now that the large hadron collider has found mr higgs' boson, and more are probably being manufactured in taiwan, it must be really hard to come up with new stuff. presumably there is some sort of a limit to how many things we, as a race of beings, actually need, but i'm not sure that's ever been any sort of drawback to the never ending quest for truckloads of things. japan and italy have brought us electric gears over eleven sprockets when most are agreed that clicking cables was never the most onerous task in the first place. then along comes the american lot pretending to have wires, before removing the false boxes with a resounding 'tarrraaa!' to reveal wireless gear-changing.
and in yet another case of 'follow my leader', japan adds another crank arm providing the ability to switch easily between standard and compact gear sets, an innovation now followed by italy. despite a brief lull in proceedings, common consent seems to indicate disc brakes becoming 'legal' by 2016. i find myself hiding behind the couch, wondering where it will all end?
arguably the last innovation in cycle clothing arrived via sportwool, the ideal mid-point between traditional wool and the polyester clothing of the professional peloton. various claims have been made regarding the comfy bits fiited into our bibshorts, but in truth most are simple variations on a theme, more often than not subjectively decided by the form of our bottoms. yet here we are only four years into the second decade of the noughties and the cote d'azur sun-blessed folks at cafe du cycliste have come up with what could be regarded as a welcome innovation.
their claim is that they have invented the ideal combination of bibshorts and a baselayer. i can't honestly say i've ever come across this sort of thing before, so they could very well be correct in their assertion. and in keeping with their french eccentricity of attaching female names to even blokes' garments, these are known as antoinette bib shorts and base layer. thankfully we in the velo club to not inhabit a clubhouse, for i'm not sure i'd ever get used to hearing "pass us my antoinettes would you?"
the announcement of the antoinettes brought to light a pertinent query with regard to sizing. all my bibshorts are size small, but the majority of my baselayers are medium, recalling thoughts of a cat with a sheet of buttered toast strapped to its back (it would take too long to explain). remi clermont at cafe du cycliste indicated that my query was something that had featured highly in the development process. "when deciding to go with it or not this was my main concern: how to solve the fit issue and will this be too much of a problem when bringing Antoinette to market!
"I then spent hours at my Italian factory with the development team where we made several prototypes. We decided to slightly over-size the upper section and include very stretchy side panels to allow for a wider range of upper body sizes. And damn, once we had the prototype in hand, it was too good a product to be stopped by the fact that it might not fit every single customer."
so was he right? thankfully, from both remi's and my point of view, cafe du cycliste seem to have hit the nail squarely on the head. as a sleeveless baselayer it is a very good fit, and though i do find it a tad weird with no sleeves, adding them would probably have brought all sorts of fitting problems that are best left elsewhere. if i had any concerns over an ability to take a natural break, the baselayer section features a full-length zip, one that offers no untoward friction in regular use. though i'm a definite fan of merino baselayers, in the alleged warmer summer months, a lightweight polyester sleeveless proved itself ideal, even on a sunday morning that turned out to be a tad cooler than at first thought.
though it may not be a pretty sight, i tried wearing a regular merino baselayer underneath, should i ever find myself in the bizarre situation of needing to wear bibshorts in the depths of winter. a smidgeon bulky i'll admit, but practical nonetheless.
however, this talk of baselayers is all very well, even when it's antoinette's unique selling point, but what about the sitting bit? just before we get to the posterior details, i'd like to point out the stickiness of the silicon gloop on the interior of the hems. so keen was it to demonstrate its suitability for the position, that i had to take a few moments to separate front and back in order to get the darned things on in the first place. such tackiness (if you catch my drift) acquits itself every bit as well when preventing either leg from riding up in the heat of battle, and that despite its paper-thinness.
i'm still firmly of the opinion that the quality of the comfy bits can be assessed by how much notice you pay when riding your bike. in this case, you'd never know it was there, even on remarkably unforgiving saddles that you wish you'd never bought in the first place. not wanting to show any favouritism towards antoinette, not only did i take her out on the road for over a hundred kilometres, but just for good measure i went to play at cyclocross. just to demonstrate how unseasonably fit i'm not. this latter series of contortions in the undergrowth offered little by way of respite for the dear french lady, yet she acquitted herself remarkably well.
perhaps there is no need for baselayer assisted thermo-roubaix bibtights in the 365 days of blazing sunshine on the cote d'azur, but i have every faith in remi clermont and his band of merry chaps that they are currently working tirelessly to satisfy the winter demands of the less favoured. if it works this well on a pair of bibshorts, i'm more than willing to beta test future developments in the face of an atlantic gale or two.
clever, appropriate and idiosyncratically french.
a pair of cafe du cycliste antoinette bibshorts and baselayer can be had in sizes ranging from xs to xxl at a cost of £160.
monday 16 june 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"You should hardly see it as a failure because Hannibal never actually made it to Rome either."
i believe i have made it plain over recent years that i am not the adventurous type, contenting myself with riding the same roads week in, week out without a compelling need to try further afield. it's something i'm not particularly proud of, for when meeting up with friends and visitors over the summer season, while they wax lyrical about the various sportives and foreign trips made since last we met, i have very little in the way of comparable conversation to offer.
in truth, i have no real notion as to why this bothers me; in fact, most of the time it doesn't because i don't tend to dwell on such matters. but then along comes a book or a film depicting the fabulousness that is riding on the continent or further afield, and those pangs of guilt once again rear their ugly heads. i'm sure my fascination with the rapha continental was due to such adventures across a country i barely know allowing me to vicariously satisfy any latent wanderlust without leaving the safety of my macbook air.
such a book sits on the the arm of my chair even as i write. and if the adventures and cycling pleasure contained within its 367 pages were not sufficient to engender jealous thoughts, the fact that their author has been cycling for only a matter of twelve months or so is surely rubbing grimpeurship in my face. and everyone else's, come to that.
felix lowe is perhaps better known to most as blazing saddles, cycling specialist at eurosport and writer of last gasp in each and every issue of cyclist magazine. in fact, the opening chapters bring us up to speed as to his declared lack of qualifications for either position, given that, despite an accomplished knowledge of professional cycling, (a knowledge frequently demonstrated throughout climbs and punishment) until relatively recently, he didn't ride a bike.
you'd surely have to admit that after only a year of pedalling, his undertaking of 2,800 kilometres in 26 days, across many of the steepest bits continental europe has to offer is pretty darned impressive in itself, never mind the ability to commit his acute and pertinent observations to paper. however like many of us who can climb (or think we can), his descending skills equalled or challenged those of the colombians in the tour de france in the early 1980s. the title of the book also offers a clue as to the genre of writing inhabited by mr lowe. as i was keen to point out on twitter recently, not only does he own a particularly neat turn of phrase but knows the strategic points at which to use it. thus if a book detailing the cycling antics of one man and his merry band across 367 pages fills you with dread, fear not. there is not one chapter that does not pass by without causing you to smile out loud.
enlightening the reader as to his progress from covering ski-jumping for eurosport on his way to transitioning to cycling: "I built up something of a reputation as Eurosport's 'Balzac of Bischofshofen' - although I always preferred the more understated 'Zakopane Zola or, high praise indeed, the 'Goethe of Garmisch-Partenkirchen'."
having arrived at the joy of cycling a bicycle rather late in life, felix later dwells on how good he could perhaps have been in a velocipedinal manner had he arrived at the same place earlier. "I quite like being the half-decent amateur. ...but very much the gentleman rouleur rather than some crazed and delusional wannabe pro in a Team Sky replica kit, pretending to be Wiggo on the way to work."
it is always something of a cunning plan to have more than just cycling as the backbone of any contemporary publication such as this. that may have been sufficient in the days of yore when cycling books were only bought and read by the cognoscenti, those endeared of componentry and lugged steel frames without even the hint of a narrative. cycling books were far less common in those days. but with reference to the aforementioned wiggo, his exploits of 2012 in france and london have led to a wider and arguably less knowledgeable market for such prose, a market that demands to be catered to. mr lowe has cleverly managed to appeal to both the above.
the thread and alleged raison d'etre of climbs and punishment is its tentative adherence to hannibal's failed conquest of the romans after traipsing across the alps on a panoply of elephants. in point of fact, it is perfectly possible to garner a working knowledge of hannibal's exploits, interspersed as they are amongst descriptions of ascents, descents, food and accommodation and many of the other trappings that accompany a three week plus bicycle ride.
despite the quality of the humour, the undoubted skill of narration and the inferences made towards members of the professional peloton, i think climbs and punishment may err just a tad on the lengthy side. there's every possibility this is simply a personal observation brought on by over-exposure to the printed word. never in my puff have i known so many cycling books to be published on the approach to the tour de france. but still, i can't help thinking that a few pages less might have served mr lowe's purposes better; purely on the basis that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
that said, it's a cleverly constructed and well-written tale, while the inclusion of hannibal's precedent over similar terrain lifts it well above the humdrum. it is not only hard to believe this is the work of a relative newbie to the art of pedalling, but that this is his first full-length book. i believe mr blazing saddles may well have hit the ground running, if you'll forgive the mixed metaphor.
sunday 15 june 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have very little time for politics and/or politicians; to quote from a song on sting's ten summoner's tales album, 'they all seem like game show hosts to me.' seemingly gone are the days when ladies and gentlemen entered the political field as harbingers of their own personal mission to change the world, or at least their part of it, for the better. nowadays it has become more of a career choice, one in which the aspirants seem more concerned with what politics can do for them than vice versa. i cannot deny that i hold a highly cynical viewpoint on such matters, one that is hardly alleviated by the foo-fa surrounding this coming september's independence referendum in scotland.
when i was a student at a college belonging to robert gordon's institute of technology (rgit, rendered as 'grit' for the purposes of a student newspaper), the general consensus was that anyone willing to stand for committee on the student union ought to be barred from becoming a member. of course, that would have meant no student union, for the rest of us were too apathetic to bothered in the first place. and in truth, pretty much the same applies to the world of politics; if it weren't for those willing to put their heads above the parapet, anarchy would be our daily watchword.
all the above, however, excludes those who truly strive to make a difference on our behalf, and that includes the statesmen in countries that are not our own. egypt's current head of state, president abdel fatah al-sis can be counted amongst the pelotonese, after a fashion. publicly encouraging the egyptian population to reduce pollution, energy consumption and save themselves some money, he participated in a 20 kilometre bike ride from the military college in heliopolis. and mentioned he'd be most gratified if his subjects did likewise on a daily basis, rather than using their cars.
in a speech prior to riding his 20 kilometres, president al-sisi pointed out that the selfsame distance is the average travelled to university or work. "Riding a bicycle for an hour or an hour and a half instead of driving or taking public transportation would save money." he continued by pointing out that initiatives such as this were "the only way to build our country", adding that women should also participate. such velocipedinity was not confined to the head of state; the prime minister, minister of defence, the minister of the interior and several other officials, celebrities and several hundred military and police students joined in abdel fatah al-sis's pedalling. (hopefully of their own free will.)
since socialist president abdel nasser's era in the 1950s, egypt has subsidised energy, culminating in a total of 128 billion egyptian pounds (£10.5 billion) in 2012-13 which the minister of petroleum expects to increase by at least 10% in 2014. this and food subsidies account for a quarter of the egyptian government's spending, a fact that has persuaded the president to encourage his subjects to get on their bikes.
however, there's no sign of the lycra brigade making its presence known in the upper reaches of egytptian government. according to a report in the cairo post, sisi was seen riding with a small group of people in march of this year while dressed in 'a blue training suit', only a few days after announcing his bid for presidency. and in an interview with tv channel cbc, he emphasised the importance of sports and exercise and how he'd like to see egyptians exercising a tad more frequently.
there is, of course, the possibility that president abdel fatah al-sisi is a middle-eastern substitute for boris johnson; eager to be seen astride a bicycle when there's publicity to be had, yet more often seen in the rear of a chauffeur-driven mayoral limousine.
or am i just being cynical again? and i'm not sure that mountain bikes were the best of choices.
thanks to daniel russell for bringing this to my attention.
saturday 14 june 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in my days of impersonating an obscure, impoverished artist existing in his hebridean garrett, every now and again it was deemed a good idea to check out, if not the competition, most certainly the galleries in which they were exhibiting. in the process of doing so, i came across a display of works concentrated on ireland, created by an artist whose name escapes me entirely. when i say 'concentrated on ireland', that is precisely what i mean; each and every image was based on a map of ireland, but treated in a variety of styles and media. however, tedious it might sound, they formed a rather impressive body of work.
ireland also features foremost in a related affair, back in 1998. in july of that year, a friend and i decided to cycle from ballycastle on the antrim coast all the way south to dublin for the start of pantani's tour de france. the events surrounding that particular year's event have been probably written to death, but one aspect that has unsurprisingly received little by way of comment was an exhibition of photographs held in an out of the way gallery space in dublin. bear in mind, however, that i had never before been to dublin, so pretty much everything was out of the way. i'm reasonably sure the photographs were from the lens of graham watson, but i stand to be corrected if my memory has failed me in this case.
you would likely not disagree that an exhibition of cycling photographs to accompany the commencement of the tour de france would be anything out of the ordinary. and you'd be right. were the situation to be repeated at anytime (and it probably has), that would be very much in our favour. exhibitions of cycle sport imagery have become a far more common occurrence since then, needing not the coincidence of a specific racing event to justify photographs on walls. having said that, a display of imagery from renowned american photographer emily maye during this year's visit to englandshire by, once again, the tour de france is likely to be every bit as welcome as cavendish nabbing yellow on day one.
opening on wednesday 2 july at beach london, the exhibition is intriguingly entitled 'we were fought by men very fast' which i think i will unashamedly steal and use as the title of my first solo album. the exhibition is supported by rapha, for whom emily worked with team sky prior to the release of their associated clothing range, along with camden town brewery. the works on display will be from a new series of images from this year's belgian classics. emily maye is to trek factory racing what scott mitchell is to team sky, making her ideally placed to capture the excitement of those particular races in pixels.
"This year I am traveling with a team (Trek Factory Racing) and so I got to see the entire lifestyle from the inside. That was interesting to me as a photographer."
if you're going to be in the big city for the cambridge to london stage of the tour, try and find the time to pop along to 20 cheshire street in london e2, to augment your cycling experience down south.
friday 13 june 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i doubt there's a computer in the world that somewhere or other about its person, does not have a calendar. oddly, though there's a more than adequate version on the nice new shiny 27 inch imac in the office, more often than not, and entirely out of habit, i find myself swivelling on the chair to read the more pedestrian and decidedly low-tech version that sits on the windowsill behind me. and not that it's particularly germane to this conversation, since we moved the wall clock to make way for a very attractive and sizeable manual for speed poster, each and everyone of us still looks in its former home to check the time. and this despite all having a clock at top right on each screen.
but, on a larger scale, there are a number of other means of making ourselves aware of the passing seasons, the first of which is the ubiquitous car alarm. nobody on islay seems to make use of their car alarms on the basis that few ever lock their cars. it's just that kind of place. visitors, on the other hand, are in the habit of doing so and it seems that the sensitivity of mainland alarms is greater than the indigenous versions, for as soon as easter hoves into view, the dawn chorus is repeated at frequent intervals throughout the day. it's still doing it now.
and only the other day, i was stopped by two motorists outside the post office to ask where the distillery is. that's a seasonal question that never seems to get tired. thirdly, and for the time being, lastly, are the questions regarding ileach whisky. you see, ileach is the gaelic word for someone born and raised on islay, and also the name of the local newspaper where i frequently ply my trade. but it's also the name of a single malt whisky, one which varies by content, a fact that leads to the endless list of questions. the fellow who owns the brand name, apparently purchases casks from whichever of the islay distilleries will supply at an appropriate price and subsequently fills his whisky bottles. thus, the ileach malt purchased last year may not contain the same malt as this year's.
that's the way the commercial world works nowadays. and at certain times of year (now, in fact), e-mails querying its provenance arrive in my inbox.
twitter has also, inadvertantly or otherwise, messed up the sequence of events more than several manufacturers announcing the availability of their 2015 ranges when we've yet to reach midsummer's day 2014. for there have been announcements relating to the cyclocross season that most of us haven't even considered considering. it was a velonews article regarding jeremy powers' plans for this year that first caught my attention, followed by the announcement of a uk cyclocross website happening this autumn and one or two tweets from cyclocross magazine.
my more usual modus operandi of a saturday bike ride had been to take the ibis hakkalugi for a joyous burst through bridgend woods during any inclement weather. however, given that pretty much every saturday since last december has proven to be precipitous, i have resorted to grinning and bearing it on smoother rubber. but all this unexpected 'cross activity has me now scheming to bring the 'cross bike forward from its place at the back of the bike shed and tire myself out pretending to be sven nys. in fact i now have the resolve to do so this coming saturday, no matter that yorkshire's grand depart has yet to fulfil its destiny
isn't change wonderful?
thursday 12 june 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in my late teenage years, i had a summer job in an airport which was great fun at times, but nowhere near as exciting as any films or books that i may have read involving aeroplanes or airports. if there was international subterfuge taking place, i was entirely oblivious to it all. however, one of the advantages, apart from seven-day banking, was the existence of a large newsagent selling not only the regular fare, but publications intended to appeal to the international jetsetter.
such as myself, now that you come to mention it.
those days involved daily purchase of the times newspaper, a rather illustrious publication prior to purchase by rupert murdoch, after which, it became very hard to read. but the gem amongst the mundane was a small paperback of science fiction stories entitled analog. due to it being an american publication, its arrival on the airport newstand was somewhat erratic, a fact that only added to the thrill of the chase.
good science fiction in my opinion, is every bit as valuable as that forming prescribed reading in english literature, though it goes with the territory that the quality varied from chapter to chapter. it was the real spaceship and battlecruiser stories that constituted the pinnacle of the genre as far as i was concerned; the very same pinnacle that had a heavily pregnant mrs washingmachinepost and i many years, later sat in the odeon cinema for a showing of all three original star wars movies. however, in those analog days, aside from having unilaterally agreed on use of the word parsecs and the existence of several levels of light speed, there was the inevitable force-field or shield.
this was mostly an invisible envelope of protection surrounding any given space vehicle, one that would always be on standby to repel boarders. quite why these needed to be invisible, i was (and still am) rather unsure, for any invading or defending entity seemed always able to assess whether the shields were up or down. i daresay the latter knowledge saved several million credits on unnecessarily wasting photon torpedoes.
bear in mind my initiation into the world of the sci-fi short story was taking place in the late 1970s, each and every author seemed to contend that by the 21st century, invisible force fields would be ten a penny and we'd have great difficulty turning round without banging into one. of course, there were a great deal of sci-fi predictions that have so far failed to come close, let alone true. who, for instance, would have believed we'd still be riding bicycles rather than driving wheel-less vehicles with jet engines, hovering several metres above ground? did nobody ever watch the jetsons?
thankfully, the bicycle is every bit as much a part of daily life as many of us would like it to be, a vehicle that has morphed from steel, through aluminium, titanium, carbon and back to steel once more. depending on where one is domiciled, and in view of the continued absence of invisible force-fields, each and every variation still requires some sort of protection, though more from the elements than wayward photon torpedoes. and that, currently, is where redant precision cleaners come into their own.
offered in two parts (cleaner and protector), the three variations, distinguished by differing colours of label, provide a total solution for titanium, carbon and matt frames. quite why there are none for steel or aluminium, i'm not quite sure. in the absence of a titanium frame in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, i applied that designated protection to my steel frames. after all, they're both metals and if you don't tell, neither will i. the matt remains unused until an appropriately finished review model arrives at some time in the future.
the general idea is to spray the frame all over with the larger can of cleaner, leaving for two or three minutes before washing off with clean water, perhaps putting a bit of elbow grease into those sheep droppings that have concreted themselves onto the underside of the down tube. once done, 'tis but a simple matter of spraying on the protector part of the equation, before rubbing to a rather attractive shine with a dry cloth. (obviously the latter does not apply to the matt product.) according to redant, the protection lasts for four weeks.
the latter i can pretty much attest to with regard to my two steel-framed bicycles. though the titanium product is not specific to a more ferrous metal, it does seem to work rather well, for the finish has remained bright and shiny, with a noticeable reduction in all sorts of guff sticking to their nether regions. i have also prepared my colnago c40 in similar manner, but due to its lack of mudguards, it has not been dragged out of repose to suffer the same slings and arrows of outrageous fortune endured by its steel brethren.
it is perhaps an obvious statement to point out that it will take more than a couple of months to test the veracity of redant's claims, though they're currently looking rather prophetic i have to say. in the absence of steel specific protection, i'd happily endorse the titanium for that very purpose, and i'll get back to you on the carbon duo. cost appears to be circa £9.99 per can, and though regular application of soap and water will keep your bike clean, from personal experience, it doesn't prevent bits of your expensive carbon frame from succumbing to sea salt and peat dust corrosion. i'm rather hoping the redant protection will improve on that.
wednesday 11 june 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
many years ago, when islay not only had sufficient cyclists to undertake time-trialling, but some left over to act as start/finish marshals and timekeeper, we'd put ourselves through hebridean purgatory between bowmore's round church and islay international airport. and, of course, back again. this distance had some affiliation with the regular ten miles we'd read about in the comic each week; in our estimation, it was close enough for jazz. this is a temperament eeked out each day and encapsulated beautifully by david adams, tour guide at laphroaig distillery: "on islay, everything is manana, only not quite so hurried."
on hearing last week that alex dowsett had reduced the british national record for such a distance, i could only remark that he'd have had a hard time being that quick over the 'islay ten'.
the mighty dave t is a former resident of nottingham and almost a lifelong cyclist. on moving to the principality it was not an unforeseen event that he'd nip out for a bike ride, during which it was even less of an unforeseen eventuality that he would be rained upon. or, as in this case, hailed upon. correctly figuring that this hailstorm would last only minutes, he decided the best course of action was to take temporary shelter, bringing to light the bete noir of any islay velocipedinist; there is no shelter.
our former ten mile time-trial course fulfilled that same predicament. once you've left the environs of bowmore, just past the laggan bridge, the road is wide open to whatever takes it's fancy to drop upon you from a great height. and inevitably wind-assisted. this would have been an almost equitable state of affairs had we been talking about a headwind out and tailwind home, but more often than not, that galeforce wind hits from the side, meaning that throughout those ten miles(ish) it was omnipresent.
i do so hope alex is paying attention.
having recently reviewed michael barry's shadows on the road, one of the more memorable phrases uttered by his first coach was to keep pedalling hard in a time-trial "until you see jesus". i'm eternally grateful that the gentleman was not my cycling coach, for that sounds way too much like hard work. i have generally only ridden hard enough to see one or two black spots in front of my eyes, and then only on very rare occasions. now that i'm well past the point of even having need of repeating the word competitive, i have found the ideal pragmatic solution. one that brings new meaning to not peaking too soon.
the happy folks at this is cambridge would appear to have provided themselves with the ideal means of keeping the wolf from the door by offering a very attractive range of cycling caps. not only is there a special edition tdf sunflower cap, thoughtfully coloured in yellow and black (i wonder where they got that idea from?), but it forms part of a new range entitled panache, one of which features a fluorescent yellow underside to the peak speckled with large black dots. powering along at the speed du jour it is therefore simplicity itself to raise one's eyes heavenward and see a verisimilitude of the very black dots i mentioned earlier.
it is in your own interests that i point out the remainder of the cap is fashioned from very black black brushed cotton, in a 'one-size-fits-all' as long as it's xs, s, m, l or xl. should black dots seem a less than appealing addendum to any bike ride, the peak is also available with blue sky and clouds, or rather more mysteriously, with the word boom, a la roy lichtenstein. i am firmly of the opinion that any helmet ought to sandwich a cotton cycling cap between head and polystyrene, almost always peak down. there are very few occasions in the hebrides when riding with the peak in the up position would be considered acceptable. fluoro yellow with black dots is, however, most acceptable.
i assume chris boardman's level four entailed black spots didn't it?
tuesday 10 june 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................