bike parka

bike parka

in a similar manner to our often confusing canadians with americans, i'm given to thinking that the phrase 'an englishman's home is his castle' could imitate the former incongruous behaviour and be, in fact, not pertaining specifically to the hypothetical englishman per se. alex salmond notwithstanding, scotland, wales and northern ireland are still intrinsic parts of the united kingdom, though many a johnny foreigner will insouciantly refer to an inhabitant of these parts as 'english', even if faced with a red-haired, bearded and kilted scotsman who constantly refers to them as 'jimmy'. so, for the purposes of homogeneity, we shall assume that, in this case, the term englishman' refers to anyone currently residing in any of the aforementioned distinct parts of the united kingdom.

bike parka

in which case, this castle performs several useful functions, not the least of which is providing somewhere appropriate in which to live. mrs washingmachinepost is beset by the tidy gene where she suffers from an uncontrollable need to put things in a safe place, never to be seen again in either of our lifetimes. possessed of an erratic memory, i have taken to leaving items that i need to take with me, on the top of my armchair, that i might recall this fact as i exit the sitting room carrying my computer bag. of course, by the time i have returned from washing my flowing locks and brushing my teeth, the aforesaid item(s) has been tidied away, and i leave the house without it/them.

i know i am not alone.

bike parka

conversely, i have never set sight on this tidy gene, having acquired over the years an indefensible ability to leave piles of magazines, books, cycling clothes in any unpopulated corner of the house. thankfully, the bicycles that i own and those that visit for all too brief periods of time by way of review models have a bikeshed to go to. were this latter bicycle domicile not to exist, i would have created a fictional verisimilitude; you would surely think a great deal less of me were i to be without a bike shed. it is almost a professional necessity.

however, there are many amongst the bicycling fraternity who are less well provided for. not every englishman's castle has a back garden with a shed, garage or lock-up, somewhere, in fact, to place a bicycle away from the elements. allied to that, unless you are fortunate enough to live far enough away from so-called civilisation, you might need to lock the aforesaid bicycle to something immoveable in order that it might still be there the following morning.

there are, of course, galvanised and coated steel lockable boxes and more recently, moulded plastic containers designed expressly for the purpose of concealing expensive bicycles from view and shielding them from the elements. but even those need appropriate space, for most are designed to be bolted to the ground, the latter which might not belong to the englishman in his/her castle. truly it is a conundrum, but one that seems relatively easily solved by the pragmatically named and constructed bike parka.

bike parka

this nomenclature is something of a double entendre, so to speak, for not only does it allow for bike parking, but in a somewhat convoluted manner, it imitates a parka, at one time beloved of certain pupils at my former secondary school. never quite saw the attraction myself. however, the bike parka consists of a particularly heavy-gauge ripstop polyester, similar to that of a quality tent and with accompanying uv fabric protection. this fabric is as weatherproof as it comes; bicycles do not falter on any reduced degree of breathability, so the waterproofing is exemplary.

the front and rear sections of the parka are elasticated and connected to an elasticated draw-string that exits the garment at the top via an adjustable toggle. it is a relatively simple case to fit the front to the extreme lower position of the front tyre before slowly and carefully hauling the rest up past the drop bars or flat bars, over the saddle and ultimately down to the extreme lower portion of the rear tyre. then simply pull tight the elastic cord and the bicycle is now excluded from the elements.

bike parka

i live on an island that is world-renowned for its fierce and often unpredictable winds, an element that is expert at finding weak spots in anything left outdoors. greg bourne, the man who has introduced this particular variant of the parka principle to the uk (the item originated in new zealand) said "It is very water tight so I'd recommend not letting the wind get under too much. Something will have to give in the end. That's either the bike taking off (it's happened before), or the fabric, if it gets thrashed about and catches on something sharp on the bike.". in the centre of the parka's hem, on each side is a sizeable brass eyelet through which i threaded a leather lace and fastened with a spring-clip. though this still allowed modest wind ingress, it certainly minimised the possibility of the whole enchilada emulating felix baumgartner's red bull balloon during the night.

so far, so wind and watertight, but in this fashion, it would be but a simple matter to lift the parka covered bicycle into the back of an adjacent white van before heading speedily off into the distance, never to be seen again. here's where the bike parka scores over any similarly formed bike parking solutions. on each side of the parka is a large, reinforced cross pattern, interrupted by a velcro'd slot in the fabric. at this point, it is possible to pass a 'd' - lock through the rear wheel and incorporating the seat-tube, fastening the lock section to secure it to a lamp-post, clothes pole or any other immoveable object that might prevent its unlawful removal.

bike parka

unlawful removal of a bicycle has never been of major concern on islay, so i lived without this stage. in fact, that brass eyelet through which i had fastened a lace, could just as easily provide home to a small padlock, not only keeping the wind from demonstrable ingress but preventing easy and unauthorised removal of the parka from the bicycle.

rather than take greg's word for its efficacy in the face of adversity, i opted to encase a review bicycle within the grey bicycle parka and leave it to its fate in the back garden. for on grass, no-one can hear you scream. though i am rarely in the habit of praising the weather islay receives at this time of year, for a period of seven days, it did me proud, alternating between horizontal and aircraft delaying rain, along with a couple of days of near gale-force winds. actually on one day it may well have been truly gale-force but so blase are we here on the edge of the atlantic, anything less than 50kph doesn't really count.

in the manner of schrodinger's cat for those seven days it was merely guesswork as to whether the bicycle was still alive under that parka or not. the waterpoofing was amply demonstrated by the small pool of water that collected in the lake created by the triangulation of both brake levers and the stem. leave it for a couple of days, and it showed no signs of disappearing of its own accord. i think this might feasibly be considered a result.

on removing the parka after an all too brief test period (one that will be repeated when the weather gets worse), the bicycle was not only bone-dry, but quite contented in its enforced isolation. the metal bits that one would have expected to show signs of ferrous oxide (yes, it happens that quickly over here; just ask the stem bolts on the shand skinnymalinky) were still as shiny as when they'd set foot on hebridean shores. in short, it appears that the bike parka did exactly what it said on the tin. well, stuffsac if we're being perfectly honest.

that's where the second part of the fun started.

bike parka

having released the bicycle from its prison, it became necessary to pop the parka back into the stuffsac in which it arrived. it's worth my pointing out that this receptacle features neat little velcro straps to allow easy affixing to the bicyle's top tube or even to a rucksack or courier bag. the dilemma looming on the bikeshed floor was a very small stuffsac and a football pitch sized parka, the latter requiring to be placed inside the former. as it turns out, all you need is flexible fingers and a healthy degree of optimism; it will fit, believe me.

the bike parka reviewed was the urban version (why is everything called that nowadays? i'm in the country and it still works), a more substantial option to the stash which lives without the velcro lock-through panels. the latter costs a most reasonable £29.95 while the model reviewed is ten pounds dearer at £39,95. if i point out that the bicycle over which the parka was placed would cost around £2,000 to replace for whatever reason, £40 is a most amenable amount to pay. while in the process of removing the parka, my next door neighbour mentioned that he had bought something similar in halfords recently, dragging it from his shed as he spoke. its price was a tad less than the bike parka, but the fabric appeared less than promising by comparison and it was without any hem eyelets or the lock through slots. i can assure you, there is no way i would have entrusted £2,000 worth of cyclocross bike to that which he held in his hands.

i also smugly noticed that he was unable to fit it back into its zipped bag.

the bike parka is available in one size fits all and in the following eccentrically named colours: ciel, pavement, yew, fungi, natural, rosa and ink. £29.95 for the stash and £39.95 for the urban (reviewed)

bike parka

monday 19th november 2012


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my time by bradley wiggins (with william fotheringham) yellow jersey press hardback 308pp illus. (foreword by robert millar) £20

my time by vradley wiggins

adobe photoshop is a fabulous piece of software which has developed from its original release as barney scan into a stupendously complex programme that can perfrom astonishing digital manipulations, ranging from simple lightening of an image to total scene reconstruction or imagineering as i have heard it said. for though photoshop has lifted itself from a simple method of improving a scanned image, the intermediate years before digital photography happened along, allowed its development as an alternative to real-world painting. this latter feature is one that was specifically targeted in a recent release, allowing those with artistic talent to dispense with palettes, brushes, linseed oil and an endless supply of rags. and perhaps most importantly of all, tidying up afterwards.

of course, the digital realm is anathema to many a fine artist; those who prefer to remain true to their tubes of watercolour or oils, retaining their faith in stretched watercolour paper or primed canvas. and i'd be the last to criticise for them for that. however, the repetitive mention of the word digital gives credence to the basis on which photoshop works. though you and i may perceive the background to these words as a familiar shade of yellow, photoshop thinks of it as 255,204,102 in rgb, 0,21,70,0 in cmyk or, to be more computer like, ffcc66.

rgb and cmyk are worlds i frequently inhabit, and i've no doubt several more of you do likewise, but the last six digit code (hexadecimal to be technically precise) would mean nothing to me at all. basically speaking, photoshop does not actually deal in colours at all, but numerical representations that are ultimately reduced to a series of ones and zeros.

which is sort of how team sky have rewritten the approach to cycle racing.

team director, dave brailsford has many years of experience in the realm of track cycling, having masterminded the resurgence of team gb (with the aid of a healthy dose of lottery funding) into a dominant world force on the track. as we have been constantly told over the years, and prior to his 'we'll win the tour in five years' statement, is a more easily quantifiable set of numbers. it is a relatively easy task to equate power output with winning times; in order to go this quick, it is necessary to generate this particular power output.

road racing, we are informed, is less susceptible to such numerical dictates, for while the air resistance in the velodrome remains relatively steady, and in many disciplines the riders surrounding you are all intent on the same outcome. theoretically, your competitors are also racing, but not in close proximity. a road race, such as the tour de france sets off with almost 200 riders densely packed in a peloton, and it takes only a moment's inattention by one of them to bring the house of cards to the ground in seconds. that's what happened to bradley wiggins in 2011 '...and then, before I know it I'm on the deck, the team doctor, Richard Freeman, is coming over to me, I'm clutching my shoulder; I can feel it isn't right. I can't get off the floor for love nor money without it being agony. It's game over.

so for all the careful preparation and analysis of the numbers, coupled with brailsford's infamous 'marginal gains', it only takes an unfortunate deviation from the norm to have a cunning plan fail entirely.

bradley wiggins entered the 2012 tour de france as the favourite, and perhaps similarly to the armstrong years, it was simply a case of waiting until he took hold of the yellow jersey before we all started looking to see who was going to take second. i know i'm not alone in counting this past year's tour to be one of the more tedious to watch, and bradley's my time elucidates, at often great length, just why that was the case. seemingly gone are the days when teams entered the tour with ambition allied to what rapha's simon mottram refers to as panache. deeds of derring-do, garnished with a soupcon of swashbuckling opportunity.

'It was not the most attractive way to ride a race, it was not riding with panache...'that's evidently not the way team sky work.

in these days of multi-million pound sponsorships, the end result takes on greater importance, if that's at all possible. there is surely now need to justify that expenditure by way of victories, preferably taking the overall rather than simply stages. therefore it seems not unnatural that there exists a cunning plan, one that is necessarily adhered to on a daily basis. the downside to this approach, and i will readily admit that it is purely superficial in nature, is that it rarely makes for ennervating reading, and i'm afraid to say that bradley's book inhabits that space.

having previously covered much of his career via 2008's 'in pursuit of glory' wiggins has capitalised on his victorious run of race wins in 2012 as sky's team leader: paris-nice, tour of romandie, criterium de dauphine and the tour de france, crowned by an excellent gold medal in the london olympics' individual time trial. if anyone deserves the plaudits that have been almost ceaselessly heading in his direction, surely it is bradley wiggins. and given that many professional cyclists (unless your surname is voigt) have a relatively short career, any opportunity to exploit such an impressive palmares surely cannot be viewed as other than one of the perks of the trade?

however, in a similar manner that plagued nicholas roche's autobiography, it may be fascinating to be a part of these record breaking exploits, but that doesn't necessarily make for rivetting reading. william fotheringham is an accomplished writer, no matter his subject, and his skills are evident here; but to quote a well worn saying: 'you cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear'.

in the book's opening chapters, where brad realises that he may have been slightly derelict in his duties as a team leader, he resolves to rethink his personal strategy on realising his job may depend upon it. the naysayers had been quick to point out that his 23rd place in the 2010 tour de france, over 38 minutes behind contador, might point to his signing at substantial salary being something of a glaring error by brailsford. 'because it was his first season as a team boss on a professional road-racing team and questions were being asked.'

it becomes apparent fairly early on in the book that team sky's domination of at least the latter two weeks of the 2012 tour was down to a substantial change in the way they trained for events. some of this at least, seems to have been the result of adding tim kerrison to the staff. ...'he knew relatively little about cycling, having only just begun to explore the sport, but he had revolutionised training in Australian swimming.' it seems that kerrison was prone to asking what a dyed-in-the-wool cycling coach would regard as stupid questions. why did professional cyclists stop training in october, then start on january 1st? why did cyclists not warm down after a race, considering they warmed up prior to it taking place? the standard replies would normally be 'because they do, and because they don't'.

it seems likely that this might conceivably be where the numbers started to take over. 'The last stint we did was twenty-five minutes, starting at 1,500m altitude and going to 2,200. We would ride one minute at 55 watts, basically prologue power, which you can sustain fro a few minutes, then four minutes at threshold torque - 50rpm at threshold, maybe 400-440 watts depending on the altitude, which is bloddy hard to do because riding in the big ring, say a 53x16 gear...' a narrative such as this might be perfectly acceptable in a volume concerned with the invention of the atom bomb, or a discussion on einstein's theory of relativity, but i fear there is just a tad too much of this throughout the book's 300+ pages.

witness, for example, bradley's description of the 2012 tour's final time-trial. 'The power I've chosen is over 450 watts, so on the flat sections, I'm looking at holding 450-460 watts and whenever the road ramps up slightly I'm taking it up to about 470, 480, 490, but again trying not to go over 500 watts, and likewise then, when it was slightly downhill, I'm coming back down to 430.' rarely is the time-trial the most exciting of stages in any tour, but for me, bradley has just managed to remove any remaining vestige of interest, master of the art though he undoubtedly is.

wiggins, and likely many of his team-mates and peers live in a bubble, isolated from what you and i would consider 'reality'. this surely forces them to adopt a slightly distorted vision and sense of perspective. having conceded at kerrison's behest, that it might make a tad more sense if the riders in the frame for tour selection spent as much time as possible training and racing together, that they might better understand each others tics, foibles and strengths, this led to several team visits en masse to locations such as tenerife, where the equations between altitude, power and gradient could be better explored in group isolation.

training is rarely meant to be fun, so the revelation that 'There's no sitting on the Internet and we haven't got Sky television in the room, so you find yourself doing the most basic things: reading a book or watching DVDs. We tend to watch a lot of films... You're living like a monk.' with all due respect to brad's sense of austerity, i can think of few monastic orders that allow for watching of dvds and films.

i feel almost trite in relating the less than enervating story to the front and back covers. a moody photograph of the esteemed author glaring at his intended readership has been done perhaps once too often, but the photograph on the back depicting a yellow jerseyed wiggins leaning against a yellow pinarello with a thoroughly disinterested and vacant look upon his face could surely have been bettered? the book's illustrations are contained within three bound sections, the middle featuring photography from the excellent scott mitchell. in the light of his daily postings on the team sky webiste throughout the tour, i find it hard to believe that yellow jersey press could not have found something far more appropriate and inviting with which to decorate the slip cover.

too often is a point laboured to death, such as wiggins' apparent concern over chris froome's tendency to leave him behind on a couple of climbs (panache, but not adhering to the cunning plan). this concern takes up several pages, effectively saying the same thing in a variety of similar ways in a chapter entitled under attack.

i am highly conscious that the preceding diatribe has been less than favourable towards my time, which does not, in fact condemn it as a bad book, just mediocre. it is perhaps similar to expecting comedians to be perennially funny, even when met in the supermarket or in the queue at costa coffee. the very fact that wiggins became the first british rider to ever win the tour de france, followed only a matter of days later by a gold medal in the olympic time-trial leaves no doubt at all that, on the bike, he is genuinely world class. to expect matching expertise in the world of narrative, even with admirable assistance from mr fotheringham might just be placing too heavy a burden on his shoulders.

after having read and reviewed both john deering's tour de force and daniel friebe's allez wiggo, i rather expected bradley's own story in his own words to be the definitive account. in the sense that no-one was closer to the action than the man himself, it cannot be other than definitive, but enervating, exciting and rivetting it most certainly isn't. sadly, i find it a tad iniquitous that a book about systematic drug-taking in the sport (tyler's secret race) ends up being considerably more gripping than one about a series of record-breaking victories by a british rider on a british team.

sorry brad.

sunday 18th november 2012


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vulpine long-sleeve polo shirt

vulpine long-sleeve polo shirt

it was bright orange with a forceful blue graphic and lettering on the front. and short sleeves. a time in my life when i thought all would be mightily impressed by the paiste 2002 cymbal logo. obviously no-one would be wearing such an emblazoned garment were those bronze discs surrounding the drumset (which i happened not to have with me at the time) not of that ilk. would they? actually, just to be pedantic on my own behalf for a brief moment, most of my cymbals were either paiste 602 or sound creation, but the 15" hi-hats were definitely 2002. at least, they were until i replaced them with a pair of 14" 505 sound edge.

the shirt itself was very much an example of 'pride bears no pain', for to be honest, the fit was never that great; the torso was just a smidgeon too short and after a few washes the orange lost a substantial portion of its consistency. but it was most definitely a paiste t-shirt, and one that had been sent gratis by toomas paiste himself from switzerland.

vulpine long-sleeve polo shirt

how cool was i?

faffing around in an art college was never a cool prospect, at least, not in the temperature stakes, so it was not uncommon to be dressed simply in jeans and t-shirt for the duration. it was, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty much the school uniform. that and long hair. the t-shirt has long gone, though most of the hair is still hanging around (literally), added to which, i no longer play paiste cymbals, but a rather delectable set of italian roto-cast ufip cymbals. and i don't have a t-shirt that proclaims that.

in fact, i rarely wear t-shirts of any hue these days, at least not in a ny sort of brazen fashion. i'm not entirely sure that i find t-shirts sartorially appropriate in this present day; they seem somewhat at odds with my approaching seniority, so are generally confined to hiding under some sort of merino top layer. 'clothes' they say, 'maketh the man', and though i'm probably making life very hard indeed for those clothes, the object of remaining comfortable never actually goes away, it simply modulates slightly with the passing years. there is also the mitigating factor that the weather on islay is rarely conducive to short-sleeving, if you'll pardon the slackening of my english.

so the future may no longer be orange, but it does come with long sleeves.

vulpine long-sleeve polo shirt

i think it far better these days, that i possess a modest level of sartorial elegance while remaining ensconced in my comfort zone, so i have, in recent years, adopted the collared polo shirt, preferably comprised of merino wool and cut just ideally for a spot of velocipedinal activity should it inadvertantly present itself. i think it shows that i care enough to look almost as good as the bicycles i ride; whether anyone else shares the same philosophy is a moot point. in fact, with the non-stop attention paid to our less than pelotonic cycling apparel needs by a number of imaginative clothing providers, it has become a simple matter of dressing appropriately each morning while covering all salient bases.

nick hussey's vulpine clothing has been scurrying about, finding all the right boxes in which to place a tick. i have recently waxed lyrical with regard to their long-sleeved merino t-shirt which i quickly and meritoriously converted to a baselayer of warming propensity, a garment most suitable for wearing under either their acclaimed rainjacket or softshell. but as the colder winter months approach, a median layer of sorts ought perhaps to join it; perhaps a long-sleeve polo shirt for example.

vulpine long-sleeve polo shirt

earlier this very same year, vulpine proffered a short-sleeve merino polo shirt, one that i readily admit, found favour in thewashingmachinepost cycle clothing wardrobe. it could be worn with either a short-sleeve t-shirt (just like that from paiste, but preferably of less imposing colour) or merino baselayer. if i had designs on looking like the fellow with whom i seem most often compared these days (sheldon, from the big bang theory), i could add a long-sleeve in a failed attempt to look co-ordinated. but aside from presentational properties, all were finely adapted for an itinerant life in the saddle.

however, as i have been at pains to point out, long-sleeves rule ok. and as if to add weight to my contention, mr hussey has made available a long-sleeve merino polo shirt that is even more perfectly formed than its short-sleeve clubmate. on the grey example that i wear even as i write, a flapped breast pocket features a lime-green encircled 'v' logo, matched by a similar item at bottom right on the rear of the shirt. both these are complemented by lime-green stitched cuffs and hem, both exhibiting a more than excellent length for sitting at the daily imac and stretching out on a scottish drop barred road bike. three buttons open or close the collar.

vulpine long-sleeve polo shirt

yet again, in a manner that risks becoming the norm, i spent almost a week inhabiting business mode before committing to saddle. seamless would appear to be an appropriate description. how smooth is it nowadays that scuttering hither and thither with an air of fastness can be combined with almost anonymous froth supping capabilities? as i near the end of my hypothetical formula one contract with liquigas, and that pink jersey seems more remote than ever, the fact that a lime-green logo can keep me in touch with any erstwhile modest sporting aspirations i may have once harboured, yet all the while providing outward civility (if you know what i mean?) is of great comfort. and, in the context of sharing with others, i think it eminently likely that a vulpine long-sleeve merino polo shirt will fulfil a similar role for those of a similar disposition, irrespective of age.

did i mention it has long-sleeves?

vulpine's long-sleeve merino polo shirt can be had in either grey (reviewed) or navy blue in sizes ranging from xs to xxl at a cost of £85

saturday 17th november 2012


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nothing to lose

a lot to lose - neil holmes

"Fat Ed, did I hear right? Are you talking to yourself? Who did you say you're trying to overtake? That old fellah on his bike was challenging enough for you."

i am, as usual, drastically ill-equipped to commentate upon the matters i am about to commentate on. this is due to my being bereft of the competitive gene. when in secondary school, the numbers attending meant it was necessary to qualify for the annual sports, to allow for completion of all events in a single afternoon. not being one for competitive sports, i thus entered myself for the long-jump, javelin and shot-putt, none of which i had the remotest chance of achieving. in fact, in the process of attempting the shot, i overbalanced and narrowly avoided damaging the fingers on my right hand. the javelin never made it as far as the first measured mark on the playing fields.

there was, of course, method in my madness, for those who failed to qualify were effectively allowed the afternoon off. well, we were supposed to attend as spectators, but it's amazing how a secondary education fails to prepare you for an appropriate definition of the word compulsory.

fortunately this aversion to competition was relatively easily managed during the regular physical education class which most definitely was compulsory. as the school had a cross-country course that was never monitored by any pe staff, it was possible to voluntarily undertake running duties. about half-way round was a park bench on which the athletically challenged could sit for a pre-determined period, watching planes land and take-off, before making our way back to school, appropriately out of breath and just in time not to take part in whichever game of football, rugby or basketball was in progress on our return.

dave brailsford has never once requested my cv.

i can read and review books and movies that concern the competitive melee because i can separate myself from the world inhabited by those of far greater abilities than i. appreciating that, were i built with the competitive instinct, it would still be impossible for me to even keep sight of the back of the grupetto, places everything in perspective. however, when a story comes along dealing with the innate competitive urge latently displayed by one whose description seems less than equal to my own fitness, i find myself in uncharted territory.

neil holmes is a gentleman of british descent currently ensconced in germany, and whose mother unfortunately suffers from an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis. this has taken her from being "an active fitness fan, who ran and cycled every day to being house-bound in as little as five years." rather than follow the metier of many who see a loved one suffer from a debilitating illness and thus organise charity sportives and other cycle related activities, neil decided to write and publish a book entitled 'a lot to lose' the plot of which he has summarised below...

"Eddie only meant to cycle to lose some weight. How would he know he would be racing for money, his job and the love-of-his-life?
"Follow Eddie in his battle against his lack of self-belief in preparing himself for the race for the prize money, his dream job and his girlfriend. Stan, Charles, Alf and a host of other characters provide a wonderfully mixed combination of challenges and problems for Eddie to battle through.
"Will he win what he wants?

as one devoid of the need to be competitive, i find it hard to identify with eddie. well, almost hard to identify, as i have been known to put it in the big-ring only a few hundred metres from the 40mph signs outside bruichladdich in an attempt to outdrag my fellow pelotonese. in fact, i try to do so pretty much every sunday, even when i have already dropped my pursuers. actually, that's not too great a definition, because those riding in my wake are not always aware of the fact that they are the inseguitori. and now that you come to mention it, at least one of them was on a mountain bike. however, i'm not even remotely competitive, no matter how often i win.

eddie, on the other hand offers a different reply. "Dunno. I suppose I could win a small race if I put my mind to it," I replied. My ego had kicked in a little too quickly for my liking. I didn't really believe even I could complete one, let alone win. However, ego knew best, or at least I wish it did."

i could let you know just what befalls eddie and his enforced competitive streak, one that involves the woman his heart desires, but i have no intention of doing so. that's because neil has a few suggestions of his own as to how you can help his singular drive to raise funds for research into neurological diseases such as ms, alzheimer's, epilepsy, motor neurone and other associated illnesses. said neil "you can help by buying the book, recommending it to your friends and family, popping a link on your blog, website or facebook page or making a personal donation."

the book is available via amazon or lulu. it's available in paperback and e-book formats and might just make an ideal christmas present for several of your friends. if i were you, i'd race over to neil's website this minute to read a couple of sample chapters. then purchase a few copies.

"I nodded I was ready. He nodded back and squinted at me a bit weird. Maybe it was my grim look of determination he found unnerving. He didn't know how determined I was once I had set my mind to do something."

a lot to lose

friday 16th november 2012


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health and wellbeing

cardiff university

whether i have spent my saturday morning exploring the darker recesses of bridgend woods on a cyclocross bicycle, or circulating amongst the peasantry on a lithe road bike for a mile or two, the likelihood of my visiting debbie's for a coffee and, of late, a cheese and tomato toastie, is something of a foregone conclusion. i apologise if the constant reference to these regular visits give the impression that the bicycle is merely transportation between bowmore and bruichladdich; nothing could be further from the truth, but i must concede that a sizeable soya cappuccino is something i regard as appropriate reward for my varying efforts.

in this context, the word effort may be perceived as of considerably less involved than a chris hoy training session, particularly if applied to the afroementioned road ride. unless the headwind reaches above 50 - 55kph, the workload cannot be truly considered unduly onerous. mind you, riding up the 6% at storakaig isn't simplicity itself, but i'm sure no-one wants to hear about that.

cyclocross is a whole 'nuther kettle of dismounts altogether, an activity that lasts as long as it lasts and one in which its rider lasts not quite as long. slipping and sliding is reputedly good for the bike handling, though whoever first quoted that statement had obviously not observed my frequent fallovers. nonetheless, all this pedalling activity is surely providing untold health benefits, sloughing off calories like there was no tomorrow and leaving plentiful room for coffee, cake or as yet unnamed vittles apres ride?

in the earlier part of this year, when the rain offered its finest impression of niagara falls, i had parked my velocipede against the wall outside deb's and was inside enjoying a fine repast while dripping all over the floor. a gentleman of my acquaint, making a brief stop to collect his daily paper, was wont to mention on stepping in the door " what sort of effing idiot is out on a bike in this weather?". on viewing the puddle next to my seat, he raised his head and continued "i might have known."

cheese and tomato toastie

though i am used to such remarks, pretending all the while that such blatant eccentricity is part and parcel of what makes me, me, the more common remark from visitors to the coffee shop mostly concerns my glowing, healthy aura. those who arrive by car, wrapped in thick, camel coloured overcoats, frequently commend my perceived level of fitness, marvel at the distance i have just ridden (always quoted in kilometres because they sound far more impressive) and silently applaud my constant efforts. none of this panders even remotely to any minimal sense of ego i might retain, though i constantly hope that being frequently seen in the company of a bicycle might rub off on those who profess to be impressed.

this year has been marginally different than in past years; the magazines refer to it as the 'wiggo bubble'. whereas previous tours de france would have the wary crossing the road to avoid being engaged in conversation as to the tactics and strategies of the previous day's stage, this past july found folks stopping me to talk about cycling. the 'wiggo bubble' has seemingly been good for the local bike shops' cash registers, with the fervent but possibly forlorn hope that many will leave the car in the garage and commute by bike. it is but a brief factor in the green-ness of the bicycle, engaging a set of individuals in healthy activity while lessening the pollution that the motor car has brought to our roads.

it's a tautology that perhaps bears less than close examination.

three academics from cardiff university have apparently published a report labelling the tour de france, currently the darling of the british public, as having 'one of the worst ecological footprints of any worldwide sporting event.' though bradley has just acquired several yellow jerseys, including the important final one from the 2012 event, and preparations are already underway to celebrate its 100th running in 2013, the basis of their contentions was brought to light after the 2007 edition, the opening stage of which took place in london. having queried 1400 of those who watched the uk stages, it appears that the spectators travelled an average of 734 kilometres to watch, bringing a reputed windfall of £150m to the economy.

though of somewhat academic and statistical interest, something probably beloved of academics, the land required to support the race is 143 times the area of london's olympic park. a conceptually indigestible fact i'd warrant.

mark cavendish

what seems to be missing from the article i have read on the cardiff study is mention of the inordinate number of motor cars, buses, trucks, helicopters and motorcycles required to ensure the race not only runs smoothly, but inhabits many an hour on our hd televisions. watch any stage from the television coverage and it becomes immediately apparent that there are more motorised vehicles involved than there are silent, human-powered bicycles. though cycle racing at this level is several stages removed from that practiced by the pelotonese of a windy weekend, or the regular cycle commuter, it is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the world's involvement with cycling.

as such, it might not be the ambassador for the benefits of cycling that the faithful might wish to portray. because the more folks that become enamoured of the race, the greater chance there is of someone twigging that all is not as it seems. so let's just keep it our little secret for now. the likelihood of being rumbled will undoubtedly increase should brad or chris find themselves atop the parisien podium in 2013, but that surely offers enough time to find academics ensconced in one of britain's alternative academic institutes to refute the current study, by publishing substantial counter-claims.

isn't that the way academia works?

mark cavendish photo by scott mitchell

thursday 15th november 2012


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not a cyclist; a carbonaut

carbonaut breakaway jersey

most technology companies spend a substantial portion of their research and development budget on creating or discovering new technologies that will presumably aid their future prosperity. there's nothing particularly new in such a revelation, nor indeed, is it in any way an iniquitous process. however, we live in a world of catchup, where the profits of many a multi-national depends on their being able to keep pace with those edging slightly ahead in commercial terms. apparently one of the simplest ways of uncovering these closely guarded technological secrets is to undertake something referred to as reverse engineering, where the boffins at one company start with the end product and attempt to figure out how curious are its beginnings.

you only need to look at the persistent litigation in the world's courts between many of these multi-nationals to realise that some of this reverse engineering was subsequently perceived by the originator to infringe their patents, requiring some form of restriction on trading and likely substantial financial compensation. not that i am in any way qualified to even think about figuring out how anything is made in a manner that might serve my own purposes, but i'd think the trick would be to alter just enough to ensure one's tracks were well and truly covered.

carbonaut breakaway jersey

disappointingly, what follows is not a manual on how to build your own colnago, or how to reconstruct a garmin gps unit from two yoghurt cartons, some sticky back plastic and a few velcro dots. what it is, however, is a review of a carbonaut breakaway jersey, but from completely the wrong end of the stick. perhaps i ought to qualify that statement so that we do not misunderstand each other. carbonaut are possibly the newest kid on the block seeking to "blend casual wear with the sleek lines of cycle apparel." based in bristol, the company has introduced "a range of items for men and women that have been inspired by the tailored fit and technical features of a cycling jersey."

in today's portion of the cycling world, i believe, and have said so before, that we must surely be the best provided for activity in the known world. everything from wind-tunnel tested skinsuits to merino wool neckwarmers and cardigans are available to the active cyclist, no matter which genre they feel it prudent to inhabit. chameleon-like, many of us alter our cycling personas to suit the circumstances; the sunday ride all but dictates sportwool and figure-hugging lycra, most often at this time of year, augmented by winter embrocation and breathable waterproof jackets. the day to day, however, is more likely to recommend appropriately cut jeans and more loosely cut jersey-wear. in both of the foregoing, the choice of appropriate apparel seems almost limitless.

carbonaut breakaway jersey

one therefore has to exclaim "surely you must be kidding me?" when the founder of carbonaut, paul skuse states "We identified that there was a real lack of casual wear options available to cyclists once off the bike. For us, being a cyclist means so much more than just riding, racing and training and we wanted to encapsulate this in the casual wear market."

i rather doubt the veracity of mr skuse's statement. i do think it worth putting on record that anyone in today's world who cannot find the very item of cycle clothing that they need for either on or off the bike surely has to be unbelievably hard to please. i might be willing to look more favourably on such a statement if taking into account the fact that it's possible the item (or items) of desire may just inhabit a price range outwith the financial reach of the desiree, but still...

how reverse engineering fits into this is in the way that i reviewed the carbonaut macchiato breakaway jersey. the tautology of cycling would presuppose that any garment fitting the description ought surely to be seen to be cycling before standing still? due to circumstances outwith my control, i wore the jersey on a calmac ferry (the coffee cabin on the mv finlaggan) followed by a citylink coach headed towards glasgow's buchanan bus station. in fact, in order to appraise myself of its off the bike properties, i wore it down to the local co-op (walking) and into siempre bicycle cafe as elaborately described on monday's post.

carbonaut breakaway jersey

despite my misgivings over the reasons behind its propagation, they did not impinge upon the versatility of the breakaway in daily use as a non-cycling garment. though the shoulders are perhaps a tad too square, giving the impression that i may have forgotten to remove the coathanger, or providing unfettered access to the bridge of the starship enterprise, they do have a certain style about them. the breakaway jersey is composed of a high percentage of cotton with a smidgeon of elastane to give it a bit of give and is easily machine washable.

according to the carbonaut website the macchiato coloured jersey "Boasts a unique shape that mirrors the lines of a long-sleeved racing jersey', something with which it would be hard to argue. the sleeves are of a perfectly adequate length, longer on the top of the cuffs than on the bottom. it features a commendably high neck with a quarter zip closure. though it's possible the original race jersey from which it as derived was owner of three rear pockets, the breakaway has no outward pretence as performance wear in that sense, so has only a small, zipped rear pocket on the lower right, large enough to hold onto a compact digital camera with ease.

if i'm allowed, however, to regale you with just one more misgiving, i'd like to point out the sizing factor. in the many years i have been reviewing cycle clothing, two factors have remained almost steadfast; bibtights and shorts are size small, baselayers, jerseys and jackets are medium. this remains true across virtually every cycle clothing provider you care to mention. why then, have carbonaut decided to eschew that which is all but writ in stone, and make one small step to the right?

carbonaut breakaway jersey

the situation came to my attention when the media representation mailed to say they only had a size small in the colour i had requested. perusing the sizing guide on gave credence to the fact that size small was indeed the very fit that i required: everyone else's size medium. given that the company sells via its website, would it not have made more sense to have checked the market and followed suit in this department? in point of fact, the small size sent fitted particularly well in every respect both on and off the bicycle. i think it likely its natural habitat would be more likely accompanied by cappuccino and carrot cake, rather than energy bars and carbo drinks, but in truth this is no less than it professes.

in the flesh, it is far more impressive than the posed images featured on the website; comfortable and practical for this time of year, with just a soupcon of hinted performance at a determinedly amenable price. you wouldn't wear it on a sportive, but you'd probably spill latte on the sleeve if you did.

in truth, a rather fine first step into the quasi-cycling market for both 'real' and 'faux' cyclists alike.

the carbonaut breakaway long-sleeve jersey is available in macchiato or carbon grey in sizes ranging from xs to large, always bearing in mind that these are a step down from the jerseys you might order from a 'pure' cycle clothing company. the cost is £57.

wednesday 14th november 2012


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an evening with graeme

graeme obree

despite the notion that we, as cyclists, are at the vanguard of a change in social interaction and green transport, it is more than likely that this is very far from the truth. as creatures of habit, and it's a fact that most humans are, whether cyclists or not, we tend to fit the mold into which we're expected to fit, because that's the price of admission. sunday mornings, the alarm goes off sometime around 6am for an 8:30 rise. the intervening two and a half hours allow for a modicum of dozing in and out of sleep, all the while listening to reports of what's happening in the world beyond islay's shores.

kit laid out from the previous evening, breakfast (porage and peaches again), water bottle readied, tyres inflated and off into the wide blue/grey (delete as applicable) yonder to meet up for the sunday ride. it happens this way pretty much every sunday of life; i recognise the fact, and to be honest, i'm quite happy about that. currently, saturday is cyclocross day, playing about in the woods midst the mud, gravel and grass. is a pattern beginning to take shape?

graeme obree

but as i mentioned above, it's the price of admission. there are certain features expected of the pelotonese, many of which are the result of apparent peer pressure, innocently adhered to because everyone figures that it's what everyone else expects of them. we're a funny old bunch when looked at in this light. it even stretches as far as the coffee and cake. while i'd be the last to vote against the latter being dismissed as an integral part of the sunday ride, there is little doubt that many adopt the persona to be seen as part of the club.

it's an almost comical state of affairs, because the very act of dressing in lycra or sportwool and a star wars helmet is not the sort of behaviour one would expect from a normal member of society. to do so in spite of this knowledge, extended to the act of reading the comic in debbie's of a saturday lunchtime would give rise to the observation that here is an individual who cares little for the opinions of others, one willing to be at the forefront of this alternative society and adopt a less than conventional stance. with reference to the preceding paragraphs, plainly this is not the case. though we may defiantly wear the small tanned patch on the back of each hand, we are as conformist as the remainder of society, not as willing to think outside the box as we'd like others to think.

graeme obree

that is not to say, however, that such colours are worn by all those involved in cycling, but secretly we all know that the individuals who truly wear this mantle would behave thus, no matter the sphere of activity in which they found themselves involved. perhaps unsurprisingly, i refer specifically in this case, to graeme obree.

long before graeme cobbled together old faithful from the innards of a domestic appliance that gave this site its name, he was questioning that which we all took for granted. yes, kids for years have toyed with upturning the drop bars on a ten-speed racer, but more likely to acquire a more upright and thus cool stance on the ride to school. graeme, however, was more interested in lowering his aerodynamic drag than revelling in it. it's success brought unwarranted attention from the chaps at aigle, eventually resulting in the superman position which also subsequently found itself the result of a uci banning order. it was graeme's single-minded refusal to accept that these hurdles were a particularly limiting factor on his progress through the world that marked his card, so to speak.

hindenberg airship

i say all this not to bolster graeme's ego, but to point out that there are some amongst us who do not find themselves with the same apparent restrictions as prescribed by the surrounding pelotonese.

on his visit to islay a few years past, we at the velo club had engaged his services as an after dinner speaker. during the day's gourmet bike ride, graeme asked me what it was i thought the assembled multitudes would be interested to hear, after eating was concluded and the plates cleared. my sole advice was along the lines that we were already very much on his side, and if he simply read out his weekend shopping list, we would be only to glad to applaud. his talk lasted around an hour, entirely unscripted and was never less than fascinating and frequently very funny. though an adjective bandied about with abandon, graeme obree is one for whom the word genius was undoubtedly carefully nurtured.

and yet, while in the throes of finalising both bicycle and details for his attempt on the human-powered land speed record, the obree mind refuses to be constrained by thoughts of two-wheels. as witnessed by the video below, he has turned his talents to consideration of airships and why their employ is currently restricted to high-flying, slow-moving advertising dirigibles. meanwhile, the rest of us are still asking whether we ought to inflate to 100psi or a less teeth chattering 90.

graeme obree

to fully appreciate the intensity and vigour with which graeme obree considers his view of the world, a view that encompasses a substantially larger gamut than that experienced by your average velo club, you really need to meet the guy in person, an opportunity that may just be a tad easier to arrange than a coffee with chris hoy. on saturday 24th november in the cosy corner that is ronde in edinburgh's hamilton place, stockbridge, you are invited to spend a night with graeme obree. as neil dryden of ronde was moved to say "To have such a prestigious ambassador for Scottish Cycling coming to our premises is amazing.  We often host in-house evenings showcasing various new brands and niche designers, but to have one of my heroes at the store is really quite exciting."

he is not wrong.

there are 85 tickets available for 'a night with graeme obree' at £18.00 per person.  the event lasts from 7pm - 10pm, the entry price including complimentary wine, cheese and nibbles. contact


tuesday 13th november 2012


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