thewashingmachinepost




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interviews & features | dvds | equipment | clothing | books | videos | portland 2009

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this is cambridge
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tell them we sent you (part one)

somewhere in the world it's always going to be sunny, and the honed athlete will thus always be in need of an appropriate choice of designer/sports sunglasses. this link ought to do the trick.

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condor cycles ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

the mighty dave t's words of the week

the mighty dave t

"masters of the echelon."

©2014 the mighty dave t, is a prendas sponsored rider and le patron of the thoroughly decent fellows. the mighty dave t recommends purple harry products

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dromarti ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

shiny

grimaldi forum, monaco

rationality scarcely comes into it. there are few of us who would be satisfied with a lack of functionality in our velocipedinal activities. where would be the point in having eleven sprockets on the rear wheel if only four or five of them were available at any given time? or inner-tubes that held air pressure for a morning at a time. we expect the modern bicycle to operate in a prescribed manner, something which even the cheapest manages to achieve for at least a few weeks after purchase.

it is also something of a truism that many a functional component will fulfil the intended function every bit as well as its more expensive brethren, though in many cases it may wear itself out in a shorter period of time. from this knowledge comes the phrase 'buy cheap, buy twice.' however, as manufacturing and design techniques become ever more efficient, those lower cost items may offer their big brothers and sisters something of a run for their money in the value stakes, bringing into question the necessity of choosing campagnolo record over chorus, or dura-ace over ultegra.

but marketing only partially explains the difference.

grimaldi forum, monaco

it is often assumed that professional riders will use whatever it is they are given and to a certain extent that is true. but you need only learn to appreciate the extensive lengths to which manufacturers will go to satisfy those professional demands to realise that their situation is nowhere near as onerous as bald facts might suggest. for the rest of us, owning top-end shininess is a matter of conceit, arrogance or a healthy disposable income.

the so-called 'law of diminishing returns' dictates, in our case, that the less weight we wish to feature about the carbon frames in the bike shed, the more it is likely to cost. there are good, honest reasons for this, mostly allied to the expense of quality materials or increased costs of development. but it would be a hard sell to our better halves to state that we absolutely needed to have that 30 gram carbon chainring or titanium stem bolts to save just over half an ounce. it really, honestly doesn't matter if ascending alpe d'huez takes a few more minutes (or hours) than it took marco pantani.

but that doesn't mean we don't want those things. and i mean really want.

to satisfy our demands in this respect, even if it only amounts to international window shopping, there exists 'like bike monte carlo' taking place over easter weekend, 3 to 5 april. and let's face it, if you can afford to go to monte carlo over easter weekend, the prices of some of the luxuries on display probably won't phase you in the least.

like bike criterium

items such as the malle bicyclette by parisian purveyor of luxury luggage, moynat. the bicycle, a fairly standard looking roadster with sprung leather saddle and swept back handlebars features a custom made picnic trunk up front containing porcelain goblets along with plates and cutlery. unsurprisingly only made to order, your bank account will be lessened by a humbling £33,659. and to think i was concerned at the £12 cost of a campagnolo chainring bolt.

naturally enough, there are far more bankruptcy opportunities to be found in monaco's grimaldi forum including a carbon hybrid bicycle by italian designer romolo stanco (no, me neither), a veritable snip at £13,389 and several other machines at less breathtaking prices. some might even use the word economical, were they not to factor in the £200 plus per night room cost at one of the exhibition's partner hotels. and if you need something to take your mind off all the money you've spent/not spent, there's always the accompanying cycle race.

i'm all for a smidgeon of luxury as i wend my pelotonic way across the hebridean highways and byeways, but i believe i might prefer to occupy the lower rungs of the mastercard ladder, thank you very much.

like bike monte carlo

thursday 5 march 2015

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rouleur issue 51 ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

bookworm

bookshelves

only a couple of years after arriving on islay, i obtained a brief 'bout of employment with the census folks, traipsing round the houses of bowmore handing out the necessary forms before returning a few days later to either collect the completed pieces of paper or assist the elderly and uninitiated with any difficulties they may have experienced. a rather fine house just on the outskirts of the village in which an elderly gentleman lived alone was my last port of call. the impressively formally dressed gent invited me in to the study to clear up a couple of census questions and i was pretty much in awe of the filled bookshelves occupying three of the room's four walls.

ever since then, i have hankered after adorning the walls of washingmachinepost croft with something similar. in those far off days, the shelves would have been home to volumes on david bomberg, leon kossoff, paul cezanne, frank auerbach and whoever else in the art world i was impressed by at the time.

bookshelves

but i now find myself in the extremely fortunate position of receiving substantial numbers of cycling books for review on the post. you need only take a peek at the list ending this particular web page to realise how numerous those have become. though i still fail to comprehend the publishing world's need for introducing new books in hardback format when they'd almost undoubtedly sell more in paperback, that's the way it works. so almost every corner and cupboard of my abode creaks under the weight of hardback cycling tomes. though i've read them all, and scarcely have time to re-read any of them, i am extremely loathe to get rid of any of them.

you just never know.

the only practical solution i can think of, until such time as i can obscure the sitting room walls with bookshelves, would be to spend a day or two not only cataloguing the books in my possession, but creating either an index of where these books are located, or perhaps drawing a reasonably accurate map. i believe this is what, in common parlance, would be referred to as a 'round tuit'.

bookshelves

meantime, i was more than pleased to discover that the flemish cycling museum (wielermuseum) has posted a pdf on its website containing a bibliography of those books published on professional cycle racing in english. impressive as this may sound, it's even more impressive in pixelated reality. it features an annotated bibliography of the contents of each and its publishing history. a document such as this is likely perpetually out of date, for there will always be words in production simultaneous to the compilation of this excellent and totally free guide. however, though i have no confirmation that such will be the case, as a digital publication, there's no reason as to why it could not be regularly updated.

and it gets better still.

comprising two parts, the first features cycle racing books by listing them alphabetically by author or editor, while part two classifies titles by theme. i am similarly impressed by the tone of the e-mail i received from wilfried wilms advising me of this publication's existence. for other than mentioning that this is the first decent bibliography of cycle racing books published in english, mr wilms neglected to mention that he is one of the two authors, in tandem with michael gaze.

for any cycle fan with a desire to learn that which has been published on the world's greatest sport, this is a no-brainer. the words 'utterly' and 'brilliant' spring to mind.

download the bibliography here

wednesday 4 march 2015

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vulpine clothing ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

gardening leave

genus performance gardening wear

the current spell of weather has provided challenges all of its own. it's not that sub-zero cold galeforce winds are anything new, but even after two score years and then some, advancing years have made it a smidgeon harder to pedal hard enough in order to keep warm. every time xcweather advises that snow is inbound on those winds, it transpires that a better description would be hailstones (and ruddy great big ones yesterday lunchtime). and even with a peaked winter cap under the helmet, those little white chunks feel like frozen shotblasts.

tough critters that we are, it wouldn't be the first time that old adage 'there's no such thing as bad weather, only poor choice of clothing' is rolled out in order to create an immeasurable degree of superiority over those who decided to spend a morning on the turbo trainer indoors. hopelessly optimistic would be the cyclist with only one weight of cycling apparel in the wardrobe. aside from commercial concerns, there's a reason why the major suppliers offer spring/summer and autumn/winter ranges; across most of europe, the seasonal variations would mitigate against owning only one.

in this respect, it has long been my contention that cycling must surely be one, if not the best catered for activity in the western world. aside from each extensive range advertised online and in the periodicals, there are one heck of a number of international apparel providers, with seemingly more joining the fray each month. let's face it; cycling may be our whole world, but as part of the grand enchilada, it is a very small niche in what i believe to be an expanding universe.

genus performance gardening wear

but the $64,000 question has me wondering whether we are alone in our extravagant demands and welcome largesse. are the world's other activities as well provided for? is the sport of golf lacking any shockingly bright goretex plaid trousers or windproof pringle sweaters? are runners simply hardier and less complaining than the ordinary member of the pelotonese, quite happy to chunter along in shorts and a fluorescent yellow jacket? could it be that scuba divers need only a wetsuit or drysuit accompanied by a standard issue face mask?

i honestly don't know. and perhaps i'm insufficiently intrigued to make further investigations. or at least that would have been the case had i not chanced upon genus, a company offering 'performance garden wear'. with no disrespect intended, i was more than surprised to discover that gardening had need of performance clothing in the first place. so, in the interests of placing our own velocipedinal activities in some sort of perspective, i asked genus founder, sue o'neil, in the words of paul carrack, how long has this been going on?

"We set up in business in July 2012, and started the design and development process. We made our first sale in September 2013."

it is the very nature of entrepreneurship to scour the commercial world for what the vernacular would describe as a gap in the market. and if the calling to be an entrepreneur holds an irresistible pull, it may only require an extra sliver of legwork to create a gap where a gap previously didn't exist. sometimes, however, the gap finds you. in the context of gardening, had sue always been a keen gardener, or was this an opportunity that simply presented itself?

genus performance gardening wear

"I was a frustrated balcony gardener living in London flats for over 30 years. Eventually I took the plunge and moved out to the Cotswolds, to a 250 year old house and over an acre of garden. The garden had been neglected and I spent three years full-time bringing it back to life. It was during that period, when I was out in the garden for hours at a time, that I realised there was nothing suitable to wear. So I thought I'd fill the gap."

my brother was (and still is) into soccer, though i believe he may have realised the limitations of his athletic prowess and ceased spending every weekend kicking a ball up and down a field with 21 other guys. however, in his heyday (probably his late teens), i recall the kitchen featuring at least two pairs of football boots encrusted with mud and stuffed with scrunched-up newspaper. the washing machine meanwhile was filled with shorts, socks and jerseys, apparel required for the kicking process described above.

rightly or wrongly, i've never considered football clothing to inhabit the performance arena. though modernity may have altered the perspective and reality, polyester jerseys and shorts do not suggest any unique performance qualities that might minimise the discomfort brought on by over-exertion. but similarly, if questioned under duress, i'd have to admit that i never thought there would be a need for something classed as 'performance gardening wear'. does this show my ignorance in such matters, or is this a genre invented by genus?

"Most gardeners wear old clothes, but that's simply because there hasn't been anything that's perfect for gardening. Gardening is a physical activity involving bending, kneeling, stretching, walking and wielding heavy tools, and you do it outside in all weathers, so it's very like many other outdoor 'sports'.
"To give you an example, if you wear jeans to garden and it's wet, the denim becomes heavy, holds the water and chafes your skin. Genus gardening trousers use lightweight, showerproof, stretch fabrics and incorporate damp-proof seat panels, so if you sit on something wet you don't get a soggy bottom. They also have integrated, breathable, adjustable and waterproof knee pads."

genus performance gardening wear

if i work diligently all week, and keep up to date with my workload, there is always the possibility that i can play hooky on friday afternoons when the weather's reasonable, and ride down to deb's for a coffee. should i find myself thus fortunate, the ride is predominantly about the coffee rather than the luxury of the ride, so i'm less than endeared to assume my secret identity by changing into jersey, bibshorts and softshell jacket. thus, i generally opt to ride the taurus corinto, a cycle that allows me to maintain a civilian predisposition.

it seems a lot of unnecessary faff to raid the cycling wardrobe for a few moments of froth supping. concomitantly, i find it hard to visualise anyone finding it desirable or necessary to nip up to the wardrobe and change into gardening specific clothing for a sunday afternoon's mowing or pruning. does that actually happen?

"If you were just popping down to the shops on your bike to get the newspaper you might not change into your bibshorts. But if you were going on a 100km ride you would certainly want to be kitted out properly. It's just the same with gardeners. Actually, it's pretty difficult to do gardening in ten minute slots; most gardeners will allocate at least half a day at any one time. So yes, they do put on their gardening clothes."

lately, saturday mornings have been cyclocross mornings. this is not to suggest that my hours thus spent are resulting in any improved ability in that discipline, but just that i rather enjoy throwing myself about the undergrowth prior to heading south for an egg buttie and the desirable froth. though bridgend woods has its attractions, one of them isn't really the amount of mud it can harbour in its nooks and crannies. i agree wholeheartedly with benedict campbell's entitling of his superb cyclocross movie 'for the love of mud', but i'd really rather it didn't adhere with such tenacity to some of my best cycling clobber.

that svelte red softshell, those thermal winter bibtights and ever-fragile polychromatic rudy projects lose a substantial percentage of their 'too cool for school' presence when doused with sticky mud. the same could often be said about gardening (so i'm told by mrs washingmachinepost; yours truly couldn't grow weeds). even a cursory glance over the genus range for both male and female would alert you to its inherent stylishness. i honestly found it hard to believe that gardening could harbour such quality of sartorial demeanour. isn't genus clothing simply too good to get mucky in the garden?

genus performance gardening wear

"Not at all. Genus Gardenwear is designed to get mucky. I've noticed that gardeners come in two types: kneelers and benders, although a few will do both. Personally, I'm a kneeler and I will kneel right on the soil. At the end of the gardening day, I throw my trousers into the washing machine and because they're so quick drying, they're ready to go back out in the garden with me in the morning."

we have a relatively long-ranging, not entirely innocent banter that rages between those of us with the total lack of restraint to refrain from riding out in weather conditions that would be better viewed from indoors in front of a warm fire, and those with more sense. it all comes down to those who walk the walk as opposed to those simply intent on talking the talk. if you see what i mean. though i'd hardly classify the mighty dave t, lord carlos and myself as athletes, we do have a greater degree of perseverance than those afflicted with affectations and turbo trainers.

it would be unreasonable to suppose that gardening is composed purely of perennial enthusiasts, those for whom gardening is the be all and end all. there must surely be those for whom gardening is simply a means to an end, something to be endured rather than welcomed with open arms. in an effort to discern the genus customer base, what would be the difference between someone who simply potters about in the garden, and a performance gardener (so to speak)?

"I wouldn't suggest to owners of small patio gardens that Genus Gardenwear is the absolute must-have kit. The Genus gardener spends a lot of time gardening, so they often have large gardens in the country which they look after themselves; Genus customers are garden designers, they have garden maintenance businesses, or they own plant nurseries.
"We have customers who are volunteers at National Trust gardens, employed gardeners at country house hotels, and lots of allotmenteers. And we sell all over the world, particularly to countries that have a strong gardening culture such as the United States, Western Europe and Australia and New Zealand."

genus performance gardening wear

so, if sue has made it a bit clearer as to the folks likely to purchase genus clothing, by what criteria would she judge an item of gardening clothing to inherit the mantle ascribed by the word 'performance'?

"Clothing for gardening has to have features and functionality that makes gardening more comfortable and enjoyable. So, for example, the Genus 3-Season Gardening Trousers for Women and the All-weather Gardening Trousers for Men have the fabric, kneepads and damp-proof seat panels that I mentioned earlier.
"They also have lots of pockets, in particular two stab-proof pockets on the thighs that can hold sharp tools. I work in the garden with a pair of secateurs in the right-hand pocket and a very sharp hori-hori knife in the left-hand pocket, I can bend, kneel, and move in all directions and still feel perfectly safe, while the tools are near to hand and I don't lose them.
  There is an ingenious mobile-phone pocket tucked into the small of the back, rather like cycling clothing I suppose. That way, the phone is accessible and totally protected if you're bending, kneeling or sitting. The other pockets are specially designed to take gardening paraphernalia such as string, seed packets and labels. The trousers have a raised back waistband so when you bend you don't get 'builders bum' and also press studs on the bottom of the trouser legs so you can cinch them to get into Wellington boots more easily."

i recall joining a twitter conversation last year that centred around whether it was socially acceptable to go shopping of a saturday morning dressed in a football jersey. the majority maintained that though commonplace, walking into debenhams dressed in a rangers or celtic top was hardly a demonstration of sartorial elegance. however, it appears it may be more tolerable or seen as less eccentric than wearing an endura movistar team jersey. quite why, i know not, though it may be due to football's impingement on seemingly every aspect of daily life, particularly when compared to the cycling milieu.

however, the genus range of garden clothing only subtly advertises its true purpose in life, featuring niceties that would likely only be apparent to a fellow gardener. it strikes me that the entire range would look every bit as good when worn in full public view as it would concealed behind hedgerows and fencing, or following a motor mower around a great expanse of grass. is that deliberate?

sue o'neill

"Yes. Our challenge is to convince gardeners to chuck out their old clothes and wear Genus Performance Gardenwear. The more stylish we make our clothes the more persuasive they are. And we don't sacrifice any of the performance."

washingmachinepost croft is not possessed of acres of garden. that at the rear offers enough space to hang out the washing, while the front affords those children in the care of mrs washingmachinepost enough room to bounce on a trampoline, throw balls at a basketball hoop or kick a football. our most extensive garden-based expedition involved weatherproofing the garden fence during sunnier days last august. i don't mind offering the opinion that, had i come across genus at that point, i'd have leapt at the opportunity.

if the hebridean weather has proven intractable for potential cyclists, it would be true to say it is hardly making itself amenable to the gardening fraternity. but i'd be willing to suppose that amongst the greater peloton, there are those who will occupy at least a weekend or two past easter digging about in the garden. if we're often accused of being overly concerned with our performance apparel and style on the bike, it's only a short step to extend that to the apparently disassociated activity of gardening.

and that's oddly comforting.

genus performance garden wear

tuesday 3 march 2015

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powered by hippo technology

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clement las clincher cyclocross tyres

clement las clincher

it has, so far, been a particularly wet winter in the inner hebrides. wet enough, that really not an awful lot has been happening in the world of agriculture; at least nothing much when it comes down to growing stuff. but since all the bumpy bits are round the edges of the island, leaving much of it pretty much flat and exposed to the weather, flooded fields have been notable by their preponderance.

my morning walk on a road bordered by several fields has been made more problematical by the farms and estates occupying their time in attempting to improve the drainage of said fields. for when the weather picks up (who am i kidding?) and they all decide it would be in their best interests to grow barley for a few of the local distilleries, all will go far more swimmingly (if you'll pardon the pun) if the water is where it should be.

unfortunately this has led to a surfeit of kubota and mitsubishi excavators sitting expectantly near the gates, having covered large portions of the road with the mud traipsed from the last field they were in. and it's not just the road near the croft; though the surface between ballinaby and saligo would hardly win any awards for flatness, it now bears the added frisson of large clumps of muddy earth joining together to make a particularly slippery surface.

clement las clincher

and then there's the road only brought out of retirement on special occasions. this may seem like something of an eccentricity, but truthfully roads such as this are generally only frequented by farm traffic and loitering herds of cattle. invariably there are other ways to reach the same destination by avoiding these tributaries, but if reviewing wheels and/or tyres, there's little to beat their crappiness. turning a negative into a positive.

clement's las cyclocross clincher tyres are specified for wet grass and hardpack. the former i have in abundance, the latter not so much at this time of year. however, the relatively flat 33mm width featuring a finely grafted nail-file tread rolls very well on both smooth and less smooth road surfaces, allowing the 'cross bike to garner a few more months of use now that the season is officially over 'till autumn. though the las (named after las vegas airport code) actually acquitted themselves rather well in light mud, the squishier stuff left both them and yours truly foundering a bit more than desirable.

however, my purpose in reviewing was mostly to investigate the appropriateness of the the tyres while wading through and over the agricultural crap that will infest more than just a few of our roadways between now and when the weather becomes more mediterranean like. it has not gone totally unnoticed that the route circumnavigating loch gorm on islay's west coast more closely resembles a track than a road. combining a reduced roads budget with a seeming inability of the roads department to effect anything other than seriously mediocre repairs, i doubt i'm the only one who has noted that a 'cross bike is a tad more practical than cambiago's finest.

clement las clincher

though knobbly 'cross tyres offer the inestimable advantage of sounding like a land-rover with the volume turned down, the las clinchers offer far less rolling resistance and, at times, utter silence on the few patches of smooth surface left in existence. the more knobbly sections on the shoulders of the tyre, pretty much the same as clement's pdx 'cross tyre, offer the more intrepid rider the ideal traction when tipping over for fast cornering. i'm not usually given to exploring the outer reaches of traction when cornering, but such was the confidence inspired in this instance that, from a distance and through fogged lenses, i would almost have seemed competent.

there's no way that clinchers can compete with tubulars in terms of low pressures over rough ground. i did run these at 25psi, but the rocky hill climb in bridgend woods threatened to do more damage than would have been offset by any apparent improvement in grip. for sanity and peace of mind, 30psi seems a more favourable and practical minimum.

clement las clincher

the grass bit was easy enough to accomplish. there's a 4km stretch of the stuff between uiskentiue farm and foreland road end which i adjudged the ideal route. what i hadn't counted on was their staging of muck spreading. the first part had been done several weeks ago and was thus suitably inert for perambulation without folks moving their seats further away at debbie's later in the day. what i'd not paid attention to was their having spread the second part the day previous to my excursion. though the tyres acquitted themselves admirably in the face of a mucky adversity, the flying detritus is unlikely to be patented by lynx anytime soon.

cyclocross bikes have a perceived usefulness that extends to both commuting and weekend leisure rides. though the clement tyres are undoubtedly closer to the serious end of the market at around £30 each, they'd be ideal for country roaming where the odd gravel or farm track might form part of the equation. and if tubulars are not high on your racing priorities, they are more than equal to the task of heading more quickly towards the finish line on less gooey circuits.

as recommended by the cows at west carrabus.

clement las clincher cyclocross tyre | clement tyres are distributed in the uk by 2pure

monday 2 march 2015

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design by numbers

rapha data print

in 2007, as i prepared to ride the hot chillee londres-paris, the nice people at nokia offered to lend me a mobile phone with their latest gps tracking software for review. i spent a morning with their public relations people having the operation of the phone explained to me, a real necessity since i am still bereft of a mobile to this day.

rapha data print

it turned out to be a case of 'close, but no cigar', as the bungee cord fastening it to the bars obscured the buttons required to pause and restart. add to that the fact that the battery gave up the ghost after six hours into an eight hour ride, and you can perhaps see why i failed to give it a glowing review.

however, on my return to euston station, with nokia having kindly provided a substantial amount of pay-as-you-go pennies, none of which had been used in the process of riding my bicycle, i proceeded to send a text to mrs washingmachinepost to advise of my safe return. unfortunately, as a mobile phone agnostic, i had no idea how to place a space between words, resulting in a text containing probably the longest word in the english language.

only a matter of days later, apple released the first iteration of their iphone in a form factor that pretty much no-one saw coming.

nowadays, finding someone with the old-style phones, with a square screen at the top and a tactile keyboard below seems so old fashioned. pretty much every manufacturer very quickly produced a phone featuring a full-size touch-screen, though nokia has since been subsumed by microsoft and re-named lumia. but even in the world of moore's law and endless technological advancement, it would take a brilliant chunk of lateral thinking to bring something totally unexpected to market in this age of 'seen it all before'.

rapha data print

however, in a far less groundbreaking field and pertaining to a considerably smaller audience, rapha's recently released 'data print' could also be described as something that few folks saw coming. the endless round of spring/summer and autumn/winter clothing releases that occupy the fashion industry can often seem simply an excuse for new colours applied to existing products. though innovation continues apace, it surely does no harm to refresh the existing ranges with impressive new colour combinations.

but rapha's recent pro-team release, including a short sleeve jersey, arm screens, cap, baselayer et al, features a striking graphic created by design studio accept and proceed, gleaned from sky rider peter kennaugh's race data from 2013's tour de france. though others, notably massif central, have produced data driven graphics, this is the first time i believe such has been applied to an item of cycle clothing. though there can surely be a preconceived notion as to what sort of graphic is required, the specific details can only be ultimately described by the original data.

rapha data print

to find out more about the graphic's origination, i asked accept and proceed's matthew jones how they went about converting the data from kennaugh's tour into the graphic featured on the jersey. was it a manual effort or was some inscrutable piece of software employed?

"It's a manual effort, actually. I'm sure you could write an algorithm, but we're not coders. We simply plot the data through a series of  visual filters, and see which one works best with the data set. We aim to have a dramatic shape each time and different numbers work with different filters."

in an effort to better educate myself as to the joys of data driven infographics, i rummaged around on the interweb to find software that did as it was bid by the numbers. though i have a past and present in the world of graphic design, i'm not sure i like the thought of handing over my flimsy design skills to a sequence of numbers i barely understand. rapha data print however, there's no denying it's an intriguing approach to the representational milieu. but it's the perceived lack of human control that would concern me. did matthew have ultimately control over the graphic presence of the processed information? in other words, was the final intent already in place before the process began?

"Yes. We always create a 'sketch' to test whatever filter we will apply to the data. Often we have the end graphic in mind, and try to create a suitable pattern to fit the information it's displaying. With the Rapha data pattern we tried a number of different effects, including circular looking graphs before settling on the final one. It has a look of both speed and tyre tracks."

rapha data print

of course, the unwritten laws of brand management dictate that it is generally insufficient to merely offer anodyne illustrations of the available products on a website. doing so in isolation is rarely inconsequential, but often lacks the impact of a photo shoot and accompanying video. in this respect, the collaboration between rapha and accept and proceed did not disappoint.

clocking up just over ten years as first call rapha photographer, ben ingham met up with peter kennaugh to photograph the sky rider in his new data print kit aboard a matching white pinarello in hong kong. this, i confess, struck me as a tad extravagant; surely there was a location closer to home in which mr kennaugh could have been photographed? after all, ben ingham's photography looks pretty darned amazing no matter the nationality of scenery providing a backdrop. rapha's james rapha data print fairbank explained that "The arrival of our samples often forces us into the Southern Hemisphere in search of relevant weather. Ben and I were shooting near Wanaka, in New Zealand's deep south and thought that Hong Kong would be the perfect backdrop for the Data Print pattern. Hong Kong's also a pretty incredible place to ride a bike, topping out at almost 500 metres."

not as pretentious a location as i thought.

and so to the video. if you've not already viewed this, i'd suggest taking a quick click over to vimeo to see of which i speak. though it only lasts 37 seconds, in combination with the jersey and ben's photos, it is the cutting edge of contemporary icing on the cake. how did matthew at accept and proceed manage to create such a stunning effect?

rapha data print

"The video was created in a combination of After Effects and Cinema 4D. We modelled a 3D rider and mimicked cyclists' gestures as the basis of the film, then mapped the chevron design to the movements.

i didn't see any of that coming.

the jersey itself is every bit as good as expected from rapha's pro-team range. like all the clothing emanating under that moniker, it lives very close to your shape; when zipped top to bottom, there's not a square centimetre of flappage to be seen. it works very well over the top of the recently released softshell baselayer, since the sleeve length obscures even the latter's lengthy softshell sleeves.

rapha data print

i'll not fib; the weather up here is way too cold to be riding around in a short sleeve jersey. that delight will probably have to wait until the month of july is heading tha calendar. however, sandwiched between a pro-team softshell and the aforementioned baselayer demonstrates a flattering versatility. the screened fluorescent pink/orange pro-team logo (the data print is dye sublimated) contrasts very well with the monochrome print, adding a welcome touch of colour at the same time.

the print, though bold, looks the absolute business and despite its graphic heritage, not in the least contrived. my only complaint regarding the jersey is the complete lack of a fourth, zipped pocket in which to conceal my coffee money. but i suppose for the professionals, that's what the team car is for. though it features not my club colours, the rationale behind the softshell baselayer was convincingly confirmed.

it seems that agglomeration of data may well be the future after all.

accept and proceed | rapha data print range | top photo by ben ingham

sunday 1 march 2015

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ensure you're insured

insurance

at one early point in my career of figuring out what i wanted to be when i grew up, i briefly worked for hertz car rental. part of this employment involved driving rental cars to the nearest filling station to top up the tanks, the quickest way from the garage to the pumps being the old main road that used to cross the runway at prestwick airport (i kid you not). in the process of driving a brand new vehicle for fuel, a young lad on a mountain bike came skidding out of a side road, causing me to brake very hard to avoid hitting him. unfortunately, as he came to a slithering halt, the bike and rider fell over, the brake lever scraping along the side of the car.

insurance

not a pretty sight.

we contacted the parents, not for the purpose of issuing a stern lecture, but to assure them he was ok and explain the circumstances of the accident. hertz's insurance picked up the tab for a partial respray; as i recall, the parents did not at anytime suggest even a contribution towards the situation. go figure.

many years ago, matt seaton's late lamented two wheels column in the guardian newspaper brought to my attention the fact that the majority of britain's cyclists are bereft of any form of insurance, even third party cover that would have taken care of the above situation. you and i both know that had such an accident involved an adult on a bike, the outcome would have been somewhat different. like the majority, at the time, i too had no insurance.

insurance

i do not possess the bike-handling skills of even the average professional, and certainly not those of cyclocrossers or danny macaskill. therefore, there still exists the possibility that in a moment of inattention i might carelessly ride into a stationary motor car or inadvertantly knock over a pedestrian when navigating from shore street to main street. granted, i pre-suppose no blame attached to either party, but if it was my fault, financially and legally, i might be well and truly stuffed. third party insurance couldn't do any harm.

fortunately, both the cyclists' touring club and british cycling offer insurance for just such a purpose as part of their annual membership. my cheque was in the post the following morning. it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle without holding at least third-party insurance, so in this case, why should cyclists be any different?

insurance

a recent european legal case may alter at least a part of the landscape in this respect for better or worse, dependent on your point of view.

damijan vnuk, a slovenian resident fell from a ladder after it was hit by a reversing tractor trailer. because the incident took place on private property, the motor insurers refused to honour the claim, on the basis that the vehicle was being used as an agricultural machine'. last september the european court of justice ruled that vnuk's accident should have been covered by compulsory vehicle insurance. the implication of this ruling now means that motor insurance will be required to cover vehicles driven in all situations, not just on the public highways. that apparently includes even petrol grass mowers.

insurance

while i note several quizzical looks as to how this affects the non-motorised cyclist, you may breathe a sigh of relief, because currently in the world of the velocipede, nothing has changed. nothing, that is, unless you ride an electric or e-bike. for the subsequent eu directive extends the definition to 'any motor vehicle intended for travel on land and propelled by mechanical power.'. you may note no discrimination between an electric, diesel or petrol motor.

currently the e-bike market is still a minor percentage of the total uk bicycle market, and i'm not sure that's likely to change much in the near future. however, how long before the eu decides that 'mechanical power' includes the efforts you and i are keen to improve upon during the weekend training rides? it seems to me that it would hardly be iniquitous to classify pedalling a bicycle in this manner.

i can't help thinking, however, that this might be no bad thing. annual membership of bc or ctc including insurance, hovers at around £35 per annum, and still seems like a prudent choice for any cyclist whether you cover thousands of miles per year, or simply nip to the shops on a saturday morning. for the time being, however, doing so is still optional.

saturday 28 february 2015

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the launch that faced a thousand ifs

team sky launch

this year in september will see the sevententh running of the islay jazz festival, an annual event in which i am both honoured and surprised to be the only musician to have participated in every year since its inception. until last year, that prestige belonged also to brazilian bass player mario caribe, but due to a coincidental touring schedule, he was unable to appear, leaving me as last man standing. i am under no illusion that this situation has arisen purely on instrumental merit, but more likely on the basis of local inclusion. however, if i were in need of an impressive cv should larry goldings be seeking a drummer for his next tour, 16 jazz festivals and counting surely wouldn't do any harm.

across all those years, the schedule has been pretty much the same. i receive an e-mail offering a set fee for the gig, along with a date and place for both sound-check and subsequent concert. on the appointed date, i arrive as early as possible to setup my drums before the sound crew arrive to place microphones close to those instruments which require a modicum of amplification. we then proceed to approximate the very tunes with which we intend to regale the audience that very afternoon or evening, before heading into the village to find something to eat.

team alpecin launch

each year i usually find myself and colleagues sharing the stage with a more prestigious name in the jazz milieu. these more esteemed artists often follow on from our own performance, though on occasion, they precede us (eminently more satisfying for the ego). either way, someone from the organisers will announce us to expectant aficionados of the rudimentary, and we make our way onto the stage. the next part has confounded me since the days i first sat behind a drumset in public.

the audience applaud.

though this is hardly an unpleasant situation, considering we have yet to play a single note, i cannot quite fathom the purpose behind the applause. admittedly, it's far more welcoming than a barrage of rotten fruit or perhaps cultivated indifference, but it does rather place the onus on us as a group of musicians to fulfil an unknown set of expectations. the discovery of that reality is generally only found at the end of the performance, when an absence of clapping would be considerably more worrying.

the simile to this in the world of professional cycling surely has to be the team launch. no doubt of great embarrassment to the members of whichever group of riders are being presented at any given time, these extravaganzas of varying import and expense are probably at the behest of the team sponsors, offering an opportunity to demonstrate their allegiance to the cause. of course, there's also the likelihood that the team owners have assembled this cast of characters to prove the veracity of their sponsors' choice.

uhc team launch

either way, i can't help cringeing whenever the more salubrious of our world tour teams take to the stage in full team kit, podium caps and shiny trainers. this cringeing lessens not one whit when the smaller teams, racing for buttons and carbon fibre appear in front of a flashlit studio backdrop wearing whatever they put on that morning. preferably something athletic looking.

at the risk of revisiting my usual bah humbug, and incorporating my eternal dislike of pre and post race punditry, can we not simply watch the racing and literally or metaphorically applaud when velocipedinal deeds of derring do meet our desires? it's called cycle-racing because that's what it is; yes it has its stars, but everyone is in the same race at the same time, so can we please refrain from emulating gerry cottle's circus and get back to sporting prowess?

that would be worth applauding.

sky launch photo: bryn lennon/getty images europe

friday 27 february 2015

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wheel meet again...

wheelsmith

my appreciation of all things bicycle was pretty much led by richard's bicycle book, a paperback held in great esteem and composed, compiled and authored by the late great richard ballantine. it's the book i wish i had read before i bought my first ten-speed racer, because i managed to get all ten of those gears completely wrong. if you plan to tour the world (i could have if i'd wanted to), 42/52 with trouser guard married to a freewheel with only a 21 big sprocket was definitely not the ideal setup.

however, midst all the exciting possibilities offered in each chapter, there were one or two scary bits too, particularly in the sections dealing with the often intricate mechanical niceties. for instance, though i do not have my copy easily to hand, i recall mr ballantine warning the unwary that, in the days of cup and cone bottom brackets, removing either of those cups was likely to result in a flurry of quarter-inch bearings decorating the floor. this accompanied by the likelihood of several making their way underneath stuff they should not be found underneath.

sugar wheelworks

not entirely comprehending that of which he wrote, i left any form of bottom bracket maintenance till the very last.

however, contemporary assembly techniques of the day meant that the prospect of those loose bearings was lessened by the imposition of bearing races. fewer bearings i'll admit, but now not only allegedly simpler to assemble in the factory, but ultimately simpler for the ham-fisted home mechanic. this was certainly my first introduction to the necessities of mass production.

nowadays there are all sorts of aspects of the bicycle that bear the marks of the far east and a means of putting everything together more easily. nowhere is this more marked than in the field of factory-built wheels. though the genre may have begun elsewhere, the most obvious progenitor of the factory-build was mavic's ksyrium. while the french firm had previously offered complete wheels of a classics mold, featuring their own cartridge bearing hubs laced three-cross to a sturdy pair of mavic rims with regular double-butted stainless steel spokes. ksyrium changed all that; a competitive wheel that could be machine built.

wheelsmith

featuring flat and straight zircal spokes affixed to the profiled rim via a proprietary, serrated nipple, the inside of the rim was effectively sealed. the construction methods were designed to allow for machine assembly and initial truing, and the concept proved remarkably popular, fostering a whole slew of me too products. nowadays it's possible to acquire factory-built wheels of pretty much every flavour, frequently featuring lashings of carbon fibre. it is, as they say, the modern way.

but while all this was going on, with professional riders regularly seen aboard the latest from someone's factory line, what happened to the handbuilt wheel, once the mainstay of the upper echelons of cycle racing and touring? had the nation's wheelbuilders simply folded up their truing stands, thrown away the wheel disher and pocketed their spoke keys?

derek mclay occupies his daily hours hand-building wheels under the banner of wheelsmith in larbert, scotland, near stirling. meanwhile, jude gerace of sugar wheelworks, builds superlative wheels in portland, oregon, so it seemd pertinent to ask them both whether there was still room in the modern world of cycling for the handbuilt wheel?

sugar wheelworks

"In terms of volume" said derek, "and compared to the percentage of cyclists owning handbuilts years ago, it might seem like a dying art. however, the more people ride their bikes, the more they often realise the wheels fitted to their bikes aren't up to their demands."

jude concurs but perhaps for different reasons. "We've noticed an increase in hand-built wheels particularly when we have to deliver the unfortunate news that a repair is not possible because a part is no longer made. It's not just the economic quandary of a new set, but now what happens to the rest of the wheel when a small part is missing?
"I think more than ever there is room for hand-built wheels and the connected values they have with them: they're sustainable, they're repairable, and the performance is in line with an individual rider's needs, versus a 'one size fits all' solution."

take a look through any of the online cycle sales channels, and you'll find more factory-built wheels to choose from than you could ever imagine. granted, many of them seem like the same wheel but with different graphics on the rim, making it even harder to make a prudent choice within your budget. and you needn't consider contacting the manufacturer to ask if perhaps you could have a couple of spokes fewer on the front, or a rim that's a couple of millimetres shallower than that advertised. that is not the way it works. for that sort of customisation, you'd need a wheelbuilder.

wheelsmith

but apart from price, why would i ask either derek or jude to build me a pair of wheels rather than make my choice from the catalogues?

"At Sugar, what you get is a small shop that cares. A shop that knows the vendors and can advocate for you and that cares about you even after you've finalized a sale. Many companies stop caring when the product leaves the factory."
"According to Derek "The main thing is, they will perform and feel a lot better. That comes from choosing the right number of spokes for the rim and the type of spoke, using hubs that are designed to operate as hubs, and not make a design statement or try to be different for the sake of it. One other thing is 'repairability'. We've given up with some factory wheel repairs due to the time required to fix them."
"When we get the balance right, and you are up to speed on a properly tensioned pair of hand-built wheels, there is that feeling that they were made just for you. Like a custom frame does."

in the face of this knowledge, and it's hardly a well-kept secret, you have to wonder why the factory option is so often chosen. granted, many of today's bicycles arrived with factory-built wheels straight from the shop floor. it would make less than economic sense to ship scottish or portland built wheels all the way to taiwan to fit at source. and to be honest, both jude and derek would struggle to supply the demand, even if they joined forces and worked all night. rather a lot of cyclists are more than happy with their shop purchase.

at least until they aren't.

sugar wheelworks

but could it be that the big boys such as mavic, campagnolo, zipp, fulcrum et al have the money to provide the professionals with their products. and seen on the international stage, there could surely be a case of 'if they've got it, i want it'.

derek figures that to some extent this is true. "Given the number of wheels a team gets through in the grand tours or even lower ranking professional use, it would be too costly and time consuming to get their wheels hand-built." some may say that this was hardly the case in eddy's day, when every team's wheels were hand-built. so what's changed? well, the teams are considerably larger nowadays thanks to the world tour, and there's no denying that it's a simpler logistic to ship out a few more factory wheels when needed. added to that, riders today have a wider choice of which wheels they have fitted to their bikes depending on terrain, weather, parcours etc. eddy just rode 32 three-cross for everything.

jude figures wanting to look like the pros is a large part of the equation. "But pro riders are just a small fraction of the number of people that ride bikes, however. There are a lot of really good riders that aren't sponsored that want a product that will work for them and have a long life."

wheelsmith

i made reference above to the preponderance of rotating carbon fibre nowadays, a feature that seems to go hand in hand with the increased number of factory-built wheels on the market. it would be naive to think wheels of this description are the sole preserve of the machines, but technically, is it possible for derek, jude or other skilled wheelbuilders to compete at the more exotic and carbon end of the equation?

jude says that sugar are working on that. "There are many ways we can have a slice of the pie. One way is knowing about these wheels so that we can offer repairs for when they need servicing. Another way is to offer aesthetic customization of our product line and thirdly, to exploit the values of a hand-built wheel, which is hard, but we're slowly making that happen."
derek has an outlook every bit as positive. "Yes. For example we use ENVE rims regularly and offer a few hub options that take the wheels into exotic territory. But the Taiwanese rims are nearly as good now, in all respects, so we can build something which is much more durable and just as light as that which would have been termed 'exotic' a few years ago."

however, he holds a healthy attitude towards such exotica. "Some of the exotic low-volume hubs and rims on the market don't actually work for very long and that's difficult to get over to someone who expects everything to last longer if they paid more money for it. There is a threshold, and it becomes disappointing for them when we refuse to build that way."

sugar wheelworks

in the heyday of richard's bicycle book, aside from the cheap steel rims laced with galvanised steel spokes, the cycling world revolved on carefully hand-built wheels. granted they may not have been specifically matched to the rider, but their resilience, repairability and ease of acquiring spare parts made them ubiquitous, popular and effective. things have changed somewhat since then. can the handbuilt wheel regain its lost market?

The market has always been there, but if the market is always 'I want it because the pros have it' then no." says derek. "For the majority of riders who ride a few sportives a year and a few thousand miles, cheap factory wheels will get them round if they maintain them. It's the 'don't fix what isn't broken' thing. But when they do break, or if you want something that can be really enjoyed for what it is and get the best out of your bike, a pair of hand-built wheels will do the job better for longer."

jude sees things slightly differently. "Our shop has never been as busy, so i might have a different perspective; i'm not sure.  I'm in it to win it and will always do my very best to give hand-built wheels a 'voice' in this industry. Maybe we'll eke out a good living or maybe we'll be faced with the inevitable truth of having to close our doors. But one thing I know is that it's well worth the effort of advocating hand-built wheels."

wheelsmith/graeme obree

for derek, probably echoing similar sentiments from jude "It is rewarding for us to see a pair of wheels going to someone we know will look after and enjoy them for years to come, maybe take them on holiday a few times, or win a few races. It's the feedback we get from these people keeps us going."

but then there's the learning curve that comes with aspiring to a pair of hand-built wheels from a local builder (or in my case, probably the one that's closest. though both the interweb and fedex often mean sugar wheelworks is every bit as close as wheelsmith.) unlike the prescribed components that form the factory-build, there are an inordinate number of hubs, spokes, rims with seemingly endless combinations and possibilities available to the inquisitor. if you are less than well-versed in the art of the bicycle wheel, where do you start? should you ask endless questions of your appointed builder? after all, how else will you learn?

while there is a degree of reality involved in that of which we discuss, all the foregoing can occupy so much time and prevarication, that after a month or so, you might feasibly find yourself no nearer to that ideal pair of wheels you could have already been riding if only you'd placed your faith and trust in the wheelbuilder in the first place.

"Yes. There's got to be a high degree of trust involved and it's imperative that the customer gets the pre-order and back-up service they deserve." says derek. sugar wheelworks "My output is becoming severely limited by the amount of time I spend answering emailed requests for information. The intangibility of an 'internet' workshop without any perceived queue seems to invite people to ask as many questions as they possibly can, especially when they always get an answer, even if it's not related to our wheels. If someone did this in a small shop where the manager served them, they'd get booted out. I can't think of another market in which this happens to the same extent. If you were to quiz a waiter on the minutiae of the menu or how it might taste, you'd end up really hungry".

it seems this 'problem' is one that traverses the atlantic ocean, for similar woes are experienced at sugar. "I experience something of a similar conundrum. This is made more frustrating after a lot of time and effort answering questions, to be then informed that they'll have their wheels built by someone charging less. My other issue is of people using our design services then purchasing parts elsewhere at a modest discount. We love sharing knowledge but without a way to monetize our time and research that goes into what we do it often leaves us frustrated.
wheelsmith "I love what I do, but the amount of time wasted by people who want to 'pick my brain' (which is quite literally what people say when they come into the shop) has taken a lot of effort not to get jaded.  It's like going to a restaurant with your own vegetables and asking the chef to work his magic while expecting a discount."

i have not composed this feature to allow two highly skilled wheelbuilders to have a public moan. there is little doubt that the factory built wheel has encroached on the territory once held as sacrosanct by the devotees of the truing stand. for many, they fulfil a need and do so perfectly adequately, but zipp's recent recall of a particular model of front wheel with the words ..."could incur retaining ring failure that might result in an ejection of all the wheel's spokes. This may result in wheel failure." hardly encourages wholesale adoption by the wary. particularly since their method of spoke retention is common across the genre.

so why did i give vent to the above? it's still my contention that there is little in this world that can equal a pair of wheels hand built by a builder who not only understands you and your style of riding but possesses the skills to fulfil those needs. and if you fear that the big boys are in a better position to carry out desirable research and development, i think it prudent to offer jude gerace the last word.

"We continue to expand our knowledge. Not only do we work with an engineer, we're also working with a metallurgist!" anyone in any profession who can remain curious about their work is, i believe, someone worth supporting.

wheelsmith, scotland | sugar wheelworks, portland

thursday 26 february 2015

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ambassadorial clout

ashmei ambassador

word of mouth is an excellent means of communication, passing on recommendations or otherwise to those in your immediate social circle. such has been the tried and tested method for many a long year. but more recently, both social media and the art of blogging have eased the ability to extend that circle beyond local geographic constraints. i have a number of friends in portland, oregon and the advent of the interweb has allowed them to talk to me and vice versa. now we can recommend or warn each other across a sizeable quantity of rough water.

however, the binding principle behind this situation has to be based on trust. if i happen to be a noted fan of blue bikes, any admonition i might offer against red bikes really ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. thus, what we're looking at is an establishment of credibility, for none of us have the time or disposable income to ride, wear or click everything on the market in order to appraise its suitability for our purposes. we therefore rely on the recommendations or disparagement of others.

shorty

but what of those who demonstrably have a vested interest in a particular product or service? how can they go about proselytising to both the interested and couldn't care less amongst the great unwashed? the tried, tested and decent return on investment method is to place adverts in the cycling press, or perhaps take banner space around the nearest velodrome. or, if budget allows, dye sublimating a name on the front of a cycle jersey has been known to pay dividends. always assuming, of course, that your target market forms a part of those who stand at the roadside waiting for a hurled water bottle or flying musette.

however, an alternative method may rely slightly more upon the word of mouth and visible presence as described in my introductory scribblings.

in the world of single malt whisky, the notional idea seems to involve gathering the faithful via international friends associations or committees, fostering the idea that those happy to pour a glass or two of an evening are part of a large, worldwide family, glued together by the label on the front of the bottles. extending this idea a few centimetres further, ardbeg distillery created a number of embassies. there are currently eight of these in the uk and several others around the world '...dedicated to supporting everything and everyone Ardbeggian, ensuring Committee members present and prospective are never left wanting for Ardbeg.'

ashmei ambassador

embassies, almost by definition, tend to have associated ambassadors, currently professionally recruited from within the company's professionals, something they share with the majority of the other distilleries on islay. it seems yet to occur that perhaps the brand's best ambassadors might be the very folks who drink the amber nectar. in this, cycling brands may conceivably be seen to be at least one step ahead of the future. in this respect, consider ashmei clothing.

this may be a name that is new to you in the realm of our increasingly busy cycle clothing market. as opposed to one watchword, they have three: performance, quality and style ( apparently always in that order). it's a company that began its career with running apparel, more recently launching a cycling and triathlon range, probably the very stuff to capture our interest. to further their cause amongst the faithful, ashmei are inviting endurance sports athletes to apply for the position of ambassador.

ashmei ambassador

those selected after the closing date of 2 march 2015 will be provided with a full wardrobe of ashmei apparel, subsequently assisting the company with product development and participating in events and photo shoots, representing the brand at races and similar events. assuming you are of the necessary athletic profile, applying is simplicity itself via completion of a form on the ashmei website. personally i fear personal failure at the first hurdle, for never have i had anyone describe me using the adjective athletic, though i can cycle at a pace that would easily allow close examination of any product i might be seen to be wearing.

however, i am well aware that there are those amongst you who would easily qualify, and i'd urge you to click over to ashmei and fill in the application (or, if you're american, fill out the application). what is there to lose? judging by even a cursory appreciation of their cycle clothing range, there is much to be gained.

ashmei ambassador | ardbeg embassies

wednesday 25 february 2015

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rapha pro-team softshell baselayer, armwarmers and kneewarmers

rapha softshell baselayer

a cycling colleague from a number of years past was convinced of the merits of wearing a cotton t-shirt as a baselayer under his cycling jersey. no matter the fact that cotton has a deep propensity to not only retain moisture but continually remind you of the fact, every time we went out cycling, there would be that white cotton t-shirt. at the time, the options were somewhat limited, mostly confined to some form of polyester or polypropylene, the very man-made fibres that would wick perspiration to the regions you would most prefer and usually keep you cosy in the process, but at the cost of being somewhat on the aromatic side.

the advent of merino as the ideal natural material for use as a baselayer ticked pretty much every box: wicking, warming and naturally constituted to prevent much in the way of despicable odours. since merino as a baselayer fabric became common currency, i have rarely worn anything else under my cycle jerseys.

certainly not a cotton t-shirt.

however, apparel development continues apace in pretty much all spheres of outdoor activity in an effort to keep us more comfortable on the bike, on foot or while climbing ruddy great hills or mountains. i recently had the good fortune to review rapha's pro-team softshell which offered a different perspective on the art of keeping warm and dry. despite years of breathable waterproofs, it's still pretty much the case that few, if any garments adhering to this format manage to successfully encompass both features. therefore rapha and others have figured perhaps they ought better to concentrate on managing the middle ground between warm and dry without necessarily specifying one or t'other.

rapha softshell baselayer

based on the apparent success of this approach, rapha have now released a pro-team softshell baselayer for two apparently good reasons. firstly, it matches well as the layer below their new pro-team softshell outer. and secondly it effectively allows regular cycle club members the option of accessing at least a portion of the benefits offered by a softshell outer, while still wearing their club jersey.

despite the inclemency of the current weather system affecting the inner hebrides, now seemed an opportune time to give the pro-team softshell baselayer a bit of a hard time. very much out of my comfort zone, i opted to make the baselayer the sole undergarment to the previously mentioned pro-team softshell outerwear, augmented only by a pair of the latest pro-team armwarmers. experience told me that there would be greater prudence in also wearing at least a short-sleeve jersey, but that hardly seemed the best means of testing the baselayer's mettle.

as pointed out above, and in keeping with most of scotland's west coast, the gales are blowing, the sleet is falling and the temperature is looking at the underneath of zero degrees.

rapha softshell armwarmer

it is worthy of my mentioning that armwarmers, kneewarmers and baselayer all form a part of rapha's pro-team range, and thus take the definition of skin-tight to its ultimate conclusion. that baselayer forms a second skin, but at least its stretchiness somewhat eases the contortions of putting it on in the first place. in my case, i'd to remove my spectacles in order to do the least amount of damage pulling the admirably high collar over my head. the front hem features a short, curved panel of lycra which ought to sit well with a pair of bibshorts. if i have a single pertinent criticism of the garment it's that i'd really rather it was at least a centimetre or two longer, because it barely fitted inside the top of a pair of sky logo'd team-pro shorts.

oddly for a baselayer, the seams atop the shoulders are taped on the outside, while there is a lighter fabric under the arms to aid cooling and flexibility. it also features a similar dwr (durable water repellent) treatment as the pro-team softshell, giving credence to its use under a club jersey and offering weatherproofing not usually associated with the genre.

rapha softshell baselayer

as to the armwarmers, if i thought it something of a struggle to don the baselayer, the armwarmers brought an altogether different level of faff. take my word for it; if you're wearing them with the softshell baselayer, put them on first. the baselayer features longer than usual sleeves (which may prove a distraction under a short-sleeve club jersey) which hug those bulging biceps. rolling up the sleeves to pull the armwarmers all the way up, is one of the most frustrating experiences i've ever had. the forearm portion of the armwarmers is fashioned from lycra, tight enough to all but prevent the hem making it past my hands. don't get me wrong; these are very finely sculpted to fit the arms absolutely perfectly and in use they're impeccable. however, having seen professionals remove their armwarmers during competition, i figure they may struggle to emulate that manoeuvre with these. though, when removed, they easily fit in a rear jersey pocket.

as to the kneewarmers, they slid on very easily, but i fear i may have erred in requesting the medium size, since even when pulled on as far as they'd go, it was still all but impossible to lose the crumpled kneecap look. however, when pedalling, they proved more than equal to the task of keeping my lower legs in the land of the living when paired with those team sky bibshorts.

rapha softshell baselayer

the softshell baselayer proved itself to be every bit the ideal partner for its outerwear sibling. despite (galeforce) windchill of a few degrees below zero, i was never cold other than a few chilly moments after setting out for the day. i'd no idea that softshell fabric could provide such excellent thermal properties in this fashion. the cut is very pro-team. despite having forfeited an additional jersey, it kept me cosy and was a lot softer and flexible in practice than i'd expected.

however, the real test of its abilities were shown on the following morning. if you read my review of tesco's waterproofing liquids yesterday, you'd know that having supposedly 'proofed' my orginal rapha softshell, i wore it in galeforce driven sleet and less than amenable temperatures. in short, i got soaked by very cold winds and precipitation, leading to the early curtailment of the sunday ride. i genuinely believe that had i not been wearing the softshell baselayer, 'neath jacket and sportwool jersey, i may have enjoyed the onset of hypothermia prior to reaching the sanctuary of home.

sadly, i'm not really sure that's an exaggeration.

once the jacket was thoroughly soaked, the sportwool jersey had little option to follow suit. had i been wearing my more regular long-sleeve merino baselayer, it would have been next in line, and probably long before i reached home. the softshell was barely damp, providing the ideal insulating layer to keep body and soul together.

rapha softshell baselayer

and for that, i am truly thankful.

(though the development cycles for each are possibly occupying differing trajectories, it's a bit of a shame that the softshell baselayer cannot currently be obtained with that rather striking data print released only a few days ago.)

rapha's softshell baselayer is available in light grey or black, in sizes ranging from xs to xxl at a cost of £80. bear in mind that this is a very close-fitting garment. if you have bulges you'd prefer not to make public, consider moving up a size or two (medium size reviewed). the softshell armwarmers cost £50 per pair in sizes small, medium and large, as are the kneewarmers at a cost of £55.

rapha softshell baselayer bundle

tuesday 24 february 2015

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house industries
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tell them we sent you

quick mention for those intending to visit islay's shores on a bike during the summer. velo club d'ardbeg recommended coffee/tea stops - in no particular order.

club headquarters at the old kiln cafe, ardbeg distillery. excellent food as well as designer coffees with froth. the single malt is apparently just ginger peachy. open monday to saturday from easter to september, seven days from june to september.

debbie's cafe

bruichladdich mini market (debbie's cafe), a few hundred yards from the distillery. highly commended designer coffees with outside tables. we like. open all year round with a cycling wall in the coffee corner.

welcometogreatcoffee.co.uk

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