"to think i spent all those early years cycling round derbyshire without so much as a track pump strapped to my back. scarcely bears thinking about."..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
bordered to the west by france, piedmont to the north and tuscany to the east, is the italian principality of liguria. the capital, genoa, is not that far from nice, cannes and saint tropez. sitting upon the coast of the ligurian sea, it's just that sort of place. and should we wish to take closer look at its italian neighbours, both lucca and florence are within reasonable cycling distance. even pistoia, home of the rather delectable and sonorous ufip cymbals is but a (distant) stone's throw away. the larger ride cymbals may prove an ungainly addition to any musette you may have opted to take with you.
it's also not that far from sanremo, a town that has particular significance in the world of cycling
bordered by a ring of hills, yet in relatively close proximity to the sea, the principality's climate remains mild all year round, with winter temperatures hovering between 7 and 10 degrees celcius. however, the effect of close-by mountain ranges often means substantial rainfall; genoa itself can experience up to 2,000mm per year. that's more than in an hebridean year, and compares less favourably with the more regular mediterranean amount of 500 to 800mm.
on saturday 9 may, the peloton of professional cyclists intent on the quest for the 2015 pink jersey, will depart from san lorenzo al mare and head south west to sanremo, missing out both the cipressa and poggio on this particular occasion. the stage profile is, as they say, pan flat all along its 17.6 kilometres and by late afternoon, those of us interested enough in the outcome of the first grand tour of the season will be aware of who'll wear the first leader's jersey.
the buzz, professionalism, glitter and pizzazz of the modern peloton and stage starts bears very little comparison with the giro of 1914. in those far off days, a mere 81 riders set out from milan, riding bicycles weighing considerably more than today's featherweight carbon, devoid of gears other than flip-flop fixed hubs at that time in search of a heavier woollen pink jersey. stages in that race of more than 100 years ago occasionally reached 400 kilometres, greater than the distance covered in the modern-day milan-sanremo.
if ever evidence were needed to prove that the intrepid stage racer of the early twentieth century was built of sterner stuff (and possibly less intellect) than the cossetted fellows of today, those figures ought surely to be testament enough. and should you ever wonder just what it would have been like to participate in the 1914 edition of the giro d'italia, short of riding the route yourselves, you might like to take a closer look at tim moore's gironimo!
yes, i know; several of you are already asking yourselves "isn't this the very book you reviewed almost precisely one year ago?", to which i can only answer "yes". and the reason i bring it to your attention once more is because 'gironimo!' is soon to be published in paperback. and through the generosity of yellow jersey books, i have a copy to give away to the first chosen correct answer to the following question.
gironimo was written by a) richard moore b) tim moore c) roger moore?
please e-mail your answers and full postal address to firstname.lastname@example.org. closing date is friday 1 may 2015.
best of luck.
saturday 25 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
cycling is, essentially a mechanical activity. the act of clambering aboard a double-diamond frame fitted with two wheels, bars, saddle and pedals in order to travel essentially or leisurely from point a to b requires the input of physical effort. if we, as humans found this sort of thing to be the stuff of our dreams, there would probably be shampoo and lawnmower clubs. there has, i would therefore venture, to be a great deal more to cycling than the simple, straighforward description offered above.
to watch both the ronde van vlaanderen and paris-roubaix to witness a veritable forest of yellow and black lion of flanders flags waving in the wind is testament to the level of fandom that accompanies these major one-day classics. the fact that many will stand for several hours outside a team bus both prior to and after any racing, just waiting for a glimpse of their heroes is undoubtedly a reflection of just how large a part the competitive milieu plays in our more mundane existence.
yes, perhaps escapism is one aspect of such idolatry, but i doubt this could be pinpointed as the sole reason. hoping for a degree of emulation by riding the selfsame bicycles as the professionals while dressed in all aspects of team kit might risk ridicule from the amateur peloton, but if you're comfortable in that skin, who cares what others think. you might, however, wish to spend more than a few moments on a training regime; it's all well and good dressing as a pro, but the laughter will be long and loud if you get dropped on a humpty back bridge.
cycling is many things to different people. i put my hands up as being seen to be guilty of favouring the competitive element, but there are many who have scarcely heard of mark cavendish and are convinced that bradley wiggins is a fast bowler for the essex cricket team. it does us well to remember that cycling is also positioned as a singular strand in the future of inner-city transport, allegedly the solution to future gridlock. but even in this aspect of velocipedinity, rarely is the bicycle or cycling considered purely functional. in all strains the sum of the parts is frequently greater than the whole.
which is precisely why it has its icons. whether these are inanimate objects or real life people is of no great nevermind, for they are the little chinks in the firmament that, by common consent, are regarded as ripe for veneration by the great unwashed (you and i, by any other name). if we were to resort to the inimitable venn diagram, the point at which all the circles intersect encompasses the very iconography that brokers no argument.
depending on your point of view, there will be heated discussions over the veracity of anyone's choice of icon, particularly mine. but as in many realms of modern existence, there are those objects or people whose position in the firmament are beyond reproach. all the foregoing notwithstanding, as number one and a half in an open ended series, i'd like to nominate the prendas ciclismo black cycling cap; the one with the reflective white stripe down the centre and the word prendas writ large on the side.
to be seen wearing one of these will mark you out as one of the cognoscenti, yet without the pretensions often associated with other casquettery. it is supremely functional, instantly recognisable and pays tribute to an online cycling emporium that has enjoyed as many years in the business as has thewashingmachinepost. unlike other caps which pay testament to current or past professional teams, the prendas reflective stripe cap offers kudos to its originators, two gentlemen who, were they not to exist, would have to be invented.
as the cycling world teeters on the edge of the 2015 season, in close proximity to the nuoveau tour de yorkshire and the giro d'italia, it is time to prepare even in minimal fashion to be associated with all that follows between now and paris tours in mid october. such is prendas' favour within the fabric of the sport, and possibly even amongst the commuting public, that there would be no shame at all attached to persistent wearing of the cap during the cyclocross season.
if you do not have one of these caps pegged in the corner of your cycling wardrobe, i feel confident that you will be thanking me for pointing out the error of your ways. go forth now unto the prendas website and order this venerated cycling icon retailing at a particularly modest £7.50. and while you're there, on the basis that mick and andy are currently offering four caps for only £25, nabbing a few spares might be an economy worth taking advantage of.
friday 24 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"the best races are the ones where you bite off more than you can chew and live through it"
in the late 1990s, i was attempting to bring our local newspaper into that portion of the twentieth century by providing some sort of internet presence. this was based less upon a desperate need for them being there (private use of the internet at that point was relatively minimal) but more on my own current belief that the best time to have a website was when you don't really need it. by building it prior to the point of perceived necessity, by the time it became a part of local society, the interweb would have expressed its love and held it to its bosom.
one member of the board was highly suspect of my doing anything on the web and considered it along the lines of my garnering new toys to play with. payback came after he'd visited relatives in canada only to discover they were all keeping in touch with each other by means of e-mail and he was being left out of the loop. his attitude changed at that point.
shift forward a couple of decades and the landscape has changed considerably, particularly with the advent of so-called social media. since using either facebook or twitter is essentially free of charge and can be quite effective as part of a marketing strategy, this has brought about what i'd regard as a misguided approach. there are more than just a few who have eschewed paid-for advertising in favour of placing notice of forthcoming events and items for sale on these free noticeboards, bypassing the printed word entirely.
i call this misguided because there are still those (and it's a significant number) who have no truck with either facebook or twitter. thus the short-sighted strategy oultined above misses a portion of its intended market. combining both free and paid for print advertising, whether in periodicals or by way of the old-fashioned poster would seem to be a more effective and intelligent method, given that most businesses have already identified an advertising budget in the first place.
however, always willing to make an apparent negative into a positive, there are those still enamoured with appealing to our sense of the earthy approach. take morvelo, for instance.
the cycle clothing emporium are in the throes of approaching their 2015 city cross, an event taking place in rowntree park, york on saturday 13 june. in the spirit of deconstructing the arbitray pigeonholing that would normall accompany any specific competitive cycling event, city cross offers a new freedom for the eager racer. as event organiser emma osenton says "We want to mix up different disciplines of cycling and take the elistist snobbery out of it. You got a bike? Any bike? Yep, you can race it." so how precisely would one go about doing so?
"We wanted to make a course which was fun to watch, making obstacles, finding natural ones. We made the course much shorter, we made it hurt, we made it fun. Beer hand ups for novices. The first race even saw them pelted with cabbage leaves."
that, apparently, is city cross.
as i have repeated ad nauseam, it's one thing to sponsor a formula one car, but then you have to tell folks that you've sponsored a formula one car. and that means advertising. morvelo being in possession of the aforementioned clothing emporium along with the obligatory website, facebook page, twitter feed, youtube channel etc., etc. there are several means of advising all and sundry of what to expect on 13 june. yet over the past few years they have continued to support the very finest of britain's cycling illustrators. city cross two was endorsed with a jo burt poster, while number three featured matthew burton. this year's event has been blessed with an illustration by the esteemed richard mitchelson, a limited edition artwork that will be screen-printed by one of the finest practitioners of the craft i know, dan mather.
in order to produce what is a work of art in the first place and an advertisement second, richard said "I design it and Dan just works his magic with the printing. I consider the amount of colours involved mainly because of cost and the amounts of screens needed to print it." it is what might be truthfully named, a symbiotic relationship. "I chose to work with Dan. He's printed for me in the past and is fantastic at what he does. We've known each other and been friends for years." that, i have to admit, makes perfect sense.
there's no doubt that cycling's profile in the uk has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years, what some may like to term the wiggins effect. however you like to consider this undeniable fact, cycling is still somethng of a niche activity. even dan would likely agree that screen-printing occupies an even smaller niche, so it came as something of a surprise that mather's order book contains nothing other than cycle related orders.
"I'm pretty busy right now, and yes ALL of it is cycling related would you believe? I have a couple of design jobs that are also from cycling clients plus the usual print work." it makes perfect sense that emma, a morvelo sponsored rider and event organiser and richard mitchelson, an artist almost exclusively associated with the world of cycling would seek to work with a printer who has their best interests at heart.
"Rich and I discussed the artwork a few weeks back, but only verbally. It's 50/50 between clients being prepared with artwork and wanting a quote, and the others finalising their piece and thinking screenprint would be nice process to use. It's a lot easier for me to make a judgement call when it arrives in my inbox whether screenprint is the best process. With all prospective work that I'm happy to put my name to, I work together with the client each step of the way, advising on colours, papers, print techniques etc."
i find it not only comforting that there is an almost invisible infrastructure surrounding the tangible existence of cycling, but that there are those who step further into that all but unseen fray to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. such artisans should reap the just rewards of their endeavours. if you find yourselves anywhere near rowntree park in the city of york on saturday 13 june, attending or entering morvelo's city cross would reap some of those rewards for both parties. and should you find yourself somewhat distantly challenged, consider acquiring one of the mitchelson/mather limited edition event posters. yet again, rewards will be justifiably deserved on both sides of the course tape.
thursday 23 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
Though the sport's governing body is determinedly aiming to globalise cycle-racing, those of us who have had a vested interest of sorts, recall the halcyon days of yore when there were but a few regions that spoke fluent road-cycling. perhaps the most obvious, from the uk's point of view, is just across the channel, home of the self-styled greatest sporting event on the planet. it would be insidious to pretend that france holds only one three week race per year, but bearing in mind yorkshire's tour is preceded by le tour de, it would be fair to at least pay lip service to its influence.
given that its scope encompasses the bulk of the nation, there are few gallic crevices that could not be considered pertinent to those wishing to live at least a part of the dream on their own bicycles. france is easily reached by a fine cross-channel ferry service or in more 21st century style by travelling under the channel on the eurostar.
if we remain close to the french border, home of cyclocross and cobbled spring racing, belgium has to be the very best reason for splashing out on a lion of flanders black and yellow flag or espresso cup to demonstrate to the initiated precisely where your proclivities lie. a bit like having those little oval tanned patches on the back of each hand, club membership is not only exclusive but often clandestine.
in the world of three-week stage races it would be something of a major travesty to exclude italy and spain, particularly in the light of the former heading our way in the very fullness of time. beginning in liguria on 9 may, the latter is arguably more about the racing than the circus that the tdf has become. meanwhile spain's move from early april to the end of august may not have benefited the vuelta as much as someone somewhere had hoped. and with one or two minor exceptions, those are the nations that are likely top of many specialist cycling subjects on mastermind.
but what about portugal?
there is little doubt that the smaller portion of the iberian peninsula has contributed some fine riders to the world of professional cycling. but while the french, italians, belgians and spanish can be readily identified as cyclists i confess that, in my ignorance, it would seem that the portuguese are not backward in coming forward when velocipedinal matters are at stake,
pedro rocha is a cycling enthusiast from portugal who also works at live, love, ride portugal, who offer a comrehensive range of cycling tours designed specifically to attract cyclists like wot we is. "Portugal is a beautiful destination for road cycling. And as Portuguese riders we're keen to promote our country as an ideal destination for cyclists."
currently offering eleven tours, some of which are self-guided and range from a single day in the saddle up to ten, live, love, ride portugal has had the perspicacity to tailor their routes to include more than just perfect scenery and challenging roads. a quick flick over to their website indicates that usa today has designated the nearby alentejo region as the best wine country of 2014. already i can see a few heads have perked up.
for a few more details pertaining to what i cannot deny looks like some fabulous cycling country, take a look at pedro's 'ride portugal' blog, as well as the link to a neat little video which temptingly opens with rather delectable food and drink that would surely justify a cycling trip in the first place.
and apparently the weather's not too bad either.
wednesday 22 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the world of cycling, in the uk at least, is decidedly awash with sportives, a form of velocipedinal activity that surely must cut into the regular activities of cycle clubs in all four corners. perhaps gone for ever are the weekends of the uninterrupted club run, thundering along well-trodden local highways and byways leaving behind any newbie with the temerity to have joined in the preceding weeks. for nowadays, the strategic planner sits in front of the central heating in late january, armed with a copy of sportive weekly and lists in order of severity, the very sportives that will leave his/her clubmates wondering why their weekend peloton is so depleted.
that is, however, not to make out that the advent of wall to wall sportives is, in essence, a bad thing. though the velo club are not overly supplied with an endless variety of routes on which to display our athletic prowess, i get the distinct impression that, dressed in regulation club colours, many larger and better constituted cycling organisations are no more adventurous than are we. therefore, the possibility of cramming several 14% climbs into every 50 metres surely must offer a more enticing couple of days at the end of the week.
in which case, discretion undoubtedly needs to be exercised during the period of choosing. quite how you'd go about that, pretty much depends on your own predilections and permission from her/him indoors. there's also the not inconsiderable matter of transport. though cycling offers the opportunity to demonstrate impeccable green credentials to anyone who might care, taking into account the miles of motorised transport just to get there... well, feel free to draw your own conclusions.
and then there is, of course, the inevitable clash of dates. the very sportive that you've been building up to for months on end, the very event that will be ridden by mark cavendish, bradley wiggins, geraint thomas and alex dowsett while being photographed by scott mitchell turns out to be on the same weekend as your nephew's wedding in durness. or some variation on that theme.
i am proud to record that i have a slightly more than passing acquaintance with the flying scotsman, graeme obree. and each year for the past wee while, his very own sportive has taken place so close to the ride of the falling rain, that it has prevented me from renewing that acquaintance while trammeling the roads of ayrshire. this year, however, the date has been brought forward considerably to the month of june. and were that not sufficiently encouraging in itself, sir chris hoy has decided that one scottish icon on a sportive is simply not enough, and joined the fray.
except, i have need of percussing that very week, as well as a two-nighter at one of bowmore's local hostelries stretching into the weekend. thus when you are all chatting cheerfully to graeme and chris on sunday 21 june, i will be searching for the most practical way to squash several drum stands into a protection racket trap case. as a famous cycling media person, i feel i should have been consulted, but i'll settle for someone telling graeme i said hello.
the flying scotsman sportive will take place in ayrshire's loudoun valley, site of a considerable network of relatively traffic-free roads. the flying scotsman route covers 44 miles (around 71km) or the beastie over 78 miles (126km). as graeme said "We are really fortunate that in and around Kilmarnock there are miles and miles of quiet roads where you can cycle till your heart is content. I am out on these roads most days and it is great to get away from the main roads and get taken into the great beauty that the Ayrshire countryside offers. I am looking forward to riding the event and my form is coming on fine. I rode The Dunoon Run and Ride event at the weekend, my first ride against the clock in a few years and I was top in all three timed sections; so I can't be going too badly for a man of my vintage."
don't let him kid you; graeme's still faster than we'll ever be. book now before chris nabs your place.
tuesday 21 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it is but a few days since i waxed lyrical about endura's latest slogan appended to their garment hang tag that stated "if you think the spring classics are bad, try scotland.", words that appear all too true to those who live north of the border. despite this weekend's sunday ride taking place in glorious sunshine, there's an inherited mindset that wonders when the house of cards will come crashing in again, and usually sooner rather than later.
though one hesitates at the thought we may become a blasé nation of cyclists when it comes to shrugging off the weather, the truth is that, for those on the west coast at least, it has all the marks of being our birthright. as the mighty dave t has mentioned on more than one occasion, if the weather becomes a problem, it's time to spend sunday in the pub playing dominoes. i cannot deny that having missed not one sunday ride throughout last winter is something of a feather in our collective caps. perchance we didn't always head out at the usually agreed time; waiting for conditions to ameliorate can be a particularly sensible strategy.
it would also be hard to defend some of those rides in wind and rain that really ought to have kept us indoors. there's being hardy, there's being brave, but there's also being particularly stupid. at one point duirng january i had to accept defeat and return home after only 6km because i could not maintain sufficent forward speed to avoid being blown off my bike. that is one moment i'd prefer not to recall, and i now know that riding in 60km winds is not a safe option.
common folk-tales would have it said that there is no such thing as bad weather, simply the wrong choice of cycling apparel, a mantra with which i have some sympathy. however, tolerance limits will eventually be met, something that has occured more often than we are collectively willing to admit. there is, however, every possibility that continued developments in materials technology will eventually make this a perfectly true statement. combined with a marked alteration in the thinking behind the way our clothing providers wish to fend off the elements possibly means that, galeforce winds notwithstanding, there may soon be no longer any valid excuse for not going out in the rain.
probably the biggest dilemma faced by any cyclist in such conditions is whether to clothe the upper torso in the commonly proffered, breathable waterproofs or just risk getting wet. i know of no single garment of this flavour that breathes well enough to remain dry inside after many kilometres of hard-riding. and if they do, the chances are precipitation will have inveigled its way through to the jersey below. as a few others have already sussed, perhaps the best idea is to sidestep the situation altogether and concentrate resources on keeping the bulk of the rain at bay while making the rider as comfortable and warm as possible even when wet.
it may sound like a bit of a cop out, but if you recall milan-sanremo of 2013, think of how many professional riders subscribed to this mode of defence even in the face of the dreaded sponsorship question.
according to the tags that accompany endura's latest equipe classics jersey it has been tested by the movistar team of which the scottish firm are clothing sponsors. in which case, if we accept that the pros will give such a garment a far harder time than a bloke living on a rock in the atlantic, is there any real point in my continuing past this point? well, at the risk of inciting a reprise of my blasé attitude and more than happy to reiterate endura's latest slogan 'if you think the spring classics are bad, try scotland.'
possibly the big difference in attitude that ought to accompany the wearing of such a weatherproof garment is the rather tautological knowledge that professional riders pedal a darned sight faster than the rest of us. accepting that very fact explains why this jersey and others like it are not intended as total replacements for the waterproof/breathable genre. if i might cite as an example, the sunday ride is usually conducted at a velocity well below that of your average spring classic. and if a mechanical or puncture calls a halt to proceedings, on a wet and windy isle it's very easy to cool down at an accelerated rate. so i wear a proper jacket.
however, saturday often assumes a research and development phase, when the tempo is likely to be a tad higher as is the distance. thus endura's equipe classics jersey can be made to work particularly well. it is lightweight, water-resistant and windproof and exceptionally breathable, but what it isn't is particularly thermal. thus heating is provided either by way of that which you wear below (in my case, a merino baselayer and a movistar team s/s jersey) or a continued propensity to cycle hard in the face of adversity. combine both, and you're sorted.
it is a predilection of the professional rider that they favour short sleeves with the option of armwarmers. watch any one day classic, and you'll see those armwarmers discarded fairly early in proceedings. the rest of us are wimps by comparison, holding onto those armwarmers even in the face of a hot cappuccino and some carrot-cake. to allow for both eventualities, the classics jersey comes complete with a pair of matching armwarmers. and for those riding without mudguards (as necessitated by the bicycle currently in for review), the jacket features a very bright lime-green tail flap that can be pulled down over your ass as and when necessary. its brightness ought to keep you safe from inattentive neutral service car drivers.
murphy's law dictates that any waterproof garment delivered for review will be met by particularly dry and sunny weather, precisely the conditions that met the parcel from endura. a morning's worth of occasional dampness was hardly likely to upset either jersey or rider, but a few moments inattention to incoming cloud cover meant that just as home was gaining a welcome degree of proximity, both jersey and rider were doused in torrential sleet for almost nine kilometres into a searing headwind.
as marcel wust would say, first thing i noticed was the relative ineffectiveness of those matching armwarmers. i'll admit that they hadn't necessarily fulfilled the warmer part of the equation as well as i'd hoped, but as pointed out, i tend not to ride quite as fast as alejandro valverde. the sleet, however, soaked them within minutes, leading to a rather cold pair of arms. the jersey fared considerably better, keeping the movistar team jersey impressively dry, with only minor dampness around the top of the sleeves. considering the ferocity and length of the shower, believe me, it earned its keep.
the collar's great, the front zip easy to zip up and down while riding, and the three rear pockets, with their laser-cut drain holes (never sure if these are more for effect than pragmatism) are marvellously capacious. my only caveat would be the lack of a zipped valuables pocket, but then i doubt the pros have much need for such frippery. that's what team cars are for. the short-sleeves are actually long short sleeves of which i wholeheartedly approve. its impressive built-in stretch meant that draping it over the baselayer and movistar jersey really didn't hassle it much, nor did it cause any discomfort.
as the temperatures increase (who am i kidding?), wearing the jersey without the armwarmers over just a baselayer means that it's truly a year-round item of apparel, ready to fend off april showers and be on standby for the ride of the falling rain in august. my only real quibble, one that pertains to more jackets/jersey than simply the equipe classics, is why no hanging loop inside the collar?
maybe this winter i could persuade valverde to join me for a classics training camp on islay. after all, we'll be wearing the same jersey.
endura's equipe classics jersey is only available in black, in sizes ranging from small to xxl at a cost of £139.99
monday 20 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the board members of calmac ferries live nowhere near the west of scotland. not one of them. these apparently well-paid individuals are the very folks who decide the fate and strategies of our so-called lifeline ferry services, despite having no dependency whatsoever on the positioning or frequency of the boats. on one previous occasion that members of this board visited the island to discuss the services with islay's ferry users' group, due to the portent of bad weather, they flew from glasgow.
we are indeed fortunate that there are two distinct means of getting to and from scotland, but in the case of those who need their vehicles when on the mainland (and i include the distillery freight), there is no option other than the calmac ferry service. the same is true of most of scotland's western isles with the definitive exception of the isle of skye which has a bridge, though a bridge that is quite frequently closed to traffic in the winter due to high winds.
one of the many iniquities attached to the service is that the boats are not owned by the ferry company that operates them. caledonian macbrayne is, in fact, the ferry operator in name only. provider of staff, but not the owner of the ferries on which they work nor the piers at which they berth. those are owned by caledonian maritime assets ltd (cmal). each company has a well-paid ceo, and as if to add insult to injury, thee is also a david macbrayne ltd, directed by another well-paid ceo, though i've absolutely no idea what the purpose of this third associated company is.
however, as mentioned in this week's islay newspaper, calmac are an easy target; mostly they can't do right for doing wrong. and with such a bureaucratic administration, it's often difficult to tell who's to blame for any dissatisfaction that occurs. i offer this overview of scotland's national ferry service not by way of inviting mass sympathy for our plight. nor indeed to position us as modern-day transportation martyrs, but more to provide an admittedly obscure analogy with cycling's governing body.
the union cycliste internationale or uci.
i am perhaps not as well acquainted with the administrative setup of the latter as i am with caledonian macbrayne, but i can't help feeling there are certain similarities between the two. cycling's governing body is charged with developing the sport while being ever mindful of its rich heritage, to deal with inherent drug use while also being mindful that those accused of such are professional riders who expect to earn a living from their day job. individuals who will likely threaten all sorts of legal action if unjustly accused. then there's the weight factor; 6.8kg is the minimum weight of any race bike, yet it's a limit imposed long before technical advancements in the field of carbon fibre construction made lighter machines possible while still retaining safe operating limits.
a bit like calmac, they mostly can't do right for doing wrong.
but then it's also incumbent on the organisation, as administrators of the professional arena of cycle racing in all its many forms, to record each year as it rushes by. and one of the ways in which it accomplishes this is the annual publication of the uci yearbook. as you can imagine, this results in a fairly hefty tome, beloved of cycling's statisticians. but for 2014, the interweb has meant better accessibility for those less affiliated with the stopwatch and clipboard. for this publication is now freely available online, all the more attractive to folks like you and me with the inclusion of rather delectable photography from last season's races.
granted, it's very hard to lay pixels casually on the sitting room coffee table, though one step forward is often going to mean one step back. but in its favour, in this format it's totally free. the 218 pages are predominantly filled with imagery from all the disciplines overseen by the uci, while the latter digital pages are filled with copious results for those who wish to pore over lists before bedtime. this is one of those things that the uci got right.
i just looked at the pictures.
sunday 19 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
lying in a small wicker basket in the kitchen cupboard is a garmin edge 810 gps unit. it's more than likely that the battery is in need of charging, because in reality, it's a device that is rarely used, even though i own two compatible handlebar mounts. the last time it left the safety of that small wicker basket was at the end of last year when it helped me confirm that i had indeed covered the necessary 500 kilometres of the festive 500 before new year's day.
i'm not a numbers person. pictures and words are perfectly acceptable, but even those are not always welcome on a bike ride. pedalling islay's topography is an enjoyable activity; there is much to see and currently much to look out for, spread between visiting audis and scattering lambs. why would i wish to ride my bike with eyes glued to the ever chaging digits on the aforementioned garmin?
"ah, but," i hear you say " surely that garmin would simply be affixed to the bars in order to record the ride for posterity? no need to watch the digits change while riding." and you may well have a point. but what, precisely would i do with those numbers on my return to washingmachinepost croft? a chorus of the word "strava", would likely be the resounding reply. but once again i have to utter the word "why?"
from my point of view, strava is facebook for the pelotonese, a web location on which to upload every last detail of the most recent bike ride. as if anyone is interested in the perambulations of an aging cyclist. yet even somewhere as remote as islay apparently has its king of the mountain sectors (believe it or not), encouraging the great unwashed to try harder next time round, in order to receive plaudits not only from strava's notification centre but from disparate members of the local peloton. yet islay is pretty well flat.
that previously mentioned topography bears little in the way of ascents, other than the brae at port askaig (our very own stelvio) and the gravelly ascents from kilchiaran farm in either direction. at 14% each they can leave even the well prepared a tad short of breath. but the few other climbs are shorter but not necessarily sharper, none bearing the sort of names that would spread fear into the cyclist's fragile psyche. yet strava, eager to please the strident velocipedinist, attempts to make suitable reparations.
gruinart flats is home to the rspb reserve, frequently flooded fields on the edge of of loch gruinart often populated by large flocks of overwintering geese, down from greenland for their holidays. at the end of the flat road driven between the fields belonging to aoradh farm (pronounced oo-rig) is a gravelly and steep (14% at points) climb past the farmhouse, levelling out by the entrance to grainel farm. it's a hill that has no local name, not even on the ordnance survey map. but strava has labelled it the 'col du rspb'.
continue along that same road, it will take you round some of the finest cycling on islay, past saligo bay and the atlantic coast. locally, we're all well aware that every road on islay eventually leads to debbie's and in this case doing so takes the intrepid and fortunate rider into foreland estate and the delightful descent of foreland hill. rather tautologically, riding in the opposite direction apprises the grimpeur of a better than half-decent climb, one that strava has once more encouragingly labelled the col du foreland.
few of islay's residents are bilingual, though most of our road signs and averagemarket shopping aisles might offer a different perspective. those two languages would be english and gaelic. though the latter has one or two idiosyncracies in common with french, and both ardbeg and bruichladdich distilleries are owned by french spirits firms, it's not a language that you're likely to find in daily use in the hebrides. those strava imposed appelations are but mere curiosities peculiar to the land of the velocipede and derived from tour de france vocabulary.
it is, however, not solely the island of islay that suffers/delights in such examples of franglais. earlier this week i brought to your attention the forthcoming maserati tour de yorkshire sportive ride taking place on sunday 3 may. the sports car company have engaged the services of former professional david millar to act as their cycling ambassador and in that role he introduces a short film clip pointing out the trickier aspects of the route, every bit as pertinent to the 55 kilometre route as it is to the 109 km and 142 km.
buoyed by the fact that the roads comprising these sportives were featured in last year's tour de france, they too have adopted similar ascendant nomenclature as that proferred by strava. there is the cote de chevin, the rather ungainly cote de hebden bridge and the hideously eccentric cote de goose eye and cote de cow and calf. the maserati sponsored millar reconnaissance is conducted at a speed that even their particularly fast cars would struggle to obtain, thanks to the magic of speeded up film footage. if you plan on riding, or even attending by the roadside to cheer on either amateurs, professionals or both, it's worth a look.
that way total exhaustion, married to strained leg muscles will hardly come as any suprise.
saturday 18 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
one of the iniquities of attending art college is the overwhelming need for subject matter with which to decorate sheets of paper or canvas. maybe even a whitewashed piece of hardboard. yes indeed, still-life class was never too hard in this respect, nor indeed life-drawing; the former offered drawer upon drawer of incongruous items with which to compose suitable subject matter, while life-drawing was, well, life-drawing. the fly in the ointment was always composition.
the idea here was to base a composition, in whichever media took your fancy (though oddly, only oil paintings were deemed worthy of submission for the end of year assessment) on subjects of our own choosing. the idea was that we spend our weekend hours sketching ideas to provide fodder for class in the following or subsequent weeks. except, apart from the studious few, weekends were for playing drums, hanging out in music or record stores and generally doing almost everything other than sketch ideas for paintings.
that, rather tautologically, meant a dearth of ideas when it became time to put brush to canvas. you would not have been proud. when i recall several of the paintings freely produced over the course of the academic year, i become flush with embarrassment. there's always the thought that i may not have been cut out to be a painter, but if i'm totally honest, it was far more a case of lack of application than any specific lack of artistic ability. oh how i wish i'd been into cycling as a student.
but i wasn't.
however, situated but a few metres from the art college was the school of architecture, a building in which we had frequent occasion to attend lectures from visiting lecturers (their lecture theatre was larger than that in the art college). if ever we needed succour and encouragement for our own drawing abilities, a brief visit to the school of architecture was it. the saying at the time was that 'architects couldn't draw curtains', something amply demonstrated by their considerable use of letraset and less than pin sharp penmanship.
so it now gives me no pleasure whatsoever to find that nigel peake, who trained as an architect in edinburgh and is in receipt of a silver medal commendation from the royal institute of british architects, displays such marvellous draughtsmanship. applied to one of cycling's favourite subjects (ruddy great hills), his perceptions and graphic ability offer not only a perspicacity of form rarely seen applied to this particular subject matter, but sufficient eccentricity (if i may be so bold) to give considerable food for thought.
his illustrations will not find favour with everyone. i daresay the average -and not so average - cyclist would expect an illustration entitled passo gavia to resemble the impressive hugeness of the italian mountain pass. an arrangement of squares featuring blue diagonal lines bisected by a single white line is not what might be described as photo realism. however, peake's intention is hardly to pay homage to studiously recreated reality. just as riding the ventoux, koppenberg, alpe d'huez or the angliru present a challenge for even the professionals, nigel peake offers just as many visual challenges throughout his 20 beautiful images.
for the grounding, the realism, the descriptive necessities and the plain old facts and figures, peake's artworks have been superbly matched with words by condor cycles' claire beaumont. she is decribed in the brief bio on the inside back cover as a 'lead creative' a deserved title that she demonstrates on the back of each pull-out print.
"The cameras stayed on Tonkov as he entered the cruel Cuena les cabres section, where the road becomes a brutal, leg wobbling 23.5%. But then the TV images flicked away from Tonkov and commentators around the world suddenly started shouting in excitement."
the text extends to providing location, length, height, altitude, along with both average and maximum gradient. once i'd sated my delight at the illustrations, there truly is enough quality reading to make this effectively two books in one. the paragraphs are even craftily arranged to represent an ascent. though each image can be removed to fit in an 11" x 14" frame, i doubt i'd even think of doing so unless i had not only twenty frames, but twenty empty spaces on the sitting room wall. or at debbie's.
i find a great deal to admire in this collection of illustrations, but i'm aware that they'll not be to everyone's taste, in which case, it might be an idea to take a look inside before you buy. but if you do, they'll offer a whole new perspective on the world of cycling's iconic climbs and mountains. it's of great testament to laurence king publishing that they saw fit to offer these to a potentially adoring pelotonese.
friday 17 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in the early part of my washingmachinepost career, my pet subject as many will recall, was the ever expanding size of the bottom bracket, several years before the darned things disappeared inside to adopt a hidden and more secretive format. though the phrase "if it was good enough for eddy..." has been somewhat overused, i'm none too sure of any technical developments since those halcyon days that have made cycling or cycle racing intrinsically more exciting or watchable. granted, much of that increase in diameter was at the behest of considerably enlarged aluminium tubing; a case of necessity being the mother of invention.
i still find it totally iniquitous that the square-taper bottom bracket has all but gone the way of the dodo. i've no doubt there are endless reams of paper demonstrating just how stiff the new large-diameter fixed spindles are by comparison, but that still cossetted inside my colnago's c40 carbon fibre has given not a squeak of irritation. i am, however, willing to concede that many of today's professionals are capable of generating a whole lot more watts than can i. there's little doubt that such technical advancements are aimed squarely at the latter, but i have no real desire to reprise my well thought out, but ultimately pointless arguments. nobody is going to return to square taper because i moaned, and there is many a frame that couldn't even if it wanted to.
but if confirmation were needed that the world of the bicycle rests every bit as much on trend and so-called innovation in the pursuit of the pound, euro or dollar, the advent of the hydraulic disc brake on road bikes must surely be it. at a serious stretch of the imagination, i can almost accept that this level of stopping power might come in handy for the professional bike racer, but i'm afraid that acceptance stops some way short of approbation for the rest of us.
however, it's not the rest of us that is of immediate concern. the unione cycliste international (uci), under pressure for the last two seasons to admit disc brakes to the competitive end of road racing, seem finally to have relented at least slightly. in august and september of this year, world tour teams will be permitted to race discs during two, currently unspecified events. this will be followed by continued testing at all events throughout 2016 with a view to homologation in the 2017 season.
though the testing pays lip service to this being a period of investigation, the timeline suggests that, unless they suddenly find some insurmountable problem, road bikes will be disc equipped from 2017 onwards. but it's not just discs that we'll be getting; i have brought to your attention on at least one previous occasion the advent of thru-axles, a feature that will doubtless be a defacto standard by the time everyone heads down under in january 2017.
that means we'll all need new frames and new wheels with new hubs, to which the standard reply will undoubtedly be "you don't have to, if you don't want to.". oh if only that were true. you and i both know that the bicycle industry has been selling us geometrically shaped carbon fibre on the basis that this is what the pros use (need) for some number of years. remember those ever enlarging headsets and bottom brackets? though few of us will admit it in public, riding a verisimilitude of the world tour bikes is our one upmanship over the grand prix crowd.
when was the last time you saw a formula one ferrari in the car park at tescos?
if the standard becomes discs with thru-axles, the bulk of the world's wheel production will likely be geared in this direction, leaving us luddites to feed upon the scraps. none of us need disc brakes on our road bikes, just as none of us need them on our 'cross bikes either. but now that the uci is collaborating with industry, in the words of dad's army's private frazer "we're all doomed."
it's very unlikely that press-fit bottom brackets, integrated headsets supporting tapered steerers and ultimately those discs will suddenly transform your cycling. so don't come crying to me when it happens.
thursday 16 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
for those of you who have either read or owned a copy of carlton reid's excellent 'roads were not built for cars', it will not be news that many car manufacturers started out as bicycle companies. many made the switch when it became all too clear that the motor car was about to achieve a popularity that might bring greater profits to the corporate coffers. though there may be a growing section of britain's population that happily live without a motor car in the driveway, there's no point in denying that, on many singular occasions, a motor vehicle is more up to the task of heavy lifting, if the in-laws are not too distraught at such a description.
driving is still, however, something of a rite of passage for the emerging teenager. while i would advise anyone to at least learn to drive a motor car, even though they've no intention of owning one, it's always disappointing to watch a kid on a bike discard it at the back of the shed in favour of four wheels. as someone once pointed out, it's hard to pick-up girls on a bicycle (though i recall several fifties american movies that demonstrated how wrong that assumption might be.)
however, in these more modern times, ecology and environmental concerns impinge on even the most hardened of so-called petrol heads, though perhaps we can exclude jeremy clarkson from the equation. when statistics demonstrate that the majority of journeys made in the uk are less than five miles in distance, using a car to get there can be favourably compared to using a jcb excavator to crack a nut.
bowmore village, from one end to the other, is a mere 1.7km; several yards over one mile. there are few members of its population that do not have the physical health and ability to walk that distance. there and back. yet i could fill an a4 sheet of paper, even with my small writing, of folks i know who drive their cars less than half that distance. and heading to work shortly before school time underlines that fact by the number of kids being driven to school by ostensibly well-meaning parents.
yet after being involved in the world of cycling for almost thirty years, i never thought i'd see the day when people would be willing to talk to me about the tour de france without physical persuasion. more and more cyclists visit islay over the holiday season, and the world's principal satellite television broadcaster sponsors the world's number one cycling team because of the kudos attached to so doing.
there have been many articles and discussions centred around the astonishing number of motor vehicles involved in a major stage race or one day classic, but one need only point to the example of skoda's lengthy sponsorship of the official cars in the tour de france, to note that associating the car with cycling has commercial and possibly ideological benefits. team sky too have found their partnership with jaguar to be less of a one-way street than would once have been the case.
aside from providing the team cars, jaguar have helped develop the pinarello frames and supplied the odd super-duper sports car to drive behind chris or bradley. this assistance with frame design or construction has a precedent in colnago's lengthy association with ferrari, initially in the field of carbon fibre expertise, but ferrari engineers were also the ones who demonstrated to ernesto that straight forks offered greater damping qualities than the curved versions popular at the time.
it seems now that this trend of motor car manufacturers wishing fervently to be associated with cycling may turn out to be snowball-like in its growth pattern. for not only have italian sports car firm, maserati decided to sponsor the tour de yorkshire sportive ride, but they have excelled themselves by becoming title sponsor for the rouleur classic road cycling emporium to take place in london this coming november.
the latter will be a road cycling only bicycle show, featuring invited exhibitors, many of whom have already signed up due not only to rouleur magazine's reputation, but on the likelihood of a clued up audience attending. i cannot deny, however, that it seems a tad iniquitous to have a cycle show sponsored by a car company, and one that manufactures models all of which can comfortable exceed the uk speed record. however, they have not been slow to sign up ex-professional david millar as their official cycling ambassador, an arrangement that presumably ensures that millar will not need to rely on two wheels to travel to and from work.
while any cycling sponsorship deal ought likely to be gratefully welcomed, i do rather wonder what maserati get out of it. there seems to be no clear statement or information that would equitably explain the existence of maserati cycling in the first place. however, if they're keen to associate with and spend money on cycling, it would seem somewhat churlish to criticise.
what price a maserati bicycle soon?
wednesday 15 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i never made it to higher chemistry. in fourth year at school it was decided that my class was unlikely to pass the exam with only a single year's tuition, so we would undertake a higher in the science over two years. this was, as you may have already surmised, not the school's finest moment. tell a bunch of teenage kids that they don't have to sit an exam at the end of the year, and there's every chance they'll pay little or no attention to the teacher throughout that year. which is precisely what happened.
in retrospect, i feel sorry for my chemistry teacher. she wasn't long out of teaching college and undoubtedly knew her subject well, but combine the above circumstances with an apparent inability to teach particularly well, and the lack of a chemistry higher amongst my palmares seems less surprising than might once have been the case. however, for no particular reason, i always remember learning all about catalysts, substances that promote or assist chemical reactions without being chemically involved themselves.
however, on the basis that i have no formal qualification in the science and the fact that this is supposed to be all about bicycles, in one form or another, i'll get slightly more directly to the point of stating that the bicycle itself is a catalyst.
our interest in the world of professional cycle racing may well have been as a result of an interest in the bicycle itself. that was my route. having once built a road bicycle from a combination of campagnolo groupset and steel frame, as well as having built the wheels, the next obvious step was to take a look at what might conceivably be done with that genre of bicycle.
from a whole different perspective, those with a penchant or predilection for touring, exploring or simply wandering, frequently do so by means of the bicycle. in such cases, the bicycle acts as a catalyst for what transpires in odd and obscure portions of our planet. andrew welch, on the basis of his book between worlds, is something of a wanderer. the realities of entry and exit visas and the prejudices of certain countries against western residents means that wandering in the true spirit of the word, is often untenable. there must be some degree of planning and organising to facilitate this wandering.
welch is, if not wealthy, certainly comfortably provided for. his bicycle enabled meanderings through pakistan, india, afghanistan, mongolia and russia do not seem to suffer from a lack of funding. he occasionally picks up some web design work when the notion takes him. but a financial ability to decide when and where to freely donate a bicycle or two to deserving causes is not only noble, but not the act of one wondering from whence his next meal will come.
if there is a slight disconnect in his travels, it's a seeming ability to return home to england with little fuss or inconvenience, either physically or financially. however, i do not wish to portray him as some form of western playboy. though the book both suffers and excels from the fact that there really is no beginning and no end, welch is not unaware of his own motivation.
"I attended parties and danced until the early hours with Georgiansm French friends and ex-pats. I travelled the country and was immersed in the local culture through the community of friends. I was always busy, but I felt that there was something missing."
where many would perhaps retreat from the world, and meditate upon this state of mind, welch opted for the more outgoing approach, packing up his bicycle and meandering through several middle eastern countries to experience life at a more basis level than his education would suggest he was used to.
an obsession with architecture is tangibly displayed in the quoted introductions to each chapter, this is explained further in chapter two "I had once considered studying to be an architect and the idea of planning and realising large concepts had always held a fascination for me..." to an extent, my sole disappointment in the book concerns his ability to describe aspects of the architecture encountered during his travels. though he obviously has a well-tuned eye for his favoured subject, a lack of any accompanying illustrations tended to lessen the impact the book might conceivably have achieved. and not solely with respect to buildings.
the bicycle itself (or themselves) are scarcely mentioned other than in perfunctory mode. he does make mention of having adopted shimano's spd system over basic pedals at one point and that his headset collapsed at one point, but other than that, this is not a bicycle touring manual to which the reader may wish to refer for future trips of their own.
andrew welch is quite obviously a more enterprising individual than myself. i can confidently state that there is not a single chance that i would ever undertake even a portion of that about which he has written. my adventurous spirit simply does not extend that far. as to his writing, i confess that the opening chapters seemed a tad too soporific and unexciting, particularly in view of the substantial number of remaining pages that promised to continue in similar vein.
however, to stumble at so early a point in proceedings would have been extremely remiss, for welch's writing has an intriguing meditative quality that takes more than a handful of pages to appreciate. as i mentioned above, there really is no why or wherefore to the raison d'etre behind between worlds, though the meaning of the title does become self-evident sooner rather than later. the ending on page 325 does not prove that the butler did it. other than a well-observed bicycle trip through countries that many of us would give as wide a berth as possible, it's very hard to describe the point of this book. it's quite likely that, in similar manner to a japanese koan, the answer will be different for each and every reader, though still ultimately satisfying.
it has its pretentious moments, but these are mostly brief departures from a grounded narrative... "Variety is attainable and rich. Home is no longer where we grow up but rather, we are all children of the world. There is no one unified theory of living. Life cannot be lived theoretically.". i doubt i need say more.
i'm none too sure of the publishing method involved. the inside back page states it was printed in the uk by amazon, so i must assume this is a self-published volume. it may have been prudent to pay a smidgeon more attention to the proofing of the text. there are some odd page breaks at one or two points in proceedings and irritating shifts between standard quotes and typographer's quotes, sometimes even on the same word. however, in mitigation, the author may not have had direct access to this aspect of the final work.
more a book for adventurers than cyclists, but i feel better for having read it nonetheless.
tuesday 14 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
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.
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...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as always, if you have any comments, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading...........................................................................................................................................................................................................