the story continues, as indeed it rightly should. for now it is obvious to even the most myopic, that the season never truly finishes, and at this time of year, as autumn dawns, the gap between the pros and the mere agonists can be seen to draw closer from certain perspectives. that almost animal-like aggression and competitiveness that characterises the bulk of the season has less gravitational pull. we are, like certain points on the orbit of the moon, closer to our heroes than is usually the case. the pros, however, are safe in the knowledge that their superiority will return with gusto as soon as the training pedal is stepped on. it can, with some justification declare that "we rode the road", the very same road traversed by our betters.
of course 'we rode the road' is ultimately a vacuous statement, one open to diverse interpretation and misinterpretation. surely the agonist within all of us would be justified in stating that not only is the above of factual intent, it could also be stated that one could 'ride a ride' and 'race a race', both just as empty of true meaning, but often said just the same.
the difference, if it chooses to be observed, is not even that of effort, semantics or pedantism; while we are free and even eager to have ridden the same road, truthfully, that is rarely the case. for the pros have an end of season that is just as it says. they have battled for wins, for places, for sprints and for mountain tops, while we, on the other hand, as armchair or saddle-bound agonists, have watched almost every pedal stroke. so though both employ the narrative end of season, only one has earned the right so to do.
that is not, however, to denigrate the art, the skill (or lack of), or the suffering of the agonist. while sugar and oxidation has indeed aided the forward motion of both alike, it is hard to consolidate the two as being one and the same thing. the pros would, with merely a smidgeon of persuasion, no doubt agree. for when the competitive urge is subsumed as no longer truly required, the processes of training are more equally naturalised, though there is little doubt that the gap still exists. brian smith has optimistically referred to it as muscle memory.
the true difference is one that has to be admitted for it to make any semblance of sense. suddenly 'we rode the road' begins to gather inherent meaning that justifies it as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. the pros have no need of approval, nor are they chasing any definable dream; they are simply doing their job and maintaining a level that will allow the season, and the story, to continue as one subset becomes an intersection with itself.
adherents of civilianity cannot, for one moment, approach this demonstrable ease. for though our season is agonisingly rolling to some sort of an unrequited end, the fact that it has only truly existed on a wallchart, real or imagined, as it has done so for more years than any of us care to recall, puts it outside of this perceived intersection. it is said that hard work is its own reward, a maxim worth recalling in those moments when just one more gear (at either end) could be regarded as a desirable necessity rather than an unashamed luxury. as such, the agonists, though not able to rest easy, can give themselves a hearty pat on the back. commercial reward is not the gold at the end of the rainbow, yet its pursuit rarely falters, even unto the ends of the earth.
for as it is written "from our vantage in the present, with the ride in the past, we hadn't rode the road at all; we'd ridden the road, which might have been the same or not..."
succour the agonist.
posted monday 3 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
bruichladdich distillery closed in the mid-nineties, along with one or two other malt whisky distilleries, and was effectively mothballed until conditions became more favourable. i don't pretend to understand just what those conditions were/are, but it is the job of more than a few to keep an eye on the economics of the industry looking substantially into the future. for the title track of any distillery, if they wish to gain access to world markets, is a ten year-old single malt. there will be little more frustrating to reach that magic decade, only to discover there's a glut in the market, and those ten years receive remarkably minimal recompense.
however, only a year or so after glenmorangie purchased ardbeg distillery from its former owners, the present incumbents purchased bruichladdich from the owners of jura distillery (who had mothballed it in the first place). it is a continual irony of the industry that distillers such as ardbeg and bruichladdich have received multiple honours over the years, essentially for whiskies for which they were not responsible; the casks were in the warehouses at the point of sale.
the then new owners of 'the laddie', for reasons best known to themselves (perhaps solely for marketing purposes), decided that they were the rebels of the whisky industry. on a pipe band trip to new york, partly assisted by the distillery, i remember wearing a t-shirt bearing the legend 'clachan na choin' which, i am reliably informed, is gaelic for the dog's bollocks. despite this being a case of a group of middle-aged men pretending to be the doobie brothers, it quite plainly wasn't true, at least not in an empirical sense. bruichladdich distillery makes single malt whisky (their own ten year-old was launched a mere two weeks ago), just like every other single malt whisky distillery. granted, there are differences in taste between all eight on the island, but the process is pretty much identical, involving water, barley, yeast and peat.
the same goes for cycle teams. the sponsors may be different, the bikes may be different, and individual riders may be different, but essentially the ultimate aim is the same; to win races while riding bicycles. that no one team wins much more than any other team, rather indicates that ultimate knowledge of the process is not the preserve of a single directeur sportif. thus, geoff drake's contention that the 7-eleven team took on the world of european cycle racing on their own terms and shook it up, is perhaps a slightly over-optimistic notion. the book is subtitled 'how an unsung band of american cyclists took on the world - and won'. if i may be so bold as to quote: "the team, in turn, had changed the cycling world. indeed, in the end, the squad's cultural impact may have exceeded its athletic one, forever altering the landscape of professional cycling".
you will perhaps forgive my cynicism.
however, this rather parochial viewpoint does little to impact on the excellence of mr drake's narrative. 7-eleven was a team that impinged only marginally on my appreciation of international cycling at the time of their heyday. aside that it was a few years before i had any knowledge of just what a 7-eleven actually was (other than the phone number of islay's scottish natural heritage office), the only american that had made an impression at that time was greg lemond, someone to which credit for changing the face of professional cycling could more realistically be apportioned. it is of no credit to my historical knowledge that i'm not sure i had even realised the team to be from across the pond in the first place.
this latter misapprehension was no doubt promulgated by the appending of the word hoonved to the lower portion of the jersey front. i now discover from this book that there is a certain serendipity in gainful knowledge; hoonved is/was an italian manufacturer of industrial washing machines. co-incidental or what?
in the late seventies and early eighties, cycling in north america occupied a similar position to that of the uk only a few years back. it was the quintessential never-heard-of-it sport. in 1980, there were precisely four professional cyclists in the usa. ironically, the two men almsot single-handedly responsible for the genesis of the 7-eleven cycle team were former speed-skaters; jim ochowicz and eric heiden. the latter had won five gold medals at the winter olympics in lake placid. their eventual sponsors have entered legend as combining financial largesse with total naivety as to what they were letting themselves in for. owned by the southland corporation, 7-eleven stores were raking in money from their provision of convenience shopping and foodstuffs to an eager american population. the owners, determined to do and to be seen as having done the right thing by their nation, were persuaded to fund the construction of a velodrome for the 1984 los angeles' olympics to the tune of $4 million dollars.
though it may be an apocryphal anecdote by now, southland co-owner jere thompson, informed by his brother john as to the extent of their olympic sponsorship expressed his wholehearted agreement with the venture, followed by the question "what's a velodrome?" it was their perhaps accidental involvement with cycling that opened the eyes and ears of ochowicz that there might be more money in the pot to fund an american cycling team
the rest, to quote a well-worn cliche, is history. the inclusion of heiden in the team who, as an american gold medal winner was a most bankable individual, coupled with his delight at being able to help his fellow and future team-mates, meant that acquiring most of the country's finest cyclists was easier than could otherwise have been the case. after dominating the national scene for two or three years, ochowicz, following his true aim in life, was able to persuade 7-eleven to part with more sponsorship dollars, and took the whole operation to europe, ready to take on the world.
though i have decried drake's contention that these were the bad-boys and rebels of the peloton, in mitigation this may have been partly true. however, much of the so-called bravado seems perhaps to have been the result of naivety and a lack of awareness on the part of the riders, as to just what they'd let themselves in for. initial success was probably more down to luck and being in the right place at the wrong time. this is not to say that it remained that way for the duration of the team's existence, but if there was a hard way to learn...
the book is a true joy to read; it's very difficult to put down particularly if, as in my case, knowledge of the team verges on the non-existent. apart from the irritating habit of placing unnecessary photos on random pages, leaving little space for the words to run around, the narrative is relaxed (almost chatty, one might say), inviting and remarkably well researched. criticism is what these reviews are partly about, and if i had one in particular to relate, it is drake's continual reference to the pain and suffering aspect of the sport. if i might again quote from an early chapter in the book:
"for a normal person, this level of physical stress is one of unimaginable agony. but for elite skaters and cyclists, the searing in the lungs and limbs is commonplace - like punching a time card at the office. it's at this moment that the very best athlete will make a choice to act in a way that is the very antithesis of rational. he will find strength where there is none, summon motivation that has long since been drained and expended. he will dig deeper, heightening the sensation, using it as a perverse yardstick of achievement and success. the best athletes...will reach out and embrace the pain, welcoming it home like an old friend."
a major case of over-egging the pudding methinks. were this the sole reference to this particular aspect of cycling, i'd be inclined to smile knowingly and read on, but would that this were the case. drake returns to the pain and suffering idyll more than once too often. however, stalwarts of the lactic burn that we are, it is a simple case of glossing over these instances and enjoying what is, quite frankly, a most enjoyable read.
the other strangeness concerns the bicycles ridden by the various incarnations of the team. though hardly occupying the podium of bicycle greats, the team commenced life on schwinns and even more remarkably rode others badged as huffys. but the only frame provider that receives written adulation (not unnaturally, for it was surely a massive vote of confidence) is eddy merckx. in such a comprehensive history of the team, it would have been helpful for those of us with anorak tendencies to have gained a few words on a tautological necessity for a bicycle racing team.
the book's latter pages are awash with brief biographies of the team's riders from its period of existence (after 1990, the southland corporation hits serious financial difficulties and jettisoned any unnecessary expenditure, one of which was their cycling sponsorship. in 1991, 7-eleven became motorola). a bibliography arranged by chapter occupies several pages and there is a most comprehensive index to round off the 322 pages. geoff drake is to be congratulated on a book that successfully occupies two distinct spaces; it is an essential read if this period of cycing is one that passed you by, or one that is before your time. but it is also a more than indispensible appreciation of a team that undoubtedly occupies a favoured place in recent cycling history.
and it is my opinion that you should never ignore a book that has andy hampsten in it.
geoff drake's 7-eleven is published by velopress and available to purchase in north america from their website. in the uk the book is distributeed by cordee books and also available from prendas ciclismo.
posted sunday 2 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
leaves are dastardly little blighters. oh, their everybody's best friend when still attached to a tree, employing clorophyll to suck up all the sun we never get, building forests and woods to attract the weekend walkers and, in this case, weekend cyclocross amateurs. but reach the aptly american named fall, or autumn, and their stamina leaves them wanting, they succumb to the inevitability of gravity and form a picturesque carpet on the floor. except picturesque is simply a romantic notion spread by the same photographers who think a sunset makes for a decent picture.
any kind of sunset.
for the unwary, however, and in this particular case that means yours truly, they have a hidden agenda. and that's not the only thing that is hidden. turn off the track in bridgend woods that leads from whin park to islay house, and the unwary had better beware. mountains, or rivers of precipitation make for regions of mush, normally visible to the observant, allowing for navigational discretion; ride through the mud, or ride not through the mud.
those leaves however, in all sorts of attractive shades of gold, red and brown, form a thick carpet under overhanging branches and doubling the uncertainty of passage. for while i am dodging from left, right and overhead, the front continental tyre is doing its manful best to continue on as straight a trajectory as momentum will allow. excitement for sure, but randomly arranged until the main pathway to and from the big house is reached. at staging points along the way, i have continued my verisimilitude of a 'cross rider by attempting dramatic remounts.
you know just what you can do with your heatwave. it may well be that cleethorpes was as warm as havana, and central london breaching similar mercury rising as in remote points of the gobi desert; the hebrides are neither. yes indeed, it was milder on the rock this past week than one would normally expect at this time of year, but an intended ride on friday afternoon had to be forgotten due to an abundance of torrential rain. not sure if it was warm rain.
discrimination may be too strong a word, but it seems that the media and meteorologists are concerned only with the weather as far north as watford. those delectable ladies standing in front of an animated map of the uk are always keen to accentuate afternoons in shirt sleeves and summer dresses in hyde park, while glossing over the downpour simultaneously obscuring much of the west coast of scotland. we're tough. we don't care. we're the flandrians of the west.
the only real subject of concern today therefore, was that of appropriate dress. it's one thing for rapha's lookbook to show images of jeremy powers leaping tall buildings in a single bound, while wearing a demonstrably attractive short sleeved rapha 'cross jersey, quite another to attempt likewise on the outer edge. mr powers undoubtedly has the stamina and power to shrug off any drop in the ambient temperature. hebrideans are, in this sense, considerably less fortunate. i however, have those television adverts for week by week scale models of the titanic to be thankful for.
it may only be a phenomenon that afflicts the united kingdom, but intermittently the ad breaks on telly invite us to pay only &1.99 for part one of a 452 week series (parts 2 - 452 retail at £5.99) and week by week, our scale model of the most famous boat under the sea will begin to take shape. at those prices, the finished item will have taken just as long and cost almost as much as the real thing.
the same principal, spread over a far shorter period of time, bears comparison. rapha have almost unwittingly, provided us with cyclocross clothing that, over whatever duration, assembles into an entire co-ordinated candy-stripe pizzazz. the very latest pro-team 'cross jersey has longer than normal short sleeves, long enough for the professionals, but hardly geared towards the less than distinguished amateur. more leniently, the jersey is everything you'd want it to be; the fit is exemplary, with an elasticated, gloop-laden hem that does its job so well, taking it off provided reluctance in more than one sense.
the centre pocket has an internal elasticated loop to grasp a mini-pump, and the rightmost conceals a small zipped pocket; superb attention to detail, for where else is one's cappuccino money to reside? i do not know what rapha have done to their polyester, but it does not look or feel like polyester. i love my sportwool, but this is sublime. the zip is all but concealed and of exceptional length without reaching the hem of the jersey. the collar is low cut.
maybe it's just me, but i figured i'd layer, but without eschewing the candy. who'd have guessed that rapha's long-sleeve sportwool cross top could easily and comfortably be used as a jacket along with the new pro-team jersey? matched with the pro-team 'cross shorts, it's an ensemble to be proud of, and when the temperature drops even further, the team cap can be replaced with the 'cross winter hat, and the shorts with the bib-threequarters. it truly does not get better than this.
and it really works. spiritedly scrabbling around the woods, followed by my ubiquitous rumble along the dunes of uiskentuie, the combination of sportwool and pro-team showed versatility to be its middle name. too hot, and the sportwool can be stuffed in a back pocket; medium hot, and there are two zips to combine; cold, and both combine with gusto. i do not know if this is what perren street intended; if they didn't, then the idea is all mine and i claim the royalties when they satisfactorily point it out on the website.
i have made some slow inroads in the leaping aboard while moving forward scenario, not enough to trouble the more adept, but one has to start somewhere. the bum is meeting with the saddle in a sort of slow-motion dance, but i'd swear someone is moving those pedals. sadly, momentum is rarely conserved by the time my feet connect, but progress is being made.
at least i am impeccably dressed as i explore the undergrowth at close quarters.
rapha's pro-team cyclocross jersey is available in six sizes, from xs to xxl (medium reviewed) and retails at £120 ($170). the long-sleeve 'cross jersey in sportwool sells for £130 ($210) and the pro-team shorts at £155 ($220)
posted saturday 1 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
acceptance of the bicycle as it is seems dependent on two factors: one, the so-called 'double-diamond' construction builds a particularly effective structure, and secondly, though only really applicable to the sporting side of the equation, the union cycliste international has dictated that it be thus. so while reluctant to enter a discussion as to the efficacy of their unilateral judgement and its effect on the bicycle's continued development, this current directive has an overweening influence on aspects of cycling totally unrelated to going fast.
though undoubtedly true that those of a peletonic persuasion require a level of machinery in advance of the civilian population, developing just a few costs large amounts of cash, money that has in some way to be recouped. the principal manufacturers of the world have therefore a vested interest in maintaining the status quo for at least as long as the uci pursue their present philosophy. it is, however, often a great stimulant to lateral thinking to accept constraints of any form and attempt to push them in directions perhaps more beneficial to the great unwashed. carte blanche would likely result in many attempts to re-invent a wheel that is quite happy in its roundness.
to foster development that has its pedals firmly in the real world, portland's bi-annual oregon manifest has developed from the north american handbuilt show's appearance in the pacific northwestern city several years past. but rather than exist in passive mode by allowing simple exhibition of bicycles, the manifest issues a constructor's challenge. to quote: "The Oregon Manifest Constructor's Design Challenge is a one-of-a-kind design/build competition, in which some of the country's best custom bike craftsmen and select student teams vie to create the ultimate modern utility bike." and therein lies the attraction.
the mission of the oregon manifest is three-fold: "FIRST, to inspire and foster real design innovation around a bike that recognizes the needs of modern living. SECOND, to celebrate and champion the resurgence of American craft; bicycle craft in particular. THIRD, to show riders and enthusiasts that a well-crafted bicycle isn't just for sport and recreation, but can also be a tool integrating seamlessly into everyday life.
though many of us will have been glued to the telly or the web last sunday to watch a brit gather up the world championship hoops, our daily lives are somewhat different, and our cycling almost always a darned sight slower. therefore, if the bicycle is to make even greater inroads into a sustainable transport system, nano-tech carbon fibre and space-age componentry may need to be viewed with a greater degree of disdain or even suspicion. but leaving aside portland's well-deserved reputation as a cyclist's utopian destination, why not embrace the perceived need for speed and have the constructors handbuild featherweight velocipedinery?
'The two-wheeled revolution won't come on the saddle of a race bike or a specialty bike. The utility bike is the transportation mode of the future for millions of Americans (and other nationalities) who want to live healthier, more sustainable lives, but don't think of themselves as 'cyclists.' The key to realising this future is thoughtful, innovative bike design that fills multiple needs and fits into their lives.'
perhaps the telling factor quoted from the above, refers to those who don't think of themselves as 'cyclists'. that pretty much excludes my current readership, for apart from those misguidedly looking for a washingmachine, i'd imagine the rest of you simply missed out on peletonic integration through the grave misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. but we are, hard though it is to admit, a very small niche in a world of substantial majorities, allowing for far more people with perhaps a need or desire for a cycling life than would fill the sides of a pyrenean climb. but most would not, for one minute, consider themselves by the appellation 'cyclist'
this year's challenge was won, for the second time, by the inimitable tony pereira, but the thrust of this particular article is the entry submitted by the cielo department of portland's chris king precision components. tony, however, has not been forgotten or ignored; much as i hate the cliche, watch this space.
the criteria for 2011 demanded the following: 'to build a bike that is flexible, durable, able to carry reasonable loads with ease, and ready to accommodate the many small and large challenges of everyday riding. Transportation bikes must be sturdy and durable, yet nimble enough to provide all-around utility during a short trip or a longer haul.' unlike the project cars often shown at motor shows, most of which are devoid of running gear, the entries for the manifest subsequently have to undertake a field test to prove that they are not all show and no go. 'This rigorous road trial will assess the real function of every bike in the challenge, in real world environments including hills, highways and off-road sections. It will include several on-road checkpoints where judges will evaluate specific features of each bike. The Field Test requires riders to keep a brisk pace that will stress their bikes to the limit, and demands a well-crafted, expertly assembled entry in order to complete the route in good time.'
the chaps from chris king's cielo project produced a particularly attractive machine that took in all the above required considerations and presented them in a bicycle that few of us would demur from owning. and given that cielo are currently in the situation of building commercially, it is more than likely that a variation of their third-prize winning machine will see the light of mercantile sales within the year.
built from steel, the seat and downtubes are sandwiched between a variation on the mixte design (which, incidentally, tony pereira told me is a particularly effective frame design) but employing those narrower tubes to do more than provide simple mechanical efficacy. cleverly and ingeniously enclosing the necessitous bicycle pump and lock has been added to their employ. both the latter have been custom coloured to meld with the gunmetal grey and orange colour scheme.
propulsion duties have been derogated to shimano's alfine eleven speed hub gear while shielding those flailing feet and legs from portland's insidious precipitation by means of honjo fenders with custom struts and side skirts, the forward member of which hosts a front light. though not one given to praising the delights of disc brakes, particularly on a commuter bicycle, they do assist in keeping frame fuss to a minimum. however, since the wheel rims are unilkely to find themselves immersed in gloop for any appreciable length of time, i cannot see the advantage than discs might provide. but there is little doubt, it is the modern way.
brake and gear levers are attached to a one piece curved bar and stem, the latter playing host to a pingable bell.
bicycles such as those produced by pashley in the uk are evidence of a cycling heritage that still owns a place in modern times. but most of their range is underlined by notions of nostalgia (not that i'm knocking it you understand), while cycles such as the cielo entry for the oregon manifest point decidedly, necessarily and if nothing else, beautifully towards the future. it's an arguable fact that, were the manifest not to exist, somebody with greater perspective than i, would have to invent it, for the manifest's contribution to the saner side of cycling, though small, should not be underestimated.
in the finest tradition of grasping instant gratification, i want one, and i want it now. in exactly that colour scheme.
posted friday 30 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it is, no doubt a great tribute to specific items in the public eye that competing products concentrate less on identifying themselves as individual triumphs, and more on how the very nature of their being is concentrated on pulling the rug from under the identified market leader. microsoft introduced us to the zune, their ipod killer, and i'll bet there are those with ownership of the former who would rather not admit they believed redmond's propaganda. yesterday, chief amazonian, jeff bezos introduced the world to the kindle fire, their ipad killer.
the next year or so will determine whether the rhetoric proves to be true and whether those at 1 infinte loop would be right to suffer tremors in their footwear. even in today's press, mr bezos' presentation of his new gadget for reading books and a bit more (which will not be available in the uk until sometime next year) was being directly compared to the consummate tendering by his arch-rival, steve jobs. no doubt both parties will take this as a compliment, as they probably should, but gone are the days when something new simply arrived in the shops via a colour poster in the window.
in a crowded market eager to separate us from our hard-earned, we have all come to expect, if not demand, just a little bit more. or perhaps, just one more thing.
rapha have become legendary in a manner not necessarily welcomed by the staff of perren street. in years gone by, the announcement of their latest range has resulted in the computers hosting the rapha website all but falling over, such was the eagerness of each of us to find out how much, how soon and in what shade of pink. many cups of espresso were drunk in the north london enclave. there is, however, only so many times that can be repeated before it becomes oh so routine. rapha raised the bar in the first place, so we now sit in eager anticipation of whatever happens next.
whatever happens next has just happened; today, as it happens. one or two frequent visitors to rapha.cc will have found it hard to miss the number of items with new, or coming soon emblazoned across their verisimilitude. but that hardly constitutes a presentation, at least not by modern standards and that's where lookbook.rapha.cc subtly enters the cyclists' psyche, proffering much of what we all know and love.
i've had a look, i've watched the films, clicked the links and identified some moving targets. if you train or race, ride in the city, are of the fairer sex, or leap about in the mud with cantilevers, cycling life holds plenty of promises and opportunities to lower the number at the foot of your bank statement. i don't want to spoil the drama, so go have a look for yourselves
it's all in the presentation, though i doubt it'll save perren street's computers.
posted thursday 29 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
some of us a suckers for badges and logos (me!, me!, me!), though definedly only if the badges and logos are worth displaying to a caring public, and that is something either down to subjective appreciation or peer group adoration. colnago is a case in point; even amongst those who think their frames but lumps of over-priced carbon, the clover-leaf is of well tread significance. colnago steel frames are of unquestionable pedigree; it's just the modernity that invites heckling and suspicion. taiwan just doesn't have the same heritage.
badges and logos are part of the territory, for no other reason than sponsorship is an endemic part of the sport. no matter how hard corporate avoidance is practiced, somewhere along the line, an unexpected logo will creep into a tiny un-noticed corner. i like to think of myself as discretionary when it comes to what appears on items of cycle clothing, though likely the reality is less elective than the promise. at times, of course, logos are unavoidable, and i can feel myself cringing in the saddle on realising that the frame, gears and tyres on which i'm riding, match none of those described on the side of my casquette.
it is this last item of dress that is most likely to become the fly in the ointment, for i have truckloads of the little blighters (it's an obsession of mine) garnered from multiple sources, many representing trade teams living or dead. as a confirmed vegetarian, is it truly seemly to be wearing a molteni cap? i'm not eddy merckx either.
in the case i now bring to your attention, serendipity has all but mingled and conversed, finally singing from the same hymn sheet. almost.
my principal excuse is one of colour.
rapha, in the last couple of years, have joined forces with focus bicycles, to build themselves a north american cyclocross team worthy of admiration. those candy team colours have crossed the atlantic, now decorating the publicity material for the forthcoming supercross series. they also comprise the panels of the rapha/focus casquette, along with sponsors, fizik saddles, easton components, sram gearing and giro helmets.
i often hope to excuse myself from the logo attachment on professional grounds, for what's a guy to do when an item under consideration matches not with the vehicle providing the wherewithal? the law of averages, however, is bound to engineer a match once in a while; three out of six isn't half bad.
while out to play midst the mud, grass, mud and trees, rapha's cross clothing is easily as good a choice as any, if not better; the hakkalugi is powered by sram (as is the cielo, if truth be told) and in recent days, the fount of all knowledge has been encased in a shiny white giro aeon helmet.
helmets are forever at the centre of contention, at least as far as day-to-day riding is concerned. meanwhile the manipulators of statistical information do battle with spreadsheets, subterfuge and propaganda, proving little except there are probably too many statisticians in the world. turn attention to the faster of the breed, real or imagined, and there can be little doubt that an aerodynamic dod of polystyrene on your head takes on a more preventative air. personally i prefer to equate helmet use with that of insurance; the latter you pay for and fervently hope there will never be a situation where it is needed. same goes for a helmet.
arguments other than the dreaded helmet hair oft times centre around the weight of such a conspicuous appendage, something that was demonstrated quite tangibly with respect to the aeon. there is good reason for the chin-strap attached to the roll cage encased in that polystyrene, for at a laughable 222 grams, anything more substantial than a cow's fart would blow the thing into the disatnce. mitigating against this happening, whether wind-breaking bovines surround your every move or not, is roc-loc 5 which, via a small thumbwheel at the back of the helmet, tightens or loosens the helmet, easily accommodating even rapha's winter cross hat. put on some status quo, indulge in a bout of head-banging, and that aeon remains steadfast through all three chords.
and on two separate occasions, i thought i had left the building sans helmet.
the basic premise of helmet wear is inherent protection against banging one's head on tarmac or kerbside. if a volvo drives into you, it may be that the aeon is the only thing that survives; but fall off trying to avoid the selfsame vehicle or, perchance, a farting cow, and there is little doubt that protection of the central processing unit is a desirable situation. while many a review on the post requires that i joyously put products through the fiercest pasting i can provide without getting arrested, i was less than keen to fall off on my head to prove the efficacy of giro's design department.
what giro (and others) do not mention, point out or even hint at, is a threatening destruction visited from above. if i might refer my readership to a paragraph scribbled above, where cyclocross was briefly mentioned, my opening debut with my head in an aeon was scrabbling around bridgend woods. trees are somewhat concomitant in woods, many of which have branches that behave as gravity would have them behave. i'm happy to report that stray leaves and branches flailing about with (gay) abandon were shrugged off with disdain. think of it as a rider sandwich.
discussions have been promulgated even on the post with regard to the shape of riders' heads and their affinity for the inside of helmets. it is said that not all helmets are created equal; some compensate for this non-immersive phrenology by means of the trademarked retention system. the very best use the latter as the last few millimetres, as a final adjustment rather than a masking agent. i have, i'm ashamed to admit, never worn a giro helmet in my long and insignificant career; this is the first. and as an introduction to the breed, i have to say it provided instant gratification, offering one of the closest and comfortable fits on the planet, or, come to that, on my head.
the aeon combines an aggressive stylishness with venting that would cool hot cappuccino in seconds. though my review sample treaded the right side of conservativeness in a sort of silvery white, colours more in keeping with the rapha/focus team colours are available, as well as a size range from small to large (medium reviewed) catering for head circumferences 51cm to 63cm. all this for the princely sum of £199.99 ($250). like i said, think of it as insurance against not being able to ride your bicycle ever again.
a scary thought.
giro helmets are distributed in the uk by madison, to whom major thanks for supplying the review model.
posted thursday 29 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you will perhaps recall my treatise on the evils of social media, not so much twitter, which is fun for advancing the art of the smart ass one-liner, but that awful facebook thingy. yes, point accusingly in my direction, but i didn't much like the band runrig either, and i've survived those slings and arrows. andy nash, however, is perhaps more sympathetic to the genre, having invented (is that too strong a word?) a facebook for pedalists: socialcycology.com
i remain unconvinced, but i know that many have paid scant heed to my warnings of doom, and joined up anyway. andy, always one with your best interests in mind, has taken pity upon those with mobile phone thumbs, slightly altering the domain to the snappier (but no less avoidable) cycolo.gy. the former still connects to the same site, but for those who delight in brevity, the world of social media is now a better place.
did i ever tell you i don't own a mobile phone either?
posted wednesday 28 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
probably around 1963, i bought my very first single on black vinyl. to be a tad more accurate, though it was the same size and thickness as a regular single it was in fact, an e.p.; extended play. this in effect meant that the parlophone record company had shoehorned in another three tracks alongside the title track: the beatles' twist and shout in glorious mono. the fact that few knew what stereo was at the time had little bearing on this last affectation. in the usa, the record was released as a standard single, backed with there's a place, but us brits were privileged to enjoy 'do you want to know a secret' and the 3/4 time (waltz) 'a taste of honey'.
the latter was in stark contrast to the title track for which john lennon may have been on a diet of razor blades and broken light bulbs. i'm pretty darned sure that my parents did not approve, which was sort of the point at the time (my father never had any time for lennon, especially when yoko got in tow), and i have recollections of preferring 'there's a place' (the source of many a fish joke at school) to the title. but the beatles were the happening thing at the time, and only my brother, who preferred 'gerry and the pacemakers', demurred from the hysteria surrounding the band.
costing a princely ten shillings - fifty pence in modern money - a relatively pristine version still sits somewhere in my attic, untended and unplayed, for i am now of the ipod generation, and have nothing on which to play it, much to the delight of mrs twmp and both offspring. however, it is the fourth track, 'a taste of honey' that resonates most readily. in my early days of 'buddy rich-hood', thrashing about on a drum-set was very unschooled, though i'd prefer to think otherwise. (some would say nothing much has changed in the intervening forty plus years). playing dances in working clubs meant that waltzes were a major part of the repertoire, and to a drummer for whom time signatures were still a bit of a mystery, the ability to play along with 'a taste of honey' was a bit of a godsend.
i've listened just this minute to the short soundbite of the song provided by itunes, and i do sort of wonder what the attraction was, but i was a lot younger then, and naivety was yet to become a career choice.
the drum also waltzes.
i also have serious misgivings about energy gels (bear with me on this one), because i, in keeping with many a bicycle rider, have this unerring need to taste the stuff straight out of the box. for those who fail to see why this poses a problem, the contents of those annoying little sachets, capable of slicing the edge of an unsuspecting mouth, are expressly designed to boost carbohydrates on the move, preferably before unrequited depletion. few examples on the market escape this feature, but they're not really supposed to. energy gels fulfil a necessary need, and their sweetness rarely seems out of the ordinary at a cadence of 90rpm into a headwind.
an even more annoying property of energy gels, however, is the unwanted gloop that spills from erstwhile empty sachets when stuffed unceremoniously in a rear pocket. though the professional peleton is at ease chucking all sorts of rubbish by the roadside, the more civilian amongst us have the environment uppermost in our helmets, eager to carry our rubbish home with us. it is at this point that removing any number of gel sachets from the pockets, liberally smears an expensive pair of track mitts with strongly flavoured gloop, having already done so to the inside of the unfortunate pocket.
the latest energy gel from the chaps at bikefood emulates two of the above seemingly unrelated strands of narrative while remedying a third. firstly the bikefood gel, a product that has proved so popular it has made it to market almost a year before planned, tastes strongly and pleasantly of honey. and when i say 'strongly' i mean 'strongly'. i made the elementary error of stepping in the back door after a ride and eagerly taking a slurp; heck was that sweet. yet, having had a few slurps while pretending to be athletic, the sweetness factor seemed pretty darned spot on. added to that, this stuff really works, even for a rank amateur like wot i am.
the clever bit is the method of delivery, for rather than selling boxes filled with foil sachets with a bite off tab, the bikefood energy gel arrives in two distinct parts: a 700g bottle filled with gel, and a smaller, slightly contoured flask that comfortably fits snugly in a rear pocket. simply pour a measured amount of gel into the re-fillable flask, and slurp honey as desired during any bike ride. the top of the flask acts in exactly the same way as a regular water bottle. 'no messing' as they say, and a very clever solution. as bikefood state "We are well aware that there is an issue of litter at sportives and that this is becoming increasingly problematic for organisers and riders alike. The flask and bottle combination is a real winner."
there's always a danger of looking upon yet another gel on the market as one more too many; bikefood have sidestepped that, providing a genuinely welcome addition both in flavour and method of delivery. the only bit i don't understand is the contention on the website that the gel is natural lemon flavour when i can taste nothing but honey. i didn't really taste any lemon, though i'm not denying it's there. 'curiouser and curiouser', cried alice.
a bikefood gel pack comprising a 700g bottle of gel and re-fillable flask retails at £19.99
posted wednesday 28 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
every now and again i am released from the prisonership of the office imac, and let loose into the hinterlands of the estates, not only to appear as a real person among the multitudes, but also in order to earn an honest crust. it's not easy bringing up three bicycles on your own. disturbingly, the weather is currently quite inscrutable; will it rain, won't it rain; is it cold, is it warm? erring on the side of wimping out entirely, i layered some merino, and topped it off with a lightweight breathable waterproof. darn me if i wasn't overdressed. the signs were there for all to see before i even reached the end of the road, ample time to turn back and reshuffle my sartorialness. wimp out number two.
the wind is a perennial accomplice or hurdle, depending on your point of view; a strong, yet mildly warming draught isn't an easy nut to crack. there are few brownie points to be gained sitting in an even warmer farmhouse kitchen with steam rising from the merino jersey. something to do with professionalism. akin to this is the fear of having substantial quantities of precipitation unceremoniously dumped on one's person prior to arrival at the day's destination. aside from that drowned rat look that is eternally unfashionable, there is an element of discomfort, sat in wet trousers.
the weather's inscrutability showed no signs of waning, so it seemed a pragmatism to take along a spare pair of leg coverings, necessitating some form of luggage, if one may be so bold as to refer to it in this manner.
riders intent on domestique duties, those willing to feature in the day's doomed breakaway and those with aspirations towards the podium have to be fed en-route. calories are no respecters of ambition, thus feeding must take place awheel, an operation choreographed by a phalanx of soigneurs, standing at the roadside like the railway mailbag delivery system of yore. deftly avoiding the surrounding peloton, each rider navigates to the soigneur wearing similar team colours, snatching lunch, dinner and afternoon tea in one fell swoop.
that is what the musette is for.
gratifyingly, for those spectating by a portion of roadside only a few hundred metres further on, all but empty musettes are cast aside with targeted abandon; souvenirs of a brief flurry of cycling. such a throwaway item has more recently garnered and developed a life of its own, suffering delusions of grandeur that many, self included, are eager to grasp with both hands, though preferably not at speed midway through a couple of hundred kilometres on the road. in these specific cases, the musette that leaves the room, will undoubtedly return to the room.
i do have one or two of the disposable versions that graspingly, have never been disposed of, but alongside, i feel it prudent to retain more substantial and respectable (as my father would have said) musettes that will hopefully cut the mustard in situations more demanding of decorum. the latest of these and, befitting a man of my position, custom made for yours truly, is an offshoot of the single malt jacket as created by a mr hastings of my acquaint, and purveyed by the good fellows and fellowess at mosquito bikes of london town. i feel neither party would be despondent if i referred to this as the single malt musette.
fabricated from islay tweed, personally woven by mr covell at islay woollen mill, then lovingly sewn together by an army of individually selected sewing people, the result is available in two distinct sizes and level of plushness. the smaller of the two features no lining, but fastens at the opening and can be worn on the bicycle by means of a ribbon strap over the shoulder. it is the no frills version, perfectly capable of much asked of it, and perhaps the ideal object of obsession at the feed station for the endura race team, would that they were aware of its existence. the downside from their point of view would be its reluctance to be classified as throwaway. the tweed, the workmanship and the enhancement of any bicycle rider would most definitely mitigate against that.
the bespoke version, also available in an off the shelf flavour from mosquito, is unashamed luxury coupled with huge dollops of practicality. it was into this i was able to return from northern islay, weighed down by the selfsame pair of emergency legwear, the spectacles i require for peering at pixels, and ultimately, a copy of today's guardian newspaper. had i remembered to remove the office keys from my right front pocket, they could have been safely and less irritatingly kept on the end of an internally affixed keyring lanyard.
one of the eternal pleasures associated with a home-visit on islay, is the oft presented take-away, and i refer most definitely not to that proffered by either the chinese or indian restaurants in my home village. it is seemingly an age-old tradition, or at least, it appears to have been that way for me. rarely am i allowed to go forth without being handed an overfilled box of fresh eggs, several items of home-baking or, in this case, a jar of home-made preserve. anticipation of this phenomenon required, nay demanded, some appropriate receptacle in which to transport said preserves without looking like a total wally by implicating the giver in something of an awkard situation; a heavy jar of strawberry jam is not the ideal occupant of a jersey rear pocket.
thus the delicious jam (you surely don't think i can manage a whole article without sustenance of some description?) joined all the aforementioned items in their pink (what else?) tweed-lined musette. in traditional fashion, respecting the musette's island origin, keeping all inside was a button fastener, fashioned from deer antler threaded through a leather loop. that my cielo featured a brown leather saddle, matched by brown leather bar tape was surely an appropriate accompaniment.
tweed possesses an inherent degree of waterproofing, demonstrable by the uniform clothing worn by the gamekeepers and ghillies of the local estates. these men and women know more about the land and weather than i will ever learn in my lifetime. it is a knowledge suitably transferred to the world of cycling. and arguably, tweed is the ultimate sartorial accomplice. i have yet to find a jersey or pair of shorts that look incongruous in its presence.
and just in case you were wondering, it didn't rain.
available exclusively from mosquito bikes, london, the larger of the two musettes retails at £60, and the unlined, smaller version costs £35. the colours shown are not necessarily those offered for sale; there is variance across the year depending on the available islay tweed.
posted tuesday 27 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................