legend has it that irish cycling supremo, and commentator for eurosport, sean kelly, nodded in answer to a radio interviewer's question. i am unaware of anyone who has produced this particular gem of live radio as verification, but the story has been repeated so often as to have become true despite the lack of supporting evidence.
if i might use yesterday's giro stage towards the galibier as a pertinent example, not only the scenery but the alternating thick snow on the mountains' higher points contrasting with dry and snow bereft routes in the valleys was surely something that added greatly to the sense of awesomeness in a tour that has already provided its fair share of awesome. the transition between the bright and arid lower slopes to the sleet bedecked finish pretty much had to be seen to be believed. with no disrespect to those charged with relaying the sense of atmosphere, landscape and competition via the radio, they'd have been hard pushed to convey every last nuance captured by the tv cameras both from the road and from above.
part of the additional joy of this year's giro d'italia, following a successful entree at the 2012 edition are the daily photo galleries by scott mitchell on teamsky's website. a photographic record of each day, seen from the point of view of one with an acute sense of the immediate. it would be hard to imagine a giro without mitchell's vision, and it is to be hoped that the same will apply at this year's tour de france.
a surprising number of the obsessed favour italy's race over that raced over three weeks in july. the giro seems more real in a manner of speaking, and less of a circus with bicycles. but it would be somewhat of a foolish obsessive who failed to acknowledge the greater profile of its french cousin. a testament to just how powerful the marketing machine can be leveraged. what is undeniable is the impression on history, both social and sporting, that the tour de france has made on the entire world, let alone that of southern europe.
it is thus fortunate that throughout its 100 years, the racing, the characters and the french landscape have been immortalised principally on film and more latterly in pixels. for it would be hard to imagine acknowledging 100 years of the world's biggest cycle race, one that has surely placed the word peloton in the vocabulary of nearly every cyclist in the western hemisphere, and ensured that even the most disinterested civilian has at least heard of something called the yellow jersey. wtih mark cavendish regularly exploring the fastest way to the finish line, and bradley wiggins finally bringing that maillot jaune back to the motherland, it would not be stretching credibility too far to state that the rece's popularity is at an all-time high this side of the channel.
though the top two steps of last year's podium were truly occupied by a south african and a belgian, it has taken a scotsman to provide a superb photographic insight into the last hundred years of tdf imagery. actually, that's not strictly correct, for excellent writer though richard moore may be, he is responsible for not one single of these images. however, his eminently readable prose accompanies each well-illustrated chapter, placing each period of the race history in considered perspective, stretching from its origination in 1903, and ending with wiggins' thin blue line of victory last year.
with no intended diminishing of moore's writing and pertinent captioning of each image, it is the photography that thoroughly commends this book, principally through the width, breadth, quality and sheer size of their imposition. the book measures 28cm x 33cm, providing ample real estate to print all the included photographs (and there are a lot) at a size worthy of our appreciation. they're printed on quality paper and someone somewhere has taken great care over the reproduction of each and every image; it is exemplary, even where the original (like that of rene vietto waiting in tears for the team car to replace his wheel) bears a quality that renders it less than pristine.
in its hardback incarnation as reviewed here, it is way too unwieldy and heavy to read in the bath, and in my case was read and examined in short bursts due to its substantial weight. however, it's a book that will convince even the midly obsessed that all their christmases have come at once. it's almost a pity that the tour starts at the end of june, for i can but imagine the delight on faces around the fireplace if ripping to shreds, layers of christmas paper on december 25th.
i have yet to read anything by richard moore that did not immediately engage with the reader, and it is testament to his subtle forcefulness that the text is rarely if ever, totally subjugated by the imagery on display (though there are one or two occasions where it comes perilously close). favourite image? it's really too close to call. the early century black and whites i could peruse from now until the 101st tour de france, while my manifest prejudice leads my eye to page 150 depicting a young polka-dotted robert millar in 1984 leading a similarly young greg lemond in rainbow stripes.
if i am allowed a trivial but hopefully pertinent criticism it regards the cover. i can see where they were going with this, but it seems a tad trite and obvious under the circumstances. i cannot deny that, had i seen this on a (large) bookshelf, i would most probably have overlooked it. certainly, i probably shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but it is a recognised fact that this is precisely how many of us choose which to buy. the back is even worse, consisting of a montage featuring six rather randomly chosen images. for what it's worth, i'd have chosen the image on page 219 for the front, and that on page 17 for the back.
to argue the point, you'll have to buy the book.
in recognition of those 100 years, the bookshelves will no doubt be full to overflowing with various tributes (i am currently reading an excellent compendium of will fotheringham tour articles) but this ranks amongst the very finest. thirty pounds may seem rather a lot to pay for any book, but believe me, i'd venture that you get far more than you pay for.
monday 20th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there are no roundabouts on islay. nor are there any traffic lights (except during road works, occasionally), nor pedestrian crossings. neither are there any dual carriageways, and i can't say i recall seeing any give way signs. therefore, those who learn to drive on the island do not have to contend with many of the obstacles that might cause untold grief for their mainland counterparts. however, on the basis that water always finds its own level, there is more than just the odd obstacle to test the mettle of the learner driver on this side of the water.
i'm thinking principally of sheep, mostly because on today's travail around at least a portion of the principality, i found myself on a single track road with mum and her lamb between me and a learner driver heading in the opposite direction. i have always found it a safe and considerate move to pop into the nearest passing place for any approaching vehicle, assuming its closer to me than to them. sheep, however, are rarely quite so aware, and for them, the presence of an 'l' plate on the bonnet is of little or no consequence.
it is not, as you may infer, purely woolly creatures that might scare the learner; cattle and the very presence of passing places have their part to play too, not to mention the existence of ditches on either side of the roads. add to that the salient fact that many a visitor seems not to be educated as to the prescient use of said passing places, and suddenly pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and roundabouts seem of little significance.
you may well be impressed that such observations, though not totally restricted to today's ride, can be brought to mind while entertaining yet another soaking at the hands of the month of may. with the islay whisky festival but six days away, this ought to be amongst our finest months, demonstrating the width and breadth of our hebridean landscape illuminated by a scorching sun, blue skies and nary a breeze to lessen the caribbean effect. sadly, summer appears to have happened on friday of last week, when it was seemly and warm enough to ride in short sleeves and in shorts rather than bibtights or bib-threequarters. saturday did not return the favour, though it's as well to be prepared just in case it happens again.
such preparation affects not only the choice of wardrobe for the day, as sartorial elegance, in the grand scheme of things, is perhaps of minor importance. as i have reiterated on several previous occasions, living on the edge of the atlantic has its benefits and disbenefits, one of the latter being a plethora of salt-infused air and, by implication, rain. in a similar manner to that of oxygen, it is barely noticeable at point of use, but leave the bicycle in the shed for more than a few days, and suddenly that once shiny sram chain has less shine and more than a little orange hued ferrous oxide.
if i were as pernickety as i pretend to be, each and every ride would see a dousing of chain cleaner applied, dried and a subsequent dripping of an appropriate lubricant to each and every link. you'd know i was fibbing if i were to attest that this is indeed the perpetual post-ride deed. what is far more likely and believable is that i run inside, more than keen to disrobe and nab a hot shower, any thoughts of chain lubricating far from front and centre.
however, i am all too well aware, as are most of you, that ignoring the facts will only come back to bite me, and considering the current spate of rainy days, it seems only right and proper to use hippo technology. the latter animal, despite its inherent size and lumbering gait, seems content to spend most of its life clothed in mud without apparently suffering any untoward effects. just the sort of technology we'd like to clothe our chains in.
the chaps at purple harry have issued two distinct chain lubes: wet and dry, rather tautologically offering protection for both instances of climate. this is not to say that purple harry dry lube will take fright should it be hit by precipitation, but for weather such as that regularly experienced on not just scotland's west coast, the wet lube seemed the ideal starting point.
by sheer coincidence (so i would have you believe), the cielo received its new ten-speed sram chain on the very day that my selection of purple harry lubes appeared, replete with that all-important hippo technology. i've been running the wet lube for almost a month now, and not exactly giving it a holiday considering the regular downpours that have invaded our shores. work has ensured that on occasion, the bicycle has been left all on its own for more than just a day, yet none of that infernal rust has had the temerity to discolour its sheen.
i have been conscientious in my application, as indeed i am with every chain oiling session, and it is much to purple harry's credit that, on the rare occasion the wind drops sufficiently to allow audible checking, that chain offers up an almost silent purr. should the weather ever find it in its heart to retain that precipitation at a suitable height, preferably over somewhere else, i will investigate the properties of purple harry's dry lube.
rest assured, i will tell all should it come to pass.
purple harry's uk manufactured wet or dry lubes retail at £6.99 for a 125ml applicator bottle, allowing precise placement of each drop of lube.
sunday 19th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i find the current series of doctor who to be somewhat trite. gone are the halcyon days of yore when a level of tension could be inculcated over the space of three episodes. thus when one week's episode ended on a cliffhanger, there was great incentive to watch the following episodes. nowadays, every adventure seems to be contained within a single episode, yet everyone knows you can't possibly defeat the cybermen in under forty-five minutes. pure fantasy.
however, one nugget of wisdom that i have retained from my early years of watching dumbstruck as that blue police box appeared as if from nowhere, now has even more resonance than when first heard. sadly, i cannot even remember which particular doctor it was that informed as such. the phrase "there's no point in being grown up if you can't be a child sometime" has had umpteen opportunities to fit into my daily routine. many's the time i have realised that, in fact, i have no idea what it is i want to do when i grow up.
this is a situation that has dogged me since my art college days, when i queued midst several hundred kids to watch a showing of the jungle book at the local cinema. nowadays it's easier to hide a delight in playing with lego. as mrs washingmachinepost plies her trade as a child-minder, there's always a considerable number of bricks strewn all across the floor, and at least two kids eager for my assistance to build some form of anonymous contruction.
but we are all grown-ups (allegedly) and socially banned from playing with toys. banned, that is, unless the toys relate in some way to our cycling obsession. which is pretty much where le petit peloton enters the situation, the province of chris baird and, as the name indicates, selling a range of miniature cycle figures on their miniature bicycles. anonymity is not the name of the game, for all of le petit peloton figures are verisimilitudes of anquetil, poulidor, lemond, wiggo et al. these are absolutely ideal for decorating the mantlepiece, as indeed i have done.
but surely, with all these childlike tendencies running amok in the peloton, we'd all have heard of le petit peloton, and been regularly discussing the authenticity of its figures on the sunday ride. how come we've never heard of them?
"I only started selling as Le Petit Peloton last year," said lpp proprietor, chris baird. "I had been selling on ebay as callum6250, but always said Le petit Peloton in my sales and thought that I rather liked the name. It was my son's idea to start it all. I decided to try and get a website up and running, though I had messages from Etsy every time I logged out of Paypal and thought perhaps I would try that. I'm still trying to get a website of my own up and running and should do later this year."
how long has chris been offering the little bike riders? "I started quite a few years back selling odd one. I was more a collector then, but I guess I have been doing it now for four or five years on e-bay."
little cycle figures have popped up on my timeline every now and again; there was even a book featuring photos of the little blighters in the rouleur bookshop. but they were of an anonymous answering, though beautifully painted and idyllic in their miniature landscapes. alternatively, one would come across unpainted figures ready and waiting for the tins of humbrol and very fine sable brushes. unfortunately, i fear i do not own the level of patience or application that would allow me the luxury of painting my own.
le petiti peloton figures are part painted and part decorated with miniature decals to create the appropriate famous character from the present or past. how does chris create the decals featured on many of his figures? "That's the time consuming part. I get info from French websites on the Tour, and then use Paint or Corel draw to create the decal.These are water-based and come in sheets A4 size. It probably takes a day to create a page.
"I am always looking for ways to improve this. I did try using foil backed decal paper, but it was expensive and I'd to use a hair drier to fix them. They looked good, but were a real pain to fix.The water-based ones allow time to move them and then seal with decal fix. I love creating new ones. I have done every legend from Anquetil to Zoetemelk over the years."
as attested to above, while i'm more than equal to the task of trying valiantly to fit new cables into sti or double-tap units, the notion of attempting to fit tiny advertising logos onto tiny cyclists is not one that holds great appeal. on the evidence of the three le petit peloton figures that sit before me, chris seems particularly adept at this process. is it a particularly onerous task?
"Painting is the easy part. Decals, as I said above, take the time. I am only ever happy with a figure for about ten minutes, then I'm thinking 'how can I improve on this'."
slackers such as myself find solace in writing endless diatribes about all and pelotonic sundry as a way of identifying myself more closely with the cycling machine. others have found other means; volunteering as a race marshall, fixing bicycles, leading tours or working for a cycling company in one capacity or another. what prompted chris to enter this particular corner of the cycling world?
"I bought a figure of Louison Bobet when in France It was a lead one which, as you know, can no longer be offered for health reasons. I still have the figure and love it. I bought a few more 1/43 scale in metal. (The ones you have are 1/32 scale). I then began collecting them, finding a guy in France who sold unpainted ones. So I decided to give it a go, though mainly for myself.
"Then people saw them and asked if I would paint them some too. As I got better and better at it, my son suggested selling a few on ebay, which I did, though it didn't take long for someone to copy everything I did. At first it was flattering as they only copied the ones that sold for the highest prices. I have to laugh at one guy as he has often captioned his as 'Rare figure' or Tom Simpson in British champion's jersey. They're not rare; I always have over 200 unpainted examples, and we both know Tom was never British champion.
The jersey he got wrong was the 1967 Tour one with the Union Jack on the shoulders. I always try to get jersey, shorts, frame colours and race numbers correct. Oh, and he has also copied my name as near as damn it."
i currently have a book in for review that features some glorious photographs from the tour de france's 100 year history, and there are many others on my bookshelves that celebrate the myriad aspects of cycling's image rich heritage, along with those that provide a biography of the greats. there really is enough material already available regarding the history of this most beautiful of sports to keep us all happy even if cycle racing was stopped in its tracks tomorrow. chris's offerings of models of the greats surely proves him to be as much a fan of cycling as the rest of us?
"Yes for my sins I am indeed. I raced against some great riders: Danny Horton, Joe Waugh, Paul Curran and loads of North East hardmen. I loved it, but through illness and injuries, I stopped racing far too young. I still ride my bike now and rediscovered the love, and I have always collected cycling memorabilia. I have all the Kennedy Brothers booklets from the tour from 1969, all the fabulous world of cycling books, and a lot more books from way back.
"I also still have hundreds of magazines from the seventies. Then I started to collect videos and dvds of races, which soon developed into a serious hobby. I now have over thousand of those. Tours from 40s, all the classics and some rare races. I used to trade (swap) all over the world without any money ever changing hands. That was great, because I chatted to loads of people from all over the world.
"I fell out of love with cycling in the late nineties, but still watched some races. Now I love it again and more so since starting to ride my bike again. I remember when Cav won Schelderprijs a friend sent me the dvd and I wanted to ride my bike again. The start of great things for British cycling.
"I'm also a lover of Italian bikes and have a Battaglin and a Pinarello Dogma (Fassa Bortolo, not Sky). I recently bought a Merckx and it's a fabulous bike, the most comfortable I have ever ridden. Bikes have changed so much from my racing years with precise gears and clipless pedals. My race bike was a Duralinox, and my first was a Peugeot, however, I always wanted a Colnago.
"I also have a few retro jerseys from Prendas and a Belgian company. I still have my old Skil top that I'll probably never fit into again. I got that out of the Comic from a Belgium supplier. My favourite is a St Raphael Gitane Campagnolo one, often seen out and about in the wilds of Wannie."
many of us are besotted with the nineteen fifties, the era of coppi, bartali and easing into the domination of frenchman, jacques anquetil, while others enjoy the competition of the nineteen eighties and possibly even the nineties. others are happy to wear clothing with a target applied and that thin blue line, or perhaps some nice laminated flooring. considering his deep involvement in the art of reproduction of many of those, does chris baird have a favoured era or cyclist amongst those on le petiti peloton?
"I love doing the older legends, but I do like the new ones too, though I'm not too keen on helmets, as they make them all look the same. I am, however, a big fan of Sean Kelly, Robert Millar, Greg Lemond, Laurent Fignon, so I figure that era is probably my favourite. I raced around that time myself . I do like doing Coppi, Bartali, Gaul, Magni, Merckx,and Anquetil, but saying that, I also love doing Van Impe and Giovanni Battaglin. All of them really.
"I have always tried doing something new and not many copy me if mine don't sell high. It doesn't bother me how much they go for, or if they don't sell, as I'm happy to keep them myself. A lot of ex pros have figures from me: Magnus Backstedt, Graham Webb, Chris Sidwells and Adrian Timmis are just a few. I am busy doing one for Roger de Vlaeminck, three for Stephen Roche and one of Robert Millar. It's funny; I used to be a good goalkeeper apparently (had scouts watching) but I always wanted the Tour or classics results and none of my mates could understand it. Some none-cycling colleagues still can't believe how passionate I am about cycling, especially Merckx etc.
"I guess my interest came from having a bike for my paper round and then being a grocery delivery boy. I used to get more tips than the other lad. I then cycled to work every day come rain, hail, snow, or shine. A guy called Dennis Fairlie from M.Steel cycles got me interested in joing the Gosforth Road club. I went out with them and was hooked. Peter Harrison (Virgin cyclone organiser) was in the club and looked after me. So many happy memories and so many funny stories, though not enough room to tell them here."
chris, by his own admission, seems to have pretty much all the bases covered. a range that stretches from the fifties to the present day really ought to offer something for everyone. however, there is no shame in being a pernickety old sod, only content to have the specific cyclist of desire planted front and centre on the sitting room mantlepiece. in which case, assuming the le petit peloton range to be devoid of one specific figure, does chris offer custom figures, and if so, how would the prospective customer go about ordering such an item?
"I have done and will again when my real site is up and running. Meantime people can contact me on Facebook as LePetitPeloton, or email me. I don't use Etsy much as I'd rather have my own site, and I will still sell the odd one on ebay as I have a nice following there."
as cycling moves on through the years and decades, new riders come along, and retiring ones enter the annals of cycling history, providing pretty much an endless supply of inspiration for le petiti peloton. however, some folks are content to continue in the way they have a for years, with no great desire to increase the stock or workload. is chris happy to continue with his current range, or has he plans for future expansion?
"I do have plans to expand, and will do once my site is up and running. I am busy doing stuff for a local bike shop and cafe, as they want a few displays. I am always trying to improve and offer new things, but I'll probably never be happy. That keeps you on your toes."
there's no time like the present for giving in to that inner child. though chris's figures are not toys in the accepted sense of the word, try telling the mrs that. however, they're not particularly expensive (actually, they're not expensive at all, starting at £8 each) so i think it only fair that you treat yourself immediately.
saturday 18th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm going to spend the next paragraph or two telling you something you already know, something i've mentioned on more than one occasion prior to now. sometimes i just can't help repeating myself; good news often deserves repetition.
i am, of course, referring to the wiggo effect, the rapid bout of enthusiasm that has ensued after the 2012 annus mirabilis. this has reputedly resulted in not only an increase in cycle sales, but a more positive attitude towards cycle sport too. at least, cycle sport that features either sir brad or possibly chris froome. when sky's rigoberto uran won a stage of the giro d'italia this past week, radio four's today programme sports news simply reported that bradley was still sitting in fourth place behind vincenzo niabali (sic). so obviously the enthusiasm doesn't stretch as far as other members of sir dave's band of merry men.
as naysayers of anything that might indicate a newfound positivity regarding matters of the peloton, there are already those amongst us who are eagerly sitting and waiting to see how long the bubble lasts. some folks manage to find negativity in every situation. but within the past two weeks, i have been contacted by three acquaintances, eager to adopt the pelotonic cape, for advice regarding mode of apparel and perhaps more specifically, appropriate frame sizing.
it brings a warm glow to my cleats.
we must remember, however, that despite our mantle of pain and suffering, coupled with a respect and fondness for the rich heritage owned by the most beautiful of sports, that not all live in thrall to the vitesses demonstrated on the roads of belgium, france, italy and spain. for many, these are unwarranted excesses that hold little interest or relevance to their daily lives. for aside from the enthusiasm inspired by mr wiggins, there is a good to evens chance that a substantial proportion of those finding themselves with a penchant for the velocipedinal life, are doing so as a result of financial privations.
though a number of countries who count the euro as their principal means of monetary exchange have faired considerably less well than those of us in the uk, it would be a total hermit who found themselves unaware of the austerity measures imposed by governments both north and south of the border. couple that with the ever-increasing but rarely decreasing cost of fuel, for the archetypal journey of less than than five miles, more than just a few may have finally seen sense and replaced the motor car with a nice new shiny bicycle. and being a commercial world, there are unsurprisingly a number of retailers more than willing to accede to their demands.
it's easy to castigate the larger chain stores on the basis of their uniformity of style and service, comparing them unfavourably with the much put upon local bike shop. in truth, many of the former started out in exactly that manner, but found themselves with a customer related or commercial formula that allowed them to expand outside their original domain. as a quick off the top of my head example, i might quote edinburgh bicycle co-op, who started with just the one store in the scottish capital and are now easing themselves into locations that are definitely not edinburgh.
in a similar manner, evans cycles have been slowly and surreptitiously behaving similarly. north of the border, they currently have one store in edinburgh and another in glasgow's braehead shopping centre close to glasgow airport. to these comes the announcement that they are to open a second glasgow store in the currently trendy buchanan street, prospering while the surely more famous sauchiehall street offers a growing population of empty shopfronts.
in the light of all i have trailed above, it seemed not a particularly inept question to ask of evans, more specifically mike hedgecox, the company's people and stores director, why they figured now was an apposite time to open a second glasgow store. "We're continuing to expand across the UK, and Glasgow represents a large market for cycling and therefore for Evans Cycles. With last year's opening in Edinburgh, we have high confidence in the success of our two stores in Scotland and the potential for more."
though the reasons i am writing a cycling blog rather than running a large national retail operation are likely manifestly obvious, i confess to being just a little curious why evans would think it necessary or opportune to open a second shop in glasgow, and particularly in one of its more salubrious streets. more often than not, cycle shops are on the periphery rather than slap, bang in the middle of the metropolis.
"In our largest markets we know we can trade very successfully from multiple locations. In Glasgow, having an out-of-town store at Braehead serves part of the customer base in the area, but a second city-centre store would enable us to serve more customers who commute into Glasgow from further afield. With our on-site mechanics providing high quality bike servicing, placing our stores at the most convenient locations for our customers is really important to us. This model works well for us. For example, we have three stores in Manchester, serving both city-centre and out-of town locations."
in a brief conversation with graeme obree a few years ago, i put it to him that it must be most gratifying to see a growing upswell of interest in cycling. somewhat tongue in cheek, he replied that he preferred it when it was the preserve of the minority. "I don't want all these people becoming cyclists. I liked it just the way it was." at times, i'm sure we've all been tempted to agree with graeme, but overall, the bigger it gets, the better for all of us (up to a point).
while the misery guts amongst us wait for the arrival of the four cyclists of the apocalypse, companies like evans cycles offer a rather more long-term indication of cycling's staying power. opening new stores is not something to be considered lightly in commercial and financial terms. for once in our lives we must equitably consider that someone other than ourselves might just know something we don't.
friday 17th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm not altogether sure how it happened, because i think i may have been looking the other way at the time. my transportational device for the first few years on islay consisted of an original muddy fox courier, modified with a short, tall stem (those were the days of the quill) and touring handlebars. speed was so very far from my mind, to the point of obstinacy.
some would say it looks like that's still the case today.
i had affixed a cycle computer to the handlebars, mostly to help keep track of time, but also to poke in the face of my few cycling companions, not to boast of my strava-like alacrity, but quite the converse. for, well in advance of the contemporary slow movement, i was keen to show that my average speed was barely into double digits (miles per hour, lest you think me a total slacker). for despite my untold appreciation of the climbing abilities of robert millar and his peers, i had no real desire to emulate them on islay's roads. not that there was too much chance of that happening, if truth be told.
at that point in my cycle-related career (as i like to call it), the idea of assembling a bicycle from scratch, including the wheels seemed an apposite one, demonstrating that i had the mechanical skills necessary to be the sole repository of cycling knowledge in such a small space. these were rather early days, and handbuilt mountain bikes were in short supply, so i opted to acquire a 531 steel road bike frame for the stated purpose. as most of you will know, from a speed point of view, skinny wheeled road bikes are somewhat quicker off the mark than their leaden tyred cousins. this made my self-imposed slowness harder than had previously been the case.
this brought something of a conundrum in the sartorial stakes, for while it may have even been considered cool to dodge in and out of sand dunes while dressed as a slob, the call of the road called for more svelte attire, most of which was only available with countless logos advertising products i'd never heard of. this mode of apparel brought with it certain attractions, based mostly on a misapprehension of the perceptions pertaining to the civilian population.
in other words, nobody paid any attention whatsoever.
it was, however, an unwarranted photo of yours truly outside the gates of bruichladdich distillery, clad in an early example of the landbouwkrediet colnago team jersey. married with a colnago c40, it seemed a match made in heaven. or at least it was until i saw the photo. why the heck would anyone, other than those paid to race in such colours, voluntarily dress in such a manner? it was, to be sure, time to gain a little perspective on one's place in the hebridean firmament and move to something less akin to an explosion in a paint factory.
sadly, at that point in time, plainer alternatives were hard to come by. modern times, however, bring changes that are a tad more palatable, and the contemporary cyclist can virtually pick and choose from a wide range of cycle clothing with less than sporting pretensions. many of these riders, however, are happier to be simply folks with bikes, as opposed to being classified as cyclists and thus immune to the silent protestations of appropriate clothing. and it is here that the phrase cutting off one's nose to spite one's face seems more than apt.
if you consider that those in the professional peloton wear clothing that caters to their every need, rather than to their every desire, it is not too much of a stretch to note that such apparel may be suitable for the civilian with velocipede. you and i both know this to be true. enter, at this point, the vulpine merino alpine jersey
built, as you would expect, with the finest of merino, and available in four solid colours, the alpine jersey closely emulates the form of a professional style cycle jersey, yet manages to avoid the skin-tight fit that arrives as the baggage of the latter. a full length zip meets an internal flap at the neck disappearing into a zip garage on the outside of the collar. and as you would perhaps expect on a garment of this type, there are three rear pockets, the central example of which is zipped for security.
bearing in mnd the somewhat poor reputation that wool has for containing substantial sized objects in any of those rear pockets, prospective owners of the alpine jersey need fear not in this respect. i unceremoniously dumped a compact digital camera, a multi-tool and a couple of slices of fruit malt loaf on their mercy. they acquiesced most amenably. though i am more of the long-sleeve brigade, in this instance, the wearing of a vulpine long-sleeve merino baselayer underneath kept me warm and cosy while offering a certain tailored insouciance to one's demeanour.
it will hardly have escaped the notice of most of you, that the weather has remained distinctly unfavourable for the hapless cyclist. thus more than one outing in alpine mode, necessitated covering all with a vulpine harrington jacket to keep wind and precipitation at bay. it is, to put not too fine a point on proceedings, a fabulously funky jersey. rather than appearing as a disorientated member of the pelotonese sat supping froth, i was notably more relaxed on my coffee bar stool at saturday lunch time. in truth, only the stuffed rear pockets and drop tail gave the game away.
if i have any criticism, it would relate to the collar which i felt was just a smidgeon too loose around the neck. in the hideous weather currently being experienced, believe me, the draughts need no encouragement, though i'm sure were the mercury slightly higher in the thermometer, those words would come back to bite me.
vulpine's merino alpine jersey (a women's version is also available) offers the ideal opportunity to be as comfortable on the bike as nibbles probably is in italy at present, but without drawing undue attention to itself in public places. if you're not relaxed when you put it on, it will not be long before its inherent informality has you listening to brian eno's music for airports. and it's hard to find fault with that.
the vulpine merino alpine jersey is available in red, blue, green and grey with contrasting zip, and in sizes small to xxl at a retail price of £80 ($123).
thursday 16th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there is, according to common lore, nothing new under the sun. we may all be in thrall to the electronic developments offered by shimano, campagnolo and, if the pr is to be believed, tiso, but many will recall the first electronic groupset from mavic; the ill-fated zap. and prior to that, though aimed more at the offroad market, was the suntour browning front mech. this, as i recall, suffered from a similar problem to that fielded by mavic, namely water ingress. that is a tad more of a problem on a mountain bike i would imagine.
and while the rest of us were still sitting on park benches, brooks had patented a leather saddle with a hole in the middle to protect our softer bits. yet here we are, in the second decade of the 21st century, and every saddle manufacturer has a catalogue full of holes.
of course, i'm being a little harsh, for most of the modern equivalents of older technology invariably work a few degrees better than their antecedents. the inevitable march, and all that sort of stuff. but as alluded to above, if these ideas seem practical or marketable, then everyone wants a slice of the cake, attracting the cognoscenti with sultry fabrics, shiny paint jobs or polished carbon. we're suckers for that sort of thing.
none of this is confined to the world of cycling; there are many other regions of the commercial world where this sort of thing is far more rife than in the velocipedinal world. that doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing, for if viewed as a dialectic, there's every possibility that something delightful might arise from the boiling pot. and nowhere is this possibility more true than in the apparel market.
on my southern visit to the metropolis of bristol for bespoked bristol, one display stand featured what appeared to be an elderly wooden wardrobe with two cycle caps on top bearing the legend chapeau! on the peak, while front and back of the cabinet was plastered with photocopied covers of the comic. such was the feeding fenzy at brunel's old station, that i failed miserably to investigate further, and it was only much later that i discovered the contents of that wardrobe.
chapeau cycling apparel launched on the weekend of bespoked, offering a commendable range of products including their own range of skin products. not necessarily a surprise, but an interesting addition at such an early stage in proceedings. however, i have said it before, and i'll say it again; surely, with the number of cycle clothing companies in the known universe, we must be the best dressed sportspeople and commuters in the world.
it seemed a perfectly logical question to ask the folks at chapeau that, in a market all but saturated with cycle clothing, what possessed them to put a toe in the water and join their peers/competitors? "Market saturation does not mean that there is no room for improvement?! As cyclists ourselves (which is quite a key point, as many brand owners/developers/marketeers are not actually active cyclists), we knew exactly what we were unable to purchase at the prices we wanted. So we decided to grow the Chapeau! brand accordingly. It was quite an easy decision when we thought about it. We feel that the good start we have already made with selling the clothing into the market is a clear vindication of our views. Hopefully it will continue to be so!"
they offer a valid point, for even though the magazines contain wall to wall reviews and adverts for various brands, that simply does not negate the opportunity for someone to see a way to improve upon that which is currently available. to impinge any form of restraint based on numerical participation would surely be naive and restrictive. though we're all capable of making up our own minds, what is it that makes chapeau different from the cycling apparel currently available?
"We offer much more wearable cycling apparel at fairer price points than our competitors and we have tried to give the Chapeau! brand a real personality and make it something more than just another shorts and jersey offering."
the appearance of chapeau! as yet another apparel company eager to satisfy our unrequited demands would suggest that their view of the existing market allows for a sliver of a gap which they believe they have just the very items and designs to fill. is this the case? do chapeau have a target market in mind, or are they simply eager to see from whence comes the customer's money?
"Chapeau! and The People's Bicycle Club are all about people enjoying riding their bicycles for any purpose at any level of ability. It should be an unpretentious and non-elitist activity and someone should be able to feel comfortable both socially and physically when participating. These are the ideas we hope to foster with people and with that said, our target market is anyone who rides a bike. Thus far we have appealed across the board from commuters to pro-racers and ages of 16 to 63. Maybe as we grow we will see a typical trend emerging, but we have not set out to appeal to ABC1 males 24.5 years to 33.35 years living in a four bed flat with a southerly view :)"
though the stand at bespoked gave credence to physical product, those who missed attending the event will more than likely come across chapeau clothing via their website. it's not a new sales model, for many have adopted the same notion. the advantages are obvious; the overheads are reduced and profit margins increased by cutting out any potential middle-man. but such a method of selling precludes the customer having the opportunity to try on different garments, different sizes and in different colurs. and as anyone who has ever ordered a fine looking garment from one of the regular day to day mail order supremos will be only too well aware, the photography often manages to make items look far more salubrious than is truthfully he case.
in the case of chapeau, do they intend to be a predominantly web-based operation, are have they/are they keen to recruit bricks and mortar retail partners? "No. We are keen to work with high quality retailers who understand and agree with our philosophy. At the time of writing we have 13 stockists across the UK, but hope to increase this to 25 in year one and 50 in year two. All items are also available directly from ourselves as well via the website chapeaucycling.co.uk
if i might refer to my earlier contention that the market for cycle related clothing is fast approaching saturation, it seems that those intent on entering the fray offer remarkably similar platitudes in order to justify why they opted to join the assembled multitudes. chapeau's captain, luke humphreys, has been quoted as saying "As consumers we found we were getting frustrated by not always being able to find the clothing we wanted". at the risk of raising internal ire, i think it odd that, in the huge variety of cycle clothing currently available, it is not already possible for the gents at chapeau to find what they want. are they all just unbelievably hard to please, or is there a certain degree of rhetoric at play?
"No not at all. As I said in answer to your first question, our quick start proves that we weren't alone in our thoughts. There are three main factors in any product offering: Product Quality, Price and Style. For sure there was a style we liked, but at prices that were a bit steep. There was also a certain quality we demanded, but prices for this were generally higher than we would have liked to pay and didn't always overlap with the style that was desired. We feel Chapeau hits a sweet spot for quality AND style at a fair price point."
with the rapid increase in cycling's popularity in the uk, not only in the realm of the sportive, but just as importantly amongst the commuting and active public, many more are being brought into close proximity with motorised traffic. this poses problems for both parties; cyclists unused to the closeness with which many cars will pass, and motorists ill-prepared for the influx of those employing two-wheeled transport and the iniquities of same. it quite often comes down to a question of visibility, whether the cyclists can be easily seen by those behind the wheel.
though open to considerable debate, the onus would more often appear to be aimed at the hapless cyclist, criticised for wearing less than brightly coloured clothing. followed to its logical conclusion, the finger may ultimately be pointed at the clothiers themselves for offering dark or autumnal colours supposedly less than visible to car drivers. with several others having come in for criticism in their adherence to black as the colour du jour, was this something borne in mind by chapeau at the design stage? was there ever a thought to opt for something a tad brighter (i'm principally thinking of their the etape jersey, bibs, rainjacket)?
"We knew from previous experience that in bibshorts particularly, black outsells every other colour by a considerable amount. The drop off in volume to even black and white is marked. So commercially and with the budget we have, it was always going to be black bibshorts with some reflectivity as a starting point. The Etape Jersey is coming through in a new light colour option in about six weeks - it's very nice! The rain jacket is also getting a second colour for the Autumn collection. Ultimately, we knew black would sell and we need to minimise our commercial risk with this first collection because unfortunately we do exist in the real world and cash is still a finite resource! Going forward we are expanding the colour palette markedly."
though i feel i must apologise for reiterating the point, chapeau are in with both feet against the might of several larger cycle clothing corporations, though admittedly quite possibly aiming in a marginally different direction. as such, it is not unfair to figure that they might have considered all bases in order to hit the ground running. though there is always room for improvement and expansion, is the chapeau range close to complete, or can we look forward to continued proliferation of available designs and garments?
"We don't want to end up with an ungainly and disjointed range just for the sake of it, but we are going to be adding new items and colours as we grow into a larger brand. We want people to know our garments and be consistent so that people know what size they are that they like the fit and that it will look good."
in their opening answer, chapeau mentioned the existence of the 'people's bicycle club', an organisation allied to chapeau and affiliated to british cycling. as attested to on their website, for only £1 per year, members can use this as their member club if wishing to enter british cycling competitive events. additional value is via access to exclusive club members' kit throughout the year. does the existence of the club give credence to chapeau's affiliation to the sporting milieu, rather than necessarily that of the commuter?
"No. As I said previously the PBC is for anyone who likes riding a bike and it's something to which we intend to add significantly more value by becoming a member of as we grow. As a start the BC affiliation was an easy thing to do for us and makes life easy for people who aren't already a member of such a club or don't want to be. We want it to be more than just a glorified email list of people who we can send a voucher code to!"
despite my misgivings over the plethora of apparel options available at every turn, it augurs well for the health of cycling as both sport and outdoor activity that the market can not only support another entrant, but help them to prosper in such a short period of time. the chapeau range of clothing seems sensibly priced and well considered, and in keeping with virtually every clothing company in the world, there are items of desire side by side with those some of us would be reticent to wear on the bicycle. however, it would be simplistic to ignore such an intriguing range in a sport that often encourages individuality.
wednesday 15th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am a man comfortable with his lack of intrepidness, a recalcitrant reluctance to stray too far from home and mostly happy to convince myself that 100 miles round islay is every bit as much of a struggle as the same distance from oppedette to the summit of mont ventoux and back. it helps me sleep at night.
but thankfully, even in the inadvertant service of cycling's panoply of legend and mythology, others are less constrained by their location. cycling's bookshelves are awash with the tales of fellows and fellowesses who survived a round the world trip on a raleigh chopper and carrying naught but a toothbrush. such tales of travel and derring do can serve as inspiration for others to do likewise, or more likely for timid souls such as myself to sit comfortably in a leather armchair nodding off after only a couple of chapters.
such adventures occasionally enter the annals of 'you had to be there.' dependent principally on the ability of the adventurer to string a series of competent sentences together. one or two seem not to have considered that an overweening ability to pedal 100 miles per day in all manner of unseemly conditions is rarely considered a pertinent qualification for a degree in literature. thankfully, such occasions are rare, and in the case of the volume under discussion, not even a consideration.
john deering first met the cycling world's literary expectations via his excellent 2003 'team on the run', a clever play on the title of a paul mccartney album, offering an appreciation of the rise and fall of the linda mccartney cycling team. one can easily join the dots at this point to figure out how sean yates came to write the foreword. yates makes a second cameo appearance in the chapter concerning deering's and ashley's riding of the paris-roubaix sportive.
"Ride along the crown of the road."
phil ashley's contribution to the venture is by way of some particularly effective photography and as a foil to deering's humour. though the majority of the text is taken care of by john deering, there are italicised interjections by ashley; the two together make for a particularly entertaining read. "The thing about Belgium is you're never really anywhere, but you're never in the middle of nowhere."
deering is keen to explain that neither of them actually rode their (giant provided) bicycles for the whole twelve months, but in fact rode the included excursions over a period of twelve months. an excellent allusion to the light-heartedness contained within. the contents show precisely the tenacity displayed by both, beginning at the outset of the year with the coast to coast, from whitehaven on the cumbrian coast to tynemouth on the east. ashley's photographs pay more than adequate testament to the substantial deposits of snow that framed their journey. rather them than me.
sandwiched between this january opener and riding scotland's west highland way in december is a veritable delight of strenuous rides (if you're into that sort of thing) including the aforementioned paris-roubaix sportive, its best friend, the tour of flanders sportive, the fred whitton challenge, wales' dragon ride, a further visit to scotland to ride the bealach na ba, and even a saturday night, sunday morning in london come august.
i am marginally jealous that the two adventurers completed the summit of mont ventoux in provence, given that my recent trip in that direction was curtailed due to the same inclement weather that prevented the mighty dave t and i from partaking of a sunday morning ride (a guy can suffer just so much rain before the point of it all disappears in the mist), but considerably less concerned that i have not ridden the west highland way.
though many of these rides will have been undertaken and completed by blokes and ladies in your own cycle club, deering's literary style makes it sound as if he had chinned you on a club night, taking great delight in reiterating his velocipedinal exploits. a masterpiece of textual conversation.
however, i see cracks in the firmament as regards the production of this substantially sized volume. it is, to enter the colloquial, a coffee table book, encased in large hard covers and with acres of substantially sized images. and while i mean no disrespect to the photographic talents of mr ashley, i'm not entirely sure they needed such a large degree of real estate. in other words, this book might even have benefitted from a more compact and bijou production. if i had to constrain my observations to a single word, it would be 'overblown'.
that, however, is more likely to be the province of the publishers, the marketing department of which presumably knows its market better than i. time and sales figures will likely reveal all. meantime, if you think you'd enjoy a confident, intelligent and humorous meander along some of the more adventurous routes that europe has to offer in the company of two utterly unpretentious riders, you'll enjoy each and every chapter. you may not, however, be too keen on the price of admission.
tuesday 14th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................