the velo club are well sorted. so minimal are the regular numbers, that two chairs and the comfy sofa at debbie's just about covers the aftermath of the sunday ride. and should any of us be guilty of flying solo during the ensuing week (like today, for example) it is hard not to find a corner somewhere where one can emulate our own rockstar, dave tee froth. even al fresco is more than amenable at this time of year. (good old al.)
and we have done a reasonably fine job of staking a claim to at least one corner of the establishment with a fine array of cycling paraphernalia and memorabilia, plus the perhaps less than discreet plethora of gage and desoto, chris milliman and chris king stickers on the outer face of the espresso machine. there are those who have accused us of tackiness, but they have been dealt with in an appropriate manner, and you shouldn't suffer from unexpected interruptions while in supping mode. after years in the wilderness, so to speak, it's pretty much cycling joy and happiness all round. the establishment has garnered a well-deserved reputation for excellent coffee and cycling-friendly manner worldwide.
but what for those who are less fortunate than ourselves? and though i never thought i would raise such an issue, it is only in the recent past that the big city of london was similarly provided for. in the true manner of london buses, cycling residents in the capital waited for many a long year, then two arrived at once. one of those is not only still standing, but prospering greatly: look mum no hands has become such an indispensible addition to london's cycling life, that, if it didn't exist, you'd have to invent it.
but only a few hundred metres along the very same stretch of tarmac, the great minds of perren street provided a similar yet different experience for the unattached cyclist. the rapha cycle club, by common consent, was a great addition to the cycling mindset and perennial need for good coffee, but very much by design, it had a built-in sell-by-date that expired after bertie had donned yellow for the last time in paris. it even failed to stretch to the luxury of watching cycle racing in spain.
you may, if necessary, accuse rapha of many things if you so wish, but a lack of marketing nous is certainly not one of them. in a manner reminiscent of fawlty towers, quitting while the experience was still beautifully illuminated, in retrospect might just have been a strategy we wished we all had in our portfolio. this would be the very reason why rapha refer to their cycling clubs as pop-ups. it's what they do. the same short termism affected the new york follow-on from london in 2010, and this year we have already benefitted from gem atkinson's words of wisdom from the first of the season in mallorca, while a similar pop-up will benefit those on america's west coast later in 2011.
however, in true rapha style, it doesn't stop there. in order to provide black, white and coffee on a more itinerant basis at cycling events all across mainland europe and quite likely the occasional foray into the home country, perren street had wilson brothers convert, in conjunction with local suppliers and fabricators, a seven and a half tonne truck into a mobile cycle club, a truck of the type that would more regularly carry horses. as can be seen from the accompanying photos, it features a retractable awning under which coffee supping can be carried out apace on glazed-top oak and steel display tables housing just the stuff you'd expect rapha to populate them with. sitting is accomplished by partnering those tables with six benches, meaning it is possible to have a caffeine ingestion while watching race-footage on a satellite-fed five-foot (sharp?) tv screen. the outside of the truck has a grid of ring-hooks enabling the truck's operatives to display framed photos, rapha clothing and a variety of race memorabilia.
clerkenwell road on wheels.
twitter adherents watching the eurosport coverage of this year's paris-roubaix may have picked up on a slew of tweets from those who had spotted the mobile club along the cobbled course, proving, if nothing else, that rapha's marketing has not lost its edge. the paris-roubaix challenge was the club's first official outing, and i believe it was also at liege over the weekend. according to mr mottram, rapha's ceo, the intention is to place the mobile club at a different event each week, including this year's two etape du tour sportives, races in the uk (i'm hoping for the smithfield nocturne) and the world championship road races in copenhagen later this year.
on islay, we do not have a library that inhabits bricks and mortar. ours is of the itinerant variety, usually parked around the bay in portnahaven (where iain the librarian lives) but with a regular schedule of stops around the island's villages. there are very few late fees. similarly our opportunity to watch (almost) the latest movies; this is provided by the aptly named screen machine, a very clever truck that turns up from time to time, parks opposite the ramsay hall in port ellen and extends one-side to provide a mobile cinema. try watching meet the fockers on a november wednesday evening with an atlantic gale blowing against one of the truck's slab sides.
i am, therefore, perfectly adapted to the mobile experience, as are the majority of my fellow islanders, leading to my unrequited enticement to mr mottram to send the truck across on a calmac ferry, after he point-blank refused to install even a temporary pop-up in bowmore. of course, as i asserted at the top of the page, the velo club are somewhat well-specced in that department, so i can maybe see his point. and there are only four of us. but what has mallorca got that islay hasn't (apart from warm sunshine, smooth roads, climbs to die for and a constant stream of roadies intent on enhancing those tanlines)?
so i have doubts that the grey 7.5 tonne truck is likely to be heading to port askaig anytime soon. but i, and my cohorts, are now disenfranchised; not for us those dinky, but solid espresso cups and their chainring decorated saucers. and not for us the rapha cycle club embossed wooden coasters and backdrop of black and white ben ingham images and the ubiquitous rapha h van.
yes, necessity is indeed the mother of invention. in order that i may benefit from rapha hospitality all year round and in any location that my little heart desires, i have assembled my very own rapha mobile cycle club: a rapha h-van, silk scarf, espresso cup and saucer and wooden coaster, all of which fit comfortably into a rapha musette. should i have concerns over the coffee that might be served in the cup of our desires, i may just carry a chris king espresso tamper, but that is an optional extra.
you can, no doubt, imagine my smug grin of satisfaction?
posted monday 25 april 2011
simply an observation that i found humorous enough not to let pass. in light of the result in today's liege-bastogne-liege, if you take a look at the front page of velonews currently in play, you might notice that on april 22, the schleck brothers are quoted as saying "(philippe) gilbert is beatable". on april 24th (today), the brothers are again quoted: "gilbert just 'too strong'".
mind you, if you happen to bump into either brother in pizza hut, i wouldn't bother pointing that out.
posted sunday 24 april 2011
according to radio four's weather forecast of sunday 24th april, listened to through a liberal dose of half-asleepness, saturday 23rd provided the highest april temperature recorded since some long-distant date which my half-asleep brain faled to recollect. i cannot demur entirely, for though saturday morning dawned slightly greyer and windier than had been my hope, it performed true to mrs washingmachinepost's assertions that all would be well by lunchtime, and sun would prevail.
she was correct.
still, i have more than just a faint suspicion that radio four's weather felicitations are rather heavily based on the uk capital, quite blatantly the land of the wimp, where cold atlantic winds are all but missing in action. while tinted rudy projects were not unseemly, the early morning chill necessitated both armwarmers and a wind-cheating gilet. sunday morning, however, offered far greater persuasion for character building endeavour, for was today not philippe gilbert's opportunity to equal the success of the man in the doghouse, davide rebellin, and take three successive classics?
liege-bastogne-liege, and on islay it was raining.
racing shorts with aspirations to emulating sean yates' leg length, and a short-sleeve jersey with full length zip; wearing of such would surely confer not only lashings of character, but releasing and gratuitously displaying that inner flandrian? despite gigging until the wee small hours, and experiencing the chill that inhabits such unearthly times while wending one's way home, i laugh in the face of adversity. show me what you've got, would be the watchphrase of the day, with no consequence for record southern temperatures.
all this was, however, in the realms of the hypothetical, for descending to breakfast, skies were grey, and though the wind-speed had reduced from yesterday's near gale-force, it had lost some of the temperature gained during saturday afternoon. at this point, reckoning has it that i am man or mouse, but by the time the residential car-park had been reached, only mere metres from the bikeshed, propriety dictated that the gilet be removed and replaced with a handily stowed waterproof; armwarmers still in situ.
it is always more favourable if one can review cycling garments in their unadorned state; there is much that can be learned form their performance under one or two layers of wind and rainproofing, but i cannot say it does them much justice in any accompanying photographs. happily, all that was taken care of during saturday's circe du soleil, while sunday's liege-bastogne liege conditions were surely to be the proof of the pudding. particularly if the belgian road were to be traversed. this was an important consideration, for cervo rosso's national pride jersey takes its nomenclature from a subtly applied colour to the left sleeve; in my case, that of belgium. switzerland and italy are also on offer, but you cannot deny the flandrian in the worthy.
hard work never hurt anyone; at least not in retrospect. how many times have you had both legs scream at you in the company of lactic acid, then reminisce how epic it all was? agonism at its best. saturday's hard work, followed by sunday's different but equally hard, gave credence were credence required, that this cervo rosso kit is deserving of our attention. if i recall correctly form my interview with cv's carlyle ware, his reason for germinating the swiss clothing firm was an inability to find the type of clothing he felt the modern cycling world so desperately required. i may exaggerate slightly here, but he would surely have to be possessed of an overweening degree of obsessive compulsive disorder not to have found something to suite his velocipedinal requirements from all that was on offer?
however, having inhabited cervo rosso shorts and jersey for a surprisingly large number of hardened kilometres, i cannot deny that cervo rosso's offerings here reviewed can confidently be added to the panoply from which choices are made.
the mk2 bibshorts are a revelation; made from slivers of lycra, they hug those chris hoy thighs with comfort. thin, clear dots of silicon gloop on the inner leg hems confidently prevent them riding up at a most inappropriate point in the sprint. adopting the old system of sizing, my size 2 (small) version proffered a sublime fit, while the hg07 elastic pad provided the oft-searched for comfort and joy while sat on a racing saddle for several hours. the white mesh bib section has a degree of stretch that will suit most upper bodies, remain on the shoulders through all sorts of strident exertions, and leave no tell-tale marks on removal. but perhaps the best compliment that can be paid any pair of cycle shorts is that they are all but invisible in use (though i will agree that the reality of such would not be a pretty sight).
short sleeve jerseys are often just (unsurprisingly), short sleeve jerseys, sometimes with an enhanced feature set, but short sleeve jerseys just the same. but i confess i have rarely come across one with longer sleeves than the phrase short sleeve would suggest. by this i do not wish to infer that the cervo rosso sleeves finished closer to the wrist than to the shoulder, but they did a marvellous job of covering those bulging biceps (leave a guy to his dreams why don't you?). the ideal of this, as conclusively proved over the course of frenetic riding, is never being susceptible to the cardinal sin of naked skin being visible twixt armwarmer and sleeve end. and just to make doubly sure, the inner cuff is peppered with the same dots of gloop as seen on the shorts.
yet again, the fit has been well considered, as has a full-length zip. while the shorts were size 2, my more manly upper torso (leave me alone) fills out a size 3, and very comfortably it did so. windproofing is all but non-existent, but then same goes for most of its peer group. what was missing, and in my mind it's a big miss, is a fourth, zipped security pocket; i am aware of the arguments against such fripperies, given that the racing gentleman or gentlewoman rarely has to carry car keys, mobile phone or change for a soya cappuccino and a piece of carrot cake (oh what a giveaway), but few are the professionals likely to clothe themselves in cervo rosso's finest. this is apparel for the rest of us, and the rest of us wants a zipped rear pocket.
while having become an ardent admirer of both items over my period of flandrianism, i have one criticism that may or not be a trivial one depending on your point of view. cervo rosso, while a very alluring nom de plume, is italian for red deer, as alluded to by the deer head shield applied to various parts of the jersey and shorts. in and of itself, i have few qualms over this adoption, but i'd far rather the name be a touch more discreet in its application. the name appears in script writ large across both front and back, down both side panels, on the red collar and repetitively around the sleeve that doesn't advertise its belgian affiliation. as if this were not enough, the web address reads across all three rear pockets. the shorts receive similar marking down the side of both legs, around both hems and across the back panel.
i'm all for cervo rosso advertising their wares in the peloton, but i think you need to know where to stop.
however, it may be that i am here in the minority; perhaps prospective purchasers are happy to advise all and sundry of their judicious choice in cycling finery. there is much to praise in both items, and they are most certainly not lacking in their functional duties; that may be more than worth advertising, but...
the cervo rosso 'national pride' jersey is available in sizes 2 to 5 and with belgian, swiss and italian sleeve decoration at a cost of £75. the mk2 bibshorts are available in sizes ranging from 2 to 6 at a cost of £87. well priced in my opinion. they are available direct from the cervo rosso website.
posted sunday 24 april 2011
there are two principal times of the year when cycle books tend to arrive on the market: on the approach to the tour de france and christmas. there may be the odd book that appears in between, but generally speaking, the above covers most eventualities. thus, at present i am happily knee deep in manuscripts, proof copies and books that are already on the shelves, enjoying the read while mentally making copious notes that will likely have been forgotten by the time it comes to put fingers to keyboard. this is why so many of the cycling books in my bookcase have page corners turned inwards, though i draw the line at writing in the margins.
as one who spends pretty much every day appending scribblings to these web pages, i well understand the concept of research, even if the time available for same is more limited than those who write for a living and whose prose will live on for far longer than these itinerant pixels. it is not only important to get your facts right, but delving into a subject in greater depth than can ever be the case here or in the periodicals, creates a far more satisfactory use of narrative, holding the readers' attention until the very end. when you realise that many of the cycling books currently and soon to be available stretch to often more than 300 pages, that's a lot of research, a lot of proofing and most of all, one heck of a lot of writing. i doubt i could sustain any level of quality for that number of pages, and i have the utmost admiration for those who manage this on a seemingly regular basis, or even only the once if it comes to that.
of course, this pinpointing the tour de france as the likeliest time to bet on decent sales has become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. almost everyone, whether the least interested in cycle racing or bicycles at all, has heard of the tour, and is perfectly well aware of when it's happening. i believe that the publishing houses are banking on this elevated interest and, dare i say, enthusiasm, to persuade the non-believers into purchasing a book about cycling.i received only the other day, the paperback version of johan bruyneel's bio 'we may as well win', a book that surfaced in hardback format a few years back. presumably sales in that form were encouraging enough to consider softback, and it's release in the early part of may on an unsuspecting public is perhaps the first salvo in the direction of le tour.
but what of the giro d'italia? as the first major tour of each year, and following closely on the heels of the spring classics, surely there is enough of a frenzy surrounding cycle sport at this time of the season to encourage publishers to throw books at us (in a manner of speaking)? it seems not. the giro seems only to generate that degree of fanatacism in italy, while the classics may be regarded as a central european phenomenon and thus observable but not actionable. it surprised me somewhat that velopress released their hefty and very worthy 'spring classics' volume in the autumn, well past the sell-by date, and not quite close enought to christmas i wouldn't have thought.
however, one of the major works relating to the giro d'italia to be released recently was the much lauded maglia rosa by herbie sykes, a mammoth undertaking of research, more research and more writing than i think it sane for any one man to consider. however, triumph that it is, it is being celebrated in fine style across this coming week. on tuesday evening, 26th april, author herbie, italo zilioli and eddy merckx will host a dinner in london to consolidate the realease of the book prior to the 2011 giro d'italia. this celebration sold-out quite some weeks ago, but if you'd like to acquire a signed copy of the book, meet with herbie and zilioli, then a visit to james straffon's frameless gallery in clerkenwell green this coming wednesday will perhaps fulfil all your expectations and more. with sykes and zilioli present from 5:30pm until 6:30pm, there will be peroni and prosecco available plus the opportunity to view straffon's gran corsa d'italia exhibition while you're there.
i only wish i could join you.
posted saturday 23 april 2011
after looking forward to the spring classics for months on end, this sunday sees their effective end at la doyenne, liege-bastogne-liege, though the looming cyclocross season at least takes the edge off such disappointment. liege-bastogne-liege is one heck of a great name for a bicycle race, if only because mentioning it in polite company elicits either a complete lack of notice, or a recommendation for a cream that might help from the local pharmacy.
as seems to be perenially the case with the world's principal classics and stage races, lbl was initiated in 1892 to publicise the newspaper l'expresse, and because the paper was published in french, the race route has remained in the southern, french-speaking part of belgium. as described by the comic "in purely physical terms, this is probably the toughest classic: the climbs are long, most of them are pretty steep as well, and they come up with depressing frequency in the final kilometres." and while that's perhaps not something that might endear it to those competing, it is most certainly the features that will have most of us glued to the telly this coming sunday afternoon.
the phrase 'most of us', however, refers to most of us, but not necessarily a number of die-hards in new hope, philadelphia. i have had cause to mention their endeavours not so very long ago, but an update prior to saturday's fleche buffoon was simply too humorous to ignore, and the phrase the course: 'wtf was I thinking?' indicates that one or two participants may not make it as far as sunday afternoon. any communication that opens with 'severe ardennes weather is expected on saturday, which will have the distinct advantage of keeping the roads clear of riff-raff and wimps. You know which you are.' deserves to have wider circulation than was initially the case.
in the true spirit of la doyenne, 'there are at least ten steep climbs on this route. bring low gears. unless your name is philippe gilbert, i recommend gearing significantly lower than 39 x 23! a compact with at least a 25 or a triple crank will be your friend.' which sounds like the sort of course that would align itself with laphroaig whisky: you'll either love it, or you'll hate it; there are no half measures. ' there are loads of other climbs as well, some of which you might find evil. i never stated i could count; i ran out of fingers after ten...
it's intriguing and perhaps not just a little disturbing that recreational cyclists, doubtless with guttering to clear, lawns to mow and general yardwork to take care of, should wish to subject themselves to similar conditions as their professional counterparts, counterparts who are being paid handsomely for their efforts (some more than others). but that is surely the prerogative of the wannabees. or perhaps not. as the pre-race admonishment continues "the (ex?)belgian hardwoman is already making noises about being too old for this kinda riding in the rain. she just had another birthday last monday, and is still feeling the pain. "i admit, i am a wimp. with the entire summer ahead of me I just don't feel the need to fight bad weather. 40s and 50s in the rain is very unpalatable to me. if there's no precipitation, i may be persuaded to ride."
the ride, however, does not simply pay tribute (north american style) to liege-bastogne-liege, but also to fleche wallone and the amstel gold, consisting of a 75 mile ride through bucks county in philadelphia and hunterdon county, new jersey. the forecast is apparently for distinctly belgian, and therefore west of scotland weather: forecasts; personally, i don't recommend them. i don't trust them (most people get fired for this consistent level of inaccuracy), but what i've seen doesn't look pretty. the ride is being held rain or shine. unless it is raining sheets, the ride will be on. if it is raining sheets (my definition) we will postpone the ride to a later date. in case it does rain, bring rain gear, and warm/dry clothes to change into post ride. riding in a wet chamois is one thing, driving home in one is just plain wrong." sage advice which we will likely adopt for the ride of the falling rain, though in our case, cancellation really isn't an option due to the name.
bernard hinault won a cold, wet, snowy liege-bastogne-liege in 1980, and he isn't even belgian.
however, perhaps the most telling remark incorporated in the missive received only this morning relates to the 2012 running of the fleche buffoon. it says here in words that allow for little in the way of misinterpretation 'i understand that brian of thewashingmachinepost fame will be attending next year's event at the invitation of his namesake organizer.'
if i hadn't foresworn anything resembling training, i'd be clipping cleats into pedals right this minute. as organiser brian ignatin so rightly stated "It isn't raining until it is raining"
posted friday 22nd april 2011
my secondary school was based round an impressive old sandstone building, the endurance of which was brought into stark reality when the two storey concrete and glass modern buildings built to provide for our further education, subsided by a disturbing degree after only two years. the existence of various old coal-mining shafts and tunnels took the buk of the blame; you'd have thought these would have been taken into consideration during the planning process. most of these constructs, including the sandstone example are now long gone, but the latter is still the ideal by which i'd judge the merit of any school.
many a contemporary edifice would fail miserably.
while the centre of the school featured a reasonably well equipped gymnasium, such as was the standard of the day, the perimeter constituted the individual classrooms; banished to the outer edges was the woodworking class. while the main classrooms were lit by substantially proportioned wood-framed sash windows, the woodwork room bore almost slit-like openings around the top of the outer wall. these let in little in the way of light, lending a particularly ominous quality to any time spent in the land of saws, files and wood glue.
though i'd be hard-pressed to provide a photo-fit description of the woodwork teacher (my attendance was a considerable number of years past) i do remember him as being every bit as fearsome as the classroom, though perhaps less forgiving. to this day, the best i can manage in the manner of diy is a less than coherent pile of books or newspapers at the side of my chair. technical subjects, including that of technical drawing, were not subjects in which i excelled. so poor, in fact, were my attempts at the projects pointed in my direction, that at the end of my fourth year, the only reason i passed at all was due to the selfsame teacher not wishing to besmirch his reputation by having one of his pupils fail. i received a 50% total.
joining two bits of wood is something accomplished by means of specific types of joint; the only one i can recall is that of the dovetail, so named because its fan like appearance bears a passing resemblance to that of a dove's tail. or any number of other birds come to that. so simple was this task deemed to be by the woodwork ogre, that he threatened to punish anyone who failed to complete it satisfactorily. it would not only disturb the negative flow of my narrative were i to admit to a dovetail joint to satisfy the most pernickety of joiners, but it would also be an untruth. were the tolerances to be cut as closely as desired, the two joined pieces of wood should easily survive a rough handling without separation, when lifted by one or t'other piece.
in my case, you could have driven a double-decker bus between the edges of the two joints, a gap i adjudged too big to cover up with sawdust and cellulose filler. i thus was on the verge of an undisclosed punishment. the only factor that saved me from any pain and suffering was the behaviour of some of my fellow pupils; having been not the only miscreant unable to cut a decent joint, there was a small queue for anything the teacher planned to mete out. however, one or two had figured that, in order to avoid any discomfort, playing hooky on the day of reckoning was an appropriate action to take. though we may wish that teaching staff are suitable subjects to have the wool pulled over their eyes, my woodwork teacher was definitely not one of them. the two of us who attended class despite the portent of doom, were apparently to be commended for our bravery in the face of adversity and excused punishment.
i cannot say the same for those who absented themselves from woodwork class.
this lack of skill was again brought to focus at the scottish bike show last weekend. on display was a wooden bicycle frame and two completed bicycles from the engineering department of strathclyde university in glasgow. the use of wood as a material for a bicycle frame is hardly a revolutionary idea; the material is easy to work with, it can be reasonably light, easily repaired and particularly economic. on display on the opposite side of the hall was a replica of kirkpatrick macmillan's 19th century bicycle, arguably the first complete bicycle to appear in the world. but the example on display by strathclyde was of an altogether different style and construction.
my first question to the engineering student on the stand was "why?"; not said in an accusing tone, but out of sheer curiosity and admiration. it struck me as a fabulous idea, and like purple harry's pipe-cleaners, one that i wished i'd thought of myself. except my history of working with wood, i think we have already discussed. the true purpose of just such a wooden bicycle is the ease with which same could be constructed in many a third world country. the frame on display had been built for less than £20, featuring a standard type headset linked to the wooden forks by means of a threaded bolt. there is no seatpost as such, or at least not an adjustable version; for once, the integrated seat mast made perfect structural sense. wheels were easily fitted via roughly cut dropouts, though the derailleur on the display version was attached via the built-in hanger incorporated in many a low cost gear mech.
the bottom bracket and crankset are as those on any modern, low-cost mountain bike, while the handlebar resembled a large piece of dowl, held in place by two metal c clamps. it's rudimentary style and construction are not, however, simply the result of nailing a few dods of wood together to create a bicycle shaped object. strathclyde's engineering department are currently investigating various structural loadings using computer modelling and practical testing, such as the two examples at the show. their analyses are being conducted to identify areas of weakness and strength in the frames ongoing evolvement, set to determine whether a wooden frame may be able to compete with more traditional metal framed bicycles.
while i have regretted not accepting their offer to ride the prototype around the show's test-track (too many kids on the track at the time for my liking), it doesn't strike me as the sort of velocipede that is likely to catch on in the uk anytime soon. however, that is surely to miss the point. while there are many schemes in existence to provide bicycles to some of the poorer african countries, this would seem the first that has concentrated on providing one that can be constructed on-site. materials are often in reasonable supply at point of use, and the skills required to build would provide a degree of local industry. surely a win, win situation?
while kirkpatrick macmillan's machine, though beautiful, seems slightly archaic by modern standards, it is comforting to know that scotland is building upon its head start and pushing the boundaries of the wooden bicycle even further.
posted thursday 21st april 2011
strange to relate, in my capacity as a photoshop legend in my own lunchtime, i was presented earlier today with a photograph of several gentlemen taken during the war days before they set off to fight for king and country as reservists in the territorial army. however, unlike many a contemporary photograph which would almost unassailably present those of any miltary affectation in combats, they were dressed in their everyday civilian clothes. the nineteen forties, predominantly due to the reservations and restrictions of conflict, will hardly go down in the annals of history as the amongst the most sartorial of our times, yet such a condemnation may well be to miss the point.
it is to my deep regret that, on occasion, i have found it necessary to snap some photographs for the local newspaper, mostly at times when the editor is otherwise engaged or displaced. it hardly comes under any job description that may be less than tangibly attached to my employ, but there are always times when a man's got to do what he has, in effect, been told to do. it would never have happened to rooster cogburn.
in this context, i am often at great pains to point out to anyone within hearing distance that i am no photographer; i can inhabit photoshop with the best of them, and even fix some of the dire photographic renditions for which i am solely responsible, but a photographer i am not. thus, when tasked with the almost unavoidable group shot, such as the lifeboat crew, the winners of specific sports events and always the ubiquitous cheque or award presentation, the ability to coagulate a group of people in a semblance of order that might be described by the word relaxed, has not been a string attached to my bow. and, in fact, it often seems that in this facet of photographic choreography, i am not alone.
yet the image to which my opening paragraph referred encapsulates everything that i, and many of my contemporaries, have singularly failed to do. for despite these six gentlemen existing in a posed situation, not one of them looks even remotely self-conscious about the lens pointing ominously in their direction. and though i have cast aspersions on their sartorial impression, they are, in fact, rather stylishly dressed in caps, loose fitting jackets, white shirts (but no ties) and the sort of casual trousers that seem to pre-date jeans. all looks well lived-in. even in 2011, there will be envious glances cast in the direction of this photo, for few of us in the 21st century exude such style without seemingly having striven to achieve it.
like it or not, style is a word or concept inextricably linked to the world of cycling, not purely in the sense of dress-sense, but often spread wide towards that of the bicycles we ride and the accessories that complement the world that we inhabit. riders such as jacques anquetil, fausto coppi, hugo koblet and many others apparently either felt it was their duty to exude a commensurate sense of style, or were possessed of such from birth. it would be hard to argue against the influence many of the world's top riders have had upon what is currently regarded as acceptable even at the tail end of the peloton.
cycling has, to a certain and hopefully increasing degree, started to buck its erstwhile diminishing trend, with reportedly more bicycles being sold in the uk than motor cars (hearsay, i'm afraid; i have no confirming statistics), and not all of these being of shiny carbon fibre. in fact, probably persuaded by the ever increasing numbers of cars on the roads, and spiralling increases in the cost of fuel, many have taken to bicycles long forgotten in the bike shed, or splashed out on something new and sleek. most of these newbies (apologies to any reading who feel they may fit into that category; no insult intended) are less than interested in lycra, polyester and sportwool, at least in the sense that it might show them to be more interested in the means than is truly the case. and not everyone is of a svelte disposition.
riding a bike should not, and i do mean this most sincerely, require any specific change of clothing in order to participate. yes, i donned bibshorts, merino jersey, helmet and track mitts for my pre-work ride this morning, accompanied by leather shoes with cleats afoot. but i could just as easily have sidled out cunningly disguised as a civilian and ridden a bike rather than identifying myslef as a cyclist. yes, much of the foregoing has to do with semantics, but riding a bike should just be riding a bike, as fausto coppi never actually said. thus, if we accept this to be a true reflection of the current state of affairs, is it not just slightly possible that this new breed of folks on bicycles may have their own interpretation of what looks stylish aboard a bicycle?
in fact, if i follow my logical interlocution to a satisfactory end, is it not possible that it simply devolves to what is stylish, with the bicycle merely entering the equation as a means of transport?
would that i had the foresight and temerity to have been the one to identify this as a trend, portraying it to you all as if i were some arbiter of all that is good in the world of the bicycle. but sadly i am but mere commentor, taking illustration from the recently added survey appendment to the daily blog on rapha.cc. altruism is a laudable quality, one not often seen pervading the pixelated pages of a commercial website, yet ostensibly this is the case with survey. as a long time admirer of the sartorialist, rapha ceo simon mottram spent the last two years trying to persuade his cohorts that the time was ripe for a similar, but more specific series of observations regarding cycling chic.
with many a rapha representative across the world, it is a less than onerous task to have them snap whomsoever they see with a dress sense that might appeal. these are collated, then posted to survey by former new york cycle club manager, mike spriggs. few of these images pay any lip service to the products of their present benefactor, but they do illustrate very nicely, the take that many have on appropriate dress sense for a bike ride, of whatever that may consist. and it serves to underline that many of us may be little better than sheep, donning all sorts of tour de france inspired clothing simply to pop out of a sunday morning for a ride that will inevitably stop for coffee at least once.
of course, that is to demean cycle specific clothing, copious examples of which are proffered by rapha and their peers; many an instance of fast bike riding would be considerably less comfortable and perhaps just a touch pretentious if carried out in a sartorial manner more akin to attending church. lycra and sportwool have their place.
however, it makes you think.
posted wednesday 20th april 2011
there's probably an excellent bunch of reasons as to why you and i are not running large multi-national cycle companies, endeavouring to provide the great unwashed with every small and large trinket that their hearts' desire. the best one that immediately springs to mind is the fact that over the many years i've been scribbling these scribblings, i have not once come up with an original idea for a bicycle product of any kind, that would make me my first million. or first few pounds, come to that. and you would think that the law of averages would dictate that i'd have seen the ideal opportunity run up, tap me on the shoulder and offer me a worldwide patent.
perhaps there's a gene, acquired at birth, that pre-disposes an individual to sparks of genius, or just plain old common sense. allow me to illustrate: hundreds upon hundreds of you must surely belong to a local cycle club? and one of the most basic tenets of cycle club membership is surely the option (?) to purchase and wear at ever opportunity, the official club jersey.
if we're all agreed on that part of the equation, move forward to the next frame, and a slightly smaller proportion of you will have acquired the temerity to slap a number on the back, and enter a race or two. as i have said before, i have never raced, so i'm somewhat unfamiliar with the process, but my understanding is that sanctioned races require the individual to be a paid-up member of an affiliated cycle club, and thus compete clad in said club's jersey (and shorts etc, should their offerings stretch to such).
feel free to correct me if i'm wrong.
now at the risk of incurring the wrath of cycle clothiers the world over, i would say that this somewhat limits the opportunity to wear the designer apparel hogging all that wardrobe space. assuming that, yet again, you find this hypothesis to shoehorn into an acceptable reality, and thusly aware that, with a veritable plethora of cycling apparel already available worldwide, one of the business decisions we would be well justified in making, is not to kick-start a cycle clothing company.
sometimes enough is enough.
however, all those with speed hard-wired into their metabolism, might still be open to suggestion when it comes to items such as overshoes, armwarmers, legwarmers, gilets, luggage, caps; need i go on? a door may just have opened. the john anderson who is not the lead singer with prog-rock band yes, is, in fact, the man behind edinburgh's the bicycle works and subsequently the distinctly belgian sounding renner sport.
speaking to john at this past weekend's scottish bike show, it is hard to imagine how all that enthusiasm for bike racing manages to stay in place long enough for a conversation. i always figured i was pretty obsessive about all this cycling stuff, but my place is firmly in second behind mr anderson. if i had stayed for too much longer, i fear i may have entered next year's ronde van vlaanderen. the renner sport website has been around for a few months, offering a tantalising glimpse at the sort of items that might vye for wardrobe space, but the scottish bike show was effectively the hard launch for the current range of renner sport products.
just as i have iterated above, john has no great desire to enter the high-pressure world of regular cycling apparel, but as a belgian cycling devotee, he could see a glaring desire for simple, well-made and relatively inexpensive ancillary items such as those i have already mentioned. for surely any bike racer has to place dry civvies in some appropriate receptacle for post-ride cladding, and it would be peachy keen if that receptacle were in the form of wheeled luggage that bore witness to one's sporting aspirations. and as the race heats up, in both senses of the word, it may be necessary to remove armwarmers and stuff them unceremoniously in one of those three rear pockets; if you're anything like me, accuracy in this department is not always what it could be. so, having crossed the line with both arms in the air, and finding one of those armwarmers missing in action, not to suggest that the renner sport items are only fit for losing, but at their current price-point, it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world. and an excellent opportunity to purchase a new pair.
the style, badging (lion of flanders) and necessity of many of john's latest products fall neatly into my trap of stating that hebrideans are the flandrians of the west, a statement i am more than willing to stretch to accommodate the majority of my countrymen (and women). these are items of necessitous requirement, and while i steadfastly refuse to accept any responsibility for training as the act would generally be defined, i do have my moments (though few and far between).
attention to detail has not gone by the wayside as a casualty of price point; the renner sport cap is hand stitched by a little old lady in belgium who makes cycle caps for the majority of the local clubs and teams. john says there are a number of individuals concerned over the future of their headwear; the little old lady is not getting any younger.
none of us are john anderson and subsequently renner sport, but thankfully he is. when the website becomes populated with saleable items (it is currently being worked upon) it will be time to form an orderly queue. hopefully an appropriate review in the fullness of time.
posted tuesday 19th april 2011
"When we speak of ourselves as protagonists, it is not whatever element of pro we find in ourselves that we venerate, but the agonist: "a combatant in the games: a contender for the prizes" (first use 1626, Cockeram, Agonist, a Champion). Agonious: full of agony. Agonic: without angle. Agon: a gathering or assembly for the public games. The agonists, separated from the pro by the shape used for crucifixion."
there are many aspects of life that simmer under the surface, fleetingly glimpsed, yet never quite grasped, either metaphorically or physically. i use, by way of illustration, my visit to the green dragon pub in portland in the company of messrs. sycip and distefano from chris king's. during my time in their wonderful city, i had been introduced to a substantial proportion of the cycling community, and because i was in the company of either chris distefano or slate olson, the openness of this visible, yet invisible section of portland society was most welcoming. riding a chris king cielo also helped.
however, while we were sitting in the al fresco section of the hostelry, i enquired of my hosts whether portland was home to any other subcultures, ones that might be in full view but which would remain hidden to the likes of me.
chris distefano called over a girl sat midst others, all working intently on open laptops and earnest but happy conversation. i confess that her name escapes me, but she apparently had worked for a time at chris king; she and her companions were members of a thriving linux community (an open source computer operating system that relies on its community for continual and free development), able to work in the great outdoors because another hidden sect had taken it upon themselves to wi-fi the more accessed points of portland life.
there were routers visible in the overhanging trees.
i will admit that, as a subculture, the cyclists were not too hard to spot; wheeling a bicycle around tends to capture at least a portion of anyone's attention. but that of course may simply be a case of self-identification. perhaps to everyone else in the city, they are just folks with bikes, the connection not made.
but many a sect or culture is considerably less visible, despite no practise to conceal. that such entities exist is accommodated in modern life as well as literature; is this not what the da vinci code was all about? and what of the spanish inquisition? was it not graham chapman of monty python who clearly exclaimed "nobody expects the spanish inquisition"? and prior to their intervention, did he not also pronounce "one of cross beams gone askew on't treddle"?
the spanish inquisition we are likely all familar with, either through a brief study of the relevant period or simply from watching monty python. in fact, the first two inquisitors miguel de morrilo and juan de san martin retained their secrecy for over two years, despite papal decree that monarchs were at liberty to divulge the identity of inquistors operating in their kingdom.
a subculture, if somewhat dangerous in intent.
but what of the trouble at mill? when the lady of the manor expressed her incomprehension of the hurried phrase "one of cross beams gone askew on't treadle", chapman repeated the phrase a further twice, the last in a dialect not in keeping with the northern framing of the scene. yet on understanding the words as stated, the lady professed not to know of which he spoke, something with which the distressed messenger was wont to concur.
so was this, in fact, a more secretive sect than that of the inquisition? in relation to a treadle, what is a cross-beam? undoubtedly a secret language known only to inhabitees of t'mill, one that obviously had influence on the culture of the time, as attested by the clandestine interest on behalf of the spanish inquisition. and as a subculture, it had seemingly acquired a dialect all of its own.
while the relevance of the above to the world of cycling may be somewhat obscure, it is not without merit. michael barry gave credence to this by entitling his successful book with camille mcmillan le metier a title which can be translated in many ways, but equally refers to a job, occupation, trade, studied profession, et al. this provides us with only a tantalising insight into the metier of the professional cyclist, the upper echelons of which have been portrayed in many a differing light through the practice of their art; interviews, videos, photos, allow those of us admitting to proletarianism naught but a glimpse and, by logical conclusion, only a whisper of what's within hidden depths.
that, however, is the remit and tribulation of the professional. what of those not able, or willing to inhabit such public display, yet fully capable of ascending the top step of the podium? fame and fortune is rarely for those of whom i speak, yet in their own way, they have transcended epic and are keen to influence the sport throughout all its many facets without showing their true hand.
i describe the world of the agonist, bereft of allegiance to pro and all that such entails. perhaps some of you reading are amongst their number, and if so, i hope you will simply appreciate this short tribute to your own metier, and accept that while, like tinkerbell in peter pan, you exist because we believe you do, admission of a tangible presence may be to not only dispel the myth, but to simply vanquish it altogether.
without fear of contradiciton, i think it can be honestly stated that yours is judicious use of white space, though perhaps no longer. succour the agonist within if you believe him/her to be there, for the wheels, cogs and treadles of the cycle world would be truly vaccuous were it not for the cross that separates the two worlds.
posted monday 18th april 2011