hand-made are words rarely seen in connection with anything these days, principally due to the mechanised nature of our modern world. should you ever have had the good fortune to visit the hallowed isle you may have succumbed to at least one of the distillery tours on offer. pretty much everyone does: you don't come here for the weather. assuming you were paying enough attention as the process is explained in great detail, surrounded by the rather bewildering array of wood, copper and steel that comprises the internals of any of the islay malt distilleries, you might just notice some of the differences.
bruichladdich makes great play of their 'no computers' stance, employing the bulk of the original equipment present in the buildings from the heyday of manual labour. shift your attentions to either of the diageo owned plants at lagavulin or caol ila (or, perchance, port ellen maltings) and computers are very much to the fore. admittedly some of the control panels, particlularly in the colossal mash room at caol ila, look like something out of an episode of thunderbirds or joe ninety, but computing power nonetheless. it's unlikely that silicon processing has much impact on the amber nectar (if that's what floats your boat) that you subsequently get a taste of at the end of your tour, but the entire industry would love you to think that islay malts are lovingly handcrafted and cared for in those oak casks, stored in white stone warehouses only mere inches from the salt sea and spray. the reality is that much of it is tankered off the island on a calmac ferry, and stored in warehouses just outside glasgow or edinburgh.
that, with the exception of the aforementioned distillery at bruichladdich, is a fact of malt life; let's face it, the majority is bottled on the mainland, so it's a logical step to move it there for maturation. aside from which, there's more warehouse space. the notion of handcrafting is one from the marketing departments of the big conglomerates and individually owned distilleries alike. the days when the island's distilleries employed large numbers of manual labourers are pretty much past, in keeping with many a comparable industry. it was suggested a few years back that the local supermarket and the hospital employed more folk than all the distilleries combined. with bruichladdich operating their own bottling plant on islay, that may no longer be precisely the case, but the difference is likely minimal.
however, we all like to hold onto the notion that there's a large degree of human intervention; that products are the result of artisanship, or even artistry, therefore imbuing them with humanity, as opposed to something like the motor car, manufacturers of which seem perfectly happy to show armies of robots spot welding chassis ad finitum in huge automated and modern plants. there is a definite dividing line here: those children of the modern age seem almost nostalgically in love with production methods of a bygone age, where many of those born in that bygone age perhaps see this for what it is and embrace the modern alternative. by way of example i offer the mighty dave t who spent many a club ride aboard a lugged steel frame, but now rides a carbon monocoque focus and claims it to be the best he's ever owned or ridden.
but handcrafted undoubtedly has its place in the age of binary digits, because otherwise many a skill will disappear for ever, and you just never know when they might be needed in the future, particularly in the light of the energy and global warming doomsayers. but take that out of the equation, and there is an inherent pride in owning or using something that is the result of human toil and sweat. superficially, there is little to differentiate riding a colnago clx 2.0 and the all-steel cielo that is the velocipede du jour at present, but just knowing that the chris king machine was welded by persons of my acquaintance in an establishment in a city i have visited, ingrains it with an aura of an altogether different hue. and the same can be vociferously stated for the track mitts that graced my two bunches of fives on today's extended pedalling.
initial inspection would find it hard to separate dromarti's la grande mitt cognac from a pair of lookalikes i owned many years ago from the house of caratti (a long time demised, since you ask), but put them on before heading out for a ride, and the massive difference is all too apparent. the label at the cuff states that they have been hand made in england, and martin at dromarti told me he searched far and wide to find a source for the hand crocheted backs. the mighty dave t was mightily impressed, and tried to nip off after coffee with the mitts in his pocket. crocheted mitts bear a truly retro appearance, but the reality is that the machine produced versions usually presented, have a marked tendency to unravel at oft times an early stage in their career. the difference in the hand-crocheting is palpable.
that takes care of the cosmetic arrangement; what of the business end? the remainder of the mitts are fashioned from impossibly soft leather, with intelligently crafted minimal padding on the palm and around the thumb. there are those importantly classic cutouts on the back for the knuckles, edged with the same cognac leather, and there is a suitable open back allowing for the secret cyclist tan patch. closure is effected by a dromarti embossed velcro strap; at this point i would wish to defer: while velcro is likely more versatile, a popper fastening would have been more in keeping with the overall style.
never let substance get in the way of style is an oft repeated mantra, one with which i have a certain sympathy, but the reality is that i'd like gloves to be comfortable, practical, hard-wearing and more than equal to the task of keeping hands on bars and easing the task of gear changing. these tick all the right boxes, but lift themselves above the melee by simply being hand-crafted. there's a certain sumptuousness in riding a handmade bicycle (with white bar tape, don't forget) faced at each kilometre by british made leather and crocheted mitts. it might not impress anyone else in debbie's on a saturday afternoon, but i care not one whit; my hands love me for it.
la grande mitts cognac retail at £99 ($138) and arrive cossetted inside their own embossed leather bag. size availability is medium (tested), large and xl.
posted saturday 16 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
likely there is a lonely planet guide for islay, but it won't have taken into account just how lonely this part of the planet was for a solo cyclist in the latter part of the 1990s. while we had a sizeable group of leisure cyclists in the mid-nineties, such is the itinerant nature of island life, pretty much all had moved away within a couple of years, and i became that lonely cyclist. no need for sighs of compassion; for a while it was rather fun being the sole velocipedinal tourist attraction, and possible object of derision (but never to my face). unsurprisingly the novelty eventually wore off, until the mighty dave t arrived on the scene, at which point i discovered i'd been kidding myself all those years: the first sunday ride almost killed me. this latter enlightenment brought home the desirability of riding in a group of more than one; if you cycle with folks that are even a teensy bit better or faster than you are, one of two things are going to happen.
but suppose, unlike my latterday hebridean predicament, you were to find yourself and bicycle somewhere other than home sweet home. aside from the awkwardness of perhaps having little account of the surrounding terrain, every now and again; in fact probably more now than again, it's a treat to go riding with folks who you perhaps know not, but who have the knowledge. damn me if i'd know how to go about finding local rides.
granted, local bike shops can be of enormous assistance here, but not every town has a bike shop, and there's always the chance that you'll ask in the one that has little truck with skinny wheels and bendy bars (or, if your proclivities lie in this direction, knobblies). this must have occurred to all of us at one time or another, and it most certainly occurred to steve schenko. steve is one or two miles away from me (new south wales, australia, to be precise; at least, i think that's where he is) but rather than emulate rodin's thinker, and cogitate on the possibilities or negativities of just such a situation as described above, he built a website. this is a clever website, designed to link up all those lost souls with the great and the good all across the world.
and here's where you come in.
there's a good chance that you already ride with a number of likeminded folks either once, or several times a week. and there's an equally good chance that most of the cyclists in your area not only know of these rides, but of the minute details so necessary to turning up at the right place at the right time. bunchridefinder needs your rides now. it costs absolutely nothing, apart from a few minutes of your time to go online at the site and type in a few important details regarding any or all of your rides, whether on or off-road. once added to the database, it's a piece of cake (with a soya cappuccino) for anyone to search if they happen to find themselves in your area accompanied by trusty steed. consequently, the same goes, should you find yourself in a similar situation.
the success of the website and associated service depends entirely on folks like you and me. moments after receiving steve's e-mail, i clicked on and added the velo club d'ardbeg sunday ride (a long shot at recruitment, i agree). while i'd be quite flattered if you'd make it to the end of this article before doing so, i'm willing to let you go on now and wait until you get back. aside from posting or looking for rides, the site features a forum (subject closed), news and equipment reviews. if you're not the person responsible for the organisation of the ride(s) of which you are a part, then forcefully e-mail them the web address at the bottom of this article.
let's prove in pixels that we're a sociable bunch.
posted friday 15 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's been an advert on the telly recently regarding giving blood, based on the previously unheard of (by me, at any rate) six stages of separation which, if i understand the principle correctly, alludes to the likelihood that anyone receiving the blood i have hypothetically donated, will be related in some way or other within six distinct genealogical steps. while this sounds like an answer to a question of probability (will it rain tomorrow?), i'm afraid i'm not well enough equipped in the intellectual department to challenge or agree. however, if this prognostication of the laws of probability applies to blood donating, then it seems ever so likely that it is empirical enough to apply to other facets of life. such as cycling, for instance.
several months ago i was approached by the managing director of sharp electronics, to help with a bit of publicity for a 2010 attempt by himself and fellow club cyclists on the race across america. aside from thinking 'rather them than me', i was happy to provide what little assistance i could, along with helping to put people in touch with each other. aside from warming to something of this magnitude on two wheels, the fact that the entire edifice was being put together to benefit the prostate cancer charity, meant that much more was at stake than a few cyclists' egos.
fast forward a fair number of months, and cycling's relationship with prostate cancer has reached a distinctly higher profile through co-operation with the tour of britain in 2009, while mr molyneux's whizz across the new world still hoves into view on the horizon. then, still remaining within the six steps of separation, sharp electronics become the latest to add a layer of white lettering to rapha's black team jerseys.
i can tell you're beginning to see what i mean.
it doesn't stop there. earlier this week the co-operation between the tour of britain and the prostate cancer charity announced that they'd set up a calendar of events to be known as the prostate cancer charity's tour rides. the three rides will all take place in september (5th, 18th and 26th), and offer those of us who just missed out on a step up to the professional ranks this year (and every other year, for that matter) the opportunity to ride three of the stage routes of the tour of britain. those of lesser abilities, or maybe just averse to a smidgeon too much pain and suffering can opt to ride a portion of the routes amounting to around 70km. there are a myriad of sportive events all across the uk; some of you will likely be attempting everything you can lay your quick releases on, others will be happy to pick and choose those that fit within their location or energy, and some may settle for just one. i can identify with that.
but if you do have to make choices, bear in mind that the tour rides are designed not only to benefit those thigh muscles, but the prostate cancer charity, which really ought to give them a head start in the for and against checklist in your diary. the rides cost £40 for the full stage distance, £30 for the 70km distances and £20 for a family of four to partake of an associated family ride. entries close on 1 september, but it can't be too much of a stretch to realise that there are only so many places available at each ride, so the sooner you sign up, the more likely you are to be on the start line. online signing is available via tourride.co.uk. as to the race across america preparations, i hope to have more news soon.
if you have any queries about prostate cancer, call the prostate cancer charity's confidential helpline 0800 074 8383 (uk only) which is staffed by specialist nurses and open from 10am to 4pm monday to friday and wednesdays from 7 - 9pm or visit www.prostate-cancer.org.uk
posted friday 15 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
heading down to bruichladdich on a relatively cool sunday morning, clad in a yellow assos airjacket, black bib tights and white helmet. after the straight length of uiskentuie strand, there are a number of twisty corners as the road heads towards debbie's. i was intending to meet the unharnessed swarm of the velo club peloton prior to heading out on the regular sunday ride. as i approached the penultimate corner, the flightpath to which starts with a slight downhill, a farm pickup was heading out of the village in the opposite direction, occupied by the driver, and two school-age kids in the passenger seats.
as i got within a decent face to face distance from the vehicle, the driver, unnanounced in any way (ie, no indicators or other signal) turned to his right, straight across my trajectory (i've always wanted to use that word in a seemly manner). aside from the sharp intake of breath on my part accompanied by a 'i say, that's a bit ungentlemanly' exclamation, i swerved to my right in order to avoid collision. at which point, the driver suddenly awoke to my presence, and almost steered back into me as i was baling out, so to speak.
this was a sunday morning on islay, when (fortunately) there was very little traffic, i figured i wasn't particularly invisible by way of speed or apparel, and there weren't other distractions that would divert any driver's attention away from the road ahead.
sorry mate i didn't see you
it's a very common excuse nowadays, particularly when related to bicycle/motor vehicle interfaces. fortunately, with relatively light traffic on the island, which really only gets stressful during the summer months, the number of times this happens during any given year could likely be counted on the fingers of one hand. this can be partly explained by only a light smattering of cyclists on islay's roads, numbers low enough to turn me and my pelotonic accomplices into tourist attractions. however, veer east from here and towards the ever spreading conurbations, and the ratio of bicycles to motor vehicles rises the closer you get to the cities. and hereabouts it becomes a lot more common to hear the smidsy excuse.
of course, from our point of view, you really do have to wonder how it is that a driver, who relies on continuous observation of the road, traffic and other stationary and moving obstacles, really didn't see a rather brightly dressed cyclist moving exactly as expected along her majesty's highway. i daresay it's possible that such an answer has become a knee-jerk reaction; it may well be that it is regarded as a safer option than admitting that they simply weren't paying attention, or worse still, on a mobile phone at the time. but i believe that studies by interested parties have shown that it's less a case of not actually seeing that cyclist in the road, as opposed to seeing them, but it simply not registering on the heads-up.
motorists, not unnaturally, spend a lot of their driving time looking out for other motor vehicles; there can be little doubt that, at present, the latter have the upper hand when it comes to moving objects on britain's roads. as we are all too well aware, cyclists are very much in the minority, and thus, it seems, less likely to feature on the visual radar. of course, that's no excuse: cyclists are vulnerable road users, and it is incumbent on those sitting in their fast, heavy, metal overcoats to look out for the well-being of the less protected. of course, sitting in the comfort of my own armchair, spouting forth as one of the self-righteous, perhaps highlights the situation and garners a multiplicity of kudos from fellow cyclists, but it doesn't actually solve anything.
however, the smidsy acronym wasn't my idea (though i wish it was), and an effective campaign against this sort of motorised behaviour and subsequent exit strategy is currently being waged by the cyclists' touring club (ctc). this extends to offering an online facility to report bad driving: 'help spread the word that 'sorry mate, i didn't see you' just isn't enough. don't spend time wondering whether that black softshell and black tights combination put you in the wrong; when was the last time anyone was criticised for driving a black car? go online at stop smidsy and report the incident as soon as you can after reporting the incident to your local police. a registration number always helps.
every now and again it becomes very necessary to realise that there is a whole 'nuther universe outside of our two wheeled one, and sometimes the empire strikes back. just remember you're a jedi.
posted thursday 14 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
while it can be no real secret that those of us of a velocipedinal disposition are more than graciously catered for in the realm of on the bike clothing, there has always been a nagging doubt that items worn in the privacy of our own civilianship is often less than demonstrative. it has long puzzled my intellect (such as it is) why the youth of today is happy to wander about with jeans half-way down their backsides, wearing t-shirts with statements that would clearly place them in the category of park furniture. and not just a hint of a logo on the left breast, but a colossal, lime green sans serif font, cast half across the right shoulder in a devil-may-care fashion.
i am well within my rights to poke fun and become angry of bowmore because i'm old and grumpy; victor meldrew is my hero. but in mitigation, you have to hand it to them: it gets the message across in a forceful manner. there's just an outside possibility that this is the desired intent. so when it comes to the average cyclist, how on earth can we compete with that. i really have no idea why anyone wants to wear a t-shirt who's sole aim in life is to advertise the company that made it. self-referencing made tangible. do we, therefore, when deciding on leisure wear, wish to boldly go where nike have already tread, or are we happier to wear those shirts with tour winners' names in helvetica across the front? because, of course, if you have to ask...
sometimes we can be too smug for our own good. if the shirt advertises only to other cyclists, in certain communities (not a whole lot of cubits from here) the message may well be going unsung for longer than is truly comfortable, and that's just when a decent tee, with a classy design can enter the fray. the very fact of climbing aboard italian carbon fibre, wearing colours that only a lycra lover could get away with tends to make one stand out in a crowd; if it's a rural crowd, the effect is magnified somewhat. the current offerings from newly discovered, ventoux-wear, afford the luxury of trammeling both sides of the line (not, you will understand,the same blue line that decorates the sky jerseys). not entirely coincidentally, a slight variation on the foregoing is the very reason that the chaps at ventoux decided to put their cotton where their mouths are.
satisfyingly, though they are quite some distance from velo club d'ardbeg, one of the shirts proclaims the virtues of wind, rain, hills, pain ending with the sign off: 'character building we call it'. so do we, so do we; there's empathy there from the get go. the catalyst seems to have been the climb of the ventoux in the 2009 tour de france; five months later, there were t-shirts to go, which is pretty darned quick, if you ask me. produced from ringspun heavyweight cotton, these are very well made t-shirts, and the screen printing is amongst the best i've seen. there is nothing more disheartening than washing that proudly acquired new cycle tee, to find the slogan considerably less bold than it at one time was.
currently the range stands at nine suitably cyclingly graphicked (they are words now) shirts, complemented by by the ventoux series: a tee, a polo shirt, and a red and black hoodie, in case you've been given a uci asbo. in the current climate, the only garment that seems the right thing to be wearing is perhaps the latter, with its long sleeves and drawstring hood; everything else has short sleeves, and it would be a brave cyclist that ventured outdoors wearing one of those. yes, you could wear it in the comfort of your own central heating, but there's a good chance that your spouse has already guessed at your two wheeled obsession. and where's the point in that?
so basically it's a case of clocking over to ventoux-wear, availing yourself of a hoodie for now, and taking copious notes of the shirts you'll be getting when the mercury rises.
posted wednesday 13 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
today is a pleasant distraction from the usual cycling stuff, and i hope that you will bear with me in this. just sit back and enjoy. you'll thank me for it at the end.
i have long toyed with the idea of drawing a cartoon strip; not lately, i'll admit, but when at art college, i really had notions of doing so, despite being discouraged by the tutors. it's not art apparently. but the frightening bit was always the thought that i might run out of ideas, and run out of them very quickly. the late jonny helms, who illustrated his often hilarious thoughts in the comic every week, was apparently one of the longest serving cartoonists in the world, having been a part of the visual furniture for 63 years. that's a lot of cartoons, and it is tribute to the man that he was able to produce fresh ideas in a form that could be condensed to either a single frame, or strip form. that, to me, is scary stuff.
however, when in portland this past year, i was privileged to stay a few days with kim and chris distefano out in beaverton. their eldest son, andrew, is a prolific writer, illustrator and cartoonist; if memory serves correctly, yours truly even made a cameo appearance in one of the drawings during my all too brief visit. he really is that sharp and quick off the mark. lest you think i heap praise unjustifiably, andrew is only nine years old, in fourth grade at school, and has his own website to offer these cartoons to the world. yet these are not the unconditioned ramblings of a junior illustrator, but have been coerced into the adventures of one star character and his compatriots.
harry the canary
i will confess that during the days that i have been viewing this site, the daily comic has remained the same, but just in time to exploit the beginnings of worldwide fame, a new cartoon has appeared today; they just get better and better. for those interested in delving deeper into the world of harry, the site contains an archive section from which i have borrowed those illustrated here. everyone deserves a decent break in life, even on a hitherto non-canary website such as the post, but especially a nine year old who may well be in the advent years of a glorious career.
just think: when eventually you're reading harry the canary, syndicated across multi-national newspapers in the manner of doonesbury, peanuts or garfield, you'll be able to say you knew the bird when he was a mere chick.
posted tuesday 12 january 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................