not only have i marvelled at the skill and craftsmanship of richard sachs, i have had the temerity to pass on my admiration amongst those of you suffering from insomnia. those who regularly read these black and yellow pixels. there is no need for me to apologise for such infrequently regular occurrences, for i'm sure most would happily agree, whether carbon heads or not, that a sachs frame has claim to being the eighth wonder of the world.
however, no matter how in love with the daily travail we might be - and i can think of a few whose employ would need to last many a year before anything like tedium reared its ugly head - there are times when even the end result has trouble justifying the means. i'm not suggesting that this state of affairs afflicts mr sachs in any way, but it is more than obvious that his mind wanders; perhaps more often than others. he has a prodigious photographic output documented on flickr, and a tidy section on his website dedicated to sachs toys. a man with a wicked sense of humour.
however, every principal objective in life comes with ancillaries; fluff and fripperies that are maybe less than exciting in and of themselves and perhaps missing the substance that describes the main thrust of industry. these are all but inevitable, yet often just as much a mainstay of the business as the reason for starting in the first place. if i may use the inestimable mr sachs as an example, such extras include courier bags, a movie (imperfection is perfection), custom saddles, t-shirts, socks and an eccentric array of musettes.
i can vouch for the joy of ownership of one or two of these items, but can see the increased value add for any owners of richard sachs bicycles. though i wear my sachs t-shirts with pride, i have no doubt that would be increased ten-fold if i were wheeling a red sachs bicycle at the same time. richard is in possession of a particularly active, creative and eccentric mind, so while the head lug is connected to the downtube, and the seat lug connected to the top tube, amorphous ideas become concrete.
by way of a slight divertissement at this point, let me introduce you to melbourne, australia resident, mick peel. "I make stuff for bikes out of leather. The majority of my work focuses on the three points of contact; the hands, the seat and the feet. The practice came about through a combination of factors including my background in fashion design, experience working with leather and a project I undertook back in 2008 to customise and convert my road bike to a fixed commuter. I stitched leather to the handlebars and made my own toe straps to match. I caught the bug and soon after that I started my second bike project which included my first attempt at recovering a saddle with leather.
"I work from a small room at the back of my inner suburban Melbourne home. I have many local customers who drop by in the evenings or weekends to discuss their projects and leather needs."
if you had the answers in front of you, the picture i am slowly painting would, by now, have become glaringly obvious. amongst the itemised sachs toys above, did anyone notice that i did not mention handlebar tape? thought not. "i had rs logo tape since the early 1990s that was made for me by Off-The-Front in nevada. bruce there made sets for me in five-six colors of tape and used the same screen to produce them all. it worked well and i used and sold lots of it. by 2008 or so, the company had diversified and decided to take the product off the market. i have lived off of some excess inventory since then. i have kept my eyes open ever since trying to find the right match so i could align my brand with just the right supplier and resume having handlebar wrap for my bicycles."
i assume that the proverbial penny has now dropped, and you have successfully made the connection between massachusetts resident richard sachs and australia's mick peel. "when i was directed to mick's site i combed almost every single page going back years and was overwhelmed with enthusiasm that someone with such talent was out there, and he was right there on my 17" screen. i contacted him within a day to inquire as to his interest in helping me with the project. samples arrived. we traded dozens of emails. and within maybe eight weeks or so of the first exchange, the first parcel arrived. the finished product, in the flesh and to the touch, has no equal atmo."
there is, however, every likelihood that you and i are both wondering why anyone would travel so far to order rolls of bar tape for those extra special bicycles. richard? "nothing is far anymore atmo."
in any business, reputation counts for a great deal, and while mick's blog stretches all the way back to 2008, i think it a fair assumption that most of us have never heard of him or, indeed, his busyman blog. "The bike projects started at the beginning of 2008, but at that stage were never considered to be a commercial endeavour. I participated in a small exhibition in September 2008 where I effectively set up my workroom at the gallery for a couple of days. People started enquiring about prices and projects and soon after that I had my first customer project to recover a damaged San Marco Rolls saddle. The blog came about late in 2008 as a response to strong family encouragement to "get a website up" in order to get my work out there."
there is a woman in a craft shop round the corner from washingmachinepost cottage who offers the possibility of hand-crafted leather items or, should it be required, leather repairs or alterations. though the business has been there for more years than i can remember, never has it been suggested that bicycle ancilleries might form a part of the services on offer.
was mick's intention to produce craftwork related to the bicycle always the principal desire? "I kind of didn't really have a definitive intention. I know that I love making stuff. I design it as I make it. I learn something new in regards to materials and techniques with each project I do. I love working with and riding bikes and being part of the community that's centred around these activities.
"There was actually an intention to design and make some good/stylish cycling apparel but I got caught up with dressing the bikes rather than dressing the rider. I am currently working on a series of bespoke tailored jackets for cycling, part of my mysterious PhD project.
so far so good. we know that mick has the wherewithal to produce exquisite leather works related to the world of the bicycle, and it is of timely knowledge that richard sachs has one of the longest waiting lists for bicycle frames in the industry with a penchant for the inventive. surely only a matter of time within what seems an unexpected and almost contrived hook up between the two men and two continents. the first supplies of rs embossed bar tape have arrived at massachusetts mission control. how will prospective purchasers obtain the results of this collaboration? or are these only for sachs owners? "it will (soon) be on my site's SACHS TOYS page and available to all."
meanwhile, back in australia, a few more details about the man responsible. with a website/blog entitled with the epithet busyman does mick's artistry and skill keep him in the manner to which he may like to become accustomed; is he really a busy man? "I am indeed a 'busyman'. By nature I am always busy, my brother actually suggested the name thinking it highly appropriate. I certainly don't earn a living from my bicycle activities but I do manage to finance my ongoing bicycle projects. I actually have a 'real' job, I'm a senior lectureer in Fashion Design at RMIT University. In a way Busyman is a hobby that has gotten a little out of control."
photos of the processes and machinery involved in producing the appropriate leather bar wrap for those red bicycles, with no disrespect to mr peel, do not demonstrate hugely industrialised mechanisation. does mick ever receive commissions from the big boys? are pinarello likely to be seen knocking at his door? "No big boys yet. The scale and nature of my practice would probably have to change to accommodate the big boy kind of needs and if that were the case then what I do just wouldn't be the same. The hand crafted aspect might be lost. I am still thrilled each time I get a job to do leather work for a high end road bike. I've recently done some work for a local frame builder (Baum) and for a few of their private customers' custom built titanium bikes. To me this is pretty high on the accolades scale."
cyclists, by and large, are nothing if not parochial; we like our stuff to be made by others who share at least a passing interest in our obsession. this perhaps accounts for the dearth of cycle-related orders heading in the direction of the shop round the corner in bowmore. is mick of the competitive cyclist genre, or happier in leisure mode? "I don't ride competitively but I do get upset whenever I get dropped on our Saturday morning friendly(ish) ride. I am happier being leisurely in the saddle but I ride with some strong guys who are quietly competitive."
the interweb has substantially decreased the virtual size of the world in which we live. were that not the case, it is unlikely that chaps such as myself would have had any contact with gents such as richard sachs. it's giving away no secrets to tell that we often have lengthy conversations on a wide variety of topics over the course of a few hours or a few days. richard is particularly perceptive in his statement that nowhere is far anymore, but melbourne and massachusetts? "The amazing reach of the blogosphere, the power of virtual word of mouth. I became aware of Richard Sachs when I got my hands on the catalogue for the Bespoke hand built bicycles exhibition in New York. A friend told me a little about Richard and how active he is as e-richie on forums and Atmo etcŠ So when Richard emailed me with an enquiry about doing a small run of bar tape I was at first very excited that he would ask me and then suspicious that maybe someone was playing a prank on me.
"But Richard Sachs turned out to be real and the first run of bar tape has been made."
with the results being a satisfactory result in the view of both parties, has richard any notions to move a stage further with sculpted leather saddles? "no. the saddles that mick has done are beautiful - they're beyond beautiful atmo. but given the options, sizes, and varying tastes, i have concluded that having folks go directly to mick for rs logo-ed saddles makes more sense than it would for me to be in the middle of it all" perhaps then, some atmo embossed handlebar tape? "i don't know. for now, the motivation is to get the Manubro 4 Manubri dialed in and on the handlebars of folks here in the colonies"
with all his photographic documentation of the sachs workshop, and the legendary waiting list, it's a impressive that richard seems to have more ideas than i have rainy days. is there more in the pipeline? "yes there is, atmo"
i can but say "to be continued"
thank you to both richard sachs and mick peel for their considerable assistance with the above article.
posted monday 11 july 2011
mathematics is a subject that was very far from the top of my achievements list at school. a bit like trying to play the bagpipes or the harp, it's one that advertises its difficulty before you've opened so much as text book one. statistics is another one, but as a subset of maths, that really comes as no surprise. double maths on a monday morning reigned as my definition of purgatory for years until i discovered mowing the lawn. however, having reputedly grown up a bit since those days in the classroom, i have had the occasional light-hearted conversation with teachers of the discipline who have eagerly explained the beauty of a perfectly formed equation. some of these conversations have even encompassed the relationship between mathematical theory and the real-life i occasionally see before me.
of course, the enthusiasm of mathematicians to explain the natural world by means of a seemingly unintelligible (to many) string of numbers and letters is surely a simple extrapolation of anthropomorphism: applying human traits to the world at large. it is a human conceit to think that mathematics is the only solution to describing everything around us, but humans are like that; we figure the world revolves around us. it's all relative, as albert einstein used to say.
perhaps it's an offshoot of our concern for the exploitation of the resources from a world we'd now like to compartmentalise in a few equations. accurate measurements will surely minimise waste, but in relation to arts and crafts might conceivably give cause for concern. no longer is there room for the possibility of happy accidents. watch skilled frame builders such as sacha white and richard sachs and it is less the forging of concrete shapes, as the sculpting of form from out of thin air. of course, i exaggerate, but while mathematicians would doubtless point to the perfection of the equation, from the point of view of one not given to comprehension, there seems a certain lacking of soul.
i can readily accept that sitting in a workshop corner, whittling with a swiss army knife on a lump of toray carbon fibre is only ever likely to happen in an episode of futurama, but it's an altogether different sensation to watch careful hand mitreing of a steel tube, than it is to view the flickering screen of finite element analysis software. awareness of this personal defect is then confused greatly when deliberating over images of the latest bicycle tech, many of which begin to adopt overtones of formula one motor racing. at the cutting edge, the slipperier the profile, the faster (theoretically, according to those equations) the machine is able to move through the air. it is surely coincidence that the shapes developed by mathematics only bear a loose verisimilitude to the bicycle as we know it. is there a modicum of human intervention that creates them in an aggressive stance even when leaning against the team bus?
the appreciation of the bicycle can surely be now be delineated in two categories: the modern, no frills approach to victory, and the craftsman led techniques, producing an object of beauty that has an inherent and satisfying ability to ride like the wind. thus separated, it is only human nature that recognition of these two arbitrary categories will acquire their own adherents, subsetted by those who like both.
me, for instance.
you will, perhaps, have little difficulty in deciding whether you are one, t'other or both, but my contention here is the illicit viewing of modernity while simultaneously denying infatuation with same. while i do have grave reservations over manufacturers applying nonsensical appellations to the seatstays of their latest from the carbon mold, and the seeming necessity to add the word technology to whatever their marketing department wishes you to think has just been invented (current advertisements for the scott foil advise that aero technology is involved in some measure). reinventing the wheel and adding the word technology to the carbon rim methinks.
the scary part, at least from a personal point of view, is that watching videos and images depicting the almost casual use and/or measurement of shiny stuff is so compelling. i take great pleasure and satisfaction in riding steel and, where possible, handbuilt wheels; there really is no need for me to do otherwise. i have nothing to prove, and no-one to prove it to. speed, for me, is but a theoretical equation, constantly thwarted by aerodynamic drag and a healthy dose of gravity.
but the worst part of all this cutting edge-ness, and it's not a concept much liked in cycle sport circles, is its addictiveness. for no sooner has one tidy bundle of nano-technology been removed from the wind-tunnel, than another is waiting in the wings. equations are so much easier to modify than columbus steel. it's a dawdle to set aside knowledge that the shine is on a downward slope to dullness as soon as removed from the showroom floor, but you just know that a mathematician somewhere, is redefining the parameters of light refraction, so that next year's model will be even shinier.
i think i may have to seek refuge in the sanctity of the bike shed.
just in case the obscurity of my heading has you confounded, the pseudo equation it pretends to describe was gleaned from the seatstay of a bmc time trial bike. while they have a lengthy diatribe explaining the finer points of such profundity on their website, i can perhaps summarise below.
v max is the goal: maximum velocity; p2p stands for 'position to perform'; suba: the aerodynamics of the rider and the bike.
however, if you will allow, i can summarise further: 'balderdash'. i would have far more faith in swiss science if i felt it superior to their spelling; 'minimazation' anyone?
posted sunday 10 july 2011
the two principal methods of printing, at least until modernity intervened, were relief and intaglio. the former's method of transferring ink onto paper is perhaps somewhat obvious; the letters are raised, therefore only this raised portion bears the ink. intaglio is pretty much the opposite; techniques such as etching and engraving hold the ink via indentations in the wood or metal which is squeezed out during the printing process.
it makes perfect sense now. in fact, it made perfect sense a few years after leaving art college, but sadly, at the time, the reasons for learning about and using age-old printing processes such as the above, seemed obscure at best, and a downright waste of education at worst. in the late seventies, laser printing was in its embryonic state, at least commercially, and here were we, children of the revolution (marc bolan said so) learing the principles of stone lithography, rudimentary screen-printing, and letterpress. surely this was not how the future was to be approached? how could unbridled creativity be channeled through such rudimentary and clumsy processes? surely photo lithography and even modern etching techniques would be more appropriate?
the latter two processes were, of course, also on the curriculum, something we modernistas felt placed the more archaic processes even more into sharp contrast. nowadays such mechanical and labour intensive methods of printing inhabit a niche market, thought about not at all as i sit in front of adobe indesign and photoshop, exporting press-ready pdf files and e-mailing them direct to the printers. they too will think little of lifting relief letters from their wooden cases; the file will be fired straight to a heidlberg digital to churn out thousands of cmyk on 150gsm satin.
thankfully, those who still find the time, energy and interest to maintain the traditions of old, have the ability to scoff at the pretentiousness of my fellow graphics students and i, for many of us have now realised the value of many of the foregoing in allowing the production of a more unique message in a day of endless mechanisation. those vandercook, heidelberg and even hand-operated adana letterpress machines, are still in more than a fit state to continue their age-old mechanical processes, and will likely still be doing so when many a xerox digital copier is being recycled in a middle-east scrapyard. if you doubt the veracity of such a statement, as recently as 2006, the college & university letterpress printers' association was founded at the maryland institute college of art.
the connection with letterpress and cycling is likely manifold, but my initial introduction to the happenstance was via the offices of richard sachs. you may recall that he had a limited edition run of startlingly good hand-printed letterpress posters produced for the north american handbuilt show of 2010, one of which takes pride of place at debbie's in bruichladdich. these posters employed the yet to be released eames font from the sachs cross team sponsor, house industries, and produced by lead graffiti letterpress printers in newark, delaware.
it is the latter who have now, only one week into the 2011 tour de france, caused me to be hoist by my own petard, a state of affairs that will cause many a snigger amongst those who doubted my fortitude not to mention the scottish play during these three weeks in july. for lead graffiti have had the excellent notion and both graphic and printing skill to produce a poster-a-day for the 23 days of the tour, including rest days. watching each stage of the race, lead graffiti are looking for ' usable moments, incidents or comments, go to lunch (we have a number of guest printers joining in and we want to give them a chance to add their ideas to the day's poster), get started on how to represent the stage using wood & metal type, wood or linoleum cuts, and objects related to cycling that are usable for a 15" x 22" poster'
each poster, printed on somerset textured white 300gsm paper, can be viewed day by day on the lead graffiti website, and if you're really quick, you might be able to order one. the posters are being printed in very limited runs, not all of which use the same coloured inks. perhaps not unnaturally, completion of each day's work is not the matter of a few minutes, for not only has the day's stage to be watched on the telly, but ideas and contributing artwork have then to be crafted, collated and transferred to the vandercook universal 111 press. this gives the guys and gals at lead graffiti the prospect of 23 consecutive twelve to eighteen hour days, almost as hard as those occupying the peleton saddles in france.
now i really am going to try very hard not to mention the race again for the rest of july.
posted saturday 9 july 2011
the days when there was a wheelwright on every street corner were likely only recorded in wood engravings printed on one of those fascinating letterpress machines. the bulk of everything that goes round on a bicycle nowadays is assembled and trued by machine providing a technology that is commensurate with everything else in the bicycle industry. this is not to decry the skills of the wheelbuilding artisan; the very best can still produce wheels that are every bit as good as the factory output.
however, it cannot be denied that the process of lacing a wheel is less than an art. if truth be told, if you spend long enough every day popping spokes into hub flanges, it could conceivably be described as drudgery. for those of us with the ability to build, but a less than demanding need to do so, it can be almost therapeutic. that is to say, always assuming i don't inadvertantly place the valve hole between a crossing pair of spokes; stripping and rebuilding is when therapy is furthest from my mind. a handbuilt wheel is a thing of beauty, as far as i'm concerned, but that doesn't mean i cannot appreciate the finer points of heart-stoppingly expensive carbon hoops.
such are enve composite's conservatively named twenty-fives.
these are so-called because the rim is 25mm deep. starting life as edge composites, but morphing to enve for european trademark issues, they have cleverly altered the logo so that you'd almost never notice. one of those 'didn't those used to be called...? situations. the logo has rather swiftly become a badge of honour amongst the cognoscenti; with good reason. rather obviously, wheels require a bicycle just as much as a bicycle requires wheels, and these arrived attached to something special, that will receive its own review within the next week, and shod with vittoria corsa cx tubulars. the hubs, in this particular build were supplied by dtswiss; the two options would appear to be dt 240s and 190s. the test pair utilised the 240s, hubs that i fear may have the loudest and most industrial sounding freewheel ratcheting, but coupled with 'smooth as you like' bearings.
i have not yet managed to reconcile the minimal number of spokes employed in 21st century wheels, in comparison to the 36 three cross that used to be the norm only twenty or so years ago. allowing for the immutable laws of physics, and coupled with the spokes on the enves looking thinner than normal, i'm half glad that i can't see the rotating bits when in the saddle. the 25s offer 20 radial spokes up front, and 24 two-cross at the rear. though available with a campagnolo cassette pattern, with the bicycle running sram red, these arrived with the shimano spline pattern that suits both 's' lettered manufacturers.
i've ridden several carbon rimmed wheels over the years, most of them featuring more than double the depth of the enves, something that has given genuine cause for concern due to a prevalence of crosswinds round these here parts. a 25mm carbon rim is shallow enough to obviate this problem, yet deep enough to provide the degree of resilience that days of hard riding, crap roads and cattle grids can inflict. add to that a level of comfort that really is most welcome, despite their visual fragility (i still think too few spokes look scary), and the twenty-fives begin to shine before their circumferences have rolled even one centimetre.
but let's not kid ourselves; those wheels are designed to cover more than mere centimetres - kilometres even - and that is where all the aesthetics in the world won't save you from losing the wheel in front. though perhaps not as clinical, programmed and scientific as some, i have employed pretty much the same criteria for wheel and bicycle tests for a number of years. factoring in the weather is a bit of a no, no because there's no way of predicting what it might do. however, the law of averages has pretty much decreed that every wheel has its day in the sun, and another in the rain. these particular hoops retail at a modicum under £2,000, and relative hypothetical fragility aside, i'd be more than happy if my two grand was able to go everywhere i'd like to go, and one or two places i'd probably rather not.
before we step too much further, tautologically, if a bicycle is going nowhere without wheels, those selfsame wheels are going nowhere without tyres of one kind or another. the twenty-fives are tubular only, and as mentioned above, vittoria tubs were fitted to the test pair. it is almost twenty years since i last rode a pair of vittoria tubulars, and i can but admit that i had completely forgotten just how luxurious corsas can be. despite many conversations to the contrary, and despite many a technological improvement in clincher tyre technology, nothing truly compares to riding tubulars, and these must be amongst the very best in the world.
unlike clinchers and tubes which can happily reside in the bikeshed for days or even weeks at a time without an askance look at the nearest track pump, the vittorias encourage, nay demand you implement a daily inflation regime. despite being pumped just past 100psi, by day two both were nearing sixty. think of it as a part of our cycling heritage.
the enves were spared nothing: pushed hard (relative term) along uiskentuie strand into a gale force crosswind; punished on many a seriously potholed road, subjected to embarrassingly gravelled downhill corners and made to traverse a complete set of visibly unkempt cattle grids. they were ridden on wet roads into driving rain and stopped frequently via their enve branded carbon brake shoes. you won't head over the handlebars with an abrupt stop, but it takes very little time to acquire the knack of judging an appropriate braking distance.
wheels can rarely be considered in isolation; the vittorias undoubtedly gave as good as they got, engendering grandiose notions of professionalism while evening out much of the inherent discomfort of islay's roads. it would be naive to exclude the contribution made by the bicycle, but at the risk of putting the cart before the horse, this is what i would describe as a symbiotic relationship.
climbing was a pleasure. in fact, if i'm completely honest, it was magnificent. these wheels, as a pair, would trouble a pair of kitchen scales by a tinsy 1038g, which is pretty close to the minimum rotating weight you're like to find anywhere this side of easter island. the experience is dazzling: figure you're tiring and surely about to drop below escape velocity, a swift kick on the pedals must be what it feels like to lift off in an hot air balloon. impressive would be something of an understatement. thankfully these particular examples did not arrive with dtswiss' re-invention of the q/r which ratchet rather than cam and which i'd prefer not to experience anytime soon.
rotating exotica all but equals shiny carbon tubes in the how to scare the bank manager stakes. whether such stratospheric expenditure is within your grasp is between you and your bank sort code, but should that be a minor concern on the way to the finest cycling experience money can afford, enve ought to be a serious consideration.
as satisfactorily tested in a crosswind with teeth. uphill.
posted friday 8 july 2011
it's not often that the thought of a career change rears its head, partly because there are not too many island openings for someone of my obscure talents, and partly because i actually quite enjoy what i do, even if the money is laughable. i've been doing the same thing, allowing for technological improvements and developments (of which there have been many) for around sixteen years, and it suits me just fine. but now, though i'll continue in the same vein, i have decided to become a classics rider. no more one, two or three week stage races and king of the mountains aspirations, the one day monuments are all you will find henceforth in my portfolio.
though this will come as a surprise to many (including me, if truth be told), with an honours degree in hindsight, it's a realisation that has been on the cards for several months, if not years. there are a number of reasons for this new hardman approach to cycling life: it gives me no great pleasure to bring physics into the equation, but at times natural phenomenon can have a singular effect on the day to day life of a honed athlete. for starters, the gravitational field on islay is greater than elsewhere, for how else is the rest of scotland kept in geostationary orbit around the western isles? and were this not the case, the isle of jura would simply drift off and collide with the southern tip of colonsay. though islanders are generally used to this state of affairs, in similar manner to those who comfortably live at altitude, it does make hill climbing more difficult than it truly needs to be. so despite having read in search of robert millar at least three times, and regularly wearing a pair of polka dot socks, the 14% gradient of the mur d'askaig is truly not getting any easier.
but i think the straw that broke the camel's back was the announcement of the rapha rising challenge; to climb around 21,000 metres before july moves out of its parking space and lets august take over. the bumpy bits of islay are neatly arranged around the edges, inaccessible to all but those who like carrying their mountain bikes. the bit that everyone lives on is pretty flat. windy, but flat. so in order to even consider participating in this ascendant madness, i would likely need to cycle the col du kilchiaran about 350 times. if i'm perfectly honest, i have more exciting things to do in the interim. (ok, i can't think of any right this minute, but if you're going to put me on the spot...)
it all seems so obvious now; with two lane roads that are narrower than some of scotland's (or belgium's) single-track passageways, the classics are my destiny (luke). the roads over by the atlantic are often coated in sand, traversed by crosswinds and entirely bereft of anything that resembles a tarmac'd surface. flanders and roubaix are motorways by comparison. and where but in classics terrain would you see grass growing along the centre of these by-ways? thus, in the manner that the colombians had little option but to succumb to the all too obvious notion that climbing steep hills is their birthright, i think it only right and proper that i start wearing black socks and have my name changed by deed poll to either bram de groot or gerben de knecht.
in the process of contemplating this, perhaps unseasonal, change of velocipedinal direction (i'm still willing to extend to the four days of dunkirk, but anything longer has been struck from the calendar and training programme), i've made doubly sure that external evidence is not conspicuous by its absence. for instance, i have come to note that slathering the legs in sunscreen - ever hopeful - helps attract a thin film of particularly characterful grit that would not look out of place in the showers at roubaix.
of course, when life changing situations such as this occur all but unannounced, someone had better be to blame. for if all goes horribly pear-shaped, it is better to be the innocent bystander who was only doing their best under the circumstances. in this particular case, blame can easily be apportioned, but at this particular point in time, blame is being construed as good fortune. and assuming i finish in the top three in paris-roubaix next year, that will continue to be the case.
it's a fair cop, but mavic is definitely to blame.
though the review will appear in the fullness of time, mavic have sent a rather fabulous pair of wheels, easily more suited to the classicist than the tourist; cool, calm and collected is not an option, and i'll soon have thigh muscles to prove it. in the manner of i used to be indecisive, but now i'm not so sure, i feel this to be a positive step forward, and i look forward to my new career.
posted thursday 7 july 2011
hercule poirot makes his way to the platform at gard du nord, paris to board the orient express, en route to a destination we would find exotic. he has his ticket in hand as he approaches the purser standing by the carriage door. the purser has his hand extended to receive the ticket, eager to tick hercule from his boarding list and complete the process in timely fashion for the evening departure.
but as poirot approaches, a gaggle of well-dressed but unruly would-be passengers hustle past him, a mass of legs and luggage, desperate to be first to board the train. as the purser is about to delay their scrabbled approach in favour of the famous detective, poirot signifies that he is possessed of greater patience, and that they should be accommodated prior to his own requirements.
as the last of the raggle taggle clambers the few steps into the orient express luxury coach, and poirot is finally able to hand over his own travel ticket, he mentions to the purser that one of those who preceded him is the guilty party in a yet to be committed murder and the purser can be assured that he/she will receive their timely come-uppence (so to speak).
agatha christie would never have been so bold or so insensitive.
the commonality across both the hercule poirot and miss marple narratives is the predictability of their denouement. both would gather the principal protagonists together in one location, reiterate the various strands of christie's labyrinthine plot, before announcing the guilty party, accompanied by the how and why. at no time during the storyline would anything other than aspersions and suspicions be cast in the direction of a number of principal characters, most of which were red herrings, designed to confound the pseudo-intellectuality of the reader.
irish rider, shay elliot was a product of the fifties and sixties. not entirely before my time, but most certainly before i was aware that the sport of cycle racing existed. in the late sixties and early seventies, as elliot's career was coming to a close, my sole contribution to the world of cycling was aboard a sturmey archer equipped raleigh twenty, delivering newspapers every morning before riding to school where some unknown would systematically ruin the built-in dynamo lights. i mention this not to give the game away as to just how ancient that grey hair really is, but to alert you to my ignorance of the irishman's career. though i had heard of elliot, it was more by way of reference in the autobiography of vin denson, and graeme fife's biography of brian robinson.
other than that, in the words of fawlty towers' manuel, "i know nothing."
that very fact presumably makes me the very reader at which this book by graham healy and richard allchin is aimed. approaching its pages with no preconceptions and little prior knowledge, shay elliot's career was my oyster. it is at this point that i redirect you to my obscure opening, referencing hercule poirot. despite this book comprising 189 pages, on page 124, the author commits what i regard as the cardinal sin by making blatant reference to a fact that will figure large in the latter stages of the narrative. i have no desire to compound the folly by stating just what the author's faux pas consisted, for then i'd be equally as guilty, but it did considerably prejudice my reading of the final chapters. it will likely be seen as a trivial matter by those well-versed in the life of shay elliot, but to assume that of every reader seems, to me at least, an unfortunate assumption.
while autobiographies are generally regarded as a tad more subjective than the biography, this is probably something of a fallacy. as robert burns averred, we often do not see ourselves as others do. the autobiographer is at liberty to proclaim or hide as the situation demands, blessed with greater personal knowledge than a third party. the biographer has the ability and opportunity to be dispassionate yet informed, passing on observation(s) that perhaps the subject would prefer left unsaid. in the case of 'shay elliot', i'm afraid i still had a thirst for knowledge that seemed not to have reached the surface.
do not misunderstand, this is an important book, one that has been a long time coming, and one that is fully justified in terms of a great rider's career and the need to record its passage in an informed and coherent way. in testament to that, both healy and allchin have excelled; the book makes for compulsive reading whichever way you look at it, but ultimately, what do we learn about shay elliot? if i may offer a dissection of sequential paragraph openings...
'although shay finished well down on general calssification in his first big challenge of the year, paris-nice...'
'shortly afterwards, shay wrote to the evening press about his satisfaction with his early season form...'
'in fact it seemed as if it might happen in the first classic of the season, the het volk...'
'after this short foray in the northern classics, shay went back home to paris...'
'his training rides were now steadily increasing in length in preparation for the marathon bordeaux-paris...'
'on the first sunday of june, at 4 o'clock in the morning, shay lined up alongside thirteen others for the start of the mammoth ride to paris.'
and so it goes, and so it goes.
the book and its chapters concern themselves almost exclusively with elliot's racing career, confined to his training, his racing and his results (or lack of). we learn little (sadly) about the man himself; what he was thinking, how he was feeling, what he did in his spare time and any number of other factors that would add up to the complete shay elliot, rather than simply 'shay elliot, racing cyclist'. it would be unkind to level this accusation solely at the authors and give the impression it is not a folly not visited upon others. beryl burton's autobiography personal best completely defied its title and completely obscured the woman from sight.
it is of great credit to both authors that the book is as compulsive reading as has turned out to be the case. perhaps i expect too much; perhaps you will too. either way, it's an unmissable release, and there's a space on everyone's bookcase for ireland's first, foremost and yellow jersey wearer.
shay elliot by graham healy and richard allchin also features forewords by sean kelly and uci president, pat mcquaid.
posted wednesday 6 july 2011
i generally avoid watching the weather forecast, but inadvertantly watched the prognostications for today while channel-hopping last night. it wasn't good. but they have been well wide of the mark before, mistaking our micro-climate for that of the west coast of scotland. sometimes individuality and a smattering of eccentricity have their advantages. because it's summer; if july doesn't constitute summer then i do not know what does. the year-long promise has been to venture forth upon the bicycle as frequently as humanly possible (everyday would be a good start), preferably first thing in the morning and before any pretence of work.
there is porage to be scoffed for calorific intake (scotts old fashioned) after which, this part of the world is my oyster. the fly in the ointment was that weather forecast; damn me if it wasn't correct, though i'd failed to notice the wind-speed. outside, the smirry drizzle was being whipped into a frenzy by a 40kph south easterly that turned my spectacles into bathroom windows in a matter of minutes, and unmanicured the haystack i like to call hair. no cycling for me this morning.
i had, however, spent long enough in front of the telly to be aware that the very same doom and gloom had prophesied a brightening in the afternoon, and plans were made to complete the day's workload in double quick time. much like a pet dog, those bicycles won't walk themselves. the point at which it seemed not unreasonable to expect meteorological conditions to improve, was somewhat conspicuous by its absence, but a plan's a plan. well isn't it?
how can the weather be this crap on the fifth day of july? there are folks on holiday walking demoralised around bowmore main street, fervently hoping to find shops that don't exist, to gain further respite for conditions they knew we suffered from, just not at this time of year. i doubt very much that anyone holidays on the western isles to improve their tanline, but it's all too easy to fall for the visitscotland and caledonian macbrayne-waves marketing hype and believe otherwise. character building it most certainly is, optional it isn't.
i know you will not think less of me if i admit to simply taking the long way round for a coffee, and in true flandrien style i demurred from soya froth and opted for a double-espresso. of course i could be totally honest and admit to the fact that debbie's had run out of soya (my fault, apparently) and espresso was all that the menu offered. flandrien is an adjective particularly apt for a quick spin in cooling gale-force winds, and i wonder whether there are cyclists in belgium who consider themselves part scots. armwarmers and a gilet should probably be temporary apparel for early morning or late evening at this time of year, not mid-afternoon post independence day (great movie). yet a honed athlete has to do what a honed athlete has to do. it is here that scotland's renner sport fulfils well its niche market. john anderson, to whom you have been previously introduced, opted not to join the ever-increasing club that finds it necessary to bring to market an entire range of cycle clothing, but to offer those unsung necessities that rear pockets were designed for.
in this case, my tuesday afternoon was saved from a level of discomfort and exposure by the donning of a pair of renner sport armwarmers and a gilet that is as distinguished as it is practical. neither are the pinnacle or cutting edge of sartorial elegance, but framing both against their intended use, anything greater is surely surplus to requirements. in weather such as today's, and that i expect to inhabit later this same year, stuffing such ancillaries unceremoniously into rear pockets is all that's necessary; bracing body and soul against a wall of wind to avoid creases in the material, is not the flandrien way.
the armwarmers fulfilled everything asked: they remained firmly in place, didn't prevent blood flow to my fingers, and shielded sensitive skin from copious helpings of air-borne sea-spray. the gilet is impressive, unrestrictive yet not flappy in the wind, well vented through the mesh back, and most importantly, cut well at the shoulders, so often a failing in your common or garden offering. the full-length zip is simplicity itself to open and close in motion, and the hem is not so restrictive as to prevent easy access to the rear pockets of the jersey underneath. and don't tell me there wouldn't be an insufferable level of pride and grandiosity with that lion on the front and upper back. should doubt ever rear its ugly head, there's that little belgian flag on the back of the collar. comfort and joy.
40kph is likely the best recommendation for a windproof gilet you (or i) are likely to get. tested on a (not awfully bright) animal.
it's a bit of a surprise that no-one's though of offering the extremities as a solo artist before; it seems so frighteningly obvious. practicalities are never far from the prepared cyclist's kit bag, and renner sport have positioned themselves according to their love of the sport. fanaticism would not be too strong a word. if you're the sort of rider who pays more attention to the ride and fitness, than to the fripperies, there's a whole range of renner sport pragmatism ready and waiting.
the windproof and water-resistant renner sport gilet sells for £65 in sizes small to xl; the armwarmers are a rather fabulous £15 in xs to xl.
posted tuesday 5 july 2011