rob richardson at bowmore distillery

it's a long time since i managed to persuade (and i use the word in its loosest sense) ardbeg's brand manager that producing a distillery emblazoned cycle jersey was a good idea. over the course of two years, the poor man must have received close on 50 e-mails, along with personal haranguement whenever our paths crossed at the distillery or some public relations extravaganza. however, having managed to wear him down, i received a cmmunication that said ardbeg would have 40 jerseys made, with the heavy inference that this was designed to 'shut me up'.

ardbeg bike

i cannot but offer little in the way of defence; had i been he, i would have told me to take a running jump long before matters reached that point. however, a matter of a year later, at ardbeg's open day during the annual festival, he graciously admitted that he owed me a debt of thanks, as the jersey had proved wildly popular, selling more than 250 a year from the distillery shop alone. that, to the best of my knowledge, was the first ever, bona-fide distillery cycle jersey, in the process, creating a connection between scotch malt whisky and cycling, a connection that, truthfully, doesn't really exist.

ardbeg first floor landing

on islay alone, ardbeg, bruichladdich, kilchoman, ardnahoe and bowmore, all feature cycle jerseys for sale in their shops and online, while neighbouring jura distillery has also an endura-made jersey for sale. there are other distilleries in places that are not islay which also purvey suitably monikered cycle jerseys. perhaps, just to round off the irony of all this, if i am solely responsible for having created a trend of some sort, i have never sipped a glass of whisky in my life.

however, this non-existent velocipedinal connection has taken on a life of its own, evidence for which, should such be required, is surely provided by rob richardson's whisky ventures ride, currently underway and due to finsh at the north end of shetland in a month or so. rob arrived on islay off the afternoon ferry on thursday, being provided with overnight accommodation by the nice folks at ardbeg distillery. on friday morning, around 9am, two of us from the velo club arrived to meet the intrepid gent, along with richard goslan from the scotch malt whisky association, the originator of the occasional 'tour de islay', whereby the misguided undertook to ride to each and every distillery on the island, raising money for charity in the process.

ardbeg gents toilet doors

rob's voluntary task involves visiting each and every distillery in scotland from which he is collecting at least one bottle of whisky. perhaps rather obviously, it would be a tad difficult to carry all of these with him en-route (there are reputedly 149 distilleries north of the border), so, following the snapping of an appropriate photo at each distillery, the latter have all undertaken to send the bottles to rob's home address, where his wife is cataloguing them in advance of an auction later this summer. all proceeds will be divided between the scottish air ambulance charity and cash for kids.

rob on ardbeg tractor

having left ardbeg shortly after 09:30, we collectively visited lagavulin and laphroaig for more photos, before heading cross-island to bowmore where visitor centre manager, julie torrance, kindly hosted us all with coffee and tea, while we sheltered from a heavy rain shower.

with an open day event to attend at bridgend's islay house hotel, richard left us in order to change into more suitable attire, as we departed bowmore, leaving the three of us to pedal around the coast of loch indaal to bruichladdich distillery, where preparations were underway for their sunday fèis ìle open day. bottle acquired from visitor centre manager, ailsa hayes and photo snapped, we retired to debbie's next door for a spot of lunch.

joe and rob at bruichladdich

final distillery of the today was that at kilchoman, a farm distillery that overlooks loch gorm near islay's atlantic coast. we were met by brand manager, catherine macmillan, who kindly offered some banana loaf and coffee, while we lounged in the leather armchairs in kilchoman's recently constructed and extensive visitor centre. rob was able to garner several photos with head distiller, robin bignal, before we finished our ride around loch gorm, then riding via the rspb reserve at loch gruinart. islay house hotel had kindly offered a corner of their gardens in which rob could pitch a tent overnight, so we said our goodbyes at nearby bridgend stores.

on saturday morning, rob was due to ride north to visit bunnahabhain, ardnahoe and caol ila distilleries, before crossing the sound of islay by ferry and riding to craighouse and jura distillery. at that point, he reckoned he'd have visited a total of around 44 distilleries, prior to taking the jura fast ferry to tayvallich and riding onward to oban.

i, on the other hand, rode back to bowmore, grabbed a hot shower and something to eat, before changing into a kilt and heading to port ellen once again, only this time to play bass drum with the community pipe band at the opening event for this year's fèis ìle.

but believe me, there is no connection between whisky and cycling.

ardbeg courtyard

sunday 29 may 2022

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long distance runaround

road signs

very much to the surprise of yours truly and my physics teacher, i achieved a surprisingly high mark in my physics higher exam. to say it was unexpected would be to seriously minimise the truth. however, i am still convinced to this day, that something was missing from that educational triumph.

on an almost daily basis, i wear a pair of vans shoes, very much not for their apparent fashionable popularity, but definitely for their comfort factor and, lazily, for the fact that they appear not to require too much in the way of grooming. they may sport a pair of the allegedly famous waffle soles, possibly offering better grip along the recently tarmac'd pavement in bowmore main street, but for me, little of that matters.

however, both pairs of vans that i own, along with a robust pair of hi-tec walking shoes that take me out every weekday morning, are lace-ups. and no matter for how long i have been tying laces, all three of the above have a tendency to loosen even when i'm sitting still. i can scarcely recount the number of times i have arrived at the office, sat in my computer chair for anything up to two hours, but then standing to discover at least one of the laces is undone. how can that happen when there has been no movement to cause the misdemeanour?

was there a physics class that i may have missed? one that might explain the laces phenomenon?

this unaccountable feeling that a piece of the jigsaw is missing has recently returned to haunt me, but this time, it has nothing to do with tying laces. recent papers featured in the university of westminster's active travel academy (who knew that existed?) magazine, have queried the future of longer distance cycling in the age of the e-bike. you see, my problem surrounds the possibility that, despite attempting to keep myself as well-informed on velocipedinal matters as i can, there is now a nagging feeling that i missed something glaringly obvious.

that said, it's possible that my (and by implication, your) comprehension of what constitutes long-distance cycling varies somewhat from that apparently in vogue at the university of westminster's active travel academy. the author of one paper, nicholas scott, is quoted as saying "You can go out 14 miles away with the knowledge that you've got the battery to help you back if you need it!" hands up all those who consider 14 miles to equate to a 'long distance'? i'm not sure i'd bother to take the bicycle from the bike shed.

however, iniquities such as the above notwithstanding, that's not actually the bit i fear i may have missed. every year, islay features the 'ride of the falling rain', a 100 mile ride around the principality, which, pre-covid, was in the habit of attracting sixty or seventy participants. i realise that such numbers are but a drop in the ocean compared with almost all of the world's sportive rides, but the distance is key in this discussion. for at rotfr and most other sportive rides, the distance is often the main attraction, something against which one might measure one's mettle. but doing so on the existing road network.

and what of the average and not so average touring cyclist, setting out to ride great distances over the course of a week or two, aboard regular bicycles festooned with either panniers or bikepacking luggage. folks have been undertaking the latter almost since the safety bicycle was first invented. so the concept that it is now the ideal time to invest in long-distance cycle routes simply because we can purchase bicycles with batteries attached, seems, to me at least, distinctly odd. and makes me think that i may have missed the bit that has made this seem an apparently normal request.

having reviewed a specialized turbo vado a few years past, i had derived that, if i left the power-assist at its lowest setting, the bicycle would probably achieve around 100km. depending on how your travel mode works out, that would either allow a bike ride of 50km distance, leaving sufficient battery power to return, or 100km distance before desperately needing to find a charging point. the majority of regular touring cyclists are in the habit of planning their trips to make use of the road less travelled. when cyclinguk was still known as the ctc, i cannot recall ever reading demands for curated long-distance cycle routes within the pages of their quarterly magazine.

so why is it that, along comes the now ubiquitous e-bike, reputedly the saviour of the velocipedinal world, and no sooner do sales start to widen the market, than demands for special consideration start to appear. obviously enough, were these demands to be fulfilled, any routes would be rideable on analogue bikes too. but considering the safety bicycle was invented well over a century past, why now?

mistake me not; should such routes, hopefully of greater length than 14 miles, come to fruition, i will help string out the bunting. but the aforementioned possibility that i may have missed an important twist or turn in the cycling firmament, is only undermined by a statement by the journal's editor, tom cohen. when asked what he believed would count as 'long distance cycling', he responded, "I don't think we were too categorical. In fact, I think we just take it as meaning that if you think of a journey as being longer distance, then that probably qualifies."

the man would make an excellent politician.

saturday 28 may 2022

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looking the other way

petrol pumps

it's hard to determine from news and media reports, specifically which aspects of contemporary british life are the result of which particular intervention. are we suffering the after-effects of the covid pandemic, brexit, or, more recently, the war in ukraine? politicians being as they are, it's often a case of 'delete as applicable', seemingly choosing whichever of the above three seemed like the right answer at the time. after all, if one of those in power thought it equitable to advise that working longer hours or taking on a better paying job as a means of surviving the rapid increase in the cost of living, why would they examine any other scenario any more closely?

however, following rishi sunak's furlough scheme, without which few of us would still be employed, or earning any money whatsoever, the uk government seems at least to have conceded that it may be morally, if not legally responsible to come to the aid of the allegedly disenfranchised. thus, when the cost of petrol and diesel increased quite dramatically in recent months, the chancellor announced a five pence reduction in the applied duty. disappointingly, many saw this as a somewhat miserly approach to the problem, for by the time the reduction had been applied at the petrol pumps, the price had already risen in excess of that five pence.

but that specifically targeted aid benefited only those with motor vehicles. though i can't believe i'm writing this, those in possession of electric vehicles were offered no respite from rising electricity costs, while cyclists, pedestrians and those using public transport, received no tangible benefit whatsoever. yet owners of vehicles that run on fossil fuels, are also those creating the greatest addition to britain's greenhouse gases. the latter contribute around 27% of britain's total, and remain the single aspect about which individuals can actually make a difference. so, given its reputed drive towards net zero by the middle of this century, why did the government spend its money in this direction, effectively supporting motorists in their drive to maintain the level of greenhouse gas contributions?

that's a question that is of concern to far more than yours truly. the confederation of the european bicycle industry (conebi) partnered with the european cyclists' federation, cycling industries europe and the clean cities campaign to produce a list of alternatives that could have been chosen by european governments as well as that of the uk, and which may well have been the starting point for a transport revolution (though historical evidence would tend to suggest otherwise).

for instance, their in-depth report demonstrated that an eye-watering 194 million bicycles (the combined population of france, germany, ireland and poland) could have been sold at a much reduced rate of vat. alternatively, as many as 302 million public transport passes could have been issued, or up to 5.3 billion free rides on shared bicycles could have been funded, directly benefiting those at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

whether any of the above were even considered by any european government is a moot point, but there's no denying that reduction in fuel duty was an option that could be implemented far quicker than any of the above options. governments of any flavour or nationality would seem to prioritise instant gratification over economic pragmatism, a realisation that will scarcely surprise anyone who has read this far.

the uk media were not slow to point out that the reduction in fuel duty was very much at odds with the final option in the above list. rather than aiding those at risk of poverty and/or social exclusion, it went mostly to the more affluent, considering the actual cost of buying and running a motor vehicle. according to the government's own data, 40% of the poorest households in britain do not own a motor car. at the opposite end of the spectrum, the top fifth of uk households spend almost five times as much on fuel annually than the bottom fifth.

a similar report from cyclinguk was that which alluded to the possibility of a revolution in sustainable transport, and pointed out the almost direct financing of the very carbon emissions the government assures us it ultimately seeks to reduce.

however, let's not delude ourselves; while all the foregoing may be perfectly true and justifiably so, the likelihood of any of it happening is minimal. the actions of governments relative to their claimed targets are rarely one and the same thing. for instance, six scottish islands have been chosen to become carbon neutral by 2040, one of which is islay. yet islay has nine working distilleries, with another two under construction, all of which require substantial amounts of energy to create the amber nectar. currently, that energy comes from the national grid, the majority of which is generated by fossil fuels (though scotland is an acknowledged net exporter of renewable energy).

however, despite the favourable headlines, there has been no publication of the means by which this might be achieved. and considering the amount contributed to the treasury by scotch whisky, if the distillers are shown to be not in favour, just as the motor industry is rarely in favour of any manoeuvres that might undermine its own authority, decarbonising islay might be a herculean task.

and once again, we are undoubtedly guilty of playing to the gallery. reports issued on behalf of more than one cycling organisation, showing how alternative investment could have better favoured cyclists, reported in a cycling industry newsletter and subsequently highlighted by someone (that would be me) writing in a cycling blog aimed unashamedly at the world's velocipedinists, seems perilously close to circularity. when the motoring press pick up on such matters and publish them in a favourable light, simultaneously disparaging the treasury's benevolence towards the motorist, the revolution can undoubtedly be said to have begun.

but meanwhile, back in the real world.

thursday 26 may 2022

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people in glass houses

typesetters case

in the early 1990s, cycle sport, along with many other activities and arts had their obscure corners encapsulated by way of the then ubiquitous 'fanzine'. marginally less invested in the velocipedinal realm at the time, i even joined the happy throng by way of a fanzine (of sorts) dedicated to the apple macintosh computer. this was born from the reality that the majority of the island's primary schools featured these across the board, yet were supported by teaching staff who didn't always fully understand the more necessary processes to keep their macs running smoothly. at the time, i often received almost weekly calls for help, many of which were remarkably similar.

the idea of writing about these in a (hopefully) entertaining fashion and distributing photocopied editions to those teachers who expressed an interest, seemed like the ideal means of heading them off at the pass.

throughout the nineties, i would occasionally come across a cycling fanzine of which i had previously no knowledge, and even a couple of issues in portland's fair city when visiting in 2009. however, the one that still evokes fond memories and of which i still have a copy somewheres about, was entitled 'well phil', its title apparently culled from a common remark made by the late paul sherwen to co-commentator, phil liggett. its loosely typeset manner, defying all the notional rules of desktop publishing, and arcane features were everything the mainstream cycling press, such as existed at the time, simply wasn't. and perhaps its most endearing, yet ultimately frustrating characteristic was a pathological inability to adhere to any professed publication schedule.

you just never knew when the next issue would miraculously appear.

had i been in possession of both publishing and distribution experience, thewashingmachinepost might well have followed a similar, tangible form. but let's face it; the internet is (almost) free, and requires nothing in the way of shipping printed matter to both welcoming bike shops and individuals who may have found it in their hearts to pony up for a copy or two. additionally, most of the latter would have been constrained to the uk, primarily due to the associated costs. conversely, thewashingmachinepost, in its current form, reaches most corners of the globe, whether i want it to or not. and if i'm actually on form, my daily postings might occasionally have immediate relevance to real world happenings. as one whose daily travail involves working on a fortnightly newspaper, i am well aware of the vicissitudes of attempting to be bang up to the minute.

but despite being at least partially in thrall to the pixelated universe, i am far more in favour of the printed word. not so many years ago, the ipad and kindle were to be the future of publishing, allowing access to enhanced versions of previously print-only newspapers and magazines, however, that particular future did not manifest itself in the manner predicted. and for a brief period of time, publishers were more keen to send review copies in pdf format than ink and paper. thankfully, that seems to have been merely a blip in the universe, for i far prefer to hold a daily newspaper, monthly magazine or book in my hands for reading purposes.

i realise that many will simply accept this as yet another facet of my predilection with the ministrations of ned ludd, but in truth, there is a far more mundane reason, one that i think might be shared by many. day after day, i spend my working life sat in front of a computer screen, so when i have so-called downtime of an evening, i prefer to rest my eyes upon slightly off-white paper populated by printed typography. it's simply an option, but one which i prefer to exercise as frequently as possible.

which is why the latest announcement from america's outside publishing is scarcely one that offers food for the soul. like the majority of the publishing world, they claim to have seen the digital light, one that has had them cease print publication of both peloton magazine and mountain bike magazine, beta. i have not seen the latter, but i do receive a digital copy of the former, constantly berating myself that i had not opted to receive the print version, for their impressive page layouts surely look their very best when described by ink on paper. more fool me, but no longer am i, or anyone else for that matter, being afforded that option.

reputedly the rationale behind this decision (one which will involve staff redundancies) is an attempt by the publisher to go head to head with the likes of discovery, owners of eurosport and gcn, by shifting their focus towards more video content. publishing modes aside, i receive regular e-mails from folks wishing to provide me with allegedly free content that "...would directly appeal to washingmachinepost readers." it will not suprise you to learn that very few of these gratis offerings are even closely related to cycling. however, i am in the habit of replying to the effect that i write thewashingmachinepost because i like writing thewashingmachinepost, and therefore rarely accept unsolicited contributions.

the operative word in the above sentence is 'writing', a skill i have carefully honed over the past twenty-six years because i think reading and writing to be two of the basic tenets necessary for the continuation of human civilisation. i like watching drum and cycling videos as much as the next luddite, but to be honest, i think i'd rather read about both, augmenting with video or audio where appropriate.

i was recently invited to contribute my meagre knowledge to a certificated course on journalism at the nearby secondary school when the next term commences in august. in conversation with the gent who will be teaching the course, i was heard to paraphrase fausto coppi, citing advice to the pupils as to how they might improve their writing, stating "read a book, read a book, read a book", a philosophy that i believe has worked for me.

however, as i write this, it dawns on me that the next generation of journalists might be better advised to "make a video, make a video, make a video", especially if outside's future strategy is anything to go by. of course, it's not solely the cycle publishing industry that's heading in this arguably misguided direction; look around and you can see it happening almost everywhere. however, at least a part of cycling's rich heritage is tied to the writings and journalism that are/were an intrinsic part of that heritage. you need only read 'the escape artist' by matt seaton, 'the eagle of the canavese' by herbie sykes, or 'ten points' by bill strickland to see just how right i truly am.

wednesday 25 may 2022

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three things we've learned from the giro d'italia

water bottle on road

there's an outside possibility that i'm getting the hang of this sort of title for post articles, based as they are on what i believe is technically termed 'click bait'. after all, whatever mood you happen to be in when selecting thewashingmachinepost as your evening read, it's hard to avoid the possibility of actually learning two things about italy's grand tour. perhaps even enlightenment that has passed you buy when watching eurosport/gcn's live coverage. as with many of life's experiences, i think you'll probably end up being disapponted.

first off, world tour bike technology has pretty much always been at the cutting edge, though many modern-day developments seem to consist of hiding such technology from sight. for instance, even a cursory glance at the bikes of the giro will demonstrate that to the very last they are all bereft of external cabling. it's a subject that we discussed only a matter of days past. i cannot deny that it imposes a particularly clean and tidy aesthetic upon the peloton, but the jury is out on whether any other benefit can be derived from so doing.

yet, despite such advanced technology infiltrating the peloton, through allegedly improved disc brakes and gear electronica, there are still a number of basic features that have scarcely altered since fausto coppi was in italian short trousers. for starters, what about those chaps on the motorbike with time gaps scribbled on a chalkboard? surely those should have been replaced with the largest version of the ipad pro, the display linked to a gps feed providing perpetually updating numbers for the benefit of the day's breakaway?

how can any modern-day grand tour justify continued use of chalk and a blackboard?

and then there's the part that really has me confounded. though there are designated feed-zones throughout any stage other than time-trials, it seems there are also designated 'refuse zones' where riders are allowed to dispense with empty gel packets and water bottles. that part, i understand. but it's noticeable that within those designated zones, there are usually several soigneurs from each of the participating teams, replete with bottles to hand up to speeding, yet possibly parched riders. i have watched rider after rider attempt to grab hold of one of those bottles, perhaps as a last resort for fluid intake before the hour of reckoning, then dropping it on the ground and punishing the handlebars for either their or their soigneur's clumsiness.

are they trying to tell you and i, the cognoscenti, that in times of wind-tunnel tested aero frames, internal cabling, and time gap ipads, the most efficient means of transferring what can only be adjudged as distinctly non-sticky bottles, is by hand? whatever happened to the coca-cola motorbikes with crates of water bottles behind the pilot, allowing each rider to wait in turn to collect at their leisure? several years ago i was sent a water bottle installed with magnets that could be easily married to corresponding magnets on the downtube, excising the need for the more traditional bottle-cage. should a magnet or two be included in a track mitt, dropped water bottles would surely become a thing of the past (though i admit it may be harder to subsequently separate bottle from glove).

and should that be considered an insufficient amount of berating aimed squarely at the perceived failings of our technologically advanced sport, after all the effort and time that has been invested in garment technology, specifically in the aero department, why do they insist in stuffing the radio inside the back of the jersey? it must surely be possible to either miniaturise these devices, or slim them to the dimensions of a mobile phone?

i have seen digital video cameras the size of a polo-shirt button, so i seriously doubt it would be impossible to downsize those chunky boxes to the size and thickness of a credit card.

and you though i just watched the racing.

tuesday 24 may 2022

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