dancing in the dark

barclays bikes

two cycle cafes: one welcomes only those astride carbon fibre bicycles, the other offers the same red carpet to those riding steel. the carbon cafe, as we shall heretofore refer to it, not only has a fine selection of carrot cake, warmed danish pastries and so-called millionaire's shortbread., but the coffees encompass espresso, ristretto, americano, cappuccino and macchiato. on the other hand, the steel cafe, so-called for comparitive purposes, offers only the shortbread, espresso and cappuccino, but doesn't cater for soya drinkers.

the delineation of the two is based on the perception that those with a penchant for the black gold are of a more refined nature, with an appreciation for the finer and less economic things in the world. though it may currently seem to fly in the face of modern trend, those playing on steel are, for the purposes of this hypothetical scenario, deemed to be of lower financial means and with less concern for insubstantial froth.

both of the above, contemporary demographics notwithstanding, are rather sweeping in their assumptions. to base a business model on either of those assumptions would seem slightly myopic at best; downright discriminatory at worst. strangely, the mass transit system in the uk does exactly that.

smithfield phone boxes

at the top of the tree is the act of flying from point a to point b. elect to travel in this fashion, and the world is indeed your oyster. leaving aside the endless queuing and having to arrive several hours before the aircraft has any chance of leaving the ground, airports are very obviously geared towards those of a certain level of refinement. the aircraft are all but hidden from view, while those travelling are cossetted on salubriously sculpted and brightly coloured upholstery. many provide a shopping experience that would be the envy of many a modern retail park, while dining is catered for in the form of sandwich bars, through fast food outlets all the way to a la carte dining midst tasteful decor. none of this seems to have altered much, despite the constant downward vector of budget airline fares.

in total incongruity with my opening model of two styles of cycling cafe, i am adding a third factor to the comparable transport simile: the railway. arrive at victoria street station, waterloo, st pancras or even euston, and the mental apparition of a railway station hits a few snags. victoria in particular, is a surprisingly large, bright space, populated with a large array of shops and eating establishments that could occupy the senses over a long period of waiting for any train. when it comes to checking departures and arrivals, a large contemporary light board that can be seen from afar constantly updates. however, yet again, the prospective traveller is shielded from his/her ultimate method of travel.

it is very hard to be a train-spotter these days.


lower your sights and budget a smidgeon and the hapless adventurer reaches the strata of coach travel, encompassing anything from the regular shuttle bus to and from any airport within the vicinity, to cross country and cross border coach travel. it is a salient point to be made that, so far as i am aware, there are no airports that serve as a conduit to the nearest bus station (or railway station for that matter). the regulated hierarchy is maintained: coach and rail exists to serve air, but not the converse.

bus stations could rarely be described as salubrious. in fact, it often seems stretching credibility just a tad too far to refer to them even as perfunctory. glasgow's buchanan street, edinburgh's st andrews bus station and most definitely london's victoria street are locations you probably wouldn't inhabit out of free choice. the buses are on threatening full-view to the travelling public, seating is almost invariably of perforated steel, cold and decidedly unfriendly to one's posterior. this seating is not arranged according to some mysterious law of feng shui, but entirely on the basis of ordered necessity, usually on two facing sides leading to the bus stance. catering often only extends to a sandwich bar with an automatic coffee machine dispensing varying shades of brown liquid, few of which bear any recognisable similarity to the names by which they are labelled. shopping experience is more than likely constrained to a w.h. smith or possibly just a newsstand.


the flat screen monitor above stance three at victoria followed a sequence. as the windows xp logo appeared on screen, it would be replaced by a smudgy blue desktop, the ubiquitous start bar and a few random icons. after a few seconds the long denied dos window squared up on the left side, displayed a few thousand white flickering characters before proceeding to reboot and run the whole sequence again. i only watched for an hour, but it never displayed the departure time of service 588 to inverness via golders green, milton keynes, carlisle, lockerbie, glasgow and eventually to its destination via aviemore.

the nocturne series for 2011 is/was something of a misnomer, unless the word series has been reconstituted as meaning less than two. 2010 was surely the pinnacle of its career, providing those of crepuscular affinity, a display of cycle racing that surely warmed the cockles? though smithfield invented the concept, edinburgh (sorely missed) added in the interim, then brighton and blackpool drafted in last year to make nocturnal visions more widespread. now that was a series. common lore would point to the two 'b' events perhaps being there to make up numbers, while unbridled nationalism would have it that edinburgh's grassmarket course was not only more interesting than that through smithfield market, but a touch more challenging.

folding bike race

scotland's like that.

with only one nocturne taking place this year in smithfield market, london, i did the only decent and professional thing and opted to grace the course with my insignificance. though i have nothing against flying between countries, the degree of faff, security checks and the fact that none of the airports are ever where they say they are (stansted is hardly central london), i was happy to tick the box next to rail travel; or at least i would have done had there not been two obstacles: price and availability. the intention was two days in london; train down and train up. no sleeping berth was available; the return seat offered was at a price approaching £160. compare and contrast with national express coaches offering the same distance for only £25 return, and the decision made itself.

i know, i know; it's hardly business class and it's definitely not conducive to a good night's sleep, but heck, £25 for a couple of days in the country's capital is not to be sneezed at. except, of course, for the assumptions made about those opting to travel in this way. ryanair and easyjet can offer fares that could be purchased with the loose change in the pocket of my jeans, yet the decor and facilities within the modern airport as alluded to above, have not lessened to any appreciable degree. the inside of smithfield market is positively shiny by comparison with victoria street coach station (and i'm a vegetarian).

penny farthing race

actually, i'm not very good at this; in every year of attending a nocturne, collecting a press pass has felt like a wristband obtained under false pretences. announcing my arrival in mumbled tones, i fully expect those dispensing access to stifle a snigger or simply let fly with an unrestrained guffaw. fortunately harriet at ktb has neither the time nor inclination to follow me about, checking that i have any journalistic tendencies or abilities whatsoever. you see i'm quite a sociable chap, but with leanings towards the unsocial. plop me in the middle of an international cycle gathering, and i'm happy to talk for britain (is it an olympic sport?). add a sprinkling of notables from the very same world, people who can ride bicycles oh so much faster than i, lubricate with variations on the concept of coffee, and there really is no holding me back.

however, it is as well that there are those hell-bent on noting every racing inflection, every lap time, every team selection, and even the final result, because, quite honestly, much of that passed me by comprehensively. aside from having to leave early to circumvent transport for london's saturday closure of strategic underground routes, heading for my return on the national express sleepless to glasgow, i have no idea who won anything. i am not alone in that; without searching for witnesses, i can confidently state that many thousands are/were as ignorant of the podia as i.

rapha coffee machine

however, the object of the exercise was undoubtedly well met. there was some superb racing from gents on penny-farthings, men who probably ought to know better, but brilliant all the same. the enthusiasm of the folding bike aficionados shows no sign of diminishing, even without the persona of graeme raeburn to which a comparative candle might be held. ladies racing, fixies managing to skid almost as far as cavendish can sprint, anthony mccrossan's boundless enthusiasm from the commentary box (and it really was a box), time-trialling of one lap and a team points race. even the ad hoardings lining the start finish were of a metal most appropriate for creating maximum noise, aided greatly by cowbells distributed courtesy of the chaps at rouleur.

there were too, more attractions than victoria street bus station: rouleur, the rapha h van, ben and kieran at the rapha mobile cycle club (one of the most fabulous inventions known to mankind), look mum no hands and, if favouritism stretched to an hospitality pass (bless those bright pink wristbands), a soya cappuccino from bean about town and a mushroom and asparagus pie from the marvellously named pie minister. for those in need of a boost to their photographic opportunities, an open topped london routemaster by the finish line proved a godsend. had i concentrated purely on the racing, you would have accused me of dereliction of duty.

bean about town

assuming the series expands again (as i believe it is intended to do internationally), book any bus ticket you can lay your hands on, wait on those cold steel seats and suffer two glasgow busdrivers discussing the chewing proclivities of their respective domestic pets into the wee small hours. all those experiences added up to a whole that was considerably greater than the sum of its parts; something i wouldn't have missed for a minute. thanks to gem and james for being gem and james, to magnus and brian for earnest conversation, anthony and david for acknowledgment in the face of adversity, and to those who took very good care of me over the course of two days; you all know who you are, and so do i.

posted monday 13 june 2011


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these are not the droids you're looking for

darth vader

ever since the advent of star wars and darth vader, adopting the grammatical structure of yoda and the stance of a jedi knight, it has become almost a cliche to cast aspersions towards those deemed to have gone over to the dark side. the pragmatic feature of the above is its portability; the dark side can refer to virtually anything contrary to your own particular preferences. that last statement, however, really ought to be qualified. nobody using windows on a pc could legitimately accuse an individual using a mac of having adopted the dark side; it just doesn't work that way. similarly, conversion from shimano to campagnolo is also persona non grata.

but it is of great eccentric delight that a science fiction movie from the mid-seventies has left an enduring legacy, one that is often implemented by those who weren't even born at the time the first three were shown back to back (what a day that was). unfortunately, my use of the simile here is likely greatly misplaced, but i simply take my lead from the title of what used to be an enjoyable series. despite the tour series going from strength to strength, with even a few women's races added for good measure, the similarly burgeoning nocturne series has unfortunately headed in the opposite direction.

edinburgh nocturne

despite increasing to four separate events last year, three have been wiped off the map for 2011. lack of sponsorship has been cited as the reason for this, and in the face of continued spending cuts here there and everywhere, that is perhaps not too unusual. yet i believe that a substantial proportion of the monies came from the local councils; edinburgh city council was certainly well represented on the banners hung around the grassmarket. i'm sure there are monies coming from the same direction for the tour series, but it at least has the added benefit of television coverage, something apparently remedied at the sole surviving nocturne in smithfield market this saturday eve, but conspicuous by its absence in previous years.

face partnership, organisers of the nocturne series (sic) have said that they hope to re-instigate more events in 2012, so perhaps sky tv, who are filming at smithfield, have given indications of further coverage if this proves popular.

cycling sponsorship is, like many sponsorship campaigns, an interesting beast. while the americans have lauded the seven years of armstrong domination as being beneficial to the sport's profile in the usa, statistics apparently show that during those years, cycle use and cycle sales across the pond actually decreased. though in mitigation, so did the number of folks playing golf during tiger's heyday. trek may have benefitted by having been larry's sponsor, but as has been pointed out, probably only as far as the man in the street is concerned. those of us heavily into our two wheeled obsession are unlikely to be swayed by the marque of bicycle ridden by the tour winner, whoever he might be.

edinburgh nocturne

i'm hoping that edinburgh, brighton and blackpool councils don't read this article, on the grounds that it may give them cause for concern over their prospective sponsorship pound notes. i have thoroughly enjoyed my annual evening in edinburgh's grassmarket, and i know of many others who feel likewise. however, not wishing to remain moribund and cry over spilt soya milk, i have decided to do the only decent thing and travel south to the nation's capital for a spot of nocturning on saturday. not given to raising my personal profile in ostentatious fashion, i will not be waving to mum if i find myself anywhere near a sky tv camera, but if you do happen to pass by, please say hello.

the fact that we are rapidly approaching midsummer's day likely means that the dark side will only intervene in the latter hours of a series of individual events that start in late afternoon. however, the excitement of the moment should make up for any excessive brightness approaching the midnight hour.

for the reasons outlined above, there will be no posts until sunday eve at the very earliest, possibly more likely monday, depending on how onerous the return trip to civilisation turns out to be.

posted wednesday 8 june 2011


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wrapping paper

lizard tape

i admit it; i was one of the (considerable) minority responsible for beta-testing adobe photoshop cs5. though somewhat of a blunt statement, it isn't intended as one of self-aggrandisement, for i'd be very surprised if i wasn't merely one of thousands doing exactly the same thing. judging by the e-mail forum that goes along with the beta-testing programme, there are folks on there who make my abilities with photoshop seem positively rudimentary by comparison.

being one of the chosen many is something of a double edged sword. while testing is in progress, adobe's non-disclosure agreement means that whatever stunningly exciting filters and features are about to be conferred on the digital editors of the world, it is forbidden to make mention of any to mere civilians. therefore, any exclamations of unbridled joy from in front of the mac have to be strenuously denied if queried.

photoshop cs5 is now part of the real world, so there's nothing i can tell you now that isn't already public knowledge, and though i haven't read the small print, i'm pretty sure that the non-disclosure ended at the point where photoshop cs5 became a commercial and purchasable reality. however, such was the slew of new and enhanced features shoe-horned into an already feature rich programme, the less frequently used occasionally slip the memory, a personal feature that sadly isn't what it once was.

prologo tape

the disturbing part of the latter, is that one specific addition to the panoply of clever stuff is an absolute godsend to those of us who are often required to remove things from photographs. not that i wish to turn this into a tutorial, but taking objects out of photos only really works if it leaves no trace. in the old days this would require judicious use of the clone tool and possibly the healing brush. you would think, therefore, that the advent of one feature to combine both, saving potentially substantial amounts of time, would be in almost daily use. but i keep forgetting it's there.

a painful admission, and one that i'd rather you keep to yourselves if you don't mind. (for those who are even vaguely interested, i'm referring to content aware fill, something that was roundly applauded at one of those dreadful photoshop world conferences.

the relevance of content aware to the world of the bicycle is, to be sure, a bit on the oblique side, but that's not quite the kernel of my discussion. it's the forgetting of important features that impinge on everyday cycling; at least for those on bendy bars and skinny tyres. having assembled a colnago master from scratch, spending hours and days and months of procrastinating over each carbon and alloy trinket, i almost missed out one of the lowest cost components. if overlooked entirely, it goes without saying that life behind bars would be a lot less comfortable.

bar tape.

brooks tape

oh it looks ever so obvious now that i've pointed it out, but i'm sure i'm not the only one who has anxiously scrabbled about the bike shed desperate for even a couple of rolls of crappy black stuff to get me rolling. i don't doubt for an instant that there are members of the cooler than a box of ipods crowd, riding around on their fixed gears with genuine keirin steel track bars totally devoid of any form of tape whatsoever. but for the majority of us, comfy bar tape is somewhat of a necessity. chris distefano at chris king's in portland, maintains that no colour other than white should be employed between those double-taps/sti/ergopower levers, but few are as puritanical. white definitely has that professional air about it, but in a couple of cases, i have plumped for brooks leather tape to provide that pseudo sophisticated persona.

if you bought your bicycle from new, there's a good chance that the bar tape was already in situ, more often than not, very professionally fitted. but if you have adopted the same ideal as cd, even with religious cleaning, white bar tape doesn't stay pristine for long. at that time, you either attempt to fit new tape all by yourself, or pop the bicycle into the nearest bike shop and have a brooks tape professional do it for you. the latter option now brings us neatly onto tomorrow's pro peloton bar tape session at the san francisco rapha club. ralf from jelly belly and above category, tim from velo belo and city cycle and luke from studiovelo will hold a masterclass on how to wrap tape like a pro. take your bicycle along, and for a mere $20, leave with fresh black or white fi'zi:k microtek tape, plus a modicum of cycling knowledge that you likely didn't have today. if we're lucky, someone will film it for those a long way away from san francisco.

just remember how to do it.

posted tuesday 7 june 2011


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car jack

a couple of weeks ago, i was sent a very nice pair of vittoria road tyres to test/review on the post, the first part of which has already appeared. the best that anyone can impart in such a short space of time is mainly how easily they fit over the rims, what they look like and how they ride. i'd like to think that i possess enough of a sadistic streak that i wouldn't give any component a particularly easy time of it; after all, these poor, hapless bits of kit know not what type of home they will be going to, and pretty much anything might happen. it is, therefore, of great benefit to me, though perhaps not to the tyres, that there are road surfaces around these parts that could eat a bicycle whole without even so much as a burp in the wrong direction.

while this makes for a more interesting article, in my opinion, it also shows no real slacking on my part, that i can honestly state with confidence i have done my best to wreck that which i was sent (under almost normal circumstances). however, the efficiency of the product, in this specific case, the tyres, does not necessarily take into account the incompetence of the mechanic fitting them in the first place.

namely, me.

it is not uncommon for the kevlar bead of a folding tyre to decide that sitting comfortably behind a mavic sidewall is not the place it wants to be, when pressure is being applied from the inner tube at its back. i can't be the only one who has experienced near heart failure from a loud bang as the inner tube decides to join the tyre bead in the great outdoors. thus, the inflation procedure has been developed to to take account of such eventualities which bizarrely always seem to occur from the opposite side to that from which one is operating the track pump: inflate briefly, check for tyre integrity and inflate a bit more, repeating the process until the desired pressure has been achieved.


i managed all of the above on both the green and black vittorias with practiced ease, which the hammering they got over the carrabus road in the pouring rain would tend to confirm. imagine then, my embarrassment and surprise the following day, in polite company, when that dratted italian tyre bead, with no prompting whatsoever, felt it necessary to take a look outside.

it was fortunate that this happened at slow(ish) speed, and that the inner tube apparently suffered no ill-effects. actually, allowing for the error of not having fitted the tyre properly in the first place, that was my second mistake. the loud breath of exhalation that accompanied said incident had indeed been due to a small hole being ripped in the tube, and 'twas not long before it had to be replaced.

but, and if you'll forgive my being so forward, it is a big but, removing a wheel from the bike (in this case, the front one), extricating the damaged tube and replacing with a shiny new one from the box, really isn't a major technological challenge. anyone reading who disagrees had better keep quiet about it, for it's a whole page in the black book for anyone who knows not how to change and inflate an inner tube. i relate all this because, while flying solo round the kilchiaran road, i happened upon some poor bloke stopped at the side of what passes for a singletrack road, to all intents and purposes, in the middle of nowhere. unlike the good samaritan, i did not stop to offer my assistance, based pretty much on the fact that i have no real technical knowledge of motor cars at all. but what was stunningly obvious was all four doors open (rather limiting that amount of road left for a speeding cyclist), as well as an open boot.


as i passed just on the cusp of an intriguing downhill (someone in years past has deposited a thick trail of cement in clumps along the centre of the road) to notice that, aside from the figure of a man with the top half of his body stuffed inside the hatchback, the majority of his not inconsiderable luggage was sitting neatly on the road surface. while even a touring cyclist will have luggage to remove prior to fixing a flat, it cannot possibly compare with the degree of faff this poor chap was experiencing midway between portnahaven and kilchiaran, overlooking the atlantic ocean. and it had just started raining (probably one of the other considerations that prompted me to continue serenely on my way).

those of you who are card drivers/owners will likely have more sympathy than i have displayed, and i confess that none of this was borne from smugness, just in case the same thing happened to me round the cement strewn corner. but you'd think in the 21st century, when parking seems all but inaccessible, car insurance gains ever more zeros on the end of the quote and the cost of fuel promotes financial insolvency, that a modern day henry ford would have figured a less cumbersome method of reaching the spare without emptying the contents of an ever more capacious boot/trunk.

i wonder if you can buy an electric car battery from a rural post office?

posted monday 6 june 2011


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