cyclists in the distance

professional cycling is full of written (thou shalt not hang onto the team car up the ventoux), and unwritten (thou shalt not attack the yellow jersey when he's taking a wizz) rules. written rules also advise that partaking of even a smidgeon of sherbert during competition is a big no, no, though lance voldemort seems to have ignored that particular diktat for seven years or so. and then, of course, there are the rules as espoused by velominati, the majority of which are to be repeated with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

it strikes me, however, that, with the cancellation of switzerland's world championship race, this could be the very year when it becomes at least partially acceptable to wear the rainbow stripes on the sunday morning ride, given that there will be no designated incumbent in 2020. if anyone tests that theory, let me know how you get on.

life is, of course, full of rules, potentially even more so nowadays, even down to the composition of the average, non-professional peloton. i believe british cycling are advising no more than five, when the gruppo is compatto, though quite how that particular number was arrived at, i confess, i have no idea. though the velo club has no 'bricks and mortar' rule book, were one to exist in the real world, it would proclaim that rule one equates to 'there are no rules' and rule two would be 'see rule one'. this has the express approval of the mighty dave t, and is thus not open to debate.

however, now that we've entered the summer season, delayed though it may be, the roads around the principality have become more populated with bicyclists. i have reported on a previous occasion that even situations such as the above, are fraught with inconsistency, whereby any group of cyclists we are likely to meet on the road, will almost certainly be heading in the opposite direction. that particular eventuality was underlined several times on saturday past, when i came across the same two cyclists on three separate occasions during the course of my perambulations. on each occasion, they were going the other way.

but what i and the rest of the velo club peloton would like a specific ruling on, is the visitor overtaking manouevre. this is a common occurrence, whereby those of us riding and minding our own business, espy one or two velocipedinists on the horizon. convincing ourselves that we'll refrain from any ostentatious show of one-upmanship, nonetheless, the numbers on the garmin begin to creep up as we home in upon the distant prey that we've already agreed will not be considered as such.

of course, in the process of pretending to remain steadfast to our 'no acceleration' policy, we will eventually reach the point where we're breathing through our ears, desperately trying to appear cool, calm and collected as we sail serenely past our victims. that is, to be quite blunt, the point of no return. there's really no way we can collapse prior to, or during the overtaking process, for that would be to lose face in public, completely undermining the stoic ideal of local cyclists we have now placed ourselves in a position of having to defend.

at this point there really is no alternative other than to keep up appearances, offer a cheery greeting (not breathless at all) as we pass, and continue to speed off into the distance. suggestions have been made that, at that particular point, to feign a mechanical malfeasance, puncture, or phone call, potentially letting us off the hook. but capitulation is never an easy route to take, so speeding into the distance it mostly has to be. which beggars the question, how much further should one continue before throwing in the towel, selecting the inner-ring and emulating chris froome's lead out man as he pulls off the front en-route to the galibier.

i realise, of course, that there are a few variables to be taken into account. for instance, how laden with panniers were the victims, how fit did they look as you passed them, and was there any sign of retaliatory acceleration?

the year that i moved to the hebrides, i undertook to make drawings at bowmore distillery during the months of january and february. while sitting in the courtyard, clothed to the nines, the stillman would occasionally make an appearance to overlook my position, clad in a short sleeve polo shirt. i remember thinking that the locals were built tough over here, until, of course, i found myself in the still room, the heat in which would make hades seem like alaska.

therefore, in order to reinforce the notion that hebridean cyclists are the flandrians of the west, it is imperative that we continue to overtake visiting cyclists with a velocity and tenacity that engenders feelings of inferiority. discussions are already underway to set a point in the season after which it is deemed appropriate to no longer dress solely in short-sleeve jerseys and bibshorts. mid-december seems much in favour during early discourse, but as yet, the uci have still to rule upon the passing distance mentioned above.

monday 17 august 2020

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vlasov, bennett, fuglsang

it is but a matter of days that i alerted my reader to the existence of an irritating click emanating from an indeterminate location on the ritchey logic. of course, as we all know, every untoward noise on a bicycle appears to emanate from the bottom bracket area; it's one of the unwritten rules of cycling, just like not attacking the team-mate who just took a huge pull into the headwind down uiskentuie strand. i figure if you polled every bike mechanic in the land, if they had a pound for every customer who has directed their attention to the bottom bracket when dropping the bike off for a service, they'd have a holiday home in the bahamas.

on saturday morning, straight after breakfast, i fettled like there was no tomorrow, checking all the usual suspects and a few that claimed to be innocent bystanders, greasing bearings, bolts and pretty much everything else that stood still long enough. rolling out confidently through the village, i naively believed that the fettling had been wholly successful; not a click to be heard.

satisfaction, however, was short lived, for the minute i began to ascend the power station hill, there it was once again. i know it's an irrational thought, but i couldn't help thinking that click was beginning to sound like laughter.

with professional cycle racing having restarted but a matter of weekends past, competition has surfaced with a vengeance, riders determined to get into the groove as soon as possible, the result of all that zwiftness undertaken during lockdown. and, as the commentators, both live and in print are keen to underline, victory, or the approach to it, has as much to do with fitness and guile, as it has with mental toughness.

consider this: as in yesterday's incredibly early running of the giro lombardia, imagine you're sam bennett, riding in the company of astana's jakob fuglsang and aleksandr vlasov. both the riders in blue seem every bit your equal, and all of you are taking regular turns on the front, as the race heads towards the finish line. two riders from the same team: if they'd paid heed to brian smith's prognostications/advice, they'd have carried out the well-tried, one-two, where one takes a flyer off the front, and you'd have to decide whether to give chase, or remain with the other, perhaps in the forlorn hope that it would all come back together again.

but even pre-judging the latter scenario, you'd have to have unfailing belief in yourself that victory could be just as much yours as that of either of your combatants.

many of the top professional teams now employ psychologists as well as coaches; one trains the fast part, while the former trains the mind to make perfect use of the fast stuff. i well know how this might work, albeit at a far more superficial level than that experienced at the likes of strade bianche, milan sanremo, or yesterday's tour of lombardy. in days of pre-lockdown, when the sunday morning peloton still resembled the essence of that word, the sprint for the village sign at bruichladdich rarely included yours truly, predominantly in the knowledge that i have no sprint worth discussing, and to be honest, attempting to sprint seemed terribly ostentatious.

however, in a manifest demonstration of no mental robustness whatsoever, when riding around loch gorm on a glorious yesterday, rather than enjoy the warmth, the sun-bleached scenery and the relative lack of traffic, all i could think of was that dratted clicking. what was it? where was it coming from? if i stopped and fettled periodically, what were my chances of curing it before i got home? had i been mentally stronger (i'm led to believe), i'd have resigned myself to the fact that, laughing or not, that click was going nowhere anytime soon. live with it, and enjoy the ride.

there have been many occasions when a rider with a tenuous gap over the inseguitori, has suffered a slow puncture, remedy for which would undoubtedly result in the incumbent being left behind, subsequently unacquainted with the podium. belief that their bike-handling, tenacity and mental toughness would take them to the line ahead of the rapidly approaching chasers, is probably exactly what led them to eventual victory.

bike-handling, tenacity and mental toughness are not weapons in my armoury. which is why i selflessly allowed that click to drive me nuts all flipping day. (i believe i may have traced it to a recalcitrant right-side pedal, displaying more lateral play than is seemly in polite company. fingers crossed). to paraphrase sheldon cooper's bowling mantra, "i am the bike."

sunday 16 august 2020

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spanner and money

there is a website that offers the opportunity to purchase a single share in a number of well-known companies, such as disney, harley-davidson, nike, etc., principally for those looking for a gift more unique than an aran sweater or three pairs of socks. around the turn of the century, apple computer was not necessarily an enterprise in which you would have sunk your savings, so apparently tenuous was its grasp on profitability. even its rival, microsoft, had invested £150 million, ostensibly to help it survive, but also to protect itself from accusations of monopolising the software industry. the return of steve jobs to the fold, subsequently saw its fortunes dramatically improve, to the point where it is now capitalised at near $1.5 trillion, considerably more than its former rival and investor.

i find myself wishing i had bought just one share when apple was down on its luck.

no doubt the secret to amassing a fortune is to invest just before the share price goes through the roof, assuring a nice healthy number at the bottom of the balance sheet. but there are also those who invest in corporations whose modus operandi has turned out to be flavour of the month, as indeed has cycling over recent years and once again under the current coronavirus pandemic. bike shops have waiting lists not only for new bicycles, but for repairs to those that have sat stationary for more years than should be admitted in polite company. the crashing of the government's website offering £50 repair vouchers is surely evidence of that.

several of the world's more prominent bicycle manufacturers have found themselves the subject of substantial outside investment. pinarello is owned by lvmh, colnago has recently had saudi money placed in its bank account, and rapha belongs to walmart. the sneaking suspicion is that those and others have been appraised as safe havens for investment, while cycling maintains a high profile amongst consumers. should that change, however, there's every likelihood the money would go looking for fame and fortune somewhere else.

while you and i see cycling as the saviour of each weekend and those three weeks in september, the accountants are probably less than au fait with the exploits of sagan, van aert and froome. so it should probably not come as a surprise that personal finance comparison site has indulged in its own research to 'reveal seven bike components to check regularly'. you will, i hope, excuse my cynicism regarding the sudden interest shown in cycling by a website ostensibly concerned with personal finance. were they to have listed seven bikes worthy of your money, i might have been less aghast.

and once again, given that the majority of you will have access to a local bike shop, advice on how to keep your velocipede in tip-top condition would surely be better garnered from such a source. i now await research from halfords or evans cycles recommending personal finance options.

but, to give them the benefit of the doubt, just what has the research by revealed to our benefit? well, the top seven component groups worthy of our attention are: the drive train, tyres, brakes, nuts and bolts, gears, chain, and the saddle. all seem perfectly sensible options, and the advice that accompanies each heading is concise and to the point. i'd love to say that every cyclist i know is already in possession of, and acts upon such information, but if i did, i'd be fibbing. but i am mystified as to why this is of any concern to a personal finance comparison website, other than, perhaps, having seen a bandwagon with an empty seat.

next time you're in the local bike shop, ask if they've any advice regarding personal loans, mobile phones, broadband or energy options.

saturday 15 august 2020

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the old ones are not always the best

steel tyre levers

i have long been an advocate of carrying a minimum of tools whenever the road less travelled is likely to take you a considerable distance from home. in the remoter parts of scotland and elsewhere, the chances of happening upon a local bike shop are severely diminished, entailing at least a modest degree of self-sufficiency. not packing a couple of spare inner tubes appropriate to the tyres on your bicycle, would surely constitute a serious dereliction of duty, and, concomitantly, at least one tyre-lever would be considered the absolute minimum.

there are a couple of hands up at the back of the room, querying why i have not included a puncture repair kit, something you might want to consider in addition to, but certainly not as a replacement for, the inner tubes mentioned above. i know i've underlined this before, but standing at the roadside, in scottish rain and scottish wind, valiantly attempting to find the minute hole in a tube, is hardly what i'd consider to be the best use of your holiday time. subsequently attempting to get a patch to stick might be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

do yourself a favour; take the tube with you and fix it later.

the second part of the equation is, of course, knowing how to use the tools you're carrying. many contemporary bicycles commit the cardinal sin of mixing and matching bolt types at will. campagnolo and sram have an annoying knack of featuring both allen and torx bolts, along with phillips screws and the occasional bolt that needs a spanner. there are multi-tools that cater for all the above, but it then becomes incumbent on the intrepid traveller to learn where and when each might be used.

as the cycling world progresses, adopting new technologies as it rolls along, more than just a few of these tools become obsolete, a trait for which the cycling industry is disturbingly famous. a multi-tool that resides in my seatpack sports a rudimentary chain rivet tool, but not of a size or strength that would allow it to cater to one of campagnolo's twelve-speed chains. vicenza seems often to be the last bastion of the chain tool, with the majority of others now specifying the so-called power-link.

that said, carrying spares of the latter might not be the promised solution to your woes. while a power-link will no doubt re-join a broken chain, chances are, you'll need to remove the broken bit, which perhaps not obviously, will need the chain tool mentioned above. one step forward, two steps back.

however, yesterday brought re-acquaintance with a tool i thought i'd be unlikely ever to see again. in my days as the rider of a raleigh twenty shopping bike, any punctures were taken care of at home, with the bicycle upside down on the grass. sporting dimpled steel wheel rims, it was perfectly safe to make use of a set of steel tyre levers. modernity, aluminium alloy and carbon fibre have rendered these not only redundant, but mechanically inadvisable.

yet just after lunch on thursday, an elderly gent arrived at the door, concerned that he was on his second inner tube, but unable to inflate it. having determined that the pump was not at fault and that this second tube was also punctured, he set about fitting a third. it seems likely that, when he were a lad, enlisting the assistance of a local bike shop was very much the order of the day, for rarely have i seen anyone take so long not to install an inner tube. offering my assistance to speed matters along, i enquired if he had any tyre levers with him, at which point he produced three, perfectly formed, desirable, vintage steel tyre levers.

the major problem was the bike running on condor cycles aluminium rims. suffice it to say, a fourth inner tube was required, which, this time, i fitted, using a nylon/resin tyre lever and with the desired success that had, to that point, eluded the gent.

decent fellow that i think i am, i provided him with a spare inner tube (his own supply having run out) and the aforesaid non-steel tyre lever. he left more cheery than he had arrived, and if good fortune is on his side, he will never see me again.

gone are the days when purchasing even a quality bicycle tool was sufficient to see out the rest of your cycling days. if you've no desire, necessity or money to change the bicycle you already own, whatever works just now will probably continue to do so into the foreseeable future. but if you consider yourself an 'early adopter', just ensure you early adopt any tools the technology demands. with new trendy chainsets on the market, the days of removing the chainrings without removing the cranks may have entered the annals of history, and there are no doubt other examples of 'progress' with similar requirements.

however, any steel tyre levers ought to be framed and sat on the mantelpiece.

friday 14 august 2020

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how good am i?


as a young, aspiring drummer, musical and economic necessity demanded that i assume the role of a session drummer, undertaking work for the highest bidder (not that too many were involved in a bidding war). in the course of fulfilling my destiny, i played pop, rock, folk, country, ceilidh, punk (yes, really) and even heavy metal. at the time, i'm sure i considered myself to be the equal of any western-based percussionist, though i don't honestly recall harbouring any doubts regarding my abilities in that department. however, since any session musician on any instrument depends on the hoped-for 'callback', the fact that i was not only frequently called back, but regularly recommended to others, would tend to suggest that my abilities were commensurate with expectations.

drummer, bill bruford, retired from public performance in 2009 after a forty year career as a professional drummer. he gave as the reason for this ending of a long-term vocation, the unexpected revelation that, having begun as a teenager who knew it all, he'd ended up a middle-aged gent who seemed to know nothing at all. it is often said that youth is wasted on the young, but it appears, from personal experience, that confidence is not one of the wasted aspects. in those years of session work, i'm pretty sure i thought it was only a matter of time before a world tour as second drummer with genesis beckoned.

nowadays, however, even a quick scan of available youtube drumming videos would educate any apprentice that, in the subsequent years, the bar has not only been lifted, but possibly elevated out of sight. i'm pretty sure i could practise from now until doomsday, yet never reach the level at which thomas lang, virgil donati and steve smith currently sit. i'm also pretty sure that, in my session days, had i implemented any of the techniques displayed by the above, callbacks would have been very few and far between.

yet, i know of what drummers at that level are capable. i know i can't match them, but i'd know how to get there, if push came to shove. jay bellerose, on the other hand, plays pretty much close to nothing at all, but exactly the right, nothing at all. but i simply can't comprehend where he's coming from, and no amount of practice is likely to change that.

so how does that relate to cycling? how would i know whether i am a cyclist who would have been worthy of a callback were i starting out today? i do remember watching robert millar attacking the tour's ascents in 1984 and thinking, how hard can it be? a quick burst over the hill leading to the town of dundonald demonstrated precisely how hard it could be, resulting in an enforced stop when only half way to the summit. it seems that the confidence i bore behind the drumset was easily matched by the same, unfounded confidence in the saddle.

but is there a level at which any, or all of us needs to be at, to ensure a lack of castigation in the sunday morning peloton? in other words, how good do you (and i) need to be? quite obviously this would depend very much on the sort of company you expect to keep. if those living nearby are all pros or ex-pros, you might want to sneak in as much secret training as you can. if you live surrounded by hilly terrain, you're probably going to want to ride a bit more than yours truly; islay's relatively flat, to be honest.

of course, if you're in the early flush of youth, you probably already believe yourself to be capable of giving wout van aert a run for his money any time you darned well like, while those of a similar vintage to myself would be content to polish his wheels and oil the chain. when attempting to encourage new cyclists to join us of a sunday morn, i am repeatedly met with claims that there is no way on this earth they could keep up. "i'll train a bit harder," they say, "and maybe in a month or two..." the reality is, that we rarely leave anyone behind, and were they to join us and we should prove to be somewhat faster, riding along would soon have them moving a bit quicker.

there's common knowledge in music circles, that the best way to improve is to play with your betters, on the reasoned assumption that their superior musicianship will pull you up by the drumsticks. the same applies to cycling; it would only take a few outings to demonstrate the level that needs to be attained, with a ready and willing support group to help reach it. i well remember my first ride with the mighty dave t (some twelve years my senior), where i very quickly reached not only my maximum heart-rate, but maximum distance. i don't mind admitting that i pedalled squares the whole way home. and a bit like jay bellerose, i can't quite figure out how the mighty dave does it still.

fortunately, even my miserable performance resulted in a callback.

thursday 13 august 2020

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a lot of cobbles


on the basis that the primary purpose behind twitter is as an outlet for smart-ass one-liners and other trivia of note, i have been in the habit of randomly tweeting the number of days left until paris-roubaix. this arcane practice would more usually take place a month or so before christmas, and once again as february hoves into view. of course, there is no practical reason behind my doing so; it serves solely as a large dollop of optimism ahead of what i consider the finest race of the season, bar none.

of course, this year, larger events precluded the running of paris-roubaix on its usual mid-april slot, when the famed cobbles remained untroubled by a peloton of bicycle wheels. like the bulk of the race season, it has been unceremoniously moved to the back end of the year, two instalments of which have already been won by jumbo-visma's wout van aert. his victories at italy's strade bianche and a lengthy milan-sanremo, must surely place him in the the frame of favourites to win at roubaix in late october across those eagerly apprehensive cobbles.

the logo for paris-roubaix has already been highlighted as one of the sport's more appropriately constituted, the veracity of which can be seen by the illustration above (i added the cobbles on the right). however, despite considering myself reasonably well-informed with regard to velocipedinal matters, other than the tour de france, i hadn't actually noticed that cycle races had begun to acquire specific logos. no doubt there are members of the audience who are aghast at such an admission, but i'd prefer that you thought of me as a member of the sporting cognoscenti, rather than one occupied by fripperies such as race logos.

now that it has been mentioned however (thank you once again, twitter), i note that omloop het nieuwsblad is also in possession of a rather neat logo, as has the ronde van vlaanderen. however, perusal of the website for gent wevelgem elicits something that looks like it should be a logo, but, at the risk of incurring the organisers' ire, doesn't quite work on that level. however, as an admission, this beggars the question, if you'll excuse my language, have i been particularly remiss in my observations, or are those particular logos simply not fit for purpose? for surely the idea of a logo is to function as the shortcuts in microsoft windows, or an alias on the mac, signifying the 'rage in the machine' so to speak, without the machine's blueprints.

meander along regent street in london, or buchanan street in glasgow, and it's hard not to notice the large white, illuminated apples sited above the doors of the respective apple stores. this is perhaps the finest example of logo design it's possible to witness in modern times. there is no need for explanation, no need for text and no need for a brochure to explain just what an apple graphic has to do with computers and mobile phones. in an ideal world, all logos would work in this fashion, but you don't need me to point out that this is hardly an ideal world.

however, if i might use the logos mentioned above (except that of paris-roubaix) as examples of where things might be less than efficient in their ministrations, click through the web pages for de ronde, gent wevelgem, and the omloop, and note that they are displayed at such small resolution atop the race pages, as to be all but insignificant. that means yet another question has to be beggared: why bother?

along with many other sports, cycling relies heavily on corporate sponsorship, witnessed by the numerous logos an team jerseys, team cars, and the wallpaper design of logos featured as a backdrop to rider interviews. it's yet another sport that has frequently adopted the americanism whereby a team is 'presented by', the main sponsor and 'powered by' most often the bicycle sponsor. midst this forest of wall to wall graphics, ought surely to be that of the race charged with hosting the above panoply of colours?

to paraphrase jrr tolkein, 'one logo to rule them all'. well, at least until the following weekend.

and there are 74 days until paris-roubaix.

wednesday 12 august 2020

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clicking into place

ritchey chicane stem

in the days when i still rode a mountain bike, i spent an entire week attempting to trace a really annoying click that, like all irritating sounds emanating from a bicycle, appeared to originate from the bottom bracket. i had the bicycle on the workstand several times, stripping out the bottom bracket, checking all the chain links, removing and replacing the cassette, doing the same with the rear derailleur jockey wheels, checking the quick release, checking the hub cones, the saddle, seatpost, seatpost bolt; you name it, i dismantled it, lubricated it and replaced it.

the one thing i hadn't thought to check and which eventually proved to be the culprit, was the pedal threads in the crank. as usual, i grease these threads prior to fitting the pedals and, in the dry heat prevalent during that particular year, the grease had dried out, allowing a tiny amount of play to develop in the crank arm, hence the click.

i always imagine the professionals' bikes to be pristine in this respect, gliding noiselessly through the french, italian, spanish or belgian countryside, no matter the weather conditions. one can but imagine the headspace violations that would occur should a rider find themselves in a multi-kilometre, lone breakaway, punctuated only by a creak or groan, the location of which seems to vary at every twist or turn. consider the ignominy of calling up the team car for a bike change, based purely on a squeak that might, or might not, be originating from the saddle.

if these things drive us nuts, professional team mechanics must be borderline certifiable on so many occasions. press-fit bottom brackets have occupied more than their fair share of stories concerning ever-louder creaks and groans; it would be naive to think those only affect consumer bicycles.

as i write, the met office are forecasting the lengthiest heatwave ever experienced in the uk, admittedly more in more southern parts of the country, allied to indeterminate thunderstorms which may, or may not, affect your home town. i have a sneaking suspicion that the former can be held responsible for the irritating click experienced, previously only when climbing out the saddle, but now most annoyingly when climbing in the saddle.

the ritchey logic is fitted with campagnolo's record groupset, the chainset of which is joined in the bottom bracket shell utilising their famous hirth coupling. tightening this to the required setting needs an extra-long 10mm allen wrench, but once initially installed, it rarely needs adjusting. so i have checked for any lateral play in this region, but none exists. however, a similar click has arisen on previous occasions, one that i eventually traced to the stem bolt and stem wedge.

this ritchey chicane stem eschews the usual set of clamp bolts in favour of an internal wedge pressing against the front of the steerer. in this case, either i had failed to tighten this bolt as i should have, or it had loosened sufficiently to allow minute, unwarranted movement. remedying the problem removed the click and all was well with the world. however, the same click (at least i think it's the same click) has now reappeared over rough ground and when climbing. i have again checked the tension of both stem bolts to no avail, and my current scapegoat is the dessication encouraged by the heat.

this is not to poke disparagement in the direction of ritchey's excellent, svelte chicane stem. i have experienced similar (pilot error) problems with more conventional items.

i will investigate further by removing the stem completely, greasing the bolts and refitting. but that's purely speculation on my part; the click could be coming from almost anywhere on the bike. even when previously discovered to be the stem bolts, it sounded as if it emanated from the bottom bracket. i can now sympathise with the hapless shop mechanic on being bluntly told "my bike's making a noise". heaven only knows how pro team mechanics deal with their more highly strung 'customers'.

tuesday 11 august 2020

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