a friend of mine in new york, whom i am sure i have mentioned before, is a professional drummer, and a particularly good one at that, but like many professional rock or jazz musicians he has his eccentricities, most of which, as far as i am aware, are quite endearing. what brought him to my attention almost ten years ago was not only his gracious but extrovert drumming style, but the way he set up his drumkit. those of you not in the least interested in the world of drumming, or, perchance, any other musical instrument in the rock and jazz field, will likely have made the fundamental mistake of considering every drumset to look pretty much the same. however, simply think back to those unforgettable moments when your spouse has declared that to her/him, all bikes look just the same.
the idiosyncracy, in this case, was the employment of a thin, large bass drum sitting only a few centimetres in front of his regular bass drum; a woofer in percussive parlance. the idea here is to enhance the initial bass drum beat, by altering and amplifying its thudding beat, something that has to be heard to be believed. maybe. i believe the original idea was that the drummer would use a woofer of the same diameter as the bass drum that arrived with the set, and have it held in place by one or two restraining brackets. however, not everyone is compelled to follow the picture in the catalogue.
however, it may surprise you to know that, even in the world of percussive endeavour, technology takes its toll; or pushes the boundaries ever forward, depending on your point of view and bank balance. as an endorsed (read: sponsored) drummer, nice wooden stuff seemingly arrives at his new york studio with unfailing regularity, and the appearance of the latest development in bass drum thinking has seen him divest himself of the woofer and settle for something that looks far more conservative and approachable: a twenty three inch diameter bass drum. yet again, i perceive a whooshing of air over many unhelmeted heads, but allow me to educate you in the way of the bass drum, that you may appreciate this ground-breaking state of affairs.
for historical reasons, the origin of which i know not, bass drum diameters have always been even numbers. the smallest practical bass drum size currently on the market is eighteen inches round, a size beloved of many a jazz drummer, and, seeing as you ask, of yours truly. this steps up to twenty, twenty-two (probably the most common size), twenty-four and twenty-six, the latter once the province of the big-band drummer. get to twenty-eight, and you're into pipe band and marching band territory. but for perfectly sound marketing rhetoric, drum workshop decided to produce a twenty-three inch bass drum, glowingly fawned over by neil peart of rush in a dw youtube video. from a purely subjective listening point of view, i cannot see what the fuss is all about, but then i don't care for external headsets and bb30 bottom brackets, so perhaps i'm not the ideal consultant on such matters.
but when all is considered, there is little to prevent any drum company unleashing odd-sized drums on an unsuspecting public, apart from one not inconsiderable problem. if i might refer back to my lengthy diatribe on the even numbered sizes currently on offer, it seems pertinent to point out that these sizes all need to have a plastic drum head of one variety or other fitted on each end. it's also worth pointing out that with one exception, the makers of drums are not the makers of the heads that fit them. thus, if you'd care to peruse the catalogues of remo and evans, both of whom proffer quality drumheads, you will find no such animal as a twenty-three inch bass drum head. this could be something of a problem; it's not that bass drum heads are prone to breaking, certainly not the front one, but they do require to be replaced from time to time. it's going to be a bit of a pain, to put not too fine a point on it, to walk into your local music shop, ask after a 23" head, only to be met with either a quizzical look or a smug grin.
sometimes there are reasons for standards.
so while you are querying the relevance of bass drum diameters to any part of a bicycle, allow me to direct your line of sight towards the water bottle enclosed in that carbon/alloy/steel cage bolted to its down tube. should i happen to lie awake this evening having one of those eureka moments, during which the notion of a washingmachinepost water bottle becomes one of life's imperatives, i need only worry about capacity, colour and wording. bicycle water bottles the world over are all the same core size, so that the other chaps lying awake figuring out ever more extravagant bottle cage designs will meet the manufacturers in the middle, and all will be well with the world.
but the bicycle water bottle was designed thousands of years ago (well, perhaps a slight exaggeration), before man imbibed fascinating powders and potions to increase isotonic absorption and carbohydrate intake. thus it is conceivable that the water bottle we all know and love might fancy a change of shape, particularly in light of the current obsession with hours spent in the wind-tunnel. such morphing would, however, result in the need for an accommodating cage of proprietary construction, suitable only for grasping the bottle it was matched with. surely there must be another way?
while there's nothing really new under the sun, the edge 16 looks to me like something new under the sun. weighing a scant 16grams (that's a lot less than an ounce), the edge is fabricated from carbon composites in a sort of kite shape, featuring a hole at each end allowing it to be bolted to the down-tube or seat-tube. so far so good. encased in the edge16 is a particularly effective magnet which pairs with a corresponding magnet fitted to the bottle with which it is designed to work. the bottle has a wide groove that matches precisely the shape of the edge 16 bolted to the bike.
it probably shouldn't work; but does it?
while the bottles offered by vincero design, creators of the edge still conform pretty much to the size and shape you'd tend to expect, there is no real good reason as to why they should stay that way. if you remember campagnolo's aero water bottle and its accompanying cage, here's the ideal, contemporary solution to the wind tunnel smoke. with the ibis hakkalugi still in residence, cyclo-cross would seem to be that other obvious problem looking for a solution. if we take scot nicol at his word, the hakkalugi is not only a performance machine for the sport of 'cross, but the ideal bicycle for traversing a modicum of rough stuff. in this latter case, a bottle and cage would not seem out of place, particularly if your exertions are directed at training for the next mudfest. not only would it be something of a pain to have to remove the cage everytime you pinned on a number, but sod's law would dictate that at least one of those threads is going to strip in the process along the way.
having turned up with hakkalugi, edge and bottle in situ, i was met with two confident 'that'll fall off's before a pedal had been turned in anger, or even in mild irritation. for an hour and a half playing with abandon through the woods, up hill and down dale, through splashy puddles and potholed tracks, the bottle remained pinned to its slot. grabbing it for drinking is a simple case of rolling the bottle to one side or t'other, and there's a thoughtfully raised logo at the top to let you know when it's lined up correctly to slide onto the edge16 bolted to the bike. i had deliberately filled the bottle to the brim (and i had one of the larger bottles on offer), yet it remained as solid as a bottle on a magnet.
lest i had given it too soft a ride, and not really stretched it to its magnetic limits, on the way home from debbie's, i took a left onto a long forgotten road leading to nowhere in particular, now strewn with loose gravel, water-filled potholes and liberal quantities of grass growing along the centre. making sure i'd not fitted the bottle properly (because you just know that's going to happen at some point), and it was just clinging on by the skin of its magnetic teeth, i pedalled my very worst. potholes, gravel and lumpy grass were all fair game, and i hit everything as hard, fast and as awkwardly as i could (which, just to digress, said a great deal for the ibis). at the end of the road, the bottle was still affixed to the bicycle, and i felt guilty for having ever doubted its effectiveness.
with the current trend for hiding all the cables inside the bicycle tubes, fitting an edge16 seems the ultimate practical accessory to retain clean lines. it's efficacious in more ways than one, particularly as the cap has a rather ingenious baffle at the lid, preventing any liquid from escaping when really it shouldn't be. the only shortcoming i can see at present is the reliance on bottles from vincero; should that get left behind or lost, there's no way to substitute another lying in the cupboard. however, in much the same way as the 23" bass drum, the more folks using it, the more likely that compatible bottles or drumheads will become readily available.
at present, the device is not available through retail in the uk, though i daresay it could be ordered from vincero design in boulder, colorado. the edge16 including bottle sells for $46.95, considerably less than the cost of some carbon fibre cages these days. if you're ordering, it might make a deal of sense to ask for more than one bottle.
just remember who let you in on the secret first.
posted thursday 04 november 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
einstein, genius that he was, apparently rationalised his theory of relativity while out riding his bicycle. much as i find riding my bike highly therapeutic and an excellent time for cogitative thought, theories such as e=mc2 have never made themselves known to me. thus i pass my evenings writing elaborate constructs such as this for your edification and reading pleasure(?), instead of carefully preparing for my nobel prize acceptance speech. i do not intend to regale you now with the precise definition of relativity as pertaining to albert's notion, but to investigate further one of einstein's other ruminations; whether this came to light (future pun intended) in the saddle i know not.
the unified field theory.
unlike the proofs that exist for the theory of relativity, or at least a lack of contrary evidence to support any consternation over its validity, the unified field theory continues to exist purely as theory. not that my definition will necessary help comprehension, it seems only fair that i at least set my theoretical cards on the table. einstein posited that those usually thought of as fundamental forces (gravitational, electromagnetic and the fact that buttered toast will always land face down) along with elementary particles are all different facets of the same thing, thus can be described as a single field. the time spent in physics during my school years, with the benefit of analytical hindsight were well wide of the mark, according to current understanding. all those years ago, atoms were considered to consist of protons, electrons and neutrons, though what campagnolo wheels had to do with the substructure of the atom i confess still has me mystified.
time, technology and physicists wait for no man, and we now have a wild array of quarks, gluonsand higgs bosons; in fact much of what the large hadron collider is having a great time smashing to pieces at the speed of light. what has so far prevented complete unification is the inability of gravity to coagulate into an appropriate shape that will allow its inclusion in the equations. the first white coated, frizzy haired and bespectacled physicist to find the magic formula will probably never have to buy a bikefood bar ever again, and the word theory can be struck from its conjunction with unified field forever. at this point, the white coats will form an orderly peloton and go think about something else.
now, despite having a higher grade in physics (probably an administrative error), and many minutes of research, i cannot find any reference in this unified field theory relating to invisibility. you may well laugh, but before you opt for the more sensible option of cleaning spokes one at a time with a tin of brasso, bear me out while i digress beyond redemption. invisibility simply has to have a recognisible, if unseen, existence. otherwise how would harry potter have a cloak made of the stuff?, and why otherwise would it be a believable testimony on behalf of a considerable number of car drivers, that old i never saw him guv chestnut. while we decorate strategic areas of our pelotonic clothing with scotchlite tabs and panels, coupled with frantically flashing light emitting diodes (those never came up in physics either, come to think of it), it seems that car windscreens render all those directed and reflective photons outside the visible spectrum.
thus, though i am hardly the first to point out our transparency in the transportational continuum, perhaps my allusion to the laminated windscreen as the culprit is a scientific first. einstein proposed that light can be bent in ways undoubtedly beyond the scope of a physics higher certificate, but such is the rationale behind the phenomena known as black holes where an enormous, yet compact mass, exerts a gravitational force so powerful that even light is unable to escape its machinations. surely, given that cycling is nothing if not inventive in its verbal and physical proselytising, it might be possible to harness at least a portion of black hole technology (if such a thing exists, i hereby claim at least 30% of the royalties). in fact, i have photographic evidence that such is possible which you may well be able to see on this very page, as long as you tell no-one. stealth is the name of the game here.
taking the chris king cielo as a particularly apt example, though a colnago eps in stealth black carbon would suffice just as well, i will state the obvious by pointing out that the frame and forks are painted a rather fetching sparkly black. should i wish to enhance the night-time visibility of said machine, i would, up till now, have made it the laughing stock of the pelotonese in broad daylight. for who could resist pointing a finger at a sleek, black steel frame speckled with silver scotchlite dots? it may help defeat that light diffraction by glass laminates, but i think you get the gist of what i'm saying here. this goes at least double for that stealth colnago. but what if it were possible to stick some black dots randomly or selectively front and rear that would still alert motorists to my existence (always assuming the flashing red and white lights are inhabiting harry potter territory), while remaining invisible to the three rear pocket cognoscenti.
now let me not mislead you; i was sent a packet of six small black dots and one great big one (a use for which i have yet to find). i placed four black dots on the seatstays, facing directly towards any following vehicle headlights, and one on each front fork leg. in a situation similar to those pics taken of supernatural occurrences, the evidence did not come to light (sorry) until the pixels were off the camera. waiting until night had fallen, i popped out to thewashingmachinepost bikeshed armed with camera and bright light, shining the latter closely and directly at those six small dots.
those black dots were still black dots, no matter the angles, proximity and strength of that light. hmmmm. the 100 inch roll of scotchlite tape that can be measured, cut and ironed onto any fabric that you may wish to become sparkly, fared far better. having placed a couple of beautifully hand cut strips across the backs of a pair of black softshell gloved, any light aimed in their direction came back multiplied, as indeed, one would expect. the problem here rests with the application; mother always said that if i grew my fingernails i'd be able to peel stuff with ease. not true. however, a modicum of patience, married to actually reading the instructions made life farm simpler. however, the black light dots were still black, or at least i thought they were until i checked my flash photography: einstein was right.
so should your black bike be less than ostentatious in daylight, this is the invisible visibility you simply have to have. lit by car headlights, which are a lot more powerful than my puny torch, the black dots are the unified field that transforms dark matter into additional safety in this part of the universe.
both the black light dots and the 100" strip of scotchlight tape are the province of lighweights (not to be confused with those carbon sports carbon wheels, though some dots on the side of those would be most entertaining after nightfall. i do not have exact black light pricing for the uk, though they sell for $5.99 in the usa. the roll of tape retails stateside for around $14.99. these and other lightweights products are distributed in the uk by raleigh parts and accessories.
however, should you find the bicycle still a tad too dull to be seen in the glare of searching headlights, you could take a leaf from the book according to neil pryde bikes. in one of those don't try this at home moments, their new diablo eschewed the use of leds and even so much as a set of black dots; roasting chestnuts spring to mind. you'd certainly see this one coming. (thewashingmachinepost takes no responsibility whatsoever if you decide to roast your own chestnuts in this manner; do so entirely at your own risk.)
posted wednesday 03 november 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there are bound to be some folks reading who remember the days before microsoft windows, and the existence of a computer operating system that pretty much gave bill gates his economic start in life. international business machines, more commonly referred to as ibm, owned an operating system (the software that makes a computer work), rather obviously named pc-dos; personal computer - disk operating system. the job of this was to pop over to the hard disk periodically and acquire the resources required by whatever program was running at the time, or perhaps to write some information to the disk when the operator clicked save. i'm simplifying greatly here, but this is supposed to be about bicycles, so just bear with me for a moment.
bill gates' figured that he could improve the efficiency of this operating system, and persuaded ibm to let him tinker under the hood. as a precocious programmer of his age, young bill managed to do exactly as he had set out to do, renaming the new, improved version ms-dos; microsoft disk operating system. and in one of the great deeds of derring do, he had the good fortune to license it back to ibm.
unlike either windows, linux or mac osx, dos required the user to type commands in luminous green lettering on a black screen to open programs, and was utterly mouse-free once those programs were running. clunky would be a good adjective to use, and required more than just a basic knowledge of how to switch a computer on at the back. although some bits were relatively easy to use, they were also very easy to get wrong, and when windows happened along, even though windows 3.1 used to fall over with incredible regularity, many breathed a sigh of relief. windows was based on the mac operating system devised by steve jobs and steve wozniak, which in turn was based on a graphical user interface developed by xerox palo alto research center.
suddenly the future had appeared, and point and click has developed from that point onwards. yet in the early part of this century, with windows still sitting on top of dos, there were still those who laughed in the face of point and click, preferring to get down and dirty with that command line interface. these folks can't really be described as luddites, since we're talking about computers, and luddite seems a less than apposite term in such context.
look style road pedals are the dos of the pedalling world. a contentious remark if ever there was one, but let me explain. road racing is steeped in tradition and heritage, a state of affairs that has often led, if not to a slowing of technological development, then perhaps a hesitation in accepting the new when it happens along. for many a long year, and still the case for many track riders, the foot was clamped to the pedal by means of toeclips and straps. as recently as my first attempt at the london-paris ride, there was a happy chappy who rode the entire 600km with feet encapsulated in just such an archaic system, and my editor still swears by them (or, on occasion, at them).
but although a cleated shoe affixed to a development of the ski-binding can reasonably be accepted as a logical development of the toeclip, it still suffers from the same malady, namely upsidedowness. no matter how the pedals are left at time of dismount, they are almost guaranteed to be sitting clip side down. and if you have to make a hill start, on alpe d'huez for example, full power will have to wait a few metres until it's possible to gain enough speed and an appropriate technique to get the darned foot clipped in.
offroad is seemingly a differing state of mind. for the sake of my own sanity and in keeping with my tentativeness over approaching the world of the knobbly tyre, we'll confine this to cyclocross, about which i know a bit more, even if my efforts in that direction would not be out of sorts in a pantomime. what cross does have in common with mountain biking is a need to unclip quickly and vice versa. you can imagine the consternation and mayhem if leaping aboard that saddle was rendered null and void by a desperate need and possible failure flipping the pedal the right way round.
would it not be so much more efficient if the pedal was always in the right way up, even if you weren't?
the sad part here is that i was unaware of my pedalling disadvantage and ignorance until the ibis hakkalugi arrived with two pedal options from crank brothers; the graphically named eggbeaters and variation on a theme, the candy. the basic pedal design does indeed resemble an eggbeater, consisting of a spring loaded cage that rotates on its axle, presenting four separate points of entry for the rather miniscule cleat. now i believe that there are cleats available to fit the three point look-compatible fittings on normal roadie shoes, but i have yet to try those with the crank brothers pedals, so for the time being we will have to concern ourselves with the little offroad cleat that fits shimano spd shoe fittings.
road cleats are positively gargantuan in comparison to the eggbeater cleats, and with the latter being recessed into the sole of the shoe, i had grave doubts about matching one to the other. it doesn't always work first time on my road pedals and i had this mental picture of having to find a descent the length of mont ventoux to give me enough time to clip in before reaching the flat stuff. surprise, surprise, it's even simpler than i thought. even with my celebrated six million dollar man (slow motion) leaping aboard the ibis, i have rarely failed to clip in before forward motion has ceased to exist.
the eggbeater is the naked mechanism, offering little support for the foot, relying more on the stiffness of of the shoe's sole to aid downward pressure. however, just recently i have substituted the eggbeaters for the candies, and experienced an improvement in foot comfort as a result. the method is so frighteningly simple, it will make your ankles weep; the candy is simply a small platform bolted roundabout that basic eggbeater mechanism, but still allowing the latter to rotate inside. thus there is no difference in how easy it is to clip in. weight weeniness may hold you back from the candies as they are apt to add a few grams to the equation, but if you were never that fast in the first place, or where a decent haircut would save just as many, if not more grams, then who really cares?
and unlike scores of road pedals, all the crank brothers ranges can be completely rebuilt using kits that are readily available for your bike shop to order from distributors 2pure.
there will be those who prefer the pain and suffering of flipping the pedal right way round, considering eggbeater wimps to have no soul and edging uncomfortably close to couch-potatoeness, much like adherents to the dos command-line interface. i'm a mac user and rather enjoy anything that means the trials and tribulations are taken care of by someone else. in this case, the crank brothers.
crank brothers eggbeaters come in four flavours; one, two, three and holy sh*t batman. those tested were the eggbeater threes, retailing at £94.99, but the ones cost £45.99, twos are £69.99 and the all-titanium holy sh*t batman eggbeater 11 costs a whopping £379.99. candy pedals are also available in four flavours: ones at £45.99, twos at £69.99, threes (tested) £94.99 and the holy sh*t batman candy 11 at £299.99. as the saying goes, you pays your money and takes your choice.
posted tuesday 02 november 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as a student, i worked in the stores department of the terminal building caterers at a lesser known scottish airport. climb one flight of stairs, and i was in the kitchens, though occasionally we'd climb into the service lifts and send each other to the next floor or perhaps even the one above that. foolish student pranks. kitchens, by implication, feature chefs; and even in the days before wall to wall cookery tv programmes and the advent of the celebrity chef, they were just as intransigent, demanding and arrogant as they are now (apologies if any reading identify with this profession; obviously if you ride a bike, you are immune from the foregoing description).
anyway, one of the more amenable of the species was shortly to become a father, and had elected to refrain from shaving from some indeterminate time up until the offspring appeared. in for a penny, in for a pound, those of us in the stores joined forces with the male chefs and elected to do likewise, though the poor souls employed as waiters in the aerogrill were prevented from doing so by the restaurant manager.
managing to pre-date tyler farrar by many decades, i was wearing at the time a pair of reactolite rapide prescription glasses which had the same unfortunate predilection as those transitions chappies to turn dark on bright, but rainy days. in case this has not presented a rather disturbingly uncool mental picture for most of you, imagine a wealth of designer scruff without the designer part, walking home through my home town in drizzly rain, with shoulder length straggly hair and at least a couple of weeks' growth on my face, apparently wearing dark glasses. hallowe'en all over again. i would likely be unaware of this less than pretty picture had it not been for a bakery sporting a mirrored side window in which i chanced to catch my reflection.
not a pretty picture.
so, at the risk of incurring the wrath of my employment peer group, i shaved every last growth from my chin and face the minute home was reached. it was a good three weeks later before chef junior arrived in the world, by which time much of the staff hall resembled an audition line for the part of captain birdseye, or the chap who graces the labels on bunnahabhain malt whisky bottles. all except me that is. from that day i have steadfastly resolved not to join the ranks of the hirsute, though today did give me a few moments for thought.
you see, today heralds the start of mo-vember, an annual, month-long celebration of the moustache, though not simply for the self-obsessed or trainee tweed run candidates. in this case, the idea is to add to the £26 million raised to aid the fight against prostate cancer by starting today as a clean-shaven individual, then foregoing use of the remington or gillette for the remaining thirty days, by which time that upper lip should be well-placed for some mo sculpting and waxing. if you are already well endowed in this department, perhaps you'd like to consider shaving it all off and starting afresh?
it will likely not have escaped your attention that simply growing a moustache for a month is unlikely to add much in the way of dosh to the coffers of prostate cancer research, so the only practical and economic way forward is to acquire sponsorship for the growth cycle, though quite how you'd define the sponsorship criteria is pretty much up to you. but, no less than you'd expect, movember does not end there.
there's an auction.
if you find yourself in the region or neighbourhood of look mum no hands in old street, london, take time to quaff one of their fine coffees while admiring the rather splendid pair of gold-plated moustache bars inhabiting a (plexi)glas(s) case within the premises. there's no frantic rush, because they will remain there until the auction ends on november 28th. proffering money in the hope of owning this rather exclusive steering device can be done via the going going bike website. jacqui shannon, organiser of london's celebrated tweed run said; "the bars are from american manufacturer velo orange and were customised by london gold plater, premier platings works and by brooks england, who supplied the bar wrap and the case. the new owner will receive a fresh roll of brooks leather tape with the bars at end of the auction in case they plan to use them.".
in case you find it hard to simply drop by look mum no hands, i have thoughtfully accompanied these words with a photograph of the very bars in question. the ultimate combination here would be to grow a healthy moustache between now and the end of the month, then bid sufficient funds from the piggy bank to own the gold-plated bars. with a modicum of sponsorship thrown in for the fuzz on the top lip, everybody, particularly prostate cancer research, wins.
it makes no sense whatsoever, thus it must be considered a brilliant idea, and one worth supporting to the hilt.
posted monday 1 november 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's quite some time since i mentioned port mor wheelers, the cycling club that mr hastings and i have been coaching for the past two or so years. i use the word coaching advisedly; there is no thought of any of the current assembly of young persons necessarily competing at any level, so that box remains unticked, and to be honest, most of the coaching is carried out by mr hastings while i stand by the roadside and make inane remarks that help no-one, but lend a degree of levity to the proceedings. the club is so-called because all initial sessions have been held at port mor centre, just outside the village of port charlotte. we have been aided by a degree of magnanimity from argyll and bute council's road safety department, who delivered an extremely large sports bag full of cones and disks and tape and all sorts of other things required to make the art of cycling into less of a straightforward pedal, and more of a circumlocutious game or activity.
however, as i'm sure many of you will realise, there are only so many different ways to cycle in and out and through a series of marker cones before a degree of tedium and pointlessness begins to seep through even the most junior of psyches. kids learn stuff alarmingly quickly, and it has been a constant challenge to invent ever more multi-directional squirreling before it starts to lose the point somewhat. couple that with an ever lengthening disparity between real-life cycling on real-life roads and we begin to immerse ourselves (and the kids) in traverses that are ends in themselves rather than means to an end.
regular readers will, by now, have started to fear the appearance of the words cyclo and cross in the same sentence, so it is only fair that i flag up a recurrence within this paragraph, but at least this time there may be a smidgeon of justification in their conjoining. you see, even though most of the members of port mor wheelers haven't the faintest idea of what constitutes the sport of cyclocross; neither the bikes nor the courses, it doesn't mean that they have no affinity for many of the skills required to participate. oft-times we would create a veritable scaled simulacrum of a 'cross course, that they might avail themselves of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. dismounting, re-mounting, running with the bike, clambering over artificial hurdles and generally falling about either deliberatley or otherwise.
with these often weekly activities taking place midst a burgeoning campsite with paying customers, often overspilling into a busy car park, compromises were inevitable, but when autumn and winter approacheth, we are blighted by the exposed nature of port mor. for the campsite, football pitch and community building rest mere metres from the shore of loch indaal, from which, on a clear day, the coast of antrim can be clearly seen. even if geography and weather patterns are hardly the preserve of the common man (or woman), such a commanding view from an atlantic isle will clearly advertise that those southerly winds have no real impediment when doing their worst. so perhaps prudence would dictate that the tail end of the year would dictate a change of venue to more sheltered parts; parts that would allow for at least more of the same cycling activities.
slap bang in the middle of the island sits bridgend woods, once the grounds of the still impressive islay house, former home to the lairds of islay estates. the house is now in private hands, the square appended to the mansion is home to many arts and crafts purveyors, and the woods have been opened up for public consumption by means of wooden bridges spanning the river sorn, and a network of paths that are trodden or pedalled by walkers and cyclists alike. a generous covering of deciduous trees deflects the bulk of the wind, and small people on small bikes are free from the unwanted attentions of the motor car. sounds ideal, does it not?
therefore, mr hastings had consultations with the factor of the estate, impressing that we were intending to get down and get muddy, that we promised not to harm any red squirrels, and we'd switch off the lights when we left. jez may well be a dab hand at cyclocross, having paper on his wall that attests to his commissaireship for the sport, but i can only get muddy through ineptitude, still valiantly trying to look as if the ibis hakkalugi and i were joined at the hip. in order to bolster the skillset, we managed to persuade graham hayes, a more than adept mountain biker, but completely merciless in his obervations that i am less suited to pathways bereft of tarmac. a slur on my character no doubt, but nonetheless true for all that.
thus, at 10am on saturday gone, a smattering of youth was to be seen warming up round and through those very cones mentioned in a previous breath, before crossing the road and entering the woods. oh what fun we had. thankfully, wee innes is of stature a tad smaller than the undergrowth through which at least one or two of the secret paths wend their many ways, and i volunteered to safeguard his passage across the more seemly byways, while the others hurtled between the trees and ferns. this volunteering was swiftly offered prior to graham suggesting that i was suited for little else.
so instead of artificial obstacles and a pretence of reality, the next generation of islay's cyclists were able to slither down steep singletrack, squiffle and squeeze across a carpet of bronzed leaves and fall off in comfort, not once losing a yellow bikefood bottle in the mud. with ever-increasing traffic even on islay's quiet roads, and continued disintegration of their surfaces, bike handling skills that are learned without specifically drawing attention to the learning should see tham safely into substituting for the present ageing peloton.
when it comes to yours truly, however, there is some dissension over who's coaching who.
posted sunday 31 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
people in glass houses are generally advised against throwing stones, partly a euphemism against criticising practices that one is also guilty of, but doubtless more officially thought of as a part of the encroaching health and safety malady that seems to have infiltrated every corner of british society. thankfully, in the context of which i am assuming the mantle of grumpy old man, i do not fit into any category that would bring me to my knees on the basis of my continued criticism. for i have trod this path before, and i can only surmise that despite being the president, nobody is, in fact, listening.
worry not, for i have little intention of completely reprising my initial moan, even though i think it bears repeating, and there is, at the end of this article, something of a happy ending. some of this is related to the recent cycle show, less applicable to the trade only shows, but certainly to those that, in the spirit of egalitarianism, allow joe soap to traipse round the display stands to ooh and aah over fabulous stuff that many couldn't possibly afford. particularly if mrs soap has come along as chaperone.
to most of us willing to admit to even a light degree of obsessiveness where bicycles are concerned, there's a frisson of excitement to be had either looking or riding, particularly the latter. but after a tour of three or four stands, there is the dawning realisation that the same old same old might just be flavour of the day. not so much in the carbon on display (though there is a soupcon of that too), but in the uniformity of display. at this point i may be willing to accede to a degree of glass houseness, because i am bereft of alternative ideas as to how the average bicycle may be displayed. however, citing the fact that strictly speaking, it's not my job, i am excusing myself from this affair.
but those of you who attended whichever cycle show you may have attended will surely admit that there's not a great deal of innovation to be seen in the realms of bicycle display. the three dimensional simulacrum of a powerpoint presentation. and we all know what we think of those.
however, to slide ourselves over to a different aspect of the illness, perhaps we could look at a different side of this particular rubik's cube. that of sponsorship.
i am occasionally asked to produce web pages for folks with guesthouses or self-catering establishments, the pixelated equivalent of brochure-ware. were any of these requests to include clever stuff such as databases, i would have to raise my hand and excuse myself from the party; pretty pictures are the best i can manage. but in the course of advising those with even less idea than myself as to the whys and wherefores of website origination, i have used the simile of your average formula one team (if there can, by definition, be such a thing); it's all very well to sponsor a car, but then you have to tell people that's what you've done. my admittedly obscure thinking here is that having a page on the interweb is only half the battle; then you have to let people know it's there. seems glaringly obvious to me, but not, apparently, to many others.
and this would appear to have pervaded the boardroom and marketing departments of many an eager cycle team sponsor. for where is the logic in plastering your company's name on the front, back and sleeves of the team jersey, then sitting back to await an increase in market share? we can see this particular theme with regards to the bicycle companies who provide carbon for the top teams. i will grant you that this situation has improved of late, but there are still many too many cases of victories going unsung by the names on the downtube.
i have discussed this with others, in particular the erudite mr richard sachs, who asked after a direct link to my first foray into this territory. i took this to indicate a modicum of agreement on his part. of course, many others have also nodded their heads in my direction, but overall, the situation seems to have changed little over the past couple of years, despite the continued elevation of the bar when it come to advertising innovation in other areas of marketing nous. however, it is to richard sachs that i now return.
despite having a waiting list for richard sachs frames that will last him well into the next decade, richard continues to sponsor his own cyclocross team, a team that is currently and regularly doing battle even as i write. of course, even in the relatively low budget world of cyclocross, the money needed to supply each rider with at least two bicycles, sets of wheels, team clothing et al is not of a quantity that can be cheerfully ignored. therefore, there are others who have cheerfully dipped into their corporate pockets in return for a logo on the bike and jersey. richard's principal sponsor, apart from himself, is rgm watches, purveyor of rather delectable (and expensive) timepieces. completely ignoring the all encompassing mentality that would dictate initials on the jersey front to be adequate, rgm have made a video commercial that reinforces their association with the richard sachs cyclocross team, lets us see the limited edition rs timepiece and have a look at mr sachs demolishing the opposition on and off his red and white bicycle.
you might also notice that, having sent him an ardbeg cycle cap earlier this year, mr sachs is cheerfully wearing it 'neath his helmet. i sincerely hope that not only are the powers that be at ardbeg watching, but that they heed my continual proddings to spot a few bucks in richard's direction for the endless exposure being currently provided. the opening minute or so of the ad need not concern us too closely, but at 1:11 into the ad, our hero appears.
this is how to capitalise on your investment, should any interested parties be watching. maybe we can't all afford an rgm watch, but at least we now know they exist and that they share the same sense of excitement as ourselves.
posted saturday 30 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
allow me to set the scene. we're thundering towards the 40mph signs that signify the beginning of bruichladdich village. the road starts to get twisty as we come off the slight rise leading towards loch gorm house on our right, an impressively large stone building that is now a five star bed & breakfast. lord carlos is at the front, mashing the pedals to keep his forward position, but inadvertantly transforming himself into the day's lead-out man. the mighty dave-t, with an impressive spinning style that would be the envy of lance armstrong, is riding just behind lord carlos's rear wheel checking regularly to see where my front wheel is positioned. i have no illusions about my opportunities to beat the two in front; i'm not particularly competitive, and not that fast either, but strategically, i'm in the best place to sprint.
we continue through the twists in the same formation until we are but a few hundred metres from those speed signs, at which point, the mighty dave drops down a couple of sprockets and starts to sprint for the line. i figure that i may as well go for broke, since there's little to lose and probably quite a bit to laugh about after. with lord carlos and the mighty dave filling the 'correct' side of the road, i'll have to cross that dotted white line in my bid for victory. so i flick my left-hand lever to shift into the 53 outer ring, keep my eyes glued to the road in front, lest an unannounced car make its presence known, and gie it laldie' as they say in taiwan. i ease comfortably past both my fellow peletonese, lord carlos dying in those last few metres, and sail across the imaginary finish line a good few bike lengths ahead of the mighty dave.
being one of life's incompetents, i have neither the skill nor the temerity to try and raise both hands off the bars, though doing so would admittedly look a mite incongruous on a sunday morning on islay. as it was, we simply rolled on through the village towards our parking considerations outside debbie's, but imagine if the aftermath were different. imagine if, having alighted from the cielo and removed my helmet, i was immediately whisked to one side, tongue lolling at the side of my mouth, eager to access a soya cappuccino, and stood in front of a white length of paper. a german photographer shouts the equivalent of don't smile and the shutter clicks a few times. of course, none of this happened, and nor is it ever likely to on a sunday morning in bruichladdich.
but for the better part of five years, through spring classic and major tour, that was the modus operandi of photographer timm koelln. you've probably seen some of the end results when they were published in an early edition of rouleur magazine (number 4), but perhaps, like me, been unaware that these were no fleeting glimpses of individuals from a tired and grubby peloton. for starters, were i to possess even one tenth of mr koelln's ability behind the lens, i would not have had the brass-neck to ask anyone to pose for a pic after they'd ridden a not inconsiderable number of kilometres, and could really do with hitting the showers or the luxury and privacy of the team bus.
but timm did.
and not only did he did, but he (and a few others) nipped round their respective houses earlier this year and casually asked what happened next? and now all of those photographs (i counted 94 riders) and their brief commentaries have been beautifully contained within 188 pages for your (and my) delectation. some of the riders look fresher than i do when i lose the sprint at debbie's, while others (cancellara comes to mind) look as if they were hit by a bus. others you wouldn't wish to meet down a glasgow city side street, while some, notably pozzato, look as if they've had their hair done before the shutter clicked. but perhaps the most regular feature, and one that should not be too surprising really, is how gaunt most of them look; some bordering on the unhealthy.
and talking of unhealthy, it's somewhat concerning just how many are no longer part of the peloton of the book's title due to having made unhealthy and illegal choices as regards chemical motivation.
"i knew that it could be my last tour, so i said i'd go. i also knew that to be of any use i'd have to be in really good condition, so you know ... that combination of things."
some seem to genuinely regret having become mixed up in that unsavoury part of bike racing, some are unconciliatory, but all those evicted from the peloton seem to express the same regret about no longer having the opportunity to be a professional bike rider. perhaps a case of if i knew then what i know now.
although photographed over a period of five years, the peloton is hugely important as a snapshot of our obsession with pain and suffering on a bicycle. and believe me, there is a great deal of evidence of the latter in this collection of photographs. it is, of course, a speciality of the sport's finest photographers that they manage to show more than the lens alone should be capable of; there is no mistaking the kilometres of trial and tribulation that preceded those moments in time. and as indicated by sofie andersen's words on the rouleur blog, time is something that was required in large chunks to put this book together...
when asked how long he thought it would take to finish the small matter of the design, andreas toepfer, the designer, said he thought it would take two weeks; when asked how long it actually took, he laughed and said that he had no idea."
however long it actually took, toepfer was well within his rights to have taken his time, for the layout is exemplary; lots of white space, photographs dominating the text and plenty of room to breathe. and considering the years that it took to acquire the portraits, there seems little need to hurry the last few steps. deadlines exist to be avoided. fifty pounds is not an inconsiderable sum to spend on a book, irrespective the content, but here i think we can make an exception.
and christmas is just around the corner.
timm koelln's 'peloton' is published on 19th november by rouleur publishing. hardback bound (32cm x 26cm), printed in tri-tone on exclusive paper it can be pre-ordered now. a limited special edition, including a signed baryta print and protective slipcase, will also be available later in november for £200
posted friday 29 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................