"the sign of a good ride: one in which you offer apologies to the invitees afterwards."
the transition between reality and pretend is often separation of only a few degrees. inspired by the early season classics, gone but definitely not forgotten, smoothness of surface is no longer a pre-requisite. erstwhile bumps masquerading as inclines adopt the persona of muur, even if the pronunciation leaves something to be desired. debbie's is more than strength itself when it comes to coffee and millionaire's shortbread, but there is a notable dearth of frites and mayo. perhaps thankfully, as an addictive personality could lead to comfort on the cobbles.
agonism has been dealt with previously, the kernel of which remains front and centre; of foremost consideration. one need not succumb to delusion when thinking of the daily or weekly ride group as agonistas. the ideal of kapelmuur independent emulates blackpool rock: it is written all the way from top to bottom, wherever you slice it.
it is a truism that the velo club of a sunday - the agonistas of my narrative - is regarded with varying degrees of awe. we are happy to answer to the awesome apellation, tinged with humility, but on an island with few cyclists (as we would wish to describe them), all is relative. we cycle faster than everyone. but despite protestations to the contrary, that a lowest common denominator programme is in force on every sunday morn, we are left to our own devices; fast but in the mind of the agonista, definitely not fast enough. deterioration of road surfaces are to be embraced rather than despised, if only because i see no chance of it changing anytime soon. the striving is for commensurate speed when the roads enjoyed a less concerning state of disrepair.
that is, indeed, the fly in the ointment.
protagonism is not our forte, born of a sociable edict that eschews all outward signs of training in any of its many forms. graeme obree has underlined his opposition to artificial enhancement of basic ability; he maintains that training inhabits this space. he may well be right. but the frightening aspect of agonism is the unintended turn of speed in the face of adversity. and it is here that the apology really ought to have been voiced.
though wind, rain and pavé (as we would have it) are a formidable distraction from the art of souplesse, combine them in the correct proportions, and all thoughts of moderation are cast to the four corners, and we are chewing the stem so to speak. on the rivet would not be too strong a phrase.
sadly, not all are possessed of the agonist mentality. the word agon can be translated as a gathering or assembly for the public games. were we not crouched into a headwind along uiskentuie strand, participating in a public display of bit and bit? mere steps away from the echelon. gruppo compatto would have been so much more seemly in the public gaze, but as is often the case in public displays of strength and vigour, somebody forgets to play, and in this case, the third man forgot. and forgot by some considerable distance.
we are possessed of the agonist's obsession, combatants in the games and most certainly contenders for the prizes to be had sailing past the 40mph signs at bruichladdich, mentally if not physically, with arms raised aloft as one sails defiantly past somebody's garden gate. it's a hard act to follow, something the third man was only too keen to protest. though both protagonists stifled smug grins, it was hard not to feel some degree of sympathy, though it did require demonstrable effort.
the box was larger than expected. in fact the box had not been expected at all, and its all-in weight would not have troubled the post more than a trivial amount. incorrect interpretation implied that the tape across the bottom be opened first, giving the contents more mystery than they perhaps truly deserved. a cardboard verisimilitide of the human head, albeit angular in the extreme, wore a blue and lime green castelli casquette. muur on the underside of the peak.
kapelmuur independent. agonism encapsulated in under the helmet headwear. and a grateful recipient.
"listen to the sound of your gears as you move. it is that which defines you."
posted monday 20 june 2011
you'll be thankful that i no longer feel the necessity to mention, with unfailing regularity, that i am something of a wheelaholic. in the grand scheme of all that is good in the world of bicycling, this is hardly a surprising revelation; it has long been common knowledge that the finest service you can attend upon any frame is a decent pair of wheels. while many may be unaware of a similar affliction, statistics prove that it affects more than 82% of all cyclists. of course, as graeme obree once said, ninety five percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.
it is a constant thorn in my side that, as the contents of thewashingmachinepost bike shed have multiplied over the years, the var wheel-truing stand has receded almost to the point of obscurity. sad to relate, but recent excursions involving the park spoke key have required that the offending wheel be trued in the frame using the brake shoe as a guide. rudimentary i know, but necessity is often the mother of invention. however, a decent clearout is on the cards in the near future, as wheelbuilding will be on the cards sometime in the not too distant future, wheelbuilding that will require a tad more precision than that afforded by a brake caliper.
with so many options available nowadays, it has become harder and harder to pin down what could be determined as the ideal wheel build. which hubs, how many spokes, what type of nipples, whose rims and what tyres will they wear? cogitating upon so many options, cost be damned, has occupied many a pleasant hour around islay's quiet back roads, though by the time the process has been finalised, the opening gambit has often been forgotten, and the whole process, aided by heavy breathing and a change of sprocket, has to begin all over again. it is not often, in my experience, that someone asks for such concrete details that end up in something tangible.
but maybe it was bound to happen someday.
i have mentioned, on more than one occasion, the wonderful miss kirstein of sugar wheelworks in portland. people impress me all the time, but jude holds a special place in that regard, because rarely have i met anyone with such single minded dedication to their art, a dedication that has expanded now into larger premises than her former cupboard in the city's south east area. formerly known as epic wheelworks until specialized bicycles took exception (you couldn't make it up), sugar is now situated in suite 134, north williams avenue, not that far from tony pereira and ira ryan. jude will shortly be joined by natalie ramsland of sweetpea bicycles, and i eagerly await photos and details of this comfortable happenstance.
this expansion has had many benefits, not least that jude can now turn around without knocking things over, and fire regulations are no longer transgressed if more than three folk visit at once. but after my visit of two years ago, our continued correspondence led to miss kirstein's insistence that, when space allowed, she intended to create a corner for a variety of wheelbuild options to stimulate the imagination of those similarly occupied as yours truly, during those solitary cycles. with my home island benefitting from many a single malt and subsequent tasting rooms in the distilleries that produce same, jude averred that this collection of wheels would occupy the brian palmer tasting room. though a lovely sentiment, it seemed more of a verbal kindness rather than something that may, indeed, come to fruition.
but come to fruition it has, accompanied by a recent request to detail my ideal pair of wheels which would occupy pride of place. while i hate to be so unbearably predictable, these were fabricated thus: pink chris king cross hubs, built 32 three-cross onto mavic open pro rims with brass nipples and shod with continental four seasons 700x25c tyres. as an added frisson, i asked that the wheels be tied and soldered because i've always wanted a pair like that. these are not my ultimate nasa style speed wheels, but an incredibly strong and pragmatic build that would get me round our ever disintegrating roads for many years to come.
as miss kirstein says "with the 'crown jewels' in place we are humbly, officially opening the 'brian palmer tasting room'; a demo program to help fit rider and ride. all hand-built bicycle wheels."
several other, arguably more exotic builds have joined thewashingmachinepost hoops as testament to the wide variety of options that sugar wheelworks are able to offer, but i am not only satisfied with my wheels, but considerably honoured that someone so very far away from this rock in the atlantic would go to such lengths in my name. i can honestly say that i am rather humbled, and in the words of wayne and garth "we are not worthy.".
but i cannot but admit i am distinctly chuffed.
if you're reading somewhere in the vicinty of portland, please do take a trip along to meet one of the world's finest wheelbuilders and a lovely person into the bargain and have a look at my wheels in their very own tasting room. this sort of thing doesn't happen to me very often, and i wear my sugar wheelworks t-shirt with great pride.
did i mention i am humbled?
posted sunday 19 june 2011
even a cursory glance through the autobiographies or biographies of riders from the fifties and sixties will bring to the fore the fact that results and details, for residents of the uk, were hard to come by. either you were competent in french or italian and able to glean some information from la gazzetta or l'equipe, or waited several weeks until either a newsreel appeared on television or the cinema or one of the uk newspapers deigned to mention something in dispatches. it was hard being a cycling obsessive in the middle of last century.
nowadays, the phrase information overload is an omnipresent feature of daily life. aside from the fact that i fill in these black and yellow pixels on a daily basis, so do several thousand blog persons across the world, all with an opinion to express or information to share. add to this the ubiquitous social media of facebook and twitter, and it's difficult to take a step in any direction without bumping into much more of whatever floats your boat. for 'tis not just cycling that suffers/benefits from this eternal expression of opinion; many other far less important walks of life have their own surrounding panoply of print and pixels.
indeed, so-called traditional media has not rested on its laurels since the days of trickling information. inprovements in communications have allowed them to report on races mere days after the kilometres have been demolished, something that ought to be lauded far more than is likely, now that live television has informed long before publication date. in short, we are seriously well served when it comes to the provision of relevant and not so relevant information.
while we're still on the trail of print media and its relevance to the modern day citizen, in 1992, designer david carson produced his first issue of raygun an outstandingly influential publication that effectively took the rules of design and legibility and threw them away. it was a scarily refreshing, if not threatening change in the world of print, leading eventually to the publication of an appreciation of carson's design in 1995 (he left raygun after three years, though the magazine continued until 2000) entitled the end of print. the publication of this volume coincided with the early advent of the internet as we have come to accept it. ok it was far more rudimentary than its present incarnation, but the mid-nineties brought a degree of usability that was missing from the dos command lines of yore.
whether the title was meant to offer a degree of prescience regarding the demise of the printed word in the face of electronica, or simply seemed like a good marketing idea at the time, i know not, but no doubt we can all agree that print didn't die. in fact if the current vogue of new publications is anything to go by, it may not be a half bad idea to create a website entitled the end of pixels. in the past few years, in no particular order, we've had jeremy dunn's embrocation journal, boneshaker, cog, bicycle times and doubtless others i've sadly missed.
and there's rouleur.
rouleur magazine was unleashed upon an unsuspecting cycling public in may of 2006 with a 68 page homage to a world of cycling we all thought we were confidently aware of until issue one pointed out our deficiency in this respect. with a standard of photography and writing hitherto unseen by the cycling obsessive, rouleur had pretty much the same effect on uk cycling as raygun likely had on the world of print, design and music. it wasn't cheap. the comic cost around £2 per issue in 2006; rouleur cost £9, but it was very much a case of never mind the quality, feel the width.. a joy to behold.
issue 24, which should have dropped through the letterboxes of subscribers within the past week or so, is of a substantially different order. the word i'm looking for is heft. it didn't so much land on the welcome mat at the door of washingmachinepost cottage as decimate it. i like to savour my issue of rouleur, carefully rationing each article in order to minimise the gap between each subsequent issue, but that will require a lot less effort and planning this time round. we have now reached telephone directory status. there is surely danger of a strain injury holding up its 172 pages when reading in the bath.
but, aside from celebrating twenty-four issues of what is surely one of the finest magazines in the world, cycling or otherwise, it is both a sad and pleasurable duty to inform you of the rouleur auction, raising money in the memory of british cycling's rob jefferies, who died recently as the result of being hit by a car. items up for auction include a pinarello fp1, a bradley wiggins signed yellow jersey from the dauphine, a signed geraitn thomas green jersey from the same race, a david millar signed garmin jersey, a special edition of herbie sykes' maglia rosa, and several other desirable items, pictures of which can be viewed here. bids should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight on june 24th, listing the lot number and description. the highest bidder wins.
posted saturday 18 june 2011
headsets inhabit a couple of principal functional locations: bearing races and cartridge bearings. the former are, at the risk of upsetting one or two, old skool, even though those tiny little bearings are usually encapsulated in metal races. that allows those little spheres of steel to run on the upper race cone, and to rotate on what is technically referred to as the crown race. perhaps rather obviously, this forms a mirror image of the cone at the top, except because of the pressures being pushed up from the road, and those leveraged downwards by you, the rider, the bearings at the top of the fork crown (see, that's why it's called the crown race), to put it in the vernacular, get hammered.
they're also far more prone to being invaded by yuk. if any of you are given to maintaining this type of headset, you'll be aware that the lower race needs far more tender loving care and spoonfuls of grease than that nearest your handlebars. even when properly looked after, it's only a matter of time before brinelling occurs. this is experienced as indexed steering, and witnessed as a series of little dents in the crown race where the bearings have pummeled the surface into submission. my colnago c40 was initially fitted with a campagnolo record headset, and faced with a couple of years of crappy surfaces, cattle grids and tonnes of road grit it not only died, but in agony, with the bearing race disintegrating around it, providing each individual bearing the opportunity to run free.
with no disrespect to campagnolo, the thought of replacing it with another of the same seemed a bit of a pointless exercise, since it would have been a case of waiting for the same to happen again further down the road.
principal option number two is a headset fitted with cartridge bearings, where the crown race and upper cone serve a less functional purpose. with cartridge bearings featuring similarly small steel balls sandwiched between two steel rings (the cartridge), protected by a plastic or rubber seal both top and bottom. in this case, both top and bottom pressures are borne by the steel cartridge, keeping the bearings away from that now brinel free crown race. in this case, the seals on the cartridge bearings mean that the lower bearing survives far better than type one, virtually exonerating the owner from endless maintenance chores.
i am unsure enough of my facts to state that chris king invented the cartridge bearing headset in 1976, but he must surely have been one of the first to implement the technicalities in a fashion that made it all but impossible to continue with his framebuilding activities (something now remedied with the advent of cielo). demand for chris king headsets has been such that it is one of the most acclaimed components in either the world of offroad or the peloton. in the days when trek still featured headsets on the outside of the headtube, lance armstrong could attribute some of his seven tours de france in a small way to the chris king headset.
the warranty on these steerables is ten years, and while the manual does advise an annual smattering of grease top and bottom, i know of at least two folks who have had a chris king headset in a head tube for way longer than that without ever having had a look inside. chris king manufacture their own bearings in-house, something few others, if any, can boast. this is what provides that legendary smoothness, a feature that they have successfuly transferred to a range of hubs and bottom brackets.
were it only the bearings that guaranteed success in each, that would surely be enough, but take a gander inside a chris king rear hub, and their patented ring drive must be one of the most beautiful implementations of mechanical technology it's possible to see in the modern world of bicycles. no more tiny little bits of metal held in place by even tinier pieces to connect drive to hub and subsequently wheel. the ring drive places a helical gear inside a similary cut ring in the hubshell itself, providing 360 degrees of almost instant drive. to view it is to view art.
it is no accident that i mention chris king in connection with visual appreciation, for in terms of revelation, i have been beaten to the draw. running from june 3rd - 30th in the rapha cycle club, san francisco is chris king: an exhibit with the subtitle "i appreciate all things well made". for surely it is the latter approach that has ensured continued success with an almost unchanged design from that original 1976 edition? and lest you figure that it surely could not get any better than this, chris king himself will be in attendance this coming sunday (june 19th) between 11am - 1pm, just waiting for you to drop in and buy him a coffee.
i am a year and a half into cycling a chris king equipped cielo, now with considerable experience of the range of chris king components. aside from the it just works philosophy, it just works. simplicity is very often the result of good design, and good design deserves to be seen in a favourable light, particularly in sympathetic surroundings. if you're anywhere near 2198 filbert, san francisco this month, that is most definitely where it is at.
i am indebted to chris distefano for the above photos of the chris king exhibition
posted friday 17 june 2011
flann o'brien was probably right. in the third policeman the irish author postulated that spending many an hour in the saddle could but result in an exchange of atoms, the rider becoming part bike, and the velocipede taking on certain human characteristics. though i studied both physics and chemistry at school, i must admit that i may have been absent on the days when this interchangeability of molecules and atoms was discussed in depth. however, i see no logical or scientific reason as to why such an hypothesis should not be true.
the part that perhaps bears closer scrutiny is the timescale over which this transition is supposed to take place. the implication by mr o'brien is that a substantial number of years would be required. the back garden of washingmachinepost cottage overlooks a series of large white buildings owned by bowmore distillery and filled to the roof with casks of uisge beatha, some of which stay in there for a long time. for all the tannins and other stuff about which i know very little, to leach from the wood into what will eventually become single malt whisky, takes an age, something that the marketing departments of islay's eight distilleries have not been slow to exploit.
however, i may just have conclusive proof that the molecule exchange under discussion takes place a darned sight faster than that. my initial review of the aszure team issue gave credence to a degree of stiffness that was particularly noticeable on the first few kilometres, something that i, as a soggy towel of a rider, found just a smidgeon disconcerting. the purpose of a review, however, is not necessarily to find the ideal bicycle for self, but to investigate the machines offered for public perusal, therefore a modicum of stiffness is not necessarily detrimental, depending on what it is you expect the bicyle to do.
this is a classics bicycle through and through, an assumption or description for which i make no apology. the only straight(ish) road sections on islay were well trammeled, and trammeled with relative ease, it must be said, but it comes into its own the minute you throw some singletrack crappy roads under the front wheel. it goes without saying that we have hundreds of those. this is precisely where that stiffness ought to have scared me to death, yet over a two month period, the aszure became one of my best friends ever. and the only possible explanation has to be hidden in the realm of sub-atomic physics.
the aszure was rained upon, windblasted from front and rear, ridden over what rapha would refer to as gravé, subjected to the inner sanctum of many a pothole and encouraged to avoid herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. sometimes the latter were a tad closer than intended. it is customary to scrub any review bike before it goes back in the box, at which point any depreciation to frame and components would surely make itself known. this is, in essence, the reason why it's a nice option to review a bicycle over an extended period of time. ok, it's not the several years that come with ownership, but there have to be limits. however, your own mileage may vary depending on how you treat your bicycle(s).
what can be gleaned from longer than usual in the saddle is almost exactly what cannot be ascertained from a brief test-ride; experience. with the cost of cycling not diminishing to any appreciable degree, and the upper price limit now comfortably into five figures, test bikes at the dealers are a trend that should be encouraged. not many folks would buy a car without driving it first, and some of todays shiny carbon costs an appreciable amount more. however, due to the variance in carbon layup and component integration, it's possible that any first ride may turn out to be less impressive than the shine would purport. to an extent, that's exactly what the first two weeks of riding the aszure promised.
i don't mind saying that, on the basis of those initial two weeks, i probably wouldn't have been persuaded to part with my £2,600, but at this particular point in time, i am wondering how i'm going to get through the weekends without it. my classifying the aszure as a classics machine became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. with a pair of vittoria open pave cg tyres having arrived from italy, the michelin pro race rested in the bikeshed, and the fun began again; my notion of fun encompassing throwing the white and yellow frame into anything and everything with abandon. it turns out you can push the team issue a lot harder than you'd think (or at least harder than i thought; remember the soggy towels).
i'd be the first to admit that my skinny personality is unlikely to trouble many a bottom bracket, particularly the substantially engineered edifice between the aszure's ultegra cranks, but no amount of straining each and every limb seemed able to disturb the bicycle molecules that remained intact under the clearcoat. as one who greatly favours the legacy of john boultbee brooks on my cycles, the minimally padded prologo proved a worthy choice; posterior complaints seemed only louder after an evening sat on a drum stool for a few hours, but i think that's an occupational hazard.
it seems somethng of a redundant statement at this stage of the review to rhetorically ask if i think the aszure team issue worthy of your plastic or bank balance. i think i have made my own feelings on the subject manifest. but should there be any trace of doubt, at the price, i'd buy one in a heartbeat.
the aszure team issue as tested with shimano ultegra retails at £2,600. in my original review i suggested that the bicycle was crying out for a campagnolo groupset (no idea why), and ian philips at aszure was kind enough to send costs for owning just such italiana. veloce: £2150; centaur: £2300; athena: £2400 and chorus £2850. that might just be the ideal way to go cycling.
posted thursday 16 june 2011
i should probably be on my knees at present, humbly begging forgiveness for not having wrapped the aszure team issue in kilometres of bubble wrap, removing the front wheel and twisting (not literally) the bars sideways, before easing it gently into its cardboard box. i had two legitimate reasons prior to this present confession; my son had used up all the brown parcel tape necessary to begin the wrapping procedure, and on the second attempt, torrential rain and gale force winds mitigated against undertaking the packing sequence. for i have no space inside thewashingmachinepost bike shed to work, unless i remove all the bikes inside. and that would seem counter-productive.
aszure bikes are the brainchild of ashley brown, a company who had the supreme decency to lend me an example of their aszure team issue for more than a couple of months. bicycles are not immutable animals, many having a tendency to alter their fundamental aspects with the change of wind direction. thus riding one for more than the usual two or three weeks has, in the manner of a whisky tasting, brought all sorts of hitherto untrammeled flavours to the surface.
it's nice however, to make oneself aware of at least some of the machinations behind the original idea, and indeed behind the yellow, white and black carbon fibre still sitting in the bikeshed. prior to publishing my considered opinion of the aszure team issue tomorrow, in order to better inform both self and readership, i asked ashley the best i could manage in the way of awkward and pertinent questions...
posted wednesday 15 june 2011
at 785 metres, beinn an oir (the mountain of gold) is the tallest of jura's three paps, and measuring between 2500 and 3000ft, comes into the category of corbetts. the sacred mountain, beinn shiantaidh, hits 757 metres while the smallest of the trio to the west is beinn a' chaolais, gaelic for the mountain of the sound. to the north east, cora bheinn, though still a substantial 569 metres, is not considered one of the paps, but it is part of the same group of mountains. the steep slopes of all are composed primarily of loose scree, and for some inexplicable reason, on the last saturday of every may, hundreds arrive off the islay ferry, transfer to the eilean dhuira for the five minute crossing to jura.
some arrive on bicycles laden with panniers and camping gear, some are in cars, and others are met by alex dunnachie in the jura bus. whichever way you look at it, they all have an eight mile trip north along the single track road to craighouse, home to the island's only hotel and distillery. the garden across from the hotel is set aside for those who wish to camp, hoping for a good night's sleep before participating in the annual jura fell race. yes, contrary to all manner of logic, skinny fit and craggy folks arrive from all over the uk, and sometimes from countries that are not great britain, to race across the three paps of jura.
surely there ought to be a law against it?
on the 11th of july, an even greater crowd will arrive at modane valfrejus, also with bicycles, but without any intent of running anywhere. by the end of the day, many may well have resorted to walking; not easy in three point cleats. similarly to those of questionable motive on the scree of jura, participants in the 109km act one of the 2011 etape du tour will put themselves through several hours of purgatory for self-satisfaction and possible bragging rights. but in 2011, it doesn't stop there, for like many a shakespeare play, there is an act two. this time, the distance is almost doubled to 208km and takes the intrepid and decidedly unsound of mind from issoire to saint flour on sunday 17th july.
the etape du tour is an event that leaves me shaking at the mere thought. not, you might suspect, from the distance, heat and topography, but of sharing unknown french roads with several thousand other cyclists. and if those cyclists are as dubious in their descending skills as yours truly (just ask david harmon), then i'd rather stay at home and have a coffee at debbie's thank you very much. however, i tend to think my sentiments remain in the minority.
in an effort to encourage and educate those intent on undertaking act one, act two or maybe even both, rapha and macklin street's cyclefit have yet again organised an informed briefing in london's charlotte street hotel for the intrepid adventurers. those stalwarts from perren street and cyclefit have spent recent months recceing alpe d'huez and the massif centrale to present a detailed brief including tactics, gearing and how not to endanger your health in the pursuit of summit glory. limited to eighty places and at a cost of £15 per session or £20 for both, if it's happening for you in july, contact rapha via the link below to order tickets. it may make the difference between enjoyment and several weeks of subsequent recuperation.
as the jura fell race t-shirt once announced: i came, i saw, i summitted.
posted tuesday 14 june 2011