making up around 77% of russia's territory, siberia maintaIns only 28% of the country's population. in the true tradition of russian principalities, it is a large slurp of land made up of several districts; a heck of a lot of them in fact. and it's cold, or perhaps more accurately, it's not warm. the annual average temperature is half a degree celcius, but at this time of year, it's a lot lower at around -15 degrees. that's a tad cooler than we're used to. situated in the east of siberia, oymyakon has the dubious distinction of being the coldest town on earth, with the lowest recorded temperature of minus 71.2 degrees.
i don't pretend to understand the world's weather systems, and even less those that forecast the weeks and months ahead, but it seems not too unusual for arctic winds from the direction of siberia to head in the general direction of here during the opening months of each year. as i believe they are trying very hard to do at present. i shouldn't think i'd be too far off the beaten track if i were to surmise these winds to be the cause of last year's blizzards, snow drifts and white stuff on islay where there is not normally white stuff.
the hebrides have been spared snow this year (so far), but the important dials on the central heating have been inching clockwise over the past few days to compensate for less than moderate temperatures on the other side of the windows. this isn't a serious problem for the peletonese, for we are nothing if not well-prepared for the onslaught; it is often a simple matter of pedalling a bit harder throughout any extended periods out of doors. the velo club are not enamoured of turbo trainers, nor in possession of holiday leave that would allow us the luxury of jetting off to warmer climes for pre-season training in the sun. thus the sunday ride yesterday was braved by minimal numbers, swapping cycling for softies midway through for that of a gale-force headwind, peppered with a regular smattering of cold rain.
though the ambient temperature was doubtless sitting in positive numbers, the windchill inhabited the negatives; my cheeks and nose are more than ready to corroborate my story, should you be interested.
in order to face adversity with a smile upon my face and warmth within my skin and bones, the outer layer consisted of a waterproof shell over a capo forma padrone thermal jacket. the latter had previously given service in a more unadorned state, mostly due to a lack of consistent precipitation, but in the absence of manufacturer's claims suggesting comprehensive waterproofing, the outer shell was my safety net.
capo forma, or more colloquially (it appears) simply 'capo', was born in 2004, the offspring of gary vasconi and robert carbone. growing from socks and casuals to the more prolific offerings of today, everything is designed and developed in north america (corporate headquarters are in emeryville, california with a european office in varese, italy) with the bulk of production taking place in italia.
the padrone jacket wears its thermal properties with pride and excellence, composited as it is from lashings of super roubaix, a fabric without which the cycling world would likely be at a total loss. at least at this time of year. the outer panels are fabricated from windtex dream, doing a consummate job of keeping breezes, draughts and gales excluded from one's person. i can comprehend the apparent need to build cycling jackets from an interlocking system of panels, for using the padrone as my evidence for the defence, it seems one of the finest methods of providing that form-fitting couture.
form-fitting is the ideal or holy grail of cycling apparel, but in all honesty, suitable only for those without wobbly bits where wobbly bits should not be. capo's padrone jacket unashamedly advertises its italian heritage not only by means of tastefully placed italian red, white and green labels, but by a customary italian fit. the latter is likely the holy grail of many a less than active cyclist. none of this is intended by way of critcism, for there is little more pleasing than to acquire an item of cycling apparel that not only does what it says on the tin, but makes you look like a professional (even if only from a distance). try before you buy.
returning once more to those cold siberian winds, the collar is of commendable height, closed by means of a full-length, two-way zip. similarly, the sleeves are of well considered length, as is the drop tail to prevent nasty draughts around the kidneys. the inner face of the rear hem, partially elasticated, is spotted with dots of silicon gloop to ensure all remains where intended. ideally, and in keeping with the cyclist's definition of a jacket, there are three generously sized and remarkably flexible rear pockets, the outer two of which slope downwards for easy of entry and exit. even more satisfyingly, the middle pocket features an outboard waterproof zipped affair in which to keep the coffee money.
sticking a waterproof shell over the padrone on the sunday ride removed any likelihood of judging any degree of windproofing, so it's as well this had been satisfactorily proven over the previous days' riding. on sunday, cosiness was mine for every last one of those freezing 70 kilometres; super roubaix more than deserves its prefix. it's also worth noting that the padrone is, at the very least, showerproof, a feature to which i'm happy to attest; i got caught in the rain for 15km on saturday.
capo seems something of a well-kept secret in the uk, and an altogether non-existent secret north of the border. however, it's early days yet, and based on my cold, wet but cosy days in the saddle, the padrone thermal jacket is ought to change that in a very short space of time.
maybe there's a stockist in oymyakon, siberia.
the capo padrone thermal jacket retails at £190 ($250), in either black or white and available in sizes small to xxl (medium tested)
posted monday 30 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
historically, the language of islay is gaelic, one that currently benefits from squillions of scottish government money in an attempt to re-instate it as at least something approaching a second language, though oft-times in parts of the country with no historical use. it's a language that suffers from a number of disadvantages. for one, certainly on islay, it was predominantly a spoken language; there are many of the island's older inhabitants who still greet each other in gaelic, but who would struggle to discern a sentence if written down.
mrs washingmachinepost's grandmother, when still alive, was a fluent gaelic speaker. my career path on moving to the isle in the late eighties was to have been that of a landscape artist, and as such, i explored many of the more remote hinterlands in search of rustic material for my impasto laden canvases. as many of these works were ultimately destined for exhibition, it behoved me well, as progenitor, to have them appropriately titled, the spelling of which i gleaned from an ordnance survey map. to enhance my ethnicity even further, i would show the titles to mrs twmp's gran for aid with pronunciation, to be throughly confused by the fact that she could not help me in any way.
which brings me to its second disadvantage (as perceived by one bereft of any language skills whatsoever), that of pronunciation. many a language has the advantage of being more or less pronounced as phonetics would dictate; gaelic confounds that principal completely. for example, bowmore distillery currently begins its mailshots with the claim; 'welcome, or, as we say 'failte'. this is a somewhat disingenuous claim in the first place, for the marketing materials emanate from glasgow, a city with no gaelic tradition to speak of. however, in an attempt to educate the great unwashed, they helpfully provide a phonetic aid memoire by stating 'pronounced foyle-ta'.
let me tell you that, if visiting the distillery, you were to greet a member of staff with the word foyle-ta, you would receive some very quizzical looks indeed. this is because the word failte, is actually pronounced 'falcha', where the 'ch' is as in the word church. though not even close to having the ability to pronounce anything in gaelic, i have e-mailed morrisons bowmore to point out the errors of their ways, but to no avail.
the third perceptible disadvantage is that each island enclave has its own variant of the language. lewis gaelic is distinct from skye gaelic is distinct from islay gaelic. the latter has given minor cause for consternation at the local gaelic college (ionad chaluim chille ile) which is administered as an offshoot of skye's sabhal mor ostaig (try pronouncing that correctly), thus many of the educational materials contain a version of the language not endemic to the queen of the hebrides. believe me, you do not want to get involved. several years ago, the local scottish co-op (presided over by an office in manchester) installed double-sided aisle signs with english on one side and gaelic on the other, a gesture that was all but useless. for those who speak gaelic couldn't read it, and for those who could, the signes were not in islay gaelic.
the majority of islay's population have no gaelic whatsoever, but all have a reasonable command of english. it therefore defies logic for the government to have spent millions converting all the road signs in the region to show both the english and gaelic place names. so now it's possible to get lost in two languages, though only one of them is featured in the automobile association's road maps of great britain. go figure.
prior to recounting these moments for your edification, i have spent a very enjoyable hour and a few minutes watching niels albert riding away from the rest of his belgian team to win the 2012 cyclocross world championship. this he did on a colnago prestige cross bike with a rare feature: a decent colour scheme. the top seven places were all filled by belgian riders, the last man home being another aboard a (somewhat dull) colnago prestige, sven nys. the chap filling eighth place was over a minute behind nys.
cycling is so much of a minority sport in the uk, it would have been expecting way too much for any of the british tv channels to have broadcast the race as a space filler on late night telly, let alone live. cyclocross is a tiny little eccentric niche of the venn diagram that describes the world of cycling, one that has no bradley wiggins, no mark cavendish and no team sky. therefore it is televisually irrelevant as far as british broadcasting is concerned, no matter that attendance at koksijde was reckoned to be in excess of 60,000. and in any case, twitter had already provided running commentary along with the final result, so any late night broadcast would have been somewhat null and void.
however, the interweb has removed pretty much every obstacle to watching live cycling, no matter the continent on which it takes place, therefore those of us with the necessary cyclocross street-cred were already sat in front of sporza, oblivious to the belgian commentator mutterings apart from the almost obligatory "aye,aye,aye,aye,aye." without which european cycling would simply cease to exist. if reassurance were required that sporza is a belgian undertaking, one need only take a gander at the web address atop the excellent live-streaming televisuals: sporza.be.
why then do they insist on plying the on-screen graphics with the english language? as neils albert furrowed his way through koksijde's deep sand, a little blue box would appear in the lower left corner stating head of the race. the six chasing belgians (was there any other country entered for the race?) were labelled chasing group. as admitted to above, i am sorely lacking in langage skills of any sort, but i think it quite likely that the belgian language has words equating to both head of the race and chasing group. surely native belgians feel just a bit put out by the intrusion of the english language onto one of their national broadcaster's images? i have not looked particularly closely, but does the tour of britain coverage insult us with tete de la course? probably not.
however, the above notwithstanding, it appears that patrick safety jogger is the new dirk hofman motor homes.
posted sunday 29 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
islay doesn't have a library, at least, not one that stays in one place. we have a blue library van, shelved round the inside and filled with the most requested genres of books. it's a part of argyll and bute's network of libraries, including the ones that are not itinerant, so if there's a book not available here, there's every likelihood iain (the librarian) can get hold of a copy from somewhere else. there's also the possibility that the very volume required might be sitting in storage at portnahaven hall. doubtless, as the years progress, the van will shrink to the size of a small box, and we'll download all we need onto our ipads, but for now, we can revel in our quaintliness.
in my early years on the island, i was wont to visit the library every wednesday morning to satisfy my voracious need for reading material, and i confess to having placed orders for some rather eccentric books outside the norm. but in my modern day guise as part-time, self-styled cycling literary critic, i generally have more words to peruse than any man has a right to expect. the library thus exists without my patronage, and is probably all the better for it.
however, due to budgetary constraints and a constant need for the council to make life a smidgeon harder than it probably needs to be, no longer does the library visit each area on a weekly basis. two weeks are now allowed to pass ere that blue van parks close to my front door. in the grand scheme of things, this is a misdemeanour that passes me by, and though most, if not all, are now accustomed to such sparing periodicity, it does not help any potential would-be scholars. how are the potentially learned to undertake timeous research into their areas of concern? how is one to educate oneself in all pertinent areas of subject matter that may furrow the brow?
the answer, of course, is the interweb.
no longer is it truly necessary to have even a basic grounding in any selected or imposed topic, when the world wide web provides such easy opportunity to select a vague term of search and proceed from the initial result. in much the same way that ahoover became a generic noun for any brand of vaccuum cleaner, finding the kernel of one's interest has simply manifested itself under the command google it whether that is indeed the search engine of choice. it has become so ubiquitous in daily life, that few will query such a response.
in the days when the internet was young and still in the throes of disarray, the website that many opted to use for the purposes of inquiry was that of alta vista. surprisingly in these days of google domination, alta vista still exists in a state of remarkable simplicity. matters of great incomprehension to the rest of us, known as algorithms, have spent many a year battling each other for supremacy, and though it would appear the mighty google has most of the parcel sewn-up, microsoft has yet to admit any form of defeat, and stakes its claim to our search and rescue missions with bing. it is obviously of little value to query the choice of appellation applied to their search engine, for in truth it is no less inscrutable than that of google.
ten years ago you would have laughed even louder in my face, that i chose to intersperse both words in sentence of purported serious intent.
while google plies its daily trade via inexpensive keyword adverts, bing has given voice this past week to five small uk charities under the banner 'help your britain', allowing each to voice the valuable contributions they make to the communities in which they work. friday's showcase was that of life cycle uk, a bristol-based organisation aiming to inspire people and equip them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make cycling a part of their everyday lives.
it's a charity that places the emphasis on society and people, using the bicycle as a medium for change. pairing the blind with sighted partners to go riding and benefit from exercise, aiding those with forms of depression to get out and about and via their silver cyclists, helping the elderly gain confidence by cycling in groups chaperoned by an experienced cyclist. these are all aspects of cycling most of us take for granted or rarely think about. it's not all team sky jerseys and beijing gold medals; the bicycle has a far greater reach and potential for change than it is often credited with.
as with many a contemporary charity, funds are most certainly not limitless and some of life cycle uk's current projects are in danger of coming to an unfortunate and sudden stop through lack of necessary money. if you're in the area served by the organisation, perhaps you could volunteer a few hours per week or even donate a pound or two. after all, that white bar tape will last a couple more months. and do you really need another jersey?
as a dyed in the wool apple macintosh user, i have been unashamedly and sometimes justifiably critical of microsoft in past years, but i'm willing to partially redress the balance by offering praise, via bing, for providing such excellent exposure to a worthy organisation.
i don't suppose there's a search engine called bob hope is there?
posted saturday 28 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
jeremy powers is sitting in a car, in a car park, somewhere near hoogerheide. he's zipped up to the neck in a black quilted jacket and a white sram wooly hat pulled down over his forehead. for jeremy has a cold, an irritant that has fought back after the previous weekend's european cross race, and at the time of our conversation, he's not sure whether he'll be competing at hoogerheide. (jeremy did, in fact, take part in the race, finishing in 29th place, a result he tweeted as "we're gonna file today under 'DAYS TO FORGET' not an awesome result and I wanted better but...some days you got that swag. some days you don't)
despite suffering so, mr powers is perhaps unsurprisingly happy; he is now american national cyclocross champion, a title that has been at the forefront of his thoughts, racing and training for many a long year. "I finally got that monkey off my back." the 2011/12 season has also been one of his best in terms of outright victories including back to back wins at the deschutes brewery usgp weekend. this has also been his first season with rapha focus, a team that has fulfilled pretty much all the promise you can think of after only two seasons. last season, powers rode for the cyclocrossworld.com/cannondale team alongside tim johnson. though retrospectively a vacuous question, why the move?
"basically tim and i probably got too comfortable. we raced together, hung out together and often trained together. rapha focus had approached me during the previous season but it didn't feel right at that point. this time it did."
it seems almost unnecessary to point out that rapha is a predominantly british brand, based as it is in perren street in kentish town, london. though there are rapha outcrops appearing all across the globe, you'd figure most, if not all, strategic decisions would emanate from this location. the rapha focus cyclocross team is one of the few exceptions. i asked north american manager slate olson if it had been a hard sell?
"'Tis true. Talking from a participation point of view, cyclocross in North America is much bigger than anywhere else in the world. The Cross Crusade Series in Portland consistently sees 1000-1200+ racers across all categories each weekend. Seattle's MFG Series had a few weekends of 1000+ racers, and that's in a town that could hardly field 300 just a couple years ago. We're seeing consistent gains all over the US, from Southern California to the Northeast series. We see cyclocross as a bit of a 'gateway drug' and one of the best chances for bicycle racing to become broadly more popular in the US. The scene at these races are far more inviting to bring people to the sport than any other type of racing in cycling.
"But to answer your question more directly, it wasn't that difficult a sell to London. For one, 'cross has a direct and legitimate connection to road racing, and we love racing and have enjoyed success with the Rapha-Condor-Sharp team in the UK. Extending Rapha's presence in professional racing through the winter with the Rapha-Focus team was seen as a natural step."
ceo simon mottram concurs. was this a case of portland taking matters into its own hands?"Definitely. Our team in Portland are cross racers and The Rapha Focus team is completely their idea. Cyclocross is hugely popular in the US and growing rapidly. Slate saw a chance to have more impact than would come from a conventional road team."
jeremy powers has had to interrupt the conversation a couple of times to stave off the manifest effects of his cold. would it be true to say that the team had been built around him? (the other members are chris jones, zach mcdonald (usa u23 national champion) and julie krasniak) "yes, definitely." in which case, had jeremy been a specific target of slate's, or was it simply one of those serendipitous happenstances?
"The short answer is yes. Chris Jones and Zach McDonald were the first two gents that we targeted to build the Rapha-Focus team around. Not only are both strong, strong riders, but they are quality people that we knew would not only have results but make an impact with who they are. As I was talking with them in 2010, I did also reach out to Jeremy Powers, but as a complete "wouldn't that be something" sort of flyer. I knew more of Jeremy than I knew him, but was a fan, was well aware of his talent and knew that he was also a bit of a fan of Rapha. The sport needed to break up the CyclocrossWorld 1-2 of he and Tim Johnson and we knew he'd look great flying our colors. I'd still call it serendipitous though."
with so many excellent riders visible in american cyclocross, including jeremy's main rivals tim johnston and ryan trebon, what made slate want to sign powers? "His results speak for themselves. Obviously, I am very, very happy that he had the success and sort of season that he wanted. Jeremy is blessed with talent, works very hard and to have it come together is fantastic. Again, beyond the results, he has an electric personality, a great sense of humor and is someone we knew could bring meaning and interest to the Rapha-Focus program and our brands."
for those who are less tenacious in their following of american cyclocross, jeremy powers has featured himself and his sponsors writ large in a regular video series entitled 'behind the barriers'. jpow's extrovert tendencies are ideally suited to this medium. rumour has it that he paid for the previous season's episodes from his own pocket. was he still putting his own money where his mouth is? "No. this year my sponsors (Rapha, Focus, SRAM, Easton and Giro) have fully funded 'Behind the Barriers'." what prompted the series? "I just wanted to promote the sport of cyclocross in the States, to get it into as many homes as possible. If only a few of those who watch grab a bike and take part, then it's served its main purpose"
doesn't it intrude on a busy career? "Not really. Pretty much the whole thing is handled by Sam; he does all the filming and editing, but I have the final say on everything. Sometimes I've had to say no to a scene because it's a bit controversial, or because it features a product that you can't buy yet, but other than that, I wouldn't say it gets in the way."
did rapha have any input into behind the barriers apart from the odd appearance by slate and jeremy dunn? slate olson;"Nope. That's all Jeremy and Sam's doing. Call Powers what you will, he's a funny guy to tag along with. I think 'Behind The Barriers' has definitely taken strides this year."
despite the team consisting of four riders, from a fan perspective, it seemed to be all about jpow. was this a deliberate ploy, or is he simply possessed of an irrepressive nature? according to slate olson "For us it wasn't all about JPow at all. Jeremy is a bit of a one-man marketing machine with 'Behind the Barriers', so I could see how it feels like he took top billing. And, with Jeremy winning a lot of the big races, it was tough to keep his name out of the headlines. But, it was definitely a team effort this season. "
from jeremy's point of view, did the rapha focus team operate just as the name would suggest, for it seems less likely that other team members could help towards a victory as can be the case with a road team? Yes, it's definitely a team, maybe not in the way it works on the road, but it's definitely a team effort. We usually pre-ride the courses as a team, and Zach might say to watch out for a particular corner or tell me he made up two places in his race by taking a different line through a specific section. We all help each other; it's a real team."
though it may well be the case that the rapha focus team is an expression of slate olson's deft north american management, but are focus, easton and giro the silent partners in the team, or do they have as much say as rapha? "Nobody in this bunch is silent. I feel really lucky that Chris Jones helped bring us together with Focus originally and I think we have built a group of brands that are focused on the right things. It's a team effort from the group of sponsors, we genuinely like one another and have fun working together. I don't know if every other team can say that. Rapha-Focus may be the team name, but every sponsor is critical to the team's success."
as mentioned above, it's been a successful season, ending with two usa national champions jerseys, one of which will grace this weekend's world championship race (powers and jones will race for the usa team) at koksijde. what were the outline goals at the beginning of the season? slate olson; "1. Look fantastic. 2. Have fun. 3. Race as best as we could... which leads to 4. Win. I know that Zach always had his eye on the U23 US titles and spending more quality time in Europe. Jeremy was the same, I believe he targeted the USGP and certainly wanted to get the Nationals monkey off his back. Beyond that he was eager to continue to improve in European competition. Chris was a bit of a question coming into the season because of his massive workload during the road season and the Tour of Britain crash that banged him up. I think the season worked out about as perfect as could be for Chris. He had some good results as he came on strong the middle of the season and being selected for the US team for Koksijde is tremendous.
"The other goal for the team was to add a woman to the program. Julie Krasniak (aka. 'Ze Frenchwoman') came on a bit late, but added something fun for the team. I am inspired by the growth of 'cross because of women and for us it was important to support and be involved in the women's field. At least in the US, I think that the women's fields will only continue to grow and I believe that 'cross will do wonders for inviting more women into bicycle racing."
with one of those other team members, zach mcdonald, having grabbed the u23 national jersey, will having two champions on the team give slate more leverage on the budget for next season? "Ah budgets. We'll see. We have all three of our guys signed through Worlds '13, that has always been the focus. Hopefully we'll keep having fun the 2012-13 season."
of course, all this has happened across the pond, in a sport that the uk seems to have far more of a minority interest in. but having the usa national cx champion on the team must surely be the equivalent of having kristian house in the national road-race jersey. will this encourage perren street to continue or expand its investment in cyclocross generally such as last year's three race supercross series? simon mottram says it's a separate issue. "Cross here is catching on but is so far behind the scene in the US. The SUPERCROSS series is our attempt to lift the sport here and give it some of the US excitement and fun. Maybe we will be able to get Jeremy over for this year's races?!"
it's obviously not heating up much in belgium, for though sram's woolly hat has achieved a more relaxed stance on jeremy's head, the jacket is still pulled close about the collar. does jeremy regard this as having been his most successful season to date? "In terms of results I think that would be true to say, but in terms of success, nothing is more successful than that first USGP win. It depends on how you view or measure success." now that the national champion's jersey is safely on his back at last, does he intend to concentrate just as hard on the American season next year, or are there plans to spend more time in Europe?
"i spent two seasons alone in Europe in 2004 and 2005 before realising that I wasn't at the level I needed to be at to be really successful. So I came back to America to concentrate on getting better, and now I've returned to Europe as a champion. But I like to have fun and I don't know if I'd want to do this if it meant living, racing and training in Europe to achieve ultimate success. I like going home after races and I like to spend time with my girlfriend.
"But to answer your question, I want to concentrate on getting to Louisville, (kentucky, venue of the world championships in january 2013) in the best shape I can."
before leaving jeremy to get warm and to hopefully feel better, it seemed an idea to ask where he goes from here? does he have a cunning plan? I just want to continue trying to be the best I possibly can be at all times, to win as many races as I can, and to have fun doing so."
do jpow's thoughts for the future coincide with those of slate olson? "To be honest I'm a little upset with Jeremy and Zach winning and putting a kink in our team colors, so that's the first strategic issue we'll have to solve. We're going to keep pushing next season and I'm sure we'll have a few tricks up our sleeves, but the focus is pretty similar to this past year. Should be fun."
does simon mottram feel that portland's renegade sponsorship ideal has been ultimately repaid by jeremy's win in wisconsin earlier this month? "The investment had more than paid off already through excellent press coverage and engagement with cross racers. Powers' win won't hurt though!" and will a replica usa cx nationals champion's jersey be made available through the rapha store? "I'm sure Slate will be pushing for that one! It's great that the US federation is much more relaxed about the design of their national champ jerseys than most countries (UK included). We're pretty happy with the new design. Let's see how many people ask for it!"
once this year's world championship race is over and done with, jeremy powers has only four or five days break before he flies to the season's first training camp with the jelly belly road team for whom he'll race the rest of the season, including the tours of colorado and california and perhaps the occasional foray into europe.
it's a dirty job (literally) but i'm kind of glad that jeremy powers is doing it.
i am very grateful to jeremy powers, slate olson and simon mottram for their considerable assistance with this article.
photography by dan sharp, wil matthews, corey keizer
posted friday 27 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in 1835, in what is now known as becknerville, a short distance south west of winchester, kentucky, hank wolf set up a compact and bijou smithy and what i dare say we'd refer to as equestrian supplies, intent on providing himself and family with a small stipend to keep themselves in the manner to which they hoped to become accustomed. he was taking advantage of the boom that was in the process of happening in lexington, often referred to as the horse capital of the world, but felt he'd have greater success pandering to those travelling east to west before they hit the many similar traders in lexington town itself.
he hit lucky in this respect, but soon reached the dilemma that many small businesses experience; needing to expand to take account of the promise of even more dealings, but being short of the financial wherewithal to realise these ambitions. hank hit lucky. thijs van meerben had arrived alone in new amsterdam on the eastern seaboard of the united states in june 1838, intent on making his way to the pacific coast to start a new life, in the hope of meeting the love of his life and living out the rest of his years on sun, sea and sand. the initial problem, like that of wolf, was one of money.
van meerben spent some time trying to win a few dollars at poker around the less salubrious establishments of new amsterdam to finance the trip west, but could scarcely believe his luck on discovering just how poor the inhabitants were at playing cards. he left the east coast considerably richer than he arrived. his trip west began in may of 1839, serendipitously taking him through becknerville on his way to lexington, and with his horse appearing slightly lame, he dropped in at hank wolf's to take advantage of his equestrian services.
with nowhere to stay overnight, hank wolf invited him to bunk down in their barn, and to dine with him and his family. thijs van meerben was a bit of a mouthful for backwoods americans to pronounce, so thijs generally introduced himself simply as dutch. in the interests of cutting a long story short, dutch and wolf hit it off, dutch happily provided hank with the extra capital he required and the two went into partnership, rather obviously as dutch and wolf.
life moved on, as it inevitably does, and the demise of the horse business when first the bicycle and subsequently the motor car usurped that of equine transport, meant that the successors to thijs and hank had important decisions to make around the turn of the century. they elected to leave the motor car to others (a decision that has never been regretted) and immerse themselves in bicycles. the early velocipedes were very much the preserve of the well-heeled, and though the bicycle has gone through many sociological and class status moments, dutch and wolf were able to hang on long enough as a business to arrive at the other end intact, still serving the upper strata of the bicycle business.
in the early part of this century, they moved lock, stock and barrel to the uk, depositing themselves in, of all places, altrincham in cheshire, intent on providing the great british cycling public with a bob or two in their pockets with the ultimate in frameology and trinketry.
of course, this may all be unwarranted conjecture, for when i asked director mark mcgrath of dutch and wolf why the business had been so named, he replied "there is a long and interesting story behind it. But for now we are keeping it under wraps." i bet mine is better.
however, to leave the realms of fiction far behind, dutch and wolf does indeed live in altrincham, cheshire, and in fact is keen to pander to the every whim of those for whom the bicycle and its attendant fancies are everything. stocking frames from colnago, kyklos and orbea, they are keen that prospective customers can be assured that nothing will be left to chance, having engaged the services of professional bike fitter, alan williams, a man who has spent more than ten years in the service of team gb and a professional road team on both the giro d'italia and the tour de france. his services are available by appointment for dutch and wolf customers.
what you may wish to make an appointment for is a custom fitting on one of europe's most illustrious marques, and a firm favourite in the inner hebrides: colnago. d&w specialise in the c59 italia, the m10, master x-light and the epq. all colnago orders are bespoke including choice of colour. once chosen, the order goes to cambiago to be hand-built and painted to your exacting specification. though the choice is a somewhat obvious one, i asked mark why they chose colnago?
"Colnago for us is an easy choice, they deliver innovative, race-winning carbon masterpieces that are true works of art. The passion that started Colnago still exists today and that is very rare for such a global brand."
with regard to the custom painting mentioned on bespoke colnago orders, does this allow for individual customisation, or are we still talking about colnago's official colour range? "we're referring to any product factory colour."
if you consider that the likes of a colnago c59 frame and fork starts at £3,300, and it's unlikely anyone ever had shimano tiagra bolted to its carbon tubing, we're looking at a considerable investment in one bicycle. add to that, the d&w website is offering royce carbon hubs at £950 a pair, so those of modest means definitely should not apply. in the midst of a recession, is this the ideal time to be launching a cycle business that aimes at the upper reaches? "The luxury goods market has been on an upward climb for many years. Our research has concluded that there is a strong market for such products in spite of the challenging economic climate."
though royce are amongst the finest purveyors of hubs in the world, they do sit rather lonely on the hubs page of the d&w website, and few cycle businesses offer only three distinct marques of frame. does mark intend to expand the range of components, frames etc, or is he content with things as they are? "New products are being added all the time, we want to hand pick the best and that doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive." with regard to the fitting services of alan williams, is it possible for prospective clients to access his services via dutch and wolf, even if they have no specific intention of making any cycle purchase? "no. this service is provided for only dutch and wolf customers at this stage."
you would wonder, however, whether dutch and wolf can drag the middle aged man in lycra away from the current line of cycle commerce that has existed for many a year. after all, there are a number of stores that assist with fitting the customer to the bike, and untold websites from which every imaginable component and groupset can already be acquired via one's all too available flexible friend. all that would remain is to persuade the guy at the local bikeshop to assemble everything in a manner that would allow for velicipedinal perambulation. what is it that d&w think they can offer that others currently don't? "The best online experience bar none. One to one fitting by appointment in a fantastic location with proven professionals who take the time and care to deliver the bike of which dreams are made. Our unique products will be available over the coming year and will set us aside from our contemporaries in terms of quality and innovation."
there is little doubt that the market at which dutch and wolf have aimed their services exists. rapha and assos have all but proved that. and if you're intent on spending the sort of money that acquires a fully specced, handbuilt colnago c59, i'll admit it's rather reassuring to know that it's not being thrown together with a bunch of allen keys and an adjustable wrench in somebody's garage. the more expensive cycling becomes at the top end, the more services such as dutch and wolf's are likely to become a part of the day to day fabric. this is, as paul weller once said 'the modern world.'
as if all the above were not enough to encourage thoughts of re-mortgaging the bikeshed, dutch and wolf have not excluded the true reason we all ride bicycles. coffee. despite wearing the mantle of new kids on the block, d&w have a whole shelf of own-label grade a1 ground arabica. dont buy a colnago without it.
thijs van meerben never did get to the pacific coast. the growing town of lexington provided more than enough pickings for his card sharp skills.
posted thursday 26 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i used to cycle to my work. years and years ago (at least it seems that way), i would have done everything necessary to make sure that the motor car (a yellow citroen 2cv; pretty much the same as cycling, if i'm honest) remained cossetted in its garage and only the bicycle accompanied me on the daily trammel. even come winter, when snow lay thick on the ground, it seemed eminently more pragmatic to ride two wheels rather than skite about on four. the reasoning behind such a decision rested on a better ability to gauge how slippy it was under wheel from the saddle that from the driver's seat.
while i have surprising recall regarding the daily journey, even down to remembering that i used to be chased by an invisible labrador (it was very dark at some points and ever ready lights didn't always work) on my morning route, but i cannot, for the life of me, remember my attire from that period. there is an evens chance that i wore jeans, shirt and some sort of jacket, the constitution of which more than likely depended on the climate of the day. my workplace was bereft of changing/shower facilities, as indeed were the majority of workplaces in mediaeval times, so i figure i must surely have worn whatever i required to wear for work.
i'm not sure that this included a tie (surely a gap in the market?)
it is almost worth my while concentrating harder to achieve total recall, for that would surely place the current standard of cycling apparel in some sort of concrete perspective. let's face it, unless you were a member of a cycling club and content to wear shorts with real chamois in the comfy bits while resembling an advertising hoarding up top, the only option was to revert to ordinary daywear, including disturbingly unpadded boxer shorts. the world has changed substantially since those days; the bicycle is, if i'm willing to stretch credibility as far as it will go, no longer exclusively regarded as the preserve of the working classes. not everyone rides a bicycle because they can't afford a car.
i am not a well-travelled person, and definitely not one given to visiting the big cities. central glasgow and edinburgh are both small enough to traverse on foot. i do not recall finding it necessary to climb aboard any form of public transport. strangely enough, it was shanks's pony that provided every step of transport in new york city, having walked from west 95th street all the way down broadway and onto the staten island ferry and then back again. bus, underground and cab had no need of application.
london, somewhere that features on the annual twmp travel itinerary at least once, is usually the subject of judicious purchase of an all-day london transport ticket. if you live in a small hebridean village of just under 1,000 people, the london underground has its fascinations, but in most cases i am not inhabiting a tube carriage with any pressure of time. and i do not have to undergo the same journey day in, day out. that would surely be a mode of urban commuting, one that i would be inclined to swap for a bicycle and the (not quite) open road. would i not wish to avail myself of the copious amounts of apparel expressly designed for my comfort and joy while studiously avoiding buses, taxis, motor cars but paying particular attention to traffic lights?
you're darned toot'n' i would. but where to start?
the latter part of the equation is soon to have another degree of pondering added to its ruminations. scotland's premier cycle clothing specialists now of world renown and a top class road-racing team are due to launch their urban range later this year. previewed at the recent london cycle show it features an outer shell jacket, a softshell jacket (both with hoods), a merino jersey, merino polo, stretch trousers, stretch shorts, leather gloves, argyll socks (what else?) and a cap. i'd struggle to think of anything they might have missed.
of course, naming no names, others have preceded them into this corner of the cycle clothing market with a reasonable degree of success, so why has livingston put their best foot forward? pamela barclay is endura's product development director in charge of the endura urban range: "There has been a dramatic change in the use of bikes and cycle culture in major urban areas in the last few years, with London being a great example. With this Urban range, Endura is looking to deliver clothing that works for the kinds of journeys that are a part of this lifestyle.
"As well as buying into brands that have been built around that philosophy, we noticed that folk were cobbling together a look from bits of outdoor and high street jeanswear including our own staff whose personal tastes were also moving in that direction.
"Endura has changed in so many aspects over the past few years, with massive growth in our range, the launch of Equipe, a strong pro-road offering, and our intensive management and involvement with the pro riders on Endura Racing Team. The Urban range was just another logical step as the cycling market evolves."
it is clear why endura would wish to enter a potentially increasing part of the cycling market; i'm all in favour of an ever widening choice of quality product, particularly in the light of endura's recent equipe range to which pamela referred above. but in the light that endura are somewhat late to the party so to speak, what does she think they can bring to market that isn't already there?
"It's true (that the market is already well supplied) but we still intend tackling it from a 'substance over style' philosophy, where the starting point is performance. We believe there is a segment of riders which finds the marketing and hype around some of those brands perhaps a little distant or inaccessible. We have a much more straightforward and masculine message of no-nonsense performance product that is styled more appropriately for the contemporary urban rider."
taking the above into consideration, who does pamela see as their target market for the urban range? " Pretty much everyone who rides a bike in urban areas. Even our hardened MTB riders and Pro Road guys are keen to get some for 'cutting about town.'"
i've already listed the items that form a part of the range, perhaps obviously endura's first confident steps in this direction. is that it, or is there more to come? "This is just the start, but we will need to see some confident sales figures on release before adding more to the range." and the price point? "Akin to our main line Endura range"
when i was a student at art college in aberdeen, cheyne's motorcycles owned three successive corner stores, beginning with mopeds and other underpowered machines, culminating in colossal touring machines such as the honda goldwing and its peers. on a saturday afternoon, it was possible to see groups of scruffy chaps clad in scruffy leather jackets and holding full-face helmets while staring glassy-eyed at the unobtainable behind the window. the humorous part, as if that were not enough on its own, was watching them all climbing on a bus to get home. looking the part obviously meant everything, motorbike or not.
does pamela therefore see the urban range as one that might appeal to even those who don't actually ride bicycles? "Not really. The whole ethos of Endura's product development is underpinned by functionality. There are no aspirations to be a street fashion brand with no technical performance aspect. There have been too many casualties where sports brands have courted the fickle fashion market; we're sticking to what we do best."
placed in historical and sociological context, this must be one of the best times to identify as a cyclist, however you wish to define such adherence to the flag. whether it's a case of screaming full blast for a finish line, or doing the same while heading away from a green traffic light, it would be an incredibly picky individual who failed to find clothing to suit their purposes. endura's urban commuting range will be in the hands of endura dealers later this year, promising no less than to make choice from the saddle better than ever.
posted wednesday 25 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
ah the memories come flooding back; ten-speed racers were undoubtedly the way to go. though i now have bikes a plenty with shifting systems that do everything apart from actually flick the lever and enough sprockets to worry the wheel dish, nothing quite compares with that very first ten-speed racing bike. the comical part here is my use of the word racing in connection with just such a velocipede; i very much doubt that the cycle to which i refer ever hit anything like the speeds that would have it classified as a competitive machine.
i had been driving to my work a short distance of miles for some months before realising that this was costing me rather a lot for my petrol, and that the motor car sat idle for the bulk of its day. much like most of the cars on the planet, come to that. walking was definitely an option, and quite a pleasant one at that, but the idea of a bicycle seemed eminently more attractive. though the ten-speed racer may have never troubled those smaller cogs, its stance in life made it look as if it could. so mrs washingmachinepost dutifully ordered it from one of those mail order catalogues (i hang my head in shame) and a sleek, white steel bicycle arrived, wrapped studiously in brown paper inside its card box.
i knew nothing of bicycles at that point. it did arrive with a poster depicting a group of gentlemen clad in lycra huddled round a machine remarkably similar to the one i'd just lifted from the box, but i singularly failed to note the reynolds 653 decals that definitely weren't on my plain gauge version. the cycle industry occasionally fibs.
when we moved slightly further round the ayrshire coast, i was presented with a substantially longer ride to work, but also with access to less car-troubled roads for occasional forays into the surrounding countryside. one of those countrysides was the town/village of dundonald, reachable only by climbing a big hill. let me make matters perfectly plain at this point: i was riding a plain gauge steel bicycle (=heavy) with 52/42 chainrings coupled with a 14-21 freewheel, and had just watched robert millar calmly cycle away from his immediate peloton on a ruddy big hill somewhere in southern france. who was to say i couldn't do likewise?
my bicycle looked pretty much identical to that of millar's, i too was born in glasgow, so how hard could it possibly be?
very hard indeed as it turns out. once past the roundabout at loans, it was onto the ascent up past highgrove house, at which point i realised i was considerably out of my depth, stopped mid-cadence and was promptly sick at the side of the road. i am very thankful that i did not own this excellent book around that time, for i now discover that there was a second opportunity for humiliation just round the corner, should i have taken the opportunity to ride up to the radio transmitter atop dundonald hill. thank heaven for small mercies.
for the cycling enthusiast, climbing hills is surely akin to swimming against the tide. utterly pointless unless absolutely necessary, but often darned good fun. this book makes such obstinacy disturbingly easy in a concise yet attractive format. it is sufficiently compact and bijou to stuff in a back pocket, or possibly even one of those zipped efforts that graces the front of many a colourful softshell. each hillclimb is detailed in terms of distance, location, average gradient and the nearest practical railway station should you be in the business of adding to your tick book palmares across the scottish lowlands.
there are one or two others in here that recall local geography from my time on the scottish mainland, though i confess several have only been accomplished from the driver's seat of a car. perhaps one of these days. a total of thirty-six climbs are detailed between page one and page ninety-six; if you live in this area of scotland and occasionally find yourself imbued with robert millar tendencies, £6.99 is a remarkably small price to pay.
my only criticism is a debatable grammatical one. if you check the heading on this review you will note that i have placed the apostrophe in cyclist's to denote reference to a singular member of the peletonese. this is how it is portrayed on the book's cover. however, i am of the opinion that the book is intended to appeal to more than an audience of one, and should thus have been classified as cyclists'. yet another subject for discussion at debbie's.
hillclimbs of the scottish lowland roads can be order direct from pocketmountains.com at a cost of £6.99
posted tuesday 24 january 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................