cycle lane

cycle lane

this is, i am reliably informed, the rural idyll, where social responsibility remains as constant as has always been the case and where so-called islay time ensures that no-one has need of rushing anywhere or anything. unless you've realised that the ferry leaves in ten minutes and the suitcases are not yet in the boot, a leisurely drive or cycle ought to be as compulsory as undertaking a distillery tour. and as i understand it, the latter is a compulsory part of any visit to the isle.

cycle lane

a friend of mine in washington dc recently sent a few photos of the impressive basement cycle facilities appended to his new offices. though the building was not modern, here was state of the art cycle-parking, replete with lockers, workstands and track pumps. the best i could offer by return was to pop out the front door and snap an image of the two cycle racks installed outside the village hall. though these scarcely compared with those he had sent me, his reply cited the well-worn phrase that the grass was always greener, pointing out the almost non-existent traffic on the road adjacent to the cycle racks.

as if to underline his stated contention, i was happy to point out that my photo had been taken at 09:45; bowmore's rush-hour. everything's relative.

cycle lane

so despite the fact that four islay coaches converge at the high school in bowmore each weekday morning around the above mentioned time, bussing in pupils from all across the island, combined with local kids inexplicably driven to school by apparently well-meaning parents, islay's rush hour is somewhat sparse compared to those played out across all manner of urban and city locations.

cycle lane

you would think, therefore, amongst such a well-adjusted population, free from the pressures incumbent on more populated regions, that the subject of road rage would be confined to that of hypothetical discussion. and by and large, you would be correct in this assumption. however, at this time of year, with the recently ended islay whisky festival, some of that rage is unnecessarily imported not only from the uk, but from foreign parts, meaning that right-hand drive motor cars with inscrutable number plates are often inclined to overtake where really they oughtn't so to do.

cycle lane

add to that a substantial influx of motorhomes driven by hirers who should likely have paid more attention to any pre-departure advice given, are inclined to increase the ire of local drivers keen to get to work on time, if only they could pass safely on a single-track road. it may not be road-rage as we know it, but it's safe to consider it road rage hebridean style.

constrain that inherent fuming, however, and there is always the fervent hope that the individual(s) slowing progress towards arriving at work on time will suffer divine retribution. cycle lane something such as meeting a tractor heading in the opposite direction on the kilchoman road, or better still, the rspb farmers at aoradh moving a large flock of sheep from one field to another several miles away. this sort of situation is reflected in newton's third law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. eastern philosophies refer to it as karma.

a team of 16-19 year olds currently studying at the dorset-based bfi film academy, in conjunction with white lantern film have created a marvellously scripted and filmed short movie entitled cycle lane describing the very situation that we all fervently hope will come to pass. those pre-disposed to bouts of road rage may not agree with either my or the film-makers' sense of joy, but in point of fact, that is all so much the better. you can access the short movie via the link below, but please, in the interests of propriety, please try not to laugh out loud at the film's conclusion.

cycle lane movie

monday 5 june 2017

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wise after the event


islay still lives under the umbrella of the phrase once used by laphroaig distillery to sell their whisky. writ large under a graphic depicting rain, snow, sun and wind were the words 'all four seasons in one day' as popularised by the australian band crowded house.

marketing slogans are rarely to be believed and on arrival upon the hallowed isle i confess i thought the gist of the phrase to be a particularly unlikely situation. i can, however, attest to the veracity of the statement, one that has been fulfilled on oh, so many occasions. islay's meteorology seems to have no qualms whatsoever about dropping large quantities of precipitation in one form or another upon an unsuspecting population, frequently accompanied by often drastic changes in ambient temperature. from a velocipedinal point of view, this leads to endless indecision over what to wear, what to wear.

you will rarely find a member of the g.c. ristorante debbie's peloton without spare armwarmers and a waterproof jacket stuffed in a rear pocket, a feature that is no doubt played out all across scotland's west coast.

such was the case when my son and i ventured out for a saturday run with the intention of punctuating the ride with lunch at debbie's. our opening gambit involved taking the long way round towards bridgend before heading off down uiskentuie strand and it was at this point that the cunning plan went totally awry.

the weather forecast had shown a modest degree of rain across the length of the day, but as we headed south west, the clouds looked heavy and there were a few rumbles of thunder. we stopped off at the farmhouse to don waterproof jackets, a shrewd move as only a matter of minutes later there was a bright flash of lightning and a deafening clap of thunder directly overhead. this was accompanied by torrential rain followed by more lightning and thunder. it was at this point that both of us started to think seriously about the prospect of being struck by lightning.

you see, i figured that the combination of carbon fibre and rubber tyres was guaranteed to keep us safe from ending up with a jimi hendrix hairstyle by foreland road-end. though i'm possibly correct about the tyres bit, it transpires that carbon fibre, despite being combined with resin, is a remarkably good electrical conductor.

i can't tell you how glad i am that i did not learn of this until we'd both safely returned home.

though the four seasons thing remains as true as it ever was, thankfully, that's only the second time i've ridden in a thunderstorm since i moved here some thirty years ago. and here's hoping it'll be at least fifteen years before it happens again and i'm riding a wooden bike.

sunday 4 june 2017

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vive le tour

vive le tour t-shirt

as one ages, the memory tends to perform less well, a situation that i'm sure has been accelerated by living in the information age, where all manner of nonsense attacks from each and every side. for instance, i would normally alter my twitter avatar to pink for the duration of the giro d'italia (just because i can), yet tom dumoulin had already stood atop the italian podium before i remembered i'd intended to do so this year too. and didn't. when i have to leave myself an ipod reminder to take home the veggie burgers i put in the office freezer, there's little point in denying there might be a teensy-weensy problem.

generally speaking, my memory still functions as well as it ever did, but i can't help feeling that it's being asked to cram in a lot more information than was once the case. in the days that i still recall, i could name the majority of song titles on albums that i owned, in which studios they were recorded and who the producers were. nowadays, i'm lucky if i can remember the album title when searching for it on my ipod. if an example were required, only yesterday i couldn't remember which pianist had recorded a jazz version of the theme from m.a.s.h (bill evans, now that you ask).

vive le tour t-shirt

when such situations occur, it is customary to scrabble around for some excuse as to why this is the case. in this, i am no different, and the reason i have settled upon is the number of books i have currently under review for publication on the post. i can scarcely recall when so many books about cycling were published within such a short space of time. and with publication dates in close proximity to each other, i am feverishly reading in order that i might best serve both authors and publishers who have had the decency to send books in advance of publication. you will realise that, while this is a most enviable position to be in, it in no way lessens the onerousness of the situation.

and now that the 100th giro is done and dusted, while one's gaze might be partially waylaid by the upcoming dauphiné, there's no doubt that le tour is one the horizon, one of the main reasons there are so many publication dates in the month of june, all designed to capitalise on a heightened interest in cycling during those three weeks in july.

vive le tour t-shirt

but let's face it, who amongst the civilian population ever gets to see either your reading list or your bookcase? unless you are one of those with leanings towards ostentation, it is unlikely that you've nipped round to the post office carrying a copy of velominati's the hardmen, nor popped into your local averagemarket with max leonard's higher calling showing from a jacket pocket. but summer is now approaching (i can tell because the rain is getting warmer), days when there really is little preventing the cognoscenti from showing our total lack of body fat by wearing t-shirts rather than double-ventile jackets and a merino hat.

but in so doing we need to remain conscious of our public persona. no doubt that sparkly selle italia t-shirt from the late 1990s is still in immaculate condition for its age, but let's face it, does the girl behind the till at checkout number three even know what a selle italia actually is? get a grip people; the tour de france begins right at the beginning of july and the wearing of garb that attests to arguably the world's greatest sporting event is surely the most appropriate attire? garb such as the everpress vive le tour cotton t-shirt, screen printed by the irrepressible dan mather.

available for the incrediibly modest price of only £20, everpress have said that if you order one before 17 june, they guarantee it will be delivered before the peloton sets sail from the grand depart in dusseldorf on july 1. offered in sizes from small to xxl in white, grey or black, the typographically minimalistic design will ensure that all and sundry can make an educated guess that you're more usually at home reading peter cossins' tale of the first tour de france.

don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

order a vive le tour t-shirt

saturday 3 june 2017

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talking about tubes

650b mtb tyres

on behalf of bicycle mechanics everywhere, i offer the following all too common conversation.

i've been given your number by the tourist office. we're over on islay on a cycling holiday and we've had a puncture. d'you think you could help?"

quite probably; i'm assuming you need a new inner tube? what kind of bike are you on?

"it's a mountain bike."

"well, currently there are three sizes of mountain bike tyre; a twenty-niner, the standard 26" and the more recent 650b. which one do you need?"

"how will i find out?"

"it should state the size on the tyre sidewall."

"just a minute till i check. it says 27.5."

at this point, i asked the gentleman where he happened to be, the reply to which was in the square in bowmore, a few hundred metres away from the office. i asked him to give me ten minutes and i'd nip home for the only two sizes i had, since his 27.5 pronouncement had sounded a tad doubtful. i had both twenty-niner and standard 26" (the latter is reputed also to fit a 650b) in the shed. i should also point out that throughout this telephone conversation the rain was teeming down outside and though the gent probably was already soaking wet, i was about to join him.

on reaching the square, dripping wet, i proffered the two inner tubes, figuring that his 27.5" made it more likely that the 26" would be the better fit. it was also the case that the 29er tube featured a presta valve which he claimed he didn't have a pump to fit, adding the salient fact that, in actual fact, his pump no longer worked anyway and it was unlikely the filling station airline had an adaptor. as we made our way towards a nearby collection of four bicycles, all of which featured differently sized tyres, it was glaringly clear to note that the bicycle in need of repair was relatively new and that the tyre that had been removed from the front wheel displayed in large, clear, white lettering, 650b.

at this point, it was clear that i had been speaking a foreign language, despite the party of cyclists hailing from south of the border. i was informed that despite checking the entire circumference of the recalcitrant inner tube, he'd been unable to find the source of the puncture. i helpfully pointed out that, in the rain currently soaking both of us, there's next to no chance that a repair patch would stick anyway. "that's why you'd usually carry a spare inner tube."

on hearing that last remark, the fellow said that they thought they'd taken one, but had been unable to find it. if you don't mind me saying, that hardly seemed like a credible answer, given that he'd initially had no idea what size of tyres were on his mountain bike in the first place. in which case, how would he have known which size to purchase prior to departure? one could only hope that they had spares for the other three differently sized tyres. it also seemed to be a tad presumptious to leave home with a single pump which fitted only schrader valves, especially since i'm sure one of the other bikes displayed presta.

i'm none too sure of where this inflationary malfeasance occurred, but he was quite fortunate that it had not been in one of islay's more remote locations.

i'm sure that there are shop mechanics who come across similar situations on a daily basis, but i offer this not entirely as a means of salving their collective ire, but as a cautionary tale aimed at those intent on pedalling across the highlands and islands of scotland this summer. firstly, no matter how many of you there are in your group, please ensure that each and every one carries their own bicycle pump and make sure that it fits both presta and schrader. secondly, find out exactly what size of inner tube is required for each bike and carry as many as you have space for in your luggage.

however, over and above that, make sure you carry a spare rear gear wire, a rear brake cable, a cassette remover, a few appropriately sized spokes taped to the left hand chainstay and some spare chainlinks. this may well strike you as complete overkill, but take it from one who knows. and you're going to need a multi-tool; check whether any of the bolts on the bike are torx and carry tools for those too.

the bike mechanics reading will be silently protesting that some of this does indeed seem like just a bit over the top, but remember that on scotland's west coast, the density of bike shops is remarkably low. self-sufficiency is a great deal more desirable than it is in richmond park.

this has been a public service announcement on behalf of those who have had to deal with this type of situation just once too often.

friday 2 june 2017

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few and far between

ride of the fallingrain

one or two of the members of g.c. ristorante debbie's have found it necessary to involve themselves in what at one time were known as gran fondos, but are now more commonly referred to as sportives. in fact, so intent on world domination are some, that one individual was able to qualify for the next round of the uci's gran fondo championship having posted a decent time in a sportive qualifying him for such. unfortunately, in this particular case, an upcoming knee operation will prevent him from being a more than willing participant.

as the saying goes "you win some, you don't get to ride in others." or something like that.

other individuals, however, seem keener on the repetitiveness of entering the same event on an annual basis, keen to record a time that will scratch that insistent itch. though i too am guilty of joining the happy throng by having entered myself for hot chillee's londres-paris later this summer (a little hebridean humour there), in general, the prospect of riding with 3,999 others holds little by way of attraction. that's sort of why i'll be forming a part of the second slowest peloton to the eiffel tower; the last time i rode to paris, there was only around 100 in each group and i can more or less live with that if they can live with me.

the majority of today's sportives depend on online entries and, dependent on the 'parcours', tend to limit the number of places available. so intent are the majority of modern-day sportivists on having something to provide potential bragging rights, that when one door closes, they look long and hard for an open one. and one of those open ones might potentially be the 'ride of the falling rain', 100 miles across the isle of islay held on the first sunday of august each and every year.

the title is, in essence, a marketer's dream. if the weather fulfils its promise as it did from 10am till 4am the first year we held the event, well, we did tell you. however, if by some freak administrative error there is blue sky and blazing sunshine, then it can be considered little other than a welcome bonus. add to that the fact that the half-way refreshment stop happens to be the old kiln café at ardbeg distillery and it's hard to see how the sheer joy could potentially end. in fact, we pass five other distilleries as we ride (you can look, but you can't touch). however, in the light of those other sportives mentioned above, perhaps the very best bit is that there is no entry fee.

but, though your search across t'internet for somewhere to stretch your cassettes will likely have encompassed many a highly organised and supported event, we don't quite do things that way on islay. in fact, aside from the notable lack of an entry fee, neither is there a free t-shirt, timing chips, en-route feed stops, mechanical backup, after ride pasta party, or any other of those facilities we're inclined to take for granted. basically, a group of us from g.c. ristorante debbie's are going for a bike ride; and you're more than welcome to join us.

the only proviso made, and it's more of a suggestion than a demand, is that each entrant donate a minimum of £10 to world bicycle relief.

to make life even more simple than you may already have found it, there is no entry procedure whatsoever, archaic or online. i have no objection to your e-mailing me in advance to let me know you're thinking of riding, but generally speaking, it's a case of turning up at debbie's around 9:30 am on sunday 6 august for a swift double-espresso before the off at 10am. just remember to carry a pump, spare inner tube, some tyre levers and a multi-tool of one flavour or another. however, in order that we never, ever reach the 3,999 other participants, this is just between you and me. whatever you do, don't spread it about to just anyone.

ride of the falling rain

thursday 1 june 2017

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the hardmen. legends of the cycling gods. velominati. pursuit publishing hardback. 235pp illus. £12.99

"Moser still comes out head and shoulders above, in the broad, indefinable yet crucial 'I will dominate you and look fucking fantastic while doing it' category."

the hardmen - velominati

many of you will have been watching the final time-trial of the giro d'italia on sunday afternoon, keen to see whether tom dumoulin would ultimately succeed ahead of the apparently humourless nairo quintana in the pink skinsuit. at each checkpoint throughout the event, not only was the rider's time displayed on-screen in relation to whomsoever was leading at the time, but more often than not, the average speed was also shown. i cannot deny that during the ride of vasil kiryienka i was moved to silently exhale at a slightly higher rate than normal when his average speed was shown as well over 80kph.

that would suggest, in old money, he was riding at an average of more than 50mph, something few of us could equal even when riding downhill with a following wind. in fact, looking at the times of his fellow competitors, he seemed to be riding at almost twice their rate and surely en-route to a victory of minutes rather than seconds.

however, if you'd care to check sunday's final standings, you'd note that kiryienka finished in fourth place, 31 seconds down on tom dumoulin. rather than offer accolades to a hardman amongst hardmen, perhaps we may be more inclined to put his apparently breathtaking speed down to a glitch in the gps data.

this is not to ultimately deny kiryienka a possible place on the pantheon of cycling gods, but we may be more inclined to wait until a few more years have passed before making any rash statements. what is not open to question are the places currently occupied by the so-called gods of cycling. in this particular case, these gods are so-called by the velominati and if anyone were to ask, that's pretty darned ginger peachy with me.

but lest you think the hardmen exists as a compact volume of dogma handed down on high from two americans and an australian, let me disavow you of that misapprehension.

"In single-day events the ultimate test of endurance was reached with the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris, which continues to this day as an amateur randonnée event, for which entry is restricted to people who have absolutely no appreciation for how far 1,200 km actually is."

i think at this point, the keepers of the cog have laid their cards plainly on the table.

hardmen can, it seems, be split into five distinct categories, the naming of which pertains specifically to the language most appropriate for the purpose. thus we have les rouleurs, populated by riders such as eddy merckx, nicole cooke (the hardmen appelation is apparently and quite rightly, non-gender specific), sean yates, bernard hinault and marianne vos, to name but a few. these are followed by les grimpeurs, de klassiekers, les domestiques and finally i velocisti

conveniently for the approaching reader, part 1 is preceded by a short note on style, intended as a reflection on the velominati's reverence for cycling heritage. this explains why the above noted chapter headings are as they are.

"Using the language of the peloton might come across as Europhile snobbery, but our intention is to express our respect for the culture of our sport. And possibly be a bit snobbish.

the velominati, through their rules of cycling (included at the back of the book) have all but defined what it is to be a cyclist in this modern age. self-deprecation is an inherent feature of adherence to the rules, combined with a tongue that is firmly planted in one or other cheek. this is a carefully cultured state reflected even (and particularly) in the footnotes peppered throughout the book. for example, when discussing the meaning of parcours...

"Why don't we just say 'profile'? Because 'parcours' is French and it is customary to adopt the old European terms for such things whenever possible in order to further mystify our sport to those not familar with it."

yet, aside from the inherent sense of humour that pretends not to be humour within its pages, 'the hardmen' has the potential to become an essential read not only for those of us who like to think we are well-versed in cycling's rich heritage, but for those who might be in the early stages of worrying about actually having to wear a pair of lycra bibshorts. all the true greats are featured here: moser, verbrugghe, beryl burton, van impe, pantani, roche, de vlaeminck; i'm sure you get the picture, each reverently described in a manner that will ensure their continued adulation well into the future. this surely ought to mean that pelotonic conversations will rarely have to descend into explanatory mode when welcoming newbies to the throng.

for instance, what better way to introduce the inestimable jens voigt than by way of a post-race quote from the originator of shut up legs!?

"At one point Conan (the Barbarian) and his other old warrior friends capture this village, but then they find that they are surrounded by an army of tens of thousands, and his only reaction is 'Oh man, it's going to take days to kill all those people!'"

as with any list of this nature, one which bears comparison with the likes of rolling stone magazine's top 100 drummers' and slimming magazine's top ten fruits, there are always going to be what many of us regard as glaring omissions. true to their metièr, the keepers of the cog self-effacingly deal with this potential problem in the book's finale...

" is it possible that we left out some of the most hardened, tough riders in the world? There are a variety of explanations, some of which include things like 'would have required research' or 'forgot about them until after we finished'"

there are quite a number of cycling books that i have recently reviewed and several more that i am frantically reading in order to review prior to their publication dates, a battle that, sadly, i appear to be losing. however, it would be no exaggeration to state that several concern historical happenings in the world of the velocipede. of necessity, most of these are scholarly works, books that commend themselves predominantly to the cognoscenti, eager and willing to inhale every last scrap of information about the sport and its riders.

but no matter the apparent seriousness of our demeanour, there is always room for a smidgeon of levity. a former teacher of my acquaintance harboured the enviable ability to teach, while all the while appearing to be a perennial humourist, paying scant regard to the more serious business of education. were he in any way interested in cycling, he would absolutely adore this book. in fact, despite his lack of appreciation for way of the bicycle, he'd probably love it anyway. for those about to serve their apprenticeship in the nether regions of the sunday morning peloton, this will be like manna from merckx, offering an important overview of their potential birthright by way of preaching from atop the muur de geraardsbergen.

what i'm actually trying to say, in my usual long-winded way, is that this is utterly brilliant in every imaginable way.

"...Flanders, Belgium, where even small children ride in the big ring."

wednesday 31 may 2017

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corn exchange

dassi graphene frame

if you are of a certain era or age, and resident in the uk, you may have spent several of your childhood years watching a children's television progremme entitled blue peter. this was brough to mind yesterday on the announcement of the death of one of the programme's most popular presenters, john noakes, who sadly passed away aged 83. though strictly speaking a blue peter is the nickname given to the nautical flag representing the letter 'p', there will be few in britain who associate it with other than noakes, valerie singleton and peter purves, to name but three of the tv series' presenters.

though tv advertisements for technology such as smartphones and digital tablets often subtitle salient features with 'sequences shown have been shortened', blue peter presenters would commence on-screen projects such as building a doll's house, creating christmas decorations or even baking, undertakings which often took a lengthy period of time, before moving on by announcing "and here's one i made earlier" ensuring their alotted time came to an end before the six o'clock news.

with the bbc being a strictly non-advertising channel, items such as yoghurt cartons would have the brand name blanked out and with sellotape or scotch tape both being brand names, noakes et al would advise joining two items by means of sticky tape. and though children's tv made almost excessive use of the latter, it appears that almost fifteen years ago, two manchester university researchers, andre geim and konstantin novoselov, discovered the new miracle material graphene, by removing layer after layer from a sample of graphite until they were left with a single layer only one atom thick.

believe it or not, and i agree this almost sounds like fake news, they did so by removing those extra layers with sticky tape.

though graphene has received great plaudits and won its discoverers the nobel prize for physics, you'd be hard pressed to find many resulting products despite record numbers of graphene related patents having been filed since its discovery. and though in bicycle manufacture, steel gave way to aluminium and arguably titanium before carbon fibre ruled the roost, cycling apparently being more than keen to take advantage of technological development, it would be less than surprising if the velocipedinal world figured graphene to be the next big thing.

but so far, there's not a lot happening. granted, vittoria have incorporated graphene into the fabric of a road tyre, while dassi have incorporated a smidgeon of graphene bonded into their interceptor carbon frame, reputedly providing 'a more efficient transfer of power.' not to appear more cynical than usual, we may have heard those words too often to have much in the way of faith any more.

however, there is no doubting that graphene is one heck of a lot stronger than steel while being only a fraction of the weight. and it conducts heat like no other, making it potentially ideal for wheel rim brake surfaces, if only we weren't in the midst of a wholesale change to discs. maybe brake rotors could be fashioned from the material?

but while those of us affected with the bicycle affliction have become inured to the ever rising cost of our obsession, graphene might just raise the financial bar one more time before the next big thing. though 20 grams of graphene diluted in a litre of liquid could potentially coat two soccer fields, those 20 grams would cost around $16,000. granted, few of us have need of a bicycle quite that large, but though greater use of graphene would almost certainly reduce the cost per gram... well, i think you can see where i'm going with this.

but yet that cynicism refuses to go away; the chinese have recently announced what sounded like another bout of fake news when they determined that they were able to produce graphene from corn. yes, the stuff that grows in fields and sold in cans bearing the likeness of a jolly green giant. the last great 'natural' material to be incorporated into carbon frames was that of flax which featured in johann museeuw's offerings several years ago. in those days, rather than the great god stiffness, flax was reputed to ameliorate the latter in favour of a greater degree of comfort.

how long will it be before we can grow a new frame each season depending on the whims of the current trend? meanwhile i'm holding out for graphene espresso cups.

dassi bikes

tuesday 30 may 2017

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