merckx: half man, half bike by william fotheringham. yellow jersey press. hardback. 308pp illus. £16.99

merckx: half man half bike

there was a talented cyclist who happened to be born at the same time as eddy merckx. like so many others, the cyclist spent the best years of his career trying to beat merckx, but was constantly frustrated. time and again he knew he was in perfect form, time and again the cannibal defeated him. when he died, the pro went to heaven and was greeted by st peter. the saint put him on the start line of a race on the smoothest velodrome he had ever seen, on the finest handbuilt italian frame.
all the greats who had predeceased him were on the start line: fausto coppi, maurice garin, ottavio bottechia and so on, but, even so, our cyclist knew he could win. he rode the perfect race, timed his effort just right, and had victory in the bag on the final lap. as the line approached, however, he sensed a wheel coming past, glanced to the side and saw the face of the cannibal.
afterwards, in a state of some distress, the cyclist went up to st. peter and said, "eddy isn't dead yet, what's he doing here?" st. peter replied graveley: "that wasn't merckx. it was god. he likes to pretend he's merckx.

i'm sure those of us who consider ourselves well-versed in the historical aspects of cycliing will have heard that joke before, perhaps with modest variations. the point, however, is well meant from the view of those who were pitted against merckx for the majority of their professional cycling careers. there is no real evidence that merckx lorded it over his team-mates, peers or competitors; in fact, as evidenced by william fotheringham's compulsive narrative, it seems eddy may have been more seriously in doubt of his abilities on occasion, though perhaps more towards the latter days of his career.

there are likely only two cyclists who transcend the sport of which they are a large and vital part: eddy merckx and lance armstrong. perhaps the former will be less to the forefront in the minds of the younger civilian, but both are names more easily put forward if you were to ask your non-cycling friends to pinpoint a cyclist of whom they may have heard. coppi and anquetil, though easily mentioned in the same breath by the cognoscenti, will be all but unheard of outside the corridors of power. lance armstrong has been, if anything, over biographied. merckx seemingly less so, yet his is the hour record on which the uci arbitrarily decided to base all further attempts. his substantial number of victories have been used to justify everything from the continuation of the one inch headset, to steel frames to the square taper bottom bracket, probably mostly by me.

merckx's career is unparalleled, one that will never be equalled, principally due to the emergence of the sprinter's train and the current trend of targetting specific events as opposed to making the supreme effort across the entire season. yet, surely this is all grist for the mill, a part of recent cycling history that constitutes and confers entry to those wishing to think of themselves as cyclists? if that is indeed the case, what on earth was william fotheringham thinking when he embarked upon over three hundred pages about the great man in this day and age?

well, strange to relate, and concomitant to my remark above regarding the public's arguably greater knowledge of the career of lance armstrong, i confess to knowing less about the merckx years than should be admitted in polite company. and i'm willing to bet that the same is true of many others. eddy's first high profile victory was the world amateur road race championship in 1964, the year i turned eight and the same year as the beatles started to impress upon an impressionable eight year-old. his last professional race was in 1978 (circuit du pays de waes, belgium). he last won a professional event in 1977, when racing for fiat; a stage of that year's paris-nice.

i'm more than willing to admit to boring old fartness, but during those latter years of merckx's career, i was in the serious throes of being pretentious at art school. many of those now following cycle sport are younger than i, even the apocryphal mamils (middle aged men in lycra). and unless there has been a playstation or wii game featuring the cannibal, those of a younger age may be blissfully unaware of the great man's career. so will fotheringham's superbly timed, researched and written book half man, half bike will hopefully redress the balance and explain just why the man is still held in high esteem even today, and why he was often blamed for removing all semblance of competition during his peak moments (an accusation often levelled at coppi in his era).

as fotheringham conclusively states on more than one occasion, merckx felt it his professional duty to attempt victory in every race he entered, no matter the level at which the race was set. while there are those who now use certain races as training for targetted events throughout an admittedly extended season, merckx would have none of that, pretty much always racing to win. and in the 1975 tour de france, having broken his jaw in an innocent fall, he continued to race against the race leader, bernard thevenet, that press and public would not ill-judge the latter's eventual victory in the absence of competition from himself. as fotheringham quotes from an eyewitness at the time 'merckx granted thevenet a total victory. had he retired, that victory would have been questionable.'.

so, far from wishing to plunge his fellow competitors into despondency and despair by lording it over from the front of the peloton, it seems he quite literally could not help himself.

will fotheringham has authored more than a few excellent biographies of cycling's greats, but i think it only fair to say that he has excelled himself with this volume. every now and again along comes a book that is well nigh impossible to put down. at around three hundred pages of reading, only the most temeritous would complete in one sitting, but that doesn't mean the hours in between sessions are not fraught with anticipating the next few chapters. though many of the details have been brought to my attention in oh so many ways prior to opening the cover of half man, half bike, and i was well aware that eddy was no longer a part of the modern peloton, the sense of desperation to find out if the butler did it was almost tangible.

if, however, i may exhibit a modicum of temerity of my own, i'd like to take issue with the practice of placing the captions relating to all seventeen illustrations at the front of the book rather than alongside each image. it's a real pain having to flick back and forth on reaching the insertion points between pages 84-85 and 212-213. when the book reaches paperback status, i'd urge those at yellow jersey to reconsider this. it didn't necessarily spoil my reading, but it didn't enhance it either.

will fotheringham's writing has surely reached its own apogee in this truly superb book and one can only wonder why eddy's portrait is not on at least one insole of those new rapha grand tour race shoes.

merckx: half man, half bike by william fotheringham is published by yellow jersey press on march 25th.

posted saturday 17 march 2012.


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getting a grip

specialized '74 long-fingered gloves

strictly speaking, they're not truly a necessity, after all, it is possible to ride a bike grasping the handlebars with bare hands. ok, let me re-classify that statement; in cheerful and better than freezing conditions, gloves cannot be thought of as a compulsory point of entry into the world of leisure cycling, let alone that of the competitive variety. sans mitts can even be viewed or promoted as an outward, less ostentatious sign of toughness. scotland's brian smith has rarely let an opportunity pass by without attestation to this particular hard man approach to bar gripping, and if memory serves, the great sean yates was often to be seen in combative, bare knuckle mode. strangely, for all his powerful riding and aggressive nicknames, eddy merckx seems to have been mostly an adherent of mitted fingers.

as cycling precedes motoring in the chronology of time, it may be that the former influenced the latter in the gloved hands stakes. rare indeed are the images of juan manuel fangio bereft of a pair of finely honed leather gloves grasping the steering wheel of his race car, gloves which oft times resemble those worn by fausto coppi, jacques anquetil and hugo koblet. minus the fingers, of course. as such, the wearing of leather, perforated mitts could feasibly be seen to be something of a fashion statement, given the cyclists who have been seen sporting a smooth, clean pair during the occasional grand tour. the late frank vandenbroucke and scotland's david millar are two of the more stylish gents to have participated in contemporary times, and though both have been graceful in the saddle, neither, i fear, would answer to brian smith's hard man epithet.

specialized '74 long-fingered gloves

long-fingered gloves do, however, have numerous redeeming features, not the least of which is their ability to fend off chilly fingers on cold and frosty mornings. with totally integrated braking and shifting all achieved from the bars these days, efficiency can only be aided by an appropriate level of digital warmth. though glasgow born and an inhabitant of the gnarly west, i cannot, for one minute stand up and identify with smiffy on this subject. he is not only possessed of a greater degree of style than i (well, a better haircut), but has the disappointing ability to make my pedalling efforts appear even less impressive than my publicity handouts declare.

that's professionalism for you.

in common with rapha's graeme raeburn, i have an affinity for long-fingered gloves, particularly those with cosy bits inside during the winter months. for an auto accident some eighteen years ago did little to promote optimum blood flow in my right hand; effectively, it takes longer to heat up than does its compatriot. harbouring no desire to emulate either michael jackson or a golfer, wearing one glove only has never been an option i was willing to consider. therefore, two it has to be. in addition, i rather enjoy the thin luxury of modest padding separating skin from bar tape, as i imagine, do those participating in paris-roubaix; islay's roads do not compare favourably with those of the arenberg forest.

specialized '74 long-fingered gloves

and while i can accept that the professionals know better their own metier than do i, they are also more prone to finding themselves upended between start and finish, where a bit of hand protection would surely not go amiss when about to sprawl. though i prefer to stay comfortably aboard my velocipede when out riding, there's a certain insurable comfort to be acquired with the knowledge that both hands own at least some protection from both elements and tarmac. therefore, considering the hands to be one of the three major points of contact with the bicycle, it ill behoves the sporting cyclist to ignore at his/her peril.

step forward specialized's '74 leather, full-finger gloves.

these are not only designed to match the recently reviewed '74 shoes, but make every effort to emulate their style and quality, something they do with aplomb. as previously pointed out, 1974 was the year of gestation for mike sinyard's specialized, and to commemorate this event, gloves and shoes that evince the retro-ness of the year are currently being offered to the contemporary cyclist.

specialized '74 long-fingered gloves

making for comparison with the very best, the specialized leather gloves are fashioned from sumptuous pittards leather and offer a commendably close fit when new. exactly as it should be, in my opinion. affixed to the base of the cuff below the palm, is a leather loop to aid fitting, while the gloves are adjustably held in place by a velcro strap on the back. this leaves the necessitous oval gap to provide the cyclists' tan on the back of each hand. this is mandatory under uci regulations. for snotty days, there's the obligatory towelling across the thumb, and small, stitched gussets on the back of the glove to aid fitting and flexibility.

these are, not to place too fine a point on it, serious contenders for a place in the modern cyclist's wardrobe, complementing even the most obscure of sartorial deviancies that may occupy other areas of the domestic clothing receptacle.

they won't make you as tough as smiffy, though.

disappointingly, i have been unable to find a recommended retail price for these gloves in the uk, but across the pond it would seem they can be had for $55 per pair. perhaps if you'd like a pair in britain, a specialized dealer may be able to order them in, though currently it looks like they might not be available on this side of the pond.

specialized 74

posted friday 16 march 2012.


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sponser yourself


i truly am an artist. i can feel it in my pedal strokes. it's what i was born to do, expressing my inner-self to the multitudes by way of deft brushstrokes and acute, keen observation of all that transpires around me. or at least that was the master plan upon arriving at these shores some twenty-four years ago. art college trained, i could never quite make up my mind whether this truly was a calling that had to be given in to and followed, or whether it formed the substantial basis of an excuse, any excuse, that would get me out of a dead-end job in scotland and out here to the wilds of the atlantic breeze.

the human condition is one that bears legitimate comparison to that of modern marketing; it has little difficulty in convincing itself that what it wants is what it needs and wavering even a smidgeon will bring all manner of catastrophe and plagues of locusts down about its ears. if you wish to paint and draw with conviction, the lack of unrequited interruption makes for the ideal muse. shift lock stock and barrel to an at least perceptibly remote scottish island and that muse may just become more tangible.

so it was that i acquired brushes, paints, easel, paper, canvas, board and a heightened perception that my daily metier would become inseparable from that of a real artist. to the layman, we would be as one, indistinguishable from each other. except, as roger hammond has just found out, life's not like that. wanting a situation to be is not the same as it being. the idyll of daily trips in so much fresh air and acres of sky has not diminished to this day, but at some point of this new found freedom, a work ethic would have to be found, made manifest, then exhibited somewhere that it may provide a modest, or preferably a substantial, stipend.

reality bites.

i apologise to any of you who are embarking upon a similar career of sorts, and it is often the exception that proves the rule: landscape painters are ten a penny. the unfettered atlantic coast is composed of myriad elements that simply demand to be depicted in oils, watercolours or charcoal. though there may be locations equally as tantalising, i am of the confirmed opinion that the west coast of scotland is all but unique and it was my self-appointed job to maintain this belief in thick impasto and thoroughly inscrutable charcoal renditions. trailing somewhat dejectedly around the art establishments of scotland's capital city one was apt to receive vacuous plaudits and precious little work. two red dots in an exhibition of twelve does not make for a healthy bank balance.

therefore, perhaps a pre-planned body swerve may serve to better fill the coffers without the despondency associated with having to take a real job. time, perhaps to play the game of pretentiousness that the world of make believe demanded. i had quickly learned that subtitling any work as mixed media showed at least a tentative understanding of how the cogs could be turned in the artist's favour, and the production of a grandiose artist's statement would undoubtedly raise one's stature amongst the cognoscenti. i will spare you the details of how it came to pass, but my arresting monologue printed on suitably tactile grey paper bore the heading 'the glow within'. i may even still have a tattered copy around washingmachinepost cottage somewhere, but i'd be lying if i said i could put my finger on it right this minute.


it's funny how these seemingly obscure, yet intrinsic parts of a previous existence come back to haunt, surprise or delight at the most unexpected moments. sponser are a swiss-based provider of energy and recovery foods, having developed their art and range over two decades. until relatively recently, their products were if not unknown, certainly pretty much unavailable in the uk, but that has now changed for the better. they are not substantially differentiated from their peers or competitors by any dramatic variation in offering; they produce isotonic powders, a range of gels, and both energy and protein bars that might provide a complete solution to the ambitious athlete and in a format that makes them easy to use.

the glow within moment transpired in the latter stages of a ride that had travelled further than had been my initial intention. i'd already scoffed the berry flavoured energy bar around mid-ride, and the need for a little turbo boost at the point of visible flagging, was definitely front and centre. that's when gels are at their most convenient, particularly when ensconced in a something akin to a small toothpaste tube. reviewing a new jacket goes so much better without wayward gloop finding its way into the corners of whatever pocket facility the garment has to offer. my unashamed slurping of a sponser gel did nothing, then did everything, producing not only that glow within, but the memory of where and when i had originally coined that phrase.

life is definitely like that.

i apologise if the foregoing comes across as the dialectic of the marketing hype i so vigorously don't want to be a part of, but if sponser can offer an energy gel that tastes quite pleasant and rather quickly gets to the root of the problem it has been developed to solve, i think it only right and proper that i mention this to more than just mrs washingmachinepost upon my truimphant return. the gel toothpaste tube advises that accompanying slurping with intake of water might be not such as bad idea, and i would be willing to concur. the gel's consistency would likely bring you to that conclusion all by itself.

the energy bars are available in regular and high energy, the latter, to my taste, being slightly more palatable in that it resembled a cereal bar and was a tad easier to consume than either the vanilla or berry alternatives. disappointingly for me, the protein recovery bars, which i have no doubt perform their desired function most adequately, had the disadvantage of being substantially chocolate flavoured, and i have never been an aficionado of the species. however, the very notion of recovery would pre-suppose that an action from which recovery was necessary had already taken place. as i am on record as saying, i'm simply not that fast.

there is a panoply of carbo bars, gels and protein recovery products on the market, all vying for our undivided attention. basically, within acceptable parameters, they all achieve what they set out to do, the real difference is do they taste good in the process. if not, their resume could be the finest in the business, but it's still unlikely to persuade you to pop the top and commence slurping. sponser's products not only provide the occasional satisfying glow, they do it with both style and flavour. were i the athlete my imagination thinks i am, i'd be more than happy to have the word sponser peeking out from one or more of those back pockets, though if it's all the same to you, i'll pass on the chocolate recovery bars.

more information can be gleaned from sponser uk

posted thursday 15 march 2012.


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the new kid on the block - vulpine clothing

button merino jersey

i realise this may be hard to digest, but there are cyclists amongst us, and those who simply ride bicycles, who cannot see the folly in the wearing of replica team jerseys. they think nothing of shuffling into look mum no hands, having locked the carbon cannondale outside, wearing full liquigas kit, ostentatious in its lime greenery. many are the individuals aboard ageing steel replete with mudguards, yet clad in pristine club kit, on their merry way to a day in the office or, perchance the boardroom, oblivious to the offensiveness of their sartorial choices.

there is, of course, little wrong with advertising your membership of the pelotonese; after all, many are the errant football fans displaying their affiliation to one or more mobile phone providers or one of the country's more common beverages. why therefore should we not shop in tescos, controversially extolling the virtues of mercatone uno? despite the dedication of one or more apparel providers to supplying every known racing team's colours, purchasing one or more items from their catalogue or website is, surprisingly enough, not a compulsory requirement.


in my early days of cycling, prior to comprehending the intricacies of the ten speed gear and what misfortune would befall rider and mechanicals should the chain be deliberately shifted from inner ring to outer, i cared not one whit for my tailoring preferences. unknown to me were the benefits of the padded short, of the wicking properties offered by fleece lined polyester nor, indeed, the existence of the saviours of lycra, the dupont corporation. even toeclips and straps were something being hung onto for dear life by sean kelly, and i'd never even heard of him.

cycling life, however, has a predilection for encroachment. step by step, hitherto unknown facets would be revealed, often at moments of embarrassment or ignorance, perhaps the principal one amongst many, being the fact that i wasn't robert millar. he alone was in the right place at the right time to leave his peer group behind and summit alone, clad originally in the black and white chequerboard of peugeot. i, on the other hand, had no need or desire to pin a number on the back of whatever i was wearing for cycling purposes, and thus had little need, or right, to be seen dressed in similar garb.

add to the foregoing, a need to commute from home to place of employ, preferably without need of a change of clothes, and the discrepancy between ideal and pragmatism became all too clear. these were, it has to be said, the early days of youth, when such considerations were less than uppermost in an art and music filled head. to be perfectly frank, the idea of carrying out the daily tasks wearing a 'z' jersey would likely have been tantamount to rebellion, a fact that would have likely enhanced my own sense of self-worth.

vulpine softshell

rebel without a pause.

these are more enlightened times. the rise and rise of cycling as not just a weekend sporting or leisure activity, but as a perfectly acceptable mode of transport has allowed it to gather about it, an entire support structure ranging from bicycle stores with coffee and decent opening hours, to the very clothing that will make daily riding not only eminently comfortable, but stylish at the very same time. and though many of the providers of such tailored elegance will be already known to most, as of today, one more has joined their ranks.

nick hussey, erstwhile owner of a rather fine fireflies colnago master, has thrown heart and soul into his new clothing venture via, opening with a rather fine range of jacketry: softshell, waterproof, gilet, the first of which has been holidaying on islay for the past couple of weeks, sullying the tables at debbie's in a superlative style all of its own. in this, it has been aided and abetted by a short sleeve merino button jersey.

but first things first; in an arguably overcrowded market, why start yet another cycle clothing company? "Because it's fun! Ok, that's incredibly facile, but partially true. "The market certainly isn't over-crowded with gear you can wear off the bike too. I mean actually feel good, not just less embarrassed. And narrower still if you want it to perform on the bike as well. Lots of companies have dipped in, but not made it their raison d'etre. We are thinking purely along Ride & Destination lines (plug plug). We're not making racing gear with a few dabbles into casual.
A short answer would be: How much classy casual cycling gear can you actually find right now? People have been telling me not a lot. Especially women."

softshell & button merino

perhaps nick has a point, though i think i might take issue with the contention that this section of the market isn't overcrowded. i daresay it depends on how you classify some of the current offerings on the market. the vulpine softshell certainly exceeds what i might regard as the average cyclist's expectations. the material is what could reasonably described as mid-weight, not even so much as a problem in the rather cooler climes currently being experienced in the north atlantic. it features a full length but non-taped zip; the softshell is offered with the proviso that it is water-resistant, something that has already been tested and it has not been found wanting. but despite its cleverly thought out pocket arrangement, both front and rear, it is, to be blunt, simply a black softshell, albeit a ruddy good one.

what does he figure vulpine will bring to the table that the others haven't already? "Focus. Commitment. Quality. Subtlety. Style. High quality. Britishness. Value (considering the materials and processes used, we know it's not cheap). Inclusiveness. Innovation that isn t silly. Green bits.( Many companies have a few of these. But never really hit the nail on the head....Maybe I should say Hit The Nail On The Headness."

there is a considerable amount of verifiable truth in nick's answer. all fastening points on the vulpine softshell are completed by means of small magnets. it was an initial source of frustration, for though the outer fabric pays witness to small fastenings, the obverse of each conceals to deceive. this is, in my humble opinion, a damn clever idea; both front pockets (yes, front pockets) are protected by lime green-backed, forward facing flaps which magnet together. as, indeed, does the enormous rear pocket on the left. this is joined by one open example fronted by a zipped example for keeping valuables safely enclosed. the high neck is closed by a further two easily operated magnetic poppers.

button merino

the style is, i might infer, impeccably british in conception, and a garment that confers suaveness on all who inhabit its versatility. but why call the company vulpine? "I was going to and fro with names and eventually plumbed for one that felt and sounded right, but didn t really mean much to people, including me. It also sounds like Alpine and Vue. I love mountains and imagery. Oh, and it's latin for 'fox-like'. I like foxes. Bosh."

dressing well on the outside more or less forces a similar mode when the softshell is left partially open or, at point of arrival, removed altogether. everyone's circumstances vary according to the expectations of their employer or peer group, and i willingly concur that wearing a garment, even one fashioned from merino wool and resembling a grandpa vest, might not fit the bill. thankfully, i have no such sartorial fears; though the occasional eyebrow may be raised now and again, comments are few and far between. at this time of year, short sleeves are less than advisable even under a cosy softshell, so i wore the merino jersey over a long-sleeve baselayer, and found myself rather pleased at the devil-may-care aura that it engendered.

when summer finally dawns, probably one day in july, and the jersey can be worn al fresco, yet again the support structure makes itself subtly known in the shape of two small outer rear pockets sandwiching a horizontal zipped affair that could conceivably conceal a mini-pump. it is also hard to ignore the affixed loop that would harbour a night light, something also featured on the softshell. the merino jersey is, if allowed only a one word description, funky. at present, the vulpine range reaches out to only the upper torso, and though perhaps unfair to ask on launch day, what plans has nick to extend the range, particularly in the form of legwear?


"Oh, not unfair at all... A LOT of plans. We have 14 products already designed, research and developed. Many of them are woman-specific. We have nearly 40 on the drawing board. But those will take quite a while to see the outside world! The development period from brain to website is quite scarily long, to get it right.
"We have more lines coming in July and if we sell some stuff when we launch (I presume nothing!) then we ll start pushing the button on them asap. There will definitely be a range of lower-half garments. I d rather not give the game away now though.
"Really all that s holding us back is that I've always insisted we use the best fabrics, trims & manufacturing, and thus costs us n absolute fortune to put each product into production. I've spent all my savings. If people like the opening range, we can fund new lines. Fingers crossed."

despite the excellence of the vulpine softshell, there's no denying that it is black, a colour choice that has seen perhaps more than its fair share of criticism over the past few years when related to clothing destined for the regular commuter. given that nick has not concealed this as the primary motive for the vulpine range at point of launch, would he care to share his reasoning?


"1. because we have incorporated a number of visibility features into those jackets. ( 2. because the whole point is you should be able to wear them OFF the bike! high-viz yellow still really doesn't cut it in the modern Monday Morning Status Meeting or Hot Date. (At least, I didn't think so). Black looks good. Everyone likes a bit of black. 3. because we're not here to follow.
4. because we want to create classics (history will be the judge of that), not seasonal fashion items.
5. It costs a bomb to buy the fabric! So I chose what people asked for most. If a garment sells, we'll expand the colour palette. Oh, and the Rain jacket comes in Indigo & Red and the other colour is Charcoal Grey, not Black....Quibbles."

as averred to above, the world of cycle clothing already owns a number of softshell jackets. it's a style of clothing without which many of us would stuck indoors, and it's a style that is equally at home in the world of civilians. i have regularly worn a non-pelotonic softshell to the office for a number of years. and it too is black. those domiciled in the uk may remember a bbc television music show called the old grey whistle test, the title of which came from a genuine test exploited in the offices of many a record company. whichever was the latest potential blockbuster single of the day would be played regularly through the office sound system for the benefit of the cleaners and the gents who provided the first line of defence at the front door.

these employees were referred to as the old greys.

merino button

if the record had the potential to be a hit, many of the old greys were often to be found whistling along. this was regarded as proof of its chart potential; the old grey whistle test. bearing this in mind, i have on occasion worn to the office, cycle clothing that prefers not to be thought of as such. if the comments are either complimentary or non-existent, i'm inclined to think that the designer has achieved their goal.

the vulpine softshell, with its adjustable high collar, two front pockets and internally adjustable waist profile, succeeded where others have feared to tread. though the cut is ideal for on the bicycle, the fluorescent and reflective tail flap, is magnetised inside, ready and waiting for a reflective moment. meaning, of course, that its cycling heritage is concealed from civilian eyes when business is the nature of the business. the cut is relaxed, yet flattering. always assuming the cyclist's souplesse is not far from that inner shape. slouching (as one knows one shouldn't) in front of a soya cappuccino at debbie's, only the cielo parked against the outside wall evidences a cyclist in residence. the vulpine can keep a secret.

tailor the above with my devil-may-care insouciance, clad in a vulpine merino jersey and the foam on the upper lip would fool even johan bruyneel. at which point, it seems not untoward to ask if nick has any beady eyes on the sporting end of the genre anytime soon? "No, not product-wise. I love that side. I grew up immersed in racing and I love it with all my heart. But that's a personal obsession that helps inform what we're doing. Pure racing gear is taken care of very well already. We want to focus on getting our area right and not diluting our attention."

vulpine softshell

though i'm happy and confident enough to both wear and review a wide variety of cycling apparel, hopefully making a few pertinent comments and suggestions along the way, i would not have the faintest idea where to start if pressed to design a garment of my very own. does nick have a background in this sort of thing? "No. But hopefully that won't matter if people like the gear.
Before Vulpine I came from a background in film, animation and music vids. I used to run clubs & bars and got asked to wear designer clothes when i was young, and I am a huge fan of bespoke British tailoring. I d like to think I have a pretty handy base of knowledge in high-end design. Oh, and I've been a clothes obsessed cyclist of every kind for 26 years. I just mix that all up and hopefully it helps create something that chimes with people. But I do have a colleague who is extremely experienced and puts my designs to work in reality."

chameleon-like, i tend to change my cycling mindset as the situation demands, therefore dressing in a black vulpine softshell with its reflective details and cleverly reversible, reflective cuffs revealing warming fleece draught excluders behoves me to exclude all thoughts of robert millarness and to avoid playing at mark cavendish when closing on the 30mph signs at bruichladdich. neither vulpine garment actually forbids such behaviour, but i feel it important when playing a bit part, to do so methodically. what's vulpine's ideal target market?

"Cyclists of all creeds."

vulpine softshell

the magnetic closures are a neat and individual touch, as is the pocket arrangement on the rear, but something like the zipped pocket on the right arm with enclosed key carabiner is not something seen for the first time. and the very notion of a softshell, however unfairly considered, is one that belongs to an earlier generation of the new guard. is nick concerned over comparisons with existing cycle apparel providers?

"Ha ha. You mean Rapha? (I'm starting to realise I'm going to get that one a fair bit!)
"No. It's natural to seek comparisons, though I would rather not. We have our own path. I saw Simon (Mottram) a while back for some advice (he was extremely helpful, bless him) and we agreed we're coming from different places. But already the comparisons are being made. I guess its natural. We're both high quality, web-based, and design obsessed. But those comparisons are very common in other fields I've worked or been involved in. In cycling this is still very new. If we talk again in five or ten years time, it'll be very different. Cycling clothing is essentially unchanged apart from a few companies, I feel.
The short answer is it is hugely complimentary, but we are different beasts with a very different ethos. And of course Vulpine are wee tiny minnows!"

merino button jersey

the phrase 'hitting the ground running' is one that has recurred during the review period for both vulpine garments. nick hussey has been very deliberate and, dare i say it, single-minded in the pursuit of what he feels the contemporary 'regular' cyclist requires to more easily incorporate the daily ride into a busy and perhaps corporate life. the softshell is an impressive bit of kit, one that has taken over daily duties in the land of the ileach. i have little doubt that, as i slope into the world of cool, calm and collected, the merino jersey will join its exterior companion. if, however, i may be allowed a couple of constructive criticisms, i'd suggest that the zip on the softshell be extended all the way to the top, allowing the closing flap to magnetise over the top.

i say this not as a comment on style, but due to a small gap that occasionally makes itself known between the current zip terminus and the base of the flap. i cannot deny that, now and again, this small gap allowed for a cooling exhaust, but more often, particularly at the outset of a ride, there's danger of a chilling draught. and on a far more positive note, i'd be overjoyed to see a long-sleeve version of the merino jersey. that would undoubtedly be worth the price of admission alone.

today is the first day of the rest of nick hussey's and vulpine's life, and i am more than crass enough to ask where he sees things in five year's time? "Oh blimey, I'm launching, and all I worry about is how people will react to us and making sure we don't bugger anything up. Ask me again in June! We have a major new event that I can tell you about in a week or two, and we'll have got through the early days."

the current vulpine range is available online at the softshell jacket is available in black only in small through to xxl at a cost of £160. the merino button jersey can be had in black or blue (reviewed) in the same range of sizes, retailing at £80.

posted wednesday 14 march 2012.


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the nemo conundrum

fs260 pro nemo glove

materials science must be a fascinating undertaking; applying the properties of matter to various areas of science to figure out if something works, or if it doesn't, why, and what might alter the result in favour of what i was looking for in the first place. many of us on this side of the pond have worked tirelessly to figure out the structural and even micro-cellular constitution of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. i assume this must have been carried out at some point or other; they had these for sale in more than one shop in portland.

i am, of course, being somewhat facetious, for materials science tends to err towards the macroscopic level incorporating the atomic or molecular properties of a wide variety of materials. taken to its logical conclusion, it's the sort of university course that likely never ends, for no doubt most of us could think of more than just a few materials that could be brought under the microscope for detailed analysis. this is likely how we get to know about the hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties of fabrics that push and pull moisture molecules and keep us dry on the inside while precipitation knocks on the door of the brightly coloured exterior. taking even a brief look at the classes of materials brought into play with regard to this branch of scientific study makes keeping a finger on the pulse of the various fantasy cycling leagues seem like a walk in the park.

however, despite the existence of such a discipline, there are still conundrums poking their faces through the supportive firmament that bolsters our perception of the world we choose to inhabit. there can be little doubt that cycling is an activity with proclivities toward the huffing and puffing, one that can easily engender swot and hettyness in even the least energetic member of the pelotonese. the situation as it exists has, therefore, allowed an entire support facility to be constructed from a wide variety of sources, one of which hangs out in livingston, north of the border and not a stone's throw from edinburgh (well, depending of course, on just how far you can throw a stone).

fs260 pro nemo glove

though known principally by reputation for having the sort of rainfall that hardly drives residents to the beaches on a regular basis, scotland has had this underlined on a more concrete basis this past winter, with reservoirs that are the envy of southern england and precious little chance of an hosepipe ban being enforced in alex salmond's political domain. this climatic situation has, if nothing else, forced endura to perpetually investigate the waterproofing properties of a wide range of fabrics if only to keep the home riders from rusting.

materials science.

neoprene is a fabric with waterproof connotations, primarliy through its almost inseparable connection with surfing and diving. wetsuits and drysuits are the mainstay of both water-based pursuits, so it must keep people dry inside. musn't it?. it's a fabric that first saw the light of day in the early 1930s, originally marketed as duprene due to having been fostered, manufactured and promoted by the dupont company, the very same folks responsible for lycra. it is an excellent insulator against cold, and a tad less expensive to produce than breathable fabrics, which in the endura nemo gloves under consideration, may just bring forward a point or two for discussion.

we're all mostly conversant with its waterproofing status when moulded into winter overshoes. not only does it keep those tootsies cosy and warm, but it renders puddles pretty much ineffective, maintaining dry socks and shoes forever and a day. except that's not strictly true is it?

fs260 pro nemo glove

overshoes of any fabric are prone to a certain (more or less acceptable) level of water ingress due to the necessity of leaving holes in the bottom to make way for cleats that connect to pedals. though this may not be a problem that could be seen to affect a pair of gloves made from neoprene, the problem if i may be so bold as to label it thus, emanates more from the inside than out. endura's snappily named fs260-pro nemo glove bears a superstretch neoprene outer, a factor that i can readily attest to. the review samples were sized medium, and though seemed a tad on the small side to begin with, in use, were very well judged. gloves of all styles ought to be a close or tight fit when new otherwise they run the risk of becoming untenably sloppy as time rolls by.

according to the tag to which the black nemos were attached, the red interior is of wicking terry material, lining a welded, waterproof construction. the fly in the ointment is the distinct lack of breathability offered by neoprene, meaning that it only takes a few kilometres of exertive riding in even cold conditions, before the hands start to perspire inside the gloves. i rode many a wet day on islay and even took them to sub-zero portland to hassle them just a bit more. in each and every case, perspiration won the day.

now mistake me not by my vaguely cast aspersions; such over-warming of the hands was not at anytime uncomfortable, and on removing the nemos, any perspiration evaporated almost instaneously. however, the conundrum as i see it, is why i would wish to own a pair of gloves that promise a verifiable degree of waterproofing when my hands are going to get wet anyway, rain or no rain? portland was very cold, much more so than the island i had left around thirteen hours earlier, and i cannot claim to be disappointed with the protection offered to initially cold digits prior to being thrashed by slate and kyle on the sleety climb to skyline.

fs260 pro nemo glove

so far as i can ascertain, the nemos are as waterproof as claimed, principally on the basis that the external, cold precipitation would have undoubtedly cooled my hands had it made it through the outer layers. the printed silicone grip was loathe to let go inadvertantly which is another plus, and the cuff is lengthy enough to safeguard any errant gap between cuff and wrist. however, i still have misgivings over a pair of waterproof gloves that make your hands wet anyway. this is not an accusation that can solely be levelled at endura's nemos, for many other, non-neoprene winter gloves are bereft of superior breathable properties, but in mitigation, many claim only thermal attributes in the face of driving rain.

altogether a reasonably practical pair of gloves, at a reasonable price, just as long as you don't expect those hands to be bone dry at point of arrival.

the nemo conundrum.

endura's fs260-pro nemo gloves are available in small through xl, in black only at a retail price of £27.99.

endura clothing

posted tuesday 13 march 2012.


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