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the mighty dave t's words of the week

the mighty dave t

"we pulled in to allow tourists to drive by, watching the golden eagles swoop from the sky to the distant skirl of the bagpipes drifting in from the glen. because that's the sort of chaps that we are."

©2018 the mighty dave t, is a prendas sponsored rider and le patron of the thoroughly decent fellows.


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this is cambridge

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ritchey drop post ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

is the cable long enough?

swytchbike

several years ago, rapha released their brevet jersey, a garment intended for those wishing to cover the sort of mileage enjoyed by riders with audax pretensions. while there are many different ways to review a jersey, depending on its intended purpose and how well it appears to be fulfilling the marketing promise, for the purposes of appropriate scribbling, i undertook to ride 200km. though real brevet/audax riders are probably scoffing at such a teensy distance, time and effort wise, that's as good as it was going to get for me.

though i am regularly recommended to drink more liquids, more often, particularly when on the bike, i am more inclined to heed the advice of a nutritional specialist who was quoted as saying "that's what thirst is for." thus, it is not entirely uncommon for yours truly to arrive home of a sunday monring, with the same amount of water in my bottle as when i left home. mind you, the bike ride had been punctuated by a soya cappuccino before the homeward grand depart. that's my excuse anyway.

swytchbike

two hundred kilometres, however, is a slightly different prospect; in order not to arrive home totally dessicated, i fitted a second bottle cage on the seat-tube and headed off with two, full bottles of water. after careful liquid management, the ride was survived with aplomb, at least it was until i reached about 175km, when the thirst from hell descended upon me. for those with even a vague notion of islay's geography, i was approaching the access road to ardbeg distillery when it descended and i'd scarcely a drop of water left in either bottle.

this entailed a 5km ride back to port ellen village in order to ransack the bottled water shelf in the local averagemarket, downing 500ml with ease, before filling the two bike mounted bottles to allow completion of the trip.

i would not wish to infer that the aforementioned 200km were ridden without recourse to nourishment other than highland spring; a few snack bars and a large helping of carrot cake had already been consumed by this point. which brings me in a largely circuitous manner to my point. as the result of a successful indiegogo campaign last year, the appropriately named swytchbike are now offering an e-bike conversion kit that will allegedly transform any bicycle into an electric machine.

swytchbike

its simplicity is quite impressive; purchase a motor-equipped front wheel, along with a bar bag in which is contained the battery and hey presto, your ordinary bike becomes an e-bike in the twinkling of a spanner. and speaking of ordinary, swytchbike offer, on their website, an electric penny farthing. very much a case of old meets new. however, if that were all there was to the situation, you can be assured i would hardly be impinging on your valuable time, simply to alert you to this innovation. for there, second on the list of attributes, swytchbike make mention of the battery's fifty mile range before recharging is required.

put into continental racing terminology, that's barely 80km of riding. if we assume, like the figures offered by computer manufacturers, that the battery life is just a tad on the optimistic side, measured under contolled conditions that do not include a galeforce headwind, this compares highly disfavourably with the 175km achieved before my highland spring moment. i daresay there are other e-bikes offering better statistics, but those are likely to be complete bicycles as opposed to the adapter kit as proffered by swytchbike.

swytchbike

i am, of course, being slightly disingenuous, because if you recall, i pointed out that the kit included a handlebar bag to carry the battery. correct me if i'm wrong, but i can't think of too many pinarello or colnago owners who would be keen to augment their handlebars in such a fashion. the swytchbike kit is presumably aimed more at the commuting cyclist, particularly those with the option of charging the battery while they work.

batteries are constantly being improved; the apple laptop on which i type these words has an alleged battery life of ten hours, a figure that it mostly seems to achieve with ease. that being the case, it is more than likely that the 2019 version of the swytchbike will take you further, if legally no faster. still, for those of us harbouring serious misgivings about strava, zwift and all things electric, we might be joining the last of the jedi.

electrons are like that.

i also find myself wondering why a company based in hackney prices all its products in u.s. dollars.

swytchbike

thursday 22 february 2018

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rouleur magazine ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

it's just a bike

specialized crux elite

assuming you to be of the male gender, you surely must have been subjected to the 'what's your opinion of..." questioning from your better half, questions to which there is no correct answer. at least, not from you. on almost every day, when returning from slaving over a hot keyboard, sat inside the front door will be at least one package from a mail order catalogue, clearly addressed to mrs washingmachinepost, the contents of which will likely be heading in the opposite direction the very next day.

unlike ordering bicycle parts online, it seems that the aforesaid mail order companies have achieved the uncanny knack of marketing their products as if they are actually the size they say they are, and built from luxurious fabric to a standard of which even nasa would be proud. in point of fact their size (enter your own number here) is either two sizes larger, or, more likely, two sizes smaller (allegedly), than alluded to on the website.

nonetheless, i know all too well, that the evening will be partially filled with a fashion parade of new clothing, many items of which will be distinctly flattering, but no matter what opinion i express when asked, it will be dismissed on the grounds of "what would you know?" or you're just saying that." the former is a statement about which i find it hard to argue, for i seriously doubt anyone would employ my services as an arbiter of fashion.

however, assuming you to be, like myself, of modest intentions, having purchased a new cycle jersey/bibshort/bibtights/rainjacket (delete as applicable), you are not in the habit of parading up and down the sitting room floor dressed in this new finery, to visually appraise your other half of the excellence of your velocipedinally sartorial choices. in my case, i simply dress in one or t'other as listed above and go out to ride my bike; i do not confer any sense of cycling couture appreciation, whatsoever upon mrs washingmachinepost.

ritchey logic

yet, despite this apparent need on her behalf for my half-hearted approval and the subsequent ignoring of whatever i may have valiantly offered, were i to attempt to interest her sense of fairplay by showing a particularly desirable bicycle (by my standards, at least), i can almost guarantee the answer to be a dismissive, "it's just a bike."

at the risk of undermining the basis of marital bliss worldwide, unfortunately, i think mrs washingmachinepost may well be right: any bike is, truly, just a bike. granted, some of today's exotic machinery would give the sturdiest bank manager heart palpitations, were they to be even aware you were considering such a frivolous purchase. but no matter that many bicycles give cause for concern when left outside the coffee shop, lest they blow away in a strong breeze, ultimately, they consist of a frame, two wheels and a collection of necessary componentry.

just a bike.

i have, resting in the bike shed, a particularly fine example of the cyclocross genre, replete with fluorescent red and green paint scheme. the componentry is only a couple of tiers shy of state of the art, the tyres pretty much are state of the art and hydraulic discs ensure that i am seen as of contemporary, modern countenance. yet this past week, when i had need of visiting one of the local farms, the access road to which the owners are carrying out particularly muddy remedial work, i donned thermal jacket, cycling denim and a helmet to make my way there and back on a bicycle that would not have looked out of place in a national championship event. ultimately just a bike.

keeping that specialized crux company behind the shed door, is one of the finest steel-framed bicycles in middle-earth. yet despite being festooned with high quality italian cycle jewellery, it is perfectly capable of offering service as a commuting bike, albeit just a tad over qualified for the job. these bicycles know not of the traits conferred upon them, traits that seem to depend more upon the aspirations of their owner, than the fabric and potential implied by their respective marketing departments. it's almost snobbery by any other name, were we astute enough to realise .

because ultimately, it's just a bike, ready and willing to serve its owner in any way they may see fit; winning the tour de france or nipping down to the shops for a pizza. (your mileage may vary).

wednesday 21 february 2018

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
campagnolo

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the support network

record shop

record shops used to be record shops, places where one could spend endless hours, probably very much to the irritation of the staff, flicking through twelve-inch squares of card in the fervent hope of coming across a release that may have escaped our attention. even better, when at college, there was a second-hand record shop on rosemount viaduct called happy trails. rather topically, that space may currently be occupied by an oxfam charity shop, though i've not been back for several decades, so that could also be completely wrong.

happy trails, if memory serves, featured the strong aroma of patchouli oil and incense, but had rack upon rack at the rear of the premises of second-hand vinyl. though it was rarely referred to as vinyl in those days, you just never knew what you might find on a saturday afternoon; i bought a live recording of fairport convention, concert footage from the sydney opera house i believe and featuring both dave mattacks on drums and the late dave swarbrick on fiddle.

incidentally, just a few years ago, i came across youtube footage of original vocalist, dave matthews who, far from occupying the folk milieu, had decided to carve a career as a jazz singer. if i were him, i wouldn't have bothered; he was terrible.

anyhoo, as per usual, i have digressed ever so slightly. music formats have moved on a tad, perhaps due to vinyl's inability to accurately reproduce bass frequencies. after the not always popular cassette tape format, the compact disc fixed the bass problem, using the considerably smaller wavelength of a laser to cram higher quality reproduction onto a smaller, shinier format. of course, once music had gone digital, the gatekeeper had his hands full to keep the genie in the bottle, as will have been witnessed by downloadable tracks priced in pennies and the more recent equitable agreement between broadband and 4g to allow unlimited streaming of pretty much every commercial release in the entire world.

the problem, for ancient luddites such as myself, is the wholesale dissemination of the album. no longer is it necessary to purchase a selection of songs adjudged by the band and/or its producer to be a track listing, curated to entice and separate you from your hard-earned cash. nowadays i can have either a playlist on my ipod or yet another streamed to any mobile device i might reluctantly end up owning. that playlist, should i deign to involve my listening habits, may possibly not contain more than even a single track from any given artist. from my point of view, that is a crying shame.

can you, for one minute, even consider listening to john coltrane's acknowledgment from a love supreme, followed by odetta by joe henry, or even part one of quartet by steve reich? i'm sure you share my anguish.

however, now that the second age of enlightenment is in its ascendency, vinyl has made a successful comeback and not only with regard to blue note resissues from the late 1950s, but often in the shape of newly released, yet not inexpensive 180g vinyl. for ageing hippies such as yours truly, a return to the days when music occupied 'sides' is once more at our fingertips and turntables.

so what, precisely, does any of this have to do with bicycles?

on 21 april this year, the uk will celebrate 'national record shop day' for which elton john is to be commemorated as the first ever worldwide record store day legend. rather tautologically, this designated date is designed to support the record shops that have had the perspicacity to augment their compact disc selections with at least a few of those glorious record racks, offering black vinyl to many who were probably not born when it first disappeared from musical view.

though i wish not to be the harbinger of bad tidings, there is every possibility that the uibiquitous independent bike shop might be heading the same way as vinyl once did. facing continued pressure from online cycle retailers who have little in the way of bricks and mortar to support, along with expansion of the larger cycle chain stores, many have decided to cut their losses and go ride their bikes instead.

unfortunately, there appears to be no velocipedinal heirarchy in the uk with the clout or nous to declare a national bike shop day on which the great, the good and the unwashed would show their undying support for the independents, the very outlets that would be sure to take care of us in our hour(s) of need. as has been prudently pointed out on a previous occasion, websites won't repair your bicycle. however, rather unexpectedly (no disrespect intended), the canadians have taken matters into their own hands by announcing their own national bike shop day, taking place on the speedily approaching saturday 24 march. it's an event that they readily acknowledge was inspired by their own national record shop day.

according to the organisers, it's to be an annual event "celebrating the culture of the independently owned bicycle store. to showcase all that small bike businesses do to support their local communities."

let's face it, a good idea is a good idea, no matter from which side of the atlantic it originates.

canada's national bike store day | #supportyourlocalbikeshop

tuesday 20 february 2018

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galloway cycling

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it's good to talk

miniature peloton

there's a scene from an episode of the big bang theory in which howard wollowitz is going into space to spend time on the international space station. he is accompanied in the soyuz capsule as they prepare for lift-off, by a russian cosmonaut and a fellow american. the latter two are holding a conversation regarding the former's wife having acquired a poodle and how he had ended up being responsible for not only walking the animal, but having to clear up after it too.

howard, petrified of what might transpire during the launch, complains that they should surely be talking about space matters as opposed to mundane domestic duties. it is a mindset that could be easily applied to considered pelotonic discussion during the sunday morning ride.

we have amongst our number, one individual who finds it hard to discuss anything other than matters pertaining to the bicycle; gear shifters, derailleurs, gloves, wheels, variations in butted spokes; you name it, it has been discussed at length, usually without resolution and almost certainly to the point of redundancy. there's a good chance that any manufacturer whose product was being talked about, will have brought an upgrade to market by the time the subject is exhausted.

on the new year's day ride several years past, the selfsame gent brazenly blotted his copybook upon greeting visitors from across the pond. the male of the couple was riding a beautiful, handbuilt, lugged steel bicycle, replete with a shiny campagnolo groupset. though the frame was not of italian origin, it bore all the hallmarks of that nation's craftsmanship, definitely not the sort of bicycle to which you'd attach an industrial-strength, black, chunky chainset. seemingly oblivious to this fact, our esteemed member of the sunday peloton rode up to the fellow and, omitting any new year greetings, stated that were the canadian gentleman thinking of acquiring a new chainset, he would not recommend that affixed to his own bicycle.

therefore, i wonder whether the myriad pelotons, collectively heading out into the sunrise of a sunday morning, constrain their conversations to specifically velocipedinal matters? is it necessary to discuss the contents of that specific week's 'comic', or just how froomey is faring after salbutamol-gate, or whether adding bluetooth to one's di2 groupset in order to program selected gear changes and update the firmware is the sort of thing that any self-respecting cyclist ought to be considering?

because, to be quite honest, i can scarcely be bothered with all that faff. i have no qualms about making expert comments on stages of the giro, le tour or the roughness of the cobbles at paris-roubaix, but generally speaking, it seems highly suspect to discuss bicycles when out riding the blighters.

with this in mind, i paid a tad more heed to the discussions taking place in yesterday morning's pelotonic adventure. for the unfortunate fellow who's day job is that of local roads engineer, pointing out the plethora of potholes and disintegrating verges is probably the very conversations he'd hoped a bike ride would free him from. but there were also discussions concerning the current lack of fibre broadband in bowmore village, what might be for tea last night and whether the rain might hold off long enough to ride home dry. oddly enough, there was also a brief conversation about shampoo, but that's probably alpecin's fault.

and we're worth it.

monday 19 february 2018

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hot chillee ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

a question of balance

bmx trackstand

this past week i received a copy of the drummer's lifeline, a small paperback written by peter erskine and dave black. the subtitle of this highly useful and informative publication (that is, assuming you're a drummer) is quick fixes, hacks and tips of the trade. though i do not propose to review the book within these pixels, if i might give just a flavour of the subject matter, here's a suggestion from page 8, apparently gleaned from studio legend, jim keltner.

"problem: my floor tom is ringing too long. trick: remove one of the three foor tom legs, turn it upside down an re-insert it into the bracket."

i confess, i've yet to try that one, but with mrs washingmachinepost away next weekend, there's every chance it's going to happen sooner rather than later. however, relevant to the point i wish to impose upon you below, page 51 poses the question "should i twirl my sticks?" to which the blunt answer is "no." though i have occasionally attempted to do precisely this, i have great sympathy for the answer; it works fine when sat in front of my practice kit, but sure as fate, those sticks would likely injure the bass player were i to attempt it mid-gig.

there are many excellent drummers who can play beautfully, while inserting the occasional stick twirl and there are every bit as many who can't. twirling sticks does not one whit for your percussive skills. and i tend to take a similar view of freestyle bmx.

though no doubt peter sagan's endearing finish-line antics were gleaned from a mis-spent youth aboard a chromed bmx with a gyro headset spinner, it's a cycling discipline that i fear has more in common with the circus than with proper cycling. i'm happy to admit that some of my disapproval is engendered by a personal envy that i do not harbour the ability to even ride a bike 'no hands'. this latter fact has stood me in good stead as to why i never raced; if i won (a little hebridean humour there), i'd be unable to perform the customary finish-line salute.

i'm sure there a number of you are now ready and willing to send vitrioloc missives in my direction, due to this unprovoked attack on freestyle bmx, having spent many happy hours of your own, while still of school age, breaking bones and removing acres of skin from your shins. while i can come to terms with such easily defined juvenile behaviour, it does give occasional cause for concern that there are more than just a few adults still doing so today and getting paid for it. however, to lessen the thrust of my critique, there have been many times over this past winter that i wish my own youth had been similarly mis-spent, for i would surely now be in possession of the one bmx and track skill that would remove a perennial problem from my weekend cycling.

much as computers used to be advertised on their processor speed, it is common for modern car advertisements to offer the time taken for the vehicle to go from 0-60. i am assured that this is not to attract the ubiquitous boy racers, but to offer confidence that any overtaking manoeuvre will be carried out with aplomb and a comforting level of safety. should you inadvertently begin to pass the glasgow-campbeltown bus, only to see an oncoming vehicle that wasn't there a moment ago, it can only be of great relief to know that pressing harder on the loud pedal ought to see you in front and in the correct lane, before meeting said oncoming vehicle.

but despite this manifest detail of the car's accelerative properties, it would appear that the country's car salesmen failed to mention this salient point to many of those perambulating the singletrack roads of the hebrides. as a conscientious ambassador for my people, i'm inclined to be the first to dip into a passing place should a car be spotted heading in my direction. this is also because, nine times out of ten, that driver had no intention, in any case, of pulling in to let me pass.

if judged well, i can usually roll slowly through the passing place in order to exit its safety without having to unclip my right shoe. but this is really only an option if the driver, noting my extreme courteousness, presses harder on the pedal to save me hanging about in the cold, wet windy weather. it appears, however, that i bestow too much credibility on the average motorist, for any sign of acceleration is usually conspicuous by its absence, and i do, indeed, have to put a foot down.

were i to inhabit the skilful world of peter sagan, never mind his propensity for an impressive turn of speed, i would simply trackstand in the passing place till the vehicle had passed. in fact, were i to have such a skill, i would probably welcome a whole gaggle of cars, happy to have the opportunity to demonstrate my insouciant, devil-may-care attitude. if i ever reach such lofty heights, you can be sure i will be simultaneously twirling my drumsticks.

sunday 18 february 2018

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chrome industries ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

portland design works daybot tail light

pdw daybot tail light

at the consumer electronics show held in las vegas at the beginning of january this year, trek bicycles and ford america announced a collaborative effort to enable communication between bike and car. their definition of communication does not, however, encapsulate a means of affording cyclists the opportunity to shout at errant drivers, or, indeed, vice versa, but adoption of cellular vehicle-to-everything technology. this may well be an astute move on behalf of trek, as vehicular design edges ever closer to the so-called autonomous vehicle or as we more colloquially refer, the driverless car.

pdw daybot tail light

a quick poll around the office evinced little confidence in the above, even though there are many contemporary vehicles already incorporating the fringes of this technology, demonstrating the ability to park in small spaces that would often challenge those who consider themselves to be particularly decent drivers. however, if and when driverless cars take to the roads, the promised advantages of excluding the person behind the steering wheel relies greatly on cars, talking to cars, talking to cars. this talking essentially means making each vehicle into a single node on an extended network, thus making car travel into what might legitimately be described as an extra-sensory digital experience.

the concern that, from the cyclists' point of view at least, were bicycles to remain outside this cellular vehicle-to-everything technology, means essentially that bicycles would remain electronic persona non grata, possibly excluded from any spatial interrogations made by the surrounding motor vehicles. ultimately, for the technology to work as efficiently as possible, the world's pedestrian population will no doubt have need of an app on their smartphones, broadcasting their every move to both bicycles and motor vehicles. what price orwell's 1984 when that arrives?

pdw daybot tail light

meantime, back in the real world, the average commuting cyclist has still to keep their wits about them when entering the miasma that constitues rush-hour traffic. for at present, we still rely on good old human senses and all the failings present therein. but, as many are already aware, there are plenty of available assistants to help advertise velocipedinal presence midst the motoring circus. and as if to add insult to injury, fiat are currently advertising a range of vehicles incorporating the ability to display favoured smartphone apps on a central screen. this seems something of an anomaly considering the legislation forbidding drivers from using their phones while driving. shifting the focus to a dashboard screen hardly seems to ameliorate that strand of the law.

in the face of what appears to be sanctioned adversity, and not just after dark, it's no longer simply a case of hoping to be seen, but more one of jumping about and waving our existence. and one of the best ways to start would be to fit a portland design works daybot tail light. making use of car technology in the shape of a light emitting diode straight from car brake lights, the daybot light has the ability to shine every bit as bright as your favourite or less than favourite motor vehicle. pdw have perceptively paid heed to the fact that the modern-day cyclist no longer makes use of a rear light solely after dark.

pdw daybot tail light

the daybot features a 100 lumen daytime pulse mode (as well as a 60 lumen static mode), because even on those days when daylight is in plentiful supply, the skies can be overcast and thus lowering our visibility. you know, the days when silver coloured cars become all but invisible. and should your conscience prevent you from glaring too brightly rearwards at following vehicles, the daybot is easily switchable to one of three less frightening night modes, a change which also conserves the unit's battery life.

the latter, even when switched to static mode, is most impressive. i achieved well over forty-eight continuous hours before recharging was necessary, easily accomplished via the ubiquitous usb cable. the included rubber bungee allows the light to be attached to pretty much any diameter of seatpost either vertically or horizontally, without any change to its effectiveness. should that be a less than favourable option, there's also a seatstay bracket included as an alternative.

unlike several other tail lights on the market, switching the light on and off is easily achieved by means of a large(ish) rubber button in the centre of the light. this is far easier to access than the more often found hard switch on the base or rear. until technology affords seamless communication between all those using the public roads, pdw's daybot tail light is a more than convenient means of avoiding the smidsy acronym (sorry mate, i didn't see you) even in the hours of daylight.

the portland design works daybot tail light retails at $35 (approximately £25).

portland design works daybot tail light

saturday 17 february 2018

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specialized bicycles ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

xavier lopez and bike basque

bike basque

valentine's day for the majority of islanders was postponed until thursday 15 february. galeforce winds forced the cancellation of the morning's first two ferry sailings meaning, aside from no newspapers and no morning rolls, neither was there any mail delivery. though it seems hard to explain or justify, any mail posted on islay is transported to glasgow for sorting and franking before returning to the isle, hopefully by next day. so even those with romantic good intentions and who had posted their valentine's cards in time, no ferry meant no mail and thus a delay in heartfelt wishes and heavily decorated envelopes.

bike basque

it is therefore of little wonder that more than just a few hebrideans spend their winter evenings huddling over laptop computers, able to bask in the warm glow of foreign and sunnier parts. this is the time of year when the ad breaks on television are often filled with the enticement of package holidays abroad, river cruises in the far east and attractive air fare prices to america's west coast and southern antipodean delights. even those of us who subscribe to the flandrian ideal can be seen wistfully eyeing up early season training camps, or simply the opportunity to cycle regions that offer a modest degree of purgatory coupled with the need to apply sun tan lotion.

assuming an obviated need to travel long distances to fulfil such wishes, the european mainland is often seen as the more obvious of choices and for those with grimpeur pretensions, the basque region of northern spain would appear to tick the majority of boxes. rather than cram the bicycle into a box or bag before booking flights in that direction, those of us who would prefer their iberian jaunt to be a tad less rudimentary might like to further explore the biarritz based, guided tours offered by former national level racing cyclist, xavier lopez at bike basque.

lopez started bike basque almost five years ago, having always enjoyed organising training camps and cycletours for his team-mates. while living in london for a couple of years from 2010, he noted that cav's world championship victory and sir bradley's tour victory had dramatically increased britain's appreciation of road cycling and thought the time right to put his cycling and organisational skills to commercial use.

bike basque

the bike basque website provides links to several different organised tours, ranging in price from €1600 for the climbs of the pyrenees, to €2600 for a luxury tour of the bordeaux region across the border in france, as well as a more open-ended custom option. having perused each of these while trying hard not to drool on the keyboard, i confess i'd be very hard-pressed to choose one over another, so i asked xavier if there was one that had proved more popular than its peers?

"The company is called Bike Basque, so many people naturally contact us for cycling tours in the Basque Country. Our 'In the Basque Country' option is quite sportive in format, with rides of around 100km and ascending some of the more difficult climbs the region has to offer.
"On the other hand, the 'Luxury Basque Tour' is more about quality hotels, visits and most importantly, the food. The Basque country is one of the most Michelin starred regions in the world, with more than 25 Michelin stars across ten restaurants.
"However, in 2014 we also launched the 'Raid Pyrenees' and every year this guided tour becomes more and more popular. Many cyclists from around the globe love to challenge themselves on the classic climbs of the Tourmalet, the Aubisque, etc., and also enjoy cycling from the Atlantic coast to that of the Mediterranean."

bike basque

cyclists may be one of the few niche groups where relaxing pool side with cocktail in hand and a good book is total anathema. the velocipedinal set are more inclined to set forth with heart-rate monitor in place and training manual stuffed in a back pocket, ready to do battle with whatever adversities the basque country might be prepared to offer. however, even within this elite group of sadly misguided individuals, are many with a better grasp on reality, well aware that there is such a thing as a gradient too far. with this in mind, are bike basque's tours geared more towards the fit recreational rider, or could they conceivably be considered as training camps?

"Our 'Luxury Tours, in the Basque Country, along with the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France are more recreational tours. The food and wine in the latter two, are considered to be almost as important as the cycling.
"The 'Sportive Tours', in the Pyrennees, Basque Country and the Alps are definitely geared towards the more serious cyclist. They are a real challenge."

bike basque

but if you're more like me than the latter, you'd perhaps be hoping to enjoy as much of an unfettered cycling holiday as it's possible to manage. and given the proclivity of airport baggage handlers to redesign even the strongest piece of carbon fibre, travelling with your own bicycle might be a less than attractive proposition. for those who'd prefer to arrive in the basque country as lightly laden as possible, can xavier supply the option of a quality rental bicycle?

"Yes. In 2016 we invested in a fleet of nine good quality, Shimano Ultegra equipped carbon bikes. These can of course be rented during our tours, but we can also deliver them free of charge around Biarritz where we are based. For other cities in the Basque Country (like San Sebastian, Bilbao etc.) we generally charge a fee, depending on the distance we have to drive to deliver."

sven thiele's annual hot chillee london-paris ride defines inclusion within each group by a required average speed, sadly one that is not always met by participants many of whom overestimate their abilities. as already discussed with xavier above, the basque country and pyrenees are hardly what might be described as pan-flat, so it would surely be incumbent on those keen to engage the services of bike basque to ensure a certain level of equitable fitness. does this match with xavier's expectations, or could even the timid enjoy one of his tours?

bike basque

"Bike Basque always provides an accompanying car or van to support our clients, along with food, water etc. For those who find the going harder than they'd expected, it's always possible to jump in and enjoy the countryside on four wheels. (I can promise that our staff always select the best music, while they're driving)."

as previously mentioned, the bike basque website offers a current total of seven guided tours, along with the custom option, allowing potential customers or groups to specify just where they think they'd like to ride their bikes. however, i'd be inclined to think that the seven curated options offer more than ideal solutions for the intrepid cycling holidaymaker. I asked xavier, therefore, if there was much demand for the eighth option? for instance, how realistic would it be to create a custom tour when it seems likely that the customer may be less than familiar with the region?

"Actually yes. Almost 50% of our requests are for custom tours; to fit specific dates, a specific duration or asking for particular routes not listed on our website. Those tours are also very exciting to organise. After speaking to the clients and enquiring after their wishes, we try to create exactly what they want."

bike basque

the prospect of each guided tour being accompanied by vehicular support is a comforting one. though for most of us the lack of a professional contract is surely simply an administrative oversight, there's always just the teeniest, tiniest possibility that we're not as good as we think we are (present company excluded, of course). but were our egos for one minute to be placed under suitable restraint, it's just possible that not only might we learn much about the region in which we cycle, but possibly even about the art of riding a bicycle in more stressful conditions than the average brit is used to. in order for that to become a reality, not only would it be necessary to feature experienced guides, but an appropriate number of them.

how many guides usually accompany a tour and is there a maximum number of riders allowed on each?

bike basque

"We're working with a ratio of one guide per four riders (for the Sportive Tours), and one guide per three clients (for the Luxury Tours). This is a slightly higher ratio than many other cycle travel companies, but we really want our customers to feel well catered for. As we work most of the time with authentic boutique-hotels, the number of rooms is often limited, so we therefore try to keep the number of riders in a group to under 14. But if a larger group (like an entire cycle club, for instance) want a specific tour just for them, we can cater for that too."

though cycle sales may well be on the decrease in the united kingdom accompanied with a concomitant loss of cycle shops across the country, there's little evidence to support that those of us who venture forth each and every sunday morning are any less enthusiastic about our metier. it's quite possible, therefore, that there will be increasingly greater numbers of us ever keen to explore the nooks and crannies of regions such as southern france, the pyrenees and the basque country. in a year or two, xavier might have his hands full. with this in mind, does he have any plans to expand bike basque, or is he quite happy with the way things are at present?

"Initially we organised rides solely in the Basque Country and then in the Pyrenees, Burgundy,etc. I even received a request from an ex- pat group of ten Australians in Italy; therefore, I think we can continue to expand as long as the requests keep rolling in. In truth, we love exploring new regions and finding the best gems for our clients.
"But the most important factor for us is to retain the same Bike Basque 'spirit' we currently have. It's important to offer a very good atmosphere, hotels, restaurants and friendly staff. As long as we can maintain those, then Bike Basque will continue to expand in line with demand."

xavier lopez and bike basque will be at the london bike show in the excel centre in london's docklands from 23-25 february. if you're attending, drop by and say hello.

bike basque

bike basque

friday 16 february 2018

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a breath of fresh air

howies chris froome t-shirt

i am particularly grateful to the world's cycle clothing purveyors for having the great good sense to provide normal cycle clothing. by this i refer to the sort of trousers, shirts, polos and jerseys that seem every bit as everyday as the sort of stuff to be bought on the high street. though surely constituted as purely psychological reasoning, while i'd be considerably less than keen to wear a proper jacket, one with lapels and an executive air about itself, if i know there's a label inside the collar demonstrating its velocipedinal heritage, all is well with the world. even if nobody else knows.

not for me, the hooded sweatshirt proclaiming attendance at an american west coast university; far more satisfactory to wear an apparently anonymous version, fabricated from merino, bamboo or carbon fibre. thus, on noting a tweet from campagnolo, advertising availability of a logo-enhanced tracksuit top, despite being sorely tempted, i resisted reaching for the 'buy' button. though i have no problem admitting to being a self-styled aficionado of componentry from vicenza, i fear that my dressing as a poor apology for a sponsored athlete, is simply a couple of sleeves too far.

i cannot, however, deny that i am probably a member of a small minority in this respect. while there are several richard sachs emblazoned t-shirts in my wardrobe, admittedly worn with pride, i have no great wish to style myself as a leisure-based advertising hoarding. i have previously written about the secret signs adopted by cycling's secret society, most notably the oval tan patches promoted by old-skool track mitts, which i regard as the preferred level of subtlety when inhabiting civilian garb. i feel no need, however, to remain incognito when brazenly riding my bicycle.

hopefully, over the course of my years filling these black and yellow pixels, you will have realised that, while i take my cycling reasonably seriously, the general watchword is that of levity. yet once more, when faced with the opportunity to grab hold of a t-shirt or sweatshirt printed with humorous slogans or caricatures, my sense of resistance is quite stoic. yes, i do indeed have in my collection one which proclaims 'education is important, but cycling is importanter', but to be honest, that has far more to do with poking fun at grammatical pedantry, than at cycling. a bit like having a t-shirt with the word apostrophe's across the chest (i do hope you noted what i did there?).

and it's partially on the basis of that professed levity, that i rarely make comment on the various alleged violations of the uci's banned list. for starters, i remain sadly uninformed as to the machinations and complexities involved. commenting on matters of which i know little, is scarcely something new. however, the majority of those writings have concerned mechanical or engineering subjects, while alleged drugs use almost certainly can adversely affect the livelihoods and reputation of individuals who may or may not be innocent of all charges. in instances such as these, i'd prefer to remain at the roadside.

but contradicting pretty much everything i've just said, was the garment advertised in an e-mail from clothing providers howies. humorously entitled 'extracting the urine', howies are celebrating the 2018 return to racing by tour and vuelta winner chris froome. howies signed off their e-mail by saying "Good luck, Chris! We hope that asthma doesn't start playing up again."

tongue. in. cheek.

howies chris froome t-shirt

thursday 15 february 2018

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the cost of living

copenhagen

i've managed only a single bicycle journey in the centre of london (two if you include the 'tweed run') during which i contrived to get lost, ride the wrong way down a one-way street and find myself to be well short of my intended location with no timeous means of arriving for an appointment. sadly, the despondent return journey was only marginally more successful, the only measure of success being that of having survived pretty much unscathed. while the tweed run was actually quite fun, the alternative was far less so.

i would be more than inclined to agree with anyone who figured that city centre cycling failed to feature on their top ten fun things to do. that said, i'd more than likely travel to and from work on a bicycle should the necessity of residing in a less idyllic setting be forced upon me. the few annual occasions on which i visit the great metropolis, i find it all but inexplicable that anyone would voluntarily drive round london's streets. seen from the point of view of a rank outsider, the availability of the underground, bus, taxi or indeed, simply walking, seems far more pragmatic and appealing.

in order to perhaps improve the city centre cyclists' lot and at the serious risk of treading the same path as several other cycling commentators, perhaps we'd be well advised to take a look at the city of copenhagen for guidance. while many a cyclist on this side of the channel can quite legitimately be regarded as either eccentric (by so-called normal standards), or enthusiastic, denmark's capital city is populated by less individualistic perambulators. to quote from a recent article about the city in the guardian newspaper, cycling is the easiest means of getting anywhere.

"An extraordinary 62% of people living in (Copenhagen) cycle to work every day and the vast majority keep it up through cold and wet weather. "It's the easiest choice. The city is designed for bikes and not cars."

while british cyclists become inured to their status as 'second class citizens', often the subject of road rage and less serious iniquities, copenhagen has all but placed bicyclists on a pedestal. "We bike all the time - it's the easiest choice." even the cycle paths are cleared of snow before the roads.

however, one can but note that the danish capital's cyclists appear to be of a totally different mindset. having bored you senseless up till now, regarding the compact and bijou nature of my home village, along with far more modest traffic conditions than even small towns in scotland, on the face of it, there would seem to be few hindrances to cycling. yet only yesterday, on a cold but bright and sunny day, i witnessed a close neighbour exiting the averagemarket with a single bag of shopping, before climbing into an suv to drive a few hundred metres home.

the uk's cycling activists and pro cycling organisations spend many of their waking hours campaigning for a fairer deal and better facilities for the cycling public. not necessarily for those of us skittering about on carbon nano-tubes, but cyclists for whom leisure means less frantic pedalling and those using the bicycle as their principal means of transport. it is just conceivable that some of their time might be better spent persuading the non-cycling public of cycling's advantages as seen by residents of copenhagen. but for the rest of the day, a word or two with the ministry of transport to help make cycling 'the easiest choice' seems excellent use of their time and funding.

meanwhile, at an individual level, riding our bicycles in every appropriate scenario can but help both their and our case. perhaps we can redefine the phrase 'coffee and danish'.

wednesday 14 february 2018

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taking the rough with the smooth

paris-roubaix cobbles

it is an odd conundrum for sure. as we creep ever closer to our beloved spring classics and a mere 54 days until paris-roubaix, in direct contrast to those paid to ride those cobbles, many of us are hoping for the same weather conditions as those currently inflicting themselves upon the hebrides. though a few members of the g.c. ristorante debbie's peloton were admittedly away on extra-curricular manoeuvres at the weekend, two of us, who could scarcely gather sufficient brain cells to know better, still headed out in snow and sub-zero, galeforce conditions for the weekly bike ride.

paris-roubaix has been pretty much free of inclement weather for quite some number of years, more often offering an eager audience clouds of dust from the mavic motorbikes than the prospect of muddied riders heading for the showers in roubaix velodrome. it's the weather that we ourselves would prefer to experience on the sunday morning road to coffee and cake, but yet our sympathies for the professionals are seemingly lessened by this patent lack of adversity (always assuming you discount the necessity of riding the cobbles in the first place).

but the inequity does not end there. those cobbled sections that set paris-roubaix apart from mere bike races have long been in danger of being buried under dollops of tarmac. with good reason, the french inhabitants who have need of traversing those uneven stones for the other 364 days of the year, scarcely share our enthusiasm for less than pristine road surfaces. indeed, it's true that more than just a few of those roads have been driven to destruction by the less than compact and bijou tractors employed on the surrounding farms, but the fact that many thousands of cycle fans worldwide would prefer that they suffered in silence does not, it seems, cut the mustard.

and who can blame them?

but in order that the race continue to fulfil its uneven promise, both the amaury sports organisation (a.s.o.) and les amis de paris-roubaix are on an annual search to find currently hidden or unused sectors of pavé. these are either subsequently requisitioned for the good of the cause, or patiently reconditioned by les amis for use in next year's event.

the contrast here is in the difference between them and us. argyll and bute council, in common with many councils across the country, have found that decreasing funding has often meant that the amount of money available to spend on road maintenance has reduced year on year. this has mostly resulted in seriously deteriorating road surfaces and a substantial increase in the number of potholes. the winter weather and undeniable increase in car and lorry traffic has simply made matters worse. fortunately, two wheels, rather than four, often make it a tad easier to avoid the worst of these iniquities, but i can guarantee that this fact scarcely curries favour with those obligated to drive.

so here we are, two countries separated by a difference of opinion over the definition of tactility. as we ploughed through sub-zero adversity on the way home this past sunday, we were in agreement that an islay which featured pristine road conditions would simply undermine our allegedly highly developed sense of adventure. though aware that there is a paris-roubaix sportive open to all-comers, the chances that any of us will organise ourselves sufficiently to participate are remarkably small. therefore, the best we have is the road known locally as the abattoirenberg forest, a roubaix-like section of singletrack road about which i have advised the roads engineer he is to leave well alone. any attempt to repair its often serious discomfort will be looked upon most unfavourably.

in a hundred years' time, the cycling fans of the future will surely offer thanks for our intransigence.

tuesday 13 february 2018

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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

port mòr bistro. now that the original debbie's is run by her mum, aileen, debbie has taken over the catering franchise at port charlotte's port mòr centre, where you can have some of deb's famously wonderful coffee as well as a wide range of foodtsuffs. highly recommended.

braehouse gallery, portnahaven. sited at the entrance to portnahaven village, the gallery also offers takeway coffees and a range of cakes. there's also quite a wide range of photos, islay souvenirs and other desirable odds and bits. though you can't sit in for coffee and cake, there is a table and chairs outside along with an adjacent bicycle rack for parking.

and recently opened in islay house square, bridgend in the islay studios photo gallery, a fine selection of designer coffees are now available while you admire the surrounding imagery.

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as always, if you have any comments, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

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