islay is roughly (very roughly) twenty-one miles end to end and side to side. that would make it seem somewhat square and it's true that a map of the island will, at a pinch, fit inside a perfect square, though i'm not sure if anyone's actually tried. we are not possessed of directly straight roads, though north to south isn't that complex a route to ride. i rather enjoy cycling over the same roads because the weather and wind rarely allows the same route to be the same at any time of the year. however, if i would care to entertain some variation in velocipedinal joy, a trip to scotland or even further afield would of necessity be in order. i did enjoy getting lost in portland, and the cycle route in sacramento was something of a revelation, but generally the wanderlust that drives the likes of james bowthorpe and those rapha continental riders to explore every nook and cranny does not have the same hold on yours truly.
not everyone, thankfully, is like me, and many think nothing of loading the dawes galaxy to the hilt and heading off for a weekend or longer aboard that brooks saddle, map securely fixed under the clear plastic on the bar bag. many worry not for the intricacies of forward planning, preferring to alight wherever day's end drops them, but i would think it more likely that at least the first night's accommodation and perhaps a few days more would be in order, if only for peace of mind. there is, of course, the one cycle ride to which all others lead, at least from the point of view of those domiciled in the land of great britain. correct: land's end to john o'groats.
while there used to be a substantial degree of derring-do involved in traversing the length of the uk, i am readily assured by those that know such things, it is possible to have a cossetted ride from the tip of southern england to the pointy bit at the top of scotland, luggage taken from a to b and full mechanical support. that rather goes against the grain to many an intrepid adventurer, but to the confirmed softy (who me?), it all sounds rather inviting. there is, however, a middle-way, one that takes care of all the planning duties, but leaving enough to chance that bear grylls might just ask to tag along.
cicerone publishing are world renowned for releasing guides to anywhere and everywhere, not only on bicycles, but by alternative transitory methods. in keeping with my introductory diatribe, one of their latest publications concerns the very scoot up or down the country that we have just been discussing. author nick mitchell is one of those guys you just love to hate (in a nice way), filling his every waking hour cycling bizarrely long-distances and then writing about them afterwards. using a route originally deployed in the services of a tour company, the several stages into which this book is divided (roughly between 50 and 80 miles per day) are well travelled and barring the re-routing of any of the intrinsic highways and byeways, it should prove to be a guide worthy of your trust.
if, of course, you intend doing it all back to front, braving the rigours of a prevailing headwind, it should be a simple case of starting at the back and turning the arrows in the opposite direction. the opening sections detail the necessities involved in one continuous bike ride of over 1,000 miles: how many jerseys and pairs of shorts to take (strangely, only two of each) and many another item that would likely be seen to be missing in action round about runcorn. i freely admit to being one for whom maps present a problem, not purely because of a sheer lack of geographical knowledge on my part, but because i rarely look at the contour lines and continually underestimate how much ascending or descending might be involved. however, those illustrating this cicerone guide seem disarmingly clear that there's every possibility even i wouldn't get lost (though i'm not counting on it).
the manual is well illustrated with many of the intriguing and interesting sites to be seen along the way, one of which provided a brief moment of humour. on page 56 there is a photo of the half moon inn, stoke, st mary from which the letter 'f' is absent without leave from the building's exterior, resulting in the hal moon inn writ large. in the best tradition of cycling world magazine, seemingly every perhaps uneventful photograph has (presumably nick's) koga miyata front and centre as if to underline the point that we are reading a cycle guide. somewhat unnecessary i feel, but a trivial complaint nonetheless. there are also too many folks dressed in the fluorescent yellow uniform beloved of the intrepid cycle tourist, but that's hardly the photographer's fault.
though i have not entrusted my safety to nick's words and maps, the cogency of the epistle leads one to suspect that errors and ommissions have been satisfactorily taken care of long before ink made it to paper. though the undertaking is designed to take place over a two week period and each day's stage takes this into consideration, there is no earthly reason why the incumbent could not ride quicker or slower, or indeed use a variation on this prepared route (though the latter would surely rather defeat the point in acquiring a copy of end to end). nick entreats those following in his tyre tracks to bed overnight at the nearest youth hostel, but again, there is no reason not to book alternative, more upmarket accommodation if so desired.
though the latter would increase the budget for getting from north to south, the price of admission, in this case, remains exactly the same. £12.95 is surely an extremely modest amount to pay for such a wealth of carefully laid out and explained information.
as the saying goes, 'don't leave home without it.'
posted monday 23 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
purely for the purposes of research, and in the light of my revelatory viewing of bikes in the lobby and elevators at sacramento's hyatt regency, i enquired of the receptionist at glasgow's crowne plaza as to their bicycle policy. bearing in mind the crowne was the partner hotel for this year's scottish bike show, many of the exhibitors and attendees were staying there over the weekend and it's not inconceivable that bicycles may have been involved. "what would happen," i asked as my bill was prepared "if i had arrived on friday evening in full race kit (purely for appearances you understand), wheeling a bicycle across the lobby, intent on entering the elevator and keeping the cycle in my room overnight?"
though the young lady with whom i was conversing was not of senior management, she said that she couldn't see why there would be any problem. "after all," she continued, "we allow wheelchairs in the rooms; why not bicycles?" i have to say, aside from seeing no fallacy in her argument, that is not the answer i had expected given the status of the hotel, but it was a gratifying one nonetheless. when more time permits, i intend to anonymously contact several other hotels in the uk to ask a remarkably similar question with a view to assembling an article concerning the subject. perhaps it's one that concerns only me, but it would be lovely to report that even the country's topmost hotels have a benevolent policy towards the stationing of bicycles in rooms of luxurious appointment. maybe one of us will be pleasantly surprised.
just where to put the bicycle is a question that arises in many a variety of setting. clambering aboard portland's light railway system (that which edinburgh is intent on calling trams) brings into view appropriately positioned hooks just inside the automatic doors for the express purpose of vertically holding onto the front wheels of commuters' bicycles. this practicality extends to the buses by way of a pull down rack below the front windows on which any travelling cyclist can place their cycle. the latter apertains not only to portland, beeing seen in many a municipal bus system across the united states.
europe is seemingly less enlightened in such matters, refusing to allow the fitting of such bus racks for the oft quoted health and safety reasons. apparently the handlebars are habitually at pedestrian head-height. europe claims a greater number of pedestrians than those in north america, though i can't say downtown portland seemed any less populated by same than either glasgow or edinburgh. however, far be it for me to dispute the mighty european parliament when it comes to practical bicycle storage.
there are, of course, sometimes more pressing matters of just where to store favoured velocipedes when at home. those without garden or driveway space are reasonably well-served by various racks that attach to the wall in the hall, but in the absence of a garage or bikeshed, should appropriate real estate be available, there are several perceived obstacles to keeping cycles safe, dry and away from prying boltcutters.
steeping out the doorway of the admin office in glasgow's recent scottish bike show was to be faced by a red and purple half circle made from some form of heavy duty plastic emblazoned with a moulded bicycle on the side: bikeshel. i will admit to having walked past this exhibit on at least three occasions throughout the day, never having made sense of what i saw, but a moment's further investigation revealed it to be a hinged storage vessel for two, four or six bicycles.
available in a variey of sombre or more exciting colour combinations, the bikeshel can be bolted to the ground to prevent removal or overturning and is hinged in the centre allowiing easy access to the bicycles ensconced within. it is, as they say at princeton, damn clever. i had originally mistaken the red and purple version for some sort of garden toy for kids to slide on and off. in discussion with the gentleman curating the stand, it turns out that this is an oft employed secondary purpose.
not only are the bicycles made safe by having the entire edifice bolted to the ground, there is a substantial, concealed lock accessible on the side to prevent unauthorised opening. additionally, each bicycle can be individually locked in place under the solid plastic covering, enabling use by several people living in the one building. it would take a very determined and committed thief to get anywhere near any of the bicycles stored within, which rather commends itself without prejudice. still a damn clever idea.
prices range from £540 for the two bicycle version in black (colours add a further £50 to the cost) to £1,095 for the six bike version in black. it is perhaps not the cheapest solution on the market, but with the entry level to shiny carbon fibre rising steadily each year, keeping it under wraps when you're not around makes a lot more sense and is a darned sight cheaper than having to replace a missing steed. photographs of the various colour combinations are available on the bike shel website.
just remember, inviting the local kids to play slidey on top of your bike shel is almost guaranteed to keep hooded hoods with boltcutters in someone else's neighbourhood.
posted sunday 22 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you may recall my odd mention of the roads kept only for special occasions, generally only brought from retirement for the express purpose of testing tyres and wheels. with the ever decreasing maintenance of islay's roads, the number of such are on the increase, seriously widening my choice should any wheels and/or tyres arrive in welcome brown boxes in the porch of washingmachinepost cottage. generally, purely for professional reasons, the worst of these is left untouched in the normal course of island perambulations, though i cannot deny making the abattoirenberg forest road a part of my regular outings, purely because it releases the inner flandrien.
however, as we approach the last of the spring classics at liege-bastogne-liege tomorrow, there are steps to be taken or, more correctly, pedal strokes, to invoke a personal degree of appreciation as to the trials and tribulations experienced by the professional classes in belgium tomorrow. doing so is rarely a singular set of experiences, and the nice people at perren street were kind enough to send me a strip of the ultan coyle designed stickers celebrating la doyenne, stickers that now adorn both the brasilia coffee machine and coffee grinder at debbie's in bruichladdich. it is a penance i am happy to impose upon the greater coffee drinking public.
after experiencing probably the finest cup of soya cappuccino this side of the partying that defined 1999, i was a tad too early to ride directly home. a mid-afternoon arrival would surely be to undermine my tattoo declaring 'glory through suffering' (or at least would do if i had the courage to have any part of my anatomy tattooed). i am on record somewhere or other as claiming every road on islay to lead to debbie's, a perfectly true statement only requiring one or two trajectorial diversions every now and again to make it so. invoking this statement in reverse rather provides me with an endless series of varietal opportunities 'pon my return, a feature i was happy to accept as i headed north east.
in weather such as we are enjoying at present, loch gorm, machir bay and saligo are ideal locations for velocipedinal enjoyment, but ones that i have visited within the past couple of days. thus i cut the loch out of my itinerary and headed back towards the rspb reserve at aoradh (no, i don't know what it means either), unleashing my inner boonen along the straight, yet broken road at gruinart flats. the end of that particular road offers the option to take a right towards uiskentuie or continue forwards and onto that special road.
i confess this is a route i have not ridden too often of late, mostly because of a dearth of tyres and wheels to be reviewed, allied with the knowledge that, in the weather experienced in the earlier part of the year, this particular road is only a fraction better than a rutted track. on its lower portions, when approached from the gruinart side, a raggle-taggle herd of cattle are wont to occupy the through route, and i think i need not tell you quite how much isle of wight ferry that tends to leave spread across what is left of the tarmac.
on today's venture, those cows were offroading, to coin a cycling term, leaving clear passage for a grunting, dishevelled mess on a colnago to hope vainly for enough grip to climb the short yet steep hill to borraichill. it would give me great pleasure to announce that once summitting has been accomplished, the resulting downhill could be taken with insouciant speed. that, unfortunately, would be telling a fib. this is the road that passes not only west carrabus farm, but all the fields that such a farm requires, several of which are not fenced. the principal traffic along this undesignated road consists of tractors, quad bikes and the occasional daihatsu pick-up, none of which are respecters of asphalt and its degradation thereof.
which brings me neatly to my heading of gravé, gravé, gravé, not a term i can lay claim to originating, but one i can claim to traverse on a regular basis. there are quite literally tonnes of the stuff all over this particular road, more often than not in larger agglomorations on the apex of each corner, restricting any practised deftness on the descent. if i were forced to precis the experience of riding this three-mile stretch of road into one word, i believe my choice would waver around the definition crap. yet as my exit ramp back onto the a847 was temporarily blocked by two council trucks promising highway maintenance, i was grinning from ear to ear.
that was my la doyenne for today.
posted saturday 21 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm not in the habit of posting movies without pre-disposing your watching abilities by means of some more or less carefully chosen words. but in this case, i'm willing to make an exception.
posted friday 20 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
exams of yore relied on complex calculations, endless writing or an advanced degree of theorising (advanced if you're a school student). teachers advised that the working leading to the final answer ought to be clearly annotated on the exam paper; if the answer was found to be incorrect, it may still be possible to acquire some level of positive marking based on those calculations scribbled in the margin. i doubt the same would have been true for an english exam, but what would i know?
with the constant change in educational norms, many exams have been re-assigned to that of the multiple choice, something that provides either a right or a wrong answer and no recourse to how the candidate may have arrived there. though a series of decent exam results can decide one's eventual career path, which college or university might be willing to accept an application, and whether it's possible to enter the favoured mode of employ, the multiple choice examination quite rightly was the butt of the occasional joke or two, perhaps the most memorable of which was the following: can you explain einstein's theory of relativity; yes or no?
it would be something of a strain on my grey matter to dissect either of einstein's relativity theories: that of special relativity or general relativity. in fact, i have little notion of exercising any of our brains by explaining the distinction between the two. many of us will be aware of the equation e=mc2 which can be deconstructed as energy equals mass x the speed of light (in a vacuum) squared ('c' signifies celeritas, the latin word for speed). simply put, this explains why james t kirk's warp factor is the stuff of fiction, isaac asimov fibbed. essentially, the closer an object gets to the speed of light, the greater its mass becomes, eventually achieving a mass that simply cannot be accelerated any further. its terminal speed will (theoretically) be lower than that of the speed of light in a vacuum.
no matter how fast you or i pedal, we'll never approach anything like the speed of light, so surely discussion of either of einstein's theories is rather academic when related to bicycles and cycling? intrinsically, yes, but the relativity of einstein to cycling is his contention that significant parts of his theories arrived while he was out cycling his bicycle. i propose this not as faint hope that one of you may have a similar eureka moment riding to the coffee shop, but more by way of an extreme example of the fact that bicycles seem rather nifty at providing inspiration not necessarily found or conceived elsewhere.
and this is a good thing.
it took only a five minute visit to the purple harry stand at the scottish bike show to confirm the lasting genius of those abrasive pipe-cleaners, partly because their simplicity of concept still astounds, and the knowledge that one or two others have effectively copied the idea in their own image. every now and again, along comes another kernel of ideology that confounds, surprises and cheers, even if it doesn't directly relate to those i have in my bikeshed. however, those of you who adore knobbly offroading, or perchance trackstands at the traffic lights, may well find yourself interested in another idea that could have come from nowhere other than the world of bicycles.
as originator of this deceptively simple idea, clint slone explains "My aha moment shortly followed my more humbling duh moment when I cut the handlebars on my commuter a little narrow. Suddenly a standard width pair of grips wouldn't fit." his solution was to design a silicon ring which, when combined with others of its ilk, even in a variety of colour options, provides as many or as few as required for the job at hand. stunningly clever, amazingly obvious, yet not the sort of item(s) you can buy in a bicycle shop tomorrow morning.
the downside to the current situation is that, unless the stone brothers can achieve their kickstarter funding total by may 1st, these might remain pie in the sky and prototypes in the box. at the time of writing, they have just over $6,000 towards a goal of $15,000. if you can see the value in this, either for the good of others or selfishly just for fitting to your own bicycle, click the kickstarter link below and pledge your dollar, pounds or euros. for we all know that had kickstarter been around in einstein's day, we'd all have been keen to fund the theory of general relativity if only to keep the folks at the large hadron collider in a job.
posted friday 20 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
those of you endeared of thursday evening's television (uk only i'm afraid), i have been watching trailers for a new american series starting this evening on e4. it's called 'two broke girls' and the snippet i have seen involved a couple of blokes in a diner being served by one of the two broke girls. after berating one of them for his method of catching her attention, she admonishes the other for wearing a woolly hat indoors because of his affection for the band 'coldplay'. this is humorous because of the truth that lies behind it.
at one time, it was cold weather and perhaps the need to work out of doors that enforced a need to wear a woolly hat. the same reason, come to that, some of us wear woolly hats under our helmets with flaps that cover our ears. because it keeps us warm.
it's doubtless a feature of boring-old-fartness to suffer a degree of incomprehension as to why the youth of today (though i'm none too sure that coldplay fit this age group anymore) find it necessary to wear woolly hats throughout the day both indoors and outdoors, not so much as protection against the elements but as some sort of badge of honour. and now that i come to think of it, the rather bizarrely named edge, guitarist with u2 always wears the very same type of woolly hat. and he is definitely in the same age bracket as myself, so it's more than likely i'm the one out of step; which would explain why i find the trailer for two broke girls rather whimsical.
the woolly hat, of course, is hardly alone in being worn for reasons other than those it was originally created for. an erstwhile riding colleague of mine purchased a substantial amount of winter gear for cycling: a thermal headband, neoprene overshoes, thermally lined gloves, neck warmer and winter jacket. most of us, i'd tend to suggest, would wear the above when conditions dictate, but my riding partner wore all the above at each and every opportunity. distinctly not cool in both senses of the word.
acquiring an item of cycle clothing for the purpose it was specifically designed for seems to me to make perfect sense. when you reach the degree of cycling obsession that i and others have achieved, being comfortable on the bicycle becomes just as paramount as having a chain that doesn't squeak, brakes that don't squeal and tyres that still have sufficient tread to deserve the apellation tyre (or tire if we're being continental). having a rainjacket folded in the back pocket of a short sleeve jersey is an appropriate precaution on scotland's west coast, for even in view of the three plus weeks it took me to get wet during my review period for this saving it for a rainy day series, you just can't trust the forecasts here abouts.
what is perhaps required, in order that such garments can be worn as the cycling equivalent of a coldplay woolly hat, is a modest degree of versatility, not only by way of the fabric de jour, but in concomitant style. how often have you owned a jersey, jacket, pair of shoes, or shorts that you have been so in love with, that you've wanted to wear at every opportunity, even though there are alternatives available in the hallowed innards of the cycling wardrobe? i know i have. sometimes the gestalt attached to a favoured item of apparel becomes just overwhelming.
mavic have spent most of their lifetime producing rather excellent rims and wheels, an area in which they excel and one that would have undoubtedly brought home the bread and cheese for many a long year to come. however, at some point in their recent past, the decision was made to branch out into the world of cycle clothing, footwear and, more recently, helmetry. excellence in one field, certainly as far as mavic are concerned, quite obviously creates an inherent level of excellence no matter the direction in which the belief system is pointed. mavic's hc h2o jacket does not let the side down.
i will spare you the reiteration of my challenging time attempting to get wet in the earlier part of april. suffice to say, precipitation was eventually achieved, and folks have now started accepting me as one of their own and not a bizarre individual with leanings towards those who spend their lives chasing storms and tornadoes.
if you've ever ridden a bicycle that wears any variation of shimano's di2 electronic shifting system, you may perhaps have enjoyed an extended period of watching that front gear mech shift the chain on and off the front two chainrings. though i have no great affection for electronic shifting (as opposed to its mechanical counterpart), there is something wonderfully star trek about its smooth and efficient operation. i must, therefore, put my hand in the air and admit to having experienced the same sense of joy when getting wet in this mavic jacket. watching little baubles of water rush off its red, white and black fabric even midst a thunderous downpour, is something to tell the grandchildren (not quite yet, admittedly).
the jacket could not be more waterproof if it tried. in an effort to acquire better images of this waterproofing, i poured water from my chris king bottle onto the sleeve, but it simply ran off onto the road, leaving a disappointingly dry fabric. i could watch it do that all day.
of course, there are two halves to a waterproof jacket (not literally, you understand): that of waterproofing, and that of breathability, and more often than not, it's the latter that suffers. so while enjoyment is to be had watching a concerted level of dribbling, it's often at the expense of being as wet inside as you hope to prevent on the outside. relying on the inherent breathability of the fabric alone is often not quite enough, and to this end, mavic have employed a commendable degree of lateral thinking. aside from two zipped vents on each side, the flap that hides the divided rear pocket also reveals mesh panelling to aid breathability. so far so ordinary, but the bonus is in the front zip: there are two of them. the first features more of that yellow mesh, while the second, taped version closes the front of the jacket against the elements.
should you find that the process of dropping the entire peloton at will has brought on an internal steam, even with both front zips undone, the outer zip can be completely undone to let in lashings of fresh air without the jacket being fully open ot the elements and without turning the jacket into a drogue 'chute (as we say at nasa). the seams are completely taped and the grey patterned inner fabric is of the breathable variety. as previously intimated, your mileage may vary with any form of breathability depending on personal make-up and the number of garments being worn under the h2o. i did manage to incur a modest degree of clamminess while wearing the jacket for an extended period, but it gives me great pleasure to inform that opening that first outer zip provided a remedial cooling that has to be experienced to believed.
add to all this, the jacket can be scrunched in any way you like and stuffed in a rear pocket, emphasising as if emphasis were required, that this is one heck of a versatile jacket. i can honestly see me wearing this in july and august when the weather is less than clement . but just when you think all avenues have been explored, in addition to a velcro outer strap on each cuff to vary the closure, on the outer side of each sleeve, just above the cuff is yet another taped zip. my friend james lamont is on record as stating that the ideal way to induce cooling on a warm body, is to expose the forearms to a cooling breeze. strange, but true. yet here, in the 21st century, this is the first jacket i have come across that offers the opportunity to expose those wrists and lower forearms to the breeze.
i will readily accept all accusations of triviality when i find it necessary to point out that the jacket's one failing is the lack of a tab inside the collar to hang it up in the coffee shop. that does not, however, detract from this being one heck of a fabulous waterproof jacket. even if you only like watching water literally run off the fabric when it rains.
mavic's hc h2o jacket can be had in sizes from xs to xl at a recommended cost of £190
posted thursday 18 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i own a workstand. it's red and it sits contentedly in the corner of the bike shed, waiting patiently until its services are required. which is quite often, as it happens. i use it for holding onto the bicycles while i give them some purple harry lovin', but as a result, generations of degreaser, polish and occasional bouts of soap and water have made it harder to slide the tripod legs into place with one hand. though it grasps a bicycle in the manner you would hope, it does have one minor shortcoming; the clamp needs way more effort to close than i'd like. if the intent is to grasp the seatpost, it's a bit of a faff holding the cycle in place until that clamp can be tightened in place.
of course, in the manner that possession of a ferrari doesn't make you a racing driver, ownership of a workstand doesn't turn me into a mechanic. though i'm none too bad at careering round a bicycle with a deftly mechanical eye, in truth, i have pretty much all day to complete whatever minor mechanical ailment i may be attempting to repair or upgrade. the guys who pull a phalanx of stands from the back of a truck, whisk the nearest bicycle from those in waiting and proceed to fettle it with skill and poise are those to which i aspire. it seems almost seems pointless to mention that the likelihood of my joining their ranks is slim to none at all. but then you knew that already didn't you?
slightly further back in that very same bike shed is a colnago c40 and a colnago master, both bicycles with a pedigree and palmares that makes you wonder how i have the audacity to ride them in the hours of daylight. the thought of ever becoming a professional racing cyclist is one that passed me by silently in the night. though i cannot claim to have been entirely ignorant of the existence of the professional class, the thought that mere mortals, possessed even of a honed physique such as my own, could reach such lofty heights, never occurred. now, however, i would be kidding myself and others if i thought i could join the ranks of the very fast; my ownership of two of the finest bicycles ever to tread the planet is perhaps something of a contradiction. or a fallacy at the very least.
i know people. important and influential people. at least, some of them are, though predominantly in the sphere of cycling and its sporting offshoots. i can ask questions, and though a substantial proportion of them remain unanswered, likely many of the more important ones, from my point of view, receive gratifying responses. i'm not alone in this; it's how much of the modern world works, and i have even been on the receiving end of questions myself. a bit like the ephemeral chain letter, it would be unseemly to break the link, because then the very fabric of the universe would suffer irredeemable breakdown.
in the absence of appropriate professional fettling skills, no ability to get up before any others, remain working when team members are slurping pasta with tomato sauce, drive across several national borders in one twenty-four hour period and go without appreciable sleep for days on end, i could maybe watch. bereft of anything approaching velocipedinal pelotonic speed, a lack of ability to climb confidently over several colossal mountains between stage start and stage end, and definitely not a chance of heading up the sprinter's train in the last few kilometres, i could also watch from the sidelines.
calling upon one of those important people i didn't mention earlier to grant me a favour, perhaps i could nestle in the back seat of an appropriately decorated team car, squashed between several pairs of race wheels and on top of more bidons than given away at a sportive. i might struggle just a bit to peek out the window and watch the exertions of those i sadly fail to equal. but just think of the proximity to the action, both stationary and at speed. and oh, the atmosphere.
or , of course, i could simply watch this rather intriguing little movie made by laura fletcher, a lady i have known for several years but was unaware she had such hidden talent of a filmic nature. i do love the fact that people can still spring such delightful surprises.
posted wednesday 18 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
everybody, if they're truthfully honest, has a bad day at the office. there are days when getting out of bed in the morning is harder than usual because the thought of another or specific day at work is not the very thing you were looking forward to. there's an evens chance that day will be a monday, but a degree of interchangeability seems built-in, so there might be a choice. the point to watch is when those days gain in frequency, or when disparate days on which the portents of discontent start to join up creating weeks and eventually months of despair.
much is made of the fact that ernesto colnago is the first through the doors of the cambiago offices every morning and reputedly the last to leave each evening. ernesto is eighty years old, he's very much in charge of his own company and destiny, but i'd be willing to bet that there has been more than one occasion on which he's told mrs colnago he's just going to have another five minutes in bed and rolled over for more snooze time. having just returned from the scottish bike show at the weekend, aspects of many a conversation revolved round the recognition that many an individual employed in the bike industry is of a remarkably pleasant disposition. the general consensus as to why this was the case was seen to be one of contentment and enthusiasm. there are easier ways to earn vast quantities of money, so generally those associated with bicycles are involved because they want to be.
but suppose bikes are not your principal mode of employ or, as in my case, obsession, and that which puts bread on the table is causing you grief on a large scale. what does one do? if you're craig middleton, you start your own bike company.
on show at the scottish bike show, for the first time in the flesh (or carbon) were the two onix cycles launched this year with rob hayles' name painted along the side. if i'm blatantly honest, the fact that another couple of carbon frames have joined the happy throng is hardly front page news, however, the story behind how they came to be on rowan mackie's grey and blue carpet in glasgow's secc is the stuff of which legends are made.
craig middleton is, by trade, a printer, the very sort of chap who stands beside a large agglomoration of cylinders, rollers and litho plates slathered with c,m,y and k inks intent on filling another portion of the world with the product of offset litho. it can be a fascinating world if that's what floats your boat, but for many, including craig, it is that which fills the bank account and somewhere to go each day. so what happened? why, when the world's cycle shows have already succeeded in filling the world with acres of carbon fibre, did craig give up his printing career to join those acres?
"i'd worked my way up the line as a printer to the point where i was earning reasonable money and was at the top of my particular part of the profession. But the thought of spending the next 26 years doing the same thing had no appeal whatsoever. So I thought long and hard about what I could do that I'd seriously enjoy doing. And this is it."
i seriously doubt that i am the only one with one or two slivers gleaned from those acres sitting in the bike shed, eager to be let loose each weekend and the occasional school night for some energetic perambulations. at some point, the money has to be placed in someone's till, so for all the debates raging about the merits and demerits of each particular brand, it ultimately comes down to that of personal choice. after perusing every advert, review and cycle store display relating to that which you may feel an affinity. there are more than enough choices already on offer, so what is it that an onix does that can't be achieved on a trek, specialized or colnago?
"I only wish I had their budgets, so ask me again in a year's time"
with one or two exceptions, the bulk of the world's carbon fibre frame output has taken up residence in the far east: china and taiwan. both those locations are a considerable distance from blackburn in lancashire, so craig's initial contact with regard to every aspect of his prospective future in the cycle industry was conducted by e-mail; asking questions, requesting samples, frame angles and a myriad other configurations. this hardly constitutes the ideal way to put together something of which he admittedly had very little practical experience. it seems pertinent to ask how much control does he have over the nitty gritty of the onix carbon frame development. isn't much of it in the hands of the chaps in taiwan?
"There are a number of plants in China and Taiwan capable of building almost anything you want, and though I understood the intricacies of frame geometry, I couldn't quite visualise the tube shapes until they arrived. So when planning the 2011 range, things took a bit longer than would have been ideal. I just knew I wanted to have them build the very best I could manage in my own rudimentary way. As I said, all the initial dealings were by e-mail where I told them what I wanted and they responded with how that might be achieved.
"But the real start came when I finally went out to Taiwan, spoke to the right people and came back with samples which Mike (Jackson, Onix mechanic) and I built into bikes and had tested by a few professional cyclists kind enough to assist. That process has now resulted in the Rob Hayles signature line."
carbon, however, is not the darling that it once was. last month i visited the north american handmade bicycle show in sacramento to gaze longingly upon the product of individual endeavour, mostly fashioned from cast lugs and steel tubes augmented by the occasional fillet brazed and tig welded joint. though it has been quite correctly pointed out that even carbon monocoques are largely hand-made, steel is currently at the vanguard of bicycle frame venture, perhaps underlined by the apparent success of bespoked bristol also held in march this year. given that onix is at the contemporary end of contemporary, would it not have been a tad more en-vogue to have offered one or two frames fashioned from steel in place of carbon?
"Perhaps you're right, but the idea of building bikes from steel never really occurred to me. Everything in China is set up to deal with carbon; steel isn't a material they're familar with for building bicycle frames. However, I'm not ruling out the possibility that we might think along those lines in the future, if all goes well."
bricks and mortar cost much a plenty cash, as indeed does setting up a distribution model. it is somewhat of a tautological statement to point out that having become the proud parent of two rather stunning rob hayles onix bicycles, the only way of making money out of them is to sell, and preferably in vast quantities. until now, buying an onix of whatever flavour involved ticking the right boxes on the website, but during the scottish bike show, at least three dealers enquired about putting an onix or two in their shop windows. does this mean there might soon be a dedicated network of onix dealers all across the nation?
"I set up to be an online retailer only and never really thought about the IBD market. But as you've pointed out, I've already been asked about selling to retail. That's taken me a bit by surprise and means I might have to look at not only my distribution but also the prices. It's not as simple as it might seem."
though i have a little in common with craig as regards his former employment - i'm usually the guy producing the artwork for printing - it seems that the land of print may have even less in common with that of bicycle entrepreneur. has he found his print background helpful in any way with his foray into the bicycle industry? "not really."
the lead up to imposing your wares on an unsuspecting public is that of a directed marketing campaign. this usually consists of ensuring suitable review models are sent to strategic print publications and websites, hopefully for commendable reviews. this would normally be accompanied by full page, colour adverts (there's just no way of getting away from print altogether it seems) ensuring that the great unwashed are completely aware that your latest carbon offerings are now available, at what price and precisely where to get hold of them.
but what happens if the money required for such a concerted campaign is non-existent? what if the only way to inform the great and the good needs to be free? this is where craig became a jedi master of how to leverage the power of twitter, the social media, micro-blogging site that costs nothing apart from time. i started following onix quite some time ago, and thought mr middleton to be somewhat full of his own importance. did he figure he was the only guy that had ever set up his own bike company? there were too many teasers that smacked almost of arrogance, and i fear one or two of my ripostes might have been less than generous.
however, in mitigation, i tweeted from a point of ignorance (likely why i should have kept my comments to myself); i was blissfully unaware of the story behind onix bikes thus far. however, after a continuing period, i began to realise that not only was he sincere, but had found an excellent voice for onix bikes. i had no idea there was no marketing budget. having made such a happy and consistent noise on twitter, bringing onix to the attention of the masses, has craig found this to be an effective means of publicity?
"Starting your own bike business is an expensive undertaking, one that doesn't leave a lot of money for anything else. Unhappily one of those something elses is marketing. I had no budget, so I leveraged twitter to its maximum because it's almost the only option i had."
though i should likely keep my inadequacies to myself, craig and i had arranged, by e-mail, that i'd interview him during saturday at the scottish bike show. up till this point, i had not met the man in person, and keen to impress my professionalism acquired over years as a bona fide member of the cycling media (not for nothing did my press pass state lord palmer) i carefully worded what i deemed pertinent questions before printing them to accompany me to the show. however, in the best tradition of the saturday morning shopping list, i left the darned things in the hotel and approached the onix stand nervously unencumbered.
neither of us, it would appear, has formality front and foremost, so my lack of prepared questions turned out not to be a serious disadvantage. the intention had been to retire to the safety of the costa coffee corner and behave as interviewer and interviewee, but by the time craig asked when i wanted to do the interview, we had already carried out most of the necessary while leaning on the bonnet of the impressive onix skoda. so that's how we continued. i should point out that it took quite a long time to get to this point, for both craig and mike were more often to be found already deep in conversation discussing the latest bikes throughout most of the morning. so did the scottish bike show arrive at just the right time?
"Well, it was sort of my official launch. It's the first time anyone could come and look at real bikes rather than photos, and I think I may have underestimated how much of a difference seeing the bikes in the flesh, so to speak, has made to those who came to see them. We sold both display bikes on the first day in Glasgow.
"Aside from that, the first batch of frames has now arrived, so we're now in a position to fulfil our orders. From that point of view, being seen in Scotland seems like perfect timing."
i have spent many a year riding review models of different bicycles, putting them through my version of their paces, and trying my hardest to give them a hard time. but as i've said so often on twmp, i have never raced and thus have no real concept of how much grief a pro racer can give a new bicycle. or if i have, there's little chance of me doing likewise. however, in the course of offering a professional quality bicycle to an expectant public, it is necessary to ensure it can successfully endure a right hammering. rather obviously, the best way to do this is to have a professional bike racer ride every iteration providing immediate and relevant feedback at every stage. craig has made it known that a number of pro riders tested the latest onix carbon, so how did rob hayles become the name on the top tube?
"Rob threw everything into this project, more than I could ever have expected. He rode seemingly endless variations of the frames and forks we were sent, on one notable occasion climbing off after only a few miles because things just weren't right and swapping to another bike from the car. I simply asked him one day over coffee that if he liked the bikes so much, why didn't he put his name to them? To my surprise he agreed. Both he and David Harmon have been major factors in how these bikes and Onix as a company have turned out."
in these days of finite element analysis applied to each and every angle and carbon layer, major corporate investment, sponsorship, advertising, press releases and press conferences, it is very refreshing to find a man with so singular a vision to make his mark and career in the bicycle industry with only a ticket for the cheap seats. the news is not that another marque of carbon has entered the fray; the news is the exciting ride that getting them there has been up till now. it's a story that will last forever, even when, five years from now, team sky are riding onix frames in the tour de france.
posted tuesday 17 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................