haute club geneva

haute route profile

three thousand four hundred and thirty kilometres. plus half a kilometre. that's the total distance covered by the riders in this year's tour de france. it took cadel evans 86 hours, twelve minutes and twenty-two seconds, but poor fabio sabatini of liquigas spent around four hours more traversing the highways and byways of france, finishing in 90 hours, ten minutes and five seconds. i'm nowhere near clever enough with a calculator to work out what cadel's average speed was for all those kilometres, but in a way i'm rather glad, because there's not a chance in hades that i could have even troubled mr sabatini, and i'm confident enough in my mediocrity to cast similar aspersions in the direction of most of the rest of you. it is an accepted fact that professional riders are several orders of magnitude faster than even those of you who are good.

haute route

though i should take no marker or particular staisfaction in so doing, on yesterday morning's bike ride some of the velo club were privileged to escort two visiting cyclists along the glen road to ballygrant. the middle part of this particular single-track road rears up to around eight percent (though not for very long, it should be noted.) having read in search of robert millar at least three times, and being proud owner of a greying ponytail, my climbing abilities are out of this world.

at least, i think that's what was meant by 'like nothing on earth'.

thus, on crossing the second cattle grid, i powered forward in a manner rarely seen in the professional peloton (make of that what you will) and climbed to storakaig, leaving all trailing in my wake. this would sound far more impressive if i refrained from pointing out that one of those trailing was a ten year-old boy who ran me a close second, the mighty dave t who is around 15 years my senior, and martin and al who were well-loaded with panniers. see, i knew i shouldn't have told you that.

haute route

on last thursday's tdf stage to the galibier for the first time, around half the field were eliminated due to failing to meet the cut-off time. rules is rules, and since this would have left only a handful battling the last few days to paris, all were allowed back in, though minus a handful of sprint competition points. twenty to be presact.

while 'tis easy to scoff and guffaw from the safety of the leather armchair, it is worth placing all in a realistic perspective. even those tour riders who self-evidently cannot climb, can ride up hills/mountains a darned sight quicker than any of us could. yet the attraction of attempting to do so seems to know no bounds; we just don't know when we're beaten. scan a cursory quick release lever across the profile of many a cyclosportive, and the result bears an uncanny resemblance to the mouth of a great white shark.

only bigger.

of course, that is sort of the point. in much the same way that i have set my cycle computer to display kilometres per hour, allowing some sort of comparison with those dressed with numbers on their back, many an amateur feels an inner compulsion to climb mountain after mountain to give some idea of their place within the grand firmament. even if that place is perilously close to the bottom.

event organisers are not daft (apart from those of the ride of the falling rain), and in order to maximise both the entertainment/purgatory factor as well as provide cycling's equivalent of fly-paper, a distinctly unhealthy number of mountain peaks are crammed between start and finish. and we love them for it; it is becoming increasingly harder to garner bragging rights amongst the pelotonese.

haute route

leaving from geneva on sunday august 21st is the premier edition of the haute route; seven days of serious cycling that takes entrants from geneva to nice, over 15 cols and an accumulated 17,000 metres of climbing (only around 5,000 metres less than the tour riders managed in three weeks). as if that were not enough to convince you that adrenaline is brown, four of those seven finishes are at altitude. total distance is some way short of the three weeks just completed at 730km, but even purgatory has to observe limits. entrants have the option of entering as cadel no-mates, a team of two or as a team of between four and nine (very tour de france).

i can see one or two hardened velocipedinists at the back looking less than impressed thus far, so it remains only for me to include the information that four of the days' stages cover classic distances of between 80 and 120km, but in order to frighten the chainsets, there is one mammoth stage of 160km which includes the cols de madeleine, telegraphe and galibier. oh, and there's an individual time-trial up the col du granon.

never did like horror stories.

all this comes for the particularly musette friendly cost of €630, but doesn't include your accommodation. though the event has yet a month or so before the off from jardin anglais, geneva at 7:30am for a 109km ride to megeve, should the above seem like just the very tonic to salve tour withdrawal symptoms, it might be prudent to register sooner rather than later via the web address below.

let me know how you get on.

haute route

posted monday 25 july 2011


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san marco mantra saddle

selle san marco mantra saddle

if you delve even just a few millimetres below the surface of pretty much any of the world's religions, you'll find some seriously complex theologies that might hinder, more than explain the central tenets of the faith. this is why, theoretically or theologically, we have people employed as ministers, priests etc. who have spent a requisite number of years studying the intricacies of their respective religions, that they might summarise such complexity for the benefit of the lay-people. folks like you and i. for though we may inhabit the religious section of waterstones or barnes and noble, there's no guarantee our comprehension and subsequent practice will be aided by this less-than-academic study.

the japanese buddhist teacher, nichiren, who lived in the 13th century, was astutely aware of the comprehension capabilities of his flock; his teachings of the lotus flower sutra were perhaps slightly missing their intended target. nichiren contended that, amongst the buddha's many sutras, this particular one encompassed the ultimate teachings, specifically with regard to nichiren's interpretation. thus, he instigated the practice of shodai; chanting the name of the lotus sutra, ultimately achieving perfect and complete enlightenment. in japanese, the mantra 'nam myoho renge kyo' is referred to as daimoku, and sort of works as an alias to the sutra itself.

selle san marco mantra saddle

in short, continued daily repetition of this mantra effectively summarises the contents of the sutra, easing the devotions of nichiren adherents, and relieving them from studious perusal of the entire sutra. given that there are a substantial number of chapters, the chanting can be viewed as perhaps the ideal situation for those of a non-monastic persuasion.

knowledge of the above does not in any way, i'm afraid to say, assist in the comprehension of why san marco have saddled (sorry) one of their latest products with this appellation: the san marco mantra. i have yet to gain any religious insight from a saddle, though more than a few mantras have been recited into an islay headwind (you can have swear words in a mantra right?). in their defence, selle san marco attribute a mantra as having the ability to free the mind of worries without concern over comfort or style. a tenuous connection at best, methinks.

i think they thought of the explanation after the naming ceremony.

most of selle san marco's products have been provided with either fast names or those of italian mountains, though i have grave doubts over the derivation of the ponza saddle. everything has to have a unique selling point to differentiate itself from those of its siblings or competitors, and though so-called mechanical aptitude is ultimately what we're looking for in a component, the initial introduction is more than likely to be purely visual. that's exactly the case here; the word mantra never even entered the equation, finding myself intrigued by the most unusual profile displayed by this saddle. what its profile does not, of course, reveal, is that a large chunk of the saddle is missing from the middle. perhaps it would not be too unkind to consider the mantra as an elongated doughnut.

selle san marco mantra saddle

saddles with bits missing are nothing new. scrabbling through the early drawings and patents of john boultbee brooks, it is obvious that even in the days of unbreakable leather, the idea of protecting one's bits had already occurred. and given that every few years, one of the tabloids will feature an article by a prominent person from the medical profession, pointing out how racing cyclists such as ourselves are doomed to a life of infertility, the availability of saddles to alleviate numbness of the nether regions is offered as a palliative and peace offering to those so afflicted. i think we've all experienced varying degrees of undercarriage discomfort at one time or another, no matter which saddle sits atop the seatpost. i am reliably informed that everyone's butt cheeks are of a different constitution, hence the need for such a confusing number of different saddle designs. i cannot, in all honesty disagree that some fitted to the odd review bicycle have been just the wrong side of excruciating, but it's a component that is easily, though not always cheaply, replaced.

though i have pedalled for many a long year, i have not until now, spent any time aboard a holy saddle, no matter its intriguing profile. one of the unexpected benefits of the mantra was the sorting of my position on the colnago to which it is currently attached. this has much to do with the length of the saddle itself and the comparatively short rails. at that particular point in time, it was job done as far as i was concerned before even considering the hole in the middle.

selle san marco mantra saddle

initially, it was the shape of the saddle that had me confounded, for the nose slopes downward slightly, while the little tail slopes the opposite way. incompetently enough, i managed to fit the saddle with a slight backward slope, inculcating a minor level of discomfort that was a bit unexpected. it took only a concerted glance from the coffee table outside deb's of a sunny weekday afternoon, to notice my lack of a true spirit-level approach to saddle setting.

subsequent levelling having taken place, the san marco mantra adopted its true vocation in life; that of a comfortable yet firm adjunct to the joy of pedalling a bicycle. even one as fast as my colnago. it may be that the wearing of suitably padded cycle shorts dilutes the effect of that gaping hole in the saddle (i wonder what they do with the bit that's not there?), for to be honest, the only time i've been aware of the hole is when removing the colnago from the bikeshed, and clambering off at the coffee stop. you'd never know it wasn't there when riding the bike. its firmness does it proud, but i'd be guilty of a whitewash of obfuscation were i to contend that all is comfort and joy.

most of my other saddles have been of the cast leather variety, all of which have proved to be modestly irritating on the left, for no reason i can successfully discover. the mantra has removed that discomfort almost entirely, but has replaced it with a niggling irritation on the right. this seems to have little or nothing to do with the missing material, but up to this point, i haven't figured out what's causing it. subsequent investigation is obviously required.

selle san marco mantra saddle

that said, even on a 100km ride in the sun, undertaken specifically to assess the viability of the mantra (i didn't stand up very often), no numbness of any kind was experienced, an affliction that has historically accompanied lengthy slogs into a headwind over less than pristine roads. i'd be lying if i said all was perfect in the land of the nether regions, but conversely, the mantra does have quite a bit going for it, erring particularly on the side of rather good.

the rails are composed from a material apparently lighter and stronger than titanium called xsilite, composed of a high percentage of silicon, alloyed with titanium and carbon. it has excellent resilience in the face of adversity, as well as a propensity for the knurled section to grip well in the seatpost clamp.

i will experiment further with my rudimentary approach to positioning, checking if there is a greater level of incompetence at work than at first thought, but meantime, san marco would appear to have the best interests of the performance cyclist at heart, particularly with regard to their long-time fertility, should that be a factor that concerns the honed athlete.

selle san marco saddles are distributed in the uk by madison and retails at £129.99. it's available in either black, or black and white (as reviewed)

madison | selle san marco

posted sunday 24 july 2011


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weather or not


summer arrives as something of a double-edged sword, and in the last few days, summer can (confidently?) be said to have arrived in the hebrides. i cannot be alone in suffering the insensitivity of those who traipse into many a public office, decreeing to all within earshot, just how beautiful it is outside. when the day is spent in front of a shiny glass screen, and the blinds are all but shut to minimise reflections, i have no real wish to be told how nice it is outside. because when i finish up for the day, there won't be quite as much of that sunshine left as there was when i unlocked the door in the morning.

and i just know that, on arriving home, wearied (or making it look like i am), the grass will have grown several inches since morning time, and the daisies will have formed a chain all on their own across the lawn. any suggestions that the colnago should really be given kilometres of fresh air will fall on deaf ears and an unflinching scowl.

thankfully, mrs washingmachinepost is a dab hand with trowel and fork, while her fingers are decidedly greener than mine (which, admittedly, isn't saying much). thus all the flora and fauna surrounding twmp cottage are very much not of my doing. we even have carrots and potatoes this year. and a couple of snails in a welly boot.

eddy rode steel

what about apres dejeuner, i hear you ask? well, aside from the fact that i have wrestled myself into a mobius strip of constant blogging, it's the bugs that have curtailed any pre-nocturnal rides; that and the fact that debbie's closes at 6pm. though we live here at the behest of the wind which, even in summer, prevents massive overheating, there are one or two secluded spots along virtually every road, and the high incidence of cattle ensures a constant supply of flies and bugs of one kind and another.

unlike the islay natural history trust, i have no great desire to get to know any of these winged insects any better than i have to, and if truth be told, i'd rather they just kept the heck out of the way. i have long wanted to paraphrase the joke of old 'how can you tell a happy hebridean colnago owner? he's the one with a moutful of flies.'. no it wasn't any funnier the first time round.

however, summer does have a bundle of advantages that are rarely seen during the winter months: abruptly ending tanlines and oval patches on the back of each hand are those that spring readily to mind. the joy of moving winter gear into storage to be replaced with short sleeve jerseys and bibshorts, and the need to keep mudguards all year round. it's just that the rain is a tad warmer in july and august.

a sunday in hell

but summer also offers the opportunity to parade those t-shirts that have, till now, been secluded under a long-sleeve merino garment. t-shirts that advise blatantly to all and sundry that here is a bona-fide cyclist, with the perspicacity to own a garment that proclaims other than i can't believe it's not butter. and as genres go, this is an endlessly replenishable one; those shirts acquired last summer can now be used to wipe the drips of newly applied dry lube from the wheel rim (some obscure form of magnetism at work while lubricating the chain), and we can all go out and buy something more contemporary.

aiding and abetting this process are the fine chaps (and possibly chapesses) at pista collective, who have unknowingly (i presume) taken the advice i give to all clients wishing poster artwork, and created completely in your face cycling tees, that will impress the heck out of other velocipedinists, and likely annoy everyone else. always assuming everyone else cared in the first place. for those unacquainted with pista collective, they are, to quote their own words "Where the track meets the gritty streets we ride on. Not pretending to have some greater than thou mantra. Basically we make cool shit." slightly too lengthy i believe, to fit on a standard t-shirt, but a worthy philosophy nonetheless.

comfortingly anarchic, might be deemed a suitable way of putting it.


my own personal favourite would have to be eddy rode steel, a slogan that would mean absolutely nothing whatsoever down bowmore main street, but giving rise to a smug and knowing grin were i to be seen wearing one in the first place. it seems almost childish to point out that in the merckx era, building bicycles out of any other material wasn't a definable option. there is also a rather fine a sunday in hell shirt not to wear to church at anytime, and a fine tribute to nervex steel emblazoned upon another.

should summer have arrived in your part of the world, and your personality demands that you demonstrate how little anyone else knows about cycling, this range, priced at £25 each, ought to offer something to wear while mowing the lawn. or with which to confront those who insist on telling you what a fine day it is outside.

pista t-shirts | pista collective

posted saturday 23 july 2011


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mud, sweat and gears: a history of the british cyclo-cross association. ken and maureen nichols. 336pp illus. mousehold press. softback. £11.99

mud, sweat and gears

just off glasgow's sauchiehall street, past what used to be menzies the newsagent, before it became w h smith, is cambridge street. in the days before recessions did away with most of glasgow's large department stores, in the lower ground floor of littlewoods, stood a record shop, the name of which completely escapes me. however, its name is somewhat irrelevant to the following diatribe.

teenagers nowadays have had the endless joy of rifling through racks of long playing records (colloquially known as vinyl) utterly removed from their ascendant years. presently, it's a case of sitting in front of a computer, clicking links on itunes, or amazon's mp3 section; then it was many an hour in record shops. during one of those time-wasting periods when in glasgow for the day, in the aforesaid record store, i came upon a white card sleeve (the ones with the hole in the centre displaying the record label) containing two lps, and with the words steve reich and drumming written in biro at the top. an enclosed booklet gave credence to the notion that there should have been a third disc in the set, but it was consipcuous by its absence.

i have always professed an interest in jazz, even during my late teenage years, an interest that was sadly not balanced by any knowledge of which i professed to speak or listen. the possibility here was that steve reich was a part of some obscure quartet or trio (the album was filed in the jazz section), but the title of the music enclosed surely made it obvious that reich was a drummer, and presumably one of repute, to have been allowed to ply his trade over two black discs. to confuse matters further, the label was deutsche grammophon, more readily predisposed to the classical genre.

anyway, due to the missing lp and original sleeve, the purchase price was low enough to take a chance. for those familar with the works of steve reich, you will currently be sniggering at my teenage naivety. one of the more prominent practitioners of what has been described as minimalism, reich's drumming confounded the heck out of me. there is no drum kit anywhere to be heard. the piece starts with a few notes played on small african type drums, addidng notes until a repetitive pattern is formed, at which point other drummers join in playing the original pattern but displaced from drummer number one.

when variations on the drums had all but been exhausted, a similar modus operandi was implemented on marimba, moving to xylophone, glockenspiel, and ultimately, the whole lot altogether on side four by way of a reprise of all that had gone before.

minimalism. an acquired taste.

i am not ashamed to say that i have acquired that taste; even at this very moment, reich's music for eighteen musicians and the four sections, occupy hallowed space on my ipod, and i eagerly await the 27th of this month when i intend to download comparably esteemed member of the minimalist club, philip glass's cello concerto. this will either have raised my profile in the eyes of the post's readership, or confined me to the hopelessly eccentric bin.

ken and maureen nichols' mud, sweat and gears is perhaps a literary equivalent of minimalist thinking. and i mean that as a compliment. commencing with seasons 50/51 and 53/54, their history of the british cyclocross association inhabits similar ground; basically, each season works in a similar way, but there are interesting fluctuations along the way. nothing startling happens throughout the narrative, unless the changing colours of the annual handbook fit that description. but the main thread of the book becomes utterly addictive, the further into its pages delving proceeds; variations on a theme. it also throws up some marvellous idiosyncracies. 'only man to finish saturday's nine and a half miles warwickshire race was keith edwards. all the other competitors lost their way!'

the early days of cross were often graced by top level road professionals such as raphael geminiani and luxemburger, charly gaul. the latter apparently enjoyed his days of getting muddy, despite breaking his collar-bone three times, stating "it was all my own fault. i was too daring, there are some risks you can take in cyclo-cross and some you cannot, unless you want to end up in hospital."

the comparison with minimalism is borne out; over the period of the composition, little appears to change. in the late nineteen eighties an event in worcestershire was bedevilled by deep overnight drifts of snow, covering many of the direction signs. in keeping with the tradition of little or nothing stopping a cross event, the race set off and a breakaway group formed. however, turning up a cart track, they met the main group coming in the opposite direction. everyone stopped, discussed the situation, then returned to the start for clearer instruction.

the nichols have done their research; lots of it. much, if not all has been gleaned from the pages of cycling weekly or whatever its masthead proclaimed at the time, along with an almost forensic dissection of handbooks, event programmes and newspaper articles, as well as one or two television broadcasts. in so doing , they may have become something of a negative advertisement for their own efforts. witness the introduction: 'i would like to think that readers interested in the history of cyclo-cross will come back to this book and use it as a reference source. to be able to check on the champions, races or details of a favourite rider or event, and for this reason, i have shown every season as a separate section'

i will confess to reading this introduction and having palpitations regarding the joy of investigating the subsequent pages. however, i was happily quite wrong in my assumptions; mud, sweat and gears is a most satisfying read in an almost parochial way. its chapters, if nothing else, prove how british cyclo-cross has gone from being a minority of minority sports and slowly but surely inveigled its way into the british racing psyche, becoming just as much a mainstay of competitive cycling as the premier calendar. in modern times, it arguably rivals the once nascent sport of cross-country mountain biking.

however, all is not perfect in the land of cyclo-cross history. in the good old days of typewriters, the only way to signify the end of one sentence and the start of the next was to hit the spacebar twice, a practice known as double-spacing. with the advent of word processing and desktop publishing, this practice became null and void; computer typefaces have the necessary spacing built-in. sadly, the practice of double-spacing is still largely prevalent, despite having been unnecessary since the advent of the macintosh computer in 1984.

whoever was responsible for typesetting this book is in neither one camp nor the other, for throughout the pages, random double and even triple spacing at the end of sentences is disappointingly and insistently present. though this does not affect the narrative as such, it is ruddy annoying, and should really have been caught at the proofing stage.

but aside from the occasional convolutedly unresolved and incomprehensible phrase, if you're at one with getting down and dirty on a bicycle, it's important to know from whence your fun and frolics came. it really is an excellent and addictive book.

rule no. 28 - no rider is to cover any part of the course without his machine.

mousehold press

posted friday 22 july 2011


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always good to get a second opinion

mondiale cross bike

i have no illusions about just how privileged i am. people quite happily send me all sorts of quality equipment, clothing, bicycles et al, in order that i might exercise my limited literary abilities and descriptive qualities reviewing same. this is do because i rather enjoy it, but if i might invoke the law of altruism, the principal reason for so doing, is in the hope that you might have a better understanding of what works and what doesn't prior to releasing vast quantities of your hard-earned in the direction of a favoured retailer.

but what if i have become jaded in my appreciation of such trinketry? what if i have adopted a blase stance in the face of frequently arriving packages that demand to be thrashed around the byways of the hebrides? worst of all, what if i was only kidding?

believe me, though i have had hours of endless fun at someone else's expense, i always hand my homework in on time. i spend a culpable amount of time assessing a list of pros and cons before committing fingers to keyboard. but it cannot be denied that sometimes it's nice to get a second opinion, one that arrives from one not immersed in linguistic cliches and jaded opinions. in which case, i would like to introduce you to joe marshall.

few of you will have met joe before, but his other half tweets and blogs as filles a velo and does much of the online pr for the braveheart fund, which leaves poor joe struggling to get a word in edgeways. at the risk of overstating the principal of altruism, i feel it only fair to offer joe an appropriate platform for his emergent reviewing abilities; he has been riding one of graeme freestone king's mondiale cyclocross bikes for a month or so, and provided the following words and pictures.

mondiale cross bike

To those who are frequent and avid readers of The Washing Machine Post, you may recall a review by Jez Hastings on 8th January 2011, giving us a brief and interesting insight into this creation by Graham Freestone-King.

Due to a nagging injury, Jez hasn't had much opportunity to spend as much time as he would have liked aboard this beast and kindly lent it to me (it's an affront to cycling lto leave bikes laid up in sheds screaming to be free!). I'm not technically minded so I won't try to flannel you with outlandish stats and figures on what makes this bike great, but give you a precis of my personal opinion which I hope will relate more.

I have used the Mondiale for a variety of activities from venturing off road on the dirt - or should I say, muddy tracks - around Helensburgh and the Peninsula and my daily commute to work, both bringing out a different riding experience.

This particular Mondiale is kitted out with Ambrosio Excellite Rims with Schwalbe CX Pro Tryes, Campagnolo Centaur 9 Speed, Avid BB7 Cable Disc Brakes and MODOLO Stem and Bars.

Off Road:
One of my first adventures was to take it out on the tracks and trails around Helensburgh, Glen Fruin and the Gareloch Peninsula. At first it felt heavy, and turning did not give me the same confidence afforded me by my road bike. But this is not a road bike, it's made of stronger stuff. This was proven as I turned upwards onto a steep slope; the front wheel caught a rock and I was unceremoniously dumped off. Like a rodeo rider, I remounted to show just who was boss, quickly checking to make sure no one saw me! Once used to the bike's degree of responsiveness it became quickly apparent this beast loved off-road. The Schwalbe tyres ensured amazing grip in both dry and very wet conditions, the BB7s can stop you on a sixpence, and Campag's shifting is amazing. This is the first time I have used gearing from Vicenza, with its two lever shifting, and I whole-heartedly agree that this is the way forward.

mondiale cross bike

The frame is strong and rigid adding to the confidence of leaning more into corners to gather speed when racing up slopes. It is light enough to quickly throw onto your shoulder when climbing over fences and stiles, though with the cabling trunked under the top tube it does tend to cause excessive bruising to the collar bone and AC joint. This is, however, a minor point which could be easily fixed by moving the trunking either inside the top tube or positioning it further round to the right, preventing the combined pressure of cablles and frame inflaming my right shoulder.

CX bikes are becoming a growing trend in the commuting stakes, with a growing number of companies offering at least one in their range. I thought I'd see if the Mondiale could compete in this arena and have thus also used it for my daily 20km return jaunt to work. It takes a little time to warm up to cruising speed due to knobbly tyres and the heavier weight, but once rolling it'll hold its own with most road bikes. Its responsiveness is quite different; it bites the tarmac and eats up the road with raw power, though I have been put back in my box on a couple of occasions when spinning up and passing a couple of 'roadies' on a hill. They simply slipped down a gear and tore past, leaving me in their wake. Either the curse of the knobbly tyre or just my inefficient pedal stroke!

But for no nonsense get-me-to-work-on-time riding I can see how cross bikes are now vying for commuting airspace. No changing of tyres for your road bike in winter, superior disc braking, and minus the bulk and upright riding style of MTBs. Everyone needs a CX in the bike shed.

Mr Freestone-King has delivered a package of elegance, steel and guile with this Mondiale. His keen eye as to what makes cycling enjoyable has, in my opinion, hit on a formula and build quality accessible to all. I will now be saving up to have one built for myself in the not too distant future!

mondiale bikes

posted thursday 21 july 2011


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a turner for the better

loch finlaggan

jmw turner is renowned as not only the artist who revolutionised landscape painting in the 19th century, but also as one of the greatest masters of british watercolours. though he was a controversial figure in his day, it is testament to his abilities that he was able to raise landscape painting to a level that rivalled the genre of historical painting, very much in vogue at the time. the epithet painter of light is one often applied, and his later works are regarded as a prelude to the art of the impressionists.

in 1831, as a result of a commission from sir walter scott to illustrate volume ten of the author's poetical works, turner undertook a tour of the west coast of scotland, travelling throughout the inner hebrides, from skye to the most southerly, islay. scott's poetical works volume ten was entitled lord of the isles. sailing from tarbert on the mainland, from where islay's ferries originally travelled prior to the building of the present terminal at kennacraig, to port askaig, turner sketched the islands he passed en route, including gigha and jura. though his precise reasons for visiting loch finlaggan are unknown, conjecture points to its association with the lordship of the isles.

loch finlaggan

for those not versed in the relevant portion of scottish history, the two islands at the northern end of loch finlaggan were occupied by the lords of the isles in the middle ages, the seat from which they ruled the scottish west coast. eilean mor or large island was home to finlaggan chapel and living quarters for the lords and their entourage. eilean na comhairle or council isle was originally connected to the larger island by way of a stone causeway, and was reputedly employed for council meetings.

turner's many sketchbooks are in the possession of the tate gallery in london, and on discovery of several sketches depicting port askaig, the paps of jura, and various views of finlaggan, moves were made to arrange an exhibition of a number of these sketches in the finlaggan trust's information centre beside the loch. turner had a reputation of continually drawing in small sketchbooks, but with paper being relatively scarce in the 19th century, he often sketched on both sides of the paper, occasionally several independent drawings on one sheet. these sketchbooks were around a5 size, definitely not of a scale that lends itself to public exhibition, so local photographer mark unsworth enlarged the scans sent from the tate and printed them at a size more amenable to easy viewing.

as you can infer from the above, disappointingly, the sketches on show are not the originals, though perhaps understandably so.

jmw turner sketches

though leaving myself open to accusations of pretentiousness by tendering that the bicycle is the ideal vehicle for existential cogitation, in this case, that's exactly my contention. i say this due to the circumstances surrounding my visit to the above mentioned turner exhibition, which officially opened on sunday eve. everybody's week is divided into compartments, generally of varying size and time, during which various tasks require to be undertaken, whether happy or of an incumbent nature. my visit to finlaggan was a combination of both.

as a former art student, i believe no justification for my visit is required on that score, but as one intent on the composition of an associated article for our local newspaper, accompanied by suitable photographs, a degree of onerousness also existed. loch finlaggan is approximately 16km from home, mostly a gentle uphill ride; it is summer; what better way to spend an idyllic wednesday morning in the saddle with the promise of such artistic inspiration at the end?

jmw turner sketches

though rain could be seen pervading the north of the isle, i managed to convince myself that what little wind there was would have blown it well to the east by the time i was anywhere near my destination. for some reason, despite having lived here for nigh on 24 years, i have yet to gather the skill of predicting in which direction inclement weather such as rain and wind is likely to travel. this has regularly resulted in my battling against a headwind that i had figured should have been at my back. bearing this in mind, it is probably of no surprise to learn that not only did i cycle into heavy drizzle, but that it continued all the way there and all the way back, gaining an increased level of pervasiveness as time went on.

so far, so wet, but surely the present nature of existentialism evades the narrative to this point. though existentialist philosophers pretty much agree that the emphasis is on the individual, they often disagree as to how one achieves a fulfilling life, and what constitutes same. thus existentialism is concerned with the subjective notion of human existence, and at the mid-point of my travail north, with water on the point of running out my shoes, enough rain on the my spectacle lenses to make navigation a bit erratic, and a mudguard bolt shaken loose by the road surface, meditation of the nature of my existence was all that prevented me from turning back and aiming for home.

wet dromarti shoes

you see, if you choose to eschew the dubious joys of motoring such as i, though such would have undoubtedly enabled dry passage to the finlaggan information centre, to complain about the ambient weather conditions would be somewhat contradictory and hypocritical. had jmw turner been anywhere near finlaggan this morning, he would have had a soggy sketchbook and little else to show for his efforts. i, on the other hand, reached my destination in good time, slightly wetter than when i'd left, but physically intact, and needing only a paper tissue to clear my glasses before indulging in viewing and photographing the exhibition.

the bicycle is seductive, pragmatic and addictive. it gets me from a to b while stimulating appropriate endorphins and muscles that allow me to keep fit, and philosophical about my lot in life.

and it gets my cycling shoes wet.

posted wednesday 20 july 2011


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rapha bicycle collection indyfab xs

rapha cycle club, smithfield

leaning casually against the mobile cycle club at the smithfield nocturne were two black and white bicycles. one epitomised european cycling heritage - cinelli - and the other at the vanguard of bespoke american bicycle development: independent fabrication.

you can view it as a brave yet predictable move, or perhaps another way to exploit a well kent brand. there can be few in the cycling world, and perhaps those on the periphery, who have not heard of rapha. in a space of time when many are still planning their corporate ascent, perren street has garnered a considerable number of acolytes who simply get what it is they are doing. no more questions asked. if success breeds success, then the outward face can but reach a wider audience, and this brand awareness will reach a far greater audience.

it seems a particularly sensible notion to leverage the brand into related areas; bicycles perhaps. which, of course, is exactly what rapha has done, and those two black and white examples at smithfield were one half of the rapha bicycle collection. as one who likes to think of himself as au fait with the european side of cycling life, the cinelli would have been the obvious choice to prise away from perren street for a review, but its job was to accompany ben and kieran around europe, and i cannot pretend that the possibility of haring round the island's roads on an indyfab didn't have its manifold attractions.

so, with fervent thanks to james at rapha, the past few weeks have been pedalled in style, a style that contained more than its fair share of speed, and a speed that was a lot faster than its rider.

read the review

posted tuesday 19 july 2011


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