the loneliness of the long-distance runner

marathon runners

on saturday, i had the great pleasure of guiding a party of cyclists from englandshire, providing me with the ideal opportunity to show off the finer parts of the island. despite the day's forecast being somewhat overcast, once again, fortunately, it was slightly wide of the mark. until just after lunchtime, the day was warm and sunny, and though slightly breezy, from islay's point of view, it was a windless day.

though all intended to join today's 'ride of the falling rain', a 'sportive' (as i heard it called on saturday, at ardbeg) that covers the majority of islay's roads, i had been tasked with providing a more bespoke perambulation of one or two of the island's secrets. we will be out and about once again tomorrow (monday), but over an arguably shorter route, covering a few other roads that did not feature in rotfr.

leaving from bruichladdich, where they had stayed overnight, we followed the majority of the route tramelled by those indulging in the shorter, conversational route, but heading, eventually, to kildalton chapel and the kildalton celtic cross, on ardtalla estate.

however, this is pretty much the middle of our summer season, with both scottish and english schools on holiday, and to put it mildly, islay has been a busy place this weekend. saturday featured the annual islay half-marathon, followed by an evening ceilidh in bowmore village hall. sunday saw not only the ride of the falling rain, but the lifeboat open day at port askaig. on monday, there's a summer fun day at port charlotte school.

yesterday's half-marathon commenced from bowmore distillery (despite being sponsored by ardbeg distillery) at 10:45. our party left bruichladdich shortly after 10am and despite no forward planning whatsoever, we caught the marathon tail enders about halfway along the high road.

by way of a confession, i can barely run the length of myself, as a result of which, i simply don't try. i have every sympathy with the lyric of sting's 'a gentleman in new york', where he sings "a gentleman walks, but never runs." those who do, however, are simply not selling it. when we came across the stragglers of the half-marathon, they had completed just under half-the prescribed distance; the leaders would have been well on their way back to bowmore by that time. there's no tactful way of stating that they looked utterly knackered and certainly cracked not a single smile between them all.

running has always looked like hard work. let's face it, you're bearing all of your own weight, those feet are hitting the ground several hundred times across 13.5 miles, the shock of doing so, shudders throughout your body and you can't freewheel downhill. at the point where we coincided with the runners, we had already covered the equivalent of the half-marathon distance and were still essentially as fresh as daisies and smiling all the while. why would anyone swap that for running? and if they enjoy doing it so much, why does no-one smile?

there are a few individuals who have a foot or pedal in both camps. i know of a couple of folks who were running on saturday and riding today, but i'm willing to bet there were more smiles during the latter. add to that, the fact that we began and ended the day with coffee, and i really have to wonder where running fits into the social strata of a weekend in early august.

however, as a girl in my office is want to say "it's just as well we're all different."

sunday 4 august 2019

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size matters

small bike

summer is perhaps the only time of year when non-cyclists feel the need to ride those bicycles that have spent the winter in the shed or garage. and those people are fairly easy to identify, because they usually ride with the saddle anything up to several centimetres lower than is actually desirable. the two problems with that state of affairs, rests with power and comfort. if the legs are unable to stretch properly, there's no real way you can derive a decent return on the effort expended. perhaps more noticeable, however, is pending back discomfort; those of you who have ridden with your saddle just a tad too low, will well know what i mean.

of course, there's always the possibility that the wrong size of bicycle was purchased in the first place, which leads me onto the eternal subject of just how to buy the right size. notably, trek bicycles attempted to remedy this situation several years ago, by preventing their authorised dealers from offering mail order. as a result, if it's a trek you really, really want, then a trip to a trek dealer it is. oddly, it's not a trend that any other manufacturer has decided to follow, and i've no idea if it has adversely affected trek sales in the uk. however, it scarcely addresses the general problem of buying something that fits.

the perceptible danger of acquiring a new bike by mail order is in misinterpreting the sizing charts that usually accompany online sales sites. if mrs washingmachinepost's experience with mail order catalogues is anything to go by, the probability of an endless stream of bicycles shunting back and forward between customer and supplier, is not hard to imagine. of course, to an extent, i am guilty of over egging the pudding; in all the years i have spent reviewing bicycles, all of which are sent, sight unseen, i have only received one that was just a smidgeon too big for my honed physique (entirely down to it featuring an integrated seatpost). even with the advent of the ubiquitous sloping top-tube and the concomitant mangling of the standard sizing criteria, each and every bicycle has fitted more than adequately.

the difference here is that i have ridden bikes for more years than i care to recall, and have had two comprehensive, professional bike fits in my time, so i'm a bit more familiar with the process than most. but that hardly helps the newbie, about to order their very first road bike online, particularly if they've arrived via the offroad world.

the sizing of mountain bikes is decidedly different, based principally on the knowledge that the bottom bracket is a smidgeon higher than that of the average road-going machine. for those unfamiliar with how bicycle frames are measured, the number printed alongside the illustrations is achieved by measuring from either the centre or top of the top tube, to the centre of the bottom bracket. right away, there's an inherent problem; how do you know where the topmost measurement begins? and if the frame features a sloping top tube, is it measured from that tube, or measured from where the tube would be, if it were of traditional (horizontal top tube) construction (as colnago and others do)?

it's an aspect of bike sizing i have had cause to raise with the bikeability requirements. when teaching kids to ride, it is noted that they ought to be able to place both feet flat on the ground when stationary. but since the majority of children's bicycles are based on mountain bikes, once again, the bottom bracket height is judged to allow suitable clearance. adjusting the saddle height to accommodate the 'feet on the ground' directive, often means their knees almost hit their chins when riding. raising the saddle to the correct height then means only one foot can reach the ground when stationary.

the cycling proficiency advice hails from the days prior to the advent of the mountain bike and seems not to have been updated to take account of subsequent velocipedinal developments.

while researching some of this online, i came across advice that reckoned the need to try out an intended purchase before handing over the money was not only overrated, but recommended by salesmen to steer you away from a potential online purchase and thus extract more money. it's a stance with which i would tend to disagree. if your location (such as my own), would make a visit to a bricks and mortar bike shop either expensive or impractical, then mail order is pretty much your only option. but if you have the opportunity to at least sit on the bicycle before buying, then go for it.

you see, many sizing charts are based principally on your overall height, a method that takes no account of body proportions. taking myself as an example, i generally ride a 54cm frame, but the majority of manufacturers will match that with a 54cm top tube. proportionally, i have a longer torso than leg length, compounded by the fact that i have fairly long arms, meaning i could really do with a 55cm or 55.5cm top tube. on a frame with a standard 54cm top tube, i need to resort to a 130mm stem. the majority of review bikes, at best, feature a 120mm stem, so i always struggle a bit in this department, though i've largely come to terms with it.

the only way i could achieve bike frame nirvana, would be to call richard sachs and have him make me a custom frame.

if you, or someone you know has an impending bicycle purchase on the horizon, i'd be inclined to advise that you, or they, try it for size where possible; if the bicycle is about to lighten your bank account by several thousand pounds, i think i'd be inclined to insist on sitting astride an appropriately sized bicycle from the manufacturer, even if it's not the exact model or colour you want. many will insist that a professional bike-fit is not only unnecessary, but simply a costly combination of smoke and mirrors. on the basis of the second bike fit i received, i might be inclined to sympathise, but generally, you get what you pay for, and many will absorb the cost into a subsequent purchase.

bearing in mind the current uk-wide campaign to have more folks adopt the way of the pedal, ensuring a proper fit should hopefully prevent them reverting to previous transportational habits. though the current emphasis, to encourage more people to cycle, is on improving the cycling infrastructure, i've seen little concern over this arguably more important detail. surely i can't be the only one who has had to suffer the slings and arrows of a remarkably ill-fitting bicycle?

saturday 3 august 2019

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danger, will robinson

robbie the robot

a number of years ago, heading, eventually, in the general direction of debbie's café for a regular serving of a double egg roll and a coffee, i came round the blind corner at cross houses, to be met with a car driving on my side of the road. in situations such as that, it takes a second or two to process thoughts of 'what's wrong with this picture?', after which, i quickly opted for the opposite side of the road to avoid being flattened.

the (foreign) driver had obviously experienced similar emotions and unfortunately attempted to cross to the side of the road on which he should have been in the first place. now, with a bit more appreciation of the situation, i managed to correct my trajectory and all passed off without serious incident. the driver failed to stop, even though i did, so i ultimately made the appointment with coffee and egg roll after all.

late last week, i heard a report of a local car with trailer, that experienced the same near miss, though both vehicles were travelling a smidgeon faster than yours truly during the former incident. it is summertime in the principality, even if the weather sometimes points to the contrary. we're also experiencing what might be termed a perfect storm, when both scottish and english schools are on holiday, and the island is fraught with visitors. to place this in an arguably more relevant set of circumstances, the ardbeg half-marathon takes place on saturday, followed by the ride of the falling rain on sunday.

motor traffic would appear to be at a peak.

it would be naive to consider that the travails of an island cyclist bear much, if any, comparison to the traffic conditions that pervade our counterparts on the mainland. in fact, according to recently released figures from the department of transport, the number of adults in england who admit to riding at least once a week, has declined to 11% (from 12%) with 60% of adults stating that they consider it too dangerous to cycle on the roads.

scotland's statistics are less explanatory, though the 11.9% of scots who claim to ride once a week are, tautologically, fewer in number, given that the nation's population is less than half that of london. yet, despite car sales decreasing, the perception is that there are more cars on the road. with regards to islay, it has been notable that there are more foreign registered cars on our roads, which some have conjectured, is due to the exchange rate between sterling and the euro being very much in favour of the latter. either way, the quality of driving has notably decreased over the past few years; even our recently retired roads engineer was heard to voice that opinion on more than a single occasion.

while islay is scarcely in need of a cycling infrastructure of any proportion, the same cannot be said of urban and inner city regions on the mainland. if we care to take note of london's population, the fact that the bulk of spending seems to be headed in that direction, undoubtedly makes numerical and economic sense. however, the city's walking and cycling commissioner, will norman, does appear to hold a healthy perspective on the level of investment his domain is receiving.

"We can't be complacent. Serious investment in cycling and walking can't be something unique to the capital. It must be a genuinely national commitment led by central Government, and we must all redouble our efforts to ensure that people of all ages and backgrounds feel that cycling is a safe and convenient option for them."

if you're both cyclist and driver, you're probably well aware of how you ought to behave when behind the steering wheel. but on the off chance that, as a motorist, you stumbled upon the post while looking for a washing machine, please take note of your responsibilities towards fellow road users. it shouldn't be a them and us situation, though it often seems that way. both riders and drivers have the same rights under the current law, to use the national highways and byways; cyclists are the more vulnerable, but also the slower of the two. make sure everyone's holiday season works out as planned by taking care of one another on the roads.

at the risk of coming across as one of those moralistic american tv shows, can we please all make the attempt to lower the percentage of adults who experience fear when cycling in traffic? even if it's relatively light rural traffic. enjoy your weekend.

friday 2 august 2019

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life's little complexities

disc brake pads

though there is no denigration implied, i rather hope that there are no mountain bikers reading at present, because they will probably laugh out loud at that which transpires below.

not so very long ago, based on nothing other than vague probabilities, i opted to replace the disc pads on my specialized crux cyclocross bicycle. as those of you inured to the vicissitudes of disc brakes will be well aware, this is not the straightforward procedure to which we have become accustomed with good old-fashioned caliper brakes. for starters, a few years ago, i obtained a double-sided a3 poster from fibrax, detailing each and every disc pad they manufactured, a poster that is probably even larger nowadays, with the introduction of subsequent models in the interim.

this means that hurdle number one is ensuring that whatever you order is, in fact, the designated replacement for the brakes on your particular bicycle. that may not always be the simple task it at first appears.

subsequently, there remains the intricacies of fitment. i am insufficiently experienced with disc brakes to know whether my own set of circumstances are replicated across the board, but on removing the aged pads (even that was a bit of a faff, involving very small allen bolts and retaining clips that seem inordinately susceptible to gravity), the two pistons sat proud of their housing. for those yet to be inducted into the ways of the rotor, if the pads are fitted in these circumstances, the gap between the new, unworn pads, will probably be insufficiently wide in which to slide the brake rotor. those pistons need to be encouraged to return to their homes in the hydraulic caliper.

levering those in, one at a time, rarely works, as the opposite piston moves inward, due to hydraulic pressure. according to the instructions that arrived with my park tools brake wedge, the old pads should be left in situ and the wedge inserted in between, obviating any likelihood of damaging the face of the pistons. oh, if only it were that simple.

having negotiated this process, one that took considerably longer than replacing brake shoes on my campagnolo record calipers, i have found the new pads to be dragging just a tad on the calipers, and even more so when the weather is warm, due to expansion of the hydraulic fluid. mountain bikers have had hydraulic discs considerably longer than us newbie roadies, hence my contention that they're likely rolling on the floor, laughing at my naivety.

i consider myself a reasonably competent bicycle mechanic, able to diagnose and rectify the majority of mechanical glitches that are likely to affect the average bicycle. the trouble with the latter concept is that the average bicycle is no longer 'average'. this was brought home on meeting a couple of cycling visitors from switzerland at the end of last week. the apparent gear problem on the lady's bicycle was most likely as a result of having kept the chain on the bicycle for too long. two and a bit years strikes me as verging on negligence, particularly in the light of their tour of scotland's western isles.

however, after my having bravely pointed out the inquity of their ways, the gentleman enquired if i had a pump that would add a few psi to his rear suspension cyclinder. and then the complexity of a modern, velocipedinal world became all too apparent.

cycle touring was, at one time, the very picture of simplicity. touring bicycles featured a 700c wheelset, accommodating a variety of widths, dependent on the clearance afforded by frame and forks. they featured a triple chainset, matched with a long-cage rear derailleur and brought to a halt by (allegedly), powerful cantilever brakes, largely superseded by the ubiquitous v brake in latter years. though you will, once again, no doubt snigger at my luddite tendencies, the whole point was that the bicycle was then replete with mechanical - and thus easily repairable - componentry. no matter where you went in the world, there was a decent chance that broken stuff could be fixed with relative ease.

though i realise that the world has modernised along with the advances made in velocipedinal technology, there are still pockets of the world where accessing effective repairs to hydraulic disc brakes and similarly based suspension systems are distinctly hard to come by.

like on islay, for example.

thursday 1 august 2019

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weather or not

heavy weather

it has been said by those perhaps a bit more socially and meteorologically aware, that while the rest of the world has climate, in the uk, we have weather. it's a hard point with which to argue, particularly in the light of this coming weekend's ride of the falling rain bike ride. though i have not undertaken any serious research into the matter, i'm unaware of any other sportives (if i may refer to it as such) that feature an implied aspect of the weather in their title. to make matters topically worse, at the time of writing, sunday looks like it may be entirely bereft of rain.

however, my naming of the ride as such, offers an indication of just how much any local weather system impinges upon velocipedinal activity. i confess that i was blissfully unaware of the prevailing weather in the hebrides prior to moving here. i have always lived on the west coast of scotland, so the prevalence of rain was scarcely unknown, but the frequent atlantic gales that occur almost all year round, was something of a surprise. the latter was an over-arching irritant in my early years as an islay resident, but the fact that there was, ultimately, no solution other than to move, changed my appreciation of the situation.

it's one to which hebrideans either adapt or not and which those visiting find a great deal more onerous than they had hoped for. this past weekend, we were joined by a visiting cyclist on the sunday morning ride. on returning to debbie's for coffee and cake, he announced that he had been hanging on quite well untill hitting the headwind at blackrock. xcweather showed this to be well under 10mph at the time, an altogether unremarkable velocity and one that the rest of us had conveniently ignored.

however, absurdity in the face of adversity is hardly a trait applicable solely to the flandrians of the west. at least, not if shimano's recently announced financial results are anything to go by. oddly enough, the weather seems a rather important factor that is conveniently ignored when discussing transport reforms and the need to have society leave its cars in the driveway and cycle to work/school/shops. this is most likely due to those who discuss such matters being very much of the 'do as i say, not as i do' mentality, where a government car is readily available to avoid any precipitation while en-route to a cabinet meeting or climate-change press conference.

many others who are keen to promote cycle use as an alternative to that of the car, are of similar mind to myself; individuals who will cheerfully cycle, no matter the weather. it is this group of people, of which i count myself as a fully paid up member, are cycling enthusiasts, replete with an entire wardrobe of wet, wind and cold weather clothing. for us, it is the bike ride itself that provides unbridled enthusiasm, while, for those we hope to persuade, it is simply a means of transport. and in most cases, it's an option that is often the least palatable, when the sun don't shine.

so, how does the weather relate to shimano's six-month financial results? the japanese giant's net european sales from its bicycle components increased 4.1%, though its operating income decreased by 3%. shimano has put both sets of figures down to good weather conditions since the onset of spring, conditions that supported favourable bicycle sales, for which shimano is the principal component supplier.

transfer this across the pond to north america where sales, though described as 'sluggish' from the beginning of the year, levelled out to equal the previous year, due to weather improvements seen from march onwards. though based on no statistical evidence whatsoever, it seems quite palatable to exclude the likes of you and i from these figures. after all, we care not one whit for the weather when eyeing up nice new shiny steel/aluminium/carbon (delete as applicable).

it also seems quite fair to infer that, had the weather in both europe and north america been particularly inclement, bicycle sales would have been less than buoyant. by extrapolation, this would point directly towards the weather being a major mitigating factor in persuading the civilian population to adopt the way of the bicycle, as opposed to motorised transport .

i'm surely not the only one who has observed an inherent conundrum in this state of affairs; if climate change is intent on substantially altering the world's weather systems, allegedly for the worst, how successful can be any campaign to encourage cycling as a viable option, if the weather plays such a major part in its wholesale adoption? ah, how i love the thrill of the chase.

wednesday 31 july 2019

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dram considerate

bruichladdich distillery

i have come across one or two individuals, who, while not exactly denying the phenomenon referred to as global climate change, have been keen to point out that the earth's geological history would demonstrate that such changes as we appear to be currently experiencing, have historical precedent. insufficiently well-informed in such matters, i am without the wherewithal to present a cogent argument that might refute such contentions. maybe these individuals are correct; perhaps the earth is simply growing up, or growing old, or just growing? but then again, what if the portent of inexorable climate change is our new reality?

if humankind is truly responsible for temperatures in the upper thirties, as experienced by london town last week, there's a good case for considering we may already be past the point of no return. if the industrial activity of the mid-twentieth century was ultimately guilty of poking a hole in the ozone layer, the damage will already have been done, and nothing that we do now is likely to change matters by much, if at all.

i don't particularly want to come across as overtly serious, by proclaiming doom and gloom. just like the weather on islay, it is what it is and there's probably not much can be done to alter it. in the case of climate change, it is still entirely possible that changes can be effected, though more likely in the form of sticking plasters, rather than a bona-fide cure. that does not, however, preclude any attempt to mitigate the circumstances from which we believe ourselves to be suffering. sometimes it might be good fun to try, even if the outcome is in doubt.

now that those three weeks in july have come to an arguably pre-ordained conclusion (as i was keen to point out on twitter, it was like waiting three weeks to discover that it was the butler wot done it), cycle sport might do well to look more closely at its own house. photographs of a thinning peloton followed by a distinct non-thinning of the accompanying motorcade, is hardly the way to convince the great unwashed that cycling is inherently greener than any other comparable sporting activity. thankfully, there are those who take their earthly responsibilities a tad more conscientiously.

surprisingly enough, like bruichladdich distillery, for instance.

bruichladdich was resurrected at the turn of the century, having been mothballed some years previously as a result of a cyclical downturn in the scotch malt whisky market. though the new owners had a substantial amount of welcome uisge beatha already in the warehouses, man cannot live by ageing wooden casks alone. though the distillery took only a matter of eighteen months to bring to production, youthful releases notwithstanding, it is a salient fact that ten years is the trigger point for a concerted release; there are many markets throughout the world that eschew anything other than a minimum ten year-old malt.

bruichladdich have long placed themselves as the rebels of the industry, even though that has produced the occasional idiosyncracy. while forcefully pointing out the total absence of computers within their production cycle, they have adopted the slogan 'progressive hebridean distillers'; at the very least, that seems a tad contradictory. additionally, at the behest of their erstwhile ceo, they have placed great faith in 'terroir', the notion by which the immediate environment affects the final product. to this end, there are many fields of barley around the island bearing signs stating 'growing for bruichladdich'.

however, bring together laddie's avowed uniqueness, with a major international drinks company's need to own a malt whisky distillery, and the takeover of this formerly independent distillery by france's remy-cointreau, hardly came as a huge surprise to those within the industry.

as a large conglomerate with social anad environmental responsibilities, remy has charged their islay outpost to look closely at all aspects of their carbon footprint, in particular, as the island's largest employer, the car miles undertaken by the staff in getting to and from work each day. a few of the latter already commute by bicycle, but, as a laddie spokeperson told me "We want to replace, where possible, the use of cars as the only perceived means of travelling to work on this mostly flat, temperate island and help introduce the benefits of cycling to our staff and wider community. So the Laddie Community Cycle Club has been formed."

quite what form this club will ultimately take, rather obviously depends on the approach of the distillery's employees. islay may well be "...mostly flat and temperate...", but that's to exclude the fact that rainfall is comparable to that of seattle and it is frequently strafed by atlantic gales from october to march. aside from adopting the way of the bicycle, laddie's employees might have to embrace a high degree of stoicism in the face of adversity.

as a first, small step towards saving the planet, bruichladdich, with the assistance of cycling uk will hold a big bike revival on saturday 17 august, featuring instruction in basic cycle maintenance, puncture repair, short guided bike rides, and the opportunity to test-ride a small range of e-bikes, on loan from home energy scotland. the latter will also be available to book and borrow, from monday 19 august.

i fully realise that this is a particularly parochial situation; for those of you who will find yourselves quite some distance from islay on 17 august, this may be of no interest whatsoever. however, it is oddly comforting to think that, while governments fudge, delay and obfuscate on a grand scale, high profile industry giants ain't hanging about waiting for instructions from on high.

feel free to self-righteously impose your velocipedinally environmental concerns upon any industrial monolith near you. but do it soon.

tuesday 30 july 2019

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