at one point in the career of thewashingmachinepost, it dawned on me that you possibly had to know stuff to get as much out of these pixels as i rather hoped would be the case. it's all very well discussing whether a frame has italian threads for the bottom bracket, an integrated headset, dual pivot calipers - all the arcane stuff that some of us take for granted and others find incomprehensible. and if you find yourself in the latter camp, it may be that there are other websites that make you feel more at home than the post. and that would make me sad, because i have no intention of appearing elitist, though i'm quite willing to accept that i may be guilty as charged.
in order to alleviate what i saw/see as a possible problem in this respect, i had intended to place aside a pocket of pixels that would allow me to provide information and assistance to those who would dearly love to be part of this obscure in-crowd and also to those who were finding themselves more and more interested in riding bicycles, and simply in need of a few answers. however, there are only so many things you can achieve in a given amount of time, and i think that thewashingmachinepost may already be in danger of attempting to be all things to some people; stretching that further might not only be a bridge too far, but it would undoubtedly mean that i spend waaaay too much time sitting in front of a macintosh computer.
however, the other factor that concerned me, is that just because i think it might be a good idea, doesn't necessarily mean that i have the wherewithal or the knowledge to make it happen in the manner that it should. and having received a copy of nicole cooke's cycle for life from kyle cathie publishing, i'm now very glad that i left it to others. in a year when nicole has won not only the olympic gold, but also the world road title, it is evidently apparent that she has a far greater insight to the stuff that matters than i am ever likely to. if ever there was a book that you could cheerfully recommend to anyone thinking of buying their first bike, or making the transition from commuter to racing cyclist, this has to be that book.
i'd be interested to know just how much of the text was generated by miss cooke, as opposed to her collaborator in the project, stephen james, but she certainly features in a large number of the colour photographs in this very well illustrated volume. and just in case the newbie cyclist is wondering about the credentials of the title author, there is a helpful gold printed sticker on the cover that says 'olympic gold medallist, beijing 2008. but, to be honest, if this had been written by debbie at the cafe, it would be no less an essential manual for that. the book is divided into clearly defined sections: bike basics; body basics; challenge yourself; and bike knowledge. at least three of those are pretty self-explanatory, but what does nicole mean by challenge yourself?
well, challenging means different things to different cyclists, depending on whether you're of a mind to strap on a full set of panniers and travel the world, or just travel to the other side of the county. or maybe you're more the sort of cyclist who fancies emulating miss cooke herself (or her male counterparts) by cycling as fast as possible where and when it matters. this chapter gives a fairly comprehensive overview of training, including a rather fine training plan, as well as differentiating between the various forms of competition.
the body section ain't too bad either, with much aplenty dietary info regarding fats, hydration, protein; in other words what the healthy cyclist should be stuffing in his/her face. disappointingly, the bike knowledge section has little or nothing to do with fixing your bike: it's all about resources. finding a club, finding a coach, a glossary of terms. in other words, a very thin chapter. however the three preceding chapter more than make up for that, and it's possibly only the chapter title that could have done with a bit of a change.
if you read this, or any of the other cycling websites, and find yourself lost in the terminology or just the general banter, here is the very book for you, and at a price that you would be daft to avoid. actually, if i'm really honest, there's quite a lot of stuff in here that i didn't know either (though i know you'll find that hard to believe:-)
sadly, it doesn't tell us much, if anything, about nicole cooke.
posted on thursday 23d october 2008.........................................................................................................................................................................................................
for a variety of reasons, cycling is very much in vogue at present: after the beijing successes, rising fuel prices, congestion tax (in certain places), the fight against obesity - i'm pretty sure you can come up with a few of your own. before the motor car was commonplace, and after the horse and cart became so passe, probably the most practical and cheapest form of transport was the (t)rusty bicycle. and while many of my non-cycling friends would baulk at the very thought of leaving the car at home and cycling less than ten miles to work (oh, it's the wind and rain), at one time, such alternatives didn't exist, so cycling to and from work, shops, friends was really the only way to get anywhere. (can you imagine how deprived you'd feel with black and white tv and no colour - yet not so long ago, there was no alternative to that either.)
however, over the bicycle's more recent past, things have taken on a decidedly different hue; the bicycle has become an instrument of philosophy. if you find this hard to believe, or perhaps more likely, find me hard to believe, take a look at its new position in the firmament. we have rouleur and its growing panoply of spinoffs (the annual, the website etc.), america has provided us with embrocation, and we have the diprose's to thank for 'the ride', magazines that approach the bicycle, cycling and cycle racing in a manner that, up until now, would have seemed a bit pretentious. in fact, there are doubtless a not insignificant number of you reading who still regard all such as pretentious claptrap.
for the rest of us, this seemingly endless stream of philosophical meanderings about riding, the significance of the campionissimos, the pain and suffering, the monochrome photography, and as i mentioned in my review of the rouleur 2009 photography annual, the appearance of an avant garde movement of cycling photography is a revelation. of course, if you visited the cycle show in earls court earlier this month, there was really very little outward sign of this on show. the bicycles were still displayed as objects either of desire or pragmatism; designed to fulfil a practical function rather than instil thoughts of their place in the grand scheme of the world, humanity and the universe. the answer, of course, as we all know, is 42.
but this philosophical attitude to the bicycle and cycling, it's part in saving the planet, and as a fairly green method of getting from a to b, has added a fourth dimension to the sunday ride (and the thursday, and tuesday, and saturday). and it's all the more satisfying for that. however, as with most philosophical statements or ideologies, the more comfortable we become with their influence, the more commonplace they become, and very soon they're part of the everyday (cycling) world. so if we want to keep this almost mysterious aspect of our world a part of the avant garde, where do we go from here? there are the visionaries, of course, many of whom have been responsible for placing us squarely where we are now. i do not mean folks such as gary fisher, keith bontrager, chris king or mike burrows; they are visionaries of the material world. seemingly ordinary folks such as guy andrews, ben ingham, olaf unverzart, camille mcmillan, taliah lempert, paul fournel, jeremy dunn, philip diprose, daniel wakefield pasley - the list goes on, but aware of it or not, these people are shaping our cycling present and, with a bit of luck, our future.
and the best bit is, you don't have to wait till it's your turn. it's unlikely any of the above truly set out with such shaping of the cycling world foremost in their resume. and probably don't see their works as anything out of the ordinary. so neither should we; only the truly pretentious see themselves as eccentric.
just ask yourself periodically - what would ben ingham do?
ben ingham photograph reproduced with permission
posted on wednesday 22nd october 2008.........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm a drummer, or at least, i think i am. ok, i'm a reasonable enough drummer to fool people into thinking i'm good enough to play with them in the first place. it's worked for the past ten years at the islay jazz festival, so i'm obviously getting rather fine at this fooling part. so it will likely come as no surprise that having a look at what other drummers are doing from time to time is something that passes the odd moment at washingmachinepost towers. and you can do this on the web (now there's a surprise) more recently via a new website at drumchannel.com.
of course, professional drummers, much like professional cyclists, have sponsors, only in the drumming world, this is turned on its head, where the drummer is said to endorse a particular brand of drums or cymbals. and more often than not, this allows them to perform on kits the size of a small battleship surrounded by an armoury of shiny cymbals. much like watching a rerun of your favourite classic, watching such polished performances are often the only excuse needed to dive upstairs and lay into the kit du maison. except, said kit has only four drums and a couple of cymbals, i can't hit it too hard because the neighbours (and probably most of the village) will ostracise me for months ahead, and there are no other musicians with whom to demonstrate my uncanny and virtuosic command of my chosen instrument. (i'm banking on the probability that none of you have heard me play)
because drumming is one of those activities that, realistically, is best experienced in musical company - i'm going to need others whith which to lay down a groove. the opposite is possibly what brought many of us to cycling in the first place: it can often be a solitary affair, and satisfyingly so. i can grab the aforementioned dvd of the favoured classic, sit in front of the telly and watch before heading out on the bicycle fired with enthusiasm and the belief that my speed and bike control are easily the equal of those i've just been watching. well, let's face it, it's not that difficult to get my heart rate up to the same level, it's just the speed thing that needs a bit of work.
and i can cycle for kilometre after kilometre, at any speed i desire (any speed at all with 10kph added for anyone who asks), completely independent of anyone else. and at an earlier juncture, that is what convinced me to put all my eggs in the cycling basket and simply relegate drumming to that of a hobby, because i hate having to depend on others to help me do what i do. that, and the fact that drum kits tend to take up more space than is available in a couple of karrimor panniers or a carradice saddle bag; in short, you need a car. don't get me wrong, i do enjoy drumming, and in a manner similar to that of my cycling, i generally think i'm better than i am, but i only drum when others ask me to - i'm never the instigator.
whereas i can take the colnago out of the bike shed at any time i like, and go for an all-day ride, or just a half-hour. it doesn't matter, because nobody else need be involved. and while cycling at the professional level may well be regarded as a team effort, riding about on your own isn't to be sniffed at; i doubt that there's a single one amongst you who not only enjoys going out with the local peloton, but is just as happy to be a peloton of one.
it's great being a cyclist.
posted on tuesday 21st october 2008.........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm really not sure how long mainstream and graeme fife think they can get away with this. tour de france - the history, the legend, the riders has been reprinted every year since being first published in 1999, each subsequent issue having that particular year's tour added at the back. mainstream have been kind enough to send me the last four reprints, and while mr fife may have made one or two updates to the bulk of the text charting the history of the tour over its glorious career, i doubt if anyone has had the fortitude to re-read the four hundred something pages to find out. i happily put my hand in the air and confess that i haven't.
none of this is intended to denigrate the research, perspicacity and writing style of graeme fife: if this is the first time you have become aware of this book, or perhaps the first time you have considered its purchase, the breadth and depth of the content is almost without compare. outside of specific volumes, it may be one of the few to cover the years of armstrong's domination and the subsequent aftermath, including landis, rasmussen et al, so £11.99 isn't too much to pay for that, let alone the massive amount of history that fills its earlier chapters.
this year's added chapter invites the reader to re-live the promise shown by valverde in the opening week, the possibility that garmin's david millar might just achieve a day or two in yellow, and csc's game of chess that finally prevented cadel evans from standing on the top of the podium in paris. graeme fife brings an easily readable chattiness to the stages, and introduces the riders as real people as well as cycling celebrities. he has a clever way of presenting his unique insights as discoveries we, as readers, feel we have made on our own as we head towards the champs elysees.
there is doubtless, much to be said for the speed with which this year's edition of the tour has been brought to press, and it hurts my national pride to criticise a classy scottish publisher, but as with many a publication in all walks of sporting life, the aftermath can sometimes undermine statements in print made in all good faith. the 2008 race, the chucking out of ricardo ricco notwithstanding, was tentatively deemed to be the first of the clean tours, post lance. now we discover that schumacher and kohl owe much of their winning ways to the same diet as the cobra. naturally, neither revelation was in time to make it to print.
however, to return to my initial fault finding, there must surely be a diminishing customer base for such a venture. had i bought last year's, or even 2006's, i really doubt i'd consider this. it's an easy option for a christmas present, but at the risk of demonstrating how little i know of thewashingmachinepost readership, many of you would likely be a touch underwhelmed on removing the warapping paper if this appeared on december 25th. certainly, much like big brother, it's cheap television, but i think 2008 should be recognised as the year that this particular format is retired.
just buy a copy of the tour dvd, if you're really that keen.
posted on monday 20th october 2008.........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the veterans disliked the rookies. the dutch hated the belgians. the dutch hated me. the belgians distrusted the dutch. nobody had much respect for for the kermis racers.'
apparently the title of this excellent book refers to a belgian saying used to describe something out of the ordinary: joe parkin was that something out of the ordinary. an american who decided that, rather than follow the usual paths of attending college from the age of 18 onwards, or joining one of the armed forces, parkin decided that he wanted to be a professional cyclist. the influential person who recommended that he shift lock, stock and barrel to belgium to race against real cyclists, was the irrepressible bob roll, perhaps less well known in europe than in his native united states. in his opening sentence in the book's foreword, bob admits, 'i did tell joe parkin to go to belgium. i did not, however, tell him to stay.'
'before the prologue, i had weighed 70 kilos. after four days in spain (tour of burgos), i weighed just 62. welcome to the pros.
many a word has been written by those who did and did not move to mainland europe to follow the path of the professional cyclist, including robert millar, tony hewson, allan peiper and others. the latter who became a team mate of parkin's in the tulip computer team during the early nineties. the book is subheaded an american bike racer's story of mud, drugs, blood, betrayal, and beauty in belgium; it is fair to say that each of these subjects is comprehensively dealt with throughout the book, but i find it sad to say that at least one other review i have read, seemed only concerned with the d word. joe parkin does not brush the subject under the carpet, but the book is about so much more than that.
never a rider who rose to the celebrated heights of his more famous counterpart, greg lemond, with whom he was also briefly a team-mate in the adr team, joe parkin was more the domestique with which none of our dreams are associated but which, more than likely, reality would bring us home to. it wasn't a glamorous life, nor, by all accounts a particularly well (financially) rewarded one, at least certainly not by present day standards, but this was 1988, and things have changed (a bit) since then. however, joe parkin harboured a different view of his glamorous life as a cyclist:
his description of a team decision to attack as hard as possible from the start in a kermis to destroy the opposition, then pull out at the end of the first lap - of course, we all coughed up blood for the entire trip, but it was strangely worth it, as if we had smashed our guitars, poured beer on the audience, and walked offstage before the end of the first song.
that in itself should give you an idea of the genre; it's a very well written, and cleverly paced narrative. some books you can contentedly put down at the end of each chapter, but this isn't one of them; sometimes reviewing books is hard work (honestly), but any amount of hard work is more than repaid when jewels like this one come along. it's maybe not the idealised notion most of us have of the life of a professional cyclist (of whichever nationality), but it's all the more gutsy and enjoyable for its self-effacing honesty. i could read it all over again right now. one hopes that mr parkin may have more cycling tales of derring do to tell, since i would welcome a lot more writing of this standard.
'i'm not sure i was a real pro until i lined up at the start of paris-brussels.'
posted on sunday 19th october 2008..........................................................................................................................................................................................................