the traditional method of reaching the centre of scotland, a town we like to call glasgow, is to leave islay by means of the regular calmac ferry service to kennacraig, wait around half an hour in the glorious sunshine (a little hebridean humour there) and clamber aboard the citylink bus to buchanan bus station. the latter can be as cheap as ten pounds return if you book online reasonably well in advance which, for a round trip of about 250 miles, is pretty cheap. however, working on the principle that not everyone will have had time or the memory to book the bus, a short distance into the ferry trip, calmac announce that all those intending forward travel by bus to glasgow should call at the purser's office to intimate same.
it's a feature not a bug, so those of us who do this with any regularity wander halfway into the hallway between cafeteria and lounge, catch the eye of the purser and as politely as possible, raise the appropriate number of fingers to indicate intending passengers. on my last trip on friday morning, slightly more steps were required because an erstwhile visitor to the isle had engaged the hapless chap in conversation. this revolved round the fact that the woman and her family had already booked their bus places and was now somewhat concerned that she was being asked to confirm this fact.
as the gentleman at the time was endeavouring to explain, it was possible that there would be more passenegers for the service than anticipated by citylink, so it may be necessary to apportion a second coach to take up the slack. while standing patiently waiting to advise the purser of the fact that my son and i would be occupying two seats on the bus, i was aware of two cyclists rather aimlessly wandering around the open space. how did i know they were cyclists? well, they were dressed in the archetypal uniform seemingly beloved of touring cyclists everywhere, the fluorescent yellow waterproof jacket, one of which rather strangely had the oily imprint of two chainrings on the back, while the other was simply existing in the indescribable shade of yellow that fluorescence seems to turn after several years of fending off the elements.
as bowmore's resident cycling style guru (more of that hebridean humour), i have to ask the rhetorical question as to why anyone would wish to be seen in one of these jackets? though the brand was easily recognisable on the front of each, i will spare corporate blushes by keeping that information to myself. i leave myself wide-open to criticism in view of the following, because i do not have any need to ride in a busy urban setting, therefore visibility is not my primary concern. i have the extreme good luck to pedal in some of the most glorious landscape this side of easter island, through relatively sparse traffic. though there is little to be faulted in the way of being as visible as possible, nor is there any great disadvantage in being the man in black.
however, with improvements in the realms of rider visibility in the past decade or so, i see no compelling reason to look like a walls ice lolly on a dawes galaxy. it's a uniform, i'd tender, that has seen its day, allowing even the most uncaring of cycle tourists to appear more sartorially aware, even to the extent of not sticking out like several sore thumbs in the cottage restaurant. there would surely be little more enticing than leaving the phalanx of bicycles leaning against most of the wall-space in bowmore's main street, yet have the locals guessing where's wally on entering the premises.
though my words will probably fall on deaf ears, preach to the converted, or simply not make the cut at all, i think i may have the most elegantly pragmatic of solutions for those wishing or willing to transition between hideousness(ness) in the saddle and a position of poise and grace in sight of the civilian population. perhaps the best part of my solution is the continuation of an appropriate level of observability. the flashing red rear light has rather given credence to the fact that cyclists can be noticed via minimal levels of brightness. the occasional flash or sparkle could just as easily alert the soporific motorist as to your proximity, and this has arrived in the shape of a frighteningly bright pair of wool gloves manufactured by defeet for prendas ciclismo.
these particular examples really ought to come with a volume control.
even better is the practicality of my tentative suggestion. these are long fingered, bright yellow gloves with a grippy palm print of the prendas logo, meaning no hand slips even when wet, breathability that goretex would die for, and the cosiness that only long fingers can engender. aside from that, as confirmed roadies and thus owners of bendy bars, our constant movement between tops, hoods and drops provides a never ending, yet unforced series of ever-shifting hints of bright colour. that, in the words of jerry garcia, is where it's at dude.
woolly gloves are not waterproof, but then we never expected them to be in any case. what they did achieve that was somewhat unexpected, was a comfortable grip at any of the above mentioned points, as well as being ideal when it came to pressing tiny buttons on a lumix camera. the mix of coolmax, cordura and lycra makes them stunningly hard-wearing, and if i have a sinlge criticism it was a minor degree of chafing on the heel of my right hand. i should also point out, however, that this pretty much ameliorated after the first wash.
of course, i only tender the fluoro yellow as a specific solution to a particular problem; if you are less enamoured of the almost luminous colour, they can also be had in black, red or white. however, even if left to my own devices, i'd still have plumped for the yellow, even if it would blatantly identify me in the cottage restaurant or on a calmac ferry.
the prendas defeet wooly gloves retail from the prendas website for a mere £14.95 a pair (cheap enough for two pairs at a time), in all the previously stated colours in sizes from small to xl.
posted monday 16 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
not entirely unnaturally, a mutual admiration society is something of a closed loop, intent on a variable number of persons (they are always persons) metaphorically or physically slapping each other on the back. it does exactly what it says on the tin. contentious though it may be, that's sometimes what the regular trade-only bicycle show has become. populated by brands looking either to increase the strength of their dealership or ensuring that their existing one knows they have his/her best interests at heart, it is a less than cutting edge environment. those of us with no trade to ply are left scrabbling for tidbits thrown out by the marketing machine or a passing website photographer.
even in the few cases where the public are entreated to invade for a day or two, any impulse to purchase is swiftly rebuffed by referral to the nearest local dealer. cycle shows are for showing and definitely not for purchasing, unless you are interested in several hundred units in a large sea-going container. this is not, lest you think otherwise, a criticism of such events; i can think of little more irritating than attempting to carry out several thousand pounds worth of business while mom, dad and the kids try to change every gear on the latest in carbon fibre. some things are just meant to be. or not, as the case may be.
that is why, and i realise i am in danger of repeating myself, we should bow at the feet of what has become the annual scottish bike show in glasgow's scottish exhibition and conference centre (secc). though organiser rowan mackie would not claim to compete with the likes of eurobike and interbike, that is hardly what he set out to do. cycling, aside from its tediously repetitive promotion as the new golf, and being responsible for generating the mamil acronym (middle-aged men in lycra) is, we are continually told, on the ascension.
cycling is now officially cool and thought of as a worthy endeavour.
aside from my own minute and hardly scientific observations, the recession has brought out not only the seekers of economic salvation, but also those with healthy wallets, meaning the industry and by implication, the local bike shop isn't doing too badly thank you very much. it would be unseemly to ignore this groundswell of interest by admitting to have seen it all before and thus letting it walk on by. thankfully representatives of the scottish part of the equation have little intention of this being the case.
were i more astute, organised and (i know you're thinking it), professional, i would have trammeled the blue carpet in the secc, notebook in hand, writing down all those who were exhibiting and presenting their impeccable credentials in evidence to support my contention. however, bearing in mind my propensity to be in line for olympic gold for talking, that is a task that escaped my perambulations. what i did do to satisfy my own curiousity, was to bluntly ask many just why they were there in the first place. this is not quite as belligerent as it at first seems in bare black and yellow, but when you consider that alpine bikes already owns two separate stores in glasgow, where was the commercial sense or indeed compulsion to effectively open a third for three days in the secc?
in almost all of my inquisitive askings, the song remained the same. the show is promoted as an event most definitely not just for the trade, if indeed at all, but something that would attract families who would rarely have the temerity to enter a bike shop without carrying out months of research beforehand. the scottish bike show is far from being an intimidating event. this year's gathering included a couple of test tracks allowing the possibility of not only riding something that caught your fancy, but the opportunity to buy it there and then. i had a most enjoyable zip about on a paper bicycle, but more of that later. try doing that in milan or eurobike without flashing a cheque book.
if window shopping was the only intention, these were excellent shop windows and to stop the kids from continually asking can we go now? rockstar energy drinks had laid on a stunning bmx display at the back of the hall. more than a few small hands were pulling in the direction of the nearest available bmx cycles for sale.
the aforementioned alpine bikes were one of many dealers returning for a second year, this time aided and abetted by an official display and support from trek uk. it left us wondering where were specialized and giant? surely too good an opportunity to be missed? richard and dean were back from purple harry, continental tyres made a more than welcome return as did robbie porteous from pocketmountain books, freeflow and cycling scotland were back and the guys from pedal power returned with considerable input from endura. as admitted to above, i wasn't taking notes and always seem to be in more of a daze than usual when placed in a hall full of bicycles, so it's more than likely i've missed a few repeat performers.
star of the show however, and being seen for the first time in real life were craig middleton's latest onix rob hayles bikes. these guarded by the onix team skoda featuring a natty carbon effect front. proudly endorsed by former endura equipe team rider, rob hayles, these bear qualities that can only be truly appreciated in person. owner craig was on hand to espouse their virtues and answer any questions about the new bikes. when was the last time you saw mike sinyard do that? it is testament to rowan mackie's investment of time and expertise that the show was deemed the premiere opportunity for onix' first appearance. craig was decidedly happy with affairs.
perhaps echoing that of alpine, the guys from edinburgh's ronde had left their own lair under minimal supervision for the weekend and set up shop in glasgow. as scotland's only rapha and condor cycles dealer, there was much to be seen, lots to try on and plenty to purchase. glasgow's a long way from perren street. but the best bit of all was seeing the number of families and individuals who possibly have less invested in cycling than most of us take for granted. people for whom the word colnago means little or nothing and who may have recognised costa coffee as the only familar name in the hall. those are the next wave of cyclists, the ones that might be tempted to dip a cleated toe in the water and want to come back for more. t's not just the bicycle trade who operate as a mutual admiration society.
sunday saw the scottish bike show sportive running two routes around loch lomond: 62 or 100 miles in the very weather that can make cycling one of the greatest pleasures in the world. sadly, circumstances prevented my taking part this year; the nearest i came was to pass some participants on the bus back to kennacraig ferry terminal. but i'm not dscounting a guaranteed lanterne rouge for 2013. i, and hopefully thousands of others will be back for the third year of the scottish bike show next spring. it's what the month of april's for.
posted sunday 15 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have always had doubts about the apparent intelligence of fish. though there are one or two parallels with those of human beings, there is what could be called a 'fatal flaw' in their collective upbringing; namely, an attraction for worms or pretend flies. if i might hypothesise that news, whether good or bad might be expected to filter through any civilisation, be it above water or below, then surely the knowledge that there are some nasty human beings wearing waders and carrying flexible rods of carbon fibre, would have pervaded the collective psyche? and, being responsible parents, mummy and daddy fish would warn their offspring to be on the lookout?
seemingly not, as evidence would show, for there are still hordes of the above mentioned nasty human beings roaming wild along river and stream, catching hundreds of fish who are seemingly unaware of the danger that may invade from above. i doubt this would be of sufficient import to hand in as subject for a thesus or to hand me a degree in marine biology, but you do wonder sometimes.
one of the parallels of the above that seems still to infect human society, more particularly those involved in pedalling bicycles rather than wandering along river sides, can be classed under the heading of appropriate footwear. though bicycles with sporting pretensions more often than not arrive without pedals, there are still some inhabiting the budget end of the spectrum that own either flat quill pedals, or a throwback to the heydays of sean kelly, with toe-clips and straps. in either case, it is likely that some form of manual ought to have been issued for the new and uninformed owner.
should you have been fotunate enough to particpate in what was once referred to as the cycling proficiency scheme, you may just remember being told to cycle with the ball of your foot rather than the instep. considering the number of children and, indeed, adults that i have observed ignoring the former but adopting the latter, this may no longer be a gem of advice freely given by cycle instructors. though fitted toeclips will endeavour to hold the foot in a correct position (just watch any track cyclist), this very much depends on having the strap appropriately tightened. and with many an early learner worried about being unable to put a foot down in an emergency, those straps more often than not, remain loose and flapping.
gravity will always attempt to pull the heavier part of the pedal downwards, meaning the clip and strap are usually on the lower side of the pedal at start-up. flipping the pedal over and sliding the foot in, while desperately tyring to come to terms with more gears than disraeli and a nervousness of steering that wasn't there on the last bike is perhaps one step too many at that particular point. when the errant foot finally finds its home, who amongst the erstwhile civilian has the temerity to lean down and pull the strap tight?
and it is this fear of remaining stuck to the pedals if the lights change to red, or a sheep or two steps errantly onto the road in front that prevents many from taking the next logical step and shifting to the so-called clipless pedal. i have yet to meet anyone who has not fallen ungracefully sideways in the first few days of unfettered feet, but i have also yet to come across anyone who would ditch clipless at the drop of a casquette and return to clips and straps. however, aside from the open choice of which method to adopt, there is the not inconsiderable array of pedals on the market, equalled and surpassed only by the wide variation in shoes to be had, and it is at this point that the educational propensity of fish returns to haunt the unaware.
you'd think, nay hope, that the wealth of information that exists as to just which type of pedal system and the subsequent need for shoes that fit appropriately would be easily to hand. those of us who have ridden spd type pedals during our extensive 'cross careers (sorry, that bit of fiction just crept in) and one or two of the three-point cleats beloved of the hardened roadie should be able to advise the hapless newcomer on their rite of passage moving from the word of clip-free. yet, that just isn't happening. there are still those trying to figure out how a two point spd cleat bolts to the sole of a three-point race shoe and vice versa. and always assuming that the correct choice has been made, have you any idea just how many different shoes there are out there?
i confess my early choices were made on the basis of what appeared on the feet of the racing cyclists i saw in photographs. it was never a case of looking to see what my heroes wore, (that's a slap in the face for sponsorship) because i seriously doubted they had the same feet as me, nor come to that, the same requirements. if you're not in a cycling club of any kind, that's another avenue that remains closed. it is not my desire, now or in the future to opt for the job of shoe salesman. there will not be a downloadable shoe guide anytime soon, and i shan't be doing a roadshow just to measure your feet, but i think it worth pointing out that one of the principal requirements demanded of any cycle shoe, whether you race or whether you like to think you do, is an unfailing stiffness in the sole.
this i have learned over the course of experiencing sore feet just when i didn't need sore feet.
obviously, fitting has a not inconsiderable bearing on any potential proposition, but a stiff sole will allow the shoes to become an extension to the pedal, making these oft times teensy-weensy clippy things into virtual size 44s. you may well be several steps ahead of me here (pun not intended), after i laid bare the sheer luxury and attention to detail inherent in only the packaging for rapha's new grand tour shoes. it would surely be something of a disappointment if, after all that fetishistic unwrapping, the shoes failed to live up to their anticipation, not only in terms of looks, but just how they went about their business.
any worry on that score was well past being of consideration. the word 'masterpiece' springs to mind.
as of several years ago, i have been riding my colnagos with mavic's pedal system installed, so it was a simple affair to order and install a pair of mavic's grey cleats on the impossibly luxurious carbon that forms the lower half of the gts (you don't mind me calling them that, do you?) if this is a task that is somewhat new, particularly on a pair of shoes not renowned for their low price, the enclosed booklet has a page to assist.
before it is possible to place either foot in to the white or black yak leather, there are further details to consider. the right insole bears a silhouette of maitre jacques, while the left, that of fausto coppi, both accompanied by an appropriate narrative. since reading either necessitates removal of the cork insole, before wearing is probably a good time to do so. included in the small charcoal bag are two pairs of arch supports; one thick and one measurably thinner. since there is no way of knowing which is more appropriate, rapha suggest trying them out on the ride to decide.
the shoes have three points of closure: a titanium coloured ratchet buckle, and two velcro straps, the smaller of the two being black on the white shoes and white on the back shoes. it's a rapha thing. the slotted tongue is attached to the upper at one side; opening all three straps makes it a simple case of sliding the feet easily into possibly the most comfortable pair of shoes it is possible to own. the uppers are well perforated, a feature that will allow a commensurate degree of breathability, but always remember that rain can go in as well as out.
if comfort were the ultimate aim of the gts, then at this point they're registering well into the upper regions of any scale you care to mention, but as inferred above, there is a job to be accomplished. i can see little point in sporting a cacophony of style if the turbo doesn't work when you press the button. clipping in is the preserve of the pedal system, so your mileage will vary on that score, but the efficiency of power transfer lies pretty much with the shoes. meandering along leafy lanes is all very well, and shouldn't tax even the puniest of shoe leather (or composite, as the case may be), but the bucketload of fish hooks comes home to roost when standing up to give it some welly.
suddenly, at this point, my mavic pedals become huge (metaphorically speaking), and every pedal stroke moved the bike further and faster than i'll admit i was ready for. it must be very disconcerting for passing motorists to watch a boring old fart with a ponytail laughing and smiling while in the process of riding up a 14% hill. pain and suffering be damned.
as age and frailty beckons, i'd be the first to admit my athletic input is probably not the hardest these shoes have had to cope with, but a bit like my experience with the colnago c59, i have a notion the grand tours were, all the while, laughing back at me and saying in their own sweet way 'is that all you've got?' powerful riders should definitely apply. meanwhile, cossetted inside that luxuriously supple yak leather, my toes thought all their christmasses had arrived at once, for they now had more room to manouevre than they ever thought possible. do not mistake this latter fact for that of a misdemeanour; on warm days in the saddle, when welly is pretty much all that's on the menu, your toes will thank you for the expansive room in which they now live. the buckle and strap system had already immobilised my feet in the manner to which i'd like them to become accustomed, all of which culminated in the ear to ear grin on the hill.
it is perhaps a touch misleading to have brought rapha's grand tour shoes into the fray having started off by discussing the needs of the absolute beginner. shoes lower down the pecking order exist principally to get you started, keep the bank balance healthy and to provide a frame of reference when such luxury beckons. however, the possibility exists that one or two of those introductory moments will pertain to those starting a long and happy competitive career, in which case, these ought to be very noticeably towards the top of any list that needs to be made. for those of us slightly longer in the tooth, but only physically, not mentally, though at the wrong end of the body, these are indeed the crowning glory. they look great, they fit almost impossibly well, and however good you are a cyclist, i'd contend they'll make you a better one.
the smile comes free.
rapha's grand tour shoes retail at £300 ($450 plus any sales tax that may apply ) in sizes from 39 to 47 in both black with white strap and white with black strap.
posted saturday 14 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it would appear that i am a victim of a variation on sod's law, a common spoiler of expected circumstances that does just what john lennon's book of poetry stated, putting a spaniard in the works. you cannot think the less of me for touting my home as an excellent location in which to test the veracity of so-called windproof items of cycling apparel, nor for that matter, those that profess to not only shield from endless precipitation, but allow a proficient degree of breathability. it is what the west coast of scotland is famous for, though i doubt you'll find visitscotland highlighting this in any of their tourist literature.
this denial of service mysteriously surfaces in virtually all levels of officialdom. it seems only a few years ago that i was commisioned by argyll and bute council to create a leaflet entitled cycling on islay, something i was more than happy to do. i was also particularly happy that the lady with whom i collaborated in the council's road safety department was a more than adequate firewall for the less than considered thoughts of those who demanded to be consulted on the contents. islay is wet and windy; it would seem remiss if not downright negligent not to point this out to prospective cycling visitors. it may put one or two off, but on the other hand, it may just provide that extra challenge for the stouter of heart.
at any rate, on at least two separate occasions, the proof copies were returned to both myself and the lady at the council, complaining that the wording blatantly paid tribute to the zephyr that blew from the west, south-west, north and all points in between. this was regarded as potentially detrimental to attracting cyclists to the island, and would i please rephrase the offending passage, that it might exclude the possibility of any breeze from any direction. i cannot pay enough tribute to the lady from the council, who sent me an e-mail stating " i said we would consult. i didn't say we'd pay any attention to the results of our consultations." the outset of this was free reign to print the leaflets with my original text. no changes were made.
however, just as bradley wiggins has seriously tempted fate by happily agreeing with all and sundry that this year's tour de france is his for the taking, by chiselling in print the likelihood of inclement weather, i doubtless invoked sod's law and any celtic spirits that may be loosely associated with same.
though we are plainly sailing along the route to summer, late march and april can reailistically be considered on the cusp between two seasons; the ideal conditions for rain and wind providing the last vestiges of a less than clement winter. until, of course, i am sent waterproofs for review. a mere smattering of days past, i reviewed a craft active rain jacket, a garment which arrived only two days before a similarly named, yet altogether different item of cycling apparel from nick hussey's recently launched vulpine clothing. it is also my solemn duty to inform you that another rain jacket waits in the wings.
vulpine have done a chris 'daddy' dave with regard to the format of their waterproof jacket. chris has all but re-written the rules of contemporary jazz and hip-hop drumming, and seen in the context of most waterproofs hanging in the wardrobe, vulpine are either at the forefront of the cutting edge, or nick doesn't get out to cycle shows as often as he might. for release upon release of breathable waterproofs extol the virtues of fabric technology that makes the space shuttle seem like a lego toy. hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties are allied to micro-porous, active fabrics that will shun all contact with h2o while demonstrating the breathability of a string vest.
if only it were all true.
in this respect, the vulpine rain jacket is decidedly low-tech. though all pocket closures and the retainer for a hidden rear rain-flap echo those of its softshell sibling in the use of magnets, the fabric itself is cotton. not a space-age fibre to be found. however, though a word that has found itself vastly overused in the context of cycling, this is genuinely referred to as epic cotton. in order to transform a natural fabric (how dry does your t-shirt keep you?) into one that laughs in the face of adversity, each thread of is coated with silicon prior to being woven into an appropriate cloth. this almost by definition, retains a substantial degree of breathability (because the silicon is not coating the outer fabric as a single unit), but at the same time, professes to keep all beneath its indigo mantle as dry as the day it was unpacked.
it is certainly a very fine jacket, one that has no aspirations to be handed up by a world tour directeur sportif as the peloton hurtles into a rain shower at the tour of lombardy. i have little doubt it would fare rather well in pelotonic urgency, but its ambitions lie closer to home and closer to work. it is, of course, directed at the cycle journey in between, its remarkably understated style (a word that would be evinced in capital letters were i ever to use any) has had me wearing it to and from work, to and from several clients' premises and at least two separate froth supping sessions at debbie's. the giveaway was the yellow mavic helmet.
it took nigh on three weeks from receipt of the vulpine rain jacket until it first had the opportunity to get itself wet while keeping me dry. truly a sad reflection on not only the weather forecasters, but the prevailing climate. give it a few weeks and nobody, but nobody will ever believe i stayed dry for so long sitting on the edge of the atlantic. and even when the professing of lashings of inclement weather were made plain on every checked website and each and every television weather forecast, i was still left bereft of rain on the jacket. leaving home at 9am to brave the expected onslaught, it was 2pm in the afternoon before i managed to verify the jacket's credentials. happily, after such an extended period of impatient waiting, the deluge failed miserably to pervade the epic cotton, simply occupying the outer surface in the form of baubles of water which ran off harmlessly to the unkempt road surface below.
a result, i believe is the correct terminology.
to reinforce the waterproofing qualities, each and every zip is taped against ingress, in all cases, shielded behind a magnetic flap. though my cielo is well fendered, i did lower the storm flap at the rear purely in the interests of experimentation. in the absence of mudguards i have little doubt it would protect an exposed bottom. that more or less takes care of the external duties.
breathability verges on being a subjective calibration, for it depends greatly on how much you perspire and just how many layers of clothing are concealed beneath that indigo exterior. having subsequently been caught in the rain on several occasions, there was a subtle but measurable difference on each one. i am of the distinct opinon that nothing is as breathable as the manufacturer either says it is, or would like it to be, and never as breathable as i'd like it to be. however, i think this may have more to do with the laws of thermodynamics than with marketing. i doubt i'll ever see the truly breathable cycling jacket in my lifetime.
however, as cotton is, as i previously dictated, a natural fibre, and though serious exertion will create a backlog of inner heat, the rain jacket refused to become clammy, something that can rarely be said for the more technical, man-made fabrics. i cannot truthfully state that my jersey did not suffer from heat-induced damp patches, mostly along the arms and across my shoulders, but at no time did i feel as if i were ensconced in a plastic bag. it was mostly noticed when stopped or making one's way indoors, rather than when hurtling along the road to kilchoman distillery.
i think it unlikely the vulpine rain jacket will appeal directly to those of a sporting nature. there is no way on earth this jacket could be scrunched up and stuffed in a rear pocket. however, for those with more sedate (or not) transportational requirements, which have the added demand of an appropriate degree of sartorial presence, it is hard to praise this jacket too much. with an internal drawcord across the inside back, one also on the collar, and a pocket on the right sleeve hiding a mini carabiner for your door keys, most eventualities have been taken into consideration.
vulpine are now comfortably heading towards the point where, if the didn't exist, we'd have to invent them.
the vulpine rain jacket is priced at £195 and available in charcoal or indigo in sizes small to xl direct from vulpine.cc
posted friday 13 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
on my first cycle-related visit to london, mrs washingmachinepost and i stayed in an hotel some distance from the true city centre in order to be close to the cycle show then being held in london's docklands area at cyclex. in retrospect, this was a mistake, for it necessitated our early departure from a an excellent performance of mel brooks' the producers. so concerned were we that the hotel would close its front door before we returned while also having neglected to confirm appropriate times for the docklands light railway, that we opted to leave our upgraded seats to ensure a more fitting evening than standing in a desolate car park.
neither of us had the temerity to check whether our self-inflicted hurry had any basis in reality, for neither of us have any affinity for egg upon our faces.
a visit to trafalgar square and to a just opened cezanne exhibition in the national gallery meant more time and money spent upon the dlr and one or two lines of the london underground, and i remember mentioning to mrs twmp at the time that, were i to have the misfortune to live and work this far south, i'd be inclined to use a bicycle for all but the most onerous of journeys. it seemed at the time, and on subsequent visits to the capital city, that far from the streets being the sole preserve of motor vehicles, there were more than enough cyclists filling the gaps, and to a naive scotsman from the outer edges, this came as something of a surprise.
as mayor of london, boris johnston has been seen, even as far north as scotland, trumpeting his affinity with those on two wheels, aligning himself with the barclays sponsored boris bikes and being always ready, it seems, to be at the forefront of london's claim to be a city that puts the needs of cyclists, if not first, certainly higher up the points table than many others.
of course, boris is a politician, and it had always to be borne in mind that politicians like to be seen to be caring for the common man or woman; even more so if they happen to constitute a vocal minority. thus, if boris johnston wore a cycle helmet at a rather jaunty angle while demonstrating why team sky never had him in mind for captaining the tour team, column inches were surely in the bag, so to speak. who knew whether he then climbed into a waiting, chauffeur driven jaguar and headed back to his apparent pile of wealth?
sonia purnell is already acclaimed as the author of just boris: a tale of blond ambition but has now penned this short, but hard-hitting e-book to undermine johnston's veracity in the face of the forthcoming mayoral elections. she starts by depicting his perhaps less than altruistic use of the bicycle to distance himself from a previous incarnation that closely paralleled that of the despised jeremy clarkson; 'a clarkson style petrolhead and gq motoring columnist'. after defeating ken livingstone to become london's cycling mayor, his newly attained status seemingly survived the news that he spent £4,698 on taxis in his first year. the question was not unnaturally asked, "just where does boris cycle?"
in 2010 he launched london's cycle-hire scheme as a british replica of the velolib in paris. no mention was made of the fact that the scheme had been first planned and promoted by his predecessor, ken livingstone. though the barclay's sponsorship alleviated the burden on the public purse to the tune of £25 million, the taxpayer nevertheless has contributed an estimated £100 million.
it would be somewhat pointless for thewashingmachinepost to continue in this vein of indignance, given that i live a long, long, way from london and will likely be unfettered by the result of the forthcoming mayoral elections, no matter the outcome. however, ms purnell continues at very detailed length throughout her allocated 35 pages to describe how boris is not the cuddly toy he pretends to be whenever there's a tv camera in the vicinity. despite his professed love of cyclists and cycling, he has, according to purnell, done little of concrete worth to ease their commuting burden within the capital, having in fact opposed several schemes that would have prevented subsequent deaths and accidents.
if you are either a student of politics, or a london resident undecided as to which candidate should receive your vote come election day in the city, you would do well to read pedal power before entering the polling station. no doubt boris would refute many, if not all the accusations contained within, but sad to say, that doesn't make them untrue.
sonia purnell's pedal power is currently available for the kindle, ipad and kobo through the relevant and respective channels, priced at £1.99
posted friday 13 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my day job, as i have no doubt re-iterated on several inopportune occasions, involves my sitting at an apple computer, pressing buttons in order to turn a loose and likely unconnected agglomoration of stories and pictures into something resembling a newspaper. it's my firm contention that this process, as far as the reader is concerned, ought to be virtually transparent. the layout of each page should be pleasing to the eye, yet not so much so that it appears to have been designed in the first place. the object of the exercise is to have folks read that which they wish to read without undue distraction.
i like to think i have a confident handle on the process; after sixteen years, i have no doubt my employers have similar expectations.
though somewhat of a different ilk, thewashingmachinepost follows a similar, if not exactly identical philosophy. in conversation with a visitor to the island yesterday, a cyclist no less, it was commented that washingmachinepost cottage must be awash with cycling paraphernalia acquired over the many years of the existence of these black and yellow pixels. it is a truism that one is sent many items for review, more than several of which i am allowed to keep. it would seem perhaps that thou doth protest too much if i laboured the point that it takes far more time and effort than i'm willing to admit to research, prepare, write and publish virtually every day of the year, often by way of reviews pertaining to such items.
i prefer to not only try and ignore the magnitude of such a workload, but pretty much keep it to myself. nobody forced me to do this; if i didn't enjoy it, i'd just give it all up and go ride my bike more often instead. no doubt there are one or two mumbling to themselves at the back of the room what an excellent idea that sounds as if it might be. in spite of that, however, i have no intention of desisting just yet.
i bring this to your attention not, you'll be suprised to hear, in order to elicit e-mails and tweets of sympathy for my self-inflicted plight, but to introduce you to the punctuation that has grammatically introduced itself almost at the end of a long week. if you'd care to cast your eagle-eyes across just a few of the more recent postings in black and yellow, it will bring to your attention the prodigious amount of words i have digested in order to bring timely reviews of some excellent books. two on eddy merckx (talk about london buses), one regarding last year's garmin-cervelo season and another which sits currently unreviewed on my bookshelf, but which will see the light of day sooner rather than later.
this sort of marathon reading session i could cope with more easily were it not for the fact that i subscribe to several periodicals that also have a shelf life, and it behoves me well to plough my way through these in an expedient manner that i might avail myself of their contents before their successors appear on the doormat next month. i am a quick reader, doubtless a facility enforced by the above situation, but there comes a time every now and again, when there is light at the end of the tunnel and the heaviest and most onerous task is taking a look at the tv schedule for any given day in my copy of the guardian.
that's when you find out just who your friends are.
most periodicals follow a pre-defined pattern of publication. the newspaper at which i ply my trade arrives in the newsagents' on islay every second saturday morning. it would be childish and patronising for me to point out that the monthlies adhere to that defined by their adjectival prefix, but midst these regular shoals of printed matter, along comes a satisfyingly thick cycling journal, its pages occupied by adroit illustrations and commensurably entertaining and captivating words. if i remain obscure in this description, may i introduce you to the sixth edition of the ride journal.
several discussions on twitter yesterday revolved around the efficacy of design afflicting one of the uk's more long-lived cycling publications, at the cutting edge well over a decade ago, but sadly being left wanting in many aspects in the second ten years of the 21st century. though concerned almost exclusively with the sporting life, both its design and editorial content seem to have remained mired in the mists of time. the same accusing finger cannot be readily pointed at the ride journal. if ever there was a guaranteed way to reflect the interests and viewpoint of contemporary cyclists, having them provide the content is probably it. most are confident in their literary abilities, certainly to the point of filling one page at a time, and the magazine's format allows for appropriate artistic expression of a velocipedinal nature to make it all stick.
so why is this of concern to my workflow? my answer would take over 184 pages to fulfil, every one of them of sufficient merit that ignoring a few is not a realistic option. so now, as i prepare to head to scotland for the scottish bike show this weekend, i am faced with the prospect of becoming more widely read than may be good for me.
i promise you, i'll enjoy each and every page.
the ride journal issue six is now available at a cost of £8 direct from the website below, or from selected retailers.
posted thursday 12 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it is a commonly lighthearted remark in our office that if you look at all like your passport photo, then you're likely too ill to travel anyway. though plenty of public locations on the mainland feature curtained booths into which you can secrete your person for the purposes of obtaining a passport photo, islay has no such luxuries. thus, with so many form of visual identification these days requiring a photograph, we have the very camera and the very printer to provide a set of six for whichever purposes you choose. however, there are certain guidelines to be adhered to, particularly if you wish to keep the pedants at the passport office on your side. no smiling, no glasses and preferably, no shadows. it will perhaps surprise no-one that we once had a set of photos of a six month old child returned because the poor infant had too much expression on their face.
if, like me, you are of a cheery disposition and an habitual wearer of spectacles, having to remove the latter and avoid the former does not, for one minute, record a favourable or even recognisable image. but what often adds insult to injury, providing constant exclamations of horror at the images presented in their card for safe-keeping, is the fact that, individually, we all view our faces back to front. other than photography, the most common way to see your own face, whether shaving, applying make-up or simply wondering where the heck that big greasy mark came from, most of us look in a mirror. and mirrors, obeying the rules of reflection, show our faces the wrong way round. thus when faced (pardon the pun) with the real thing in a photograph, the mental image we have of our beauty or handsomeness is rudely shattered.
to corruptly paraphrase robert burns 'to see ourselves as others see us'.
the same phenomenon applies to many other walks of life, one from which cycling is certainly not exempt. many of us wonder why it is the italians seem to throw away that which we have learned to love over our introductory years in the saddle. but it seems, based purely on observational evidence, that they do not have the same view of their craft, style or imagery as we have perhaps imposed upon them over the years. therefore, they see no problem in dropping the old in favour of the new.
this variance in how those embedded in the cycling psyche take a differing view of their metier than we have allowed ourselves to become accustomed is surely no better exemplified than the impressive offering of videos emanating from rapha in perren street. as young upstarts in 2004, they grabbed the cyle clothing market by the scruff of the neck and proceeded to remodel a part of it in their own image. midst shouts of blasphemy, the most eye-watering complaint was often allied to the pounds shillings and pence appended to each admittedly desirable garment.
this is, however, 2012, eight years since imperial works in perren street began to be colonised by an ever increasing staff roster, one which has expanded into mainland europe, america, the antipodes and the far east. your views on their prodigious output and charges thereof are of minimal interest at this point; rapha make cycle clothes, and that's a fact. as with any business in any walk of life, the public persona can be fleeting, but even if not, that which we perceive at present is not always that which the interns are currently working on, nor indeed, is theirs necessarily the same perception as that of their adoring or critical public.
the rapha continental has entered the annals of legend and is about to go global as marketing terminology would have it. in the process of pointing out the very type of riding we all knew we wanted to do as soon as it was pointed out, they have enhanced the experience through more than just a few movies. if you didn't understand the words, perhaps the moving pictures would make everything clearer. a cycling company making movies about cycling is likely as predictable as it gets, even if the style of those films was hardly mainstream. but rapha changed tack slightly a couple of years ago, working with ridley scott associates to produce three films, still related to cycling, but from an angle few would have seen coming.
ben ingham's acciaio concentrated on the work of master framebuilder, dario pegoretti, nick livesy offered a convoluted and perhaps pretentious look at the hell of the north via a throw of the dice, and adrian moat presented two broad arrows bringing the spirit of sean kelly to mind. but as i've mentioned above, like them or loathe them, the connection with cycling was hardly a hidden secret.
but perren street continues to ride its own race with singular, if oft times obscure objectives, quite frequently providing more questions than answers, none more radically illustrated than the most recent collaboration with rsa in the form of knock for knock, filmed in tokyo by antony crook to a script by long-distance cyclist, james bowthorpe. it cannot be denied, there is a bicycle in the movie and according to rapha's accompanying notes, the principal (the only) character in the movie wore rapha's jeans, touring shorts and a mac softshell. however, if you have not yet viewed the film, i might point out that their presence is not germane to the storyline, and if rapha had not been so kind and astute to point this out, we'd all have been none the wiser.
placed in our own context of how we, as cyclists, perceive rapha, it would not be stretching credibility too far to anoint knock for knock as erring rather heavily on the pretentious side. taken purely at face value and watched via rapha's website, you do have to wonder whether it's likely to sell more clothing. and surely that's the whole point in spending what most likely was not simply petty cash?
james fairbank is responsible for rapha's brand management, is one of the riders in the recently formed rapha continental uk, and a pretty down to earth guy. if we can accept that pretty much everyone 'gets' the rapha continental and team movies, does it concern him that this latest cinematic outing may be viewed as having a dangerously tenuous connection to our perception of perren street and its product?
"I'm not sure that everyone does 'get' the Continental. Even with all of the supporting content that we've produced since 2007 it remains a difficult thing to define.
"I wouldn't like to make a generalisation about how we're perceived. I feel it varies wildly but we endeavour to make sure that everything we produce is of a certain quality and feel strongly that our films should be appreciated by film-makers as well as cyclists. Telling stories and producing content around road-racing is a simple affair when compared to making riding in the city look and feel equally compelling. Our range consists of a City Riding line and it follows that we should produce content to articulate that side of our business."
james' answer perhaps proves my earlier point that how we see them, is not necessarily how they see themselves, or even us. if i might be so bold as to tender that knock for knock arrives somewhat from left field, what made rapha decide to become involved in its production? "It certainly wasn't as a result of us sitting down in a marketing meeting and deciding that the post-rock market was worth exploring! Seen in the context of our range I don't think it is particularly left field."
as intimated, the storyline and corresponding imagery does not bring to mind the rapha watchwords of pain and suffering, at least not in the way we have become accustomed to identifying. as the man responsible for having written the storyline and subsequent script, how did james bowthorpe arrive at his ideas?
"From several places really. I had met a Japanese man about a year before who had managed to blame leaving his job and kayaking around Japan on a mythological creature called a Kappa. That was interesting to me as we don't really pay much attention to our own mythology anymore, whereas the Japanese seem to have Shinto and accompanying mythology embedded more in their lives. I don't know much about it but I wanted to explore that. So, I had a couple of ideas, one of which I developed further in collaboration with Antony Crook, particularly after his casting masterstroke."
if i might return to james fairbank's observation that rapha's involvement did not arrive as the result of a marketing meeting, the movie does not appear to be one that sets out to sell anything, least of all apparel from perren street. was the notion ever entertained that this might have to be a consideration? james bowthorpe replies with a firm "No. The ideas were already on the go when Rapha got involved and they didn't press for any creative control. In my character notes he's wearing jeans, a bomber jacket and daps. Rapha don't make daps, admittedly, but everything else was there. From my point of view this is not an advert. Rapha have invested more broadly in arts/culture/whatever-you-want-to-call-it and that reflects values and interests that they have as individuals, as well possibly being aligned with Brand Rapha.
"You will have to ask a marketing person how this might sell clothes. Not my field."
it's a term i have heard coined at perren street before now: brand rapha. it's a perception of the company that allows for a greater degree of expression than that normally attached to a clothing company, whether involved in the cycling genre or otherwise, and whatever your views on it perhaps becoming the core of rapha, it is hard to argue with the astuteness of its existence. however, while we may ruminate and digest the possibility that perren street may be undergoing a subtle metamorphosis, we are still confronted with a film that quite blatantly flies the rapha flag irrespective of our comprehension or otherwise. does it bother james fairbank that knock for knock might be thought just a smidgeon pretentious?
"We can only hope that people take the time to watch it and that they develop an opinion as a result, positive or negative. As a brand we'd much rather polarise than leave people feeling ambivalent." and as the man responsible for the story if not the visuals, would the same perception concern james bowthorpe? "I don't think anything would ever get made if people worried about how others would judge it."
sidestepping any accusations of pretension, on first experience, the storyline is perhaps less than glaringly obvious, though this can naturally alter on repeated viewings. would bowthorpe be disappointed if many of those viewing didn't understand what he (and cook) were trying to tell them? "I'd never want to be didactic. Antony and I always talk about showing a story, not telling it. If someone doesn't get it, maybe they'll watch it again, maybe they won't. There are a lot of things I don't get but it doesn't bother me too much because there's too many of them. I don't really understand how electricity works, but I use it everyday. Given your previous question I quote (Jean Luc) Godard with some trepidation, but when asked by a journalist, "What do you mean, exactly?" he replied, "I mean, but not exactly". We are categorically not in the same division as JLD, but I like what he says."
while i personally delight in the fact that this particular act of storytelling requires a bit of work and potentially lateral thinking to consolidate, there's always the underpinning notion that knock for knock may just be a cleverly subliminal approach to marketing. in which case, though perhaps a tad blunt and to the point, it does not seem too ungracious to ask james fairbank if this is the case. "We want to help make cycling more popular and feel that one way of doing that is to put out films like this. Beyond the immediate cycling world there are many people who remain untouched by traditional cycling marketing and who continue to dismiss it as a marginal pursuit. We hope that films like Knock for Knock might act as an introduction to those beyond the immediate reach of the two wheeled world.
"I'm not sure that constitutes a subliminal approach but it's perhaps broader and more ambitious than you might expect from a brand that's principally known for making cycling clothing."
i scribble words and i take the occasional photo; the art of making films is not one with which i consider myself experienced. in which case, i'm more than happy to ask a potentially naive question as to whether the script was written independently of the film-making, or was there a lot of collaboration between james bowthorpe and antony crook?
"The script came out of collaboration. Nothing gets made in a vacuum.". though it's obvious that any movie requires to be filmed in one location or other, was it bowthorpe's idea that it be tokyo, japan, or was that left to the discretion of the film-maker? "Antony was already intending to be in Japan to photograph Mogwai's (the glasgow band responsible for the film soundtrack) tour of the major cities. I already had Kappas in the back of my mind so when we decided to try and make another film using Mogwai's music, it seemed like a perfect opportunity."
there are so many variations in what might constitute the average cyclist. were that not the case, rapha would hardly need to offer such a wide range of apparel and in several differing sizes. add to that the increasing importance of the women's range to their sales figures, perhaps there is no such thing as an average cyclist. i usually have only me in mind when putting word processor to pixel rather than strive to identify the demographic that may read thewashingmachinepost. however, i am most definitely not adept in the field of marketing; james fairbank and laura bower need not fear for their jobs. however, in the absence of a defining marker for this mythical mr or mrs average, what does bowthorpe think the average cyclist will take from the movie?
"Like you, I'm not sure who the average cyclist is. The film has a bike in it but it's not about the bike, and I'm sure your average broadminded cyclist will have a look and take from it what they will."
at the risk of creating definitions that simply don't exist, or perhaps one that clashes with your own pre-conceived ideas, if the rapha continental and rapha condor sharp movies could be classified as rock 'n' roll, then knock for knock might be construed as inhabiting the realm of jazz. this conveniently correlates with there being something very 'john coltrane' about rapha's apparent need to push the boundaries. does james fairbank think the day will come when rapha becomes known for its approach to objectives (whatever they might be) rather than as simply a cycle clothing manufacturer? in other words, are they being much cleverer than we think they are?
"Our approach in general links to the rigour that we apply to our content; we want our photography to be appreciated by photographers, our design by designers and film by film makers. To take film as an example we've made 130 shorts since 2008 and over seventy thousand people viewed films we've made in the week before Knock for Knock was released. To see this output purely through the lens of the cycling world would be to sell both cycling and the content short."
for those who have yet to find out what all the fuss is about, click the link below these words. it's something of a brave move whether you appreciate what you see or not, but in this context, it is worth re-iterating that stated by robert millar a few years back: 'never forget it's all entertainment.'
posted thursday 12 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
technology is pretty darned spiffing, doing everything you want it to do, everything you didn't know you wanted it to do, and a whole slew of things that you didn't want it to do, but it's going to do anyway. that's what it gets paid for. but a bit like electronic drum kits, there are things better done by what may more appropriately called analogue technology. percussively speaking, acoustic drum sets make some utterly fabulous noises, but they don't make the same noise on each part of the drumhead. bizarrely, there are armies of technologists at roland and yamaha trying manfully to imbue their round plastic boxes with zones that accurately imitate the real thing.
if you've ever played a drumset, even in fun, you may well be aware that as one drum resonates, so do all the others. buzzy snares are the best example of this. electronica doesn't understand the concept of sympathetic vibration, so it has to be built in. does it really make sense to spend thousands of pounds on transistors and printed circuits that pretend to be other than they actually are? of course it doesn't. but aside from tying my flag to the luddite party, things are less cut and dried than i have made them appear. for were this article to end here, despite the fact that we'd all have wasted several minutes of our day, i figure i'd have been pretty successful in destroying any reputation that electronic drumsets might have acquired.
which leads me not at all smoothly to skin. in case you haven't paid much attention lately, skin is brilliant stuff, especially when it comes to keeping us dry (if that doesn't sound a mite too convoluted). it may not be entirely the preserve of the touring cyclist, but the phrase 'it can't go deeper than your skin' has a great deal of truth in it. skin breathes very well, even if it does perspire every now and again. stand naked in the back garden (check for neighbours first) in the pouring rain and i can pretty much guarantee that your internal organs will be as bone dry (pardon the pun) as they were when you stepped out the back door.
but, as the more observant amongst you will have noticed, it's the naked bit that will get you into trouble. fine upstanding and friendly though our local police force may be, i fear they may draw the line at exhibitionism on a bicycle. therefore it is necessary to resort to outside assistance in order to cycle cheerfully, drily and without the force being with us. in order to compete with skin, any waterproof needs to have a more visible presence (i know, i know), the not inconsiderable requirement to fend off quantities of precipitation and the comforting desirability to breathe easily, preventing the hapless rider from dissolving into a perspiring mess.
i need hardly point out that the above requirements need vary according to climatic conditions, but then you knew that already anyway, didn't you? though comfortably into spring, there are parts of the united kingdom and the great world beyond which, on occasion, forget that this is the case, then remember later that same day. or vice versa. saturday past could be called to account as an excellent example of just what i wish to impose upon your day. mildly overcast at point of departure, i deemed waterproofs unnecessary, because i am nothing if not brazen in the face of having no idea what i'm doing. true to form, heavy cloud turned more and more steadily to rain.
those who have ridden the aptly named ride of the falling rain will be aware of the road system on islay which allows going backwards in order to go forward; a mere snip to nip home and waterproof my skin. bright red would seem to check the visibility box, though i continually find myself mystified at the need to furnish contrasting panels sporadically about so many contemporary garments. craft's active rain jacket does so in triangular fashion across the top half of the back and swishingly so just below the exhaust flaps, one each side. these contribute nothing to the overall look and have, so far as i can ascertain, no particular practical or technological value. if mr craft is reading this, can i ask that you put a stop to this practice forthwith?
waterproof is as waterproof does; in order that i might identify any areas of seepage - though taped seams would promise not - i wore a light coloured jersey below. perhaps a touch predictably, that very jersey was devoid of rain imposed dampness despite a touch more rain than i had actually bargained for. it would be very untruthful of me to profess that jersey was also free from perspiration. though i am not one given to unbridled sweating, nor was i overdressed, the jacket's breathability failed to keep pace with forward motion induced heat. in mitigation, i have yet to come across a rain jacket that will leave one's person completely bone dry. with regard to the craft active rain jacket, its breathability was on the right side of adequate.
the collar is of a practical height, with a zip garage protecting the aforementioned skin and a very soft fleece lining. the hem is elasticated and backed with grippy stuff to keep it right where it needs to be. this stuff was darned effective in use. just above the hem at the back is a large, zipped pocket into which an entire wheel could probably be safely stowed. a covering flap will keep that wheel dry. the inside features a black, craft emblazoned mesh which extends to the inner recesses of both sleeves, the latter ending in elasticated cuffs. it's not a heavy jacket, though i figure not one for crushing into a tiny ball and placing in a rear pocket should the rain go off unexpectedly. but it's not really meant to.
however, one of the very best bits about this jacket is where it came from; in this case, prendas ciclismo. i wear medium in pretty much every cycling top i possess, and consequently asked for tht size to be sent my way. andy, however, astute clothier that he is, contradicted by indicating that a small might be a better fit. he was absolutely correct. many an online retailer would cheerfully despatch whatever was asked for; service with a smile. even better than better, the price of the jacket has dropped from £89.95 to an unmissable £49.95, at which point, any debate over yes or no completely evaporates.
buy one now before regret bites back.
the craft active rain jacket is available in red, yellow or black, in sizes xs to xxl, but please heed the advice to move down one size from normal.
posted wednesday 11 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
eastern thought divides knowledge into two distinct flavours: those who know, and those who know about. it's possible that such inflections have periodically and selectively invaded the western world, but generally, as a people, we tend to glorify both in the same way. this 'knowing' generally pertains to religion or philosophy rather than bricks and mortar or nuts and bolts and maybe needs a touch more clarification. while we are likely to venerate scholars who are at the forefront of their individual fields, their knowledge is more regularly about their subject; we would likely find a professor of buddhism who dressed in saffron robes and shaved head to be a touch eccentric. in short, the west sees no real dichotomy between someone being an expert on a specific religion while holding different beliefs of their own.
this differential was often accrued by history's great philosophers, many of whom theorised over the ideal form of behaviour in a 'do as i say' manner as opposed to 'do as i do'. it's a price we pay for the straitjacket western education has introduced and maintained over hundreds of years. not necessarily one that has given much cause for concern it must be admitted, but it's there nonetheless. daniel friebe has, in this comprehensive volume concerning the cannibal, eddy merckx, rather blurred the lines between those two schools of thought, for though the book is undeniably about merckx, he has come remarkably close to knowing, rather than knowing about.
this has been achieved not by nefarious means, nor by smoke and mirrors, but through intensive research, interviews, and observation while having the literary wherewithal to string all together in a highly readable three hundred plus pages.
the eddy merckx story has been well documented, not so much in print, but most certainly through video. and now with 24 hour access to youtube and the like, it's incredibly easy to find out more everytime the merckx name pops up in conversation or on a blog. dissection by google if you like. however, that brings us back to knowing about rather than actually knowing; while daniel friebe may be regarded as a scholar of cycle racing, this book admirably demonstrates that he knows.
through the eyes of those surrounding merckx at each stage of his career, the book's narrative provides mental pictures to accompany the text as if you and i were part of a tv crew recording each demonstrable success while experiencing the inevitable lows. it's a shame that one or two of eddy's rivals and compatriots are now no longer with us, for friebe would more than likely have been able to endorse one or two further enlightenments regarding such an illustrious career. that said, it is testament to his sense of persepctive that the cannibal elucidates as much as it in fact does.
perhaps the most surprising aspect is the apparent change of heart shown by those whose careers undoubtedly suffered in their parallel course to that of merckx. i'm thinking here of such as roger de vlaeminck and felice gimondi, understandably, those who could conceivably have added to their own individual palmares were it not for merckx's insatiable appetitie for victory. they, along with van looy, were less than keen to commend his upward trajectory at the time. however, several seem now to have gained a clearer picture of the times in which they competed, glad indeed that their careers crossed paths. while merckx often comes across as being too much of a nice guy to be a team leader, those who were happy to be subservient in the same jerseys no doubt did so both in awe of his immense power and the undoubted riches that could be had in line with his serial victories.
his constant need to win has parallels with armstrong's 'no more gifts', though even the latter knew when to grant dispensation to others. 'most if not all other aspiring tour winners would have seen a lowly rider like jacques de boever's attack, 60 kilometres from the end of one of these 'transition stages' like the one to aubagne, as an irrelevance. not merckx. to him it was a race like any other, an opportunity, and a win by an inferior rider would be, to his way of thinking, an incongruity or even an affront. the much-discussed, much-mythologised 'politics of the peloton' to him sounded more like the convenient excuses of those uncomfortable with the idea of sport as meritocracy'.
not unnaturally, not only this constant need to win, but an apparent ability to do so at will brought with it accusations, sometimes reinforced by 'positives' such as that in the giro d'italia in 1969 (which left merckx with the dubious distinction of receiving the benefit of the doubt. though a subsequent 'positive' at lombardy in 1973 carried similar doubts, in the spring of 1977 along with several others, he was probably guilty as charged in the 'stimul' affair. if i have any critcism of friebe's book it's his dwelling on the subject of drugs. i am not, in this case, admitting to a form of euphoric naivety, but merckx's career is done and dusted, the stuff of legend. in the words of vic reeves 'you wouldn't let it lie'.
attending trade day at the last cycle show to be held at earls court, it was salutory to watch a long queue of those one would expect to be more blase about meeting a man of his stature, wait in line to have him sign something, anything.
it's not unnatural for suspicions to be raised, but in respect of all that precedes this particular chapter, i think the dwelling is lengthier than absolutely necessary. or maybe i'm just euphorically naive.
however, it would not be stretching credibility too far to suggest that friebe has, deliberately or otherwise, drawn attention to our current appraisal of apparently superhuman displays of riding by cycling's contemporaries. despite many a victory being achieved by more than modest time gaps, the overhwelming sense of disbelief by all and sundry at merckx's 'positive test' at savona in '69 would indicate that eddy was not held to be in thrall to chemical assistance. yet, here we are in the 21st century where anything even slightly out of the ordinary by way of performance is apt to result in a raising of at least one eyebrow.
i figure it's a regrettable omission that there is no index at the back of the book, but i do love the fact that each of the chapter headings is printed in lower-case type, and i delight in friebe's narrative style, one that pulls the reader into the world of eddy merckx to the exclusion of all else around. i believe the word is immersion. if i were you, i'd become immersed sooner rather than later. compulsory reading.
posted tuesday 10 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................