in a slightly different context, lance was right; it isn't all about the bike. though it would be hard to consider oneself a cyclist without some form of bicycle in the bikeshed, the modern world dictates that it never quite stops there. no doubt there are many who innocently and pragmatically purchase a bicycle to get themselves to and from work/school/supermarket etc. and literally take it no further. but as with many situations, pragmatism can eventually turn into an addiction.
i'd be willing to bet that there are many who previously had not thought of themselves as cyclists, but merely folks who owned bicycles, had good cause to have second thoughts after brad's victory in both the 2012 tour de france and london olympics. all of a sudden, in quarters previously uninvaded by the velocipede, it was cool to own a bike. and it was even cooler to cycle it to nowhere in particular, quickly and via a coffee shop. in the uk, cycling was beginning to come of age. you could now admit to being a cyclist and few would consider it was because you couldn't afford a car.
with addiction comes addition. riding out with the lads and lassies of a sunday morn dressed in a glasgow rangers top and a pair of cut-off jeans suddenly looked less of a sartorial choice than crass stupidity. have you seen where the seam is on a pair of levis?
it was now not only practical but admissable to own a pair of proper cycle shorts and perchance at least a faux cycle jersey with three back pockets and a zip on the front. the trick is to learn why the pockets are on the back, because believe me, at sometime, a civilian will ask.
cycling is as enslaved to the vicissitudes of fashion as any other aspect of life. you need only witness the fact that already most of the bigger manufacturers are showing their 2014 ranges, many of which are remarkably similar to that of 2012 and 2013, though the colour schemes seem modestly different or wildly at odds with last year's. i doubt very much whether we are genuinely expected to purchase a new machine every year, but every few years means we'd quite like to see some sort of progress from our current model. it wasn't always like that.
similarly afftected, if not more so, is that of cycle clothing, perhaps more closely aligned with a fashion clothing industry that brings new stuff to the market with a vengeance every year. for here surely we are expected to purchase new or replacement apparel each and every year, and even replacements ought to have some form of technological development and colours hitherto unseen.
there are a number of ways of accomplishing this; a recent ferry journey back to the isle allowed the luxury of observing a group of cyclists preparing themselves for the long haul up port askaig's 14% ascent. more than half were dressed in fluorescence, while one or two wore low cost jerseys that seemed to delight in oblique panels of a contrasting colour that seemed to have no specific function other than to stop the jersey being plain. there are many such garments on the market at present, distastefully so, and i frequently wonder why.
but cycle clothing will not take forward leaps and bounds unless someone, somewhere is not only prepared to think about it seriously in sartorial terms, or indeed to take a few risks along the way. rapha are arguably the last cycle clothing company to alter the industry's trajectory with the release of their classic jersey in 2004. visually groundbreaking it perhaps wasn't but the approach undoubtedly was.
and it looks like they may have done something similar once more.
graeme raeburn is a senior designer at rapha, and has been for a number of years. "my brother christopher used to share a flat with joe hall (the man responsible for rapha's blogs), and this gave us the opportunity to present a few ideas and samples to rapha. that led to my starting work at perren street around six years ago."
christopher and graeme raeburn both studied art and fashion at college, having grown up as keen cyclists in rural kent. both saw the bicycle as their ticket to freedom, with graeme "even working as a bike mechanic at one point." chris now has his own fashion studio and designer label, presenting new work at london's annual fashion week, and with product stocked in high-fashion outlets world-wide. his work involves working in technical and ecologically sound fabrics and processes, features for which he has been commended by the british fashion council. he was awarded the emerging talent award at the 2011 fashion awards.
"it was james fairbank (rapha's head of central and brand marketing) who suggested a collaboration between us and rapha. he'd seen a collaborative feature between tank magazine and the observer magazine supplement, showing imagery both from rapha and chris's work.
"we were happy to accept the challenge."
following on from his brother's green credentials, graeme takes pride "in the longevity and durability of much of the current rapha range. i like to promote the use of merino as a practical and sustainable material for cycling use." as a result of their individual work and creations, rapha have encouraged the two brothers to collaborate on a distinct range for the 2013 spring/summer collection, the first instances of which have just been released at the end of last week."the design process started around twelve months ago" said graeme, "a remarkably fluid affair that was a bit quicker than that involving rapha's regular products." graeme puts this down to christopher's ability to have his studio provide rapid initial samples and in dealing with a uk manufacturer rather than overseas. "working with chris was an enjoyable process, stopping just short of telepathy" with both brothers inhabiting the design equivalent of finishing each other's sentences. both were happy for the end results to be less about the rapha conformity and just a bit more about "fun".
since rapha were effectively bankrolling the project, with perhaps only notional expectations of what they might receive at the end, were there specific constraints imposed by perren street on what they expected to see and how the raeburns might go about it? "rapha imposed very few restrictions. chris and i talked through what we considered to be rapha's style and how we might incorporate it into our own work."
i asked christopher raeburn if he'd approached this collaboration with his brother in the same way as he'd approach one of his own projects.
"Good question; Graeme and I get on really well and obviously have relatively similar aesthetics and methods of working. The good thing with this project is that the design process was relatively painless; we agreed on the garment archetypes and then discussed details, fit and fabrics. As we know each other's strengths well we were able to work efficiently to finesse the designs."
as mentioned above, christopher's studio was able to speed up the process by quickly fashioning samples to present to manchester's cooper and stollbrand for the prototyping, allowing the raeburn's to more easily keep an eye on the fabrication process. given the complexity of the fabric construction in the hooded wind jacket in particular, how much did they rely on coopers and stollbrand for solutions to unknowns in the fabrication process?
"Cooper and Stollbrand we're a fantastic support and it's a real credit that they were so open to taking on such an experimental project. In order to iron out many of the early problems, in fact we did early samples through the CR studio. Over the past five years we've built up a fair amount of experience working with re-used fabrics. We were then able to work with the skilled technicians at Cooper and Stollbrand to transfer some of our findings and make sure the production was completed at an exceptionally high level."
the new rapha/raeburn range consists of the hooded wind jacket, using military parachute fabric as the basis for its existence, a short sleeve henley shirt, and a pair of jeans. it's a range of clothing that is more obviously aimed at the regular or commuting cyclist rather than those intent on emulating team sky. what does christopher see as the ultimate objective of this punctuation of rapha's spring/summer range?
"I always think that the best collaborations are obviously a learning experience for both parties; the resulting products should be special for the customer. I hope that with the Rapha | Raeburn range we've achieved this. Ultimately it's a meeting of our two worlds."
collaborations, rather obviously, must contain some degree of compromise, for even between two brothers, there are bound to be differences of opinion or of solutions to a problem. you'd think such a state of affairs would be magnified between two such strong personalities with very definite ideas about clothing design. was this a radical departure from christopher's and graeme's normal day to day, or did he view it more as an evolution?
"We've worked with parachute in our main collections for several seasons but the introduction of such technical detailing, paired with the fabric mixes and innovations of the jeans and henley meant that the project was part evolution (where we were able to bring our experiences to Rapha) and then part revolution where we working with new fabrics to our usual world."
though i'm no expert on such processes in any particular area, i'd imagine that the most successful not only feature a prescient result, but a situation where both parties have gained a degree of knowledge that they were not party to before the event. did christopher find that the rapha collaboration gainfully informed his own design process?
"Rapha are well known for their quality, fit and fantastic fabric choice; I think that one key area that we've all learnt from is the quality of UK manufacturing and it's been inspiring working alongside Rapha's product developers to bring together such well resolved items."
finally, rapha, along with others, have received conflicting criticism over the years. the most obvious shout has been directed at their prices, yet the selfsame folks have often followed this through by also criticising their policy of having a number of garments manufactured in china. it is an almost inarguable fact that currently, the cost of living in china is substantially less than that of the uk, a fact that translates as lower prices (relatively speaking) than if the same items were made in the uk. (i should point out that price is not the sole specific for rapha and others having their goods made in the far east).
for the rapha/raeburn collection, it was decided from the outset that the collection would be made in the uk. was it important to christopher that this remained the case? "Aside from a meeting of minds and aesthetics, what's helped to bind the project together is the fact that the items have all been made in England. The initial concept got the blessing and strong support from Simon Mottram and from that point onwards we didn't look back."
a bit like a laphroaig whisky advertising campaign of a few years ago, where they stated that on a scale of one to ten, nobody ever gave it a score of two to nine, the rapha/raeburn hooded jacket could be seen as something of an acquired taste, both in aesthetic and fabric. however, in the same way that punk changed the face of music, i think it important that experiments such as this are given airspace. it's something of a brave move, one that ought to be applauded, even if the jackets are not to your taste; otherwise we're going to be purchasing and wearing the same old, same old for many a long year to come.
monday 13th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have, on more than one occasion, put my hand in the air and freely admitted that my grasp of geography is rudimentary at best, and utterly appalling at its worst. however, i had rather hoped that i was guilty of exaggeration; that though i could rarely pinpoint particular locations on a map of the world, in truth, i was rarely as rubbish as i thought i pretended. disappointingly, this has turned out not to be the case.
on my last visit to london, i was fortunate to spend a considerable amount of time in the national gallery where a specially curated exhibition entitled titian: the flight into egypt took the latter painting by a young titian and surrounded it with the paintings, drawings and influences leading up to the substantially sized masterpiece. i am reasonably familiar with the works and style of titian, but i confess that the format of the exhibition was little short of excellent and inspiring.
the inclusion of animals such as deer, sheep, birds and donkeys were apparently heavily influenced by the drawings and engravings of albrecht durer, a german artist who visited venice at the end of the 15th century and again in 1505. the exhibition showed a map of venice, a city that is apparently slowly sinking into the adriatic sea. the disappointing part of this is that i had no idea where venice was situated on the italian pensinsula (don't e-mail me; i know where it is now). and not only that, despite having viewed the works of canaletto on many an occasion, i could never understand why it was that venice had this water problem.
boy do i look foolish now.
however, one of the finest facets of writing these diatribes on a daily basis is, despite the fact that they are nominally concerned with cycling (and mostly succeed in remaining so), it's incredible just how much i learn in the process. for those of you with a similar degree of ignorance to my own, i genuinely hope that you learn about stuff too.
one of my learning sessions commenced this last week, a session that concerned venice, just in case you were wondering where the association had begun. for despite the first week of the giro d'italia now drawn to a close, it's highly unlikely that any future edition of the race will stage a time trial round the streets of this sinking city. in point of fact, my learning curve also included the italian city of turin (another location i had to look up on google maps), the connection being the so-called ven.to, a cycle route that connects the two cities.
italy features a total of 4,000 miles of roadways and a somewhat colossal 50 million cars. yet in 2012, for the first time since the 1950s, more bicycles were sold in the country than automobiles. and though some of this trend can be put down to the economic crisis that is affecting large tracts of mainland europe as well as the uk, it's also being considered as perhaps the vanguard of a new way of living.
for this reason, in order to publicise not only the existence of the ven.to, but use of the bicycle as a viable means of transport, a group of engineers from milan polytechnic have opted to ride the bicycle route from turin to venice, following the po river for around 500 miles. the contention is that regular use of the route is an ideal opportunity to promote economic and social development that costs as much as two miles of highway.
the departure date is set for sunday 26th may, and the academics are currently training for their very own giro d'italia, more than likely littered with potholes, the odd puncture and, with a bit of luck, blazing sunshine. paolo casalis, director of the recently reviewed the last kilometer plans on filming their progress to venice, releasing the final cut as a documentary in october this year. but just like every venture of this magnitude, these things cost money, wherewithal they hope to acquire via kickstarter style fundraising on indiegogo.com.
if you'd like to assist with the project in a monetary way, click over to the site just after you've watched the trailer positioned below. not all of us are italians according to our passports, but how many of us own colnagos, pinarellos and other salutory italian frames? consider yourself an honorary italian even for a brief moment and help make this happen
sunday 12th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"Cycling's modern-day descendants in the mass market (Formula 1, Moto GP and the like) are in many respects its polar opposites. The winners and losers in these sports are increasingly determined not on the battlefield itself but in offices, banks and design studios; by scientists and financiers and men in suits."
we're more or less at the end of the first week of the 2013 giro d'italia, a race that has yet to expose the weaknesses of the weak and the strengths of the strong. this is, i'm sure you'll agree, not a particularly unusual state of affairs. much like a good book, film or stage production, events such as these are, to a certain degree, stage-managed. it is necessary to entice the viewer and tifosi (in this case) with a modicum of foreplay, before the second week whets the appetite of the eager, and the third delivers the expected/unexpected final blow.
when team sky convincingly won the team time-trial at the beginning of the first week, someone on twitter alluded to an inevitable final podium victory by bradley wiggins, effectively nullifying the following three weeks. this was, i'm sure, a 140 character attempt at humour, and not without a perceived element of truth. though my opening quote from the second edition of herbie sykes' superbly written and researched volume concerning the rich and illustrious history of the giro d'italia would give credence to its differentiation from its peer sports, in truth there are certain similarities, not least in the hype surrounding the nominated winner.
herbie sykes is the author of eagle of the canavese, a biography of former giro winner, franco balmamion and a regular contributor to both rouleur and procycling as well as recent curator of the bloomsbury/rouleur publication coppi, a volume that contains that which i would contend is probably the finest piece of cycle related literature of the recent past.
that aside, sykes' contention is ultimately true. which other major world class sport allows free access to the spectacle, and at any other time, unfettered public access to the very roads on which bartali, coppi and balmamion plied their heroic trade? any sport at this level, particularly when substantial sums of sponsorship monies are involved, will harbour machinations, competitive subversion and hidden strategies that occur both on and off the road.
"Meantime cycling, solidly on the periphery of progress, remains steadfastly and definitively analogue. Firmly rooted in the working and lower middle classes of occidental Europe, and now attracting a decent share of a rapidly expanding global demographic, it's by and large doing reasonably well for itself."
this is a state of affairs that plays both to the strengths of cycle sport and to its disadvantage. for few amongst those in the grandstands of high speed motorsports or the ubiquitous game of soccer, care greatly for such behind the scenes stage management. it's the speed and modernity that grasp the attention, no matter who's pulling the strings. and given modern society's predilection for ease of access via tv and online devices, many of cycling's historic, yet lesser events have succumbed to audience indifference. if it can't be viewed in pixels, it doesn't exist.
such is the contention of the inestimable mr sykes in this the second edition of his iconic maglia rosa. triumph and tragedy at the giro d'italia. as a resident of italy, herbie sykes is likely more au fait with the idiosyncracies of italian social mores than those of us watching on british eurosport. and though such immersion in the culture has undoubtedly informed many of the commentaries contained in the book's 336 pages, it is herbie's writing that makes this compulsive reading.
one or two of the chapters concern events in italian history and that of the giro that will be familiar to many readers, particularly those concerning the greats of the forties and fifties. yet unlike those who have been satisfied with mere repetition of the facts, sykes perpetually offers both insight and perspective that seem to be missing from many of the alternatives on the bookshelf. herbie has also achieved the holy grail that eludes many a contemporary author; that of familiarity. as i wrote in my review of the original edition of this book (published 2011) 'i have read this book as both manuscript and finished article, the latter replete with its fascinating photographs and chapter opening quotes from gino bartali. through all, i have yet to accept that i am having other than a conversation with the author. sykes' style is chatty, often irreverent and downright idiosyncratic; the word formulaic is particularly conspicuous by its absence.'
since the bulk of this second edition is subtly identical to that of the original, this particular feature remains positively intact. the opening quote is taken from the beginning of what is now the penultimate chapter e quindi? (and then?) followed by duty now for the future this version's bonus chapter where herbie examines the giro's continuation in the grand firmament that is modern professional cycling.
"By definition the last thing cycling needs is for races like the Tour of California to be in May.
"Given (Pat, UCI President) McQuaid's disdain for Italian cycling, it's hard not to conclude that there was method (and probably even malice) in (this) madness."
i admit, at this point, that i have done sykes a disservice by stating that this second edition is all but identical to its predecessor. in conversation, herbie mentioned "It was quite a job, updating it, but it's probably a better book." if herbie has an obvious fault, it is an over-riding case of modesty. even reading this material effectively for the third time, i find facts, anecdotes and nuances that escaped me over the previous two readings. whether you think it an appropriate investment to purchase this as a companion to the first edition depends very much on your level of obsession with the giro d'italia. if you missed out on 2011's original publication, i sincerely hope you have spent the intervening two years standing in the corner, hanging your head in shame.
"Through its frequent peaks and troughs it prevails. It will continue so to do because it remains by a distance the most beautiful, and the most captivating, of cycling's great stage races. Quintessentially and resolutely Italian, it is the perfect distillation of the Bel Paese - enthralling, esoteric and frequently unfathomable."
aside from the delightful idiosyncracies, skill and plain joy of sykes' words, the book is lavishly illustrated with both colour and black and white photographs which are darned near worth the price of admission alone. i jest not when i admit to having spent an entire evening simply looking at the pictures. i seriously doubt you have any right to describe yourself as a member of the cycling cognoscenti if at least one copy of this book does not sit easily to hand on a bookshelf near you. even the page numbers are printed in pink.
the ultimate accompaniment to any edition of the giro d'italia.
maglia rosa second edition | rouleur will offer a limited edition of maglia rosa, a project undertaken by ludlow bookbinders of shropshire, strictly constrained to 96 individual signed copies. to register an interest in this edition of the book, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
saturday 11th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's all the fault of the gulf stream apparently. for many a long year, the relatively mild weather, punctuated by gale force winds and lashings of rain (up to three metres per year according to the soporific ewan macgregor on bbc hebrides on monday eve) has been at least partially the reason for green fields, palm trees and a lack of need to wear layer upon layer of winter gear. even in the times when i've had the pleasure of getting drookit in the search for those festive 500 kilometres, i've rarely been frozen too. after many a long year, wet and windy is an occupational hazard.
but according to those far more meteorologically informed than i, the gulf stream has relocated to somewhere near africa (as if they need it), leaving us to the mercy of siberian winds from the east. it seems almost pointless to inform you that the latter tend to bring with them sub-zero temperatures and large dollops of that snowy stuff. it's considerably less than that savoured by the rest of the country, but largely unexpected and unwarranted on this rock in the atlantic.
over a matter of years, if things remain as they are, we'll all become used to our new climate and it will become unremarkable. instead of moaning about the weather, islay's residents will more likely complain about the exorbitant cost of petrol (did you know that the local carrier levies a 10% fuel surcharge on all deliveries to the mainland?). however, in the months prior to everyone releasing their spring/summer catalogue, there is usually endless scope for reviewing waterproof winter apparel. this year, however, has been somewhat embarrassing in this department, for after having been sent the recently reviewed portland design works full metal fenders at the same time as castelli's gabba jersey and nano flex armwarmers, local precipitation was very hard to come by.
on the three occasions i remember it raining over the course of four weeks, two were in the evening, and on the one morning when rain was rather self-evident, i was otherwise engaged in alternative activities. everything for me was against me.
however, this is the west coast of scotland, and aridity is not a state of affairs that was ever going to last forever. all good rain comes to those who wait, and in this case, the good thing was lashings of rain that continued for an entire day, getting progressively heavier as time ran on. though it caused no end of sniggerings and uncontrolled mirth, these were the very conditions in which a conscientious reviewer (yours truly) throws caution to the wind, saddles up, and heads into such inclemency. which is exactly what i did.
i have, on occasion, considered just what it is that passing motorists must think of me as they ease by on the main roads, for i quite plainly have no pressing journey to undertake. i'm rather obviously just out for the ride, but surely on some utterly misguided mission considering the conditions.
the mission part is quite correct, but in my terms, misguided is most certainly not true. castelli recommend the wearing of the gabba jacket over a couple of layers such as a baselayer and regular short-sleeve jersey, for its impressive thin-ness, coupled with those nano armwarmers ought surely to be sufficient to shelter the honed athlete from the very worst of the elements. as it turned out, that is at least partially true.
the gabba jacket is advertised as being highly wind and water resistant, though the lack of taped seams obviates the opportunity to ascribe total waterproofness. and so it turns out; though i will shortly discuss the intermediate stages, i'll cut to the chase and reveal that on return to the croft, i was utterly soaked from head to toe.
however, there are factors to be taken into account in respect of my soaking. firstly, i only realised i was soaked on return after an hour in what can best be described as a deluge. the fabric's propensity to retain heat while repelling wind is rather comforting in the face of adversity. secondly, this deluge was aimed directly at me for at least half of the ride by those winds i have paid testament to in the preceding paragraphs. the windproofing of the jacket was never seriously in doubt, and it remained just as slippery when wet.
and let's not forget that the gabba jacket was expressly designed for a peloton of racing cyclists, men and women who think little of getting wet through in the course of the working day, mostly because they can shower and change a matter of minutes after crossing the finish line. unlike the rest of us, there are not hours of sitting about in coffee shops, leaving large damp patches on the furniture while huddling round a cappuccino for warmth. nor, indeed, is their place of work devoid of cyclist friendly facilities. so the fact that the jacket is not completely waterproof is perhaps less of a concern that it is for the great unwashed.
however, having watched those endless kilometres ploughed in this year's milan-sanremo, with many a rider clad in said gabba jersey even though castelli is not their apparel sponsor, i am a tad confused. since many of the teams are provided with particularly effective waterproof jackets, i'm somewhat mystified as to why they swapped those for the castelli. don't get me wrong, it's a great jersey, and i daresay it truly comes into its own when doused in light or intermittent showers. an atlantic rainstorm, however, is an entirely different matter.
castelli's website offers counselling as to the conditions under which it might perform at its best, and though mild and damp, cool and dry and cool and damp are all highlighted, cold and wintry certainly isn't. so does that mean that milan to sanremo was not the scene of tom boonen's inhuman conditions after all? the gabba jersey is a fantastic garment, perhaps exceeding the claims made for it by its progenitors, but not the panacea for all weathers that several pros might have given us to believe.
perhaps it would not be unseemly to advise a modicum of perspicacity when wearing in adverse weather conditions. especially if racing from milan to bowmore.
castelli's gabba jersey is distributed in the uk by saddleback. retail cost is £150
friday 10th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i was reading only the other day, an article entitled 'you must be able to sell, too' by the esteemed richard sachs, in which he was wont to quote a philosophy of the respected japanese potter gen-emon tatebayashi. in one of those situations where, when the obvious is pointed out, you realise why it was obvious in the first place, tatebayashi was keen to enlighten, while the art and skill of the potter is all but paramount, all comes to nought if the potter cannot also sell his product too.
it's a situation we've all come into contact in one way or another. many of us would probably love to spend the rest of our days involved with bicycles, possibly to the exclusion of all else, yet unless we find some way of paying the bills as a result, it will remain forever a pipe dream. similarly the craftsman; being the master of one's trade is somewhat vacuous if there are no commercial implications. suffering for one's art can take you only so far.
in which case, assuming that we are indeed the hypothetical master of our trade, with little in the way of sales acumen, might it not be a smart move to have someone to turn to, someone who might provide their own set of skills, subsumed on our behalf? take a walk up renfield street in glasgow and you are all but sure to come across a carefully designed (though often roughly printed) poster, slapped across the box of electrics that controls the traffic lights. frequently these are accompanied by a plethora of other, perhaps out of date posters advertising the latest band to emerge from the depths of the scottish music scene.
though said band may have been rehearsing in a dank garage somewhere in the principality to the point of musical perfection, all is indeed lost unless we, the general public are alerted to their latest (and possibly last) musical outpourings. that's where posters, pamphlets, logos and tickets come into their own. and someone with a natural or cultivated empathy with the band's image and/or musical fortitude has sweated mightily over associated graphic material.
as the folks at emigre have said more than once, 'design is a good idea'.
artist rebecca kaye fits the bill perfectly. not, you understand, that i have come across scrappily produced music posters decorating glasgow's junction boxes produced by miss kaye, but something far more pertinent to the conversations we have enjoyed over the past few years. rebecca offers many superb graphics relating to the sport of cycling, though not exclusively. in point of fact, you may well have come across examples of her expertise in totally unrelated situations; not only does rebecca know how to help others sell, she's perfectly capable of selling herself.
there's no doubt that an art college degree might help along the way, particularly if employment is uppermost in one's mind. granted, self-employment is often the mainstay of the aspiring artist, whether in the graphics milieu or otherwise, and in that case, ability is surely more pertinent to the situation? so though perhaps a tired and cliched question, i figure it necessary to ask; is rebecca a formally trained artist, or simply pretty darned good at it?
"I'm not a formally trained artist by any means. I originally studied mathematics at Manchester University and latterly creative advertising at Napier. I've always had an interest in design but I'd attest most of my skills to a very long reading list of brilliant graphic designers and illustrators."
with the advent of the interweb, existing as an artist, particularly in the field of graphic design, is no longer a case of dwelling in one of the uk's more populated locations. more often than not, london, but with a dollop of leeway offered to the larger metropolises dotted up and down the country. is rebecca based somewhere nice? somewhere in the heart of cycle sport perhaps?
"I was born in Wales, but now based in Edinburgh. I'm obviously attracted to hills."
even a quick reconnaissance of the graphic art produced by rapha in perren street, mostly the preserve of messrs coyle and saunders, will testify to the old adage that simplicity is often the best policy. this is an edict encapsulated in the work of rebecca kaye, where there is ample evidence of a most sophisticated of simplicity. is this a conscious effort on her part or simply the way she's wired?
"Definitely conscious. The long reading list I mentioned, is heavily influenced by Swiss minimalist design. I love the simplicity and more importantly, the meaning behind good design. I think the best design has a strong thought process and I guess that's what I try to aim for."
rebecca's website displays a wide-ranging set of perspectives, offering up work that concerns itself with more than just the two spoked wheels of a bicycle. graphics that promote and illustrate the joys of 'coven' magazine, graphically describe the flavours of 'melville's fruit beer', give currency to channel 4's 'the bank of dave', yet find themselves on display at a vulpine fete. many of us will have found our way, even inadvertantly, to her artistic prowess via the bicycle. does this mean she's as obsessed as the rest of us?
"Yes. I have a pretty competitive mindset, but strangely enough the bicycle is one of the few things that I'm content just to enjoy. Nothing beats riding a bike for letting your mind wander, especially when you have breathtaking scenery like Scotland."
and yet at least a portion of this obsession works itself cleverly by all but denying the existence of this object of desire. displayed on rebecca's website is an excellent series of graphics depicting the races of the uci world tour. not content to merely restrict herself to the more common poster, kaye has accompanied each chosen race with a set of cleverly devised infographics, yet again portraying her command of the simple yet effective. however, range through the giro d'italia, tour of romandie, liege-bastogne-liege, and fleche wallone, amongst others, the one feature conspicuous by its absence is the bicycle. was this a deliberate ploy?
"Yes. Both reasons link to my answer about simplicity. The bike seemed to be an obvious element that didn't add anything to the design. I also wanted to make the race posters about the history of the races as opposed to just another race about a bike. There's a phrase I heard a while ago that states 'If you say three things, you've said nothing'. That really resonated with me and with the race posters I just wanted to say one thing and try to make it memorable."
in the process of providing graphic solutions in my own day to day work, it more often than not takes an inevitably long time and a whole slew of options to reduce this agglomeration of ideas down to one of effective simplicity. at that point, i often wonder why it was such hard work to arrive at so few marks on paper, or more likely within the user interfaces of adobe illustrator or photoshop. does rebecca find it a lengthy process to achieve a successful end result, or do the images simply roll off the pen/pencil/copy of adobe illustrator?
"For the images that look simple, I spend ages. For the images that look like they've taken ages, they roll off Illustrator."
i have always likened the skill of learning the ins and outs of software such as illustrator and photoshop as akin to those of learning how watercolour paints react with each other, which brush is the more appropriate choice for oils, gouache or inks and even which weight of pencil to use for sketching. though software carries a learning curve somewhat steeper than any of the traditional media, in the days of digital reproduction, it ill behoves the contemporary graphic artist to remain with head firmly planted in the sand. is rebecca a hands-on artist with ink, paper, brushes etcetera, or is she more comfortable with the world of pixels and vector graphics?
"I spend most of my time writing about the reason for the design in a small notebook (with an actual pen and paper). All my images are then created in Illustrator (as vector graphics). The latter part is usually the quicker bit. Most of the prints in my online shop are screenprints and I print all those by hand in Edinburgh with ink, paper, screens and squeegees."
to return briefly to my opening gesture regarding the ability to sell (both products and oneself), the commercial artist, in order to eat, must often survive on a hopefully steady diet of commissions that will pay the bills, even though they may have little or nothing to do with the ideals or obsessions held dear, if somewhat submerged. rebecca has already identified herself with most who inhabit these black and yellow pixels; the bicycle is paramount to a greater or lesser degree. what then would be her ideal illustrative cycling commission?
"A series of stamps for Royal Mail to commemorate Britain winning a green, yellow and polka dot jersey in the same year."
those hypothetical posters randomly dotted about glasgow city centre may not offer the ideal gallery in which to display one's graphical expertise. even if the style of one catches the eye on the way to buchanan bus station, there's every likelihood that the progenitor will remain anonymous. similarly, work displayed on television more frequently remains uncredited at point of viewing, though printed matter often cordially provides modest accreditation. however, the art of design is every bit as visually valid as a turner or auerbach oil painting hanging on a gallery wall.
so, other than on web, print and tv, is there a physical spot in which the work of rebecca kaye can be viewed by the appreciative cyclist? "My work is available in a few shops in Edinburgh including Ronde, as well as other cycling shops/cafes such as Velocity in Inverness and Look Mum No Hands in London."
the world of professional cycling is one currently steeped in at least superficial glamour, colour and excitement, factors that are immeasurably enhanced by the outpourings of artists such as rebecca. and in my opinion, they're worth every bit as much as the blue stripe on the back of sir bradley's jersey.
thursday 9th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as i have frequently pointed out to any within earshot, islay is pretty flat, with most of the bumpy bits round the outside. with the notable exceptions of port askaig brae and the way in and out of kilchiaran on the west, our roads are easily ridden by all and sundry. this, i have found to my defence, is an impeccable excuse as to why i'm so atrocious at riding downhill at anything like a meaningful speed.
though up until my recent french expedition, i was under the misapprehension that i could confidently ride the climbs with the very best, any tiny amount of ascending prowess i may have in my armoury is more than likely as a result of pedalling into fearsome winds. the process is somewhat similar to attempting to defy gravity. however, the odd smatterings of downhill spotted around the principality are hardly onerous, particularly if you know the roads well and just where those innocuous piles of gravel are situated.
take the country hick out of the country, however, and plop him slap, bang in the middle of unfamiliar territory, and the song most definitely does not remain the same. though provence features roads every bit as crappy as those on islay, it contrastingly affords many that offer a smoothness that is the subject of myth and legend in scotland. thus, despite my lack of climbing nous, progress was rarely impeded by so-called surface dressing and/or potholes.
and pretty much the same, tautologically enough, could be said for the descents, which embarrassingly leaves little if no excuse as to why i went downhill almost as slowly as i went uphill. it was without trace of humour that i expected poor mattia would have need of replacing all four of the brake pads on my adopted pinarello prior to my departure for home. the fact that all the others in the peloton seemed quite at ease pedalling downhill at twice my speed, while my ten little fingers were wrapped tightly round the brake levers, did little or nothing to boost my confidence that i might effect the same.
what if i hit a patch of gravel? what if the radius of the corner was tighter than i imagined? on some of those descents, the drop off the edge looked decidedly less than convincing. and though it seems a strange thought to be thinking, i rather hoped to be fit and well for work the following week. what if i didn't like french hospital food?
in point of fact, i always reached the bottom in complete safety, perhaps a kilometre or so behind an escaping peloton, but at least in a fit state to get home in one piece.
so why is it that some folks can head downhill with the utmost fearlessness, while big fearties like me give untold trouble to the guides restrained from their more usual riding pattern? i asked a former professional rider whether there was some way that such descending skills could be taught? after watching the scary, high-speed descent in yesterday's stage of the giro, i wanted to know just how such gravitational alacrity could be acquired. the answer was much as i suspected. "You learn by taking your brain out and putting it somewhere safe. In your suitcase is best."
sadly, that is just as i thought, and it has ended any likelihood of my unquestioning accession to the law of gravity in the foreseeable future. now that i am shamefully apprised of both my ascending and descending powers, there seems little option but to resign myself to the role of rouleur, making impressive headway into gale force winds on flat, potholed roads.
don't dare anyone tell me i'm no good at that either.
wednesday 8th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
riders can often mark out their route by means of roadway signs, distance markers or a variety of other inconspicuous landmarks that might help with the orienteering part of cycling. a bit like hansel and gretel, these breadcrumbs can assist with directional motivation in both directions and serve as reminders in case anyone gets lost. though such minor geographical irritations abound on an island with much in the way of historical pretensions, surely the ultimate markings are those eight malt whisky distilleries?
the distribution of such highly attractive features could have been placed there expressly for the use of the scurrying cyclist. there are three within a mile of each other on the island's southern coast (ardbeg, lagavulin and laphroaig), one pretty much slap, bang in the middle (bowmore), plus bruichladdich across the water and only a few kilometres from the farm distillery at kilchoman. leaving the former and visiting the latter offers atlantic vistas on the road around loch gorm, sights to be savoured before heading north to take in caol ila and bunnahabhain. or perhaps in the opposite order if you harbour thoughts of visiting jura, or leaving entirely on the afternoon ferry.
over the years, i have received many an e-mail enquiring as to the most pragmatic order in which to approach a selection of the above, mostly based on the correspondent's predilection for specific malts. however, i have often wondered if my proffered advice ought not to contain a subtext, something along the lines of 'please enjoy responsibly', for if we accept that even the most average of cyclists consumes carbohydrates at a rate in excess of the civilian population, there is a fair likelihood that the earnest malt advocate will have less in his/her stomach when consuming the dram that is as much a part of each distillery tour as is a visit to the still room.
one might therefore consider that perhaps a cycle based whisky tour is an adventure comprised of mutually exclusive demands. yet still they keep coming; you need only take a look at the number of bicycles parked within dramming distance of any of the islands' distilleries come the summer months to realise just how true this is. not only that, but an oregonian by the name of jon losey, is intent on capitalising on this apparent demand for velocipedinal distillery visits with the formation of whisky cycling, the first trip of which is planned for 2014. while realising that the whisky industry has yet to invade oregon, what brought about the idea of cycling round scotland, visiting malt distilleries? is it the result of demand, or does jon intend to create the demand??
"The idea of cycling around Scotland arose when my friend (who runs beercycling.com tours in Belgium and the Netherlands) and I were musing about other avenues for beautiful beverages and cycling. I am quite a fan myself of the amber nectar and therefore whiskycycling just made sense.
"As Belgium is the pilgrimage spot for beer geeks, so is Scotland for whisky geeks. We are suspect the demand is already there, but the people that would like to go on these types of tours just haven't heard it's being done yet. Hopefully, once word of mouth spreads, it will be the preferred way to experience Scotland, its people and of course its whisky."
despite my islay-centric view of the whisky industry, born out of ignorance and extreme parochiality, i am aware that there are pockets of distilleries in alternative portions of scotland. speyside for instance. which areas has jon identified as potentially viable for his whisky cycling start in 2014?
"The areas of Scotland we're focusing on at this point are the Speyside/Highland area (of which we are planning to make a circular route from Inverness to Speyside to the coast and back to Inverness) and the Inner Hebrides route: Arran to Campbeltown to Islay to Jura with the possibility of a visit to Oban."
judging by my having to stand behind a group of four german gentlemen (and it may be the same four everyday) purchasing obscene quantities of single malts, while i wait to buy my newspaper, those obsessed with the amber nectar seem well prepared to spend every bit as much money as those of us with a carbon fibre obsession. i would therefore think, perhaps, that those intent on cycling to each and every distillery placed in their path might well be appeased by a level of luxury, one that at least harbours their luggage, leaving them free to wend along their happy way. is the intention to offer fully supported tours, and in what form of accommodation will clients be staying?
"The tours will be guided, but our goal is not to provide a tourist's tour. Rather we'd like to create a personalized off-the-beaten-path experience. We want to keep costs down, so the tours will not have support vehicles. The clients will have to carry their goods on their bikes.
"The tours won't be focused on quantity, but rather on the quality of drinks experienced. and hopefully our clients will finish their journies with a smile on their face and a new and/or deeper appreciation for Scotch whisky. The tours will generally stay in mid-range hotels and/or B&Bs."
i'm not enough of an expert on the law and the control of a bicycle by a semi-inebriated cyclist. rather obviously motorists can expect a sizeable chunk of the law being thrown at them if caught driving over the legal limit. this can result in points on a licence, losing a licence or a period of time in jail. as cyclists, we are bereft of any form of licence, and therefore exempt from any such enforcement, however, it seems highly likely that the law will take a particularly dim view of anyone attempting to ride while under the influence. given that every distillery tour i have come across generally ends with a sampling of the product, how does jon plan to obviate a peloton with no mind of its own?
"As safety is a high priority, we have a couple of ways to try and make sure we do not present a peloton of inebriated cyclists. Generally, cycling will be first and drinking second. We want our clients to enjoy themselves, but if the distillery is far from our hotel, we will ask for miniatures or 'to-go' bottles so that we can try the whiskies at or close to our hotel.
"We will also contact the distilleries to see if they are able to do a tutored tasting at the hotel. Another option that may be possible is doing the tasting first, eating lunch and then doing a tour."
i know of at least a few souls who experience islay's distilleries in a similar manner to that of a rock band touring north america. they see only the inner sanctum of each distillery and are blissfully unaware of the many other attractive features dotted around the island, not least the amazing scenery. cycling to each distillery, whether here or on the mainland, would surely minimise such adopted ignorance, for it's very hard to ride with one's eyes closed. will jon's whisky cycling tours consist purely of visiting distilleries, or will there be an appropriate level of sightseeing involved?
"While the priority in the tour is whisky, we are also fascinated with the stories and history of the areas through which we're cycling. As such, we will take time to stop and learn about some of Scotland's past. Additionally, as most tours are similar, we will be working with the distilleries to offer tours catering to our group. I'll be searching for a local guide to provide that extra perspective."
we've all come across situations where someone who happens to be on a bicycle, is described as a cyclist, even though they may have simply borrowed it from a friend for a couple of hours. semantics probably dictates that such would be the case, for we generally define anyone driving a car as a 'motorist'. however, there are those who spend more than just a minimal proportion of their time in the saddle; the archetypal cyclist. are these tours for whisky enthusiasts on bikes, or cyclists with a penchant for whisky?
"These tours are geared toward the whisky enthusiast who wants to see Scotland at a different pace. We'll be riding at a casual pace so that we can soak up the sun and the rain in greater quantity." one can't help feeling that the riders may experience more of the latter than the former during their travels. however, without the rain, there would be no whisky in which to imbibe.
as if the existence of nine malt whisky distilleries between two rather small islands is not sufficient, islay house square in bridgend is home to islay ales, what i believe might be described as a micro-brewery responsible for, so i'm told, a particualrly fine range of real ales. as jon mentioned at the outset of this feature, a friend of his operates beercycling, and operation which sates the appetites of cyclists with a penchant for belgian beers. with at least a percentage of the build process for both tipples being remarkably similar, has jon any thoughts on combining rides that appreciate both?
"There is definitely a possibility that we will do a combo tour for whiskycycling and beercycling, but that option is a couple years down the line. It would be a grand tour indeed."
as one of the vocal ignorant, i am wont to declare each individual whisky as being pretty much the same as the next one on the shelf. this, of course, is based on nothing whatsoever, other than the observation that, idiosyncracies aside, each distillery defends pretty much the same process. i have been oft told of the manifold differences between one and t'other, based on the shape of the stills and reputedly the quality of the water. but how the heck would i know?
every whisky aficionado i have met has had their own particular favourite, whether amongst the islays, lowlands, or highlands. this can often be a moving target, for rare is the individual who has encompassed them all in the quest for specific appreciation. so in the interests of having him nail his colours to the mast, what would jon losey regard as his favourite tipple?
"My favorite dram of my exploration trip was the Glen Moray finished with Chenin Blanc. The best dram I've ever had was a 1977 from Jura."
if the notion of visiting a series of distilleries by bicycle in an organised manner that will identify you less as a tad eccentric, you may wish to enquire further of the opportunities offered by whiskycycling. in which case, a visit to the website or facebook page linked below ought to satisfy your demand for more information.
tuesday 7th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................