i would very much like to point out that i have a certain level of artistic talent which, according to several of my friends, does not see the light of day often enough. i point this out not in order that you may feel cheated by my lack of output, nor indeed that i might indulge in a brief amount of self-aggrandisement, but far more to offer a base level against which the talent of others might be adjudged. of course, this is something of a vacant ploy; a vacuous conceit if you will, for other than the occasionally photoshopped illustration accompanying these pixels, i have offered nothing by way of my artistry that would indicate just where i'm at with this.
and nor shall i.
richard mitchelson, on the other hand, seems to have talent he hasn't even used as yet. i came across the man's work several years ago when a proffered link from i remember not where, led me to his website, the most recent article of which depicted a pedalling eddy merckx. not, you understand, a film of the great man himself, but a caricature in animated form. to be honest, why i returned time after time to watch such fluid pedalling motion, i'd be hard pushed to explain, but it was certainly the start of a friendship that continues to this day.
many of you may well have viewed his graphic novel style contributions to early issues of rouleur, where he used his innate sense of cartoonery (is there such a word?) to lay bare the strategic moves and principal characters of stages in the grand tours. this opening salvo led to the decoration of desirable coffee mugs with many of cycle sport's greatest names: robert millar, bernard hinault, greg lemond, fausto coppi et al. perhaps in view of my singular praise, i ought at this point to declare and interest; a robert millar mug holds pride of place on the mug tree in thewashingmachinepost kitchen, just next to the kettle and beside that perennially half full jar of decaff that mrs washingmachinepost favours.
and during this past week, the regular e-mail from rouleur towers features the latest from the studio of mr mitchelson, depicting a yellow-jerseyed chris froome. topical, and very much in character. however, perhaps strange to relate, this particular set of words and paragraphs is not specifically concerned with the artistic and graphic endeavours of richard mitchelson, though i confess, up till this point you would be excused for having thought so.
not too long ago, i made an enthusiastic plea (for want of a better word) for the peloton at large to dig deep into their meagre financial resources to help a startup business on kickstarter bring their particular dream to fruition. this specifically concerned the reintroduction of the coloral water bottle manufactured in birmingham in the late 1940s. though the original cork-sealed bottle was constructed from aluminium, its resurgence intends to utilise stainless steel, manufacturing in the same birmingham street as its iconic forefather.
i have already pledged the necessary amount that will see me riding out with such a characterful accessory in the cielo's bottle cage of a sunday morning. but the only way that's ever going to happen is if their target of £75,000 is reached by sunday, august 18th. as i write this piece, they are still £65,000 short of that target. however, added to the list of pledges by way of encouragement is the option of an anodised gold bottle celebrating the recently completed la centieme tour de france accompanied by a limited edition richard mitchelson artwork, commisioned specifically for the coloral project. you can see a framed example above.
there are many across the uk who bemoan the disappearance of indigenous manufacturing in britain. it would seem a great shame if a project such as this were to wither on the vine due to lack of support, so if you've been meaning to empty your virtual pockets in just this manner, now would be a good time to do so. and if those pockets encompass £150, a gold bottle and the artwork above could well be yours.
monday 29th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though the folks across the pond would likely refer to the patterning of cloth that is commonplace in scotland as plaid, we prefer to call it tartan. it's a word thought to derive from the french tiretain, itself a likely derivative of the verb tirer describing the act of weaving cloth as opposed to knitting. though garments created from the myriad registered patterns available now constitute a particular aspect of contemporary fashion, they are also recognised as an almost necessary accoutrement for more formal occasions. many are the weddings north of the border that display a wide range of tartan kilts and dresses, along with table and chair decorations. however, in such circumstances manys the kilt that is worn by a person not of the clan for which it was originally designed.
scotland's historical clan system allegedly developed individual tartan patterns to distinguish them one from the other, but in an attempt to subjugate these warring parties to british government control, the dress act of 1746 banned the wearing of tartan along with other aspects of gaelic and highland culture. when the ban was repealed thirty-six years later in 1782, the role of tartan adapted to that of scotland's symbolic national dress.
though formerly signifying one's affiliation to a particular clan, such as the macdonalds or macleans, up until the mid 1800s, the various tartans were more linked with specific districts or regions of scotland. this was as a result of local weavers producing cloth that refelcted the sartorial tastes of the surrounding population. and in the absence of modern chemical dyes, it was incumbent upon these weavers to use natural dyes available in their particular region. to transport thes pigments from other areas of scotland at the time, would have proved prohibitively expensive.
though it would be a nicely rounded narrative to be able to credit the scots with having arrived at the idea all on their own, in fact, rudimentary tartan cloths can be traced to between 400 -100bc in central europe, though admittedly linked to ancient celtic cultures. and in fact even the assertion that tartans were specifically associated with individual scottish clans is open to debate. in his 'a description of the western isles of scotland' in 1703, martin martin wrote that 'the setts and colours of the various tartans vary from isle to isle. it appears that our apportioning of tartan to distinct families or clans may be a modern conceit.
in the 1960s, the scottish tartans society was formed to provide a central registry of all existing and newly designed tartans. however, following its financial demise at the turn of this century, two offshoots arose: the rather self-important sounding scottish tartans authority and the scottish tartans world register, both of which have set themselves as the guardians of the genre. though i doubt there is truly any necessity to register a tartan with either, in similar manner to patents and trademarks, it's probably as well to do so if considering commercial applications.
interpretations of whether or not tartans were truly the visual signature of scottish clans notwithstanding, it would not be unseemly to consider those with bicycle as constituting a clan in and of themselves. and, if we are willing to accept this designation, is it not also fitting that this clan of cyclists has the opportunity to be identifiable in the manner of an appropriate tartan?. though not in the position of attaching said cyclists to an hypothetical cyclists' tartan myself, i do know of someone who has already taken the task in hand.
glasgow's ali campbell, a graphic designer to trade, disseminates his online persona through the auspices of weathered cyclist, a term that strangely has a scottish ring to it. where did the idea come from?
"The idea came from the first ever Tartan Ride. I designed a tartan for all the publicity material and then it seemed like there could be some mileage in having the tartan itself as a charitable, fundraising entity.
"The name, well, that kind of came second. Initially it was called Riding MacHine, but that lasted all of ten minutes when I had to explain it to someone for the first time. Blank expressions never inspire confidence!
"Weathered is often used in tartan design to describe a more mute colour palette. And let's face it, anyone who is out riding all the time ends up a bit weathered, so it just seemed to fit."
while many of us write blogs purely for self-enjoyment, and hopefully for that of at least a few others, ali has more altruistic motives at heart. if i might briefly quote from weatheredcyclist.org 'Weathered Cyclist is a way for cyclists (or just people who love bikes) to raise money that goes straight back into bike-based projects. We believe that the simple act of riding a bike is a therapy in itself. We believe that riding a bike is a liberation in itself. We want like-minded people who enjoy their bikes to be able to share with those who, for whatever reason, don't find it so easy to take to two wheels.' it's a sentiment that has been expressed before, in many different ways but, if you'll allow me to indulge my parochial nature, this time the intention is to benefit would-be scottish cyclists, and i find it hard not to feel several large morsels of support for the idea.
however, in much the same way that many of us have eyes that are larger than our stomachs, taking on such a nationally grounded task would seem rather a lot for one man. is weathered cyclist a solo project, or does ali have committed others at his command? "There are two other gents involved at a charity level, i.e. as directors, when we become fully registered and they provide valuable input. I've been pushing it along myself for now to get it started but the three of us (or even more) will all need to do bits as it grows."
as many a graphic designer is aware, it's not always sufficient to make plain the nature of the scheme; a single, strong identifier that can be attached to various sub-plots is frequently rather a good idea. i am, of course referring to a decent logo, something that weathered cyclist already has. who was responsible for that?
"I know a really talented, charismatic and handsome graphic designer... ok, so it was me. It's great to see what started out as a pet project becoming something tangible."
the world of the professional cyclist is often at odds with the rest of society. our local newspaper this week carries a feature on the myriad of nicknames imposed upon members of the community over the years, some cute and cuddly, others probably not much favoured by the recipients. cyclists, however, rarely seem satisfied to wait until a particular appellation is bestowed upon them; far too many seem intent on providing their own. though mr campbell may have followed suit in this respect, you would hardly equate a man known as the weathered cyclist to be pushing for the sprint finish in the classica san sebastian. ali does not strike me as the sort of chap who would be caught wearing full mapei kit on the sunday ride, so what's his own personal take on cycling?
"You have got me sussed! I'm not a fan of lycra. I'm not knocking it, it's just not what I'm into. I will go as far as wearing a padded liner short, but that's it. I'm happy riding in plus fours, rolled up combat pants, whatever.
"I ride my bike a lot. It's a beautiful single speed bike, built on a handmade custom frame. It thrills me every time I'm on it. There's a long and personal story that you can read in the latest issue of Boneshaker magazine, but back in April I rode it down to Bristol to kick this whole Weathered Cyclist idea off. For me that was about testing my comfort zones, but generally, cycling for me is about the freedom; the interaction with my surroundings; the weather, good or bad; it's about living."
in the course of a year on thewashingmachinepost, i have the great good fortune to review an equitable number of bicycles, almost all of which are drawn from the realms of road-racing. these are most likely built from a carbon monocoque, with bottom bracket sections that look as if designed by isambard kingdom brunel, and have become progrssively stiffer as the years roll by. in many cases such developments are all but irrelevant to the daily cyclist, but does ali believe that the world of professional road-racing has much, if any relevance to the more sedate, regular cyclist?
"Of course it does, we just don't always realise it. But riding a bike is much broader than the top end sport. That's the beauty of it; it's so inclusive. I think it is the most inclusive activity around. You can take it at whatever level you like. Racing or tootling about; riding on the road, or track, trails or mountains whatever, there's something about cycling that genuinely suits everyone."
in the process of suiting everyone, there are the many levels as described by ali campbell. but for those who rely upon their bicycle to travel to and from work, to garner the daily or weekly shop and to generally get about hither and thither, the philosophy of the bicycle is staring them in the face. for those of us intent on dragging the carbon and electronics from the bikeshed on a saturday morning to cover a substantial number of kilometres before tea, justification may be a tad harder to come by. did ali embark upon the charitable approach to give meaning to his relationship with the bicycle, or did it simply seem like the right thing to do?
"Where I am with cycling now has been a very personal journey, over the last three years in particular. I believe that through almost anything we do, other people can benefit. Riding a bike is so therapeutic in so many ways; why not share that feeling and try to help those who could really benefit from cycling?"
following on from my introduction to this particular feature, it would be something of a tautology to state that scotland and tartan are all but inseparable, but were there other inspirations behind the weathered cyclist tartan? "You're absolutely right. Scotland and tartan are so tightly linked, though not always in a good way. However, there is no official cycling tartan, so part of the inspiration of it all was asking 'why shouldn't Weathered Cyclist be the official cycling tartan?'"
creating the design for a tartan is more about patience and creativity than it is about substantial financial investment. however, when the design stage is over, the idea seems to be of sound mind and body, and the tartan has been registered with the appropriate body, there still remains the not inconsiderable problem of having lengths of tartan cloth woven to specification. that, to state the obvious, costs money, and rarely the kind of money that can be called upon by an ordinary individual.
therefore, in order to bring his idea to fruition, ali has posted the project on bloom venture catalyst offering individuals the opportunity to become founder members of weathered cyclist for a donation according to their individual means. the cost to have the tartan produced is estimated at £2,500, and the most expensive opportunity to donate is by way of having a kilt made from the weathered cyclist tartan. since not all of us can either afford, or indeed want, a kilt, assuming the bloom vc appeal to be successful, are there plans to offer other tartan products, such as cycling caps for instance?
"Absolutely. Merchandise will be a major way of making money for us. The cycling cap is one that we are working on at the moment. Of course, it won't be all-over tartan; I want everything we do to be tasteful and stylish, so as with our other clothing products, the tartan will be a feature. There are plans to create merino wool products that use the same colour palette but aren't actually tartan if you know what I mean?"
assuming the £2,500 target is reached, where will the tartan be woven? "I spoke to a few mills and some of them bolted the door before I'd even knocked! It is really important to me that whatever can be produced in Scotland, that's where I'll have it made. So I spoke to House of Edgar, who have been very pro-active and very helpful, so it looks like they will be getting the Weathered cyclist business!"
as ali has already mentioned, the tartan was almost simply a by-product of sotland's first tartan ride, held in glasgow in november of last year. though tweed is almost as identifiable with scotland as tartan, was the ride his riposte to london's tweed ride? "Not really. I took part in Glasgow's Tweed Ride and it was a lot of fun, but we're not trying to copy what they do. The more people having fun riding bikes the better; it should be about enjoying and widening the community, simple as that. We want to celebrate all things tartan, enjoy all things cycling and raise cash to get those who for whatever reason find it difficult, onto a bike."
the guy who promotes the annual glastonbury festival does only that one event and does so remarkably well. there is often a perceived diminution of effort as soon as other stuff starts to come under the umbrella of what started as a single entity. to this end, other than the tartan ride, are there other weathered cyclist events planned, or is he looking more towards others by way of their own events to raise funds?
"There are loads of ideas flying around at the moment. All of them good. And you will certainly be the first to know!
"I'd love it if we could have others putting on events or taking on challenges on our behalf though. That would be a real compliment."
i have often been asked over the years whether i have a specific road map laid out for thewashingmachinepost. if looking at its humble beginnings as one end point, has it fulfilled my expectations? these questions arrive from folks who apprently do not know me as well as they think they do. i pretty much live day to day with this and have little idea what's happening next week let alone formulating a road map. however, ali campbell strikes me as a man who has his head screwed on a little more firmly than my own, one for whom the idea of a cunning and well-mapped plan would hold no fear. is this the case, or like me, is he quite happy to see where the road takes him?
"Do you know what? It's a bit of both. There are certain things that we have planned and are working towards; events and stuff like that. The next Tartan Ride for instance.
"These days, nothing is certain, especially in business, so there has to be an element of letting the road rise to meet us and seeing where it leads."
the idea of a cyclists' tartan is a laudable one, whether you hail from north of the border or not. if you feel similarly inspired, click over to bloom vc to put your money where my mouth is. or, if you'd prefer simply to offer a modest or immodest amount of cash to the weathered cyclist project, you can do so here.
there will be at least one tartan ride this year in glasgow on st. andrew's day with the possibility of others across scotland. check weathered cyclist for details when available.
sunday 28th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
'Forward thinking is not their strong suit'
it seems there may be a terrible sense of guilt lurking within every human carnivore, one that only finds an outlet when encountering someone of the opposite persuasion. i've been a vegetarian since i was fourteen years old, and it's a dietary choice that, aside from the occasional attempt at whimsy, i have rarely if ever, attempted to impose upon others. yet almost every time, in polite company when the subject is brought to the surface, the meat eaters in my company feel honour bound to point out that they no longer eat as much/any (delete as applicable) red meat, constraining themselves to either chicken and fish. in fact, they will protest, "i'm almost a vegetarian myself."
that is rarely a true statement.
in this instance, there are valid comparisons to be made with cycling. apart from a few years at college in my late teens/early twenties, i have been a cyclist of one form or another since i was nine years old (i was a late starter). the early years on islay were entirely car free, interrupted only be a period of car ownership demanded by the needs of a young family. now that they are older and virtually independent, the car is once more absent from daily life, and all my island transport needs are satisfied by two wheels. contrary to my lack of vegetarian imposition on others, i am more than happy to be a pain in the neck and berate car owners at every available opportunity.
they never know whether i'm kidding or not.
but such anti-social admonishment mostly has a similar outcome to that of the meat-eating fraternity. though i can sense their subsumed outrage at my moral righteousness, almost all will protest that, as youngsters, they undertook quite a substantial amount of cycling. unfortunately, that can be said of a large proportion of the uk population, and my faux indignation usually continues in my pointing out that circumstances were the same for me too, but yet i continue to this day, despite entering my late fifties.
what's their excuse?
with the recent tour and olympic successes, cycling may well be entering a new resurgence in british daily life, but there is little doubt that it is a distinctly western phenomenon, particularly any sporting aspirations or pretensions on behalf of the country's youth. our worldly mistake is perhaps to have emulated the early christian missionaries, intent on visiting most corners of an uncivilised african continent to spread the christian word. very much a case of imposing western ideals on a populace who shared not their enthusiasm. it is a methodology that we may still be guilty of today.
many of the african states are all but unrecognisable from the days of those missionaries, particularly by way of their names. i am insufficiently well-practiced in the field of geography to reel off a list of the country formerly known as..., so i will refrain from doing so. tim lewis, however, author of land of second chances is undoubtedly far better qualified to guide you thus in the nature of african intricacies, stretching from interstate politics to the formation of the rwandan cycle team at the hands of tom ritchey (yes, that tom ritchey) and jock boyer, an american former tour de france rider.
though the book's excellent cover displays a team rwanda cyclist standing behind his campagnolo-equipped look carbon fibre bicycle, this book is considerably and commendably so much more than the title promises. though the historical differences between hutus and tutsis may be lost on many of us, the genocide practiced in that country during the 1990s undoubtedly shaped the international opinion of those less intent on following each twist and turn of the countries internal politics.
though lewis makes it perfectly plain that the many unspeakable acts perpetrated during those terrible years have not been forgotten, his many well-researched facts and interviews are at pains to demonstrate that contemporary rwandan society has little option but to peacefully co-exist. but he is also sufficiently aware of his subject to strongly hint that the rwandan view of cycle sport does not necessarily coincide with that prevalent in the west.
the germ of team rwanda was nurtured by one of mountain biking's originators, tom ritchey, who travelled to rwanda as a means of distancing himself from a personal crisis that affected his life in the usa. becoming aware of the tenacity and athletic capabilities of many rwandan youth, who used bicycles and variations thereof to transport self and goods across a largely underdeveloped and mountainous landscape, he left behind the bicycle with which he had arrived and made plans to supply a more sophisticated fleet.
to head up this quest for future sporting development, he recruited former professional cyclist, jock boyer, whose sensibilities and organisational skills sought out young rwandans with the potential to eventually compete on the international cycling stage. in theory, these factors offered great promise, getting off to an excellent start in the persona of adrien niyonshuti, a rider who not only showed the potential for which boyer was looking, but seemed as intent on a professional career as were his guardians. however, such ambition and dedication rarely came in twos.
'(Boyer) became infuriated by the inability of his riders to accept responsibility for their mistakes. There would be a touch of wheels, two of them would crash, and both riders would swear blind that it was not their fault. Rwandans called it 'ikinamico'.
when the genocide ceased, rwanda found itself under the presidential guidance of paul kagame, a man who showed little favour or enthusiasm for the founding or aspirations of the cycling team. however, as tim lewis astutely pointed out, if he had had designs on its failure he was in the perfect position to put a stop to it at anytime. though not a man praised by all his subjects, lewis portrays him as a president with the best interests of his country at heart and some commendably modern ideas on how to improve the lot of its population. his 'uncompromising discipline' was echoed by that of boyer, leading to the posting of a quote on the team rwanda website which could easily have come from either man.
"People have to be pushed hard, until it hurts. I push myself, many days until I almost drop dead. There is nothing to be complacent about. We are poor, and being poor is bad. If being pushed hurts, it cannot hurt as much as poverty, as much as being hungry, as much as being sick. I make no apologies for pushing people hard. I wish I had even more energy than I have to puch them. It hurts them, but they come up in the end as winners."
the words are those of paul kagame.
however, while the young, ambitious cyclist born of western tradition may clearly see the path ahead of him, it is something of a naivety to apportion the same to his/her opposite number in africa. even those of us who have no desire to pin a number on our jerseys are aware of the hierarchy that ultimately leads to a ride in a grand tour such as the tour de france. rwandans often seem oblivious to this career path. "Speaking with Daniel, however, it occured to me for the first time that maybe not all Rwandans wanted these life-altering experiences. They were Western aspirations, not Daniel's own".
lewis's excellent narrative gives credence to this cultural and sporting difference as something of a stumbling block to team rwanda's future. though riders such as niyonshuti may raise may be periodically encouraging, many rwandans appear to view engagement as a professional cyclist as a short-term goal, one that will raise them well above mundane society, but one that seemingly leads often to a suffocating complacency and an inability to view the bigger picture of which they may potentially form a part.
though briefly alluded to in a later chapter, i had almost expected land of second chances to be the cycling equivalent of cool runnings, the story of the jamaican bobsleigh team, a misapprehension for which i must apologise to mr lewis. other than an all too superficial resemblance, this book is several orders of magnitude greater than the latter. for not only has tim lewis provided a perceptive insight to this specific aspect of cycle sport in a small african state, he has cleverly managed to place it all in geographical, social and historical context without ever descending to rhetoric or over-complication. nor does he ever display a westerner's arrogance or disdain for the efforts of his subject. this is no comedy.
there is little doubt that the fast changing face of african politics demands a book (or several) devoted to the subject, but it would have been impossible to offer any context at all to the efforts of ritchey and boyer without imposing some political background to their story. that lewis has managed to do so with such clarity, while engaging the reader's interest through some complex detailing is testament to his considerable abilities as a writer.
this is not a book solely about cycling. it is a book that combines hope with tragedy and success with failure. but ultimately it's a book that holds a mirror to our western sporting ideals. whether you find that reflection disturbing or otherwise, depends greatly on the width of your perspective.
saturday 27th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have doubts as to whether i was as successful this year as i figure i have been in previous years, turning thewashingmachinepost into a tour de france free zone. this has nothing to do with any perceived level of disdain for le grand boucle, but far more to do with sensory overload. if, like me, you're a twitter user, you cannot fail to have been inundated with tweets from the overwhelming number of journalists who seem to have been following each and every stage.
le tour coverage has come a long way since those half hour shows on channel four in the eighties. now live coverage from both itv4 and eurosport have been augmented with a veritable profusion of podcasts available on itunes almost the minute the day's racing has been completed. though perhaps an inexcusable admission, i failed to download or listen to a single episode generated by anyone. in mitigation, i usually had several hundred words of tour-free writing to do of an evening, possibly added to watching the stage highlights if i'd missed them during the day. a guy can only manage so much.
in earlier years, the notion of navigating the inordinately obscure channels and hurdles of the amaury sports organisation to acquire press accreditation of my own had occasionally occured. i would thenceforth transport myself to france, ready and willing to convey my own impressions of the world's largest sporting event to those without a yellow lanyard about their necks. however, looked at from a more realistic perspective, i cannot for a moment consider what i might bring to the table. those who have followed the tour for many a long year, stalwarts such as will fotheringham, richard moore, lionel birnie and others can, i believe, place everything in far better literary light than my aimless meanderings would ever be capable of.
so i've stayed at home.
and because those luminaries of the journalistic metier are already in situ, contributing above and beyond the call of duty, i figured it only right and proper to offer fare of a different hue. it's a goal that is not always easily scored, and the occasional yellow jersey experience has a tendency to scrape in, but in general, my virtual pen has objectives elsewhere. but just as winter is considered to be showing on the horizon the day after the islay annual show (held on thursday 8th august if you're interested), the day after the perambulations around the champs elysees (and i think it only right and proper that the arc de triomphe be included each year from now on) the cycling world collectively takes a deep breath and looks to the rest of the year.
there are still a few one day classics in which to delight, as well as the vuelta espana and word road race championships to support, but i believe it was road.cc's jo burt who tweeted with only a few laps to go, saying "only an hour till the cyclocross season begins". funny, but for many, a truer word could not be said.
though there are one or two summer cyclocross events to whet the appetite, in truth, anyone seen spd cleated in the company of 700c knobblies before 21 july would probably have had three points added to their licence. now that france is signed, sealed and delivered, there is no real shame in considering dirt and mud as a progenitor of smiles even if getting down and dirty doesn't professionally commence until autumn/fall.
though i do not, nor have i ever considered adding a number to my back in the quest for a 'cross podium, strangely i find myself already enthusiastic about the possibilities of throwing myself on the ground with alarming repetition slightly off-piste in bridgend woods. jo is right on the money; 'cross season starts now (though all the remaining races of the road season will be similarly enthused over). i'm maybe not first to the party, but i won't be the last either.
in the words of the inestimable richard sachs 'cross fguckin rules'. at least until paris-roubaix next year.
friday 26th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in truth, it is an illogical alliance, one that, in truth, probably doesn't exist at all. this depends very much on your point of view, but since many a contemporary cyclist feels pretty much at odds with the motoring public, particularly in metropolitan and urban areas, but not necessarily exclusively, it makes some sort of sense. the rural idyll suffers from few of the iniquities visited upon the city centre cyclist; traffic is often light by comparison and bereft of the concentration of heavy goods vehicles that for one reason or another seem happy to inhabit the congested roads of britain's city centres.
however, motoring idiocy is not the sole preserve of built-up areas and i can personally attest to having witnessed some very questionable driving on our narrow island roads. the alliance to which i paid lip service at the opening of this narrative is that theoretically existing between cyclists and walkers/pedestrians. viewed empirically, both parties are often at the mercy of several tonnes of motorised metal. even if the latter two mobilities find themselves in error, it's very rare that the motorist comes off worst in any conflict of interests, so some sort of joint approach makes a certain degree of sense.
though i've little evidence to back my contention, i fear the notion of a conjoined approach makes more sense from the cyclists' point of view than it does from those on two feet. in fact, there's every likelihood that the latter view this as fraternising with the enemy. it is more often than not the innocent bystander who reports instances of errant cyclists riding the wrong way down a one way street, jumping red lights or making brief but scary forays onto the pavement (sidewalk if you're across the pond).
it is also an undeniable fact that the problems encountered between pedestrians and motor cars are often a tad different than those between the car and velocipede. the former has need of only occasional incursions into that defined for the motorist, while the cyclist has constant need of existing alongside. it's a problem that is very unlikely to disappear completely, even allowing for improvements in road systems and increased education for both parties.
but somewhat in similar manner to the zen koan which queries 'what happens to my lap when i stand up?' take the pedestrian out of an urban environment and place him/her in the countryside, and they become known as walkers. and yet again, particularly in the light of recent right of responsible access legislation, they are required to co-exist with the bicycle, only now on a level playing field, if you will excuse my mixed metaphors. it is here that a velocipedinal competitive urge has started to invade the pitch.
strava has the potential to inhabit the same space as facebook; much like laphroaig single malt, you either love it or hate it. by way of declaration, i find myself very firmly in the latter category. many an offroad or cyclocross oriented cyclist, with some form of gps enabled device attached to the bicycle, rather than compete in organised competition, is seemingly more likely to attack each region of track with a vehemence that can only be granted the bludgeoning individual. how they compare with their unknown peer group can subsequently be adjudged in a web browser.
though the principle remains the same for those clad in walking boots, the competitive urge seems mercifully absent from the majority of the cagoule club. thus this sharing of resources between two disparate entities once again results in conflict. malcolm shepherd, chief executive of sustrans has said "Cycling and walking paths cater to a variety of users by providing a safe, non-threatening environment to travel in. The anti-social behaviour of a very small number of cyclists is making everyone feel less safe.
"Traffic-free walking and cycling paths are not the place for reckless cycling speed demons."
the contention by mr shepherd is that certain cyclists are less concerned with the delights of the traffic-free environment in which they ride as they are with completing various sectors faster than their cohorts. campaigns and policy director of the cyclists' touring club, roger geffen said "The CTC strongly supports responsible behaviour by all road users, drivers and cyclists alike. Equally though, walkers can feel as intimated by fast cycling on shared-use paths as cyclists are by fast driving.
"As cyclists, we need to show them the same respect that we want drivers to show us on the roads."
the blame can hardly be laid at the door of the folks at strava, for they have simply provided a tool without necessarily dictating how it should or should not be used. granted, they do subtly encourage a degree of competition between users. as stated on the strava website "We envisioned Strava as the means to put our workouts and races into context. We call that social fitness." i figure the operative word there is 'races'. however, few of us would attempt a time-trial along a pedestrian precinct, so it ill behoves any of us to hurtle along woodland tracks and sustrans routes on shiny carbon 29ers purely for the kudos of being top dog on strava.
fun is fun, but preferably not at someone else's expense.
thursday 25th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
thankfully, as yet, nobody has tried to tell us that cycling is the new tennis. that's probably not without good reason, for the two sports have remarkably little in common, tennis being a far more individual pursuit than events such as the tour de france. should roger federer find himself lagging a little in his competition against an unpronouncable adversary, there is not a phalanx of team-mates able to come to his aid. but in mitigation, the end result and trophy holder will be an individual player.
however, one less reason to even consider the comparison as a valid one is related to effort. in the 2013 wimbledon tennis competition, eventual winner andy murray played a total of seven matches over a two week period in order to lift the silverware and £1.6 million for his efforts.
for the past few years, egged on by the surfacing of the mamil as a recognisable entity within the cycling milieu, a comparison between cycling and golf has been regularly made. whether you agree with this or not is something of a moot point. the likeness between two seemingly disparate sports (and the jury is out as to whether golf should actually be viewed as such) has far more to do with the inner workings of the corporate world than it has with any first across the finish line approach.
my late father's only claim to fame in the golfing world was holding the same name as that of former champion arnold palmer. this had allowed him to acquire a leather golf bag with this surname writ large along its length. disappointingly from his point of view, there the similarity came to a grinding halt. however, it was a considered formality of the business world that clients ought to be treated to the occasional round of golf, the more lucrative ones often allowed to win at the eighteenth.
it turns out that, for reasons i don't completely comprehend, more and more business discussions and deals are being carried out a la peloton, no doubt the more respected customers allowed to summit while a few lengths in the lead. since we are talking about reasonably highly paid executives, high modulus carbon fibre mostly prevails.
but yet again, the comparison reaches a point of failure; or several to be more precise. though the inveterate golfer has access to the advice of his caddy, by and large, he/she is pretty much on his/her own, each hole won or lost by solo effort. but in the recently completed three-day golf open at muirfield (and i still don't understand how, in this day and age it is allowable to bar women from the premises), californian phil mickelson walked away on sunday eve with his wallet just under £1 million better off.
by comparison, team sky, who garnered the greatest remuneration after 21 multi-hour stages across the flatlands and mountains of france, were left sitting on the death star, figuring out how to divvy up less than half a million pounds between eight riders and the support staff. even the most cynical amongst us would have to agree that's not a heck of a lot of buttons for three weeks solid hard work. it must also surely be the single sporting event in which the winner rides away with no cash in his pockets at all, having handed to his fellow team members.
how on earth does that make cycling the new golf?
actually, that's perhaps a tad untrue, insinuating that winner chris froome left paris penniless after all that effort. for team sky's car sponsor, the jaguar motor company, have generously provided him with a yellow and black jaguar f-type. though i figure froome would be unlikely to impress the sponsor if he sold it for hard cash, the retail price of an f-type wouldn't return much change from £70,000. is it just me, or does it not seem strange to give a cyclist a car as a prize?
though the car itself is a bog standard f-type, its decor is rather more unique, containing as it does a plethora of images realised by jaguar's social media campaign #getbehindteamsky. there's little doubt that chris deserves something tangible for his performances in this year's race, but i have my doubts if it's possible to fit a cycle rack to the back.
wednesday 24th july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if the following all seems a tad on the vague side, that is a deliberate ploy on my part. there's just a teensyweensy chance that the folks in question might find themselves reading these pixels, and though i think public embarrassment may be just the ticket the doctor ordered, my civilised side prefers to protect even the guilty.
though i cannot account for the vagaries of internationalism in relation to school summer holidays, in the uk, scottish schools have been on holiday since the end of june and i believe most of the english educational establishments are about to follow suit. though probably unknowing at the time of booking, those who have arrived on these hallowed shores for their summer holidays have undoubtedly experienced islay at its very best. rarely does one see an enormous expanse of azure skies bereft of even a single cloud, accompanied by temperatures that would do justice to an island in the mediterranean.
this means, almost incidentally, that there are a myriad of outdoor activities to be enjoyed that may not have been so prevalent in previous years, or even prior to departing for the ferry terminal at kennacraig. cycling is definitely one of those.
though predominantly instigated as an aid to the folks living on the isle of colonsay (roughly mid-distance between islay and oban), the saturday lunchtime ferry to said island and onto oban often provides a welcome bonus to folks over on holiday. arriving at colonsay in early afternoon allows the intrepid visitor a few hours to circumnavigate before returning to the harbour for the trip back to islay. since there is little need of motorised transport on colonsay, often the car deck of the ferry contains far more bicycles than cars.
just the way it ought to be.
however, late morning on friday i was visited by a gentleman who explained that his young daughter's bicycle appeared to have a malfunction in the bottom bracket area and wondered whether i might be inclined to take a look at it. for reasons i don't fully understand, he had not brought the velocipede with him at this point, and had then to return to his holiday accommodation to retrieve it. quite how i was expected to offer a technical diagnosis and prospect of repair sight unseen, i am none too clear.
the bicycle was in possession of a standard, square taper, cup and cone bb which had effectively unscrewed itself to the right. the adjustable cup was threaded well into the bb shell, while the fixed cup had unscrewed itself from the frame completely. i've seen this happen before, but it's rarely something that takes place over the course of a day, particularly in relation to the mileage covered by a child.
what i'd like to know is why this hadn't been checked or noticed prior to departing the mainland for the annual holiday? and it would have been nice to have more than half-a-day's notice to fix it. given that most bicycles are attached to a carrier at the rear of the car, it strikes me as something that ought to have been noticed at least when packing to depart. due to my still having a complete set of almost obsolete bb tools, i was able to effect an appropriate repair, but my point remains valid: check the ruddy things before you leave home.
i'm sure there are bicycle mechanics up and down scotland's west coast who will confirm that many a repair could easily have been avoided had the bicycle been appraised at the appropriate time. worn out tyres and brake pads, broken gear and brake cables, loose pedals; these are invariably happenstances that don't occur overnight. there are many unforeseen breakages that are just that: punctures, broken spokes, broken chains, snapped bolts etc for which it's hard to prepare, and i'd be the last to recommend carrying an entire workshop toolkit just in case. but i can't be the only cycle repairer who is regularly visited by folks who carried no spare inner tubes or repair kits.
usually it's raining, and attempting to patch a punctured inner tube at the roadside in the wet simply marks you out as eccentric. carry spare tubes and if you must, repair the tube when back at your lodgings. but most important of all, have each and every bike checked prior to leaving on holiday. not everywhere in the more remote parts of scotland (or england or wales, for that matter) will have someone able to effect a repair, a factor that could ruin a perfectly good holiday.
this has been a public service announcement on behalf of the sensible party.
tuesday 23rd july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................