ambition can often lead to one's undoing if not nipped in the bud at the appropriate moment; and pain is a good way of having you pay attention. in 1992, the former manager of the mactaggart leisure centre and myself devised a plan to hold a tryathlon (note the spelling) centred round the leisure centre in which teams would be randomly assembled to undertake the event, one person adopting each discipline. i assume it was a reasonable idea, since it continues to this day in pretty much the same format, apart from the random selection bit.
having successfully completed the cycling part and arriving home in first position, in a classic case of eyes being larger than one's stomach (so to speak), i figured in year two, i'd undertake all three disciplines. perhaps stating the obvious, but cycling i could manage just fine, and though my swimming resembled little more than a mobile jacuzzi, i thought it do-able. the weak link in this already implausible idea was running, mostly on the basis that could barely run the length of a colnago c40.
at the risk of repeating no.5 in a list of famous last words, 'how hard could it be?'
having purchased a proper pair of running shoes, i set out one summer's evening to manage a couple of miles if i could, but was brought to a halt in less than a few hundred metres with sever ache in the right shin. concerned i may not have stretched sufficiently prior to setting out, i walked painfully home and carried out what i hoped was an effective stretching regime. i know you already know the end to this, but you'll not be at all surprised to learn that i made it not even as far as the first attempt before the problem recurred with a vengeance.
and so ended a less than promising running career.
cycling, on the other hand, has never caused me anything like the same physical aggravation, stretching or not. like most cyclists, i get a sore back when pummeling into a solid headwind, my neck starts to hurt after about 120km, and one or two saddles i have met along the way have been less than kind to my posterior. but those aside, riding a bike is pretty much as good as it gets.
however, when the opportunity arises to be of service to those who don't have the luxury of spoked wheels and ten-speed cassettes, it would be most unseemly, not to say impolite to deny them the benefit of our perambulations. and that is precisely what lord carlos and i undertook on sunday afternoon.
fun run organiser, jim lutomski assures me that it is a common occurrence on lengthier runs on the mainland. i must take his word for that, for i am not a great follower of the running fraternity and am mostly oblivious to their moduses operandi. sunday offered the keen and perhaps just slightly deranged, the choice of a five or ten kilometre run in the vicinity of port ellen village at the southern end of the island. though there were a couple of staionary marshals positioned at road junctions, lord carlos and i, augmented by the services of a former runner, now on a bicycle, cycled midst the running fraternity along the length of the five kilometre stretch of single track road.
the weather could hardly have been better; even the ride out to port ellen was particularly enjoyable in the light that this is one of the few occasions that we've been able to ride in the dry and the sunshine this year. those taking part were mostly of the reasonably experienced variety, and the cool but dry weather meant there was little danger of suffering any form of heat-related distress.
helpful folks that we usually are en mass, it might not be a bad idea to offer your velocipedinal services to any marathons or fun runs near you. we're in the fortunate position of not being seen as scapegoats or targets for any form of cycling misdemeanours over here, but i believe that's not always the case in certain urban scenarios. so other than good public relations or if for not other reason than being able to go to bed in the evening with a warm glow in your heart, maybe you could contact your local running club.
but wrap up warm, because hardy though they may be, fun runners don't travel that fast in a cold wind.
monday 17 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's a disturbing trend in my opinion. whacking great big boxes with bicycles inside them, happily bereft of the endless rolls of bubble wrap that more usually caress shiny paintwork, but which take rather a long time to to remove. in most cases, the bars are zip-tied parallel to the frame. with seatpost and saddle in situ, 'tis but a case of rolling the bicycle from one open end of packing that would likely incur its own council tax, clamping the bars in place and riding off into the sunset. however, would it not make much more sense to leave the saddle wrapped separately in the box, clamp the bars in place then turn the stem sideways to allow fitting in the narrowness of the cardboard?
i make mention of this because in my opinion, it's a lot safer to have the end user (otherwise known as the customer) slide the seatpost into the frame and tighten the bolt than it is to have them clamp the bars in place. an incorrectly fitted seatpost will simply slide down; were the same fate to befall the bars while riding, the end result wouldn't be anywhere near as funny.
with a prevalence of carbon fibre even on lower cost bicycles, the need for care when assembling bits of a bicycle has become a more important factor. and in an increasingly litigious society, manufacturers usually stamp the torque settings on components that were previously the recipients of mostly brute force and ignorance. the inference here is that, should injury follow as a result of incorrect tensioning, the onus is on the end user (that customer fellow again), rather than the manufacturer.
i have to say, i'm more inclined to accept the results of my own actions rather than find someone to blame, but as mrs washingmachinepost has often pointed out, i'm not everyone. those newton metre numbers stamped adjacent to the stem bolts and seat clamp ought mostly to be adhered to at all times, but in the absence of a calibrated torque wrench, who amongst us can estimate just how hard to tighten any of the aforementioned bolts? to make matters worse, have you seen how much it costs for a torque wrench?
this set of circumstances is probably at least one of the reasons trek bicycles put a stop on their dealers selling mail order. apart from the perceived need to ensure the chosen cycle is a correct fit, once it has left the shop floor, there's no telling who and with what it will be assembled. i know of several bike shops which are loath to send out any brand of bicycle, on the basis that they may be consigning it to a life of mechanical ineptitude.
while it would be foolish not to keep at least a puncture repair kit, a set of allen keys and a tyre lever to hand, owning a comprehensive set of bicycle specific tools is not something every cycle owner is keen to undertake. on the basis that many of them will receive very little day to day (or even year to year) use, you can hardly blame them.
therefore, though several mail order suppliers despatch their ready to ride bicycles in those colossal boxes, still with the need for the bars to be clamped into the stem, there is undoubtedly a possible safety conundrum with a need of being resolved. (meanwhile, though the satisfied customer can simply dispense with the large cardboard container in the next recycled waste collection, folks like me who have need of returning the cycles after a review have to find somewhere to store them. and believe me, that ain't easy.)
however, good old tom ritchey has come to our aid in both the torque and economy stakes by offering a torque key not much bigger than the average drum key. this magnetically grasps one of a range of four adaptors (5mm, 4mm & 3mm allen keys and a t-20 torx key) and allows tensioning of any compatible bolt up to a maximum of five newton metres which ought to cover the majority of stem and seat bolts bolts. in operation, it's simply a matter of tightening the bolt until the the key clicks, at which point all is adjudged to be ginger peachy.
at a cost of only £19, the ritchey multi-torque key is cheap enough for any cyclist to own, and is small enough to fit in any pocket you may care to mention. the only demerit that comes to mind is how easy it is to lose in a busy bike shed (like mine), and even easier to lose the three torque bits that are not being used at the time. in view of their tiny size, it would pay to exercise great care in this respect.
but the best bit is, you don't have to be a qualified mechanic to use it.
sunday 16 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm making less than radical assumptions about all of you reading these words. for despite the fact that i no longer receive e-mails from prominent london hotels asking me to quote for industrial strength washer/driers, the letters across the top of the page still spell thewashingmachinepost, and even though i have tried to the best of my ability, even in anagrammatical form, i cannot find any cycling connections. therefore i'm fervently hoping there are none amongst your number eagerly waiting for reviews pertaining to what i believe are referred to as white goods.
in this, i tend to think i'm on safe ground.
there are probably as many divisions within the world of cycling as there are carbon nano tubes in cadel's bmc bicycle, but economically defined, we could perhaps adopt the demographics used by many of the uk's principal cycle clothing suppliers, namely sport cyclists and city riders, even though in a venn diagram there would be a sizeable intersection of circles. but i wonder how many of either the above would be pleased to consider themselves bicycle activists, even though in one sense or another, that is precisely the case?
in a brief bout of narcissism recently, this is the conclusion that attempted to become the elephant in the room. it revolved around the promotion of the latest sustainable transport initiative to surface on islay, one that i feel honour bound to offer my support, despite one or two misgivings. as part of a campaign to ultimately place more bums on saddles, one or two of us have signed up for a scottish cycling cycle leader course, the intention being that we will be then qualified to guide a whole peloton of newbies along the highways and byways of islay.
in truth, i think it highly unlikely that this particular scenario will ever be played out on the island, but one has to show faith. rightly or wrongly, i'm placing my faith in the fact that i ride everywhere; very much a case of being seen to follow my own philosophy. the absence of a motor car in the twmp household makes this every bit as much of a necessity as a badge of honour, but it's a situation that is played out on two wheels all across the nation, often by those oblivious to their mobile public relations exercise.
in my considered opinion, the simple fact of riding a bicycle as often as possible, in as many different weather conditions as present themselves and for any particular reason makes each and every one of us, a cycling activist. granted there are many who bring a great deal more to the start line, highlighting unsavoury situations to the notice of government and attempting to undermine the hyperbole of the motoring lobby. for them we must be truly thankful. there's nothing to prevent any one of us from taking our bums on saddles several stages further and joining their more active number, but for the more shy and retiring, just keep riding your bicycles as often as you possibly can
it is your destiny.
saturday 15 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have made mention on more than one occasion that i think cycling to be one of the best served sports when it comes to quality photography. i'd tend to credit rapha and rouleur with being the instigators of this desirable trend, but others have picked up the baton and run with it, if you will excuse the obligatory sporting metaphor. all this is very much in our favour, offering a very different view of sporting proceedings through the lenses of messrs mcmillan, mitchell, bingham, kolln to name but a few.
but unlike the rather better funded magazines, thewashingmachinepost has no in-house photographer other than yours truly. and while i'm happy to raise my hand when the need for a photoshop black-belt is required, i'd be very loath to even consider describing myself as a photographer. the company camera is a simple, point-and-shoot lumix that has been on the go since 2007, having acquired a few bumps and bruises along the way. it offers nothing in the way of sophistication, which is just as well because its operator tends to display precious little of that either.
however, necessity being the mother of invention, the only manner in which i can snap images of bicycles, clothing and one or two other review items is to use the ten-second timer built into the camera. this means setting the camera down somewhere that will not involve it falling into a river, or blowing over in the wind, yet offering an image worthy of use in accompanying relevant black and yellow pixels. as you can imagine, this often takes several attempts, for what i think the lens is looking at is quite often not the same as what it's really looking at.
i believe i may have unknowingly invented the selfie' several years before someone thought to name it thus.
my lack of photographic skills are mostly disguised by adopting an alternate persona, a fact that is less odd than it looks in print. having seen the excellence produced by ben ingham and scott mitchell, it is then a simple matter (who am i kidding?) of figuring out what either of the above would do were they in my shoes. of course, the fact that mr mitchell is the official team sky photographer and mr bingham responsible for much of rapha's dramatic output while i'm still using the same compact camera purchased six years ago, pretty much says it all.
but, were it not that i still consider myself a campagnolo aficionado, despite the brake levers on the bike shed contents probably proving otherwise, japanese supremos, shimano, have offered a lifeline to that ageing lumix. i have written before that i figured the advent of electronic shifting on bicycles would and should have developed further than it has. witness the products that have issued from apple since shimano first introduced di2 to the world, and compare that with the variations of the latter that you may have seen on bicycles in the interim. zero would be a very apt guess.
but suddenly, from left-field and in a direction few of us saw coming, shimano have brought a digital camera to market in the shape of the snappily named cm-1000. replete with wi-fi to connect to smartphones and ant+ to talk to power meters and heart rate monitors, it seems that snapping photos and capturing video through a couple of wide angle lenses is not all that the compact and bijou package is designed to do. with the imminent release of a di2 wireless transmitter, it's quite likely that heart-rate, gear selection and your embarrassing lack of watts could be either displayed on captured video or still image, or conceivably added to the image's exif data.
with the continuing impingement of social media upon even cycling life and perhaps even the helmeted selfie, this may be the very camera that the narcissistic velocipedinist has been waiting for. but rumours abounding that the uci is soon to approve on-bike cameras may also be an additional if not primary reason for the camera's release. this could lead to shimano equipped professionals being able to send live data for broadcast purposes, similar to that currently experienced by formula one motor racing fans.
due for release in late may of this year, shimano's camera is rumoured to cost $300 and come complete with two mounts, a bracket to attach to a helmet and a sticky one. other mounts ought to be available as after market items.
rest assured that, should one head in this direction for review at some time in the future, i will have massaged any power output figures via photoshop before posting online.
friday 14 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at the end of term, pupils from the local aberdeen secondary schools who hoped to attend art college in the following year would visit on one particular day to receive a pep talk from one of the senior lecturers and be given a guided tour of the premises. no doubt keen to demonstrate their suitability in the eccentricity stakes and how easily they would fit into the surroundings, many wore particularly flamboyant clothing. disappointingly for them, the majority of bona-fide art students wore far more pragmatic apparel consisting mostly of t-shirts and jeans, the latter often inadvertantly decorated with paint, clay and printer's ink. sartorial elegance was never knowingly on the menu.
once the journeymen of practical clothing, in those years jeans could be had in two basic flavours: straight leg and flared. and inevitably several inches longer than was sensible, meaning about six inches of wet denim covering a wet pair of trainers when it rained. and it quite often rained in aberdeen; it probably still does.
i am insufficiently well-versed in contemporary fashion to know whether denim jeans still hold an assured place in the modern mind, but it has not escaped my eagle eye that one or two cycling apparel providers have concerned themselves with recreating jeans in their own image (so to speak). denim is an inherently heavy material classified by its thickness and an unfortunate ability to hold onto precipitation like a sponge. neither of these features are particularly endearing to an eager cyclist. however, not all jeans are created equal, and not all jeans necessarily inhabit the rarefied atmosphere of technical fabrics and saddle friendliness.
cheshire's meccanica offer a rather admirable pair of jeans, inscrutably branded 'bollenium' and unashamedly offered to the cyclist about town. despite an overlapping seam in the crotch region and my subjecting them to a brooks saddle, the fit made them quite suitable for brief commuting runs and not as uncomfortable as originally thought. according to meccanica's colin ball "The jeans are not 'cycling jeans' per se. They are our classics that are OK for cycling with a generous crotch fit (on purpose) but not 'technical.'" the fit is rather good, though the 30" waist reviewed still needed a belt to keep them up. i've no idea if the legs are rather long on purpose, but they do allow the luxury of rolling them up a few inches to display a thin line of world championship stripes along the inner seam.
nobody in the office noticed, but they were probably too busy last year when the british team were all climbing off.
denim jeans are frequently matched with team jerseys; you need only cast an eye over the feed stations at most professional races to notice that. however, it seemed far more perspicacious to ally the dark denim with other off the bike offerings from meccanica, such as their basic polo, cycle top polo and a good old fashioned toolbox t-shirt. despite the meccanica logo, augmented in many cases with the word coritani, being a contrived invention, it manages superbly to avoid looking as such. on the t-shirt, a thick 100% cotton affair, it looks distinctly old-school yet modern at the same time. the ideal apparel for bike fettling and recovery days.
the cycle-top, despite appearances, isn't in fact, a cycle top at all. constructed from the same heavyweight cotton fabric as the basic polo shirt, it offers a single pocket to the right rear and a quarter length zip in place of three buttons closing a stylishly high, round collar. the short sleeves and lower two thirds are coloured light blue, with a white on red meccanica logo separating this from the white top section. neither baggy nor tight, you could conceivably cover several miles clad in this top before the rest of the peloton noticed the difference.
the basic polo is anything but, in my opinion. a classic fit formed yet again from 100% cotton, the regular polo style collar meets those three buttons to complete the bradley wiggins/scott mitchell look. the secret test as to the fit of any polo shirt is by how many buttons require to be unfastened in order to pull it on over your head. the meccanica shirt passed this test with accomplishment.
the question is, of course, why anyone would now enter the cycling apparel battlefield at all, given that its population seems intent on making individual pickings rather slim. unless, that is, you have a unique selling point as your less than secret weapon. in the case of meccanica this could just be that all their clothing is made in the uk, a factor that offers much to applaud. backing up that usp with sound style, design and quality as well as targeting cyclists in their downtime strikes me as a strategic ploy geared towards success (did you see what i did there?).
occupying the chesterfield sofa in debbie's clad in any of the above would identify me as a non-civilian, yet keep that identity hidden from civilian eyes, if you catch my drift. ideal for lounging about after a heavy day in the workshop or on the training camp.
meccanica bollenium denim jeans are available at a cost of £85 and in sizes ranging from 30" - 44" waist with a standard 34" leg. the cycle top polo retails for £89 in sizes small - xxxxl, while the standard polo costs £59 in the same size range. the meccanica toolbox t-shirt sells for £39.95 and is also available in sizes small - xxxxl. all the above items and more can be purchased direct from meccanica.cc
thursday 13 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
you have to love the way some of our more enthusiastic sports commentators can find all manner of seemingly explicable reasons as to why particular athletes fail valiantly to live up the to the hype they themselves have been spouting over at least the previous twenty-four hours. i am, of course referring to the winter olympics currently taking place in sochi, a bizarre location for snow events given that it is further south than london. and that fact may well have had some bearing on the less than stellar performance in the women's slopestyle skiing by british entrant katie summerhayes. while she attempted and achieved some startling twists and turns on her way to the red finishing line, her efforts were only good enough for seventh.
seventh place for any british olympic competitor would have been worthy of street parties and a public holiday not so many years ago, but a bronze medal only a few days ago have now raised the bar somewhat. and given that said commentators had been building the eighteen year old summerhayes up to be a definite medal contender, it was apparently time for a discretionary climb-down. this was achieved by pointing out the salient fact that the ambient temperature had warmed appreciably, turning crisp, if imported, snow into a white slushy mixture. though i know nothing about skiing, it's all too painfully obvious that it's a tad harder to turn 260 degree spins coupled to a perfect landing on slush than it would be on chillier snow.
it's just not something you expect to enter the fray at the so-called winter olympics. one can only surmise how things might turn out in four years' time when the winter olympics will be held in south korea, a location even nearer the equator than sochi.
it's the appropriateness not only of venue, but of the ground underfoot that surely lends itself more to one sporting activity than another. cyclocross, for example, though accepted and enjoyed worldwide, strikes me more as a form of cycle sport that ought to be endemic to the uk than other seemingly more appreciative countries. for watching the world championships in hoogerheide, it was hard to avoid the fact that the world's cross stars rode for one hour through brown viscous gloop. in other words, mud.
though perhaps the south of england is a tad too squishy at the moment for even boating, scotland's west coast is well used to substantial amounts of precipitation. islay is home to more than 1.2 metres of rainfall each year, while portland in oregon only manages around 300mm less, and seattle, renowned for its rain, is of similar portent. (not that it has any real bearing on this article, but new york surprisingly receives similar rainfall to that of islay.) the island of mull, only a few miles north of islay, and frequently visible from the shores of loch gruinart hosts a similar rainfall to that of my home.
but, unlike islay, mull makes excellent use of some of that rain by holding an annual cyclocross race in december, entitled cross at the castle. the castle in question is that situated at glengorm, with racing held over two days. the latest edition, held at the end of 2013 carried on regardless despite the island's ferry service from oban having been cancelled for 24 hours, while lashings of rain made sure the island's reputation remained fully intact. in terms of its possession of el agua en la vida, mull runs at a serious deficit to that of islay; tobermory is the only example. a ceilidh on the saturday night featuring the odd glass of the amber nectar may well have been the principal reason for a more subdued form of racing on sunday, though the scottish country dancing may not necessarily equate with the more regular notion of rest and recuperation.
conditions such as these may be ideal, in one way or another, for a december cyclocross race, but surely not the best for any unfortunate confined behind the lens of a video camera. yet, should anyone be failing to picture the delights of racing in western scotland at the end of the year, the irrepressibly cheery folks from endura cycle clothing on scotland's east coast, have offered up a short movie of splashing in muddy puddles for the edification of the many. granted, despite the topicality of the subject, perhaps those of a more southern disposition would care to look the other way. (and it's nice to see mull's davie graham gaining mention in the credits)
wednesday 12 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's one thing carbon fibre has in its favour these days and that's smoothness of form. whether this is as a result of an attempt to improve aerodynamics on behalf of the velocity challenged, or whether it's more to do with aesthetics, i'm not enough of an engineer to discern. in fact, if you promise not to tell anyone, i really have no idea what finite element analysis means, though i cannot deny it always sounds really impressive when i let it drop into conversation. obviously this is not done when there are real engineers present.
in fact, i'm very much of the 'what was wrong with round tubes in the first place?' school of thought. none of us are really fast enough to warrant flat topped top tubes, massive, yet geometrically shaped down tubes and rear stays that appear to be salsa dancing in their spare time. still bearing in mind my complete lack of engineering knowledge, i've yet to see a passenger aircraft featuring any of the above, and they seem to manage quite well in the 'going fast' stakes. but then we return to the smoothness stakes.
every year of cyclocross season and the grand tours, our monthly cycle magazines and websites offer up at least one feature about the team mechanics and the lengths they go to have that carbon machinery cleaned and polished to within a nano fibre of its life. it's not just the camera angle that makes those frames positively glow with vitality. and as componentry develops along with those nano fibres, it has become progressively less finicky to get the sponges and pressure washers into the fast disappearing nooks and crannies that once featured on lugged steel frames, mudguards, kickstands and cycle racks.
the very accoutrements, you might point out, that arrive as part and parcel of that taurus corinto reviewed only a day or two ago.
i truly have no idea whether the cycle magazines clean and polish their review samples prior to returning. in fact, if i am to believe many of the sales departments pertaining to the uk's cycle distributors, just having the bikes returned in the first place is enough of a challenge on its own. however, i would be mortified if the guys and girls at the other end were to open the slightly the worse for wear cardboard box and find a mess on two wheels. therefore, prior to wrapping the bars and tubes in miles of bubble wrap, the taurus was manhandled onto the workstand in order to be revitalised with a bit of soap and water.
it's at this point that simple aesthetics and aerodynamic carbon fibre become conspicuous by their absence. for in truth, the roadster does indeed possess a veritable collection of obscure nooks and crannies, many of which are rather hard to access. and here's where green oil's new eco sponge 3 comes in rather handy. its exterior promises nothing exceptional, being formed from recycled cotton rice sacks. this provides a soft, tough, yet manageably tactile surface to remove even hardened grit from a once shiny frame. the interior is made from plant material direct from the philippines, making the whole enchilada compostible and biodegradeable. and if we are nothing else as cyclists, we do endeavour to be kind to the planet.
throwing the compact and bijou sponge into a bucket of warm soapy water will slowly increase its size and soften its texture from the crinkly pack that dropped out the envelope. due to a convenient narrow rectangular shape as opposed to the more squarish format enjoyed by sponges for washing the car, it was a darned sight easier to slide the eco sponge through the rear wheel spokes to gain access to the inner face of the chainguard. similarly, it fitted easily between the rear brake rod and the luxuriously painted frame. the ideal way to help not only a less than soap-friendly bicycle but farmers of the philippines who are still recovering from the recent typhoons.
had the carbon also needed cleaning, the eco sponge is safe for use on such structures.
green oil offer a range of cleaning products for the very purposes i have described, but every now and again, a bucket of soapy water works every bit as well. mind you, i did employ the services of a bona-fide frame polish. for a mere £3.99, it's very hard to find any satisfactory reason not to place an order this very minute.
tuesday 11 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................