perhaps somewhat obviously, thewashingmachinepost is a cycling website. if you have arrived here in the quest for a washing machine or associated equipment, you might perhaps like to try here instead. or not, as the case may be. the choice is yours...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"the british road race championships will take place in glaschu, that quaint little gaelic fishing village on the banks of the clyde."..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
at the risk of not only stating the obvious, i'm about to reiterate it for the umpteenth time, and there's no apology to soften the blow.
our standing in the world of competitive cycling is at an all-time high. bradley wiggins is still the current holder of the tour's yellow jersey, though rather obviously that will not be the case come the end of july. however, team sky are the world' number one race team, so far as i know, their clothing is supplied by a british apparel manufacturer, and there is good reason to hope that the guy that stood on the second step of last year's paris podium will be one step further up at the end of this year's race. add to that the considerable talents of mark cavendish, no longer in blue and black, but winner of the points jersey in may's giro d'italia and on course to nab green in france next month
as if that were not enough, at last year's london olympics, lizzie armitstead occupied silver in the women's road race, while messers wiggins (again), hoy, pendleton and kenny underlined just how darned good british cycling has become on the path to the finish line. to say that the cycling obsessives in the uk are chuffed to bits would be something of an understatement.
and according to british cycling, since sir brad won the tour last year, their membership has increased by 50%.
however, no matter the number of wiggo jerseys that rapha sell, nor the numbers of pendleton and hoy bikes sold by halfords and evans respectively, it's the nations leisure and commuting cyclists that ought to be in line to benefit from this sporting largesse. and to a certain extent, they have. sky tv, not simply content with emblazoning their logo across more than just a few jaguar xf sportbrakes, have put their money where their collective mouth is, and both sponsored and organised any number of sky rides throughout the country to introduce the civilian population to the joys of cycling in a guided and safe manner.
taking all the foregoing out of context, you would be forgiven for thinking that the future is particularly bright for the british cyclist. it can only be a matter of years before we nationally emulate portland or, dare i say it, amsterdam. even scotland is attempting to instigate in law a similar feature as observed at sea, whereby steam gives way to sail. in this case cars, or at least their drivers, will be required to behave in a slightly more deferential way to cyclists. restoring the natural order of things so to speak.
yet here we are, slap bang in the middle of national bike week and most of us were blissfully unaware of its existence.
i receive a constant stream of press releases from various corners of the bicycle industry as, i'm presuming, do many other writers of cycling blogs. it's the expected way and in most cases is extremely helpful, especially when you're in the position of updating every day as i am. so my principal question would be, why no press releases from the national bike week? if they're really serious about impressing this upon an eager public, wouldn't plying their wares around the print and blogospheres seem like the ideal way to get more folks on side?
in the name of real, honest to goodness practical research, while i'm currently in scotland, i nipped into a local bike shop a few hundred metres from where i'm staying, and asked if they were aware that they/we were currently in the middle of national bike week. they weren't. both guys were vaguely aware that such a thing existed, but had no idea it existed right now.
i consider myself completely obsessed with the world of cycling in all its different forms, and via the structures that help keep thewashingmachinepost flowing freely, i think myself quite well informed as to its machinations. yet this year's national bike week crept up completely unannounced, and not just to me. in the usa, portland has its own bike month (note the word month) as do many other states, and there is often considerable support from the business community; chris king's in portland offer an extra two days holiday for employees who cycle to work for the whole month.
that's the sort of support someone at bike week needs to be negotiating on our behalf if britain's bike week is going to have any clout. sending out badges, balloons and fluorescent trouser clips is a bit like the first settlers offering trinkets to the native indians; utterly pointless. let's face it, if bike week goes off like a damp squib given cycling's alleged popularity, what chance success if the bubble ever bursts?
to briefly return to the athletes said to be responsible for britain's current love affair with the bicycle, what chance is there of this state of affairs being repeated on a regular basis if we don't encourage the young kids of now to get out on their bikes more often? while i think it eminently necessary to encourage the adult population for health and lifestyle reasons, and perhaps the younger generation comes under that heading too, if there is to be another sir brad or sir chris, someone somewhere has to point them in the right direction.
and a well organised and forceful bike month may be the ideal place to start.
wednesday 19th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i have mentioned on more than one occasion, the inestimable mr benzie, an elderly aberdonian (at least, he seemed elderly to a kid still at school) who was the proprietor of the bike shop in my home town. though current retail therapy has produced the optimal and thus largely uniform interior adopted wholesale by the bicycle industry, mr benzie's shop consisted of two distinct wooden and corrugated iron buildings sat side by side adjacent to the public library in kyle street.
their elevated position (physically) meant ascending four wooden steps into either the owner's emporium from whence advice and admonishments were dispensed seemingly in equal measure, and what constituted the showroom. this latter department would only be open to would-be purchasers in the presence of mr benzie himself, accessed via a different set of wooden steps opposite those mentioned above. the door to bicycle heaven was kept locked, and mr benzie held the key.
behind both these retail fronts was a substantially sized shed containing a surprisingly large number of bicycles identified by a brown tag tied to the handlebars. these were cycles in for repair, and i always got the impression that many had been forgotten by their owners.
all over the country there were cycle shops like this; i have little doubt that there are still examples hidden in the most unlikely corners of the uk even today. but more likely these have ceased to exist, their former owners having moved on to employment of a more lucrative nature, or simply moved on permanently. others will have been absorbed by larger concerns or been modernised in the manner of current retail diktat, filled with branded slatted wall displays and bicycles that fulfil current consumer demand. and that's forgetting about the staged lighting.
there's a part of me that longs for the mr benzie era, for there was always the promise that there may be items of so-called new old stock, long forgotten on a shelf near the ceiling. and hopefully inhabiting a campagnolo box. shops of that era had what i figure would now be referred to as character, by which i don't just mean their belligerent owners. but life moves on, and bricks and mortar have now to compete with clicks and pixels.
the old reliables of parker international and ribble cycles, the latter still a regular advertiser in the comic, the former seemingly not so. they now suffer in a manner similar to the criticisms levelled at them when they both took two or three page adverts in every issue. in such times, the local independent bike shop simply could not compete with the prices offered in those tightly packed advertisements, and this when browsers were still folk that took a long time searching the bookshelves in foyles and waterstones.
the really big online retailers, such as wiggle and chain reaction, though now the butt of criticisms from the sole trader once levelled at ribble and parker's, seemingly had the savvy to invest in pixels when the option of online shopping was yet to become a factor of everyday life. add evans cycles into the latter genre and you have a combination of clicks, pixels, bricks and mortar, a world now being joined by halfords. they have just announced the addition of another 15,000 new products to their online offering, so the increase in cycling's profile has led to a concomitant increase in a desire for our business.
quite how the local independent bike shop fares in the face of such competition is hard to fathom. located where i am, there is no such thing as a local bike shop, and though wiggle receives a body swerve due to its refusal to send certain items to the isles (tyres anyone?), chain reaction gains some of my business due more to its speed of delivery than any specific price considerations. i am hardly a good example, for i truly have little alternative. but in terms of those within cycling distance of a bike shop, it may be prudent to consider whether you could, long-term survive without them.
think of who might be available to fit that new shiny chris king headset or replace a broken spoke or service a recalcitrant pedal. online retailing may be seen as the panacea to our modern ills, but it's not much cop at bicycle repair.
tuesday 18th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm reasonably convinced that my lack of observational qualities would have me walk past even bradley wiggins, should i chance to meet him on sauchiehall street, or even bowmore's main street. i know for a fact i'd never recognise chris froome. there's always the likelihood that i'd walk along either of these thoroughfares thinking 'is it? no, it couldn't be. but what if it is?' by which time the fortunate cycling professional would have walked on by, thankfully unmolested by my need to make some vacuous comment, demonstrating that i am no mere civilian, but a member of the cognoscenti.
i have paid tribute to this rather disturbing trait on a previous occasion, when first meeting rapha condor jlt rider, jimmy mccallum. on a visit to edinburgh's ronde bicycle outfitters in stockbridge, while being given the guided tour, the aforementioned rider entered in full rapha team kit, wheeling a team liveried condor leggero. the guys in the shop were welcoming and conversational, while i was thinking that somebody had taken their team support just a tad too far.
it was only a subsequent conversation over coffee, that i realised who the team clad rider was, and i am very thankful for the fact that i did not place my uncleated foot well and truly in my mouth by demonstrating my ignorance. yet the secondary iniquity of this situation was my inherent disapproval of someone i took to be a private citizen wearing a full set of team kit aboard a team replica bicycle. surely someone who i took not to be a member of the team he purported to represent, was flouting the unwritten rules that team kit ought only to be worn by bona fide team riders.
you need pay only a brief visit to a garden centre, local pub or supermarket on any given weekend to witness a slew of less than athletic looking blokes wearing football jerseys with either their own names applied to the back, or the name of a vastly overpaid footballer. it seems perfectly acceptable to the nation's football crowd, and though i'd be wary of comparing cycling fans with football fans, i find myself wondering why it's a prohibitive rule that concerns velocipedinal activity alone.
bizarrely, it seems a perfectly normal and acceptable part of cycling life to ride around in what can only be described as retro jerseys and caps. mick and andy at prendas have made a successful career out of demand for a mapei, salvarani, peugeot or molteni jersey. but were i to join a british weekend peloton dressed in tommy voeckler's europcar kit, i would be the butt of many disapproving stares and unkind remarks, particularly were i not also to be riding a black and white colnago c59.
situations like this are, of course, total bunkum. rules or no rules, there is no national, international or uci law that bans you or me from wearing team kit in order to show our support. given our rather pedestrian speed, there is very little likelihood of our being mistaken for a genuine team member, team bike or no team bike. and i see nothing intrinsically wrong with having my own name and national flag emblazoned on the side of my jersey.
with rapha having assumed the mantle of clothing supplier to team sky for at least the next three years, it places them in the ideal position to offer the man in the street (you and me) access to all manner of black and blue special editions. though you might find yourself a tad too late off the mark to garner a suitably monogrammed replica jersey before the tour starts in corsica in just under two weeks' time.
those lovely people at perren street however, were kind enough to send me not the replica kit, but the real thing. exactly the same apparel as worn by sir brad, chris and simon le bon, the difference being the name and flag on the side panel. i've reviewed rapha's pro team kit on a previous occasion, but it seems that the run up to outfitting the world's top cycling team, may have incurred a few improvements along the way.
almost coincidentally, the day after wearing the sky badged pro team kit for the first time, i received a query from a friend who wanted to know which particular rapha shorts would be the ideal choice for purchase. up till that point i would have recommended the classic shorts without batting an eyelid. i have a pair in the shorts drawer, nestled close to a pair of original forcats de la route. the latter are truly excellent, but cut more for the true athlete or racing cyclist, and not at all forgiving of deviations from the slender frame.
the latest version as supplied to team sky and rapha condor jlt is downright plush by comparison, not at all the austere, no frills garment you'd expect to accompany all that pain and suffering. the fit is exemplary, while the pad's minimalism cossets the bum without fuss. the leg gripper is the most obvious change from the first edition, making them a lot simpler to get on. the originals were very thin but as grippy as a very grippy thing. the latest is a smidgeon more substantial, neither restrictive nor prone to riding up while in motion.
throughout my career as a reviewer of cycle apparel i have been a medium; in jerseys that is. knowledge of such led to embarrassed disappointment when the sky team kit arrived at the croft. both shorts and jersey were marked small, leading to my wondering how to break the news to laura in imperial works, especially considering the lengths to which they'd obviously gone to have my surname and saltire printed on the sides. yet the jersey fits beautifully; it cannot be viewed as other than race fit, and wouldn't be flattering to the fuller figure, but i haven't noticed any propensity to find the breath being squeezed out of me.
the fabric features the oxymoronically named cold-black, a means of reducing the heat absorbed by a black surface even in the face of the occasional day of unremitting sunshine and 80km of my level of pain and suffering. apparently the conditioned professional is less than enamoured of high collars on their jerseys, so the pro team version is happy to comply. additionally, the team rider has a less than overweening requirement to keep his coffee money or car keys in a zipped pocket (that's what the team car is for), so there is none.
that's a slight disadvantage for those of us bereft of a team car, but hardly insurmountable.
i do not own a pinarello, and on the recent occasion when i was fortunate enough to ride one on a rapha retreat, the weather did not favour the wearing of this particular combination of shorts and jersey. so when i dress thus for the sunday morning ride or even for a lengthy saturday circumnavigation of the principality aboard either a colnago or chris king cielo, there is precious little chance of my being mistaken for a bona fide member of team sky. the speed alone would clear up any potential misunderstanding.
at the risk of incurring the wrath of the keepers of the cog, i'd advise ignoring velominati's rule number 17. go on; you know you want to.
the rapha sky pro team jersey is available in sizes from xs to xxl at a cost of £140. the sky pro team bib shorts are available in the same size range and retail at £170.
monday 17th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"I'm behind my drums, Tony is stone-faced on a chair in the corner, bass not yet out of its case, and it's four-and-three-quarter hours after our appointed start time."
the words are from the excellent biography of drummer bill bruford, a man who's percussive career spanned some 41 years, yet he's mostly renowned for having left prog rockers yes in the mid seventies after being their drummer for only four years. it's strange what folks remember. on leaving yes, he joined king crimson, and if that was your musical proclivity at any time between the seventies and the nineties, you may be familiar with his work.
the particular event to which bruford refers above was a recording session with american guitarist al dimeola. the tony mentioned is tony levin, a superb session bass player who has also played with king crimson and peter gabriel amongst many others. levin is not one to suffer fools gladly, and even less impressed with poor timekeeping, in both senses of the word. when once asked what the difference was between playing with bill bruford or session great, steve gadd, levin replied "one of them turns up on time."
in this instance, both bruford and levin had been booked for a recording session due to commence at noon. they'd both arrived on time, set the drums up, messed about a bit, then waited for dimeola to arrive. as mentioned in the opening quote, the guitarist was not the most punctual of musicians, a factor that had levin debating whether he might simply leave having played not one note.
"Al begins to run the tune down. Tony and I listen. I play a few bits, try a couple of options, ask him to repeat a section. Still not a word from the bass department."
to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion, at least from the reader's point of view, the piece of music in question is really tricky, involving a substantial number of notes that dimeola obviously wants levin to double on the bass. "Even if he practised what Al is proposing for a week, I doubt he'll remember it, let alone get it right." of course, on removing his bass from its case, levin simply instructs the engineer to roll the tape. He remembers the four-minute piece exactly, and produces a note-perfect bass part; no slips, no fluff, no guff. Then he doubles it."
would that we all had the ability of tony levin, and not necessarily just on a bass guitar. i am of a similar mind when it comes to personal time-keeping. i think it something of an insult to keep anyone waiting, and i have been in more than one band where certain members were renowned for their distinct lack of punctuality. and there are those who presage their start time at work by arriving five minutes late. where would the sunday ride be if everyone arrived at debbie's whenever they wanted?
it may even be pragmatic from time to time (pardon the double pun) to put a stopwatch over a specific length of tarmac. i have no time for strava; my lack of competitiveness stretches even as far as refraining from uploading my time for a particular route, for no doubt someone will feel honour bound to beat it. i am well past caring about such matters. and though it will not endear me to the folks at garmin, i confess that the greatest use their excellent gps units gain while affixed to my bicycles is offering a reliable method of telling the time.
saturday past, i had elected to take mrs washingmachinepost out to lunch, but not before riding to deb's for some froth beforehand. i would, to put not too fine a point on it, have seriously marked my copy book had i not returned home in plenty of time to change and nip out for some vittles. in a move that hearkens back to the days when people used phones for talking to each other, i would far rather rely upon a wrist watch than digital readouts strapped to the handlebars.
admittedly even a stylish timepiece such as the festina under review will not record my heart-rate, offer an indication of the gradient that has me beaten, describe my actual and average speed and many other questionable, yet seemingly innocuous digits. but i'd look a bit of a clown if i wore an edge 810 on my wrist (though i can see that day looming) rather than a solid looking, stylishly crafted watch. such as the festina, now that you come to mention it.
the less than snappily named f16667/1 has a stainless steel casing, offering waterproofing to a depth of ten atmospheres (very handy in the torrential rain we've experienced recently) a rubber strap, which i opted for, rather than the stainless steel version also available, and has a miyota quartz movement. as mentioned, this watch forms one part of festina's tour of britain range, and i figured the blue strap and matching chrono features against a white face, faithfully represented the scottish part of the equation. at least, it works that way for me.
of those three blue circular mini timekeepers on the face, the lowest displays the seconds. the other two form part of the chronograph functions; the centre offers the number of hours being timed, and the topmost takes care of the minutes. perhaps unintuitively, the large red second hand is also part of the stopwatch features, remaining steadfastly at twelve during normal time function. on the opposing half of the watch face is displayed the current date.
the right edge sports three substantial buttons. the centre allows setting of the correct time and date adjustment; the top button starts the stopwatch function when depressed once and stops it when pressed a second time. pressing it for a third time re-starts the stopwatch from where it left off. the lower of the three buttons resets all the chronograph functions to zero which, for no particular reason, is fascinating to watch (again, no pun intended). the outer bezel on the watch face is calibrated in seconds.
if there's a downside to this particular model it's in the siting of those mini timekeepers on the watch face. for no discernible reason, on receiving the watch from unique jewelry i timed my journey from home to debbie's, purely in the interests of research, you understand. on reaching my coffee cup and stopping the chrono, it was difficult to read the minute function due to the tail ends of the hour and minute hands obscuring the relevant portion. while the stopwatch function is eerily accurate and simple to use, i doubt it's the mission critical timepiece you'd use at the british time-trial championships or tour de france prologue.
festina, official timekeepers for both the tour de france and the tour of britain, also offer a range of tour de france edition watches, and it seems that the chrono features on those may obviate this problem. but in mitigation, those demand £100+ more than the tour of britain editions.
in case you're even remotely interested, my time to debbie's was orginally 34 minutes and 55 seconds, though a week later on a different bicycle and with better legs, i reduced this to 31 minutes and 53 seconds. even with gloved fingers, it's eminently possible to both stop and start the chronograph while cycling, though you may have to stop in order to read the numbers recorded. (and just on the off-chance that it's something you've needed to know for a while, a mundell's bus takes 28 seconds to drive from the bus stop at the foot of main street all the way to the round church at the top.)
in 2002, i bought myself a colnago watch with a carbon face to go along with my first c40. it told the time, date and nothing more, but it clearly stated the word colnago in white lettering as well as being engraved on the left side. however, if worn while riding, particularly if raining at the time, it steamed up to a disappointing degree of illegibility, remaining so for several days. i fear that this regular condensation brought its function to a premature end. the festina is made of far sturdier stuff.
however, if you're allied to the world of weight-weenies, it's quite possible the watch will considerably outweigh the advantages you figured had been achieved by using latex tubes or titanium bolts. in daily use, the watch feels neither chunky nor heavy, but i've often marvelled at the number of professional riders who have had their mechanic weigh every ball-bearing before fitting, yet race with a substantial chunk of metal and glass on their wrist. in regular use, the festina offers no discernible discomfort. not even from those three buttons.
though i'd not necessarily recommend that you try this at home (or maybe you should), i rolled back the left sleeve of my waterproof jacket while riding in heavy rain to expose the watch to the elements. 80 kilometres and heck knows how many litres of precipitation later, the watch face and chrono functions were still crystal clear.
unless you're a professional cyclist or perennial cyclo-tourist, you'll spend more hours off the bike than on, so it seems important to wear a timepiece that will not only function, but impress with its style. there is nothing outwardly tying the f16667/1 to the forthcoming tour of britain, but a bit like those sharp tanlines on thighs and arms, you'll know, and i'll know. and quite frankly, that's the deal breaker as far as i'm concerned.
the watch has already drawn several admiring glances and comments, and this on a personage used to being summarily ignored by civilians and pelotonese alike. festina is a name intertwined with modern day cycle racing for reasons both good and bad. the latter is well in the distant past (and not of their making), while the former is quite likely as good as it gets. £149 (s/s strap version is £169) is not an alarming amount to pay for a watch of this quality and function. by all means retain the gps on the handlebars, but treat yourself to a festina tour of britain edition watch, or even its big brother, the tour de france edition. yet another variation of the cyclists' secret handshake, albeit with a large swash of syle and pragmatism.
'either it swings with a steady tempo, or it doesn't.'
follow festina cycling uk on twitter
sunday 16th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when we moved into our current house some twenty years ago, the attic contained only a substantially sized aerial suspended between the rafters, and a pile of doors that had been replaced wihin the house and apparently stored for no particular reason. as a confirmed hoarder, i have filled much of the remaining space with all sorts of nonsense that has no true future use whatsoever. some of it is rather embarrassing, for having purchased adobe software at the beginning of my graphics career, i thought it necessary to hang onto the large boxes in which sets of ten or more floppy disks were kept cosy by at least one sizeable operator's manual.
with apple now producing many of its computers minus a cd/dvd drive, keeping sets of floppy disks and instruction manuals for software last used in the mid-nineties now seems rather idiotic. as indeed has the storage of my substantial cd collection. this sits adjacent to my former hi-fi components; cd player, cassette player (stop sniggering) and an amplifier. to the best of my knowledge, these are all still in magnificent working order, and though somewhat surplus to musical requirements in this day and age of the ipod, i could never bring myself to throw them away.
and despite my having no record deck to attach to the aforementioned amplifier, i still have a collection of jazz vinyl sitting somewheres abouts. i think they're behind the piles of procycling and cyclesport magazines (when the latter was still worth reading). there is simply no excuse for hanging onto all this stuff, but several years ago, the council removed all the skips from the village, and having no car, i can't take the stuff to the municipal dump around two miles away.
i know that i am not alone.
however, some amongst us have more valuable and interesting junk clogging up cupboards, attics, sheds and garages, stuff that many of us would love to clog our own cubby holes with, would that we had the financial wherewithal so to do. yes, in this case, i am talking about the inestimable mr richard sachs.
i first came across the name sachs in conjunction with the website campyonly.com, for they were running a competition to win one of richard's frames. in fact, there is still a link to richard sachs cycles on the campy only front page. every cyclist who reaches a certain level of obsession goes through a campagnolo phase; richard had his, i had/have mine and you'll have yours.
however, as a frame builder and team sponsor, richard had a far better excuse than any of us to fill valuable cupboard space with items of campagnolo ephemera. in this case, i'm specifically thinking of rear derailleurs. mr sachs now equips his team 'cross bikes with sram groupsets, having stopped using campagnolo almost seven years ago. he is now divesting himslef of a unique collection of vicenza's finest gear changers.
"It's my entire collection of Campagnolo derailleurs spanning the late 1950s through the late 1980s. This is among the most complete collection of Campagnolo derailleurs in existence. It may be the only collection that has every single dated Campagnolo NR rear derailleur in the condition, comprising of only New In Box/New Old Stock components. Everything for sale is new, never used, not a take-off, free of tool marks, and complete as packed the day it left the loading dock at Vicenza."
in truth, i learned of this sale last weekend, and even at a price of $14,000, i thought it would be long gone by now. "I'm also including duplicate Nuovo Record derailleurs from 1972, 1973, 1973, 1979, 1984, and 11. Also included is a steel pre-1970 Record steel derailleur. These are all also New in Box/New Old Stock. That's a total of thirty three Campagnolo rear derailleurs and sixteen shift lever assemblies."
i asked richard if it was heart-wrenching to get rid of all these items, or perhaps it was just cluttering up his workshop? "For me, it was fun. And now it is simply a parcel of stuff. All of the rest of my stuff was eBayed off in 2012. This is the last of it."
sitting on the bedside table up above the sitting room in which i currently write is a single campagnolo nuovo record rear derailleur for which i paid the princely sum of £19. it's not in particularly great nick, but it's a bit of the cycling heritage that i'd like to think i'm a part of. probably it deserves better than to collect dust on the bedside table. mrs washingmachinepost moans about that, so i'd envisage divorce proceedings being instigated if i announced i'd bought another 33. however, i have little doubt that there are one or two campophiles currently experiencing bouts of hyperventilation at the thought of being able to acquire such a prestigious and pristine collection.
direct your serious enquiries to mr sachs in warwick, massachusetts.
saturday 15th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"was such a race feasible? bikes had developed to the point where they weighed 15kg instead of 30kg as the original machines had done, and six-day riders had proved that it was possible to cover more than 3,000km in 144 hours."
the three grand tours have been the three grand tours since 1935 when the vuelta joined the giro and le tour. there have been additions to the panoply since the thirties, but none have reached the stature of the aforementioned triumvirate. and they themselves are hardly created equal. though there is no official league classification for such events, i doubt i'd be upsetting too many if i posited that, in ascending order, the vuelta was followed by the giro, both of them topped by the tour de france.
with 2013 seeing the 100th edition of le tour, it is something of a mystery that the world has not seen another big tour on the horizon, one that might fill the bulk of the 21st century with similar deeds of velocipedinal derring do. i have always found it strange that the tour de france has reached such predominant status over pretty much every other race on the calendar. though comparing the spring classics with a grand tour is akin to comparing apples with oranges, there can be little doubt that, in the public eye, the tour is king.
though perhaps occasionally more popular with the cognoscenti, paris-roubaix and the ronde van vlaanderen don't really get a look in.
in the modern age, perhaps it is no longer necessary to recruit a national newspaper in order to ensure the success of a cycle race or, dare i say it, a grand tour. or vice versa. while le grand boucle was begun to improve the sales of l'auto, i doubt there is anyone in the uk who figures sales of the guardian or the times would be given a shot in the arm by a similarly constituted 'tour of britain'. in fact, not since the daily express involvement in a previous incarnation of our national race, have any of britain's national newspapers seen the need for monetary involvement in domestic cycle racing.
it is also testament to the unwavering popularity of le tour that, aside from the impracticalities of continuing through either of the two world wars, there will be a 100th edition this year. and it's just as popular as it ever was. to hark back to the tour of britain, it is a race that has had a less than chequered past and the circle could certainly not be considered unbroken.
so, whatever your views on the tour; whether you think the giro to be a better example of pure cycle racing than its french cousin, or you find yourself more impressed by the laid back nature of the vuelta, it is hard to deny the omnipresence of the tour de france. consider that rapha will this year send 100 women to ride the etape in a commendable promotion of women's cycling; would they be likely to do likewise at either of the other two? in fact, is there even such a thing as an etape du giro or etape du vuelta? not to my knowledge.
so when the major public event of the entire cycling season reaches its 100th birthday (if you see what i mean), it's not particularly unusual that this is celebrated in a variety of different ways.
100 races are bound to accumulate a huge back catalogue of anecdotes and images, and along the way, a hero or two. published by quercus and edited by peter cossins, the official 100th race anniversary edition occupies not just a little area of the hypothetical coffee table. its heft is impressive. i am in no way querying its parentage, but i could find nothing within its pages that verified its official a.s.o. status, though i have it on good authority that this is indeed the case. that is, however, of no real nevermind, for the contents are quite magnificent, even if you only look at the pictures.
the most obvious reminder of the tour's encompassing of modern times comes writ large on the contents page. each chapter concerns an individual year of the race, and is titled by that year's winner. those between 1999 and 2005 inclusive are headed 'no winner' a poignant reminder of how the race has weathered the years when riders (and one in particular) have paid less than due reverence to the events in which they participated.
lest you think that this is an unemotional trawl through each and every running of the tour, let me disavow you of such notions. interspersed are frequent digressions to detail factors without which the tour would not be the tour. "The 1936 Tour, which featured 90 riders, 21 stages and 6 rest days, cost Henri Desgrange 1,500,000 francs. The daily cost of hotels including food was 5,000 francs. The race organisers also had 500 extra jerseys, 1,000 pairs of sunglasses with mica lenses, 150 suitcases, 100 raincoats, 80 bikes and 2,000 spare tyres."
the chapter headings indicate the number pertaining to that year's edition, the year, winner and the team for which he rode. additionally, that the foot of each left hand page is a map detailing the route taken, the top ten riders, average speed of the winner and total distance raced. it's a book that will appeal to the statistically inclined as much as the devourers of black and white imagery, for the appendix at the rear provides each year's jersey winners and a number of other relevant numbers.
there is, however, no getting away from the imagery. the book's large format offers sizeable real estate to allow superb reproduction of photos culled from over 100 years of tour history. these include posters, illustrations, and many other intriguing items of memorabilia. whether that official title has any value or not, this really is one of the most incredible testaments to an incredible race that you may ever have the opportunity to acquire. when the 101st tour de france inhabits those three weeks in july, i think it unlikely that the bookshelves will creak under such a weight of pages.
you will absolutely love it.
friday 14th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's a system that plays out in offices all across the country when it comes to leasing a printer/photocopier. these devices are rented for a period of five years and after three years, someone in sales calls you up to point out that the device you've had for the last thirty six months or so, has now been superseded by an even better all singing and dancing machine. one day, perhaps, these machines will offer the perfect soya cappuccino into the bargain.
at this point, arrangements are made to remove the ageing machine and deliver the new, along with a revised contract that effectively pays off the remaining two years on the original photocopier and signs you up for five years on its replacement. three years later, the same dance is played out again. there is nothing untoward in this choreography; every distributor of whatever make of device does essentially the same thing.
you will infer, perhaps, from the foregoing, that our office is currently enhanced with a new colour photocopier/printer which, until yesterday, had defied the setting of an appropriate line screen for black and white output. for not only are enhancements made to the machine's operation, but the concomitant printer driver gains a few more drop down menus of complexity, features that were not present on its predecessor.
at the risk of telling you something you already knew, no matter the modernity or newness of these devices, at some point sooner rather than later, they will experience a paper jam. when this unfortunate set of circumstances occurs, a diagram of the offending section will pop up on the user panel, explaining which door to open in the hope of removing the recalcitrant sheet of card or paper. quite frequently this is a false alarm, and the feed rollers have simply failed to lift the sheet of paper the print engine was expecting to receive.
technology, however, favours the inept and technically ignorant. the bulk of these machines are designed to be used in large office environments, where the customer (eg any school leaver left to their own cognisance) is not expected to have abilities other than switching the photocopier on each morning, and lifting the lid to photocopy. thus, the previously arcane directions indicating a paper jam or required new toner drum has modernised into an explicit, but rather fun animation.
these animations are so detailed and accurate, you'd figure steven spielberg had directed the entire affair. it's perhaps the perfect example of a manufacturer understanding that it can never fully understand its installed customer base and thus accommodates the lowest common denominator. by this i mean no disrespect to those who may have photocopying duties as part of the daily travail, but if there are many staff using a single office machine, it makes better sense to clearly direct those users than having need of calling out tech support every time a piece of paper fails to appear in the drop tray.
understanding your customer becomes less a case of lowest common denominator the more specific the area of intent. though i have experienced one or two recent cases of owners with new bicycles being blissfully unaware of quite how to change gear, most of us are reasonably well acquainted with the physical operation of our bicycles, even if we'd have no idea how to fix them or periodically dismantle and rebuild in the bike shed. this sort of knowledge greatly enhances the manner in which said products are advertised to a hopefully adoring and well-informed audience.
one of the finest recent examples of this has to be that presented in the short movie appended below. if you watch it and haven't a clue what's going on, then a portland design works 3wrencho is probably not the tool for you. and there's just an outside possibility that you need to research the traditions of the activity in which you have become embroiled.
i hope to receive a pdw 3wrencho in the fullness of time, and then we can find out just how well it behaves in the world of hebridean abnormality. in the meantime, enjoy portland's left field approach to advertising.
thursday 13th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
drumming, when practiced by those with even modest ability, looks deceptively simple. it's a truism that applies to almost any musical instrument, though admittedly as regards drumming, you can only ever be out of time; rarely if ever, out of tune. the skills required to become a rounded percussionist are comparable to those of the apprentice pianist, but instead of scales, drumming has rudiments.
it's eminently possible that the resulting number of these rudiments has been contrived to fit equibly with the letters of the alphabet, since both consist of 26 in number. i fear this may be an americanism, as the number is dictated by the percussive arts society and is somewhat tenuous at best, since many are combinations of each other. however, the starting point is invariably the single and double-stroke rolls, the latter often referred to as the mammy-daddy roll, consisting as it does of two right-hand strokes followed by two on the left-hand, pretty much ad finitum.
in order that one might acquire the control required to play a smooth roll that sounds like a sheet of paper being torn in half, these right-hand, left-hand double strokes need be practised slowly and evenly. it's a process that takes around two or three months to perfect, assuming one practices diligently and regularly. the trouble starts more frequently with the single-stroke roll, requiring only one stroke per hand but requiring the same attention to detail. for such is human nature that it is not sufficient merely to play a smooth roll, but ultimately necessary to play as fast as humanly possible, as witnessed by the numerous world's fastest drummer competitions.
suddenly a musical pursuit becomes a track and field event. in the quest for glory, music is all but forgotten in favour of speed and bragging rights. the drum roll removed from its intended context. many of you will be nodding your heads in agreement, even if you recognise the trait as applicable to many other factors in life. and in the course of considering such, every now and again along comes more than one individual not only convinced that they are the fastest, but are in possession of an hitherto unknown method of achieving the same.
author (and taiko drummer) edward pickering has revisited the 1990s when two protagonists of the time-trial almost inadvertantly met each other on both the national and ultimately international stage. and superficially at least, each inhabited apparently vastly differing methods of achieving their designated goal. chris boardman and graeme obree contrived to fill many hundreds of column inches during their parallel careers. both competed for national time-trial and track titles before moving onto the more esoteric regions of individual pursuit medals and the world hour record.
neither rider was content to stretch for results through the more accepted practice personified by fausto coppi ride a bike, ride a bike and ride a bike. if found necessary to come down on the side of one or other in terms of individual analytical approach to the problem of going faster, the badge would likely be pinned on obree. though one could hardly deny that boardman too had an original modus operandi, to be fair, he had considerable assistance from sports scientist peter keen. obree was largely an original thinker.
"When he was at school, his class did a project which involved making collage flowers to be put up on the windows and walls as decoration. 'All I remember thinking is, "You don't get flowers without bees, so I'm going to cut out bees."'
"...That's what Obree has been doing his whole life - cutting out bees while mainstream society makes flowers."
compare that with boardman. "He was prepared to work with Peter Keen and he was prepared to work with Lotus. He realised he couldn't possibly do it on his own."
ed pickering has spent a great deal of time researching the ins and outs of two intertwining careers, enjoying intriguing conversations with obree in his flat above a saltcoats (ayrshire) carpet shop. "he likes the fast there are no neighbours, that the shop closes at five. There's nobody for him to disturb, and nobody to disturb him.
one gains the impression, however, that boardman was less engaged in pickering's authorial toil, and many of the facts and figures relating to boardman's career seem gleaned more easily from peter keen and, to a lesser extent, mike burrows, designer of the lotus bike on which chris boardman won his 1992 olympic gold medal. though i could be wildly left of the mark, boardman can be perceived as one who has closed the cyclist chapter of his life, and now more presently involved in the cycling part. graeme obree, on the other hand comes across as a man who does not have chapters. if one could morph a sequence of events into a stream of consciousness, obree's the man who could do so, and it is this distinction that pickering has cleverly revealed in his informed narrative.
both men had wildly differing yet strangely similar demands from the need to go fast. for boardman each title or success was a progressive step on the road to a career as a cyclist. he is rather infamously renowned for having stated that he did not particularly enjoy riding his bike; it was simply a means to an end; a professional career doing something at which he and keen had proved him particularly adept.
with obree's eventual admission of having suffered from serious depression and a lack of self worth, his cycling could be seen as a means of self-justification, one that disappeared almost immediately another notch had been cut in the seatpost of old faithful. boardman epitomised the world of hi-tech, an image that followed him to british cycling's secret squirrel department for both the beijing and london olympics. obree was diametrically opposite, or so it would seem, yet his need to question everything and develop his own methods wasn't that different than that from the keen/boardman approach. ultimately their methodology was the greatest contradistinction.
though the competition and intrigue between the two is relatively recent history and at the very least, familar to the average cycling obsessive, the book itself offer compulsive reading. though i have never met boardman, i am acquainted with graeme obree; thewashingmachinepost as a blog title didn't manifest itself from thin air. yet i read all 314 pages over the course of three evenings; it's that good.
if it is necessary to criticise such a well-researched and well-written volume it's that scant attention seems to have been paid to obree's otherwise comprehensively documented bi-polar illness. obree himself admitted all with self-effacing detail in his autobiography the flying scotsman. pickering does bring it to the reader's attention in the epilogue, but does not relate it to his failure to qualify for the individual pursuit in atlanta. "Atlanta was a disaster for Obree. he rode 4.34 in qualifying - a terrible performance just a year after he'd won the world title.". obree himself explained this remarkably poor performance as a result of suffering at the time from severe depression, something not mentioned even in passing in the race against time.
though boardman and obree are the headliners in this narrative, the supporting cast often shine almost as brightly. almost unwittingly, pickering has reinforced the premise offered up by boardman's broadcasting colleague, ned boulting. in on the road bike boulting affectionately describes the backbone of british cycling as a cast of eccentrics. if you accept this, then peter keen, mike burrows and even vic haines are no different and just as essential to the fabric of cycling.
"I've never been a natural rebel. I'm not a rebel, I'm right." so states burrows. "If you work for Boeing, you work on this little bit here or that little bit there... But with model aircraft, you design the whole.". Though publicly at least the lotus superbike overshadowed that man who rode it to gold, the thinking behind its construction was every bit as radical as that of obree's old faithful.
"My impression of Keen was reinforced when he was quoted immediately after Boardman's 1993 hour record in Bordeaux. He was pleased, of course, but he also expressed regret that he had not been able to get a core temperature reading immediately after Boardman had finished. Only Peter Keen's first instinct after one of the greatest athletic achievements in cycling history would be to stick a thermometer up his rider's arse, rather than give him a hug."
the race against time is a book that can be enjoyed on more than a single level. it's complexities work for it and never against. the constant yet necessary switching between characters and scenes from chapter to chapter are handled with considerable aplomb. i only wish that pickering had refrained from using the letter 'z' as opposed to 's' in words such as realised, criticises etc.. i'm afraid i'm enough of a pedant to have found it mildly irritating, though coming from one who plainly eschews capital letters, i daresay those living in glass houses ought not to throw stones.
an entertaining and important addition to cycling's literary panoply.
wednesday 12th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i learned to swim in a swimming pool on the isle of rothesay in the clyde. it wasn't that particular moment that was deigned to be when mobile buoyancy would be mine, but since it happened, it happened. the mechanics of swimming are hardly regarded as a mystery, though knowing and doing are decidedly not necessarily one and the same thing. i was well aware that i need to be in the water, on my front, kicking both legs to aid propulsion and practising a verisimilitude of the breast stroke.
lest i sank to the bottom in the process of getting the hang of this, i wore a rubber ring about my midriff. it appears that, in a situation that would eventually mirror the occasional cycling misadventure, the ring had a slow puncture. therefore, as i cruised meaninglessly up and down the length of the pool, keen for both parents to see the enormity of my achievement, that rubber ring was offering a diminishing degree of flotation.
eventually, the ring went pretty much flat, but because it was around my middle, i was blissfully unaware, and continued to swim. just like those roadrunner cartoons where he runs off a cliff, but doesn't fall until he realises there is no ground beneath his feet. a practical and psychological impossibility. my parents, obviously practising the skill of being cruel to be kind, made no mention of the underinflated rubber ring.
of course, upon realising the truth of the situation, i sank.
cycling, unfortunately, is considerably less obvious. yes, a bit like playing the drums, it all looks remarkably self-evident and simplicity personified until, of course, you actually attempt to emulate the activity. i'd love to say to anyone listening, that having mastered the art of pedalling in a straight line, everything becomes far easier, but in truth, that's not quite the case.
the lady round the corner at bowmore post office, who has hired bicycles for many a long year, suffered an almost endless spate of broken bicycle chains at the beginning of each season. because in the spirit of how we'd change gear on a sturmey archer hub gear, many back-pedalled as they changed. the oddity regarding this simple misunderstanding, is that most of those doing so were far too young to have ever ridden a sturmey equipped cycle in the first place.
and in the halcyon days of sturmey gears, bona-fide road gears were operated by a pair of short levers attached, or clamped to the top of the down tube. before indexed gearing and those little ergohyperglide ramps on each sprocket, shifting from one sprocket to another was an inexact science that took several moments to master. ah, those were the days.
but what of now? with the increased profile of cycling, a distinct preference these days for road bikes over the once ubiquitous mountain bike, coupled with variations on the bike to work scheme, there is a whole new influx of cyclists who last put foot on pedal when they were in primary school.
i have no wish to embarrass the gentleman any more than he has done so himself, but one such recipient of a brand new shiny black machine turned up at my door despondent that he was unable to find any method of changing gear on his brand new velocipede. while this may well seen as confirmation of the universal advice to visit one's local bike shop for appropriate purchase, many of us on scotland's west coast and similarly remote locations simply do not have that option.
and even in the case of another who recently travelled to the mainland to complete their purchase from a well respected cycle retailer, it was a mere matter of two days before they arrived at that same front door to ask the same question. it's tempting to paraphrase sean kelly when asked in which gear they ought to be ('the right one'). in this case, i think either the saleperson ought to have made sure all was understood at point of sale, or the new owner ought to have had the gumption to ask.
question number two is invariably "how do i adjust the height of the handlebars?" at that point, however, i feel we have entered the realm of philosophy.
tuesday 11th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
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...........................................................................................................................................................................................................