since the late nineties, pixels have come to rule the world. in the very early days of amazon.com, when they lost money from morning to night and jeff bezos hadn't yet become corporatised, their website stated in the small print at the bottom of the page no pixels were harmed in the creation of this website. please keep both arms inside the browser. or words to that effect.
with a background in print and pre-press, i spent many a long evening teaching myself how to wrangle pixels, filled my head with the timelines and action script of flash, and eventually figured out why cascading style sheets are called cascading style sheets. for a long period of time, cmyk was sent to rest in the corner, trapping became something done by hunters in northern canada, and line-screens were best forgotten about altogether. for having spent the first half of the decade producing brochures for the purveyors of holiday accommodation, i now had to turn my attention to domain names, file transfer protocol and html. despite being far easier to disseminate in the bath, there was little call for print, and a guy's got to make a living.
i confess that i thought my years spent learning the intricacies of lithography and typesetting were, if not wasted, certainly about to be consigned to history.
i'm not about to credit rouleur with single handedly saving the world; it would be distinctly unfair to the likes of howies and rohan. both invested considerable amounts of time and money producing and mailing regular catalogues that celebrated the luxury and tactility of print, despite having perfectly formed pixels of their own. no doubt there were others continuing the same trend, but those are the two that most frequently made my acquaintance. rouleur, however, though ostensibly inhabiting the same space as all the other cycling publications dropping through the letterbox at regular intervals, was as different as we all know it to be. different paper, different typefaces writ large, and different smell. this latter feature seemed to obsess its readership (i know, for i am not immune to the aroma of freshly printed ink myself) as much as the monochromatic photography, and finely crafted sentences.
it may well have been at the vanguard of a trend or tradition that has become the saviour of cycling and perhaps the future of print (whatever david carson may have inferred)
the mini-me look and feel of boneshaker magazine has been almost as welcome in the non-sporting arena of velocipedinal interest, particularly the tactile luxury of at least partly recycled paper stock. it's a medium that imparts greater depth to the blacks, to say nothing of c, m and y, and one that has (happily) supplanted that of glossy paper for many a contemporary print job, not least one of which comes from almost the same stable. i refer, of course, to the bi-annual catalogue output from perren street. which brings me, serendipitously, to the subject of my digressive narrative.
this is our catalogue.
as briefly mentioned in yesterday's article, my visit to ronde in edinburgh coincided with a far more business-like endeavour by grant young and claire beaumont from condor cycles of gray's inn road, london. not unnaturally eager to spread their product ethos further and wider than central london, they have over time expanded to include county cycles in llanelli, wales, colin lewis cycles in paignton and ride 24/7 in gloucestershire. as mentioned yesterday, this select group of retailers has now been joined by ronde in edinburgh. while conversing to ms beaumont, she had briefly to take up station in the adjoining space to continue her visit discussing wooden mudguards (fenders to our north american brethren), leaving a copy of this is our catalogue lying on the table. you would think so much less of me had i not taken a look-see and subsequently purloined the copy for further investigation on the bus back to glasgow.
with photography by andy waterman and words by the aforementioned ms beaumont and ben spurrier, this is our catalogue not only presents the condor range in a most pleasing format, but makes excellent use of mr waterman's photography, inspiring even the more casual peruser (let's be honest, do i really need another bike?) to thoughts of adding just one more to the expanding collection in the bike shed. i cannot deny that part of this inspiration had been aided and abetted by having just seen a series of the real thing divested of bubble-wrap and sat on the long coffee table to be poked and prodded by all within finger distance. this surely is the ideal way to portray a dozen and a half bicycle frames? neither has the art of graphic design been denied, with an early precursor to the bikes themselves featuring tightly designed logos alerting the readership to specific characteristics of each frame.
compact, bijou and printed.
and while more commercial enterprises of the genre may titillate with free stickers that fall from the pages at a most inopportune moment, this is our catalogue entices with that rouleur aroma of thick printers' ink transferred to recycled paper by means of a heidelberg digital press. the buddha said that he was but the finger pointing at the moon; we should not confuse one for the other. and though the catalogue sits on the arm of my leather chair even as i type, its fragrance nagging to be opened for the umpteenth time, it but points to the quality of bikes depicted within.
if you wish to avail yourself of your very own copy, merely preceding the act of acquisition, i'm sure grays inn road or any of their dealers would be happy to oblige.
posted monday 22 august 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
after riding for what seemed like miles along a myriad of portland city roads leading i knew not where, i was still not getting the hang of riding on the wrong side of the road. i guarantee that, had i not been in the company of city residents, i swear i'd have turned onto the left side of the road, the result of which does not bear contemplation. we stopped mid-route to be joined by joe staples, resplendent in the latest hup united cyclocross kit, with 'top tube goes here' clearly legible on the right shoulder.
portents were not good. having stopped for a caffeine boost before crossing st john's bridge this was almost certainly going to be hard work. across the bridge, we turned right onto what was described to me as dirty thirty: us highway thirty. the term of endearment was applied almost exclusively by cyclists, for what we in the uk would refer to a hard shoulder, but in portland was a recognised cycle path, was festooned with every piece of crap you would imagine would make its way to the roadside in the face of incessant motorised traffic heading north. there's every likelihood i could have built an entire semi-truck from the messs that my wheels were trying very hard to avoid.
highway thirty subsumes nw st helen's road, running alongside the willamette river on my right and both linnton park and forest park to the left. after several miles of my hanging on for grim death behind slate olson, jeremy dunn, the aforementioned mr staples and carey s-h, we played russian roulette with two carriageways of speeding traffic to cross onto logie trail road, heading seriously uphill towards skyline boulevard under some serious tree and leaf cover. this soon became a twisting scale model of alpe d'huez around halfway up.
having arrived from an eight hour flight at noon the previous day, and remaining up and about for twenty-six hours straight, the heat, somnolence and distinct lack of anything that could be assigned to the term 'wind', riding in such a cloistered atmosphere got the better of my less than peak physical fitness. i lost the last wheel only a few hundred metres up logie trail road, riding and stopping all the way to the summit. my erstwhile peloton were sufficiently concerned to send someone back just to check that no ill had befallen me; my embarrassment was complete.
on skyline boulevard, we reassembled as a peloton (sort of) and headed back in the direction of portland city towards old germantown road which would return us to the safety of portland's conurbation, punctuated only by the need to once more sit around a table outside a coffee emporium, supping double expressos and, in my case, a can of lemon san pellegrino. in order to estrange me from my friend richard sachs, slate snapped a pic of the can on his iphone and sent it to the master framebuilder. richard eschews flavoured san pellegrino, vouching more for the plain variety.
you can buy cans of the same at edinburgh's recently opened ronde bike. it says so in felt pen on the tiled wall behind the coffee machine.
i would love to say i was born and bred in glasgow, in the grand scheme of street credibility, i feel it would stand me in good stead, but sadly only the former is true; my mum and dad moved to aberdeen when i was only 18 months old. however, on returning to scotland's west coast around six years' later, it will come as little surprise that the city of glasgow was the most pragmatic and adjacent, allowing a teenager his rite of passage to freedom and individuality, and as an easily reached hubub for the rest of my years on the scottish mainland. but i really rather preferred edinburgh, despite many a fine concert at glasgow's apollo theatre.
if characteristics can be applied to each, edinburgh is softer than glasgow, an adjective that has nothing to do with the intrinsic nature of the human population in each. scotland's capital city is of a more organic constitution, contrasted by glasgow's city centre grid formation. in the days when i had all but convinced myself of an artistic temperament, deserving of framed space on a gallery wall, it was edinburgh to which i headed, oil paintings wrapped in an ageing sleeping bag. though glasgow is still the first major point of contact for islay travellers on public transport, the orderly yet endless queues awaiting a seat on the citylink 900 service to st andrews square bus station, are surely testament to the city's popularity. festival notwithstanding.
the roads that parallel princes street, though built at right angles in contrast to those around the castle, are considerably wider and more spacious than those of their west coast counterparts. head slightly further north however, towards stockbridge along howe street, the grid starts to dissolve. you can tell you're nearing the place of ultimate repose; many of the streets are beautifully cobbled; it's an omen. kerr street leads to hamilton place, home to edinburgh's edition of alpine bikes. but further along that same road, opposite stockbridge primary school, is the recently inhabited home of ronde: cycle outfitters. cycle, cafe, culture and san pellegrino.
it says so in felt pen on the tiled wall behind the coffee machine.
it's almost the first thing you notice stepping in off hamilton place. not the san pellegrino per se, but the not manufactured here look, as if that's what the shop looked like when they moved in, and it seemed a shame to do anything about it. calling ronde a bicycle shop seems slightly unkind. the frame builders of portland like to refer to their place of work as 'space'; "it's a nice space you have here". somehow that seems a more appropriate description of ronde.
with the rancilio coffee machine sitting stately behind a chest height wooden counter, preceded by a basket of almond croissants and followed by a long bench-like table, there is every likelihood that cafe, not bikeshop springs to mind. barista and not mechanic on his tea break, fraser serves a particularly fine soya cappuccino. during my longer than intended visit (it's a great place just to hang out) more than a few folks wandered in, had a coffee, and wandered out, quite likely oblivious to the carbon fibre next door. that there is a cycling undertow, concealed or otherwise, is ably demonstrated by the small collection of postcards stuck on the tiled wall just above the rancilio. if you don't recognise the style of robert millar in a peugeot jersey, you really shouldn't be served in my opinion.
in the dim, distant past, the shop served as the local co-operative society premises, hence the white tiles on the walls, bordered at the top by a decidedly non-modern flower pattern in green and pink. not all the tiles have survived the intervening years, but that does little to detract from the excellence of the space now filled with bicycles and coffee. i have refrained from delving too closely into this symbiotic relationship between the two; i could make a lucky guess about their coalition, but i rather like the combination and i'm happy to 'let it lie', as vic reeves would have said.
rapha condor sharp professional, jamie mccallum (or jimmy mac as he seems to be more commonly referred to) rather casually dropped in while i was chatting to co-owner and architect neil millsop and partner neil dryden, parking his bike in the workshop, and retiring happily to the long coffee table. he'd been completing the requisite four hour training ride (as do we all. don't we?) with the prospect of the scottish criterium championship on sunday (21 august). he has pretty much adopted ronde as his local, enjoying the coffee as much as the rest of us, and happy to shoot the breeze for an impressively long time. like me, he was also impressed that ronde had the same vibe (if i might be a hip dude for mere seconds) as the late lamented rapha cycle club in old street, london.
if it all ended there, i figure there would be more than just me left holding a tinge of disappointment, but the over-riding value of ronde is in its affinity with the bicycle. from the fully kitted workshop (mechanic andy was on a day off when i visited), to what will soon become a cycle fitting area, to john overseeing the narrow but extensive and fully tiled showroom. current brands of frame and cycles extends to colnago, traitor, creme, lynskey, tifosi and cingular, wrapped between componentry, helmets, shoes, saddles and an impressive wheel wall that acts as a backdrop to the shop counter. it's sort of the way you wished all bike shops were, deliberately or accidentally creating a space where the four reasons why you weren't on form for last sunday's sprint can be discussed and elaborated at length.
loyalty and taste would have me dispute the coffee's superiority over that of debbie's, but a modest degree of prejudice never hurt anyone. if bikeshops like this can surface almost unannounced and relatively unheralded in days when marketing and retail have been elevated to the status of science, then the world of cycling has become a far better place than it was.
ronde is a future that comfortably celebrates its past.
i was somewhat reticent to mention for reasons of confidentiality, that at the time of my visit, grant and claire from condor cycles were there too, showing the full range of condor frames with a view to ronde becoming their sole scottish dealer. apparently, all went swimmingly, and the range of condor bikes and frames will soon be available. not one given to superlatives, what i saw at close quarters was on the right side of incredible. no more trekking to london for a quality steel or carbon frame.
posted sunday 21 august 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
cloistered on a small rock, it's easy to detach oneself from reality. there are but a handful, if that, who pedal in a style that could be recognised as cyclists, though i hear tell several of those at bruichladdich distillery have brought about a modest change in their commuting habits. this has involved leaving the car at home and riding a few miles to and from work. commuting jim, and exactly as we know it. i prefer to think of it as windowsill riding, for ensconced in one's abode, reading cycle sport from cover to cover (a little light humour there) bobbing, helmeted heads roll past the windowsill on their way to somewhere. it must be happening all over the country.
where it is happening, and with a frequency that was more than a pleasant surprise, is just outside my parents' flat. they used to live in a semi-detached, but the garden became more than they coud handle, while the house itself wasn't getting any smaller. so now they live in a two bedroom flat overlooking a roundabout. this sounds less than idyllic, but i can assure you the greenery and constant flow of traffic in and out of the town on which they now live on the edge has a mesmerising effect.
i lived in the same town for twenty-one years, before moving to the next one along the coast, commuting from the latter to the former by bicycle. the difference is, that was then, but this is now. the distance from one t'other was little more than five miles, but in the dark ages, this had to be accomplished along leafy by-ways and across a well trafficked dual carriageway. in the time before history began, there were few of us about, but we were at the vanguard of the revolution that seems now to have found its time.
in fact, on moving to the hallowed isle, i still had the temerity to visit my old home by bicycle, arriving off the ferry, keen to make use of a much vaunted cycle path that may, or may not, have joined two or three disparate towns together. disadvantages there were many; a two foot kerb over which to lift panniered wheels, a housing estate to risk as lengths of copper pipe were thrown in my direction (with little skill or accuracy i'm pleased to relate) and small half-barriers at each road junction that seemed designed specifically to prevent a laden bicycle from passing.
but since then, the aerospace industry has provided us with the beginning, middle and end of the space shuttle programme, and a plethora of previously unheard of materials from which to carve our pride and joy(s). add to that circumstances beyond our control, including a glut of shiny medals from beijing, and the act of riding one's bicycle has become an accepted part of modern society. granted, more than just a few of these bicycles struggle to fulfil the precise definition of the word, but it is incumbent on the cognoscenti not to be demeaning, or elitist, in their appreciation of this manifold acceptance of the vehicle we often use for sporting activity.
and that is sort of where heads above windowsills make their grand entrance. the beginnings of a cycle route that i traversed all those years ago, have now been taken to their more logical conclusion, allowing unfettered access to points all along the coast, often following the motorised route, but sufficiently separated that cycle commuters can look down upon their tin boxed compatriots with a grin verging on smug. from the observation point of the leather couch in my parents' front room, it is possible to watch bobbing and mostly helmeted heads pass in both directions with a frequency that borders on the grossly satisfactory.
this may have been a slow and all but unobservable situation for those living in the locale; it's many a year since i inhabited the area, so the number of leisure and commuting cyclists relative to the last time i looked around me is quite substantial. this is to be greatly welcomed with open arms, for if it's happening on scotland's west coast, not exactly renowned for the promotion of tanlines, then i have to believe much the same story is being repeated all across the country.
see if there are bobbing heads above your windowsill. if there aren't, start bobbing.
posted friday 15 august 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you'll be as fed up with me saying this as the mighty dave t is, but after the annual islay show (second thursday in august), we're heading downhill towards winter. it's a remark so often repeated on islay, that it is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, if that hasn't happened already. adopt this particular stance, and all around are drooping shoulders, collars turned high and a resignation that islay's best days are behind it, for this year at least. of course, this is demonstrably not true; yesterday morning certainly fitted the picture with clouded sky and intermittent drizzle, as indeed did the same time today, necessitating a rainjacket for several kilometres, but in both cases an ambient shininess inflected the majority of the daylight hours.
you can perhaps imagine my embarrassment last sunday during the ride of the falling rain; the latter was so minimal as to be almost non-existent, and having built up this rugged picture of islay as a wind-battered rock in the atlantic, one stage separated from total calm rather undermined our position as the flandrians of the west. today, however, though relatively dry and sunny, restored my faith in our climate, featuring as it did a southerly wind that foretold of the winter now incumbent due to the passing of the islay show.
so how do you ride in the wind?
the mighty dave will corroborate my narrative when i inform you that several years past, not long after the mighty had moved permanently to port wemyss, we experienced a winter on which virtually every cycling day was blighted by a nagging wind. mr thomas is more sage-like than yours truly, and accepted the weather as if we had no choice. i, on the other hand, found this need to slog back and forth into a virtual mattress most oppressive, and i was less than sage-like in my continual moaning. the mighty dave pointed out that few received the degree of character building exercise, such as we were unable to avoid, but i confess at the time it was not my idea of fun. then suddenly one day it clicked, and the wind was no longer something to berate, albeit pointlessly, but a force of nature to be embraced.
and such has it been ever since. folks who live in mountainous regions have the opportunity to slog up and down fearsome ascents the likes of which others would pay good money to do likewise, even if only for a few days at a time. with islay's bumpy bits all round the outer edges of the isle, the bulk of our cycling is relatively flat, if a deal picturesque; the wind adds that extra je ne sais quoi. headwinds that can reach 60kph (they do reach considerably higher, but no-one's daft enough to go out in those. well, almost no-one) can be dealt with simply by grit and determination. there is a bizarre satisfaction to be gained from grinding down uiskentuie strand with teeth on the stem, hands on the drops and a pair of thighs that would give sir chris cause for pride. if more incentive is needed, thoughts can be absorbed in the tailwind that will have me back in bowmore almost before i've left debbie's in bruichladdich.
crosswinds are where the artist's technique can be most brought to bear. with a series of obstacles that can include passing articulated trucks, low bridge walls and randomly sited buildings, it takes a practised nous to adjust the degree of corresponding lean to avoid wiping out. this latter skill is modulated by subtle change of road directions, altering the angle at which the wind troubles bicycle and rider. i've noticed on occasion that visiting riders do not anticipate these changes, while the resident peletonese accord with unconscious deliberation. it is not necessarily worn as a badge of honour, but an enlightening observation.
with these freshening breezes probably an intrinsic part of the forthcoming months, there is a necessity to ensure that one is suitably clothed, and though many variations on the theme of cycling dos and don'ts warn against the inculcation of the bicyclist's equivalent of a lucky rabbit's foot (not lucky for the rabbit, you understand), i can see little problem in wearing a favoured pair of shorts. i am happy to accept that favourite/lucky jerseys and caps can enter the mix at varying stages, but shorts play a more active and potentially hindering role in the rider's battle against the elements. it is unwise to raise one's behind from the safety of the saddle while grating into the teeth of a headwind, thus the comfy bit had better live up to its name. and returning however briefly to those thighs of steel, a modicum of lateral support would not go amiss to prevent lactic acid from being victorious in battle.
i am happy to say that i may just have found your favourite pair of shorts.
the mystery in this is compounded by my review earlier last week of the replica team endura kit, for the shorts under consideration are not considered by endura to be a part of this replication, despite their higher price and ostensibly greater performance. endura offer their uber bibshorts in parade pony white, or stealth black. given the option for reviewing purposes, i opted for the black on the basis that i am no parade pony. i can understand why cipollini may disagree with my choice, but i think boring suits me oh so much more.
the lycra hails from italy and is of the power variety, offering not only muscle support but sun protection of factor fifty plus (which also applies to the white version). the stealth imparted to the black option is not merely an improvisation by endura's marketing department, but incorporates technology regaling in the name of coldblack, reducing heat absorption to a more than acceptable level. rather surprisingly, the pad is not lime green; in fact, apart from the 'e' logo'd silicon gloop on the inside of the elasticated leg grippers, there is a complete dearth of the almost trademark colour. the website blurb would attest to this being one of the most technically advanced pads available, and i will readily admit to it having been most efficacious in easing pressure between backside and saddle.
the shaping and panelling, carried out in stealth-like matt lycra is subtly enhanced by either black or white equipe logos in a shiny print, an effect that i am very much in favour of. the bibs are of commendable width, exering no undue pressure across the shoulders, following a similar pattern to their lesser team replica siblings by joining at the back in a single mesh panel just below the neck. i reviewed the small size, which edged the team replica shorts into the margins of shade, by virtue of a superb fit, with one exception.
the legs on these shorts are noticeably longer than on many others eager for a slice of the same market. i have no problem whatsoever with dispensation of the sean yates look, particularly if the quality is in the region explored by endura's uber shorts, but i think these may just be a smidgeon too close to the knee. many in the shorts business (sic) have eschewed a separate elastic gripper on their shorts, preferring to go the route that endura themselves have employed in the sleeves of their team jersey. this features thin lycra with a thin film of gloop on the inside, obviating any bulk or seams in an area where neither are welcome.
the hem of the uber shorts is a bulkier and more restrictive solution, featuring a thicker seam just behind the knee. why or how a company in the business for nearly twenty years can offer a pair of shorts with a seam that all else have strived to omit, is slightly beyond me. the only mitigating factor is that, having done so, endura have contrived to make it all but insignificant in use. i confess that the only time i found this seam an irritation was while supping coffee at debbie's. (i must add at this point that in a subsequent conversation with jim mcfarlane of endura i was told that "leg length has been shortened by 5mm at the front and progressively to 2cm at the rear." on all current iterations of these shorts. i would expect this alteration to all but remove the essence of my criticism, but i feel it worth stating as present on my review pair.)
why these are not the garment offered as the lower half of the replica team kit, i know not. however, there is nothing to stop customers ordering the jersey and pairing it with a pair of uber shorts, for these have received extensive input from the race team and may conceivably be official team issue. undoubtedly heading for the position of most favoured shorts in the garment library, this is the very pairneeded to face a searing headwind, though obviously just as happy in a more sedate environment.
the low key graphics make it far easier to match with a competitor's jersey or jacket without a visit from cycling's fashion police, or accusations of being a cycling weekly cover model.
endura's uber shorts are available in parade pony white or stealth black, in sizes from small to xxl amd retailing at £139.99.
posted sunday 14 august 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's nothing like a pretentious and pseudo scholarly title to invite a bit of interest, for not only am i ill-qualified to be the author of such a treatise, i'm less than certain such a discourse requires to be aired in the first place. the ride of the falling rain is an annual bike ride that hangs its hat of marketability on the pre-supposition that 100 miles is the gold at the end of rainbow. of course, in reality, out of the 100 plus riders who started from debbie's last sunday, perhaps only two handfuls successfully covered this target distance. as time has rolled along, the identification of rotfr with that of riding a century has happily waned; five score miles are always the carrot at the end of a very long stick, but it has eagerly taken on an identity all of its own, allowing those of more modest abilities to ride with the peletonese, safe in the knowledge that there is no element of competition or one-upmanship in the room.
but run forward six days, and there is no doubt left as to the nature of today's ride; it was very much 100 miles or bust. however, this time the factor of failure, though never considered, was always sitting at the roadside waiting to be called. john boyle, manager of islay's buildbase had some time ago decided to undertake a century ride to raise funds for macmillan cancer relief. nothing new there, for i have confidence that more than just a few could recount similar efforts all across the world. though 100 miles is in effect an arbitrary number in relation to the act of pedalling, it's one that holds sway for both cyclists and civilians alike; a target for the former and grand appreciation on behalf of the latter.
what gave this ride an extra frisson directly related to the place in which we live, was the necessity of visiting every distillery on islay, collecting a bottle from each (there was a support car into which each was carefully placed) which are being offered as prizes to those able to accurately guess the total time taken for the 100 miles. in view of their generosity it is only fair that i mention each in order of visit: bowmore, bruichladdich, kilchoman, bunnahabhain, caol ila, ardbeg, lagavulin and laphroaig.
a century ride can almost be considered a rite of passage for the average cyclist, but magnified manyfold for those who simply own a bicycle. john's a big lad, and up until this morning had only covered a total of 38 miles at one sitting, that in company of golfing colleague ross, who himself had barely managed 50 all at once. and they had both managed this on thursday evening earlier this week. on hearing that john intended to expose his weaknesses to the roads, i had offered to accompany him on the ride. it's hard enough for an inexperienced cyclist to ride such an extended distance, but harder still to ride it solo.
though the total time taken will not trouble mr mcwhirter and his guinness book of records (though john and ross planned to imbibe quantities of the sponsor's product in their victory celebrations this evening), john pushed through not so much a pain barrier as one of exhaustion to see 101 miles on his cycle computer as we rolled into bowmore square at around 18:30. the sound of a popping champagne cork was followed by a liberal dousing in half a bottle as we came to a halt next to the speed bumps warning notice at the edge of the car park.
many folks sponsored john and donated to this worthy cause due to it being a genuine challenge. the man worked hard to achieve his computer readout. i realise that i am preaching to the converted, but today was a particularly fine demonstration of just how effective cycling can be when pointed in a generous direction. there may have been more eyes watching the aerobatic antics of a biplane during today's islay airshow, than concentrated on john's velocipedinal achievements, but only one of them was for a worthy cause.
as david duffield would have said "chapeau."
posted saturday 13 august 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................