manual for speed

long, long ago, in a city far, far away, i extended my journalistic horizons by travelling to edinburgh for the late-lamented edinburgh nocturne, an evening's worth of bicycle racing that stretched from daylight hours into the darkness of an early summer evening. the events were held in the grassmarket area of edinburgh's old town, incorporating a cobbled climb up to the george iv bridge, before the competitors headed back down candlemaker row to repeat the process on subsequent laps. heck even the street names are possessed of sufficient character before a single wheel had turned. no wonder so many of us have clamoured for its return.

manual for speed

however, in an effort to underline my media prowess by having it recognised by officialdom, i applied for, and was granted, media access for the entire evening. this entailed wearing a yellow bib with the word media emblazoned across its rear, accompanied by several sheafs of paper providing details of that which i was there to observe. now the principal reason for requesting media accreditation is to allow access to the areas not generally open to the public, not simply to demonstrate to one's peers a superior status, but to allow photographs of and interviews with the more prominent participants.

manual for speed

in order to access the pits area, the start/finish line and the rest and relaxation area for the riders, one had first to traverse the hospitality area, right where the first sign of trouble reared its ugly head. for it transpired that a separate pass was required to gain access to so-called hospitality. thus, my media accreditation offered me absolutely nothing more than available to any event spectator. pretty darned useless, if you had asked me at the time. therefore there followed a number of conversations with leading competitors over the bounding fence erected to keep them in, and everybody not in possession of a hospitality pass, out.

to say i was not best pleased would be something of an understatement.

however, despite my living on the extremes of scotland's west coast and having travelled more or less to its opposite number on the east coast, it compares very favourably with that of daniel wakefield pasley's journey from the hub of oregon's portland town to that of adelaide in south australia. mr pasley is a founding member of the inestimable website manual for speed, and he and his colleagues are down under to cover the cycle race of the same name.

manual for speed

a certain degree of specific media access is guaranteed by a commonality of purpose that starts with castelli clothing. not only are the the sponsors of manual for speed, they are also the clothing supplier for the garmin sharp world tour cycle team. however, more complete coverage rather obviously entails more wide-ranging credentials that can only be supplied by the race organisation. something pre-arranged by the mfs team prior to arrival in australia. allow me to let daniel narrate the important part of this story...

"I walked into the Media Room, they asked for my "Sir name," I figured out what she meant, I told her my last name was Pasley, she said, "Oh great, I've been waiting for you to come in and pick up your credentials, your photo is my favorite photo!" Side note: so far this is the best race credential experience in Manual for Speed history, I mean, she was smiling, I was smiling, we admired my badge together, the vibe was synchronistic.
"That's when I was handed the orange vest. Not the blue or the green or even the fluorescent vest, the o-r-a-n-g-e, orange vest.
"For reference, the orange vest provides its wearer with the least access possible-we're talking about the same access field tripping Boy Scout troops, local bloggers, and friends and family of ex-town council members get. I mean, when media access to the finish line is limited to the host broadcast crew and photographers with either blue or green vests only, and all other media is forced to access the riders after the stages either in the team area or at the presentation stage mixed zone - the PRESENTATION STAGE MIXED ZONE!‹you do not, I repeat not, want to be caught in an orange vest.

manual for speed

I threatened to fly home."

does that sound at all familiar? of course, daniel is far less placid than am i, subsequently conducting a vehement and frequently humorous campaign via twitter (#upgradecreds) to have his orange vest upgraded to one that conferred an appropriate degree of media access commensurate not only with manual for speed's international standing, but one that would allow the mfs crew to provide an eagerly waiting public with photos and words bringing the race to life in their inevitably eccentric manner. believe me, we want this just as much as they do.

in the almost impossible hope that someone in south australia possessed of influence in these matters is reading these words and looking at the pictures, would they be so kind as to provide daniel wakefield pasley with a different coloured vest please?

thank you.

manual for speed | all photos copyright manual for speed. reporduced with permission.

monday 20 january 2014

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the bridge street saddlebag

bridge street saddlebag

in january of 2005 (if memory serves correctly) i travelled from islay to kansas city in kansas state (this is worth pointing out because, believe it or not, the same city also stretches into the neighbouring state of missouri) to attend a pipe band drum tutoring weekend in the marriot hotel. like me, you may be wondering why on earth someone from the country that gave life to the whole pipe band genre, would have to travel several thousand miles to learn the intricacies of possibly the most unnecessarily complex style of drumming in the world. i'm tempted to say, "don't ask", but when i point out that the principal tutor for the weekend was jim kilpatrick, then of shotts and dykehead pipe band, and a resident of glasgow, the whole debacle becomes even less explicable than it might have been to begin with.

that particular explanation is for a different blog on a different day.

however, since this was all to take place in the very hotel in which we were all staying, i decided to travel as light as humanly possible, thus obviating any need to check-in baggage with the airline and risk spending my four days in kansas devoid of accoutrements. i popped spare socks, underwear and pyjamas into a rucksack, along with a pair of drumsticks and a practice pad and travelled to glasgow airport for the united flight to liberty international, new york and the onward (and much smaller) aircraft to kansas airport.

bridge street saddlebag

as i know you'll be considerably less than interested in the percussive goings on over the weekend, suffice it to say i managed to prove that my grasp of rudimental stickings was embarrassingly inadequate and that it would take a lot more than four days to bring me even to amateur status. however, the decision to travel light stood me in good stead, for heavy snow stretching from the midwest all the way to the american east coast meant switching from one aircraft to another was far simpler than could have been the case.

however, on arrival at glasgow airport, after breezing through passport control and having no baggage to collect, i headed to the nothing to declare line at customs and found myself being asked to step to one side. the customs officer enquired as to where i had visited in the usa, for what reasons and the length of my stay. despite offering what i believed to be more than credible and truthful answers, it transpired she was suspicious that i was travelling with so little by way of luggage. my escape route turned out to be the fact that she was unable to find some electronic device that would allow processing of my passport, so i was sent on my way with a smile and encouragement to "have a nice day."

bridge street saddlebag

having worked at an airport when i was a student and having been regaled with a number of stories regarding luggage failing to arrive at the appropriate destination, i have made every effort to carry only hand luggage if at all possible, even on my last trip to portland via seattle. and i take pretty much the same care and attention when heading out on the bicycle. for where is the point in removing every excess gram from the colnago and then weighing it down with ancillieries that may or may not be thought necessary on the average bike ride?

under each saddle on whichever bike is deigned velocipede de jour, is a small seatpack containing an inner tube, multi-tool and a tyre lever. one of them has a couple of pound coins in an inner zipped pocket just in case, but i have no real idea which. those three back pockets in either jersey or jacket are mostly empty apart from currently, a piece of mrs washingmachinepost's christmas cake to accompany the supping of froth, a spare pair of gloves and occasionally a compact digital camera.

bridge street saddlebag

generally speaking, i have little need of a saddle bag, but increasingly there seems to be a need for some manner of cargo carrying when i venture forth to appraise the population of the benefits pertaining to expertise in adobe photoshop. or, on occasion, there is simply stuff in need of transportation. though more than one of the bikeshed velocipedes feature brooks saddles, not all have the loops allowing affixation of a small smethwick produced leather saddlebag, and i do so hate to make a bike choice based on so-called necessities.

what i'm really saying is that i could do with something of a less than imposing nature, yet capable of swallowing as much stuff as i can get away with. something like the bridge street saddlebag, now that you come to mention it.

bridge street saddlebag

the result of a successful 2013 kickstarter campaign, the bridge street saddlebag is constructed from a double layer of high strength, waterproof nylon, formed round a lightweight polymer frame. this proved to be one of its unique selling points, for as mentioned on the website 'haul your stuff, not your bag'. similar to a handle-less tote bag, there's no closure system across the reinforced top; once your stuff is stuffed inside, you roll over the top and make use of the second unique selling point; the two straps.

these remarkably strong webbed straps, anchored at the base of the saddlebag, are simply pulled onto each side and tensioned in a remarkably simple manner. if you take into account quite how incapable i usually am in such matters, the fact that it was a matter of simplicity for me augurs well for the rest of the cycling population. but then there's the not inconsiderable problem of how to attach it to the bicycle, one that has been considered by bridge street; twice.

if your bicycle has several miles of seatpost showing above the seat tube, there's a seatpost clamp offering a one-click release system for removal. this keeps the saddlebag directly under the rear of the saddle. however, if you're more of a traditionalist, riding frames with a more modest amount of seatpost showing, a longer bracket offering the same one-click release places the bag aft of the saddle, and it's the latter which accompanied my slate grey, medium-sized bridge street saddlebag. this longer and more than substantial mount fits to the seatpost via an allen-bolt tensioned metal loop, one which requires removal of the seatpost to attach. if i might offer a sparkle of advice at this point, fit the bracket to the clamp while you have the seatpost removed from the frame; it is the personification of faff to try fitting it once the post is back in the seat-tube.

bridge street saddlebag

if you are going to entrust stuff of a valuable or necessary nature, it's not at all unnatural to hope that, while carried by bridge street, it will remain clean and dry. the latter hope became one of fervent reality on my most recent ride when radio four's 'dry and bright with occasional showers' rather stretched the definition of the word occasional. at this point, i must issue a note to self to place any tools carried, at the top of the contents. having removed the seatpost to fit the bracket, i had obviously not tightened the seatbolt sufficiently and as the ride progressed, my posterior became ever closer to the ground. stopping to effect a repair, the ease of opening the saddlebag to dig out my multi-tool was simplicity itself, even in the pouring rain, but placing the toolkit under everything else was perhaps not my finest moment.

because the bag sits behind the rider, any perceived bulk is obscured from view, and though i'd little of substance contained within, no amount of churning over crappy roads elicited so much as a sound, nor did there seem any weight penalty when chuntering up hills that got in the way.

bridge street saddlebag

in effect, the bridge street saddlebag did precisely what it said on the tin. fitting and removal was really easy, as was opening and closing of the bag itself. and based on a couple of hours in the rain, i'm happy to attest to the efficacy of its waterproofing. all in all, a grand success. and of course, should you have need of taking the contents with you when off the bike, there's an adjustable shoulder strap that clips onto two external brackets. clever, huh?

available in small medium and large, and in slate grey, green, red, hi-viz yellow or blue with two mounting options, short of a full touring kit of panniers, bridge street would seem to have most of our compact and bijou options satisfactorily covered. all are sold complete with choice of mount, commencing with the small bag at £60, medium at £70 and culminating in the large for £80, all are available via the bridge street website.

it's for carrying stuff, jim, but not as we know it.

bridge street

monday 20 january 2014

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ordinary by john bradshaw. jrb publications paperback. 80pp illus. £8


the modern iteration of the bicycle has been around for so long, that few of us ever consider quite how quickly it developed into this manifestation of genius. over only a few decades in the 19th century, heavy wooden framed dandy horses morphed into pretty much the shape we take for granted nowadays. in fact, though contemporary space-age materials would allow the bicycle to become what several designers think it wants to become, cycling's governing body insists on it retaining its inherent historicality.

the miguel indurain and bjarne riis years in the mid nineties brought to light pinarello's take on the time trial machine, itself a descendant of the lotus track bicycle that chris boardman rode to britain's first cycling gold medal for more years than most of us could remember. graeme obree's rudimental re-working of the bicycle frame to suit his own notions of aerodynamics also proved particularly effective, but once again the union cycliste international would have none of it and outlawed the whole shebang with one sweep of its official hand.

and after boardman had pushed the hour record possibly as far as it would go, using obree's superman position, it was decided that the only format worthy of such strenuous activity was that used by eddy merckx several decades previously: a double-diamond steel frame with regularly spoked wheels and track bars. it's probably just as well that the fellows in aigle were not possessed of the same authority in the 1800s, or we'd all be sat astride those wooden framed dandy horses, rolling on steel tyred wood wheels.

there was a brief moment around the eighties and early nineties when time-trial bikes featured smaller front wheels than rear, presumably in an effort to reduce the frontal area and increase speed. doing so required the top tube to slope, but rather than the current trend of sloping from head tube to seat tube, the top tube sloped the other way. those too were outlawed by the uci.

are we seeing a pattern here?

however, a bicycle comprising drastically unevenly sized wheels managed to outlaw itself before anyone in officialdom got a look-in, one that preceded the so-called safety bicycle, the latter the very embodiment of the uci's lofty ideals. officially referred to by its most uninspiring name of ordinary, most of us in less pedantic mode would likely refer to it as a penny farthing.

the ordinary under discussion in this small volume by cycle enthusiast, john bradshaw, turned out to be a cogent manufactured in wolverhampton in a factory belonging to henry stephen clarke. the cogent catalogue of 1883 listed a total of five ordinaries, but by the time bradshaw's example was made, it was the only model left. discovered in 1988 within the bricked-up pantry of a large house in abbots bromley, staffordshire, local bike shop owner mike hewlett put up the capital to purchase it from the house-owner (£500) in order that the author might consider restoring it.

john bradshaw has a lengthy palmares when it comes to the subject of restoration, including cars and motorcycles, so accepting this particular undertaking seems to have held little fear, but much interest.

while the cogent ordinary sat on display in hewlett's cycle shop, the various threads about its person were soaking in penetrating oil, so when the moment to commence restoration arrived, life was a tad easier than it could have been. it appears that henry clarke had had the clever foresight to feature bown's aeolus adjustable ball bearings in the hubs, for while the frame seemed composed principally of rust and no paint, and the spokes in the front wheel were incapable of supporting the weight of bradshaw as rider, the bearings were in such fine fettle that they were able to be used in the re-building of the bicycle.

the high front wheel, providing forward motion as well as the single gear, was built radially, with the head of each of the 72 spokes fitting into the rim, then threading into the hub. not entirely unexpectedly, there are no commercially available truing jigs for wheels of that size, so bradshaw had to make one of his own to complete the job.

were this slim volume comprised solely of the restoration narrative, well writtten though it is, there may be few takers to fill the bookshelf. however, bradshaw has gone to great lengths to research not only the history of the cogent ordinary, but that of henry stephen clarke's bicycle company. along with the accompanying illustrations, this section of the book is almost worth the price of admission alone. but it doesn't all end there.

comfortably fitting the whole book into the category of local history, bradshaw then goes on to describe his own part in fostering the local cycle fest and participation in parochial cycling matters.

self-publishing is often viewed in the same light as vanity-publishing; in some circumstances they can be one and the same. in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. we may mostly be obsessed with the variations in carbon fibre construction currently on retail offer, but it places everything in recognisable context to know from whence we are descended (so to speak). it is also worth considering whether any of the current crop of velocipedinal offerings will be as amenable to restoration in 100 years' time. somehow i doubt it.

if i have any criticism worth voicing, it's the typeface used throughout. it may not actually be comic sans, but it looks suspiciously similar. this was not a wise choice, though bradshaw's narrative is still perfectly clear. maybe it's just a designer's prejudice. and while i admire his desire for authenticity, i fear the inclusion of his notes in their original handwritten state was perhaps ill-advised. some of them are quite hard to decipher, but the constant switch from printed text to scanned handwriting was a bit on the tedious side. however, bradshaw's writing style generally makes for easy reading, and i did particularly enjoy his often self-deprecatory style.

if you have any interest in the history of the bicycle, john bradshaw's 'ordinary' is fairly close to essential.

john bradshaw's 'ordinary' is available from courtyard books in cheltenham.

sunday 19 january 2014

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whistle while you work


though my performances in provence last april would testify otherwise, i have often maintained that i climb hills at a faster pace than my fellow pelotonese due to riding to a different, and apparently quicker rhythm. you'll find that word regularly used when describing the relative abilities of those riding up hills; the laughing group at the rear are probably struggling big time to discover anything that might resemble a rhythm, while those up front are riding to speed metal.


the same can be actively said for a speeding peloton, knowing just when to indulge in a bout of frantic grooving in order to catch a breakaway before it has sight of the finish line. allegedly, we are all in possession of an internal clock, few of which count to the same tempo. it's an aspect of which drummers are acutely aware; the trick is not to play every song to the beat of your own drum. otherwise, pretty much everything boogies at the same pace.

i currently have, on review, a bicycle with a particularly fine example of the sturmey archer three-speed gear, a factor that doubtless plays no small part in my currently sedate pace. after a couple of days riding in this manner, i'm fairly sure that neither the members of motorhead or slipknot spend much of their spare time riding three-speed bicycles. however, it is a well-known fact regarding this hub gearing system that first offers a 33% reduction and third a similar percentage increase over the direct drive of second gear.


when riding in the latter, particularly on days when the loch is like a mill pond and there's barely a breath of wind (a little hebridean humour there), it's possible to detect a regular click, click, click as the gear propels its grinning pilot at considerably less than warp factor one (mr sulu). if audible in this manner, it provides a comforting click track to one's perambulations, punctuated every now and again by the bell affixed to the left handlebar and necessary to point out my approach to itinerant sheep along uiskentuie strand.

i have no doubt that cycling encapsulates a form of rhythmic endeavour that will be pertinent to some, and completely lost on others, but even to me, the bicycle has been rarely considered as a musical instrument. at least, not before now.


on the run up to christmas each passing year i have reminded you all of the web page still living in a small cupboard at specialized bicycles that plays a rather idiosyncratic version of dance of the sugar plum fairy accompanying a set of ten rear sprockets all of which seem rhtymically independent of each other. though i believe the music was composed by tchaikovsky, this particular version was played and recorded by an american fellow by the name of flip baber. in the approved manner of experimental musicians when it comes to foisting their experiments upon an unsuspecting public, flip has, for a brief moment in time, adopted the nom de plume of johnny random and released a self composed and recorded piece of music entitled 'bespoken'.

similar to his reworking of tchaikovsky, mr random has employed a bicycle to provide all the sounds for this latest sonic exploration, from spokes to cassettes, to gear wires to valve stems (and the pfffft they make when releasing air). of course, in the true style of an experimentalist, one or two of the sounds have endured a modicum of electronic processing to augment the sonic textures they emit when left to their own devices. the result is a far cry from thunderous roar favoured by joey jordison; so positively melodic in fact, that i downloaded a copy of bespoken from itunes and popped it on my ipod.

irrespective of how fast or slow you ride up hills, you might be keen to do likewise.

bespoken on itunes uk | bespoken on itunes usa
for those more persuaded by knobbly rhythms, there's also an inverted mtb mix.

saturday 18 january 2014

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rcuk videos

as far as i can see, there are two ways to go about having the bicycle fettled (an excellent word that covers a multitude of sins). you can drop it off at the bike shop on your way to work and collect it on the way home, or you can do it yourself. as the average road bike becomes ever more complex, there's a strong case for the former option, for in reality, who fancies learning the electronic intricacies of di2 or eps? and personally, i stop short at having to service anything to do with hydraulics, something that hides behind the horizon in the road bike world like the sword of damocles. however, with no disrespect to those who ply their qualified trade on the high street, if cycling is to become the ultimate in low-cost travel, a modest level of technical knowledge surely wouldn't go amiss?

it has been my misfortune, as must have been the case for many a sunday morning peloton, to ride with individuals who not only plainly have no idea how to fix even a puncture, but carry nothing that would allow them to do so in any case. perhaps this is less than noteworthy considering the number of motorists who are probably clueless as to how they might change a wheel in the event of a similar fate befalling the motor car.

but still...

rcuk videos

as a youngster at school, riding a raleigh twenty, my father insisted that i learn how to repair a puncture and all that that entails, to regularly oil my chain and how to adjust the little chain that disappeared into a sturmey archer hub. the fact that mr benzie at the local bike shop would have skinned me alive had i taken the bicycle to him for a puncture repair, only encouraged learning at a fast pace. however, in order to move faster, it was only a matter of time before derailleur gears entered the fray, offering a whole host of other problems. purchasing a top pull front mech when the bike was set for bottom pull was my first lesson in unsolveable complexity.

the big problem, as i see it, is how and where to learn the sort of repair and maintenance jobs that can be managed by those of even moderate skills. there's a substantial level of self-satisfaction to be gained from knowing you're not entirely useless. i have reviewed some excellent books in these pixels on how to carry out most levels of repair, volumes often copiously illustrated with sequences of how to, often a far cry from richard's bicycle book, but mostly without the unbridled enthusiasm and character.

rcuk videos

but this is the modern world, one filled with connected devices, megapixel phone cameras and movies. yes, moving pictures describing from every conceivable angle precisely how to remove the chain from a road bike without ending up mired in bits of derailleur. this is the main selling point of a new series of maintenance videos produced by and for road cycling uk, commencing with an in-depth look at how to measure the wear and carry out replacement of a bicycle chain.

all you really need is a phone, tablet or laptop that you can safely operate in the comfort of your own bike shed. and it might be worth following the example of video presenter jon hayes and wearing disposable mechanic's gloves to avoid spreading unwanted oil all over any of the above mentioned devices. the series, consisting of a new video on wednesday of each week will cover replacing handlebar tape, replacing brake cables, brake pads, fitting a tubeless tyre, truing a wheel, checking a headset, freeing seized parts, derailleur adjustment and tyre checking and replacement. there are one or two of those that are conceivably better handled by the local bike shop, but understanding the procedure can only help describing the problem to the guy behind the counter (why is it almost always a bloke?)

rcuk videos

i've no doubt someone will point out that all this is available on youtube or vimeo, but it would be hard to argue that several of those are of dubious provenance; the difficulty for those of little knowledge, is deciding which ones. a notably welcome feature of this series is a button on the left of the video allowing a slo mo option, in case mr hayes carries out the procedure a tad too fast for your personal cognition. roadcycling uk have been around for long enough to have established impeccable credentials, making this series a particularly ideal one in which to invest your time and education. use the same mobile device to mark a spot in the calendar each wednesday; there may be some procedures requiring specialist tools, but if it's something you might repeat more than once, investment in a basic toolset will, as the say, pay future dividends.

after that, you can join the sunday ride with insouciance.

roadcycling uk

friday 17 january 2014

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i have had my moments of attempting to be the steven spielberg of the southern hebrides, links to which exists somewhere further down this page. granted, i do not or did not have access to quite state of the art movie recording equipment, though i cannot deny that the editing software was pretty darned fine. however, i tend to think my strengths lie in the written word and is not necessarily embedded in the art of the moving image; it's unlikely that any of thewashingmachinepost videos, despite being heavily influenced by folks i know who have made far better cycle-related offerings. i fear i may only have succeeded in demonstrating my ineptitude with the medium.


despite knowledge of the above, what may have rescued these silver screenings from the depths of despondency would undoubtedly have been a sturdy narrative. unfortunately, and i write without specifically reviewing their content, i think that may have been a specific aspect missing in action, suspected to have never been there in the first place. for faced with a bicycle or velocipedinal accessory and eager to augment my wordy reviews and demonstrating just how au fait i am with modern social media trends, i simply made a movie. these were often started and subsequently finished without so much as an inkling as to a beginning, middle and end.

of course, you already knew this.

yet others not only march where i should have feared to tread, but have the very great fortune to produce an end result that is jaw-droppingly marvellous, intriguing, informative and downright emotional. there's no way any of those adjectives could ever be applied to my own efforts. even the good ones.


the story behind tom allen's janapar, which in the interests of trying ever so hard not to spoil for those yet to view it, i'm probably going to be somewhat sparsely acute in my meanderings, is not particularly revelationary. at least not at the start. i know personally of several folks who have extricated themselves from the humdrum of the day to day and headed off into the wide blue yonder on a bicycle. the virtual bookshelves of amazon are filled to over-brimming with their tales and testaments, and i doubt there are many of us who have not, at one time or other, though to do likewise.

at one time, filming such escapades would have been, if not impossible, certainly somewhat onerous. while trying to escape from real life, it would have been less than innocuous to have a trailer full of super-eight film in tow. but as we are constantly being told, the world is a smaller place these days, as are many of the items that constitute that world. like digital video cameras, for instance. but to be honest, that would simply move the overblown to the over-filmed. heading off for pastures unknown by bicycle may well be our own idea of adventure and entertainment, but it's possibly not one shared by everyone.


therefore, leaving a comfortable living in middle england to ride who knows where, in the company of your two best mates would barely scrape past a producer as the sort of narrative that would not only fill a cinema, but keep an audience there long enough to buy cornettos at the intermission. the fact that tom allen and colleagues had pretty much no idea of what they were letting themselves in for, nor in possession of a specific route or maps that might assist, means we're probably still in the land of 'so what'.

but perhaps not unsurprisingly, pretty much nothing went to plan, had there even been one in the first place. suffice to say that it really wasn't too long before tom found himself as a solo cyclist, one accomplice heading homewards to rejoin his girlfriend before too long, leaving the other two to grow further and further apart before finally achieving ultimate separation. so far, so ho-hum. looking at the counter at the foot of apple's quicktime player, and realising there's a substantial amount of footage yet to be seen from this point on, i had high hopes of something extravagantly interesting happening, though i admit i was a far cry form tedium at this point.

this is not, however, to discount allen's quirky but mesmerising filming. bear in mind that the guy is riding alone, often giving the impression of being only loosely in touch with his destiny. as he points out several times during janapar, not only is he still without a map of whichever country he is travelling, but no real notion of where he'd be heading if he had. yet he has the presence of mind to set up some clever camera viewpoints that often had me wondering whether a second cameraman had been recruited. and though i attest to to the creativity of camera positioning, none of what is seen on screen looks forced, pretentious or unnatural. i seriously doubt allen had the notion or ability to be an actor in any case.


riding through eastern european countries, turkey, united arab emirates and many almost deserted parts of countries surrounding iraq, saudi arabia and afghanistan, the vistas are often breathtaking, as is the overwhelming sense of welcome and generosity expressed by many of the peoples met along the way. as a documentary it could almost wash its face. but janapar is very much more than simply a documentary filmed from the saddle of a rather chunky mountain bike. in fact, to be honest, that there are any bicycles in the movie at all is almost completely incidental, yet central to the janapar's raison d'etre.

what, or rather who, makes this a film endlessly endearing is tenny, an attractive young iranian girl living in armenia while studying design. and i all but guarantee that the rest of your family will join you in these terms of endearment, including the partner/spouse who would rather clean the drains with a broken spoke than watch wheels and pedals go round in far off countries beset with endless miles of sand. armenia, in fact, provided the film with it's name, janapar being their word for journey.

this is a love story, pure and simple, but one set against the most of incredible of backgrounds and filmed in a less than orthodox manner. yet this compelling story enjoys a most professional presentation and a highly accomplished and sympathetic soundtrack (original score by composer vincent watts). janapar won't teach you anything about bicycles that you didn't already know, apart from, in this case, how they bring together two seemingly disparate individuals from completely different backgrounds.

buy it, watch it, love it.

tom allen's janapar movie is available to stream, download or buy on dvd from and will be available via itunes at the end of this month. if movies are not your thing, you could always buy the book instead.

thursday 16 january 2014

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happy anniversary (sort of)

robert millar's tour bike

at the risk of being parochial, prejudiced and downright repetitive, despite sir bradley's historic victory in the 2012 tour de france, followed last year by that of chris froome, there were two historic moments that took place in uk cycling nearly thirty and thirty-one years ago.

robert millar's tour bike

though it's undoubtedly splitting hairs to point out that wiggo was born in gent and froome in kenya, the first british/scottish rider to take a mountain stage in the tour and follow it with a fourth place and king of the mountains jersey the following year, was born in glasgow. robert millar raced very much as an individual; not given to suffering fools gladly and rumoured to once have had a scary haircut to stop him from going to discos when he should have been taking things more seriously. he was one of the last of the mavericks. determined to become a top cyclist, no matter the odds stacked against a brit doing so, robert not only won the tour's polka dots, he did the same in both the vuelta and giro, coming perilously close to the top of the spanish podium in 1985.

both bradley wiggins and chris froome have taken victory using the very best in the way of equipment, with state of the art frames from pinarello, shimano's electronic shifting and the latest in cycling apparel developments. that doesn't totally separate them from the opposition, for they too have access to very similar technology, but it is all a far cry from what was available in millar's day. concrete evidence of this has recently been celebrated by the surfacing of reputedly millar's kom winning bike in billy bilsland's cycle shop sited just past the railway bridge, near glasgow green. robert's polka dot skin suit has long been displayed on a wall inside the shop, offering millar fans the world over, a place of pilgrimage. that it will be now joined by a carbon/alloy peugeot frame will surely only cement bilsland's on the international cycling map.

robert millar's tour bike

the story goes that the bicycle was sold to a collector by millar, but as robert says "Most of the TdF bikes would have been allocated to someone before the end of the Tour, especially if you were a stage winner or star of the show.  I know for a fact that all my bikes from the '84 TdF were sold before the end; one guy connected to a team sponsor told me he had bought one of the two carbon frames that were used. I've no idea if he got the stage winning bike or not." as robert also metioned, the same arrangement exists today. teams sell off bikes and equipment; if not, they go back to the sponsors/suppliers.

it doesn't take a technical genius or bicycle geek to realise that there is a substantial difference between today's equipment and that regarded as top of the tree in the early 1980s. "Those carbon frames were as light as you got at the time, lasting about three months before the stiffness went off and they got slightly whippy.  But even that wasn't a problem. It's not like they became dangerous, just a bit more comfortable." robert pointed out that in the accompanying photos, the top tube decals are missing. if it was one of the bikes he used, there would be his name or initials on it somewhere. however, "Bars and stem look like Cinelli 64s, so they look right, as does the Benotto tape. Weinmann brakes with Campag blocks. I would have had alloy toe-clips and titanium axle pedals, but quite often those details went missing before being passed on."

robert millar's tour bike

in common with the weight-weeniness that is a part of every pure climber, the bike features only one bottle cage. displaying a sense of recall that seems little short of uncanny ("I might have (had) OCD") he pointed out that the tyres would have been clement tubs; yellow label silks for the real stages, green label silk for the mountain-top finishes, always assuming it was possible to have a bike change just before the finish. in the time-trials, the team used dugast track tubulars.

nowadays, while bradley and chris both have use of the finest electronica shimano can provide, millar and team-mates were on mechanical and slightly industrial simplex. "The front changer wasn't great, flexing because it was plastic bodied, so you had to use it with a bit of care. It wouldn't change under load.
"The rear changer was interesting. It was also plastic bodied, but instead of using the steel jockey wheel cage that it originally came with, the mechanics fitted the cage from the all-alloy model in order to make it as light as possoble. In that combination, it was slightly lighter than the all alloy model."
(however, robert did point out that the rear mech on the bilsland bike is in fact, the all-alloy model).

the differences were not, however, confined to gear shifting. one of the components to display quite substantial improvements in the intervening thirty years are race quality wheels. nowadays it's not at all uncommon to see wheels with fewer spokes across both wheels than robert rode on one. and there are not many teams still employing alloy rims, with carbon fibre much more in evidence and favour. "Those wheels look like the standard 32 or 36 spoked wheels, built by the team mechanics. A normal race would have me using 32 spoked wheels, 36 for rough stuff and mountains, while smooth flat would have seen 28 spokes for the lighter riders. Like me."

robert millar's tour bike

aside from decals on the top tube often identifying both the rider and his nationality, riders from all of cycling's various eras have personalised their machines, not so much from an aesthetic point of view, more from the point of personal comfort. sponsorship was perhaps less prominent as is the case nowadays, but it was still in some cases, necessary to toe the line by disguising an un-sanctioned change. in robert's case, the saddle was one of those features, pointing out "I noticed there's a Selle Royale Turbo saddle fitted. It must have been one of the periods when I tried them; maybe it was a prototype of some sort or the team bent my ear. Normally I would have used a San Marco Concor, with careful use of stickers or marker pen if it wasn't a supplied part."

robert's career continued through to the ill-fated le groupement of 1995, saved by his winning the british national championship the same year. through subsequent years, he rode a wide variety of different bikes, including gazelles, lemonds and latterly, a celeste bianchi, yet through all those twists and turns, he can still recall just what those bikes were like "Yeah nice light bikes, as light as you got at the time and then pared down with alloy and titanium where possible, like stem bolts, brake pivots and chainwheel bolts. In fact anything that didn't need to be steel wouldn't have been.
"I think that's called marginal gains now."

robert millar's tour bike

i did point out to robert that the best i could remember from 1984 was the birth of my daughter. i sure as heck can't remember how many spokes were on my wheels, or indeed, what gears were hung about its heavy steel frame, at which point, he went into overdrive. "The gearing would have been 42/52 and 170mm cranks; Stronglight. Of course the 41 inner Campag ring that I procured from the rep. at the Worlds one year and used quite often, would never have been passed on to the commoners.
"Selle Italia saddle would have been set up to be level , San Marco Concor was set at 3mm down at the front . "Brake lever height probably set at straight along the bottom edge of the bars to the tip of lever . There was a trend to cut the last 20mm off the end of the drops on Cinellis, (something) I never did, coz it looked naff and your hand slipped off the end on big impacts. Tyre pressures? 7bar for the dry, 6.5 in the wet.
"Full alloy freewheel on mountain and TT stages. They made a slightly different noise to the normal all-steel freewheels. You could get away with alloy sprockets on the last two places on a steel body, but any more than that and it changed really poorly. And the unseen part of the seat post was cut down. No good taking two extra inches of alloy up and down mountains."

i did ask.

though i cannot deny a huge dollop of personal prejudice, i think it a marvellous testament to the place robert millar continues to hold in the modern day cyclist's psyche that the surfacing of his bike from 1984 still makes headlines in the mainstream cycling press. many current day riders who weren't even born when robert nabbed those polka dots in 1984, still cite him as a major influence, and he most certainly brought a substantial number of scots into the world of cycling, self included.

thanks to robert millar for help with this article. his tdf bike will be on display in billy bilsland's cycle shop at no. 176 in glasgow's saltmarket, near glasgow green. photos from

wednesday 15 january 2014

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showers pass crosspoint waterproof socks

showers pass crosspoint socks

the lower limbs are the ones least protected from the elements, something that seems a tad strange, when you consider the lengths to which the world's major cycling apparel providers have gone to waterproof, windproof and make breathable our upper torsos. it's maybe a tad unfair to phrase things in this manner, for there are indeed copious numbers of waterproof trousers on the market but, so far as i know, not a one from the professional or amateur pelotons have succumbed to the need to wear. it seems perhaps a logical requirement that the uci require mudguards/fenders during the spring classics, but i sincerely doubt there is any legislation that could be put in place requiring the pelotonese to don waterproof trousers should this year's paris-roubaix prove wet and muddy.

i do have, squashed into a rather overburdened drawer, at least two pairs of bibtights that proffer at least minimal protection from unexpected precipitation, but usually only on the front of my cast steel thighs; rarely on my posterior and likely not on the shins or calves (however well developed they may be). thus we have the pelotonese clad in winter caps, helmets, waterproof jackets and ending in neoprene overshoes to keep those ten little toes appropriately dry and toasty.


showers pass crosspoint socks

for though an appropriate pair of water resistant overshoes is as much a necessity for a wet sunday morning ride as is a bicycle and a pair of mudguards, the two large holes cut in the soles of same tend to mitigate against totally impervious waterproofing. and it cannot have escaped your notice these days, that shoe manufacturers are less concerned with keeping water at bay than they are at offering substantial ventilation. i own more than one pair of bona fide cycle shoes the tops of which resemble little more than canvas. therefore, if rain and surface water make it past the constitution of the overshoes, as they undoubtedly will at some point during the ride, there's little defence against cold and wet tootsies.

and that is precisely the reason for a pair of waterproof socks.

latest kids on the block are the crosspoint socks from portland's rainproofing experts, showers pass. resembling a pair of long, chunky, woolly socks. the folks at showers pass prefer the epithet mid-calf, but i may make this a smidgeon clearer by pointing out that the top of the socks quite happily met up with the hem of my bib-threequarters, well past the top of any overshoes in my possession.

showers pass crosspoint socks

the crosspoints comprise three distinct layers; that chunky grey exterior, an artex waterproof and breathable membrane and a coolmax fx lining. you would figure that socks consisting of these three layers would necessitate moving up a size in cycle shoes, but i'd no bother wearing them with a pair of dromarti leather shoes, or dmt and mavic offroad shoes. they also fitted perfectly comfortably with both mavic and rapha road shoes. but comfortably fitting socks are part and parcel of everyday cycling life; the showers pass crosspoints promised more.

along with many others, i have experienced more than my fair share of cycling apparel that hasn't quite matched its reputation. a bit like car advertising, listing a top speed in excess of 130mph safe in the knowledge that few, if any, will ever achieve such alacrity on british roads. and that allied to an average mpg of 81.2, neglecting to mention that this was attained by a professional driver, motoring at a constant 56mph on the utah salt flats, assisted by a tailwind of 35 knots. not exactly lying, but being more than economical with the truth.

showers pass crosspoint socks

however, i have great respect for the folks at showers pass, with every confidence that if the toe of each sock plainly stated waterproof then that's precisely what they'd be. however, there's always that nagging little suspicion at the back of my pedals. so, to remove all possible doubt, i set out in less than clement weather, devoid of any seasonally compulsory overshoes, and wearing cycle footwear with the waterproofing qualities of a sieve. this involved propelling myself into a nagging headwind, bringing perpetual stinging sleet for well over forty minutes, coupled with splashing through gallons of surface water. on my return home, the shoes were wet enough to require being stuffed with newspaper to dry them out, and the thick woolly exterior of both socks were determinably wet. yet not only were both feet pleasantly warm, they were completely dry.

if i sound surprised, it's because i am. these are superb, really superb, and well worth the £25 price per pair. for four years of festive 500 and beyond, i have suffered from wet feet, a factor that often takes the shine off the pleasurable activity of busting a gut into driving wind, rain and cold. i urge anyone who has experienced the same level of podiatry sogginess, to rush out right this minute and buy as many pairs as you can afford.

the end of hyperbole as we know it.

showers pass crosspoint waterproof socks

tuesday 14 january 2014

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