a moving experience

badly parked car

i am not alone in disliking cars, though if i think about it in a better light, i think it's more the drivers of cars that concern me than the vehicles themselves. it's hard to be vindictive towards an inanimate object, though i confess i am fairly well practiced in the art. i live in a housing area that has a rudimentary network of footpaths, a network that seems often to be used more by cars than pedestrians. such is promulgated by an apparent desire to have a waiting car parked as close to their front door as possible, despite the availability of a particularly well re-surfaced car park only a few metres from anyone's front door.

laziness would be a kind way of describing it.

while the relative activity level of the population as a whole does not directly concern me, it does bother me that many of those guilty of needing a car within shouting distance, do so at the expense of those of us who require to use the pathways for their intended purpose. the clown who parks his vauxhall something or other at the entrance to the playpark cares not one whit as to how many are inconvenienced by his ignorance. and the fellow who continually parks his yellow sporty thingy on the pavement outside his house has doubtless not even thought of the schoolkids who need to cross the main road at that particular spot. i would add to this a lack of concern about the latter on behalf of the local police, given that i believe parking a motor vehicle on a pavement to be an illegal act.

how the self-righteous are irritated.

there are authorities in place who should be taking care of the parking of motor vehicles on our pedestrian pathways. though steps have been taken by sending out letters to those concerned, little else has been done despite wholesale ignoring of such missives. this is a small village by conurbation standards, and it is particularly disheartening to watch helplessly as the motor car encroaches upon public spaces, simply because the owners cannot be arsed putting one foot in front of the other for more than a few steps at a time. i would say 'don't get me started', but sadly i think that state has already been breached.

i have complained, with little improvement, and temporary activist that i am, i do not have any real desire to be viewed as mr angry of bowmore, nor to have the relevant authorities pretend to be out of the office when my number appears on caller id. others have moaned sympathetically and harmonically, but i'm worried that it is my obsession with the bicycle that is exaggerating my dislike of the motor car per se, because normally i'm such an equivocal sort of chap.

ira ryan's transport

it was pointed out to me not so very long ago, that cars are deserving of cyclist love because of their practicality in hosting bike racks, either affixed to the roof or hanging, devil-may-care, off the bootlid or hatchback. i am not without a modest degree of intelligence, and i have been grateful on more than one occasion for a lift from someone willing to take pity on a grumbling cyclist/pedestrian. in fact, this has become an occasional necessity due to the fact that there is no public transport on islay on a sunday, or indeed, after 18:00 hrs. thus if one arrives on the ferry to experience either of those predicaments, someone's car back seat is often very welcome.

so far, all doom and gloom; but it's a monday so what else would you expect?

all, however, is not lost.

two of the more prominent frame builders in portland, oregon, tony pereira and ira ryan, have recently collaborated on the continental bicycle for rapha's cycle collection, a particularly fine example of a steel, all-round road bike, that would do great justice to many a bike shed. tony has space at north campbell avenue in portland, while ira is at north knowles; not that far away from each other, but far enough to need transport when it comes to moving a pile of frames from one workshop to the other. most of the folks i know round these here parts would hire a van, or find a way of cramming as many frames as possible into whatever car was to hand.

bicycle people such as messrs ryan and pereira and a cardboard box are more resourceful (see photo above).

if only i wasn't preaching to the converted.

posted monday 16 may 2011


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mother without hands looks!

guarda mamma senza mani

it is my dubious pleasure each new year, at least for the past few hogmanays, to find myself in one of islay's local hostelries sitting behind a guitarist, accordion player, keyboards and singer entertaining the masses as the world slips seamlessly from one year to the next. this state of affairs suits me particularly well, as i have no desire to indulge in the usual dribbles handed out at this time of year, and i'm behind too many items of amplification and percussion to be serially attacked by kissing wellwishers. were it not for this traditional facade, i'd be slouched in an armchair at home, watching jools holland pretend that it's new year.

the hostelry in question is host to our collective music-making (i use the phrase advisedly) at other less traditional times of the year, but december 31st/january 1st virtually guarantees a good crowd and at least a semblance of dancing. king of the mountains many of those in attendance are indigenous to the isle, but there are always a number of folks from scotland, intent on celebrating hogmanay islay style (whatever that is). i may simply being fanciful, or incorrectly interpreting facial expressions, but i think it possible that the visiting males, regularly dressed in kilts, seem a tad confused that the local contingent are not similarly attired.

it used to be noticeable that those visiting earlier in the year dressed in waxed cotton jackets of the barbour variety, which i assume was an attempt to blend in. sadly, from their point of view, there are very few islanders who dress that way. however, it would be churlish to criticise, for surely making an effort should be accepted as a compliment rather than subjected to ridicule and sniggers? i will confess, nonetheless, to having smiled out loud on more than one occasion.

(it is perhaps worth noting that the barbour jackets have been replaced with bicycles, not by way of apparel you understand, but affixed to the roofrack of either an audi or a bmw. look mum no hands these bicycles, in fact, never leave the safety of that roofrack, being mere accessories to convince of a holiday more adventurous than visiting eight distilleries.)

it is of great and substantial comfort that the well named 'look mum no hands!', now fully integrated into the uk cycling psyche (and not just amongst londoners) is making a similar effort. i cannot comment on whether they affix bicycles to the roofs of their cars, nor whether any wear kilts to their daily chores, but already one week into the giro d'italia, it is possible to join them for coffee, cake and the big screen while wearing a glaringly pink casquette bearing the legend 'guarda mamma senza mani!'. whether you'd continue to wear such millinery past the end of this month is a choice exclusively yours, but the effort can be repeated come three weeks in july when a red and white polka dot version will smoothly supplant any alternative headgear.

that takes care of, quite credibly, at least six weeks of the fifty-two week year, look mum no hands socks but the lmnh effort stops not short in this department, for what i believe could be referred to as standard team wear, is catered for by the original blue and white casquette that is doubtless known and loved the entire length of old street.

in this instance, top to toe could not be more appropriate. graphic art is all about the balancing of individual elements, based on shape and colour. surely a look mum no hands! cap deserves similarly branded footwear; in this case, a pair of defeet socks. partnered with a pink rapha mortirolo jersey, not only was a rain curtailed sunday ride eminently more enjoyable, it was the ideal camouflage in which to watch bertie's pistol shot up the slopes of mount etna this afternoon.

though there is a cap in which to watch la vuelta (mire mama sin manos!), all that's required now is a stars and stripes version for the tour of california.

look mum no hands!

posted sunday 15 may 2011


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pedalare! pedalare! a history of italian cycling by john foot. bloomsbury publishing. 372pp illus. paperback £14.99

pedalare! pedalare!

though not always referred to by its current name, the giro lombardia, or tour of lombardy, started life as milan-milan in 1905. the route has altered more often than i change my cycling socks, finishing in the aforementioned milan as well as sesto san giovanni, bergamo, varese, monza and cuneo. bizarrely, in 2004 the race started in mendrisio, switzerland and finished in como. it is also known as the ride of the falling leaves due to its position in the calendar of late october, giving rise to the more recently instigated ride of the falling rain on islay. difference is, we're not racing.

perhaps the most iconic part of the giro lombardia is the climb to the madonna del ghisallo, site of a chapel dedicated to the patron saint of cyclists, and containing a wealth of italian cycling history. the race was won by fausto coppi a total of five times.

in 1907, lucien petit breton won the inaugural milan-sanremo, a race that does exactly what it says on the tin. also known as la primavera or la classicisima, it is still the longest one-day race in the international cycling calendar at 298km. despite the infiltration of the poggio and the cipressa towards the culmination of the event, it's generally reckoned to be a race for pure sprinters.

john foot's pedalare! pedalare! is subtitled a history of italian cycling, yet the opening chapter declares in its heading the origins of the giro d'italia and the bicycle goes to war, 1909-19, and on the facing page is a route map of the giro from 1909. what happened to the previous four years and the advent of two of cycling's great monuments? surely this, in one fell swoop, has undermined foot's projected subject matter? should this hefty and copious volume have been subheaded a history of the giro d'italia which, in effect, it is, the cover would have been closer to the truth.

john foot is professor of modern italian history in the department of italian at university college, london, a title that would profess scholarly leanings; the main narrative of the subsequent 300+ pages would bear this out, for it would be a brave man who would argue against the degree of research that is evident across such a substantial number of pages. unfortunately, i fear professor foot undermines the subsequent solid display of serious writing by way of his introduction. while i will relent from successive quotes from this section, i will offer the final sentences from this introduction before commencing the true kernel of the book's content.

'the journey is about to begin. we are in the saddle, out in the open air. it is time to get our legs moving. time to set off. in a work of this depth and magnitude, i think this slightly patronising, and certainly unnecessary.

however, that is merely the introduction and hardly the principal reason for which one would purchase such a volume. it is hard to know whether professor foot's interest in italian cycling is as a long-time cycling aficionado, or perhaps more from an academic/historical point of view. from the writing i found it hard to tell, though a degree of detachment is not necessarily a bad thing in an historical work. (he has also published calcio: a history of italian football, though it would be a shame to hold that against him.) much later in the book's often non-sequential reading, he relates ...the most exciting rider of all, by far, was marco pantani. to watch pantani climb was like seeing someone fly uphill.. just a bit of a shame that he leaves such enthusiasm until page 266, but it's a welcome revelation nonetheless.

the book is deftly arranged in sections, beginning with the heroic age - the origins of the giro d'italia including the first world war, followed by an investigation into the mysterious death of oliver bottechia, a chapter perhaps a tad overdrawn, though making for quite fascinating reading. section two is entitled cycling as a mass sport, lending credence to the book's leaning more towards to the subject of italian cycling in sporting terms rather than much in the way of the social aspect. it would be unfair of me to suggest that the latter would necessarily be of major sociological and historical interest in any case. civilian cycling is not, however, omitted entirely, shoeing into the narrative when discussion of italy's social history enters the fray. commendably, every aspect of of sporting prowess (or otherwise) is framed with historical intent, often explaining why things were as they were at the time. for that alone, this book approaches indispensibility.

similar to my appreciation of expressionist painting, i think it important to understand the author's relationship to his/her subject matter, but occasionally, particularly in the early pages of a lengthy tome such as this, it prejudices subsequent reading. when discussing alfredo binda, one of italy's great riders from the mid to late 1920s and into the 1930s, professor foot regales us with the following; during the 1929 giro he won eight successive stages and this record run became known as the 'imperial' series. his total of forty one stage wins was only surpassed by sprinter mario cipollini in 2004, a sad reflection on what the sport of cycling had become by then.. i can see what he's getting at, but surely a rather damning indictment of the lion king and presaging, in hindsight, the attentions that would be paid to the more modern era of italian cycling.

there are many, many books that, at least in part, concern themselves with aspects of italian cycling through the years, particularly those surrounding the second world war and its immediate aftermath. in particular, the events surrounding the first race to be held after the war's end in 1946 and the stage from rovigo to trieste, the latter being still in the hands of the allies. originally permission for the stage to finish in trieste had been witheld, but pressure from the italian government forced them to relent. one of the teams intent on that stage finish was that of wilier triestina, and foot's narrative unmasks a hitherto unknown fact (by me at least), about the naming of the team, a name that continues through to the bicycle frames currently ridden by the lampre team in the 2011 giro d'italia.

the letter 'w' was often used as an abbreviation for the word viva in the manner w l'italia or w coppi. this led to the patriotic expression 'w l'italia, liberata e redenta' translated as 'long live italy, liberated and redeemed' and giving birth to the word wilier, and thence wilier triestina. i didn't know that.

in 1948, so common knowledge would have it, gino bartali was requested by prime minister alcide de gasperi to win the tour de france. this was as an antidote to the shooting of italian communist party leader, palmero togliatti, an event that brought italy close to civil war, a state of affairs less than welcome after several years of international war. it is said that gasperi hoped that if bartali could win in france, such was the importance of cycling and of bartali, such an act could pull the country together and prevent escalation of the civil unrest. at the time of the supposed request, bartali was more than 21 minutes behind yellow jersey wearer, louison bobet. if this had been a film script, you'd have said it was far-fetched, but bartali did indeed win the 1948 tour by a margin of 26 minutes.

it's one of the great myths of cycling's past; the golden age according to professor foot, an age encompassing the careers of both bartali and coppi. most of us are happy to accept ths myth, because who can resist a good story, even if it perhaps does not bear close scrutiny. foot, however, is not content to let sleeping myths lie, and may be on a royalty payment for every time he uses the word myth in one chapter (41 times by my counting). for me, this was the most confusing part of the book.

i can perfectly understand the author's need to recount the story as part of italian cycling history; that one rider could overcome a deficit of 21 minutes to win the tour by more than 26 is enough of a story in itself, a feat very unlikely to ever be repeated in modern times. but i find it hard to condone an almost obsessive need to examine every aspect of the legend. in his opening paragraphs, foot explains 'it is not my intention here to prove the bartali myth 'wrong' though the subsequent pages would seem intent on proving the contrary. this cannot ultimately be describe as a failing, for in context, the attention to detail and the reflection on italy's political situation after the second world war is intriguing and absorbingly fascinating. personally i'd have liked the myth to rest in peace.

no book on italian cycling could ever be even close to complete without recounting the enmity between bartali and coppi. it was a conflict that divided the whole of italy in much the same way that support of two proximitous soccer teams creates division in modern times. there seems to have been no middle ground; you either supported one or the other. yet again, this is one of the great legendary periods of cycling, the 1950s and though an intrinsic part of italian cycling history, the experience is spread far wider. however, in much the way that software companies invented intercaps, with a seeming need to join two words together, retaining the capital letter of both, foot has turned the bartali and coppi era into an alias for marketable product, resulting in the somewhat overuse of the phrase coppiandbartali, inserted as one word throughout. we're all grown-ups here, and i think we should be treated as such.

though the rivalry between the two men is convincingly portrayed, this imposition seems just a bit trite, undermining foot's considerable command of his subject matter.

however, it is interesting to read professor foot's attention paid to the brief period of the black shirt, a jersey of similar intent to the lanterne rouge in the tour de france. though the jersey was abolished in 1951 due to competition amongst its potential wearers delaying the timekeepers at the end of each stage, foot avers that its introduction was surely an ignominious irony. 'for twenty years, those wearing black shirts - the fascist uniform - ...had commanded respect (through violence). the black shirt was now out of fashion.' the implication is that the choice of a black jersey for the last placed rider was a not so subtle dig at mussolini's acolytes. i didn't know that either.

the golden age section is followed, logically enough, by after the golden age throughout which professor foot's examination and relating of events and aspects of the periods' cycling and cyclists continues to be slightly eclectic but no less interesting for that. italian cycling brims over with detail, excitement, character and much on which an appreciation for modern cycling is based. to relate every worthy aspect of this would result in a book considerably larger than that currently sitting by my side. for this reason alone, i find myself happy to accept john foot's thinning out of the material available, even though portions of the narrative overlap or fail to read in strict chronological order.

so far, so good, and had the book ended with after the golden age, i would have gone to bed a happy man and satisfied reader. unfortunately, part five is entitled the age of doping, a doomsday heading further compounded by the first chapter title a slow death, doping and italian cycling, 1968-99. i have generally shied from comment on cycling's intrinsic doping problem in these pixels because i do not feel sufficiently qualified to do so. i have no real idea whether professor foot is any better qualified than i, but it has not stopped him giving vent at great length in the latter chapters of pedalare! pedalare!.

my misgivings here concern a seeming damnation of thirty three years of italian cycling, and the implication that if the author has designated this period as the age of doping, the preceding years patently weren't. something that we all know to be an untruth. there is little doubt that the doping resorted to nowadays carries far more serious health implications than was the case in the so-called golden age, but it is naive to think that the heroes of yesterday would not have succumbed to the same pressures/temptations had the likes of epo and hgh been available then. each is a product of its time.

incidentally, while reading the above section, it was a disappointment to find that the eagle of the canavese, franco balmamion has his surname mis-spelt as balmanion. it is not uncommon to come across the odd spelling error, but every mention of his name, including that in the comprehensive index at the back of the book, is spelt in this manner. a shame in such a well researched book.

doping is the enemy of far more than just italian cycling, and it seems unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary to lump so many years under such a despondent heading. i find it hard to believe that there were no performances worthy of the author's optimistic attention throughout the thirty plus years. things do not look any brighter once foot has had his (considerable) say on doping; chapter 21: the post modern age: sprinters and cowboys.

the one glaring omission from the book, though one that didn't occur to me until well through its chapters, is that of the bicycle itself. i'm afraid that i would expect a book claiming to be a history of italian cycling to have dealt, at least summarily, with the major italian cycle brands. surely they are just as much a part of that history as the riders themselves? the only token gesture in this direction arrives in association with 'beppe' saronni's unexpected win in the 1982 world's held at goodwood race circuit in england. saronni's victory on a colnago ...sold a lot of bikes on the back of his popularity... gianni brera apparently wrote 'leonardo da vinci invented the bicycle (subsequently debunked) and now, 500 years later, colnago perfected it.'

the image of coppi is almost inseparable from the celeste blue of bianchi, a cycle also ridden by marco pantani during his winning years, but what of bottechia, pinarello, milani, de rosa and even wilier triestina? i cannot pretend that it is possible for any author, especially one with such considerable knowledge of italian history, to fill in all the blanks, and there will surely always be more room for criticism than one would consider ideal, but...

so, bearing all the above very much in mind, did i enjoy pedalare! pedalare!. contradictorily, yes i did. i don't agree with the author giving over so much space to damning several generations of cyclists with the doping hammer, but offering a contrary point of view to my own, or that of any reader is often to be commended. and even throughout those darkened days, foot's research and subsequent relating of sport and legalities bears the mark of a man well in command of his subject. do not misunderstand; i do not believe that the subject of doping should have been glossed over, i just believe that its treatment here begins to overshadow all else.

you do need to read this book, even if only to disagree with my perhaps over critical assessment, but most of all to gain a more intrinsic insight into the mores of italian cycling history. it may not even have been the author's decision to subtitle this a history of italian cycling; it isn't really, but it is a damn good history of the giro d'italia.

posted saturday 14 may 2011


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prendas keyring

during some of the early years of thewashingmachinepost, when it was even less relevant than it is today, i had one of those really annoying taglines on my e-mail that said 'do something trivial; read thewashingmachinepost'. it was, at best, juvenile humour, but there's no point in being grown up if you can't act like a kid now and again. levity is the best policy.

unfortunately, no matter how funny you find a joke or e-mail tagline, someone somewhere is bound to disagree; in this case a woman i had never met, living in north america. she obviously took exception to my referring to the post as trivial, and lambasted me in a return e-mail for my apparent disparagement. i found this as humorous as you probably do (you do find it funny don't you?) and replied to the woman, pointing out that, as the author of said washingmachinepost, not only did i know it was trivia, but i felt it was my divine right to refer to it in any way i saw fit.

you and i, at this point, would likely have had a fit of embarrassment and replied in jocular fashion, but instead, things went from bad to worse. her son, i was led to believe, was a state champion bmx rider and found the post to be an integral part of his week. for me to castigate it in this fashion was apparently little short of criminal, and she would be most gratified if i would refrain from my undermining its lucidity. aside from the overall humour of the situation, the fact that bmx had been brought into the equation simply raised the laughability factor; to the best of my knowledge, i have not dabbled in that particular cycling genre, given that i wouldn't know a barspin from a superman.

rich mitch mugs

the humour part of the situation sadly deteriorated at that point, as i was continually in receipt of e-mails not only persisting in the stop calling it trivial vein, but moving on to criticising my ability to review various aspects of the cycling world without, apparently, having the academic qualifications to justify so doing. shortly afterwards, i retired the trivial tagline, if only because it had moved onto more substantial subject matter, and i felt such an epithet would not reflect well on many of the items which were the subject of my reviews.

there is little worse than being provided with rather expensive articles of cycleability and then telling all and sundry that the writings concerning same should be filed under trivia.

but cycling, along with many other pursuits, rides on a veritable bedrock of trivial pursuits, many of which verge on being as necessitous as the quick release skewer. before i delve further, and get myself into trouble by referring to the heart and soul of someone's life's work as trivia, i'd like to make it clear that the word is here not intended to denote worthless artifacts. much of that inhabiting the description is as valuable to me as a bicycle, for in some subtle way, it demonstrates my obsession to anyone within viewing distance (always supposing they're interested in the first place).

we're almost at the end of the first sad week of the giro, having entered the real ascents in today's stage. wearing a pink jersey while out riding last weekend was token gesture number one, and watching each and every stage on the office computer via la gazzetta's interweb broadcast was number two. but for giro trivia that lasts far longer than the prescribed three weeks, there is little to beat a prendas tricolour jersey keyring, augmenting last year's pink version. it has everything and nothing to do with cycling; i wouldn't see a giro without it.

rich mitch mugs

trivial is perhaps not an accusation that could possibly be levelled at the work of illustrator richard mitchelson. rarely have i known someone who gets it as well as he when it comes to caricaturing many of our past heroes, and narrating some of the more exciting moments of cycling's golden years. so far his animations have decorated a series of tee-shirts, jerseys and posters, now reaching the ultimate ubiquity and utility of transferring their affections to a range of rouleur mugs. available from rouleur as of 20th may, these bear witness to the visages of eddy merckx, tommy simpson, bernard hinault and my own personal favourite, robert millar.

these retail at a substantial £18.50 each, and i assure you that my flexible friend will be lightened to the tune of one robert millar before the month of may has passed from show.

it's trivia jim, but not as we know it.

rouleur mugs | rich mitch | prendas ciclismo

posted friday 13 may 2011


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a bit of support

lincoln grand prix

scarily, i seem to have entered a second period of thematicism (i have a feeling i just made that word up), after yesterday's opportunity to spend some money and become part of the pistachio's support team. for yet again we enter the murky world of team support (actually, it's not murky at all, but a bit of drama to start the day never went amiss).

i have never quite seen the point of formula one motor racing; it seems a sport so divorced from reality, and based on squillions of pounds, my cynicism leads me to view it as a bit of fun for rich kids. i don't doubt that somewhere along the line, at least one or two technical developments will make their way into showroom vehicles, but it seems likely that the cost of so doing is verging on the unquantifiable.

cycle racing, on the other hand, while doubtless seen as just as pointless to those wearing ferrari baseball caps, has, for the present at least, both wheels on the ground (an inadvertant pun, but one i'm happy to draw your attention to). even the mclaren venge, which i have castigated as likely the first major step towards top level cycling emulating that of the single-seater car formulas, is not only commercially available if your bank balance is large enough, but also street legal. why you'd ever want to ride one to work, saddle bag affixed, is beyond my ken, but there's nothing stopping you doing so. whether the ins and outs of stage racing grab you by the bibshorts is an entirely different matter, but at least the one day races, at whatever level, are relatively simple to understand: the guy/girl who crosses the line first is the winner.

lincoln grand prix

that part, however, is like watching a west end play; those traversing the boards, impressing us with their grasp of thespianism, then taking a bow and plaudits at curtain fall, are only the tip of the iceberg, to use a wholly inappropriate cliche. someone has designed and painted the scenery, more still have erected this on the stage, and remain responsible for any scene changes required during the performance. those lights do not operate themselves, nor does any necessary sound; many more folks are needed for front of house, so that our enjoyment of the drama is complete, and the programmes they sell have been designed and printed for our eyes only.

it seems a bit trite to compare with cycle racing, and i would not take offence if you said so, but there are several similarities that make those on the bikes only a fraction of the day's performance. however, where at least some of these are relevant, other factors are at play in the world of cycle racing; not all of them specifically beneficial to the great unwashed, but certainly potentially so.

lincoln grand prix

if i'm allowed to briefly make mention of the rapha condor sharp team, at least two of the sponsors are in the game for a modicum of development as well as the all-encompassing publicity. if i can point you to my article regarding the team of a few months back, kristian house confirmed that he and a couple of others are provided with prototype clothing in order to give feedback regarding its efficacy in the thick of battle. condor cycles have much the same aims at heart; the leggero frame has seen incremental improvements since the team's beginning in the world of cycle racing, many of which have been at the behest of their professional riders.

see, that's the difference between formula one and professional cycle racing; many, many more of us can benefit from the design process,

but in order to put a team of riders on the road, placing them in a potential position to reap victory, there is a whole raft of experts in their own field who work selflessly to try and ensure a win. don't get me wrong, those in the saddles are hardly altruists; they want to win for personal glory first, team second; the fact that the jerseys are emblazoned with many a sponsor's logo is simply the means by which they can achieve first wheel across the line. but 'tis the sponsor's money that pays not only their wages, but that of the support team. the chap who scoops carbo powder into seventy water bottles to see them through the race, the mechanic who meticulously checks each and every bike, cleaning them until you can see your face in the top tube, all the while bearing in mind that incessant washing can be against the best mechanical interests of each machine. some of that grease is supposed to be there and remain there.

lincoln grand prix

then there's the most or least popular chap in each entourage: the manager. depending on any strategy concocted by the latter, always assuming the race in question provides for any sort of strategy, the riders may have cause to celebrate or castigate when the podium has been deserted. it is probably right and proper that we support or idolise those in the polyester advertising hoardings, for every sport more or less demands that there are idols; poster boys and girls worht cheering for.

but to ineptly paraphrase the cnd slogan from the late sixties, 'suppose they gave a race, and nobody came.' suppose the riders turned up, but the support was conspicuous by its absence. there will be many small or individual competitors who are bereft of any support at all, but at the professional continental level, that seems very unlikely; who's going to hand out bottles from the car, and who's going to drive it in the first place?

when the man with the bouquet and trophy stands on the podium to accept the victor's spoils, your cheering and applause has to travel further afield than the sponsors' logos on the backdrop. the same is undoubtedly true of formula one, but you'd have a harder job getting hold of a replica of first across the line.

it's rocket science.

posted thursday 12 may 2011


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when i were a lad, my career choice was confined to one thing: i was going to be a lorry driver. not just any lorry driver, however, but of a flatbed truck delivering blue circle cement. fortunately for all those potentially concerned, aspirations changed somewhat as i grew up and realised that it was hard enough learning to drive a morris mini, let alone something with a cab and an enormous wheelbase. and in case it has escaped your attention, cement bags are ruddy heavy and prone to covering those within close proximity in a film grey dust.

very hard if it rains.

my early years of so-called adulthood slipped by without my cottoning on to the fact that bicycles could be raced. or, at least, that they could be raced by me. the daily travail to work several miles away was carried out on a bicycle, a bicycle replete with ten gears (cool, man) and bendy bars. you would think that the free poster accompanying said bicycle would have alerted my sensibilities to the fast stuff, but for reasons of ignorance that i find it hard to reconcile, the site of several blokes in jerseys and bibshorts standing behind a verisimilitude of the very same velocipede ensconced in the bike shed did not make the connection with fast.

in fact, i distinctly remember cursing the choice (read: compulsory fitting) of chainring size and smallness of sprocket that made life very hard if one decided to play at being robert millar. (that of course would only make sense if, at the time, i had had any idea of robert's existence). richard's bicycle book had many a chapter on the maintenance of bicycles that meandered at any speed, but those chapters led smoothly onto writings about cycle touring; granny rings and dinner plates. all well and good, but a direction that pointed almost exactly the opposite way from speed.


by the time i had given vent to my need to prove a mechanical ability that could assemble a road bike from the ground up, including lacing and truing an appropriate pair of wheels, any likelihood of my adopting a racing stance had long passed by. so though i have on occasion, averred to notions of a professional contract based entirely on my chris hoy thighs and alacrity in bounding up speed bumps, i must confess those were mere literary devices, inserted in the hope that you would think highly of me, based entirely on my mythical abilities as a bike rider.

i'm sure you found it all implicitly believeable.

having accepted my fate with a stiff upper lip and slowness awheel, i am led back to richard's bicycle book and that documented mechanical ability with bits of bicycles. i once had business cards printed that denoted me as a bicycle maintenance technician. nope, nobody was impressed then either.

you may recall a few days past, i linked to a couple of mavic service de course videos and one of similar ilk from vittoria tyres. that mode of employment looks unbelievably cool, and i think i'd suit one of those yellow short sleeved shirts and an armful of wheels admirably well. i've always thought that if i leaned heavily upon the journalist moniker, perhaps by e-mail so that they can't see the whites of my eyes, i could blag my way into one of those yellow skodas during the tour.

it's a long way from a cement lorry.


i doubt i'm alone in wanting to wield the magic screwdriver while hanging out the back window of a yellow car at speed, but i fear there is just as long a queue to be that man, as there are hopefuls wishing to be a mobile polyester ad hoarding on a saddle. there is, however, another way.

a hitherto unheard of blog (by me at least), 1000 passions, is intent on allowing the relatively well-heeled to join the support staff of the surprisingly named wonderful pistachios pro-cycling team on the soon to be off round ireland an post ras. for the not inconsiderable sum of $8,500 (just over £5,000) 'you'll be treated as staff, privy to the team's daily racing strategies and plans. you'll help the mechanics get the bikes and equipment ready, you'll ride in the team and staff cars during the race and you'll help pass out bottles and food bags to riders. every day you'll stay with the team in a different bed and breakfast as they race across ireland's diverse and breathtaking countryside, helping to cheer them on as they compete in this amazing event.

if the wonderful pistachios are new to you, then join the club. i'm none too sure that you'd be queuing to purchase a replica jersey, but you have to admit, it's a snappier name than htc high-road. decency is obviously amongst them, for a portion of your hard-earned cash will be donated to the hirshberg foundation for pancreatic cancer research.

this is not where it all ends, however, for the opportunity is times two.


on june 4th-5th, the pistachios will race the td bank philadelphia international cycling championship. for the slightly more amenable price of $1,500 (£900), you can meet the team for dinner in philadelphia the night before the race, where you'll learn about the pistachio's tactical and logistical strategies.after dinner, you'll head back to the team's hotel, the sheraton, in downtown philadelphia, where you'll enjoy overnight accommodations.there you'll assist the team staff in the pistachio's pre-race preparations, filling bottles, making sandwiches for the riders and preparing on the go feed bags.

then comes the excitement of race day, where you'll work the pit with the rest of the crew, handing up nutrition and hydration to the riders as they whizz'll have the unique chance to jump in the team car and follow the race at break-neck speed through the neighborhoods of philadelphia, handing out bottles and bars through the windows and watching as over 200,000 cheering spectators line the streets. and finally, at the end of the day, you''l join the team at their traditional post-race bbq.

if your professional ambitions lie in the above direction, and the bank balance is looking reasonably healthy, this may be an ideal way to gain a modest degree of experience. for the rest of us, it's the sort of work that you'd pay for; which, not to put too fine a point on it, is exactly what you're expected to do. click across to the 1000passions website for more information.

alternatively, you could write a nice letter to mr mavic.

posted wednesday 11 may 2011


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la corsa delle biciclette

sax max

though the phrase big is beautiful has been around for more than just a few years, i'm pretty sure it wasn't coined upon someone viewing the latest in bicycle downtubes. or any of the other complementary pieces of tubing that build the ubiquitous double triangle. much like many of you, i have owned a number of bicycles, all the way from hi-tensile steel efforts up to space age carbon fibre with hundreds of pieces of high modulus thrown in for good measure. (you need to have high modulus; everything else is just noodles).

i am quite plainly not a metallurgist, nor a frame builder, nor any kind of an engineer, so i have little to go on other than my own experiences of riding bikes on which the size remains the same, but on which obesity seems to have taken hold. though skinny tubes have an aesthetic all of their own, one in which i happen to find much to admire, i am also perfectly conscious that the dissing of oversize based on little other than a finely honed prejudice leads only to accusations of one flavour...


sitting in the bikeshed at present is an aszure team issue carbon framed bicycle. it has lashing of high modulus and it would take someone of remarkably insensitive tendencies to be unaware of the stiffness conferred by the frame round which this particular bicycle is congregated. this, in itself, should not be seen as a bad thing, for if i were prone to utilising capital letters, the aszure would be filed under fun with a capital 'f'. so it's not all bad then.

sax max

steel, however, is a whole different ball game altogether. high grade versions of the material, several leagues above the hi tensile as referred to above have, over the years, acquired almost endless variables of butting profiles; the practice of making the tubing thicker at each ends in varying thicknesses, as opposed to the middle of the tubes which are less prone to building and mechanical stresses. since carbon can be manipulated in oh so many ways, centred around wall thickness, carbon layup and fibre direction, it can be easily seen to be a far more elastic and malleable material, taking care of that seeming insatiable desire for stiffness while still allowing a modicum of comfort and joy.

research into the latter will likely never end. witness the recent collaboration between specialized and mclaren formula one which resulted in the venge. on a side note, it is a mite disappointing to see such high fallutin' technology be reduced to such an appalling name.

however, there are still many across the world closeted in workshops with files, hacksaws, vices and brazing torches, still besotted with the properties that steel can impart to a state of the art bicycle frame. the phrase steel is real may well be one of the more vaccuous epithets in existence, but for many on both sides of that double triangle, it is still the focus of their attentions, one of whom is the well documented (on the post at least), richard sachs.

sax max

while i have heard it said that richard has been building the same bicycle frame for more than thirty years, such a description does not do his efforts justice. for though, were you to be fortunate enough to be at the head of his lengthy waiting list, the frame you would shortly be taking delivery of would be no less stunning than the first to bear the rs head badge. but laid end to end, there would be a discernible and progreessive difference. in much the same way that cezanne painted a seemingly infinite series of images of mont st victoire, richard has worked on the same image of a road bike, proving, if nothing else, that imperfection is perfection.

but even the seemingly traditional exterior portrayed by the man with the red frames and a penchant for adding atmo to the end of each communication, does not stand still for as long as may be thought. as the man himself said "for the record, the pegorichie tubing i use is considered oversize and all my frames have been made with these dimensions going back to 1996 or so."

sax max

that sort of puts perception into a cocked hat and throws it out the window. for i have not been a connoisseur of sachs frames for that long, but have always considered his bicycles to be particularly spindly in comparison to the drainpipes offered by pretty much every monocoque in the peloton. again, i wish no disparagement towards the latter, but use the adjectivery (i think i just made up a new word) to discern between the dimensions under consideration. however, perhaps by way of reaction to same, or simply continuing in his guise as vanguard of steel's reputation as a contemporary framebuilding material, richard is now uber over-sized.

that is, perhaps, an inept way of phrasing it; richard is still the same size that he ever was, but provided the following explanation. "it was nearly ten years ago that my richie-Issimo lug sets came on to the market. this was my humble attempt at becoming my own supplier as well as a source for other effbuilders and to resuscitate what was then a shrinking pool of raw material. since that time, i've done another 18 or so mold tools for cast lugs, fork crowns, b.b. shells, and braze-ons. this past autumn i decided to grow the original parts and make them available for UOS (uber-oversize) frame dimensions atmo. i call the updated version Sax Max because, well - just because."

sax max

though i've never been one for numbers and their relationship to the real world, for those with a better grasp of what's what "the short of it these are for 36mm head tubes, 35mm down tubes, and 31.8mm top and seat tubes. the complementary (that's complement with an E...) 1 1/8" fork crown is past the napkin stage and over in the solidworks cubicle ce moment-ci."

it's all technical, it's all irrelevant to those of us not privy to the brazing skills of mr sachs and his peers, but it is of interest because this new set of whizzy bits will arrive with a new frame decal. and like those with that little white bird, this is of great import. and because it's richard, as he himself has said, it's sax max, a neat play on words and a graphically astute tube affixation. (though we'd all likely sell our grandmothers to ride the end result.)

isn't that really what life's all about?

posted tuesday 10 may 2011


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