hellingen - a road cyclist's guide to belgium's greatest cycling climbs. simon warren. frances lincoln publishing 143pp illus. £9.99

hellingen by simon warren

a number of you will already be aware of port askaig. if you arrive on islay off the afternoon calmac ferry sailing, nine times out of ten, this is where you'll arrive. it is something of a shock to the system after two hours of lolling about in a ferry, for it begins with a stretch of 9% gradient up to the first hairpin bend, then ramps up to 14% for slightly longer. there's a conveniently painted white line at the side of the road delineating the so-called cycle lane, but midst huffing and puffing on a likely well-loaded bicycle, you can pretty much forget that. after the hairpin, it's every man or woman for themselves.

in an ideal world, port askaig brae would conform to a different topography altogether. for the benefit of the relaxed sailor, it would be a descent, while for the temporarily land-bound, those gradients would appear at the end of the eleven mile ride from bowmore, or longer from elsewhere on islay. at that time, the earnest cyclist would be warmed up and fully in touch with their inner merckx, offering up a most gratifying end to the ride to the ferry.

sadly, physics does not work that way. if the ride worked in the manner just described, in the sound of islay (the narrow strip of water separating islay from jura) the water level would be somewhat higher than the surrounding land, and that's just plain wrong.

the disappointment need not last, however, for by pure chance, there's the 14% climb either in or out of kilchiaran, which ride of the falling rain participants will know as the opening gambit after port charlotte. to be honest, though, that too gives precious little time for the honed athletes amongst us to ready ourselves for a bout of breathless ascending. bizarre though it may sound, not everyone is enamoured of climbing; many, to be frank, find it the least approachable part of cycling, and you really have to feel sorry for such individuals.

one gentleman who sees this as the stuff of nonsense, is simon warren. having previously regaled us with 100 greatest climbs and another 100 greatest climbs, he persuaded his long-suffering family that a trip to belgium would be the very delight they'd always wished to experience. "You'll love it, the architecture, the steak frites, the beer...", all the while planning this third volume hellingen - a road cyclist's guide to belgium's cycling climbs.

as every well informed cycling fan knows, the climbs in belgium are pretty short and sharp, altogether nothing like those of the alps or pyrenees. but the finest commending feature of those, particularly in the northern region of flanders are the cobbles, or, as mr warren is keen to inform, setts. however, "...a 'settled climb' just doesn't have the same ring as a 'cobbled climb'.

all the major suspects are present, both in flanders and the southern region of wallonia, encompassing the climbs used in liege-bastogne-liege, ronde van vlaanderen, fleche wallone, gent wevelgem and all the others. simon has accompanied the description of each individual climb (" not, under any circumstances, unless you're a pro in a race, use the verges or concrete storm drains - that's just cheating.") with a full colour photo, a factfile, the climb's location in the area and more specifically just how to find it, as well as a profile of the ascent, badged with the maximum gradient. those are, not to be at all derogatory, the dry facts, but taken as a whole, this is a thoroughly inspiring compact and bijou volume whether or not the chance of each of us following in simon's wheeltracks is likely or not.

abridging the flanders section into the climbs of the ardennes, are a few pages featuring photos of the multiple variants of cobbles seen on the 'koppenberg', 'kattenberg', 'kapelmuur', 'muur', and several others. i don't mind admitting that i spent a more than inordinate amount of time all but drooling over these photos, which doubtless marks me out as a flanders anorak, but then i have long said that hebrideans are the flandriens of the west. given the opportunity, i'd have every last centimetre of port askaig brae's tarmac ripped out and replaced with cobbles, a predilection unlikely to put me in good stead with the roads engineer (particularly after we christened his latest cattle grid with the name of joop zoetemelk). then i'd spend every weekend of spring riding constantly up and down, from the linkspan to dunlossit gatehouse.

cycle jerseys come with three rear pockets, and if they've half a brain cell between them, the uci ought to issue a compulsory edict that makes it mandatory to place a copy of hellingen in the centre pocket of each and every jersey sold. owning a copy isn't an option, it's imperative.

frances lincoln publishing

monday 15th april 2013


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like a drum in a midnight choir - bespoked bristol

bespoked bristol

"you wouldn't drive the streets in a formula one mclaren, so what makes us think it's ok to ride on carbon designed for the world's best sprinters?"

it's a comment that rather turns on its head, the oft quoted fact that there are few others sports in which it is possible to not only ride the same roads as the profesionals, but on the very same, albeit expensive, bicycles. we are in danger of being like the kids attracted by the display of sweets at the supermarket checkout. all that overly stiff carbon costs a lot to develop in order it might sustain the wattage of fabian, mark, or tom, and recompense must be sought by subsequently offering that selfsame carbon to our goodselves, hopefully having convinced us that, if it's good enough for the mentioned trio, it's good enough for us.

bespoked bristol and the north american handmade bicycle show are the ideal antidotes to that.

it's a somewhat salutory fact that my journey south to bristol for the 2013 edition of bespoked took almost as long as my trip to sacramento last year for the longer-running american equivalent; nahbs. that, however, is my concern, due to my choice of transport; maybe it's good that i approached both exhibits from a similar length of travel to better appreciate their distinctions and commonalities from a similar standpoint. it is also heartening to state that the world of the bicycle is as warm and friendly no matter to which hotel on which side of the atlantic you may stray at journey's end.

bespoked bristol

for while i stood dutifully in line to check-in, those i stood behind were the folks from mosquito bikes, and the french gentleman on a mobile phone who i had passed while making my way to reception turned out to be remi clermont of french cycle clothing par excellence cafe du cycliste.

it's a small world indeed.

isambard kingdom brunel built a rather fine station in bristol's temple meads, so fine in fact, that it not only still stands today, but offers a particularly elegant location for a handmade bicycle show. of course, the railway lines have been filled in and brought up to level with what were once the platforms, and the soot and grime that were once features of the steam age have been scrubbed away to allow clear view of the building's internal arches and architecture. within this considerable space were crammed displays by some of the finest bicycle frame builders this side of the atlantic, accompanied by those who offer many decorous accoutrements for cycling's participants. as well as, notably, those who offer the very fabric from which the frames can be hewn. both columbus and reynolds had tables occupiied by examples of their steel finery.

bespoked bristol

and i mention in passing only for irony, that the winner of a reynolds tubeset in one of the exhibition's honours list, was a maker of wooden bicycle frames.

as the crow flies or the citylink bus travels, scotland's shand cycles are undoubtedly the nearest to being what i might term my local builder, yet the irony only hangs around in bristol's atmosphere that it took my very long trip to that city to meet shand's steven and russell for the first time. the interweb and telephone have, until this weekend, filled the necessitous gap. the same must also be said regarding several others whose acquaintance i made for the first time; the aforementioned remi and several whose lives i have infested via my insidious twitter account.

if i may, at this point, i'd also like to say thank you to all those who rose from the multitudes to say hello as i wandered aimlessly for more hours than is truly seemly for one supposedly in charge of their own destiny. you made an old man very happy, and not just a little abashed.

bespoked bristol merenyi frame

i have no intention of relating the 2013 edition of bespoked stand by stand and component by component. there will likely be other web-based pixels far better equipped to do so than i. i make this judgment purely on the number of long-lensed cameras in evidence that made my little blue lumix appear rather juvenile by comparison. however, fortuitousness in the face of my predilection for conversing way longer than truly ideal was aided and abetted by the positioning of the shand cycles stand right inside the main entrance. however, parochial in intent, it is a comfort to hear two scottish accents on one's first visit to brunel's railway masterpiece.

bespoked bristol

those scottish accents had, on this weekend, cause for celebration, evinced by a bottle of champagne, tunnocks caramel wafers and a rosette pinned to the front wheel of their variation on the stoater, a bicycle that won the best offroad award at friday evening's prize-giving. irony did not miss out on this situation either, given that the stoater is not even their mountain bike frame (an example of which sat adjacent).

the atmosphere pervading bespoked is remarkably akin to that i experienced at nahbs last march in sacramento, a show that has a head start in years, but not necessarily in innovation. i have promised not to offer a blow-by-blow account, but i do think it worth mentioning the framework of daniel merenyi, an hungarian framebuilder of three-years standing, but with a reputation and skillset greatly enhanced by having served an apprenticeship with the irrepressible dario pegoretti. the lugwork, build and paint quality were more than simply admirable. a brief conversation with him on friday evening over a bite to eat, gave considerable credence to his tenacity in spite of his hungarian domicile; hardly the most conducive location in which to assemble bicycle frames and achieve quality control over contracted-out paintwork.

bespoked bristol loopwheels

for this reason, he's about to bring the latter in-house this year. merenyi frames are available via mosquito bikes.

neither was technical innovation absent from brunel's old station. the intriguingly named and constructed loopwheels consisted of a twenty inch rim acquired prior to any spoke drillings and subsequently fastened to the hub by means of three carbon loops. the reasoning behind this is as remarkably astute as it is clever, offering suspension within the wheel, rather than having to create it as part of the bicycle frame. though the models displayed were both centred on 20" rims, loopwheels currently have a pair of 26" in development for the mountain bike market. wheel weight is concomitantly greater than that of a standard spoked wheel, but alleviates the additional frame weight of addiing suspension to the frame.

bespoked bristol

they're currently conducting a kickstarter online fundraising campaign to put their invention into production.

i do hope that mosquito, condor, chas roberts, brian rourke and nick hussey's vulpine clothing won't mind me describing them as the establishment, but in light of their place in the cycling firmament, i think it not unseemly to do so. all are to be commended for supporting bespoked, with grant and claire from condor both echoing how refreshing it was to exhibit at the more maverick end of the industry, particularly in the light of even their carbon offerings being hand-built in italy.

also demonstrating just how hi-tech the handbuilt milieu has truly become, italy's legend cycles offer not only made-to-measure hand-built, lugged steel, but similarly exquisite fare in both titanium and carbon fibre. rohan dubash (dr.d) showed me an example of a carbon down tube altering from a round cross-section at one end, to a squashed, flatter shape at the other, with molded cable inlets leading to internal spaghetti tubes in which to easily fit cables or wires, depending on the mechanical or electronic predilection of the customer. the workshop even contains its own pure atmosphere container in which to more successfully weld titanium tubing.

bespoked bristol

and the show did not forget its roots, offering a similar facility to that of nahbs for new, or very new builders. in a couple of rooms easily accessible from the main hall were two rooms in which those who perhaps had only so much as one, very recently completed frame, had the opportunity to show their skills in the company of those to whom they may one day see as their peers. it is in ways such as this that the handmade end of the order will continue to feed its growth, simultaneously demonstrating that shiny carbon fibre need not be the only choice for those bereft of professional legs and a professional contract.

with the need to leave bristol later that same evening, all had to be crammed into one nine-hour day. justice would have been more agreeably served however if nine hours travel between bristol and glasgow had passed even half as fast as those at temple meads.

the handmade bicycle and its attendant wares, are in very good hands. a grand day out, with which wallace would have undoubtedly agreed.

i must at this point offer my apologies to my friend yoav. having met prior to the show opening, i lost sight of him immediately we entered the hall, and no amount of searching through almost claustrophobic crowds (well on their way to equalling the population of islay at one point) had us re-united during the day. congratulations must also be offered to the stalwarts from look mum no hands! for feeding and watering a perpetual queue throughout the day.

sunday 14th april 2013

bespoked bristol


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that hoary old chestnut

car advertisements

things have changed, to quote a song title from curtis stigers' current album. gone are the days when i would be avoided during the tour de france, a situation that offered karmic payback for the month of may, when i could relate fascinating facts and results from the giro d'italia that no-one even knew was in progress.

some days you get the mountain...

the spring classics are the ideal situation because the civilian population is blissfully ignorant of such happenings. attempting to use the correct pronunciation for paris-roubaix (parry roobay) means pretty much nothing whatsoever to anyone i know, and ronde van vlaanderen would perhaps suggest one of the more obscure wines available in bowmore co-op. come the revolution, of course, all this will change and the lingua franca of cycling will be common currency amongst not only the cognoscenti, but the ordinary man in the street.

if proof of this change in circumstances were needed, i need only relate a lunchtime conversation whereupon a junior member of the population informed me with pride that they had been out for a cycle on their new bicycle shaped object. the ensuing discussion involved the level of exhaustion that resulted from modest pedalling into one of islay's lesser winds. as the mighty dave t has said on more than one occasion, "if you don't like the wind, better to stop cycling and take up dominoes". the wind on islay is perennial; it does lessen of course, but rarely, if ever, disappears altogether. what passes for a light breeze as far as the velo club is concerned, is a struggling headwind for mere mortals.

car advertisements

this is, in fact, the very reason with which i was presented on asking why more islanders didn't cycle when mrs washingmachinepost and i moved here over 25 years ago. i am not attempting here to be blase, but simply telling it like it is. i can truly understand why it is that more than just a few of the local populace are less than enamoured by the wind, but i fear that their collective character will suffer in the long run.

with a bit of luck, cycling, not just on the inner hebrides, will realise the snowball effect. the more people that become enamoured with the idea of getting their bums on saddles, the more folks they will influence by their actions. it is likely something that darwin pointed out in his origin of the species, carefully obscured by the authorities. peer pressure is a wonderful thing and has been responsible for many a beneficial and derogatory happenstance in modern society. it is no accident that the majority of wee boys on islay are besotted with glasgow rangers football club despite not ever having seen them play.

the cycle industry, behemoth that it may become, could surely help matters along the way. those of us who purchase or subscribe to the cycling periodicals whether of a commuting or sporting nature, have already demonstrated a commitment far above that of the great unwashed. and it is in these publications that the industry offers its wares, many of which we may already be aware of, already own, or saving up our pennies in order to purchase. for are we not the well-informed, able not only to cross the road by ourselves, but to make individual choices as to bicycles and componentry?

car advertisements

however, it is seriously remiss in its ministrations. it is, to coin a phrase, preaching to the converted, ultimately sustaining the market but conceivably failing to grow it by any significant amount.

on my return from a recent trip to the great metropolis of edinburgh, as the coach made its way behind schedule to glasgow's buchanan bus station, it was something of an eye opener for this hick from the sticks to view the colossal amount of traffic hogging each and every lane of the glasgow to edinburgh motorway. considerably more than half of these contained only one person and were travelling slower than yours truly can pedal into a headwind. and their clogging of the arteries was the very reason the coach on which i was sat was running over fifteen minutes behind schedule.

you'd think on the basis of this evidence that not only are there sufficient motor vehicles in constant use, but quite likely way too many. yet the motor industry seems more than content to continually advertise to the public at large the very latest shiny thing they have on offer. in fact, the ford motor company has taken a double-page spread in the latest issue of cycle sport to promote the delights of their intriguingly named suv, the ford kuga. it could be considered that this too is preaching to the converted, since statistics will prove that the majority of cyclists are already car owners.

car advertisements

in fact, car manufacturers are particularly adept at advertising to all corners of society, placing commercial persuasions in all manner of printed matter. so what are the larger cycle manufacturers offering by way of contrary blandishments? as far as i can discover, sod all, if you will forgive the vernacular. even in publications that could be described as neutral, and pertaining not to one specific area of interest, such as wired, there is nary an advertisement for a bicycle of any flavour, and this despite that selfsame publication offering short features on various aspects of the cycling milieu.

i have stated all this on more than one previous occasion, yet despite the oft quoted growth in uk cycling numbers, i see no change in the disposition of those who could likely afford to promote their cycles in such a manner. of course, i may well be remiss in my criticism, for i am not in the habit of purchasing publications concerning themselves with the automobile and its seemingly endless variations on a theme. therefore, trek, specialized, colnago, scott et al could easily have been sneaking full or half-page advertisements in autocar, top gear or motor sport and thus proving me wrong.

but i seriously doubt it.

friday 12th april 2013


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what to wear cycling

what to wear cycling

i seem to recall, and no doubt there will be others who can corroborate such a recollection, that at one point in my distant past, the blue front fork on my single-speed (not fixed) bicycle bore a small cylinder displaying three (or four) digits. fastened to one of the spokes on the front wheel was a small prong, for want of a better description, that clicked a small cog on the inner face of the numbered cylinder. thus, rather obviously i dare say, each revolution of the wheel increased the mechanical digital count, easily viewed from the saddle.

i have little doubt that i and my peers related these ever-increasing numbers to miles, rather than feet, yards or any other arcane form of distance measurement. imagine the cheering look upon rosy little cheeks as dad was informed that i had ridden over eighty hundred miles that very day.

it is worth noting that this apparently useless piece of bicycle related technology employed the same principles as that of big ben, though obviously without the horological benefits. life has moved on just a tad since those days, via huge air-conditioned rooms of cabinet sized computers with tape reels for a face, to the stylish chunk of aluminium currently sitting on my lap. this is augmented by ipods, ipads and that rather delectable garmin of which i wrote only a day or so ago.

though i do wonder at which point we willingly accepted the inevitable march of technology onto our handlebars, there is no doubt that a march such as i describe, has made itself a permanent resident. those computeres have also taken over some of the effort involved in riding a bicycle, courtesy shimano's di2 and campagnolo's eps, but is there not, perhaps, a more sociable use for the myriad lines of code that seem eager to offer a lending hand.

i'm thinking maybe, of a device or widget of software that might check the weather forecast for tomorrow and tell me which clothes i ought to leave out in the bathroom for an alacritous exit the following morning. an intelligent yet dumb butler, if you will, that would save me awakening mrs washingmachinepost when attempting to silently open the bedroom curtains to check at some unsociable hour of a sunday morning.

i need fear not, however, for the incredibly perspicacious new york resident christopher mullen, has not only had similar thoughts, but the wherewithal to convert a clever idea into an iphone/ipod app that does exactly that. downloadable for a mere pittance from the itunes store, the 'what to wear cycling' app, offers the inquisitive cyclist the opportunity to choose between riding today, tomorrow or make his/her own choices. having selected either of the first two options, the app checks the weather for your specified location (home, or wherever you may have woken up this morning) and proceeds to inform the interlocutor as to what might be the most appropriate choice of apparel for the forthcoming day's cycling.

what to wear cycling

as one who has stood on the edge of confusion in front of a plethora of cycling garments, trying manfully to decide just what to wear, the idea for an app such as 'what to wear cycling' could only conceivably have come from a cyclist.

"That's correct. I've ridden some kind of bike throughout my life, whether for commuting or recreation, but in the past decade I began riding longer and faster rides. I try to get out a few times per week, though winter in New York can be a deterrent (even with the app), so I often spend at least part of that time on the trainer. But I definitely live and breathe cycling."

though i have lived on islay for over twenty-five years, i've still not managed to get the hang of the weather. wind strength has become less of a barrier over the years, but i confess i've not yet figured out the constantly variable direction. nor does it seem possible to get a line on the ambient temperature, meaning i more than often find myself over or under-dressed. i bet i'm not the only one that has that happen to them on a regular basis. christopher too...

"It seemed like every time I went out for a group ride, at least one person was uncomfortable. As for me, I've been on many long rides trying to stuff layers into my already-packed jersey pockets because I was roasting. I've also experienced the misery of freezing for hours and just wanting to be back home. I've done my share of sportive and Gran Fondo rides, and I've traveled with my bike to various places, and the last thing that always wasted my time was trying to pack the right clothing or attempting to get dressed before dawn in hopes that I'd get it right (and often, I didn't)."

though the situation is doubtless magnified over a peloton larger than that inhabiting debbie's post-ride on a sunday, a quick check of each rider's apparel will offer a wide variation in accoutrements. i tend to favour a baselayer, jersey and some form of jacket or gilet. there are, however, others who seem to manage an extra jersey added to that equation, a factor that would have turned me into a mobile sauna before half-distance. so how did christopher settle on the clothing advice in the app? experience, or simply asking a lot of cyclists a lot of questions?

what to wear cycling

"It started with experience. A couple of years ago, I started scribbling down a few clothing options on a bulletin board when I found myself comfortable in temperatures like, say 50F/10C, when it's tricky to get the balance right. Last year, I realized it would be much easier to automate it and include the weather right there with the calculations, so at that point I began torturing myself and several friends in every condition I could find to see how it felt riding with this or that clothing combination."

the low temperatures that have afflicted the uk over the past month or so are easy to gauge by something as simple as the appropriate display on a garmin, or even checking a relevant website. however, incorporate a near galeforce wind, there's always going to be what is referred to as wind chill where the body measures the ambient temperature as often considerably lower due to the incessant breeze blowing about one's nether regions. garmin do not/cannot incorporate this into their gps devices, though many a meteorological website gives light to such information.

in choosing one's wardrobe for the day via the what to wear cycling app, is there any way of incorporating wind chill into the equation? "Actually, in the two automated sections ('I'm Riding Now' and 'I'm Riding Tomorrow'), wind chill is calculated behind the scenes to adjust the results. What to Wear Cycling only displays wind speed and temperature, but the calculations do apply both variables (along with sun/rain/cloudiness) to determine the clothing.
"The 'Custom Conditions' section allows you to choose between general factors (a few general wind conditions, and whether it's sunny/cloudy/rainy), and these factors are applied here as well, though in a more general way."

a brief perusal of the workings and features of the app will elicit the availability of self choice. this consists of choosing the temperature, wind speed and whether it's sunny, cloudy or raining. sadly, from a parochial point of view, the wind options stretch only as far as breezy, an option that's barely worth considering on scotland's west coast. might it be possible to augment those with gale force for scottish flandriens?

what to wear cycling

"Wow, great timing. I was out yesterday for a 75-mile ride in the hilly terrain north of New York City, and the return trip was into an unrelenting headwind that might almost qualify as gale force! As my eyes watered and my legs weakened, I thought of how winds like those weren't exactly an option out in the 'Custom Conditions' section. Maybe I should've focused more on the ride, but stay tuned for some enhancements the next version, inspired by my suffering on the bike.
"I should say that I did use the app before setting out, and I really was completely comfortable in the options that were selected; options I otherwise would've agonized over for a long time before leaving."

if i might take a wander back to one of my previous paragraphs above, i believe i did point out that the velo club peloton seem to have no consistency in their choice of apparel, entirely due to a lack of any form of communication prior to the sunday ride. in this manner, the 'what to wear cycling' app offers a modicum of assistance via a button on the bottom of the page labelled 'inform the peloton'. this grabs all of the advised clothing choices and e-mails it to those with whom you are about to cycle. in the light of this being the age of social media, might this allow posting to twitter or facebook in the foreseeable future?

"'Tell the Peloton' was put in because I found most pre-ride mornings were full of back-and-forth questions about what everyone was wearing for the current weather ("Tights?" "Knee warmers?" and so on). Social media is absolutely something I'd like to work into the app, albeit in a way that isn't intrusive. So yes, Twitter and Facebook are definitely on the horizon. Stay tuned!"

what to wear cycling

the app's saving grace, so far as my aversion to technology invading my pedal space is concerned, is that all the work is done prior to my removing the bicycle from the bike shed. having clad myself in the advised garb, i can now leave my ipod on the bedside table and get on with the great outdoors. since christopher's involvement has been a lot closer, down to the long-winded programming that surely must have been involved, has he plans for this or other cycling-related apps, or is he happy to put it all behind him and get on with riding his bike?

"I am working on a second cycling app (did I mention I'm cycling obsessed?), though I'm primarily focused on making sure What to Wear Cycling is useful and solid for everyone who uses it. Version 1.1 will be available in the next few days, with some speed improvements and a few small tweaks, and I plan to continue to expand and further refine the app on a regular basis (including adding an Android version). Any users of the app can always contact me through the website with suggestions, praise (I love praise), or anything else."
"All that said, I do hope to get on my bike more, now that I've got a little more time."

currently available for apple's ios, the what to wear cycling app retails for £1.99 ($2.99). it could take a lot of the guesswork out of commonly inept pelotonic clothing choice.

download the app here

thursday 11th april 2013


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fitter, further, faster. rebecca charlton, robert hicks and hannah reynolds. bloomsbury softback 192pp illus. £18.99

fitter, further, faster

in 2007, as a result of having viewed a short movie about the hot chillee organised london-paris ride, i thought myself man enough to give it a go, despite having not only never ridden that far in one day, but had no experience of riding in a peloton. signing-up and paying one's monetary dues is only one part of the equation, and as it turned out, undoubtedly the simplest. there is then the small matter of not only training to participate, but training sufficiently in order not to disgrace myself in any noticeable manner.

according to the information set out at length on the l2p website, those in the slowest group (including yours truly) would be expected to maintain a 25kph average over each daily route, a number i took as gospel without ever really taking a reality check as to just what that might entail. it is a simple matter to reach or exceed such a number when nipping down to debbie's for some soya froth, and even when returning into a less than favourable headwind. that, however, is a mere 30k, around a fifth of that demanded for a day of london-paris, so there was little doubt that a (large) modicum of training was demanded.

coincidentally, i had received a cycle training book for review around the time i'd decided to grace the champs elysees with my presence, the title and author of which currently escape me. however, the gentleman's advice so neatly dovetailed with my own workshy approach, that it couldn't have come at a better time. the basis of his advice (at least as i read it) was, that in order to go faster, you had to train slowly. every domestique's dream.

having worked out a 50km loop, i proceeded to keep careful watch on my heart-rate for a three month period, trying my hardest to maintain 130bpm or fewer between new year and easter. the theory behind this approach (and it's harder than you'd think) was that of acquiring base fitness, a level that would allow me to confidently leave others in my wake, come easter weekend. bizarrely, it did appear to work, and on leaving somewhere in london to cycle to somewhere in france, that 25kph average rarely gave me any trouble.

i should point out, however, lest you now view my superhuman achievement as worthy of approval, that i had not factored in the daily stop for lunch, meaning that we never had to ride 150km in a single sitting. and that munchie break was apt to provide a much needed second wind.

it would have been a very slim volume had that been the total sum of training advice offered, but since i had little need of the remaining pages (so to speak), i paid them less attention than those i required.

the authors, so far as i know, all currently work for ipc magazines, writing for cycling weekly or cycling active, two publications that concern themselves not only with reporting on the goings on in the pelotonic world, but in varying ways, to educate their respective readerships as to the nuances of modern training methods. this, of course, pre-supposes that the majority find this of daily concern.

fitter, further, faster is subtitled get fit for sportives and road riding, one which i think might contain a token degree of self-reference. the sportives i can understand, for what else is the hot chillee london-paris ride, if not three sportives over three days? however, i, and several others i know, tend to use road riding to keep fit, rather than the converse. it's interesting what a pedant with an interest in semantics can construe.

the chapters are segregated into sections, beginning at the six month to go point and rattling through the features that the authors deem prudent for the reader to know. though i do not wish to appear trite, the first sentence in the book's introduction may give an indication as to where its impetus lies "Cycling is booming, and it's not hard to see why so many members of the British public are cottoning onto the benefits of the sport." where i am going to be trite is in taking issue with the use of the phrase 'cottoning on' when used in close proximity to 'British public'; since when did citizens of the uk ever 'cotton on'?

though fitter, further, faster encompasses 192 pages, chapters and paragraphs are necessarily brief, made even more so by the copious use of not always entirely relevant illustrations. though a particular pet-hate of mine, chapter one lays emphasis on goal-setting. "Setting goals is not as easy as you may think. There are many elements to consider, and if you get one of the factors wrong, it could affect your main goal." a bit melodramatic, methinks.

however, from the tone of the subsequent chapters and sections, i not unnaturally think this book may well be aimed at the newbie (horrible word, but...). each section is interspersed with words from professional cyclists or support staff, individuals such as dan fleeman, jimmy mccallum, john scripps, phil cavell, dan lloyd and others, lending a substantial degree of credibility to the authors' assertions. there are glossaries concerning appropriate clothing, tools and spares and even gadgets and gizmos, all marvellously over-illustrated.

what is particularly praiseworthy is the structured approach to the countdown from six months to the event itself. cleverly, the same approach lends itself well to those who are, in fact, training for road riding, however that may be constituted. for those without the tenacity to consume an entire book's worth of nutritional advice, the short and sweet appreciations offered in fitter, further, faster strike me as arrows worth following. if any of the basic advice imparted strikes you as worthy of further investigation, there is plenty of more in-depth information available on the bookshelves or on the internet.

in fact, if used in this manner, as something of a resource pointer, it is likely to offer a well-spent £18.99. in every activity or sport, there is a wide variation in approaches, both from authors such as reviewed here and those wishing to avail themselves of a leg-up to the next stage. it is slightly disappointing to record, however, that salient diet advice ('Head for the aisle with fresh meats and fish, opt for one red meat, a couple of poultry and at least two oily fish meals.' seems to omit any recognition that at least one or two of us might be of the vegetarian persuasion.

though there are chapters concerning themselves with basic bike handling skills; drafting, etiquette, cornering, climbing etc., i didn't come across any advice relating to riding in large groups. pelotonic numbers from london to paris were constrained at around 100, and even that, for one more used to riding with a maximum of six, seemed almost a step too far. many of today's sportives have entries that number in the thousands, a large proportion of whom will have an exaggerated impression of their own ability on the bike, and most of whom will not have read fitter, further, faster.

being a self-confessed crap descender, i generally tend to find a line down hills and or mountains, and stick to it from top to bottom. i might be last to the bottom, but at least everyone else knows where i am. i don't think i do the authors a great disservice by stating that, try as i might, i could find little in the way of soothing advice that might put the nervous at ease when surrounded by a fast-moving bunch of cyclists. practice is obviously the very best way to achieve experience in this, but a few dos and don'ts wouldn't have gone amiss.

coupling this book with a healthy dose of pragmatism and self-awareness, really ought to put the inexperienced cyclist in a more confident frame of mind regarding their ability to undertake one of those sportives that everyone keeps mentioning. and those for whom sportive riding is complete anathema, there is still the essence of a structured yet less onerous training schedule that ought to result in a fitter, faster and more positive-minded cyclist than the one that opened at page one.

fitter, further, faster is by no stretch of the imagination the last word on cycling ability, training and nutrition. there are several more comprehensive manuals on the bookshelves, but many are far more daunting from the outset, resembling the cycle clubs that cheerfully leave new members far behind in the name of brokering a stronger and tougher constitution. the melodrama, however, never quite leaves us behind "Once your wheels have crossed the finish line, you'll be overcome with a whole array of emotions. Some riders are relieved, others express joy, and many cry."

maybe it's just me that's different.

bloomsbury publishing

wednesday 10th april 2013


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rapha bordeaux-paris s/s jersey

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey

the race from bordeaux to paris, often referred to as the derby of the road first took place in may of 1891, just failing to reach its first century of existence by last taking place in 1988. it was conceived as a one-day event over slightly less than 600 kilometres, but different to the majority of road-racing by the allowance of slipstreaming, originally behind either a pacing tandem or conventional bicycle, then subsequently behind motorcycles or the dernys more commonly seen these days in the keirin track discipline.

this pacing initially took place right from the off in bordeaux but in later runnings, subsequent to the second world war, this pacing took place over half the distance to paris, the dernys being brought into the equation around poitiers.

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey

though the first edition was won by british rider george pilkington mills by racing through the night, the organisers had rather hoped that it would be a multi-day event. mills began the race in northern bordeaux at 5am, reaching paris just over 26 and a half hours later, a fact that rather puts our sunday morning rides in the shade. however, in keeping with the velo club's rather lackadaisical attitude to competition, other than that final sprint for the speed signs at bruichladdich, mills unsurprisingly occasionally stopped for one or two refreshments along the way. the other factor that he had in common with ourselves was the apparently appalling condition of the french roads in the latter part of the 19th century.

in a bizarre twist that could only originate from britain's national cycling union, their strict views on the distinction between amateurism and the professional brought about a slight hiccup when they discovered that mills was, in fact, employed as a works manager at a bicycle factory. it was demanded that he prove he'd paid all his own expenses for the race to keep afloat his amateur status. fortunately for him, he was able so to do.

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey

britain's palmares in the event wasn't exactly exemplary, for other than mills' success in the inaugural event, there were only two other british victories; arthur linton, who tied with frenchman gaston riviere in 1896, and most notably that of tom simpson in 1963. belgian rider, herman van springel, virtually made the event his own between the years of 1970 and 1981, winning a total of seven times, though he did have to share this with frenchman regis delepine in 1974. the race became a victim of its speciality in the 1980s, requiring special training at a time when the top riders saw the giro d'italia or vuelta espana as higher profile events. the last motor-paced bordeaux-paris ran in 1985 and the three following years saw its eventual demise as a professional race.

in september of this year, bordeaux-paris will see its resurrection at the behest of rapha, reconstituted as a challenge over four days between a maximum of 25 teams of four riders with the object of raising as much money as humanly possible for ambitious about autism, a charity close to the heart of rapha ceo, simon mottram whose eldest son is autistic. though the prospect of riding darned near 600km in a total of 24 hours sounds not entirely unlike purgatory and one, like george pilkington mills, for which the contestants are expected to pay.

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey

however, the emphasis in this case, is very much on enjoyment as on endurance, so those several hundred kilometres are to be undertaken as a relay, hence the four members in each team. to complete the challenge successfully, each rider must ride a minimum of four segments, with at least two riders on the road at any given time. assuming you have any energy left to consider tactics, those will be entirely up to the participants. however, as something of a sweetener, rapha are offering each rider an exclusive bordeaux-paris bundle, including a jersey and complementary gilet.

for reasons of conflicting engagements, i'm unable to join the merry throng, but i have been riding far and (relatively) fast around the principality clad in one of these exemplary jerseys.

i have no wish to bring to the fore, any discussion over whether rapha clothing is overly expensive or otherwise, but i think it a salutory time to point out that i purchased my first rapha sportwool in 2005 in the shape of a pink short-sleeve jersey with a white hoop across the middle and the word 'mortirolo' writ large both front and back in applied lettering. it may also be pertinent to mention that i expected the applied lettering to last a matter of a few machine washes before individual characters started to disappear in the spin cycle. this led to my wondering whether the removal of any letters from the word mortirolo could result in a word that might see me barred from local coffee hostelries.

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey

i still own that jersey almost eight years later, looking like it was removed from its packaging yesterday morning, and every single letter, both front and back, is still where it ought to be. the jersey has been worn only to excess, and seen the inside of three separate washing machines over those years. it cost me £90, meaning it has so far cost me an average of £11.25 per year, and with what appears to be several years' wear left before it reaches retirement age.

the bordeaux-paris jersey, if anything, looks as if it might last even longer, such has been the technological and material advances in those intervening years. in much the same way as each colnago i have reviewed feels as if it was custom fitted by ernesto himself, a medium sized jersey from perren street offers up the same notion. i may be fabulously lucky in that i embody the very shape that inhabits graeme raeburn's copy of adobe illustrator, however, a modest and random poll of others with rapha in their wardrobe assures me that i am not alone.

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey

the trademark features are still in evidence; the zip garage at the top of the full length zip and the hoop on the left sleeve, though in this case, the latter is constituted of a reflective material that also forms the upper hoop on the torso, just above a similar width of white. as this garment is descended from last year's brevet jersey, visibility is a major feature, aiding not only those on their way from bordeaux to paris in low light, but also those who may occasionally partake of an audax ride in the uk.

however, while ostentation is high on the list, so also is luxurious subtlety. on the right sleeve, in tribute to that 1963 victory by tom simpson are the letters ts embroidered in matching maroon thread and centred by both french and british flags. on the two rear outer pockets and above the adjustable-hemmed drop-tail are embroidered coats of arms relating to both bordeaux and paris. the cargo-carrying capacity of this jersey is worth mentioning, for above the usual three rear standard issue is a zipped fourth, easily capable of carrying a cast off gilet, should one's exertions prove overly warm. security of phone, ipod, keys or money for coffee has not been forgotten, and subtly merged into the rightmost rear pocket, is one for zipped security.

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey

it does not, however, stop there, for on the left breast, sandwiched between that reflective top hoop and a white embroidered rapha logo, is yet another pocket, one in which it was a simple matter of keeping my own financial wherewithal to garner a large cup of froth and a cheese and tomato roll at deb's. there's little doubt that the professionals would be embarrassed by such a plethora of carrying spaces, but, like mr mills, few of us inhabit that rarefied atmosphere.

i am not of the constitution or spare time that allowed for a traversing of anything like 600 kilometres in the search for this jersey's inner personality, though i did manage what i believe might be termed a creditable 200km; unfortunately not all at once. some of those kilometres, due to unseasonably cold weather round these here parts, were under cover of either a rapha giro d'italia gilet, or their softshell version. the latter is too bulky to be stowed in that large zipped pocket on the back, but it was a doddle to pop the other inside when faint hints of spring threatened during a post lunch expedition.

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey

the sportwool is of favourable constitution, needing only a merino baselayer below and a pair of armwarmers to pretend that summer is indeed, almost on the horizon. those regular rear pockets comfortably swallowed an ipod, a digital compact camera, a spare cap and a rainjacket in addition to the discarded gilet. such a quantity upset the jersey's impeccable fit not one wit. even when raggedly climbing into a headwind, there were no rumblings or untoward movement where such was unwanted.

the price of bordeaux-paris inflected sportwool has increased slightly since my purchase of that pink mortirolo version, now retailing at £130, but tell me something else that hasn't seen a price increase in eight years? visually, it has received many plaudits from members of the velo club, and i cannot deny that maroon suits it well. however, it provides me with something of a dilemma; how many favourite jerseys can a guy own?

rapha's bordeaux-paris short-sleeve jersey retails at £130 and arrives in sizes ranging from xs to xxl

rapha bordeaux-paris jersey | ambitious about autism

tuesday 9th april 2013


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