i moved to islay about sixteen years ago, ostensibly to become a professional artist (we all have our dreams) and the initial years of this, bearing in mind landscapes were my principal subject matter, involved cycling from bowmore out into the hinterlands (well, islay's west coast) to sit for hours in the freezing cold (we moved here in november) in several layers of clothing, two pairs of fingerless gloves and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of charcoal drawing rocky coastlines.
at this time - in fact, for the first ten years, i didn't own a motor car, so i would cycle a 28 mile round trip on my sturdy muddy fox courier with panniers filled with art materials to sanaigmore or saligo or even kilchiaran in the quest for rugged subject matter. although islay is essentially flat, there are one or two places that have short sharp climbs (if you've ever arrived at port askaig on the afternoon ferry, you'll have an idea of which i speak), and while the very small inner ring on the courier helped lug the overdressed cyclist and attendant 'luggage' up these climbs, gravity more than made up for this when hurtling down the other side. and many of the wee single track roads that network the western part of the island - the rhinns - are used only by farm traffic, cattle, and overdressed cyclists with art materials sticking out their panniers. because of this, the centre of these roads often have grass growing through the tarmac, an over abundance of loose gravel in the centre and edges along with the stuff that is hot and steaming and comes out of cows backwards - and i don't mean the isle of wight ferry.
while mountain bikes have pretty much always had efficient brakes, even in the days of standard mafac type cantilevers, it was often a bit hairy whizzing down these hills, with the odd rabbit, hare or sheep deciding that the other side of the road would in fact be a bit safer (?). and with unexpected patches of gravel and more prominent amounts of fertiliser all over the road, the possibility that one could or would end up in a ditch, gorse bush, river, or field was always uppermost when rounding a corner.
with islay in the winter months being fairly quiet (population is marginally over 3000), the thought occurred that, should i have an accident, it could be quite some time before anyone found me (this has, in fact happened on several occasions over here, though thankfully never to a cyclist to my knowledge). whenever i was traipsing along the cliffs at sanaigmore - a rather naively stupid thing to be doing to be honest. when i look at some of the places i used to go, it's a worry - i used to leave the bike parked in an obvious place so that if anything happened while i was drawing, at least someone would have a reasonable idea of where i was.
now the obvious solution would have been to slow down when rolling down the hills, most cyclists will know that this is something easier said than done. if you've just bust a gut pedalling up the hill, the last thing you want to be doing is scraping down the other side at the same speed with the brakes firmly applied. so i decided to buy myself a helmet. in retrospect this was a far braver decision than it seemed, since i had almost become a tourist attraction in my own right by cycling around islay's roads. much like today, there are virtually no local cyclists, so it's an unusual sight. at that time, there were no cyclists that i had seen wearing helmets on the island, but this didn't dawn on me at the time, i just figured that i would be safer with a helmet.
my first helmet was a bell something or other, polystyrene with a lycra cover and it probably looked ridiculous, but i viewed it much like we all regard an insurance policy - you pay your money, but you hope you'll never have to use it. the art thing died a rather natural death and i have no need to use a bicycle to travel to my 'work'. i only stay about five minutes from the ileach office and it's easy enough to walk.
however, along with the directeur sportif of vc port wemyss, i now spend about three hours every sunday cycling all over islay - as far north as bunnahabhain and as far south as ardbeg and most places in between - and i wear my giro pneumo all the time, and the ds wears his briko, particularly since he had a couple of accidents down south.
now i'm not really naive enough to figure that wearing my helmet is going to save me from all ills, (or a volvo) but i really, really like cycling my bike, and i intend to continue to do so for as long as is humanly possible. if wearing a helmet can prevent even minor injuries, let alone the major ones that could occur, then i'm more than happy to do so. and if the government made it compulsory, i don't think i'd argue. and i have no idea why the notion that compulsory helmet wearing should become a deterrent to daily cycling. my giro weighs next to nothing, has massive air vents and i almost forget i'm wearing it, even on hot days (not that we have too many of these over here). since so many folks wear cycle helmets nowadays, helmet wearing is no longer likely to turn you into a pariah of society (though i'm not so sure about cycling itself), so why all the outcry about helmets becoming mandatory on bikes? it's been mandatory on motorcycles for years and the government even removed the vat on adult helmets in the uk.
what is the problem?
on a slightly different note, my regular reader will have noted the addition of a 'colnago c40' rollover to the left. this contains a reprint of a recent article featured in cycle sport magazine, which they were very kind to let me present here (because i'm a colnago geek) i have also found an excellent review of the colnago c40hp here
i have been asked to add the following link to the post by wheelygoodcause. they're a cycling club dedicated to arranging epic rides for charity and do not charge charities for the pleasure. They ride because they want to, and the next ride takes them from st malo to biarittz and then across the raid pyrenees. so i have. and here it is.
Remember, you can still read the review of 'the dancing chain' the utterly excellent book on the history of the derailleur bicycle by clicking here
any of the books reviewed on the washing machine post can probably be purchased from amazon.co.uk or amazon.com
as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.
this column almost never appears in the dead tree version of the ileach but appears, regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.
on a completely unrelated topic, ie nothing to do with bicycles, every aspect of the washing machine post was created on apple macintosh powerbook g4, ibook and imac computers, using adobe golive 5 and adobe photoshop 7. needless to say it is also best viewed on an apple macintosh computer.