i like to think of thewashingmachinepost as a happy place, the sort of place you can pop into at anytime of the day and find something of interest or whimsy that might just float your boat. in the early years, my byline was do something trivial - read thewashingmachinepost as i felt that adequately described the experience you were likely to get by logging onto these black and yellow pixels. however, as the years rolled by, and the subject matter started to include reviews of anything but trivial products, it seemed somewhat of an insult to those reading and those manufacturers and distributors who were kind enough to supply material for review, i dropped that particular stance. i enjoy all this stuff: i like testing and reviewing, the enlarged peer group from the world of cycling, and the regular flow of e-mail correspondence that arrives in my inbox.
however, there's always some who want to spoil the party, either through unsubstantiated criticism, which i'm quite willing to accept as part of the process of putting my head above the parapet, or those who effectively take my name in vain. and just today my attention was drawn to one of the latter.
late last year i decided to experiment with twittering, an experiment which continues to this day, because i'm still trying to figure out the point of it all as, i believe, are many others. but one of the downsides of this so-called social networking is the ability to pretend that you're someone or something that you're not; this is something i really don't agree with. if i'm asked for a screen name on any forums or such like, i either use twmp or my real name. sadly, there are those who not only apparently disagree with this way of going about online life, but actively wish to deceive. someone has created the twitter name robertmillar and is posting irregularly, pretending to be robert. i know that it isn't robert millar, but just to make matters worse and to implicate me in this deception, they have quoted thewashingmachinepost as their website.
i doubt that there's very much that can be done about this deception, since the true identity of twitter.com/robertmillar is not known to me and as yet, i have found no way of contacting them directly to ask them to desist. i doubt that robert's too chuffed about it either. however, if anyone in the real world has any idea who is perpetrating this deception, or if the person responsible actually reads the website they have quoted as their own, i'd like it to stop please. it's unnecessary, immoral and you obviously have very little concern for either thewashingmachinepost or robert millar.
posted on saturday 27 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
cycle magazines and websites are decidedly useful if you're on the point of purchasing a new item of bicycle jewellery, clothing or, perchance, a velocipede. with a bit of patience, google, and an idea of roughly what you're looking for, it's possible to find someone somewhere who either has an opinion or a test of the very item that is eager to part you from your cash, or prove just how flexible that plastic really isn't. naturally enough, new products to market are probably only available with the manufacturer's description or worse, several paragraphs of rhetoric they'd be happy to pass off as confirmed fact. that's why marketing departments exist.
happily, the latter approach does not apply to mick and andy at prendas: in most cases, an unexpected brown envelope arrives in the post containing something i wasn't expecting accompanied by few, if any, words of wisdom or hyperbole. in the case under consideration, the occupant of the envelope was the strikingly excellent casquette you see above; prendas have had a self-styled cap available for a number of years, presented in white cotton with red and blue stripes down the middle. this latest item of uniform is the new white (black) bearing silkscreened white stripes down the centre with bold prendas wording on the sides, top of the peak and ciclismo on the underside, in case you're of the peak-up school of thought. a very chic piece of headgear if i do say so myself.
but all you have above is a description and a photograph, neither of which give you any indication of how well this cap performs under hard use. well, scrabble about no more: in a selfless display of unfetteredly aggressive riding, i have put said item through its paces on a day of blazing sun and close to gale force winds, my only reward for doing so being your greater edification and a soya cappuccino at debbie's.
since i will ride nowhere without a helmet, particularly now that summer is here, visitors are here and the standard of driving has taken a nosedive over the past week or so (why it is necessary to champ at the bit, desperate to overtake cyclists on blind corners, on an island where the motto is a gaelic variation on manana, i will probably never know), therefore the prendas casquette was really only totally visible while on the sofa in the corner supping coffee. the rest of the time it hid 'neath a catlike helmet. however, the peak has been highly visible throughout, sheilding my eyes from the sun while in a southward direction.for reasons best known to themselves, argyll and bute roads department saw fit to turn two of the finest sections of road we own into apple crumble this past week; while the weather has been hot and dusty since tuesday, the apple crumble has been likewise, meaning passing roads department trucks threw up clouds of grey dust, some of which was visible over the word 'prendas' on the peak (i have dusted it down now - honest). now i could just have ridden to debbie's, drunk my coffee, and headed straight home like a good little boy. but, no, obstinate to the last, i took a detour round by the abattoirenberg forest, eager to hammer over the scale model of the pyrenees we laughingly call a road. and the cap moved not one inch (or 2.5cm for the europhiles amongst us).
so now when any of you are trawling the web systematically or otherwise, for specifications and independent testing (under harrowing conditions) of the ideal casquette, it has been my pleasure to serve. at present, the cap is directed towards those intent on riding this year's etape du tour on the ventoux, with wording on the back as tribute to such an undertaking. i will not be joining such a peloton. the cap costs a very reasonable £7.50 or can be had as part of prendas' ongoing four for £25 cap offer.
not only is it hardy enough for uncompromised riding, but can also be worn when updating one's blog.
posted on friday 26 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a number of my friends have been involved, over the last couple of months, in traversing parts of the usa that others fear to tread, under the umbrella (metaphorical) of the rapha continental. and in much the same way as rock and roll is as much about travelling from gig to gig as it is about standing on stage in front of a whole stack of marshalls and a drum kit, the routes chosen for our ultimate edification have not been exactly adjacent to each other. this has meant rather a large number of minutes, hours and even days sat in the back of a minibus with only idle banter and some music to alleviate the stress and strain of doing so.now that the continental is on a month's hiatus before heading back for more of the same at the beginning of month seven, embrocation ed and rapha's north american communications guru (i know he'll like that last description) jeremy dunn, has published the first of a series of itunes imixes on the rapha continental pages, that we can purchase for download to our ipods and listen to on the train, bus, car as we head to the daily travail. only apple has placed an inadvertant fly in the ointment: apparently jd's imix playlist is accessible only to those living in north america. despite all the tracks being readily available in the uk itunes store, if you click to enjoy the sounds from a uk ip address, itunes informs that a switching of stores is necessary. bummers.
so, in the spirit of transatlantic co-operation, i have created the very same playlist in the uk store, the link for which appears south of this sentence or in the graphic above. uk continental fans can now enjoy the same sounds as tony, daniel, jeremy, cole et al.
just remember to listen with an american accent.
if you're already in america, go here
posted on thursday 25 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it seems only a few weeks ago that i was immersing myself in the world of modern bicycle electronics by road testing shimano's di2, but today's venture, in my self appointed role of saving the world, involved more rudimentary electronics; rudimentary in that a more apt description would be electrics, rather than their more 21st century counterpart.
and elderly lady who lives not too far from washingmachinepost towers owns a tricycle with the option of electrical power for those episodes of terrain where elderly, or perhaps infirm, legs might struggle to cope. i have been through the iniquity of the mechanical design of this trike before, but a modicum of repetition will alleviate my frustration at same: there is a chain running from crank to an unfettered sturmy archer bolted to a bracket at the rear of the frame. from here a smaller chain runs from a secondary sprocket on the sa hub to a sprocket on the very wide rear axle. when the main chain needs tensioning, it's a simple case of unbolting the sa hub and sliding it backwards. however, if you've followed my frighteningly untechnical description, you may have noticed that this now loosens that smaller chain running to the drive axle.
here, in a bizarre demonstration of inept mechanical design, the entire axle has to be shifted rearwards to take up the tension on the mini-chain. and how is this achieved? the axle is held in place by four bolts, two each side. loosening these four allows the axle, with just a bit of brute force (a sledgehammer in today's episode). but rather than have the bolt heads on the underside, the bolts are fitted threaded side down, exposing both threads and bolts to all the crud thrown up from the road. i have taken steps to minimise the problems this incurs by regularly removing the nuts and regreasing the threads to keep them (hopefully) infinitely adjustable. unfortunately the design of the axle retention brackets prevents my flipping the bolts to solve the problem, but it's something that could have been accomplished at the design and manufacturing stage. if the frame had been constructed with space for an eccentric bottom bracket, all the adjustment could have been carried out from the centre of the bike, relatively unhindered.
but now we get nearer to the start of 'problem' number two. to get in and about all these various adjustable doohickies, it would be helpful to elevate the rear of the trike, but the power for this machine arrives courtesy of a car battery ensconced in a large fibreglass box in between the rear wheels. and car batteries are a touch on the heavy side. couple this with the fact that electromotive power is achieved by means of a car starter motor, you will by now, have gathered that this tricycle has a weight problem. while i wouldn't call it a comical problem, particularly since the lady owner in question suffered a stroke a couple of years ago, the main reason for having an electric trike was to have the motor kick in when the road reaches upwards (however gently). the rest of the trike ride is accomplished under her own steam; the trike can be pedalled in conventional fashion forever if so wished.
if i might take you back to my maintenance struggles due to not only the weight of the machine, but where this weight is principally distributed (at the rear), it's not too much of an extrapolation to realise that if the battery and motor were removed, it may well be possible for even its current owner to cycle up the hill, presently aided by electrics. i believe this is what might be described as a paradox, and is definitely not the future.
pedalling is always the answer, whatever the question.
posted on wednesday 24 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the coolest thing about islay, if you ask the thousands who make the pilgrimage here year after year, is not necessarily the miles and miles of empty beaches (the fact that it's a bit on the parky side most of the year might have something to do with that), or the acres of open space, nor the road surfaces that make billiard tables look flat. it's the distilleries. with a total of eight single malt distilleries on islay, and one at craighouse on jura (our neighbouring isle) the area has the highest proportion per head of population in the world. so on a wee rock on the edge of the atlantic, there are enough different whiskies to not only hold an annual festival with each one allocated a day or half a day, but all are concentrated in quite a small geographical area, making it a drammer's paradise.
the link with cycling may be a tenuous one, but concrete nonetheless: not for nothing does the post feature velo club d'ardbeg on its very own green pages, depicting the great unwashed wearing their club jerseys that pay homage to the most southerly and peatiest whisky on the isle. yes, bruichladdich did produce a cycle jersey of their own, but it has not garnered a similar following to ardbeg.
however, it was brought to my attention today by a correspondent (thank you graham) that the coolness of a whisky related cycle jersey has been usurped: this is coolness with a coolness factor of eleven. i can't reconcile the fact that i've lived on the hallowed isle for nearly twenty two years and never thought of this myself. the embarrassment of it all. if you haven't already peeked at the photo at the top (and i cannot for the life of me see how you could have missed it) the bicycle to which this innovative bar endcap is attached belongs to charles manantan of pez cycling news: a screamingly expensive colnago eps custom. charles, however, has betrayed his negligible knowledge of whisky, as related to the world of a cyclist with the kahunas to ride colnago's top of the range frameset. whisky contains no carbohydrates whatsoever, and is therefore of no use as a refuelling method. this means the poor soul downed two bottles of one of islay's peatiest single malts in order to garner a couple of idiosyncratic endcaps, and has gained no benefit whatsoever.
as a resident of the isle, i will take this lack of carbs up with the distillery concordat, since this is obviously an administrative oversight. just think of how silly they're going to feel when i point out that for the last five hundred years whisky has been produced in scotland and, by implication, on islay, and yet it has no energy benefit for cyclists whatsoever. boy will they have egg on their faces.in the meantime i've asked laphroaig and ardbeg to send me over a handful of corks.
posted on tuesday 23 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
cranksets, as we should now apparently refer to the bits between one pedal and the other, are the very parts of a bike that tend to be ignored by all of us, rightly or wrongly. provided they work as designed, there is little or no reason to incorporate them in that overall sense of wellbeing engendered while riding a new bicycle. even when the crankset has been changed or upgraded, this particular set of components rarely invokes a major reaction: on a scale of one to ten, i doubt any crankset has been given a one or a ten. in this case, it was a malady affecting the crankset on a test bike that necessitated a change, replacement swiftly and efficiently supplied by the uk importer.
it was shimano who effectively rendered the term chainset redundant by fixing one end of the bottom bracket axle to the drive side crank, moving the bearings outboard and necessitating affixing of the left crank to the end of the now vastly oversized axle. in the case of shimano, the left crank is clamped to the axle by means of two opposing bolts, while campagnolo employ their hirth coupling, joining the two halves of the axle in the middle. fsa have seen fit not to stick with one method, utilising the shimano style fitment on one or two of their cranksets, but flying their own flag with splines on the others. the bicycle had arrived with an fsa team issue on which internal splines inside the left crank, mate with complementary splines on the end of the axle. these two disparate parts are held together by a large 8mm allen key tightened bolt, capped by a light alloy q/r nut (unscrewing the bolt presses against the qr/nut and removes the crank from the axle.)
in the case of the team issue, it arrived minus the q/r bolt (lost somewhere between the previous incumbent, and thewashingmachinepost) and constantly felt as if the crank was loose, despite tightening the bolt well past its bedtime. windwave sent me up a new bolt and q/r nut, but the problem persisted. i tried different pedals, cleats, wheels, and still the loose crank feeling would not go away. on closer examination, it appeared that the crank splines were not mating properly with the corresponding axle splines, so irrespective of the force applied to the tightening bolt, there was still a touch of radial movement. whether this was as a result of mechanical damage, or a problem at manufacture, i am ill equipped to tell, but windwave elected to replace the crankset with the sl-k carbon compact pro, the very model now fitted as standard on the bike under test (patience, dear reader, patience).
the sl-k pro compact differs from the team issue version most obviously in the profile of the splines connecting crank to axle: the team issue could reasonably be compared with the similarly profiled splines on a shimano freehub, while those on the sl-k are dramatically star shaped and of similar depth to those on a campagnolo freehub. this latter feature gives the crank one heck of a lot more purchase on the axle, and likely to give better transfer of power (it certainly feels like it, but this could be auto-suggestion). it's the incorporation of the axle on the drive side crank, necessitating use of a set of external bearings, that morphs a chainset into a crankset, though we're really dealing with semantics here.
the mega-exo bottom bracket, sounding like a character from the new transformers movie, fitted very easily into the english threaded shell on the bicycle, placing a plastic sleeve between right and left cups, presumably in an attempt to keep crud away from those oversize bearings. a wavy washer needs to be fitted between the left crank and the external bearing seal (strangely missing from the original) before the crank is tightened onto the axle. this latter operation required a very long 8mm allen key to give sufficient leverage to tighten the bolt; the fact that this much effort was required provided confidence that the crank would stay in place. i have not tempted fate by attempting removal, but suffice to say all the torque i can produce has been pushed through this crankset over the last three days and the only movement has been forward.
like campagnolo's cranks in which the carbon resembles a marble floor, fsa have opted for the same rather than a carbon weave, to my mind and aesthetic, far the better choice. not having to clamp the crank to the axle allows fsa to keep a more slimline, rounded profile on the crank, making it a less clunky option to either of the other two. sadly, fsa have persisted with the inexplicable neccesity to place a thin washer between pedal axle and crank arm. this may be a fit and forget operation for the one time owner of the bicycle, but this problem reared its head on the chris king cielo in portland: if, like me, part of the weekly process involves swapping pedals from bike to bike, the probability of losing at least one of these is greatly magnified. why, oh why can these not be incorporated into the crank arm as a permanent fixture, making life easier for all of us?
chainrings are the seeming industry standard 50/34: i never was much good with numbers, and here is no exception. there's a 16 tooth gap between those two rings, while that of a standard 53/39 is only 14.
a compact chainset undoubtedly makes better use of the outer ring in regular flatland pedalling, but this larger tooth gap on the rings, meant that i was forever having to slip back up one sprocket after switching to the big ring and the opposite when flipping back to the inner. i realise that fsa are not alone in this area, but i can't help feeling that a 50/36 combination would work a lot better. the mighty dave t feels that he may concur with me on this point.that aside, the crankset reverted to type as elucidated at the top of the article: once it was on the bike, i almost forgot about it. just as it should be. retail cost is £270, roughly comparable with campagnolo's chorus crankset and about midway between shimano's ultegra and dura-ace (though the latter two are not available in carbon fibre). easy to fit, very efficient in operation, and most importantly, very stylish.
posted on monday 22 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
'it looms over you like the dark, low clouds outside. it's akin to the feeling you have when you wake with the knowledge you have done something wrong for which you will have to atone'
it will come as no surprise to anyone living in the west of scotland that midsummer day (coinciding with fathers' day) woke up raining. after an occasionally showery saturday, sunday morning was thick with drizzle, so much so that you couldn't see one side of the island from the other - and the loch in between isn't actually that wide. however, as i mentioned, it's fathers' day, and those of us who are fathers - even of grown up children - have this overwhelming need to get out on the bike for a sunday ride, even if precipitation is palpable. it's the one sunday of the year when this is the only reason/excuse required. because the prospect of spending the next five days in an office, on a chair, staring at the screen of an imac is just too much to bear without presaging the whole process with sunday pedalling and a coffee at deb's.
fascinatingly, the normal reaction to rain outside, and i know many will agree, is either to wait until it goes off, or spend the morning pacing the sitting room floor, looking out the window in a vain attempt to convince ourselves that there might just be a chink in the overweening greyness. the latter drives mrs washingmachinepost insane.
the antidote to this is to adhere to the usual sunday routine: get up, put on cycling gear and have a hearty breakfast. that way there is less likelihood of going back to bed. it also helps if you've arranged to meet the rest of your peloton, since backing out due to a modest amount of soggy rain, without a particularly convincing excuse will not only have you classed as a wimp, and deservedly so. of course, if it's absolutely lumping it down, going out on the bike is probably akin to lunacy - yet another reason to go.
in today's longest day of rain, the only one who opted out was the mighty dave t, but as we are constantly reminded (by himself), he's a pensioner, and that's as good as a sick note.
the only concession to waterproofing was a stowaway jacket, because though the rain persisted down from exit to entry, it wasn't that cold, and the wind had relaxed a tad since yesterday. one of our peloton wore every item of waterproofing he owned, but in a bizarre variation on sod's law, he seemed to get wetter than the rest of us did. however, riding in the rain, even on midsummer's day was the coolest thing i've done in many a long day (i did say i don't get out much). that there was still a light dusting of wind (for islay) meant that there were portions of the morning that were very wet, and others that were a lot lighter; it never quite reached purgatorial proportions, though on reaching debbie's and removing outer wetness i'd hestitate to say that comfort was the first word that sprung to mind.
the ride home on my own was fast(ish), if only to counteract the chill that started the moment my soya cappuccino was finished, but it was still brilliant. what wasn't brilliant was the necessity of putting on a pair of very wet, long fingered leather gloves. sure, the squishing relents on the journey, but that doesn't lessen that intial discomfort. normally i have no problem with getting wet when i'm already out on the bike, but rarely will i take the colnago out the bikeshed when it's already wet: it's a psychological thing. but as i have mentioned in these pixels before, hebrideans are the flandrians of scotland - tough and hardy. or at least we'd like to think we are. and it was all fine training for the ride of the falling rain.
it's often a demoralising feature of a long, wet ride that the bicycle could do with a good scrub over the following days, but in a quirky sort of way, i rather like the smudgy trails of brake pad dust running down fork legs and seat stays, even though i know they'll have to be cleaned later. and on taking off the rudy projects, it's a wonder i could see my way home at all through the gallons of water adhering to the exterior of the lenses (ok, a slight exaggeration).
and you'll be happy to know that the debbie card in the debbie pocket of the stowaway was bone dry.
the opening quote is from the inside label on the current rapha stowaway, written by matt seaton
posted on sunday 21 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the early nineties, the previous managerial incumbent at what was called the mactaggart leisure centre, now renamed the mactaggart centre (don't ask) and myself started the islay triathlon, the idea being that this would be accomplished in teams: swimmer, cyclist and runner. the team only idea lasted but one year; the following year, some individuals were daft enough to attempt all three events all by themselves, in addition to team participation. there's no saving some people. the principal idea had been to keep the distances particularly short to try and get as many folk as possible to take part. i have no idea what length our swimming pool is, but the distance settled upon was 32 lengths, which the faster swimmers cover in around twelve minutes; exactly the reason i don't partake of the whole enchilada, since i would just about have my goggles straightened in that time, let alone accomplished the imposing distance.
now, under regular circumstances, i wouldn't bother taking the colnago out thewashingmachinepost bike shed for the 7.5 mile cycling distance, but since there are one or two competitors who don't own road bikes and thus compete on mountain bikes, this was judged a reasonable distance to encourage participation from those who perhaps only cycle at this one time of year. it may be that all you fit, healthy animals are scoffing at such a paltry distance, but it is worth pointing out that the first mile or so is very uphill (bowmore main street), and uphill with a vengeance. granted it levels out a bit after that, but when the wind gets going, like it did today, it's not quite the piece of cake it would appear to be. i have tried often enough to presage my inevitable failure to set the world alight with unheard of speed, by pointing out that the distance really doesn't suit someone in training for the ride of the falling rain or, as in the past two years, the 200km per day london-paris ride (which leaves london this coming thursday), but i doubt anyone actually falls for this one, and it has to be admitted, it's the same for everyone.
anyway, a couple of years ago, we had no police presence to stop traffic at the junction just before the finish, when the best of us are doing our cavendish impersonations, leading to some very unsafe car/bicycle almost interfaces and an old lady walking her dog, stepping off the pavement in front of me as i was within reaching distance of my team runner. so last year, i volunteered for timing duties, and the colnago remained in the shed.
however, due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time this year, bereft of anything like a convincing alibi, i was 'volunteered' as the cyclist in a team featuring two chaps less than half my age. i have not a competitive bone in my body, but i do have an elevated sense of loyalty, meaning that i felt i ought to do my very best on behalf of my two team mates, particularly since the swimmer was first team member to complete the swim. however, i really did not want to take part, perhaps demonstrated by the morning's training ride to deb's for a soya cappucino and back; though i did give a passing impersonation of an athlete by sprinting for every second roadworks sign on the way back up the strand.
last thing i said to anyone before scrambling down the fire escape at the rear of the swimming pool was 'i really don't feel fast today', a statement that gave every impression of being a truism, as i figured i was getting slower and slower the closer to the finish i got. of course, eating a decent lunch would have been quite a good idea in the first place. however, as first cyclist off, nobody passed me on the way round, though i was to scared to look behind, sure that someone was drafting for the last three or four miles.
so now, of course, i feel like a total fraud having won the award for fastest male cyclist, with a time a good few minutes ahead of the next chap. because now everyone will think that i was just trying to bluff with false modesty, and that really i have a smug confidence in my own ability.
except that really i'm getting too old for this sort of thing, and there has to be an easier way to make a living. of course, today's purgatory will be tomorrow's deeds of derring do.
posted on saturday 20 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................