many years ago, a relatively well-known piper with an ego somewhat larger than our practice room visited islay and took it upon himself to come talk to us and offer the benefit of that substantial ego. though he may well have been a more than competent practitioner of the highland bagpipes, he spent most of the car journey to and from tuesday evening practice regaling us with tales from his brief interlude in a new york loft with former members of david byrne's talking heads. the sum total of his satisfyingly brief time with us was to point out that he thought us little more than a "social club with pipes and drums".
the irony was that, despite his intending the remark to be a put down, we were rather enamoured with the description. for in truth, that's pretty much what the band was at that time.
no doubt there are cyclists also possessed of such acuity of observation coupled with the brass neck to think themselves of comparable velocipedinal importance. i believe just such a person would be inclined to describe the velo club in a similar manner, substituting bicycles and helmets for pipes and drums. and they would be not far wide of the mark. apart from the last few kilometres heading towards the coffee stop, it would be prudent to replace the garmin with a calendar. any strava segments we may roll through would be very unlikely to register movement of any interest.
and in the course of this week's sunday ride, our conversational abilities were concerned, at least in part, with chris boardman's stance on the ever present helmet debate. the mighty dave t spent his entire racing and time-trialling career wearing little other than a cotton cap on his head. (and jersey and shorts of course). in my case, i wear a helmet to protect myself against my own ineptitude on gravelly corners rather than any motorised intervention. not unnaturally, this brought us onto the dfferences between modern day formula one cycling with unrecognisable riders clad in helmets and oakleys, and the halcyon days of yore when riders were noticeable by their riding style and the fact that you could see their faces, even when covered in grime.
evidence, for those more involved in the modern idiom, unaware that gears were ever changed from levers on the downtube, that toeclips ever existed or that indexing came from fishing reels, is fabulously encapsulated in the compact and bijou hardback from velopress entitled goggles and dust. one hundred black and white photos from the early years of cycling's great past follow an introduction by brett horton who, with wife shelly has amassed a not inconsiderable number of such images.
"I must admit that my wife Shelly, and I never set out to collect original vintage bicycle racing prints. In fact, the only reason we initially acquired them was to document and help authenticate some of the older racing jerseys and accessories in our collection." (the horton collection is one of the most revered and comprehensive collections of european cycling memorabilia in the world.)
this is cycling at its grittiest, when roads were little more than gravel tracks, bicycles had two gears at best and riders wrapped spare tubulars around their torsos. it is also something of a curiosity that more than just one or two of those fixed-gear cycles carried two pumps. and if i had my way, bottle cages would still be hung in front of the handlebars. in fact, i had once hoped to ask sacha white of vanilla cycles if i could purchase such an item after seeing them decorating one of his show cycles.
in his introduction, brett horton lets slip that his collection of images now numbers close on 350,000, so it must have been something of a gargantuan task to slim the choice down to just five score. perhaps that augurs well towards a whole series of books like this. i'd very much like to think so. not only is it a totally droolsworthy volume, but perfectly sized for sitting in the armchair of an evening, wondering where it all went so wrong (well, apart from compact chainsets and brake lever shifting. obviously.)
aside from the historical content of each image, it's well worth appreciating the quality of the photography itself. though obviously not all by the same photographer, consider that digital was probably a word not thought of in the early 1900s and cameras were considerably less portable than they are today. when it was probably not simply a case of grabbing one of two (or three) nikons or canons hanging round your neck to snap that essential shot. when it's ever likely that heavy wooden tripods were likely to be involved. yet, aside from the inevitable posed shot, many of those included in goggles and dust are every bit the equal of their modern day counterparts, enhanced by the patina of the many intervening years.
it really makes no nevermind whether you're considering the latest in carbon fibre and electronic shifting for next season, or happy to ride thirty year-old steel with five-speed downtube shifting, this is the book that you need to get for christmas. and it's also the book you need to buy everyone in your sunday peloton for christmas. some of them might not understand just yet, but eventually they'll get it.
to be viewed while wearing wool, a cotton cap and a healthy appreciation of heritage.
sunday 23 november 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................