matt seaton's two wheels; one of the best things ever to happen to cycling in the uk, a regular thursday column that ran for a number of years in the guardian's g2 section. i believe the decision to end this weekly input was matt's, since i well know the constant effort that has to be maintained in this direction, but those who assumed the mantle post seaton failed to exhibit his wide perspective on cycling, and eventually, two wheels disappeared altogether. it is sad that the newspaper didn't see the need to research further and engage the services of someone with the ability of matt seaton to continue with this raising of cycling's profile, especially since they have persisted with a weekly motoring section in the saturday magazine, employing a succession of different writers to keep that running. matt has moved on to a position with the guardian in new york, and though he still writes convincingly for each issue of rouleur, cycling has been 'relegated' to the paper's website.
however, one of matt's far-reaching examples of revelatory prose concerned insurance for cyclists. not, i hasten to add, those somewhat large amounts demanded to insure your carbon fibre against damage or theft, but the third party insurance we really all ought to have accompanying our daily travels. there has been much in the cycling press, and i cannot claim immunity on behalf of the post, regarding whether or not cyclists ought to be paying so-called road tax, and while i have no desire to open up that whole debate again, it does seem right and proper that we as road users claim equality with our motorised compatriots, and succumb to having at least third party insurance.
consider the all too likely situation where an opportune moment of downhill freewheeling appears on the horizon. it is not beyond the realms of possibility that an errant pedestrian steps off the pavement unuannounced, and in wrestling manfully or womanfully to avoid deflecting into a parked car or other innocent bystanders, something or somebody gets hit. if we can, for one moment, put aside the apportioning of blame, and any harm that may have ensued to us as bicyclists, who is going to pay for the damage to this hypothetical third party? for you just know, in this litigious society, that somebody is going to sue the miscreant in lycra for that unnecessary criminal damage. do you have a bank balance that will cover such an eventuality? very unlikely, but for a few pounds a year, an appropriate level of membership of either the ctc or british cycling will provide the necessary cover, and cycling can become trouble free once more; something that can hardly be said for the modern vicissitudes of motoring these days.
there is never ending debate about cycle helmets, and they don't just concern whether they should be made mandatory or not. they too are a form of insurance, one you fervently hope you'll never have to cash in, but if you do, an insurance that will fulfil the majority of what it says on the tin. in reality, it's the only true reason to purchase and wear a helmet in the first place. surely we have not gone so far down the road of the nanny state that we wait for government to legislate, before considering which is the more appropriate style. think for a moment, if you will, that whichever helmet you choose, sizing is eminently more important than the style factor, particularly when, in use, you're the one person unable to see what it looks like. sure, stylish is good, but fabulousness has never been known to save lives.
if the helmet is too big, there's a better than even chance that the helmet will move out the way during an accident at speed, leaving fragile head parts open to road abuse. it's a safe bet, nowadays, particularly bearing in mind that for professional cyclists helmets are mandatory, that the principal protagonists are manufacturing helmets that adhere to the majority of those stringent safety regulations. and if you've followed the careers of larry, bertie, andy and perhaps most notable, mario, you'll be aware of the professional style factor requirements.
bbb components of holland are well versed in the requirements of the professional; their sponsorships include quick-step, vacansoleil, and cofidis, all of whom will be racing this season wearing the bbb falcon helmet. these will also be worn by the uk domestic pendragon, le col, colnago team. they have a slight advantage over cycling's proletariat, such as myself, in that theirs are often in shiny colours reflecting the team sponsors, but actually the proletariat don't do too badly with the standard colours offered: red, blue, white and silver.
for the first time ever, though it was bound to happen at sometime, the bbb falcon sent to washingmachinepost cottage fitted perfectly the minute i'd figured out the wrong way to open the box. i have probably lost more than several weeks of my life, fiddling with recalcitrant straps, buckles and closures, trying to practice what i preach and achieve a comfortable and safe fit upon my head. i am a compulsive adherent to the necessity of wearing a cotton cap under my helmet (always peak down), though at this slightly more inclement time of year, that has been replaced with one of those merino winter caps with ear flaps that confirm my assertion that hebrideans are the flandrians of the scottish west coast.
at the rear of the helmet is a notched plastic band that can be tightened by means of two clamps, one on each side, to perform fine adjustment once the helmet is in place. these obviously will be less troubled, the thicker the cap or head of hair that cuddles underneath. gone are the days when each helmet came with an assortment of felt-covered foam pads to adjust the fit, a system that was rather prone to variations in effectiveness. the falcon comes merely with an instruction manual; no spare pads can be seen. however, it is available in three sizes, fitting respectively, 52-55cm and 55-58cm and 58-62cm. not being big of head (though some would disagree), i opted for the medium, after some rudimentary measurement and comparison with previously owned helmets.
i cannot tell a lie; this is the best fitting helmet i have ever had the pleasure of wearing. i am not disparaging others, for i have not been tried everything on the market, and your mileage may vary, but whether worn with cotton cap, woollen belgian hat or merely my long, jet black hair, it was a matter of simple adjustment to effect a perfect fit. again, according to bbb, the helmet features carbon fibre and aluminium reinforcements coupled with a spiderweb inner reinforcement structure. short of taking a saw to the blue falcon in my possession, i have no way of checking, but i'm happy to take their word for it. a bit like the insurance that all but opened this discussion, the hope is that i will never have cause to find out.
arguments number two and three levelled against helmet wearing concerns weight and ventilation, perhaps not by the informed, but most certainly by those eager to feel the wind in their hair. bbb don't quote any relevant numbers on their website, possibly because they feel them no longer relevant; you need only take note that the falcon consists of almost as much empty space as it does helmet (rather negating the 'too warm' argument) through those 23 air vents, to surmise that it's not heavy in a remarkable sense. i have already suffered from the mistaken notion that i have departed the coffee table at deb's without gathering the helmet from its moment of repose.
the styling is best described as contemporary; perhaps not groundbreaking, but appropriately aerodynamic, not necessarily in a time-trial sort of way, but most certainly in a ducting manner that would push-pull substantial volumes of air from front to back, perhaps uncurring helmet-hair, but definitely curing any untoward notions of overheating. and surely 'tis better to suffer a hairstyle that can be washed out in the shower, than one that needs the intervention of surgery?
the bbb falcon helmet is aimed at the professional as well as the more advanced recreational cyclist and costs around £100. for more information, contact the new uk distributors windwave.
posted sunday 13th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's the most commonly given reason of all: musical differences. the first album was an unexpected success, the second sold on the strength of the first, but wasn't nearly as good, and the third all but proved the accusation that another one-hit wonder was passing before the ipod. then comes the press release, citing break up due to musical differences. admittedly, in some cases it takes a bit longer; the recent news that supergrass were to split for that very reason after 25 years in the business came as a bolt from the blue, as i thought they had given up a long time ago.
however, having played in bands for many a long year, none of them ever even close to commercial success, musical differences seem less of a worrying concern than personal differences. sometimes two or more people just don't get on. it is, therefore, great tribute to both rapha and condor that their names have remained front and centre on those black, white and pink jerseys for so long, joined at the beginning of last year by electronics giant, sharp. now into their second year as the rapha condor sharp team, harmony seems a justifiable adjective to describe the outward appearance of three companies with quite possibly different requirements from their professional association.
the original rapha condor team made play of the fact that, while being first across the line featured in their mindset, the most identifiable criteria was to race well and sportingly and be a sartorial credit to their first named sponsor. the bar has been raised a few notches since then, but that core idealism still exists. to quote rapha ceo, simon mottram "we started the team with condor cycles for two reasons: to bring a more accessible and inspiring look and spirit to uk racing, and; to show that we love the sport. i think the team has delivered on these two objectives really well"
you can doubtless all see the attraction of running a race team when the product that gave birth to the idea is heavily weighted towards celebration of cycling as 'the beautiful sport'. with the release yesterday of rapha's new pro team kit, do the riders fulfil the roles of competitors and product test-beds at the same time? rapha condor sharp rider and former british national champion, kristian house; " i wouldn't say its a sizeable part of the job, but yeah it's a part of it. a few of us on the team test out various bits of development clothing and give feedback after training or sometimes racing in it. rapha also welcome all the riders' input on the current kit already out there so that they can perhaps improve on it."
the other long-term sponsor is, of course, condor cycles, purveyor of fine bicycles that bear their name, as well as one of the iconic london cycle shops. so presumably, as a highly competitive bike rider, they too are not averse to a bit of input? "condor get us to test out a fair bit of kit too. it's really cool to see things being produced that you had a part in. sharp haven't started asking me about tv development yet, although they have had us test out their plasma cluster (air purifier system) and give feedback on that".
sometimes, looking on from the sidelines, it appears that some sponsors have their names on jerseys out of a sense of duty, or to consolidate their association with the sport in the public eye, rather than for any specific need or desire to gain any tangible return. however, considering the name condor appears in white on that black downtube, and considering kristian's answer above, presumably condor have very good reason to be involved, but is it for commercial exposure or product development or both? condor's claire beaumont: "both in equal measure. our flagship leggero is a hand-made, full carbon frame. despite our 60 years of heritage, we do still have to show that our frames will stand up to abuse, be smooth and remind the rider of the reason of why they cycle in the first place. in times of economic downturn, those looking for a performance bike, for whatever use, need to know that they can rely on that frame.
"the team push the frames to their limit, riding them in both criteriums and stage races. they are the first port of call when we want to make an adjustment or look to further improve the frame. in may last year, after some initial testing, we asked dan craven to race a steel race bike - the first with a tapered head tube - to see how it felt and how it reacted to his power."
but the important third piece of lego in this sponsorship triumvirate is sharp electronics, whose financial input no doubt eases the strain of operating a high-level race programme, but who have no 'real' connection with cycling at all, other than we might watch eurosport on their television sets from time to time. so how pleased are they with the association with rapha and condor after one year? sharp uk managing director, paul molyneux "the first year was a real learning curve for us, not having been in the cycling world on a regular daily basis. there have been elements which have exceded expectation; the support and fantastic relationship with the other sponsors, riders and management of the team, the openness and willingness of the cycling world to create commercial opportunities, the ease of communication in what is essentially a small community, the tour series, and the interest of staff within the company.
"there have also been elements that have given us some future food for thought. it is important for us to have our own identity within the cycling world, where we need to have the ability to communicate to the people involved, especially the fans; there are long parts of the season without significant exposure especially if the team finds it tough going at the tour of britain."
with sharp's sponsorship continuing through to at least the end of the 2011 season, are there plans to try anything differently this year, based on that steep learning curve that imposed itself on the 2010 season? "the second year plans are to try and address some of the elements detailed above and really give sharp an identity within the world of cycling, which we remain committed to."
though it's stating the obvious to point out, yet again, that sharp are not in any way related to the world of bicycles, accessories or clothing, surely their assessment of the success of this venture is likely, of necessity, to be more closely associated to that of the number at the bottom of the spreadsheet. in fact, how do they quantify if their sponsorship is working or not? "it's difficult to absolutely quantify the success in year one, as we definitely have not leveraged the relationship as well as we could. there are some hard measures around media exposure and some softer measures around the impact on brand awareness and positive association with a growing sport.
"there is, however, no doubt it is having a positive impact on our employees, with five sharp riders taking part in the gran corsa ride this summer."
(the gran corsa will take place at the end of may 2010, when the opportunity to ride the entire route of - or part thereof - the giro d'italia, not only as the italian cycle trip of a lifetime, but an opportunity to raise funds for sharp's nominated charity, prostate cancer. riders from the rapha condor sharp team will also accompany some of the stages. places are still available.)
both condor and sharp have been reasonably clear on their reasons for being two thirds of the team's name, but as cyclists, we know most about the team from persistent or infrequent trips to the rapha website, or from a constant and welcome barrage of e-mails originating in perren street. how does simon mottram gauge whether to quantify the team's success as a commercial proposition or sporting prowess. or is it yet again, a case of both being seen as equal? "more sporting than commercial. of course, we sell a lot of kit and that is great, but it in no way covers the significant budget that rapha has to put aside each year for the team.
"it's about having an impact on the sport. some of that comes through racing, which the team has been exceptionally good at in the last two years. but it's also about how the team races and behaves. our riders have been perfect role models for rapha; interesting and articulate as well as winners in races. we always seem to get the most cheers and the most visibility at races, win or lose. that's the acid test for me."
with regard to condor cycles, does having a team at least partially named after the brand provide a return on investment that they are happy with? condor cycles' brand manager, claire beaumont again: "you can't sponsor a team without incurring expense to run it and promote what they do. the team has an identity which some of the domestic teams don't have; that's why the riders' and the team's following continues to grow.
"we can't quantify the effectiveness the team has on the business, and if we did, based solely on numbers, then we'd lose the romance and passion of racing, the excitement of seeing one of our riders cross the line, and the joy that watching a race can bring to the team's fans. we use qualitative feedback a little bit more, listening to what our customers say and why they came into the store. not every customer comes in and buys a team issue leggero, but they hopefully understand that all of our bicycles are built to the same high standard and that the technology is passed through the range."
however, while the riders of any race team welcome the financial and product input of their sponsors, given that it provides them with a living doing something they enjoy, there is always the remote possibility that the horse turns into a camel if run by committee. therefore, to amalgamate the necessities of the day to day running into one role, to assemble the team and direct the seasons' race programmes, it is necessary to designate a directeur sportif. in the case of rapha condor sharp, that role has been filled by the same man since day one: john herety. could his long-service record be ascribed to finding this a comfortable place to be? "in terms of running a uci continental team i have three of the best sponsors i could wish for. each of the three companies involved have supported me in all aspects of the team's progress. does that make it a comfortable place to be? in short that's not difficult to answer, it's as comfortable as any job that relies solely on sports sponsorship."
his own perpetuity notwithstanding, the team does seem to have a notably low turnover of staff, so to speak. is this because john is such a nice guy to work with? "you'd have to ask them that. i'd like to think i run an organised outfit and at this level of the sport, you certainly don't do it for the money; it's a lifestyle choice. so running a tight and organised team helps to keep people happy. there's no surer way of losing staff or riders by making promises you can't keep. if anything, i'll always promise less and aim to give more."
since john said we should ask, it seemed impertinent not to. having been around for almost as long, how does kristian house find the team's personal aspect. do they get on well? "i think we all get on well personally. john does a great job of getting a group of guys together that mix well. he asks our opinions on riders, and i think that's important to help getting that mix right. don't get me wrong, we all have our moments where we're at each other, but i think that's what makes a team gel. too many times people bottle it up and it comes out in ways that aren't productive."
john herety has worked with both rapha and condor since the beginning and doubtless knows their quirks and foibles, as they perhaps, if he has any, know his. and as i have relentlessly pointed out, both were totally committed to the sphere of cycling from the outset. has the arrival of sharp brought tangible benefits to the team other than easing the cash flow? "yes, they have helped in making us more professional in our approach, they really brought home the need for tv exposure to fulfil their expectations of sports sponsorship. that made us have very clear goals in terms of races we had to do well in. it has forced us to be very focused in our race program which i have found to be a good thing; something i think we needed."
he who pays the piper often calls the tune. in this case does herety have carte blanche when it comes to signing new riders, always assuming they're available in the first place? "pretty much yes. however i always involve the sponsors in my thought process on who to sign. rider acquisition for me will always be driven by balancing the desires and needs of fulfilling the sponsors' wishes in terms of racing program, along with team compatibility and of course the big one; budget !"
there is piper remuneration at several levels across any sport; cycling is no different in this respect. does this degree of freedom exercise itself when it reaches the riders? does kristian have a substantial say in his own race programme? "id like to think I've got a fair bit! again, john's a great manager, and if you want to do something or don't want to do something, he'll generally listen. i've known him for years, and he knows the type of rider i am, so if i say something about a race, he'll generally take it on board." with this in mind, and considering he has already achieved status as british national champion, are there any goals still to be achieved on the bike? "yeah, to win it again.
"we've got a brilliant program this season. normandy and japan are the ones on my mind right now."
with that 2011 programme only just underway, does john herety feel that, to this point, that his objectives have been met through the team's results? after all, it's his head that is ultimately on the 'chopping block'. "yes and no, but i think it's more to do with available talent. i would loved to have been able to move some riders on to a pro tour or good pro continental teams. this, however, would have required us to have had more u23s. the reality is they are just not there yet. once (british cycling's) world class have taken their group of u23s there is not enough depth of talent at that age to take on riders who have the desire to prove the system was was wrong. in terms of pure racing results, you always think you could have done better. however one of our biggest objectives has always been to connect with our fans and our sponsors' client base. in that area i think we have more than achieved our objectives."
bearing all that in mind, does herety have a master plan for the months ahead? "there's always a plan. this year it will be made up, as always, with specific goals race-wise for each of the riders. the ultimate is to make sure we make it as easy as possible for sponsors to decide to continue supporting the team in the future."
and there lies the crux of the matter. though rapha and condor are obviously in for the long-haul, as they have both so admirably demonstrated since the team's inception, that third sponsor has either been in place for a season or two, or even absent altogether. this is not a state of affairs exclusive to rapha condor sharp; commercial sponsors outside the small world of cycling tend to have a different agenda, and one that generally seems to last as long as they feel the market will withstand their presence or until objectives have been achieved. though a cheeky question, does paul molyneux see the association with rapha and condor continuing past this second contracted season? "i still believe that rapha and condor have been ideal partners for our entry into the sport in the uk. they are both excellent premium brands with fantastic product and real credibility within the cycling world. the target market for all three brands is very similar (cyclists tend to be interested in technology and are early adopters)
"however, 2012 is too early to call. we have learned that a year is a long time in cycling; but all things being equal we would like to continue the involvement."
and all things being equal, with progress and upward mobility being often the watchwords of any modern business, does rapha boss simon mottram have any plans to move the team up the uci ladder, so to speak? "no. not at the moment. it's incredibly expensive just to run a uci continental team (as now), never mind continental pro or above. we would have to bring in a number of larger sponsors to do that and it would naturally dilute the rapha and condor brands' impact. i'm happy that we have a smaller team, that we are intimately involved with today, rather than just supplying kit to a pro tour team. but we love the sport. that's why rapha exists in the first place, so never say never.
"would i like rapha to be involved at the highest level of the sport one day? of course. it would be a dream come true."
supporters and aficionados of the rapha condor sharp team can, of course, support the team in ways other than standing behind the barriers at the tour series races, or at the roadside during the premier calendar races and the tour of britain. rapha condor operate a national/international club which financially supports the team with any excess funds remaining after membership costs have been accommodated. details of the club can be found on the rapha condor sharp website.
there remains, however, one question that has hung in the air since the middle of last season, one that could have an all too tangible pressure on the management of the team. did john herety ever get a merino tank top? "ha ha, yes i did, but can you believe it came through blue! on top of that i've decided to get back in shape a bit and managed to lose a bit of timber. it's too big for me now. i think i might go down the trend of the football managers this year, and get them to make me a team scarf to wear in some jaunty way."
i would like to sincerely thank simon mottram, paul molyneux, claire beaumont, john herety and kristian house for their assistance in the composition of this article.
posted saturday 12th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am demonstrably not one to pay too much heed to numbers.
this can be very much to my detriment, i will admit, but illustrations, photographs and words are so much less harsh that i prefer to inhabit their world rather than the inscrutable world of digits. the confusing part of this, to me at least, is why i had not a corresponding soft spot for algebra when at school. surely line upon line of letters representing those cunning little numbers would have acted as palliative, an alias if you will, allowing the manipulation of the concrete with the hypothetical. unfortunately, that was not the case; how many of you have needed to employ any algebraic notation when deciding whether to buy the red jersey or the blue jersey?
i may castigate or ignore numbers till the sheep in the field go to sleep at night, but somehow their imposing definition has practical and often salutory uses. of course, i decry a subject that was simply unfairly introduced; not one mathematics teacher at school ever related the notion of algebra to the real world that impinged the minute we set foot outside the classroom door. its saving graces only came to light many years later when, for reasons still unclear, i decided to occupy one evening per week studying computer programming. this was (and still is) at a remarkably rudimentary level, instructing an apple ii to add 2 + 4 and hopefully engender the correct answer.
any of you with perhaps a higher level acquaintance with the innards of microchips and circuit boards will see where this is heading. for in order to allow the computer to add any numbers without continually having to re-write the programme, it was necessary to write the instructions as a + b = c, then have the computer ask the user to input a, then input b. in this manner, any numbers could be used. my first, low-level experience of algebra at work in the real world.
sadly, this euphoric experience has not necessarily stood me in good stead when it comes to fitting a new cycle computer to a bicycle. granted, those of far greater experience than i have already figured out the code required to display the correct digits on that small liquid crystal display, but it is still up to the incompetent to let the computer know which of those digits it is that one would like to peruse. as the saying goes 'if all else fails, read the f***ing manual'. complex computers, however, tend to have complex manuals; perhaps i should modify that statement: manuals that look complicated.
it could be that the nomenclature surrounding the acronymical naming of bbb employs a hideous subterfuge, but the official explanation has it that the three bs represent bikeparts for bikers by bikers, and if true, then i find that highly commendable, for the company is dutch and i had expected something all but unpronounceable.
the packaging encompassing bbb's microboard computer is compact and bijou, opening up like a book to reveal the computer at sleep. all the gubbins are inside the box in several poly packs, and that's where the worry begins. how many bits and bobs does one need to affix a computer to a bike? fortunately, that's a kneejerk reaction, for several of the zip-ties and mini bungee cords are there to facilitate fixing to bicycles of differing fork and handlebar size and thus not all are required at once. thankfully, like most of the current offerings, the computer is wireless; oh how i hated winding the connecting wire round the front brake cable.
the bit that stares you in the face displaying numbers that are all too depressing (even the clock; how could it have taken that long?) can be fitted to the handlebar or, as in this case, the stem. both can be easily accommodated using one or other shaped adaptor, as can the method of fixing; either zip-tie or bungee. the sensor that says hello to the magnet once per revolution can also be fitted by bungee or zip-tie, preferably towards the top of the fork leg to enhance communication with the head unit. the battery for this arrived in a separate pack, easy to fit, and verification is by simple button press. there's an 's' marking on the sensor to encourage alignment with the magnet which clamps onto a front wheel spoke, either standard or aero being supported.
then it's setup time, and that looks very scary.
perhaps the worst aspect of any set of instructions these days is that they cover a large gamut of languages, presumably only one of which any of us are going to read. thus the size of the sheet of paper enclosed could probably also have served as media for a scale map of the united kingdom. or a 1:1 map of islay. in point of fact, setup took mere minutes, and even for the cyclist who would really rather ignore instruction manuals altogether, the step-by-step instructions were easily followed. so much so, in fact, that i made it to debbie's before lunchtime despite unpacking being a timely distance from breakfast.
though the novelty will doubtless wear off in time, skipping through the different modes is a compulsive feature. the speed at which i was struggling to travel was always clearly displayed at the top of a nicely sized screen, while lightly pressing a big button flicked through the lower display to reveal the time of day, distance travelled, ride time, average speed (very depressing), maximum speed, total distance and total riding time. as if this were not enough, the microboard computer has a scan feature enabling it to automatically loop through all those settings all on its own. and presumably simply to add insult to injury, there's a speed pacer function to let you know whether the speed is above or below the average.
now you know why i hate numbers.
thankfully, given the preponderance of precipitation in this part of the world, the microboard is of waterproof construction, and will helpfully indicate when the battery level is not what it should be. it's available in a variety of colours should bike matching be seen as a necessity, and the build quality is fairly impressive. i won't be looking at my average speed too often, because that's even scarier than the instruction manual, but the distance display comes in handy, as do the ride time and speed functions. of course it does; that's why you'd buy it in the first place. and should you find it necessary to speed at night, there's a backlight function to keep you informed in the dark.
i cannot offer that acceptance of the microboard has endeared me to numbers any more than was the case prior to it being affixed to the cielo, but perhaps through time and exposure to their familial greeting on each ride, my attitude will soften. at least it has no way of displaying power output; most of these computers do not feature algebra that will encompass negative numbers.
bbb offer quite a range of cycle computers, the microboard reviewed being pretty much at the top of the tree. cost is around £48, and for more information, contact the new uk distributors, windwave.
posted friday 11th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
any obsession can be a healthy obsession provided there is an outlet, however, small, for an alternative now and again. a refuge to which one can retire when the obsession becomes too obsessive; it means there is something else to bring to the party. both matt seaton and bill strickland are superb writers because their worlds consist of something other than solely bicycles. it is likely that both enjoy filling their spare moments or, in the case of mr strickland, those working moments, cogitating on bicycles. but there are much-a-plenty alternatives occupying their word processors and thought processes. much of the superb photography that we enjoy on websites and in certain publications is brought to us by photographers who did not set out to be cycling lensmen. take a look at the wider range of ben ingham's work, and you will realise that a man who owns more than one colnago, does not always point his camera towards rapha clothing and monochrome cyclists.
yet these are a few of the people who shape our perception of modern day cycling, an accomplishment carried out in a passive but positive manner; that's whythey can be considered important to the rest of us. most passionates have a direction of passion; if mine happens to be towards colnago bicycles, then that is perhaps going to colour my opinions in a cambiago sort of way, which ultimately is going to conflict with someone's cervelo fervour. learn to appreciate the wiles and visions of those with perhaps a less pointed view of the cycling world than ourselves, and pedalling could conceivably become joy of an altogether different hue.
as an example, only because i feel the need to illustrate my point further, allow me to offer the video work of dave christenson. prior to rapha usa developing the continental, mr christenson was completely unkown to me, as he indeed, may well have been to you. daniel wakefield pasley, the man responsible for the continental's coming into the world, (and yet another who brought something new to the table) had the notion of riding some of the more obscure trails and roads across the expanse of the united states with a group of like-minded and fit cyclists, documenting as they went. recording and presentation commenced with fine displays of photography the like of which was a new imposition on the great unwashed; when was the last time a cycling story featured photographs that ostensibly left out the bicycles and cyclists?
the rapha continental became an obsession all of its own; the difficulty was what to do with myself while waiting for each subsequent episode. but modernity and the internet has given rise to new technologies and some are not slow to seek out the advantages to which these can be put. it was thus not long before several of these continental excursions were accompanied by short videos with intriguing soundtracks. though i am here about to sing the praises of dave christenson, others (most notably brian vernor) have seen things happen through different eyes. however, dave was the first to come to my notice, expanding daniel pasley's initial vision in ways likely not thought of.
for viewers such as i, unaware of the nooks and crannies coveted within the four corners of the united states, being able to watch the continental chaps ride the tour of california, camp verde, texas, the mississipi delta, frankford, west virginia, had a more tangible air to it than watching bertie and andy on the slopes of a french mountain in july. dave's films, whether as cameraman or director or both, had that quality of not only being a means to an end, but very often, being an end in themselves. slate olson sent me over a dvd of the tour of california series on a looping dvd, a series that we played on the big screen at the 2009 ride of the falling rain pasta party. it showed us the reality of what we thought we were all doing between bruichladdich and ardbeg that selfsame day.
but dave is not so shallow that he directs all his filming talents towards cycling. while a brief taster of his 2010 work is shown below, you could take a look at his vimeo page. the portfolio on display shows a prevalence for non-cycling vision using both actors and documentary, and one can't help but be impressed that this variance of exposure brings smiley faces that we would never have discovered if left to our own devices. if we can agree that cycling is an art, one that some of us are more practised in than others, the only way to move forward is to openly embrace influences wherever they come from, and always providing the bear a commensurate degree of amenability.
bill strickland, matt seaton, daniel wakefield pasley, brian vernor and dave christenson; only a few amongst the many, but cyclists all who have cast their artistic and intellectual nets wider than their stem and bars. to quote billy connolly "appreciate, appreciate"
posted thursday 10th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
several years ago, i had the excellent fortune to cycle out to club headquarters at ardbeg distillery, on a sunny saturday in may to take photographs of whisky enthusiasts milling about the still room, old kiln cafe, washbacks and warehouses many intent on spending ludicrous amounts of money on bottles of the amber nectar specifically produced for that very day. many of them had spent the preceding seven days doing exactly the same at islay and jura's other distilleries. if middle-aged men in lycra can be readily accused of disposing of their excess income on carbon and sportwool, then the world's whisky enthusiasts in their hundreds could probably outdo mamils without troubling their card limits.
however, wishing to fly the flag, so to speak, i sped my way southwards clad in ardbeg jersey, ardbeg socks, an unfortunately shiny pair of bibshorts, and knee-warmers that i had hoped would keep the skin quotient to a minimum. as i'm sure you will agree, dressed thus i presented the verisimilitude of a member of the professional peloton, an image that all but disappeared after climbing from the colnago and donning a pair of converse all-stars. cleated road shoes and still room stairways are not good bedfellows. though the intention had been to blend in (i know; what was i thinking?) with the assembled ardbegians, in point of fact i could not have been more prominent had i been using a race radio in the uci building.
in retrospect, could i not have been more sartorially quiet? after all, the idea was to photograph the milling crowds, not to have them photograph me (oh yes, it happened).
a bit like learning not to play every fill in the book when sat behind the drumset, it has taken a long while to realise that, in polite company, not everyone is mightily impressed by a skinny bloke with ponytail, dressed as an advertising hoarding (actually i prefer the word slim but it failed to have what i felt was an appropriate mental picture). it may well be that the pelotonese gathered round corner table, seated on the sofa at debbie's, feel themselves to be the coolest thing since sliced bread - and who's to say we're not - but take the wannabe out of the agglomoration, and suddenly...
happily, there are those who either have sussed this predicament from afar, or whose modus operandi does not encompass lycra, and who offer a more appropriate mode of apparel. the simplicity in this equation, would that it were so, is in recognising one's dilemma. and subsequently doing something about it. this is not to dismiss the team strip; it has its place in society, but i now know that this place is not standing around like an obvious spare part in the courtyard at ardbeg distillery.
there is an ever-increasing number of cycling apparel providers intent on saving my world. some you will already know, some you've perhaps never heard of. i'd be lying if i said new york's outlier was a secret up till now. my erstwhile opposite number in san jose, michael robertson at velodramatic recently reviewed a rather fetching shirt from their range, and i have now threatened to enter photoshop mode and combine his upper half with my lower limbs (i believe the correct term is mashup. in this case, those undeniably friendly people at london's tokyo fixed were kind enough to send me a pair of outlier's four season og pants in order that i travel almost incognito, looking for all the world like a normal person (who sniggered?). not only would you never, ever guess at my secret identity, but this is some of the most technically advanced legwear you are liable to find anywhere. i am surprised not to have been asked to sign a non disclosure agreement prior to opening the package.
while the carbon layer-uppers in taiwan, responding to the beat of their finite element analysis are fixated on stiffness in every direction, the og pants stretch in trajectories you would not have considered possible. this is not to ascribe noodle qualities to your prospective sartorial elegance; walking to the office, the newsagent, the holy coo bistro to avail one's self of a takeaway soya cappuccino, their light, flexible approach to life imparts a relaxed gait to the off-duty cyclist. but tuck the right leg into an embrocation magazine sock, don rainjacket, gloves and helmet and the flavour of cycling huddles together underneath.
they are, to all intents and purposes, self-cleaning, coated with schoeller's nanosphere, a coating that is on constant standby to repel all boarders. though not waterproof, they are decidedly water-resistant (a tad more so than promised believe it or not) and when imbued with more precipitation than is truly necessary, they dry remarkably quickly with little outside assistance. though it was necessary to gird my nether regions with appropriately padded underwear, the cut of their jib is honed to that of the cyclist, and that stretchiness to which i earlier referred truly comes into its own when overtaking cars down uiskentuie strand.
there really is no point in the prevention of water ingress if an exothermic reaction is taking place underneath. while they are remarkably windproof (a major requirement on atlantic shores), the breathability is commendable; damp patches on the knees are so unseemly and a dead giveaway when sitting on the coffee shop sofa. unless i have been so obvious to leave the helmet on the table.
fastening is by means of a metal hook and loop with an inner button fastening that i found too much of a footer to employ. there are two deep front pockets, and two rear pockets with loop over button fastening. the 30" waist version reviewed were, to be honest, a smidgeon too long in the leg, needing to be turned up to work their magic. that cannot be unfairly levelled against them, since i find that to be a feature of almost every pair of trousers i own. i think it would be marginally more in keeping with their level of sartorial elegance if there were some other way of keeping the right leg from the eager grasp of spinning chainrings than tucking into a sock, but again, few others seem to take the trouble to do likewise.
i have a feeling these would not be first choice if attending a rush or motorhead concert, but then not too many of you would likely cycle to such events. however, if i am required to visit ardbeg distillery on may 28th this year, these will be washed, pressed and ready to subtly impress.
the ultimate compliment would be if nobody noticed.
outlier's four season og pants are available from tokyo fixed gear in black, slate grey (reviewed) and blue, waist sizes 30, 31, 32 and 34 for the outstandingly reasonable price of £135. for those across the pond, you can purchase direct from the outlier website for $188
posted wednesday 9th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
research and development costs money, cash that needs to be somehow recouped in order that the r&d sections of the world's cycle manufacturers can continue to wend their merry way across next year's peloton and the following year's catalogue. it is right and proper that cycling emulates formula one, continually pushing the bleeding edge of two wheels and a chainset for the benefit of the racing cyclist.
well, to be honest, that's a lot of codswallop; the vast majority of those who have to pay for their bicycles will have as much difficulty spelling or pronouncing ventoux as they are likely to ride up it in the big ring. if i may be allowed to borrow an instance from the dark-side, consider what was once known as the 'play bike'. this is/was, a full suspension farm gate developed as a result of having to get the likes of steve peat from the top of a rocky outcrop to the bottom as fast as mechanically possible. downhill mountain bikes need not worry about weight; in fact, the more the better, since the guys and girls riding them are not required to ride or push them to the top of the hill. that's what chairlifts are for.
but it costs the mountain bike industry considerable quanities of cash to produce an appropriate class of machinery to accomplish the set task, and in order to justify the cost of providing rather than selling, a verisimilitude was produced and offered to the mountain biking public. of course, few had the need or opportunity to conjoin with gravity in such a manner, and so was born the playbike, a description that is far more encouraging to the deep of pocket, leading to greater degree of self-justification at point of purchase.
the road crew need not harbour smug grins, for there are many of us, self included, who have close to state of the art carbon fibre in the shed, that gets us to the cafe stop minutes quicker than could previously have been achieved. that is the contention of an article by anna norman in the current issue of design week magazine, who quotes british industrial designer mark sanders as saying: "the bicycle industry still continues to fuel trends towards using unsuitable sporty and racing bicycles around town." sadly, i'm finding it hard to disagree.
sort of, but not really.
however, and since i do not know of mark sanders, i may be doing him an injustice here, one should always be wary of prophets commenting on design without taking into consideration the market and customer base that will be supporting the current mode of product design. it could be successfully argued that the head down posture engendered by the modern race bike is hardly conducive to effective traffic observation when commuting to and from somewhere or other. the wide variety of hand positions that drop bars allow are most welcome on extended rides, preventing strain on neck, forearms and wrists, but certain of those positions have an innate tendency to prevent snappy and safe braking skills. perhaps a more upright position would be of greater benefit?
however, as far as i am aware, the purchase of a road bike similar to those used by bradley or cav bears less than a suffocating compulsion to purchase. by this i mean to infer that my hypothetical choice to become the owner of an asymmetric pinarello, and the subsequent use to which i put it may well have been conditioned by strategic product placement and marketing, but that is my problem, and not that of a prominent british industrial designer. to again quote from ms norman's article 'in cities like copenhagen, where cycling is a form of transport used by the majority, upright frames dominate and engender the best posture for everyday cycling in normal clothes'
so far as i know, there is no law or restriction in the use of similar styles of bicycle in the uk; that by comparison to danish and dutch cities this is not the case is surely the result of free choice rather than subliminal compulsion. pashley bicycles have been hand-building in stratford upon avon since 1926 and, as far as i know, continue to do so with more than just a modicum of commercial success. therefore, if i felt that the latest colnago c59 was hardly the profile of velocipede required to get me safely to work, the local supermarket, or even a friday afternoon coffee, i can exert my free choice and purchase a pashley. or a velorbis. or a beloved. or a tony pereira.
according to the opening gambit of the selfsame article, the adoption of fixed gear cycles by many an urban commuter can be seen as a reaction to the multi-speed, sport-centric bicycle. but does not that mr hoy fellow ride a bicycle with one fixed gear? in which case, how is riding a machine of similar intent a reaction against the sport-centric? i fear i smell more codswallop.
it may well be that cycle advertising in the monthlies is geared (sorry) towards the wannabe racing cyclist, but that really has little or no bearing on the style of bicycle widely available. these sit up and beg machines may not make use of space-age, cutting edge materials, but i'm not sure that bicycles fulfilling that purpose demand that level of technology. biomega of denmark produce shaft drive bicycles that are regarded as marvels of industrial design, but which look, to me, like mountain bikes with similar flat bars; there is nothing wrong with them, but i worry about the text accompanying their amsterdam model: 'it's a statement making city bike.' surely a case of contradiction; why should i want my city bike to make any kind of a statement other than perhaps 'paws off' when parked outside debbie's?
i fear that february may be a slack period in the design world that the design week publication felt it necessary to incorporate an article such as this. bicycle design proceeds apace in many of the world's cycle manufacturers at the race end as well as at the commuting. the choice of which type to buy is the preserve of the individual and not that of the designer. perhaps there is too much emphasis on performance, but in a country with a 70mph speed limit, how many car adverts underline the somewhat excessive top speeds available?
water finds its own level.
posted tuesday 8th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a now sadly departed member of the velo club peloton was apt to join the sunday ride bereft of any personal emergency services. there was regularly the absence of anything resembling a spare inner tube, pump, tyre lever or even anything so basic as a puncture repair kit. and while i mean no disrespect to the departed, on the two occasions that i remember his experiencing a puncture in company, he was comfortable to stand well back and allow the more mechanically adept to carry out the repair with their inner tube and their bicycle pump.
approaching the ranks of the cycle-repairer is a more acceptable trait, though principally for those locally resident, but in my scattery past as bicycle repair man, it never ceased to amaze that those on extended travels across the word and the hebrides were often without even the basics. no inner tube from germany and no gear wire or brake cable from ireland. this is no doubt single-minded, but naive folly on a scale likey to lead to trouble.
there is an addition to those rudiments now to be considered, and one that may tip the scales awkwardly if weight-weeniness is your mindset.
it is an incontovertible truth that loosely packed coffee in the machine filter leads to less of the strength hoped for, and a distinct lack of that all-important crema. espresso is the basis of the coffees we love; for a cappuccino is but either a single or double with froth on the top. aside from correctly temperate water forced through the finely ground beans at optimal pressure, one has to consider the packing density of that espresso grind. as inferred above, leave those grains with room to play, and the water simply says 'hello' on its way to the cup. the description barely imitates strong black coffee, and at least a few of those grounds will join the dark brown liquid in the cup.
success is in the tamping. compress those coffee grounds tightly within the perforated filter and they will manfully (or womanfully) resist the strength of water under pressure, providing more time and friction for the flavour to accompany the water to the cup. this demonstrably provides a crema worthy of admiration and results in an espresso that provides new meaning to the word smooth.
it may be tempting fate to point this out to the barista resident in your nearest designer coffee emporium, particularly if you'd prefer to drink the result of their labours on your behalf rather than wear them. but as a nation of non-complainers, it may be that this is the only solution to less than palatable coffee. advice from the considerably more experienced behind the espresso machine lends us to believe that frothing of milk in other than a stainless steel jug will result in a less than homogenous froth atop that wide lipped cup. advice worth mentioning in the same breath as that regarding the tamping process.
i cast no aspersions regarding the effectiveness of the local cafe, but the prudent man looketh well to his going, and there is an effective armament that should be considered an important and effective addition to the portable repair kit: the chris king espresso tamper.
specifications should not go unheeded. for in perhaps the sole occasion regarding a cycle component (only the seriously uninitiated would plea to differ), an increase in weight provides more beneficial end results. in this case the optimum resides at 446 grams. numbers that pertain just as agreeably (they will ask) are a stack height of 83.5mm and a stainless steel base depth of 10mm. do not be misled by suspicions of leg-pulling; the stack height has greater bearing on the pressure that can be brought to bear on the espresso grind of choice than you may think relevant, and those ten millimetres... well, if you have to ask.
the chris king espresso tamper has been made available in three diameters: the brasilia machine in situ at debbie's is comfortable with the 56mm, but both 53mm and 58mm may be required for other brands. you are advised to enquire further of your local barista for the exact specifications to which you should adhere.
this is no hypothesis, for today, accompanying my crank brothers multi tool, a pedro's milk duds tyre lever and a schwalbe inner tube in the zimbale leather saddle/bar bag was a pink anodised, 56mm chris king espresso tamper. henry, the mighty dave t and myself were treated to a masterclass in coffee making by deb's mum, resulting in state of the art cappuccinos (both dairy and soya) and a regular black coffee with a crema to die for.
of course, if you're intent on transporting an espresso tamper of your own (other colours include brown, gold and red) the bicycle really ought to have a chris king headset at the very least, or shameful accusations may be hard to avoid midst the peloton at rest. in this case, affirmation was brought to bear by a chris king cielo with headset, bottom bracket and hubs from nw nela street.
no matter the size or colour of choice, a superbly precision engineered chris king espresso tamper, handbuilt in portland, oregon, will cost $75. prospective uk customers may wish to enquire further of evolution imports where the only size on offer is the 58mm at a cost of £75. i'd like to thank chris distefano and cameron larson of chris king precision components in portland for their assistance with this review.
posted monday 7th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................