one of the most pointed aspects of zen is the koan, essentially a mind-twister designed to break down the processes of logical thought. this is not to deny the importance of the latter; in fact mr spock would have been totally lost without it. but throughout our lives we are subject to the processes of socialisation, encompassing the national education system in whichever country you happen to reside, your own approach to learning, and the stuff that impinges upon the mind and well-being through the normal rituals of a working career. the koan is expressly designed to undermine all this, by presenting the mental equivalent of mercury wrapped in olive oil.
you've likely already come across the most oft repeated: what is the sound of one hand clapping, which many recite, but almost none understand.
i'm not coming on all superior here, because despite a modest knowledge of zen teachings, i couldn't give you an answer to the foregoing. at least not without spending several months on retreat. and similarly, i do not wish to demean any who are true followers of zen. but a feature of the answer to a koan posed by a zen master is that, even if i had the mental facility to grasp at a solution, my passing this on to you would be of little countenance. the devotee has to achieve their own answer; it's just the way it works.
a parallel of infinitely less importance is that of advertising. if we're willing to accept that the purpose of an advert is to impress an idea, product or image upon eagerly open and willing psyches, there are as many ways to achieve this as there are minds open and willing. as robert millar has said in the past, 'people only remember those on the podium; anything less than third is of no value'. robert's dictum may be a touch on the modest side, but how many can honestly remember who came tenth in this year's tour de france? and no cheating.
thus, adverts need to stick in the mind: either something utterly brilliant in its concept, or something so devastatingly rubbish, that you can't help remembering it, and hopefully the product with which it is associated. ferrero rocher anyone? i'm a firm believer in the utterly brilliant; it often shows an innate understanding of the customer or prospective client, while generating enough desire on the part of those who feel they're missing out, to investigate further. by way of illustration, cast minds back to that rapha peanut butter ad in the opening gambit of rouleur some months back.
i'm beginning to see flickers of comprehension.
perhaps unsurprisingly, we make a return to the pages of rouleur, a publication which seems to act as a catalyst for advertising nous. the current issue bears an almost uncaptioned page image proselytising on behalf of cyclefit in macklin street, london. you may have let your eyes drag themselves across its genius at the top of this article. the genius is in its proximity to the zen koan: if you have ever entered the inner sanctum of cyclefit, the image may have triggered synapses immediately; if not, perhaps the faintly visible cycle names on the frosted glass will have provided an indication, and, perchance, a growing comprehension. otherwise, you are probably lost for words. frustrating, isn't it?
you see, a bit like appreciation of laphroaig whisky, on a scale of one to ten, nobody has ever given it between two and nine; you either get it or you don't; there is no half-way house. but i'm willing to bet that of those who simply can't figure it out (and there's no point in me telling you the answer; mine will be different than yours), many will be making the attempt to find the answer to the one clapping hand.
and that is its true purpose, mr spock.
posted tuesday 22 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'd normally, if i were of a mind to do so (and i might yet be), list thewashingmachinepost honours list next week, not because it's something that i've been saving for a new year's day, but if this were many years ago, the post would be a paper (artistic license here) and since the newspapers, in the uk at least, are filled with new year's honours, it is seemly that i do likewise. but, i'm early. and i'm deliberatley early, because i wouldn't like the following to get lost in the melee, if there is one.
since 1996, prendas ciclismo have been quietly, and most unassumingly, providing us all with an eclectic range of cycle clothing and ancillaries, more specifically a truly excellent collection of retro and perhaps lesser known jerseys. unlike a number of other clothiers to the peloton, they seem to have managed avoidance of spread; there's still only andy storey and mick tarrant, despite incremental staff expansion policies seeming to be order of the day elsewhere. mailshots, so far as i know, verge on the non-existent, while advertising seems confined pretty much to a couple of pages in cycle sport.
yet pretty much everybody knows of prendas, knowledge which extends to the professional peloton. mick and andy have been quietly supplying socks and baselayers to the likes of mark cavendish, dan fleeman and even the mighty dave t. yet, you won't see the prendas name on that appalling columbia jersey as it flashes across the line, and it is even less likely that the name will appear on the side of the team car. however, many a professional decked in full team issue will display the word prendas on the peak of that casquette, brazenly peeking out from under a helmet.
i'd always understood that sponsorship, however it manifests itself, was an activity undertaken for commercial reward; i have been telling folks for years that it's not sufficient to sponsor a formula one car, you then have to tell people you've sponsored a formula one car. it seems to me that prendas haven't quite got round to the second part yet. and i doubt that it's something that's bothered them too much. as andy has told me on at least a couple of occasions 'it's great being us'. business nowadays should, by all accounts, be a misery of accounts, spreadsheets and stock control, and it more than likely is; but you'd never get that impression if you met them.
at this year's braveheart dinner, the highest price at auction was paid for two robert millar signed jerseys: one was the anniversary jersey as featured on the post, the other a team z jersey supplied by prendas. these raised well over £2000 for the braveheart fund, but characteristically, prendas didn't make a big song and dance about it. i only found out a few days after the dinner.
for 2010, they have upped the game a smidgeon, however, and really sponsored the sport beans/wilier team by providing all the team clothing via santini, the company that produces a large amount of their regular product, sponsorship which will hopefully raise their profile. as mick announced at the team launch 'we don't shout it from the rooftops but we have been quietly supporting riders with our own accessory clothing for a long while now. in fact some of the first riders we ever helped out were bradley wiggins and charly wegelius. i still get a huge buzz from seeing our products being used by club, regional, national, world and olympic champions'. not many people know that.
i think this to be an admirable way to conduct business, more so given the increasing level of commerciality that has consumed cycling over the past decade or so. mick and andy have no idea i've written this testimonial (though they will do quite soon) and i offer it to you not by way of an advertisement for their products or services, but simply as testament to two of the nicest guys in the business who, i think, deserve recognition and your respect.
thank you for listening.
posted monday 21 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's sunday 20th december, and like it or not, we're on the flight path to christmas, with only a part-time week to see out before the annual anti-climax makes its presence tangibly known. the best way that velo club d'ardbeg has consistently found to celebrate this part of the season is the inauguration of a mince pie ride, something that just sort of happened a few years back. there is no specific route planned; we generally leave this to the consensus and depending on who turns up and on what.
so, the sunday routine remains the same: up at 08:30, to clamber into cycling apparel thoughtfully left scattered about the bathroom the night before. fine breakfast of porridge and toast, grab a lucozade energy bar and fill the bottle with some carbo stuff from same. only problem is, it has snowed overnight; an uncommon enough occurrence on islay to have been discounted from any forward strategy, perhaps lackadaisically thought of during the previous days.
since washingmachinepost cottage sits lower than the main port ellen road, i can't see what the surface is like, though a council gritting truck has passed about an hour or so before. however, the sparse traffic passing is going very slowly, and all the roads visible from the front window are white. there are kids out playing snowballs.the three messages on the ansaphone are not too optimistic. the mighty dave t, who lives at the southern point of the rhinns, has opted not to leave house and comfort, jez figures the road conditions are not fit for cyclists to travail, and lord carlos is checking to see if i've already left. well, i darned nearly had: the colnago sits patiently waiting midst the crunchy white stuff, the garmin is acquiring satellites, and the spirit was more than willing. remember, there are mince pies promised at the end of this. however, reconnecting with the rhinns contingent gives rise to the news that despite some gritting, the roads may well not be cycle friendly, so a unanimous decision is made to sit in abeyance for an hour, and see how the land lies then.
it does feel kind of silly sitting in the leather chair watching hollyoaks dressed in winter tights, merino jersey and winter cap (don't worry, i'm not a complete idiot; i had the ear flaps turned up), and as someone who cycles pretty much every sunday morning, i am in dangerous, unknown territory. i think restless would be an apt description.
the slowest hour of the week passes and phone calls are made. i'm still in the dark, so to speak, because i have still had no sight of the road surfaces i hope to travel, but my two compatriots assure me that, again despite passing gritters, the roads are unlikely to be a source of great joy. reverting yet again to deferment, we abandon the thought of a morning ride, with the promise of a reconvening of thought between noon and one o'clock. lord carlos has a prior engagement, so we're prospectively down to mr hastings, spartacus and yours truly. the ratio of mince pies to cyclists is looking better by the minute.
it was bound to end in tears: only a matter of minutes after placing the phone back in its tidy little stand, there is a wind enhanced hail storm that lasts over five minutes. not quite the comfort and joy that the seasonal greeting often promise. halistones, lest you know not, are not kind to the complexion, particularly when blown on the visage by northerly winds, and if the roads are indeed as unfavourable as described, there is a distinct likelihood that the speed will be below the warmth threshold required. i'm always in favour of a bike ride, but this would likely be for the sake of it, as opposed to the celebratory perambulation much hoped for.
abandonment followed moments after the hail retired; i might be daft, but i'm not stupid. of course, now the mental recriminations start: am i a total wuss? could i have made it at least to debbie's? should i have had a tad more patience and waited to see what the afternoon would bring? could it have...?
we've probably all been there at some point or other. maybe it's time to consider a cross bike after all, though the fact that snow of this consistency on islay is rarer than brad's signature on a garmin contract. it'll likely all have melted away by the morrow, but by then the mince pies will have been eaten by the hastings', there won't be any soya cappuccino, and the office chair will beckon. and even if i have misplaced confidence in my own abilities as a cyclist, i have little faith in the driving skills of those who frequent islay's roads on sunday mornings. perhaps better to instigate a strategic retreat and live to ride another day.
my pain and suffering has been eased, however, by mrs washingmachinepost making banana pancakes with lashings of maple syrup. don't you just love a christmas story with a happy ending?
posted sunday 20 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my good friend michael robertson, progenitor of velodramatic, runs his blog on a proper blogging platform, by which i mean software that was designed expressly for the purpose for which it is being used. thewashingmachinepost quite substantially pre-dates the art of blogging, because when i started in 1997, the word weblog had yet to be coined, and its subsequent curtailment to blog or blogging was also consequently some way off. i just thought that i had a website on which i could inflict wayward thoughts on the world of the bicycle to those unsuccessfully searching for a new washingmachine. (not quite true, but that is sort of the way the early days panned out).
i do not regard myself as annotator or keeper of the pixel and thus the terms web 1 and now web 2 have only vague representation in the technical part of my world. the internet is simply a convenient means to allow me the luxury of appearing more informed than i probably am, and a considerably cheaper option than print (all credit to jeremy dunn who manages successfully to do both). but if i understand the implications of web 2 correctly, the principles behind such, collectively incorporate that of so called cloud computing and a deal more interactivity. confining ourselves to the contemporary world of the blog, i take this to encompass the comment facility regularly featured at the foot of articles written in proper blogging software.
this allows the reader to agree, disagree, expand or critique the author's writings thus turning what may have originated as hopefully pertinent observation, into the start of a two-way conversation. this feature can be viewed as a more localised variation on the forum, beloved of some, and reviled by others.
i happen to disapprove of the comment feature, though i notice that it is frequently the only means of grabbing the attention of the writer, since very few blogs seem to offer any alternative form of direct communication. i have an e-mail link sitting to the left of these pixellated opinions. my disapproval is based on the usage and abusage of the system: it seems very easy to append any form of comment without the need to be held accountable. i generally make every effort to ensure that my articles, even if contentious, have at least a sound base in fact; if i'm not sure just how much crap i might be writing, i usually try to contact someone who has greater knowledge of the subject than i. and that e-mail link at the side means that anyone who feels they have been wronged is quite at liberty to contact and put their point of view.
i have also seen, on velodramatic, as well as on others, the situation develop where commenters start having either a conversation or argument amongst themselves, on a subject that has little or nothing to do with the original posting. while this is purely my opinion, i don't see this as an appropriate way to do things. as i said, just my opinion. i do receive regular e-mails from regular readers, and try to answer every one to the best of my ability, e-mails which do not always agree with my take on certain subjects; and that's exactly as it should be. the difference is that i have their e-mail addresses, so they are hardly anonymous, and any argumentation is carried out in (generally) a civilised manner.
and this takes me through to the world of the forum, a world i am comfortably aware of, but not an inhabitor of. again, returning to the necessity of accountability, there are way too many opinions expressed as fact, seemingly on the basis that shouting loud enough not only makes it true, but confers an air of authority upon the individual concerned. this is likely a state of affairs prevalent in all forums; after reading eats, shoots and leaves i figured i'd take a look at a forum concerning itself with punctuation and the use of grammar (i know, i know) in the hope that it might increase my knowledge in this area. sadly, i found little to be gained. just as seems the case in several cycling forums, there was one regular poster on this grammatical forum who seemed to lord it over everyone else, spouting unsupported dogma at every opportunity. and the worst aspect was that of his fellow forumites, who appeared to accept every promulgation of such dogma as the gospel according to.
i'm kind of hoping that most of you read thewashingmachinepost because you are as obsessed with bicycles as i am; criticism, scepticism and humour are, in my view, a valid part of the process, but none of it should descend into vitriol and most certainly not dogmatism, either on your part or mine.
what brought all this on? well, a couple of recent e-mail correspondents have inquired as to why i do not have the comment feature on the post, and rather than say 'because i don't' i figured i'd take the long-winded route. strangely, both those who asked implied that if such a feature was available, they would have been given to a written display of controversy and argument. the e-mails, however, were far more conciliatory and open to satisfactory debate, so perhaps it is the possibility of fifteen minutes of fame conferred by the opportunity to shine to an attentive public that distorts the vision.
it is my contention that those who habitually frequent the cycling forums really should get out on their bikes more often, or better still, start their own blogs, with or without comments at the bottom.
just to take a contrary stance to that of big tex, it really is all about the bike, (and not about the individual).
photograph courtesy tim labarge at pdxcross.com
posted saturday 19 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when i was a kid, i remember owning a model of an indianapolis race car, one of those that requireed to be built from a kit, using glue that went everywhere except the plastic it should have been on. the end result was pretty much ok, despite the fact that kids of that age have already developed the skill to avoid reading the manual. granted, you'd have to glance at the instructions now and again, if only to identify the various miniscule parts, but any patience required to let parts dry before continued assembly was strangely missing in its entirety.
however, to return to the model race car in question, despite having followed some of what i read in the instructions, the car didn't seem to have come out quite right. the axles and suspension were shorter on one side than they were on the other; surely not what racing cars were supposed to look like? it turns out that, this was a car that raced solely in the series of american races that go round in circles, including the indy 500. thus, the vehicle only required to turn in one direction, and apparently, on the real thing, the design engineers figured that the suspension on the up-side of the oval had different requirements than that facing the infield. i have to say that this was a bit of a disappointment, because to me it looked as if either the car was broken, or i hadn't made it properly.
however, at some point between the 1960s and the current days of racing, something must have changed, because a brief check on modern day indy cars reveals perfectly symmetrical suspension. it seems that's often the case in the realms of motor racing: at one time lotus ran a gas turbine powered formula one car, and tyrell built a car with four small wheels at the front. these have all gone, though formula one and indy car racing are still justified as test beds for the sort of technology that will eventually trickle down to the humble passenger vehicle (so why no electric formula one car?).
to an extent, the same can be said, at least by the manufacturers, for the bicycles ridden in the pro-tour. just how much of a difference to the average commuting bike this truly makes, would depend greatly on who you ask, and what you demand from just such a less excitable form of cycle transport. but i noticed a recent article in a british newspaper, about the sky team's choice of bike, and more importantly, the one that will be pedalled to glory by bradley wiggins (sorry, facetiousness is so unbecoming). the article itself claims that sky have unveiled, the world's first asymmetric bicycle, though i was under the impression that this had been accomplished earlier this year by the makers: pinarello. and the bicycle wasn't specifically built for team sky.
i am, of course, referring to the pinarello dogma 60.1, a bicycle which has different profiles and sizes employed on the right fork leg and right seat and chainstays. the notion is, perhaps, rather obvious: since the chain is on the right side of the bike, tests by pinarello apparently show that more force is transmitted there, than on the left side. i am no expert on the intricacies and forces coursing through the modern carbon race frame, but i do find myself somewhat suspicious of these claims. asymmetric rear wheels are not entirely unkown: campagnolo and fulcrum (effectively the same company) build all their rear wheels with the spoke drillings offset to one side. and virtually every boutique wheel on the market builds radial left, two cross right.
in the process of riding a wide range of such wheels, i have noticed virtually no difference at all, except that there are still probably too few spokes employed in their construction. it would be very unfair of me to condemn pinarello as progenitors of pure marketing, since i have never ridden the latest dogma. and if caisse depargne and sky start winning everything in sight next season, then i will bow to their pioneering use of technology. but to imply that the left front fork leg requires to be larger than its left-side counterpart, because riders are prone to pulling harder on that side during sprints and climbs, seems a bit questionable. the pull on the chain i can sort of comprehend, but i am unaware of having developed the habit of leveraging harder on one side of the bars than the other, simply because the chain is on the same side. i'm going to be paying more attention from now on.
i'd like to think i have an open mind (though i still don't like those squiggly forks), but i remain to be convinced.
as a postscript to the above, it dawned on me that surely if i pull up harder on the right side, it's the front left fork leg that ought to be strengthened to counteract this applied force?
posted friday 18 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
those of us possessed with even a minimal degree of artistic ability have the opportunity to render drawings or paintings for the benefit of ourselves, or if we're really lucky (and skilled), for others too. during one of my very first art exhibitions, displaying my early and rudimentary attempts at watercolour (the preserve of the amateur indeed), three individuals obviously intent on showering me with pity, all wished to purchase the same painting. i took this to mean that the remainder of the display was poor enough to raise this particular example to a status it likely did not merit.
it is customary, in the case of art sales at an exhibition, to place a small red dot either on the frame, or on the accompanying card on which the pretentious name and method of completion had been hastily scrawled. (i can't think of everything in advance). this indicates to the viewer and, dare i say it, the prospective buyer, that said artwork has already been purloined by another party. and you can't have it. in this particular instance, those attending the show were likely as green as i in the ways of the artworld; otherwise, why would they have made such a fundamental error?
it was a number of years before i cottoned on to the fact that there were ways to satisfy this desperate need of several folks to own the same work of art (a phrase used here in its loosest sense), one of which was the print. in the pixels of, ostensibly, a website specifically concerned with discussing the world of bicycles, i have no real wish to elucidate on the intricacies of colour reproduction, but suffice to say, it's not the sort of past-time one indulges in at home. therefore we need to lower our sights just a smidgeon in the area of print.
one of the simplest methods of mass producing one's artistic ability is that off the lino, or block print. this is likely something you got to do while at school, though perhaps not in the art department since, for reasons which escape me, such artifice is more generally regarded as craft than that of art. however, skilled manipulation of the cutting tools, allied with an ability to draw, can produce highly complex and aesthetically pleasing images. should the artist be of a more imperious nature, suitably prepared blocks of appropriate hardwood can be used as a more resilient method of producing similar, with the often added enhancement of woodgrain in the more solid areas of ink transfer.
artistic endeavour knows no bounds when it comes to subject matter, so there is no reason on this earth why bicycles and cycling should not form the core of artistic output, as seen in the variety of media employed in the bicycle art of taliah lempert. consequently, the ability to express individuality and artisanship in one area of life, does not preclude from transferring those abilities to paper or canvas. the proof of the pudding is in the block prints of natalie ramsland.
natalie, as interested observers will recall, started out as the sole builder and designer of sweetpea bicycles in portland oregon. but not just plain ordinary bicycles, but bicycles designed and built specifically for women. this has expanded into the little black dress range recently featured on the post, meaning that ms ramsland now finds herself at the head of an expanding universe. given that there is a substantial waiting list for the bona-fide sweetpea frames, and the overseeing of those little black dresses, one could be forgiven for thinking that natalie would not have trouble falling asleep when head hits pillow of an evening.
but art, as has often been said, will out, and she has been recently producing the rather attractive images presented here via the aforementioned method of the block print. however, the art precedes the whole sweetpea thing "i actually picked up the drawing habit as a bike messenger here in portland. i carried a sketchbook in my courier bag and filled time and pages between deliveries. i think that biking gives you a different view of the landscape around you. drawing and printmaking is just my way of trying to capture it."
it has been a little surprising to find myself selling a totally different kind of art as a framebuilder, but i'm thrilled that it has resonated with some folks!
those last two words underline the point i rather laboured at the opening of this article: some folks. note the use of the plural, as in, more than one person can purchase a copy of the one image. and on the evidence of those presented here, that's likely a good thing, because i can imagine a clamouring.
you can print that if you like.
should any of those illustrated here prospectively look rather fetching on your living room wall, feel free to contact natalie through the sweetpea website. it might be a bit late for that last minute christmas present (depending on location), but people have birthdays don't they?
posted thursday 17 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
on a trip to london a few years ago, i was accompanied by my daughter, now in her mid-twenties. she'd never been to london before and was doubtless drawn by the promise of unlimited shopping without the need to carry all the bags by herself. day one was spent visiting various cycle emporia and conversing with folks who help these pixels remain in existence, but day two had been promised as a 'cycle-free' zone, when shops not of my choosing could be visited.
happily, one of these stores not of my choosing, featured benches just inside the large, glass front doors where fathers and husbands without the willpower or tenacity to follow daughters and spouses around the many, many, many items of female fashion, accessories and trinketry, could sit for an hour or two, reading either one of those free papers pressed upon the unwary on every corner or, more satisfactorily, perchance a copy of rouleur.
this particular store, and i have no reason to suspect any difference anywhere else, was approximately three-quarters female fashion and around one quarter male; the indifferent fudged fraction could likely be applied to both sides of the dividing line. this clashed rather noticably with the previous day's cycle affected wanderings, when any women specific cycle attire had been very much in the minority if not, in some cases, rather conspicuous by its absence.
i have no real idea of the cycling demographic; that there are more male cyclists than female is, i would think, an accepted fact, so the dearth of women's cycle clothing is perhaps less of a mystery than general fashion stores might purport. however, it doesn't seem to be stretching credibility too far to conclude that, bearing this minority in mind, members of the opposite sex who choose to cycle are likely amongst the more individual of their gender. thus they may confidently be seen to be a tad more discriminating with respect to the assembled masses. that there is a minimal array of women's cycle clothing, i think we have already confronted, but why there is not a more individual or unique choice is something less able to be explained.
without wishing to disrespect any of the majors currently offeering women specific cyclewear, much of this is simply a variation on that offered for blokes, though perhaps in more pastel shades, and hopefully with the benefit of a more fitting fit. perhaps if the clothing on offer were more attuned to the female fashion psyche, more would be inclined to take to two wheels? i agree, i am guilty of treating the subject in perhaps a rather superficial manner, but someone who has perhaps borne the more general philosophy in mind, then tailored such to provide for this statistically mythical female rider, is anna glowinski, designer and proprietrix of ananichoola, who has infiltrated harrods with her latest offering, the curve jacket.
harrods, by jings.
this, and i observe here as a mere male and uninformed bystander in these matters, seems to me the very epitome of style that would allow the melding of true fashion with that of two wheeled transport for the lady pedalists of the shire. as the lady herself says;
"although I know that the curve jacket is fantastic and is proving popular online, it is sometimes hard to convince people to have confidence in a new brand. having it stocked in harrods is a stamp of approval that tells the world that although we're small, we're just as legitimate as all the others...and far better looking!"
lest, of course, you think that harrods may be a little off your normal shopping pattern, the jacket is also available from corridori, geoffrey butler cycles and bike plus, as well as online. hopefully this is the beginning of acceptance that female cyclists have just as much interest in fashion on the road as in daily travail, because us blokes have very much the upper hand at the moment; we really can't complain at all.
the ananichoola curve jacket is available online at a cost of £159. each jacket is made to order and there is a 28 day wait upon ordering. the jacket can also be purchased through the above mentioned south london outlets.
posted wednesday 16 december 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................