weather or not

saligo bay

a number of year's ago, a few members of the velo club peloton played host to a german rider who, a travel agent in real life, was on islay during january and february for a couple of months by way of a sabbatical. having contacted me a few weeks before his island visit, we'd arranged that he would join us for the sunday ride on as many occasions as family life allowed, but certainly the first sunday following his arrival. being the early part of the season, islay's weather consisted, as usual, of heavy rain and galeforce winds, the effect of which we all felt as we headed off around loch gorm on the island's atlantic coast.

having passed kilchoman distillery at a slow pace due to a strengthening headwind, we turned at right angles to head towards coull farm and saligo bay. more than used to riding this route, in comparison with our guest's naiveté, the skies over the atlantic advertised in advance an incoming heavy squall. my colleagues had already turned the corner at the end of this road, and were thus all but immune to its effects, but, having elected to remain with the fellow as he struggled manfully with the elements, it seemed more than likely to hit us both hard.

in anticipation, i stopped and pointed my front wheel into the direction of the squall. my european colleague, presumably unable to hear my warnings, carried on regardless; while i remained unscathed, if a tad wetter than before, he was unceremoniously blown into the roadside ditch, happily for a soft landing. though i wish to make no comment on his apparent fortitude, it's worth my pointing out that we never again saw him during his visit.

though this incident took place in the early part of the year, the winds from which he suffered more than i, tend to originate in the upcoming months to which we inexorably head at this moment. those winds may have commenced their public relations campaign yesterday morning, allowing us to acclimatise, all the while preparing to tear us apart as we close in on winter. gusts of around 60kph pervaded most of yesterday's sunday ride, leaving us all wondering from whence the meteorologists find the described average windspeed. interpreting the number forecast for our pleasure or defence involved looking at one set of numbers purporting to be the average windspeed, followed by the speed of the expected gusts.

i have no mainland situations with which i might compare, but yesterday most of us were in agreement that all we seem consigned to experience were those gusts, and frequently in locations from which there is no shelter. thus, there are often lengthy periods in which we plough as forcefully as we can manage into gusts of between 55 - 60kph. this is euphemistically described as 'character building'.

the majority of the velo club peloton are, after many years, inured to such circumstances, all apart from our most recent young recruit (compared to the rest of us), for whom sunday was the first of what will probably be a long baptism into serious character development. however, i am assuming from the questions plied to those accompanying him, that such wind strengths were not those he had previously come across. however, the first rule of the sunday ride, always assuming it has any rules at all, is never to leave anyone behind, so when his pedal strokes faltered and he began to drift off the back, there was always one or other of us to drop back and shelter him from the autumnal breeze (which, essentially, would be the description applied to a 60kph headwind). there seems little point in inviting cyclists to join the happy throng, yet leave them to their own devices when push comes to shove.

i write this not as an advertisement for the hebridean bravado in the face of adversity, nor to set the velo club peloton in an heroic light with regard to our shepherding propensities. on the contrary, i have temporarily set myself as meteorologist at large, eager to provide care in the community. if you have not already received promotional missives advising of the need to kit up for the season ahead from several of the world's cycling apparely purveyors, you probably will very soon. and while i can offer no specific comment on the fabrics in which they hope to interest you, i can offer a few words by way of weather warning.

i sincerely hope that the word 'warning' can be offered in its most benign sense, but there's a niggling feeling that, following such a mild and largely uneventful summer season, mother nature may have intentions of providing a dramatic contrast between now and next easter. i sincerely hope that not to be the case, but prevention is surely better than cure? the forecast for next sunday's paris-roubaix currently shows a 60% chance of rain, accompanied by a draught of 25kph. if that does indeed come to pass, it may be the first wet hell of the north, since sean kelly was a boy.

be prepared, not only for autumn, but the winter months to follow. and if you ride in a peloton, i'd suggest you adopt a 'leave no-one behind' policy. just remember that it might be you that's being left behind.

monday 27 september 2021

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cyclist is as cyclist does

passing places advice sign

though i do possess a driver's licence, it's at least two years since i drove a car, and that was only a rental, in order to transport my drumset to and from a gig at the islay jazz festival. the total distance was a smidgeon less than 25 kilometres. prior to that, it was the 2018 jazz festival. however, in the days when i did own a motor car, well over 15 years ago, i have faint recollections of having driven many of islay's single track roads, replete with their periodic passing places. to do so, observation and courtesy are the keys to travelling along these narrow roads, often edged with all but unseen ditches. those two points apply equally as well to cyclists.

though i fear there may be a certain smugness exhibited by islanders whether in car or on bicycle, these back roads are an endemic part of islay life, experienced at some time or other, by everyone on the island. visiting drivers and cyclists can often be seen to be every bit as smug, a stance frequently undermined by a lack of ability to cope. meeting one of my regular cycling companions during yesterday's bike ride, he informed that he had found it necessary to berate a group of four visiting cyclists for riding abreast across the full width of a single track road. that, obviously enough, is not cool.

and only a few kilometres prior to our meeting, i had observed a perfect example of crass stupidity by an elderly gent driving a jaguar.

en-route to kilchoman distillery, the road descends during the process of following a bend, meaning that it's not at all possible to see oncoming traffic until it is in close proximity. fortunately, there are several passing places to ease the situation. yesterday, as i headed downhill, i could see the tops of two cars heading towards me, so i pulled into an adjacent passing place to let them pass, for i was pretty certain they hadn't seen me.

having done so, the jaguar following at a safe distance, presumably thought i'd stopped to let him past, but at that point, the first car was clearly visible ahead. yet, instead of pulling into the generous space i had left behind me, he carried on for a few metres, before having to stop, then reverse. in essence, this has nothing to do with driving per se, but everything to do with simple observation and common sense. a close friend was wont to comment during this past week, that there is probably a skill to driving on single track roads; it's a skill that visitors seem intent on ignoring, even though there are any number of signs and leaflets advising how best to cope.

i have no doubt that mainland cyclists possess a litany of motor-traffic related anecdotes following each and every ride, though likely a great deal more dangerous and life-threatening than the irritations experienced by yours truly and friends. however, i believe what we may have in common is the desire, or necessity to inform our peer group about each twist, turn and close shave, possibly with a few dramatic elaborations. and what i think we probably all experience, is the total apathy exhibited by our non-cycling office colleagues when relating tales of derring-do come monday mornings.

for many a long year, i have endured the occasional argumentative reply of the girls in the office, often more likely to take the side of the driver in each actual or close encounter. however, one of my esteemed colleagues, owner of a particularly fine e-bike, has taken to cycling like a duck to water, often riding over 30km each evening, predominantly along the high-road, a single track road that parallels the low road, heading towards bridgend village. however, around 10km along the road, she turns off onto the glen road for another 5km, before turning and heading for home.

having carried out these perambulations for a couple of months or so, when time comes to start work on monday morning, not only does she have as many tales to relate as do i, she's every bit as incensed about driving behaviour as am i. the phrase, "walk (cycle) a kilometre in my shoes" springs to mind. however, what this has forcefully suggested, is the implementation of the often proposed addendum to the driving test, that everyone undertaking the latter, ought to spend a specified amount of time riding a bicycle in traffic, to best comprehend the viewpoint of more vulnerable road users.

that said, currently that seems as likely as visiting drivers making use of islay's passing places.

sunday 26 september 2021

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perhaps not so gravellous

rapha continental

i promise that i'm not being paid by rapha to say this, but if anyone could be said to have to have invented gravel riding (if not actually the gravel bike), it was probably rapha. well, to be honest, it was likely daniel wakefield pasley, whose original idea in the early part of this century (2004), subsequently became the north american rapha continental, whose mission was to boldly go along the road less travelled at locations all across the united states. this they did aboard steel frames, custom built by some of the nation's premier frame-builders, including the redoubtable, richard sachs, replete with sram groupsets, chris king componentry, brooks saddles and continental road tyres, the latter at a remarkably skinny 28mm.

it was the continental who brought to light the huge distances that could be plied along proper gravel tracks, originally documented by the written word and daniel's superb photography, subsequently augmented with a series of compulsive videos. the sense of disappointment when the series came to an end was almost tangible. this, i mentioned at the time, seemed to me to be the very style of bike riding that the majority would give their left cleat in which to participate, only they didn't know it. it was gravel riding, jim, but not as we've come to know it.

rapha continental

the rapha continental launched in october 2007 (i still have the original e-mails from simon mottram), five years before minnesota-based salsa cycles arguably produced the first gravel bike, the warbird. no doubt there are other bicycle manufacturers who would dispute that claim, and i've no great desire to debate the point in public, but some nine years later, not only do we have gravel bikes produced by almost every manufacturer on the planet, but some, notably cervelo with their aspero model, have already begun to nudge the genre to more closely resemble road bikes with wider, yet not necessarily chunky, tyres.

there's plenty of gravel machinery, such as ritchey's steel outback model, outfitted with all manner of braze-ons to accommodate pretty much everything you'd want to do in the realm of bike-packing. but, with no disrespect to tom ritchey, the outback was probably not designed with ultimate speed as its principal raison d'etre. contrast this with cervelo who, when describing the latest iteration of the aspero, said, "...we've come back from the drawing board with a new Aspero. A faster Aspero, a lighter Aspero...". does that description sound familiar?

given the vast network of gravel tracks highlighted by the rapha continental, it's perhaps unsurprising that north america was the first country to inaugurate a series of gravel races, perhaps following on from rapha's gentlemen's races featuring teams riding unsupported across the gravel (on road tyres), needing to finish with all team members to register a finishing time. given the eagerness with which america adopted cyclocross, though often bereft of the seriousness with which europeans approached the sport, it's quite predictable that they have delighted in adopting a sport originated in their backyard. though many would contend that these events could have easily been undertaken aboard cyclocross or xc mountain bikes, propriety appears to have dictated that something new was required.

rapha continental

however, inheriting the spirit of adventure espoused by messrs pasley, dunn, maness, staples, leiberson et al, many of these events were considered to be a 'good hang', with an inherent spirit of competition, but a remarkably laissez faire approach. in other words, 'good fun'. and though this spirit will doubtless continue, it seems that machinations have been completed to undermine a natural evolution of a cycling activity that nobody's sure we needed in the first place.

earlier this week, our lords and masters at aigle in switzerland, announced the implementation of a gravel series and official world championship for 2022. whether this will put an end to featuring frequently unpopular (with riders) offroad sections in the grand tours remains to be seen. the existence of mountain biking's cross-country series and championships, along with comparable downhill events seems not to have spoiled the funkiness maintained by those who enjoy mountain biking for its own sake, and possibly bodes well for bike-packing gravellers, but it does seem that the uci might be running scared that a genre of cycling might have the impertinence to exist without their official intervention.

the fellows at wahoo, however, may have to get creative in the tactile roller department.

"People are always calling me the Grandfather of Gravel. They're like dude, Daniel, you literally invented gravel riding and the gravel category which has been for over ten years now the hottest, biggest, most epic trend in cycling since basically the wheel. And I'm like whoa whoa whoa sure, yeah, I mean, I guess I did give birth to the Rapha Continental from my brain in 2004 which does predate basically everything including Instagram and legit tire clearance. And as part of that project, we did collaborate with a bunch of handmade bicycle builders to build us a bunch of almost-proper shred sleds so that we could do things like ride through a mile of hub-deep Mississippi overflow and cross over knee-deep snow banks on unnamed gravel roads in the Wind Rivers at sunset on the way to a hot spring. Which, I suppose, ipso facto, does mean that I invented gravel. Obvs I'd never say that but... Anyway, gravel fans, you're welcome." daniel wakefield pasley, september 2021.

buy the bikes that broke the internet

saturday 24 september 2021

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a bit difficult to comprehend

colnagos blockchain

on wednesday evening this past week, i spent an educational hour watching a science programme on bbc4, explaining the origin and detection of neutrinos, particles emitted from atoms when the latter exhibit nuclear decay. unsurprisingly, there are a great deal of these particles emitted by the sun, but the problems inherent in detecting them were multiplied by the accepted theory that the neutrino features no mass, allowing them to pass through any solid object in their trajectory. so how do you measure something that, in a tangible sense, appears not to exist?

physicist, fred reines, devised a house-sized experiment to detect the existence of the neutrino, filling a large tank named el monstro with chlorine and installing it underground in the nevada desert. as each neutrino collided with chlorine atoms, according to theory, it would transform them into argon atoms. all that had to be done, was to empty the tank, while measuring the number of argon atoms present. the presence of these argon atoms did, in fact, prove the existence of neutrinos, but el monstro was found to contain only one-third of the number predicted by scientific theory.

it was subsequently proven that neutrinos can exist in three different states, changing between each state as they travelled from the sun towards earth. however, einstein's theories stated that massless objects, which the neutrino was thought to be, couldn't possiby alter their state, since a lack of definable mass would indicate that they had no state from which to change. finally theory caught up with real-life, demonstrating that neutrinos did indeed have mass, but the speed at which they changed state was far quicker than theory predicted. this has led to the possibility of a fourth neutrino that cannot be measured, but could be responsible for controlling this changing of state.

scientists have theorised that this fourth neutrino could be the first indication of dark matter's provable existence, and that it could lead to a whole slew of previously unknown, currently unmeasurable particles.

as i went to bed, i offered a précis of the above to mrs washingmachinepost, who responded by moving her hand over her head and emitting a whooshing sound. i received the same response from my office colleagues. however, far from writing the above to imply that i have an intellect above either of the above, i use it to partly explain the quandary in which i find myself on reading the latest press release from colnago.

however, before i delve into the inexplicable, i would take brief issue with one part of this release from cambiago. attempting to place them at the forefront of many a technological development, they claim to have brought several innovations to market ahead of their competitors, such as carbon fibre (true), disc brakes (maybe) and aerodynamic designs (again, maybe). however, ernesto is on record as stating that he would never have a colnago built anywhere other than italy, and look how that worked out. he also claimed that never would any of his frames feature an integrated headset, not long before just such an item arrived in a colnago headtube, and i believe a similar claim was made concerning external bottom bracket cups.

just sayng.

however, the principal issue featured in the press release, was the announcement that colnago has adopted blockchain technology to provide owners with 'proof of validity and ownership, combating theft and counterfeiting'. bicycle theft has been on the rise for some time, but unless the bicycle is recovered, implementing blockchain technology to prove ownership is, i would have thought, purely academic. and assuming that you may have inadvertently purchased a nicked colnago, would you have the faintest idea of how the blockchain might verify its provenance? and just to add to the whooshing sound above your head, each purchase will arrive with an nft (non-fungible token) version of the frame or bicycle.

if you find this all a bit incomprehensible, join the club.

blockchain technology was invented in 2008 to serve as the public transaction ledger for bitcoin cryptocurrency. as far as i understand, information, in this case, referencing a new colnago, is stored in a block, linked to other blocks (hence blockchain) by means of cryptography. each block contains a cryptographic hash (nope, me neither) along with a timestamp and transaction data, relating it to the previous block. thus any alteration of any given block would require the alteration of every block within the chain. this, so the story goes, renders any attempt at criminal or accidental alteration, null and void, thus totally safe.

colnago did, at one time, suffer from counterfeiting, often from russia, but i was unaware that the problem still existed. while this method of verification seems, to all intents and purposes, to be foolproof, i've a notion that it's akin to using a jcb to crack a nut. but, despite the obvious conflict of a cavalcade of team cars following the pro peloton, the bicycle is frequently cited as not only a pollution-free means of transport, but demonstrably environmentally friendly. however, colnago might wish to re-examine their adoption of blockchain technology in the light of the energy required to maintain it.

so-called blockchain mining, makes use of peer-to-peer computation to verify and validate any transactions. this requires a significant amount of energy. a 2021 study by cambridge university demonstrated that bitcoin, using the same blockchain technology, consumed more electricity annually that of argentina or the netherlands. the usa treasury secretary is quoted as having said it's "an extremely inefficient way to conduct transactions". examining blockchain's online security and its energy efficiency, nicholas weaver of the university of california found both to be 'grossly inadequate'. electricity used in 2018 for bitcoin (essentially the same technology as announced by colnago) produced around twenty megatonnes of carbon dioxide.

suddenly, that carbon c64 might be costing both you and the planet rather a lot. just don't get me started on non-fungible tokens.

friday 24 september 2021

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did anyone notice?

bowmore village

i have been vocal, insofar as writing words on a web page can be regarded as such, concerning the uk's annual national bike week in june and national cycle to work day in early august, questioning the efficacy of both. though platitudes have been offered by the organisers concerning the numbers participating in either or both, truthfully, there seems to have been little increase in the number of cyclists on the roads, directly attributable to these two events. it was mentioned by many during 2020's lockdown period, that it had effectively taken a worldwide pandemic to entice people to opt for the bicycle as a means of transport.

however, the much-vaunted drop in car use and dramatic reduction in pollution in urban and inner-cities, failed to persist once restrictions began to be lifted, with many towns and cities across europe reporting that pollution levels had risen above those experienced pre-pandemic.

the reasons for the abject failure of bike week and cycle to work day are simple to relate: human behaviour. many studies have shown that a nominal period of three weeks (21 days) has to be endured before certain repetitive actions become habit. unfortunately, it's an easy task to drag a bicycle from the bike shed, ride to work on one day out of 365, pop a selfie on instagram, and bask in hypothetical glory. similarly, participating in bike week events is often the preserve of those already categorised as regular cyclists. for those outside that description, unless bike week exerts sufficient influence upon its participants to transform them into 'regular' cyclists, it surely has not fulfilled its original purpose?

but the onus on altering the mindset of those more inclined towards public transport or, heaven forfend, the motor car, thankfully lies not entirely with britain's cycling organisations, or with those professing a vested interest. an organisation titled living streets appear to have taken a leaf from cycling's minimalist campaigns book, leading them to have declared wednesday 22 september as 'national car free day'. rather than target car drivers by offering the bicycle as an alternative, living streets have begun from the feet upwards, attempting to persuade britain's car culture that pedestrianism might well be the way forward.

i do have certain sympathies with this approach. while argyll & bute's msp, jenni minto, tweeted on wednesday morning that she had opted to ride the bus to holyrood, as an alternative to her car, i responded that i had walked to work. what was not necessarily implied was that i live a mere five minutes from the office, while i believe ms. minto's edinburgh flat is a tad further from scotland's parliament building. and i failed to mention that, in fact, i walk to work every work day, every week of the year. i'm pretty sure jenni will have been behind the steering wheel today.

but once again, 'national car free day' is exactly that; one day. it's hardly a life-changing or life-affirming interruption to the norm. and in fact, it may not even come as close as that. though i can only base my observations solely on my locality, there was every bit as many cars parked in bowmore's main street and shore street yesterday, as has ever been the case. the woman who lives opposite the croft works about 100 metres from where i ply my trade, yet she drove to and from her work, parking the car directly opposite the office window and walking those extra 100 metres. she's about one-third my age, and i'd already been for 2km walk beforehand, as i do every weekday morning. her next-door neighbour works in the same building, but walks.

it might be more interesting to see the results of a car free month, though the cynic in me figures nobody would notice. but the car driving community, if it can be described as such, is not taking the slings and arrows of cycling and walking persuasions lying down. i'd dearly love to say that i'm joking, but in early april, the federation of british historic vehicle clubs organises a national drive it day. i realise that this is probably intended to encourage owners of vintage and historic cars to take them for their annual constitutional, but, as was pointed out by an equally cynical colleague, "surely every day is drive it day?"

as governments bandy about a variety of net-zero targets for future years, and the majority sit and wait for westminster and holyrood to save them from impending climate change, it's going to take a great deal more than one day of not driving cars and one day of riding a bicycle to work to make those targets a reality. perhaps it's time to become a bit more disagreeable towards the complacent and extend the time away from the car and increase the number of kilometres in the saddle and on the pavements, before rising sea-levels have us all take to boats.

thursday 23 september 2021

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how long has this been going on?

pinarello dogma f

in 2001, just as fears over the millennium bug had apparently dissipated, apple introduced the ipod, basically a hard disc featuring front-end software that allowed the selection and playback of mp3 music files. there had been one or two mp3 players in existence prior to apple's device, but none had garnered that attention of the music loving public, achieved by the white 'brick'. it famously featured a minimalistic design with a rotatable wheel on the front, at the behest of steve jobs' distaste for conventional 'buttons'. a matter of two years later, apple sealed the success of the ipod, by introducing itunes and its attendant store, introducing the download era of albums and individual songs over the internet, effectively sealing the fate of physical media, such as compact discs, cassettes and vinyl.

microsoft, somewhat later to the internet party, introduced its brown-coloured 'zune', tagged as the ipod killer, in 2006. this dull looking but essentially similar device failed to ignite anyone's imagination, at least in sufficient numbers, and was quietly discontinued in 2012. by that time, of course, apple had stunned the world with the iphone, which combined the abilities of the ipod with those of phone calls, texting and the nascent app market. once again, in a slice of history which he will doubtless rue forever, microsoft's steve ballmer, claimed that the iphone would never gain sufficient market traction to bring sufficient commercial success.

though iphone sales have dropped since 2017, apple still sold more than 196 million last year.

i recall attending an edition of the rouleur classic, where shimano displayed a hydraulic disc brake system intended for road bikes, pointing out that this was one area of the market in which you and i had access to technology unavailable to the professional rider. at that point, the uci had yet to make a decision on whether disc brakes would become race-legal. this finally happened in 2018 when aigle decided that the professionals were ready for this alleged increse in braking power, oddly, making the same decsision in favour of bmx at the same time. really? discs on bmx?

luddites such as myself continue to query whether disc brakes are really necessary on road bikes, where it's more common to simply scrub off some speed, rather than have to stop on a sixpence as is often the case in the offroad disciplines. however, as one who owns a cyclocross bicycle featuring sram hydraulic discs, i cannot deny that not only do they work precisely as advertised, but even on road-going hardware, their imposition is hardly a mechanical tragedy. walnut creek, california based rivendell bicycles are perhaps the last bastion of the luddite when it comes to velocipedinal matters, purveying a wonderful range of steel-framed bicycles. they proudly proclaim that none of their handbuilt output is disc-compatible, a choice that they have apparently no desire to change.

but it was almost inevitable that road bikes would be over-run by the rotor, particularly those fashioned from carbon fibre. the majority of far-eastern carbon is constructed in monocoque fashion, entailing carbon layup in custom and expensively produced molds. you can see the economic implications of producing a disc-friendly frame featuring thru-axles alongside another capable of accepting quick-release skewers. in other words, the ubiquity of disc brakes might be more down to pennies than mechanical necessity.

however, the disc vs calipers argument is one that will probably rage for a few years yet, with neither side willing to give ground to the other. but it now appears that the final nail in the caliper brake's world tour coffin may just have been hammered in place. though chris froome has been quoted in public as having misgivings over the efficacy of discs on his own machinery, he has recently invested in factor bikes and ridden a disc-equipped version while failing to reach his former glory in the peloton. and though jumbo-visma were to be seen aboard caliper-braked bianchis last year, ostensibly due to weight concerns, the last of the mohicans has been team ineos, whose pinarello dogmas have fastidiously remained disc free throughout the 2021 season so far.

while the commercially available version of the dogma f arrives replete with thru-axles and disc mounts, the professionals' red and black dogmas have remained steadfastly traditional. it appears that fausto pinarello has not been masquerading as a latter day steve ballmer, clearly stating his faith in discs as the future of bicycle technology. the concern for the rest of us would surely be the portent of majority rule removing caliper discs from the catalogues of shimano, sram and campagnolo. though the latter, like microsoft, were somewhat late to the party, their latest ekar gravel groupset is available solely in disc guise, as, it must be said, is every gravel bicycle i have come across. i would imagine the same can be said for the vast majority of cyclocross machinery.

shimano have already excluded mechanical shifting from their two top tier groupsets, apparently with little in the way of disgruntlement from the great unwashed. they may feel buoyed by this situation to make both groupsets disc only without needing to retire to the nuclear bunker. if one moves to the dark side, i suspect their peer group will be inclined to follow. i think it likely that caliper brakes will always be manufactured by someone, if only to outfit grant petersen's rivendell bicycles, but if i were you, and your middle name is ludd, i'd start putting a few pennies aside for a disc version of whatever you ride in the foreseeable future.

i dare say the phrase 'stop it' might seem less than apt, under the circumstances.

wednesday 22 september 2021

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ludicrous af

every week, without fail, on a saturday afternoon, i retrieve the ritchey logic from the bike shed, along with what remains of my bottle of chain-cleaner, an old towel and a small bottle of chain lubricant. what follows is a well-rehearsed procedure: pouring some cleaner onto a portion of the towel, i then vigorously wipe the lower portion of the chain to clean the links and rollers, top, bottom and both sides. using the drive-side crank, the chain is rotated through the derailleur until the entire chain is sufficiently shiny to show my reflection. following this initial procedure, i wrap the towel round a small portion of the chain, and rotate the crank at speed to dry off any excess cleaner.

leaving it to evaporate for five minutes or so, i then place a small drop of lubricant on each roller, trying hard to avoid placing any on the sideplates and the section of campagnolo carbon rim sited below the chain. once again, having lubricated each and every roller, the chain is run backwards through the towel to remove any excess lubricant, before placing the bicycle back in the bike shed, well ahead of the sunday morning ride.

while this may fly in the face of those who simply roll the chain backwards, spraying it with either gt85 or wd40 as it rolls over the cassette, there is not only a personal need to maintain the tradition, but a smidgeon of preventative medicine. during either my first or second attempt at rapha's festive 500, while cleaning my chain in advance of the following day's ride, i noticed a cracked sideplate on the chain, one that would almost certainly have snapped entirely at the furthest point from home in late december. that's a situation i'd prefer to avoid where possible.

there's also a degree of potential economy and self-esteem at stake. a fellow who once rode the highways and byways of islay (now sadly deceased) on a sit-up-and-beg sturmey three-speed, was mostly content to lube the chain on a semi-regular basis, but without cleaning it first. thus, when it arrived to me for routine maintenance, or for needy repair, to be honest, you could not distinguish a single chain-link midst what appeared to be an organcially created drive-belt. cleaning that was not a task to be envied, and certainly not a state i would be happy to parade in public. additionally, on derailleur systems, maintaining a clean, lubricated chain not only extends the life of said chain, but that of a very expensive campagnolo twelve-speed cassette.

however, in effect, the chain is a remarkably efficient device, having been found by one study, undertaken in 1999, to achieve as much as 98.6% efficiency. though the latter may have been reached under specific circumstances, i think it safe to assume that pretty much any bicycle chain will return figures in excess of 90%, perhaps explaining why such an apparently rudimentary means of transmission has survived all manner of alternatives, yet still features on pretty much every bicycle on the bike shop floor. but one lesson apparently learned from the study, was that chain efficiency was not particularly adversely affected by the state of lubrication.

now, it's perfectly possible that subsequent studies, should any have taken place, may have found evidence to the contrary, but the recent flurry of eyewateringly expensive cycle chain lubricants, several of which have all but promised the opportunity to break the hour record, may conceivably have more to do with marketing than with scientific or technical discovery. one or two companies have offered steam-cleaned chains, subsequently slathered with their highly technical and minimal friction lubricants, accompanied with concomitantly large price tags.

while i think it of great importance for both technical and aesthetic reasons to maintain a clean chain, throughout the years of writing thewashingmachinepost, i have never had any lubricant on review that has noticeably improved my performance. and i would be very interested to read any studies that can conclusively proved that race victory, all other factors remaining consistent, is achievable solely due to the chain lubricant applied before the grand départ. yet i get the distinct impression that this is precisely the claim being purveyed by muc-off.

do not misunderstand me; i have great faith in muc-off products, having used many to great effect over the years, though the lube that came with a mini black-light to show its infusion into the chain was a bit on the gimmicky side. and it may be that this gimmickry has found yet another outlet in the shape of muc-off's latest race chain lube: ludicrous af. that may even be the reason for its controversial name. according to the copywriters, the new lube is the"world's fastest race lube", a claim bolstered by muc-off ceo, alex trimnall who stated that he was 'stoked' with the product. " I can't wait for more riders to feel the speed", he said, claiming that ludicrous af is "a Grand Tour winning lube".

between frame manufacturers developing the world's fastest aero frames, apparel providers creating aerodynamic jerseys and skinsuits, both now augmented with a chain lube that apparently leads to the top step of the podium, one has to wonder whether einstein's theory of relativity will soon come under attack from helmet providers. mr trimnell contends that ludicrous af was "Developed with our pro teams at our in-house R&D facility and supported by independent testing ... as part of our chain optimisation and lube development programs."

i am not in any position to disagree with his assertions, given that i have no qualifications or expertise on which to base my cynicism, but i can't be the only one who finds the statement, "It's already taken our athletes to multiple wins this year" to be a tad self-centred? what about the riders and their hours of training? if patrick lefevre had heard of ludicrous af before salary negotiations with mark cavendish...

in a world of marginal gains, i can understand why professional teams and their sponsors are looking at every last nook and cranny of mechanical and aero perfection, but given that the study referred to above, demonstrating that lubricant seemed to have negligible effect on chain efficiency, muc-off's claims seem hard to rationalise.

however, the principles behind the lubricant's function may signify that things have turned a different, and hitherto unexplored corner. "When (Ludicrous AF is) applied to the chain, it penetrates deep into chain links. As the chain is used, the molecules within the formula react with the surface of the chain, leading to the creation of a fluid sheer plane which helps to reduce friction and power loss. The top-secret proprietary formula has self-lubricating capabilities and synthetic polymers, which aid durability and deliver long-lasting and repeatable performance".

that said, the price of £1 per millilitre, and a determined need to categorise ludicrous af as a race-focused lubricant, will probably ensure that, for the majority, it remains purely of academic interest. unless, of course, the nice people at muc-off would care to send a bottle for review at distinctly non-race speeds?

remember when we just used to ride our bikes?

muc-off ludicrous af chain lubricant

tuesday 21 september 2021

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