made it

rapha festive 500

rapha's annual festive 500, on the face of it at least, appears to have followed a similar path to that of our very own ride of the falling rain. the latter was hastily conceived as a semi-organised 100 mile bike ride around the principality almost out of necessity. though one or two of us had indulged in an annual 162km ride for a few years previously, it was more as a rite of passage that had to be constantly repeated, if only to prove to ourselves that we could still manage the distance as we aged gracefully.

however, in the early part of the noughties, there was a sudden upsurge in sportive rides and gran fondos, many of which became quickly oversubscribed, leaving the new acolytes of the format scrabbling for somewhere in which to explore their new found enthusiasms. but, in reality, the only similarity between the ride of the falling rain and any other event, is that of distance. we have no finishers' medals, no certificates, no timing chips, no actual entry fee and consequently, no souvenir free t-shirts. nor, indeed, do we have 5,000 metres of climbing packed into every ten kilometre stretch.

to be honest, the only pressure to feature the ride on the interwebs in the first place, was to prevent folks arriving on islay's shores, expecting all that you'd find in better organised and well-sponsored mainland rides. the jury is still out on whether that actually worked or not.

but the face of rotfr has changed a tad over the years, changes that we like to think are very much for the better. in the early incarnations, those who left debbie's at 10am on the first sunday of august tended to stay pretty much together all the way round, offering excellent opportunities to converse with folks and make new friends.

by the third or fourth year of the event, two really nice chaps from london arrived by plane on state-of-the-art carbon, and absolutely blitzed the parcours. unfortunately, many of the assembled multitudes opted to try and follow them, decimating the peloton in the process. with that situation looking likely to become a trend, one or two entrants were moved to enquire whether we might instigate a shorter and slower, conversation ride, something that we have attempted to offer each year. but in the first place, we felt that the ride had need of those hundred miles, passing six distilleries, to ensure its place in the velocipedinal firmament.

those days may have passed.

islay's roads infrastructure consists of a network of single track routes, making it an easy task to ride the distance that best suits, while still being able to join in the key stages of getting wet. thus, the ride of the falling rain has become all things to all people (i hope), meaning it's eminently possible to ride an enjoyable distance, without the pressure of going past your limits, yet the hundred miles are still there if you want them.

and it's quite possible that rapha's festive 500 has achieved much the same over the course of its 13 year existence. i base my conjecture on the e-mail received yesterday afternoon which began "it's the final day of the festive 500, and whether you've found time to go the full distance or just enjoyed getting out when you could...". having undertaken the full 500 kilometres for the first ten years, i now confine myself to a festive 250, all but achievable by riding to debbie's each day for a soya latte and a double-egg roll. smoosh in a few extra kilometres here and there along the way, and 250 is a distance easily attainable, though that might depend on your definition of the word 'easily'.

having accomplished that set distance towards the end of yesterday's ride, i was heard to mention to mrs washingmachinepost that there were times when i had considered changing my middle name to gore-tex, such was the persistent amount of rain experienced since boxing day. but those 250 kilometres have sustained me across the holiday week before it's time to head back to the office later this week, and had the saving grace of not turning mrs washingmachinepost into a cycling widow, as was the case for the first ten years. none of us are getting any younger, and more and more it makes better sense to ride the distances that keep you happy, and ready, eager and willing to do so the following day, rather than some misguided principle with its demands firmly rooted in excess.

for those who rode every last kilometre of the festive 500, you have both my congratulations and commiserations. for those who did their own thing, irrespective of distance and still found time to watch cyclocross and enjoy a non-cycling life, i salute your endeavours.

now let's get on with the year ahead.

monday 2 january 2023

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van aert, van der poel, pidcock

you will be considerably less than surprised to learn that, following my own offroad gestures on friday lunchtime, both en-route and on return from an excellent cheese and onion toastie at debbie's, and after the obligatory shower, i sat down to watch cyclocross from loenhout, belgium, on eurosport/gcn. it was, without doubt, the culmination of a superb week of 'cross racing, after the floodlit event at diegem on wednesday eve and yesterday's muddy squirm between the top three (van aert, van der poel and pidcock).

the fact that pretty much all the week's racing has been broadcast on eurosport/gcn is a further boon, making the sport far more accessible to all, compared to the winters when it was necessary to scour the pages of and to find a non-georestricted online broadcast. i tend to think that, in those days, it was only the real enthusiasts who followed the latter course of action. mind you, it was well worth it.

however, despite the hebridean climate dumping several tonnes of rain upon the island over the course of christmas week (goretex has been my best friend since last saturday) and stiff winds yesterday offering the ideal training workout (and a cancelled ferry), i have made the effort to get out on the 'cross bike every day, if only on the basis that i refuse to let the weather beat me. to those that have asked, i have been offering the response that summer victories are often won in winter, but in the case of yours truly, most folk have seen the fallacy of that statement, gven that i don't ever compete.

there's a certain degree of occupying the moral high-ground midst one's peers following several hours in pouring rain and galeforce winds, simply to ride a bicycle. particularly when i note that way too many seem content to move considerably less than a half-mile in their motor cars. more and more do i become firmly of the opinion that, if an old fart like me can do it, so could pretty much everyone else. but i recall having attempted to make the point earlier this year, that the modern day islander, despite living on the shores of the north atlantic, seems less than keen to experience the outdoor hebridean ambience, unless by way of an open car window.

however, cursory observation has lent itself to the conclusion that it is scarcely only residents of scotland's west coast that have succumbed to this illness. i do often wonder why it is that so many are concerned of the mores of climate change when they seem to have little desire to experience the climate at first hand. and those in thrall to the bicycle are apparently not immune.

following the end of the loenhout race, won by van aert, ahead of van der poel and pidcock (and with scotland's cameron mason taking a superb, if distant fourth), the possibility of post-race interviews was discounted by the commentator (the identity of whom i was unable to ascertain, but she wasn't particularly good at it. where the heck was helen wyman?) and the broadcast moved swiftly (or should i say zwiftly?) to an advert for the indoor and online cycling experience. granted, one of the poster boys for zwift is mathieu van der poel, but there could hardly have been a greater contrast between three muddied athletes, and the warm orange glow of zwift's indoor world.

i appreciate that the placement of advertisements is actioned by a department distinctly distanced from that of the outside broadcast unit, but there seemed an exaggerated irony between the race images and the serious efforts that produced them, and the relatively anodyne scenario presented by zwift's advertising agency. even in the face of climate adversity, there's still a great deal to be said for, as the mightly dave t would have it, "getting the miles in". and definitely not in the living room, sat on a smart turbo in front of a tv or ipad.

if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck...

saturday 31 december 2022

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maybe i will, maybe i won't

campagnolo ekar groupset

i believe i may have been an active participant in the annual new year resolution stakes when i was a younger and probably more naive fellow, but i'd be fibbing if i said it was a concept that inflicted itself nowadays. my reasons for ignoring what might still be a 'thing', are probably no different than anyone else's, with apathy pretty much at the top of the list. according to statistics, only nine to twelve percent of those who actively indulge in making a new year resolution, actually follow through to the point of success. and i think it's quite possible that the very notion of achieving that success is no longer backed by any consolidated commitment.

apocryphal tales of gym membership cards lying unused in sideboard drawers before february has even begun, are legion. and there's nothing new in failing to persist with a diet at any time of the year, let alone the start. having downloaded the drum rudiments sheet demonstrated by the boston crusaders drum corp at last months percussive arts annual show, i roped in the sole snare drummer of islay's community pipe band, telling him that learning all forty during next year was going to be our set task, even if actually it takes us all year. though it's still 2022, i have so far managed to learn the first four, despite my routine havng been interrupted by learning songs for the local secondary school's end of term concert and a great deal of time watching cyclocross since the holidays began.

here's hoping that, by january's end, i will have achieved at least another four, if not more.

but, while i hold entrenched suspicions over the practicality of making resolutions, or, in the absence of any natural demand to do so, inventing something at least 'doable', that doesn't preclude my undertaking some sort of task engendered by the advent of a new year. however, rather than classifying it as a resolution, i think it something of a wizard wheeze to view the prospect of a project. this way, there are certain side-routes that, while perhaps seen as unnecessary diversions, can still be held up to the light of casual investigation and considered to be an intrinsic, if slightly obscure component of said project.

the distinct value-add of this approach is that it lends itself to augmentation. consider, if you will, the currently vague idea that, by this time next year, i would like to have built myself the cyclocross bicycle of my yet to be defined dreams (one of the projects currently under consideration). though former usa national cyclocross champion, jeremy powers, once showed me how to achieve the ability to correctly and speedily mount and dismount with injury-free haste, it is a hard-won skill that has now lapsed into complete disuse. therefore, it is eminently possible that, as a part of my ethereal project, i might once again invoke his experienced advice and attempt not to closely visit the undergrowth prevalent throughout bridgend woods.

such a project can also feature validated procrastination, a specific feature almost built-in to the ideal. for instance, as a dyed-in-the-wool campagnolo fan, any cyclocross project could not be defined as a success, were the end result not to feature vicenza's thirteen-speed ekar groupset, a choice that brings with it almost endless opportunities to hum and haw over the sequence of events.

for instance, those thirteen sprockets are less user-friendly than the twelve that arrived with my record groupset, requiring camapagnolo's n3w freehub. since my present day cyclocross bicycle features sram componentry, neither set of disc wheels would prove suitable. i am left, therefore, in a quandary of whether i ask derek at wheelsmith if suitable n3w equipped hubs are available for a custom build, or whether i take the easier, but potentially more expensive option of purchasing a pair of campagnolo factory builds (such as their levante wheelset)? there is then the not inconsiderable need to choose which variation of ekar groupset that might suit my personal requirements.

incidentally, despite my professed preference for italiana, they don't make it easy. having searched for the price of an ekar groupset, i discover that the cost does not include either the bottom bracket cups (campagnolo bearings are affixed to the cranks) or brake rotors, despite both items being a necessary part of the equation. that said, having viewed the available bb options, perhaps i can see why. and being the proud owner of a campagnolo 12-speed chain rivet tool, one that cost around £150, it is of no consolation whatsoever to learn that a similarly priced device is necessary to fit an ekar 13-speed chain.

and here's where the notion of referring to this as a project begins to make more sense. for though my obsession and preference for vicenza's output is uppermost in my mind, that is tempered by the hideously small number at the foot of my bank statement. i already own two disc wheelsets, neither of which are anywhere near their sell-by date, and at a push, i could transfer the gears and brakes from my specialized crux to a new frame, thus minimising any financial outlay. but, to be honest, there's damn all wrong with the specialized that a few carefully chosen and non-campagnolo based upgrades wouldn't improve. so perhaps, as a prudent start to my 2023 bicycle project (i believe it's important to name such undertakings), i ought best take stock of all the available options and weigh them carefully against just how much they might cost and how appropriately they might suit my meagre needs and abilities.

and if it turns out to be a worthwhile project, is it entirely equitable that i phase it over a twelve month period, partly to mitigate the upfront cost, and partly to provide the opportunity to bore you rigid with the details as they slowly occupy these pixels?

i may need to take a few moments to think about this before sunday.

friday 30 december 2022

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wout van aert + mathieu van der poel

the festive holiday has resulted in one massive extra gift for those of us in thrall to the world of cyclocross, with races held on christmas eve, boxing day and 27 & 28 december. the boxing day event at gavere featured wout van aert, tom pidcock and mathieu van der poel in a race-long battle ultimately won by mvdp, before van aert proved victorious at duesden, netherlands on tuesday after mvdp pulled his foot out the pedal as he began his finish-line sprint. however, for all nine of the event's laps wva and mvdp swapped between first and second in a demonstration of superiority that, quite frankly, was a joy to witness.

in the gcn/eurosport commentary box, helen wyman quite rightly pointed out just how fortunate we all were to be alive today to see these two magnificent bike riders demonstrate just how exciting cyclocross can actually be. she was also keen to point out that, while you and i might, with a downhill tailwind, manage to return a 30kph average on the sunday morning ride, wva and mvdp were pretty darned close to that speed offroad.

van aert, having hung on at gavere to take second place behind van der poel, had previously routed both the dutchman and tom pidcock at begium's zilvernmeercross before christmas. winning in deusden more or less equalised their festive results. in a post-race interview at gavere, van aert claimed to be surprised to have taken the podium's second step, having failed to achieve the rhythm on the muddy course, that might have had him challenge for victory. due to mud accumulation, pretty much every rider pitted once or twice on each lap.

however, the netherlands' course on 27 december sported remarkably little mud, but at least two heavily rutted downhill sections which both wva and mvdp rode at what helen wyman described as 'unbelievable speeds'.

though the jury is out on whether such a thing as 'luck' actually exists, you would have to say that it wasn't on van der poel's side on tuesday. but both wva and mvdp are also experienced road riders, reputedly having recently undertaken team training camps that no doubt contributed to their visibly demonstrable superiority over the rest of the field, including, most recently, tom pidcock. the latter, however, is on pre-race record as saying he scarcely expected to be a major rival to the other two in the events described above due to his slightness of build.

"I don't have the weight and power of Mathieu and Wout," the brit told the website at the beginnng of december. "It's hard to beat them in races like this. Nevertheless I will keep trying and the rainbow jersey will help a bit."

to a certain extent, pidcock's admission has proved to be relatively true, but in these modern times of 'marginal gains', sports psychologists, the last word in training techniques and state-of-the-art bicycles and pit crews, it's often odd to hear riders claim that they "...didn't have the legs today", or that the course didn't suit them. of the near 200 riders that started last july's tour de france, pidcock, van aert and van der poel are the only three who consistently undertake an almost full season of cyclocross, as well as competing in the 'cross worlds in february (though only pidcock travelled across the pond to win the 2022 event).

previous tour winner, tadej pogacar took second place behind slovenia's cyclocross champion after indulging in a token offroad adventure over the christmas weekend, but he's scarcely in the same class in this particular division of the sport as the belgian, the dutchman and the brit. and it's highly unlikely that we'll ever see jonas vingegaard leaping hurdles during the road's winter off-season, nor any of his peers. this is either because such adventures are not advised by his directeurs sportifs, or because he doesn't feel it suits his strengths. in the world of one-day classics and tour riders, he's in good company.

but is this all just a bit of a cop out? surely any one of the world's top bike riders should have the abilities to compete in all cycling disciplines, undermining any thoughts of courses or events not suiting their skillset? has the structure of modern-day professional cycling brought riders to the point where they are conditioned to only ride events in which they have a reasonable shot at victory? after all, many tour riders head off on their own training camps, while the classics' riders take a different route (so to speak). are the grand tours not simply a series of 18 or 19 one day classics? is it that the tour riders don't like bad weather?

undertaking a lengthy series of cyclocross events and one-day classics seems not to have blunted van aert's ability to become the tour's most valuable player, nor to prevent him winning mountain, sprint and time-trial stages. and let's not forget pidcock's astounding victory on alpe d'huez, or the fact that van der poel held the tour's yellow jersey for more than a few days last july. would we have more respect for the top riders in the world tour if they had sufficient humility even to ride events and courses that reputedly 'didn't suit them'?

dare i consult my sunday morning compatriots as to the parcours de jour this coming new year's day, just in case the direction they had in mind is not to my liking?

thursday 28 december 2022

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brompton in the rain

in the recently reviewed, brompton: engineering for change, author and brompton ceo, will butler-adams allocated an entire chapter to the history of transport in the city and how his engineering for change was at least partially designed to assist with the changes that many futurists have forecast will be needed to allow that future to accommodate increasingly centralised populations. and though i am currently immune from the kernel of those forecasts, even i can see that the ripple effect is already altering the so-called rural idyll.

according to present day statistics, more than half the world's population lives in cities, and current prognostications indicate that figure to rise to 70% by 2050. by that time, the world population is expected to have increased to six billion. arithmetic isn't my strong point, but that essentially means that the world's cities will be home to 4.2 billion people. by anyone's reckoning, that's a lot of people; a lot of people who still have to get from one side of the city to the other, for work, for shopping and for education.

according to mr butler-adams, the bicycle is strategically positioned to be the vehicle of choice to undertake the bulk of those journeys, in particular, the brompton folding bike (though i'm sure his forecasts are generous enough to accommodate other types of folding bicycles). since the average city tends to consist of high-rise accommodation and high-rise workplaces, as opposed to the small white cottages frequently to be seen in the hebrides, even if the city flats, maisonettes and penthouses are large enough to accommodate full-sized bicycles, getting them up and down endless sets of stairs and small elevators might prove a tad less convenient.

hence the brompton.

and mr butler-adams was also pretty much on point when he claimed it unnecessary to require a change of clothing to simply cycle from one city location to the next. when we walk relatively short distances, there's scant need for a change of clothing at each end of the journey, and nor do pedestrians demand showers and changing-rooms in the workplace. therefore, rather than place ourselves in the situation where either or both become necessities, he contends that city cyclists should travel at a rate that obviates becoming swot and hetty. it's hard to argue against that point, even if the majority of cyclists tend to compare their rate of travel against the motorist, rather than the pedestrian.

having read this particular chapter of the book, it's easy to become converted, positioning ourselves as acolytes to this inner-city and urban transport solution. after all, according to the same set of statistics that have alerted us to the increasing number of city-dwellers, comes the knowledge of how many remarkably short journeys are undertaken by car. in 2020, 25% of those trips were less than one mile, and 71% were less than five miles. while i'd contend that the vast majority of city dwellers are fit enough to cycle five miles, let alone one, that brompton currently offer an electric version should ameliorate any potential misgivings (other than, perhaps, the cost - e-bromptons start at around £3,000).

however, like many of those who, like mr butler-adams, see pragmatic cycling solutions from a theoretical point of view, there's always reality with which to contend, reality that features low temperatures, winds and, inevitably, rain. according to yet another set of statistics, those who ride to work can expect to get wet only seven times per year. and while i would love to adopt the hypothetical stance beloved of the likes of cycling uk for example and have the unconverted believe that the land of milk and honey features a pair of handlebars and a saddle, that's often very far from the truth depending on where in the world you live.

in the hebrides it would be possible to get wet seven times in a single day. laphroaig distillery once advertised that, on islay, you could frequently expect to experience all four seasons in a single day. believe me, that was not hyperbole.

yesterday, i awoke to 70kph winds and torrential rain. the winds had eased by 10am, and by 11am, the rain had ceased and the skies begun to clear, opening the way for at least a more pleasurable cycle. however, having lived here for over thirty five years, i dressed in goretex, waterproof overshoes, belgian winter cap, winter bibtights and warm gloves with liners. debbie's is but 14km from bowmore, by which time, i had been rained upon twice. by the time i returned home (50km), i had experienced heavy shower after heavy shower. granted, it's not what anyone would describe as a commute, but were i to be employed at bruichladdich or kilchoman distilleries, my route would have been remarkably similar, if a tad shorter.

inner city trips are unlikely to be as lengthy, but it doesn't necessarily take 14km or 50km to get wet. and given that yesterday's bike ride was not a commute and that i could simply have a shower and get changed on arriving home, there's little by way of comparison. additionally, i have a wide range of often expensive and highly effective waterproofs at my command, allied to a healthy contempt for the weather, that has me out in everything, unless i'm at risk of being blown off my bike (considerably less than seven times per year).

but those in the sights of mr butler-adams and his peers are likely to be car drivers, far more used to heated seats, screen demisters, air conditioning and ipad screens on the dashboard that can substitute for an iphone for the length of the journey, providing communication and music streaming. with no intended disrespect to mr butler-adams, i seriously doubt a lightweight folding bicycle with an electric motor will be seen as an equitable substitute, particularly in the wind, rain, snow and ice.

and unfortunately, the prospect of a dying planet is unlikely to offer greater persuasion. disappointingly, i find myself bereft of any appropriate solutions of my own.

wednesday 27 december 2022

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new jazz undr grnd

i appeciate that some of what follows might not make much sense to many of you, but bear with me while i eventually get to my distant point. i spent a portion of the latter part of christmas day, listening on youtube, to new jazz undrgrnd, a trio of young musicians all of whom are closely associated with new york's julliard performing arts school and jazz at lincoln centre. in other words, they are at what could currently be described as the cutting edge of jazz. or at least, one of the cutting edges.

in many unrelated disciplines, that would place them in an ideal position to financially capitalise on their skills, but jazz is just a tad different. according to common lore, in the usa, effectively the home of jazz music, jazz accounts for less than one percent of music streamed on spotify, apple music, youtube music and any other mainstream streaming platform you care to mention. on this side of the atlantic, it's probably a lot less. reputedly, the quickest way to make a £1 million from jazz, is to start with £2 million.

and to demonstrate that this is scarcely the case for the three members of new jazz undrgrnd, they have placed an appeal for paypal donations to help them finance their first album.

it's hard enough nowadays, to forge a career as a mainstream musician, in either pop music or classical, but you'd have to be extremely good and very tenacious to choose jazz as a career. yet, the three members of new jazz undrgrnd are not alone in proselytising their musical choice. in the uk, though not jazz in any way similar to that of the new york variety, there has long been jazz re:freshed, showcasing young british musicians.

but aside from the tenaciousness of the new voices of jazz on both sides of the pond, and irrespective of your appreciation of any particular style of music, it's comforting to know that such a movement, underground or otherwise, actually exists. because were that not the case, music would be in stagnation. and at the risk of incurring the wrath of many, some would say that's what's happened to popular music, with many modern-day artists simply releasing identical versions of hits from yesteryear to an audience blissfully unaware of this subterfuge. to an extent, it's why when many youngsters attempt to put their own bands together, they learn songs from the 60s and 70s, when guitars and drums held greater sway than synthesisers, sequencers and drum machines.

the bicycle has been around in pretty much the same form for over 100 years, during which the double-diamond frame, with a wheel at each end, a saddle on top and one pedal on each side has scarcely altered. granted, the frames are now fashioned from aerospace carbon fibre, the wheels employ half as many spokes as was once the case and some pedals appear as if miniaturised, yet keep tight hold of the riders' feet. and every year, there are the inevitable new kids on the block; i have just finished watching boxing day cyclocross from gavere, where mvdp was victorious over van aert and tom pidcock, and in ninth place was 22 year-old scot, cameron mason. quite likely, he will be at the vanguard of 'cross and probably road racing when the first three are past their best.

but, not to pre-judge, mason will most likely proceed in similar manner to his predecessors, winning more or less and possibly demonstrating heightened bike-handling skills. but, with all due respect, i'm none too sure that he will ever be described as 'progressive'

of course, the term is entirely subjective. i'm not entirely convinced that either of the jazz idoms featured as part of my opening gambit are substantially different from the jazz of the fifties, sixties or even the last decade. in some cases, i have a feeling that someone is playing fast and loose with the term jazz. but has cycling demonstrated any progressive tendencies of late?

a video on chris froome's youtube channel gives rise to the possibility of a new time-trial position, though, as it turns out, this is meant not in the empirical sense, but the individual. in other words, chris has refined his own time-trial position on learning that he may have been pushing the aero tuck a shade too far, placing hm at a disadvantage in terms of power output. true progression in cycling terms may have ended with graeme obree, whose own hour record tuck position was outlawed by the uci, before they did likewise with his so-called 'superman' position.

in that respect, the great thing about jazz, for example, is that there's no governing body to decide what it is or isn't. ultimately, those of us who buy from itunes or pay a monthly amount for our streaming channel of choice, will encourage or discourage musical progression.

personally, i have never knowingly been described as progressive, either musically or velocipedinally, and other than mr obree, i can think of no others in the world of cycling who might deserve that description. there are a number of musicians to whom i'm sure that particular appellation might apply, though ironically, few involved with so-called progressive' music. of course, my point is aimed squarely at the art of cycling rather than at the industry as a whole.

however, if the casquette fits...

new jazz undr grnd

tuesday 26 december 2022

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