fully clothed

changeable weather

a friend of mine tweeted only the other day to say that he might not have chosen the finest of weekends to head to the hebrides. at that point in time, i had paid no attention to the weekend forecast, and was unable to advise or sympathise, but i did make use of the well-worn cliché by pointing out that there was no such thing as poor weather for cycling, only an inappropriate choice of clothing. but on reflection, apart from the fact that many of us issue such a riposte by way of a knee-jerk reaction, is there any real truth in that saying?

though he may not have been the originator of said remark, it's one often attributed to scots comedian, billy connolly. as a gent originally from glasgow, mr connolly would know a fair bit about inclement weather, but he issued the remark when berating weather forecasters for insisting that 'rain is bad weather'. where the quote falls apart as far as cycling is concerned is mr connolly's insistence on getting ourselves 'a sexy raincoat and live a little'. for starters, i'm not sure there exists such a garment as a sexy raincoat, but if so, i'm none too sure i'd recognise one, even if it offered to buy me an orange juice.

and to state the glaringly obvious, raincoats are not a lot of use on a bicycle.

however, when the advice suggests that, rather than moaning about what we might consider as bad weather, there is only the wrong clothing, instead of being a specific solution to the problem, we end up with the opportunity to make a subjective decision. after all, what i might perceive to be the wrong clothing, might be a highly effective solution for others; one man's ceiling and all that sort of thing.

as someone who has long refrained from keeping any sort of diary, i have no way of comparing one year with another. a gentleman who once lived across the road from the croft and who sadly passed away a number of years ago, was exactly the opposite. prior to retiring, he had worked on the calmac ferry serving the islay route, a mode of transport that often finds itself at the mercy of the weather (see yesterday's monologue). i can but assume that he began making daily weather recordings during his time at sea, recordings to which he would frequently refer when met en-route to somewhere or other. according to his notes, in recent decades, the weather patterns hadn't altered that much.

to be honest, that seems at odds with my (our) own cursory observations. by my reckoning, at this point last year, the weather was milder, untrammeled by snow and frost and considerably less windy. but, as i said, i do not keep any form of diary, so i could be largely mistaken. however, i and my sunday morning velocipedinal colleagues, have found the months since this year began to be rather discordant when time comes to choose the morning's garmentage. rain and wind returned with a vengeance this past weekend, but brought with them a complete lack of temperature consistency.

based on saturday's coolness (four degrees) and sunday morning rain, i donned an insulated gore-tex shakedry jacket, even so far as raising the hood. unfortunately, the temperature had risen overnight to over seven degrees, and by the time the ride was underway, the rain had dissipated and there were peeks of blue sky, making the first half of my morning remarkably similar to a mobile sauna. but before we reached the safety of debbie's, the temperature had dropped by two degrees and heavy drizzle had blown-in from the atlantic.

so at what point did i have the 'wrong' clothing, and was there anything i could have done about it?

there have been several reports in the news recently concerning hikers or hill-climbers who ventured out on the hills in weather they ought not to have done so. this has frequently resulted in members of the mountain rescue trawling the hillsides to afford rescue or discover the bodies. two kayakers got into trouble off the north shores of the neighbouring isle of jura, close to the corryvreckan whirlpool. both capsized and only one survived. this is not the time of year that reputedly experienced adventurers ought to be endangering themselves, whether appropriately dressed or otherwise.

though such extremes hardly pertain to the sunday morning bike ride, aside from considerations over keeping ourselves warm and dry, there's always the possibility that one of us might suffer a puncture or mechanical malfeasance. since the parcours takes us within metres of the north atlantic coast, it makes a great deal of sense to be suitably clad for such unexpected interludes. on the outer edge, you can cool down very quickly indeed. so what might have seemed perfectly adequate at the point of departure, might prove otherwise only a matter of kilometres later.

i have been one frequently guilty of adopting the advice that, if i'm comfortable within the first five kilometres, i'm probably overdressed. but at this time of year, modest overheating at the outset might be worth suffering through, just in case. but there are external pressures that might conflict with what might pass for common sense. i received an e-mail from a well-known cycling garment provider only a few days past, offering up to a 50% discount on a range of winter clothing, readying for changeable days ahead. i can only surmise that the referred to 'changeable days' form a transition between yuk and better, beyond which few will be inclined to purchase cold and wet weather garmentage. so the precept is one of shifting product that might otherwise remain static; a common practice in every strain of the clothing industry.

but the e-mail emanated from a headquarters near london town, where weather patterns are a tad different than they are in my neighbourhood. so when the sender indicates that there may be changeable days ahead, perhaps subtly altering anticipation for what passes for 'wrong' clothing, do i remain faithful to that which i think i know, or bend to a promulgated alternative dawn?

is cycling really meant to be this hard, or have i simply happened upon yet another first world problem?

monday 13 march 2023

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oresund bridge

unlike the majority of its hebridean neighbours, islay has two ferry ports at its disposal; one in the north at port askaig and a second, in the south of the island, at port ellen. the daily sailings from kennacraig, on the kintyre peninsula, tend to alternate between the two. and following extensive wave studies carried out by caledonian maritime assets ltd (cmal), in preparation for the upgrade of the southernmost port, it has been determined that, for the bulk of an islay year, the prevailing winds are south-westerly. this means that the morning sailing to port ellen is more or less into the wind, until such time as it reaches the seas around port ellen, when it requires to turn through 180 degrees to berth at the pier.

should those south-westerly prevailing winds be in excess of 45-50kph, that 180 degree turn will, at some point, place the vessel at right angles to the wind. since larger car ferries tend to be slab-sided in order to accommodate both private and commercial vehicles, this would possibly be a tad untenable, and in which case, the boat is likely to divert to port askaig to avoid such difficulties. and, if we are being strafed by a northerly wind, the opposite will be the case, with the port askaig sailing diverting to port ellen.

perceptions over the years would appear to have changed slightly, for though the current vessel operating the route, the mv finlaggan was allegedly designed with the ability to berth in winds approaching 75kph, in point of fact, it rarely sails in winds above 6okph. we tend to think that's as a result of health and safety concerns, but calmac insist that its at the behest of the modern-day traveller, a majority of whom apparently dislike being blown about a bit.

the north atlantic is a somewhat unforgiving ocean, frequently cold and home to strong winds and heavy, wind-driven squalls, the bulk of which fill the nooks and crannies of the hebrides. however, islay is somewhat more exposed than the majority of the inner-hebrides, with the possible exception of the more northerly island of tiree. both mull and skye are effectively shielded by more outlying islands, but if you look at a map, you will note that islay and jura are mid-point between mull and northern ireland, with not an ounce of shelter from the atlantic.

i have lived here for almost three dozen years, during which time i have ridden in winds ranging from zero kph all the way to 100kph, though not always deliberately. in those 36 years, i have been blown off my bicycle only twice, and on neither occasion did i sustain any injuries. i have ridden with others visiting the isle who, through being unaware of what was heading in their direction, were also blown off their bicycles. like any prevailing weather conditions anywhere in the world, if you live with them long enough, you become used to them and thus adept at knowing what is rideable and what isn't. that's not to say that things always turn out as forecast, and that's when i have found myself riding in winds that i really ought not to have been.

but to place all of this in some sort of perspective, following friday's cancellation of a stage of paris-nice, here are one or two truths. matteo jorgenson of movistar was heard in an interview to state that a race earlier in the season had featured 50kph gusting winds in which he claimed some riders had found themselves in difficulties. now bear in mind that i am an old bloke with diminishing speed and considerably poorer bike-handling skills than even the worst professional. yet my saturday ride consisted of several periods riding in 50kph (30mph) winds without so much as a blip in my forward motion. a 50kph headwind might offer more than its fair share of grunt-work for yours truly, but for a professional rider, i'm very surprised they'd even notice it was there.

during last year's tour de france, en-route south from denmark, the riders crossed the lengthy oresund bridge, during which time, the commentators on eurosport/gcn continually questioned how the riders would cope with the galeforce winds blowing across the bridge. since the seas surrounding the bridge didn't appear to be as unruly as i'd have expected, i checked the windspeed in force at the time, which were reputed to be 32kph. in old money, that's around 19mph; scarcely worth mentioning to be honest, and certainly not galeforce. and if a smidgeon more perspective is required, during the review process for campagnolo's 45mm bora wto carbon wheelset, i rode them quite confidently in 70kph winds.

i cannot deny that the winds which caused the cancellation of friday's paris-nice stage would not have been fun to ride, and there's no denying that a sudden crosswind gust of 80 - 100kph on a closely knit peloton could have caused carnage and possibly serious injury. cancellation was doubtless the best option in such circumstances. but considering that professional riders can average over 40kph throughout mountainous grand tour stages, i think it likely that their ability to ride in strong to galeforce winds, is being a smidgeon underestimated. perhaps if they spent more of their winter training camps in the northern hemisphere, they'd realise that too. for a solo rider or a small group, 80kph winds are hard, but not really dangerous, and i find myself mystified as to why winds of that velocity seem to cause such consternation within the professional peloton.

sunday 12 march 2023

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the art of persuasion

tubeless tyre

perhaps like many, i tend to skim the political pages of my daily newspaper, principally because i find i have the same opinion of both those in power and opposition as does former police bass player, sting, evinced in the lyrics for his song (on the album, ten summoners tales) 'if i ever lose my faith in you'. in this particular song, he sings, i've lost my faith in politicians - they all seem like game show hosts to me. and indeed, they most certainly do.

though i have refrained from listening since the onset of the covid pandemic, 'today in parliament', must surely have made westminster the laughing stock of the political world, as each politician attempts to score brownie points against the opposition, over a sonic background of guffaws, cheering and noises perhaps more redolent of a football stadium. at prime minister's questions, why is it not possible to ask a serious question and be provided with a serious answer, one that might actually improve matters for the electorate, rather than coming across as a staged interlocution more frequently witnessed on late-evening chat shows?

i find it hard to comprehend how anything of any note actually gets done in this country.

to an extent, holyrood seems a tad more civilised, but yet again, i have concerns that elected msps, who receive a not inconsiderable salary, seem largely to be missing from proceedings, even where debates would appear to demand their close attention. from the few video excerpts i've seen on social media, the majority of those nice wooden seats and desks seem predominantly to be startlingly vacant. not only does this appear as a dereliction of duty, but possibly accepting money (their salaries) under false pretences. no doubt those who are politically better informed than am i, would be able to educate me as to how any of this makes sense, before i simply adopt the saying 'don't vote; it'll only encourage them' as my daily mantra.

i have little truck with fanaticism, as it rarely seems to bring out the best in people, and that includes cyclists. it's a trait that can be seen in every political strain across the world, where many will toe the party-line with enthusiasm, despite logical thought dictating the fallacy on which their fanaticism is based. scotland's ruling party, the snp, have declared their sole intention to garner independence for the country, despite substantial evidence demonstrating that, financially at least, it might be a tad reckless to pursue that ideal. and despite many party members and representatives being perceptively otherwise intelligent people, any arguments contrary to the party's avowed intent tend to be dismissed out of hand because they might contradict the political end game. this, of course, is not a situation solely confined to the snp, or indeed, that of politics.

i, like many, have been confronted on my doorstep by individuals of a particularly proselytising religion, individuals who will harbour no contradiction to the beliefs that have been instilled within them prior to embarking upon their door-to-door mission. why it is found necessary by some to attempt imposition upon others, i know not. most of my friends and colleagues have agreed that, were they to consider the need for religious information, we'd be inclined to ask, or have a quick search on google. what few of us, if any, are inclined to accept, is a couple of be-suited gents at our front doors, effectively informing us that we may have strayed from a path that none of us wanted to be on in the first place.

so now i think i have as little faith in evangelism as i have in fanaticism. but that viewpoint, of course, won't make either of them go away.

i am unclear of the rationale behind the advent of the tubeless tyre. i have been riding bicycles since i was nine years old (and that wasn't yesterday), pretty much all of which have been fitted with tyres and inner tubes. yes, there have been occasions where i've nipped the tube when fitting a particularly tight tyre bead, and yes, there have been situations when a rogue pothole has incurred a so-called snakebite, but on the whole, the tyre/inner tube scenario has proved predominantly efficacious. however, i feel i would be in dereliction of my duty, had i not made the attempt to familiarise myself with the tubeless tyre, an invention that has featured on mountain bikes for many a long year.

to that end, i have ridden three different brands of tubeless road tyre on three different brands of tubeless-ready wheels. if you are a regular reader of these pixels, you will have probably read the results, but to summarise, i am very far from convinced as to their offering any advantages over the more traditional method. for starters, there is a great deal of faff involved in setting them up (in one case, i was unable to get a tyre to seal even after several days of concerted faffing). and though it doubtless says more about me than the technology, throughout all the kilometres on which i rode tubeless, i harboured perennial fears that i'd suffer a puncture at the furthest point from home. then i'd have to deal with all that gloopy white liquid and the inherent likelihood that i'd be unable to seal the tyre bead with only the services of a mini-pump at my disposal.

so, as is my right, i have opted to remain faithful to tyres and tubes. however, attempting to undermine my resolve, are the presumably nice people at muc-off. following a recent survey conducted by said nice people, consisting of over 5,000 responses from fifty countries, muc-off have opted to setup a 'tubeless information hub', a facility about which you would be perfectly justified in asking why i appear to disparage?

i cannot reasonably deny that the setting up of such a centre of information is not a boon to those approaching the possibility of tubeless with some trepidation. after all, it's perfectly possible to accept that incorrect installation might well prove something of a negative experience, thus denying the great unwashed the opportunity of a more satisfactory velocipedinal encounter. and you'd be quite correct to point out that my own gloopy experiences are hardly evidence that the technology is in any way, seriously flawed. however, muc-off contend that, "Once a cyclist goes tubeless for the first time, they rarely ever look back...", somewhat contradictory to my own admittedly limited evidence.

but there does appear to be an element of 'we're right, you're wrong' in their approach, though i'm willing to admit that this may be entirely down to my interpretation of their apparent largesse. according to muc-off, the 'tubeless and puncture protection hub' has been launched with "...the aim of further supporting the one in four riders who either don't understand the benefits of tubeless or feel overwhelmed by the prospect of converting." the implication that tubeless can only be perceived as the correct way forward; those who haven't yet adopted the technology simply 'don't understand'. the possibility that, like me, they understand perfectly well, but, based on that understanding, have rejected the premise entirely, seems not to have crossed their minds.

however, if only to prove that i might be a tad more open minded, i have benevolently included the link to their 'tubeless and puncture protection hub' below, in order that you think of me as neither fanatic or evangelist.

muc-off tubeless and puncture protection hub

saturday 11 march 2023

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superstore wilderness

superstore wilderness

in the early 1990s, i was a pretend mountain biker, pleading my cause by nipping out to the nearest untrammeled piece of wilderness i could find and emulate the antics of what i believed were those of the committed mountain biker. of course, in retrospect, with the benefit of an honours degree in hindsight, i was barely even scratching the surface of playing at it. what i took to be a death-defying descent was pretty much all in my head. but at heart, i'm not only a mountain biking (and probably cyclocross) fraud, but essentially a big scaredy cat.

that said, what effectively transferred my affections from knobblies to smooth narrowness, was the effort of riding those knobblies for several kilometres to reach whichever playground was the location du jour. that, and the fact that i was invariably covered in mud upon my return, an aesthetic that scarcely endeared me to mrs washingmachinepost or the kitchen floor. my road-based reasoning rested upon the fact that, if there was tarmacadam to be traversed in the desire for velocipedinal joy, the latter might as well be continued ad finitum, and leave that muddy, scary stuff to those who bore the constitution to deal with it like a man (or woman).

superstore wilderness

but, of course, i am amongst the privileged few, domiciled as i am not only on an island, but ostensibly in the rural idyll, offering as it does, suitable ground for whatever yours or my specific preferences might contain. according to the world bank, over 56% of the planet's population live in cities, while figures from 2021 show that less than 40% of us live in the countryside. obviously enough, definitions of the latter will vary from country to country, but economic and population forecasts contend that more and more will become city-dwellers in the foreseeable future. that being the case, aside from perhaps explaining the rise and rise of the gravel bike, it does call into question for just how long the cycling fraternity will continue to look outwith their immediate horizons?

it also means that the definition of the word 'wilderness' may have to be widened.

so while many cycling publications in the shape of books, magazines and the web advertise the glorious locations available in which to suffer for one's art, the new kid on the block is, tautologically, concerned specifically with the block. produced by brothers, andrew and philip diprose, responsible for the ride journal (andrew was creative director at wired uk) a new, rapha supported publication, superstore wilderness has been unleashed upon an unsuspecting cycling public, searching out and celebrating "...those patches of greenery we find around our urban sprawl, that as cyclists, runners and just plain curious types, we love to explore."

superstore wilderness

unlike the hebrides (for instance), where the great outdoors occasionally comes across pockets of habitation, cities consist predominantly of precisely the opposite, opposites of which not everyone is aware. around here, it's not really possible to throw a stone without it landing in isolated territory. this first issue of 'superstore wilderness' explores the common english connotations of the word 'countryside' - "...a calm and peaceful deer park with slow-moving streams and wide expanses of meadowland dotted with fine trees."

given that discovering a scene like that described above, midst road junctions, underground stations and high-rise blocks, is somewhat unlikely, the magazine searches instead for 'interfacial landscapes'. however, it has not constrained itself solely to britainshire; urban planner, chris henry explores those interfaces in paris. but aside from offering succour to the georgaphically disadvantaged, superstore wilderness takes inspiration from the pages of ride journal, offering unconventional, yet artistic page layouts which lean upon a mixture of adventurous typography and photography, including work from london-based fuel design, photography by, amongst others, michael blann and geoff waugh and even words from the inimitable, jo burt.

superstore wilderness

there is, as you might expect, precedent for this perception of industrial wilderness. the magazine cites the 2002 edgelands essay by marion shoard, wherein she defined the perception of edgelands as dual spaces which, most of the time, "...this mysterious no man's land passes unnoticed: in our imaginations, as opposed to our actual lives, it barely exists."

there is much to be praised in this debut issue and much to be learned too, particularly if you identify with any of the scenarios précised above. i cannot deny that it is a brave act to publish in print these days as opposed to inhabiting the webosphere as an alternative, but just like vinyl, there is an irreplaceable and tangible delight from sitting back in an armchair with printed matter rather than a laptop screen. the first issue is out now and available from either of the links below.

life-affirming. |

superstore wilderness

friday 10 march 2023

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it's all for slow

colnago v4rs

i own four snare drums, each of which comprise different woods (for no particular reason, i don't care much for metal drums). i have an all maple drum, one of cherry wood, one of mahogany/poplar and a fourth built from maple/mahogany. though only drummers will understand, three feature triple-flange rims and one sports a pair of die-cast hoops. if i tune them all as close to each other in pitch as possible, i can tell the difference between all four, but only marginally so. one is not better than the others, there's not a chance that any of the audiences to which i play could tell the difference, even if i swapped them out for each successive song, and if miked up, all bets are off.

yet the rhetoric issued by the drum company from which all four drums were sourced, would have me (and others) believe that the type of wood has a substantial bearing on the sound. you may infer from the above that i place little faith in such outpourings. though i have watched and listened to many a youtube video demonstrating the qualities of a great many snare drums from many different producers, the single biggest difference that i perceive seems to depend more on the drum head fitted than the type of wood.

let's face it, the majority of drums are constructed from several thin plies of wood, all glued together in a heated press, before being drilled and fitted with appropriate hardware. though the manufacturer insists that each type of wood varies in its vibration potential, by the time it's made as described above, any ability it had to resonate has probably been stymied by the build process. yet the claims of depth, brightness, sonority and timbre are still brazenly made. all's fair in love and marketing.

such claims, though of a different nature, also pertain to the velocipedinal world, where, in the road bike market at least, claims of improved comfort, aerodynamic stealth, unheralded speed and the highest aerospace quality carbon fibre are bandied about like sweeties. and though my bike reviewing days are probably well behind me, claims such as these rarely ever seemed to have much depth and breadth. the latest aero frame may well have been tested to within a millimetre of its carbon nano-tubes, but in a real world, uiskentuie strand crosswind, that's rarely worth consideration.

i recall very many years ago, felt bicycles claimed to have created the most aerodynamic of machinery, capable of saving x number of watts and being y number of seconds faster across a distance of z kilometres. in its first outing, it failed to reach the top ten. though i'm no aerodynamicist or velocipedinal engineer, i would tend to think that a bicycle is only as fast as its rider, an individual charged with replicating the engine. thus, for all the claims made on behalf of a whole slew of manufacturers, i'd contend that no bicycle, in real-world conditions, is any faster than any other.

i think we all know that, were we to meet tadej, wout or mathieu on a sunday morning, astride a shopping bike, they'd still beat every one of us to debbie's for a coffee, even were every one of us to be riding whatever state-of-the-art aero bike was found to be flavour of the month. i will not deny that some bikes appear easier to ride than others, and there's little doubt that, across the board, there is an appreciable weight difference between basic and top of the tree. but at our cosy end of the world, those are parameters often of academic interest, rather than make or break. unless, of course, your sunday morning ride incorporates the ventoux or the angliru.

it came as something of a surprise therefore, to receive an e-mail from colnago, frothing at the mouth over statements allegedly made by former professional, tom boonen. according to colnago's press statement, mr boonen had made 'unsubstantiated' remarks about the veracity of colnago's recent production, claiming that, had tadej pogacar been riding a cervelo, cannondale, specialized rather than his v4rs, he would have noticed a 2kph difference in his favour. these remarks were apparently made during boonen's recent appearance on the wielerclub wattage podcast. unfortunately, the podcast is in dutch, so i've no way of verifying the allegations.

not unnaturally, colnago strongly refutes such claims (and given pogacar's current performances, possibly with good cause) and have publicly invited tom and his podcast friends, to an all-expenses paid trip to cambiago to test the v4rs bicycles. following this, they hope to have a conversation about the data that seemingly allowed boonen to make the 2kph slower claim about tadej's colnago vs the rest.

according to colnago's ceo, nicola rosin, "...we have not heard a single complaint about the competitiveness of our bikes. In fact, (team uae emirates) are ecstatic about the equipment we have provided thus far.". the fact that tadej looks well set to win paris-nice, would tend to demonstrate that both he and his colnago are doing better than ok.

in the 1990s a wind turbine developer applied for planning to site three turbines above bowmore village, an application that was referred to the secretary of state for scotland. the rspb claimed that the turbines were to be sited in the direct path of overwintering, greylag geese, and that erection of the turbines could decimate the population as it arrived on islay's shores in early october. however, though the developer was unable to prove that this would not happen, the rspb, despite its confidence, was unable to prove the contrary. this boonen/colnago spat sounds remarkably similar. at the time of writing, boonen had yet to accept colnago's generous offer.

thursday 9 march 2023

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art for someone's sake

mavic cosmic

as mentioned on at least two previous occasions, islay is one of six islands chosen by the scottish government expected to make its way towards net-zero by 2040. yes, that is going to be somewhat of a very steep uphill task, based purely on the fact that thirteen distilleries have a tendency to use substantial amounts of energy, little of which can be considered as 'green'. quite how those tasked with the unenviable job of squaring the environmental circle will achieve success is anyone's guess, particularly when matters appear to be (currently at least) proceeding at a snail's pace.

in my humble opinion, there are likely too many differing stakeholders to achieve a common consensus, and possibly still too many to expedite matters in a timeous manner, but since the alleged process is expected to be community-driven, i doubt there is any alternative means at their disposal. though i'd dearly love to report that the local newspaper receives frequent and regular reports on how matters are progressing, i'd be fibbing if i led you to believe that to be the case. what they do appear to have achieved (and i use the word in its loosest sense) is the design (again, only a loose approximation) of a logo; essentially a map of islay above lettering in one of the least significant or attractive typefaces in existence.

if this were a business, they'd have closed already.

sadly, logos are often graphics into which little thought whatsoever has been invested. the ultimate test is whether any logo is, or might very soon be, immediately recognisable if viewed without the explanatory text below or above. shell petroleum and apple computer are two that immediately spring to mind, though i'd be happy to give a shout out to starbucks if push came to shove. in the case of islay's carbon neutral islands logo, any recognition such as that described above, is simply not going to happen in any of our lifetimes.

jerome masi

though logos are a subset of the graphic artworld which arguably receive little in the way of approbation from the public at large, to quote from california's emigré type foundry/design studio, 'design is a good idea', a true statement that exists as a double-entendre of minimal proportions. it's hard to imagine what the world would look like without any artistic pretensions whatsoever; imagine how drab would be the professional peloton without colourful jerseys emblazoned with carefully and cleverly designed logos with which the sponsors expensively hope to increase their national and international profiles. though it may seem simplistic to point out, providing grand tour jersey wearers with colour co-ordinated bicycles is an extension of the artistic meme to be found throughout the peloton. as, indeed, is the lettering to be seen writ large on the downtubes of bicycles.

conspiracy theory would contend that aero bicycles have far less to do with the cheating of aerodynamic drag, and far more to do with providing a larger billboard for the bike manufacturers' names.

though formula one motor racing exists at the behest of endless technical development, the case for the same occuring in cycle racing is considerably less convincing. electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes have, by common consensus, failed miserably to make cycle racing any more exciting or much faster, come to that. and there's every possibility that, for the present, bicycle technology has hit a brick wall (so to speak). not so very long ago, i asked the question as to what might be next in line after carbon fibre? having worked our way through steel, aluminium,and titanium before reaching carbon nirvana, no-one seemed able or willing to answer my original question. many of the so-called developments in both cycle technology and cycle clothing technology seem, of late, to revolve around producing the same item once again, but in a different colour. while the uci maintain that the minimum competition weight remains at 6,8kg, and that the frames adhering to that standard require to conform to the infamous double-diamond, to be quite frank, there's nowhere left to go.

jerome masi

clothing wise, breathable polyester is probably as good as it gets, and i see little likelihood of gore-tex becoming any better than it already is in the foreseeable future. so to differentiate new products from their predecessors, the viable option seems to rest almost entirely on colour (though several recent expositions seem of questionable validity). if i might use mavic to illustrate my point (via pure conjecture, you understand), the french company that has provided many a velocipedinist with wheels and wheel rims for longer than most of us can remember, and who almost single-handedly fostered the factory-built wheel trend, recently announced its brand new cosmic ultimate. the wheelset, a high-quality offering no doubt, is hardly technologically revolutionary, emulating as it does, the build process employed by carbonsports lightweight range, a technique employed for decades.

many a velocipedinal commentator has viewed this release as mavic emerging from years in the commercial wilderness and making an unmistakeable statement as to their continued existence. yet it appears that the release of this wheelset was scarcely seen as the final word. mavic have since teamed up with artist jerome masi, reputedly well-known for his commercial commissions and personal work, now putting this talent to questionable use, with mavic having had monsieur masi provide them with men's and women's jerseys. these are scarcely revolutionary in the grand scheme of things, but mavic have also allowed him to decorate the carbon rims of their cosmic wheels (though seemingly excluding the eyewateringly expensive ultimate version).

though i sort of get the jersey bit of the equation, the wheel decoration remains something of a mystery, given that mavic's cosmic wheel range is positioned to potentially offer unfettered speed, at which point, any spinning rim decoration will be rendered blurringly pointless. still, if you like pretty stuff and care not one whit for living at the cutting edge, it's always nice to have options.

wednesday 8 march 2023

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van aert, van der poel, picock

the past season of cyclocross, despite the dominance of predominantly wout van aert and mathieu van der poel, with occasional assistance from strade bianche winner, tom pidcock, was very much a joy to watch. discarding the often substantial gap between the latter three riders, having the opportunity to watch what must surely be the pinnacle of cyclocross racing, was often cited by the eurosport/gcn commentators as a privilege, a contention with which i find myself in general agreement. to watch van aert shoulder his cervelo while subsconsciously positioning his pedals for the remount, if nothing else, demonstrated the substantial gap that exists between them and us.

but it should also be pointed out that all three are highly respected riders with world tour teams: van aert with jumbo visma, mvdp with alpecin deceuninck and pidcock with ineos grenadiers. therefore, it appears that their respective cyclocross careers are, in effect, just for fun, given that none had any serious designs on any of the 'cross series in which they participated. (incidentally, x20 badkamers sounds far more authentic in flemish, on realising that 'badkamers' translates as 'bathrooms').

it seems more than possible that all three participate in the annual 'cross season via a get out of jail free card from their respective directeurs sportifs, since a winter of mud is probably not what any were contracted to undertake. what is perfectly plain to see is the importance of the lengthy road season that follows, now that cyclocross has been shelved until next autumn. pidcock, until february, the reigning uci cyclocross world champion, opted to miss this years' worlds event in favour of attending a road training camp with his ineos grenadiers team-mates.

this was the clear opposite of the 21/22 season, when the championship event was held in fayetville, usa and both van aert and van der poel chose to remain in europe, rather than risk their progress on the road. both the dutchman and the belgian fought tooth and nail throughout this year's one hour championship race, nabbed by mathieu in a finish-line sprint. disappointingly, though mvdp won the right to wear the cyclocross rainbow bands, it will be autumn 2023 before 'cross fans have the opportunity to see them ridden in anger. both van aert and van der poel opted to bypass the last few races of the season, once again citing their road careers as the overarching precedent.

but that was then and this is now. for the majority of us, the road season began with omloop het nieuwsblad and continued the following day with kuurne-bruxelles-kuurne, though only tom pidcock thought it best to attend the omloop start-line, and all three gave kbk a body-swerve. pidcock may have given credence to the several blocks of southern road training, by leaving all traling in his wake during saturday's strade bianche, an event, like that of paris-roubaix, you'd think would favour the bike-handling skills acquired while bunny-hopping the barriers. though wout van aert has left the commencement of his season to this week's tirreno adriatico, joined in the peloton by mathieu van der poel, the latter did have a bit of a poor showing at strade bianche, a race in which even eurosport's commentators had expected him to provide a better result.

finishing in the piazza del campo in (for him) a lowly 15th place, one and threequarter minutes behind pidcock was probably not what his directeurs sportifs had in mind. the few shots we saw of him during the latter stages of the strade, showed him to be struggling far more than would be expected of a gent of his stature, encouraging his fellow pelotonese to pull him along, then struggling a bit in the execution of that strategy. however, it's a long season ahead, so presumably there is no shame in leading from behind at this stage.

however, and i'll readily admit that this is a bit rich coming from someone who has never attended a training camp in his life, following such an impressive 'cross season and with the presumed benefits resulting from said training camps, i'd have expected he'd have finished a tad closer to the pointy-end of proceedings. after all, pidcock effectively suffered similar 'cross season fortunes, yet staved off a group of riders who even closed to within seven seconds, before being led in by pello bilbao over half a minute behind the speeding brit.

i have followed cycle racing for more years than i care to mention, and over all those years, i have still failed to acquire the insight to learn whether the post race interviews present the actual truth, or whether the last few racing kilometres in the doldrums offer a suitable period in which to compose a convincing excuse for the deemed lacklustre performance. van der poel told velonews that he was taking 'the long view' on his classics season, while admitting that he 'didn't have the legs' to follow the winning moves at strade bianche. if you will kindly pardon my cynicism, isn't that what those training camps were designed to help him avoid? and just while he was in downplaying mode, he managed to also tell velonews that neither should too many expectations for an impressive result at tirreno-adriatico figure in anyone's optimism.

stating that all eyes were now on the northern classics, he managed to slide in "i personally did not expect the best version of myself...". even the stars cannot always outperform the watercarriers (not that i'm implying that pidcock fits into that category), but i'd imagine that the big boys would like to impress from the outset, if only to justify the faith and salary provided by their respective teams. mr tom can coast a bit more assuredly across the rest of the classics season following saturday's impressive demonstration of his worth.

van der poel and van aert (respectively 14th and 45th in the tirreno time-trial)? we'll need to wait and see.

tuesday 7 march 2023

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