it was the late richard hittleman that got me started. his tv programme yoga for health was on the telly box pretty much every morning during school holidays in my mid teens. i hadn't been able to get a summer job, so when my mother nipped down the street for the shopping, i would be sat on the living room floor, trying to contort my creaking limbs into positions they were initially reluctant to adopt. however, as with pretty much each and every activity, the more you do it, the better you get, and with mr hittleman's guidance i gradually became a tad more flexible of limb and ultimately, that bit healthier.
i managed to keep up this yoga practise on and off all through my college years and into my thirties, brought to an abrupt halt by the arrival of a child who simply would not sleep at nights. i risked the ire of mrs washingmachinepost, after a largely sleepless night, if the child awoke as i arose to partake of 30 minutes of daily peace and calm.
yoga is a remarkably low impact means of keeping body and soul together. the phrase 'age doesn't come alone' is beginning to make itself known on the daily travail; there are creaks and groans where once there were none. i am well aware that i ought to be taking steps to stem this relentless tide of stiffness, but it is one of life's ironies that when you really ought to be adopting yoga practice, there seems little time in the day to do so. which is precisely why it ought to be done.
i have made several attempts to make it so, but i fear i suffer from the same desertion of willpower that seems to affect those intent on dieting. though the latter is not something i have any concerns with, i can't help thinking that a decent yoga practise might keep it that way for a lot longer. i still have a richard hittleman title on the bookshelf upstairs, filled to the brim with adaptable exercises that would doubtless improve the flexibility of ageing bones and muscles, but procrastination has as its ally the indecision as to which would be the most beneficial amongst the chapters. which is why a new dawn may just have broken with the arrival of lexie williamson's yoga for cyclists.
ms wiliamson is also the author of a similar volume for runners based on her specific experience of those participating in both activities. thus, the exercises and flows contained within this well illustrated book are geared (pardon the pun) for velocipedinists alone. as the opening paragraph states "This book is for cyclists looking for a strong, resilient but lean physique, supple enough to hunker down into a streamlined stance and ride in comfort for longer"
i cannot deny that lengthy periods of time struggling into an islay headwind places undue pressure on several parts of the body. granted, these are often ameliorated when catching the return tailwind, but that presupposes i made it intact to the turn point in the first place. adapting well-worn (again, apologies for the pun) yoga exercises to the more specific needs of the cyclist seems like a rather ginger peachy idea as far as i'm concerned, and i have to say, the short period in which i have tried to embrace certain of the chapters and attendant philosophies have so far proved tangibly effective.
there are still creaks and groans to be found that were surely not there last weekend, but i believe we'll all have to accept that sort of thing eventually. so far, however, attempts to strengthen my core via ms williamson's instruction would appear to be making headway. if i continue the practice conscientiously, when those fierce winter headwinds come round again, i'll be more than ready for them. it's certainly a more peaceable method of achieving an attainable goal, even if you only dip in and out to begin with. but as was the case with the inestimable mr hittleman, once it takes hold, it becomes several cheerful moments in daily life.
finally, a book for all of us.
monday 26 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
on previous occasions i have paid great testament to my complete lack of geographical knowledge, insofar as the actual location of the grand depart in early july was a complete mystery to me. being aware that yorkshire is in englandshire is one thing, but just where in englandshire is a whole nuther bucket of longitudes. it turns out, for the benefit of those similarly challenged, that places such as leeds, harrogate and the like are in the north of the country, just up a wee bit from huddersfield and manchester. i hope i do it no disservice by referring to it in the past tense as the industrial north, where some of the world's finest and cleverest machinery was born to offer us necessities such as steel and, perhaps dependent on that, printing presses.
almost midway between york and skipton is the town of otley, lying in the wharfedale valley, named after the river wharfe which meanders through the vicinity. once a market town, it is also, for our purposes, the home of the wharfedale reliance stop cylinder printing press originating in the early 1800s. the stop cylinder press, so named due to the printing cylinder remaining stationary while the forme (containing the type and illustrations) moved beneath it, was indirectly invented by william dawson, a joiner from otley town. his entry into the world of print was almost accidental when he made a ruling machine from wood in response to printers' demands.
meanwhile, in the lake district town of ulverston, a fellow by the name of soulby patented a printing press rather unimaginatively named the ulverstonian which worked in the opposite fashion to that of the wharfedale reliance. in the ulverstonian, the cylinder rolled over the forme which remained stationary, but despite having patented the process, the press proved largely unsuccessful. soulby was put in touch with dawson in otley who suggested reversing the process, resulting in the genre known as stop cylinder presses which included the wharfedale reliance.
the first machine left otley on the banks of the wharfe for the princely sum of £60, proving itself capable of printing 500 impressions per hour. subsequent wharfedale presses delivered between two and three thousand impressions per hour. its unique selling point, if you like, was its ability to apply pressure across a thin strip of the stationary cylinder allowing considerable precision in comparison with its peers. due to their particularly impressive registration capabilities (the ability to accurately print separate colours over thousands of sheets) and sizeable printable area, the wharfedale was employed predominantly in the newspaper and magazine arena.
innerleithen, several miles south of edinburgh and barely a stone's throw from peebles has been home to robert smail's printing shop since since the latter part of the eighteenth century. in commercial operation up until 1986, the print shop was taken over by the national trust for scotland and is still the only jobbing printers of its kind in the country. an 1886 version of the wharfedale reliance stop cylinder press is currently installed in the premises.
machinery such as this exemplifies the qualities and ingenuity of victorian engineers, for such a press is still in perfect working order today (when was the last time you heard that said of an acer laptop?), offering up impressive letterpress printed matter such as that shown above. and this is precisely where bicycles come into the picture, not only for the salient advice described via some wonderful wood type, but because this years tour de france grand depart passes close to the home of this press in otley.
chris sleath, he of edinburgh's dynamoworks designed the 33cm x 44cm poster you see before you, printing it on the wharfedale reliance utilising vintage wood type at smail's of innerleithen on 200gsm stockwell off-white paper. each is numbered, signed and retails at a hand-crafted £60. the copy i have in my possession will be framed and hung at debbie's cafe in bruichladdich. you owe it not to chris sleath, not to the tour de france and perhaps not even to the bicycle itself to immediately order one of these masterpieces of letterpress art. do it for the right reason, in honour of the engineering heritage that allows mr sleath to make such excellent use of a technology from two centuries ago.
round about the time the bicycle was invented.
sunday 25 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as of today, the giro d'italia has only one more week to go, meaning of course, that we've edged even closer to british tour de france hysteria in early july. it's like that slow awakening that happens each year as we finally convince ourselves that winter has actually retired for a while and that the days may actually become warmer. from our point of view on our atlantic rock, summer is presaged by the islay whisky festival which officially started at lagavulin distillery today. in point of fact, i seriously doubt the weather would substantially impact on the number of malt aficionados making the pilgrimage, one that they very probably made last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.
though most of the distillery workings are cuddled indoors, several of the events associated with the festival are held out of doors, including the less than creatively named big gig next friday at laphroaig distillery and featuring a bruce springsteen tribute band. quite how that constitutes exposing the whisky visitor to the traditional music of the hebrides is beyond me. however, aside from having to pay closer attention to islay's increased traffic perhaps not used to driving on the left, this more clement weather brings out those less used to the ways of the velocipede, simultaneously encouraging certain quarters of cycle sporting activity.
like triathlon for instance.
in 1992, the former manager of the local leisure centre and i created the islay tryathlon with distances in each discipline geared towards participation of the many, rather than for the glory of the few. unlike many locally fostered events, it has continued to the present day, far more competitively than was a part of the original cunning plan. but triathlon is a sport that appears to have garnered arguably more adherents than those of us eager to follow the pelotonic way. quite why that's the case is something of a mystery to me, given the scary amount of running involved, to say nothing of all that splashing and flailing about in the water.
in a strange break with tradition, i do have certain evidence that may just back up my triathlonic contentions. for instance, the london triathlon received 1200 entries as recently as 2009, which, by 2014 had risen to 6000. a 500% growth rate is somewhat difficult to argue with. most of those entrants are male, but that's an observation repeated in the perhaps less onerous activity of simply riding or racing a bicycle. this interest in triathlon may be on the increase, because according to the same source, 12% of last year's entry were participating in their first ever triathlon.
of course, the worrying aspect contained within those very same statistics is that 90% of triathletes train for more than five hours per week. and i'm willing to bet that they concentrate almost exclusively on the activity at which they are best. the velo club used to ride with a confirmed triathlete who was no slouch when it came to swimming and pretty handy at the running bit. yet, all of us, including the mighty dave t (he's a pensioner you know?) could leave them standing when it came to cycling, predominantly due to a lack of appropriate cycling technique. yet much of their training hours were concentrated on swimming, where seconds might possibly be gained, instead of cycling where minutes were on offer.
it's not a sport i have any intention of joining anytime soon, but if you fancy acquainting yourself with more numbers from the world of triathlon, take a look at the big picture here and marvel.
saturday 24 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"If your legs scream in the forest and no-one is around to hear them, do they really hurt?"
you may, on the basis that you'd little better to do, have read about my recent transatlantic (in a manner of speaking) jaunt by boat to the shores of northern ireland; ballycastle to be more precise. this totally uncharacteristic foray into (literally) unknown waters in order that i and a few others might witness the giro d'italia in ireland was, to put not too fine a point on it, the highlight of my month. not only was it my first trip to our nearest neighbours on such a small boat, but it is also the first time i had witnessed the italian grand tour in real life. the fact that it poured with rain the whole time we were there was really of no nevermind.
however, to quantify the day's activities with a more critical and less emotional eye, we collectively spent around four beautiful hours in a small boat to witness, at most, ten minutes worth of cycle racing. the breakaway of four passed us by at around 1:30pm, with the main peloton following around eight or nine minutes later. if you take into account the preceding vehicles and those following behind, the whole enchilada passed in just a tad over fifteen minutes. as a cycling obsessive, those fifteen wet minutes require no justification whatsoever, but several of my non-cycling acquaintances regard it as convincing proof that i am, in fact, totally off my trolley.
taken at such superficial face value, it's not too hard to see where they're coming from, even if i do resolutely continue to disagree. had this second stage of the giro, however, been conducted over one of the race's great mountain climbs, our viewing pleasure would have undoubtedly occupied a far greater portion of our time. and during this extended race-watching, such would have been the speed of any breakaway, individual riders, peloton and a chasing (?) grupetto, that it would surely have been possible to see which rear sprocket each had employed and possibly even the power output on their bar mounted srm units.
it's why the mountian stages in the grand tours are so popular with spectators. not only does the racing take place at a more acutely observable pace, but the much vaunted pain and suffering is plain for all to see. perish the thought that we are ever called upon to compare our own climbing efforts with those of our heroes. unfortunately, that's obviously a gap in the personal cycling education of simon warren. not content with partaking of the above collective spectacle, he has seen fit to gird up his loins, wife and children and ride up each of the many mountains and passes that have graced the stage of the world's largest bike race, the tour de france. and to add insult to injury, it appears he may actually have enjoyed it all (at least once it was over).
mr warren's mental state, however, apparently has further down to go. for apart from riding all those hills, he has collected each and every one in logical fashion and popped them in this highly attractive, pocket-sized volume, optimistically ending with a numbered checklist for when we all follow suit. simon obviously does not live in the same world as the rest of us.
or does he?
actually he does, and very much so. though i think the chances of my riding up any of the one-hundred included ascents to be pretty much non-existent, there is little more enjoyable than doing so by proxy via such a well-written book. he has had even the great intellect and foresight to make mention of robert millar's win at guzet-neige in 1984, winning the polka dot jersey to boot. i approve wholeheartedly, and probably so does robert.
while you and i may enviously admire mr warren's tenacity while castigating it as foolhardiness, it is well-nigh impossible to deny his enthusiasm for such an undertaking "I'd gone through a world of suffering to come out the other side reborn!". the author's descriptions of the ascents happily stay clear of unwarranted hyperbole. each is accompanied by an essential factfile, detailing the summit altitude, height gained, average and maximum gradient and a couple of small maps showing the climb itself and its geographical location in france, a system honed over warren's previous three mountain books. he also marks each ride out of a maximum of ten for difficulty.
i absolutely adored simon's last publication in this series entitled 'hellingen' comprising a whole host of belgian climbs that will also probably never see my tyre tracks. but the mark of a good book, in my opinion, is one that can be enjoyed even by those who have little intention of making its singular purpose, manifest in their own day to day. 100 cycling climbs of the tour de france fulfils that function admirably, is compact enough to fit in a jersey pocket and contains inspiring photos for those moments of froth supping in the cafe at sea level.
"WOW. This is the road I dream of at night, this is the road I'll be riding for all eternity when my time comes to leave this world..."
frances lincoln have graciously offered a copy as a prize for the sender of the first correct answer drawn from a polka dot jersey. "on what mountain did robert millar take the king of the mountains jersey in the 1984 tour de france?"
e-mail your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org along with a complete postal address. closing date is wednesday 28 may.
friday 23 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the advent of google maps has pretty much changed the way a lot of us view the parts of the world about which we know little or nothing at all. before moving to the far west, i was resident in ayrshire, not so very far away from the city of glasgow. in fact, so close did mrs washingmachinepost and i reside to the local railway station, that it was what i believe is known as a no brainer, to take the train to the big city even if only for window shopping. which, if i'm perfectly honest, our household budget at one time demanded rather than offered.
but like many a city across the globe, streets change, shops change, buildings change or, in some cases, disappear altogether. and though absence is reckoned to make the heart grow fonder, one of the things it definitely fosters is vague recollections of just where things are. or were. or perhaps replaced by something else entirely.
in my youth and early twenties, it was not out of the ordinary to consider a day trip to glasgow with the sole purpose of traipsing round music shops with scant regard for any other form of retail therapy. in fact, to briefly return to the concept of window-shopping, those music shops rarely saw any form of currency enter their cash registers. though we considered ourselves feldgling musicians, the kinder members of staff probably had as classified as irritants. i jest not when i say i accompanied a guitarist friend through two hours of trying several expensive electric guitars, before buying the plectrum.
almost all of those music shops have disappeared altogether; it would no longer be possible to spend an entire day in the city strumming and hitting stuff. and due to those intervening years, i'm pretty sure i've no idea where the remaining stores live. in fact, having recently decided to visit a percussion-only store in search of something to hit, i found myself having to resort not only to google maps, but to the subset of their street view. if i ever managed to make my way to the street, i was fearful that i'd simply walk past without realising.
but it's not only a last resort, but more frequently a first resort when visiting for reasons more velocipedinal. prior to both visits to portland, oregon, i made excessive use of street view in order that i might satisfy my ability to pedal through a city largely unknown to me. and i have even taken a peek in this manner at londonshire on occasion, even though i had and have little notion of riding a bicycle through its busy streets. however, the never ending march of technology as already made google's street view essentially redundant for this latter purpose, for 360 degree still photography has had to make way for 360 degree video.
enterprisingly commissioned by pleasecycle, the idea was implemented by visualise, well-known for their perfection of 360 degree immersive experiences. director of pleasecycle, ronan carter justified their innovation by pointing out "We work with some of the world's biggest corporates to engage their staff in health/ wellness while quantifying the CSR benefits. We wanted a way to inspire our customers' employees to cycle more, so we created this video." essentially it allows the web user to control what they see when joining a cycle journey through london. oxford street, leicester square, marble arch, big ben, the houses of parlaiment at westminster and buckingham palace all feature, as do the welsh and royal household guards marching past on a route that rides through hyde park.
it's a very clever and intriguing idea that would benefit greatly from being transposed to several other uk and international cities, something that might, on the basis of this, just happen.
thursday 22 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though i strive greatly to distance myself from the persona of hick from the sticks i doubt that it's something i can escape from entirely. without wishing to appear contrivedly clever, it sort of goes with the territory; argyll and bute is surprisingly lax in its demands over where cattle and sheep can wander and where they can't. the long and short of it would appear to be that there really isn't anywhere that's off limits.
if there's a need to be more specific, i can point my finger at both uiskentuie strand and the low road. just around islay international airport is a favoured point of congregation for sheep, while the former is travailed by both cows and the fluffy, woolly, cuddly obstacles. in this age of substantial interference by the health and safety people, it strikes me as particularly incongruous that free wandering of farm animals continues unabated to this day.
like many local oddities, those of us domiciled in the area are wise to such mobile traffic calming, but as summer allegedly approaches, audi and bmw drivers are less well informed. the fact that the holiday season ends with very little in the way of reduced livestock numbers is, i would imagine, more by luck than design. which sort of brings me onto a tenuously related point.
only just yesterday did i bring to a conversation the notion that island living is mostly considered truly idyllic. i'd be the last person to contradict this particular thought, for mostly, that's perfectly true, though i doubt i'm any less busy than many with the misfortune (as i see it) to live in the great metropolises of the world. the idyllic part stems predominantly from the ability to set wheel outside my back garden and immediately be in the countryside. that's a hard idyll to match, and surely one that encourages visits from those less well located.
the contradiction is alive and well and surviving in the lunchtime ferry traffic. arrive at ballygrant via the glen road at just the wrong moment, and those bmws and audis will hurtle past, offering their finest jenson button impersonations. and i'm inclined to ask why? surely what attracted them here in the first place was the idyll mentioned earlier? the average speed of motorised traffic in london has become slower over the past hundred years, despite the fact that being a freeman of the city of london prior to 1835 conferred the right to herd sheep and cattle over the city's bridges. should that not be reflected in the speed of visiting executives and their families?
perhaps there's not so much difference between here and there after all.
assuming you have designs on making further enquiries as to how sheep and cattle might just play a greater part in present day london, the man to ask would surely be grant young of condor cycles? though he does not have the great good fortune to set foot in untrammeled countryside outside his front door in grays inn road, he does, in theory at least, have the right to herd his own personal livestock across the city's bridges, should he be at a loss for entertainment at the weekend. for in recognition of his services to cycling and a continual drive to 'keep the skill and art of hand-building quality cycle frames alive...' mr young has been awarded the freedom of the city of london. though i have enjoyed several interesting conversations with grant, i confess i neglected to enquire after his farming skills.
however, along with rapha condor jlt rider, kristian house, grant young will attend the chamberlain's court at guildhall on tuesday 3 june. the ceremony apparently conducted by the clerk of the court. the beadle, dressed a top hat and frock coat, will escort freemen and their guests to the court.
"I am very proud to be given the freedom of the City, not least because I can herd sheep and cattle over London's bridges." quipped Grant. "It is wonderful that, through Condor's striving to make high-quality handmade products, I - and ultimately Condor - has been recognised by the City of London."
aside from keeping the art of hand crafted bikes alive in the mainstream, condor have also provided sterling support for young up and coming riders involved in cycle sport, perhaps most notably a young prince bradley and new rising star, tao geoghan hart, both active in last week's tour of california.
just in case, midst the cattle and sheep surely present at rapha's tenth birthday celebrations in july, i happen to bump into mr young, i am now practising my curtsey.
wednesday 21 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
power outpur reputedly declines with age, a factor that is difficult to quantify because more often than not, the need for cycling power seems also to proportionately diminish. i can recall the halcyon days of yore when there would be no barrier to my popping out on a saturday morning, ready and willing to complete two laps of a 50km circuit before adding a few more kilometres en route to debbie's for froth and lunch. even returning mid-afternoon to settle in front of eurosport for a daily helping of giro, tour or vuelta seemed to elicit no disparaging remarks from mrs washingmachinepost.
or perhaps that was never true, but the intervening years have added more than an appreciable rosy tint to proceedings.
it rarely happens like that anymore; there's always shopping to contend with. apparently that's what saturdays are for, but never in a one size fits all sort of manner. if we pop down really early to avoid the saturday morning crowds (yes, bowmore has its crowds, relatively speaking), there's close to not very much on the shelves. leave it till later, after the ferry has arrived and those selfsame shelves have been filled (another relative term), and the process takes considerably longer due to those massive crowds all doing the same thing. (i may have exaggerated slightly).
the outset of all this accumulated palaver is that, while those kilometres are attacked with what i like to think is the same degree of gusto, there are fewer of them to attack, particularly in the earlier part of the year when it tends to get darker sooner. take into consideration the endless rain and galeforce winds that inhabited at least the first three months of this year, and i believe we may have been looking at an altogether different sport.
but saturday past was, if you'll pardon the cliche, a bit of a blast from the past. i'm not at home this week, because i'm over here, soon to be joined by mrs washingmachinepost, therefore there was no salient reason to spend saturday morning in the average market. which, assuming you're all paying attention, left a few more kilometres to be attended to. naturally enough, after a week of warmth and sun, the weekend was filled with precipitation, announcing itself the minute i stepped out the back door.
however, when you've promised yourself all those lovely kilometres, there's no way a few drops of rain are going to get in the way, so eighty kilometres it was after all.
we've all been there; several km from the coffee stop, and already the aroma of freshly ground coffee and visualisations of that creamy froth atop a large mug or feeding trough provides the very encouragement needed to contend with wind and rain. add to that a need for a feed, most often satisfied by a cheese, onion and tomato toastie. i'm sure mark cavendish trains the very same way.
except on reaching debbie's, it was calmly but apologetically announced that the cupboard was bare of cheese. you can imagine the distraught look upon my dampened visage. add to that the fact that the individual sent out to acquire emergency supplies seemed to have forgotten the way home, and you have a damp cyclist, warmed by the long desired coffee but with a rumbly tummy. fortunately i had had the foresight to stuff a multipower fruit bar in one of my rear pockets.
it was interesting to read recently that one of the reasons marco pantani took so much time out of jan ullrich in the 1998 tour de france was almost down to edibles. telekom's nutritional supplies were provided by powerbar, an energy snack that is hard enough to consume at the best of times, but in freezing conditions assumed the format of a brick. pantani, on the other hand, devoured a variety of marmalade filled paninis; easily consumed no matter the ambient temperature.
same goes for multipower's fruit bars which resemble an amalgam of rice krispies and dried fruit.
of course, i have drastically simplified their constitution. the fruit content, depending on flavour (tropical or original) reaches as high as 65%, while a single 40g bar offers a mere 1.5 grams of fat. so, when there's no cheese toastie on offer, you've already ridden 65 of those 80km and there's still the wet ride home to endure, a multipower energy bar hits the spot pretty much bang on. in fact, despite a headwind and increasing rain, i managed to pop the colnago into the big ring and give it a bit of welly up uiskentuie strand, almost as far as blackrock.
did i really say energy demands decrease with age?
multipower fruit bars are the official energy bar of the giro d'italia and can be purchased online in boxes of two dozen for £34.99. multipower fruit bars
tuesday 20 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................