it's not often that i have a theme running through two consecutive articles, but stranger things have happened. this may be one of them.
yesterday i was querying the point at which we'd changed from riding bikes with not a lot of seatpost to smaller frames with considerably more post on view. the principal benefit that i can see is that we now have more opportunity to read the logo on the side of the carbon weave. my original campag seatpost from the early nineties was tiny (but infinitely more stylish) by comparison. thank you to all those who e-mailed to agree or disagree. your input is appreciated. however, the natural follow on from here is the fit of the bicycle. which size to buy when you're a complete novice ranks up there with my first serious purchase of a pair of drumsticks: when the man in the shop asked what type of sticks i'd like, i rather quizzically said 'wooden ones'. how do you know what size frame, cranks, stem would be comfortable when making that initial purchase?
a decent bike shop with experienced staff and a comprehensive range of sizes would be an ideal start. if they happen to have a turbo trainer handy, it would be an easy option to try different machines for fit. some of us are less lucky, living a considerable distance from just such a bike store which is where mail order comes into play. trek have removed this option altogether for prospective buyers, but you can almost see their point when it comes to sizing, though that part is lost on me for second or third time purchasers. (and just as a point of note, trek were happy enough to send lance's bike over to australia - they didn't make him travel to his nearest dealer). but, whichever route you wish to take, there is not a lot the experienced shop person can do if you have a longer torso than legs. or longish arms. or even vice versa.
because mass produced bicycles tend to be built to a tried and tested formula: seat tube length corresponds with top tube length corresponds to head tube length and so on. therefore the obvious solution is a custom build, and that's where the problems start (or, indeed, stop). and in much the same way that once you've sold everyone double-glazing, what do you do next, it seems that even one of the largest mass market suppliers of racing bicycles may be about to plough the custom line, or at least promote the benefits of same. specialized, in 2009, will be supplying bicycles to bjarne riis' saxo bank team, and as part of this commitment to the tour de france winning team of 2008, they invited the entire team to a bike fit session with the esteemed mr andy pruitt. this wasn't just a case of measuring inside leg, arm measurement and the length of their socks; video cameras, sensors, computers and shoe platforms were order of the day. according to mr pruitt 'with a proper bike fit, at maximum effort, the heart rate is lower and time to exhaustion is longer.'
so where does this leave us mere mortals? well, to put things into perspective, those who ride several thousand kilometres over the course of three weeks put their bodies and legs through a deal more contortions than me cycling down to debbie's for that double espresso. but analysing these statements and actions from specialized and mr pruitt rather pulls the rug from under the mass market of which the former are a considerable part. i am most certainly not poo pooing a custom bike fit. i've seen roger graver at work in mosquito bikes, and the staff at cycle fit - believe me, no turn is left unstoned, and the joy of riding a bicycle built exclusively for and measured precisely for you is likely second to none. believe me, if it wasn't for the fact that i'd probably qualify for a bus pass before delivery, i'd be more than happy to be measured up for my next colnago. happily, it is freely admitted that the majority of us manage quite happily on off the shelf frames, but now the seeds of doubt have been sown.
is that niggling little crick on the left of my neck because of the way that i sit at my computer, or is my saddle height .05mm out? or do i need to raise my bars a fraction (a worrying question for many of us, having chopped that carbon steerer to size). it'll be interesting to watch the saxo bank chaps this year to see how much seatpost they have showing.
see more here
do you think they're doing the same for quickstep?
posted on wednesday 14 january 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
socks. not the most essential of cycling apparel; in fact, i have ridden with people who do not wear socks when riding at all. maybe not in winter admittedly, but that seems quite acceptable. most of the socks available to the ever-ready amongst us are of the ankle variety, yet a few years ago, when lance was at his prime and not riding a trek with 1274 written on the seat tube, he was oft criticised for wearing long (black) socks, purely on aesthetic grounds. on the basis of an early photograph of lance training in new astana kit, he's still at it: they're still black (livestrong i believe) and a tad longer than the guy in white socks on the bike next to him. jacques anquetil was guilty (if we can apply such an adjective) of a similar offence. in fact, in the halcyon days of yore, when rapha gave us the option of long or short merino socks, simon mottram preferred to refer to them as the anquetil version rather than bring the lance word into the equation.
but let's face it, while there have been more hideous and even lengthier socks seen in the peloton over the past few years, it's a superficial diversion: nobody cycles faster or slower because of the length of their socks; or whether they rip the sleeves off the jersey to get a better tan (just in case mario's reading). cycling is as much at the beck and call of fashion as any other modern day commodity, sport or pastime.
however, when did we start riding higher up? well, not strictly higher up, in the true sense of the phrase, but perhaps showing more seatpost. look back at the black and white photos from yesteryear that we are all so in love with, and take a look at the frame size relative to the seatpost length. even the mighty dave t has been known to point this out of a sunday ride. is this fashion, or did somebody figure out that merckx, van looy, maitre jacques were all doing it wrong? harking back to the mike burrows designed giant compact, the seatpost shifted to gargantuan proportions partly to compensate for a lack of in between sizes, and the fact that the top tube sloped downwards to the seat-tube. but this alteration in seatpost/frame size proportion pre-dates that. and while it may be an optical illusion relative to the more elderly sizing, or even focal length of the cameras used, it really looks as if the champions and domestiques of yesteryear sat lower on their bicycles.
tom boonen stated that he rides his specialized with the saddle a touch lower than the optimum discovering during a seatpost malfunction that the lower position allowed him to gain more power. which rather calls into question the more elevated rider of today; firing off conjecture with absolutely no basis in scientific fact i now find myself querying the current trend for a higher cadence. could it be that sitting higher up needs spinning to gain the same advantages gained by sitting lower on the bike?
and just while we're here slinging unfettered conjecture back and forth, let us briefly consider the evolution of the sprinter. while teams have always had a rider (or riders) at the service of those intended to win the finishing sprint, the development of the train is definitely a more recent innovation. and it's noticeable, at least it is if you flick back and forth between the old and the new, that some of the soccer mentality has affected the cipollini's, freire's cavendish's of this world. the equivalent of running round the pitch with a jersey pulled over your head, hugging and kissing anyone wearing a similar jersey. modern day sprinters exhibit similar on the bike tendencies to celebrate the win, something markedly missing from wins during the so-called classic era. yes, ok there is the occasional raised arm, but could it be that sprints are much closer nowadays (those trains again, no doubt) and the pack leader needs to assert his momentary superiority?
or maybe we're just more egotistical these days (in long socks)
posted on tuesday 13 january 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
we move in commercial times. the world of cycling would probably still exist, but not at the level it does today were it not for the money poured in from a variety of sponsors, all keen to advertise their wares across the world. the uci's pro tour increased the necessity for more of this commerciality, requiring teams to fulfil their cycling obligations in a greater number of compulsory events across the world. prior to the advent of this is it dead, is it alive? series, if your sponsor had no earthly interest in the italian market (for example) then they would usually give the giro a body swerve. the pro tour changed all that, making it compulsory for all pro tour teams to partake of each event. meaning that several sponsors were throwing more money into the pot to advertise to people they had no desire to attract in the first place. funny old world.
however, given that the commercial world runs in this fashion, we have no real option but to accept things as they are; not just the teams, but the fans too. the outward expression of the latter is perhaps best embodied by the team livery; the team jersey. because, if we can briefly apply a smidgeon of soccer mentality, there's a reasonable chance that a portion of a team's fanbase will sally forth and purchase a cap or jersey to show their true colours (if you'll pardon the pun). now personally i do not subscribe to this display of fandom - i do rather enjoy the humour portrayed by this year's milram team jersey, but at the very least, the jerseys have focus bikes and probably shimano emblazoned somewhere on that blue and white cow; i don't ride a focus, and would feel ill at ease riding cambiago displaying a contrary pair of wheels. that, however, is my problem and unlikely to trouble the seriously ardent fan.
teams at the continental level oft-times are unable to find a title sponsor, surviving on monies from a myriad of smaller sponsors, all of whom have to be satisfied by incorporating the company logo somewhere on that expanse of lycra. some of the results are not pretty. but if we head northwards to the multi-million dollar budgets of the pro teams, there is ostensibly, considerably less need for more of the same. the real estate on front and back can be given over to a degree of style. or so you would think.
there is a worrying trend that seems to afflict the former t-mobile team which morphed into team high road before attracting columbia as title sponsor. when the german telecoms people pulled out, they left bob stapleton with enough cash to run the team without need for a sponsor's logo on the jersey. at least, for a wee while. a clean slate if you will. and look what they did with that; lettering reminsicent of a bad seventies funk band album cover on a background of plain white. californian design gurus, emigre, produced mousemats (in the days when they were a necessity rather than the mere desk decoration of today) printed with the legend 'design is a good idea'; mr stapleton obviously missed out on both meanings implied by that slogan.
columbia did us all a favour by switching the kit to a harmless blue, but if you've been watching the online press over the past few days, you can't help but have noticed what they've done to the jersey for 2009 - what the blinking flip were they thinking of? there must be scores of designers in the world who could carry out a brief to incorporate various commercial graphics into a stylish peice of kit that wouldn't look out of place on fausto coppi. what on earth will those of future generations think when they get a centre page pullout in the comic of 2050, depicting mark cavendish at the head of a line of sprinters in the 2009 tour de france.
it has always surprised me that there are those who can sustain a level of employment designing typefaces - not because i think there is anything wrong with such a worthy profession, but i didn't realise there was enough recompense. but if such is the case, is it not possible that such gainful employment could also be made available for specialist cycle jersey designers? maybe cyclevox have one stashed away in a cupboard somewhere - if so, could you please give them bob stapleton's phone number?
posted on monday 12 january 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
after winning his three gold medals at beijing last summer, sir chris hoy was feted from pillar to post, taking part in at least two open top bus parades through two capital cities, presumably filiming the rather apalling bran flakes tv advert, appearing at numerous public and sponsors' functions, winning the bbc sports personality of the year award, as well as missing the national cycling federation dinner to, quite rightly, appear at the charity dinner of which he is patron, the braveheart fund. but if you have read any of the thousands of words attributed to him in the cycling and mainstream press of late, chris expressed a great desire to get back to training; to get on the bike and let his legs do the talking from now on. that he has done, if you bear witness to his commanding points win over jason kenny in the king of sprints tournament at the recent rotterdam six-day (and i'd dearly love to know why cycling.tv didn't televise it this year as they did last).
nothing particularly innate about hoy wishing to climb aboard that sliver of carbon that has brought him so much success, but in reality expressing a desire few of us can relate to in our slightly less famous existence(s). put your hands up just how many of you have returned from even just one week's holiday in a resort/location of your choice, and have articulated a similar desire to return to the office on monday morning. unsurprisingly, not too many raised hands. even if it's a job you actually quite enjoy, chances are that holidaying, ligging (old nme expression) or celebrating are modes that we all find a tad more enjoyable than working. or maybe it's just that riding a bike is different.
i have been riding a bicycle for a substantial number of years, pretty much increasing the mileage year on year. what initially started out as a means of transport has morphed into a major part of my life; i still cycle as a mode of transport, since i no longer own a motor car, but it has, i admit, become somewhat of a serious addiction. well, you'll have kind of guessed that based on these daily posts. i am continually asked quite how i manage to write something seven days a week (fortunately, no-one has attacked the quality issue so far) all about cycling, and the most worrying thing is that i really don't know. but this weekend, for once in its life, the weather forecast for this portion of the world turned out to be right on the money - stupidly high winds and more than just a notion of rain. heavy precipitation.
this meant that, despite an unarguable desire to climb aboard that brooks saddle, chances are i would have been exploring the inside of a roadside ditch very quickly or, more worryingly, appearing as a mascot on the radiator grill of one of the pot ale trucks. safety first i always say; and i haven't even mentioned the prospect of a thorough soaking in the process. well, maybe just briefly. the end result is that the colnago never made it past thewashingmachine bike shed door.
but it's coming to terms with the situation that bears the greatest examination. constantly looking out the living room window for just the tiniest of breaks in the cloud cover; looking at the pool of water in next door's garden to see if raindrops are falling; squinting out the kitchen window to eye the anemometer atop the neighbour's shed (had it spun any faster, i'd have had to alert air traffic control). why, oh why, can't i just resign myself to the fact that i'm not going out on the bike, that there'll be no espresso at debbie's and that no amount of pacing the living room carpet is going to change those facts. unfortunately, acceptance was conspicuous by its absence.
because, if i had managed out for a bike ride, hard work (at least in one direction) would have been an understatement; do we do this at work, for which we are ostensibly being paid? of course we don't - it wouldn't be natural. yet not going out for the sunday ride seems just as unnatural, not least because i spent the morning clearing out my wardrobe.
of course, now that the weekend has passed without incident, the weather will clear admirably while i/we spend a day in the office tomorrow. does this mean that deep down, we're all really like chris hoy? even if i don't eat bran flakes?
and before you say anything, yes i know the photo is of lance in the wind in hawaii.
posted on sunday 11 january 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
before moving to islay some 21 years ago, mrs washingmachinpost and i had the occasional holiday over here; in fact, it was those very days of vacation that persuaded us that here was the very place to be. anyway, on one of those visits, while enjoying lunchtime in the croft kitchen, port charlotte, a restaurant that used to feature some fine espresso and even a rather fetching bread and butter pudding (only when not training, you understand), outside in the car park was an ego driven prat, standing atop the low stone wall around the parking area, calling or answering someone on his mobile phone. while i'm sure that mobile phone coverage wasn't quite the almost seemless joy it can be in modern times, the necessity to stand on the corner of the wall, making sure he could be seen by all and sundry did seem a tad exhibitionist.
such exhibitionism was given greater credence by the size of the phone itself: imagine a black housebrick with an aerial stuck on the top. something reminiscent of the field telephones used by the army in the middle of manoeuvres. i remember not whether there was a similarly sized battery concealed about his person. still, one wonders whether the mobile phone craze (for such it is, when viewed through the eyes of a mobile phone agnostic such as myself) would have caught on to the degree that it has, if the phones had remained as conspicuous as once they were. with apple having crammed around four times the functionality into plastic and metal not much bigger than a few credit cards, closely followed by blackberry et al, these are now much sought after accessories, a seeking which may just have outgrown the point in the first place. however, ignoring my constant fun-poking not so much at the objects themselves but at the folks who lust after them, the huge steps made both in the electronics integration and miniaturisation, coupled with some seriously state of the art industrial design, have made a utilitarian object into one with a high degree of style.
so if we now transfer our sights to the must have doohicky on the bicycle, we find things have not fared quite so well: the powermeter. my subsequent comments really only apertain to the powermeters offered by the industry leader, srm. the brainchild of ulrich schoberer the first srm powermeter saw the light of the lower part of a bicycle in 1986, around the same time as our man on the wall of the croft kitchen. sadly, while the mechanical and electronic progress made by srm has maintained pace with the demands placed upon it, the good looks are still some way behind.
i am not an industrial designer and therefore not fully conversant with the physical restrictions inherent in placing strain gauges on the dark-side of the chainset (an album that didn't do nearly as well for pink floyd), but i really can't help feeling that someone currently working for apple or sony could pop across to julich (not bobby - it's a town in germany) with some top cad software and a sharp pencil and smooth things out a bit. i surely can't be the only one looking at photographs of the astana or columbia training pelotons let down badly by those clunky looking chainsets affixed to their stylish carbon fibre. granted, you can only do so much with the materials you are presented with, and it's not srm who build the chainsets to which the gubbins are attached, but this argument falls to pieces when you come to the head unit that clamps to the handlebars. this is to the apple iphone as the tiger moth is to concorde. i was fortunate enough, a couple of years ago, to test an srm unit from cyclepowermeters.com, and while the unit presents all the information asked of it, it's no wonder that the pros and others have breathed a collective sigh of relief now that the new srm is ant+ wireless enabled. this now allows it to be used wirelessly with the garmin 705, the latter being a salutory lesson in how information presentation on the bike should be done.
i know it's a tool and not a fashion accessory (although, much like the mobile phone, the jury is out on that last one - in certain quarters), but in the words of london's gregarios never let substance get in the way of style
of course, for some of us, this will never be a problem; first you need enough power to make it work in the first place.
posted on saturday 10 january 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
most of our on-bike clothing has three pockets on the back; ok, some jerseys have maybe one pocket and some have two, perfectly adequate for stuffing an inner tube and a bit of mrs washingmachinepost's christmas cake in because that's what cyclists do. but on one or two occasions, those rear pockets might just not be enough. lest you doubt that this be the case, christmas dinner at washingmachinepost towers passed bereft of cranberry jelly because our local supermarket had none whatsoever in stock, not altogether surprising because you could almost guarantee that whatever you've set your heart on for tea, that particular shelf will be empty. or, if it's one of those buy one get one free offers there will be only one still on the shelf (how does that happen?). anyway, as per usual, i digress somewhat.
despite my vegetarianism, i still like a dod of cranberry jelly with my nut roast and brussels sprouts; in this case, the glaringly obvious solution to the problem, before we got to new year's day dinner, was to buy a jar of jelly from debbie's and pop it in one of the aforementioned rear pockets to transport back to bowmore. with the regular product from ocean spray that isn't actually too much of a problem, but deb's carries more exotic produce than that, unfortunately encased in a very square glass jar. guess what - it wouldn't, no matter what contortions i performed, fit in any pocket, at least not without the threat of falling out en route home.
this is where a bit of traditional assistance comes in handy. there's no use pointing out that a pannier or saddlebag would be the very item to have, though i can see where you're coming from, but remember with one notable exception, the vc d'ardbeg peloton does not ride practical bicycles: we are honed athletes and need the very finest of italian carbon fibre to enhance such honing. saddlebags and panniers are not on the wish list. however, something that does fit the image and provide the necessary haulage assistance is the not so humble musette. various versions have been passed from pillar to post amongst our peloton, having been acquired from differing stages of many years' tours de france, but these are akin to bio-degradable carrier bags from the aforementioned supermarket: pragmatic but with no style whatsoever.
at this point i'm hoping that paul at solo will forgive this unseemly delay in giving light to the release of the solo musette. in no way is it retribution for ireland winning the jersey vote for 2008 (but if it's not scotland this year...). fashioned in hard wearing cotton, with a velcro fastener top and centre, the solo musette will carry a lot more than you'd think, and with great aplomb. there's a red contrasting loop atop the musette to allow the clipping of one of those flashing leds, with the solo race bred cyclewear logo on the front. and for those awkward moments in the cafe, when conversation dries up altogether (has that ever happened?), or you're asked in which gear you just won the spedding sprint (happens to me all the time) the reverse has a comprehensive gear table printed for either of the above occasions. knobbly tyre riders need not apply, because the chart explains only 700c wheels.
the solo musette is available in black only, at the stunningly cool price of only £10, ($19) | solocc.com
posted on friday 9 january 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................