several years ago now, i was invited to write an article for whisky magazine - hardly information of an earth shattering nature, but remarkable enough at the time because i don't drink (alcohol) and had thus never tasted any of the tipples being written about on the magazine's other pages. the article concerned the islay whisky festival and featured in the issue following that year's event. one or two of the regular contributors to said publication were rumoured to have mumbled that it was a waste of a good page, not necessarily because of the writing, but more because i could be viewed as somewhat ineligible on the grounds of teetotalness. they may have had a point.
but here we are a few years later, in an altogether different genre, and i have yet to learn my lesson. there are likely to be a number of readers and commenters on the post who could validly question my credentials for reviewing/testing rapha's cyclocross jersey and threequarter bibshorts; at the time of writing i am a cyclocross teetotaller. whether this ever changes, rests more on having the financial acumen to acquire a cross bike and the temerity to ever enter a cyclocross event, mindful, as always, of my complete lack of competitive instinct.
but i do understand cross, have sandpits of enthusiasm for the sport and many well qualified friends who eat, breathe and sleep cyclocross. i'm also more than willing to believe in osmosis, even over the internet. couple this with a number of years reviewing experience under my padded right shoulder, and i have the nerve to place my thoughts in writing with the hope that you will all accept the whole rather than the constituent parts.
in 2008 rapha released their first cross specific jersey in two flavours but one colourway. the basic jersey was fashioned from a similar variant of sportwool as used for the lightweight jersey; except this is cross and short sleeves are not mode de jour. effectively this jersey contained more polyester and less merino, the latter being confined to a thin coating on the inside. the word is snug. colours were brown body and arms with an orange hoop on the left, the alternate take being exactly the same but with an independent fabrication logo emblazoned on (if memory serves) the right arm.
perren street is, if anything, very good at learning and adapting, so with the arrival (in staggered formation) of the 2009 autumn/winter range, the cross jersey has improved with age. colourway this year is not a kick in the teeth off ardbeg green, complemented with a red sleeve hoop and detailing, black cuffs and side panels. what has also seemingly improved, if you can accept that such is possible, is the fit: i truly have not pulled on a long-sleeve jersey that compares with this. the word, and it bears repeating, is snug. and this snugness is adjustable by means of elasticated drawstrings in the hem. as if that were not enough, there is the customary strip of gloop round the hem to ensure continued elegance in the heat of battle.
true cross bikes do not have bottle cage bosses, because their riders need only race for an hour plus a lap at most. similarly quite a number of the elite riders, and probably elite wannabees, race in skinsuits. not entirely sure why that is the case, but it takes only a few minutes to realise that this form of racing apparel is bereft of the roadies' three rear pockets. drop a few rungs lower to those of us who live in the real world, and it's likely that we would be happier to settle for something that advertises a less than lithe form. and something that displays just a tad more practicality. while three rear pockets may be an unnecessary luxury, some sort of storage space would most definitely not go amiss.
last year's edition featured a single zipped pocket which, while admittedly larger than it at first appeared, had a wee bit of trouble fulfilling the word capacious. as i said, perren street has a thirst for learning, and the 2009 version has two pockets: one zipped, one open. the zip is placed at an angle for easier pulling and access. this pocket has enough space for a mini pump, a digital camera (sven nys swears by them), a couple of munchie bars and space to spare. the open pocket piggy backs on the zipped one and was more than happy to swallow a stowaway, even if its orange colour did clash slightly.
front and centre is a full length zip running all the way to a cosy collar - it kept the chills at bay on a bright but cold sunday morning, as did the long sleeves which are generous enough to overlap a pair of race mitts in superman mode, even with my long arms. where hup united have top tube goes here tattoed on their team jerseys, rapha have placed a quilted pad, all the better to shoulder a top tube. i did try as much in a passing grass verge, though my tyres were smooth. i apologise in advance if there are peculiarities of cross that have escaped my attention due to a lack of competitive (or even passive) experience, but for an active, muddy and heart thumping wallop round a couple of fields to the soundtrack of a thousand cowbells, this is what we (you?) want.
the jersey is sold with a drawstring bag capable of containing that and a pair of...
built to accompany and complement the above jersey, these are perhaps the more versatile of the two, given that they're not so very different from rapha's more regular threequarter offering. distinguished from the rest of the world by coloured panels on the shins, these bear the same red as featured on the cross jersey, as do the bibs themselves. in a paean to the art of hidden detail, the double layer of gloop on the inside of the hem is separated by a thin red line, as is the hem of the jersey. the bibs also feature short mesh panels in an ardbeg green to match the jersey, if only anyone were around to see. these are thin enough not to ruffle the jersey and comfortable enough to be not there at all.
the bulk of the threequarters comprises black lycra, probably amongst the most luxurious lycra ever to encase such wimpish thighs, knees and shins. this variant is a smidgeon thinner than that employed in rapha's regular belgian impostor bib threequarters - i have no real idea whether lycra is graded in degrees of luxuriancy, but if not i have a good mind to start with this stuff and work my way down. the panelling on the legs does a beautiful job of leaving no wrinkle unfurled, that svelteness can be enjoyed both running with shouldered bike, cycling like fury or standing around apres ride, caked in mud and looking for a suitable explanation or excuse.
it would perhaps be stretching credibility a bit to say that the thinner lycra engenders a greater degree of flexibility, because that seems more the concern of the rider wearing them, however mobility is easier to come by for a sport that involves grown men and women leaping on and off their saddles and jumping over dods of wood carelessly left in the way.
just in case the extra pocket on the jersey amounts not to the variations required, there's a neoprene lined and zipped pocket at the base of the bib to the rear, big enough for several digestive biscuits or a peanut butter sandwich (bart wellens swears by them). both legs have small reflective tabs sown in at the seams for those races in the dark at the yakima cross school. the pad is provided by pad artisans extraordinaire, cytech, attaining the holy grail of all padded inserts by being all but unnoticeable in use.
match top with bottoms and the armani (paul smith?) of cross is upon you before it all gets muddy.
the rapha cross jersey retails for £130 ($210) in sizes from extra small to xxl. the bib threequarters retail at £155 ($215) and are available in the same sizes. sizes tested:medium jersey and small bib threequarters
posted thursday 17 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it could be seen as decidely counter productive to vent a lot of hot air and invective over something that turns out to be mostly hot air itself. but there is always the possibility that laughing at what seems a ludicrous suggestion and figuring it unlikely to come to pass, may well be considered the nod to let it happen in the first place.
a few years back, argyll and bute council received a government windfall to enable the construction of what was presented as new schools for all, if only because lack of timely maintenance had left many of the buildings in various states of disrepair. to this end, the education authority sent out documents to parents of local schoolkids outlining the plans for construction and inviting suggestions or comments on the proposed outcomes. many of us (because at that time i still had children of school age), felt ill-equipped to do so, not being qualified building consultants.
when the council subsequently discovered that the so-called windfall was considerably less than they had originally thought, they changed the goalposts and decided that the lack of comments on the forms could reasonably be considered as parents being not in favour of the construction. thus, many schools across the county remained as they still are to this day. due to the original changes and reconstruction proposed, many were not in favour and had started to form pressure groups to have the plans revised, as it turns out, all for nothing.
scroll forward to this week, when the scottish government released their cycling action plan for scotland, a document that considers how best to increase the percentage of those cycling on the country's roads to ten percent by 2020. how easy or likely this is i know not, since i couldn't honestly tell you how many scots pedal at the moment. however, as any marketing department worth their salt will know, it is not generally a good idea to increase the price of something if you wish to sell more of it. seems obvious enough to most of us, but apparently not to holyrood, who have inserted into the plan a proposal to introduce a road tax on cyclists.
regular pedalists will be used to the accusation that cyclists do not pay road tax and should therefore cease to disturb, delay or otherwise interfere with the progress of the motor car. however, everyone who pays their council tax pays road tax; what motor car owners pay is a car tax. quite how this latter affects spending on the roads, i am unable to explain, but it doesn't take an honours degree in physics or engineering to observe that bicycles cause considerably less wear and tear on tarmac than do motorised vehicles. couple this with the lower tax experienced by owners of motor vehicles with a small carbon footprint, and it becomes undeniably bizarre that any government would have cause to tax a vehicle that is pretty much carbon neutral (depending, of course, on what you've had for tea).
so the backlash has already started, beginning with the green party who have stated that "the non-payment campaign will be immediate and unstoppable". i would seriously like to think so, though i'm keeping my ire and venom under wraps until it becomes manifest that such idiocy (whoops) might just make it to the statute books.
how would they enforce this? well current thinking points towards cyclists being required to register their bicycles with their local authority and pay annual amounts. with the lowest car tax currently at about £35, it's unlikely that anything over a tenner would be tenable; hardly a bank breaker, but i think we're talking more about the principle here, rather than the actual amount. and the rumoured notion that bicycles would require registration plates leads me to wonder how this would be attached to carbon fibre. in practice there may be a legal requirement for a cycle owner to posess a registration document, but it seems a tad disingenuous that the scottish police may find themselves having to pull over cyclists to check that all their documents are in order. monty python has a lot to answer for.
less money available to the scottish government is given as the main reason for even considering a cycle tax in the first place, but i find it hard to reconcile the government's desire to increase cycle use between now and 2020, while making it cost more than it does at present. however, to return to my original premise that getting hot under the sportwool collar at the moment may be unnecessary, is underlined by a quote from a scottish government spokeswoman: scottish ministers have no plans to charge cyclists for using the roads in scotland"
and they would never tell fibs would they?
posted wednesday 16 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the guardian newspaper is, this week, presenting readers with reprints of kids' and teenagers' comics from the golden age of the genre. titles such as roy of the rovers, bunty, the dandy, jackie, and others such as these, mostly from the seventies and eighties. in the present era, when it seems that kids and teenagers barely read at all, let alone comics such as these, i am presuming the idea is that we, as fine, upstanding members of society, should hand these reprints over to either our own offspring, or the offspring of whomever happens to be nearby at the time of purchase. in the spirit of educating the next generation, i have palmed my free comics off to two of the girls in the office who have appropriately gendered children of just the right age. that leaves me free to read the rest of my newspaper.
of course, purely in the interests of inquisitiveness, and not at all driven by nostalgia, i perused one or two of their pages, just to see what life was like, or seen to be like, in the days of my youth. aside from the sharp intake of breath on seeing just how archaic graphic design used to be (thank heavens for desktop publishing), the contents were not entirely displeasing; the football stories, not that i have any affinity with that game, seemed to depict a day when shorts were a reasonable length, jerseys bore no advertising for alcoholic beverages and an altogether a more gentlemanly aspect seemed to pervade.
this is not a situation confined solely to the game of football, but to my recollection, there were never any graphic stories concerning time triallists or tour de france contenders, so all we have to go on for the bygone age of cycling, are the books emanating from mousehold press, velopress and on a more regular quarterly basis, from rouleur magazine. better known, i would say, for its outstanding photography and virtually peerless writing on the subject of cycling, number fourteen has allowed cartoonery to invade its pages, courtesy an illustrated feature on the 1974 giro d'italia illustrated by yorkshire born richard mitchelson, currently living and working in brighton.
those of you inhabiting the world of the interweb will likely be familar with adobe flash software, a space that mr mitchelson would seem to inhabit, and elements of which have eased themselves into this extremely fine cartoon, despite its incarnation in print. (for the unenlightened, flash is principally used to produce web animations).
but it is not just modern day illustration that depicts some the heyday of cycle racing: in rouleur number thirteen, colnago aficionado, collector of cycling ephemera, top mechanic and all-round decent chap, rohan dubash waxed lyrical in both word and photograph on the merits of tubular tyres, explaining in great detail how to prepare and fit a pair of what some would regard as the only rubber worth riding. rouleur editor, guy andrews, who claims to ride on nothing else, has continued this proselytising on behalf of lower rolling resistance by visiting the continental tyre plant in germany as well as the lesser known fmb facility in france to find out how tubulars are made, and impress on us just why he retains a practical enthusiasm for what many consider to be an outmoded form of travel.
for those, such as i, who have never heard of fmb tubulars, the almost world famous molly cameron of veloshop in portland, oregon explains further:
"for the last few years they have been gaining attention and credibility as one of the superior hand built tubular tyre manufacturers. (not to mention one of the only hand built tyres available.) based in plurien in bretagne, france, francois marie continues a great french tradition of attentive and beautiful craftsmanship."
that rouleur has managed to reach fourteen issues without descending into a parody of itself is, to my mind, one of the great cycling success stories of the past few years. it would have been so easy to become staus quo and churn out the same old same old every three months, because we'd probably have bought it anyway. this issue has justified the eager anticipation which it engendered, and i sincerely hope it does the same for you.
it beats roy of the rovers hands down anyday.
posted tuesday 15 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
few of us have the luxury of a following team car, carrying all the necessities one needs for a day in the country, such as an espresso machine, a bowl of sherry trifle, and a spare bike on the roof rack. a fully qualified mechanic, able and willing to hang out the rear window with an allen key in hand wouldn't go amiss either. so deprived are we in the velo club peloton that motor pacing has to be done on a rota basis with one of us making car engine noises at the front. confoundedly, this has so far had no positive effect on our speed training. however, back to the problem of carrying capacity.
in my observations of the forward march of three pocket cycle jerseys, i have detected a pleasant trend that shows the size of these pockets to be on the increase. granted, i have no scientific measurements that would stand up in a court of law, but i do seem to have greater success in stuffing more guff in the rear hold. what the rear pockets do not provide, however, is any recognisable filing system for these unspecified contents: there have been a few bike rides where i appeared to be leaving a hansel and gretel trail as i struggle to fish out that munchy bar that has settled below the pump, multi-tool and spare pair of track mitts. so the obvious answer would be to place the tool selection in an altogether different location.
at one time as popular as fitting mudguards to a road bike, those little/medium or large seatpacks have suddenly sprung up from nowhere, some with the carrying capacity of those upturned rowing boats you see on the top of motor cars, and others that would seem hard pushed to incorporate a puncture repair kit. but for the dignity of self and italian carbon fibre, modesty is the best policy, preferably also to include style and logo that befits our modern sartorial elegance. i can see little point in wearing the best cycle apparel that money can buy, riding the product of hours of finite element analysis then placing the equivalent of a backpacker's cast-off under the saddle.
while, as inferred to above, there are many, many such items available for your hard earned prize money, one that would appear to tick all the boxes from the outset is this rather minimalistic neo model from stella azzurra. zipped from one side and affixed to the cycle by means of a strap through the saddle rails and an angled loop for the seatpost, it proudly displays the stella logo for all to see as you sprint towards the line or up towards that alpine victory. i managed to cram in a multi tool, an inner tube, a large 8mm allen key and a muc-off handcleaning 'rag' pushed into a spare sandwich bag. just the very luggage the modern professional needs.
the neo retails for a very commendable £14.95 and can be acquired from your nearest stella azzurra stockist. sadly, it does not make a realistic car engine noise, so motor pacing has had to continue in the time honoured tradition.
posted monday 14 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there are mixed messages at work here; last year you would have found this jersey listed under the fixed section at rapha.cc - this year the nomenclature has changed and it's now the merino jersey. to my mind, this is a smart move, since such as myself struggle manfully to come to terms with a rear sprocket that doesn't freewheel, and the association that accompanies anything with fixed in it seems woefully misplaced in my case. additionally it implies - rightly or wrongly - a garment worn in an urban setting. if you had been out with the ardbeg peloton this fine sunny sunday morning, urban settings would have been very far from your mind. yet take a look inside the merino wool and you'll find that the washing instructions still proclaim this to be a fixed jersey.
still, there are many items of componentry, clothing and otherwise that are ear-marked for a certain portion of whichever market is targeted, that the rebels amongst us can cheerfully ignore. so what, if perren street are gear conscious in their clothing ranges? if it suits me to ignore, i am all for the rebellious state.
of course, changing the name of a jersey doesn't necessarily alter anything other than the connotation, so if it's a merino jersey, then it had darned well better live up to its new found status, and the intrepid amongst us (in this case, it's my job) need to check the veracity of its new identity: simply put, can it be worn as a cycle jersey for other than dodging buses, taxis and pedestrians?
it would indeed be a sad world if we were strictly governed by semantics, and i can (metaphorically) hear most of you questioning my sanity and doubt. it's a jersey, it has a quarter zip and three rear pockets: where's your problem? merino wool is a major constituent of rapha's more regular sportwool, but the secondary component gives cycle jerseys in that fabric an integrity that retains its shape no matter how much stuff you need to carry with you in those three back pockets. wool, on the other hand, conjures up pictures of tail feathers dragging on the back tyre and adding a nightshirt profile when stepping off for a coffee. so, in order to dispel any notion of this affecting the rapha merino jersey, i piled in a stowaway, blackburn airstick, panasonic digital stills camera, a flip video with mini tripod and a couple of chewy bars.
the outer two pockets do not exhibit the scalloping that is an almost trademark feature of their sportwool jerseys, but merino is, as previously mentioned, a bit more flexible than most jersey fabrics so hands in and out can be accomplished more easily. missing in action is the all but obligatory zipped pocket, and i intend to take that up with the rapha design department; there may be a perfectly good reason for this, but i can't think of one offhand. despite my shopping list of accoutrements stuffed into the baggage hold, there was still sufficient room to cram in a bit more if at all necessary. there's no denying that the jersey is a looser fit than that worn by the rapha condor team, but it is this feature that leaves you all but unnoticed when dining al fresco at debbie's on a saturday afternoon in september. were it not for the colnago ace leaning against the whitewashed wall, nobody would know.
the details have, however, changed, though the logo'd zip tag is one that you might miss. a contrasting hoop on the left arm bearing the rapha monogram is new: the hoop has always been there, but until now, has been of the same colour as the rest of the jersey. for autumn/winter however, perren street seems to have become undeniably proud of their sleeve hoop, as it has now sprung to life on a number of garments on which it has been previously. i cannot deny that wearing a cycle jersey or top with that sleeve hoop, fills one with an inexplicable sense of satisfaction akin to the suntanned oval left by certain brands of track mitts.
but maybe that's just me.
there's no gloopy stuff inside the hem to stop the jersey riding up while exerting oneself on the bicycle, but in practice this seems not to have mattered one jot. merino over lycra displays a level of frictionlessness that renders the gloop unnecessary. it's also easy enough to roll up the sleeves while in motion if heat build-up dictates so - you may recall james lamont's advice from a week ago relating to the cooling effect enjoyed by the forearms - and zipping up or down at the neck is easily accomplished. my saturday ride took in 65km of scenic islay countryside with hills and harder pedalling in order to finish off a bout of bike testing, rewarded by a coffee at end-up. it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. and due to merino's well advertised resistance to niffing a bit, when home was reached it was an easy task to park the bicycle and trudge off down to the city for a packet of sugar puffs.
so, irrespective whether rapha wish to call this a fixed jersey, which i believe they don't, or a merino jersey, the title is immaterial: the jersey does its job in a manner not unbecoming whatever the dictionary definition. it's perfect for winter or summer training, perfect for that salutary amble to the coffee shop or the supermarket, and sartorially suited to wearing in front of the television or in the office, should your dress code allow for other than shirt and tie.
the rapha merino jersey is available in black with grey sleeve hoop, or grey with black sleeve hoop at a cost of £120 ($200) in sizes from extra small to extra large.
so that's that fixed then.
take a trip over to velodramatic later to read michael's take on the merino jersey and view some vastly superior photography
posted sunday 13 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
colnago started its revolution in 2008 with the tubes and lugs eps and the monocoque cx-1, though arguably this revolution could be seen to have started with the clx some years earlier. this latter machine was always taken as colnago's entry into the sportive market, though cambiago never confirmed or denied this accusation. however, with the recently revealed 2010 range, they have unashamedly taken on this market through the release of the ace, a complete carbon bicycle for almost the same price as the cx-1 frame.
however, it's one thing to tell the world that the ace is a sportive bike, it's quite another to follow that through. colnago uk sent up a production sample of the ace for a short holiday on islay, during which time it visited pretty much all the distilleries we have at our disposal.
so is it all that colnago say it is?
posted saturday 12 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have watched in awe as the professionals in their peloton, out on yet another long day in the saddle find it oh so easy to casually lift their tinted eyewear from the brow of the nose and plug it into the slots in their helmets. not only do the oakleys or rudy projects slide easily into place, but the darned things stay there for kilometre after kilometre of effortless whizzing. i just know that if i attempted the same thing, either one arm would fit into a readily available vent in the helmet while the other misses completely, snaps off with my less than effortless force, or folds back in place leaving the tinted lenses swinging stupidly across my face.
the really smarmy whizzers plug the specs into the back of their helmet in an effort to convince the following that they've eyes in the back of their head, but yet again those tints remain in place, cool as you like. one can but admire the blase confidence of these mobile advertising hoardings, safe in the knowledge that the sponsor will replace any pairs falling into the path of graham watson's motorbike. i, on the other hand, still wear the same pair of rudy projects purchased three years ago (i have never once been accused of being fashionable) which, due to nearsightedness, have prescription lens inserts behind the tinted facade. this latter fact rather prevents any degree of coolness when it comes to slotting the rudys into any part of my catlike helmet, because should i ever become successful at so doing, i'd be unable to see where i was going.
so while it has been defined as a major faux pax to wear cycling glasses inside the helmet straps, i find this a functional necessity to prevent knocking the former off if removing the latter first. i also have an inherent fear of the rudys falling off while bouncing across the remains of islay's roads, since not only would it hinder the homeward journey, but would leave a small hole in my bank balance paying for the replacements.
so it was with much glee that i discovered hides, a device that seems, at the outset, much like a hi-tech version of those bits of braid your grandmother has attached to her bi-focals, enabling them to hang down in front of her cardigan while knitting sweaters that will subsequently be much too large at christmas. in this verisimilitude, the observation is correct, but the hides have hidden talents that you'd be hard pressed to recognise from the outset; or indeed from the attached hang-tag. with hindsight, this latter appendage does begin to make sense, but on first meeting the three-step graphic is perhaps less than clear.
of course, it could just be me.
the slightly thicker folded section at the back of the strap (the orange bit in the photo) can be subtly unfurled, with a bit of practice, to cover the lenses; even the two sets featured in my myopia. thus covered, the outer and inner surfaces are intended to remain scratch-free if stuffed into a musette or a back pocket when normal vision is required for after dinner speaking. i believe that the fabric also allows for cleaning of fingermarked or splodgy lenses.
hides come in several varieties: the pair shown are the h2o version which will save your specs from sinking should you lose them overboard, a feature admittedly rather little used in the sport of cycling; there are also classics - visually similar but without the flotation characteristics. the classics sell for £6.99 while the h2os cost £10.99. in the usa, the classics retail at $7.95, while the h2o are $11.95. not a lot to pay, you must admit, for peace of mind in the peloton, even if a pair stuck in the helmet looks waaaay more cool.
posted friday 11 september 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................