this is allegedly how the system works: in any peloton du jour, there will be one chap or chapess (statistically less likely admittedly) with an intrinsic knowledge of what makes bicycles tick. someone who implicitly knows how many quarter turns on the adjuster will have the chain playfully skipping from one sprocket to the next without a care in the world. they will also have the superpower (not a particularly well-known aspect, but a wrench has to have some secrets) of being able to release one side of a tyre from its rim without resorting to a tyre lever. not many realise this can be achieved with a handful of hawthorn berries and a co-op till receipt.
this member of the peloton is, or should be, a protected rider, for you can never truly tell when their skills and superpower may be required. this is because the majority of those pedalling easy, shooting the breeze insouciantly as they contemplate whether this is the headwind, or will turning result in even slower forward progress, haven't a clue how their bicycles work. nowadays, 'tis but a simple matter to flick on lever or another and racing may proceed. how often have you heard someone moan that their out-of-tune guitar was not in this unharmonic state when they bought it? the bicycle worked when it rolled from the shop floor; why wouldn't it do so now.
this is when the protected rider comes into their own. that superpower will have already detected an almost insignificant change in the sound from his/her surrounding peloton, leaping eagerly from the saddle. at this point, the malady is all but repaired, leading to a sense of comfort and satisfaction in the group. it's the way life is meant to be.
however, let's just suspend disbelief for a moment or two, and hypothesise that such an invaluable member of the team doesn't exist. at least, doesn't exist in your particular neck of the woods. the results are almost too horrible to contemplate. imagine for a moment, the possibility of a chaingang battling their way through ever-increasing pain and suffering, each convinced that one of the others is the possessor of the required skills to maintain velocity in the face of adversity. scary, is it not?
learning the basics of bicycle maintenance is not as onerous a task as the prospect may suggest. no matter the existence of bicycle repair man in the lead-out train, it really ought to be the price of admission to the world of cycling, that any rider can at least repair a puncture while estranged in the wilderness. and though it may sound like the sort of threat you'd normally report to the nearest member of the constabulary, it wouldn't do any harm to figure out how to adjust the gears.
training courses for the bona-fide mechanic abound. i have come across one that promises placement with a cycle team should you fancy working all the hours god sends while incurring the wrath and invective of riders who are not winning, but in desperate need of someone to blame for their lack of prowess. undertaking such a professional induction may not be what most have in mind, and to be quite honest, it's not something i am suggesting, merely to acquaint yourself more personally with the velocipede.
rapha have released an admirable series of books by the inestimable graham fife, describing the road climbs of many of the french mountains, some of the very bumps with which bradders and co. have become intimately connected over the past three weeks. in the manner that rapha do most things (it was instructive to watch two rapha-lites last friday eve, carefully positioning the corporate sign advising visitors to the brewer street cycle club to refrain from locking their bikes to the railings outside the building) not only were mr fife's words carefully laid out, but beautifully augmented by the photography of peter drinkell.
it is not unusual in these contemporary times for photographers to be engaged for their imaging skills alone, never mind any direct affinity for the subject at hand. therefore, it occurred not for one minute that pete drinkell may be more acquainted with the bicycles he was inviting to ride those mountain roads, than would necessarily be expected. but it turns out that he is. and not only is he perhaps satisfied with his own superpowers and the need for a telephone box to change into his secret identity, but carefree in his intent to pass on these powers to anyone within reading distance.
i have reviewed books concerned with bicycle mechanics in previous months and years, many of which come highly recommended. but in the majority of cases, these are designed primarily for use in the workshop that you probably don't have to hand. pete drinkell's the bike owners' handbook fulfils two important functions; on one hand, it is the bicycle equivalent of o'reilly's the missing manual series, and on the other, it fits perfectly into the rear pocket of a cycle jersey, meaning it springs easily to hand at the very point when the lack of a protected rider is discovered.
this is the very book that ought to be hanging from the handlebars as the cycle sits on the shop floor. i have a bicycle in for review at present that arrived with a bell, wheel-spoke reflectors (complete with step by step instructions on how to fit them) and one of those spoke protectors designed to fit tween cassette and hub (like anyone is going to remove the ten-speed cassette on an expensive race bike to fit one of those). what did not accompany it in the box was a manual such as this, explaining how to keep it running in tip-top condition over the ensuing months.
(i am being deliberately disingenuous at this point, for the bicycle in question is hot off the boat from taiwan. i would not necessarily have expected such a manual to be present at this point, but, might i suggest, it would be a more than appropriate accessory to include at point of sale.)
i am now a cosmopolitan cyclist, with a full length toolboard of often unreachable tools due to the number of bicycles obscuring my reach, and a dedicated workstand. however, in the days of youth before i mistakenly assumed i had a reputation worth protecting, any mechanical repairs deemed necessary, particularly that of a puncture repair would be commenced by upending the bicycle, allowing the wheels to be spun without constantly lifting from the seat tube. in truth, that is how many workaday cyclists continue to work on their bicycles, and there's every possibility that the protected rider in the peloton would do likewise in the field. thus, on the grey cover of peter drinkell's book, the gold embossed title is bordered by the graphic of an upside-down bicycle.
in a cute role-reversal, the foreword to the manual is by the previously mentioned graham fife, worth at least 25% of the cover price alone. the contents may be familiar, either through having asked the service department at your local bike shop to carry out the work on your behalf, or having overheard stray bits of conversation while stepping up that pain and suffering in the group. how to fix punctures, adjusting the brakes, figuring out the gears and learning how to adjust them, and the lettering that ought to run through the middle of every cyclist: regular maintenance.
each specific task under discussion is brilliantly illustrated by phil smith, and should those prove insufficient to allay your fears or incompetence, there are frequent pepperings of squares of binary code (qr codes is, i believe, the correct terminology) linking to online videos that make eveything clear. these were filmed with the aid of the look mum no hands workshop, and are in high definition along with appropriate commentary. pull your mobile phone (or in my case, an ipod touch) from one of the other rear pockets and scan the code to gain access. with a mobile phone, this means instant access even in the most estranged of locations.
the explanations could not be clearer, and it would not be long before there is no need to resort to any of the online videos. yes, there are a modicum of tools required for some of the maintenance operations, but there's no easy way out of that. it is a far more comforting situation to ride your own bike, safe in the knowledge that the majority of mishaps that may befall you out on the road are within your own grasp to deal with. more so than that, you will have the wherewithal to perfrom preventative maintenance back at the ranch, again aided and abetted by those excellent videos.
to possibly misquote an overheard phrase, this is the shiznitz. please take this as a compulsory purchase order.
monday 23rd july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
according to popular lore and more exacting historical comment, titian, born around 1488-90 received his training as an artist from giovanni bellini in venice in the early 1500s. schooled in this fashion and location would have bestowed upon him the opportunity to meet with his gifted contemporaries including giorgione and sebastiano luciani. venice, at the opening of the 16th century experienced tumultuous times both politically and militarily, but it concurrently also encountered something of a radical revolution artistically, a revolution that lasted around fifteen years.
art in this period was almost entirely dependent on patronage from the nobility, the most powerful of whom was undoubtedly leonardo loredan, elected ruler of the republic of venice from 1501 to 1521. young tiziano vecello was also to benefit from the financial guidance of the barbarigo family.
as can be seen from titian's first true masterpiece, flight into egypt, the artistry of albrecht durer, who visited venice after 1505 was also to become a salient influence in the early work of the italian artist. in this particular work, regarded as one of the most important in the young artist's career, the wildlife sitting peaceably in the background exhibits keen observation of the natural mannerisms and features of the animals depicted. such observations were at least in part garnered from durer's studies of a hare and that of a european bison. and though the complexity and draughtsmanship of durer's the virgin with the animals is not reflected in titian's masterpiece, the influences are plain for all to see.
it will not escape even the casual student of renaissance art that the subject matter of many a revered artwork strays not a great distance from the religious. as stated above, the painting regarded by scholars as titian's first great masterpiece depicts the holy family departing the holy land for that of egypt in order to escape the decrees of king herod, (a subject, incidentally, also portrayed by durer in a woodblock print around the same period). many others, including those of the more northern european artist, durer, remain true to this religious theme. bellini's madonna of the meadow, giorgioni's adoration of the kings, and durer's the vision of saint eustace all pay homage to the catholic faith. it is a simple fact that religious iconography filled the up-time of many a 16th century artist, possibly because their patrons wished to curry favour with rome.
we are, as constant reminders abound, in modern times, where religious beliefs are far more confused than was historically the case. indeed, in many a case, the more traditional ideals of religious adherence are more amenable to substitution. while many attend church every sunday morning, a not inconsiderable number of us pull the bike from the bike shed to spend sunday mornings rejecting or placating our own demons. it has been said that for many of us, cycling fulfils many of the same functions that were once satisfied by more conventional worship. if this indeed is the case, and there is substantial evidence in favour, then are we not entitled to iconography of our own?
the art of the sixteenth century has been the subject of much serious academic research, the results of which are available for all to see in art galleries and museums across the world. cycling iconography benefits also from its hallowed quarters such as the chapel at madonna de ghisallo and other estranged locations, localities that undoubtedly receive their own perpetual stream of acolytes and pilgrims. even the champs elysees might conceivably be considered ripe for such a designation.
however, there are very few artists working today who embody the spirit of titian, bellini and others intent on creating works in praise of our own paragons of the sport. riders from the past, some of whom were worshipped as gods; coppi, bartali, anquetil. even those who sacrificed themselves for entirely the wrong reasons, riders such as tommy simpson are now ripe for idolatry all of their own, and have found themselves depicted so in the extraordinary works of london-based artist, james straffon.
one or two of you may have come across straffon's name on previous occasions, though i have been remiss on providing adequate pixel space prior to this current point, an omission fo which there is a perfectly adequate explanation; i had my doubts about the efficacy and ideology behind his works. while in london over the past few days, i had not only the time, but the extreme good fortune to visit his current exhibition le tour. from maillot jaune to lanterne rouge at the snap gallery in piccadilly arcade, where the artifacts on display removed any concerns i may have had over the veracity and integrity of his unique vision.
the compositions consist primarily of aging images culled from early copies of l'equipe, la gazzetta and paris match, then arranged in a fashion that allows straffon to augment these images with a mixture of text from the very same selection of newsprint, paint, pen and one or two other less immediately identifiable methods of draughtsmanship. to create the final works, james employs what appears to be quite sophisticated masking, a technique that creates an admirable degree of depth in each final image. in the current exhibition, many of these are arranged as compact triptyches on canvas, subsequently encased in clear resin. it is, without doubt, iconography for the modern, cycling oriented age.
james straffon has not, however, stopped short at two dimensional works. occupying a space just inside the gallery's front door is a rapha grand tour shoe that has been subjected to decoupage of an extraordinary quality. though it may seem tantamount to heresy, the yak leather of which the shoes are constituted had to be sanded laboriously in order for the carefully chosen scraps of newsprint to be satisfactorily affixed. in the downstairs part of the gallery, there is a beautifully decorated mini-pinball table in sight of a wall of photographs that comprise the king of the mountains series, elderly photos that have been appropriately subjected to a subtle flurry of polka dots.
james straffon is clearly an artist with his own unique artistic agenda, one firmly rooted in the melange of cycling's great heritage. these are idiosyncratic works, and though perhaps less affordable than a rouleur subscription, for those with the appropriate financial means, they are undoubtedly worthy of your own personal patronage. if you harbour any doubts, the exhibition is in place until the 28th of this month, though i did hear that it may be extended by a further week.
a majestic and impressive body of work.
the titian exhibition at the national gallery continues until 19th august | james straffon
sunday 22nd july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i doubt you will be particularly interested in my travel arrangements, for they are the same as it ever was, and i fear i may have re-iterated them on just one occasion too many. bus, boat, bus, then bus again, the latter two interspersed by my making a rare trip to the cinema to view the angels' share; sort of a busman's holiday for me, but throughly enjoyable nonetheless. had i cycled the north face of annapurna on a brompton, i may have held out a greater case for a modicum of interest; but i didn't.
and i don't.
unlike the rail operators and one or two airlines, the overnight coach from buchanan bus station in glasgow to victoria street in london is bereft of anything resembling catering. this is not to say that the drivers were not entertainment personified ("the onboard toilet is for emergencies only; light showers, no thunderstorms please.") it is therefore incumbent upon the intrepid southbound traveller to ensure any food and drink requirements are purchased before take-off. the downside to this is, having eaten well prior to departure, psychologically it is very hard to project nutritional needs as far ahead as 06:45 the following morning.
there is also a subtle plot afoot, one which certainly betrays its existence on the national epxress coach service and may, for all i know, be the same on the somewhat tritely named mega-bus. though i have, on occasion, managed to fall asleep in the leather armchair while ignoring some appalling tv programme, in general, i prefer to lie in my bed for the purposes of somnambulance. for rather obvious reasons, this is quite hard to do on a 60 seater coach heading south on the motorway. thus, adjusting one's demeanour and position to a satisfactory level that will allow more than forty winks is not something that happens overnight (see what i did there?)
having managed to curl up in a manner that allowed me to drop off, aided and abetted by a selection of tunes on my ipod, it seemed just a wee bit unnecessary for the driver to pull into an anonymous motorway service station around 2am, switch the coach lights on and announce over the microphone that not only would the coach depart in twenty-five minutes, but if any of us were tardy enough not to be aboard at that time, they didn't really care. to add insult to injury, this sequence of events was repeated at 4am at an entirely different anonymous motorway service station. suddenly, the north face of annapurna was beginning to look rather enticing by comparison.
what is, however, beyond criticism was national express's almost swiss like precision. the timetable said we'd arrive at 06:45 and we made it one minute earlier. the only thing missing was a sticker announcing official coach partner of london 2012, though that's probably because they're not.
you would think that, after a virtually unbroken sequence of bus, boat, bus, cinema, bus, i would be clamouring for some leg time, an assumption in which you would not be wrong. there really is only (or was only, taking into account my reason for travelling in the first place) one location to which the honed cyclist ought to head for breakfast, but for reasons of never having grasped the ability to read even a street map properly, i demurred and took the underground to euston from which all roads lead to places i recognise. in this particular case, 49 old street.
both rapha and look mum no hands almost embarrassed each other a few years back by opening cyclists' cafes almost within prologue time-trialling distance of each other, yet blissfully unaware of each other's intentions at the time. the rapha club, in clerkenwell road (now a branch of sainsburys) was never intended to become a permanent feature of the capital city, closing some three months later after the tour de france had finished. look mum no hands, however, has become an indispensible part of the cycling fabric of london, not least because of probably the finest muesli the world has set eyes upon. if you do, perchance, arrive in the big city at noddy past big ears, i would heartily recommend starting with a heaped plate of lmnh muesli followed by a soya cappuccino, the substantiality of which is a serious challenger to that available at our very own deb's in bruichladdich.
having been provided with the ultimate head-start for a long day in london, i would like simply to thank those at look mum no hands and in particular, sam humpheson who made me feel so incredibly welcome so far from civilisation.
and while we're on the subject of being made welcome, taking into account my very reason for being in olympic city in the first place, rapha have learned from their original pop-up club in clerkenwell road all those years ago and opened more permanent fixtures and fittings at 85 brewer street right in the heart of congestion valley. for those, like yours truly, unfamilar with the tributaries and arteries of the gold-paved town, brewer street is but a mere hustle and bustle from the south end of regent street. it would likely be hard to find a more central location in which to watch one of three big screen tellys while supping state of the art coffee, all the while aware of a citroen h-van as the backdrop to proceedings.
had you been present at the soiree on friday evening, you would likely have seen none of this whatsoever, for were that to be indicative of the daily numbers expected, then it is already too small. as james fairbank related, "I saw people I recognised across the human morass and they'd gone by the time I made it over." i will refrain from dropping the names of the incredibly famous legends i met during an evening of repeating the words "excuse me" as i bumped into someone else excusing themselves while we re-enacted a prom dance from the fifties.
from a mere traipse around the facilities prior to opening time, it is a lovely space as they would say in portland, perhaps slightly closer to victoria bus station than old street, but one that has yet to prove that the proof of the muesli is in the eating.
i gave annapurna a miss on the way home and opted for bus, bus, ferry, bus, plus those motorway service stations at alarming hours of the morning.
saturday 21st july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i do not remember from whence the quote originated, but i do recall reading the words of a respected author who stated that he was not responsible for writing new works. in point of fact, each essay or book was exactly the same as its predecessor, but that the words were in a different order. it is a quote that has haunted me for many a year as i strive each day to provide some literary entertainment for those who lust after such things. it is not for me to decide whether i have been, or will continue to be successful at my self-imposed task, but i suppose i must surely think i am at least partially victorious or i'd have given up ages ago.
cycling is a sport or leisure activity that benefits from a brightly educated phalanx of writers and photographers, something that i'm sure must be true of other sports, but to my mind, considerably less in evidence. and in the manner of most activities, whether as participant or observer, the more often either are practiced, generally the better the individual becomes in their chosen aspect. i have, on very rare occasions, taken a sneak back in time to re-read something written many moons ago, a pastime that serves a double purpose. firstly, it makes me cringe to think that i inflicted so much on so few, and secondly, it makes the current selection under construction seem almost like literature by comparison.
i am thankful that i am all too blissfully aware of my severe limitations as a photographer, for it allows me to admire the imagery of true artists such as scott mitchell, ben ingham, brian vernor, dan sharp, camille mcmillan and oh so many others. when it comes to writings, particularly those encapsulated in other blogs, i try very hard to avoid inadvertant reading, for more often than not, i feel they put my own efforts to shame, and i would prefer to remain ignorant of such shortcomings. there are a few, of course, that i hold in high esteem, aware that i am unilkely to trouble the judges (as david duffield would have said) by comparison; matt seaton, bill strickland, matt rendell and richard moore to name but a few.
gentlemen such as the above provide an inspirational bar at which to aim, and for any who are considering, or are in the early stages of writing their very own blog, i would suggest paying close attention to the writings of such as these.
of course, there is another way to goad the needy; a way to gauge the level at which you start or have achieved, and it arrives courtesy of the nice people at velobici. intent on celebrating the all but inevitable placing of a british rider atop the podium in paris come sunday, and more than likely another, one step down, velobici have produced a british manufactured roadwear collection. a brand more renowned for its less sporting aspirations in the realm of cycle clothing, currently offering merino wool cardigans, sweaters etc. this will be their first serious venture into the more athletic arena. to accompany this release, velobici would also like to offer those of a more literary bent, the opportunity to sharpen their pencils (virtually speaking)
chris puttnam of velobici has echoed my own sentiments: "The cycling world has a wealth of writing talent and we thought after all this year's success in all riding disciplines, that there are some inspirational stories to be told." thus, we are offered three categories in which to fit our cycling narratives: the bike, the race and the ride. chris continued, "your story doesn't have to be about professional racing. It can be about your own rides, your own memories."
confining yourselves to no more than 1,000 words (there is no minimum) entries ought to be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, stating which of the three categories you have entered, and have it there by 10pm on 17th august. a competition, by its very nature, implies that there will be judges, and this is no exception. the six sitting in adjudication will be chris puttnam, founder of velobici; adrian bell of mousehold press, esteemed author, matt rendell, 1998 british road race champion, matt stephens, cycling doctor and author, andy ward and last, but not least, eurosport commentator and man who has my campagnolo eps groupset on his onix frame, david harmon.
these six gentlemen will preside over all three cateogories, submitting their favoured two to a grand final at which point three ultimate winners will be decided. The winner of the race category will receive a set of the new road wear, a choice of van abel or van dapper (jersey & shorts); winner of the bike category will win a choice of a classic bob maitland or tommy godwin jersey, and the winner of the ride category will win a lombardy classic cardigan with matching seamless merino scarf and gloves. for female winners, we have a set of ella paris or ella nice as well as a set of velobici's soon-to-be-released women's wear, a technical vest and briefs. each winner will also receive a copy of the latest publication from mousehold press and all three finalists will also be recorded by commentator david harmon and made available as a podcast on the velobici website.
i hope to have an item or two from the velobici road range to review on the post in the merest hint of time, but meantime, stop reading this stuff and start writing your own. and no copying my answers.
wednesday 18th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the nineteen nineties, i was contacted by a gentleman from the hitherto unknown (to me) national byways project to whom i had been recommended by argyll and bute council road safety department. the national byway trust was formed in 2005 to take over from the original company which, at the time, was sponsored by hovis. the premise behind the project was the identification of routes suitable for cyclists all across the uk, quite heavily based upon the sustrans network.
however, whereas sustrans were simply responsible for providing the arteries without prejudice, the byways project saw it as its 'mission to work towards the goal of contributing to the quality of british life by integrating the health, social, economic and environmental benefits to be derived by all from the activity of cycling.'
rather high falutin' aspirations, and not ones that i can provide any verification of, however, as it was presented to me, underlined by some byways maps, the idea was to identify the sights and sounds that could be seen while perambulating around the aforesaid byways. at least a couple of routes had been identified on islay that would fit almost seamlessly into the fabric of the organisation, and it was these that the gentleman had travelled in his hovis emblazoned camper van with bicycle to traverse and assess their suitability. i, was, for a brief moment in time, a consultant.
as it transpired, a lack of funding on one part and a lack of commitment from the council on the other, meant that the islay routes didn't subsequently become a part of the byways web. however, the two routes under consideration are currently depicted on the council's cycling on islay and jura leaflet. from those days, i have remained in contact with mike breckon, for 'tis he who made that trip around twenty years ago. and here he resurfaces as author of a fine piece in the latest issue of rouleur concerning the 1972 munich olympics.
so while number thirty-two can be seen as a re-acquainting myself with a good friend from many years ago, it also brings not so much with it as within it, a new method of receiving the equitable thump on the front door mat. for longer than any of us can remember, rouleur has appeared inside a shiny grey, yet thin plastic envelope. the posties on islay are a caring bunch, and in all the years i have been receiving my regular copies of rouleur, i cannot recall any having suffered at the hands of the royal mail. i have checked the substantial pile of magazines in the corner of the spare bedroom and they exude an air of pristine quality. almost.
however, it appears that the grey envelope and its contents may have fared less well across the universe, and the responsible chaps at rouleur towers in london have decided enough is enough and substituted card for plastic. aside from offering greater protection for that delightful aroma of printers' ink, this cardboard carton aids the welcome thump below the letterbox. a win, win situation it seems.
of course, the joy of reception stops not with the more robust packaging, for this issue's substantial pagination contains a range of articles that make it hard to decide just where to start reading (no-one ever reads their rouleur from front to back in sequence; that's for amateurs). ian cleverly and guy andrews (adopting the role of photographer) visit the olympic velodrome, herbie sykes and timm kolln are still in the gdr, andy waterman and ian cleverly continue along the oregon trail and jordan gibbons has a look at ridley. of course, there are many more pages filled with essential words and pictures about cycling, and at this point you ought seriously to be wondering that, if you don't subscribe, just exactly what it is that's wrong with you.
wednesday 18th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
doubtless, hidden in the vaults of a modern university, there is a substantial, quality bound treatise, submitted as part of a body of research on just why it is that the act of eating cake and drinking coffee is so closely associated with the act of riding a bicycle. if that is indeed the case, i for one would be more than happy if it was released for public consumption, for it has long been a question worthy of avoidance in the mobile conversation that is the sunday ride. based on no research whatsoever, it seems possible that the continuation of the myth is entirely due to hereditary conversations such as the sunday ride previously mentioned.
examine the evidence as currently presented: having somehow become impressed with the notion that cake and coffee is the true substance of life, i have managed to pass on this exclusive information to those who have seen fit to join me for any number of bike rides around the principality. not for nothing does the ride of the falling rain begin and end at debbie's in bruichladdich; a double espresso for the off, ending with a soya cappuccino and some carrot cake in the name of recuperation purposes at the end of a long day. should anyone decide to join us on the sunday ride, they will unwittingly be indoctrinated into the luxury of coffee and cake.
the same procedure has likely happened all across the globe. on a recent trip to portland, oregon, having been thoroughly trounced by slate olson both uphill and downhill, on meeting ira ryan and his fiancee, it was a logical choice to pedal a mile or two for coffee and cake, before riding home. however, taking this last happenstance into consideration, had i not been in the company of portland residents well acquainted with the international custom, i may have found it somewhat less appeasing to trail around on unfamilar streets trying to find one of the town's finer establishments.
you may think i do protest too much, but a few days later in my trip, flying solo, i was able to pop into an hostelry known as java, surely one acquainted with the finer aspects of baristahood? ordering a soya cappuccino was not a problem; drinking the resultant gloop was considerably less amenable. in fact, i left the paper cup more than half-full. and though not at all related to cycling in all its many diversities, i was recommended to lunch at beaverton bakery in portland international airport. the breads on offer, along with a whole patisserie section were positively to die for, and lunch would have been a delight were it not for the utterlay appalling froth offered as a cappuccino. with those two examples, i was totally disavowed of the notion that it was all but impossible to order a disastrous coffee in portland, home to a myriad of individual coffee roasters.
i count myself fortunate that i have good friends in such far flung places, but it is of concern for those who visit, bereft of any indigenous companions. how would they ever know the best of coffee and cake? surely someone ought to produce a guide to britain and the world's finest along with the less than savoury, possibly based on reviews by real people. before either you or i have time to pat myself on the back, i should perhaps introduce you to louise mullagh, mastermind behind patisserie cyclisme a celebration in pixels of all we have discussed so far, and now released to an eager cycling public.
though perhaps a stunningly obvious question, what gave louise the idea for a website featuring cafe reviews for cyclists? "It all started last winter (2011) when I was going through a bad bout of depression. To get me out I started riding via a local cafe and the concept of a review site just came to me while eating my cake one winter's day. I started a really basic blog which became popular, so I developed it to the point at which there were over 100 reviews and I thought it was time to get a proper site that worked and looked lovely."
as professed above, i have never sat myself down, opened a copy of psychology for dummies and tried to figure out the connection between coffee, cake and cycling. i doubt i'm alone in this, for if there's time for that, there's time for cycling, so all is conveniently forgotten. does louise have any theories of her own as to why cycling, coffee and cake are such fine bedfellows?
"There is definitely the basic stopping to refuel aspect, but there is something more, something which I haven't quite managed to put my finger on as yet. The old cafe raids of old in the grand tours where the domestiques would storm into cafes along the route to plunder what they could is certainly great in terms of history and partly where the cycling cafe came from. I think also a lot of cafes run by keen cyclists have a lot of memorabilia in them and it is the atmosphere that adds a certain feeling that you don't get in other sports (except for maybe the mountain cafes loved by ski fans).
"Certainly in this country there is an element of hiding in cafes for a hot drink when the weather is bad!"
i am happily not beholden to anyone other than mrs washingmachinepost when it comes to the ministrations associated with the post. yes, there is advertising that intersperses each day's scribblings, but none request endless site statistics and analytics to ask if their advertising pounds are being well-spent. something that's probably just as well, for i am less than well versed in the art of interpreting numbers. however, the meanderings that occupy these black and yellow pixels do not, to my mind, lend themselves to commercial exploitation; they can hardly be construed as providing a service of any kind. a website that could conceivably benefit those in the cafe, coffee and cycle trade is a whole 'nother prospect. is patisserie cyclisme a labour of love, or is there a commercial edge?
"It all started as a labour of love, and it still is, but there is potential to turn it into a business. There is the tension though between maintaining an independent, high quality site and attracting advertising, which is the usual way of making websites pay. However, this has a foot in the real world in terms of the potential to sell products online, but also within cafes themselves. I actually begin a cycling related phd in October, so I'm aiming to write a business plan and spend more time on it. I'm lucky to have brilliant support from my husband jamie and friends Dan and Tom who help out."
the world of football/soccer has already conclusively proved that there is a market for clothing associated with objects or subjects of desire. inexplicably, aficionados of the game perhaps move a stage further than the regular cycling fraternity, by fearlessly wearing team strips when shopping in the local supermarket on saturday mornings. such cyclical restraint does not, however, prevent fans of many a cycling venture from purchasing team kit. witness the jerseys worn by velo club d'ardbeg.
louise has already offered a patisserie team kit to an eager public, and with such an effective logo and premise behind the venture, will several more desirable artifacts follow? "I was really surprised at the kit orders that came in and seeing people wearing it means a huge amount to me. The shop will be launched next with coffee/tea/espresso cups, more kit and some musettes. That's just for starters too, the logo and brand looks fabulous and really looks great on products, but it's a case of working out which ones at the moment and also how we start to fund it, being a small venture."
it will not have escaped the notice of many an employer, that the benefits of having employees are numerous, not least the fact that reasonable bidding can be effected within a definable period of time. not only that, but regularity of service can be almost guaranteed. in the case of patisserie cyclisme, however, the employees if i may use that term, are unpaid. if louise is relying on the great unwashed to provide reviews for her site, how else does she intend to keep it current and contemporary?
"I'm hoping word will spread via word of mouth. Once the site is up and running, I'm going to be contacting all the cafes featured with ideas for collaboration. I'm also going to be looking for writers to contribute articles on food, drink and cycling culture as well as getting some interviews lined up with people from the cycling world."
there are many who see the launch of a website as the final step. all the prevaricating, procrastinating and writing get to see the light of day across several organised pages, eager and willing to inform the target audience. as those who have made greater inroads to the interweb will be more aware, the website is perhaps more akin to that first step. it's all very well sponsoring a formula one racing car, but then you have to tell people that you've sponsored a formula one racing car. now that the chic and trendy site has been exposed to the world, how does she propose to spread the good word about coffee and cake?
"Through the site mainly, but also word of mouth, as that is something that's really important in cycling. People riding round in the kit is a brilliant way of getting people to look at the site, but I'm planning to actually have some kind of presence in cafes. It would be brilliant to have a Michelin style scheme where the Patisserie Cyclisme logo is displayed, so that cyclists know they will get great cake! I also keep being asked if I'm going to do a book. If I can find a way of making it work then I will!"
could it be that this process will be augmented with cake recipes and perchance a select patisserie ground espresso coffee? "Yes! There are recipes on site now but I'm going to develop this further by asking cafes to contribute their recipes, as well as cyclists. The shop will also be selling a tea and coffee blend from my local brilliant merchant Atkinsons (@coffeehopper), so I'm hoping those will sell well. We are going for an extra caffeinated option! "
as those who have been here for a while will be well acquainted, there is no rhyme nor reason to thewashingmachinepost. this very article has sprung up today because the new version of patisserie cyclisme is being launched, and i am nothing if not attempting to be contemporary. there is no five year plan, nor a three year plan; if i'm perfectly honest, there's not even a five minute plan. in the spirit of this randomness, is louise making it up as she goes along, or is there, as baldrick would say, a cunning plan?
"So far it has been a case of going with it and working evenings and weekends on it but now I'm starting my Phd I'm going to actually write a business plan. It would be a real shame to not make the most of the support I have been given and I seem to have managed to tap into something right at the core of cycling. I love what I have built up so far and the future of it really excites me! I have been really lucky too in that a friend is a hugely talented designer and web designer and it is thanks to him really making the brand look so great that it has taken off."
earlier this month we were regaled with the news that the chaps at cern, playing with their large hadron collider, had verified the theory of peter higgs and discovered one of team sky's sprinters, eddy higgs boson. any who are familar with the television series the big bang theory will be aware that the grasp of reality exhibited by the scientific community sometimes defies logic. such was the case in the cern announcement of their discovery, which was released to the world in a press release composed in the typeface comic sans. this was a typographical situation that even the font's designer found wholly inappropriate. i caught sight of a rumour that patisserie cyclisme newsletters would be scribed in this very font. say it ain't so lou?
"I would be disowned by my designer Shaun. And myself!"
the new version of patisserie cyclisme is online now at patisseriecyclisme.com. coffee and cake will never be the same again.
tuesday 17th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................