as the gannet flies (other seabirds may be available), islay is a mere twenty-four miles from the northern irish coast, clear enough to see on a good day and, in all honesty, within striking distance of a giro d'italia stage. one of those 'to good to miss' opportunities, provided you have a friend who has the presence of mind to organise a boat trip to ballycastle for that singular purpose. i had considered the possibility of travelling to belfast for the first couple of days, but taking into account the associated faff of so doing, i decided not to bother.
however, stage two, from belfast to belfast, skirted the antrim coast on which is situated the rather picturesque town of ballycastle (or ballyvoy, as eurosport misnamed it) with the very harbour that not only supports the ferry to and from rathlin island, but offers a safe mooring for the boat belonging to islay sea adventures which was chartered for our velocipedinal pleasure. granted, not everyone aboard had the giro firmly planted in their sights, but the more passengers carried, the cheaper it became for all of us.
though i am well-used to travelling to scotland on the calmac ferry, the sea adventures boat is a tad smaller than that. despite never having previously succumbed to sea-sickness in my puff, there was always the danger the first time would be in front of an audience of eleven. in fact, we could not have chosen a better day for a boat trip; the skies were clear, the wind almost non-existent and an hour an a half after leaving port ellen pontoons, nazzer was tying up the boat at ballycastle.
which is precisely when the rain started.
ballycastle is a town of just over 5,000 people and, as far as the riders were concerned, just another town to pass through on the way back to belfast. as it turned out, the incessant rain probably made it every bit as forgettable as the rest of their day (apart from marcel kittel). but for the residents and visitors (us) it was flipping marvellous. it truly warms the cockles of your merino baselayer to experience the lengths to which some folks will go to celebrate a race that probably means as much to the majority as snooker means to me.
there was pink bunting everywhere, from the top of the approach descent all the way to the edge of town. many buildings had sprayed pink bicycles hanging from balconies, the sole phone box in the town centre had been completely painted pink, the ladies in the fish'n'chip shop all wore pink aprons, and those in the cafe where we sheltered from windless rain all had on pink tee-shirts supplied by moyle distict council. and all the price tickets were written on pink card.
passing what i took to be a football pitch with pink clad cheerleaders, a large bike and rider had been scribed upon the grass for the benefit of the tv helicopters. though tv coverage showed virtually all the towns along the route to be decorated in similar manner, it was something else to see it in the flesh. add to that, at least every second person standing by the roadside in the centre of town (well over an hour and a half before even the breakaway group made it that far) was wearing at least one item of pink apparel. this effect was greatly enhanced when a flotilla of pink taxis halted at the front of the publicity caravan and dished out pink ponchos, courtesy of the northern ireland tourist board.
though we were all clad in waterproofs for the boat-trip, one of those ponchos wouldn't have gone amiss.
with the centre of town being somewhat over-populated, we walked round to the long ascent out of town, giving us a clear view (such as could be had in the persistent rain) of the descent into town and ready to position ourselves with cameras at the ready.
as we stood getting wetter, several white vans passed at speed advertising full giro supporters kit £10, something we had presumably missed due to straying so far from town. we attempted to flag them down, for it would be unseemly to have travelled so far and not return home with some sort of pink tat. however, the first three must have thought us overly friendly, simply waving in return. the fourth, however, obviously better possessed of commercial nous than their predecessors on the road, pulled into one side, opened the side door and happily relieved us of our tenners.
the kit consisted of a small nylon rucksack, a clapper, a set of rubber giro bracelets, a t-shirt and a baseball hat. well worth the ten pounds in my opinion. however, in view of bill strickland's caps not hats, it's a shame they didn't opt to replace the baseball version with a pink cycling cap. there really is no pleasing some folks.
the breakaway group of four riders passed us after a phalanx of police motorcycles and a surprisingly large number of cars, but a pace at which i could probably have managed to hang onto myself. their wet faces and general demeanour indicated that they'd rather be anywhere else at that moment than on the exit road from ballycastle. the same has to be said about the main peloton when it arrived accompanied by more motorcycles, cars, vans, ambulances, a breakdown truck and a couple of helicopters overhead. i believe this may have been the very situation for which the word bedraggled was invented.
of course, by this time, we were all every bit as wet as the riders, and subsequently took refuge in a cafe offering specialists coffee's. though the shelter was welcome, i should have taken heed of that unnecessary apostrophe and the fact that espressos were advertised as small or large. my double espresso was a large, ordinary tasting cup of coffee, but a double espresso it certainly wasn't.
as you'd expect on this side of the country, the minute we set foot back on the boat, still scoffing chips, fish and, in my case, a veggie burger, the rain ceased. in fact, the skies cleared and we had, if anything, a more pleasant return journey home than we'd experienced on the way out. apart from a bit of tidal roughage as we passed the east cliffs of rathlin island, the sea was like a millpond. collective thanks to islay sea adventures for getting us to and from our obsession in such fine and timely style and to the good folks of ballycastle for putting on such an excellent show of enthusiasm for a race most have probably never heard of before.
an all too brief taste of italo/irish brilliance.
monday 12 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
if you were paying even scant attention to the opening team trial in belfast on friday, you'd have seen what happens if you hit a couple of wet irish drain covers at 40mph. just ask dan martin and the four guys riding behind him. even though poor dan was riding in a straight line, if you take into account the handling skills of even the average professional, that must have been one heck of a slippy piece of metal. and how disappointingly ironic that the only irishman in the entire peloton never even made it to the finish line on day one.
however, despite the four upright garmin riders having to hang about waiting for at least one more rider to join them in order to post a qualifying time in belfast, the team still only finished 3.26 behind winners orica-greenedge, meaning it still took them a good bit less than half an hour to get all the way round. a darned sight faster than any of us could have managed in an upright position. in fact, it's one heck of a lot faster than joff summerfield managed the day before, though it may have been his bicycle that let him down more than any race talent he may possess. it took him one hour, nineteen minutes.
for mr summerfield, having already ridden the tour of flanders, paris roubaix and liege-bastogne-liege on the same velocipede was on a penny farthing. or, as we in the trade prefer to call it, an ordinary.
perhaps as part of a team of riders on ordinaries, his time may have been somewhat improved, though never having ridden such a bicycle, i have no idea of the drafting possibilities a team would confer. however, aside from the sheer tenacity and exhibitionism of pedalling just such a bicycle over the routes of some of the world's finest one day races, joff summerfield had a less than hidden agenda behind circumnavigating the streets of belfast. and i confess, that's the bit that has me more confused than why he did so in the first place.
ever since it was decided by aso that the tour would start in leeds this july and spend the next two days in the uk, including the final day leaving from cambridge on its way to london, my e-mail inbox has been inundated with press releases attesting to this state of affairs. in fact, though i will be glued to almost every minute of tour television coverage, if i never receive another press release between now and july, it will be too soon. in my humble opinion, the publicity surrounding this year's tour start has made the word overkill seem completely inadequate.
however, despite this manifest state of affairs, joff summerfield completed the team trial course in belfast to publicise (celebrate) the tour de france coming to london. does this infer that nobody knew where the race was headed after leaving yorkshire? don't get me wrong, i greatly admire mr summerfield's exploits over the past month or so, and riding an ordinary the full length of the roadway up to stormont is more than worthy of our admiration. but could the man not just celebrate his own efforts and be happy with that? as the gentleman is quoted as saying...
"I hope the excitement of the event also inspires people to come to the Tour de France Stage 3 in my home city of London on 7 July!"
i'm pretty sure we've all got the message by now. and it seems a shame to use one grand tour to publicise another that truly needs no more publicity. nonetheless, chapeau to joff summerfield.
sunday 11 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the modern need for branding has led to some exemplary creativity in the realm of logotypes, more often than not culled from some associated graphic device, such as a signature, and drawn to form a fine balance between a similarity to the original and the demands of commercialism. unlike a commercial typeface, many of these cannot be had as a complete alphabet, for in truth, they'll only ever be required to spell out the word(s) for which they were designed. as examples, i might highlight those from rapha and campagnolo, neither of which can be acquired as twenty-six letters, numbers and associated ligatures, alternatives etc.
this was rather pleasantly brought to mind by the current advertising campaign for john lewis stores which, if i've been paying proper attention, are celebrating 150 years of existence. to highlight this fact, there's a quick flick through all the various versions that have represented the brand throughout the century and a half, ending with a very stylish logotype based on what i must presume, is the signature of the original john lewis.
however, corporate or individual branding more often than not has demands that extend beyond the sign above the shop door, or the graphics on the side of a van. having recently designed a logo for a new islay business, one that makes principal use of a slightly stylised gill sans, it has now become necessary to consider headed notepaper, business cards, carrier bags, labels and all manner of associated printed matter. the choice of a single typeface means that there will be, for the foreseeable future, a certain impressed uniformity of purpose. the very reason why such things are done in the first place.
however, there is always the subjective matter of appropriateness in the choice of typeface, no doubt a supporting factor in the thousands of fonts that are currently available in digital format. having originally setup a pre-press and design service named scribble almost twenty years ago, i thought it a wizard wheeze to make use of a typeface of the same name. unfortunately, it failed to match not only my expectations, but any similarity to the purpose i thought i had in mind in the first place. that's not to say that there are not a myriad of fonts named with a specific purpose in mind.
it is surely no coincidence that the teaching staff at almost all of islay's primary schools continually send articles and featurettes for our local newspaper, formed in comic sans. this is a font originally designed to do exactly what it says on the tin: populate the pages of comics. no disrespect intended to any primary teachers reading, but i can't help but associate the typeface with the junior end of the teaching profession due to the endless, multi-coloured examples that have reached my e-mail inbox at work.
but then there are other considerations to take note of when offering up a specific name for a new typeface. ten years ago, the inestimable house industries, perhaps recently best known for their richard sachs makeover, drew a sans serif typeface which they referred to as house air. house industries rich roat says "At the time (we called it that) because we were going to brand a fake or real airline with it. When we decided last year to revive the concept, someone was already was using the name 'Air' for a font family." while there may have been little if any similarity between the two fonts, legal and copyright strictures demand that some originality needs to be shown at the point of registration.
"Much of our reference for the original design was coming from classic European logotypes, so naturally we were looking at old Giro d'Italia branding, rider manuals, posters, etc. A lightbulb went off. The word Velo looked good when set in the font and the trademark was not in use in that class". this rather simply and directly explains why this october will see a house industries commercial release of the velo typeface available to all those of us who actually care about the way our words are set on the printed page. however, to view examples of the font in what could arguably be regarded as its natural setting, you need not wait so long.
a partnership between house industries and rapha has resulted in several cotton cycle caps bearing velo letters and numbers and dedicated to each individual stage of this year's tour of california, a race that starts today. exclusivity is, however, the name of the game at this point, for these caps can only be acquired from rapha's mobile cycle club which will follow the route of the tour. according to rich roat "The Rapha ATOC cap project hit at a time when we were still figuring out the timing and strategy for Velo, because we originally thought we would release much sooner. It was a good incubator, because we ended up redrawing a few numbers to inject a little more House flavor; we never thought to look at them in this context. When you stare at something on paper off and on for ten years, you sort of start to miss things."
house industries are not, i'm sure they won't mind me saying, your average digital foundry. along with the bread and butter typefaces, they are apt to indulge in a number of side projects, such as the richard sachs redesign mentioned previously, wooden letters, nativity sets and various items of clothing. velo will take this several stages beyond that. "It sort of opened up the floodgates for me. Pretty soon we were ordering frames and calling all of our favorite component manufacturers to see if they would make some special stuff for us. Most of them think we're crazy. The Velo release will include 'rolling specimens', which are custom lugged steel bicycles, plus little bits from all of our favorite component guys."
i'm sure thewashingmachinepost logo is due for a makeover around october.
saturday 10 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
seemingly gone are the dim distant days of yore when finding any form of cycling-related reading material was akin to searching for hen's teeth. prior to embarking upon my career as a famous cycling journalist, i had limited experience as a reviewer of books for our local newspaper, so it wasn't too great a stretch to make a lateral move onto those concerning velocipedinal matters. not unnaturally in those early days of washingmachinepostness, it was necessary to accompany each singular request for the odd review copy with a brief precis of the whys and wherefores of a cycling website with such an odd name. unsurprisingly, not every request was met with a padded jiffybag in the post a few days later, but in truth, i could live with that.
the impetus for requesting review copies came from a former editor at the newspaper who had been previously a professional editor for collins publishers and the oft reviled maxwell publishing house. he was therefore well-versed in the ins and outs of the publishing world, aided and abetted by not only holding the surname roxburgh, but having been educated at one of those awfully posh private schools. on calling any of the media offices at whichever publisher you care to mention he would merely utter the words "roxburgh here" at which point we assumed they figured this well-spoken gent was lord roxburgh and any book he cared to mention was in the post immediately.
and that included the odd volume of harry potter releases.
i am far less presumptious in such matters, though i confess that i no longer have to append any explanation as to quite what thewashingmachinepost is. in fact, most satisfyingly and more often than not, books are now sent without any intervention whatsoever. i have a voracious appetite for reading, something that extends to far more monthly magazines than there truly is time to read, and an appetitte that is currently being over-satisfied due to the time of year.
i cannot recall whether the situation has altered of late, but though the odd book will make an appearance every now and again, there are basically two times of the year when those bookshelves begin to creak: tour de france and christmas. right this minute, as yorkshire readies itself for an influx of lycra, even though the giro has only just begun, a great number of books are flying out the door of a whole phalanx of publishers. and a substantial number have arrived at the croft, something that is both to my benefit and ultimately one or two of you reading.
though i'm still knee deep in proof copies, manuscripts, e-books, pdfs and published editions (honest, i'm reading as fast as i can), i have not only contrived to publish a few reviews, but thanks to the largesse of publishers such as yellow jersey press, i've had one or two copies to give away in competitions. and today is the beezer of all competitions (relatively speaking).
the so-called wiggo effect cannot but be enhanced by not only the giro starting in belfast today, but by the subsequent yorkshire party in july. both events will conceivably bring more individuals to the fold; pelotonic apprentices if you will, only peripherally aware of the joys that exist beyond the bicycle itself. yellow jersey press, perhaps in the light of this possibility, have taken the opportunity to re-release paperback versions of some of their finest moments, graphically redesigned to anticipate the 101st tour de france.
billed as "The must-have toolkit for following the Tour de France", this collection consists of richard moore's slaying the badger, ned boulting's authorial debut, how i won the yellow jumper, tim moore's hilarious french revolutions, my time by sir wiggins and the inestimable put me back on my bike by will fotheringham. though yours truly, along with the bulk of the post's readership, will be glued to both eurosport's and itv 4's coverage of the tour, even accommodating highlights and repeats, there are going to be hours in the day when there is no cycling to be watched. hard to believe, i know, but true nonetheless.
the obvious choice, therefore, is to acquire this impressive literary toolkit for the inevitable downtime between coverage. each book is priced at a particularly wallet friendly £8.99, making the entire set only marginally more expensive than a le coq sportif replica yellow jersey. of course, for one lucky individual, all five can be had for the price of an e-mail.
simply send me your answer to the question below, (brian@twmp) and the first correct one chosen at random will win the complete set, courtesy of yellow jersey press. please ensure you include a full postal address in the certainty that you'll win.
which city will host the start of the 2014 tour de france?
closing date for entries is wednesday 14 may.
friday 9 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
last weekend, as we made our merry way from the city of bruichladdich out into the wide blue yonder, we were passed by a couple of slow moving vehicles that overtook just after a blind corner. for once they were courteous and decent enough to wait until they could see whether there was any oncoming traffic before leaving plenty of room as they drove past. a couple of minutes later, we were treated to sounds similar to an approaching formula one race as a very low slung sports car, of no determinable marque followed their path, a vehicle that elicited at least a couple of involuntary laughs as we noted the high-rise spoiler fitted to the rear.
the laughs were brought on by not only the sight of this red vehicle (with a matt black engine front no less) subsequently being stuck behind the two preceeding cars for quite some distance due to traffic heading in the opposite direction, but the knowledge that there isn't a single road on islay that would require such ostentatious aerodynamics. considering the state of the road surfaces and the aimlessly wandering sheep and lambs, the money would surely have been better spent on a reinforced skid pan on the vehicle's underside.
however, i did hear myself state that how cool it would be to have such a ludicrous airfoil fitted to the rear of my colnago master. this would probably have to be aided and abetted by a couple of playing cards pegged to the forks and making engine noises as we once more moved into single-file to allow other vehicles to pass. childish behaviour i'll admit, but not half as childish as pretending to be jeremy clarkson in that red sports car.
this brings to light the simple disadvantages we as cyclists have to bear by comparison with our motorised peers. there are all manner of idiotic doohickies that can be appended to the bodywork of even the most mundane of family cars to make them appear faster than they really are. let's face it, there's nothing any of us could possibly do to make a pashley roadster with a wicker basket on the front look anywhere near as fast as cav's specialized carbon race bike.
or is there?
well, quite frankly, no there isn't. but attempting to do that or any other number of other oddities is hardly an unknown quantity when it comes to bicycle modifications. and while you and i may heap scorn on any who do so, the folks at snapguide have made a virtue out of it. or at least, they're happy to persuade others so to do with the promise of prizes from portland design works and walnut studiolo.
entries to this spring bike contest, running from now until 4 june have already been submitted to the snapguide competition page, including how to mount an altec lansing im227 speaker on the seat tube of a bicycle (as you do), or how to build a convertible shade/table for your tricycle (why didn't i think of that before?). perhaps on a more pragmatic level there is a how to guide on how to stop bike cradles from moving on a car hitch rack and how to mount an iphone on your handlebars. oddly, the latter consists of which commercially available holders are amongst the best, followed by which apps might best serve your purposes.
i'd tend to class that as more of a consumer guide than ingenuity alone.
however, should you have a notion for precisely how to fit a sports car aerofoil to the back of a colnago, or any other achievable if less than sensible modification, it seems the idea is to provide a step by step illustrated guide; the best chosen in early june will win some rather nifty and idiosyncratic prizes.
knock yourselves out.
thursday 8 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
with the release of tyler hamilton's secret race last year, lance armstrong's somewhat theatrical admission of guilt on oprah and currently the publication of michael barry's shadows on the road, the drugs culture once implicit in the career path of a top level professional cyclist endures well past its supposed sell-by date. however, claims that it's all different nowadays are probably well-founded; there are far more riders crossing the line in a bedraggled state at the end of a race that once was a rare sight.
it's very easy to pass judgment on those who chose, voluntarily or otherwise, to take the unfortunately abbreviated performance enhancing drugs (peds) during their careers. with many individuals signing single year contracts, renewal of which depended principally on race results or the ability to aid their nominated leaders, an inability to perform against others who may well have been on a regimented drug regime could conceivably involve an early curtailment of a promising career. few of us have ever been or will ever be in a similar position, something we might do well to remember before commenting.
at times, it can be a double-edged sword; we're happy to enthuse over the creativity of musicians and writers whose works have depended on taking mind-altering drugs, yet regard it as cheating when our sportsmen indulge in similar (yet markedly different) principles. i'm not daft enough to mistake one for the other, but imagine my dismay if i discovered that some other cycling blogger received a tonne more web hits than the post with writings fueled by artificial stimulants. if i can't beat them, ought i to join?
however, generally i would refrain from discussing such matters because i truly am not qualified to make comment, and there's nothing i could say or write that will make things any clearer or solve the difficulties.
that's someone else's job.
but at the risk of over-using robert millar's quote "never forget it's all entertainment" the knowledge after the fact that marco pantani's short-lived career was almost entirely fueled by performance enhancing drugs doesn't entirely undermine the entertainment that many of us gained from watching him ride. unlike one or two others who simply achieved their ill-gotten gains by mundanely exercising their illegal super powers when the finish line was close enough, pantani rode with what rapha's simon mottram has described as panache.
those who failed to see the excitement generated by the diminutive italian will doubtless disagree, and in the light of subsequent revelations, their opinion could be said to hold the moral high ground. but watching for the umpteenth time, pantani's giro battle with mapei's pavel tonkov never fails to elicit the same level of excitement. even if i know now that which i didn't know then. i can still recall returning home in 1999 to discover that marco had been disqualified from the giro at madonna de campiglio; how could that possibly have happened? pantani was leading by around five minutes and was pretty much assured of a second consecutive victory, so why on earth would he take anything that would show up in testing?
yes, i was and to a certain extent still am, naive in such matters.
film director and producer james erskine is surely of a similar persuasion to yours truly in matters concerning il pirata, for on 13 may the premiere of his film pantani: the accidental death of a cyclist permieres in london. 200 publicly available tickets are being made available at a cost of £25 each for the showing, including a question and answer session between the producer and ned boulting. three days later, the movie gains national release across 20 cities and on 26 may, the film will be available on dvd and blu-ray.
while the latter can already be pre-ordered from amazon, if you'd like to attend the premiere at haymarket's cineworld, click the link below to order tickets while they're still available. whatever your opinion of pantani, it may be worth your while to either confirm or challenge your assumptions of marco pantani.
photo credits from top: sven simon/dpa/press association images; michael steele/empics sport; christophe ena/ap/press association images; michael steele/empics sport
wednesday 7 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
several years ago, phil and jules of cyclefit in london's macklin street invited me along for a comprehensive bike fit, partly to make me more at home on my bicycle and partly to provide material for a washingmachinepost feature. if you subtract the amount of blethering i did between and during the various processes involved in sizing me to the bicycle or vice versa, the entire session took the better part of three hours. though the odd plumbline through the kneecap (not as painful as it sounds) was included, there's a tad more science and technology needed to make sure everything turns out just ginger peachy.
checking my physical range of movement (limited), the power output generated from each individual leg, reach from the saddle to the handlebars and whether my feet were as comfortable in my shoes as they needed to be, all formed part of this lengthy process. you know there is precious little chance of my recalling any of the numbers that may have been thrown in my direction, so it is fortunate that just prior to leaving the premises, i was handed a folder containing each and every measurement along with any pertinent comments.
with the washingmachinepost bikeshed playing home to more than one bicycle, this folder of details aided and abetted my attempts to setup each and every one in similar manner to the endlessly adjustable jig sited in the backroom at macklin street. by and large, i think i made a reasonable job of so doing.
but what if you live nowhere near macklin street, as indeed i do not? or perhaps jules and phil have already performed their magic and you simply want to confirm the numbers on a subsequent bicycle or re-affirm that your honed physique hasn't suffered from the limitations of age. once more, some of the technology referred to above has made it into a smaller and more affordable package, one that fits on either your iphone or ipod touch (and i also managed to successfully operate it on an ipad mini). using the built-in video camera on each, and optimised to run on apple's latest ios7, thebikefit app from lipids intends to offer a means to get the basics dialled without a trip to the big smoke.
dag, from the bikefit app was keen to point out "This clearly does not replace the professional fit, but is aimed at the cycling enthusiast who likes to keep track of all things to do with their bike(s)!"
the app allows you to record a fitting for each of your bikes by setting each one up on a turbo trainer and recording a video. from each video, it's possible to select individual frames for analysis consisting of an angle measuring tool which is customisable for different parts of your body. of course, no app worth its salt would be complete without the opportunity to share with others via social media, or even to send to a qualified coach for further analysis. at the very worst, it offers a means of recording all those arcane measurements pertaining to each and every bicycle and storing them in a logical place.
for a limited time, the bikefit app is available at the reduced price of only £1.49, and as far as i can tell, its efficacy might be the very set of features you're looking for, especially if you experience any niggling pains when cycling.
tuesday 6 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................