to give it it's posh title, it is either the islay festival of malt and music or the islay festival of music and malt. it depends pretty much on who you talk to. but by the common consent of those who visit in the last week of may every year, it really means only one thing: 'the islay whisky festival'. hordes of apparently well-heeled europeans, americans and japanese boost the island's population to spend each day of their week visiting each and every malt whisky distillery on the island. also the one on jura.
that's a total of nine distilleries plus port ellen maltings. (it's quite an intriguing building but could hardly be described as picturesque or even quaint). those of us who live here, and thus ought probably to be disqualified from making comment, can't quite fathom why the same folks return year after year to take the same tours and see the same whisky being made. the very whisky that has been made pretty much the same way for the past 500 years.
hardly a comment guaranteed to improve the island's tourism.
however, we really shouldn't complain, for aside from the principal language in bowmore main street being german for a week, these whisky themed visitors add inordinate amounts of currency to the local economy. and you need not think that this is a trend left unnoticed by those nine whisky distilleries. aside from offering special tours with the respective managers at a premium price, they have cottoned onto the limited edition bottling gravy train.
i am not sufficiently well-versed in the whys and wherefores of single malt whisky to purport whether the contents of these limited editions are anything to write home about. it could just be that the amber nectar within is much the same as that more regularly offered on a daily basis. perhaps those limited editions simply bear a more exciting label attesting to their limitedness. either way, it's probably the sort of item you'd kick yourself that you didn't buy while sitting on the return flight.
the word limited is, however, of subjective denotation; limited by whose standards? for example, one of the distilleries this past year offered a limited bottling of 3,000. contrast that with a bowmore distillery limited bottling of one dozen (admittedly not specifically for the whisky festival). it's also worth contrasting that the cost of the latter is £100,000. the other one was a bit cheaper.
however, there is always the additional definition of limitedness that constrains sales to individuals actually turning up at each of the respective distilleries on their open day and during the festival. that way, it becomes very much a case of 'you had to be there'. exactly the same situation as recently instigated at rapha's cycle clubs.
more regularly, when one's bank balance shows a short-term spike in an upward direction, it is perfectly agreeable that one peruses rapha's online shop for items that may return the bank account to its more regular paucity of content. however, the items available from the cycle clubs cannot be acquired in any other way other than walking in through the front door. i dare say it would be more than acceptable for an agent or third party to visit london's brewer street on your behalf, purchase the necessary and post it directly, but let's just keep that to ourselves.
those of you in the vicinity have probably already availed yourselves of each and every item (polo shirt, sticky bottle and musette so far as i'm aware), but those of us living in rural civilisation can only but dream of viewing these items in their natural habitat. i did ask rapha's james fairbank if these would soon make their way to the interwebs, but his reply was not full of promise "Cycle Clubs only Brian. Nice to reward the physical from time to time."
so, in order that we might re-assess the implications of limited edition and torment those waking hours, i not only take no pleasure in providing these tantalising treats for your delectation, but i'm checking for a gap in my schedule that might allow me a few days in the metropolis.
monday 7th october 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
many years ago, in a land far far away, i bought stuff for a living. it was my job to purchase vast quantities of stuff to fill the little metal trays with plastic tasting food that is served on aeroplanes. it's a simple enough task once you get the hang of it, the trick being to anticipate full passenger numbers, yet not be left with lots of superfluous stuff if the plane flies out half-empty. the day to day management of such is pretty much flying by the seat of your pants, if you'll forgive the pun, but not every facet of the job imposed such immediate demands.
those little metal trays themselves can be had in a whole raft of different dimensions, and each airline has different demands, standards and in-aircraft ovens. it will also surprise you not at all, that some of these little metal foil trays are manufactured abroad, and thus have to be ordered from other than the uk. in the specific case i recall, a preferred supplier was based in holland, and required one month's notice of order. but just to make life a tad more complicated, those trays ordered a month in advance were usually for flights departing in the month following that.
therefore, orders placed at the end of may (for example) would arrive at the end of june and due to go on aeroplanes leaving in july. since aircraft passenger numbers can vary by the hour, you can imagine the amount of inspired guesswork that predicated any orders for those dutch foil trays. the only consolation is that foil trays have no sell-by date. but it does mean that, while everyone else lived day to day, i was living in may, but thinking about july, and i'm not sure that was ever a comfortable place to be.
rod ellingworth is like one of the guys you see playing keyboards or bass with a famed beat group no longer in possession of its original line-up. you know they know what they're doing, and that the concert or album could not have happened without them, but nobody ever asks for their autograph. such a man is rod ellingworth and aside from his relative anonymity, it appears that he too suffered/suffers from the dilemma of having to plan not just months, but most often several years into the future.
following mark cavendish's more than complimentary foreword, chapter one, intriguingly titled shouting at the telly starts in copenhagen on 25th september 2011. since the subtitle of project rainbow alludes to this particular moment, at that point, you kind of wonder what happened to the rest of the book. though i'm hardly the guy to be talking about cliches, this notion of starting books at the end is beginning to become a rather overused ploy.
chapter two, however, restores the balance with ellingworth's opening sentence "I first went to the Worlds when I was nine.", the very year when beppe saronni on a red colnago crossed the line in first place to wear the rainbow bands through 1983. ellingworth's parents having split up in 1979, he lived with his dad, yet another in a long-line of cyclists in the ellingworth family. there is, apparently, still a gp ellingworth run in late may named after rod's great grandfather.
cycling may give the impression of approaching the mainstream in contemporary times, but as ellingworth relates "At that point cycling was nothing as a sport. I was doing a sport which wasn't really recognised, which had no presence in schools, and no-one there knew anything about it." there are a lot of them still about. however, in order to financially appease his aspirations, his grandad suggested applying to the council under the 'Gifted Young People' grant scheme, ending up with £50 for 1987 rising to £5,000 and a car in 1996.
academia was not suited to the young ellingworth (or vice versa), principally due to his ambition to go to france as a professional racing cyclist. his first taste of racing abroad was gained in moscow 1989, riding the junior world championships, followed by a period of racing in europe. during this time, ellingworth began to gain an appreciation of just how the great britain team worked, or rather, didn't. "There was no experience in the management, no coaching structure, no pathway for the riders to follow."
even at this early stage in the book, it is all too clear how far british cycling has come in the last twenty or so years. "British Cycling had no real base - it was run out of Jim Hendry's place in Kettering. There was no money. They were doing all the races off the back of nothing."
Ellingworth returned from europe in 1999, aware that he was never going to emulate paul sherwen or robert millar. he applied for a job as a fireman in grantham but was turned down because "they weren't going to train up someone who had been swanning around the world for the last ten years." aside from a period of time working with his brother, the end of ellingworth's road cycling career was more or less his introduction to the new british cycling after gaining a coaching qualification, though he continued to have success as a track rider.
his responsibilities at team gb were centred around bringing on new talent, and it's at this point you begin to realise that no longer was it prudent simply to think of the day to day. a coherent future for british track and road cycling had now to be considered if there was to be any real point to ellingworth's coaching. "My career as a coach with the Great Britain Olympic team began in March 2002." this initial period with team gb more or less set the structure for ellingworth's future as a coach, travelling round schools in central london carrying out sessions at which he might identify future talent that might possibly bring road and track gold medals.
the narrative from this point onwards is modestly matter-of-fact, for despite the nagging suspicion that, were it not for rod ellingworth we'd still be a cycling backwater, the man himself is remarkably self-effacing about the principles on which he worked and the disciplines he put in place. sir dave brailsford has been provided with quite rightly deserved plaudits for not only overseeing britain's track and road successes, as well as his work with team sky. however, it seems more than likely that were it not for ellingworth, sir dave would have had a serious paucity of british riders from which to choose.
his greatest innovation appears to be that of unarguable discipline. if the young aspirants were told to be ready for 9am, no excuses would be brokered. the ride left whether you were there or not. if the team failed to heed agreed strategies in a race. they'd find themselves either having to ride home after the finish, or clean the team bikes and cars to forcefully underline the point. "Their basic understanding of cycling was poor. They were nice kids, but they didn't have a clue. They weren't really into it. They had no passion for cycling."
though the proclaimed subject of the book is that of the processes that brought the rainbow jersey to britain once more, tom simpson having been the only previous british wearer of the rainbow bands, the preceding chapters offer a comprehensive dissection and history of just how that came to be a feasible and believable target. and to yet again belabour the point that ellingworth was constantly looking to the future while organising the present, the whole project effectively took the form of a business plan. with many of the team gb riders contracted to different professional teams, regular training camps had to be planned while taking into account a number differing and often conflicting race schedules.
perhaps the most telling part of ellingworth's recollections relate to the non-compulsory nature of these camps on the approach to copenhagen in 2011. due mostly to the aforementioned dispersion of the riders across the world and their individual team commitments, it was decided that they would not be compelled to take part in each and every get-together. bradley wiggins, however, apparently attended none of them.
that cavendish won the rainbow bands (after a last lap lead-out from wiggins no-less) is now part of british cycling history. there is a nagging despondency, however, that having achieved the previously unachievable, team gb seem to have let go. though ellingworth was widely quoted as being less than impressed with the team's performance in tuscany only a weekend ago, to go from winning to wholesale abandoning looks suspiciously like a 'been there, done that' situation.
despite all his self-effacing grasp of reality throughout the book regarding the likelihood of certain riders achieving particular goals, ellingworth's integrity seems oddly shaky concerning cavendish. the odd sentence alludes almost to sycophancy, but borders on the irrational when discussing the abortive 2012 olympic road race where vinokourov was a large fly in the ointment. cavendish having finished in twenty-ninth spot after almost everybody expected him to grab gold, ellingworth's usually pragmatic and largely unemotional reactions to less than victory seem to take a tumble. "I was pretty angry with the other nations because I got the impression that they felt it didn't matter who won as long as we didn't."
i have no idea as to how good a writer rod ellingworth may be in his own right, but project rainbow is immeasurably enhanced by the ghost writing of william fotheringham. the attention to detail present in all but perhaps the final chapter (one chapter too many i'd venture to suggest) is quite excellent, yet at no time does the narrative become stodgy, incoherent or onerous. placing everything in logical order must have been a task in itself, yet having done so, the result is all but transparent; not only is this a story worth reading, it has all but transcended its subject, making it as appealing to the non-cyclist as to the velocipedinal obsessives like ourselves.
there's every likelihood that, post 2012 olympics, when they were handing out new year's honours, one of the most important cogs in the machine was missing from the list. though not quite of the same scale, project rainbow at least keeps the record straight. if you have any interest at all in how britain became a major force in modern day road and track cycling, i doubt there has been a finer explanation or testament published. not only is it exceptionally well written without pretension or flourish, but it fills many of the historical gaps relating to britain's place in top level, international cycling in the 21st century.
not, however, the finest cover i've ever seen.
sunday 6th october 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you may perhaps have read my interview with endura's jim mcfarlane earlier this week in which he alluded to the twenty-four months they had spent on technical developments to their apparel for the movistar world tour cycling team. though bicycles have evolved from steel tubing squished into cast steel lugs, through tig welding, onto aluminium and titanium before effectively settling on carbon fibre (i can recall a touch of beryllium along the way, but we all make mistakes), the impression gained is that clothing is still at the tig welding stage.
it's possible that carbon has gone pretty much 90% of the way to its ultimate weight, shape and form, and the law of diminishing returns likely kicked in a few years ago. so aerodynamics and sir brailsford's marginal gains are having to look elsewhere. i sincerely doubt that clothing is the last bastion of traditional versus space-age, for someone's bound to find a hitherto unrealised method of removing valve stems from the drag factor coefficient. but for now, skinsuits are spreading to the peloton from the world of time-trialling and cyclocross, hindered only be the need for those three pockets on the rear.
however, cutting edge is all very well for brad, fab and alejandro; they have races to win and are looking for every advantage they can find over their rivals. add bike to wheels to clothing and it's little wonder that the average speed of tour stages edges ever upwards each year.
the pelotonese, on the other hand, have their collective hearts set on leg pummelling for an hour or two, before visiting the coffee shop/stop for large troughs of froth. this is a process for which cutting edge is almost entirely superfluous; style is what cuts it along with one of those little caramel biscuits, and where each and every performance advantage is inveigled on behalf of the athletic, there is often a perceived need to instigate a pecking order.
to put not too fine a point on it, i need to look cooler and more stylish than the guy sat next to me. for kid yourselves not, that's what cycling is really all about. speed is simply a distraction. and while lycra and space-age polyester might serve the anorexic professionals to a tee, rarely can the same be said for the rest of us. retro is where it's at.
but like the halcyon days of yore, oft remembered with a golden tinge around the edge, are the wool jerseys that were the cutting edge of their day really all we'd like to think they were? modern day sportwool and merino may offer far greater technical attributes and properties than those worn by eddy, jacques and fausto, but let's be honest, they're not quite the same.
the two gentlemen who are having far too much fun at prendas ciclismo recently found a hidden stash of original wool cycle jerseys, one of which emulated the colours of del tongo colnago, but in truth simply featured ernesto's surname in flock lettering across the front and back. mick and andy were kind enough to send me just such a jersey, marked size two and also featuring the colnago logo flocked on each short sleeve. though italian made wool jerseys are renowned for being barely large enough to clothe a small child, this particular example did indeed fit rather well.
just as is the case with modernity, there are three rear pockets, mysteriously featuring a button and button hole atop each. i say mysteriously because none of the velo club peloton could quite figure out what is the point. i very much doubt any rider from the sixties or seventies would have taken the trouble to re-fasten a button after removing his brie and sun-dried tomato baguette at the feed station.
other than that, the jersey is great. admittedly after machine washing it's a darned good idea to lie it flat to dry, but in use, and at my speed, it's highly excellent; no more and only a little less than its contemporary equivalents. wool may be a tad less windproof than polyester, and it's undoubtedly a smidgeon heavier, but you really do have to wonder whatever happened to using sheep to supply the professional peloton?
ironically, though wool jerseys are part of our cycling heritage and thought to be of historical value, they really don't cost an alarming amount of money if you happen to find one every now and again. this one was a gift from prendas because it matches my bicycles, and one should never ask the cost of a gift. but sometimes, bearing in mind how good this looks, how well it fits and how functional at modest speeds it is, you do have to wonder if all the money spent on marginal gains offers a decent return on investment.
mind you, i haven't got it wet yet.
saturday 5th october 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if it has been said once, it has been said many more times than that; as cycling aficionados we've never had it so good. there is more than 50% truth in that statement, though if you managed to acquire a copy of l'album d'eddy, you may just have perceived a significant distinction between the unhindered access that allowed the snapping of so many close-ups of merckx, and the teamsky deathstars that shelter sir brad and his cronies from public gaze.
that, however, was then and this is now. what hasn't altered much, if at all, in those intervening years is the opportunity for cycling fans to prostrate themselves on the pathways crossed by their heroes. though i am thankfully not at all enthralled by either football, rugby or cricket, i am well aware that even those living in close glaswegian proximity are unable to nip down to hampden park with their mates for a quick kick-about. that sort of opportunity arrives only at the professional level.
yet even that woman on tv of a wednesday eve, the one who quells the tantrums of misbehaving children in three days, before riding into the sunset on her pashley style bicycle has the opportunity to make her way across the cobbles of paris-roubaix. at least, on the 364 days that the pros aren't using them. similarly, if only a sturmey archer three-speed were up to the challenge, she could climb the angliru in spain, negotiate the 21 hairpins of alpe d'huez or even take a taster session at the sir chris hoy velodrome.
cycling is like that.
and, of course, it isn't just popular nannies who are afforded such opporchancities; you and i, with our highly polished carbon and state of the art sportwool can entertain ourselves likewise. it is one of the great joys of being a cycling fan that we can ride the very roads over which our idols have been victorious or sorely disappointed. that is, assuming we have appropriately prepared ourselves and have the faintest idea of where we're going in foreign lands.
some of the more famous of the great monuments of cycling are alleged to have signposts advertising the route, signposts which are not dependent on it being race day. others, however, look substantially different when not edged by clamouring throngs and populated by camera motorbikes and commissaires' red skodas. in which case, more than a smidgeon of research is required by the more intrepid amongst us.
the amount of research required, however, has been substantially reduced by the publication of chris sidwells' classic cycling race routes, a 200 plus page volume offering a brief but comprehensive guide to 52 routes to purgatory. i might interject at this point that i can understand why garmin are involved in the book's production, but i am totally mystified as to why the automobile association are the publishers of a bicycle book. surely if followed to its logical conclusion, such altruism could lead to reduced membership?
though we have been advised throughout our lifetimes not to judge a book by its cover, in this case i would extend that to the opening chapters. i would be most surprised if any rider who has not only heard of liege-bastogne-liege but intends to ride its 255km has need of being told what size of bicycle to purchase, why cycling jerseys have three rear pockets or that 'Long-sleeved tops range from thin, simple ones for autumn days to thicker, quite technical tops for wearing in really cold weather.' mr sidwells ought perhaps to be a tad more aware of his intended audience.
if you think i judge too harshly, take note of several of the routes contained within: the tour of flanders, gran fondo eddy merckx, milan-san remo, l'eroica, amstel gold and the aforementioned liege-bastogne-liege. granted, there are a slew of sportives that could hardly be classified as classic race routes such as the etape caledonia, the fred whitton challenge, the tour of wessex and the etape pennines, but their inclusion serves only to undermine the veracity of the book's title. perhaps there are indeed cycling wannabes who enter lengthy and hilly sportives on a whim, yet cannot distinguish between one cycle jersey and another.
i truly hope i'm wrong.
as a concession to book sponsors garmin, there is a section entitled 'using a gps device', but it is in effect, simply a brief advertisement. thoughtfully, however, all the routes are available for download to a garmin gps device.
the chapters of faff at the beginning should not, however, dissuade you from purchasing the book, as once into his stride, chris sidwells offers excellent and pertinent advice and information for anyone intending to ride the included routes. maps, profiles, distances, climbing information and a brief history of the event all make for ideal preparation by the inquisitive and intrepid. parcel all this with some excellent illustrations, and 'tis but a simple matter to acquaint oneself with the self-imposed task of emulating the professionals, albeit at considerably reduced pace.
there is. however, a faint hint of the coffee table book about it all, for though the photos are of equitable quality, their size and number mitigate against this being accepted in the premise on which it is offered. however, for armchair pelotonese such as myself, there is an atmosphere to be inhaled throughout its luxurious pages that might just see me get off my lazy backside and go ride at least one of the chapters. and as i have possession of a garmin gps, a good chunk of my pre-pedalling work has been done for me.
if i were you, i'd peruse the list on the back cover first; if anything takes your fancy, even tentatively or for a few years hence, this is the book for you. in the meantime, ignore the opening chapters, savour its pages and images, and remain smug that out of all the world's professional sports, we undoubtedly got the best deal.
friday 4th october 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i am manifestly not a motorist. i do not own a motor car, and even when i did, my skills (or lack thereof) were probably as much a danger to myself as to everyone else on the road. i'm also not a mountain biker, for almost the same reasons, except for the danger to other road users bit. therefore, in terms of my transportational abilities, to say nothing of my athletic conditioning, i consider myself a roadie. the strange part of that equation is that i find it necessary to define myself in any particular way at all.
of course, i'm hardly alone in that; many an individual has seeming need of defining themselves in all sorts of different ways, and not necessarily as an offshoot of their primary occupation. for instance, there are times when i consider it appropriate to be thought of as a drummer. you can see how this works; when i was due to play at the islay jazz festival, would it not have been ever so slightly out of the ordinary to have been introduced to my audience as a roadie?
i'm sure you can see my point.
such designations are rarely satisfied with pertaining purely to individuals, spreading their wings sideways at every opportunity. for instance, the word luxurious can be applied subjectively to all sorts of items, not solely those concerned with velocipedinity. and tautologically, the word cheap often finds itself in tow with both low-cost and low quality manufacture. the interesting twist to the latter situation is that one definition does not always entail the other.
the bit that concerns me in more than just one way, is a pressing need on behalf of most of us to apply such a definition of economics in the first place. cheap is just as entitled to its market share as luxurious and eye-watering. as an emerging roadie (there i go again) in the early nineties, having built my campag equipped reynolds 531 steel bicycle, i was really not desperately keen to let loose with even more of my hard-earned to clothe myself in a luxurious and eye-watering manner. i wanted cheap.
and if you were to take into consideration the amount and quality of cycling in which i partook at the time, you would have agreed with me 100%. there really was little need to have a word with switzerland for bibshorts (do any newbies really start with bibshorts?) and windproof jackets. disappointingly, at the time, cheap equated very neatly with the word crap. there is a certain poetry there, however, for that adjective could just as easily have been applied to my bicycle riding at the time.
nowadays, however, perhaps due to a raging influx of luxurious and eye-watering, cheap has had to re-arrange its horizons. there are more folks cycling these days, a large majority of whom have no earthly desire to emulate sir wiggins. their less stringent demands have need of quality and at least a modicum of style, but nowhere is it written that a day's cycling will last more than six hours, climb more than 3,000 metres and leave an average speed in excess of 40kph.
the commuting or weekend leisure cyclist simply wants to be comfortable, warm and not prone to eliciting unbridled hilarity from schoolkids passed on the way to work. and for the privilege of inhabiting these conditions, they have little need of emptying the piggy bank. unlike most of us obsessives, they do not travel to and from work in order to earn enough money to clothe themselves for the process. utilitarian rather than demonstrative.
there are many cycling apparel providers keen to cater to this expanding market, but i can honestly think of few who embrace the word cheap more effectively than aldi's supermarket. had you quizzed me about their cycle clothing prior to this review i would have deliberately inferred that i use the word cheap in both senses of the word.
in order that i might further explore both definitions, aldi sent me a long-sleeve winter jersey to wear as i hurtled my honed physique not only around the hebridean highways and byways, but also through the undergrowth and across muddied paths. though not described in terms that many of us would recognise, the fleece lining that pervades every inner centimetre of the jersey, including the sleeves, is remarkably akin to roubaix fabric. the outer material is regular black polyester with contrasting and very tidy lime-green flatlock stitching.
there are a couple of space-age reflective patterns on the arm fronts, repeated left and right on the small of the back. i understand implicitly why those are there, but they do look a tad incongruous, though i may well be looking at these out of context. the obligatory three rear pockets are well-sized and capacious, surprisingly augmented by a fourth zipped pocket outboard of the centre example. this is something irritatingly absent from far more expensive garments.
the screen-printed label inside the collar attests to the brand name being crane, a fact that is underlined by a crane (bird) style logo on the centre rear pocket. though i admit i did not look closely to identify, the hang-tag when the jersey arrived stated that the quarter zip was manufactured by ykk. the collar is commendably high to keep out autum and winter draughts, but it would have been kinda nice if the zip had ended in one of those bizarrely named zip garages, if only to prevent nipped necks. the hem was lined with that gloopy silicon to prevent it riding up when cycling.
it would be overstating the case to aver that the aldi winter jersey was likely to confer the title style icon upon the wearer, but that is truly far from its purpose. i confess i had not expected it to fit quite so well; i opted for the medium size, and though not skin tight, there was truthfully little cause for complaint. a full length front zip would have been a happy bonus to proceedings, and i'd have liked the sleeves to be a centimetre or so longer. but in mitigation, i do have slightly longer arms than average, so the latter comment ought not necessarily to be viewed as a criticism.
in use, worn over a short sleeve baselayer, the jersey was remarkably warm; perhaps overly so on occasion. however, it should be borne in mind that during the review, the hebrides were suffering unseasonably mild weather. it was possible to stuff a digital camera, rainjacket, tyre levers, coffee and toastie money and a large wrapped slice of mrs washingmachinepost's fruit loaf into those pockets without overly troubling the jersey's cargo carrying abilities.
i can think of no other way to describe its functional properties than as decidedly excellent. my cyclocross ineptitude generally means that bicycle and clothing are given a harder time than ought to be the case, yet the jersey remained wonderfully supportive (in a figurative sense) no matter the trials of its wearer. overheating was comfortably managed by the top zip, and unlike some, it was easy to pop up and down single-handedly even when riding.
cheap can also manifest itself after the fact. it would not be the first garment to imply a strength of character on release from its polybag, yet subsequently throw it all away on contact with a washingmachine. happily, no such indignity was suffered in this instance; after several washes, aldi's jersey has retained every millimetre of its shape, every centimetre of stitching, and there's not a bobble of polyester to be seen.
but, in order that i might place my use of the word cheap in context, strictly in the economic sense, i'd like to point out that a jersey remarkably similar to the example reviewed, can be purchased at very odd intervals from your nearest aldi supermarket for only £8.99. that's not a proofing error; it really does only cost £8.99.
thursday 3rd october 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i don't quite get the idea of stealing. i understand what happens when stuff gets nicked, and ultimately i understand why some folks steal, but i fail to comprehend whatever it is that makes it alright for some people to misappropriate other peoples' property for their own gain or purposes. i know that i'm not alone in these thoughts, otherwise, why would we have a police force? but despite all we are taught at school, it seems there are still those who find it ok to ignore this portion of social responsibility.
i've no intentions of coming over all moralistic, and despite the simplicity of my opening paragraph, i'm not as naive as it perhaps makes me appear. if i might quote from monty python "it's a fair cop, but society is to blame." there's no chance whatsoever that reading of this article will result in totally reformed characters even as we speak, handing themselves in to the nearest police station for previous misdemeanours. having stuff nicked is part and parcel of modern existence; the best we can do is take steps to prevent removal of our property.
having your most valued possessions (yes, we're talking about bicycles) fully insured is definitely a good first step, but though this will hopefully cover the cost of replacing anything illegally purloined, it's hardly what could be considered preventative medicine. though one colnago will ride as well as its replacement, it's harder to come to terms with that fact if the one that got pinched happens to be a model colnago no longer produces. therefore, the obvious solution is to make it harder for the thieves in the first place.
disappointingly, somewhere within the depths of youtube is a series of videos demonstrating how simple it is for bicycle thieves to make off with cycles locked to various immoveable objects around city centres. in one notable example, a would-be thief, in the process of using a power grinder to remove a bicycle lock saw a police car draw alongside and ask him to move off the road onto the pavement (sidewalk) before driving off, leaving him to continue with his crime. sometimes you do have to wonder what the hapless civilian has to do to hang onto their own property.
however, to a certain extent there are limits as to the steps that can be taken in open urban or metropolitan areas to secure a bicycle. though there are locks that look as if they'd survive a nuclear attack, you'd need a troop transporter or a physique like the incredible hulk simply to carry it about. but many a bicycle disappears overnight from garages or bikesheds all across the nation, simply because once ensconced within either of those residencies, they are free to roam. if a thief is intent on breaking into either, they probably will.
thus, a second or third line of defence is required to make life more awkward for those intent on illegal bicycle activity. it's hardly rocket science to consider fitting a lock to a bicycle that itself is locked inside a shed or garage. even better, as i have done so myself, thread a plastic-coated thick steel cable through a number of bicycles before locking the whole shebang. that's bound to be a bit of nuisance. however, assuming a gang of thieves, that might not be an insurmountable problem.
which is where security specialists kryptonite enter the fray via their stronghold anchor. simply described, this is a 16mm diameter hardened carbon alloy steel hoop that bolts onto a concrete surface, rendering it pretty much immoveable in the face of adversity. using a heavy duty d-lock or chain-lock, it is then simplicity itself to join one to the other. the naked underbody of the stronghold anchor features three bolt holes arranged in a triangular pattern. drilling into the concrete with the supplied masonry drills, the cement anchor bolts are then inserted into the equivalent of industrial rawlplugs.
kryptonite have considered this device from the potential thieves' point of view. a ball-bearing is placed into the centre of each allen bolt before being covered with a domed steel disc and hammered into position. this effectively prevents the bolts being removed without a great deal of inconvenience. over the top of the industrial section slides a round resin disc which is bolted onto the substructure. safe, secure and able to be driven over by vehicles if left on a garage floor. the carbon steel shackle lies flat when not in use, but can be lifted into a vertical position to allow for locking.
for the purposes of this review, i had to adopt the persona of burglar bill. though i have it fitted to the concrete base adjacent to thewashingmachinepost bike shed, islay's exceedingly low (read 'non-existent') bicycle crime rate meant that the hapless cycle would have rusted to a useless hulk had i waited on attempted removal. granted, i have no real expertise in this profession, but no amount of wrestling, kicking or thumping with a hammer would budge the anchor from its designated position.
not to mention that my exhortations would have woken at least several of the neighbours if carried out under cover of darkness.
naturally enough, it would not be the most practical of notions to install the stronghold anchor out of doors, particularly in the face of a hebridean winter, but to be honest, that's really why i put it there in the first place. though it hasn't had to deal with much in the way of inclement weather since installation, i propose leaving it just where it is over the coming winter, and i'll let you know how it fares.
meantime, if you have fears regarding the safety of your bicycle(s) outwith the house, this seems a particularly effective means of hanging onto them for as long as possible, certainly making their illicit removal more than just a passing thought. naturally enough, the device could be easily affixed to a wall if considered a more practical option, but either way, it's a whole heck of a lot cheaper than a new bicycle, and might conceivably reduce your insurance premium.
the stronghold anchor retails at £60. thanks to tesco compare home insurance for supplying the review sample.
wednesday 2nd october 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
enough has been said about the british team's dismal performance at the 2013 world road race championships in tuscany, some of it on twitter, but definitively by gb coach, rod ellingworth. however, those of us who turned on the tv around the time froome and friends were turning off, were encouraged in a slightly different way, particularly if you're scottish.
for at that point on the rain-soaked circuit, the two leaders by a considerable margin were poland's bartosz huzarski and czechoslovakian jan barta, both of whom in normal life, ride for the netapp endura team. it may not have been possible to view a team gb jersey anywhere near the front, but that endura logo on both riders' shorts was of some consolation. in fact, that was at least one consideration for both riders as attested to by huzarski "my goal was to get the logos of netapp and endura well represented..."
after 240 kilometres in the break, the hapless huzarski was caught with 1.5 laps to go, but as they say, that's bike racing. however, both riders' performances were merely the latest increase in the profile of a cycle clothing company that has its home in an industrial estate in livingston, scotland, a mere stone's throw from edinburgh. endura was founded in the early nineties by jim mcfarlane, initially with the intent of making helmets (an ambition fully realised earlier this year), but fortuitously easing into the manufacture of cycle apparel instead.
jim's velocipedinal clothing aspirations coincided with the upsurge of interest in mountain biking in the uk, so until early this century, the name endura was more readily associated with the offroad fraternity, though not just in scotland. with the change in emphasis to bendy bars and skinny wheels, the company was astute enough to sponsor a uk-based road racing team to help develop a range of clothing that would compete with, and in many cases surpass that of its competitors. the success of this project was effectively demonstrated by the two pairs of international shorts on display at the front of sunday's professional road race.
riding in 2012 as a uci continental team, mcfarlane had enough confidence in his investment to move up to pro-continental level for 2013 by merging with germany's netapp team. their season has, by all accounts, been an unqualified success, particularly in not only having received an invitation to ride last month's vuelta espana, but having leopold koenig win a mountain stage and finish in the top ten.
logically, and bearing in mind the progress of a small piece of scotland through the uci rankings, the next step would be to take the big step up to world-tour status. financially that's a big ask, one that might conceivably cost a lot more than the business it generates. however, there are ways round that, and after at least a couple of years' thoughts and discussions, endura were happy to announce that for the 2014 season, they would be supplying clothing (but not helmets) to spain's movistar team.
i asked endura's ceo, jim mcfarlane who approached who? "We approached Movistar. We wanted to do the clothing ourselves in order to fully engage, learn from the process and position ourselves to fully exploit and develop any design gems that we unearthed along the way. In other words, to do it properly. It was never of interest to badge engineer someone else's production and end up with something that was confined to being a marketing tool without the design knowledge benefit that is achieved from doing the work directly in-house. It simply doesn't feel authentic to take that path and wouldn't fit with our brand or ethos.
"Sky were the obvious team to approach as the only UK licensed World Tour Team, but (at the time) we didn't feel we were in a comfortable position in terms of our resources and abilities to deliver significant clothing improvements at World Tour level until early 2012. By this time Sky had already committed to a four year deal elsewhere, so we had discussions with a few of the other top ten ranked World Tour Teams.
"Movistar were a stand out option given their overall quality and consistency of performance over many years, the fact that their kit is uncluttered with multiple sponsors and Spain is our second largest market in Europe after Germany. So it made sense commercially too, and fits well with having Team NetApp-Endura as a an Anglo-German team. The biggest single consideration though, was it quickly becoming clear that the people we deal with at Movistar were really good people. We thought we could work with them both effectively and enjoyably.
"We showed them some examples of what we were working on and shared our ideas of potential clothing improvements; they were immediately interested."
the difference, as in many cases, comes down to one of semantics, logistics and practicalities. several component and clothing manufacturers prefer to highlight their situation as being that of a partnership, making it seem more of an equitable agreement between two consenting parties than straightforward sponsorship. in the case of endura and movistar, which of the two would be more accurate, and not to put too fine a point on it, what's the difference?
"Well it's both. It is a sponsorship, as we pay to be a sponsor and we make and provide the clothing to the team riders. But we both chose to include the term 'partnership' in the press-release announcing the engagement because that is genuinely the spirit of how both Movistar and Endura are entering into this thing.
"We are working hard and spending a lot of extra money on developments for the Movistar Team that are not required within the contract, because we are on a mission to deliver the absolute best clothing of any World Tour team. And in aspects that can be proven through numbers, such as aerodynamics for example, to demonstrate that we are the best there is.
"We want to help them win the Tour; that's our job, or at least part of it. And they are really flexible in providing the support to help us deliver that. So it is not the case of a classic sponsorship arrangement where a cheque is signed, hands are shaken, a picture taken and then it all happens again a year later.
"Movistar have been with their current bike sponsor for 25 years and with their current clothing sponsor for 30 years, so they don't change things around lightly. They enter into the spirit of long-term partnerships and that's what we are looking for as well."
despite jim's manifest desire to put endura in the spotlight for more than five minutes, cycling is notorious for embracing the short term. though the team that is now movistar has indeed remained with its bike and clothing suppliers for what seems like an eternity, many other teams and sponsors are either more capricious or more susceptible to the whims of commerciality. as an example, endura commenced their professional racing aspirations aboard look frames, before swapping to giant and now with netapp, they're riding fuji, and all that in the space of three or four years
however, for the average weekend rider, reading the platitudes of team riders extolling the virtues of product z mere months after having been advertised as exclusively using product y, begins to wear a bit thin, despite being perfectly aware of how the sponsorship game plays out. and in view of movistar's demonstrable commitment to date, is this intended as a one-year arrangement or for a longer period of time? "Three years initially, but hopefully for much longer."
as mentioned previously, though endura had an enviable reputation for the quality of their kit, until several years ago, this had been firmly in the land of the knobbly tyre. entry into the world of road-racing via their very own team made a considerable difference to the cycling apparel on offer. quite frankly, it was like night and day, the newborn equipe range as developed in conjunction with the team professionals offering a hitherto unseen side of scottish design and ingenuity for road riders at whatever level. there is little doubt that the equipe range placed endura in a very comfortable position. is this the level of kit they will be supplying to movistar, or are there ongoing developments afoot in livingston?
"We have been working on kit developments for almost two years for this specific project. It is all new."
though i must embarrassingly admit to a surfeit of riches when it comes to cycling apparel, i cannot deny that it is of similar scope to those of lesser fortune. jerseys, shorts, baselayers, jackets etc. are just what most of us wear because, to be quite frank, that's mostly both the minimum and maximum required. a large percentage of us never have need or desire of pinning a number on those rear pockets, and though there is little wrong with a pleasant degree of finery and luxury, cutting edge performance is rarely in demand on the sunday ride.
professional bike riders, however, are less easily satisfied; if you had to spend up to six hours per day in the saddle over a period of three weeks, all the while bearing in mind the competitive demands of the directeurs sportifs, you too might be a little more concerned with the performance of the fabric(s) keeping you warm, cold or temperate. are there, therefore, any items of apparel required by movistar that endura currently do not manufacture, such as aerodynamic skinsuits and the like?
"The only two items that will not be made in Livingston for the team riders are gloves and socks, as these require very specific specialist factories. Everything else will be made by Endura in Livingston, including aero skinsuits. We have been working very hard in this area and more information will be released about that work later in 2014."
barto and huzarski provided a particularly graphic reason as to why any clothing, component or bicycle manufacturer would spend their money on being a part of the upper echelons of professional bicycle racing. i have no idea what the world-wide viewing figures were for either the vuelta or the road-race championships, but i think it likely they would be considerable. with the endura logo almost on permanent show for well over 200 kilometres you can't help thinking jim mcfarlane received a decent return on investment.
but if i might paraphrase john wanamaker "half the money i spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is i don't know which half." as jim has already pointed out, his two largest markets are germany and spain, and a team registered in each country makes logical sense. but presumably the overall idea is to increase market share in countries other than those two; netapp endura's invitations to races such as the vuelta and paris-roubaix this year will have no doubt helped that situation, while the forthcoming partnership with movistar effectively grants them an audience throughout professional cycling's globalised influence. however, what does jim perceive as the main benefits to endura aside from the marketing angle?
"That it draws us out and challenges us at the highest level. We have made real progress on related product developments over the past two years due to the prospect of the involvement alone. Some of these are already due to appear in Endura's other clothing from 2014.
"It is great to have partners at this level who are exacting but also constructive and supportive. That on-going pressure that examines and criticises each development is healthy for us and a force for good for Endura in the longer term. It will help us avoid any complacency in product development."
i know of many foreigners in both europe and north america who find themselves entranced by a scottish accent despite often struggling to understand the gist of what is being said. in a global sense it may be considered a benevolent situation to be scots, but that rarely lasts past the initial stages. if endura wish to survive and prosper in their two principal markets, the kilt will surely have to be augmented by a grasp of each national language. is jim currently taking evening classes in spanish, or given his predilection for jetting to the iberian peninsula with unabated frequency, is that brian smith's department?
"Honestly, I am hoping to resume classes in November. I spent a couple of years on night classes for both German and Spanish in the past, but wouldn't say I am great at either! I can't speak for Brian, but there are certainly times that I haven't been able to understand what he is saying..."
tuesday 1st october 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................