there's a rather fine interview in the latest issue of cyclist magazine with the irrepressible jeremy powers, recently crowned american national cyclocross champion for the second time. in previous years, jpow would finish off his winter of muddy content at the world 'cross championship somewhere even muddier than at home, and straightaway cast aside his rapha focus team clobber and swap it for some jelly belly for a spring and summer season of road riding. however, as revealed in the aforementioned interview, that sequence of events has come to an end.
though mr powers is not getting any younger (now into his early thirties), dispensing with a season of road riding has little or nothing to do with age, but a lot more to do with the increasing popularity of cyclocross. it's a phenomenon that can be viewed to varying degrees across the world, but it's the sport's consolidation in north america that is now allowing jeremy the luxury of becoming a full-time 'cross rider year round. previously that's something you'd expect only for the belgian or possibly dutch contingent, though one or two of the notables from those european 'cross enclaves have entered the road-racing world in latter years.
this year's world cyclocross champion zdenek stybar elicited more than just a few groans when taking the championship bands, as fans acknowledged that he's unlikely to race many 'cross races wearing that jersey.
the sport, however, seems strong enough to stand on its own two feet, and the very fact that the uci and ioc are discussing the possibility of admitting the sport to the winter olympics in 2018 will surely provide a further boost. however, though i very much doubt uk cyclocross is anywhere near offering professional, year-round opportunities for home-based riders, it does seem its popularity could be on the slow-burn upwards. this contention is not purely my own, based on rather suspect observation of my twitter feed. the publishers of the excellent singletrack magazine, alone in its field (if you'll pardon the pun) since the demise of privateer have announced plans to publish a digital only 'cross magazine entitled (not too imaginitively if they'll forgive me for saying so) gritcx. though a website will be up and running come the month of august, the first issue won't be available until october, nicely timed for the 2014/15 season.
ever the cynic, and simply not aware that the uk scene was perceived as being healthy enough to support such a publication, i asked chipps chippendale why?
"Why? Because there's been an explosion in cyclocross (and other off road, drop bar) bikes in the last few years. From a readership point of view, there are a lot of people who've bought them for fitness, recreation and, very occasionally racing. And they don't have a magazine for them. There's an increase in 'cross racers; there can be 400 people at a Yorkshire points race on a wet Sunday in December, with similar increases around the country. And there's even a cyclocross world cup coming to the UK in November."
given that chipps and presumably singletrack's publisher, mark alker, are considerably more aware of the market than yours truly, this is indeed a major boost for uk cyclocross, rather than diluting some other strain of cycling by inveigling more traditional editorial content. "One added benefit is that we'll stop annoying the Singletrack readers who don't see 'cross bikes as being appropriate for a mountain bike mag. I see that this is probably a problem for the road magazines too, hence the need for a 'cross mag..."
you need only have followed the appropriate twitter feeds of those engrossed by road cycling to appreciate the joy and happiness accompanying this past weekend's openers to the classics season at omelette nosebleed and kuurne-brussels-kuurne. the similarity of emotion come october when sven and the boys start mud-plugging on cantilevers in central europe is not one to be sniffed at. "We'll look to do four issues over the winter, starting in October. It'll have a new editor and online editor, using the existing subscription and design infrastructure that serves Singletrack mag too."
as one who knows, a substantial proportion of any print publication's costs are encased in both the actual printing and subsequent distribution, factors that are pretty much insurmountable. however, as the digital publishing model becomes easier with each and every update to professional level page-layout software, and the continuing spread of the tablet phenomenon, it is undoubtedly far more cost effective to offer a digital only publishing model. even though some of us have an affectation for the smell of print.
unfortunately, as with every new technology, standards are rarely to be seen; in this case there is the traditional desktop/laptop computer as well as apple's ios and google's android operating sytems to be catered for. and will they be? "Digitally speaking, we're looking to do a specific tablet (and phone) friendly custom issue for people to read on their iPads and Android devices."
i'd better ask for an ipad for my birthday.
photos by balint hamvas from the excellent 2012/13 cyclocross photobook photo of jeremy powers by rapha's jeremy dunn..
monday 3 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it has been, according to the met office, officially the wettest start to a year ever in the entire history of writing these things in a big black year planner. the monstrosity of this has affected every corner of the uk, though i'm rather relieved to say that the serious flooding in the deep south hasn't inflicted itself upon the southern hebrides. surrounded as we are by water, any over-eagerness on behalf of incoming precipitation has been offset by a predilection for it all to flow into the sea and the ocean. yes, there have been one or two examples of localised flooding, but not sufficient for noah to bring the ark out of storage.
but the evidence is hard to avoid. that squishy feeling underfoot when popping cartons and yesterday's newspaper into the recycling bin each morning, and the top of thewashingmachinepost bikeshed door sticking in its frame due to a preponderence of dampness. it's long been the time of year when the good bikes are relegated to the rearmost section of the bikeshed, and those bedecked with mudguards/fenders more easily to hand just inside that expanded door. the rationale behind such an arrangement seems all but impeccable until the first day of spring arrives and one of those polished, guardless and uncannily light machines has need of being retrieved from the darkness.
apart from a small gap below the shed window, its constitution is remarkably watertight given its advancing years (it has been a constant source of inspiration that it's never blown away in the gales), but an insidious dampness cannot be completely avoided, principally at the behest of unwanted condensation. and the first days of march are when the brown stuff hits the spinning object.
to offer as a prime example, we shall examine the recent history of a campagnolo chorus bedecked colnago c40. removing the velocipedinal barricade in front of its person and bringing it into the spring daylight brought less joy than i'd hoped. other than giving the clement stradas a smidgeon of well-deserved air and climbing aboard, i had prepared for little else. until i noticed the light brown decor on the chain links.
i can just about suffer a bicycle with a thin cladding of grit, but in possibly my only concession to ocd, i can't abide a less than shiny chain. dressed in my fast clothes, i was reduced to scrubbing and degreasing the whole affair before liberally coating each link with purple harry's dry lube (you can't blame a guy for being optimistic). had it all ended there, i would have been off into the wide blue yonder, quicker than an ian stannard sprint. that all was not entirely well showed up under braking; the rear calipers were stiffly reaching the wheel but not retarding in the expected manner. in one of those it'll be alright on the night moments, i figured this might improve with distance. but as i summitted a brief incline, i could not but ignore the fact that any gear selection on the ergo levers seemed not to be translated into movement at the rear derailleur.
sticky cables after several months of being ignored in a bike shed are not at all uncommon, but the problem turned out to be the derailleur itself, needing a good few fettles with a gloved hand to coax it back into action.
you will have taken note, i hope, of my mentioning the colnago as the cycle du jour. though it dates from the late 1990s, it has ernesto's inbuilt trait of making yours truly feel totally inadequate, no matter the amount of effort imparted on its pedals. i'd swear that when parking it outside debbie's and grovelling my way to the door i heard a faint trace of "so, is that all you've got?" from the general direction of the c40. unfortunately that was indeed all i had. and it didn't improve much on the way home; just when i was beginnng to think i might be fit.
in a classic case of 'do as i say, not as i do', if you have a similarly mothballed cycle at the back of the garage or bikeshed, i'd get yourself out there toute suite with spray lube and an old cloth in hand. the classics are here, along with bib-threequarters and serious faces. it's time to make use of all that acquired badass-ness, but make sure the fast bike is up to the challenge, or at least that it has a shiny chain.
sunday 2 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there is an interesting monologue by meryl streep in the movie the devil wears prada when, as the character miranda priestley, she pours scorn on her assistant's concealed guffaw over the choice between two belts which, to all intents and purposes, seem identical. the gist of her eloquent put down is based on the perception that fashion only affects those who express an interest in its existence. by implication, those of us who do not inhabit the industry's inner sanctum, figure that we dress according to our own whims, entirely separate from the subliminal persuasions of our aesthetic superiors.
as i write, i am dressed in a house industries t-shirt, a fred perry, bradley wiggins merino sweater and a pair of vulpine raintrousers and blue rapha winter socks. i would love to say that this was as a result of careful sartorial selection based on ambient temperature, comfort and matching of colour scheme. the reality, however, is that these garments were the easiest to retrieve from the wardrobe at point of departure. the fact that there is a notional degree of co-ordination is down to blind luck and the fact that the designers of the above are a lot better at this sort of thing than i am.
i tend to except myself by one or two stages from the dictates of cycling fashion, since much of what i wear on and off the bike is dictated both by the products sent for review and the fact that i favour strong colours because they display better in the photographs accompanying any given review. there is no truth in the rumour that i earnestly favour fluorescent greens and oranges. however, i would be fooling myself, if no-one else, in thinking that my choice of velocipedinal apparel is made in isolation to the fashion sense that pervades the cycling apparel industry.
though manufacturers will protest that their efforts on our behalf are guided by efficiency and technology, it's a simple matter of fact that if it doesn't look good, chances are none of us would wear it no matter that it knocked a second off the time from here to debbie's. and if that were indeed the true reason behind such technical apparel, why would so many release new collections around spring and autumn, with a peppering of offerings over the spaces in between?
in years gone by, rapha had need of blu-tacking their web servers to the coffee table in an attempt to prevent their partial disintegration each time a new range was released on an expectant peloton. web technologies have improved along with that of sportwool and such iniquities happen far less often, but those seasonal launches still offer a sales spike for more than just those at perren street.
there is, of course, other than simply commerce at the heart of the introduction of annual improvements and new releases, for even i have noticed that there are times of year when the apparel left ready for the sunday morning ride has migrated from long-sleeve baselayers, jerseys and either tights or bib-threequarters to lighter and cooler fare. the fact that this happens perhaps a month or two later out west than is the case in richmond park is mostly a case of cycling to a different drum.
the era of built-in obsolescence is, if anything, on the increase. cycling fashion would be less than impressed by those riding insouciantly in polti or mapei team kit, unless you have mastered the art of retro irony. like it or not, most of us are caught in the same trap as our teenage sons and daughters, the difference being we consider it to matter so much more than their trivial fashion desires and needs. perhaps pressure on the monthly income is more fettered than in the world of the unattached youngster, thereby placing brakes on the rate of acquisition, but it rarely stops it altogether.
mind you, it's not fashionable to admit it in public.
saturday 1 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
point one team of eleven blokes in one direction, and another team of eleven blokes in the opposite direction, chuck a ball in the middle and let them get on with it. it makes as much sense to me as racing from the outskirts of paris over cobbled roads to a velodrome in roubaix probably does to the scarf bedecked supporters surrounding the 22 chaps i mentioned above. mind you, it does seem a bizarre quirk of football/soccer nomenclature that the section of a football stadium in which the spectators sit is referred to as the stand. almost as iniquitous as use of the word wicked when meaning a particularly favourable set of circumstances.
it's a sport in which i admit i have no interest whatsoever. certain support factions, admittedly a minority, seem more intent on taunting or thumping their counterparts wearing differently coloured scarves. as my taxi was taking me from bespoked bristol to the bus station last year, we were confronted by two police cars placing themselves across the lines of city centre traffic while mounted police accompanied a stream of football supporters into bristol station. the driver informed me that the same procedure was a part of every home game, preventing wholesale warfare between opposing supporters.
despite the likelihood of coming across as unbelievably smug (a persona i've all but perfected), the closest cycling has come to emulating frenetic fervour in recent years has been the crowds of orange clad euskatel supporters on the slopes of the pyrenees. but unlike their less physically restrained footballing peers, the basques exhibited the same excessive behaviour in front of any passing cyclist, right down to contenders for the lanterne rouge.
however, in the light that many of britain's daily newspapers use the word sport as a substitute for the word football, it cannot be disguised that the game with twenty-two players, a referee and two sets of goals, is inarguably the uk's most popular sport. quite why, i really have little idea, though if there is such a thing as a sports sociologist, i'm sure i could be quoted chapter and verse.
on the off chance that you think i doth protest too much, with a level of pretence and artifice regarding the machinations of the soccer world, i honestly had no idea that this coming summer, brazil will host the world cup. i didn't even know that the jules rimet trophy was up for grabs this year. i am now filled with dread at the hours of regular television programming that will suffer from drastic re-scheduling. however, thankfully, brazil has a great deal more to offer the world than a series of football matches, particularly if you happen to have an interest in percussion.
that would be me.
though i currently spend at least half an hour of my evenings in the study of conga drumming, in truth those drums have more in common with cuba and the dominican republic. brazil is famed more as the home of samba with its concomitant percussives in the shape of the surdo, repenique, pandeiro et al. but i have come to learn that it's possible to replicate samba rhythms on one or two conga drums with only a modest degree of re-orchestration. and if i practice really diligently, i can just about manage a one-handed samba on a pandeiro (essentially a brazilian tambourine). in an admirable piece of lateral thinking, russ over at hackney gt has proved that the samba can be applied in not only a percussive manner outside its comfort zone, but visually too.
emulating a brazilian soccer jersey, hackney gt are now offering a green and yellow cycle jersey emblazoned with the words samba velo across the front and the essential three rear pockets. accompanying the frontal wordage is the brazilian flag. i'd be very unlikely to pop one of these into my jersey drawer, considering my distaste for the so-called beautiful game, populated as it is with obscenely overpaid players, but i'm inclined to think of myself as something of a minority in this respect. i know too many fellow velocipedinists who are as eager to return of a sunday afternoon in anticipation of watching a football match as i am to settle down in front of kuurne-brussels-kuurne this weekend.
if you intend to spend major portions of this coming summer sat on a saddle, yet desirous of showing an affiliation with those kicking a ball in sao paulo, or perhaps you'd simply prefer a cycle jersey to match your agogo bells. surely here is the ideal garment?
hackneygt's samba velo s/s cycle jersey can be ordered via their website at a cost of £59.95 with free postage.
friday 28 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there are, so i'm told, advantages to being bi-lingual, particularly by those on islay who speak gaelic. it's the indigenous language by all accounts, though far less common nowadays than was once the case. this despite the instigation of a gaelic unit at bowmore primary school, a gaelic college that can't make up its mind whether it's a college or not, and an annual local mod that offers adherents of the language the competitive opportunity to sing, read and recite in the local secondary school. i cannot deny that i find gaelic particularly inscrutable, if only because the words are rarely pronounced anything like the way they are spelt.
the advantage, however, comes not from any propensity for intellectual discussion or impromptu thoughts on the state of the gaelic nation, but in the ability to lapse into conversation that can be obscured from prying ears. in the days when mrs washingmachinepost and i used to visit islay on holiday prior to moving here permanently, we would stay with her grandmother, and if anyone of similar age were to visit, when gossip took over, the language immediately shifted to the mother tongue.
my current editor in the newspaper office is originally from the isle of lewis and fluent in gaelic, while our receptionist's daughter spends one morning a week learning conversational gaelic at the aforementioned college. when their paths coincide, usually around lunchtime on a wednesday, little of comprehension to me can be heard in the office. fortunately for me, there is recourse to payback time as february draws to a close and the month of march can be seen on the horizon, all to do with the joyous return of the spring classics.
though i've made specific mention of la primavera towards the end of march, perhaps the true kick-off point of the real cycling season, every headlining act needs to be preceded by impeccable support acts, and two of those arrive this weekend.
after enduring two months of intermittent, yet incomprehensible gaelic phrases, i can now bring to the attention of all and sundry that saturday pm can be usefully occupied by following omloop het nieuwsblad probably on sporza, before settling down to a sunday afternoon with eurosport player to watch the rhythmically named kuurne-brussels-kuurne, surely the ideal title for a belgian eurovision entry if ever i heard one.
i'm pleased to say that on the two distinct occasions which i have mentioned both races in the same sentence, i have been met with either deliberate silence or quizzical faces. i'd call that a result. though there has been televisualisation of the tours of oman and qatar, the tour down under and andalucia, the prospect of two successive days watching classic european racing with all the weather implications that entails is almost too good to be true. and what makes this all the more anticipatory is the length of time we've had to remain in suspense. lombardia and paris-tours were almost five months ago, and whatever happened in between (with the possible exception of the cyclocross worlds) has merely been the cornetto and popcorn before the main feature.
i'd seriously advise watching both events this weekend, not only for the good of your souls, but to increase your chances of linguistic inscrutability come monday morning in the office. we may well be considered eccentric, but there's a darned good reason for that.
thursday 27 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if memory serves correctly, there used to be a tv programme set on a mythical scottish island entitled acres of sky, quite possibly an oblique reference to the uppermost of the inner hebrides (the isle of skye). though not directly referenced in any particular episode that i can recall, the title paid tribute to the lack of urban and inner city sprawl that eventually blocks out much of the sky, a factor that tends to engender feelings of claustrophobia in the country boy in the big city.
it's something frequently remarked upon by visitors to this and probably every other island further north. it's exactly the same in many other rural locations; a sense of wide open space that seems to benefit the psyche, at least for a short space of time. though new york is characterised as the city that never sleeps, i doubt that's a feature peculiar to the big apple. on my few visits to the nation's capital, i can't say i noticed any serious diminution in activity even into the latter hours of the day. but it's possible that social conditioning has inadvertantly classified us in one camp or the other.
i can manage only a day or two in glasgow, edinburgh or london (expecially the latter) before i find myself yearning for civilisation. but on the contrary, i have met many a visitor and cyclist on islay keen to admit to their enjoyment of the great outdoors, but classifying it as "a nice place to visit, but i wouldn't want to live here." on the other hand, wild horses wouldn't shift me from the croft.
however, if we remove the subjective element from the equation, there's every likelihood that i'm far better off from a health point of view living in my splendid isolation than those of you in the big cities. were this simply my own opinion based on little other than supposition, we would once again have returned to the subjective realm, but on my side i have evidence from the department for environment, food and rural affairs. though i have no illustrative corroboration, it seems that individuals from this magnificently if obscurely titled government department have been strolling the streets of london with nitrous oxide detectors in hand. their results place the uk's top 50 pollution hotspots within britain's capital city.
these results are probably more explanatory to those with a scientific background, but with the european union having set the maximum nitrous oxide levels at 40 micrograms per cubic metre, levels of 152 micrograms cannot be viewed as encouraging. if we consider that one of the potential growth areas in contemporary cycling is through the inner city commuter, while such individuals may now be better served by way of bicycles and appropriate clothing, it seems that the activity might have become a tad precarious in terms of health benefits.
or perhaps not quite.
it appears that the biggest offender is likely the diesel engine (tell us something we didn't already know), older versions of which have been banned in berlin. however, in a rather positive quirk of fate, it seems that the cycling fraternity may be less at risk than others who occupy commuting space in london town. when comparing a cycle courier, ambulance driver, toddler, pensioner, office worker and student, the only one of the above who fared better than the cyclist was the chap in the ambulance. however such as these are notoriously relative.
though the cyclist placed second lowest on the exposure test, he/she probably fared far worse than yours truly, surrounded by acres of sky, pedalling frenetically towards froth supping at debbie's on a wild and windy saturday afternoon.
did that come across as unbearably smug?
wednesday 26 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my late father, quite likely having palpitations about a son with unsociably long and allegedly unkempt hair, coupled with a predilection for wearing apparently less than presentable clothing, repeatedly made mention that i ought to seriously consider becoming more respectable. i have little doubt that his inference was that i ought to become more like himself, a respectable, middle class, middle-manager. i do not wish to give the impression that i felt little respect towards my father's status and social standing. it just wasn't a path that i felt an overweening need or desire to follow.
even as an art student, i had avoided anything to do with drugs, didn't smoke cigarettes nor indulged in any alcoholic beverages and had been a vegetarian since my early teens. however, i did have hair half-way down my back and a preference for embroidered jackets and patchwork jeans. attending the opening of a new manufacturing plant owned by my father's employers, a friend of his pointed in my direction and asked if i was his elder son. answering in the affirmative, he made mention of all the above personal traits, at which point his interlocutor suggested he might like to buy me half an ounce of marijuana and tell me to get my haircut.
this designer scruff image has followed me to the present day, mostly because i have no real desire to alter it. i am comfortable in my sartorial disarray; my only concession to presentableness is having my hair tied in a ponytail, and even that's only because it sometimes got in my way when cycling. necessity is the mother of hairdressing.
however, as you may have observed from several of my cycling apparel reviews over recent years, i have become the epitome of the well-dressed cyclist about the peloton, pretty much at the behest and graciousness of a few of the world's finest velocipedinal tailors. this marked improvement, several of which would have received a positive response from my dad, has slowly morphed from the more sporting arena into what i think we have agreed should be referenced by the city riding metaphor. one progressive step on from the urban adjective of yore in my opinion.
this has included base layers, polo shirts (both short and long-sleeves), trousers indistinguishable from those worn by the average civilian and jackets possessed of a pragmatic nature and without three rear pockets. but just recently, to borrow a malapropism from the jura fell race, that has summited in the shape of a cycling blazer from nick hussey's vulpine clothing. in cycling terms, the blazer does not fill me with enthusiasm, but more from the point of association than actuality. on attending the start of the tour of britain from glasgow green several years ago, i had exerted the full force of my editorial influence and applied for a press pass. this was to be obtained from a designated caravan protected from civilian attack by a phalanx of officials more generally referred to as blazers. white haired gentlemen who, in the world of rock'n'roll would be more commonly referred to as jobsworths.
they were protecting that well known conundrum identified by the need to have an appropriate pass to collect the applied for pass. "i'm here to collect my press pass." "sorry sir, you can't get in here without a pass."
in this case, the vulpine blazer is impeccably tailored in conjunction with the renowned british menswear designer (of whom i have never heard, but that won't surprise you much) oliver spencer. i recall having owned and worn school blazers in my youth, and i have to say that this example reminds me not at all of those. i'd be more inclined simply to refer to it as a jacket; but then i'm not operating a rapidly expanding cycle clothing firm, so what would i know?
not simply content with resembling what my father would have referred to as a sports jacket, the vulpine blazer is constructed from a highly practical showerproof material that also offers a commendable level of windproofing. in civilian mode, it's more or less indistinguishable from any other dark blue jacket worn in the day to day world of commerce, but climb aboard the taurus corinto for a morning in the brooks saddle, and those lapels can be folded outward and fastened all the way up to the neck. and very sneakily, unbutton the cuffs and fold them back to reveal reflective scotchlite hoops for night riding. the same scotchlite lives inside the collar; turning it up in the pretence of trendiness, and following vehicles will not miss your evening existence, augmented by more reflectivity in the tailored dart at mid rear.
at nick's suggestion, i opted for the 40" size, allowing for more substantial layering beneath in mid-february weather. this not only fitted particularly well in both buttoned and unbuttoned modes, but offered a generous sleeve length should the stem on your bicycle be a tad longer than effected by the sit up and beg posture afforded by the taurus. there are two inner pockets which will cossett a slim mobile phone, five pound notes or credit cards and their like from prying eyes and bumpy roads. on the outside are two lower front pockets and one on the left breast, one of the former of which easily swallowed an ardbeg wallet and the latter offering home to my ipod touch.
i will take nick's word that the fabric is showerproof; i wasn't showered upon during the review period for which i am extremely grateful as a gale whipped islay shower would cause hardship to even those dressed in a diving wetsuit. however, i have every confidence that drip, drip, drop, little april showers would be easily repelled by the blazer's impressive constitution. and though i'd rather hope that such blazered respectability would refrain from emulating messrs cavendish and wiggins, should that be the way you roll, there are under-arm vents to prevent a misting up of the physique.
aside from wearing the blazer while saddle-bound, i thought it prudent to take it to work for a day or two, pretending all the while to be a member of the upper middle-management (with a ponytail). aside from being every inch the practical and impressive garment that it is, i confess i rather enjoyed seeing friends and colleagues becoming tongue-tied while pretending not to notice my impressive improvement in sartorial elegance. mind you, i'd never get used to it.
assuming you don't inhabit the world of designer scruff, or your boss prefers that you wouldn't, it would be hard to improve upon this vulpine/spencer collaboration. but i'd never have called it a blazer.
tuesday 25 february 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................