show day

islay show day

the islay, jura and colonsay agricultural show held its very first meeting on the last day of july in 1838. the object of the association was to curate the advancement of agriculture generally and in particular within the islands of islay, jura and colonsay. this was to be achieved by means of shows, demonstrations, lectures, subscriptions for research work, with the awarding of prizes and premiums or otherwise as the association may decide from time to time.

currently held on the second thursday of august each year as a means of bringing the island's farming community together, the show has changed substantially over the intervening years. the morning of each annual event is given over to the judging of cattle, sheep, dogs, flowers and vegetables and even pet rabbits and birds. the latter section was once a tad more sizeable, with entries from the now defunct birds association, which once held a smaller show of its own in bowmore. many individuals and crofters on the island were happy to present their hens, cockerels and small birds such as finches, canaries and the like.

the demise of the latter association has substantially reduced the show entries for birds and small animals, though the flower tent still flourishes as much as ever. when the island's creamery closed for the second time at the turn of the century, apart from one dairy herd that remained in business at esknish, the islay's dairy cattle were sold off en-masse, removing a substantial number of judging categories in the august show. a few years past, that sole remaining dairy capitulated in the face of ever-increasing environmental health demands, so the farming part of the show now only features beef cattle and sheep.

even the pigs that once populated dunlossit estate have gone for good.

however, like many across the nation, the islay, jura and colonsay agricultural association have compromised and diversified at each turn, maintaining that annual gathering, even in the face of adversity. on that second thursday of august, in the show field at bridgend, kindly maintained by islay estates in the island's favour, you can find components of a funfair, doughnut and pizza stalls, the local snp activists, a display of vintage cars and tractors, and a wide range of farming implements, including over-sized tractors.

the rspb and snh both hold court in separate marquees, and there's always the inevitable beer tent overlooking the guy who carves wood stumps into a stunning verisimilitude of owls, bears, highland cows etc. using a chainsaw, and there's always the inevitable pipe band to scare the horses.

you will, i don't doubt, be wondering what the heck any of this has to do with cycling? aside from the occasional visit from a cycle display team doing the sort of thing that danny macaskill does so well, you would be forgiven for thinking none of the above bears any influence on the velocipedinal realm. the answer is of collateral interest. though personally, i would gladly refrain from attending, in recent years i have found myself on the wrong side of a pipe band bass drum, or engaged in taking photos for the local newspaper. this is of great disappointment to me, for under normal circumstances, islay show day is undoubtedly the very best day on which to cycle pretty much anywhere on the island.

pretty much every farmer on islay will be at the show, so there are no tractors about which to worry when perambulating the nooks and crannies of the isle. and with the event taking place prior to the schools returning from their lengthy summer holiday, there are a plethora of families in attendance. it would take only a brief glance at the makeshift car park to realise that there can be few cars left to occupy islay's road-space. thus, if you're an island cyclist, show day is the very best day on which to ply your trade.

and now, with the current lockdown situation and government advice to remain at home, on islay at least, the great majority have paid attention. there are far fewer cars on the road, and with calmac ferries not only operating a basic lifeline service, but restricting travel to residents and essential workers, this easter weekend, we have no visitors or campervans in sight. add to that, the fact that all ten distilleries on islay and jura are closed to the public, the incentive to arrive, even if calmac would let you, has pretty much disappeared.

i cannot deny that i'm probably one of the luckiest cylists on the planet at the moment. though this week's comic is filled with advice on how best to keep fit on a turbo or on zwift, i still have the luxury of riding out in the countryside. and it's just like show day, and then some. and though at this time of year, the velo club would usually be welcoming visiting cyclists on the sunday ride, not only is there no sunday ride at present, but in the nicest possible way, we really don't want you here at present.

but when this crisis is over and done with, don't be a stranger.

sunday 12 april 2020

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the ultimate combination?

gravel road

i did have, at one time, a blue, muddy fox mountain bike in the bike shed. those were the days when there was space in said building, for at least two adults, as opposed to nowadays, when there is barely space for one. as i am often reminded, i really ought to tidy it out, but if there's time for tidying, obviously enough, there's time for bike riding. a propensity to ride in all weathers, scarcely offers any leeway in that direction. however, having festooned the aforesaid mtb with all manner of anodised widgets, a pair of suspension forks, and numerous other odds and ends that i really didn't need, the simplicity of skinny tyres and bendy bars beckoned from nearby.

the logic behind my impending defection was one based almost entirely in pragmatism. at least part of the reason for such a proliferation of malt whisky distilleries on islay, is the vast quantity of peat, used to smoke the barley prior to distillation. the three southernmost distilleries at ardbeg, lagavulin and laphroaig, all proffer heavily peated drams, while those to the north and west, feature the lower phenol counts concomitant with less peat, or none at all. from a topographic point of view, this has resulted in pockets of offroad that are either peaty or muddy, or both, all necessitating very knobbly tyres. the very rubber, in fact, that makes for hard-going on tarmac.

without a car or pickup, any offroad adventures i had in mind, entailed riding to and from those locations on the treads as described, not to mention suspension forks before any form of user-friendly lockout had been developed. after a while, even though this form of commuting undoubtedly aided my fitness, i simply got fed up. a road bike, on the other hand, proved its worth immediately on setting foot outside the back gate. add to that, the dearth of useless geegaws available to the intrepid roadie, and you had the ideal recipe for simplicity that promised to continue into retirement.

of course, those stark, less complex days didn't last forever. manufacturers who reacted to a noticeable shift towards the road, the mountain bike bubble having decreased just a tad, were keen to have us new roadies spend as many pennies on accoutrements, as had been the case for the mountain bikers. however, unlike yours truly, several who moved from offroad to road, maintained at least one spd cleat in the former, filling the bikeshed with examples of both. though it troubles me to admit it, this was probably a very good idea.

and i've little doubt that it still is.

there's a very good reason why gravel bikes have recently become flavour of the month, despite the existence of a long-lived, if compact and bijou cyclocross market. north america, despite having fostered a 'cross community like no other, still views this as somewhat niche. cyclocross remains mostly a sport. the gravel bike, though now creating it's own competitive milieu, is less identified with the sporting life, and with ever-increasing numbers of vehicles on american roads, the option of riding hither and thither on gravel or dirt roads, has its own attractions. those are the same attractions that prevail on this side of the pond.

the professional race calendar, prior to its rather drastic shutdown, was beginning to embrace this offroad option. bike manufacturers, while intent on encouraging the gravel market, have also made strategic differences apparent on their road frames; my relatively anorexic ritchey logic does actually have sufficient headroom to cope with 30mm tyres (though not with campag's record front caliper, which scarcely copes with 28mm). while the world of technology edges ever closer to the singularity, it may well behove the world of the bicycle to do likewise.

the fly in the ointment, however, might be harboured by the very forces which could make this happen in the first place. creating a one-bike-does-all, while eminently practicable, makes little commercial sense. why would any growth-based manufacturer offer such an option in place of selling a mountain bike, road bike, cyclocross bike and gravel bike to the same customer? those who conscientiously follow the rules as dictated by velominati, would obviously find this in direct contradiction of rule #12, but that's not to say that you couldn't own several of these swiss army knife bicycles.

in truth, this genre of bicycle has already existed in recent velocipedinal history. following on from the advent of the mountain bike, someone had the bright idea of making a mountain bike style frame, with three chainrings, 700c wheels and semi-knobbly tyres. it was referred to as a hybrid and in essence, was the unforeseen antecedent of the gravel bike. at the time, however, though it was the style of bicycle that most folk needed, the mountain bike was still the type of machine most folk wanted.

many things have changed since those early days of the 1990s, witnessed by the greater acceptance and marketing of the gravel bike; that offroad need not be anathema to the confirmed roadie, and there's no explicit requirement to indulge in fully-suspended downhilling. and once again, it's probably the very type of machinery that most of us need; perhaps this time it'll be the very break that the peloton allows to succeed.

but if you tell anyone, i'll deny ever having said that.

saturday 11 april 2020

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the jetsons

sitting in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, is a rather bright green and orange specialized crux elite, featuring a sram rival groupset (apart from a praxis single chainset). it has been in my possession for almost four years, offering unbridled comfort and joy when undertaking exploration of the undergrowth in bridgend woods. its versatility has allowed for the replacement of the 33mm semi-knobblies with a similar width of challenge strade bianche road-style rubber when perambulating the west coast of arran during june last year.

according to the current spec on specialized's website, they have managed, in the intervening years, to get rid of over 400 grammes from the carbon frame that has afforded me many self-inflicted scuffs and bruises in the last 48 months. that's only marginally less than a tub of anchor spreadable butter. though my edition is hardly a featherweight, it's quite impressive that the boffins at california's, morgan hill, managed to find so many spare grammes that were surplus to requirements.

and then there's the twelve vitesses that currently grace the rear carbon wheel of my steel ritchey logic, one more than featured on campagnolo's spinal tap inspired eleven-speed groupset. as a confirmed luddite, i have remained faithful to mechanical shifting and, on the ritchey at least, normal caliper brakes. convinced that electronic trickery offers little physical advantage of the pushing of levers, i bear an admitted distrust of wires when applied to an originally simple and minimalistic transport of delights. though i have successfully ridden and reviewed several electrically-equipped bicycles, currently (pun intended), i prefer to remain faithful to weights and pulleys.

but, if i had the opportunity to compare and contrast the technical modernity of both the above mentioned bicycles, and my first, plain-gauge steel road bike, there would be grounds for considering them to be from entirely different planets.

that first foray into a world i now inhabit with glee, was aboard a heavy, white painted, catalogue bought, road-bike. it sported thin, semi-transparent, paper-thin bar tape, with plain alloy brake levers standing proud atop the curves of the steel bars. gears were a mere five vitesses on a screw-on suntour freewheel, changing actuated by two, downtube mounted levers, neither of which had any inkling they would eventually be replaced by levers which indexed. the steel-rimmed wheels had braking surfaces that featured little dimples, none of which encouraged even half-way decent braking in dry conditions, never mind the adrenaline rush brought on by trying to stop in the wet.

though i may have made it sound little better than the velocipede on which maurice garin won the inaugural 1903 tour de france, it was no doubt concurrent with the year in which it was purchased.

my segway from the mountain bike to a road bike was encouraged by the apprehension that the latter was stable in its simplicity. the apocryphal tale of club riders purchasing a new, similar coloured frame each year, to fool their better halves into believing that the cycle in the shed was one and the same, sounded like the sort of place i wanted to be. unfortunately, since that day, everything has changed, often for what i perceive as spurious and often doubtful reasons. we've had the bb bearings moved outboard, headsets enlarged and moved inboard, more gears than we truthfully know what to do with, tubing that could be used for railway tunnels and carbon in places where, sometimes, carbon ought not to be.

having previously pleaded for everyone to take a step back from the fray and allow things to settle for a year or so, it appears i may have inadvertently got my wish. the onset of the covid-19 pandemic in the early part of this year, caused the cancellation of the annual taipei cycle show, when manufacturers begin to show their homework to an international array of distributors. and such is the nature of our modern world, that there had better be something new on which the masses can eventually spend their hard-earned. now comes the announcement that eurobike, originally scheduled for september this year, faces possible postponement in favour of november dates in 2020.

a spokesperson stated that planned media events to be staged in advance of the main show, had been cancelled. "These exceptional circumstances mean that it makes more sense to bring together all the new innovations and present them at Eurobike." of course, that pre-supposes that there will be any innovations to display, with many bicycle factories and design departments under lockdown all across the world, their usual incumbents remaining at home. i, for one, would be quite happy for not a single innovation to be seen until at least next year.

but then, i still yearn for the days of the one-inch steerer, so i doubt why listen to me?

friday 10 april 2020

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finding out who your friends are

rouleur covers

as some of you may be aware, much of my day job involves carrying out work for the local community newspaper on islay. the current covid-19 pandemic means that, while the office is closed to the public, journalists and newspaper production staff, both of which are within my remit, are classed as key workers, so i still have cause to undertake the daily travail. thankfully, village life means that i am but five minutes walk from the imac. given my relatively early start, i have yet to meet anyone else en-route. social distancing at its best. however, while production continues almost unabated, not all is rosy in the world of newspapers.

all across the world, print publications have suffered at the hands of google and facebook, both of which have been hoovering up a considerable percentage of available advertising pounds and dollars, leaving only crumbs for the printing presses. the current lockdown has substantially exacerbated this situation. we are in the habit of producing 24 pages every two weeks, of which just under half would usually be advertising. all but two pages of that disappeared overnight, meaning that, while the readership is paying for no less in the way of editorial, the paper no longer receives the income that allows it to remain profitable.

the same affliction is being felt all across the print publishing world, and possibly even at the coffers of both google and facebook. but when the ceo of the latter is worth an estimated $110 billion, it may be sometime before mr bezos or his company even notices.

professional cycling, as is and as was, depends almost entirely on advertising, and though the budgets for the 2020 season for most teams has already been delivered, it's unlikely the sponsors will be likely to see much of a return on their not inconsiderable investment, for this year at least. add to that, the commercial prospects of many of those sponsors are hardly looking too rosy these days, so it would not be particularly surprising to see at least a few of them seriously considering their futures in both the marketplace and the peloton. it must be hard to justify the furloughing of factory staff, while continuing to pay a team of currently unproductive cyclists, even with the company name emblazoned on their jerseys.

the domino effect means that, with no racing taking place, and ultimately little about which to write or photograph, cycling publications will be bereft of the very information that, until now, has been their raison d'être. thankfully, it's something unlikely to impinge upon the daily slices of thewashingmachinepost. though i do consider myself to be immersed in the world of the road-bike, and all connotations thereof, actual racing is not the cornerstone of my modus operandi. as one with a reputed ability to talk (and by implication, write) for britain, it will be some considerable time before the yellow background becomes empty of words.

that's not a situation, however, that exists, or even appeals, to everyone. professional publications for which money changes hands, have also suffered from a severe downturn in advertising. my overheads consist of an annual webhosting fee; a mere drop in the ocean compared to magazines such as rouleur. their latest mailshot, which arrived yesterday, makes this plain.

"We (at Rouleur) are still a small tightknit team, who love what we do for you, and love to ride our bikes when we get the chance - virus restrictions permitting...
"This is a call to action from us to you, dear reader. With advertising revenue and newsstand sales much reduced, if Rouleur is to survive the current worldwide pandemic, we need a little help."

the help for which they are looking could be imparted by the faithful in one of two ways. firstly, a subscription to the magazine costs as little as £7 per month, and if you discover that you don't like it (really?), you can cancel after your first issue. for those who already subscribe or buy a copy from a newsagent, try and persuade your friends to do likewise, or even order an item from the rouleur shop. we're all probably of a mindset that, when this crisis ends, everything will return to 'normal'; flanders and roubaix will take place, the tour, the vuelta and the giro will once again occupy our collective attention for three weeks at a time, and we'll be able to read interviews with our heroes and drool over the shiny carbon fibre on which they ride.

to try and ensure that is, indeed, the case, try and do the decent thing. the link's below.

subscribe to rouleur magazine

thursday 9 april 2020

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forget about it

crash in the peloton

several years past, i undertook to teach a series of beginners' photoshop classes at the local further education college. these were less about encouraging serious pixel-wrangling, but aimed more at those who harboured hopes of improving their digital photography skills. i usually opened with a quote from an allegedly well-known photographer, who claimed that "the best thing about digital photography is that the user is in charge of the entire process from beginning to end. and the worst thing about digital photography is that the user is in charge of the entire process from beginning to end." it's a sentiment with which i am inclined to agree.

as an example, i cited a non-digital photograph i had taken many years ago, of my parents on the upper deck of a boat heading between tossa de mar and lloret de mar on the costa brava. unfortunately, it was not until we received the print from the chemists, that we noticed a woman sat in the row behind, holding a sick-bag over much of her face. at that point, there was really little that could be done to save the image, but had this been taken digitally, we would either have noted it at the time and re-taken the photo, or opened the image in photoshop and removed the woman entirely.

if you're in possession of a digital camera, simply taking photos and copying them from the sd card to a computer, in reality, you're no better off than when everybody used film. i was not necessarily suggesting that my students aim for a black belt in the subject, but to simply learn the basics, such as lightening, sharpening, tidying up any blemishes and the like.

in order to streamline the teaching process, i supplied all the students with the same image, before provding detailed instructions as to how they might refresh the image. this mostly consisted of asking them to add, for example, 25% unsharp mask, 10% lightening, 15% contrast etc., but underlining that they should not necessarily write down each instruction, number by number. my fear (one which was confirmed in several cases), was that they would return home and proceed to apply exactly those numbers to their own images, photos which would be very unlikely to resemble the sample images used in class.

the intention of the teaching process, was to imbue a basic understanding of how photoshop works, and how to make aesthetic judgments of their own, relevant to their own particular images. it was also, i felt, worth impressing upon those in attendance, that the best way to obtain a working knowledge of the principles, was to make regular use of the programme, a deficiency that was often notable over the ensuing weeks.

but now, i would imagine, we may be about to witness a similar deficiency in not only the professional peloton, but the very grass roots of the sport. many a team coach has pointed out that training is not racing. the former is employed to provide a level of fitness that will allow the intrepid cyclist to compete at whatever level their age and experience allows. though there are many professionals who claim to use certain races as training for a specific event, it's the racing itself that hones the skills required to stand atop the finish-line podium.

under the present 'lockdown' constraints, cyclists are advised not to ride in groups, which, as i have previously intimated, encompasses numbers from two upwards. therefore, for the foreseeable future, we're all on our own. at the risk of stating the glaringly obvious, it's very hard to gain or practise the art of riding in a bunch, when you're the only one on the road. additionally, though a training programme can be simply devised to concentrate on top line speed, there's little doubt that having several others all making the same effort to reach the line first, can often provide an impetus that is entirely missing from the pages of a training manual.

therefore, extrapolating the advice offered to my photoshop students, in the direction of the professional peloton, you really need to practice regularly in order to make the skillset a part of who, or what, you are. thus, we could conceivably be faced with an entire peloton of professional riders who, on return to the fray later this year (hopefully), have need of being retrained. depending on how long the current crisis lasts, that could happen quickly or slowly, meaning perhaps half a season of racing where nobody has much of a clue as to what the heck they're doing.

that, i'm excited to announce, is where i invoke my cunning plan to take the sport by storm. because, if you've ever seen me ride my bike, you'll be aware that having no clue whatsoever, is a permanent state of affairs.

wednesday 8 april 2020

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is this for real?

model peloton

the phrase 'a level playing field' has become somewhat of a cliché these days, almost as much as making use of the top of a billiard table as a means of quantifying the relative flatness or smoothness of a road surface. however, it still seems to be one of the more appropriate clichés to use when describing the relative merits of the professional peloton's bicycles.

overall, the development of the bicycle frame has been less extensive than the manufacturers would have you believe. by way of qualification, at present, i'm not discussing the few frame materials employed nowadays, but the fact that the double-diamond frame has scarcely altered since the starley safety bicycle was invented in the late 19th century. it's hard to deny that this is predominantly at the hands of competitive cycling's governing body, the uci, who have quite firmly stomped on any potential innovation that reared it's ugly (in the case of pinarello's sword) head.

though i confess i tend to side with aigle in such matters, purely from an aesthetic point of view, it is perhaps a tad iniquitous that the entire cycling world rides bicycle designs constrained by the requirements of competitive cycling. however, in the interests of not upsetting any long-lived apple carts, it might be useful to consider, for a moment at least, the competitive realm, as it impinges upon the hapless bicycle.

in its purest sense, competition of any sort, is essentially between one man or woman and the next man or woman; the bicycle (in this case) is simply a means to an end. the problem, as i see it, is that this is probably no longer the case. if i might briefly direct you in the direction of the last world championship track meet in germany, following britain's rather poor performance, at least one section of the media was wont to point out that team gb would soon have the much-lauded benefits of riding the new lotus-hope carbon track bike. the implication here was that the machinery would make up for any physical deficiencies.

if ever there was a blatant admission that top level competition no longer takes place solely between human competitors, that was probably it.

a former colleague of mine always struggled to hang onto the back of even a minimal peloton, but rather than train harder to keep up, he'd look to purchase a bike or associated technology that would make him faster. needless to say, none of his methods made any appreciable difference, but the dangling carrot that such technology was within tangible and financial reach is one believed by many. campagnolo's shift (pun intended) to twelve rear sprockets, carried with it the implication (intentional or otherwise), that the extra sprocket would bring with it even a fractional increase in terminal velocity. though i love my record twelve-speed, i'm happy to confirm that i'm not any faster than i was on nine, ten, or eleven sprockets. it makes you wonder why the french refer to the sprockets as vitesses?

however, to place all these ruminations in some sort of cohesive perspective, consider this: the races we watch from season's beginning until season's end are no more exciting because the climbers or sprinters are aboard wind-tunnel tested, carbon aero frames, replete with twelve, electronically shifted gears and stopped via hydraulic disc brakes. put the entire professional peloton upon lugged steel frames, with downtube, non-indexed shifters, leather saddles and weinmann caliper brakes, and though the average speeds may drop a little, the excitement and competition would be no less than it is today.

do not mistake this as another of my luddite-based rants; i love my ergopower index shifting, i like my deep-rimmed carbon wheels, and i'm every bit as happy riding a colnago c40, as i am my steel ritchey logic. my point, moot as it may be, that for all the research and development thrown at the modern-day road bike, ultimately, the end result is the same as it ever was (to quote david byrne).

there's a phenomenal amount of time and money being spent on grasping for sir dave's mythical 'marginal gains', none of which have conclusively led to victory. felt bikes were arguably one of the first to bring an aero frame to the pro peloton, claiming that, over an average race distance, it would provide savings of several minutes. yet in its first professional outing, it managed only 4th place (if memory serves). meaning that either the three bikes ahead of it had inadvertently usurped its professed advantages, or they were ridden by fitter and faster riders who had overcome their portended disadvantage.

however, even taking into consideration every professional and amateur bike racer in the world, the number of non-competitive club riders and leisure cyclists would likely outnumber the former by a quite considerable distance. therefore, aside from cycling's much vaunted ability to enable the acquisition of that which our heroes ride, you and i would probably fare every bit as well as we currently do, if we were still riding lugged-steel ten-speed racers. that's not to say we'd be happy so to do, but under the terms of which large diameter, aero-shaped, carbon tubing has been developed, ultimately, it hasn't really made any appreciable difference, other than perhaps a minor increase in speed.

which has to be something of a disappointment for somebody.

tuesday 7 april 2020

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