mad cow dis-ease

cows on the road

i spent the first thirty or so years of my life on the scottish mainland, the majority of them in a region well known for its agriculture. however, if i was out cycling or travelling in a motor car around the more rural regions, cows and sheep were always domiciled within fenced fields, either ignoring all that passed them by, or huddled close to the fence, keepng a bovine eye on proceedings. islay, and, i'm led to believe, other islands on scotland's west coast, have an entirely different modus operandi.

the road which stretches from bridgend village, north to ballygrant and locally referred to as the glen road, features a dip, just before it starts climbing quite steeply towards storakaig. at the foot of the dip is a cattle grid, beyond which a herd of cattle once congregated. aside from making a bit of a mess of the road, they had a tendency to remain stationary and stare at any approaching traffic. not long after moving here, i was that traffic.

as a confirmed 'townie', i had no idea what cows were capable of, or what they were likely to do when confronted by a speeding (a guy can dream, can't he?) cyclist. as i approached at a more sedate pace, they continued to stare and my concerns grew just a smidgeon. when only several feet away, i'm afraid i capitulated, turned round, and headed back to bridgend. sadly, in the intervening thirty years or so, i'm not sure that my understanding of cattle behaviour is any better now than it was then.

on that same stretch of road only a matter of years ago, the late lord carlos of mercian and i were chased by a couple of cows up the steepest part of the climb. it transpires this was due to the presence of new-born calves and despite the fact that we were very markedly riding on the road, mummy cow still apparently saw us as a threat to her offspring. cows are rather large animals and would undoubtedly pack a hefty punch when coming into contact with carbon fibre and a honed athlete.

the printer in our office lives on a farm on islay's west coast and her partner curates a fine herd of blue-grays. the farm is situated on the single-track coast road between kilchiaran and portnahaven. a few years back, i was heading down that road, only to come across the aforemention herd of blue-grays congregating on the road, adjacent to the farm entrance. normally, making a lot of noise and shouting at cattle will succeed in having them disperse, even if only temporarily. unfortunately, the blue-grays stood their ground, completely disinterested in making any movement whatsoever. since the option of returning in the direction from which i had arrived was not an attractive one, i persevered, forcing my way through the herd.

the latter is not to be recommended. startled cattle often kick and if they decide that you are dispensible, there's really not a lot you have in your favour. in this case, my misplaced bravado was, thankfully, lucky.

despite the velo club's combined experience of cattle on the road, on reaching the plateau between storakaig and knocklearach yesterday morning, we were somewhat dismayed to find a large herd of cattle, including calves and a bull, between us and the cattle grid. of course, we did what any brave peloton would do and hung back while one poor unfortunate made the pre-emptive strike. thankfully, cows and calves scattered in both directions, while the (rather large) bull remained lying at the side of the road. it is acquired wisdome from the farming community, that bulls are rarely a danger if in the company of cows. yesterday, that proved to be correct.

i wish i could offer better advice than to shout at any cattle on the road ahead, if you need safe passage. nine times out of ten, that will be enough to spook them and allow you through. if you find yourself approaching cattle walking along the road or roadside, with their hindquarters towards you, make sure you talk to them loudly. that way they'll be aware of your presence; frightened cows and carbon fibre do not make good bedfellows.

not all cattle are free to roam the open road; the majority are indeed, coralled behind walls or fences, but within argyll and bute at least, there is apparently no requirement for cattle to be kept safely within a field. if you're cycle-touring in the region this summer, i think it's as well to know your options in advance.

when it comes to sheep, well, they're not dangerous, they're just unpredictably nuts.

monday 15 july 2019

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rené herse hurricane ridge 700x42 gravel tyres

rené herse hurricane ridge tyres

gravel could be perceived to have , at least temporarily, supplanted cyclocross when time comes to acquire a bike for offroad that does not resemble a sprung farm gate. though adherence to the competitive side of the 'cross milieu, in the uk at least, is hardly oversubscribed, i know that many a commuter has purchased a 'cross bike to ride to and from work due to its sturdiness, disc brakes and less aggressive stance than that of the road going counterpart.

rené herse hurricane ridge tyres

i too participated, at least temporarily, in this diversion, equipping my bright orange and green specialized crux with a set of challenge strada bianche 33mm road tyres, for a brief weekend in arran. its composure, thus shod, was more than appropriate for the task at hand. but therein lies the difference, or at least one of them. the uci, in their infinite wisdom, restricts the competition width of 'cross tyres to 33mm maximum, so not all 'cross bikes, particularly those at the high end, where competition use would be most likely, have clearance for tyres of greater width.

rené herse hurricane ridge tyres

this factor, no doubt, plays into the hands of the manufacturer, who can now sell 'cross bike owners a gravel bike, should they perceive a need for wider rubber in the course of their perambulations.

well, maybe.

dorset's sven cycles, aside from building superb, bespoke bicycles, are also agents for rené herse tyres, a company formerly known as 'compass cycles'. darren coppin, at sven cycles, very kindly despatched a pair of 700x42mm hurricane ridge gravel tyres for review, my only fears being that the crux would not offer sufficient clearance at the rear (clearance on the front fork is massive) to allow the fitting of these tyres. happily, the width between the chainstays coped well with the extra 9mm of rubber, so all appeared fine in happy valley.

rené herse hurricane ridge tyres

fine, that is, until it came time to fit them to the stock dtswiss rims. though the tyres are tubeless compatible, the rims are not, and allowing for my misgivings over the point of tubeless tyres in the first place, they were always going to be fitted with inner tubes in any case. in order to spare you the gory details, it took approximately three hours to fit two tyres, puncturing two inner tubes in the process and giving me thumb ache that still persists seven days later.

having corresponded with others on the subject, it would appear that the art of creating a tubeless tyre, given that it has need of creating a rené herse hurricane ridge tyres tight seal between bead and rim, has made the blighters all but impossible to ease on. my great concern is suffering a puncture when out in the wild, particularly if gravel riding at the time. i sincerely hope that tyre and rim manufacturers can come to some sort of compromise, particularly in the light of the majority of recent tyre releases involving tubeless compatible models. obviously, your mileage may vary, depending on the type and make of rim onto which you hope to fit a pair of hurricane ridge gravel tyres, but at present, my thumbs are still not speaking to me.

rené herse hurricane ridge tyres

however, having invested so much time, effort and swear words in getting the tyres up and running, it was my fervent hope that they would at least compensate by offering a ride quality every bit the equal of a flying carpet. actually, they're darned close.

all of islay's distilleries offer tours of the premises, pointing out why it is that their individual product is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and giving insights into the many nooks and crannies that feature in buildings constructed well over a century ago. however, in order to satisfy the demand for more and more, almost all list several distinct tours, exponentially increasing in price as you read down the programme. the ultimate tours are surely those offering a walk to their particular water-source, or perhaps out to the peat moss, where a gent, well-practiced in the art of cutting peats, will make it look like simplicity itself, then allow you to make a complete fool of yourself while attempting to emulate his demonstration.

rené herse hurricane ridge tyres

the latter demonstration will more than likely be undertaken using age-old tools specifically designed for the purpose centuries ago. but considering the current demand for islay's malts, those reliant on peat smoke for a high phenol count (such as ardbeg, lagavulin and laphroaig), consume peat at greater rate than could be supplied by one or two individuals cutting peats all day using quaint hand-tools. in point of fact, the peat is extracted on a far greater scale, using several double-wheeled tractors, excavators and huge tracts of peat-rich land. and, obviously enough, to get to the latter, a wide, lengthy gravel track has had to be constructed, one made even longer in order to reach the site of islay's sole wind turbine.

rené herse hurricane ridge tyres

it is this very gravel road on which i experienced the commendable grip and comfort offered by the rené herse hurricane ridge tyres. grip is provided by an evenly spaced, repetitive pattern of large knobbles. these seem to shrug off pretty much anything standing in their way, including large, embedded rocks, loose gravel and substantial, periodic coverings of peat. negotiating large, parked tractors and diggers, served only to demonstrate a commensurate degree of manoeuvrability, without once provoking a skid or slide.

and, just as cheerfully, the tyres roll remarkably well on tarmac too.

rené herse hurricane ridge tyres

according to the molded detail on the tan sidewall, rené herse recommend 60psi (4bar). i'd to err a few psi above that to seat the tyres properly on the rims, but subsequently lowered the pressure to around 45-50psi. they give every indication of riding well at pressures lower than this, should muddy conditions dictate, but for the purposes of my first ride in changing conditions, that choice would appear to have been more than appropriate.

it would be foolish to pretend that only 30 or 40km of gravel-riding is sufficient to gauge the efficacy of a pair of tyres. it will take far more than that to come to a suitable conclusion; i have yet to get the tyres wet. however, despite the thumb-breaking effort required to fit them, initial appreciation would seem to confirm that these will possibly be the bees knees for those intent on participating in next year's grinduro on arran, or, farther afield, america's dirty kanza. time will tell, and so will i.

rené herse tyres are distributed in the uk by sven cycles. the standard weight 700x42 hurricane ridge gravel tyres retail at £58 each/$71 (£116/$142 per pair) also available, at greater cost, are light weight, endurance and endurance plus versions.

sven cycles, dorset | rené herse cycles

sunday 14 july 2019

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how green is my valley?

lithium on the periodic table

the office nikon had remained in a drawer for more than just a single year, predominantly because the previous two editors of the paper, owned and preferred to use, their own cameras. however, the present incumbent opted to make use of this metallic red device a few weeks back, only to discover that the battery was effectively, unchargeable. i therefore attempted to order a couple of replacement batteries from amazon, to learn that these were items that could not be sent offshore.

we got round this problem by having them delivered to a friend on the mainland and brought to islay during a recent visit. the laughability of this situation is surely that a couple of very modestly-sized lithium batteries could ostensibly not be transported by ferry and truck due to unspecified restrictions, yet bringing them by car, using the same ferry was pretty much unremarkable. to add insult to injury, had i ordered a new camera, complete with installed lithium battery, amazon had no problem delivering that to islay.

difficulties such as those mentioned above are, quite possibly, simply the result of a lack of joined up thinking, though the necessary thinking might take a few more years to take place. but it does beggar the question as to how not only the transport infrastructure, but pretty much every infrastructure will cope with the apparently unstoppable rise of the battery-powered e-bike and, by implication, the soon to be ubiquitous and autonomous electric car. only a matter of days ago, i made mention of halford's prognostication, that the uk alone will be buying 1.5 million e-bikes by half-way through this century. by that time, not only will a substantially greater number of batteries be required, but the batteries we're using now will all have come to the end of their useful lives.

european legislation requires that purveyors of electric bicycles must warranty their batteries for a minimum of two years. the majority of batteries will, however, last considerably longer, depending on the number of charge cycles they've been subjected two over those 24 months. bosch reckon that their current range of e-bike batteries ought to last for at least 1500 charge cycles, which they equate to an average of ten years. but suppose you have need of replacement within that two year warranty period? the same legislation demands that, if a lithium battery has damaged cells, it should not be transported in any manner other than being carried on foot. in which case, you'd better hope that your nearest e-bike dealer is within walking distance.

there will be few current e-bike batteries that have reached the end of their road (so to speak), but when that happens, how do you recycle or dispose of that battery? i asked william watt at specialized uk, purveyors of a previously reviewed, turbo vado, whether owners should take the battery to their nearest specialized dealer? he told me...

"Globally, Specialized has prepaid up front for each of the Lithium- Ion batteries we source and fit to our Turbo bikes to be responsibly recycled in any market.
"The principle is that any owner of a dead battery fitted to one of our Turbo bikes, can take it to and leave it with a municipal recycling centre to be recycled without a cost to the rider, in theory. If any rider faces any challenge to this locally, we would take the battery back and organise the responsible recycling ourselves and at our cost."

i checked with my local council, who told me that, should i have need of disposing of a lithium battery from an e-bike, i need only take it to the local recycling centre (which is, actually, within walking distance of the croft) and they would make the appropriate arrangements. so while e-bikes are not quite as green as their mechanical counterparts, on this basis alone, they would appear to be responsibly environmentally sound. but are they really 'miss goody two-shoes'?

unlike the electric variant of the motor car, the non-electric version of the humble bicycle is pretty much as environmentally sound as any method of transport is likely to get. but, if as hoped, many potential purchasers are encouraged to see the e-bike as a viable alternative to a car or e-car, the electricity required to keep them mobile has to come from somewhere. in an ideal world, all the necessary electrons would be produced by natural means, such as wind or wavepower, or perhaps solar. though the latter have made substantial inroads to satisfying the ever-increasing demand for energy, more electric cars and more electric bicycles will undoubtedly place greater demands on power generation.

if renewables can't cope, where does the rest of it come from? and, perhaps more to the point, what is lithium? and if amazon won't send it across a short stretch of water, is it really the sort of stuff we want associated with our bicycles?

lithium is a reactive, alkaline metal that powers everything from cameras, phones, computers, e-bikes and cars. the world's largest supplier of lithium-ion batteries is based in china and it is not so very long ago that toxic chemical leaks from their lithium mine in ganzizhou, tibet, killed hundreds of fish and allegedly livestock too, such as cows and yaks. yet, according to analysts, demand for the metal is on an upward tangent, contributing to a doubling of its price in two years. measured in gigawatt hours, 2017's production topped at around 100 gwh, and that is expected to grow to almost 800gwh before the end of the next decade.

lithium can be extracted from rock, but extracting it from brine is reckoned to be more environmentally friendly. the largest concentration of the latter is in the bolivian andes, which, experts agree may contain 70% of the earth's lithium. the big problem for south america is water, or rather, a lack of it. in one of the most arid regions of the planet, extracting lithium involves drilling holes in the salt flats and flushing the lithium-rich brine to the surface using a great deal of water; approximately half-a-million gallons per tonne of lithium. unfortunately, the region's farmers also require a lot of water.

processing lithium involves leaving it in evaporation pools for between a year and a year and a half, before treating it with chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, to leave it in a form that can be sold. america and australia extract lithium from rocks, but that process also requires a batch of refining chemicals. friends of the earth and locals living adjacent to the mines, or the bolivian salt flats, assert that lithium extraction causes air pollution and ruins both land and rivers.

but if even that sounds less than too good to be true, there's worse to come. batteries require more than just lithium to produce power; nickel and cobalt are lithium's best pals, but somewhat less than environmentally sound in their own extraction methods. the principal source of cobalt is the democratic republic of congo; it exists almost nowhere else on the planet. given the political instability of central african nations, all does not necessarily augur well for the future.

specialized turbo vado battery

of course, this ought best be placed in some sort of perspective. extracting aluminium from bauxite ore, is hardly the most environmentally sound of all processes, and we all know from what original product carbon-fibre originates. hopefully, by the time halfords is selling 1.5 million e-bikes by 2050, battery technology will have evolved into a format that not only lasts longer, but uses less toxic materials. the university of birmingham is currently engaged in funded research into new ways of recycling lithium from spent batteries, technology that will surely become increasingly necessary as all those e-bikes are joined by electric cars, electric buses and electric aeroplanes. batteries will also become more in demand, ironically, to store excess power generated by renewables, by which time, what to do with a spent battery on your e-bike will be the least of our problems.

saturday 13 july 2019

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this is cambridge omloop rain/wind gilet

tic omloop gilet

the gilet is an odd sort of a garment, one that has me, and doubtless others, querying not only its ancestry, but its defined purpose in life. given the number of estates that combine to form the majority of land on islay, most of which offer stalking, shooting and the like, it's not at all unusual to witness range rover drivers and passengers, strutting around, clad in the barbour version of the garment. usually matched with a tweed cap from islay woollen mill, though i've not looked closely enough to ascertain whether or not a quilted gilet offers weather protection along with the avowed cosiness.

tic omloop gilet

my querying of the garment's provenance revolves predominantly around the sleeves, or rather, the lack of them. if i might hypothetically assume that the first order of business is warmth, why then are the arms left out in the cold (literally and figuratively)? it occurs to me, however, that i may be in a position to answer my own question. if the constitution of your own finely honed physique is similar to that of yours truly, it is often the arms that seem to own a predilection to overheat first, even when there is a determined chill in the air. for the days when the latter is highly likely to occur, a gilet must surely be considered the ideal item of garmentage?

but then, what of weatherproofing? i will humbly admit at this juncture in the discussion, that the ever so bright pink item under consideration has yet to be tested in the wet. i share your disbelief, given that this is the west coast of scotland at the height of summer, and though we have experienced more than our fair share of recent precipitation, it has often been either during sleepytimes, or when i had already planned to undertake another life-enhancing task.

tic omloop gilet

rest-assured, i will ride feverishly in the rain to test the veracity of the claims made by andrew and daphne at 'tic', but given that their gilet is hewn from the same fabric as is their rainjacket, i think we can take it as read, that the waterproofing/breathability factor has already been verified by my review of same. i should also point out that the naming of these two items as 'omloop', is entirely my own. the proprietors have (currently) left it nameless. however, relying once again on the secure knowledge that hebrideans are the flandrians of the west, it hardly seems iniquitous so to do.

tic omloop gilet

but once more, the weatherproofing part of the equation returns. if, in a desperate attempt to retain body heat, while repelling a sudden influx of rain, i have procured the remarkably bright pink (also available in black) gilet from a rear pocket and placed it about my person, whither my two arms? and though i would love for you to think this is a task i could achieve while continuing to ride my bicycle, i fear i would be guilty of implying an untruth.

the best that my investigations have uncovered is a gilet's ability to shield the torso, not only from inclemency, but from a sudden loss of body heat due to the accursed windchill. it is not entirely unknown for the temperature to drop (often considerably) in the light of a rainstorm, or should you suffer a mechanical malfeasance in the course of your velocipedinal permabulations, donning a gilet would not only preserve the core temperature, but arguably leave those two upper limbs untethered and carefree in their ministrations to remedy the problem. however, it may also leave them a tad wet.

tic omloop gilet

my first wearing of the (omloop) gilet was something of a pleasant surprise. though the process varies from item to item, i am often in the habit of snapping accompanying imagery when a review garment or component still displays an impressive new-ness. i had adjudged the ambient temperature to be one rendering the wearing of anything atop my cycle jersey unnecessary or even unwelcome. however, an atlantic breeze is nothing if not unpredictable and i found that, far from removing the gilet immediately post photography, it remained in situ from beginning to end.

i cannot deny that, far from being an exhibitionist, i generally request the more brightly coloured items due to their appearing better in the photos. however, it would be hard to deny the high-visibility afforded, not only by that retina-burning pink, but the thoughtful and graphic addition of those large white spots, all of which offer a more than eye-catching reflectivity when bathed by car headlights in dim light or darkness. with almost all our rural highways and byways utterly devoid of streetlighting, this is more than just designery augmentation.

tic omloop gilet

i had been on the point of commenting that i'd have liked a pocket or two about its person, but was stalled from so doing for two reasons. firstly tic point out that, rather than add external pockets, they had formed the rear of the (omloop) gilet to allow easy access to the pockets 'neath the pink. i'm not sure that i entirely share their enthusiasm. it is relatively easy to roll up from the hem, but i found this a bit of a faff while riding, though your own dexterity may render this a null problem.

but my principal reason for not penning a request for pockets, is a contention that gilets are, by and large, a simple solution to a simple problem. as andrew and daphne rightly point out, external pockets have a tendency to acquire rainwater and hang on to it forever, but a pocket layer across the back would also make it less easy to unceremoniously scrunch up/ neatly fold and place gently in a rear pocket. to my mind, that usurps any well-intentioned, cargo-carrying pragmatism.

pragmatism does, however, prevail at the front of the gilet, both in the shape of a zip-length internal storm flap, and a commendably high collar. the chunky, matching zip is relatively easy to move up and down one-handed while riding, though on occasion, that storm flap impedes progress, if only momentarily. the hem is elasticated, ensuring that, no matter how ungainly your pedalling style (who, me?), the omloop remains where it was intended. the armholes are similarly elasticated, but allow for an ideal degree of movement, whether road-riding or cyclo-crossing.

at £55 less than the jacket from which it was born, whether the omloop gilet makes economic summer sense, depends entirely on how keen you are to ride in all variations of a british summer. it won't make a blind bit of difference to zwift or peloton subscribers, but then, we're big and tough and strong and laugh in the face of turbo trainers.

don't we?

the tic (omloop) gilet is available in bright pink or black in sizes ranging from xs to xl (medium reviewed). retail price is £130.

this is cambridge (omloop) waterproof gilet

friday 12 july 2019

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the price of aesthetics

colnago arabesque

my first visit to the northwest-pacific town of portland, oregon coincided with and was a direct result of their burgeoning bicycle culture, in particular, the number of frame builders occupying space, mostly on the lower east-side. tony pereira, sacha whyte, ira ryan, jordan hufnagel to name but a few, jude gerace who began sugar (epic) wheelworks pretty much the same week i arrived, chris king, who had moved his production from california, and rapha, who had opted to base their north american outpost above a chicken run. all these and others, combined to make portland a haven for cyclists and a mecca for blokes like me who wanted to sample and write.

but the kernel of this cycling hub, was surely the number of ladies and gents who had opted to, perhaps inadvertently, revive the use of steel tubing as the fabric for bicycle building. the almost defacto standard within the professional peloton was (and is) undoubtedly carbon fibre, having been preceded, however briefly, by both aluminium and titanium. the latter two materials do not, i'm led to believe, lend themselves to easy manipulation by the solitary individual and the cost of producing even a minimal number of carbon frames, was reckoned to be outwith the reach of the majority, to say nothing of the expertise required in the process of creation.

millions of words were expended on the steel revival, whether centred on this side of the pond or elsewhere. the success of the north american handbuilt bicycle show (nahbs) led to other similar exhibitions, such as britain's bespoked bristol, all of which encouraged the intrepid steel framebuilder to join the party. whether that initial joie de vivre has survived some ten years later, is open to debate. it may well be that all is as it was, but we tend now to take it all for granted. there will have been several who signed up during steel's second heyday who have now blended into the background, but i think the general consensus is now more willing to accept that carbon is not the be all and end all, unless the competitive milieu is the sole object of your desire.

prior to the last decade of the last century, carbon fibre use was relatively minimal, its most high profile usage being that of the formula one brigade, where carbon's strength and light weight made it the ideal material with which to protect an errant driver. there are several racing drivers alive today, who can thank a combination of plastic matting and resin for their survival. carbon may have effectively revolutionised competitive and even leisure cycling, but the shareholding of form over function has observably altered.

racing bicycles were once all built from steel, predominantly featuring cylindrical tubing joined by means of brazed lugs. this method of construction continued well into the 1990s, before being at least partially replaced by using tungsten gas (tig) to weld the tubes together. but the overarching memory of steel bikes and one of the reasons that italy featured highly in those years, is of chromed lugs, complemented by chromed seat and chainstays. chrome is a particularly hard material and it made good sense to apply it to the right-hand chainstay, where it would fend off any possible damage from a flailing chain.

the chrome on the lugs and seatstays was purely for decoration, but it's hard to deny that it did not make for an attractive frameset. witness the sharp intake of breath that resulted from colnago's recent discovery of a number of arabesque framesets in a forgotten portion of a warehouse. combined with an art decor colourway, it produced a bicycle that would not look out of place on a plinth in your sitting room. and yet, such machinery was not solely for drooling over; at one time, people rode these bicycles as fast as they were able, winning pink, yellow and gold in the process.

there were no specific motives to make the bicycles any faster than they looked; riders simply trained to make them go as fast as they could.

those days have, effectively, gone for good. nowadays any aesthetics applicable to a carbon bicycle are almost incidental and in some cases, pretty close to non-existent. witness any time-trial featured in one of the grand tours and you are very unlikely to overhear any commendations as to the perceived beauty of the bicycles being ridden. these slivers of carbon fibre have been wind tunnel tested to within a millimetre of their lives. other than conforming to an apparently arbitrary set of rules invented in aigle, switzerland, the current crop of time-trial bicycles will have been designed almost entirely by a set of numbers and equations fed into a ubiquitously standard piece of computer software. in many cases a human designer has only intervened to choose the typeface featured on the downtube.

standard carbon road bikes, while less extreme, have suffered no less from computer aided design. tubes are rarely round anymore, carbon allowing greater leeway for shaping than the average steel tube. whether those shapes are for practical or aesthetic reasons, it's often hard to tell. though i am a card-carrying, fully paid-up member of the luddite society, this is not intended as yet another retrospective paean to nostalgia. but where once the beautiful sport consisted of riders making an agglomeration of steel tubes go as fast as they could, nowadays, the bicycle is complicit in that attempt. though there was a brief period where drillium attempted to intervene, currently the road bicycle (and variations thereof), is designed to fulfil often a singular purpose, the only concession to decoration or ornament being that of the paintwork.

inserting a curve in the seat tube to pull the rear wheel closer to the front does not strike me as a design choice, more like a design dictate.

there's no doubting that the modern iteration of the sport still consists of man against man, or woman against woman - the technical innovations rarely intervene in the quest for the finish line - but they have made life a lot harder for the marketing departments. still, it would be nice to see the return of even just a soupcon of design flair.

time-trial bike

arabesque photo courtesy of rouleur magazine

thursday 11 july 2019

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share and share alike

wahoo kickr fitness

convinced, at the time, that there were enough bicycles on islay to warrant setting up a bike-maintenance service, i bought in a reynolds 531 steel frame, along with a campagnolo chorus groupset, including hubs, and proceeded to not only assemble the entire affair from scratch, but also to build the wheels on which it would subsequently ride. this was in the early 1990s, when the relative simplicity of the bicycle made this a non-too demanding notion, even for one without any specific training in zen and the art of bicycle maintenance. at that time, the island was bereft of any form of cycle shop or service centre, and any technical skills i did possess had been learned the hard way, looking after my own bicycle.

who knew a freewheels could hide so many tiny ball bearings?

i was at least partially correct, for not only did the nascent business grow to the point where i actually sold bicycles for a brief period, but there did seem to be a pent up need from those wishing to get recalcitrant bicycles back on islay's roads. whether any of the repaired machinery ever actually made it that far is open to endless debate.

however, the rise and rise of the 'buy two mountain bikes for only £99.99' in the weekend colour supplements, meant that it eventually became cheaper to buy a new bicycle shaped object, than it was to have the existing one repaired. one of my erstwhile component suppliers told me that one or two of the dealers they supplied, were investing in these cheap-as-chips machines, before breaking them down for individual parts. when the bicycle cost around £45, but the tyres alone could be sold for £20-£25, it wasn't hard to agree with their entrepreneurial spirit.

sadly, those sort of bicycles rather killed off any small market share i may have gathered. hence the idea to assemble an almost bespoke road bicycle, in the vain hope that there was perhaps a market fuelled by those residents with a little more disposable income to play with. of course, i was sadly mistaken; the only bicycle that was ever built from scratch was the red example noted above. those circumstances have scarcely altered in the intervening decades.

the level of complexity, on the other hand, has now reached stratospheric levels. when the original rock-shox suspension forks arrived on the market, i seriously looked at the possibility of not only attending a specific maintenance course to be able to service the blighters, i costed a set of the necessary tools with which to carry out this proposed new string to my bow. needless to say, the numbers simply did not add up.

with the subsequent arrival of hydraulic discs on mountain bikes, followed by cyclocross, followed, ultimately by the road bike, i'm glad i saw economic sense at the time. attempting to keep pace with all the above, to say nothing of electronic gearing and full-suspension. on an island with a population of only around 3,000, of whom approximately one dozen actually ride what might be regarded as quality bikes, it would surely have drained my bank account with little hope of restoring it via paid work. i dread to think of the expense incurred by 'proper' bike shops, with several toolboards populated by obsolete tools.

but, were it simply the bicycles themselves that had attracted the mores of complexity, it could no doubt be placed squarely at the door of 'progress'; ultimately the same manufacturers freshening their shop floor offerings to keep us distracted from any other, apparently more diverting and attractive activities. that, however, is not the only way to view it. though brian smith once told me that the only way to make a £million from cycling, was to start with £2 million, that is arguably no longer the case.

the the economic models used by both bicycle and component manufacturers has changed little since the 50s or 60s, the financial model surrounding software is considerably different. here appears to be where share prices are often held in higher esteem than the end product which feeds them. 'zwift', for example, doesn't actually manufacture any tangible product; what it sells is a subscription to rent/lease its software and associated services, for which, to make use of, the subscriber must already possess the necessary hardware.

you can't purchase a zwift bicycle, though you can spend credits on making your online avatar ride the same carbon fibre as does peter sagan. the big difference is that he can take his home with him and polish it after tea. like most pureyors of even pixelated goods, and this appears to be a trait that infests the present day world of commerce, growth is king. and in order to fuel that growth, trinkets must be offered to even those who might not have considered riding a bicycle in any shape or form, indoors or outdoors. the ideal of replicating the cyclist who strives to achieve a target average speed and is happy to remain there, is not a philosophy that has reached the boardroom.

and entirely unlike the world of bicycles and componentry, when others figure that they too would like a slice of the action, it's simply not enough to add another sprocket, remove the wires altogether, or paint the carbon fibre a shiny shade of acquamarine. an associated, yet altogether different model has to be found, but one that will continue to utilise those hard-worked pixels. and a bit like the sram corporation, who bought several companies and amalgamated them into a whole greater than the sum of their parts, if you only make hardware, the next best thing would presumably be software, thus augmenting the process towards continued commercial growth.

wahoo is an atlanta, georgia based fitness and technology company, founded by chip hawkins in 2009. as official provider of indoor trainers to team sky, one can presumably assume that they have moved with the times (see what did there?) and now do likewise for team ineos. they offer a variety of indoor trainers and associated add-ons that show a distinct predilection for omitting vowels from their names. what they are not, apart from the occasional smartphone app, is a software company.

zwift, on the other hand, is buried deep in lines of computer code that, a bit like its ancestor, microsoft, purports to be hardware agnostic, happy to sit on a tv screen in front of any (smart) turbo trainer,you care to name. in this manner, it's unlikely that wahoo, see zwift as a direct competitor, nor vice versa. however, occupying advertising space on the uk's tellyboxes, is another american-based company by the name of peloton. originating in new york city in 2012, they are keen to not only sell you online methods of training and improving your fitness, but supply you with a not inexpensive bicycle on which to access their services. and here, presumably, is where wahoo noticed a possible chink in their armour.

wahoo could do one of three things: continue to remove vowels from perfectly good words and accessorise till the cows come home, start feverishly writing software that would work solely without those vowels, or buy a company that had already done the fitness coding and groundwork. they chose the latter. for as of yesterday, wahoo announced their intention to purchase sufferfest, a rather ignominiously named purveyor of detailed, online fitness programmes that can be accessed indoors on the ubiquitous turbo trainer. the very sort of machinery that wahoo are already good at.

cycling, as an industry, has almost unrecognisably changed since i assembled a red, 531 road bike. yes, as the mighty dave t continues to advise "at some time you're going to have to pedal the darned thing", so the physical act of riding a bike has not altered in that respect. but it's now possible to become the next big thing in professional cycling, without ever having left the confines of your indoor fitness room. no doubt wahoo are already working on the kickr team cr , which silently sits behind yor turbo trainer, convincingly emulating a skoda.

i'm too much of an old fart to even consider joining the party, but do not misunderstand me; this is not a snide and cynical attempt to denigrate this current state of velocipedinal affairs. it is what it is and if it's what keeps people fit and happy, i'm not going to try to knock it down. but i do think it pertinent to bear in mind that many of these online goings on and acquisitions (of which there are bound to be a few more in the offing) have a duty to their shareholders.

where sufferfest might be all things to all people today, there's always the possibility that tomorrow it might only work with wahoo hardware. there will be many in the music industry who still recall apple's purchase of german-based logic software. almost overnight, the windows version disappeared from sight. if you wanted to use logic (and a large number of musicians did and do), you needed a mac.

can you imagine the situation where, if you wanted to use sram, you had to buy a specialized?

wahoo fitness | peloton fitness | zwift | sufferfest

wednesday 10 july 2019

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


specialized turbo vado

many of us on islay make use of xc weather when checking a forecast of what we might expect to ride in or through in the forthcoming days. you will note that i have used the word 'forecast', since that is surely the prime raison d'etre of sites such as xc weather, the met office and bbc weather? for current conditions, it's a simple matter of looking out the window, gauging the wind direction and strength, before figuring out whether to stuff a rainjacket in a back pocket.

admittedly, those of us living off the scottish coast have, perhaps, more of a vested interest in weather conditions, dependent as we are, on a daily ferry service to bring foodstuffs, mail and newspapers to the island. though less of an unpredictable state of affairs prevails across the summer months, it is not unkown for the occasional surprise to foist itself upon us even in july and august.

but the ability to forecast the weather even a matter of days ahead, is somewhat undermined by the details shown for even a few hours in advance. it is not an unknown situation to have checked first thing in the morning, yet to be offered precisely the opposite state of affairs only a few hours later. if, hypothetically, i were travelling to scotland later this week, i would likely check yesterday morning as to whether i might enjoy a smooth or rough crossing at time of departure. but, while yesterday morning's displayed forecast for friday might specify sun and little wind, by the time of departure that could be a forlorn and distant hope.

it is not, however, only weather forecasting that must occupy the minds of those living on islay's shores. with our principal export surely being that of the amber nectar, there is need for more pressing prognostications regarding the market for single malt whisky. islay's ninth distillery recently opened at ardnahoe on the northern coast, and though there may be little tasters along the way, realistically, it will be ten years before they have anything meaningful to sell on the world market.

during that time, tastes may have changed. it has happened before.

therefore, any distiller worth its salt, has a department to deal with what might be the future for their product. ardbeg has increased the number of stills in production to cope with a projected increase in demand, and beam suntory, owners of both laphroaig and bowmore distilleries, is already in the throes of discussing a possible doubling in size of the still room at the former. diageo are currently reviving port ellen distillery, the buildings of which they unceremoniously demolished only a matter of fifteen or so years ago due to a perceived lack of demand, and elixir spirits are currently preparing a planning application to build a distillery on the outskirts of port ellen village.

one must assume, therefore, that their collective forecasters are in agreement, that the market for islay malts is likely to offer a lucrative future. but think back even ten years; would you have predicted that road bikes would acquire hydraulic disc brakes? and around the time that diageo were demolishing what was left of the original port ellen distillery, would anyone have figured that virtually the entire professional peloton would be riding with electronic gears? with a degree in hindsight, some folk will undoubtedly answer yes to both those questions, but the majority of us will tell the truth. but then, all those years ago, how many would have predicted brexit?

given the vagaries of forecasting any future happenstance, including that of the weather, and the reliability of those forecasts, it would be a remarkably confident individual or company that published its portent of the future. to do so concerning commercial possibilities some thirty years in advance, displays either foolhardiness or a remarkable strength of conviction. which of the two is applicable to halford's recent statement regarding sale of e-bikes in 2050, it'll take thirty-one years to verify.

according to the national bicycle and motor supplies chain, using their own current transaction data, matched with population and car registration figures, halfords figure that by mid-century, britain will be buying 1.5 million e-bikes per year. almost one third will be purchased in london, but they expect increased growth in several other major cities across the united kingdom. currently, the reduction in car sales and registrations is being matched by an increase in sales of electric bikes, currently hovering around 63,600 units.

as we all know, however, one heck of a lot can happen in thirty years, particularly if trade tariffs are imposed when (or if), britain leaves the eu. there's no doubt that e-bikes are, presently, flavour of the month and given the new lease of exercise life they can offer those unable to ride conventional bikes, that popularity is probably well justified. but just like the share price of any company whose profits fail to match those of the analysts, an ultimate failure to reach the numbers espoused by halfords could conceivably be considered a failure. consider the scottish government who, in 2012, planned to raise daily cycle trips to 10% by next year, yet have yet to see them increase to more than 2%.

in the words of the late levon helm, "a deuce and a quarter ain't a cadillac."

tuesday 9 july 2019

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