musical differences must surely be one of the all-time classic excuses for bands breaking up. no doubt, in one or two isolated occasions, it is a truism, but mostly it's simply a euphemism for the fact that at least a couple of those in the band hated each others' guts. you will no doubt agree that it's very hard to be stuck in a very small recording booth with someone you'd rather not be in a very small recording booth with.
yet despite the number of musical beat groups that have dissolved for just those musical differences, there are several high profile combos that still tread the boards despite having earned sufficient remuneration to have retired to the bahamas many years ago. the most topical example is likely that of the rolling stones who just recently performed at glastonbury, despite looking more akin to their spitting image puppets than any bona-fide rock star ought to. not for nothing did the daily mail employ the headline 'night of the living dead'.
such longevity or dissension in the ranks is not necessarily confined to bands, per se. simon and garfunkel have had the occasional spat along the way, and sonny and cher didn't last much past 'i've got you babe'. however, not all duopolies follow the cliches of ligget and sherwen, reaching deep into the acrimonious locker. take ira ryan and tony pereira for example. two of portland's finest framebuilders who have filled the award winners' lists at both the north american handmade bicycle show and the oregon manifest now live in each other's pockets. well, sort of.
with both gents having had their individual building spaces within easy cycling distance of each other in north portland, and having brought to collaboration via the rapha continental and the subsequent rapha bicycle collection, with hindsight it's rather easy to see that their current joint venture was pretty much always on the cards. having launched breadwinner cycles during the most recent nahbs, they have given more concrete and visual credence to the eminent viability of this distinctly portland venture in the shape of the short movie viewed below. in this instance, it seemed a natural sequence of events to ask ira ryan how business had been since the launch.
"We have been working on a few different projects together for a couple years now. It really started when Rapha approached us about doing a Continental bike collaboration for their Bicycle Collection. Both of us saw it as a chance to work together, learn some new tricks and see how many bikes we could make by putting both of our workshops to use. The Continental bike we made was by far the most popular bike in the Rapha Collection because it has such a great story behind it and also because it is a great everyday bike.
"When we launched at NAHBS, it felt huge for us to make such a splash in the bike world. We wanted to make it a big deal and NAHBS was the perfect spot to show off our new venture. Once we got back from the show and let the dust settle, we started taking orders right away. We are still working out of our small shops in the same part of Portland and it is a trick to learn how to produce twice or three times as many bikes in the same space. (we ended up putting a lot more nails in the rafters to hang frames) Sales have been great and we continue to grow. We are trying to juggle all the business things at the same time but the frames are looking great and we continue to sell a few more every month."
to briefly return to my metaphor of break-ups in the rock band world, pay close attention to the imagery in the movie, more specifically the shots of ira and tony doing what they do best in the workshop. there are no visible signs of disdain, argument, bits of emery paper being thrown. nor does it look like either is attempting to sabotage the other's brazing. is this just consummate acting or are they really best pals?
"We both have our personalities that come out and we have some different ways of doing things but overall, we get along. Growing Breadwinner and seeing it as a way to get more people onto handmade American frames is our focus. The video does a good job of representing what we both bring to the table with our passions and our riding history. Tony does ride a road and I do ride a mountain bike but we both have our favorites. Like any relationship, there are rough spots but we get along pretty well and are both excited to see Breadwinner take off. When Tony moved to Portland years ago, we started doing some rides together and we are both riders on the Rapha Continental project so we do get along on and off the bike. He likes IPAs and I am more of a Belgian Farmhouse Style kind of guy.
"(This answer might shatter the idea of grumpy old framebuilders toiling away and getting fat in a moldy workshop, but we want to see our niche in the overall bicycle world grow and to be able to make a living wage, raise our families and even ride bikes for fun. Framebuilders are people too!)"
at the risk of overusing my rock'n'roll comparison, ever since the advent of mtv, the music video has become as much a tool for selling singles and albums as have the relevant chart position(s) and world tours. it's a sales model that has been successfully copied in many different industries, not least that of the bicycle. does ira see videos such as that below as intended promotional vehicles (pardon the pun) or just fun things to do?
"We wanted to use the video to introduce Breadwinner to a wider audience and show a little of our passion for the bikes we build. We do want to sell bikes and build a company but the video is all about showing people why we ride bikes, how great the riding in our back yard is and what sort of rigorous R and D goes into our designs. Bikes in action are always more fun and we make bikes to be ridden. The video took a lot to time and energy but we want to make a few more down the road."
as a bicycle company, breadwinner cycles offers a surprisingly wide range of styles of bicycle, from road bikes, to tourers to mountain bikes to cyclocross, each handcrafted by messrs. ryan and pereira. thus, when advertising their wares it makes perfect sense for each to ride a different model from the range. tony's on a mountain bike while ira plies his road skills. did they draw lots to see who'd ride what?
"We have done a good job branding our individual styles and we have our favorite styles of riding. Tony's background is with mountain biking and I have long been a roadie guy. The Lolo is based heavily on my experience as a road rider and the JB Racer is very much Tony's design. Both bikes are very fast and built to withstand the rigors of racing and riding. We both ride, race, tour and commute on a daily basis and every bike we make is based on those years of use. We are at the point where we make light of our lack of understanding of each other's 'powers' on the bike.
"Tony claims to climb like a boat anchor and I go downhill like a cat being put into a bucket of water."
monday 8th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
double acts have been the mainstay of the entertainment world for many a long year. laurel and hardy, morecambe and wise, rowan and martin, ant and dec, harmon and kelly; i'm sure you get the picture. in most of the aforementioned cases the yin and yang of each pairing is what made them so successful. in a comedic sense, it's almost essential that one be the straight man, the other the funny guy. if both play the same part, not only is there the spectre of competition between the two, but the combination is unlikely to be so popular.
so used have we become to the standard format, that anything that steps out such well-defined parameters is viewed with suspicion. which rather neatly brings us to the drama played out en route to the summit of la toussuire during stage eleven of the 2012 tour de france. the game, we are regularly assured, was all about putting bradley into yellow and keeping him there. each and every member of team sky's tour selection had been chosen for that singular purpose. in the interests of entertainment, for that ultimately is what professional cycling is all about, wiggins and chris froome were presented as the ultimate double act.
quite who was saddled with the task of being the funny guy, it's hard to say, but towards the summit of la toussuire, froome stepped away from his designated part, and briefly took on sir bradley's. if you've read the latter's recent autobiography my time you'll have a good idea how this affected wiggins. if you've read richard moore's chasing the badger you'll have just as good an idea as to how this fitted with the professional cycling milieu. suddenly, deja vu had happened all over again.
it's with this incident that author david sharp commences his rather ineptly titled va va froome, quite likely because it placed chris froome in a different space from bradley wiggins. i cannot deny that while reading this chapter i thought this to be a book that i would struggle with. not because of its subject matter; i'm as keen as the next cycling fan to understand what it is that makes froome tick, but due to sharp's writing style.
metaphors are a most useful device in any narrative, principally where appropriate, and like one of those china-type cymbals on a drum set, if used sparingly. i wouldn't like to hear sharp's drumming style. phrases such as 'hit the gas on the final climb', 'ready to rumble', 'sky picked up the gauntlet and threw it back in his face' and 'like unwanted ballast dropped from a hot-air balloon'. and that's only in the first few pages; sadly there are several more.
thankfully, once he exits chapter one, the narrative settles down a bit.
though froome is kenyan born, he is the youngest of three brothers of english parents, and for most of his early years, he held both british and kenyan passports. though few of the african states are noted for their cycling excellence, there can be little doubt that kenya is better known for its marathon runners, and the young froome had need of both an independent and resourceful mind to stake some sort of claim on an international stage. resorting to one of those annoying metaphors again, sharp states 'It is little wonder Froome developed such a strong sense of independence, which runs through him still like the copper core of an electric cable.'
his principal influence and educator on the bike was david kinjah, at the time, kenya's top professional cyclist and competitor in the 1998 commonwealth games. froome's mother introduced him to kinjah, explaining "My son loves bicycles, the school is closed for the holidays and I don't know what to do with him! Do you think you could take him out riding?"
it would be nice to say 'and the rest is history', and were froome to have been resident in britain with access to british cycling's performance plan, that might well have been the case. however, as mentioned, kenya is hardly the location you'd want to be with aspirations towards becoming a professional cyclist.
in 2007 his singular talent brought him to the attention of the konica-minolta team, south africa's most prominent sem-pro team, success with which gave froome the opportunity to attend the uci's centre mondial du cyclisme in aigle, switzerland. even at this point, his singularity stood out against his peers. konica-minolta team manager, john robertson is quoted "Chris stood out to me. He would go out on crazy rides of six or seven hours. The other guys did three hours, went to a coffee shop, and then came home, but Chris was out to Liege and back."
it was apparently a chance meeting with rod ellingworth that brought froome into the sphere of british cycling. this corresponded with another chance meeting with gb's doug dailey, bringing into perspective froome's nationality and in which geographical direction he wanted to go. "Although I was riding under the Kenyan flag, I made it clear that I always carried a British passport and felt British."
it is a matter of record that claudio corti subsequently signed froome to his barloworld team where he ended up as team-mate to robbie hunter and brits, ben swift and geraint thomas.
author david sharp has been particularly adept in his research into each and every aspect of the career of chris froome, from those early teenage days in kenya, through the stages precised above and his eventual signing with team sky. the narrative is somewhat on the dry side despite froome's well-documented single-mindedness, and an almost unbridled need to exist outside that more commonly expected of him. i rather doubt that such dryness is the fault of the author.
that froome made it to team sky after his years with barloworld could be viewed with some degree of surprise; "...his only consistency had been his inconsistency." team sky is an outward expression of sir dave brailsford, incorporating each and every minute detail and planning that this entails. it would seem the dream team of which to be a member, yet perhaps such structure does not necessarily suit all of the men with the blue stripes on their backs, assuming end of season moves to be true. froome's indiscretion at la toussuire last year was undoubtedly a sign that he has not (yet) become a yes man, but solo team leadership at this year's tour is indication that he feels confident enough to get his own way.
sharp gives little indication throughout the book's 246 pages that he has spent much, if any time discussing the finer points with froome himself. there are many "as he said to cyclingnews.com/procycling/cycling weekly et al" rather than any detailed one to one conversations. this in itself does not discount the author's ability to write a successful biography of the rider, but it does lose itself a somewhat marginal degree of credibility. however, this is something that cannot be easily laid at david sharp's door. another well-known author told me that froome can be 'difficult' which he qualified by saying "he doesn't give much away".
that could well be the telling factor, given that sean kelly, charly wegelius, rob hayles and even wiggins himself have all recently published autobiographies. perhaps va va froome is as close as we get, in which case, sharp's offering should be avariciously devoured in an attempt to understand the man who looks like he might just move up one step in paris this year. it's not a compulsive read, but it is particularly comprehensive, and at the risk of sounding unfairly condescending, you'll be better off for having read it.
from the days of robert millar's fourth place and polka dots in the 1984 tour de france, to having two british riders who can successfully challenge for yellow in paris has been a lengthy journey. if you're of the mind that it is better to travel well than to arrive, celebrate one half of the journey and pick up a copy of va va froome. perhaps with hindsight, someone will have the savvy to change that title on the reprint, and the courtesy to strip out at least some of the mentioned metaphors and similes.
sunday 7th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's on the cover of a custom bike book lying upstairs on the top of my bookshelf. the one on the landing at the top of the stairs. the bike happens to be one of sacha white's vanillas, and appended to the stem and bars is a rather delicate bottle cage with one of those aluminium, cork stoppered water bottles. retro would be a particularly apt description. the word want figured highly on my wish-list when i visited the vanilla workshop in south-east portland in 2009. you can imagine my disappointment when sacha mentioned that the cage had been a one-off for his nahbs show bike and that fabrication had been a time-consuming process.
better not to ask if he'd make me one then.
when you consider where they've now placed the bottle cages on modern-day bicycles, you do rather have to wonder why the cages were ever moved from their front of stem position in the first place. surely it's a darned sight easier to grab a bottle in front of your nose than reach down midway up alpe d'huez. particularly in the days before combined brake and gear levers. and i'm not too proud to confess that i've never got the hang of grabbing a bottle from a seat-tube mounted cage. somehow that just seems plain wrong.
but irrespective where those bottles are sited on the bicycle's frame (i've seen several touring bikes with one fitted under the down tube; try reaching for that on an alpine descent), there can be no serious argument that they have changed considerably over the last century or so. though i am reliably assured that an entire workforce follows each and every professional peloton, clearing up the numerous bottles that have been insouciantly cast aside by the pelotonese in an attempt to lighten their load, it seems a tad incongruous and irresponsible to throw them away.
for though often cast as having green credentials, racing cyclists have contradictorily entered the realm of the disposable society. it might add a certain frisson to proceedings if able to reach for a discarded team bottle as a speeding bunch disappears down the road, but i figure just as many find their way into hidden corners of the countryside. that will probably never change. not content with plastering the team jerseys with advertisements, it's likely that the sponsors consider throw-away bottles as an adjunct to their advertising campaigns.
that, however, is not a feature that need concern the rest of us. aside from being force fed a constant stream of carbon fibre, each successive model seeking to redefine the word stiff, and despite none of us possessing the guns of steel to offer much resistance in the first place, we're all in danger of being moved further from eddy at each passing stage. though i'm sure it might take the form of a merry jape, i've never thrown my water bottle in the direction of roaming sheep at any time during my amateur career. and i find the idea of my bottle cage cossetting a stylish stainless steel bidon rather an attractive one.
you can, therefore, imagine my delight on discovering coloral.cc.
originating in steward street, birmingham (england, not alabama) in 1947, a post war industrial factory produced the first alloy drinking bottles and accompanying cages. these took the form of a fluted design with a cork stopper and sold for the princely sum of four shillings and sixpence. by the mid-fifties, foreign imports, the now ubiquitous plastic bottle and falling sales caused the closure of the factory after only seven years of glory.
in 2012, a group of enthusiasts carried out extensive historical and design research into the coloral company of old, resulting in an overwhelming need to revive the rather unique coloral bottle. times have moved on, however, and a couple of significant changes needed to be made; the size was altered to fit the modern-day bottle cage, and aluminium was discarded in favour of stainless steel to ensure continuing purity of the contents.
in a development that can only be described as serendipitous, the need to find a metalworking firm that could offer steel spinning, took them back to steward street, birmingham (still in england) where david and chris beeching were found to recreate the unique coloral water bottle. of course, even a short run of such a desirable item costs a bit more than a few hundred pounds. £75,000 to be precise; not the sort of loose change you find just lying around unattended.
thus our intrepid band of aficionados have harnessed the power of the interweb to bring them closer to reviving this iconic brand and its singularly excellent water bottle. if you are as enthralled by this project as i, head over to the coloral kickstarter page and pledge however much you can afford to help bring this cunning plan to fruition.
electronic shifting, hydraulic disc brakes, carbon nano tubes and endless wind-tunnel testing may be the face of contemporary cycling somewhere up near the cutting edge. but for those of us with no aspirations to reach or purchase that particular edge, there are factors of cycling ephemera that are just too important to be lost. the coloral bottle, along with toe clips, new old stock campagnolo hubs and cotton caps are firmly amongst those. do the right thing this very moment.
(and aside from that, they have one of the finest script logos i've seen in many a long day.)
saturday 6th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am utterly useless at reading maps.
during my early years on islay, i would occasionally set off for scotland on my bicycle, intent on heading to my parents' house on the ayrshire coast. such expeditionism involved taking the ferry to kennacraig, riding over to claonaig on the kintyre peninsula, then ferrying once more to lochranza on arran. after riding round the top of the isle to brodick, i'd get a third ferry to ardrossan.
on the very first occasion of so doing, i had figured that the ride from calmac's terminal at kennacraig was a mere nine kilometres, and had timed the early stages of my journey on this basis and my average speed on a loaded bicycle. as the ferry made its way towards west loch tarbert, i espied a remarkably steep road only a few hundred metres from my intended landing spot and smiled an internal grin that i didn't have to ride a loaded touring bike up that.
except, as many of you will have realised, that's exactly where i needed to go. i'd figured out my directions carefully enough, i just hadn't taken into account the squiggly lines on the map that indicated lumpy topography.
more recently, while on retreat at le grand banc in french provence, while scrabbling on google maps to figure out just where this locale was sited relative to marseille, i found mont ventoux. in my naivety, i figured i may just have stumbled across the very mountain that would add a certain frisson to the four days' cycling encompassed by the retreat. surely, i thought, the hill was just close enough for me to persuade the raphalites that we might go for a look-see on our bicycles.
thankfully i read the itinerary on the bedroom dressing table before i piped up with this stonker of a good idea. for friday had already been designated the very day on which we were to try our hand at pantani-isms. how was i supposed to know that ventoux was in provence? or at least the provence that i would be riding in?
you would therefore have to wonder why i would concern myself with a book entitled mapping le tour. and note that the title specifically states le tour and not just the tour. ellis bacon is a man possessed of standards. as indeed is quick-step sprinter and british road champion, mark cavendish who has generously written the foreword. as he states "Each stage of the Tour has characteristics that cyclists all over the world can recognise and be inspired by. This can be most easily be imagined through maps." sadly mr cavendish is unacquainted with yours truly.
in the latter months of 2013, a.s.o. will unveil the route of the 2014 tour, a ritual that takes place at pretty much the same time year on year. unfortunately, the maps that are released to the press and adoring public feature only the names of the towns through which the circus passes, eventually culminating in the chequered flag that is paris. for a geographical naivete such as myself, this truly gives little idea of the regions involved in the race. to put it bluntly, the map is as much use as a chocolate fireguard to myself. and though coverage via eurosport player signifies the start and finish towns along with the distance and stage number, i am truly none the wiser.
how was i supposed to know that the ventoux was attached to the outer fringes of the massif central?
and while i'm in the mood for pointing out some serious personal inadequacies, i honestly had no idea paris was in the more northerly geography of the country, despite having been there on two separate occasions. ellis bacon's mapping le tour has thus been something of a godsend.
though ostensibly a prime consideration in the book's fabric, the individual chapters relating to each and every tour that has taken place up till sir brad's raffle last year are the supporting cast. the maps are truly where it's at. for instance, did you know that, until 1952, every tour de france was really a tour de france; the route was a joined up circle of sorts. and with the exception of the 1926 edition, the race of 1951 was the year the tour gave up starting and finishing in paris (the 1926 race began in evian).
after those races of the early 1950s, the tour having only picked up steam in 1947 after the second world war, the route started to wander all over the place, culminating in those of the early sixties introducing a dotted line to signify rider transfers. those dotted lines gradually grew in length to the point where many editions in latter years have consisted of northerly and southerly squiggles joined by dots. though i'm very wary of portending that i am one of those who works visually, the maps alone are an excellent way to view how the tour has changed over all 100 editions. we must surely bear in mind that motorised travel was not a significant feature of the early to middle years of last century. the notion of transporting several dozen riders and their bicycles a few hundred kilometres from stage finish to stage start was not only uncontemplated, but pretty much impractical.
however, enthralled though i am by this entirely new way (for me) of looking at the last hundred editions of le tour, the bonus ball in the corner pocket is the variation in mapping technology. it would no doubt have sufficed to have found an appropriate map of france and superimposed each year's yellow route (with red arrows) upon it, safe in the knowledge that the mission had been accomplished.
however, as my drumming friend, billy ward is keen to point out, art lies in the details. someone, and it may have been mr bacon for all i know, had the insuperably classic idea of utilising maps from each specific era, moving from maps seemingly missing not one single geographical detail, to more contemporary editions subtle in their modernity. read this book from cover to cover, looking only at the maps, and you will close the last page with an enhanced sense of the passage of time. this is close to bordering on genius.
of course, there is rather more to mapping le tour than all those maps. each edition of the race speaks with its own narrative, aided and abetted by graphics and statistics pointing out the first three finishers (lance has not been excluded from these virtual podiums, but an asterisk points out his inquities), jersey winners, starters and finishers, average speed and other such essentials. and since the book attests to all 100 editions, this year's event is detailed stage by stage, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to a proper tour of france and featuring enormous dotted transfer lines that reach pretty much from top to bottom.
to make mention that the appendix at the rear of the book has the word comprehensive straining to be constrained within its definition almost seems surplus to requirements. but comprehensive it most certainly is (though composed of very small type).
as i have testified on more than one occasion, every publisher and his best friend is currently offering a book to celebrate 100 editions of le tour. yet, despite all talking about the same races, each has its unique selling point. in this case, the maps are a stroke of brilliance.
friday 5th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
speed is relative. what i think of as fast, might not be the same as your definition of speed. like i said, it's all relative. the same goes for distance. only yesterday morning, i had need of visiting one of the larger homesteads on islay to check bits and pieces on a couple of bicycles. cursory glances over and done with, it seemed only natural to pop down to debbie's for some froth. as i arrived at the bean hostelry, debbie inquired after my whither and thither, to which i replied as already explained, adding that i'd thought it quite seemly to nip down for a beverage.
at this point, the girl in the corner exclaimed "and from bowmore, you call this just 'nipping' out?"
the total distance of my perambulations amounted to a mere 30 kilometres, a travail that most of us would barely think worth removing the bicycle from the bike shed for. however, many find it an oppressive thought pedalling only a kilometre or so. folks with bicycles as opposed to bona-fide cyclists tend to view things with entirely different lenses in their spectacles. it is a stuation that also pertains to the act of ascending.
after recently accompanying those on rapha's provence retreat, i have a more balanced appreciation of just how poorly i can defy gravity. yes, i can still ride uphill, yes i still thoroughly enjoy pedalling skywards, but no, i will never cause chris froome any consternation should we happen to meet on an alpine ascent. but there is some small gratification to be found in the knowledge that there are many others who think the same about me. i have a notion, based on no scientific evidence whatsoever, that there is a psychological aspect to one's climbing prowess.
there is little doubt that there are those who view an upward profile ahead of them with a substantial degree of pessimism. hills become features that have to be suffered, but the sooner they're out the way the better. i, on the other hand think of them as challenges that i'm happy to pit myself against, and it is an unassailable fact that many others share my point of view, one of whom is simon warren.
to date, the man has ridden, written and published three excellent volumes concerning the art of struggling to the top of a wide variety of summits. volumes one and two concerned ruddy great hills in the uk; 100 greatest cycling climbs, and the tautologically titled another 100 greatest cycling climbs. unlike the nerve-wracking second album from the latest in boy bands, another was every bit as good as the first. not content with making life hard enough in the uk, mr warren transferred his allegiance overseas, incorporating alarming but thoroughly welcome amounts of pave in hellingen, a road cyclist's guide to belgium's greatest cycling climbs.
though all this could be reasonably viewed as an unhealthy addiction to gravitational defiance, it is rather obviously up to the rest of us to pick and choose according to ability and predilection. scarily enough, simon seems overly keen on this sort of thing, and the endpapers of his latest and totally free publication 'an introduction to cycling climbs', promise a forthcoming volume in 2014 entitled '100 greatest cycling climbs of the tour de france'. i don't mind saying that i do not have sufficent lifetimes left to treat myself to those hundreds of climbs, but i'm happy to have simon relate just how i should approach them should fortune dictate a future meeting.
i may, however, have piqued your interest by using the word free in my previous paragraph. offering us the philosophical overview, encapsulated as "To begin with you need the one key ingredient all top athletes have: that's natural ability. Often referred to as 'class'...". this free e-book, currently available from amazon and soon to be on apple's ibookstore, an introduction to cycling climbs brings a smattering of chapters from warren's current three published offerings.
ok, so there's little doubt that it's a marketing exercise designed to lead us towards unleashing our combined purchasing power, but the pressure to buy is implied and not in the least oppressive. for how can an introduction, however brief, to one of cycling's intrinsic delights be seen as other than an unqualified bonus. for the rouleurs amongst you, why not embrace the world of the grimpeur in easy to chew bites by downloading this gratuitous freebie.
what have you got to lose?
download an introduction to cycling climbs
thursday 4th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you can see whay it happens. as a significant birthday or christmas arrives, mum and dad, intent on providing their offspring with a shiny new bicycle, scan the size options in order that they might purchase the appropriate machine. however, such are the iniquities and economics of bicycle construction, that there is rarely a leap and bound in price between wheel sizes to make such choices entirely safe. add to the equation the fact that the weather around christmas is rarely conducive to squirreling about on a bicycle, there's every likelihood that the model formerly wrapped beneath the tree will have shrunk by the time some decent weather arrives.
this, more often than not, leads the archetypal parent to order a cycle that leans ever so slightly on the large side to allow for a bit of growth. the fitting of kids' bicycles is rarely ever close to an exact science.
little bodies, however, tend towards flexibility, often accommodating those extra centimetres with ease and an ear to ear smile. though it's obviously ideal to provide an accurately sized bicycle for the little darlings, in the early years, a certain leeway can often be less than intimidating. however, as we reach physical maturity, those bones and muscles are far less likely to react with joy to an inaccurate seat height, stem length, bar width or even crank length. to put it in a nutshell, the bicycle and its relevant components need to fit.
but, and it's a large but, how does one figure out which is the correct size of bicycle in the first place? the ideal would be to turn up, pre-announced at the local bike shop and try a variety of velocipedes to find which suits the athletically honed personage to a t. the fly in that particular ointment is one of choice. colnago, for instance, offer eight different sizes for their popular clx 3.0 and in five different colours. though the latter is simply a case of ordering the paint scheme of choice, i think it unlikely that even the keenest of colnago dealers will have all eight sizes in stock at all times.
it's a situation that is probably reflected across most marques.
check the retail websites in the hope of solving the conundrum, and things become even less clear. many bicycles nowadays seem to fall into the small, medium, large and extra large category, apparently suiting a rather wide range of body heights. suppose, however, that you are short of leg, but long of torso. or vice versa. surely that is bound to have some important bearing on a number of fitting factors? of course it does.
a few years ago, trek bicycles decided that they would no longer allow their dealers to supply complete bicycles via mail order. they now require the prospective purchaser to arrive at their nearest trek dealership to receive a basic fit before being allowed to walk off with a shiny new bicycle under their arm. the reason offered concerned too many folks buying the wrong sized trek. the basic fit, however, which is offered free of charge, simply checks that all that money in the till is buying optimally the correct sized bike.
for those just a tad more concerned with using their new trek for competition or fitness purposes, alpine bikes' trek store in couper street, glasgow, contains an impressive in-house bike-fitting service, one that i was recommended to avail myself of prior to receiving a trek domane for future review on thewashingmachinepost. matt cutler, the trek centre manager carries out this extensive bike fit in a designated corner of the premises upstairs from tiso's outdoor centre.
matt was trained by phil and jules of cyclefit in london's macklin street, but unlike their setup involving video cameras, computers and an adjustable bike rig, alpine bikes made use, in my case, of the very trek domane that will eventually head to islay for a brief holiday in the sun (a little hebridean humour there). the sole concession to adjustability was a salsa size-o-matic stem, allowing ultimate alteration of reach and angle.
the fitting session commenced with matt asking me a range of questions designed to appraise him of my usual style of riding, any illnesses that might restrict my cycling ability, was it true that i really pedalled that slowly, and whether sir dave brailsford had me in mind as the ideal substitute for sir brad in the tour de france.
all the usual measurements are taken prior to climbing aboard the bicycle, now clamped into a tackx turbo trainer adjacent to a substantially sized mirror. shoulder width, inside leg, arm length. i.q. (ok, i made that last one up). in order to check that my shoe cleats were correctly positioned, matt carefully measured my differently sized feet on one of those devices oft seen in a regular shoe store. this allowed him to then put stickers on the outside edge of my shoes relating to judicious points on my feet. cleat position turns out to be a lot more important than i'd given it credit for.
the fitting area at alpine bikes is not enclosed, meaning that subsequent checks made while i lay prone on a padded trestle table were in full view of a browsing public. if you're at all of a shy and retiring nature, this may be the nearest you'll get to exhibitionism.
my lying on the table allowed matt to check the range of movement in both legs, including the oft suspected notion that my left leg is a smidgeon longer than my right. this discovery brought to light the fact that i'm dropping the heel on my left foot, while keeping that of my right partially raised during the pedal cycle. that explains a lot. one of the cooler devices available checks the pressure points of bum on saddle. matt was subsequently able to check the fore and aft saddle position even before the cyclist (me) has sat on the bike. strange but true.
though i was a tad reticent to ask for an in-depth explanation, apparently my feet have a tendency to pronate; a common ailment, and one that likely sounds far more scary than it actually is. matt unceremoniously removed the insoles from my specialized 74 road shoes, and replaced them with a natty orthotic pair designed to remedy at least a part of this pronation. all part of the service.
there are frequent pedalling checks made on the bike both before and after any adjustments; never once was matt satisfied with his initial diagnosis, perpetually checking good against bad over and over again. that's exactly the sort of mindset you want making sure the bike you're about to head off into the sunset on, fits like a glove (or, in this case, a rather exciting looking metallic grey trek).
to be clear, i arrived already dressed in bibshorts and jersey beneath my secret identity, accompanied by road shoes and my very own pedals. aside from maintaining appearances in the face of public inspection, it's unlikely that riding even a stationary bike clad in jeans and a polo shirt will allow the full range of movement that cycle specific attire is designed to accommodate. a full bike fit such as that undertaken by yours truly, takes around two hours and costs at least a couple of hundred pounds and more.
if you're purchasing several thousand pounds worth of top range trek technology, matt's likely willing to offer a discount on the cost, but there's no onus on the fittee to restrict the prospective purchase to a trek, or even one from alpine bikes. it's also worth noting that a full bike fit applies only to road bikes; the knobbly tyre brigade need not apply.
when the trek domane arrives at washingmachinepost croft, i'll be better able to appraise you of the specific results as applicable to the bicycle concerned. it strikes me as the ideal method of acquiring a highly appropriate bicycle for your needs and demands. if the domane had indeed been my prospective purchase, i would have been able to walk out the store, somewhat lighter of bank balance, but with a cycle set specifically to my body's requirements, ready and willing to do battle with the pelotonese. had i decided to stick with my beloved colnagos, alpine bikes provide written testament of all the necessary measurements and statistics to allow the setting up of both a new bicycle and those already in the bike shed.
it's not a particularly cheap undertaking, but in the grand scheme of things, it's probably the best thing you can do for both you and the bike. there are many components that may just improve your performance, but i'd be inclined to say that getting the bike to fit properly is likely of far greater importance. it's also the ideal checkup; bodily creaks and groans seem to increase with age, and what was the ideal bike setup ten or fifteen years ago, might just be getting as tired as you are.
i'll let you know.
wednesday 3rd july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have previously made mention of the stretch of singletrack road that starts at the cattle grid adjacent to ballinaby farm and ends just before the turn down to saligo bay. with the atlantic ocean pounding at the nearby sands, sheep wandering aimlessly either on the road or at the verge, and a healthy growth of grass down the centre, there's a more than evens chance of getting on the drops into a decent, gritty headwind blowing in from the west. it reminds me of little more than several of the roads seen in those minor belgian classics, an impression that has led to it being dubbed (at least by me), the belgian road.
on the frequent occasions that i or the velo club peloton head out along this route, i feel honour bound to raise the pace a trifle and, headwind or otherwise, put it in the big ring and pedal for all i'm worth. which sadly, isn't much. i have frequently thought that, instead of heading to mallorcan or corsican shores for a pre-season training camp, teams such as landbouwkrediet, quick-step or lotto ought to head to the calmac terminal at kennacraig and bolster their hard man abilities in the rain, cold and headwinds of islay's west coast.
i have even suggested more often than once, that rapha ought to base themselves here for the autumn/winter catalogue shoot. the flaw in that part of the equation is that the brochure in question is photographed in summer, and there's every chance they'd arrive on the very week that islay was flat calm and sunny. though the island's road system could hardly be described as extensive, the annual existence of the ride of the falling rain (sunday, august 4th, since you ask) gives credence to the opportunity to ride at least 100 miles in a single sitting. all i need now is a black skoda with twmp emblazoned on the bonnet (hood, if you're across the pond), and my training camp is only minutes away.
except, someone's beaten me to it, though not on islay, but further north and west.
it would be hard to deny that i do not fulfil the ideal stature of a fitness instructor. not for me a neatly pressed tracksuit, tri-bars on the colnago and a whistle round my neck. will wright, however, is the epitome of the genre, and hebridean based to offer training camps on the isle of tiree, also stuck in the atlantic just west of mull. accessed from the calmac terminal at oban on the scottish mainland, it is pretty much pan-flat, leaving it exposed to headwinds that can frequently outrun those experienced on islay. since will is not an indigenous islander, what brought him to such a windswept location?
"I've lived on Tiree for ten years. My girlfriend and I came here on holiday having heard about how good the windsurfing was. We never left! We windsurfed during the day and worked behind the bar at night. The hotel let us stay in a spare room through the winter and we got married on Tiree the following year. Ever since then we've gradually found our own place on this far flung island that I'd previously never even heard of."
islay has a fairly respectable population of around 3,500 persons, spread throughout several villages, the balance comprised of isolated homesteads dotted here and there. tiree, by comparison, fails to even scrape sufficient individuals to equal the population of bowmore. with only around 800 on the island, has it been an uphill struggle to promote fitness and training camps on tiree?
"Seeing my own business grow has been really satisfying. I think it's worked partly because we came here with no grand plan, no agenda, no big dream. We just got involved in things and let it evolve naturally. So my business has grown around local demand, and I'm grateful that I've got a very loyal following of local fitness enthusiasts! The training camps are really a culmination of coaching experience, my own racing experience, and the ten years of living on Tiree. It brings all those things together to offer something unique, something off the beaten track, and yet something that delivers results. The struggle is probably in reaching a wider audience, getting the word out that this is happening and just how fantastic a place Tiree is to be outdoors and active."
when i was a member of islay pipe band, one of the apprentice pipers, now playing in a fairly successful contemporary ceilidh band, originated from tiree. his father spent a few years as head teacher at the local secondary school before moving onto greater things. in the sort of juvenile humour that infected the band at that time, we frequently asked if he'd been a member of tiree mountain rescue; laughable because a hump back bridge on the island would likely qualify as an hors category climb.
cycle training camps more often than not head out to the more mountainous areas of the world, so what would be the benefit of attending a training camp on the edge of the atlantic? "If it was pure road cycling, probably not a lot. Big mountains and perfect tarmac we don't have. What makes Tiree special is that you are right on the edge here; there is nothing but sea out to the West, and just distant islands to the North and South. Tiree is surrounded by gorgeous sandy beaches, it's unspoilt, the air is fresh, there's no traffic, no pollution, no crime. It feels almost like you're coming to another world. The natural beauty is so evident in a place like this. So, for a place to be out training it is stunning. And just because it's mostly flat doesn't mean it's going to be easy! I live and train full time on Tiree and I've won national mountain bike races, long distance triathlons, 10ks, half marathons, adventure races. We can make the training as hard as you like!"
you can easily envisage that endless sea, flat roads and a plethora of sandy beaches would perhaps more likely favour the triathlete than the aspirational roadie. is this the case at tiree fitness? "Personally yes. I raced mountain bikes for a few years but really enjoyed the challenge of doing three sports in one race. I think the multi-sport element makes training and racing more fun. It's a sport where everyone has strengths and weaknesses; everyone comes home after a race with a different story; every race is different. From a coaching point of view, we have a multi-sport outlook as it makes for a fuller experience and it builds a more complete athlete. We adapt our training camps to suit the group, and the abilities and interests within it."
though i'm sure by now everyone is throughly fed up to the back teeth with my tales of scraping through rapha's wonderful retreat in provence at the end of april. however, that excursion provided everything you could possibly desire: bikes, food, mechanical support, massage and guides. does tiree fitness offer a similar level of support, or is the onus placed more on the shoulders of the attendee?
"You're in good hands! As soon as you get off the ferry you're looked after. Everything is provided; transport, accommodation, meals, bike, massage, all the support you need, evening entertainment (if you have energy left!). In fact we had an evening workshop with the local Chocolatier who did a Truffle Rolling and Chocolate Tasting workshop! We try to provide as much of an island experience as we can in addition to all the fitness training."
there's little doubt that the mediterranean isles have made more inroads into the psyche and pockets of the cycling fraternity. let's face it; most of us are looking for a way to escape the british weather and find mountain roads that will be more demanding than glasgow's montrose street, or box hill near london. strangely, having experienced the continental col, we return to ride roads that demand considerably less. does will figure the western isles can provide a similar level of training camp as mallorca, the pyrenees and the french alps (other than tall mountains of course)?
"I think the Western Isles, and in particular Tiree, has a lot to offer. It's obviously different to a typical training camp abroad, but it's that difference that makes it so special. We can offer a real Hebridean experience, with pro class trainers, and at the same time retaining the personal touches and warm welcome that make it such an inspiring experience."
it is recognisably and currently, the season, with both continental and domestic racing in full swing. training camps are perhaps best left for consideration when that end of year lethargy creeps up. just maybe, one or two of you might consider eschewing lengthy queues at baggage reclaim and passport control by training closer to home. tiree, for example, before heading to islay on the way home for a distillery or two.
tuesday 2nd july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................