i'm somewhat confused over the current nomenclature for what we are informed is climate change. the fact that i have had no need as yet, to store the winter clothing till later that same year, is not only something of a disappointment, but on occasion, also a hindrance. check the press releases and you will find all this arriving under the auspices of global warming, yet you and i know that it seems to be getting colder.
how can we have any confidence that the arctic ice cap is melting at a rate hitherto unseen when i'm still wearing armwarmers under my pro-team jacket? this is now june; midway through the year and only a matter of weeks away from midsummer's day (which, by some quirk of fate, is only a day or two after the official onset of the summer season); it ought to be warmer, and at one time it was. but now, i'm sure we're all agreed, it isn't.
two years ago, during the islay whisky festival (this year's edition has only just come to an end), i took the ferry across to our neighbouring island of jura, and cycled the 14km to craighouse in order to get in the way of the open day tours to acquire photos for our local newspaper. despite being back at the ferry slipway well in advance of the point at which the crew told me i might not gain my return to home, i'd to sit in the waiting room for over four hours while gale force winds and excessively strong tides prevented the ferry from making a landing at jura. i admit that, at the time, i was trying to think of who i knew on the isle that might offer me a bed for the night.
the winds stripped the few trees on islay of most of their leaves and burned those remaining. the island's foliage in june looked more akin to that we'd expect in autumn. the following new year, we were hit by hurricane force winds that removed three tiles from our roof and broke the windspeed indicator at 120mph on orsay lighthouse. then this year, 85mph chucked another tile into the back garden. i need not mention, i believe, that much of this was accompanied by torrential rain.
yet they call it global warming.
fortunately, we are continually well-equipped to fend for ourselves in the midst of all this. for fend for ourselves is exactly what we must do, otherwise we may as well take up dominoes or chess. in many cases, the current strain of cycling apparel, while technically up to the taks demanded of it, is showing tendencies of aligning itself with the realms of fashion, in the very manner of the racks seen in most department stores and couturiers. this truly ought to be an almost unremarkable situation.
attend any of the myriad cycle shows now inhabiting each year, and fashion is everywhere to be seen; and i don't mean clothing. though more than just a few of today's cycle manufacturers would have us believe that the oddly shaped carbon fibre with which we are plied has intrinsic purpose, much is mere smoke and mirrors. and each year sees a wholesale change in the manner of decor applied to said shiny carbon fibre, accompanied by not just a few changes in componentry.
fashion by another name.
just as technical breakthroughs depend on someone somewhere taking a chance on being different and not just for the sake of it, technical cycling apparel relies on a similar process. it would be naive to expect the world's cycle clothing designers to ignore the civilian world; should that have been the case, we'd all be clad in fluorescent yellow with distinguishing swoops and swirls purely for the sake of differentiation. and britain's clothing industry, such as it has survived, would be all but dormant if a larger proportion of garments were built in the far east.
rapha's decision to recruit chinese manufacture for much of their current range received a veritable barrage of exclamations as a simple and crass means of increasing their margins. in point of fact, the reasons were a tad more mundane; british manufacturers had offered commendable samples, yet fallen at the hurdle of supplying similar in the required quantity. china seemingly fared better in this respect.
however, brothers christopher and graeme raeburn, fashionistas to a man, heaped substantial praise on coopers and stollbrand of manchester. praise not only for the quality of the end-product personified by their recently released windjacket produced in conjunction with rapha, but for their admirable expertise in finding solutions to manufacturing problems that had to be achieved at point of production.
the windjacket is produced from military parachutes, a material with which christopher raeburn has previous experience, one that appears rather diaphanous but is stronger than it looks. and perhaps in the 'judging a book by its cover' stakes the jacket's looks are as important as the service they provide. the windjacket is available in three colour schemes, all of which are related to the colours in which the parachutes arrive. these are miltiaristically designed to offer those using them for their true purpose the opportunity to camouflage themselves or advertise their presence depending on which combination of green, white or orange is used.
principally, the rapha/raeburn range is aimed at the stylish commuter, not a mode of cycling i'm in the habit of assuming, though rather obviously, the features of the jacket would benefit cyclists of any particular hue. at the risk of coming across as stunningly boring (moi?) there are few better locations in which to test the windproofing of any particular garment; on a scale of one to ten, the jacket eased in for a maximum ten.
that diaphanous constituent when applied to the white version reviewed offers all and sundry the option to see the nature of the jersey worn underneath. though hardly commuting fare, i continued the rapha theme by wearing a rapha condor jlt pro-team jersey, advertising my wannabe race pedigree to a less than interested public. it's not waterproof in the manner that the race cape or hardshell are (no taped seams here), but it will fend off the occasional shower.
the front offers two zipped pockets to contain a set of keys, puncture repair kit or perchance a mobile phone. they are also of a size that would allow leaning against the bike rack, affecting a disinterested yet visible air. though i have an intrinsic dislike of hoods on any form of jacket, this is easily taken care of by a poppered loop at the collar allowing the hood to be rolled up out of harm's way. there's a nice high collar, as indeed there ought to be on a windjacket, along with the design feature of substantially sized reflective spots across the shoulders and continuing down the front of the sleeves. on this particular version, the rear of the sleeves are constituted of a particularly loud orange.
conveniently enough, the parachute material allows careful rolling up (or frenetic scrunching if faced with winds of a certain speed) when unrequired, for stuffing in a bag or rear pocket. additionally, one of those front pockets has a double-sided zip that allows it to pack inside itself (if that doesn't sound too much like an impossibility).
however, perhaps the most salient factor regarding the rapha raeburn windjacket is the impeccability of the construction. to place not too fine a point upon it, immaculate would not be too strong a word. all those words of praise heaped upon the abilities of coopers and stollbrand were not simple platitudes on behalf of rapha's marketing department. i have known graeme raeburn for many a year, and i'm well aware of his almost obsessive attention to detail and exemplary fit. as this can be considered the business card of the raeburn brothers, they have done themselves proud.
the fashion styling is not entirely to my taste, and it's likely that i will be not alone in this, but if all is not to stagnate, we need to be open to this form of visual experimentation. i'm 100% behind this form of development, the more the better. and though in a global market with its global warming, i think it matters less where any given item is manufactured, i think it's just as important that british manufacture be allowed to shine and show to best advantage.
british design, coupled with painstaking and skilled british manufacture ought to receive deserved plaudits. perhaps only the price tag will bring home to the many detractors of overseas production exactly why so many are offering their business to china. make no mistake, this is of supreme quality, and such quality must be paid for, particularly when applied to limited production such as this.
a round of applause.
at the time of review, the orange version has sold out, the green is available in only small and xs, and only the version reviewed has decent availability. the jacket is available in sizes xs to xxl at a retail price of £300.
monday 3rd june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a lack of vitamin d is not the only casualty of an endless period of sunless days. the rust spots on strategic points of the cielo's frame pay testament to the number of millimetres of rain that have infested the principality since around september last year. and the fact that there's still a roof tile sitting in the back garden of the croft, means one of two things: either the weather has prevented our nominated repairer from carrying out duties of service, or we've yet to nominate one.
i'd like to admit to the former, but i think i'd need to put my hand up to the latter.
the lack of any appreciable sun for other than the odd single day up until the last week of may, has entailed the winter clothing being still front and centre, rather than stowed away in a backroom till november looms on the horizon. so scared are we of missing out on that cote d'azur mentality, that when blue skies become even periodically the norm, there we are out and about in shorts, t-shirts and dark glasses.
as i made my way to the post office only the other sunny but chilly day, i espied a neighbour hard at work in the garden dressed just as i described. "positive thinking" she said, to which i mentally added the word 'hypothermic', before carrying on about my postal business. it may have been envy or even an acquired pragmatism, but i've been continuing with long-sleeve jerseys and bib threequarters; even occasionally a winter hat.
one of the small children in the care of mrs washingmachinepost regularly carries what i believe is described as a sooky blanket, an item that she plainly doesn't need, but obviously still desires. my considered reaction would be to suggest that her age somewhat mitigates against the carrying of such a blanket, but even when the weather turns for the best, it seems i still have need of my own.
i am less than discrete regarding my preference for long-sleeves, so in the moment when temperatures have scarily reached double figures, i am caught like a rabbit in the headlights. what exactly is one to do? i'd love to be dressed in diaphanous short sleeves, advertising my faux desire for hot, hot, hot. but in truth, i'm happier in the less meritorious winter weather, if only because i have had ample opportunity to spend much of my life drenched in it. what i need is a jersey of stubborn constitution, albeit enhanced with short sleeves, yet advertising summer as one of the joys of spring.
at this point, enter cafe du cyclist's henriette jersey, the one with four colours (black, white, teraccota and yellow hoops).
the jersey is of a polyester knit, a slightly open-weave, but with a remarkably high collar and a quarter zip. a truly funky feature on the henriette are those white hoops; it is not quite white, and all the better for it, removing any suspicion that i may have been run over by a deckchair. this off-white is also featured on the collar as well as the sleeve cuffs. leave the zip slightly lowered and the jersey takes on the persona of a cycle jersey cunningly disguised as a polo shirt. if i have any comment at this point it is to point out that i think the collar to be just a tad on the loose side.
of course, i realise that my summer aspirations ought to encompass any advertised influx of cooling air, but i'm willing to suffer for their art.
the three rear pockets sited just above the drop tail are joined by a zipped fourth outboard of the centre. all of these have the ability to contain quite some amount of stuff; an extra inner tube, a stowable windjacket, digital camera, multi-tool and compact digital camera. oh, and some pennies for a cheese and tomato roll and more than just a single coffee. it seems that summer subterfuge is merely the attractive outer garb of pelotonic practicality.
in affecting my devil-may-care outward personality, all the while hoping that the mercury fell not into single figures while i was out pedalling, i felt i exuded my best cote d'azur persona. so much so, that the jersey elicited favourable comment from a civilian, and it's hard to see how that can be improved upon. though designed for a close-fit and not a race-fit, the comfort is guaranteed to retain the polo-shirt impression that makes it not at all out of place in the coffee shop.
i'm too much of a big jessie to take a peek at any long-term weather forecast lest it deny me the joy of looking forward to continued wear of my henriette, even though 'tis a rather bizarre name for a cycle jersey. however, france's mediterranean coast may have differing traditions and nomenclature than our own, and it's eminently possible that something has been lost in translation.
not, however, more than just a few welcome rays of sunshine.
the cafe du cycliste s/s henriette jersey is available in sizes xs to xxl, in the four colour edition reviewed, or in grey or burgundy at a retail price of £95 ($150) from the cafe du cycliste website.
sunday 2nd june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
let's be entirely hypothetical for a paragraph or two, simply to set the scene for that which follows. imagine for a moment that you are sat in your favoured coffee hostelry, midway through some froth and a sticky bun. a man that you think you recognise but couldn't quite pin down if push came to shove, asks if he might join you, then proceeds to engage in conversation. he and his minions, he says, have had their eyes on you for some time, and now feel in a position to offer you a one year contract with (insert name of favourite professional cycle team at this point). they've been impressed with your daily commuting regime, inspired by your bike handling skills at the traffic lights, and though they feel that your ageing dawes galaxy might be hindering your potential ever so slightly, they feel sure that, with a modicum of coaching you could be on your way to a podium place in an international somewhere or other.
the upside of this hypothetical scenario (based on a true story. maybe.) is that your world will now be turned upside down, yet at the same time, it will become even more routine than has been previously the case. though at least a portion of my readership lie awake at night dreaming of this very situation happening to them, the life of a professional cyclist has a certain mundanity to it that is well concealed by the magazines, the televised racing and often by the riders themselves.
think of a single day in any particular race. you arise at stupid o'clock for a healthy breakfast of far more than any sensible person would consume. you nip back to the hotel room to gather some odds and bits, leave the trolley case outside the door for the soigneurs, and head downstairs (or more likely the elevator) to the team bus. get to the start area, sign on, grab your bicycle and head to the start line via a double espresso. then race.
whatever your finishing position, you hand the bike off to the mechanic, clamber on the bus, get to the hotel, shower, change, have a massage then eat another truckload of calories before heading for bed. then repeat ad finitum. it is, as we in civilian life would say, a tad routine in flavour. those of us lucky enough to have avoided turning professional (though obviously we could have done so anytime we liked) can accommodate endless variety in our daily lives, offering a satisfying smugness while watching the giro, vuelta or tour de france.
imagine my horror, therefore, on discovering i too have a routine. eek alors.
a strong protestant work ethic coupled to highly efficient software has meant that my week's travail in the pursuit of completion of an edition of the local newspaper has shortened somewhat recently. to place that in more concrete terms, i more often than not find myself with a friday afternoon to spare, and with mrs washingmachinepost still caring for those little darlings scurrying underfoot, the time is right for a few kilometres on the bicycle.
you'd figure, in light of my obvious ability to hold down a professional cycling career, and ownership of the lanterne rouge from rapha's retreat, that i'd head out onto the island's highways and byeways to exercise those muscles to straining point. but no. routine seems determined to impose its set ways upon my velocipedinal outing, and i head directly to debbie's for a soya cappuccino while reading this week's edition of the comic.
i'm ready and willing to admit that i know longer purchase a weekly copy of cycling weekly, but that doesn't mean i can't inform myself by cherry-picking its pages from the copy left on the coffee bar for that very purpose. after brief conversation, i'm off to retrace my tyre tracks as far as bridgend, more often than not opting to nip across to mulindry and come home via the abattoirenberg forest road.
perhaps not the perfect routine, but one that i realised i have slumped into without realising. and i bet you i'm not the only one that has done so.
sorry if i've just pointed that out.
saturday 1st june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
of the three grand tours that comprise a cycling season, i'd be willing to bet the oily rag i use to clean my chain that the one having greatest impact on both newly converted, yet to be converted and dyed-in-the-wool cyclists is the middle one. le tour de france. it is continually billed as the greatest annual sporting spectacle, something of a clue as to its true place in the firmament. for though many of us may prefer the giro for its character and true racing pedigree, it is the tour that captures the most column inches, the greatest amount of airtime, and the civilian imagination.
in truth, it has probably become greater than the sum of its parts, but placing it in any sort of perspective, that probably doesn't really matter all that much. because after all, it's the tour de france.
those of us who imagine ourselves to be more aloof and a part of a self-styled cognoscenti will occasionally heap disdain upon its overblown popularity. we will pretend not to be swayed by its imperiousness, confessing a greater affinity with the one-day spring classics. were this not the case, we'd have no indisputable reason for affecting connoisseur status in the first place. but despite all protestations to the contrary, we'll all be glued to eurosport's coverage for those three weeks in july. because after all, it's the tour de france.
this year, however, sees the 100th edition of the race starting in corsica on saturday 29th june and finishing in paris as usual a matter of twenty-one days later. genuinely, it matters little as to the internal fractions between riders who may or may not be vyeing for top step on the podium at the expense of their competitors or possibly their team-mates; the spectacle will be as grand as ever. not for nothing is the start referred to as le grand depart. this year, more than ever it seems, there is good reason to reflect on the past century of a peloton racing their way around the countryside of french france. this has, as you may have expected, resulted in a larger number than usual of books to entertain the stationary peletonese.
carlton publishing's release of this monumental box set is not only timely, but perhaps unexpectedly rather good value for money even at £50 a pop. i freely admit that, when carlton intimated they were sending a copy of the official treasures, i had mentally pictured a paperback of more familiar dimensions. the padded jiffy bag on the welcome mat rather disavowed that expectation rather quickly.
inside a substantial box, the large book with its padded covers was enclosed in black tissue paper with a yellow seal to keep as much of the surprise until the very last minute. the book, opening with yellow gingham style endpapers, features a foreword by bernard hinault. but that is only the opening salvo of 96 pages of delights. if you are well-versed in tour lore, there will perhaps be little here that will add to your lexicon, as the chapters relate the past ten decades of tour history, from garin's victory in 1903, ending with sir brad's raffle tickets in 2013.
appended to those, in the book's hinterlands, are chapters featuring the history of the individual jerseys, tour customs and traditions, the great climbs and even the publicity caravan. for those still oblivious to the intricacies and subtleties of the race, or perhaps not even sure how the whole thing works, it verges on the level of compulsory purchase. for the rest of us, the quality photography would be an endless treat. but the official treasures has one more trick up its sleeve, and its a trick that is easily worth the price of admission alone.
those treasures turn out not to be the illustrations or the fine words that populate its pages, but a folder at the end of each section containing accurate reproductions of tour de france maps, postcards, caricatures and other hitherto unkown delights from 100 years of history. rifling through what amounts to a cornucopia of treasures, i came across an official salvador dali illustrated postcard from 1959, a 1956 cartoon depicting that year's race as something of a lottery (won by roger walkowiak), an invoice for provisions from the 1947 edition, and even a copy of the poster advertising london 2007.
whether you choose to leave these in the pockets designed to hold them, or put them on the clubhouse (or coffee shop) walls, is entirely up to you. but, just when i thought it was safe to put the book back in its box, the black tissue paper fell out, revealing a secret folder underneath containing some beautiful black and whites from years gone by; ideal for framing.
the writing is functional and informative, by which i mean no disservice to the three authors. the very nature of the project hardly lends itself to major literary discourse; but allied to the superbly selected illustrations it is an undertaking that will be very hard to ignore.
there are already several publications concerning the tour's hundredth birthday, eagerly competing for your hard-earned cash. but since none of us will be still around when it reaches number 200, it could be an astute investment, in every sense of the word, to fill your bookshelves with each and every publication that you deem worthy. this would have to be one of them.
a beautiful salve for a tour de france addiction.
friday 31st may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's always of great comfort, while waiting to board an aircraft to anywhere you care to name, to note that the pilot takes an investigative wander around the plane as part of his/her pre-flight check. hopefully they make a better deal of the situation than newspaper proofreaders, for though i know of no-one who suffered serious consequences due to a mis-spelt word or incorrect punctuation, the same cannot be said of a missed oil leak from the port wing.
and that external look-see is augmented by a considerable number of button pushes, lever clicks and dial checks within the cockpit, where there is at least a co-pilot to assist and be an appropriate safety net.
there are, i know, many cyclists who perform a similar routine prior to setting out on the sunday ride, making sure both tyres are inflated to the correct pressure, that no brake or gear cables are in a sorry state of disrepair, and that the chain will not begin to emit an unnerving squeak midway to the coffee stop. i have even heard of a rider removing and replacing his bar tape on the morning of a ride because "it didn't look right at the brake levers." you know who you are.
it is sad, therefore, that despite my knowledge of all the foregoing, i managed not to make use of same when fitting a new pair of tyres for review. i see the replacement of tyres as a task i would simply rather not be involved with, not because i have any doubts over the replacements, or because of inherent laziness, but the resulting faff always seems way out of proportion to the end result.
you do not need me to tell you that certain makes or sizes of tyre fit better on one rim than another, a situation that really cannot be foreseen until point of effort. the previous set of challenge open tubular tyres sent for review (the parigi-roubaix 27c) gave such infernal trouble to fit, not to mention a very sore pair of thumbs the next day, that i feared for my sanity when attempting to fit the 25c strada to the cielo's sugar/chris king wheelset. which just goes to show that you shouldn't judge a tyre by its predecessor.
challenge manufacture their open tubulars in identical fashion to their tubular tyres, except they rather obviously don't sew them with a tube inside, meaning that they still require that extra little stretch to securely fit on the wheel rim. the parigi-roubaix needed superhuman stretch, but the stradas were relatively easy, something that promised a less than challenging (see what i did there?) task should it become necessary to repair a puncture on the open road. and this is where we came in; my ignoring pre-flight checks that ought not to be ignored.
for ride number one on my rather fine looking new rubber, i opted to take in one or two of the roughest roads on offer. there did used to be the road that was kept for special occasions, but to be truthful, many of the singletrack back roads have degenerated to the same sorry state of disrepair. this makes giving new rubber a hard time a far simpler operation. despite a gale force tailwind, the stradas coped with several roads that looked as if they had been washed inside out, but on the relatively smooth surface of uiskentuie strand, almost within aromatic distance of debbie's cafe, the rear tyre decided not to hang onto its air supply.
there is no shelter on this particular route, and that selfsame galeforce wind blew the bicycle over when flipped upside down to remove the rear wheel. there was nothing within practical reach against which to lean the bicycle while i carried out the repair. despite checking each and every square inch of tread and sidewall, i could not find why the inner tube had been punctured, until i found the culprit stuck to the rim tape; a sliver of wood. had i been more conscientious at time of fitting, this need never have happened.
and though i am apt to blame the wind at this point, had i been more careful when refitting the rear tyre, i would not have suffered a second internal puncture only a matter of days later. you can, perhaps, begin to see whay i am loathe to change sets of tyres too often.
though both (self-inflicted) punctures were in the dry, i am more generally of the opinion that new tyres of any ilk, construction or price point, will perform often more than adequately in the dry, no matter the condition of the road surface. to fully appreciate the performance and resilience of brand new tyres, it is as well to give them a fright in the wet. it is, therefore, of great good fortune that islay has been inundated with wet lately.
i have heard it said that 25c tyres will roll more easily than 23c, conjecture which i believe is borne out by scientific fact, but it's no secret that the professional peloton ride predominantly on the latter, opting only for the former in races such as flanders and roubaix. however, few of us in the market for a new set of tyres are of the racing persuasion, more content to choose those which will engender a modicum of comfort, yet offer little in the away of retardation to our impressive turn of speed.
while rotating weight can be a boon in the momentum stakes along a flat and relatively smooth highway, when gravity comes into play, a lightness of being will often win the day. at 270g per tyre, these are not svelte lightweights, and i confess this is noticeable on steeper climbs, but since there awaits no podium girls and a trophy at the top, that really is of no nevermind. with britain's roads seemingly less fit for purpose after each successive winter, i feel an emphasis on comfort and reliability to be of greater desire than a few seconds grace atop a hill.
the fine herring-bone tread pattern (i do so hate fancy treads) appears to do its job remarkably well, clearing water faster than i can get myself into trouble, and meeting the sidewall at a point on the curve that offers truckloads of confidence when cornering quickly in wet or dry. when fitting the tyres from new, they appear to have a rather pronounced square cross section, one that augurs not well for the latter procedure, but when inflated to the recommended 101-145psi (i confess i have left mine closer to the lower number), the tyre looks just ginger-peachy and performs in similar manner.
after one initial occasion when my negligence allowed the sidewall to flip off the rim overnight, i now make my own pre-flight check prior to departure, but once out on the open road, i have every confidence that the challenge stradas can cope not only with the disastrous surfaces (and indeed, disastrous surface repairs), but would be equally at home in the service of a rider with a great deal more speed than i currently own.
challenge tyres are distributed in the uk by paligap. each 700x25c strada tyre is available with black tread and tan sidewall or all black at a recommended cost of £46
thursday 30th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
kids. what can you do? you bring them up as best you can in the hope that they will inherit some of your better traits, going on to live safe and purposeful lives. you hope that some of the tiny nuggets of wisdom you're able to impart will save them from future heartache and headache. that's what life's all about.
but that's not always how life works out. despite many words of unwarranted advice against becoming parents for a substantial number of years, my daughter, after less than one year of marriage, is about to confer grandfatherness upon me within the next month or so. i am surrounded by well-meaning friends and colleagues who are delighted for both her, for mrs twmp and myself, telling me that life won't be the same again and that i'll love every minute.
the former i know, but as to the latter, i remain to be convinced.
and yet, the portended practicalities and demands are well known to me. mrs washingmachinepost has been a childminder for nigh on ten years, during which there have been a whole gaggle of children of grandchild age scurrying about underfoot, mostly desperate to play just once more as i arrive back from work. to be honest, most of them are delightful in a 'can hand them back at the end of the day' sort of manner, but i cannot deny that they've brought hours of fun and joy in the process.
however, despite the protestations listed above, those are not the real reasons as to why i am a recalcitrant grandfather to be. nomenclature being as it is, the father of the daughter of the grandchild may expect to be referred to as grandad, grandfather, gramps, grandpa, or as i have nominated myself in more appropriate manner, grumps. disappointingly, in this case, i am resident in gaelic-speaking country, where the indigenous appellation is that of seanair, pronounced shate-ner.
and i hate the word.
there is, however, something of a silver lining to my impending purgatory, a lining that may only be apparent or indeed relevant to yours truly. i am not, you will be surprised to learn, regarded as a paragon of sartorial elegance. it springs from the last remnants of an art school education where a mixture of pragmatism conjoined with anarchic insouciance laid little, if any, emphasis on the couture one had in one's wardrobe.
do not for one minute misunderstand me; when on the bike i am likely better dressed than was ever ferdi kubler, but in regular civilian, pedestrian life, you'd be hard pressed to pick me out in a line-up of the young ones audition candidates. and that is where there is obviously substantial room for improvement. thankfully, there are knowing chaps like nick hussey at vulpine clothing who have my best interests at heart, would that he knew it.
it is necessary for me as a scotsman to begin with national tradition, one that encompasses the so-called ghillie shirt, an often collarless shirt that adopted a criss-cross lacing style as also apparent on scottish brogues. it's also known as a jacobite shirt; its irish equivalent is known as the grandad shirt, a style released in cycling mode as part of vulpine's opening launch salvo. they, not unnaturally describe it as a button merino jersey, but both you and i know it is really a grandad shirt fashioned from aircraft grade (tasmanian) merino.
i think it yet again a throwback to my art school days that i rather delight in this particular style of garment. i know there are those who think it only appropriate when appearing in period dramas on bbc2, but i find it indescribably funky. and it single-handedly aids my laconic dress style by allowing me to impose my velocipedinal character on the inside, while apportioning a stylish civilianality to an ignoring world.
up till these past few days, islay's weather has disbarred all from wearing short sleeve anythings on the bike, therefore it was consciously necessary to place a vulpine long-sleeve merino shirt below and a lightweight harrington as a foil to the wind. however, when languishing innocently atop a tall stool at debbie's coffee bar, the innocent passer-by would have all but taken me for a normal person. well, assuming they failed to notice the adjacent helmet.
one of the tasks for which i felt it appropriate to dress thus was by way of mobile technical support (of a computing nature), an indoor situation that decried the wearing of photochromic rudy projects. i was therefore obliged to take with me a pair of regular spectacles and in a hard case to protect them from any inadvertancies during prior froth supping. while a standard cycling jersey, adjudged inappropriate for such an occasion, would offer those three rear receptacles, it was a pleasant surprise to discover vulpine's button merino did likewise. except in this case, one shallow but wide-zipped version in the centre is balanced by smaller versions on each side.
the middle pocket was equal to the task of spectacle receptacle, sensibly placed low on the back to avoid any interference when pedalling. i doubt it's necessary for me to point out that vulpine's grandad shirt can not only be worn al fresco when the weather is fine, but the long-sleeve underneath can be dispensed with to offer a more cosmopolitan air to proceedings.
it is a hard garment with which to find fault; other than that the style may not be entirely to your appreciation. the fit is relaxed but excellent, the construction exemplary and the colour much to my liking. the only bit i don't fully understand, and i recall making the same point in my review of the original offering, is why oh why haven't they made a long-sleeve edition? i would practice riding no-hands for one of those.
the vulpine button merino jersey retails at £80 and is available in claret, fern green, astral blue (reviewed) or grey and in sizes small to xxl. it is also available in a women's version.
wednesday 29th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though over the past fifteen years or so, other factors have crept into the equation, the simplest method of gauging a rider's worth as his/her career comes to a close, is by the list of results left behind on the finishing lines of the world. the palmares if we wish to have it couched in the lingua franca of cycling. by having access to a well-compiled list of results, it's possible not only to view how said rider compared with his/her peers, but by dubious extrapolation, compare how they might have competed with the heroes and heroines of modern times.
doing so in this latter convention, however, leads to all sorts of absurdities. those who follow the present day listings in the comic will be aware that mark cavendish has recently ousted robert millar as britain's best ever cyclist, based on a ranking devised by the weekly magazine. and in terms of pure results, they are no doubt correct. however, conditions for british cyclists in the early 1980s are somewhat different than those in place nowadays. sprinters' trains make it more likely that a specialist in this activity will have a greater chance of crossing the line first, and noting that millar was a grimpeur means that the comic is effectively comparing chalk with cheese.
however, i have little doubt that they are well aware of such iniquities, and in and of itself, there is little harm in their methodology.
cycling journalists, however, are perhaps less well-served in this manner, for though it would truly be of little value to have a league of the top ten british cycling journalists of all time, there's a strong case for realising that such a list might be entirely beyond practicalities. the nature of the job can often be compared to that of the very athletes of which they write; it is quite likely that any given scribe may contribute words and features to several publications along the way, some of which may either not see the light of day for one reason or another, or perhaps just as likely, go unrecorded in a big black book.
in the robert millar pages of thewashingmachinepost, you will find a number of articles that were originally published an a wide variety of newspapers and magazines. i thought it prudent to attempt to collect as many as possible and have them all reside in the one place, though i have little doubt there are just as many that slipped through the net. however, in those same pages, you will find a list of millar's race results from the beginning of his career through to retirement.
i'm not sure i could manage a similar palmares devoted to author and cycling correspondent, william fotheringham, but for quite contrary reasons. i doubt i have the time and tenacity to track down his every written word and list it in black and yellow pixels. however, in the absence of such unrequited cataloguing, it is prudent that a substantial selection of articles originally written for and published in both the guardian and observer newspapers has been curated in the shape of this not insubstantial volume.
perhaps fotheringham's plamares need not take the form of a list, but be summed up by the very scotsman mentioned above. "Educated, well-judged and honest writing...when was the last time you thought that about a journalist?" given millar's apparent disdain for those practising the profession during his career, it seems likely that the above quote might serve as the highest of praise.
the writings have been culled from over twenty years of contributions to the sport and to journalism by the author himself; "Best" in a journalistic context is an adjective that needs qualifying. As a journalist, that 'best' is not the 'best you can possibly create',... it's the best within certain limitations, the best you can provide to your paper on a given day."
there are those who would have it that they are always at their best, and in the context of will fotheringham's quote above, that may indeed be the case, but it's likely that he is guilty of false modesty, even if he himself does not see it that way. for aside from the cycling facets of each inclusion in the book, perhaps the finest tribute to the writings of mr fotheringham is that he seems to have hit the ground running and never looked back.
on nights that i occasionally suffer from sleeplessness it is instructional for me to return to the very early days of the post. re-reading those articles is often close to torture, and i often wonder (out loud on occasion) why anyone bothered to read such ramblings in the first place. i like to think i have improved with age. william fotheringham was truly excellent in the beginning and is every bit as astute and creative as he was those twenty years ago. there are few sports journalists who can lay claim to such a startlingly high level of consistency over such a lengthy period of time.
racing hard also provides the reader, if not the author, with the opportunity to exercise their honours degree in hindsight. many of the articles can only be truly judged in such an historical context, where the reader can be convinced of their full awareness of the situation at the time. there are few for whom that will be true. and it is here that another pointed aspect of william fotheringham's perspicacity can be applauded, for rare is the occasion when he has allowed himself to be fooled by an all but unbelivevable performance. he may not requite that he was as astonished and laudatory as the rest of us, but nor does he directly and bluntly infer that dodgy dealings may have been afoot.
in a diary entry for the observer while following the 2007 tour, he remarks that alexander vinokourov had not only commenced working with lance armstrong's former trainer, but has hired bodyguard, serge borlee and his old chef willy balmat. "It is tempting to chant "Are you Armstrong in disguise?". his footnote to the entry continues 'There was a double entendre here, which I hoped the reader would pick up. Vino was done for blood doping 10 days later.'
the contents are, however, not solely concerned with the tour de france. fotheringham has paid due attention to the fortunes of britain's track riders over the years, not entirely unexpectedly since again in hindsight, it is they who laid the carpet for brailsford's success with team sky. the chapter entitled 'Great Britain - Atlanta to Athens' starts with the official opening of manchester's velodrome in 1994 and follows the increasing snowball of success that leads to a subsequent chapter Inside GB Cycling and onto Beijing in 2008.
as an historical note of the last twenty years across the upper reaches of professional cycling, it is unlikely that racing hard can be bettered, particularly concerning the rise and rise of british cycling across those two decades. though this year's tour de france reaches centenary celebrations, and doubtless influenced the use of yellow as the cover's primary hue, the principal pleasure to be gained from this volume is not only in ultimately making us feel good about our national selves, but as a lasting testament to the literary abilities of one of the world's finest cycling journalists and authors.
to place it in perhaps more contemporary language, consider it 'william fotheringham's greatest hits'
tuesday 28th may 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................