virtual peloton

rapha - zwift

those of you who have been around long enough (sixteen years and counting), will perhaps recall rapha's arrival on the cycling scene. as a famous member of the cycling media, i generally regard myself as fairly well-informed when it comes to velocipedinal matters, but on seeing that white, sportwool, short-sleeve jersey in the pages of the comic, i had rather to re-appraise my situation. unlike today, when, if telephoning rapha's ceo, simon mottram, an appointment has to be made well in advance, in those good old days of yore, mr mottram was more than likely to be the fellow who answered the phone.

informing him that i hadn't come across his cycle clothing on any previous occasion, yet, the name seemed strangely familiar, he told me he had only recently received a phone call from a gentleman who said that he was a long-time fan of rapha clothing, and that it was encouraging to see it now available in the uk.

however, the most visible aspect of rapha's arrival was their untrammeled use of black, white and pink, the latter rarely seen in the peloton, other than at the giro d'italia. on my sitting room wall are two, small, framed monochrome images, that were sent in postcard format in either 2004 or 2005. imagery such as this, mostly the product of the inimitable photographer, ben ingham, was not at all common at the time, other than in books featuring the greats of yesteryear. it was an era that rapha were keen to adopt, one that originated in the book kings of pain, a copy of which simon told me, he had handed to ben as a template for the imagery he wished associated with the rapha brand.

their website, for several years, reflected this decision, even leading to one or two spoofs appearing, parodying not only the black and white photography, but the 'pain and suffering' they had instigated as their raison d'être. photography and eventually video, accentuated the latter, depicting riders grovelling through rain and wind, in dark and cold regions of the north, promoting the autumn/winter ranges. it was a look and feel to which many of us were attracted, if only for reasons of self-martyrdom. there are probably many more present-day cyclists willing to suffer through inclement weather conditions as a result.

the unprecedented situation in which we currently find ourselves has necessitated a wholesale rethink of just how to keep cycling. those of us in the more remote regions of the country have scarcely been troubled, particularly with acres and acres of open space in which it's easy to cycle and socially distance at the same time. there's no denying that, in this aspect, we are extremely fortunate; those in larger conurbations are often without such options, confined to the indoor turbo trainer, often resorting to zwift for some semblance of cameraderie. it's a state of affairs that rapha have seemingly been eager to adopt, offering rcc virtual club rides and even the fomenting of a zwift championship.

it's easy to point the finger and remind them of their monochrome roots, very much at odds with their latest blue/orange/black jersey, which pairs the rapha logo with that of zwift, a match possibly made in heaven, but not one i ever expected to see. the jersey is currently available to pre-order and all profits will go to médecins sans frontières' covid-19 relief fund. the need for a specific jersey to ride an indoor turbo-trainer sort of escapes me, but as a highly privileged cynic, that's probably to be expected.

however, almost incidentally, the velo club has discovered an alternative means of actuating a virtual peloton. in line with government advice, since lockdown, we have been riding solo, scarcely seeing each other from one weekend to the next. even a colleague who lives almost within shouting distance of the croft has remained unseen for over five weeks.

however, yesterday we discovered that several of us had perambulated a remarkably similar parcours, separated by a mere matter of fifteen or so minutes, and not all had been riding in the same direction. as serendipity would have it, four of us coincidentally arrived at debbie's just after opening time, allowing for a socially-distanced catch-up. that's the sort of virtual peloton we can live with.

if it's something that catches on across the country, remember where to send the royalties.

monday 4 may 2020

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

lost lanes north - jack thurston. wild things publishing softback 253pp illus. £16.99

lost lanes north - jack thurston

depending on your point of view, the hebrides could be said to be peppered with lanes, except, we rarely refer to them as such. the archetypal lane, almost by definition, is a narrow stretch of road that doesn't constitute a main thoroughfare, defined on each side by hedgerows, bushes, overhanging trees, high stone walls, or a combination of all the foregoing.

i spend my weekends riding along narrow, singletrack roads that, in a more southerly and sheltered part of the united kingdom, would almost undoubtedly attract the epithet lane. however, the hebridean islands all lie off the west coast of scotland and have no definable shelter from the atlantic ocean. thus, centuries of winter storms and gales, have shaped the island landscape to exist, devoid of hedgerows, bushes, overhanging trees, and high stone walls. naturally enough, there are occasional pockets of lane-style sanctuary on islay and other islands further north, but i have little fear that jack thurston will be knocking on my door anytime soon, eager for company to complete a future 'lost lanes in the hebrides' edition of his excellent series.

'lost lanes north' is the fourth book in this delightful series, one that has gradually moved up the british isles and brought many of its secret passageways to the attention of those keen to perambulate a tad more slowly than those inaccurately described as weekend warriors, or what i like to call the pelotonese. i cannot deny that i identify more with the latter than the former, but that may be a last valiant attempt to deny the vicissitudes of the ageing process.

the book is subtitled 36 glorious bike rides in northern england, testament to which is paid by the author's superb and luscious photographs that accompany each ride. a compendium of bike rides through these lost lanes, including cumbria and the lakes, the north york moors, the yorkshire dales and lancashire, to name but a few, surely needs little by way of justification. nonetheless, thurston's introductory paragraph states...

"Some people collect stamps, others collect coins, fine wines or cigars. I collect lanes."

the happy part of such a statement is that this book, in conjunction with its predecessors, allows us to join him in his hobby. should you require further persuasion "Before long, I'm lost in a daydream [...] I am on my bike and bowling along past spring hedgerows laden with blossom and wooded glades carpeted with bluebells." if that doesn't move you from the armchair to the bike shed in one swift movement, then jack and i have great concern for your soul.

of course, on publication of 'lost lanes north', they are now anything but lost. in fact, on order to prevent the intrepid reader from becoming so, all are supported by downloadable route instructions along with files that you might add to your bar-mounted gps devices. by way of encouragement, the author cites the versatility of discovering the lanes by bicycle: "A bicycle makes travelling the lanes so easy. There is no hunt for a parking space. You can stop whenever and wherever you want."

should that be your very mojo, mr thurston introduces the eager with a chapter entitled 'the genius of the north', in which he describes not only the topography and geography of the region, but offers a fascinating precis of its history, offering a rich background on which the cycling traveller can draw. this is followed by a chapter on the practicalities of so doing, featuring such essentials as maps, navigation, how to get there (not necessarily forgetting that not everyone will be travelling from the south), and what type of bicycle would be most suitable. it would be a very different type of cyclist who would take issue with the statement "A touring bike is an ideal choice: the Dawes Galaxy has always been a good place to start..." however, it's likely that most types of bike would serve you well, other than, perhaps, dedicated time-trial machinery.

falling only a little way short of actually riding the bike for you, the author has thoughtfully subdivided the routes into pertinent sections, such as 'best for wild camping', 'best for long weekends', 'best for pubs' and, oddly enough, 'best for wild swimming'. should you require a higher level of enticement to leave netflix and the fireside, the attractive photography is quite plentiful and alluring. in fact, if, like me, you're a bit of an armchair touring cyclist, lost lanes north is the ideal book with which to settle down of an evening and peruse at your leisure, all the while promising yourself that the next holiday will not be motorised.

each individual ride is augmented with salient information as to distance, total ascending and the terrain over which you and your bicycle must travel. each is suffixed with a pot pourri of pubs and pit stops. at one time, i would have said that, if you're the sort of cyclist who pays close attention to the average speed display on the handlebars, this book is probably not for you. but in point of fact, it more than likely is. inveterate pootlers will need no prodding to follow these lanes, chapter by chapter, but even if your regular apparel is drawn from rapha's pro-team range, you owe it to yourself to experience life on the more serene side of cycling, if only to realise that the word 'joy' has more than one pronunciation.

lost lanes north is of a size that deems it worthy of the description 'a gem of a book'. if this is a mode of cycling that has already exercised its appeal, you'll need little persuasion to add it to the bookshelf. if not, it's a book that ought to be purchased, if only to persistently promise what the future might hold on two wheels.

at the risk of repeating myself: a gem of a book.

lost lanes north by jack thurston, is published on monday 4 may.

sunday 3 may 2020

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

ciclismo badges

eddy merckx molteni pin badge

when attending art college, there often seemed every bit as much concentration on musical matters, as there was on the visual arts that took us there in the first place. and more to do with a surfeit of guitarists and a dearth of drummers, at one point, i played in four different bands within the same time-frame. another drummer in the college was simultaneously in three. this combination of art and music, not unnaturally, encouraged a certain state of mind, one that could be somewhat inaccurately described as rock'n'roll or, in my case jazz'n'roll.

i may now be considerably older than i was when all the above took place, but in truth, that mindset still lurks to the fore, pretending that it has absolute disdain for authority, while ensuring that all transgressions are kept to an acceptable minimum. that's something that has persisted from those halcyon days of musical yore, through to both islay pipe bands of which i have been a member. however, lest you think this manifests itself in an ostentatious manner, let me advise that the most outward sign is a grey ponytail half way down my back.

however, with the 'uniform' that appertains to most pipe bands, comes a lapel jacket, onto which i was wont to attach a series of enamel pin-badges, apparently signifying my rebellious nature, but principally because i kinda like enamel pin badges. these consisted of a mix of cycling-related ephemera and their percussive counterparts; badges such as a pair of conga drums, a snare drum, a tour de france cyclist and even an apple computer rainbow badge. thankfully, the band to which the jacket belonged, competed only at grade four, the sort of level that rarely incurred close attention from the more stringent members of the royal scottish pipe band association. at worst, the array of badges simply annoyed the heck out of the pipe major.

when they re-open, as they surely will, take a trip around any of islay's distilleries, and you will likely find an assortment of enamel pin badges on sale. disappointingly, a concordant traipse round cycle shops is unlikely to reveal a similar, yet cycling-related, selection. though a polyester cycle jersey is hardly the apparel to which such badges ought to be affixed, one's civilian garb is surely ideal, particularly if you are of a mind that seeks to intrigue the average passer-by. let's face it, though cycling is undoubtedly the world's greatest and hardest sport, few of the great unwashed seem to be aware of this, or of any visual signifiers appraising its existence.

that, i'm please to say, might be about to change.

adam white has recently set up shop on etsy, offering, for the time being, a single example of an enamel, cycle jersey pin badge, featuring arguably one of the most recognisable in the annals of cycling heritage: molteni. but, in order that we recognise him as one of our own, and not a one-man marketing ploy, i asked if he would identify himself as a dyed-in-the-wool cyclist?

"I've always loved cycling. As a kid, I'd occasionally watch the Tour with my dad, but it was more about getting out on the bike. My first bikes were BMXs and MTBs, mainly because I always thought racing bike tyres would slip on a grid! I used to love riding up to the local quarry, as it offered a sense of freedom.
"I got into road bikes when I lived in Manchester, as it was one of the best ways to get around. I got a Felt road bike and just kind of went all in, started watching more and more cycling, reading about it, and falling in love with sport as a whole."

some of the folks who become fixated with cycling end up in a local club, spending many a happy sunday morning riding the club ten, or participating in the weekend chaingang. others become besotted with the technical aspects of the genre and either open or work in a bike shop; anything to satisfy their inherent velocipedinal desires. and the odd one or two sit down after work each day and write a blog. basically, there's no accounting for what might transpire, once the bug has been well and truly caught. what i've not previously come across, is the inclination to produce enamel pin badges. where did that idea come from?

"I've loved stickers, cards, patches and pin-badges since I was a kid. Sneaking in those early Garbage Pail Kids, so that my parents wouldn't see them, to collecting football badges every time I went to a match. I'll even admit to collecting Yo! MTV Raps cards. I still love football stickers, but at the age of 38, I am now living vicariously through my five year-old son, buying this seasons Panini stickers.
"I was given the Bradley Wiggins Icons book by my wife for Christmas, and thought I'd love to have a cycling jersey pin badge, just like the football shirt ones I own. (I'm trying not to mention who I support here, in case it loses me any followers or potential sales!)
"Anyway, I did an internet search, but couldn't find any cycling jersey badges. So I found a suitable supplier, got some quotes and after 'umming and ahhing' for a while, decided to take the plunge."

those who are students of cycling history will almost all have a period to which they show particular affiliation. the coppi, magni, bartali years are praised by many, while younger fans may have commenced with il pirata, indurain or greg lemond, depending on when the bug took hold. but the sport's governing body perhaps compartmentalised the era with which the majority identify, even if they've little idea as to why. when the world hour record seem to change hands every month, attacked by several riders on a variety of stylised machinery, the uci stepped in to turn the clock back to the days of eddy merckx, whose exploits on a steel colnago were seen as the effective baseline for all future attempts on the hour.

and lets face it, how often have we heard the refrain 'if it was good enough for eddy, it's good enough for me/you"? so at the risk of asking a needless question, why had adam opted to start with molteni?

"I just think that, when you look back at cycling's history, you immediately think of Eddy Merckx. Even as a kid, I recall going into my local cycling shop and seeing his range of bikes and clothing, which probably sticks in my mind because of his unusual surname which I couldn't pronounce!
"When you think of Eddy, you immediately see that classic Molteni Jersey, so for me it was a good way to start. The design is also quite simple - I didn't want to run before I could walk - but also one that's instantly recognisable."

there are not many businesses or enterprises that take to the 'streets' with a sole product, but so doing, in this case, was perhaps a prudent measure. as adam intimated above, an internet search had not resulted in overwhelming availability of cycle jersey enamel pin badges. perhaps there was a good and underlying reason why that was the case. however, ground now broken and potential demand realised, what delights could the avid collector or self-styled jazz'n'roll aficionado look forward to in the near future? and could adam restrain himself purely to pin badges?

"The dreaded Covid-19 put the brakes on things, not only due to workplaces being closed down, but also because i find myself currently being furloughed. However, I've just set the wheels in motion for the classic Peugeot Tom Simpson jersey. There are so many others I'd like to produce: Brooklyn, La Vie Claire, Z and GAN to name but a few. As to expansion, I think I'll likely stick with pin-badges for now, but maybe branch out in the future."

if the true importance of cycling and its related trinketry were recognised as much as we know should be the case, you'd be able to pop along to your nearest, currently still open bike shop, and hand over the necessary £6 for your very own molteni badge. it would then be simplicity itself to bask in its glory all the way home. back in the real world, however, life's not quite like that just yet, so how do members of cycling's cognoscenti acquire one of these magnificent badges?

"At the moment these are only available via my Etsy shop, but if they do take off as well as I hope they will, then I may get a website up and running. I've some web developer and graphic designer friends, so I may call in a few favours!"

molteni jersey enamel pin badge

saturday 2 may 2020

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

the chainring at the end of the universe

ford prefect

in douglas adams' 1978 'the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy', the pivotal moment in the narrative is when the supercomputer 'deep thought', returns the long-awaited answer to 'the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything'. this, it transpires is '42', leading those who created the project to realise that, in essence, they may not have correctly understood the implications of the original question.

'deep thought' was subsequently instructed to create another computer to determine just what the question actually was, a computer that we know as the planet earth. this, unfortunately, was destroyed by the vogons, moments before its calculations were complete.

following the success of hhgttg, the number '42' has become the archetypal response to any incomprehensible query, where a modicum of levity might prevail. it also inspired the name of the fusion pop band 'level 42', the radio telescope used by seti, which features 42 dishes, while in the tv series 'the x-files', mulder lives in apartment 42, and british dirge band coldplay, featured a track on their album 'viva la vida', entitled '42'.

however, thanks to the vogon fleet, intent on building a space highway through our solar system, and destroying the earth prior to completing its calculations, we are none the wiser as to the nature of deep thought's answer. there have been many strands of conjecture, considering why adams chose the number '42', many of them quite elaborate, and every bit as pretentious as art critics who deconstruct the meanings of mark rothko paintings. in point of fact, douglas adams is alleged to have related to actor stephen fry, exactly why it had to be '42', the latter claiming that, when subjected to long and close scrutiny, the answer was glaringly obvious.

given that fry is a noted comedian, it's a statement that probably ought best be taken with a pinch of salt.

yet, what if the number '42' is not simply one that idly suggested itself to adams during the writing of thhgttg? what if, as stephen fry has intimated, the answer is hiding in plain sight, but we, as self-styled sophisticates, have obscured its clarity through over-thinking the situation? if so, it would scarcely have been the first time.

those of us in thrall to the bicycle, have long understood that it is a hugely undervalued means of transport. until its invention, life in europe had remained largely parochial, with residents of villages and towns up and down the country, mostly restricted to an area in close proximity to their homes. the invention of the bicycle effectively changed all of that. it was now a practical reality for the ordinary man in the street to travel more widely. for example, dumfries domiciled, kirpatrick macmillan, one of the luminaries of velocipedinal invention, was censured by glasgow police for knocking over a city pedestrian. though i admit to being geographically challenged, even i am aware that the distance between the two towns is a touch under 100 kilometres, which hardly constituted macmillan's back yard.

while travel on horseback had featured for many a century, the cost of keeping such an animal was well outside the remit of many ordinary citizens. the bicycle, however, needed no substantial real estate for its keep, and was considerably more economic in the longer term. additionally, its exponential increase in ownership demanded that an appropriate road system be implemented to allow safe passage from a to b and beyond, conditions that were largely unnecessary for equine transport. this infrastructure is more accurately detailed in carlton reid's excellent 'roads were not built for cars'.

it is frequently the display of human nature that any device within economic reach, which makes for an easier life, will almost certainly achieve wholesale adoption. there is no other explanation required as to the meteoric rise in automobile use, very much to the detriment of the bicycle. consider the tv remote control which has saved millions rising from their armchairs, simply to change channel, or the use of both electric and motor-driven lawnmowers to manicure postage stamp sized lawns, easily within reach of human-powered machines. the knowledge that the majority of car journeys are under 5km has scarcely resulted in a large-scale increase in either walking or cycling as more practical and economical alternatives.

however, many of you will have witnessed current computer animations and static illustrations demonstrating the large decrease in airborne pollutants over the world's largest cities. with lockdown and travel resrictions in place throughout the world, cars, trains and buses have not only been often surplus to requirements, but the very contradiction of social-distancing. even jeremy clarkson cannot but have realised that cycling and walking are more pragmatic alternatives at present.

this state of affairs, pertaining to lowered pollution levels, has been noted by many cities and urban conurbations worldwide, with governments and councils now claiming that they fear a return to a 'pollutive normality', accompanied by pursuance of strategies to ensure such a 'normality', does not, once again, gain ground.

for those of us who have long trumpeted the superiority of the bicycle as a successful means of transport across these acknowledged short distances within town and city boundaries, it seems that the penny, euro, or cent has begun to drop. that the bicycle is indeed, the holy grail that will lead to transportational enlightenment, simultaneously reducing the obesity crisis. how disappointing that it has taken a global pandemic to realise just what 'deep thought's answer actually meant.

in order to qualify that last contention, allow me to once again point out that douglas adams first radio broadcast of 'the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy' took place in 1978, around about the same year that i purchased my first steel road bike. the name emblazoned on the - by current standards - anorexic down tube was viking, an accompanying poster educating yours truly to the knowledge that said manufacturer sponsored a cycle team. given the punitive weight of my plain-gauge ferrous frame, the team raced astride machinery a tad more sophisticated than sat in my parents' garden shed. i cannot recall the make of brake levers, but i do remember that the cables exited from the top of each, while the gear levers resided near the top of the downtube, the rightmost of which actuated a suntour branded rear derailleur across a woefully inadequate five-speed freewheel.

an accurate guide to the cheapness of this machine, can no doubt be illustrated by the alloy chainset sporting two riveted chainrings, allowing for no easy deviation from the tooth count on either, should they have proved unpalatable, or simple replacement due to wear. as was almost de-rigeur at the time, and had been for some years, the outer ring featured a count of 52 teeth, while the inner replicated the answer proffered by 'deep thought', the very ring one would choose when perambulating the roads within villages, towns or cities. i'm almost certain that, were one to have the opportunity to cross examine stephen fry, he would eventually admit that this was the hidden meaning behind adams' choice of purportedly fictional answer.

when google and ibm finally achieve mastery of quantum computing, i fully expect this detailed analysis to be thoroughly vindicated; an answer hiding in plain sight.

friday 1 may 2020

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

horses for courses

wrong size bicycle

one of the intrinsic beliefs and tenets of mahayana buddhism, such as the zen, ch'an, or tibetan schools of thought, revolves around the notion that objects, such as trees, the sea, the sky etc., have been provided with those apellations by humankind. so, intrinsically, there is nothing inherently 'tree' about a tree, or 'sea' about large bodies of water. names applied to objects in this manner are as a result of conventional need, which, according to the above buddhist philosophies, we have subsequently misinterpreted as being 'real', and we behave accordingly. to state the glaringly obvious, a tree has no idea that it's a tree.

this is a convention that is equally applicable to the bicycle.

for instance, what you and i regard as a 'bicycle', is, in fact, an assembled concoction of parts; that you may be in the habit of purchasing your bicycles in the form of a bare frame, subsequently accessorised with the bits and bobs that suit your preferences. for example, the ritchey logic that awaits me in the bike shed, cannot be purchased as a complete bicycle. it arrived at the croft as frame and forks, to which i added a campagnolo record groupset, a pair of bora wto carbon wheels, and a cabin pack from ritchey. the end result is my bicycle.

if everything ended at that point, we could all go back to watching netflix or listening to art blakey albums. but, of course, nothing is ever that simple.

if i might continue to use my ritchey as the prime example, it's a machine that we'd probably all agree to refer to as a road bike, given its sporting groupset and pretensions, underlined by 45mm carbon rims. the fact that its rider is hardly the equal to such pretensions is really neither here nor there. however, there may be readers who are inclined to define every bicycle as a 'road bike', purely on the basis that surely every bicycle can be ridden on the road? and again, there will be many of you whose spouses and partners emulate the reaction of mrs washingmachinepost, who tends to react to every image of bicycle porn with the riposte "it's just a bike".

but those of us who consider ourselves to be the cognoscenti, are eager and willing to define velocipedinal technology in the manner dictated by its manufacturer and media; to wit, road, gravel, cyclocross, bmx or mountain bike. convention also continues to intervene in a manner that frequently goes un-noticed, whereby we still refer to 'top', 'head', 'down' and 'seat' tubes, when, in point of fact, carbon monocoque frames consist of no such parts. the pre-fix 'mono' infers the frame to be of one piece, which, after sticking the two halves together, is indeed the case.

any conversation with a member of the general public, concerning a potential purchase of a bicycle, a conversation that many may have had in recent weeks, rarely devolves as far as genre in the first instance. i have most frequently and initially been told by my interlocutors, that they intend purchase of a bicycle. it is only on subsequent questioning as to the purpose for which they require this bicycle, do we begin to think along the lines of 'gravel', 'e-bike', 'road', or 'mountain' bike. none of which subsumes the stated fact that all are simply an agglomeration of components, but which eases the rest of the conversation.

though this is a subject for discussion at any time, it has particular relevance as we near the end of our fifth week of lockdown in the uk. there seems to be no consistent effort or agreement on how the passage of cyclists and pedestrians might be eased in town and city centres at present, nor of how this might be continued when life returns to some semblance of normal. inner-city pollution levels across the world have dropped considerably since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, and many of those conurbations are eager not to return their citizens to pollutive impositions in the future.

temporary cycle lanes have been implemented in many nations, sited on roads that once catered to congestive numbers of motor vehicles. these new lanes have aided and abetted both cycle and pedestrian passage for health workers and key workers who need, more than most, to achieve safe social distancing. in this respect, the bicycle has become an intrinsic part of at least a partial solution to the current crisis, but it is surely just as important that those who have a new found need of the bicycle, are pointed in the right direction as to the type of bicycle required?

lest you think i exaggerate, and i'm perfectly willing to accept that it's an accusation of which i may be guilty, consider a ward matron travelling a few kilometres from home to the hospital, aboard a canyon speedmax (a time-trial bike). it's a deliberately extreme example, but it's possible that health workers (and others) eager to immediately avail themselves of the bicycle's versatility when it comes to safe transportation, might conceivably choose a less than appropriate type of bicycle. in this, they are no different from anyone attempting to ride a bicycle too small, too large, or simply wrong.

so, should anyone approach you for the sort of velocipedinal information as discussed above, ensure that you take the time to ask the reasons for which they require the bicycle, what sort of budget they had in mind, and patiently make sure that they understand the difference between one and t' other. if you're not sure about any of this, now would be a good point in your consultancy career, to learn.

thursday 30 april 2020

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


hay ricks - william crozier (1993)

i have stopped setting my radio alarm to awaken me each morning. this choice has nothing whatsoever to do with a sudden ability to waken on demand, but far more to do with maintaining a healthy state of mind. that radio alarm, when previously in use, would switch on to radio four at around 5:50am each morning, allowing a listen to the latter part of 'farming today', before the pips at 06:00 and the news. however, much like the first dozen or so pages of my daily newspaper at present, the only news happening seems to be covid-19 related: the continued dangers thereof, how poorly the uk government had us prepared, and the latest idiocy to be tweeted by donald trump.

if it ended there, that would surely be judged sufficient, but the airtime between the six o'clock news and the seven o'clock news was filled with endless discussion and interviews concerning the same, single subject. and, unlike repeats of 'columbo', there's only so much an individual can survive before numbing of the brain takes place. heaven help the 'today' programme presenters.

thus, i have opted not to revert to the endlessly annoying beeps of which the radio-alarm is capable, but have simply decided not to set the alarm at all. i can therefore, grab an extra hour's worth of snoozing, before my ipod awakens me with bill bruford's earthworks at 07:17 (don't ask).

however, far from wishing to imply that my mental health is in any way, reaching fragility, i remain comfortably upbeat. currently, i still have enough work to keep the wolf from the door, and there is, at least, the solace of a daily routine that has not altered too much since lockdown dropped upon us from a great height. the relative isolation of scotland's west coast islands has been effectively maintained by calmac's speedy devolvement to a lifeline service, augmented by the scottish government's insistence on essential travel only, and strong advice not to attempt visiting any second homes that might exist on the islands.

yet one idiot had the temerity to write to our local newspaper, bemoaning the fact that no sunday ferry, meant no sunday papers.

but, as the saying goes, never resist the opportunity to make hay while the sun shines (which it has been doing for the last week). i have long believed that, rather than become a cycling activist or pariah, constantly waging war on the unbelievers, i would simply continue to ride my bicycle as far and as wide as opportunity provides. my fervent wish - currently unfulfilled - would be that motorists and pedestrians would sit up and take note, vowing that they too, could join to form a merry band of hebridean velocipedinists.

partial success has been at least approached, however. a female colleague at work purchased a rather desirable specialized electric bike, and was even moved to ride the 32 kilometres to and from the office only last friday. and while occupied at the weekend, polishing my twelve-speed chain to a mirror finish (you only hope that i'm kidding), mrs washingmachinepost asked if the young chap in the house opposite could borrow my track pump. it transpires that he and his wife deemed it necessary to embark upon a personal get-fit programme, to which end, he had bought himself a road-bike.

granted, i have yet to set eyes on the machine, but it sounds as if it might be a step in the right direction. i have, so far, resisted the temptation to ask if he'd like to join me on a socially distanced sunday ride anytime soon. but when making my own weekend efforts to maintain this honed physique, i have witnessed more folks on bicycles than i can ever recall outside of tourist season, or the 'ride of the falling rain'. we have already established that my weekend parcours varies little from one week to the next, yet i find myself coming across individuals hitherto unknown for their bicyclemanship, in places where they have previously been conspicuous by their absence.

the litmus test, of course, will be just how many of those new bicyclists remain jedi warriors when life, eventually, returns to some semblance of normal. your mission jim, should you decide to accept it, is to impress upon them the perils of reverting to the dark-side.

then we begin on the rest of humanity.

illustration: hay ricks by william crozier 1993.

wednesday 29 april 2020

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


rapha 26climbschallenge

you may recall an article from last week, outlining rapha's #26climbschallenge, their take on the ubiquitous 2.6 challenge, announced as an alternative means of funding charities who are currently bereft of money. many cycling events that would have benefited a wide variety of charities have been postponed or cancelled, threatening the economic welfare of many, without adequate recourse to other financial means. the #26climbschallenge ensures that, as fomented by chris boardman, cycling continues to be part of the solution to the present lockdown situation. always assuming, of course, that cyclists are willing to step up to the plate.

rapha 26climbschallenge

the basic premise behind the challenge, is to make use of your local climb and, between sunday 26 april and 3 may, ride up it a total of 26 times, either individually or as part of a family or team. if you can't achieve this in the real world, zwift is allegedly a suitable, pixelated alternative.

since i have no family members who could even begin to constitute a team (number one son recently having become a father for the first time), and a velo club currently in slight disarray, i opted to undertake the challenge all on my very lonesome. in so doing, i chose to interpret the word local as being a hill on the island, one that, entirely coincidentally, is not a million miles from debbie's and a restorative cup of soya latte and, perchance, an egg-roll.

foreland hill is so-called because it leads to both foreland gardens and foreland estate on the west side of the island. it's the very road along which you'd travel if heading for a tour or tasting at kilchoman distillery in more equitable times. marginally over 1 kilometre from bottom to top, the single-track road sports an average gradient of around 6%, with a short length of false-flat in the middle, topping out at 9% around two-thirds of the way up. it's not the sort of ascent that would give egan bernal much of a workout, but on the basis that i am most certainly not egan bernal, and not getting any younger either, i felt more than equal to its measure.

rapha 26climbschallenge

in fact, it slowly dawned on me during the intial ascent, that an easy way to circumvent the hardship that would undoubtedly ensue as the tally of climbs increased, was surely to simply undertake 26 descents of foreland hill? to this end, i resolved to simply ride to the top of the hill, turn round, and roll back down. this brilliantly executed cunning plan was repeated at total of 26 times, at the end of which both the chosen charity (ambitious about autism) and i, were quids in. isn't it lucky that i achieved an 'a' grade in my higher physics exam?

firstly, however, it was necessary to attack the project well prepared. i have already intimated that the start point at the foot of the hill is a but a mere two kilometres from the coffee shop, so ensuring sufficient funds for a latte and a double-egg roll was top of the list. the first half of the challenge, comprising 13 descents was completed on sunday morning under chilly and occasionally overcast skies, with a strong northerly wind attempting to blow me back down the hill. thus, suitable apparel featured at diaphanous wind-jacket over a long-sleeve sportwool top and those lion of flanders, prendas socks reviewed yesterday. the icing on the cake, so to speak, was a team issue, robert millar 'vetements z' casquette.

what i hadn't taken into account was the road being the principal route leading to machir bay, a popular beach, some eight kilometres distant, for allowable walking exercise under the current government restrictions. over the course of my 13 descents, i was either followed, or passed, by a total of 14 vehicles, either heading to, or returning from, said beach. however, the only other difficulty experienced, was that of maintaining concentration 13 times; repetitively riding up and down the same kilometre of road is no less of a task than viewing the same episode of 'columbo' on a dozen and one occasions, though the latter expends considerably less effort.

rapha 26climbschallenge

however, keen to end by noon, and always with the intention of returning later in the week to complete the challenge, i was happy and somewhat relieved to end at the half-way point. all being well, by the time you read this, i will have completed all 26 descents and keen to rest on my laurels. the suggestion was always that, having donated my £26 to ambitious about autism, i would then nominate another to accept the metaphorical gauntlet, and undertake the same on a hill near them. with no-one on islay within earshot, if anyone is willing to accept the challenge, i'd be most grateful.

i hasten to add that undertaking my two-part challenge falls under the government's allowable daily exercise advice. and it's non-too difficult to maintain social distancing on a bicycle in the hebrides. don't try this at home.

ambitious about autism

tuesday 28 april 2020

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