when i was a kid (last week, by all accounts), i wanted to be a cement lorry driver. the notion of driving any sort of truck was not part of the personal computation; it had to be a cement lorry, one of those flat bed trucks laden with bags of, if memory serves, blue circle cement. apocryphally, young boys have a penchant for going to the moon, driving a steam train (sadly no longer a career choice i would imagine) or being a fireman. with the advent of bob the builder, it is conceivable that modern day young chaps might fancy their chances in the construction industry. no doubt if and when the current economic crisis runs its course, there will be a need for a whole army of bobs. what most definitely did not feature in any of my ever-changing future employment plans was the thought of being a bicycle racer.
i have read umpteen interviews with those who fill the pages of rouleur, cycle sport and procycling where being clad in lycra atop a sliver of carbon fibre was never far away from a visit to the school careers office. some of those with the tour de france in mind were admittedly encouraged every step of the way by parents or relatives who had either made something of a name for themselves in the very same workaday, or had singularly failed to do so and were now intent on living the dream through their offspring. the first bicycle i can remember riding was a steel tricycle with the equivalent of a bread bin between the two rear wheels into which teddy was unceremoniously thrust for a trip round the block. and talking of blocks, there were sizeable ones attached to both pedals because my little junior legs were incapable of reaching unaided. though i may have frightened my parents with a turn of speed that had no cognition of the effect of tipping a trike on the open road, any form of cycle sport remained a hidden secret until well into my twenties. i still wonder to this day how the act of competitive cycling remained such a secret for so long; i place the blame fairly and squarely on british society for stunting what could obviously have been a meteoric career on two wheels.
but the idea of adopting lycra and shoes that make you walk like a duck as a means of putting bread on the table was never an aspiration. and despite my rapid inductance into the beautiful sport, affixing a number to one of three back pockets has never tempted with its allure.
so, i ask myself, what on earth am i doing riding in rapha's pro team kit, designed for those with greater accumulated speed than i, and perhaps skinnier of constitution? if i face honesty bravely in the face, it is the task of any reviewer to take the rough with the smooth; it would not be the first time that the phrase 'it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it' has reared its sometimes less than ugly head. i have worried my posterior greatly by subjecting it to the hardships of a brooks saddle; i have given my arms cause for concern reviewing a bicycle with flat bars, and have given both knees serious aggravation riding fixed gear, when it is plain to all and sundry that i am just not cut from the cloth of cool and perpetual motion. so while sportwool and merino are the fabrics from which great pleasure and occasional sartorial elegeance are derived, assuming the mantle of competitiveness in the face of adversity was not at the top of my to do list.
as i have ascribed elsewhere, the very nature of being a cyclists with drop bars in the hebrides is wont to draw attention no matter the colour or texture of that outer cladding, but what if cycle clothing that blatantly provokes itself with the business card forcat de la route is setting me up for a fall? and if the transformation to a convict of the road were not enough, the sentence in the press release that states ' lightweight and cut for a road racer's body shape and aggressive position on the bike' is countenance enough to perhaps hide behind the sofa when the postie knocks at the door, intent on altering my persona in the manner described.
' the products use proprietary fabrics and features developed for just one purpose; racing.
proprietary fabrics would rather seem to preclude the employ of sportwool, a fabric synonymous with perren street from day one. i like sportwool, and i rather enjoy the cut of rapha's jib across the range, so was this proprietary fabric something i/we should worry about as we rush headlong towards the 2011 autumn/winter catalogue? rapha's chief designer, graeme raeburn; "as the range has grown it's clear there is a requirement for race-focused products. this doesn't mean just the team or thoroughbred racers, but customers (and staff!) who want products with a alternative attitude to our other products." in my simple view of the world, i had rather defined rapha customers as those who held racing in high esteem, but were less inclined to adhere to the 'one, two, three, go! side of the equation. rapha ceo, simon mottram expanded on this; "for truly race ready jerseys, sportwool is not right. it doesn't have enough stretch and is not quite durable enough. our challenge was to develop a synthetic that was as good at moisture management as sportwool and also felt and loomed as well. the proprietary fabric we have developed does just that. all our products are inspired by racing, but the new range is the first to be intended for the act of racing itself."
put in that way, it's a hard argument to take issue with; rapha know a lot more about this stuff than most of us ever will. graeme raeburn also pointed out one of the racing practicalities; "the fabric can also be sublimated, giving better definition and durability over printed sponsor logos." never knock back a coincidence; as i started to assemble this review into some semblance of the english language, simon mottram e-mailed to point out that rapha condor sharp rider, kristian house, had just taken the first stage of the tour of south africa wearing the sponsored version of the latest jersey and shorts, identical to that arranged neatly on my duvet cover, and about to be ridden a great deal slower and in less than comparable temperatures. the defining statement that should put sportwool worriers at ease came from mr raeburn; "sportwool is definitely safe brian, but as the range grows there will be more opportunity for other fabrics to be used where need specific attributes for specific purpose." i am appeased.
however, the foregoing could not ameliorate my apprehension at emulating kristian house if only in fabric choice. there are appreciative nods to the racing world scattered about both top and shorts; the jersey features a full length zip and sleeves that are not encumbered by elastic at the hem; the outer rear pockets are not scalloped (though i'd have thought even for a pro, that feature would have been worthwhile); there's no internal pump pocket in the centre rear (well of course not); both shorts and jersey feature a writeable label for identification purposes when retrieving from those careless soigneurs. and though they've now been banned at all but the upper echelons of the sport, the bib shorts feature two rear pockets to accommodate race radios. ever a stickler for pedantry, i asked what those would now be referred to in the light of the ban. rapha's joe hall "i would suggest they can be used to store a rider's favourite sweets, such as fizzy cola bottles, fried eggs, rhubarb & custard and the like. i've heard mark cavendish is a big fan of pick n mix, hence the braces..." always good to have such a comprehensive and understanding contingency plan.
perhaps i have put off the moment of truth for too long, since this is supposed to be a review of the pro team clothing by a rider who is anything but a professional (in more ways than one.) for it occurs to me that if rapha are to concentrate their considerable resources purely on the professional racer, people who, more often than not. are provided with clothing free of charge, then the return on investment may be a little hard to justify. so the folks willing to lighten their bank account and become 'convicts of the road' are folks like you and, well, you; riders who see themselves in a professional light; the weekend warriors if you will.
always one to shy from getting to the point, but never one to abrogate my responsibilities, i requested small size bib shorts and a medium jersey, the very sizes that have stood me in good stead for the last half dozen years or so, all the while concerned that the race fit would do irrepairable harm to my ego and sense of self-worth.
while a consoling relief to me, though undermining the comedic value to yourselves, both garments fitted fabulously well. i am a great believer in having to shoe-horn myself into a pair of bib shorts, since those that require less effort almost always lead to a greater degree of discomfort in the saddle. i have never yet succumbed to the nightmare afflicting others of arriving at work on a monday morning having neglected to put on a pair of trousers, but i imagine the sensation, other than the hysterical laughter, must be akin to wearing the pro-team shorts. such is the fit and bearable lightness of fabric, that they are almost not there (always worth checking though). the bib section is comprised principally of a mesh that conspires not to cut into the shoulders, and travels far enough up the back to hug that professional physique. in keeping with the professional way, the leg length is marginally shorter than rapha's regular shorts; not quite in sean yates territory but amenable to a better tan line. the gripper on the hem seems also kinder to those chris hoy thigh muscles.
the jersey, which had been the real worry, couldn't have been much better. a full-length zip prevents upsetting a stylish coiffure, like what i've got, by avoiding nefarious over-the-head manoeuvres. like the shorts, the fabric is astonishingly lightweight, aided and abetted by a liberal sprinkling of mesh panels in strategic locations. i cannot tell a lie, but my 70 kilometres of race readiness were not all conducted al fresco; for portions of the ride, due to gale force winds, low temperatures and the constant threat of precipitation, a sizeable percentage were under the protection of a rainjacket. as the foregoing is somewhat of an occupational hazard hereabouts, it interested me greatly what degree of comfort and breathability could be had while sheltering from real or prospective elements. sportwool is my friend and will likely continue to be so for many a year to come, but this new fabric has managed to become another friend in a remarkably short space of time. an islay headwind will do little for one's sprint speed, as the microboard computer will readily attest, but it can be an accomplice to hot and botherdness, suffering from which i most certainly did not.
i was of a mind to have discovered an omission in the design, one of uci baiting proportions, having found no sight of a zipped fourth pocket, but in fact just such a receptacle hides within the right hand rear, cunningly concealed from prying commissaires. in fact, this very pocket has a headphone eyelet on its inner surface accompanied by pink tabs inside the jersey to route the cable earward. we have also become readily accustomed to that rapha script adorning shorts and band on the left sleeve over the past seven years of raphadom, yet the pro team has that hoop embossed and the shorts decorated in black and white in sans serif capitals. what transpires?
simon mottram; "we used the block capitals to give the pro team range a distinctive identity. the script logo only appears on the internal labels." tradition be damned; no sportwool and block capitals. what is the world coming to?
the pro team fabric is decidedly not the cloth to be in if you bear no resemblance to racing stature; if a saturday night supping fizzy drinks is an item on the agenda (not a habit that larry or bertie seemed ever prone to), then i think we understand each other. however, for those of slimmer disposition and a simple desire to go as fast as possible in comfort, this is likely the grail for which you have been searching, even if you didn't know it. i now await those hazy days of summer to dispense with arm and knee-warmers to show the world what a real scotsman wears under his rainjacket.
rapha's pro team jersey is available in black or white from xs to xxl for the princely sum of £120. the very same jersey in black with rapha condor sharp logos is also available in the same sizes for the same amount of money. the pro team bib shorts, in black only, are offered at £155 in xs to xxl. similarly the rcs version.
posted sunday 20th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though this story is chronologically backwards, it is necessarily so because it lends a deal more credence to that which follows. the title is a direct quote from one of two women i overheard in bowmore main street this afternoon, as i returned from collecting my newspaper. from the scant details gleaned from the conversation prior to and after the statement above, it seems she may have been attempting to point out her geographical location to someone on the telephone inviting her to attend to matters in a totally different geographical location. i would surmise we are talking call-centres here, but that is only a guess, for by this time i was a lot further up main street with newspaper under arm.
with mrs washingmachinepost having decided to orphan me for the weekend while visiting relatives in scotland, the days were mine to do with as i pleased, a less than transparent euphemism for i'm going to cycle until it gets dark. thus i arose from slumber before 9am this morning to be met with a less than pleasant vista on drawing back the bedroom curtains (no, there is not a mirror on the windowsill). the strong winds and torrential rain that had inhabited the darkness of the previous eve had not abated much, and as i sat down to a plate of old-fashioned porage oats topped with peach slices, i could just about see the window panes in the kitchen through the rain.
the very thought of a weekend of freedom bereft of copious amounts of cycling simply does not bear thinking about, particularly when there's a perfectly good cyclocross bike in the bikeshed. i am not, you will be unsurprised to hear, short of a decent waterproof jacket or two, so the preponderance of precipitation held no real threat despite my long-held mantra of not pedalling an inch if the rain was already falling. i'm a big boy now, well able to cross the road on my own, and it cannot be particularly grown-up and hard as nails to be emprisoned indoors by a few millimetres of torrential water. and that's where the first part of stuck on an island rears its not so ugly head.
with reference to that geography again, the corollary of my opening statement (albeit filched from the mouth of an innocent bystander) would be stuck on this particular island, ravaged as it is by gales and horizontal precipitation. there are no doubt more scenic or dramatic island locations around the world, some of them not far from here, but mrs washingmachinepost and i chose, of our own free will, to live where we do, given that the choice was made around 24 years ago. i would be the first to champion the cause of sons and daughters who are ensconced hereabouts not through any choice of their own; my son is still here, but daughter has followed her career path to scotland, and happy with that decision.
however, my chosen island refuge was today, cold, wet and windy, and i decided nonetheless to don appropriate clothing, grab the ibis and head for the relative shelter of bridgend woods where cycling could take place amongst the muddy tracks and puddles. bridgend woods constitutes a part of islay estates and was originally the grounds of islay house, historically the home of daniel campbell, purchaser of the island in 1726. in 1853, he sold it to james morrison, grandfather of the first baron margadale. as was historically the case on many estates throughout islay and mainland scotland, the grounds were tended by a virtual army of estate workers whose homes and workshops consituted islay house square. in the mid eighties, islay house was sold into private hands where it remains today (though it is up for sale if you have a few quid to spare), though the grounds still belong to islay estates which is still in the ownership of the margadales.
within the past decade, the woods have been opened up through a series of designated footpaths along the river sorn, footpaths i might add that have given rise to the ideal location for a bit of offroad bicycle riding. exactly where my continental mud tyres and cantilever brakes took me today. this is where the personality changes from that of passive roadie to gung-ho, based on no bicycle handling skills whatsoever, lime green moving object, intent on emulating sven nys through muddy puddles, over rickety wooden bridges and through leaf-strewn pathways. the intention had been, should no dog walkers be within view, to scare the living daylights out of bridgend woods and retire smartly with large grin upon visage before the woods had time to bite back.
boy did i get a surprise.
i'm not one to come over all islay natural history trust(ish); i leave that sort of stuff to mr hastings and lord carlos. neither am i one to tread where i ought not to, and i have the greatest respect for the countryside in which i live, but i am definitely not one of those who can identify each scrap of plant life by its latin name, let alone feel the need to tell any within earshot. however, i had but scrabbled across rickety wooden bridge number one, squirmed through the muddy exit onto the principal path through the woods, to be pretty much stopped in my tracks by the incredible carpet of white creeping right to the verge. snowdrops; and not just the odd bunch or two.
i would do my professed ignorance an injustice if i denied all knowledge of this plant's existence. the copious growth of snowdrops in bridgend woods is all but legendary in this locale, but never before have i had the velocipedinal wherewithal to experience such large numbers of them while going about my scary business. and i would not be stretching the bounds of credibility if i posited that the woman "stuck on an island" had been denied the very same experience even if not from the saddle. and had the weather been more fortuitous in its outlook, i too would have missed the carpet of white; i would more likely have had my nose on the stem, ploughing my way across a more potholed horizon, through the sparse saturday morning traffic.
there are, it must be said, a limited mumber of highways and byeways on an island that measures 21 miles top to bottom and pretty much the same side to side. and in 24 years, you would not find it hard to believe that i have managed to ride every single one of them perhaps more than once. but i would argue with the statement that familiarity breeds contempt, for never once in those 24 years have i taken any of this for granted. when i hear of the troubles currently afflicting the world and the transport difficulties that even cyclists face in some of the country's major cities, i am more than happy to be stuck on an island.
and i'm willing to bet that there are more than a few who wish they could join me.
posted saturday 19th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
this is a sort of intermediate update on a contention of mine from a few weeks back regarding those dustcaps that invariably arrive with nice new, how did they get it in the box, inner tubes. the debate, and a remarkably trivial one at that, was whether the cap should be replaced on the valve after tyre inflation. i think the general consensus, based on not very much at all was that the caps should either be thrown away for the unremarkable waste of resources that they may perceived to be, or collected in an empty tube box for some other purpose yet to be discovered/decided. however, i'm not sure that, at the time, anyone had carefully considered the possibility that a cold and snowy winter might intervene.
the knurled nuts that are oft fitted to threaded valve stems, it may interest you to know, should perhaps be left at home for the very reasons we shall now discuss.
a cold snowy winter, aside from disrupting anything on four wheels and a runway, means copious amounts of sand and grit are dispensed across the roadways of britain, europe and for all i know, the highways of north america. plumes of sand are still thrown into the air by each passing vehicle along uiskentuie strand, while the exceedingly large dollop of the stuff deposited on the 14% climb out of kilchiaran, has left this particular cyclist struggling for rear wheel grip on the way to port charlotte.
dry sand and grit present little more than a passing problem, being of particularly low viscosity in relation to bicycles, and mostly blowing through the gaps between the spokes. however, as it says on most dehydrated foodtsuffs, 'just add water', and that viscosity becomes a coagulated solid, clinging to most of the bits of the bicycle that many of us seem to ignore.
having taken my own stylish advice after part one of this (probably) never ending discussion, i have removed any clear or coloured dust caps from the valves on my ready for business wheels on the bikes, and on those lying forlorn, but neat on the bikeshed floor. this more readily identifies my professional intentions, and puts me clearly in the efficient but stylish pigeonhole to which i feel the need to belong. all the bicycles from colnago that arrive at washingmachinepost cottage are bereft of such obviously wasted resources, and i pride myself on such a devil may care attitude to the practicalities of cycling. but if we look closer at the needs of the professional, any necessity for removing a dustcap with a mere flick of thumb and forefinger has effectively been removed by the placement of either the team car, or one of those ever so cool mavic numbers trailing in their highly mobile wake. heck, most of them don't even have to loosen the quick release skewer.
i, on the other hand, and here i hold myself up as an appropriate alias for the bulk of the cycling population, am unlikely to find myself trailing on the photo finish camera due to injudicious use of a dustcap. punctures, and i fully expect to be jinxed by having the temerity to discuss in public, are a total faff at any time, all but guaranteed to happen at the most inopportune location, and mere seconds after the downpour has started. therefore having to remove a dustcap prior to replacing the tube (ten marks off to anyone who has the audacity to try and effect a puncture repair at the roadside in the wet) is hardly going to alter the course and timing of events by too much. at least not so's you'd notice.
so, to recap (see what i did there?) why am i recommending that the dustcaps be left in place, flying in the face of all that is right and good about the whys and wherefores of modern cycling?
last weekend, the mighty dave t found himself with a free saturday; no need to travel the driven highway to the island's capital city, there to assist mrs mighty in the weekly filling of a shopping trolley. at a loss as to how to spend this newfound freedom, he tendered the possibility of a bicycle ride, not only to fill the passing hours on a fine day, but also to hedge bets against getting out for the sunday ride due to forecast of highly inclement weather (the forecast turned out to be less than accurate). with no need on my own part to venture for the weekly shop, we agreed a time and place. prior the appointed hour of departure, i performed the weekly flight check on the cielo, cleaning and lubricating the battle scarred chain, and inflating the tyres to their correct operating pressure.
...the valve on the rear wheel would not unscrew, all but glued in place by the detritus of the roads. this, i will confess, is not the first time this has happened, but a problem generally relieved by unscrewing gently by means of a pair of needle nosed pliers, a pair i made earlier. with my general air of insouciance, i proceeded to do exactly that, unfortunately, but quite easily, removing the entire valve end without so much as a by your leave. so, just to set the scene more precisely, i now had a tyre not at optimum pressure and a snapped valve which had not let any air out, but was now incapable of letting any in, lezyne track pump or not.
fortunately, some presta valves have removable cores, and using the same set of needlenose pliers, i set about removing that and letting the air out the tube in order that a replacement might remedy the situation. i truly have no idea whether leaving the dust cap in place would have prevented this injury, but i think it might just have had enough of a beneficial effect on the situation to warrant my trying. to cut a short story very long, my rear wheel is now the proud owner of a yellow, continental tyres valve dustcap, one that i sincerely hope will allow the needlenose pliers to remain on the toolboard for more pressing engagements yet to be discovered.
i care not one jot whether the style police are reading; if i am my own mechanic, i am my own man.
posted friday 18th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the title, you may be cheered to note, has little or nothing to do with what follows; the polka dots bit could conceivably be a touch misleading, given their importance to anthony charteau and thus to colnago, or perhaps, at a stretch, even to a robert millar inference. but in fact, neither have any real connection to my title. it just so happens that it's the name of the jeff hamilton trio track i was listening to (track six from the symbiosis album) when an interesting e-mail made its way to my inbox.
we're only about one week away from the north american handbuilt shows (nahbs), taking place this year in larry's home town of austin texas. it's an exhibition of bicycles and related ephemera that has grown from, dare i say it, a small idiosyncracy originating in houston, texas in january 2005, to a gathering that seems destined to tackle interbike as the premier showcase for american bicycle talent. of course, the american bit has become somewhat diluted over the years, changing the inference from 'north american handbuilt' to more accurately, a handbuilt show that takes place in north america. twenty three exhibitors took part in that first show, and seven hundred folks turned up to say hello to them all.
this year there are approximately 160 exhibitors, not all of them make bikes, and not all of those that do, make them entirely by hand. that, however, is pretty much by the by, since the whole affair has become a major bicycle social occasion, one that i am determined to join in one of these years, since i see a number of friends amongst the exhibitor list, and it would be nice to go meet them all in the one place.
however, none of this gets me any closer to the subject in hand, and even though i possess a master's degree in digression, i should really get to the point. out of the seven years (including 2011) that nahbs has been in existence, only six have exhibited at every show, one of whom is incredibly well known to thewashingmachinepost. in fact, on previous occaasions, i have described this man as the best friend i've never met...
if any of you regularly look at richard's flickr pages, you will already be aware that there is an entire series of photos depicting how to build a bicycle frame, or more precisely, how to build a richard sachs bicycle frame. would that it were that simple, but richard is almost as deft with a digital camera as he is with the brazing torch, and details closely, many of the aspects of frame-life, including the filing of lugs, dropouts and fork ends in a comprehensive series of photographs.
as if this were not enough for a one man show, he was also one of the prime movers behind the framebuilder's collective, an amalgamation of those prominent in the industry who wished to see it move forward with integrity and skill, and a responsibility towards what us mere mortals would regard as art. the collective went public at nahbs five in 2009; "my personal muse for the framebuilders' collective, to no one's surprise, included the AHCI (academie horlogere des createurs independants), a select watchmakers' group that has taken decades to form into a cohesive organization and still (only) has a few dozen members."
but now richard sachs will become the first member emeritus only two years after bringing the organisation to the public eye, leaving his fellow founding members (nicholas crumpton, david kirk, darrell llewellyn mcculloch, dario pegoretti, carl strong and sacha white) to continue the story. "the early years of skull sessions required energy, strong opinions, and decision making capability. my goal was to help the group realize itself. that is done. i consider my day to day involvement over."
for a custom framebuilding business with a reputed seven to nine year waiting list, and an indefatigable need to race cyclocross every season, i doubt many of us would argue with a perceived need to rein back just a tad. he wil continue to fulfil some of his board of director duties, but "other than these, i'll consider myself the first member emeritus of the group.
"i am proud of my involvement and the work i put into the collective's early years. the current member list is comprised of framebuilders whose drive and dedication ensure that the organization continues as a valuable tool for the framebuilding trade and all who are interested in it. with this accomplished, it is time for me to devote time and energy to other projects."
if you're attending nahbs next week, make sure you drop by the sachs booth, shake the man by the hand, and buy him a san pellegrino. just not the flavoured stuff, mind.
'needing some air, he went into the garden'
posted thursday 17th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the case for human endeavour, at least as it relates to hard graft has been thinning little by little as the years go by. granted, much of this has been at the expense of endeavour and graft on the part of others, either keen to lighten our heavy load, or more commonly to lighten our already despairing bank accounts. a work colleague who recently purchased a new vehicle, has been keen to point out the number of gadgets and gizmos with which it arrived. those would be reasonably palatable were they to stop at power steering and perhaps electric windows, but a cooled glove compartment to prevent chocolate meltdown seems to be verging on the indefensibly superficial.
though convinced that nostalgia is very definitely yesterday's thing, complete with its monochrome and sepia imagery, recollection of films depicting mass cycling exodus to the countryside, aided and abetted by picnic hampers, white tablecloths and cucumber sandwiches, recall the heydays when cyclists did it all for themselves. in the absence of the claustrophobic number of motor vehicles on the roads today, there was little other option for sociable weekend trips to the country, often organised by any one of a number of cycle clubs existing for those very reasons. since then, we've gone soft. sisters may be doing it for themselves, but cyclists aren't.
constant improvements to bicycle components have made the act of being a weekend warrior a more easily assimilated task, culiminating in shimano's electronica. this may pervade even further if the rumours prove true, and the wires trickle down to ultegra for 2012. i'd be the first to relate how very buzz lightyear it is to watch that front gear mech fly, but ultimately, it doesn't accomplish anything we haven't managed with our own fair hands for the better part of fifty or sixty years. although some, particularly shimano, are wont to trumpet victories gained on cycles equipped with di2, truth is, there are just as many, if not more wins claimed on conventionally geared bikes. but it's the choice of the pros, who we identify as the hard men of our world, and if they start to get it easy, why not the man in the street (or alpine pass; perhaps more pertinent to the case in hand).
over this past decade, even our inherent, intrepid and inquisitive sense of adventure has been sanitised and is now handed out on plates. however, hard you think you are, i suggest grasping with both mitted palms.
the culmination of the annual londres-paris ride organised by hot chillee, features a spectacular finish more or less at the foot of the eiffel tower in paris. having the joy of cycling along those very cobbles that constitute the champs elysees, cobbles that will be traversed at far higher speed come the third week in july, rounding the arc de triomphe, wondering just how all those cars make it safely home, then heading down towards the tower is likely one of the most iconic ends to a cycling trip it is possible to experience. the let-down, to a certain extent, is finding another two rides finishing at the same place at the same time.
how dare they.
but that's something that is only likely to increase in the future, for now these multi-day sportives are ever on the increase. i am not counting the charity rides for which you must raise a minimum amount prior to being accepted, nor the ones where forty miles a day on a mountain bike is considered a major challenge. i'm thinking of the rides for the cognoscenti; the very individuals who provided the necessary impetus for the acronym mamil are where the growth is centred, for such trips are rarely inexpensive, commanding prices that only italian carbon fibre can afford.
lest you consider that i cry foul at this point, happy to subscribe to the lifestyle but castigate others for partaking therof, i must plead my case of innocence. none of these luxurious trips would have lifted far off the firmament were it not for those ready and willing to ride under the flag. what i am suggesting at this point is to take matters more into your own hands; though tech support, accommodation, and luggage retrieval are all convincingly taken care of, there is a danger of entering a state of soporific motion, where the distance between start and finish consists of endless chatting if you're fit enough, or continued grovelling if you're not. the countryside through which pedalling is being undertaken becomes a mere backdrop to your own pain and suffering. something akin to photoshop's gaussian blur filter.
i fear there's a danger of box ticking.
think of the great icons of the sport: the ventoux, the mortirolo, the stelvio pass, alpe d'huez, the cobbles at arenberg, those long roads that wend through both french and italian countryside. those are the aspects of racing that bring us back year after year, the markers that separate it all from being just a fast bike ride shown on telly. if you've signed up for any of the myriad catered rides or sportives across europe this coming season, make sure you've done your homework, and that you inhabit the route(s) you ply. there's an even possibility that it may be the only time the opportunity presents itself so selflessly, and it would be a great shame not to be aware of the skin that you're in, if you see what i mean.
take great advantage of the work others are doing to ease the unpalatable. you'll thank me for it one day.
posted wednesday 16th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have no political affiliations. i say this because it is my understanding that anything concerning politics nowadays, requires full confession of any particular interests that may pertain to the subject under discussion. okay, that may be a willful misunderstanding of the regulations applying to bona fide members of parliament, but it's a good way to start a monologue that has politics at its core. though if i can manipulate my words skillfully enough, you'll never feel the need to vote for any particular party at the end.
this is the period of austerity, unless you're my mate warren who has just outfitted a brand new colnago c59 with campagnolo super record, and austerity calls for many untoward and previously unconsidered measures. the buzz is currently behind david cameron's big society. if i might be permitted to expand upon my opening statement, i should perhaps have added that the lack of affiliation is accompanied by a studied ignorance of pretty much all things political. by the time you have finished reading, that will be all too clear.
david cameron's big society does not, it turns out, concern a separation of those over a certain size into neatly sized portions. while reducing the budget deficit was his "duty", cameron said that giving individuals and communities more control over their destinies was what excited him and was something that had underpinned his philosophy since he became conservative leader in 2005.
"there are the things you do because it's your passion," he said. "things that fire you up in the morning, that drive you, that you truly believe will make a real difference to the country you love, and my great passion is building the big society."
if that makes as much sense to you as it does to me, then perhaps norman smith, the chief political correspondent of bbc's radio four can explain a mite more clearly, given that he has no requirement for a cross against his name ever five years or so. "first, it's about providing a different agenda to the day by day litany of cuts, cuts and more cuts.
"second, it is - as eric pickles (conservative mp for brentwood and ongar) has acknowledged - about saving money. if people are doing things for free then you don't have to pay public servants to do them for you."
conservative mp and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for local democracy, rory stewart expanded; "it is not necessarily about charities or even the private sector, both of which are capable of manufacturing jargon as impenetrable and procedures as rigid as the most byzantine bureaucracy. nor is it about atomised individuals allowed to do whatever they want.
"it's about collective action."
now we might just have reached a part of the rhetoric that concerns us; cyclists are good at collective action. witness the size of peloton that leaves the start line at the beginning of july each year. accept also, the spectacle on the track that is either the team pursuit or the team sprint, both disciplines that give underlined credence to finely tuned collective action. and if we are willing to accept that, as road users, we occupy the status of second class citizens, a status often paid unrequited lip service by the very politicians now keen on this society of big people (or have i still got that wrong?)
comfortingly, this collective action on behalf of the velocipedinal has taken remarkably little time to manifest itself, specifically through the auspices of the colchester and district cycle forum. in a move that has likely already incurred a round of applause from downing street, the forum plans to take national bike week away from the local council and promote it themselves at schools, libraries and doctors' surgeries throughout the region.
i cannot figure out whether this is a reasonable reaction or not, but in the short term, i figure colchester and district cycle forum deserve mr cameron's applause, reinforced by our own. given the relative inaction displayed by most county councils when confronted with someone else's important concerns, it may well be playing into the hands of big society to start doing things for ourselves, but at least things will get done.
co-chair of the forum, sarah sharp spoke out at the south chichester county local committee, asking for £300 to get the ball rolling: "i believe that volunteers want to do things as quickly, as efficiently, and as cheaply as possible because they have the passion. all bureaucrats do not seem to have this urgent desire to bring about change in society." sadly, that seems perilously close to the truth, and not something that cycle activists (if i may be so bold as to refer to them as such) have been unaware of up till now. but at the risk of being accused of siding with the prime minister, maybe it'll become a tad easier to spread the word just a smidgeon more forcibly in the coming months and years.
sarah sharp added; "our community group is trying to bring about change. we were advised to attend a meeting to ask for six changes to some cycle routes in the area. we were then told that officers will now think about this. it was an officer who told me to come to this meeting in the first place; we don't seem to have got very far this evening."
one of the forum's projects is a plan to work with a haulage company to invest in a project giving away fluorescent safety vests to school children and help keep them safe on the road. fluorescent yellow may not be the hue of which the stylistas amongst the pelotonese are particularly proud to have in their selective wardrobe (moi?), but if kids can be made safer on the way to school, perhaps more of them will be allowed to cycle there in the first place, instead of the constant motorcade arriving at everywhere academy's main gates.
isn't it interesting how big society begins with the little things? if only those in power knew what was really going on. come to think of it, perhaps pat mcquaid could be persuaded to have us indulge his passion for big peloton?
surely that deserves a sticker?
posted tuesday 15th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the year 2011 continues at a pace that gives grave cause for concern. not only have i not properly finished with january, but at this time last year it was only february 6th. conversation round the office lunch table, now accessorised with a takeaway soya cappuccino, is that the speed at which the days pass is unparalleled and entirely unrelated to any notion of advancing years. for it is now prudent to be aware that it is february 14th; valentines day and already half-way through the month, and the strade bianche is on the 2011 rouleur calendar. the northern classics will be here before any of us have had time to order in stocks of embrocation.
but this year i am prepared; i am ready for the so-called spring classics and the manoeuvres through which one must travail to engender a veneer of hardness. i will agree that my timing could have been slightly more pinpoint, and started at least last weekend, but it is all too easy these days to become distracted, and i fear my focus may have wandered. however, with omloop het nosebleed a mere twelve days hence, it is time to place that nose firmly on the grindstone and change my secret identity to that of bram de groot.
the first instances of that took place yesterday morning. though saturday's ride took place in uncommonly fine sunshine and relatively light winds, on sunday morning it rained. one can't simply adopt the de groot persona overnight and rush headlong into an average speed that would worry an early season echelon; the rain was hardly torrential and there was obvious indication that chunks of blue sky were making threatening inroads towards dark grey clouds. and it would be dishonest of me not to admit that the gloves worn were of the long-finger leather variety, but the inner flandrian was simmering under the surface.
for starters, i eschewed my comfort blanket of long sleeved jersey and donned short-sleeved sportwool (full-length zip of course), though temerity had me indulge in a long-sleeve baselayer for insulation. shorts would be so unseemly; one has no wish to frighten the horses or church-goers with pale white legs, so compromise was effected by a pair of threequarter bibshorts. bram would have been proud. i hardly need tell you that i have every intention of replying to the kind offer to direct the garmin cervelo spring classics campaign, though i fear the chap petegem might already have dibs on the office.
though the spring classics can hardly be truthfully said to take place in winter, i figure this is mere semantics; surely state of mind and ambient temperature take precedence. thus my rippling, sculptured calf muscles were liberally massaged with winter embrocation; no matter that i took on the aromatic veneer of the ventoux, a mountain not necessarily noted for its participation in brutal, one day classics. heeding the text thoughtfully stamped within my pair of rapha overshoes, i elected not to train without them, even though the word train is but a mere euphemism for riding my cielo with a carefully described grimace beneath tinted glasses.
it would be hard to determine just what brought about this concentration of purpose, though the thought of riding out when precipitation was still in progress may have haad something to do with subconscious thought. surely it cannot have been ian cleverly's article in rouleur 22? that was solely concerned with the fortunes of a brit in cyclocross mud, and while it portrayed grit and determination under the auspices of a union jack, it was on sloppier surfaces than those trammeled yesterday.
i have a notion, and if proved correct, the flandrian virus may be about to spread further than the roads of western islay. for week on week, the road surfaces, still coated with winter grit and subsequently mixed with the by-products of an agricultural community, are deteriorating from open pathways to all but insurmountable hurdles. i have been reprimanded on a previous occasion for likening them to that of a third world country, yet looking at movies produced in zambia for the world bicycle relief organisation, i fear i may yet be proved correct.
but far from bemoaning this state of affairs (for what can one cyclist do against the insouciant disregard of argyll and bute roads department?), the more pertinent choice would seem to be the embracing of their uncouth reality. paris roubaix cannot be won without breaking a few eggs; hardness beneath a softshell deserves cultivation, for it will stand me in good stead should the ride of the falling rain prove worthy of its nomenclature.
the recently attached microboard computer provided favourable numbers attesting to my instant hardness, a condition eased on my return by liberal application of la gazzetta della bici post-ride massage oil. for 'tis barely enough to have cultivated that self-satisfied, pervasive grin without a simultaneous stimulation of the olfactory organs and of those in the room at the time. sporting prowess made manifest.
just like those ready-brek adverts of yesteryear, when kids who breakfasted thus headed out to school surrounded by a glowing aura, i too headed for the office this morning with the persona that would trouble any passing geiger counters (admittedly low in numbers hereabouts), though i did have a bit of trouble persuading my colleagues to open the windows and leave the heating off.
i've even considered moving to monaco.
posted monday 14th february 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................