more grown up was required, and ten gears hoved into view once more, this time free of the influence of mr benzie.

it was, both literally and figuratively, a ten speed racer: hi-ten steel frame which, at the time, meant not one whit, and two levers on the down tube with which to select one of the five sprockets quietly purring at the rear. i'll admit to grave concerns over what would happen were i to change from the inner to outer chainring; would the derailleur at the rear automatically slurp back to the biggest sprocket, and start all over again? honestly, it was a worry.

however, changing gear was akin to that of a car gearbox bereft of synchromesh, at least it was in my track mitted hands. there was a lot more noise back there than any self-respecting sportsman should have to become accustomed. the age of indexing had yet to emanate from osaka, but when it did, it seems to have been received with similar acclaim as the sermon on the mount. many of you reading this will perhaps never have ridden anything other than indexed gears, to the point where you might just be wondering what i mean by indexed. let me offer a brief primer: each click of the gear lever pulls a length of cable that directly relates to the space between each of the rear sprockets. that's pretty much why nine speed levers don't work well with ten speed cassettes: the spacing ain't the same.


by building ramps into the sprocket profiles, shimano were able to effectively dictate the point at which the chain would move from one sprocket to the next, a system that unfortunately ended the initial advantage of a cassette composed of several individual sprockets. prior to what has become known as sti, it was possible to easily change the ratios, but since the aforementioned ramps required to be arranged in a spiral pattern, indexed cassettes began to be riveted together to maintain this mechanical advantage. with ye olde freewheel or cassette, it was inadvisable to change gear under pedalling pressure; the new hyperglide ramps meant that this could now be accomplished with greater ease.

fast forward to the modern world, and we now have three major manufacturers presenting us with a series of groupsets providing ease of gear changing: shimano, campagnolo and sram. in a cycling world where there are more standards than races on the international calendar, it is unsurprising that each of those mentioned employs a variation on how the gears are selected. now, i would be extremely reticent to present myself as an expert on this changing situation (did you see what i did there?), but i have ridden all three reasonably often, and i'm not averse to providing you with a washingmachinepost buyers' guide.

well, sort of.

if you had approached me around three years ago, campagnolo spoken here would have been the only lingo portentously defended. and while that is still my preferred option, experience of the other two has lessened my dogma to the point where conversation in other languages is comfortably inoffensive. while there are still optional extras such as the very retro down tube levers currently being popularised by the inimitable mr ira ryan, as well as bar end shifters for the touring brigade, the bulk of road bike shifting is accomplished via the brake levers. summarising the differences is a mite more complex in words than it is in actuality, but i'm game if you are. shimano shifts up the block (small to large) by pushing the brake lever inwards, heading in the opposite direction by means of a smaller flip lever inboard of the brake lever. the left lever does likewise: brake lever inwards to move from inner to outer, flip lever for outer to inner.


i spent many a long year disparaging the lever hood design, purely on the basis that i could never find a comfortable resting place for my hands. however, the last shimano groupset i tested was the new ultegra, where the cables have been re-routed under the bar tape and the lever hoods slimmed down. couple that with the slanting outward of the brake blades, and there's precious little to moan about anymore

campagnolo make great play of having a separate lever for each action: the brake lever simply operates the brakes. changing gear from small to large is achieved by the small flip lever inboard of the brake blade, while big to small requires pushing of a thumb lever on the inside edge of the lever hood. effectively it is well nigh impossible to achieve the wrong result; if you grab a shimano lever with a touch more gusto than correct, it is possible to brake at the same time as changing gear. i know: i have done it. campag have, to my mind, always had the best 'hands on the hoods' ergonomics, something that has improved further with the last release.

the new(ish) kid on the block is sram's double-tap, a moniker that is cool and trendy, and would look very good in white on a grey t-shirt, but didn't quite give as much information about the method of changing as it implied. if you're as simple as i, the notion of tapping once to change up and twice to go the other way seems like a sound appreciation, except it's not just as on the ball as i had thought. a small click shifts from big to small, whereas a bigger inward push moves the other way. the skill is in judging just how much of a bigger push is required, and even after a month or so of regular riding, i'm not entirely sure i've got it right. in fact, i know that i haven't. however, the system seems remarkably forgiving of such hamfistedness, and rarely have i found myself in anything like the wrong gear. how do they do that? so with sram, you brake with the brake levers and change in both directions via the flip lever. not logical bu relatively easy to grasp, and i'm quite enjoying gearchanging the sram way on the cielo.

sram's biggest weapon, if indeed this was the intention, is that its cassettes, while apparently differing in pattern from shimano and campagnolo, comfortably fit on a shimano pattern freehub. this is at least a part of the compatibility we have all been crying out for. switching to sram from shimano won't mean new investment in wheels. however, unless boffins are hard at work in both 's' companies, eleven sprockets are not heading our way anytime soon. the hood shape and brake lever angling were certainly cutting edge until the other two followed suit and upgraded. i figure that parity has been achieved between all three.

shimano's di2 is just button pushing, expensive button pushing that works remarkably well, but essentially attempts to emulate the system of their mechanical gearing. if you can afford it, i doubt you'll be paying much attention to me anyway.


if this were cycling plus or cycling weekly, there would be an editor's choice, based either on cost, operation or some secret criteria known only to the editorial inner circle. i'd hate to think anyone would make their choice based on a twmp logo attached to one of the illustrations; heritage dictates that i still speak campagnolo, but that often seems to be based more on campag's history than their current offerings. yes they're the only ones with that eleventh sprocket, but i'm inclined to think that's of more benefit to the racing fraternity than it's ever likely to become for the rest of us, and not something i'd personally take into consideration when making a choice.

campagnolo however, have one mechanical advantage that seems missing from the other two, and that's the ability to shift an entire handful of gears with one push of the lever. sram only goes down one gear at a time, and seemingly only about three at a time up the block; shimano seems to manage three in each direction per extended push, but you can almost manage bottom to top in one big click on campag, and kind of all the way down too. granted, it's not something i've ever needed to do on purpose, but i'd hate you not to know.

with more and more bicycles arriving as complete entities, gear choice is not always with the buyer, and it's very gratifying to note that, while each has its delightful idiosyncracies and eccentricities, you're unlikely to become a second class citizen simply because of the clicky bits fitted to the one you opted for.

perhaps it's time to change that window sticker to 'gearchanging spoken here'.


posted tuesday 9 february 2010

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cycle touring in ireland - a cicerone guide by tom cooper. 250pp illus. £14.95

cycle touring in ireland

it has long been offered up as a truism that america and britain are two countries separated by a common language. possibly correct, but this idea of being separated by a common interest is not something limited to countries or language. if recent letters to the cycling press, idle observation and the occasional forum are anything to go by, we might be guilty of a division or two ourselves. face it people, those of us who are so-called racing or sportive cyclists are rarely dyed-in-the-wool touring cyclists; would any of you be happily seen wearing open-toed sandals, toe-clips (or not) no helmet, baseball cap, baggy shorts and anything less than the current style du jour in the way of softshell jackets?

i'll take that as a no then, shall i?

this probably says as much about one flavour of cyclist as the other; different peer groups. i have this theory (in which self is included), that many of us ride the latest and lightest in carbon because it says good things about us; that we have enough faith in our abilities, that we take ourselves and our cycling seriously enough not to pedal rubbish, and that we are aware of which particular peer group in which we have been pigeon-holed, even if we're the ones doing the pigeon-holing. it's a fair cop, but society is to blame.

there is obviously a crossover amongst cycling needs and wants: perhaps lance, bertie and cadel will meet up after their careers have ended at each other's summit, and decide how cool it would be to see france at a lower power threshold, bestowed with panniers on those specially modified trek madones. this would categorise them as touring cyclists jim, but not as we know them.

to the born and bred cycle-tourist, the bicycle is a means to an end. i don't mind admitting that i see a colnago in a somewhat different light, sometimes very much as an end in itself. to tour more than just for a weekend, it is an astute choice to be riding a bicycle fit for purpose: very definitely not a bicycle shaped object. thus when opening one of cicerone's excellent touring guides, no matter how much you think you already know, read through the chapter and paragraphs that elucidate the less than experienced on the type of machine and accoutrements that the author deems important. there is a large library of these guides, written and verified by folks who have ridden extensively in the countries or areas of which they write. and in order to write those chapters, they and velocipede have likely come out the other end pretty much intact. humility is a wonderful thing.

ireland is the part of the world nearest to me that is not scotland, and unlike all the other volumes in this series that i have reviewed, this is the only country in which i have turned a pedal. fortunately for all concerned, i have not attempted to write a book for the education of others, but we should likely be well-chuffed that tom cooper has done so. inspired in the manner of so many, that a fitting guide to the country seemed unavailable, he decided to complete his own.

cycle touring in ireland

comprehensive is a word that seems woefully inadequate to describe the depth and breadth of content presented here. it does worry me greatly that mr cooper sees it as fitting to place his bicycle inside a well taped, clear plastic bag in order to transport it by air from the uk to the emerald isle, but i think that brings us back to the separation of sentiment between the differing strata of cyclists. i'd have mine in a bikebox at the very least, and all the insurance available. but that's me (and probably you).

'the trials and tribulations of transporting a bicycle by air are often exaggerated', is not an opinion i'd be keen to share if my bike were in a big polybag.

that aside, mr cooper knows ireland very well, both from an historical point of view, and a getting about on a bicycle point of view. there is comprehensive info on the geology of the country, an historical timeline, the driving habits of the locals, the stuff that no self-respecting touriste routier should safely ignore: items such as the type of appropriate bicycle, optimal tyre width, wheels, tools, camping gear (should that be your preferred accommodatory option), the ever necessary access to cash, etc., etc.

there are copious numbers of relevant and colour photographs, cue sheets for every step of the way, maps, all interspersed with facts of interest accompanying the routes. by the time i was half-way through the 250 pages, it had become all too clear that cicerone guides in general, and most certainly this one in particular, lend themselves as entertaining bed-time reading without a wheel being turned. and that, to me, is the mark of a good book and a fine author. were there to be one criticism it is aimed at cicerone rather than any of their guidebook authors: please, please do something about those covers. i can appreciate the desire to remain faithful to an identifying theme, but we are now one decade into the 21st century and books such as these deserve something a touch more contemporary. graphic design has moved on.

this is probably as good a time as any to consider the summer ahead and those miles (or kilometres if you're taking in southern ireland) that might be had in the fresh open air with fresh open toed sandals, a couple of panniers and a bar bag. i'm not knocking it; other than the sandals, it sounds like a great way to spend holiday time. my difficulty is the month of july: could i really miss all those hours of tour hype?


posted monday 8 february 2010

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