the snowy, slushy, cold stuff was bad enough, because apparently chucking grit all over it makes it disappear, leaving wet grit. but at the height of its onslaught, the temperature was too low for the grit to make any inroads on the cold wet, snowy slushy stuff, so the grit moved home onto my bottom bracket, hubs and wheel rims. the chain didn't fare too well either. i haven't a clue where the term elbow grease came from, but if you could buy it in tins, it would be on special offer and thus out of stock in our co-op. while i cheerfully assume the mantle of 'untidiest person in the northern hemisphere' if only because it's true, there is nothing more aggravating to the conditioned eye than a gritty bicycle; if justification were needed for this stance, grit has not been known to take kindly to chain links, and in case you hadn't noticed, chians are not getting any cheaper these days.
my portable workstand spends more hours assuming the position for cleaning than it has ever done for routine or major maintenance. perhaps not the correct turn of phrase, since i think it only right and proper that cleaning be included in this subset. if there were a venn diagram etched into the bikeshed door, it would intersect the red maintenance circle with the persil blue cleaning one.
professional mechanics grab as much of the video limelight these days as do their lords and masters, often to be seen with sponges the size of sofa cushions and large plastic buckets of soapy water, cleaning nooks and crannies that i'll bet you didn't know existed. i have always eschewed the use of brushes for this purpose ever since an early, bright yellow version gave some carbon clearcoat a more tactile surface than was readily appreciated. sponges and buckets of soapy water i can live with; in winter, the warmer the water the better, though i have no idea if the bicycle appreciates the same. thus, when specific cleaning materials are proffered, i would smile condescendingly, and stuff the sponge back into the foam.
while i would defend anyone's right to be an idiot, i am generally not of the notion that it is necessary to proclaim this in a public place, or in the case in hand, in pixels, but the soap and water bit, while being most efficacious, can be liberally assisted by modern detergent science. thus proving me to be the idiot to which i referred earlier. a few months back, a large box of stuff arrived from the nice people at muc-off; inside there were degreasing sprays, chain cleaners, bike cleaner, bike polish, stuff that foamed wildly out of control when sprayed on helmet straps and other things. i have written of this before, but it has taken until now to appreciate just how incredibly brilliant all this muc-off is.
it is considered a major faux pas in these days of digital print to underline words for emphasis. this was all well and good in the days of the typewriter, when emphases were hard to come by. but digital allows emboldening or perhance, italicising. muc-off bike cleaner is a pink liquid generally come by in a plastic bottle with a spray nozzle on top. very similar to most of those unidentified liquids in the cupboard under the sink, to which mrs washingmachinepost seems to have delegated specific tasks despite the labels all claiming the same results. i have used the muc-off pink stuff to spray on the cielo frame mere minutes after dismounting from my daily 250km ride (somebody will believe it). the bottle is sited inside the bikeshed door for a quick getaway. i was quite happy with this until the still nice people at muc-off sent the terminator version of the same thing. this is the pink liquid in a container for which the word 'bottle' seems woefully inadequate. it's underlining with a capital 'u'; or it would be if i used capital letters.
the grime buster
two litres of pink bike cleaner are squashed inside, there's a handle like a kona coffee pot with a pink squidge lever atop, and a ruddy great plunger in the middle. the idea is to plunge one or two times to build pressure within, before pressing the flip lever; akin to lighting the blue touch paper and standing well back. a veritable pressure spray of pink bike cleaner attacks whichever part of the frame you were aiming at, dislodging gunk like the flame thrower it resembles. one almost wants to lift the nozzle towards the lips and blow after all is complete. it has then been a simple matter to wipe down the bicycle with the multicoloured fluffy towel i nicked from the bathroom cupboard ("no dear, i haven't seen it for ages"). in their defence, muc-off do suggest that you wet the bicycle prior to application, but i have yet to come home with a dry bicycle anyway, and this is oh, so much more satisfying. chris distefano will be overjoyed to hear that it makes short shrift of mucky marks on white handlebar tape.
the container can be replenished at any time by purchasing spare standard bottles of bike cleaner, and re-charging the pressure is a piece of cake, yet strangely satisfying at the same time. the pink stuff is fully biodegradable, and really only of danger to muck while cossetting that glorious paint job and playing nicely with anything carbon fibre. £20 will bring you the dirt weaponry grime buster filled with two litres of muc-off bike cleaner.
to shamelessly borrow from l'oreal 'you're worth it'
posted saturday 3 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
cycling is hard work. no matter what level you ride at, it's hard work. keep at it long enough, and you get a bit faster (well, some do), but the effort seems to stay the same. and even if you're one of those who figures that becoming faster means continually purchasing new components, and maybe even a better, lighter frame (always make this convincing when explaining to your better half), there's still a degree of effort involved. i'm not a competitive cyclist, something that is very unlikely to alter in the foreseeable future, but i do like to feel as if i've worked hard(ish) on any bike ride; it's a comfortable feeling, in a strange sort of way, to sit of an evening with legs that know they might just have accomplished something. of course, trying hard on the bike is only a small part of the equation that makes for a better cyclist.
grabbing an espresso or cappuccino, washed down with a large helping of toffee cream sponge, is hardly the height of sports nutrition, but i know i'm not the only one that uses a few hard kilometres into a headwind as an excuse to put foam on my upper lip and calories above the waistline. and staying up to watch the dvd of 2012 on the eve of losing an hour's sleep, is not listed in any training manual i have had the pleasure of reviewing in the last few years. reaching the pinnacle of athletic prowess sort of means taking care of the whole shebang; a bit like a monk on two wheels.
does it really work?
major taylor (marshall w taylor) was born in indiana on november 26 1878, his parents having moved north from kentucky around the time of the american civil war, and won his first bike race in 1892. the moniker of major arrived via his performing of stunts outside an indianapolis bike shop wearing a soldier's uniform as a costume. taylor was black, a factor that made his struggle to become one of the finest athletes on two wheels all the more remarkable, given the racism that existed in the united states at the time. to quote from an essay by ken kifer:
...his greatest struggle was with 'that monster prejudice.' time after time, he was refused entry into races, and he wasn't permitted to race in the south, which hurt his overall standings every year. he was not allowed to join the league of american wheelmen, the dominant cycling organization of his day, simply because of his color.
the worst thing i have to struggle against is an atlantic headwind, which rather pales into insignificance compared to the preceding, yet taylor seems not to have let his determination waver, becoming just as famous for his moral platitudes as for his string of victories and speed. sayings such as 'don't fail to live a clean life', 'don't eat cheap candies' and the more bizarre 'don't be a pie biter' and 'don't try to gyp' give a(n almost) clear insight into the psyche and single-mindedness that took him to the top of his profession. major taylor retired from racing at the age of 32, and unfortunately things went downhill from there on in; he died at the age of 53 in the charity ward of cook county hospital in chicago, and was buried in an unmarked grave.
nowadays the man is revered for his achievements, and has almost fulfilled the criteria for that of a successful artist, becoming apparently more famous in death than in life. his life, work and sayings have more recently become the subject matter of chris piascik, a graphic designer and illustrator in connecticut, usa. chris produced an initial edition of 100 numbered and signed copies of an illustrated typographic fanzine; a collection of major taylor's good habits for clean living. the first edition sold out very quickly, so he produced a second edition using different colours to that of the first to help differentiate between the two. this edition is disappearing fast too, but if you're really quick...
good habits, clean living: a tribute to major taylor can be acquired for $12 here and chris has also produced a letterpress poster of the cover on heavyweight paper in a signed and numbered edition of 100.
posted friday 2 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
one of the finer advantages of writing thewashingmachinepost is getting hold of stuff before it becomes available to the rest of the world. it's admittedly a rather insular satisfaction, for while few require the signing of a non disclosure agreement, the general understanding is that nothing can/will be said until public release. until then, mum's the word. in the past, colnago have been happy to supply pre-production bicycles for test, publishers regularly send copies of their books several weeks in advance of publication, and it wouldn't be the first time i've received cycle apparel while the catalogue is still being printed.
sometimes, however, the pre-production prototype of a component gives cause for concern; not because of any failing in its construction, or indeed in its daily operation, but with that of personal conscience.
i have long railed against the apparent need to improve certain components on the modern bicycle; most vociferously, the bottom bracket and headset. i have, regretfully, given up on either component being re-formed to its original state; i might be a confirmed luddite, but i know when the ghost needs to be given up. currently i will concentrate on pointing out why cannondale's bb-30 is not a standard, though with my track record, it will likely not be too long before that one bites the dust too.
i've probably given the game away as to my area of review and test, as well as my cause for concern. the chris king cielo i have been riding since the end of 2009 is well kitted out with chris king componentry, namely r45 hubs, no-threadset headset, and a ck bottom bracket. it's this last edifice that rails against my principles. over the three and a bit months of riding, the bicycle has performed impeccably; it is still the closest feeling to gliding one can have without leaving the ground.
but all is not as it seems.
the bottom bracket on the cielo is a chris king prototype that eschews the famed in-house bearings, and replaces them with magnets. so now you can see my problem. for someone who still figures that there was nothing wrong whatsoever with the good old square taper, the thought of the bearings disappearing as well is a bit too much to handle. i daresay, that's progress.
the bottom bracket cups threaded into the steel frame are still manufactured from the same aluminium alloy as regular ck bottom brackets, and thus impervious to the fields of magnetism thrown around their circumference. in a similar principle to that of the maglev railcars, the magnets fitted inside each cup are opposite in magnetic field to those grafted onto the bottom bracket axle, in this case, a sram prototype made for chris king in order to test the principal. i believe shimano are also in on the act.
i have no engineering experience to write home about, but apparently what i do have, according to chris king's marketing chief, chris distefano, is a healthy degree of cynicism. it seems that my constant moaning about bottom brackets has its advantages, however you can be sure that i'm not the only one riding round on a magnetic bottom bracket. according to production manager, jay sycip "while the racing implications are clear, the majority of our bottom bracket sales are to regular riders. it makes sense, therefore, to test it in the real world of day to day."
the method is comfortingly simple: the magnets in the cups repel the magnets fitted at each end of the axle, taking friction out of the equation altogether. fitting the axle through the bottom bracket shell in the cielo was a bizarre experience; initially the cup magnets repel the axle, and it takes an unnerving amount of bravado to give a hefty push on the chainset to slide it past both ends of the bb. once notionally in place, fitting the left crank and bolting it up tight, lines up both sets of magnets, a process aided by some oddly shaped washers and spacers between crank and cup. some of these were factory fitted, but i still had an instruction sheet to make sure i got the other ones in the correct order.
the scary part is that it all works like magic, and there really is no friction at all; leave the chain off to begin with and spin the cranks and they do quite literally go on for ever. assembly was interrupted by the offer of a coffee and a danish from mrs washingmachinepost, and when i returned to the workstand, the darned things were still spinning.
not a particularly demanding rider, i spin rather than grind my way through gears, but so far the magnetic setup hasn't missed a beat. there's no sign of play in the system, something i was convinced would be its downfall, and something i'm required to check at the end of every ride. the magnets employed in the cups are of a similar standard to those used by the aerospace industry, though i dread to think what the cost might be. likely the main selling point would be that the magnets don't wear out. ever.
repeat business might be a problem.
my review and test is designed to last a good few more months yet, accompanied by more filling in of online surveys to keep chris king advised of progress. so far there's no indication of a proposed release date, but i doubt you'll see anything on a ck stand at nahbs for at least a year if not longer, but if it's working this well for everyone else i figure the future is all but guaranteed.
this doesn't in any way undermine my faith in the square taper, but it's very hard not to enjoy that gliding feeling. i suppose i should heed the advice of high-wire practitioners and just don't look down
my rather poor attempts at photography show the outer face of the magnet in the bb cup (top), and the magnet fitted to the bottom bracket axle (in the bottom photo: the blueish part inboard of the chainrings).
posted thursday 1 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's always time for a bit of fun on easter sunday, unless of course you're signed to a professional team and have the tour of flanders to ride. according to some of the interviews i've read in the monthlies, there are those in the spring classics peloton who seemingly enjoy pounding the cobbles while fending off some drastic weather. each to their own. here on the favoured isle, we will be doing the habitual; riding around the principality before retiring to debbie's for as much coffee as is seemly before easter lunch. if the mighty dave t is in good humour, we may even roll a few eggs. then in the afternoon, after belgian waffles with banana and maple syrup, it should be a simple matter to sit with feet on the kids' toys while watching those chaps we mentioned earlier, riding their bikes in vlaanderen.
but, much as i hate to labour the point, it is easter, and likely the perfect excuse for something a bit sillier; something like a bicycle treasure hunt. and before you utter the same platitudes as i, this is not another london-centric swish, but a party atmosphere that takes place in bristol.
amy fleuriot of cyclodelic fame has put together this velocipedinal fun in celebration of a beautiful machine; a two week series of events organised by mcfaul studio with the aid of howies' store in the same city. simply turning up on a bicycle would be fun enough for most, but amy would like you to enter into the spirit of the affair by arriving dressed as your favourite summer drink, wear a fine easter bonnet, or fluff up your cottontail. the latter should be a bit of a challenge while sitting on a saddle.
the fun can be enjoyed in teams, or solo if you're name is lance no-mates, cycling to various checkpoints around bristol city centre collecting easter eggs. and in true competition style, eggs mean points and points mean prizes. extra points can be gained by the sartorial elegance of your easter parade.
when all the eggs have been found, eaten or broken, it's back to howies for some havana rum, prize giving and the opportunity to view an exhibition of bicycle themed artwoks by international illustrators. with the get go starting at 4pm, there's plenty of time to watch the ronde van vlaanderen on eurosport, before donning bunny ears, fluffing scuts and taking the best sunday bike from the bike shed. accoutrements required to aid a winning attempt, are a fiver for your entry fee (all profits to the environmental justice foundation), a bicycle (oh, you can laugh), a street map of bristol, digital camera or camera phone, and a bike lock to keep the nearest and dearest safe while you party the night away.
the fact that none of this makes any sense at all, is so much the better, and likely the very reason why you should make the effort in the first place. a lot more fun than my sunday morning will be; but i can handle the jealousy.
posted wednesday 31 march 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
this subject really only came up because the brakeset that you see illustrated alongside is about to head to a new home, having spent way too many years sitting in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed. towards the end of the 1990s, in a fit of campagnolo enthusiasm, i thought it was time that i award myself some componentry from the company's earlier years. those under consideration were those when vicenza was suddenly under a bit of pressure from osaka, having had it pretty much all their own way since the 1940s. it wasn't really a surprising state of affairs; with little else to choose from at the top of the pecking order, anyone releasing working componentry aimed at the same level was bound to attract a good deal of interest. look at sram today.
the problem is often that a lack of any real consistent competition will lead to complacency and a lack of sustained development, very likely the situation that campagnolo found themselves in at the beginning of the 1980s. attempting to redeem themselves, in 1986 they produced the c-record groupset, which featured these rather delectable delta brake calipers. well, in fact, 1986 didn't see this particular model; the original versions featured a sort of greyish white rubber trim as opposed to the black on these later model deltas. part of the attraction of the delta brakes for collectors, is their short life in the campagnolo range; despite the unquestionable beauty not only of the outer skin, but the highly impressive mechanicals hidden behind the faceplate, they were dispensed with because pro mechanics hated the blighters (and you would too if you'd ever had to fit and trim the cable), and they never quite delivered on the promises made in the 1986 catalogue.
but at one time, nobody did style better than the italians, and particularly so in componentry designed and manufactured by campagnolo. the design of the delta brakes would do credit to apple's jonathan ive: a beautifully simple and impressive overall shape, and a degree of polishing that defies description. even the underside that faces the tire, and would thus be seen by few other than the mechanics, as well as the inside of the brake arms, was subject to the same shine as that impressive frontispiece.
the inner mechanicals are a testiment to minimalistic efficiency. the principal claim made by campagnolo was that of progressive braking, mitigating against the likelihood of locking the wheel under pressure. camiallo zero g calipers achieve the same by utilising a cam in a modern caliper design, but despite their ruthless efficiency, they do not come close to the style and panache of record delta brakes. those were the days when most folks i knew were aware that campagnolo components were overbuilt, translating to a level of longevity uncontested by either shimano or suntour groupsets available at the same time.
but the real reason for my having acquired the deltas in the first place had nothing to do with the mechanical nirvana promised by vicenza, but everything to do with the style that campagnolo exuded, which appeared about to evaporate as they started to concentrate more on carbon than sculpted aluminium alloy. sadly, in my opinion, that prognostication has turned out to be correct; though they may have redeemed themselves slightly with the latest eleven speed offerings, there is little to compare between the spinal tap era and the days of c-record and the beautifully named croce d'aune set (campagnolo also lost the plot when what we now know as centaur was named daytona. what the heck were they thinking?).
dark days in an ageing wooden shed are no way to treat such jewel-like componentry, so they are now moving on to better days, gambolling around a grassy field in the country. at least i think that's where they're going.
posted tuesday 30 march 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it is incumbent upon members of parliament to declare any business interests they may have when discussing related matters in the house of commons. when adhered to, it's a simple way of making their constituents and fellow members aware of anything that may prejudice the outcome of such discussions. so it is that i feel it only fair to apply a similar procedure to my writings.
many of the folks at rapha, both perren street and mississippi in portland are friends of mine, a situation that pre-dates any reviews of their apparel that i have subsequently undertaken. this, despite accusations to the contrary, has little bearing on my reviews, because whether you believe me or not, they're one of the few companies that actually listen to justifiable criticism. however, the release of their latest range brings me to an impasse.
i have long wished to cater more for female readers of the post, but i am somewhat ill-equipped anatomically and biologically so to do. with the launch of rapha's women's range, consisting of jerseys, shorts and stowaway by way of a ride round richmond park with the new rapha condor ladies team (directeur sportived by my long-time friend, rene groot), there was somewhat of a necessity to find someone to carry out reviewing duties on my behalf.
some of you may well already be readers of bianchista and one or two of you may follow its progenitor on twitter. step forward gem atkinson, who has valiantly been press-ganged into undertaking writing, photography and reviewing duties where female ladies of the opposite sex are concerned, starting with that printed below. for this, i am eternally grateful.
Imagine my dismay when I looked out of the window on Thursday afternoon to see what can only be described as a tropical deluge falling from the heavens. Undeterred I made my way to the designated venue for the Rapha Womenswear Launch, the wonderful Garden Cafe, right at the heart of one of London's ubiquitous landmarks, the royal Regents Park. Arriving, I found the warmest of welcome in tea, coffee, wine and that most important of cyclist fuel, the humble cake (in many a delicious variety)
A fair few ladies had braved the rain, to further examine the capsule range of the newly launched Rapha womenswear, and before long, the cafe had filled and was awash with many a red stowaway; a wonderful flash of colour in contrast to such a dark and dismal evening outside. Armwarmers were examined, pulled up and admiring glances were exchanged, along with compliments on the cut, and quality of craftsmanship.
Having been a wearer of Rapha's cycling togs for a few years, I welcomed the news of their womenswear range with anticipation, but told myself that if it wasn't right, I'd continue to enjoy the male offerings, in that wonderfully handy size of XS. However, I have been nothing short of amazed at the subtle but oh-so-important changes to the items offered in this new range. The stowaway hugs the figure in a most appealing way, with details such as a chest dart confirming the female form, while the placing of the front pocket at a differing angle from the male counterpart provides a flattering yet functional fit.
The new jersey has cemented itself as my 'perfect' cycling jersey. Period. The cut is long enough to feel comfortable, yet is form hugging enough to yield a suitably racy look. The simple styling borrows directly from its masculine equivalent, combining a subtle cream armband with a delightful pair of contrasting armwarmers. These are small and tight enough for a girl's arm, and as I found out recently on a nice two hour jaunt, I didn't have to hoik (good word) them up even once. A rare occurrence.
There was quite a buzz about the shorts, with many ladies at the launch happy with their design as half shorts, and thankful for the comfort waistband and a high placed back, contoured to spare any embarrassment when dropping the hammer to slide past Nicole Cooke in the sprint, I'd imagine.
After cake and refreshments, the newly formed Rapha Condor ladies team was presented to an appreciative crowd. They'll be racing all across the UK and I believe there are also plans to race on the Continent. The squad boasts such talent as an ex-national level rower and a member of the Commonwealth team. The new team will be adorned with Specialized accessories while bikes will be supplied by Condor.
Outside, the rain had been relentless, but the team rallied up those brave enough to, for want of a better word, brave the drizzle. Thus a slightly smaller than anticipated peloton rolled out for a few casual laps of the park. Customers and fans were able to ride and chat with the members of the team, discussing anything from racing, to clothing, to upcoming race schedules. The low key and friendly approach was fantastic to see, as suddenly elite level racers became accessible to the humble weekend warrior.
It's fantastic to see companies as successful as Rapha and Condor supporting women's cycling, from grassroots right through to elite level, as cycling becomes more and more popular amongst the fairer sex. It's encouraging to know that we are thought of as an important market with specific needs, yet also wanting the same subtle styling on our threads as the men, not just shortening the leg length on shorts, adding a couple of Hawaiian flowers, or only offering items made from inoffensive pastel fabrics. That simply will not do dear reader, something with which Rapha obviously concur in this, their first offering in this direction. I look forward to seeing an expansion of the range in the future, and to seeing the team garner a comparable degree of success.
gem atkinson 2010
posted monday 29 march 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................