like many teenage boys, prior to being able to drive, i had a fascination with motor cars. such a fascination is mostly devoid of any notion of the expense involved in maintaining even a modest runabout, bought through a classified ads in the local paper. i passed my driving test mere days before i headed off for a few years at art college, and though i can't say i starved on my student grant, it certainly did not extend as far as owning a motor car to get self and colleagues to and from college.
so i walked.
however, during the holidays i managed almost exclusive use of my mother's dark blue mini clubman (in the days when minis were still mini). it turns out that a five piece drumset fitted just dinky-doo. despite my continuing student status, i made sure i was a responsible child and paid for any petrol used while scooting hither and thither even harbouring thoughts of being able to perform some routine maintenance on the vehicle due to my superior mechanical knowledge. this would have been all the more laudable had i actually possessed the superior mechanical knowledge of which i speak.
naturally enough, i'd bought the appropriate haynes manual and got as far as removing the top of the air filter to take a peek inside the carburettor, and even removed more than one spark plug for no other reason than the fact that i could. i could check the oil level once a week, inflate the tyres to the recommended pressures and top up the radiator and screen wash perhaps a tad more often than was strictly necessary. but, if push came to shove and a hitherto unnoticed noise appeared in the course of my travels, there was no other resort but to hand it into the local garage; i did warn you about my lack of mechanical skills.
those days, thankfully, are long behind me, but even when i possessed my own cars, the first port of call for maintenance would always be a bona-fide motor garage. despite being still convinced that i had the infernal combustion engine sussed, confidence in my ability to carry out any repairs was minimal to say the least. however, bicycles are a whole different bucket of cartridge bearings.
i know how to fix those.
i have made previous mention of the knowledge that were i to be in the business of building bicycle frames, i would stand back to admire my handiwork and put the flame through one of the gas hoses. that's precisely why i have never even attempted to build a bicycle frame and nor will i. wheels, however, are a completely different matter; those i can build, and apparently quite well according to the mighty dave t. but my abilities in this field come under the heading of one size fits all; i can build you a pair of wheels, and they'l ride and last pretty well, but why, i have no idea. and i'd be inclined to build the same set of wheels for each individual no matter their style of riding or physical constitution.
that hardly encompasses the very reasons you'd spend money on a pair of handbuilt wheels as opposed to a pair of factory-builds.
happily, my building of wheels is very infrequent and not something on which i depend to keep the wolf from the door. there are others, however, far better qualified in the field of wheelbuilding who make me look like the rank amateur that i and many others truly are. jude kirstein in portland is definitely one, but far closer to home, derek mclay of wheelsmith in larbert, scotland is another. i've had the very good fortune to spend over a year riding a wheelsmith race 23 wheelset, and currently have a race 24 wheelset gracing my ibis hakkalugi 'cross bike. both sets have yet to see a spoke key since they left derek's deft skills.
but not simply content to lock himself in his own workshop for the benefit of his satisfied customers, derek recently took over steven shand's workshop in houston industrial estate, livingston near edinburgh, for two saturdays, to instruct others on the intricacies of his art. though larbert isn't too far from livingston, why did he occupy shand cycles' space rather than his own for the workshops? was it simply a case of more space?
"Yes. Steven's workshop is a grand old space. There was some time at the start and end of the course and also at coffee breaks where those attending could browse and see his framebuiding processes in action. My workshop is a purpose built, low emissions log cabin and really only has enough space for three or four people. There are plenty of venues around that I could use in the future though, but this would depend on the level of interest and type of course."
at the end of october, i commenced teaching my fifth photoshop course at the local further education college, instructing apparently eager individuals on the arcane benefits of layers, selections, masks and colour modes. i have spent a large proportion of my islay working career deep in the innards of the software and consider myself a black belt in nearly all aspects of its operation. it's really not that complicated a programme, but it does take a substantial period of time to learn the ins and outs sufficiently well to practice at a professional level. with this in mind, was derek at all worried that some of his pupils would turn out to be really good and divest him of even a modest proprtion of his business?
"Ha ha. Well, I was hoping that the pupils would be really good, but it's not really a business that can be totally given away in five hours of tuition. On the contrary, I was hoping that I could try and reinforce the merits of handbuilt wheels and dismiss any fears anyone had of tackling routine repair and maintenance on their existing wheels. This may lead to orders, or it may simply make people more confident in buying handbuilt wheels. I was also hoping that some of the guys had read a book or two on the subject and that the course would help bring that to life. For a couple of them, I think that was the case."
i have, on more than one occasion, been brought a bicycle wheel on which the owner has already (mal)practised a certain level of remedial effort. in most cases, it would have been a lot simpler for them to have brought me the wheel prior to such action, since an innocent wielding possibly the wrong size spoke key on the wrong spokes can wreak untold havoc on a formerly reasonable bicycle wheel. what does derek find are the most common misconceptions regarding wheelbuilding?
"The main one is that it is a 'black art'. The mystery in wheelbuilding lies in technique, practice, patience, drive, and varying scales of evolving expectation based on these attributes. Too many people start with too difficult a job and it either puts them off, or they just tell forum subscribers that because they couldn't do it, the components are useless. Like a bad workman blaming his tools.
If you want to build wheels, you will be able to build wheels. Like learning the piano; don't start with Liszt; start with Three Blind Mice and you might not become as frustrated
. "The other misconception is that you can build different levels of 'comfort' into your wheels by simply varying the spoke tensions. The spoke tensions for each given wheel design have to be spot on, or the wheels simply won't work properly. Your weight is supported by the upper spokes and compresses the rim at the road area so 'comfort' comes from the type of rim, type of tyre and the tyre pressure. Also, it is under-tensioned spokes which tend to snap and lead to hub breakages. Over-tensioned wheels don't go far; the whole wheel will be unstable."
having spoken to both derek and to portland's jude kirstein, i can attest to their expertise and encyclopaedic knowledge of their craft. but as exemplified by many, knowing much about a subject doesn't always qualify the individual to pass on that knowledge in a constructive fashion. for the two workshops at shand cycles (16 and 23 november), what was the format?
"We went through the history of wheelbuilding in my family and how Wheelsmith started. Then straight into 'the wheel' with some basic principles addressed, such as tools required and tips on determining spoke length for a given rim/hub combination. Different spoke patterns were explained along with their strengths and weaknesses. While building a radial patterned front wheel, there was time to speak about the merits of rim design old and new and how dynamically different things are nowadays.
"On both days I sensed that not everyone was there to build wheels; rather it was a 'day out' and they may become Wheelsmith customers in the future, so I did try to explain my favourite components and why I choose them and not labour the technical points. The radially laced wheel was explained and put aside, then we built a two cross pattern wheel, followed by a three cross pattern on a 'traditional' rear sprint rim. On each wheel, i explained a simple technique to determine if the spoke length was correct before completing the lacing process. After a ciabatta/panini/choccie-biscuits lunch and coffee, the 2x and 3x wheels were completed on the jig.
"The basic principles of checking roundness, trueness and dish were explained and then questions started to be fired in my direction at this point and the guys seemed really interested. After the wheels were taken to near completion I tried to impart my knowledge on the subject of wheelbuilding 'myths', because as in my answer to your previous question, there is a lot of forum-derived misinformation around. It'' easy to be taken in by this and I tried to dismiss the irrelevant stuff and get the guys to take a more pragmatic view on the form and function of handbuilt wheels, not getting carried away with academic over-analysing."
those of you who have long harboured a desire to learn how bicycle wheels are built, even if not going so far as to doing so individually, are maybe kicking yourselves for having missed these two workshops. in which case, will derek be repeating the events anytime soon?
"Possibly. I found it quite difficult to get as much information into four or five hours for people of all levels of interest or ability. To get someone to be able to build a wheel and take it to completion requires one-to-one tuition and about four days. So if there was a demand for that, I could do so in the Wheelsmith workshop here.
"The two day seminar proved to be more of an introduction to Wheelsmith and the wheelbuilding I do, rather than a way of teaching someone how to build a wheel. Although I think if everyone was paying attention and they do want to do it, with the help of a simple book on the subject, they would probably be able to quite competently
. "I am about half way through writing a book on the subject. It will be a kind of 'layman's guide', a ground-up, simple to understand manual, spiral bound so you can lay it flat on your bedside table while doing a little spoke lacing each evening. Just what I would have loved when I was eight years old.
"It's a nice hobby.
if this is the sort of thing you might fancy, perhaps you could either follow derek on twitter (@wheelsmith) or keep an eye on the wheelsmith website in case derek decides to do it again.
very many thanks to steven shand for the photos
monday 2 december 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm well aware that, as ostensibly a cycling blog (still not sure i'm happy with that term), my frequent dips into the world of contemporary percussion must be something of an unwelcome distraction, (particularly for neil peart). however, assuming you're willing to bear with me one last time (who am i kidding?), i'm about to tread the path of shiny cymbals and maple drumshells once more. but i promise it's all for a good reason, even if that's exactly what you'd expect me to say anyway.
i've now realised that, for the better part of forty years i have been doing it all wrong, as in my opinion have many others of far greater percussive skill than yours truly. for even though the early years were spent dissecting the accents on a series of displaced paradiddles and perfecting the more arcane ratamacue, a bit like learning adobe flash to impress others who use adobe flash, perfecting all twenty-six drum rudiments might well be impressive to other drummers, but lives in the cupboard of so what? as far as most audiences are concerned.
therefore, if the set list incorporates one or more 3/4 waltzes, it is best simply to play those three beats; no more, no less. managing a series of double-stroke rolls between snare and hi-hat is impressing no-one.
this percussive epiphany came via listening to the work of the inimitable jay bellerose, featured heavily on recordings by ray lamontagne, hugh laurie, lisa marie presley, curtis stigers and madeleine peyroux to name but a few. i have not the financial wherewithal to indulge myself with 1940s and 1950s classic drumsets as played by mr bellerose, but in truth, it has less to do with his impressive choice of hardware and far more towards those minimalist drumming skills and seemingly endless ability to refrain from playing the same thing twice. in a maelstrom of drummers intent on hitting everything in front of them several hundred times in each tune, bellerose seems to be alone in remembering that the drums were, at one time, an accompanying instrument, there to provide timekeeping and the beat and not an excuse for a sonic display of rudimental drumming.
though my musical tastes are currently happily employed examining the joys of latin percussion and the heel, finger, slap of a remo fibreskyn conga head, it is a truism that my choice of downloads from amazon or itunes has been conditioned by the recruitment of mr bellerose as sole drummist. at least for the last couple of years. i make no apology for this being the admittedly eccentric method of discrimination applied because i have a similar tendency when it comes to personal reading material related to the world of cycling.
this is something that may have surreptitiously invaded many of my previous dissertations on the subject, though you would most likely have had to have been paying very close attention to have noticed. ever since i was forwarded a review copy of herbie sykes' the eagle of the canavese, a particularly excellent biography of giro winner franco balmamion, i have been eager to read pretty much anything that issues from his wordprocessor. this, you will hopefully understand, stops well short of blind hero worship. the writings of mr sykes exhibit a frisson that seems as if he gives not a fig for convention, and there's every evidence that this is indeed the case. would that i could write that well.
and in case you're wondering what has brought on this apparent burst of sycophancy, the impetus arrived in a plain white card envelope at the weekend. annoyance that i'd no idea a new quartery cycling publication had appeared on the bookshelves of wh smith and the like (i like to think i know everything, despite the fact that's manifestly untrue), was substantially ameliorated on noticing that herbie sykes was included in the list of contributors (an excellent article on the iniquities of danilo di luca). this is not in any way to demean the works of his fellow contributors, for very much dismembering the premise that no-one reads and imagery is everything, the uk launch issue of ride cycling review has a promisingly large number of words, even if the typesetting could be a tad better tracked and line-spaced.
there are product launches from trek, bianchi, bmc, focus, scott and the like, insight on chris horner's vuelta victory, a superb feature on the tour of britain by jered gruber (another excellent reason to purchase), andrew talansky makes an appearance, analysis of what might have gone wrong with the british campaign at this year's worlds in tuscany and a great deal more that easily justifies its £7.95 cover price.
194 pages of quality writing and imagery (interspersed by the obligatory advertising of course including the much-missed double-page prendas spread) will undoubtedly add to my current struggles reading most of the regular monthly cycling titles and the seemingly frequent book releases, but in all honesty, you can never truly have too much of a good thing. the uk launch issue of this originally australian only publication appeared on 28 november, and will be published each quarter.
buy, purchase or subscribe, but get hold of a copy somehow.
sunday 1 december 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
every so often, i manage to finish the week's work by lunchtime on a friday which, assuming i've managed my schedule rather well, means i have the whole afternoon to retrieve a bicycle from the bikeshed and at least have time to pedal west for a coffee at deb's. the downside to this occasional spree is that on the weeks when this fails to happen, i spend my friday afternoon pixel wrangling with one eye on the great outdoors wishing i was in it.
basically speaking, and in common with a whole heck of a lot of you, i don't need a reason to got cycling. the very act of pedalling is reason enough.
and strange though it might seem, this is not necessarily the case for everyone. for a grand majority of the population on our currently united kingdom can scarcely comprehend why on earth they would wish to leave aside the motor car, give up standing at the bus stop or even avoid the push-me pull-you excitement of the underground. sadly, a bit like born again christians or those who have recently given up smoking, we who consider ourselves cyclists first and foremost tend to come across just a tad too forcefully. it's easy to forget that slogging through pouring rain for an hour, or in my case, doing the same with the added frisson of a galeforce headwind, can be perceived as a less than attractive proposition for the non-cyclist.
better, perhaps, to take the softly, softly approach by introducing cycling as a beneficial activity, one that can benefit not only the participants, but others who might receive by financial implication. one such facilitator that has approached the problem (if i might describe it as such) in a sensible and intelligent fashion is action medical research, a uk-wide charity funding research helping sick and disabled babies. this they do through a particularly impressive programme of quality cycle rides referred to as the ride 100 series.
as if their organisation, stunning scenery and a choice of routes to suit a range of velocipedinal abilities were not enough, action research have taken it upon themselves to construct a lengthy infographic explaining many obvious and less obvious statistics about cycling. though i'm particularly adept at standing my ground should it be necessary when conversing with a would-be jeremy clarkson, there's always room for a few more items of armour to promote the cause. when the revolution eventually arrives, we will need to be well prepared.
nuggets of wisdom such as one tank of petrol being the energy equivalent to cycling 20,000 kilometres, that 20 bicycles take up the same space as one motor car, and the hard to believe number of £148 million due to be spent by the government on improving cycling safety between now and 2015. however, a number that is far more believable, more's the pity, is that 60% of men and 70% of women fail to manage more than half an hour's worth of exercise, five days a week. cycling daily to and from the shops or work would surely minimise those percentages.
however, working on the basis that a picture is worth a thousand words, click the link below and peruse the action research infographic at your leisure. some of the numbers are rather interesting. and maybe some of you might like to join one of the action research rides in 2014.
saturday 30 november 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the taxi arrived early; almost ten minutes early, to be precise. in my experience, that's most unusual, but a state of affairs not only to be welcomed but encouraged. our transfer to the station was therefore completed in timeous fashion, allowing peaceful negotiation of the stairs leading to and from the underpass reaching platform two. this was important, for with daughter and grandson in tow, travel was no longer open to last-minute rush.
the illuminated notice midway down the platform attested to our being correctly positioned: 12:30 glasgow central, calling solely at carlisle, and then a plethora of alphabet letters pertaining to the eleven coaches and their relative placement along the station platform. brief perusal confirmed that we were sitting at the correct point. however, as i moved our bags into a strategic situation for boarding, i noticed another set of numbers to the right of the sign: 13:18, headed by the word 'expected'.
it turned out that despite the train running 51 minutes late, an announcement detailing this was not made until 13:00. service with a smile. i transferred the bags back to the platform seat, and my daughter entered the waiting room to feed my grandson.
the virgin pendolino did indeed announce its presence at 13:20, but only after two further broadcast statements when the automated female announcer intimated just how extremely sorry she was that our train had been subject to such a serious delay. once on board, having found our reserved seats and transferred all the associated paraphernalia that travels with a four month-old baby boy, it would be something of an understatement to say we were disappointed to hear that our once glasgow-bound train was now going to terminate at carlisle. due to arrive at platform three we would need to disembark with all our accoutrements and make our way to platform one to await another train heading for glasgow central station.
this too was also running almost twenty minutes late. (i should point out that neither virgin trains, nor network rail were in any way to blame for the foregoing. the delays were the result of a fatal incident at milton keynes earlier in the day)
when rapha designed their transfer jacket and allied transfer gilet, i seriously doubt they had the iniquities of network rail and virgin trains in mind. or maybe they did, for the jacket in particular is one of the very best cycling-related, yet not entirely velocipedinal i have had the good fortune to come across. with an outer shell made from apparently very unfashionable nylon, its sole purpose in life is to be light, practical and comfortingly warm, doing so by sandwiching a primaloft one filling between the nylon outer and polyester inner. while various stages in my eventful journey home (subsequent bus and ferry journies) brought me into contact with several individuals clad in the equivalent of sleeved sleeping bags or duvets, the transfer jacket, with its thermoroubaix side-panels embodies comfort and a delightful lightness of being.
common lore would have it that a cup of tea offers the versatility to keep us warm in winter and cool in summer. i cannot testify to the veracity of that one, but this bright orange brainchild of perren street certainly comes close to emulating that feature. during a week of temperatures that hovered around the zero mark, that primaloft filling did everything it promised, yet even when sitting indoors for a brief moment in time, there was no overweening need to remove the jacket. it is the veritable shizznitz. and to bring in the transfer gilet for just a glorious moment, while witnessing an early evening firework display in sub-zero temperatures, wearing a blue gilet under an orange jacket (complementary colours no less) is the very physical definition of the word toastie.
it also amply demonstrated that the jacket is more than accommodating of a gilet without turning the wearer into a verisimilitude of the michelin man or in any way restricting regular movement. you could cycle dressed like that.
yet while the jacket shouts its colour, it keeps almost clandestine its cycling heritage. the collar is lined with soft fuzzy tricot, as are both front pockets and the adjustable dropped hem. the wide rear pocket, which apparently doubles as a storage pouch has a flap over the zip in order to pretend it's not really there. there's also a zipped inner pocket behind the water-resistant full-length front zip, but here's where i find the only real glitch in rapha's attention to detail. the zips on both front pockets feature 'o' rings to ease opening and closing even with gloved hands. same goes for the front zip and even that on the inner pocket. yet the hardest zip to manage, on that wide rear pocket, is bereft of this feature.
this also applies to the (closer-fitting) gilet, though it has no inner pocket. in fact, on cool but less than freezing days, the gilet was perfectly adequate for mere perambulation, a factor probably multiplied when cycling. i'm enough of a cycling obsessive to realise that the transfer epithet alludes to those annoying kilometres between stage finishes and the team hotel, particularly when competing in the spring classics where atmospheric warmth may be in short supply. however, while we may all see this as a part of our birthright, right up there with sir brailsford having our numbers on speed-dial, in truth, few of us will ever find ourselves in anything close to these circumstances. in fact, the majority of us don't even race, so one has to query just who rapha were looking at when they added the transfer jacket and gilet to the online shop.
all of us.
it's all well and good to be clad head to toe in rapha for the duration of our cycling escapades, and nothing at all unseemly to wish to continue that sartorial experience when the ride ends. the same attention to detail and design acumen is every bit at home in the day to day as it is in the saddle. and if it's going to be the long, cold, lonely winter that the press have presaged, i see nothing wrong with keeping warm in style, one that easily transfers to the bicycle if and when necessary.
if you, as do i, live on the outer edge, i'd advise choosing the orange jacket. if you have to ditch in the sea, the helicopters will find us first.
rapha's transfer jacket retails at £190 in both orange and black. sizes range from xs to xxl. the transfer gilet costs £150 and can be had in bright blue and black in the same sizes as the jacket.
friday 29 november 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
let us suspend belief for a paragraph or so, in order that i might put forward a seemingly unlikely scenario. and let's suppose that the mediums of communication are restricted to those usually employed by the communicators. thus british sky broadcasting are able only to use the medium of satellite television to impart sales information to their customers. if i'm not a sky subscriber (which i'm not), their messages of portentous fortuitousness will blissfully pass me by. similarly, the ineptly named british telecom (actually owned by spain's telefonica) might only communicate by e-mail, web pages or even by the plain old telephone system.
were this indeed to be the case, i would never hear of the all the special offers sky tv might wish to place at my disposal. i might never know that they too could offer me telephone, broadband and television at a cost i might possibly find appealing. but similarly, those who actually subscribed to the sky convergence package could conceivably be blissfully unaware that british telecom were keen to offer them a free home hub, incredibly cheap broadband combined with free evening and weekend calls as well as their latest venture into the world of the televisual, the equally ineptly named bt sport (given that their definition of sport probably doesn't coincide with that of ours).
extrapolate this ungainly fictitious state of affairs across the entire gamut of modern commerce, and the tangled web we might wish to weave would consist mainly of individual strands that have nothing in common with those paralleling each trajectory. there are, i readily admit, serious holes in the world i describe, most of which are glaringly obvious and pretty much indefensible, but bear with me while i re-enter the world of reality.
in the current issue of cyclist magazine, there are two advertisements for porsche motor cars. on opening my copy, i'd no idea whether i should be offended, aghast or perhaps complimentary. after all, i didn't acquire a copy of a cycling magazine to have motor cars thrust in may face, especially motor cars that hardly feature in my own personal income bracket. only foolish, yet highly paid motoring journalists would describe a two seater porsche boxster sports car at £38,000 as 'extremely good value for money' (yes, it was jeremy clarkson). but then again, maybe i ought to be flattered that either porsche or cyclist magazine considers its readership (and by implication, me) as possessing the disposable income that might lead to the purchase of germanic horesepower.
either way, it seems it may have achieved the desired result, since i am now engaged in a monologue that makes frequent reference to the vehicle concerned. i contacted cyclist editor pete muir to ask who approached who told me "We approached Porsche. Understandably, most of the big car manufacturers advertise through agencies, many of whom have no understanding of cycling, so it can be a bit of a struggle to persuade them that (some) cyclists have the money and inclination to buy expensive cars.". in a rampantly commercial world, it would be hard to castigate mr muir for not only improving the magazine's advertising revenue, but ultimately expanding the advertising customer base. lateral thinking such as this ought not to go unheralded.
according to the magazine's media information pack, a single page, full colour advert would have relieved porsche of around £2,150 per page, excluding any specific deal that may have been made on this occasion.
considering the cost of a porsche, that is probably mere pocket money, but it surely beggars the question 'have any cycle manufacturers or distributors considered advertising in the motoring press?' i'm not aware of any who have, so i asked around, including colnago, condor, paligap (distributors of cipollini frames and more recently, marin) and chris king's in portland. pretty much all returned the answer i'd expected; that it was too expensive and all but impossible to track any effectiveness. the former seemed quite believable, though the latter surely applies equally to advertising in the cycle press?
kyle at chris king said, "I don't think Chris King has in its history paid for a magazine ad. The number one reason being that Chris would rather support grass roots events, brand advocates, like minded racers, and brick and mortar shops.", while claire at london's condor cycles told me, "We'd rather spend the money on developing British talent in a domestic race scene and proving the prowess of the bike on the race circuit that printing a picture and hoping people take our word that we have a good bike.". similar sentiments were expressed by peter nisbet at windwave, uk distributors of colnago frames and bicycles, perhaps regarded as the porsche and ferrari equivalent in the cycling world. "To answer your question, we have not advertised or considered advertising in car magaziness. Our budget is limited and I cannot see we would attract enough potential customers to get a return. We have, however, done static displays with Colnago for Ferrari models in Ferrari dealerships."
in order to gauge the veracity of the proclaimed unseemly cost, i attempted to contact the editor of top gear magazine to ask the price of a full page colour advert. it seems a tad impolite that i still await any kind of reply, but i did manage to find online, a rate card for the australian edition of the same magazine. converting the cost in australian dollars to sterling, it seems that a single page would relieve the enterprising bicycle distributor of around £4,500. the disparity between that and the applicable rate at cyclist magazine is presumably down to circulation figures, but you can perhaps begin to see their point.
however, simon beatson of paligap was a bit more forthcoming. "I have many views on this type of thing, mostly to do with the fact the cycle trade seems determined to advertise to itself rather than broadening its horizons and try to bring new people into the world of bikes. Not the sport side or the niches but the acceptance that bicycles are a legitimate form of transport in a world we all share and have to move around in.
"Putting ads in car magazines is one way to start this small change of long term ingrained thought but it's a high cost for any bike brand to take a punt on. Our trade is tiny compared to the budgets of the motor companies, so for Porsche to put two ads in Cyclist is absolutely trivial when you consider what they spend in general."
i've previously made mention of the paucity of thinking that inhabits the many bicycle adverts we see in each and every monthly cycle magazine, both here and in the usa (where car manufacturers have been advertising to the cycling community for many a long year). these usually revolve round angled views of front or rear of the bike with maybe the occasional profile image for good measure. the principal message proffered by these simplistic ideals can often be condensed into a few words 'we make these. buy one.' in this sense, it's perhaps a wonder that they even manage to sell bicycles to cyclists. however, simon hasn't finished just yet.
"The bike trade is wrapped up in its own world of expense, forgetting that we are tiny compared to most markets. If we look outside our own spectrum, then a lot of good might come from it, sales, acceptance of cycling as a form of transport, less division of 'them and us'; all that kind of thing. I see Porsche advertising as a good thing; we all use the road. We're all people and how we transport ourselves should be irrelevant, so why not have this cross-advertising?"
however, lest mr beatson be seen as setting his own ideals above those of his peers, he qualified the above by saying "We (paligap) are as guilty as the rest mind you!"
those i spoke to, however, are admittedly amongst the smaller players in a small market. but there are big fish in this small pond, fish such as trek, giant and specialized to name but three. considering the money any one of those spend on sponsorship in any given year, you wouldn't think it outside the bounds of reality that their advertising budgets might be more than capable of popping the odd advert in a motoring or even a lifestyle magazine. their respective ranges also encompass everything from those raced by the professionals, to what i have often referred to as 'proper' bikes. surely any advertisement placed in printed media other than the cycling press would benefit the aforementioned three big fish more than those i managed to speak to?
which returns me to my original, yet unsatisfied query: why is it not happening? if the cycle industry wishes to make greater inroads into a transportational mindset, it will undoubtedly have to cast its net a lot wider than simply the cycling press. we're already the converted; most of us own more than one bicycle already and rule number twelve notwithstanding, there's a limit to how many more we're ever going to purchase. come the revolution and cycling is poised to take over the world's roads, how will the civilian population know which one suits them best?
not by reading top gear, anyway.
many thanks to pete muir and chris stowell of cyclist magazine, peter nisbet at windwave (colnago), claire beaumont at condor, simon beatson at paligap, and kyle von hoetzendorff at chris king for their assistance with this article.
thursday 28 november 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
despite having written this stuff for over seventeen years, i am still frequently asked why on earth i named a cycling blog after a washing machine. i cannot but agree with the sentiment that it does seem a bizarre choice considering my regular subject material, and it didn't do a lot for my sincerity of vision in the early years. however, i can't say i've ever had second thoughts about changing to something more conventional. perhaps graeme obree does not completely share my enthusiasm.
admittedly, graeme did not set out to use his mechanical practices as a unique selling point; i believe he may even be on record as having wished he'd never made mention of his use of washing machine bearings in the bottom bracket or as a fairing on the seat tube. however, in the long-term, i doubt it has done either of us much harm. we're both still here and both still involved in the world of cycling. graeme, however, is far more likely to be voted most valuable player than i ever will, and rightly so. in fact during his recent attempt to break the human-powered land speed record in nevada, this time on the beastie, i was moved to ask just how the man might be nominated as a national treasure.
it's hard to deny that there's a bit of the eccentric in all of us. those of us obsessed with carbon fibre and bendy bars will regularly dress in tight lycra shorts, plastic helmets and jerseys often reminiscent of mobile advertising hoardings, depicting teams for which none of us are actually contracted to ride. those less concerned with speed, unwarranted ascents and descents or cobbled roads over which it would be foolhardy to drive a tractor, can still be identified as eccentric by way of choosing a non-motorised mode of transport. however, even in a society of eccentrics, there is room for the more demonstrably irregular. in this case, graeme obree.
may of those attempting national or international cycling records inhabit the world of the cutting edge; state of the art technology placed at the service of the motivated athlete; aerospace materials and technologies combined to cheat wind and friction as totally as possible. rightly or wrongly, chris boardman would likely fit the bill as someone adopting this mantle in previous years. graeme obree, on the other hand, sees no real distinction between his washing machine efforts and necessity becoming the mother of all invention. thus the beastie was largely constructed on his kitchen table in saltcoats, with shoulder rests constructed from an ageing saucepan.
the former method of speeding through the firmament is well-documented both in print and in video, as much of its effort takes place in the public gaze associated with professional cycling. the pursuit of genius mostly takes place behind closed doors, breaking into the light of day often only when unmitigated success demands appropriate airtime. but the latter is likely the one more in need of documentation; the human touch is surely worthy of approbation?
to this end, glasgow-based journey pictures has amassed over 200 hours of footage regarding obree's recent record attempt, but before it sees the welcome of the silver screen as another chapter in graeme's extraordinary career, a final edit is required to place all the pieces of the jigsaw in the correct order, and final edits cost money. £20,000 to be precise. and in order that we may all applaud the efforts of a true character, they have launched a kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary.
with whatever genre of cycling you associate, i hope you'd agree that obree's genius deserves a further fifteen minutes of fame. for everything the man has put into our sport/activity it would be nice to give something back. here's the very opportunity.
wednesday 27 november 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"is glasgow a cycling friendly city?" the question was asked by a softly spoken gent with a subtle english accent. malcolm replied that the city appeared to be making strides to adopt that persona through gradual implementations cycle tracks around the city's streets and through one or two other initiatives that would hopefully ease the inevitable tension between cyclists and motorists. we did, however, agree that the only way this was going to happen in the long-term, was if folks simply got on their bicycles and headed onto the streets. the quest to reach the critical mass that portland in oregon reckons it has achieved will depend on enough bums on saddles that the cyclist in front of that bus or taxi might well be a neighbour of the driver. putting names to faces (or pedals), seemingly pays dividends.
malcolm glass is the director and proprietor of glasgow's latest bicycle shop, pronto gara, a light bulb almost on the corner of parnie street, one layer down from the trongate, itself an extension of argyle street. it's not slap bang in the city centre, unlike the large and impressive evans cycle store on the corner of bath street, but then, it doesn't need to be. pronto gara styles itself as an urban cycle store, and perhaps characteristically resembles little more, on entering, than that of a small art gallery, similar to those that inhabit the city's blythswood square area. the big window facing onto parnie street features a very novel italian designed velocipede with a standard size rear wheel and a tiny front version, accompanied by a dahon folder.
unlike the aforementioned evans store, the bicycles do not occupy every square inch of floor space; there is barely a skinny wheel or bendy bar to be seen. these are what may comfortingly be referred to as proper bikes, and in this case, mostly women's models. this is no accident. according to malcolm, around 60% of his sales are to the fairer sex, with bicycles selling around the magic £300 mark and featuring sturmey three-speed gears, swept back bars and quill stems. there's more than just the occasional brooks leather saddle, several bicycles with chainguards and even a porteur rack or two topped with custom wood carrying crates. however, it is not all aimed at the female of the species, as there are some darned fine-looking roadsters, and i don't mind admitting that i now have my heart set on a taurus corinto with rod-pull brakes and a magazine rack on the handlebars.
pronto gara (roughly translated as ready to roll) exists on two floors; the ground floor features around a dozen bicycles on the woodgrain floor, with the two additional models in the window space and three mounted on the wall. it's is also home to several maintenance products and furry helmets more suited to malcolm's principal customer base as well as a decent selection of cafe du cycliste clothing. adjacent to malcolm's counter at the back of the shop, are a set of stairs leading to the basement and a further array of fine bicycles. state of the art it is not, but in truth, that is very much in its favour. bicycle shops generally do not get a good rap from the uninitiated; many's the occasion when i've opted not to enter a cycle shop populated by several sales assistants behind the counter, despite being particularly au-fait with pretty much every technical aspect of the cycle industry and its products. for some reason, there is an air of intimidation, though that possibly says more about me than it does about the cycle shops.
malcolm's approach is very far from intimidating; welcoming would be a far more apt description. even when we were deep in conversation about some arcane aspect of the urban landscape relating to cycles and cycling, malcolm would excuse himself politely and welcome each and every customer to the shop whether they had imminent purchase in mind or not. hence the opening conversation regarding glasgow's accessibility as a cycle friendly city.
so why enter the big bad world of cycle sales?
malcolm's background is in retail, but unrelated to the world of the bicycle. his inspiration to open the doors of pronto gara near glasgow cross was an appreciation of the european's embracing of the bicycle as simply a means of transport. where the pelotonese hold their obsession with carbon fibre, electronica, and more recently, the disc brake, a sizeable majority in the likes of copenhagen, berlin and amsterdam look upon two wheels as simply a viable alternative to four. akin to most motorists, for whom the car is merely a daily mode of transport, so the bicycle fulfils a similar yet often more practical alternative. the three-piece suit is as much formal dress for the daily cycle commute as is fluorescent yellow and lycra. and this, dear reader, is where pronto gara is at the cutting edge.
if the bicycle is to fulfil its destiny as the true heir to the throne, the next wave will not come from those partial to lycra. or 23mm tyres. this is not to deny that the bicycles chosen must necessarily be little more than a set of tubes welded together in a less than subtle manner; there is always room for aesthetics as well as beauty of purpose. but ultimately the chosen bicycle ought to fulfil its set purpose with the minimum of fuss, a limited need for maintenance, and while keeping well away from the world of the weight-weenie, ought not to be of oppressive heft. women do not favour the latter, and more than likely, neither does the male of the species. it is a corner of the market that seems not to have found great favour with the mainstream cycle retailers, relying on the likes of malcolm glass to have faith in his conviction that this will not only turn out to be the next wave, but that there is a living to be made in the process.
it is also the market in which inroads are being made by the electric bicycle, few of which, in my opinion, are the least bit aesthetically pleasing. pronto gara's showroom floor is home to two variations on the electric bicycle, both resembling regular bikes, but perhaps with the derailleur in the wrong place. keen to demonstrate the efficacy of a bicycle featuring pedal assist (where the rider has to undertake at least some responsibility for forward motion) malcolm allowed me to ride round the block on the model that fitted me more comfortably. it's an odd sensation when only a modest input at the pedals is followed by a kick from the electric motor. the only way to ameliorate this sensation is to pedal smoothly, a practice that comes surprisingly easily and quickly. i'm not entirely convinced that the regular cycle market is where this variant's future lies; i think it better aimed at those who would lean more towards mopeds or scooters, however, i'd be happy to be proved wrong if it means more bicycles and fewer cars.
despite my concerns that the roadster which is now the apple of my eye is less than ideally suited to the roads, or more importantly, the headwinds of the hebrides, i may well take steps to find out sooner rather than later. for those inhabiting the scottish urban landscape, whether inner city or large town in the central belt, take the time to go chat with malcolm glass, take a test-ride on one of the cycles on the shop floor, and save that team sky liveried pinarello for the sunday ride.
tuesday 26 november 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................