my next door neighbour, in common with a sizeable percentage of the local population, participates in the odd game of golf. there's many of us, most notably the mighty dave t who would contend that every game of golf could be filed under the heading of odd, but for the time being, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. i have returned, on occasion, from my perambulations, to witness an impressive red and white leather golf bag sat in his back garden either prior to being whisked to machrie golf links, or just back from a timely eighteen holes.
it is customary, i believe, to enquire after any member of the pelotonese as to how exhilarating was this morning's ride, but i have learned over the course of time, never to ask how a game of golf had proceeded. if the query has been levelled at the winner, they'll tell you in full, missing out scarcely a single stroke, while if fate has been less kind, they will try (in vain, i might add) to explain where they think they're going wrong with regard to their swing. bluntly put, i could care less.
but the one thing that golf has in common with cycling is that of cost. not just those flashy leather bags with the wee tea cosies atop what i believe are referred to as drivers, but in the use of carbon fibre for the shafts and titanium for the hitty bits. and guaranteed to invoke a sharp intake of breath are the various fees levied upon members of certain golf clubs, several of which outweigh the cost of my mortgage by more than just a few pounds.
there are, of course, sports that can be enjoyed with very little cost. though nike, reebok and adidas are quite happy to offer running shoes worth a small fortune, in point of fact it is relatively easy to get by with less expenditure. trainers, a vest, a pair of shorts and perchance a rainjacket in case of inclement weather and you're sorted. no doubt the specialists would disagree, and they may well be right, but if running for the simplicity of running, large quantities of cash are unnecessary. similarly that of swimming; a decent pair of shorts or a swimsuit, maybe some goggles and a swimming cap, and the only other expense would be entry to the local swimming pool. if you get serious, there may be club membership fees, but those are very unlikely to equal those of the golf clubs mentioned earlier.
bicycles cost a bit more.
even a very basic road bike will leave little change from a few hundred pounds, and just as you wouldn't go swimming in a pair of levis 501s, it kinda makes sense to purchase even a budget pair of cycling shorts, a helmet, shoes and a jersey. a bit like golf, those can range from not very much to the sort of prices that would make your kneecaps crinkle. because quite often the cheaper end of the market is seen as a less sound investment. or, at least, until now.
with cycle jerseys of a quality that equals those worn by the professionals often costing from this side of £100 to well over the other side, it would not be unseemly to view a jersey costing £29.50 with at least a modicum of suspicion. i have already introduced these first offerings from tribesports, a company previously known for its running gear, that has now entered the cycling world with ladies and gents' jerseys in grey and black respectively.
at my first point of writing, i had the jerseys in my possession but had yet to find the opportunity to go riding, something that hardly makes for a pertinent review. additionally, in respect of a point made on twitter recently, i now like to have washed any cycling apparel at least twice before committing word processor to pixel. all the above have now been taken care of.
the tribesports short sleeve jersey has three rear pockets, two of which are open while the third is a zipped security pocket sited outboard on one of the others. it is something of an oddity, for the majority of cycle jerseys arrive with three, plus a zipped version. why this number was adopted, i know not, but if we follow rule number 29, at least three pockets are going to be required to avoid the use of an embarrassing man satchel. the material is certainly not the thickest on the market, meaning you'd probably require additional clothing in the freeze of winter. the review period, of necessity, meant hiding the jersey under a softshell or rain jacket, however, though offering a remarkably close fit (medium size tested), it does offer copious stretch properties without any notable tendency to remain stretched after use.
for a jersey of such relatively little cost, it was most impressive to remove from the washing line even after three or four washes and find that, not only had it retained all of the shape it started with, but there was no tendency for the material to pook or bobble. the quarter length zip was most amenable to being run up and down with ease as cycling proceeded, and those orange panels under the arms actually have a purpose in life other than that of dubious aesthetics. they are constituted of a more open weave, allowing the armpits to breathe, always an important point at any coffee stop along the way. though in reality, the tribesports jersey is unlikely to rival those at the more expensive end of the market, in truth, that isn't its purpose in life. and if we conducted one of those blind tests so beloved of pepsi and coke, i doubt anyone would pinpoint just how amenable its pricing really is.
for those who need to increase the number of jerseys they own, simply due to more regular outings, or for those just beginning but not sure if they'll like it or not, this is not only amazingly good value, but a highly effective garment, sensibly designed and coloured that would see you fit in to whichever peloton your sunday belongs, without any eyebrows raised or beratings from the old codgers that always hang about at the back.
very impressive, and not just for the price.
a review of the women's jersey will follow soon. meanwhile both jerseys can be purchased direct from tribesports
monday 31 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i was out on the open road only the other day, altruistically assisting the running fraternity. on 13 april, the islay single malt marathon will take place between portnahaven in the extreme south west of the isle and port ellen about ten miles south of bowmore. as one who rarely walks quickly, let alone attempts to run, marathons are a mystery to me; i had to be forcefully reminded that the total distance is 26.2 miles (42.16km). my sole part in this franchise was to ride the full distance with a garmin gps attached to the handlebars and measure the precise route, detailing the exact finish point as well as the mid-point.
having to ride from bowmore to the start position, then follow the proposed route, before riding back home again, meant that the total distance covered was 95km. you can see why i was more than willing to help for no remuneration whatsoever. however, it was on my return journey that i rode past a local merchants' premises and noted that two of the cars in the car park belonged to a couple who live in the same house, in the same street, in the same village. why, therefore, was it not possible for them both to drive to work in the same car? or, given the distance from home is a mere five miles, why not ride to work?
an article in the guardian newspaper this past thursday made note that the proportion of those cycling to work has remained fixed at 2.8% over the past decade. i know not what the precise population of the united kingdom is at present, but such a low percentage really does not show us in our best light. the article went on to point out that, though there were now 90,000 more individuals riding to the office than in 2004, because the population has increased over the same period, the percentage has remained static.
looked at in this manner, those numbers come across as a glass half empty way of viewing the situation. if we adopt a more optimistic attitude, an extra 90,000 is far better than a physical reduction in cycling numbers, but i'm sure that could easily be undermined by finding out how many more drove their cars to work over the same period. i'm willing to bet that it would be a darned sight greater than 2.8%, so somewhere we're going horribly wrong. predictions based on the success of british cycling at both the 2012 tour de france and the london olympics that cycling was about to experience a satisfying boom, seem sadly to have been well wide of the mark. though the same statistical model seems to bear out the contention that there are more of us riding our bicycles for sport and/or leisure, the bicycle remains a disappointingly niche mode of transport.
in the light of such numbers, it is not unseemly that we take a look at why this may be the case. increased motor traffic and intimidating road conditions, coupled with seriously deteriorating road surfaces means that commuting by bicycle has become the preserve of younger men who appear to be more tenacious in their daily battles with heavy, fast traffic. despite many a horror story regarding the iniquity of riding in inner london, it is there that has displayed the greatest increase in cycling traffic (144%), while some rural areas showed a decrease of up to 30%.
the government, in an attempt to more closely align us with the netherlands and denmark, committed in august of 2012 to spend £144 million to realise such an ambition; one would hope the figures disappoint them as much as they disappoint me. improvement of cycling facilities and infrastructure to make commuting a more attractive proposition can realistically be only undertaken by national or local government, but persuading folks to take advantage is something that might be achieved by you, me and the colnago. i've pointed out before that there seems to be more effort put into thinking of reasons as to why cycling to work can't be done, than figuring out how easy and economical it could become.
though i'm not advocating emulating jehovah's witnesses by arriving unannounced at folks' doors, armed with membership forms for the cyclists' touring club and a series of vociferous arguments, the odd well-placed remark here and there, coupled with demonstrable displays of public cycling surely wouldn't go amiss? visibly 'walking the walk' so to speak, might conceivably double that percentage within the next ten years. of course, if legislation continues to remove car tax for green and electric cars, which contribute to road wear and congestion every bit as much as expensive gas guzzlers, we may well be on a hiding to nothing.
come the revolution etc.
sunday 30 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
several years ago, apparently anxious to mark the tenth anniversary of the ardbeg committee, i was tasked with organising a bike ride round the principality in which worldwide members of the committee would be invited to participate. since we already had the ride of the falling rain in early august, it seemed less than enterprising to re-live the same roads, even in honour of our favoured distillery. surely it would be so much better if the event held an added frisson to make it something a tad more special?
after a modest level of deep thought, this particular bike ride became the ardbeg committee tenth anniversary gourmet bike ride, at least one reason why we didn't attempt to have a commemorative jersey made. this consisted of having breakfast at the old kiln cafe, ardbeg, stopping for a luxurious packed lunch delivered to ballygrant hall and ending a wonderful day's cycling with a three-course meal again in the old kiln cafe. and just to top it off in grand style, i figured that if there was going to be a dinner, then we ought to have an after-dinner speaker.
who else but graeme obree?
it would augment my paltry palmares to an enviable degree were i to have thought of the whole thing myself. but as picasso is quoted as having said good artists borrow, great artists steal, and i am as guilty as sin of the latter. for the archetypal gourmet ride takes place annualy in portland, oregon at the enterprising hands of chris king precision components. i doubt i need have told you this, for i'm sure no-one ever thought i'd have come up with an idea like that all on my own.
this year's chris king gourmet century ride (a metric century no less, none of your tiresome 100 miles in portland) has split itself in three. on 14 june the chunky tired folks (double-entendre intended) have a mountain bike event in bend, oregon, while 26 june sees 100 kilometer course designed to balance your riding efforts with a progressive selection of French victuals that will build to a delicious feasting crescendo at the Chris King factory.' culinary delights will be verging on the excessive, featuring as the event does, chefs jason french, matt christianson and patrick mckee who join chris king chefs chris diminno and robert mcspadden.
were that not sufficient to whet the riding and eating appetite, sonoma county hosts yet another gourmet ride, leaving from healdsburg, california to 'cover around 100 kilometers of quiet back roads, seldom traveled climbs, and picturesque descents while feasting along the way on food made by some of the region's most respected chefs.'
i cannot but sympathise with those of us residing far too far away to have thoughts of joining the happy pelotons, but assuming you're likely to be in the vicinity, or prepared to travel, registration for all events opens on tuesday 1 april. you'll look foolish if you miss it.
saturday 29 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when much younger, i recall being on holiday with my parents; the locations, other than mostly towards the south of england, are lost in the mists of time. however one thing that does stick in the mind, for one reason or another, is the toilet arrangements (don't laugh) which were almost always external to the rooms. this most often involved peering out of a partially open bedroom door to see if the bathroom was free, before retiring for the evening, a bit of a lottery in the larger hotels, especially when busy. but the situation put the fear of death into little kids if you woke up during the night desperate for a pee.
though modern-day hotels are built with en-suite in mind, it's often intriguing to see the occasionally heath robinson alterations that have been made to incorporate some form of shower and toilet facilities into elderly buildings that were not originally constructed with such comforts in mind. there are few of us nowadays who would suffer either a toilet along the landing or, as in one case i remember, halfway up the stairs.
the hotel industry, along with many others it should be said, exhibits a pressing annual need to improve the creature comforts and fringe benefits it offers its customers. this is rarely because it was felt they were not previously doing enough to satisfy, but mostly an attempt to distance the competition. the very same improvement programme mentality is built-in to much of the hospitality industry; witness the rating systems applied on behalf of the tourist organisations: an avocado bathroom suite may have been ideal for 2013, but in 2014, camomile is de rigeur.
though not as visible in the uk, at least not yet, certain of the more exclusive, boutique or niche hotels in north america have moved further up the ladder from en-suite bathrooms, teas-maids, and cinema-sized televisions by offering bicycles for the use of their guests. it would be folly to suggest that this is a fringe benefit never before seen in happy valley; even the machrie hotel on islay, before closing several years ago, had a handful of mountain bikes that they would hire to less than eager guests. it's quite likely that they're still out there, mouldering in a shed next to the greenkeeper's favourite lawnmower.
the difference with the current trend is that establishments such as the saguaro hotel in palm springs, california and scottsdale, arizona have teamed with republic bikes to offer branded, powder blue sit up and beg plato dutch cruisers for free use of their clientele. kimpton hotels and restaurants, sited in 26 north american cities has kitted out all its properties with fleets of high-quality public bikes. and the burrard in vancouver, british columbia offers a similar style of cruiser bike for guests, also free of charge.
along with in-house fitness facilities, swimming pools, saunas, health spas and fine dining, bicycles are rapidly becoming the ideal way for certain hotels to distinguish themselves from their brethren and to attract the more active guest looking for something a tad different from the norm. david byrne in his book the bicycle diaries remarked upon how much easier it was to experience a new city or town from the saddle of a bicycle rather than the inside of a yellow cab or city bus. i eagerly await the ingress of this endearing habit to a more british locale.
it should be noted that the gist of this article was informed by an article in momentum mag
top bike photo: joi de vivre hotels
friday 28 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my good friend richard sachs is all but imperious in his approach to framebuilding. if i could find either the money or the excuse, i'd be having myself measured centimetre by centimetre for one of those warm red and cream bicycles that wouldn't make me even half a kilometre faster, but by golly would i lord it over the rest of the velo club peloton. the disadvantage to this desire, aside from convincing mrs washingmachinepost and the bank manager that such would be the very finest of ideas, is that richard doesn't exactly live next door. in fact, though he lives in warwick, massachusetts, he doesn't really live next door to anyone there.
no doubt the wonders of the interweb would appease at least a portion of such measured demands, but if bespoke is what you/i want, there's little to beat a man with a measuring tape. in the past, tasks such as this would be less of a concern; the reality is that i'd never have heard of richard sachs, or his lovely bicycles, making this something of a moot discussion. the same would apply to the majority of framebuilders that didn't live within hailing distance of the back garden, but i'm sure it was confucious who pointed out that you don't miss what you don't know.
however, this is, as paul weller once mentioned, the modern world, in which knowledge is king. and as confirmed velocipedinists we have needs, several of which concern the occasionally pressing need for bespoke bicycle frames, often from builders living in foreign countries. which brings us back to the currently insurmountable problem of the man with the measuring tape in his top pocket.
there is maybe a solution to this on the horizon, occupying space in mid april. the first is the three days of bespoked at lee valley velodrome in stratford (11-13 april) where you'll admittedly have to share inches with the assembled hordes, the second will be living in b1866, 36 earlham street, london.
renowned for his sculpted titanium frames, the distinctly un-italian sounding darren crisp follows in the measuring tape of dario pegoretti who held court at the brooks store in january of this year. on 10th april, the day before bespoked opens its doors to the public, mr crisp will be available to perform fittings for lucky customers who will now not have to pop over to tuscany for the same service. and while you're there, you might as well design your own brooks saddle to sit atop your prospective bespoke darren crisp titanium bicycle.
you know you want to.
the problem might be one of demand, so put the ipad down this instant and telephone +44 (0)20 7836 9968 and ask b1866 shop manager stephen brill to add your name to the list. then visit bespoked next day displaying an insouciant and imperious grin to all and sundry.
thursday 27 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
mountain bikes 'r' not us, as i have reiterated on oh so many occasions. but having cheerfully read every issue of the sorely missed privateer magazine and still welcoming of my monthly edition of singletrack, i do like to keep an eye on what the chaps are doing in the undergrowth. my recent cheerful kilometres aboard steven shand's phat stoater brought up the fact that, though a total convert to the land of skinny tyres and bendy bars, there's still a place for being chunky now and again. maybe the mountain bike fraternity feel the same way in the opposite direction?
however, scooting hither and thither over a stretched period of time aboard something with notable springs up front, is definitely not my idea of fun, so an opportunity perhaps to do so more remotely and without hardship and muck seems like it might suit not only me, but one or two others as well.
the absa cape epic is a mountain bike race taking place in south africa annually around the end of march, beginning of april. in fact, the 2014 edition is currently underway, having started from durbanville sunday past and finishing this coming weekend. it's a race that's now in its 11th year, covers more than 700 kilometres and, to put not too fine a point on it, is a rather demanding test of endurance and mental toughness. according to the event's pr, it's the largest full-service mountain bike race in the world, probably something to be proud of if you are a chunky tyre acolyte.
to place this event in some sort of context, over the eight days, 600 teams of two compete in five separate categories, one of which is for 50 year olds and over. they're more than welcome to it. exhausting though it sounds simply in words, actually riding the darned thing is bound to be a lot harder. this year there are a couple of first-time innovations: live tracking of each and every one of the 200 entrants, and, leading on from that, the online ability to virtually race against the real people.
it's at this point that not only the ground under tread becomes muddy, at least for me, because try as hard as i can, i cannot fathom either the instructions or the point of actually doing so. but as i pointed out in my opening gambit, i have little attraction towards offroad cycling activity in the first place. i am, however, nothing if not selfless in my machinations, eager to bring to you anything that looks like it might be fun, even if i don't actually understand it myself. as my information would have it, the virtual game can be reasonably compared to a "super mario/sonic mashup with a hint of flappy(birds), all scrambling to make it through each of the eight actual stages of the race."
the fact that i have no idea as to what that last bit means will surprise almost nobody. should the notion of joining in the festivities on a continent far, far away without shifting from your armchair be the very excitement you've been waiting for, click through to www.tracker.co.za. oh, and i forgot to mention that there are prizes involved too.
wednesday 26 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"The guys that do best are the ones who know how they're finding the next step, even if they don't know what it is yet."
more years ago than i care to remember, when i had yet to adopt the way of steve jobs, i bought myself a computer that i might further my budding career as a graphic artist. since doing so would undoubtedly require the ability to design booklets, leaflets, programmes and the like, i acquired a copy of what was once known as aldus pagemaker, subsequently purchased by adobe and re-named accordingly.
though i had some faith in my abilities with pen, ink and occasionally gouache, computers were a whole different kettle of green tea. i wasn't quite incapable in the pixel department, but there were arcane aspects of pagemaker with which i was less than familiar, ultimately entailing a phone call to adobe customer support. in an effort to be cruel to be kind, the fellow to whom i spoke, after sorting out my miscomprehension, pointed out that i was about to head down an electronic road for which there was likely no end in sight. the sooner i recognised this, he went on, the better equipped i'd be to deal with the consequences.
only partly chastened by this mild reprimand, i took his advice, which, over the years, has proved more correct than he likely knew at the time.
michael hutchinson is a very fast man on a bike, decidely quicker than most of us, but one exhibiting what most would class as possibly an unhealthy degree of obsessive compulsive disorder. what could be offered as his saving grace is that he seems to be as aware of this as you will be by the time you finish reading faster. thankfully, in the light of the complex science involved in many of the chapters, michael is also a rather humorous fellow, rescuing what could have easily become a densely written scientific treatise appealing to the few rather than the many.
the obsessive part parallels that alluded to in my opening paragraphs; the more you know, the more you want to (need to) know. and the faster this knowledge might make you on the bike, the more compulsive the quest to find out if there is more out there in the big bad world that could improve on even that. michael introduces the book in a chapter entitled an accidental athlete by admitting to having spent the better part of his year sleeping in a tent, inside his bedroom.
"I sleep in it because it simulates high altitude. It's the equivalent of 3,500m, further up than Europe's highest mountain pass."
if you have been fortunate enough to read michael's previous book, hello sailor, concerning his life on the open wave, conditioned by an early career as a competitive rower, you will be aware that cycling was not his first choice. in fact, any sort of athletic exertion was never a part of becoming an academic lawyer. "I taught slightly left-wing civil liberties and human rights courses to first-year undergraduates..." during this time he'd begun a light regime of competitive cycling events and discovered he was rather good at it.
fausto coppi's allegedly offered training advice consisted of "ride a bike, ride a bike and ride a bike.", a philosophy i'm more than happy to adopt, but one that simply won't cut the mustard nowadays. the current state of the art with regard to our understanding of human physiology as it relates to sporting endeavour is explained at length in chapter two. if i might at this point quote from an e-mail i received from michael "if you're still kindly disposed towards (the book) after you've read the chapter about molecular biology..."
i didn't study biology even at 'o'-level, so my frame of reference when it comes to reading about the more complex aspects of this branch of science is somewhat lacking. at this point i was grateful that not only is michael hutchinson a man with a healthy sense of humour, but also an accomplished writer. a combination such as this makes wading through thirty pages of relatively complex biological science a far less onerous task than it might at first appear. the author, i might suggest, is faster's secret weapon. though at least partially aimed at others with a similar quest for such advanced knowledge, to maintain even vague notions of appeal to dullards such as myself, there has to be not only a something else, but a very interesting something else. it's a factor that michael has achieved with words to spare.
"The practical upshot of this is that, given the limited supplies of carbohydrate you've got, the faster you're riding, the smaller the fuel tank. I can only assume this is nature's idea of a joke."
the thread running throughout faster is essentially an explanation of why professional riders and serious amateurs are so much faster than the rest of us, more concerned as we are with bicycle trinketry than with words such as mitochondria, pericardium and membrane. it also addresses why the majority are never satisfied; many are simply not happy to live with what they've got. though there may well be genetic factors preventing the acquisition of even more speed, few will rest comfortably in such knowledge. there has to be something else out there that hasn't been fully explored.
so, if you're you and me, happy with our steel frames, thirty-two spokes and less than featherweight brooks leather saddles, in the words of the shakesperian actor, where's my motivation? plainly this is not required reading; or is it?
it would be an odd book about cycling that failed to make mention of the very vehicle that allows us to travel at our own idea of fast in the first place. interestingly, considering the ludicrous amounts of money invested in bicycle technology, and its seemingly desperate need to identify with formula one motor racing, michael's wry sense of humour has entitled the chapter free speed: the technology
"Like everything else about bike racing, it's a process, not an outcome. There is never a solution, only the next step, one that in time will come to look comically wrong."
aside from the healthy dose of dry humour throughout ("The further you ride, the more you can eat. If you get it right you can eat like a black hole and still end up with the physiology of a hatstand.") faster is another chapter in michael hutchinson's autobiography, and though he might not enjoy the public profile of justin beiber or julio iglesias, we surely ought to be thankful for such mercies. though a science class is rarely the principal objective of finding a suitable cycling book to read in the bath, if all science were presented in this fashion, maybe we'd all beg to differ.
"You were a mesomorph, an ectomorph or an endomorph. A mesomorph looked like Zeus. An ectomorph looked like Michaelangelo's David. An endomorph looked like a beanbag chair with a face and a bad haircut."
ultimately,faster is one of those books that comfortably exists on several levels, each one more or less apparent depending on your own degree of obsessiveness with science, luck, or both in equal quantities. i confess i reached the last chapter without ever feeling i'd been lectured to, but i figure i learned a lot. and i laughed a lot too.
an obsessive read.
faster is published by bloomsbury on 27 march. michael hutchinson will give a talk on the subject of his book on tuesday 6 may at the bloomsbury institue, 50 bedford square, london. tickets are £10 (£6 for students). bloomsbury institute
tuesday 25 march 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................