in a technologically driven world, there are those who worship at modernity while others delight in the more antiquated yet nonetheless effective aspects of the genre. it's a hard call to make as to whether the perennially fierce development in all directions is truly driven by specific requirements, or whether by a need for the world of marketing to always have something new to sell. do we really need faster mobile phones, electronic drums and sub-woofers in the back of black vauxhall corsas? we now have a shiny new ferry on the islay route that has just been told to reduce its speed in the first half of its journey to the hallowed isle due to an excessive stern wave that is damaging portions of the shoreline. this effectively means that caledonian macbrayne have spent over £23 million on a boat that now has to run slower than the one it replaces.
the never ending march for improvement.
as i sat on the platform at oxenholme station on saturday evening, a large steam locomotive with attendant maroon and cream carriages thundered through on its way to somewhere or other. at the speed it was travelling, it must have reached its destination remarkably quickly, for it seemed to be travelling no slower than the virgin pendolinos that passed both before and after. i know little about railways, but i'm sure the electric virgin trains are more efficient and cheaper to run than the steam of yesteryear thus the replacing of old with the new. and no doubt the existence of only a few examples of steam still remaining in the uk have made considerably less demands on the country's coal resources.
but there is no doubt that steam locomotion is damned impressive, to the extent that two trainspotters had been wandering around the oxenholme platform for over forty-five minutes, cameras in hand, awaiting its imminent blast through the station. the minute it had disappeared south in a flurry of white smoke, they were off out the station exit, deep in the discussions that trainspotters undoubtedly have. a red and silver pendolino hammered past as they walked, eliciting no visual response whatsoever. that pretty much says it all.
i had just returned from windermere after a long, warm and ultimately enjoyable day in a field. there's a neat little three carriage diesel train that plies the route between oxenholme and windermere, taking in the very pro-active town of kendal along the way. it is a very enjoyable, picturesque and relaxing way to travel. an open-top bus right outside windermere station took me easily to the superbly well signposted windermere visitor centre at brockhole house. rapha's ultan coyle is to be applauded for his colour sense and graphic design in branding perren street's cyclocross activities in such a highly visible yet ultimately cool manner.
for people like me who are wildly outside their geographical comfort zone (in other words, lost) one of those uniquely decorated banners announcing proximity to one's destination of choice was of great comfort to the soul. also of great comfort was the surrounding blue sky, pretty much devoid of anything resembling a cloud. and it was warm. this was of great relief, as around twenty minutes outside glasgow central station, the skies were somewhat foreboding, particularly on realising that my waterproof trousers were still sat in a cupboard on islay.
rapha had promised attendance of their mobile cycle club, a euphemism for a stunningly good cup of coffee, frites and mayo, the latter washed down by a refreshing pint (or several) of belgian duvel beer; for those with proclivities in that direction at least. true to their covenant, the big grey truck was there, but the operators of brockhole house overlooking the day's festivities from on high, had prevented the rapha coffee machine from carrying out its necessary duties. i say necessary in the light of the paucity of beverage accompanying my goat's cheese and roasted vegetable quiche. the provision of hot victuals within and without the house had also put paid to the frites and mayo, leaving the beer to carry on the promises all by itself.
what the big grey truck did provide, however, was the opportunity to purchase souvenir casquettes with mr coyle's deft touch applied, along with hearty distribution of over 300 rouleur cowbells and rapha branded faux tattoos (we used to call them transfers in t'old days). it also served dutiful purpose as the podium backdrop. shame about the absent coffee though. leaning on the barriers by the start/finish line was anthony mccrossan, loudly, confidently and accurately addressing the miles and miles of black and pink course tape.
though discretion advises me i should not shout too loudly myself, this was the first time i'd ever attended a real live cyclocross race. i'm sure someone in my position should really portend to be a veteran of all that is great and good in the world of cycle sport, but i never could get the hang of just what level of naivety it is seemly to admit. no doubt those aboard 'cross machines grabbing a few minutes reconnaissance before the proceedings got serious, wished for a greater degree of savvy on my part as i had apparently managed to wander onto the racey bit, and in the wrong direction. good bike handling skills should never be over-rated by the disorientated.
i would dearly love to bolster my reputation and street cred by detailing how i kept score throughout the day's racing, but that would be a fib of enormous proportion. cyclocross done right is an immense and exciting spectacle, the snaking of racing cyclists negotiating an endless depth of field right in front of my never resting gaze was simply too much to take in at one sitting. it's addictive; the longer each race continued the more it became apparent that anthony mccrossan had all well in hand, and i played my part by keeping out the way.
it was also a great social occasion; despite no desire for belgian beer and the absence of frites, mayo and a decent soya cappuccino, there were old friends with whom to chat for way too long, and new friends with which to do likewise. if i give the impression that the racing was of secondary interest, nothing could be further from the truth, for that was pretty much the subject of such endless discussion. the setting was incomparable, guaranteed by the weather, while sufficient rain during the preceding week ensured just enough gloop mixed with lashings of fallen autumnal leaves to keep all in character.
the racing courted attraction and entry from tiny little blighters on tiny little bicycles, helped over the obstacles by an attendant mum or dad. fun with a capital hooray. a combined race of women, seniors, vets and seemingly everyone else on a cross bike (mammoth brownie points to the guy who raced without a saddle) provided possibly the day's most varied and exciting racing. anthony and the lap counters earmed their money big time during this mudfest (it wasn't really a mudfest, but i've never used that phrase before). the elite teams easily demonstrated why it is better that i spectate; i fell asleep on the train on the way home, tired out, and i was only watching.
despite the intervention of carbon fibre and a peppering of disc brakes, this is old technology is cyclocross racing, a category that has existed since the early days of the bicycle. propelled by human endeavour, it is old technology to which many are happy to pay homage. at windermere on saturday, homage looked as if it was enjoying itself on both sides of the rapha course tape. the best day out i've had for many a long time.
though the need to return to civilisation on sunday meant no opportunity to follow the circus to huddersfield, according to photographer wig worland, the sunburn was even worse. the three race supercross series culminates this weekend at alexandra palace in london; attendance will probably be greater, but the enjoyment could not possibly be surpassed. i know it took a great deal of organisation and effort on behalf of the folks at rapha and rouleur, with extremely effective, yet relaxed marshalling from local quarters to provide this grand day out...
many thanks to laura and steve at rapha, claire and ben at condor, ian at rouleur, to anthony mccrossan, mr and mrs yoav tzabar, the lovely lady from 'here come the belgians' for the ginger cake, and everyone else who made my first day of cyclocross so unforgettable. i was also sent links to the two videos below by giles perkins who i met briefly while avoiding anything dangerous at brockhole. greatly appreciated.
posted monday 17 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the deli counter at debbie's sells sticks of parmesan cheese, all the better to flavour and garnish my freshly purchased mushroom pasta. i prefer these greatly to the more usual triangularly-shaped parmesan chunks on offer in the supermarket (a very bizarre use of the prefix super in my opinion), if only because when appplying the pointy end of the latter to a cheese-grater, a chunk always breaks off, one that excludes itself from any further grating by virtue of its shape and size. the stick version, however, is obviously constructed for the very act of grating, presentting a flat face to the gratery bits with which grating is accomplished.
why, then, does the flat face of cheese forcibly applied to the flat face of a metal grater end up shaving into a wedge shaped end after only one plateful of pasta? was there a day in higher physics when we the reasons for this aberration were taught, and i wasn't there? and on that same day, was it also explained why shoelaces loosen even though i've been sat still in a chair all morning? is this what the large hadron collider was really built for?
and while we're on the subject of inexplicable happenstances, why is there mountain biking when there was already cyclocross? the american heritage of throwing yourself down mountain roads on wholly inappropriate schwinn beach cruisers is perfectly acceptable, though perhaps of questionable social appropriateness. at that point in time, cyclocross was pretty much a belgian obsession; quaint, but not the done thing in california. so there's every likelihood that 'cross bikes were not in plentiful supply on the shop floor of the nearest ibd.
it is no secret that the mountain bike craze of the eighties and nineties more or less single-handedly saved the bicycle industry, creating a number of new manufacturers in the process, while letting the italians continue their blinkered approach to road bike production. but in mainland europe and the uk, why was it that nobody stood up to point out that cyclocross bikes already had this mud thing covered?
granted, the world of the mountian bike has gone its own separate ways even within the genre: cross-country, downhill, play-bikes, single-speeds, adding suspension to every conceivable moving part in the process. 'cross bikes have so far eschewed the use of boingy bits, but rather suspiciously begun to openly welcome disc brakes in place of perfectly adequate cantilevers. suddenly the gap between off-road and off-road is getting slimmer by the minute, that you have to start fearing for those drop bars.
however, the above mix and match excepted, cyclocross currently occupies a unique space in the cycling firmament, one that this weekend's two rapha supercross events (and next weekend at ally pally) are designed to celebrate to every corner of every degree. intending to be a cross (pun intended) between the obsessive american style, and the perennial dutch and flandrian way of life, it will hopefully be the start of cowbells 'r' us and lead to an elongated series in 2012, one that will hopefully make its way north of the border for at least one event. (are you listening please, mr cleverly?)
perhaps then i won't have to travel so far to wallow in mud.
if you're even considering either of this weekend's events, make it more concrete and commit to going. it could be the start of a new route to enjoyment, whether as an innocent bystander like me, or one of those with a number on your back. for that reason, there won't be a washingmachinepost until monday eve (this is a three-day round trip for me) when i'll have an even bigger smile on my face.
posted thursday 13 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
like many other spouses, i am doomed to watch every straining minute of x factor because mrs twmp, for reasons quite beyond my comprehension, enjoys it. granted i am often sat with macbook air at the time, one ipod earbud in place that i can listen to music of a more stimulating nature, but still allowing me to make well-timed grunts and nods when mrs feels moved to make comment. what has become a common theme, apart from the fact that most folk seem to think themselves able to sing when they plainly can not, is that the dream of becoming a pop superstar has been a passion for a surprisingly large proportion of the x factor generation. so passionate are they, in fact, that the very thought of joining a band and slogging round a succession of working mens' clubs, dance halls and student unions has escaped them completely.
that's the way to build a career; it's called paying your dues.
it's unlikely that anyone would consider attaching themselves to the bicycle trade or sport in order to garner their fifteen minutes of fame. cycling is a hard sport, and there's no equivalent of auto-tune to get you up to speed if the spirit is willing but failing miserably. it's usually real passion that brings folks into the two-wheeled fold, and the very same emotion that keeps them there. let's be honest, there are easier ways to earn a living than spending three weeks in france riding a hundred and fifty kilometres a day.
cycling is, of course, merely a niche market within the grand panoply of markets, and it's made up of even nicher markets, sometimes tiny one man/woman shows that, when aggregated, make cycling considerably greater than the sum of its parts. one of those niche constituents is that of performance race art, only recently brought to fruition by chris grove, and garnering an excellent and high-profile reputation in a very short space of time. but before we send off helmets and bicycle frames en-masse to be coloured in, will they be decorated by someone with a formal skill in art and design, or is it a guy in a hut with an airbrush?
chris grove, sole proprietor and artist by appointment at performance race art, attended carmarthen art college to study graphic design after leaving school. but why paint bicycles? Purely and simply for my love of bikes. If I'm not painting them I'm in the saddle. Lets just say bicycles are my life. Combining both my passions (cycling/painting) was always going to happen sooner or later. by 'later' one must assume therefore, that chris had other distractions in his life prior to his current venture. "Up until 2004 I was a Royal Marine, an illustrator in the Intelligence Section, upon leaving I decided to take my childhood hobby of airbrushing and make this my career. I started off painting motorcycle helmets for club racers, and this progressed to painting for riders on the professional grid."
i too would love to have a shot at decorating bicycles and even just one of my helmets, but wanting to do something and having the wherewithal so to do are not necessarily one and the same thing. since chris has chosen to ally his artistic prowess to that of the bicycle, did the skills come easily? No! It's a skill that's taken many years to get dialed in. Most will never understand the amount of knowledge, time and patience that goes into painting." surely only the acquired skill doesn't paint the bicycles all by itself? did chris have to procure a substantial amountof equipment to get performance race art off the ground? "For sure. In the early days I painted from a shed with one airbrush. Now i have a 1500 square foot studio with a spraybooth, baking room, racks, high tech print machines, water decal equipment, etc. Everything required to offer a full professional service to my customers."
some of you may have seen the exquisite art which chris applied to simon richardson's time-trial bike, something of a present to his friend who suffered serious injuries recently in a traffic accident. to the frame, chris applied the twitter names of everyone who had wished simon all the best for his recovery, and blended those with a particularly striking overall finish to the frame. how long did it take to complete? "A little over two weeks from start to finish, working full days for most of the two weeks solely on this project."
bearing in mind my facetious statement above regarding the desire to send frames or helmets to chris for decor, is it predominantly about colouring in or does he have complementary draughtsmanship skills too? "it goes far beyond graphics and colour; I often hand paint or sketch. However I'm far from being a expert in any of the forms.". just because you paint bicycles for a living doesn't necessarily mean you don't get the bus to town or go for long walks with the dog in the countryside. does chris actually get out on the bike much? "Yep most mornings before work and long training rides on the weekends. I have Simon Richardson shouting down the phone if i don't get out anyway! "
though i am reticent to enforce the word's claim as an oft used cliche, much of the passion involved in cycling is invested in the long-term. witness how many pros continue in the sport after hanging up their wheels, and those in the business of proffering bicycles, frames and components seem never to sleep in the quest to improve their goods and business. is chris happy with working day to day, or is there a cunning plan?
"Yes there is a big plan, I hope so anyway. I've invested everything I have in order to make this opportunity work. I want to offer a wide paint service throughout the cycling industry for teams and companies right throught to the enthusiast. My aim is to offer UK companies/teams the alternative of eliminating the oversea communication problems and offering a less templated design service, which you will find being exported from China. I envisage two divisions, one being the production side, and the other being custom-based for individual bespoke work."
we all have ideas and notions of just how we'd like our helmets or bicycle frames to look, but there's always the impending doom of knowing only exactly what we want after seeing just what we don't want. in this respect, does chris prefer carte blanche on a commission, or is he happier with as much customer input as possible?
"You've put me right on the spot now. Ok, simple customer input can either make a frame design or just kill it. For example, adding a customer's ideas, ie personal touches, can give a fantastic and individual result. It's when they can't make up their minds on anything, or asking for late amendments etc., which makes it more costly and time consuming. But i always make sure what is given back will leave them speechless, hopefully for the right reasons."
so what does chris need to know before the paint pots come out of the cupboard? "From my perspective, firstly the design needs to be fully approved. Then the bike needs to be completely stripped down and then prepped ready for paint. Also my customers need to be fully aware of the lead time on their frame so I'm not harassed every twenty minutes! This happens quite a lot, though that's understandable when they're excited."
so, we've decided that having the stock swirls and whoops on that ageing carbon frame need to be replaced with something a tad more decorative and personal. but how much, on average, is this likely to lighten the bank balance? "With some bikes costing thousands of pounds to build with componentry alone, it's surprising how comparatively inexpensive a custom paint finish costs. For example, our basic re-paint of one colour plus logos starts at £230. Going up the range to a fully customized 2012 style factory finish would cost approximately £375 - £450. We also do special one-off designs that can take up to six weeks to produce. Prices for those start at £500."
can chris identify his typical customer, or is there, in reality, no such thing? "There's definitely no such thing! You're equally likely to see an elderly man walk through our doors with a Holdsworth frame as a young age-group triathlete with disposable income to spend on themselves". a prominent secondary consideration in having a frame painted is to repair various forms of road-rash. is this work that chris is happy to accommodate? "We only repair paint-work on bikes that have had paint jobs from our studio. We also offer a twelve month warranty on all our paint work."
i have been long a critic of the paint schemes being applied to even top of the range bicycles these days. the quality of such finishes is not in question, but the imagination behind most of them seems minimal at best. does chris have any personal opinions as to why this may be the case? "Pure and simply due to market trends. In my opinion, superstars like Cav with his Specialized Venge having a minimalistic stealth finish, obviously creates a ripple in the industry for what's current and what's not, even though the primary purpose of the design is to reduce the weight of the frame." does the existence of such blandness play into the hands of performance race art? "As you are aware, 'bland' designs, are now en-vogue. Therefore we do just as many of these designs as we do of the more creative ones. It's a matter of client preference."
the birmingham cycle show earlier this month gave many manufacturers the opportunity to display their wares for the 2012 season. bearing in mind my criticism of colour schemes in past years, was there anything on show that caught chris's eye. "Yes. Simon Richardson's Twitter Bike. plug plug"
if you've always fancied having that aging steel, aluminium or carbon frame that's lying at the back of the shed decorated par excellence, now you know where to send it. and even if you've an almost new bicycle that's exactly the same as several others in your peloton, maybe it's worth considering having it personalised enough to put the others in the shade. of course, all the others in the peloton are also reading this.
posted wednesday 12 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
viewed from afar, the art of wandering round large, underheated/overheated buildings which, when empty, resemble aircraft hangers with the plumbing on the inside, looking at bicycles and bits, is a patently bizarre activity. in most every situation pertaining to the above, acres and acres of similarly intimated stands, occupied by enthusiastic staff gradually losing the will to live as the days pass, are fronted by remarkably similar looking bicycles and frames or components designed to attract either the great unwashed or those in the trade. the latter category, at one time i'm sure, concerned only those with a financial interest in the trading and bartering of bicycle bits and bobs, with special dispensation for the card-carrying journalist. that the public would have even a passing interest in days of trudging seems to have arrived at a later date.
the attraction, however likely for all the above, is being favoured with the opportunity to view and, in some cases, to even climb aboard next year's big thing before the remaining members of your peloton are even aware it exists. there is still mileage to be gained from calmly stating over coffee and carrot cake when something new arrives in the monthlies, "yes, i rode one of those a few months back". or even, in my own case from time to time "guess what's in the bikeshed?". but what about the folks who don't see the bicycle as the saviour of humanity in the same way that we do? what is there of interest for them?
the big shows such as eurobike and interbike have long been trade only; eurobike has lately added one public day to its schedule, but with goodness knows how many halls of bicycles to see, it's doubtful that there's time to have a gander at everything. with an enormous show all but dedicated to those in the know there's also the impending danger that eurobike is not the show to convert any passing trade (so to speak).
i am in the fortunate position of being regarded as a member of the media, doubtless due to an administrative error, but certainly a situation i have been happy to take advantage of. by this i mean attending on those trade-only days when it's a lot easier to move around the stands, everyone else has some sort of specific interest in being there (preaching to the converted), and it's possible to meet friends and have a coffee without a mile-long queue, and too much volume from the bmx display. but that doesn't solve the problem of how to attract the long-term cycling agnostic and his/her family.
not that i'm claiming scotland has unique properties (though it does, now that you come to mention it), but scotland's first ever bike show in glasgow's secc earlier this year seemed to have made inroads towards the problem if only because it never set out to be a trade show in the first place. don't get me wrong, there are those anoraks amongst us who plied organiser rowan mackie with pleas to add a trade-only day to future editions. not the smartest request ever made, but that's no doubt why he's running a cycle show, and we're not.
with the scottish show incredibly late to the party of annual exhibitions, it was always going to suffer from stretched distributor and manufacturer budgets in straightened times. if you've already shown the latest and greatest over september and october of the previous year, where's the motivation and, more importantly, the cash to do so six months later? but that, in essence, is the scottish show's secret weapon. for in april, most of last year's promises have been fulfilled, and the carbon that everyone has drooled over can now be purchased with money. as, indeed, can pretty much everything else on show, ranging from top of the range race bikes down to rather smart looking kids' bikes. there's clothing too, bicycle cleaning products, tyres; in fact everything you'd expect at a cycle show but with a distinct bent towards tom, dick and harry.
that was this year's secret weapon. next year, the scottish show expands to three days (13th-15th april) and sneaks in its very own sportive ride on the sunday; possibly the masterstroke. though the event is in the early days of planning, the routes will incorporate the fabulous scenery to be had around loch lomond. there's the full distance at 100 miles or a more family oriented 50 miles on offer. if those exhibiting over the weekend have any foresight, they might think about providing one or two demo bicycles that could surely be more greatly appreciated over such a distance.
just a thought.
at the risk of becoming the bbc and repeating myself more often than i should, if i can manage to travel across the ocean, then all the way to london to look at bicycles, those in the metropolis could surely do similarly, if only to marvel at the scenery they don't have by joining in the sportive? i need not cajole scotland's cyclists and would-be cyclists; for them, the first two days and the sportive are compulsory (by act of parliament).
it's early days yet, but i am nothing if not parochial, so there's every likelihood that the scottish show will receive one or two more mentions between now and april 2012.
posted tuesday 11 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................