the point of no return

bad weather

stalwarts to the last, and boxing day notwithstanding, the velo club insisted that the sunday ride take place unhindered by festive season happenstances. our devil-may-care attitude towards mince pies, christmas cake and left-over crackers hads us arise at the usual time, no matter how many glasses of shloer i may have had the night before. as has been discussed in these pixels on previous occasions, the winter season requires, nay, demands, that the weather forecast be consulted well in advance, that suitable apparel strategies be developed other than at last minute.

the latter was aided and abetted by a brief foray around the principality before christmas lunch on christmas day, testing the joys of riding in three degrees, lowered a further three degrees by 60kph windchill, an experience that demanded the sleeved duvet that is my mavic winter jacket, garmentage that comes fortified with an inner fleece jacket. it may not be fully waterproof, but it's easily the cosiest jacketage i possess, and arrived with a similarly consituted pair of thermal bibtights, legwear that, on every occasion so far, has proved more than a smidgeon too warm in anything above zero degrees.

the fly-in-the-ointment included in the above paragraph is learning that the duvet does not feature total waterproofing; happily, its water resistance is actually quite impressive, so the odd shower is really neither here nor there. however, despite having perused three differing forecasts for the day, before we were more than 10km into the sunday ride, precipitation descended, lightly at first, but subsequently a tad less gently. on making it to the turn for bridgend, at 20km distance, we could no longer dispute that we were wet, wondering how weather forecasts seemed not only blessed with the ability to be completely wide of the mark, but apparently continue to exist without accountability.

christmas day is always bereft of a ferry service, while boxing day offers sailings more restricted in number than any other sunday sailing. the latter conditions the opening hours at debbie's which were altered to coincide with delvery of the sunday papers. unaware of when that might be, we'd opted to ride regardless and take our chances for a coffee. in order to improve the likelihood of the latter, the proscribed parcours was being followed, despite dampened enthusiasm.

with rain still falling and no guarantee of a warming coffee at the end, prior to following the route towards gruinart, the port charlotte resident in the peloton changed our horizon by positing the option of missing out the western loop and heading direct to his place for coffee and a mince pie. wimps that we were, that's the option we chose.

as individuals, domiciled on a lump of rock in the north atlantic, we are well acquainted with the meteorological vicissitudes visited upon our velocipedinal activities. however, safety, comfort and warmth really ought to take precedence, and precisely in that order. on sunday, with winds hovering around the 50kph mark, safety was scarcely a factor, though in temperatures of two degrees, comfort and warmth certainly were. cycling is one of those addictive activities; few of us would admit, under questioning, to being less than obsessed with pedalling as often as possible. and if you're a hardy hebridean - the flandrians of the west- it takes a great deal to tease an admission of being cold and uncomfortable.

pain and suffering.

but despite such obstinacy, often leading to accusations of eccentricity (amongst others), it's quite possible that there exists a point of no return. in other words, knowing just when to take the easier option, even if that means turning round and going home. since i've lived on islay, i've been blown off my bicycle twice, on both occasions because i was daft enough to continue when i should have stopped. neither incident resulted in even superficial injury, but that was entirely as a result of dumb luck, and certainly not due to intelligent choices.

had we continued around loch gorm on sunday past, we would have been in no real danger of hypothermia; at least not while we continued pedalling. however, had any of us suffered a puncture, for example, with no shelter from the atlantic or the elements, i fear warmth and comfort would have become secondary to our inherent safety. this is not a potential set of circumstances that applies solely to the velo club. i daresay weather conditions applicable to those undertaking the festive 500 will vary quite considerably, depending on your geographic location, but if it's likely to be cold and wet, make sure you've flight-checked the bicycle, and wear clothing applicable to the elements.

don't be numpties as were we; believe not the weather forecasts- look out the window, note the wind direction and dress accordingly. if you're one of the many who carry pump, tyre levers and a spare tube, yet haven't a dicky bird of an idea as to how to use any of those, practice before you go. it could save the embarrassment of sitting in the back of an ambulance clad in one of those bright, shiny space blankets. the ambulance service has enough to cope with at present, without having to collect an idiot of a cyclist from an obscure part of the countryside.

like us, you might well believe that you're bullet proof, that it won't happen to you.

but it might.

monday 27 december 2021

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leading by example

islay and jura community pipe band

just before i begin today's festive monologue, i feel a shoutout is deserved to the prat who parked a brand new landrover defender on the pavement across form bowmore's averagemarket, simply because there were no parking spaces nearby. judging by the licence plate, it did not belong to anyone from here, so if you do happen to be reading (highly unlikely), please keep your mainland parking predilections on the other side of the ferry route. we really don't need that kind of behaviour here.

however, in an attempt to spread festive cheer across the island, the esteemed pipe-major of islay and jura community pipe band decided that, on thursday evening past, we would descend to the depths of the south west, and play for the great unwashed in portnahaven, then subsequently port charlotte, bowmore and lastly, port ellen. that so many turned out to listen was a very pleasant surprise, given that we'd only advertised our start time in portnahaven and, due entirely to the amount of time it always takes pipers to tune up, even then we were fifteen minutes late in arriving.

with none of the subsequent visitations having been given a time, coupled with the fact that it was a cold, damp evening in the hebrides, we all found it most gratifying that so many people stood about awaiting our arrival and subsequent music-making.

recruiting for a small community pipe band that harbours no interest in competing is a bit of an uphill struggle, particularly since islay is also home to islay pipe band, a grade two band sponsored by kilchoman distillery. but, in the true tradition of pipe bandery, only about six members of their 28 in number are actually resident on the island, all of whom are required to make frequent trips to the mainland in order to hold practice sessions.

and it's learner drummers that seem the least inclined to join the fray. my theory is that bagpipes look and actually are, hard to play, but any progress is rewarded with some semblance of a tune. drums, on the other hand, look deceptively simple to play, yet are no less difficult than the pipes. but you can practice twelve hours a day for over a month, and nary a tune will result from that fourteen inch diameter drumhead or practice pad. probably for that reason, few youngsters possess the tenacity to begin or continue in the first place.

nonetheless, as we formed our imitation of a circle in semi-darkness next to the christmas tree in port charlotte, between tunes, i noticed a group of youngester sat atop a wall next to the natural history trust, all of whom remained and listened to every last note. given to occasional flights of fancy, i rather hoped that they were watching and listening to at least one of the drummers, perhaps intrigued to the point that, after the festive period has passed for another year, they might consider joining the happy throng on the practice pads.

since it has proved all but impossible to recruit via short features in the local paper, maybe recruitment by example is a viable option? and similar thoughts occurred on the afternoon of christmas eve, as two of us from the velo club slogged manfully into a 60kph headwind on uiskentuie strand, returning from a brief round trip to debbie's for a latte and double-egg roll each. mentally, i figured i could hear passing drivers, as they waved at our slow progress, thinking 'what a pair of prats', ignorant of the fact that neither of us owns a car (actually, my colleague doesn't drive at all), and when a debbie's double-egg roll is all you want, cycling is the only option, wind or no wind.

but what i'm really hoping is that being seen riding a bicycle in pretty much all weathers, will point out that cycling is not the uncomfortable hardship most folks consider it to be. i'm no spring chicken any more, yet, if i can still manage around 160km per week in hebridean weather, then pretty much anyone can, even if resorting to a bit of e-power is the only way to soften the blow.

it would be nice if this continued cycling could be impressed upon the younger generation, weaning them away from a car culture in the first place, but i fear most of them flash past so quickly in their souped-up something-or-others, that it's probably only sheer good fortune that we've not, so far, become collateral damage to their lewis hamilton ambitions. i'm also reminded, however, that rome was not built in a day.

sunday 26 december 2021

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all i (don't) want for christmas

tyme wear smart shirt

as i have repeated to the point of boredom, i undertook to complete rapha's festive 500 from its inception in 2010 until 2019, failing only once to achieve those 500 kilometres due to weather and circumstances outwith my control. considering the hebridean weather at this time of year, on at least eight of those ten years, it definitely was a challenge to complete, but the purgatory of participation usually turned to heroism by new year's eve, just in time to take part in islay's annual new year's day ride.

for those taking part in the outdoor version of the 2021 challenge for the first time (i have already made my feelings known about the indoor turbo option), aside from wishing you all the very best for the eight days of riding, might i offer the one factor that ensured my own annual participation? in essence, the evening before, put together the clothing required for the next day's ride and leave it ready to put on first thing in the morning. under no circumstances check the weather until fully clad for riding, and certainly do not put on regular clothing first.

i found to my cost, that dressing as a civilian for breakfast while watching the rain batter off the kitchen window was apt to engender a litany of excuses not to go out at all. and that's something you don't want to happen, especially in the early stages.

however, the innocent phrase, 'put together the clothing required' may soon be one that is a great deal more onerous than it currently appears. you may well have signed up to rapha's strava page to quantify your progress through the kilometres, recording every twist and turn via the gps device fastened to the handlebars and possibly augmented by a cadence sensor attached to the left chainstay. you may also have packed your smartphone within a weatherproof sleeve, ready and willing to bear witness on instagram, broadcasting every pothole, close encounter and coffee and croissant for the world to see (always assuming that anyone is actually interested). but the more perspicacious amongst us will already have determined that things are unlikely to stop there.

for instance, power meters are already close to becoming de rigeur amongst the more intrepid velocipedinists, either via cranks or pedals, data which, i believe, can also be recorded on strava, arguably of greater use than the heart-rate figures you already record as a matter of course. but those living at the cutting edge can already record their vt1, vt2 and vo2 max, always assuming that you understand the nomenclature. and this, as personal data, requires not a bicycle mounted device, but an item of so-called wearable technology, akin to an apple watch, but built-in to the likes of a baselayer.

massachusetts based, tyme wear, already produces a smart shirt with embedded technology that measures your breathing to provide near-lab quality information to an attendant smartphone, preumably ensconced in one of your non-smart jersey's rear pockets. soft sensors in the smart shirt measure the first ventilatory threshold (vt1), second ventilatory threshold (vt2) and vo2 max via expansion and contraction of the chest cavity. the information is transmitted to a small, lightweight pod attached to the back of the shirt. according to tyme wear, this pod will record 22 hours of activity with 18 hours worth of storage (no, i don't understand that bit either) also tracking the body's movement in all three planes of motion, including elevation, ground contact time, airtime, cadence, and running power, presumably allowing pertinence to both runners and triathletes.

tyme wear suggest a fifteen minute step test to create a user profile, supposedly less demanding than the usual lab test designed to measure vo2 max, but still requiring that you start at low power and increase till you see black spots in front of your eyes. from the generated data, tyme wear will offer the owner their unique metabolic thresholds, subsequently applicable to your daily training schedule, which for the current discussion, we've decided to call the festive 500.

the company's commercial model is based on a subscription service currently only available in the usa, but with plans to offer it across europe in the coming year.

remember the days when we used to go for a bike ride?

tyme wear

friday 24 december 2021

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not just for christmas

christmas wrapped bicycle

when i was a youngster, my parents always insisted that my brother and i made new year resolutions, though i'd be fibbing if i said i could recall to what those resolutions pertained. and i'd be even more guilty of pulling the wool over your eyes if i said any had been completed by christmas the following year. that led to the quiz question which we were gullible enough to be deceived by every time: in which year did christmas and new year fall in the same year? for those as gullible as yours truly, *the answer is printed below.

it seemed, at the time, as it does today, a strange way to celebrate the commencement of another twelve months, to resolve either to do, or not to do; something for a whole year, particularly when it seemed few had the resolve to carry it past the end of january. apparently the world's sideboard drawers are filled with unused gym memberships, library cards, and application forms for further education. and that's to say nothing of the still shiny bicycles incorrectly assembled in the garden shed.

the latter, however, rarely mysteriously appeared at the turn of the year, but usually as a result of a visit from the jolly man with the white beard driving a massey ferguson tractor.

until a few years ago, when computer gaming, augmented by covid lockdowns intervened, a bicycle for christmas was a common occurrence, perhaps more usually for the younger generation, but every now and again, for the more mature amongst us. however, while such extravagance is often easily justified at this time of year, for no specific reason i can discern, it strikes me that late december is quite possibly the most ridiculous time of year to ride a bicycle.

for starters, by the time the velocipede is unwrapped and the handlebars straightened, you'll already have missed a couple of days of the 'festive 500', possibly with little real chance of catching up (have you seen the forecast for this weekend in the hebrides?). secondly, the weather to which i have just alluded is hardly unknown round these here parts, or any other parts of the uk for that matter. so why would you give a bicycle for christmas at the very time when it's likely to receive the least amount of use? unless, of course, it's accompanied with a voucher for some waterproofs.

in this, i confess, i'm thinking more of the more junior wannabe members of the peloton, few of whom will resist the opportunity to throw a tantrum when well-meaning parents encourage them to just 'ride around the block'. but, in more factual terms, a kid's bicycle for christmas rarely makes a great deal of sense sizewise. more often that you'd like to think, have i seen mummy's little darling get a new bike for christmas, one that fits well, in the vain hope that said darling will actually ride it. however, by the time the weather has brightened sufficiently to require less parental prompting, the bicycle is too small.

much as i'd prefer not to offer free advertising, that's when it makes a great deal of sense to present a cycle from the likes of islabikes, a company that offers an upgrade path in just such instances. i confess that this particular discussion has obviously arrived too late for any pertinent changes this christmas, but should any non-senior members of society be reading, please ensure that your parents have taken the above circumstances into account. if you are the parents: do the right thing, and don't give a bicycle for christmas. intrepid adults who already count themselves amongst the velominati, will doubtless welcome a large dod of aero carbon fibre. but for those who intend to acquire a bicycle for their better halves, ever hopeful that they will gain the same level of enthusiasm as possessed by you, and joining the sunday ride: you are totally mistaken. it'll never work unless there has been pleading on their behalf for at least a month and a half.

and if they profess that cycle acquisition at your behest is part of a proposed new year resolution, immediately change the topic of conversation.

*christmas day and new year's day feature in the same year, every year.

thursday 23 december 2021

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a cunning plan

richard rogers millennium dome

the italian born architect, richard rogers, renowned for designing some of the world's most famous buildings, including the pompidou centre in paris and london's millennium dome, died last saturday, aged 88. he was described by fellow architect, norman foster, who studied alongside him at yale, as 'open, welcoming and elegantly colourful'

i confess that my opinion of the architectural profession scarcely got off to a good start, despite, at one time, harbouring plans to enter the profession myself. the art college that i attended in my late teenage years, shared ground with a school of architecture, a building which possessed a larger lecture theatre than did the art school. thus, when important or popular figures were invited to pass on their knowledge, we would frequently traipse across the lawn to the architects' lecture hall.

it was during those infrequent trips that i, and many of my art school friends, learned that architects could barely draw curtains, let alone anything as meaningful as people, trees and cars; the very features that tend to surround buildings, particularly those intended for city centres. it seems highly likely that architects all across the nation never stopped celebrating the invention of letraset.

during the years between then and now, i have often wondered if, had those in the profession actually learned to draw accurately, they would have had greater empathy for the movement of pedestrians, cyclists and, indeed, motor vehicles through and around their more carefully designed buildings. those years also leaned heavily towards the supposition that architects, aside from often having to design to imposed financial constraints, were inclined more to design for other architects, rather than the people who would have to live or work in these edifices.

i apologise now if any of you are employed as architects, and are smarting from my wholesale denigration of your careers. 'tis purely my opinion as a has-been artist.

i came into contact with the trade once again, not long after moving to the hebrides, when i linked up with a design office in glasgow, having professed the ability to create realistic, isometric 'artist's impressions' from a series of plans and elevations. this was a very short-lived opportunity after discovering that, rather than artistic suggestion of brick built walls, the architect required every single brick not only hand drawn, but with a perfect sense of perspective. and this despite elevations that showed doors and windows completely missing from the accompanying plans.

however, my disparagement is a gross over-simplification and generalises to a substantial degree. there were a number of colleagues at art college whose drawing struggled to equal even that of the architecture students. and my very reason for subjecting you to this line of discussion comes from an important point made complimenting the late (sir) richard rogers, that he was "a tireless supporter of the compact, sustainable, pedestrian-friendly city and a passionate opponent of mindless suburban sprawl."

following the (albeit temporary) expressions of joy at the dramatic change in the public's attitude to transport and pollution following lockdown last year, many city councils across the world vowed that they would never let the car, once again, take over their city centres. anecdotal and statistical evidence would tend to suggest that their optimism was not only short-lived, but largely unrealisable within currently existing cities.

the majority of cities across the planet were either designed around the car in the first place, or massively adapted to accommodate its intrusion. evidence for this can be found within the pages of carlton reid's excellent publication 'roads were not built for cars'. we can only hope that richard rogers' influence has stretched far enough in the world of architecture, that the rising stars of the profession will carry through his perspicacity, building the cities of the future more with the needs of pedestrians and cyclists in mind, allowing safety and freedom to inflitrate the lives of those who are required to inhabit city centres for both life and work.

a recent survey by bike lights and bike share supremos at beryl, highlighted that a greater number of cyclists than before, indicated that they felt less confident riding in traffic. it would appear to be a somewhat tautological conclusion when compared to riding two abreast along a pleasant country road, but the latter is an achievable aim if those responsible for designing urban and city streets and buildings hold onto a philosophy comparable to that of mr rogers.

although buildings were the main subject of rogers' world, he insisted it was the space around them that was key in defining those that worked. "The two can't be judged apart."

wednesday 22 december 2021

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so what happens now?

procycling magazine

this past weekend saw two major cyclocross races in which britain's ineos grenadiers rider, tom pidcock became the first from the uk to win a round (at rucphen) of the uci world cup. the following day, the man took a well-fought second place at namur, beaten by vantourenhout. it was a remarkable weekend for the young rider, demonstrating that he has the power and handling skills to compete with the very best that europe can offer. however, it will be of little surprise to most of us that, in the 14 page sports section in monday's guardian, there was no mention of either result.

despite the so-called bradley bubble following wiggins' tour de france and olympic victories, when cycling allegedly became the new golf, it appears that cycle sport may currently be no more popular today than it was at the beginning of the decade. and though recent lockdowns have brought praise and pop-up facilities for many of britain's commuting cyclists, there's no solid evidence that cycling's popularity is any greater than at any period in the past. it could well be that increased membership of both british cycling and cycling uk, is merely a consolidation of those who were already in the saddle.

but currently, it's the sporting aspect of cycling that is to be found under the microscope. obviously enough, an increase in daily cycling bears little comparison to riding helter-skelter for a finish line, even though many commenters seem automatically to align any apparent increase to demonstrate 'optimism for the sport's future'. quite from whence cometh this framing of cycling as a sport rather than a leisure activity or means of transport, i really know not. many of us own and ride road bikes with sporting pretensions, very much at the behest of clever marketing by the bicycle manufacturers, but this does not immediately entail the embracing of speed for speed's sake.

if ever evidence were required to support anyone's contention that the sporting facet of cycling may not be in receipt of our untrammeled support, last week's announcement by future publishing that the january issue of procycling magazine would be the last, was probably it. prior to future's takeover of the latter magazine and the comic, their predecessor in the shape of time inc. unceremoniously canned cycle sport magazine, arguably procycling's only serious competition in the battle for magazine shelf space. it would not have been outlandish to think that, following cycle sport's demise, it would have left procycling in an unassailable position in the velocipedinal sporting psyche.

apparently not.

this leaves cycling weekly as the only uk magazine predominantly concerned with the competitive milieu. though rouleur is dedicated to the sport, it's not generally one that offers dissemination of specific events or results, though i'd agree there is some crossover in terms of features. that said, it is but a matter of a couple of years since they inaugurated an orchestrated subscription drive, following a corporate disdain for newsagent sales. there is, of course, cyclist and cycling plus, but neither of those show any great affiliation for world tour cycling. perhaps now that procycling is to disappear from the shelves, one or other will spread their remit a tad wider.

america's quality publication peloton occupies space more akin to that of rouleur.

so what happened? is it the interwebs? after all, future own, though i'd be inclined to think it more likely to grab market share from cycling weekly than affect the more features-based procycling. perhaps it indicates a reluctance of the modern-day world tour aficionado to be less well disposed to multi-page articles. perhaps our attention span isn't what it used to be. perhaps that augurs better for the remaining cycling weekly, a publication less inclined to encompass multi-page interviews?

it certainly can't be the result of any drop in quality. contributors to procycling have included herbie sykes, will fotheringham, daniel friebe, richard moore et al, under the inestimable editorship of ed pickering. it's hard to see how that could be bettered. but if cycle sport and procycling can both disappear during cycling's reputed days in the sun, what does the future look like ('scuse the pun) for cycling weekly, a magazine that recently celebrated its centenary?

according to future publishing, "This was not an easy decision for us to make and we want you to know we did everything possible to continue publishing", a hollow statement from a company that doubled its profits and saw a 79% increase in revenue in 2021. in cycle sportng terms, there's every likelihood this may not be the halcyon days of yore to which we will refer in a decade or so.

tuesday 21 december 2021

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