pre-emptive strike


on my return from the village of port charlotte on the rhinns of islay last friday, i watched two fluorescent yellow jacketed cyclists on the mixed use path that parallels the main road back to bruichladdich. it transpires that they were riding e-bikes, probably helpful in the cold north-easterly blowing in their (and my) faces, though i still passed the two of them aboard my acoustic ritchey logic. i was already supping froth in debbie's, while munching a gluten-free brownie as they arrived to prartake of their own refreshments.

coincidentally, the following day, as i neared the road junction taking loch gorm's perimeter road north to loch gruinart, there were the same two cyclists approaching from the opposite direction and turning onto the link road between the two lochs. that particular road heads uphill for just over a kilometre, but despite their battery assistance, i rolled past offering a friendly "good afternoon" as i left them behind. do not misunderstand, this does not confer upon yours truly a level of speed that leaves mouths agape; simply that i am less a part of the leisurely set than are they.

and following the sunday ride, having left my colleague at bridgend road junction, and heading back to bowmore, there were the two e-bikers once more, still clad in their fluorescence, about to have tea and cakes on the hotel's outside seating. as i waved hello, one of them voiced the same greeting, appending the word 'again' to that response.

those of you who are subscribers to cyclist magazine will perhaps have read the impressive nine pages featuring editor, pete muir's, visit to the hub of civilisation last year. in the narrative, he makes mention of the so-called 'islay wave' a commonality amongst road users on the island, including cyclists, where we offer a cognitive wave to those travelling in the opposite direction. local drivers acknowledge each other in this manner, ranging from simple lifting of the forefinger from the steering wheel, to a significant waving of the hand, or, in the case of several truck drivers, flashing every light festooned about the front of the cab.

this island custom, one which has caused endless confusion among visiting motorists, many of whom were of the impression the waver had confused them for someone else, seems to be a feature confined solely to the islands of islay and jura, since it has never been mentioned in the context of the likes of mull, tiree, coll, skye or even the outer hebrides. many visitors eventually cotton-on to the situation and join the happy throng of wavers, though subsequently admitting that they embarrassed themselves on return to the mainland where the practice is likely only to raise a series of quizzical stares.

as cyclist editor, pete muir, says in his article, "Being from London, where eye contact with strangers is discouraged, I find this practice unnatural, but I determine to try my best."

and for those intent on visiting the hallowed isle during the coming months, that's precisely what we'd like you to do. i get it that there might be a tinge of self-consciousness in waving to every passing vehicle, and we perfectly understand if that's a practice you'd prefer to watch, rather than in which to participate. however, what is not up for discussion, is the necessity to wave to other cyclists met along the way. we're not necessarily suggesting that you break your ride to indulge in a bout of 'hail fellow, well met' every few kilometres, but it would help life roll along nicely if you'd at least offer a wave to passing cyclists.

and we'll have none of this "i would have waved, but they were on road/mountain/gravel/touring/e-bikes" (delete as applicable) nonsense. a cyclist, is a cyclist, is a cyclist. there are bumper stickers available to purchase over here that claim 'it's islay and it's goodbye to care'. that is a truth that pertains specifically to visitors, and maintains our reputation for being a friendly bunch, even if you have just suddenly, and without warning, stopped your bus-sized motorhome on a singletrack road to look at a lesser-spotted something-or-other at the rspb reserve.

just remember that hotels, self-catering establishments, and guest house owners are required by law* to inform the velo club of any visiting cyclists staying with them. so if you pass us on uiskentuie strand and fail to wave, we know where you are. (*i may have made that up - but you'll probably never know). you have been warned: be friendly, or else...

monday 24 april 2023

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campagnolo peanut butter crank spanner

as i fear i have mentioned to the point of boredom, the ritchey logic is fitted with a ccampagnolo record twelve-speed groupset, a fact that provides no end of pleasure when riding around the principality. for no particular reason that i can discern, i have long harboured affection for vicenza's products, frequently doubting that i would ever have the good fortune to possess this level of componentry. granted, i think the luddite within would have preferred a record groupset in the days before campagnolo became in thrall to the black stuff, but accepting the viewpoint that chainset, gears etc., are best experienced by their actuation rather than on their aesthetic values, i'm still more than happy to ride a campagnolo equipped bicycle.

the icing on the cake is having a pair of bora wto wheels in the bikeshed, even if wind conditions in the winter rather preclude having them permanently fitted to the ritchey. but all is not lost, for i currently ride on a pair of condor cycles handbuilt wheels, featuring mavic rims and a campagnolo record hubset. i daresay it's a similar situation to using applemac computers as opposed to microsoft windows, the latter surely equating to shimano and the former to my favoured italian componentry. however, while i may be a campagnolo aficionado, it doesn't mean i have lost the right to criticise.

were you to peruse thewashingmachinepost archive, you would doubtless find a number of articles concerning the scurrilous lack of compatibility that exists within the bike industry. shimano brake pads do not fit their italian counterparts, everyone's crankset bolt-circle diameter appears to vary wildly, and it's almost got to the stage where no-one's cassettes fit anyone's freehubs but their own. but to make matters worse, there are insidious incompatibilities within not only the same brand, but within one groupset.

when the record groupset arrived at the croft some years past, the front caliper rim brakes provided two fork crown bolts of differing lengths to accommodate both narrow and wide crowns. the short version featured a torx patterned bolt, while the longer example required an allen key. the brake cable pinch bolts front and rear are 5mm allen pattern, but the brake shoes affix to the caliper using torx bolts. the front gear mech affixes to the frame braze-on with an allen bolt, but the two adjusters are philips head screws. oddly, the rear mech attaches to the droput via a torx bolt, but the adjusters are small allen bolts.

and when it comes time to fit the crankset to the bicycle, not only is the required bolt of the allen wrench variety, but a distinctly non-standard 10mm, probably requiring purchase of a specialist tool due to the reach required through the left-side crank arm and into the centre of the bb shell. thus, assuming you have the necessary mechanical skills to fettle all of the above while out riding, a campagnolo equipped rider ought best carry a multi-tool of allen keys, one with a multitude of torx wrenches and a whacking great 10mm allen wrench.

for those who decry that last item, i might admit that following poor initial installation of the record crankset by yours truly, the two halves of the hirth coupling decided to go their separate ways while some 20km from home. i managed to limp to bruichladdich distillery in the hope that their engineer might have the necessary tool. he didn't, but he did manage to grind a chisel to the required width to allow sufficient tightening of the bolt to get me home.

sadly, none of the above mentioned toolsets are possessed of anything like the character once a major part of a campagnolo toolset. gone are the days of the 15mm crank spanner, the legendary peanut butter spanner, from the days when everyone else's crank bolts were 14mm and the average socket set ommitted a 15mm socket. happily, i still own just such a spanner, though it is many a long day since it had to work for a living. and also long gone are the days of shiny campagnolo hubs with the grease port. admittedly, i don't think anyone ever used them, but they had a character that is absent from the black anodised versions currently affixed to the ritchey logic. joni mitchell was right on the money when she sang, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

at least, however, the campagnolo cognoscenti have a rich heritage from which to draw. i'm not sure the same can be said for the other two. and despite an entertaining set of spring classics, i miss cyclocross.

sunday 23 april 2023

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it's still happening

brand new

around the turn of the century, highlands and islands enterprise (hie) in collaboration with british telecom opted to make a special case of islay with the proposal to install island-wide broadband, at the time, a technology yet to gain widespread implementation. the theory behind their apparent largesse was to create a product that could subsequently be offered elsewhere, the notion being that, if this sort of closed loop could function on a west coast island, it could probably do so pretty much anywhere. of course, the nature of telecommunications technology meant that as time passed, many aspects of their proposals changed out of all recognition and ultimately, instead of a state of the art communications network on the island, we ended up with a website, positioned as a portal to the island, but effectively far too late, as there were already two island-based websites designed to achive the same thing.

to add insult to injury, rather than quietly burying the situation, they opted to take a stand at the annual islay show and 'launch' the website to a hebridean public that, at the time, couldn't have cared less. particularly since the island remained at the mercy of a dial-up internet connection that possessed insufficient clout to make use of many of the features incorporated within said website. however, the practice of launching websites with great fanfare was very much a sign of the times.

it may still be considered 'a thing' even to this day; only a week ago i received a press release attesting to the official launch of a new website. i'd be fibbing if i said i could remember the name of said organisation, but that too is a sign of the times, because websites are so much a part of everyday life, that it scarcely seems worth mentioning. in fact, argyll & bute council recently issued an e-mail survey, asking if i'd take a look at their updated website and give them my opinion. the problem, however, was that i could see little difference between its previous incarnation and the purported new one.

readers of cycle trade publications, online or print, will probably be as fed up as am i with the continual announcements of new e-bikes, announcements that invariably contend that these latest bike releases are somehow entirely different from those that preceded. closer investigations usually reveal that in essence, they are no different, featuring a battery and a motor like every other e-bike. at the time of writing i have in front of me, an article announcing a revolutionary e-bike that apparently features regenerative 'breaking', surely not only an unforgiveable spelling error on behalf of those promoting the revolutionary e-bike, but a damning indictment of the proofreading abilities of the trade publication?

though i really have little personal interest in e-bikes, and a sneaking (but regularly confirmed) suspicion that many of those riding e-bikes would be more than capable of riding acoustic bikes, i find myself wondering when announcing a new e-bike will no longer be regarded as worthy of mention.

but, sadly, it seems the meme does not end there. though there would doubtless have been precursors, it is generally accepted that the gravel bike became a thing all of its own - a trend, if you like - around 2015, some eight years past. with the uci having instigated a gravel world championships in 2022, and the 2023 edition taking place in dumfries (curated by my friend, warren sanders), i think it likely that, right or wrong, we can accept that gravel is a confirmed sector within the world of the velocipede. yet the same trade publication makes mention of reilly cycleworks releasing a titanium gravel bike at this year's cycle show, allegedly "...said to take fast gravel riding to a new level."

with all due respect to reilly cycleworks, a new gravel bike is scarcely worth mentioning, particularly at least eight years behind the times. bear in mind that i'm not confusing the marketing of new e-bikes or gravel bikes by way of advertising or magazine reviews; those are common practices for pretty much all cycle companies. but issuing press releases to the trade in general, does little other than undermine the street-cred of the issuing manufacturer.

there's nothing new under the sun, until, at some point, there actually is.

saturday 22 april 2023

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acer ebii e-bike

codenamed titan, reports surfaced in 2018 that apple computer was collaborating with volkswagen to produce an electric shuttle bus, capable of autonomous ('driverless') transport for its employees. in the same year, the bbc gave credence to reports that apple possessed 66 apple built, driverless cars, though in an almost contradictory appendment, that they had employed 111 drivers registered to operate those (driverless) vehicles. only a couple of years later, though neither a car nor bus had made any tangible appearance, it was still believed that apple was working on the hardware and software that would enable it to produce a more 'traditional' electric car, plans for a self-driving vehicle having been allegedly scrapped.

in fact, insiders at financial media company, bloomberg, contend that apple will confirm a sub $100,000 design later this year, with all features finalised by 2024, setting it in direct competition with germany's traditional car manufacturer, bmw, and best-selling electric maker, tesla. moving outside what is generally regarded as its original preserve, is almost as much a part of apple's history as are its computers and operating systems. having codified an agreement with the beatles' apple record company to remain at a respectable distance from any attempts to enter the field of music, they notoriously included an alert option named sosumi, taunting the merseyside group to instigate legal action following the inclusion of such sounds as an integrated part of their operating system.

remaining within the loosely defined parameters of a company's origins has become something of a lost cause of late. witness wheel-maker mavic's apparent entry into the electric bike motor market, mentioned only last week, while airline 'easyjet' has expanded into the hotel market, preceded by internet cafés, when those were a 'thing'. and the advent of the e-bike market has also given rise to all manner of previously hitherto unknown manufacturers delivering two wheels and a battery. while we're all used to relying on our traditional sources for bicycles and velocipedinal apparel, how much is that reliance likey to be challenged by the new kids on the block? though we're all used to castelli, rapha, assos and endura, how do we feel about budget supermarket supremos 'lidl' offering jerseys and bibtights in the centre aisle?

tacit lip service must be accommodated within the world of electrical advancement, however, when computer companies become involved. for instance, while phones were once devices solely confined to offering voice services over the plain old telephone system, today's mobile phones are, in effect, small computers with an apparently little-used option to make telephone calls. and, with a bit of out-of-the-box thinking, it's not too hard to conceive of an e-bike that might fit comfortably within the 'computer' definition, but with a wheel at each end.

however, if the above definition seems a bit of stretch, you may have to work on your mindset, given that laptop computer firm acer has launched a minimal design e-bike, reputedly controlled by the technology du jour: artificial intelligence. there's always the possibility that, looking from the outside in, a third party will approach the world of cycling with a clean slate, no longer hidebound by the dragging weight of cycling traditions with which they find themselves totally estranged. and this might fit more appreciably with the archetypal e-bike customer, the majority of whom are unlikely to be dyed-in-the-wool cyclists.

acer's aluminium framed 'ebii' utilises a carbon drive belt and flat-free tyres, the latter comprised of recycled tyres. however, the artificial intelligence aspect of the bike's design, does not, in fact allow the rider to (assisted) pedal hands free under the jurisdiction of electronic neural circuits. the ai component adapts the bicycle's power use to that of each individual rider, adjusting battery usage depending on journey distance. the battery is reputed to be fast-charging and easily removable. "The all-new Acer ebii delivers on our commitment to sustainability via technology and creative design, further driven by the desire to enhance user's mobility and experiences," said acer's jerry kao, completely sidestepping the salient fact that, until now, their commitment was solely aimed at laptop computer users.

no doubt, if the 'ebii' experiences problems in use, it's a simple case of restarting it to solve the problem.

it only remains to be seen just how long it takes lego to enter the e-bike market, offering a machine that can easily be reconfigured by re-arranging the bricks.

friday 21 april 2023

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the cruel 'z'


in the course of my drum tutoring at the local secondary school, i have been attempting to slide in some technique exercises to ease the students' pain on the approach to certain drum scores that will involve them in techniques hitherto unknown, but subsequently dropped upon them from a great height. many drummers will agree that certain co-ordination or independence skills are best learned well in advance of their employment; to have to make use of such skills with little advance notice is often discovered to be counter-productive.

in an effort to explain just what i mean, playing the hi-hat (two cymbals on a stand which can be opened and closed using - for right-handed drummers - the left foot). when time comes, as demanded in one piece of music, to play that pedal four times per bar for a total of eight bars, then repeat the exercise a mere eight bars later, has often been found an almost insurmountable difficulty. for starters, the left foot is scarcely used to being employed in such a fashion, and, combined with the need to play opposing patterns with the right foot and something altogether different with both hands (four-way co-ordination), it's not hard to comprehend the frustrations of those charged with learning the above over a remarkably short period of time.

therefore, in advance of the compulsory nature of learning so to do for examination purposes, and bearing in mind the relatively high tempo at which this must be achieved, i am in the habit of inserting apparently unconnected technical studies to ease their (mental and physical) pain in the future.

i think it would be unfortunate to equate cycling with either mental or physical pain, particularly at the learning stages, when we first run like a half-shut knife alongside our offspring, one hand firmly grasping the back of the saddle. at that particular point, it's rarely the learning cyclist who has to succumb to episodes of pain and suffering. but while drum instruction ultimately aims towards acquisition of limb independence, learning to ride a bicycle ultimately brings an entirely different sense of independence, one that has been celebrated by many a rider in the early chapters of published biographies, and an independence that most of us still celebrate several times a week, even if we don't realise it.

sadly (but it's their own fault) the recently incorporated e-cyclist does not experience the same level of independence as do those of us aboard acoustic bicycles. the necessity of having to charge the battery at regular intervals, places definable limits on the inculcated sense of independence. these limits will eventually impinge upon the acoustic bicyclist too, when the hunger knock arrives, but i'd be willing to bet that happens long after the battery has died.

however, that sense of independence, whether at the behest of electricity or muscles, brings untold benefits: riding in the great outdoors, riding in all weathers, observing the seasons come and go, gaining bike-handling skills, learning to ride in traffic and probably many others of which i have yet to pay lip service. for generations, those have been skills that led to the well-worn phrase 'just like riding a bike', the implication being that the acquisition of bike riding skills are some never truly forgotten across an entire lifetime.

but at the risk of misappropriating another well-worn phrase 'nothing lasts for ever', particularly apposite in these technologically influenced times. and it appears that the process of learning to ride a bicycle might be in danger of technological infiltration.

over the years i have made my position quite clear on the rise and rise of zwift, the on-screen platform that allows riders to virtually travel hundreds of thousands of kilometres without ever leaving their man or woman caves. but i had naively considered its influence to be one that was confined to the possibly misguided adult velocipedinist, but now news arrives that 'zwift' are targeting the innocents, with free candy. apparently access to zwift is now free for all those aged between five and sixteen, an ongoing offer with no defined expiry date.

the subscription is free on the basis of annual renewal up until the junior velocipedinist reaches the age of 16, at which point a charge of £12.99 will be levied. naturally enough, to access the platform's features, a smart trainer will be required, but i'm sure you can see what's going on here; encouraging the youth of the planet by conditioning them to think that riding on a fixed bicycle in their bedroom, sitting room or garage is both acceptable and normal.

it has been mentioned that this is an excellent way for the junior members of society to train safely (i can't deny that) and if the weather is inclement. i would take great exception to the latter, since remaining estranged from meteorological circumstances, whether good or bad, is hardly what might be referred to as character building. next thing you know, those kids will be riding indoors on e-bikes.


thursday 20 april 2023

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an over-riding concern of those working at apple computer, following in the silicon footsteps of the late steve jobs, is that of design. though their computers, ipads, iphones, watches and earbuds all have to function at least as well as, if not better than the competition, apple are keen to ensure that they feature an innate sense of style. though i no longer have my copy of the magazine, a 2022 issue of wallpaper* included a lengthy photo feature on the interior of apple park, cupertino, california. it was particularly fascinating to note that even the layout of working sketches appeared to have been aesthetically curated.

and californian based emigre design and digital type foundry at one time offered mouse mats (remember them), bearing the motif 'design is a good idea'. and good design is effectively and essentially transparent. in other words, an item that has been well-designed ought not to be blatantly noticeable. my daily grind involves page layout for a newspaper, the rationale behind which is that it should serve the demands of the news, rather than become a noticeable intermediary. not that it's likely to happen, but were a reader to open the paper and find themselves impressed with the layout, i figure i would have failed in my appointed objective.

and though there is very little by way of design involved in thewashingmachinepost, nonetheless, i have refrained from including any bells and whistles that might interrupt the flow of text. in my mind, the post celebrates the printed word employed in the service of velocipedinal activity. (it's always good to have an ambition)

for the intrepid cycle designer, there are very few facets with which to meddle. with the uci having decreed the double-diamond as the form du jour, there's little room in which to manouevre, though the flattening of tube shapes, thanks to the maleability of carbon fibre, has provided a larger blackboard on which to describe the manufacturer's name. however, there is still a requirement for a top tube, down tube and rear stays. in this particular realm, it has become difficult to separate true innovation from the inveterate re-shaping of tube profiles simply because it can be done. in this case, it's almost impossible to discount the influence of the respective marketing departments. selling exactly the same thing, year on year, was unlikely to receive approbation from the boardroom.

but to an extent, the sole velocipedinal sector in which substantial changes have evolved, is that of the time-trial bike, a very minimal portion of the industry's annual output. aside from local time-trial competition, it's generally only the multi-stage tours that incorporate a bona-fide time-trial, entailing the supply of at least one such bike to every member of a professional team, a machine that may only see a handful of outings each year, and often ridden by those with little in the way of suitable skills. if you're part of the team, you have to ride the tt, whether you're any good at it or not.

sadly, very few, if any, of the aforementioned time-trial bicycles appear to have been smitten with the aesthetic brush. with only one designated purpose in life, the time-trial bike has usually been wind-tunnelled to within a millimetre of its life. weight is an almost non-existent problem for the majority, given that a lengthy mountain time-trial is often as rare as hen's teeth. and even where one such exists, all riders are likely to suffer from the same level of gravitational drag as to level the playing field.

but you and i are probably not possessed of either a professional contract or the ability to challenge for victory in a grand tour time-trial, yet may harbour secret ambitions to undertake at least one 'race of truth'. acquiring just such a bicycle for even amateur events can lower your bank balance by anything between five or six thousand pounds, up to a somewhat alarming £10,000 for a pinarello bolide, should you fancy rubbing shoulders with filippo ganna. wouldn't it be a great idea if we lesser beings could ride a time-trial on our road bikes, just to see if we fancy the idea of easing perilously close to cardiac arrest?

funny you should say that.

as of tuesday 18 april, british time-trial organisers have been given official dispensation to allow owners of standard road bikes to participate in any and all cycling time trial (ctt) events, obviating any need to arrive replete with ugly carbon frames and tri-spoke wheels. the results will, of course, separate road bike results from the overall classification. cycling time trials chairperson, andrea parish explained the apparent need for the change by saying, "Having a separate road bike competition and rankings system is very much part of the process of taking time-trialling back to the 'every person's sport' that it once was, and to where it needs to be for the future."

hands up all those who are rooting for an overall win by a someone on a steel road bike with 32-spoke wheels?

wednesday 19 april 2023

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simply red

unior tools

when i first moved to the hebrides, the organisation ostensibly responsible for looking out for the country's natural heritage operated from a small office in the village, with a sign outside the front door proclaiming it to be the nature conservancy council for scotland. in 1992, the latter combined with the countryside commission for scotland and re-named itself as scottish natural heritage, or snh. as with many cosmetic alterations and name changes experienced by not only government organisations, but major businesses, airlines etc., the name change was both preceded and followed by a new logo and all that such entails, providing staff with newly branded clothing, changing vehicle branding along with all printed matter.

all this to continue doing what they had always done.

since scottish natural heritage is provided for by the scottish government, it's not hard to see that all these alterations were ultimately paid for by the scottish taxpayer. and, as if to add insult to injury, in 2006 snh moved into brand new, purpose built premises located in inverness, an exercise that is reputed to have cost £15 million. things did not, however, end there, with a 2019 announcement that while retaining existing legal and statutory functions, scottish natural heritage would hitherto been known as naturescot, a name that employs computer-age intercaps, or at least, would do, if i used capital letters.

this is, coincidentally, a similar set of circumstances to that recently explored in these very pixels, over the cycling industry's predilection for changing the colour of several of its products, while branding them as 'new'. in the latter case (and rather obviously with naturescot), the reasoning behind so doing is often a tad obscure, other than an apparent need to be seen to be doing something, without actually doing anything at all. i've already investigated the relative lack of technological developments that would allow for something really new, but commercial demands prefer that clothing and bicycles must be continually refreshed, if only to keep the marketing department in gainful employment.

colour, however, rarely stands in isolation. colour often brings with it allusions, connotations and assumptions, many of which have been aggregated over a lengthy period of time. take the leader's jersey of the tour de france; so embedded are the connotations, that no right-minded member of the pelotonese would done a replica jersey on the sunday morning ride, lest his or her peers rightly condemn them for blatant infraction of the unwritten rules. and witness the current hoo-ha over plans to change the shade of green sported by the points leader in the same race. but occasionally there might be perfectly explicable reasons for altering the colour (or name) of items that have been otherwise coloured for quite some time.

such a situation appears to have influenced a colour change for slovenian tool manufacturer, unior. though the company makes more than just bicycle tools, it is only that particular range that has succumbed to a change of hue, and possibly for good reason (though not explicit in the press announcement). according to unior, increased demand and user feedback has encouraged them to change the colour of the plastic handles featured on their bicycle tools from blue to red.

it seems highly unlikely that the user feedback concerns the efficacy of the tools' functions, simply on the basis of the colour of their handles, but the increased demand may have brought collateral pressure from alternative sources, possibly related to identification and marketing concerns. the bike shop mechanics amongst you will probably already have sussed where this is going, but it is a statement of fact that another, well-known bicycle tool manufacturer has been selling a wide range of quality implements for many a long year, a manufacturer and innovator which has shown a continuous preference for blue-handled tools for as long as i can recall.

i am, however, not suggesting that commercial pressure was brought to bear by this second party; more that unior, expanding its reach into global markets, perhaps preferred to more clearly identify its individuality. when i attended art college, little did i realise just how much influence the world of colour was going to be within the velocipedinal realm.

it's a funny, but colourful old world.

tuesday 18 april 2023

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