at this point, i'm mentioning no names. it took me years and a lot of courage to order my first pair of cycle shorts. i know full well that i was not alone with my problem; it's one that exists to this very minute. someone, somewhere, and it will undoubtedly be a roadie, is debating the ignominy of ordering black lycra with a nappy sewn inside. stand midst a stationary peloton and no-one will be the least bit bothered, but first ride usually entails sneaking down the stairs and out to the bike shed before anyone in the house sees. i am now comfortable with my nappiness (in both senses of the word) and can face mrs washingmachinepost without fear of embarrassment, but first time always entails something of a quandary.
should you order bibshorts based on height, or waist measurement?
based on information culled from magazines (the interweb had not been invented) and speaking to the wrong people, i went for option number one. this resulted in my ending up with bibshorts that remained facing forwards even if i turned very quickly. once they got wet, it was possible to salsa dance convincingly in the saddle without the shorts appearing to move. every pair i have owned since those days has been size small (i only have a 30-inch waist even now), for there is more than sufficient stretch in the bibs to reach the shoulders of a 5'10" speed merchant (a guy can dream can't he?). however, it has always bothered me that, despite the considerable advances in bike fit technology, a pair of shorts that fits my short(ish) legs are also considered appropriate for those of similar height but possessed of longer limbs.
and though i've never asked in polite company, there's an outside possibility that my bum occupies a different profile than others in the peloton.
professionals are unlikely to put up with such iniquities; if i were valverde or quintana, i'm pretty sure i'd demand that my butt cheeks were appropriately cossetted, no matter where they found themselves placed upon a carbon-railed saddle. which is, truth be told, pretty much what happens in the rarefied atmosphere of formula one cycling, but a feature that has, up until now, been the single most important feature missing from our pelotonic existence. though i do wish that endura would concoct a more agreeable moniker for their fs-260 range, it is to this collection that the scots apparel purveyors have added their pro sl bibshorts, offering three pad widths and two leg lengths. manna from heaven i shouldn't wonder.
so how do you know which pair are the very ones for you?
predictably, that's the first question that came to mind when reading an associated press release, but someone had already thought of that. the pads have been developed in conjunction with germany's gebiomized, along with a rather nifty fitting system to ensure that pampers moment is one of comfort and not embarrassment. using perfected software in conjunction with a bum measuring mat, it is apparently possible to determine the appropriate choice with scarcely a blush.
you have to admit, it's quite cheeky.
monday 14 april 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the river lea, which joins the river thames just after the final section known as bow creek, originates in the chiltern hills; leagrave in luton, to be a tad more precise. the name allegedly stems from the celtic word lug (particularly appropriate in this case), one taken to mean either bright or possibly even derived from the word for a god or deity. therefore, depending on which interpretation you care to believe, it's either a bright river or a stretch of water dedicated to the god lugus. either way, it currently answers to the name lea.
not uncommonly, the naming has been applied to other features along the way; road names, railway lines, bridges and local walks. it has also gained temporary notoriety due to its proximity to the 2012 queen elizabeth olympic park near stratford. though many of the facilities built for this landmark event are now closed or removed, the state of the art velodrome, scene of so many british track victories, still stands in all its pringular glory. except, despite the spelling of the river running close by, someone in their wisdom decided to have it renamed lee valley velopark. i very much doubt this spelling iniquity has any celtic antecedents.
and it's to where last year's bespoked bristol moved itself for 2014 and became simply bespoked.
generally speaking, i doubt i could be late for something even if it tried, once again proving the rule by arriving at the incorrectly spelt velodrome around 40 minutes before i was supposed to. and while we're on the subject of spelling (sort of) it might be worth delving into the definition of one word in particular.
leaving the westfield shopping centre to walk along the pretentiously named celebration avenue, i followed the cheerfully displayed directions to reach the day's goal. as one who paid very little attention to the surrounds during the televised olympics, i've no real idea quite what the so-called olympic village looked like, so the surprisingly large number of apparently luxury flats (now for sale) may have been once home to athletic prowess. currently, these are all cordoned off, their pavements populated by gents in hard hats and fluorescent waistcoats, but it's the billboards surrounding this excess of construction that had me wanting to call over a hard-hatted supervisor and point out the error of their ways.
in order to encourage the glitterati into this part of london's east end, it has been renamed east village, borrowing just a smidgeon of patina from new york. but let me tell you, as one who knows, that is most certainly not a village.
however, i digress (no change there then) from my prime directive of attending the three luxurious hours afforded the press and media (of which i am apparently one) to wander unfettered around the infield of lee valley velodrome, surrounded by people on track bikes learning to be the next sir hoy. for this was the 2014 location of most of the exhibitors and displays at what was billed as the handbuilt bicycle show. by and large this is/was a more than adequate description (no disrespect intended, but de rosa carbon?)
as last year, i must put my hand up and point out that it doesn't really make a lot of sense for steven, russell from shand cycles and i to keep meeting in the deep south when we only live a coast away from each other north of the border. however, i cannot deny that it's nice to arrive at the wrongly spelt velodrome, and the first person i meet has a scottish accent. this has nothing to do with nationalism, and a lot more to do with feeling at home when a long way away. the fact that shand build some of the finest bicycles (in this case, four differently specced stoaters) in the country, if not the planet only adds to the comfort factor. the scottish presence was bolstered by edinburgh's chris sleath who displayed a highly idiosyncratic range of posters and cards utilising his expertise in letterpress, screen printing and cycling obsession.
most of this year's exhibitors figured their space was much the equivalent of last year's in bristol station, but the space between the spaces made the whole enchilada more accessible, more roomy, and due to the nature of a velodrome, a great deal brighter. bespoked is probably at the stage the north american handmade bicycle show (nahbs) was in several years ago, but you can sense its growing importance in the world of cycling by the presence of both chris king and jay sycip from chris king and cielo cycles respectively, along with chris igleheart, joseph ahearne and andy newlands (strawberry bikes) also from portland, joined by eric estlund from springfield, oregon's winter bicycles, and aaron barcheck from colorado.
of course, aside from superb representation from the home country, mainland europe has also infiltrated by way of merenyi bicycles from hungary, wittson from lithuania, mawis of germany, more than just a handful of italian based producers and the inimitable quoc pham with a pristine set of riding footwear (keep your eyes on this man; he has a superb spd compatible shoe for release soon. see below). and any handmade bicycle show wouldn't be complete without the presence of brooks saddles. i'll spare you an alphabetical listing of those in attendance; apart from being less than compelling reading, there's a complete list at bespoked.cc. add to that the fact that it will be all over bar the dismantling by the time you read this, i can but coerce you into paying a visit next year.
on a minor note, if the organising people are reading, though i know it is not necessarily of your doing, next year, can we have exhibitors' personal names on their id tags as was the case with the media? i for one would be happier knowing who i was speaking to rather than addressing them by their employer's trademark.
not being the only member of the press or public to have made mention of the sea of carbon populating many a cycle show these days, it is, dare i say it, refreshing to view the eclectic vision of cycling's future on show at bespoked. the pointy end of the sport will likely always encompass the latest in nano-fibres and cutting edge development, an edge that few of us will ever see however, let alone need. though several bespoked exhibitors offer cycles that can be raced every bit as hard, there is a growing and more self-aware majority who are beginning to note that carbon fibre is not the last (two) word(s).
for those who attended and said hello, i am honoured that you did so. i fervently hope, however, that you all went home filled with even more enthusiasm than when you arrived. if so, tell everyone you know. many will ignore you, but those who don't might just attend bespoked 2015. and once i get over my ferry lag, i'm quite likely to consider doing so too.
ps, can we have proper food for next year? a whole day on san pellegrino and pastry didn't quite hit the spot.
sunday 13 april 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it will surprise many of you to know that i do have a facebook account in addition to my well-thumbed twitter account. yet while i have filled the aether with a persistent stream of smart-ass one-liners on the latter, the former remains pretty much dormant. indeed, every now and again, i accept someone's invitation to befriend them on facebook, but i'd need to be sure that i know them in person before that happens, which may, or may not, have completely missed the point. and currently, there's really no gain to anyone by asking me to have them listed as my friend.
my facebook page is bereft of content; there is not even one of those photos or images that appears should someone have the misfortune to click on its link. so why do i bother?
well, if truth be told, i had no intention of bothering (something that is rather self-evident if you've tried to find anything on the page). the only reason i have this account is not because mark zuckerberg is a closet roadie, but because the only way you can view other facebook pages is if you've already signed up. the myriad e-mails that arrive constantly from facebook central are mostly consigned to the trash without a second glance, but from time to time i am on the receiving end of links to other cycling facebook pages, and signing up is the only way to access those.
i also, i am led to believe, the not so proud owner of a similar entity on strava though i readily confess i have as much knowledge as to what that means as that of facebook. though i've a garmin gps in a box in the kitchen cupboard (sorry, service de course), it rarely leaves that location; too many numbers to get in the way of a decent bike ride. however, i am well aware that there are amongst you several who have weekly if not daily recourse to strava's pixels, eager to see if you're still the king of the mountains you were yesterday. my distinctly non-competitive nature ensures that i could care less.
however, it would be arrogant, to say the least, for me to dismiss both out of hand, simply because neither appeal to my sensibilities, yet proclaim the joys of twitter. and though i still have no time for facebook, i have acquired a soft spot for strava, if only for their forthcoming queen of the mountains sponsorship of britain's national women's tour. this event, taking place from 7 - 11 may will feature two strava queen of the mountains climbs in each stage over which those with ant-gravitational tendencies will fight for the orange polka-dot jersey.
given that the women's tour is across british roads, and presumably the riders' data will appear somewhere on strava, those of you, male or female, possessed of a competitive climbing urge will thus be able to seek out the very ascents included in the race and compare yourselves against your betters. granted, mick bennett is not going to pop round to your house and present an orange polka-dot jersey if you beat anyone, but that gps data could provide the very reason to wear a smug grin upon your face come monday morning in the office.
saturday 12 april 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
a friend of mine owns a gt mountain bike, one that he's had for quite a number of years. in point of fact, he's actually a runner rather than a cyclist, but uses the bike as part of his training, when the notion takes him. that's the very reason why, despite very rarely venturing offroad, he's continued with knobbly tyres because of the extra effort they demand. a martyr to the last. the bicycle has been in my bike shed off and on over the past decade or more for various bits of maintenance; the odd cable, inner tube, tyre or set of brake pads, but by and large, it's survived the years rather well.
however, all degrees of shiny eventually wear out, and a greater degree of fettling is required. in the case of this particular bicycle, meaning several items had worn out and had to be replaced, namely the chain, bottom bracket, chainset and cassette. in the days when bicycle repair was a part of the daily grind, i'd quite possibly have stocked such items as a matter of course, but nowadays, when focus is elsewhere, i just buy in the parts as and when required.
much like any of us replacing or upgrading componentry, it's a case of weighing up the pros and cons of humungously expensive but shinier items, versus perfectly serviceable bits and bobs that cost somewhat less. the perception of bling might well be an appropriate way of categorising the process. however, click on any of the retail websites, and it is possible to order anything from bent tin all the way up to aerospace grade carbon fibre. the choice is almost limitless, conditional on having a bank balance to match.
we are every bit a part of the consumer society, one that seems keen to reinforce the mantra of built-in obsolescence. bottom brackets, for instance, rarely invite tinkering, geared more towards throwing away the offending article and slotting in a new one. chain wear on cassettes is rarely even across the block, yet most can only be purchased as complete units. factors that doubtless ease the pain of assembly and replacement but hardly enforce the supposed green credentials that are invariably associated with cycling.
but what if all this stopped?
what if the bicycle world was encapsulated exactly as it stands right this minute? no more new bikes, no more new components. what if the only way to keep cycling was to find the bits and bobs required from bikes that were no longer used? or to pull working bits off cycles on which certain components had failed? because there will be no new bikes coming along next week to save your soul. if you think that i've now entered the realm of the twilight zone, this is all based on a true story.
the so-called five year special period of the 1990s in cuba fostered a rapid increase in the use of the bicycle as a practicable means of transport. oil was hardly in plentiful supply and in a period of austerity that makes our recent hardship seem like total luxury, cubans adopted the bicycle as the norm, rather than as an alternative to other forms of transport. however, the transport crisis melted away, as crises have a tendency to do and those feckless cubans reverted to motorised transport. modernity has made new bikes all but impossible to obtain and parts are scarcer than hens' teeth, yet there are plenty of cubans still in thrall to the bicycle for a variety of reasons. and though greatly reduced in number, there are still one or two mechanics working on street corners or in their back yards, robbing peter to pay paul in the component swap arena.
kauri multimedia, a video production team specialising in web-based documentaries have offered up a short film depicting the trials, tribulations yet joys of the hundreds of habaneros who still depend on the bicycle as part of their daily lives and the mechanics who keep them rolling. it's a salutory lesson to those of us currently trawling the web to see where our next carbon fibre might be coming from.
maybe i should patch that tube, rather than replace it.
wednesday 09 april 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
self-sufficiency is precisely what we strive for. though the rules would throughly mitigate against fitting a seat pack below the saddle, the prudent pelotonese will always find one or other secure place to carry at least one spare inner-tube and a tyre lever. depending on your own personal level of obsessive compulsive disorder you might also pack a pair or two of those blue park tool mechanics' gloves. however, much more in either the hypothetical seatpack or the inevitable three rear pockets and you might as well go the whole hog and book a yellow mavic skoda to follow along behind the sunday ride.
it's only a matter of weeks since the mighty dave t blew out a tyre descending the admittedly heavily tactile road that passes the rspb reserve at aoradh farm. the mighty dave would never have made a career as a team mechanic, but he's more than adept at replacing an inner-tube in the middle of (almost) nowhere midst less than equitable weather conditions. a mere matter of days later, i suffered the same fate in worse weather, though thankfully on smoother ground. however, standing about in pouring rain and a stiff wind is something that has to be planned for; riding fast (everything's relative) is bound to engender a raising of one's central heating level, a clammy warmth that comes crashing down all too quickly when stationary for more than a few minutes.
stuffing a waterproof in one of those rear pockets is an indisputable option, but don't you find that tends to squish the two flavoured gels you'd forgotten you'd placed there only a couple of minutes earlier? consternation, disappointment and the onset of hypothermia can arrive very quickly, probably undermined by the fact that the waterproof was donned several kilometres earlier. which pretty much brings us back to the following mavic or team car. i don't doubt there are one or two well-heeled clubs who can afford to have a guy follow the peloton in a car sponsored by the local motor dealer, but the velo club is not one of them (though you'd figure ardbeg distillery could lend us their van; it's not as if they use it on a sunday).
professional cyclists have it easy by comparison. aside from the oft mentioned mavic skoda, there are usually at least two team cars somewhere abouts with not only spare bicycles and wheels, but a veritable cornucopia of eatables, tools and any spares considered desirable.
need to nab a dry pair of armwarmers? pop back to the car. puncture a wheel (or two)? wait for the car to arrive. need to change those shoes or jersey? pop back to the car. the only true difference between us and them, is that they can doff a pair of shoes and replace them with others without losing their place in the bunch. or perform similar aerobatics with a rainjacket. that and a greater turn of speed. but assuming a team of nine guys has made the effort to pack sufficient spares to avoid freezing, overheating or becoming saturated in the rain, that's one heck of a lot of kit rolling about in the back of a jaguar, volvo or skoda. and in the heat of the moment, wiggo is hardly going to maintain his mod-ish sartorial elegance if handed eddie higgs boson's jersey.
the aforementioned potential problems have obviously been magnified over the years by making so many clothing and kit options available, and grabbing the wrong jersey or pair of shoes is hardly likely to fit into the constraints of marginal gains. and in the pursuit of such, these are possibilities that have evidently been paid close attention to by both rapha and team sky, resulting in the eponymously named team sky wet bag
there's only a skittering of a difference between that available from the rapha website and those handed out to the guys with the blue stripe down their backs. while the retail version offers a small transparent window in which to make your presence known, each sky rider has his name individually embroidered on the tough cordura that comprises the wet bag. however, we are also party to the bulk of the embroidery; signalling each of the zipped compartments is thick grey embroidered lettering: shoes, arm and legwarmers, jerseys one and two and a waterproof. the bag, in the flesh, so to speak, is a great deal more impressive than it appears in the photos, and though simplicity itself, its design borders on the stunningly clever.
suddenly, the very reason why team sky asked rapha to develop such a product becomes all too clear. though we've been able to purchase team sky kit for over a year, now that the former perren street residents are well into the second year of their partnership with sir brailsford, the fringe benefits are beginning to trickle in our direction.
had this been available a year ago, those of us on rapha's provence retreat would have been well sorted for several rainy days on the bike, and brad sauber could have dropped back to the black jag for some more rapha clothing that he himself had packed the night before. instead, the californian was cooler and wetter than he'd have liked. whizz forward to april 2014 and here i am with personalised team sky jersey and shorts and the ability to be all dressed up with nowhere to go. as one demonstrably bereft of team car, soigneur and any desire to race at all, i'd be very hard pushed to find any sane reason to buy one of these.
so does it make me a bad person that i really, really want one?
the rapha team sky wet bag can be ordered direct from rapha's website at a cost of £135
tuesday 08 april 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................