on islay's west coast, overlooking loch gorm and the atlantic shores at saligo and machir bay, is a collection of white houses known as carnduncan. though i know not of its origination, the fact that one or two of the cottages are referred to as the stables and byre cottage would tend to suggest a farming heritage. at the point of my moving here, i was informed that a property developer had purchased most, if not all of the buildings and embarked upon a refurbishment programme, before subsequently selling off individual properties on the open market.
currently there are several individuals and families living in those whitewashed buildings, with some of the latter having taken on the mantle of self-catering holiday accommodation. the view across the surrounding land is quite impressive due to the raised location of the buildings, but this also precludes much in the way of shelter when those atlantic storms come calling. loch gorm can be circumnavigated by a less than pristine road, and only a few hundred metres past the entrance to carnduncan, at the juncture of the road leading to sanaigmore and outback art is one of the old-style red telephone boxes.
though the advent of squillions of mobile phones have all but rendered the humble phonebox somewhat redundant, several are still dotted about the principality, mostly i believe, due to patchy mobile ccoverage. however, prior to the mobile epidemic, british telecom commenced wholesale removal of these sturdy red boxes, replacing them with trendy, contoured aluminium boxes, the two nearest examples of which have lost their doors in islay's winds. despite its highly exposed situation, however, the box at carnduncan is still in darned near perfect condition.
the reason i raise the subject of the red phonebox at carnduncan is its position at the centre of a recurring joke referencing velo club d'ardbeg. with far fewer members than most would realise, the phonebox has oft been hinted at as a venue for our annual dinner dance.
it was funny once.
the reason the latter sprang to mind is the impending season of cycle club dinners and the apparent need to invite a celebrity from the cycling world who might address the great unwashed in their finest clobber (currently aided by the fact that rapha have just released a lapel jacket). i think it more than possible that club members attending these events find themselves sat next to unrecognised others. i say this because we meet each other every sunday morning of life, dressed in sportwool, lycra, polyester and hardshell helmets covering a prudently logo'd casquette. strip us of our secret identities and place us in a decidedly unnatural habitat and i'm sure we look nothing like what we all thought we did.
now worn as a badge of honour, it is my claim to fame that i do not now, nor have i ever, owned a suit. that could conceivably explain why i am never invited to any club dinners as either a guest or a speaker, but i think nowadays, i likely find myself in a minority of one in this respect. not only ought one to wear a suit, shirt and tie to such dinners, the dress code can be put to good use, ensuring that the hotel or hall staff are under no illusion as to why you're there in the first place. though a sartorial feature that has become almost anachronistic for the gentlemen of the peloton, it is still just possible to decorate one's shirt cuffs with the aptly named cufflinks. though this will almost without question entail having jacket sleeves short enough to display both cuffs and links, part two of this sartorial quest is finding appropriate cufflinks in the first place.
which is precisely where the saviours of modern day cycling, fixing, supping and munching enter the fray. look mum no hands! based in london's old street, host to the recent itv4 series the cycle shoe and profferers of likely the finest muesli on the planet, are soon to add a range of shirt cuff fasteners to their online shop. and probably to a locked drawer in the shop, i shouldn't wonder. so says co-owner, lewin chalkley. these are now on the lmnh website at a cost of £35 per pair, a mere bagatelle when it comes to an impressive attendance at the annual club dinner.
monday 1 october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm never too sure whether i envy those of my acquaintances in the world of media (notice how i'm now pretending that this includes me?) who attend each successive tour de france. though i have not the temerity to mention any of them by name, the freelance work that many of them undertake requires them to spend those three weeks in july in france, not only watching that which unfolds, but scuttering about hither and thither for any inside exclusives that may help justify flitting to a different hotel each evening. perhaps i'd be very pleased if i received an e-mail or telephone call asking if i'd care to brush up in my french with a view to providing my own take on the annual circus, but until it happens, we can but surmise what my answer might be.
as i never tire of remitting ('tis the ideal backdrop for many a long story), my only visit to the tour de france was in 1998 when the race started in dublin. it is pure coincidence that 1998 was also the year that willy voet was caught at the french border driving a motor car filled to the brim with smarties, opal fruits and maltesers. i visited purely for the purpose of watching just under two hundred individuals ride very quickly round parts of an irish city i had never visited before. sadly, i have no idea whatsoever what happened to the photos taken over the course of a couple of days' racing, but i do remember visiting an exhibition of photos by graham watson and a pizza establishment that featured a marvellous set of overhead pulleys and wires to deliver the orders to the kitchen.
the other thing that i remember all too clearly was one corner of the red look cleat on my right sidi snapping off before the two day ride to dublin had completed. though shimano had, by this time invented the tinsy offroad pedal with its even tinsier concealed cleat, it seemed a touch heretical to ride to the start of the world's greatest road race, shod in offroad footwear. despite an inability to walk with anything other than the verisimilitude of a duck, the ride from ballycastle in the north east all the way to dublin, involved stopping ever so occasionally to purchase inordinate quantities of food to keep those carb levels in the black. it was this along with perpetually uncleating the right foot at road junctions wot broke the cleat.
with a level of invention i hope you'll admit was above and beyond the call of duty, i swapped the cleats to prevent any further problems on the two-day return trip.
there are, of course, situations where the three point road cleats simply will not cut the mustard. nor will they allow running of an unfettered nature, nor frighteningly quick unclipping. if we then add in a modicum of mud, gravel and grass, the need for an alternative looms large and necessitous. the primary considerations both inhabit the need to run or walk off the bike; if through mud and gloop, the cleat must remain clear or remounting will all be in vain when it comes to clipping back in. additionally, if the cleat is not recessed in the sole of the shoe, it risks being pummeled into submission over a remarkably short period of time.
we are at the outset of the cyclocross season, a sport which positiveky encourages riders to dismout and remount with endless frequency, needing to jump over natural and artificial obstacles and climb with bicycle thrust ungainly across one shoulder. though i have detailed at great length my continuing (though occasionally improving) inability to emulate a cyclocross rider, i am not discouraged from going to play in the woods on my own every saturday of the season. in order so to do, i feel i ought to be appropriately shod and the very nice people at mavic were kind enough to supply a black pair of their top of the range offroad shoes, the fury.
it's not hard to tell when a package has arrived from mavic. aside from the logo prominently displayed on the label, most of it is in french. a package containing a shoebox is hard to disguise, but i confess to a moment of doubt on lifting the box from the porch; perhaps they'd forgotten to put the shoes in? my doubts can be likely explained away by the subsequent knowledge that mavic's fury shoes weigh only a smattering over 330 grams. whatever else these do or don't do, weighing you down won't be one of them.
this lightness is achieved by an all plastic and mesh construction up top, bonded to a carbon sole. in keeping with their zxellium road shoe, the tongue is a continuation of one side of the shoe, ensuring that the ratchet closure gains a firm grasp of your foot. the design of the fury's upper provides not only one of the most comfortable items of footwear it's been my pleasure to wear, but one offering the greatest support. the ratchet closure is aided and abetted by two forward velcro straps, meaning that, once fastened, movement is conspicuous by its absence.
that carbon sole has grippy written all over it via chunky bits each side of the cleat channel and at the heel. were that not sufficient, each pair arrives with the option of muddy or dry traction studs along with a simple tool to remove and replace. cleverly, the placing of the chunky bits provides a clear method of guiding foot to pedal. clipping and unclipping can be effected with ease. even i managed it without falling over.
it has always seemed a touch iniquitous to cover such fine footwear in portions of fallen leaves, grass and gloopy mud, but not to do so would surely be failing in my imperious duty. so that is precisely what i did. though racing is still a guaranteed last place too far for yours truly, i do have the luxury of a rather fine cross course in bridgend woods. one of these days it will be used for just such a competitive purpose and we will all have great fun. conveniently, this replica offers all the previous physical hassles along with a rock-strewn ascent, lots of squidgy turns and a leaf covered run (i use the word advisedly) up hill. i did my level best to be jeremy powers for a few days, jumping off and on while ensuring i avoided nothing that stood in my way.
bridgend woods is inevitably followed by a 2km wallop down the grassy dunes of uiskentuie strand; hard work unless you have the appropriate footwear. this latter stretch allows for the option of haring off to the right, up and over a former road, now disused and fallen on hard times. i tried my level best to upset these shoes, but i fear they are a lot better than i am. the carbon sole, combined with what mavic refer to as energy frame + allows for superb comfort coupled with minimal internal movement. the sole's stiffness is unparalleled in my experience.
these are, however, not a one-trick pony. my cielo wears a pair of crank brothers candy pedals which use the same clipping mechanism as the eggbeaters, thus i have had the opportunity to ride the open road with feet clad in black mavics and party to the same experience as provided offroad. though clipping and unclipping is less onerous than playing at cyclocross, the carbon sole provides the equivalent sensation and i can walk into debbie's and order a soya cappuccino without a clickety-clack sonic accompaniment.
irrrespective therefore of your cycling preferences, the next time the tour starts in dublin, these would be the ideal shoes to keep your socks company. with the mesh covering they're hardly what one might describe as waterproof; offroad that's just the way it is. riding on-road in the rain, i simply pulled on a pair of neoprene overshoes which, though offering a bit of resistance over those chunky soles, fitted just nicely thank you very much. i have no idea why mavic named these fury but with a build quality to die for, luxurious comfort and almost helium balloon-like weight, i'm not sure i care.
impressive and inspiring both at the same time.
mavic's fury offroad shoes are available in either black with yellow trim or all over mavic yellow in sizes ranging from 4.5 - 12 (uk). cost is around £240 and they arrive with their own bag to keep them away from other items in the kit bag.
sunday 30th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i'd be hard pushed to relate a specific example, the world of fairy tales is filled with magic containers that seem never to empty. want a porage pot that is always simmering full of thick tasty gruel? how about a magic purse (sporran round these here parts) that never empties of golden coins, even currency that is happily accepted in any local supermarket or bicycle shop? no doubt, if there was a way of inventing just such devices, it would have happened by now, though judging by the bbc's decision to offer jeremy clarkson another three years on his contract and the purchasing of his share of his very own top gear production company, it's possible someone has come perilously close.
perilously close is also a tentatively applicable appellation appplied to malt whisky distilleries. though i would suffer months of sleepless nights were i the moving force and financial benefactor behind kilchoman distillery, once the requisite ten years has passed, there's every indication that cashflow ought to be a consideration of a more relaxed nature. though ardbeg, bruichladdich and kilchoman have given competitive rise to the younger than ten year-old expression in order to stave off financial drought, only the latter has yet to reach its first decade.
bowmore distillery on the other hand, has good claim to be islay's oldest distillery, having a heritage that goes back as far as 1779. it was also, until recently, the last of the island's distilleries still at least partially owned by the family concern that once owned it outright. the morrison family transferred total ownership of the company, which also owns auchentoshan near glasgow, to suntory of japan, who, commendably seem to have left at least bowmore pretty much to its own devices. apart from the flag of the rising sun on one of the distillery's flagpoles outside the visitor centre, you'd never know.
however, to return briefly to the story of the money machine, bowmore, similarly to all the other distilleries in scotland, has not altered its method of making whisky across the two centuries of its existence. i will not bore you with the gory details, but everything involves barley, peat, water (copious amounts) yeast, stills, washbacks, mash tuns and wooden casks. and allowing for the variation in financial variance over those centuries, it costs no more to make the amber nectar today than it did in 1779.
knowledge of the above seems not to discourage the archetypal whisky aficionado from spending over the odds on so-called limited editions or expressions, as i believe is the current description a la mode. if we allow for the fact that storing whisky in its wooden casks for a number of years longer than others is bound to be a touch more pricey, we must also take the word of the master blender, that the expensive option just released is as a result of market forces and due to a more limited availability.
this factor is responsible for a wide variety of special editions offered by many a single malt whisky distillery and inordinately large sums paid for rare examples appearing at auction. however, as of last week, bowmore distillery seem set to raise the stakes to previously unheard of levels. just before i continue, let me reiterate the fact that all whisky, excluding storage costs and inflation, costs the same amount to make. therefore bowmore's discovery of a 1957 cask of single malt that offered up only enough liquid to fill twelve bottles might, on the face of it, seem not entirely unusual. this whisky has been lying in bowmore's no.1 vault down by the shores of loch indaal in an oak cask for 54 years (it was bottled in 2011 and whisky ages no more once bottled) and has now found itself in twelve individually made platinum flecked bottles with hand-crafted platinum caps.
two of these bottles will be auctioned at bonham's in edinburgh and new york next month with a reserve price of £100,000 ($155,000), the proceeds going to five scottish charities. two bottles will be archived by bowmore, and the remaining eight will live in the shop at bowmore distillery with a retail price equivalent to the reserve set by bonhams. very much the same as reaching the summit of alpe d'huez, this results in a sharp intake of breath.
far cheaper, but with the same badge of honour as those frighteningly expensive bottles, is the latest in racewear from edinburgh's endura cycling apparel.
long have we been able to dress the part when visiting ardbeg's old kiln cafe, while the recently acquired (by remy cointreau) bruichladdich distillery made a disturbing mess of their own cycle jersey offering a few years back. in my own humble opinion, the bowmore jersey raises the style factor considerably, impressing even the staff at the distillery with its attention to branding detail. fashioned in scotland from coolmax fabric, the only feature missing is a zipped rear pocket to augment the standard offering of three. a short sleeve jersey at this time of year on islay is never going to work alone, but my review example fared well to the accompaniment of a pair of endura baabaa merino armwarmers. possibly of more use in the summer months, the zip is of the threequarter variety; at present, the coolmax proved slightly warmer than expected (especially in bowmore's still room).
i have been frequently asked by visiting cyclists if distilleries other than ardbeg have cycle jerseys available for purchase, yet up till now the answer has been an unfortunate 'no'. endura have now doubled the number with a collectors' item of their own (that costs a lot less than £100,000). it seems also more than fitting that i now have the honour of wearing a jersey emblazoned with the name of the distillery whose bonded warehouses fill the view from the rear windows of washingmachinepost cottage and whose distillery is not only a few hundred metres down the road, but features the name of the village in which i have lived for 25 years without once having ever tasted the product.
endura's bowmore distillery cycle jersey will retail at £39.99 and ought to be available from endura dealers and bowmore distillery visitor centre towards the end of november this year. just in time for christmas. julie at bowmore thinks it the ideal accompaniment to a bottle of 1957 single malt.
saturday 29th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
reputedly, whisky has been made in scotland for over 500 years. there are a number of competing claims as to its origination, but one of the most likely is that of irish monks travelling to the western isles of scotland, ostensibly for the purposes of transmitting the word of christ to the heathens then inhabiting islay, mull, iona and the like. they are thought to have also brought the skills necessary for distilling a mixture of water, barley and yeast into a beverage that currently brings several millions into the economy each year. throughout those 500 plus years, the principles of distilling have varied little if at all, leading many of us on the island to query why so many return year after year for the same distillery tour that occupied their time in previous visits.
we'll probably never know.
however, transmission of alcoholic beverage concoction by religious adherents down the passage of history is not one confined to the irish. according to local lore, an artillery marshal of the french head of state, king henry iv, provided the carthusian monks in 1605 with a manuscript containing a recipe for an elixir of life. this recipe eventually made its way to the local religious headquarters at the grande chartreuse monastery situated at voiron near grenoble. since that time, the recipe has been used to produce the "elixir vegetal de la grande chartreuse" a liqueur produced to this day and more commonly referred to as simply 'chartreuse'.
this is no longer produced at the chartreuse monastery, but in a factory in the nearby town of voiron. unlike the distilleries on islay, the monks at the monastery do not permit visitors and motor vehicles are restricted on the roads surrounding the grounds. sales of chartreuse liqueur now support the isolated livelihoods of the carthusian monks.
whereas the amber nectar produced in islay's eight malt whisky distilleries is noted and characterised by its golden hue acquired from the casks in which it is matured, chartreuse appears in two variations: green and yellow. the latter gave rise to the colour chartreuse in 1892, but in order that it may be seen as distinct from its green sibling, in 1987 the colour was reclassified as chartreuse yellow. according to rapha's website, 'Scientific research shows the Chartreuse colourway offers exceptional visibility in low light. Though not technically fluorescent, studies have found that the rods in the retina - the part of the eye that work best in low light - are particularly receptive to the yellow/green colour. As a result, chartreuse is increasingly used around the world for emergency vehicles.'
my colleagues in the office offered selflessly to shower me with buckets of water or garden hoses that i might test the efficacy of rapha's new hardshell jacket, a variation on their well-known softshell. in my review of the latter, i recall mentioning that £240 was rather a substantial sum of money to spend on a jacket that offered showerproof qualities at best. i doubt that this departing remark subsequently goaded the design department into having me eat my words, but for the 2012/13 autumn/winter range, the ultimate in waterproofing has arrived in similar guise to the much-loved softshell.
if i can be throroughly pedantic prior to the start, i'd be most intrigued to know where the word hardshell originated in this context. those inviting black envelopes in which rapha gear arrives was a deal more flexible than i had banked on, and the burst of charteuse yellow that blinded from within seemed not too different in constitution from its soft bedfellow. i therefore, without resort to rapha's marketing or design departments, decided that it is hard in the sense that it laughs in the face of adversity; bullying the weather into submission rather than simply shrugging off its worst efforts.
wishing not to accede to my colleagues' offers of drenching for fear that it would do them more good than it would me, i watched the pages of xcweather with worrying frequency, waiting for weather conditions in which i could be hard. it's the west coast of scotland; such opportunities in the throes of autumn do not take long to arrive. during the preceding days i cut an increasingly eccentric figure by proclaiming that crap weather was just what i awaited for a lengthy bike ride along the arteries of the parish.
and lo, it was crap.
minimal in conception the hardshell may be, but so far as i can note, the only glaring omission is that of the drop tail featured on the softshell, an item i have had little need to call upon while riding the fendered cielo. hermetic protection from the elements would be a tad underwhelming were it not for some degree of breathability. fully taped seams on the hardshell are designed to keep out every last molecule of moisture, but i confess that i rather too often interrupted the good works done on behalf of its internal hydrophilic properties.
breathability works mostly via internal heat pressure forcing perspiration onto the inner moisture-loving membrane which, in turn, forces it outward to the jacket's surface and into the surrounding atmosphere. however, if the garment being reviewed has to be photographed in all sorts of obscure and interesting places, this necessitates inveterate stopping and cooling, allowing the self-generated perspiration to condense. do so often enough, and one can become slightly dampish, not because the jacket is failing in its duties, but because the incumbent, and intrepid reviewer is hardly giving it the opportunity to do as it is bid.
that said, by the time home was reached after 110km my rapha portland jersey was merely shaken, not stirred. breathable cycle jackets are, in my experience, rarely as breathable as we'd all like them to be; it's often a case of i want, i want, doesn't get. however, in the grand scheme of these things, the hardshell's breathability was actually pretty good, more especially if you don't stop every few kilometres to take pictures of yourself in chartreuse.
i cannot but admit that i had some assistance in the reviewing of this jacket. in order that it be possible to check every nook and cranny for imperviousness to persistant precipitation, i enlisted an at oft times gale-force wind. vertical rain is all well and good, but periods of horizontality are far more testing. it would also be importune of me to contend that the island suffered from east to west. though perhaps a smidgeon more windswept on the atlantic side, parts of the road were verging on dessication (perhaps a bit of an over exaggeration, but scene setting was never my forte). however, after a coffee-based lunch at debbie's, the heavens let go of all that they contained, so i took the (considerably) longer way home just for good measure.
in common with much of the united kingdom, islay's roads edge ever closer to sections of paris-roubaix as each week passes, rough enough, in fact, to have loosened one of the mudguard stays at the rear. thus, on the long and winding chartreuse inflected road home, i visited each and every passing place in turn to pull the full wood fender from its recurrent resting place on the tread of a vittoria pave rear tyre. though hardly a matter of life or death, if nothing else it proved why you would wish to be clothed in a rapha hardshell in the first place. it takes little time in this weather to cool below comfort level, a status that can remove all vestiges of the word comfortable from a bike ride if that coolness is subsequently invaded by the rain.
in short, i really don't care why rapha call it a hardshell if it offers this degree of protection from elements that, in my case, will only get worse between now and next march. the breathability could conceivably be improved by the retention of the side vents featured on the complicit softshell, but i daresay those would only add another possible area of ingress. the collar is commendably high, three rear pockets plus a (taped) zipped fourth is more than ideal, and a rear facing fifth zipped pocket on the bottom left side-panel easily carries and secures the coffee money. joe at rapha has confirmed that there will again be a festive 500 this coming december an event that, despite being blown off the road last year, now holds no fear whatsoever.
aside from which, if i do find myself ditching in the sea, the chartreuse ought to ensure the helicopters find me first.
rapha's hardshell jacket is available in chartreuse yellow, dark red or blue, in sizes ranging from xs to xxl. cost is a not unreasonable £240 ($375)
friday 28th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
just to my left, a few inches behind my shoulder, i have a copy of this year's rouleur calendar, within easy reach for checking just which day it is as opposed to the day i thought it was. and though a lack of pinpoint accuracy as to the part of the week is an affliction suffered by many, the large(ish) letters at the top have at least informed me that it is september. the concern that there are few days left in this particular month is exacerbated by the knowledge that october is one of my more expensive months; all four of us in thewashingmachinepost family have birthdays between the first and the 22nd, two in fact, on the same day. it is, therefore, of little suprise that any month, anniversary or event in either of the following two months will be summarily ignored until birthday season is well and truly over.
this reverie of deep breathing suffers, unfortunately, from importune interruptions from tv and radio presenters, not to mention folks you meet in the shops, pointing out just how close we are to christmas. that i could almost accept, were it not for the fact that commerciality has left christmas day firmly anchored on the 25th of december, but brought forward the preamble in huge, mountainous steps. as my witness for the prosecution, allow me to describe the accompaniment to tuesday's afternoon coffee: a pack of christmas mincemeat pies.
the ladies in the office who are far more alert to such happenings than am i, assure me that these have been offered for sale, midst large christmas tins of chocolates and biscuits, for some number of days now in our local supermarket. christmas mincemeat pies; but it's only september for heaven's sake. not only have we not seen hide nor hair of hallowe'en as yet (i'm not sure there are even any grotesque masks on sale), but what of guy fawkes moment of inglorious flare? though i have little doubt my demeanour will soon guarantee me a place on grumpy old men, i can't help thinking that commerciality is all but ignoring the constraints of the seasons, and forcing poor old santa to lengthen the terms of his employment.
i truly could not fault subtly alerting folks to the notion that christmas is not too far away on the horizon. this at least might instigate a flurry of last minute saving for woolly jumpers of indeterminate size, a six pack of socks and a hat and scarf set that no-one in their right mind would ever wear. and it also seems well within the confines of the information age to broach the subject of christmas related events which could easily be pencilled in on the rouleur calendar that sits mere inches from my left shoulder.
one such event announced only within the last twenty four hours, is a festive version of one held earlier this year at the behest of the inimitable nick hussey, he of vulpine clothing and idiosyncratic tweeting fame. though i do not know nick's sporting proclivities intimately, i have a sneaking suspicion that in his dotage he and cronies will be playing bowls on one or two occasions per week. this i have inferred from the location of his festive fun: balham bowls club. to be held on saturday 1st december, i will, from this point of view at least, sadly be on holiday and unable to attend (though very happy to be going on holiday), but i will expect a written report on my desk by 9am monday morning from all those who will be attending.
regularly held views on the efficacy of advertising posters leads one to minimize the wording to allow for maximum effect of the principal purpose of the advert. however. such is the colossal number of those exhibiting and featuring at the vulpine cycling fete, i can only guess that the image i have placed atop this article is at least ten feet tall. though not wishing to diss anyone by failing to mention them in these paragraphs, you will perchance allow me the luxury of picking and choosing from the day's itinerary: artcrank, photographer balint hamvas, the superb illustrators richard mitchelson and ben scruton, cyclodelic, donhou bikes, the subject of yesterday's feature, pannier.cc, ride magazine, rollapaluza and, of course, your hosts for the day, vulpine clothing.
open from 3pm till 9pm with free entry, the only caveat would appear to be that, while dogs and kids are most welcome, nick would prefer you left the horse at home. all exhibitors are donating to friends of herne hill velodrome and rollapaluza outreach.
thursday 27th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
much in common with a swiss army penknife and blu-tac, a bicycle has multiple facets, most of which are only visible in that sole hour of need. who would have guessed that tiny little panel pins could be safely inserted in a small blob of blu-tac to save thumb and forefinger from being battered stupid by an increasingly errant hammer technique? by the same stretch of a weakened imagination, a bicycle has purposes other than covering one in pelotonic glory.
but unlike the swiss doohicky and the blu-tac, most of the bicycle's appointments with pragmatism invoke newton's third law of motion (every action has an equal and opposite reaction), more commonly expressed as cause and effect.
taken on its most basic level, the mere act of riding a byclce to the shops implies a necessity to have a vessel in which to carry any subsequent items purchased. this direct implication grows like the cheshire cat's grin, as the expedition grows in stature. in the 1940s, cycle clubs would think little of traipsing off to the countryside of a weekend, laden with the necessities of life for a couple of days or so. as the period of time becomes ever more grandiose, the bicycle has need of greater cargo capacity, allowing for a change of socks and perchance, a tent.
but should the latter be deemed a smidgeon too rustic for the modern day intrepid traveller, the selfsame bicycle with a more modest payload could serve well for so-called credit card touring. to briefly describe this involves carrying the bare minimum while spending each and every evening in the cossetted luxury of an appropriately discovered or recommended hostelry. those with a well-rounded degree of perspicacity will perhaps begin to see where this travelling regime may begin to falter, for howso would we know whether an opportunely situated guest house or hotel will be favourably disposed to the sportwool clad avatars of society?
word of mouth is always a first option, but you may well find that many of those who routinely join the peloton for a sunday morning ride have yet to experience the joys of riding across skye, the lake district or one or two other more obscure parts of the british countryside. it may also be the case that none of those around you are disposed towards any form of cycle touring at all. it seems that a similar predicament invaded the touring world of stefan amato "There wasn't a website that made the planning of cycle travel straightforward, and I have always been frustrated by listings that aren't visually related to a route or location."
that's why he and his accomplices created and launched pannier.cc a mapping based website that links appropriately recommended, cycling friendly accommodation along the route to "connect local and independent businesses with travelling cyclists."
the website's interface is well crafted, featuring decent photography and pleasant layout, features that endear on first visit, but which could only be regarded as ephemeral were it not for the engine that makes it a worthwhile site to visit if the combination of cycling and travel is one that floats your boat. however, a point of interest that may say more about me than it does about pannier.cc, it took me several moments of concentration to work out just what it is the site actually does. the routes with maps and accommodation along the way are beautifully and very nicely handled, but i wasn't immediately aware of just how the whole thing worked, especially as one or two of the routes on the front page have no corresponding place in the find accommodation section.
though recognising that it's early days in pannier's development, i somewhat impertinently asked the three chaps at pannier (stef, dave and nick) to explain further. "The home page contains photographic based articles and information on routes and places. With time, it will include write-ups of accommodations etc. We are also accepting contributions and will be updating these on a weekly basis. The header contains routes, events and trails information which subsequently lead through to our accommodation interface, or you can access it through the 'find accommodation' button. As you point out, some of the articles don't relate to a route in the accommodation section; we know, having obtained feedback, that there are tweaks we need to do to make it more obvious. As the site progresses, you will see more of a mix of our routes along with reports from new journeys.
"The accommodation interface then contains all of Pannier's core information: mapping the cycle-friendly accommodation."
as much as i have created a cliche all by myself, after the great summer of sport that has raised the profile of cycling in the uk to unheralded proportions, i doubt somehow that those inspired by queen vic, sir chris and bradley have rushed down to their nearest independent bike store in a quest to seek the best that cycle touring can offer. it would be interesting to view the sales graphs at brook saddles since mid august. so have the guys at pannier seen concrete evidence that cyclists are taking to the open road, rather than emulating bradley on the roads nearer to home?
"Pannier was initiated prior to the Olympic and Tour successes this year, both of which largely relate to competitive racing. Having experienced what a fantastic way cycling was of seeing and understanding places, the idea behind Pannier was to make cycle touring more accessible to cyclists of all levels. We are providing both a tool for those who tour regularly and importantly encouraging others to give it a go! In his great book, Rob Penn quotes Ernest Hemingway "it is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them..."
"That is 'it' for us.
"Having said this, the first report on the cycling economy from the London School of Economics this year, supported by Sky and British Cycling, points to a growing industry. Pannier aims to get the increasing number of people with bikes to discover more of the UK and stay at some of the great places at the same time. The report also highlights the rise in the number, scope and popularity of cycling events and sportives over the last year. The standout statistics for us were based on the Etape Caledonia: 3535 participants, 4853 spectators with 86% of people staying overnight in the Highlands.
"We were keen to include 'Events' within Pannier's remit and, as we grow our library of events for 2013, we aim to make these more accessible for cyclists too."
the basic premise of pannier.cc is, therefore, to not only alert the british cycling public to the joys of riding through some of the finer parts of our countryside, but to offer recommendations as to accommodation providers who are well-disposed towards the sometimes messy and demanding needs of the intrepid cyclist. it seems more than likely that a cup of tea and a scone and jam might not satisfy the calorific needs at the end of a 100km portion of the route. calories, and lots of them, would likely be considerably more appreciated. nor is it wholly unknown for the more protective amongst us to innocently ask if the bike might be kept in the bedroom. the word "no!" often offends. but in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if the accommodation options along the route are specifically cycle friendly or not?
"For us, it is a big thing. if you are arriving somewhere at the end of a long day in the saddle, you want to be sure that you and your bike are going to be welcomed. Cycle-friendly for us also involves getting a good breakfast to set you up for the day ahead. We have had some bad experiences before and do not want this to be the case for other cyclists. Obviously, on the off chance you have a bad experience via Pannier, you must get in contact!"
the road well travelled may not, however, be the road first planned. for all sorts of reasons, including those of cycling enjoyment, the planned route may be subject to variation, thus rendering any accommodation advice slightly redundant. given that wi-fi is in short supply in the countryside (at least it is out here), it may not be entirely practical or convenient to check whether pannier has any alternative options available for such a diversion. might it not, therefore, be a neat idea to offer recommended providers a 'pannier.cc recommended' window sticker proclaiming affability towards those of a velocipedinal nature?
"When we set up Pannier, we were really keen on establishing a network for both cyclists and accommodation hosts. The 'sticker' concept is something we are working on over the next months to broadcast and hopefully expand the network. We are also well aware that these things take time!"
if i understand the term crowdsourcing correctly, it seems likely that the internet is the ideal medium to come to the aid of the pannier project. the existence of a recommend button on the website's front page obviously invites the great unwashed to add to the inventory of accommodation already in place, but unless there's an applicable route on the map, these recommendations have no home to go to. for the present. are they intending to rely principally on rider constributions, or do they plan on carrying out the bulk of their own research?
"We have researched the locations so far and although we are asking for recommendations - via the 'recommend' tool on the home page - we are continuing to research new routes and hosts ourselves. When anything is added to Pannier, we will let you know via the email newsletter [which you can sign up to from the homepage], announcements on the homepage and via our social media channels."
in an increasingly commercial world, setting up a website with this degree of complexity behind the pixels is unlikely to be a cheap undetaking, so is pannier.cc a commercial undertaking, or a labour of love? "Both. With backgrounds in and passions for various design fields and cycling, Pannier is definitely a 'labour of love' as you delightfully put it which combines all our interests. Each of us has always believed in the added value of good design solutions. With Pannier, we wanted create an easy to use resource that aided cyclists in the planning of cycle travel, something they would want to share and come back to. Looking good was a big part of it."
i am often the subject of good-humoured barbs (at least, i think they're good humoured) regarding my approach to food. i have been accused of regarding it all as fuel (which it is) and ignoring the qualities of an entire box of sweets or a phalanx of sticky buns. however, i am consoled by the knowledge that that act of cycling requires calories to function, and those can be often satisfactorily gained via coffee and cake without any derogatory effect upon one's svelte countenance. given this association of similarities, have the chaps at pannier ever considered collaborating with complementray sites such as patisserie cyclisme for decent cafes along the way?
"We would love to. Louise, founder of Patisserie Cyclisme, said she aimed to create a 'Michelin' type guide for Cycling Cafes. We share similar intentions and ambitions."
as i mentioned briefly above, the act of recommending an appropriate accommodation provider via the site's recommend button seems simply to send the approopriately completed fields into the ether. though i may have recommended one of islay's more cycling friendly guest houses, there is now no way of re-acquiring the information. are they therefore planning to only list accommodation for published routes? ie, will my islay recommendation only appear when there's a route shown for the island?
"Phase 1 of Pannier is intended to show cyclists our concept; mapping cycling friendly places to stay along major routes. We feel the real selling point for Pannier is in its mapping-based interface, highlighting location specific places. However we are always conscious of searching on sites and getting the inconvenient "nothing found" notice. For us, it is better to have limitations on searching while we expand our library of routes and events. The next phases of Pannier will see users being able to upload their own routes and finding relevant information, as you mention, on Islay even if it is not on a recognised route."
the concept is a sound one, for if the evidence of an increase in cycle use across the uk continues on at least a shallow trajectory, there will likely be more individuals and groups keen to explore the highways and byeways from the saddles of their bicycles. additionally, as the activity grows, there would seem a myriad of possibilities open to a group of three guys with a singular vision. do they have a cunning plan for the future of pannier.cc, or are they happy to let it develop in its own inimitable manner?
"The former of course! We will be expanding our library of routes, events and trail centres asap for the UK and then hopefully, extending our scope to cover European routes. We'll leave the term 'worldwide' for the moment! As mentioned, we also aim to influence as many accommodations into becoming cycle friendly, whether this is by encouraging them to improve upon existing facilities or even by providing bespoke storage solutions.
"Our Pannier jerseys are imminent too. We hope they will be a nice piece of kit for cyclists to start, or add to, their collections!"
wednesday 26th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am stunningly bad at drinking when on the bicycle. it may be a throwback to my misguided days of mountain biking when the thought of stopping, even briefly, for a slurp of something, even water, was deemed less than rock 'n' roll. however, if your bike handling skills are as feeble as my own, reaching down for a bottle while negotiating heaven knows what, was always going to end in tears. and often did.
though i'm inclined to figure that the statistics oft quoted regarding the huge loss in riding efficiency by electing or forgetting to drink anything while circumnavigating the estates are of a wider range than mentioned, i would concur that regular intake of liquid really is something that ought to accompany each ride. unfortunately, knowing this and acting upon it seem to be clearly two totally disassociated events as far as i'm concerned. despite heading out with the best of intentions - drink within the first ten minutes and continue to do so at regular intervals - i'm lucky if i remember the original supping, never mind the follow ups.
therefore, on the majority of occasions, i head out with an almost full 500ml bottle and arrive home with almost exactly the same quantity. as a portion of society, we as cyclists tend to have a more off-centre view of food, nutrition and hydration than the regular civilian. so while water is rarely the most stimulating of liquids to consume on a bike ride, the need to do so is often the over-riding factor. or it would be if i paid closer attention. thus i will often complete a two to three hour ride on a sunday morning with the only liquid passing my lips being a large soya cappuccino at deb's come the end of the ride.
the downside, and proof of the fact, if you like, is that i will then return home and consume a bottle and a half of san pellegrino and at least half a litre of orange juice. demonstrating conclusively that my lack of consumption on the bike is not a physiological need my body does not have.
water will, of course, slake a needy thirst, but it will not replace the minerals and electrolytes lost during exercise (note my use of the latter as opposed to training). many a carbohydrate solution will satisfy this replacement need, but rather obviously, it comes with a carbohydrate payload which may or may not be required in the first place. as a process of elimination, and always allowing for an improvement in memory and willpower to enforce drinking in the first place, what is needed is something that will do the minerals and electrolyte bit, yet avoid anything of an energy replacement nature.
nuun tablets (pronounced 'noon and bearing a rather smart and simple logo) would appear to be among the more efficacious of solutions (if you'll excuse the double entendre). as is often the case, for blokes at least, i ignored any instructions that may have been helpfully printed on the side of the convenient little tube of tablets, and popped a strawberry lemonade flavoured button into my bottle of water. though it certainly flavoured the water, my now improved supping habits detected a surprising lack of depth; in other words, i should have put two tablets in, a mistake remedied on ride number two using two effervescent fruit punch flavoured buttons.
so much of a difference did this make, in fact, that during the subsequent ride, i drank the entire contents of a 500ml nuun bottle. and it was lovely. without subjecting myself to all manner of scientific tests, i haven't the faintest idea if all those minerals and electrolytes have been satisfactorily replaced, and to be quite honest, i don't really care. the very fact that they made me drink more when cycling, without my setting a reminder on something electronic (which would rather ruin the moment, don't you think?) is good enough for me. worth the price of admission alone.
in the unlikely event of strawberry lemonade or fruit punch being not to your taste, nuun also offer flavours such as orange ginger, grape, kona cola and lemon tea. each tube contains a dozen tablets and can be purchased in packs of four for £24. and a fetching blue water bottle is a mere £4.
tuesday 25th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................