it's only going to get worse (part two)

wahoo kickr fitness products

'tis somewhat unfortunate that i was travelling on saturday 7 july, after receiving an e-mail from the nice chaps at glasgow's drummers only, from where i generally purchase all manner of stuff that i will subsequently hit. they had announced a takeover of the store for the day by roland's john pullan, a drummer of whom i have not previously heard, but a man who enjoys the epithet of 'v-drums specialist'. for those not in the habit of hitting stuff with drumsticks, let me inform you that roland's v-drums are the percussionist's equivalent of the e-bike; it's drumming jim, but not as we know it.

i would quite like to have seen and heard that.

unlike e-bikes, however, electronic kits from the likes of roland, yamaha and alesis can be had for not much more than the average month's pocket money, possibly allowing folks like me, who have more neighbours within shouting distance than is truly practical for the practising drummer, to stick on a pair of headphones and drum in relative anonymity. however, at the sharp end of the e-kit world, the prices can easily reach £5,000 and above, a tad more than most of us would be willing to pay to simply practice in silence.

e-kits have no need of awaiting further development in battery technology, since they tend to be static and plugged into the mains electricity supply. however, the development part concerns not just the electronic brains, but the pads which are trying manfully to emulate the natural sonic variations available from real acoustic drums. and that, to be quite succinct, is my problem with electronic drumsets.

i own two quality acoustic kits and though i've played several versions of the electronic variety, i can't quite see the point of spending substantial amounts of time and money trying to replicate the endlessly subtle variations that the acoustics offer. granted the brains offer a whole slew of different sounding kits, but in my experience, drummers tend to find one or maybe two that suit their sensibilities and stick with them (pun intended). and though i'd be loath to denigrate the intellect of the average percussionist, most of us really can't be bothered learning the ins-and-outs of programming every last nuance available on the lcd screen.

we just like to hit stuff.

if you fancy more of a direct comparison, i might mention the electronic gear systems offered by the three major component providers. several of my fellow peletonese have push-button gears, one of them even with programming to shift the front mech depending on the gear selected at the rear. however, i'm willing to bet that even they'd agree that pushing a lever as opposed to pressing a button, is hardly a deal breaker. the archetypal 'solution looking for a problem'. if further evidence were required, i don't honestly recall fabian cancellara claiming he may have lost a race due to having opted for shimano's mechanical version of dura-ace.

however, at least the chaps with push buttons, by and large, are still accepting the slings and arrows proffered by the great outdoors, content, for the most part, to struggle manfully through driving wind, pouring rain and one or two other elements i may have missed in the interim. apparently, as mentioned only a matter of days ago, for an allegedly growing number of so-called cyclists, a day in the office consists of sitting on a turbo trainer, linked to an enormous flat-screen tv, fooling themselves that they're hammering their best friends in another country around the 21 hairpin bends of alpe d'huez.

an acquaintance of mine, whose wife is a committed triathlete, apparently thinks nothing of a three-hour turbo session in order to improve her chances in the next bout of swimming, cycling and running that happens along. he and i were agreed that we'd probably have to get off after three minutes. however, depending on you point of view, things have just become almost irrepairably worse or better at the hands of wahoo fitness, makers of the worryingly named kickr climb, an indoor trainer gradient simulator costing £500 more than going out and riding up hills.

but while i'm doing all i can to smother a bout of sniggers over that one, wahoo have given rise to loud guffaws of laughter by announcing the release of the kickr headwind, allegedly the first purpose-built, smart fan 'designed specifically for the needs of indoor cyclists'. for a mere £200, the average agoraphobic cyclist can eschew those troublesome outdoor elements, connect their kickr headwind smart fan with heart-rate and speed sensors to experience 'a realistic, powerful headwind up to 30mph'.

if only i was kidding.

in an activity not noted for its intrinsic compatibility, wahoo's founder and ceo, the appropriately named chip hawkins, confirms that his latest range of devices designed to alleviate any requirement to actually ride your bicycle to and from somewhere, maintain "compatibility with a wide range of gravel, cyclocross, mountain and road bikes.". full marks to the gent for stating the glaringly obvious.

i know that i have gained an uncanny ability to emulate the sound of a broken record with regard to such invidious circumstances, but whatever happened to getting the bike out the bikeshed and going for a bike ride? how on earth can we assume the mantle of 'glory through suffering' if we eschew a smidgeon of inclement weather for the safety of a 40 inch oled tv and "the quietest, most realistic ride feel created"? along with reiterating that a headwind is not a headwind if it's less than 24mph, cycling isn't meant to be quiet, but it is meant to be realistic and the best way to achieve that is to go ride your bike in the great outdoors.

i'm currently exploring the patent options for a kickr shower™ a device that plumbs into the water supply and offers realistic rain™ blown into your face by the kickr headwind, purely in order that the makers of protective cyclewear still have a viable market in the next decade.

take note of the wahoo price tags listed above, factor in an annual subscription to something like zwift and strava pro, then remember that 'outside is free'. to phrase it in more vernacular terms: get a grip people.

wahoo fitness

monday 9 july 2018

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the mojo is officially confused

peugeot 5008

hanging on the wall at the top of the stairs is a large, framed poster of robert millar. it features a graphic of robert's signature at the foot and was issued to celebrate millar's success in gaining the king of the mountains jersey and fourth place overall in the 1984 tour de france. the issuer of this iconic poster was millar's team and bike sponsor, peugeot and i am still grateful to andy and mick at prendas who sent it to me on the basis that i'd give it a good home.

i did.

peugeot ef01 electric folding bike

peugeot's sponsorship of the team fed by the iconic acbb, while retaining the same name on the downtube, changed from the bike company to the car company during the course of becoming the most successful team of all time. mind you, in 1987,though peugeot remained the bike sponsor, manager roger legeay brought in vetements z as title sponsor and the memorable black and white chequerboard patterned jersey was replaced by one more akin to that of a super hero rather than a bike rider. i will not insult your intelligence by describing the ensuing years which included mr lemond.

peugeot ef01 electric folding bike

sadly, when greg's own bike company became supplier to the team, peugeot went rapidly downhill in terms of the race quality or profile of their bikes. they eventually became a part of bicycle europe, surviving pretty much as a transfer applied to taiwanese-built framesets. though vintage steel peugeots are still much sought after, i doubt there are any amongst us who harbour ambitions to add a contemporary peugeot road bike to the armoury in the bikeshed.

but it's possible that the missing links in their ancestry have been comfortably sidestepped, having passed 'go', collected their £200 and equated themselves with the current prognostications for the bike industry. perhaps they've even managed to grab a small lead on the competition.

peugeot ef01 electric folding bike

i say this with a wry smile, because the advance described has actually been promulgated by peugeot cars as opposed to the bicyclists. designed to integrate with the latest peugeot 5008 suv, complete with charging point in the boot, is an electric folding bicycle, designated as the ef01. weighing a not altogether featherweight, 18kg +, it features a 208 watt battery and offers a top speed of 12.5mph. according to peugeot, the battery can be charged in around an hour and it takes a mere ten seconds to fold or unfold.

you may, as i did, wonder why adding a folding bicycle to a motor car makes any real sense, other than as something of a marketing gimmick. i recall a number of years ago, vauxhall offered a model with a built-in bike rack, a feature that i'm pretty sure no longer exists as a present day option. (it will be interesting to see how long the peugeot e-bike lasts.) however, to return to my original question, peugeot see their ef01 as taking care of the last mile, by which i assume they mean driving just close enough to see the office, then parkking the car and cycling to work in order to receive the environmental plaudits of your fellow staff members.

or something like that.

the ef01 electric folding bike is an optional extra on all 5008 models. sadly, despite painstakingly looking at all 22 pages of the 5008 pdf brochure, i couldn't find out how much the darned bike costs. the car itself starts at £25,580

peugeot 5008

sunday 8 july 2018

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it just gets worse (part one)

road grand tours

our local paper, this week, carries a letter from a gent who, when on holiday on islay, contrived to get lost. well, sort of lost, since his letter doesn't actually explain in detail where he was attempting to go in the first place. it did take more than a moment or two to figure quite what the problem might have been, as he relates his tale from having driven north from portnahaven before turning left onto the b8018. depicting his route in this manner may not have seemed altogether unusual to him, but considering the exit road onto the latter noted single-track road is some ten miles from his starting point and involves driving through both port charlotte and bruichladdich, we were a tad confused.

however, though explaining just how much he and his family had enjoyed their visit, his principal beef concerned an apparent lack of signposting; in this case, alerting him as to the turn off point for the b8017. according to google maps, last updated in june 2009, there was indeed a road sign pointing to the b8017, but none of us in the office could recall whether it is still in situ, or whether the driver had simply been so distracted by the fabulous scenery to be seen round those parts, that he drove right past.

road grand tours

the road in question is one well-frequented by the velo club, leading as it does from the rspb reserve at gruinart across to loch gorm and the island's atlantic coast. the difference, however, is that we know exactly where we're going, we are more than acquainted with the distances between points and we've a pretty good idea as to how long that particular route will take to pedal. therefore, we have no need of road signs and thus ignore them altogether. for instance the neighbouring sign to that which may or may not be missing in action, points to kentraw, an oddity in itself since it can hardly be described as a direct route to what amounts to no more than four houses.

why would you signpost that? and how come we've never noticed that before?

all this is but of academic interest, for by the time anyone reaches the loch gorm perimeter road, minor details such as signposts ought to be of little interest. even in the throes of winter, when atlantic gales have every intention of hurrying rider and bicycle into the nearest ditch, the surrounding view is breathtaking. one of our recent sunday morning recruits recently asked for a brief pause in proceedings to allow him to realise just how lucky he was to be living on this rock in the atlantic and, more importantly, to be able to experience it from the saddle. as i have repeated till you're tired of reading it, 'outside is free'.

road grand tours

yet, despite such regular repetition, it is a mantra that seems not to have pervaded the 'road grand tours' organisation, who have kindly, yet misguidedly informed me of their most recent upgrade to 'the most immersive indoor cycling experience'. in years gone by, long before the signpost for the b8017 is alleged to have gone missing, the words 'indoor' and 'cycling' would have been considered mutually exclusive. but instead of drooling at length over the latest in carbon fibre or the shiniest of componentry, the folks at rgt would have us converse about 'realistic graphics,' 'customisable avatars' and compatibility with something called 'occulus rift' (i've got all their albums).

according to the comprehensive and enthusiastic press release, modern cyclists are prevented from getting out and about by such life threatening factors as "bad weather, time constraints and poor road conditions". in the light of the above, i seriously wonder whether paris-roubaix will survive for more than a few years. rapha, castelli, assos and endura might as well cease production of anything that could be misconstrued as a waterproof. though i make no apology for my prejudicial view of this sad sub-genre of cycling, for those of you who may be intrigued, allow me to be even more impertinently biased by quoting further from road grand tours:

road grand tours

"In order to replicate the ebb and flow of a peloton, avatars adhere to accurate drafting and peloton dynamics currently unavailable on other platforms. When accelerating past other riders, avatars move out into the wind requiring more power to maintain speed. If you sit too far off the back of the wheel in front, you'll soon know about it. What's more, RGT is also compatible with the Oculus Rift VR headset for those that want a unique virtual experience."

if this has piqued your interest even further, i fear you are beyond help. i've no doubt this type of thing has its loyal adherents, but don't kid yourself that it's anything like cycling in the real world. if you're swithering on the edge, wondering whether or not to jump, pop back in a day or two for part two, because it's soon to get a whole lot worse.

road grand tours

saturday 7 july 2018

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getting started in road cycling by guy andrews. illustrations by laura quick. rapha editions/blue train publishing softback. 144pp illus. £12

"This book is dedicated to happy memories of Charlotte Easton, the toughest and most inspirational cyclist I ever met." guy andrews.

getting started in road cycling - guy andrews

in an episode of monty python's flying circus, john cleese, primly dressed as an elderly female paleontologist, expounds her theory of dinosaurs, succinctly put as "they're quite thin at one end, get much, much bigger in the middle and then thin again at the other end." or words to that effect. when queried on the veracity of this theory, cleese is keen to underline that it is entirely his/her theory/idea. that, to place not too heavy an emphasis on it, is the situation i find myself in with this review.

well sort of, but not really.

many moons ago, having received the occasional e-mail asking for a more thorough explanation of a term or concept that i had apparently used in the course of a review or article, i thought it would be an excellent idea to compile a separate, yet permanent section of the post that would deal with the very subject matter that is the raison de être of the publication under review. all i can say is that thank goodness i took the idea no further and that messrs andrews and quick subsequently took up the baton, even if a few years later.

road cycling is a very complex sport, even if we pretend that it isn't. there are incredibly basic questions still being asked on a daily basis, to which ready answers are either hard to find or embarrassing to ask. for instance, should you remove your underwear prior to inhabiting a pair of lycra bibshorts? i think it likely that the majority of us already know the answer to that one, a question answered by mr andrews on the partial dustcover, but if you've just joined a cycle club peopled by hardened cyclists, would you be brave enough to pipe up come coffee time?

getting started in road cycling - guy andrews

in the early 2000s, i met guy andrews for the first time as he brought us the early and much-celebrated editions of rouleur magazine. he showed me a copy of stephan vanfleteren's flandrien, a compact and bijou publication i immediately purchased on returning home, one that not only altered my perception of photography, but also that of cycle sport. rather obviously, even well over a decade ago, mr andrews was well versed in the way of the road-going velocipede. as such, i can think of few others better qualified to bring us an introduction to the genre.

'Getting Started in Road Cycling' is laid out very informally, making the most of combining the author's text with laura quick's superb and apposite illustrations. in the manner of the very best introductions to what i surmise will be a new activity for the great majority of readers, it doesn't preach. and to put the aspirational roadie even more at ease, the pages are peppered with soundbites from those who still recall their own early steps.

"Find someone to ride with so you can chat to them or at least listen to them chatting. Someone with relationship problems is ideal, as they'll be able to keep going for ages." laura bower.

getting started in road cycling - guy andrews

however, prior to reaching the stage where the new cyclist swallows the embarrassment of appearing in public clad in often bright polyester and lycra, there is the not insignificant matter of acquiring a suitable bicycle and preferably one that fits properly. i seriously doubt there is one amongst our ranks who hasn't suffered being witheringly patronised by a bike shop staff member. they may well delight in discussing the minutiae of cassette ratios and whether a 14 tooth jump between chainrings is preferable to 16, but when you have yet to figure out just what a chainring is, being asked as to one's preference is probably a sweatable situation.

"Think about what type of riding you do most of the time: for example, do you want a bike to ride a challenge event, commute to work and to collect the shopping on? Or all three? Or are you riding simply for fun and fitness?

if i know people who bought a road bike when a 'cross bike would have been a better choice (or vice versa), i'm sure guy andrews knows a lot more. the open secret, as clearly expounded by the author, is to undertake a modicum of research. some less than reputable bike shops will imply that you need a particular type and size of bicycle because that's what happens to be in stock. forearmed means you'll be in a better position to discriminate between advice and salesmanship. and on the latter point, guy asks the question new or secondhand?, before offering the benefit of his expertise in such matters and perhaps more to the point, how much you should consider spending?

getting started in road cycling - guy andrews

"It's better to buy a better value bike and set something aside for running costs and regular maintenance. Don't be fooled into expecting expensive kit to last forever. It doesn't." sam humpheson.

of course, getting hold of a bicycle is quite possibly the easy part; then you've got to ride it, ultimately in company and dressed not only for comfort, but in a manner that won't mark you out as someone who bought their first road bike the day before. thus the book continues wending its way through much of what we probably take for granted offering words of sage advice and accompanied by delightfully observed illustrations that are as intrinsic to the situation as mr andrews' words.

however, if i may once again refer to the book's title Getting Started in Road Cycling, with the emphasis on the word cycling, it would be a poor introduction that failed to point out as many of the basics as possible, including the potentially embarrassing clipping in or perhaps more poignantly unclipping.

"...When you are starting out, mountain bike-style pedals are so much easier to get in and out of (they are double-sided) and better for beginners to learn. Plus, you don't waddle like a penguin when walking into a coffee shop." helen wyman.

but not only do you need to know the difference between road and mountain bike pedals, if you're going to change them during the season, you need to know how that's accomplished. and there are other mechanical aspects of your new machinery that should be considered as pre-requisites. for instance, can you mend a puncture? and if one occurs miles from home when it's raining, should you mend or replace? on drop bars, which bit should you hang onto for grim death? and while you're figuring that out, which of those ten or eleven gears is the right one to ride in? and how the heck do you change the little blighters?

getting started in road cycling - guy andrews

i've read through this slim, informative volume at least twice, desperately trying to think of a question i could ask that either guy failed to answer, or laura hadn't illustrated. at the point of writing this review, i've failed to come up with a single one. and i've probably been riding road bikes for slightly longer (but undoubtedly slower) than the author. that this exists as a part of the rapha editions series is not only a brave move by imperial works, but further indication that the folks at tileyard road clearly understand their customer base, one that has undoubtedly changed somewhat since they opened their doors in 2004.

though i think it very unlikely that the unitiated are reading features on a website named after consumer whitegoods, if you've happened by as a result of the impending three weeks in july, nab yourself a copy of this superb introduction to road cycling and keep it in one of those three rear pockets about which you'll soon be familiar. at least until you become insufferably blasé like the rest of us.

getting started in road cycling

friday 6 july 2018

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i don't want to know


i am sufficiently insulated from the world around me not to know whether the current extensive heatwave is affecting parts of the united kingdom other than the hallowed isle. however, i'm pretty sure that it probably is; and if it's not, no doubt some well-meaning individual will e-mail to tell me. last week, certainly, the isles to the north of scotland claimed to be less than scorched, featuring evening temperatures in single digits. i know this because one of my friends spent the week fly-fishing a long way from home and i have his testimony as evidence.

like many a modern day worker, the daily grind consists of sitting in front of a computer screen, pressing keys in a sequence that i fervently hope will result in productive activity. fortunately, though i can scarcely recall the last time i saw rain, the office is situated in such a way that the sun doesn't break through until past mid-afternoon. this results in a cooler working day than those on the surrounding farms. the notion of standing in the middle of a large field, either pointing at sheep, or gathering silage in the oppressive heat scarcely bears thinking about. however, lest we forget how allegedly invigorating it is out of doors, pretty much every individual stepping across the threshold seems keen to point out just how pleasant it is in the great landscape that is bowmore main street.

when days such as this impinge upon the day to day, the more devilish amongst us are are wont to inform holidaymakers that it's like this all year round. however, it appears that one or two susceptible individuals are likely to take such comments more seriously than they truly should. placed in one window of the office are a range of properties for sale on the island, advertisements that seem to generate greater attention on sunny days than they do on wet and windy ones. like many a location, seen in bright and sunny conditions, owning a house on islay can seem like something of a wizard wheeze, a wheeze that comes back to bite when winter sets in.

see how we laugh.

sitting behind partially closed venetian blinds, it's hard to see the relaxed activity taking place outdoors, but i'd be willing to bet that there are no more islanders on bicycles than there were when the weather was less temperate. yet, according to bike shops throughout britain, the sunny weather has not only improved bicycle sales, but encouraged more to ride for transport or leisure purposes. london's santander bike hire has reputedly reported its busiest june since the service commenced in 2010, following on from record hires of over one million in may.

yet despite the recommendations from visiting members of the public, i've not been on a bicycle since last friday's whizz from lochranza to lagg, undertaken not on a bicycle of choice. according to a rapha technical tee that i possess, 'it's cooler when you ride' an epithet with which i find myself in total accord. but sadly, like many, i'm not in a position to go ride my bike, for either business or pleasure whenever the notion takes me. to read that the current spell of highly clement weather has provided a spike in bicycle use is all very inspiring, if a tad egregious in my opinion.

however, it's a weather front that can hardly be described as character building. 'easy peasy' would be more accurate. in short, i'm fed up with hot sunny weather; where is the wind, the rain, the hail, the very essence of hebridean existence that transforms us into hardy and utterly irresponsible cyclists? by the time all that returns, the velo club will have gone soft and well on the way to couch potatoeness, a prospect that is less than endearing.

or is it just me?

thursday 5 july 2018

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what a heap of shite

for any bona-fide bicycle mechanic, the following will be considerably less than remarkable. in fact, i'd be willing to bet that many will wonder why it is even deemed a subject worthy of airing in the first place. i'm confident enough in my abilities to consider myself a reasonably decent mechanic, but my location scarcely puts me at the centre of the velocipedinal repair universe. however, when you consider that islay could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be classified as host to a large, enthusiastic cycling community, it will not surprise you to learn that the average spend on a bicycle probably hovers around the £150 mark. at the risk of appearing unbearably elitist, that is hardly a guarantee of quality.

though my surmising alone is probably sufficient to warrant an accurate appraisal of the situation, i do have concrete evidence. and i am not necessarily referring to the weight of any particular bicycle.

what a heap of shite

the bicycle in question, one which easily adheres to the acronym expounded in my heading (i'll leave you to figure that one out for yourselves) will remain nameless, principally on the grounds that i'd prefer that the corporate lawyers occupy themselves elsewhere. however, it was left in my care ostensibly to have the front inner tube replaced due to a faulty valve. the bicycle had scarcely been ridden, according to its owner, and the front tyre had refused to remain inflated since point of mail-order purchase and delivery. i think i can already hear my reader shifting uncomfortably in the chair, white-knuckled in anticipation of what's to follow.

i figure that, had it been my purchase, there would have been a swift phone call to customer service, but each to their own. the bicycle featured a bolt-on axles, so 'twas but a simple matter of employing a 15mm spanner to loosen the bolts, remove the wheel and extricate the faulty inner tube. its replacement was of considerably better quality than its predecessor, fitted easily and inflated without concern.

what a heap of shite

at this point, i attempted to inflate the rear tyre to match the pressure of its partner, only to discover a quiet hissing sound on removing the track pump chuck from the valve, indicating the very reason why the tyre was seriously under-inflated in the first place. the bicycle featured only a single rear freewheel sprocket and was easy enough to release from the road-style dropouts before removing a second apparently faulty inner tube and tyre. at that point, the reason for the hissing sound became perfectly clear.

for those less than mechanically minded, let me explain. around every wheel rim is a circle of rim-tape, separating the tube from the ends of the wheel spokes. on the sort of wheels that most of us employ, that tape is of a particularly robust construction, lying flat around the rim's inner circumference. on budget alloy such as that under discussion, they are invariably of a soft rubber constitution, somewhat prone to splitting, but particularly susceptible to twisting. in this particular case, the tape had slid well to one side, exposing a sequence of at least five spoke ends to the vulnerable inner tube.

what a heap of shite

put some air into that tube and 'pop goes the weasel'.

rim tape sorted, tube and tyre replaced, when re-fitting the wheel, i experienced a smidgeon of difficulty getting the chain to roll smoothly back onto the chainring. sure that all was just as it ought to be, i spun the cranks, resulting in the chain falling off once more. it was a state of affairs that repeated itself more than once too often until i realised that one of the chainring teeth was bent inwards, refusing to engage with the chain links. judicious use of a pair of pliers sorted that.

the point of my lengthy diatribe is that this is not the sort of mechanical distress that ought to be experienced by the purchaser of a new bicycle shaped object. there's just an outside chance that the owner had been persuaded to acquire a bicycle by my incessant and undoubtedly tiresome proselytising. in which case, my people have let me down. and though i may have partially saved the day, it would have been so much better had i not had to.

then again, if you buy cheap rubbish...

wednesday 4 july 2018

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the wind at my back; a cycling life. paul maunder. bloomsbury sport hardback. 266pp. £16.99

the wind at my back - paul maunder

"You're a writer, because you write, and you have no choice in the matter. But if no f**ker reads it, what's the point?"

it's not only a bit of a cliché and an oversimplification to state that everybody has a book/novel in them, but i should imagine that in the majority of cases, it's just plain wrong. for starters, not everybody is particularly adept at writing and i seriously doubt that the insidious infiltration of modern-day texting is helping place that situation in a positive light. and though i have little in the way of difficulty scribbling these daily missives, i know for a fact that i could never sit down and write an entire book, one that traverses several hundred pages.

not fact and not fiction.

firstly, let me make it plain that the words are not the problem; i have more than enough of the latter and several that i have scarcely made use of (though i'd readily agree that there are far too many that have suffered from overuse). it's the strategy that's the problem. as one of life's untidier individuals, organising thoughts, phrases, paragraphs, even words, into a semblance of order that others might find interesting enough to make it as far as the last page, would make scaling the angliru seem like a walk in the park. let me put your minds at rest; i will not be publishing a book anytime in the foreseeable future.

fortunately for those who delight in prose that beautifully transcends its wide-ranging subject matter, books that are intellectually invigorating and engaging from start to finish, paul maunder has now published his second in less than a year. the predecessor to 'the wind at my back', concerned the intriguing world of international cyclocross, ('rainbows in the mud'). in my review of that particular publication i was wont to say "it's a strategically planned book, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the world of cyclocross before they've even realised." it's a tactic that seems to be an integral part of mr maunder's innate writing ability, one that informs this latest outing and very much in its favour.

paul maunder has regularly contributed to the highly esteemed rouleur magazine and, to a greater or lesser extent, this outing effectively encapsulates his autobiography, an overview of the life of a writer slowly discovering that fiction may not be his best calling card. at this point, all i can say is thank goodness for ian cleverly's perspicacity.

but, at the risk of committing a second sweeping generalisation, aren't biographies and autobiographies (even if not flagged as such) more usually concerned with the rich and famous? though the author confesses to an average 'career' as a racing cyclist, the events in which he participated were probably not writ large on the wall planner at aigle. this realisation, however, in no way undermines maunder's acceptance of the underlying rules of cycling which he is astute enough to relate to the early interests of a teenager. (and i do not refer to the rules promulgated by velominati).

"Cycling pain is a kind of pleasure, so we might say it's a masochistic pain. Rather like being in love, then."

paul maunder's appreciation of cycling seems informed by the same set of specifics that would be applicable to the bona-fide touring cyclist, noting features of the landscapes through which he rode as a boy and a man. at the risk of being at the end of a pointing finger, i suspect they are hardly aspects readily associated with those immersed in the competitive realm. these are combined with a ready appreciation of those with artistic and literary designs upon the same countryside, learned references to which abound throughout his narrative.

"In 1967 a young artist called Richard Long, a student at Central Saint Martins, took a train out of London from Waterloo station. When the train reached open fields [...] (he) walked to a nearby meadow. There he walked in a straight line, back and forth until the weight of his footsteps formed a visible line of downtrodden grass."

in fact, to more closely examine his enthusiasm for the environment through which he rides his bicycle, as early as chapter two, maunder rests upon the very eureka moment when that became a concrete happenstance. "This lane gently winds past Elizabethan Pyrton Manor, past Home Farm and New Farm, over a stream that connects with the landscaped grounds of nearby Shirburn Castle. It was here that the joy of cycling first broke into my bloodstream.". though i do not count poetry amongst my many interests, i defy anyone to deny that writing such as that quoted above is the work of a poet.

and there rests the very essence of 'the wind at my back'. i hope that mr maunder will forgive me for stating that the story of his velocipedinally afflicted life is no more remarkable than that of many others; but the attraction of this book's 266 pages, utterly devoid of illustration as they are, relies on the way the tale is told; the words, the phraseology, the observation, the semantic awareness. i would seriously contend that paul maunder inhabits the same literary space as herbie sykes, matt seaton and possibly even paul fournel. yet his writing ability floats above his subject matter, offering enhancement, but never interference. if, as a reader, you are less than interested in such matters of literary excellence, fear not, for in much the same way that an episode of the simpsons appeals to adults without the kids ever noticing, 'the wind at my back' inhabits several levels simultaneously.

lest you think that i am guilty of over-egging mr maunder's pudding (and that of its paul nash inspired cover illustration), this is likely one of the most enjoyable books about cycling that's not about cycling, yet is all about cycling, i have had the pleasure of reading in many a long day. though i've no doubt that his endeavours in fiction would have ultimately borne fruit, it seems glaringly obvious that, in this case, truth is greater than fiction.

this is world class.

"To the external viewer...the fact that I had written fiction and was now going to try some non-fiction probably didn't seem ground-shaking. To me [...] it was bold, scary, exciting and disappointing."

tuesday 3 july 2018

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................