why not us?

electric car charging

several years past, the uk government offered a rebate of £5,000 to anyone purchasing an electric car, ostensibly to provide the double-whammy of kick-starting an emerging section of the motoring economy, and simultaneously demonstrating a political will to invest in green technology in the face of climate change. purely on the basis of the latter reasoning, i wrote to my westminster mp to ask why, if there was money to ease purchase of a type of vehicle, ostensibly offering emission-free travel, was there not a similar arrangement available to those who may wish to purchase a bicycle instead? after all, the bicycle is surely the original emission-free mode of transport.

tenacious to the last, the right honourable gentleman asked this very question of the chancellor of the exchequer, who replied to the effect that, in the case of scotland, spending on active travel had been devolved to holyrood in edinburgh. this is where the gist of my original question seems to have been seriously diluted, or even deliberately misunderstood, since the reply from holyrood indicated that the money they had invested into 'active travel' had subsequently been handed to scotland's regional councils for direct spending. argyll and bute council, the region in which i live, claimed that they planned to use the cash to upgrade or implement current walking and cycling facilities. in other words, infrastructure.

but the motorist already benefited (and continues to benefit), from a nationwide network consisting of thousands of miles of roads, along with free parking in many towns and cities. if all was to remain equitable, surely cyclists and walkers ought to expect a similar level of infrastructure, particularly if the governments both north and south of the border were as serious about climate change as both professed to be? that being the case, what about the chances of prospective cyclists receiving some sort of subsidy towards purchase of a standard or electric bicycle? i couldn't help thinking that my original question had been neatly side-stepped by both parliaments.

since those days, the electric car subsidy has reduced from £5,000 to £2,500 via £3,000. admittedly, even £5,000 was but a smidgeon off the price of a new electric vehicle, but proportionally, would conceivably have allowed the velocipedinists amongst us to acquire a bicycle at reasonable discount. in the face of the rise and rise of cycling during lockdown restrictions, this would have made sense, even if neither government could scarcely be accused of not having seen that one coming.

the covid inspired implementation of pop-up cycle lanes across the nation would surely have seen even greater use, had there been an incentive for the great british public to join the ranks of the pedalists. do not misunderstand me; i do not see it as the responsibility of any government to help provide bicycles; that surely, is incumbent on you, me, and everyone else. and the same goes for cars, no matter their method of propulsion. however, it strikes me as somewhat iniquitous to offer a subsidy to the (admittedly, more well-off members of the) motoring public, yet fob off walkers and cyclists with the promise of an improved infrastructure, facilities already well-provided for the motoring public.

transport scotland does offer interest-free loans for those wishing to purchase e-bikes, and it would be foolish to discount the cycle-to-work-scheme, but then not everyone is eligible for the latter, depending on an employer willing to endure the paperwork and administer the system. so, not that i wish to portray the cycling fraternity as downtrodden, i'm not sure that we're being treated with true equality. if anyone else fancies writing to their mp or msp to ask my original question, feel free, but do let me know how you get on.

that said, with the amount of money recently spent on coping with the covid pandemic, probably now is not a good time, even in the light of hs2 likely to consume almost twice the amount so far spent on furlough.

monday 29 march 2021

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different strokes for different folks


for the first time in i don't know how long, saturday morning's bike ride entailed the wearing of a long-sleeve baselayer, which either meant that zero degrees windchill was marginally disfavourable, or i have become a wimp during the past three months. on friday afternoon, a sporting colleague and i headed south-west for a brief bout of froth supping, cognisant of the heavy black clouds overshadowing the latter part of our route.

with a strong wind blowing these clouds across the loch, my fellow velo club member prophesied that we may have timed the ride to perfection, very much a case 'famous last words' for a but a moment or two later, we were stung hard by a heavy hail shower, which soon morphed to freezing rain. i'm sure i have no need of relating just how welcome that froth was on reaching the coffee stop. once bitten, twice shy, so on saturday morning, faced with the prospect of similar conditions, i opted for the aforementioned set of merino long-sleeves.

thankfully, the weather held off until i had returned to the croft, but the freezing windchill confirmed the correct choice of baselayer.

and, in addition to my choice of undergarment, i had also opted to ride the 'cross bike, partly because the 37mm rené herse gravel tyres do not suffer fools gladly, and partly because it's a tad more stable in serious crosswinds. thirdly, having read a couple of articles from the current edition of rouleur magazine, the notion for even a smidgeon of offroad seemed like an ideal alternative to a diet of hebridean tarmac. by way of explanation, the opening paragraph of rouleur states, "In this edition of Rouleur, we celebrate grit, defiance and tough cookies, who don't do things by the book."

i do not, for one moment, include myself in this description, though i believe one or two others on the island might disagree. however, those featured within the pages of rouleur are those intent on exploring the great outdoors on two wheels, purposely riding into situations and scenery that seem more adverse than accommodating. riders such as svein tuft, lachlan morton and scotland's isla short, who rode the rob roy way in particularly snowy conditions.

i cannot deny that the idea of riding such gravellous parcours is one that holds more than a smidgeon of attraction, but one that i rarely undertake for no valid reason of which i can think at present, however, it would be naive of the modern-day cyclist to think that such practices are not without their detractors, a fact that is easy to see, for readers of this week's comic. aside from their excellent race reportage, cycling weekly offers an entirely different point of view than that of andy mcgrath and ian cleverly, consisting, as this week's issue does, of over twelve pages dedicated to the art of riding indoors in front of a computer monitor.

though i'm not in the habit of engaging, it is possible to find , on youtube, videos of computer gameplay, where the sad and lonely can watch several hours of other people playing computer games, presumably as an alternative to actually indulging in playing said games, themselves. though very much a case of 'what's wrong with this picture?', i can't help noticing the similarities with audiences staring at a semi-circle of cyclists aboard turbo trainers, all of whom are individually staring at monitors sited in front of the front wheels. behind and above, is a substantially larger tv screen allowing the audience to witness the supposed interaction between the stationary cyclists. 'paint' and 'drying' are the two words that spring to mind.

the comic's coverage of this state of affairs, occupies a good seven pages, augmented with four or five reviewing the latest wattbike, plus one page of zwift results. so many pages devoted to watopian ideals. as if this were scarcely enough to cast doubt on the definition of the word cycling, a mailshot from rapha, which arrived in my inbox this morning, included an image of america's legion race team's new kit, one created with rapha's custom kit offering, but which features the zwift logo on the rear panel of the shorts, and also on the front of the jerseys. i understand that indoor training/cycling/racing has been a godsend for many during the past year of intermittent lockdowns, but it appears that what was once a means to an end, has more or less become an end in itself, and shows little sign of stopping.

i fervently hope that the next edition of rouleur is every bit as al fresco as the current issue. and i think it only fair to mention that i think i spilt some egg yolk on the comic's wattbike review. whether or not on purpose, i leave it for you to decide.

and didn't the word 'wahoo' used to be an exclamation of joy?

sunday 28 march 2021

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oh no, not this again

chris king enve aeroset

i cannot deny that the bike shed is a bit of a disaster these days, after fending off the hebridean elements for nigh on thirty years. behind the croft is simply a field with sheep in it, separating us from bowmore distillery's bonded warehouses. with a prevailing south-westerly, there's not much in the way of shelter from the wind and rain, and the wooden walls, now about three-deep in plywood augmentation, are not as fortifying as was once the case. however, since all it really needs to achieve these days, is to keep my bicycles safe and dry, any thoughts of indoor fettling having long since passed, i can live with that.

however, were i to alert the coastguard, tie a rope around my waist, and open the door, i might just entertain the possibility of taking a good look inside, in a vain attempt to dig out some arcane tool or other. a member of the velo club recently discovered that the plastic compression-ring on the proprietary headset on his colnago c60 was no longer in the best of health. however, in an attempt to fathom what the problem might be, he had asked if he might borrow a tool designed to remove headset cups from head tubes.

as it happens, i have a wide range of headset tools, none of which have seen recent use and all of which are buried in the dark recesses of the disintegrating bike shed. thankfully, he was able to borrow the necessary tool from another veloclub member, for i cannot deny that i was hardly looking forward to scrabbling in the depths. however, those depths also contain dozens (literally) of bicycle tools that, to all intent and purposes, have been remaindered by technological developments since those tools were originally purchased.

to a certain extent, nowadays, any bicycle mechanic will expect his/her toolkit to have a limited shelf-life, just waiting for the next development to happen along. i still have about eight different freewheel removers (remember freewheels?), most of which were intended to remove the products of companies that no longer exist. and a considerable narrowing of cassette sprockets have rendered my original chainwhip redundant, because the featured chain is now too wide to fit the cassette teeth. but what i find just a tad galling, is the knowledge that certain so-called improvements seem to be purely for aesthetic reasons, than any perceived mechanical advantage.

though i have seen no supporting figures, the move from round to square tubing is touted as being more aerodynamically efficient, news that might be a bit of a surprise to to the aerospace industry. i think there may be an inherent exaggeration, gven the sort of speeds most of us can realistically achieve. however, one of the corollaries to this obsession with aerodynamics, has been a persistent desire to hide the cables from the great outdoors, no matter the eventual cost in maintenance duties. new to the frame game, but famed for its wheels, enve have now released a carbon road frame that offers a certain degree of customisation, but which also incorporates a laison with portland headset supremo, chris king. simply put, the shaped and colour co-ordinated top bearing cap of this 'aeroset' allows the manufacturer to fit gear and brake cables internally, without making holes in the carbon fibre.

but while this offers a remarkably clean, impressive look, remember that today's brakes tend to be hydraulic, meaning subsequent maintenance is likely to involve the decoupling of hoses and several messy moments with hydraulic fluid. granted, at a frame price of $7,000, purchasers are unlikely to be those who carry out their own maintenance, passing such tasks onto a hapless bike shop mechanic. however, it's quite possible that others will hope to take advantage of chris king's willingness to comply, and it will doubtless change the economics of such a system were ck able to sell to more, other than simply the niche market occupied by enve.

around twice a week, i receive e-mailshots from germany's steel vintage bikes, offering for sale, bicycles from last century, the chrome on which would scarcely survive the ferry trip to islay. however, i cannot deny that their relative simplicity becomes more and more appealing as each mailshot arrives. though the enve frameset is as cutting edge as modernity can provide, and i do admire their tenacity in problem solving, that problem hardly seems one that it was ever necessary to solve. and i would tender that it's only likely to get worse.

whatever happened to the notion that the simplest ideas were the best?

thanks to mark rushton for pointing me in the right direction

photo: ian matteson/enve

saturday 27 march 2021

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the one that got away

helmet cam

a couple of my acquaintances belong to the local angling club, whose activities, unfortunately for them, have been curtailed due to coronavirus restrictions. i can feel their pain, for that has been the opposite experience of the velo club, all of whom have an entire island at their tyre tracks on which to pedal whenever the notion, or playing hooky from work, allows. personally, i cannot see the point in fishing purely for the sake of fishing, but i'm sure that they figure the same about our cycling habits. nonetheless i believe the old fisherman's complaint still pervades to this day, and amongst themselves, at least, there is still the cliché 'the one that got away.'

cycling has certain parallels. a few years past, as i was heading towards froth supping at debbie's, i rounded a bend near crosshouses, a few kilometres south of bridgend, to find a vehicle containing two japanese chaps driving on my side of the road. there followed a few seconds while my befuddled brain tried to process the oddity of the situation, before i swung right to avoid them, at the very same time as they swung left. fortunately, a collision was narrowly avoided, and there's every likelihood that the japanese driver is relating the same tale even as we speak.

making mention of this situation in the company of other cyclists, will almost inevitably entail a series of similar near misses being recounted, each successively closer than the previous one. the same goes for those inexplicable situations where a motorist decides to overtake the car in front, even in the face of two cyclists proceeding in the opposite direction. if it's happened to me (and it has) on islay, i can only imagine how frequently this situation occurs in scotland. similarly, how often has a car passed so closely, that another coat of paint would have resulted in an accident? again, if it's common here, it must be an almost continuous occurrence on the mainland.

so what are we going to do about it? it's possibly a tad harder to achieve any change on islay; this is a close community, where there's every likelihood that the perpetrator was either well-known to me, or even an acquaintance, though now possibly one with whom i'd like to have a strong word or two. it would be so much easier if it were two foreign drivers, though perhaps a tad inhospitable. but in larger conurbations, anonymity may work to your advantage. in that spirit, many incidents are recorded on helmet cams, or bike-mounted cameras as evidence of dangerous incidents.

twitter is full of short videos, documenting many frighteningly close calls from cars, taxis, buses, trucks, pretty much any form of motorised transport, some close enough to actually touch the cyclist, or in several cases, knock them off. but several have been accompanied by words indicating that the police seemed less than interested in taking any action. so, assuming you may now have a video in your possession, what on earth are you going to do with it?

according to cycling uk, 40 out of 45 uk police forces already offer the means for camera footage to be uploaded, which, again, according to cycling uk has reduced the amount of dedicated police time, by using civilian staff to assess received video evidence. but it would appear that one of the five police forces not using such a system is police scotland. however, in an effort to change that, cycling uk has amalgamated a total of 33 organisations willing to place their collective weight behind persuading police scotland to do the right thing.

this 'right thing' coincides with the scottish government's target of eliminating road deaths and serious injuries by mid-century, towards which those 33 organisations are convinced that a camera footage reporting system would be a decisive step. cycling uk's scottish policy and campaigns manager, jim densham has said, "Scotland was the first nation in the UK to announce a Vision Zero target for people dying on our roads - we shouldn't be the last to get the tools to help prevent avoidable deaths. Police Scotland can't be everywhere at once, but if they have an effective means for the public to submit evidence of dangerous behaviour on our roads, they won't need to be."

if you happen to be in a position of influence within a scottish cycling organisation, or other interested party, give jim a call and add your name to the case for the prosecution. you can find him on twitter @jimdensham

photo: cycling uk

friday 26 march 2021

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is now the time to start?

mountain biking - trek bikes

having realised, many decades ago, that i knew far less about bicycles than i thought i ought to, i bought a paperback copy of richard's bicycle book, authored by the late richard ballantyne, and in whch i hoped to find the answers to questions i hadn't known i didn't know. the initial reason for this quest had been an abortive attempt to ascend dundonald hill, not that far from my abode of the day. having watched robert millar et all climb french mountains, the thought that it could hardly be so difficult after all, was soon to be proved somewhat incorrect.

the problem, aside from a complete lack of fitness, revolved round my gearing choice, or rather the gearing that i had ended up with, unaware in the first place, that i'd actually had a choice. riding a hill of probably between 6 and 7%, on 42/52 and a freewheel (remember those?) of 14-21, or something remarkably similar, was really never going to work, even if i had just watched half an hour of gary imlach. i'm sure there are many who enter the world of the roadie, who simply accept that the gears on their first bike are exactly the same as others of the genre. i know i did. heck, i opted not to change from inner ring to outer, because i'd no idea what would happen if i did.

however, the advent of the mountain bike, allied to my learning from mr ballantyne, seemed to offer a pragmatic, and a just about affordable solution. the deciding factor was undoubtedly the trendiness of knobbly tyres and three chainrings. never having been particularly quick in the first place, my mountain bike's chunky tyres made no appreciable difference to my progress, though i can't deny that the comfort afforded was a welcome confirmation of my choice.

but, as my mother was keen on repeating, pride bears no pain, a phrase that i only realised the value of when overtaken by two touring cyclists on disembarking the ferry at port askaig, following a mainland excursion. though they appeared to be every bit as heavily laden as was i, the speed with which they distanced me, pretty much underlined the friction created by riding two-inch, knobbly tyres on tarmac. the result was a move to 1.5 inch road-style tyres on the mountain bike, immediately offering a notable inclrease in velocity.

a matter of years passed before the mountain bikes disappeared from the bike shed, replaced first by reynolds 531 and subsequently, 653, both of which bore 23mm smooth rubber. from then on, muddy tracks, gravelled roads and verdant undergrowth were solely for gnarly dudes, of which i most certainly wasn't one. the rise in popularity of cyclocross has, more recently, brought me into contact with the hinterlands once again, though hardly with the benefit of any purported expertise in the medium. yes, i did once learn to implement the expected mount/dismount procedure, following frequent practice, but a lack of subsequent use, meant that, just like my ability to sight-read music, it disappeared quicker than snow off a drystone wall.

granted, the parlous state of the island's roads has frequently blurred the difference between on and off road, but i have no shame in admitting that i answer to the name of roadie, if push eventually comes to shove. however, i now wonder whether i ought to rekindle the possibility of returning to the world of mud, sweat and gears, in preparation for the launch, later this year, of a range of mountain bike clothing from one of britain's foremost cycling apparel purveyors. you may already be aware of whom i speak, but i'm playing cute in case there's an embargo of which i'm unaware.

i figure that i possess basic bike handling skills, or perhaps slightly above that level, but i'm well aware that, in order to fulfil any expectations i may hold over my offroad prowess, those will need to be substantially improved, and not simply in the direction of getting circuitously from point a to point b. i daresay some of the necessary skilss could be acquired on the 'cross bike, but then there's the not insignificant matters of what frame size would i need, how much suspension travel, do i need a farm gate with rear suspension too? and even scarier, how do i adjust the suspension forks that seem affixed to every model? if i am asked to review said garments, can i do so authentically? will i ever sleep at night ever again?

then again, maybe it would be better for everyone if i just stuck to road bikes.

image: trek bikes uk

thursday 25 march 2021

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to do as others do

islay cobbles

following arguably the opener of the classics season with saturday's milan -sanremo, we sit with fingers crossed that the next two monuments on the menu, manage to take place. already there are reports, particularly in france, that the new variants of covid-19 are causing untold misery, and you can almost hear the rumblings of consternation that paris-roubaix might find the carpet pulled from under it for the second year in succession. many of us fervently hope that does not become the case, eager to watch the much-vaunted battle on the cobbles between van der poel and van aert, a match sorely missing from the 2020 season.

i am insufficiently aware of matters in neighbouring belgium, but there appears to have been little to suggest that the ronde van vlaanderen might suffer a similar fate, though adverse comment has been made by those considering the cancellation of roubaix. however, with a week and a half to go before the grand depart, pretty much anything could happen, leading to thoughts of a repeat of last year. having recently reviewed the 2020 edition of ned boulting's the road book, a publication experiencing a similar delay to that of the season on which it reported, groundhog day is beginning to look a lot like deja vu, with surely many other continental races facing similar problems.

in 2008, on my second ride from london to paris with hot chillee, the parcours incorporated a brief section of the tidier cobbles occasionally featured in paris-roubaix. riding across them was utterly marvellous, though i was ever so thankful that i didn't have to race. if you want to savour the sensation for yourself, loosen your headset to the point where it almost no longer functions, then ride a nearby roughly surfaced road. i enjoyed myself so much, i was keen to turn round and do it all over again, though i relented for fear that my peers would have simply ridden off without me.

one of the oft-quoted benefits of being followers of cycle racing, is the possibility of kitting ourselves precisely as do our heroes, even down to the carbon fibre aboard which they can be found. granted, nowadays, attempting such simalucrum is likely to substantially lighten the bank balance, but as one of rapha's projected adverts once read: 'it's as well that you're used to pain and suffering; now, about our prices.' granted, there's a remarkably slim chance that we'll ever match their speed and skill, but at least we're likely to look the part as we fail.

and under more normal conditions, we might even be allowed to take that carbon fibre and sorely lacking velocity, all the way to the parcours we see on eurosport or gcn. hot chillee, at one time, offered a ride taking in every one of those fearsome cobbles, from paris all the way to roubaix, and there are several others offering the opportunity to experience pain and suffering at first hand. yet despite the appearance of virtual online gravel events (how the heck does that work?), there's really nothing that compares with those french farm roads.

however, with staycations likely to become the order of the year, we may be able to offer a two-sector cobble-like™ likeness, here on the outer edge. both sectors are actually included as part of the ride of the falling rain route, but also form intrinsic parts of the sunday morning habit. though council cash repaired around half of the abbatoirenberg forest road, it completely ignored the part after crossing the cattle-grid, now in the process of disintegrating to paris-roubaix standards. this is joined by the approach to the hill at the rspb's aoradh farm, itself surely reason enough to invest in a gravel bike.

to be honest, some of the road sections in between those two sectors are hardly billiard-table flat, but can feel that way after riding the two, above-mentioned, cobbled sections, so it's what might be referred to as a win-win situation. all that remains is to increase my top line speed to numbers rarely seen on the garmin, and i'm home free.

hopefully in time to watch paris-roubaix on the tellybox (fingers tightly crossed)

wednesday 24 march 2021

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victims of our own success

bicycle parking

i believe i may have mentioned, on more than a single occasion, that i figure the best way to plead my case and advance the cause, is simply to ride my bicycle as often as possible, in the apparently forlorn hope that others will think, "i got to get myself a piece of that'. unfortunately, that seems only to be the sort of reaction that occurs in movies, for if truth be told, the velo club peloton has but diminished in the months since the first lockdown. part of the reason is the original advice not to cycle in groups, enforcing a more singular approach to bike riding. sadly, on behalf of those currently missing in action, it would appear they have yet to recover.

so, despite page three articles, such as that appearing in yesterday's guardian, reporting that bike shops are still selling out of cycles, one year after lockdown number one, this dramatic increase in velocipedinal activity has yet to be seen on the isle. however, though this is undoubtedly my hub of the universe, it would be foolish to promote it as such, in terms of the bigger picture. though the initial lockdown in 2020 led to virtually untrafficked roads across the principality, it's still possible to ride for double-digit kilometres without catching sight of another vehicle or person.

well do i know that this is scarcely the case in britain's cities and urban regions, party as those are, not only to more frequent public transport services (for example, there is no bus service on sundays over here, and nothing at all after 6pm on any day of the week), but proportionally greater private vehicle use than to be seen in hebridean villages (though, to be honest, that's bad enough). the difference in more remote rural areas, is that, not only is it more than likely you'll be personally acquainted with the bus driver, but likely know the majority of passengers too. with ferry travel still theoretically restricted to essential travel, there are few visitors to dilute the situation.

yet who would have believed the bicycle could suddenly become so popular amongst those who, under normal circumstances, would have crossed the street rather than walk past a bike shop? dealers have been saying for almost a year, that they can scarcely hold onto any stock they manage to acquire. the guardian article compared customers to 'piranhas', for the manner in which they have descended upon the arrival of new stock. predictably, e-bikes are showing the biggest rise in sales figures, though oddly enough, performance road bikes seem to have benefited out of all proportion to their practicality. that knowledge could indicate that it is also the younger members of society who are adopting the way of the saddle, e-bike sales generally being regarded as selling to the older generations.

there is a gentleman of my acquaint who is frequently referred to as 'doom and gloom', principally for his undaunting pessimism. no matter how well things are going at present, he rarely has a good word to say about his prosepcts in the near future. unfortunately, cycling's current success is beginning to place it in a similar frame of mind. for though the cash registers may be currently hot with friction, dealers and manufacturers are noticeably reticent to over-order replacement stock, and then some, with the prospect that the bubble could burst anytime soon.

though i do not have the wherewithal to undertake the necessary research, i do wonder whether the various bicycle associations and dealers at large, are attempting to capitalise on the present situation, by not only accepting this new found custom, but attempting to prolong it. i know from personal observation, that several who adopt the bicycle 'simply' as a means of transport, can become enthralled with the bicycle in other ways, leading to riding, even when they've nowhere specific to be. just like, now that you mention it, you and i.

though i am indeed a particular example, i know of few other folks who, having learned to drive and purchased a car, have subsequently discarded its use in favour of a velocipedinal lifestyle. cars are, like tolkein, hobbit forming (a little middle-earth humour there), seemingly unlike the bicycle, particularly when the climate that we're trying to save, blows hard and soaks us. it's a sad reflection on public preferences, that it has taken a worldwide pandemic to have folks adopt the bicycle as their principal mode of transport, but now that it's happened, we all need to do everything we can think of to ensure its longevity.

i know we've been through all this before, probably on several occasions, but on the basis that the window of opportunity might be every bit as restricted as for a moon shot, to help reduce greenhouse gases, clean up our towns and cities, while improving the health of their residents, anything you and i can do to make this a permanent change, will be more than worthwhile. governments rarely make positive and pemanent infrastructure changes for tiny minorities, but are more inclined to take notice if change is being demanded, even if only passively.

you know it makes sense.

tuesday 23 march 2021

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