bruichladdich distillery, only a few short footsteps from debbie's cafe, promotes itself with the byeline progressive hebridean distillers, a slogan writ large on the courtyard wall in trademark laddie blue. now i'm not terribly sure what it is that bruichladdich figure they're doing differently than the other seven distilleries on islay, and why it should be considered more progressive, but everyone nowadays has to live by some promotional tool, so in the grand scheme of things, why not? disappointingly, if you happen to phone the office, there are no snippets of dark side of the moon, lamb lies down on broadway, or even a portion of topographic oceans when they put you on hold.
and should you need to visit for any reason, or perhaps take a guided tour of the premises, you will note that none of the staff, from management to bottling hall operatives, are clad in afghan jackets,, flared loon pants or even crushed velvet t-shirts. disappointing at best; obviously this is not the rael world. it would seem that the word progressive has differing connotations to different people.
looked at in retrospect, many of the so-called progressive rock bands were, in fact, not that different from the likes of status quo. amass a substantial number of electronic keyboards, surround them in a roger dean stage set and cloud the lot in tonnes of dry-ice and the inference is that the music played will inhabit the progressive genre. in point of fact, the music didnt' progress that much; basically, again like status quo, they found a successful formula and stuck with it. that's sort of what bruichladdich distillery have done; the recipe for making single malt whisky hasn't varied a great deal in the past 500 years, nor is it likely to do so in the next 500. their definition of progressive seems perilously close to the edge.
there are others, however, who epitomise the very definition of the word. almost twenty years ago, jim mcfarlane founded endura clothing in the town of livingston, just outside edinburgh. over the years they have incorporated the formerly named tal custom clothing into the fold by bringing it under the endura banner and have made greater inroads to the world of road riding over the past decade, having previously been more renowned for their mountain bike clobber. this shift in progression was further underlined by the development of the equipe range of road clothing in conjunction with their continental racing team.
and here is where the true definition of the word progressive has shown its light.
i have been fortunate to receive review samples of the endura equipe range in recent years, and every time something new arrives, the qualitative improvement over the standard range becomes even more glaringly apparent. the equipe bib-knickers (bib three-quarters) are no exception to what is fast becoming a rule. all else excluded, if the fit is not exemplary, they can look as good as they like, they won't be taken out the shorts drawer very often. though few of us will ever ply them with as hard a time as the guys in the pro team, there is little worse than several hours ploughing into a searing headwind, through horizontal rain, all the while progressing to ownership of a saggy bottom or wrinkled knees. aided by a short, lime-green front zip, these are particularly well crafted in this department.
they're mildly awkward to get on (always a good sign), but the bib straps sit squarely on the shoulders and show no signs of sliding off while pedalling long and hard. it would be hard to find anything like even a minor flaw in the comfy padded bit upon which one's bum sits, though 'tis always a shame that no-one ever gets to see that lime green padding. while i still have graphic misgivings over that initial 'e' used as the equipe range logo, i am very much in favour of the high gloss black equipe wording applied to each leg; there's something inherently stealth about black on black.
the seat panel, though impressively stratchy, is also impressively waterproof, something i have had cause to be exceptionally grateful for over this past week of very wet riding. though incessant rain is always going to provide a thorough soaking, no longer do i suffer from squidgy bottom syndrome, even after climbing onto a very wet brooks saddle. in fact, while we're discussing waterproofing, the main constituent material of the bib-knickers seems to have inherited a smidgeon of the very same. on arriving home from three hours in the rain, the leg sections were all but dry. now that was a surprise.
matched with an equipe jersey, baabaa baselayer, equipe softshell and those very impressive cashmere socks, there can be few clothing combinations that would challenge such comfort and weather protection. at a somewhat incredible price of only £110, in sizes ranging from small to xxl, perhaps the on hold music at livingston ought to feature something by marillion.
posted monday 26 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if i've got this right, the search for the higgs boson at the large hadron collider will more or less explain the existence of so-called dark matter, the colossal areas of space that appear to be somewhat bereft of any tangible existence or appreciable mass, yet supposedly constitute 83% of the universe. unfortunately, i think i may have been absent from physics class on the day that quantum mechanics was taught, and i've been playing catch-up ever since. who would ever have believed that atomic and sub-atomic particles had need of their own branch of physics? why can't they just behave like normal human beings?
no doubt in contradiction to the teachings and understanding of both peter higgs and professor brian cox, my own apprehension of the material world is that there are simply two distinct species of stuff. there is stuff that pertains to bicycles and stuff that quite blatantly doesn't, though i'm willing to accept that some of the latter can come perilously close to being the former. but such is the nature of distinction in physics, that neither can be specifically the case. bicycle stuff is usually easily identifiable by its propensity to have fixable positions on the majority of bicycle frames. saddles have somewhere to go, as do brakes, stems, wheels; i'm sure you catch my drift.
bicycle stuff exists in alternative forms too; cycle clothing, footwear and helmets all have their place in the firmament. i will, in the interests of not teaching my peloton to suck power bars, leave you to consider your own options rather than labour the point unduly. however, in the interests of maintaining my own level of super-symmetry, the very existence of bicycle stuff predicates that of non-cycling stuff, a theory averred to in my opening dialogue. it will be of endless, and possibly vaccuous debate as to whether one outnumbers the other, but it wouldn't seem too outlandish to designate bicycling stuff to be in the minority.
considering what an agreeable lot we have proved ourselves to be, our collective distaste for non-cycling stuff does not preclude coming into acceptable contact with voluble mountains of it in every day life. and in the course of our velocipedinality, some of this has to be carried hither and thither along the world's highways and byeways. life's just like that.
provision has already been made for just such eventualities in virtually every cycle jersey and/or jacket; those three rear pockets for starters, and on occasion, some larger zipped examples at the rear of a softshell jacket. those, however, preclude a substantial range of accoutrements, accessories and daily provisions that have been incorrectly sized and shaped to comfortably fit in any of the variations denoted above. yet again, life's like that. professional racing cyclists have the undoubted luxury of having roadworthy provisions pre-built to fit those pockets, and should that fail for any reason, there's either a mavic or team car close behind. the amateur fares less well.
bearing in mind that the peloton of amateurs is considerably larger than the paid-for variety, an alternative has to be sought for those moments when collecting the guardian newspaper on the way home is an over-riding necessity. or, indeed, an opportune purchase at debbie's requires to be transported back to bowmore. perhaps there may even be occasions when lending the mighty dave-t a cycling book has to take place on the sunday ride. how he gets it back to port wemyss is his problem.
shortly after receiving the chris king cielo from portland, i took a fancy for a pair of full wood fenders from the same town's river city bicycles, intending them only as stylish protection from islay's considerable rainfall. when it became clear that spring was about to merge into summer, they would be removed and confined to the bikeshed. apart from the fact that summer never quite made it this far, and scotland's population remained without its necessary quantity of vitamin d, the fenders looked so darned cool, that they have remained in situ ever since.
doing so gave the cielo a personality that belied its r45 built wheels and sram red groupset. a wolf in utility clothing. with my riding sensibilities morphing to encompass the need for accommodating more than the occasional non-bicycling stuff, the recent addition of a swift industries of seattle, washington tweed and canvas little dear has not only complemented the cielo and its wooden fenders, but offered the ideal opportunity to enter bowmore's newsagent in lycra and a yellow helmet while subsequently having a pragmatic solution to carrying the newspaper home.
the little dear can be affixed to any saddle hoops and carried in the manner of a saddlebag, but i heartily recommend fastening it to the handlebars; if the wind is on holiday it may even be possible to read the newspaper thus carried. should heavy precipitation preclude this, any contents will remain safe and dry due to the elementary labyrinthine construction of the bag. though faced by a herringbone tweed front flap bearing a front fastening, the principally waxed-cotton construct of the bag flaps over internally, fastening to the inside rear via two substantial poppers. in this manner, external elements are kept firmly at bay.
slogging through horizontal rain, sleet, hail and gale-force winds for the past week or so has all but failed to allow ingress of water. though i'd hate to come across as blase, in my opinion, if the little dear survived this baptism of inclement weather, it will likely survive anything. if you are unwilling to take islay's word for it, might i just point out that seattle's average rainfall exceeds that of this hebridean isle by around 50 inches.
i'm willing to take their word for it.
swift industries 'little dear' cycle bag retails at $75 (around £50) and is one of a wide range of bags for a variety of purposes available through the website of this seattle based business.
posted sunday 25 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i figure i'm probably preaching to the converted, the bicycle is a marvellously versatile vehicle. though a policeman friend of mine assured me that cycles were not considered as such for legal purposes (an errant statement i think), to all intents and purposes it fulfils the necessary criteria. for reasons i have been unable to fully comprehend, despite being guilty of the very misdemeanour i am now citing as an indictment, the racing bicycle seems to occupy a greater proportion of public perception than those more regularly built for simple transport. the plethora of periodicals and websites concerning themselves with the competitive environment may have a great deal to do with it, but i would still suppose that the latter's adherents to be in the minority.
why is that?
in last weekend's guardian magazine, the usual motoring column was replaced by the reviewing of a batavus traditional sit-up-and-beg bicycle, expressly designed for the transportational needs of the daily commute, with an occasional sortie to the country at weekends. the pricing of such was perhaps a few hundred pounds above the amount most would consider seemly to spend on such a vehicle. this compares most disfavourably with the several thousand most mamils are willing to drop on a carbon frame alone, yet bicycles of the batavus genre are undoubtedly of greater practical use than say, a colnago c59.
traditional framebuilders in the uk (and i have no doubt that i generalise at this point) seem content to produce consistently impressive road, mountain or touring frames in a manner that has been the case for many a long year. that this is a consequence of the cycle culture pervading the british isles is not in question. i refer to my remarks concerning the price of the batavus briefly discussed above. other parts of the world are perhaps more enlightened in their approach to bicycle transportation, no doubt encouraged by a culture that cheerfully supports such endeavour, and this cultural space brings out the best in certain people. though this obviously includes those doing the riding, i'm thinking more of the folks responsible for providing the wherewithal.
while this situation is not concerned with purely one country or area within, the only location with which i have personal experience and connections is that of portland, oregon. i last visited over two years ago but was fortunate enough to have as my personal guide for at least half of that visit, chris distefano, without whom i know there are many in portland city that would have remained only names as opposed to personal contacts. one of those personal contacts was jordan hufnagel, and rather than relate the man's history, it may advertise him more fittingly to quote from his website:
"as a small boy, jordan hufnagel constructed miniature bicycles out of twigs, corn husks and paraffin wax in order to traverse the expansive indiana maize labyrinths in which he was raised. his creations seldom held fast for longer than a trip to the general store, and so he looked for better ways to clench two wheels together. when steel was invented, jordan spent long nights in the township 'fraidy hole, teaching himself to weld, somethimes blindfolded. his family was callous and unspportive of his efforts, often force-feeding him lumpy and tepid gruel. when he was old enough, jordan stuffed two pairs of jeans, a t-shirt, and a broken music box into a satchel and hid himself in the cargo bay of a mail plane. the aircraft landed in portland, oregon, with jordan emaciated and nearly frozen in its great aluminum belly. he wandered into the rain and through the slick city streets until he passed out under a picnic table beside the willamette river. a group of schoolchildren woke him and fed him apples and blackberries from their sack lunches. to show his gratitude, jordan built them all bicycles.
he has been in business ever since.
as continuing evidence of his business sense as well as being testament to those hard-won frame-building skills, hufnagel cycles has announced the availability of a limited edition porteur/city bike which, aside from its practicability, diverts the drool factor away from slivers of carbon fibre and places it squarely in the realm of pragmatism. i don't mind stating in black and yellow that i figure this one of the finest looking bicycles it has been my privilege to witness. what thought processes brought him to the development of this style of bike?
"I just wanted to build my ultimate bike and offer it to others. In doing that I wanted to make sure I was really nailing it. So, I took my time and really poured into developing the first one. Obsessing over geometries and trail figures, and making a bike that was striking in its simplistic aesthetic. Then after my pals and I rode that one for nine months or so, I made some final revisions and a final prototype. The changes were really minor for the most part, but brought it all together for me. This is the most honest bike I could build."
portland is, by comparison to britain, a whole 'nuther ball game entirely; though still ostensibly in the minority, the percentage of the city's population who regularly cycle here, there and everywhere makes it a sizeable minority, and one that takes a different approach to its cycle purchases. bearing this in mind, is the hufnagel porteur/city bike the result of pent up demand, or slightly ahead of the curve?
"It's mostly the result of me wanting to build exactly the bikes I wanted. No compromises."
looking at the end result, this particular bicycle seems to inhabit a similar space to that of the porsche 911 or the citroen 2cv. though my views on the motor car are reasonably well-known, both vehicles seem particularly complete in their design, requiring nothing added or taken away. to end up at the point where jordan feels ready to offer this bicycle for order, was everything in place before starting, or had this been a progressive development? did he add bits as he went along?
"There were definitely revisions along the way. No matter how well thought-out one thinks a design is, once it's built you always figure out ways to improve it. Some times new products come out that warrant redesigns so that they can be used. In this case the Son Delux SL hub became available and I felt like it had to be on here. So the fork got redesigned to be compatible with the connector-less hub. Which rules, cause now there are no wires to disconnect when taking the front wheel off. Also, along with that I came up with a way to internalize all the wiring that I'm really happy with."
though an increasing number of us are happy to use a bicycle (or bicycles) as a simple mode of transport, often the only practical method of transporting stuff in sufficient quantity is by means of the ubiquitous pannier. lord carlos utilises this method on a daily basis, the theory being that weight carried at the rear with a low centre of gravity may provide the ultimate degree of stability. the so-called porteur bicycle eschews such logic, preferring instead to carry out the same task by means of a large platform rack above the front wheel and supported by stanchions affixed to the front forks. this arrangement sort of flies in the face of european logic (even though the porteur rack originated in france), so assuming balance to be not a problem, what sort of weight could be safely carried up front on the porteur rack?
"I've carried a friend of mine on it who weighs just over a hundred pounds with no problem!"
my opening monologue concerned a personal perception that the racing bicycle holds greater sway over the mind of the average cyclist than the apparently more mundane word of pragmatism on two wheels. it is surely incontestable that the bicycle has carved a larger space in the city of portland than is the case in most european cities with the possible exception of amsterdam. would jordan say portland is more the preserve of the commuting cyclist these days, or do the 'sporty types' hold a disproportionate sway?
"There are massive amounts of all types of cyclists here. My shop is on one of the most travelled bike routes (jordan's shop is sited at 1515 south east ankeny) and the diversity outside my door is awesome."
stephen fry made a valid point in a recent bbc documentary concerning the life of apple impresario, the late steve jobs. when his interlocutor accused apple computer of perhaps favouring style over substance, fry was quick to interrupt and forcefully point out that the two were surely inseparable. his argument proposed that people would be far more likely to use a product or object if it looked as good as it performed. the style factor made it more likely that regular use would result. such is the over-riding style of the hufnagel porteur/city bike, did he see it fulfilling an 'object of desire' function in the way that i would drool over a carbon colnago?
"I hope so! It would be rad if people thought this bike is as cool as I think it is!"
the re-purposing of a large swathe of now redundant aerospace technology has surely benefitted every corner of the bicycle industry, from the more widespread use and reduced cost of titanium, through hydroformed aluminium, to the modern ubiquity of carbon fibre. unsurprisingly, all three of those require a substantial investment in skill and machinery, placing at least two, if not all three outside the preserve of the individual builder. in this respect, is steel still the ideal material? "It's the ideal material for me and my customers, I can't speak for others."
the hufnagel bicycle, costing $6250 (£4000) is no low-cost option for the occasional cyclist, and it is not outwith the realms of possibility that any potential cutomer may wish to have a bicycle that represents their perceived desires and requirements in personal transportation. is there room for individual customisation over colours, wheels and components, or is the blueprint pretty much set in stone? "There is room for custom paint, handlebar selection and levers. All other components are set. You're not going to find a better parts group." it's advertised as a limited edition; how many constitutes 'limited'?
from what i recall of portland, away from 'logie's trail' and 'otto miller', the pedalling is relatively flat (unless you're intent on visiting the zoo), therefore that single chainring is doubtless an efficacious solution to city riding. but should orders arrive from further afield, perchance in an area blessed with more numerous and steeper gradients, would it be possible to add another ring? "Doubles are welcome and there is an option for that on the order form." and that chain guide atop the single ring? "With 1x10 systems there is a wide change in the angle of the chain to the front chain ring. Better safe than sorry."
having brought to your attention recently the almost boring consistency of tyre widths amongst the cognoscenti, and a reluctance to stray much above a one of 25mm, the tyres on jordan's latest creation look particularly comfortable. what wheel and tyre sizes has he opted for? "The wheels are 650b Grand Bois Hetre; 42mm tires sitting on Grand Bois rims spinning on a Son Delux SL hub up front and a Chris King hub out back. Hufnagel skewers holding them on."
richard sachs has been quoted as saying there is no overweening necessity for anyone of average size to gain any particular advantage by ordering a custom frame. the treks, specializeds and pinarellos of this world have the bulk of features dialled in to satisfy all but the most pernickety or oddly-sized customer. richard was, of course, referring predominantly to racing or cyclocross frames as opposed to the more perfunctory machinery catered for by the cycle under consideration. is it possible therefore that this may be the way forward for the individual builder to occupy a more pertinent niche in the grand facade? "Builders should build bikes that they are into. This is what I'm into, and thus the way forward for me. As long as builders are doing what they want it will speak to a customer base. I'm not here to compete with anyone besides myself."
when all is said and done, and with no disrespect to others making their way in the framebulders' art in other parts of the world, it often seems that portland encompasses the greatest degree of logical and lateral thinking in the cycling genre. i will admit to being a tad prejudiced in this, based entirely on the skill and artistry witnessed at the behest of mr distefano a couple of years ago. however, bearing this in mind, does jordan hufnagel think portland to be the ideal place to be a framebuilder?
"There are no complaints from me. It's awesome having a large friend/peer group to pull from locally, and this town has done me well. But, I've always built here and there are incredible frame builders all over the world. Far be it from me to say any of these other builders aren't in their ideal place to be doing this too."
posted saturday 24 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
this time last year all was peace and tranquility, snow was in evidence no matter in which direction you looked or cycled, and the perennial wind was not perennial anymore. 2010 was the first year of rapha's festive 500, in the wake of graeme raeburn having single-mindedly and single-handedly undertaken double that distance in 2009. thankfully the chaps in perren street's marketing department maintained a sensible degree of proportion and didn't subject us to graeme's level of insanity. 55.5km per day is about the maximum i'm likely to get away with before mrs washingmachinepost realises that household tasks have become a one-person operation.
i'm figuring this is not a situation unique to myself.
thankfully it is not an undertaking that requires any degree of training, though having a copy of graeme obree's book at the chair-side would surely be an effective remedy, should such be required. the plan of attack (with the possible exception of boxing day where alternative circumstances will apply) is to arise at an hour that belies the fact i am on holiday. breakfast is simply a larger portion of scott's old-fashioned porage oats (note the spelling of porage) with a smattering of peach slices and soya milk. grapefruit juice was the fridge's choice for this morning.
though i have often commended the acres of sky at islay's disposal, the trick is figuring out in which direction the wind is travelling; a mistake at this stage, though elementary, has a disproportionate bearing on one's velocipedinal comfort and joy should the weather turn foul. there's no such word as fouler is there? though i'd hesitate to call it luck, opting to wear my showers pass exceptionally waterproof elite jacket was surely more so than the windjacket that was my original choice. i hadn't made it out from the car park before being assailed by a serious quantity of sleet, curiously accompanied by a strengthening wind that had not been present when putting the re-cycled bin out for emptying earlier that same morning.
heading out from bowmore had the benefit of a tailwind, but then turning to head southwest, a gale-force wind and hail definitely asked the question 'why?'. i am being accompanied on the majority of the festive undertaking by mr hastings, who insists on riding a fixed gear, something that played well to his going with the tailwind along uiskentuie strand, but wasn't the most pragmatic approach when climbing the steep hill and corner at knocklearach.
redemption demands a heavy entrance fee.
sunday is going to be the hard road to ride; obligations on christmas day tend to assume proportions that are hard to derogate. thus, friday and saturday are being used to put an extra few kilometres in the bank, reducing my requirement on the 25th, that i might return to washingmachinepost cottage before any of its other incumbents have arisen for the day, raring to indugle in a serious bout of wrapping paper ripping.
it's a tautological understatement that all roads on islay eventually lead to debbie's; lunch and a couple of cappuccinos eased today's portion of cielo riding, and will do so again tomorrow. i did ask if the front door key could be left under the mat for sunday, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, dissension prevailed. debbie's, aside from serving the world's finest coffee, is also the local repository for bruichladdich's daily papers. monday's will not arrive until the afternoon, thus coffee and cake can only be had between 3 and 5pm, necessitating a later than scheduled start come boxing day. character building purgatory this festive 500 may be, but amelioration of stresses and strains require regular bouts of froth supping, particularly after a caffeine free christmas day.
after that, it's relatively plain sailing for the rest of the year, by which time i'll be fit enough to spend hogmanay behind a drum set, helping the inebriated bring in 2012. then it'll be time for the new year's day bike ride.
no wonder they call it christmas.
posted friday 23 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
delivered on tuesday, well-wrapped in a cardboard box was the 2012 edition of scot nicol's ibis hakkalugi, but in contrast to the 'phlegmish green that already resides in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed, this particular model is completely naked. known by its colour designation black lung, the only decoration is a lion of flanders on the seat-tube and an ibis logo on the down-tube; the rest is plain, honest to goodness carbon fibre, bereft of even a shiny clearcoat.
ibis are not alone in their adoption of bare carbon, either with or without clearcoat. commonly known as a stealth finish, the fashion may have started as one of those extreme cases of weight loss in the professional peloton. i can remember michael rasmussen owning a colnago extreme c in bare carbon (though i think it may have been of the shiny variety), a weight-weenie if ever there was one. however, let's not kid ourselves that the current trend has anything to do with alleviating weight on the ascents; while at one time flashy paint schemes were all the rage, nowadays minimalism seems to have replaced those and very cool it looks too.
however, i cannot help but pine for the days when bicycles were not only a fine representation of the framebuilders' art, but similarly praised for demonstrating how accomplished the paint shop had become. sadly, while many a carbon offering is undoubtedly shiny (apart from those of the matt persuasion), the paint applied has, to my mind, hit an all time low. if any of you have seen the colnago videos displaying the skills of the paint shop when decorating an italian built eps, surely i am not alone in wishing that the talents on display were better employed on more interesting colour schemes?
colnago is a framebuilder long renowned for the quality of the paint applied to his frames, whether of steel, aluminium or carbon, and it's only around a dozen years since the option of art decor was available on the master and the c40. on the evidence of recent review bikes from cambiago, the quality of the paint has, if anything, improved over the years, including the taiwanese output. what definitely has gone sadly downhill are the schemes on offer both on the website and catalogues. i blame cervelo; perhaps unjustly, but it seems that since the canadian company of vroomen and white entered the professional ranks with considerable success, everyone else, including the italians, decided on a me too strategy.
cervelo have undoubtedly produced some extremely desirable and quality frames since their rising through the midfield, but the research and development dollars have certainly not been spent on a brazen choice of colours and their application to the carbon. though no longer manufactured in nottingham, britains claim to road-bike fame, raleigh, have had the decency and perspicacity to engage the services of chris grove at performance race art to ensure a quality finish on some of next season's team bikes. and though colnago provided tommy voeckler with a highly visible yellow c59 during his days in the leader's jersey in this year's tour, following this with an all-over metallic green version for the remainder of the season, neither could be seriously considered art.
through the generosity of mr hastings, i currently have possession of a pre-b-stay colnago c40 with one of colnago's art decor paint schemes, one that stands out from all that surround it. the existence of the back of a helmeted rider painted on the top tube may be sailing perilously close to cheesy but in context, and adjacent to a logo embossed carbon lug, it ranks high on the desirability scale. i can appreciate that all but individually painted frames are hardly the most economic to acquire, but in this day and age of finite element analysis software, when all ask the same questions and provided with remarkably similar answers, a bit of individuality is surely not too much to ask? those of you who may have attended any of this year's bike shows cannot but have seen acres and acres of remarkably similar looking carbon frames with nary a paint scheme to distinguish them.
hopefully modern day pioneers such as the aforementioned mr grove will foment a much-needed change in direction, and it might only be a year or two before we see the return of an art decor option on the colnago website.
posted thursday 22 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"training is bad for you. training, followed by rest and proper nutrition is good for and will make you better prepared for the event you are training for."
i know graeme obree, and graeme obree knows me, though probably not (in his case) where he'd recognise me in w h smiths in argyle street. i can't put his name forward as being the guy that got me into cycling in the first place; that is robert millar's preserve, but similarly to robert, the parochial scot within cannot but admire the way graeme not only left much of his competition standing, doing so in his own inimitable style. as far as scotland was concerned, he was/is one of our own.
not too long after i started selling bicycles on the island, graeme opened the bike box in my erstwhile home town of prestwick and i dropped by a couple of times when visiting my parents. there's no reason why those on whom fame has unceremoniously dropped (if not necessarily fortune) should be anything other than pleasant, amenable human beings (though a disproportionate number undoubtedly aren't); graeme was as easy to converse with as if we'd been at school together.
of course, i have no prowess on the bike to speak of, so that was, in effect, the end of that for at least the time being. the bike box closed after a couple of years and the nearest i got to mr obree in the intervening years, was naming a column in the local newspaper and subsequently this website, thewashingmachinepost, based on the true, if somewhat apocryphal knowledge that 'old faithful', graeme's hour record winning bicycle, was at least partly constructed from washing machine parts. the post has been around now for nigh on sixteen years, and there are many too many who are unaware of the name's origin.
"like all great sportspeaople he knows his craft intimately, everything he can consume about cycling, aerodynamics, physics, force, athletic performance he has consumed in abundance. in the words of another scottish cycling great, robert millar, he's got the t-shirt." john beattie, scottish rugby international.
i bumped into graeme at the braveheart ride a few year's back, then again last year, when we invited him over for the ardbeg gourmet ride. in overall terms, graeme hasn't changed a bit; i don't think he truly realises just how fast and fit he still is, he has a humility that belies his considerable achievements, and is no less eccentric than he ever was. as our after-dinner speaker for the gourmet ride, graeme had nothing prepared, yet spoke for at least an hour, totally off the cuff. he was brilliantly entertaining and humorous, but such was his personality, that if he'd recited his shopping list we'd have cheerfully applauded.
"everybody who rides a bike knows how to pedal, just the same as anybody does not drown in deep water knows how to swim."
everything, right down to the fact that he claims his current handbuilt bike is cerise, not pink, is done the obree way, which is a really cheesy way of introducing graeme's latest book.
i have previously printed extracts from this book while it was in the latter stages of preparation prior to publication, but for those who missed them, 'the obree way' is not a narrative that you'd settle down in the bath to read at the end of a long, hard day. instead, it's a training manual based on graeme's considerable expertise of track racing, time-trialling and the occasional hour record. as with everything he does, no stone is left unturned; fastisdious wouldn't be too strong a word.
over the years, i have read and reviewed a wide variety of training manuals, most of which have been expertly written and compiled, but rarely, if ever, has a traing manual come along that is anything like this. as i have gone to great lengths to point out, probably to the extent of tedium, i have no intention of involving myself in specific training, nor have i any real need to, but this book makes me wish i had. many authors base their training regimes on the use of heart rate monitors, power meters, periodisation and several other items of nomenclature that require a degree in physiology to comprehend.
"i have seen...where the training mentality has led to fatigue and diminished performance and sometimes injury and illness. science has a term for this, the law of diminishing returns, the point at which output exceeds return."
if there's one thing missing from 'the obree way' it's obscure references for those in the know. though graeme's training demands much of those willing to place themselves squarely in his hands, it's probably the most accessible cycle specific training volume you'll ever hold in your hands. witness my opening quote; who else would tell you on the cover of his latest training manual, that training is bad for you.?
from the man who famously prepared for the hour record by eating a bowl of cornflakes, obree has an unconventional attitude to the more usually prescribed sports specific foods. he contends that there is no point in being obsessive in this aspect, and simply to continue to eat normal family meals. the secret, he maintains, is to be selective about which parts of those prepared meals you wish to consume, and to do so in moderation. as he says, we're not living in a space station, so we can eat real foods that contain all the nutrients and calories required.
"it is a good question to ask when any product is being advised and (whether) financial transaction is involved, but in the field of nutrition there has been a trend towards refined foods such as protein, carbohydrate and vitamins that are more expensive than their real-food counterparts. advocating real food has no financial gain."
the book is in large format softback, very easy to read, superbly if a tad eccentrically illustrated, and if you're serious about your cycling in the competitive realm, i can think of no more important work published in recent years that will help you achieve that which you may have set out to achieve. a more general approach to bike setup, turbo training, preparation, breathing and stretching is complete anathema to graeme obree. every last aspect is examined in the most minute of details; pretty much as you'd expect in fact. his manager, charlie milarvie, told me that he and graeme worked out that over the seventeen year period of the book's gestation, when broken down, graeme wrote an average of ten words a day.
believe me, it was well worth the wait for every last word.
"part of our human character is to choose that which is easy over that which is hard, and i do realise that there is a lot of information and new ways of training put forward here to undertake. i too am not immune to procrastination and of slipping back into old and easier ways. perseverance will take you to the eventual benefits that you hope to realise."
'the obree way' is available for purchase from graeme's website at a cost of £30 plus postage. and on yet another of those parochial moments, in the midst of the book's photograph section is an image of graeme's and his brother's bikes leaning against the world famous phone box at carnduncan on islay's west coast.
posted wednesday 21 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you don't just step out the back door, climb on the bike and undertake rapha's ride of redemption, the festive 500. oh that life were that simple. 500km is not a distance for which one needs to apologise, even if not being ridden all in one sitting but over the course of nine days (one more than last year if memory serves correctly - the soft option this time), averaging 55.55km per day. that's definitely a distance worth considering, and with more than a week in which to pedal it's possible to put some kilometres in the bank come this friday and saturday to avoid haranguing from her indoors come christmas day.
this time last year, the hallowed isle was white from top to bottom and several inches deep, a christmas card picture that is conspicuous by its absence this year. in fact, if truth be told, now that the storms have quietened for the festive season, that gulf stream has made itself known by way of milder temperatures. precipitation, however, is rarely far from the horizon, and i expect this year's event will require an entire wardrobe of waterproofs. but when the alternative is to slouch in the armchair surrounded by boxes of chocolates, glasses of shloer, watching white christmas and holiday inn for several days on end, it seems particularly wise to follow in the tyre tracks of rapha's graeme raeburn who rode 1000km at christmas 2009.
few of us have the luxury of being able to ride the bike for nine days in succession and over a distance that brings its own bragging rights at the new year's day party. and i'd be willing to wager that few bikes in the bike shed are sitting in a pristine state of maintenance, ready to undertake a veritable marathon of velocipedinal delights. even if you feel it necessary to protest that i judge you unfairly, that an entire bike shop of cycles are oiled and gleaming for that very purpose. well, even if that is the case, there's a better than evens chance that at the end of each day's pedalling, the last consideration on your mind (or mine for that matter) is a hefty dose of fettling.
that's where the preparation comes into play.
i am, to a degree, in a happy place, as december 23rd, and the festive start line edges ever closer, for i plan to split the distance across two distinctly different bicycles, one of which only came out the box this morning. to not ride my chris king cielo for either four or five days, would be tantamount to treason in my view, while the lovely people at 2pure in edinburgh have sent me a stealth hakkalugi to ride, meaning i can incorporate a few kilometres of scrabbly stuff for interest. rather obviously, the hakkalugi is shiny bright (well, matt black to be honest) but the cielo has seen many a kilometre of rain, hail, sleet and wind over the early part of december and was ripe for some routine maintenance; breakdowns i do not need.
i cannot tell a fib: one of the main reasons i was eager to indulge in a smidgeon of fettling on this particular bicycle is having a chris king bottom bracket grease doohicky in my possession, as of this morning, unused. despite also owning a chris king workshop manual, i'm afraid i did what we all do and attempted grease maintenance without reading any of the relevant pages. the process, therefore, took way longer than it should have.
the grease squirter slots into the gap left by removing the chainset with the outward facing edge featuring a valved nozzle. idiot that i am, i removed this nozzle and fitted it to the grease gun, oblivious of the fact that the valve only worked one-way, and not in the way required. working in this fashion does play havoc with one's thumb. after many abortive attempts and a lot of grease in places where grease was patently not required, i got it sussed and completely re-lubed both bearing cups successfuly. the chain was then cleaned and lubed, tyres inflated to the regulation pressures leaving only the not inconsiderable problem of fitting six bicycles into a pint pot, along with the delivery box for the hakkalugi (probably in flagrant breach of local health and safety regulations).
so i am now ready and willing to climb aboard one or other bicycle for the initial foray into the hinterlands, come friday, and i'd respectfully suggest that you give the festive 500 serious consideration. mince pies be damned.
thank you rapha and chris king.
posted tuesday 20 december 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................