as i may have mentioned elsewhere, i am in glasgow at present for the ntional road race championships which, most inconsiderately, took place on a sunday, commencing with the women's event at 9:30am. this, rather obviously perhaps, has necessitated my being in glasgow on the saturday, for the chances of a calmac ferry and citylink bus transporting me to glasgow green for such an ungodly hour of a sunday morn is well nigh impossible. thus, i have braved the streets of scotland's 'style capital' (their words, not mine) on a saturday afternoon, an experience that has me longing to return to civilisation on monday morn.
however, for reasons that having nothing at all to do with me having yet to grow up, i paid a visit to hamley's toy shop in the st enoch centre on argyle street. this is situated on the centre's first floor, reached by means of an escalator. in the process of utilising such transportational luxury, i found myself wondering why it is that none of the escalators i have used while in glasgow, adhere to the rules applying on london underground escalators. namely, keeping to the right to allow those who wish to move a little faster to ascend or descend unhindered by a series of jogging buggies.
surely a regional (national) faux pas?
however, to briefly return to hamley's toy shop, despite its rather dim lighting and old-fashioned layout, it contains such a multitude of playful variety, that individuals such as myself, there only to browse in the hope of finding an appropriate gift, may find themselves somewhat overwhelmed with choice. i cannot deny that the thoughts which imposed themselves at the point of aimless wandering were much akin to claustrophobia, and i stayed not nearly as long as i'm sure the welcoming assistants would have preferred i did.
i apologise to mr and mrs hamley, but your toy store scared me away without once catching sight of anything that might have satisfied my quest.
contrast that with the bright and airy space inhabited by alpine bikes' trek store in couper street, and one begins to wonder whether hamleys may not have missed a trick or two. sited in the upper section of tiso's outdoor experience the trek only bicycle display affords a grand view of the in-house waterfall and climbing walls offered downstairs against which the prospective customer might pit their goretex and crampons.
single marque stores are not new; apple and sony have used the medium to great success (or at least apple have), while specialized may have pre-dated trek in applying it to the cycle market. the advantages presumably outweigh any perceived disadvantages, particularly as alpine bikes also have a sizeable store on glasgow's great western road, one that offers other brands as well as treks. the principal perceived advantage must surely be staff specialisation; instead of having to be conversant in a language that covers a whole host of downtubes, they need only concern themselves with a single entity.
of course, a bike shop that stocked bicycles and nothing else whatsoever could conceivably come up short and be seen to be wanting. alpine's trek centre also stocks a comprehensive range of cycling footwear, clothing (including endura and, not unnaturally, trek) as well as a whole slew of bontrager components, tackx trainers and rollers and numerous other bits and bobs that have become compulsory fixtures on the modern velocipede. and though i recognise that we are all of singular mind herein, the range on display is not confined solely to road bikes.
though not constrained to the trek brand, the british standards association has rather made a pratt of itself by demanding that all bicycles be sold accompanied by a bell. it seems particularly incongruous to view a display of madones and domanes costing well into the thousands of pounds, augmented by a bell atop their drop handlebars. without straining my eyesight to much, i failed to note such a mandatory feature on any of those competing in today's road-race championship.
centre manager matt cutler said that they had noted a distinct swing towards bendy bars and skinny wheels over recent years, one that gained a noticeable boost after last years' tour and london olympics.
with trek still being the sole guardians of the thou shalt not purchase via mail order philosophy, the couper street premises also house the fitting emporium, stretching from the basic how high is your saddle? prior to purchase, to a couple of hours measuring every dimension of man/woman and bike for the optimum experience. interestingly, this latter opportunity applies only to those purchasing road bikes. those adhering to knobbly tyres need not apply.
though not slap bang in the centre of glasgow (tiso's is situated a few hundred metres behind glasgow's buchanan bus station), it is pretty easy to get to on foot, by bicycle and almost inevitably, by car. whether settling on a trek as your first model of bicycle, changing lanes from another brand, or looking to upgrade a trek you already own, at least as far as glasgow's central belt is concerned, there seem few reasons to look elsewhere.
despite my asking both obvious, technical and idiotic questions, matt was well-versed in the trek philosophy without ever coming across like a second-hand car salesman. it was rather plain that i was not in town as a customer (about which more later), but i surreptitiously eavesdropped on one or two other potential sales scenarios while pretending to be someone who knows what they're doing and i didn't hear anything that sounded like the hard sell.
perhaps owner bryan shedden will now be apoplectic on hearing such information, but to my mind, the softly, softly approach does them true credit. as i have yet to ride a modern-day trek, i am ill-qualified to comment on the product, but the large posters of fabian cancellara and jens voigt pay silent tribute to the efficacy of the brand.
monday 24th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i can already sense the level of affirmation and pride that i selflessly, and entirely on your behalf, arose early of a sunday morn (my day off, if you please) to be present at the start of the women's road race. according to the schedule supplied by british cycling, this commenced at 09:30 on glasgow green, some considerable distance from my accommodation in the sauchiehall street region. pausing only to enjoy a double espresso, a smoothie and a little tub of porage with maple syrup (a man has to have standards you know) on my way down buchanan street, i reached the green in plenty of time to acquire my press pass for the day.
did i mention it was raining at the time?
though you would imagine organisation to be heavily weighted to the right side of slick considering this to be the british road race championships, in fact, acquiring a press pass was a rather circuitous affair. though i'm sure (as are you all) that i could write an entire narrative concerning the thrill of this particular chase, to cut it a lot shorter, two photographers and myself were sent to the wrong portakabins where it was apparently necessary to have accreditation to enter the accreditation office.
the british cycling clad lady who came to the door informed us that kevin had just left for the finish line with all the press passes, so we should head over in that direction to renew our search. if only any of us had known who kevin was and what he looked like.
the road race circuit was identical for the women as it would be for the men come sunday afternoon, though the former were required to cover a few laps less in their quest for gold, silver and bronze. this was apparently the first time a championship course had been held over a city centre course, one that inhabited many of glasgow's principal streets and locations. it does not seem at all churlish at this point, to commend all those responsible for closing the necessary roads and maintaining those closures throughout the day. a job well done.
in recognition of such, i thought it important to obtain photographs with definable city backgrounds and landmarks, therefore, having made my way to glasgow green, i now retraced my steps up to the trongate, along argyle street and up to the junction of buchanan street and st vincent street. imagery duly captured, i made my way back to glasgow green. with the women taking approximately twenty minutes per lap, those on the finish line at the green were kept well informed by both hugh porter and a scottish announcer whose name i never did find out. the win was eventually taken by lizzie armitstead, ahead of laura trott and danni king.
it was perhaps as well that i acquired such characterful imagery in the morning, for my afternoon was spent in rather more opulent and considerably less stationary surroundings.
i would dearly love to give the impression that events such as this are so familiar to me, that the day's proceedings scarcely merited a raising of the heart-rate. but, as many will already be aware (less sniggering at the back please), this is very far from being the case. i had e-mailed rapha condor jlt manager, john herety, some days ago to enquire whether, if the team was indeed followed by an appropriately liveried vehicle through the race, might i hitch a lift for perhaps a couple of laps.
timing is, as any drummer and comedian well knows, pretty much everything, and his reply indicated that a member of sponsors jardine lloyd thomson and esteemed journalist, will fotheringham were already installed in that particular seat 9not at the same time, i might add). however, plans often change, and in this case, that's exactly what they did, thus leaving the passenger seat of the team skoda vacant for one's rapha clad posterior.
though several other team cars made regular pit stops at the feed zone to throw one passenger out and accept a substitute, it appears that no such manoeuvres were required in our case, and i was allowed to spend all thirteen laps of the 14.2km route, seatbelted beside john herety. i offer this by way of explanation as to why there are no action photos of david millar, mark cavendish, kristian house or jimmy mccallum framed against the row of crowd barriers along the lower portion of buchanan street.
though the contesting british peloton are considerably faster than you or me, i expected to be treated to a relatively sedate ride around the more obscure corners of glasgow's west end. this fancy was rather abruptly destroyed when rcj rider elliot porter (i think it was he; if i am in error, i hope he will forgive the misidentification) unshipped his chain on the start line, and mechanic james performed an impressive 100metre dash from the back seat to have him up and running as speedily as possible.
rather decisively, this put him at a disadvantageous distance from a disappearing peloton, and i exaggerate not when i tell you that mr herety's turn of speed in that skoda would have done the mclaren formula one team proud. passing porter, they attempted to motor pace him back to the peloton, and when that failed, the magic spanner was produced and the poor lad was given a roller coaster ride back towards that which he ought to have been with in the first place.
again, i'd dearly love to have you all believe that a ride in the front seat of a speeding team car is something that i am so used to, it would be a mere bagatelle. but of course, i have led a sheltered life, not one portion of which has ever seen such an experience. i therefore have to lean heavily upon the considerable knowledge of john herety to understand that the sizeable gaps in the information provided by radio tour were not only not normal, but somewhat infuriating.
at the team meeting on saturday eve, lots were drawn for the car positions behind the race; rapha condor jlt drew last of the professional teams meaning we followed the peloton at arms length for around half the race. however, kristian house formed part of a chasing group of four which gradually distanced those we had been respectfully following. by the time the commissaire decided that we, team uk youth, british cycling and netapp endura ought to move up, they were quite some distance ahead, and yet again john herety re-enacted a recent edition of the monaco grand prix. i swear i could hear the breathing of the crowd barriers on each and every corner. another coat of black paint and the door would have come off.
team ukyouth's ian wilkinson dropped off the pace on the last lap, leaving scott thwaites and 100% me rider simon yates to head to the finish line in the company of rcj's kristian house. john expected the former two to fight it out for sixth and seventh places, but as we entered glasgow green for the last time, house nipped off the front, leaving the other two to decide who'd take up the chase. that indecision let house gain a decent gap, nabbing sixth spot behind sky's luke rowe who'd been riding in no-man's land chasing peter kennaugh, david millar, ian stannard and eventual winner and british champion 2013, mark cavendish.
as is the case at the finale of most races, the team cars were pulled off some distance before the finish, so none of us saw any sprinting or line crossing. but it was a stunningly unique way (for me at least) to view a cycle race.
in an almost painful undermining of the apparent glamour of road cycle racing, john had already radioed the guys at the feed zone to make sure all the transponders had been removed from the bikes and that those who had climbed off before the end, ought to have their bikes packed away and organise taxis to take them to the airport and subsequently home.
if anyone recognised this rapha team passenger and waved, i apologise unreservedly if i did not respond; somehow, waving from someone else's car seemed a mite ostentatious. i'd sincerely like to thank all the folks at rapha condor jlt for their forbearance, and especially to john and mechanic james for allowing me to infiltrate their rather fast skoda team car. mark cavendish won't forget this year's edition, and i can assure you, neither will i.
sunday 23rd june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a cement lorry. essentially a flatbed truck loaded up with bags of blue circle cement. that was the object of my career path when i was about five or six. i had been given a matchbox model of just such a vehicle, and so all-enveloping was my admiration for this yellow painted truck, that i thought it a laudable aim in life to set my sights on driving just such a machine. thankfully, a six year-old has little idea of just what such employment would entail, nor indeed, the weight of even one bag of cement.
suffice it to say, i have never driven anything larger than a long wheelbase transit van, nor am i likely to in the foreseeable future. in fact, at present, i do not own a motor vehicle of any description, and the far less industrial employment i find myself in is unlikely to alter that situation.
the principle, however, not that i have yet described it, remains valid. perhaps just as unlikely an example (in my case) as wishing to become an astronaut, train driver or fireman, nonetheless, it is intriguing just what tiny fragments can inspire children of a certain age and have an unexpected influence on how they turn out once past those difficult teenage years. i later had notions of becoming an architect (what was i thinking?), based purely on the fact that i could draw and my father worked in the building industry. such aspiration, however, came to nought on discovering i could draw a better straight line freehand than with a ruler. and generally, my technical drawing was a mess.
judging by some of the buildings i see nowadays, there have been several others who fared no better.
i know not quite what persuades or influences innocent youth to aspire towards the more sporting proclivities, in our specific case, that of cycling. even in my early twenties i had not made the connection between time-triallists heaving their way round the ayr bypass and men such as robert millar donning a polka dot jersey. the two remained unconnected for many a long year. neither of my parents showed any practical interest in any form of sport, other than watching football or wimbledon, and physical education at school was something to find a way out of rather than something to be embraced. i often wish i had thought otherwise.
in the light of the above, it seems rather perspicacious of the chaps and chapesses in perren street to have released a range of children's team sky jerseys, virtually replicating those worn by their yet-to-be idols. or, in the case of the larger sizes, kids who may just find the prospect of equalling or surpassing sir bradley in the future an ideal target to aim at (see what i did there?).
the four year-old in the photos accompanying this article is well aware that i ride my bike more often that i seem to walk. and she was overjoyed to receive a jersey that looked just like mine. the pride on her face when first putting it on would have melted concrete. everytime she goes out on that orange and yellow trike (which is too small for her really), that jersey has to be worn. it has two rear pockets, plus a third zipped security pocket, there's the ubiquitous story label inside (which i had to read out loud) and it says wiggo on the side panels.
rather neatly, it also features sky blue gloop around the jersey's hem to stop it riding up in use, a very useful notion considering how often the yellow and orange trike was lifted rather than cycled into position. and i think it was something of a godsend on a scooter.
i have explained how sir brad was the first brit to win the yellow jersey at the tour de france, but i'm pretty sure she has little or no idea of which i speak. i also mentioned that mrs bower of imperial works has gathered together 100 women to ride this year's etape du tour, and my willing model for this feature has mentioned her ambition to do exactly the same "when i'm a big girl."
it's likely that she'll need a bigger size of jersey by then.
the little girl in the picture is wearing the kids' rapha team sky jersey sized for six to seven year olds, even though she's only four. it's a tad too large, but not ridiculously so. the jerseys are available in wiggo style (as shown) with a union jack on the right sleeve, and in regular team sky colours. both can be ordered in sizes xs to xl. size featured is a small. price is £50 for each. rapha also offer a kid's team sky supporters jersey at a more modest £35.
saturday 22nd june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in 1965, two spanish pop groups - los sonor and the runaways - combined to form the madrid based band los bravos, ironically with a lead singer named mike kogel, but also known as mike kennedy, who hailed from germany. oftened compared to the style of gene pitney, his was the voice heard on their 1966 uk release entitled black is black, a record that rose to number two in the charts. it also reached number four in the usa's billboard charts, the first spanish group to have done so, in the process also becoming the first spanish band to sell in excess of a million records.
while several of you might actually remember this pop record and perhaps even own a copy somewhere in the depths of the attic, the title is not factually correct. though i am currently dressed in black jersey and black trousers (how very designery of me), they are quite distinctly not the same shade of black. however, just to be even more complex about the relative simplicity of the word's darkest colour, it gets worse.
when preparing artwork for print, the originator has the option of simply choosing the swatch of black on the little flyout panel to the right of the screen, or specifying rich black. i confess that, in my early days of wrestling with pre-press, the distinction was lost on me until i placed artwork created in one package as a graphic in another. when printed, there was a distinct lack of depth to the former. as i have bored everyone to death with on at least one previous occasion, printed colour consists of cyan, magenta, yellow and black. rich black consists of black (rather obviously) and an even percentage of each of the other three, principally based on the ink limit of the press on which the item is to be printed.
i know that very few of you are even remotely interested in the foregoing, impinging not as it does, on your daily lives. however, it seems an apt metaphor for the autobiography of rob hayles with which this review is concerned.
essentially the job of racing cyclist is little different to that of the rest of us working for a living. there are still identifiable tasks to be (successfully) completed, and though training may form a greater proportion of the cyclist's career, the big difference is in the office decor. rob hayles is an individual who can be respectfully described as a journeyman rider, one who inhabited the upper reaches of the british track regime as it morphed from a group of also-rans to the world domination it experiences today.
in those early days of his track career, he formed an important fourth of the team pursuit, even if the end result didn't always fight it out for even a bronze medal. he also participated frequently in the individual pursuit, the points race and most notably (with mark cavendish, who provides the book's foreword) in the madison. but, and i think it likely that hayles would be the first to admit it, he was no bradley wiggins or chris hoy.
however, to be quite blunt, very few track riders can be compared to either of these multi-gold medal winners, but in order for the gb programme to succeed, it was obviously necessary to have riders who were particularly competent in the required discipline(s), but did not necessarily excel in the manner of wiggins, hoy or pendleton. so it is of great tribute to rob hayles and lionel birnie that the years of enduring the grunt work and limited international success are, in fact, not only readable, but enticingly so.
though such preparation is and was never an end in itself, for all was geared towards ultimate olympic and world championship success, the narrative does not suffer from the inevitable dips and rises that such a career will undoubtedly render. if i may return briefly to my black is black introduction, this early section of the book is standard black.
the book's complexion changes to rich black with the last sentences of chapter eight. "So I decided I would give it everything on the road for two years, but if I didn't get anywhere, I would still have time to adjust to the track again in time for the 2004 Olympics.
"But I was about to find out how deep the waters of professional road racing truly were."
chapter nine is entitled Millar Time and unsurprisingly concerns british rider, david millar, then a talented teenage rider who had been signed by french team cofidis, a situation that proved pivotal in the career of mr hayles. "Dave had mentioned once or twice that there might be an opening for me at Cofidis." it seems that this was indeed the case, and rob hayles entered the world of world tour professional cycling with this first tier french team.
perhaps due to pat mcquaid's desire to equate professional cycle racing with that of formula one motor racing, and more recently with all the attention that has been paid to the marginal gains of team sky, we all likely assume that the atmosphere inhaled by riders at this level will be as close to perfect as it is possible to get. discussions of substantial annual budgets must surely be only towards the benefit of those riding in the sponsor's colours. that, seemingly, is not necessarily the case.
having apparently been signed by cofidis in the first year of the 21st century without them directly informing him of this milestone in his career. (Philippe Gaumont) seemed to know I was joining Cofidis. 'Ah, oui, oui. You join us next season? When we have the first training camp, we'll have a party.'" hayles then discovered that the machine was not one that was oiled on a regular basis. "I'm not sure what I was expecting...but I had assumed the team would feel a lot more professional and well-drilled than it was. Everything was a bit haphazard. Cofidis was one of the biggest and best-funded teams in world cycling, with a budget that ran to about six million euros, but it seemed to be run like an amateur squad."
hayles goes on to detail the rather ramshackle nature of being a top line pro on the continent, with a constantly changing race programme that seemed based purely on having sufficient riders to make up the required numbers for an event, than any structured attempt to bring out the best in his abilities. this part of his career lasted three years, ending almost as unremarked as it had begun. it is perhaps a telling feature of the book that there are very few images of hayles in his cofidis kit.
rob hayles is a very self-effacing individual, less concerned it seems with the minutiae of the sport "I was on my favoured gear (92.6 inches for those of you interested in that kind of thing)." than with the bigger and ultimately greater picture. his failing of the uci's dubiously conceived haematocrit test in 2008 is dealt with by way of unfailing honesty and not just a little exasperation, particularly when subsequent tests showed no evidence of epo use. undoubtedly however, folks remember the test failure rather than any following exoneration.
if i might just for a moment clothe myself in the mantle of pedant, yet again words that ought to utilise the letter 's' seem to have suffered from the american 'z'. and in the narrative relating to his success in the 2008 british road race championship, a listing of "the toughest and classiest riders" contains all the notables expected, yet fails to mention scot brian smith, who won the title twice in his career.
i think it fair to state that if rob hayles didn't exist, we'd need to invent him. his contribution to so many aspects of british cycling success while rarely tasting much of it himself, is far larger than you'd think. i gain the impression that mark cavendish would not be quite the accomplished rider he is today were it not for the support and ingenue of rob hayles. as cavendish says in his foreword "From the day I first walked into Manchester velodrome to train with the British Cycling Aacademy squad, Rob was there. He was one of the people that British Cycling grew up around."
in aristic circles, the word chiarascuro is often bandied about, a word that means light and shade, and a comparable literary effect that has been achieved by hayles and birnie in easy rider. the chapters involving david millar and the years at cofidis are not only dark in the sense of hayles description of the goings-on in the professional metier, but they're the guitar solo that lifts the whole book. and a guitar solo only works if it contrasts that which has preceded it and that which follows.
an excellent book, written in a compelling manner and a fitting tribute to one of the all but unsung heroes of british cycling. and by that i do not singularly refer to the corporate bods at manchester but in a more empirical sense.
this is very much the light to charly wegelius' shade; one book complements the other. i figure you ought to own both.
friday 21st june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i have four bicycles currently at my disposal, i have only two seat packs, both of which contain a spare inner tube, a tyre lever and a multi-tool. one of those tools, and at present i could not truthfully relate in which seat pack it resides, is simply a park allen wrench set, ranging from 3mm to 10mm. the other unidentified receptacle holds a true if elderly multi-tool offered by the clever folks at crank bros. containing a 2mm allen wrench over and above those on the park version, along with a chain rivet tool and some screwdrivers.
though i'd feel naked if it left home without either of the above, with the exception of the spare tubes and tyre levers, i have rarely had recourse to have need of either multi-tool.
unlike eddy merckx who possibly covered more kilometres riding back to the team car to have his mechanic adjust the seat height than he did in racing, i rarely have to adjust anyhting mid-flight. i've had my preferred seat height verified by cyclefit, and everything else is tightly bolted to prevent any unexpected eventualities during my velocipedinal excursions. but that is not to say that they have been hermetically sealed for the better part of a decade.
those whose bicycles are composed of carbon trinketry cannot have failed to notice the varying numbers stamped on the weave suffixed by the letters nm, initials which signify the number relates to newton metres. of course, we all know intuitively just what a newton metre equates to don't we? no, in fact, very few of us do, and even fewer knew what nm stood for in the first place. if only we all had torque wrenches easily to hand.
the latter is a tool with a price tag that few would be willing to pay if only to ensure the seat bolt was correctly tightened. though obviously incorrect tightening could cause other iniquities, if the biggest problem is likely to be a broken seat bolt, it would be a lot cheaper to replace than buying a bicycle torque wrench. i have, when assembling review bikes, erred on the side of caution when tightening stem and bar retaining bolts, often to my embarrassment when the handlebars have taken a journey south mid-ride. it seems a newton metre is a tad hardier than i had surmised, at which point, a multi-tool has come in remarkably handy.
the modern road bike seems hell-bent on ever increasing complexity and sophistication, with more than just a few of those allen bolts having morphed into torx activated examples, all of which inhabit almost all the sizes on the tool available. it is, therefore, perhaps of little surprise that particularly in urban haunts, the single speed or fixed gear has gained a foothold in pelotonic popularity. with many of these still cheerfully sporting quill stems, the bolt count has halved and with no derailleurs, there's even less need for adjustment screws to be incessantly footered with.
but, for all their simplicity, fixed gear, single speed and bikes with hub gears still succumb to punctures, perhaps even more so as they frequent inner city streets more prone to tyre invading detritus than the wide-open country highways and byways. thus the riders of such machinery still have need of repair facilities, albeit of a more simplistic nature. often the standard multi-tool is left wanting at this stage, for most of the above described bicycles ignore the use of quick release skewers. most, if not all, have the wheels retained by the ubiquitous 15mm wheelnut a tool for which seems conspicuous by its absence on the average multi-tool.
previously demonstrated in these pixels as having the ideal form for peanut butter munching, portland design works' 3wrencho consists of a very sturdy tyre lever at one end, and a 15mm spanner/wrench at t'other. if the more squeamish amongst you are already looking away at the thought of a steel tyre lever mangling those beautifully machined alloy rims (i wouldn't risk it on carbon), the 3wrencho comes in two distinct flavours; coated and uncoated. paligap sent me the coated version when i too demonstrated my squeamishness.
there has been more than one occasion recently when i have found myself straining every sinew and spouting every profanity in the gaelic dictionary while attempting to fit a tyre that seemed every bit not the same size as the rim. there are one or two broken tyre levers on the back porch. pdw's 3wrencho would have been a godsend as it verges on the unbreakable. in fact, when fitted snugly over a 15mm wheelnut that refuses to let go, it's possible to stand on the lever to provide a substantial degree of force with which to persuade it.
however, the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted that this is named the 3wrencho and i have paid testament to only two distinct properties. could it be that portland design works are guilty of illicit advertising?
you know when you've fixed a puncture and have this overwhelming desire for some peanut butter...?
thursday 20th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at the risk of not only stating the obvious, i'm about to reiterate it for the umpteenth time, and there's no apology to soften the blow.
our standing in the world of competitive cycling is at an all-time high. bradley wiggins is still the current holder of the tour's yellow jersey, though rather obviously that will not be the case come the end of july. however, team sky are the world' number one race team, so far as i know, their clothing is supplied by a british apparel manufacturer, and there is good reason to hope that the guy that stood on the second step of last year's paris podium will be one step further up at the end of this year's race. add to that the considerable talents of mark cavendish, no longer in blue and black, but winner of the points jersey in may's giro d'italia and on course to nab green in france next month
as if that were not enough, at last year's london olympics, lizzie armitstead occupied silver in the women's road race, while messers wiggins (again), hoy, pendleton and kenny underlined just how darned good british cycling has become on the path to the finish line. to say that the cycling obsessives in the uk are chuffed to bits would be something of an understatement.
and according to british cycling, since sir brad won the tour last year, their membership has increased by 50%.
however, no matter the number of wiggo jerseys that rapha sell, nor the numbers of pendleton and hoy bikes sold by halfords and evans respectively, it's the nations leisure and commuting cyclists that ought to be in line to benefit from this sporting largesse. and to a certain extent, they have. sky tv, not simply content with emblazoning their logo across more than just a few jaguar xf sportbrakes, have put their money where their collective mouth is, and both sponsored and organised any number of sky rides throughout the country to introduce the civilian population to the joys of cycling in a guided and safe manner.
taking all the foregoing out of context, you would be forgiven for thinking that the future is particularly bright for the british cyclist. it can only be a matter of years before we nationally emulate portland or, dare i say it, amsterdam. even scotland is attempting to instigate in law a similar feature as observed at sea, whereby steam gives way to sail. in this case cars, or at least their drivers, will be required to behave in a slightly more deferential way to cyclists. restoring the natural order of things so to speak.
yet here we are, slap bang in the middle of national bike week and most of us were blissfully unaware of its existence.
i receive a constant stream of press releases from various corners of the bicycle industry as, i'm presuming, do many other writers of cycling blogs. it's the expected way and in most cases is extremely helpful, especially when you're in the position of updating every day as i am. so my principal question would be, why no press releases from the national bike week? if they're really serious about impressing this upon an eager public, wouldn't plying their wares around the print and blogospheres seem like the ideal way to get more folks on side?
in the name of real, honest to goodness practical research, while i'm currently in scotland, i nipped into a local bike shop a few hundred metres from where i'm staying, and asked if they were aware that they/we were currently in the middle of national bike week. they weren't. both guys were vaguely aware that such a thing existed, but had no idea it existed right now.
i consider myself completely obsessed with the world of cycling in all its different forms, and via the structures that help keep thewashingmachinepost flowing freely, i think myself quite well informed as to its machinations. yet this year's national bike week crept up completely unannounced, and not just to me. in the usa, portland has its own bike month (note the word month) as do many other states, and there is often considerable support from the business community; chris king's in portland offer an extra two days holiday for employees who cycle to work for the whole month.
that's the sort of support someone at bike week needs to be negotiating on our behalf if britain's bike week is going to have any clout. sending out badges, balloons and fluorescent trouser clips is a bit like the first settlers offering trinkets to the native indians; utterly pointless. let's face it, if bike week goes off like a damp squib given cycling's alleged popularity, what chance success if the bubble ever bursts?
to briefly return to the athletes said to be responsible for britain's current love affair with the bicycle, what chance is there of this state of affairs being repeated on a regular basis if we don't encourage the young kids of now to get out on their bikes more often? while i think it eminently necessary to encourage the adult population for health and lifestyle reasons, and perhaps the younger generation comes under that heading too, if there is to be another sir brad or sir chris, someone somewhere has to point them in the right direction.
and a well organised and forceful bike month may be the ideal place to start.
wednesday 19th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have mentioned on more than one occasion, the inestimable mr benzie, an elderly aberdonian (at least, he seemed elderly to a kid still at school) who was the proprietor of the bike shop in my home town. though current retail therapy has produced the optimal and thus largely uniform interior adopted wholesale by the bicycle industry, mr benzie's shop consisted of two distinct wooden and corrugated iron buildings sat side by side adjacent to the public library in kyle street.
their elevated position (physically) meant ascending four wooden steps into either the owner's emporium from whence advice and admonishments were dispensed seemingly in equal measure, and what constituted the showroom. this latter department would only be open to would-be purchasers in the presence of mr benzie himself, accessed via a different set of wooden steps opposite those mentioned above. the door to bicycle heaven was kept locked, and mr benzie held the key.
behind both these retail fronts was a substantially sized shed containing a surprisingly large number of bicycles identified by a brown tag tied to the handlebars. these were cycles in for repair, and i always got the impression that many had been forgotten by their owners.
all over the country there were cycle shops like this; i have little doubt that there are still examples hidden in the most unlikely corners of the uk even today. but more likely these have ceased to exist, their former owners having moved on to employment of a more lucrative nature, or simply moved on permanently. others will have been absorbed by larger concerns or been modernised in the manner of current retail diktat, filled with branded slatted wall displays and bicycles that fulfil current consumer demand. and that's forgetting about the staged lighting.
there's a part of me that longs for the mr benzie era, for there was always the promise that there may be items of so-called new old stock, long forgotten on a shelf near the ceiling. and hopefully inhabiting a campagnolo box. shops of that era had what i figure would now be referred to as character, by which i don't just mean their belligerent owners. but life moves on, and bricks and mortar have now to compete with clicks and pixels.
the old reliables of parker international and ribble cycles, the latter still a regular advertiser in the comic, the former seemingly not so. they now suffer in a manner similar to the criticisms levelled at them when they both took two or three page adverts in every issue. in such times, the local independent bike shop simply could not compete with the prices offered in those tightly packed advertisements, and this when browsers were still folk that took a long time searching the bookshelves in foyles and waterstones.
the really big online retailers, such as wiggle and chain reaction, though now the butt of criticisms from the sole trader once levelled at ribble and parker's, seemingly had the savvy to invest in pixels when the option of online shopping was yet to become a factor of everyday life. add evans cycles into the latter genre and you have a combination of clicks, pixels, bricks and mortar, a world now being joined by halfords. they have just announced the addition of another 15,000 new products to their online offering, so the increase in cycling's profile has led to a concomitant increase in a desire for our business.
quite how the local independent bike shop fares in the face of such competition is hard to fathom. located where i am, there is no such thing as a local bike shop, and though wiggle receives a body swerve due to its refusal to send certain items to the isles (tyres anyone?), chain reaction gains some of my business due more to its speed of delivery than any specific price considerations. i am hardly a good example, for i truly have little alternative. but in terms of those within cycling distance of a bike shop, it may be prudent to consider whether you could, long-term survive without them.
think of who might be available to fit that new shiny chris king headset or replace a broken spoke or service a recalcitrant pedal. online retailing may be seen as the panacea to our modern ills, but it's not much cop at bicycle repair.
tuesday 18th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................