i have heard it said that british cycling has increased its current membership to something approaching or exceeding 60,000 and has as its target, to encompass 100,000 individuals before too much longer has passed. excluding the number who may also be members of the cyclists' touring club and those who have joined only one of each, that is a substantial number of cyclists. for it seems perfectly equanimous to expect that members of the former can be classed as at least somewhat serious regarding their velocipedinal acivities. that equates to just over 28 and a half islays, the thought of which would likely have calmac's board of directors expressing great concern.
however, in the grand scheme of things, 100,000 people is not a whole lot of bagels. the population of london is some eight million, while scotland is home to around five million. if i were any good with numbers or fractions, i'd make my point ever more effectively, but for now you'll simply have to use your imagination.
therefore, when it comes to actually being a cyclist, whether one of the above with a membership card in your wallet/purse or not, there is a certain degree of individuality in evidence. marry that with an insouciant predilection for polyester, sportwool and lycra and, to misquote robert burns 'wha's like us?'. i'm sure there exists an appropriately suitable answer to that last question, one that relates the world of the cyclist to the equally individualistic worlds of runners, canoeists, skateboarders etc, etc. however i think it likely i have now made my point; to be blunt, in terms of the greater good of human society we are unlikely to be regarded as 'sheep'.
which is, of course, very far from the truth.
it takes only a brief perusal of the cycling magazines inhabiting the racks in the closest branch of wh smith or its worldwide equivalent. around tour time, all are comprised of remarkably similar articles, features and exclusives, and though each would likely defend its own individuality and superior editorial layout, i cannot be the only one to have noticed that they start out with a few pages of photos from recent cycle sport activity, followed by pages peppered with intriguing facts about riders whose names are hard to pronounce. there is invariably a feature on a rider or race from yesteryear accompanied by the obligatory black and white photos, and somewhere within those glossy pages will be a shop window of the very latest kit that none of us could conceivably hope to purchase on the kind of wages we earn.
i do not disparage such content, for there are many experienced and erudite writers who contribute to such periodicals, along with their counterparts behind the camera lens. several of the articles are of great interest, but their placement and frequency lends a certain credence to my accusation that here indeed, is the first sign of sheepness, an almost ritual following in each others' wheeltracks. i know not why this is the case, unless the result of extensive focus group testing in which, at some point, more than just a few of british cycling's membership stated that this was the sort of fare they required in each and every cycle publication ad finitum.
thankfully, and i do mean this most sincerely, there are a number of alternatives appearing in and from places one would least expect. i have already reviewed lionel birnie's and ellis bacon's cycling anthology a publication that offers the reading cyclist a veritable smorgasbord of involving narrative. it is, however, predominantly concerned with the milieu of the racing cyclist; a sort of cycle sport, procycling, peloton, road for those happy to live without pictures and fill their heads with excellent writing. but the world of cycling does not solely revolve around those racing hither and thither; there are other aspects to consider, many of which are explored in jack thurston's bicycle reader.
do not think for a single minute that mr thurston has busied himself with fingers and word processor writing chapter after chapter for our edification. he does contribute an editors' introduction in co-operation with tim dawson, but from there on in, we are in the thrall of the contributors. and not a racer to be seen (or read).
'Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live' is almost as frequently quoted as h g wells' When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.', but were you aware that 'tis but the final sentence of a lengthy discourse by mark twain upon the trials and tribulations of learning how to ride what we colloquially refer to as a penny farthing? no, until this issue of the bike reader, neither did i. russ roca of los angeles relates how losing his car to mechanical deficiency was the best thing that ever happened to him, alex baca tells of the poltics and symbolism of riding a bicycle in washington dc while violet paget, writing in 1904 explains her delight at the quietude of her bicycle. still avoiding unadulterated speed of any form, there are philosophical musings as well as the sheer joy of touring on a bicycle unfettered by a perceived need to be somewhere, sometime.
the bicycle reader features only one illustration, and a particularly superb example at that, on the cover by way of an andrew pavitt lino cut, the very sight of which promises all that resides within. i apologise for the apparent tardiness of this tendered review, but though issued in the summer of this year, i became aware of it only these past few weeks, perhaps timeously with issue number two due in january of the new year. this is not a tangible entity, but one that inhabits the pixels of your e-book reader. the current issue is available for kindle via amazon for the paltry sum of £1.53.
no sheep were harmed in the making of this publication.
monday 10th december 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it would seem like cycling utopia, or at least one manifestation thereof; the ideal mix of cyclists and pedestrians and, slightly unfortunately, motor vehicles. I'm referring to the holiday destination in which I currently sit typing: center parcs. due to transportational logistics, mostly related to distance and costs, we ventured as far as the lake district which is currently fulfilling its predetermination as an area of precipitation, but that is really of little concern to mrs twmp and myself.
the motorist, on arrival, is allowed to drive to his/her villa/apartment/lodge to offload family and luggage before returning the vehicle to a car park sited at the village entrance, and thence forth it shall not be used other than to nip out for a look-see at the locality. quite why anyone would wish to indulge in the latter, is beyond the sensibilities of mrs washingmachinepost and i, but there's nowt so queer as folk. in close proximity to the aforementioned car park is the bicycle hire centre, a mass of cycles in one compact and less than bijou area of the village that would warm the cockles of your handlebars.
bicycles can be pre-booked prior to arrival, or on a whim or on a daily basis. throughout the village there are substantial cycle parking areas outside each activity centre, dining features and accommodation areas, joined by essentially well-paved roadways. these, by and large, are shared with the substantial numbers of pedestrians, augmented by one or two segregated walkways (though these often seem to be used by cyclists just as often). that is, perhaps a tad obviously, one of the minor problems incurred by actively encouraging pedestrians and 'cyclists' to share, if only because those 'cyclists' are usually anything but.
hiring a bicycle at center parcs is often one of those 'novelty' ideas, encouraged by the notion that traffic, as experienced in 'real' life, is all but non-existent, and thus a 'novelty' i feel is worth supporting. it would be interesting to view any statistics that might (doubtfully) exist on how many center parcs 'cyclists' feel better empowered to continue in the saddle on return from their holiday. however, it would also be an added bonus if these hypothetical statistics included how many pedestrians, on return to 'civilisation', found themselves less well disposed towards those on bicycles than had perhaps been the case before.
on my very first visit to one of these fashionable 'resorts', I took advantage of the option of bicycle hire, but have refrained from so doing every visit since. thankfully, center parcs have so far avoided setting up a parc police force, but on that first visit, while trying to simply negotiate the pathways around the village, I was constantly obstructed from my simple trajectory by other 'cyclists' riding the wrong way round the small roundabouts, ignoring everyone else at junctions and generally behaving less than sensibly on two wheels. I think it more than likely that such behaviour in the 'real' world would either result in death, serious injury or almost immediate arrest. within the confines of center parcs none of these were apparent.
it is likely these travesties could be successfully dealt with; in the interests of public safety and liability insurance, they'd more than likely have to be. but while this almost perfect idyll needs only a few stroked tees and dotted i's to bring utopia to a satisfactory level, there is the ever present third party that undermines all that appears to be being achieved; whether designed or accidental is really not the point. large agglomerations of accommodation require a constant level of tending, for in the mainstream of paid-for holiday provision, sheets need changing, towels replacing, plumbing and electrics repairing and a myriad of other minor and major chores. add to that the constant need for upgrading via the ministrations of outside contractors, and the motor vehicle is there simmering in the background.
center parcs, by its very reputation and professed environmental values, has need for catering to the forests' wildlife as much as to the paying customer. in this, it has deployed several small electric vehicles to minimise its carbon infestation of the world it inhabits, but that fails to remove the spectre of being hounded by a silent vehicle, still big and ugly enough to cause injury to either the slow-witted pedestrian, or wayward cyclist. remember them? no doubt it is perceived as unfair of me to point the finger of accusation at center parcs for not having removed any form of motorised traffic altogether. there are still a whole slew of necessities that are eased or speeded by use of something a tad more substantial than a bicycle, but in recent years there are a number of cycles that have become available which could conceivably replace some of those currently motorised. it would be interesting to know whether center parcs management would be open to incorporating these into their parc logistics.
in the light of cycling's current pre-eminence, at least in the media, center parcs are surely in the ideal position to provide answers to lots of questions. many of us who rather self-righteously maintain that the roads ought to be shared more evenly between cyclists and motorists are career pelotonese, so to speak, and thus somewhat biased in our collective intent. however, as advised above, those hiring bicycles at center parcs rarely fit the same description, and thus have no axe to grind in one direction or the other. in fact, since a substantial number are probably of the motoring persuasion, they could presumably be seen as amongst the unconverted. thus, are the center parcs villages, in the uk at least, showing us just what transportational life might be like were britain's roads optimised in similar fashion? there would still be the omnipresent motor car (and bmw currently advertising electrics that can attain 0-60 in 4.2 seconds for the environmentally conscious jeremy clarksons, give little credence that fuel costs or shortages will remove cars wholesale from our paths), and road transport, but perhaps as in the village experience, steam would be required to give way to sail.
it is, of course a somewhat obviously unrealistic experiment, for the situation cannot be truly related to the travails of real life. firstly, no-one really needs to be anywhere in a particular hurry, nor are any of the 'cyclists' heading towards a day's work, or returning home from same. it is notable that none of the staff appear to make use of bicycles to get about the village, but then i seem to recall that, in the mid-seventies, it was foretold that the computer would provide us with so much leisure time, that cycing about aimlessly all day would be the new commute.
the part that underlines the realism of using the village experience as a viable observation is the almost total lack of interference from 'proper' cyclists. There's no sign of lycra, precious little carbon (if any), and I doubt any of the tyres i've seen have been as narrow as 23mm. in other words, 'it's the bicycle jim but not as we know it.'
if we're really lucky, perhaps we'll find out sooner, rather than later.
sunday 9th december 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's an intriguing thought as to why certain activities or objects inspire art, whether from the aspect of paintbrush and oils, or the more graphic side of things (or, as billy cobham once said the funky thide of sings). taliah lempert, for instance, has spent much of her artistic career employing the bicycle as still life, setting each on a considerably larger table than was the case at art college. in the drawing and painting department of the college i attended in my youth, there was a whole mezzanine room given over to objects that could be carefully or randomly selected to form the basis of the week's subject matter. though many are of the opinion that the hard part of drawing or painting is having the object of your brushstrokes become a verisimilitude of that set before you, in fact, that is not strictly the case.
in similar manner to the jpeg algorithm employed to compress photographs to smaller file sizes without anyone noticing the information that has been unceremoniously thrown away, the successful artist is able either to prepare an image of a disarmingly realistic nature, or that of an impressionistic hue. either way, it's what the artist leaves out that makes the real difference between the amateur or professional. allied to this, perhaps rather obviously, is the ability of an artist to depict the essence of a scene to display whatever it is that he or she wishes to present.
such is the nature of art by roy oxlade, a painter who once studied under the great and sorely underestimated in his time, david bomberg. oxlade is famed in art circles for reducing items and figures to one step up from stick figures, controlled by his assertion that art is best represented by symbols. since we all know what the human figure looks like, what benefit is there in the artist spending time reinforcing this knowledge? better to resort to figure-like symbols and render compositions thus. it's not a method that works for everyone; in fact i think it likely a conviction that has kept him in the outer reaches of contemporary painting. i, however, am a confirmed fan of not only his methodology, but the resulting images, whether in charcoal, oils or watercolour.
the works of oxlade and his peers, however, err on the serious side, offering no intentional humour to the interested onlooker. though i have regular sympathy with the more sober offerings of the practising artist, i cannot deny an interest in the humorous. one of the factors involved in my artistic studies was that of caricature and cartoons, apparently frowned upon within the college graphics department. however, continuing the minimalist theme and the artist's ability to reduce any scene of figure to the bare essentials, the work of the cartoonist is surely the ultimate in this direction. charles schultz owned an inordinate skill to render human emotion in the faces of charlie brown, lucy and snoopy in only a few pen strokes, an ability i have spent the remainder of my career fervently wishing to emulate.
but to no avail.
imagine, therefore, my intrigue on receipt of an e-mail from artist phil deacon, the subject of which stated 'i'm going to send you a bike print through the post for christmas'. it would likely enhance my narrative just a smidgeon if i were to aver that i had, until that point, never heard of mr deacon. but that would be untrue, for though not in a studied fashion, certain of his eccentric works had passed my attention in the recent past. the poster that i had been promised is illustrated at the top of the page; technically brilliant, artistically appealing and undeniably funny, even if you happen to own a labrador. mysteriously, his website offers no clue as to the influences upon his work, how long he has been a practicing artist. in fact, other than a small thumbnail photographic resemblance, i know no more about phil deacon than i did when commencing this feature.
but i kind of like it that way. the mind that produced the poster sent for my christmas is on a different plane to my own, though both meet seamlessly over his bicycle illustrations. if you think about it, that's probably just as it should be. everyone needs a bit of mystery in their lives.
philip deacon and his graphical art can be found at philiprints.blogspot.co.uk. do it now.
friday 30th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as a student, i spent my summers working in the terminal bulding at prestwick airport when it was still scotland's transatlantic gateway. those days of international air-travel from prestwick are now long gone, for it's something of a truism that nobody really wants to go to prestwick itself, hence the slightly misleading moniker glasgow-prestwick. with a change in government policy, the airport, formerly owned by british airports authority was effectively reduced to serving various european countries when international transatlantic flights were moved to glasgow airport at abbotsinch. nowadays, the airport is privately owned and in one of the most bizarre marketing moves ever seen connected to a travel gateway, the airport's slogan, writ large across the terminal and cargo buildings in a rather fractured and grungy script is prestwick's pure dead brilliant a phrase taken from a particularly parochial television comedy.
i'm sure many of the foreigners alighting at and departing from this coastal airport some 30 miles south-west of glasgow, haven't the faintest idea what that phrase means, and who could blame them?
however, in the days of my late teenage years, it was a busy place during the summer months, providing gainful employment for me and many other of my student friends. situated towards the southern end of the terminal was the square proportioned newsagents, half of which did pretty much what it said on the tin, while the other half sold, from what i can remember, a slew of tartan hued souvenirs and items of less than useful apparel. in the days of real lunchbreaks, it was most convenient for the purchase of reading material, and in fact can lay claim to the first opportunity i came across to purchase a copy of the times newspaper, one of britain's more formidable organs prior to its acquisition by the murdoch empire, then pretty much in its infancy compared to today.
it was also the beginning of my intellectual pretensions, misguided thought that has persisted to the present.
i didn't continue with this paper for very long, not so much because of any distaste towards murdoch when he bought it, but because, for some unexplained reason, the new ownership deemed it necessary to not only change the newspaper's character, but also its page layout, rendering it remarkably difficult to read. since this is surely one of the inherent qualities of any decent paper, it seemed a particularly retrograde step.
however, neither man nor student can live by international daily news alone, and my alternative, fictional material came in the shape of a small, perfectly formed american science fiction magazine under the title analog. one of the advantages of working in an international environment was the apparent need to cater to more than just domestic taste, thus magazines and publication from far and wide were deemed appropriate on the newsagent's shelves. as i recall, analog featured no illustrations but simply a phalanx of creative science fiction short stories along with the occasional feature of scientific fact.
the joy of just such a publication was the ability to fip in and out of its writings, often with the ability to conclude the reading of an entire story before it was time to return to that for which i was employed. the overalls we were provided with in the pursuance of this were rarely close-fitting. infact i think it possible my entire wardrobe of corporate work clothes had been measured for two of me rather than the skinny, long-haired beanpole who had signed the contract. thus, pocket space for a small science fiction magazine could not have been descrived as restricted.
sadly those unfettered and irresponsible days are long gone, but surprisingly enough, analog magazine still exists; it is now possible (and i know because i have done so) to download a version for kindle directly from amazon's tax avoiding website. though i have done little to no research on the subject, i have not come across any other publication of similar format, that combines superlative writing in short bursts with a physical format that allows for easy portability and the opportunity to read at a moment's notice without electronic hi-definition assistance. at least not until now.
"One day over Christmas last year, it struck me that such a format would work perfectly for cycling, as there are more than enough excellent writers. I ran it past Daniel Friebe, who told me that Ellis Bacon was working on a very similar concept for the web. I talked to Ellis and our ideas were so similar it seemed to make perfect sense to join forces to produce a book." the words are those of lionel birnie, progenitor of 'the cycling anthology' and co-editor along with the aforementioned ellis bacon. the format seems stunningly obvious now that someone has actually had the foresight and fortitude to bring it to fruition.
"Ellis and I met, drew up our list of potential contributors and pitched the idea to them. Everyone was keen, although I'm sure it represented a bit of a risk to get involved with a new project without seeing what we were capable of coming up with.
"I think two factors appealed to people. It is being run as a co-operative. (So my company isn't hoovering up all the profits in the traditional way. Instead each contribution is worth an equal share of any profit). And the brief was intentionally loose. We asked people to come up with their own ideas and execute them their own way. That's a freedom that very few people get in their regular work."
it's a format and successful first issue that i think would be hard for any right-minded cycling obsessive to dismiss out of hand. with contributions from both bacon and birnie, they are joined by the likes of will and alasdair fotheringham, richard moore, david millar, jeremy whittle, kenny pryde and daniel friebe. i have listed those only for starters, for i think it possible that amongst the fifteen contributors, those are perhaps the best known. and in a manner similar to taking actors out of their more usual context and allowing them greater freedoms with a script and stage, the writers' contributions are startlingly original and a joy to behold. and as i have paid testament to above, it is an anthology more than easy to read snippets of when the notion or available time allows.
so far, i have not read two sequential chapters.
your £7.99, however, buys you not only 272 pages of literary excellence, but a cover design that is so apt, that i find myself fervently hoping that issue two in may of next year retains not only the same format, but the same illustrator (simon scarsbrook) and title lettering. if anything will sell this volume prior to perusing the contents, it's scarsbrook's illustrative skills. "The cover is supposed to have a 'house style'. As the collection grows (hopefully), they will all look like they are part of the same stable, while retaining a distinctive individual look. We didn't want the cover to necessarily reflect the content. Again, we didn't dictate to Simon Scarsbrook; we just chatted about the book for a bit and left him to it." i can think of few similar concepts that have so successfully fulfilled their ideals.
"The concept is to create a series of collectible paperbacks that hark back to the days when you'd stuff a Penguin paperback in a deep coat pocket for a walk to school or uni. Something to be pulled out and read on a train or bus or while waiting for a friend in a pub. The format is deliberate. A slightly smaller size so it doesn't take up loads of shelf space."
it seems almost trite to list the subject matter covered by the various authors, for in truth, the words are truly subservient to the skills of their writer. left to their own devices, they have brought to light narratives i doubt you will find anywhere else on the planet. edward pickering sings the praises of tommy voeckler, one of the last practisers of panache in the world of formula 1 cycle racing; richard moore considers how the great robert millar would have fared had he found himself in team sky; owen slot details the conflict that pervaded the relationship between vicky pendleton and anna meares and jeremy whittle examines the lance armstrong legacy as it affected the recent performances of brad wiggins and team sky.
i'm hoping that this initial offering is so unbelievably well received, that messrs birnie and bacon reconsider their decision to publish only twice a year. i know that ned boulting read his copy in one sitting; i have rationed myself in the light of the knowledge that issue two will not appear until may 2013, and i think it more than possible most other purchasers will have thumbed their own copies into submission by now. six months is a long time to harbour uncontrolled anticipation.
thursday 29th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
those of you with any interest or involvement in the world of pre-press may conceivably remember the concern and worry on having finished a particular document, then having to select that package for output option. in the world of clever, secretive and clandestine software, endless lines of code would then scurry around the mac, finding all the fonts, images and anything else you may have dropped into the publication, and conveniently placed them in a folder for scrutable delectation. there was even a text file to allow the input of instructions for the folks who would open the folder at the other end.
the scary part was then casting an experienced eye over the list of errors; had i used a typeface that wasn't on my computer; had i converted all my images from rgb to cmyk; was there anything else on which i had been remiss? if the answer to any of the foregoing was affirmative, corrections were due and the whole process to be gone through again.
then along came adobe's portable document format or, as it is more acronymically known, pdf. leveraging the marvels of the postscript page description language, all that appeared before my eyes could quickly and efficiently be converted into a format easily recognised by the imagesetters in the world of colour output. heck, it would even convert those rgb images to cmyk on the fly. how utterly cool was that? except every new technology, in the process of curing one ill, generally brings with it several other, hitherto unknown ills, and that was the case with pdf.
for instance, there are several pdf standards, so which one ought to be chosen? did i need to impose all printers' marks or should i restrict myself simply to registration and crop marks? which output standard ought i to choose from the huge range of options available? so, despite one part becoming immeasurably simpler, the stage that had previously been the preserve of the printer had now become something that i need to know and understand. you can, of course, see the obvious route for salvation here; exactly: ask the printer.
thankfully, the printers with whom i had been working for several years were particularly amenable to question asking, without even a hint of superiority or arrogance. so it took only a few print jobs to have all satisfactorily sorted out, even removing a previous difference of them using different page-layout software than i. in this particular situation, i was fortunate to have moved through perceived difficulties with relatively little trouble. to this day all colour work arrives back on islay looking even better than when it left my computer.
this is a particularly adult situation, in that i think it relatively unlikely that kids of early teenage years or younger would have found themselves in such a predicament. and so too, the asking of pertinent questions should you be of mature years and wishing to either learn to ride a bike or decide which might be the best bicycle for your needs. the obvious solution, as in the above, would be to ask an expert, quite probably the guy behind the counter in your local bike shop. leaving aside the possibility that such an emporium doesn't exist, that very notion is fraught with problems, not least of which might be embarrassment.
for if i might point out my use of the phrase mature years the last thing you want to be doing is asking a service assistant quite possible a decade or two younger, where he/she would recommend learning to ride a bike. if even that were not the initial sticky wicket, ie, you can already ride a bike, enquiring after a suitable bicycle would more than likely lead to a recommendation involving one of the very models sitting on the shop floor. even this is not necessarily an insurmountable hurdle, but there's always the possibility that it's not the size, colour, style or brand that you'd hoped it might be. so where, in this day and age, would you turn for some erudite and independent advice?
though distinctly american in nature and purpose, elly blue's everyday bicycling is quite simply (and i mean that in every sense of the word) one of the best i have read.
in thewashingmachinepost's earlier days, i had thinks about providing a lesser version of that which miss blue has published in book format. for, i reasoned, what was the point of me prattling on each day about the arcane issues and technicalities of the bicycling world, when there may well be a sizeable proportion of prospective readers who understood little of what i wrote (that probably hasn't changed). but each daily posting takes a considerable amount of time, and to embark upon such a series of explanatory pieces in parallel to the daily postings would have meant much burning of midnight oil, something i fear mrs washingmachinepost would have frowned upon quite vociferously.
but i can now rest easy in my bed. everyday bicycling is so comprehensive a publication, that i can but praise the endless patience that must pervade the personage of elly blue. "Let's start by looking at the very basic things you need to know about operating a bicycle on the road. Then we'll help you integrate these bicycling skills into your daily life, choose the right bicycle and keep it in good working order."
for those of us who are already practised pelotonese, think on to that which you now take for granted when it comes to riding a bicycle, riding in traffic, deciding how to carry 'stuff', fixing the darned things when they refuse to do as they are bid, and the ease with which you settle on that which will be your next bicycle. garnered skills and information over the years will probably make these processes relatively simple, at least far simpler than for those starting at point zero. elly blue, however, has translated her own considered knowledge into the this compact and bijou book's 127 pages. everything is separated into carefully considered paragraphs and chapters that, despite a demonstrative need for pedantry, never devolve into a patronising of the reader. in fact, quite the contrary, much of what transpires is eminently readable by even those assured of superior knowledge.
though obviously not quite the point of the exercise, place yourself in elly's pedals and think how you would deal with a similar project; ruddy hard work. in truth, i think it relatively unlikely that i have too many readers who are in need of this particular volume, but i'd be willing to bet that there are many who have been asked the questions to which the bulk of answers are contained within. and in our own, devil may care manner, wouldn't it be a whole lot simpler to hand over a copy of everyday bicycling and leave more time for our own cycling endeavours?
as mentioned at the outset, this is undisguised americana; there is reference to cycle lanes, riding on the right and several other practices that pertain to north american cycling. however, for british readers, it is but a simple task to ignore the paragraphs that plainly do not have a parallel in the uk, and simply convert those that are the wrong way round.
this is a well researched, well considered and well written guide to featuring the bicycle more regularly in daily life. it is entirely devoid of preaching or a holier-than-thou attitude at any stage and constructed in a way that a bicycling lifestyle, should that be what is eventually desired, can be approached a little at a time. even if there are only restricted and particular aspects of the subject that sit uneasily on the radar of the reader, it's worth acquiring a copy, or for the benevolent, giving one for christmas. i find myself quite in awe of elly's patience in writing this solid edifice of information.
a round of applause for a job well done.
thursday 29th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you don't read a great deal about door wedges these days, despite the sterling work they still carry out in hidden corners of many a small and tall building. it was always a derogatory term in my schooldays, mostly due to my ineptness and inefficiency in the woodwork department. as i recall, we were all issued with a chunk of wood on which appropriate measurement was made before placing in a bench vice and proceeding to employ a plane to take the surface down to the carefully pencil marked dimension. unfortunately, it was more often than not the pencil mark that was the only careful part.
on more than one occasion i measured up from different edges, meaning that the mark on the left was not in any way similar to that on the right. to be honest, neither mark was of anything other than academic value, since my planing technique never strayed beyond the rudimentary, resulting in a fine workbox full of ever more smooth door wedges. that i never became a joiner is of no surprise to anyone.
however, for all the disparaging of my woodworking talents and the obscurism of writing about door wedges in the first place, it does not lessen the vital role that they play in modern day society where open and closed doors are met with increasing frequency. unfortunately, considering the amount of scrapped wood there must be all over the place, a great number of modern day wedges are made from a resilient rubber, but with scooped out internals. this latter feature, the reason for which i know not removes the ability of the door wedge to provide a suitable area of grip on something like an acrylic carpeted floor. this frequently seems to result in an open door that insists on closing.
as a device or implement, however, they have a singular job to deliver. a door wedge, is a door wedge, is a door wedge. you'd be unlikely to employ its services for anything other than opening doors. they tend not to be very good at painting the skirting boards or unscrewing a set of crank bros. pedals. not that there is any direct line of descent, but i have a pair of thinsulate gloves that are of similar singular purpose. they are slightly too large, but since all that is asked of them is that they keep my hands warm, this is of no real nevermind, and i think the greatest trial they have been asked to perform recently is that of waving to the driver of the council bin lorry on my morning walk.
their purpose is clear to them and to me.
on the contrary, cycling gloves are of a different and greater level of import to the honed athlete. they have things of far greater import to deal with and often a lot less time to do so than the humble door wedge. at a particularly minimal level, those string-backed track mitts need only provide comfort at the point of contact with the option of digital protection should it be necessary to spaly oneself out on the gravel due to an inadvertant and unforeseen mishap. but it's still a chunk more than my wooly thinsulates have need of doing. autumn and winter, however, bring with them alternative forms of cycle sport, the one most under concern at present being that of cyclocross
since this is a form of pedalling that brings with it a number of features hitherto unknown on the wide open road, there's every likelihood that items of apparel for this purpose might conceivably be in need of one or two extras. for instance, a cycle jersey with a padded right shoulder can be a boon to those who have yet to learn the art of the bunny-hop. and it is surely of serious import that cyclocross demands a pair of gloves with bonus features, such as those recently arrived from glacier.
the naming of this reno, nevada based company may seem at odds with the mental picture we have of an american state comprised of large tracts of desert, but their products have favoured the hands and fingers of u.s. navy seals, the u.s. coastguard, various antarctic expeditions and climbers on mount everest. it perhaps goes without saying that several squishy laps of bridgend woods would be unlikely to give them too much trouble.
their aptly named cyclocross gloves are principally constituted of neoprene, with blue lycra cuffs and padded leather palms. that padding seems mostly formed from rubber inserts, inlaid into slotted leather panels on the palm and thumb, the latter of which features a terry cloth outer for wiping glasses, face and nose. the padding sits along the base of the fingers, on the inner face of the thumb and on the palm. i cannot deny that i had minor tribulations with the thumb padding, but on consulting with importers, 2 pure, it appears my review samples were pre-production models, and the glitch has been satisfactorily corrected on the production models. i might point out in their favour, that the glitch in no way undermined the excellent performance of the gloves.
unlike those untroubled thinsulates, there is much for which to call upon the skills of cyclocross gloves. aside from clicking up and down the gears, braking as and when necessary, there's all that leaping on and off the bicycle to contend with, to say nothing of hefting a top tube onto a padded (or otherwise) right shoulder. as if that were not enough, such situations were often mixed with mud. so now we've viscosity to contend with. on cold mornings, something an islay november owns in spades, it took a commendably short time to heat the fingers up and keep them that way. their prestidigitatory qualities were often my safety net when incompetence intervened.
if there's something that i found less than favourable it was the random scattering of lines on the back of each glove. i assume that the glaciers, though inhabiting the hands of an incompetent in this particular case, are intended for professional use, and i therefore think it unlikely that those dependent on their offroad riding skills for a living would find themselves even remotely concerned with this most abstract of patterns. i think they would have looked less ostentatious were the backs to have been left plain. however, even i cannot deny that this is purely icing on a particularly excellent cake, one that occupies the trivial and thus has no bearing on the efficacy of a very fine product.
retailing at a smidgeon under £45, these are not particularly cheap, but i think it only fair to state that i think careful consideration should always be paid to the three points of contact. skimping on any one of those is often false economy. you'd look particularly silly if you dropped that bike jumping the hurdles or missing a gear because you couldn't feel your fingers and the gear lever couldn't feel them either. these are available in small, medium, large or extra large and as far as i can ascertain, are only available in black and blue.
not that i've checked, but i doubt they'd be much use as door stops.
wednesday 28th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
they've fenced off the lower portion of uiskentuie strand; only on the right hand side as you're heading towards bruichladdich on the port charlotte road, but it at least restricts cattle movements across that part of the road, though if the sheep had any sense (which they don't), they could still sneak under the rather sparse wiring. it was, in fact, just past this section, a tad closer to the foreland turn-off that the rather excellent notion occurred, somewhat like archimedes' 'eureka' moment.
i'd made it over the hill at blackrock, past the turn for the rspb reserve at gruinart and on past the jumble of whitewashed buildings that constitute uiskentuie farm. i quite often, at this point, flip onto the grass if on the cyclocross bike, but this time, it was still cosily ensconced in its portion of the bikeshed. at the point of my stunning revelation, the fence was not yet completely in place; the jcb with attachment for popping fenceposts into the ground in one fell swoop still sat by the old disused road leading up towards foreland house and the cows ambled about, obviously oblivious to their impending corraling.
i was riding a shand skinnymalinky, fitted with derek mclay's wheelsmith race 23s and dressed head to toe in apparel from edinburgh's endura clothing. if the groat has not yet dropped, i was essentially, made in scotland. yes, tyres, groupset, components and english leather saddle came not from north of the border, but being realistic, there's little chance of that ever being the case. however, basically speaking, if you'd sliced me in half at that very moment (not a personal invitation, you understand) i would have had the words made in scotland written all the way through.
quite obviously, my counterpart in tuscany (scary thought), luigi could have been having similar thoughts, speeding past the vineyards on his campagnolo equipped colnago on vittoria tyres and selle san marco saddle clad in a mixture of castelli and santini. but italy has a history of this, and no-one would give a fig for luigi's eureka moment. mine, on the other hand, was not just a fleeting thought, but one reinforced by the fact that bike, wheels and clothing were/are all world class. i have already reviewed both the skinnymalinky and the wheelsmith race 23s (though there will be more concerning the latter in the coming months), and i've not left endura in the cold over the years. if that were all that were the cause of my revelation, i might well have kept its secret to myself.
imagine my stepping into debbie's of a saturday lunchtime, eager for a cheese and tomato toastie and some chocolate dusted froth, regaling all and sundry with the details of my bicycle and apparel. you can almost hear the disinterest clamouring from each table and bar stool. but it could well be that we dour scots take all this for granted. not, i mean to say, that we are not world class, but arrogance is not usually a feature for which the scots are renowned, but perhaps we're disturbingly naive when it comes to taking in the big picture.
as a for instance, and one of many that i'm about to impose upon your reading pleasure, that shand skinnymalinky, aside from being truly one of the finest bicycles i have ridden, and one that would have impressed luigi in tuscany, was, as steven said " a road frame that was durable, comfortable, had clearance for 'bigger' tyres and mudguards and above all was practical for the kind of riding we do here in the UK, and more specifically, Scotland.". click back just a few words and take in the sensibility that the frame had clearance for mudguards, something of a necessity for the resulting scottish riding. though skinny, slinky road bikes have a reputation for eschewing guards in favour of go-faster stripes, i think it necessary to remind you of the seminal quote from time-triallist michael hutchinson "mudguards are fashionable in the way that a brown muddy stripe up the back of your jersey isn't."
in terms of remaining true to the scottish philosophy, the very finest are again available from scotland; edinburgh to be precise. for there, wooden furniture maker, simon muir (it's the furniture that's wooden, not simon) and his partner stacey, offer custom wooden mudguards with state of the art aluminium and steel hardware, made from recycled wood and featuring a coloured inner laminate of formica. good old scottish pragmatism at work. i have a pair of portland's fullwoodfenders on the cielo, but the fitting hardware on the woodguards knocks the american version into a cocked hat.
stacey said "The steel hardware (brackets and clips) is by Velo Orange. We buy it in because it's far superior to the type of brackets you can buy generally. It is minimal, nice lines and well-crafted, and one of the only things we don't make in-house.
The aluminium for the stays is bought locally and bent and formed by Simon by hand. We use a local Edinburgh engineering firm to turn the aluminium stay-heads to ensure they are uniform and beautifully shaped. We buy leather washers from our friends at Soda Kitsch who make luggage and leatherware. The leather washer prevents the aluminium from digging into the wood when it vibrates during a ride.
the quality of the woodguards pretty much has to be seen to be believed; they look far too fragile to work, but in truth, they are anything but. those two sets of rear stays and single front set are of a diameter and rigidity rarely if ever seen on a set of mudguards. "We're coming from a bespoke furniture background, so, every tiny detail has to be deliberate and functional as well as beautiful. The mudguards have cut-outs for the stays that are done by hand, as are the rounded ends on each pair. It takes on average four hours to make one pair. They're always made by Simon, and he always the same way using the same bonding emulsions and process. Each pair are as durable as the ones we have on our own bikes.
We ride ours all over the place in any weather and they do a fantastic job of keeping us dry and being a talking point at whatever store, cafe or pub we lock our bikes up at.
stacey agrees with my parochial assessment of these scottish endeavours "we think there is a burgeoning artisan scene is Scotland and that we need to focus our business on that aspect of our product." perhaps a tad superficially it is necessary to ally this physical craftsmanship with a high degree of visualisation in the graphical realm. the pair of woodguards kindly sent for review were received from colin raeburn at graphical house, the glasgow design atelier responsible for squaretree's very impressive logo and associated graphic design "we are really proud of the woodguard graphics and love producing stuff for them.". keeping it local.
none of the bicycle-related items i have paid tribute to so far inhabit the budget end of the spectrum, but as mentioned in my recent trakke mule bag review, we're looking at serious scottish craftsmanship that perhaps not collectively or consciously, is engendering not only a national cottage industry, but the ideal level of ambassadorship for the country, no matter the cycling connection. a pair of squaretree woodguards retails at £142 per set, only marginally more expensive that the portland product, but with substantially better hardware and craftsmanship.
though i have only recently paid tribute to the skills being deployed at glasgow's trakke bags, it would be foolish to exclude them from this feature. for though many of us may flick through the pages of procycling, cyclist and cycle sport each month, paying indifferent attention to the lycra clad advertising hoardings on taiwanese carbon, the reality is seriously different for the majority. there is no chance whatsoever that i will even begin to approximate that particular genre, and i believe that's true for most of us. that said and accepted, it's time to embrace a reality that is every bit as involving if just a few kph slower, and a reality that frequently has to carry stuff from a to b. dressed in endura's urban wear, riding shand and wheelsmith with a trakke mule bag is a sentence that could not have been so casually thrown into my narrative even ten years ago.
and what of endura themselves? the afforementioned urban range offers the chance to appear 'normal', but though those kilometres of speed are further away than ever, it doesn't stop a sizeable number of us still reaching for the lycra and polyester, currently in the shape of a bowmore distillery jersey. for me, that brings the scottish connection right to my back door, and in praise of former endura team rider jonathan tiernan locke's triumph in the recent tour of britain, the folks in livingston have produced a traditional pair of tartan armwarmers and collar to match that bowmore jersey. and what does it say inside the collar of the latter? made in scotland.
i have, on two occasions, visited the fair city of portland in oregon state; america's pacific northwest. the town is one of the most marvellous and exciting to visit for anyone with more than a passing interest in cyclings as either a sporting activity or viable means of transport. though i am here talking about a city the size of edinburgh rather than an entire country that has a population some three million less than that of london, but from my point of view, there are parallels beginning to appear. one frame builder compares badly against portlands rumoured 25, though wheelbuilders seem to be in greater supply up here with both derek at wheelsmith and big al at wheelcraft. i can only refer to jude at sugar in portland. however, small beginnings and the right mindset seem a good start.
perhaps a bit belatedly, and an occasion when it would be eminently possible to dress in those endura tartan armwarmers, this friday will celebrate st andrews day with a tartan ride across glasgow city. having had the tweed ride originate in london town several years ago, and now franchised across many parts of the world, i think it only indicative of the scots being slightly backward in coming forward that it has taken us this long to hold our own homespun version. though trakke bags offer harris tweed versions and but three miles from washingmachinepost cottage is the islay woollen mill weaving its own tweeds, it's tartan that often identifies the country. it's yer other national fabric.
allow me perhaps to place cycling life in a more modest, yet optimistic future, and it again brings population into the equation. islay is home to around 3,500 people, with a regular cycling peloton of around four on a good day. yet we have a cafe in bruichladdich that has its own cycling corner, the vulpine christmas fete is advertised in the window, it features an original photograph of bradley wiggins by the esteemed, edinburgh-based photographer, scott mitchell, and a worldwide reputation that has had cyclists from america placing it on their islay itinerary. and a cup of coffee to die for. though we claim this as scotland's first of the genre, it has been successfully copied (inadvertantly of course) firstly by ronde in hamilton place, edinburgh, and more recently by velocity cafe and bicycle workshop in inverness, and that of siempre in glasgow's dumbarton road.
all of these, including debbie's, have styled themselves as cycling cafes, obviously enough happy to serve civilians too, but catering to those who'd like to sup froth and munch carrot cake while dressed in lycra and reading last week's copy of the comic without being the subject of sniggering and mentally pointing fingers. but perhaps more expansively, if you are at all geographically aware, take a quick look at the locations mentioned above. way out west, we have debbie's; on a similar latitude is siempre in glasgow, and all the way across on the other side of scotland, is ronde in edinburgh. inverness is in the little nook at the northernmost tip of the great glen; the caledonian fault-line. loch ness is pretty close by.
if we have a quick shot at join the dots, starting and finishing at bruichladdich, the resulting shape describes a triangle that encompasses the bulk of the scottish mainland and an important part of the inner hebrides, proving, if nothing else, that scotland's nascent cycling scene has little or nothing to do with the professional peloton, but everything to do with its very own cycling culture. ok, so coffee is hardly an indigenous product, but that is an accusation that could be levelled at other corners of the united kingdom and even portland. and it is cycling and scottish carrots in the cake we're talking about here.
oh, and that mention of scotland having nothing to do with the professional peloton; that was a lie. drop in at edinburgh's ronde on a coincidental part of the week, and you could easily be sharing your wooden table with the king of scotland.
they don't have one of those in portland.
tuesday 27th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................