odd one out

bicycle bell on trek domane

bicycles are a bit of an anomaly when it comes to the requirements of various regulatory bodies. in the late 1990s, my regular cycling companion was a police constable, well-versed in road traffic regulations. as we freewheeled down the hill past bowmore's generating station, i recall pointing out that i was about to break the 30mph speed limit, shown on the road signs, just as we entered the village. my fellow speedster was always keen to point out that, since bicycles were not actually classed as vehicles, and speed regulations were directed at such, we were, in fact, home free.

motor vehicle speed limits were introduced in the same year as the first grand boucle took place across the channel: 1903. the first of these limits was set at 20mph, but due to continued infractions, in towns, this limit was eventually raised to 30mph in 1934. however, the official regulations that enforced that, made no amendments to have it apply to cyclists. thus, the 1984 speed limits printed in the highway code, are applicable to motor vehicles, but not to pedal cycles. that said, if you find a way of riding through the village in excess of 40mph, i'm pretty sure that the local constabulary would find contravention of some legality.

and if you can frequently maintain such a speed, i'm sure there's a professional contract with your name on it somewhere.

but then there are other regulations unconcerned with speed, but with being seen after the hours of darkness. in the islay velo club, we tend towards the exemplary in this respect, featuring flashing red rear lights on all bicycles on every sunday morning ride, or when we undertake our individual perambulations. at this time of year, personally, i tend also to run a flashing front light, but either way, aside from bright clothing, we are well illuminated, with one member wearing a helmet featuring two flashing red lights at the rear and a white light up front. additionally, if the notion takes him, he can enact flashing indicators via a bar-mounted button, signalling to any following traffic.

the archetypal bs6102 safety regulations applicable to pedal cycles, was introduced in 1984, a set of rules that determined just what bicycle manufacturers must offer to the public. those regulations, at least in part, were superseded in the early part of this century by european general product safety regulations (gpsr), forbidding the sale of unsafe products. these continued to require that new bicycles offered for sale arrived replete with wheel spoke reflectors, a front-mounted white reflector, rear-mounted red reflector and another couple of reflectors on the pedals.

and at one time, the fixation of flashing lights would only be allowed if accompanied by sanctioned, static front and rear lights. a case of legality trailing far behind technology.

bicycle bell on trek domane

as a recent conversation with a bike shop staff member highlighted, many modern-day front wheels preclude the affixation of reflectors due to the low spoke count. and in my experience, those very reflectors tended to loosen the spoke to which they were fitted, though i've no real notion as to why. the oddity of the above-mentioned legal regulations is an apparent lack of compunction to observe them in any meaningful way. for instance, my own road bike and 'cross bike feature neither wheel reflectors nor frame-mounted reflectors, nor, indeed, pedal reflectors. it transpires that it is a legal requirement for the retailer to supply and/or fit these to the bicycle, but no requirement for the owner not to remove them.

additionally, the law applies only to new bicycles. and it also sort of applies to bells.

the law requiring the compulsory fitting of bells was ended in 1999, and currently, there's no legal obligation for cyclists to feature a bell on the handlebars, nor to use one when riding. however, the regulations do require every new bicycle to come with a bell, which explains why i once received a £10,500 colnago that had a bell affixed to the handlebars. and it's something of an eccentricity that this requirement persists to this day, even on bicycles that are unlikely to see much, if any duty on uk cycle tracks, such as the £4,200 trek domane seen in the glasgow city branch of evans cycles. some of you may be abhorred at my apparent disdain for the humble bicycle bell, but it does look decidely incongruent on such a competition oriented velocipede.

and just while we're here, for those of you who suffer from the slings and arrows of discontent, thrown wildly by irate motorists, road tax was abolished in 1937 and replaced by vehicle excise duty. and if you recall my pointing out that bicycles appear not to be classed as vehicles, this is a tax applied directly to cars, not roads, the latter being funded by general taxation. thus, on meeting an example of an irate motorist during your travels, you might want to point out that, as a taxpayer, you already pay towards the roads of which they appear to have taken exception to you using.

nowadays this has also frequently been framed as an emissions tax, inapplicable to electric cars, and substantially reduced for those on allegedly low-emission vehicles. given that the bicycle is, at point of use, emissions free, we are presumably excluded on all counts.

who knew the bicycle was such a minefield?

monday 29 november 2021

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ripping yarns

rough stuff fellowship archive

the advent of the gravel bike has created a potential case of 'smoke and mirrors', a perception that i admit, might be well wide of the mark, but until provided with concrete evidence to the contrary, i'll happily live with my own misapprehensions. quite plainly, the uk holds far fewer gravel trails than across the pond, the very place from which the gravel bike has arisen. though i've no real desire to reprise my continual praise for rapha's orginal, north american continental, from the images i possess sent by originator, daniel wakefield pasley, there are more than enough lengthy gravel trails in north america to justify the genre's invention (though why the archetypal cyclocross bike, also finding great favour in the usa, would not have sufficed, i know not).

more rough stuff  adventurous

if evidence of a conspiracy theory need be tested, i would cite the alteration of specialized's crux, from one genre to another. i have just such a machine in the bike shed, which, at the time of receipt, was classified as a cyclocross bicycle and reviewed accordingly. the latest version, according to reports, has left the world of one hour muddy races behind, now promoted as a gravel bike, leaving us to wonder where the diverge fits in.

but, nomenclature aside, are there 'real' gravel hunters in our midst? despite magazines, blogs, websites and youtube videos abounding with gravel this and gravel that, is anyone actually gravelling? i recall the invasion of the mountain bike in the early 1980s, when everyone, including yours truly, eagerly adopted a knobblier existence, despite rarely, if ever, traipsing offroad, never mind scaling mountains. the triple chainset had a lot to do with that, sporting a wide range of gearing that suited far more folks than did a 42/52 campagnolo crankset; aside from which, they were mostly built like brick outhouses, less tha prone to damage and adopting the stance of a two wheeled land rover.

rough stuff fellowship archive

gravel has not had quite the impact felt in the 1980s, if only because we still have the mountain bike in all its endless variations and wheel sizes. as i've stated before, the invention of bikepacking seems the ideal sibling to offer justification for the birth of gravel, but is that actually the case, or has the media simply gone overboard in favour? and whatever has happened to the recognition that this has all been done before? if we've all forgotten, we must thank the heavens that max leonard quite obviously hasn't.

rough stuff fellowship archive

he has just published the second volume of images from the rough stuff fellowship in a volume entitled 'further adventures in rough stuff'. these include vintage photographs, hand-drawn maps and ephemera drawn from the 1920s to the 1990s, providing stories and ride reports of classic routes around the uk and farther afield. according to max, since the first book was published several years ago, the archive has increased with the addition of more than 25,000 slides and other material.

rough stuff fellowship archive

"the new book is organised by the different regions of the British Isles, and abroad, where the club members rode, and features images of beach riding from the 1920s, Alp-climbing in the 1950s, hike-a-bike in the 1970s and chain walks in the 1980s, as well as accounts of classic rough-stuff routes.
"Alongside the photos, it includes writing about classic rides such as Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms and the Wayfarer Pass in the Berwyn mountains in Wales".

rough stuff fellowship archive

so perhaps i should be less concerned about the advent of gravel, no longer keeping myself awake at night, wondering whether there is any substance behind the facade. demonstrably illustrated by books such as mr leonard's further adventures in rough stuff, riding 'off piste', so to speak, has been going on for generations, in the days prior to mountain bikes and on velocipedes that admirably preceded gravel and bike-packing. specific types of bikes foisted on an unsuspecting public by the world's bike manufacturers are hardly necessary, it would seem, to enjoy the great outdoors and the bits of it that feature no sign of a metalled road.

rough stuff fellowship archive

though certain bicycles may be better suited to specific purposes, the lack of marketing and construction of such in the earlier (and, to be fair, more recent) years of the bicycle's history, seems not to have been a barrier to exploring that which had need of being explored. and there's not a mention of 'dude' to be found.

'further adventures in rough stuff' is published by isola press, with award-winning design by this-side. the limited edition hardback is available from at a price of £32, while the widely available softcover version is priced at £28. gravel riding before it was gravel riding.

photos © rough stuff fellowship archive.

friday 19 november 2021

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a few words with author, hannah reynolds

hannah reynolds

hopefully you will have read yesterday's review of hannah reyonolds' 1001 cycling tips, and quite possibly opted to purchase a copy, either for yourself or for the cyclist(s) in your life as a highly appropriate christmas present. i can appreciate the temerity with which hannah is likely to approach the reading of any early reviews, because i'm sure it took a confdent level of chutzpah to reckon that she had the appropriate level of cycling nous to write such a book in the first place. a bit like a certain strain of bike shop staff as mentioned in the book, there's always someone willing to denigrate attempts to educate or assist those ostensibly bereft of certain nuggets of knowledge.

it was just such a sense of reticence, allied to a complete lack of confidence that put paid to the possibility of a washingmachinepost beginner's guide to cycling, first mooted over ten years ago. i figured that many of the world's foremost blogs, magazines and online media outlets, presupposed a certain, unspecified level of velocipedinal knowledge, a perceived gap with which i thought i might be suitably equipped to deal. but where to start? and what if the naysayers started poking holes in my attested wisdom? in truth, i'd be far less backward in coming forward nowadays, but in the intervening period, the gap has been plugged by better known authors and illustrators, so perhaps it's better that i left well alone.

but, in order to be in any sort of position to potentially educate the great unwashed, requires an obsession or serious interest in the subject matter that would bring you to offer what knowledge you believe might be worth passing on. since we're obviously talking about cycling at present, when did hannah reynolds' fascination with bicycles begin?

"I was a late starter with cycling. My mother had a cousin who was killed in a cycling accident, so I didn't even ride a bike until I was 14. I used a bike for transport and would knock around the forest where I grew up, but 'proper' cycling and serious fascination started at university. I did a Sports Science degree, despite no real interest in 'sport'.
"There were a lot of team sports players, but the cyclists I met were more fun and a touch more maverick. They were also exceptional and experienced athletes, some of whom had represented GB and others who went on to do so."

when still at school and being introduced to the thought of a post school career, one of my teachers encouraged me to choose something at which i showed promise to adopt as a potential livelihood. since i was reputedly good at art, i enquired of my father as to what might fit that category. given that my father had spent the majority of his own career in the construction industry, he suggested becoming an architect. it was only many years later, when attending an art college adjacent to a school of architecture, did i discover that most architects couldn't draw curtains, let alone anything tangible.

given that hannah had found herself attracted to the cycling milieu, was her subsequent involvement with bicycles the career she'd envisioned for herself, or was there an altogether different plan?

"Ha, no, not at all. I worked in cycling while at uni, in bike shops and even for British Cycling briefly, but I didn't ever really plan it as a career. A friend got me some basic secretarial work at 'Cycling Weekly' and to quote the editor at the time, I just kept turning up until they gave me a job. It always felt more like fun than work and my family thought it was a hobby job until I decided on what I really wanted to do.
"I feel lucky that I have worked in cycling in a period that has spanned British Cycling's success at the London Olympics, the sportive boom and not just one but three British Tour de France winners. Every aspect of women's cycling has developed in that time too; there are more women cycling at all levels, more women working in the cycling industry and the beginnings of a real sea-change in women's pro-racing. There is still a long way to go, but it feels like it is beginning to head in the right direction."

we are, nowadays, rather blighted by the extensive reach of cycling's tendrils, encompassing as it does, road cycling, road racing, mountain biking, leisure cycling, commuting, touring and the two new kids on the block: gravel and bikepacking. in much the same way that scientists generally specialise in one particular area, because it would simply be too difficult to equally comprehend all of them. though i'm hardly comparing cycling with string theory or dark matter, in my experience, cyclists tend to have their own fields of interest. for instance, out of the velo club sunday peloton, only one has shown any interest in mountain biking, for example, and none of us are about to head off on a round-the-world tour.

hannah, on the other hand, seems rather well-versed in the majority of cycling's variations. but did she have to expand her horizons to write the book, or is her impressive knowledge of cycling representative of her regular mindset?

"I actually don't think it is that unusual, certainly not amongst the friends I have in cycling, who are willing to have a crack at everything. The cycling clubs I have belonged to have all had riders who regularly compete on track, time-trial, road, cyclo-cross and mountain bikes. You only have to look at some of the top names like Tom Pidcock or Wout van Aert to see the benefits of transferable cycling skills and fitness. Whatever your level, you can gain something from mixing it up and if you love bikes, you love all bikes.
"One of the things I enjoy most about cycling is there are so many different ways to ride a bike, and at different times in my life some cycling styles have suited me more than others. I used to love racing (not that I was any good at it) and tried everything from road to downhill. Now I go cycle touring, tow a kid's trailer and can see the benefit in e-bikes."

you may notice that, on the navigation bar to your left, is a link taking you to pages about cycling on islay. the original intention had been to have each section hyperlinked to others, enabling the reader to create their own ride around islay in whichever order suited best. and it was to have been fully illustrated. you can see how that worked out. and as an adjunct, i planned on creating it in book form for sale on islay and available as a downloadable pdf. once again, that remains an unrequited endeavour.

but for those who are undoubtedly better organised and more intrepid than yours truly, things actually tend to happen. like hannah's 1001 cycling tips, for instance. did it take long to compile 1001 cycling tips, or, just like the roads around islay, were they always present and it was simply a case of wiritng them down?

"A lot of it was floating around in my head. I probably spout at least 50 a day when I'm guiding a cycling trip! Organising them was the hard part.
"I have been incredibly privileged to work with and ride with some incredibly knowledgeable and talented people, I've learnt something from everyone. In some ways none of these tips are my own, they are more a distillation of things I have picked up along the way."

and having now compiled all 1001 of these tips into book form, well illustrated and creatively organised, who is the book aimed at? is there a particular level of rider that hannah had in mind when creating the book?

"It is slightly beginner orientated, but I hope that even lifelong cyclists will find something that will surprise them or make some aspect of cycling easier, a 'life hack' if you like. I hope there will be tips that will have old club riders sagely nodding in agreement, but I also confidently expect to get loads of messages explaining better ways of doing it or pointing out why I am wrong!"

as with many strains of life, there is the right way to do things and, according to many of the sages, the wrong way of doing things. personally i prefer the terms 'easier' and 'harder', but most of us are willing to accept that there can be definitively wrong ways. for instance, it's reckoned to be 'wrong' to insert a new inner tube under the tyre without first inflating it slightly; however, it's not something i ever do. but it is something i advise others to do. is hannah in the habit of taking her own advice, or is that a lofty standard to which we all aspire, but rarely achieve?

"Absolutely not. I am the worst person for that. I have stress-tested my advice by ignoring it and examining the consequences."

there are experiences and opportunities that occasionally land unexpectedly on our laps, and which we tentatively approach with eager anticipation, sure in our own heads that this is going to be the journey of a lifetime, whether that constitutes an actual journey or simply a metaphorical one into the relatively unknown. was that hannah's experience of writing this book? was it a hard-won labour of love, or a perfectly enjoyable experience?

"Definitely enjoyable. Near deadline I had a quota of tips to produce a day, so to get me to go out for a pint, my cycling mates had to give me a tip each, which produced some interesting (and not all printable) anecdotes. Cyclists absolutely love sharing advice - there is never a shortage of tips to go round."

cycling used to be what i would notionally term a 'legato' experience, to borrow a term from musical interpretation. it was something of a series of rolling episodes, some entangled in each other, while others were distinctly unrelated. rather than a staccato digital approach, cycling was a languid approach to life. technology has done its level best to disrupt that appreciation, whether it be via drag co-efficients, gps units capable of displaying ten windows of digital information that few of us truly need, or an obsession with tyre diameters and widths. in short, we've become conditioned by numerical factors, often extraneous to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. so, if we weren't so conditioned by pre-defined numerical limits, would there have been a cycling tip number 1002?

"I could probably get to 2002! I'd have liked to have done a section on First Aid, as even some basic knowledge can help in the type of situations that you might find on road or trail. E-bikes is a single category but e-mountainbiking, e-bikes for commuting and e-road bikes are all distinct areas that merit more detail. But, I've already selected my 1002 tips - cold peshwari nan from the night before's curry is the best back pocket riding food going.
"Honestly, try it."

thursday 18 november 2021

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1001 cycling tips. the essential cyclist's guide. hannah reynolds. vertebrate publishing softback. 150pp illus. £25

1001 cycling tips - hannah reynolds

there are not, so far as i'm aware, educational evening classes for those intent on entering the velocipedinal realm. yes, you can, if you wish, attend classes on how to build bicycle wheels and how to maintain your bicycle, but i'm talking about the little idiosyncracies that pervade many an extra-curricular activity, though several do offer at the very least, online classes. for instance, several years past, i undertook a series of online classes in the operation of an industry standard music recording software. (despite proving to have at least a notional aptitude, i have yet to record the inevitable hit single).

cycling, it seems, is an activity or sport that relies on skills being handed down from the more senior members of the peloton to those recently apprenticed. or, if all else fails, there's always velominati's book of rules. personally, i was apprenticed to the mighty dave-t, a man who has been there, done that, and currently wears the t-shirt. it was he who taught me the art of the one-man echelon, which might be the most appropriate gear for a previously unscalable gradient, and on which side of his back wheel i should sit when forging into a galeforce headwind.

and it wasn't simply a one-way street, if you'll pardon the pun. while the mighty dave may well know that one ought not wear underpants 'neath bibshorts, he is less well-versed in the mechanical operation of the central object of our desire. i have thus been charged, on separate occasions, to fettle his trusty steed, during which time i might learn more from the master before we, once again, perambulated the highways and byways of the principality. and when it came my time to pass on this wisdom, i have done my level best to step up to the platform (metaphorically speaking).

a recent recruit to the sunday morning peloton is less well inured to the vicissitudes of a sturdy headwind than are the rest of us, therefore i have taken it as my duty to teach him in a similar manner to my instruction from the mighty dave. however, in the majority of circumstances, in whichever peloton you care to mention, this instruction and passing on of the grail is carried out by word of mouth. none that i know are inclined to have concealed the commandments in a jersey backpocket. and though hannah reynolds has made a valiantly successful effort to record much of what we all need to know, it has stopped short at inhabiting a format that equates to jersey-pocket size.

that is, of course, really of no nevermind, for much of the information contained within this excellent volume, ought best be learned in the comfort of your own bike shed, rather than only half-heard in a wind-strewn peloton. ms reynolds is not short of experience in such matters, having worked within the industry for over two decades, including a stint as fitness editor at the comic and editor at cycling active magazine. a journalistic career such as this, has no doubt led to the clear, concise presentation of all 1001 pieces of advice.

these are helpfully separated thematically, making it a simple matter of choosing the heading under which a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge might exist. for instance, tips numbered 1 - 161, are categorised under the heading basics, the definition of which might vary, depending on how recently you began riding your bike in earnest. however, as basic as it surely gets, choosing a bike would seem an appropriate starting point. and even tautology has its place: "The only thing you need to be a cyclist is a bike". if the publishers have any sense of enterprise, that piece of advice ought to be emblazoned on an accompanying t-shirt.

of course, as we all know, buying the bike is only the beginning, with untold horrors to be negotiated the more obsessed with the cycling life we subsequently become. for instance, following an extensive section concerning the maintenance of whatever genre(s) of bicycle you opted for, the author approaches the subject of cycling life, the ultimate meaning of which we all know to be '42'. however, from personal experience, i might take issue with #394. i can think of many instances where discussion of bicycles has been a more effective conversation stopper than starter. however, in the right company, i know just what hannah means.

and, of course, no matter the seriousness of any cycling situation, there are always life-affirming humorous moments. under the bike maintenance chapter, are a few mentions of those bike shop staff that you really want to dislike. "Not all bike shop staff are amazing [...] A female athlete went into a bike shop to buy some flats (pedals) for her commuter bike. The staff member selling them told her how she'd be much better off using clipless pedals, to which she airily replied, 'Oh yes, I know all about them, i used clipless pedals when I rode the olympics last year'."

the subject matter is wide-ranging, including the various disciplines available, fitness (for which the author is well-equipped on which to comment), apps and tools, navigation and routes, travelling by bike, and finally, everything else. you would no doubt expect my welcoming thoughts on the statement (#793) "It is a lie that if it is not on Strava it didn't happen." and the opinion that "...Strava is a great tool that can be used for good or evil."

I confess that, on learning of 1001 cycling tips, i was expecting a volume of the blatantly obvious; there may be a few of those included, but as said by a wiser person than yours truly, there are no daft questions, only daft answers. how many newbies are likely to ask the sixty year-old in the peloton precisely where to rub that chamois cream? (#320).

for those of us who readily admit to being complete know-it-alls, (who me?), there is still plenty within these 150 pages to occupy many a happy hour or two. and who knows, maybe you'll (i'll) even learn a thing or two. an ideal christmas present for the cyclist in your life.

"You will never regret a bike ride." (#1001)

tomorrow: a few words with author hannah reynolds.

buy a copy of 1001 cycling tips

wednesday 17 november 2021

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heading in one direction

islay map

my original move to the hebrides, over 34 years ago, had been at the behest of what i'd hoped would be a burgeoning career as an artist. it's not hard to see the attraction of depicting dramatic cliffs bordering the north atlantic, using oil paints, charcoal and occasionally pencil, the bigger the better. oddly enough, the only part of the village that i'd considered was that of bowmore distillery which sits at the bottom of a sloping main street and is the oldest legal distillery on the island.

given that it was built in latter part of the 18th century and added to occasionally in between, depending on the demands of the industry, the architecture is fairly idiosyncratic. if beam suntory were building bowmore distillery in 2021, i'm pretty sure it wouldn't look the way it does today. however, those idiosyncracies made for intriguing drawings, at least once i'd got past the overwhelming aroma of whisky from the still room. that took several weeks.

however, for the landscape artist, an island off the west coast of scotland was the ideal playground. and that playground was accessed by way of a bicycle, riding to as many far-flung points of the island as i could find, the majority of which seemed to be dotted around its north west coastline. when you're not so concerned with a specific subject, nor majorly constrained by time, it's an easy enough procedure to simply cycle wherever the road appears to take you, keeping an open eye for subjects worthy of sketching and potentially forming the basis of paintings that could be exhibited and, hopefully, sold.

bicycles need looking after.

however, during those early months and years on the prncipality, i carried with me an ordnance survey map of the island, less for finding my way about, and more for recording the names of the places subsequently illustrated. scotlands west coast has a long-held tradition of gaelic, and many of the places i visited could be described only in names of that language. the hard part, as i discovered, was how to pronounce them. asking mrs washingmachinepost's relatives, many of whom spoke fluent gaelic, turned out to be less informative than i'd hoped; gaelic is predominantly a spoken language in which many of the older generation could neither write nor read.

nowadays, of course, the majority of guidebooks published by the likes of cicerone begin by alerting the reader to suitable links from which .gpx files can be downloaded and included on the gps evice fastened to the handlebars. there have been many debates across the years as to whether the latter informs the cyclist, walker or hiker as well as does a printed, foldable map (even one that usually proves impossible to re-fold). on this particular island, where i have ridden pretty much every road, and certainly more than once, i have no need of a gps device; i'd find it impossible to get lost. for visitors, with less in the way of directional knowledge, it may be a different situation.

but i have only just finished reviewing a rather large book, entitled 'land of the ilich', ilich being the plural of ileach, a gaelic word denoting an individual born on islay. similarly, native of mull is known as a mulleach, and one from skye as a sgiathanach. the book's author, steven mithen, is a professor of prehistory at reading university and chairperson of islay heritage. he has detailed (and i really mean detailed) islay's history from the tail end of the last ice-age, up to the present, and, with the use of hand-drawn maps, has shown where aspects of islay's experience of the mesolithic, neolithic, bronze-age etc., are to be found.

and just to make all this even better and perhaps more relevant, he takes the reader on cycle tours of these periods of the island's history, pointing out the aspects discussed above. it's not a cheap book, by any stretch of the imagination (£40), but if nothing else, it shows that maps indisputably remain a necessary accompaniment to modern-day gps. the latter might well help you out of a sticky situation (or, in the case of many vehicle satnavs, into a sticky situation), but as far as i know, those gps maps on tiny colour screens are ill-equipped to detail many of the extra-curricular points of interest to be found along the way.

and mr mithen's book does not come with a downloadable .gpx files.

tuesday 16 november 2021

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