does racing make a difference?

specialized wind tunnel

in the spirit of declarations of (non) interest, i do not currently race my bicycle, and aside from the occasional team triathlon in the past, i've never intentionally pinned a number on my back in order to be identified as i crossed a notional finish line. as the years roll by, the above statement becomes less and less necessary, as my average speed begins to deteriorate naturally, though i've no doubt some of that might be forestalled if i undertook some form of training programme. but then, with no competitive event for which to train, the incentive is somewhat hard to come by.

british cycling's membership has now topped 150,000, and though i can find no breakdown of numbers distinguishing ordinary members, from those fielding the competitive urge, given the current state of britain's race calendar, i think it likely that the former outnumber the latter. there will be, in any given human endeavour, those who harbour a competitive gene, from who arrives first at the school gates, to who can win the yellow jersey in paris. if you take into account the chris hoys, mark cavendishes and tom pidcocks of the velocipedinal world, it's hard to deny that their superlative efforts quite likely demand a level of technology that's 'too good for the likes of us'.

thankfully, for them at least, there are manufacturers, eager and willing to satisfy those needs.

but, in a relatively unchallenged ploy, similar to that of formula one motor racing, a substantial amount of research and development dollars, pound notes and chinese yuan are ploughed into advances geared (pardon the pun) to satisfying the few, in the guise of benefitting the many. it's a situation with which it's hard to argue, given that such ministrations engendered on behalf of combativity, have tended to provide the rest of us with bicycles and componentry that arguably enhance the act of cycling. but is that because we've fallen into a carefully laid trap?

the ritchey logic steel-framed bicycle that sits in the bikeshed, features a campagnolo twelve-speed groupset, and a pair of deep section carbon-rimmed wheels from the same manufacturer. if you'd care to take another look at my opening paragraph, you will note that riding said bicycle for competitive reasons, simply ain't going to happen. so why would a slowcoach such as yours truly inhabit the cutting edge of technology? while many would dispute that a steel frame is anywhere near 'cutting edge', there's surely little dispute that the campagnolo items come pretty close? my excuse (and a genuine one at that), is that those were received from vicenza for review in these very pixels, despite the knowledge that neither could possibly be tested to the level that even a third cat racer could manage.

the same could be said for the majority of items reviewed in these pages, but if you take the non-competitive membership of british cycling, add it to the 68,500 membership of the distinctly non-competitively based cycling uk and take into account those who are members of neither, it's likely that reviews from individuals such as myself, have arguably more relevance to 'real life' than any reviews by current or former professional racers. at least, that's my excuse. but, in truth, do we really need all that cutting-edge stuff if we've no intention of turning a pedal in anger?

probably not.

cycling has often prided itself on the fact that, your bank manager willing, it is possible to ride almost the same bicycle(s) as your hero(es). one of my friends owns a specialized sagan replica, which cost him well over £10,000 and which he regards as 'a little bit stiff'. it may not be exactly the same as peter sagan's race bike, but it's close enough to fit the bill. like me, he doesn't race, but has at least had the opportunity to get a bit visually closer to his hero, than a motor race fan who cheers on lewis hamilton. but just like formula one, technological developments engineered to help win races, are then marketed as purposely for the benefit of the rest of us. because the rest of us drive at speeds requiring substantial aerofoil downthrust, and pop into quick-fit to change tyres when it rains.

i love those twelve campagnolo gears; the shifting is the best it's ever been, and i'm glad that professional racing has removed the negative stigma of riding on wide tyres. some of the other technological benefits might seem a bit dubious, but maybe it's very much a case of taking the rough with the smooth? complaining's not an option, because a wide variety of price tags ensure that owning the best is rarely compulsory, and there's little doubt that the snappiness of those twelve gears will have provided benefits lower down the componentry pecking order.

maybe it's just a case of maintaining a healthy perspective on what you need and what's necessary.

monday 17 february 2020

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but what if it's not?

carraig fhada lighthouse by david livingstone

not for the first time, apparently the prime minister was reading from the wrong piece of paper or teleprinter this past week, when asked what proportion of his announced £5 billion transport boost was earmarked for the 250 miles of cycle infrastructure. having been quoted as saying it was a mere £350 million, a government spokesperson later corrected that to £1 billion, a far more equitable division of the cash reputedly on offer. the remarkably astute chris boardman, subsequently pointed out that such an amount was scarcely sufficient for the planned cycle facilities in manchester, let alone any projected works across the whole of englandshire.

mr boardman also made a remarkably acute observation regarding the monies being disbursed in favour of buses and cycling, in comparison to that of hs2. the latter, long the subject of dispute and procrastination, was once the subject of endless feasibility studies, prior to government approval, and is now reckoned, by some sources, to be costing the treasury (taxpayer), £106 billion, on an original budget of £62 billion. i believe, however, that china's state railway company has said they would be able and willing to build the whole enchilada in five years and for less than the projected budget. it's at moments such as these that you begin to wonder whether communism may actually have something in its favour after all.

however, chris boardman's well made point was that, large undertakings such as hs2 tend to report to government with an initial cost, with which the government either agrees or doesn't. smaller and arguably, 'less important' projects are simply allocated a set amount of cash within which any subsequent works are required to fit. this is a state of affairs that is hardly exclusive to westminster. there are currently two calmac ferries under construction at the recently nationalised ferguson's yard in glasgow, the cost of which has reputedly exceeded £130 million.

the first of these boats, named the mv glen sannox and earmarked for the ardrossan-brodick route (isle of arran in the clyde), ought to have entered service in 2018, but currently lies unfinished after having been ceremoniously launched by first minister, nicola sturgeon, in 2017. the second boat is still in dry-dock and a long way from being completed. such is the deterioration of both ships, due to neglect and subsequent wrangling between cmal (owners of calmac) and the shipyard, that there have been calls for both to be scrapped and started over, apparently on the grounds that it will be cheaper in the long run.

by comparison, islay's current main ferry, the mv finlaggan was built in poland's remontowa shipyard at a cost of £24 million, and delivered on time. the two currently unfinished boats are well over budget and necessitated the scottish government nationalising the shipyard in order that the boats might eventually be completed. meanwhile, holyrood's active travel budget is cast in stone, apparently not subject to the elasticity applied to the ferry budget.

however, both the monies promised by westminster and holyrood are well-intentioned, earmarked for the purpose of making it simpler and safer to cycle, and ostensibly encourage the great unwashed to leave their cars in their driveways, and utilise a more ecological and economical means of transport. with the climate change sword of damocles hanging over every nation and government, any encouragement to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases ought surely to be welcomed with open panniers. but, unfortunately, there is something of a fly in that particular ointment.

last sunday was the first time in many a long year, that the velo club has had to cancel the sunday morning ride, in this case, due to the machinations and strong winds fostered by storm ciara. yet, now that she has passed through and frittered out across mainland europe, her brother dennis has decided he too would like to pay a visit. as i write, i have just returned from a 30km ride in winds in excess of 80kph, not all of which was great fun, and none of which could be described as dry. reluctantly, we subsequently cancelled this weekend's sunday bike ride once again. i am very much the exception to the rule; i've lived on islay for over thirty years and have, like many of my colleagues, become more than used to riding in wind and rain, compounded by the fact that i do not own a motor car and that islay's rural bus service is hardly the most convenient means of getting about the island.

so, if the weather patterns over the uk are set to worsen in the approaching years, almost certainly as a result of impending climate change, are we in danger of ignoring the fact that while cycling might be seen as a panacea for at least some of those ills, in certain cases, it might be all but impossible to physically ride a bicycle safely?

i'm sure i need not relate many of the comments directed at yours truly when others discovered i had ridden my bicycle in these rather inclement weather conditions. i like to think that i'm sensible enough not to go out in dangerous conditions, and yesterday i adjudged my own little portion of dennis the menace to be safe enough given my practised abilities in such conditions. however, what happens to those who place their faith in commuting by bicycle at the behest of government officials (who seem always to have a chauffeur-driven range-rover at their beck and call), yet are physically unable to do so because of the precise weather conditions their perambulations were designed to forestall?

locally, i am probably disparaged for my constant criticism of those who use their cars over distances which could be easily walked or cycled. but what happens if you're not party to an every-fifteen-minutes bus service, or the option of regular trains, yet stormy weather precludes a safe cycle journey?

cycling is perfect, but only when it's not.

photo: carraig fhada lighthouse, port ellen, by david livingstone

sunday 16 february 2020

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inside out

pearson inside out gravel series

despite my misgivings over the second coming of the mountain bike, this time round featuring drop bars and with the name changed to 'gravel', it appears, nonetheless, that the emperor's new clothes have engendered the beginnings of beneficial results. though i've little in the way of tangible evidence to back up my theory, i've a notion some of this new-found popularity can be squarely laid at the door of ef education first's lachlan morton, a rider with a seemingly insatiable appetite for riding and racing where roadies previously feared to tread.

pearson inside out gravel series

and, remarkably or otherwise, the option of taking to the hills (so to speak) as opposed to miles and miles of grey tarmac, has been cited as perhaps the ideal activity to help promote a healthy state of mind. canyon bicycle's ultan coyle has been quoted as stating "nothing's ever worse after a bike ride.", to which most of us would readily attest, but i can imagine how much more true this would prove if any given cycle ride was undertaken in freedom from the vicissitudes of motorised traffic. i seriously doubt anyone has ever ventured that things are as hunky dory following a drive to work or to the shops, and it's highly unlikely that motorway driving offers a solution to stress.

however, taking the name 'gravel' quite literally, will undoubtedly leave those on this side of the pond feeling a tad short-changed. bluntly put, it's a substance in somewhat short supply in the uk, except where it's probably not wanted. all too many of islay's recent road repairs end up as so much loose gravel, especially on the corners; hardly conducive to smooth road-riding. if this gravel stuff is going to catch on in a big way, provision or discovery of appropriate off-road routes probably needs to be on the increase.

within the past day or so, l'eroica organiser, giancarlo brocci has offered to organise an inaugural gravel world championship in the tuscany region of italy. this follows closely on the heels of the recent revelation by uci president, that the sport's governing body has a gravel world championship under consideration, despite existing gravel events acorss the pond poised to resist their intervention. and perhaps underlining the fact that there is nothing new under the (tuscan) sun, l'eroica originated in 1997 to 'capture the emotions of the heroic cycling of il campionissimo and gino bartali, heroes of road cycling that, it would appear, can be every bit as heroic to those intent on following the gravel path.

pearson inside out gravel series

yet it's the mental health aspect of this 'new' genre of cycling that has persuaded pearson cycles to create the inside out gravel series, spanning all four annual seasons. the first of these events takes place over a 52km route (42km of which is gravel(ish)) on saturday 21 march, leaving from pearson sheen store in south west london. the circular route heads as far south as epsom common, before returning the riders to sheen, where signal brewery will be supplying refreshments as a suitable reward for the gravelated efforts.

further events over the same route are planned for may, september and november, one ride for each the four seasons.

pearson have partnered with 'action for happiness' and the 'mental health foundation' to raise awareness and funding for both over the next decade. ceo of action for happiness, mark williamson contends that "...cycling is great for our mental wellbeing. Getting active, spending time in nature, connecting with others, trying new things and having a sense of purpose, are all proven ways to be happier. Gravel riding offers all of these potential benefits and more." in order to help provide these aspects of riding on chunky tyres and bendy bars, pearson cycles', will pearson, offered "The route promises to introduce even the most experienced navigators to a ride which spans lesser-known paths and tracks across south west London. Gravel riding allows cyclists to immerse themselves in the natural environment and provides great headspace as well as a wealth of cameraderie between fellow riders."

so, if that new gravel bike is looking a bit forlorn, sat between your mountain bike and road bike, seemingly devoid of purpose, assuming you live within easy travelling distance, signing up to ride simply entails either popping into the sheen store, or visiting the link printed below. maybe this gravel thing might catch on after all.

pearson inside out gravel series

saturday 15 february 2020

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so, what is the rapha foundation?

rapha foundation

yesterday's post effectively highlighted the altruism currently practised by rapha in the disbursement of funds to deserving applicants from the world of cycling. the rapha foundation has ostensibly been setup in an attempt to alter the fortunes of cycling's future, in the face of what many regard as a broken system of support (i.e. sponsorship). there seems little chance, at present, of altering things from the top down; currently, rapha, at least partially subscribe to the current model, via their clothing sponsorship of ef education first, a partnership, it has to be said, for which they have received much approbation. however, there's a great deal of truth in the philosophy that it's better to be on the inside, poised to make changes, should the opportunities arise, than to complain from the outside.

this may well be a particularly smart strategy on behalf of rapha, covering bases at both ends of the tunnel. broken or otherwise, most of us understand the realities of the sponsorship model, but know remarkably little about the foundation residing within imperial works. tom mcmullen is the chap responsible for overseeing the rapha foundation's operations, so i first asked him that, though the foundation emerged as a result of last year's manifesto for change', ultimately, isn't this simply sponsorship under a different guise?

"No. The Foundation is an opportunity for us to support charitable causes in the industry who share our mission to make cycling the most popular sport in the world. At present we won't sponsor any of the grantees, and there is no expectation for them to wear our kit or promote our brand, so it's not sponsorship."

as i mentioned above, we're all pretty famliar with the current model of sponsorship, based predominantly on commercial grounds. it's certainly not a case of something for nothing; in return for financial input, the sponsor expects, at very least, to see their logo plastered over a bus, team cars, jerseys and several other peripherals, thus raising awareness of the product at the end of the production line. in the light of the rapha foundation's more altruistic purposes, what are the perceived benefits to the company?

"No. The benefit for Rapha is helping develop the sport. The more people we get to participate in cycling, the better for everyone."

opportunities to fund grass-roots cycling projects or upgrade existing facilities do not, to use a well-worn cliché, grow on trees. therefore, it hardly seems outlandish to think there might be a few more clamouring for funds than are available on each successive round of funding from the foundation. in that case, i asked tom what the decision process consisted of and who comprises the baord of trustees?

"Grantees are invited to apply. Applicants must be able to demonstrate their alignment with the mission and vision of the Cycling Foundation, as well as their broader commitment to advancing cycling within their network. The panel consists of Simon Mottram and representatives from Runway NWA and the Walton Foundation."

as perhaps an irrelevant comparison, the former islay creamery failed commercially almost twenty years ago for a number of inter-related reasons. however, its initial resurgence was funded by highlands and islands enterprise who, it would appear, failed to follow through on their investment and keep a closer watch on how the money was being spent. in the light of this, and doubtful many other similr scenarios, does rapha's input extend beyond the initial funding aspect? for instance, do they partner with the recipeints to offer strategic and/or branding advice?

"The funding cycle for each grantee can last for up to three years. We haven't yet offered any strategic and/or branding advice, but we're always happy to help support the grantees. We're in dialogue with each of them."

if i might, once more, offer up a comparable example, in the early 1990s, an alliance between british telecom and highlands and islands enterprise setup a series of telecottages across the country. the operating procedures dictated that funding existed for a two-year period, with financial and strategy reports required each quarter. the big fail came after the third quarter of the second year, when the majority of these telecottages submitted negative trading reports, and the administrators withheld the final tranche of funding until such time as the incumbents could demonstrate how they would become financially independent when the funding ceased altogether. in the case of the funding recipients from rapha's foundation, Is there any onus on the recipients to find a means of financial sustainability by the end of the period of funding?

"Grantees must demonstrate that their request includes specific goals and indicate that the project will be executed successfully."

as mentioned in yesterday's feature, last night's presentations represented the the second round of funding since instigation of the rapha foundation last year. the first tranche favoured applicants from north america, while this second round is aimed entirely at uk-based projects. i asked tom if this would always be the case, alternating bwteen the two regions, or will the foundation extend its reaches to other parts of the globe?

"The Rapha Foundation will fund eligible charitable organisations based in and supporting communities in Asia/Pacific, European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. We focus on areas in which Rapha is currently present, to ensure there is a suitable infrastructure of support."

to once again refer to my article of yesterday, the supposedly broken model of sponsorship has many failings, one of which is the often short-lived period of investment, leaving the team owner perpetually questing for the next sponsor along the way. though the foundation's funding is geared towards a period of three years at a time, does tom envisage that the foundation itself will exist in perpetuity, so far as it's possible to guarantee anything these days?

"Yes, but, as you mentioned, so far as can be guaranteed. Funding is made possible by Rapha shareholders, Tom Walton and Steuart Walton. We're currently looking into ways of how we integrate the Rapha Foundation into all parts of our business."

assuming that such ministrations are successful, and at present, it's hard to see why they wouldn't be, one can but assume that the foundation will be unwilling to rest upon even its early laurels. even i, as one mostly ignorant of the vicissitudes of the financial market and of business in general, can see that there is surely considerable room for manouevre and development. is the latter something currently under discussion, will it be simply a case of 'business as usual', or is there a cunning plan?

"We would like to integrate the Rapha Foundation into all the key parts of our business. Enabling our highly engaged community of cyclists and enthusiasts to get involved around the world. We will also focus on telling the ongoing stories of the grantees across the year, to help promote their cause."

photo credit: sam holden

the rapha foundation

friday 14 february 2020

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foundation trilogy (plus one)


there have been a number of calls over recent years, to modify, or re-invent the financial model under which the majority of professional cycle teams operate. most of the above tend to be owned by operating companies, who then sell their services to the highest bidder (sponsor) for a specified period of time and a specified amount of money. on a slightly superficial level, this means that last year's team jersey might not be this year's team jersey, even though it's effectively the same team. so, unlike football supporters, fans are apparently supporting, not an unaltering team, but a frequently changing round of sponsors.

however, that frequently means that the team owner/manager is responsible for not only the day-to-day running of the team, but simultaneously following a seemingly endless quest for sponsorship to keep everything financially afloat. to place not too fine a point on it, that's hardly the most sustainable of situations.

herne hill

it would be simple to blame the sponsors to a certain extent, but it's very unlikely that they have any real interest in changing the model that brought them to invest their marketing budget in the first place. to all intent and purposes, any cycle team is simply a mobile advertising hoarding on which to place the company logo. when an appropriate return on investment has been achieved, the money moves elsewhere. mark ratcliffe's recent sponsorship tie-up with the mercedes formula one team is unlikely to have featured discussions over cleaning up the sport, and presenting a more ecological face to motor-racing's substantial audience.

similarly, it's rare that a cycle team sponsor exhibits any extra-curricular interest over and above the marketing ploy that initially brought them to the table.

however, there are those with a vested interest in pulling the sport up by its boa shoe closure systems, one of which is london-based rapha racing. in the past, imperial works has sponsored its own continental team in conjunction with condor cycles and jlt insurance, and most notably, team sky. they are currently clothing and media partners with ef education first, a sponsorship deal that has paid at least lip-service to their rapha roadmap, published in the early part of 2019 and in which they rather unilaterally and grandiosely examined the foibles of the professional end of the sport, in the quest for a solution (or solutions). rapha is currently owned by american investors, steuart and tom walton, who have collaborated with ceo, simon mottram, in the creation of the rapha foundation.

rayner foundation

the foundation's raison d'être is to receive and consider applications from grassroots, charitable cycling groups, subsequently to award monies to the successful applicants. this largesse will hopefully enable aspirants to achieve their potential without having to adopt the travail ascribed above to the archetypal team manager or to create or improve community cycling facilities. the first round of funding took place last year (there are two funding rounds per year), with the recipients chosen almost exclusively from north america. the successful second round applicants, announced today, are all from this side of the pond: helen wyman's helen100, herne hill velodrome trust, the rayner foundation, and the cyclists' alliance.

the first of the above, founded by britain's finest woman cyclocross competitor, was created by helen wyman to create opportunities for young women in cyclocross. she feels that they have been unfairly neglected for long enough, and if british cycle sport wants to keep women in 'cross, they're every bit in need of nurture and development in a similar manner to that of their male peers. i asked helen just how much difference would the money from rapha's foundation make to her fledgling organisation?

cyclists' alliance

"The Helen 100 was a dream until we were provided this opportunity from the Rapha Foundation. Without this valuable support we wouldn't be able to focus on getting and keeping young women in cyclocross, eventually growing our amazing sport."

herne hill will receive its grant over the course of a three-year period, using it to fund a youth development officer and to renovate a part of the velodrome, improving the experience for those using the facility. the total amount disbursed to the above mentioned four recipients is $750,000 (£579,000). all four have been invited to a private celebration at herne hill this evening, the culmination of their hard work and successful applications. in the light of the rapha foundation's generosity, apparently less onerous than any straighforward sponsorship agreement, perhaps more benefactors will look towards creating similar ideals, and ultimately marking the beginning of a true change in cycle sport's roadmap and its fortunes.

(photo credits from second top: phil wright,, velofocus.)

the rapha foundation

thursday 13 february 2020

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be careful what we wish for

danish cycling infrastructure

islay's low road, joining the villages of port ellen and bowmore, consists of eight miles of almost dead straight tarmac, passing the airport and large swathes of peat moss along the way. according to the author of islay: biography of an island, margaret storrie, the route was originally considered for a railway in the early 1960s, before the beeching cuts made it a non-starter. few of us have the faintest idea of the purpose of this proposed railway; whether it would have simply terminated in bowmore, or continued round the island, en-route to portnahaven in the south-west point of the island, nobody seems to know. either way, the question is now moot by some considerable years.

each november, when mrs washingmachinepost and i take our summer holidays, we always opt to take the train onward from glasgow, even if those with whom we're holidaying are undertaking the same journey by car and have offered us a lift. trains are just ginger peachy, in our opinion. that said, and at the risk of becoming more politically involved than i have any intention of achieving, i figure that the prime minister's approval of the high speed rail link, joining the south of england to the north, is quite probably ill-advised on both financial and environmental grounds. and given that i live in a country that will benefit not at all from the projected train service, i'll refrain from hanging out the bunting.

but along with the hs2 announcement, the government has also pledged £5 billion over the next five years to improve bus services and cycling infrastructure south of the border. i can already view the quizzical looks, wondering why i should excuse myself from an english high-speed rail-link, yet feel moved to comment on purported bus and cycling improvements that are surely every bit as irrelevant to a hebridean cyclist? i cannot deny this to be correct, but it is not specifically this government initiative that i had in mind, but more the generic result of all such initiatives.

the fact that the £5 billion has been annonced almost simultaneously with hs2 approval, would tend to suggest to the inveterate cynic that so doing takes the form of a palliative for those inclined to argue that getting from north to south in record time, hardly solves the problem of getting about elsewhere. labour leader, jeremy corbyn, demonstrating his vested interest in arguing against any government announcement, stated that the planned investment "doesn't make up for deep cuts since 2010" in bus services. he further contends that funding for bus services has fallen by over half-a-million pounds each year for the past ten years, while fares have "soared".

that, however, has distanced the discussion somewhat from the proposed cycle infrastructure improvements. for instance, how much of that £5 billion will head in a velocipedinal direction? at the time of writing, i have been unable to verify the proportion of cash heading towards england's cyclists; i have seen figures as low as £350 million and as high as £1bn, neither of which seems designed to excite the cycling community, who mostly contend that the necessary improvements will cost a lot more than promised. there's also the sneaking suspicion, given the proliferating costs of the rail-link, that the cost for buses and cycling will similarly increase, but with no concomitant rise in the funding.

however, it concerns me just a smidgeon, that cycling is in danger of becoming something of a panacea for all transport ills. perhaps it's our own fault for having shouted long and loud in praise of the bicycle as being the ideal antidote to personal motorised transport. with the dawning realisation that a climate crisis may be about to harsh our collective buzz, a ready-made, zero-emission mode of transport, not unnaturally looks like the proverbial gift-horse whose teeth ought not to be looked at.

if cycling fails to deliver, possibly through no fault of our own, but perhaps as a result of inefficient or ineffective transport planning, cycling could very quickly become the fall-guy. quite how we deal with that, should it happen at all, might prove every bit as complicated as fitting a set of mudguards to a world-tour time-trial bike. of course, it's likely that we are about to enter the realm of the double-edged sword; it is incumbent that we continue to argue for improved facilities, yet moderate the inevitable shouting, if only to preserve some degree of modesty and dignity.

that's what's going to keep me awake at night.

wednesday 12 february 2020

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trials and tribulations

aerocoach road-bike time-trial series

many moons ago and (probably not) recorded in the annals of hebridean history, the velo club du jour held monthly time-trials, leaving from behind bowmore's round church to the turn at islay airport and back again. nominally, as measured by a cycle computer of dubious heritage, the distance was as close to ten miles as made little difference, allowing spurious comparison between our own times, and those reported in the comic.

with such a wide variety of velocipedinal hardware on display, not all of it quite up to world-tour standard, any prospective measurement of performances amongst ourselves provided little succour to the more athletically inclined. the best that could be achieved was personal monthly contrast of finishing times, purely on the off-chance that an inadvertent improvement had been made over the previous four weeks. you will be encouraged to know that the latter was a remarkably infrequent occurrence.

the point, however, was really not all about how fast each of us pedalled, but more about the inclusivity of our sporting imperative. unlike 'real' time-trialling, where, unless you were graeme obree, arriving on anything less than state of the art carbon, would result in scarcely concealed sniggering, we really didn't care what was brought to the party. hardly cycling time trials (ctt) regulations, but we figured we were far enough from civilisation for no-one to notice.

aside from the competitive element, our modest time-trials were probably closer to the original idea of the sport than has become the case. look up any youtube video of the eddy merckx era, and it's not hard to observe that time-trials were undertaken on regular road bikes; no disc wheels, no deep carbon rims, no bladed spokes and no tri-bars. if we're looking for someone to blame, greg lemond must surely stand front and centre, by stint of his eight-second dismissal of laurent fignon's yellow jersey aspirations in the 1986 tour de france. boon lennon's observation of the transferability between the pose adopted by downhill skiers and the possibilities for competitive cycle time-trialling, resulted in the scott aero bars fitted to lemond's bottechia.

since those days, the art of racing against the clock has never been the same, depending more and more upon aerodynamics to bring speeds up and times down. in the process of so doing, this quest for improved velocity has resulted in some of the ugliest bicycles seen in the history of the sport (excluding the pinarello sword, obviously), which only goes to show just what happens when you let numbers dictate form and removing any human sense of aesthetics. if you doubt the veracity of such a statement, take a look at the current (non-uci legal) specialized shiv, and tell me i'm wrong.

and while you're looking, take a gander at the price of admission.

thankfully, the notion that things don't have to be this way, at least as far as time-trialling is concerned, has occurred to those with the power to make small, yet not insignificant changes. droitwich-based aerocoach, following one or two previously successful outings, have announced a 50 event national road-bike time-trial series. and since your idea of a road-bike might not equate to my idea of a road-bike, nor that of each of the event organisers, aerocoach advises competitors to check the start sheets carefully to avoid any possible censure. however, as a rough guide, it might be an idea to observe the following:

no aerobars, clip on aerobars or aero extensions can be used
hands must be holding the handlebars at all times while racing (ie. not with forearms resting on the handlebar)
wheels must have a minimum of twelve spokes each, and have a maximum rim depth of 90mm
(i'm a bit dubious about that one. i'd have stopped at 33mm).
helmets must have no visor
ears must not be covered by the helmet (giro aerohead helmets are not permitted).

that seems like a fairly comprehensive list, hopefully encouraging entrants to rely on their own efforts to seek victory, rather than on the size of a bank account. it's unlikely that initiatives such as this will find their way into any of the grand tours, but it does look like at least a partial triumph for common sense and aesthetics.

aerocoach road-bike tt series

tuesday 11 february 2020

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