"O Tam! had'st thou but been sae wise,
As ta'en thy ain wife Kate's advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
you will perhaps recall my modest tirade regarding the efficacy of teaching poetry to the disinterested, more used to looking at the goings on outside the classroom window. i have always found it rather clever that there are those who can author a skilled narrative, all the while ensuring that the last word of each line precisely rhymes with that of the following. the more modern the poetic genre being explored, the more each seemed to rely upon an inferred rhythm as opposed to the more expected rhyme. the word poetry is one bedevilled by many alternative definitions, so there's no guarantee that the epithet will result in words with a matching phonetic.
i do, from time to time, have second thoughts about my possibly simplistic expectations. though i'd prefer to read such as robert burns' tam o'shanter (an extract of which opened this diatribe) where there is a grand element of storytelling involved, it is highly subjective of me to all but dismiss the poem as a means of personal expression, often akin to the works of kandinsky, picasso and klee, where joy could be presented in colourful, yet willfully obscure fashion. as the girl who has a desk opposite my own is often want to say "it's just as well we're all different."
to briefly return to my contention that the word poetry has a variety of definitions, i have heard it said that the bicycle resembles nothing more or less than poetry in motion, a statement with which i can but wholeheartedly agree. but quite obviously, a bicycle does not rhyme. it can, however, be the catalyst engendering poetry of a particularly high order. take, for example, the sonnet redouble composed by the redoubtable rab wilson as a paean to a 1957 flying scot. as rab himself said "'I believe this is one of the most beautiful things I have ever written. It is at once a poetic elegy and a celebration of a once mighty Scottish industry. 'Flying Scot' bicycles are as beautiful as Ferraris or Bugattis, and engineered with the same incredible attention to detail. The poems tell their story through the eyes of the people who owned, built and rode these famous machines, and at a time now when cycling is becoming ever more popular in the public eye, for all the right reasons!".
that, to me, is the very point of poetry. i am conscious, however, of being rather more guilty of praising the technique of the poet than necessarily that of the subject matter. all too often, reading a poetic narrative that successfully combines a story of interest with impeccable literary and rhyming skills, runs the risk of praising the scaffolding rather than the building round which it is erected. such a danger, however, will always exist and it is surely up to the incumbent simply to beware of such foolhardiness. after all, both burns and shakespeare are guilty as charged, but we surely appreciate their wordage and chronicles both in spite of and because of their skills with the rhyme?
though i have so far paid particular credence to scottish narrative poetry, there is one which stands out amongst all as amongst the finest ever composed. the story of a group of thirty people travelling as pilgrims to canterbury in england written between 1387 and 1400 is unlikely to have escaped the attentions of those who may never have read any of its lines. though i could not, with all honesty, repeat even a single line of chaucer's the canterbury tales, i did in fact study it as a part of my a-level english literature evening class many years ago and have, i believe, at least two volumes still occupying space in my bookcase. (admit it; you're impressed that i actually have a bookcase?)
"Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;
Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,
And in his tyme swich a conquerour,
That gretter was ther noon under the sonne.
it would be a foolish person who would not argue that the english language has undergone a few changes since the fourteenth century. in fact, modern day scholars are unsure about the correct order of the many stories that comprise the canterbury tales. the printing press had yet to be invented, the tales have made their way down the centuries by means of several handwritten manuscripts. we must pay homage to johannes gutenberg who provided history with the joys of movable type around forty years after chaucer had completed his tales. for his invention has served us well throughout the intervening period, even if it currently finds itself under attack from movable pixels.
a poet who has found himself inspired by chaucer, the bicycle, the printing press and movable pixels has recently bequested the world with the cleverly titled 'the srampagmano tales'. scarlett parker is a club cyclist currently riding with cs grupetto who's had moderate success in niche disciplines like hill-climbing and roller racing. "I've won a few 'training crits', done okay in medium gear TTs, and also played a fairly large part in organising a fortnightly train-assisted nightride that was conceived by a couple of people on the London Fixed Gear & Singlespeed Forum.
Thrashing a 70" fixed around pitch black country lanes has definitely been a high point in the saddle. I work in an academic library and consider myself most definitely a jack of all trades, both in work and leisure."
the srampagmano tales concern themselves with a readily recognised group of cyclists, considerably fewer in number than chaucer's two and a half dozen. the roadie, the courier, the sportiviste, the trackie, the rouleur, the fakenger, the randonneur, the tester and the grimpeur all contribute to the tales by means of their individual mannerisms and cliched cliques. these are remarkably accurate caricatures; has scarlett spent many an idle hour at look mum no hands! making mental notes?
"Despite the fact I live a stone's throw from LMNH, I rarely frequent the place. I'd had numerous discussions with my wife about opening a similar place, but lacked the capital or business nous to follow through, and then suddenly LMNH appeared. In fact, I first found out about it when Lewin contacted me about a 'for sale' advert I'd placed on the LFGSS forum for a vacuum cleaner. On the one hand, I'm part of a slightly less affluent local population who can't really afford the cost of cafe culture, and on the other, I have decent coffee on tap at home, so I'd probably have been more likely to frequent the joint had it sprung up further afield. The accuracy of the caricatures is more a facet of time spent in various cycling circles, on the road, in clubhouses, and online."
it would perhaps assist the reader of this feature were i to illustrate by way of an excerpt, just how accurate, yet consummately clever, parker's renditions are. the following is from the courier's tale.
"The battered pair of Sidis on my feet
A pestle to the mortar of the street
Reduced to pounding pavements in frustration
When tyres and banks have problems with inflation
For dwelling at the sharp end of economy
Gives rise to times of undesired autonomy."
does scarlett figure that the civilian population see cyclists in so many forms, or are we likely all one large agglomeration to them? "The UK, like other English-speaking land masses, seems to suffer from a skewed and negative perception of cyclists, conveniently lumping them all in to the same sociopathic collective. It's a shame, as the majority of parents still provide and witness the two-wheeled rite of passage for their children, but clearly 'adult status' is something attached to a set of car keys in most people's eyes. In many ways, we're one of the last minorities for whom there's no legislation protecting our rights and identity. I'm sure this must be changing in some locales; certainly in London you're exposed to a wider variety of cyclists during the rush hour than you were five years ago."
art or craft has many different pathways; depending on individual proclivities, the end result can occupy wildly differing forms. i have already paid testament to the poetic form with which i find myself at odds; no point, no rhyme, wrapped tightly around an obscure sense of metric rhythm. and while i'd be lying if i said i understood much of what chaucer was intent on telling me, i do rather enjoy the format and, to be honest, much of the inscrutability brought on by his mediaeval english. by the very nature of parker's book title, chaucer was first and uppermost in his mind during the composing of the srampagmano tales. why chaucer?
"I had reasonable results in the Catford, Bec, & Wigmore hillclimbs in the past, riding fixed, and this would involve a certain amount of time riding along the Pilgrims Way. I revisited a translation of the text out of a vague curiosity, and certain parallels presented themselves: it starts with a prologue like the Tour, there was a group of people from different walks of life who shared a journey and were united by a common interest, and Chaucer's language managed to convey a great breadth of theme and variety of mood to everyman. I can't claim to be a great authority on The Canterbury Tales, but I didn't see this as a reason not to use it as a framework for what I had to say."
the daily writing of thewashingmachinepost occupies not only the hours it takes to complete, but what i rather grandiosely like to think of as my period of research. if i combine the two connected parts in a less than pre-determined manner, i have, literally, at my fingertips the wherewithal and endeavour to make the english language do as i wish it to do. more often than not, it fails to acquiesce to my proddings, but every now and again the ley lines are found to be in some sort of order and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
does scarlett parker enjoy pushing words around on a page until they say what he intended them to say? "Yes. Writing verse is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, and when I started writing this, it was during snatched moments at work in a customer-facing role. I needed a format that I could dip in and out of without resenting people for breaking my concentration. Writing fiction of any great length is too immersive, at least for me, to be done in that kind of context. Each line or couplet is a challenge of its own, and you have to indulge in word play to get the desired result. The same kind of behaviour just gets in the way when writing prose, and can lead to the worst kind of verbiage."
with the art of writing much diminished by the advent of e-mail, text and word processing in general, there are some excruciating examples of writing and basic commnication to be found in all walks of life. though i cannot admit to having handwritten a note to any near and dear relatives in the recent past, i am arrogant enough to consider my typewritten prose to be at least as good as the next man or woman's. rhymes, however, are of a nature that escapes me completely. if put my mind to it and obscure all distractions, i can perhaps arrive at a slightly less than satisfactory four line limerick with which to decorate a greetings card. but it's unlikely i could manage more than one in a week, and certainly not without a decent following wind. for scarlett, did the rhymes flow freely, or were there hours of consternation?
"A mixture of both. I started by trying to write 16 lines that closely mirrored the opening 16 lines of The Canterbury Tales, then laboured over the prologue. Then I shelved the project, thinking that I couldn't sustain the iambic pentameter or find enough rhymes.
"About three years later, I had to get a new role at work due to childcare arrangements, and found myself in a fairly tedious front-of-house position with a lot of time to kill. I pulled out my old notebooks and started again. Within a few weeks of scribbling, I felt like I'd sharpened up my craft, so I redrafted the prologue and then worked on the Roadie's Tale. Like Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale' this was to be longer than the others, so I knew that if I could get it done, I'd be confident in my ability to do the rest.
There were days where I'd labour over two lines, then wake up the next morning and cross them out and replace them with a couplet that just materialised out of nowhere. It's not dissimilar to riding a bike. Some days you have good legs, some days you have good words. But there's no escaping the ongoing rituals that prime you for those special moments."
though i am loathe to bring the x-factor into the picture, when the audition stages are being presented, every now and again a singer appears with a voice that i think surely cannot have remained hidden in obscurity for so long. in my own days of schlepping up and down the dual-carriageway in the back of a transit van, just waiting for imminent stardom to to open the back doors and welcome us with open arms, none of us would have looked for an x-factor as a way to stardom; we'd simply have gigged our backsides off. the srampagmano tales has arrived on stage almost perfectly formed, perhaps suggesting that scarlett parker has a palmares of which this is simply the most recent manifestation. is this his first publication?
"I've had bits and pieces appear here and there. I wrote a few short pieces (of prose) for Will of HubJub/63xc fame and had a non-cycling magazine article go to print, cycling haiku and limericks on the internet. The rest has been unpublished; a novel (of therapeutic value more than literary), lots of short stories, reams of lyrics from my time spent in bands and recording music on my own. This was the first thing that felt like 'an instruction that came from without', and hopefully it fills a gap that needed filling on the cycling literature bookshelf."
to briefly return to the opening gambit of yesterday's review of daniel friebe's allez wiggo, the pictures that are worth a thousand words (or iambic pentameter) are by way of faith buck's silhouette illustrations, a feature that immeasurably enhance the book's 53 pages. is she a cyclist too?
"I don't think she'd describe herself as a cyclist (she's my wife, incidentally, and the dedication is to my son), but she does ride a bike from time to time. She'd be the first to admit that she's not interested in drawing bicycles, but I think she's captured the view-from-the-saddle and sense of space that is one of the most rewarding aspects of cycling.
"I knew I wanted illustrations; people aren't accustomed to reading verse at this point in time, and I thought visual distractions would be a useful incentive or reward. Once I'd communicated the fact that I didn't think pictures of bicycles were necessary (or relevant even), she started sketching. I had about three tales to go at that stage, and it wasn't long before she'd overtaken me, and was waiting on me to provide her with the text for the final tale. We've been together nearly 20 years, so you'd hope we'd have found a way to complement (and compliment) each other creatively by now:)"
hopefully, your appetite for some bicycle related poetry will have been whetted by now, leaving only the imperative questions to be asked, namely, how much does a copy of the srampagmano tales cost, where can it be purchased and is it, in the absence of a publisher's mark, self-published?
"RRP is £6.99. It will be sold through Look Mum No Hands! (instore and online). All the Amazons will also be distributing it (available from around mid-December) and I may try stocking some in independent London bookshops. The ebook is currently on Amazon price £2.05, here. And yes, it's been done via the print-on-demand route. I decided to try this avenue rather than waiting on the approval of agents and publishers. I understand it's all the rage."
"Before the signal to commence hostilities
I weigh up rivals and the possibilities:
To force the pace, accelerate, attack
Then feign exhaustion sitting at the back?"
monday 29th october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a picture is worth a thousand words.
this is a statement probably invented at the the dawn of photography, for in almost every gallery exhibition catalogue i have acquired, the authors/curators seem to have spent several thousand words describing the pictures contained within. i am, of course, comparing apples with oranges, for invariably catalogues such as that to which i refer concern themselves with paintings rather than photographs, in which case, there may be more to say. the human race, by and large, is open to a smidgeon of education at appropriate times, and the scholarly are ideally placed to dispense in our direction.
however, as is the case with many of the articles and features found within these black and yellow pixels, pictures can also be used to illustrate the accompanying words. during my lengthy diatribes concerning the bicycles i occasionally have in for review, it is, i feel, a worthwhile concern to describe how the said velocipede rides, all the while providing images depicting the cycle under consideration. any given image will show what the bicycle looks like, but i doubt very much whether any of my feeble attenpts at photography would convey the senations experienced when being whipped in the face by an errant bramble bush.
i can't help feeling that maybe i doth protest too much. for it would be an uphill struggle were any to try and persuade me not to write so many words in any case. maybe those minutes just before bedtime would be better filled with a series of photos of my errant attempts to emulate jeremy powers (whose video, incidentally, has made me a tad better than was previously the case while playing 'cross in the woods). of course, the likelihood of a reduction in wordage is something that simply ain't going to happen.
due to the circus that the tour de france has become, possibly a career choice made many decades ago, it is an event positively awash with photographers. you need only watch any reasonably successful breakaway to realise that of whatever number the break is comprised, it will still be outnumbered by the accompanying phalanx of motorbikes, most of which will be carrying more camera lenses than a branch of jessops. with each stage lasting several hours and shutter speeds measured in fractions of seconds, that's one whole heck of a lot of digital imagery to sort through.
who'd opt to be a picture editor (gem?)
you will, in the light of the foregoing, perhaps forgive my describing the tautology that all the tour de france images have to go somewhere. for as eccles in the goon show was wont to declare "everyone's got to be somewhere.". in this particular case, several hundred of this summer's photographs have ended up filling the pages of daniel friebe's new book allez wiggo, a collaboration between the esteemed mr friebe (author of the superb eddy merckx: the cannibal) and offside sports photography. it is, as any self-respecting soccer commentator would say, a game (book) of two halves, one that has caused me a period of great indecision.
the opening 23 pages allow free reign to the erudition of mr friebe, as he succinctly offers a precis of how bradley and team sky turned the 2012 tour de france into a three week team time-trial. the thespians involved are well known to most of us; only the jerseys have been changed to protect the innocent. twenty-three pages do not, i concur, make for a substantial authorial performance, though in this particular case, i rather wish they did.
the chapters that follow, though augmented by a few paragraphs from daniel friebe, are essentially a slide show of the best of the imagery captured by offside's photographers at the start, the finish and all points in between of all twenty-one stages last july as well as a smattering from a box hill near you. those images, though technically competent, are straightforward reportage, of the very style seen in most of the monthlies. there is even the cliched image of cyclists passing the obligatory field of sunflowers. though i intend no disrespect to those concerned, the images are hardly what i'd describe as cutting edge; no better and no worse than the pages already filled in the post-tour and post olympic editions of the cycling monthlies.
as a photo record of an historic tour de france and the london olympic road race and time-trial allez wiggo is well-made and well written; it is even particularly well-priced at £16.99 for its 176 pages of 190 photos, but you just know that, had vincenzo nibali won the 2012 tour, though offside would have owned a similar number of photos, this particular tome wouldn't exist. i am perhaps a touch too demanding with regard to volumes concerning themselves with the tour de france; as intimated above, it's an event that arguably suffers from over-exposure. there is no doubting the uniqueness of this year's running but i still have misgivings that, however well written, it tells or shows us little or nothing that we didn't already know or hadn't already seen.
rearrange these words into a well-known phrase: wagon and band.
if you'd like to see for yourself and win a copy of 'allez wiggo', simply tell me which other tour de france winner daniel friebe wrote about earlier this year. e-mail your answers to email@example.com forgetting not to provide your full postal address. closing date is sunday 4th november.
sunday 28th october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the hebrides have a history of gaelic. it's the very reason that there is a gaelic college (woefully underused from what i can gather) situated just outside bowmore village, with posters, leaflets and courses to encourage those keen on learning the language. from my brief description, you would perhaps infer that gaelic is a single language, but in fact the variations inherent in its make-up, brought about by having developed separately on the different hebridean islands and regions of mainland western scotland, means it is anything but simplistically coherent.
thus the pronunciation of words and phrases can differ substantially from place to place. though perhaps remedied by now, the local supermarket placed the gaelic for cereals, drinks, groceries, magazines etc above the relevant aisles before criticism rained upon them, pointing out that many were not of the islay gaelic spelling. this disparity has, i am reliably informed, brought its own problems when local singers have performed at the national mod (an annual gaelic singing and recitation competition). though the tunefulness (not a word often seen in conjunction with gaelic) of their performances has been satisfactorily judged, it has taken a number of years' perseverance to have the local dialect considered as valid when judging phonetic pronunciation.
though gaelic was once endemic in islay culture, strange diktat by the education department several decades past, led to the language being disparaged in the playground and all but excluded from primary education. it appears that this has now been seen as something of a glaring error, and the scottish government throws inordinate amounts of cash at the language nowadays when it could reasonably adjudged as way too late.
it was on islay, as in many other regions, a spoken rather than written language, so while many of the elderly will still fluently converse in gaelic on bowmore main street, they would struggle big time to understand the signs above the produce aisles in the co-op. we therefore have a bit of a dichotomy between islay's indigenous gaelic speakers and the gaelic educated youth of the island who study it in the same manner as their peers following a more standard english education. what gaelic hasn't done for scotland however, is to provide a vocabulary of quotable words that can be used in everyday conversation, no matter the region in which the conversant is ensconced.
though the specific subject matter escapes me, in reply to a friend across the pond who had sent a photograph of a particularly fine bicycle, i stated that it was a stoater. their reply voiced the query 'i take it that's a good thing?'. which, of course, it indubitably is/was. had it been less than efficacious, i would have replied to the effect that it was something of a scunner. it is to their great credit that steven and russell at shand cycles opted to name their three production frames as skinnymalinky (currently under review), stooshie and the aforementioned stoater. i offer these not necessarily as an easier dialect to learn than that of gaelic, but you would have to admit that they are eminently more pragmatic to drop into regular conversation than barraichte or fuathasaich.
as a non-gaelic speaker, i could not possibly provide any hint as to how either of these words should be confidently pronounced.
an islay connection which cheerfully dispenses with any form of gaelic is provided by a chap by the name of ben roy. ben's father owns the celtic house, a purveyor of quality clothing, books and items of celtic heritage situated on the corner of bowmore's shore street. ben, however, lives in the glasgow region and has spent the last year developing a gluten and dairy free energy/snack bar which will suit those of an active disposition as well as those perennially in need of a decent mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.
so far, so yawn. surely such fruit or cereal bars exist in their hundreds already, so why drop yet another range upon an unsuspecting yet hungry public? well, at least a part of the reason is that of the oat. this particular cereal is most commonly absent from such food bars due to containing gluten. with so many individuals nowadays having digestive problems caused by this very component, the easy way out is to remove all traces of wheat and oats. however, some folks rather enjoy an oaty consistency to their snacks (i'd find it hard to start the day without a plate of scott's porage oats), so daniel scoured the country for a regular source of gluten free oats (they exist, who knew?) and added them to his brilliantly named brawbars.
for those who comprehend not my adulation of this hubristic moniker, let me point out that the word braw ranks alongside those of stoater, stooshie, and skinnymalinky. if something is braw, it is undoubtedly of excellent pedigree. should one espy a rather fetching young lady crossing the concourse of glasgow's central station of an evening, one may be prompted to espouse "whit a braw stoater".
i can see you're getting the hang of this.
brawbars are available in four distinct flavours: apple and pear, cocoa and orange, strawberry and lastly, blackcurrant. they contribute to one of your five-a-day, are lactose and gluten free, yet brimming with fruit and oats. and they taste particularly fine; each and every flavour. it remains my contention that you can shove every form of energy, mineral, protein and carbohydrate into whichever form of snack bar you care to mention, but if it doesn't taste good, it has failed at the first hurdle. brawbarsfulfil every promise espoused by their name.
i have no scientific way of verifying that any of the four brawbars achieve that which they set out to achieve, but they provided a smattering of energy and flavour when needed most. but most importantly, they fit easily into a jeresy rear pocket, and furnish an ideal accompaniment to a large cup of soya cappuccino.
brawbars are available in a selection of four distinct flavours in 35g bars at a recommended retail price of £0.89 each when purchased in boxes of 30. you can order online at brawfood.com.
saturday 27th october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though october has failed to finish as of the time of writing, i have already received the december issue of cycle sport magazine. it's not the highlight of my month i must confess, but on the cover, and emulating a period of time when lance was never absent from the front page, is a photo of bradley wiggins. the heading top left is man of the year, bradley wiggins. brad has, of course, already been voted britain's most influential man, so i know not whether cycle sport is simply reiterating an apparently well-known fact, or trying to make a point.
there is no denying, however, that whatever you think of bradley wiggins the man, victory in the 2012 tour de france, followed very quickly by an olympic gold medal in the time-trial, set up britain's wonderful summer of sport. and a wonderful summer of sport it was indeed. it can therefore come as no surprise that the period following these successes would be infiltrated by several individuals and publications attempting to capitalise on both victories.
frankly, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that; the same thing has happened to a myriad of sportspeople and celebrities throughout recent history. the fact that this phenomenon has now plonked itself upon not only a cyclist, but a british cyclist at that (we're conveniently ignoring the fact that brad was born in ghent), is undoubtedly something that we ought to be thankful for. the bradley bubble will bring many into the welcoming arms of cycling, no matter which genre. how many remain when the bubble bursts, as it definitely will, is open to conjecture. authors ought therefore to strike while the iron is hot.
john deering is perhaps best known for his biography of the linda mcartney team's demise (team on the run), an excellent book which would recommend him for authorship of this current volume.
personally, i'm not at all in favour of titling each chapter after a stage of the tour in question; it's rapidly becoming somewhat of a cliche in cycling circles. however, there is a certain truth in each chapter doing what it says on the tin and moaning about it perhaps does deering a disservice. the basic premise behind the book is a detailing of bradley's tour to top step of the 2012 podium in paris, allied to that of brad's biography incorporated into each chapter. this actually starts out quite well, for it is easy to discriminate between that which is the present and the historical. though i'm jumping ahead of myself just a tad, it's a device which progressively disintegrates as the past becomes the ever more recent past. when discussing the 2012 tour de france rapidly followed by the tours of 2009/10 and 11, i found confusion intervened.
though i sound like the very editor that mr deering wishes not to have sitting on his case, i'd have thought a chronological detailing would have served he and bradley just a bit better.
it doesn't take long to realise that john deering wasn't riding team sky's death star, and nor was he driving in its wake in a french hire car (europcar?). bradley's three week ride to success, accompanied by the faithful (?) chris froome to second place has been disseminated by deering from interviews posted on the team sky website, from remarks in cycling publications, scouring of relevant twitter accounts and tv interviews. there is the overweening notion across the opening chapters that we could all likely have managed the selfsame result, but that conceit is glaringly undermined by the fact that john deering is a whole lot better at it than any of us would have ever been.
the narrative has an endearing ability to entice the reader to the next chapter, even though most if not all will be already appraised of the final result in paris. however, there are portions of his writing style that grate somewhat when descending into hyperbole. "(he) positively flew up the last climb to take an excellent sixteenth spot on the stage alongside his main rivals Evans and Nibali. He will look them in the eye tonight and say, 'I'm coming for you.'"
actually, no, he won't.
it also doesn't take deering too long to let his partisan hero worship show through that cool authorial exterior. the chapter relating to stage two, vise to tournai, opens with a dissemination of the team sky riders: 101: Bradley Wiggins. The leader. The man. The one. The reason we're all here." i can understand that the title of the book has rather let the cat out of the bag as to the main thrust of the subsequent pages, and it would be a brave brit indeed who admitted to perhaps having favoured someone else for the win. but to describe bradley in such terms so early in the book does little for the author's credibility in my mind. as the latter chapters are reached, all pretense (assuming there had ever been any) of impartiality evaporates entirely and deering comes across as an unapologetic bradley wiggins acolyte.
i am comforted by the thought that mr deering might well be the first to accede to such an epithet.
it starts all relatively innocent enough by broaching wiggins' favouring of mod culture as espoused by the who, the jam and presently, paul weller. i doubt there is another cyclist in the world so readily identified by their affinity with a particular genre of music, though in itself, it's quite refreshing. however, moving on we read 'Brad was interesting. He grew his hair sometimes. He often had sideburns that wafted out from around his helmet straps. He wouldn't dream of riding for a team that expected him to wear glasses made by anyone other than Oakley.'
this is subsequently followed by deering's quizzing of cultural expert stuart clapp. aside from the fact i had no idea stuart had such strings to his bow, i find it a bit supercilious to view the winner of the 2012 tour de france in such a manner. perhaps, however, and as i've said before, it says more about me than either the author or the intended readers of this book. there are other examples of such hero worship which i will leave you to find out for yourself, but i think it prudent to point out one that i think ought not to have made it into print. it pays erroneous testament to brad's often less than diplomatic attitude towards those he feels are not deserving of his approbation.
it concerns the tv personality piers morgan who invaded twitter with his thoughts regarding the british athletes who refrained from singing along with the national anthem on having won a gold medal. 'I was very disappointed @bradwiggins didn't sing the anthem either. Show some respect to our Monarch please!'. wiggins was reputed to have tweeted in reply '@piersmorgan I was disappointed when you didn't go to jail for insider dealing or phone hacking, but you know, each to his own.'
the latter tweet was, in fact, posted by a gent by the name of colm quinn. this was detailed on a number of websites in early august, and it does deering no credit whatsoever that he fails to be aware of this and thus embarrasses himself in print.
i'm very conscious of the fact that i appear to have conducted a character assassination of what is actually a very good book. it reads very well, it provides an excellent and accurate precis of this year's tour de france and a rather fine biography of bradley wiggins, if just not quite in chronological order. and if i'm quite honest, there's every likelihood that those purchasing a copy of tour de force may be a touch more enthralled by brad's sideburns than i am. this, you may safely learn, is not the only book to describe the exploits of mr wiggins; i have another currently under review, and there's a queue of the blighters on the way, including brad's own autobiography and one featuring the photos of team sky photographer, scott mitchell.
aside from the odd inexplicable error and the concerns voiced above, john deering is to be commended for having written and compiled such a comprehensive narrative in such a relatively short period of time.
friday 26th october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it has been tweeted on twitter that, in the light of the lance affair, several of those who have withdrawn their sponsorship dollars might just consider pointing this excess budget in the direction of a professional woman's race team. i believe the general expectation is that, should this actually happen, and i can see no reason why it's an outlandish expectation, that the bulk of the cash would head in the direction of a road team. but there's no real reason why it shouldn't incorporate a smidgeon (in this case, a big smidgeon) of cyclocross. sven nys' sponsor, landbouwkrediet do both as did the late lamented rabobank. perhaps christmas will come early this year and corporate largesse will do the decent thing, though i think i'd be the first to suggest that holding your breath would be a less than immediate proposition.
women's cycling garners differing levels of commitment across the world. i believe that the north american rapha focus team now has more women riders than men, one of whom is brit gabby day. nikki harris, riding for the telenet fidea cyclocross team won her first of the season at rudervoorde only the other weekend, while helen wyman has found it necessary to base herself in belgium, racing in both europe and north america to join the dots that make up a professional salary. all are tough, hardy individuals, otherwise they'd not be making such sacrifices to earn a living at their favoured flavour of cycling: cyclocross.
though it's presuming rather a lot, wouldn't it be just dandy if they all raced for the same british team?
the video displayed above was filmed by nick czerula, a photographer and videographer who first came to my attention via his photo book of a year in the workshop of richard sachs. by the benefit of good fortune, i met the man himself on richard's booth at the north american handmade bicycle show in march of this year. perhaps understandably, our conversation revolved principally around photography; in this case, black and white photography. i had no idea the guy was also a film-maker.
"I shoot quite a bit of video for work. Mostly technical and promotional. So when I have the chance to mix what I do all day with bikes, I take it."
now this is where i get myself into trouble (of sorts) and manifestly display my ignorance when it comes to matters of competitive sport. however, in mitigation, those of you who have watched the movie from end to end will perhaps allow yourselves to become complicit in my cluelessness. did anyone see any other cyclocrossers who looked as if they were about to trouble helen, let alone the timekeepers? exactly. so is it unnatural that i assumed the video was that of her pre-riding the course? thank you. i told you it wasn't just me. nick, however, had no intention of letting me off the hook...
"This was the RACE! Helen was off the front, crushing it. Awesome ride both days for her."
helen was perhaps a touch more willing to accept my glaring faux pax. ""The race the video was from Gloucester GP. It's a great weekend of racing on the north east coast, close to Boston. I raced last year on the same course and managed to win both days, and had a really good battle with Nicole Duke. This year it was Gabby Day who was pushing really hard. But I managed to win both day; Sunday was by a bigger margin than Saturday."
women's cyclocross in north america has a greater following than that of mainland europe if geoff proctor's behind the stare is to be believed. the level of participation in the usa seems greater, while the belgian thing is contracted to a handful of professionals, mostly, i'm led to believe, as simply a support event to the men's racing. therefore america ought to provide a greater number of personalities to support and shake cowbells at. with such a choice, why did nick opt to film helen wyman?
"Helen is great. She is sweet, kind and fun to be around. It doesn't hurt that I have a junior cyclocross racer who adores her. Plus, women's cycling needs more exposure. What better way to do it than with someone like Helen? My kid just might be the number one Helen Wyman fan."
as averred to above, i had not realised that nick shot video as well as his excellent stills photography. however, with seemingly never-ending development continuing apace in the digital camera market, it's becoming very hard to purchase a stills camera that doesn't have high-definition video capability as well. in which case, does nick use one of those all singing, all dancing dslr cameras to shoot video, or has he taken the plunge with a more dedicated offering?
"I shoot on a combination of cameras, dslr and dedicated. Depends on the shot, etc. My wife Ginelle also worked a camera for portions of this video."
the video, however, concerns only one person (no disrespect to those shaking their cowbells behind the barriers): helen wyman. putting aside my misunderstanding regarding just how far it is possible for one woman to be ahead of her competition, it will not have escaped your notice that the video opens with mrs wyman churning a turbo trainer. is this part of her regular race preparation?
"I always use a turbo trainer to warm up. I'm lucky to have CycleOps as a sponsor so I use their turbo trainers and also the PowerTap. Of course i can't take a turbo to the USA with me, so I have to rely on my team or the good folk at the races to lend me one. In the USA, the racers themselves are very friendly and always willing to help out. So I always do a turbo warmup, to a set power-defined session, and in time to a special and super secret music playlist."
if i might encourage you to take a second or third look at nick's video, paying particular attention to the ground under helen's fast-moving wheels, it seems that there's a wide range of surfaces on which the glouceter gp took place. there's grass, hardpack, squishy mud, sand and everything in between. is there any race surface which helen would prefer to avoid, or does she simply take everything in her particularly capable stride?
"Snow, I dislike snow. And ice. I'm pretty thin, and when it gets to ten degrees below, my body doesn't function so well. Plus hitting the ground in ice hurts a lot more. In sand you can normally laugh it off. But I love mud. That's where I'm most at home. Give me a muddy hillside any day of the week and I'll be hard to catch."
i've really got it in for myself today. having already admitted that i thought this video concerned itself solely with helen's pre-riding the course, i proceeded to compound the felony by asking helen just what it is she's looking for on this pre-race ride. happily, she yet again kindly overlooked my ineptitude and answered the question as if i had the faintest idea of which i speak.
"In a pre-ride I look for rocks, curbs, roots, or anything else that could make me flat. I look for grip, I look for ruts, I look for dismount and remount points. I look at the start grid for the best spot to pick, I study the last corner, and of course the first corner. I look for recovery zones, I look for technical challenges. It's the pre ride that gives you the best chance to win a race. You control your pre-ride, you can't always control your race."
warming up on a turbo trainer, riding in kona branded race kit, taking time to pre-ride the course in order to present a better chance of the win and running 'cross workshops for adulatory juniors (from which nick's daughter has gainfully learned). are these all signs that women's cyclocross is becoming more professional?
"Women's cross is becoming more professional. More teams are taking women riders on and the depth of the field is getting better. We are also getting more respect from some race organisers and from TV companies. The first World Cup got 25 minutes of highlights in Belgium. Fantastic news for the sport."
helen and husband stefan have based themselves in belgium, a not unnatural location of choice for a professional cyclocross racer whether male or female. though the racing may be more participatory in north america, and prize money might be more evenly distributed across racing for both genders, it's quite likely that there's a better living to be earned in europe with the possibility of start money and possibly a larger purse overall. why then, does helen endure the considerable travelling involved to compete across the pond?
"I go to the USA because I ride for an Amercian team, Kona. They have backed me for four years now and I love being a part of their team. I feel that I can reward them by getting results in their home country. The bonus of it all is I have some great friends there who I've met through racing. The people we stay with in the USA are like best friends and family rolled into one, and that environment brings out the best in me in terms of my racing. But there is a good and improving racing scene in Europe, and more and more races to choose from."
it is an often repeated story that glasgow's robert millar was once asked by a journalist how he earned his living when he wasn't racing. this as if wearing the king of the mountains jersey in the tour de france wasn't enough of a job in itself. i have perused helen wyman's considerable palmares: ranked fourth in the world and holder of the british cyclocross champion's jersey an incredible seven times. however, there is no mention of any competitive results other than those in 'cross. at the risk of receiving a millar type riposte, i asked what she did in the off-season?
"My off-season is the summer. I focus my year on 'cross; that is my chosen sport. I've ridden pro on the road, and I've been to several world road championships and most of the major races. I've had my success on the road, but 'cross is where my heart is. So I take a break after the season and in the summer I train and focus on putting the lessons I learnt the previous winter into action.
I also help a road team in the UK (Matrix Fitness/Prendas) as a mentor for their younger riders, so I spend quite a lot of time with them. I also eat cake and drink beer (not really, I hate beer) and try to enjoy life away from the stress of top level cyclo-cross."
all of which brings us back to a question that i should have perhaps led off with. what on earth is the connection between one of the finest women cyclocross racers in the world and a photographer whose day job involved painstakingly snapping images of motor car innards?
"Nick Czerula is a new member of American Family. A great guy, with a daughter who is hugely talented on the bike. He is a close friend of one of our closest chap-chums in the USA, Jerry Chabot. We all spent time together out there and basically the help these guys give me make the trips possible. If it wasn't for them I'd be back in Europe training. To be American about it, they are AWESOME!"
a vote of confidence and approbation from mrs wyman. in which case, does nick have any plans to produce more cycling related moving pictures in the near future, particularly now that there's an awful lot of cyclocross season left to run?
"I have some other things in the works. More promo, maybe some of it will be cycling related. You'll have to stay tuned..."
all photos copyright nick czerula. reproduced with permission.
thursday 25th october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's all been a bit of a lottery really. in my early twenties, i had the perspicacity to realise that a motor car with a manual choke (remember those?) driven only a smattering of miles both there and back was likely to be drinking a tad more petrol than was seemly for one so bereft of an impressive income. and those were the days when petrol was a whole heck of a lot cheaper than it is now. granted, the naysayers had foretold of the oil running out before the end of september, but we've never really believed them anyway.
the obvious remedy was to leave the car at home ('twas a citroen gs with fascinatingly variable liquid suspension) and walk to work, but bear in mind i'd not long left my teens and still in thrall to the notion of remaining in bed as long as humanly possible. especially if work was involved. which is why, in retrospect, it was rather strange that i opted to purchase myself a bicycle, a mode of transport that would undoubtedly involve a deal more exertion than either of the alternatives. however, chosen from one of the infamous mail order catalogues belonging to the yet to be mrs washingmachinepost, i opted for a road bike that began with the letter 'v' (it could have been either viking or viscount; i can't actually remember).
anyway, it came with a team poster, and i was so ill-informed about the world of road bicycles, that i had no idea the riders in the poster were not also riding plain gauge steel with nondescript shimano gears. however, it had drop bars with crappy white bar tape and that's all that mattered really. drop bars made me look fast. the forgoing, however, has little or nothing to do with what follows other than the reference to that mail-order catalogue.
you see, a few years after purchasing the above road bicycle, the dreaded mountain bike imported itself from america and it became the objet de jour to hold the fascination of every cyclist and newbie from top to bottom. concomitantly, the pictures of road bikes pretty much disappeared from the pages of any mail-order catalogue you cared to mention. sadly, that has pretty much remained the situation to the present.
despite my owning a quality bicycle workstand, it has started to find itself slightly underused of late due to a preponderance of kids' (and adults') full suspension bicycles of the type beloved of supermarkets and the catalogues. this has at least two principal disadvantages: the bikes weigh a flipping tonne, and the seatposts are too short. the latter factor more or less prevents the bicycle being held in the workstand via the post, while the convoluted arrangement of tubes means there's no real top tube either.
however, that is not my major point. the only style of bicycle available in those catalogues is of the mountain bike variety, but quite why kids of less than ten years old need front and rear suspension is pretty much anyone's guess. what of the well-meaning parent desirous of their offspring gaining appropriate acquaintance with the land of the drop bar? what has been their lot for the past two decades; not a happy one i'll wager. the wiggins effect might conceivably turn the wheel in the direction of skinny tyres, but in similar manner to that of the oil tanker which takes an inordinate distance to come to a halt and change direction, it could take a few seasons.
note that i am not advocating the purchase of any form of bicycle from a generic mail-order catalogue, but there's no denying their influence on the young mind at the behest of ill-informed parents. those with the children's best interests at heart will already have been quizzing their local bike shop for appropriate wheels on behalf of the junior peloton, a situation that has just become a whole darned sight easier.
i have featured the bicycles of grupetto iltalia; the grown up versions. they are now launching 'road bikes for the next generation', a range of suitably proportioned road bikes for kids 'with their hearts set on becoming the next bradley wiggins or lizzie armitstead.' according to nick o'brien of grupetto, they've produced a choice of three wheel sizes to suit kids from the ages of six to sixteen. 22", 24" and 26" using aluminium frames, featurng a semi-integrated headset and componentry from shimano, miche and byte. the frames, monikered primavera (imagine the hours of fun relating the history of milan-sanremo to those eager little faces), the frames are designed in italy with geometries perfectly in scale with the juniors they're designed to fit.
grupetto italia's nat rizzi said "We've made sure the Primavera is a bike that fits perfectly in all areas. We've been meticulous in sourcing components that are right for kids and how they tend to ride and steer, from gearing and crank lengths to the easy reach Shimano shifters and brakes." little legs need appropriately sized cranks; rather than the more usually too large 151mm or 170mm, the cranks on the smallest model (22" wheel) are 145mm, meaning less chance of little feet clouting that front wheel when turning. added to that, an early introduction to the world of souplesse.
it's perhaps an obvious statement to make, but if, as a doting parent you wish to introduce your children to the world of sideburns, the bicycle has to look the part. the last thing you need is the replacing of the phrase "are we there yet" with "how come my bike doesn't look like yours daddy/mummy?". the particularly attractive nero/rosso colour scheme pretty much helps the range look not at all like just a kids' bike with a pair of "curly bars bolted on." nat rizzi again:
"The Primavera has a compact frame geometry and maximum adjustment in both stem and seat post areas to make sure the rider gets a bike that fits properly, but will also adapt as the child grows, rather than shoehorning them onto an ill fitting bike that will be awkward to handle, uncomfortable to ride and even dangerous."
this will be something of a delight to creep up on the unsuspecting parent. though both my kids are adults now and not only need no assistance with choosing an appropriately sized bicycle. they'd rather not hear about bicycles at all. however, the arrival of grupetto's primavera has added yet another string to my bow in pursuit of the cunning plan to become a bona-fide cycling consultant. for now when a parent innocently asks for advice on just what to place under the christmas tree on 25th december, i will no longer have to resort to those utterly appalling, heavyweight lumps of steel with springs, laughingly described as children's mountain bikes.
bendy bars are where it's at.
and bendy bars are where it's at for more years than those 22" wheels will likely allow which is why, in the friendly spirit for which the peloton is known, grupetto are happy to allow the trade-in of a smaller bike for a larger version if and when such becomes desirable.
delivery time is currently running at between three and four weeks; christmas is but a little over eight weeks away. i will allow you the luxury of doing the arithmetic yourselves.
the grupetto iltalia primavera children's bicycles retail at £550 for the 22" wheel, £575 for the 24" and £590 for the 26" with a carriage fee of £45 in the uk.
wednesday 24th october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i rather love the fact that the world is populated by artisans and craftspersons. in any given street scene, dressed pretty much the same as the rest of us (more or less) could be one or two with the ability to hew magical stuff from base metals or wood. it is a humbling thought, particularly when you consider that my own contribution to the genre consists of not a lot more than a pile of newspapers and magazines on the floor. no doubt, in some corners of the world, that would be considered something of a skill, but to my mind, nothing worth having ought to come that easily, nor look quite so dishevelled.
though i doubt i'm the only one with this cultivated skill, unfortunately for my diminishing bank balance it seems there is little commercial demand. perhaps i simply associated with the wrong bunch of folks at art college. several artists nowadays seem to revel in the untidy mess described as art. as a cycling obsessive, however, it is steel tubing, brazing rods, ruddy great bench vices and those scary gas cylinders sitting in the corner that, for me, define craftsmanship. in the hands of the skilled builder, shiny metal and ornate lugs win out everytime.
for probably the nth time and still as heartfelt as at the first iteration, i am embarrassed to admit that i missed this year's bespoked bristol, yet transported myself all the way to the west coast of america to look at the (admittedly bigger) american equivalent. at the risk of sounding trite and apologetic, woe is me. perhaps, however, i have found my woe suitably ameliorated in the shape of a particularly hefty book featuring interviews with twelve of england's finest framebuilders, augmented with an introductory feature on the steel tubing which many of them feature within their double-diamond triangles.
the progenitors of this luxurious volume are undoubtedly qualified to be identified as the authors. commendably excluding himself from the dozen, matthew sowter (saffron frameworks) joined up with top uk builder ricky feather (feather cycles) and his partner, kayti peschke, to interview and photograph the cream of england's bike builders. some of the names are likely well-known to most of us who've been around the cycling world for more than five minutes: chas roberts, dave yates and jason rourke. the others are not all entirely unknown, though some i confess to not knowing at all. however, i will not have you think less of me, so i'll keep my failings to myself.
the interview with keith noronha of reynolds tubing is something of a masterstroke in my estimation. "to make just one 28.6mm butted tube out of 953 (stainless) takes 47 separate operations. by comparison, a down tube out of 631 might take only 12 operations". it's the sort of minutiae that makes not one jot of a difference to those lucky enough to ride a reynolds 953 frame, but to take a leaf out of dave brailsford's sky operator's manual, these innocuous marginal gains can add up to a bigger self-satisfied grin on the visage of the rider. too often the basic materials of choice are implied rather than described; chapter one is the picture frame that collates the subsequent chapters against that burgundy wallpaper.
though each chapter is populated with the organised, yet random thoughts of the authors' victims, there is no denying that the biggest impact is that of kayti peschke's imagery. imagine the outlying struggle to create a collage of photographs that essentially will vary little from one workshop to the next. having visited a number of framebuilders in their natural portland town habitats, i can sympathise, for though the size, shape and vista of each space willundoubtedly vary, the contents are frequently of similar hue. peschke's eye, however, has unearthed a cornucopia of difference all the way down to a harrison vice that has the surname ford, inked in below.
though each builder has been given the opportunity to present a double-page spread featuring the pinnacle of their skills, as it clearly states on the contents page ...'we present you with a snapshot of the current industry.. things change, and framebuilders are not exempt from this immutable law. as a snapshot, it is unparalleled. tom warmerdam holding up a nest of steel swarf, a feather cycles head tube badge, the exciting clutter framing lee cooper's clear workshop floor and robin mather's beautiful blue road bike with racks, mudguards and balloon style tyres. a snapshot of a slide show.
it is possible to learn a great deal by simply looking at the pictures, and i cannot deny that such was my introduction to made in england, spending what seemed an inordinate amount of time looking, taking only a few moments to read the script set round-boxed quotes. the layout allows for many periods of reflection such as these, but to fully comprehend just what it is that makes these gentlemen stand out in a crowd, it is necessary to investigate no further than the pertinent questions asked by sowter and feather. i am assuming, for reasons of sanity, that ricky feather excused himself from being interviewer and interviewee in his own chapter.
you're obviously a man of your hands. why bicycles? do you have a particular pattern that you stick to? what drinks get you through the day? who is your ideal customer? a brief and necessarily random step through of the queries posed. a well crafted question more often than not, will tease an appropriately revealing answer, for it is the attitude, influences and philosophy of those well-versed in the art of the brazing rod that brings us, the relatively ignorant, the very criteria by which we can adjudge the integrity and vision of the craftsmen who may well be responsible for our next bicycle.
"There was a genuine fear a few years ago, when carbon came onto the scene, that the hand-built, steel-framed bicycle would disappear, but this shows there's still life in them yet." (woodrup cycles) have you made frames for women in the past? "yes, but you have to warm your hands up before you measure them." (ron cooper). "we built a bike for a lady a few years ago and she asked whether i wanted to bear a child with her." (chas roberts).
thankfully, this isn't a manual. i daresay careful examination of questions and answers coupled with close scrutiny of the images might just assist one or two with previous gainful experience of joining two tubes of metal together. this might be the very spark of enthusiasm needed by those on the verge of taking the brazing plunge, and i sincerely hope that for some, that's what they gain from made in england's 217 pages. perhaps in a few years' time, sowter and feather will be visiting a few for whom this book was the catalyst. for many of us it'll only add to the mystery, helping to equate the terms 'craftsman' and 'artisan' with that of the alchemist. i can happily live with that.
it is rarely necessary, especially in this day and age, to understand any of the principles behind the modern motor car. in keeping with video recorders, dvd players and microwaves, i doubt anyone bothers to read the manuals at all. bicycles rarely come with a manual, at least not one that pertains to the model you've just put in the bikeshed. visit any of the dozen in this book with a view to ordering a custom frame and they're unlikely to require that you take a test of elegibility, but wouldn't it just be neat to meet your maker before the wheels fit the dropouts?
i'm as guilty as the next guy in having categorised the home-grown framebuilder as the sort of person you'd once have gone to for next year's race bike, or a tourer for the summer holiday. across the pond, there seemed a more innovative mindset; racing or touring was almost passe. if nothing else, made in england proves that once more i have confirmed i am far less well-informed than i profess.
the handmade british bicycle has never been in safer hands.
made in england is currently available for pre-order from push projects at a cost of £35. it is something of an understatement to mention that it's worth every penny.
tuesday 23rd october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................