psychologically speaking


it has been a long time coming, but finally the winds that we would expect to infiltrate our velocipedinal machinations arrived over the weekend. though i have nothing to verify the forecast, according to xcweather, the gusts peaked at just over 80kph on saturday monring, right about the time i was preparing a second set of wheels with road tyres for the specialized 'cross bike. as mentioned previously, the campagnolo bora wheels on the ritchey are not the sort of wheelage you want a handful of in crosswinds of that strength.

disappointingly, i have no indoor space in the bike shed to carry out any mechanical ministrations, so tasks such as fitting tyres to wheels, in this case at least, had to be done outdorrs in the lee of the shed where the wind was hidden from view. unfortunately, that occupied the worst part of the morning, when it rained most and blew even more. another factor in the quest to build character.

of necessity, the saturday ride was but an out-and-back event; down to debbie's for a soya latte and double-egg roll, then back home again with the assistance fo a very strong tailwind. sadly, where it would have counted most, a happenstance prevented a sure victory. for the latest bout of stupidity to infiltrate the weekend peloton, is the attempt to freewheel up the hill at blackrock. as i approached said hill, i was achieving speeds close to 50kph, almost guaranteed to have me reach the summit without any pedalling whatsoever, until a car descended in the opposite direction and insisted on holding to a right of way that wasn't really theirs to uphold.

my having to brake ruined a perfectly good example of on-bike idiocy.

however, come sunday, though the winds had dropped slightly to the upper seventies, the sky was brighter and we headed out for the regular sunday routine. in the sunday peloton, we have a recent recruit in the shape of a young lad carrying out his probation period as a primary teacher in one of the local schools. having been absent from the hallowed isle for his two week mid-term holiday, a return to the fold was something of a baptism of fire, given the strength of the wind and his inexperience of same.

the velo club has little in the way of rules and regulations, but one of the unwritten rules is that we leave no-one behind, whatever the reason, and whether the slowcoach happens to be me or not. this poor fellow struggled manfully to maintain pace, so i decided to be the shepherd for the day and hang back to help him along the way. however, it's not solely a physical presence that is needed, but one or two occasional comments of encouragement along the way. attempting to fulfil such duties, i pointed out that by february next year, he'd be as fit as a butcher's dog. i was also heard to point out that riding into winds hovering around 65-70kph, are often more of a psychological 'problem' than a physical one.

assuming he persists with riding in such conditions, at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, a switch will flick on, and, though the winds will be every bit as strong (if not stronger) as they were this past weekend, they wont bother him as much as they obviously did yesterday. the three regulars on yesterday's ride were afflicted by exactly the same winds as was he, but they gave us far less cause for concern because, basically, we don't really care.

a very similar happenstance occured during my last hot chillee london-paris ride, when the wind increased a smidgeon on the friday afternoon. given that the majority of those around me were younger and a great deal fitter, the oddity was my moving from the back of the peloton to the front, without any increase in effort. in effect, everyone else went backwards, while i stayed put. given the abilities and skills of my fellow riders towards paris, the only logical explanation would be one of a psychological approach, because i certainly didn't get any fitter in such a short space of time.

so, if it's of any earthly use to those who have not resorted to zwift as winter approaches, if you struggle in the wind, persist with the mindset that "the headwind is your friend", and eventually it will be.

you're welcome.

monday 8 november 2021

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zwift watopia

in the movie, 'white men can't jump', starring wesley snipes and woody harrelson, for those who haven't seen the film, snipes' character, sidney deane, can be seen in many scenes wearing a colnago casquette. somewhat obsessed by the italian marque at the time, i spent meany a long internet hour attempting to find a verisimilitude of that very item of headgear, entirely without success. now, whether it ws a cycling cap produced purely for the movie, or whether it was an america-only item that was no longer available, i know not. i did, however, acquire one or two other colnago casquettes in the process, none of which remotely resembled that worn by wesley snipes.

that is, until andy and mick at prendas ciclismo, produced that very cap, following some research to ensure its accuracy. it appeared that all my christmases had arrived at once. except shortly after placing the item on their website for sale, they received a 'cease and desist' letter from colnago's legal department. having what i believed to be a close working relationship with colnago's uk distributor, windwave, i phoned them up in incredulity that colnago should have taken such action. surely the very worst that could happen would be that several purchasers of the limited edition cap actually bought colnago bicycles?

naive to the last, it was carefully pointed out to me that, while colnago really had little problem with the production of such an item of logo'd headgear, they needed to be seen to defend ownership of their logo. were they not to have done so, any subsequent transgressions of a more innocuous nature, might survive any subsequent legal challenge, on the basis that colnago had not defended their honour (so to speak) over wesley snipes' cycling cap. and in what might be viewed as a gesture of goodwill, colnago had demanded that the item be withdrawn from sale within a matter of seven days, by which time both they and prendas well knew they'd all be sold.

in the knowledge that this particular cap was unlikely to see the light of day ever again, i bought four of them.

a similar situation occurred with jude gerace, latterly of portland's 'sugar wheelworks'. on my first visit to portland's fair city in 2009, chris distefano and i visited jude in her tiny workshop, not much bigger then the elevator in which we reached the second floor of the building. at the time, she had only been in business a matter of days constituted as epic wheelworks, but was soon in receipt of a 'cease and desist' letter from specialized bikes, who, it transpired, had registered 'epic' as a trademark, enforceable across the velocipedinal realm.

there was very little likelihood of anyone mistaking jude's one-woman operation for one of the world's largest bicycle manufacturers, but once again, it had proved necessary to forcibly defend a trademark. in my opinion, 'sugar wheelworks' gave jude not only a better name, but a better logo. (sugar wheelworks was subsequently merged with breadwinner cycles, owned by tony pereira and ira ryan. jude gerace is no longer a part of sugar wheelworks.)

but both those incidents, and i'm sure there have been many more undocumented but similar cases in between, happened in the good old analogue days of yore. nowadays, digital rules the world, and things have apparently gone from bad to worse. no longer is it necessary to form competing companies, or manufacture a range of garmentage that impinges upon an existing trademark. nowadays, its'a simple matter of manipulating pixels, a practice that seems now to have acquired the moniker of none fungible tokens (nft), with a blockchain in tow to verify their credibility. only some of them remain as simple pixels, inserted into computer games and possibly even online services such as 'zwift' and its peers.

such unauthorised use of legal trademarks has already upset nike, who have decided to play their own digital game, recently filing trademark applications that indicate it wants to sell digital versions of its trainers, clothing and other goods stamped with its swoosh logo in virtual worlds, such as videogames or other online platforms. of course, this doesn't mean that it will necessarily follow through, but it may well be the first step in protecting a brand across virtual worlds, preventing knock-offs appearing in games. and nike are likely to view such pixel practice as a potential revenue stream.

should this prove a successful strategic move, it seems highly likely that nike will not be the last to do so. if you consider the online velocipedinal world, we may only be at the start of the world's principal marques, such as colnago and specialized, now that you come to mention it, offering the sale of nft versions of their bicycles to those eager to purchase online versions of the bikes they may occasionally ride in real life. let's face it; there's little need to purchase a state-of-the-art carbon fibre bicycle to attach to to your smart trainer, when any old plain-gauge steel machine with a mere eight gears would likely suffice. and i daresay rapha, assos and endura might be tempted to join the nft party.

and if, as seems potentially to be the case, online cycling becomes ever more popular, actual sales of actual bicycles might conceivably drop. and non-fungible tokens require only a competent graphic designer, rather than years of research and development with carbon matting and resin.

what a strange world it is in which we live.

sunday 7 november 2021

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just get it done

too board

if ever there was evidence for some form of omnipotent deity, the weekend weather forecasts would be the over-riding evidence to be presented in a court of law. though i'm not inferring that weekdays are entirely blameless in such matters, to be perfectly blunt, last weekend was crap and this weekend looks to be even crapper, with winds of well of 70kph forecast for saturday and sunday, with ferry sailings already having been cancelled. (though in mitigation, certain captains will cancel a sailing if there's a grey cloud in the sky). my question would therefore be, how does it know, unless there is a vengeful third party, guilty of making it so? the law of averages would dictate that the hebridean weather ought to be just as crappy midweek, every now and again. but it often seems not to be the case.

so, in order to head them off at the pass and stand-by to repel boarders, certain mechanical minstrations will be required, with direct reference to wheelage and tyres.

the ritchey logic currently features a very nice pair of campagnolo bora wto carbon wheels, sporting a depth of 45mm. vicenza's wind tunnel testing, however, appears to have been particularly effective, for i have ridden these wheels in winds gusting to 70kph, though the front was a bit of a handful in more exposed parts of the island. and despite having had a pair of standard ritchey aluminium wheels for a year or two, to which i could fit a pair of tyres and offset the potential problem entirely, i've not yet done so. in the meantime, i intend to resurrect a second pair of disc compatible wheels, fit wide road tyres, and replace the knobblies on my cross bike.

the latter, brightly coloured specialized, tends not only to be more stable in crosswinds, it also allows me to nip onto the grassy dunes at uiskentuie and avoid being blown into traffic. forward planning can never go amiss.

however, swapping tyres, tubes, and cassette is a pretty simple set of tasks for someone with a set of appropriate tools and the mechanical ability to carry them out. the same will apply when i eventually get round to switching the wheels on the ritchey. but there are many who are new to cycling for whom such simple tasks are more than just a small mountain to cross. an office colleague, proud owner of an e-bike, has said that, during her frequent bike rides, were she to suffer a puncture (for instance), she'd simply phone her husband to come pick her up. assuming this to be common to more than just my office colleague, there's every likelihood that there is a whole population of potential cyclists, with broken bicycles in the shed or garage, who would be more than happy to join the happy throng, were it only possible to get that bicycle fixed. many of those might well be without the financial wherewithal to achieve that.

during the first stages of the pandemic, scotland's government funded free repair vouchers redeemable at over 200 scottish bike shops. that scheme ran from august 2020 until may this year, allowing a total of 31,562 repairs to be carried out, and with apparently 77% of those using the scheme riding their repaired cycles to undertake journeys previously undertaken by car, it appears the scheme was wellworthwhile. that scheme is now entering a second phase, once again underwritten by holyrood and administered by scotland's branch of cycling uk. their head of development for scotland, suzanne forup, said, "This scheme will once more fix the nation's flat tyres and loose brakes, to get people pedalling again. Finances are tight for many people at the moment, so the scheme is targeted at people who can't easily afford to get their bikes fixed up."

though i'm scarcely the sort of fellow who heeps praise upon governments or politicians, it's kinda nice to see scotland's government put their money where their active travel policiy is, even if, as carlton reid pointed out, there are no bicycles in the future transport display at cop26.

scotland's cycle repair scheme

photo: park tool

saturday 6 november 2021

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quoc pham mono ii road shoes

quoc pham mono ii road shoe

i'm none too sure whether to be proud or embarrassed, but i have owned a pair of what i believe sidi termed their podium shoes for well over twenty years, shoes that i still wear every morning to take my pre-work walk. admittedly, it is but a couple of kilometres, but it pretty much sets me up for the day, though not as well as a bike ride probably would. the sidis have lasted remarkably well, having been originally purchased for mere pounds from a bike shop that was closing down. in fact, if memory serves, i bought two pairs, though i can't remember what happened to the first pair.

quoc pham mono ii road shoe

as you can probably imagine, these are hardly in pristine condition. the heel on the right shoe has worn through to the inside, while the uppers have various cracks, splits and holes that scarcely endear themselves in wet weather.and i should probably mention that the laces on the left shoe broke years ago, and now exclude a couple of holes in order to still be fastenable. i would hardly disagree that they should have been replaced several years ago, but they're comfortable, either having grown used to my feet or vice versa.

quoc pham mono ii road shoe

slippers are exactly the same. as one of those difficult individuals who pretty much has everything he needs, i'm an absolute nightmare when it comes to either birthday or christmas presents. this usually results in several pairs of socks and a new pair of slippers under the christmas tree, as seemingly appropriate gifts for one of my advancing years. but slippers are hardly the sort of footwear that suffer great hardship, and i've generally viewed it as something of a personal triumph to 'wear-in' a pair over the course of several years, experiencing great disappointment when one or other member of my family has deemed it necessary to wrap a new pair in chrstmas paper in late december.

quoc pham mono ii road shoe

that, it must be said, is a sentiment that is every bit as applicable to cycling shoes, for cleated shoes are probably given a greater deal of hardship than either my vans or sketchers over the course of a velocipedinal year. though some of that is achieved at the behest of whichever pair of pedals and set of cleats have been employed over the course of that year, but it can (and often does), take many months of pedalling, in all conditions, to become satisfied with one's new cycling footwear.

i'm pretty sure we've all been there.

quoc pham mono ii road shoe

i first met quoc pham occupying a small portion of the condor cycles stand at the national cycle-show in the late-lamented earls court. at that point he was showing a couple of prototype shoes, a stage in his impressive career from which he has expanded considerably. i have previously reviewed quoc pham footwear on the post, and was, to be honest, somewhat intrigued to try out the latest iteration of his offering for the intrepid road cyclist. how much better is it possible to make a pair of cycling shoes?

quoc's mono ii road shoes feature a smooth, unidirectional carbon fibre sole with the requisite three holes to accommodate those cleats that make you walk like a duck. the weather-resistant upper uses a material adopted from quoc's gran tourer gravel shoe, effectively ensuring a level of toughness that, to be honest, is often a requirement of day to day road riding. the upper is effectively in one piece, wrapping over and under before being fastened by two boa-style dial closures offering almost infinite adjustment. releasing the tension is achieved by turning the dials anti-clockwise, but if in doubt, try first before clipping in. it gives me no end of embarrassment to admit i once tried on a new pair of cycle shoes and couldn't figure out how to get them off.

quoc pham mono ii road shoe

inside the box is also a selection of three arch inserts to customise the fit. so far i've not used any of them, but i prefer to take each, one stage at a time, to figure out if i actually need any of them for enhanced comfort. for the weight weenies, already kitted out with carbon pedals, the shoes weigh a scant 249 grams (size 43), translating to only ten ounces. the upper is vented both fore and aft, while there's a small toe vent on the carbon sole. cleat fitting is simplicity itself via the usual three allen bolts.

quoc pham mono ii road shoe

this particular pair of white monos received something of a baptism by fire, acquitting themselves well on a remarkably mild saturday, ridden across the usual wide selection of grotty road surfaces, featured on many of the sections of singletrack backroads. and when slogging (and i really mean 'slogging') uphill, my feet were firmly grasped within the monos, exhibiting not a millimetre of internal movement. you do have to be careful that the decorative end-portion of the integrated tongue isn't folded under before dialling in the fit, not entirely for reasons of style, but more for avoiding subsequent pin-point discomfort. the fit is immeasurably enhanced by the one-piece upper, leading me to comment that it felt as if quoc had nipped over to bowmore and personally measured my feet.

quoc pham mono ii road shoe

a subsequent ride, where their style factor was concealed 'neath a pair of water resistant overshoes, had them fully saturated by the time both feet arrived at debbie's for a well-earned coffee. despite water seeping out of the shoes every time i pedalled or walked, the fit factor didn't vary one iota, a comforting thought with winter none too far distant. there's a better than evens chance that these will be subjected to several hundred litres of precipitation, sooner rather than later. overall, quoc pham's mono ii road shoes must be pretty much as close to perfection of the art as it's possible to get. and with toe and heel bumpers offering a smidgeon of protection from clipping in and out, i've a notion that these will last every bit as long as the sidi podium shoes mentioned at the top of the page. these are my new slippers.

don't get me anything for christmas.

quoc pham mono ii road shoes are available in either black or white, in sizes ranging from 38 to 47. retail price is £270

quoc pham mono ii road shoes

friday 5 november 2021

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endura pro-sl three-season jacket

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

you'd figure by now that we'd have it comfortably sussed, with the emphasis on the word comfortably. as the weather degrades towards winter, there's usually a steady decline, formerly predictable enough that the cycling wardrobe could be kept in an orderly fashion. disappointingly, this year has scarcely followed the script; several weekends have left me at something of a loss, chilly on a saturday and sauna-like on sunday. or vice versa.

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

the weather forecasts are not of as much help as you'd hope, particularly here on the outer edge, where temperatures rarely take into account the inevitable wind chill. and though breathability has improved dramatically over the last decade, it's still an undeniable fact that such fabrics still struggle to keep pace with the intrepid cyclist. and warm rainy days don't exactly help, often making waterproof jackets a necessary evil while debating whether 'tis better to get wet from the inside or the outside. as mentioned not so long ago, layering would appear to offer the most practical approach, always assuming the at least some of those layers can be stuffed in a jacket or jersey pocket if proving warmer than expected.

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

to cater for such iniquitous situations, scotland's endura, with close on thirty years experience of the nation's weather, and in collaboration with former pro, marcel kittel, has introduced the pro-sl three-season jacket. the three seasons under consideration are autumn, winter and spring, though i'd be wary of ruling out at least a few weeks' use in a scottish summer. it consists of two basic elements: a thermal outer jacket and a primaloft gilet that can be fastened inside, below the rear of the jacket's collar.

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

to fine tune the insulation of the outer jacket, the primaloft gilet is thin enough to scrunch up and stick in one of the outer jacket's three rear pockets. should that prove insufficient to cool your impressive physique, there are two vertically-zipped front vents (both with two-way zips), as well as another two on the lower forearms. the latter are remarkably effective, given the premise that cooling the wrists and forearms may be considerably more effective that opening the front zip from collar to chest. and better still, both sets of zipped vents are easily adjusted while riding. and to get rid of those exhaust gases, there's a small mesh patch across the back, beneath the collar. this is covered by an external flap to keep the elements from travelling in the opposite direction.

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

for added frontal protection, though the main zip is not of the taped variety, there is an internal flap sitting behind the zip to keep out the breeze.

internally, the sleeves and upper torso feature a soft thermal fabric, meaning that, if you're warm enough to wear a short-sleeve jersey, the sleeves don't feel clammy. though the outer fabric features the inevitable durable water repellency, it appears not to have taped seams, serving a few advance doubts about the waterproofing. the high collar is fleece lined, keeping any internal warmth right where you might want it to be, and though the review jacket was bright orange (pumpkin), there are also relfective patches on the forearms, with reflective detailing on the back, including the endura logo on the centre pocket. there's also a fourth, zipped security pocket on the right.

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

the first ride in bright three-season orange was a remarkably mild saturday, on which i wore the primaloft gilet over a short-sleeve, lightweight jersey, with the jacket on top. because of the island being almost divided in two by a sea loch, the east-side is frequently warmer that the west, the loch offering scant resistance to the prevaling south-westerly winds. thus, though a smidgeon over-warm on the outward trip, the temeprature dropped a few degrees on the route to debbie's. that's when those vents came in very handy, being opened and closed quite frequently.

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

with the temperature rising a tad during the afternoon, i was more than thankful for the forearm zips, leading to a pleasant cooling, demonstrating the jacket's versatility in the face of adversity.

when the rain and wind arrives with a vengeance, there's still the difficulty of gauging the temperature all across the island. on a dark, dank, windy and very wet morning, i was eternally grateful that i'd changed my mind from once again wearing a short-sleeve jersey, opting for the endura-made debbie's long-sleeve jersey. even so, despite also wearing the fully-zipped primaloft gilet, i could have suffered a few more degrees of warmth in the face of a very cold wind and damningly persistent rain. there was no need whatsoever to use any of the vents.

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

i can but pay deference to the jacket's constitution; i eventually managed to ride hard enough to encourage more internal warmth, and despite the rain never letting up (we spent almost three and a half hours in pouring rain), when we finally made it for a welcome coffee (or hot chocolate with marshmallows in one case), inside, i was impressively dry. yes, the lower cuffs were more than just damp, but the inside of the sleeves were mostly dry, as was my torso. the three-season jacket may not rival many of the breathable membranes currently available, and it may be more water-resistant than truly waterproof, but all considered, its performance was very confidence inspiring. that has, i'm pleased to say, continued to be the case.

and endura have finally listened and fitted a hang-loop at the collar. joy is mine.

the endura pro-sl three-season jacket is available in black or pumpkin, in sizes ranging from xs to xxl. it's available at the very attractive price of £179.99

endura pro-sl three-season jacket

thursday 4 november 2021

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still crazy after all these years

the whisky ventures ride

there's a photo appearing in this week's copy of the local paper showing the extensive groundworks underway for the new distillery at farkin, near the village of port ellen. structural work is due to commence in spring next year, with a view to completion sometime in 2023. this will subsequently entail a renaming of what is currently known as the 'three distilleries path', for its length will soon encompass farkin, laphroaig, lagavulin and ardbeg. and before reaching farkin, the intrepid whisky connoisseur will soon have had the opportunity to visit the rebuilt and revitalised port ellen distillery. assuming the aforementioned connoisseur might wish to pedal, and assuming the need only to experience two tours, those four distilleries alone ought to comfortably occupy an entire day.

meanwhile the former lemonade factory on the outskirts of port ellen village is in the process of becoming a rum distillery, inside a gloriously renovated art-deco building. add that to the itenerary, and the bicycle is sure to garner a few more stationary moments. that leaves only the island's six other distilleries, plus the one on jura. except, that's not quite true. the islay boys, owners of islay ales, currently have a planning application in place to build a new brewery incorporating a small distillery near islay airport, while plans are currently simmering for another small distillery at gearach farm on the road between port charlotte and kilchiaran.

and then there's the small cottage distillery proposed for gartbreck near bowmore. though originally launched in 2014, little has been heard since, though the french owner surfaces every now and again to offer straws of hope that it might still see the light of day. add to this the new gin distillery near bridgend, the existing gin distillery at nerabus and the well-established lussa gin on jura, and these two islands are already past the point of no return (in a manner of speaking).

i regularly receive e-mails from folks intent on visiting the isle, either on board their own bicycles, wishing to cycle round all the distilleries on islay at least, or those intending to rent cycles in order to undertake the same tour. they are mostly hoping to recreate the tour de islay, originally instigated by the scotch malt whisky association's richard goslan. it's a tour i undertook solo in 2020 to raise funds for the local residential home. we missed out on it this year, but with luck it will resurface next year. however, riding around all of islay's distilleries, currently something of a moving target, as you might garner from the above, rather pales into insignificance in comparison to next year's 'the whisky ventures ride' proposed by robert richardson.

in order to raise funds for cash for kids and scotland's charity air ambulance, robert intends to begin at bladnoch distillery near wigtown and end the ride at saxa vord distillery on shetland's isle of unst. in between, he expects to visit all of scotland's 140 plus distilleries, including those on islay and jura. i have refrained from pointing out that, if he only waited a matter of years until islay has finished building more, his bike ride would be a tad longer. robert figures that he might have to kayak or canoe to one or two of the more remote island distilleries not served by ferry services.

he's hoping that each of the distilleries will contribute at least one bottle to the cause, creating a unique collection that will be raffled or auctioned after his saddle-sores have become a faint memory. i've placed a link at the foot of this article, leading to his proposed route round all those distilleries; if anyone fancies joining him for a portion of the route, or, better still, would like to provide individual or corporate sponsorship, you can get in touch. there are loose plans at the moment for an informal bike ride from ardbeg distillery to kilchoman distillery when robert visits islay during the 2022 islay whisky festival. though it's quite a few months in advance, if anyone is intending to be on islay at that time, with velocipede, get in touch if you fancy joining in.

i've agreed to provide occasional updates on the post as the planning stage evolves and probably while robert rides around all those copper stills. and you thought the drink most closely associated with cycling was coffee.

the whisky ventures ride | contact:

wednesday 3 november 2021

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touring or bikepacking

touring v bikepacking

as mentioned to the point of boredom, when i moved to the hebrides, i was the proud owner of a muddy fox courier, the original white version with yellow lettering on the downtube. like the majority of mountain bikes sold in the uk, i don't remember taking it anywhere near anything that could reasonably be called a mountain. if i'm unfailingly honest, islay's not even populated by much in the way of big hills, so for most of its life, that muddy fox courier was a total imposter.

however, there was no denying that its white, plain-gauge steel frame was particularly sturdy, as was the wheelset, despite not having been constructed with stainless spokes. but what really played to its strengths was the eighteen-speed gearset, with three chainrings that, had there been any real mountains in the neighbourhood, climbing them would not have been an unassailable chore. and, as my readings of the cyclists' touring club magazine elicited, those seemed to be the very gears one would need for the odd cycle tour on a laden bicycle.

as will hopefully become clear as we continue this discussion, it is slightly ironic that the appearance of the mountain bike had separated the members, or at least the magazine's correspondents, into two almost warring clans. the dyed-in-the-wool acolytes of cotton-duck saddle bags and trouser clips would regularly contend that no self-respecting touring cyclist would ever need quite so many gears, and three chainrings was easily one too many. bear in mind that the majority of road-going touring bikes featured a larg(ish) outer ring and a substantially smaller inner ring. three, according to the majority, would lead to mountain bike owners being shunned by polite society. at the time, such admonishment was probably seen as quite favourable, by the latter.

recent history will doubtless show that the mountain bike remained as the mountain bike, and touring continued unabated. in an attempt to join the latter, no matter the complaints from the traditionalists, i converted my muddy fox to a faux touring machine, replacing the original quill stem with a very long, stainless steel version that allowed substantial height adjustment, and brought the bars a bit closer. this was married to a pair of touring handlebars with suntour bar-end shifters. to ensure i made no newbie errors, i purchased genuine blackburn racks (rear and low-rider), and a full set of quality karrimor panniers and bar bag. i also added a set of alloy mudguards which rattled incessantly.

the problem, as i'm sure many apprentice touring cyclists will agree, is that i filled every last cubic-centimetre of all five of these items of luggage when, in truth, i was only riding to my parents' house on the other side of kintyre and arran. hardly a world tour by anyone's standards. the touring meme lasted but a few years, before our second child arrived, and it became a tad iniquitous to leave mrs washingmachinepost to look after both rugrats when travel was involved.

in the intervening years, following the opening of islay's youth hostel, cycle touring on islay has noticeably increased. a few of them replicated the look of yours truly, sometimes in a very raggle-taggle sort of way, but never appearing as if islay was but one stage of a world tour. i find it hard to comprehend why some ride with backpacks containing their entire houses; not the most stable of means to ride a bicycle, particularly in the face of atlantic crosswinds. some ride bicycles with a single rear pannier, some with only a bar bag and others with a combination of luggage aboard bicycles that have often seen better days.

but then along came the gravel bike, a genre invented across the pond which has spent the rest of its life looking for a purpose and, on this side of the atlantic at least, some gravel. coincidentally, there has been the rise of so-called bike-packing, eschewing the traditional set of panniers and replacing them with outsize saddle packs, bar bags that load from one end and a whole range of others that fit into every nook and cranny of that double-diamond frame. a few of those i have received for review over the years, would scarcely carry a multi-tool (or even a matchbox). it creates a look i'm not altogether in favour of, and having never had cause to tour again, it's a look and means of carrying luggage of which i have no useful experience.

following a recent visit to islay of round the world bikepacker, markus stitz, followed by mark beaumont and hank from gcn to film a whisky and gravel youtube video, and the inestimable lachlan morton, rider of the alt tour carrying the necessary accoutrements for his extraordinary riding of the tour de france in a set of bikebags, i began to wonder whether 'regular' touring still existed, or whether bikepacking was the new black. as mentioned above, i have no real experience of the latter, other than having met one or two bikepacking visitors to the isle. so i asked those of greater experience than yours truly.

if the name, jack thurston, is not a familiar one, you have gone horribly wrong with your velocipedinal ministrations somewhere along the line. author of the highly regarded 'lost lanes' series of books, and host of the bike show podcast, i figure jack is a lot more familar with cycle touring than am i, so i asked him if he thought traditional cycletouring was still a thing, or if the world had been taken over by bikepacking on gravel bikes rather than dawes galaxies?

"it depends on your metric, brian. if the metric is bums on saddles, i'd say pannier-toting touring is still the far more common way of doing a more-than-one-day bike ride. if it's instagram likes, then bikepacking wins hands down.
"i gather dawes no longer make the galaxy range, but others have stepped into the breach - surly, ridgeback, genesis and the wonderful homespun bodgery that's the real heart and soul of cycle touring culture.
"bikepacking is a nice solution for road bike, credit card touring, but for camping it requires a big investment in the latest and greatest (and most expensive) lightweight gear, or a preparedness to embrace the spartan approach that we all used to admire in the likes of the crane cousins, but would think twice about doing ourselves.
"one area of concern for me is the growing number of people who appear to be prepared to embark on a multi day ride on a bicycle lacking mudguards."

lost lanes - jack thurston

i don't mind saying that, on receipt of jack's reply, i was rather glad i had had the forethought to add mudguards to my own rudimentary attempt at touring. though i've tried to remain neutral when it comes to the touring v bikepacking discussion, i can't avoid mentioning that, for aesthetic reasons alone, i'm firmly in the traditional camp (now there's a surprise). however, with my limited experience and a distinct aversion to any thoughts of offroad touring, i do have a few concerns over the pragmatism of bikepacking luggage. and since the majority of cycling visitors to the isle are road bound, adoption of gravel bikes and bike bags seems more at the behest of fashion than necessity.

however, it would be less than comprehensive to ask only one expert concerning one of cycling's major discussions, so i contacted stefan amato, mastermind behind the superb, on the website of which you can find details of bikepacking trips for which i have no doubt traditional panniers would not be a particularly practical choice. not only that, the website features a shop selling all manner of bikepacking kit, including a range of ortlieb panniers.

(incidentally, i did contact ortlieb to enquire if their sales figures indicated any preference between the two genres of bike touring, but their reply was as much use as a chocolate fireguard.)

i asked stefan pretty much the same questions as i'd asked jack thurston. he said. "I am unsure of exact data, but I know that, in terms of new bike sales, gravel/adventure bikes are growing in a crazy way. I think this is the key trend. In terms of new luggage sales, bikepacking bag sales are also growing in a crazy way, but pannier and traditional bags are still big sellers in the market(!)
"We just did a trip/shoot for Brooks, who've released a new range of traditional touring bags. I don't think trad luggage will be going anywhere soon - for urban/commute and travel markets.
"In terms of new accessory sales, brands like Fizik are seeing adventure shoes take a decent percentage of shoe sales. Still not near road, but this definitely suggesting a move to 'off road'"

i then asked stefan if it was possible that the essence of my question was more due to the rise of gravel and bikepacking over-shadowing the continuance of traditional touring. perhaps a case of 'new kid on the block'?

" Correct. I think the vast majority of people are out there on road/hybrid bikes/mtbs just touring around without much fuss! Because, let's be honest, gravel bikes and all the kit is expensive, and not everyone is as into cycling; likely might do one trip a year, or ride a few times a year. However, on certain routes and events, there are huge numbers of folk on gravel bikes. It is growing massively, and will likely take over as a 'pursuit', but maybe a generational thing? Still a long way to go, imho...
"The very start of a curve."

in other words, it depends on what it is you want from your cycling. it's worth remembering that not everyone is hanging on every twist and turn of mark cavendish's contract negotiations with patrick lefevre. there are far more people just riding bikes than those of us counting down the days to next year's paris-roubaix. and with britain's roads showing no signs of becoming less infected with motor cars, the attraction of offroad and the uk's equivalent of gravel should not be underestimated. in certain ways, the gravel bike craze mirrors that of the mountain bike in the 1980s. and it's quite possible that those attracted to gravel biking view it as a day-by-day occurrence, rather than the beginnings of a world tour.

it strikes me that this may be a velocipedinal question that will be worth revisiting in a few years, when the marketing hype has settled down for the night. but as jack thurston mentioned above, if there are more bums on saddles, no matter the frame format beneath, what does it matter? i just wish the bike-bags looked a bit better on any kind of bike.

stefan amato's | jack thurston's lost lanes

image from the movie 'rainspotting'.

tuesday 2 november 2021

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