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say it ain't so

glen road, islay

generally speaking, i like to think of myself as an optimist, though i'm always aware of the statement that 'a pessimist is an optimist who knows.' i'm also very well aware that, unlike carlsberg lager, the post is hardly a cycling blog that reaches the parts that other cycling blogs fail to reach. therefore, it's highly likely that, despite having written pretty much the same article year on year, for longer than i'd care to admit, i feel honour bound to do so once again. in fact, despite my professed optimism, i think it highly likely that we'll be discussing the same subject this time next year.

i have also previously mentioned that, locally at least, i appear to have become a spokesperson for 'my people'. on more occasions than i care to admit, occasions that have multiplied considerably of late, i have been accosted by friends and innocent bystanders to be graphically informed of an itinerant group of cyclists upon which they happened on the low road/high road/kilchoman road/uiskentuie strand (delete as applicable) who were riding four or five abreast, failed to use any of the passing places, failed to move into single-file, or any number of other uncategorised criminal offences.

i often wonder what the response would be if i were to pose the same set of misdemeanours to each and every car driver of my acquaint, because, as we all well know, there is a far greater number of misbehaving motorists than cyclists?

however, there's no real denying that many of the accusations levelled at itinerant cyclists on islay, and no doubt throughout rural and remote western scotland, have a strong basis in truth. sad to say, i've witnessed similar incidents myself, even having been castigated by one group for suggesting that they ride at less than six abreast up the hill at blackrock. but before we get into the nitty gritty of the whys and wherefores, let's present a few home-truths.

for starters, cyclists have exactly the same rights to the road as motorists, and if they decide to obstinately implement those rights, legally, there's no official denial. you can ride up to two abreast without incurring the wrath of the law. and logically, passing one bike length, even two abreast, is quicker than passing two bike-lengths riding single file.

on two-lane roads, even moving to single-file does not leave sufficient space for overtaking should there be oncoming traffic, so there's no real problem riding two-abreast. and the law currently dictates that motorists should allow 1.5metres when passing cyclists, a law that can really only be flagged-up by on-bike video; the chances of the police (on islay at least) catching a motorist in the act, are infinitesimal. sadly, it's a law that seems as pointless as those pertaining to mobile phone use when driving, bearing in mind the difficulties of policing the latter.

nonetheless, perhaps we can agree on one or two rules of conduct, rules that might just entail safer cycling and a smidgeon of endearment to the motoring public? for starters, while two abreast is pretty much ok, try and contain yourselves to one side of a two-lane road. two abreast is marginally less advisable on single-track roads, but even the motoring public would have to agree that overtaking on such a narrow road is all but impossible even when cyclists adopt single-file (that said, it doesn't seem to stop several miscreants from attempting it anyway).

earlier this week, a fuel tanker went off the road en-route to caol ila in the north of the island, and was left lying on its side with a full load of fuel oil. aside from destroying a lengthy portion of the verge, a large crane had to be brought in from the mainland to lift the tanker from its prone position. the likely cause of this incident relates to the way in which many of islay's roads have been resurfaced. the new coating of tarmac is often unceremoniously laid on top of the old, providing a pristine surface, but in the process, creating a rather steep drop-off onto the grass verge, often hidden by the increased growth at this time of year.

i'm sure you can equate this to the damage you might inflict upon yourselves if opting to suddenly shift onto the verge when avoiding any passing vehicles. ideally, passing cars would wait until it is safe for cyclists to enter a passing place, but it's far better to anticipate this not to be the case and move into the first passing place you can find, rather than idling along, oblivious to all around. it would be helpful if whomsoever reached a passing place first, gave way to the other, but in the majority of cases (even when talking about car passing car), that's not going to happen. swallow your pride and obstinacy and get the heck out of the way, even more so if meeting a truck or tractor, the drivers of which are likely to be working (yes, even on a sunday) as opposed to your leisurely cycling holiday.

but let's face facts; if you were in a hurry, you'd be unlikely to have chosen to visit the islands by bicycle, so what's the rush? if you have to pull over for car after car, so what? that really doesn't explain why visiting motorists often attempt to emulate lewis hamilton, but they're bigger, heavier and faster than you, probaby trying to compensate for being stuck in a tin box surrounded by the great outdoors; adopt the moral high ground and punish them even more with unbridled courtesy.

the motoring public in all corners of the world, often have a skewed notion of how cyclists ought to behave in their presence. but whether they're right or wrong, save yourself any possible grief by acceding in the name of safety. in one week's time, islay will be inundated with thousands of visitors for the first 'real' whisky festival since 2019. many of those will visit by car or, heaven forbid, rented motorhomes which they quite patently can't drive and almost certainly can't reverse. while i have no desire to undermine cyclists' rights, i'd like everyone visiting the island to enjoy their time over here, with no reason whatsoever to visit our cottage hospital, or suffer face to face confrontations on any one of islay's single-track roads.

as a result of health and safety regulations, the numbers joining any distillery tour are strictly regulated. should you meet a group of whisky aficionados hurrying en-route, in order not to miss a booked, expensive and pre-paid tour or masterclass, let me assure you that your safety on the bicycle is not high on their list of essentials.

let sense prevail. and hopefully today's scribblings will result in my no longer having to stand up as spokesmen for my people in the middle of bowmore main street.

saturday 21 may 2022

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nobody home

unfortunately, a clash of events on thursday evening left me with no appreciable time to compose today's proposed post, so i'm afraid the next one will not appear until saturday, all being well.

friday 20 may 2022

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the carriage to the isles

caledonia way

not one with much in the way of corporate comprehension, it has long confused me why the nationally named 'scotrail' featured wording on the carriages informing the travelling public that services were operated by 'abellio', the nationality of which, it transpires, is dutch. how the heck can one country's national rail network be owned and operated by an entirely different country? however, matters have now been resolved in scotland's favour, with holyrood having taken over abellio's mantle as of 1 april.

traditionally, 1 april is known as april fool's day, and following yesterday's news that scotrail services are apparently about to be cut by 30%, there may be some truth in its apellation. of course, i write this from a safe distance, given that islay, and the majority of the hebridean islands, are bereft of any rail services whatsoever. according to islay's biographer, margaret storrie, the fact that the a846 (low road) is almost dead straight, was due to a proposed rail service between port ellen and bowmore in the early 1960s. the beeching cuts of the period effectively ended that proposal for good. quite what such a railway was intended to achieve over a distance of only 16 kilometres is pretty much anyone's guess.

but not everything associated with scotrail and its new proprietors should be seen in a negative light, following the launch of active-travel friendly highland explorer carriages, linking glasgow with oban, the latter not too far from my corner of the woods (at least by ferry). this has led to scots being urged to visit argyll and bute this summer on two wheels, as opposed to the more usual four. the above-mentioned highland explorer carriages are capable of carrying 26 bicycles on the highland line to oban, 'making it easier than ever to reach some of the country's best cycling routes.'

theoretically, this will make it simpler for those intending to indulge a modicum of island hopping, a practice historically made easier by the existence of calmac's island-hopper tickets. should islay and jura form part of your itinerary, it ought now to be a simple matter of arriving in oban on either saturday or wednesday, and taking the port askaig ferry that sails via the island of colonsay. thus, you could arrive on islay on a wednesday and leave for more northern parts on saturday. or, perhaps, allowing for more time spent at the distilleries, travel to islay on the saturday and stay until the following wednesday. job done.

scotrail highland explorer

david adams mcgilp, a gentleman i have actually met, believe it or not, who is regional director at visitscotland, said, "Scotland has many fantastic cycling routes to explore. Through our work with Sustrans and Highland Explorer, we aim to inspire people to explore Scotland by public transport and cycling. Responsible tourism is at the heart of VisitScotland and is threaded through all the work that we do. There's no better way to relax and enjoy our stunning scenery than by taking the train and by bike, while at the same time contributing to Scotland's ambition to be net zero."

the latter point has also been reinforced by islay having been chosen along with five other scottish isles to become net zero by 2040. this has given rise to a certain amount of incredulity, given that islay has nine distilleries and another two under construction. that's one heck of a lot of energy to replace in a somewhat brief period of time. however, how that is achieved is well outside the scope of a cycling blog such as the post.

visitscotland has helpfully appended a number of easily reachable cycle routes at the website address listed below, that can be enjoyed by those deciding to take their bicycles with them to the west coast. and for those using e-bikes, although scotrail recommend charging the battery prior to travel, there are dedicated charging facilities available onboard, though you'll need to carry your own charging cable. according to scotrail's 'frequently asked questions', there is no charge for cycle reservations, but due to the anticipated numbers using the service, making a cycle reservation is compulsory. (similarly, there is no charge for bicycles on calmac ferries.)

scotrail advise that they eventually intend to increase the range of the service to fort william/mallaig and hope to encompass other routes as time rolls by. much has been spoken and legislated about so-called active travel, most of which has been covered by footpaths and mixed-use paths to allow for safe cycling and walking between major and minor destinations (including two on islay). the addition of these highland explorer carriages to the scotrail network, even if they currently only run between queen street and oban, is a welcome first step.

scotrail highland explorer

highland explorer | top photo: ©andy mccandlish

thursday 19 may 2022

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the break. my life as a cycling maverick - steve cummings. allen unwin hardback. 318pp illus. £20

the break - steve cummings

bruichladdich distillery features, as part of its various offerings, an academy, ostensibly a quasi-educational institution for which whisky aficionados pay large sums of money to attend for a period of one or two weeks, learning about each aspect of the whisky production process. this ranges from rolling casks into the warehouses, to checking the veracity of the spirit pouring into the spirit-safe. it is a slightly ironic situation given that the distillery's employees, as well as those at the island's other distilleries, are remarkably well remunerated for doing the very same thing.

while the majority of those intent on visiting the island during the last week of this month for fèis ìle/ the islay whisky festival, would probably give their right hands to work in a distillery, to a certain extent, locally, it's simply viewed as a job, albeit sometimes with an impressive salary. less than twenty years ago, whisky distilleries were regarded as little more than production units; the very notion of undertaking even a guided tour of the plant, was viewed as decidedly eccentric, to the point of being a highly odd request.

from our point of view, the life of a professional cyclist might be similarly viewed as the ultimate achievement, possibly encapsulated in the phrase 'living the dream'. the very notion of being well-paid to ride your bicycle every day, aboard state-of-the-art carbon fibre and electronic componentry while travelling the world, would appear almost too good to be true. and separated from idealism and idolatry, it's simply another job. but supposing that fortune, ability or opportunity has led you to the professional level, there is surely a great deal of satisfaction to be derived from undertaking the 'job', not only to the best of your ability, but seeking every practical way to improve as such a career progresses.

this is not to suggest that tadej, primoz, wout, mathieu and the other boys in the band are not similarly engaged, despite apparently possessing the natural skills to succeed, but those reckoned to be lower down the hierarchical order often have to identify their own particular skillset, and lean on it to the best of their ability. one such might be britain's steve cummings, whose soon to be published autobiography (written in conjunction with noted cycling writer, alasdair fotheringham) is testament to a highly commendable and successful career.

at the risk of creating a spoiler alert so early in a book review, chapter ten, entitled 'mandela day' is worth the price of admission alone, and possibly not for the reasons you might think. celebrated followers of cycling will have derived that the above-mentioned chapter refers to cummings' astounding victory in the 2015 tour de france, when he sailed past frenchmen thibaut pinot and romain bardet on the final ascent to mende airfield. the victory was made even more auspicious due to 18 july having been designated as mandela day and with cummings wearing the colours of south-africa's mtn-qhubeka.

at the time (and i'm sure many others will recall the tv pictures) it seemed the result of an opportune victory, but cummings' career has been anything but opportune.

"...I was a lot more aerodynamic than many of the other riders in the break, and the energy I'd saved during the hours we spent riding together before the Mende climb was going to be mine to use up on the final ascent. Finally, I knew I'd got a 450-watt threshold for my power output and the climbers had maybe a 400-watt threshold..."

that hardly sounds like a rider whose victories came as the result of inspired guesswork.

cummings, currently employed as a directeur sportif with team ineos, began on the lower-slopes of a professional career when joining birkenhead north end cycling club "...they wouldn't let me sign up [...] because they weren't insured for kids. But we got round it through my dad joining." early coaching was received at the hands of chris boardman's dad, keith. ultimately, attending drop-in induction sessions at manchester velodrome led to an invitation to national team training sessions as a first-year junior and onto the national track championships as a first-year junior.

"...with bradley wiggins as my biggest rival."

like several riders from britain's track team, cummings was placed with a european professional team (landbouwkrediet-colnago) in order to develop his road skills. others who did likewise were geraint thomas, the aforementioned wiggins and mark cavendish, all of whom feature in this book. in fact, despite originally thinking it a tad odd to apportion a chapter to each of the above, particularly in an autobiography, in hindsight, not only was this the ideal opportunity to gain insight into the abilities and characters of thomas, wiggins and cavendish, it helped frame steve cummings' place in the cycling firmament.

but to return to my original opening gambit, about cycling being 'just another job', cummings lays bare some of the employment difficulties he came across, particularly following a change of management at qhubeka. cummings places great faith in one-time team manager, now eurosport commentator, brian smith, in whose judgment and abilities obviously impressed.

"Above all, Brian Smith had left. For me, personally, this was bad news. [...] If you committed and made sacrifices and did your best, he'd reciprocate, doing all from his side to support you."

but with smith gone from the qhubeka management, "Race programmes were literally changing every five minutes. So people were ... going through the motions because they didn't know if things would or wouldn't change. [...] It had got to the point where I felt I was no longer welcome whenever I got on the team bus..."

in short, through stints with the british cycling track team, landbouwkrediet, discovery, barloworld, team sky, bmc and various iterations of mtn-qhubeka, cummings had an astonishingly successful career, one which has, until now, appeared to be a glaringly obvious, yet hidden secret. if asked to name four top british riders, i fear cummings might be found missing in action. that would be a grave error. his narrative is somewhat compulsive, perhaps because my knowledge of his many exploits was less than i'd be willing to admit, demonstrating that, like many professional cyclists, his powers of recall are mightily impressive. and through that narrative, it is plain that steve cummings possessed a tenacity and desire to win that benefited from his strong character, a character that was simultaneously shaped by his many successes.

like all good books, the back pages consist of a comprehensive index, along with a list of nine lessons learned over an exemplary career, and a palmares of placings and victories achieved over a fourteen year career as a professional. it's a book that, in tandem with alasdair fotheringham, is a triumph in and of itself. you really do want to read this book.

steve cummings' the break is published by allen and unwin on thursday 19 may.

wednesday 18 may 2022

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galloway cycling

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the sounds of the countryside

pipes and countryside

last weekend's sunday ride took place over the regular parcours, one with which we have become comfortable, favouring the substantial changes of direction, the widely differing road surfaces, and the constantly changing wind direction. in fact, with reference to the latter, as we perambulated the perimeter road round loch gorm recently, we rode into a headwind from ballinaby to saligo, turned at ninety-degrees at coull, then another ninety on reaching the kilchoman road. at every pedal stroke, we grovelled into a searing headwind. it's just as well variety is the spice of life.

however, the first section is a tad more sheltered in its disposition, eventually leading downhill towards bridgend village, at which point, we espied an indivdual, rather urbanely dressed for the vicissitudes of the countryside, but who appeared not to have been aware of our quicker than normal descending. thankfully, one of the peloton features a bell on his handlebars, pinging loudly as we approached at speed, but apparently to no visible effect. rolling quickly past while attempting to leave as much space as possible in case the individual stepped randomly into our path, we noted that they were wearing headphones; not just apple earbuds, but fully enclosed headphones.

who knew that the countryside was so loud?

however, on the preceding day, i am brian no-mates, out and about all on my lonesome and riding my cyclocross bike, partly for comfort, and partly because i've no-one to keep up with, given that the specialized is a tad slower than the ritchey. the specialized, as mentioned on previous occasions, features sram rival disc brakes, stopping power that was recently fitted with new disc pads. aside from the exhorbitant price for the latter, i surely cannot be the only cyclist who experiences difficulties refitting the rotors into the calipers following pad replacement?

though most likely not recommended in any servicing manual currently available, i have found at least a partial way round this problem by releasing a few drops of brake fluid from the bleed screws; just sufficient to release the pads from contact with the discs and allow some semblance of forward travel without the constant friction that makes me even slower than usual. the downside to such a technique, if that's not overstating the remedy, is that once the pads wear in, there's every likelihood that there will be less fluid in the system than is truly desirable. given my rudimentary knowledge of hydraulic brakes, that's a bridge i'll overcome when the time arrives.

however, as a liquid, hydraulic fluid, like many others, seems often affected by ambient temperatures, expanding just a smidgeon when it's warm and reinstating not only slight frictional drag, but annoying squeals, groans, clicks and all manner of undesirable noises. i have little problem with the effectiveness of disc brakes; oft times their performance has been most welcome in the face of errant visitors in hire cars, but i think i'm beginning to see why walkers in the countryside find it necessary to wear headphones.

i know, of course, that i'm not the only bearer of such frictional and cacophonous hardship. watching a season's worth of world class cyclocross racing, where the bicycles are maintained to the utmost of professional standards, the loud squealing at every turn, particularly during wet and muddy events, seems a less than promising advert for any of the participating marques. and then at lunchtime, i met up with a gent aboard a modern, recently constructed carbon fibre frame outfitted with shimano's dura-ace disc groupset, the rotors of which emitted remarkably similar noises to those of my own cycle-du-jour.

given the technological advances made in cycling over recent years, surely it is not outwith the bounds of possibility to create a disc brake setup that emits only subdued stopping noises. that said, the same technology could hopefully be applied to the highland bagpipe, creating a set that stays in tune for longer than five minutes.

tuesday 17 may 2022

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diminishing returns

chasing group

"no notifications in my feed" was a phrase overheard in debbie's at sunday lunchtime, a bemoaning of the fact that certain information which should have been passed on, had apparently gone missing in action. it's a phrase that, perhaps less than a decade past, would have been notably idiosyncratic to the point of obscurity, perhaps stated as a means of one-upmanship. on sunday lunchtime, it was accepted by all those within hearing distance as a relatively normal part of daily conversation.

of course, it's no different than technical speak from a different set of circumstances. conferring upon a book layout with a colleague during last week, i heard myself say that the solution to a legibility problem would surely be to retain the font and point size, but increase the leading, something that would have been entirely out of context when discussing bicycle maintenance, for example. almost every strain of life is fraught with its own cornucopia of lingusitics, such as advice to increase the leading of a typeset page, that originated centuries ago. for those even mildly intrigued, leading in this context (pronounced 'ledding') is the vertical space between lines of text, so called because in the days of actual type, such spacing was achieved with thin strips of lead.

computing is perhaps the most guilty area of modern life for continually creating words and phrases that almost always have no clear frame of reference outwith the world of computers, and frequently seem somewhat vacuous within it. for instance, web adresses are often referred to by the initials url, simply translated as 'uniform resource locator', knowledge of which really confers no more information than do the initials url. and recent e-mail ministrations were largely confounding when setting server port settings in relation to ssl and tls.

the former i know means secure sockets layer, though i'm a tad hazy on its actual definition. tls i had to look up, only to find it refers to transport layer security, which to be quite blunt, was of no help whatsoever.

i've no doubt that there are those employed within the computer industry who bandy about such terms with abandon, whether they actually comprehend the definition or not, and i cannot deny that cycling provides just such a platform for informed obfuscation in both the right and wrong contexts. for instance, during each season of spring classics, it gives me childish pleasure to announce in the office of a monday morning, the result of the omloop het nieuwsblad, or regale my definitvely non-cycling colleagues with tales of derring-do during the dwaar doors vlaanderen. i'd find it hard to believe that i'm the only individual who does so.

but there are aspects of cycling life that are being summarily undermined by the sport's governing body, attempting the equivalent of water finding its own level, encouraging national broadcasters to erase some of the very terms and conditions that once provided us with the intellectual high-ground. for instance, as i watch stages of this year's giro d'italia, i find it very sad that the on-screen information delivered during a distinctly and gloriously italian race, have been mandated to appear in english. thus, gone are the 'inseguitori', now blandly replaced with 'chasing group'. the same has occurred in the allegedly more important of the spring classics, where 'achtervolgers' have suffered the same fate, along with 'kop van de westrijd', though thankfully both are still present at the lower levels of belgian events.

and, as we approach this year's tour de france, it's highly unlikely that we'll be greeted with the 'tete de la course', 'arriere du peloton' and almost certainly no 'poursuivants', the absence of which erodes and diminishes this beautiful sport. granted, there will be those new to televised viewing of these events who are bereft of such knowledge and the announcement of each in english creates a level playing field amongst the viewing public. but that's hardly the point; why refer to a 'rear mech' when the same can be phrased in the more pertinent 'derailleur', and who on earth has a puncture these days, when we can suffer the more erudite 'crevaison'?

making use of the appropriate language depending on the country in which a race takes place is one of the more enjoyably elitist aspects of being a member of the velocipedinal cognoscenti, and one that should be maintained at all costs. panache should not be allowed to be defined by the uci under any circumstances; their job should be to curate, not to alter.

monday 16 may 2022

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the beautiful sport

giro d'italia

when number one son was only a few months old, mrs washingmachinepost was in the habit of giving him his final feed of the day at around 11pm in the evening. as the archetypal dutiful husband, it seemed prudent not to head off to bed in advance of this daily ritual lest i be chastised for a lack of co-parenting. so i would remain alongside on the sofa, but usually at least partially engrossed in whatever happened to be on the telly box at that time of night. on sunday evenings, that happened to be american football, a sport that had become the darling of channel four, but due to the time difference across the pond, 11pm was only the start of the broadcast period.

for anyone who has approached this distinctly american sport from the perspective of the complete newbie, you will already be aware of quite how inscrutable a game it actually is. i'd be fibbing if i said i could recall how many weeks it took me to figure out quite what was happening at 11pm on a sunday evening. i was quite happy with my level of comprehension unless anyone asked me to explain matters to them.

all sports, possibly with the exception of tennis and marathon running, have their inherent complexities, of colloquial understanding to their acolytes, yet the very pinnacle of obscurity to all others. granted, there are endless websites dedicated to all manner of athletic activity that will enlighten the inquisitive, at least sufficiently to prevent a blank facial expression when faced with television coverage of whatever sport we happen to be discussing at the time.

until eurosport commenced broadcasting live coverage of entire stages of the tour de france, i confess that this aspect of the sport of cycling had me a tad confused. the one-day classics were a smidgeon easier to comprehend, since frequently it was a simple matter of a lengthy surge to the finish line, races that suited either the sprinters, climbers, or rouleurs. channel four had kicked off in the mid 1980s with their half-hour tour highlights programme, but that was only the beginning of my confusion. for instance, it was possible to watch the action that transpired after gary imlach had ended his often lengthy introduction, yet face short-range comprehension. as an example, perhaps robert millar (as was) would be first over the first three climbs, yet when the finish line hove into view, robert was nowhere to be seen. how or why did that happen?

eurosport's all day coverage, frequently accompanied by a sparkling water and a baguette filled with brie, would fulfil the promise that cycle stage racing was the equivalent of chess on wheels. what had previously come across as random happenings, now coalesced into complex strategies, undertaken with the express purpose of placing the team leader/team sprinter/team climber in the foremost position at the finish line. suddenly cycling was not only exciting, but bore a certain intellectual frisson. but it also underlined just how much of a team sport professional cycling actually is.

and it's more than possible that those stage-length broadcasts helped many of us avoid the daily questions voiced down main street, when passers-by would query how come the likes of mark cavendish had won the previous day's sprint, yet some other rider was wearing the yellow jersey? and how come riders are allowed to change bikes, what on earth is a 'sticky-bottle', and how do all those riders earn their living when they're not racing their bicycles?

but every now and again, there's an instance that arises to encapsulate everything that cycle racing stands for, a means of minimising lengthy explanations down to a single statement or image. one such instance arrived at the end of friday's stage of the giro d'italia. the stage was won by jumbo-visma's koen bouwman from a breakaway group of four, several minutes ahead of a chasing peloton. but the dutchman paid tribute to the work of his team-mate, tom dumoulin whose tenacity and selflessness set the youngster up for his first major tour win. if you had to explain to a non-cyclist just what cycling is all about (as one twitter user was keen to point out), the photo atop this article pretty much says it all. as bouwman victoriously crosses the finish line, arms aloft, dumoulin can be seen in the background, also with his arms in the air, celebrating the victory of his jumbo-visma team-mate.

it is indeed, the beautiful sport.

sunday 15 may 2022

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a cunning plan

muc-off airtag holder

currently disrupting several roads around the centre of bowmore village are workers from a campbeltown contractor, digging up the roads to install new water piping on behalf of scottish water. the work has been ongoing for several months now as part of a £3 million investment. it has to be said that, for once, the contractor's employees appear to take great pride in their work. rarely have we witnessed such accurate slicing of the road surface prior to digging, or indeed, attention to detail when it comes to resurfacing and removing any extraneous tar or gravel as the work is completed. definitely old school, of which it would be nice to see more from other road repairers.

however, as advised above, the company is based in campbeltown, situated at the southern end of the kintyre peninsula, some 60km from the kennacraig ferry terminal. thus, at lunchtime each and every friday, work halts for the weekend to allow the staff to return home on the afternoon ferry. though there is a temporary base nearby, adjacent to scottish water's treatment plant, it's not always feasible or practical to remove every item of machinery from the areas of work, currently in bowmore main street. therefore, as i left the office this afternoon, there were a few items of machinery and pipefitting equipment surrounded by hi-viz plastic cordoning, but easily reachable.

were this a more urban location, it seems more than likely that cctv equipment would have needed to have been installed, or, perhaps more likely a night-watchman. though the tarmac grinder would appear to be a tad on the heavy side, i'm pretty sure that white van man, (or men), would make short shrift of loading it into the back of a transit, before it disappears, never to be seen again. thankfully, our version of civilisation tends to mitigate against anything of that sort taking place.

and earier this week, as i made my way back from bowmore distillery (purely business - i wouldn't touch any brand of whisky), i noticed a group of touring cyclists, fresh from a visit to the tourist information centre, traipsing a similar path, en-route to their bicycles left leaning against the wall of the nature.scot building. however, presumably inured to the likelihood of unattended bicycles disappearing faster than snow off a drystone wall from many a mainland location, they had sensibly left one of their number in charge of the bicycles, ready and willing, presumably, to fend off marauders with a handy bicycle pump.

similar to the previously mentioned road-maintenance hardware further up the same road, in fact, the likelihood of their bicycles being removed was almost infinitesimal. i have spent the last thirty years plus, attempting to encourage local participation in velocipedinal activities without even a hint of success. the chances of anyone attempting to steal a heavily loaded bicycle are remote to say the least. however, i can appreciate that old habits die hard, and it is probably smart thinking to continue these mainland anti-theft practices, lest they forget on their return to what is humorously known as civilisation.

it's all very well those of us on the outer edge sniggering at the fear of having a bicycle stolen; we are simply remarkably fortunate in these modern times, that the culture of removing that which is not yours has made little inroads into hebridean society. no doubt it will come eventually, but hopefully i will be long gone by then. however, urban and inner-city locations are most certainly not party to such respectful behaviour. were i to spend any appreciable time cycling in scotland, i would indeed be nervous that even a locked bicycle might not be still where i left it upon my return. and should a bicycle be stolen, the chances of ever seeing it again are becoming more unlikely as the years roll by. national statistics for the uk would suggest that as few as 5% of stolen bicycles are ever returned to their owners.

thankfully a combination of the increasingly more versatile muc-off and apple computer has brought to market a wizard idea to aid the tracking of a stolen bicycle, though currently pertaining almost solely to the upper echelon of velocipedinal life. muc-off have developed a tag holder that allows the owner to conceal an apple airtag inside a tubeless tyre (the apple airtag has to be purchased separately). the market for tubeless tyres has not yet trickled down to the lower stratas, otherwise known as the less expensive end, arguably the province of those who may benefit most from such cunning concealment.

yet, if shimano's recent claims that the high-end cycle market is where the growth resides, then muc-off's new product (unfortunately rather clumsily named the stealth tubeless tag holder) might well be something of a godsend. the product takes the form of a protective, silicone and rubber valve mount that creates an airtight seal, though it appears it may only be pertinent to the mtb and gravel market, where tyre width presents no restrictions. the minimum tyre width that ensures compatitbility is 38mm. hopefully it's only a matter of time before a road-going version sees light of day.

it's sheer good fortune, however, that i reside where i do, since the amount of faff that accompanies the installation of tubeless tyres, has ensured that i have remained faithful to good old clinchers and inner-tubes.

muc off stealth tag holder

saturday 14 may 2022

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let the games begin

zwift hardware

were you concerned that i have mentioned the word 'game' in the heading for two successive articles, let me allay your fears; i meant to. many, including yours truly, have railed at continued mention of cycling referred to as a 'sport', when discussing transportational or leisure moments. strictly speaking, cycling is only a 'sport' when we're discussing the competitive milieu. it would be less than accurate of me to describe it thus, even if referring to riding a drop-bar, skinny wheeled road bike while clad in a team-replica jersey and bibshorts, en-route to debbie's for a double-egg roll and soya latte.

and yet, despite robert millar's (pippa york) contention that 'it's all entertainment', it seems all the above have arguably combined to point towards cycling's reconstitution as a 'game'. yesterday's post described the art of the bicycle mechanic having been converted into a computer game, surely stretching the perceived boundaries between a tangible reality and the world of animated pixels, one that i find it hard to reconcile.

and in a seemingly unrelated set of circumstances, a spokesperson for zwift stated "We are committed to increasing the development of the core Zwift game experience...", a quote which, i would have thought, calls into question the rationale behind software most users surely consider to be a verisimilitude of the cycling experience in the quest for indoor training. however, allow me to elucidate on a subject, the context of which i would appear to have mixed up.

commitment to software development is one that zwift have opted to reinforce in the light of having disbanded all thoughts of introducing their own hardware. the company has allegedly layed off over 100 employees in tandem with the announcement that they have cancelled previously described plans (december 2021) to enter the companion market with a zwift bike and plans for associated hardware. the reasons provided for this about turn is the state of the "...current macroeconomic environment..."

despite contentions that the only growth area in 'real' bicycles is at the high end, zwift's curbing of their hardware plans is predominantly due to hardware intended to appeal to the more expensive end of the indoor cycling market. with wahoo having also recently announced staff layoffs due to an apparently unexpected downturn in the indoor cycling market, and 'peloton' also reporting a similar drop in sales, this points to one of two explanations. either, like netflix, folks are tiring of an artificial, indoor setting, or everyone intending to purchase a smart trainer has already done so. allegedly over the past three to six months, contrary to circumstances within the 'real' cycle market, the high-end portion has simply faded away.

of course, the original intention to go head-to-head with those previously considered as partners has also had knock-on effects. zwift was in the habit of selling hardware manufactured by others, such as wahoo's kickr range, but in the run-up to the proposed release of their own product, zwift began selling off this inventory of third-party product, often at sizeable discounts. analysts now consider that the company may soon resume stocking hardware once again.

however, in spite of this retrenchment, the quote with which i opened this feature is either a bit of an own-goal, or admission that zwift thinks of itself as a part of the computer games industry, rather than the sports arena occupied by what i presume they consider their peers. yes, computer games are a part of the entertainment industry, of which robert millar alluded, cycle racing is also a part. but for those who spend their evenings and weekends staring at a flat panel screen while perspiring all over the top tube of their state-of-the-art carbon bicycle in a determined effort to improve their ability to ride outdoors, it is surely a bit of a slap in the face? an orange wall in zwift headquarters states "the fitness company born from gaming", but it may be that the truth revolves around the converse of that statement.

and just to place this in some sort of distorted perspective, 'remember when we just used to go for a bike ride?'

thanks to james lamont for initial research

friday 13 may 2022

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rouleur

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it's only a game

bike mechanic simulator

the principles of bicycle wheel construction are, in essence, quite simple. in order that the rim sits central in the frame, the spokes on one side ought to balance those on the opposite side, while maintaining the trueness of the rim around its circumference. achieving both of those can be either a relaxing experience, if you've got some idea of how and why, or it can be one of the most frustrating experiences known to humankind. in the absence of a suitable wheel-truing stand, it is, at a push, possible to create much of the above by fitting the wheel in the dropouts, front or rear, and using the brake calipers to check the lateral parameters. sadly, for those who may have made the move to discs, you're on your own with the guesswork.

and for anyone who has attempted to remove or fit a headset, it's probably not news to point out that having the required tool makes life hundreds of times easier and safer than attempting to do so with a mallet, a bit of wood and various sizes of screwdriver. it pains me to admit that i completely destroyed a very lightweight alloy headset cup via a combination of several of the above. and yes, it was a very silly idea.

bicycles have become increasingly complex over the past few decades to the point where it is a less than clever idea to try much in the way of maintenance unless you have a pretty good idea of what you're doing, and have a suitable panoply of tools. the downside to the latter, as i have moaned for far longer than truly necessary, is that several necessary tools are prohibitively priced if you're likely only to use them once or twice a year. i'm sure i need not mention campagnolo's chain tool (though i've just done so) the twelve-speed version of which is not compatible with ekar's 13-speed chain. and then there's the warranty factor; many manufacturers state that their warranty will be honoured only if a component has been installed by an authorised service agent.

but, it seems that the art of cycle maintenance is just a game. or at least, it's about to become one.

many, many years ago, a monthly computer magazine i had on order at my local newsagent, featured a cover-mount cd, when compact discs were still a thing. nowadays, many a computer is bereft of a cd/dvd drive as a result of the contemporary trend for downloading every necessary fragment of software. on that cd were several folders which included trial or free versions of productive software, the occasional useable typeface and a wide range of games software. the latter was the only folder to which i paid no attention. in fact, i'm not even much in favour of board games, such as scrabble, snakes & ladders and monopoly.

but for those who find computer games the be all and end all of leisure time, polish software studio, punch punk are soon to release 'bike mechanic simulator', allegedly "...a realistic simulation where players take on the role of a bicycle mechanic." apparently the gameplay is based principally on repairing, servicing and assembling unique bikes, as well as developing the workshop and testing out equipment. according to punch punk, players will have a dozen or so types of tools and repair stations at their disposal.

due for release next year, it's perhaps a tautological statement that i've no experience of the game whatsoever, and as admitted above, i've no real interest in finding out. however, based on my own experiences with bike fettling, it's rarely a simple case of moving a few arrow keys on a keyboard and clicking a mouse. removing a drive side bottom bracket cup often requires that the hapless incumbent remove several acres of skin in the process, while inventing several new swear words along the way. and witness my lengthy diatribes concerning the fitting (or not) of certain brands of tyre.

the company ceo, tomasz sobiecki offered little in the way of succour to those who have any history of bike maintenance in the real world. "We highly appreciate realistic and relaxing gameplay. We approach the mapping of specific bicycle parts and repair processes with an excellent level of detail. That said, in some respects Bike Mechanic Simulator 2023 will also be simplified, because we want to provide players with a high level of playability.". so perhaps it's a case of "bike fettling jim, but not as we know it."

the game will initially be released for pc in 2023 with later releases encompassing playstation 4, playstation 5, xbox one, xbox series x/s, and nintendo switch.

thursday 12 may 2022

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that's the way to do it

carr gomm e-bikes

though i have not researched the subject exhaustively, i am reliably led to believe that all across the country (and the world, for all i know), on sunday mornings, the great and the good retrieve their carbon, aluminium or steel bicycles from the recesses of garages, spare rooms, hallways and bike sheds, intent on perambulating the highways and byways in their own principalities. this is mostly for exercise and comradeship, but every so often, to demonstrate the veracity of the training regime encountered in the previous week's comic. for a few of us, it's a demonstration that the elements will not beat us into submission.

we are the individuals most likely to be at the top of cycling companies' marketing departments' hit-list, the very folks with an appetite for frighteningly expensive bibshorts, jackets, bicycles and componentry, all the better to maintain the profiles carefully nurtured by those with quality product to shift. make no mistake, this is not intended in any way to appear as criticism; i'm as much in thrall to such matters as the next man or woman. however, while that circle is maintained without deviation, not much is likely to change.

and by change, i mean the alleged necessity to have a sizeable number of people dispense with their cars in favour of walking or riding a bicycle. as described above, we are a small minority of those riding bicycles, and the fact that we tend to do so as an adjunct to daily life, rather than as an alternative, will pretty much always guarantee a market for bicycles resembling those in the professional peloton, but really not making too much headway in transportational matters. i doubt that the velo club is the only localised peloton that has recruitment difficulties due to the perceived speed at which we ride, the width of our saddles and the eccentric mix of polyester and lycra advertised as the price of entry.

assuming a change is gonna come, it seems more than likely it will have to come from elsewhere. it's probably an unfortunate assumption to think that all those who ride bicycles on the sunday morning ride, are vociferous proponents of environmental conservatism. for many it's simply a convenient coincidence that their sole intent of achieving a personal warp factor one, can be achieved by an emissions free vehicle.

those we need to hope will see the light, are those who really couldn't give a monkey's about vertical compliance and lateral stiffness, or the number of sprockets on the rear wheel. to a greater or lesser degree, our pelotonic proclivities dither about at the edges of narcissism or egoism; how long can we maintain that high average speed; how quickly can we ascend this gradient, and does anyone actually care? it would be naive to think that the first signs of change have gone unnoticed; the rise and rise of 'e-bike only' cycle stores would surely point to a positive change of some sort, but perhaps there is greater cause for celebration.

for many, the rurality of scotland's west coast has been used as a convincing reason as to why the motor car is an unavoidable necessity. less than comprehensive public transport (the islands have no railways and bus services that rarely cover all bases - islay's bus services ends promptly at 6pm each day, and there is no service whatsoever on sundays. not even to meet the ferries.) and weather conditions that often confound sustrans' contention that cycle commuters will get wet on only twelve days per year.

carr gomm a social care and community development charity with an office in lochgilphead, a town not too far from the mainland-islay ferry port at kennacraig, is currently making the transition to active, sustainable travel, with staff switching from cars to electric bikes when travelling to visit the many local residents they support. they were originally loaned an e-cargo bike and a regular e-bike to determine which worked best across the various routes around lochgilphead and nearby ardrishaig. following the trial period, the office has now purchased the most appropriate e-bikes for the purpose.

learning and development manager at carr gomm, david halfpenny, said, "The pandemic led us to partnering with Argyll and the Isles Coast and Countryside Trust (ACT) and Cycling UK. Their support and guidance have been essential to our success in adopting sustainable transport options. We look forward to rolling out ebikes to our services across Argyll and Bute and beyond." jamie joyce, project officer for act now, funded by the scottish government's climate challenge fund, added, "It is a great initiative, better for the health and wellbeing of staff, and with the car reduction, for the climate. Huge credit must go to Carr Gomm Lochgilphead for this pioneering work. I look forward to extending the support of the ACT Now Project to Carr Gomm Rothesay staff in the near future. The ACT Now project priority is to ensure staff are fully empowered and enabled to cycle with the knowledge and application of road safety and the abilities to deal with roadside repairs, for example."

at the risk of appearing rather conceited and possibly parochial, i can't help thinking that if e-bike transport can work this promisingly on the wet and windy west coast of scotland, there remains a seriously diminished repository of excuses not to follow suit in less extreme locations with more comprehensive road infrastructures. come the revolution etc.

wednesday 11 may 2022

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world bicycle relief

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the next step

endura_rapha_t-shirts

though i do not wish to presage any drastic or unexpected situations happening in the foreseeable future, there is little doubt that i will not continue to write thewashingmachinepost forever, if only because a state pension probably won't cover the annual cost of webhosting. and the post is not, like many a blog, the sort of thing that you could hand over to a successor; perhaps the domain name if somebody wants it, but the content is all mine, for its many failings and opinionated discourses, and you could hardly expect anyone else to continue in the same vein.

that said, the post turned 26 only a couple of months past and it seems only right and proper that i issue a warning that i intend to continue writing until i simply can't. i did once believe that i would have long since run out of content, but it seems that was a forlorn hope on the part of my reader; having come this far, i'm pretty sure i could go on and on and on... in those 26 years, many cycling blogs that arose in the early part of this century, when it seems to have been seen as a wizard wheeze, have disappeared off the face of the blogosphere, for all manner of differing reasons. the same can be said of several professional offerings.

but let's assume, for a moment, that there is just such a successor sitting in the wings, preparing themselves for an unwarranted takeover, keen to dispense with my perennial ludditery, embrace the contemporary and espouse the many technological (if misguided) developments taking place almost daily within the world of the velocipede. there will be a few who think it's high time that very situation occurred, but possibly worth my pointing out that the whole rationale behind the wide variety of cycling blogs available, is that the avid reader can absorb so many different points of view, perhaps using my own tendentious comments to better contrast those that think it worthwhile to produce a £2750 skinsuit just to win an 8.3km time trial in hungary.

however, there is precedent for my present ruminations, and at a considerably higher level than a hebridean cycling blog.

late last year, simon mottram, founder of rapha cycle clothing, announced that he was standing down as ceo of the company, leaving the day-to-day operations of what is now a global concern to his successor, william kim, a former ceo of clothing retailer, allsaints and a man who has worked with burberry and gucci. prior to founding rapha, mr mottram was a brand consultant, which ought to explain to anyone who was wondering, just how rapha managed not only to hit the ground running in 2004, but to effectively push aside many established cycling apparel brands to become the company it is today.

that said, simon does possess an unfailing obsession for road cycling, belying the common accusation that the whole rapha thing is simply a very clever marketing exercise. the concern, if there is any concern, would be mr kim's credentials in that aspect of the business. it is common knowledge that many chief executive officers have no background whatsoever in the industries of which they are a pivotal part, recruited purely for their business acumen and methodology to maintain company growth. simon mottram was not alone in being a ceo with a deeply held interest in his own company, but there's little doubt that many of the factors which set rapha apart from its competitors were introduced as a result of his foresight and passion for cycling. all the folks involved with rapha in the first few years were there for similar reasons.

in the brief biography of mr kim as published on rapha's website, there is nary a mention of the words 'bicycle', 'cycling' or 'racing'; mostly that he was the vice president of samsung mobile in korea between 2012 and 2018. similarly, chief retail and development officer, caroline crosswell, who admits to being 'relatively new to road cycling' and that the colours of her canyon endurance bicycle 'match my engagement ring perfectly'. it is perfectly possible that those two individuals, now in senior positions at rapha, will bring an altogether different perspective to the world of cycling apparel, but i'm sufficiently old-skool to think it better when there is a stronger, invested interest in the company's raison d'être.

that said, when discussing such matters, i realise i am totally out of my depth.

but a similar situation seems now to be taking place north of the border. or at least, 'sort of' north of the border. scotland's endura cycle clothing became a part of the pentland group in 2018, a company which also owns speedo, berghaus, canterbury of new zealand, ellesse, seavees and mitre. if any changes were made following the takeover, they have been quite subtle, and endura's profitability has noticeably increased. however, some e-mail addresses have changed from endura.co.uk to pentland.com. the company has, until this week, been run by founder, jim mcfarlane and director, pamela barclay, who have both now signified that they too, will step back from day-to-day management of the company, in favour of noah bernard who has been appointed as brand director.

and, according to the man's brief biography, he has previously worked in sales, product and marketing for several high profile brands in the footwear industry, including nike and pearl izumi. but once again, and i think it of some concern, no mention of any specific interest in cycling.

however, one must place faith in those who have recruited at both rapha and endura, that their choices have the wherewithal to continue both companies in the manner set out by their founders. but i would expect that, without any stated inherent love of the sport, or the bicycle or even cycling's place in world terms, that any future strategies will be based less on velocipedinal aspects and more heavily upon financial return. such is the way of the world nowadays, and i look forward to being proved completely wrong. but i have a niggling feeling that, in the next twenty years or so, we're going to see a more corporate approach than was first seen at the behest of simon mottram and jim mcfarlane.

as it says in scotland's alleged national anthem, flower of scotland, "when will we see your like again?

rapha | endura

tuesday 10 may 2022

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as always, if you have any comments, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

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