the race against the stasi. herbie sykes. aurum press hardback 400pp illus. £18.99

the race against the stasi

this is an odd time in scotland. odd because on thursday 18 september, we have to pop into a little wooden booth and place a cross against whether we wish to have independence from the rest of the uk, or whether we're quite happy to remain conjoined. this has resulted in two distinct clans (an appropriate choice of word, i hope), both whom seem hell bent on either arguing their point of view at every opportunity or, in the case of the local yes vote, erecting sizeable banners with the word yes in white on a blue background. or flying the scottish saltire. sometimes both.

there is even a house opposite the newsagents in bowmore that features georgian style windows with a myriad of individual panes of glass in each of which the owner has placed a yes sticker. as if that weren't enough, the letters on their car licence plate are snp. if the vote goes the opposite way, i have a feeling i know how they're going to be spending september 19th. and yet, sitting on the table beside my armchair is my independence referendum polling card on which it quite clearly states that, having voted, i ought not to indicate in which box i placed my cross.

for a great many, that is no longer a secret.

the gist of the yes vote seems to rest on how much better off we would be, freed from the tyranny of westminster and subsequently able to determine our own future without recourse to those down south. they may well be right, but in similar fashion to asking one of the four year-olds in the care of mrs washingmachinepost whether i ought to choose sram or campagnolo, the referendum vote is one i think the majority of us are ill-equipped to make. i was always under the impression that's what politicians were paid for.

however, given the track record of the majority with the suffix m.p., even if independence becomes the flavour of the month, in truth i thik we're simply likely to swap one set of game show hosts for another. only this time, they'll have scottish accents.

when it comes to oppression of the people by the state, i'd figure that, in the uk at least, we simply don't know we're born. and if that's a contention with which you may wish to take exception, i'd heartily recommend that you read herbie sykes' latest book entitled the race against the stasi. the principal character in this all too real eastern bloc drama is a man called dieter wiedemann, a cyclist who became a hero of east germany, finishing on the podium of the peace race, the latter being the iron curtain's equivalent of the tour de france.

if i figure that scotland's referendum has created one or two oddities, then the communist east may require a different adjective altogether, and one of far greater magnitude. though wiedemann became a poster boy for the alleged superiority of socialism over the democracy practised in the west, the lengths to which the east german state went to convince not only those on this side of the wall, but their own people, were little short of bizarre.

of course, as is now a recognised part of history ever since the berlin wall came down in the late nineteen-eighties, the east germans were not only keen on using sport to promote their cause abroad, but also on keeping clandestine tabs on their own people by way of a secret police force; the stasi. if it had ended there, no doubt this would still be considered something of an oddity in itself, for if socialism was all it was cracked up to be, why would it be necessary to enforce it? surely the lucky citizens of east germany would never have had need of a wall to keep them in paradise at all?

the peace race began in 1948 as a means of managing the german populations of warsaw and prague. "Everybody followed the bike races and the biggest of all was the Peace Race. It was a two week stage race and it always started at the beginning of May." the race was rotated between the three major participating cities; berlin, warsaw and prague. "A group of sports journalists sat down and talked about how sport could help resolve the (population management) problems. The idea had been to organise a boxing tournament, but blokes hitting each other didn't really work as a symbol of peaceful co-existence."

the first winner of the race was tave schur, pretty much unknown in the west, but the east's equivalent of fausto coppi or eddy merckx. and in 1972, while merckx was winning the tour at an average speed of 36.1kph, czech rider vlastimil moravec took victory in "arguably the greatest, most emblematic Peace Race of all." riding at an average 42.6kph.

however, when it came to the olympic bike races, competitors were of necessity, from the amateur ranks. for the west, that meant riders who had day jobs, training and racing in their spare time, and dependent on contritious employers who would allow time off for events such as the olympics. ostensibly the east could have done likewise, but that would be leaving to chance any perceived supremacy of socialist athletes. therefore the east's cyclists were either provided with appropriate employment suitable to their pre-determined career paths, or as was seemingly the more favoured method, classified as students and enrolled on courses at state universities that many probably never completed.

so how and why did herbie sykes descend upon the almost unheard of dieter wiedemann as the subject of this incredibly impressive body of work? "...the bike racing culture which created great post-communism roadmen like Jan Ullrich, Eric Zabel and Tony Martin has its roots not in the reasoned, centralist unified Germany of the twenty-first century. [...] They were made, emphatically and unequivocally, in the German Democratic Republic.
"In scanning the runners and riders in the 1964 Peace Race I stumbled across a familiar looking name. I had an idea I'd seen Dieter Wiedemann elsewhere, and so it was [...] (he) had ridden the 1967 Tour de France... and had been present when Tom Simpson rode himself to death on Mont Ventoux."

the race against the stasi takes the form of, basically, three distinct parts. for those (such as yours truly) unfamiliar with the gestation period of the socialist east after the second world war, sykes prefaces that which is to come with what i can only describe as an expressly lucid account of the situation post 1945, with the splitting of berlin and the creation of the german democratic republic, something of an oxymoron, since democracy was highly conspicuous by its absence. following this brief introduction, sykes embarks on a series of dialogues with the principal characters, allowing them to relate the story in their own words.

"You ask why, now, after fifty years? (that wiedemann had agreed to tell his story)
[...] "My problem is that I'm seventy-three years old, and I still don't know my history. I know a version of my life, but I also know that there's probably another one in a filing cabinet in Berlin. So in a sense the Stasi creatd another Dieter Wiedemann, and he and I existed in parallel."

without wishing to give too much away, part one of the book concerns wiedemann's sporting life in the east, his falling in love with sylvia, whose paternal grandparents hailed from czechoslovakia and eventually settled in giessen, about 50 miles from frankfurt. " father... was twenty-four when the war ended, but he didn't go as far north as Giessen. He stopped just across the Czech/German border, in a small town in Bavaria. The place is called Mitterteich... in the American zone."

with an aunt and uncle living in dieter's home town of floha, prior to the building of the wall in 1961, sylvia had visited and almost innocuously come into contact with wiedemann. this eventually led to a long-distance, blossoming relationship, hampered not only by the wall, but the machinations and watchfulness of the stasi who were less than keen to have their citizens, especially those of international sporting prowess, leave home and not return.

wiedemann continued to prove himself a successful cyclist, selected for for the minimal cross-border races to which the east were invited. desperate to escape a claustrophobic police state in which both stasi and their informants watched and recorded every move, but more than that, wanting to be with the girl he hoped to marry, wiedemann succeeded in defecting (with his bicycle) during olympic qualifying trials in giessen.

the format of individual interview dialogue in this first part of the book works remarkably well, despite one or two misgivings as i started reading. these are interspersed with relevant typed and translated stasi reports, newspaper features and verisimilitudes of the letters written by dieter to sylvia. the second discrete part of the book concentrates on the stasi reports filed after wiedemann's defection, painstakingly researched and copied by herbie sykes while accompanying wiedemann to the stasi repository in berlin. these detail an incredibly paranoid regime, one which had recruited substantial numbers of informants to keep tabs not only on wiedemann, but others besides, one of whom turned out to be a close friend of dieter.

"...I have no idea what we'll find or who we'll find. I have an idea about what might be in there, and that one person in particular that I was very close to was informing on me. Equally I've no doubt that a lot of people who passed through my life back then were Stasi."

i cannot recommend this book highly enough. it arrived on my doormat on a friday afternoon, and i finished it on saturday evening, all 400 pages of it. the book is a monumental work of great credit to its author and principal subjects, in equal parts social and sporting history and may well be one of the finest books i have ever had the pleasure of reading. if this doesn't win sports book of the year next time round, there really is no justice in our western, democratic world.

'the race against the stasi', by herbie sykes is published on september 4.

monday 1 september 2014

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along the med on a bike called reggie. andrew sykes. cycling europe press paperback. 395pp. £10.99 (kindle edition £3.99)

cycling the med on a bike called reggie

in my younger years, i was particularly proud of not only my memory for people's birthdays, but for an uncanny ability of finding unique presents for those who deserved more than just a card. this seems to have been an unconscious skill, for i don't recall having to write all the important dates in a book, or indeed having to try too hard when looking for those individual presents. sadly, those days are long gone; i'd now struggle to remember what i ate for tea last sunday, let alone the date of my son-in-law's birthday. or anniversary, come to that.

the easy way of justifying this diminution of sensibilities is to put it down to a busy head. there are just so many things to remember these days; the keyboard command for switching from rgb to lab colour in photoshop for instance. or just what a swiss army triplet is on the snare drum. and that second tune on the set list for the islay jazz festival; how does that start again? perhaps i'm trying too hard for the sympathy vote and it is indeed caused by acqusition of age. after all, the older you get, the more there is to remember.

but that cannot be an empirical excuse, for a friend of mine who is a former professional cyclist with an impressive palmares, can not only remember where he finished on each stage of every tour de france he rode, but what tubs were on the bike, which selection of chainrings were made each day and by how many seconds he crossed the line ahead of his nearest rival. and this from several decades ago. the knowledge that such instant recall offers little in the way of obstruction has me now desperately trying to remember just what it was i did have for tea last sunday.

i think french teacher come cyclotourist, andrew sykes must belong to the former category, for not only did he cycle from greece to portugal during his school summer holidays, but the detail with which he relates said trip is enough to marvel at in its own right.

"It wasn't a big building, but it was beautifully delicate with large, arched windows on three of its four sides. Filling in the space above the columns of the windows and between each arch, were colourful frescos of winding green flora. Just to the left of the mosque stood a square clock tower."

this accuracy of detail is pretty much the making of along the med on a bike called reggie, for the ride itself is, from the comfort of my armchair, largely uneventful, though there is the odd escapade that likely seemed less somnolent to the author.

"The few hours of cycling that followed must have ranked as one of the most uncomfortable, at times terrifying, experiences of my life. My eyes were being torn in four directions. The tourist in me wanted to look at the pretty scenery, the oddities, the animals and the people. The bike owner and chiropractor in me wanted to keep my eyes firmly on the roads, watching out for the next pothole, crevice, gap, lump or large patch of gravel."

so what is the primary purpose of books such as the current issue from mr sykes, or his previous tome crossing europe on a bike called reggie? are we meant to be impressed that he cycled a total of 5,665km, that his average speed was 19.5km or that in the process of incurring these numbers, he burned 185,496 calories? i know i am. or should we note the great attention to detail as he cycled through several different countries in order to arrive back in the uk in time to resume his teaching duties? yes, to be quite frank, that's quite impressive too. or maybe it's that andrew sykes wrote all this in an impressively laconic and oft-times humorous style for our own entertainment. in fact, he even self-published the book.

in point of fact, it is a combination of all the above. though i am under no illusions as to my own lack of wanderlust, i am inclined to satisfy this lack by proxy, revelling in pretty much every word, paragraph and chapter of along the med. in common with many others, i'd never have the time, or the money to follow in his tyre tracks, but having previously reviewed andrew's first book, i found much to compare with the work of authors bill bryson, tim moore, george mahood and others, all of whom have an uncanny knack of describing things in a way that is a lot more entertaining than any of my own brief efforts at cycle travel in these particular black and yellow pixels.

even in moments of underwhelming bravado, sykes is able to bring out the humour, albeit humour that may have surfaced after the fact. finding himself with cycling-induced back pain, a place in which all of us have found ourselves at one time or another, even if ours was in a location less exotic than croatia, there is need of some respite and relief.

"The road was flat and again good quality, which made me wonder why the pain in my lower back had returned [...] Whatever the reason, I needed some pain relief and it came in the form of a bus shelter. [...] I couldn't see a bus coming... so I lay down and immediately felt the relief of my back being flattened by the concrete floor. [...] I wondered why anyone would go to the expense of hiring a masseur when all they needed was a concrete bus shelter."

i cannot deny that there is a considerable amount of reading in this book; small print allied to almost four hundred pages is not the sort of material despatched in a couple of evenings. add to that a level of enjoyment not always found in travel books of any genre, and truly, i felt no hurry to reach page 395 by way of speed reading, something i'm inclined to resort to when there are more than just a few books queuing in the review pile.

perhaps you're unlikely to follow andrew's precise route or itinerary. maybe an odd section here or there would prove ideal. in which case, here is your guidebook. for everyone else, this is sheer entertainment.

sunday 31 august 2014

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on the verge of making a pointless point

taurus corinto

it's the cities that garner the greatest attention and interest, perhaps because they contain the greatest number of people and that density of population makes for a greater number of complaints. about congestion, about cost of travel and about the unfairness of it all.

the rural idyll, taken at face value, should engender no complaint whatsoever. for it's an inescapable fact that most of us moved here to avoid that which i have just described, and it is, for the most part idyllic. besides which, for the very reasons i have outlined, nobody really pays that much attention to us; you can't escape the rat race and complain.

however, one of the ladies in the office is currently unable to drive her motor car over the ten mile distance from home to the office and back, necessitating two daily bus journeys. each return trip costs £5.20 which, extrapolated over a five-day week for 52 weeks of the year results in an annual cost of £1352. i'm aware that train season tickets in london can cost more than double that, but that's more often than not for a trip of a tad more than ten miles.

if you lived in london or any other major city or town, you'd probably cycle that quite easily. but in this case, at least eight of those ten miles are completely exposed to the elements. on a day like friday of this past week, that means 50kph cross-winds, driving rain and no shelter whatsoever. there are no trees growing along the major part of the road. add to that, the very circumstances that prevent her from driving, also prevent her from riding a bicycle.

taurus corinto

common cycling lore would have us believe that there is no such thing as bad weather, simply bad choice of clothing. in the main, that's mostly correct, but surprisingly enough, not everyone is possessed of the same keenness to brave the elements as we are, my office colleague included. so if she remains in the state where driving is not an option, other than scenery and quality of life, she has perhaps as much right to feel hard done by as those whose rail season tickets have just become a lot more expensive.

while the powers that be pay at least lip-service to reducing the number of inner-city car journeys, they may be missing what could readily be described as the bigger picture. it's hard to walk from one end of renfield street in glasgow to the other without being passed by a considerable number of buses. a slight detour to buchanan street would allow travel by underground, and head towards the entrance to queen street station you will be obstructed by a lengthy queue of taxis. in other words, city travel is well catered to, occasionally to almost extreme proportions.

last year, when one of the peloton and i were heading homeward after the sunday bike ride, we came across a poor unfortunate fellow dragging a wheelie case and carrying what looked like a heavy bag. we surmised that he had been lucky to get a lift from the ferry terminal to bridgend, and was now beginning the long eight mile walk to port charlotte. there is no sunday bus service on islay. in fact, there is no bus service prior to 8am and none at all after 6pm, while the frequency in between those times could be measured with a sun dial.

taurus corinto

this infrequent bus service serves only the two main routes across the island. those lucky enough to live n the outlying areas, are entirely car dependent. but i do wonder why more of them are not bicycle dependent?

to underline this all but ignored aspect of rural travel, i make regular efforts to make the pointless point by riding my three-speed taurus corinto when i actually need to be somewhere. times when i can wear normal clothes instead of lycra, and when it is necessitous to remain as dry as possible to avoid hours sat in soggy clothes. an eleven mile ride on friday into one of those galeforce winds, with nowhere to go when it rained is not as hard as most would think, but they'd all find a slew of excuses to avoid even thinking about following my example. mind you, amongst those three sturmey gears, there's still never the right one for a headwind.

so, pointless though i know it to be, i openly wonder whether, when boris and his acolytes have solved the inner-city transport crisis, will they take a ferry trip over here? they could start with a few boris bikes on the path between laphroaig, lagavulin and ardbeg. and while we're being pointless, a year's worth of passenger return tickets on the islay ferry would cost you £3,380.

taurus corinto courtesy of pronto gara

saturday 30 august 2014

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when worlds collide

house industries/rapha

in the days before word processing, much of the world presented the written word by means of the typewriter. a substantial improvement in terms of speed over pen and ink, the original versions were restricted to monospaced typefaces, meaning that an identical amount of space was allocated to each letter. unfortunately, the letter 'm' and the letter 'i' are pretty much at opposite extremes in this respect, brazenly flouting typographical refinement.

house industries/rapha

the typewriter also gave rise to a couple of necessities: in order to highlight specific words or groups of words in the absence of any means of emboldening the letters, it became customary to underline. and on ending a sentence, due to the monospaced nature of the letters, typists had need of leaving two blank spaces after the full-stop. both the above needs formed a part of the curriculum when taught in schools and typing schools.

however, when the word processor arrived, such as on the original apple mac in 1984, software control had effectively rendered both the above conventions null and void. for starters, it was now possible to select either bold type or italic where emphasis was required, and the need for two spaces after the full stop had been rendered redundant. this beggars the question, however, why it is that far too many folks still underline words unnecessarily, and what the heck they think is the need for those two spaces?

house industries/rapha

when digital typefaces are produced, the space between individual letters is controlled by what is technically referred to as kerning. when considering the uppercase letters 'a' and 'v', the kerning has need of closing the gap that would be left under normal circumstances, otherwise the word aviation for example, would look distinctly odd. applying this principle to letters such as those described is known as kerning pairs, engineered into the font at the point of origination. it's something of a painstaking process, but worth it in the end.

the full-stop is subject to similar constraints. the kerning applied imposes sufficient space to the right, in order that any subsequent words will be recognised as haveing begun a new sentence. for obvious reasons, anyone typing two spaces after the full stop is effectively adding insult to injury, oddly a practice employed by many who have never been formally trained, or weren't born when the typewriter was in its heyday.

house industries/rapha

with more than just a few submissions from the local secondary school arriving with rivers of white over a page fraught with double sapces, i enquired of the business studies teacher as to whether she was still teaching the habit of double-spacing after the full-stop. she replied in the affirmative, and when asked why (in the light of the above), i was told it was still a required component of the course.


it may interest you to know that adobe's page layout software, indesign, has a built-in script to remove all this unnecessary space and render a page of type not only more legible, but distinctly more pleasant to look at.

to rich roat and his colleagues at house industries none of the above will be something they haven't heard before, given that their stock-in-trade includes kerning, tracking, leading, baselines and proportional spacing of digital fonts. they have been featured here on more than a single occasion, firstly as sponsors of the richard sachs cyclocross team, and more recently as the architects behind the redesign of mr sachs' bicycle decor and team kit. in fact the two were most recently to be seen together at the richard sachs nyc exhibition in the new york rapha cycle club.

house industries/rapha

house industries are also the folks responsible for producing eight individual cycle caps in conjunction with rapha for this year's tour of california. decorated with a typeface originally existing under the working title of house air, its application to the world of cycling is made all the more relevant by its renaming as velo and due for release in the autumn months. as rich roat made mention in my previous article "The Velo release will include 'rolling specimens', which are custom lugged steel bicycles, plus little bits from all of our favorite component guys."

house industries/rapha

as a closet typophile, the existence of these caps was far too much to ignore, but acquiring any seemed likely to be just a ferry trip too far, for each cap was only on sale from the rapha mobile cycle club at each californian stage. i therefore politely asked the gents in rapha's portland office if they might purloin a single cap, that i might have one of the few existing samples of this most appropriate of typefaces. if you take but even a brief peek at the illustrations accompanying this article, you will note that their awesomeness extended as far as sending a pristine example of all eight, for which the cyclist and typophile in me is extremely grateful.

sometimes very disparate words collide in an unexpected manner.

my thanks and grateful appreciation to jeremy dunn, chris distefano and kati jagger for their kindness and generosity.

friday 29 august 2014

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gone but not forgotten

road dropout

in a similar manner to noting that there always seems to be just the right amount of news to fill a daily newspaper, and that only enough people pass away to fill the obituary pages, it's remarkably coincidental to note that when either eurobike or interbike happen by, the world's bicycle and component manufacturers have new product to show. though they may have been beavering away in secluded estrangement all year, by some strange quirk of fate, all comes together just around the end of august. not only that, but the entirely separate marketing departments have booklets, brochures and posters completed in a similar time frame.

that means they must have known before us.

road dropout

i have never attended either of the above major shows, though like every other bicycle geek, i have drooled over the photos on websites that did have the budget to send at least one member of staff in the first place. a bit like tuning a guitar, eventually it becomes harder to figure out quite what's happening. there's little doubt that one or two (or more) of the world's cycle purveyors merely offer last year's model in a different colour. after more than one hundred years of the bicycle, it's quite possible that there are remarkably few innovations yet to be seen.

and just to put an even bigger dampener on proceedings, at the risk of repeating myself, if everyone is using finite element analysis to design their carbon technology, since they're all asking the same questions, it's likely the answers are pretty similar. however, the bicycle industry is not the only one to be caught in this infinite spiral, so it would be counter-productive of me to continue this line of argument.

but just occasionally it's the small changes that cause the greatest effect. or perhaps i might transmute that to the word disaffection; an over-exaggeration in this case i'll admit, but often writ large is the only way to go.

road dropout

in 2009, chris king's cielo bicycle division were kind enough to send a sportif model across the pond for some scottish hebridean evaluation. the journey that the black steel bicycle and i took across the island's highways and byeways has been extensively documented for your reading pleasure via the link currently appearing on your left. that bicycle is still in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, still greatly favoured by yours truly, and proving to be every bit as good as i originally said it was.

though the sportif classic was the sole original model on offer from cielo, the range was soon augmented with a cyclocross model, a sportif racer, a 29er mountain bike and subsequently the enve carbon fork equipped cross racer, ending recently with the cielo racer, based on the latter and offered in both standard and disc versions. (one of these days i might conceivably get round to reviewing a cielo racer). there was the promise of a flat bar, big tyred overlander, but as far as i can ascertain, it has yet to be seen commercially.

though streamlining of an extensive range is not solely confined to nw nela street, but with the advent of the cielo racer, it was decided to combine the sportif classic and sportif racer into one single, celebrated sportif model, announced in time for this weekend's eurobike. so, we collectively asked, what's changed? what features have been gained or lost in this amalgamation? though i can logically see the reason for the almost solitary difference, i find myself bemoaning the answer to the question above. from a purely personal and traditional point of view, i'd really rather they'd combined them in the opposite manner.

road dropout

my cielo sportif classic sports highly attractive, shiny, stainless steel road dropouts. for the more recently velocipedinally constituted, the road dropout can also be described as horizontal, meaning that not only can the wheel be moved forward or back, but with an incorrectly tightened skewer, can pull hard to the left chainstay under pressure. sure, the latter happenstance is a bit of a bummer at the time, but it's easily sorted (unless you happen to be giving it welly on the 15th hairpin on alpe d'huez. ouch).

the cielo sportif racer, however, featured the more contemporary and ubiquitous vertical dropout, first seen on mountain bikes back in the day, and now pretty much de rigeur on every carbon frame. there's little doubt that centreing the wheel is a whole lot simpler vertically than horizontally, but i can't help feeling we've lost another part of our road-going heritage with this change. for while my stainless steel horizontal dropouts contain adjustable axle stops, vertical makes those redundant.

sour apple green headset

the cielo sportif is still a fabulous bicycle; i have rarely ridden better, steel or otherwise, but i still favour old-style road dropouts, no matter what chris king says.

but just to finish on something of a high note, apple are quite patently not the only americans besotted with carefully crafted colour additions to the panoply already on offer. with the advent of the iphone 5c and its variety of bright colours, there was now an alternative to the less ostentatious gold and silver of the 5s. for those of a more exhibitionist nature, these are happy days. chris king have long offered some fabulous colours for their hubs, bottom brackets and headsets, but more recently have begin to augment the standard fare with limited edition colours that, if nothing else, bring a smile to the collective visage in the peloton. beginning with purple and last year's turquoise, the 2014 limited edition colour is the admirably named sour apple green.

available as of yesterday, if it's the sort of colour that would just set off that new cielo sportif to a tea, i'd get in their quickly before apple seasn is over.

cielo bicycles

thursday 28 august 2014

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dan sharp: benedicto

there are machinations afoot in the universe that are outside the ken of most, if not all of us. the particular serendipitous happenstance that gave rise to the following was by way of a single e-mail on monday, followed by a second on tuesday. both were ostensibly from portland photographer, daniel sharp, but in truth, due to those with little better to occupy their time, they weren't really. being the fine, upstanding member of the community i like to think myself to be, i replied in order to inform mr sharp that his e-mail address had ceased to be his exclusive property.

dan sharp: benedicto

you may well be familar with daniel sharp's excellent work, particularly if you subscribe to rouleur magazine. in issue 48, he accompanied managing editor ian cleverly to visit the litespeed factory on the very day when the guys had a day off, and in the current issue, he accompanied the same gentleman to interview and photograph cycling's wunderkid, taylor phinney. however, daniel has more than just a single string to his bow; though photography forms a major part of his latest project, there is a good deal more physicality involved.

dan sharp: benedicto

launched only a matter of days ago, benedicto: is the new repository for daniel's exploration of just what the word adventure really means. as he mentions in his introduction "I've gotten to a point where I felt like I was hoarding valuable information and stories and didn't feel like I had a good way to share my adventures. The occasional Instagram post and a small flurry of 'likes' left me unsatisfied." in common with many of us, he had cause to lament the demise of rouleur's offroad stablemate privateer, not least because he had just started shooting images for its delectable pages. "Apparently it's a tough time for beautiful, expensive print magazines. Shame about that."

dan sharp: benedicto

acknowledging the fact that the world of social media is in the process of over-using the word adventure he decided that a more earthy and pragmatic investigation of the word's real meaning might not be a bad way to proceed. hence benedicto:

on the website's about page, a clue to the definition of the site's title is made manifest by way of the edward abbey poem of the same name. there's something of a clue in the first words of that poem: "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view." the best that contemporary photography has to offer is something of a given, and if all you fancy doing is looking at the pictures and glossing over the words, there is plenty to occupy your time and interest. however, given that the man is no slouch when it comes to the written word, a greater appreciation of his explorations might well be in order.

dan sharp: benedicto

there's little doubt that the united states of america offers one heck of a large amount of open spaces just waiting for someone riding a seven bikes 29er mountain bike to come knocking on the plains. there are probably several sites across the pond that offer similar fare, whether from the viewpoint of the intrepid walker, the hardy mountain biker or even from the water splattered lens of the white water rapids fellow. but where else would you find such an exotic recipe to feed the exploratory desire as bison chilli?

i think my point is well-made.

dan sharp: benedicto

though benedicto: is by definition, a work in progress, daniel sharp's wanderings have so far brought him to the arizona trail race, an event captured in all its glory via sharp's impeccable photography. similarly his explorations in the unique topography of alaska, in particular, the kenai peninsula. i agree that my occupying yellow and black pixels with testimony to the benefits of long-travel suspension and knobbly tyres is somewhat unusual, for i have long protested that mountain biking is a genre of cycling best left to the experts. however, it would be unseemly to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak.

dan sharp: benedicto

if you have already enjoyed daniel sharp's photography via rouleur and other cycling publications, it's now time to learn more about not only the man himself, but the wide-open spaces his home country affords. there are few better qualified to catalogue these features while selflessly demonstrating his thirst for adventure.

"...and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you..."


photos © daniel sharp 2014

wednesday 27 august 2014

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cross dressing

bridgend woods

even though the vuelta started on saturday, leading off to a suspect team time-trial distance over what appeared to be a hotel swimming pool, some (and i do not necessarily include myself amongst such numbers) could care less. and the existence of a one-day, pro-tour german cycle race over the weekend will have made no difference to that situation. for the folks i'm rather vaguely alluding to, view the road season as simply something that gets in the way of cyclocross.

you know this to be true.

in a possibly vain attempt to remain topical, i have arranged to road test a rather delectable pair of carbon wheels shod with an equally delectable pair of hand-made cyclocross tyres. the result of these ministrations will follow in due course, but meanwhile, i think i may have happened upon a set of circumstances that has been prevalent over the last few years, yet gone unheeded by yours truly.

though not specifically required by this set of circumstances, the fact that my ibis hakkalugi cyclocross bicycle is lime green has at least some bearing on the following. i think. my relative incompetence in the field, happily for now, is pretty much by the by, for when including and discussing members of the civilian population, other than my unsuccesful attempts to re-mount in the manner of nys, powers et al, there is little to give me away as a total amateur.

bridgend woods

the professionalism of the bicycle is not remotely in question, dressed as it is in a pair of deep carbon rimmed wheels from a notable dutch manufacturer, professionally constituted tyres of a brand used by the richard sachs cyclocross team (without atmo written on the sidewall), carbon frame, sram force gearset and fsa carbon cantilevers (just to add a non-disc belgian flavour to proceedings). if i'm totally honest, there is little to be disparaged in the clothing front either, clad head to toe in product with a prominent scorpion badge and a giro helmet.

however, remove the above from the mental picture you may have constructed and shift it three miles north of bowmore village, right in the centre of bridgend woods. there, i have carved a particularly enervating 'cross-style circuit, frequent repetition of which is guaranteed to turn both legs and arms to jelly, including a steep grassy track over which the ibis has need of being carried. never forget, i'm not getting any younger. lest i get carried away by saying "tonight, matthew, i'm going to be jeremy powers.", bridgend woods is more commonly the habitat of saturday morning dog-walkers.

bridgend woods

making sure that i underline my professional intent, as i begin the first circuit, i've been sure to put my race-face on, advising rabbits, red deer and pheasants that i've no intention of taking any prisoners. but if i can commend myself to take a step backwards and view from the point of view of an innocent bystander, imagine the incongruity of yours truly in attack mode, haring past a married couple out walking their collie dog, an animal that has scant regard for just how good these tyres really are.

to add insult to incongruity, the very definition of a circuit means that, on at least one or two occasions, i am bound to pass by the same point. in this case, that couple and their dog are a repetitive, yet moving point. on the second pass, though somewhat breathless, i feel it necessary to point out that i'm riding circuits and apologise for interrupting their otherwise calm and peaceful walk amongst the trees.

place at least some of the above in context; the selfsame circuit edged with branded tape wrapped around nearby trees and fence posts, more than one similarly clad cyclocross rider and a cacophony of cowbells. it's incredible what passes for normal. if my peloton were larger, consisting of more than one, there's a case for the dog walkers being thought the elephant in the room. but by innocuously and perhaps accidentally proselytising the case of cycling as a rather fun activity, perhaps there's an opportunity to normalise the abnormal, one or two dog-walkers at a time.


tuesday 26 august 2014

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